Even as Braves fans scream, “Do something!”, it’s worth noting that the test of a general manager isn’t to do just anything — it’s to do the right thing. And sometimes what seems the right thing turns out to be …
The approach of another trade deadline takes us back to July 2007. The Braves made a big move, sending five prospects to Texas for the first baseman Teixeira and the reliever Ron Mahay. On the night Teixeira joined the Braves, Tim Hudson said, “Seems like they’re trying to make us win the World Series around here.”
That night Teixeira hit two home runs. Soon, two giddy fans from Auburn, Ala., had written a ditty and slapped it on YouTube. Sample lyric: “The National League it just ain’t fair-a/The Atlanta Braves got Mark Teixeira.” Also this: “The side effect is mild hysteria/The medical reason in Mark Teixeira.”
The reality, alas, was less scintillating. The Braves were 3 1/2 games out of first place when Teixeira arrived; they finished five back. They’d gone 56-51 without Teixeira; they went 28-27 with him. He was gone the next July, shipped to California ahead of impending free agency. Two of those five prospects grew up to help the Rangers reach the 2010 World Series.
The big heat on is Frank Wren to respond to the Giants’ acquisition of Carlos Beltran and to the Phillies’ trade for Hunter Pence. But a response isn’t always an answer, and here we cite another precedent. In 1983 the Braves were running ahead of the Dodgers, but Los Angeles landed the pitcher Rick Honeycutt. Determined to match, the Braves plucked Len Barker from Cleveland, but at the sky-high cost of Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby and Rick Behenna.
The Dodgers flew past the Braves in September. Barker won one game as a Brave in 1983, nine more the next two seasons. In any ranking of the worst trades in Atlanta Braves history, those two deadline deals would make the bottom five.
We mention this not to excuse Frank Wren from doing nothing yet — the guess is that Wren will move momentarily — but it’s not as if the GM has been trying to do nothing. Wren is the Charlie Hustle of general managers: His default position is to slide headfirst. Sometimes he overdoes it, which is how a team that acquired Javier Vazquez and Derek Lowe in one offseason felt compelled to add Kenshin Kawakami. But anyone who thinks Wren is sitting back watching the river flow is delusional.
Wren knows his team needs a bat, a center fielder, a leadoff man. He watches the games, same as you. But knowing you lack something doesn’t mean it’s available, and even if it is it might not be available at your price. The Phillies traded their best pitching prospect and their best non-pitching prospect to Houston for Pence. It has been reported that Wren offered Mike Minor, the Braves’ third-best pitching prospect. Does that make him stupid? Uh, no.
The Phillies sell out every game. When they lack starting pitching a few years down the road, they’ll buy more. (In recent years they’ve bought Roy Halladay, Joe Blanton, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee twice.) The Braves can’t do that. They’ve spent half as much for this roster as Philadelphia has for its.
The Braves might have had Beltran, but Wren refused to trade one of his four top pitching prospects for a three-month rental. We can quibble over his decision — me, I’d have parted with Minor if it meant getting Beltran for however long — but nobody should suggest it was made lightly.
Wren wants to win a World Series, same as you, but there’s no assurance a big-ticket hire makes you a champ. Fred McGriff panned out. Teixeira didn’t. B.J. Surhoff, acquired by the Braves at the 2000 deadline, didn’t. Denny Neagle, acquired in 1996, didn’t. (Though he would win 36 games in 1997 and ‘98.) But Mike Devereaux, who arrived in an afterthought trade for the minor-leaguer Andre King in August 1995, became the most valuable player of the NLCS en route to Atlanta’s’ only World Series title.
More? Well, the acquisition who left the biggest imprint on October 2010 didn’t arrive in a deadline deal. The Giants bought Cody Ross off waivers from Florida on Aug. 22. He hit five postseason homers and drove in 10 runs.
Baseball, as you might have heard, is a funny old game. Those perceived as deadline winners don’t always, or even often, win in October. Consensus holds that the Giants made a winning move to get Beltran. Consensus also holds that the Phillies won by trading for Pence. At least one of those teams will not win the World Series. That’s a guarantee.
By Mark Bradley