Welcome to Braves in Review.
It’s been six seasons since the Braves tore it all down.
After a disappointing 2014, the franchise was at a crossroads. As general manager, Frank Wren had built a competitive team that won the Wild Card in 2010 (91 wins), narrowly missed the playoffs in 2011 after a late season collapse (89 wins), won the first Wild Card in 2012 (94 wins), and won the National League East in 2013 (96 wins). The Braves returned much of the 2013 team for 2014, and they expected to be competitive. The Braves extended Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez. Then Wren went on an extension spree, locking up Freddie Freeman (through 2021) and Julio Teheran (2019) to longterm deals. The feeling was that the Braves would be competitive for a while.
But then they weren’t. The Braves only won 79 games in 2014. And all of a sudden, things didn’t look so stable. The two most valuable position players by bWAR, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, had just one year left on their contracts. The team owed the unproductive Melvin “BJ” Upton, Jr. $46 million over the next three seasons. Meanwhile, entering 2014, Baseball Prospectus ranked the Braves’ farm system 24th.
So where would they go from here? Frank Wren wouldn’t be the man to decide. The Braves fired him at the end of September, and The Three Johns emerged. The new regime included John Hart as president of baseball operations, John Schuerholz as president, and newcomer John Coppolella as general manager. They decided to tear it down and restart.
Like other rebuilds of the era, the Braves strategy centered around trading veteran players with soon-expiring contracts in order to reload the farm system with talented prospects that would develop into cheap major leaguers with longterm team control. Meanwhile, the major league team would be bad, giving the franchise high draft picks it could use to stockpile more of those talented prospects.
And boy was the major league team bad. They lost 95 games in 2015, 93 in 2016, and 90 games in 2017. But that was okay, because despite opaque statements from management about trying to be competitive, everyone knew that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to be competitive in 2020, and to build a firm foundation that would allow the team to continue being competitive for the rest of that decade.
Back in 2016, it was hard — or impossible — to tell how the project was going. I bought in on the rebuild in theory. It seemed to be the most popular way forward across the league as the Cubs and Astros found success with similar methods. We did our best to understand and evaluate each trade or contract in the moment. But when the goal is to win in 2020, 2016’s results don’t tell you much.
Now it’s the end of the 2020 season. This is when the window was supposed to be open. 2018 and 2019 were fun surprises, but from here on out, losing means failure, and every year the Braves don’t compete for a World Series means that suffering through 2015, 2016, and 2017 was for naught. From here, we can look at the roster, at the contracts, and have a pretty good idea of what worked and what didn’t work.
So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to break down the significant trades that either impacted the current roster, or bridged the gap between the 2010-2013 competitive window and this competitive window. When a trade didn’t affect good Braves teams or we have nothing interesting to say about it, we’ll ignore it. With a lot of these trades, it’s too early to have a full picture. We don’t know how productive Max Fried is going to be for his entire Braves career — but we have a pretty good idea that he’s going to be important to the future of the Braves.
Below is a timeline of trades including the opposing team, who the Braves traded away, and who the Braves acquired. Each trade will have a chart including the bWAR of each player the Braves acquired in seasons the player played for the Braves, compared to the value of the players the Braves traded away in seasons they played for the trading partner. This is a crude and incomplete view, so where there were other considerations like unloading a burdensome contract or getting something for a player before free agency, we’ll explain that reasoning. Finally, for each trade, we’ll try to assess how effectively the trade met the goals behind it.
So let’s get started.
Note: All stats came from Baseball Reference, except BABIP, which came from FanGraphs. ESPN.com’s contemporary trade breakdowns were the most helpful for providing contract and salary information, and MLB.com’s Prospect Watch provided easy-to-use prospect rankings.
November 19, 2014: Cardinals
Traded: Jason Heyward (RF), Jordan Walden (RHP)
Acquired: Shelby Miller (RHP), Tyrell Jenkins (RHP)
During the pre-2014 extensions, it was clear the Wren regime didn’t value Jason Heyward as highly as they did his friend Freddie Freeman. Or at least, Wren didn’t value Heyward as highly as the market did. The Three Johns weren’t willing to pay Heyward what he would make from the Cubs entering 2016. And so, the rebuild began.
