The Braves: Serious about saving $$$, less so about winning

Melky Cabrera: The latest in a serious of cost-cutting imports. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Melky Cabrera: The latest in a series of cost-cutting imports. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The Braves just traded the man who might well have been their Opening Day starting pitcher for an outfielder who might not start on Opening Day. Think about that.

Think also about this: The Braves just traded a man who finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting because he was making too much money. And here’s how much Javier Vazquez is scheduled to make in 2010 — $11.5 million. That’s not even half what CC Sabathia, his new Yankee teammate, will earn. And that tells us all we need know about the Braves.

They keep making noises about contending for division titles, but it’s just noise. They can’t afford to do real business any longer. From the day the 2009 season ended they were looking to dump a starting pitcher, ostensibly to add a power hitter, but Melky Cabrera isn’t a power hitter. He was the eighth-best position player on the Yankees. He might not beat out Nate McLouth in center field here. He might wind up in a platoon. And he’s what the Braves got for the man who was their best pitcher last season.

“A perfect fit,” Frank Wren called Cabrera, speaking on a teleconference Tuesday, but the only thing perfect about this trade was how completely it detonates the Braves’ claim to being serious players. You don’t trade an ace unless you get a big bopper in return. The Braves got a guy who hit 13 home runs with 68 RBIs last season.

Yes, there’s more to the trade than Cabrera. Mike Dunn should help in the bullpen and Arodys Vizcaino is a young power arm, but the cold truth is that the Braves just played what they deemed their trump card — a surplus of starting pitching — without improving their run production one whit. And don’t fool yourselves: That $11.5 million they saved on Vazquez won’t allow them to splurge on Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. Those guys are out of price range, out of sight.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to make a deal like this,” Wren said. Then this: “We’ve been focused on [finding a run producer] all offseason, and we were waiting on the right match. And we’re still waiting.”

But Vazquez is gone. Can’t trade him twice. And the Braves can’t trade Derek Lowe because they’re down to five starters. So the best that can be reasonably hoped is that they find a Marlon Byrd or a Xavier Nady or — knowing as we do that the Braves love recycling old favorites — a Mark DeRosa or a Jermaine Dye. Except none of those players will make them better in the way that losing Vazquez makes them worse.

Characterize this Braves trade.

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As someone who has defended Wren in the past, I have to say I’m stumped. Obviously the Braves’ salary constraints are worse than we’d been led to believe if they had to make this sort of deal so soon — Santa Claus hasn’t yet come and Javier Vazquez has left the building — but even more puzzling is Wren’s contention that this enabled him “to improve our club.” Maybe it improves it in 2012, when Vizcaino is ready to join Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. But the way the Braves operate those pitchers will have been sold off by then.

Nothing about this offseason suggests that the new Braves are any better than the ones who finished third in the NL East. Is Billy Wagner an upgrade over Rafael Soriano? No. (But he’s cheaper. And also older.) Is Takashi Saito better than Mike Gonzalez? No. (But he’s cheaper. And also older.) Is the new first baseman … oh, wait. They don’t yet have a new first baseman.

For all this motion — Wren is forever in a hurry — the Braves will enter January 2010 a lesser team than in September 2009. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. But that is, sad to say, the way it works here, where $11.5 million for a big-time pitcher is considered too much, where the drive to win is trumped by the need to scrimp.

748 comments Add your comment

Fed Up With Wren (Again)

December 22nd, 2009
4:31 pm

Baba O'Riley

December 22nd, 2009
4:32 pm

Baba O'Riley

December 22nd, 2009
4:32 pm

O'Brien

December 22nd, 2009
4:32 pm

Baba O'Riley

December 22nd, 2009
4:32 pm

Mark…Is Rico Brogna available?

O'Brien

December 22nd, 2009
4:32 pm

alex7797

December 22nd, 2009
4:32 pm

mudcat

December 22nd, 2009
4:33 pm

Trades are made to hopefully benefit both sides. This helps the hated Yankees tremendously. For the Braves, this is a losing proposition. My respect for Frank Wren just went down the toilet.

