July 31st has got to be the funniest day of the baseball year. Fans wait around for hours, hitting refresh on their computers, listening to the radio, waiting for ESPN to break in with news of some trade with their favorite team.
This will be a day many Braves' fans may never forget. No, the Braves didn't make a huge move, only an addition by subtraction deal of trading Jorge Sosa to St. Louis. But it's the deal that didn't happen that might be talked about for a long time.
Who cares of the machinations of who called whom. I've heard different things telling both sides of the story. Some say the Braves
'floated' Andruw Jones' name out after the disaster on Saturday, just to see what teams might offer. While others say the Red Sox called Sunday night, perhaps in response to the Yankees' acquisition of Phillies' outfielder Bobby Abreu.
Bottom line is the Red Sox had some interest in Andruw Jones, and the Braves told them it would take three players: rookie lefty starter Jon Lester, rookie reliever Craig Hansen, and centerfielder CoCo Crisp.
The Red Sox said no, and the talks were over.
But the fact that the discussions took place are interesting. Again, forget who called first. The Braves listened at least, and even told the Sox who it would take to get Andruw in Beantown.
At first, my first thought was a bit defensive. Trade Andruw Jones? He's 29 for crying out loud. Why trade him. But I love pitchers, and the thought of getting Lester and Hansen in a Braves' uniform tempted me a great deal. If I was GM and the Red Sox agreed to it, I would have done that deal.
Yes, I would have traded Andruw Jones.
Would that be throwing in the white flag for 2006? Not necessarily. I think John Schuerholz must be realistic right now. He can't give up completely on this year, despite the debacle in the last six games. But he's got to look more closely at the long-term interests of this club than he has in the past.
It's not over - at least not in the wildcard race. Yeah, the division deal is history. But we're still only 6.5 games out in the wildcard, and while it's hard to be optimistic after watching the last six games, we've got to remember that of the 58 games left, only 9 are against teams with winning records. I just wish all of them were on the road.
In previous years when the Braves were either running away with the division or in a close race, the current season had to be the most important thing on Schuerholz's plate. Nothing else matters when you know you have an excellent shot at the postseason. Well, the Braves don't have an excellent shot at the postseason this year. They've got a shot, but it sure as heck can't be termed as 'excellent.'
So since it's not a great shot, Schuerholz has got to be realistic. He knows that another week or so like the one we just finished will put this team in the 2007 mode really quick. This club is teetering on the brink right now. They can save themselves, if they play like they did in the first nine games after the All-Star Break. But if they play like they have in their last six, this season will be over.
Since the playoffs are not a slam dunk, the long-term future of this organization must be just as important as the short-term. Therefore, you didn't see Jarrod Saltalamacchia traded for some Kip Wells-type Monday afternoon. Instead, the Braves' GM looked at a deal that might have given the team a better overall long-term outlook.
Remember June 16th? Jon Lester beat the Braves for his first big league win that night. He allowed only one run on five hits in six innings. The 22-year-old lefty looked like Steve Avery. Since then he's established himself as the Red Sox' third best starter and gotten raves from around baseball.
Hansen is a former first round pick out of St. Johns who has solid potential, while Crisp could have replaced Andruw in center and done a decent job.
The desire for the pitching led to Schuerholz having any interest in making this trade. And if you think about it, why shouldn't he?
Atlanta's pitching has gotten a bit thin at the top level of the farm system. Why is this? Well, first off, we've 'graduated' a number of players (Chuck James, Kyle Davies, Macay McBride, Blaine Boyer) to Atlanta in the last season and a half.
But we've also used the system and traded a number of prospects (Adam Wainwright, Dan Meyer, Bubba Nelson, Jose Capellan, Zach Miner, and Roman Colon) for more established players. These kids would either be in Atlanta or Richmond right now, but instead they are elsewhere.
When you look at our AAA and AA teams, there are only a few pitchers that are legit starting prospects (Anthony Lerew, Francisley Bueno, and Matt Harrison), but none of those guys are even considered top-of-the-rotation starters. Most of our pitching depth, and our better prospects, are in Myrtle Beach and lower, meaning they are a few years away.
So with John Smoltz 39 years old and our supposed next ace Tim Hudson pitching more like Albie Lopez the last few months, don't blame Schuerholz for having an interest in possibly bringing in some fresh new arms. We've been a pitching-heavy organization for a long time, but injuries and trades and simple lack of productivity have put us in a desperate search for quality pitchers.
No one (fans, reporters, Schuerholz) wants to see Andruw Jones leave the Atlanta Braves. If we could, we'd all see him walk off that field in a Braves' uniform for the last time in about ten years. But Mr. Scott Boras, Andruw's agent, has already said out loud that there will be no hometown discount for the Braves this time around. Yeah, Andruw and his dad went around Boras the last time to get a deal done with Schuerholz, but Boras has said it won't happen again.
So if he cannot be re-signed soon, and with the ownership in purgatory it won't happen soon anyway, rumors are going to float from now until the end of the 2007 season about a Jones trade. And Schuerholz should explore deals if Jones is not going to re-sign. The heck with losing a player like that to free agency. You've got to get something for him.
My preference would be for the Braves to make a decision this winter. They should say internally that they've got to have Jones signed to a long-term deal by, let's say December 1st, or he's trade-bait.
The fact that Schuerholz simply listened to the Red Sox in the last 48 hours tells you he's had to think about this. No one more than he wants to avoid a 'situation' with Scott Boras. Remember they don't do lunch very often. So if Schuerholz sees the situation getting out of hand this fall or this winter, you can almost bet that Andruw will be on the market.
And won't that be interesting. We got a glimpse of it Monday, and it was a zoo. Most loved the thought of getting some young pitchers to set up the next five years, but after the last week it might just be defeat-fatigue settling in.
Either way, we are seeing a residual effect of this very mediocre year. It is causing our front office to see if this organization has hit a fork in the road. Perhaps this mix just didn't work, and we need to see if putting guys like Andruw and Hudson and Giles on the trading block can get us that right mix. We already know that Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, and Kyle Davies are the future of this organization. But this little trade rumor that popped up Monday may show that beyond those three, nothing is written in stone.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.