Atlanta Shopping Javy Vazquez: Should the Cubs Pick Up the Phone?

Tab BamfordSenior Writer INovember 13, 2009

PHOENIX - MAY 30:  Starting pitcher Javier Vazquez #33 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the major league baseball game at Chase Field on May 30, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Braves 3-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves and starting pitcher Tim Hudson agreed to a three-year, $28 million contract extension on Thursday.

Hudson originally joined the Braves in a trade in December of 2005, and signed a four-year, $47 million extension that would take him from 2006 through this past season.

But Tommy John Surgery derailed the Braves' plans for him to be their ace in 2008 and 2009, so the team had to go shopping last winter. They signed Derek Lowe to a four-year, $60 million contract and traded a handful of nice prospects to the White Sox for Jaview Vazquez to bolster their rotation.

Hudson is back, healthy, and now extended. Thanks to a bounty of young pitchers showing they are major league ready in 2009, the Braves now have six starting pitchers under contract.

Rumors are now flying that the Braves will look to move a starter, probably one of Lowe or Vazquez, to add to their offense.

Perhaps the Chicago Cubs should give Frank Wren a call.

The Braves will play 2010 knowing that the end of the Bobby Cox Era is in sight. They will undoubtedly go for broke and try to bring in a few bats so they can compete with the defending National League champion Phillies, the young Marlins, and the expensive Mets in the National League East.

If the Braves want to add a bat, perhaps the Cubs could help them out.

The Dodgers have reportedly inquired about Vazquez's availability, and more teams will likely call soon. He had a fantastic 2009 season, going 15-10 with 238 strikeouts and a 1.03 WHIP in 219.1 innings. Opponents only manage a .223 batting average against Vazquez last year.

The trouble with Vazquez, from Atlanta's perspective, is that he'll make $11.5 million in 2010, the final year of his contract. The intrigue with Vazquez is that his contract contains a limited no-trade clause that keeps him from being dealt to the NL or AL East divisions.

Too bad, Dodgers?

All of the numbers for Vazquez were great in 2009, but there's a reason he was in Atlanta and not Chicago.

Down the stretch in 2008, Vazquez was repeatedly called out by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen for folding under the pressure of playoff-intensity baseball. Eventually, his poor performances down the stretch led to his trade to Atlanta.

So should the Cubs express interest in a guy that's been in this city before, and been run out of town once before?

Let's consider what might have to take place for a deal to go down.

The Braves already have three left-handed hitting outfielders in Garret Anderson, Nate McLouth, and Ryan Church. They also, obviously, have a sound third baseman in Chipper Jones and have shown strong confidence in Yunel Escobar at shortstop. Brian McCann is going nowhere as well.

Where this becomes an intriguing trade partnership is at first base. Adam LaRoche is a free agent, and Atlanta is looking at the potential of going young at first base. But putting a rookie in at first base in the final year of Cox's contract might not be ideal for management in Atlanta.

Derrek Lee, coming off a stellar bounceback season, might be a perfect fit for a trade to happen.

Lee, like Vazquez, has only one year left on his contract. Lee's contract value is comparable to that of Vazquez as well; Lee will make $13 million next year, just $1.5 million more than Vazquez.

If the Cubs made a move like this, how would it impact the Cubs' roster?

Obviously, adding a pitcher like Vazquez brings more depth to the Cubs' rotation. He would probably slide into the No. 2 slot in the rotation to begin the year, between Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. When Ted Lilly returns from his shoulder injury, Dempster would slide down further to the fourth spot in the rotation.

As Zambrano has matured, he has become more of a ground ball pitcher than the kid that tried to strike everyone out six years ago. Vazquez became one of the better strikeout pitchers in the National League in 2009, and would bring a dimension to the rotation that it didn't have last year.

Vazquez is also an innings eater, meaning the Cubs wouldn't tax their bullpen as much when he took the bump. Last season, Vazquez averaged over 6.2 innings per start, and he's made at least 32 starts every year since 1999.

Consistency and health would be two factors worth adding to a Cubs staff that saw every starter miss time with an injury last year.

The downside of this proposed deal, though, would be the loss of Lee from the field, lineup, and locker room.

In my humble opinion, opening up first base would give Lou Piniella the opportunity to get Jake Fox onto the field every day. Fox showed last year in limited opportunities that he can hit the ball for power, and he just needs somewhere on the field to play.

There would certainly be a drop off in the defense at first base from Lee, but that would be true no matter who the Cubs replaced Lee with if he wasn't on the roster. This year's free agent crop is full of guys that should either be a DH or a backup, so Fox would be as good an option as any.

If you project Fox's numbers out over a full season (roughly Lee's 550 at bats), there's reason to believe that Fox could absolutely hit between 25 and 30 home runs and drive in 90 to 100 runs in the five or six slot in the lineup.

If the Cubs and Braves were to pull the trigger on this deal, it would improve both teams in a way that each needs help. The loss to the Cubs defense would be greater than the Braves loss of Vazquez's innings, but the exchange might make both teams more competitive for a division and National League crown.