Thursday, June 8, 2017

Re-Evaluating The Alex Wood Trade

While many fans seem to applaud most every move made by current Braves' GM John Coppolella, he has made his fair share of questionable moves. Perhaps his most questionable trade: trading Alex Wood to the Dodgers. In this trade, Atlanta received: Paco Rodriguez, Hector Olivera, and Zachary Bird.

( Source: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images North America) 

As someone who follows the Braves closely, most fans were surprised by the move, but seemed
alright with trading Alex Wood because, "he's going to be injured soon anyway." From the start, fans seemed to not have much faith in Wood due to his mechanics. And while worrying is understandable, the fact remained that Wood was an above average starter during his time in Atlanta. Combined with his age and modest contract, Alex Wood was essentially a steal in the second round by former Braves' general manager Frank Wren.

Alex Wood seemed like the kind of piece a team would want to build around. Especially a rebuilding team like the Braves. However, Coppolella had an unbridled desire to land Hector Olivera. It was rumored that the Braves had made a very serious offer to Olivera before he signed with the Dodgers. Determined to get his man, Coppolella dealt Alex Wood to the Dodgers. Also included in the deal was then top prospect José Peraza, another piece Atlanta could have used to build around. While Peraza might be a bit limited offensively, he makes good use of his tools: ranking third in triples, fourth in stolen bases, third in defensive assists, third in double plays turned as a second baseman, and third in total zone run as a second baseman. He may not be an All-Star, but he is a very serviceable player at the Major League level. Luis Avilan was also dealt to the Dodgers and he has also been very serviceable. It's worth noting that the Braves don't have a lefty reliever with an ERA under 5.48 (Sam Freeman has been solid, but with half the sample size of EOF and Ian Krol.) Peraza and Avilan were basically "throw-ins" in the trade for Olivera and would both be valuable pieces to the current Braves' roster.

Looking back at the pieces the Braves received for Alex Wood, well, there's nothing much to see at all. None of the players sent to Atlanta are still in the organization. Hector Olivera was released following his very serious domestic violence incident, Zachary Bird is now in the Rangers organization, and Paco Rodriguez is seemingly out of baseball rehabbing injuries (was released by Atlanta at the end of spring training.)

While Alex Wood continues to thrive in Los Angeles, I see a lot of Braves fans on Twitter still stating that, "he's going to get hurt with his mechanics!" It's almost as if they want him to be injured so they can claim Atlanta, "won the trade!" Given the pieces Atlanta received for Alex Wood, just him being on a Major League roster is a win for the Dodgers.

Some fans point that this trade eventually led to Atlanta getting Matt Kemp, and that alone is enough to make most of them happy. However, Matt Kemp hasn't been very valuable in his time with Atlanta. If you look at his offensive stats, you'll see he's been above average, but he looks much more suited as a DH in the American League than someone you'd want to plug in the outfield everyday. While he's hitting a robust: .322/.357/.553 this season, his defense is atrocious. Even with posting an OPS of .910, he's barely above replacement level due to his defense. He's on track to finish the season with around a 2-3 WAR (bb-ref). While some point to his arrival last season and the Braves solid finish to the season, there's now been a bigger sample and it's clear that he's not having that much of an impact on this team in 2017. If you play a replacement level player everyday and give them enough at-bats, they're going to have solid stats. Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman both bat ahead of him and they're very good at getting on base. Kemp can compile offensive stats when he's constantly coming up with people on base. It's just like, say, Brandon Phillips batting behind Joey Votto while in Cincinnati. Phillips and Kemp both lack plate discipline to take walks, but they usually put the ball in play and drive in runs at decent rate. I think the law of averages will tell you that if you come up enough with guys on base, you're bound to drive one in every once and a while. To be great at it in baseball, you simply need to be successful, what... 27% of the time? Besides, RBI's are overrated in my opinion. Congrats, your teammates did all the work and you got a hit! Buster Posey is on pace to have over 20 home runs and something like... 50 RBI's. I'd argue that having him hit where Kemp is on he Braves, he'd have well over 50 RBI's at this point. Even Nick Markakis has over 30 RBI's and he just slaps singles all over the ballpark.

Getting back on track, Atlanta essentially traded young building blocks to just to end up with an aging Matt Kemp. As it stands, the Braves offense is actually pretty solid. They rank in the top ten in the National League for team OPS, and they are in the top three in both team average and on-base. Offense isn't the biggest issue with this team, but their rotation is a nightmare. Adding two 40+ year old starters to the mix wasn't the answer, and thus, even more reason why the Alex Wood trade was a colossal failure. Even if Alex Wood kept on his pace he had in Atlanta, he'd be the ace of their rotation. For a team that continuously talks about wanting pitching, continuously drafts pitching, and still has pitching issues, dealing a young (and cheap) starter never made much sense. Maybe the Braves only saw Wood as being a back end guy or a reliever? Guess we'll never know.

As the Braves continue their long rebuild, the "new car smell" with Coppolella might be wearing off for some fans. While there's an abundance of pitching prospects, most of the notable hitting prospects in the system are carry overs from the Frank Wren era: Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Braxton Davidson, Randy Ventura, Carlos Castro, Joey Meneses, and Luis Valenzuela. Although, I'd argue that the most exciting minor league hitting prospect (not named Ronald Acuna) might end up being Alex Jackson, but he seems to be dealing with injuries this season. Jackson also seemed to have issues with Mariners' organization, so there's no telling what to expect out of him moving forward. While the Braves continue to have draft picks inside the top five, they're bound to produce one or two major hitting prospects as time goes on. Having draft picks that high is also something that the previous front office didn't have the luxury of experiencing, but they still produced many players on current Major League rosters.

The draft is fast approaching and it'll be interesting to see which route the Braves take this year. Will the finally draft a high upside college bat? Or continue to build around high school pitching? When you look around the league, taking upside college bats seems to be the way to rebuild, but I guess that's not "the Braves way!" 

So, while the Braves continue to search for pitching, Alex Wood continues to shine for the Dodgers. The Braves are left with an expensive, aging, one dimensional outfielder in Matt Kemp. Hector Olivera is playing Indy league ball with seemingly no future in Major League Baseball. No matter which way you cut it, this may go down as the worst trade in the John Coppolella era in Atlanta.