On July 31, 2007, only four and a half games stood between the Atlanta Braves and first place. After sitting out baseball’s October tournament for the first time in 14 years, the Braves were desperate to make up the deficit and clinch another ticket to the postseason. Needing offensive firepower in general, Braves general manager John Schuerholz had a tough decision to make.
Seven-hundred ninety-nine miles away, the Texas Rangers owned one of baseball’s worst records. Before the non-waiver trading deadline passed, GM Jon Daniels and his front office decided to rebuild. With star slugger Mark Teixeira drawing suitors from every division, Daniels’ decision looked easy, if not inevitable.
Schuerholz pulled the trigger on the now-infamous deal, and almost four years later, the Braves got to see up close what could have been. They surrendered five prospects in the deal for Teixeira, and they saw two of them play for the Rangers on Friday: Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz. A third, Matt Harrison, will start against them Saturday.
“We’ve got the team to win the World Series,” Brian McCann declared when Teixeira joined the Braves. That assurance aside, Atlanta failed to make the postseason in 2007, and same story in 2008. Teixeira wasn’t to blame, hitting 37 homers in his 157 games with Atlanta before getting dealt to the Angels at the deadline in 2008.
Perhaps the most ironic thing about the Braves’ trade with the Rangers is this nugget from the original news release: “The Braves sent rookie catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and four minor leaguers to Texas for the powerful, switch-hitting Teixeira.” Four minor leaguers? At the time, that was true, but everyone in the know recognized they were giving up top prospects in Feliz and Andrus. It’s easy to forget that Saltalamacchia, handily replaced in Texas with the likes of Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor, was even part of the deal.
Had Daniels not made that fateful decision to rebuild, it’s safe to say that neither team would be the same today. For reference, Jordan Schafer hit leadoff for the Braves on Friday. He has a career .325 OBP in the minors and has never stolen more than 23 bases in a season. Granted, Andrus has posted an OBP of only .334 throughout his career, but he already has 19 stolen bases to his name this season. Andrus in the leadoff spot undoubtedly would be an upgrade over the combination of Schafer and the injured Martin Prado.
The Braves already boast one of the best bullpens in the majors, led by young flamethrower Craig Kimbrel and dominant lefty Jonny Venters. The dynamic duo lead all relievers in WAR, Venters with a 1.4 and Kimbrel right behind him at 1.2. Now, imagine that crew with the addition of Feliz. It’s not unlikely that Atlanta would have spread the embarrassment of that wealth in talent and let Feliz start instead, as the Rangers might eventually do. That would give them a remarkable young core at the front of the rotation, starting with Tommy Hanson and Feliz.
The Rangers' story is widely known by now, as they won a pennant last year. It still seems remarkable that this team made the World Series in 2010 after trading such big-name talent as Adrian Gonzalez, John Danks and, yes, Teixeira.
It’s easy to criticize the Braves’ front office for making the trade. In fact, it’s easy to call the trade one of the worst recent deals pulled off at the deadline. But that’s also easy to say four years later. It’s just as easy to get inside Schuerholz’s head and understand why he made the deal, getting Teixeira for part of 2007 and potentially for all of 2008. His club had just seen its streak of postseason appearances broken. The offense was sputtering, and Andruw Jones was hitting only 20 points over the Mendoza Line. It looked like the club had its catcher of the future in McCann. Perhaps Saltalamacchia could have been converted to first base, but at the end of the day, he was blocked by McCann. The same could be said about Andrus, who looked disposable with Yunel Escobar showing flashes of greatness. Harrison is a back-end rotation starter, hardly a loss for a team with a strong starting rotation as it stood then (or is now). Feliz was the real key in the deal, and while many scouts praised his pure stuff, there were skeptics as well. Many questioned his small frame, claiming he would easily break down.
Schuerholz took a gamble, a gamble that he would eventually lose. But that’s the point of a gamble: You lose as many as you win. And at the end of the day, Teixeira has a ring, while Andrus and Feliz were two wins away from rings of their own. The Braves? Well, they’re still working at it. Just ask McCann, who had to watch Joe Mather swing through a Feliz heater to end the game.
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