Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: KJ and Uribe for Gant and Whalen

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 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
Hale for Briceno
Elander for Cahill and Lots of Cash
The Craig Kimbrel Trade
Callaspo for Uribe
Gosselin for Touki

The Trade
Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, and $500K to the Mets for John Gant and Robert Whalen. I looked at this deal at my other blog when it happened.

The Rationale
Scott Cunningham | Getty Images
Sometimes, it's difficult to really explain both sides of a trade - especially when you follow just one of the teams. In this case, this was a simple trade that comes down to one side wanting to better their chances to win now and the other looking to turn soon-to-be free agents into possible players for the future. The Braves weren't going anywhere and thankfully acknowledged that by dealing away two veterans.

KJ was a fun signing last offseason that actually turned into a big pickup. He had hit .264/.346/.430 as a Brave from 2005-09, but had been non-tendered following a .692 OPS in '09. He remained a regular starter through 2013 before transitioning into a backup role with three AL East teams in 2014. However, he hit just .215 with a .659 OPS. Those struggles allowed the Braves to swoop in with a minor league contract and a spring training invite. He got off to a poor start, but hit well enough over the final few weeks to make the roster. An oblique strain cost him some time, but KJ slashed .275/.321/.451 with 9 HRwhile playing a lot of left and filling in for an injured Freddie Freeman at first.

I looked at the Uribe deal a few days ago, but again, he caught fire with the Braves and slashed .285/.353/.464. Through a pair of deals, the Braves secured three young arms with the aid of Uribe. Pretty good haul.

We forget that at the time of this deal that the Mets were three backs at the end of July 24, which was the day this trade was announced. They were just a game over .500 and even trailed the Wild Card.

The haul they surrendered wasn't all that significant. We have heard a lot about their young pitching in the majors and with good reason. They are very solid. Trading young prospects like Gant and Whalen, neither a vital member of their projected future roster, was a pretty good exchange for them and also for the Braves because both pitchers had at least something that made them interesting.

Whalen, a 2012 12th round pick, was considered the better prospect of the two. Armed with a heavy fastball, Whalen is a control guy with the high-end ability of being a bit like 2015 Garrett Richards (20% K%, 9% BB%, 55% GB%, 12% HR/FB). Of course, that's the high-end. At the time of the trade, he was going through his second consecutive season of a K rate falling and a GB rate falling with it. Still, he had a 1.28 WHIP with St. Lucie and was young for the level.

A teammate of Whalen earlier in the year, Gant had made a half-dozen starts before being sent back to AA. He wasn't doing so hot there before or after the demotion to St. Lucie. The belief was that while Whalen had stuff that needed to be refined, Gant had guts and a deceptive delivery that kept hitters off balance. Gant was a guy you take a chance on, but it seemed like Whalen was the bigger get here.

Short-Term Results
Well, the Mets went to the World Series so there's that. KJ wasn't quite as good with the Mets, but he did provide depth at all four infield positions along with playing both corner outfield slots. He went 1-for-9 in the playoffs with 4 K's and a HBP. Uribe also saw his numbers decline post-trade, slashing .219/.301/.430 before missing a month with a chest injury that kept him out until Game 3 of the World Series.

But their value extended beyond filling in for injured Mets like David Wright if you read what the New York media focused on. Both players indicated to the fans and the team alike that the Mets were willing to add to their team in hopes of competing. While later pick-ups like Yoenis Cespedes and Tyler Clippard played bigger roles, it shouldn't be ignored what adding KJ and Uribe did for the culture and feeling around the team.

Meanwhile, Whalen headed to Carolina, but his time with the Mudcats was cut short by an injury in his third outing. He later posted a picture to Twitter about his injury and while I'm not sure exactly what the injury is, both knees were operated on and he pointed out later that he was glad to be running pain-free for the first time in two seasons. He'll be aiming for a return by spring training.

While Whalen went under the knife, Gant excelled. In seven starts for the Mississippi Braves, Gant struck out over a batter an inning and 3 K's for every walk. Meanwhile, he allowed just one homer and finished with a 1.03 WHIP and 1.99 ERA as a member of the Braves. Four of his outings ended with at least seven K's, including a 6 ING, 1 H, 9 K outing against Montgomery.

Long-Term Outlook
This trade completely shifts toward the Braves perspective now as both KJ and Uribe were granted free agency. Can Gant sustain his success to finish the year? He'll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, though I imagine the Braves will add him to the 40-man roster to protect him. He could even be a darkhorse next spring, though it's far more likely that he'll be ticketed for a trip to Gwinnett.

As for Whalen, it's all going to be about health for him. He's avoided arm trouble and hand and knee injuries aren't typically that important, but not pitching 100 innings in a season four years into your career as a starter is. He'll likely return to Carolina, though he might be ready for Mississippi. Either way, if he's healthy and back on his game, Whalen gives the Braves another good prospect for the future to be used for trade fodder or as depth for the roster.

All in all, this was a good deal at the time and remains so. Neither Whalen, nor Gant, will be super impressive or garner a lot of prospect attention, but each is better than seeing KJ and Uribe produce for a bad ballclub.

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