The Atlanta Braves have a playoff-worthy rotation, with a triumvirate of aces in Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, and Tommy Hanson. Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson have both been number ones in their time, and are likely solid two/three types going forward.
These are the five best pitchers in Atlanta, but that still leaves first-year Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami. What do you do with Double K?
What’s a Kawakami?
Although he can’t crack the Braves’ starting five, Kawakami is an asset. He has put up a respectable 3.92 ERA, 4.23 FIP, and 1.8 wins above replacement (WAR).
Special K is right about league average in all his skill stats:
• Kawakami: 6.05 K/9, 3.26 BB/9, 0.89 HR/9
• League Avg: 7.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
He doesn’t strike out as many as you’d like, but balances this by his paucity of walks and home runs.
A Kawakami is a league average, Pac-man innings muncher. He’s the kind of starter who fills out the back of a rotation and gives a team a chance to win most nights.
On a team with a good offense, like the Phillies, he might be a Joe Blanton type, winning 10 to 12 games. (For comparison’s sake, Blanton has a 3.82 ERA and 2.3 WAR—only marginally better than Kawakami.) On a team with an inconsistent offense, he wins seven.
Kawakami signed a three-year, $23 million deal before this season, and, due to a front-loaded contract, will earn $6.7 million each of the next two seasons. That is good value, according to fangraphs, which says he has been worth $8 million this season.
Let me wax a moment on this species the everyman, this thick hump in the bell curve, this ham and cheese of the baseball world. This man is noble by his toil; histories are not written of him, but by him. As Confucius said, “The firm, the enduring, the simple, and the modest are near to virtue.”
Acquiring a Kawakami is not flashy, and it does not grab headlines. But it may help teams win championships. The trick is finding which teams those are.
You Need a Kawakami!
Kawakami would most help a team with poor or destabilized pitching. It would also be best to keep him in the NL, because a switch to the harder league might make him less attractive to teams.
For the Braves, trading Kawakami could do one of two things: (1) Unload salary so they can afford their free agent closers, Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, or (2) Get a prospect for one of the positions they are week at—corner outfield, second base, and middle relief.
So which teams would be good trading partners for Kawakami? Here are a few suggestions:
It was only 2007 when the Diamondbacks, winning 90 games and taking the division, looked like they were going to compete for years. They still have a solid core, and next year’s rotation will include the fearsome duo of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, followed by the quickly developing Max Sherzer.
Their highly effective fourth starter, Doug Davis, will be a free agent at the end of the season. With both his production and $8.75 million salary gone, someone will need to step in.
The D’backs don’t have a lot to offer, so the most likely deal would be a salary dump. In this case, the D’backs could offer an OF like Alex Romero or 2B Ryan Roberts, either of whom would be decent off the bench and makes less than $500,000.
The Reds rotation, when healthy, includes the talented trio of Aaron Harang, Edison Volquez, and Johnny Cueto, not to mention the dependable Bronson Arroyo. The problem is that they have seldom all been healthy this season.
Kawakami would be a good insurance policy against the kind of rotation implosion they had and could fill the fifth starter’s role well when all were healthy.
The Reds could offer more interesting outfielders than the D’backs in Wladimir Balentien or Drew Stubbs. It would still be a salary dump, but both are decent prospects.
Balentien has been highly rated in the Mariners’ system, and Stubbs has shown decent ability in a call up this season (.262/.316/.475).
The Astros should be a team rebuilding, but every year they seem to outperform expectations. They have the pieces of a decent lineup, including Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, and Michael Bourn.
But their pitching is awful. Wandy Rodriguez and Roy Oswalt are the only men who belong in a major league rotation. The rest of the boys they have trotted out are so much chaff before the winnowing.
The Astros could use Kawakami, but who could they offer? The pickings are thin, but, following the theme, they might be able to take on a salary dump, since Tejada’s $15 million salary will be coming off the books, and offer swing man Chris Sampson.
The Brewers are a team, like the Astros, with a very solid lineup but terrible pitching. Yovanni Gallardo is an ace, but Kawakami would be an upgrade over any of the pitchers following him.
The Brewers could offer a decent middle reliever, like Mitch Stetter, or an outfield piece like Jody Gerut.
If I were the Brewers, I would pursue particularly hard. They are right around .500 right now with a talentless pitching staff. With just a couple pitchers, they could be back in the postseason.
Although Kawakami might not be useful to the Braves next season, he could help several teams. Let's hope he gets the opportunity.