Thursday, July 18, 2013

Trade Targets: Jose Veras, Matt Belisle

I have been focused on middle relievers since I started this year's run through and guess what!  Got two more of them.  Truly, I want to fit other positions in this series, but the best value for Atlanta is in middle relief.

Jose Veras

After making his debut in 2006 for the New York Yankees, Veras has certainly found a variety of homes.  The Yankees traded him to the Indians in '09 who non-tendered him at the end of the year.  He got his next shot with the Marlins, but ended 2010 with another non-tender despite a 10.1 K/9 and 3.80 xFIP.  The Pirates gave him his next uniform in 2011 and he responded by pitching in 79 games with a 10 K/9 and a 3.50 FIP.  Still, Veras was sent packing, traded to the Brewers for his 2012 season.  More of the same was the result for Veras.  And yet again, Veras was sent packing, outrighted after the season and a free agent after he wanted to test the waters.

A team that was thought to compete for the worst record in baseball history came calling and the Houston Astros signed him to a one-year contract with a 2014 option.  The Astros, whose bullpen includes former Brave farmhand Paul Clemens and Rudi Stein (may as well), handed over the closer duties to Veras.  The well-traveled native of the Dominican Republic has nailed down 18 saves, but that number doesn't have as much meaning to me as his 3.54 FIP that is exactly the same as his xFIP.  His K/9 numbers have taken a small fall to 9.6 per nine, but his walk rate is the lowest of his career at 3.2 BB/9.  Not that Veras doesn't have drawbacks.  He allows far too many homers to be a trustworthy guy in a one-run ball game.  His 1.07 WHIP is by-far the best of his career.  But he's also pitching the best ball of his career.  That's clear.

Veras likely has his faults.  There is some reason why no team seems interested in keeping him for more than a year.  Some of that has been due to his pitching and he probably has frustrated more than his fair share of managers.  Furthermore, the Astros can afford to bring back Veras on his $3.25M club option for 2014.  However, the Astros must know they are going nowhere and getting back even long-shot prospects could be enticing for a team whose farm system was so horrid before their play helped secure better draft choices.  Provided the Astros aren't expecting a market reserved for the best available, the Braves could benefit from trading for Veras and seeing what they had for two months (with hopefully a good portion of October tacked on) before making a decision to either pay Veras $3.25M or $150K and a letter to wish him luck in all his future endeavors.

Matt Belisle

A long, long time ago (or 2003), the Braves traded a former 2nd round pick for Kent Mercker, a rental LOOGY who also was a former Brave.  Belisle had spent most of that season in AA before making three starts with Richmond before the trade.  In 2007, the Reds gave Belisle 30 starts and the results were miserable.  After he failed to impress the Reds in 2008, he was non-tendered and caught on with the Rockies.  After a 2009 season where the Rockies designated him for assignment twice, Belisle found himself in 2010, posting a 2.2 WAR season out of the pen with a ridiculously good 2.68 FIP and 2.78 xFIP.

In two-and-a-half seasons since arriving in 2010, Belisle has not been quite as excellent as he was that season, but he has routinely been one of the better left-handed arms in the game.  He relies on a power fastball in the low 90's that creates some sinking movement, which has pushed his ground-ball rate over 50% since the start of 2011.  He has three different fastball grips and supplements it most often with a slider, though he can also turn into his ex-starter bag of tricks and pull out a curveball and a changeup.

Seems like a perfect match, right?  The Braves could use a high-leverage lefty reliever with Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters out.  Two problems.  Despite the Rockies being four-games under .500, in the woeful NL West, that means they are still technically in it!  4.5 games behind the free-falling Diamondbacks and two behind the surging Dodgers, the next couple of weeks are very important for Colorado, which just got Troy Tulowitzki back from the DL.  A push to .500 and they could be buyers.  Falling to six or seven games back and they might sell.  Stagnation...who knows?

Plus, Belisle could be back in 2014 for $4.25M.  I say "could" because its a mutual option.  Can the Braves pay handsomely for Belisle only to watch him hit free agency for a Jeremy Affeldt contract of 3 years, $18M?  It depends on the package that the Braves would have to give up to get Belisle.  If the package is one that a team would give up for a rental, the Braves cover their bases and if Belisle returns, all the better.  If you are surrendering top talent for two months of a middle reliever who bolts, the only concession that can come from that is a World Series ring.  One thing's for clear.  If the Rockies are willing to deal and the Braves get Belisle for the right price, Atlanta's seventh inning is covered.

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