So, if none of the free agent options work, Frank Wren may look at the trade market. This will involve even more speculation on my part, mainly because the Braves front office has a history of making deals outside of the conventional rumor mill. But I’ll offer my thoughts.
First, the Braves have a heavy minor league/prospect pitching surplus to deal from. I think the team’s only ‘untouchables’ are Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran (and Craig Kimbrel, if you think he’d be in the discussion). I’d be hesitant to make Randall Delgado available, but if the price is right, who knows. The team has a number of at or near MLB-ready starting pitchers to work with, including Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Scott Diamond and Todd Redmond. That doesn’t include Kenshin Kawakami who the Braves would certainly like to trade, but would likely be done in a salary relief move. As has been discussed, perhaps Jair Jurrjens could also be offered. He wouldn’t bring too much salary relief, but he’s under team control through 2013 and at just 24 years old is already 37-27 with a 3.52 ERA. He would likely decrease some of the salary the Braves might have to eat up in a trade, leaving funds available to maybe sign Javier Vazquez to a one-year deal as a 4th starter?
Looking at position players, the team could also look to include Nate McLouth in a deal to free up some cash. If that were to happen, perhaps Gwinnett’s Matt Young could/would be given a chance to start? Young has experience in both LF and CF put up an impressive .300/.380/.407 line in 2010. He certainly wouldn’t be a power threat, but his 39 stolen bases this season could add a speed dimension to the 2011 Braves, similar to what Brett Gardner has done for the Yankees (another NY team reference, see what happens when you live here???).
So, in alphabetical order, who could the Braves target?
Mike Cameron – As MLBTR points out, Cameron could become available if Boston manages to sign Carl Crawford. Cameron was a pretty consistent 20 HR/80 RBI type guy from the late ‘90s up until just a couple years ago. His age (37) might be catching up to him a bit as he managed just 48 games with the Red Sox in 2010. He’s right-handed and has a lot of experience in CF (effectively none at LF). He’s signed through 2011 at $7.75m, so, depending on what Atlanta would offer in return, it would seem feasible that Boston could assume part of that cost. Cameron’s obviously not a great option, but may be serviceable if the Braves end up having to wait until next year for a more appealing OF free agent class.
Jacob Ellsbury – Same possibilities here as with Cameron (re: BOS getting Crawford). This would certainly be a focus on speed instead of power (9 HR is Ellsbury’s career high). While he’s young (27) and cheap (under control through ’13), he’s left-handed and had serious difficulties coming back from injuries this past season. Boston has a number of high-profile pitchers, but enough of them are aging and expensive that some Atlanta prospects could be appealing. There were rumors about some Ellsbury-to-Atlanta discussions during the trade deadline in ’10, so maybe some trade foundations have already been laid?
Matt Kemp – Kemp had some issues with his team during the 2010 season and was pulled out of the starting line-up for a few games mid-year. There was talk that he could be made available, so perhaps that possibility continues to remain true. The Dodger CF performed below expectations in 2010, but still put up a .760 OPS with 28 HR and 89 RBI. Kemp’s set to make just shy of $7m in 2011, but his contract ends at the end of that year. He’s still young (26), so a resigning could make sense. LAD had a solid enough starting rotation this year, but after signing Ted Lilly to a surprising 3yr/$33m deal, they could be looking for cheaper options to fill out the back end of their rotation. Plus, their bullpen wasn’t exactly all that impressive.
Colby Rasmus – Less than 2 months ago, reports came out that Rasums asked for a trade from the Cardinals. He ended up staying, obviously, but with Tony LaRussa staying on with the team in 2011, perhaps Rasmus could be available (despite talk coming out of the Cardinals’ FO). He’s young, productive, low-cost and is under team control through 2014, though he hits left-handed. He could fit right in to centerfield and push McLouth (Young?) over to LF. All of those positives mean he’d require a haul to obtain. Between Carpenter, Wainright and Garcia, the Cardinals have a pretty strong rotation, but Carpenter will turn 36 next season and their bullpen isn’t exactly full of young arms. If Atlanta pursues him, they’ll have a number of teams to compete with, pushing the trade cost even higher.
Grady Sizemore – I know, I know. You might be thinking “why in the world would the Indians trade Sizemore?!” First off, this is less of a ‘likely scenarios’ list than it is a ‘should be targets’ list. Second, it may not be as absurd as you might think. Sizemore’s coming off two injury-shortened seasons and only played 33 games in 2010 due to a knee injury. That came on the heals of 4 superb seasons from 2005-2008. He’s signed through 2011 at $7.5m with a club option for 2012 (it’s important to note that the ’12 option becomes a player option if he’s traded). He’s still relatively young (29) and should be in the prime of his career if he’s able to return healthy. He can play either LF or CF and would fit in as a 20-30 HR guy with plenty of speed, though being left-handed could be a downside. The Indians don’t have a ton of money to spend, so perhaps they might view Sizemore as a way to reduce costs while bringing in young prospects to set themselves up for the future, especially if they think their chances of keeping him past the next year or two are slim. Their 2010 starting rotation was young, but they certainly have a use for more talented arms. I think Atlanta would have to be relatively confident that Sizemore would agree to a contract extension, because one year of him for the pieces it would likely cost to get him would obviously not be worth it.
BJ Upton – Upton might not be as appealing a candidate as he likely was a year or two ago, but he still has plenty of value. He’s right-handed, a solid centerfielder, relatively cheap (under team control through 2012 and made $3m in ’10) and young (26). He wouldn’t be much of a power bat (AVG and OBP have also dropped recently), but would offer a lot of speed (averaged over 40 SB over last 3 years). With Carl Crawford almost certainly departing Tampa Bay, the Rays may be hesitant to give up another starting OF. It might be tough to find a match for Atlanta as the Rays are pretty well set with talented young arms.
Chris Young – Not talked about that often, but I wonder if Frank Wren could pry Young away from the Diambondbacks with the right offer. ARI has a new GM with Kevin Towers, so perhaps he’d like to quickly put his own mark on the team. Or maybe they just want to be nice and thank us for freeing up Kelly Johnson! Young’s signed through 2013 (with a club option for ’14) and is certainly affordable at $5m in 2011. He’s young (26), right-handed, plays a solid CF, has speed and has averaged 24 HR over the past four seasons. He seems to be part of the core of young ARI players, but that team desperately needs pitching..something the Braves have plenty of to offer.
The weak free agent class would seem to suggest the Braves should go the trade route, but I'm not convinced they'll do that. The team has been burned on most of the 'big' trades they've made recently (I'm thinking of Teixeira and McLouth). The Vazquez to NY verdict is still TBD, so the last truly successful move was thee Renteria/Jurrjens deal. I'm not sure the Wren will want to pull the trigger on the trade that involves big time prospects, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Pat Burrell in LF at something near 2yr/$10m or 1yr/$7m.