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Looking Back at the Yankees/Braves Vazquez Trade

October 19, 2010

Last December, the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves completed a trade that would surprise most but ultimately was done in an effort to fill a need that both organizations saw. The Yankees wanted a veteran starting pitcher to add to what was already a formidable starting rotation. The Braves needed to trim payroll and had an extra starter available. But how has the deal worked out for both sides?

Despite having just won a World Series with a rotation led by C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte there was a feeling in New York that another veteran starter was needed. There were some internal options – most notably Philip Hughes and Joba Chamberlain – but the organization didn’t seem ready to commit to having both players take on starting roles (and still don’t, for that matter). So, we saw numerous rumors throughout the winter months about the Yankees interest in a number of available pitchers. Most of the trade candidates didn’t seem viable due to the high cost in both prospects and dollars for a contract extension. Many believed the team would just stand pat and wait until this coming offseason to add a big piece to the rotation.

However, Atlanta had a number of arms available but each carried their own question marks. Derek Lowe had signed a big free agent contract that still had too many dollars and years remaining for him to be a quality trade candidate. Kenshin Kawakami hadn’t been overly impressive in his first season and didn’t seem like he’d be a good fit in New York. Javier Vazquez was coming off a solid season in Atlanta, only had one year remaining on his contract, but had struggled mightily in a previous stint with the Yankees.

Yet, despite that track record there were many that believed Vazquez was the best fit for what the Yankees needed. He had pitched one season in New York before, 2004, and saw limited success – 14-10 record, 198.0 innings pitched over 32 starts, 4.91 ERA, 92 ERA+, and an All Star appearance (the only one of his career). He was, however, hit hard in two ALCS appearances against the Red Sox in the series that eventually led Boston to their first World Series victory in 86 years. That collapse has been at least partly blamed on Vazquez by many Yankee fans so his return was met with mixed feelings.

Vazquez struggled in his return to New York in 2010. He finished the season working sparingly out of the bullpen after posting a 10-10 record over 157.1 innings pitched with a 5.32 ERA, 80 ERA+, and a career high 3.7 BB/9. His performance was such a disappointment that he would be completely left off of the playoff rosters and there is virtually no chance the Yankees will look to resign him this offseason.

Coming to New York with Vazquez was left-handed reliever Boone Logan. Logan had spent three years working out of the Chicago White Sox bullpen and a year in Atlanta’s before the trade with very mixed results. He had always shown a tendency for good strikeout rates (career 7.2 K/9) but allowed far too many walks (career 4.1 BB/9). Logan had never truly developed into a viable role player and was largely looked at as a throw in to the deal.

However, Logan flourished once arriving in New York despite getting off to a slow start. Over 40.0 innings of work he’d post a 2-0 record, 8.6 K/9, and a career low 2.93 ERA (147 ERA+). More importantly he developed into the Yankees’ primary left-handed option as the season progressed.

In exchange for the two pitchers, the Braves would receive three players and approximately $8 Million in salary relief which they would greatly need. The extra savings allowed them the flexibility to make some moves midseason that helped get the team to the playoffs in 2010, sending outgoing manager Bobby Cox into retirement in style.

One of the team’s biggest needs last winter was another outfielder to add to the mix that could provide some versatility and pop. Melky Cabrera certainly provided the versatility portion of that, spending time in all three outfield positions over his career. His defense isn’t Gold Glove worthy at any position but he isn’t a major liability in the field either. Offensively Cabrera struggled to one of the worst seasons of his career. In just over 500 plate appearances he’d post a .255/.317/.354 line (83 OPS+) with just 4 HRs and 42 RBIs.

Cabrera was released today by the Braves in a move that frees them up to pursue an outfielder over the winter. The team will likely seek someone with a little more power to fill the void they’ll now have in their outfield alongside Jason Heyward and Nate McClouth. Jordan Schafer will be one option who presumably can give them equal or better production than Cabrera for a lower cost.

With Cabrera the Braves received a pair of minor league pitchers in left-hander Michael Dunn and right-hander Arodys Vizcaino. Dunn is the more advanced of the two, having spent most of this past season at AAA Gwinnet. He did, however, make 25 appearances for Atlanta in the second half of the season, working a total of 19.0 innings. In that time he did post a 2-0 record and 1.89 ERA (210 ERA+) but his peripherals were a mixed bag. Dunn did strike out 27 batters (12.8 K/9) but did walk 17 (8.1 BB/9). Control hasn’t been quite the issue for Dunn in the minors but he’s at least given Braves fan some hope for what he can offer in the future working out of their bullpen in front of Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel.

Vizcaino was the top prospect involved in the deal by an easy margin. Baseball America ranked him #69 in their 2010 Top 100 listing and he’ll likely be in the Top 100 again when the next listing is released. Overall this past season he went 9-4 in 17 starts with a 2.74 ERA and strong peripheral numbers. His season was cut short due to an elbow injury in June which has some concerned about his long term future. Many scouts project him to be a mid-rotation starter once (and if) he reaches the Majors.

The trade between the Yankees and Braves is one that most critics felt was won by the Braves at the time it was consummated. After a year has passed we see that Cabrera is already on the free agent market and Vazquez will soon be joining him. The performances and potential of Logan and Dunn can be considered a wash. But ultimately, things still seem to favor the Braves in the grand scheme of things considering they also received Vizcaino and a great deal of salary relief that they sorely needed. Of course, if the Yankees win the World Series again this year and Logan is a vital part of that victory that could sway some of the critics but time will tell. Just as time will tell what kind of pitcher Vizcaino turns out to be.

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