A Braves trade could all hinge on how healthy Chipper Jones is.
It was the big blow to the 2010 campaign for the Atlanta Braves: Chipper Jones going down with a season ending injury. The Braves were able to eventually fill in the gap left by Jones with Derrek Lee and Rick Ankiel, but those were not nearly the impact bats the team needed.
Ken Rosenthal says that the Braves 2011 campaign could be equally derailed by an injury of extended time to Chipper:
Jones' knee is "getting more bothersome," failing to respond to a second round of cortisone the way it did to the first, according to a source with knowledge of his condition.
This is one reason the trade talk has heated up lately with rumors of left fielders like Carlos Quentin. Rosenthal mentions three other candidates: the Padres' Ryan Ludwick, Athletics' Josh Willingham or Twins' Michael Cuddyer.
Of that group, Cuddyer and Ludwick interest me the most. Cuddyer has always been a seemingly underrated player who puts up decent, though not spectacular, numbers each year. Ludwick has been on the Braves radar before, during the 09-10 off-season.
All three players are in their year-32 season. Willingham and Ludwick are having similar seasons with .714 and .717 OPS numbers respectively. Quentin and Cuddyer are also having similar seasons with .859 and .844 OPS numbers respectively; only one regular on the current Braves roster has a higher OPS.
Rosenthal also mentions that whomever the Braves target they will likely have to receive significant funds in return, as they did last year with their deadline deals, since Atlanta is up against its payroll limit. This would require giving up a higher level prospect or prospects. I must say this rubs me the wrong way. Here we are again seeing where the Braves lack of payroll flexibility and lack of an owner willing to chip in the extra funds to help push a team over the edge are costing the Braves more talent than they should be giving up.
We can only hope that (a) Chipper remains healthy and does not miss a significant (if any) amount of time, and (b) if a trade is deemed necessary by the Atlanta brass, their assertion that certain core young players are untouchable remains true. I do want this team to win this year, but I don't want them to sacrifice their future ability to stay competitive just to get an extra bat that is simply a three month rental.