What in the world will the Atlanta Braves decide to do with Javier Vazquez?
That is the burning question surrounding Braves Nation on the MLB Hot Stove this week at the GM meetings.
Vazquez, 33, is coming off a career year and posted one of the best seasons of any major league pitcher in 2009.
His 15-10 record is misleading as he could have won at least 18 games with better run support from the Braves’ often inconsistent offense. The eye popping stats to take note of for Javy were his 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts with only 44 walks in 219-1/3 innings pitched.
Vazquez has also proven to be a durable horse, pitching more than 200 innings in nine of the past ten seasons.
So, why on earth would a Braves team who came thisclose to playing October baseball consider trading arguably its best starting pitcher?
I’ll break it down:
Atlanta is blessed with a wealth of starting pitching depth.
As it stands, their rotation is set to return Jair Jurrjens, rookie sensation Tommy Hanson, veteran Derek Lowe, Japanese standout Kenshin Kawakami, and Vazquez, who has one year, $11.5 million remaining on his contract.
Add Tim Hudson to the mix, who the Braves have agreed to terms on a new three-year contract, which is set to be finalized after the veteran hurler’s MRI on his elbow is completed later this week, and Atlanta will have six starting pitchers with only five slots to fill.
It is no secret that Atlanta is looking to add a power, right-handed bat to its lineup.
This year’s crop of free agent hitters appears underwhelming, which makes the likelihood of the Braves finding a bat on the trade market that much higher.
While the club would much rather trade Derek Lowe or would even prefer to move Kawakami over Vazquez, it seems Javy is the prized piece that could net the Braves the greatest return.
Kawakami is still owed $13.3 million over the next two years, but the Braves should be able to find suitors for him, if they decide to go that route.
Lowe’s remaining three-year, $45 million dollar contract stands to be much tougher to move, without the team taking on a portion of the salary to unload him, which I can’t see the cost conscious Braves agreeing to do.
Despite Lowe’s disappointing first season in Atlanta, the veteran righty posted a 15-10 record with an inflated 4.67 ERA, his career track record makes him a strong candidate for a rebound season.
And, with the dearth of starting pitching talent on the free agent market, some teams desperately seeking an added boost to their staff, may opt to engage in trade talks with the Braves regarding Lowe.
However, in the event that the Braves did move Kawakami or Lowe, they likely aren’t going to get the young power hitter they covet in return.
That may only happen if the team makes Vazquez available.
But, even though Atlanta knows that Javy is a hot commodity and that he may not duplicate the success he enjoyed last season, it still seems unlikely the team will move him.
He has a no-trade clause to teams in the NL West and AL West, but that doesn’t seem to be the barrier stopping a potential deal from being struck, as there are plenty of other trade partners the Braves could find a match with.
It is not just Vazquez’s numbers alone but the outpouring of support in the clubhouse for his return that has played a key role in the Braves’ decision to now consider offering a contract extension to the right-hander, in lieu of a trade.
Many players and team officials have credited Vazquez as being a mentor to the young Jair Jurrjens, helping him ascend to record heights this season.
Since Vazquez has openly expressed his desire to remain in Atlanta this season and beyond, it is not unreasonable to think an extension could be worked out between the two sides this offseason.
It seems to be the Braves’ first priority and desire to retain Vazquez’s services at this point, however, if the club does approach Vazquez about an extension and the two can’t come to terms on a deal, it is then that I think the team will more seriously explore potential trade scenarios.
The Braves know Vazquez’s value if they make him available, but the tipping point may be if the team feels they could lose him at the end of next season to free agency.
If that is the case, then Atlanta may want to sell high on Vazquez and cash in while they still can.
In the meantime, let the speculation continue…..