The Little Deals of the Rebuild (Part 1)

It can be hard to remember all of the little deals that Coppy has made, especially when he’s made so many, and so many have included more significant players. But the small deals have been where Coppy has been able to increase the breadth and depth of the farm system, and if not for these deals, we wouldn’t have some pieces in place that could play a role in the next great Braves team. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of every exchange of talent the team has made since the rebuild began, but it will still include most deals that don’t involve an important major league player.

1. Tommy La Stella for Arodys Vizcaino

As time would tell, Coppy was intent on trading low-ceiling players for high-ceiling prospects and other young players. Vizcaino was previously acquired in the Melky Cabrera/Javier Vazquez deal, and was then traded for Paul Maholm. When healthy, Vizcaino is a top reliever in the game, but is struggling to consistently stay healthy. La Stella played an important role in the Cubs’ World Series team, but the Braves should be happy with the trade.

2. Anthony Varvaro for Aaron Kurcz and Cash

Varvaro was a decent middle reliever, whom the Red Sox needed, and Kurcz was ultimately traded a few months later for bonus pool money. Fun fact: Varvaro is now a police officer.

3. David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve for Manny Banuelos

Two low-ceiling relievers for a former top prospect. Banuelos never gained consistent health and effectiveness, and the Braves released him in 2016. Carpenter and Shreve have been inconsistent relievers for the past two years. The Braves even brought Carpenter to spring training in 2016.

4. Kyle Kubitza for Nate Hyatt and Ricardo Sanchez

Low-ceiling prospect for a high-ceiling lottery ticket, Sanchez. Sanchez is still very young (19), and has a mid-90s fastball, but continues to be overshadowed by the bountiful harvest of pitching prospects. He could settle in as a nice lefty reliever within the next couple years.

5. David Hale and Gus “Pickles” Schlosser for Jose Briceno and Chris O’Dowd

The Braves increased their minor league catching depth by trading two AAAA relievers. Hale had done some nice work as a swing man for Atlanta, but neither have done anything since. Briceno ended up in the Andrelton Simmons trade, and O’Dowd has done nothing. He’s in the White Sox organization now.

6. Alberto Callaspo, Juan Jaime, Eric Stults, and Ian Thomas for Juan Uribe and Chris Withrow

Weird trade. Callaspo was a bust for Atlanta, Stults has never really been good, and Jaime and Thomas are both reliever filler, and the Braves were able to add it all up for Juan Uribe, who had a strong 167 PAs of .285/.353/.464 production before being traded, and Chris Withrow, who pitched some strong middle relief innings in 2016 before being DFA’ed due to roster crunches.

7. Phil Gosselin for Touki Toussaint and Bronson Arroyo

The Braves essentially bought Touki for $13M. Touki was a former 1st round pick, with exceptional stuff and youth, and the Braves got him by being willing to take Arroyo’s contract. Touki is consistently in the top 15 of a very deep farm system (formerly a top-5 prospect for Arizona), and after a dominant second half in low-A, he is primed for a breakout year. The D-Backs inexplicably traded a first round pick for short-term salary flexibility.

8. In separate deals, Cody Martin, Caleb Dirks, Jordan Paroubeck, Garret Fulencheck, and Aaron Kurcz for International Bonus Pool Money

The Braves sold several low-minors and low-ceiling prospects to different teams to get enough international bonus pool money to land Derian Cruz and Christian Pache. While these two have garnered less attention than superstar signee Kevin Maitan, they both rank in Atlanta’s top 30 prospects. John Hart has specifically commented on Pache multiple times, and both could be getting underrated in this deep farm. These trades (and the subsequent signings) and the Touki trade stand as two creative sets of moves by Coppy to utilize finite 2015 assets to deepen the farm.

9. Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe for John Gant and Rob Whalen

During a rebuilding year, the Braves parlayed two strong platoon players into two starting pitching prospects. Gant and Whalen both filled major league innings in 2016 before being flipped, Gant in the Jaime Garcia trade and Whalen in the Alex Jackson deal.

