I was getting ready for bed last night when all these trades happened and I assumed I'd make it to bed at my bedtime. Then I saw Arodys Vizcaino's name surface as one of the two players the Cubs were getting in return for Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm. At that point I knew I was going to be up past my bedtime.
I had figured when we first heard of these players leaving, shaking hands in the dugout and then that they were traded the Cubs would get maybe an interesting player, but mostly guys who won't be very productive. That changed when I learned Vizcaino was included in the deal. I knew he had undergone Tommy John surgery prior to the start of the season, which has to lower any expectations going forward, but we were talking about a guy who had posted incredible numbers up to that point.
He was signed by the Yankees as an international free agent and made his US debut in 2008. In 44 rookie league innings he allowed 38 hits, walked 13 and struckout 48. Bumped to the New York Penn League in 2009, another short-season league, Vizcaino was even more dominating. He struckout 11.1 per 9 and walked 3.2. And he was just 18 years old.
He was then traded to the Braves. He continued to pitch very well in their organization and up through 2011 in the minor leagues he had thrown 268.2 innings, struckout more than 9 per 9 and walked just over 2 per 9. He reached the big leagues at the age of 20 and would have been with the team this year was it not for the elbow injury.
The numbers are fantastic, but there are two numbers that aren't so fantastic: 2 and 114. He's been traded twice already. For a pitcher with this kind of talent and production you just don't see these types traded that frequently. The most he's ever pitched in 1 season is 114.1 innings. Those were split between the minor leagues in 2011 and the big leagues (mostly the minors). Prior to 2011 he'd pitched 42, 44 and 85 innings. Granted, the first two came in short-season leagues, but he just hadn't been totaling the kind of innings you'd hope for.
The reason for the innings total is his history of injuries. It's also likely the reason he's been traded twice despite his tremendous talent. Looking at the numbers only gives the idea that the Cubs just acquired one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. He was ranked 40th by Baseball America and in the top 15 by Keith Law. Factoring in the injury this spring, the necessary rehab, as well as past injuries gives you a slightly different outlook.
Entering the season this year Baseball America would more than likely have rated Vizcaino as the Cubs 2nd best prospect behind Brett Jackson. Jackson was ranked higher in the top 100, but not much so it wouldn't be a surprise if Vizcaino was rated higher. Keith Law would have ranked Vizcaino first and I would have too, I know you care about my rankings to there you go.
Right now though? He gets knocked down for the injury and he gets knocked down because of the trade. The Braves know more about this guy than the Cubs do. Players traded perform worse than expected while players teams hold onto perform as expected. They know more about their own players and like we do with cars, we trade the ones that have something wrong with them. Not always of course, but the reality is that the Braves know more.
Rizzo has graduated, Jackson has taken a step back, Javier Baez has moved up and so has Josh Vitters. Vitters wasn't a top 10 before the season, but probably is in the #5 range right now. If I was going to rank prospects knowing what we do know, I'd probably push Baez ahead of Jackson even though I didn't last month when DJ and I released our prospect rankings. Baez continues to hit, has apparently played a premium position well and did I mention his hitting? I would however put better odds of Jackson succeeding at the big league level than Jackson due to how close they are to the big leagues.
As for Vizcaino, I'd probably slot him after Jackson and before Matt Szczur.
Like the trade with the Rangers sending Geovany Soto and cash for Jake Brigham, this deal is also very difficult to evaluate. If you look at projections alone then this is a huge, huge steal for the Cubs. Getting a prospect like Vizcaino and a decent relief prospect in Chapman is an outstanding haul for Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm. There's the little thing with surgery though that changes everything.
How can you possibly project Vizcaino not just next year after surgery, but when he may actually return to the big leagues? There's just so much risk involved here and especially so for someone who has been prone to injury. There's the possibility that he remains a reliever, which Baseball America and Kevin Goldstein seem to think is likely.
Baseball America on Vizcaino after the trade:
Vizcaino possesses the raw stuff to justify the hype, but also the injury history to explain why the Yankees and Braves were willing to trade him. He had Tommy John surgery toward the end of spring training and could be ready to resume throwing in earnest during spring training 2013. When right, Vizcaino sits 94-97 mph out of the bullpen and leans on a big-breaking, low-80s curveball as an out-pitch. He won't need his fringy changeup much if the Cubs continue to deploy him as a reliever. Assuming he regains his velocity, Vizcaino has closer stuff, and only fastball command stands in the way of him becoming a great reliever instead of a merely good one.
I don't think you can calculate the trade value that Vizcaino has and as such, I don't think there's any point in calculating the value for the other two involved. Let's just put it this way: the Cubs got a tremendous talent in return for a 4th outfielder and a mid-rotation starter. That talent they received will be recovering from injury for much of the next 6 to 9 months and there's no guarantee he returns to the pitcher he once was. There's the possibility he does. There's a possibility he does and becomes a reliever. There's also the possibility he remains a starter and becomes a dominating one. The Cubs gave up a player that was of no use to them and a pitcher who was only moderately useful for the tremendous potential that Vizcaino brings. There's really no other way to look at this trade other than it being a very good trade for the Cubs.
To be clear, while Reed Johnson was of no use to the Cubs at this point, it's not to diminish what he provided the Cubs over his years in uniform.