All about the Braves and baseball events.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Early Christmas Present For The Braves And Yankees

OF Melky Cabrera (.274/.336/.416, 540 PA, 28 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 68 RBI, 99 OPS+)
LRP Mike Dunn (0-0, 6.75 ERA, 2.000 WHIP, 4 G, 4 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5/5 K/BB)
RSP Arodys Vizcaino (2-4, 2.13 ERA, 1.157 WHIP, 10 GS, 42 1/3 IP, 34 H, 18 R, 10 ER, 52/15 K/BB in A-SS Staten Island)

Javier Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA, 1.026 WHIP, 32 GS, 219 1/3 IP, 181 H, 75 R, 70 ER, 238/44 K/BB)
LRP Boone Logan (1-1, 5.19 ERA, 1.731 WHIP, 20 G, 17 1/3 IP, 21 H, 12 R, 10 ER, 10/9 K/BB)

The plan at the Winter Meetings failed, so Frank Wren and the Braves had to settle for Plan B.

With the Braves unable to move Derek Lowe due to salary concerns, the team opted to trade ace starter Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for outfielder Melky Cabrera, reliever Mike Dunn and top starting pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino. The Braves also sent reliever Boone Logan in the deal. Both Vazquez and Logan came to the Braves in a winter deal with the White Sox last year.

A lot of people have already said and will continue to say that this trade was horrible for the Braves. The common refrain is to boil it down to two players. Thus, it becomes: Atlanta traded the ace of their staff the previous season for an outfielder that isn't even particularly good. Of course, the picture above is not that of Cabrera; it's of Vizcaino. I'll explain why later.

First, there is an important thing to establish:

The trade is not as bad as it looks.

The Braves still have a potentially formidable starting rotation. Tommy Hanson will be entering his first full major league season of starting. Tim Hudson should be healthy, Jair Jurrjens should perform around what he accomplished in 2009, and Kenshin Kawakami will look to improve on his respectable rookie season.

The wild card here may be starting pitcher Derek Lowe. He'll want to improve on some of his worst statistics from last season, including an NL-high 232 hits allowed and a 1.515 WHIP, his worst WHIP since the 2004 season, and a career-worst 88 Adjusted ERA+. Some may see it as a problem that Lowe was unhappy with the idea of being traded because of his contract. However, with Vazquez gone, Lowe's spot in the rotation is secure and he can lose it only by getting hurt or having so many bad starts that Braves manager Bobby Cox moves him to the bullpen and inserts long reliever Kris Medlen in the starting role.

The only player the Braves netted in the trade that has a chance of making the team next season is Melky Cabrera. The outfielder may even be the regular left fielder next season, replacing Garret Anderson. But, the problem is that Cabrera usually provides the production of last year's version of Garret Anderson:

Cabrera, 2009: 540 PA, .274/.336/.416, 28 2B, 13 HR, 68 RBI, 99 OPS+
Anderson, 2009: 534 PA, .268/.303/.401, 27 2B, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 86 OPS+

Essentially, this means that the Braves are back to square one when it comes to their outfield production. The only player that can improve it right now is top prospect Jason Heyward.

The first pitcher obtained in the trade are a young left-handed reliever who wasn't particularly good in limited major-league action last year, but he has a live fastball (98 miles an hour tops) and a hard slider (90 miles an hour). I guess he should be a better left-handed live arm than, say, Jeff Ridgway.

However, the crown jewel in the haul is starting pitcher Arodys Vizcaino. Formerly the top pitching prospect in the Yankees organization and third overall, the soon-to-be 19-year old righthander has a huge heater (98 miles an hour tops that he can consistently throw) and a plus curve and changeup. As mentioned above, he posted a 2.13 ERA in 10 starts with a 52/15 K/BB ratio in 45 1/3 innings. The Braves may very well have found a new Neftali Feliz-type prospect to replace the fireballing reliever they traded to Texas more than two years ago.


While composing this post, which took me the better part of the day, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution decided that the trade meant the Braves are more concerned about the bottom line than winning baseball games.

The Braves just traded the man who might well have been their Opening Day starting pitcher for an outfielder who might not start on Opening Day. Think about that.
Oh, he'll start on Opening Day. As it stands right now, his only competition is Matt Diaz, since Nate McLouth is in center field and mega-prospect Jason Heyward virtually has the right field job all to himself.

Think also about this: The Braves just traded a man who finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting because he was making too much money. And here’s how much Javier Vazquez is scheduled to make in 2010 — $11.5 million. That’s not even half what CC Sabathia, his new Yankee teammate, will earn.
The Braves traded Javier Vazquez only because they couldn't find any takers for Derek Lowe. The only other option was Vazquez. Also, I don't particularly see the point in mentioning what Sabathia makes. All that says is the Yankees have big wallets.

And that tells us all we need know about the Braves.
Does it?

They keep making noises about contending for division titles, but it’s just noise. They can’t afford to do real business any longer.
"Real business", huh? Does real business involve, oh, I don't know... utilizing the resources available to you as best as you can? Isn't that what the Braves are doing?

