The Ignored Factor Behind Atlanta Braves’ Hot Start

Justin Upton Atlanta Braves

Daniel Shirey-USA Today Sports

Let’s go back to July 24, 2012 for a moment — before the Atlanta Braves (11-1) were off to their best start since the 1994 season. On this date, the Braves agreed to acquire right-handed pitcher Ryan Dempster from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Randall Delgado. At the time, Dempster led the league with a 2.11 ERA and looked to be a trade that would boost the Braves’ starting rotation.

However, Dempster utilized his no-trade clause in hopes of ending up with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The trade fell through with Dempster winding up with the Texas Rangers, and the Braves acquired left-handed pitcher Paul Maholm instead.

Dempster finished 2012 with a 5.09 ERA with the Rangers and proceeded to sign a two-year $26.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox in the offseason at 35-years-old. Meanwhile, Maholm posted a 3.54 ERA with the Braves in 2012, and the Braves were able to pick up his $6.5 million option in the offseason.

All Maholm has done to begin 2013 is throw 20.1 scoreless innings. He is off to a 3-0 start following his win over the Washington Nationals on Sunday. He has been the best pitcher on a staff that leads the MLB with a 1.82 ERA.

Maholm has been the better pitcher. The Braves were also able to afford Maholm this offseason while they would not have been able to sign Dempster. But, that’s not all.

The Braves acquired Maholm for pitcher Arodys Vizcaino – not Delgado, who was the more highly-rated prospect around baseball as Vizcaino had undergone Tommy John surgery. Delgado, along with Martin Prado were the two key pieces the Braves sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the blockbuster deal for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson.

Upton has looked like an MVP candidate in the early going as he leads the National League with seven home runs and a 1.306 OPS, and has carried a huge offensive load as the Braves are in the middle of the pack in the National League in runs scored, batting average and on-base percentage.

Johnson has quietly been a productive hitter to begin 2013. He leads the team with a .405 average and .436 OBP among players with at least 30 at-bats. Johnson has proved to be a valuable addition, playing both third base and first base in the absence of Freddie Freeman.

The trade with the Diamondbacks has been a huge part to the Braves’ hot start, and it may not have happened without Delgado being involved. The Braves appeared stubborn in not adding prospects Julio Teheran or J.R. Graham in the deal. That made Delgado a huge piece in pulling off the trade.

Without the option of trading Delgado, Upton and Johnson likely aren’t Braves.

Dempster declining to come to Atlanta changed the direction of the Braves dramatically. The rotation to begin 2013 likely would have included both Teheran and Delgado — not Maholm. While I can’t say for sure, I highly doubt that Delgado would have thrown 20.1 scoreless innings to begin the season as Maholm has done.

Also, the lineup would not include the thunderous power of Upton, who appears in line for a sensational 2013 season.

Whether it’s luck or destiny, Braves’ fans should be thanking Dempster for declining to come to Atlanta. That decision has helped the Braves get off to a roaring start and set the team up for big things in 2013.

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