10 for 00’s – The 2004 Atlanta Braves season

The 2004 Atlanta Braves season is remembered most, and not fondly, for one particular trade that has stung Braves fans for years.

No, I’m not talking about the Chris Reitsma deal.

In December of 2003, the Braves sent Jason Marquis, Ray King and prospect Adam Wainwright to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero. What most Braves fans recall is that Drew and Marrero played one season in Atlanta that didn’t result in a championship and then went elsewhere. Wainwright, meanwhile, came up for the Cardinals in 2005, was still pitching for the Cardinals in 2020 with a 3.15 ERA and 1.051 WHIP and has racked up three All-Star Games, four top-three Cy Young finishes and a 2006 World Series ring.

But what doesn’t get remembered is that Drew and Marrero were very good for the Braves in 2004.

Drew led the team in WAR at 8.3 – more than double Chipper Jones, next in line at 4.0 – as well as home runs with 31, OBP at .436, SLG at .569 and OPS at 1.006. He was second only to Chipper in RBIs with 93, and he also notched a .305 batting average. For his part, Marrero recorded 10 homers and 18 doubles with 40 RBIs in just 90 games, while batting .320 with an .894 OPS.

The season itself was a roller-coaster ride. In what felt like a pattern over the later years of the Braves’ division title run, Atlanta started out very slowly. In fact, the Braves were 32-38 as late as June 23 that year. They trailed the division-leading Florida Marlins by 6.5 games and were even further back of the Wild Card.

The poor start was perhaps reflected by the All-Star game selections that year, as only catcher Johnny Estrada made the roster for the Braves in 2004. For his part, Estrada had a career year, notching career highs across his entire slash line with a .314 batting average and .828 OPS while playing a career high in games at 134.

The second half of the pattern also played out for the Braves in 2004, though. After June 23, they delivered a scorching 64-28 record, while the Marlins went 44-47 in the season’s final months to fall to third place behind the Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies. In the end, the Braves won the division by 10 games after pushing the division lead to as many as 11 and cruising to another NL East title.

That sent the Braves to the NLDS against the Wild Card Houston Astros. Under the rules of the day, the Astros didn’t face top seed St. Louis because they both played in the NL Central.

While Estrada continued his hot hitting into the postseason, hitting .353 with two home runs and six hits in 17 at-bats, Drew and Chipper Jones did not have a great series. They combined for just eight hits in 40 at-bats and neither man managed an extra-base hit. Drew also logged seven strikeouts for the series.

Instead, the Braves had to rely on Andruw Jones and Rafael Furcal to provide offense. Andruw scorched the Astros with a 10-for-19 series that included two homers, two doubles and four RBIs, while Furcal wasn’t far behind with an 8-for-21 effort and a pair of home runs of his own.

On the mound, the Braves also experienced a letdown. Starting pitcher Jaret Wright had been phenomenal during the regular season, but he got shelled for 10 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings over two starts in the NLDS. Those were both losses for the Braves in games 1 and 5, and despite 5 scoreless innings in the series from Hall of Fame starter-turned-closer-turned-starter John Smoltz, the Braves were battered for a team ERA of 7.04 with a 1.717 WHIP in the 3-2 series loss.

As bad as that loss was, it got worse in the coming months. Drew left in free agency to later sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Marrero got traded to the Kansas City Royals for a guy named Jorge Vasquez that appeared in all of seven games for the Braves. Wright also left in free agency and signed with the New York Yankees. The Braves were able to bring in Brian Jordan and a few other pieces for 2005, but 2004 and the gamble to bring in Drew for perhaps one good year remained a missed opportunity.

35 thoughts on “10 for 00’s – The 2004 Atlanta Braves season”

  1. I have never criticized the Drew deal and will never criticize it. Wainwright is one of the only pitching prospects ever traded away by the Braves who became a star in another uniform since the beginning of the streak. Jason Schmidt is another, and he netted us Denny Neagle, which was probably a fair deal;
    Millwood is the one that stings the most for me, since the trade was just a terribly stupid salary dump. Other than that, pretty much every single pitching prospect we’ve ever traded away has had a career somewhere between Dan Meyer and Bruce Chen.

    As I’ve said before, one of the biggest reasons to even have pitching prospects is to be able to trade ’em to fill holes in the roster. As it happened, Drew played like an MVP candidate and Marrero had the best year of his career. Plus, given what happened with Millwood, there’s no guarantee that Wainwright would have had a career in Atlanta to match what he’s done in St. Louis.

    I’ll criticize plenty of trades that were bad at the time based on what we knew at the time — the Millwood and Teixeira trades were egregious at the time because in both cases it was clear that Schuerholz was acting out of something like desperation. (I’ve defended the Tex trade in the past because I loved the fact that we were actually going for it, but the price was insane, particularly the inclusion of Beau Jones at the end after Jon Daniels effectively reneged on an agreed-upon deal.)

