Gammons: Hindsight disguises reality

Gammons: Hindsight disguises reality

The Braves were 56-51 and only 3 1/2 games back on July 31, 2007. They were coming off a 2006 season in which they did not finish in first place for the first year since 1990, and John Schuerholz, Frank Wren and Bobby Cox thought that Mark Teixeira could get them back atop the National League East.

It is easy now to look back at the deal they made with the Rangers and say it was a mistake. Did Jon Daniels change the course of the Texas franchise with the trade? Of course. Elvis Andrus is on the brink of stardom, one of the best young shortstops and leadoff hitters in the game. Neftali Feliz is a human highlight package, some nights firing away at 102 mph.

This is what happened after the trade. The Braves went 28-27 and finished the season five games out. On July 29, 2008, they gave up on Teixeira, sending him to the Angels for Casey Kotchman. When they traded Teixeira, they were 49-57 and 8 1/2 games behind the eventual world champion Phillies, which meant, in the end, the Atlanta Braves with Mark Teixeira were 77-84 and a year later when they traded Kotchman, what they had to show for the original trade was Adam LaRoche, who is now in Arizona.

As we check around every day for rumors about possible deadline deals involving Adrian Gonzalez, Lance Berkman, Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt, the Teixeira trade serves as a prime example of how such deals do not necessarily change history. Teixeira's free-agent market price was $180 million. He since has earned a World Series ring. He may well someday end up in Cooperstown.

But the Braves were a 77-84 team with him playing first base. "We would do it again," says Wren, who at the time was Schuerholz's assistant general manager. Of course. To have a shot to win in a baseball market that has never seemed interested unless the Braves are winning and not try to go get a potential Hall of Famer -- who fit a huge need, was a year and two months from free agency and had ties in Atlanta going back to his college career at Georgia Tech -- would have been worse than watching the 21-year old Andrus and the 22-year old Feliz with the first-place Rangers.

"We thought we'd have a good chance of signing Mark," says Wren. "And if you go back to where we were at the time, it seemed as if a lot of the players we traded were blocked in the Braves organization."

Feliz at the time was 19 and had thrown 27 innings for Danville in the Appalachian League. When the trade happened, Cox did say he thought Feliz had the best arm in the organization, but one might say the same thing about Adronys Vizcaino, the 19-year old fireballer obtained this past winter from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez trade who is currently burning it up in Rome, Ga., in the South Atlantic League.

Andrus was 19 and was buried on the depth chart behind Yunel Escobar, who at the time was 24 and in the process of hitting .326 as a rookie. Jared Saltalamacchia was never going to unseat Brian McCann, who is not only one of the sport's premier catchers, but a team leader. Matt Harrison in 2006 was 11-6 with a 114-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in Class A and Double-A, but was not considered a Tommy Hanson-level prospect.

Now, Andrus is on the brink of stardom, leading American League shortstops in on-base percentage at .415, settling in as a legitimate leadoff hitter, leading AL shortstops in steals and maintaining a higher OPS than Derek Jeter. Six weeks into the season, he is a serious contender to win a Gold Glove. Escobar has fallen out of favor with Cox, which has prompted the second guess that they should have held onto Andrus and traded Escobar.

Problem is, on July 31, 2007, 3 1/2 games out of first place, none of this was clearly predictable. Andrus wasn't going to be ready to play in Atlanta until 2009; Escobar was a dazzling rookie.

Feliz now is touching 102 mph and has nine saves. Today, Vizcaino and Julio Teheran are to Rome what Feliz then was to Danville. Meanwhile, the Braves have developed two interesting young relievers in right-hander Craig Kimbrel and left-hander Jonny Venters, who can be major factors in the 2010 stretch drive if the major system products -- Jason Heyward and Hanson -- continue to carry them.

It is easy to look back and see Adam Wainwright (for J.D. Drew), Kyle Davies(for Octavio Dotel), Jon Gilmore and Tyler Flowers (both traded for Vazquez) and think that the Braves kept trading their prospects for veterans. But the A's essentially got nothing for Tim Hudson. The Braves got Jair Jurrjens for Edgar Renteria, whom they got for Andy Marte.

"When you're almost always in contention and expected to win," says Wren, "you have to make tough decisions that in the future may not be what you wanted them to be. That comes with the territory."

And it sure beats the alternative of never being in a pennant race or being in a market so small that decisions constantly have to be made as to when and if to trade the best players.

Andrus and Feliz are cornerstones of the rebuilding of a Texas franchise that Daniels has operated despite owner chaos; yes, the Braves were a sub-.500 team with Teixeira. The Expos trade of Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon turned out to be a far worse deal, but Omar Minaya was trying to save Montreal baseball. There is no reinventing history now that Austin Jackson looks like the AL Rookie of the Year in Detroit.

These trades are more complicated than ever now that young players have so much more value than they did 20 years ago, especially given the fact that clubs are so much more detailed in professional scouting. Would the Braves be better than a 77-84 team if, say, they'd traded Escobar for a young corner outfielder and had Andrus with a .415 on-base in the leadoff spot instead of the .253 on-base percentage they now have out of the leadoff spot? If they had Feliz, Kimbrel and Venters learning from Billy Wagner? If they'd traded Saltalamacchia to the Red Sox?

There was no benefit of hindsight on July 31, 2007. Foresight amounted to looking at the Mets and Phillies right in front of them, a fan base that needs subtitles and a potential Hall of Fame and Gold Glove first baseman.

Peter Gammons is a columnist for and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.