David Cone-for-Ed Hearn Schuerholz’s Worst Ever? Not By a Long Shot.

by M.C. Antil on October 30, 2010

One of the three or four deals that got John Schuerholz run out of Kansas City just a step or two ahead of the tar-and-feather brigade was his trade of David Cone — a stunningly talented minor league pitcher (and a Kansas City kid to boot) who would go on to hurl a perfect game, finish 22-3 in first full season, and lead two different teams to five World Series titles — for what turned out to be a backup catcher.

In fact, to this day if one goes to a Royals game and simply says the words “David Cone for Ed Hearn,” team policy apparently requires that that person be escorted from the stadium, given his money back, and asked never to return.

Ed Hearn for David Cone???

But dealing David Cone for Ed Hearn was nothing — and I do mean nothing — compared to the going-away gift John Schuerholz left the Atlanta Braves in his last act as general manager, before kicking himself upstairs to team president.

In July of 2007, Schuerholz traded five minor leaguer players — three of whom, Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus and Matt Harrison, contributed to a divisional championship this year, and two of whom were All Stars — to Texas for a single season’s worth of Mark Teixeira.

The deal was so wrong on so many levels, that the first thing I did when I heard about it was to call a friend and tell him that Schuerholz had finally done it. He had finally made his David Cone-for-Ed Hearn deal as GM of the Braves.

I had been warning my friend for years that with a guy like Schuerholz it was just a matter of time before he would make a deal so lacking in reason, logic and insight that it would eventually all-but-cripple the Braves, just like his deals in Kansas City had once crippled the Royals.

Lord knows Schuerholz had tried valiantly to hamstring the Braves prior to the Teixeira trade. Just two years earlier he had dealt uber-talent Adam Wainwright, a brilliant 6’6″ flame-throwing right hander who growing up in Atlanta had always dreamt of playing for the Braves, to St. Louis for injury-prone, free-agent-to-be J.D. Drew.

Not only was Drew generally regarded as a brittle underachiever who drove people crazy with what seemed to be an oddly disengaged style of play, but as a Scott Boras client he was all but certain to walk after one season with the Braves.

Schuerholz made the deal anyway. It was a patently ludicrous trade, and ended up being saved from Cone-for-Hearn status by one simple fact: Drew had a terrific single season in Atlanta before bolting to ink a mega-deal with the Dodgers.

Plus the fact, Wainwright, even if he did develop into a perennial Cy Young contender — which, indeed, he eventually would — was still only one player.

In the Teixeira trade, however, Schuerholz dealt five players, three of whom were legitimate blue chip prospects, and every last one of whom was given a realistic shot at playing in the big leagues.

Yunel Escobar over Elvis Andrus???

Despite the fact that in 2007 the going rate for a star player only a year and a half in advance of his walk year was three players, including one or two sure-fire major league prospects, Schuerholz forked over to Texas five players, all of them big league-capable, and three of them possessing All Star upside, if not (gulp) more.

It was a stunning example of a guy with a reputation for post-season failure deciding to severely overpay for the one player he felt might help salvage his reputation, before tipping his hat and riding off into the sunset. 

It was not unlike the aging politician who votes against environmental legislation on the grounds that he’s not going to be around anyway, so why worry about the future of the planet?

To recap, here’s the staggering haul the Rangers received in exchange for one year of free agent-to-be, Mark Teixeira:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia: At the time of the deal, Salty was thought to be one of the two finest catching prospects in all of baseball. Though his defense was clearly a work-in-progress, he was a switch hitter with power and was the one guy Texas had to have in any deal for Teixeira. Subsequently traded to Boston in 2010, the Braves #1 pick the June ’03 draft is currently positioned to enter 2011 as the Sox starting catcher.

Elvis Andrus: In 2007, the Braves had two shortstop prospects with eye-popping talent, Yunel Escobar and Andrus. The former projected to be an impact offensive player, with flashy but inconsistent defense and an erratic, even off-putting personality. The latter was a defensive wizard with plus speed and quickness, whose leadership skills were obvious even as a teenager. The only question was his bat. Schuerholz looked at both and determined he’d rather have the toolsy Escobar than Andrus and his pocketful of intangibles.

Neftali Feliz: The one guy in the deal who made every scout who ever saw him drool. As Rays color man Kevin Kennedy said last year when he first saw him, “I don’t care who you got back, how can you trade an arm like this?” This past season, Feliz’s first full year in the big leagues, he and his 100 mph fastball anchored the Rangers revamped bullpen by amassing 40 saves, while compiling an 2.73 ERA and a WHIP of 0.88.

Matt Harrison: Considered a pitch-to-contact lefty by Schuerholz and the Braves, Harrison, a left-handed starter, spent 2010 re-inventing himself as a power pitcher with a fastball that now regularly touches the mid 90’s. Though he continues to battle shoulder woes, in his rookie year of ’08 Harrison debuted with a 3-2 win over the division-leading Angels, hurled a complete game shutout against the A’s, and finished the season at 9-3.

Beau Jones: The Braves #1 pick in the June, ’05 draft, Jones spent 2010 with AA Frisco where he went 3-0 with three saves and a 2.91 ERA. In 52.2 innings, the 24-year old lefty relief specialist allowed just 37 hits and no home runs, while striking out 62.

The trade was made even worse by the fact that, having failed to win the division with Teixeira in ’07, almost a year to the day after they acquired him, the Braves (at that point under the guidance of Frank Wren) decided to cut bait and flipped Teixeira to the Angels for singles-hitting first baseman Casey Kotchman and minor league reliever Stephen Marek.

Stephen Marek over Neftali Feliz???

As of this writing, only Marek remains with the Braves organization, and he split 2010 between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett. And despite putting up excellent minor league numbers in 2010, he did not receive a call to Atlanta when the MLB rosters expanded in September.

What all this means is that the net result of John Schuerholz’s final trade as a GM currently sits as follows:  Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, both All Stars and World Series veterans at the age of 22, plus Matt Harrison, Beau Jones and the two prospects Texas received from Boston for Jarrod Saltalamacchia in exchange for 27-year old minor league reliever, Stephen Marek. 

(Gulp)

There may have been worse trades made in MLB history, but after having just watched the Texas Rangers carve up baseball’s two best teams in 2010, the Yanks and the Rays, on their way to their first World Series ever, in all fairness I have to say, name me one.

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