The Atlanta Braves completed the largest and most surprising trade they have made since the John Hart era started last October. Atlanta sent starting pitcher Alex Wood, infield prospect Jose Peraza, right-handed reliever Jim Johnson, left-handed reliever Luis Avilan and injured right-handed starter Bronson Arroyo to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for infielder Hector Olivera, left-handed reliever Paco Rodriguez, right-handed pitching prospect Zachary Bird and Competitive Balance Round A pick (currently No. 35 overall) in next year’s draft (which the Dodgers acquired from the Marlins as part of a larger three-team deal). There’s a lot to unpack here, in what is the riskiest trade the Braves have made yet.
For the Braves this trade is all about Hector Olivera, a 30-year-old Cuban defector who signed a big 6-year, $62.5 million contract this past offseason. At that time the Braves were heavily rumored to be a favorite to sign him, but the Dodgers threw a lot more money at him, even though they had nowhere for him to play. They still don’t have anywhere for him to play, one of the main reasons he hasn’t made his Major League debut yet.
The Braves front office clearly covets Olivera, and are willing to part with some very good players and prospects to acquire him. He profiles as a third baseman in Atlanta, but the main attraction for the team is his bat — a bat which is repeated described by team sources as an “impact bat.” That likely translates into a hope that he can consistently hit .300+ with 15 home runs year in, year out. That’s if he stays healthy, and there have been some concerns about his ability to stay on the field, which may only get worse with him being on the wrong side of 30-years-old. There are also concerns about whether he has a strong enough arm to play third base, a position he is brand new to.
Paco Rodriguez is another big part of this trade, not to be overlooked. He can be an impact reliever, and even though he’s a lefty, he could serve as a closer. The big red flag with him is that he’s currently on the 60-day disabled list after having arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow on July 2. Nobody knows if he’ll return to his peak form next year.
These are two very high-risk acquisitions for the Braves. They are parting with a young starting pitcher in Alex Wood, who at 24-years-old has likely not yet reached his eventual ceiling of a number-2 starter, and is still under team control for three more years. Parting with Jose Peraza is a bit easier, as he is somewhat blocked at shortstop and second base in Atlanta, and coming fast behind him through the Braves system is Ozzy Albies, who is a better overall prospect. But Peraza still has a ton of value as one of the top-50 prospects in baseball.
The Braves seem to be selling low on both Wood and Peraza, when they should be selling them at peak value. The inclusion of Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan are just sweeteners, but they do add to the overall value of the deal — especially since both are healthy. Getting rid of Bronson Arroyo’s salary ($4 million or so this year, plus $4.5 million buyout for next year) is a nice bonus.
The final prospect included in the deal, Zach Bird, is another reach for the Braves. MLB Prospect Watch ranks him as the No. 15 prospect in the Dodgers system. But he’s a prospect only in projection right now, and not necessarily in performance on the field.
So this deal for the Braves is all about scouting. Even with no Major League experience the Braves scouts consider Olivera a first division starter who can step right into the middle of the Atlanta lineup and produce. Even though Rodriguez is injured the Braves scouts believe he can return to closer-like form. Even though Bird has no history of good performance in the minors the Braves scouts believe he is a high-enough value prospect to be a prominent part of this trade. The Competitive Balance draft pick, currently No. 35 with a chance to move higher, will be all about scouting, and while that could have great value next year, the Braves front office may be placing a higher premium on those extra picks than are other teams.
Unlike most of the other trades the Braves have made this past year, this trade will be judged quickly. Olivera should join the team this year, and his performance will be watched and scrutinized more than any other player the Braves have acquired. Rodriguez should be a prominent part of next year’s bullpen, and his performance will be equally scrutinized. Bird and the draft pick will be longer-term outcomes of this trade, but the reactions of this trade will rest on how Olivera, Rodriguez, Wood and Avilan perform over the next few years.
I don’t like this trade. It’s too much to give up — young, healthy, controllable players not yet in their prime — for too many risks and question marks. But it does highlight the lack of impact bats available to be acquired right now, that Atlanta feels they have to pay a premium for Olivera. There is a lot of trust being placed on Braves scouting, and it could pay off, but boy oh boy, this trade could blow up in the Braves face like no other trade since the last swap of the John Schuerholz era — when Atlanta’s farm system was set back years in order to acquire Mark Teixeira. While today’s trade won’t set Atlanta’s farm system back, it does have the potential to saddle the Braves with another unproductive infielder, an injured reliever and prospects who are busts. While some measure of risk is associated with any trade, this one comes with a full cup of risk.