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Could the Atlanta Braves consider dealing away one of their projected starters and likely #2 hitter before 2016 even begins?
It seems unlikely, but Dave Cameron of Fangraphs thinks the Braves might be a suitable trading partner for the St. Louis Cardinals. The NL Central power is a top contender (again), but just lost shortstop Jhonny Peralta with a thumb injury that could keep him out June or maybe even July. That is a significant amount of the season and while the Cardinals have an option, moving Jedd Gyorko into the starting lineup could be both problematic at the plate and in the field if his -17.5 UZR/150 over 220 innings at shortstop last year is a sign of things to come. St. Louis also has a few kids who might be a better fit as Cameron’s colleague at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan, argues.
If the Cards look for an outside-the-organization solution, the Braves could come bearing gifts – notably, Erick Aybar. The former Angels shortstop was acquired this offseason in the Andrelton Simmons trade and from the get-go, the prevailing wisdom was that Aybar wouldn’t last the whole year in Atlanta. With the organization knee-deep in a rebuild, the 32 year-old Aybar seemed like a questionable fit even before you take into account his pending free agency after the 2016 season. Of course, somebody’s got to play shortstop for the Braves and Aybar is a perfectly good shortstop, but why keep him for a year when you can trade him for an asset or assets you can control beyond 2016?
Before we even consider who the Braves would go to in the event of an Aybar trade, let’s consider what the Braves might be looking for. All of the reasons that the Braves might be so open to a trade also work against any package the Braves could receive. While they can play hardball, Atlanta has a player on the back end of his career who will be a free agent next winter. His numbers are declining both at the plate and in the field and the Cardinals don’t even need to hack any other team’s information to grasp that.
If another team or teams were interested in Aybar, it could help Atlanta’s position, but considering how long it took for Jimmy Rollins and Ian Desmond to find work, shortstop is not a position with a lot of buyers right now.
What could the Braves be looking for? At best, the Braves might be able to pillage an organizational Top 10 talent like shortstop Edmundo Sosa or right-hander Junior Fernandez. The former just turned 20 and will be making his full-season debut this season. He’s shown good pop and a decent all-around game, though his defense may mandate a switch later to second base. In the meantime, he will add to the glut of middle infield prospects for the Braves. He won’t be mentioned in the same breath as Dansby Swanson or Ozhaino Albies, but is he better than Johan Camargo? I’d say so. Fernandez is a Dominican with triple digit heat and pretty good control despite a delivery that is max effort. The latter might push Fernandez into a bullpen role where he projects to have high-leverage bullpen stuff.
Again, that’s the high end and what the Braves would cross their fingers for. In the (likely) event that the Cards balk, the Braves will be seeking sleeper prospects who have a plus tool or maximize their abilities. A guy like Corey Littrell could work. He’s from the school of John Gant/Robert Whalen/Andrew Thurman – starters the Braves have acquired who have a feel for what they are doing on the mound, but won’t rank high in prospect ranks because their stuff isn’t overwhelming.
Bruce Caldwell is interesting from a utility role perspective and has bounced between 2B and 3B for much of his career, though he’s played a little in the corner outfield positions and seems like the last guy in to pitch an inning if needed. Converted catcher and current outfielder Anthony Garcia hit a ton last year (.283/.391/.477 in 105 games). He’s been around for awhile and the Cards are packed in the outfield. Another lefty, David Oca, hasn’t received a lot of press and has just 3.1 innings above rookie ball so far, but comes with some video game stats (0.2 HR/9, 2.3 BB/9, 9.2 K/9).
If the Braves and the Cards did deal, what would the Braves do about their shortstop position? Atlanta is blessed with a lot of guys who can play shortstop, but do you really want them to? Jace Peterson and Emilio Bonifacio would likely jump to the front of the line, though Daniel Castro might get an extended look because he’s an actual shortstop. The Braves could also aggressively seek to acquire a shortstop toward the end of spring training from players who are either out-of-options or on the losing end of a competition.
While it’s tough to believe Atlanta would trade Aybar right now, the Braves have certainly proved that if you offer the right package, there’s not a player the Braves won’t consider dealing. Could Aybar be next? That all depends on what the Cardinals – and any other team – are willing to surrender.