Sports Outside the Beltway

Atlanta Braves Deadline Deals Make Them World Series Contender

The Atlanta Braves traded their top three prospects at the deadline in order to get a big time hitter and a possible closer. That may hurt them in the long term but the players on the roster now are jumping for joy.

The Braves boldly traded seven homegrown prospects or young players to fill a few big needs Tuesday, and in doing so sent a message that resonated in the clubhouse. “We’ve got the team to win the World Series,” catcher Brian McCann said. “We already had a good team before these moves. This is a statement — John Schuerholz saying we can win a World Series now.”

Schuerholz, the general manager, said his intent wasn’t to send a statement. But folks take notice when you do what the Braves did:

    – Sent five prospects including Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Texas for first baseman Mark Teixeira and left-handed reliever Ron Mahay.

    – Traded Kyle Davies to Kansas City for closer Octavio Dotel.

    – Traded two pitchers to San Diego for left-hander Royce Ring.

Schuerholz said the flurry before Tuesday’s trade deadline signaled only this: Desire to win the NL East and get to the playoffs. “We like our chances now,” he said. “Got to be happy after a day like this. Real happy.”

The New York Mets ended Atlanta’s run of 14 division titles last season and are leading again. The Braves were 4-1/2 games behind them and 1 1/2 behind Philadelphia before Tuesday. “We hope the end result is we win because of it,” Schuerholz said. “There’s no guarantees in baseball. My intent was to get the best players possible and make this team as strong as possible.”

He and assistant GM Frank Wren did that, said Braves veterans. “My hat’s off to John and Frank,” third baseman Chipper Jones said. “They did a good job setting us up for the last two months of the season. I’m real excited. I can’t imagine they could have done more. I like our chances to get in the playoffs. And I think we’ll be a formidable opponent [with a chance to] win it all if we get there.”

Pitcher Tim Hudson said, “I think we’re a much better ballclub [after the trades]. Now it’s up to us to out and perform, and get this organization back on the right road.”

The Braves traded five of their top 18 prospects, including their top three in Baseball America ratings: catcher Saltalamacchia, shortstop Elvis Andrus, lefty Matt Harrison. They traded two other pitchers who were in their top 20 prospects list: lefty Beau Jones and right-hander Neifi Feliz. They traded Davies and Will Startup, two young pitchers with strong local ties.

They traded a lot of guys who figured to be part of their future. “We had to; that’s what it took to make these deals,” said Schuerholz, who’s under contract through the 2008 season, same as manager Bobby Cox. Both are 66. “The good news is, we have the depth of talent in our minor league system that’s so valued by other teams, we’re able to make these deals,” Schuerholz added.

They traded for the best available hitter, Teixeira, and one of the best available relievers, Dotel. “The lineup we have, to me it’s the best lineup in the NL,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. “We maybe didn’t get the starting pitcher we wanted, but maybe we go out and just outslug people now.”

Cox, himself a former GM, said it’s hard to give up prospects, but “This guy [Teixeira] is an impact player. You’ve got to give up a lot to get a guy like that. He’s a great middle-of-the-order hitter. All the teams in baseball would love to have him, and we were the lucky ones who got him.”

Cox said he would bat Teixeira in the “middle” of the order, but wanted to talk to his hitters before announcing exactly where. “You’ve got a guy like Kelly Johnson hitting eighth, Francoeur hitting seventh,” Jones said. “A lot of people would like to have a lineup that deep. Fortunately, John Schuerholz is on our side, and he got it for us.”

The Braves got Ring, 26, from the Padres in exchange for lefty Wilfredo Ledezma, who was designated for assignment Sunday, and lefty prospect Startup, a former University of Georgia standout who was 3-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 42 appearances at Class AAA Richmond. Ring was 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA for the Padres’ Class AAA affiliate, with 44 strikeouts in 31-2/3 innings. In 15 games with San Diego, he had a 3.60 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 15 innings. He’ll be assigned to Richmond, but should be up with the big club before the season is over.

Dotel had a 3.91 ERA in 24 appearances and converted 11 of 14 save opportunities for the Royals. He’ll be in a setup role and provide a closer option if Bob Wickman struggles. The Braves might consider trading Wickman — trades can still be made, provided a player first clears waivers. Dotel’s .264 opponents’ average includes a .132 average with runners in scoring position. He’s making $5 million, and has a $5.5 million player option for 2008 — an option the team can void.


Most industry analysts say the Braves improved their roster more than any other team at the deadline, with the Teixeira trade their most significant July deal since getting Fred McGriff in 1993. Teixeira is under the Braves’ control through the 2008 season, then can become a free agent. “I’ll worry about next year, next year,” said Schuerholz, which seemed an apt summary.

I’m always a bit leery of GMs mortgaging the team’s future as they’re about to ride into the sunset. Schuerholz doesn’t have much incentive to worry about 2012, after all.

Still, they’re getting two players who can definitely help contribute now in exchange for guys who may never deliver down the road. A few years ago, they let several deals die because teams were demanding Wilson Betemit, considered by most experts to be a can’t miss superstar-in-the-waiting. He turned out to be a mediocre player at best.

The question is whether adding these guys will put the Braves over the top. The consensus has been that they need another big-time starting pitcher and they didn’t get that. If they traded away the future and don’t even make a run, this will go down in history like the Minnesota Vikings trading away a bevy of picks for Herschel Walker. If the Braves make it back to the World Series, though, it’ll surely be worth it.

