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Starting Nine: No business is as deflating as the business of baseball

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Diving into the latest as the owners and union seem headed for another winter of discontent. Plus, the nine biggest stars the Braves have traded away since their move to Atlanta

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins - Game Three
Will the 2021 season start on time? Will it be another abbreviated season? With two months before players are expected to report for spring training, we don’t know.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The business of baseball continues to be the worst thing about baseball.

As reported by USA Today, owners want spring training delayed until players are vaccinated, which would almost certainly mean fewer games in 2021 – with 140 or fewer – and prorated salaries. The union rejected that ask and is pressing its membership to start on time for a full 162 games, potentially pushing the postseason into November or December to guarantee that game count (and full pay). Meanwhile, the league is nearing the finish line with ESPN on a new playoff broadcast contract that includes a round and format that hasn’t even been agreed upon by the players.

While the two sides have had discussions and everything remains fluid, that we’re nearing January with no set date on reporting for camp, the season’s start or even the designated hitter’s immediate future in the National League, all while the league is setting broadcast rights for a postseason round that doesn’t exists underscores just how far how detached from reality everyone involved continues to be.

The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are making their rounds, but it’s those high-priority populations that are at the front of the line and mandating a league-wide administration before players and staff can report – which the union has to agree to — just isn’t feasible for the expected start time. It’s also unrealistic to think, if we continue to have limited or no attendance in 2021, that players can expect teams to push the season further into the fall/winter and guarantee fully restored salaries with continued limited revenues for their employers.

Everything at this point, especially what makes it to the public, reeks of negotiating tactics. Commissioner Rob Manfred has pushed hard for expanded postseason and the new format – which includes 14 teams and a best-of-three round – is the league’s want, while the players are after the DH remaining the NL, along with full pay, or something closer to it after earning 33 percent of their salaries last season.

It all feels dire and as if two sides with plenty of work to do aren’t heading toward a sequel to 2020’s heated talks. Within the game’s collective bargaining agreement is a “Governmental Regulation-National Emergency” section that allows Manfred to “suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.”

With the owners holding player safety as its north star, the outbreaks of the 2020 season, the lasting image of a COVID-19-positive Justin Turner posting with teammates after winning the World Series and the vaccine just becoming available, this would certainly seem to fall under that “national emergency” umbrella. But Manfred stepping in and mandating a start to the season would seem the worst-case-scenario for everyone with those 2021 CBA talks looming.

The public hit baseball took amid the summer’s bickering and delayed start should have been a bridge and watching the uproar over Turner taking the field after a positive test on the biggest stage should have made it that much easier for the two sides to engage with everyone’s best interested in mind. Instead, the business of baseball continues to be the worst thing about baseball, and that we’re all still clueless about how it will operate in 2021 with two months before the original report dates is case positive that these two sides just can’t get out of their own way.

Consider the soapbox put away as we now return to your regularly scheduled Braves content …

The ones that got away

We shared three short months

And one long goodbye

Jake Owen was talking about a girl in 2012’s ‘The One That Got Away,’ but for Braves fans he could have penned those lyrics about Mark Teixeira, who spent a little more than a season in Atlanta before general manager Frank Wren dealt him to the to the Angels in 2008. A piece from ESPN’s David Schoenfield on the biggest star traded by each team (the Braves was the cantankerous Rogers Hornsby) got me thinking about Teixeira and the rest of the stars the Braves have deal since their move to Atlanta.

From GMs John McHale to Alex Anthopoulos, the Braves have had their shares of ones that got away. These are the nine biggest stars the franchise has watched thrive in someone else’s garb.

1. Adam Wainwright

What could have been. Wainwright has four top-three Cy Young finishes under his belt, with three All-Star nods, a pair of Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. It’s all come with one franchise, as the right-hander has spent his entire 15-year career with the Cardinals – and while he could wind up somewhere else via free agency – those highlights all could have come as a Brave. But in December 2003, Atlanta shipped Wainwright – their first-round draft pick in 2000 – to St. Louis for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero. Drew was a monster with 162 wRC+ and 31 home runs, but an established Wainwright could have joined Tim Hudson as the center of Braves rotations for years to come as the top arms after John Smoltz left in 2008.

2. Mark Teixeira

Two months before future Hall of Famer John Schuerholz stepped down as GM, he brought in Teixeira from the Rangers for some key pieces in Texas’ World Series run (Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz), and for 157 games as a Braves, Teixeira mashed. He had a 146 OPS+ with 37 home runs and 36 doubles, then in July 2008, Wren shipped the first baseman to the Angels for Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek. Teixeira would go on to post a 1.081 OPS in Los Angeles and then become a key piece in the Yankees’ dynasty, including an AL-high 39 home runs in 2009 and won three Gold Gloves and made two All-Star Games.

