TOT – Braves Deal Torre, Acquire Cepeda

TOT – Braves Deal Torre, Acquire Cepeda

Transaction of Today…March 17, 1969 – The Atlanta Braves traded Joe Torre to the St. Louis Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda.

Just a few weeks before the 1969 season kicked off, the Braves acquired a former MVP. Unfortunately, it cost them a future MVP.

Joe Torre appeared for the Braves first in 1960 before becoming the runner-up for the 1961 Rookie of the Year. Slowly, but surely, he grew into a power-hitting catcher. He hammered 20 home runs in 1964 and in 1966, the franchise’s first season in Atlanta, he bashed 36 home runs. However, over the next two seasons, his numbers declined. In 1967, he hit just 20 homers with a .790 OPS. Injuries limited him to 115 games the following season and when he did play, he didn’t look like the old Torre. Never a defensive wonder behind the plate, with his offense declining, Torre was a question mark.

At the same time, the Braves thought they had their next star catcher. A fourth-round pick in 1967, Bob Didier flashed a smooth glove behind the plate. Despite being just 20 years-old, Atlanta was pretty excited. Didier would soon pair with Phil Niekro to form a solid battery after Torre expressed disdain at handling Niekro’s knuckler. Didier’s bat, however, was fairly – well – dead. After starting 108 games in 1969, he started just 101 games over the next three seasons – almost entirely with Niekro.

As the Braves tried to decide what to do with Torre, they also sought some offense to help out Hank Aaron and Felipe Alou. Only three teams in the NL scored fewer runs in 1968 than the Braves. If Torre couldn’t deliver bigger numbers, maybe someone else would.

Atlanta was preparing to welcome back Rico Carty, which helped. Adding a player like Orlando Cepeda seemed like a perfect addition as well. Atlanta had enough pitching to stay competitive with Niekro, Ron Reed, Pat Jarvis, and George Stone. Cecil Upshaw would be stellar in 1969 to give the bullpen a boost. Adding Cepeda gave the Braves a little more thunder in their lineup. Two years before, the 1958 Rookie of the Year added a Most Valuable Player award, hitting .325/.399/.524.

While his teammate Bob Gibson was enjoying The Year of the Pitcher, Cepeda was one of the players who struggled greatly. In one year, his OPS slid from .923 to .685. Like the Braves with Torre, the Cardinals were concerned about Cepeda moving forward.

The trade wasn’t as simple as moving chairs on the deck to best fit the needs of each team, though. Paul Richards, then the VP of the Braves, was in the midst of a spat with Joe Torre. Here is a description from the Cardinals’ blog, On This Day in Cardinal Nation:

The wheels were in motion to move Torre out of the Braves several months before the deal was made. Torre had been in a verbal feud with the vice president of the Braves organization Paul Richards since the early part of that year. As an active member of the players association, Torre was fighting to improve the players pension plan.

You could imagine this did not go over well with those who had the money he was trying to help spend. As the feud escalated Torre refused to sign his contract with the Braves. He was demanding more money as well as an apology from Richards. They were at a point of irreconcilable differences, as Richards was quoted as to saying “Torre could hold out to Thanksgiving.” The Braves organization engaged in trade talks with the New York Mets for several months before realizing that they would not be able to get a deal done. Then came a conversation with Bing Devine. Four hours later, Torre was headed to St. Louis.

Joe Torre card from 1966After the trade, Cepeda would bounce back a little. He hit 22 homers, finishing second on the ’69 Braves behind Aaron in that category. However, he hit just .257/.325/.428 – a far cry from his MVP season just two years before. The Braves offense continued to struggle despite the return of Carty and performance by Cepeda, finishing fifth in the NL in runs scored. Alou’s bat disappearing was a big reason for that finish. But the Braves still won the newly formed NL West and played the New York Mets in the NLCS. Atlanta lost in four straight by a deficit of at least three runs each time. You couldn’t blame Cepeda, who went 5-for-11 with two doubles and a homer.

