Just after the 4 p.m. Eastern trade deadline ended, news broke on Twitter (via Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times), that the Braves had acquired left-handed relief pitcher James Russell and utility player Emilio Bonifacio from the Chicago Cubs.
The deal was made official shortly thereafter, as MLB's official transaction page on Twitter confirmed that the Braves had made a move for the two Cubs in exchange for catching prospect Victor Caratini.
The Braves and Frank Wren had been rumored to have been looking for a left-handed relief pitcher and bench help for weeks leading up to the trade deadline. Luis Ávilan's poor performance out of the bullpen and Chasen Shreve's inexperience made the Braves wary of going forward without acquiring another southpaw for the bullpen, and they got their man in James Russell. Additionally, the Braves' bench has been one of the least productive units in baseball this season, and adding Bonifacio gives the Braves a player who has defensive versatility and switch-hitting ability.
Russell, the owner of a 3.51 earned-run average in 2014, has performed poorly against left-handed bats so far this season, allowing a .281/.358/.525 line to them in 2014, as opposed to a .098/.243/.121 line against righties. A BABIP of .313 for lefties against Russell and .125 for righties has something to do with this, however. His career lines allowed to lefties (.234/.276/.416) and righties (.265/.343/.471) are more consistent with what one would expect a LOOGY to allow. Russell isn't a big strikeout pitcher, and he has struggled with free passes at times this season. The Braves seem to be banking on Russell's historical ability to control left-handed bats in order to shore up this deficiency in their bullpen. Russell also has one more year of team control if they choose to retain him after this season.
Emilio Bonifacio has played center field, shortstop, third base, and second base for the Cubs this season, and has also played the corner outfield positions at certain points in his career. Bonifacio has made quite a few stops in his big-league career, playing for Arizona, Washington, Florida (where he was managed by Fredi González), Toronto, and Kansas City before signing a 1-year/$2.5 million deal with Chicago in the off-season. Defensive metrics see Bonifacio as a slightly below-average center fielder, an above-average corner outfielder, a poor shortstop, and a roughly average third and second baseman. At the plate, Bonifacio is a switch-hitter who hits lefties (career 95 wRC+) better than right-handed pitchers (career 75 wRC+). Bonifacio doesn't walk much, but does strike out at an above-average clip (20% career), and is a line-drive and ground-ball oriented hitter who doesn't offer much in terms of power.
Caratini was ranked as Talking Chop's eighth-best prospect on our mid-season list, and was a second-round pick out of a Miami junior college in the 2013 Amateur Draft. Caratini has played both third base and catcher in his professional career, but has settled in mostly behind the dish in the 2014 season for the single-A Rome Braves. Caratini's current slash line of .279/.352/.406 is a good reflection of his strengths and weaknesses as a hitter--he projects to have an above-average hit tool who will provide a decent batting average and good on-base skills, but also doesn't offer much potential or production when it comes to over-the-fence power. The Braves have a lot of catching depth in their system ahead of Caratini, including Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt, in addition to younger players such as Tanner Murphy and Bryan de la Rosa. Caratini projects as a below-average defender behind the dish and at third base, so as a prospect, he's a bit of a square peg in a round hole. He was, however, one of the best pure hitting prospects in the system before his departure, so it's a little disappointing to see a good hitter in a system starved for hitting talent go.
No corresponding roster moves have been made by the team yet, as the two newly-acquired players will join the team tomorrow in San Diego, per the Braves' Twitter account.
Bonifacio and Russell will report to San Diego tomorrow. Corresponding moves on the 25-man roster will be made at that time.— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) July 31, 2014
If I were to speculate, I would guess that either Phil Gosselin or Jordan Schafer will depart from the active roster in Bonifacio's stead. Schafer's performance has been almost unspeakably poor this season, but he may be viewed as more of a known commodity than Gosselin, who earned a promotion following Dan Uggla's departure after a strong season offensively for Triple-A Gwinnett. When it comes to Russell, I'd suspect that either Chasen Shreve will be sent back down to the Minors, or that we could see David Hale sent down to start in Gwinnett. Perhaps Juan Jaime could be shipped back down to the Minors as well. We'll find out tomorrow.
It will be interesting to see how the addition of these two players, neither of whom possess an overwhelming track record of big-league success, plays out for Frank Wren and the Braves. They gave up an intriguing hitter without a clear defensive home who is blocked by a couple of players at his most likely defensive position, so the risk isn't that great, but this shouldn't be viewed as a trade that will make the team more than marginally better. At any rate, we'll be welcoming a pair of former Cubs to the Braves, and saying goodbye and good luck to Victor Caratini. Let's see how it plays out.