The MLB trading deadline is just a few days away, so this seems like as good a time as any to discuss the best and worst deadline deals in the history of the Atlanta Braves.
For purposes of this article, we’re defining a “deadline deal” as one that took place within two weeks of the non-waiver trading deadline. We’re not including offseason or August waiver deals (RIP) here, nor are we including any trades made before the team moved to Atlanta in 1966, so don’t expect to read about Dansby Swanson, John Smoltz or Red Schoendienst in the paragraphs that follow.
We’ve taken a mathematical — rather than subjective — approach here, using a straight Baseball Reference WAR comparison to determine “good” trades and “bad” ones. If the Braves acquired more future WAR than they gave away, it goes down as a “good” trade; and vice versa.
Below are the five best deadline deals in Atlanta Braves history, plus a couple of honorable mentions. (Note: the MLB trading deadline was June 15 each year until 1986, when it moved to July 31).
Honorable mention: June 15, 1978 — Braves traded SP Dick Ruthven to the Philadelphia Phillies for RP Gene Garber.
The classic trade that helped both teams. Ruthven posted 7.6 WAR in four-plus seasons with the Phillies, including a 17-10 record and 2.7 WAR in Philadelphia’s World Series championship season of 1980. Garber totaled 9.4 WAR in 10 seasons with the Braves, notching a 2.34 ERA and 30 saves when Atlanta won the NL West in 1982. The Braves “won” the trade by 1.8 WAR.
Honorable mention: July 31, 2009 — Braves traded 1B Casey Kotchman to the Boston Red Sox for 1B Adam LaRoche.
The Braves at least salvaged something from the disastrous dual Mark Teixeira trades (much, much more on those Friday). Kotchman — who had been acquired by Atlanta for Texeira the previous July — managed a .218/.284/.287 slash line and 0.2 WAR in 39 games for a Boston club that got swept in the ALDS by the Angels, then was traded to Seattle in the offseason. LaRoche, who had spent his first three seasons with the Braves before being traded to Pittsburgh, was excellent in his second stint in Atlanta. In 57 games, he batted .325/.401/.557 with 12 homers, posting a 2.0 WAR. The Braves let LaRoche walk as a free agent after the season, signing Troy Glaus as a one-year bridge to prospect Freddie Freeman, who arrived in Atlanta in September 2010. The Braves won the Kotchman-LaRoche deal by 1.8 WAR.
Honorable mention: June 15, 1984 — Braves traded RP Ken Dayley and 1B/OF Mike Jorgensen to the St. Louis Cardinals for 3B/2B Ken Oberkfell.
The Braves needed a third baseman to replace Bob Horner, who was out for the year after breaking his wrist diving for a groundball. “Obie” wasn’t Horner, but posted 5.5 WAR in four-plus seasons with Atlanta before being traded to Pittsburgh in 1988. Dayley was a solid setup man for Cardinals pennant winners in 1985 and 1988, totaling 3.4 WAR in six-plus seasons. Jorgensen, however, was nearing the end of a solid career as a bench bat, totaling minus-0.1 WAR in two years in St. Louis before retiring. Thus, the Braves “win” the trade by 2.2 WAR.
5. June 13, 1969 — Braves traded OF Andy Finlay, C Walt Hriniak and 3B/2B Van Kelly to the San Diego Padres for OF Tony Gonzalez.
The Braves were chasing an NL West title in the first year of division play, sitting 1 ½ games up on the Dodgers in the division at the time of this deal. Gonzalez, a veteran of several seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies before being plucked by the Padres in the 1969 expansion draft, also filled a need as a lefty swinger in a righty-heavy Atlanta lineup that featured the likes of Hank Aaron, Felipe Alou, Rico Carty and Orlando Cepeda. He stepped in as the every-day center fielder and 2-hole hitter, batting .294/.354/.447 and providing 3.5 WAR in 89 games down the stretch as Atlanta won the West. Gonzalez batted .357 — including a homer off Tom Seaver — in the Braves’ 3-game NLCS loss to the Mets. He declined the following season — posting minus-1.5 WAR — before his contract was purchased by the California Angels in August 1970. However, none of the players traded for him did much with San Diego — Finlay never reached the majors, while Hriniak (minus-0.6) and Kelly (minus-0.5) were negative WAR players with the Padres. Atlanta netted 3.4 WAR in this deal, making it a definite “win” for the Braves.
4. June 15, 1967 — Braves traded SP Wade Blasingame and a player to be named later to the Houston Astros for RP Claude Raymond and a PTBNL. On June 20, Braves sent SP Brian Murphy to the Astros for OF/3B Derrell Griffith to complete the deal.
