Bill Shanks

Braves seeing benefits from trades

Atlanta Braves' Adonis Garcia, left, singles to score teammate Mallex Smith, rear right, in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday in Atlanta.
Atlanta Braves' Adonis Garcia, left, singles to score teammate Mallex Smith, rear right, in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday in Atlanta. AP

There is a clear reason the Atlanta Braves have one of the best farm systems in baseball. The trades made to rebuild the farm system were, for the most part, successful.

That’s the sad part about what’s going on now in Atlanta. The daily progress being made to make the Braves great again is overshadowed by the hideous play of the big league team and the daily countdown to when the team fires its manager.

But make no mistake about it. The Braves are loaded, and you can thank the trades made for the progress.

Atlanta’s front office had a clear advantage over the management that had the last rebuilding job for the franchise. Back in the late-1980s, the Braves did not have established veterans like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, B.J. Upton and Craig Kimbrel to use in deals for young prospects.

Let’s focus on two of those deals. The Braves knew Heyward and Upton would cost a ton when they hit free agency last winter. Instead of going into the last year of the contracts with the players, they decided to deal both.

The Heyward trade might go down as one of the best in Atlanta’s history. The original deal was Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins.

Miller was really good for the Braves last season, despite his awful won-loss record. He was then sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks for center fielder Ender Inciarte, shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson and pitching prospect Aaron Blair.

So the deal now looks like this: Heyward and Walden for Inciarte, now the starting center fielder; Blair, who is now in Atlanta’s rotation; Jenkins, who is knocking on the door in Triple-A and might be in Atlanta soon; and Swanson, Atlanta’s top prospect who is not far off.

Heyward didn’t even sign with the Cardinals for the long-term, bolting instead for the money with the Chicago Cubs.

Upton was sent to the San Diego Padres with young pitcher Aaron Northcraft for four young players: infielders Jace Peterson and Dustin Peterson (no relation), outfielder Mallex Smith and pitching prospect Max Fried.

Jace Peterson was Atlanta’s starting second baseman last year. He’s back in Triple-A now, for some reason. Dustin Peterson is becoming a solid outfield prospect. He started Saturday hitting .274 in Double-A with three home runs and 16 RBI in 106 at bats. Dustin is now arguably a better prospect than his brother D.J., who was once a top prospect for Seattle but has regressed.

Smith is getting his feet wet in Atlanta, and he has been impressive in his first 21 games. Smith has a great chance to be a leadoff man for the Braves for years to come.

Fried is getting interesting. He missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. The Braves finally have him back on the mound this year in Low-A Rome, and Fried is regaining his status as a top prospect. The lefty has 23 strikeouts in 23 innings in his first five starts, and Fried is getting his velocity back. He was recently clocked at 97 miles per hour with his fastball.

Upton did not re-sign with the Padres. Instead, he took the money from Detroit.

These two deals stand out. These trades netted two everyday starters (Inciarte and Smith), a member of the rotation (Blair) and four top prospects (Swanson, Jenkins, Peterson and Fried).

The Braves would have lost Heyward and Upton for nothing more than a draft pick if they had not been traded and then left via free agency. But instead, these trades have given the Braves a solid foundation for the future.

Keep that in mind as you watch the big league team struggle in Atlanta. There is hope.

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