Timbo

December 22nd, 2009
4:33 pm

Cheap bastards . . .

Timbo

December 22nd, 2009
4:34 pm

So cheap . . .

The Abs Man

December 22nd, 2009
4:34 pm

Excellent and frank column. Good points made.
Let’s now forget Bobby Cox returning….that already makes 2010 club weaker than 2009 when senile has-been cost them many more games than he won…

Brian

December 22nd, 2009
4:35 pm

This is a ridiculous article to write until the offseason is over. The team as it stands right now is not the same team that will open the 2010 season! Are you really too blind to see that? Wren has said all along that his plan is to improve the offense. Your quote from his explicitly says he is not done yet. Do you not believe him?

Will you retract this article if the money or prospects gotten in this deal are used to acquire the kind of bat you seek?

Fed Up With Wren (Again)

December 22nd, 2009
4:35 pm

At least I can be excited by being first. I’m totally bummed by every move Wren has made this offseason. If I’m going to feel this bad, I should just become a Pirates fan.

Fed Up With Wren (Again)

December 22nd, 2009
4:36 pm

My first first. How about some kudos to cheer me up, Mark?

Baba O'Riley

December 22nd, 2009
4:36 pm

Fed Up- Give us a few years. We will be the Pirates.

Marc in FL

December 22nd, 2009
4:36 pm

“The Braves got a guy who hit 13 home runs with 68 RBIs last season.”

In the Yankees line-up, at their new stadium…

The Abs Man

December 22nd, 2009
4:36 pm

Hey moron: Trades are not made to benefit both sides unless you’re teaching a college course in socialism.
Trades are made TO MAKE YOUR TEAM better. This isn’t choosing up sides in the school yard.

Toots

December 22nd, 2009
4:36 pm

Would you knuckleheads stop all that “first” nonsense! Grow up.

Steve

December 22nd, 2009
4:37 pm

I fully agree. Frank will have to go along way into maybe making more moves for this to even be worth it.

DevilInLaw

December 22nd, 2009
4:37 pm

The first game of the season is in April. The Braves had a $96.5 million payroll last season. They’ll be at or right around that number again in 2010. Currently, they have committed approximately $77.5 million in payroll and we have THREE players still to sign (a 1b, an OF and a Util player)

So why don’t we all cut the Chicken Little drama and give Wren time to do his job and properly allocate that remaining $19.5 million through both free agency and the trade market?

Seriously, everyone (including you Mark Bradley) needs to exhibit some patience for once.

Baba O'Riley

December 22nd, 2009
4:37 pm

Someone with the name “Toots” telling others to grow up.

GREGNORTON

December 22nd, 2009
4:37 pm

Yeah, this is my kind of trade! Go Yanks!

O'Brien

December 22nd, 2009
4:39 pm

Mark,

I think Wren miscalculated the market for Lowe, and now Lowe’s feelings are hurt. I’m sure Chipper’s feelings will be hurt too, because he was a big fan of Vazquez, both on the field and off (he talked about how Vazquez helped mentor Jair). Wren will have some making up to do.

Sometime ago, Bobby Cox said if they trade Vazquez, they better get a whole lot in return. And they didnt.

However, what’s the point of freeing up salary if you’re not going to use it? As DOB speculated, maybe this is a precursor to another move. As a result, I will reserve judgment on this deal, because I will be stunned if Wren doesnt make a big move for a 1B.

Smack

December 22nd, 2009
4:39 pm

Patience is a virtue Mark. As you said, Santa has not come yet. We now have trade commodities that we did not have this time yesterday to trade for the big bat we need. If we have this or just about as weak team as we have right now going to Disney in a few months, by all means it’s off with Frank’s head. But it is still too soon to begin to swing the axe.

