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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ancient Spirits of Evil Trade Mumm-Ra to Decepticons for Skywarp & Dreadwind; Rumors that Former ThunderCat May Sign Blood-Pact With Boston Red Sox

I'm always thrilled when my least favorite NL team makes a trade with my least favorite AL team which has the potential to make both teams better. It's not hard for me to hate the Yankees or the Braves, the two most dominant franchises of my lifetime, but it's hard to find fault with a trade like this. Brian Cashman and Frank Wren both deserve the gratitude of their fans - their evil, evil fans - this holiday seasons.

To Braves: CF Melky Cabrera (25), LHRP Michael Dunn (25), RHSP Arodys Vizcaino (19)

To Yankees: RHSP Javier Vazquez (33), LHRP Boone Logan (25)

In the words of Mr. Rosenberg at It's About The Money, well, it's all about the money. Javier Vazquez was a Cy Young contender in 2009 (he finished 4th), but he also possessed the Braves third largest salary (behind Chipper Jones and Derek Lowe). Considering Javy's age and extensive track record, it's pretty unlikely that he'll ever be more valuable than he is right now, so it made great sense for Wren to deal him this offseason, gaining the Braves both greater financial flexibility and some solid young players in return. As added incentive, Atlanta has the rare good fortune of sitting on a stockpile of quality starting pitchers, with Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, and Jair Jurrjens all under contract through at least 2012.

To nobody's great surprise, the New York media has been a bit nonplused by the re-acquisition of Vazquez, who pitched for the Yankees in 2004, going 14-10 with a 4.91 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 198 innings. Personally, I don't see a whole lot to complain about, even though the ERA was a little high. The real story, however, was Vazquez's fluky late-season slide, perhaps the result of an unreported injury. In his first 18 starts he went 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA and 7.2 K/9. But in his last fourteen he was 4-5 with a 6.92 ERA and 6.2 K/9. This was completely uncharacteristic of Vazquez, who over the course of his career has actually been a slightly better pitcher after the All-Star Break (Pre: 4.32 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.0 K/9; Post: 4.04 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.3 K/9). One cannot expect Javy to post anything resembling his '09 line (2.87 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.8 K/9) pitching in the AL East and making half his starts at homer-happy Yankee Stadium, but with the New York lineup behind him, he's as safe a bet as anybody to again notch 15+ wins.

Clearly, the player most likely to have an immediate impact is Vazquez, but Melky Cabrera is an often overlooked and underrated player who at only 25 years of age has already played in nearly 600 major league games, including three postseasons and a World Series. He's a switch-hitter with modest power (13 HR in '09) and modest speed (10 SB in '09), who plays excellent defense, handles the bat well (only 59 K in 540 PA in '09), and still has plenty of room for development. In '09 he posted career highs in 2B, HR, SLG, and OPS, suggesting that his power, at the very least, is still trending upward. Melky's addition allows Atlanta to move Nate McLouth to left field, improving the outfield defense at two positions, and Matt Diaz to the bench, where he 921 career OPS against left-handers makes him an excellent pinch-hitter and platoon man (McLouth posted a measly 688 OPS against southpaws in '09).

At first glance, the exchange of Boone Logan and Michael Dunn seems a bit strange. They are both 25-year-old left-handed relief pitchers. Both have great strikeout rates, but problematic walk rates. Most scouts would probably tell you that their abilities are almost indistinguishable. But once again, it's all about the money. Boone Logan already has three full seasons and 164 major-league appearances under his belt with the Braves and White Sox. He'll become a millionaire through arbitration this spring. Mike Dunn, on the other hand, having been buried in an organization that rarely rushes young relievers, has logged only four innings at the major-league level, all this past September, so he won't be eligible for arbitration until 2013. Thus, the Braves are getting a pitcher who has essentially the same skills and upside as Logan, but for a much better price. The Yankees get a pitcher who has more professional experience and thus may be slightly better prepared for the pressure of pitching in the Bronx.

Finally, a full analysis of this trade won't be possible for many years to come, because the most talented player in the deal may be 19-year-old Dominican starting pitcher, Arodys Vizcaino. In the New York-Pennsylvania League last summer Vizcaino made a serious impression in ten starts. At just 18, he posted a 2.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 11.1 K/9 rate. Clearly, Vizcaino won't be ready to join the Braves rotation until at least 2012, but he could turn into a frontline starter. so many young stud pitchers, he may fizzle out as innings wear him down. We'll just have to wait and see.

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