    But I’ll never criticize this one.

  2. Alex, did Kevin Millwood really have any trade value when he was dealt? He had two years left at $9M and $11M. He produced 3 bWAR for Philly in those 2 years. What was the cost-per-WAR back in the olden days? I was barely knee-high to a grasshopper back then.

    Right there with you on the Tex trade, though. Undecided on Millwood.

  3. The Millwood trade is one of the stranger turn events where everyone assumed it would become a lop-sided salary dump of a trade but in reality it was pretty fair.

    What stung was the FOMO that we could have gotten more for him coupled with the newfound realization that the team had a hard cap.

  4. @ 1, AND, the value of Wainwright only applied for his first 6 years. Adding in what he did in years 7, and so forth is inaccurate and vastly overstates the supposed “loss.” But I agree with you, the production received back was vast.

  5. @3, interestingly enough, if you go by fWAR, Millwood was worth 7.6 WAR in those two years.

    Generally speaking, though, even if you accepted that he wasn’t the Cy Young candidate and All-Star that he had seemed to be a couple of years before, and was merely a #3 starter and effective innings eater, he had a lot more value to the club than a 26-year-old catching prospect. Estrada turned out to be quite good before he got concussed, which couldn’t have been taken for granted. Millwood probably pitched a shade worse than one might have expected.

    But innings-eating midrotation starters are always in short supply, and getting a single prospect back, and an old one at that, tells you more — in my opinion — about the desperation that Schuerholz was in, and less about Millwood’s fair market value.

  6. he had a lot more value to the club than a 26-year-old catching prospect.

    Well, it was a 26-year old catcher, but since Estrada cost the league minimum, the Braves also got $20M in savings. So, like I said, did he have any trade value with the $20M coming with him? Usually bWAR gives you a higher number, if not a more accurate number, so I didn’t even look up fWAR, but that’s a big jump. I’m now more confused as to what Millwood was actually worth.

    Of course, to your point, Millwood was coming off a All-Star level season, and so even with his contract, he probably had a decent amount of trade value. And it’s not like Atlanta knew that were getting a near-All-Star catcher; Estrada was quite bad at the plate during his Philly minor league days, and he was aging out of prospect status, even as a catcher.

    You’re right. The return was very light, especially with the information they knew at the time, and it’s only mitigated slightly in hindsight by both Estrada and Millwood’s performances, both of which were unforeseeable.

    The verdict: the trade was indeed bad.

    The sentence: JS must listen to 7 hours of Phil Collins on loop.

  7. @7 Frustrating to see Pederson go for so little. With each passing day, it would seem that AA has his eggs in the Ozuna basket, and I’m just not sure why.

  8. It’s true: 2004 will always be remembered as the J.D. Drew year. Our year ended as the Carlos Beltran NLDS*, but… I digress. Anyway, Drew & Beltran are the 2 things I mostly remember about 2004. That was not a club I expected big things from.

    One moment I fondly recall: Early in the season, I went down to Philly to see the Braves. I’d forgotten about the city’s previous issues with Drew – Phils drafted him & his agent Scott Boras insisted on too much $, so he wouldn’t sign with ‘em. But I was quickly reminded of that fact when Drew came to bat early in the game. That day, I got lucky & scored some really close seats to home plate, and these guys sitting behind me started laying into him thick & heavy. Pretty ugly stuff, IIRC. There’s no doubt Drew heard it.

    But after a pretty long AB, Drew launched a rocket over the RF wall. He stoically rounded the bases and gingerly tapped home plate, never looking our way. It was a Chipper-at-Shea-like moment & those guys behind me STFU immediately. I think I giggled for 2 innings after that.

    I also recall an Adam LaRoche ADD moment in that game, but that’s another story for another time.

    *In 5 NLDS games against ATL in ‘04, Beltran went 10 for 22 with 4 HR, 9 RBI & 2 SBs for a cool .455/.500/1.091. We only walked him once.

    Then he did almost the very same thing in the NLCS vs. St. Louis. In 7 games, he went 10 for 24 with 4 HRs, 5 RBI for a .417/.563/.958. But the Cards walked him 8 times.

  9. This season also brought us John Thompson, probably the most boring, capable starter ever on the Braves. Dude might as well have been a made-up player in a video game with the generic white guy avatar.

    This rotation was perfectly cromulent, but basically five #3 starters. Nobody sniffing Acedom. Watching Paul Byrd at this point was cool because he was using the old school full windup.

    A dude named Horatio Ramirez started 9 games. He would come to be known as “Horatio Lead-Blower” in my house later in his career, but there were high hopes for him at this point. I distinctly remember him getting Barry Bonds – and this was 2004 BARRY – to whiff on a strike three changeup inside. Can’t imagine that happened very often or ever again.

