It's not often that teams trade 27-year-old hitters coming off career years while under arbitration when not under extreme payroll pressure. But that's what the Braves did Wednesday when news leaked that they've traded Adam LaRoche and minor league Jamie Romak for Mike Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge.
Why would the Braves trade Gonzalez?
They were shopping him all winter so they obviously don't believe he'll be worth about $3 million in arbitration he's due next season and the subsequent increases. My guess is that they wanted to trade him while his value was at its peak as he may never get any better. Two warning signs are his large career split vs. left-handed pitching (.859 vs. RH, .736 vs. LH last 3 years) and that he's only had two really good three-month stretches in his three full years in the majors (the second half of last year and the second half of 2004). And even though the Braves have a payroll of $80 million, 85% of the money goes to just six players, so they don't have a lot of flexibility. This gives them some flexibility the next few seasons knowing LaRoche's salary won't climb dramatically.
Overall, this trade improves the Braves because Mike Gonzalez makes their bullpen a real asset when it was a liability last season. In terms of Win Shares, Gonzalez adds 11 wins to the Braves while they lose 16 wins with LaRoche. But free-agent signee Craig Wilson produced 8 wins last season. It's a net gain for the Braves who will replace an arm in the bullpen who produced zero wins last season (such as Chris Reitsma). The Braves also get Lillibridge, who's seen as a top prospect and adds depth to the infield with top prospects Elvis Andrus, Eric Campbell and Yunel Escobar. The Braves will be positioned in 2008 when they'll have option years on Chipper Jones and Edgar Renteria.
The only downside is that they wanted to trade LaRoche while he was hot and get top value. They got good value in return, but not a steal. Horacio Ramirez for Rafael Soriano - that's a steal. This was more of a fair value trade. The Braves also don't have a great option or prospect in waiting at first base. So it's no guarantee they'll be able to fill the hole that's created.
How does this impact the fantasy world?
- Mike Gonzalez loses his closer job, so his fantasy value takes a hit.
- Scott Thorman and Craig Wilson now fight for playing time at 1B and possibly LF.
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia may now have a quicker path to the majors. Either because he could win playing time at 1B in the majors this season or if he's traded for help at 2B (instead of pitching). You figure he has to be traded if not moved to 1B because the Braves are set for a long time with Brian McCann.
- LaRoche should play everyday with the Pirates. That will help his RBIs and counting stats, but his batting average may suffer if he faces more lefties.
- Salomon Torres likely gets the job as Pittsburgh's closer, but Matt Capps could also be in the mix.
The Braves are still unsettled at 2B heading into the spring. I have a feeling there will be another move. Martin Prado's value is with his glove not his bat. They'll try to move former minor league infielder Kelly Johnson there as well. While I like his ability to get on base and he'd have decent power for a middle infielder, I have a hard time thinking his glove will work there.
My other suggestion would be to move Chipper Jones to first base to reduce wear and tear on his body. He can still hit when healthy (a 1.005 OPS last season but played just 110 games). His injuries were all over the field and at plate, so a move to first base may not make him any healthier. But if he could gain 10 to 20 games by playing first base, it would pay dividends. Willy Aybar gets on base enough that he wouldn't be the worst option at third base.
Posted by Peter Schoenke at 1/19/2007 1:37:00 PM