The Olivera Tragedy

This trade was a mess from the beginning. And after almost a year and a half since, time has not been kind to the evaluation. There’s the potential the trade could end up looking a little better, but that would be damning it with faint praise. It was a complicated trade that required a third team to get involved, and it included prospects, established players, draft picks, and salary dumps. It was really a trade that should have never been made, and Coppy is on record saying he regrets the trade. The premise of the trade was that Atlanta sent money (Bronson Arroyo’s contract), two good relievers (Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan), a talented prospect (Jose Peraza), and an established lefty starting pitcher (Alex Wood) for a 30-year old Cuban prospect (Hector Olivera), young lefty prospect (Paco Rodriguez), a 2016 first round pick, and a filler prospect (Zach Bird). Including the Marlins’ role in the trade is largely irrelevant to our discussion, so we’ll skip it.

The centerpiece of the deal was Hector Olivera, a heralded Cuban defector whom the Dodgers acquired for $62.5M. He was considered to have slightly above average power and speed, and appeared steady at second and had the arm for third. The Braves and Padres were also interested in Olivera, and it was believed he’d be quick to the major leagues and ready to be an above-average contributor. With that said, he had previously struggled with a blood disorder, minor UCL tear, and was never really projected to be an elite player. The interest in him was confusing, and with the Braves having even more time than the Dodgers to scout him, it’s further puzzling why the Braves were so interested in him.

Olivera’s time in Atlanta was a disaster. He had a respectable .253/.310/.405 line in his first major league action, but the Braves determined he couldn’t handle third base (further diluting his value), and decided to start him in left field to begin 2016. But to further guarantee that he would be considered a huge bust, he was suspended 6 games into the season after assaulting a woman. The Braves were able to basically hide his sunk cost by “trading” him to San Diego for Matt Kemp, but the Braves ultimately ate every ill-advised penny they gave to Olivera. You either have to say that they ate Olivera’s salary, and got Kemp at a “discounted” rate, or they paid Kemp’s full salary, but they can’t have it both ways by saying San Diego “took” Olivera’s salary and got Kemp at a “discount” which is sadly what we’re being told. Considering the failure of Dian Toscano as well, the Braves had a blind spot with Cuban players. The Braves, it appears, relied heavily on the character assessment of Fredi Gonzalez, and perhaps this further contributed to Fredi falling out of favor with the club.

As mentioned, we didn’t just receive Olivera, but the lefty prospect (Rodriguez) still has not pitched for Atlanta after having Tommy John surgery. The pick, however, did yield our current #11 prospect according to John Sickels, Austin Riley. If Paco Rodriguez can have success in Atlanta, and Riley continues to develop, then it softens the blow of Olivera’s failure, but what we gave up may cause this trade to only appear one-sided.

Alex Wood was a big part of what we gave up. A lefty out of the University of Georgia, Wood started his career as a successful swing man, but had been a full-time starter for over a year with success. He was also only 24, but to be fair, his low strike out totals and herky-jerky delivery made some concern that he would not continue his success. He was injured in 2016, so he’s only made 22 starts for the Dodgers since the trade.

Peraza was once our #1 prospect, but the Braves appear to have been comfortable trading him with the emergence of Ozzie Albies (Dansby Swanson had not yet been acquired). There were concerns over Peraza’s hit tool and plate discipline, but if he could stick at shortstop, there was no concern that he’d be an above average regular. After an underwhelming but short stint with LA (.182/.250/.318 in 25 PAs), he was packaged in another three-team trade that sent him to Cincinnati. Splitting time across CF, SS, 2B, and LF, Peraza put up a strong .324/.352/.411 line in 256 PAs as a 22-year old. He seems to be the prospect we thought we were giving up: a good one.

The two relievers struggled with LA, inexplicably, but Johnson returned to Atlanta to have a strong season, and when healthy, Avilan recovered in 2016.

At the end of the day, Coppy took a huge risk in acquiring Olivera and it backfired very, very badly. Coppy’s legacy doesn’t completely hang on this trade because of his other successes in almost all facets of player acquisitions, but this trade was so, so bad. What did they ever see in Olivera in the first place?

