Three Cuts: John Schuerholz takes his place in Cooperstown; trade deadline looms
It's a 48 hours that showcases the dueling paces of baseball's extracurriculars in this age. There's the grainy-footaged, idealized look back to the past that is Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame induction, and the trade deadline's hectic free-for-all -- and the Braves are once again players in both of them.
How much, at least in the deadline dealings, remains to be seen. But with John Schuerholz joining recent Braves inductees Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz during Sunday's ceremony, Atlanta seized a seat among the game's greats.
As for the current team, troubles continued in Philadelphia to further complicate a rough road trip ... and with that, let's dive into it all.
1. The Architect takes his place in Cooperstown
John Schuerholz, often one to speak of the game of baseball with a sense of romanticism, closed his speech at Sunday's Hall of Fame ceremony fittingly.
"I really, really did like my seat out on that lawn," he told those assembled in Cooperstown, a vantage point he'd taken through years of watching inductions, including four other Braves in the past three years. "But I love my new seat up here on this stage a lot more.'
The former Atlanta and Kansas City general manager, who was the first to win a World Series in both leagues, took his place in the Hall with Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez and former commissioner Bud Selig, and he did so with a resume we may never see equaled.
That last part has become cliche when discussing Schuerholz's legacy, and for a very good reason.
It's unlikely we'll ever see again what Schuerholz, manager Bobby Cox and Co. pulled off in the run of 14 consecutive division titles, a period that beginning with 1991's Worst to First season comes with this nugget. Before Schuerholz took over, Atlanta had never won a playoff game, and then would go on to rattle off 63 with five World Series appearances and a 1995 championship with Schuerholz pulling the strings.
True, Schuerholz didn't pull the trigger on drafting Tom Glavine or Chipper Jones or trading for John Smoltz. But he helped convinced Greg Maddux to pick Atlanta over the Yankees (despite a heftier contract offer from New York) in December 1992, then in July 1993 swung the Fred McGriff deal.
The secret -- a term Schuerholz chagrins, instead opting to refer to it as "a strategy," a "plan"-- to his success during the run of division titles, though, wasn't in acquiring stars. It was in maintaining the air of continuity.
From 1991-2005, the Braves averaged 10 new players per year, with Schuerholz identifying a core and building around it. In would step Maddux, and out would go Sid Bream and Terry Pendleton. Javy Lopez and Ryan Klesko emerged and Otis Nixon moved on ... and the Braves just kept on winning.
"You knew who were the most important elements of your team, who were productive, reliable, consistent, strong-willed, will to win, warriors, leadership, all those things," Schuerholz said during my writing of Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout.. "And it changed over time."
What didn't change was the duo at the forefront: Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz. Now, manager and general manager are together again, enshrined among the game's immortals.
There are just six GMs in the Hall of Fame, with Schuerholz the first to gain entry since Pat Gillick in 2011. But none can boast 16 division titles in 26 years, and none can say they made the playoffs 24 times.
An era of Braves baseball in Cooperstown grew bigger Sunday, and could become larger with Chipper Jones next summer, and Andruw Jones also debuting at the ballot in '18.
But this years was about The Architect, a poet who summed up his feelings for the game simply.
"I love baseball," Schuerholz said. "I've loved it all my life."
2. Who will be on the move for Braves at trade deadline?
What was expected -- given the Braves' place in the National League East and Wild Card races -- to be a busy trade deadline has so far been, well, kind of quiet.
Granted, free-agent-to-be Jaime Garcia was moved to the Twins (and Sunday sent on to the Yankees, with Minnesota paying all but the minimum of the left-hander's salary) along with catcher Anthony Recker for mid-level pitching prospect Huascar Ynoa and some financial flexibility, but so far that's been it.
So who could be gone before Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline?
There's long been the possibility the Braves could be both buyers and sellers, especially if they can get a controllable arm (a la Sonny Gray). But from the seller side of things Atlanta has expiring contracts it can move with Jason Motte, Brandon Phillips and the surging Kurt Suzuki, and Phillips is certainly the most intriguing of that lot.
