Today marks two weeks until Major League Baseball’s trade deadline. So far, the Atlanta Braves have probably surpassed most people’s expectations to this point. Not only is the club leading the National League East, they are ahead of the pack by a good margin. Right now, they are in the driver’s seat (21 games over .500 as of July 17), and could extend their division advantage by a big margin in the coming weeks (more on this later). However, if the Braves are going to compete in October, and I mean no early NLDS or Wild Card exit, they need some stability in the bullpen. For those of you who have been watching the Braves, you have probably noticed the offense, overall, is clicking and the lineup is picking each other up. If it’s not Acuna Jr., Albies and Freddie Freeman, it’s Donaldson, Riley and Swanson. The starting rotation looks to have a solid one, two, three in Soroka, Keuchel and Fried, respectively. All three have been strong as of late. However, if you’ve been watching the Braves as lately, you may have noticed how when the ball is turned over the bullpen, you might be reaching for that medication. The bullpen is shaky and still hasn’t found any kind of identity.
So the Braves need a bullpen arm. Let’s take a look at a couple of trade possibilities for the Braves prior to the July 31 deadline.
Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
If you’ve been following the Braves (and the upcoming trade deadline) closely, you’ve probably heard this name. Will Smith has had a great year so far, holding a 2.11 ERA with 24 saves to his name. He’s also a hometown kid, born and raised in Newnan. The Braves will definitely be in the running for Smith. The question, though, is will SF’s return demands be too high for Atlanta? With Riley’s earning a consistent spot in the lineup card (playing left field), Acuna’s abilities in center field and Markakis’ consistency in right, it’s possible the Braves could package Ender Inciarte into a potential trade to San Fran. One thing is for certain, the Braves will be fighting with other playoff contenders for Smith’s services.
Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
Brad Hand would be a welcome addition to the bullpen. His numbers with Cleveland have been impressive with a 2.29 ERA and 60 strikeouts to just 10 walks. He’s mainly pitched in the National League, with stints in Miami and San Diego, so a change from his current AL home back to NL would be familiar. Hand is also 25 of 26 in save opportunities, and at 29 years old, he’s still in his prime.
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers aren’t going anywhere this year, and probably won’t be at least in the short term, the Braves need to keep an eye on this guy. He hasn’t appeared a lot this season (34 games), but his numbers are very solid. He owns a 1.06 ERA with 10 walks and 35 strikeouts. He’s 22-24 in saves this season, and would be able to fill in right away in the closer role. With each of these closers, it would make sense to move Sobotka, Swarzak and Jackson into set-up roles (pending none have to be traded for a deal). All three have shown the ability to pitch a clean inning.
There’s also the possibility that nothing happens. Over the years, the Braves have been in the discussion for making moves near or at the trade deadline, but ultimately never pull the trigger. That could very well happen again this year. The Braves are not known for going out and making a big splash. They are one of those teams that would rather walk away from the table than potentially give up too much. That mantra did change somewhat when the Braves signed Dallas Keuchel, who now looks to be solidifying his role in the starting rotation.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to find out a lot about this Atlanta Braves team. After the road trip in Milwaukee wraps up, the Braves return home for a four-game series with Washington and a two-game series with Kansas City. Atlanta then goes on the road for the remainder of July with a three-game stop in Philadelphia, followed by three in DC. By the time the calendar turns to August, there could be a new face or two in the Atlanta bullpen. Could it be a closer? Or a reliever? The Braves could also have a substantial lead in the NL East. But a division pennant only gets you a spot in the postseason. Now, the Braves should be looking to make some noise in the playoffs. If the Braves want to give the Dodgers and other NL playoff teams a run for their money in October, they must find stability in the bullpen. Luckily, there’s still some time.