Keep Cam and Carry On

In my last piece, The Future Is (Almost) Now, it took less than 24 hours for the Braves to prove me wrong about four things, and absolutely right about one other. Pitchers Jorge Reyes (whom I mentioned as an All-Star for AA Mississippi), and Steve Janas (of microscopic 0.49 ERA and legendary mustache) were promoted to Gwinnett and Mississippi, respectively. Aaron Kurcz was sold to Oakland. Jordan Paroubeck, referenced as a high-upside outfielder that came over in the Kimbrel-Upton-Wisler deal, was traded to the Dodgers for international bonus money; as was Garrett Fulenchek, for whom I specifically told you to hold off on buying a Braves jersey. Was the Fulenchek’s jettison to Tampa Bay a case of intuitive prognostication?

Nope. Just business as usual for the Braves, and business as it should be.

John Hart & Co. were not bashful about the rearranging of all aspects of Frank Wren’s tenure, including but not limited to Wren’s family; his brother Jeff was dismissed as a scout and special assistant, while his son Kyle was shipped to Milwaukee for RHP Zach Quintana. Preferential treatment was clearly not going to be a factor. The warm-and-fuzzy feeling was quickly bypassed in lieu of an “it’s-all-business” mentality. The departures of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and the rest of the strikeout-happy 2014 Braves were tough to endure, but when it came time to start trimming the fat, there were some emotional ties which were severed clean.

Four days after Heyward became a Cardinal, the Braves released Jonny Venters. His release was a foregone conclusion due to his third Tommy John surgery, but it still hurt to see someone who was such a bullpen workhorse be exiled. But what was Hart to do? We, as fans, were the ones who developed the emotional attachment to Venters, and built up his return like the prodigal son was slated to return home any minute. Alas, Venters had not pitched since 2012, so moving on was the most logical, if not mutually painful, scenario.

Kris Medlen was another fan favorite whose injuries clouded his future with the team. Though Atlanta attempted to bring him back, Medlen was returning from his second Tommy John, and elected free agency over the Braves’ conservative offers. Brandon Beachy, also a two-time veteran of Tommy John, met a similar fate, and now wears Dodger blue.

Tyler Pastornicky, Jose Constanza, and Cody Martin are several more examples of former major-league experiments which were repeatedly attempted, but were never successful enough to keep viewing through rose-colored glasses. Many of these were Wren’s pet projects, which John Hart has rebelled against since his tenure began.

When considering the current limbo of former rotation anchor Mike Minor, and struggling catcher Christian Bethancourt, is there really any wonder how this movie is going to end? Minor will arguably never pitch for the Braves again after losing his entire 2015 season, and rumors are abound that some of the Atlanta pitching prospects acquired in the offseason could be moved for young catching. Don’t be surprised if Julio Teheran is dangled as well. In spite of his recent scuffling, his contract is gorgeous and he still shows flashes of Old Julio. Meanwhile, several media outlets are reporting that Cameron Maybin might be the Braves’ most logical asset at the trade deadline. Pump your brakes.

As you already know, Maybin’s career was going nowhere fast in San Diego. The former first-rounder had struggled to put it together at the plate since 2011, and had been marred by injuries. Upon his arrival in Atlanta, Maybin’s intensive work with new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer has made him look like a completely different player. Perhaps the resurgence is a product of starting a new with a team; perhaps it is because he is now a mere three hours from his old stomping grounds of Asheville, NC, and therefore closer to family; perhaps Seitzer’s tutelage really has made all the difference.

He has been a great addition to this team, and his positivity radiates throughout the clubhouse. His work with runners in scoring position has been one of the most surprising aspects of this team, and has gained him plenty of national recognition over the last several weeks.

This is where baseball gets into muddy territory — for all of Atlanta’s franchise players who hit the road in the offseason, we as fans were left with Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons to be the full-time faces of the franchise. Then, enter Maybin, who has quickly become one of the city’s favorite Braves, and arguably the most reliable hitter up and down the lineup (especially since Freddie’s DL stint began). Why trade such a pleasant, beloved surprise, particularly one who is consistently getting the job done? This is the type of player we thought we were getting when we signed Melvin Upton Jr.

Also, obtaining a centerfielder who is playing like Maybin in free agency or through trades would be difficult, especially when looking at the offseason free-agent picture. He is younger and cheaper than the alternatives, not to mention we have him locked down until the end of 2017. Why cast him off only to have to sort through rubble to find his replacement?

It’s true, keeping Maybin means speedster Mallex Smith is blocked in centerfield— and he should be for a while, since he’s been at AAA Gwinnett for about two weeks now. Let him learn. Let him grow. It’s also true that Jose Peraza, prospect extraordinaire, is blocked at ALL positions, as he has been displaced by Simmons at SS, Jace Peterson at 2B, and Maybin/Mallex in CF. This is why Atlanta shouldn’t trade Cameron Maybin — instead, they should trade Jose Peraza.

The Toronto Blue Jays are known to be seeking pitching upgrades in both their starting rotation and bullpen, and I would not be surprised if John Hart & Friends have already pointed out several of our most attractive trade deadline pieces are pitchers. Jason Grilli, a cost-friendly alternative to mega-closers Craig Kimbrel and Jonathan Papelbon, has specifically drawn interest. The Braves have also gone public with their desire to acquire young catching. And while it is always folly to engage in fake trades, I present you with one that may not leave either team in the lurch:
• TOR gets SP Williams Perez, RP Jason Grilli, 2B/OF Jose Peraza, 3B Chris Johnson + $6 million
• ATL gets C Max Pentecost and P Sean Reid-Foley

For Toronto, not just bullpen help in Jason Grilli, but also a young, cost-controlled starter in Williams Perez. In order for Toronto to take on Chris Johnson, Atlanta would clearly have to include cash to offset the atrocity that is his contract. While Josh Donaldson would still get most, if not all, of the starts at the hot corner, Johnson could spell him occasionally if he needed a day off in the field; he could also serve as a specialist against lefties, which has been Johnson’s strong suit since he came over in the Justin Upton deal. For Atlanta’s return, Pentecost (a local kid who went to Kennesaw State) would serve as the young catcher the team is seeking, despite his recent shoulder surgery, and Reid-Foley would join the Braves’ stable of pitching prospects.

Feasible trade? Probably not, especially when you consider that if there’s anyone worth going after in the Blue Jays’ system, it’s OF Dalton Pompey, who admittedly would look great with a tomahawk across his chest. But for any organization, trying to predict what the front office is going to do (versus what the fans want them to do) is a futile endeavor. In the case of John Hart, it’s like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.

The front office’s comments about making moves with one eye on the past and two eyes on the future have resonated throughout Braves Country, and whether we like their approach or not, each move they make seems to back up this philosophy. Should John Hart continue his trend of squashing the feel-good story for the future, and trade Maybin for prospects and salary relief? The organization is no longer in dire need of re-stocking the farm system, and for the first time in his professional career, Maybin is playing up to his contract. Things may be different this time around, because unlike so many head-scratchers before him, Maybin isn’t one of Frank Wren’s guys.
Keep Cam and carry on.

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