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Friday, December 20
Updated: December 23, 3:47 PM ET
Braves GM says bad economics led to trade news services

The Philadelphia Phillies acquired right-hander Kevin Millwood from the Atlanta Braves for catcher Johnny Estrada on Friday.

Fri., Dec. 20
In my column today, I wrote that the retention of Greg Maddux makes the Braves co-favorites, at least, with the Phillies to win the National League East in 2003.

That was this morning.

Until today, the Phillies' biggest weakness was a rotation that contained some big question marks. Now they've got a rotation that includes Kevin Millwood, one of the National League's top starters, and so suddenly their rotation ranks among the best in the league.

Until today, the Braves' biggest weakness was a lineup that contained big holes at catcher, first base, and especially third base. Now they've got a lineup that contains big holes at catcher, first base, and especially third base. Oh, and the Braves also blew a hole in their rotation that won't be filled unless John Smoltz becomes a starter again. And is healthy enough to pitch 200 innings.

The odds seem to change every day. But on this day, the Phillies are the beasts of the East.

As for Johnny Estrada, today Phillies assistant GM Mike Arbuckle said, "I think Estrada's got a chance to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues."

Perhaps. But Estrada was 26 last season, most of which he spent in the Triple-A International League, and his minor-league stats suggest a player who would post a sub-.300 on-base percentage in the majors.

The Braves, who already lost Tom Glavine to the New York Mets, had an excess of starting pitching after retaining four-time NL Cy Young award winner Greg Maddux, and acquiring Russ Ortiz and Paul Byrd earlier this week. Atlanta also traded for left-hander Mike Hampton last month.

"It's a shock,'' Millwood said. "But I'm excited to be going to a team that wants to win.''

The Phillies had missed out on their top two pitching choices this offseason. Glavine, a two-time NL Cy Young award winner, decided to sign with the Mets and Jamie Moyer chose to stay in Seattle.

Braves general manager John Schuerholz explained the move, telling ESPN's Karl Ravech that this wasn't a baseball trade, but rather a trade fostered by the economics of baseball.

"With Kevin's arbitration number projected to be $10 million this season and with Greg Maddux accepting arbitration we were $15 million over budget," Schuerholz told ESPN. "The economics in baseball stink. The economics stink, and if this isn't a clear enough signal to the doubters and naysayers, to be forced to trade an 18-game winner to your arch enemy ... The economics stink."

Even so, some might question why the Braves would trade Millwood to a team within their own division.

"I tried. No one was willing to take the $10 million this season," Schuerholz told Ravech. "Only one team (wanted to), and it was the team he was ultimately traded to. As late as 15 minutes before the deal was finalized, I was on the phone and not one team was willing to move."

Philadelphia has already upgraded its offense by signing free-agent first baseman Jim Thome and third baseman David Bell.

Millwood was 18-8 with a 3.24 ERA last season, helping the Braves win an unprecedented 11th straight division title. It was his best season since 1999, when he was 18-7 with a 2.68 ERA and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting.

Millwood, who turns 28 on Tuesday, made $3.9 million last season in the final year of his contract. He is eligible for salary arbitration, and the Braves are trying to trim their payroll.

Estrada, 26, spent almost all of last season at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes Barre. He hit .279 with 11 homers and 67 RBI.

Estrada was the Phillies' regular catcher in 2001 after Mike Lieberthal went down with a season-ending knee injury in May. He batted .228 with eight homers and 37 RBI in 89 games that season.

Get Your Phill
The Phillies' projected lineup and starting rotation for the 2003 season:

Jimmy Rollins, SS
Placido Polanco, 2B
Jim Thome, 1B
Pat Burrell, LF
Bobby Abreu, RF
Mike Lieberthal, C
David Bell, 3B
Marlon Byrd, CF

Kevin Millwood, RHP
Vicente Padilla, RHP
Randy Wolf, LHP
Brett Myers, RHP
Brandon Duckworth, RHP

The Braves also have catcher Javy Lopez under contract for $7 million next season, and backup Henry Blanco. Lopez hit .233 with 11 homers and 52 RBI last season. Schuerholz said Lopez will enter spring training as the team's starting catcher.

"He's the total package,'' Schuerholz said of Estrada. "He's a good receiver, has a good arm and handles a pitching staff real well. He's got a good bat. We've sort of had him on our radar screen for a couple of years. It wasn't a knee-jerk reaction.''

Millwood gives the Phillies the pitcher they've been seeking since trading Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2000. He joins left-hander Randy Wolf (11-9, 3.20 ERA) and All-Star right-hander Vicente Padilla (14-11, 3.28 ERA) at the top of the rotation.

Right-handers Brandon Duckworth, who struggled in his first full season, and Brett Myers, who pitched well as a rookie in 12 starts, will likely be the Nos. 4 and 5 starters.

"He had electric stuff last year,'' Phillies manager Larry Bowa said of Millwood. "He had the best stuff on that staff.''

Millwood won 17 games in his first full season in 1998, before his breakout year in '99. But he struggled in 2000, going 10-13 with a 4.66 ERA. In 2001, he missed two months with a right shoulder injury, and finished 7-7 with a 4.31 ERA.

Braves New Look
The Braves' projected lineup and starting rotation for the 2003 season:

Rafael Furcal, SS
Julio Franco, 1B
Chipper Jones, LF
Gary Sheffield, RF
Andruw Jones, CF
Vinny Castilla, 3B
J. Lopez/J. Estrada, C
Marcus Giles, 2B

Greg Maddux, RHP
Russ Ortiz, RHP
Mike Hampton, LHP
Paul Byrd, RHP
Jason Marquis, RHP

But he was back to his old self last season.

Millwood won eight straight starts at one point, 15 of 16, and was 16-3 with a 2.64 ERA in his final 25 starts. He beat the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 of the NL division playoffs, but lost the deciding Game 5, despite allowing just two runs.

Millwood is 75-46 with a 3.73 ERA lifetime, and is 3-3 with one save and a 3.20 ERA in nine playoff appearances.

The departure of Millwood means the Braves will enter next season without three-fifths of a starting rotation that helped them win 101 games. Only Maddux and Jason Marquis return.

Millwood, Glavine and Damian Moss -- traded to San Francisco for Ortiz -- were a combined 48-25 with a 3.19 ERA last season. Hampton, Ortiz and Byrd -- a free-agent signing from Kansas City -- were a combined 38-36 with a 4.45 ERA.

"We went out and did the things we did involving our pitching staff because No. 1 there was the uncertainty about Greg Maddux returning to us,'' Schuerholz said.

"Even though we offered him arbitration. We didn't know what he would do. We tried to get him to agree to a long term contract, but didn't do that. We saw Mike Remlinger leave, Chris Hammond leave, Tom Glavine leave. We saw our pitching staff falling apart before our eyes. We had to make quick and aggressive moves. That's why we made the Hampton deal, the Ortiz deal, signed Paul Byrd.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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