Ever since John Hart was named President of Baseball Operations for the Atlanta Braves on October 23, 2014, every move he has made has been directed towards stock-piling young pitching, but he hadn’t yet used those young talents to acquire an impact bat. With acquiring Hector Olivera at the trade deadline, Hart did just that.
The trade was a 3-team blockbuster with the Dodgers and Marlins that left most baseball writers needing more ink for their pens.
The deal at first glance doesn’t seem that attractive for the Braves, losing a consistent, home-grown starting pitcher in Wood, along with Peraza, who was heralded as Atlanta’s top prospect for the past two seasons. But to throw this deal off as unsuccessful isn’t looking at the big picture. Here’s the list of young pitchers that John Hart is giving an opportunity to be in the rotation before the team moves into SunTrust Park in 2017 (age in parentheses).
RHP Julio Teheran (24)
LHP Alex Wood (24)
RHP Shelby Miller (24)
RHP Matt Wisler (22)
RHP Mike Foltynewicz (23)
RHP Williams Perez (24)
LHP Manny Banuelos (24)
RHP Tyrell Jenkins (23)
RHP Lucas Sims (21)
Teheran, Wood, Miller and Wisler would be locks to be in the rotation come 2017, so that leaves 5 pitchers, none over the age of 25, competing for 1 rotation spot. This doesn’t include under-20 pitchers Touki Toussaint and Kolby Allard, both consensus top-10 Braves prospects, coming up near the end of the decade. So Hart has diligently acquired enough young talent for him to start dealing some to try and add an impact bat for an offense that needs some pop.
Hart stated in an interview with the AJC that he felt Atlanta wouldn’t be able to go after the big-ticket free agent bats, which would require giving up highly-touted prospects or draft picks to acquire, leaving only proven starters to be able to receive the bats he would want. Julio Teheran was actively up for grabs heading towards the last minutes of the deadline, however it seemed his struggles on the road this season drove buyers away, and the Braves weren’t gonna part with Miller and Wisler. So that leaves Alex Wood.
Wood was Atlanta’s 2nd round selection in the 2012 draft out of the University of Georgia and made his MLB debut in less than a year-and-a-half for the Braves out of the bullpen, making his first start on June 18, 2013. In 86 career games for Atlanta, Wood went 21-20 with a 3.10 ERA, including a 3.09 ERA in 55 career starts, so he definitely fit the build of a consistent starter in the Majors. However, Hart knew he was the only starter piece that the Dodgers would take for a bat like Olivera.
21-year old Jose Peraza was a consensus top-3 Braves prospect ever since he hit .339 with a .364 OBP and 60 stolen bases in 110 games between high-A Lynchburg (now Carolina) and double-A Mississippi in 2014, with the Braves front office declaring him untouchable, despite many inquiries about a trade in March and April. Yet, as this season progressed, Peraza simply maintained in triple-A Gwinnett instead of improving, while 18-year old prospect Ozhaino Albies is tearing up at low-A Rome and Jace Peterson performing well at second base in the Braves uniform, it became more likely that Peraza would be dealt if they got the deal they wanted, and that deal came for Hector Olivera.
John Hart sees Olivera, who hit .323 in 10 season playing for Serie Nacional in Cuba and played for the 2009 Cuban National team that finished 6th at the World Baseball Classic, as the “first building block” towards the reconstruction of the Braves offense, which has ranked in the bottom 10 in baseball the past two seasons. Hart had been eyeing Olivera ever since he defected from Cuba in September 2014 and was declared a free agent in March 2015, still he knew Atlanta couldn’t match up with the money teams, like the Dodgers, who signed him to a 6-year, $62.5 million contract on March 24, including a $28 million signing bonus.
The money is the main component that makes this trade a win for the Braves. Hart was willing to offer no more than $40 million to Olivera as a free agent in March. Now, with the Dodgers paying the signing bonus, Atlanta is getting Olivera for the next five seasons at $32.5 million. There is also a clause in his contract for a team-option $1 million deal should Olivera have to have Tommy John surgery performed on his elbow, after an MRI in March showed a minor UCL tear. He is also recovering from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him since mid-June. Hart stated on the Braves broadcast last night that he expects Olivera to join the team in late August.
Hart compared Olivera to a couple former big-leaguers who posted .270 career averages that played will into their 30’s.
If Olivera plays to that tune for his contract, he is a steal at $32.5 million, and the Braves have an infield of 1B Freddie Freeman, SS Andrelton Simmons, and now Olivera at 3B for the next five seasons. Atlanta also took a draft pick from a division foe that only time will tell, but at least it’s the Braves decision and not Miami’s. Paco Rodriguez is Luis Avilan 2.0, although he probably won’t pitch this season. Rodriguez has posted a 2.53 career ERA in 124 appearances over 4 seasons. Zack Bird became Atlanta’s 13th best prospect according to MLB Pipeline, posting a 4.75 ERA in 17 starts at high-A this season.
The biggest reason this trade is a winner for Atlanta is Hector Olivera. John Hart and the front office solidified an impact bat for years to come for the price of a good, yet expendable, young starting pitcher, a top prospect who was blocked by Andrelton Simmons at short and wasn’t getting better at triple-A this season, and two relievers who were going to be traded. The Braves new front office has had one goal in mind since being formed: rebooting the franchise so that they could be successful in 2015-16, with the ultimate goal of delivering a championship-contending roster for SunTrust Park in 2017, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.