Transaction of Today – July 24, 2017…The Atlanta Braves traded Jaime Garcia, Anthony Recker and cash to the Minnesota Twins for Huascar Ynoa.
The Atlanta Braves entered 2017 with a bit of hope. They added a trio of veteran arms in Bartolo Colon, the knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and southpaw Jaime Garcia along with veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki plus swiss army knife Sean Rodriguez to a team that finished 31-25 after the trading deadline the previous season. The hope was that the Braves could be sleepers behind those players, a full season of Matt Kemp, continued improvement from Mike Foltynewicz, and another solid season from 2016 All-Star Julio Teheran.
Narrator: That didn’t happen.
The veteran-laden staff disappointed with only Dickey lasting the season in Atlanta and pacing the rest of the rotation with a 4.26 ERA. Kemp got off to a good start, but faded as his hamstrings couldn’t survive. Rodriguez was in a preseason car accident, prompting a move for Brandon Phillips. Only Suzuki, signed for a bit of veteran support, had the kind of success former general manager John Coppolella hoped for. An injury to Freddie Freeman didn’t help, costing the Braves their best player for over a month.
The 2017 Braves weren’t a terrible ball club, mind you. They entered the All-Star Break with a 42-44 record, but were 8.5 games back behind the Nationals in the East, another seven games behind the Rockies for the second Wild Card spot, and had a -39 run differential. Certainly, the Braves could have tried to go for it, but they decided to accept reality and sell. However, trades of Rodriguez and Phillips in August netted the Braves very little. Colon had already been released while Kemp and Dickey had little trade value.
But the Braves had a taker for Garcia, the former Cardinals lefty who they traded for the previous winter. Often injured, Garcia finished third in the 2010 Rookie of the Year vote and was one of the Cardinals’ better pitchers when he could stay on the mound long enough. The Braves, who had luck with a former Cardinals’ arm in Shelby Miller two years before, hoped for similar fortune with Garcia.
Garcia started strong, carrying a 3.16 ERA into his 13th start of the season. However, a trio of starts where he allowed six runs each time followed. Another five runs scored off Garcia in his final start before the All-Star Break, pushing his ERA to 4.55 – nearly a run-a-half higher in just four starts.
The Break did him well and he shut the Diamondbacks down with one run allowed in seven innings. Five days later, he made his most memorable start as a Brave at Chavez Revine. He surrendered just three runs to the Dodgers in seven innings and hit a Grand Slam off former Brave Alex Wood in a 12-3 thumping.
The start was also notable because reports were out that the Braves were planning to trade the southpaw before he threw his first pitch in Los Angeles. The previous day, Jon Heyman reported that the deal was all but done. Righty Aaron Blair flew to L.A. and was put on the ready should another starter be needed.
The team looking to acquire Garcia was the Minnesota Twins. Though they had only a moderately better record than the Braves at the time, the Twins were only a half-game out of first when Heyman was reporting the deal was done on Thursday night. The original deal had some other moving pieces, but the important part was that Garcia would go to the Twins, bolstering their rotation, while the Braves would acquire the hard-throwing righty, Nick Burdi.
A second-round pick out of the University of Louisville in 2014, Burdi was expected to be a quick riser to the majors where he was groomed to be a closer-in-training. However, injuries hit the righty in 2016 and 2017, culminating in Tommy John surgery in May of 2017. Despite knowing about his surgery, the Braves centered on Burdi. Coppolella had never shied away from acquiring pitchers coming off surgery – notably trading for Max Fried.
But something about Burdi’s medicals scared the Braves. They backed off at the last minute and Garcia made his start. But the deal wasn’t dead as the Twins and Braves kept talking. Four days later, the two sides worked out a trade. Atlanta added some cash considerations and backup catcher, Anthony Recker, to the deal with the Twins taking on the remainder of Garcia’s salary. Coming back to the Braves would be righty Huascar Ynoa.
Ynoa was a very raw, but promising arm who was also one of the top 20 players signed when the Twins grabbed him out of the Dominican Republic. Slowly, the Twins brought him along while trying to nail down his best offerings – which were reported to be a half-dozen or so pitches. He was in the midst of his first year in the Appalachian League and third year overall in rookie ball when Atlanta got him.
He’d struggle to finish the year, but found himself in Rome the next year, striking out 131 batters in his first full season. This season, he climbed from Florida to the majors. Success hasn’t been quite as evident, but he’s still striking out a ton of batters and showing advanced control. Just 21, the Braves liked him enough to add him to the 40-man roster before the season as they feared another team would draft him in the Rule 5 draft.
Garcia’s time with the Twins was short-lived. After just one start, they dealt him to the Yankees before the trading deadline. The Twins quickly slumped after acquiring Garcia while the Indians and Royals were taking off. In all truth, the Twins traded Ynoa for a pair of Yankees arms, Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns. Meanwhile, they paid $4 million of Garcia’s salary. Steep price for a pair of iffy arms. Enns left the organization after becoming a minor league free agent following last year while Littell remains with the Twins and is ranked as their 20th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. Meanwhile, the same outlet ranks Ynoa has the 11th-best Braves prospect.
Before I go, there is the business of Nick Burdi, the super-talented righty the Braves shied away from. While recovering from Tommy John surgery, Burdi was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Rule 5 draft following the 2017 season. In 2018, he’d appear in ten minor league games and a pair of major league outings once healthy. The Pirates were hoping Burdi could flash his potential this season and he did, striking out 17 of the 40 batters he faced before suffering a horrific arm and nerve injury in late April. He will try again in 2020. His path may remind you of Daniel Winkler.
But in the end, the Braves remain hopeful that they ended up with the jewel of the trade in Ynoa. Time will tell, but he certainly looks like a potential gem.