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Hart keeps Braves charted on rebuilding course

ATLANTA — President of baseball operations John Hart is staying on the rebuilding course he set for the Atlanta Braves last winter.

"We didn't say during the offseason that we had put together a team that was going to run for the roses," Hart told The Associated Press on Thursday. "We wanted to be competitive. We wanted to play the game the right way, but we also weren't going to forsake young talent for a quick fix."

After sweeping the New York Mets and pulling within two games of the NL East lead on June 21, Atlanta has dropped a season-high seven games behind the division-leading Washington Nationals.

When the Braves return from the All-Star break to host the Chicago Cubs on Friday, Hart will use the next two weeks to determine whether this club should buy or sell at the trade deadline.

First baseman Freddie Freeman is still sidelined by a hand injury, closer Jason Grilli will miss the rest of the season with a torn Achilles, right fielder Nick Markakis has yet to homer and Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, the team's Nos. 1 and 2 starting pitchers entering the season, have been inconsistent.

The Braves rank last in the majors in home runs. Their bullpen's 4.40 ERA ranks second-worst.

It seems unlikely Atlanta has enough resources to make a push to compete for a wild-card spot, but Hart isn't ready to call it quits on 2015.

He stopped short of saying that potential trade candidates like reliever Jim Johnson or center fielder Cameron Maybin will be dealt.

"I like the team," he said. "I really do. To see how hard these guys try day in and day out has been very uplifting."

Hart didn't take it lightly when he traded popular players like Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis for prospects.

What he got in return — pitchers Shelby Miller, Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz, Tyrell Jenkins and Max Fried — is supposed to complement the core group of Freeman, Teheran, Wood and Andrelton Simmons for the next several years.

As stated since general manager Frank Wren was fired and Hart took his place, the Braves' long-term goal is to field a strong contender when they leave Turner Field and move into a new suburban ballpark in 2017.

If the team competes this year and next, Hart says the team won't hesitate to be active in free agency and the trade market for an everyday player.

"We added an important piece last winter when we signed Nick Markakis," Hart said. "I really like him. His power numbers are a little down, but we didn't bring him in as a guy who was going to hit 30-40 homers. He isn't a star, but he is an excellent right fielder, he hits for average, you can put him in different spots in your lineup. He's a clutch hitter with a winning makeup."

Hart has been impressed with the job done by fifth-year manager Fredi Gonzalez, particularly considering that "we gave him a club that has some limitations" when Upton, Kimbrel, Heyward and Gattis were dealt.

"He has done more than a decent job," Hart said. "I spent a lot of time with Fredi in the offseason. He was available, accessible and always loyal to the Braves even if it meant that might hurt him in the short term. We were unable to give him the perfect club, but he's been absolutely on board with our long-term goals."