Transaction of Today…November 16, 2014 – The Atlanta Braves trade 2B Tommy La Stella to the Chicago Cubs for Arodys Vizcaino and international bonus slots.
Trades that happen so early in the offseason often are forgotten by spring training. You must forgive Atlanta Braves fans if, in the spring of 2015, they had this reaction as Arodys Vizcaino took the mound in spring training: “Thought we traded him?”
We – as if we are part of the Braves decision-making team – did trade Vizcaino. At the trading deadline in 2012, the Braves were attempting to solidify a leaky rotation. Built on youth, the Braves rotation had been a bit of a letdown. Jair Jurrjens was falling apart while Tommy Hanson was serving up scores of gopher balls. Brandon Beachy had been superb but was injured by July and the duo of Mike Minor and Randall Delgado weren’t thoroughly impressive. Things were so bad, the Braves dug up Ben Sheets.
But they thought they had found a fix. Ryan Dempster was pitching like an ace in Chicago. He wasn’t an ace, but he was doing damn well. The Braves convinced the Cubs to trade them their sometimes closer, sometimes starter. There was a hiccup, though. Dempster said, “no.” As a 10/5 player, that was his right, though he certainly took his sweet time deciding. The Braves were left in the lurch. They added Kris Medlen to the staff, ut wanted to find something more. Cubs’ GM Jed Hoyer offered Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson. Frank Wren was overjoyed by the offer. Maholm was no Dempster, but he was a legit starter and Johnson would give the Braves a nice backup behind their super-productive outfield of Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward. All it cost was Jaye Chapman and…Vizcaino.
The Braves had acquired Vizcaino two-and-a-half years earlier in a deal with the Yankees that sent Javier Vazquez to the Bronx. Vizzy had landed in the majors less than two years later, throwing triple-digit heat in the summer of 2011. The next spring, he went down with an injury and would miss the entire 2012 season recovering from surgery. The Cubs took their chances, believing Vizzy’s electric arm was worth waiting for.
They would do a lot of waiting. Vizcaino was slow to recover and suffered other setbacks along the way. Finally, over two years after being acquired, he made his Wrigley Field debut on September 6, 2014. He would appear four more times before the end of the season.
Less than two months after making his final appearance for the Cubs, he headed back to Atlanta on this day three years ago. Going to the Cubs would be Tommy La Stella. Oh, and some international bonus slot money was headed to the Braves with Vizzy. We’ll get back to that in a second.
Vizcaino struggled in spring training during 2015 and was optioned to the minors, but his year took an even worse turn when he was quickly suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. It’s important to re-iterate that Vizcaino placed in the Top 100 for both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus from 2010 to 2013. He was a truly impressive prospect. A few years later, he was on the verge of having a promising career completely slip away.
He finally got back on the mound for the Braves on July 7, retiring the only batter he faced and getting two outs out of it. Ten days later, he shut down his former Chicago teammates and earned his first win in nearly four years when the Braves pulled ahead 4-2. Less than one month after getting back into the fray, he became the team’s de facto closer after the injury to Jason Grilli and trade of Jim Johnson. He finished his first year with 37 K’s in 33.2 ING along with saving nine-of-ten games. His ERA was a sweet 1.60.
In the two years that have followed, he’s been a bit of a mystery. He’s given up a few too many homers and control issues related to health concerns in 2016 hurt him quite a bit. On the other hand, in three years, he has a 3.38 FIP, well over a K an inning, and 33 saves to go with a 2.98 ERA. Considering what the Braves gave up, that’s not too shabby.
That’s not meant to slight La Stella. He has been a solid option for the Cubs off the bench doing pretty much what was expected. In three years since the trade, he’s only logged 395 PA in the majors but has made the most of them with a .276/.363/.429 triple slash. He’s actually done very good against lefties throughout his brief career, though Joe Maddon still won’t let him get time against them. Defensively, he still kind of sucks – something we learned during his time at second in 2014. However, you don’t need to play defense when you have a .390 OBP as a pinch hitter – which La Stella does.
This trade has been a win-win for both teams, though the Braves could argue that they got the better end. It comes down to those international bonus slots. The Braves gained $832,000 in an additional room to spend on international prospects in the 2014-15 class. It’s rare that teams get very active that late in the signing period. Nevertheless, the new team of John Hart and John Coppolella got to work as they tried to add plenty of quantity and hopefully some quality to a system starving for it.
Among the free agents the Braves would sign after the Vizcaino trade, the list includes pitchers Jasseel Da La Cruz and Odalvi Javier, catcher William Contreras, along with outfielders Leudys Baez, Randy Ventura, and Izzy Wilson. Certainly, none of these players were mega-prospects. Had they been, they would have signed much earlier in the process. But the Braves unearthed quality with these late signings. Contreras, Baez, and Wilson all are very solid prospects while De La Cruz and Javier are good lottery picks. Ventura was considered a pretty intriguing prospect before being shipped to the Reds last summer.
Certainly, it’s fair to suggest that maybe all of these signings weren’t on the up-and-up. That’s the problem we face when it comes to the scandal that killed Coppolella’s career. But that’s all hypothetical noise at the moment. What we do know is that the Vizcaino/La Stella trade goes deeper beyond the obvious. The Braves netted potentially their catcher-of-the-future in this trade. They may have landed a five-tool outfielder out of it. At the very least, they achieved exactly what they sought to achieve. They built a better, more dynamic minor league roster of players that could have the potential to change things at the major league level. We thought the Vizcaino trade was about taking a shot on a former A-grade arm. It went just a bit further than that.
Read previous Transaction of Today profiles:
August 30, 1996 – Braves Finalize Deal for Neagle
July 29, 2008 – The OTHER Teixeira Deal
April 26, 2002 – Bo Porter Joins the Braves. In 2002.