• Exclusives

    What if Braves Stand Pat? Can They Win?

    By Kent Covington

    As the opening day countdown clock ticks away, the candid truth is that the hopes of an off-season impact trade grow dimmer by the day.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution recently asked Braves General Manager, Frank Wren, about the likelihood of another trade before the start of the season.  Wren responded, “I think every day that goes by it’s probably less likely.  It doesn’t mean you stop trying.”

    Despite trade rumors, it appears Braves LF Martin Prado may be staying put

    Trade rumors have swirled for months around Braves RHP Jair Jurrjens and LF Martin Prado.  These rumors have included trade targets such as Baltimore’s Adam Jones and Colorado’s Seth Smith, but none of those trade negotiations progressed past the “preliminary” stage.

    In the end, the Braves may be relieved that none of the Jurrjens/Prado trade scenarios materialized (if in fact that remains the case). Either or both could prove to be critical cogs in Atlanta’s 2012 season.  Their ability to remain healthy is the biggest question, and only time will answer it.

    But while the possibility of a noteworthy trade is diminishing, that possibility certainly still exists.  The acquisition of a moderately priced free agent, such as Cody Ross, remains perfectly plausible as well.

    We’ll post our thoughts on trades/free agent deals that are still possible here within the next couple days.

    But let’s assume for a moment that the Braves are set to dance with their current cast. What if the Braves stand pat?  Can they challenge the Phillies and return to the postseason without major changes?

    I believe they can.

    Braves will need more offensive output from RF, Jason Heyward in 2012

    Recently, I shared my belief that the Braves offense has a chance to be among the NL’s best, even without an impact trade or free agent addition. I understand that this is difficult for many to accept, given the subpar performance of the lineup last year.  I won’t restate that case today, but here it is if you missed it.

    In a nutshell, here is the winning offensive equation for Atlanta’s offense:

    Higher team on-base percentage + health + a strong season from OF Jason Heyward = success.

    The Braves led the NL in on-base percentage in 2010.  If they can return to the patient approach we saw from this team two seasons ago, there’s no reason why they could not cure their 2011 empty-bases syndrome.

    And we all know Heyward is capable of far more than his disappointing ’11 output.

    As for pitching, the depth of this staff should ensure that pitching remains a strength of this Braves team.  But how great a strength depends upon the health of Jurrjens and fellow starter, Tommy Hanson, both of whom missed most of the season’s second half last year.  The first-half numbers of this duo underscores the impact of a healthy Jurrjens and Hanson. I pointed out the following in a recent blog:

    Much will hinge on the health of Hanson and Jurrjens

    Before the all star break last season, Jurrjens and Hanson combined to go 22-7 with a 2.14 ERA.  No other pair in baseball put up the kind of numbers “JJ” and Hanson boasted in the first half.  That duo, along with Tim Hudson, formed as effective a trio as there was anywhere in baseball.

    But hampered by shoulder and knee ailments, respectively, Hanson and Jurrjens were non-existent in the second half of the season. After the All-Star break they were a combined 2-6 with a 6.75 ERA.  So again…

    Jurrjens and Hanson:

    Before All-Star break – 22-7, 2.14 ERA

    After All-Star break – 2-6, 6.75 ERA

    If their “big-3” (Jurrjens, Hanson and Tim Hudson) can avoid lasting injuries, Atlanta’s rotation—coupled with a dominant bullpen—could once again form one of baseball’s most formidable pitching staffs.

    Bottom line: Even without substantial changes, the Braves’ offense has a chance to be very good, and their pitching has a chance to be great. The more talent you add, the greater the margin for error (underperformance) or injury, so upgrades are always welcome.  But without changing a thing, the Braves do in fact have the talent to compete.

    It comes down to a very simple formula: Stay healthy and play up to potential. If the Braves can do that, they’ll play October baseball. If they can’t, they won’t.

    P.S. Before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.