If you’re not watching the World Series you’re missing some great baseball. After playoffs that featured starters with stat lines like middle reliever’s, the series has been dominated by starting pitching – okay not game three but it was an anomaly. There are tons of things that link our Braves to the series even if they aren’t playing. Here are just a few that rattled around in my head – yea I know nothing to stop them – starting with a nightly tweet that goes something like this: man we really got taken on the Teixeira trade.’ Actually that’s not quite right.
The Mark Teixeira Trade
Every time Elvis Andrus makes a nice play at shortstop or Neftali Feliz enters the game, some Twitter Critter spits his/her anguish over the Mark Teixeira trade. Last night someone opined, “I really miss Andrus.” Really? How can you miss a player who never played above A ball?
Look, I understand. It would have been nice to have Andrus at short instead of Alex Gonzalez and Feliz in the bullpen or rotation last year. I know it’s easy to parrot what you’ve heard but, the trade simply wasn’t as bad as people make it out to be. It comes down to the way you remember 2007 and whether that’s accurate or whether you could have predicted 2008,9, 10 and 11. (If you could have please go buy me a lottery ticket.) To get a better picture of what happened and why let’s take a step back to the 2007 trade deadline.
In the last week of July 2007 the Braves were three games out of first in the division in third place behind the Mets and Phillies. They were there in spite of starting staff that included such luminaries as Buddy Carlyle, Kyle Davies and Chuck James supporting Tim Hudson and John Smoltz. Our Bullpen included Bob Wickman, Oscar Villarreal, and Tyler Yates along with Rafael Soriano, Peter Moylan. Looking back it’s easy to say that the staff was underpowered to win a division much less get far if they did. In the heat of the pennant race however players, fans and most critically the front office all thought we had a chance. After all we started the year 16-9 and were in first as last as May 15th, the Mets weren’t running away from anyone and neither were the Phillies.
In retrospect we probably needed a starter – Kyle Lohse went to the Phillies about that time- as well as a bat but, the decision was made that a bat and more bullpen arms would be enough. They started by reinforcing the pen with Octavio Dotel and Royce Ring. The best bat on the market and one fit at the our lineup perfectly was Mark Teixeira.
The starting infield at the deadline consisted of Chipper Jones, Edgar Renteria, Kelly Johnson and and either Matt Diaz, Julio Franco, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Scott Thorman, Craig Wilson or Chris Woodward. Diaz only had two at bats and Woodward 14. Defense aside, here’s what our rotation of first sackers did offensively compared to Teixeira’s production after the trade.
Here’s a summary of the difference between the group output and Tex including the rWAR
|Not Tex||393||45||83||23||0||12||43||.209||.283||.342||.262||12||43||- 1.8|
Unquestionably Tex was a significant upgrade at the plate. He also played gold glove defense tightening up the infield and limiting errors. That’s exactly what they though the would do for the Braves lineup. In addition to Tex we picked up another bullpen arm in lefty Ron Mahay. Mahay appeared in 30 games for the Braves pitching 28 innings and finished with a 1-0 record, a WHIP of 1.250 and a K/9 of 7.4 and a rWAR of 0.8.
Adding Mahay to Ring and Dotel and eliminating Will Ledezma and Kyle Davies from the Braves pitching increased team WAR 2.2. The everyday lineup rWAR increased by 4.0 giving up only Salty from the day to day roster. The Teixeira/Mahay trade then did exactly what it was supposed to do, significantly increase the probability of winning down the stretch. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. We finished the year still in third place, but that wasn’t the fault of Teixeira or Mahay.
But We Gave Up So Much In The Trade
The complete trade was Neftali Feliz, Beau Jones, Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison and Elvis Andrus for Tex and Mahay. Why send so much? Here’s he sort version for those who don’t want details. The long form is at the bottom of the post for those that do.
- Tex wasn’t going to be cheap, gold glove power hitting first basemen are rare. He was never going to be cheap but considering the 2007 value it wasn’t robbery.
- Salty was blocked by McCann and not projected as an everyday player for the Braves. He had a few big hits, catchers are always in demand so his value was at its peak.
- Feliz and Jones were very young, 18 and 20 respectively. The feeling was that the Braves had equivalent talent in the system. Feliz was three years away from Atlanta and Jones at least that. Neither was a rated prospect in 2007.
- Harrison had been in the system since 2003 and never been projected better than a three or four starter starter for the Braves. The Braves felt that by the time he was ready – if he ever was ready – they had better prospects in the system. They were right.
- Elvis Andrus was three years away from the Braves and was blocked by a young Cuban infielder you may remember; Yunel Escobar. Escobar’s successful debut in 2007 .326/.385/.451, 5 homers, 28 RBI, and an rWAR of 2.9 made Andrus expendable. He was in fact 6th on Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 and had outstanding years in 2008-09 before slumping for whatever reason in 2010 and being traded.
