To say that Matt Adams and Brandon Phillips are carrying the Braves isn’t quite accurate – Matt Kemp, Ender Inciarte and the catching tandem of Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki have been excellent – but it’s not far off. Adams has 25 RBIs and 17 extra-base hits in 27 games since arriving from St. Louis; the Braves entered Monday night’s date with San Francisco on a two-game winning streak, both victories delivered via walk-off knocks from Phillips.
And here we offer a guess on the chance that both key components are Braves come Aug. 1: Five percent, and that might be a high estimate. Yes, it’s a cold business.
The Braves needed Adams in the worst way when they landed him two days after Freddie Freeman was lost to a broken wrist. But Freeman is expected back around the All-Star break, which falls 2 ½ weeks ahead of the trade deadline, at which point Adams would become extraneous if the Braves aren’t in a playoff drive, which they won’t be. (Baseball Prospectus projects them to finish 73-89; FanGraphs rates their postseason odds at 0.3 percent.)
Asked last week if the Braves would be buyers or sellers come July, general manager John Coppolella said: “Both. You’ve seen us make deals that will help us for the long term. If we’re in it, if we’re in the playoff race, you’ll see us be buyers. We want to make the playoffs … If we’re in shouting distance, if we feel like things are trending the right way and it’s not an insurmountable deficit, I think we’ll take a look.”
Then: “I think we’ve got to be conscious of everything. We don’t want to be short-sighted. We’ve got to balance a lot of different things. If we do end up as sellers, what makes the most sense is guys that are on expiring contracts — if we can buy and sell kind of like we did last year.”
A year ago, Coppolella stumped the band by trading for Matt Kemp, a high-salaried outfielder on the high side of 30 who hadn’t been very good since 2011. (It helped that the Braves’ were able to offload Hector Olivera’s unfortunate contract.) That deal has worked so nicely that it would take a hugely favorable package to pry Kemp from the Braves. They’d take rather less for Adams and/or Phillips.
The Braves bought the latter from Cincinnati, the Reds agreeing to absorb $13 million of his $14 million salary, after Sean Rodriguez was hurt in a winter car crash. Phillips turns 36 next week and is on the final year of his contract. He has been better here than anybody dreamed – he’s batting .306, which would mark a career best over a full season – but he’s the utter definition of stop-gap, meaning cheap and disposable.
Adams is 28 and will become arbitration-eligible at season’s end. He’s earning $2.8 million this season, which isn’t outrageous. If the Braves were strapped for first basemen, he’d be a keeper. They have Freeman, who’s no worse than the third-best first baseman going. (Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto are his only competition, and both are older.) There’s no chance of Freeman changing positions to make room for Adams. There’s almost no chance of Adams playing anywhere else on the field.
He has worked six major-league games in the outfield, all coming early this season. The Cardinals were so impressed they traded him for middling prospect Juan Yepez. Adams should be easy to re-gift: He’s left-handed, which always helps, and with his contract and his skill set he’d have value to an American League team as DH. The Braves won’t lack for offers.
Owing to his age and his status as a rental, Phillips won’t be as attractive. Still, all it takes is for a contending team to have an infielder tweak an oblique. (Last summer, Coppolella turned five semi-decent starts from Lucas Harrell into Travis Demeritte, now ranked the Braves’ No. 9 prospect.) And if the Braves aren’t within Coppolella’s shouting distance, mightn’t August and September be better used to see what Ozzie Albies, who has logged 116 games in Triple-A, can do here?
Asked Monday if they were thinking where they might be in two months, Adams and Phillips insisted they weren’t. Said the former: “That’s just a distraction. I just try to get my mind right to play on a daily basis. This is a great club to be part of … But they have to do what they feel is best.”
Said Phillips: “I worry about things I can control. If we keep winning, we’ll be here. Until they call me into the office, I’m here.”
In a perfect world, you’d want to keep guys who are having big years around. Trouble is, guys like Adams and Phillips wouldn’t have been available if they’d done nothing but have big years. Over the long haul, the Braves don’t need another left-handed first baseman or a 36-year-old middle infielder. For all their good work, Adams and Phillips probably won’t be around much longer. As noted, it’s a cold business.