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ATLANTA BRAVES
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Acquired LHP Jaime Garcia from St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for RHP Chris Ellis, RHP John Gant, and 2B-R Luke Dykstra. [12/1]

The Braves didn’t give up anyone they’ll miss in this deal. That’s the only positive thing there is to say.

From the beginning, the Braves’ rebuild–embarked upon unnecessarily, because ownership was tired of spending money and saw an opportunity to avoid doing so until the opening of their new, ill-gotten boondoggle of a suburban ballpark could be constructed (at taxpayers’ cost)–has been a ham-fisted operation handled by people whose ideas about how to undertake such a project can most charitably be described as old-fashioned.

Now the team is ready to move into their new home, away from the unmoneyed and unwashed masses of the city, and they seem determined to turn the corner sharply toward contention. Their plan for doing so appears more half-baked with each passing transaction, and this one is no exception.

The Cardinals picked up Garcia’s $12 million option, but why they did so was never clear. Garcia started 20 games in 2015, which marked the first time he’d started even 10 games since 2012. He pitched nearly 130 innings, and had a stellar 2.43 ERA, but that was driven largely by the ability to totally prevent power. Then he started 30 games in 2016, which is the good news. The bad news is that he gave up 67 extra-base hits and collapsed down the stretch.

The Cardinals protected Garcia’s arm throughout 2015 (although even then, he missed roughly five weeks with a groin issue) by giving him extra rest between most starts. He started on four days’ rest just eight times, and only did so twice in a row once, in September. In 2016, he started on regular rest twice in a row by May 1, and did so three times in a row from May 22 through June 1. From there through the end of the season, Garcia allowed a slash line of .292/.349/.532, and had a 5.38 ERA.

Over the final six weeks, that ERA topped 7.00, and he allowed a slugging percentage on the wrong side of 1.000. His only good outing out of his final nine was a four-inning stint of mop-up relief in Colorado in mid-September, when the Cardinals yanked him from their rotation. Through it all, Garcia threw harder than ever. Velocity was never what made him good, though. His slider lost its bite, and became more of a sweeping, slurvy offering. He lost some of the natural sink on his fastball.

He remains very good at getting ground balls, but made way too many mistakes up in the zone in 2016. Perhaps a mechanical correction or one of the battery of mid-career changes pitchers sometimes make could eliminate those mistakes moving forward, but a $12 million bet on that happening felt like a strange choice by St. Louis, given that Garcia would have to not only improve, but defy his track record by staying healthy in the face of a full season’s workload.

Now, though, the Cardinals are out from under their obligation. The Braves took it on, for reasons surpassing understanding—unless, of course, you’ve been watching this team do business since it declared competitive bankruptcy two years ago. The Braves systematically and dramatically overvalue pitching, and moreover, misunderstand the way to build a winning team from the ground up in the modern game. They’ve been stockpiling pitching prospects as fast as they could gather them up for the entirety of this rebuilding project.

Jason Heyward brought back two pitchers, one of whom (Shelby Miller) the team was able to spin into gold because Ken Kendrick and Derrick Hall gave an unqualified former player the keys to their franchise. Evan Gattis brought back three players, two of them pitchers, one of them (Mike Foltynewicz) good. Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel did net the team Mallex Smith and Jace Peterson, but they were much more focused on reeling in Matt Wisler (45 starts in the big leagues since, -1.9 WARP) and Max Fried (a below-average starter in the South Atlantic League last year, at 22). Andrelton Simmons brought back Sean Newcomb (still very promising, though fighting fringy command) and Chris Ellis, the latter of whom goes to St. Louis in this deal. They’ve spent their top two picks in each of the last two drafts on pitchers.

This is not how you do it. To whatever extent the Braves have signed the likes of Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey, and now have traded for Garcia, out of a belief that they can contend in 2017, they’re deeply deluded. Firstly, of those three, it’s very likely that only one will be any good in 2017. Secondly, the Braves around them are mostly going to be bad. Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, and Ender Inciarte are the beginnings of a good team, though they can’t be the true core of one on their own, and Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis figure to each provide exactly half a good season of offensive production (while wearing out Inciarte with all the ground they don’t cover in the gaps), but there’s half a contending lineup missing here.

Maybe they’re planning to make a play for Chris Sale and Todd Frazier. That would change the look of the team. It would also pretty quickly undo 25 months of prospect hoarding, and leave them right about where the Diamondbacks were last season—projected to win about 81 games and finish either third or fourth in a division where one team isn’t even trying. Oh, and with the combined $35 million or so the team will pay Dickey, Colon, and Garcia this season, it also probably isn’t a financial possibility.

