MLB Trade Deadline: Atlanta Braves preview

The Braves are hoping that La Stella doesn't fall down on the job - Jared Wickerham

Tied for first in the NL East, the Braves' need to make a move will be dependent upon a variety of factors.

Through 52 games, the Braves scored more runs than zero teams in baseball. If not for the Padres being just as bad offensively, the Braves would be sole owners of the worst offense in the Major League Baseball. Despite a  .237/.300/.379 triple-slash, .301 wOBA, and 88 wRC+, the Braves position players have been worth 6.7 fWAR for action through May 28th. This, of course, is the result of having the second-most productive defense in terms of contribution to fWAR behind only the Reds.

Where the Braves have really set themselves apart though is fairly surprising, especially given their brutal spring. With nearly a third of the season in the books, the Braves' pitching staff has the third-most fWAR in the Majors with 7.6. That is the best mark in the National League by nearly a full win over the Cubs. Their 14.3 fWAR is just behind the division-rival Marlins, who sport the NL's best mark at 14.6. By third order wins, the Braves and Marlins are also neck and neck in the division.

By nearly any measure, the Braves are in the thick of it all.

Buyers or Sellers?

Buyers

Obviously, a team in hunt is unlikely to be selling. Historically, the Braves have been unafraid to make deals heading into the trade deadline, be they buyers or sellers. Maybe some of those trades look worse in retrospect--what they gave away for Mark Teixeira is still written about today--than they did at the time, but when there's a move to be made, the Braves tend to make it.

Needs

Starting Pitching

In two days in March, the depth of the Braves' rotation went to straight to Hell. They lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who were supposed to be key contributors to the Braves' playoff aspirations. The rotation currently consists of Ervin Santana, Julio Teheran, Aaron Harang, and the now-healthy duo of Gavin Floyd and Mike Minor. They have quality depth in Alex Wood, who they seem to have put in the pen in part to limit his workload early, but past Wood there's not a lot of quality depth. The only other Brave to register a start has been David Hale, whose all ground ball and no strikeout repertoire should hardly embolden the fanbase or front office. Past Hale, they have Daniel Rodriguez and Zach Stewart in AAA - Gwinnett who could make a spot start in a pinch.

When looking at that rotation, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which Harang and Floyd both continue on productively and/or healthily. Harang is pitching like he hasn't since 2007. Floyd missed almost the entirety of last season to injury. An injury or lapse into ineffectiveness by more than one member of the top six pitchers, and the Braves are effectively screwed.

Trade Likelihood: Moderate (health-/performance-dependent)

Second Base

So Dan Uggla's still not good at baseball. What's more, his walk rate has been cut in half, meaning his production is no longer just on the right side of replacement player. The Braves just called up second baseman Tommy La Stella in the hopes that he can cure what ails them: poor production from second. It stands to reason that the Braves should figure out what they've got in their prospect, but massive struggles from La Stella--in other words, an Uggla-sized ball of terrible--could force them to look externally for a solution.

Trade Likelihood: Low

Center Field

While his brother Justin has been solid, B.J. Upton wasted no time making the five-year deal the Braves handed him heading into 2013 look like a huge mistake. This year, he has at least been a little above replacement-level player. The most disturbing thing for the Braves almost has to be the complete evaporation of power. His ISO dropped over .100 between 2012 and 2013, and it's only come back up by .026 this season. He's also striking out at over a 30% clip for the second straight season. If it wasn't for his defensive contributions at center, he'd be an unmitigated disaster. Unfortunately for Atlanta, he is still under contract through 2017.

Trade Likelihood: Low

Pieces to Deal

The Braves farm system is not especially deep right now, due in large part to their many graduations to the Major League level. This doesn't put them in a great situation insofar as being buyers is concerned.

Pitching Prospects

Lucas Sims is clearly the key target for trade partners with Atlanta. He hasn't been as dominant in high-A - Lynchburg as he was at each earlier stop, but the ceiling is still pretty high--number two starter. The Braves have a fair amount of depth past Sims, but the talent is of a much lower caliber once you move down the list. Mauricio Cabrera, Jason Hursh, and J.R. Graham--all of whom have their upside, but are significantly rawer than the refined Sims--could all be rolled into a package deal that could yield something of worth.

Trade Likelihood: High

Infielders

Jose Peraza's importance to the Braves likely depends on La Stella's ability to play at the Major League level. If La Stella can hold his own, Peraza--a defense-first shortstop who has no future at short in Atlanta--is the odd man out. Given the Chris Johnson extension, which shores up the left side of the infield through 2017, both Victor Caratini and Johan Camargo could be used to sweeten the pot in a deal. They are both far enough away that impact before that point is unlikely, but they are also potentially extraneous, and one could certainly be thrown into a deal with one of the aforementioned pitchers to plug whatever hole the Braves need to address come the deadline.

Trade Likelihood: High

Second base

With just one year left on his deal after this season, the Braves should look to move Dan Uggla. He would yield little in return, but someone could bite hoping that a change of scenery could rejuvenate his career. If the Braves ate a significant chunk of his salary, they could maybe even get a decent prospect to dream on. At the very least, a willingness to eat a large chunk of his pay in 2014 and 2015 could entice a team to take the risk.

Trade Likelihood: Moderate

The Braves' need to make a trade will almost entirely be dependent upon the continued effectiveness of Harang and Floyd, the health of the rotation, and the performance of Tommy La Stella. They are neck and neck with the Marlins, who one has to assume will begin to fade as the absence of Jose Fernandez looms larger and larger, but there aren't a lot of holes to fill for these legitimate contenders.

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