CINCINNATI – The Braves did some last-minute dealing Saturday, trading for Kansas City outfielder Rick Ankiel and reliever Kyle Farnsworth in a five-player exchange.
They sent outfielder Gregor Blanco, reliever Jesse Chavez and left-handed pitching prospect Tim Collins to the Royals in the deal, which was finalized just before Saturday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.
“It allows us to fill our two most important needs, and it also didn’t force us to give up any of our top young pitching prospects,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “We really like Collins, so it’s not to say he’s not a good looking young prospect.
“But I think everybody knows who our top starting pitchers are in the minor leagues, and we were able to hold onto those guys.”
The Braves got Collins from Toronto as part of the July14 Yunel Escoba-for-Alex Gonzalez shortstop swap.
In another minor trade Saturday, the Braves got Detroit Tigers minor league outfielder Wilkin Ramirez for a player to be named later or cash.
Ranked near the bottom of the National League in offense from outfielders, the Braves sought to add some punch to that unit. They also wanted to add depth to a strong bullpen that’s shown recent signs of fatigue.
They think Ankiel, 31, can be the run-producer they envisioned Nate McLouth being when they got him from Pittsburgh in a midseason 2009 trade. McLouth was demoted last week to Triple-A after struggling both before and after a June concussion.
Ankiel is a former left-handed pitcher who converted to the outfield four years ago and hit 25 homers for St. Louis in 2008. A quadriceps injury has limited him to 27 games this season, but he’s hit .367 with a homer in 30 at-bats since coming off the disabled list July 22.
“It should bolster our club,” third baseman Chipper Jones said of the trade. “Rick’s a tremendous outfielder and great athlete, a good kid. Hopefully he helps solidify things out there in center. Farnsy, we know him. He can be really dominant. I definitely think that move vaults our bullpen to top-notch. No doubt it’s probably going to be considered the best of the game.
“It allows us to shorten games. We go into the seventh inning with a lead, they’re not going to catch us.”
Farnsworth, who had a memorable stint with the Braves in 2005, returns to give them another veteran power arm in a deep ‘pen. The 34-year-old setup man had a 2.42 ERA in 37 appearances this season for the Royals, with 36 strikeouts and 12 walks in 44-2/3 innings.
It’s the second time the Braves have traded for him on July 31. In 2005 they got him from Detroit, and Farnsworth posted a career-best 1.98 ERA in 26 regular-season appearances for the Braves before blowing a late lead in the decisive division-series loss at Houston.
“It makes us better,” Braves closer Billy Wagner said. “It’s a win-win for us. You hate to lose a good friend like Chavy, but it’s the business of the game. Farnsworth’s been there, done that. He can fill a lot of needs. I think it’s a great move.
“And adding Ankiel to the situation solidifies us in center field.”
Ankiel has hit .261 with four homers, 15 RBIs and a .317 on-base percentage in 101 at-bats this season, and has a .252 career average with 53 homers, 172 RBIs and a .311 OBP in 369 games in parts of eight seasons, including the past four as a position player.
Arm injuries and a much-chronicled bout with command problems led the once-heralded St. Louis pitcher to switch to the outfield.
Ankiel is making $2.75 million this season and has a $6 million mutual (club/player) option for 2011 that includes a $500,000 buyout. He had spent all of his career in the Cardinals’ organization before signing with Kansas City as a free agent in January.
Farnsworth has a $4.5 million salary this season and $5.25 club option for 2011 with a $500,000 buyout. Ankiel and Farnsworth are owed about about $2.5 million combined for the rest of the season, and the Royals sent cash in the trade to cover part of that total.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore is a former Braves farm director familiar with Blanco, who spent six seasons in the Braves’ minor league system before reaching the majors in 2008. Blanco, 26, hit .252 with a .361 OBP, 22 extra-base hits (one homer) in 633 at-bats for Atlanta over the past three seasons, including .310 with a .394 OBP in 36 games this season.
Blanco had just been recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday and arrived and rejoined the Braves in Cincinnati before finding out he was traded.
Chavez, 26, had a 5.89 ERA in 28 relief appearances for the Braves this season, after posting a 4.01 ERA in 73 appearances as a Pittsburgh rookie in 2009. When the Braves got him from Tampa Bay in a December trade for closer Rafael Soriano, they spoke of how big a role Chavez might have. But the hard-throwing right-hander struggling mightily in the first half.
Ramirez, 24, batted .230 with 19 homers and 56 RBIs in 97 games for the Tigers’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, and will be assigned to Gwinnett. He has a .258 average and .315 on-base percentage with 96 homers and 141 steals in 705 minor league games over seven seasons.