How will Bobby Cox work out left field this spring?
Is this a good trade for the Braves?
"For Melky Cabrera? Really? Javier Vazquez for Melky Cabrera?"
The trade between New York and Atlanta slowly materialized like a prime-time drama on television. First, we heard Monday night the Yankees were doing something. No one knew what team it was with or who was involved, but a bunch of writers heard the Yankees were acquiring some starting pitcher.
So naturally, with the Braves having an abundance of starting pitchers, that led most fans to wonder if Atlanta was involved. Certainly it had to be Derek Lowe-for-Nick Swisher, most fans believed.
We were wrong. All of us were.
And so when we heard of this deal this morning, I'm sure most of you were like me.
"This is the power bat the Braves were looking for?, I wondered."
Melky Cabrera – who has never hit more than the 13 home runs he hit last season in a single year in his career – is the new bat?
I just believed when the Braves did trade one of its starting pitchers, it would be for a more significant bat. Cabrera is a nice player, and I like him more than many of the statheads slamming this deal, but he is not a significant bat.
Would Lowe-for-Swisher have been better? Yes. Would Vazquez-for-Swisher have been okay? Yes. But Braves' GM Frank Wren settled for Vazquez-for-Cabrera.
The prospects are important, too. I realize that. No one loves pitching prospects more than I do, and hopefully that will one day make this trade seem more logical.
I know, after listening to Wren's conference call and to his interview on 790 the Zone in Atlanta, that Cabrera is not the big bat. There is more to come in this offseason shopping spree. He's just not finished yet.
But that doesn't mean we can't still wonder about what happened in this deal. Instead of having fewer questions after the deal with one of the Braves' big pitchers, there seem to be even more questions.
So why Vazquez, and why not Lowe? There is no doubt in my mind that the Braves preferred to trade Lowe. But the contract was obviously a problem, and I warned everyone that it was very unlikely the Braves were going to eat part of Lowe's deal to get a trade completed.
If teams were demanding the Braves eat part of that $45 million, and the Braves refused, then they had little choice, I suppose, than to move on to see what Vazquez could bring back in a deal.
But that limited them as well. Vazquez had that no-trade clause in his deal, where he could refuse to go to any team in the National League West or the American League West. So those rumors last week that the Angels had some interest in Vazquez were irrelevant, since he would have undoubtedly vetoed any deal out west.
It was unlikely the Braves were going to trade Vazquez to any team in their own division, so that pretty much limited them to three other divisions.
And of those teams in those three divisions, only a handful could really use an expensive starting pitcher, with the Yankees leading the way.
But if Wren had little choice but to send Vazquez to the Yankees, why wouldn't he have demanded Swisher? He's more of a power hitter than Cabrera, and he also could play first base. That seems like a better fit.
Well, it's obvious someone in the Atlanta front office, whether it's Wren or one of his assistants, has a man crush on Cabrera. There have been rumors each of the last two offseasons that Atlanta has had interest in the switch-hitting outfielder.
But Cabrera just blends in with whom Atlanta already has in the outfield. Will Cabrera play in center and force Nate McLouth to left? Or will Cabrera play left, and then move over to right when Jason Heyward needs time off – if Heyward is the main right fielder?
That's the weird part of the day for me. When Wren was asked about Cabrera's role in his conference call, he didn't come right out and demonstratively say that Cabrera was his new left fielder. Instead, Wren talked about Cabrera's versatility, and his ability to play multiple positions in the outfield.
Matter of fact, the first thing I wondered about after hearing Wren was whether or not the Braves might spin Cabrera to another team for a true power hitter for the outfield.
But right now, Cabrera joins McLouth, Matt Diaz, Heyward, and possibly Jordan Schafer as the outfielder. Heyward is the 20-year old rookie, and he might well be the best prospect in the game. But he's still a potential 20-year old rookie.
Schafer is coming back from his wrist injury. Who knows what his comeback, and his timetable, will be for the coming season. Diaz has definitely been effective in his big league career, but he's also not a significant player. And McLouth, while a solid player, is not the type you want to look at as your main player in the outfield.
So they've traded away the guy who was 4th in the Cy Young voting and there is still not a significant player in the outfield?
Again, more is to come. I believe that. Right now, my projections have the payroll right around $78 million. If we're dealing with a similar payroll as last year (around $95 million), that would give the Braves $17 million dollars to play with.