62 thoughts on “The Olivera Tragedy”

  1. It’s fairly easy to see the appeal of Olivera — they thought they were getting a 20 HR 2B or 3B (both positions of weakness at that time) at a below-market deal who could slot right into the lineup and help keep the team respectable during the rebuild, who was still young enough to be a contributor when the team got good. And it seemed like every Cuban coming over at that time was a steal for the team, so they were likely hoping to get their own Cespedes/Abreu/Puig (as were a bunch of other teams — a lot of money was being wasted on the Cuban leagues’ B talent at that time).

    Obviously, as a LF who hits women but not baseballs and needed to have his salary dumped, just about every assessment they made there was wrong. But that was the thinking.

  2. Good writeup. Needed to be done.

    The package of Alex Wood, Jose Peraza, two veteran and productive relievers (one righty, one lefty) and a not insignificant amount of cash…that’s a really solid package there for most any contending team. I don’t think the Braves lost much longterm by parting with all that, it’s just that we gained a pittance in return. One wonders what other teams would have yielded for the same or similar packages? I think that’s the tragedy that ultimately underlines that deal.

  3. Good writeup and hard to argue the point. I’m all about positional flexibility, and Peraza as a super-utility guy would’ve been a great compliment to this Braves team.

    The optimistic side of me hopes that Paco and Riley can have good careers with the Braves and that Matt Kemp really does get… and stay in shape giving Braves 2-3 WAR production in left-field.

  4. Nice writeup. That deal was a mystery from the very beginning. I was especially annoyed to see Wood go at the time.

  5. I thought we saved some money, not sent the Dodgers some, by including Arroyo’s contract, though the Dodgers only took part of it. No?

  6. A 700ish OPS from Peraza is what I’d expect and for a guy that can play the entire field and give value on the basepaths, that’s really good.

  7. I’m not losing sleep over Jose Peraza. He doesn’t take walks or hit for power, and while he has some defensive flexibility it doesn’t appear he is a *good* defender at any one position. IMO, he’d be a useful bench piece – slightly better than, say, Jace Peterson – but likely nothing more than that.

    All this talk of whether Jose Peraza is any good or not skips over the actual main piece of the ill-fated Oliver deal – Alex Wood. Alex just turned 26 a few days ago and has a career 3.35 ERA; that’ll play on any starting rotation. The Braves just gave up prospects in order to acquire Jaime Garcia, a guy who projects similarly to Wood (lefty, mid-3s ERA, durability concerns) but will cost $10M more this season.

  8. @5

    I’d contrast the scouting level that LA had with Atlanta’s. LA signed him with the same access the Braves, Padres, etc. had. The Dodgers kept him in extended spring training and then gave him 18 PAs in rookie ball before trading him. I take one of two reactions from it: LA knew what they got, and tried to shield him from other teams’ scouting, or the Braves had an opportunity to scout Olivera and saw that he didn’t have the chops to play 2B/3B and hit 20 HRs. Either way, the Braves had more of an opportunity to scout Olivera than LA did, or they could glean something from the way the Dodgers were handling him.

    I was a fan of the deal in the beginning, trusting in Atlanta’s scouting department, but it didn’t take long to see that Olivera wasn’t who they thought he was, and I think someone misfired to give up so much talent to make him a centerpiece of the deal. The character issues just accelerated the decline of the deal. I also openly wonder, but reserve judgment, why any team, with the still limited on-field scouting available, wouldn’t at least give the guy a chance to hang out in extended spring training and see if he’s worth the baggage. Domestic violence is not a complete death sentence to a guy’s career, as it is clearly proportionate to the player’s value (Aroldis Chapman), so I wonder if Olivera is so incredibly bad at baseball that he’s not worth what goes along with him, and if that is true, then how was both LA and Atlanta so wrong about him? Most odd.

  9. Cardinals have to send their top two picks (#56 and #75) and $2 milliion to the Astros for the hacking scandal. I feel we should get a third rounder for the infield fly rule…

  10. Ignoring the off-field aspect of it, I still rank this trade above the Simba for Newcomb/Ellis/Aybar trade.

  11. Alex just turned 26 a few days ago and has a career 3.35 ERA; that’ll play on any starting rotation.

    Except the Dodgers’, apparently, as he has frequently been (and is currently) bullpen-bound since the trade. Wood hasn’t exactly been taking names since the Braves traded him, so I’m not losing too much sleep over that. Obviously it would be better if they hadn’t, but I’m still not sold on Alex Wood being a difference-maker for any team.

