Better never than late: The Wickman-Aybar-Baez Story

The last two weeks have seen the Braves deal for two relievers and a prospect while, at best, a handful of games out of a wild card playoff spot.

The first deal, back on July 20th, was A-ball catcher Max Ramirez for Indians closer Bob Wickman. Here’s the AJC’s take on the story.

Sure, Wickman is an established closer with a proven track record, but the fact is, he’s 37 and he’s only had one really good season since 2001. Good relievers aren’t always easy to find, and the Braves certainly didn’t have even one good reliever, but Wickman is just barely on the side of “good” when compared to average.

Personally, I’d rather have kept the $2 million they’ll be paying him, not to mention the great prospect they gave up. I know A-level prospects are very hard to project, and I know that he was blocked by two other catchers (well, maybe just one if Salty doesn’t recover), but Ramirez was shaping up to be a great hitter. He has a solid minor league career OPS of roughly 900 while being about the right age for his level. I figured if they gave him up, it would be for more than this.

The next deal was not quite as bad as the first, but I wouldn’t have made either one. On Friday, the Braves dealt Wilson Betemit to the Dodgers for Willy Aybar and Danys Baez.

For me, the verdict is still out somewhat on this one. With Chipper Jones’ injury (which was known by Schuerholz at the time, except for its extent) and Marcus Giles’ lack of production, I would have preferred to have Betemit around than have Aybar, a prospect whose ceiling is probably…Wilson Betemit. The problem is that Aybar is not there yet and is no lock to get to Betemit’s level of production. He’s been young for his league each year, but he has a career minor league OPS of just 733. He doesn’t seem like the type of prospect you reload with.

Then we have Baez, whom the Braves will pay $1.6 million this year. He has been decent, if not good, until this year, and he’s just 28. On the other, more alarming hand, his strikeout rate has taken a nosedive in recent years. After his 2002 debut season at 9.3 K/9, he then had two seasons under 8.0, then spent the last two years under 7.0. This year, as you might suspect, his K rate is under 6. His other rate stats have been decent, but you’re not going to stay good for long with a declining K rate. I don’t know what could be wrong, given his age, but I’m not high on him for the future. He’s a free agent at the end of the season, anyway.

So, in two deals, the Braves have picked up Betemit Jr. and two overpaid relievers. They did it in a season that is probably lost now (and wasn’t looking that great at the time of the deals, either). They probably shouldn’t have been buyers, but Schuerholz, as he proved in his book, defines himself by the streak of division titles that were only partly a result of his skill as a GM. He has tried too hard to keep up, and it’s been way too little, way too late. He knew that there was a problem with the bullpen last year, and he did nothing to rectify it before. Now, he has parted ways with a good-looking prospect, a reserve infielder (who perhaps should have been starting), and $3.6 million that could have been spent elsewhere. While not terrible deals, these moves were not exactly what team seemed to need at this point.

Linked in this post:
Max Ramirez (The Baseball Cube)
Bob Wickman (The Baseball Cube)
Braves trade for closer Wickman (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Braves trade Betemit to Dodgers (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Wilson Betemit (The Baseball Cube)
Willy Aybar (The Baseball Cube)
Danys Baez (The Baseball Cube)

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