Braves Mailbag: When will Atlanta start making trades?

The Braves Mailbag is a weekly feature. You can submit your questions to Grant McAuley on Twitter (@grantmcauley).

Let’s dive into this week’s installment, which takes a look at when the Braves could start making some trades as well as the status and ETA’s of several young players who could help out in the second half.

Seems like the Nationals got the jump on everybody to trade for a closer. With Kelvin Herrera gone, who will the Braves target to improve the bullpen?

— Keith (via email)

There’s no doubt about that. Washington got out in front of its bullpen problem by adding Herrera to the mix. Some view the three-player return for Kansas City as a bit on the light side, but time will tell in that regard. Herrera and Sean Doolittle will give the Nationals a formidable late-inning duo while allowing former closers Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler to work in other high-leverage situations. The fact that Washington filled a need well before the July trade deadline speaks directly to how seriously they view their situation in the NL East. Both the Braves and Phillies have turned up the heat and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Washington could ill-afford to simply stand pat and wait for regression to set in for division rivals. The real question will be what kind of deals Atlanta and Philadelphia will pursue in the coming weeks and months. Given limited payroll flexibility this season, I’d expect the Braves to assess their needs closer to the trade deadline. They need all the bang for their buck they can get. Additionally, Atlanta may have to shift gears if an injury affects the roster over the next month and a half. The Braves would certainly like to add a piece, perhaps more, to the bullpen. Despite Herrera being off the board, there will be clubs with attractive relief options to sell. The Padres and Orioles are both prime trading partners and have multiple pieces worth pursuing. Baltimore holds Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Mychal Givens, while San Diego may count Brad Hand, Craig Stammen, Kirby Yates and Adam Cimber among their trade chips.

How much does Austin Riley’s injury affect the Braves possible pursuit of a third baseman via trade this year?

— Chase (via Twitter)

The jury is still out on short term answers at third base for the Braves. Johan Camargo has shown flashes of the potential he demonstrated last season, but is still widely regarded as a versatile back-up who is most valuable when deployed as a super-utility player. That said, he has the keys at the hot corner for now. Atlanta did not seem to be sold on giving Riley an aggressively early big league promotion and now the sprained PCL he suffered in his right knee has tabled that possibility altogether. I still expect Riley to be a candidate for a September call-up, but until he gets back on the field and begins producing again there’s no reason to speculate any further. As for the trade targets, there are several names that should be available. Ultimately, we’re talking about rentals, so it all depends on the trade price tag. Mike Moustakas of the Royals probably makes the most sense and may provide the most impact. He’s a proven power-hitter with postseason experience. Sounds like a natural fit. He’s also making just $5.5 million (plus a $1 million buy-out of a mutual option). Toronto’s Josh Donaldson is obviously someone that GM Alex Anthopoulos could be interested in, but Donaldson has been plagued by injuries this season and that has to be factored into the equation as well. I do not expect the Braves to sell the farm for a short term arrangement with Baltimore’s Manny Machado. If Atlanta’s funds remain limited at the trade deadline, that deal just doesn’t seem feasible for a multitude of reasons.

Is Nick Markakis batting behind Freddie Freeman worth the lack of production from the leadoff spot? Why not just move Nick to the top and roll with Ronald Acuña Jr. at cleanup for a little bit?

— Zach (via Twitter)

I actually addressed this very subject last week in a deep dive into the Braves leadoff woes. There’s no way around it, Atlanta’s lead-off men have simply not provided even league average production this season. They’ve posted a meager .279 on-base percentage, the lowest in all of baseball. As I pointed out in that piece (linked here), I still don’t think it would be in Atlanta’s best interest to essentially unplug their clean-up hitter and move Markakis to the top of the order. The best case scenario is that either Ender Inciarte or Ozzie Albies gets on track and provides a steady lead-off option. If that does not happen, I’d explore using Dansby Swanson or even Johan Camargo at the top of the order before considering a move with Markakis. I just don’t think Brian Snitker wants to change the roles and mindsets of various hitters, not to mention risk altering the overall dynamics of the lineup. However, if Atlanta were to add another power-hitter via trade in the not-too-distant future, then giving Markakis a run at the top may not be out of the question.

After Kolby Allard, which minor leaguers do you think will make their MLB debut in 2018?

— Bill (via Twitter)

While I do expect Allard to make his debut at some point this summer, it’s really hard to tell who else could be on that list. Mike Soroka is already up and various other Braves starting pitching prospects already debuted in 2017. Other than Austin Riley, it’s hard to predict the next big time prospect who could reach Atlanta this year. Though I think Allard is an intriguing arm to watch for the remainder of the season, there’s currently not a clear place for him to pitch at the moment. The Braves have six viable arms contending for spots in the rotation and both Max Fried and Luiz Gohara at Triple-A alongside Allard. Still, to be just 20 years old and posting a 2.28 ERA through a dozen Triple-A starts is a sign that Allard is close.

I’ve been seeing a lot of Twitter chatter about Touki Toussaint coming up to join the pen in the second half of the season? Do you think we see him?

— Chad (via Twitter)

While I won’t rule it out altogether, Toussaint’s development as a starter seems to be the current priority. He’s putting together an excellent season at Double-A Mississippi, where he has posted a 3.41 ERA in 14 starts with 92 strikeouts across 74 innings. About a month ago, the Braves seemed open to the idea of utilizing some of their young starting pitching prospects in the bullpen. We’ve seen it sparingly, mostly with Luiz Gohara, Lucas Sims and Matt Wisler. Of course, all of those men already had previous big league time and starting experience. We’ve yet to see a true young stud starter be called up to help out exclusively in a relief role. With a great fastball-curveball combination, Toussaint might be the best equipped to turn himself into a middle or late-inning weapon. However, the Braves would be well served to prepare for that possibility by getting him accustomed to pitching in relief before simply throwing him out there for the first time in the big leagues. Toussaint should reach Triple-A in the second half and that could be the best time to start that process. If you see him working out of the bullpen in Gwinnett, then we’ll have some clarity on the club’s intentions. That is, if it happens at all.

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