Nine who got away: #1, Adam Wainwright

Before the Adam Wainwright deal, the Braves typically guessed right about which pitching prospects to trade. Bruce Chen, Odalis Perez, Luis Rivera and Rob Bell were all considered top prospects but none fulfilled their potential (the exception being Jason Schmidt).

Meanwhile, Wainwright has exceeded expectations. In 2006 he stepped up as the Cards’ closer, pitching 9-2/3 scoreless innings in October and saving 4. The following year he was moved to the rotation, and since 2007 the Brunswick native is 78-47 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.215 WHIP as a starter. He’s thrown 200 or more innings three times, narrowly missing last year (198 IP).

Had Wainwright remained a Brave the Derek Lowe signing likely doesn’t happen. Desperation drove that acquisition — desperation created by the ill-considered trade for Just Disabled.

 

Nine who got away: #2, Andre Thornton

Trading Andre Thornton for Joe Pepitone was the most short-sighted deal the Braves ever made. Their rationale? Pepitone might put a few extra butts in the seats. He ended up playing three games for the Braves before departing to Japan.

Thornton was 23 at the time of the trade. The Braves had acquired him from the Phillies the previous season and, in 49 games with Richmond, “Thunder” hit 14 homers with a .379 OBP.

In a 14-year career spent mostly in Cleveland, Thornton averaged 26 homers and 91 walks, finishing with 253 homers and a .360 lifetime OBP.

Pepitone is remembered mostly for his hair.

Nine who got away: #3, Neftali Feliz

Neftali’s the one on the R. Not sure who’s the dude on the L.

Seven years ago I met 17-year-old Neftali Feliz at the Braves’ Dominican Academy in San Francisco de Marcoris. Special assistant to the GM Jose Martinez told me if there was one prospect who was a sure thing, it was Neftali. Even then he looked the part, with a lean, solid frame, oversized hands and a mature mound presence.

Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer, Feliz remains the prize of the Teixeira trade. He’s allowed only 126 hits in 205 IP, striking out 201. Despite occasionally erratic control, Feliz’s career WHIP remains under 1.000.

After two dominant seasons as Texas’ closer, Neftali was moved to the rotation last year and, in his debut as a starter, hurled 7 shutout innings against Seattle. Those who suggest Feliz’s injury was caused by his move to the rotation don’t know what they’re talking about. Neftali’s a big kid and was a starter in the minors with the Braves. I have little doubt he’ll develop into a solid No. 2, winning 15 to 18 games a year.

If he improves his command, Feliz could be a potential ace.

Nine who got away: #4, Mickey Rivers

It’s hard for us to bemoan the 1969 trade of Mickey Rivers to California for 46-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm. Our namesake may have never gotten the chance to play in Atlanta had the Braves not made that short-sighted move.

Rowland, drafted one year after Rivers, would’ve had a tough time beating out Mick the Quick, who batted .295 over a 15-year career.

Good thing he could hit, because Rivers was less patient than Jeff Francoeur. He averaged only 29 walks a season, which accounts for his pedestrian .329 lifetime OBP.

Mickey’s pinnacle came with the Yankees, who acquired him from the Angels along with pitcher Ed Figueroa for Bobby Bonds prior to the ’76 season. Rivers began developing power in New York, posting slugging percentages of .432 and .439 in his first two years in pinstripes while hitting .312 and .326.

When his career ended with the Rangers in 1984 Rivers had amassed 1,660 hits and 267 SB — roughly 1,000 hits and 200 steals more than Rowland.

But as far as I can tell no one’s named a blog after Mickey.

Nine who got away: #5, Elvis Andrus

Elvis might rank higher if he hadn’t sat out a game last week with tattoo-related soreness. Not that I wouldn’t want him back with the Braves.

Andrus was 18 when JS, apparently thinking the franchise was set at shortstop with Yesco, dealt him to Texas. Fortunately Andrelton Simmons came along,  saving us from the Tyler Pastornickys of the world.

Meanwhile, 24-year-old Elvis is a two-time All-Star whose BA and OBP have improved each year since 2010. He’s also demonstrated developing power and is among the best defensive SS in the game. Wouldn’t you love to see him batting lead-off  and teaming with Andrelton to form the best double-play combo in the majors?

If it makes you feel any better there’s no way the Braves would be able to afford him in two years, when Elvis hits the free agent market.

