On December 4th, 2008, former Braves general manager packaged a collection of prospects centering around infielder Brent Lillibridge and catcher Tyler Flowers to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for young left-hander Boone Logan and starting pitcher Javier Vazquez. A little more than a year later, the Braves packaged both Logan and Vazquez together in a deal to go get young prospect Arodys Vizcaino along with all-around shithead Melky Cabrera and another lefty, Michael Dunn. The reasons for these deals are not that important to this post outside of drawing a parallel to a possible deal I would like to propose.
The Braves are considering trading Justin Upton. At this point, the argument can be made that if they don’t trade Upton before the end of the winter meetings, they might miss a prime opportunity to strike. The San Francisco Giants, fresh off a championship, just saw Pedro Sandoval head east to play baseball for the Boston Red Sox.
So, it’s with that in mind that I throw this out based on not much at all. Trade Upton and Chris Johnson to the Giants.
You might recall two winters ago when Wren pulled off one of his best trades, steadfastly saying no to the Diamondbacks on Julio Teheran, and instead giving up Randall Delgado and a host of minor league talent in exchange for the services of the younger Upton brother and Johnson, an okayish third baseman. The deal has provided the Braves with 10.2 fWAR over the last two seasons while the Diamondbacks have gone through wholesale changes.
Yet, it appears an almost certainty that Upton will join his third organization this winter. Why not let Johnson join him again in a trade? And why not prey on the Giants, who are looking to re-tool this winter?
Now, there is a valid argument to not join these two together and it’s the same argument given as to why Evan Gattis shouldn’t be used to rid the Braves of Johnson or Justin’s older brother, B.J. Upton. Why potentially ruin some of the powerful right-handed hitter’s value by grouping him with someone whose value is low? Of course, the answer to that is the flipside of the argument. To unbury the Braves from the huge salary investments that are going to players who probably could be replaced with cheaper and just as effective talent. In Johnson’s case, one of Wren’s boo boos this season came when he inked Johnson to a 3 year extension that will pay him at least $23.5M over the next three seasons with an option for 2018. It was a deal that I called a needless mistake last June. Why make a commitment you didn’t have to make? Usually, it’s to save money, but that argument was debatable without even considering Johnson’s struggles in 2014.
It should be noted that Johnson’s deal, while it bugs the crap out of me, isn’t all that bad. If we accept that every 1 fWAR is worth about $7M, Johnson would merely need to provide roughly 3-4 WAR over the life of the contract to come out even. Any more would make the deal look like a steal. That’s the abstract thought process, anyway. I’m still on the fence as to how to use WAR in any way that correlates with salary myself, but others do find value in it. Chances are Johnson will be able to do. After all, according to Fangraphs, he posted 4.5 WAR the previous three years. So, as bad as his deal feels or seems, it’s really not as difficult as we might think to consider him a marketable figure. With that in mind, he’s unlikely to kill someone’s value he is packaged with like Melvin Upton would.
That takes us back to the Giants. What should the Braves be seeking? Cheap talent. Cheap, team-controlled talent. Cheap, team-controlled, and projection-able talent. The package of talent coming the Braves way would start with Kyle Crick, though that might be too much for this offer. Got to at least aim for the moon, though. Crick was supposedly untouchable when the season started last year, but landed in the Jeff Samardzija trade rumors when the Giants bluntly stated that nobody in their organization was untouchable. Again, I expect the Giants will still balk, but considering the Braves are supposedly in on Seattle’s Taijuan Walker, why not Crick? Besides, Crick does have one significant question mark. His control is an issue. Last year at AA, he walked 61, or about six every nine innings. Now, he did strike out nearly 30% of the batters he faced, but that control is a problem. Sometimes, control takes some time. It did for Randy Johnson, who picked up walk rates of 6 per nine innings in both 1991 and 1992 with the Expos. On the high end, Crick becomes a front-of-the-rotation guy who K’s over 200. There is a lot of chance here and pitchers like Walker are better bets.
In addition to Crick, the Braves should aim for the following: RHP Clayton Blackburn, LHP Steven Okert, either C Andrew Susac or 3B Adam Duvall, and OF Mac Williamson. A bunch of names so let’s make our way through them. Blackburn has wasted no time since getting drafted out of high school back in 2011 as a 16th rounder. Each level has seen him rack up strikeouts, walk next to no one, and excite the Giants for the future. He missed some time last year with a rib injury, but could easily slot into the Gwinnett staff next season. Okert was drafted three different times before signing as a fourth round selection out of the University of Oklahoma in 2012. It hasn’t taken him long to start knocking on the door. Last year, the left-hander spent half of the year at AA, showing no fallback after his promotion from high-A ball. To this point, he has K’d well over a batter an inning and showed great control. The only thing that gives me pause is his homer rate, but that could be circumstantial.
I expect that the Giants would decline to add Susac so they would counter with Duvall. An 11th rounder out of Louisville in 2010, Duvall has showed steady progress and hammered 100 homers in 500 career games with an .845 OPS. Now, there are questions about his bat’s ability to play in the majors, but he has nothing left to prove in the minors. In addition to third, he can shift across the diamond and play first. The right-handed hitter got to the majors for 28 games last year with the World Champion Giants, though he certainly didn’t look great. I think there is room for improvement there. The Braves could even entertain the option of seeing how Duvall takes to left field. Finally, there’s Williamson. Drafted in in 2012 out of Wake Forest in the third round, Williamson is coming off Tommy John Surgery that ruined his third professional season and limited him to just 23 games. If the shoulder is sound, though, Williamson might be able to show some of the performance that led him to slash .292/.375/.504 with 25 HR and 10 steals at high-A ball in 2013. For some reason, he was repeating the level last year before his injury (possibly a number crunch in AA?).
In a deal like this, the Braves have to accept some degree of risk. This trade basically comes down Crick, Blackburn, and Williamson for Upton while Duvall and Okert are for Johnson. The Braves could even punch in $5-$7M to help the trade pass through. San Francisco gets one year with Upton where they might even be able to extend him, plus three years of Johnson. While it would be tempting and acceptable to split them up to maximize Upton’s trade value, getting out of Johnson’s contract has to be a consideration for the future success of the Braves.