Have the Braves taken the lead on free agent A.J. Burnett?
Vazquez only the first domino to fall
Atlanta's acquisition of Vazquez is a great move. They get exactly what they need in a dependable and durable starting pitcher. No pitcher in the game has been more durable than Vazquez in this decade.
Yes, he's been a little more inconsistent since he left Montreal a few years ago. But Vazquez has still been a very good middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. He's still a strikeout pitcher. He's still someone very capable of winning fifteen games a season.
Those who will criticize this deal need to remember what the Braves needed most this winter: innings-eaters. They need pitchers who can give the club seven innings or more consistently, and Vazquez can do that. If the Braves can get innings eaters for the rotation, the bullpen will be better rested and more effective later in the season.
But the Braves are getting Vazquez without giving up one of their top five prospects. And they are getting Vazquez without giving up a pitcher who was with a full-season minor league team this year. And they are getting Vazquez without giving up one of their main trade pieces at the big league level.
That's not bad.
Tyler Flowers is a good prospect, but he's just not one of the Braves top five prospects. He's going to be blocked by Brian McCann behind the plate, and the Braves feel Freddie Freeman is a much better prospect for first base. So, therefore, Flowers was expendable.
Brent Lillibridge is a nice player, but he's just a utility player. So that's a tradable commodity. He may be replaced by Diory Hernandez, who was recently placed on the 40-man roster.
Jon Gilmore is probably the best prospect of the four players given up in the deal. He's a young third baseman with outstanding offensive potential. Some question his glove at third, but not many question that bat. This kid is a player. He's going to be good, really good, in a few years. But right now the Braves needed to use his value to get back something they sorely needed.
And Santos Rodriguez is just a marginal prospect. He's a lean lefty who throws hard, and scouts will sometimes like those players. But Rodriguez's stuff is ordinary and his command is shaky. The Braves had serious doubts about how good a prospect he might become as he climbed the minor league ladder. So he was a very interchangeable prospect.
So the price was pretty good for Vazquez, and the White Sox even added a lefty reliever in Boone Logan in the trade.
Again, not too bad.
The trade still gives the Braves the flexibility needed to make one or even two more major trades. They did not have to give up any of the players mentioned in the talks with the Padres. Yes, Flowers was speculated, but there was never any confirmation he was part of the negotiations with Kevin Towers.
Some wondered Flowers might have been the holdup in trying to get Jake Peavy from San Diego. But now that Flowers has been traded, that theory really doesn't hold water anymore. If the Braves were not going to trade him for Peavy, they certainly wouldn't have given Flowers up for Vazquez. But they did, so he must not have been the holdup.
But if Atlanta still wants to deal Yunel Escobar, Gorkys Hernandez or Jordan Schafer, Jo Jo Reyes or Charlie Morton, and another prospect to a San Diego for Peavy or a Kansas City for Zach Greinke, they still have the ability to do so after this trade with the White Sox.
With the addition of Vazquez, the Braves have possibly spent a quarter of what they had available financially this offseason. They could still sign A.J. Burnett to a deal around $15 million per season. But could they also go after another pitcher to add to the rotation – a third new starter?
Well, with the loss of potential fourth starter Mike Hampton, the Braves may go after a third new starter. Remember Frank Wren even mentioned that on our Macon radio show a few weeks ago. But what are the potential combinations?
If Burnett signs, and the New York Daily News reported this morning that the Braves are preparing a five-year contract offer, chances are the Braves would not be able to rekindle the Jake Peavy talks – unless they get cheap options for left field and for the shortstop that would have to replace Escobar in any Peavy deal.
It might be tough, for example, to go after Rafael Furcal for shortstop if Burnett and Peavy were both acquired. But if the Braves instead signed Burnett and traded for Kansas City's Zach Greinke, who would be cheaper than Peavy, then they could still sign Furcal and perhaps swap Kelly Johnson for St. Louis's Ryan Ludwick, whose salaries match up evenly.
If the Braves did sign Burnett and then still go after Peavy, the position players acquired would just have to be somewhat inexpensive. But if they decided to get one of those two number one pitchers, they could still possibly sign a third new starting pitcher by bringing in a cheaper free agent – like a Paul Byrd maybe or a Brad Penny-type who is recovering from injuries.
The main point is the options are still there for general manager Frank Wren. After getting Vazquez without giving up his main trade pieces, he still has the ability to go make two major trades.
If Hampton had re-signed with Atlanta instead of bolting for Houston, then there would only be a need for one more pitcher on top of Vazquez. But Hampton's departure changes things a bit. Yes, Jorge Campillo, or maybe even Jo Jo Reyes or Charlie Morton could definitely be options as the fourth starter. But the Braves probably want only one rotation spot to be somewhat of a question mark next spring. Bringing in an ace and then another starter would only push the rotation down a bit, to where Campillo, whoever is left over between Reyes and Morton, and Tommy Hanson could simply battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.
And just think of how much better the rotation might be if Jair Jurrjens and Vazquez are your two middle-of-the-rotation starting pitchers. Sure, one of those two might do fine as the number two. But if the Braves were, for example, to sign Burnett and trade for Greinke, that would be a pretty solid top four starters.
Greinke could be the key. If the Braves sign Burnett, they could still afford Greinke, who will be eligible for arbitration this winter. Atlanta could offer the same basic deal put on the table to San Diego for Peavy and see if the Royals bite. Then they could offer Furcal a deal to play shortstop and go after a decently-priced alternative for left field (like Ryan Ludwick).
Frank Wren promised all of us the rotation would be fixed, and the trade with Chicago for Vazquez is a very positive step in that direction. The price was pretty good, and now it affords him the opportunity to be even more active in the next few weeks.
Bill Shanks hosts The Braves Show Talk Show, The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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