Saddled by injuries and inconsistent play, the Braves essentially concluded the 2008 season on Tuesday by bidding adieu to Mark Teixeira, who just one year ago was considered the switch-hitting first baseman who would enhance their World Series hopes over the course of at least two seasons.
Now, Teixeira stands as the centerpiece of the Trade-Deadline-Deal-Gone-Bad, and the man whose exit caused a unique sense of emptiness in the Braves clubhouse early Tuesday evening.
Although they were prepared for the possibility, Chipper Jones and many of his other Braves teammates were still emotionally affected when they learned Teixeira had been sent to the Angels in exchange for Casey Kotchman and Minor League pitcher Stephen Marek.
"It's tough for all of us," Jones said. "We've never been sellers before. We're usually the ones who are adding, not subtracting. It's tough to come to grips with, because we felt coming out of Spring Training that we'd be right in the mix all year long."
If demoralizing losses on Saturday and Sunday didn't do the trick, then placing both Jones and Tim Hudson on the disabled list on Monday was certainly enough for Braves general manager Frank Wren to realize he had to deal Teixeira and find a suitable replacement at first base, like Kotchman.
"He's a good player," said Braves center fielder Mark Kotsay, who played against the 25-year-old Kotchman in the American League West last year. "He's a gamer. He's young and he's got the talent to improve as his career progresses."
Unfortunately for the formally charmed Braves, he's also not Teixeira, who instantly enhances the already-strong World Series hopes possessed by the Angels.
"He has that opportunity to do in October what we all dream of doing," said Jones, who isn't going to get much sympathy from those who remember that he began his career by participating in 10 consecutive postseasons.
John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, two of the members of the Hall of Fame-caliber disabled list that the Braves have assembled, are the only current Braves who were with the organization during those days when championship flags were non-existent and white flags were raised before August on an annual basis.
They were present on Aug. 4, 1990, when Dale Murphy was traded to the Phillies. Eighteen years later, Teixeira became the next prominent Braves player to be traded during the season.
But given that the 1990 team never had a legitimate opportunity to win a World Series, Smoltz sees no comparison. Still, while talking to Kotsay after Tuesday's 8-3 loss to the Cardinals, he said, "I kind of feel numb."
"It's not even close," Smoltz said. "You kind of understand. ... It's just been a horribly unlucky year."
Actually, Kotchman has already played a part in this unlucky season. His two-run homer off Jorge Campillo gave the Angels a 2-0 win over the Braves on June 15. It stands as one of the career-high 12 homers that he's already hit while avoiding the health-related issues that have previously stunted his Major League development.
Kotchman missed a majority of the 2006 season because of mononucleosis and suffered both a concussion and multiple left hand ailments while playing in a career-high 137 games last year.
With health on his side this year, Kotchman has hit .287 with 54 RBIs and a .448 slugging percentage. He is a career .267 (249-for-932) hitter against right-handed pitchers and a .302 hitter (62-for-205) against left-handers.
This year, he has hit .349 (29-for-83) with three homers against left-handers and .269 (78-for-290) with nine homers against right-handers.
"I like him a lot," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's a real good hitter and a real good defensive player. He doesn't have the power that [Teixeira] had. But he hits for a high average."
When Kotchman arrives on Wednesday and begins his duty as Atlanta's first baseman of the future, there will be a different feeling in the clubhouse. A glimpse toward the 2009 season will appear, and Teixeira's presence will begin to fade into fond memories.
Although he didn't experience the postseason in Atlanta, Teixeira certainly made his mark, both as a person and a player. In his 157 games with the Braves, he hit .295 with 37 homers and a .943 OPS (on-base-percentage-plus-slugging percentage).
In the process, he batted behind Jones and served as the perfect protector for the veteran third baseman, who hit .355 with 30 homers and a 1.057 OPS during Teixeira's tenure in Atlanta.
"I loved every minute of it," Jones said. "I got a lot of pitches to hit because of him. A lot of these guys lost a brother tonight. He will be missed, by me especially."