When I hear people complain about the Braves not beating the Angels’ offer for Zack Greinke, I’m surprised at how quickly some here have forgotten about the Mark Teixiera trade while others bring it up Every Single Time that the Rangers are in the news, and each time a couple of the five prospects the Braves traded to the Rangers in that deal make the All-Star team.
To update on four of the five prospects sent to Texas in that deal: Elvis Andrus is a two-time All-Star and was AL Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2009; Neftali Feliz was an All-Star and AL Rookie of the Year in 2010; Matt Harrison was an All-Star this season and is 26-14 with a 3.23 ERA in 40 starts in 2011-2012; Jarrod Saltalamacchia has 20 homers, 46 RBIs and a .515 slugging percentage in 79 games this season for Boston.
They were all sent to the Rangers along with left-hander Beau Jones in exchange for Teixeira and lefty Ron Mahay on July 31, 2007.
Teixeira hit .295 with 37 homers, 134 RBIs and a .943 OPS in 157 games for the Braves, who didn’t make the postseason in 2007 and were out of the race in 2008 when they traded him to the Angels for first baseman Casey Kotchman, who has since played with Boston, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Cleveland, and minor league reliever Stephen Marek, now in the Blue Jays organization after leaving as a six-year minor league free agent. convinced that general manager Frank Wren is going to anger half the fan base if he does that deal and the other half if he doesn’t.
As good as Teixiera’s overall numbers were with the Braves, he got off to a typically slow start in ’08 when the Braves fell behind quickly. Agent Scott Boras and Teixeira were looking for far more than what the Braves offered in a contract extension before trading him, and Teixeira got it when he signed an eight-year, $180 million deal with the Yankees a couple of days before Christmas 2008.
Which brings us to Greinke, who would have probably made about 10 starts for the Braves during the remainder of the regular season, then commanded at least $20 million per year in at least a five-year deal and probably six. He turned down a five-year, $100-plus million extension from the Brewers recently, and like many I shook my head when I heard about that, wondering what he was thinking if he believed he could do better.
Then Cole Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million extension this week to stay with the Phillies, and I’m not longer doubting that Greinke will get more than $20 million per season if Hamels got $24 million.
Not that I think Greinke is as good an investment. I don’t. (And yes, I’m aware of their WAR ratings and how Greinke compares to Hamels and Matt Cain, etc.)
The Angels gave up three of their top 10 prospects to get Greinke. Three. Even if the Brave had included their preseason No. 1 prospect Julio Teheran, they would’ve had to give up at least one of their other elite prospects and perhaps two. I still haven’t heard exactly what Milwaukee asked from the Braves. I would imagine that catcher Christian Bethancourt was in the package the Brewers asked for, particularly if Teheran wasn’t included and perhaps even if if was.
If I’m the Braves I wouldn’t wouldn’t give up Bethancourt for anything until Brian McCann’s name is signed on the dotted line on a long-term extension. Bethancourt is too good, too special a talent, to give up for any rental player. Especially one who’s only going to make about 10 starts for you, as opposed to, say, Teixeira or J.D. Drew, players the Braves got with a year left on their contracts in hopes they would each help them in two playoff drives and two postseasons. Which obviously didn’t work out.
Some fans and media members see Greinke’s nasty repertoire and say damn the torpedoes, screw tomorrow and make the deal for today, for the ticket to the World Series in Chipper Jones’ final. To which I say, if there was even a reasonably good assurance that Greinke would put them over the top and get them to the World Series, perhaps you’d have a point. But there is not.
For one thing, the Braves will play about half of their remaining games on the road, and if they go to the playoffs as a wild-card team they would not have home-field advantage in any round. I bring this up because of Greinke’s home-road statistical disparity, which may or may not have anything to do with his well-chronicled battles with depression and social anxiety disorder.
From 2009 — his Cy Young Award season with Kansas City, so people won’t accuse me of cherry-picking stats — through 2011, Greinke was a sparkling 29-8 with a 2.99 ERA in 94 home starts, and 13-20 with a 3.72 ERA in 45 road starts. The disparity has become more pronounced in the past couple of seasons with Milwaukee.
Last season he was 5-6 with a 4.70 ERA on the road, and 11-0 with a 3.13 ERA at home. This season he has a 2.56 ERA and .196 opponents’ average and .557 opponents’ OPS in eight home starts, compared to a .294 opponents’ average and .719 opponents’ OPS in 13 road starts.
His only experience on the big stage of the postseason was last fall, when he went 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA and .311 opponents’ average in three starts against Arizona and St. Louis, none of which were “quality starts.” He lasted fewer than six innings in two of those starts and gave up six runs and eight hits in six innings of the other, a win against St. Louis in which the Brewers scored eight runs while he was in the game.
If I’m giving up multiple top prospects for a rental player who’s a pitcher, I want more of a proven postseason commodity, or at least someone with a more consistent track record and without any question marks about performing when the pressure is turned up and the attention and scrutinty are far more intense than for home games at Miller Park.
So what’s still available on the pitching market? Ryan Dempster, obviously. We won’t rehash his resume, since we’ve done it a half-dozen times in the past couple of weeks. Suffice to say, I think if you’re going to give up a top-10 prospect – one, not multiple top-10 prospects — for a rental player, he’d be a reasonable one to do it for, given his seasonal and recent performance, the fact he badly wants another trip to the postseason and to finish strong in his free-agent walk year, and this: In the past three seasons, he’s 9-5 with a 3.47 ERA in 17 August starts, with 99 strikeouts in 106-1/3 innings, and 6-7 with a 3.42 ERA in 17 September starts, with 95 strikeouts in 110-1/3 innings.
