There is always a danger, when talking about a bad trade, to overreach with one's words, to make a bad trade sound worse than it really is. There is no such danger here.
Millwood Deal: For there are no words in the English language, or for that matter any other language, from Korean to Klingon, from Romanian to Romulan, that can truly express how utterly moronic it was to trade Millwood to the Phillies for Johnny Estrada. It is the word "asinine" manifested. OK, so maybe there are words to describe it. But most are of the four-letter variety. You know Millwood's numbers; the 3.20 ERA, the .230 batting average against, the brilliant June through September stretch. You know how he was probably the Braves best pitcher in 2002, boasting peripherals that promised only more success.
You might not know about Estrada's awe-inspiring .279/.322/.417 line at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2002. Hey, if we're really lucky he might turn into Eddie Perez! And heck, we all know how much Bobby Cox loves to carry a third catcher in the playoffs. Why, now he can prevail himself of that luxury for the entire season! Evidently John Schuerholz was visited by the ghost of Ed Hearn, who convinced him of the need to cure a headache with a guillotine. Furthermore, it was a headache of Schuerholz's own doing. Schuerholz painted himself into a corner and then whined about being given the brush. Schuerholz can cry about the evils of the corporate ownership he has to deal with, but a payroll around $90 million is not going to bring a tear to Billy Beane's eye in sympathy.
Not to overstate things here, but the layers of stupidity which blanket this deal are appalling. Trading Kevin Millwood to your chief divisional rival is just…you just don't do that. If Schuerholz wasn't lying with his statement that none of the 28 other teams in the league were willing to give up ANYTHING for one of the best pitchers in the National League, then the correct course of action was simply to non-tender Millwood and let teams not named the Phillies bid for his services. The concept of not trading within one's own division is overrated, but at times, it's best to actually follow "the book." John Schuerholz chose absolutely the wrong time to start thinking outside the box.
Moss/Ortiz Deal: For the purposes of this column, it's preferable to break each transaction, or group of related transactions, into completely separate sections, easily divided from the previous moves. However, in this case, the Byrd, Ortiz/Moss, and Maddux transactions all gave life to the Millwood fiasco, and as such, cannot be looked at as isolated issues.
Because, as an isolated issue, trading Moss and Manuel Mateo for Ortiz isn't a bad little move. Ortiz is a solid enough pitcher, posting solid campaigns in 3 of the last 4 seasons. Furthermore, Moss is due for a tumble, having pitched into peripherals last year that suggest an ERA closer to five than to three. Moss was perpetually walking a tight-rope, always pitching into jams with his at times painful lack of control, and often pitching out of them with his near astounding unhittability. That luck doesn't look to continue. It's possible that Moss is one of the rare breed of pitchers that can consistently, and dramatically, out-perform their peripherals. But I'm hesisitant to ascribe that ability to Moss.
Ortiz historically hasn't pitched well away from San Fransisco; a 4.48 ERA away from home in the last 3 years doesn't bode real well. However, he seemed to have figured something out last season. He was solid enough, if worse than at Pac Bell, away from home. Turner Field is a hitter's park, commentators protestations aside, but the defense behind Ortiz will be superior to what he had supporting him in 2002. Mateo was brilliant in the Rookie League last season, but the road from the minors to The Show is littered with failed prospects who glittered in the Rookie League.
Byrd Signing: As an isolated issue, bringing in Paul Byrd, at the cost of $3 million in 2002, is something of a puzzle. It's not the best use of finite resources, but Byrd can be expected to pitch fairly well for Atlanta. He had a solid enough 3.9 ERA pitching for Kansas City, with some curious peripherals. His 3.3 K/BB ratio is excellent, though his strikeout rate was appallingly low. Byrd racked up just 129 Ks in 228 innings. On the other hand, his WHIP of 1.14 bodes well for the future. Furthermore, his HR allowed rate should decrease moving to Turner Field, which is much more of a pitcher's park than Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. (The K increased scoring by 29%; The Ted, only by 9%) Also, it's important to not underestimate the importance of the defense behind Byrd. He is a pitcher who relies on his fielders to help him out. KC was a bad defensive team in 2002, Atlanta, a good one.
Maddux Agrees To Arbitration: And as an isolated issue, it's always a good thing when one of the greatest pitchers of all time agrees to come back to your team for the following season, even had a greatly increased price. And no, I'm not talking about the Ray King acquisition. (We'll get to that later.) Maddux will make at least $15 million in arbitration; he's due a raise, whatever happens. There was much talk about Maddux wearing down, about his innings pitched dropping. Amidst all the negativism, what was lost was the fact that Maddux posted the second-lowest ERA in the National League. Furthermore, he lead the Braves staff in Win Shares. Maddux is still one of the very best in the league, and his presence will make the Braves a better team next year, the contents of the next paragraph not withstanding.
