Less than 24 hours after the end of the World Series the Braves new General Manager, Frank Wren, wasted no time making the first trade of the hot stove league (it would have been the first move of any kind, but A-Rod announced his decision to opt-out of his contract even before the last Red Sock made it out of the dugout to celebrate). Yes, we thought we would have to hear these story lines all off-season; will the Braves sign Andruw Jones, will they trade Edgar Renteria, will they re-sign Tom Glavine. Well, mark the second one off the list, and at this rate we'll have Glavine signed a week before Thanksgiving, then we'll be able to kick back and take the rest of the hot stove league off.
Today's move, trading Renteria to Detroit, was as unexpected as it was expected (huh?). On one hand many people thought that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski would be able to strike something up with former assistant / now Atlanta GM Frank Wren. If I had gotten the chance to speculate on off-season moves I would have mentioned that both Dombrowski and Tigers manager Jim Leyland are familiar with Renteria from their time together in the Marlins organization.
The unexpected parts of this trade were the suddenness with which it happened and the lack of major league service time we got in return. Who's to know how much we shopped Renteria during the World Series, but it sure looks like we took the first offer. What we got in return for Renteria was a bit of a surprise. The Tigers seem to have a gold rush of good young starting pitching. Much of it was on display last post season in the World Series, but still more of it made its way to the Majors this year. Everyone could probably figure that Verlander was off limits, but I'm sure any of the other guys like Bonderman or Robertson, Miller or Tata were available. So what made us choose Jair Jurrjens (other than after trading Saltalamacchia we had to acquire someone with an equally difficult name to spell)?
No doubt the Braves were probably the most familiar with Jurrjens. He is from Curacao, and the Braves have traditionally had a strong presence there (see Andruw Jones, Randall Simon). The early returns from at least one prospect guru are that Jurrjens is already a solid number four starter in the big leagues, with a little room to grow. While that not may seem like something to trade for, consider for a moment that we really had no fourth or fifth starter on our staff last year, unless you count the fifth starter we had masquerading as a third starter. So in rebuilding the Braves starting pitching (which was the strength behind the 14 straight division titles), Frank Wren has chosen to at least get the process off the ground and start somewhere. This may also be a bit of a vote of no confidence in either Chuck James and/or Jo-Jo Reyes.
This trade also erases some of the gutting of the Braves top prospects that took place during the Mark Teixeira trade. Jurrjens essentially replaces Matt Harrison on the Braves depth chart (if not a bit more advanced), and Gorkys Hernandez replaces Elvis Andrus, albeit at a different position. Hernandez too, may be a bit further along than Andrus was at this point. He's spent less time in the minors, but he's already shown more offensive muscle than Andrus has at any stop he's had the last three years. Gorkys is by far the most intriguing part of this trade, but do we really need a Gorkys Hernandez in our farm system right now? The talented glut of young outfielders in the minors for Atlanta was sprawled across our recent Braves 2008 Top-25 Prospect List collaboration. Jordan Schafer, Brandon Jones, and Jason Heyward were rated as the top three prospects in the Braves system, and Cody Johnson came in at number seven - all outfielders.
This sort of begs the question, "is this the last stop for Gorkys this off-season?" In an interview today after the trade, Frank Wren mentioned that he had already received calls from several GMs around the league who were interested in acquiring Hernandez. With that in mind, we'll have to wait to see what the final tally will be, but if he truly is desired by another club with pitching to offer, then let's make another deal.
The Brave did accomplish their main goal (and the goal many fans had) in a trade of Renteria, and that was to strengthen their starting rotation. While the rotation wasn't given a major addition like Hudson was in 2004, or Hampton and Ortiz were in 2002, it nonetheless was given a much-needed shot of stability. With the presumed price of starting pitching - especially established starting pitching - there is also something to be said for the fact that not every piece is acquirable or worth the price paid to acquire. Asking for a more established pitcher may have required more than just Renteria in return - a blow that our farm system may not be able to withstand. So check off that extra starting pitcher, and add an uber-talented young outfielder and a load of salary off the books that could be used to fill out a number 47 jersey, and while we didn't get any name we knew, we got solid pieces in return.