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December 23, 2009

On the Beat

Midweek Update

by John Perrotto

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Frank Wren had one big chip available in an effort to try to get his team over the hump and better positioned to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2005. The Braves' general manager played it Tuesday; time will tell whether he used it wisely.

Wren was in the unusual and enviable position of having six major-league caliber starting pitchers for five spots, providing him the opportunity to trade one in an effort to bolster the offense. Thus, he shipped right-hander Javier Vazquez and left-handed reliever Boone Logan to the Yankees for outfielder Melky Cabrera, rookie right-handed reliever Mike Dunn, and top pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino.

Vazquez was one of the top starting pitchers in the major leagues last season, finishing ninth with a 7.4 SNLVAR. Yet the Braves decided to gamble and trade Vazquez, who can become a free agent at the end of the season. Vizcaino has the potential to be the biggest part of the return for the Braves, as BP's Kevin Goldstein ranked him as the Yankees' second-best prospect behind catcher Jesus Montero just a day before the trade. However, Vizcaino will likely be pitching at Low-A Rome when next season opens, and he will have no impact on the 2010 pennant race, something the Braves hope to be a part of after staying in the National League wild card chase until the last days of the 2009 season.

Thus, it is Cabrera who the Braves hope can help right away. The 25-year-old has been long on hype throughout his career but short on production. In fact, Cabrera was the closest thing resembling an anchor in a Yankees' lineup that led the major leagues in runs scored last season with an average of 5.65 a game. The center fielder had a .267 EqA, the lone regular with a mark lower than .287. Thus, you get the feeling Yankees GM Brian Cashman isn't crying over spilled Melk, especially in the wake of acquiring a capable replacement two weeks ago at the winter meetings in Indianapolis by trading for the Tigers' Curtis Granderson.

Yet Wren believes the 25-year-old switch-hitting Cabrera can bolster a Braves' lineup that was 17th in the majors with an average of 4.54 runs scored a game. Cabrera is expected to play right field, joining a starting outfield that presently includes Matt Diaz in left and Nate McLouth in center but seemingly lacks an impact bat. Throw in the fact the Braves would be forced to rush first base prospect Freddie Freeman to the major leagues if the season started today and it's hard to see how the offense is very much improved, pending subsequent pickups.

It also seems Wren might have forced the issue by trading Vazquez now instead of waiting for better offers, especially when the free agent market is soft on starting pitching this winter. Wren, though, believes he made the right deal. "I don't think there was anything magic to the timing other than when you find a good match," Wren said. "When we started getting deeper into conversations over the weekend, we thought we found a good match-then we just felt it was time to move forward. We wanted to look for the deal that improves our club the most."

Though they won't admit it publicly, the starter the Braves wanted to trade was right-hander Derek Lowe. He had just a 3.1 SNLVAR in 2009, the first season of the four-year, $60 million contract he signed as a free agent, a deal the Braves would love to take back. Since there was no chance they would part with young ace Jair Jurrjens, the Braves knew Vazquez was their most alluring bait.

The Braves now have money to play with in order to find help at first base, the outfield, or both. There is a feeling they will eventually re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche as a free agent because it is a move being strongly advocated by third baseman and franchise icon Chipper Jones. The Braves have also been mentioned as a possible suitor for another former Yankees center fielder, free agent Johnny Damon, who could play left field and allow Diaz to slot as the fourth outfielder.

Of course, the Braves could just put 20-year-old mega-prospect Jason Heyward in their Opening Day outfield, but they would prefer to give him a little more time at Triple-A Gwinnett after he played just three games there at the end of last season then missed most of the Arizona Fall League season with a strained buttock.

"We feel like we've got some good pieces for our outfield, and we want to add more offense," Wren said.

---

The Yankees loaded up on free agents last winter, spending an almost incomprehensible $423.5 million to sign Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. This winter, Cashman has gone the trade route in his attempt to strengthen a team that went 103-59 and won the World Series last season, as he has dealt for Granderson and Vazquez.

While Cashman hasn't been quite The Cash Man this time, the Yankees did take on the three years and $25.75 million remaining on Granderson's contract and will pay Vazquez $11.5 million in 2010. That leads to the age-old question of whether the Yankees have an unlimited budget. "I do have a number I'm working under," Cashman said. "We will be under that number."

The Yankees seem determined to stay under $200 million, as even the sport's most well-heeled franchise is sensitive to claims it bought the franchise's 27th World Series title with last winter's spending spree. Yet there are many people around baseball who believe owner Hal Steinbrenner will give Cashman the OK to go over the $200 million threshold to sign a premier free agent such as Matt Holliday or Jason Bay to fill the hole in left field created when they decided not to re-sign Damon last week.