Goal: Heyward had one year left on his contract, and the Braves were not going to be good in 2015. The point of this trade was to get longterm value in exchange for the extremely short-term value of Heyward’s contract.
Did it work? Yes! Really well. But the chart above only shows part of the picture. The Braves acquired Shelby Miller, who had a career season for the Braves in 2015 and pushed his own trade value to all-time high. The Braves also got Tyrell Jenkins, the first of many pitching prospects to be acquired. Then, as discussed in detail below, Coppy and Co. would flip Miller for Dansby and Ender, and trade Tyrell for Luke Jackson. In the end, Heyward’s final year netted the Braves three pieces of the team’s current competitive window.
Braves fans loved Heyward. They expected him to be a sweet-swinging, middle of the order corner outfielder. The heir apparent to Hammerin’ Hank (and something along the lines of what we eventually got with Acuña). What they got instead was an inconsistent hitter but an all-world right fielder. Heyward’s contributions weren’t measured properly at the time, leading to a disillusionment and frustration that probably wasn’t earned. We’d see something similar with Dansby Swanson just a few years down the road, so it’s fitting that Heyward’s legacy with the Braves lives on through Dansby’s contributions. Here’s the full Heyward trade tree:
December 19, 2014: Padres
Traded: Justin Upton (LF), Aaron Northcraft (RHP)
Acquired: Max Fried (LHP), Jace Peterson (2B), Dustin Peterson (3B), Mallex Smith (OF)
Goal: The reasoning here was the same as Heyward’s case. Only one year remained on Upton’s contract, and the Braves didn’t expect to be competitive. So, the Braves decided to exchange the final year of Upton’s value for the promise of longterm value (Fried: MLB.com’s #68 overall prospect).
In addition, the Braves received a speedster and defensive specialist (theoretically) prospect who they would eventually flip for another pitching lottery ticket, a contact-first outfield prospect who they hoped would gain some power, and another young player who would serve as a stopgap in the infield until the Braves were more competitive. None of these players were super high-ceiling plays, but they provided depth for a farm system that was desperately lacking it at the time.
Did it work? Yes! Really well! While Upton has continued to be a productive player in the years following this trade, the Padres only controlled him for one of those seasons. Meanwhile, the key piece of the trade, and by far the most successful of the pitching prospects that the Braves added via trade during this period, is Max Fried. He’s been an important part of the last two division titles, and he’s going to be an important part of whatever else the Braves accomplish in this window.
Zooming out from the scope of this article briefly, the Braves acquired Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks before the 2013 season in a trade built around Martin Prado. I loved Martin. I watched him develop from super-utility bench guy to All-Star. Trading Martin was the first time I remember being really hurt by a trade. But if you loved him like I did, isn’t it cool to realize his Braves legacy lives on through Max Fried? Here’s the full Prado trade tree (who would have guessed Nick Ahmed would be the most productive branch to date?):
January 14, 2015: Astros
Traded: Evan Gattis (C), James Hoyt (RHP)
Acquired: Mike Foltynewicz (RHP), Rio Ruiz (3B), Andrew Thurman (RHP)
Goal: While not exactly like Heyward and Upton before it, the Gattis trade followed the same reasoning. Even though Gattis had more years of team control left than Heyward or Upton, he wasn’t as good. Gattis might have had some good years left in him, but The Three Johns did not see him as someone who would be a part of the Braves next competitive window. So, they exchanged his short-term value for the promise of longterm value in the form of three prospects (including Folty, MLB.com’s #57 overall prospect).
Did it work? Yeah, for the most part. Gattis had some decent seasons and some bad seasons for good Astros teams. As much as Braves fans loved El Oso Blanco, he didn’t belong in the National League where there was nowhere to hide his glove (or lack thereof). He certainly wouldn’t have been able to match the level of production he had with the Astros if he stayed in Atlanta.
