Notable Atlanta Braves Reunions Since 2003: Hitter Edition

Sep 12, 2009; St. Louis, MO, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Tim Hudson (15) is congratulated by Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche (22) after hitting a 2 run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The Braves defeated the Cardinals 7-6. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 12, 2009; St. Louis, MO, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Tim Hudson (15) is congratulated by Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche (22) after hitting a 2 run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The Braves defeated the Cardinals 7-6. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s the offseason, which means dreaming of unlikely acquisitions, catastrophizing that the team isn’t doing anything to update during slow periods, and wondering which Atlanta Braves reunions we could be getting for the next season. We’ve already thought about one player who could’ve worn the A again, although he’s already found a deal out west.

With Heyward now off the board, I figured it would be fun to revisit a few Braves players who did return to Atlanta over the past 20 years, instead. In this edition, we’ll be looking at a few fan-favorite hitters. We have a player who filled a hole created years earlier by a trade that involved him, an infielder who played for every single AL East team before coming back, and an outfielder who almost won WS MVP. We also have a lot of Baby Braves.

The most notable Atlanta Braves reunions since 2003: Hitters

Adam LaRoche (2004-2006; 2009)

The first entry on this Atlanta Braves reunions list was a 29th-round pick by the Braves back in 2000, Adam LaRoche quickly moved through the ranks, performing well enough to be listed as the 73rd-best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America before the 2004 season.

The lefty would make his debut for the Braves that season and would be the starting 1B for the next three seasons before being traded to the Pirates for Mike Gonzalez after the 2006 season.

LaRoche’s initial run with Atlanta was a mixed bag. His 2004 was impressive enough, finishing with a 110 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR sharing duties with Julio Franco. However, the following season was challenging, as he was actually worth -1.8 fWAR in his first season as the starting 1B.

His final season with Atlanta was impressive enough that it should’ve warranted not being traded for a reliever, hitting 29% better than the league average. While Gonzalez only put up 1.6 fWAR across his three seasons in Atlanta, LaRoche would add 3.4 fWAR for the Pirates in two-and-a-half seasons before being traded midseason in 2009.

You might think that this trade was to Atlanta. After all, I noted above that LaRoche’s second stint with Atlanta happened in 2009. But his departure from Pittsburgh did not mean a reunion with the Braves, at least not yet.

Initially, LaRoche was sent to Boston, but this stint would be brief. After just six games with the Red Sox, tallying only 19 PAs, the Red Sox shipped him to the Braves in exchange for Casey Kotchman. This would bring LaRoche’s departure full circle, as Kotchman had been traded for Mark Teixeira, who had replaced Scott Thorman, who had replaced Adam LaRoche after his trade to the Pirates in 2007.

In 57 games with the Braves, the sweet-swinging lefty caught fire, hitting 12 homers and OPSing .958, which was good for a 150 wRC+. Despite his efforts, however, the Braves fell short of the playoffs for the fourth straight season, finishing seven games back from the Phillies, and LaRoche became a free agent after the season, signing a one-year deal with Arizona in the offseason.

Overall, it was likely the most dominant reunion on this list. It might have been best to just hold onto LaRoche in 2007 to avoid the Mark Teixeira domino effect.

Kelly Johnson (2005-2009; 2015; 2016)

Johnson is the first (but not the last, stay tuned for our pitcher edition) three-stinter. Originally a part of the 2005 Baby Braves that included Brian McCann (more to come) and Jeff Francoeur (also more to come), Johnson eventually settled in as the Braves’ everyday 2B from 2007-2009.

The left-handed hitting infielder had a bit of a rocky first tenure. While he had an impressive rookie season in 2005 as a LF, accumulating 1.5 fWAR in just 87 games, thanks to outstanding defense (18.4 UZR/150 and 11 DRS), he’d go on to miss all of 2006 to Tommy John Surgery.

In 2007, he’d replace Marcus Giles as the everyday 2B and was fantastic in his first two seasons, hitting 14% better than the league average and accumulating 6.0 fWAR.

In 2009, however, his production would crater, putting up an 83 wRC+ in 106 games, and he eventually lost his starting role to Martin Prado. He’d be non-tendered at the end of the season and would latch on with Arizona for 2010.

The next five seasons would be adventurous for Johnson. His first season with Arizona was his career-best, as he hit 29% better than the league average and had a 5.3 fWAR season. The following season he fell back to earth and the D-Backs would trade him to the Blue Jays.

This trade would set in a chain of events in which Johnson would become the only player to play for every AL East team (which he did in just four seasons). This included him being a part of the first trade in 17 years between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, in which Johnson moved from New York to Boston.

His AL East hopping would come to a close when he signed with the Braves prior to the 2015 season on a minor league deal. Johnson made the rebuilding team out of Spring Training and was quite good during his second stint. In 62 games, Johnson had a 110 wRC+. His overall fWAR was dragged down by poor defense (0.1 fWAR on the whole), but he was good enough that the New York Mets came calling and the Braves were able to acquire prospects John Gant and Rob Whalen, both of whom eventually made the majors for the Braves, in exchange for Johnson and Juan Uribe.

Johnson played well with the Mets and made the World Series with the team. After the end of the 2015 season, Johnson, again a free agent, signed up for yet another Braves reunion, making it his third stint.

His third stint with the Braves was far worse than his second, accumulating -0.7 fWAR in just 49 games, but somehow, the Braves were able to find a trade partner midseason, shipping him back to New York for Akeel Morris, who also eventually pitched for the big league club.

Rumor has it the Braves will once again trade Kelly Johnson to the Mets this upcoming July.

Jeff Francoeur (2005-2009; 2016)

Once labeled “The Natural” by Sports Illustrated, Jeff Francoeur burst onto the scene in 2005, becoming one of the most impressive rookies of all time. In 2005, Frenchy had a 127 wRC+, but most of the damage came in his first month when he hit six homers in 15 games and had a 247 wRC+ during that span.

Eventually, the hype died down, pitchers began to realize he’d swing at anything, and by 2009, Francoeur struggled so mightily that he was sent down to AA. While that minor league stint only lasted a few days, it was clear that his tenure with Atlanta was coming to a close. In July of 2009, the Braves shipped Frenchy to the New York Mets in exchange for Ryan Church.

Like Kelly Johnson, Francoeur’s departure from Atlanta set into motion his career as a journeyman. From the Mets to the Rangers to the Royals to the Giants to the Indians (who he didn’t play for in the bigs) to the Padres (where he got pranked into thinking his minor league teammate was deaf) to the Phillies. All of this in seven seasons.

By the time Frenchy returned to Atlanta in 2016, the dream of him eventually living up to his potential had long passed. At this point, he was a below-average contributor with an A+ clubhouse presence. For a rebuilding Braves club, this was exactly what they needed.

A player with a 75 wRC+ and negative defensive value isn’t usually exciting. Still, for a team that had little playoff aspirations when the season began, it was refreshing to see the return of a goofy fan favorite. He was decent enough that the Marlins acquired him in a rare August three-team trade, in which the Braves acquired Dylan Moore and Matt Foley. His second trade away from the team left both parties in better spirits than the first, and after the 2016 season, Frenchy called it quits. Interestingly, his final inning on a major league diamond happened at 3B.

Brian McCann (2005-2013; 2019)

The last Baby Brave, Brian McCann made his major league debut about a month before Jeff Francoeur. For the nine seasons, B-Mac would be a staple in the Braves’ offense and behind the plate. During those nine seasons, McCann would put up a whopping 42.5 fWAR (roughly 4.7 WAR/season).

However, after the 2013 season, McCann left the Braves, signing with the Yankees for five years and $85 million. McCann lasted three seasons with New York, and while he was still productive, it was nowhere near the level he had been with the Braves, accumulating 8.2 fWAR during that time span.

The Yankees traded him to the Astros after the 2016 season, allowing him to grow back a beard and look normal again. McCann’s tenure in Houston saw a decline in individual achievement, but he was a part of the 2017 team that, controversially, won the championship.

In 2019, B-Mac signed a one-year deal back with his hometown team and shared catching duties. While his offense had declined, he and Tyler Flowers provided excellent defense behind the plate for a team that won their second-straight division title. On the whole, McCann provided 1.1 fWAR in 85 games, which is just over 2.0 WAR over 162 games.

I’m still not ready to talk about what happened in the postseason, but McCann retired after the season, ending what was an incredibly successful major league career, even if his old roommate, Jeff Francoeur got to have some fun with his home run trot during the catcher’s final season.

Adam Duvall (2018-2020; 2021-2022)

My favorite Adam Duvall fact is that it took him until his fifth season in a Braves uniform to play a game for the team before July 24th.

Initially acquired by Atlanta on July 30th, 2018 to platoon with Ender Inciarte, Duvall was so bad with the Braves that he didn’t even have an RBI (-7 wRC+). In 2019, Duvall didn’t make the Opening Day roster and was passed over in favor of Austin Riley after an Ender Inciarte injury in May. Nevertheless, Duvall, the former All-Star persisted, hitting 32 bombs in AAA, and was eventually called up on July 27th after a Nick Markakis injury. 

Thanks to the 2020 season being delayed until July 24th and thanks to being a part of the Miami Marlins for the first half of 2021, it was not until this April that Duvall played for the Braves before July.

Had it not been for a number change upon being reacquired from Miami, it would be easy to miss that Duvy was indeed a two-stinter. Both stints were marked by excellent defense and streaky hitting. While this past season was a disappointing one on the hitting side, he was an above-average glove in CF prior to Michael Harris II arrival. In total, Duvy was worth 3.4 fWAR across five seasons with the team, none of them full seasons.

His second stint, however, holds his most iconic moment. In Game 5 of the World Series, Duvy rocketed a Framber Valdez fastball over the rightfield fence for a grand slam. Had the Braves taken home the title in this game, it’s very likely Duvy would’ve been WS MVP.