Thursday, August 25, 2016

Braves trade Jeff Francoeur

Oh Jeff like Mongo, you just pawn in game of life. That's a Blazing Saddles reference kids, look it up. Actually if you're under 18 don't look it up because that movie is incredibly offensive. Actually, just look it up and don't tell your parents.

Jeff was traded by the Braves in a 3-way (giggity) trade with the Rangers-Braves-Marlins. The Braves get Dylan Moore and Matt Foley in the trade. Anybody that knows Saturday Night Live from the 90s is already making VAN BY THE RIVER jokes about Matt Foley. You're not original with those jokes people. He's probably heard that since he was born, and the worst part is he was probably 1 year old when that skit came out. I feel bad for that kid because he's going to forever be inundated with a bad Chris Farley routine for the rest of his life.

Foley is a catcher, and he's 22, plus he's from the state Massachusetts. He went to school in Rhode Island and now he's in the deep south. He's a 40th round draft pick, and in about 70 plate appearances he's barely above the Mendoza line in mostly rookie ball. This is the lottery ticket of all lottery tickets. Everything on paper tells you that this kid sucks. But MAYBE because he's in the bastion of player development that is the Marlins organization (that IS a joke) he's been underutilized and the Braves system will develop him better. Or he'll just wash out in a yeah. Either way we trade Jeff for him and we weren't using Jeff anyway except for Lefty starter days, which only infuriates me further that we actually care what hand a starter uses for our lineups.

We also got Dylan Moore, a boy from California (WEST SIDE!) that went to school in Cali and Florida. He's a 7th round pick and a combination up the middle infielder. With a much bigger sample size of PAs approaching 800, we have a better handle on what this kid might be. He's an .821 OPS guy in variations of single A ball, which gives you hope he can continue to develop as he moves up. In the California league recently he was hitting .351 which is a good sign for the guy that he's ready to move up to AA next season with the Braves. We don't really need another SS with Dansby occupying that position, but we might need another 2B as a backup if Albies doesn't pan out, or if Dansby craps out, or if they both get hit by a meteor. You can never have enough strong infield talent. Those are solid trade pieces even if he does get blocked.

And don't miss Jeff too much. He's up for FA again at the end of this season, and the Braves might cut him another deal off the scrapheap in spring training again. After all, it worked with Kelly Johnson. Buy those players, renovate their career, add some new paint and new shrubs, and flip that asset for a profit! It's the HGTV approach to baseball.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Braves trade Erick Aybar, Call Up Dansby Swanson

Whatever Jedi Mind Trick our GM Coppy has at his disposal, I'm glad he's using it for good instead of evil. Because nobody could have traded Aybar this season except for Coppolella. The trade with the Detroit Tigers was Erick Aybar for Mike Aviles and a Class A catcher named Mike Scivicque. That's Coppy, you couldn't trade for a guy named John Smith? I'm already breaking my spell check in half with most of the Braves roster these days, and Scivicque isn't helping.

Anyway, Erick Aybar started hitting over the last month, which probably facilitated this trade. I've been wanting to cut him, believing there was no way in Hell the Braves could actually trade one of the worst WAR players in baseball. But even though Erick has the 6th worst WAR in the majors according to Fangraphs, we still managed to trade him for a 35 year old utility player who can't hit this year. My guess is we'll use Aviles as a defensive replacement or matchup PHer in the latter half of the season, or just cut him outright. Aviles only made $2M this year, and most of that has already been paid.

But this move really opens the door for Dansby Swanson to play SS full time, a move that Braves fans have been salivating over for months. They get their wish tonight against the Twins. Hopefully, that means a full ballpark and plenty of cheering fans. That's wishful thinking on my part probably. In all likelihood, most of us will watch Dansby strike out 3 times in his debut as he gets used to MLB pitching. In fact, I'd almost prefer that, since the recent Braves players that went yard in their debut didn't exactly pan out here long-term.

So tune in tonight and take a break from the Olympics for DANSBY SWANSON! Savior of the Braves...maybe!


