As the Aug. 31 MLB trade deadline approaches, the Atlanta Braves are in first place in the National League East and thus in line for their third straight division title. Without question, they have the core for a deep playoff run, and that’s precisely the goal. That’s the goal for any contender, but in the Braves’ case they haven’t advanced to the LCS round since 2001. There’s pressure to do more in 2020. That will no doubt inform the deadline approach of GM Alex Anthopoulos. 

Here, then, are the Braves’ biggest needs, targets, and trade chips as the Aug. 31 deadline approaches.

Biggest needs

It’s all about the rotation. While Max Fried has emerged as a worthy frontline guy, depth is sorely lacking at the moment. Most critically, young ace Mike Soroka is out for the remainder of the season with a torn Achilles’. As well, veteran free agent addition Cole Hamels, who in essence replaced outgoing free agent Dallas Keuchel (now pitching at an All-Star level for the White Sox), has yet to see game action in 2020 thanks to triceps tendinitis. Since he was placed on the 45-day injured list to start the season, Hamels isn’t eligible to return until September. He also still doesn’t have a clear timetable for a return. Given Hamels’ age (36) and current injury status, it’s probably not wise for the Braves to assume much from him this year. On top of all that, the Braves not long ago cut bait on Mike Foltynewicz, a 28-year-old former All-Star, in large measure because of drastic velocity loss. 

Related to all of this is the performance of the Atlanta rotation in 2020. Consider: 

  • They rank 24th in MLB in rotation ERA. 
  • They rank 26th in MLB in rotation FIP, or fielding-independent pitching (explanation here).
  • They rank 27th in MLB in average innings per start. 

Not surprisingly, the Braves have already given at least one start to nine different pitchers this season. With Fried, Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Marcell Ozuna, and others on the roster, there’s a title-worthy core in place. To realize that potential, though, the Braves badly need to upgrade the rotation behind Fried. Yeah, there are some interesting young arms still in the organization, and they may yet become something. Right now, though, the Braves need a known quantity, and that’s still the case even if Ian Anderson adapts quickly to the highest level. 

Possible targets

Lynn is the prize. He’s long been a useful starting pitcher, but since joining the Rangers prior to last season he’s leveled up in what seems to be a sustainable fashion. Lynn’s also under contract through next season. While it’s not certain that Texas will make him available, he’s the prize for the Braves. An arm like Lynn in tandem with Fried theoretically would give the Braves an imposing one-two punch in a short playoff series. 

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Drew Smyly

SP •

ERA3.24

WHIP1.32

IP8.1

BB4

K11

Each would be a less ambitious target for Atlanta, but they’d improve depth. Each could also move into the bullpen if one of the internal young arms proved ready for regular duty in the rotation. 

Two more options, neither as inspiring as Lynn. Again, these would be back of the rotation depth plays, which might qualify as a half-measure. 

Trade chips

As mentioned, the Braves have plenty of young pitching from which to deal for a more established arm. Fried and Anderson won’t be going anywhere, but perhaps names like Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Tucker Davidson, and Kyle Muller could be dangled. Unless the Braves land Lynn or someone of similar caliber, though, none of those arms figure to be moved. 

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