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May 24, 2008
Can Of Corn
Mock Blockbuster, Part II
What follows is the latest installment of the Mock Blockbuster. As previously explained, I'm proposing a trade of the blockbuster variety, one that, from my perspective, makes sense for all teams involved. In terms of tenability, it depends: these are deals that may or may not have a chance of happening in the demonstrably more complicated world of reality. The deals I'm suggesting strike me as helpful and inspiring for all. So, serious prescriptive or idle daydreaming? A little helping of both, please.
Why It Makes Sense for Atlanta
Following a four-game sweep of the hated Mets, it's high cotton for optimism in Atlanta. At this writing, the Braves are 1.5 games behind the Marlins in the NL East and only a game behind the Cardinals in the wild-card chase. The news is even better according to third-order standings: a semi-comfortable lead in the division. Still, the Braves have flaws--perhaps of the fatal variety. Those flaws need to be addressed if they're to fend off the Marlins, Mets, and Phillies and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
First, there's the rotation. Tim Hudson and Jair Jurrjens have been excellent thus far, and Tom Glavine sports a respectable 4.17 park-adjusted RA. After that, though, the Braves have problems. John Smoltz probably won't come off the disabled list until next month, and even when he does he's almost certainly bound for the bullpen. Elsewhere in the rotation, you've got Chuck James, who's somehow managed a VORP of -6.1 in just 23.0 innings of work. He needs to go. And that brings us to Maddux.
Maddux quite obviously isn't the über-ace of yore, but he's still a reliable innings guy who should be good for league-average run prevention, or thereabouts. For a team with serious issues at the back end, that's quite valuable. Maddux these days has his typically exceptional control, but he's allowing a lot of balls in play. Fortunately, the Braves this season rank second in the NL in Defensive Efficiency, so they're equipped to turn those batted balls into outs. Some might object to Maddux's numbers away from Petco this season (5.60 RA), but keep in mind that's over a span of just 35 1/3 innings, and that his road BABIP of .359 suggests some degree of bad luck.
Anyhow, this deal would give the Braves a front four of Hudson, Jurrjens, Glavine, and Maddux, and they could dig up fifth-spot innings from some mix of Jo-Jo Reyes and Jeff Bennett; if Mike Hampton ever convalesces, then so much the better. So it's a fit, and that's to say nothing of the customer-relations boost of having Maddux once again in Braves garb and alongside Glavine and Smoltz. Another benefit: Nabbing Maddux keeps him out of the hands of the Mets and Phillies, who both might angle for starting pitching at the non-waiver trade deadline.
That brings us to Giles. In right, Giles' natural position, the Braves of course have Jeff Francoeur. Francoeur's struggling badly this season, but he's fairly entrenched. Over in left field, however, things are much more fluid. Atlanta left fielders this season have combined to "hit" .242/.305/.303, while the average NL left fielder has authored a batting line of .265/.342/.435. Mostly, that production deficit is the fault of Matt Diaz, who's far and away been the least-productive Braves regular this season. For Giles, making the shift from right to left isn't onerous in the least, and he'd provide a mammoth upgrade over Diaz at the plate. According to VORP, Giles has been the fifth-most productive right fielder in all of baseball this season, and since Petco came online in 2004 he's got a cumulative batting line of .298/.399/.477 away from the game's most extreme pitcher's environment. Play him every day in left or platoon him with Diaz, either way Giles notably improves the Atlanta offense.
As for giving up Schafer, it's a cost, but the Braves are prepared to absorb it. Schafer remains a five-star prospect, but his value has been diminished somewhat because of his suspension for HGH use. He's a sacrifice, to be sure, but with Jason Heyward, Brandon Jones, and Gorkys Hernandez still in the fold, they have plenty of outfield talent in the system.
More to the point, acquiring Maddux and Giles makes them the team to beat in the NL East.
Why It Makes Sense for San Diego
While the 2007 Padres are still waiting for Matt Holliday to touch home plate, the 2008 Padres are waiting to find out where the bottom is. At present, they're in last-place in the not-particularly-strong NL West, and the PECOTA-Adjusted Playoff Odds Report gives them just a 2.1 percent chance of being part of the post-season fray. Those facts plus a generally aging roster mean that it's time to rebuild.
The Pads have a couple of genuinely fine prospects on the way in Chase Headley and Matt Antonelli, but they could still use a talent like Schafer. He's got power and speed, he hits for average, and--just as valuable for the Padres' purposes--he's got the defensive chops to excel as a center fielder in the spacious Petco outfield. Schafer, Headley, and Antonelli make for a nifty troika going forward and an exceptional young core around which to build. Throw in a high draft pick in 2009, and you've got a genuine rebuilding effort.
The Case Against
The Braves decide parting with their top prospect in the service of a 2008 playoff run is a bit too Faustian for their tastes. On the Padres' end of the things, there may be the belief that they can get more by dealing closer to July 31. Otherwise, Atlanta must persuade Maddux to waive his no-trade clause, which they should be able to do by offering him a contract extension through 2009. As for Giles, if the Braves are among the eight teams he can block, then they'd need to pick up his $9 million option for 2009 in order to gain his approval.