2003 was the year things changed for the Braves. While they scored 907 runs, a modern franchise record, things weren’t great in Atlanta. John Schuerholz and company had tried to build a staff for the future by signing Paul Byrd and trading for Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton to join Kevin Millwood at the top of the rotation. However, unlike his buddy Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux didn’t get a mega deal in free agency and ultimately accepted arbitration, leaving the Braves to scramble to trade Millwood. The result was a staff led by Maddux that allowed 740 runs, the most allowed by the Braves since 1990. The next year, Maddux was gone, yet 2004 was a solid comeback season for the staff as Jaret Wright and John Thomson joined the mix with the returning Byrd to form a good, but hardly impressive staff. In truth, as good as the Braves were from 1-to-5 in the rotation, they didn’t have an ace.
With that in mind, the Braves decided to improve the front of the rotation for 2005. Gone were Ortiz and Wright, along with Byrd. John Smoltz was moved back to the starting staff and two days after trading for Danny Kolb to close the door, the Braves brought in 29 year-old Tim Hudson to be their #2 behind Smoltz. And everything worked out wonderfully.
Well…no. Huddy was, I guess, okay in his first year. Remember that he had a 3.30 ERA in six years with the A’s along with two All-Star appearances and a Cy Young runner up. Expectations were pretty high. So, a 3.52 ERA in his first season was okay, but a 4.33 FIP gave us concern (well…not really…nobody used FIP back then). He was downright ugly in 2006, too. Huddy would right the ship and, when healthy, was a solid right-hander from 2007 to 2013, but outside of 2010 (when he was super lucky to get a 2.83 ERA), Hudson was never the guy the Braves thought they were acquiring.
But that’s okay because Billy Beane was left to only dream of what he could have gotten for a pitcher who had a three-year sample of a 3.04 ERA and 3.47 FIP entering the 2004 offseason. Charles Thomas was a non-prospect after being a 19th rounder in 2000, but came out of nowhere to produce a .813 OPS in 2004 with the Braves. He played just 30 more games in the majors, all with the A’s in 2005, before Oakland sent him back to the minors to die. Juan Cruz had been a great reclamation project after the Cubs gave up on him. He never again had the control he displayed in Atlanta (3.8 BB/9) and pitched just 28 games in Oakland with a 7.44 ERA before they traded him to Arizona. Ah, and then there’s Dan Meyer. A product of James Madison (go Dukes!), Meyer was often hurt with the A’s and not very good when he wasn’t. He had one good year with the Marlins in 2009 as a LOOGY, but fell out of favor the following year and would later retire to join the Braves minor league system as a coach.
Let me put it this way. The Braves got 244 games out of Hudson. The A’s got 75 from their trio.
It makes you wonder what the market was like at the time. Beane would package Mark Mulder next to the Cardinals for Daric Barton, Kiko Calero and Dan Haren. On the surface, that seemed like a better deal, but who knows? Maybe Beane really bought into Cruz and felt Thomas was the cherry-on-the-top when that should been Cruz. Or maybe no one else was calling because of concern over Hudson’s oblique troubles. Either way, it’s a decent argument that Beane should have gotten more for a player of Huddy’s talent, regardless of his pending free agency.
In the end, both franchises would move on and deal with some lean years. Since 2006, each team has made just three postseason appearances. It would take Hudson leaving for the Giants in 2014 for any of these players to get a World Series ring.