A noisy trade deadline has passed, and the Braves are nine games out of first place in the NL East (third place) and five games out of the Wild Card (fifth place). They added Adam LaRoche for Casey Kotchman in a sort of perplexing deal at the deadline, but they’re facing an uphill climb to the playoffs to say the least. We’ll deal with the LaRoche trade before we get to last week’s stats.
It’s almost like clockwork now. The Braves enter August with a new first baseman for the third consecutive year, so let’s recap how we got here. (If this were a game broadcast, I’d probably have a snazzy graphic and a sponsor, like the Princeton [Trade] Review, or something corny like that.)
January 2007 – Braves trade Adam LaRoche and OF prospect Jamie Romak to Pittsburgh for closer Mike Gonzalez and SS prospect Brent Lillibridge.
With Dan Kolb not far enough removed from the Braves’ memory, it made sense to deal for bullpen help, and the Braves did that after the ’06 season. They had Bob Wickman and Rafael Soriano when they made this trade, but perhaps they envisioned a long-term logjam at first base with Jarrod Saltalamacchia working his way into the picture along with Scott Thorman, who became the everyday 1B as a result of the trade. Brent Lillibridge was a good prospect at the time and looked like a future leadoff hitter. Yunel Escobar hadn’t broken in yet, and if you had asked me to choose between the two of them at the time, I’d have chosen Lillibridge. I saw it as a win at the time.
Escobar went on to have a great year, making Edgar Renteria expendable, and Lillibridge started stalling out in the high minors. He was later dealt as part of the package for Javier Vazquez, as a secondary piece to Tyler Flowers. First base became a huge problem, though. Thorman was already viewed as LaRoche-lite, but he was too “lite” at .216/.258/.394. The Braves were still contending, though, 4.5 games back in the division, and they made the biggest splash at the 2007 deadline with the following trade.
July 2007 – Braves acquire Mark Teixeira and lefty reliever Ron Mahay from the Texas Rangers for Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Beau Jones.
The Rangers got quite the prospect haul for their slugger, essentially half of the Braves’ top 10. Teixeira was due a huge payday, one he eventually received from the Yankees prior to this season, and there was little reason to think the Braves would pay up. I was skeptical about having to give up so many good prospects, but willing to accept it if the Braves were truly going to be contenders.
The Braves were one game over .500 for the remainer of 2007, finishing 5 games back in a division race that was more notable for the Mets’ collapse than anything else. Teixeira OPS-ed 1.020 for the final two months of 2007, so it certainly wasn’t his fault that the Braves still lost the division.
How do the prospects look in 2009, though? Salty hasn’t been able to match his .745 OPS in 47 games as a Brave, but he’s 24 and still has time to get better. Harrison, also 24, kept up his solid minor-league performance, but that hasn’t translated into results in two partial seasons at Texas.
Elvis Andrus is not quite 21 and has been the Rangers’ starting shortstop all year in ’09. His OPS is under .700, but he’s fielding well and running exceptionally well for a 20-year-old everyday player at a premium defensive position. Feliz was the other youngster, and he’s due to be called up any day now. He’s been a relief pitcher of late, but his future is probably in the Rangers’ rotation, and he’s still considered an outstanding prospect.
Beau Jones, now 22, has seemingly stalled in AA, showing zero command. It’s still an impressive group for the Rangers: two regular position players, a regular starting pitcher, and a player who is still an elite pitching prospect.
Mahay was gone after 2007, and 2008 didn’t work out for the Braves. A year after dealing for him, found themselves in a position to deal Teixeira for pennies on the dollar as their patchwork injury-depleted pitching staff wasn’t making the grade.
July 2008 – Braves trade Teixeira to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and minor league reliever Stephen Marek.
Considering the previous year’s deal as a sunk cost, I didn’t think this was a terrible trade. The Braves got 3 extra years’ control of a first baseman with at least some upside, plus a pitching prospect, which is probably better than what they could have done with two draft picks (which they would have received anyway when Tex walked).
Kotchman struggled through the end of the 2008 season, along with pretty much the entire team. He looked like a league-average hitter and a good fielder who was unfortunately trapped at a position where you’d really like to have a premium hitter. Marek is having command issues at Gwinnett and is getting old enough (25) that he really needs to show results soon in order to still be considered a prospect.
