Braves Trade for Tim Hudson

Braves trade for Tim Hudson (AJC)

Photo: Oakland ace Tim Hudson was traded to Atlanta Thursday for outfielder Charles Thomas, reliever Juan Cruz and prospect Dan Meyer. The Braves got their man Thursday, finalizing a trade for Oakland Athletics ace Tim Hudson to give Atlanta what figures to be one of the best starting rotations in baseball. Atlanta gave up plenty, sending top left-handed prospect Dan Meyer, outfielder Charles Thomas and right-hander Juan Cruz to the Athletics in the deal. Moments after the trade was announced, the Braves unveiled another deal — they sent outfielder Eli Marrero and cash to Kansas City for pitcher Jorge Vasquez. But they got a bona fide ace who’s just entering his prime to pair with John Smoltz at the top of the rotation. Smoltz is moving back from the bullpen after three seasons as closer, and the Braves also have right-hander John Thomson and lefties Mike Hampton and Horacio Ramirez under contract.

It was Atlanta’s second big trade in a week. Last Saturday, the Braves acquired All-Star closer Dan Kolb from Milwaukee. “One of our goals going into the offseason was to strengthen our pitching staff,” Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. “We have certainly made a major improvement.”

Hudson, 29, has a 92-39 record and 3.30 ERA in six major league seasons, a .702 winning percentage that ranks third all-time among pitchers with at least 100 decisions. The two-time All-Star is Oakland’s career leader with a .702 winning percentage, and had four straight years with at least 15 wins and 200 innings before finishing 12-6 with a 3.53 ERA in 188 2/3 innings in 2004, when he was slowed by a sore hip.

The Columbus native and former Auburn standout is owed $6.75 million in 2005, after which he’s eligible for free agency. The Braves entered negotiations hoping that Hudson, who’s expressed a desire to pitch in Atlanta, would be signable to a long-term extension and not just a one-year rental, as right fielder J.D. Drew ended up being last season. Thomas made his major league debut last season and batted .288 with seven homers and 31 RBIs. Cruz was 6-2 with a 2.75 ERA in 50 relief outings. Meyer was 0-0 in two games with Braves after going 9-6 with a 2.49 ERA at Double-A Greenville and Triple-A Richmond.

Hudson is a great pickup. Whether it was worth the young arms they gave up depends on whether the team can sign him to a long term deal. Given their financial situation, that strikes me as unlikely. I agree with Mac Thomason that the Mererro deal is puzzling, though.

Smoltz signs two-year contract with Braves

The Atlanta Braves have signed right-hander John Smoltz to a new two-year contract that runs through 2006 — with a club option for 2007. Today’s announcement practically assures that the 37-year-old Smoltz will spend the rest of his career in a Braves uniform. Smoltz, one of the best pitchers in the team’s history, would have been a free agent after next season. He has a career record of 163 wins and 121 losses with 154 saves and a 3.27 E-R-A. The 1996 Cy Young Award winnner is one of just two pitchers — along with Dennis Eckersley — to have at least 150 wins and 150 saves.

The latest plan is for Smoltz to re-join the starting rotation next season. He missed the entire 2000 season after Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Smoltz moved to the bullpen in 2002 and became Atlanta’s all-time saves leader.

No surprise there, but a good move.

Update (2041): ESPN/AP:

Tim Hudson was traded from the Oakland Athletics to Atlanta, a blockbuster deal Thursday that further bolstered the Braves’ revamped rotation. Los Angeles, Boston and the New York Yankees were rumored to be pursuing Hudson, but the Braves swooped in and got the Oakland ace for outfielder Charles Thomas and pitchers Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer. With the A’s facing yet another payroll crunch, general manager Billy Beane finally broke up his Big Three starting rotation of Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.

It was Atlanta’s second big trade in a week. Last Saturday, the Braves acquired All-Star closer Dan Kolb from Milwaukee — a move that allowed them to move John Smoltz back into the rotation. “This winter, we have set our sights on going back to sort of the old-fashioned Braves’ way of building championship teams with dominant pitching,” Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said. “That’s what we think we have done, and we are excited about the pitching staff we have put together for the season.” Moments after the trade was announced, the Braves unveiled another deal — they sent outfielder Eli Marrero and cash to Kansas City for pitcher Jorge Vasquez. The Braves began the day by reaching agreement with Smoltz on a two-year contract. Schuerholz said the flurry of activity “helps us create one of the stronger pitching staffs we’ve had here for many, many years.” He first began talks with Beane during last weekend’s winter meetings in Anaheim.

The trade was finalized around midday Thursday, said Beane, who until Wednesday was still talking to three teams about Hudson. The A’s wanted to make sure they acquired a pitcher — Meyer — who could compete right away for a spot in the rotation. “Meyer has pitched at every level successfully,” Beane said. “He has a sterling track record up to this point, and he’s a guy we’ve always liked.” The Georgia-born Hudson joins a team that has won 13 straight division titles. The 29-year-old righty posted 81 wins from 2000-04, tied for the most in the AL over that span. He is 92-39 with a 3.30 ERA lifetime. “I’m excited for Tim,” said his agent, Paul Cohen. “His hope was to pitch a long time in Oakland. If not in Oakland, he had several environments he outlined. … I’m gratified he ended up going to a place where he’ll be happy.” Beane said he “needed to do something bold,” but it still wasn’t an easy decision. “This was the most difficult phone call I’ve ever had with a player about a trade or a departure,” Beane said. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with him. It was very difficult. We’re going to miss him, there’s no question. I don’t think the expectation is that we’ll be able to replace his personality and exactly what he brought to this franchise the last five years.” Rather than lose another homegrown superstar for nothing, Beane decided to land three valuable prospects even at the cost of a cornerstone of the small-market franchise’s unlikely success over the last half-decade. Beane is happy to see Hudson heading for the NL, though swapping him out of the league wasn’t a priority. “We certainly traded a major part of our franchise in Tim, but we’ve also upgraded,” Beane said. “I wasn’t eager to play against him. Quite frankly, no one in the division called. It wasn’t an option. I told Tim usually it’s not something you worry about, but I’m not disappointed he’s about as far away professionally as he can be.”

