No one can ruin a nine-game win streak quite like the Atlanta Braves.
Atlanta has laid an egg after reeling off nine straight wins against Philadelphia, the New York Mets and Arizona to close June and into July. The Braves lost five of their next six heading into Saturday’s action against the Chicago Cubs, losing those games against the Diamondbacks, Mets and Cubs.
So the schizophrenic Braves go from beating on three of the worst teams in baseball to losing to two of those three plus the Cubs. That’s teams that are a combined 45 games under .500.
How is Atlanta supposed to win in the playoffs again?
Two weeks ago, we looked at what general manager Frank Wren could consider if the Braves are buyers this month, before the July 31 trade deadline. This week, we’re going to look at what Wren should do if they are sellers. The chances of this happening is probably somewhere between slim and none. They are knee deep in the NL East race.
But the fact is, the Braves are going to be no better than they are right now in 2015. Their current every day lineup will be back in tact next year, and it is severely flawed. B.J. Upton leading off? Andrelton Simmons hitting second? Neither one of them has a .300 on-base percentage. And how confident are you that this lineup can hit against Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, Adam Wainwright and, possibly, David Price in the playoffs?
I submit the Braves should be sellers and Wren should look to overhaul the lineup for next year where he can. My plan means admitting some mistakes and swallowing cash, something Atlanta doesn’t embrace. Here’s what I would do:
• Trade Justin Upton: He is Atlanta’s best power hitter right now, and he’s under contract for 2015. Many real World Series contenders are starved for power. You trade Upton and his reasonable contract ($14.5 million in 2015) for a season and a half, and the return could be big. It’s not inconceivable Wren could get a top-flight starting pitching prospect and a younger, more cost-controlled slugger for his left fielder. It doesn’t hurt to see what the market would be here. But if you trade Justin Upton ...
• You’ve got a problem with B.J. Upton: Look, this is who B.J. Upton is now — a sub-.225 hitter who can’t get on base even 29 percent of the time and who makes every person with eyes affixed on him spin into a dimension of aggravation previously unknown to human kind. His swing is broken. His approach at the plate is non-existent. His defense and lack of hustle, or lack of seeming to care, is beyond maddening. All this, and he’s owed $45 million for 2015-17. As with Dan Uggla, it’s time to admit this was a mistake, a colossal failure. Upton has had 250 games to prove what kind of player he is, and it’s not what the Braves need. Dump him and eat the $45 million — just try not to choke on it.
• Trade Ervin Santana: This was a good signing by Wren, a one-year, $14 million deal, after Kris Medlen was lost for the year. While Santana has struggled at times, he is a veteran who can give a contender a strong No. 3 starter. Atlanta could get a nice prospect for him, especially if Wren were to pay part of his salary in the trade.
• Other moves: Uggla, who is under contract for one more year at more than $13 million, won’t fetch anything in a trade. Still, he will be moved for organizational filler or designated for assignment sometime this summer. Reliever Jordan Walden would fetch a lot of interest, as would David Carpenter and Aaron Harang.
Justin Upton and Santana likely would bring the most return in any deal. Whatever return Wren could get in any moves plus a strategic signing or two in free agency this winter and a promotion of infielder Jose Peraza from the minor leagues could reshape one-third or more of Atlanta’s everyday lineup.
Will this happen? No way. Not a chance. Not a chance at all.
Coincidentally, that’s the same chance this team — as it’s currently constructed — has of winning the World Series in 2014, or 2015.