UPDATE: AJC’s Jeff Schultz agrees.

I never understood that whole “Annie” philosophy of some sports franchises. The sun will come out tomorrow? I’m sorry, but when was the last time a major league team issued a ticket refund for today because the tomorrows never quite panned out? When was the last time salary cap space recorded a rebound, or a smoking minor-league prospect in Richmond softened the blow of a 7-2 loss and a $6 hot dog in the majors?

The Braves made a significant decision Monday. They traded tomorrows for todays. This is the way it’s suppose to work.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia might have star stamped on his forehead. Nobody really knows. But with Mark Teixeira, we don’t have to guess. He’s already there. There’s a reason nurseries sell a lot more plants than seeds.


Don’t look at this as, “Sure, but we’re toast in 2008 and Schuerholz won’t care because he’ll be gone.” You would be missing the point. Franchises can’t get away with dealing top young talent every year, but this was the right time for the Braves. Andruw Jones likely isn’t affordable after this season. There have been health issues with Chipper Jones and John Smoltz. The window is closing on this bunch.

True enough. The Fred McGriff deal back in 1993 ignited a team that was much, much further back in the division than this, back in the days of two divisions and no wild cards. Another World Series ring would certainly be a fitting way for this bunch of veterans to go out. And, hopefully, the Braves can continue to restock the farm with young talent.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark:

If you needed the events of the last few days to figure out that John Schuerholz might be the greatest general manager who ever lived, you’ve been watching way too much Arena League football. But sometimes we all need to be reminded of what genius looks like. And watching Schuerholz work this week was like watching Einstein scrawl e=mc² all over again.

“I love making deals with John Schuerholz,” said one GM on Tuesday. “When you’re making a deal with John, he gets right to the point: ‘Would you do this — yes or no? And no hard feelings if you say no.’ He’s a breath of fresh air in our business. I wish more guys were like him.”

By the time Schuerholz was through, he had given up a future superstar in Jarrod Saltalamacchia — plus the players Baseball America had rated as his No. 2 (Elvis Andrus), No. 3 (Matt Harrison), No. 14 (Beau Jones) and No. 18 (Neftali Feliz) prospects. Not to mention a starting pitcher (Kyle Davies) quite a few people in his organization didn’t want to give up.

So to make deals for the pieces he needed, he didn’t rob anybody or hoodwink anybody. He paid retail.

But what did he get? A player whom one GM called “the Carlos Beltran of this market” — Mark Teixeira. A late-inning strike-you-out reliever — Octavio Dotel. And two left-handed relievers (Ron Mahay and Royce Ring) for a bullpen that had no left-handers before Tuesday.

“I guess John didn’t like that empty spot out there where they didn’t get to fly that championship banner from last year,” laughed one NL executive. “Are they the best team in the East now? That, I don’t know. They never did get that starting pitcher they needed. But did they make the best deals of anybody to get better? They sure did that.”

BP’s Joe Sheehan has, like me, “come around on this deal from the Braves’ standpoint.” While giving Salty up is hard to swallow, the truth of the matter is that the Braves already have a terrific young catcher in Brian McCann and it’s by no means a sure thing that Salty could make the transition to first base from a defensive standpoint.

I noted in my chat yesterday, and on radio in Austin, that Saltalamacchia probably would have given the Braves 75-80 percent of Teixeira’s production for a lot less cost. I think that underrates Teixeira, in no small part because the defensive difference between the two players is substantial. Saltalamacchia is a converted catcher, while Teixeira is an above-average glove man at first. This assumes the Braves would have gone ahead with Saltalamacchia, rather than continuing to play Julio Franco at first. The gap between Teixeira and Franco can’t be measured with existing technology.

This deal also gives the Braves additional lefty depth in Ron Mahay, and in total makes the Braves two, perhaps three wins better over the last two months. Those wins might be the difference in an National League that’s bunched together like a peloton. I can’t help but think of 1993, when John Schuerholz picked up Fred McGriff from the Padres. McGriff was terrific for the Braves in the second half, proving essential to their one-game win over the Giants in the Last Real Pennant Race. Teixeira doesn’t have to lead the Braves to 104 wins to have a similar impact.

True, especially since there’s always the wild card if they can’t run down the Mets. Still, if they collapse in the first round of the playoffs — as the 1993 team did (albeit that meant the NLCS in those days) — then the deal will be a bust, especially if they can’t sign Teixeira for the long haul.

Then again, as Jay Jaffe reminds us, Schuerholz has historically been quite astute at judging which “hot” prospects to deal away.

Yesterday’s almost-consummated big trade between the Rangers and Braves—principally Mark Teixeira for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus—prompted BP intern Pete Quadrino to exhume the study I did a couple of years back regarding prospects traded by Atlanta GM John Schuerholz. While Jason Schmidt and Jermaine Dye remain the cautionary tales, they’re the exceptions rather than the rule when it comes to Schuerholz’s track record. In my study, I found that only six out of the 80 traded prospects (arbitrarily defined as having not accumulated 502 plate appearances or 162 innings in the bigs) had thus far managed 10.0 WARP post-trade, a “career of consequence.”

If Salty and Elvis wind up being the equivalent of Dye and Schmidt, this will be a bad deal even if Teixeira is another Fred McGriff. If they wind up being Wilson Betemit and Melvin Nieves, then it’s a great deal no matter what happens this year.

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