When some trades happen, you kinda get excited about them. They seem to fix all of the wrongs. They seem like the perfect answer.
Today’s trade seemed that way to me when it was announced in 1999. Now, I was just a 17 year-old kid, but it did seem like the trade made the Braves better. In 1999, the Braves won the National League title, but Bret Boone was a complete failure in his one year with the Braves. He hit 20 homers, but struggled to make consistent solid contact a year after being selected to his first of three All-Star Games. It’s hard to explain what happened to Boone except that Boone was never that good prior to his (alleged) steroid use once he hit Seattle in 2001. He had a big ’94 and a pretty nice ’98, but other than, Boone just wasn’t that good of a hitter before the juice (allegedly).
While Boone stunk, Klesko was a great hitter for the Braves, but was stuck with a platoon label in Bobby Cox‘s mind. When Andres Galarraga‘s cancer came back in 1999, it appeared Klesko would finally get the everyday chance he had deserved at first base. Wrong. While he posted a .908 OPS, Klesko still gave way to the likes of Brian Hunter and Randall Simon. Losing Klesko, while it sucked because he had been an .886 OPS guy with the Braves, was acceptable because it wasn’t like Cox was going to use him properly anyway.
Shiell…was in the trade.
Meanwhile, Atlanta was filling holes with this trade. Wally Joyner, who was born in Atlanta, was entering his 15th year in the bigs and had already been relegated to platoon/bench work prior to the trade. Still, he was a solid veteran bat off the bench and a good backup in case Galarraga struggled in his comeback. Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras, though…they were supposed to give the Braves a better and more dynamic offense. Otis Nixon had led the Braves in steals with 26 in 1999 and Atlanta did finish sixth in steals, but expected to be even better with high on-base guys like Veras (.371 career OBP) and Sanders (.356 career OBP). Veras would give the Braves a stellar leadoff guy while Sanders was coming off a .285/.376/.527 slash with the Padres that included 26 HR and 36 steals. Veras replaced Boone and looked like he would be an improvement while Sanders would step in to replace the surprising Gerald Williams.
This trade looked like a slamdunk smart one for John Schuerholz. And then the 2000 season began. To his credit, Veras was very good right up until the point he got hurt. He had a .413 OBP through 84 games with 25 steals and was half of an impressive duo with the surprise rookie and totally not 19 year-old Rafael Furcal. The dropoff to Keith Lockhart was significant after Veras went down. Veras would suffer a similar fate the following year, though his numbers also took a hit. His Braves career, and his overall MLB career, was over.
Sanders fell on his face as badly as Boone had the previous year. He did steal 21 bases, but only on-based .302 over 103 games. With his struggles, the Braves made a move to acquire B.J. Surhoff. Sanders would be gone the next winter. Joyner did his job, but ultimately played a very little role because Galarraga played in 141 games.
Meanwhile, Boone still kind of stunk, but Klesko blew up and over the next five years, he slashed .284/.384/.504 with 115 HR and a pair of surprising 20-steal seasons. He stole 26 bases over 6 years with the Braves. He struggled to stay healthy, but showed he had the ability to play everyday and as the Braves went from Rico Brogna to Wes Helms to Ken Caminiti before ultimately falling on Julio Franco in 2001, Atlanta fans were left to wonder what would have happened had they kept Klesko. Course…without Klesko, there’s probably no amazing Julio Franco story.
With that in mind, great trade. Sort of.
Oh, and Shiell? 24 games in the majors with 3 different teams, including the Braves six years after this trade. 6.92 ERA.