The Problem With Trading Kawakami

If there was a sensible suitor, one likely would have emerged by now. But despite their best efforts, the Braves haven’t persuaded any teams to take on Kenshin Kawakami. This isn’t exactly surprising. The Braves optioned Kawakami to AAA last August and then removed him from the 40-man roster, outrighting him to AA, in November. It’s clear that they don’t view him as a contributor, which instantly depresses his trade value.

Still, Kawakmi can probably produce more value than the projected starters for a handful of teams. If the Braves eat enough of his salary, there should be a match. The problem is that the teams that would realize an upgrade with Kawakami are the teams that would benefit least from his services.

For two examples we can look to the Diamondbacks and the Astros. Would Kawakami represent an upgrade over Aaron Heilman or Armando Galarraga at the end of the rotation? Probably. Is he a better bet to perform as a starter than Nelson Figueroa? Despite some rough times in 2010, Kawakami would likely benefit a team, as a starter, more than those three. Unfortunately for him, those teams have little reason to pursue such a trade.

What would Arizona, Houston, or even Pittsburgh gain by adding Kawakami? In the best case scenario he’s a 1.5-win upgrade over whatever fifth starters they currently employ. While that might make a difference for a contender, it means little to a rebuilding team. A trade makes even less sense when you factor in the cost of acquiring him. Atlanta will surely eat some of the $6.667 million remaining on Kawakami’s contract, but even then will prove difficult to strike a balance between players and dollars. But that’s probably a moot point anyway, since rebuilding teams have little reason to spend money or players on such an irrelevant upgrade.

With one year remaining on his deal, Kawakami would ideally attract a contender that seeks a slight upgrade in the rotation. At this point most contenders have their rotation situations figured out and employ a fifth starter at least as good as Kawakami. Many have depth options who can also produce similar numbers. Maybe the Yankees, with Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon battling for spots, could use his services. But even they have enough depth that they can plug in youngsters rather than send a player to Atlanta in exchange for Kawakami.

The upside for the Braves is that pitching situations change constantly during the season. A team that appears set right now might find itself seeking starters in a month or two. At that point they might find teams interested in acquiring Kawakami. But at this point there appears no hope. Not only does Kawakami have enough going against him all by himself, but there are also better options reportedly available on the market. As Dave will cover in about an hour, plenty of teams should find Kevin Slowey more enticing than Kawakami, since he’s younger, cheaper, and under team control for longer.

At some point during the season we’ll likely see Kenshin Kawakami wearing a major league uniform. It almost certainly won’t be for the Braves, but at some point they’ll find a taker. They won’t get much in return, and they’ll have to eat a good portion of his remaining salary, but if he’s not good enough for them he’ll likely be good enough for a contender that faces a few pitching injuries (which is to say, every contender at some point). He might not overwhelm, but he can still provide decent major league innings. Eventually the Braves will realize some value for this. That time, however, is not now.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


49 Responses to “The Problem With Trading Kawakami”

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  1. Azim Damani says:

    Have you heard anything about the Japanese teams that were reportedly interested in his services? Not sure how a transaction would work between the teams, but it’s better get something of value for him than to have him rot in the minor leagues. The Braves pitching depth is good enough that there’s almost no chance that he’ll see time in the major league rotation; Beachy and Minor are duking it our for the 5th spot and Kris Medlen will possibly be back sometime in the middle of the year as well.

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    • Bo says:

      KK to Japan won’t happen. They’ve had Japanese teams willing to take him and pay more than half his remaining salary, but any deal with a Japanese team requires the player’s permission. He has said he wants to stay and prove his worth in MLB, and won’t accept a deal back to Japan.

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    • dutch says:

      Somewhat offtopic, but is there even going to be a NPB season this year?

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      • Anon21 says:

        Um, probably? It’s not like Japan was wiped off the face of the Earth, and a lot of people have a lot of money invested in having the season happen, presumably.

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  2. Bo says:

    Agreed. This is just a testament to the idea of ‘increasing marginal returns’. In other words, the idea that one additional win to a 60-win team isn’t worth nearly as much as an additional win to a 90-win team.

