What to do, what to do, what to do... What should this schizophrenic Atlanta Braves team do to improve itself? Should the team do anything to improve itself? Should they make a trade or should they just stand pat as they have since they acquired Michael Bourn at last year's July 31st trade deadline?
First off, I'm not talking about this because of any one game, though last night's game can lead to dark and depressing places (needless to say I'm pretty sure I reenacted Platoon with Charlie Sheen last night). I'm talking about a trade or a move because 62 games into this season it's pretty apparent that something is missing, or something else is needed to make the Braves a team that can consistently compete with the best teams in baseball.
The Braves were able to deal with one of the major areas of concern with this team a few weeks ago when they swapped shortstops Tyler Pastornicky and Andrelton Simmons. That was as good as a trade and a huge upgrade on both defensive and offensive. That helped the team get better, but it didn't solve all the problems.
As far as calling on the Braves minor league system for any additional help, the simple answer is there isn't any. One might be able to make the case for Ernesto Mejia as a right-handed first base or pinch hitting option, but beyond the chance that his good triple-A production could, at age 26 in his eighth professional season, translate into Major League production, there is no one else. Someone is bound to try and make an argument for another player, but there's no one else. The Atlanta system is currently bereft of Major League ready prospects (at least ones that the Braves manager is comfortable letting pitch more than four innings).
So where does the team need help?
The offense has been a Jekyll and Hyde routine all season. Showing up for an inning or two, then disappearing for days. But there's not much that the Braves can do to improve the offense via a trade. Every position is occupied with a player who should be the guy the Braves want in the lineup everyday. Of course, that player staying the lineup everyday has been one of the big problems. On that note we'll just have to hope that these guys get healthy and that all or most of them they can achieve some kind of consistency at the plate as Bourn, Prado, and Uggla have done this season.
The starting rotation has been a mixed bag of good and horrible. Every single starter has had his problems at one point or another this season. As a unit they seem to be getting better, and all the help the Atlanta system can muster is currently on its way in the form of Kris Medlen. There are good signs that Jair Jurrjens might be ready to return, and we can hold out hope that Julio Teheran will be allowed to pitch out of small jam at some point in his career. There are options within the Atlanta system, so giving up any set of prospects for a starting pitcher seems like a waste of prospects and effort.
That leads us to the bullpen. Ah, the bullpen. What was supposed to be the strength of this Braves team has been anything but. Compared to the rest of the league, the Atlanta pen has not been that bad as far as ERA, almost exactly average, but it has been one of the worst bullpen in batting average against, and second worst in number of home runs allowed.
Last year the Atlanta bullpen was the best in the League at stranding inherited runners, allowing only 24% to score. But this season that number has jumped to 32% of inherited runners scoring -- a number on par with the atrocious Mets bullpen. But what to do?
Maybe Yohan Flande or Anthony Varvaro would be better options than some of the guys in the pen, but they have no Major League track record that tells us they would be. Peter Moylan is a long way away from being able to return. The Braves could put Kris Medlen back in the bullpen, but while he has a nice looking ERA, he's allowed the second most inherited runners to score on the team this season, so there is no guarantee that he would be a better option than the guys currently in the pen.
The bullpen, though, is an area where a trade could make sense. There is a reliever or two who could easily be replaced, and one rather large reliever who should immediately be replaced. So if the team is looking to trade, that's where they should start. But as most teams know, trading for another team's best reliever (or relievers) doesn't mean that production will translate to your team.
While there is a risk, the bullpen seems like the one place that would make the most sense to improve the Braves via a trade. Though I doubt the Braves would be willing to surrender top prospects or spend a lot of money on a setup man. Here too, like the offense, the Braves might prefer to simply wait for all of the players to work their way through their problems. After all, this is what they did with Chad Durbin earlier this season, and suddenly he might be the team's second most effective reliever.
So what to do? Sometime a team makes a move for the sake of making a move, and to shake things up. That's generally not the Braves way. Therefore they might have to get creative in order to get some help. Could Jair Jurrjens be dominant for one inning at a time in a bullpen role? How about Julio Teheran in relief?
I have no idea what the Braves might do, but as a fan, I want them to do something. I would start by getting rid of Livan in favor of Medlen, and see how it goes from there. There's still a month and a half to the trade deadline, and a team can audition a lot of internal options between now and then.
...Oh, and one more thing. If I were the Braves GM, I would make sure that Fredi Gonzalez got his head out of his arse, or else replace him with a better tactician.