Expect Braves to be active in trades

Jim Johnson could be one of the many Braves players traded before the trade deadline.

The Braves now have their excuse to be active before the July 31 trade deadline. They are seven games back in the NL East, the largest deficit they have had this season. The record is 42-47, which is their worst mark of the year.

Over the weekend the Braves lost their closer, Jason Grilli, to a season-ending injury. Freddie Freeman, the team’s best player, will be out for another couple of weeks. The chances of Atlanta getting back into the race are slim and none.

Okay, mathematically it is still possible. But realistically, it’s going to take a miracle. Expect instead the team to continue to build for the 2017 season, which was the plan all along. The front office never truly expected the team to be competitors for a playoff spot over the six months of the season.

So what’s next? Trades, trades and more trades.

Jim Johnson will get a chance to save some games for the Braves with Grilli now gone. Johnson has been outstanding as Grilli’s setup man and he has experience as a closer. So expect him to be highly-coveted by teams needing bullpen help. There is no chance Johnson is on Atlanta’s roster past July 31.

But who will close after Johnson is traded? Well, there are several candidates. The Braves would love to see how Arodys Vizcaino handles the duties. He’s got an outstanding fastball, and he seems healthy for the first time in forever. Veteran David Aardsma is a possibility. He’s been effective (2.84 ERA) in his 14 games for the Braves and was a closer for the Mariners in 2009 and 2010.

Ryan Kelly could get a look. He leads the Braves minor league system with 16 saves and has been very effective this season. Kelly pitched in only one game when he was called up to the Braves, but he is a likely candidate to rejoin the team this week when play resumes. Kelly has been very solid this season in Mississippi (0.48 ERA with 10 saves in 17 games) and in Gwinnett (1.53 ERA with six saves in 14 games).

Don’t forget about Chris Withrow, the right-hander acquired from the Dodgers in the Juan Uribe trade in May. He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery and might be an option late in the season.

If Aardsma does well, he could be a pitcher that teams could look at, maybe more in August when players have to pass through waivers.

Would the Braves consider trading left-hander Luis Avilan? He’s been inconsistent this season, but lefty relievers are very coveted before the deadline.

With their big trade chip of Grilli now off the table, outfielder Cameron Maybin perhaps becomes Atlanta’s best chance to get a significant return in a deal. Maybin is having a career season, and there are teams out there that need outfield help.

Maybin is under contract through next season, with even an option for 2017. But if they can sell high, they will. It’s just that simple. If the Braves can get a significant prospect or two, Maybin will be gone.

If Maybin is traded, Eury Perez and Todd Cunningham could get playing time in center. Eric Young, Jr. is in Gwinnett, so he’s still a possibility. The Braves could test top prospect Jose Peraza there as well.

Several veteran players could be traded in smaller deals for prospects. Don’t be shocked if A.J. Pierzynski, Juan Uribe, Jonny Gomes and Kelly Johnson get traded. All four are free agents after this season, so the price won’t be high. But it could infuse more prospects into the system.

Of course, if a team will take on Chris Johnson’s contract, he’d be gone in a heartbeat.

Would the Braves entertain a major trade if a team wanted one of their starting pitchers? Certainly. Other teams can count and know the Braves are loaded in the rotation, so don’t be shocked if that happens. It’s more likely to happen this winter, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.

This team has been very active since the new front office took over, and it will remain that way now with the trade deadline getting closer. More trades will also create more at bats for young players (like Christian Bethancourt) that need to show what they can do for the future.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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