On July 31st, 1997 the Seattle Mariners, in a bid to strengthen their awful bullpen, traded away three young prospects - Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek and Jose Cruz, Jr. Who did they get in return? They got such memorable relievers as Paul Spoljaric, Mike Timlin, and Heathcliff Slocumb. Those trades are considered the biggest trade deadline panic moves in the last ten years, if not of all time. Have the Braves just repeated the Mariners' mistakes?
Are Max Ramirez and Wilson Betemit the same as Jason Varitek and Jose Cruz? Are Bob Wickman and Danys Baez the same as Paul Spoljaric and Heathcliff Slocumb? Those acquisitions by the M's helped get them into the playoffs, will our newly acquired bullpeners help get us into the playoffs? While the Mariners made the playoffs in '97, they sacrificed a bit of their future for mediocre short-term help for their bullpen. Have we done the same?
Bob Wickman has proven to be a huge boost to the bullpen in just his first three appearances, registering two saves. Is he the answer at the back end of the bullpen, and will Danys Baez be the answer setting up for Wickman.
The Wickman trade was easier to take than the most recent Betemit trade. In the deal with Cleveland for Bob Wickman we gave up a Minor League prospect that most Braves fans had never heard of. Max Ramirez is considered one of the better hitting prospects in the Braves organization, but most evaluators think he will need to be moved from the catching position. In any event, Ramirez is still at least two to three years away from making his Major League debut. We also in no way gave up our best catching prospect as the Mariners did in '97. The jewel of our system, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, is a year ahead of Ramirez and starting to break out of his first half slump in a big way. The opinion of most people is that we got the better end of that trade, even if Wickman is here only through the end of this season.
The most recent trade, the one that has many Braves fans up in arms, is the trading away of former super-prospect and everything utility infielder Wilson Betemit to the Dodgers for another Proven Closer Danys Baez, and a younger Betemit-lite infielder in Willy Aybar. Just like Wickman, Baez is a free agent at the end of the season and is essentially a rental. But the real jewel of this trade for the Braves is Aybar. Some might say he is a Moneyball middle infielder, one who hits for a modest average but takes walks and gets on base a lot. Willy, who plays primarily third base and second base, was originally a shortstop after being taught by childhood friend Miguel Tejada.
In my opinion both of the trades seem to be good deals that shouldn't come back to haunt us. Ramirez is years away from the Majors, and Wickman is a critical piece we need to try and get back to the postseason. Betemit is a tough one to lose, but I go back to what I said yesterday regarding his high strikeout rate. Aybar is a big improvement over Betemit in the on-base percentage game, and being three years younger than Wilson and having essentially skipped AAA, I would expect him to improve at a greater rate than the guy we traded. Betemit spent three years at AAA before earning his spot on the Major League roster, Aybar zoomed from a long stint in high-A ball to the Majors less than two years later. With a team that has the third-most strikeout prone lineup in the Major Leagues, swapping a high-strikeout guy for a low-strikeout guy is a quality move.
We may look back on these deals, and any more that follow, and say that they were the first foolish moves an otherwise brilliant GM made, or we may look back and realize we didn't give up as much as we thought we did at the time. Odds are though; we won't come close to thinking that these moves were the Braves repeating the mistakes of the Mariners.