As the Braves began their Spring Training slate this weekend, they did so with several new faces on the roster. This has been the case for the past two springs, but this year there is a sense that this team could surprise some people. John Coppolella has worked tirelessly to ensure a bright future for the Braves, and in do so has created a pattern of roster turnover that Braves fans are not accustomed to.
With all the trades that have taken place over the past two-plus years, the fan base has had to watch talented players depart. In many of these cases the returns justified the means, making it easier to understand the direction that the front office envisioned. Just this week, Baseball America released their organizational talent rankings, where the Braves came in at number one, thanks much in part to the tireless work of the men who orchestrated this rebuilding effort. However, as with any executive, Coppolella has made moves that left something to be desired. There are a couple that immediately come to mind, but I want to hear your opinions: which trade from Coppy’s tenure you would nix if given the opportunity?
In chronological order of questionable trades, we begin with the Evan Gattis trade. This deal hinges almost solely on the development of Mike Foltynewicz, given the seemingly limited ceiling of Rio Ruiz. Gattis was quite the sensation in Atlanta during his stint with the Major League club, but his inability to play even average defense at any spot (with the possible exception of first base, which is occupied) limited his value to the Braves. This deal is a tough one to judge at this point, but I could understand an argument here.
The next questionable deal that took place occurred on the eve of Opening Day in 2015, when the Braves sent Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton to San Diego for Matt Wisler, Jordan Paroubeck, Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, and the 41st selection (which became Austin Riley) in the 2015 draft. This deal is complicated by the fact that the return was significantly altered by the Padres’ willingness to eat 3 years and $46.3 million worth of Melvin to make a deal for Kimbrel. The return in this case is one that also cannot be fully analyzed until a later date, but even at the time it seemed that the Braves left a lot on the table by having Upton included in the deal. His contract was a heavy burden on the payroll, and without it being included alongside Kimbrel, the Braves may have gotten a return similar or better than the one received by San Diego when Kimbrel was dealt to Boston (they netted Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra, plus two others).
The frustrating aspect of this deal is that the Braves dented Kimbrel’s value to create payroll flexibility and then never used the savings to field a competitive roster. That could change this season, but tainting the value of one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers to make only marginal additions seems a bit shortsighted when looking back. Wisler and Riley are the prizes of this deal, and each one has significant upside, but the possibilities that may have existed without Melvin make this a tough one to swallow. This deal would be my choice as the worst of the Coppy era, simply because of the value that was lost by trading Craig Kimbrel and the payroll void that was left unfilled as a result of Upton’s departure. I have high hopes for both Wisler and Riley, but Kimbrel was a tough loss.
The final questionable trade that I want to highlight is the Hector Olivera trade, which was criticized heavily at the time, and has become increasingly questionable in the aftermath. The Braves received Hector Olivera, Paco Rodriguez, Zach Bird, and the 40th pick in the 2016 draft (which became Joey Wentz) for Jose Peraza, Alex Wood, Jim Johnson, Bronson Arroyo, and Luis Avilan. This move was a little strange at the time, considering Olivera’s age and relative obscurity as it pertained to his abilities. Things only got worse with time, as Olivera looked somewhat overmatched during his stint with the big club, then was arrested for assault in Washington, D.C. His eventual trade to San Diego for Matt Kemp and his big contract is one that you can judge on your own, but suffice it to say that taking on Kemp’s deal would not have been the Braves’ first choice.
Wood and Peraza have had mixed results since the deal, with the latter being dealt to Cincinnati, where he is reportedly set to take over the second base job from the recently-traded Brandon Phillips. The value lost in this deal may not be crippling, but the circus that was Hector Olivera was not worth the time and trouble. This trade may actually come down to how well Matt Kemp performs as a Brave, but regardless of that the Olivera deal is certainly one that we can question.
Just as a disclaimer, the purpose of this is not to be critical of John Coppolella in any way, considering all the great work he has done since taking over. His ability and willingness to extract value from multiple avenues makes following the Braves as exciting as I can remember, and it should give hope to all those who are so anxious to see the Braves compete again. For all the great trades he has engineered (thanks again Dave Stewart), there are just a few minor blips on his radar that we can discuss. So again, if you could nix a deal from the Coppy era, which one would it be?