The Braves had a much better first half than many expected. I had thought prior to the season that they could be competitive, but they had enough bad things happen — Colon, Freeman and Rodriguez getting hurt, Dansby performing poorly — that having a record just below .500 at the break can be viewed as nothing but a positive. It seems like the team is starting to build towards what John Coppolella has spoken about for years, a sustainable winner.
In order to not just become successful but maintain success, teams need to be bold even with some of their most favored stars. The Braves started this process off in this manner, moving Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, and Andrelton Simmons among others. You could look at the Mets as an example, especially from the pitching front, of a team that could have made potentially negative public relations trades but that could have helped them from being so dependent on a few fragile pitchers. Moving Matt Harvey after recording a record high innings total for a pitcher coming off of Tommy John surgery serves as an example. The Mets would have gotten crushed by the media and some fans, but it would have been the right baseball decision. In the next 21 days, the Coppolella will have to make a bold decision that could alter the team’s path for the next few seasons.
Julio Teheran has been one of the best pitchers the Braves have developed over the past 20 years. Only Kevin Millwood and Jair Jurrens have recorded higher WAR’s than Julio’s 9.9 (in the non-Hall of Fame and Kimbrel divisions). Even so, the Braves would be right to cash in on Teheran’s youth at the deadline and start transitioning into the pitcher-churning team it seems destined to become.
The two biggest reasons I am an advocate of trading Teheran, even during a down season, are cost and health.
In speaking of cost, I am not necessarily speaking about Teheran’s specific contract with the Braves, but more towards a general theory of building a starting staff based on youth. Teheran is signed to a reasonable contract, which could be used as a positive for both the For and Against trade camps. He is only owed $19m over the next two years, with a $12m option for 2020. The concept that would make the most sense from a cost perspective for the Braves would be to continue to churn out young arms and to move them prior to becoming free agents.
You could look at what the Braves did with Jason Heyward as a position player example of getting a lot of actual value out of a player, and then trading him before he became near worthless to the team. Heyward was not going to sign with the Braves, and ending up with a great year of Shelby Miller along with Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte was a hugely successful set of transactions. While Teheran has more controllable years than Heyward did, he also carries more injury risk.
As of last week, the team has Kolby Allard (23), Mike Soroka (33), Kyle Wright (41), Sean Newcomb (42), Ian Anderson (60), and Luiz Gohara (76) in the top 100 prospects in baseball, according to Baseball America’s midseason top 100. The team is committed to both drafting and trading starting pitching prospects, which should give them a nice pipeline over the next number of years. There are other prospects that are not even on the list that could reasonably debut with Major League success over the next few years as well.
The wise move would be to churn these pitchers out and move them before they leave for free agency. Targeting one or two to sign to affordable long term deals ala Teheran certainly makes sense, but the strategy of moving them prior to the expiration of that extension, if possible, would still fit the concept. It is certainly shrewd to look at players as assets in this manner, but when it comes to playing an unfair game against the limitless budgets of the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox, shrewd will and has been necessary. It will always be difficult to move fan favorites, and even more difficult to pick which ones to keep longer term and which ones to move (Freddie Freeman as a positive example and Alex Wood as a negative). Even so, for the sake of competing against teams with more assets, it seems if the Braves are continuing to build their team by drafting a number of starting pitching prospects, that this model would be a great way to produce high upside arms in the near term without having to pay the types of absurd salaries free agent starting pitchers command (Homer Bailey is in the middle of a $100m contract).
When looking at starting pitcher injuries, we do not need to look to far in the past to see how injuries to pitchers can alter a team’s future. The Braves have had a number of significant injuries occur to their starting pitchers, with Mike Minor’s being one of the more critical injuries considering the timing of his downfall in Atlanta.
Minor amassed 6.6 WAR while being paid a total of less than $2m over a four year span, and amassed just 0.2 over his final two seasons with the Braves when he cost the team a total of $9.45m. Minor got hurt, as most pitchers do, and just when the Braves started to have to pay him through arbitration is where his help to the team abruptly halted. Minor is not the only example of this, either, with Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, and Jair Jurrjens being other recent examples of players who were successful to a point but were derailed by injuries. It is seldom a matter of “if” a starting pitcher gets hurt but “when” they get hurt. The Braves will be very fortunate if half the names in that previously mentioned Baseball America list don’t end up on one similar to the “derailed by injuries” list in this graph. So far, Julio Teheran has been one of the only young pitchers the team has developed to maintain his health over the course of his career.
Teheran is nearly 1,000 innings into his career, which at 26 is a very impressive feat. And if we are looking at “when” and not “if,” moving Teheran before his value craters would certainly be logical. The only thing more frustrating than to see Teheran improve in a different team’s rotation would be for him to be out for a year and a half of his remaining contract due to a significant arm injury. The Braves have won the gamble on this specific starter, and with a number of starting pitching prospects waiting to debut over the next few years, cashing in on this bet can help diversify their assets away from one solid-but-inconsistent starter with a lot of innings under his belt.
I was able to write most of this post without even referencing Teheran’s performance. It obviously matters, and he’s certainly been worth what the Braves have paid for him, but trading Teheran should net an equal amount of value back. Coppollela has made some poor trades, but overall his ability to get value back in trades has been reliable. If he moves Teheran, the likelihood is that we would be getting something quality back in return. That does not necessarily need to be said, but this is sometimes overlooked when discussing being “For” or “Against” trading a player. They would not sell Teheran for scraps, but move him for pieces that are either less risky or have higher upside (in terms of value they could provide over their service time).
When you play Black Jack, you may have more chips than when you started, but until you have cashed in you haven’t realized the profit. The Braves are currently up in their bet on Teheran’s performance and health, and it is time to walk over to the cashier and collect the winnings.