The Reds sent over $13 million when the Braves acquired the second baseman in exchange for reliever Andrew McKirahan, putting him at around $380,000 due for the remainder of the season. That figure, for a contender looking for either infield depth or a bench bat from a guy hitting .293/.335/.440 with 35 extra-base hits, is enticing ... but the 12-team provision the Braves inherited is an added wrinkle.
Phillips is due $500,000 if he's moved to club that's not on his list, but at 36 without a World Series ring, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't at least consider one of those negated teams if it meant a lengthy postseason run.
It's worth noting that the money Cincinnati sent along isn't tied to Phillips, but would likely be a necessity in order to get a trade done (and make him so appealing to a contender). That makes the prospect of moving him via a waiver deal more difficult, when the team that claims him is responsible for the full amont due (so sans the money the Reds kicked over). Though if he passed through waivers, the Braves would then be able to deal him and money can change hands. Still, if Phillips isn't moved by Monday afternoon, there's a strong chance he may be with Atlanta for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile, R.A. Dickey (who allowed one unearned run over seven innings Sunday vs. the Phillies) has a reasonable $8 million option for 2018 and could help to continue to bridge the gap to young arms. Likewise, Matt Adams has another year of club control and, given Freddie Freeman's willingness to split time at first base and third, it would be surprising if he were dealt now.
Julio Teheran and Jim Johnson have also been rumored to be drawing interest. Teheran's affordability (he's due $23 million through '19) has overshadowed a career low 6.81 K/9, an elevated BB/9 (3.52) and a drop in velocity since '15 (91.9 mph on fastball) and Johnson's peripherals (among them the eight-best FIP among relievers since last season at 2.75) look better than the fact that he's blown an MLB-high eight games and has a 5.32 ERA his last 24 times out.
The Braves, at least for now, look to be giving Johnson time off from the closer role as he pitched the eighth Sunday in Philadelphia. Manager Brian Sntiker said Arodys Vizcaino (2.63 ERA and .218 BAA) would have had the chance to get the save Sunday, though Jose Ramirez (2.53 ERA and a .188 batting average against) has also been sharp. But how much did recent struggles, and Snitker seemingly moving away from him as closer for now, hurt Johnson's value?
The Braves may not be swayed to move him now, especially if his value is dropping. Likewise, they might not be in position to fill Teheran's spot in the rotation unless they acquire an arm in return or pull the trigger on a trade that nets them that sought-after controllable arm.
The expectation here is like Dickey, Teheran and Johnson stay put, with those players with expiring deals (Motte, Phillips and Suzuki) the ones to watch over the next day.
Dale ZanineDale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
3. Road woes change narrative on what's possible for these Braves
After a sweep of the Diamondbacks to start second half, the Braves had finally climbed back to .500, the latest in a season they'd hit that mark since September 17, 2014.
But then a sweep at the hands of the Cubs happened, and despite two strong wins over the Dodgers to start the road trip, Atlanta would go on to drop 10 of the next 13 in a jaunt that won't end until tomorrow's series finale in Philadelphia.
It hurts that much more that it has included three straight losses to the Phillies, holders of the worst record in baseball. The Braves are 2-7 against them on the year and are 0-6 in Philly this season.
Now, Atlanta stands a whopping 14 games back in the NL East and for now has ceded second place in the division to the Marlins. It has also fallen 10 1/2 back in the wild card race, with four teams (Brewers, Cardinals, Pirates and Marlins) between the Braves and the final playoff spot, a gap that will be difficult to close, with FanGraphs forecasting a 0.8 percent chance of claiming a playoff spot.
This road trip was expected to be a telling one of what was possible for the Braves and any postseason aspirations. How much it means with that trade deadline looming, and an another upcoming series with the MLB-best Dodgers, only adds to the intrigue.