That is significant cash, and offers the team tremendous flexibility.
Will they at least think about going after Jason Bay? Well, the reports after the deal was made Tuesday were that Bay is not on the radar. If that's true, then what does that mean? How are they going to spend that $15-$17 million dollars?
We've heard Xavier Nady's name mentioned a lot as a first base possibility. But he's only going to cost in the neighborhood of what he made last season ($6.5 million). Even if you added Nady and, for instance, Mark DeRosa as a super-sub you're still below a projected budget.
And would that be enough? If they signed Nady and DeRosa, who could play occasionally in right, and spell Chipper Jones at third, would that be enough to significantly improve the Atlanta lineup?
I don't think so. There's got to be more. I like the thought of Nady, but I'm not convinced adding Cabrera, Heyward, and Nady would be a significant improvement. It would be better than what they started with last year on Opening Day at those positions, but not sure if that's what I expected this winter from Wren's retooling of the offense.
A friend of mine called up Tuesday and told me how much he loved the deal. Sure, he said, he would have preferred Swisher, mainly because of the power lift it would have given the lineup. But he also said he loved Cabrera, and believed him to be a ‘young Johnny Damon."
There are some similarities. Damon struggled with his power early in his career. Cabrera has not showed much power so far. The defense, at least when Damon was young, is similar. So perhaps that's a good yardstick to measure Cabrera.
Again, I don't think Cabrera is a bad player. But I'm not sure what he's going to be in the Atlanta lineup. Wren said that'll be Cox's decision in March. But will Cabrera hit leadoff? Will Cabrera be lower in the order? It's hard to know what to expect from Cabrera.
Mike Dunn sounds like a very interesting pitcher. He impressed the Braves in the Arizona Fall League with his mid-90s fastball. Yes, Dunn walks a few too many, but you have to like his strikeout totals (395 in 375.1 minor league innings). He sounds much better than Boone Logan, who never seemed to endear himself to those in the Atlanta clubhouse.
Dunn will compete with Jo Jo Reyes, Manny Acosta, James Parr, Juan Abreu, Lee Hyde, and Luis Valdez for that last spot in the bullpen. The spot will be open while Scott Proctor returns from Tommy John surgery, which the Braves will hope to be early June.
The Braves feel Dunn is ready to compete for a major league job. He had four appearances with the Yankees at the end of last season. He's got three options left, unlike Reyes, for example, who is out of options. So don't be surprised if we see Dunn in Atlanta sometime next season.
And sure, the Arodys Vizcaino kid is someone to get excited about. He's a 19-year-old right-hander with a blazing fastball and good strikeout numbers. I thought Wren's comments on Tuesday about Vizcaino were interesting.
"We compare him to our (Julio) Teheran," Wren said. "We feel he's in that same mold – a special young pitcher. He needed to be in the deal."
Vizcaino will now join the following candidates for the Rome rotation: Teheran, Matt Crim, Brett Oberholtzer, Tyler Stovall, Cory Rasmus, Chris Masters, David Hale, and Brett DeVall. Teheran might be pushed up to Myrtle Beach with a good spring.
With Teheran and Randall Delgado, Vizcaino forms a very impressive trio in the lower levels of the minors, which could turn into a very special group with more development.
Vazquez was great for the Braves last season, and maybe he wouldn't have even come close to posting those same numbers. But he was very crucial in the clubhouse with the Latin players, and that'll be hard to replace.
In effect, the re-signing of Tim Hudson paved the way for this. Atlanta knew Hudson was back when they saw him in seven starts in September. So you might want to think the Braves picked Lowe over Vazquez, but in a way it was more like Hudson over Vazquez.
Lowe mouthed off a bit last week, but don't expect it to hamper him when he comes back. Look, the guy was upset. Cool. Understandable. He thought he was getting traded, and he didn't like it. That's fine. And while Vazquez was a very popular player on the team, Lowe was right there with him.
Lowe can bounce back and pitch better next season. Sure, he won 15 games in 2009, but we know he struggled at times and just did not pitch well in the second half. So it's up to him now that he's coming back to show us he can get back on track mechanically.
Will this trade work? Well, I think we have to withhold judgment, at least final judgment, until this offseason is finished. Let's see what Wren has up his sleeve next, and then maybe this deal will make a little more sense.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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