For several months, former Braves general manager John Coppolella was enamored with the idea of acquiring Jose Quintana. in his first full season, Quintana had a 3.5 fWAR. The following years, he only improved. The new White Sox ace was a durable and effective left-hander who was controlled through the 2020 season. And the price tag was pretty affordable. The team acquiring him, if before the 2017 season, would be on the hook for about $37M. That is less than an average annual salary of $10 million.
We like Quintana, but it’s not Sale. It’s controlled and it’s left-handed and it’s young and it’s athletic. It certainly would be good for us. But where does he fit in the scheme of things?” – John Hart, Dec. 2016
The Braves under Coppy were searching for a young ace to supplement what was likely to be a very inexperienced pitching staff over the next few years. As with Chris Sale and Chris Archer, the interest for Quintana seemed to go beyond “fit.” There were rumors of talks. There may have been formal offers exchanged. The White Sox continued to press for more – possibly Ronald Acuña Jr. The Braves wondered if they could acquire Quintana without giving up Acuña Jr. Perhaps, the White Sox would take the young infielder, Ozzie Albies, instead.
It seems ridiculous to even suggest such a trade now, but before Quintana’s trade to the Cubs last July, it was Albies who was the focal point of potential discussions according to several reports. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the Braves tried to squash those rumors. John Hart told the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, “At this point, we’re probably likely not going to move these guys.” When he said “those guys,” he was referring to prospects. Instead, Atlanta seemed – publicly – to focus on buying a year for their young arms with one-year fill-ins like Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia.
But the rumors persisted. As the weather warmed up, Albies was also on fire. From May 8 to the end of June last year, Albies slashed .304/.360/.481 with 17 extra-base knocks, including a handful of home runs. Adjustments to his left-handed swing, with the aid of Chipper Jones, had unlocked power potential. He was on the rise and as was his trade value. If that wasn’t enough, Albies had also swiped ten bases in eleven tries. With the trade deadline coming up and the Braves still interested in Quintana, would Albies’ improvement be enough? Would Coppy finally get his guy?
Atlanta, of course, didn’t end up with Quintana. A few weeks into July, Quintana was traded across town to the Cubs. It was the Cubs’ who were willing to give up their mega outfield prospect in Eloy Jimenez along with three other prospects highlighted by a very solid arm in Dylan Cease. For the Braves, it would have been like giving up Acuña Jr., Ian Anderson, and one or two more B prospects. Atlanta wasn’t going to go that big for Quintana. But their interest was very real according to Jeff Passan. Their offer to the White Sox allegedly included Albies.
Were the Braves willing to trade Albies? It’s quite possible. One of John Coppolella’s downfalls as a general manager was his tunnel-like focus on players he felt could fill a big role for the Braves. Hector Olivera cost the Braves Alex Wood and prompted the trade that now includes nearly $40M in dead salary after Atlanta tried to save face by acquiring Matt Kemp. All because Coppy was convinced Olivera would be the team’s third baseman for the next ten years. Would the aggressive GM lose his nerve in his quest to find an ace? It’s certainly a possibility.
Whether he did or did not include Albies, the Braves’ decision to take Acuna Jr. off the table – and Albies not being the best fit for the White Sox – has worked out well for Atlanta. Not only do they have the best prospect in baseball, but they have a second baseman who could make a run at a 4+ fWAR season at the age of 21. Today, for the first time, Albies will face the guy he could have been traded for. Sometimes, the best trades are the ones that don’t happen.