March 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
At this point in March, there are only a couple of spots on the team up for grabs that likely won’t be decided until the conclusion of Spring. Most of us are just simply hoping and praying the core group of players can remain healthy until the games start counting in a couple of weeks. While this topic doesn’t necessarily have any forward-looking impact, I thought it may be a good time to go back and take a look at the trade that brought Michael Bourn to Atlanta. Of course, by looking back, we’re using the benefit 20/20 vision and now have knowledge of some of previously unknown risk, so it shouldn’t change your view of the trade at the time. It is more of a way to see how it’s played out and towards which team the bar has shifted in favor of since.
At the 2011 trade deadline, trade the Braves received Bourn from the Astros for OF Jordan Schafer, LHP Brett Oberholtzer, RHP Paul Clemens, and RHP Juan Abreu. Not that the book is exactly “closed” on this deal, but many of the players have moved on from their respective teams or have provided us with a bigger sample of information where we can get a good grasp on the result of this trade.
At the time of the trade, the Braves were in need of, well, Michael Bourn. Lacking a centerfield option and a hitter that could get on-base at the top of the order, Bourn fit both of those needs to perfection. Bouncing between Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer during the first half of the season, Bourn was exactly the upgrade the Braves were looking for, both in the lineup and in the field. As a kicker, he also had an additional year of team control after the season with team friendly arbitration numbers (2012: $4.4M, 2013: $6.845M).
Considered the “centerpiece” of the trade for Houston, Jordan Schafer, 24 at the time, hadn’t fulfilled the top prospect tag the Braves had hoped for after drafting him in the third round in 2005. The Astros hoped there was still untapped potential in Schafer and a change of scenery would be helpful. Brett Oberholtzer and Paul Clemens, 22 and 23, were both starting in the Mississippi rotation and were the two pieces the Astros thought would provide future value in the quest to rebuild. The final piece was Juan Abreu, 26, a flame throwing RHP with control issues in the Gwinnett bullpen, who fell short of claiming a spot in the big league ‘pen.
Somehow, the Braves were able to escape the deal with out giving up their top four pitching prospects in Teheran, Delgado, Vizcaino and Minor. Many believed one of the four would have to be parted with in order to land the impact player the Braves were looking for. Oberholtzer and Clemens, both regarded as mid-level, high C/low B grade, prospects that profiled as back-end of a rotation pieces, were stuck behind the Braves stable of young pitching. Essentially, all the pitchers the Braves gave up were expendable; the Astros chose quantity over quality.
Looking back, the general feeling was that this trade was a big win for the Braves. There were able to get the perfect top of the order/centerfield combo, at a reasonable price, for a once hyped prospect and a bundle of pitching prospects that were clogged behind a very talented core of young pitching in the upper minors. The Astros came under fire for not receiving enough in return for one of the most prized targets at the deadline. So, how exactly has it played out since?
Michael Bourn’s tenure with the Braves came to an expected end after signing a 4 year/$48M deal with the Indians this off-season. In his one and a half seasons, Bourn played 208 games in Atlanta, putting up 7.6 fWAR during that span. His .275/.341/.381 triple slash and 99 wRC+ were all above average for his position. In the field, his speed and quickness continued to show why he was one of the premier defenders at his position. As was expected, a great deal of his value came in the form of run prevention where he accumulated a DRS of +27. Bourn’s return was exactly what the Braves were in need of. The general expectation from day one was the Braves weren’t expected to resign the Scott Boras client after the 2012 season. With the establishment of the new CBA rules, the Braves will also receive a compensation pick, either 31st or 32nd overall, after Bourn turned down the Braves 1 year/$13.3M qualifying offer.
Schafer on the other hand was a large disappointment for the Astros, racking up an abysmal -0.3 fWAR in 136 games. His .220/.301/.298 slash and a wRC+ of 69 was accompanied by a 28% strikeout rate, which is something you usually see from the Juan Fransico’s of the world, instead of a player who should be maximizing his speed and on base ability at the top of the order. Unlike Bourn, Shafer did not help his value in the field, posting a -11 DRS in an Astros uniform. The Braves, in a somewhat surprising move, reacquired Schafer off waivers in November.
Oberholtzer and Clemens, now entering their age 23 and 25 seasons, haven’t exactly made the quick progress the Astros have hoped. You will see neither floating around many top-prospect lists, and it’s not just because Houston now boasts one of the better farm systems in the league. Last year, Oberholtzer threw 166.2 innings between AA and AAA in 28 starts, posting a 4.37 ERA and a 137:40 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Also pitching at the same levels last season, Clemens threw 143.1 innings in 27 games, exhibiting a 5.87 ERA and a 105:45 K/BB. Oberholtzer has already been assigned to minor league camp this spring, while Clemens appears to be in the running for the long-relief role in the Astros bullpen. Still in their early to mid-twenties, neither should be written off yet. Both still have the potential to deliver some future major league value, but the Braves aren’t exactly kicking themselves for trading away the pair.
Juan Abreu on the other hand did find his way into the Astros ‘pen in 2011, throwing 6.2 innings in relief. After a disastrous start to the 2012 season in Triple-A, Abreu was selected off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays last August. He has since signed with the LA Dodgers.
On the Braves end of the deal, this trade turned out even better than the front office expected at the time. It’s been commonly stated in the industry that front offices never root against the players they trade away, but knowing that the head decision makers were able to properly evaluate players and the organizational outlook, does offer a positive feeling. Using FanGraphs $/fWAR model, Bourn was worth $32.2M in value with his time in Atlanta. If you want to add in the compensation pick, which conservative estimates suggest to be worth $3.5M in surplus value, you can see how one-sided this trade has looked considering the Astros have yet to see a positive return in major league value on their end.
Overall, A+ Frank Wren.