Lots of chatter about significant players that are potentially available as we've reached the break, a handful of which could reasonably be expected to make the Braves serious contenders should they be acquired. That said, we all have to learn to temper expectations as fans. Frank Wren has been charged with keeping the organization competitive for the long run and given the current corporate ownership structure he's dealing with, going "all-in" isn't necessarily an option. However, it's time to take the GM cap off for a little bit and daydream a little.
There have already been rumblings that the team may very well dip into next year's finances to upgrade this year's product - there's significant money coming off the books following this season with Chipper Jones retiring, the end of the financial commitment to Derek Lowe, and the ability to further open up future salary space by declining to re-sign Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, and Martin Prado. In other words Wren is in position to almost entirely turn the roster over moving forward.
The question is, is it time to do that with an eye towards retaining the pieces he might be able to acquire in an attempt at sending Chipper off into the sunset with his second ring? For today's piece, I'm going to argue yes.
The signing of Ben Sheets was brilliant. Sheets has looked very good in his first two minor league starts, and last night's stretched him to 90 pitches. He likely can be called upon to step into the rotation with the big club whenever Wren decides he wants to do so. The Sheets signing and slotting means one of Randall Delgado or Mike Minor will be optioned back to Gwinnett within the next two weeks. It also may very well signal that at least one of them is available in a package to further upgrade the rotation for a playoff run.
Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last month, you've heard that Zack Greinke is likely available whenever the Brewers receive a significant enough offer to pull the trigger. We "know" that offer isn't coming from the Yankees or Red Sox, and it doesn't seem that the Rangers or Angels are interested in topping significant offers if they're made. Word has it that the Orioles are likely to be bidders but aren't moving Dylan Bundy or Manny Machado under any circumstances. The Braves have always loved Greinke (who's from the Orlando area where the team's spring training complex is), and Zack is said to prefer to avoid the pressure that comes with pitching in the biggest markets. An unnamed former teammate has also been quoted as saying that Zack mentioned at times that he thinks he would like pitching in Atlanta. The time is right for Wren to pounce - yes retaining him beyond this year will be expensive, but he's the type of Pitcher you commit to building your organization around. Offer Milwaukee their choice of Delgado and SS Tyler Pastornicky or Minor, Pastornicky, and Zeke Spruill or another lower level pitching prospect for Greinke and bite the bullet after the season and hope that he can be re-signed for a somewhat team-friendly contract after having time to realize he will like it here.
Now we're finding out that Arizona is serious about being willing to listen to offers for Justin Upton. Upton's struggled a bit early this season, but is an elite level talent, and is signed through 2015 with $38.5 million due from 2013-2015. That number averages out to less of a commitment per season than Chipper's current contract. While he's not going to be a realistic "replacement" for Michael Bourn in CF if he proves to be too expensive to re-sign following this year, he would be an awfully good fit moving forward because he's capable of easily replacing Chipper's production in the middle of the order, and would allow Martin Prado to move to 3B for good if he's retained. One of Arizona's rumored wish list pieces is a top of the rotation SP as part of the package. This may finally be the time to turn that "currency" (Wren's own word) the organization has stockpiled - young, controllable high ceiling SPs - into a serious offensive threat. Build a package around Julio Teheran (and include Matt Diaz to clear a little salary) and see if you can pry Upton away. Doing so would likely mean you have to part ways with Bourn following this season, but Upton's the type of player you would do that for. With Andrelton Simmons out for 4-6 weeks, I'd also ask if they'd include Willie Bloomquist in the deal and upgrade the pieces involved where needed. Bloomquist is a very good super-utility type guy who can handle SS, and he's under control through next season for less than $2 million.
Those moves would leave you with the following roster for a postseason run...
SS- Bloomquist (until Simmons returns)
Bench- Ross, Chipper, Hinske, Francisco, Wilson
Prado moves around between 3B, LF, 2B, and 1B the rest of the season to allow Chipper to continue to get plenty of ABs as well as allowing everyone to stay fresher as the season drags on. Then he can settle in at 3B next season or the team could choose to allow him to walk and spend his dollars on a CF replacement for Bourn and go with Francisco there. When Simmons returns, Wilson can be released.
That is exactly the type of roster that could send Chipper out on top one more time.