The Braves go backward to move forward, and Castro as a Yankee


The Atlanta Braves have spent the last year craving the top pick in MLB’s annual draft, stripping a 96-win team in 2013 to the Philadelphia 76ers wannabes they are today.

Who knew that all they had to do to get it was ask the Arizona Diamondbacks for it.

Tuesday was a full day at the winter meetings — the Cubs signing Ben Zobrist and then trading Starlin Castro to the Yankees (more on that later), not to mention new Nats manager Dusty Baker’s bizarre comments on race in baseball and domestic abuse that made team management long for Matt Williams. But nothing was louder or endured longer than the taxi-cab horn blast of a deal the Braves and Diamondbacks completed.

The D-backs got Shelby Miller and kept A.J. Pollock, whom the Braves reportedly first asked for, but that’s where the good news ceased for Arizona.

Instead the D-backs dealt Dansby Swanson, the player they took with the first pick of the 2015 draft, a 21-year-old shortstop out of Vanderbilt who the Diamondbacks thought was worthy of a $6.5 million bonus.

If you want to know why the D-backs paid $34 million a year for free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke, Tuesday’s trade is why. It’s a lot cheaper  price to pay.

The Braves may only win 50 games next year, but they have the top pick in the 2015 draft, the third pick in the 2016 draft and the top pick in the 2017 draft awaiting.

The Braves also now have the D-backs’ last three No. 1 picks — pitcher Aaron Blair (2013), who went with Swanson and outfielder Ender Inciarte for Miller, Touki Toussaint (2014), who the Braves acquired by adding Bronson Arroyo’s salary and Swanson (2015).

Maybe next June we can skip the middle man and have the Braves make the D-backs’ pick for them. All that time the Braves gave John Hart to find a general manager, and who knew Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart would rebuild their team for them.

Stewart said  it was “the cost to win,” when he met with reporters Wednesday.

“What would you do to win,” he asked himself rhetorically. “That’s the way I look at it.”

The answer should have been something that didn’t involve the top pick in the draft. Either the D-backs were wrong when they drafted him or wrong when they traded him. The last shortstop drafted with the first pick was Carlos Correa in 2011. Substitute his name for Swanson’s and ask if it’s a fair deal.

Yes, the D-backs had to do something. You can’t spend $200 million on Greinke, send him out there 34 times, follow him with Josh Collmenter and expect to contend.

But there are cheaper and more efficient ways to complement Greinke than trading top draft picks. Swanson is presumably the kind of player you want to play behind Greinke before that contract is over (one Arizona Republic story said the D-backs felt they could deal Swanson because they were deep at shortstop with Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings. Anybody think of seeing either would have fetched? And keeping Swanson?)

Blair (3.22 career minor-league ERA) might have done a fair imitation of Miller  in 2016. Inciarte’s 5.3 WAR was more than Miller’s 3.6.

Whatever the Marlins have been asking for Jose Fernandez, they’re now going to want far more than the price for Shelby Miller (3.02 ERA, .663 OPS).

Traded twice and then released, Stewart crafted a career as a fierce, scowling starter for Tony La Russa’s late 1980’s A’s, winning 20 games four straight years and the 1989 World Series. He didn’t care if batters didn’t like him throwing inside, and he’s apparently approaching his new job for La Russa in the same manner.

Who cares about analytics or experts or advice?

“I value the draft picks just as much as other ballclubs,” Stewart said, according to azcentral.com. “I think the difference is that if my gut tells me to do something then I follow my gut.”

That mindset worked for Stewart when he pitched. But he might want to follow another part of his anatomy if he wants to run a major league team successfully.

Item: Yankees get Starlin Castro

GM Brian Cashman  emphasized how the Yankees got younger in adding infielder Starlin Castro, and manager Joe Girardi, even before the trade was done, talked about how the Yankees are more athletic with the addition of Aaron Hicks.

That’s all true, and if the AL East were a decathlon, the Yankees would be all set.

“The public stated goal is to get younger and compete for the championship every year.” Cashman said, according to nytimes.com. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Never mind that Cashman’s two goals aren’t always unified. Castro’s acquisition did the former, but Zobrist, whose signing enabled it, would have been better in pursuit of the latter.

All of Castro’s alleged athleticism might help the defense, but it won’t help him reach base. His on-base percentage has been lower than .300 in two of the last three seasons, he lost his shortstop position to the younger, more athletic Addison Russell in part because of his defense (-0.1 WAR and -0.2 in 2013 and ’14, respectively), he’s a bad base stealer (62% lifetime, 9-for-18 lifetime and an NL-high 13 caught stealings in 2012) and he’s owed $39 million over the next four seasons.

Of course, by this winter’s standards , that’s not much — just about seven months of Greinke starts.

“He’s a very talented guy,” said Cashman adviser Jim Hendry, according to nytimes.com. “And offensively, I think we all think his better days are ahead of him. History will tell you that at 26 to 32 or 33, you’ve got a chance to be your most productive. Very athletic kid.”

Castro will be 26 by the next opening day, and Hendry may be right. Of course he’s also the former Cubs GM, who signed Castro in the first place. And even if he is correct, Yankee Stadium is hardly the best place for a right-handed hittler like Castro to demonstrate his newfound power (five homers in the last month of 2015). 

Castro’s signing also relegates sabermetric favorite Rob Refnsyder to … what? AAA  again? The Yankees didn’t say Tuesday, and it’s not clear if anyone asked.

The Yankees have long had commitment issues with Refsnyder, who has a lifetime .380 on-base percentage in the minors but just 47 plate appearances in the majors.

He’s also a year younger and a lot cheaper than Castro.

 

 

 

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