If you’re the kind of person who believes that past experience could be the reason the Atlanta Braves have recently been reluctant to make certain types of deals, the 2007 season is probably of particular interest for you.
On July 31, the Braves were 56-51 and trailed the NL East-leading New York Mets by 3 1/2 games. They were also two games back of the Dodgers for the Wild Card and had been running something of a first-base-by-committee with Scott Thorman, Julio Franco and Craig Wilson. Thorman and Wilson never played in the majors after that season, while Julio Franco will probably make a return to the league when he’s 75 and still hit for power.
So the Braves made a deal at the trade deadline, sending Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay. Teixeira was one of the top power-hitting first basemen in the league, notching home run totals of 26, 38, 43 and 33 in his first four seasons with a very solid batting average as well.
For his part, Teixeira did exactly what the Braves acquired him to do. In 54 games for the Braves in 2007, he hit .317 with a 1.020 OPS that included 17 homers, 56 RBIs and 66 hits against just 56 strikeouts. Mahay was no slouch, either. In 28 appearances for the Braves that year, he carded a 2.25 ERA and only allowed one home run.
What’s wild about that season is that almost everyone seemed to do their jobs. The offense was third in the NL in runs scored, buoyed not just by Teixeira but by Chipper Jones hitting .337 with 29 home runs in just 134 games to lead a core of six Braves with 16 or more homers. Chipper played 51 games in August and September with a .333 batting average, 1.049 OPS and 33 extra base hits to include 12 homers.
The pitching was also adequate, at the very least, finishing fifth in the NL in runs allowed. The rotation wasn’t stellar, but John Smoltz (3.11 ERA in 32 starts), Tim Hudson (3.33 ERA in 34 starts) and Chuck James (4.24 ERA in 30 starts) provided a solid core. Bob Wickman was something of a dud as closer, but backing that up with Rafael Soriano’s 3.00 ERA in 72 innings would seem to help out.
The final record, though, didn’t reflect that any of that mattered. The Braves finished 84-78, meaning they posted a 28-27 record in the season’s final two months with Jones and Teixeira absolutely torching the ball in the middle of the lineup. Atlanta missed the playoffs by five games, and I won’t steal the next writer’s thunder by telling you how Teixeira’s career in Atlanta played out.
What I will tell you is that almost all of the players the Braves sent to Texas in the Teixeira deal went on to play at least minor roles in the Rangers’ back-to-back AL pennants in 2010 and 2011. Feliz was the team’s closer for both of those runs, and Andrus was among the team’s leading hitters both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Harrison was a starting pitcher for the 2011 campaign and made an All-Star team in 2012. Saltalamacchia was also a fine catcher for the Rangers for a few years before a successful stint with the Boston Red Sox.
That is some unbelievably bad luck for the team that traded them all away, no matter how highly-ranked they were in the farm system.
I can’t speak to how much impact all that had on the actual decision-making process of the team. As a matter of fact, it would be incredibly frustrating if that one trade had a real impact on the team’s actions 14 years and two general managers later. But what I can tell you is that for fans, that one trade in 2007 comes up every year in late July as an example of just how wrong even the most impressive trade can go.