  10. How-Numbers-Can-Deceive Dept.:
    And let us behold the year Kevin Gryboski had in 2004.

    In 50.2 IP, he gave up 54 hits & 23 BBs (w/ only 24 Ks) for an ugly 1.52 WHIP, yet… a 2.84 ERA.

  11. Told you Leo was a Hall of Famer!

    https://theathletic.com/2350123/

    Leo credits Henry Aaron with bringing him to the Braves. I had no idea how instrumental Aaron was in bringing Leo into the organization.

    “And the thing (Aaron) did for me was, when Bobby got there in 1986” — Cox returned to the Braves after managing in Toronto, to serve as Atlanta’s general manager — “and Bobby had a big organizational meeting and was going to turn an offense organization into a pitching one, Hank said that when I was a minor-league pitching coach, ‘Leo’s pitching staffs don’t get sore arms.’ And that was the thing that I was most proud of in the minor leagues and the big leagues.

    “Once Hank made that point, coming from Hank Aaron, that Leo’s pitchers don’t get sore arms, that’s when my stock rose, in 1986 when Bobby took over.”

  12. One game from the WS and it doesn’t change the penny-pinching when it comes to adding impact pieces.

  13. With Rosario and Pederson off the board then it really is down to Ozuna or nuthin’. Maybe Didi Gregorius or Justin Turner. Of course, Melancon and Greene are still out there too. I’m betting one of those two comes back on a one year deal.

  14. I’ve thought for a while that Justin Turner may be the bat they add. But Arenado to the Cards makes a Turner return to the Dodgers a good deal more likely. So yes, Roger, it looks like the Mime or nothing. Get er done, AA.
    If Ozuna does play left every day, we’ll get a chance to see how great Pache’s range really is.

  15. The price for Ozuna must be going up. Or does AA think that everyone who is going to spend has spent?

  16. Braves sign Carl Edward’s Jr. to a minor league deal. He has been hurt and ineffective the last couple years.

  17. If he gets healthy (a huge if), the Braves got a potentially interesting bullpen piece in Carl Edwards, Jr. Outside of an atrocious 2019, the guy has been pretty good. Definitely a good low risk minors deal

  18. The 2021 playoff format is still TBD, right? The more playoff teams, the fewer sellers there will be, so starting the season without another bat and counting on the trade deadline seems really, really crazy.

    Ozuna isn’t a 100% sure thing, but he’s close enough. The Dodgers have unlimited money, the best player development system in the history of the sport and we still almost beat them. Hell, I would argue with normal off days we probably would have beaten them. This isn’t something to overthink.

  19. I’m hoping AA is trying to get creative with a Jose Ramirez trade. Last I heard, the Indians were asking for De La Cruz, Riley, Langeliers and Waters. Steep price, but I think I go for it.

  20. If that’s the trade you have to do it. The Braves shouldn’t keep both Langeliers and Contreras anyway, and Waters is far from a sure thing.

    I like Riley, but Jose Ramirez he’s not.

  21. For anyone wondering, I’ve had 2 other people with “sources” reach out to me and tell me Braves are very much in on Ramirez. One said they’re trying to keep Waters out of the deal.

  22. @30, that seems plausible. Giving up Riley and Waters removes possible long-term solutions to our two weakest positions, and I’m not sure that anyone else in the system at those positions has that much upside. Giving up one and a catcher and more decent pitching prospects would be much better.

    If Ramirez would cost too much, Trevor Story might be a more likely rental target now if he doesn’t want to sign an extension now that Colorado has dealt Arenado. The prospect cost for just a year shouldn’t be that high, though it might need to be more valuable than the draft pick Colorado would get if he leaves after a year and a QO. Maybe we could convince Dansby to move to LF for a year “like Chipper did” and promise to move him back after Story leaves.

  23. Schuerholz trading a solid first baseman for a relief pitcher, only to give up the farm for another first baseman less than a year later, was absolutely idiotic.

    If I recall correctly, Gonzalez had elbow trouble even before we traded for him and then of course he promptly had Tommy John to start the year. Just an absolutely brutal sequence that really tarnished my opinion of Schuerholz.

  24. For whatever reason, Bobby and JS seemed to have soured on LaRoche. It may have been the perceived lack of hustle that made him a pariah among many on this board, as well.

    Also seems clear that JS viewed first base as somewhat of an afterthought, which is why he filled it with also-rans from Robert Fick to Rico Brogna to Julio Franco (and Bobby Bonilla, and Ken Caminiti…). In general, that seems reasonable — first base is at the extreme end of the defensive spectrum, so it makes sense to fill it last.

    Despite the fact that it should have theoretically been easy to find a league-average hitter who could catch the balls that Chipper threw at him, far too often, the stiffs they plugged in were dead in the water. It was definitely a blind spot for JS.

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