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.

Steven Matz likely to start season on DL; Zack Wheeler to adhere to innings limit

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Mets manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, “It’s unlikely that [Steven Matz] will start the season with us.” The final spot in the Mets’ starting rotation will go to either Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports.

On Wheeler’s innings limit, assistant GM John Ricco said, “There’s going to be some number but we don’t exactly know what that is.” Wheeler missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Neither Wheeler nor Lugo have had terrific springs as each carries a 5.11 and 5.56 Grapefruit League ERA, respectively. However, Carig notes that Wheeler has impressed simply by appearing healthy and brandishing a fastball that once again sits in the mid- to high-90’s. Lugo, meanwhile, proved crucial to the Mets last year, posting a 2.67 ERA across eight starts and nine relief appearances.

Rockies sign 30-year lease to stay in Coors Field

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Nick Groke of the Denver Post reports that the Rockies agreed to a $200 million, 30-year lease with the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium District, which is the state division that owns Coors Field. As part of the deal, the Rockies will lease and develop a plot of land south of the stadium, which will cost the team $125 million for 99 years.

As Groke points out, had the Rockies not reached a deal by Thursday, March 30, the lease would have rolled over for five more years.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort issued a statement, saying, “We are proud that Coors Field will continue to be a vital part of a vibrant city, drawing fans from near and far and making our Colorado residents proud.”

The Rockies moved into Coors Field in 1995. It is the National League’s third oldest stadium. In that span of time, the Rockies have made the playoffs three times, the last coming in 2009 when they lost in the NLDS to the Phillies. The Rockies were swept in the 2007 World Series by the Red Sox.