By Chuck Richter - AngelsWin.com Executive Editor
According to a reliable source, the Angels are talking to the Braves about starting pitcher Javier Vazquez. The Braves, however, would prefer to deal Derek Lowe (and his $45M contract). The names of the players in a potential deal are not known, but it is no secret the Braves are looking for a power hitting left fielder and are said to be interested in Juan Rivera.
Atlanta has six starting pitchers as it stands now: Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami and Tommy Hanson. Jurrjens and Hanson are considered untouchable and Tim Hudson just signed a three-year contract with the Braves.
Kawakami will not bring the Braves the solid power-hitting left fielder they're seeking in a trade. The Japanese right hander, who started 25 games for the Braves in 2009, finished the season in the bullpen after Hudson's return from the DL. Kawakami posted a solid 3.86 ERA and is considered a solid back of the rotation starter, a role in which the Braves envision Kawakami again in 2010 .
Atlanta needs to cut one of its two remaining high priced starters this offseason and both have been rumored to be available. Lowe is owed $15M each year through 2012. Vazquez is due to make $11.5M in 2010, the final year of his contract. He has a limited no-trade clause blocking deals to NL West and AL West clubs, however, casting doubt upon a deal to the Angels.
Juan Rivera would have to be involved in any deal for Vazquez, a player the Braves and Mets have been rumored to be after. Rivera has one of the best contracts in baseball for the amount of production he gives to a team. Rivera is set to make $4.25M in 2010 and $5.25M in 2011. The Braves have said they're going to give Jason Heyward a shot to make their club in spring training, either in right or center field, but they'd like to add another established outfielder to go along with Nate McClouth; one that could give them 25 home runs and a decent amount of RBI. This way they could start Heyward somewhere at the bottom of the order as they bring their top prospect along without any pressure while he gets Major League experience.
It is doubtful that the Angels will take Lowe's contract in any trade unless the Braves absorbed the remaining two years of Gary Matthews, Jr.'s albatross of a contract. Lowe's 1.52 WHIP and 232 hits allowed in 2009 wouldn't exactly play out well in the American League, however.
If Vazquez waives his no-trade clause to a West Coast team, the Angels would be getting a solid front-of-the-rotation starter. In nearly 220 innings pitched in 2009, Vazquez won 15 games, sported a sparkling 2.87 ERA and fanned 238 batters, good for second in the NL behind Tim Lincecum. Former GM now adviser Bill Stoneman, who knows Vazquez well from their days with the Montreal Expos, is said to have kept "in touch" with the right hander over the years since they both left Canada. It's possible a two- or three-year contract extension could entice the Vazquez camp to waive the no-trade clause.
If the Angels trade Rivera, they could look to add a free agent outfielder like Xavier Nady, Marcus Thames or Jonny Gomes on a one-year deal to fill the void in left field. The team could also find a trade partner, perhaps for a speedy outfielder who can lead off like Nyjer Morgan from the Nationals or Michael Brantley from the Indians.
Whatever the case may be, the Angels are most certainly not done this offseason. I expect a few more press conferences like the Hideki Matsui one we had today before pitchers and catchers report to Tempe. The Angels are a better team with a solid replacement for the departed John Lackey, rather than moving Weaver or Kazmir to the No. 1 spot and giving the ball to Matt Palmer every fifth day at the back end of the rotation. This would also allow the Angels top prospect Trevor Reckling to get a full season with the Salt Lake Bees in Triple-A and potentially replace Vazquez in the rotation in 2011.
As I learn more about this potential trade, I will update our readers here.