This trade is a “win” for Atlanta as much for what the players they traded away didn’t do as for anything the Braves acquired. Blasingame, a 23-year-old lefty, had won 16 games for the Milwaukee Braves in 1965, but had struggled since the franchise moved to Atlanta the following year. Raymond had been an all-star reliever with the Astros in 1966, and pitched solidly for Braves teams that finished in the middle of the pack in both 1967 and 1968, totaling 1.3 WAR. He was awful in 1969, however, posting a 5.25 ERA and minus-1.1 WAR before Atlanta let the Quebec native leave via waivers to the expansion Montreal Expos in mid-August. Blasingame was a disaster in Houston, though, compiling minus-4.2 WAR in six seasons with the Astros. Murphy never reached the majors, while Griffith — who had played parts of four seasons with the Dodgers earlier in the decade — never got back to the big leagues and retired after finishing the 1967 season at Triple-A Richmond. Mostly by discarding Blasingame, the Braves netted 4.0 WAR in this trade.
3. July 31, 1999 — Braves traded SP Micah Bowie, SP Ruben Quevedo and a PTBNL to the Chicago Cubs for SS Jose Hernandez and SP Terry Mulholland. On Aug. 24, Braves sent SP Joey Nation to the Cubs to complete the deal.
Looking to hold off the New York Mets in the NL East and seeking to boost their bench and the back-end of their rotation, the Braves dealt a couple of highly regarded pitching prospects to the Cubs for veterans Hernandez and Mulholland at the 1999 deadline. Mulholland was a solid addition to Atlanta’s star-studded pitching staff, going 4-2 with 2.98 ERA and 1.4 WAR in 16 games down the stretch. Hernandez didn’t hit particularly well — batting .252/.303/.373 in 48 games, good for minus-0.2 WAR — but provided versatility and insurance for Walt Weiss’ balky legs. Carried by MVP Chipper Jones, the Braves went 40-16 after the trade deadline, won the NL East by 6.5 games over the Mets and reached the World Series before getting swept by the New York Yankees. Hernandez left as a free agent after the season, while Mulholland was essentially replacement level in 2000 before he also left the fold. However, Bowie (minus-1.8), Quevedo (minus-1.9) and Nation (minus-0.2) were all sub-replacement level in brief tenures with the Cubs. In addition to Mulholland’s contributions during a World Series run, that makes this trade a 5.0 WAR “win” for the Braves.
2. July 31, 2011 — Braves traded RP Juan Abreu, RP Paul Clemens, SP Brett Oberholtzer and OF Jordan Schafer to the Houston Astros for OF Michael Bourn and cash.
The Braves were in desperate need of a leadoff hitter when they sent three minor-leaguers and former top prospect Jordan Schafer to then-lowly Houston for the speedy Bourn. Atlanta, which was 2 ½ games up in the wildcard standings at the time of the trade, fell one game short of a playoff berth after an epic collapse. Bourn was just OK that season, providing 0.8 WAR in 53 games with Atlanta. He was dynamite the following year, however, batting .274/.348/.391 with 42 steals and turning in Gold Glove-caliber defense as part of a 6.0-WAR season that helped the Braves to a wildcard berth. Bourn left after that season to sign with Cleveland as a free agent, only to return to Atlanta in 2015 as part of a salary dump trade that sent Chris Johnson to the Indians for Bourn and Nick Swisher. The players who went to Houston in the first Bourn trade didn’t do much, with Oberholtzer (3.2 WAR in three seasons) easily the best of the bunch. Abreu (0.1) was slightly above replacement level, while Clemens (minus-1.1) and Schafer (minus-1.1) were negative players. Still, Bourn’s value in 2012 turns this deal into a 5.7 WAR “win” for the Braves.
1. July 18, 1993 — Traded OF Vince Moore, RP Donnie Elliott and OF Melvin Nieves to the San Diego Padres for 1B Fred McGriff.
It’s no surprise that one of the more celebrated mid-season trades in baseball history would be No. 1 on the Braves’ all-time deadline deal list (at least on the good side). Atlanta was eight games back of the San Francisco Giants in the NL West in mid-July and needed one more power bat to put in the middle of the order with Ron Gant and David Justice. Luckily, the Padres were in “sell” mode, having dealt Tony Fernandez to the New York Mets in the offseason and Gary Sheffield to the Florida Marlins in late June. The Braves acquired McGriff without giving up top prospects such as Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko and Javy Lopez, though Nieves was a highly-regarded hitter in the minors. He never developed, however, turning in minus-1.4 WAR in three seasons in San Diego. Moore never made it past Double-A, while Elliott had a solid rookie season in 1994 (1.1 WAR) before shoulder injuries curtailed his career. He’s best-known for teaching his change-up grip to Padres teammate Trevor Hoffman, who rode the pitch to a Hall-of-Fame career. McGriff, of course, batted .310/.392/.612 with 19 homers in 68 games to spark the Braves to an incredible 51-18 stretch run that ended in 104 victories and the NL West title. He was an All-Star with Atlanta the next three seasons, slugged a total of nine homers in the 1995 and 1996 postseasons and posted 11.1 WAR in four-plus years with the Braves before being traded to the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays (McGriff’s hometown team) shortly after the 1997 season. Poor defense late in his Atlanta tenure knocks McGriff’s overall value down a bit, but the trade is still an 11.4-WAR “win” for the Braves, and that’s not even counting his postseason heroics for back-to-back World Series teams.
So there you have it, the best trade deadline deals in Atlanta Braves history. We’ll run through the worst such trades on Friday.
Sources: BaseballReference.com; Newspapers.com