Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Young (+ El Duque and Vizcaino) Traded For Vazquez

ESPN, among others, is reporting that the White Sox have traded Birmingham Barons Centerfielder Chris Young, Orlando Hernandez, and Luis Vizcaino to the Arizona Diamonbacks for Javier Vazquez and cash. I hope it's a lot of cash.

The Cheat, for some ungodly reason, would like the deal even if it were Jon Garland + Young for Vazquez.

Me, I hate this deal. Let me tell you why.

First things first. I do not have a problem with trading away El Duque. El Duque had a great start to the season, but tired and finished with a 5+ ERA. For me, El Duque earned every penny of the salary he made last year when he killed the Red Sox bases-loaded, nobody-out rally in Game 3 of the ALDS; he should never have to buy a drink on the South Side again. But he was not a realistic contributor to the 2006 White Sox.

Javier Vazquez has some pretty appealing aspects. He walks very few people, only 46 in 215 2/3 innings last year. He strikes out a lot of guys, too, with 192 Ks last year. But he is very much of a flyball pitcher; his career Groundball / Flyball ratio is 1.09, with ratios of 0.83, 0.85 and 1.19. He gave up 35 and 33 home runs in the last two years, and now he is going to the #1 home run park in the American League. He may have been a bit unlucky last year (.308 batting average against on balls in play), but I think he will be no better next year, and that he may give up 40-42 home runs.

The point that must be emphasized is that US Cellular is a very tough place to play for flyball pitchers. The Sox essentially have two flyball pitchers in their "big four" (Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia) and two groundball pitchers (Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland). Here are their respective results at US Cellular last year:

Mark Buehrle - 10-2, 127 IP, 13 HR, 2.48 ERA (7 HR on road)

Jon Garland - 10-6, 113 2/3 IP, 15 HR, 3.56 ERA (11 HR on road)

Jose Contreras - 7-5 116 2/3 IP, 17 HR, 3.78 ERA (6 HR on road)

Freddy Garcia - 4-5 109 IP, 17 HR, 4.38 ERA (9 HR on road)

Buehrle and Garland were as good or better at home than on the road, even if they had higher home run rates at home, Contreras and Garcia were worse at home, with much higher home run rates.

The other part of the Vazquez trade is that Vazquez will undoubtedly force Jon Garland or Jose Contreras off of the White Sox. Vazquez is tied up for three more years, while Garland and Contreras are free agents after the 2006 season. Both Garland and Contreras are better pitchers than Vazquez; Garland because he is a ground-ball pitcher well suited to US Cellular and only 26 years old, Contreras because he showed that he can be a dominant pitcher down the stretch and in the playoffs. So, I think the net result is that the White Sox rotation in 2006 will be weaker, rather than stronger, as Vazquez replaces Garland or Contreras. Only if the Sox can get a strong position player in return (say, Bobby Abreu or Miguel Tejada), do I think the Sox will be stronger as a result of Vazquez replacing Garland or Contreras.

Now I come to the worst part of the deal. The Sox are giving up Chris Young, who I think is the one guy in the minor league system that has the chance of being a perennial all-star. He has had two full seasons of minor league baseball, and has put up these statistics:

2004 (low-A Kannapolis) - .262 AVG/ .365 OBP / .505 SLG. 31 2B, 24 HR, 31 SB in 40 attempts

2005 (AA Birmingham) - .277 AVG / .377 OBP / .545 SLG. 41 2B, 26 HR, 32 SB in 38 attempts

You can take away a couple things from this. First, Chris Young skipped the high-A level to go right to the AA level. That is a huge jump, making Young well, young for the Southern League. Second, Young put up these stats in pitcher-friendly parks. As the Cheat noted just the other day, Kannapolis and Birmingham suppress home runs to the tune of 22% (Kannapolis) and 45% (Birmingham). So, in normal parks, Young would have put up something more like 27 and 32 home runs. Third, Young improved after he jumped up two levels, and in nearly every aspect of his games. His batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage all went up, and he was even better at stealing bases as the competition he faced improved. That is amazing in its own right.

But Chris Young's improvement is not told solely by his end-of-the-year statistics. He actually improved each month, walking more and striking out less. So he's even better than his gaudy statistics already show. I find no reason why Chris Young will not hit .290/.390/.550 next year at AAA in the Diamondbacks organization, and put up great numbers in the major leagues. I think he's a perennial .280/.380/.550 centerfielder, who will probably be one of the 15 most valuable players in the league every year. Moreover, Young plays a premium defensive position (CF), and has speed that only Scott Podsednik now has in the White Sox organization. He could be one of the best centerfielders of the 2008-2020 period. I hate giving this kind of prospect up, especially for a league-average pitcher. Young alone is more valuable than Vazquez.

This also puts a lot of pressure on Brian Anderson. Aaron Rowand was cleared out in front of him, and now Chris Young is cleared out behind him. Brian, you better be good.

Comments-[ comments.]
Two buts here...

BUT, we don't know that Young will be able to handle center in the majors; if he can't, his value could still be enormous but all those Ks loom a little more.

And BUT, Vazquez's acquisition allows the White Sox to play musical chairs and hold an implicit threat over both Garland and Contreras (and Contreras looks to be caving). Who knows, maybe BOTH sign contracts and Vazquez is the one who gets dealt?
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