When the Atlanta Braves acquired Cahill right before the 2015 season, it was with the idea that he would bring depth to a rotation that also, sadly enough, included Eric Stults. However, this trade’s real value came in a separate, but connected trade. We wouldn’t know about that until a couple of days later.
We’ll circle back to that trade soon. First, let’s go over the guy the Braves acquired. Cahill was plucked out of a California high school by the A’s back in the 2006 draft. He quickly climbed to the majors shortly after his 21st birthday. In his second year with the A’s, Cahill finished with a 2.97 ERA. He was also an All-Star. At the time, sabermetric believers voiced concern. He carried a 4.19 FIP in 2010 because of a poor strikeout rate. Such concerns seemed valid the next year when the hits started to find holes and his ERA climbed to 4.16.
But scouts liked Cahill’s mound presence and felt his control was better than he had shown over his first three seasons – which was still decent enough. He was a horse on the mound and, if scouts were right, someone you could build around. Cahill lived off weak grounders and the belief was if you give him a strong infield defense, he’ll give you 200 quality innings. It was these reports – and his strong second season – that prompted Billy Beane to hand Cahill a contract extension shortly after his third season began. The extension bought out his remaining arbitration years and one free agency season for $30 million.
It was Beane’s commitment that made what happened after 2011 a bit strange. Before the four-year extension was due to begin, Beane traded Cahill, along with Craig Breslow, to the Diamondbacks for Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, and Jarrod Parker. Beane had, in effect, negotiated a contract extension for Arizona. The Diamondbacks’ scouts, like their counterparts with the A’s, felt Cahill had potential that could be unlocked. After one season, they looked right. In his first year with Arizona, Cahill’s K-rate jumped to a career-high 18.6%. He was finally close to a 10% K-to-BB ratio. His FIP dipped to 3.85. For the first time, he reached two-wins in Fangraphs’ version of WAR.
Injuries and a decline in his strikeout rate limited Cahill in 2013. To make matters worse, Cahill bottomed out the following season. His strikeout rate climbed – largely as a result of more bullpen action as his ERA ballooned. His control was spotty, his sinker wasn’t well-located, and he finished the year with a 5.61 ERA. Dave Stewart, who didn’t make the trade with Beane, shopped Cahill after the season. Nobody took the bait.
Cahill would fail to impress the Diamondbacks the next spring, losing out to Chase Anderson and Archie Bradley at the bottom of the Arizona rotation. Again, Stewart shopped his sinkerballing right-hander. This time, he found an interested party. John Coppolella was putting together a bottom of the rotation with spare parts to support Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Shelby Miller. He signed Eric Stults and Wandy Rodriguez, who competed against Mike Foltynewicz, Manny Banuelos, Cody Martin, and James Russell. Folty faltered in camp and as did Banuelos. The Braves kept Martin as a reliever while cutting Russell. There was hope Mike Minor would eventually help as well, which ultimately didn’t happen.
Cahill was another project and the Braves got $6.5M from the D’Backs that helped to pay for the righty’s $12M salary in the final year of his contract. Josh Elander, who was sent to Arizona, had made some noise in 2013 between Rome and Lynchburg. In his first full professional season, he posted a .828 OPS. A catcher when the Braves drafted him, Elander had moved to the outfield in his breakout season and looked like a possible find. He struggled with Lynchburg the following year, spending most of the season on the DL and hitting .219 when he was in the lineup.
But the Braves still balked at the $5.5M they would have to pay for Cahill. More would have to be given and that happened a couple of days later. Because competitive balance draft choices can only be traded during the season – and the Braves would only make the trade with one included – a connected but separate deal was agreed upon between Stewart and Coppy. In that deal, the Braves traded Victor Reyes to the Diamondbacks for the 75th overall selection.
In essence, the actual trade was outfielders Josh Elander and Victor Reyes of the Braves for Arizona righty Trevor Cahill, $6.5 million, and the 75th overall selection of the 2015 draft.
How did the deal turn out? Well, Elander was released after just 14 games and hasn’t played affiliated ball since. Reyes spent three seasons with the Diamondbacks as a .750ish OPS guy, playing as high as Jackson in the Southern League. He was selected in the Rule 5 draft last winter and recently made his major league debut with the Tigers. Cahill lasted a month longer than Elander but was terrible with the Braves over 26.1 innings. He appeared 15 times, including three starts, before being designated for assignment.
Cahill has since had some success as a reliever, most notably with the Cubs in 2016. He’s currently back with the A’s, where he will open the season in Triple-A before joining Oakland in mid-April.
That leaves one last part of this trade – the draft choice. It would be used on a hurt left-hander from Texas A&M University – Alex Jordan Minter. You know him better as A.J. I’d say that the deal has worked out pretty good for Atlanta after all.