On the other hand, contemporary commentary focused on Rio Ruiz as the main return for the Braves, giving him the doomed label of “third baseman of the future.” Rio has found some success with the Orioles (and adopted an awesome new haircut), but he never panned out with the Braves.
The real value in the trade turned out to be Folty. There’s a solid argument the trade has already worked out in favor of the Braves, with Folty’s 4-WAR contribution to the 2018 division title being more than Gattis was ever going to do for them. But at the same time, there’s some sense of lingering disappointment as Folty has failed to match the flashes of brilliance he showed in 2018 and the end of 2019. But I still believe in Mike, and there’s a chance this trade could swing soundly in the Braves favor.
April 5, 2015: Padres
Traded: Craig Kimbrel (RHP), Melvin Upton Jr. (OF)
Acquired: Cameron Maybin (CF), Carlos Quentin (LF), Jordan Paroubeck (LF), Matt Wisler (RHP), 41st Pick of the 2015 Draft (Austin Riley)
On the eve of opening day, The Three Johns dropped the final bombshell of the offseason. This one certainly hurt at the time, but was it a necessary evil?
Goal: The Braves essentially got rid of their superstar (and fan favorite) closer in a salary dump rather than seek out top tier prospects in return. Wisler was ranked 53rd on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects in 2015, just ahead of Braves top prospect Lucas Sims. He was certainly not a throw-in, but the most immediate value of the trade was freedom from BJ Upton’s salary. The rest of the pieces were mostly filler. Maybin and Quentin provided salary offset on expiring or almost-expiring deals, while also giving the Braves (in Maybin) a body to throw in the outfield everyday.
Did it work? Yeah it worked, but I think the goal was off. The BJ Upton contract got Frank Wren fired, and before the new era could officially start, the new regime had to excise the demons of the past. So the Braves gave the Padres Kimbrel, and the Padres paid Upton his $46 million. Matt Wisler showed some occasional promise, but never showed the consistency to stick with the Braves. He seems to have found a place in the Cincinnati bullpen, at least.
For comparison, when the Yankees traded their star closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs just over a year later, they received Gleyber Torres (Cubs #1/MLB #24) and Billy McKinney (Cubs #5/MLB #75) in return.
So yeah, the Braves accomplished what they wanted to with the trade. But what did that really do for the on-field success of the team? Sure, they saved a lot of money, but that money was owed in 2015, 2016, and 2017 while the Braves were bad. The Braves were not able to spend more in their competitive window because they saved money before. Did that money give Coppy the flexibility to afford the next trade? If so, great! But this trade would feel better if the Braves had sought out and received a more tangible return. Austin Riley’s development into a serious prospect and regular starter mitigates these feelings, but his productive years are still yet to come.
It’s worth noting that Riley’s Baseball Reference WAR (shown above) is significantly worse than the Fangraphs WAR number. Fans shouldn’t be too down on the third baseman this season, as he has increased his walk rate while dropping his strikeout rate — both good signs. Austin has shown a willingness to work at his flaws at every level and the ability to improve, so the evaluation of his role in this equation is far from over.
June 20, 2015: Diamondbacks
Traded: Phil Gosselin (3B)
Acquired: Bronson Arroyo (RHP), Touki Toussaint (RHP)
Under the criteria of “significance to good Braves teams,” this trade might be worth ignoring. But at the same time, it’s a fascinating trade, and emblematic of John Coppolella’s brief and bright time in Major League Baseball.
Goal: Coppy essentially bought a high-risk/right-reward prospect for $9.5 million. The Braves assumed the remaining $9.5 million the Diamondbacks owed the injured Bronson Arroyo in exchange for Touki Tussaint, another pitching prospect (MLB.com’s #69 overall). The Braves also had to throw in Phil Gosselin, who has been a decent utility guy, and is having a good season in Philadelphia.
