With return from D-backs, Braves GM Coppolella steals show at Winter Meetings

The first acquisition in the Braves' retooling, they have turned Shelby Miller into a haul that meets immediate needs and adds to an already bolstered farm system.

 

John Bazemore/AP

NASHVILLE — Categorize it as new general manager John Coppolella’s coming-out party as the Braves have cashed in their biggest chip at the MLB Winter Meetings.

Tuesday, they sent All-Star right-hander Shelby Miller and prospect Gabe Speier to the Diamondbacks for Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and Aaron Blair, a trade that became official Wednesday morning.

"This one, for us, we wanted to make it painful for them with player that we think are going to be a big part of our future," Braves president of baseball operations John Hart.

Atlanta received nearly two dozen calls from teams on Miller, and went through deeper talks with the Dodgers and Giants. But it was their discussions with Arizona — which began at last month’s general manager meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. — that were sealed in a Tuesday meeting with Coppolella and his counterpart Dave Stewart.

(There’s that) pivot when we start trading pitching for hitting," Coppolella said. "We’re at that pivot point."

Miller’s future was the top storyline for the Braves heading into the four-day event at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, and while the franchise’s brain trust were clear they weren’t actively shopping Miller, they were willing to listen.

"We did not want to pick up the phone and say ‘We want to trade Shelby Miller. We want to get rid of Shelby Miller,’" Coppolella said. "There were about 20 teams that called us and we listened to a lot of trade offers. We talked through a lot of trade offers."

While Atlanta didn’t get A.J. Pollock, the player it was believed to covet, the Braves received a haul from Arizona that included Inciarte, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft in Swanson, and Blair, a right-handed pitcher who was the franchise’s No. 3 prospect.

Miller, 25, is coming off a season in which he lost an MLB-worst 17 games and endured a 24-start stretch without a victory, but he also had career-bests in ERA (3.02), strikeouts (171) and innings pitched (205 1/3) and started 33 games, the most in the National League. He joins a team that has gone all-in for 2016, having already signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract.

"We had some really nice opportunities to acquire players out there and the D-backs were aggressive," Hart said. "This is a club that just went out and signed Zack Greinke. They didn’t have to touch their major-league club and we went through a lot of different scenarios with Arizona."

Miller was the first piece acquired in the Braves’ retooling, as last November they sent Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for the pitcher and fellow righty Tyrell Jenkins.

Now, in essence, the Braves have turned Heyward, whom they would have had for one more season before he hit free agency, into a package that meets one of the team’s immediate needs in the outfield, gives them a rotation option for ’15 and a potential star in Swanson.

"It certainly creates a void for us for (manager Fredi Gonzalez) and his guys," Coppolella said. "I know there’s been some positive spin from it on our end, and we’re obviously happy with what we’ve got in return or we wouldn’t have made the deal, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that Arizona got some really good value too."

While the Braves were presumably looking to pair with Michael Bourn — and likely, at some point in the season, their minor-league player of the year in Mallex Smith — they instead get a potential everyday center fielder and a leadoff hitter. Inciarte, hit .303/.338/.408 last season in 524 at-bats with six home runs, 27 doubles and he stole 21 bases, while totaling 470 plate appearances at the top of the order.

"He’s going to make our club better in ’16 and you combine him with (Erick) Aybar and we’ve got a bit of a different dynamic," Hart said. "We’ve got some speed."

Coppolella said within hours of making the deal, the Braves had already received 10 calls on the 25-year-old Venezuelan, who is not arbitration eligible until 2017 and is under club control until 2021. But they have no intent to move him.

"Never say never if your name isn’t Freddie Freeman, but our plan is to hold on to Ender Inciarte," Coppolella said.

In acquiring Swanson, the Braves took advantage of a policy change that allows drafted players to be traded the day after the conclusion of that year’s World Series. It gave them a shortstop who hit .299/.394/.482 with Hillsboro in the Northwest League and adds even more organizational depth at shortstop along with second-ranked prospect Ozhaino Albies.

"When you can, because of the new rule change, we were able to take the No. 1 pick in the country in Dansby Swanson, a local kid (Kennesaw, Ga.) that played at Vanderbilt," Hart said. "A center-of-the-diamond player that has not only a lot of tools, and a guy we like … this is a special makeup kind of a guy."

Swanson, 21, was rated as the Diamondbacks No. 1 prospect, two spots above Blair, who had a 2.92 ERA in 160 1/3 innings at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in ’15.

"Aaron Blair is a starter that we very much like and we think this is a very close to the major leagues pitcher," Hart said. "Even above of some of our other young upside guys like a (Sean) Newcomb or a (Lucas) Sims and other guys that we like a lot."

ATLANTA BRAVES OFFSEASON HUB

With Miller gone, it’s entirely possible that Blair could challenge for a rotation spot alongside Julio Teheran, a group of other young arms, and veteran Bud Norris. Though they Braves could also reach into the free-agent market to give them more options.

"We had the opportunity last year with the difficulty we went through with giving all these youngsters an opportunity at the big-league level. You look at (Matt) Wisler and (Mike) Folytnewicz and Manny Banuelos — who we envision being healthy — and Williams Perez, we’ve got four guys to pick for two (spots) if we decide to go that route," Hart said. "If we decide that we could use another starter for a period of time, sure, we’ll take a look at it."

Like Coppolella’s first major trade, which returned shortstop Aybar from the Angels for Andrelton Simmons, this one also returned a major league-level player in Inciarte, but the eye-opener is what another move does to an already bolstered farm system.

In two deals, Coppolella has added players ranked No. 1 (Newcomb, a lefty) and ninth (righty Chris Ellis) and now bolstered it even further.

Asked before his latest maneuver whether the Braves had the game’s best group of prospects.

"I might be biased, obviously, but I feel we do," he said.

Now?

"We’ve got far and away, now with this trade, the best farm system in the land," Coppolella said.

There may be no doubt from anyone, as Coppolella delivered a shocking move in his first Winter Meetings.

"We feel a little bit sad about Shelby and what we got back is an important piece," Hart said. "But this is a little bit of a coming out party for John."

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