From the day the 2009 season ended they were looking to dump a starting pitcher, ostensibly to add a power hitter, but Melky Cabrera isn’t a power hitter.
No, he's not. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, he's not any more better than Garret Anderson.

He was the eighth-best position player on the Yankees. He might not beat out Nate McLouth in center field here. He might wind up in a platoon. And he’s what the Braves got for the man who was their best pitcher last season.
Cabrera isn't supposed to beat McLouth out for center field. It's natural to believe that Cabrera will be in a platoon with Diaz in left field; in fact, that's what I expect.

The Braves got Cabrera and two pitchers. It's so easy to forget that when you want to focus on the most recognizable names.

“A perfect fit,” Frank Wren called Cabrera, speaking on a teleconference Tuesday, but the only thing perfect about this trade was how completely it detonates the Braves’ claim to being serious players. You don’t trade an ace unless you get a big bopper in return. The Braves got a guy who hit 13 home runs with 68 RBIs last season.
Yeah, you usually trade aces for prospects. I can't even remember the last time that an ace was traded for a slugger. That just doesn't happen in today's baseball world.

Yes, there’s more to the trade than Cabrera. Mike Dunn should help in the bullpen and Arodys Vizcaino is a young power arm, but the cold truth is that the Braves just played what they deemed their trump card — a surplus of starting pitching — without improving their run production one whit.
All Vizcaino is to Bradley is "a young power arm". There's something to be said about that; it tells me he doesn't understand just how good of a prospect he is to the organization. I truly believe Vizcaino partially makes up for trading Neftali Feliz to Texas.

The Braves actually DID improve their run production one whit. Cabrera is an improvement on Garret Anderson when it comes to getting on base. A whit's improvement.

And don’t fool yourselves: That $11.5 million they saved on Vazquez won’t allow them to splurge on Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. Those guys are out of price range, out of sight.
Actually, it'll be around $8.5 million because Cabrera is due to make about $3 million in arbitration. Besides, who says the Braves have to go after an outfielder with that extra money? They could easily sign one of the free-agent first basemen now. Candidates include Troy Glaus, Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, or even Adam LaRoche. A full season of better first-base power (Casey Kotchman slugged just .409 mostly during the first half of the year) should help the Braves.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to make a deal like this,” Wren said. Then this: “We’ve been focused on [finding a run producer] all offseason, and we were waiting on the right match. And we’re still waiting.”
Well, obviously that means that he's going to try another trade avenue. If Bay and Holliday are off-limits, that means Wren's going to go back to the trade market.

But Vazquez is gone. Can’t trade him twice. And the Braves can’t trade Derek Lowe because they’re down to five starters. So the best that can be reasonably hoped is that they find a Marlon Byrd or a Xavier Nady or — knowing as we do that the Braves love recycling old favorites — a Mark DeRosa or a Jermaine Dye.
Marlon Byrd - NO. He'll wilt outside of The Ballpark in Arlington.
Xavier Nady - He'll be a cheap first base option because he's coming off surgery, but he wouldn't be that good.
Mark DeRosa - He can't exactly play first base or left field on a regular basis.
Jermaine Dye - I would actually love to see him play first base.

Except none of those players will make them better in the way that losing Vazquez makes them worse.
Losing Vazquez actually doesn't make the team that much worse. The rotation goes from this:

1. Vazquez
2. Jurrjens
3. Hanson
4. Lowe
5. Kawakami

to this

1. Jurrjens
2. Hanson
3. Hudson
4. Kawakami
5. Lowe

It won't necessarily be in that order, but it's still not a drastic step down. Jurrjens or Hanson could very easily step into the vacuum created by Vazquez's absence and Tim Hudson takes the "vacant" spot. Since Lowe and Kawakami should improve from their previous seasons, the mystery player becomes Tim Hudson. That's a good luxury the Braves still have.

As someone who has defended Wren in the past, I have to say I’m stumped. Obviously the Braves’ salary constraints are worse than we’d been led to believe if they had to make this sort of deal so soon — Santa Claus hasn’t yet come and Javier Vazquez has left the building — but even more puzzling is Wren’s contention that this enabled him “to improve our club.” Maybe it improves it in 2012, when Vizcaino is ready to join Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. But the way the Braves operate those pitchers will have been sold off by then.
Bad joke if you're joking, pure idiocy if you're not, Mr. Bradley. Trading Hanson and Jurrjens in their cheap arbitration years. Please.

Nothing about this offseason suggests that the new Braves are any better than the ones who finished third in the NL East. Is Billy Wagner an upgrade over Rafael Soriano? No. (But he’s cheaper. And also older.) Is Takashi Saito better than Mike Gonzalez? No. (But he’s cheaper. And also older.) Is the new first baseman … oh, wait. They don’t yet have a new first baseman.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Wagner and Saito being "older" than Soriano and Gonzalez. This is simply a symptom of what many baseball organizations see as the proper way to build a baseball team. Closers and set-up men go through teams like a hot potato in some cases.

When it comes to first base, there's this guy that complicates things a little and his name is Freddie Freeman. The Braves have to walk a fine line with their second-best prospect. They don't want to sign someone to a big contract and block him, but they also want someone for "insurance" in case Freeman has a hard time advancing past Mississippi.