Trades have to be seen at the time as benefiting both teams and being a fair value. While some moaned at the time, the deal turned out to be fair.
- Feliz was still being groomed as a starter might not have been ready for the 2010 rotation. At the same time Feliz hit the majors we had this young man named Jonny Venters arriving.
- Time has shown Harrison very replaceable within our system. He was chosen in the same draft as Venters. We still have Venters, would you rather have Harrison?
- Escobar was everything Andrus projected to be and more three years sooner. Although not a base stealer he hit for a lot more power, drove in runs and is arguably a better shortstop, though there’s room for disagreement there. If not for the disconnect between Escobar and the Braves last year, few would moan over the loss of Andrus at all.
- Beau Jones is still in AAA ball and may never see the majors,
- Salty is with the Red Sox after a lot of bouncing around, hits about .220 and isn’t really an everyday catcher yet. We maximized his value.
One can easily – and correctly in my opinion – argue that the trade of Tex to the Angels in 2008 was the mistake.
Casey Kotchman is a nice player and a good first baseman but Tex could have played the rest of the season with us and given us a first round draft pick had he not traded. The Kotchman trade was a move from a Cadillac to a Chevy and an indefensible decision by Frank Wren, one of many oops moves he would make in the coming years. That we eventually sent Kotchman to Boston and brought back Adam LaRoche says only we should have held on to LaRoche in the first place.
Steven Marek was the other player in the Kotchman trade and based on what I’ve seen from Frank Wren, the player he wanted. he had a great spring training this year and was on the fast track to our bullpen when TJ surgery interrupted his progress. A case could be made that if Marek were healthy the trade Teixeira chess game is at least a draw. Marek is Feliz’ counterpart. We could however have picked up an equal talent from the 2008 draft using the extra draft pick Tex was going to bring. Gordon Beckham, Yonder Alonso and Buster Posey were in that draft as were Vance Worley and Danny Espinosa. The last two were taken in the third round, the same one where we chose Craig Kimbrel. Would Vance Worley have come in handy this year?
Summing It Up.
I look back at the details of the Teixeira trade and don’t see a horrible mistake based upon the situation as the front office saw it at the time. We got two years of Escobar while Andrus was still in the minors, Harrison is an average third or fourth starter and Marek has similar stuff to Feliz. You may have disagreed then and now of course but friends it is way past time to get over it. The trade was done, it can’t be reversed and bringing it up over and over isn’t productive. Besides anyone who thinks a prospect – even a highly ranked prospect – is a guaranteed major league quality player should take out their Todd Van Poppel rookie card and stare longingly at it.
Herewith some detail for folks that like them.
Jarrad Saltalamacchia: Salty was the only player actually with the Braves when the trade was made. He was not in the clubs future plans, blocked by McCann – already an All Star – who was under our control and projected to be both a hitter and catcher. Salty had shown flashes of power and his minor league pedigree meant his value was at it’s highest.
Neftali Feliz: In 2006 the 18 year old Feliz started 5 games and appeared in 11 with the Braves Gulf Coast league team but thrown only 29 innings. He had a 4.03 ERA and 1.172 WHIP but he had a K/9 rate of 13.0 and did not give up a homer. At the time of the trade he was at Danville in the Appalachian League (Rookie) where he had started seven games and appeared in eight throwing 27 1/3 innings earning an ERA of 1.98, a WHIP of 1.098 and had a K/9 of 9.2. He had not yet become a rated prospect (though he would be in 2008) and was considered at least three years away from the big team.
Beau Jones: Jones was a young (20) minor league pitcher the Braves signed in 2005. he had big K/9 numbers – 10.5, 8.2, 8.5 – at every level (still does at AAA Round Rock). He was a starter in all three years with the Braves system compiling a 13-7 record, a 4.14 ERA, 1.359 WHIP in 194 1/3 innings.
Elvis Andrus: Andrus was signed in 2005 at 16 by the Braves and sent to the Gulf Braves then quickly up to Danville. In 2006 He moved up to Rome and in 2007 to Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League. At 18 years old he was Baseball America’s 65th ranked prospect at the time of the trade. In his three years he had a combined slash line of .267/.345/.363 with nine homers, 108 RBI and 56 stolen bases in 82 tries.
Matt Harrison: Harrison was signed in 2003 at the age of 17 and progressed through the farm system to Mississippi Braves at the time if the Trade. At the start of 2007 he was the Baseball America’s 90th rated prospect. His combined record was 46-35 with a 4.07 ERA and a 1.423 WHIP in 706 innings as a starter.