Tackling the trade deadline: Atlanta Braves

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Atlanta Braves
First-half record: 54-38
Standings: trail Phillies by 3 1/2 games in NL East, 5 up in wild card

Needs

Outfield: Jordan Schafer has had his moments, but he also has a .599 OPS in 169 at-bats while filling in for Nate McLouth and Martin Prado.  The Braves offense is fine when everyone is healthy and McLouth is the worst player in the lineup, but adding another outfielder is a must.  Players are going to keep getting hurt, and while Prado’s versatility makes him a huge asset in that department, the Braves need someone to cover left field when Prado is needed elsewhere.

Bullpen: The Braves have gotten superb relief so far, but they currently have Jonny Venters on pace for 90 appearances, Craig Kimbrel on pace for 83 and Eric O’Flaherty on pace for 79.  They could use another solid right-hander capable of taking some of the burden off their big three.

Infield: If the Braves can’t bring in a starting-type outfielder, maybe they can at least go get a quality backup for Chipper Jones so that they’ll no longer have to play Prado at third base.  The return of Omar Infante to Atlanta would work if the last-place Marlins decide to sell.

Target

Josh Willingham (OF Oak): The addition of Dan Uggla was supposed to help out a Braves team that has typically struggled against left-handers, and it probably will pay off in time.  Still, to date, the Braves are hitting .208 and slugging .333 against southpaws, compared to .249 with a .407 slugging percentage against righties.  Willingham isn’t a perfect solution — ideally, the Braves would bring in someone capable of helping out in center as well — but he’s a very good bat with plenty of NL East experience.

Proposed deal

Willingham and RHP Brad Ziegler for LHP Mike Minor and LHP Brett Oberholtzer

I wouldn’t propose that the Braves give up Minor for Willingham alone, but for Ziegler, too, it might be worth it.  Ziegler has a 1.95 ERA in 32 1/3 innings this season, and he’s limited right-handed hitters to a .219 average and two homers in 525 career at-bats.  He is weak against lefties, but the Braves already have three quality southpaws.

It’s still a pretty high price to pay, but Brandon Beachy’s emergence has made Minor expendable.  The left-hander would likely be a fine No. 3 starter in Oakland.  Oberholtzer, who is currently sporting a 4.03 ERA as a 22-year-old in Double-A, probably ranks as Atlanta’s sixth- or seventh-best pitching prospect.

Dodgers activate Adrian Gonzalez

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The Dodgers have reinstated first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the 60-day disabled list after his recovery from a herniated disc. To make room for him they have optioned Rob Segedin to Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Gonzalez last played on June 11. Since then the Dodgers have gone an astounding 46-9, with shoe-in rookie of the year candidate Cody Bellinger handling first base duties and posting a .978 OPS. When Gonzalez went down he was hitting .255/.304/.339 and only one homer in 49 games.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of playing time he gets going forward. The Dodgers, of course, have a comfortable lead in the NL West, so they could afford to allow Gonzalez to play a good bit to see if his bat sharpens up while simultaneously giving Bellinger, who has never played more than 137 games in a season, a bit of a breather. Beyond that, though, the Dodgers ain’t broke, so it’s hard to see why anyone would want to tinker with things.

Rays activate Kevin Kiermaier

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The Tampa Bay Rays have activated outfielder Kevin Kiermaier from the 60-day disabled list.

Kiermaier, who fractured his hip in early June, is batting leadoff and playing center field in tonight’s game against the Mariners. He was just 3-for-24 on his rehab assignment, but those aren’t usually predictive of anything. He was hitting .258/.329/.408 when he went down. Getting his bat — and, more importantly, his glove — back in the lineup will boost the struggling Rays in their quest for a playoff spot.