Thursday, September 17, 2015

Reviewing Hart's Trades: La Stella/Vizcaino

The Braves have been active in John Hart's first season at the helm to the tune of SIXTEEN TRADES! And I had to ignore a lot of the minor deals to come to that number. Sixteen deals involving major league talent going one direction or in both. Sixteen deals that include over 50 different players, a few draft picks, lots of cash, and two Uptons. It's been friggin unreal to see what the Braves have done.

With most of the season in our rear view, it's time to start reviewing each one of these trades. This series is going take a little while to get through, but hey, it gives me something to write about.

The Trade
Tommy La Stella to the Cubs for Arodys Vizcaino and $830,000 in international bonus slot money for the 2014-15 signing period. I reviewed the deal at the time here.

The Rationale
From the Braves side, La Stella was a well-liked - yet limited - prospect who started 86 games at second base during the previous season. The Braves felt so little about his defense that he was allowed to complete just 60 of his starts - a Chris Johnson-esque handling - and while TLS showed the plate discipline many lauded him for (36 BB/40 K), the Braves were not sold. His defense, again, was an issue, but TLS also was short on tools in his offensive game. With Gwinnett that season, he hit just one homer and stole as many bases as he was caught stealing (one) in 47 games. In 88 games, mostly with Mississippi, in 2013, he hit just a handful of homers. While there was optimism he could add enough doubles to fill out the stats card, it made for a guy who needed a high average (in the .290's) range to be productive. While TLS was propped up as the anti-Dan Uggla, that didn't make him a hot prospect.

Meanwhile, Vizcaino was returning to the Braves - where he made his debut as a 20 year-old in 2011. Despite that, he's almost two years younger than La Stella. Vizzy was a top prospect back in the day who, after he broke down with arm troubles, was traded to the Cubs in 2012 for Reed Johnson, Paul Maholm, and bags of cash. The Cubs had high hopes for him, but continued injury issues kept him out until 2013. He would appear in 45 games total with just a handful coming with the Cubs, who finally saw the guy they traded for three years before. The results weren't exciting, but the high-end potential still had a shot.

Short-Term Results
Neither player got off to a good start. TLS got hurt in his second game after opening the year in the starting lineup and batting ninth. For Vizzy, a PED-related suspension followed an underwhelming spring training (he had already been demoted to Gwinnett before the suspension had been announced). That left both players out of action until the summer. Vizzy began his 2015 season in Rome and would make his way up the ladder over eight ballgames with bad results across the board except for strikeouts (which the Braves were happy to see).

Once re-instated, Vizzy began as a middle reliever, but his importance would quickly increase with the injury to Jason Grilli and trade of Jim Johnson. By August, Vizzy was named the closer for the rest of the way - though the sad state of the Braves provides few closing opportunities. In 27 games, Vizzy has a 2.16 ERA and 1.28 WHIP to go with 25 K's in 25 innings. The walks (11) are a little on the high side and after allowing one run in his first 20.2 ING, he has been charged with five earned in 4.1 ING with two of them coming off the bat of Yoenis Cespedes. Overall, however, Vizzy has been excellent for the Braves and a rare bright spot in a bullpen that has looked awful.

La Stella made it back to the field just over a month after being hurt for some rehab games, but a setback made him miss June and most of July before finally getting back into the fold just as July was ending. He hit nice enough to get a recall to Chicago before rosters expanded and regularly been used as a 2B, 3B, and PH. The results have been pretty overall, though, and TLS is hitting just .205 in 43 PA over 18 games with the Cubs. In his defense, he's matched both his HR and SB output that he had with the Braves in 2014 (1 HR, 2 SB).

Long-Term Outlook
For TLS, he seems like a forgotten man in a system that keeps churning out infield prospects, but that hasn't changed anything from the moment the Cubs acquired him. He's a decent enough left-hand bat to have around for depth purposes, but he's likely going to need a change of scenery or a big hot streak to get much of a deep look with the Cubs.

For Vizcaino, though, the Braves have an exciting arm that will form the foundation of the 2016 bullpen. Whether the Braves grab an established arm to handle ninth inning duties or hand the title back to Grilli remains to be seen as Vizcaino certainly has the potential and velocity to be a shutdown reliever. He might not crack into the elite status of excellant relievers, but Vizzy's got a realistic opportunity to be a very solid pitcher out of the pen for the next several years. He'll also be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. It's a weird case to keep an eye on because while we've seen some cool stuff from him, he lacks the totals you might except for a reliever who made his debut in 2011 (his next game will be career #50). I have a conservative $800K allocated to him going into next season, but that's a shot in the dark projection.

Probably the bigger picture look at this is from the international bonus slot money that came from the Cubs. After the trade, the Braves had a lot of international signings (which was a little unusual because the signing period began several months before). Of those signed that have already made their debut: LHP Jhonny Diaz (DSL, 3.63 ERA), LHP Kelvin Rodriguez (GCL, 18 K's in 24 ING), RHP Odalvi Javier (GCL, 2.37 ERA, 18 K in 19 ING), RHP Carlos Lopez (DSL, 3.64 ERA, 1.18 WHIP), RHP Bladimir Matos (GCL, 4.58 ERA), RHP Ali Pantoja (DSL, 3.16 ERA, 10 K/9), C Carlos Centeno (DSL, .533 OPS), C William Contreras (DSL, .783 OPS), SS Angel Perez (GCL/Rome, .503 OPS), IF Luis Mejia (DSL, .706 OPS), OF Leudys Baez (Dan/Rome, .697 OPS, 5 HR, 6 SB), OF Randy Ventura (DSL, .815 OPS, 55 SB), OF Isranel Wilson (GCL, 10 HR, .828 OPS).

A lot of names, I know, but at least two of them will be on some Top 30 prospect lists for the Braves (the last two). Now, knowing how much money the Braves were able to increase their available bonus pool by because the La Stella trade is difficult to pinpoint because I don't know how much money the Braves already had in reserve (they used a lot of it to sign Juan Yepez), but suffice it to say, their ability to add talent without a big penalty was increased by the TLS/Vizzy trade. That part of the deal won't get a lot of talk, but it could be just as important in the long run.

Overall, this was a shrewd low-cost, high-reward deal that is already paying dividends.

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