Gutman: Just call them the Atlanta Cowards

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

The Atlanta Braves were once a model franchise. Under the brilliant guidance of John Schuerholz, the team featured a dominant pitching rotation with players like John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. These superstars led the proud franchise to a ridiculous 14 consecutive division titles between 1991 and 2005. The Braves in the 1990s were like the Backstreet Boys: They just kept coming up with big hits. But now, again like the Backstreet Boys, they only make headlines when they screw up.

Brilliant Schuerholz moves, like the acquisition of Fred McGriff in 1993 and the 1999 trade deadline acquisitions that helped the Braves reach the World Series, sustained this mid-market franchise. They dominated the National League East not by outspending the other teams, but rather by out-thinking them. Schuerholz consistently fleeced the league like Yale dining halls rob Yale’s visitors.

Toward the end of Schuerholz’ regime, the wheels began to fall off. The Braves failed to win the title in 2006 … and 2007. So Schuerholz passed the torch to Frank Wren, hoping that Wren could revive the Braves, who were fading fast. One of Wren’s first big moves was trading Mark Teixeira to the Angels for a package headlined by Casey Kotchman. It was a return on investment — the players the Braves traded to the Rangers for Teixeira — comparable to my current return on investment in the stock market (hint: I’m broke). Trading Teixeira for Kotchman is like trading your Babe Ruth rookie card for three Pogs and a Meowth Pokémon card. It’s a nice return, but think about what you gave up to get that rookie card in the first place. At least six Pogs and a Charizard.

Wren found himself needing to rebuild the once-fabled Braves rotation this winter. He responded by landing Javier Vasquez, a nice pitcher but no dominant force. Vasquez managed to finish four games under .500 on a relatively good White Sox team that made the playoffs and posted an ERA of 4.67. But Vasquez posted a worse ERA last season than Jamie Moyer, and still made $11.5 million, $5.5 million more than Moyer.

But why is Moyer relevant? He had better numbers than Vasquez last year and is cheaper. Perhaps most importantly, however, Moyer could have come at no price to the Braves’ franchise — he was an unrestricted free agent. The Braves, in trading for Vasquez, parted with three top prospects including Jo-Jo Reyes, a young 24-year-old with an ERA about a run worse than Vasquez. Few doubt that in two years Reyes, improving each start, will outstrip Vasquez, a mediocre pitcher over the course of his career who is only getting older. The other two prospects the Braves traded, including shortstop Brent Lillibridge, will also become nice pieces.

Wren is like a bachelor who went to Vegas looking for a wife. He sold his house and bought a two million dollar ring to land that chick he met the night before. Sure, he found a wife. But he could have found a better one, or at least paid less for the one he got. And now he has no house and a wife with a gambling problem. And Schuerholz can’t get the Braves out of it.

So Wren swung and missed again, trading crucial, promising young talent for a mediocre and overpaid starter when he could have signed a comparable free agent for less money and no players. Now his rotation, weak at best, depends on stellar performances from a chronic underachiever. And his organization lacks top prospects like Jo-Jo Reyes because he traded them away. Wren is no Schuerholz. And for that reason these Braves barely resemble the Braves of a decade ago. Instead of battling for the title year in and year out, they fold by the trade deadline and enter rebuilding mode, something manager Bobby Cox thought he’d never have to understand. Wren, by building his team wrongly and by straying from Schuerholz’ model, is undermining what it means to be the Atlanta Braves. For the next few years, call them the Atlanta Cowards.

Collin Gutman is a junior in Pierson College.


  • Dawn

    Uh… They didn't trade Jo-Jo Reyes. Braves fans only wish they had. So there goes that point. Also, if you knew anything at all about baseball, you would know what a painfully weak measure W/L and ERA are of a pitcher's worth.

  • Eddie

    Opinion pieces are the best when they're misinformed, so "bravo" young wordslinger. This must be Yale-Minningford Community College in suburban Des Moines. Learn a pitching stat besides W-L record and ERA and then try to tell me this trade fleeced the Braves and Frank Wren. The majority of the baseball press views the trade as a fleecing for the Braves. One elegant phrase sums up your failing attempts at witty sports analogy: STFU.

  • SAP

    You are a terrible journalist. Get your facts straight.


    You do realize that Jo Jo Reyes wasn't traded, right? The only person REMOTELY considered a top prospect was Tyler Flowers. If you knew baseball, which obviously you don't, you would realize that Flowers would have a very, very difficult time cracking the MLB Roster for the Braves, with McCann blocking him at catcher, and Kotchman and Freddie Freeman blocking him at first base.

    Furthermore, Lillibridge's prospect status has dropped after his poor performance last year. Not a top prospect. Jon Gilmore spent most the year repeating rookie ball, not even Low-A.

    However, you think this is a horrible trade for Atlanta. Its called "dealing from strength." Further proving you know nothing about baseball, much less the Braves.

    While you are correct about John Schuerholz being a great mind and great GM, he had Ted Turners check book. For many years, the Braves were only 2nd to the New York Yankees in annual pay roll for the roster. So to make a erroneous statement as "They dominated the National League East not by outspending the other teams," it shows your lack of knowledge, as John was never one to pinch pennies.

    If you are going slander a MLB franchise, at least get your facts correct. I hope you and your "journalism" friends have fun the rest of your academic careers listening to the Backstreet Boys and playing with POGS and Pokemon.

  • Jack (Davenport College)

    For the moment, let's ignore the barrage of forced and ill-conceived similes. Pogs and the Backstreet Boys? I just thought of my own! "You write like a twelve-year-old Bill Simmons."

    This article shows a remarkable lack of understanding of baseball and a refusal to complete even the most basic research. Your analysis of Vazquez is based on his ERA and W/L record? Those statistics are antiquated and misleading. I'm not saying you're wrong about him, but let's dig a little deeper into his performance statistics before passing judgment. His ERA will likely drop a run once he returns to the NL, and the Braves need a 200 inning guy. Let's not kid ourselves- he's no Peavy. Or even Burnett. But it's not nearly as pathetic as you say. I would hardly call $11.5 million per year overpaid.

    In a more glaring error, Jo-Jo Reyes wasn't even traded. The Braves let go of Brent Lillibridge (who was simply horrible last season), Jon Gilmore (years away from being useful), Tyler Flowers (a fantastic talent, but would never have jumped McCann), and Santos Rodriguez (… ok, this one might bite them in the future. He could be very good).

    It's tough to take a column seriously when it's foundations are distractingly incorrect. Calling Reyes a "top prospect" and declaring the Braves system devoid of other top prospects is laughable.

    To be fair, I have enjoyed many of your columns in the past and look forward to more next semester. It's a good thing having more Redskins supporters around. However, this particular column missed the mark.

  • palioc33

    After reading this article it seems as if you have no concept of baseball whatsoever. Jo-Jo Reyes did not get better every start. He got worse as the year went on. Brent Lillibridge and an A level relief pitcher are hardly crucial.

    Also you should stop writing these analogies since they really just don't work and are clearly just an attempt by you to seem clever when you just come off as an idiot. So you should actually do some research on your topic before you actually write about it. It's called Journalism. Give it a try.

  • Paul C.

    The title of this article doesn't make sense. What does making some wrong moves in the front office have to do with being cowards? The reason the Braves traded Teixeira for Kotchman was because they knew they would not be able to afford to re sign Tex after the 2008 season. Kotchman and Stephen Marek, a pitcher who is on his way to the majors, were more likely to be a greater return than the compensation draft pics the Braves would have received had they let Tex walk at the end of the 2008 season via free agency.
    You do understand that whole process don't you?
    The Braves also did NOT trade Jo Jo Reyes for Javier Vasquez.
    Finally, John Schuerholz is still the team president, and you can bet he still has a hand in every deal the Braves make. Sometimes things pan out, sometimes they don't.
    If you have any questions for me feel free to ask, I'm here to help! I'm not sure I'll be able to give you any of the quirky analogies you seem so eager to inject into your stories, but I'll at least be able to provide you with some much needed facts.

  • Laffin'@U

    Dearest Collin,

    Love that you appear so passionate about the Braves, clearly you are a disappointed fan. Hate the fact you have a public voice but don't even bother to check your facts. Your attempt at journalism has more errors than analogies. Here's a hint … Jo-Jo Reyes WAS NOT traded.

    Maybe you'll do better next time.

  • Connor

    I am so offended that this is an actual Yale Daily News article. There are so many errors it's absurd. You can't spell Javier Vazquez's name right. We didn't include Jo-Jo Reyes in the deal, which is the basis for a big portion of your argument. Brent Lillibridge at best is a utility infielder. If you knew anything about the Braves, you would know that the package we actually gave up was not "three top prospects". The best player we gave up (Tyler Flowers, who isn't even mentioned in the article) was not even one of our top 5 prospects according to Baseball Prospectus. There is plenty more about your article that it utterly ridiculous that I don't even want to get into. Do yourself a favor and never write about sports again.

  • Kristi

    Jo-Jo Reyes was NOT part of the trade. The Braves press release states: "In exchange for Vazquez and left-handed reliever Boone Logan, the White Sox received shortstop Brent Lillibridge, catcher Tyler Flowers, left-handed pitcher Santos Rodriguez and third baseman Jon Gilmore."

  • Adolph Hernipol

    Did the editor not proof read this at all? The entire article is horribly inaccurate.

    The Braves traded four players, not three. V-A-Z-Q-U-E-Z. Jo-Jo Reyes was not traded. The Braves out spent most people in the 1990s, they had a top five payroll every year. The Braves don't make any headlines, good or bad, because it's impossible to compete with giant markets like the Yankees and Red Sox in the tabloids. Lillibridge was a good prospect in 2006 (it's 2008 by the way). Using Win-Loss record and ERA is a horrible way to measure a pitcher, again it's 2008 not 1975. It is pure speculation that the Braves have no intention on signing Jamie Moyer, who is a Type A and *will cost* the Braves 2009 draft picks to sign. Jo-Jo Reyes was never considered a top prospect, not even among their top five. in fact, I giggled a little when I read that he was one of their best prospects - I'll measure Reyes in your standards, 3-11 record with a 5.81 ERA (screams top prospect doesn't it?) The Braves have consistently had one of the best farm systems (you know, that reputation of all that homegrown talent they have?) placing consistently in the Majors top ten every year. If you've been keeping up with the Jake Peavy talks, which I'm sure you have, then you'd know the Braves haven't traded for him because they refuse to trade any of their top five prospects - which kind of contradicts you reporting that they keep trading top prospects away.

    Here's a look at the Vazquez trade: We gave up Tyler Flowers, who is very old for the league he just dominated, was suspended for steroid use a year ago, and 1B/DH that dominate high-A is not rare. Brent Lillibridge has the ceiling of a utility man right now, he's no longer viewed as a potential lead off hitter since he lost command of the strike zone with poor plate discipline in the higher levels of the minors. Jon Gilmore is nothing special, he was demoted back to Rookie Ball (The lowest level) after a poor performance in another level of the minors. Rodriguez has never played a game above Rookie ball. Will Gilmore and Rodriguez be good? They likely won't be stars, but they're not going to contribute to a MLB team until 2014. It was a fair price to play for a pitcher of Vazquez's caliber. The Braves did not give up any of their "blue chip" prospects (like my Las Vegas reference?) and they dealt from a position of strength.

  • Dubya

    Hey Colly-Col, don't listen to these morons, they're just jealous that they can't spin witty analogies filled with cultural references that must've had you chuckling at your keyboard like when I put one of the evil-doers in Guantanamera.

    Keep up the good work, you make me proud to have a degree from Pappy's U.

    Your friend and fellow baseball expert,

    George W. Bush