The last time the Atlanta Braves went through a rebuilding process was the late-1980s. Bobby Cox was the general manager. Like now, the Braves went with pitching.
They made a lot of moves back then, even more when John Schuerholz took over for Cox 26 years ago. But it might be the moves the Braves didn’t make that tell an interesting story and give us (and the current Braves’ front office) a lesson for today.
It is often said that the best trades are sometimes the ones that aren’t made. There would probably be a great book of stories from general manager who could tell us how they avoided a mess by not pulling the trigger on a trade.
Tom Glavine was a young pitcher trying to find his way in the late-80s. In his first full season, Glavine was 7-17 with an ERA of 4.56. Then in 1989, Glavine was 14-8 with a 3.68 ERA on a bad team. He started to show the potential that would lead him to Cooperstown.
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That solid 1989 season made other teams call for Glavine. Cox had a lot of trade discussions in the final years of his rebuild. Here are just a few reported rumors involving Glavine (most sources from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
January 30, 1989 – Cox talked to the Yankees about Jack Clark. Yankees wanted Glavine and John Smoltz
July 18, 1989 – Braves talked to the Pirates about a Glavine-Andres Thomas for Barry Bonds trade
July 22, 1989 – Red Sox wanted Glavine, Kent Mercker and Jeff Blauser for Wade Boggs
December 2, 1989 – Braves wanted Boggs or Scott Cooper – Red Sox mentioned Glavine
December 5, 1989 – Braves offered Glavine and Ron Gant for Mike Greenwell and Cooper. Red Sox also wanted Mercker. Atlanta countered by offering Gary Eave instead.
December 7, 1989 – Braves asked Phillies about Jeff Parrett or Roger McDowell. Phillies asked for Tom Glavine. Braves countered with Derek Lilliquist.
December 17, 1989 – Glavine, Mercker and Dale Murphy for Boggs and Carlos Quintana
December 3, 1990 – Braves talked to the Angels about Wally Joyner. Angels wanted Glavine and Jeff Treadway
December 5, 1990 – Braves talked to the Cubs about a deal sending Glavine and Blauser to Chicago for Shawon Dunston
December 5, 1990 – Braves talked to Astros about Glenn Davis. Houston wanted Glavine and Gant
It’s hard to imagine how history might have changed if Glavine had been traded. Obviously, a lot of teams wanted Glavine. And sure, Cox might have offered Glavine in the right deal, but the trigger was never pulled on a trade.
For several years in the late-1980s, the Red Sox were interested in Glavine. They wanted to bring Glavine home, as he was from Massachusetts. It seemed the Braves and Red Sox spoke for months with Glavine’s name involved, along with Boggs and Greenwell at the forefront of the discussions.
The Braves had a lot of pitchers then. Glavine, Smoltz, Mercker, Lilliquist, Tommy Greene and Steve Avery. It was an embarrassment of riches, and the long-term results may be never matched again. But Cox wisely held on to the correct ones, keeping Glavine even when it would have obviously been easy to include him in a deal.
There is no guarantee the Braves have a great pitcher in the organization now. Who knows 20 years from now if any pitcher, either in Atlanta now or in the farm system, will be looked at as a great pitcher. And it’s foolish to even wonder if one may be good enough to be in Cooperstown one day.
The history lesson of Cox holding Glavine is interesting as we see the Braves involved in trade discussions with several teams about other young, controllable pitchers. The price may be steep, and it’s likely several pitching prospects might be included in a major trade.
Chris Sale and Sonny Gray are under control for three years, while Chris Archer is under contract for five more years. They are all very enticing, as their immediate presence in Atlanta’s rotation could make the Braves playoff contenders.
But what if the Braves held on to their own pitchers? What if they simply were patient and kept the ones who have been accumulated in the last two years? At some point, several will have to be traded. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to see them for maybe one more years before including them in a trade?
Atlanta just added 42-year-old R.A. Dickey and 44-year-old Bartolo Colon to the rotation which already includes Julio Teheran, who will turn 26 in January, and 25-year-old Mike Foltynewicz. Dickey and Colon will be the bridge to the other young pitchers who are on the way.
Matt Wisler and Aaron Blair (who are both 24 years old) will get the first shot to be the fifth starter. But then there are four pitchers who could be ready at some point during the 2017 season: Sean Newcomb and Max Fried (Both 23 years old), Patrick Weigel and Lucas Sims (Both 22 years old).
Then there will be more who could be ready in 2018. Then more in 2019. That’s what the Braves have built – a potential assembly line of pitchers who could present numerous options on an annual basis.
The Braves’ evaluation of these pitchers will be critical. Twenty-six years ago, the Braves traded Greene and Lilliquist and kept Glavine and Smoltz. Will they be as fortunate again? And will there be a trade not made that could be just as important as the ones that are pulled off?
Time will tell, but it’s interesting how history shows us how the Braves believed in their young pitchers many years ago. You can’t keep them all, but picking the correct ones to not trade may be the most important decisions Atlanta’s front office will make in this rebuilding process.
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