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December 22, 2009

Transaction Analysis

The Vazquez Trade

by Christina Kahrl

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Acquired RHP Javier Vazquez and LHP Boone Logan from the Braves for RHP Arodys Vizcaino, LHP Mike Dunn, and OF-S Melky Cabrera; signed C-R Mike Rivera to a minor-league contract. [12/22]

Let's be clear, the Yankees didn't just use money muscle to make this happen, because Vizcaino's no small thing to surrender. The rest of it was parts they could afford to put into play, because they didn't have any immediate use for them that exceeded their value as chits to convert into one year of Vazquez. Cabrera was fungible from the moment they traded for Curtis Granderson, regardless of whether or not they make Brett Gardner their starting left fielder or add another veteran for left, and regardless of whether or not they consummate the rumored deal for Nick Johnson. Instead, Cabrera's role on the 2010 Yankees was fourth outfielder-to-be, and that may well be his role in Atlanta, if he isn't re-packaged off by them. (Experienced young veteran or no, it's worth remembering that the Braves didn't all run out and get Casey Kotchman tattoos, after all.)

With the exchange of southpaws, Dunn's a noteworthy talent who may well shine in his new organization, but relief help's not that hard to find. Logan's a relatively better-known if inconsistent quantity, and if he fits into the third row of the club's rotating cast of thousands taking turns setting up Mariano Rivera, no harm done. If he doesn't, so what? For the Yankees, this deal isn't won or lost on who their fourth outfielder is, or who their second lefty in the pen is.

Instead, it's won or lost on the proposition that Vazquez has something like another 2009 in him. If he does, he's the power right-hander to line up behind CC Sabathia that A.J. Burnett isn't reliably going to be. If he isn't, he's a lot like Burnett, only more so, in that he's had worse seasons as well as higher highs. Was that worth chancing Vizcaino's upside? Of course it was. Could it turn out badly, as badly as Vazquez's previous summer in the Bronx back in 2004? Of course it could. But how many reliable starters are there on the market? Do you really want to revisit the Carl Pavanos or the Kei Igawas on the thought you're adding adequacy, and then wind up with even less? Instead, Cashman's playing for higher stakes, and betting that he gets the good Vazquez in his walk year instead of the one the White Sox got tired of, the guy who wears down early and gets hammered in the sixth inning while slogging through his rounds in the DH league. It's not a safe bet, but then neither is it certain that Vizcaino's going to be the next Pedro Martinez and make you look bad in short order.

So, which Vazquez will show up? That is the $11.5 million question, after all. He was complete murder on right-handers, which could come in handy against a Red Sox lineup beginning to lean right among its best players. And consistent with Cashman's acquisition plan last year, like Sabathia and Burnett, Vazquez is a power pitcher who will be less defense-dependent, not a bad thing at all on this club, especially if the infield defense gets worse with another bit of mileage on the treads of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano. Last year, Vazquez did an exceptional job of getting over the sixth-inning hump, holding hitters to .261/.333/.357; he didn't struggle after his 75th pitch either. That's great, but it was also in the National League, in a park that's probably friendlier than NuYankee, and certainly friendlier than the Cell. To dial the wayback machine to 2008 to reflect what the less-happy Vazquez might be like, his sixth innings as a White Sock were bloodbaths (.360/.380/.570), and his performances on pitches 76-100 equally gory (.325/.361/.550). Maybe he's dispelled those bogeymen. Maybe it was all mean old Ozzie Guillen, hurting his feelings, and a dose of Bronx charity will make all the difference. And maybe it's the difference between facing full lineups in the better league, because it pushes up when you're catching the batting order in-game the third time around, and because you don't get to see the pitchers and the Bonifacios in the AL East. It'll certainly be interesting to find out.

Finally, there's the team-relative element of this that makes it an automatic win. Joba Chamberlain should be locked into the fifth slot of the rotation, with Chad Gaudin and (cringe) Sergio Mitre representing fall-back options, instead of picking from among Gaudin, Mitre, and Phil Hughes to round out the rotation. If the Joba Rules dictate their best young pitcher's career is going to be frittered away to no purpose, hey, that's all a big secret, but if Chamberlain succeeds as the guy who is now that much more out of the limelight, consider it a potential benefit. They could also stand Chamberlain up in a direct competition with Hughes for the fifth slot, with loser becoming the primary set-up man in the pen, but in the end, anything that puts Gaudin back into a swing role as the designated sixth starter, long reliever, and mop-up man sounds like something that puts him in his proper place on a potential pennant-winner.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Signed LHP Mariano Gomez, C-S Orlando Mercado, OF-R Brent Clevlen, and UT-L Joe Thurston to minor-league contracts. [12/18]
Traded RHP Javier Vazquez and LHP Boone Logan to the Yankees for RHP Arodys Vizcaino, LHP Mike Dunn, and OF-S Melky Cabrera. [12/22]

So it's all about the money, or money management, or soul-less bean-counting. Really? I guess what I find silly is the proposition that the Braves are being cheap, and that somehow that's what's killing them. It's easy to say, but I guess I don't buy the logic, let alone the emotion.

For example, let's go back and look at what they did with the relief exchange. They elected to bring in Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito for at least $10.2 million before they had to deal with the Rafael Soriano imbroglio. You don't get Wagner and Saito and Soriano; they were operating with an either/or proposition, and they'd picked Wagner and Saito, making the mistake of thinking they'd get draft picks for Soriano. In retrospect, you can wish they'd have gone for Wagner and Soriano, and gone sans Saito, because we can pretend to know they'd have spent just $1.7-4 million more or so (Saito's incentives put the final bill in doubt for the next 11 months). Obviously, that wasn't the path they took, but that decision was made before Soriano accepted arbitration, which is why it's speculative to suggest they'd have gotten Soriano at the same price the Rays got him to agree to; maybe he does, and maybe Soriano goes to the hearing, and that probably costs you more than $7.25 or $7.5 million. Claiming to know doesn't make it so, and one of the easiest mistakes to make in the market is to overpay for relief pitching, even allowing for Soriano's performance while healthy.

Instead, I'd argue that what's in play here is less the question of expense as much as it is about preference. The Braves preferred to have Tim Hudson back over banking on Vazquez, signing him to a three-year deal after the year. Can you blame them? Consider the two pitcher's performance records via SNWP and SNLVAR, to give both a rate and a counting stat:


        Hudson       Vazquez
Year  SNWP/SNLVAR  SNWP/SNLVAR
2009  .519/1.0     .608/7.4
2008  .593/4.5     .493/3.3
2007  .600/7.9     .552/5.3
2006  .471/3.5     .488/2.7
2005  .563/5.3     .511/4.1
2004  .570/5.1     .497/3.2

I can't say the Braves made a mistake here. Age isn't a big factor, but Hudson is a year older. As we know, Hudson's 2009 was abbreviated by injury, and his 2006 isn't cause for joy, but he's supposed to be healthy, thus the three-year deal. The Braves didn't get to trade Vazquez for what he was in '09, any more than they can bank on what he was in '09 being what they'd get in 2010. Vazquez's recent swings from valuable to exasperating are a matter of record, with the recent peaks still separated by another one of his trenches, which doesn't help a proposition that selling high is going to yield maximum return. It's one year of a reliably unreliable starting pitcher, equally capable of greatness or making his manager a Maalox junkie. Not finding a rube willing to give you everything for Christmas because he thinks Vazquez is suddenly going to be reliable does not make you a badly run franchise, it instead reflects a smarter marketplace and a potentially more contrained range of possible actions.

Consider what else has been in play this winter. The Braves also wisely preferred to skip on all of those tasty rumors that put Jair Jurrjens somewhere else. They understandably couldn't find anyone excited about adding a back-end rotation starter like Kenshin Kawakami in December, when the market's awash in that sort. Nobody wanted to take on Derek Lowe's deal (which I guess was cheap of them to sign... or perhaps not so much). So you don't get Hudson and Vazquez, you have to pick, and the Braves had already, picking Hudson. We can backbite on why they spent to bring Kawakami over, but we can also kibitz on why they spent so much on Lowe (which was congratulated as a good idea a year ago, not unreasonably). We can fidget on why they spent on bringing Tom Glavine back, only to end up not employing him. And we can second-guess why they traded for Vazquez in the first place last winter, pretending to know that they were going to flip him a year later. I didn't, but I liked the deal for both parties then. In retrospect that trade's boiling down to Tyler Flowers and far-off Santos Rodriguez for two years of control of Vazquez, plus assorted party favors. At the time, concerns over Flowers' ability to remain at catcher and the happy having of Brian McCann made Flowers movable. Subsequently, the Sox have the benefit of Flowers' improved receiving—which was not a guaranteed result last year.

