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Ronald Acuña Jr. injury: Five trade candidates for the Braves after losing reigning NL MVP for season

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The Atlanta Braves announced on Sunday night that outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner, will miss the remainder of the 2024 season after suffering a complete tear of his ACL. Acuña’s injury occurred during Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, when he attempted to redirect his momentum while running the bases. This is the third time in his career he’s been sidelined because of an ACL-related injury, having previously missed a month in 2018 and then significantly more time in 2021-22.

The Braves, who will enter Monday six games back of the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East, do not have many great internal options. They have Adam Duvall on their active roster, and three players with outfield experience who are stationed in Triple-A and on their 40-player roster: J.P. Martínez, who was recalled Monday, Forrest Wall, and Luke Williams. It’s fair to think, then, that they’ll be on the lookout for some external help between now and Major League Baseball’s July 30 trade deadline.

Just who might the Braves target? Let’s take a look at five early potential names. Do note that this is more of an art than a science, and that there’s still a long way to go until the mad season begins. (Additionally, the players are represented in no particular order.)

Let’s face it: Pham was signed by the lowly White Sox to be traded at the deadline. Despite not making his debut until late April, he has performed well in his first 32 games. Indeed, he’s batted .313/.358/.445 with three home runs in 137 plate appearances. Although he celebrated his 36th birthday in March, he remains able to put a charge into the ball, with his average exit velocity exceeding 90 mph on the year to date. Pham has been traded at each of the past two deadlines. We fully expect that streak to reach three before the calendar flips to August.

Perry Minasian is very familiar with the key members of the Braves front office, having worked in Atlanta before taking over the Angels. Unfortunately for Minasian, his Angels squad is a few years away from being a few years away. There’s no real reason to keep Ward, who turned 30 last December and will qualify for free agency after the 2026 season. Ward is on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career, having hit ..274/.330/.483 in his first 52 games this season.

Rooker, 30 come November, overcame Quad-A labels to make last year’s All-Star Game. He’s off to another hot start this season, hitting .286/.368/.565 with 11 home runs over his first 42 games. Rooker has a boom-or-bust profile that could go south in any given year — even this season,  he’s striking out in nearly 33% of his plate appearances — which should make it easier for the Athletics to part with him at the deadline. Besides, there’s little indication the A’s care about their on-the-field product ahead of this offseason’s relocation to Sacramento. 

The Marlins, led by new top baseball executive Peter Bendix, already announced they were open for summer business by trading Luis Arraez to the San Diego Padres. Why stop there? De La Cruz has been a breakout candidate for years thanks to his ability to impact the baseball. Unfortunately, he’s mostly been a league-average batter since his rookie season. The Braves might feel they can get more from De La Cruz ahead of his winter 2027 date with free agency. If so, perhaps there’s the potential here for an intra-divisional trade between old foes.

As with Pham, the Nationals signed Winker with an eye on moving him at the deadline. He’s bounced back from consecutive disappointing seasons to hit .264/.379/.455 against right-handed pitching. Of course, we’re including a split for a reason — Winker is not particularly good against southpaws, and would require a platoon partner if the Braves (or whoever employs him come August) wants to maximize his production. That might might him less desirable for the Braves, who already go to great lengths to avoid having Jarred Kelenic face same-handed pitching.

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