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On trading Evan Gattis, B.J. Upton, and building the Braves' future

Some big questions loom for Frank Wren and the entire organization this offseason.

Mike Zarrilli

The Braves are in a tough spot right now.

They're only 1.5 games back of a wild card spot. This is a team that won 96 games just a year ago and has locked down quite a bit of its young talent with team-friendly contracts.

Things could be a lot worse in Atlanta.

Look at the Phillies.

But here's the issue: the Braves could be in a bad situation in about 14 months.

David O'Brien of the AJC wrote in his column on Monday that the Braves are likely to revisit trade talks for B.J. Upton this winter. I think it's a pretty good bet they try to trade Upton this offseason, even if it means the club takes on an equally bad contract. He's been arguably the worst player in the game since 2013 and there's really no one out there who thinks B.J. can still turn it around.

O'Brien also wrote – and this is the intriguing part – that the Braves could trade Evan Gattis this winter.

So, what does the future hold for El Oso Blanco? As much as a lot of Braves fans don't want to hear it, there's at least a pretty good chance he could be traded this winter.

It's not that the Braves don't love his big-power bat, because they do. It's that they have young, cannon-armed Christian Bethancourt waiting in the wings, ready to shut down opponents' running games and play superb defense, two areas that are not Gattis' strong suits. And they're not sure how long Gattis' 250-pound body can hold up to the rigors of catching.

The presence of Bethancourt, plus the undeniable trade value that Gattis will have, might make it too tempting for the Braves to pass up a trade this winter, while Gattis is healthy and other teams, American League teams in particular, drool over the prospect of adding his big bat to their lineup.

Gattis has a great story, but he's already 28 and won't have a position to play in about two years. Catchers' offensive production tends to take a steep decline once their 30th birthday rolls around.

Send Gattis to an American League team, though, and he could play 150 games a year. There is no doubt an AL club would be willing to send a lot – A LOT – in return for a guy who could DH and catch, all while hitting 30+ homers with an .800+ OPS and four years of team control.

The issue with trading Gattis is this: you take his good bat out of this bad lineup, and the offense becomes even worse.

As it stands now, the Braves are unlikely to make a deep run in the playoffs in 2014. It seems equally likely they don't make a run in the playoffs in 2015, either. Baseball is a weird game, sure, but I don't see too many fans in Atlanta pre-ordering their playoff tickets anytime soon.

After the 2015 season, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton are free agents. That's 13 months from now. You don't have to be a baseball insider to realize the chances of both players re-signing are basically zero, and even an optimistic fan would be hard pressed to say there's a good chance even one stays in Atlanta. They're going to get paid big money.

If the Braves see both Heyward and Upton leave in free agency next winter, they'll get two draft picks as compensation.

Two draft picks for two top-15 outfielders. Two draft picks for arguably the two best players on the team.

The Braves would be in a bad situation.

So here's the thought: do the Braves trade Gattis, as O'Brien opined, and also ship out Heyward and Upton a year before they (probably) leave in free agency?

Think about what the Braves could get for those three assets on the trade market.

Granted it would mean the Braves would forfeit the 2015 season. That's a tough sell considering they won 96 games a year ago and will likely finish above .500 this season. Getting one of the two wild card spots this fall would make it an even tougher sell.

If you think this team isn't very good now, though, where will it be in 13 months when it potentially loses its two best players, has a 30-year-old catcher who can't catch anymore, and has a farm system that isn't exactly blossoming with talent? It's something to think about.

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