Braves trade likely fu­ture stars to win right now

The Covington News - - SPORTS - By Charles Odum

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.”


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