10. Chris Johnson for Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, and Cash

In effort to consolidate the monies owed to Chris Johnson into the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the Braves took the remainder of money owed to Swisher and Bourn so that they would be free of money owed to Johnson in 2017.

To be continued…

70 thoughts on “The Little Deals of the Rebuild (Part 1)”

  1. I dunno, Coppolella seems like the kind of guy who’s always going to be on the lookout for high-ceiling prospects who have fallen out of favor with their organizations. If he’s still the GM when the team gets good again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see bench players, relievers, or fringy starters get shipped out for some tarnished prospect on the regular. Toussaint for Gosselin is a trade you make whether you’re on pace for 60 wins or 100.

  2. I think you’re right to a point, but if we’re in July, and a guy like Tommy La Stella is playing a key role (like hitting against righties and playing second, a role that suits him well on a contender) then I doubt he trades that guy for a prospect (which Vizcaino was at the time). The Cubs, as they won a WS, could have used Vizcaino just as much as us, but they traded for the piece they needed, which I think we will do when we’re contending. I think we make the move the Cubs made, not the move we made.

    With that said, I think Coppy will be creative to move money around based on the needs of the day (#10). I think we’ll round up slop to get a piece (#6). Trade organizational depth to fill an organizational need (#5). Trade fringe prospects for higher upside talent (#3 & 4). Trade relievers for cash (#2) is probably a constant too.

  3. Vizcaino is more valuable than La Stella. He had one postseason AB.

    Based on how Madden used his pen in the playoffs, I bet they would have liked to had Vizcaino

  4. @2, the problem is, it was Gosselin plus a bunch of cash for Toussaint. The question is, would Coppy be willing to voluntarily relinquish his financial flexibility to improve a team on the bubble in order to acquire a high-ceiling prospect who’s far from the majors?

  5. MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects:

    #4: Dansby Swanson
    #11: Ozzie Albies
    #32: Kevin Maitan
    #53: Kolby Allard
    #78: Mike Soroka
    #80: Sean Newcomb
    #86: Ian Anderson

    With further comment by the author, Jonathan Mayo:

    Here’s the deal, Braves fans. You have a really good system. No one is questioning that. It is undoubtedly one of the best in baseball (our rankings of the top 10 farm systems comes in early March). You have seven players on the Top 100. That’s tied for the most. Don’t get greedy. Are there others who are Top 100-caliber? Sure. Ronald Acuna and Max Fried, the two we’ve probably gotten the most comments on, are in the next group and will likely get added in the early stages of the season as some (your own Dansby Swanson, for one) graduate off the list.

    Beyond that, there’s a lot of talent. Austin Riley, Touki Toussaint, even Luiz Gohara (though he’s not as close to the Top 100 as some have tried to argue, in my opinion), could all play their way onto the list during the 2017 season. At the end of the day, though, it’s all about turning the big league team back into a winner. I believe the pieces are there for that to happen. And that’s regardless of how many prospects are on any kind of list or rankings.

  6. Given the (correct!) perception of how pitching-heavy and hitting-light our farm is, it’s fascinating that the top three prospects on the list are position players; so is one of the top two guys who just missed the list; so is one of the top three prospects after the fact.

  7. @5 — Perhaps not that exact trade, but I could easily see something like Whalen/Povse for Jackson occurring regardless of the Braves’ position on the success cycle. Coppolella keeps talking about how the farm system is going to need to continue to produce even after the Braves return to contention, and we know he’s willing to try and start a dialogue about anyone, so I don’t think the Braves will ever stop being the Island of Misfit Prospects as long as he’s in charge.

  8. It’s all hypothetical, but if down the road the choice is using a Whalen and Povse to get a piece that makes you a WS contender vs. taking a former 1st round pick whose fallen out of favor, I’m very confident the Braves will go for the pennant.