So Frank Wren moved the one year of Javier Vazquez he had at his disposal, and instead of magically answering all of his club's needs right now this instant in this one trade, they went for considerable upside value. Not with Cabrera, although having him under control for a couple of years and having him available to deal later for a team looking for a center fielder makes him a readily convertible placeholder. If Jordan Schafer doesn't pan out, the Melky man's a better alternative for the immediate future than, say, Gorkys Hernandez was going to be before they decided to win in '09 by trading Hernandez to the Pirates. Nor is Dunn critical, although his combination of mid-90s heat and a power slider makes him a lefty relief prospect worthy of the name, and someone who could step directly onto the big-league staff and join Eric O'Flaherty in providing quality work from the left side, setting up Wagner in a bullpen that seems to be filling up.

No, the real prize here is Vizcaino's upside, which basically short-circuits any neat totting up of benefits to issue any final pronouncements, because the Venezuelan's power assortment of a quality curve and reliable mid-90s heat has only been fired at New York-Penn League ballplayers. I'd just point you towards Kevin Goldstein's Top 11 Prospects list from earlier today, and suggest that this is someone worth having, someone worth waiting for, and certainly someone you can risk adding on the off chance that you just avoided Vazquez's next step along his recent Saberhagen-like polar career path.

Similarly, in the same way that we don't know what Vizcaino's going to turn into and can't write the obit of this exchange for perhaps another half-dozen years, as with any work in progress, I think it's silly to say somebody's being dumb or not spending enough, and try to use money alone for scorekeeping purposes. Maybe they're being cheap, and maybe not, and maybe we'll know better by February. I take it for granted that the Braves aren't done, and may get in on that corner outfield bat they need; whether that buys time for Jason Heyward to develop or keeps both Melky Cabrera on the bench, that's certainly worth doing. For the sake of argument, if they wind up with an outfield of Matt Holliday, Nate McLouth, and Heyward, does that mean they're smart again? Or not smart until Vizcaino blossoms? Or not smart until we see what Vazquez does in his latest veering swing through an inconsistent career?

Now, as a matter of preference, you can prefer Vazquez to giving Hudson a three-year deal. I think the performance records argue against it, but your mileage may vary. Similarly, you can argue for keeping Soriano at an arbitration-generated rate of compensation, but that wasn't the club's plan; they're banking on Wagner and Saito. There might be a pattern of saving some money on their balance sheet for 2010, but until we know if the Braves are done or not, we don't know if they're being cheap, or if they aren't just simply making a few tough choices. Talking about Soriano sort of misses the point, because he was gone as far as their plans were concerned; it took his action of accepting arbitration to re-add him to their menu, however briefly. We can pretend they might have kept Vizcaino, and... what, cut Kawakami? Send Tommy Hanson to Gwinnett? Hope for a better trade in February, when their other actions depend on getting this done now?

Until we see what else the Braves do, I say we see how things play out, and judge Wren's execution accordingly. Admittedly, I'm giving the Braves a pass until then, but even if nothing else does happen, I think we ought to be judging their elective decision-making in choosing Hudson for three years over Vazquez for one and picking Wagner and Saito as next year's first-rank relievers on more than just a payroll sheet.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

34 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

pantagathos

Christina, so to be clear you're not really in agreement with Joe's thinking that this trade is the manifestation of a corporate cost-cutting mentality...

Dec 22, 2009 15:44 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Not automatically, no. I prefer to see what else happens. Could it be? Sure, but they just dropped a bunch on money on Hudson, Wagner isn't playing for brownies and hugs, and I'm curious about what they're going to do as far as adding a bat or two at the four corners, especially with first base unoccupied at present. Cabrera could be a bargaining chip in all of that, so I'm interested in seeing what the next two months bring.