To whatever extent this is a plan for getting through a season, perhaps setting up a firewall against the risks associated with overusing their younger arms, the trio of moves makes a little more sense. Even then, though, these aren’t the right moves with which to do that. Despite their admirable and peculiar durability, neither Colon nor Dickey is a good bet to go the entire season without needing a trip or two to the disabled list. Garcia is a downright bad bet to do so. There’s potential July trade value only in Garcia, and given his track record, even that value is questionable.

More importantly, all that money the Braves are throwing at these three could have bought them Justin Turner, who would fill a huge long-term hole at third base. It could have bought them Dexter Fowler, but for the fact that their outfield is clogged already with the aging, underwhelming Markakis and Kemp. Half as much could have bought them two lower-profile free agent starters, who despite their lower cost and longer list of flaws might have been more likely to turn into valuable trade commodities this summer.

It comes down to this: elite position players, especially those who can be controlled at below-market costs for multiple years, are the building blocks of success in MLB today. “Grow the arms, buy the rest,” goes the old expression. The old expression is wrong. The old expression is disastrously misguided. The Braves have dived headlong into the philosophy laid out by that old expression, and if its incorrectness needed further proving, here’s exhibit no. infinity: a rebuilding team (we think?) has now spent a quarter of its projected payroll buying up mid-tier veteran starting pitchers to protect its bumper crop of more promising arms, who last season spread their wings—and bumped nothing but their asses.