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  3. The Braves’ treatment of Kawakami hasn’t really made sense from the strict point of view of his on-field performance. He hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t been bad — in everything other than IP, he’s been pretty indistinguishable from Derek Lowe. He isn’t a horse, and he isn’t an ace, but he’s a fine #5 starter, which is a thing the Braves conspicuously lacked in 2007 and 2008, immediately before they signed him.

    The way they treated him — burying him in the bullpen when he was on the team, hardly ever using him, and then sending him down to AA, not even AAA — suggests that he did something to powerfully offend the powers that be. If he did, that may be the sort of thing that could ward teams off. Certainly, the Braves’ behavior is enough to suggest that he did something to powerfully piss them off, which is enough in itself to ward off other suitors.

    It really is hard to fathom quite why the Braves have treated Kenshin so shabbily.

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    • Bronnt says:

      I agree. Generally the Braves do a much better job of handling their player assets, but in this case, they’ve done everything possible to depress his trade value. Heck, they hid Willy Aybar’s substance abuse problem for a while until finally people demanded to know exactly where he’d gone, but they’re treating Kenshin like a leper.

      Kawakami’s unsightly 1-10 record from last year was going to depress his trade value to begin with. The Braves’ treatment of him seems to indicate that they took his record as a true indication of his talent level. He was sent to the bullpen-rightly, because Medlen was the better starter-but then refused to use him at all. When Medlen got hurt, he was beyond useless because he hadn’t got any serious work of any kind. They made no rush at all to bring him into camp this year after outrighting him to AA. Then they went out in the offseason and signed Rodrigo Lopez to a minor league deal, about as clear a sign as you could ask that they don’t think that KK has a place in the organization. And Frank Wren now seems confused at the lack of interest he’s getting for Kawakami.

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    • Mark says:

      “He hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t been bad — in everything other than IP, he’s been pretty indistinguishable from Derek Lowe. ”

      Except for the minor detail of Lowe’s GB rate being 55-60% and Kawakami’s being in the upper 30’s or low 40’s. Lowe’s got better control, and he’s likely to have a better K rate as well.

      I agree that Kawakami deserves a spot as the fifth, but he’s really not that close to Lowe in terms of performance.

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      • brendan says:

        seems to me he’d be an upgrade at No 5 for plenty of teams with plans to contend: yankees, brewers, rangers, cardinals maybe (no wainwright). surprising he’s not been traded. he’s not _that_ overpaid, is he?

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      • I should have clarified: I meant indistinguishable in terms of results, not components.

        Kenshin Kawakami, 2009-2010: 243 2/3 IP, 4.32 ERA, 94 ERA+, 1.84 K/BB
        Derek Lowe, 2009-2010: 67 GS, 388 1/3 IP, 4.33 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.99 K/BB

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      • Sn0wman says:

        But the components are exactly the difference for which you are looking. While the overall results have been similar, Lowe’s good spots have been better than KKs, and their middles have differed in that Lowe pitches more innings with fewer baserunners. KK averages less than 5 innings per start with something like 7 baserunners, Lowe averages something like 6 innings per start with around 8 baserunners… Which one woukd you going to have more faith in going forward?

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      • Sn0wman says:

        Err… Which one would you have more faith in going forward?

        I should stop posting while winning.

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    • Anon21 says:

      I am skeptical that Kawakami actually did anything to offend anyone. He seems like an extremely professional type, never mouthed off about the bad treatment so far as I can recall, and has generally just been looking for a chance to contribute in any capacity. But you’re right, from the outside looking in that almost seems like the most likely explanation. How else to understand the organization’s irrational antipathy for him?

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    • Temo says:

      I can clarify on some points:

      1. No, everyone thinks KK is a perfectly respectful guy and he did nothing to offend. I can be 95% sure that this is not an attitude situation.

      2. The Braves honestly thought that Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, and Brandon Beachy give them a better chance to win than Kawakami. I’m actually inclined to agree. All filled the role of 4th or 5th starter last year and the latter two are in the running for 5th starter this year.

      3. As for Lowe vs. KK, for one thing Frank Wren is surprisingly Saber-oriented (not greatly so, but speaks enough about stats to make me believe he pays attention). Lowe has had greater peripherals despite the ERA similarity. Also, Cox loved Lowe and wouldn’t send him to the minors. Third, Lowe had a great September/October last year. And lastly, Lowe is lot harder to dispense of contract wise (1 more year and $23M more).

