In a surprising (and not so surprising to some) move on Opening Day 2015 (yeah, the one where only two teams play), John Hart and his staff continued their complete makeover of the Braves by trading fan-favorite Craig Kimbrel and fan-punching bag Melvin Upton, Jr. to the Padres in yet another blockbuster. Several pundits had drawn the ire of fans across Braves’ Nation earlier this winter when they pointed out that Kimbrel should be “on the block” to help with the quest to obtain more young, controllable talent in spite of Hart’s public proclamations that the organization had no intention of trading their All-Star Closer. Many pointed out that having an elite-level Closer was simply unnecessary for a team that looks like it could struggle to win 75 games, and I agree with them.We weren’t telling Hart & Company anything they didn’t know folks – this ain’t their first rodeo. There will be a faction of fans who will absolutely hate the deal, but most of those tend to be younger and speak out because they’re thinking with their hearts instead of their heads – they’ve now seen most of their favorite players traded away and they’re upset. Many of them weren’t around to suffer through the dark days of the 70’s and 80’s when the Braves had little talent on the MLB roster, no help on the way from the farm system, and no defined plan for improvement.
The fact that they were able to include Upton in the deal was probably what sealed it – there were multiple reports all off-season that the beginning point in most of the earlier trade discussions was that you also had to take Melvin/B. J. and a big chunk of his salary if you wanted Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, or Evan Gattis, but none of those ever worked out. You’ve likely read other articles by now that discuss the fact that dumping Melvin along with Kimbrel saves the organization millions by clearing the next-to-last “bad contract” left moving forward (several previous accounting procedures removed the remaining money due Dan Uggla from the payroll, leaving just Chris Johnson as the one player they’d really like to move), so we’re not going to delve deeper into that.
This is more about what the Braves received and what moves they could potentially make going forward in their effort to be more than “relevant” by the time they move into SunTrust Park in 2017. At the MLB-level, Carlos Quentin was included as strictly a money-swap to offset some of Melvin’s salary, and has already been designated for assignment. The team also agreed to take on Cameron Maybin to also help the Padres, although Maybin will be kept since he’s still relatively young and has flashed upside in the past. He gives Atlanta a bounce back CF candidate who needed a change of scenery that will be easier to stomach if he doesn’t because of the difference in salary commitments. (Note – Cameron’s also a big personal favorite as a local kid who grew up in western NC and attended T. C. Roberson HS along with recent Brave Braxton Davidson.) In the event Maybin returns to form soon, the Braves could release Kelly Johnson and have Eric Young, Jr. slide over to platoon with Jonny Gomes in LF this season while also acting as the backup CF.
Now for the goods. Matt Wisler is a 22 year old SP that was the Padres’ #1 prospect according to Baseball America (#34 overall in their rankings, #53 overall according to Baseball Prospectus, and #69 on MLB.com’s list), and he was widely rumored to be one of Hart’s targets in the earlier Upton deal. Wisler’s yet another sinkerballer who should benefit from Roger McDowell’s tutelage – his fastball sits 92-93 and touches 95, backing it up with a plus changeup as well as both a slider and curve that have graded out as average to above-average at times. Matt is very close to being big-league ready (debuting as the team’s #2 prospect on the updated MLB Pipeline list), and will likely be a rotation option later this season in case of injury or in the event Trevor Cahill or Mike Minor are able to pitch well-enough that a contender is willing to trade a good prospect or two for them. Jordan Paroubeck is a 20 year old switch-hitting OF and profiles as a LF who can handle CF in a pinch that was drafted #69 overall by the Padres in the 2013 draft. Jordan got his first taste of professional baseball in 2014 and impressed with a .286/.346/.457/.803 slash in limited ABs. He graduated from Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, CA – the same program that produced former Al-Star Barry Bonds. Paroubeck comes in at #24 on MLB Pipeline’s updated Braves’ list, joining fellow former Padre Mallex Smith as Atlanta’s highest ranked OF prospects behind 2014 draftee Braxton Davidson. Atlanta also receives San Diego’s Competitive Balance Pick in the 2015 MLB Draft (#41 overall), giving them 5 of the top 90 picks (#14, #28, #41, #54, and #89) to continue restocking the system with.
The goal Hart & Company vaguely outlined when they took over was to return the organization to one deep in pitching as its calling card (check), replenish a woefully thin minor league feeder system (check – the trades have delivered the Braves’ #2, #3, #6, #7, #10, #11, #12, #16, #17, #18, #21, #22, and #24 prospects plus #27 Rule V pick Daniel Winkler who led the minors in strikeouts prior to becoming a Tommy John Surgery victim), and return the team to prominence in short order before the new park opens. With the financial flexibility created with this trade they’ve now put themselves in position to bid on one of the big three corner OF free-agents this winter (Justin Upton/Yoenis Cespedes/Jason Heyward), AND one of the front of the rotation arms that will be available if they so choose (David Price would be quite a nice fit IMO). They’ve also built enough SP depth to potentially transition BOTH Mike Foltyniewicz and Manny Banuelos into late-inning options to join Jason Grilli in the hopes that Grilli can help Folty become the next Kimbrel.
Suddenly it looks like the huge uphill battle the front office faced just a short few months ago can actually be won. Just a few more steps to go.