For all this motion — Wren is forever in a hurry — the Braves will enter January 2010 a lesser team than in September 2009. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. But that is, sad to say, the way it works here, where $11.5 million for a big-time pitcher is considered too much, where the drive to win is trumped by the need to scrimp.
If the season started in January, I might share your concerns displayed in the first sentence. Also, just because an ace was traded for a couple of prospects and someone who isn't particularly helpful doesn't mean the Braves are "scrimping". This is only part of Wren's gameplan. He knows that the Braves still need a first baseman and/or someone who can actually hit for power. This isn't the end of the off-season, this isn't the time to be declaring the Braves' demise in the 2010 NL East race, and it is certainly not the time to call this trade a symptom of penny-pinching.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dumping On The Rays: Braves Trade Soriano For Chavez

RCP Rafael Soriano (75 2/3 IP, 53 H, 23 ER, 27 BB, 102 K)

RRP Jesse Chavez (67 1/3 IP, 69 H, 30 ER, 22 BB, 47 K)

The monkey wrench has been pulled out of the works.

According to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times, the Braves agreed to trade former closer Rafael Soriano to the Tampa Bay Rays for relief pitcher Jesse Chavez. The medical records and other things were examined and the trade will be announced Friday.

Soriano pitched in the closer's role for most of the 2009 season. He was 27-31 in save opportunities while garnering a less-than-sparkling 1-6 record. The Dominican, who thrives on his fastball and slider, held opponents last season to a .194 batting average and a career high in strikeouts (12.1 K/9). The most lasting impression of his final year may be a couple of key blown saves:

  • August 6 at Los Angeles: With the Braves leading 4-2, Soriano allowed an infield single to Juan Pierre, a groundball single to right field to Rafael Furcal and a game-ending home run to Andre Ethier.
  • September 9 at Houston: Soriano took the hill for Tommy Hanson, who pitched eight innings of shutout ball. Michael Bourn struck out swinging, but then allowed a single to Kazuo Matsui and a double to Lance Berkman. Carlos Lee was intentionally walked, but Miguel Tejada singled up the middle to win the game for the Astros.
Regardless, Soriano stabilizes the Rays' closing situation; he should inherit the role from J. P. Howell.

Jesse Chavez, who has been shuffled through the Rangers and Pirates systems, is known for a live fastball that can reach 95 miles and hour and has a plus curve and change-up. However, he usually has trouble locating the pitches for strikes. Last season, Chavez had his first taste of extended action in the majors. The fact that he proved he can pitch in 73 games seems promising; that means that he can handle a potential heavy workload in a Braves bullpen used by Bobby Cox.

Because of the nature of the situation, this trade amounted to a salary dump. The Braves had to get rid of Soriano because he accepted arbitration. As such, the reliever was due to make about $7 million with a slight raise in arbitration. The Braves needed that money to pursue a first baseman and outfielder. Thus, he couldn't be peddled off for much because the Braves had nearly zero leverage. The fact the Braves were able to get Chavez without having to pay any of his 2010 salary was a small miracle in and of itself.

EDIT: Frankly, when push comes to shove, I could have cared less who the Braves got back from the Rays in this trade. I hope that Sanchez has the talent to continue his career in the Braves system, but the only thing I cared about was getting rid of Soriano. That objective was accomplished. Bring on the rest of the off-season!

SECOND EDIT: Added title

Photo by AP's Gene J. Puskar

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Change Of Plans: Soriano Accepts Arbitration

RRP Rafael Soriano
(accepts arbitration)

Rafael Soriano unwittingly threw a monkey wrench into the Braves' early off-season plans by accepting arbitration before the midnight deadline at the first day of Major League Baseball's winter meetings.

Soriano is expected to garner about $7-8 million in salary for next season. That's a lucrative deal on the money side for him, but with newcomers Wagner and Saito, along with incumbents Moylan and O'Flaherty, the bullpen just got that much more crowded.

While this forces Braves general manager Frank Wren to look more heavily into trading Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez, the main objectives of getting a left fielder and first baseman could still be obtained.

EDIT: Photo by Paul Spinelli of Getty Images

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Kyuuentoushu Getto!: Braves Sign Saito To Set Up Wagner

RCP Takashi Saito

Just a day after announcing the signing of Billy Wagner, the Braves completed most of their bullpen upheaval by bringing in another veteran fireballer.

Atlanta came to terms with former Dodgers closer and Red Sox set-up man Takashi Saito on a one-year contract worth $3 million.

Two things are interesting about this signing: the Braves have gotten significantly older in their set-up and closer position. Gonzalez and Soriano will be 32 and 30 next season and Wagner and Saito will be 38 and 40 years old.

Another interesting thing is that Atlanta basically completed their bullpen shopping within two days. I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before concerning the Braves. The plan seems to be to make sure that Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano decline arbitration and go on to sign with other ballclubs. It makes sense, after all; why should Soriano or Gonzalez stay with Atlanta another season when they could easily get millions more elsewhere to be a full-time closer?

EDIT: Photo by Richard Hartog of the Los Angeles Times