The Braves have been active in John Hart‘s first 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 most of 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 Hector Olivera Trade
Scott Cunningham | Getty
I once pondered how big of a mistake Chris Johnson’s extension was. Turned out it was a pretty big one. Frank Wren, with the assistance of John Hart and at least John Coppolella in the room, chose to extend Johnson at the wrong time. After a 2.5 fWAR 2013 campaign, the Braves seemed to think that would suddenly become the norm after posting a 0.8 fWAR in over 300 games in the majors before that. It was dumb. He followed with a 0.2 fWAR year in 2014 and was doing even worse in 2015. Some point to the BABIP and that certainly was a big factor, but every other metric declined except K% (it went up).
The Braves looked at his salary of $7.5M in 2016 and at least $10M in 2017 (including a $1M buyout for 2018). Yeah, 2017 – the magical season. No way were they on board with guys who suck getting paid in 2017.
But getting paid in 2016? Sure! The Indians conversely wanted financial freedom in 2016 and saw a chance to cut some salary (and get rid of a pair of veterans). Nick Swisher was super productive with the Yankees (124-134 RC+ from 2009-12) so the Indians weren’t completely idiotic to sign him after the 2012 season. Nor were they totally stupid to sign Michael Bourn after a 6.2 fWAR year in 2012 with the Braves. Still…four years each with vesting options and a combined $104M? Here’s a clip from Scrubs to explain my thoughts.
Both teams saw a way to get financial freedom. The Indians sent either $10M (if you believe Cot) or $15M (if you believe David O’Brien), giving the Braves essentially a free Swisher and when you take away what Johnson was going to make anyway, the Braves added $6.5M or $11.5M in salary for 2016. The Braves didn’t add much provided the vesting options don’t, ya know, vest. Meanwhile, they got rid of the disgruntled Johnson. The Indians didn’t save much money, but did turn two roster spots held up by overpaid veterans into one spot…held up by an overpaid veteran.
Unsurprisingly, none of the players in this deal did much after the trade. Swish did belt four homers and walked a crapload in 149 PA, putting up a 99 RC+ compared to the 51 before the trade. He also gave the Braves a decent enough option at first base where he is historically an average defender.
Bourn actually played a little worse at the plate, but did play better in the field, albeit in small sample sizes. As good as Bourn played center in 2012, his defensive metrics have trended toward bad in Cleveland and with him not the speed threat he once was, Bourn might be limited to left field if you want him to be a competent defender.
Johnson got off to a fast start in Cleveland, but cooled off down the stretch. Some will look at his .289 average and say he was “back,” but he needed a .391 BABIP to do that and even with it, he still posted a 87 RC+ in 27 games. With his defense, he needs 2013-level RC+ (127) to be a plus player in the big leagues. He did play more first base after the trade than third base and would have played in more games, but a spider bite kept him off the team for a few weeks. Unfortunately, it appeared to give him no spidey senses.
The Braves would love if another team wants to take Bourn and/or Swisher off their hands and with the investment by the Indians, they could conceivably add in some cash themselves to facilitate a deal, but they would have to find a team interested. Maybe they could take on a bad salary that’s less than either player and pay the difference, but chances are there is little chance that a trade helps them in any way.
The early thought was that the Braves would platoon Bourn and Swisher in left field, which could limit at-bats and keep their vesting options for 2017 from vesting. But with Hector Olivera moving out to left field, that put another wrench in the plans. Cameron Maybin could be dealt, opening up at-bats for Bourn until Mallex Smith takes over. Of course, if the Braves completely self-destruct the roster with trades like sending Freddie Freeman packing, that would allow Swisher a bigger opportunity for at-bats.
Either way, neither player can be allowed to have their contracts vest ($14M for Swish, $12M for Bourn). This not only keeps the Braves from paying big salaries to veterans unlikely to deserve it, but if either is remotely reproductive, the Braves would retain higher trade value if the chances of a vesting option actually vesting is remote.
Meanwhile, Johnson could be traded himself though Cleveland doesn’t have a wealth of better options either. Carlos Santana will likely either DH or play first base while 23 year-old Giovanny Urshela is well-liked, but OPS’d .608 in his rookie season. Right now, there would appear to be at-bats for Johnson if he doesn’t get moved, but either way, I doubt we see his 2013 season duplicated. He needed a special set of circumstances to fall his way to achieve that success and to his credit, he cashed in on an extension while the Braves were handing them out like Oprah hands out cars.
It was a mistake to extend Johnson and the Braves’ answer to that mistake may have not been a brilliant one. On one side, it’s easier to deal players with one year-deals (the Braves needed to take two bad players to get rid of a two-year deal after all). On the other end, taking up two spots seems like an unnecessary evil to deal with one bad player. How this works out is anyone’s guess, but from a fan’s perspective, it was just nice to get rid of a problem that had exhausted patience.