After climbing their way to a 3.5 game lead in the division, Atlanta has fallen back into a tie with the Phillies at the top of the NL East. The Braves, losers of five of their last six games, most vulnerable spot may have been exposed against the powerful lineups of the Yankees and Brewers. Only Anibal Sanchez was able to produce a quality start, while Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb (twice) all allowed five earned runs. Max Fried also went just three innings, allowing four earned runs in the opener against Milwaukee.
This is a Braves starting staff that might be the biggest surprise in all of baseball. Prior to this tough stretch, the Atlanta rotation had been as good as any, which may prove to be a little bit of fools gold as the season continues. It is going to be difficult for the younger pitchers like Foltynewicz and Newcomb to repeat their first halves, and Sanchez is on pace for his best year since 2013 and the second best campaign of his 13-year career. With Teheran struggling to find consistency all season, the Braves are going to need to add another quality veteran arm to the rotation in order to achieve success in the playoffs.
Braves fans are extra familiar with Hamels from his days of dominance when he played with the Philadelphia Phillies. Now 34 years of age, Hamels has not been nearly up to his reputation in 2018. In 18 starts, he is 4-8 with a 4.28 ERA. Although, his strikeout per nine innings (9.3) is as high as it has been since his rookie campaign in 2006.
Hamels still has nasty stuff that can keep hitters off balance, and a move to the National League would almost certainly help him improve in most pitching categories. Hamels does possess a no-trade clause which would allow him to veto any trade, but it would be surprising to see him veto a return to the NL East. He also comes with a $20 million club option for next season. When the Rangers traded for him in the second half of 2015, all Hamels did was go 7-1 in 12 starts, helping them win the AL West by two games over the Houston Astros.
Adding Hamels to the rotation would solidify the unit in terms of depth. It would also give the Braves a veteran leader with significant playoff experience. Hamels in 7-6 with a 3.48 ERA in sixteen career playoff starts. That is more postseason starts than the rest of the Braves rotation has combined. Hamels has the potential to be a nice add for any team trying to make a World Series run, and should be available for a reasonable price. The Braves also have the funds put away to pay him his full contract next season if they decide to bring him back.
Possible trade: Luiz Gohara and Lucas Sims for Cole Hamels
Baseball fans everywhere are familiar with Bumgarner, as he is perhaps the most prolific starting pitcher in MLB playoff history. He has gone to three World Series with the Giants, posting a ridiculous 4-0 record with a 0.25 ERA. In sixteen career postseason appearances, he is 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA. Simply put, when the lights are on in October, this man is automatic.
Like Hamels, Bumgarner has a team option in 2019, which would give this young and talented Braves squad two chances with Bumgarner to capture the organization’s first title since 1995. It is also unclear if the Giants would be willing to deal their ace. They are in the thick of things in a tight NL West, but if they are realists, San Francisco is a still a bit of a long shot to make the playoffs.
The hardest part about this deal being completed is the price tag. The Giants still have another year left of control, so there is no reason to deal him before the deadline unless they are blown away with an offer. However, the Braves have plenty of prospects to make the deal, and the Giants need to replenish their farm system. If Atlanta wants to be taken seriously as World Series contenders right now, they reach into their embarrassment of riches at the farm level and pull the trigger for Bumgarner.
Possible trade: Ian Anderson, Max Fried and Jean Carlos Encarnacion for Bumgarner
Another left-handed veteran that used to play in Philadelphia, Happ will be dealt before this year’s trade deadline. He is a pending free agent that is 10-5 with a 4.44 ERA this year. Although, it should be noted that he is in the difficult AL East. In his previous two seasons with the Blue Jays, Happ was able to sustain a sub-four ERA, including a season where he went 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA. Happ pitched a gem against the Braves earlier this season going 8 1/3 innings while allowing four earned in a win.
A return to the National League should do him well, and the Braves have plenty of prospects to make this deal happen. The biggest obstacle in acquiring Happ is going to be competition. Several teams have been rumored to be interested in the lefty, which may cause one team to overpay for his services. Acquiring Happ would not guarantee the Braves anything, so it may be in their best interest to find help elsewhere if the price tag is too high for a half-year rental.
Possible Trade: Lucas Sims, Dustin Peterson and Travis Demeritte for J.A. Happ