Thursday, January 15, 2015

Braves Continue Scorched-Earth Policy

Just when you think, "okay, so, this team is the one the Braves largely will go into spring training with," they make yet another trade that crosses that all up. On Wednesday, the Braves made their third trade of the new year as they sent Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros for a trio of prospects. Well, at least, they sold a bunch of polar bear stuff.

I've actually been a little underwhelmed with the trades that John Hart and his team have put together since the end of the season. The best I could say for the Jason Heyward deal is that the Braves did good to get something for him while the Justin Upton trade just didn't win me over. However, when it comes to this trade, Hart and the Braves get the clear victory and not only because of the talent they received.

Many have complained about the offense for 2015, especially being that it now is without three of the best four hitters they had on a bad offense last year. That's an understandable concern...for a team competing in 2015. To come to accept what this offseason has led us to, you have to accept that the Braves are punting in 2015. Sure, they could get lucky, but chances are this is a team that won't score enough to have a higher goal than .500.

But they were going to be a bad team with Gattis. With the arrival of Christian Bethancourt and signing of A.J. Pierzynski, Gattis had been pushed out of the one spot that made sense for a National League team to play him at. That left a move to left field, which would have muted Gattis's value not only because his bat wouldn't play nearly as high there, but also because of his defensive limitations. That last part is being kind. Gattis would have been an ugly nightmare to watch in left field. He would have helped replace the lost offensive value of Upton, but that's about it.

Of course, that knowledge didn't stop many fans from going nutso about the trade, but we should expect that because Gattis was severely overrated by Braves fans. It was, after all, a pretty cool story and to his credit, he did post an .810 OPS. However, the season was limited because of his health issues. That's not even getting into his terrible plate discipline as he was allergic to walks. We would typically say "but he's just two years into his career," but Gattis was already 28. With the Braves ready to move him out from beyond the plate, the natural next move was to move him off the team.

Hart did that and got plenty of talent. Michael Foltynewicz is the only one who has already made it to the majors and he could be part of the 2015 team if he wins the fifth starter battle. Folty has already thrown triple digits in the majors and has a plus-grade breaking pitch. What he needs is a consistent third pitch to become a real major league starting option and Roger McDowell will have to work with Folty to bring his change-up from its current weak state to a legitimate third pitch. Folty appears to slow down his delivery in effort to throw it, which will get a lot of them sent to the gaps and beyond in the majors. Braves either got a possible high-leverage reliever or starter with front-of-the-rotation stuff and it will all depend on how they can develop the 23 year-old who was picked 19th in 2010.

Maybe the more intriguing option is third baseman Rio Ruiz. Picked in the fourth round of 2012 out of California, the 20 year-old was a bit disappointing in the power department last year, but showed greatly improved on-base skills. Probably a couple of years away, Ruiz does have the capabilities to stay at third base and be a poor man's Chipper Jones, which was the guy he attempted to emulate. I could see regular slashes of .280/.350/.475 with years where he could be even better. I like him more than Folty and believe Ruiz has the skills to supplant Chris Johnson.

Finally, the Braves took a shot on Andrew Thurman, who lacks the impact potential of Folty and Ruiz, but might be the surest best to reach his ceiling. Like Mike Minor, Thurman increased his velocity after being drafted, but unlike Minor, his control took a hit as a result. Provided Thurman can retain the velocity in the low-to-mid 90's with his plus changeup, he could be a surprise out of this deal. If he can develop his curve or slider into a plus pitch, he becomes a very good prospect. Right now, he projects as a swingman, but there's something here to have enough hope in.

Ruiz will likely be in Mississippi while Thurman will join Carolina to open 2015. Where Folty starts will be decided this spring. I imagine that if he doesn't start the year in the staff, he'll be in the minors where the Braves can continue to develop him as a starter to try to get max value. Either way, for a guy with weak on-base skills and no real position on the 2015 team, the Braves did well to get what they did.

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