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The Atlanta Braves' trade for Trevor Cahill is sneakily good

This is exactly the sort of deal that rebuilding clubs should be making.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

After a nearly unbroken run of 25 seasons in which the Atlanta Braves were firmly in the camp of teams that were trying to contend, it can be a bit difficult to contextualize deals like the one that the Braves made with the Arizona Diamondbacks last night.

On the surface, acquiring a 27-year-old starter with a career 4.07 ERA isn't exactly exciting. When you add in the fact that Cahill is coming off of the worst season of his career, in which he was demoted to the bullpen and to Triple-A for part of the season while posting a 5.61 ERA, it might seem downright silly. Why would Atlanta be willing to take on $5.5 million of the $12 million owed to Cahill this season when they have a couple of cheap back-end options in camp in Wandy Rodriguez and Eric Stults?

To put it simply, the Braves are risking virtually nothing with this move. Arizona had a logjam in their rotation, and apparently wanted to shed some cash and open up a spot for Archie Bradley. They decided that Cahill was the odd man out, and shipped him to Atlanta for, well, not much of anything. They'll get $5.5 million in salary relief, yes, but they're still paying more than half of the money that will be owed to Cahill this season, and the only player that they received in the deal is a 24-year-old who still hasn't gotten past high-A ball. That player, Josh Elander, was once thought to hold a bit of promise after a strong first half in 2013 with Rome due to the fact that he showed some power potential. Unfortunately, he's dealt with shoulder injuries and hasn't hit much in either of his two tries at the Carolina League, and the only viable defensive spot for him on the diamond is left field, where you really have to hit in order to have a future.

The Diamondbacks seemed to just be seeking a way to clear a path for Bradley and get rid of part of a salary obligation at the same time, and they did that. Atlanta could stand to benefit from this move, however, as they acquired an interesting arm that should provide some stability to the back end of their rotation in the short term, and could also be used as a trade chip at the deadline if he's able to stay healthy and pitch effectively. This is no guarantee, but it's a risk worth taking.

Cahill should benefit immediately from heading to Atlanta from Chase Field, which is a tough place for any pitcher to pitch, but especially so for Cahill, who has shown a proclivity to give up home runs in his career. Cahill's bloated ERA last season looks ugly, but it is worth noting that his xFIP (3.83) and SIERA (3.96) suggest that he was the victim of cruelty handed down by the baseball gods in 2014. Last season's comically low strand rate (62.6%) and high BABIP allowed (.350) back this up.

The righty, who has adjusted his arm slot heading into the season in an attempt to repeat his delivery more consistently and have better command of his sinker, could end up being a trade chip at the deadline for the Braves as they continue to attempt to infuse young talent into their minor league system. If Cahill benefits from the tutelage of Rodger McDowell and is able to more consistently spot his sinker, that, combined with the normal regression to the mean that you'd expect to see after Cahill's disastrous 2014, could turn him into an asset that could net the Braves an interesting prospect or two from a pitching-starved team that's still in contention when July rolls around. Cahill isn't a front-end starting pitcher by any means, but it isn't unreasonable at all to believe that he could perform like a strong fourth starter in 2015, which would make his services appealing to teams with a need.

Additionally, the deal for Cahill adds depth to Atlanta's starting pitching ranks immediately. We still aren't sure whether one or both of Stults and Rodriguez will make the team, but the addition of Cahill gives the Braves a sixth rotation option right now at the big league level. This will allow some of the prospect arms who underwhelmed in camp and would benefit from additional work in the Minor Leagues, such as Mike Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos, time to work in a more instructionally-based environment in Gwinnett and not risk putting the team's front office in a position in which they could be forced to call upon one of those players if injuries forced their hand. Pitching arms are fickle, and more depth in that department is always beneficial.

And the downside here is what, exactly? Cahill could once again struggle with walks or underperform his peripherals, turning him into a $5.5 million piece that Atlanta won't be able to move at the deadline and can say goodbye to at the season's end. Cahill has a $13 million club option for 2016 that can be bought out for $300,000, as well as another $13.5 million club option for 2017. I don't foresee him pitching well enough to have either of those options picked up by Atlanta, although I suppose it's a remote possibility, but the $300,000 buyout that they'd likely exercise if he ends 2015 as a Brave is chump change in the grand scheme of things. That, to me, constitutes an exceedingly low-risk proposition for a starter with a track record of being a quality mid to back-end starter, and exactly what teams in Atlanta's position should look to do.

There's certainly a chance that Cahill doesn't pitch well and the Braves will end up gaining nothing from this trade, but that's a relatively minor risk that a non-contending team should absolutely be willing to take when the potential benefit is taken into consideration.

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