Some Thoughts on Jaime Garcia and Sonny Gray

Some Thoughts on Jaime Garcia and Sonny Gray

Yesterday the Braves traded Jaime Garcia to the Minnesota
Twins in the most expected deal in human history. Atlanta and Minnesota had
been talking seriously for at least four days now and Atlanta was so sure
something was going to happen, they significantly altered Aaron Blair’s
schedule this week so he could take Garcia’s spot in the rotation if he was
dealt. Well yesterday afternoon they finally completed the deal, and while the
trade itself wasn’t any surprise, the return the Braves got might have been.

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For Garcia and AAA C Anthony Recker, Atlanta got 19-year-old
RHP Huascar Ynoa and some cash to offset some of Recker’s salary. Ynoa does
have some potential with some pedigree and a 3-pitch mix but he’s in his 3rd
year in rookie ball and still struggling to get his career going. Reasonable
people can disagree on how good he is or will be but one thing for sure is
rookie ball pitchers with bad numbers and some upside aren’t hard to find and
aren’t that much harder to acquire. Every organization has a handful and their
likelihood of even reaching the majors is so small that most teams are fine
using them in trades.
But in addition to Ynoa, Minnesota gave Atlanta something
else. They gave them the gift of not having to pay Jaime Garcia for the rest of
the year, which in turn saved the Braves around $4.7M off this years payroll.
This was the real point of this trade. Braves wanted some flexibility. As the
news of the trade was leaking out yesterday and everyone was trying to figure
out why Atlanta just basically gave away a decent MLB starter for nothing, Mark
Bowman, Braves beat writer for MLB.com, sent out a couple of tweets:

So, this is interesting on a few levels. 1.) Salary dumping
Garcia so you can get a controllable SP means you’re pretty serious about
getting that second move done. 2.) The fact that they cleared two 40-man roster
spots in the deal makes it seem like they might already have a specific second
or third deal in mind. 3.) The fact that they made this move a full week before
the trade deadline means they clearly wanted time to get other deals done after
he was moved. Now to be fair, Garcia has a medical history longer than a CVS
receipt so moving him before he threw another pitch was probably smart but this
still feels more like the first move than the last move.
The last interesting part of those tweets was the specific
name Bowman brought up: Sonny Gray. That isn’t terribly surprising since Atlanta
has been rumored to controllable front-line starters for the last year and half now.
When Jose Quintana got traded in June, there were reputable reports out there
that Atlanta’s offer was only beat out by the Cubs. And since the Tampa Bay
Rays have played well enough to keep Chris Archer’s name out of trade talks, it
makes sense that the Braves are focusing on acquiring Gray.
But should they be?
Is Gray really the right piece for them?
To truthfully answer that question, we’re going to have to
make a couple assumptions. One, we have to assume Oakland will be asking for a
similar package for Gray that the White Sox asked for Quintana. This isn’t too
much of a leap when you consider Gray is really the only front-line,
controllable guy currently on the market, assuming Detroit doesn’t move MichaelFulmer. So the price for one should similar to the price the other. You could
even make the argument Gray should cost more since he’s the last one on the
market. The drop off after him is substantial enough to increase his value but
there’s also a bit of talent difference between him and Quintana so I’m fine
canceling those things out.
The second assumption we have to make is, if they acquire
Gray, it’s the only substantial move they’ll make. Now this assumption is more
out of necessity than accuracy. There’s hundreds of potential second and third
moves they could make after they acquired Gray as there simply no way to
account for them all or consider them for this exercise. Just too many
variables.
With our first assumption, we can reasonably guess that any
package for Gray will have to include either Ronald Acuna or Ozzie Albies. The Quintana
trade included Eloy Jimenez who was one of the very best prospects in all of
baseball, usually coming in somewhere in the top 20 depending on whose list you
looked at. The only two guys Atlanta has in that range are Acuna and Albies so that
seems like reasonable place to start. There was a report out today that Oakland is looking at CF prospects in their return which opens up the possibility of Christian Pache but I won’t believe the A’s would actually take him as the headliner until I see it. He’s just not that level of prospect. Now I’m fairly certain the Braves aren’t
moving Acuna for anyone so really, we can make it even simpler. If Atlanta
wants Gray, it’s going to cost them Ozzie Albies and then some stuff.
When I wrote my “Should the Braves trade Ozzie Albies” piece
a few weeks ago, I made the point that any number of players in baseball would
be worth trading Albies for in terms of talent. Gray is probably one. He’s a
really good pitcher whose numbers would probably be even better in the NL
getting to face a pitcher multiple ABs every game instead of a DH. But as I
also pointed out in that piece that talent isn’t the only factor to be considered
here. There’s another big factor: timing.
Gray has two more arbitration years left on his service time
which means, after 2017, he has two more years of team control before becoming
a free agent. This is where the rub lies. To justify the likely cost it would
take to acquire him, the Braves would need to be ready to compete for a World
Series in both 2018 and 2019. And quite simply they aren’t ready for that. More
likely scenario is Atlanta gets to 82 or so wins in 2018 and then starts really
competing in 2019. But by that time Sonny Gray is about to walk out the door
and Ozzie Albies is entering his prime with 4 or so years left of team control.
This is why timing is equally important to talent in trades.

I fully support Atlanta’s effort to gain a controllable ace
for their future but the definition of controllable should begin at 4 years of
team control or better. That’s the only way they match up that talent with
their timeline. This means I wouldn’t trade Albies or any of our top prospects for a guy who had less than 4 years of team control left. That gives Atlanta the best chance to actually be contending for titles when these acquired players are still wearing their uniform.


To be clear, Sonny Gray is worth a top prospect in talent. But
he isn’t worth a top prospect in timing. At least not for the Braves. Not yet.

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