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  4. Ryan says:

    The team that eventually trades for Kawakami will probably only send Atlanta 2-3 million. Coupled with the fact he will prove enough WAR to cover the cost, he could also be an interesting instance for a smaller market team that wants to sign Japanese players in the future. The Braves have likely ruined their chances of signing Japanese players in the near future.

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    • Bobulated says:

      I don’t know if the Braves will be interested in signing Japanese players in the near future. Between the posting costs and then the dance with their agents on a guy you are purely projecting, is it worth a club’s time and resources? And how many of these Japanese players have really been huge impact guys outside of Ichiro? Nomo was very good to solid for most of his career but I think many Boston fans would tell you that they have mixed feelings about Dice-K and his actual value compared to the real $$$ he’s cost the Sawx. He’s had one great season, a couple of decent ones and one mediocre one.

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      • BlackOps says:

        He also made the Red Sox a lot of money and helped them plant their brand in Japan. We’d be fooling ourselves to deny this is the greatest value a top-end Japanese player can bring to a team.

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      • Jason B says:

        “Between the posting costs and then the dance with their agents on a guy you are purely projecting, is it worth a club’s time and resources?”

        A very good “bigger picture” issue that a lot of teams I’m sure wrestle with – how best to deploy their finite financial resources. Of course these failed signings (of Japanese players or ANY free agent) hamstring smaller-market teams much more so than their bigger-spending brethren.

        “He also made the Red Sox a lot of money and helped them plant their brand in Japan. We’d be fooling ourselves to deny this is the greatest value a top-end Japanese player can bring to a team.”

        Also an excellent point – the upside extends beyond wins and losses for growing a team’s brand internationally (although I think adding wins is the short-term goal for any signing, there can be other longer-term strategic factors at play). And the ceiling is certainly higher than the mediocre-at-best on field results produced by KK and Dice-K. The risk is certainly present, but the payoff (on the field and off) can be nice too.

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  5. Don Dolmes says:

    I’m sure the Mariners would love to have him or Slowey.

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    • The Ancient Mariner says:

      Depending on how Pineda does, and on how much they trust Fister — which is to say, as an M’s fan, I would certainly love to see them add either of those guys, but the FO would probably want to give it a month or two. For the right price, though, I could see them being interested . . . at least, if the lineup’s hitting well enough for a rotation upgrade to matter any.

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  6. CircleChange11 says:

    140 IP difference is quite a bit, isn’t?

    Fair point though.

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    • Bronnt says:

      A significant portion of that is a result of decisions the organization made, and not any problem with Kawakami himself. He’d been a healthy, contributing member of the rotation (albeit an unlucky one, with a 1-9 record) through 16 starts. He had a 4.48 ERA and a FIP around 4.1. On June 26, he was sent to the bullpen, didn’t pitch for a month, and only recorded 5 more innings on the season, all of which were pretty horrible because he was rusty, skewing his season line somewhat unfairly.

      The organization could have, completely legitimately, kept him in the rotation and gotten another 80-90 innings out of him in 2010. Instead he spent time in AAA trying to get ready to start again after having remained idle for months, and then only made one three inning start after he acme back.

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  7. Steve says:

    But that’s probably a moot point anyway, since rebuilding teams have little reason to spend money or players on such an irrelevant upgrade.

    Except when it’s the Mariners trading for Russell Branyan. Then it’s smart.

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    • Anon21 says:

      So, does someone like, pay you to go around to the various threads and make various direct or indirect digs at Fangraphs writers? Or are you just doing all this out of the kindness of your heart?

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    • Ricky says:

      I see what you did there Steve….
      And you snark is well directed, because obviously FanGraphs is nothing more than a front for a conspiracy to promote pro-mariner’s philosophy and to brainwash the general public.

      So nice job there, about being angry about something that really matters THIS much. No really, great work dude.

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      • Maddog31 says:

        C’mon…it has to be smart if the Mariners do it…they’re the reining objectively ranked #6 team in baseball…and they hired Tom Tango.

        Remember???

        http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/organizational-rankings-6-seattle/

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      • Jim says:

        Just like it has to be cool if yet another random FanGraphs’ commenter yet AGAIN links to last year’s organizational rankings to make the point that the M’s were ranked #6 last year.

        As if no one on this site could find themselves, and we’ve all collectively forgotten.

