Reviewing Hart’s Trades: The Hector Olivera Leap of Faith

Reviewing Hart’s Trades: The Hector Olivera Leap of Faith

The Braves were active in John Hart‘s season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It’s been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With the season in our rear view, it’s time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

Trades Already Reviewed
La Stella for Vizcaino
Heyward/Walden for Miller/Jenkins
Varvaro for Kurcz
J. Upton for Jace Peterson and prospects
Carp/Shreve for Banulos
Kubitza/Hyatt for Sanchez
Gattis for Foltynewicz and Ruiz
Hale for Briceno
Elander for Cahill and Lots of Cash
The Craig Kimbrel Trade
Callaspo for Uribe
Gosselin for Touki
KJ/Uribe for Whalen/Gant

The Trade
As part of a three-team trade, Braves trade Bronson Arroyo, Luis Avilan, Jim Johnson, Jose Peraza, Alex Wood, and cash to the Dodgers for Hector Olivera, Paco Rodriguez, Zachary Bird, and a 2016 draft choice (35th overall, but subject to change) from the Marlins, who also sent Mat Latos and Mike Morse to the Dodgers for Victor Araujo, Jeff Brigham, and Kevin Guzman. Yep, profiled that trade.

The Rationale

Scott Cunningham | Getty Images

Crushes die hard. Last winter, as Olivera worked out for a number of ballclubs, the Braves were a surprise team that was looking to invest big on the Cuban import. A .323/.407/.505 hitter in Cuba, Olivera was considered one of the best hitters left on the island before his defection. He had a silver medal in the Olympics and was part of the disappointing Cuban World Baseball Classic squad in 2009 that finished sixth.

The Braves pursued Olivera hard, but their offer wasn’t close to the Dodgers’ $62.5M offer over six years ($28M was a signing bonus). Olivera had some medical issues (blood disorder before his defection and a minor UCL tear), but was still considered a stout offensive player.

Like I said…old crushes die hard. The Braves wanted Olivera and considered him a future cog in their lineup. They appeared willing to make it happen and paid a steep price. Jose Peraza was the Braves’ top prospect heading into 2015. His game had actually regressed since his 2013 season with Lynchburg. His walks percentage was cut in half and with no power to speak of, he was completely dependent on his bat control to get on base so that he could use his best weapon – his speed. But even his stolen base numbers had declined from 64 and 60 the previous two years to 36 in 2015. Injuries were a factor. The Braves saw a guy who had not advanced and with Jace Peterson a stopgap at second and Andrelton Simmons a fixture at short (right?), Peraza was considered a guy who while useful, was maybe not the impact prospect many had felt he was.

Alex Wood had been very good since arriving in the majors in 2013, but there were some concerns. His fastball velocity had declined (though he never brought much heat). His herky-jerky motion had always been a worry and his strikeouts had fell from nearly a quarter of all batters in 2014 to 18% at the time of the trade. His WHIP had reached 1.41. With a plethora of pitching prospects on the way, the Braves saw Wood as expendable.

The Dodgers also saw Olivera as expendable…at least when it came to winning a title with their bloated roster in 2015. With Justin Turner exceeding all expectations at third base and Corey Seager on the way (not to mention adding Peraza in this deal), the well-sought after Olivera felt more like an extra piece than one that would be a six-year starter. They may have also grew quickly tired of Olivera’s hamstring and other concerns that kept him from making his debut with the Dodgers. Furthermore, they needed pitchers. While they had two of the top starters in baseball and a surprisingly durable Brett Anderson, the rest of the staff was unknown in the wake of Brandon McCarthy‘s early-season injury and Brandon Beachy‘s quick flameout shortly before the deadline. Adding both Wood and Latos solidified the staff while getting Johnson and Avilan was supposed to make the bullpen deeper. Johnson had been a great add for the Braves and had even filled in as closer due to Jason Grilli‘s injury, but his return to closer was short-lived. Avilan had went from surprising in 2012 to “how’s he succeeding?” in 2013 to “ugh, he actually sucks” in 2014. He was closer to the better Avilan in 2015, but was prone to blow it and blow it big.

Back to Atlanta – they added a pair of pitchers in this deal with Bird and Paco. The latter would eventually need to go under the knife and we will have to wait until 2017 to see him pitch for the Braves. Good thing, too, because that 2017 team is going to be awesome (or so I hear). Bird is an athletic righty who is still raw. He’s struggled with control, but has flashed strikeout potential.