Nine who got away: #6, Duane Ward

Duane Ward was exactly what the Braves needed in 1992 and ’93. Had he been in the ‘pen Atlanta would’ve likely won the World Series each year.

Then again, those Braves teams would’ve probably not reached the postseason if not for John Smoltz, acquired from Detroit for the same pitcher, Doyle Alexander, received in the 1986 trade that sent Ward to Toronto.

Still, it was hard not to grind your teeth watching Ward make short work of the Braves in the ’92 Series — a match-up essentially decided by bullpens. Toronto’s was outstanding. Atlanta’s was not.

Ward entered Game 2 in the 8th inning with the Blue Jays, down 1-0 in the series, trailing 4-3. Ward retired Brian Hunter on a grounder to third and struck out Jeff Blauser and Damon Berryhill swinging. A half inning later, Ed Sprague went deep off Jeff Reardon and the series shifted to Toronto, tied at one game apiece.

Game 3 was a near facsimile, with Ward entering a tie game in the 9th. After allowing a lead-off single to Sid Bream, Ward retired Blauser on a double play and once again struck out Berryhill swinging. Candy Maldonado singled in the winning run off Reardon in the bottom of the 9th, a loss that pretty much clinched Toronto’s championship.

Ward pitched in all 4 of Toronto’s wins, allowing no runs and one hit in 3-1/3, striking out 6. He was so good the Jays let Tom Henke walk after the season, and the New Mexico native rewarded  their confidence, allowing just 49 hits in 71-2/3 IP in ’93, striking out 97 and saving 45.

He likely would’ve finished higher on this list if not for a serious case of bicep tendinitis that ended his career at age 31.

Nine who got away: #7, Matt Harrison

Matt Harrison has as many victories the last two seasons as Tim Hudson. The Texas southpaw finished third in the AL in wins and pitcher WAR and seventh in ERA and IP last year. He sure would look good in the Braves rotation (Medlen, Harrison, Huddy, Minor …).

Hard to believe Harrison was considered the fourth-best prospect in the Teixeira deal. (Think Sean Gilmartin.)

Now the 27-year-old Durham native is the favorite to start on Opening Day for Texas.

Bad enough that Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz have fulfilled their potential with the Rangers. Harrison has greatly exceeded expectations, more than making up for Salty’s three lackluster seasons in Arlington.

That’s three All-Stars, none older than 27, for 157 games of Texshowmethemoney. The Braves could’ve salvaged the deal had they not traded Borasbot to the Angeles for Casey Kotchman; L.A. used the compensation pick received when the Yanks signed Tex to draft Mike Trout.

Nine who got away: #8, Brook Jacoby

He’s the other guy in one of the worst trades in Braves history. Brett Butler, who won’t be included on this list because he no longer qualified as a rookie when he left Atlanta, gets all the attention, but Brook Jacoby was a solid third sacker with the Indians  for much of the 1980s, a period when the Braves had Ken Oberkfell stationed at the hot corner.

Jacoby was a two-time All-Star who averaged 15 homers, 67 RBI and a .739 OPS over a 11-year career. Obie had 15 homers for the Braves in five years.

We know the Braves would’ve been better with Jacoby and Butler, but imagine how bad the Indians would’ve been without them? In 1985, for instance, Jacoby finished second on the Tribe with 20 HR and 87 RBI while Butler hit .311 with an .808 OPS and 47 SB. Cleveland’s record: 60-102 — six games worse than the Braves.

Interestingly that ’85 Cleveland team, managed by longtime Braves coach Pat Corrales, was full of players with Atlanta connections. Jacoby and Butler’s teammates included Jerry Willard, Julio Franco, Otis Nixon, Jamie Easterly and another player yet to appear on our countdown of nine who got away.

More on him later.

Nine who got away: #9, Tommy Greene

The Braves have been judicious about which prospects they keep and which they trade (think Melvin Nieves). But there are exceptions.

This list includes players who still qualified as rookies after they left Atlanta.

9. Tommy Greene. Traded to Phils with Murph for Jeff Parrett. Trading Murph for scraps wasn’t the worst thing about Bobby’s last trade as GM. That would be including Greene in the deal. The former first round pick had two solid years in the Phils rotation before a spate of injuries ended his career at age 30. In 1991 and ’93 Greene was 29-11 with 9 CG, 4 SHO, an ERA in the low 3′s and a WHIP below 1.200.