Do you think the Braves will be buyers or sellers at the Trade Deadline?
-- Shawn W. Knoxville, Tenn.
With six of their next nine games against the Nationals and the three others against the Pirates, the Braves will soon get a better feel for whether they truly are contenders in what has thus far been a rather weak National League East. In the process of going 13-14 dating back to May 25, the Braves have gained ground on both the Nationals and Mets.
Regardless of whether the Braves are still in the hunt after the All-Star break, I don't anticipate them being major sellers before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, unless they find an opportunity to move a key piece in exchange for a power-hitting left fielder or third baseman that they could control through at least the 2017 season. This opportunity would seemingly be more likely to arise during the offseason.
If the Braves do stay in contention, they will likely be among the many teams that vie for at least one of those few attractive relievers the come available around this time of year. Don't expect them to move any of the key assets (prospects), they have acquired over the past eight months unless the return features an attractive piece that they can control beyond this season.
If the Braves fall out of contention, their most likely trade pieces would be Kelly Johnson, Jim Johnson, Juan Uribe and A.J. Pierzynski. There is that slight chance that they could be tempted to deal Julio Teheran if they were able to get a power bat in return. But unless Teheran extends the success he had on Sunday, the Braves would be selling low on him.
Will Mike Foltynewicz return to the rotation this season?
-- Debbie S. Augusta, Ga.
Initially, I did not agree with last week's decision to send Foltynewicz to Triple-A Gwinnett. Sure, the three starts he made in June were disappointing. But he had impressed during his final two starts in May, and I felt he needed to take his lumps at the Major League level like so many other talented pitchers have in the past. But after asking around, it became apparent that the Braves felt they had to do this to motivate the young hurler.
From a competitive standpoint, Foltynewicz lost his feel for some of his secondary stuff -- primarily his slider -- during those three starts he made this month. But more concerning to the Braves was the lack of urgency the 23-year-old hurler showed during a side session last week at Fenway Park and during some of the recent conversations he had with the coaching staff.
There is certainly not any reason to question the tremendous potential possessed by Foltynewicz, who in terms of "stuff" stands as one of the most impressive pitching prospects the Braves have possessed over the past 20 years. He will likely return to the rotation at some point this year and at that time, we'll learn whether he did indeed benefit from this "wake-up call."
What are the long-term plans for Jose Peraza?
-- Jonathan K., Richmond, Va.
As Peraza has spent most of this past month playing center field for Triple-A Gwinnett, Jace Peterson has strengthened his stature as Atlanta's second baseman of the future. There's no doubt the Braves would like Peraza to be in their starting lineup by the start of next season. But before determining where he will fit, the Braves first have to determine Cameron Maybin's long-term future.
Maybin has been one of this season's most pleasant surprises, and if he continues to play like he has over the past two months, his $9 million option for the 2016 season should be viewed as a bargain. Of course, if he starts to slip from an offensive perspective, then the Braves might opt to trade him to make room for Peraza or Mallex Smith, whose success this season with Double-A Mississippi has provided indication that he might soon find himself as a candidate to serve as Atlanta's starting center fielder.
It's nice to have options, and as the Braves have proven over the past few months, when they have options, they are not afraid to trade from an area of depth to fill a need.
What will the Braves do about their catching situation next year?
-- Michael C., Smiths Station, Ala.
While there might be some doubts about Christian Bethancourt, it would be in the Braves' best interest if this latest demotion to Gwinnett proves beneficial and he proves that his defense assets extend beyond his rocket arm. If there is lingering doubt about Bethancourt's long-term future at the end of this year, the Braves could target Matt Wieters on the free agent market or dip into their prospect pool to acquire an established catcher.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.