Another day, another tantalizing Atlanta Braves trade. (That’s three in 15 days, each dispensing with someone named Johnson.) This one was even more exotic, seeing as how the three included players had to clear waivers. When you read the names of the players, you’ll understand why nobody claimed them.
Chris Johnson, that famous counter of outs, is going to Cleveland. The Braves were desperate to get rid of him, and not only because he’s scheduled to make $16.5 million over the next two seasons.
Michael Bourn, once a much-liked Brave, is coming back here. He’s due to make $14 million next season, which would make this deal a near-wash, if it weren’t for the inclusion of …
Nick Swisher, who’s due to make $15 million next season.
Swisher and Bourn were essentially the Uggla and Upton (Melvin, not Justin) of Cleveland, though not quite that bad. Swisher signed with the Tribe for $65 million over four seasons in January 2013 and has produced a cumulative WAR value of 1.5. Bourn signed with Cleveland for $48 million over four years in February 2013 and has generated an aggregate WAR value of 3.7, which pales alongside his 6.1 WAR value of 2012, his final season as a Brave.
Bourn is 32, Swisher 34. Neither has aged well. Bourn is hitting .246 with an on-base percentage of .313. (Remember, he never did walk much.) Swisher, once a consistent 20-homer guy, is hitting .198 with two homers and eight RBIs.
The Braves didn’t acquire these two because they woke up this morning and thought, “Know what? We really need Bourn and Swisher.” This trade was made to shed the hugely unwanted Johnson and, as a decidedly secondary consideration, to add a bit of depth (meaning Bourn) in case someone makes a windfall offer for Cameron Maybin over the winter. Taking on Swisher’s salary seems the price the Braves had to pay to make Cleveland say yes.
This is another of those NBA-type trades the Braves have learned to swing: “We’ll give you our bad contract for your bad contract.” Just going by sticker price, the Braves will end up paying $13.5 million for one year of Bourn/Swisher — each has a vesting option for 2017, but neither will accumulate the 500-plus plate appearances needed to trigger it — than Cleveland will fork over for two years of Johnson’s services. But here’s where the fine print looms large: The Indians are also sending along “cash considerations.”
Esteemed colleague Dave O’Brien reports that the Braves will receive $10 million from Cleveland, which brings it back to our original thought — a wash, give or take. Neither side will get well from this trade. Neither side will expect this deal to do much of anything, standings-wise. (As fate would have it, both the Braves and the Indians have won 49 games.)
This is a mutual salary dump, which mightn’t make much sense on its face but seems yet another creative wrinkle cast our way by John Hart and John Coppolella. The Braves’ baseball product mightn’t be much at the moment, but the machinations of this front office have become worth the price of admission.