While it’s still a little early for many trade rumors of substance to start percolating, there is one Brave whose name is occasionally mentioned on this blog as a potential trade piece, one that to me seems not just highly improbable but almost outlandish.
Yes, there are some denizens, presumably of sound mind and in a sober state, who advocate trading a 23-year-old elite starting pitcher who is not even eligible for arbitration until the 2011 season. A pitcher who won 13 games as a rookie, then improved significantly in 2009 during his second full season in the majors.
That’s not even taking into account that he’s extremely bright, has an impeccable reputation as a teammate and a hard worker, and he’s a kid who never complained while getting brutal run support for most of a season in which he could easily have won 18-20 games instead of 14. Beyond all that, he’s just too talented to trade right now.
He went 14-10 with a staff-best 2.60 ERA, and in his last 20 starts he was 9-5 with a 2.42 ERA. In four of those 20 games, he got a loss or no decision while allowing two earned runs or fewer in seven innings or more. In that 20-game stretch, he also got consecutive losses in games when he allowed three earned runs in seven innings and three earned runs in eight innings.
Let me preface the rest of this by saying, if I’m wrong I’ll gladly admit it later. That said, I can’t see how the Braves would seriously consider trading Jurrjens this winter. And I don’t believe they have, or will, seriously consider it. Not after making it clear the past two years that they’re building around starting pitching.
Again, if it happens, or even if a credibly sourced rumor crops up, something that seems to have some substance, I’ll admit I was wrong.
So why do I bring it up now? Because before long we’re going to be sifting through reports and rumors about this pitcher or that being shopped, and I’ve already read Jurrjens name mentioned here by several of our regulars. And while things are still relatively slow right now, figured I’d just try to express why it makes no sense.
His name pops up here as a trade possibility, presumably because some believe that the Braves’ pitching surplus and the fact that Jurrjens is a Scott Boras client (probably more the latter) means the Braves should fill their power-hitting need by trading any one of their best starters not named Tommy Hanson, including Jurrjens since they eventually won’t be able to afford him.
No, no, no.
That’s no reason to trade Jurrjens. That’s a reason, possibly, to trade Javier Vazquez, who is making $11.5 million next season and, with another season comparable to the one he had in 2008 – he was 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA, and also should have won 18-20 games with decent run support – might command a multi-year contract with a salary of at least $13-15 million per season a year from now. At age 34. (See: Derek Lowe, who got a four-year, $60 million deal a year ago, at age 35 and after having only one season in his previous six that was as impressive as two of the last three seasons by Vazquez.)
To repeat: Jurrjens is 23. Just seven months older than Hanson. He won’t be eligible for arbitration until after next season. And even if the Braves aren’t able or don’t try to sign him to a multi-year contract – you might have heard, Boras drives a hard bargain – they still can afford to keep him at least a couple of seasons of arbitration before trading him.
So that’s three more seasons out of a pitcher that, as last season wore on, showed how special he is. We’re talking No. 1 or No. 2 starter good. Between him and Hanson, I believe the Braves have two of the best five under-24 starters in the majors. You don’t trade either one of them until you feel like you have to.
You build around those guys, who could potentially form the best 1-2 combo in the NL by 2011. And if you keep Tim Hudson, whom the Braves are believed to be close to signing to a three-year extension with a fourth-year option, imagine that trio atop your rotation. The back two spots could be filled by Kenshin Kawakami or Lowe (I think one of them will eventually be traded) and lefty Mike Minor, last year’s first-round draft choice. Or Kris Medlen, or someone else.
But that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves. For now, I just wanted to focus on Jurrjens, since everyone has heard enough about how good Hanson can be and has seen for themselves enough of Hudson and of the high percentage of pitchers who come back strong from the now-routine Tommy John surgery he had in August 2008.
Is Huddy, 34, going to be as good as he was in his late 20s? Maybe not, but he’s an unusually well-conditioned pitcher driven to return to elite status, and he wants to be with the Braves and to be part of what he believes is the positive movement of the franchise and its young standouts. He’ll continue to help those young pitchers, as he already has.
Vazquez will, too, which is another reason the Braves are so reluctant to trade him after his stellar 2009 season. Having Vazquez back along with Jurrjens, Hanson, Hudson and whoever else would assure the Braves again have one of, if not the, best rotations in the National League.
