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Braves need some creative financing

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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The Braves, like most clubs, are near their payroll limit. But the team was in a similar position last season, and general manager Frank Wren still made two trades.

In both deals — the first for Royals reliever Kyle Farnsworth and outfielder Rick Ankiel, the second for Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee — the Braves improved their initial offers in order to receive cash in the exchange.

"That's more the norm than the exception now," one GM said Thursday of such trades.

The Braves, who visit the Phillies in an NL East showdown this weekend (Saturday, MLB on Fox, 4:10 p.m.), are not yet certain how they will upgrade their offense, if at all.

A right-handed hitting outfielder, though, still appears the most logical fit.

Left fielder Martin Prado, recovering from a staph infection in his right knee, is expected back after the All-Star break. Third baseman Chipper Jones, however, could require arthroscopic surgery on his right knee at any time and miss three to four weeks.

Jones' knee is "getting more bothersome," failing to respond to a second round of cortisone the way it did to the first, according to a source with knowledge of his condition.

The loss of Jones, 39, would require the Braves to move Prado to third, creating an opening in left; an outfield of Nate McLouth, Jordan Schaefer and Jason Heyward would be too limited offensively.

So, could the Braves afford an outfielder such as the Padres' Ryan Ludwick, Athletics' Josh Willingham or Twins' Michael Cuddyer?

Probably, if cash was part of the deal.

Willingham will be owed about $2 million on July 31, Ludwick about $2.25 million, Cuddyer about $3.5 million. The Braves, with help from their respective trading partners, took on similar numbers last season in both the Farnsworth/Ankiel trade on July 31 and the Lee deal on Aug. 18.

The Royals paid $1.8 million of the combined $2.8 million owed Farnsworth and Ankiel. The Cubs included $1.7 million of the $3.4 million owed Lee.

The Braves rank first in the NL in ERA, ahead of even the Phillies. They are only ninth in scoring, but could improve from within if second baseman Dan Uggla and right fielder Jason Heyward get hot in the second half.

Another bat also would help. The Braves again would need to be creative to make a deal happen, but if they did it before, they could do it again.

AND THE FIGHTIN' PHILS?

The Phillies, of course, could end up chasing the same right-handed bats as the Braves — and part with better prospects for dollars to help limit any increase in payroll.

One problem, though: The Phillies outfielder most likely to lose at-bats to a deadline addition is right fielder Domonic Brown, the team’s top young hitter.

Brown, batting .239 with a .733 OPS in 152 plate appearances, is not a finished product, but manager Charlie Manuel was the one who lobbied for his promotion. At what point would Brown, 23, grow discouraged if the team again fails to show faith in him?

The Phillies also are exploring trades for relievers, but simply getting healthy would help. Five Phillies right-handers — starters Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt and relievers Jose Contreras, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson — are on the disabled list.

ANOTHER BURNETT FOR YANKEES?

Rotation depth can disappear in an instant, but the Yankees currently are in decent shape; right-hander Ivan Nova, an eight-game winner with a 4.12 ERA in the majors, pitched well in his return to Triple A on Thursday night. Righty Adam Warren, 6-3 with a 3.20 ERA at Triple A, represents additional insurance.

In a perfect world, the Yankees would add a stud lefty to their rotation. In the real world, they are more likely to add a lefty reliever — and possibly a setup man if right-hander Rafael Soriano does not recover from an elbow injury before July 31.

The return of Soriano would ease the burden on right-hander David Robertson. The Yankees would prefer a lefty who is more than just a specialist. Someone like Scott Downs would be ideal, but forget that; the Angels are trying to make the playoffs, too.

The Nationals' Sean Burnett could be a lesser version of Downs, and his name has surfaced in the Yankees' internal discussions, according to major league sources. The Nats, however, have yet to make Burnett available, and the Yankees also are targeting other left-handed relievers, sources say.

Burnett, 28, actually has gone backward this season: Left-handed hitters have a .736 OPS against him, while right-handed hitters were at .815. His splits last season were reversed – right-handed hitters had a .487 OPS against him, left-handed hitters were at .711.

Burnett is earning $1.4 million this season and $2.3 million next season with a $3.5 mutual option or $250,000 buyout for 2013.

THE SORIA CHRONICLES, PART 12

It happens every summer. If the deadline is near, then so is talk of the Royals moving closer Joakim Soria.

The New York Post reported Wednesday that Royals scouts are following the Yankees' minor league system and that Kansas City is dangling Soria for a catcher.

The Royals, like most clubs, will listen on all of their players. But rival executives say their price for Soria is so high, it is doubtful he will be moved.

Soria, 27, remains quite affordable, earning $4 million this season with club options of $6 million in 2012, $8 million in 2013 and $8.75 million in 2014.

The Royals believe their window to compete is between '12 and '14. If they trade Soria, they will want players who can help them almost right away.

