Yanks Strike Gold… Again

Money can make people do crazy things, and that saying held true as Atlanta dealt a legitimate ace, Javier Vazquez, for organizational depth and a teenager yesterday.  Vazquez, owed $11.5 million this coming season, was traded along with Boone Logan to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino.

It’s never a good thing when the most recognizable name you receive is Melky Cabrera.  The Melk-man, best used as a fourth outfielder, will likely be forced into the starting lineup for the lightweight Braves who have been looking for hitting help all off-season.  Cabrera is known for his 10/10-power/speed combination along with a solid average, but his career high in OPS is .752 in his four years as a starting outfielder.  Possibly the most telling thing about this acquisition is where Atlanta stands with their current outfield.  The Braves boast arguably the best hitting prospect in baseball, Jason Heyward, and also have Jordan Schafer, a youngster who earned a ton of hype heading into opening day last year.  The fact that Atlanta added Melky and retained Matt Diaz could mean that Heyward, who is still very inexperienced, and Schafer, who is returning from wrist surgery, are not all that close to being ready to crack Atlanta’s big league roster.  Melky is under club control for the next three years, but I have a tough time seeing him fitting into future plans with the two I mentioned on the way and Nate McLouth already there.

The Braves also pulled in a couple noteworthy pitchers in this deal.  The Yankees drafted Michael Dunn, a hard-throwing lefty, as a starting pitcher.  After struggling in A+ ball, he was relegated to the bullpen where he seemed to find his calling, posting a 3.71 ERA in AA and 2.25 ERA in AAA before getting the call to the majors last year.  Going on 25 years old, it’s hard to imagine him having much potential, but his low-mid 90 MPH heat should make him a solid lefty-specialist, at the least.  Boone Logan, who Atlanta gave up, is comparable to Dunn, however.  Similar age, stuff and success make this swap basically a wash.

But the most intriguing member of this deal is the (alleged) 19-year old starting pitcher from the Dominicans, Arodys Vizcaino.  Vizcaino is one of the rare Yankees prospects who have not received much notoriety, but he proved to be worthy of it by dominating in A-ball last year.  Sporting a fastball in the mid-90s and off speed pitches that are reportedly well ahead of his age, Vizcaino has the promise of a top-end MLB starter.  In 10 starts, he provided a 2.13 ERA and a very impressive 11.06 K/9 while also limiting his walks moderately well, especially for someone his age with his stuff (3.19 BB/9.)

There is little question about what the Yankees are receiving.  Javier Vazquez was a Cy Young contender last year, posting a 2.87 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and his typical 8+ K/9 (9.77 last year.)  One of the most beneficial things for the Yankees will be his ability to eat innings.  Vazquez has never thrown less than 150 innings in his 12-year career, including 198 or more in each of his past 10 seasons.  While his first stint in New York was widely regarded as a disaster, he did manage to go 14-10 despite his 4.91 ERA largely because he was still able to troll deep into ball games, giving the Yankees 6+ innings on most occasions.  With Joba Chamberlain still susceptible to very short outings, Vazquez will go a long ways towards keeping the bullpen fresh throughout the entire season.

Vazquez should do more than just eat innings, however.  He is as talented as they come with the tremendous ability to miss bats and keep runners off base.  He has an arsenal of quality pitches and developed a much better slider since the last time you saw him in New York.  Yet, the big problem he had in New York still remains today, and that is his inability to limit the long ball.  Despite lowering his fly ball percentage to a respectable 35% last year (it’s usually up over 40%), he still gave up 20 bombs while pitching half of his games in the roomy Turner Field.  As was much discussed last year, no stadium in baseball conceded more home runs than the new Yankee Stadium, and this will likely provide some disastrous starts for Vazquez.

There is no doubt that the Yankees once again improved their team.  Vazquez completely solidifies a rotation that was already 80% there.  While it’s highly unlikely he repeats last year’s success, he should give the Yankees a quality start on most occasions and end up with an ERA in the mid-high 3s, which will translate into a lot of wins for the Bronx Bombers.  Atlanta is essentially dependent on the talented Vizcaino to save face in this deal.  While they gain nearly $10 million of cap space this year, that is a number Melky Cabrera will likely come close to erasing if they do in fact keep him the next two.  If Vizcaino can come close to his potential and the Braves wisely invest their newfound salary space, they could maintain their playoff contention this year while also improving their future.  If not, this will go down as yet another embarrassing deal that the Yankees took advantage of.

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