Braves trade likely future stars to win right now
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves proved this week there’s more than one way to look at the purpose of a farm system.
Usually the Braves and other teams use their minor leagues to develop homegrown talent, brought along slowly to blend in with veterans. Rookie Yunel Escobar, All-Star Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur rose through their system in recent years, as did Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones before them.
But this week general manager John Schuerholz traded a large portion of his next wave of rising stars for a better shot at immediate postseason glory.
Gone are Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitting catcher and first baseman with power who was already in the big leagues, and Elvis Andrus, a slick-fielding shortstop. The two were rated as the team’s top prospects.
Gone are Matt Harrison, one of the top left-handed pitchers in the minors, hardthrowing right-hander Neftali Feliz and left-hander Beau Jones.
All five were sent to Texas for two veterans — two-time All-Star Mark Teixeira and left-handed reliever Ron Mahay.
There was more. Young starting pitcher Kyle Davies was traded to Kansas City for Octavio Dotel, who was the Royals’ closer. Left-hander Royce Ring was acquired from San Diego for two relievers — Wil Ledezma and Will Startup, a former University of Georgia star who was a fifth-round pick in 2005.
Ring, assigned to Triple-A Richmond, was the only newcomer who was not immediately added to the major league roster.
It was a mind-numbing collection of prospects to trade in one day.
Schuerholz said he called Braves director of scouting Roy Clark Tuesday to offer congratulations for his role in making the trades possible.
“What he said to me was ‘Boss, we had a great day,
and now we have to go build up again,’” Schuerholz said.
There were some jokes following the trades about the state of the depleted farm system. Could Richmond still field a team? Would the Braves have to consolidate two Class A teams?
Jokes aside, Schuerholz and other major league general managers know the purpose of farm systems is to make it possible to win at the big-league level.
“As Atlanta showed, the team with the best farm system wins,” said Washington general manager Jim Bowden. “They did the best at the deadline because they had the best system.”
Schuerholz and Braves manager Bobby Cox acknowledged the team gave up a lot to increase their chances for a championship.
“We had to,” Schuerholz said. “That’s what it took. But the good news is we had that much talent valued not only by us but by others.”
The Braves already were in the thick of the wild-card race and were only a few games behind the New York Mets in the NL East. They may have made the playoffs without making a trade, but now they believe that with a more powerful lineup and a very deep bullpen they have a far better chance of advancing to the World Series.
And what of the future? Suddenly the timetable for winning big seems to be two years.
Teixeira could be a free agent after the 2008 season. If Saltalamacchia is hitting homers for the Rangers into the next decade and Teixeira is playing for another team in 2009, would this still be a good trade for the Braves?
“We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t think it was worth it,” said Schuerholz.
Cox, 66, said before the season he may manage only one or two more years. In April, Cox signed a one-year extension through 2008. He has joked about leaving with Schuerholz; many believe he’s not kidding, as Schuerholz also is 66.
Why should Schuerholz worry about the next decade when he said “I’ll worry about next year next year.”
Teixeira shares the “win now” focus. He made it clear in his first day in Atlanta that he will not discuss in public the chances that he could sign a long-term deal with the Braves.
Braves fans hope Teixeira’s ties to Atlanta will make him want to stay with the team. He played college ball at Georgia Tech and his wife, Leigh, is from nearby Habersham County.
“I don’t want any contract talks or long-term talks to get in the way of anything we’re doing here,” Teixeira said. “I saw that happen in Texas.”
Rangers owner Tom Hicks revealed Teixeira and his agent, Scott Boras, turned down an offer for an eightyear, $ 140 million contract extension before Hicks agreed to trade the first baseman.
For all the talk of the departed prospects, Teixeira offered the reminder that he’s only 27.
“I feel like my career’s just starting,” he said before adding “I want to win as a Braves player and spend the next 15 years doing the same.”