Frank Wren went into the off-season last a year ago knowing he would need to add starting pitching. He will go into the off-season this year realizing he needs to subtract.
One obvious conclusion: “It will probably be a little less stressful this winter,” the Braves general manager said.
Somewhat. But a significant issue has been hanging over the Braves all season, and the core of that issue was on the mound Wednesday night. Javier Vazquez, the same pitcher whose heart and big-game ability was questioned last season by the Chicago White Sox’ turbo-lipped manager, Ozzie Guillen, has been Atlanta’s best starter this season. He went into the Florida game with a 15-9 record and 2.83 ERA (4-0, 1.93 in this improbable September).
There’s also a chance he was starting his final game as a Brave.
“I’m not going to get into our decision-making, and I don’t know, quite frankly, what we’re going to do,” Wren said. “We’ll sit down and look at all of our options. It just depends how we configure our ballclub. At the end of the day, it’s how do we put the best team on the field and what 25 players allow us to do that.”
This topic has been debated ad nauseam. The problem is that the season is about to expire, and we’re no closer to clarity. The Braves have six starting pitchers and one has to go – not just to the bullpen, but to another team. Payroll says this. Logic screams it.
The thought of dealing Vazquez seems ludicrous, even with a poor outing Wednesday. Imagine what the top of the rotation would look like next season with these three starters and their respective ERAs: Vazquez (2.83), Tommy Hanson (2.98) and Jair Jurrjens (2.61). But the only thing we know for certain is Hanson and Jurrjens will be here. We also know Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami probably will be here because they carry bloated contracts that don’t nearly match their production. It’s likely no other team would touch them even in a normal economic climate, let alone amid today’s global budget-shrinkage.
That leaves Vazquez and Tim Hudson. Hudson has a $12 million option for next season. He has looked pretty good since coming off Tommy John surgery, Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to Florida notwithstanding. If you’re the Braves, can you just let him walk?
The answer should be yes. Hudson hasn’t been the dominant top-of-the-rotation starter the Braves hoped for when they acquired him. Now is not the time to assume he’s going to turn into that. If it’s really about keeping the best guys, Vazquez stays and Hudson goes.
Here’s Wren on Hudson at his non-committal best before the game: “He’s come back and he’s shown us that he’s healthy and he’s able to pitch at this level. When we get to the appropriate time, we’ll announce our decision on how we’ll move forward.”
I’m guessing he would’ve given the same answer if I asked, “What do you think? Plums or peaches next week at Kroger?”
It was clear Vazquez did not have his best stuff Wednesday. Through three innings, he had already allowed three runs (though only one earned), five hits, a wild pitch, a hit batter and a ground ball through the legs of Chipper Jones. Then came a two-run homer in the fifth. That said, he has had a career-best season. It’s odd, given the Braves are his fifth team in the past seven seasons, and he was ripped by Guillen late last season for not coming through in the clutch.
Wren obviously disagrees. Consider what Vazquez has done in September and on the road this season:10-2, 2.80. (Strangely, he has struggled on the road.)
“Knowing Javy from afar, and now seeing him up close, I think he’s as solid as a rock,” Wren said. “We thought we were getting a real good starting pitcher. He had a history of durability and going to the post. He’s lived up to it.”
Maybe not Wednesday. But he’s a better option than Hudson.