The biggest mid-season trade for several years was signed and sealed last week with Texas sending the pseudo-mnemonic-sounding Mark Teixeiraand Ron Mahayto the Braves for four of the best prospects in the Braves system: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus, with Beau Jones, a spare-part hurler, thrown in as a freebie.
Many column inches have been penned on the merits of the trade and by virtue of my column running on a Monday I was always going to be a little late to the party. For a more complete run down of the comings and goings of deadline day read David Gassko’s excellent summary.
Anyway over the next few paragraphs I want to look at the merits of the deal by asking the question: What do you have to believe for (a) the Braves and (b) the Rangers to win from this deal and where does the risk-reward balance lie?
The Texan protagonists
First, let’s take a look at the two players the Braves got and see how they project. The cornerstone of the deal is Teixeira, who is a possible future Hall-of-Famer. Here are his numbers since becoming a Ranger. (Note: WAR = wins above replacement.)
Mark Texiera Year Age G AB R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG WAR 2003 23 146 529 66 137 26 84 44 120 0.259 0.331 0.48 1.8 2004 24 145 545 101 153 38 112 68 117 0.281 0.37 0.56 4.2 2005 25 162 644 112 194 43 144 72 124 0.301 0.379 0.575 5.5 2006 26 162 628 99 177 33 110 89 128 0.282 0.371 0.514 4.2 2007 27 78 286 48 85 13 49 45 66 0.297 0.397 0.524 2.4
The Braves also picked up Ron Mahay, who is an above replacement veteran reliever. Here are his numbers since moving to Texas from the Cubs in 2003:
Ron Mahay Year Ag G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA WAR 2003 32 35 45.3 33 19 16 3 20 38 3.18 1.2 2004 33 60 67 60 23 19 5 29 54 2.55 2.3 2005 34 30 35.7 47 28 27 8 16 30 6.81 -0.5 2006 35 62 57 54 30 25 7 28 56 3.95 1.1 2007 36 28 39 33 12 12 3 21 32 2.77 1.3
Doing a rough calculation these two players combine for about six wins above replacement over a full season. Well, to be fair, Tex accounts for most of those wins and Mahay just eats a few innings from the bullpen. Actually that may be unfair to Mahay. Apart from 2005 he has pitched well for Texas and his numbers are more impressive considering that the Rangers play in a shoebox.
The past is irrelevant because what we care about is how these players project for the next couple of years. Texiera is approaching his prime so the Braves should see some good numbers from him, while Mahay is coming to the twilight of his career. Here are what the THT projections say about the pair:
Mark Teixeira Year BA OBP SLG Pos Fielding WAR 2007 0.284 0.366 0.525 1B 11 3.93 2008 0.283 0.365 0.523 1B 10 3.80 2009 0.282 0.365 0.523 1B 10 3.68 Ron Mahay Year ip hits hr bb so era WAR 2007 63 64 8 30 53 4.79 0.61 2008 60 60 7 29 49 4.7 0.63 2009 57 57 7 27 46 4.7 0.62
Realistically the Braves should get four to five WAR next year from these players and 1.5 to two WAR for the remainder of this year—so six to seven WAR in total. Actually total WAR may be a shade higher because Texiera’s 2007-2009 projection was depressed by a mildly disappointing 2006. However, these wins certainly don’t come gratis. Teixeira earns $9 million this year and will likely rake in $12 million next year in arbitration; the Braves are on the hook for all of this moolah. Mahay earns $1 million this year and then becomes a free agent, although the Braves could resign him.
In total the Braves are on the hook for about $16 million of salary (for six to seven WAR). That’s about $2.5 million for every win over replacement level—and let’s face it, at first base the Braves were playing with sub-replacement players. By the way, the going free-agent rate is about $4.5 million for every win above replacement so on that score the Braves are getting a reasonable deal. But we’ve only looked at half of the trade ledger.
Who the Braves are giving up
However, the Braves had to give up a fair array of talent to secure Teixeira. Here is Kevin Goldstein’s (of Baseball Prospectus) rank of Braves’ prospects at the start of the season:
Very Good Prospects 1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C 2. Matt Harrison, LHP Good Prospects 3. Neftali Feliz, RHP 4. Eric Campbell, 3B/2B 5. Elvis Andrus, SS Average Prospects 6. Brandon Jones, OF 7. Joey Devine, RHP 8. Jeff Locke, LHP 9. Chase Fontaine, SS… maybe 10. Anthony Lerew, RHP
By Kevin’s list the Braves are giving up four of their five best prospects for 18 months of Texiera—talk about mortgaging the farm! Let’s have a quick look at exactly what the Rangers are getting as part of this deal:
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia: The man with the longest name in baseball … oh, and he is also a useful hitting catcher too—a rare commodity (an oxymoron, surely). Salty projects to be two wins above replacement according to the THT data, but I think that is conservative. If you believe he’ll be a .280/.350/.460 then he projects at about three to 3.5 WAR. Based on what I have seen this year (his line was .284/.333/.411 for the Braves) that’s not too crazy. Also he has more value if the Rangers play him at catcher rather than at first—they should.
- Elvis Andrus: Andrus is deep in the minors, making him much harder to project that someone like Salty. Andrus is a toolsy shortstop who is fairly nifty with the bat and probably tops out as another Edgar Renteria—perhaps three to four WAR if you are being generous. However, he has struggled at the plate this year and there is a fear among prospect watchers that he may soon reach his ceiling.
