Leave it to the guy who's retiring to advocate for a big move at the trading deadline, as those kinds of deals can clean out the top end of a farm system and don't always bring return beyond the current calendar year. But, as they say this time of year, the present is now.
Washington Nationals in 10 days, four of which were consumed by the All-Star break.The Atlanta Braves have won seven of eight, are second in the National League wild-card race and have gained two games on the
"We're going to have to get better to contend," Chipper Jones said recently. "I think we both know the Nationals have a pretty good team, a pretty good staff."
At that point, the Braves had lost shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a finger injury but have since replaced him by trading for Cincinnati's Paul Janish, a slick fielder who batted .214 in 114 games with the Reds. There also are questions about the starting rotation, though Ben Sheets was effective in his debut against the New York Mets. Jair Jurrjens was 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in four starts since returning from the minors before Tuesday night, when the San Francisco Giants scored eight runs against him in 3 ⅓ innings.
In part because of the Brandon Beachy injury, the Braves are believed to have interest in Chicago Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster and Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke, and could use help in the bullpen as well.
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Chipper status aside, the Braves are plenty good enough to contend, but can't match the Nationals on the pitching end. So, yeah, they'll have to get better. Their competition for Dempster, who probably will be the first high-end starter to be dealt, would appear to come from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox and, perhaps, the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels. The Nationals appear to be concentrating on second-tier starters.
Dempster is scheduled to start Friday in St. Louis. He's 5-3 with a league-leading 1.86 ERA over 14 starts and carries a streak of 33 consecutive scoreless innings. In his first start since coming off the disabled list on Saturday, Dempster shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks for six innings.
Some scouts expect the Cubs and president Theo Epstein to trade Dempster before that Friday start.
"Theo seems to be risking starts to drive up the price," one scout said. "There's no way [Dempster's] value is higher than it is today at any time in his career. And I know he was a 17-game winner."
The Braves and their arms-rich farm system would figure to be players.
"If we go down, we're going to go down kicking and screaming," Jones said. "Especially me."
He paused and smiled.
"Well," he added, "I'll probably go down whimpering."
And then …
The Angels had a scout in Milwaukee on Friday to see Greinke, in Colorado on Sunday to see Cole Hamels and in Los Angeles on Tuesday to continue to monitor the Phillies.
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If you're looking for starting pitching and aren't sure where to go, this is your kind of day. While Greinke is being rested and therefore will miss Wednesday's start against the St. Louis Cardinals (rookie Tyler Thornburg gets it instead), Wandy Rodriguez, Kevin Millwood and Francisco Liriano will pitch.
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