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LaRoche - M. Gonzalez Trade Analysis
Posted by Peter Schoenke at 1/19/2007 1:37:00 PM
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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.


The response to the deal in Pittsburgh has been overwhelming favorable. One poll had 90 percent of the respondents approving the trade. The Pirates needed to make the trade a lot more than did the Braves. Aside from righthanded hitting Jason Bay, who led the team with 35 dingers, the leading home run hitters on the team last year were lefty Jeromy Burnitz and Jose Bautista, who both hit 16. The Bucs havenít had a lefthanded power hitter to take advantage of PNCís short porch in right field since Brian Giles. That changes now.

Also, many in the ĎBurgh believe the Bucs won because they didnít have to give up one of their core young pitchers, like Paul Maholm, to get the deal done or center fielder Chris Duffy. Shortstop Brent Lillibridge had good numbers in the low minors, but at 23 it remains to be seen whether he can succeed in Double or Triple-A.

As far as the bullpen situation goes, Salomon Torres takes over. Heís proven to be a bit of a head case over the course of his career Ė he quit baseball altogether for four seasons before signing with the Pirates in 2002. Heíll be 35 in March and is a power pitcher with a good sinking fastball. His arm has less wear and tear than a normal 35-year-old because of the time off but it still makes you wonder how much longer heíll be able to bring the heat. He didnít show any signs of slowing down in 2006, leading the majors in games pitched with 94. Torres also converted 12 of 13 save opportunities in September. The only possible red flag there is that there was really no pressure on him. That will change this year.

As for Mike Gonzalez, he has great stuff, plenty of heart and is fearless. He also loses his focus at times and struggles with the strike zone. Heís usually either really good or really bad, sometimes in the same at-bat. Heís an injury risk, too, even if his elbow tendinitis isnít an issue. He wore a knee brace in 2005 for the last couple months. Donít get me wrong, though, when heís on heís one of the better pitchers around.

Wouldnít it be something if ex-Bucco and newly-acquired Braves hitter Craig Wilson hit more home runs than Adam LaRoche? Thatíd be a real kick in the pants to Pirates GM David Littlefield (I donít think it will happen as Wilson will platoon but you never know).

Relief pitchers who get a slight bump up in the Pittsburgh bullpen because of the deal include Torres (obviously), righty Matt Capps and lefties John Grabow and Damaso Marte. A darkhorse is Josh Sharpless, who has an excellent offspeed out pitch but struggled with his command in his short time with Pittsburgh.

All in all, this was a trade the Pirates had to make for their players Ė Jack Wilson and others had publicly lobbied for it, their fans Ė management had done little this winter other than re-signed Jose Hernandez for a third time, and for GM Littlefield, who is on the hot seat after five years of abject failure.
Posted by jtopper at 1/19/2007 2:54:00 PM

As a Braves fan I was excited that a speedy prospect like Lillibridge was included in the deal. I was also surprised that Andrew McCutchen's name didn't surface in this deal.

I wonder if Schuerholtz inquired about his availability and what it would have taken to acquire him. Maybe LaRoche and Yunel Escobar for Gonzalez and McCutchen? If he develops as projected, McCutchen could have made the the post-Andruw Jone's era more palatable.

Posted by bairdjtb at 1/20/2007 11:48:00 AM
There's no way that LaRoche is worth McCutchen. He had a nice year last year, yes, and a good second half in 2005, but frankly, guys like him at first base come pretty close to growing on trees. I'd have been surprised if McCutchen's name ever seriously entered the discussion.
Posted by Erickson at 1/20/2007 3:36:00 PM

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