And no, neither he nor the Braves have ruled out the deal, despite all the water under that bridge. Still won’t surprise me if it happens.
The Marlins’ Josh Johnson or Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, both legit No. 1 starters and both under contract beyond this season, would be the best possible pickups for the Braves, but seem like pipe dreams at this point. Johnson will make $13.75 million in 2013 before he becomes a free agent, Marlins are said to be asking for a Teixeira-trade-like bounty in return (yes, that trade is still the one used as a point of reference, which isn’t good from the perspective of the Braves).
“King” Felix is owed $39.5 million over the 2013-2014 seasons, and Seattle isn’t likely to trade him after jettisoning franchise icon Ichiro Suzuki and others already. Hernandez is a stud, period. If the Braves could get him, I’d say three top prospects would be very reasonable to give up for that guy. But again, indications are he’s not on the block.
Tampa Bay is also said to have a too-high asking price for James Shields, who has two more affordable options ($9 million in 2013 and $12.5 million 2014). Besides, the Braves want a guy who can help them get a lot better right now, and right now Shields is 2-5 with a 5.37 ERA and .308 opponents’ average in his past 11 starts. He has 68 strikeouts and 23 walks in 70-1/3 innings in that span, but also 92 hits allowed including eight home runs. He has only three quality starts in that two-month stretch.
“Big Game” James (that’s his nickname) went 2-2 with a 2.88 ERA in four postseason starts in 2008, but is 0-2 with a 10.61 ERA in two playoff starts since then — both against Texas, one in 2010 and one in 2011.
Boston left Jon Lester is an intriguing option and one the Braves have explored. His terrible stats at Fenway Park this season might turn off some people, but look closer and you’ll see there’s reason to like this guy as an option, including the fact that he’s signed for $11.625 million in 2013 with a $13 million team option in 2014.
He’s 5-8 with a 5.46 ERA in 20 starts this season, but 3-2 with a 3.04 ERA in eight road starts. The home bugaboo is new for Lester, who in the previous three seasons was 20-13 with a 3.34 ERA in 42 career home starts and 29-13 with a 3.40 ERA in 53 road starts (he’s spent his whole career with the Red Sox).
Postseason experience? Yeah, he’s been there, done that. He has a 2.57 ERA and .213 opponents’ average in eight postseason games (six starts), though only a 2-3 record to show for it thanks to terrible run support (the Red Sox scored two or fewer runs while he was in all of his postseason starts, including no runs in two.)
Another possible option worth considering: San Diego’s Edinson Volquez, who is 3-0 with a 1.55 ERA in his past six starts, after going 1-5 with a 5.72 ERA in the previous seven. For the season, he’s 6-7 with a 3.30 ERA for the Padres, including a 2.84 ERA at pitcher-friendly Petco Park and a 3.96 road ERA. His .209 opponents average including .201 vs. lefties, .216 vs. righties.
After going 1-5 with a 5.72 ERA and 27 walks (33 strikeouts in 39-1/3 innings in seven starts from May 17 through June 19, he’s 3-0 with a 1.55 ERA, .164 opp average and 22 walks (41 strikeouts) in 40-2/3 innings over his past six starts, including a one-hit shutout against Houston. Only allowed one homer in his past eight starts.
Volquez is making only $2,237,500 this seaon and has one more year of arbitration before free agency.
But here’s one potential red flag, for his career, he’s 13-20 with a 5.15 ERA and .272 opp average in 52 games (49 starts) after the All-Star break, compared to 26-16 with a 3.80 ERA and .224 opp average before the break.
Oh, one other option you guys are probably aware of, which looks better by the day: Kris Medlen. In 10 July relief appearances for the Braves, he has a 0.55 ERA in 16-1/3 innings, with only eight hits, one run and four walks allowed, and 13 strikeouts to go with a .143 opponents’ average in that span. The Braves, if they can’t get another starter without mortgaging the future, might just go with him and add him to the rotation Tuesday.
• Had some more stuff, but out of time. I would just remind you, Brian McCann will be trying to extend his rather remarkable streak of six consecutive games with a homer against the Phillies. Tonight he’ll face Joe Blanton, against whom he is 10-for-24 (.417) with three homers. Blanton, who is 4-5 with a 5.79 ERA in his past 12 starts, will face Mike Minor, who is 3-3 with a 3.64 ERA and .213 opponents’ average in his past eight.
Let’s close with a great tune off Sugar’s Copper Blue album, just reissued in a terrific package with their Beaster EP and a live show. You can see them do it live by clicking here.
“CHANGES” by Sugar (Bob Mould)
I want something like i remember
And I want something
That lasts forever
I remember times you said
That you’d be true to me
Look at how the weather’s changing
I’m accustomed to your deception
Comes the rule with no exception
And I’ve been dragged across the river
Running far and wide
Come and see how I feel inside
Change for the better
Change for the worse
Changes with summer and fall
Now you’re a stranger
Spare me some change
So i can find someone to call my own
Now that winter has fallen upon us
I need something that’s warm and honest
And if i found someone who thinks
That they’ll be true to me
I really wouldn’t want to change it
I have seen i have seen
What these changes mean to me
If you’re thinking of changing
If you’re thinking of staying with me
We need to agree
We need to make some changes
We need what we need
Do i need you
Do you need me
– by David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog