At 11:54 p.m. Saturday, the Atlanta Braves announced a most unusual trade: They sent infielder Phil Gosselin, who’s hurt, to Arizona for the 38-year-old pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who’s also hurt, and Touki Toussaint, a pitcher who turned 19 on the day he was traded and who is, thankfully, not hurt.
Getting Toussaint was more of what the Braves have been doing since the two Johns — Hart and Coppolella — supplanted the one and only Frank Wren. He’s a young pitcher. The Braves now lead the world in young pitching, which is, if you’re a baseball club, the best thing in which to lead the world.
Dan Szymborski, the data-cruncher of note whose name shouldn’t be unfamiliar to regular readers, just ranked the top 25 big-league pitchers under 25 for ESPN Insider: The Braves had three — No. 4 Shelby Miller, No. 11 Julio Teheran and No. 17 Alex Wood. And this doesn’t count Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried, Matt Wisler, Manny Banuelos and Tyrell Jenkins, all imported by the two Johns. Nor does it count Toussaint.
The Braves trading for a gifted young pitcher? Not unusual. The Diamondbacks shedding a gifted young pitcher to land an infielder who might not become a regular (and who’s hurt to boot)? Most unusual, even by D-backs standards. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs writes that it “only makes sense when you add in the financial aspects of the deal. In taking on the remainder of Bronson Arroyo‘s salary — roughly $10 million, including the buy-out of his 2016 option — the Braves essentially bought Touki Toussaint for that $10 million figure.”
And even then it makes little sense. Writes Ian Frazer of Baseball Prospectus (who appraises the money owed Arroyo as slightly more): “The Diamondbacks are saving around $13 million and have signaled that they prioritize that savings over Toussaint’s future production. It’s a bizarre valuation, because Toussaint is tall, projectable, can touch 97 mph, and has a curveball the BP prospect team described as ‘guillotine-like in trajectory, a lethality.’ ”
The overwhelming consensus is that the Braves stole a pitcher who was, barely 12 months ago, the 16th player taken in the MLB draft. Here’s more from Cameron:
It shouldn’t be a big surprise that the team doing the unexpected is the Diamondbacks, who have been marching to the beat of their own drum ever since Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart took over. The D-backs don’t operate like the other 29 franchises do, and they don’t see things like everyone else, so they make moves that cause a lot of heads to be scratched. This move is no different, with the trade drawing near total criticism from Arizona’s perspective.
The part about Arizona being different cannot be understated. Almost nobody in baseball understood why Kevin Towers was so eager to part with Justin Upton. Partly because he was the guy who traded J. Upton, Towers was deposed as general manager last season and replaced by La Russa, who has never run a front office, and Stewart, who had never been a GM. (He was an agent when La Russa tapped him.)
Given that Toussaint was the last No. 1 pick under Towers, it’s possible that the new regime took a look at the teenager and didn’t like what they saw. It’s also possible that what has happened a bit with the Braves in Year 1 after Wren is ongoing in the desert, the feeling that if you were a favorite of the old guy’s you must not be very good.
Still: This seems a terrible trade for Arizona and a dandy one for the Braves — even if Arroyo, who’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, never throws another big-league pitch. And here we have to say: The part about the Braves wanting to get younger and cheaper under the two Johns may only have been half-right.
As R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus notes, this is the third time since April Fool’s Day the Braves have been willing to take on money. They dumped Carlos Quentin, who was part of the Kimbrel/M. Upton trade with San Diego, and they’ve since dumped Trevor Cahill, who came from Arizona — OK, the D-backs knew what they were doing there — and could hold a job in neither rotation nor bullpen. Writes Anderson:
Add the three together, and the Braves are paying more than $23 million to players who were released or could be soon … Of course it helps that Hart shed salary earlier in the rebuilding process, and that most of the deals are short in nature. Still, consider ownership’s willingness to absorb these bad contracts a testament to its faith in Hart—or, at minimum, a testament to Hart’s salesmanship. Either way, Hart continues to show he’s not too old to get creative.
Buying up young pitching? That’s good. Being creative about it? Better still. Big thumbs-up for the two Johns on this trade.
(Oh, and in case you missed it: Last week we offered a two-part effort on the Braves’ pitching. Part 1 wondered why the Braves haven’t been able to turn a young pitcher into an ace this century. Part 2 offered a look at what the Braves are doing to try to give these dearly acquired young pitchers a chance to succeed.)