While discussing the two teams with a friend, the Scott Kazmir trade came up and my friend went on to talk about how good this year’s team would be with Johan Santana and Scott Kazmir in the rotation.
Eventually, I kept thinking back to 2007, when the Braves made a trade with the Texas Rangers to acquire slugger Mark Teixeira. While the trade may have netted the Braves more than the Mets got in the trade for Victor Zambrano, I think that the whole Braves franchise would look different if the trade was never made.
The Trade Details
Just before the trade deadline in 2007, the Atlanta Braves, looking to bolster their offense, acquired first baseman Mark Teixeira and RP Ron Mahay from the Texas Rangers for C/first base Jarrod Saltalamacchia and minor leaguers SP Matt Harrison, SS Elvis Andrus, P Beau Jones, and SP Neftali Feliz.
The Braves Side
Mark Teixeira did everything that the Braves could ask from his during his brief tenure in Atlanta, which ultimately resulted in a trade to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In 208 at bats in 2007, Tex produced a .317/.404/.615 line with 17 homers and 56 RBI.
Left-handed reliever Ron Mahay also filled a need for the Braves, and also was incredible during his short tenure in Atlanta. In 30 games he posted a 1-0 record with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP.
During the offseason, Mahay was signed by Kansas City, and Mark Teixeira was entering the final year of his contract.
The Braves quickly fell out of the race in 2008, prompting the Braves to shop Teixeira for a longer term solution. They ended up with first base Casey Kotchman (currently starting at first for Atlanta) and minor leaguer P Stephen Marek.
Because the Braves missed the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, the trade ultimately didn’t pay off, as the Braves mortgaged the farm system for nothing.
The Rangers Side
The Texas Rangers, who were not contending in 2007, used the Mark Teixeira trade to help build organization depth. At the time of the trade, only Jarrod Saltalamacchia was in the majors, and he was only midway through his rookie season.
Saltalamacchia, who was the Braves top prospect at the time of the trade, stayed in the majors with Texas in 2007. Since going to the Rangers, Salty has hit .256/.324/.406 with 13 homers and 59 RBI in 434 at-bats. Still young, Salty should continue to improve and help the Rangers despite being pushed by Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez.
Matt Harrison was the next of the players to make it to the majors for Texas. The Braves number three prospect at the time of the trade, Harrison has posted an impressive record (although his other numbers are less than stellar) so far in his career. Through 2009, his major league stats are a record of 11-5 with a 5.71 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 20 games started.
Elvis Andrus became the third player the Braves traded away to reach the majors in 2009. So far this year, he has produced a .264/.293/.389 line with 1 homerun, 4 RBI and 3 stolen bases. The slick fielding Andrus is likely going to win a good share of gold gloves in the future.
Andrus is currently the second youngest player in the American League, likely because of his stellar 2008 in AA. He hit .295 and stole 54 bases in 482 at-bats, prompting Texas to ask Michael Young to switch to third base. Andrus was the second ranked prospect in the Braves system at the time of the trade, and the 37th ranked prospect in all of baseball at the beginning of the 2009 season.
Beau Jones was one of the minor league pitchers traded to Texas in the deal. He was previously a starter, and started a couple of games in 2008, but has mostly been pitching in relief. Although he has struggled so far in 2009 (0-2, 4.66 ERA) he posted a 3.22 ERA while striking out 60 batters in 58.1 innings in 2008.
The best prospect that the Rangers got may be Neftali Feliz, who is currently pitching in AAA. The Braves knew that they were trading away a youngster with a live arm, but Feliz exceeded expectations in 2008. Neftali went 10-6 with a 2.69 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 153 strikeouts in 127.1 innings pitched. While he is off to a rough start (1-1, 5.03 ERA), Feliz and his upper 90’s fastball may be in the majors before the year is up. He is currently ranked as the ninth best prospect in all of baseball.
Where Would Atlanta Be If This Trade Didn’t Happen
The Braves still would have missed out on the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, but that is nothing unexpected.
With Brian McCann in the fold, Saltalamacchia would likely be converted to a first baseman. He would still be playing first in Atlanta, and the Braves would eventually have a decision to make when Freddie Freeman is able to play in the majors.
Elvis Andrus likely would push the Braves to trade away Yunel Escobar (the same way Escobar pushed the Braves to trade Edgar Renteria). However, the Braves likely would have handed the starting job to Omar Infante in 2009 while giving Andrus one more year to mature.
Matt Harrison could possibly be the fifth starter in the rotation. He likely would have gotten a chance in 2008 with all the injuries, and could possibly in the role that Jo-Jo Reyes is currently occupying for the Braves.
Beau Jones would still be in the minors, likely moving toward making Atlanta as a middle or long reliever, possibly in 2010.
Neftali Feliz and Tommy Hanson would be the best pair of starting pitching prospects in any organization, and would have Braves fans dreaming for 2010 when their rotation could include Jair Jurrjens, Hanson, Feliz, Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy.
How did I get Peavy? With their increased organizational depth, the Braves would likely continue pursuing Peavy, and perhaps be more willing to part with prospects. Although it is still unlikely that the Braves would want to give up one of their two top pitchers, I could easily see the Braves getting something done and landing Peavy from San Diego.
Hindsight is 20-20, and surely every Major League team has made trades that they wish they could take back. The Braves currently have one of the deepest farm systems in all of baseball, but would be a much better team in the next couple years had they not traded for Mark Teixeira.