There is always plenty of wheeling and dealing at MLB’s Winter Meetings, and with the baseball universe descending on Las Vegas next week, expect gambling cliches to be the currency of choice as we await the landings spots for the like superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado .
The National League East — a potential home for one if not both of those prized free agents — should figure prominently, and the reigning division champion Braves are in a position to be major factor.
That being said, it’s not always about what happens at the Winter Meetings. Sometimes, it’s about seeds planted and fact-finding missions that set the stage for deals and signing to come.
In 2016, hours after Braves brass left a quiet Winter Meetings outside Washington, D.C., they dealt Tyrell Jenkins to the Rangers. Last season, the deal with the Dodgers that sent Matt Kemp back to LA was finalized 48 hours following the proceedings in Orlando.
But the Braves have had their turn of memorable (and forgettable) dealings as the Winter Meetings since they returned in 1998. In fact, they had a hand in why the meetings went on a five-year hiatus, as acting commissioner Bud Selig pulled the plug in 1992 following a frenzy of 35 free-agent signings over three days.
Among that flurry of deals? Atlanta inking future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux to a five-year, $28 million contract.
Since the return of the Winter Meetings 20 years ago, these are the biggest signings and deals the Braves have been involved in.
• 2003: Braves add J.D. Drew … and Cardinals get an eventual cornerstone
The long-term effect of trading away Adam Wainwright , who has become a three-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove winner and a Silver Slugger for the Cardinals, hurts and could have provided the Braves with a rotation staple for a decade plus.
But let’s not forget what the Braves got out of one year of J.D. Drew in this deal. He was fourth in the baseball with an 8.6 fWAR — behind only Barry Bonds, Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen — in hitting .305/.436/.569 with 31 home runs and 93 RBI in finishing sixth in the National League MVP voting before bolting to sign a five-year deal with the Dodgers.
Drew’s lone season in a Braves uniform remains the second-highest in terms of fWAR in franchise history.
• 2004/2005: Braves get Dan Kolb from the Brewers, then send him back a year later
When Atlanta sent top pitching prospect Jose Capellan and a player to be named later (Alec Zumwalt) to the Brewers in 2004, it was getting an All-Star closer in Dan Kolb who coming off a 39-save season, a move that would let them move John Smoltz back to the rotation.
But Kolb was a shell of that consistent arm for the Braves, losing his job less than to months into the season as he had just 11 saves and a 5.93 ERA in 57 2/3 innings.
The following Winter Meetings, Atlanta sent Kolb back to Milwaukee for right-hander Wes Obermueller. Said general manager John Schuerholz — putting it lightly — “The thing with Dan Kolb didn’t work for us.”
• 2005: Braves trade away a can’t-miss prospect
Andy Marte was among the best prospects in the game, and the Braves were largely panned for shipping off to Boston a 22-year-old that had hit 28 and 20 home runs in the two previous seasons. Made even more curious: they got back Edgar Renteira, who was coming off an 89 OPS+ season in his first year of a four-year, $40 million deals.
Renteira was an All-Star in his first year in Atlanta and the following season posted a 124 OPS+ in slashing .332/.390/.470, while Marte never suited up for the Red Sox. They traded him to the Indians in January 2006 in a package that brought Coco Crisp to Beantown.
Marte, who played in 307 games over seven seasons, died in a car accident in 2017.
• 2007: Swiss Army knife Omar Infante enters the fold
Infante was coming off an abysmal season for the Tigers, who sent him to the Cubs before the Braves acquired him in 2007 along with Will Ohman for Jose Ascaino. Infante posted a 73 wRC+ and a minus-0.2 fWAR, the worst of his career to that point in a full season.
Ohman spent just one year in Atlanta (3.68 ERA in 58 2/3 innings over 83 games), while the Venezuelan would turn in his only back-to-back seasons in which he hit above league average as a Brave, with 103 wRC+ in ’09 and 111 in his lone All-Star season of 2010.
Infante would be then be a key piece in the deal with the Marlins that brought Dan Uggla to Atlanta in November 2010.
• 2014: Dan Winkler taken in Rule 5 draft
The Braves had rarely been players in the Rule 5 draft, taking Chris Spurling in 2002 and Robert Fish in 2011 and neither ever made it to the majors for Atlanta.
Taking reliever Dan Winkler was a risky move when the Braves took him in 2014 from the Rockies, with the right-hander in the midst of recovering from Tommy John surgery.
While he reached the majors in 2016, he fractured his elbow in his third appearance. But Winkler would return in late ’17 to pitch 14 1/3 innings and became a key piece in the ’18 bullpen, with a 3.43 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings over 69 appearances.
• 2015: Blockbuster nets Braves eventual Gold Glove winner and former No. 1 pick
Arguably the deal that defined the Braves’ rebuild, at the 2015 Winter Meetings they sent All-Star Shelby Miller (acquired for Jason Heyward in the move that began the entire process) to the Diamondbacks for players that would become a three-time Gold Glove winner in center fielder Ender Inciarte and their starting shortstop in Dansby Swanson.
Granted Aaron Blair didn’t pan out, and was released in May after career-threatening shoulder surgery, but the Braves have been the clear winners in a deal that even at the time seemed like a coup. That point was driven home this past Friday when Arizona didn’t tender Miller, who due to injury has thrown just 38 innings over the past two seasons.
Of note, that blockbuster was just part of a busy meetings for Atlanta, which also sent its one-time catcher of the future, Christian Bethancourt, to the Padres.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.