Cashman, though, is adamant that neither Holliday nor Bay is coming to New York. "We'll continue to look at any remaining pieces, but it won't be a big piece," Cashman said. "So any speculation about some high-end players with dollars attached on a large scale would be inappropriate."

---

Holliday is still unsigned with the holidays fast approaching, and agent Scott Boras said there is no sense of urgency to have him under contract before the calendar turns to 2010 a week from Friday.

"The acquisition of a franchise talent is not about a wristwatch," Boras told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold. "That's about all I can tell you. It's not a particular time. It's about the club recognizing the benefit of having that player and how they'll be dramatically impacted by the loss of that player. When that realization takes place, when there is recognition of the player's place in the market, then you have an agreement."

Boras' clients have been noted for staying on the market longer than most. Teixeira did not agree to terms with the Yankees last winter until December 23, while left fielder Manny Ramirez did not re-sign with the Dodgers until after spring training had started. When in doubt, Boras always prefers to watch the market fully develop rather than strike a quick deal. "You can take time, because things always get more defined in time," Boras said.

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Giants, after losing out to the Yankees on free-agent first baseman Nick Johnson, continue to look for hitting on the open market and are targeting catcher Rod Barajas, third baseman Adrian Beltre, and outfielder Marlon Byrd. The Cardinals' Plan B for left field if they are unable to resign Holliday is to bring back Mark DeRosa as a free agent, though there is some sentiment in the organization to giving the job to prospect Allen Craig. Free-agent outfielder Xavier Nady is drawing considerable interest as a free agent despite playing just seven games last season for the Yankees before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is a possibility for the Braves, Yankees, and Cardinals, among others.

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

Related Content:  Free Agent,  The Who

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

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Ira

Any word on the Rangers and Vlad recently?

Dec 23, 2009 09:55 AM
rating: 0
 
J Scott

Melky Cabrera has been "...long on hype..."? Really? Where? And from whom?

Dec 23, 2009 10:29 AM
rating: 2
 
pbconnection

Mostly from misinformed Yankees fans. As a Yankees fan myself, I can tell you that the reaction to the trade was that we shouldn't have given up Melky and that we'd "regret trading him once he develops."

It's just nonsense.

Dec 23, 2009 11:50 AM
rating: 0
 
WaldoInSC

Also, calling Cabrera the Yankees' "anchor" is a little jarring. We know what you mean -- that he dragged the rest of the team down -- but we usually use "anchor" to mean the linchpin around which everything else works. He was more like the team's dead weight.

Dec 24, 2009 13:27 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

As an additional note, it's been a pretty long time since a prospect or young player the Yankees traded away ended up burning them.

Traditionally, the Yankees, especially during the 70s and 80s, would get burned when they traded away young talent.

Dec 29, 2009 05:51 AM
rating: 0
 
Nick J

bummer.

Jan 16, 2010 19:59 PM
rating: 0
 
hessshaun

Excellent use of the work "buttock".

Dec 23, 2009 10:49 AM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

I'll believe the Yankees aren't players for Bay and Holliday when I see them sign somewhere else.

Dec 23, 2009 10:53 AM
rating: 7
 
pbconnection

Anyone who signs either of those guys to the contracts they're seeking will be foolish. Ca$hman isn't going to give it to them frankly because he's smarter than that, rather than budgetary concerns.

Dec 23, 2009 11:51 AM
rating: 0
 
Schlom

Who are they going to get to play LF in the near future then? I think people assume Carl Crawford but he might not be a free agent. Jayson Werth is the only other good 2011 free agent. I guess they could pull another salary dump trade (Carlos Lee?) to fill that spot. But they'd still have Nick Swisher as a starting outfielder which isn't exactly ideal for them. I'd be surprised if they sign Jason Bay but I fully expect them to sign Matt Holliday as money is no object and he fits their team.

Dec 23, 2009 13:08 PM
rating: -3
 
pbconnection
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Schlom, your comments are terrible, as usual.

Dec 23, 2009 13:27 PM
rating: -23
 
Chad

What does an apparently-imminent Troy Glaus signing (at a reported $2MM plus incentives) do for your judgment of the deal?

I would think the Braves are not done either and have something above $5MM to spend on another bat...

Dec 23, 2009 10:56 AM
rating: -1
 
DWrek5

Surprised they are so quick to let Glaus play 1st, but not Chipper.

