The Atlanta Braves snuck in a deal right before a busy trade deadline passed, acquiring two potential pieces for the 25-man roster in utility man Emilio Bonifacio and left-handed reliever James Russell from the Chicago Cubs, the team announced on Thursday afternoon.
The Braves sent 20-year-old third base/catching prospect Victor Caratini back to the Cubs.
The trade addresses the two areas on the Braves’ roster most expected the franchise to address: the bench and the bullpen. The moves fell short of the blockbuster deals taking place around the league — Jon Lester, David Price and Yoenis Cespedes were among the top names on the move on Thursday — but without giving up major pieces, this was the only type of move Atlanta was poised to make.
Bonifacio is an important piece that could help shore up depth at multiple positions and give manager Fredi Gonzalez more options on a nightly basis. In 298 plate appearances this season, Bonifacio is hitting .279/.318/.373 with two homers and 35 runs. He’s played at six different field positions in his six-year career, and it’s not difficult to see him giving the likes of Tommy La Stella, B.J. Upton and Chris Johnson more time off in the second half.
Bonifacio, who still brings ample speed at 29 years old, could also give Gonzalez another option at the leadoff spot (although his .318 on-base percentage leaves something to be desired), where the franchise has juggled multiple players over the past two seasons.
Bonifacio played for Gonzalez’s Marlins teams in 2009 and 2010. He is set to become a free agent after the season.
Russell, 28, brings the lefty piece the team wanted to add in the wake of Luis Avilan’s decline this season. His production has fallen off since his decent 2012 season, but his name has been tossed around as a potential option for the Braves’ front office over the past few weeks. When Atlanta couldn’t land Red Sox lefty Andrew Miller, it turned to Russell, who owns a 3.51 ERA in 33 1/3 innings pitched this season. Russell has struggled against left-handers this season, but with Avilan struggling and rookie Shae Simmons on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain, adding another bullpen arm shouldn’t hurt.
The Braves control Russell’s rights through the 2015 season.
As for the prospect the Braves gave up, despite his projectable bat, it was difficult to see Caratini breaking in at the big league level any time soon in Atlanta, where general manager Frank Wren signed starting third baseman Chris Johnson to a three-year extension and Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt are expected to battle for the starting spot for the foreseeable future.
Caratini is hitting .279/.352/.406 in 365 plate appearances at Single-A Rome this season.