We here at the Take like many sites have explored in depth the potential for trades to add to the rotation, bullpen or balance a strikeout laden lineup. Trades for players like Matt Kemp, David Price. Cole Hamels and others have been pretty well dissected as fans hope for something big from the front office. Yesterday Mark Bowman said what most of us already knew; that just isn’t happening.
When the Braves signed Ervin Santana to a one-year, $14.1 million contract in March, they went over budget and essentially erased any financial flexibility that they might need leading up to this year’s Trade Deadline. . . they will attempt to be creative. . . to add depth to their bullpen and possibly bench (by the deadline.)
Putting a more closely informed face on what the writers at the Take have said concerning a trade, Bowman confirmed that to add salary they have to clear salary specifically that of designated
hitter sitter Dan Uggla who has between $18M and $19M coming to him over the next year and a half. As we’ve pointed out many times GM Frank Wren tried all winter to move Dan and his contract but was met with bemused lack of interest. The chances of that changing now as Uggla’s decline seems absolute are slim to none and Slim left town.
Never mind the quality look at how many players we got
The short post goes on to say that the GM gave the Astros an extra prospect in order to get Michael Bourn for free without assuming any salary . What he doesn’t say is that we were the only team with prospects left in the market and the trade was essentially a swap of Jordan Schafer for Bourne as those prospects - Juan Abreu, Paul Clemens, Brett Oberholtzer – weren’t exactly jewels. Only Oberholtzer remains an Astro where he’s been up and down from AAA and largely seen action as a spot starter. Schafer of course was cut loose by Houston and signed back with the Braves last season. All of this is to say Houston wanted to move Bourne and were willing to take numbers in order to make it look like they were rebuilding the system for the new owner. The Phillies provided the stars of their purge and we provided names. No team this season is likely to make such a deal so any trade where they take back money will have to include top flight prospects.
Billy Beane kind of trade?
There are really just a couple of ways to make it to and go deep into the post season; 1) build a team to win 162 and strengthen it with whatever is needed when necessary or 2) build it to be very good in 162, patch it piecemeal with inexpensive pieces and hope the others stumble as they approach the finish line knowing that in a short series anyone can win. Beane has traditionally been the second guy and so has Wren but they are different in execution.
A few days ago Mark Bradley said that “The Braves haven’t won a playoff series in six seasons under Wren!” To which we say: The Oakland A’s have won one playoff series in 16 seasons under Billy Beane. Is he a lousy GM?)” That’s an incomplete and flawed comparison by any measure and the failure to win in post season predates Wren. Besides, Beane freely admitted in Moneyball that “My s*** doesn’t work in the post season.” Part of the reason is Beane’s payroll. Wren’s spent $20M a year more than Beane in every season since he took over. I suspect with another $20M in payroll Beane could do better than he has. This year his owner seems to have blessed him to go for it. They traded – badly it turns out, everyone screws up now and then – for Jim Johnson and his $10M payroll bump. Then last week he reached into his human asset account for two of his top prospects and a fifth starter to bring strength to his rotation. The lineup hardly needs fortifying as until the Angels roasted Texas 15-6 last night the A’s had led MLB in runs scored. Beane has however said he probably isn’t through.
Beane is a pragmatist. He saw that the Tigers are aging and the AL East is no longer a powerhouse so this might be his best shot at grabbing a World Series ring or two. The A’s owners were convinced by Beane that those things along with a new lease to the coliseum and the way his team was put together, winning the West had to be a priority. One game playoff’s are – aside from being stupid – impossible to predict. As a result making the rotation strong enough to succeed in post season became a necessity. How does that affect the Braves?