But trading Vazquez one year away from free agency is at least understandable, if the Braves could get a big bat in such a deal. Trading Jurrjens? That’s just not something that makes sense, barring some unexpectedly overwhelming offer that another team might make, something involving a equally young, affordable, big-time power hitter who’s just entering his prime.
Even then, there’s a reason that successful teams so rarely trade young, budding-ace starting pitchers. You win games with great starters. And Jurrjens and Hanson both have legitimate potential to be great starting pitchers.
Which brings me back to Jurrjens’ 2009 season. With all the deserved attention paid to Vazquez’s terrific season and Hanson’s rookie-of-the-year bid and the Braves’ late push for a playoff berth and Chipper Jones‘ struggles and Bobby Cox’s retirement decision and everything else, Jurrjens’ performance sometimes got overshadowed.
Can you imagine if Jurrjens did what he did last season for, say, the Phillies? With that run support (and not even taking into account his uncanny performances at Citizens Bank Park, where he has a 1.30 ERA in four starts). Or better, yet, the hoopla he’d receive if he pitched for the Yankees? I mean, Joba Chamberlain is 12-7 with a 4.18 ERA in 43 career starts, but from the attention he’s accorded, you’d think he was one of the most accomplished young pitchers in baseball.
Jurrjens is 30-21 with a 3.21 ERA in 72 starts for Braves and Tigers, and getting better all the time.
He made $450,000 in 2009 and ranked third in the NL in ERA (2.60), behind Chris Carpenter (2.24) and Tim Lincecum (2.48) and ahead of Adam Wainwright (2.63). Carpenter, Lincecum and Wainwright, in some order, are likely to be the top three Cy Young Award vote-getters.
Jurrjens held hitters to a .192 average with runners in scoring position, one of only eight major league qualifiers with sub-.200 marks in that category. His .203 average allowed with runners on base was tied with Clayton Kershaw for fifth in the NL, relievers included (two ahread of him were relievers Carlos Marmol and Renyel Pinto).
When I asked Chipper near the end of the season about how important it was to keep Vazquez for next season, his response reflected not just how he and other players viewed Vazquez’s value to the team, but also plenty about Jurrjens.
Chipper said of the importance of keeping Vazquez: “It’s the most important part. And the reason I say that is because, not only has he gone out and done what he’s done, but he has helped J.J. tremendously. You’re starting to see J.J. not only add and subtract to his fastball, but you’re starting to see him add and subtract to his slider, his changeup — when you hear guys on other teams say, ‘That’s the guy I fear most in your starting five,’ that tells you he’s continuing to progress. And you’re seeing it here at the end of the season; he’s been virtually unhittable his last four or five starts.”
He was right, only it wasn’t just four or five starts. Jurrjens was 5-2 with a 1.76 ERA in his last 10 starts, all of them quality starts. He pitched seven or more innings in nine of those final 10 starts, and allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of 10.
“That’s the influence of a Javier Vazquez,” Jones said. “They’ve got similar velocity. They might have a little bit different repertoire, but they pitch with their fastball, they use their changeup as an out pitch, and they throw in the slider and the curveball just to give the hitter one more thing to think about.
“And when you talk about adding and subtracting, you’re talking about something that a 30-year-old pitcher who’s been in the league 10 years does. J.J.’s starting to grasp that at 23.”
That’s not a guy you trade, unless and until you believe you have no other choice.
♣ About the World Series: I looked at ESPN.com’s World Series predictions, and was a little stunned to see 21 of their 23 picked the Yankees over the Phillies. Come on, folks, 21 of 23 of you are picking the Yankees? That includes “Boog” Sciambi, who’s taking the Yankees in six.
Well, I say 21 of 23 of them are wrong. I’m taking the Phillies in seven games.
As great as C.C. Sabathia has been, Cliff Lee has been his equal so far in this postseason. Each manager has said he might use his ace for three starts in a seven-game series. (And Charlie Manuel’s a better manager than Joe Girardi, by the way.)
A.J. Burnett is in his first postseason, and got rocked in his last ALCS start. I like Pedro Martinez against A.J. in Game 2.
And as mediocre-to-bad as erstwhile Phillies ace Cole Hamels has been this season, I still believe he’ll come up with a good start when the series shifts to Philly for Game 3. Andy Pettitte surpassed John Smoltz with his 16th postseason win Sunday, but I think the Phillies are going to score at least a few runs against him at Citizens Bank Park.
Beyond the pitching matchups, I just like Philly’s scrappy, power-laden lineup, which has hit bombs almost equally at home and on the road this season, unlike the Yankees, who’ve hit a lot more at home.
