Trade Options Plentiful, But No Trade Needed

Entering Wednesday's game in Washington, the Atlanta Braves have a .246 team batting average, which is the fourth lowest in the National League. There is no doubt the early offensive troubles are the main reason the team is at .500. BravesCenter's Bill Shanks says that while a trade is an option (and always possible), it's unnecessary right now.

There are two things that are probably the most frustrating to watch in a baseball team: a struggling offense and a shaky closer. Well, that's been the two things that have made our blood pressures skyrocket when watching the Atlanta Braves so far this season.

When one part of your team's game (starting pitching) is being affected by other parts (closer and the offense), it makes you wonder how good your record could be if all the parts were clicking at one time. Dan Kolb is an entire different matter, and we're probably never going to feel as comfortable as we used to feel with John Smoltz in that role. But the offense, more than anything, is the reason the Braves are only 7-7.

Andruw Jones (.189), Rafael Furcal (.190), Brian Jordan (.220), Johnny Estrada (.237), Adam LaRoche (.244) and Raul Mondesi (.250) are hitting a combined .218. That's three-quarters of your regular starting eight in the lineup threatening to wear Mario Mendoza costumes. Now we all know it's early, but we also know that the slow starts by these guys have compounded our "sluggish" start.

The natural thing to say when you're team is not doing as well as hoped is, "Well, we've got to do something." 'Do something' means one of two things: 1) Make a trade or 2) Bring up someone from the minor leagues. But with a frustrated fan base, the favorite, and perhaps the easiest, thing to do is to suggest a deal.

But there is absolutely zero reason the Braves should make a trade right now. Yes, a good offer might pry either Austin Kearns or Wily Mo Pena away from the Reds. Would the addition of either play help our lineup? You bet. And as Peter Gammons suggested the other night on "Baseball Tonight," it's possible that Ken Griffey, Jr. could even be made available to the Braves if/when the Reds drop out of the race later this summer.

If the offense doesn't snap out of this season-opening funk, something will have to be done. But I really believe the offense will improve on its own. How could Andruw Jones look like Willie Mays in spring training, only to look more like Rowland Office now? You know he's got to snap out of this. Adam LaRoche is always a slow starter, so we can't count on him until May. And it's just a matter of time before Furcal and Estrada hit the way they are capable.

The two biggest questions, obviously, are in the outfield. Raul Mondesi looks as if he is bouncing out of his slump. He's swinging the bat much better this week. And while Brian Jordan has had a few big hits, his overall lack of production is bringing the offense down.

Despite Jordan's troubles, it looks like Bobby Cox is going to stick with him. Cox could have easily started Ryan Langerhans Tuesday night, the night after he won the game for the Braves with an extra-inning home run. But instead Cox stayed with the veteran Jordan, re-affirming his reputation as a manager that is loyal to his veterans.

Perhaps Langerhans will get his chance if Jordan continues to struggle. He deserves his shot - before anything drastic is done. Langerhans may not be a star, but he's got a chance to be a very productive major league player. But if Ryan languishes on the bench, we may never know whether he can fulfill that promise or not.

If General Manager John Schuerholz chooses to look outside his current roster for offensive help, he should do nothing else than look to his own minor league system. There are three players (there would be four if Billy McCarthy were healthy right now) are primed for a promotion to Atlanta at some point this season. They are three players who could be very close to being ready to contribute on a big league roster.

Andy Marte is, of course, the one everybody can't wait to see in an Atlanta uniform. He's a third baseman, and we all know the problem at hand. Marte's experiment in the outfield failed, so he's pretty much limited to playing at third. There is little doubt that Marte could probably come up and help the offense, but something's got to happen before he can be promoted.

If the Braves know that Marte is eventually going to take over at third, and that Chipper Jones is eventually going to have to go back to the outfield, then they're going to have to make it happen. That's much more logical than trading off additional prospects for an outfielder we might not need next season.

Chances are Marte and Mississippi outfielder Jeff Francoeur will be ready to step into the starting lineup no later than 2006. So if Marte takes over at third and Jones goes back to the outfield, that'll make the outfield pretty much set with Francoeur joining both Chipper and Andruw. So where would an outfielder acquired this season from another team play next year?

I know that you can't worry about next year until next year. But you can't ignore it either. Why give up additional talent in a trade when you're going to have the talent ready very soon? Even if the Braves don't want to cross that "Jones back to the outfield" bridge right now, there's still the chance that Francoeur could be ready to help in Atlanta during the second half of this season. He's a fine player, and the Braves feel confident in his ability and his future. It's not a question of if he'll be ready, but just when he'll be ready.

And then there's Kelly Johnson. He could be the "easiest" choice for an imminent call-up. After two straight seasons in AA, Johnson is tearing up AAA Richmond hitting close to .350. Kelly proved last season that he can handle the outfield with ease, so with Francoeur still developing a bit more in AA and hesitancy to broach the Marte/Chipper dilemma now, Johnson might be the perfect candidate.

But take nothing away from Kelly Johnson; the kid can hit. He got our attention in 2001 in Macon with a fantastic season. He came back down the Earth over the next several years and has developed into a very solid prospect. Plus, the Atlanta uniform could definitely use a left-handed bat like Johnson. He's a very good player, and he's proving right now in AAA that he's going to be able to contribute to the Atlanta Braves at some point this season.

So with all of the internal options, there is no point in going after a trade right now. The season is only two and a half weeks long. Let's give the offense in place a few more weeks to snap out of it. John Schuerholz has never been one to panic. It would be one thing if our farm system was empty, but it's not. There are more than enough internal options to help this team get to where it wants to go this season. And with our starting pitching, that could be a long way.

Bill Shanks's new book, Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, will be out next month. You can reach Bill at thebravesshow@email.com


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