Braves Trade Gattis, Nationals Trade Clippard
Color me confused. The Braves traded yet another slugger, and the Nats swapped away their top bullpen arm.
First off, Atlanta sent backstop / left fielder Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros for three unproven prospects: RHPs Michael Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman and third baseman Rio Ruiz. The Chiefs also sent minor league reliever James Hoyt to Houston.
In this case, the Braves are betting that Gattis won’t get much better, and therefore are “selling high” on him. The fact they didn’t get any MLBers in return is a little strange, not because it’s clear the Braves’ focus is to rebuild their farm system but because Gattis has that rare skill of homerun power that would seemingly require more value in return — especially considering that the Braves also included a minor league reliever who had 11.6 K/9 between AA and AAA last year.
The Braves received Houston’s #4 prospect of 2013 in Foltynewicz, a former first-rounder who regularly sits in the triple digits, touching as high as 102 MPH, but has yet to translate that velocity into success. Foltynewicz walks about four and a half batters per nine, and strikes out less than a batter per inning. Though, he’s been almost exclusively a starter in his pro career; perhaps a move to the bullpen will turn him into a righthanded Billy Wagner.
Thurman is another righthanded starter, but he will likely remain in that role going forward, as he doesn’t have the wipeout velocity. At best, his ceiling is a back of the rotation starter — think Dillon Gee. That’s at best; the 23-year-old 2013 second-rounder out of UC-Irvine has struggled in his two pro seasons, and needs to improve quickly if he’s to have any kind of MLB career — I look at him as a throw-in, or purely for organizational depth.
That said the other big piece of the deal for the Braves is Ruiz, an extremely raw 20-year-old who might eventually develop into Juan Francisco, Edwin Encarnacion, or Eddie Lora (OK, maybe more like Andy Marte).
The Gattis deal underscores the fact that the Bravos are in rebuilding mode; they’re not focused on 2015 by any stretch of the imagination, but rather, shooting for 2017 — when they move into their new stadium and become the Cobb County Braves.
As for the Nationals, this one is truly a head-scratcher. Why trade away your most effective, reliable, durable, and consistent reliever of the past six seasons? Why send off the man who would likely finish the season as your closer — considering that Drew Storen is an annual crapshoot and seemingly always on the verge of a breakdown? Part of the deal was due to the financial and contractual considerations — Tyler Clippard becomes a free agent after 2015, and will make about $9M in the upcoming season, while Escobar costs about half that per annum and is under control for the next three years. But Escobar is awful, and always has been, and now he’s old (32) — I don’t see how he is an upgrade over the equally underwhelming Danny Espinosa, who at least gives 100% effort. Couldn’t the Nats have traded a nondescript AA suspect to the Mets for Ruben Tejada, instead? Or signed Mark Ellis? Really, I don’t get it. At the very least, hang on to Espinosa. At the very best, get someone decent for Clippard, who has been one of the top 5 setup men in the game for the past half-decade. Oh, I get that Washington was looking for a backup plan in the event they are able to unload Ian Desmond. But Yunel Escobar? They better be acquiring Troy Tulowitzki or Jose Altuve for this to make sense.
What do these two deals mean to the Mets? In my mind, it’s good news for the Flushing faithful, because two NL East opponents are now weaker — at least, in 2015. Maybe the youngsters that the Braves acquired will bolster their chances in ’16 or ’17, but they’re unlikely to improve the club’s chances in ’15. In other words, the road is being paved for a showdown to second place between the Mets and Marlins. Oh, how quickly things can change — and how much opportunity can be predicated upon the actions of others.
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