The Braves mortgaged a lot of their farm system to get Mark Teixeira at the trading deadline to try and win last year (or if that failed to have Teixeira and try and win this year). They've done the same thing in years past to try and get that one extra piece that will put them over the top. The problem with that approach this year, is that there seems to be a lot more than just one piece that's needed to make and keep this team competitive.
I realize that I bring this up while we are mired in our worst slump of the season, but we need to start considering a scenario in which we are not within reach of the post-season as the July 31st trading deadline nears; a scenario in which we become sellers and not buyers? When do we stop this 17-year run of trying to do anything we can to win? When do we stop trying to win?
All or Nothing
This season was unofficially considered the "all or nothing" season, but with key injuries to our starting rotation -- the foundation of this team -- we may be more than just one or two players away from a quick fix to getting back into the playoff race. So if, come July 20th or so, we are below .500 and no where near the top of the league, then we must abandon our "all-in" approach for a "bail-out" approach. Just as we were positioned well on paper to make a run at the postseason, we are equally positioned to unload a lot of our veteran players who will be potential free agents for a good return of young players and prospects.
Simply put we have a lot of tradeable pieces that, should we fall completely out of contention, could be moved for a better shot in the future (and a more immediate shot than just draft picks would give us). With the likely departure this year of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Mike Hampton, our team will be getting younger anyway (heck, we're already one of the top-5 youngest teams in baseball in terms of average age).
Who Goes... Everyone
This is a rare year in which we are in a solid position to hold a public player auction on many of our top veteran stars. The first name at the top of everyone's list (if the Braves are not in the hunt for the playoffs) will be Mark Teixeira. Let's be realistic -- we will not sign this guy in the off-season, so why not get better-than-one-draft-pick value for him in late July. We may be able to target teams that need first-base/DH power and have young players to trade (Dodgers, Angels, Red Sox, heck even the Mets might bite if we are willing). If we had to give up five prospects last year to get Teixeira, then we could at least get two or three in return this year (even for a two-month rental).
If Mike Gonzalez comes back and proves he is healthy, then he may also be valuable trade bait; either dealt by himself or packaged with Teixeira. Another possibility is a healthy Mark Kotsay, who may be attractive to several teams at the deadline as a two-month rent-a-player. Matt Diaz may be attractive to some teams as a batter off the bench, and lefty reliever Will Ohman could also interest some playoff teams. Some of these lesser guys may not by themselves garner big name prospects in return, but packaged together to a contender they could net a good return of one or two solid prospects.
And don't forget Mike Hampton. Heaven forbid he actually toes the mound again as a Brave, but if he does, his first few starts will likely be disastrous anyway; but once those bad starts are out of the way he may settle down and provide a good 10 to 12 starts for a contender hoping for a fresh arm for the playoff push.
Don't Fight the Future
I think most Braves fans were overrating this season to begin with. We needed a perfect storm of health and return-to-form from so many players that the probability of such a thing happening were so far fetched that even Vegas would laugh at the odds of such a thing happening; and look what happened... that perfect storm of health became the perfect snakebite in so many different ways.
Let's not kid ourselves anymore. We are not the team we thought we were. We're not going to beat the Phillies -- who have used only their original five starting pitchers all season, compared to the nine that we will have used (after Charlie Morton makes his major league debut on Saturday).
Look, I'm the biggest homer you'll find for the Braves, but even I have come to the realization that this team just isn't cut out for a run at the post-season. Let's not go down flailing and grasping at straws like we have the last two years, let's go down with the confidence that we're improving this club for another run at 10-plus years of division dominance. Let's trade away these aging free agents while they still have value (or in the case of the injured ones, once they regain their value).
We've seen Braves GM Frank Wren make trades to try and make this team better on paper, but now it's his chance to take this team (his team) in a new direction -- a direction he can define by the talent he can acquire for his veteran players this year. Let's see if Wren can build a team that can compete for years to come instead of the roll-the-dice-on-one-year veteran approach that seems to have failed this season.
It's time to rebuild, not reload.
It's time to find the next Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux, not to try and piece together the shattered tendons of nostalgic reunions.
It's time to turn away from the era of Blauser, Lemke, and Olsen, and to the new era of Escobar, Johnson, and McCann.
It's time for Jordan Schafer, Tommy Hanson, and Jason Heyward to remind us what a Rookie of the Year looks like.
Perhaps, it's even time for the Hall of Fame duo of Cox and Schuerholz to be replaced by the duo of Wren and Pendleton.
It's time to rebuild, not reload.