3. Joe Torre

He joins Hornsby as the only MVPs (so far) that the Braves have traded away. Torre was moved to the Cardinals for future HOFer Orlando Cepeda, who was productive in four seasons with the Braves, but nowhere near the elite bat he was in San Francisco and in an MVP season in St. Louis. Meanwhile, in four of his first five seasons with the Cardinals, Torre was an All-Star, topped by an MVP 1971 in which he won the batting crown in a .363/.421/.555 slash line and led the majors with 230 hits (which would be a franchise record if he’d done so with the Braves).

4. David Justice

Dealt in the peak of his offensive production, Justice went from hitting a decisive home run for the Braves in the 1995 World Series to being traded to the Indians, along with Marquis Grissom (another ’95 title hero) for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree in March 1997. Justice responded with his most productive season as he had 158 wRC+ and a career-best .596 slugging percentage in hitting 33 homers with Cleveland, helping the Tribe to the World Series. In his five of six seasons after leaving Atlanta, Justice was at or above 113 wRC+ and won another championship with the Yankees in 2000. The Braves got just 122 game out of Lofton in an injury-plagued season before he left for free agency and rejoined the Indians.

5. Bret Boone

In a game of trade dominos, the Jermaine Dye deal (more on that later) would lead to Michael Tucker, who was ultimately moved to the Reds along with Denny Neagle and Rob Bell as the Braves acquired Mike Remlinger and the oldest of Bob Boone’s baseball-playing sons. Bret was solid in one year with the Braves, posting a .726 OPS and hit 20 home runs and turned in an .885 OPS in the postseason to help Atlanta return to the World Series. He was solid again when the Braves traded Boone to the Padres along with Ryan Klesko and Jason Shiell for Wally Joyner, Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras in return for Boone, Ryan Klesko and Jason Shiell. Then he turned into a monster when he signed as a free agent with the Mariners, hitting a combined 120 home runs the next four seasons and led the American League in RBI in 2001 with 151 and finished the MVP voting. Those four years in Seattle included an All-Star nod, three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers.

6. Andrelton Simmons

Easily the most dissected Braves trade in the last 10 years. John Coppolella had officially become general manager just one month before he sent Simmons, who had won Gold Gloves in two of the past three seasons and was established as the premier defensive shortstop in baseball, to the Angels for pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis and Erick Aybar. Simmons was moved due to concerns with his bat and the potential of declining defense as he aged, but he had two years hitting above league after in Los Angeles and won two more Gold Gloves. What the Braves got was a bust in Aybar as Simmons’ replacement, while Ellis never reached the majors with the Braves and it’s becoming harder to say the verdict is still out on Newcomb, who was banished to the team’s satellite location last season.

7. Jermaine Dye

Sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1996 when he replaced an injured David Justice and had a .763 OPS and 12 home runs, Schuerholz moved Dye to the Royals for Keith Lockhart and Michael Tucker, just two days after the Braves acquired Kenny Lofton from the Indians. Trading Dye may have been out of need, as shipping out Justice left Atlanta needing another left-handed bat, but the Braves could have had Dye and Andruw Jones as outfielder foundation pieces for years. He’d go on to win a Gold Glove in Kansas City, make two All-Star Games, and of, course earn MVP as the White Sox won the 2005 World Series.

8. Jason Heyward

No, he’s never lived up to the expectations that his arrival forbode when Heyward crushed an Opening Day home run in 2010, and the eight-year, $184 million deal he inked with the Cubs in 2015 has been one of the bigger albatrosses in recent baseball history. But after the Braves dealt him to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Jordan Walden in the fall of 2014, Heyward went on a four-year run that included four Gold Gloves, and a top-15 MVP finish, topped by a first year in St. Louis in which he hit 21 percent above league average. The players-only meeting as the Cubs claimed the 2016 World Series doesn’t show up in the stat line, but it’s part of the Heyward resume, for sure.

9. Dusty Baker

Baker was productive in Atlanta, including 145 wRC+ in 1972, his first full season. But he found consistency after being sent to the Dodgers in November 1975 along with Ed Goodson for Lee Lacy, Tom Paciorek, Jerry Royster and Jim Wynn. Baker averaged hitting 26 above league average from 1977-82, finishing in the top seven in MVP voting twice and was a two-time All-Star, won two Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove. Of course, he also helped invent the high-five during his run in Los Angeles, this deal robbing Atlanta of being the launching point for that famous gesture.