ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted this Monday and, given the Atlanta Braves’ penchant for selling competent outfielders, the “perception” makes some sense.
The Braves have gotten way more than they expected from Cameron Maybin, acquired on the eve of Opening Day in the Craig Kimbrel/Melvin Upton Jr. trade with San Diego. They figured he’d be a fourth outfielder, which is what he’d become for the Padres, and share center field with Eric Young Jr.
Well, Young is long gone and CF is all CM’s, and he leads the Braves, according to Baseball Reference, in offensive WAR (wins above replacement) at 2.0. His defensive WAR value is assessed at minus-1.2, which is the worst on the club, but defensive numbers can be inexact. The greater point is that the Braves thought they were getting a fourth outfielder and got an everyday center fielder. That’s a windfall.
Maybin’s on-base and slugging percentages (.367 and .417, respectively) mark a career best. So is his batting average (.297). His strikeout percentage has shrunk to 17.9, his lowest over any full season. When the Padres came to town last month, those who follow the team were amazed at how much better Maybin looked.
Even so, at least some Braves higher-ups were wary. When a guy has been in the majors this long and is only now having a season this good, you wonder if it’s a breakout or a blip. Indeed, Fredi Gonzalez managed Maybin as a Marlin, when he was regarded as one of baseball’s top 10 prospects. It’s not as if people never thought the guy had talent. The talent just didn’t coalesce.
Maybin’s contract isn’t awful: He’s making $7 million this season; he’ll make $8 million next year and $9 million in 2017. (There’s a team option for the final season.) That makes him attractive not just to the Braves but to any contender looking for outfield help at the trade deadline, which arrives July 31. The catch, however, is that the Braves still count — mathematically if not quite realistically — as contenders. They’re five games out of first place and one game below .500.
There’s also this: If the Braves should trade Maybin, there’s no other center fielder at the ready. The infielder Jose Peraza has been getting time in the outfield for Gwinnett, but trading a veteran CF and installing a transplanted rookie isn’t a move a contender can make in good conscience. (Mallex Smith just got promoted to Gwinnett from Mississippi and isn’t yet primed for the big leagues.)
That said, the Braves have been creative in their approach to trades. They forced the Padres to take M. Upton’s contract in the Kimbrel deal, and they bought the prospect Touki Toussaint from Arizona for the $10 million it will take to buy out Bronson Arroyo. The Braves are also hot to dump Chris Johnson, who has lost his job to the journeyman Jose Uribe, and this knowledge prompted Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports to broker a theoretical deal with the Giants:
Frankly, I don’t see that happening. Pagan and Peavy are owed $26.25 million next season, which is an awful lot of salary to absorb. (It’s essentially two more years of Dan Uggla.) Pagan is a center fielder by trade, but he’s also 33 — Maybin is 28 — and having a terrible year. (WAR value of minus-0.6.)
This figured to be a fairly simple season: The Braves would stink and be sellers at the break. We on the outside wouldn’t like it, but for long-range-planning purposes it would make sense. Thing is, the Braves haven’t stunk. They’ve been competitive. As much as Johns Hart and Coppolella have plunged into rebuilding, it’s hard to imagine them dumping Maybin as long as the team is this close, give or take.
Opponents may think the Braves will wind up trading Maybin, but even Olney doesn’t expect that to happen, at least not as things stand. We close with another Buster tweet.