Dec 22, 2009 15:55 PM
 
Ira

So, Christina, in a no holds barred cage match between you and Joe, who comes out the winner?

Dec 23, 2009 09:09 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I run with the dog, so he'd have to catch me. I have problems opening jars, so my best shot at raising a bruise is with repartee.

Dec 23, 2009 10:41 AM
 
Nick Carter

The one thing eating away at this is that it's Bobby Cox's final year (and one of Chipper's last few) - you'd think that the Braves would be looking to win now. For that reason I can't see this being a trade to open up payroll to pay for two spots, it has to be for 1st base. However, Adrian Gonzalez would have already fit within the Braves payroll before this trade.

I still think Miguel Cabrera is the play to be made.

Dec 22, 2009 16:13 PM
rating: 0
 
pbconnection

I suppose that all depends on if the Tigers are willing to eat any of the money owed to Cabrera. He's making over $20M per season through 2015 and seems likely to be a DH by then.

Adrian Gonzalez is on everyone's wishlist, which makes it seem unlikely. However, I'm sure the Padres would like a shiny new Arodys Vizcaino in a hefty trade package. Also, I'm sure that the Braves would prefer to keep Heyward - and prospects like Vizcaino would be needed to keep him out of such a deal.

Dec 22, 2009 16:39 PM
rating: 0
 
pbconnection

This is an excellent retort to Joe's piece. Clearly this deal involved too many pitchers with V's and Z's aplenty because they got mixed up in the 2nd to last paragraph... certainly an understandable error.

Dumping Vazquez's salary certainly didn't seems to be that big of sin to me. Those dollars can be used very effectively in this depressed FA market. That ~$8M seems like quite a boon when the likes of Nick Johnson and his over .400 OBP cost only $5.5M.

Dec 22, 2009 16:34 PM
rating: 1
 
shamah

Well, so much for the BP groupthink. If someone were to ask me why I've been a BP subscriber for almost 10 years (since back when it was free!), I think I'd point to this piece and Joe's piece from earlier today. The same trade and we get two articles that analyze it from different angles and reach opposite conclusions. I'm not sure who I agree with, but I don't think it matters.

Dec 22, 2009 16:46 PM
rating: 16
 
Richard Bergstrom

It's not the first time either. I recall some of the steroids articles with BP authors taking different sides of the issue. But if certain people want to see groupthink, ironically, they'll do anything they can to convince themselves of seeing groupthink.

Dec 22, 2009 17:13 PM
rating: 13
 
cliffvoliva

We will never know what the future holds until the future is over. (Sorry, Yogi. I beat you to that one.)

We can beat up ourselves silly wondering whom got the better of which trade; it all depends on a specific point in time.

One could similarly go bonkers over wondering how the Braves 'would' have been if they had traded guys like Chipper and Maddux in their prime.

I'm glad they didn't.

Dec 23, 2009 14:54 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Don't be led into the false sense that Groupthink is dead at BP. Joe is just the one writer who actually believes that a team can improve themselves by spending money. Almost everyone else here is an advocate of doing it on the cheap.

Dec 23, 2009 08:46 AM
rating: -6
 
sunpar

As always, an interesting take. I've been trying to sell my fellow Braves fans on a similar angle all day, though I haven't exactly believed it myself.

My one quibble is in calling Vazquez is somehow a high variance pitcher. Take away his recent career year and his 2 year slump in the Bronx and in Arizona, and we know exactly what he is-- a 3.5-3.7 FIP fly ball pitcher who will eat upwards of 200 innings a year.

For what it's worth, the Braves have basically confirmed that they will not be offering contracts to Holliday or Bay. Some beat writers close to the team seem to think that they're going to go with short term replacements like Damon/Nady to fill the offensive roles that are still empty (OF, 1B).

Dec 22, 2009 17:24 PM
rating: 0
 
sunpar

Well, I guess Glaus is the guy for 1B. That still leaves payroll and space for one more bat in the outfield. If it's Nady (the Braves like that he can play 1B), does this make Liberty a villain? Or does Damon indicate greater commitment?

