The Atlanta Braves waited until the 51st minute of the last hour of baseball’s trade deadline to finally make a trade. As ace pitchers were being dealt around the league, and everyone in a Boston uniform had their bags packed and ready to move on, there was no news from the Braves.
While the Braves’ previously rumored top trade targets, reliever Andrew Miller and outfielder Chris Denorfia, were gobbled up by the Orioles and Mariners, respectively, there was no news about the Braves.
Then, with less than 10 minutes left, Hall of Fame writer Peter Gammons delivered the news.
Waiting on Bonafacio, maybe Russell to Braves\— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) July 31, 2014
It was still a "maybe" at that point, and fans had to wait another 40 minutes until the trade was confirmed by Braves writers.
With all this excitement, what exactly did the Braves get, and what did they give up?
Atlanta received left-handed relief pitcher James Russell and infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio from the Cubs, and sent Low-A minor league switch-hitting catcher Victor Caratini to Chicago.
Atlanta has been looking for another super-utility-type player all season, and Bonifacio fits the bill. He’ll serve in that role, backing up both infield and outfield positions while also coming off the bench as a pinch hitter and pinch runner.
The Newest Braves Hitter
The newest Braves hitter will be a big upgrade on the bench over Jordan Schafer, who has been disappointing this year in a pinch-hitting role. Bonifacio may also take some starts away from current center fielder B.J. Upton—especially against left-handed starting pitchers.
A switch-hitter, Bonifacio is hitting .408/.432/.592 against left-handed pitchers this season while hitting .234/.280/.298 against right-handers. Meanwhile, B.J. Upton is hitting just .165/.311/.188 against lefties and .228/.273/373 against righties. Bonifacio should be a huge upgrade when a lefty is on the mound, while B.J. can still get regular at-bats against righties.
Add to those splits the speed of Bonifacio, and the decision to begin a center field platoon should be an easy one and should be a good offensive upgrade with a lefty on the mound.
Bonifacio could also find himself filling in for Jason Heyward when a left-hander is pitching. J-Hey’s splits this season against lefties have been bad, with a .152/.220/.232 slash line, as opposed to his good work against righties (.296/.391/.428).
The Newest Braves Pitcher
The Braves also get another piece they’ve been seeking all season—a left-handed reliever—and by most accounts, they got a pretty good one in James Russell. The 28-year-old southpaw has a 3.51 ERA and .202 batting average against this season, but his platoon splits have been flipped.
Against right-handed batters, Russell is dominating this season with a .103 batting average against. But against left-handed batters, he’s been far too hittable with a .295 BAA.
Those numbers run contrary to his numbers last season, when he dominated lefties with a .183 BAA and got beaten up by righties to the tune of a .321 BAA. This shows how inconsistent relief pitchers can be.
But the Braves know they are acquiring a pitcher with five years of big league bullpen experience who is also durable enough to top 70 appearances each of the last two seasons. Russell is a big addition who can be another setup option out of the Braves bullpen in much the same way that Eric O’Flaherty was when he was in Atlanta.
The Prospect Cost
To acquire Russell and Bonifacio, the Braves gave up a talented minor league switch-hitter in Victor Caratini. The 20-year-old catcher is hitting .279/.352/.406 this season for the Low-A Rome Braves. He was drafted just last year in the second round (No. 65 overall), had a great debut at short-season Danville and has handled the jump to full-season ball this year.
I ranked Caratini as the Braves' No. 8 prospect at midseason, which is up a few spots from my preseason ranking of him as the No. 10 prospect. Some of that increase comes from other prospects graduating from the list, as well as prospects above Caratini falling below him due to their lack of performance.
The Braves played Caratini at third base last year after they drafted him and had him shuttling between catcher and third base to begin this season. They finally let him exclusively play catcher about two months ago. Caratini played both positions at Miami-Dade Junior College.
Caratini’s range at third base was one of the big reasons the Braves moved him behind the plate, but he’s got a lot of work to do to refine his receiving skills. Some scouts see Caratini as a bit of position-less player, not ideally suited for catcher or third base.
As a 20-year-old in Low-A, there’s plenty of time for Caratini to develop a positional affinity and improve on the offensive side of the ball. A switch-hitting catcher with good contact skills who could develop some power is pretty rare, and the Cubs did a good job getting a quality prospect.
Grade the Trade
While Caratini has plenty of potential in his prospect pedigree, the fact remains that he’s still three or four years away from the majors and was traded for two major league players who will help the Braves this season—and James Russell is also under team control through next season.
Atlanta was able to replace the disappointing Schafer on the bench with Bonifacio and add a solid left-handed reliever to their bullpen, essentially replacing a guy—Luis Avilan—who they gave up on a few weeks ago.
The Braves traded from an area of good depth within their minor league system, basically exchanging a spare part in Caratini, who was blocked by Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt at catcher.
This trade gets a solid "A" grade from me. Two for the price of one, something I predicted last week that the Braves would do.
This wasn’t a big blockbuster trade like many of the other deals at this year’s deadline, but it quietly addressed the needs of the team while not paying a large cost in terms of dollars or prospects.