MLB Trade Deadline 2012: Grading Atlanta Braves' Deal for Maholm
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While you were sleeping (and at 1:25 AM I hope you were sleeping), the Braves and Cubs celebrated the 2012 MLB Trade Deadline by pulling off a trade involving a Braves prospect for a Cubs starting pitcher.
The trade did not, however, involve Randall Delgado or Ryan Dempster, contrary to the budding speculation that Dempster would reconsider being moved to Atlanta. Nor did it involve Matt Garza, another highly regarded Cubs starter supposedly on the block.
Maholm is not quite the "top-of-the-rotation starter" Atlanta was reportedly looking to get at the deadline, but the trade was still pretty significant, telling Braves fans exactly what the Atlanta front office thinks of this year's version of the Braves.
So how did Atlanta fare in this deadline deal?
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Vizcaino, who was the third-ranked prospect in the Braves organization coming into the season, was looking like a key component of the Atlanta bullpen until Tommy John surgery sidelined him for the entire 2012 campaign.
Vizcaino, a 21 year old righty, has a hard fastball that reaches the mid-90s as a starter and the upper-90s as a reliever, a plus curve, and a changeup that's well on its way to becoming a plus pitch. He definitely has the repertoire of a starter, but injury concerns have led some to believe that he is better off in the bullpen, perhaps as a closer.
The role the Cubs intend to employ Vizcaino in is undetermined.
Chapman, the other piece sent to Chicago, is a 25 year old right-handed reliever. A very dispensable asset to Atlanta, Chapman is a strikeout artist with poor to questionable control. He has pitched well in Triple-A this year, and will surely see time in a Cubs uniform this season.
Maholm, a 30 year old southpaw, will instantly step into the Braves rotation and provide quality innings every fifth day. Armed with an 88 mile an hour fastball, Maholm relies on his breaking pitches and stellar command to fool major league bats.
Johnson, 35, is a scrappy right handed hitting outfielder who will most likely become the Braves top pinch hitter (a la Brooks Conrad), and will most likely only find himself in the starting lineup when a Braves starter needs a rest.
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Atlanta bolstered the rotation and strengthened the bench for (most likely) a reliever that underwent Tommy John surgery.
Paul Maholm looks to solidify the back end of a Braves rotation that has been somewhat of a revolving door, with Jair Jurrjens, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran all failing to hold down the No. 5 spot. He may not reach 90 miles per hour on his fastball, but Maholm doesn't walk anybody (2.54 BB/9) and his success seems to be sustainable, accruing a .281 BABIP against.
As an added bonus, Maholm is red-hot. He has allowed two or fewer runs in 12 of his 21 starts while posting a 1.02 ERA in his last six starts, and has also only allowed five runs in his last 45 innings pitched.
In fact, if you take out his first two starts of the season, Maholm's 9-6 record becomes 9-4, and his 3.74 ERA drops to 3.04. That's certainly worthy of a rotation spot, and maybe even an October rotation spot.
Frank Wren seems to be very high on Maholm, comparing him to Tom Glavine in this interview.
Reed Johnson, the other player Atlanta added from this deal, is a piece I'm very excited about. A right-handed bat who can play the outfield, Johnson plays hard and does the little things well. His fire will add something to Atlanta that has been missing since Brooks Conrad was let go.
He's not the 4.5 win player from 2006 that hit .319 with 12 home runs, but he is an excellent pinch hitter and platoon player, sporting an aggressive approach that induces many strikeouts and few walks, but has also produced a .302 batting average.
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The outcome of this trade, like so many other trades, depends almost entirely on the development of the main prospect in the deal.
Chapman is almost a non-factor here—Atlanta's abundance of arms allows them to be a little liberal with their minor league relievers.
We're talking about Arodys Vizcaino. More specifically, about Vizcaino's role in Chicago.
I hate that the Braves gave up Vizcaino. He has a special arm and a great arsenal, and he could pitch on any team in the majors right now. If he would have stayed in Atlanta, he would have probably become a late-inning stopper in 2013, and I would have loved to see him be in the conversation for the starting rotation in 2014.
This trade, however, tells me that Frank Wren did not see Vizcaino as a starter. Why else would he give up such a talented arm for Paul Maholm?
If Vizcaino blossoms into a frontline starter for Chicago, this trade will have been a failure. If he slides into the role of Cubs closer (a relatively easy task for a pitcher of Vizcaino's talent), this trade is digested much easier.
The other downside to this trade is that the Braves are still without a true ace. Once Greinke was dealt to the Angels, I was pulling hard for Atlanta to go out and retrieve Jon Lester from the Red Sox, or even check out Josh Beckett's price tag. I would have even settled for Francisco Liriano, hoping he would get hot in October.
Paul Maholm is certainly not the ace that can duel the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, and Jordan Zimmermann.
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This move tells me that the Atlanta front office looked long and hard at the Braves and decided that the team needed to be polished, not renovated. Paul Maholm is not Jon Lester, nor is he Zack Greinke, but Frank Wren apparently believes that he can be comparable to Tom Glavine, a strike-throwing, soft-tossing lefty that relies on pinpoint command.
Reed Johnson is also an excellent pickup, bolstering an Atlanta bench with his right-handed bat (much needed in the lefty heavy Braves lineup), aggressive approach, and fiery attitude.
In finality, I have two concerns. One deals with Arodys Vizcaino. If he is inserted into the Cubs rotation next year and blossoms into a great starter (of which he is fully capable), this trade will go down as a failure. However, if he sticks in the bullpen (which is where Wren obviously believes Vizcaino is headed), Atlanta comes out ahead here.
Lastly, will the Braves rotation step up in the second half? Maholm solidifies the rotation, but the Braves are still left without an ace for October—someone who can go toe-to-toe with Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Jordan Zimmermann, and Madison Bumgarner. It's a very solid rotation, but who is going to rise above and play the hero?
Maybe Tommy Hanson turns his season around. Maybe Tim Hudson reaches deep into the tank and pitches like the ace he used to be. Maybe Mike Minor irons out his inconsistencies and pitches like the frontline starter he has been in the past four starts—27.1 innings, 26 strikeouts, 1.98 ERA. Maybe Paul Maholm continues his recent dominance. Maybe Ben Sheets only allows one run every 18 innings (I'd be fine with that).
Regardless, at least one Braves starting pitcher needs to step up.
So with that said, let's grade the trade. We can't know for certain the outcome of this trade until the season's end, but assuming Vizcaino pitches in relief for Chicago, Maholm and Johnson should give Atlanta a big enough boost for this trade to warrant a solid grade.
ATLANTA BRAVES TRADE GRADE: B