Braves likely to stand pat at Trade Deadline

Braves likely to stand pat at Deadline

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Braves find themselves heading toward this year's Trade Deadline without the spotlight that the acquisition and departure of Mark Teixeira drew the past two years.

While the defending World Series champion Phillies are still hoping to eventually land Roy Halladay, the Braves are confident that they could stand pat through Friday's Trade Deadline and still have the pieces to continue their run toward the postseason.

Braves general manager Frank Wren's confidence is enhanced by the starting rotation that he reconstructed this past offseason and the two trades he made within the past two months to bring Nate McLouth and Ryan Church to Atlanta to upgrade the outfield mix.

The Braves could benefit from adding another reliever, and even with the recent optimism the offense has provided, there are some that might argue they could benefit from more power at one of the corner outfield spots.

But with Tim Hudson and Omar Infante both set to return during the second half of August, Wren believes he is already in line to gain the pieces to satisfy his pitching and offensive needs.

"I think we've made our moves early," Wren said. "I don't think there is any pressing need for our club. Like any other team, we know that our club isn't perfect. But I think we're playing the best baseball that we've played in the last three or four years."

While winning eight of the 11 games they've played since the All-Star break, the Braves have moved within 3 1/2 games of the lead in the National League Wild Card chase. There are just three teams in front of them, and the tie that they currently possess with the Marlins will be broken when they open a three-game series against the Fish on Tuesday night.

When the Braves acquired Teixeira at the 2007 Trade Deadline, they were 3 1/2 games back in the division race and 1 1/2 games back in the Wild Card hunt. The optimism surrounding the first baseman's acquisition was quieted on Aug. 2, when Edgar Renteria sprained his ankle, which kept him out of the lineup for more than a month.

Last year, Wren remained optimistic about his team's postseason chances until July 27, when for a second successive day, Atlanta blew a five-run lead against Philadelphia. Two days later, facing an 8 1/2-game deficit in the division race and a 10 1/2-game deficit in the Wild Card race, the Braves traded Teixeira to the Angels in exchange for Casey Kotchman and Minor League pitcher Stephen Marek.

Thus while the spotlight might not be upon them this week, the Braves are certainly thankful for the fact that they are approaching this year's Deadline with a sense of hope that was absent at this time last year.

"The more you are in the spotlight this time of year, it means one of two things: Either you're getting rid of good players or you have the need to fill a big hole," Wren said.

While the Phillies, Dodgers, Rangers, Brewers and some other postseason hopefuls are still looking to upgrade their starting rotations, Wren is celebrating the fruits of his offseason labor, which was aimed toward upgrading his starting staff.

The acquisitions of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami have provided the Braves with a starting rotation that has produced a Major League-best 3.62 ERA this year. Dating back to June 26, Atlanta's rotation has gone 13-6 with a 2.84 ERA.

If Wren makes a move this week, he'll likely attempt to improve his bullpen depth with the acquisition of a reliever. The Braves' bullpen ranks ninth in the National League with a 3.90 ERA, and there are a few members who could seemingly benefit from the opportunity to rest on a more consistent basis.

Atlanta possesses three of the six National League pitchers who have compiled at least 50 appearances this season: Peter Moylan, Eric O'Flaherty and Mike Gonzalez. Just one year removed from Tommy John elbow ligament transplant surgery, Moylan has garnered a league-high 55 appearances.

But with Buddy Carlyle nearly set to return to the bullpen mix for the first time since being diagnosed in early June with Type 1 Diabetes, there's a good chance that Wren will bypass the opportunity to add another reliever.

While placing his offseason focus on pitching, Wren didn't put as much emphasis on his offensive needs and instead attempted to remain confident in the possibility that either Kelly Johnson or Jeff Francoeur would enjoy a bounce-back season.

Johnson and Francoeur both struggled to regain their once-promising forms, and Jordan Schafer found his introduction to the Major League level to be forgettable. By the end of May, knowing that he had to find some offense to support his strong pitching staff, Wren sent Schafer to the Minors and found a center-field solution in the form of McLouth.

When Wren acquired McLouth from the Pirates on June 3, he immediately upgraded his outfield's offensive production and also proved to be proactive.

"We did that early enough that it could pay dividends for an extra two months," Wren said. "We felt it was a move we needed to make immediately."

Had Wren waited just a few more weeks, he knows he would have likely been competing against a number of other clubs who were seeking McLouth's services. Thus he felt comfortable with the possibility that he might have "slightly overpaid" in an exchange that included outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke and right-handed pitcher Charlie Morton.

While hitting .262 with six homers and 18 RBIs during his first 42 games with the Braves, McLouth hasn't set the world on fire. But his presence at the top of the lineup has played a part in the fact that this once-maligned offense has produced the third-most runs in the Majors this month.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.