        Because no one EVER uses that refreshing meme “#6org”
        in some random thread on this site.

        Nope, never happens. Ever.

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      • The Ancient Mariner says:

        I swear, I think some of these guys don’t like baseball at all — they just come to Fangraphs to hate on Dave Cameron. It makes me wonder if they spend the rest of the time on UK political blogs . . .

        Never mind beating a dead horse, they’re tenderizing it for the maggots.

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  8. Dan says:

    This theory makes a lot of sense in the case of Arizona, except that we already traded a pair of prospects (one of whom was more than pure filler) to take on Galarraga and his $2.3MM (admittedly partially non-guaranteed) salary, knowing full well that he’ll probably be a lock for a non-tender next year when his arb salary rises again…

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  9. Walker Texas Power Ranger says:

    It’s funny I posted the same arguments on the Atlanta Journal Constitutional in a Braves blog and I got laughed off the site. Braves fans are a funny group, they only like the “oldschool” stats and if you try to say pitchers are more than “W/L” record they call you stupid, because if a pitcher wins he has to be good! I’m not saying all Braves fans are like that, but the Atlanta media and even the Braves commentators pick apart players like Kawakami (and Yunel Escobar last season) and that makes the fans jump on board and dog the players as well. Personally I think Kenshin Kawakami could be a very good 4th-5th starter, in 09 he moved to the pen for Tim Hudson and last season he was sent to the bullpen where he basically sat and gathered dust. It’s a shame how the Braves have treated Kenshin Kawakami, he stated he always wanted to pitch for the Braves (because of Greg Maddux mainly) and he got the shaft ever since he signed.

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    • -C says:

      Going to any newspaper’s blog section to post your opinion is a mistake on your part. I’ve yet to find any major newspaper that has quality comments in its blog sections. It’s not just the AJC. If you can’t find a better place to discuss baseball than the AJC (or any other major newspaper), then that’s your own fault.

      There are plenty great Braves blogs out there that are saber-friendly, but you have to actually try to find them rather than landing on the spot least likely to find good discussion.

      -C

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  10. The Athens HAcker says:

    Why doesn’t anyone pair up Kawakami, Lopez, and Gonzalez and send them to Texas for Michael Young. Get a third team involved and send Gonzalez somewhere else and get Texas a minor league prospect. Wouldn’t Michael Young be at least as good as Gonzalez on defense and provide options at 2B, SS, and 3B for the future? Am I grasping at straws? Sure I am but let me grasp while I can:) Texas could keep feliz in the bullpen this year.

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  11. northbeach Scott says:

    Look at 2010, Kawakami was atrocious WHIP of 1.489, with 10.1 H/9 IP and a 5.15 ERA in 87.1 IP. The Braves had better options and they dropped KK from the rotation and they ended up winning the NL Wild Card.

    While KK did throw some good ballgames (4 to be exact) in 2009, he became a black void of losing in 2010. He did not actually handle his demotion very well and his taking up of a valuable 25-man roster spot until late summer was a drain on the team.

    When he refused to be delt to one of three Japanese team that had interest, the Braves dropped him from the 40-man and made it clear he would never pitch above AA for them.

    Seems like the Braves treated him very fairly; Kawakami proved incompentent when he was needed in 2010 and then was not cooperative when the Braves tried to move him.

    His future will be one of the following: 1) KK will be traded to an MLB team before the season. 2) KK will be pitching in Pearl, Mississippi where the sushi is juicy for 2011 or until he is traded to an MLB team 3) KK relents and is traded to a Japanese league team. He will be paid almost $7M, regardless. Does not sound like he was treated shabbily to me.

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    • Bobulated says:

      Agree 100% Scott. He had his opportunities. People forget how much better Medlen pitched when he took KK’s spot as well. Even without a healthy Medlen the Braves have at least 2 better options in Minor and Beachy for fifth starter

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    • Bronnt says:

      A very different take, Scott.

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    • Jason B says:

      “he became a black void of losing in 2010″

      I’ve never heard a player described in quite those terms before. If he had been a “white void of losing” at least he could also be described as “gritty” or “scrappy” a la David Eckstein or Adam Kennedy.

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  12. scott says:

    I always liked KK. He was dogged by some horrible luck and ended up with a worse reputation than he deserved. That being said: I think I’d rather have Minor or Beachy as a #5 starter.

