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The Untouchables

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If indeed the rest of the NL East continues to allow us to stay in the division race, and Frank Wren and company decide to go out and pick up what the Braves need most at the trade deadline (an impact bat), who will we have available to trade. Better yet, which of our young players would we be willing to part with? After all, this is the all or nothing year for the Braves, with key veteran players like Smoltz, Glavine, Teixeira, and Kotsay likely exiting this off-season.

The Braves know that in the coming years they need to rebuild their starting pitching, and for the Braves that generally starts on the farm. The biggest up and comer for Atlanta is Tommy Hanson, who recently threw a 14-strikeout no-hitter at double-A, and might be ready to make his major league debut as early as this season. Regardless of when he debuts he will likely be one of the young pitchers the Braves call on to rebuild their rotation and he should be a solid contributor by late 2009. With what his upside looks like, I say Tommy Hanson is untouchable.

What about the pitchers who are already in the majors? With the way Jair Jurrjens has pitched this year mark him down as untouchable. How about Jo-Jo Reyes and Charlie Morton? My guess is that the Braves would be willing to part with one, but not both of those guys, for the right return. A less attractive but tradable pitcher is Chuck James, who is proving to be more of a four-A player as he has put up a 1.69 ERA in nine games spanning 48 innings for Richmond without allowing a homerun; this after giving up seven homers in just 23 major league innings this year (and a whopping 32 homeruns in 161.1 major league innings last year). Still, James’ good work at Richmond could make him attractive to several teams.

I would venture a guess that every other pitcher in the Braves organization not named Teheran is available; even Cole Rohrbough and Jeff Locke – though the return on those two guys would have to be significant.

As for position player prospects that might be available the list may be even greater and the untouchable list shorter. First up is Jason Heyward, who is probably the most untouchable prospect in the Braves organization. Much like the Braves would likely only trade one of either Morton or Reyes, they would likely also listen in on either Jordan Schafer or Gorkys Hernandez, but not both. Many Braves fans are going ga-ga for Gorkys, but he might be the most tradable prospect in our minor league system, and with Schafer already ahead of him on the center field depth chart, Wren may be getting the most offers for the talented young center fielder. Apparently after we acquired him this past off-season several teams inquired immediately as to his availability. Gorkys is probably the prospect the Braves would prefer to trade at the deadline as he doesn’t deplete their pitching depth and plays at a position of organizational depth.

Another player position combo which the Braves could move one of two guys is at shortstop with either Yunel Escobar or Brent Lillibridge being possibly made available. While Escobar has made a big impact in the majors, the presence of Lillibridge, who has only to be given playing time to prove he can hit in the majors, means that Yunel could be swapped for more power or a better combination of speed and power bats. Odds are that Escobar will not be the one moved, but recent youthful attitude outbursts may loosen the Braves’ feelings on his possible previous untouchable status.

To recap, my list of the only untouchable players in the Braves system are as follows:
Jair Jurrjens
Jason Heyward
Tommy Hanson
Julio Teheran

… and of course the major league core of McCann, Chipper, and Hudson. Everyone else, in my opinion, is available… for the right return.

The way the Braves are playing from one day to the next seems to change the argument as to whether we should be sellers or buyers as the trade deadline nears. I’ve already made the argument that we are well positioned to be sellers and get a high return on several of our veterans free agents, but the exact opposite is also true. If we choose to be buyers at the trade deadline then once again our farm system has put us in a good position to make some moves to help us acquire the player or players we need. The depth of that farm system has also made it so that there are very few untouchable player and prospects.

In the comments let me know who you think our untouchable players are.