KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Braves shortstop Erick Aybar would be the best available shortstop if the St. Louis Cardinals decide to make a significant move to replace injured Jhonny Peralta, but Atlanta general manager John Coppolella made it clear it would take a significant return for a trade to happen.
“Erick Aybar was a big part of the Andrelton Simmons trade,” Coppolella said Wednesday. “We don’t want to trade Erick Aybar; he’s a great, winning player. We need to win more games this year, and he’s going to be a big part of that. So we’re very happy to hold onto Eric Aybar.”
The Braves have shown they’re willing to trade just about anyone not named Freddie Freeman.
However, Coppolella has also made it clear, since the Shelby Miller trade in December brought back outfielder Ender Inciarte along with prospects Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair, that the Braves turned a corner in their rebuilding project and any more deal would be to help the team now as well as in the future.
The Braves’ 95-loss season in 2015 was their worst in a quarter-century, and Coppolella has stressed they can’t have another season like that in 2016.
They aim to build momentum in advance of their move into a new ballpark in 2017, when the Braves say they’ll have far more financial flexibility and plan to increase payroll and field a team that can compete for a playoff spot.
In the meantime they insist they can’t and won’t sacrifice 2016. If they traded Aybar now, the Braves wouldn’t have another proven everyday shortstop to replace him, and no obvious hitter for the No. 2 spot behind Ender Inciarte in what should be an improved lineup with that duo hitting in front of a healthy Freddie Freeman.
In addition, trading Aybar now, before he’s played a game for the Braves, could send the wrong message to the team’s veteran players such as Freeman and Nick Markakis, and the “here we go again” vibe could potentially spoil what has been an optimistic and upbeat mood in the clubhouse this spring.
The Braves got Aybar from the Angels along with pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis in the November trade for Andrelton Simmons. He’s in the final year of his contract, and the Braves might get more value for Aybar if they dealt him closer to the July 31 trade deadline.
That would also allow shortstops prospects Dansby Swanson, 22, and Ozzie Albies, 19, to get more time in the minor leagues and Braves officials could better evaluate whether one is ready to replace Aybar as soon as this summer.
Coppolella was asked Wednesday about the growth that’s still ahead for Swanson, who hasn’t played above rookie ball, and Albies, who has not played above low Single-A.
“Yeah, they’ve got growth,” he said, “but there’s some people who think they might not have that much growth left. These guys are both coming fast.”