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Braves Throwback Thursday: Best offseason trades in Atlanta history

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The Braves have made a few good deals over the years

Divisional Series - St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves - Game One
The December 2015 trade that sent shortstop Dansby Swanson to the Atlanta Braves from the Arizona Diamondbacks is one of the best in Braves history. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

You might not know it by the lack of activity around the “hot stove,” but we are firmly in the middle of what is the traditional trading season in Major League Baseball.

The Braves have made a number of memorable offseason deals over the years, some good, some not so good. What follows is a ranking of the best such deals in Atlanta Braves history (that is, since the team moved from Milwaukee in 1966).

(For purposes of this article, we’re defining an “offseason trade” as one that takes place from the end of one year’s World Series until the opening of the next regular season. That includes deals made during spring training.)

As we did with our “trade deadline deals” series two years ago, we’ve taken a mathematical — rather than subjective — approach here, using a straight Baseball Reference WAR comparison to determine “good” trades from “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 offseason deals in Atlanta Braves history, plus a couple of honorable mentions.

San Diego Padres v Atlanta Braves
Otis Nixon was a key member of the 1991 Atlanta Braves after he was acquired from Montreal just prior to the start of the season. (Getty Images)

Honorable mention: April 1, 1991 — Braves trade C Jimmy Kremers and SP Keith Morrison to Montreal for OF Otis Nixon and 3B Boi Rodriguez

General manager John Schuerholz rebuilt the Braves’ roster during his first offseason largely through free-agency, signing Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard. But he also pulled off one shrewd trade mere days before the regular season started, sending back-up catcher Kremers to Montreal for the speedy Nixon, who had been a part-time player for nearly a decade. Nixon eventually worked his way into the starting lineup for the “Worst to First” Braves, stealing 72 bases and scoring 81 runs in just 124 games and playing stellar defense. He stayed in Atlanta through 1993, putting up 8.1 WAR in three seasons. Kremers never played in the majors with the Expos, and Morrison and Rodriguez never reached the majors at all. That leaves this trade as pure profit for Atlanta.

Honorable mention: Dec. 8, 2005 — Braves traded 3B Andy Marte to Boston for SS Edgar Renteria and cash

The Braves needed a replacement at shortstop for former Rookie of the Year Rafael Furcal, who had recently departed as a free agent for the Los Angeles Dodgers. And with future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones still entrenched at third base, they didn’t really have a place to play Marte, one of the top hitting prospects in the minors at the time. So they flipped him for Renteria, who had gone through a down year with the Red Sox after several All-Star campaigns in Florida and St. Louis. Renteria was outstanding in two seasons with Atlanta, putting up an .825 OPS and a total of 8.3 WAR. Marte never played in Boston, as he was immediately traded as part of a package that brought Coco Crisp from Cleveland.

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets
Charlie Leibrandt had three solid seasons with the Atlanta Braves after being acquired from the Kansas City Royals in 1989. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

5. Dec. 15, 1989 — Braves trade OF/1B Gerald Perry and SP Jim LeMasters to Kansas City for SP Charlie Leibrandt and RP Rick Luecken

Leibrandt’s three-year tenure with the Braves is remembered largely for the walk-off homer he allowed to Kirby Puckett in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, but he was a solid mid-rotation starter in a rotation loaded with young stars in the making. He put up 9.7 WAR with a 3.35 ERA, 39 wins and a 118 OPS+ during his time in Atlanta. Luecken posted minus-0.7 WAR in one season with the Braves before being waived. Perry had been an all-star in Atlanta in 1988 when he hit .300 with 74 RBIs, but had just one mediocre (0.2 WAR) season in Kansas City before leaving as a free agent. (Lemasters never made the majors). Add all that up, and the Braves come out 8.8 WAR ahead.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals
Jair Jurrjens was a stalwart of the Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation before arm problems derailed his career. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

4. Oct. 29, 2007 — Braves traded SS Edgar Renteria to Detroit for OF Gorkys Hernandez and SP Jair Jurrjens

Renteria provided great value to Atlanta both coming and going, and thus shows up twice on this list. The Braves had what they believed was a perennial All-Star ready to take over at shortstop in Yunel Escobar, who’d put up an .837 OPS in 94 games in 2007. That made Renteria, a pending free agent, and his $10 million salary expendable. Hernandez and Jurrjens were both highly regarded prospects, though only one panned out with the Braves. Just 20 years old at the time, Hernandez was traded away to Pittsburgh in June 2009 in the infamous Nate McLouth deal. Jurrjens, however, was outstanding for nearly a half-decade before arm problems did him in. He posted an aggregate WAR of 10.7 in five years, topping out in 2009 with a 159 ERA+ and 6.5 WAR. Renteria fell off sharply in his lone season with the Tigers, putting up an 84 OPS+ and 1.1 WAR. In total, this deal netted 9.6 WAR for the Braves.

