Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: Hale for Briceno

The Braves have been active in John Hart's first season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It's been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With most of the season in our rear view, it's time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

Trades Already Reviewed
La Stella for Vizcaino
Heyward/Walden for Miller/Jenkins
Varvaro for Kurcz
J. Upton for Jace Peterson and prospects
Carp/Shreve for Banulos
Kubitza/Hyatt for Sanchez
Gattis for Foltynewicz and Ruiz

The Trade
David Hale and Gus Schlosser to the Rockies for Jose Briceno and Chris O'Dowd. I discussed this deal here at WalkOffWalk.net and here at About.com.

The Rationale
Mitchell Layton | Getty
Was my hatred of David Hale rational? Absolutely not. It wasn't even Hale's fault - it was Twitter. Several people wanted more and more of Hale, and forgive me, but hell no. He was a non prospect who had a couple of good starts, but very little else. He wasn't the next Kris Medlen or Brandon Beachy - pitchers who came out of nowhere and became productive Braves. He was just a guy who wasn't terrible, but not good. He was decently able in the Cristhian Martinez role to handle long relief so he had some value. Well, not much according to Fangraphs who graded his 2014 production as a -0.1 WAR season. But hey, it's difficult to get much saber love when you carry a 1.3% strikeout-to-walk percentage.

The Braves saw an opportunity to smartly cash in on Hale's 3.30 ERA. He wasn't likely to maintain it beyond 2014. After all, 1.47 WHIPs typically don't pave the road for a pitcher to be successful.

Schlosser had a fun 2014. A 17th rounder in 2011, Schlosser rocketed to the majors because his 3/4's delivery helped him keep the ball down. After being a surprise in spring training, Schlosser appeared in the first game of 2014 and pitched a perfect 1.2 ING despite only facing four batters (a double play wiped out an inherited runner). He wasn't very good for the remainder of April, though he did have an eventful 4/20. Not in that way. I don't think. Anyway, after Hale had given up three runs in six innings, the Braves and Mets played into the 11th when Schlosser came on. In the 14th inning, he singled in his first and, to this date, only plate appearance. He was forced out on a double play. The following inning, a walk, bunt, intentional walk, and wild pitch set up Curtis Granderson to bring home the walk-off runner via a sacrifice fly. Schlosser would be demoted after two more appearances. He appeared in a double header on June 28, but otherwise, was kept in Gwinnett for most of 2014 until a September callup. He was cut after the season, but re-signed.

Hardly a pair of hot prospects, but the Rockies always need able arms and both had major league experience and in Hale's case, he wasn't terrible. Meanwhile, as a common theme, the Braves were willing to surrender major league depth in exchange for a higher end prospect. That came in the form of Jose Briceno. Colorado was rich in catching prospects with Tom Murphy rounding back into form after missing most of 2014. On his heels was Dom Nunez, a guy the Rockies moved to catcher in '14. If that wasn't enough, Ryan Casteel had just come off a 16-HR campaign in AA. Briceno was an interesting prospect, but hardly a big loss for this system. His value to the Braves was much higher as they looked for options while hoping Christian Bethancourt excelled.

Adding a heady player like Chris O'Dowd was both smart and a favor to the Rockies. O'Dowd was much like Kyle Wren - a son of the team's former GM. He wasn't much of a prospect, though he had great speed for a catcher and had made it to AA in 2014. He was organizational filler, but catchers are always needed.

Short-Term Results
The trade, much like the Ricardo Sanchez trade I profiled, is a Mulligan for both sides. For the Rockies, Schlosser washed out and was eventually released. He would later sign with the Somerset Patriots in the Atlantic League and finished the year with 19 innings and a weak 1.42 WHIP for them, though it was an improvement over his AA numbers in the Eastern League.

Meanwhile, Hale missed the early part of the year with injury before making sporadic starts in late May and June for the Rockies. He split time between the rotation and bullpen after that to odd results. After being Groundball McSqueezy who couldn't strikeout anyone with the Braves, he upped his K rate to 7 per nine and his GB% saw a 9% decline. The latter led to 9 more homers in 2015 than he gave up in 2014 despite pitching 9 innings less. Lots of 9's in this comparison. Of course, Turner Field's a bit more forgiving than Coors Field.

As for the Braves, they hardly got much out of the deal this season either. Briceno came to the Braves after hitting .278 during 110 games with Asheville between 2013-14 with 13 HR and a .780 OPS. While still raw behind the plate, scouts raved over his arm and bat. If his receiving skills increased, he could be a B-grade prospect and a potential alternative to Bethancourt. It didn't work that way as Briceno struggled from Day 1. His .183/.215/.267 slash over 327 plate appearances was woeful. When you add the 11 double plays, Briceno was responsible for 268 outs. That comes out to about three a game. Jeff Francoeur thinks that's bad.

Meanwhile, O'Dowd had a strong month-plus sharing time with minor league Rule 5 pick Steve Rodriguez before being busted in June for PEDs. He had been hitting .304 with a .429 OBP before being placed on the inactive list pending his eventual suspension. He would miss the remainder of the season and by my math, still has a couple of games left on his suspension before being cleared to begin the 2016 season.

Long-Term Outlook
Still, despite the O'Dowd suspension and Briceno's struggles, I remain convinced that this was a good move. At the end of it all, getting the higher end prospect for depth guys is always the way to go. Neither Hale nor Schlosser are guys you need to keep unless you need some help with your investments (here's more on that). Briceno has the best shot to be a productive major league player so you take a chance.

With that said, Briceno is only the top catching prospect in the Braves' system because there are so few alternatives as I discussed in my recent look at the Evan Gattis trade. After a likely return to Carolina, Briceno will need to produce in a hurry to solidify his claim as the top catching prospect.

As for Hale and Schlosser. Well, the later was released. Hale remains with the Rockies, but the Rockies have some interesting righties like Jon Gray and Eddie Butler who have a much better chance of playing a role for future Rockies' clubs. Hale, like he was for the Braves, is depth for both the rotation and pen. He gives you an option that wasn't as good as his 3.30 ERA with the Braves in 2014, but also not as bad as his 6.09 ERA last season. That's not enough to keep him in your plans, but you can always do worse.

Hey, look at that. I ended on a compliment.

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