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Is now (finally) the time to trade Julio Teheran?

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The question — should the Braves trade Julio Teheran? — is not a new one to this blog. There are cases for and against it, and I’m guessing you lean strongly one way or the other as you read this.

The point of this article isn’t to persuade you. It seems likely the question will be asked once again this summer, and it’s worth touching on all the pros and cons. So here we go...

My biggest concern is the mileage on Julio’s arm. No matter how durable, just about pitcher breaks down eventually. Even the most durable of durable pitchers get hurt at some point, with a couple Hall of Famers being the exception.

We can’t predict when a pitcher will suffer an injury. But at the age of 26, Teheran has already logged 867 big league innings, including 841 over the last 4+ seasons. He’s on pace — barring injury, of course — to eclipse 185 innings for the fifth year in a row.

To Julio’s benefit, he has a pretty clean throwing motion and gets most of his torque from his leg drive. Perhaps that keeps him away from the surgical table for the rest of his career ... or at least for the next few seasons while he’s still under team control.

Health aside, you can make a pretty strong argument Teheran’s value is as high as it will ever be. He’s coming off an impressive 2016 campaign and is still young despite his experience. His contract is team friendly — he’s owed $23 million through 2019, with a reasonable option for 2020. Those are his age 27, 28, 29 and 30 seasons, generally the prime for big leaguers.

There is a ton of value in that contract, especially for a mid- or low-market club like the Braves. It also ups his trade value considerably. If he hit free agency last winter, I’d wager he would’ve come close to a $100 million payday.

All of this begs the question: is now the time to trade Teheran? He’s still healthy, valuable and could fetch Atlanta a serious haul of talent. Perhaps a promising young hitter or two to pair with all the pitching prospects in the system.

I’m sorry to say the Braves aren’t winning in 2017. There are many bright days on the horizon, but 2017 isn’t the year. Who knows where the team will be in a year, but the chances of the Braves being better than the Nationals in 2018 isn’t great. I guess there’s always the dumb one-game wild card to shoot for. We all know how those go.

So if we can come to terms that Atlanta isn’t going to do much in 2017 and may not seriously contend in 2018 — although I’d argue next year should be fun as hell with all the prospects debuting — we’re now in 2019. We’ve put another 350+ innings on Teheran’s arm, and we’re now into the final two years of his deal. You can see the concern and gamble with keeping him.

This below is probably the biggest argument for keeping Teheran.

Pitching prospects are so hard to predict. Sometimes they work out, most times they don’t.

Five years ago, the Braves had what they called four untouchables: Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor and Arodys Vizcaino.

Teheran became a quality mid-rotation starter.

Vizcaino battled elbow injuries (and a PED suspension) to become a pretty good late-inning reliever.

Delgado has pitched out of the bullpen with the Diamondbacks for a few years now. His career ERA is 4.25, his career FIP is 4.17, and he’s yet to post a season with a WAR above 0.7.

Minor battled shoulder injuries after a great 2013 season. He was injured for most of 2015 and 2016, and now he’s a reliever with the Royals. His first 20 innings there have been encouraging. Again, the injuries are a real concern.

Four promising pitching prospects: A mid-rotation starter, a late-inning reliever with elbow concerns, a pedestrian middle reliever, and a starter-turned-reliever with shoulder problems. The attrition rate for these pitching prospects is ridiculously high (and the Braves are aware of it).

To help the rebuilding cause, the front office has gathered oodles of pitching prospects. Kolby Allard, Ian Anderson, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara, Sean Newcomb, Richardo Sanchez, Lucas Sims, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint and Joey Wentz (and so on) are full of talent and upside.

Some of them will work out. Others won’t. I generally think a top-tier pitching prospect needs at least two years of being decent (2+ WAR) to be considered “successful”, though others would have different definitions.

Trading proven starting pitchers with team-friendly contracts is risky business. We’re seeing now how trading Alex Wood in 2015 could come back to really sting. The guy’s been better than Clayton Kershaw so far. That’s a small sample size, of course, but it’s always risky to trade proven talent for unproven prospects, especially when the objective is to compete for championships in the somewhat near future.

To conclude...

There isn’t an obvious answer to whether or not the Braves should trade Teheran like there was for Justin Upton and Jason Heyward.

If I’m a betting man, I’d guess he sticks with the Braves through at least 2018. I just can’t see the Braves trading him at this point in the rebuild. Is that the smart move? I’m not so sure, but I can’t really argue against it, either. Just know the discussions will likely arise once again.

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