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majnun
12/03
This reads bizarrely angry. An a acquisition of Garcia is the time and place for a rant about a terrible stadium deal? I see it as filling a space in the rotation to appease fans but not hurt payroll in 2018. The options being floated around would have been disastrous. Archer sale or gray? That would have been delusionally thinking the Braves could be competitive in 2017, while sacrificing the #1 or 2 farm in baseball. Better to get older players with contracts that won't hurt 2018. The Braves could have filled those spots with AAA pitchers that weren't and won't be ready, but threw the fans a bone. The price of that is around 20 million. In an ideal world those assets could be flipped but I'm not holding my breath of course. This seems pretty harmless to me. I'd rather they pocket the 20 million or use it on higher upside arms but most important to me is not affecting next year's budget.
BBlackwell
12/03
The description of Max Fried was framed in such an obviously biased manner, it made me wonder if the entire write-up was some bad form of satire.
Muboshgu
12/04
Any time you're talking about what the Braves are doing and how they're spending money is an appropriate time to talk about their publicly financed stadium, especially since they set the move in of 2017 as their year to try to become competitive again.
Tom9418
12/05
Agree, this is terrible content. To suggest that the Braves could have "bought" Turner or Fowler instead of these three pitchers is misleading.
lmarighi
12/06
Can you explain more? I mean, given that both those players are free agents, they are available for money and money alone. Of course, they might not find Atlanta an attractive option, but maybe if they offered enough money?
gtgator
12/06
Well, on a first level, the Braves have spent the last two years acquiring draft picks, not throwing them away (which both Turner and Fowler would require since both rejected QO). So signing them ignores the MO of the team right now. Next, while Turner would be an upgrade at 3B, the Braves currently have a CF (who won a GG) and a 4th OF more than capable of playing CF. They are already (over?)paying for a LF and RF. To even state Fowler as an option ignores the current roster construction of this team. Finally, spending app. $35MM on the two would still mean the team needs two-three SP, which is what the GM clearly stated was the No. 1 priority for this off-season. So to suggest Turner/Fowler in lieu of the three SP ignores the GM's comments about what they wanted to do this winter. So, as other's have stated, no cogent thought went into this piece, which was obviously just intended to be an attack piece (for whatever reason). Now, if you're just trying to argue semantics over the term "bought" as it relates to FA, please note that it was the term used by the author (hence the quotes). The concept of acquiring those two in lieu of the three SP is "terrible content" and "misleading" for the three reasons I gave above (if not others).
Tom9418
12/08
Turner and Fowler will likely each sign for far more than what it will cost Atlanta to pay these three pitchers. That is what I meant.
Lagniappe
12/03
This is a crap write up. Doesn't BP have an editor anymore?
Tom9418
12/05
Agreed.
sam19041
12/03
How do you really feel? :)
BBlackwell
12/03
" In isolation, to the credit of John Hart and John Coppolella, most of those moves have been smart." - Matthew Trueblood, April, 2016.
Grasul
12/03
Weirdly arrogant write-up with unproven, even completely unexplored assumptions on the apparently only "correct" way to build a "modern" baseball team.
FredOwens
12/04
This whole write up is inaccurate. Mr. Trueblood is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts. This regurgitated bile ignores and skews and supports them with nothing more than and obviously uninformed and biased personal opinion. I'm not sure what generated this hatefest of partial truths and angry rhetoric. It seem that a few weeks of therapy would help him overcome the unchecked anger issues that so obviously infect his psyche. When writing about any team it's best to find someone who actually knows something about the team. Mr. Trueblood clearly does not.
gtgator
12/05
This author's disdain for the Braves has been evident over a series of articles in the last two years. He constantly criticizes moves with no objective evidence and only supposition. It has gotten to the point that I wonder if he's annoyed with the team's nickname or if he was denied a job or something since it has gotten beyond ridiculous. I am a Braves' fan. I come to this site for objective analysis. I don't live in some echo chamber where I expect all analysis to be rosy. But this author has substantially damaged my experience with this site. I cringe whenever I see that he has written anything regarding the team since I know it will be full of biased hyperbole with unsubstantiated opinions. If this is what BP wants its customers to experience due to unregulated vendettas against certain teams by certain authors, that's fine. I do not have to accept such experience. I would suggest not assigning him to cover the Braves since it is clear he cannot be objective with this team for whatever reason. If BP chooses to do nothing, that's all I need to know as to whether I'm wanted as a customer.
wilymo
12/04
solely on the subject of garcia - i can't find the link now, but i read an article recently where he said he focused on staying healthy last year, and succeeded at that only to see his mechanics get out of whack. he claimed he was finally starting to get himself sorted out right at the end of the year. now that may or may not be just talk or excuses or whatever. but the dude does have a pretty long track record of quality pitching when he does pitch, before last season. to assume that second half 2016 is just what he is now - i dunno, seems like nowadays everything is a small sample size until and unless it's the conclusion you're trying to reach. is the dude a gamble at this point, sure, obviously. but to get a guy with a solid track record as a mid-rotation SP for $12M x 1 year and some not-particularly-painful-to-lose prospects in this pitching market seems hard to argue with. but i guess not. BTW i'm not even a cards or braves fan or anything
wilymo
12/04
and yeah, fried was coming back from TJ and went on an absolute tear towards the end of the season and into the playoffs, so i don't agree with that take either. c'est la vie
madjockmcferson
12/05
The Braves blew up a perfectly good team and got gullible taxpayers to move them away from the 'inner city'. That should be mentioned anytime the team is mentioned.
carlbrownson
12/05
The comments here strongly suggest that Braves fans can't handle criticism of their team. (I expect a bunch of downvotes, which will help confirm I'm right.) There's a case to be made for buying a couple of old arms to put a more plausible product on the field this year. I'm agnostic about whether these three moves to do so we're as bad as the author argues they were. But I think all speculation that this is driven by anger or bias against the Braves is paranoid. He thinks they made some objectively awful decisions in how they went about their rebuild, turning their best assets into pitching prospects that seems likely to mostly flame out, ownership shenanigans with the stadium, etc. Time will tell whether he's right. But if you think that criticism of your team just must be driven by emotion, it might be your own judgment that is driven by emotion. Braves fan rationalizing: go.
alvinfan
12/05
"hey guys, pay attention to me and make sure to respond to my trolling headline because I'm a smartass." There you go, you got your response. Not that I agree with the manner of rebuild, but the article really is openly hostile. signed, Astros fan
carlbrownson
12/05
Openly hostile to what? To bad decisions, or to the Braves?
wilymo
12/05
i actually hate the braves. i think the tomahawk chop is a nightmarishly racist zombie tradition and their whole new stadium thing is extremely sketchy, and neither of those things can be talked about enough imo. there's still no reason to let that bleed over into the actual nuts-and-bolts transaction analysis, and this is still a weird write-up. this is coming from someone who finds most fan complaining about bias to be tired. and i'm not even saying it's a weird write-up because of anti-braves bias. no way to really know that. it's definitely a weird write-up, though.
outdoorminer
12/05
On top of being a strangely angry and misguided piece, there wasn't an accompanying write-up of the prospects that the Cardinals are getting, so this is a "fail" on at least two levels. I too am not a Braves or Cardinals fan with no dog in this fight except a desire for quality content. I'm starting to regret re-upping my BPro subscription.
aquavator44
12/07
If you're interested solely in completely objective analysis, you don't have to read Mr. Trueblood's - or a number of other writers on this site. His columns are generally more op-ed than the number crunching, but for the most part he uses data to back up his assertions when appropriate. I don't think think this is is best work, and he doesn't think highly of the way the Braves run their business, but it seems like a lot of people are getting too mad over a piece about a Jaime Garcia trade.
aquavator44
12/07
Haha, definitely was supposed to be in response to gtgator's post above.
brucegilsen
12/06
I don't have a major problem with the pickups of Colon, Dickey, and Garcia. Every July, contenders want starting pitching and if they get a little lucky and 1 or 2 of these guys are pitching decently in July, they can get .... wait for it ..... pitching prospects for them.
theduke11
12/06
Where's the section where the other part of the trade is discussed. Why the bashing of atlanta's citizens? Why such a long rant at all things Braves? Is this a joke? Seriously, shouldn't this guy be summarily dismissed. It really the kid of content that should be on this site. If this was a comment, it would have been flagged