Ask BA: Greatest Misses, Prospect Handbook Edition
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Schuerholz' deals demonstrate his Midas touch
by Alan Schwarz
ANAHEIM—The buzz rumbled through the otherwise somnolent Marriott lobby: Atlanta had just acquired closer Dan Kolb from the Brewers, but to do so gave up its top pitching prospect, Jose Capellan. The Braves gave up their best young arm?
I couldn't help but ask a different question: Another general manager took yet another pitching prospect from John Schuerholz?
This is not to suggest that Mr. Schuerholz, the most accomplished club executive of this era and perhaps any other, knowingly trades other clubs ticking time bombs. But having worked at Baseball America for 14 years, the names are easy to rattle off:
Yorkis Perez. Nate Minchey. Donnie Elliott. Chris Seelbach. Rob Bell. Micah Bowie. Jason Shiell. Jimmy Osting. Luis Rivera.
Every single one of them was a well-regarded Braves pitching prospect, every one of them was traded by Schuerholz at the height of his value, and every one of them has either washed out or failed to reach his potential.
"He's the master," Marlins assistant GM Dan Jennings said. "The most important thing a GM can do is evaluate your own. Atlanta has proven year after year they do it better than anyone."
The only Braves pitching prospect traded by Schuerholz who amounted to anything was Jason Schmidt (1996), and he took five more years to blossom. (Of course, former Braves prospect Merkin Valdez could join Schmidt in the Giants rotation before long, but it's too early to know what his long-term value will be.) Which brings us back to the original question: With this type of track record, why would anyone talk turkey with Schuerholz on these guys, emphasis on turkey?
"We mentioned it—they know more about their players than we do," Brewers GM Doug Melvin admitted the day after making the Kolb-for-Capellan trade. "But we didn't agonize or worry about it. They're a club that's willing to give up young pitching, so why not take a chance?"
To be fair, Capellan, a 23-year-old who burned up the minors last season and throws in the high 90s with some control, appears to be less chancy than some of the other guys Atlanta has dumped over the years. Yet it's even fairer to say that Schuerholz knows what he's doing.
The only homegrown pitcher who has made any lasting impact on the Braves rotation since the pre-Schuerholz, Glavine-Smoltz-Avery infusion is Kevin Millwood. (Odalis Perez, Damian Moss and Jason Marquis were all given shots before being shipped off, too.) Meanwhile, he has packaged all these arms to obtain important players such as Fred McGriff (Elliott), Jeff Reardon (Minchey), Marquis Grissom (Esteban Yan), Mike Remlinger (Bell) and Russ Ortiz (Moss) and others. And only in the case of Schmidt and arguably Perez has the pitcher's future lived up to his promise.
"When I make a judgment about whether we should keep this kid or whether we should trade him or not, it's because of the judgments that I rely on from my scouting and player development people," said Schuerholz, who a few days after trading Capellan used another minor league pitching prospect, Dan Meyer, to obtain Tim Hudson from Oakland. "It's quid pro quo—(other teams) know their guys better, we know our guys better. So, we trade fairly, honestly. We trade on balance. We trade good players to get the people we need.
"Everyone I've talked to even here at this meeting has said the same thing: You're willing to be straightforward and honest and give quality, and we appreciate that. And that's the way I deal. We're not trying to maneuver anyone or take advantage of anyone."
No one, including Melvin, alleges that Schuerholz has ever been dishonest—he's simply outevaluating his competition. His system develops talent that, despite its history, other teams consistently want to obtain.
"The scouting reports on (Capellan) were too outstanding to resist," said Milwaukee assistant GM Gord Ash, whose club hopes Capellan can join the major league rotation this spring. "Obviously John is the dean of GMs. But he also traded David Cone for Ed Hearn."
Back In Atlanta . . .
True, Schuerholz did cough up a young Cone for Hearn as the Royals' GM in one of the most lopsided modern trades ever—17 years ago. Since then he and the Braves have been masters at evaluating pitchers both inside and outside the system, giving pitching guru Leo Mazzone the proper raw material to mold into successful staffs. As longtime executive Roland Hemond put it, "When the Braves acquire a pitcher, he'll probably win five more games than he ever has."
"Jaret Wright is a perfect example of that," Schuerholz said. "Our scouts recognized his ability. In my heart I knew that if we were able to acquire him and put him in a great pitching program, we might have a chance to recover this guy's ability. It shows what we can do with pitchers like him."
And what they can do without keeping their own pitching prospects. Schuerholz continues to develop them, deal them away, win with the new guys and keep finding takers for the next crop. It's one of the many reasons that Schuerholz should someday make the Hall of Fame.
With only one caveat: emptor.
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to email@example.com.