Guerry Clegg commentary: Trading Uggla, Heyward could solve pitching problem

March 18, 2014 

Braves Tigers Spring Baseball

GENE J. PUSKAR/Associated PressAtlanta Braves' Jason Heyward follows through Thursday on a solo-home run off Detroit Tigers' pitcher Melvin Mercedes during the third inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game in Lakeland, Fla.

GENE J. PUSKAR — AP

Spring training is supposed to be a renewal of hope.

Instead, for the Atlanta Braves and their fans, this spring has been a reminder of how fragile a team can be. Kris Medlen is done for the season, and Brandon Beachy probably will be as well.

Despite the swift free agent signing of Ervin Santana, the mood among many Braves fans has been one of gloom. The 2014 season is a lost cause. Might as well start building for 2015

Whoa.

Let's see how the first half of the season plays out. The possibilities are numerous.

As I mentioned in last week's column, the Braves still may have enough starting pitching to contend. Sure, they have almost no margin for error -- that is, more injuries or under performance among their established starters. But they do have the arms. Not every team, even some contenders, can say that.

Suppose the worst happens. Suppose David Hale and Alex Wood prove not to be ready to pitch every fifth day in the big leagues. Suppose Gavin Floyd, signed as free agent in the offseason to provide depth, cannot come back from his Tommy John surgery. Suppose Freddy Garcia's late season performance was just a blip and he's finished as a capable big league starter.

Then what?

The Braves still might have options. They might not all be pleasant, and some could be costly.

It has been taken as a given that their budget has been stretched to the limit and that there are no more Ervin Santanas currently unemployed. But options still could develop as the season progresses.

Two years ago, they went out and acquired Paul Maholm during the season. Last year, Wood and Hale came up from the minors earlier than projected and contributed. Things like that happen.

Other possibilities down the road include:

• Trading Dan Uggla for a starter. This would happen only if Uggla gets off to a good start. He has looked good this spring. If he continues to hit well into June, perhaps some team needing a second baseman with power could swallow the rest of his contract. That's especially the case if that team had a pitching contract to unload.

Shaw graduate Edwin Jackson of the Chicago Cubs might be one such fit. Like Uggla, Jackson is making $13 million a year. But whereas Uggla has two years left on his contract, Jackson has four.

• Trading Jason Heyward. This would happen only if Heyward doesn't get off to a great start. Right now, Heyward is an above average outfielder. That's fine. But he values himself as a franchise player, a la Freddie Freeman. He's not. If Heyward plays up to his All-Star potential, the Braves would almost have to pay him market value. But as long as his perception of value exceeds his production, the Braves run the risk of losing him in two years.

They could deal him for a front line starting pitcher who's also a threat to become a free agent in the next year or two. Tampa Bay has resisted offers for David Price. But a package involving Heyward could be hard to turn down.

• Dealing prospects. The Braves' farm system is deeper than most. They have commodities that teams are always searching for -- catching, pitching and shortstops. With Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird and Ryan Doumit at catcher, the Braves could afford to deal Christian Bethancourt. Lucas Sims, Jason Hursh and J.R. Graham are projected to be middle of the rotation starting pitchers, maybe even better.

I'm neither predicting nor proposing any of these deals. I'm simply pointing out that if the need arises, the options will be there.

So much can happen. Yes, it could get even worse. But to give up on the season before the team even breaks camp is pointless. This is still a good team. Good enough to make the playoffs? Time will tell.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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