  9. You’re not getting a difference-maker type of piece for the Whalens, Povses, or Gosselins of the world, though. The best major league player that tier of player usually nets you is a mediocre reliever or a bench piece. You won’t get Chris Sale or or Jonathan Lucroy or Adam Eaton for them, but you might just be able to get a live arm who’s on the shelf with TJ or an athletic hitting prospect who’s scuffled for a few months or had to change positions.

  10. I think that @9 is probably true, but I also think that Coppy is exactly the kind of relentless tinkerer who will never stop trading the 24th man on the roster for a couple of C+ prospects in Double-A. In all, that’s probably a good thing, but I’m convinced that’s who he is and he’ll be as likely to do it with a 90-win team as with a 70-win team.

  11. I think what will be interesting is what Coppy does once we are competitive. Does he trade from the best of the farm to get that one last piece for a playoff run?

  12. Yeah. The deal to get that “last piece”–assuming we get to that fork in the road– promises to be a fraught episode. The “last piece” in 2016 was A. Chapman, and it worked–but only just. You could argue that it “failed”, even, and that his teammates bailed him out (his manager may well have been at fault for overworking him in that series, of course).

    The last time the A’s had a shot, they brought in Samardzija and Lester–and fell of a cliff if I remember correctly…

    Texeira deal is another such example, I think. Always a crap shoot, to an extent of course. How often has the eventual World Series winner pivoted on such a deal vs. not?

  13. With the wide and deep farm the Braves have, I think he’s already thinking about the last piece of the 2018 team. Elite players are their own issues, absolutely, but if it’s something like a closer, 4th OF, or 2-3 WAR 3B, and he might have to trade an unheralded but very strong low-minors prospect (like, say, Bryse Wilson), then I think the work he’s doing now is going to help us avoid that. If we’re at the deadline, and we need a third baseman, the average fan is not going to miss a Bryce Wilson, but for a mid-market team to be competitive, that player needs to be traded when he’s in AA or AAA, now when he’s in low-A.

    And because I believe that, things could get very interesting by the end of 2017. Some of these players will flame out, sure, but Demeritte, Peterson, Ruiz, Weigel, Newcomb, Wisler, Blair, Minter, Morris, Mader, and Sims will all be 24 or younger and in AA or higher. I’m not talking about the Rome Braves rotation, where they’re dominating athletically inferior 19-year olds. I’m talking about guys that have been tested in the high minors and are in a spot to extend a major league opportunity. Touki Toussaint is nice and everything, but call me when you’re playing well in AA. And of course, as JohnWDB accurately predicted, they may just keep trading the high minors guys for higher ceiling, low minors guys, but if they feel like these guys are major leaguers, those could create some interested deals for guys on the 25-man. That will be more fun than Whalen/Povse for Alex Jackson.

  14. Managing the 40 man roster will be a big issue. @ 20 mentions 11 prospects. There are waves of prospects on the way. It won’t be possible to give roster spots to everyone you want to keep. Trades will be necessary.

  15. Matt Ryan is the NFL MVP. Never thought that would happen, but it couldn’t happen to a better or harder working guy. Good job, Matty Ice. Now win Atlanta a Super Bowl.

  16. @23 – a chuckle to start my morning. Thank you.

    May we all be in a position to congratulate the Falcons today and to hope they will be doing the same for the Braves in the not so distant future.

  17. I just read an interesting piece at Baseball America which lists every player who made their MLB debut last year with their signing team and scout. There were only three who were originally signed with the Braves, which would seem to speak to the weakness of our scouting and system during the Wren tenure. It will be interesting to note changes in this pattern over the coming years.

    The three, for the curious:
    1. Mauricio Cabrera, debut 6/27 (Braves), signed in ’10
    2. James Hoyt, debut 8/3 (Astros), signed in ’12
    3. Jason Hursh, debut 8/13 (Braves), signed in ’13

    Link to article:

  18. @23, I wonder if the signing of the Rex Brothers meant there was just no room on the bus for the Williams.

