More specifically, they need offense now. That fact is unmistakably clear to anyone who has watched a single game of Braves baseball this season. With the trade deadline coming up next month, the Braves will undoubtedly be looking to upgrade an abysmal offense currently tied for 13th in the National League in batting average (.239).
On paper, this Braves offense should be in the upper echelon of the National League. Unfortunately, Dan Uggla has been a monumental disappointment, Jason Heyward is underperforming, and Chipper Jones is simply getting old. Additionally, injuries to Martin Prado, Heyward, and (of course) Chipper have contributed to the offensive ineptitude. The Braves can do nothing but hope these players turn it around and get healthy.
The positions the Braves can upgrade, however, are shortstop and outfield.
Alex Gonzalez has established himself as a premier defensive shortstop. The same cannot be said for his offense. Other than providing some occasional power, his offense is severely lacking. He’s a .250 hitter who appears to be morally opposed to drawing walks, and that would be fine if the offense was performing.
But with the offense struggling, shortstop is a logical upgrade. Most of the top shortstops are locked up long term and are unlikely to be traded. The one exception? Jose Reyes. He’s in the final year of his contract, and the Mets will be looking to trade him if they feel they won’t be able to re-sign him.
He is exactly what the Braves need: a speedy, dynamic, game-changing threat at the top of the order. Unfortunately, the Braves would have to part with top prospects to get him for two or three months, a price they are hesitant to pay after the Mark Teixeira trade fiasco.
A name that keeps surfacing in connection to the Braves is Hunter Pence, outfielder for the Houston Astros. He is under control for two more seasons and has been remarkably consistent, hitting 25 home runs in each of the past three seasons.
The Braves would have to give up some good prospects for Pence, but, unlike Reyes, they would have him for two more seasons.
Michael Cuddyer of the Minnesota Twins is another potential target. He is a career .271 hitter and is only two years removed from a 32 homer season (10 home runs this season). He is in the last year of his contract and would not cost much in terms of prospects.
The downside is that he is making $10.5 million this season, and the Braves may be unwilling to take on that salary. Cuddyer plays first, second, and third base as well as the outfield, so he could provide the positional versatility that Omar Infante did last year.
The Oakland Athletics’ Josh Willingham is a bat the Braves may pursue as well. He is the right-handed version of Eric Hinske: a good hitter with some pop but weak defensively.
With the offense in dire straits, it will be interesting to see what moves the Braves make as the deadline approaches.