The Atlanta Braves have traded pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino, along with minor league reliever Jaye Chapman, to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for outfielder Reed Johnson and left-handed pitcher Paul Maholm. The move bolsters the Braves major league roster for a playoff push while the Cubs continue their rebuilding process.
Johnson and Maholm are good fits in Atlanta, and their acquisition makes sense for the Braves. Additionally, the Cubs aren't in contention this season, and don't expect to be next year, so even with Maholm's club option for 2013, neither veteran player was a part of the Cubs future.
The real story is Arodys Vizcaino, the centerpiece of this trade for the Cubs.
Acquired by the Braves before the 2010 season from the Yankees in the trade that sent Javier Vazquez to New York, Vizcaino has since been a part of what has been known as "The Big 3" within the Braves organization, coupling with fellow pitching prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado to form a young trio of international fireballers that had Braves fans dreaming of a second coming of their success in the 1990's.
That scenario has yet to manifest itself, with Julio Teheran struggling in Triple-A this season, Randall Delgado taking on a bullpen role, and Vizcaino's 2012 season ending before it ever started after having Tommy John surgery in March.
With Tommy John surgery becoming more and more routine each year, that procedure alone would not be enough to derail the hopes of Vizcaino become the number two starter his stuff projects him to be, but this is not the first elbow-related injury for Vizcaino, who missed time in 2010 with a partially torn elbow ligament that was healed through rest and rehab rather than surgery.
Vizcaino had been a starter in the Yankees farm system and reprised the role in the Braves system when he took the field in 2010, but upon a promotion to Triple-A in 2011, he moved out to the bullpen. The move was made by the Braves in part because of the team's organizational starting pitching depth, and in hopes that the transition might enable him to help the major league club during its playoff run. Ultimately, Vizcaino did make 17 relief appearances in the majors last season.
Scouts envision Vizcaino as a number two or three starter, with his fastball sitting in the mid-90's as a starter. As a reliever, it plays up a tick or two. His curveball is another potential plus pitch, but his change-up is a work in progress, putting another notch in the "make him a reliever" column.
But the big question about Vizcaino's future role with his new team will be determined less by where his stuff plays the best and more by which he is physically able of performing. Having had surgery in March, Vizcaino will not pitch for the Cubs this season at any level. He should begin throwing this off-season and be on schedule to try and make the Cubs roster out of spring training.
Much of this question will be determined by how he responds to Tommy John surgery. Some will suggest that given his injury history, starting is now out of the question and a relief role will be his only option. The fact remains, however, that both of his significant injuries have been elbow related, and this surgery is supposed to eliminate that issue. There is a real possibility that the Braves should have had him have the surgery when he had the partial tear in 2010 and that would have solved the problem once and for all.
There is no predicting how a player will respond to Tommy John surgery, but the Cubs are comfortable that regardless of hos he bounces bad, he will be able to contribute to their rebuilding process. If he can't handle the rigors of starting, he could be a back-end reliever and potential closer. If he responds well, he could make the Cubs starting rotation next spring and likely be on some kind of innings limit similar to what the Nationals have done the past two years with Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg.
Regardless, the risk is a calculated one for the Cubs, who are taking a high-reward/low-risk type of gamble on Vizcaino, considering the pieces they gave up were doing nothing to help them win this year or next.
Here's what others are saying about the deal:
- John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com has scouting reports on all of the players involved, calling Chapman a potential ROOGY in the majors.
- TalkingChop.com loves the trade, saying the Braves traded "from an area of depth for two critical needs in the middle of a pennant race."
- Ben Duronio of FanGraphs.com says the Braves picked up two useful pieces.
- Bradley Woodrum of FanGraphs.com called the trade "a bit of a fleecing for the Cubs."