Thursday, January 18, 2007

The LaRoche-Gonzalez Deal

My initial thought on the trade was "that's all we got?" LaRoche had a .915 OPS last year, which was good for 10th in the NL, bookended by Jason Bay and David Wright. Would anyone in their right mind trade either of those guys for a reliever, no matter how good that reliever is? My comparison isn't entirely fair because LaRoche is a first baseman, which makes his production less valuable than Wright's at third base, but still. LaRoche was also going to make a little north of $3M this year, so this can't be seen as a salary dump. What Schuerholtz's reasoning has to be is that LaRoche played above his head last year - his minor league numbers did not portend a .561 slugging percentage - and that he's trading him at his peak value. Either that or Schuerholtz was so traumatized by the Braves' inept bullpen last year that he's lost the ability to be rational about the value of a reliever and he's going to overpay to bolster the 'pen. He ought to have been traumatized more by the Braves' dreadful starting pitching last year, but the combination of the ridiculous sums that average pitchers were garnering on the free agent market, combined with the not entirely irrational belief that the pitching should be better this year with Hudson rebounding and Hampton healthy, are reasonable explanations for inaction on that front.

One other factor that surely played into Schuerholtz's assessment: he needs to clear a spot for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and he's doing so now while LaRoche's value is high and other teams don't perceive that the Braves are desperate to deal him.

One of my other initial thoughts was "if we could acquire Rafael Soriano for the incredibly replaceable Horacio Ramirez, then why are we acquiring a similarly-talented reliever for one of our best offensive weapons?" Then I looked at Gonzalez's stats and changed my mind. Gonzalez is not your average good reliever, nor is he a guy whose value is overrated because he closes. He has 177 strikeouts and 68 walks in his 155.3 innings in the majors over the past three years. By all rights, he ought to close for the Braves, relegating Wickman to the 8th and Soriano to the 7th. In truth, he ought to be the guy the Braves call upon in their highest-leverage spots, but I don't know if Bobby Cox is all the way there yet. The bottom line is that the Braves have responded to their financial straitjacket by investing in the bullpen, where they have decided they can get the most value for the fewest dollars. It seems like a reasonable strategy, but it's dependent on first base and second base not becoming giant holes on the lineup such that we never take a lead into the late innings.

I was expecting the Baseball Prospectus to be down on the deal because relievers have limited impact as compared to everyday players, but they're scoring this as a victory for the Braves because of the prospect in the deal - Brent Lillibridge - who sounds like a reasonable facsimile of Rafael Furcal. If he is, then the Braves should not overcommit to a "proven leadoff guy" this year, as they have their solution for 2008 or 2009.


I'm a Realist said...

An aside... Didn't LaRoche come out and say that the fans shouldn't cheer him last year? The last time a player bad-mouthed the fan base, he was dealt before the next season (David Justice). And, LaRoche is less likable.

Grandy said...

He said something IAR. It was pretty goofy at the time. I believe it was on the heels of being booed for one of his concentration lapses early in the season, and then heating up. Agreed - he's not Sexy. And we need sexy back!

Mike, you know my feelings on this. I think it's important to secure a potential closer for the post-Wickman era and we've really increased our chances of doing this (figuring that one of Gonzales or Soriano will sliproll for 4-5 years post-Wickman; Gonzales certainly seems the front runner to do that, and I wouldn't be shocked if he took over this year). And, it will benefit the Joey Devine Juvination Project, and give a small boost to it's success.

I tend to think LaRoche was probably never going to be worth more but who knows. Right now, I think Thorman is the guy and they will continue to bring Salty along deliberately - he was having a good season in Fall Ball and I think he'll be primed to get back on track this year.

The goood thing about Second Base is Bememit will be ready to take over and have a good season.*

* I have constructed, and now live in, a world in which we did not trade him away. I will not be dragged from my paradise, so don't bother trying.

hoodawg said...

This deal is arguably what the Jorge Sosa deal should have been last offseason -- cashing in on a guy who played very well last year but hadn't proven it long-term. If we had done that last year and gotten a reliever or two, who knows how many more games we might have won.

Having these three relievers also puts us in a good place next July, in the event we aren't contending again. For once, we'll be that team with the "extra" closer that can be traded for prospects. Since we're in the unfortunate circumstance of calling ourselves a big market team but spending like a small market team, this is becoming more and more crucial.

Very worried about the lack of experience on the right side of the diamond, though. 12 total ML starts at their respective positions between Thorman and Kelly Johnson. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

Love this trade, LaRoche was sold at his absolute peak value. I personally do not see why he was so sought after, he has played basically one very good 1/2 season (even going back through the minors). Unless he undergoes a drastic swing change, I don't ever see him consistently putting up the numbers he did 2nd half last year. I think JS must feel the same.

Gonzalez is a serious stat monster, hopefully he can stay healthy. Bullpen looks tremendous right now, if Joey Devine ever wakes up from his nightmare (that Bobby Cox single-handedly put him in) it will be lights out with a 2-run lead going into the 6th inning.

Right-side is a concern but I've been wanting to see some young blood in the IF for a while so here's the chance.

Joel said...

Agree with pretty much all of what you said, and I hope you are right, but I can's shake my belief that your following quote best sums up this situation:

"Either that or Schuerholtz was so traumatized by the Braves' inept bullpen last year that he's lost the ability to be rational about the value of a reliever and he's going to overpay to bolster the 'pen."

That is the only way to explain not only the Betimet deal but this one as well. Also, as bad as LaRoche was pre-last year's all star break, Saltamaccia was just as bad last year in AA. I am by no means a big LaRoche fan, but to take out your best or second best bat from last year out of the lineup for a releif pitcher doesn't seem like the kind of deal Schurholtz used to make.

It is not going to be pretty when Chipper misses his first bundle of games in '07 and we are staring at this lineup:

2B- Prado
SS- Rentaria
CF- Andruw
C- McCann
RF- Francoeur
1B- Thorman/Wilson
LF- Langerhans/Johnson
3B- Aybar

Me thinks that great pen of our won't have as many late-inning leads as the front office might be expecting.