- Neftali Feliz: This is where life gets a little more interesting. Feliz is a 19-year-old missile launcher who can touch 98 mph on the gas, but has less command than George W. Bush. Where will he end up? Who knows—punting on the lottery is a safer bet right now. If he can rein in his walk rate then he could be a top of the rotation starter though becoming a one-pitch relief ace is a more likely outcome at this point. One thing we can agree on is that there is a ton of uncertainty. I dunno on the projection: Let’s take a wild-ass-guess and say he becomes a one WAR set-up man, although on the upside he could be a four to six WAR starter.
- Matt Harrison: Harrison is a rangy 6-foot-4 southpaw who was probably the most mature rotation prospect in the Braves system. He is a control pitcher very much in the Greg Maddux mold minus the effectiveness. At best Harrison projects to be a No. 3 starter: his minor league stats are good but not spectacular and, again, he is probably another candidate for the ‘pen. At the moment he is on the DL with shoulder trouble. Young pitcher plus shoulder injury equals bad news.
- Beau Jones: Wow! At the last minute the Braves threw in yet another pitching prospect. I’m not sure why Texas wanted Jones. Although he has a reasonable arm there are serious control issues and he has been atrocious in his short stint at Myrtle Beach. He’s probably sub-replacement level at the moment—who knows, perhaps he upset Bobby Cox or something.
What do you have to believe
This is the fun part where we ask: what do you have to believe for this trade to be a win or a bust for (a) Atlanta and then (b) Texas.
This allows us to get past black and white statements about the merits of the trade because we have to build risk and upside into our analysis, which gives a far more objective view.
For example, if you asked this question for the Andy Marte/Edgar Renteria swap, which was generally thought to be a poor deal for the Braves, you’d have arrived at a more considered answer: The Braves traded upside and risk (in Marte) for certainty and production (Renteria)—a fair swap given what they were trying to achieve last year. Remember that with the departure of the productive Rafael Furcal was a massive hole in the lineup. Had you believed that Marte was going to be a MVP third baseman then, and only then, would the trade have started to tip in Boston’s favor.
So what do we have to believe for this particular deal to work for Atlanta?
First, the Braves have given up a lot of potential upside and $16 million for two WAR this year and five WAR next. If it gets them to the postseason it will be money well spent as that nets them about $20-30 million. If the Braves fail to make October in either year then the deal is effectively a bust because even if all the prospects that the Braves have parted company with bomb they have still wasted $16 million on salary.
Consider the corollary question: Under what circumstances is this a bad deal for the Braves?
Based on the above we know it doesn’t look great if they don’t make the playoffs but what else? Well, if Salty turns out to be the second coming of Mike Piazza, Andrus becomes the next A-Rod and Feliz the new Felix then it’s a bad deal as the Braves have traded playoff appearances this year and next for many years of October ball in the future. Now that’s an unlikely scenario so where is the boundary?
It’s clearly a judgment call. The first question to decipher is are wins today worth more than wins tomorrow, much like $10 is worth more today than it is in five years? Since wins are not inflationary the answer would appear to be no, but fans and executives play for the moment, so the answer is actually a tenuous yes. I’m going to take a stab in the dark here and say this if the two of the players in the package that Atlanta gave Texas combine to earn more than six to seven WAR a year (more than we expect from Teixeira next year) then the deal turns against the Braves. Why two players? Well, the Braves could have given up 25 prospects all of whom were just above replacement; collectively they may contribute 25 WAR but that would barely make a future Rangers team play above .500.
Now let’s look at what we must believe for the deal to work for Texas?
First, the Rangers are not going to get to the playoffs this year so we can ignore that. If Texas falls a couple of wins shy of the postseason next year because of this trade then we have to believe that the addition of Salty et al. will pay playoff dividends in later years for the deal to work. If the Rangers fall well short of the postseason in 2008 then our success conditions are more relaxed because at the very least the Rangers have saved a slug of salary. I’d surmise that success for Texas is building a playoff team around a core of Salty, Andrus and, maybe, Harrison in, say, 2010-2012, with those players contributing six to 10 WAR.
Apart from missing out on the playoffs next year there is very little downside for Texas. Only if Teixeira were to blast 90 home runs and hit over .400 as a Brave next year will it look a bad deal for Texas. And even if all prospects bomb the Rangers have still saved $16 million.
What does the market think?
Futures markets only exist for the current season so we can’t work out the likely long term impact on Texas but what we can do is see what happened to the Braves’ win expectancy before and after the trade. Below is the win expectancy graph from Tradesports:
The day the deal was consummated (Aug. 1) the Braves’ win expectancy jumped from 15% to 20% despite their having an off day. In other words the Tex trade accounts for that change (the Dotel deal wasn’t heavily rumoured at that point). What does the 5% jump equate to in wins?
Based on the THT win probability model I can break out what a 5% change in the Braves’ odds of winning equates to given the talent and expected performance of the Mets and Phillies. The answer is that it makes the Braves two wins better off, boosting them from an 84 to an 86 win team. The Braves’ 5% gain is offset by Mets who lose 3.5% (but stay an 89-win team) and the Phils who lose 1.5%.
Unlike some commentators, my view is that despite this deal the Mets are still favorites to land the NL East.
In summary the Braves win if:
- They make the playoffs this year and/or next year with Teixeira
- Salty et al. do not become future superstars (eight to 10 WAR cumulative)
The Rangers win if:
- Teixeira doesn’t develop into the world’s finest batter next year (and hence cost the Rangers a playoff spot)
Both sides stand to win from this deal but the risk is with the Braves and the upside is with Texas. Based on that alone this is a great trade if you’re a Ranger, but the jury will be out for another year at least if you’re a Brave.
References & Resources
Thanks to Baseball-Refernce for the player data and also to Chris Constancio and David Gassko for their sterling work on the THT projections.