Thursday, December 4, 2008

Braves and South Siders Strike a Deal

The San Diego Padres may have been bluffing about Jake Peavy after all. While the demands for the ace right handed pitcher were not unreasonable on paper, in today's baseball world, asking for three of a teams top prospects for any player is asking a lot. Today, the Padres officially lost out on what seemed to be the best match for Peavy.

On Thursday morning, the Braves introduced the new ace to their rotation, right handed starter Javier Vazquez. While nobody would ever confuse Vazquez for Peavy, the cost, as well as years under control make Vazquez equally as valuable.

Upon first glance, this is a trade that I feel favors the White Sox. However, this is not to say that I feel as though the Braves are not winners in their own right.

The Atlanta Braves receive the best player in this deal, 32 year old Javier Vazquez, the perpetually disappointing Vazquez. That I deem Vazquez as a disappointment does not diminish his value, in fact, it boosts his value as it provides hope that his ceiling is far superior to how he has performed.

Vazquez has shown glimpses of dominance, dating back to his days with the Expos. He has been as durable as it gets for a pitcher, a testament to his season to season consistency. However, at age 32, with the large amount of innings under his belt, there has to be at least some cause for concern. That is merely speculation and nit picking an otherwise fantastic pitcher.

While Vazquez's ERA has been mediocre for four of the last five seasons, he has been largely unfortunate. Consider that over this five year period, Vazquez's FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching-a statistic which measures how well a pitcher performed regardless of the players around him) has averaged nearly 50 points lower then his eventually ERA.

That is, when one considers that Vazquez's ERA over the last five seasons sits around 4.50, this 50 points deviation would drop Vazquez from right around league average, to far superior.

At a cost of $11.5M over the next two seasons, the Braves are getting a very good pitcher, at a very reasonable cost. That his contract only goes two seasons is actually an added bonus as Vazquez is starting to get up there in age, and thus becoming more suseptible to injury.

Also joining Vazquez in the Peach state is lefty reliever Boone Logan. I have read predominantly negative reviews about Logan, specifically that the Braves bullpen is fine without him. While it is a stretch to suggest that Logan is going to be anything more then a LOOGY, it is very likely that Logan is an excellent left handed pitcher on a righty dominated bullpen. It was, afterall, lefthandedness which had me writing an entire entry about Eric O'Flaherty, another recent pick up of the Atlanta Braves.

That being said, I see the 24 year old reliever as much more then a throw-in, and someone who should play a large role with the Braves as a situational pitcher-read facing Ryan Howard.

While the Braves added a very nice piece, a necessary one given the injury to Tim Hudson, it wasn't as if they landed Vazquez for free.

The player being a contributor at the Major League level is middle infielder Brent Lillibridge. While Lillibridge is still young enough to hold a fair amount of upside, I wonder if he will ever get enough playing time in Chicago to put those skills on display. As is, I would rate him as a lesser option then another recent Kenny Williams pickup, Jayson Nix. Nix, as you may remember, was picked up from the scrap heap, his defense is significantly superior to Lillibridge's, enough to make him the favorite to start along side Alexei Ramirez up the middle for the South Siders.

Brent is still a fine player in his own right, and if he manages to win an infeild job, it will certainly help the White Sox overall return on this deal. However, I think that Lillibridge is a long way from where he was rated entering the 2008 season. That is, even if Lillibridge was stripped of 29 ugly Major League games, very few would consider keeping him as a 4 star prospect as per Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus or the B grading from John Sickels at Minor League Ball.

The headliner going to the Sox is first basemen/catcher Tyler Flowers.

About a month ago, while looking at the Braves system, Tyler Flowers was one of two or three prospects that legitimately stuck out to me. Not only had he performed at a very high level for a second consecutive season, but he had also gone predominantly ignored among prospect lists.

Since that time, more recent prospect lists have been provided. Both Kevin Goldstein and John Sickels saw enough in Flowers to boost him into the top 10 of their respective rankings. Goldstein, tabbing Flowers as a 3 star prospect, and Sickels shooting Flowers all the way up to being a B rated prospect.

Both ratings suggest that Flowers is all but useless defensively. While the Sox are surely going to stick with Flowers behind the plate for as long as possible, it is obvious that the soon-to-be 23 year old will find himself as a designated hitter sooner, rather then later.

Assuming that Flowers does make the move to designated hitter, his arrival to the White Sox could not have come at a more perfect time. That is, with 2009 being the last season the White Sox have current designated hitter, Jim Thome, under control, Flowers could potentially see himself facing big league pitchers in September of this year.

While that is arguably an aggressive path to take, Flowers is as good of a bet as any to handle such an aggressive promotion.

Third base prospect Jonathan Gilmore is a very intriguing addition. In two seasons as a pro, he hasn't done anything to overly impress. John Sickels rated Gilmore as a C+ prospect and suggested that Gilmore could crack the top 20, dependent on what one prefers (either pitching or hitting).

That being said, Gilmore is at least three seasons from being Major League ready, and will need to build on his first half, rookie ball numbers in order to slide up anyone's prospect charts. Right now, it's too soon to tell what type of player Gilmore will become.

Left handed reliever Santos Rodriguez used a second season in rookie ball to bump his stock. Not only did Rodriguez dominate in 2008 with another solid strikeout rate, but he also put things together keeping his walks down-although to a less then stellar rate.

Rodriguez is said to have above average velocity on his fastball, and it wouldn't surprise me if the White Sox turn him loose as a starter in 2009. Being a left handed pitcher, with a hard fastball the White Sox may have netted themselves something of worth here. However, given how raw Rodriguez is, and the fact that he is very far from the Major Leagues, this is a wait and see type of player.

As I previously mentioned, this trade looked as though it initially favored the White Sox. While the Braves received the best player in this deal, the White Sox traded from a position of strength. Where the Braves received an important piece for today, the Sox added a great deal of potential.

All that being said, I now have to flip-flop, suggesting that the Braves took the cake on this deal. Despite the vast amount of potential that the Braves gave up, the fact remains that those players are all simply prospects. There is only a chance that they make a splash. Conversely, there is little reason to believe that Vazquez won't be a solid top of the rotation starter.

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