Top pick highlights Shelby-to-Arizona deal
Atlanta elated to acquire '15 No. 1 overall selection Swanson, along with Inciarte and Blair
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As the Braves look toward the future, they are hoping that within the next couple of years they find themselves in the current position of the D-backs, who have spent the past week proving they are willing to pay significant costs as they enter win-now mode.
Though the Braves might be a few years away from being considered legitimate postseason contenders again, they certainly further enriched their future hopes Wednesday, when they got the D-backs to provide a rich return in exchange for the immediate luxury to add Shelby Miller to their suddenly imposing starting rotation.
Atlanta traded Miller and Minor League reliever Gabe Speier to Arizona in exchange for outfielder Ender Inciarte, right-hander Aaron Blair and shortstop Dansby Swanson, who was the top overall selection in the 2015 Draft.
"We wanted to make it painful for [the D-backs] with players that we got back," Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said. "They are players that we think are going to be a big part of our future."
As the past week progressed, the Braves made it clear they wouldn't trade Miller unless they gained a significant return. But based on overwhelming reaction to the trade within the industry, it seems obvious that they gained more than most had envisioned possible.
That's not to say this was a bad deal from the perspective of the D-backs, who have become legitimate National League pennant contenders as they have added Zack Greinke and Miller to their rotation this week. Instead, it is just the product of an evaluation that provided a rebuilding team two players (Swanson and Blair) who are on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, as well as another talented young player in Inciarte, who will seemingly serve as Atlanta's leadoff man and center fielder.
"I know there has been some positive spin on our end with this deal," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "We're obviously happy with what we got back, otherwise we wouldn't have made the deal. But let's not lose sight that Arizona got back some really good value, too.
"The Diamondbacks have a really good team, and [Miller] just made them a whole lot better. If I'm [the Dodgers or Giants], it's a rough [day], because [the D-backs] just got a whole lot better."
Arizona was among the first clubs to show strong interest in Miller, who produced a 3.02 ERA over the 33 starts he made during his only season in Atlanta. Swanson was included in most of the regular conversations these two teams shared over the past month.
But the deal did not truly take shape until Tuesday afternoon, when Coppolella and D-backs GM Dave Stewart escaped their team suites at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel to discuss specifics.
The Braves felt they had strong offers from at least five clubs, including the Dodgers and Giants. But the D-backs' offer was most appealing because of the level of talent that was either already Major League-ready or close to it.
"It's a team effort, but this deal doesn't happen without [Coppolella]," Hart said. "This one you have to tip your hat to John and the yeoman's work he did to put this thing together. "
Though the Braves understand this is a deal that could weaken the potential of the young rotations they will utilize the next couple of seasons, they recognize the tremendous value gained by essentially gaining two middle-of-the-diamond assets that they can control for much of the next decade, and an advanced pitching prospect in Blair, who could become a part of Atlanta's rotation in 2016.
The Braves viewed this deal as a pivot point in their massive rebuilding process that began last November when they traded Jason Heyward because they knew they wouldn't re-sign him this offseason. Had they kept Heyward, they would have received the 35th pick in the 2016 Draft as compensation for his free-agent exit. Instead, by trading Heyward to the Cardinals for Miller and Tyrell Jenkins, they received one year of Miller in their rotation, Inciarte, the upside value provided by Blair and Jenkins, and, maybe most impressively, Swanson without having to pay the $6.5 million signing bonus he received when he was taken with this year's first overall selection.
"The really exciting thing about this trade is none of the players we got are light years away," Coppolella said.
Inciarte instantly enriches Atlanta's outfield with the speed and defensive abilities he has shown since reaching the Major League level last year. The versatile 25-year-old outfielder batted .303, compiled a .747 OPS and recorded 21 stolen bases in 132 games with Arizona in 2015. He was also credited with 29 Defensive Runs Saved as he skillfully manned each outfield position.
Swanson provided a glimpse of his tremendous potential as he batted .289 with a .876 OPS as he played the first 22 games of his professional career with Class A Hillsboro this year. The 21-year-old Vanderbilt University product is ranked by MLB.com as the game's 10th-best prospect and fourth-best shortstop prospect. The suburban Atlanta native was raised approximately 10 minutes from SunTrust Park, which will become the Braves' home stadium in 2017.
If Swanson makes steady progress next season, he could reach the Majors during the 2017 season. It remains to be seen whether he or Ozzie Albies will make the transition from shortstop to second base. But Swanson has a stronger arm than Albies, who also ranks as one of Atlanta's top five prospects.
"It didn't hurt that Dansby Swanson was born and raised five minutes from our new ballpark and was an all-world guy at Vanderbilit and was a No. 1 guy in the Draft that our guys loved," Hart said.
Blair could provide the Braves the Major League-ready arm they were seeking to eat some of the innings lost via Miller's departure. The 23-year-old right-hander produced a 2.92 ERA over the 26 appearances he combined to make at the Double-A and Triple-A levels this year. He ranks as MLB.com's 61st-best overall prospect.
"Aaron Blair is a starter we very much like," Hart said. "We feel this is a guy who is very close to the Major Leagues-ready pitcher, even above some of our other upside guys like Sean Newcomb or a [Lucas] Sims. Aaron Blair, we feel, is a very special guy."
The Braves seem to feel the same way about each of the three players acquired in this deal who will have a great impact on their attempt to create longstanding success, similar to what the Atlanta fans celebrated throughout the 1990s.