The Braves continued to reshape their starting rotation by trading for Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia on Thursday, sending a trio of mid-level prospects to St. Louis in the deal including right-handers Chris Ellis and John Gant.
Single-A middle infielder Luke Dykstra, son of former major leaguer Lenny Dykstra, was the third Braves prospect in the deal. None of the three were ranked among the top 15 prospects in a deep Braves farm system.
Garcia, 30, was 10-13 with a career-worst 4.67 ERA in 32 games (30 starts) in 2016 and had 157 strikeouts with 50 walks and a career-high 26 home runs allowed in 171 2/3 innings. It was the first time the injury-plagued lefty pitched in more than 20 games since 2011.
“We had targeted him for a number of years and feel he will be an impactful part of a revamped rotation,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said.”It was tough to trade away three kids we really liked, but we want to win and we want to create competition for our young pitchers. I spoke with Jaime and he’s feeling great and really excited about this opportunity.”
The Cardinals recently exercised a $12 million option on his contract for 2017, which meant Garcia fit the Braves’ preference of getting veteran starters this winter on short contracts so as not to block the wave of high-level pitching prospects they currently have in their system, mostly in the low minors but a few in the higher ranks.
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The Braves already committed $20.5 million to sign the two oldest starting pitchers in baseball to one-year deals, 43-year-old Bartolo Colon ($12.5 million) and 42-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey ($8 million). Dickey’s contract includes a team option for 2018.
Still, the Braves continue talking to teams about a possible trade for another starter if they can get an ace. Five-time All-Star Chris Sale of the White Sox tops their wish list ahead of the Rays’ Chris Archer, but Sale has been seriously pursued by at least six teams and would require a bounty of young talent in return. (Price for Archer would be quite steep, too.)
As things stand currently, Colon, Dickey and Garcia would join returning Braves ace Julio Teheran in a rotation that looks several degrees stronger than the patchwork rotation that manager Brian Snitker used for much of the 2016 season. Mike Foltynewicz would be the leading candidate among the young returners to fill the other spot in the rotation.
Suddenly, Teheran’s $6.3 million salary in 2017 would be just the fourth-highest among Braves starters behind Colon ($12.5 million), Garcia ($12 million) and Dickey ($7.5 million.
In 2016, Teheran’s $3.3 million salary was the highest among Braves starters.
The Braves also have several inconsistent young starters including Matt Wisler, who’s been impressive at times during parts of two major league seasons, and veteran Josh Collmenter, who was sharp in three September starts after the Braves acquired him as an emergency starter. Collmenter could pitch out of the bullpen or as a swing starter.
Gant, 24, made his major league debut for the Braves in 2016 and went 1-4 with a 5.76 ERA in 20 games including seven starts. The former Mets prospect had 49 strikeouts in 50 innings but was hurt by walks (21) and home runs (seven).
Ellis, 24, came from the Angels in the November 2015 trade for shortstop Andrelton Simmons. He was 12-9 with a 4.49 ERA in 28 starts in Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, and had 87 walks in 147 innings. He had a 6.65 ERA in 15 Triple-A starts.
The Braves also got higher-ranked lefty prospect Sean Newcomb in that Simmons trade.
Dykstra, who turned 21 in November, hit .304 with a .332 OBP and 18 extra-base hits (no home runs) in 81 games (342 plate appearances) at low Single-A Rome in 2016, and has a .300 career average with 47 doubles, three triples, two homers and 17 stolen bases in 183 games over parts of three minor league seasons, all in rookie ball or low-A. He was a seventh-round draft pick by the Braves in 2014.
Garcia is 62-45 with a 3.57 ERA in 158 games (147 starts) over eight seasons, all with the Cardinals. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting in 2010 after going 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA in 28 starts, and the next season he was 13-7 with a 3.56 ERA while setting career-highs in strikeouts (156) and innings (194 2/3).
Garcia had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2008, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery after nine starts in 2013, and had season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome after seven starts in 2014 — the same type of surgery that Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz had in September 2015, involving the removal of part of a rib.
In 2015, Garcia posted career-best 2.43 ERA in 20 starts and allowed only six homers in 129 2/3 innings.