As the second half of the Major League Baseball season starts Friday night, the Atlanta Braves are seven games out of a playoff spot, sitting that many games behind the Washington Nationals. But there’s little reason to believe this squad will rise up and overtake the Nats, as well as the Mets, who also sit above the Braves in the standings.
So it’s time for general manager John Hart to initiate Round 2 of the selloff and get rid of any quality talent he can, in exchange for young prospects that can help the franchise a few years down the road.
With the trade deadline just two weeks away, Braves fans are probably correct to assume that most of the team’s veteran position players are up for trade, with the exception of franchise players like Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons. Guys like A.J. Pierzynski, Chris Johnson, Kelly Johnson and Cameron Maybin could all be theoretically exchanged for prospects that can further bolster Atlanta’s farm system.
And that’s exactly what this team should do, if the focus is really on 2017 and beyond.
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In a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hart disclosed bad news: first baseman Freddie Freeman, who has been out since mid-June with a wrist injury, probably won’t be back until the beginning of August, at the earliest. Originally, the team had hoped he would be activated from the disabled list Friday night.
“It’s more serious than we expected,” Hart told the AJC. “I’m hoping he’ll be back before the first of August but he may not be. He’s working hard to get back but it’s a slow-healing injury and it still gives him pain when he swings. He dinged it, played four or five days with it, and we have him a few days off. We gave him an injection and thought he would be back in two or three days but it was no better. We did further tests and found it was more serious than we thought.”
No Freeman means no chance of the Braves sustaining any success. This is their best hitter, their reliable first baseman, their MVP. And with the Braves fading, having won just seven of their last 19 games, there’s little chance they’ll be contending for a playoff spot when Freeman is finally healthy.
Plus, what’s the purpose of rushing your most valuable player back from a nagging injury? It wouldn’t make sense to push Freeman in a season where a pleasant surprise would be 75 to 80 wins.
Kelly Johnson has been a sufficient fill-in for Freeman at first base, but that raises Johnson’s trade value. Hart would be smart to capitalize on that value and send Johnson somewhere that’s willing to give up a decent young player, because the 33-year-old journeyman might not have many miles left in the engine.
And there’s one more benefit to sending the vets out of town: it gives the younger talent more openings to get big-league experience. Pierzynski has been so successful at the plate that Christian Bethancourt – widely believed to be the Braves’ catcher of the future – was sent back to the minors to get more playing time.
If you want these kids to be ready for the majors in 2017, now is the time to get their feet wet.
Buckle up, Braves fans, the rest of this season could be painful.
Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports