Braves land Farnsworth, Ankiel from KC
Blanco, Chavez and prospect Collins shipped to Royals
CINCINNATI -- Braves general manager Frank Wren managed to upgrade his outfield mix and add depth to his bullpen by acquiring outfielder Rick Ankiel, right-handed reliever Kyle Farnsworth and cash considerations worth approximately $2 million from the Royals just before Saturday's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Ankiel and Farnsworth were acquired in exchange for outfielder Gregor Blanco, right-handed reliever Jesse Chavez and Minor League left-handed reliever Tim Collins. The most significant return for the Royals will likely prove to be Collins, the hard-throwing Minor League left-hander who had been acquired by the Braves as part of the July 14 five-player trade completed with the Blue Jays.
"It allows us to fill our two most important needs and it didn't force us to give up any of our top young pitching prospects," Wren said. "We really liked Collins. It's not as if he's not a good-looking young prospect. I think everybody knows who our top starting pitchers are in the Minor Leagues, and we were able to hold on to those guys."
While attempting to upgrade his lineup and add another reliable arm to his relief corps, Wren found many clubs asking for steep returns. The Nationals asked for Tommy Hanson in exchange for Adam Dunn and Royals general manager Dayton Moore was asking for a much steeper return earlier this month when the Braves were asking about Farnsworth.
But over the course of the past couple of days, this deal started to materialize. The Braves originally inquired about Ankiel and Farnsworth separately. Late Saturday afternoon, the two clubs began forming this package that allowed Wren to make both of his desired upgrades without parting ways with Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado or any of his other top pitching prospects.
"I think that move definitely vaults our bullpen to top notch," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "There's no doubt that it's definitely going to be considered the best in the game. It allows us to shorten games. If we go into the seventh inning with a lead, I like our chances."
With the addition of Farnsworth, the Braves have provided Braves manager Bobby Cox an option that he can confidently utilize during the middle innings. This should help keep Peter Moylan, Jonny Venters and 40-year-old Takashi Saito fresh down the stretch.
"We can't use Saito back-to-back a whole lot," Cox said. "Once in a great moon we might. It takes some of the heat off Venters and Moylan. We can give them a break every once in a while."
Ankiel will likely serve as the Braves' primary center fielder. Having proven to be much more successful against right-handed pitching, the 31-year-old left-handed outfielder might share some time in center with the switch-hitting Melky Cabrera, who has proven to be only slightly better against left-handed pitchers during his career.
Ankiel, who has been bothered most of this season with a strained right quadriceps, has hit .261 with four homers in 27 games with the Royals this year. While hitting .367 (11-for-30) with a homer and a .973 OPS since returning from the disabled list July 22, he has shown some of the promise present when he hit a career-high 25 homers for the Cardinals in 2008.
The Braves started showing interest in Ankiel after one of their top scouts, Tim Conroy, saw the former pitcher during a Minor League rehab assignment earlier this month.
"We all know what kind of ability that he has," Wren said. "He's only a year removed from hitting 25 homers for St. Louis as an everyday outfielder."
The momentum Ankiel carried into the 2009 season was rocked when he violently crashed into Busch Stadium's outfield wall and suffered a concussion that sidelined him for most of May's first three weeks. In the 98 games he played after being activated from the disabled list, he hit just .227 with nine homers and a .657 OPS.
"Rick is a tremendous outfielder, great athlete and good kid," Jones said. "Hopefully he helps solidify things out there in center."
Farnsworth was acquired by the Braves before the 2005 Trade Deadline and spent the final two months of that season proving to be an effective closer. But his short stint playing in his hometown of Atlanta is often remembered by the fact that he allowed the Astros to erase a five-run, eighth-inning deficit and then claim an 18-inning victory in the decisive fourth game of the 1995 National League Division Series.
While Farnsworth might not be as dominant as he was when he posted a 1.98 ERA in 26 regular-season appearances for the Braves in 2005, he is in the midst of his finest season since leaving Atlanta. In 37 appearances this year, he has posted a 2.42 ERA and allowed opponents a respectable .240 batting average. Right-handed hitters have batted .225 against him.
"He was one of the best relievers available both stuff-wise and statistically," Wren said. "He's having a real good year. He fits exactly what we were trying to do, which was add more depth in that seventh and eighth inning."
The cash provided by the Royals will nearly take care of the salaries still owed to Farnsworth ($1.5 million) and Ankiel ($917,000) this year.
Both Farnsworth ($5.25 milllion) and Ankiel ($6 million) have options for the 2011 season that include $500,000 buyout clauses.
"Realistically, you want guys who will make the team better and not be a distraction and who play the game right," closer Billy Wagner said. "They are two players who have had very successful careers, and they can help us get to where we need to go."
While Blanco has shown signs of improvement this year, the .310 batting average he compiled in 36 games with Atlanta didn't erase the fact that he didn't seem to factor in the Braves' future plans. Chavez has been somewhat of a disappointment while posting a 5.89 ERA in 28 appearances.
Collins, just 20 years old, posted a 2.29 ERA and recorded 87 strikeouts in 51 combined innings with Double-A New Hampshire and Double-A Mississippi this year.
When the Braves opted to recall Blanco on Saturday, they decided to designate Brent Clevlen for assignment. Once it became clear late Saturday afternoon that they would be trading Blanco, they landed Wilkin Ramirez from the Tigers in exchange for cash considerations or a player to be named by Nov. 20.
While restocking their farm system with an outfielder, the Braves hope that Ramirez might live up to his potential. The 24-year-old outfielder, who participated in this year's Futures Game, combined to hit .230 with 19 homers in the 97 games with Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo this season.
"He has power," Wren said. "He has athleticism. He can do a lot of things."
If Wren feels that his club still needs to be strengthened, he can attempt to trade for players who pass through waivers in August.
Any deals that occur between now and Sept. 1 involving players on the 40-man roster can only be completed if the players have cleared waivers. Any team can claim players placed on waivers. If multiple claims are placed, the player would be offered to the team with the worst record.
Once the offer is made, a team has 48 hours to either agree to a trade with the claiming club or remove the player from waivers. A player can only be pulled back from waivers once. But if he clears waivers, a team can attempt to trade him to any club.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.