The Braves are likely to make several trades between now and August 1, baseball's trade deadline. The main debate now in the fan base, and likely in the front office, is whether the Braves should trade ace pitcher Julio Teheran.
Yes, Teheran is now an ace. He's not just a number one pitcher. With the way he's pitched this season, he's becoming an ace pitcher.
The debate of whether or not they should trade him, at least for this exercise, is not in play. We're going to assume the Braves will trade Teheran to the Boston Red Sox for the following package:
Minor league outfielder Andrew Benintendi - currently in Double-A Portland
Minor league second baseman Yoan Moncada - currently in Double-A Portland
Minor league catcher/left fielder Blake Swihart - currently on the Triple-A disabled list
Minor league pitching prospect Michael Kopech - currently with High-A Salem
Forget about whether this is too much or too little to receive in return for Teheran. This is all about what this type of deal might mean for the Braves.
Moncada is Boston's top prospect. He just turned 21 in May. He's a switch-hitting second baseman, but at 6-2 many believe he could easily move to third base. The Braves could put him in Mississippi the rest of the season. Then they could put send him to the Instructional League in September and see how he does at third base. The expectation would be that Moncada could possibly make his debut in 2017. Would he be ready for opening day? Well, possibly. But he might need some time to start in Triple-A Gwinnett or back in Double-A to begin the season.
Overall this season, Moncada is hitting .320 with 5 home runs, 38 RBI, 26 doubles and 36 stolen bases, with a .420 on base percentage. The guy is a hitter, and he would really fit in nicely with the future Atlanta lineup. The comparisons to Robinson Cano are loud, and that's the type of bat the Braves need in the future lineup.
Benintendi is a 21-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder. He's 5-10 and looks like another Mike Greenwell-type hitter. Benintendi is also definitely a hitter. He's hit .297 this season with a .361 on base percentage. He also has 4 home runs, 52 RBI, 22 doubles and 12 stolen bases. Benintendi looks like a future number three hitter in a lineup.
Not so long ago, Swihart was Boston's top prospect. Their handling of Swihart seems odd, as they pulled the plug on him as a catcher and sent him to Triple-A to play left field. He's that type of athlete. But he is injured now and is out for a while. It seems the Braves would want to give him another shot at being the catcher. He hit .274 as a rookie for Boston with 5 home runs and 31 RBI in 288 at bats. So the potential is still there.
Swihart would turn 25 years old right near opening day next season. So he's old enough to be ready for a full-time major league job if he earns it. The Braves desperately need a young catcher, and Swihart fills that bill. He was such a top prospect for so long that he needs a full-time chance to see what he can do as a starter.
Kopech has had a rocky start to his career. He was banned for taking a banned substance last season. Then Kopech was in a fight with a teammate this spring and fractured his throwing hand. He's back now, and the Red Sox expected him to finish this season in High-A Salem. That means he could go directly into the Carolina Mudcats' rotation for the rest of this season. He would then be in Double-A Mississippi next season for the Braves and be on track for a possible Atlanta debut in 2018 or 2019. Kopech would simply add to Atlanta's impressive pitching depth in the farm system.
Could Moncada, Benintendi and Swihart all be in Atlanta's 2017 lineup? Sure, it could happen. It might not be on opening day, but the chance is there for all three to play in Atlanta next season. If this trade went down, the Braves would have to truly evaluate each player, and at the end of the year determine their readiness for the big leagues.
We assume a few things about the 2017 (and future) lineup. First, the infield will include Freddie Freeman at first base, Ozzie Albies at second base and Dansby Swanson at shortstop. So what if Moncada became the third baseman at some point next season? Could Adonis Garcia hold down the position until then, or would the Braves need to get another veteran player to help until Moncada was ready?
Right now, the future outfield looks like Mallex Smith in left, Ender Inciarte in center and Nick Markakis in right. Assuming Markakis gets traded, right field is the big spot that could open. Benintendi could play right, although his arm is reportedly only average.
Look how young this potential lineup could be in 2017:
Freddie Freeman - 27
Ozzie Albies - 20
Dansby Swanson - 23
Yoan Moncada - 21
Mallex Smith - 23
Ender Inciarte - 26
Andrew Benintendi - 22
Blake Swihart - 25
That's an average age of 23.4 years old - a very young lineup.
One point of this exercise is to show how young the team might be if this type of trade is pulled off. Even if the Braves dealt with Texas or the Dodgers, they'd get back young talent that would compliment the young players already in the organization.
Also, this type of trade would likely create a team that would still be a work in progress. Now, if these type prospects made a good impression from day one, there's a chance that lineup could be exciting. But it would be such a young team the expectations for 2017 would need to be very realistic.
But if the Braves don't make a trade like this, what are they going to do? Many keep asking, "Well, if you trade Teheran, who is going to start on opening day in the new park?" That question could be countered with, "What's the opening day lineup going to look like in the new park on opening day?"
This type of trade may not necessarily give the Braves options for opening day next year, but this decision should not even be about that. If this trade could give this team more potential starters in the starting lineup, the Braves must strongly consider it. They need hitters, and the free agent market may not provide that immediate lift.
Add in potential position players acquired for the other players the Braves might trade (particularly Arodys Vizcaino and Nick Markakis), and all of a sudden a team that is currently limited in potential options for the 2017 lineup could get a bit deeper really quickly. That's why the Teheran trade is something the Braves should seriously consider. They have holes, but a deal like this could take care of that and give the Braves a much better looking lineup for Sun Trust Park.
The Braves are going to need veterans, no matter what they do with these potential trades. They likely need an older veteran than Teheran to help the ongoing flow of young pitchers who will be drifting into Atlanta in the next 2-3 years. And they at some point will make their Terry Pendleton-type free agent acquisition to add a veteran bat to the lineup. But this type of trade would not make that such a dire need, as it seems they have now with a farm system not ready to provide serious options.
We know Swanson and Albies might be ready next April, but other than those two, who else could crack the 2017 lineup? Dustin Peterson is it. The Mississippi outfielder is doing really well this season, but he's the only other possibility for 2017. There is no current catcher close, as we don't know what Brett Cumberland will do yet. Austin Riley is the best third base prospect, but he's 2-3 years away. Some other outfielders (particularly Ronald Acuna) are not close. So this farm system needs an infusion of young talent that is not far away.
This type of trade could be very important in Atlanta's rebuilding process. Teheran would have to be replaced (and that's another article), but the Braves would definitely benefit from these type of position players joining the organization.
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