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Atlanta Braves Trade Rumors: Josh Willingham, Hunter Pence Reports Don't Make Sense

The baseball season is in full swing, and we're about a month and two weeks away from the July 31 trade deadline. The Braves are currently 40-33 despite a ridiculous number of serious injuries and sit just five games back of the Philadelphia Phillies, who are baseball's best team right now.

So why all the trade chatter surrounding the club? It just doesn't make sense, unless the Braves are planning something crazy.

ESPN's Jayson Stark had this in a recent post weighing in on the Braves:

The Braves are outpitching just about every team in baseball -- including the Phillies. But the Braves continue to worry about an offense that ranks 12th in the National League and 22nd in the big leagues in runs scored per game. So they're aggressively positioning themselves to deal for an outfield bat as soon as they can find a team ready to open its sell-off shop for business. They've checked in on Josh Willingham and Hunter Pence. And an exec of one team reports: "They want a right-handed bat. But at this point, I think they'd take any bat."

While the rumors of the Braves looking for a right handed bat -- or any bat, for that matter -- aren't surprising, the names recently linked to Atlanta do not make sense at all.

There are limited areas the Braves could realistically improve, which drastically limits their search criteria. Brian McCann isn't going anywhere and neither are Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Chipper Jones, Jason Heyward or Martin Prado. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez could be moved in the right deal, but he's cheap and a stellar defensive infielder, both of which are very appealing to the Braves.

This basically leaves center field open as the only area at which the Braves could make a significant upgrade. Pence and Willingham are not center fielders, and neither is a good majority of the players the team has been linked to in recent weeks. While there's always the chance of an off-the-radar move (see Rick Ankiel, 2010), you get the sense the Braves are ready to make another big move. They have the pitching prospects to get just about any deal done.

It seems as if adding an established outfielder who isn't a capable center fielder would bring on more question than it would solve. First of all, where does he play? While capable of playing multiple positions, the Braves just asked Prado to change positions this past offseason. Would they really ask him to change once again? Could Prado even play center field?

And if the club doesn't intend to move Prado, we all know Heyward isn't going anywhere. That leaves center field, which is arguably the most difficult and most important defensive position on a baseball diamond.

That's why I don't believe any of the recent reports of the Braves looking for a corner outfielder. Unless the team plans to transform Prado into a center fielder or super, super, super utility man (he'd likely take turns playing everywhere except shortstop and center field), I don't see how any deals get done. Does Frank Wren really make a big deal for a player who wouldn't necessarily even be playing on a daily basis?

Don't be surprised if the Braves don't make a big move in the next month and a half. Instead of adding question marks to their club, they should focus on improving their exhausted bullpen and abysmal bench. Don't make a move just to make a move.

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Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.