  19. The Falcons make history tonight, breaking the record for largest lead blown in a Super Bowl by 15 points. What an epic shitshow.

  20. Sorry guys, I’m not a big pro football fan and I was neutral om the game, but I gained respect for both teams tonight. The Falcons have nothing to be ashamed of.

  21. @35 I agree. I wish the offense can generate one field goal in the fourth quarter but the offensive line couldn’t hold up in the second half. The defense did the best they could as they were on the field for practically three quarter of the game. When the league is pro-offense like it is, Brady will eventually find his way when you give him enough opportunities. The offense disappeared in the fourth quarter. How unfortunate.

  22. I understand the WAR calculations and what that means for our win total, and frankly, I don’t want to hear it. I understand that a lot of players need to exceed conservative expectations. Blah blah. But as frustrating as young pitchers are, some strong showings in Spring Training will absolutely change my opinion of some. If struggling SPs like Blair and Wisler throw really well in ST, and 8-9 relievers are also throwing well, does that change your opinion of the season?

    Comparison Matt Kemp pick. Then and now. from Braves

    And if this is any indication of Kemp’s season, does that change your opinion?

    These are long shots, but if we have an average offense, above average bench, average to above average rotation, and a deep, above average bullpen, this season could be interesting. And if the Braves get their win total in the low to mid 80’s, then that means competitive baseball well into August and September, which is fine by me.

  23. @39: Not a football fan but disappointed. Only football teams I pull for are the Dogs and whoever’s playing the Gators.

    Edit: And speaking of Gators, I agree with Rob Cope. Dammit.

  24. I’m really not a big fan of Blair’s makeup, but I was looking at his overall minor league numbers throughout his career, and I’m willing to give him a pass. Simply put, if he throws darts in ST, I’ll be more inclined to match that with his overall track record, and not his deer-in-the-headlights 2016 performances.

    If Sims throws well in Spring Training, I wonder if they’ll give him a spot in the pen. He can’t be far off from becoming a reliever with the way things are.

  25. Rotation competition is getting stronger in AAA, but I still don’t see Sims moved to the pen until a year from now.

    A) This is his first year on the 40 man, so it’s not like he’s expiring options.

    B) His problem isn’t pitch variety or ability to face a lineup multiple times; his problem is he periodically loses all control of his limbs and has no clue where his arm slot is, where his foot should land, or where the ball is going. That doesn’t “play up” in the pen.

    C) There’s room for him in a rotation, for now. If we run both of Medlen and Danks in Gwinnett, then you can round out that rotation with Blair, Wisler and Sims or Newcomb. If we don’t keep both of Danks and Medlen, that crunch is alleviated.

  26. I think Sims and a move to the ‘pen is actually best for him. Let it rip for an inning and establish himself as an elite reliever. He could be a phenom to control the late innings with AJ Minter.

  27. I think at least one of Colon/Dickey/Garcia will spend less in-season time on the roster than they did off-season. I really think our rotation looks a lot different by July. Also imagine where our farm system will be if we graduate Newcomb, Albies and Swanson but flip the 3 SPs for teams’ top-10 prospects. I dream.

  28. @48 I also read that ESPN article and was struck by how much Doolittle was optimistic about the Phillies’ mediocre prospects while simultaneously dismissive of the Braves’ crop of current veterans plus the upcoming wave(s) of minor league talent.

    To be fair – the Phillies have been a lot more successful to date than the Braves at putting together an actual homegrown starting rotation with Nola, Eickhoff and Velasquez. Beyond that, though, things get shaky – Herrera was a great Rule 5 pickup and Franco is a decent young player, but that’s about it. J.P. Crawford is the only highly regarded prospect in the Phils system, and he looks like a good defender at SS who might hit for average without walks or power.