Or is it Bay-or-bust? I'm not really sure.

Dec 23, 2009 07:53 AM
rating: 0
 
McNulty

Patiently waiting for TA on the O's lately...

Dec 22, 2009 17:55 PM
rating: 0
 
tim270

Myself as well.

Dec 23, 2009 00:08 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Coming on Wednesday. Between the book, pesky new moves like this one, the annoyance of as-yet unconsummated moves (Nick Johnson and Jason Marquis), and the example of the non-trade of Mike Lowell reminding us why it's important to see what actually happens instead of speculatin' about a hypothesis... it's been a busy December.

Dec 23, 2009 00:20 AM
 
PWHjort

Christina,

You nailed it. Excellent analysis.

Dec 22, 2009 20:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Justice

One thing that strikes me about this latest deal is that the Braves acquired Vazquez and Logan in a six player deal with the White Sox just about one year ago and have now dealt the two players to the Yankees in a five player trade. If we view these two trades as a three-way deal one year removed, then who who got the best of the "deal" -- the Braves, Yankees or White Sox? Tyler Flowers would appear the best player that the Sox received and lefty Santos Rodriguez pitched well last year, albeit in the low minors.

Dec 23, 2009 01:20 AM
rating: 0
 
KerryFam4

Frank Wren spoke briefly on Atlanta sports talk radio yesterday and basically said, "Stay tuned". (By the way, he was calling from a family snorkeling trip in the Carribean. As much as we'd all like to have the chance to be a GM, these guys never get any real time away.) As a Braves fan, if this deal isn't part of something else that's already in place, I don't like the deal. Per KG, Vizcaino is 3 years away from contributing on the MLB level. I can't help but think that Vazquez would have brought more than Melky and a lottery ticket with a little more patience. If the reason to deal him now was based on a need to acquire cash or pieces for an impending deal that addresses the team's real needs then we can happily re-evaluate. If it was made to acquire bargaining chips for something that might turn up later in the offseason, I think it was a poor deal.

Dec 23, 2009 05:58 AM
rating: 2
 
MountainCat

"Melky and a lottery ticket" -- great way to put it. No Christina, this was a salary dump.

Dec 23, 2009 06:52 AM
rating: -2
 
themurfs

KerryFam4 has it nailed - if the $$$ from dumping Vazquez for a lottery ticket is used for AGonzo or similar, then this was good move. If the $$$ saved goes back to corporate fat wallets, then this was typical losing corporate bean counting. Wait till the money lands in a somebody's account - either a top hitter's account or the corporate fat wallet account. that's when the value of this deal will be known.

Dec 23, 2009 16:18 PM
rating: 1
 
LindInMoskva

"If the Joba Rules dictate their best young pitcher's career is going to be frittered away to no purpose, hey, that's all a big secret..."

I don't understand the sentiment that Joba is not being used properly. He spent his first full season half in relief/half starting. His second season he started 31 games without too many innings. It seems like he is being managed the way he is supposed to be managed, he just didn't pitch all that great last year. Wouldn't a 100-150-180 innings pitched progression be the ideal way to handle any young pitching talent?

Dec 23, 2009 07:12 AM
rating: 3
 
gluckschmerz

"Let's be clear, the Yankees didn't just use money muscle to make this happen..." Oh c'mon CK.

The Yankees start from a level that most teams can't even dream of. The Yankees have a wider range of options. The Yankees are one of the "haves". Their payroll allows for more wiggle room, mis-steps and mistakes and imparts to them the ability to draft and otherwise acquire fungible/tradeable assests that the "have-nots" cannot "afford to put into play".

Payroll is *always* a factor with the Yankees.

The NHL, NBA and NBA have payroll mechanisms in place which allow well-run teams to compete for championships. The same cannot be said for MLB where it's about revenue and payroll.

Dec 23, 2009 07:14 AM
rating: -3
 
pbconnection

This deal for the Yankees is very similar to the deal that the Mariners made for Cliff Lee. The biggest difference is that the Yankees took on LESS payroll, since Melky Cabrera's contract is off the books. No one cried for the impoverished Phillies. The Mariners aren't big market bullies.