The Yankees reportedly offered Triple-A catcher Jesus Montero as part of a package for Soria a year ago, but the Royals had little interest in Montero then and are one of many clubs that continue to doubt whether he will remain at catcher long-term.

Both the Rangers and Yankees possess the type of upper-end pitching that would intrigue the Royals, but it's doubtful either club would trade one of its top young arms for a reliever, even one as good as Soria.

CRUNCH TIME FOR POTENTIAL SELLERS

Keep your eyes on these four teams on the bubble, all of whom could decide to sell if they do not perform well in upcoming stretches against division opponents.

TRADE PRIMER

Confused by MLB transactions? Don't worry, we'll explain it all.

Rays: They began a run of 11 straight games against the Yankees and Red Sox with a 5-1 victory at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night. The Rays own the AL's third-best record, but are only third in the AL East and lack the resources to match the deadline efforts of the division's two superpowers.

Twins: Their 6-2 victory over the White Sox on Thursday night marked the first of 16 straight games against the AL Central — four in Chicago, then a 12-game homestand to open the second half against the Royals, Indians and Tigers.

A's/Mariners: Both are playing eight straight games against the top two teams in the AL West, the Rangers and Angels. The Athletics dropped the first game in their stretch Thursday night, 6-0 to the Rangers. The Mariners lost to the Angels, 5-1.

MARINERS TURNING IT OVER

This kind of thing doesn't happen every day: On Thursday night, the Mariners started two 2009 draft picks from the University of North Carolina in their infield — second baseman Dustin Ackley, the No. 2 overall pick that year, and Kyle Seager, a third rounder.

MLB STANDINGS

Who's clinched? Who's still in the playoff picture? Check all the divisional races.

Two veteran infielders — Chone Figgins and Jack Wilson — have been reduced to expensive bench players. So has Jack Cust, as manager Eric Wedge plans to play Adam Kennedy more at first and Justin Smoak more at DH.

It's a game of performance, and the numbers for the veterans aren't pretty. Figgins has a .476 OPS, Wilson is at .502 and Cust is at .694, with just three homers in 200 at-bats.

The Mariners, meanwhile, are last in the AL in runs.

"Some of these guys have had tough first halves," Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik says. "We're hoping they can bounce back. In the meantime, we're looking for some answers, trying to give some guys opportunities."

Seager, 23, led the minor leagues with 192 hits last season and had 29 doubles and an .896 OPS in 321 combined at-bats at Double-A and Triple-A.

One scout, however, is not convinced Seager is ready for the majors.

"He does not profile at third base, has no real power," the scout says. "He's a spray hitter, a utility man for me."

AROUND THE HORN

Pirates right-hander Jeff Karstens, in the words of one scout, is "Bronson Arroyo all over again."

The scout was not referring to Karstens' delivery — Arroyo’s high leg kick is unique — but his ability to make pitches.

Karstens, 7-4 with a 2.55 ERA, certainly qualifies as one of the season’s biggest surprises. The Pirates designated him for assignment after the 2009 season. He cleared waivers and remained in the organization.

• Speaking of the Pirates, their biggest need is a power bat, and manager Clint Hurdle has made it clear that makeup will be a strong consideration in any player the team considers.

The Orioles' Luke Scott loomed as a possible fit before he went on the disabled list Tuesday with a right shoulder strain. Another player who might make sense, though he lacks pure power: The Rays' Johnny Damon.

I'm just speculating on Damon; there is no indication yet that the Rays will sell. But Damon, as the Rays can attest, is a positive influence on a young club, a veteran of numerous pennant races and still a capable offensive player.

• The Royals' return from the Brewers for right-hander Zack Greinke continues to look good.

Alcides Escobar is one of the game's top defensive shortstops and improving offensively. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain and right-hander Jeremy Jeffress are performing well at Triple-A, and right-hander Jake Odorizzi made his debut at Double-A on Wednesday after going 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA and making the All-Star team in the Single-A Carolina League.

Odrorizzi, 21, throws an above-average fastball with above-average command, but needs work on his secondary pitches. He projects, at minimum, as a No. 3 starter.

• Another example of how prospects often are overvalued: A year ago at this time, Blue Jays righty Kyle Drabek and lefty Brett Cecil were all but untouchable.

Now?

Drabek is back in Triple-A after going 4-5 with a 5.70 ERA in the majors. Cecil, a 15-game winner last season, pitched well in a complete-game loss at Fenway Park on Tuesday night, but he recently spent more than two months at Triple-A and is 1-4 with a 6.37 ERA.

Tagged: Orioles, Angels, Royals, Twins, Yankees, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays, Braves, Nationals, Phillies, Pirates, Padres, Rays, Johnny Damon, Chipper Jones, Kyle Farnsworth, Roy Oswalt, Scott Downs, Jack Wilson, Rick Ankiel, Derrek Lee, Jack Cust, Ryan Ludwick, Sean Burnett, Dan Uggla, Jeff Karstens, Joakim Soria, Jason Heyward, Domonic Brown, Kyle Drabek

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