It’s July 7 and the Braves are only five games out of first place. Would you believe me if I told you that in April? Would you buy into the team being a postseason contender? Atlanta is 41-42. The division-leading Washington Nationals are 46-37 after slumping badly out of the gates. The Mets are currently in second place at 43-41, but have no speakable offense and rival the 2014 Braves in terms of offensive incompetency.
The plan under new General Manager John Hart was to rebuild and he has successfully done that by shipping off nearly every recognizable name from last year’s train wreck of a team. But now, Hart finds himself seemingly in the middle of the playoff hunt halfway through the season. Should he make a move to strengthen the team? Something Frank Wren tried to do every season but never resulted in a playoff series win. Or does Hart stand pat and let the chips fall where they may?
Once again, it’s more of the same with the Braves. Fool’s gold. Atlanta should continue to stay the path and look to rebuild. No one would have expected the Nationals to start off so poorly and basically give the rest of the division a month head start on them. Even with that stumble out of the gate and injuries to key players, Bryce Harper and now Max Scherzer have lifted the Nats to the top of the division and have begun to look like the 100-win team people thought they would be.
The Braves still would have to leap the Mets before they could challenge the Nationals. If Hart tried to make a move, it would be division or bust. There is a slim chance they would be able to grab one of the two wildcard spots. The Pirates (48-34) and the Cubs (44-37), yes, the Cubs, have a hold onto the two spots with the Mets (2.5) and Giants (3.5) trailing by a few games.
Atlanta has played admirably and hasn’t tanked completely, which is great news for John Hart not only for the future of the team, but for his goodwill with the fan base after trading away fan favorites. The Braves stole an All-Star away from the Cardinals in the Jason Heyward trade, acquiring young ace Shelby Miller (5-4, 2.07 ERA). Julio Teheran has flopped miserably as the assumed ace heading into the season (6-4, 4.60 ERA) and has a contract extension already inked thanks for former GM Frank Wren. Alex Wood has been steady when healthy and the rotation has gotten a lift from surprise minor leaguer Williams Perez (4-0, 2.88 ERA).
One of the most important things to remember this season is that it is a precursor to success that will follow. The Braves have struck gold on some veterans and would be wise to trade them at the deadline. Yes, Atlanta should be sellers, not buyers this July. The bullpen has been atrocious at times, but it has also had its moments. 38-year-old Jason Grilli has been great for Atlanta, notching 23 saves after compiling an ERA of 4.00 last season. 32-year-old set up man Jim Johnson has a 2.14 ERA in 43 appearances after a sparkling 7.09 ERA in 2014.
This is the definition of buying low and selling high. These two veterans don’t have a place with the team in the future. By the time Atlanta intends to compete again, 2017, Grilli will be 40 and Johnson 34. Contenders at the deadline are always looking for bullpen help and if Hart can swing both players for C-level prospects, he will have done a great job after they entered the season with limited value.
It’s tough to swallow punting on a season after seeing some success, but at the end of the day, Atlanta is still under .500 and chasing too many teams. They found a winning lottery ticket in Cameron Maybin who is having a career season, but may revert to his old ways (.252 career BA) any second. It would be a prudent decision for Hart to continue to sell as the deadline approaches. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Rome wasn’t built in a day.