    Regarding the Cardinals, it’s kind of obnoxious that they’re losing these picks in a year where they’re already forfeiting one for signing Dexter Fowler, so it stings less than it might have if they had been avoiding major signings all offseason. But that’s the Cardinals for you.

  12. Richie Shaffer is a guy I thought Braves would’ve taken a flier on. Former 1st rd pick, been traded once and was just DFA’d again, which makes 3 times this offseason. Can play 3B, 1B, and corner OF.

    What a journey, huh?

  13. I hope the Falcons confound all doubters and win the SB; but I will be glad when football’s done. I am ready for baseball.

  14. 23, Ryan C – He seems like a guy we could take a flyer on and stash in gwinnett. Would he have to be on the MLB roster?

  15. At the expense of appearing a Pollyanna, I think the Olivera trade was so bad, it had the chance to completely sink or at least derail the rebuild all on its own. That it hasn’t, that the team is as stacked with young, controllable talent as it is, is a real testament to the strong work the front office has done.

    You can fairly ask, assuming the Braves really did consider Wood and Peraza expendable, “but how much better would we be if we’d traded Wood for even more prospects, or flipped Peraza in a deal for a different controllable asset, and if we weren’t now saddled with Kemp’s contract?”

    But we didn’t and we are, and we are still a consensus top 3 farm system, primed for 6 to 8 years of playoff-competitive baseball. This trade probably single-handedly pushed that window back a full year, but the work of the front office withstood this mistake.

    Strong work, Johns.

  16. @29, Pretty objective breakdown, well done. I’m still bullish on the front office despite this exceptionally horrifying misfire of a deal.

  17. I thought we gave up way too much for Olivera, especially as I thought Woods was going to be better than he has turned out to be. But I trusted the front office. I reckon they can’t get them all right. I am pleased with where the team is now and call me a polly anna, I think that they can compete for the playoffs this year. A lot of stuff has to go right but at least there is a chance that it could go that way.

  18. @35 Someone should edit that “Bottom line: dude can hit” together with the Kate-McKinnon-as-Hillary-Clinton “and THAT is HOW you PIVOT”.

  19. krussell’s best work comes when the Braves make bad decisions or are losing. I hope krussell’s opportunities to bring his award-winning prose are nearing an end.

  20. I was thinking the Braves would be just below 500 this year, but now that we signed Kirkman, that changes everything. Well, maybe not everything, more like nothing.

  21. A lot has to go right for the Braves to be above .500, but I’m not excluding them from that. Now, I think there’s a 5 game swing in either direction that’s possible, with a decent bench acquisition adding 1 to the win side. If Albies breaks camp with the team, all bets are off.

  22. My homer side wants to say 90 wins are possible with a bench addition and Albies starting with the club. My non-homer side realizes the Braves are 1 injury away from this all going amiss.

  23. If a bunch of guys stay healthy and hit their 75th percentile outcomes, sure. I think 80 wins is a more realistic stretch target. The real question is just which of the young pitchers breaks through, and whether Albies is healthy and ready to contribute at the major league level. Everything else is all about getting the low-minors kids another year of development.

  24. Last years’ Braves team featured – by fWAR – the 2nd worst overall (hitting + defense) set of position players in baseball and the 6th worst overall set of pitchers.

    My sense is that the odds are in favor of an incremental improvement for the position players (to, say, perhaps #20 – #25 overall) while the pitching *could* be as good as league-average if things break right (but could be awful again if our elderly/fragile FA pickups don’t produce). Thrown together, that looks like a 70 – 75 win team.

  25. With Ron Washington helping Pendleton work with infielders, I expect the Braves’ defense to be much improved.

  26. Which David Carpenter, Alex? The one who gave up the long ball to Uribe or the one who only makes us think about the one who gave up the long ball to Uribe? And what is Craig Kimbrel telling Eddie Perez about the signing?

  27. Watching him shove.

    Before yesterday’s Koby Allard interview in TC how many here were familiar with the word ‘shove’ in this baseball context? Not me and i cannot recall this use on these pages.

    It seems a perfect idiom now after only the briefest exposure. ‘Watching him shove’. Yes. Add it.

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