Did it work? Not yet, but does it matter? Touki hasn’t shown the consistency to stay in the starting rotation yet, and I’m not confident he ever will. But in the long run, it doesn’t matter if Touki never pans out, as long as Soroka, Fried, Anderson, and Wright do. The Braves made a volume play on talented pitching prospects — they weren’t all going to turn into Major Leaguers, but the Braves just needed a few of them to. Touki was another raffle ticket that, in theory, increased the Braves’ chances of having a winning number.
And what a creative way to do it!
July 30, 2015: Dodgers
Traded: Alex Wood (LHP), Jim Johnson (RHP), Luis Avilan (LHP), Jose Peraza (2B), Bronson Arroyo (RHP)
Acquired: Hector Olivera (2B), Paco Rodriguez (LHP), Zack Bird (RHP)
Goal: To this day, I do not know. Every trade discussed here had some potential upside, some reasoning that made sense. Even if they haven’t worked out, or even if I didn’t love it in the moment, I could place myself in John Coppolella’s Notre Dame quarter-zip and understand what he was going for. Not this one.
What possessed the Braves to acquire Hector Olivera will haunt me forever. He was a thirty-year-old prospect. What did the Braves scouts see at that post-Cuba defection workout to make him a must-have player? How did he fit the overarching goal of building a young and sustainable core? Does anyone have a good conspiracy about how this tied into the international signing rules scandal? I’d love to know.
On the other side, Coppy must not have believed much in Alex Wood. Trading him away did not fit the profile of other Coppolella trades. Wood had put up two good seasons for the Braves, and more importantly, he was young and under longterm team control. Maybe his unconventional delivery betrayed the injury issues that would develop later on.
The Braves also parted with their pre-rebuild top prospect, middle infielder Jose Peraza.
Did it work? No, not that we know of. Olivera started bad and stayed bad, and then got arrested and suspended 82 games for domestic violence. He was out of baseball for good two years later. Not what you’re looking for out a centerpiece.
Wood had two really good season for the Dodgers, but he continues to fight injuries. He had a decent season in 2018 that would have made a good Braves team better. But he continues to battle injuries, which limits his value and limits the longterm damage of this trade.
Jose Peraza would not have had a place on Braves teams featuring Andrelton Simmons, Ozzie Albies, and Dansby Swanson. But surely he had more trade value than this?
August 7, 2015: Indians
Traded: Chris Johnson (3B)
Acquired: Michael Bourn (CF), Nick Swisher (LF)
Goal: Free up the money owed to Chris Johnson sooner.
Did it work? Sure. There was no uncertainty.
Johnson put up 2.5 bWAR in 2013 in a season where he hit .321 and finished running-up for the NL batting title. That explains the three-year extension he received the following offseason. However, if Frank Wren had paid attention to his high BABIP of .394, he might have foreseen some regression. And regress he did, leaving the Braves with $23.5 million on the books until the end of 2017.
Micheal Bourn and Nick Swisher’s contacts, however, ended in 2016. So by making this trade, the Braves freed up cash sooner. Meanwhile, fans who were still paying attention got to see the guy who put up 6.0 bWAR for the the Braves back in 2012, plus a real-life Yankee and How I Met Your Mother star.
November 12, 2015: Angels
Traded: Andrelton Simmons (SS), Jose Briceno (C)
Acquired: Erick Aybar (SS), Sean Newcomb (LHP), Chris Ellis (RHP)
Goal: This trade didn’t make much sense in the moment. Andrelton was great for the Braves, and he was a fan favorite. He was the best defensive player in a generation, allowing him to put up hight bWAR numbers (5.8 in 2013, the best on the 97-win Braves!) despite inconsistent hitting. And more baffling, he was young, cheap, and under long term team control. Coppy and Co. clearly didn’t value Andrelton’s defense heroics as highly as others, and they were dead set on losing now while stockpiling pitching prospects for the future (Newcomb was the MLB.com’s #19 overall prospect).