3. Feb. 28, 1973 — Braves trade SP Pat Jarvis to Montreal for SP Carl Morton

Morton had originally signed with the Braves out of high school in 1964, but was snapped up by Montreal in the 1969 expansion draft. He was National League Rookie of the Year with Montreal in 1970, but apparently wasn’t getting along with Expos manager Gene Mauch three years later. The Braves seized on the opportunity to re-acquire him by trading away Jarvis, who had been a key starter on the 1969 NL West championship team, but had fallen out of favor by 1973. The deal turned out to be a massive steal for Atlanta, as Morton joined with Phil Niekro and later Buzz Capra to give the Braves three excellent starters at the top of their rotation. He won 15, 16 and 17 games his first three seasons in Atlanta, and posted 15.1 WAR before being traded to Texas in a deal that brought former AL MVP Jeff Burroughs to Atlanta in 1976. Jarvis had just one substandard (minus-0.3 WAR) season in Montreal before he was traded away (also to the Rangers, ironically). In total, the Morton-Jarvis trade was a 15.4 WAR win for the Braves.

2. Dec. 9, 2015 — Braves trade SP Shelby Miller and RP Gabe Speier to Arizona for SP Aaron Blair, OF Ender Inciarte and SS Dansby Swanson

This trade is of course still ringing up value for the Braves, as Swanson is just five years into what could be a long tenure as the Braves’ shortstop. Atlanta had acquired Miller the previous offseason in the trade that sent Jason Heyward to St. Louis, and Miller put up 4.2 WAR for a bad Braves team in 2015. He immediately lost it in Arizona, posting a 6.35 ERA and minus-1.1 WAR in three seasons marred by arm trouble. Speier never pitched for the Diamondbacks, later landing in Kansas City. Blair was a washout in Atlanta, putting up a minus-1.9 WAR in two seasons. Swanson — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft and an Atlanta area native — has been worth 7.5 WAR in five seasons with the Braves, showing above-average defense and inconsistent but at-times excellent offensive skills. However, it’s been Inciarte who has been the most valuable thus far, posting 10.0 WAR in five seasons — nearly half of that with the glove. Of all the (many, many) trades executed by disgraced general manager John Coppolella during the 2014-17 rebuild, this one has provided the most “profit” for Atlanta, a net of 16.7 WAR.

Atlanta Braves v Chicago White Sox
The acquisition of Tim Hudson from the Oakland Athletics in late 2004 is at least by one measure the best offseason trade in Atlanta Braves history. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

1. Dec. 16, 2004 — Braves trade RP Juan Cruz, SP Dan Meyer and OF Charles Thomas to Oakland for SP Tim Hudson

Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine had left as free agents and John Smoltz was approaching the back end of his career in 2004, and the Braves needed a new ace. They found a willing trade partner in the Athletics, who were looking to jettison Hudson’s $6.5 million salary. The former Auburn star had posted 31.0 WAR and had three top six Cy Young Award finishes in six seasons in Oakland, which got quantity but nothing approaching quality in the deal. Thomas, who’d put up an .813 OPS as a part-time player as a rookie in Atlanta, was awful in Oakland, batting just .109 in 30 games (with minus-0.4 WAR) in what would be his last season in the majors. Meyer, a former first-round pick, was even worse, with a 7.98 ERA and minus-1.6 WAR in two seasons with the Athletics before he was claimed off waivers by the Florida Marlins. Cruz, a wiry, hard-throwing middle reliever, also spent one bad (minus-1.0 WAR) season in Oakland before he was traded to Arizona. Hudson, meanwhile, was a mainstay for the Braves for nearly a decade, putting up a 136 ERA+ and 24.1 WAR in 183 starts over nine seasons that included Tommy John surgery that cost him half of 2008 and most of 2009 and a broken ankle in 2013. Hudson moved on to San Francisco as a free agent at age 37, but not before making this trade in a 27.1 WAR “win” for the Braves.

So there you have it, the best offseason trades in Atlanta Braves history. We’ll run through the worst such trades next week.

Darryl Palmer is a contributing writer for Talking Chop. Email him at darrylpalmerbraves4@gmail.com. No, that’s not his real name.

Sources: BaseballReference.com; Newspapers.com; SABR Bio Project