Oh, yeah, the Marlins were in this deal. They shed some salary, got a few prospects, and gave the Braves a draft choice. Yay.

I almost forgot about Arroyo. I recently talked about how he came to the Braves. He’s just a guy getting paid.

Short-Term Results
Olivera didn’t impress in the minors, but when rosters expanded, he finally got a callup and…well, didn’t impress that much in the majors either. Still rusty with the bat, Olivera looked damn near puzzled in the field. The Braves had hoped for a springboard September and got more questions than answers. Overall, he slashed .253/.310/.405 in 24 games and lost at-bats to Adonis Garcia.

On the farm, Bird was pushed to AA as the Braves are super aggressive with their prospects. He only started three games and struggled to throw strikes in each one. He was shut down after a 5-run, 5-walk two-inning outing against Mobile on August 13. He should be on schedule to resume his AA career when 2016 opens up.

The Dodgers acquired seven players in this deal and none of them were all that good. Dodgers did quickly pushed Wood to scrap his four-seamer and use his two-seamer along with more spiked curves. He got more grounders as a result, but didn’t pitch any better. He appeared in one game in the NLDS and got lit up for four runs, including a three-run homer by Yoenis Cespedes which recently landed in Iowa. Avilan was used to get out lefties, which he does a good job against. He also appeared in the playoffs and retired all four batters he faced. Johnson went to hell in LA. He gave up three homers in 18.2 ING along with a ridiculous 32 hits. Now, he was unlucky to the most extreme degree, but that provided the Dodgers little solace. Peraza appeared in seven games, but hamstring troubles sidelined him ahead of the playoffs. He was the second youngest player in the NL last season.

I don’t really care about the other players in this deal because they don’t relate to the Braves much at all.

Long-Term Outlook
I know I call this series John Hart’s trades, but this was John Coppolella’s big money gamble. Even if the Braves were going to move Wood and/or Peraza regardless, doing so for Olivera took a lot of faith. While every scouting report has said that Olivera has the bat to be a productive major leaguer, scouting reports can and have been wrong.

The deal took a hit by the news that Olivera was moving to the outfield next season. Solidifying third base added value to this trade as finding plus-production at third base is not an easy task. Only a half-dozen qualified third baseman had a 120 or better RC+ in each of the last three seasons. The number isn’t that different for left field, but it’s considered an easier position to formulate a productive platoon than third base. Olivera’s move to the outfield caused many, including myself, to re-question this deal and ask this question – just how wrong were the Braves about Olivera? If they were wrong that he could play a competent third base, are they wrong on his hitting?

Bird is a good lottery ticket. His fastball/slider suggests an eventual move to the bullpen, but if he can get either his change or curve to be a true #3 pitch, he could remain in the picture at starter as a bottom-of-the-rotation guy with the chance to progress a bit more. As for Paco, if healthy in 2017, he’s a nice weapon. When he was at his best in 2013, he had an 82 cFIP. On a scale of 100, an 82 is 18% better than the league average and the exact mark that Noah Syndergaard had this year. However, he’s only appeared in 37 games in the majors since. If healthy and back to his 10 K/9, 50% groundball form, he’ll be a weapon through 2019, the final year of team control.

As an aside, it’s difficult to preview the #35th overall pick and for that matter, I’ve seen others call it the #34th. Teams that sign players who were offered a qualified offer could lose their first round pick, which would make this selection even higher. For funsies, here’s a list of selected players selected from #30-#35 over the last five years: Braxton Davidson, Jason Hursh, Aaron Judge, Brian Johnson, and Kevin Plawecki.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers will enter 2016 with Avilan, Peraza, and Wood and room for all three on their roster. The results immediately after the trade didn’t benefit them, but while Avilan might be serviceable enough (the Dodgers could non-tender him), Peraza and Wood each could play a big role on the next Dodgers team. Or they could be trade bait.

This epic trade ultimately looks less important as we move toward the Hot Stove season just a few months later. The Dodgers made the playoffs, but lost to the Mets. The Braves were already a sinking ship and losing Wood only prompted them to give a guy like Ryan Weber a look. Peraza could have been useful as an alternative to Peterson, but with Peraza failing to advance as a player, maybe the best thing was to cut bait while his value was high. Olivera was going to be the third baseman, but he’s not a third baseman. Paco’s hurt even before he pitches.

Some call this deal stupid. I wouldn’t go that far, but I remain unconvinced that it was the right deal for the Braves. However, if Olivera hits .285/.340/.480 next season, I’ll be a bit more on board with the gamble.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *