Braves gambling on future prospects in trades

The John Smoltz deal worked out for the Braves, but will any deals this year be special?

It is somewhat ironic that just days after John Smoltz entered the Hall of Fame, the Atlanta Braves are in the same position they were 28 years ago when they acquired him from the Detroit Tigers.

The Braves weren’t very good in 1987, but they had a good starting pitcher named Doyle Alexander. The Tigers needed a veteran pitcher to help them win the American League East. Alexander did just that, going 9-0 in 11 starts down the stretch and the Tigers won the division by two games over Toronto.

There was no way anyone in Detroit’s organization could have believed a young kid named Smoltz would turn out to be a Hall of Famer one day. But that’s the gamble teams take when they trade a young pitcher for a veteran.

The Braves did it when they dealt Jason Schmidt to Pittsburgh in the Denny Neagle trade in 1997. Schmidt won 125 games after he left Atlanta. Then there’s the trade that had Adam Wainwright go to St. Louis for J.D. Drew in 2003. Wainwright is one of the best pitchers in baseball, as he has won 121 games with the Cardinals.

This year, like 1987, the Braves aren’t very good. They may be hanging around in the NL East, but they are not very good. The Braves haven’t been over .500 since June 1, and the last day they were two games over .500 was April 22.

So for the first time in years, the Braves are sellers as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. In fact, you might have to go back to 1990 to find the last time the Braves were trading a veteran for young players in a late-summer trade. That deal was Dale Murphy to the Phillies for three young prospects. The Braves have been in the race every season since, so they’ve been buyers instead of sellers.

They started last Friday with the trade of Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to the Mets for two young pitchers. Can Rob Whalen or John Gant, the two young pitchers Atlanta got back in the deal, become stars? Well, that would be great, but realistically the Braves have to simply hope they can become decent major leaguers.

Whalen and Gant were mid-range prospects for the Mets, and that’s likely the type of prospect the Braves will get back for most of their veterans in trades this week.

Most of the veterans – Jim Johnson, A.J. Pierzynski and Jonny Gomes – would be short-term rentals, as they are free agents after this season. So the price would just not be very high compared to a player under control past this year.

Will the Braves trade center fielder Cameron Maybin? He’s a veteran who is under control for at least one more season that could fetch a bigger return. Maybin has been the team’s MVP this season, but they should sell high on him and get more young talent back. After Jason Grilli got hurt two weeks ago, Maybin became the one player that could get a decent return in a trade.

There have been rumors the Braves have at least listened on other veterans, like Julio Teheran and Andrelton Simmons. Well, there is no Chipper Jones on this team, so the Braves will probably listen on anybody. But the price will be high on players that have long-term contracts.

Smoltz wasn’t the only prospect the Braves got back in the late-1980s that panned out. They also traded reliever Jim Acker to the Blue Jays for a catching prospect named Francisco Cabrera. But then again, do you remember a catcher named Terry Bell? He was acquired for Gene Garber. Bell never did a thing.

So it’s a crapshoot. The players the Braves get this week might work out, and then again, they just might not.

But wouldn’t it be nice in, say, 2043 to watch the Hall of Fame ceremony and know the Braves found another John Smoltz in a late-July trade? They should be so lucky!

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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