Dec 23, 2009 11:42 AM
rating: 0
 
havens


Nothing like dealing your ace to clear payroll so that you can go out and get...Troy Glaus.

Dec 23, 2009 11:49 AM
rating: 3
 
pbconnection

Glaus is only costing 1/4 of the saving (in guaranteed $), so I'd say they're not done spending that money.

Dec 23, 2009 11:53 AM
rating: 0
 
hjw099
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Nothing like calling Javier Vazquez an ace...

Dec 23, 2009 12:00 PM
rating: -9
 
Dave T
(617)

If being one of the top 5 pitchers in the NL last year isn't sufficient qualification for team ace status, what is?

Dec 23, 2009 12:48 PM
rating: 7
 
Chad

Being one of the top 5 pitchers in your division for more than one year?
-Braves fan

Dec 23, 2009 12:52 PM
rating: -2
 
CubbyFan23

So we can't coin Adam Wainwright an ace either?

Dec 23, 2009 13:12 PM
rating: 5
 
eighteen

I'm not a Javy Vazquez fan, but in fairness to the man, since 2000:

He's #2 in total Ks (Only Randy Johnson has more)
He's #2 in IP
He's never started fewer than 32 games
He's never had fewer than 198 IP in a season

No, he's not an ace; but that level of reliability has a ton of value.

Dec 23, 2009 13:16 PM
rating: 7
 
Patrick

By WARP, he's been the second most valuable starting pitcher in the major leagues over the past ten seasons, just behind Roy Oswalt (47.1 to 47.0). Even his two worst years in that span (2004 and 2007), he was worth 2.3 WARP. He has two seasons above 7.0 and another three above 5.0, so while he's not an ace, he's far from being another LAIM.

Dec 23, 2009 17:51 PM
rating: 6
 
elewis

Vasquez is a great #4 and Melky is not much to lose in order to get him. Vizcaino is promising but...

The Yankees do need more offense and it has to be from an outfielder with a decent glove. Other than Holliday, there isn't one of those guys available as a free agent. I'm dreading seeing Granderson batting against lefties.

Dec 23, 2009 14:59 PM
rating: -3
 
kasgard

Yankee fans, what's this trade due to Hughes? Is he now doomed to 8th inning relief until Mariano hangs it up?

Dec 24, 2009 04:00 AM
rating: -2
 
Adam Hobson

I think the plan is to let Hughes and Chamberlain duke it out for the final rotation spot, but even if he loses that battle, I doubt AJ Burnett is throwing another 200 innings this year, so hopefully Hughes finds some starts as the year goes by.

It would truly be a waste of talent for either of Hughes or Chamberlain to end up as a reliever long term, so at this point I wouldn't mind if the Yanks put Hughes in the 5th spot and just traded Joba for the best LF he could bring in.

Dec 24, 2009 05:54 AM
rating: 0
 
pcanderson

It would be nice to know what the Braves mean by giving Heyward "a little more time" at Triple A. It's not their style to move people by rote and ladder; typically if a prospect is pounding AA, they're willing to jump him from that level. Triple A for them is more for organizational filler than developmental advancement.

If he's healthy, he'll be in Atlanta next year. So unless the Melkman is going to be flipped, I think you're looking right to left at Heyward, McLouth, and Cabrera, with Diaz there for depth.

Dec 24, 2009 04:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Adam Hobson

But I could see the Braves pull a Tommy Hanson on him and keep him in AAA to massage his service time clock. I think that will all depend on how Melky and Diaz are hitting, and what kind of show Heyward puts on in Spring Training. If he dominates Spring Training, it would be hard to send him down to the minors for two months or more and still pretend that the team is contending. But if he's only so-so in Spring Training, then they can easily play the "he needs more seasoning" card, and who knows maybe he would then.

Dec 24, 2009 05:57 AM
rating: 1
 
ryanlazenby

Also keep in mind that they've had mixed success there in the past couple years. Starting with Francoeur and McCann they've only got a 50% success rate. Schafer looked rushed last year as well. Medlen was actually relatively effective and Hanson looked good, both of whom were given a chance to prove they could handle AAA before their callup. Given the most recent trends, the only ones Wren has seen as a GM, its pretty likely the organization may be more patient in the future. Oh yeah, that and service time. My only real concern is that Wren goes out and signs a guy like Nady who blocks the callup either by being league average or by virtue of his contract.

Dec 26, 2009 15:09 PM
rating: 0
 
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