Cepeda would explode the following year, slashing .305/.365/.543 with 34 home runs. Atlanta fell to fifth place, though. The three-headed monster of Aaron/Carty/Cepeda continued to hit well, but the Braves failed to surround the trio with much support. Even if they had, the pitching staff fell to ninth of 12 NL teams in ERA. With the Braves slumping, Cepeda’s “good knee” wasn’t so good anymore and he went home in September after having surgery.

With his knees shot, Cepeda would play in just 71 games in 1971. The following year, he tried to play through the pain for the Braves before being shipped off to Oakland for Denny McLain. Also, a former MVP, McLain was likewise struggling to regain his former form. Both Cepeda and McLain barely played for their new clubs. The latter was cut the next March before the season began. While 1972 would be the end of McLain’s career, Cepeda briefly found life after the AL adopted the DH.

Meanwhile, Torre spent most of his Cardinals career at first base and third base. He also re-found his stroke. He OPS’d .808 in 1969 before following that up with a .325/.398/.498 season in 1970. The next year, he took home the MVP after winning a batting title and hitting .363/.421/.555. After a trio of good seasons followed, Torre finished up his career with three seasons in Flushing with the Mets. Surprisingly, he would never play a postseason game.

In the short-term, Atlanta benefited from this trade. Cepeda helped them win a division. Torre would prove to be a better and durable player versus where Cepeda was at that point in his career, though. Of course, Torre would later find fame as a manager with the Mets, Braves, Cardinals, and Dodgers. It was his team at the helm of the Yankees, however, that would get Torre into the Hall of Fame. In addition, for the Braves, it took another decade to find a player who brought some stability behind the plate for the team like Torre did. Moral of the story: maybe not deal a franchise catcher because you don’t like his opinions on labor relations.

More TOTs

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and…TOT – Milwaukee Braves Go Big to Get O’Connell

11 Comments

Tommy…I know this is off topic, but The Braves have TWO Spring Training games that are BOTH being shown on tv via The MLB Package (most of the games have been only broadcast via radio so far this spring).

Ronald Acuna just hit another monster homer today! If this was a realistic playoff season for The Braves (which it SHOULD NOT be..because of the number of reasons I’ve posted prior)..then not having Acuna make The Opening Day Roster…would be a shame! If Acuna stayed healthy….he could put up some MONSTER/HISTORIC numbers (especially if Snitker had Acuna hit NUMBER TWO all season long, in between Albies and Freeman)!

Also of note…Lucas Sims is pitching today against The Phillies. To put into perspective how AMAZING/FANTASTIC a job that Coppy did…..Lucas Sims was considered THE NUMBER ONE PROSPECT for The Braves when Coppy took over at the end of The 2014 Season!

I know that they’ll NEVER do it…but I really wish that SOMEHOW, The Braves could (however way they could get away with it) slide Coppy something like $2 mil a year (under the table) JUST to secretly run our June Drafts each year!

Tommy, if you could, I’d love to see you do a comparison of The 2015-2017 Braves Drafts under Coppy…VS…..the 2012-2014 Drafts that Frank Wren oversaw! How many of Wren’s picks made The Majors, what are their stats, etc…vs. Coppy’s picks. What Wren has going for him…is that both Acuna and Albies were signed under his regime.

However, given that Acuna only signed for $100k while Albies signed for $300k (during a time where Latin players had NO RESTRICTIONS on the amount a team could sign them for)…both WERE NOT ‘highly regarded’ by any team in MLB (just like most teams, The Braves signed Albies and Acuna as ‘lottery ticket type players’ (in retrospect…spending $100k-$300k on teen Latin players back then was not considered to be a ‘huge risk’ at all)! Regardless, history will shine ‘good’ on Wren for those signings…because we live in a RESULTS ORIENTED World. Albies and Acuna BOTH could very well be YEARLY All-Stars for the next 10-15 years!