Of course, the proceeding three transactions are not isolated issues. They, especially the upcoming Maddux arbitration battle, are the root causes of the Millwood Massacre. The sheer lack of planning and anticipation by Schuerholtz is simply staggering. He knew entering this week that it was likely Maddux would accept arbitration, everyone knew that. Tim Kurkjian spent hours on television telling us that exact same thing, over and over and over again. And he knew that an arbitration battle with Millwood would likely be a battle he could not win. And yet, like a man who owns a credit card and major spending addiction but no steady job, Schuerholz blithely just kept on spending. If you know that you've got $25 million in arbitration cases coming up with two pitchers, why do you spend $3 million on Byrd? Or $4 million on Ortiz? It would make some sense if Schuerholtz had a nice package of prospects and young major leaguers ready to be sent in exchange for Millwood. Obviously that wasn't the case, and just listening to Schuerholz during today's press conference, it was obvious he was caught off-guard by Maddux's actions. And of course, the fact that the Braves are paying Vinny Castilla and Javy Lopez $11.5 million to drag their shells out there and hit .230 is not completely irrelevant.
It's probably best to leave this facet of the TA now, before I pop a blood vessel, or someone puts a bounty on Schuerholtz's head.
Rule 5 Draft: The Rule 5 draft happenings paint a pretty good picture of the problems that come when an organization fails to grasp the concept of sunk costs. Take Castilla, for example. The Braves will be paying him $4.5 million next year no matter what they do with him. However, what most fail to realize is that the roster spot Castilla is occupying and the 500 at-bats he'll suck up are valuable commodities, not to be thrown away as if they have no worth. Castilla's spot on the roster would have been better used on protecting Buddy Hernandez, whose numbers at AA Greenville were sublime. In 59 innings of work, Hernandez struck out 81 batters, while walking only 23. He posted similar stats in the Arizona Fall League. Why the Braves chose to protect, say, Billy Sylvester over the thoroughly dominating Hernandez is baffling.
What has hurt Hernandez in the past, what prevented him from being drafted, was his diminutive stature, and scout's prejudice against smaller pitchers. Hernandez is 5'9, but his arsenal of pitches is impressive, with his fastball often touching the high 90s, and a lethal slider to go along with it.
The Braves' pick, Chris Spurling, is something of a find himself. He was dominant with Altoona in the Eastern League, with an ERA of 2.19 and a 60/12 K/BB ratio. He was old for the league, 25 to be exact, but his numbers are still quite impressive. He'll be the mop-up man in the Braves pen. Rule 5 rules state that a draftee must remain on the big league roster for the entirety of the season, so it will be interesting to see what "injury" Spurling suffers in July that will require him to go on the DL until rosters expand in September. Tendonitis?
Ray King: Schuerholz did well to acquire King from the Brewers, and at a minimal cost at that. King was solid for the Brewers last year as their left-handed specialist, posting a 3.05 ERA with solid peripherals in 65 innings of work. King has a definite platoon split, as lefties hit him to the tune of a .598 OPS, but righties posted a .738 OPS off King. But he's no Mike Meyers or Steve Reed. Cox can leave King in to pitch to a right-handed hitter sandwiched between two lefties with some confidence that King can retire the righty.
Wes Helms was born to be a Brewer. Low batting average, some power, poor plate discipline. Why, his diapers probably had a portrait of Bernie Brewer on them. Helms is obviously no real loss for Atlanta. His career .234/.287/.423 line is unacceptable for a third baseman and worthless for first sacker. And John Foster was downright mediocre pitching for Richmond last year, as evidenced by his 4.21 ERA and downright bad 48/28 K/BB ratio. Foster was dominating in his Spring Training performances, but those mean practically nothing, and in his major call-up Foster was not impressive. Minor league relievers are always an iffy proposition, and mediocre minor league relievers are even worse. Schuerholz helped alleviate a pressing need, at low cost, while freeing up a precious roster spot. Not a bad day's work.
ST Invite To Bragg: The minor league invites aren't a bad lot. Bragg goes into Spring Training pretty much assured of 4th outfielder's job, as he was solid enough in that capacity last season. His .269/.347/.401 line, combined with solid defense at all 3 outfield spots, earned him another look in 2003.
Chris Haney Signing: Chris Haney pitched well for the Red Sox in a brief trial last season, though his peripherals stunk. He pretty much brings to the table the same stuff that Chris Hammond brought last year. Funky left-handed delivery, fastball in the low to mid 80s, nice changeup, solid curve. He pitched well for AAA Pawtucket, and he comes into camp with a decent shot at breaking camp as the Braves long-reliever, though the presence of Spurling might make Bobby Cox less willing to drag another iffy arm into the bullpen.
Ligtenberg Non-Tendered: As expected, the Braves non-tendered Ligtenberg, who was characteristically solid in 2002. For a team struggling with their finances, it's understandable to not wish to pay $2 million to a middle reliever, no matter how good he is. Ligtenberg was Exhibit A on how to handle a bullpen. Acquired from an Indy League team for a few dozen bats and balls, Ligtenberg grew into a nice pitcher for the Braves, who, for their initial equipmental investment, received 4 solid years from Ligtenberg's right arm.
He'll move elsewhere now, maybe to Boston, or some other contender in need of relievers. And more than likely, he'll do his usual decent job. Kerry toiled, sans complaint, for many years in the Braves bullpen, and he was never noticed save for the rare times when he was hit hard. His chief "claim to fame" was his involvment in the scab games in Spring Training 95, and he never lived that down. Most Braves fan will remember about him only that he was a replacement player, and that he had some goofy sideburns. And that's a shame.
Andrew Bare is a student at the University of Florida. He spends most of his time worrying about the Atlanta Braves. He welcomes your comments at AndrewBare29@hotmail.com.