The Atlanta Braves are entering what will be their fourth season of a rebuild that began following the 2014 season. It has been a rough stretch for fans, as the team has averaged nearly 93 losses a year since the 2015 season started. Along with the losses, many fan-favorite players were shipped off for prospects with an eye toward restocking the farm system and building for the future.
Trades happen in all professional sports, but not every trade turns out to be a good one. Players fail to meet expectations while prospects have potential to turn into All-Stars or busts. As fans prepare for the 2018 season, we will take a three-part look into Atlanta’s rebuild at trades that have worked, some that didn’t, and others that the jury is still out on. This article will breakdown three trades from the rebuilding process that should be considered wins.
Three Atlanta Braves Trades That Have Worked
Traded INF Tommy La Stella and an international signing bonus slot to the Chicago Cubs for RP Arodys Vizcaino and three international signing bonus slots
Believe it or not, this was actually the first trade of the rebuild following the 2014 season. It likely gets overlooked because it occurred on the eve of one of the more notable trades of the rebuild (more on that in a bit), but tit should be considered a success for the Braves.
La Stella had been one of Atlanta’s top prospects for a couple of seasons before finally making his debut in 2014. He appeared in 93 games for the Braves with varying results. The biggest knock against him was a low slugging percentage of just .317 as a rookie.
Still, the trade did not turn out to be a success simply because La Stella was a bad player. La Stella stuck with the Cubs as a reserve and has appeared in 180 games over the past three seasons. He has a .363 OBP and .429 slugging percentage in his time in Chicago. It is hard to wonder if La Stella may have turned into a starter with Atlanta, but his skill set seems suited to serving as an infielder off the bench.
In return, the Braves received Vizcaino, a relief pitcher who had debuted with Atlanta in 2011. Vizcaino’s return did not start well, as he was suspended 80 games in 2015 after testing positive for PEDs. However, he returned later in the season and provided a boost to the bullpen, posting a 1.60 ERA and nine saves in 33.2 innings pitched. Over the last three seasons, he has appeared in 141 games and has accumulated a 2.98 ERA and 33 saves. He has not always been perfect, but has been a steady presence in an area where Atlanta has struggled over the past few years. That makes this trade a win for the Braves.
Traded OF Jason Heyward and RP Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals for SP Shelby Miller and P Tyrell Jenkins
This trade took place the day after Atlanta acquired Vizcaino and may have been one of the hardest trades for Braves fans to cope with. Heyward was a hometown kid coming off of a season in which he posted 6.2 WAR, and was one year away from free agency. He was due a big payday, but Atlanta, unfortunately, was not going to give it to him. Walden was also a solid reliever and setup man for Atlanta during 2013-14.
Instead of letting Heyward walk away in free agency, Atlanta decided to trade him and Walden to the Cardinals for Miller and Jenkins. Miller was instantly inserted into the rotation behind Julio Teheran, and he proceeded to exceed expectations. He turned in an electric first half that year, was being named an All-Star, and finished the year with a 3.02 ERA and two CGSO in 33 starts and 205.1 innings pitched. Unfortunately, a disastrous offense for Atlanta was unable to produce wins for Miller, as he finished with a 6-17 record.
On the other side of the trade, Heyward produced a strong year for the Cardinals but left to the rival Cubs via an eight-year, $184 million contract in free agency. Additionally, Walden only appeared in 12 games in 2015 before injuries sidelined him the rest of the season. He has been unable to make it back to the majors since.
For Atlanta, this trade worked out incredibly well. When trading for a young player like Miller during a rebuild, the hope is that the player will perform well and turn into either a long-term building block or valuable trade asset. Though Jenkins posted a 5.88 ERA in 14 games once debuting in 2016, Miller had an impressive showing with the Braves and was used in a later deal (see below).
Traded Miller and P Gabe Speier to the Arizona Diamondbacks for OF Ender Inciarte, SS Dansby Swanson, and P Aaron Blair
This move, widely regarded as one of the biggest trade blunders in recent history for the Diamondbacks, still appears to be one of the most successful moves of Atlanta’s rebuilding process. Atlanta wasted no time in flipping Miller’s lone season with the Braves into the best deal available, and Arizona provided a mind-blowing package in the deal. Inciarte was a young, controllable outfielder coming off of a 5.3 WAR season, Blair was a highly-regarded pitching prospect, and Swanson was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft and one of Arizona’s top prospects. Atlanta also sent Speier, a left-handed reliever, to Arizona in the deal, but he has yet to make an appearance above Double-A.
While Atlanta is still waiting to see how and if Swanson and Blair can take the next step in their careers, it is safe to say this trade has been a disaster for Arizona. It is hard to determine what went wrong, but Miller has yet to find the same success he had in Atlanta. He went 3-12 with a 6.15 ERA in 20 starts in 2016 before needing Tommy John surgery after just four starts in 2017. He is expected back at some point in 2018, but it should be noted that nothing is a given when rehabbing from the surgery.
For Atlanta, Inciarte has produced back-to-back seasons of 3.0+ WAR, was named an All-Star in 2017, and produced the first 200-hit season for Atlanta since Marquis Grissom in 1996. Inciarte has also won two Gold Gloves while contributing elite defense in CF.
The big question remaining from this trade is Swanson. He is still expected to man SS for the Braves come Opening Day, but a slump in 2017 has led some to reevaluate his long-term viability. If Swanson is able to find his groove again and develop into an All-Star, this trade will turn into a grand slam for Atlanta. Either way, the deal is already a huge home run for the Braves.
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