Did it work? No. This is the most unambiguous mistake of the rebuild. After the trade, Andrelton turned into a good hitter, putting up >100 OPS+ seasons in 2017 and 2018, while maintaining his defensive excellence. He finished in the top 15 in the AL MVP voting both seasons. Good Braves teams in 2018 and 2019 would have been significantly better with Andrelton Simmons on them.
There was a moment in 2018 where it looked like the trade was going to work out okay. Sean Newcomb started 30 games with a 3.90 ERA. However, Newcomb hasn’t been able to recapture that mid-rotation promise. He was productive as a reliever last year, but never got into form in 2020. There’s still a possibility Newcomb could add value in the Braves’ competitive window, but it’s hard to imagine that he could provide value on the same level as Andrelton could have.
A month later, the trade would start to make a little more sense.
December 9, 2015: Diamondbacks
Traded: Shelby Miller (RHP), Gabe Speier (LHP)
Acquired: Ender Inciarte (RF), Aaron Blair (RHP), Dansby Swanson (SS)
This was a coup in the moment, and it still is.
Goal: Just a year after acquiring what seemed like significant piece of future starting rotations, the Braves flipped Shelby Miller to Arizona for the Shortstop of the Future. Dansby Swanson was the #1 overall draft pick in the 2015 out of Vanderbilt, and he was preordained as a star. But wait! There’s more! The Braves also received a good major leaguer, the excellent defender and (back then) competent hitter Ender Inciarte. And it wouldn’t be a Rebuild Trade without a high upside pitching prospect, a niche filled by Aaron Blair, the Diamondbacks’ #3 prospect (#61 overall).
Did it work? Yes! In 2020, it may seem underwhelming, but that’s just because the immediate reaction was so strongly in favor of the Braves.
Shelby Miller hasn’t had a good season since the trade.
Speier threw some innings in Kansas City recently, but he never pitched for the Diamondbacks.
On the Braves’ side, Aaron Blair didn’t pan out. Disappointing, but hey, that happens.
Ender has maintained his defense, winning Gold Gloves in his first three seasons with the Braves. He hit competently enough to put up two pretty good seasons on bad Braves teams, and one good season on a good Braves team. Unfortunately, Ender’s bat has fallen off a cliff for the last two seasons, and it doesn’t look like he’ll provide any value for the Braves moving forward.
That covers four of the five players in this trade, and those four won’t be providing value to their respective franchises into the future. But Dansby Swanson remains.
Like Jason Heyward before him, Dansby Swanson arrived with the weight of a franchise on his shoulders. Braves marketing sold the fanbase on the chosen one, a hometown hero arriving to rescue the team from the depths of the standings. But Dansby was never that guy. He was the #1 overall draft pick not because anyone expected him to be Alex Rodriguez, but because the Diamondbacks thought he was the safest possible choice to be a productive big leaguer. When he arrived in Atlanta under this intense spotlight, he wilted — and poorly-timed injuries haven’t helped.
This year, Dansby has stayed healthy and become exactly what we expected him to be — a good defender with a pretty good bat. He may not be the superstar fans hoped for, but he’s productive, and he’s going to be a part of whatever successes or failures the Braves have in the decade ahead.
July 30, 2016: Padres
Traded: Hector Olivera (?)
Acquired: Matt Kemp (RF)
Hector Olivera played 30 games for the Braves in 2015 and 2016. He didn’t play well. On April 13, 2016, Olivera was arrested for domestic violence, and he was convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery and sentenced to a 90 day prison term. Major League Baseball suspended him for 82 games.
Goal: Damage control.
Did it work? I mean, I guess. Nobody won here — this was an admission of defeat by each side. The Padres owed Kemp $21.5 million/year from 2016 until 2019. He wasn’t the should-be MVP the Padres had traded for anymore, and they wanted to free up some salary. The Braves owed Olivera $6 million in 2017, $6.5 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019 and $8.5 million in 2020. The Braves took on more money, but the contract was off the books sooner.