    By contrast, the Braves’ starting rotation features two young guys (Julio and Folty) but there’s good reason to believe that the SP depth behind them – completely lacking last season – should be at least decent (no more starts from The Bills!). By the second half of 2017, the Braves will also be getting helpful production from some minor league arms – WIsler, Blair, Sims, Minter, Newcomb, Morris, et al. The Phillies don’t seem to have the same chance of reinforcements on the horizon.

    From an offensive standpoint, I’d also favor the 2017 Braves (slightly) over the 2017 Phillies. Freeman is miles better than any hitter on the Phillies, and with Inciarte – Swanson – Freeman – Kemp the Braves actually have the beginnings of a legit lineup construction.

    When trying to guess 2017 W-L totals, it’s also important to consider that the Braves are moving into a new stadium, whereas the Phillies are not. This likely means the Braves are done with the big teardown type trades (Julio was on the block in 2016; probably not in 2017). By contrast, the Phils may spend much of 2017 selling off whatever valuable win-now assets they have (Hellickson, relief pitching) once they fall out of the pennant race.

  29. @51 — You’re definitely dreaming if you think a half-season of Dickey, Colon, or Garcia is getting you a top prospect.

  30. So PECOTA predicts the Braves to have 662 runs scored (ahead of only SD at 660) and 705 runs allowed (10th best in MLB).

    Do we really think our offense is that bad or our pitching that good?

  31. I don’t think it’s crazy to think that one of the three veteran SP will be pitching well enough to appeal to a contending team in desperate enough need of a starter to let go of something good in return. All three? Probably not. But that’s what dreams are for.

  32. #54 – Hope not on the offense, but I don’t think our pitching will be that good.

    Kemp and Freeman will have to have really good offensive seasons.

  33. I feel like the Braves have a lot of room to outperform their projections and not much room to underperform them, I’ll put it that way. I don’t think the team is amazing or anything, but the 2016 Braves had a lot of wasted ABs and IPs that will hopefully not be wasted in 2017.

  34. So much room for improvement at 2B and 3B. Very interested to see what happens with Albies and Rodriguez. Anybody here a BP subscriber who can share how much playing time the PECOTA projections give to those guys?

  35. I could see Atlanta’s pitching being in the top half, and it would seem they’re being kind to our bullpen options and the old guys not imploding.

    I guess there are two ways you can look at the offense:

    -Dansby has a sophomore slump. Kemp and Markakis begin the decline phase of their career. Freeman, Flowers and Rodriguez cannot replicate their career years. Adonis declines, and Albies and Ruiz have minimal success as rookies. Suzuki hits like his 2015 season (.610 OPS) vs. his ’14 and ’16 seasons (.727 and .704 OPSes).

    -Dansby maintains his rookie performance (.803 OPS in 145 PAs). Kemp gets in the shape he was in during his elite years and maintains or exceeds his 2016. Markakis continues to be a .750 OPS hitter. Freeman continues performing as if he’s in his prime. Rodriguez’s swing adjustments were permanent and matches closely to his 2016 performance. Albies plays very well as a rookie, forcing Rodriguez to absorb the majority of Adonis’ PAs. Ruiz has some light success vs. righties at 3B. One of Suzuki or Flowers hit their weight and stay healthy.

    Or, obviously, some combination of the two. But Fredi clearly got fired because he couldn’t push the right buttons and couldn’t get good performance out of his players. It’ll be interesting to see how Snit does without the interim tag and it’s business as usual, but there’s enough talent for Snit to use players properly and have an average offense. For the most part, only two of Jace/Adonis/Ruiz/Rodriguez/Albies can be on the field at any one time, so I would expect Snit to be able to put these guys in the right spots and get solid production out of 2B/3B. And if not, I really hope they fire him.

  36. 3rd base was a position we talked about upgrading but the off season has been extremely quiet. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a deal for a 3rd baseman come out of nowhere just before the regular season starts.

  37. @62 Hey, I see Chris Johnson is a free agent!

    (This message paid for by Chris Johnson Wants To Play Major League Baseball.)

