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.

Sound off in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Dan B January 16, 2015 at 11:02 am
    When they announced the move to Cobb County, the Braves said one of the reasons for leaving Turner Field was “the Braves do not have control over the development of our immediate surroundings.” Plus now the Braves will own the stadium. Maybe they need to shed payroll to pay for this and “building the farm system” is an excuse. Sound familiar? It reminds me of fastfood chains that make more money off the real estate their franchises sit on then they do selling burgers. Is this what baseball has devolved into?
  2. DaveSchneck January 16, 2015 at 11:28 am
    Like you, glad to see Gattis and Clippard out of the division, to go along with the LaRouche departure as well. The Braves don’t concern me at this point, if the Mets can’t outplay them in 2015 they don’t deserve to be in playoff contention.

    The Nats are the team to worry about. On the surface, this deal seems to be a win for Beane, even with the additional flexibility it gives the Nats up the middle. Escobar is not as horrible as you depict, despite his bad attitude, and was hurt last year. Defensively, with him at 2B, Desmond at SS, and Espinosa backing up, they are very solid and light years ahead of the Mets. That Rizzo is a shrewd character, and it strikes me that he is going to do more, with this acquisition poising him for his next move. Desmond is clearly an elite SS, but if he has a big return in the making, he may be sacrificing something with Escobar in order to add more elsewhere. Remember that the Nats are still significantly better on paper than anyone else in the NL East, and Rizzo is thinking both 2015 and beyond, when he has a long line of FA eligible players and likely will need to be selective in who he retains. Now, if he doesn’t make another move I think that is good news for the Mets, as his bullpen looks clearly weaker unless they have some studs that I am not aware of. I just can’t believe that the Nats and the Mets would make a direct deal involving the likes of an elite SS and top ranked prospect. Not impossible, but very rare and unlikely.

  3. argonbunnies January 16, 2015 at 1:02 pm
    Nice to not have to face Clippard. I assume the Nats did the math in Clippard’s walk year and figured his next contract will pay him almost entirely for past performance, so they wanted to cash in now. Smart strategy in general, but I share your disgust with their return. See, this is why we can bash Sandy for not pulling off heists — SOME guys (Beane) ARE doing it. The A’s opponents who haven’t seen Clippard’s change-up before are in for some tough 8th innings.

    As for Gattis, I don’t see why everyone’s so down on him. I mean, yeah, the guy has flaws, but still, doesn’t being the best hitter in baseball at your position count for a lot? I love his story and his swing — now that he’s not a Brave, I’ll be rooting for the guy.

    The Nats clearly have no use for Espinosa — the Mets should pick him up cheap and do whatever they did to den Dekker last year. Danny’s a better defensive infielder than any Met, so if he can stop striking out every other time up, he’d be a nice upgrade. Maybe offer Mazzoni?

    Of course, den Dekker’s coach was George Greer, who has since left the Mets, so that swing-shortening know-how might be gone…

  4. DaveSchneck January 16, 2015 at 2:41 pm
    Good point. How are you going to have a coach named Long convince a player to swing short?
    • argonbunnies January 17, 2015 at 8:19 pm
      Niiiiice. 🙂
    • argonbunnies January 17, 2015 at 8:20 pm
      In all seriousness, I am happy to have Long, but maybe more sad to lose Greer. It sometimes seems like minor league coaches get more opportunities to actually change players.
      • Bat January 17, 2015 at 10:00 pm
        Personally I would have liked to see the Mets hire the Royals’ Rusty Kuntz, who has one of the best names in baseball history as others have pointed out as well.

  5. Bat January 16, 2015 at 8:50 pm
    Three points:

    (1) Atlanta sent Gattis to the Astros for “three unproven prospects”? All prospects are unproven…that’s why they’re called prospects and not established major league players.

    (2) I think at the start of the offseason the Braves were considering just a retooling for 2015, but as the offseason went onward Hart just decided to blow it up and plan for 2016 possibly and more likely 2017. But before you dismiss the return for Gattis, many commentators including Keith Law thought the Braves won that trade handily.

    (3) I would not characterize Escobar as “awful”. Escobar was good in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013; seems like he is on some similar type of up-down thing to Saberhagen’s good year / bad year but the lines are less clearly drawn as to every other year (i.e., he was good in 2008 and 2009).

    Escobar was “awful” in 2014 – I don’t argue that – but I think to characterize him as “awful” (period) is simply not true. I could actually seem him being pretty good in 2015…we’ll have to see. He’ll play all 2015 at age 32 and the Nationals seem to indicate he’ll be a 2B for the entire year with Desmond playing SS so one could envision a guy with SS skills playing a very strong 2B if motivated to do so. Of course, much depends on whether Escobar comes to play next year. Personally, I think he’ll be good but again we’ll have to see.