Monday, August 8, 2016

Chris Ellis: The other half of the Simmons trade

Why do I say the other "half" of the Simmons trade when he was traded for 3 players? Because Erick Aybar doesn't count. Erick Aybar will never count. Only Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis will be the important parts of that trade, because those players are the reasons we made the trade to begin with. The Braves needed younger pitching, and they didn't need the best defensive SS in the game, who would always be a liability with a bat in his hand. If that seems harsh, Simmons is a .668 OPS hitter over 5 years. I await your rebuttal on his hitting.

By now you've likely heard of Sean Newcomb and where he ranks in the Braves system. I trust another blogger like Gondeee who does a great job of this kind of analysis on his own site, and he has Newcomb as the #2 overall mid-season prospect for the Braves this season. He also has Chris Ellis at #22, which is way the hell down the list when you consider there are 12 pitchers ahead of him. That's a lot of pitchers even for the Braves, and several of them have seen MLB time already. You can check Gondeee's list here:

But what about Ellis? Why the drop in the order so to speak, and why do we never hear about him in relation to this trade? He's almost like the kick-in player that nobody talks about. Well, for one thing he was drafted in the 50th round in 2011 by the Dodgers, which means that many GMs thought Ellis wasn't very good. So instead of going into the MLB out of high school, Ellis went to college at Ole Miss. In 2014, he came back out into the draft again, and this time he was selected in the 3rd round by the Angels. But then again, what is 47 rounds of difference between friends right? Turns out it was worth about $575,000 since that was his signing bonus. That would be about 10 years of salary for a normal student coming out of college now, so I'd say getting a higher education paid off for young Mr. Ellis.

Coming out of Ole Miss, Ellis was a big 6'5" guy that threw hard in the mid-90s, and had a decent change-up. That was about it. And that's usually good enough to dominate college players because most of them aren't going to go pro. It's an entirely different ballgame when you show up in AA for the first time, as Chris learned. In the Angels organization, Chris did well in A+ ball with a 3.88 ERA in 11 starts, and he got promoted. Things didn't go as well in AA where he posted a 4.85 ERA in 15 games and really struggled with keeping players off the bases. His WHIP ballooned to 1.56 and his hits per 9 innings were 8.9, which if you're giving up a hit an inning you aren't long for baseball.

Those AA number probably soured the Angels on him as a prospect, and that's why he got traded for Simmons. However, when Ellis showed up in AA for the Braves, he suddenly posted great numbers. In that time frame of 2015-2016, he obviously got a better handle on his command and in 13 starts in Mississippi, Ellis had a 2.75 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP. As expected, he was promoted to AAA. And as expected like his last promotion, he's had major struggles with base-runners again. In Ellis' time in Gwinett so far, he's had 10 starts, a 6.64 ERA, a 1.97 WHIP, and 10 H/9. That's even worse than his AA struggles, which explains the hard slide down the rankings to #22 on Gondeee's rankings board.

However, let's remember what happened after 15 starts in AA. Suddenly Ellis started to figure things out, and after this season with some work in the offseason we might see similar results from Ellis in 2017 at AAA. In fact, you can see the improvement starting already. If you pull his last 4 starts, you have 3 games where Ellis gave up a combined 3 runs in 15 innings. Then you have one game where he was shelled for 6 runs in 3 innings on the road. And that's fine for a young guy who is developing, because he's going to have ups and downs. But I like the fact that he's starting to have more good games than bad.