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    • Jason B says:

      Totally agree – but I think the larger issue of “if they treated him better, he would appear a more valuable trading chip, or would at least be serviceable if he were needed to fill in for spot-starting duty” is a very fair one also. Not pitching him for a month and then banishing him to the nether regions of AA is a good way to ensure he is both totally unprepared to contribute if needed, and have effectively zero trade value.

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  13. nate says:

    Tigers seem like a good spot for him considering their pitching depth

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  14. TurkeesEleven says:

    A Braves fan, I never understood the treatment of Kawakami. He struck guys out, he kept games close, he got the same lack of support everyone else got. He clearly wanted to play here, unlike Yunel Escobar who was really looking to get traded.

    I am also surprised none of the snakebit NL central teams have considered adding him to their depleted rotations. Kawakami in St. Louis would be fantasy worthy.

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  15. Scott says:

    Kawakami is a true pro he’s an asset to any team who will take him, teams are almost certainly waiting to see if the Braves will cut him. He would improve most teams in baseball.

    Look at the Cardinals, is he worse than McClellan or Lohse? I say no. Cashner for the Cubs? Mariners make too much sense.

    I have a hunch come June or so KK will be much more tradeable.

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  16. clv says:

    The most important thing that many of those complaining that Kawakami has been “treated badly” by the organization is one date – January 13, 2009 – the date that the signing of both Kawakami and Lowe became official.

    Prior to that day, the Braves’ rotation was…

    Javier Vazquez
    Jair Jurrjens
    Jorge Campillo
    Jo-Jo Reyes
    Charlie Morton

    Tim Hudson wouldn’t be back for another 7 months, Tommy Hanson had logged a grand total of 322.2 IP professionally (only 98 at the AA level), Kris Medlen had logged a grand total of 189.1 IP professionally (only 120.1 at the AA level), Brandon Beachy had a grand total of 12 IP professionaly (at Danville), Julio Teheran had a grand total of 15 IP professionally (at Danville), Randall Delgado had a grand total of 114 IP professionally (between the DSL and Danville), Arodys Vizcaino had a grand total of 44 IP professionally (for the GCL Yankees), and Mike Minor had just finished his Sophmore season at Vanderbilt with a 4.28 ERA.

    That’s 9 Pitchers (including Lowe) who have become legitimate rotation candidates with more upside SINCE Kawakami was signed. Add Jurrjens, and you have 10, so if you were drawing up an organizational depth chart, Kawakami is going to be pitching right where he should be – Mississippi.

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    • spike says:

      So the plan was to give KK a 21M contract to be organizational depth or Wren et al simply had no idea that any of these guys were going to be any good?

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  17. Slee says:

    I really wanted KK to succeed, me being a Braves fan for over 30 years and part Japanese. And while he had some awesome starts (like the halladay duel) I think announcer Jim Powell nailed it when he said “It’s like the losing took on a life of its own”. Being an ok pitcher mathematically doesn’t matter when your team loses almost ever time you go out on the mound.

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  18. mike says:

    I think teams are looking more at that hideous record and his stint in the minors more than what he’s capable of. if you’ve watched KK the past coupe of years, there have been glimpses of talent. i think last season, he became real frustrated at some point when he was getting absolutely no run support. i don’t think his numbers give the wrong impression. he can be an innings eater somehwere. i’d rather have beachy or minor, however.

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  19. Ikumi says:

    KK is having a good spring…Other than the ER he gave up to the mets, his pitch to Holliday was a really good pitch. It was an 0-2 pitch down out of the strike zone, but it just had to be Holliday swinging at a ball pitch, as they say, “golfed a homerun”. Last “golfed hr” i remember was Francoeur in his rookie season where it almost hit the dirt. 99% of hitters wouldn’t have swung at it. I can see KK playing AAA after a couple starts in AA, where he will be great. Someone mentioned KK vs. Halliday…it doesn’t end there. I remember watching him pitch against other aces going pitch for pitch and not losing. Say it’s Braves’ #5 spot vs. their Ace, I think KK would be a smart choice…He thrives on super pressure competition against the best. Don’t forget what happens to pitchers after they get hit with a ball from a bat. Remember Ishii for LA? He was phenomenal until he got hit. Baseball Traumas evryone.

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