Enough CANNOT be said for Coppy’s 2015-2017 Drafts. I just hope that AA talked to those left over who werent fired after Coppy left…and tried to pick their brains when it comes to Coppy’s ‘thought process/motivations/insights’ when it comes to drafting players! However, given that AA has totally IGNORED mentioning Coppy by name (in several interviews, AA’s given John ‘I’d rather play golf/hang with my pals John S. and other old White guys hanging around the game based on past glory…and let Coppy do the actual WORK when it comes to The Draft/making trades’ Hart…THE CREDIT for the accumulation of talent in The Braves System! UNREAL!) since he’s been hired….shows that AA will probably let PRIDE get in the way of having any appearances of it ‘looking it’ that he’s incorporating any of Coppy’s ‘insights’ when it comes to drafting strategy/selection methods! In other words, AA will probably do what most other teams do: Draft ‘normally’ (picking ‘the consensus’ best player on the board..which normally is what the so called ‘experts’ have labeled as being ‘the best players’).

I dont remember AA as being the best drafter in the world during his time in Toronto. For The Braves to be anything more than having a window of 5-7 years….it is ESSENTIAL that AA NAILS making picks in The Draft! This whole ‘uh, you need to draft high in every Draft in order to CONTINUING BUILDING your System’..is NONSENSE! The Braves already are LOADED with MILB talent in the upper levels of The System! All AA has to do..is make smart, quality picks that DO NOT need to be RUSHED through The System! A team can make GOOD PICKS near the end of The 1st round..as well as in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of The Draft! Nail those picks….and The Braves will be positioned to sustain their MLB success 10-15 years down the road! While AA wont be able to spend any money of significance in Latin America for the next 4 years….he’ll still be able to find ‘diamonds in the rough’ low signing Latin Players that others overlook (how many 16 year olds end up with an unexpected GROWTH SPURT and look different by the time they are 18-20 years old?). Also, given the plethora of pre-arbitration players on The MLB Roster the next few years…AA will have PLENTY of money to go after Free Agent help!

While Newcomb has looked ‘impressive’ this Spring….he needed 62 pitches to get through a scoreless 3rd inning so far. If Newcomb is going to be a type of pitcher that The Braves can count on LONG TERM…he HAS to get that pitch count DOWN! The Brave Bullpen will be at risk of getting overworked…if they have to be used every time Newcomb pitches for at least 4 innings every time Newcomb starts!

Well, I don’t know if I want to sit down and look at Wren’s drafts. But it’s worth pointing out that under Wren, the Braves diverted money away from the draft and international market and toward the major league product. I’ve also heard some rumblings that Wren also wanted to rebuild, but wasn’t given that option by Schuerholz and McGuirk, who wanted the Braves to return to glory under Schuerholz’s hand-picked successor. Regardless, Wren’s drafts were about safety over unknowns, which certainly is a waste of how to utilize the draft – especially early on. His team focused on maximizing lower draft spots through guys more likely to be ready soon – Hursh, Gilmartin. The problem was the ceilings of most of these picks were incredibly low and for guys like Davidson, who did have a higher ceiling, his profile was questionable. There’s no question Coppy was better than Wren with the draft – though again their approaches were different by design.

I wouldn’t bag on Newcomb’s pitches today, by the way. His defense has really hurt him.

Right. In the first four innings, Newcomb issued only one walk while pitching around 5 hits and two Schimpfy errors. Newcomb has been stellar this spring.

Roger…you forgot to mention the 2 walks in the 5th that Newcomb gave up (one erased by a double play..the other came around to score after Shane ‘I SUCK BECAUSE I THROW NOTHING BUT WILD PITCHES’ Carle allowed a runner to come home from 1st on two wild pitches IN THE SAME AT-BAT without the hitter putting wood on the ball).

Then Snitker leaves Carle in to BUNT with already one out in the bottom of the 5 inning with a runner on 1st. Carle SUCKS! I see NO REASON to keep trotting him out there to pitch!

I know it’s only Spring Training…but with only 12 days before Opening Day against The Phillies….The Braves should be throwing guys out there who have A DECENT CHANCE of making The Opening Day Roster (plus..I’m PISSED that on one of THE FEW televised Braves games I’ve been able to see all Spring….Snitker is trotting out BUMS like Carle to pitch. Even on the so called ‘FoxSportsSouth’ telecasts….it’s THE CARDINALS HOME ANNOUNCERS who are broadcasting the games! It’s been like that for the other 2 Braves games that have been broadcast on mlb.com that has The Braves ‘home’ tv broadcast option (most of The Braves games have been only available on radio on mlb.tv).