December 8, 2016: Rangers
Traded: Brady Feigl (LHP), Tyrell Jenkins (RHP)
Acquired: Luke Jackson (RHP)
Goal: Trade an uncertain starter with some potential for a low-ceiling bullpen arm
Did it work? Yeah! Tyrell, while always fun on social media, was out of professional baseball within two years of this trade. Brady Feigl, who looks exactly like Brady Feigl but is actually a different Brady Feigl and not at all related to the other one, was still in double A with the Rangers in 2019.
Luke, while he had a tough start with the Braves, has become a significant member of the bullpen over the last two seasons. He single-handedly kept the bullpen afloat during 2019 division title run until deadline trades lightened the loan.
January 11, 2017: Mariners
Traded: Mallex Smith (CF), Shae Simmons (RHP)
Acquired: Luiz Gohara (LHP), Thomas Burrows (LHP)
Goal: Trade a speedy but unproductive outfielder and a low-ceiling bullpen arm to add to the depth of high-ceiling arms in the Braves’ system.
Did it work? Not in this case, but that’s okay.
Luiz had some control (and conditioning) issues, but he showed promise in the minor leagues before struggling when he got a few cups of coffee in the bigs. He seemed to have a chance to make it before a year from hell: Gohara was ranked in the top 50 prospects in the majors before the 2018 season, but his father died while he was home in Brazil during the offseason, and soon after his mother was hospitalized. Gohara, an only child, understandably showed up to training camp behind where he would normally expect to be after spending the offseason with his mother. He would suffer ankle, groin, and later shoulder injuries during his remaining time with the Braves, and he was never really able to recover from that time in 2018.
It’s fitting that the final John Coppolella trade we’ll discuss here involved going in on a high-upside pitching prospect. The narrative all along has been that the Braves’ rebuild was unique in major league baseball because of its focus on pitchers. Looking solely at the trades, that’s true.
There was a common profile for most of the significant Coppy trades: the Braves traded established major leaguers for young pitchers. This is clearly the case in Heyward (Miller), Upton (Fried), Gattis (Folty), and Simmons (Newcomb). Acquiring a top pitching prospect was a significant goal of Kimbrel (Wisler) and Miller (Blair). Even in trades that didn’t fit the common profile, pitching prospects were the goal: $ (Touki) and Smith (Gohara). The outliers are the clear salary dump/swap trades like Johnson and Kemp and the doomed Olivera acquisition.
However, not much of the Braves’ current major league talent was acquired through Coppy trades. In relative order of importance, it includes Fried, Dansby, Riley, Luke, Touki, Ender, Folty, and Newk. That’s two key players, and six guys ranging from significant-but-not-that-great to insignificant-now-but-maybe-later.
The core of the Braves success in this competitive window, especially 2020, has come from the Braves offense rather than its pitching. Maybe the narrative around the rebuild had it slightly wrong? Maybe Coppy focused on acquiring pitching prospects in his high profile trades not solely to build a dominant rotation to anchor the team, but rather, because the offensive pieces were already in the organization. Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, and Nick Markakis were already there. Or maybe that’s giving Coppy too much credit.
Either way, between the trades and some really good drafts, Coppy built the Braves farm system into one of the deepest in baseball. The Braves had a strong foundation for building sustainable winning teams moving forward. However, Coppy wouldn’t be the one to assemble the pieces.
Immediately after the Braves 2017 season came to a close, John Coppolella resigned from his position as general manager amidst an exploding scandal involving the Braves’ violation of international free agent signing rules. More importantly, MLB sanctions crippled the Braves in the IFA market going forward. The IFA market had been an area of strength under Wren, allowing the Braves to acquire Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies. There’s a strong case it has been the most important part of the rebuild. Now the architect of the rebuild was out, and the Braves needed new leadership.
On November 13, 2017, the Braves hired Dodgers VP and former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. From here on out, the strategy would change. The Braves were in a position to win, so trading productive major league talent for longterm prospect value was no longer part of the equation. AA would make decisions to make the team better, but not at the cost of the franchise’s longterm sustainability.
