Sunday, August 2, 2009

Silly Moves by the Braves


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As you probably know, I'm a big Braves fan. As such, I was elated to see that they were able to snag the Sunday night baseball spot on "The World Wide Leader."

I was watching the game (and still am as I write this), and I noticed a familiar face playing first base, Adam LaRoche. I knew they traded for him a few days ago, but seeing him again got me thinking (a scary proposition, I know).

I began to wonder "Why did we get rid of this guy in the first place?" and more importantly "How did we turn Mark Teixeira into a player we already had?"

Those thoughts led me to doing a little research about a recent string of pretty odd, as well as poorly planned and orchestrated moves by the once illustrious front office of the Atlanta Braves.

It all started on January 19th, 2007, when the Braves traded first baseman Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh for reliver Mike Gonzalez in an effort to bolster their bullpen. The left handed LaRoche was coming off a season in which he hit 32 homers, drove in 92 runs, and had a .298 average.

Then on August 1st, 2007, the Braves traded the farm (literally) to acquire first baseman Mark Teixeira from Texas, to fill their gaping hole at first base and need for another left handed bat in the lineup. The cornerstones of the deal were minor leaguers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (catcher) and Elvis Andrus (shortstop) as well as three other minor leaguers. Andrus and Salty are now both starting for the Rangers.

The trade did not give the Braves boost that they needed to make the playoffs as they had hoped. This was mainly due to a lack of quality players in their bullpen, as Mike Gonzalez went down in May with a torn elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery.

Then 363 days later on July 30th, 2008, the Braves traded Teixeira away to the Los Angeles Angels knowing they would not be able to sign him as a free agent in the upcoming off season due to his high price tag (he ended up getting a contract for 8 years $180 million from the Yankees). They traded him for first baseman Casey Kotchman and minor league pitcher Stephen Marek.

366 days after that on July 31st, 2009, the Braves traded Casey Kotchman to the Boston Red Sox for Adam LaRoche.

So essentially, they've traded away two top tier prospects into, well, nothing. They haven't made the playoffs since 2005, and are really in no position to do so this season.

I guess the most frustrating thing about all of this, is that it they're right back where they started, except all of their players are now 2 and a half seasons older.

When they traded LaRoche, they clearly did not get enough value for him, and they needed his bat in the lineup from the outset of the season. Then they traded away two great young players for Teixeira in an effort to replace the things that LaRoche gave them.

[Now don't get me wrong here, I totally agree that Teixeira was an upgrade over anything LaRoche could have given them. But if they had kept LaRoche, they could have used their assets in a more efficient manner.]

Then instead of keeping Teixeira for the rest of 2008 (which would net them two first round picks when he left in free agency), they traded him for Kotchman and a pitcher who has a 5.66 ERA in minor league play this year.

I just look at those moves and think that they could have turned them into something more valuable. If they didn't trade LaRoche in the first place, they probably could have turned Elvis, Jarrod and other prospects into an all-star left fielder (Matt Holliday or Manny Ramirez come to mind, both of whom have been traded in the past 2 seasons) or a top-flight starting pitcher (Jake Peavy, Cliff Lee, or even CC Sabathia, all of whom have been traded in the past 2 seasons).

CC led the Brewers into the playoffs last year, same with Manny for the Dodgers. And Holliday and Lee look like they will be doing the same for their new teams this season. Whereas the Braves moves are simply exercises in futility that result in third place (or worse) finishes in the National League East.

Maybe this is all a learning process for new General Manager Frank Wren. However, if these types of miscues and trades are a recurring problem and the Braves continue to lose ground in the NL East and miss the playoffs, Wren will have to stop learning and start producing. Or else he may be out of a job altogether.

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