Yes, Ellis is still a little wild. Yes, he's going to have to learn how to turn one bad inning into just one inning instead of a complete meltdown. That's all part of the process when it comes to young arms. But the scouting report doesn't lie on Ellis, and he has a lot of tools you would really want in a starting pitcher. He's tall, he's got a live arm, he's got stamina and can give you innings, and he projects as a good 3-4 starter in a rotation for a relatively cheap price. All those things work in the Braves favor if they are willing to let this guy take some lumps in the latter half of 2017. I think that's when I'd project Ellis to get some time. But also remember that with every promotion, Ellis has gotten rocked. If you see him at the end of 2017 and he's struggling with runners and looks lost, that's just his M.O. at this point. He needs the time to adjust and has come back stronger with every promotion.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Braves trade Hector Olivera for Matt Kemp

Imagine yourself about 4 months ago, with Hector Olivera just starting to serve his 82 game game suspension for domestic abuse, and every Braves fan wondering how in the wide world of sports we were going to get out from under his contract. Most of us assumed it would fall on a legal case of some kind, or outright cutting him from the team. Absolutely NOBODY assumed he would get traded.

Now fast forward to today. Hector Olivera is gone to the Padres for a hot second, and they DFA'd him. Why? They made a deal in exchange for the Braves taking on a toxic contract in Matt Kemp. Yes, I refer to these as the Wall Street Cutting Your Losses trades. When you have assets that are no longer performing, sometimes you just have to walk away from those assets and send them back to the market. So you accept that they aren't going to rebound, and you sell them off to another sucker/investor who is betting on small incremental changes to help themselves.

The Padres wanted one thing out of this trade, they wanted to salvage some part of Kemps $54M remaining salary. The Braves wanted one thing out of this trade, they wanted to get rid of Olivera without DFA'ing him for nothing. Both sides got what they wanted. In the end, we only care about the Braves since this is a Braves blog, and they get Matt Kemp under control for 3 years at approximately $8.5M extra per year.

Now I ask the question, what is that worth? Did we just get a bunch of snake oil in a 31-year old body? If you know anything about me, you know I hate hate hate paying sluggers in their 30s big money to hit homers. Mostly because at some point they stop hitting enough homers to justify their gigantic money-drains on the team. And yet GMs have done it time and again because they never learn. So, with a guy like Kemp, I just have to ask myself if he can produce every year for the remaining 3 years enough to justify essentially a $8.5M contract. If you think of it as a $21.75M contract per year, which it really is, he will NEVER live up to that deal. But we're only concerned with the net expense to the Braves, not the total. That's why the deal works for us.

Right now Matt Kemp is a career .286/.340/.489 hitter. He's hit 228 homers in 11 seasons, and averages about 27 dingers per 162 games. In 2016 so far, he's hit .262/.285/.489 with 23 homers. He's automatically the best home run hitter on the team just by joining the Braves, who have been woeful hitting the long ball. Putting him and Freeman back-to-back in the lineup would provide some immediate protection for Freddie, forcing pitchers to pick their poison if anybody is on base in front of them. That's a good thing for Kemp if he can continue to produce on a slightly reduced pace as he ages.

Hitters that aren't on steroids start to break down around age 32. That's just science. Your body isn't meant to hold up consistently over our 30s unless you're a physical freak. And MLB players are no different. Right now, Kemp is in some form of decline as a hitter, and it will get worse. Kemp is also a defensive nightmare as an outfielder, which takes his WAR levels from respectable to abysmal. You know my feelings on WAR at corner outfield slots though, I don't give a crap about them if you can hit. Kemp can hit. His oWAR levels are 2-4 on average every year, which is all I need. Just don't trip over yourself in left field and we'll work out the rest, Kemp.

What I can't have is a huge dropoff from Kemp offensively, because that's his only value to the team, and the NL doesn't allow a DH. As long at Kemp holds the line at 20+ homers a year, slugs .450+, and keeps the strikeouts below 150 per season to go along with a .300+ on-base percentage? He'll have enough value to the Braves to make this deal worth the time. If he doesn't produce those numbers? It's a bad deal for us, even offloading Olivera, and we'd have been better off just releasing Hector outright. Those are the terms as I see them.

But at minimum the Braves unloaded a team cancer and got back a possible asset in return. I can't fault Coppy for doing that, because it was almost doing the impossible. He traded what some were calling Olivera, "The most untradable player in baseball."

Coppy disagreed. The only untradable player right now in his mind is Julio Teheran. He's said as much time and again.