Today the Cubs traded lefty relief pitcher James Russell to the Braves along with Emilio Bonifacio Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Deal – Braves Trade Deadline 2014

The trade deadline passed today almost exactly as I and most Braves watchers expected. Hamstrung by bad contracts, unable to take on payroll and unwilling to part with prospects the Braves made only perfunctory moves designed to paper over the cracks in a strikeout heavy roster. Actually I understand not going all in on David Price or Jon Lester, pitching alone was not going to solve the underlying problem; this team strikes out too much, walks too little and delivers in the clutch in fits and jumps.  No pitcher can win without run support and throwing prospects at an ace/difference maker/true number one or whatever you want to call him would have been throwing money down the rabbit hole.

There were no difference maker bats on the move either. The biggest bats were Yoenis Cespedes from the A’s to the Red Sox as part of the Lester trade and Allen Craig from the Cardinals to the Red Sox as part of the Lackey trade. While I covet a Cespedes in right with Jason in Center and Justin in left, that was never going to happen and Craig just isn’t a difference maker. Frank Wren did have to do something to pacify fans that were screaming for his head at 4:50 and falling all over themselves calling him a genius at 4:55. The clubhouse too will get a small bump because he made a move even if it is a miniscule one.

The Deal

Alan gave you the nuts and bolts of the trade earlier so I won’t  go into generalities. I will however give my view of the deal starting with what we gave away; nothing much. Before Ben comes over and throttles me for dismissing his favorite minor league player, I do understand Victor Caratini’s potential behind the plate. I’ve never seen him play third but when a team drafts a player that was primarily a catcher and played a little third, move him to third, watches him and says “oops not a third baseman” that doesn’t speak well of his future at the hot corner.

As a catcher he fell in at the back of a line that forms behind Evan Gattis, Christian Bethancourt and Steven Lerud who impressed in spring training on both sides of the plate. Yes he was put in the Braves top ten prospects last week but that only says the Braves prospects are pretty thin. Sorry Ben, But this wasn’t a big loss. On the other hand the Cubs either valued him highly or were just so desperate for a catching prospect they took him for two players and sent us the money to pay most of the salary we took on. Doesn’t matter and like all prospects, until he gets to the bigs he’s just a suspect.  What we got is more interesting.

Emilio Bonifacio Braves_thumbs_up

Bonifacio is a 29 year old switch hitting journeyman utility player who started off hot for the Cubs before injury sent him to the DL. He’s currently slashing .279/.318/.373 with a pair of homers and a 70% success rate in steals;14 of 20. From those numbers you can tell he isn’t going to be a power guy but he is a prototypical leadoff hitter who can handle a bat and when he was heading up the Marlins lineup consistently in 2010-2012 posted an OBP between 320 and 360. He was part of the purge that sent the Marlins team or most of it to the Jays. From there he was sent to the Royals and played well enough that they offered him a $3.5M contract. He accepted, signed then the Royals released him for reasons known only the the Royals. The Cubs picked him up and on Friday he’ll wear the Tomahawk.

I like the Bonifacio part of the deal. It should send notice to B.J. Upton that he needs to consistently produce or come post season – should we be lucky enough to make it to the post season – he could find himself Dan Uggla’d. Boni is at least as good a CF as BJ and all number save power and marginally base stealing are better. He can also play second, third and in a pinch shortstop. I suspect that he’s Jordan Schafer’s replacement as he does what Schafer does and more. They could send Philip Gosselin down as he too could be said to duplicate Bonifacio’s tools. Goose could stay in playing shape and get  ABs at Gwinnett so that too may be a factor in who goes where. That’s why I give the Bonifacio part  a thumbs up.

James Russell shrug smiley

The Russell half of the deal leaves me nonplussed. He’s not awful, he’s not superb. He’s just what he is and that isn’t bad. It isn’t exciting either.

Russell has always been a Cub, always had a horribly high ERA with a worse FIP for those who love that stat. Except for a five game stint in 2011 where he threw 18 1/3 innings with an ERA of 9.33 and a WHIP of 2.018, he’s been used in relief. In relief his career line includes a 3.48 ERA and a 1.234 WHIP in 253 2/3 innings. Unlike a lot of pitchers his career numbers look a lot like his season numbers and fall in an acceptable range for a one inning guy or a LOOGY.

The Braves want Russell to fill the role vacated by Luis Avilan and either supplement or supplant Chasen Shreve. Russell’s never had the superiority over lefties of a Jonny Venters or Eric O’Flaherty but disturbingly lefties have – except for 2103 – consistently improved the batting average put up slugging numbers well over .400. This year they are slugging .525 with three homers in just 70 PA, more that he’s had in each of the last two seasons.

On the other hand he’s killing RHH, keeping them to a slash line resembling the worst hitting pitchers in roughly the same number of at bats. EOF had a reverse split but he was hard in everyone. This is just  plain odd.

LHH                        
Year G PA HR BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS GDP BAbip
2010 47 88 5 4 29 7.25 .238 .276 .450 .726 1 .292
2011 58 119 4 2 24 12 .250 .256 .429 .685 2 .276
2012 65 111 3 6 21 3.5 .262 .309 .417 .727 3 .304
2013 69 122 2 6 26 4.33 .183 .221 .322 .543 0 .216
2014 39 70 3 6 13 2.17 .295 .358 .525 .883 0 .333
RHH                        
Year G PA HR BB SO SO/W BA OBP SLG OPS GDP BAbip
2010 44 131 6 7 13 1.86 .308 .357 .530 .887 2 .300
2011 49 173 8 12 19 1.58 .312 .363 .539 .902 3 .308
2012 68 181 2 17 34 2 .250 .317 .419 .735 4 .299
2013 48 92 5 12 11 0.92 .321 .418 .615 1.033 2 .323
2014 32 72 0 10 13 1.3 .103 .243 .121 .364 0 .130

All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.com player pages.

A quick look at his player card over at Brooks Baseball shows that on a balls in play basis LHH hitters are producing less grounders and fly balls but a lot more line drives this year. His fastball and slider have been beaten up a lot more for line drives since the middle of June. RHH are nailing his change and cutter well too but nothing like lefties. The grounder and fly ball numbers look similar to last year.  All of this means one thing, this year Russell isn’t a Loogy.

The Braves were never going to pay the price for Andrew Miller or Tony Sipp. They may have looked at Oliver Perez and said what I said; no thanks. Russell is clearly way down the list of gee whiz I’d love to have that lefty. He is however a significant improvement over Avilan and in partnership with Shreve can be an effective bullpen arm.

That’s A Wrap

Today’s lack of action wasn’t a surprise or at least shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone paying attention. Wren did what he could do with what he had to make deals with and without pillaging the minor league system that’s at least shuffling to recovery. If it’s any consolation to anyone out there I suspect that there will be waiver wire opportunities to be had in August if the team is still seriously challenging for a wild card spot. Names like Josh Willingham, Ryan Ludwick and Carlos Quentin will be out there and some pitching too will hit the wires. Choosing from them depends on where your team is in the standings so the Braves won’t get first look but deals like the one that brought Derrek Lee to Atlanta can be done.  Russell may find under Roger McDowell who might be able to fix whatever it is needs fixing. Bonifacio will bring new energy though where he plays is up in the air. So hang in there Braves fans the opportunity to improve isn’t completely passed and the season isn’t over.

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