The Braves knew heading into 2009 that they didn’t really have a huge asset at first base with Kotchman, but they had the financial freedom to pursue some improvements in the rotation that would counteract the loss of Teixeira. That has mostly been the case, but the Braves are still on the outside of the playoff picture.
July 2009 – Braves trade Kotchman to the Red Sox for Adam LaRoche and cash considerations.
If it were anyone other than LaRoche, I probably wouldn’t be giving this deal the full-circle consideration it’s getting. On the surface, the Braves traded two years of control over Kotchman for a marginal 1B upgrade, and that upgrade just happened to be the same player they traded for relief help before the 2007 season.
So here’s the net result of all the trades leading up to this one:
The Braves traded a mess of prospects, including a handful of very good ones, for Mike Gonzalez and a small share of Javier Vazquez. It’s not such a positive result when you look at it that way, although Gonzalez has been nice when healthy. The Braves almost certainly could have dealt for Vazquez without Lillibridge, and they certainly could have acquired both with some of the prospects they sent to Texas. I suppose hindsight is always 20-20.
Last Week’s Stats
Believe it or not, there were some games last week, too. The Braves lost both series with the Marlins and Dodgers, although an adventure with a rogue umpire cost them a chance at finishing the week at 3-3. They’re one game above .500 overall.
The first base revolving door provided the most offensive production last week. Kotchman and LaRoche were the top two producers at the plate, totaling 2.5 wRAA (weighted runs above average). Garret Anderson was next on the team, which says more about the team’s offensive struggles than it does his own solid production of late.
Brian McCann essentially went 0-for-the-week, one big game in Florida notwithstanding. Chipper was average once again, and Nate McLouth singled his way to a respectable batting average, but not much else. Believe it or not, Chipper now leads the team in defensive innings played. If you’d told me this in April, I would have guessed that the Braves would lead the NL East right now.
Prado did virtually the same as McLouth in less chances, and Matt Diaz rounded out the week’s regulars with an awful .229 OPS. He looks terrible at the plate right now, so Ryan Church needs to get back ASAP. Diory Hernandez also provided little room for optimism as an injury replacement for Yunel Escobar.
The rotation was merely average this week, with several starters falling prey to ERA-killing long balls. I suppose homers still count, so I won’t say that they were good; it just seemed as though things could have turned out differently this week based on just a few plays. Kawakami was really the only starter to have a terrible outing. A few more like that will punch his ticket for a bullpen seat once Tim Hudson’s rehab is over. I suppose Vazquez had the best start of the week, lasting 7 1/3 innings and allowing 3 runs.
Speaking of Hudson, I’m hoping that his return will provide the chance for the Braves to send Kris Medlen back to Gwinnett for a few starts to close the season. I think he’s got starting potential, but he hasn’t shown much confidence (or results) at the big-league level this year, so it seems like he could use the chance to regroup.
The ‘pen was mostly good this week, with the notable exceptions of Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano. Manny Acosta allowed a run in three outings, but Gonzalez, O’Flaherty, and Moylan totaled 6 1/3 shutout innings.
Logan’s meltdown was virtually harmless, but Soriano essentially turned a win into a loss, losing a 3-2 lead on a walk-off homer to the Marlins’ Ross Gload. This kind of game happens to every closer, so Soriano is no exception, but the umpiring circumstances made that loss especially frustrating to watch.
The Road Ahead
The homestand was short-lived, and the Braves will re-unite with the Dodgers for a four-game series this weekend after a three-game stop in San Diego. They’ll reprise the final two pitching matchups of this weekend’s series for the Dodgers series.
These are the other matchups:
Mon @SD: Kawakami vs. Mat Latos
Tue @SD: Vazquez vs. Tim Stauffer
Wed @SD: Hanson vs. Chad Gaudin
Thu @LAD: Lowe vs. Randy Wolf
Fri @LAD: Jurrjens vs. Chad Billingsley
Sat @LAD: Kawakami vs. Clayton Kershaw
Sun @LAD: Vazquez vs. Hiroki Kuroda
The Braves have a good team, but the playoffs are slowly slipping away. They’ll have to be great for two months in order to get in, and they need to start sooner rather than later.