December 16, 2017: Dodgers
Traded: Matt Kemp (LF)
Acquired: Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir (LHP), Brandon McCarthy (RHP), Charlie Culberson (U)
Goal: Excise the remnants of the Olivera trade, free up salary, and acquire a couple decent major leaguers. The Braves owed Kemp $43 million until the end of 2019. The Dodgers owed Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, and Brandon McCarthy $50 million total for just 2018.
Did it work? Sure! The Braves took on a little more money overall, but the they were free of the burden a year sooner. Plus, each side received pleasant surprises in the production of the players they received.
Kemp got to return to the Dodgers, the home of his former glory, and he managed to stay healthy long enough to put up positive production in 2018.
On the other side, the Braves immediately released Gonzalez. Brandon McCarthy may have put up negative bWAR overall, but he threw the fifth most innings of any pitcher on the team on its way to a division title. It may not be reflected in bWAR, but I think there’s value in a veteran arm keeping a staring rotation afloat for a while. The Braves also found a super utility player in Charlie Culberson, who had the ninth most at-bats on the 2018 NL Champions. Fans quickly embraced “Charlie Clutch.” He wasn’t quite as effective in his role in 2019, and unfortunately, the adoption of the Designated Hitter in the National League seems to have eliminated his role (as we predicted). But McCarthy and Culberson helped the Braves win the first division title of the competitive window, and that means something.
July 31, 2018: Orioles
Traded: Evan Phillips (RHP), Jean Carlos Encarnacion (3B), Brett Cumberland (C), Bruce Zimmermann (LHP)
Acquired: Kevin Gausman (RHP), Darren O’Day (RHP)
Goal: At the 2018 deadline, the Braves were unexpectedly in the playoff hunt. McCarthy had started to falter, and the Braves needed rotation help. Gausman had been good for Baltimore, but they were where the Braves were in just a few years before — time to trade good players, tank, and rebuild the farm system.
Did it work? Yes, but not as well as it initially seemed. Gausman was good for the last couple months of the season, and the Braves won the division. For a moment it seemed like the Braves had stumbled onto a possible longterm part of the rotation, but Gausman struggled in 2019, and the Braves released him.
Side arming reliever Darren O’Day was injured at the time of the trade, so he couldn’t help right away. But he has had a productive 2020 as part of an elite Braves bullpen.
On the other side, the prospects the Braves gave up have not been productive yet.
July 31, 2018: Reds
Traded: Lucas Sims (RHP), Matt Wisler (RHP), Preston Tucker
Acquired: Adam Duvall (OF)
Goal: To accompany the deadline deal with the Orioles meant to bolster the rotation, the Braves went after some additional power and bench depth. It also provided the opportunity to move on from two former top prospects who just didn’t pan out.
Did it work? Not at first, but it looks pretty good now. Adam Duvall did not help the Braves win the 2018 National League East. He slumped big time, which was disappointing for Braves’ hopes at a playoff run. For the purpose of the trade though, it didn’t matter, because the Braves hadn’t given up much. Fortunately, Duvall has recaptured and surpassed his pre-trade form, almost leading the league in home runs in 2020 while starting regularly for the division champion Braves.
The Braves drafted Lucas Sims with the 15th overall pick of the 2012 draft. By 2013, MLB.com ranked him as the Braves top prospect (but only 93rd across all MLB, an indication of the depleted state of the Braves farm pre-rebuild). When the Braves acquired Matt Wisler, MLB.com ranked him as the 61st best prospect in baseball (top spots ahead of Sims). But by the deadline of 2018, neither had lived up to his promise. Sims and Wisler got a fresh start in Cincinnati, and they found more success there than they ever did in Atlanta.
Accompanying them was Preston Tucker, who started a bunch of games early in 2018 and helped keep the Braves afloat before regressing to his usual limited production.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more Braves in Review posts during and after the playoffs as we deep dive on where the Braves stand at the end of 2020. Please yell at me in the comments or on twitter (@John_Mahaffey6) if you think I’m wrong or missed anything. Sam (@SlapNslide) provided a lot of substance and editing, so yell at him too.