Nate McLouth, Jordan Schafer

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.

Angels ink Javy Guerra to minor league deal

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Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Javy Guerra. The deal includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Guerra was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball last July after testing positive for a drug of abuse. That suspension is now over, though Guerra is probably ticketed for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate to begin the 2016 season.

The 30-year-old made just three major league appearances in 2015 for the White Sox before getting outrighted off Chicago’s 40-man roster. He does own a 2.87 ERA in 150 1/3 career innings, but it has come with bouts of inconsistency and unreliability.

Maybe he can get everything going in the right direction with Anaheim.

Braves sign reliever Carlos Torres

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As first reported by Bill Shanks of Fox Sports 1670, the Braves have signed right-handed reliever Carlos Torres to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Torres was waived by the Mets in January, somewhat surprisingly, and elected to become a free agent. The 33-year-old ultimately chose Atlanta, where he should have a good shot at an Opening Day roster out of spring training with the rapidly-rebuilding Braves.

Torres posted an ugly 4.68 ERA in 57 2/3 innings last season for the Mets, but he registered a gorgeous 3.06 ERA and 96 strikeouts across 97 innings in 2014.

If he gets off to a good start in 2016, he could become valuable trade bait.

Blue Jays will have a closer competition this spring

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Roberto Osuna became the youngest pitcher to ever play for the Blue Jays last season at age 20 and he rose to the challenge with a 2.58 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 75/16 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 frames. Osuna eventually took over as Toronto’s closer, earning 20 regular-season saves and one in the American League Division Series — a five-out effort in Game 5 to close out the visiting Rangers.

But the Jays upgraded the back end of their bullpen this winter, acquiring Drew Storen from the Nationals in early January for speedy outfielder Ben Revere. Jesse Chavez was also brought to Toronto in a trade with the A’s.

Storen has more experience at closer than Osuna, and Storen struggled when the Nationals tried to put him in a setup role. Storen, in his final year of salary arbitration, also gets paid much more. He’s probably going to enter spring training as the favorite for the Jays’ ninth-inning gig, but there will be a competition …

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca on Wednesday that he doesn’t expect the team to choose between Osuna or Storen until midway through spring training, if not later.

There’s been talk of making Osuna a starter, so add that wrinkle.

Storen, 28, boasts 95 career major league saves.

Orioles plotting late-offseason push? Gallardo, Fowler, Alvarez, Bruce in consideration

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Baltimore’s front office appears to be lining up a run of potential roster additions leading into the beginning of spring training.

We’ve already passed along the reports suggesting they are close to a three-year deal with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo, but now FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal adds that free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler could be next on the Orioles’ target list. It they get those two deals done, the O’s could then chase free agent slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Rosenthal says the Orioles are even eyeing Jay Bruce of the Reds, though the FOX reporter hears the O’s might not have the prospects to pull off that kind of trade.

The focus for the Orioles out of the gate this winter was re-signing Matt Wieters and Chris Davis. Wieters accepted his one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November and Davis was locked up to a seven-year, $161 million contract in mid-January.

Now the O’s are spending a little leftover cash on late-offseason additions to improve their position in what should be a tight 2016 American League East race.