Granted, there are plenty of ways the Atlanta Braves could justify moving Jaime Garcia before the trade deadline.
- They aren’t making the playoffs this year. Their miniscule chance of catching Washington ended when A) the Nationals won seven of their last 10 and B) the Braves were swept at home by the Cubs. As for the second wildcard spot, even as they won six of their last 10 games as of Friday night’s stunning romp over the Dodgers, they failed to gain so much as half a game in the standings over any top playoff contenders.
- While Garcia would not command some team’s top prospect, they could add another valuable piece to the farm system.
- Garcia will be a free agent after the season, so whether he finishes the season with Atlanta or elsewhere, the Braves are going to have to compete in the open market to sign him for 2018 and beyond.
So I get it. I get all of that.
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Enough of this constant roster turnover and pretending to care about the fans. When the Braves began this massive and largely unnecessary system overhaul, they vowed that everything was pointed toward fielding a highly competitive team in 2017. Here’s what Braves president John Hart said shortly after taking over from Frank Wren as general manager.
“I didn’t come in with the idea to take this thing down to the bare bones,” said Hart. “That’s not one of the plans.
Well, 2017 is more than halfway over – both the calendar and the season – and the Braves are far from being legitimate contenders.
Yes, they are much more competitive than they were in 2015 and ’16. They’ve made some good moves. Trading Evan Gattis for Mike Foltynewicz – which, admittedly, I didn’t like at the time – was a smart move. And some of the players they traded for didn’t pan out, but they were worth the risk. Manny Banuelos, Tyrell Jenkins, Mallex Smith are gone. Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair and Max Fried are looking like busts.
But some of the trades were puzzling at the time and now are clearly bad moves. Three of the Braves’ biggest needs are starting pitching, a real closer, and shortstop. Where would the Braves be right now if they still had Alex Wood in the rotation, Craig Kimbrel as their closer and Andrelton Simmons anchoring the infield?
Kimbrel alone would be worth about three more wins. Having Wood in the rotation would be worth another four wins. That’s seven wins right there. So instead of being 47-48, they would be 54-41 – three games behind the Nationals and one game ahead of Colorado for the second wild card spot. And that doesn’t even factor in the impact of Simmons up the middle.
Conjecture? Sure. There’s no guarantee Wood would have rediscovered his pitching mechanics if he had not been traded to Los Angeles. Maybe if they had Wood they still would have signed Bartolo Colon instead of signing R.A. Dickey or trading for Garcia.
But it’s also logical. One reason this team has not quit is the veteran leadership refuses to concede anything. After getting swept at home by the Cubs, they went to Los Angeles and won the first two games against the hottest team in baseball. The fact that Garcia was instrumental in the second win – coincidentally against Wood – is not incidental. Despite rumors that a trade to Minnesota could be imminent, Garcia pitched one of his best games of the season. And while his grand slam off Wood might have been a fluke, it happened because he battled with two strikes rather when many pitchers would have been content to take strike three and go back to the mound.
In terms of talent, Garcia is a back-of-the-rotation pitcher. But he’s a winner and a professional, as he showed Friday night. As valuable as prospects are, the Braves need more winners like Garcia. That is, if they are really serious about winning.