ESPN’s Buster Olney analyzes the trade:

The Move: Oakland trades All-Star pitcher Tim Hudson to Atlanta for reliever Juan Cruz, outfielder Charles Thomas and pitcher Dan Meyer.

The Upside: The Athletics moved Hudson because he will be eligible for free agency after the 2005 season, and they already have three good starting pitchers locked up in Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Rich Harden. If Cruz’s live arm translates, he could be a good middle reliever, and if Thomas — a hard-playing gamer and excellent fielder who batted .288 with seven homers in 83 games for the Braves in ’04 — continues to improve, he could develop into an every day player. Meyer was Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2002 and has shown some promise, but reports on him around baseball are mixed. For Atlanta, this deal puts the Braves in position to perhaps top the NL East for the 15th consecutive season, assuming that Hudson stays healthy. He is, in many respects, right out of the Greg Maddux mold — a terrific athlete with nasty stuff, and he should thrive in the NL. With John Smoltz and Hudson fronting the Atlanta rotation, the Braves will be tough; Atlanta must shore up its middle relief.

The Downside: From 2000-2004, the Athletics won about 65 percent of the games started by Hudson, Mulder and Zito, and when anybody else has pitched, their winning percentage is about .530. Now Oakland moves into a new era, without one member of the Big Three. In trading Hudson, the Athletics seemed to get three decent players — but not one sure-fire, superstar prospect, and that’s a surprise considering Hudson’s current marketability. Cruz has now been traded twice and has a 3.99 ERA pitching over four big-league seasons, Thomas seemed to come out of nowhere in ’04, and there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on Meyer yet; Baseball America rated him as the eighth-best prospect in the International League last year, and he was a No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft. The Braves will probably work hard to sign Hudson — who was born in Columbus, Ga. — to a long-term deal. Hudson could walk away, otherwise, after this season, and even if they do sign him, there are questions about whether Hudson, with his high-torque delivery and medium size, will have a long career.

Big Picture: Oakland may have more depth, but the Athletics are losing a warrior — and the Braves have added the perfect pitcher and person to inherent the legacy of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.

Agreed. More often than not, the team gaining a superstar in exchange for multiple merely good players comes out ahead. Again, though, that’s only true if the Braves can sign Hudson to a long term deal. Or if they win another World Series in their one year rental of Hudson.

David Pinto is even more optimistic:

Given Leo Mazzone’s success with broken down and bad pitchers, imagine what he’ll do with someone good. Hudson may throw 300 innings this year and win 30. 🙂 But it’s really a facsinating trade. Oakland gets Charles Thomas for the outfield. The 25-year-old started strongly for the Braves but faded every month. He’s not as good as he showed in July and not as bad as he played in September. At his age, I don’t consider him a prospect; he’s more of a good throw in.

Juan Cruz is a pitcher with the ability to strike out 8 to 9 batters per 9 IP. His walks aren’t bad, and his HR allowed are okay. He’ll fit in fine on the A’s staff.

Dan Meyer is the real prize. The 23 year old has struck out 381 batters in 350 minor league innings while walking only 87. His ERAs have been consistently under 3.00 in his three minor league seasons. In Meyer, the A’s get a new six-year window in which they hope to have an inexpensive all-star hurler. It’s a typical A’s move. They let a star go and fill in with a player or players with good skills at a much cheaper price.

The Braves have effectively replaced Russ Ortiz with Tim Hudson. I like that move. If Smoltz stays healthy, they have a much better rotation than they did last year. Schuerholz shows once again that he’s the master of slowly making over a team, patching every weakness as it appears. The Braves are once again in position to win the NL East.

Update (2156): Only the AJC could ask such a stupid poll question:

Who would you rather have traded for Tim Hudson? Charles Thomas or Marcus Giles

Uh, guys, Thomas was not the key player in this deal. The two pitchers were. Thomas is a better player than “probably a fourth or fifth outfielder” that Mac Thomason rates him, but he’s a throw-in.

Crossposted to SportsBlog and ABB

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. David Harris says:

    The Marrero trade cleared his salary off the books, and will probably result in another trade (perhaps for Sammy Sosa). With Hudson and Smoltz at the top of the rotation, though, it looks like the Braves will be tough to beat once again.

  2. Chad Evans says:

    The player worth watching in this deal is Juan Cruz. He’s a relief pitcher right now, but look for Oakland to put him into the rotation. He’s young with a good, live arm. It’s consistency and control that plagues Cruz, not lack of quality pitches.

  3. David Pinto says:

    Thanks for the link!