Roger…remember, these teams ARE NOT trotting out their FULL MLB hitting lineups! Wait until The Regular Season opens..before hoping on The Sean Newcomb ‘I hope I dont consistently need 100 pitches to get through the 5th inning each and every start’. That wears on a bullpen throughout the season! That’s why I cant wait until Soroka comes up! Dude will show you how to get into the 7th inning every time out WITHOUT nibbling around!

I dunno. I don’t think you can properly evaluate this trade without looking at how bad the Braves 1B situation was in 1968 with Deron Johnson. And that they had lost Rico for a whole year in 1968. Sometimes you just make the wrong decisions. The decision to deal Mack Jones for Deron Johnson was a primary domino that resulted in trading Torre for Cha Cha. Ralph Garr was still two years away from taking over CF. Also, Clete Boyer collapsed in 1968. Maybe they could have traded Torre for a better 3B if Jones was still manning CF and Felipe had 1B. Even with Alou’s collapse in 1969, he would not have been worse than Johnson. Also, whose defense was worse – Torre’s or Cepeda’s? Whose errors caused 5 unearned runs in Game 1 of the 69 NLCS? Niekro gave up fewer earned runs than Seaver. Don’t tell me the Braves weren’t competitive. If the Braves’ up-and-comers had arrived by 69 instead of 71 (think Garr, Evans, Baker), they would have been the better team. The Braves might have won Game 3 of the NLCS if it weren’t for some unknown rookie bit player named Ryan who pitched 7 innings in relief.

Certainly, there were more variables than I went over. I think the Braves lost the deal, but it’s not a big loss. Joe Torre went on to have a fine half-decade whereas Cepada, who already had knee issues, collapsed after two seasons. But considering how little help Aaron had in 1969, Cepeda’s production was needed for Atlanta to get as far as they did. Definitely, a mistake not to mention Cepada’s error in Game 1 of the NLCS, though Niekro was getting hit hard-and-often in that game. Certainly, if Cepada catches the ball for the second out of the 8th, that would have helped. It was Tony Gonzalez’s error, though, that was the big killer of that frame and giving up the single to a backup catcher who hit .209 that season also didn’t help. Cepeda’s error in Game 2 also hurt. As for whose defense was worse, I don’t think it really matters. Torre played a much more important position.

Either way, thanks for your comment.

The Braves made an awful lot of questionable decisions and bad moves that led to more bad moves for 20-25 years until Bobby Cox and co. stopped the bleeding at the end of the 80s.

Yes, the Braves made A LOT of bad decisions leading up to the disaster years, but the Cepeda and Jones/Deron Johnson trades are understandable. The worst factor was the way the Braves treated Torre because of his work with the union; they abused him so much in the press that he could never have played in Atlanta again. I was surprised that they got as much as Cepeda for him because other teams thought the trade price would be cheaper. Cepeda played hard, aggravated his knee, and it was difficult to watch him (and Rico Carty) try to play defense. On one Game of the Week, a ball fell between Orlando and Rico in right field and the announcer described the hit as resuting from the Braves “using two players who have only two good knees between them.” Deron Johnson WAS a terrible disappointment, but he had a hamstring injury, a groin injury, re-injured the groin playing too soon, and wasn’t really ever in shape to play that season. He hit very well both before and after his lone Atlanta season. The real mistake was selling him to the Phillies after the season ended.

I think you overrate Deron Johnson. Of course, advanced analytics were not available at the time but he would have been that era’s “Matt Kemp” – a great hitter if not injured and terrible on defense. If you look at how analytics rate him, the only job he should have had was DH (which didn’t exist at the time. Either Alou or Cepeda were better defenders at 1B. Only in his very best hitting years did he have a positive WAR according to Baseball Reference (unfortunately a couple of those years were with the Phillies…..). Mack Jones exceeded Johnson in OPS+ in every year he played. Jones/Alou at CF/1B would always be better than either Alou/Johnson or Alou/Cepeda at that stage in all their careers. It’d have been nice if they could’ve gotten a decent pitcher for Torre. Or maybe Ted Simmons…. LOL

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