Braves nearing trade to send Alex Wood, Jim Johnson to Dodgers

The Atlanta Braves have interjected themselves into the previously reported three-way trade between the Dodgers and Marlins, and are arguably giving up more value than either the Marlins or Dodgers. Atlanta will be sending starting pitcher Alex Wood, relievers Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan, and prospect Jose Peraza to the Dodgers, picking up the competitive balance draft pick the Dodgers got from the Marlins, Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, reliever Paco Rodriguez, and minor leaguer Zach Bird.

Also, we’ve learned the three names going to Miami from the Dodgers – minor league pitchers Victor Araujo, Jeff Brigham, and Kevin Guzman.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but we’ll start with how much the Dodgers have improved their rotation. Slotting Wood and Latos behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke solidifies their rotation just a bit more – and if Greinke and Latos are both pitching elsewhere next season, they’ll still have Wood (and the returning Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Brandon McCarthy later in the season) behind Kershaw. Wood has a 3.54 ERA in 119 1/3 innings this season, striking out 90 and walking 36. But he’s just 24,  and this is Wood’s first year as a full-time starter after splitting time between the rotation and bullpen in 2013 and 2014 with the Braves.

Los Angeles is also adding to their bullpen from the Braves for the second time this year, which seems a bit odd considering how much Atlanta’s bullpen has struggled. With Jason Grilli on the mend following a torn Achilles, Johnson and Avilan have been the best relievers for the Braves this year. Johnson’s been the closer since his injury, and has a 2.25 ERA, 33 strikeouts, 14 walks, and a groundball rate north of 60% in 48 innings. Avilan has been hot and cold in his career with the Braves, but is having a solid enough season in 2015, pitching to a 3.58 ERA in 37 2/3 innings. The 26-year old lefty, who is under team control for three more seasons, has struggled against left-handers over the last two seasons, but many of those struggles could likely be tied to Fredi Gonzalez’s bizarre usage of him.

Jose Peraza came into the year as Atlanta’s top prospect, though his stock has declined during his first season at AAA. Peraza, who came up as a middle infielder, switched to center field this year because of the presence of Jace Peterson and Andrelton Simmons in the majors with the Braves. He’s hit .295/.319/.380 this season with 25 stolen bases, but his future position still remains a question mark. I’d imagine the Dodgers will use him at second (assuming they don’t re-sign Howie Kendrick) or shortstop (if top prospect Corey Seager has to shift over to third base) in 2016.

As for the return going to the Braves, it seems a little light. The big piece is Hector Olivera, who the Dodgers signed to a mammoth $62.5 million contract this offseason. But Olivera is already 30, and has played in just 19 games in the minors this season, hitting .348/.392/.493 with two homers in Rookie ball, AA, and AAA. But while the Braves won’t be on the hook for Olivera’s entire bonus, they’re still going to be paying him $32.5 million through 2020. That’s a lot of money for a 30-year old with a questionable injury history and a limited track record of success – Olivera didn’t play in Cuba in either 2012 or 2014.

The other two names going to the Braves are minor. Paco Rodriguez was the Dodgers’ second round pick in the 2012 Draft, and has been a mainstay in their bullpen ever seen. In 10 1/3 innings in the majors this year, Rodriguez has a 2.61 ERA to go along with eight strikeouts and three walks. He’s been on the DL following back surgery at the end of June, and is expected to be back in the majors by the end of August at the earliest. Zach Bird’s a 21-year old starter that has spent the year in high-A, punching out 95 and walking 48 in 89 innings while notching a 4.75 ERA in the hitter-friendly California League. He’s a hard thrower with shaky control, and could end up in the bullpen.

Heading back to the Miami end of the deal for a moment, the return for the Marlins for Latos and Michael Morse is minimal, as expected. Victor Araujo is a 25-year old relievers that has a 5.40 ERA in 50 innings at high-A, striking out 55 and walking 14. Jeff Brigham is a 23-year old that was the Dodgers’ fourth round pick in last June’s Draft. He’s split the year between A-ball and high-A, and has a 5.52 ERA in 75 innings, punching out 75 and walking 38. Kevin Guzman is a 20-year old that has spent the year in A-ball, and has  a 3.90 ERA in 83 innings, striking out 62 and walking 29. Brigham was the only one who was a top 30 prospect for the Dodgers coming into the year.

Let’s get the easy parts about this analysis out of the way – the Marlins are a joke of an organization that will always talk about “going for it” and what have you, only to pull the plug a few months later when “things don’t work out”. They’ll probably do it again this winter, and I hope we all don’t fall into the trap of overvaluing them once again. Giancarlo, get the hell out of there.

As for the Dodgers, they gave up a handful of lower level minor leaguers, a hurt reliever, and a high-priced Cuban import with a questionable future for two legitimate middle of the rotation (or better) starting pitchers, two solid bullpen arms, a prospect with some diminished value, and a bench bat. Yes, the Dodgers essentially burned through $28 million on Olivera, and are eating what’s left of the Latos and Morse contracts, but they’re the Dodgers and can afford to do that. Having money has more benefits than just being able to outbid everyone on the free agent market.

Finally, there are the Braves, who…well, come out of this in a weird place. Trading Johnson and Avilan makes all the sense in the word – they’re both relievers, disposable assets who can explode or begin to regress at any moment. I also understand trading Peraza and Wood – Peraza’s value had declined this year, and there were questions about whether or not he’d be able to even earn solid playing time in Atlanta. Wood has been a dependable starter for the Braves over the past two seasons, but he already has one Tommy John surgery on his ledger and the Braves have plenty of starting pitching depth in their system after this winter’s trades. He might not even be long for Los Angeles – there are rumblings that the Dodgers could use him as the centerpiece of a trade for David Price.

However, I do need to question the return. Atlanta was very interested in Olivera this spring, so they’re obviously familiar with him. I just question his placement in this trade as the big return for the Braves. He’s a 30-year old, meaning that his best years are already behind him. His eventual signing this winter was delayed because of issues with his medicals related to a possible future Tommy John surgery. Olivera has played so little this season that it’s worth wondering if he’ll even be called up by the Braves during the season’s final two months. If he’s not the complete package that the Braves believe he is, the team essentially gave away Alex Wood and Jose Peraza, two other potential long-term building blocks, for a draft pick and a reliever. That’s not a good look.

Atlanta’s entire return in this deal depends on Olivera. If he can be the type of player that the Braves can build around, trading Wood and Peraza for him will look a lot better in hindsight than it does now. Even if Olivera doesn’t hit like Jose Abreu or Yoenis Cespedes, he still could have value at third base, given how weak the position is across the league. But Cuban players aren’t a guarantee (hello, Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena), and that’s why I’m having some pause here. If Olivera is another bust, this trade could end up being simply catastrophic for the Braves.

About Joe Lucia

I'm the managing editor of Awful Announcing and the news editor of The Comeback. I also made The Outside Corner a thing for six seasons.

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