With the major league trading deadline arriving today at 4 p.m., here's what the Atlanta Braves need to do:
Which is to say, here's what they must not do:
Trade John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander. Or Joe Carter for Rick Sutcliffe. Or Adam Wainwright and Jason Marquis for J.D. Drew. Or Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen.
And they certainly must not ransom half the farm system for Mark Teixeira.
Of course, those are names of the past. But there was a time that Smoltz, Carter, Wainwright, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were mere prospects with little name recognition beyond the most devoted fans who track minor leaguers from rookie ball on up.
All of those prospects were traded for established big leaguers by teams disregarding their future to win immediately. The Wainwright-for-Drew deal was made in the winter before the 2004 season. It has been argued that the Braves achieved their goal. Drew had a career year, and the Braves won their 13 consecutive division title.
But the long-term price was steep. Wainwright and Marquis have gone on to win 200 games between them. Meanwhile, the Braves were bounced by Houston in the first round of the playoffs.
The other trades were made under the pressure of deadline. The Braves, as it has been well documented, were the beneficiaries of one. They sent Alexander, an unhappy and unproductive pitcher, to the Detroit Tigers for their top pitching prospect, Smoltz. Alexander did win nine of his 11 starts with the Tigers. But Detroit still fell short of the World Series. Two years later, the Tigers lost more than 100 games.
Smoltz helped pitch the Braves to five World Series berths, including the championship in 1995. He's likely bound for the Hall of Fame. And Alexander well, he's not.
In fact, of the teams involved in the trades mentioned above, not one of the teams that gave up the farm even reached the World Series. All but one of the teams receiving the prospects went on to play in the World Series with those prospects as key reasons. Three of those teams won it all -- the Braves in '95, and the Cardinals in '06 and '11.
The one exception was Carter, who was traded to Cleveland for Sutcliffe. He went on to drive in more than 100 runs 10 times. He also won a World Series, hitting the walk-off homer in 1993 with Toronto.
You get the idea. Tim Hudson's season-ending fractured ankle left Braves general manager Frank Wren shopping for a veteran starting pitcher. Brandon Beachy's unimpressive return from elbow reconstruction Monday night heightens concerns about the starting rotation.
And if they can pick up a Jake Peavy for a nominal price in terms of prospects, it would be worth the gamble. But they don't need to part with treasured prospects such as pitchers Alex Wood or J.R. Graham or outfielder Joey
Terdoslovich or catcher Christian Bethancourt.
Chances are, not all of their top prospects will pan out. Trouble is, there's no way to project with any certainty which ones will make it and which ones won't. It's fine if they trade the right ones for a veteran who will make a difference, as they did in 1993 when they picked up Fred McGriff from San Diego. And McGriff was not just a short-term solution.
But there is no pitching equivalent to McGriff on the market right now. Besides, there's no obvious need. The '93 Braves were trying to chase down San Francisco. The 2013 Braves entered Tuesday night's game with a nine-game division lead over the Washington Nationals. Would having Peavy start one game in the NL Division Series and possibly two games in the NL Championship Series significantly increase their odds? Not really. His 4.28 earned run average is higher than the Braves' three young starters, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen, and just a scant better than Paul Maholm's 4.41.
Braves general manager Frank Wren seems content to take his chances with the current roster without mortgaging the future. That's the smart approach.