This day in Braves history: Atlanta trades for All-Star with iconic swing

The Atlanta Braves traded one of their outfield stars for a slugging All-Star outfielder in 2002.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Atlanta Braves
Pittsburgh Pirates v Atlanta Braves / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

The Atlanta Braves were one of the best teams for almost two decades spanning the 90s and 2000s. They were able to accomplish this feat thanks to excellent management and that includes making trades to improve the team.

Trades are often a mixed bag as you don't know what you will get in return from a player. You hope they'll have a major impact but as we have seen throughout baseball history, sometimes they can lead to disappointment.

The 2002 offseason was a busy one for the Atlanta Braves as they re-signed John Smoltz in December 2001 after he reached free agency. They also brought on third baseman Vinny Castilla in December to play third base. This is the infamous move that provided fans with Chipper Jones spending some time in left field.

Atlanta ended the year by signing Julio Franco to a one-year contract for the 2002 season. The front office then decided it was time to make a very big splash as they lined up a trade with the Dodgers.

The Braves traded outfielder Brian Jordan, pitcher Odalis Perez, and minor leaguer Andrew Brown to the Dodgers in exchange for Gary Sheffield. Sheffield was a six-time All-Star at this point and provided the Braves with some real power in the lineup.

Brian Jordan had just completed an impressive season with a .295 batting average including 25 home runs and 97 runs batted in. Jordan had been a great addition to the Braves, earning his first and only All-Star appearance in 1999 after signing with the team.

However, you cannot pass up the opportunity to trade for one of baseball's best hitters, and Sheffield fits that bill 100%.

Sheffield was great for the Dodgers in 2001 as he batted .311/.417/.583 with a 1.000 OPS over 143 games played. He slugged 36 home runs over that time and drove in 100 runs. So, Atlanta knew they were getting a great bat out of the deal who would help score a lot of runs.

Why did the Dodgers trade Gary Sheffield?

Now, the question at the time would have been "Why did LA make this trade?" The answer lies in how Sheffield's time in Los Angeles went. It was a tumultuous experience for everyone involved. Before the 2001 season even began, Sheffield was insulting his teammates and irate at management for not doubling his contract value.

That tension is likely what led to the Dodgers making a change to salvage their clubhouse chemistry and sanity, I'm sure. Although, Dan Evans who was Dodgers GM at the time, expressed that was not the case.

He stated. "We didn't get rid of Gary Sheffield. We made the trade because we felt it made a lot of sense for us." Whether that's true or not is irrelevant as the move helped the Braves in the end. The only stipulation on Atlanta's end was they wanted a guarantee Sheffield would remain with the Braves through the end of his contract, which he did.

Brian Jordan feels betrayed by Atlanta's front office

Brian Jordan, however, was not happy about being traded to the Dodgers.

Jordan's time with the Braves was littered with injuries but he was still a great part of the team during his time in Atlanta. He wasn't happy with the trade at the time as he felt the Braves were disloyal to him.

""I'm still really just shocked. There's no loyalty in business. There's a way to do things, and a way not to do things. To find out like that? My agent didn't even know. It's a stab in the back but another lesson to learn. They put me on a mission.""

Brian Jordan on being traded in 2002

Hurt feelings can be a by-product of any trade but this move felt purely like one to make the team better. The Braves needed someone who would provide them with a lot of offense and Sheffield was the answer.

Braves GM John Schuerholz made it clear the decision wasn't an easy one and stated "When you have a deal you think is the right deal for your club and you have to tell good people like Brian Jordan they're being traded, it's difficult."

It seems the hurt feelings didn't run too deep as Jordan eventually returned to the Braves in 2005 and ended his career with Atlanta after the 2006 season and 15 years in the league.

Sheffield went on to be one of the best bats in a Braves lineup that included Vinny Castilla, Rafael Furcal, Javy Lopez, Andruw Jones, and Chipper Jones. Gary would man right field for the Braves while Andruw Jones patrolled center and Chipper Jones was serviceable in left.

Sheffield had a bit of a down year by his standards. His slash line was impressive at .307/.404/.512 with a .916 OPS. So it was still a good performance over 135 games played but he only slugged 25 home runs and drove in 84. A bit of a disappointment but still not a dud for the Braves.

He rewarded the team in 2003 as he was a massive part of the Braves record-setting offense that year. Sheffield batted .330/.419/.604 with 39 home runs and 132 RBI which was the most RBI since the team moved to Atlanta. It was just 3 runs behind the all-time franchise record of 135 set by Eddie Matthews. That RBI record was shattered 20 years later by Matt Olson who drove in 139 in 2023.

Gary Sheffield was an All-Star in 2003 and helped lead the Braves offense to another NL East title as they won 101 games. Atlanta's high-powered offense slugged 235 home runs which set a franchise record. The 2023 Braves also broke that record as they hit 307 homers, tying the MLB record.

John Smoltz also set a single-season record in 2002 as he earned 55 saves. He was electric that season and helped the Braves immensely. Unfortunately, Sheffield and Smoltz couldn't help keep the Braves from being bounced in the 2002 NLDS.

The Braves were up 2 games to 1 over the San Francisco Giants but lost the final two games, missing out on a chance to get to the World Series. This was unfortunately something Braves fans became too used to experiencing.

Despite that, this was a great trade for the Braves even though it was just for two years. Atlanta declined Sheffield's $11 million option for the 2004 season and he eventually signed with the New York Yankees. He signed for 3 years valued at $39 million with an option for a fourth season.

Sheffield moved on from the Yankees as he landed with the Tigers in 2007 and spent two seasons there before ending his career in 2009 after playing just 100 games for the New York Mets. His 22-year career was full of highs and lows but certainly is Hall-of-Fame worthy with 509 career home runs including a career line of .292/.393/.514 and a .907 OPS.

Unfortunately, Sheffield is now on his final year of the ballot and may not make it in. That topic has been shrouded in controversy during the 2024 offseason.

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