Joe Fan

December 22nd, 2009
4:39 pm

Only time will tell if this is a solid trade. To early to judge the long term benefits or to conclude that Lowe want bounce back in 2010 and Vazquez have a sub-par year. Granted the Braves need more offense and maybe Heyward is the answer but they still have plenty of pitching depth to make them wildcard contenders.

Baba O'Riley

December 22nd, 2009
4:39 pm

Devil- All we got for Javy was Melky and a pitcher in Low A ball. Our GM says this player is a “perfect fit” for our team. Patience is out the window.

Nativebird

December 22nd, 2009
4:39 pm

Wren is a disaster….but if you think the almight “savior” Schuerholz doesn’t know if advance of these deals and has sign off…you’re just stroking yourself.
Schuerholz saw this nightmare environment coming a few years ago, bumped himself up to a political position and installed his hand picked patsy Wren to take the heat for all of this disaster.
So save some of your holier than thou scorn for your butt-buddy John “i can do no wrong” Scheurholz. He is as much of the problem as is Wren. Count on it.

Marc in FL

December 22nd, 2009
4:39 pm

Well, you have to figure at least some money is being allocated to lock up their young talent, so that’s a positive, but with it being Bobby’s last year you’d think they’d make a bigger splash.

chuck

December 22nd, 2009
4:39 pm

If we are going to receive a cut rate product, then cut the ticket prices to reflect that situation. The Braves aren’t trying to win at the major league level.

boots

December 22nd, 2009
4:40 pm

Wren is an idiot or else these owners are super cheap. Regardless, he is certainly lying about this being a great move. First we let LaRoche go, then we get stuck with two closers (letting the younger / better one get away), and now he trades a really good starter for someone who is on par with Ryan Church (who we also let go). Really disappointed in the Braves and very uninspired about the coming year. Their biggest splash this off-season has been the resigning of an announcer, and they really had nothing to do with it. Ugh.

Mark Bradley

December 22nd, 2009
4:41 pm

Kudos, Fed Up. Although I wish it could have come under happier circumstances.

GREGNORTON

December 22nd, 2009
4:41 pm

Hey abs man, both of your brain cells have just died. Idiot!

Einstein

December 22nd, 2009
4:42 pm

Actually, I think this was a good move for the Braves. If you check Vasquez’s records, he’ll have a so-so year followed by a good year followed by another so-so year. Always one with huge potential; however, short on long-term accomplishments. Throws a lot of pitches and eats a lot of innings, but the won/loss differential is not equal to the salary. I like the prospects the Braves are getting…Melky will be more consistent in the field and at bat, and who knows, just might surprise some fans now that he’s out of NY. Now, if we could just unload Lowe. Anyway, just my opinion.

anderson jones

December 22nd, 2009
4:43 pm

Great article MB. What a discouraging offseason to set up the swan song for #6. Any chance you see us finishing ahead of either the Mets of Marlins? I for one don’t.

Brian

December 22nd, 2009
4:43 pm

This is a ridiculous article to write until the offseason is over. The team as it stands right now is not the same team that will open the 2010 season! Are you really too blind to see that? Wren has said all along that his plan is to improve the offense. Your quote from him explicitly says he is not done yet. Do you not believe him?

Will you retract this article of the money or prospects gotten in this deal are used to acquire the power hitter whom you seek?

delawares only brave fan

December 22nd, 2009
4:43 pm

YOU WOULD HOPE THAT THIS IS ONLY THE FIRST MOVE.MAYBE SEND CABRERA AND SOME ONE ELSE TO THE NATS FOR DUNN HE ONLY HAS A YEAR LEFT ON HIS CONTRACT.IF NOT…..THEN CHECK WRENS MEDS CAUSE HE MUST BE OFF THEM.

JB

December 22nd, 2009
4:43 pm

“Patience is a virtue.”

Yes. Once Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurjjens reach full potential we will no longer be able to sign them either. In essence, if you’re a Brave, you can be good but not TOO good.

