The Braves seem to have reached the conclusion over the last week and a half that winning is severely overrated. If I were Rany Jazayerli -- who wrote for us recently! awesome! -- I would have the talent and ability to write long, elegaic, thoughtful deconstructions of everything the team has done wrong, presenting Bobby Cox's woefully bad in-game decisions as a literary affront to human reason, and lamenting the unbelievable streakiness of our front 2 hitters, Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar.
(Speaking of whom: since April 12, Kelly is 3 for his last 27, and Yunel is 4 for his last 23. Over that period, the Braves are 2-7. Kinda understandably.)
Unfortunately, Rany is not just a better dermatologist than I am, he's also a better baseball writer than I am. And, obviously, after just 14 games, there's a definite sample size problem to writing the team's current lack of success into an overall narrative for the 2009 season. But I can assess individual decisions in the context in which they were made.
So: the Boyer trade.
I like it, but it's a slightly good coda to a really sad story. Blaine Boyer was a very talented pitcher in our minor leagues (and childhood friend of our contributor JD Stuart) who had a great rookie season in 2005 -- a 3.11 ERA in 43 games, arguably the third-best rookie performance among the Baby Braves, behind Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur -- and then missed most of the next two years following shoulder surgery in April 2006.
In his first healthy season since that, Bobby pushed his arm to the limit, deploying him in 76 games, 20 times on back-to-back days. He racked up 44 2/3 innings in the first three months of the season (with a 3.69 ERA, which is why he kept being sent out there), leading a lot of us to worry that his arm would fall off. Bobby eased off in the second half, only pitching him 4 times in September, but the damage seems to have been done, as his ERA jumped more than 2 runs in July, August, and September, and he's been terrible this year, to the extent that the Braves ended up designating him for assignment and trading him for a stalled Cardinals prospect named Brian Barton.
Barton's a right-handed outfielder, which we entered the offseason needing more of, and while he's not the answer to our offensive problems, the's a useful bench bat, a righty with some on-base skill and some pop -- he hit .268/.354/.392 last year in limited service, which would have looked wonderful in our outfield, and he has a career minor league line of .314/.413/.475. A knee injury sustained in 2006 seems to have hurt his productivity, but he's still pretty good, and a very good return for a guy whose arm Bobby wrecked.
Unfortunately, though, the Braves ended up turning a very promising arm into an outfielder with an injury history, as they did with Joey Devine. (Kyle Davies, of course, turned into 8 innings of an injured reliever, as Rany pointed out.) I like Barton, but he's damaged goods -- then again, so's Boyer at this point. Bobby Cox's bad bullpen management is costing the Braves human assets, as well as one-run games.