Like many other legitimate postseason contenders, the Braves have a few areas they would like to improve before heading into this season's stretch run. But their dire need to mend their fractured starting rotation during Spring Training has left them with essentially no financial flexibility with Thursday's Trade Deadline approaching.
When Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy suffered season-ending elbow injuries 24 hours apart in March, the Braves reacted in an aggressive manner. Though they had already nearly maxed out their payroll, they opted to give $14.1 million to Ervin Santana, who struggled early but has started to look more like a reliable starter again over the past month.
Santana's presence has allowed the Braves to compensate for the losses of Medlen, Beachy and Gavin Floyd, who suffered his own season-ending elbow injury in June. But even if their rotation remains whole and effective the remainder of the season, the Braves still have to wonder if they will be able to defend their National League East crown if they do not improve their bench and bullpen.
The most likely moves the Braves could make before Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline will involve either a left-handed reliever or an experienced pinch-hitter. There is a chance the Braves could fill either of these two needs without being handicapped by their financial situation.
With that being said, Braves general manager Frank Wren has proven he is willing and capable of striking a deal while working with similar restrictions. When he needed a leadoff hitter and could not take on any more salary in 2011, he landed Michael Bourn from the Astros, who agreed to pay the remainder of the outfielder's salary that year in exchange for a more attractive return package.
Red Sox left-hander Andrew Miller and Cubs southpaw Wesley Wright are among the relievers who have been on the Braves' radar. But there might also be some hesitancy to shop in this market for a second straight year. Last year's Trade Deadline acquisition of Scott Downs appeared to be a solid and effective move. But Downs' September struggles led him to be left off the postseason roster.
Some members of the Braves' organization believe the club's best option to add a left-handed reliever might come in the form of a rejuvenated and improved Luis Avilan, who was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett last week with the hope that he will regain the form he possessed last year. But Avilan entered Sunday having allowed either a hit or a walk to seven of the previous 10 batters he had faced.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.