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Trade Deadline preview

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Crossposted from MVN's blog MLB Outsider. James Piette and I are co-authors on this one.

Over the past several years, the Braves were mentioned in nearly every trade rumor. Strangely, both beat writers and bloggers have been muted about the likelihood of an Atlanta deadline deal this summer.

Earlier this month, talks sprang up around mercurial SS Yunel Escobar, as Buster Olney and other writers detailed a number of routes that the Braves might pursue. Recent quotes from Bobby Cox and GM Frank Wren and a lack of internal shortstop candidates, have convinced many that there is little chance of Escobar leaving Atlanta.

With Tim Hudson rehabbing in the minors and readying for a mid-August return, the Braves will soon have a pitching surplus. Starting pitching has been a strength for the Braves this year (4th in the majors in quality starts with 58), so they will likely either trade a starter or move Hudson to the pen. Since Tommy Hanson is untouchable and Derek Lowe's contract is expensive, the likeliest trade bait is Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens. However, because Vazquez has been Atlanta's ace this year (2.98 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 5.56 K/BB), and has a reasonable contract ($11.5 mil in '09 and '10), it's unlikely the Braves would want to move him. Jair Jurrjens would be a perfect trade chip, given his youth, affordability, and current effectiveness but debatable ceiling, though rumors have yet to surface.

Moving Hudson to the pen is likelier. The Braves bullpen has been weak this season (around league average in SV% at 64%), so if Hudson can provide some stability, setting up the injury-prone Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, the pen will be in better shape.

Atlanta's biggest concern for most of the year has been offense. They can't afford the biggest bats on the market, especially since RF Jason Heyward and 1B Freddie Freeman, their top offensive prospects in the upper minors, are off the table. But the team is hitting better recently, following the trade of Jeff Francoeur and the offensive breakout of utilityman Martin Prado. Prado got his chance due to the worst slump of 2B Kelly Johnson's career, and now that Johnson is back from the DL, the Braves find themselves with another logjam. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution speculates that Johnson might be traded "for bullpen help"; his value is much lower than it was in the offseason, when he was mentioned in Ryan Ludwick rumors, but he still provides some up-the-middle pop. Over the next month, the Braves may try to play him more to increase his value before the playoff deadline. As we've written before, many of John Schuerholz's best moves came in August.

The Braves currently hold a strong hand. Their pitching is excellent, their bullpen will soon improve, and their offense has lately been firing on all cylinders. The Braves rarely leak potential deals to sources, which makes it a little harder to predict exactly what they'll do, but it seems likely that the Braves -- though normally busy at the deadline -- are going to stand pat this July.

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