This was a baseball trade, pure and simple. Oversimplifying every transaction of the Yankees to their revenue isn't productive or useful.

Dec 23, 2009 07:36 AM
rating: 4
 
Chad

Braves have signed Troy Glaus with some of the Vazquez money for 1B, which, I guess I like assuming he can pick it up (<5 games at 1B in his career). Adds a masher in the middle of the lineup.

I wouldn't imagine Glaus is getting all the Vazquez money, so if you can get him up above 800 OPS and still have room for 1 more bat, I think this deal is OK.

Dec 23, 2009 07:34 AM
rating: 0
 
SteveR61

OMG, you mean the baseball season doesn't begin on December 23?

Dec 23, 2009 08:19 AM
rating: -1
 
dianagram

Christina, you hit it out of the park again.

Two items:

1) Cano's "tread" is pretty young. His defense shouldn't decline like A-Rod and Jeter's might. In fact, if the Yankee brains can finally tame him of his tendency to try and make the flashy play when the "surer out" would do, his defense would likely improve.

2) Give Vazquez's flyball tendencies, is NuYankee really less friendly than Atlanta?

Dec 23, 2009 08:50 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Hi Diana, and happy holidays to you...

1) Point well taken. I never cease to be impressed by how a player can respond to some types and instruction better than others, which isn't a criticism of the Yanks' current crew, just noting that 'soft' factors have a role, the extent of which we can't predict.

2) I get on these rants... NuYankee played as a big home run park early on, yes. But it wasn't great for other kinds of extra-base hits, and by year's end, it apparently wasn't great for any kind of multi-bagger. One year in, I think we'd be right to be cautious about how much gets read into how NuYankee plays.

Dec 23, 2009 09:15 AM
 
beerd90210

Christina,

I don't follow the logic that because the Braves have shown a willingness to spend money lately that this isn't a salary dump. I'd say it's precisely because they spent that money that they had to dump Vazquez's salary. Similar to the Phillies dumping Lee once they had Halladay's salary.

Dec 23, 2009 09:07 AM
rating: 0
 
ClubberLang

I'm really curious to see how this works out. This is a guy who was sarcastically called "Big Game Javy" in Chicago and two out of his three years for the Sox he would spectacularly implode in the fifth or sixth inning of seemingly every start. The one year he was good was the year the Sox were never in the race and finished 72-90. He didn't exactly handle his one year in the Bronx very well either. His stuff is great, it's his head that's in question.

I've seen it described as hoping they get a good season after he's had two good ones in the last three, but you can also say he's had two good seasons in his last six and still be accurate.

Dec 23, 2009 09:46 AM
rating: 1
 
yankee

Christina,
As a Yankee fan Joe's column made me feel good, but I agree with your analysis. The Braves don't have Ted Turner money but Frank Wren is no fool, so wait and see.

Dec 23, 2009 10:35 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Christina ... do you have the power to make a PDF version of BP2010 possible? Can you talk to TPTB regarding this? I really enjoyed being able to download the Football and Basketball volumes, and print out only the pages I wanted.

How about it CK?

Dec 23, 2009 10:43 AM
rating: 1
 
Matt

I disagree with the notion that we will have to wait to "write the obit of this exchange." If Vizcaino turns into a superstar, Wren doesn't become a genius, he becomes the beneficiary of good luck. That is unless he can divine the future which would constitute genius. It seems like we have been moving towards a convention of analyzing trades involving prospects based on the information available at the time of the trade, acknowledging the risks/rewards and the market valuations of the time, etc. For example, had Wren traded Vazquez for an army of blue-chippers, we would praise him up and down, even if none of them panned out.

Dec 23, 2009 11:36 AM
rating: 0
 
elm
(41)

The waiting part isn't to see what Vizcaino turns into, it's to see what, if anything, the Braves do with the money they saved on Vazquez.

Dec 26, 2009 04:59 AM
rating: 1
 
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2010-02-16 - Camp Battles: AL East
2010-01-29 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Damon's Next Dash?
2010-01-18 - Premium Article Transaction Action: NL Ketchup