7/31/2014 9:14 P.M. ET
Braves get Bonifacio, Russell in deal with Cubs
Atlanta bolsters bench and bullpen, parts with catching prospect Caratini
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- As one of the most eventful non-waiver Trade Deadline days unfolded, Braves general manager Frank Wren and his top scouts spent Thursday monitoring the events and evaluating how they might improve their club while working with essentially zero financial flexibility.
Then shortly before the 4 p.m. ET deadline, the Braves ruffled the waters with a deal that improved both their bullpen and bench. In exchange for utility man Emilio Bonifacio and left-handed reliever James Russell, Wren agreed to send the Chicago Cubs Minor League catcher Victor Caratini.
"These are two pieces that we really like," Wren said. "In Bonifacio, we got a really versatile bench player who can do a lot of things well. If you have injuries and need him to play a lot, he can. But he also gives the versatility you like.
"In Russell's case, it's another veteran bullpen arm. He's not your conventional shutdown guy vs. lefties. But he shuts down righties and does fine against lefties. All in all, he's a left-handed reliever who can give you a full inning and a veteran presence in [the bullpen]."
Bonifacio and Russell are both expected to join the Braves in San Diego on Friday. After spending this season's first four months with the last-place Cubs, they will spend the next two months with a postseason contender.
"That'll be exciting, and something I've never experienced," Russell said. "There will be a lot of adrenaline and a lot of emotion. It'll be fun, and see what I'm made out of."
While the acquisition of Bonifacio and Russell took a backseat to the blockbuster trades involving Jon Lester (to Oakland) and David Price (to Detroit) on Thursday, the Braves entered this process knowing that they had already been forced to make their big deal in March, when season-ending elbow injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy forced them to go over budget by giving Ervin Santana a one-year, $14.1 million deal.
Because of the Santana deal, the Braves approached all trade talks with the understanding they could not take on any more payroll. They completed this deal because the Cubs thought enough of Caratini to agree to provide the cash necessary to cover the remaining salaries owed to Bonifacio and Russell this season.
Bonifacio will be eligible for free agency in the offseason. Russell, who is making $1.8 million this year, has one arbitration-eligible season remaining.
"Victor Caratini was a nice prospect for us," Wren said. "We would not have done the deal without control beyond this year in the case of Russell."
Manager Fredi Gonzalez is well aware of the potential value Bonifacio can bring to Atlanta's anemic bench. The two were together with the Marlins during the 2009 and '10 seasons.
Bonifacio has hit .279 with a .318 on-base percentage in 298 plate appearances this season. The 29-year-old veteran has battled some leg ailments over the past few years. But he still possesses some speed as evidenced by the fact that he has been successful with 14 of 20 stolen-base attempts.
From a defensive perspective, Bonifacio provides the widespread versatility Omar Infante delivered during his days as a utility player in Atlanta.
"He's a guy who gives you a lot of versatility," Gonzalez said. "You can play him anywhere on the field. You can bring him off the bench or start him if the matchup is right. He's a nice National League player."
The Braves entered the day looking to add a left-handed reliever. Their top target was Red Sox southpaw Andrew Miller, but the Braves were never willing to pay anything close to the price paid by the Orioles, who gave up Eduardo Rodriguez, their third-rated prospect.
In Russell, who has posted a 3.51 ERA in 44 appearances this year, the Braves gained a veteran who can help their bullpen. But his recent splits indicate he will not be used as a left-handed specialist.
"He's not your traditional left-handed reliever," Gonzalez said. "You can let him run through some right-handers. He's durable. I'm looking forward to having him in our bullpen."
Russell has limited right-handed hitters to a .103 (6-for-58) batting average and .243 on-base percentage this year. However, left-handed hitters have batted .295 (18-for-61) with a .358 on-base percentage against him.
Wren said his scouts have not seen a clear difference between the stuff Russell has displayed this year and what he displayed from 2010-13, when he limited left-handers to a .232 batting average and .264 on-base percentage.
"We'll know more once we get a chance to actually talk to him about what has worked and what hasn't worked and if he feels he is using his pitches differently," Wren said. "Those are things you get a better understanding of once you have a player."
Caratini, who was selected in the second round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, hit .279 with five home runs and a .757 OPS in 87 games with Class A Rome this year. While there is some reason to wonder whether he will remain a catcher, his offensive potential has not created much scrutiny. MLB.com has rated him the Cubs' No. 13 prospect.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.