The Braves are taking a long-term risk for a short-term gain in trading Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman for Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm. The most talented player in the deal is obviously Arodys Vizcaino, but he also comes with a ton of question marks.
Johnson and Maholm will be asked to do exactly what they did in Chicago. Johnson will be a spot starter in the outfield against tough left-handed pitchers or on days when Chipper Jones rests, and Maholm is expected to fill in the back end of a rotation that has been troubled by inconsistency all season.
The Braves were one of the big names courting Ryan Dempster, but may have made out better for the cheaper Maholm, who also has a $6.5 club option for 2013. Here are their respective FIP- over the past three years:
Dempster: of 96, 98, 84
Maholm: 106, 100, 101
Obviously, Dempster is more talented, but not by a significant enough margin that would justify the cost of a player with as high of a floor in Randall Delgado for two months of Dempster. In the past, Maholm showed the ability to limit home runs, mostly due to pitching in a pitcher friendly ballpark in Pittsburgh. He has a career HR/9 of 0.68 at home and 1.01 in away games, and his move to a relatively pitcher friendly park in Turner Field should allow his home run rate to tick back near its former levels. For comparison, his HR/9 this year jumped up to 0.88 in his first year in Wrigley Field while he maintained a comparable 0.92 HR/9 away from Chicago.
If Maholm is able to lower his home run rate back down closer to the levels he became accustomed to in Pittsburgh, he should be a very effective starter. The addition of his cutter over the past few years, specifically in an uptick in frequency this year, has allowed him to post a career high strikeout percentage and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those numbers combined with a move to a pitcher friendly park could push his FIP- to a better than league average mark. With four consecutive years with a WAR above 2 and a current mark of 1.6, it is easy to expect Maholm to be worth the $6.5 million option next season. He is far from a flashy pitcher as his fastball velocity sits at around 87 mph, but he changes speeds well and induces ground balls roughly 50% of the time which allows him to be a a surprisingly effective pitcher. With Ben Sheets always being an injury risk, Tommy Hanson‘s velocity dropping, Mike Minor having an up-and-down season despite solid performances as of late, a solid starter like Maholm fits perfectly into the Braves plans for the next year and a half.
Johnson is the type of player the Braves have been trying to acquire for years. In trading for Matt Diaz last season, the Braves attempted to fill in the right-handed bat to spell their plethora of left-handed hitters and round out their bench. Diaz’s injury and ineffectiveness made it necessary to search for a player like Johnson, a more versatile outfielder who still hits lefties at a high level. The Braves bench has been a problem, as outside of Juan Francisco they lack a quality hitter due to Eric Hinske‘s problems at the plate and Fredi Gonzalez’s unwillingness to burn David Ross as a pinch hitter. Johnson gives the team a solid late game pinch hitter against left-handed relievers, and will allow Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward to stay fresh down the stretch run.
These are not the two players that will necessarily cause the Braves to jump over the Nationals or to run away in the wild card race, but they help round out their roster nicely. The rotation still looks underwhelming when planning for the playoffs, but with an offense that has scored more runs than every team in the NL outside of St. Louis, a pitcher who can keep the team in the game and a lefty masher are quality acquisitions to enhance the Braves postseason chances.