The well sourced Buster Olney of ESPN’s Insiders keeps hearing the Braves will trade their best pitcher. (Link requires registration.) Writes Mr. Olney:
“Some rival executives are convinced that Atlanta’s Javier Vazquez, who was arguably one of the four best pitchers in the National League this past season, will be traded in the weeks ahead. Vazquez will make $11.5 million next season before becoming eligible for free agency, so the Braves might be compelled to move him now to take advantage of his value. Atlanta needs a right-handed-hitting outfielder, and the other possible trade pieces on the Braves’ pitching staff — Derek Lowe (who is owed $45 million over the next three seasons) and Kenshin Kawakami (owed $13.3 million over the next two seasons) — do not generate much enthusiasm among some rival talent evaluators.”
If this line of reasoning sounds familiar … well, there’s a reason. We’ve been hearing it for six months. Heck, I broached the scenario in May, and I wasn’t just talking out of my Homburg. The possibility had been mentioned to me by a person within the organization in position to know how the Braves were thinking. But then something happened: Vazquez pitched great.
And now I wonder: Can you really trade your best pitcher and call yourself a franchise?
Re-signing Tim Hudson for three years might make Vazquez seem expendable, but look again. Vazquez is a year younger and is coming off a season better than any of the five Hudson has had as a Brave. And Vazquez hasn’t undergone arm surgery. On the contrary, he has averaged 200 innings over 12 big-league seasons.
And I understand the part about the Braves craving a right-handed-hitting outfielder. (Jason Heyward bats lefty, FYI.) I know they need a big bat in the worst way. But let’s think about that, too.
A small-market team with a young slugger — say Arizona and Mark Reynolds, who isn’t an outfielder but who does bat righty and hit homers when not striking out — isn’t going to trade that guy for a 32-year-old pitcher who makes $11 million and is about to become a free agent. The trade suitor would have to be a big-market club in search of a starting pitcher to push it to the top. Like maybe the Dodgers.
If you can get Matt Kemp for Vazquez, you do it. Kemp fits the profile: He bats righty, plays center field and drove in 101 runs. But I can’t see the Dodgers giving up a 24-year-old cornerstone for a pitcher who might be a one-year rental. (There’s another Dodger who plays the outfield, bats right-handed and could be available. But he’s scheduled to make $20 million in 2010. So forget Manny Ramirez.)
I understand the consensus thinking: The Braves have six starting pitchers and lack a big bopper. Ergo, Vazquez is the bait. But I think it will be tough to make a proper match. The big boppers tend to make big money, and teams that have big boppers tend to keep them because they’re hard to find. If I had to guess, I’d say Javier Vazquez will be the Opening Day starter … for the Atlanta Braves.