The Abs Man

December 22nd, 2009
4:44 pm

Q: What do Braves have in common with Chris Henry?

A: Both got buried today…

Mark Bradley

December 22nd, 2009
4:44 pm

I understand that this-is-a-prelude-to-another-move thinking, but what exactly does Wren have left to trade? Hanson? Heyward? Jurrjens? McCann?

saywhat?

December 22nd, 2009
4:44 pm

couldn’t agree more Mark… The Braves are done …. its not anything to do with improving the team and only about the bottom line salary..no way can THIS team be improved with the skimpy money the thrifty owners have.and Wren is a duffus.. last year fine,, he killed our history with Smoltz and Glavine but put something together to be ok,, and Javy was THE MAJOR PLUS… only hope is the team is sold because LIBERTY (after Time Warner) has let the Braves go back to 70’s & 80’s,, When Ted finally stepped up with the cash and John Schuerholz no longer tradedthe farm talent away… Its over,, this party is done…

ArkyTech

December 22nd, 2009
4:44 pm

Mark, you are assuming Vazquez will duplicate in 2010 what he did in 2009. In the 5 seasons before he came to Atlanta, Vazquez only had 1 season with an ERA below 4.42.

And it wasn’t like this was a straight up deal – Braves got $9mil plus legit prospects. What does it take to trade up these days? Money and prospects. Braves just got both. Chill out and see what happens next.

Baba O'Riley

December 22nd, 2009
4:44 pm

Melky won’t have those bombers hitting around him. He also won’t be playing 81 games in Williamsport like he was last year. A team that desperately needed a bat, instead got Melky. He has even more pressure with the Braves than with the Yanks.

GMR

December 22nd, 2009
4:44 pm

Maybe this is why the Braves are asking season ticket holders to pay early this year. They want dollars committed by the fans before they see the 2010 product. Unless all this action has been to pave the way for signing a big hitter at 1B I won’t be buying tickets for next year – so something needs to happen in the next 3 weeks as I am surely not alone in being unwilling to pay for another season of futility. And here’s another thing – how come any team trading to the Braves seems to be working from a position of strength while trades from the Braves are always on an apparently weak basis? Are the Braves seen as a soft touch by other GMs?

Mark Bradley

December 22nd, 2009
4:45 pm

I don’t have any faith in Omar Minaya to make the Mets better, Anderson. So Wren’s got that going for him.

Sonny Clusters

December 22nd, 2009
4:45 pm

Melky Cabrera: The latest in a serious of cost-cutting imports. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

We was shocked to see a typo in a Mark Bradley post. That is as unheard of as trading a top pitcher for a corner outfielder with no pop. We always had pop when we was playing ball and the way Bobby Cox manages they won’t win without some pop. 3-run pop.

Brian

December 22nd, 2009
4:45 pm

How about the guy we just got from the Yankees as trade bait? There’s also Medlen, Schafer, Freeman if you’re thinking about trading for a certain big 1B, Teheran…I think you’re being obtuse again, Mark.

Brian

December 22nd, 2009
4:46 pm

Sorry about the double post…the first didn’t show up til like 10 minutes after I posted it.

GA30456

December 22nd, 2009
4:46 pm

Let’ s go sign our famous pinch hitter from last year and make him our first baseman. With this terrific move, we will be lucky to be within 20 games of a playoff spot. We now know that the Braves will only be contenders for last place. Why did we not just give the Yanks Javier with no strings attached. In all probability Cabreba will not even make the team. He is not an upgrade but a downgrade. I have always respected Frank Wren’s moves. This the ultimate dumb move. I have lost all respect and Bobby may as well retire because we are not serious contenders, not even pretenders

Mark Bradley

December 22nd, 2009
4:46 pm

Thanks, Sonny. You win the copy-editing prize for Dec. 22, 2010.

Baba O'Riley

December 22nd, 2009
4:47 pm

I haven’t been this excited about a new Braves outfielder since we got Daryl Motley from the Royals.