12/17/2002 4:52 pm ET
Giants deal Ortiz to Braves
Atlanta signs free agent righty Byrd hours later
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Faced with the challenge of retooling the pitching rotation that has been the signature of the Braves' dynasty, general manager John Schuerholz fired off a couple of responses Tuesday.
The Braves began the day by acquiring right-hander Russ Ortiz from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for left-hander Damian Moss and a minor leaguer, right-hander Manuel Mateo.
Ortiz, who has averaged 15 wins the last four seasons, met Schuerholz's requirement of a dependable veteran to bolster a rotation recently stung by the departure of Tom Glavine.
Several hours later, so did free agent Paul Byrd, the 17-game winner for the Royals who signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Braves.
So Schuerholz landed two aces of their respective staffs at the price of only Moss, who rolls on after finally having established himself on the big-league level.
"John Schuerholz was very nice about it. He said they were looking for more veteran experience. I can understand that," said Moss, who was totally blindsided by his move to the West Coast.
"I'd heard a lot of talk about Arizona (on Monday), but San Francisco ... didn't have a clue," Moss added. "I'm excited, looking forward to a new challenge in my career."
Thus the defending National League champion Giants gain another left-handed starter to join Kirk Rueter and balance their rotation.
In Ortiz, the Braves obtained a pennant-winner's incumbent ace, a rare opportunity that delighted both Schuerholz and his manager.
"We are extremely pleased to have acquired Russ Ortiz," Schuerholz said. "Russ was the Giants' No. 1 starter last year and has demonstrated on a consistent basis his ability to be a top-of-rotation starter. We feel very pleased to add a pitcher of his caliber to our rotation."
Added Braves skipper Bobby Cox, "Ortiz has been one of the Giants' most consistent starters over the last several years. He has proven Major League ability and should do very well for us."
Ortiz certainly had done very well against them. In San Francisco's recent five-game NL Division Series triumph over Atlanta, Ortiz twice beat the Braves while allowing three runs in 12.1 innings.
He joins a rotation that, for the present, also includes Kevin Millwood, Mike Hampton, Jason Marquis and now Byrd.
"Going to a team like that is very exciting because of just the talent they have," Ortiz said. "I've heard nothing but great things about their organization. I can't help but feel excited.
"I've tried to continue to work and get better every year. So having someone ask about me or wanting to have me on their team is a very nice compliment."
"I'm excited," Schuerholz said at the end of his busy day -- which had begun with his finalizing the deal with Sabean on his cell phone while driving home from the Nashville Winter Meetings.
"We've reconstructed this pitching staff on the run. We'd been challenged to reshape it, and we've done that, and we did it with quality."
Giants GM Brian Sabean was no less enthusiastic to net Moss, two years younger than Ortiz although considerably shorter on experience.
A longshot for the Braves' rotation until injuries slowed Maddux, the 26-year-old Australian native wound up going 12-6 in 32 appearances (29 starts) with a solid 3.42 ERA. Opponents hit him for a .221 average, one of the lowest in the NL.
"Quite frankly," Sabean said, "I was surprised that he was made available. But every team is different in terms of economics. They get a proven winner; we get an up-and-coming pitcher.
"We went through (Moss') batters-against and it's obvious that when he's at the top of his game, he's someone who needs to be reckoned with. Our opinion on him was unanimous among the front office and scouts."
In his one season in Atlanta, Moss, who'd scaled the franchise ladder since signing as a free agent in 1993, was prominent among the league's rookie pitchers. He ranked third in ERA, tied for fourth in wins and games started, third in innings (179) and sixth in strikeouts (111).
The one thing both pitchers share is a frequent lapse of control. Moss walked 89 in 179 innings, and Ortiz issued 94 walks in 214 innings.
The difference is Ortiz has proven capable of overcoming that chink to become a consistent winner.
Sabean had a tough time making that phone call to Ortiz at the end of the 48-hour process that brought the deal together.
"It was brutal," Sabean said of sending Ortiz away. "When you draft and sign someone and see him develop in front of your eyes, it's tough. If we didn't have Russ, we wouldn't have had a World Series. We're passionate about winning, but compassionate at the same time."
Conversely, Moss lacks a track record and Schuerholz may have felt his trade value would never be higher.
"To acquire a player with Damian's upside at this point in his career is an opportunity that we couldn't pass up," Sabean said. "He has a quality arm that hitters in the league have obviously had a tough time figuring out. He's the type of pitcher who will have quite a bit of success in our ballpark."
"I'm going from one pitchers' park to another," Moss said. "Pac Bell is a big park, with those deep power alleys. And I'm going from one winner to another. I'm looking forward to something different."
As is Ortiz, who said, "It hasn't really sunk in to where I'm just all gung ho yet, but when I think about it, talk to people, they reassure me that this is a very good organization to be a part of."
Both sides paid a considerable price, but also gained a lot -- including the payroll flexibility each sought.
Dealing the $4.4 million due Ortiz in 2003 for a much lower commitment to Moss, who earned a near-minimum $215,000 in 2002, eases Sabean's plan to maintain the Giants' payroll near last season's $75 million.
The Braves do take on greater salary in this exchange. But the combined $7.4 million of salary for Ortiz and Byrd may now permit Schuerholz to keep pursuing his other free agent, Greg Maddux, who has until Friday to accept Atlanta's offer of arbitration.
"We got an established top-of-the-rotation pitcher, and they get an emerging young left-hander. In their ballpark [Pac Bell Park], left-handers are real important," Schuerholz said.
"So it wasn't an easy deal for either side to do. I think that's the best way to characterize it."
The Braves' end of the deal included one of the greenest pitchers in their system, but someone with long-range promise. Mateo went 7-3 with a 1.98 ERA in 12 appearances for Atlanta's club in the rookie Gulf Coast League.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.