  38. I really like that article, and obviously I agree with the premise. Great job, Ryan. We’ve had Collmenter/Dickey/Colon/Garcia since the very beginning of the offseason, and with rosterbation what it is by this point of the offseason, it’s hard to not get restless about how little the team has been improved. But I’d be really surprised if we don’t get that top 150 (or some team’s top 10) prospect if Garcia puts in 2-3 months of solid work. When Alex posts the second half of the little deals recap, you’ll see that we turned very little into a lot mid-season. And at the end of the day, the keys to the kingdom are Wisler, Blair, Newcomb, and Sims showing that someone should depart the ML rotation.

    Along the same vein, Rodriguez has been in the fold since Thanksgiving, and he’s probably going to be our starting 3B for the bulk of the year, but we don’t know it because we don’t know if Albies is healthy. If Albies is healthy and ready to contribute, then it’s pretty obvious Rodriguez logs a lot of innings at 3B, and he’s as good as any for an upgrade within the financial constraints. I see Rodriguez as being similar to Martin Prado if Rodriguez’s improvements are permanent.

  39. @54 PECOTA has some questionable projections this year. I don’t have a Baseball Prospectus membership, so these comments are made without the luxury of seeing the granular level data behind the league standings page. Anyway, these projections stuck out to me:

    – Dodgers projected as far and away the best team in the majors (98 wins), followed by the Astros (93), Indians (92) and finally the Cubs show up at 91 Ws.
    – PECOTA sees the Orioles winning only 73 games (16 games worse than 2016), three games worse than the rebuilding White Sox.
    – The Cardinals are projected to finish 76-86, courtesy of a mediocre pitching staff that allows more runs scored than the DBacks.
    – The Braves are *also* projected to finish 76-86, thanks to a good pitching staff and good defense (PECOTA thinks the Braves will be the best-fielding team in the NL East).

    I feel like I understand why PECOTA’s projection for the Dodgers looks so bizarre: it sees a pitching staff of Kershaw plus a bunch of talented guys who are fragile/super young (Urias, Hill, Maeda, et al.) and aggregates that together into the best pitching staff projection *by far* in baseball. Real life doesn’t work out that way very often, though; pitchers tend to get hurt and/or become ineffective at inopportune times, leaving teams with a patchwork quilt rotation to rely upon distinctly inferior options for a number of starts.

    As to PECOTA’s optimism regarding the Braves’ projected runs allowed in 2017, it seems like a lot of it comes down to a huge projected improvement in team defense relative to 2016. I could certainly see the Braves’ 3B/SS/2B defense being improved this year, but on the other hand the OF features the same old guys as last year in LF/RF (except they’re a year older).

  40. As always, it’s worth noting that projection systems tend to smush everyone towards the middle. Only two teams are projected to lose 90 games, the Padres and Royals, and neither is projected to lose more than 92. Similarly, only five teams are projected to win 90 games. In last year’s actual standings, eight teams lost more than 90, paced by the Twins with 103; six teams won 90 games, paced by the Cubs with 103.

    In 2015, there were seven 90-game winners and seven 90-game losers, as the Cards won 100 and Phillies lost 99. In 2014, it was six and six, with one 98-game winner and one 98-game loser. In 2013, 11 teams won 90, and six teams lost 90, as the Astros lost 111 and the Marlins lost 100. In 2012, nine teams won 90, and eight teams lost 90, as the Astros lost 107 and the Cubs lost 101.

    The point is, projection systems invariably miss extreme outcomes at both ends, and teams that look indistinguishable by the projections (like the 88-win Mets and 87-win Nats) will almost certainly separate themselves quite decisively during the season, like they did in 2015 (Mets over Nats by seven games) and 2016 (Nats over Mets by eight games).

    That said, 76 wins for the Braves feels more or less exactly right to me.

  41. Put me down for 80-82 on the year good for 3rd place. Nats win division at 94-68 Mets miss wild card at 85-77 Marlins 75-87 Phillies 73-89

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