Zack Greinke is off the market. As of this writing we’re not sure if the Braves will acquire a starter. There’s still the possibility for Ryan Dempster, as long as the Cubs go to him and are up-front before anything is agreed upon, apparently. Josh Johnson is out there but the Marlins reportedly want the moon and the sun. James Shields seems to have the tools to be very good but has never quite put it all together. There’s Francisco Liriano, an injury risk.
What are the Braves to do? Their closer, a pitcher with only 39 innings pitched on the season, leads the team in WAR (Brandon Beachy still leads in Baseball Reference’s version but Kimbrel is second, which also reveals the state of the starting staff). Ben Sheets has been a pleasant surprise but a) he’s an injury risk and b) the Braves can’t rely on Sheets alone to ease their pitching issues.
It seems they will continue to try hard for Dempster, probably their best choice at this point. But they could do something creative, something like what the Cardinals did last season. They could load up on solid arms that may have some deficiencies here and there but are capable of blowing hitters away. I’m thinking lesser names than guys like Greinke and Dempster that may not require the Braves to give up any more than maybe one of the top young pitching prospects or defensive whiz catcher Christian Bethancourt.
Last year the Cardinals traded one expendable but talented young player in Colby Rasmus and several filler pieces, veteran relievers, for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepczynski and Corey Patterson. I was skeptical of this trade and still am. Maybe I’m stubborn, but I still think the Cardinals could end up regretting giving up on Rasmus at such a young age. But it’s hard to argue with the fact that this trade helped them win the Wild Card and eventually the World Series.
If the Braves can possibly use that as a model, they should. Maybe package Randall Delgado in with the Anthony Vavaro, Cory Gearrin types, possibly some of the other veteran fillers toiling in the minors that could fill out a major league bullpen on a bad team. Like the Blue Jays were willing to take the talented Rasmus plus fringe-level pitchers for some of their more solid arms, teams may be willing to take some fringe-type pitchers from the Braves for the opportunity to take a talented, young player like Randall Delgado. At worst maybe the have to throw in another solid prospect or two.
If they could get Dempster, why not make the package to the Cubs a little more impressive and ask for Shawn Camp and James Russell, unsung relievers capable of getting big outs. If not Dempster, ask for Paul Maholm instead. They could turn to the Mariners and old buddy Kevin Millwood, who is having an okay season, and also ask for Tom Wilhelmsen, Steve Delebar and Brandon League. It may even be worth taking a chance on the disappointing Luke Hochevar if the Royals would be willing to throw in Jonathan Broxton and Jose Mijares.
The Braves could also try to pry away Reed Johnson or Jeff Baker from the Cubs, Casper Wells from the Mariners or Jeff Francoeur from the Royals (kidding).
There are quite a few bad teams with plenty of solid arms and bench bats that could be packaged together to help the Braves for short burst and match-ups. It seems this is the quickest, easiest way to improve a team without giving up a ton. I’m sure I’m not the first to think of this. The front office probably has something more brilliant up its sleeve, I hope, considering they’re a major league front office. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if the Braves go this route. It’s hard to imagine Greinke providing much more value than say three or four players, if they are the right players, even if they lack the name recognition.