The Braves have cause to beware the prospect(s)-for-rental-player trade. They’ve been burned twice this century: Once in December 2003, when they shipped Jason Marquis and Adam Wainwright to St. Louis for a year’s worth of J.D. Drew, and again in July 2007 when they sent the entire farm system — OK, not really — to Texas for 364 days of Mark Teixeira’s services.
And now, another trade deadline close at hand, we here have reason to ponder the merits of another rumored young-for-old swap. The Mets are looking to divest themselves of Carlos Beltran, who will become a free agent at season’s end. (And if you’re thinking the Braves might have a chance to keep Beltran longer-term, forget it. His agent, as was the case with Drew and Teixeira, is Scott Boras.)
Owing to money problems from Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the Mets have money problems. They’re not looking for big names. They’re in need of cheap young arms. The Braves have ‘em. It has been reported that the Mets dispatched a scout to watch Mike Minor work for Gwinnett against Louisville on Thursday. (Might not have been the best night to catch him: Six innings, 10 hits, six runs, three earned.)
We ask: Two months plus postseason of Beltran against the next five years of Minor — would you do it?
As a rule, I hate trading young pitchers. (Mention the names of John Smoltz and Jair Jurrjens to a Tigers fan.) I would under no circumstances — if the Rangers offered Josh Hamilton I might rethink, but only then — part with Julio Teheran or Arodys Vizcaino, and I’m on record as saying I wouldn’t swap Brandon Beachy for Carlos Quentin, the White Sox outfielder who can become a free agent after next season.
But Minor-for-Beltran I’d do, for two reasons. First, Beltran plays center field, which means he’d fill an immediate need. (Quentin is a corner outfielder.) Second, I’m not crazy about Minor.
When the Braves drafted him in Round 1 out of Vanderbilt in 2009, the ESPN analyst Keith Law suggested they’d erred. But not every guy you pick in Round 1 has to wind up in your rotation to have value: If Minor can be turned into Beltran and Beltran hits the winning home run in Game 7 of the World Series, this will go down as the greatest Braves’ No. 1 pick since Chipper Jones.
In two-plus years in the organization, Minor has done well. But he’s not in the majors, and those who justified drafting him did so in the belief he was already close to being big-league ready. He has been lapped by Beachy, who wasn’t drafted at all, and will soon be passed by Teheran. And if Beachy vis-a-vis Minor had been a close call, the Braves would have erred on the side of the lefthander, seeing as how their rotation lacks one. But it’s not close.
Minor isn’t another Wainwright, who clearly projected as a No. 1 starter. Minor might top out as a No. 4 man. He’s the kind of good-but-not-great prospect who’s made to go in a deadline deal. He is, to dip into Braves’ history, a Melvin Nieves.
Melvin Nieves was a promising outfielder in a stacked farm system who became the key name in the Fred McGriff trade of July 1993. The Padres wanted Ryan Klesko, who was the prospect of the moment, but the Braves wouldn’t bite. (Nor was John Schuerholz moved to part with Chipper or Javy Lopez or even Mike Kelly or Tony Tarasco. Like I said: Stacked farm system) They held out and got the guy they needed at the price they wanted.
The parallel isn’t exact — McGriff didn’t become a free agent until after the Braves won the World Series in 1995, and they had enough money back then to keep him — but it’s close enough. The Braves were good but not good enough in July 1993. (With no wild card back then, they had to catch San Francisco. They did.) Good as these Braves are, they might be one bat short of winning the World Series.
If the Braves don’t land Beltran, they might have to face him in October: The Phillies, Giants and Red Sox are all believed to have similar interest. The Braves saw him in postseason once before. He hit four home runs, three at Turner Field, against them as a rent-an-Astro in 2004. He signed with the Mets for Joe Johnson money that winter.
The Braves helped make Beltran a rich man. If he helps make the Braves a world champ, we’ll call it even.
By Mark Bradley