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Sean Gilmartin, not Ryan Doumit, could have been impetus for latest Atlanta Braves trade


March 23, 2013; Dunedin, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Sean Gilmartin (71) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When the Atlanta Braves pulled the trigger on a trade to send 2011 1st-round draft pick Sean Gilmartin to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for catcher/outfielder Ryan Doumit, the first reaction for most people (and justifiably so) was to analyze Doumit’s potential role for the 2014 Braves. After all, the “fit” doesn’t seem perfect at first glance, with the Braves already employing two catchers (Gerald Laird, Evan Gattis) and three starting-caliber outfielders (Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, BJ Upton), and Doumit’s numbers not screaming “superstar” off of the page.

However, Doumit’s addition overshadowed what is probably a more interesting “decision” by Frank Wren.

Why would the Braves trade a 2011 1st-round pick for what amounts to a 1-year rental of a bench bat?

We can debate the semantics of whether Doumit is a “pure” bench bat, as there are certainly scenarios where he could start at catcher for a reasonable amount of games or be thrust into action in the outfield (say, if BJ Upton implodes again). For this exercise, though, let’s assume he’s a 1-WAR player (or something in that range) who provides nice flexibility, but doesn’t move the needle in a big way.

Now, we can turn our attention to what the Braves gave up, as Sean Gilmartin is headed out the door. The 23-year-old left-hander from Florida State was, indeed, the 1st-round pick of the Braves in 2011 (28th overall), but has been a large-scale disappointment for the majority of his professional career.

Aside from 21.1 lights-out innings at single-A in 2011 (2.53 ERA, 12.66 K/9, 0.84 BB/9), his numbers have been less than inspiring, and they fell (steeply) off of a cliff in 2013. In 91 innings at Gwinnett, Gilmartin generated a 5.74 ERA, and his ability to strike out opposing hitters dropped to just 6.43 per 9 innings. Being that I’m not a “pitching analyst” by any stretch, I won’t begin to attempt to break down the reasons for this drop, but it’s a bit jarring to see a pitcher who was considered to be “MLB-ready” (as justification for this 1st-round pick) struggle at this level.

Gilmartin’s “ceiling” was never particularly high, as he was rated as the 48th-best draft prospect by Baseball America and the 71st-ranked prospect by ESPN’s Keith Law, and he has always considered to be a 3rd/4th starter at best. With that, he didn’t have to fall far to lose favor in the organization, and after being ranked as the 7th-best prospect in the system (by ESPN’s Law) before the 2013 season, it was a real possibility that he could tumble out of the top-10 for next year.

For someone like Frank Wren who, by all accounts, is always interested in stockpiling high-quality pitching talent to trade Gilmartin for a player who isn’t even considered to be a starter is pretty indicative of where the organization sits on Gilmartin’s long-term prospects. Ryan Doumit enters the organization with 1-year and $3.5 million remaining on a contract, and Wren is basically submitting that Doumit’s 1-year worth to the club is more important than Gilmartin (who is under team control for 5+ more seasons) could have ever been.

The popular term for what Wren has seemingly done in trading Gilmartin is “selling low”, but the fact that he dealt the left-hander at this juncture indicates, at least to me, that the organization has seen too many warts in him to continue. Ryan Doumit is a perfectly fine addition to the club, as he’ll add a much-desired bench bat that the 2014 team didn’t have on hand, but the biggest reason for the move, in my view, was to get something out of their 2011 1st-round pick.