For both millenials and long-time fans, this Braves season is starting to bring flashbacks. Young fans recall the collapse of 2011 as the long-sufferers fight off visions of the late 1980’s. The team has lost six straight games—falling to three games behind the first-place Nationals. Despair over this slump is mitigated by a trade with the Cubs that could give the team a needed jolt.
Last week, the Braves and Cubs made a last-second deal to acquire left-handed reliever James Russell and speedy utilityman Emilio Bonifacio, while sending catching prospect Victor Caratini to the Chicago organization. The trade plugs up a pair of holes that has needed mending all year.
After the recent demotion of a disappointing Luis Avilan to the Gwinnett Braves on July 19, Atlanta has operated without an experienced lefty arm out of the bullpen for weeks. The team temporarily filled the void with 24-year-old rookie Chasen Shreve – but has found a much more stable solution in Russell.
Russell, a Longhorn out of the University of Texas, is a four-year veteran who has managed to appear in 318 games since his debut in 2010 without ever spending time on the disabled list. A reliable reliever who can avoid injury while handling a workload of that magnitude is a valuable asset. Russell could serve as a lefty setup man to close the door on any eighth-inning comeback effort just before Craig Kimbrel slams it shut in the ninth.
The other half of the trade included Emilio Bonifacio, a utilityman with the speed to hit leadoff. Atlanta has not had a player like Bonifacio since the departure of fan favorite Martin Prado. Like Prado, Bonifacio can play a number of positions, giving Fredi Gonzalez the ability to manage his lineup with a flexibility he hasn’t had in some time.
The 29-year-old is a switch-hitter who excels against lefties, hitting .403 against them this year. If he can maintain that level of play, he should be used often in lieu of B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward, outfielders who struggle against lefties. Additionally, Bonifacio could relieve those two from trying to bat leadoff; although they have each had success at times in the role, Heyward’s power is better suited to a run-producing role, and Upton strikes out too much to be put in a contact hitter’s position.
Bonifacio brings versatility, speed, and a hashtag to Atlanta. You will often see players throw a hand gesture or sign to their dugout after a hit to keep their team’s energy up. During his time in Miami, Bonifacio spearheaded the spread of “Lo viste,” which means “See that?” in Spanish. The gesture is a peace sign placed diagonally over the eye; Bonifacio even had shirts made for the Marlins. Now, the phrase, gesture, and hashtag follow Bonifacio wherever he goes.
A fresh brand of energy is what the team needs most. To turn this skid around, the Braves should hope #loviste can become a trending topic in the NL East.