If the Phillies can split the first two games in the Bronx, they’ll win two of three at Philly and go back to New York with a 3-2 lead.
Ryan Howard’s huge disparity between righties and lefties (he hit .319 with a 1.086 OPS against righties, .207 with a .653 OPS vs. lefties) doesn’t bode well for the Philly man-mountain slugger against Sabathia, Pettitte and the Yankees’ lefty relievers or Mariano Rivera and his devastating cutter. (I heard a remarkable stat the other day – Howard only had one homer against a lefty in more than 100 at-bats in Philly’s home ballpark this season; I haven’t been able to verify.)
But even if Howard has a mediocre series (and I’m not convinced he will), the rest of the Phillies are more than capable of carrying the offense.
Jayson Werth, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins … we all are quite familiar with their work. The Phillies have the swaggering veterans, like the Red Sox did a while back, to withstand everything the Yankees can throw their way in a postseason series.
And the Phillies have the home crowd to match or surpass the Yankees for noise and nastiness.
The Phillies are 18-5 with a 3.06 ERA and 33 homers in postseason games the past two years, including 11-1 with a 2.67 ERA at home.
I’m taking the Phillies to become the first to repeat as World Series champions in a decade, and the first NL team to do it since Cincy’s Big Red Machine more than three decades ago.
So let us know what you’re thinking about this Series. Gotta do it now, before it starts. (Although feel free to keep commenting about it after it gets underway, of course.)
“HOLIDAY” by James McMurtry
The in-laws are waiting the games have begun
The cell phone keeps ringing “don’t answer it hon”
The whole thing’s arranged just to aggravate Dad
And it’s amateur day on the old super slab
The kids are strapped down like a half load of pipe
All safe in their car seats they fuss and they gripe
Well you can’t hardly blame ‘em it must be a bitch
Counting the crosses off down in the ditch
This one’s got flowers, this one’s got a wreath
This one’s got a name painted down underneath
Was the road all iced up, were they going too fast
Here’s five in a circle left from the last holiday
There’s a three-trailer rig just a throwin’ up spray
Not legal to run on this kind of a day
But god damn the smokies and the four wheelers too
Stay offa my bumpers or the same goes for you
There’ll be none for him
He that wants it the most
As he hauls it on out to the Oregon coast
No turkey no gravy no Zinfandel wine
You just stay over right and we’ll get along fine
He’s missing the football, missing the fun
He’d play with the grandkids but he’s off on a run
And some hat’s on the radio singing his song
But it don’t make a damn
He’s in for a long holiday
Now granny she’s yelling
She’s ready to eat
She’s havin’ conniptions
‘Cause they won’t take their seats
But she’s got ‘em all gathered now under one roof
With her camcorder loaded
She’s gonna get proof
But do you have to wear that
Well I just don’t see why
Please pass the potatoes
Aw eat s#!% and die
Did you hear about Ellen, she’s leaving, you know
How ‘bout those Packers, think it’ll snow?
And the minute it’s over they’ll scatter like quail
Off down the freeway in the teeth of a gale
Silent and shattered And numb to the core
They count themselves lucky
They got through one more holiday
The highway patrolman
He stands in the rain
He just lets it run down to soften the stain
Of the blood on his pant leg
From working that wreck
And he won’t forget it
In time for the next holiday
Departing Chicago at 9:52
In clean desert camo all baggy and loose
Sits an Iowa Guardsman alone by the gate
The place sure looked different, in 1968
When he traveled with mom, first time on a plane
To visit some kin, he’s forgotten their names
But he remembers the soldiers, still in their teens
In their spit polished boots and their pressed army greens
With the creases so sharp, and their faces so smooth
But their eyes looked so heavy, he wondered how they could move
Now he’s got that same look, like his insides are black
He’s in his mid forties and he has to go back
And he can’t even smoke while he waits for his plane
The uniform’s different, but the mission remains
To do like they tell you, don’t make a fuss
Why’s not an issue, so don’t think too much
You just do what you have to, shut up and drive
If you come apart later, well at least you’re alive
You can get you some help, you can deal with it then
And life will be better, ‘til it happens again
‘Cause there’s something inside us that won’t let us be
It stalks through our days ‘til it’s too dark to see
And it’s damn near as deadly as Texans on ice
Lord don’t they beat all
Y’all have a nice holiday