According to the New York Post, Salty for Teixeira is a done deal. Then again, the Post also employs Peter Vescey, so it would not be prudent to assume that they have the highest standards for truth in publishing. (Update: the very reliable David O'Brien also says this trade is going to happen and the only question is whether the Braves will get relief help from the Rangers along with Teixeira.) I am not totally opposed to this deal, provided that the Braves have had discussions with Teixeira about an extension and are confident that they are not just renting him for about 220 games. His agent is Scott Boras and baseball's free agent market is currently badly overpriced. Am I making myself clear here? Anyway, here are the reasons to make the trade:
1. Teixeira would immediately become the second-best hitter on the team behind Chipper. In fact, he would give the Braves a second hitter in the middle of the lineup who combines power with plate discipline. He would be a massive upgrade at the number four spot over Andruw, who would essentially be expendable from a lineup perspective once Teixeira is in the fold. My concern was initially that he could be a product of a favorable home park for hitters, but his numbers reflect a minimal home/road split. Simply put, he's having a great year. Furthermore, he's especially strong against left-handed pitching (his OPS is .124 higher as a right-hander) and the Braves have struggled all year against lefties, mainly because their right-handed clean-up hitter has been abysmal.
There is precious little in the starting pitching market. Thus, Teixeira doesn't make answer the Braves' biggest need, but he makes the team significantly better. I kinda like the idea of maxing out on the hitting side. Instead of adding a questionable new fifth starter who would be a little better than Reyes, but wouldn't be very good, the Braves would instead be adding a terrific hitter and putting him at a spot on the diamond that's been an offensive black hole all year. This move would be like the Rams maxing out on their offense or the Ravens maxing out on their defense earlier this decade. Instead of addressing their weakness, the Braves would be powering up their strength. I'm not opposed to that idea at all. (That said, they still need one or two more relievers.)
2. I don't want to see Salty traded because he gives every indication that he can hit and he's going to be cheap for the next several years. If Salty can come close to hitting at the same level as Teixeira, then this is a bad deal. However, the jury is still out on Salty. Remember, he struggled mightily for a good chunk of last year in the minors and his .745 OPS is nothing to scream about right now. If he was a lead pipe cinch to rake, then the Braves would not have acquired Julio Franco.
Combine the uncertainty as to Salty's production with the fact that his highest and best use is as a catcher and you see that the Braves probably need to deal him. Catchers who can hit are a very rare commodity. He would be worth more to just about any other team that he is to the Braves, who already have one of the few catchers who can hit in the majors. David Ricardo says that the Braves would trade Salty if they are rational actors. Playing him at first is like a footie team having too many quality strikers and playing one of them in the midfield. (Check back in this space in the fall for more.) Playing him at first is like taking seeds for peach trees and planting them in a cornfield in Iowa...or at least somewhere in between Georgia and Iowa where the trees will grow, but the peaches won't be as good as they would be if you planted the trees in Perry.
(An aside: how weird is it that the Braves are able to produce middle infielders and catchers who can hit on a regular basis, but they've struggled for a quality first baseman since El Gato Grande got cancer? What other team could consider trading a shortstop with an .870 OPS making a reasonable $6M per season because their farm system has just produced a youngster like Yunel Escobar who looks just as good [and pulled off a real gem of a steal last night to tie the game in the 9th inning]? The Braves are only in position to acquire Teixeira ahead of the bigger money teams because their farm system is so good at producing hard-to-find commodities like catchers and shortstops who don't hit like Rafael Belliard.)
Other than the prospect of Teixeira either being a 220 game-rental or a $20M/year player who the Braves watch decline expensively, the other aspect of the deal that concerns me is the inclusion of Matt Harrison, who was the co-number one pitching prospect in the Braves system along with Jo Jo Reyes (who got tagged again last night). If the Braves remain a mid-market team, then their biggest challenge is going to be finding quality pitching, which is completely overpriced in the market to the point that it's pretty much a luxury. The few good pitchers out there are held zealously by their clubs and if they hit the market, they are overpaid, especially in light of the fact that pitchers are less consistent than hitters, both because their muse can come and go (see: Willis, Dontrelle) and because they are more prone to be injured (see: Hampton, Mike). Thus, the Braves need to retain as many of their pitching prospects as possible. Because of the unreliability of pitching in general, the Braves need to make sure that they have as many bullets in the chamber as possible. They're more likely to find the diamond in the rough with ten prospects than they are with five. Then again, I've just laid out the Baseball Prospectus case for "there is no such thing as a pitching prospect" and that argument can be turned around to say that getting rid of Harrison is no big deal.
(Including Elvis Andrus does not concern me, as he still is tools without production and with Escobar and Brent Lillibridge [thanks to Ike for reminding me that I'm confusing Brent Lillibridge and Derek Lilliquist] ahead of him in the system, the Braves would be dealing him from a position of strength.)
3. Liberty Media needs to make a splash, both to the fans and to the team, that convinces everyone that they are going to spend some money. They need to send the message that the Braves are no longer going to only export talent. I know I sound like Mike Bell here and I apologize for it, but wouldn't management send a great message to the players that they are interested in winning the division? Wouldn't this create the "buzz" that Bell refers to on an hourly basis? I will now eat 27 Krystal Sunrisers and paw some unsuspecting coed at Dantana's.
In closing, I support the deal as long as Schuerholtz has a plan for keeping Teixeira without overpaying for him. If Teixeira is really excited about playing in Atlanta and/or for Bobby Cox and he's willing to pull an Andruw and tell Scott Boras not to hold the world hostage for every last penny, then this is a good deal. If not, then it's iffy. The Braves will ultimately need to trade Salty, but I'd prefer he go for someone like Rich Hill as opposed to a season and a third of a great first baseman. Six years of a great first baseman? That's a different story.
All that said, we should not overrate Teixeira's potential impact on the pennant race if the Braves acquire him. In Tex's break-out 2005 season, he was essentially a six-win player, meaning he was worth six wins over a replacement-level player at his position. Over a third of a season, he would be worth two extra wins to the Braves, playing at his epic 2005 level. The Braves are still fundamentally an average (or slightly above-average) team, so he wouldn't single-handedly win the division for them. However, given that the Braves have been getting below replacement-level performance from their first basemen this season, Teixeira might be worth more than two wins to the team. Braves fans are conditioned to believe that a July acquisition of a star first baseman can have major effects: