The magical trading wand in major league baseball does not stop at the July 31st deadline. MLB’s August trade deadline has recently generated its first high-profile and somewhat controversial trade between the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians. Chris Johnson (INF) was traded to Cleveland in exchange for Nick Swisher (1B) and Michael Bourn (CF) with cash considerations of up to $10 million, the latter whom returns to the Braves for a second tenure.
By controversial, I by no means refer to the individuals involved and the value of personnel going to both organisations. The Indians are in a slump and have slipped out of contention for the AL Wild Card spots, but are still within a competitive regime under the wing of skipper Terry Francona. Current 3B Lonnie Chisenhall is struggling, hitting only .216 with a .608 OPS. Chris Johnson is also limping along with a slightly improved .235 average, but it’s his performance against left-handed batters that ignites his trade value for the Indians. In 62 at-bats, Johnson is hitting .323 and a .732 OPS against left-handed pitchers. With Chisenhall being a left-handed hitter, the right-handed bat of Johnson can slip into a very convenient platoon at the hot corner. He’s also a renown locker room player with a very passionate character on the field, who is not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve.
What Cleveland gave up for the platoon-role Johnson was even more of a win. The fact that they gave up two major-league players, thereby opening up a spot on the 25-man roster, was a very smart manoeuvre by GM Chris Antonetti. Even with cash considerations sent to Atlanta to cover some of the cost of both hefty salaries on Bourn ($13.5 million) and Swisher ($15 million), the Indians free up a tonne of budget space for the upcoming offseason and the short-term future. Bourn is hitting .375 and an OPS of .866 over the last two weeks, so the Indians are shipping him off at the right time given his current hot streak. Watch out for a potential DFA by the Braves on current starting LF Jonny Gomes, who is in negative figures in WAR for the third consecutive season (-0.7).
Nick Swisher has been off the 25-man roster since mid-June due to his ongoing knee injury that spans back to 2013. He was recently on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Columbus and was about to be activated onto the Indians roster before the trade occurred. A .198 average and .261 OBP in 2015 showcases the steep decline of Swisher’s offensive contributions since 2013. That being said, certain splits do reveal some niche value in the former All-Star’s bat. Against starting pitchers, Swisher is batting .274. Against finesse pitchers, Swisher is hitting .333. Pinch hitting is undoubtedly the primary role for Swisher with young talent Eury Perez (.288) beginning to break through into the starting line-up in the outfield.
Cleveland save money, free up space and find a potential short-term contributor while the organisation can focus on bigger priorities for the future of their major-league roster. A win. So how do the Braves win in this trade? We’ve already covered the potential need in Swisher as a pinch hitter, but given the slacking bat of Gomes, the need for a potential replacement in the outfield is very much-needed. Even with Perez waiting in the wings, Bourn offers a sub-par contact hitter with stellar speed both across the base paths and with the glove in the outfield. It’s worth noting that Johnson is owed $19.5 million for the remainder of his contract, of which expires after 2016. You do the maths: both teams off-set their differences and balance the books. For the Braves, this means Swisher and Bourn are expendable come the offseason, which is nothing but ideal.
The Braves get to ship off a pricey salary of a player that had finally declined beyond patience. Their received cash balances all payments and receive two recognised veteran figures that can contribute towards any roster, even in the most niche, unusual of fashions. A win for the Braves also.
Now this trade would have made many more headlines if either one of the two teams were competing for a postseason push. Neither are even close, which is why the trade can be seen as controversial. Why do this trade now? Cleveland are 49-58, the third lowest ranked team in the American League. Atlanta are 49-60, 11 games off the second Wild Card berth. Braves fans in particular know just how quickly a double-figure deficit can disappear in the final two months (referring to their infamous collapse in 2011), but projecting either one of these teams to seriously make a push and contend would be far too farfetched.
Both the Indians and the Braves get praise for their efforts in offloading unnecessary, overly expensive space on their major-league rosters and receiving personnel who can benefit their clubs now, with no concern over long-term investment in the players involved. It’s short-term, low risk, and budget saving; both the Indians and the Braves pull off one of the better win-win trades in 2015. But the circumstances of both teams, given their rebuilding states, will always carry a stigma of oddity towards such a trade with high-profile names and big contracts and money being thrown around the playing field.