The Braves have been the also-ran for four years because the lineup is badly constructed for the post season. Every year they’ve added strikeouts at the cost of productive OBP. But that isn’t new. Going back to 2006 front office decisions driven by payroll restrictions made it an uphill battle to win. As you may remember, in 2007 John Scheurholz made a Beane like gamble when he traded Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for Mark Teixeira. It was a significant overpay as four of the players were top 100 ranked prospects but JS felt that might be the Braves last shot at winning a title for a couple of years and went for it. The trade did what it was designed to do. Tex was as advertised hitting 17 home runs driving in 56 and playing Gold Glove first base in the last two months of the season good enough for 2.0 rWAR. The rest of the team wasn’t that good and finished third. The trade was a short term success but had long lasting effects and not just on the farm system. I suspect that a World Series appearance would have pacified the fans but there was no post season and the fan were not pleased. JS decided to step down handing the reins to Wren who of course witnessed the fallout after the team wasn’t a factor in the post season and the way it hurt the farm system Since then he’s been extremely conservative in his trades – if not in his free agent signings. His one big deadline splash was the Bourne deal. If money wasn’t an issue he would probably try for a Price, Hamels, Adrian Beltre, etc. improvement, but it is. The monetary limits he faces are as most of us know, the result of:
- Being forced to use his trade deadline funds in the spring to sign Ervin Santana when Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy went down in consecutive days.-$14M
- The now untradeable Dan Uggla falling off the cliff at the plate leaving the team with a $18-19M commitment to a player who no longer hits and was never a defender
- BJ Upton (also untradeable with his contract) hitting .218/.280/.344/.624 on the year and on his way to a 200 K season in spite of his recent hot streak taking up $15M of payroll space.
All of that means that to make a major change of the type the fans would like he would have to find a match who would take back all of the savior player’s salary. To persuade them to do that he would have to include at least one and maybe two Jason Hirsh, Lucas Sims, Jose Peraza and Christian Bethancourt as a non-monetary leveler; in other words it would look like another Teixeira trade. Even if he does it and as in the Teixeira trade the player(s) are exactly as advertised, the team might still not be good enough; suddenly it’s October 2007 all over again. With the team moving into a new stadium in 2017 the GM can’t afford to strip the top of the system and have seasons where the team performs as it did in 2008 and 2009 as a result (or perceived result) of such a trade. Fans should expect therefore that any restructuring will have to be done in the off season. Given that there will be no blockbuster deal for the Braves, what can he do. He can do a what Beane usually does, search for undervalued players.
Instead of looking at the cream of the LHR crop like Andrew Miller or Jake McGee we will probably see a move for a second tire guy like Wesley Wright, Antonio Bastardo, Mike Dunn or Neal Cotts who should all be affordable upgrades in the pen. Like Ryan I’d give Chasen Shreve a shot after the break and see how well he makes the jump from AA. The Bench upgrade many call for a problem because good bench bats are hard to find but the Red Sox will be moving players soon and Jonny Gomes would be a nice RH bench bat to go with Ryan Doumit from the left. I know folks get down on Doumit but he’s hit more homers than any PH this season and that’s what a bench bat does. Gomes has always hit LHP well – this year .316/.414/.442/.856 – and should be an affordable add.
That’s A Wrap
It’s not likely the Braves will stand pat. There’s a psychological benefit to adding someone at the deadline and an incremental increase is better than none. I’ve been asked why we don’t trade a couple of our lesser light for a star. The thing to remember about trades is that it has to be seen to benefit both sides. One way to do that is relieve a team of excess payroll and we’ve just seen that isn’t going to happen. The other is to provide equal value in players. So a Schafer, Uggla and Hale for Matt Kemp trade doesn’t work. Actually including Uggla in almost any trade doesn’t work for the other team but that could change. . .I guess. . .or hope. So when considering trading for a star make sure you’re offering equivalent value; if you were receiving those players would you be happy? if not why would they?
A side effect of a trade is the change to our roster; to add someone means removing someone and that’s likely to be Schafer. Doumit I’ve already discussed. Gerald Laird is staying and those that are critics of out backup catcher should look more closely, he’s been good value this year in many ways. Ramiro Pena too is staying unless a miracle happens and we end up with Martin Prado (please) back in the fold. Uggla is our designated sitter unless they DFA him as they should- but I don’t expect that. That leaves poor old Schafer as odd man out or part of a trade and really it isn’t fair. In 2013 Schafer got a lot of at bats – comparatively- and put up a .309/.397.463/.861 line from April through June before being injured. With the impetus to get BJ and his contract going Jordan hasn’t had that kind of opportunity this year and he’s out of options. A trade might give him a new start but he probably doesn’t see it that way.
As we get closer to the deadline rumors will start and when you hear them ask if they make financial sense for the Braves. If they don’t it’s just speculation based on what someone wants to happen or needs to happen to make news. Stay connected here at the Take and we’ll filter out the hot air and give you the straight scoop as we get it.