COMMENTARY | As the MLB season frantically rushes into its second half, the July 31 trading deadline is already beginning to loom large. Contenders looking to add that final piece for a potential World Series push will scour the open market for veterans that cellar dwellers will be eagerly looking to flip in an effort to get younger and shed salary. For the Atlanta Braves, past trading decisions show just how dangerous it can be for a team to mortgage their future for short-term success.
The Braves are riding a big divisional lead into the All-Star break, yet they will not be satisfied resting on their laurels. Key injuries, as well as underachieving individual play, should make Atlanta players at the deadline. Rumors have the Braves interested in adding more bullpen help to replace holes created by injuries to Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters. The New York Yankees' Joba Chamberlain and the Chicago Cubs' Kevin Gregg are two names reported to be circling Atlanta's radar.
A season-ending shoulder injury to Ramiro Pena, coupled with disabled list stints by Evan Gattis and Jordan Schafer, could also send the Braves in search of another super-utility bench player to help their depleted reserves.
Whatever moves the Braves do end up making, rabid fans must understand there is always a chance their team will be giving away more than they get in return.
What The Braves Have Given Up Recently
Even though Atlanta can boast the No. 2 ranked pitching staff in all of baseball, the 3.51 ERA they have received from their starting rotation could be a lot better. Currently, two of the top four ERAs in the National League are held by Braves' players…excuse me…former Braves' players.
Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Braves selected Locke in the second round of the 2006 MLB Draft. However, in 2009, the Braves were sitting at .500 (26-26), 5 ½ games back in the division. In an attempt to help their much maligned outfield, Atlanta traded for the Pirates' center fielder, Nate McLouth.
The Braves shipped Jeff Locke, along with Charlie Morton and Gorkys Hernandez to Pittsburgh. At the time of the trade, McLouth was batting .256 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs, but he was coming off a 2008 season which saw him earn his first All-Star selection by hitting 26 homers and driving in 94 runs. The Braves took a calculated gamble to remain in contention that year, but now they must suffer the consequences.
Had the Braves even been able to make the playoffs in 2009, this trade could be shrugged off as a necessary evil for contending, but unfortunately, Atlanta fell even further out of the race and ended the season in third place in the division at 86-76. Given the success of the Locke and Morton this season, fans can only sit back and wonder what if.
Locke ranks No. 2 in all of baseball with a 2.15 ERA, and he has tallied an 8-2 record through his first 18 starts of the season. The Braves gave away the young southpaw in exchange for McLouth, who spent parts of three injury-plagued seasons in Atlanta, where he batted .228.
Although Locke's success this season does hurt, it is still just his first season of performing at this level. The jury is still out as to whether he can replicate the same type of dominance year in and year out. Wainwright, on the other hand, has never had a losing season in the big leagues and already has a 20-win season under his belt.
The Braves selected Wainwright in the first round of the 2000 amateur draft. The current Cardinals' ace was a quick-rising prospect in the Braves' organization and even broke the Macon Braves' single-season strikeout record in 2001. By the time he reached Class-AA in 2003, Wainwright was on the fast track to the majors.
Despite the Braves winning the division with a record of 101-61 in 2003, losing the bats of Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez in free agency made it seem necessary for Atlanta to make a risky trade to secure the often-injured J.D. Drew from St. Louis.
Not only did the Braves give up Wainwright, they also sent Jason Marquis to play in the shadow of the Gateway Arch. The fact that Marquis is 9-4 with a 3.79 ERA this season is painful enough, but adding in the fact that Wainwright's 2.36 ERA is ranked No. 4 in all of baseball makes this trade look really one-sided now.
Drew did turn in a stellar season for the Braves in 2004 with 31 homers and 93 RBIs, but he was out the door one year later. Essentially, the Braves gave up a Cy Young caliber pitcher to rent Drew for a single season.
The Infamous Mark Teixeira Trade
While most contenders try to make small moves to shore up holes in an otherwise playoff-ready club, the blockbuster trade-deadline deal is something of which fans must always be leery. On July 31, 2007, the Braves was trailing in the division by 3 ½ games. They decided to load up for one go at raising another World Series banner in Turner Field by trading for the Texas Rangers' first baseman, Mark Teixeria.
Fans loved the deal when it was initially completed, and it is hard to argue with a team trying to win now, but, with hindsight as a guide, this deal turned out to be one of the worst in team history.
The Braves dealt Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Beau Jones to Texas for Teixeira and left-handed pitcher Ron Mahay. Although Teixeira did hit .317 with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs the rest of the way that year, the Braves ended up finishing No. 3 in the division.
Andrus, Harrison and Feliz all went on to become All-Stars while Saltalamacchia has served as the Boston Red Sox's starting catcher for three seasons. To make matters worse, Teixeira never even spent a full season in Atlanta. The Braves traded him at the break the following year to the Los Angeles Angels for Casey Kotchman and minor league pitcher Stephen Marek.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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