Bill Shanks

Braves use depth to make trade with Cubs

I have been a little surprised in the reaction by some to the Braves trade from last night that netted starting pitcher Paul Maholm and reserve outfielder Reed Johnson from the Cubs.

Some fans are disappointed that Atlanta included Arodys Vizcaino in the deal. Jaye Chapman, the other minor league included, is not known by many. He’s a decent prospect, but middle relief prospects are just not worth very much. You have to be pretty special to break through that glass as a prospect to make it in a major league bullpen.

It’s so easy for a team to go out and sign a Chad Durbin-type reliever – the kind that are usually available all the time, instead of worrying about giving a decent middle relief prospect a chance. Someone like that has to really impress and almost dominate to get a shot and then to stick in the majors.

So Chapman was not a big loss. He’s a very good kid, and he should be commended for making himself valuable enough to be included in a deal like this. Two years ago, Chapman wasn’t much of a prospect at all, but he had a couple of good seasons and turned the corner into putting himself into this position.

Chapman will pitch in the big leagues, and if I’m the Cubs I’d give him a chance in the big leagues for the rest of the season just to see what they are getting.

Vizcaino is the better of the two prospects, but he’s hurt. He’s out this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Before his injury, he was a terrific prospect, rated by some as having more potential than Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado.

I understand the sentiment. Vizcaino, when he was healthy, had electric stuff. His fastball touched 100 mph, and his curve ball was above average. But he had trouble staying healthy. The fact he had to have TJ surgery was no surprise to anyone. The Braves tried to help him avoid surgery, but it was somewhat inevitable.

And yes, while TJ surgery has become so successful that it almost guarantees a young pitcher is going to come back stronger than ever, you just never know. With the schedule Vizcaino is on, he probably won’t pitch in a game until late April or May of next year, and that’s minor league action.

So he’ll have to prove he’s healthy first, and then pitch in the minors and prove he’s ready to join a major league staff. If the Cubs want him to be a starting pitcher again, he’ll need even more time to stretch out and prove he can pitch late in games.

My point is Vizcaino probably would not have been on Atlanta’s staff coming out of spring training next year, and if he did contribute in 2013 it probably wouldn’t have been until very late in the season. So it’s possible the Braves would have had to wait until 2014 to fully get some work from Vizcaino.

He wasn’t going to bust through the Atlanta rotation, which seems to be even deeper now that Maholm could be part of the staff next season as well. And sure, Vizcaino could have complimented Kimbrel in the Atlanta bullpen, but it’s not like not having him there is going to cause trouble. Atlanta’s pen is in pretty decent shape for the future, as Kimbrel was never going to lose his job to Vizcaino.

I’ve always thought Vizcaino would be a reliever, but if I’m the Cubs, in their situation, I would probably give him another shot at being a starter since his elbow has been repaired. They are not rushing their rebuilding effort, so they have the time to give to Vizcaino to try and prove he can be a solid starter.

He undoubtedly wouldn’t have gotten that chance with Atlanta – at least next year. There is just too much depth. The Braves have options on Maholm and Hudson for next season. They are two veteran pitchers who could combine to make $15.5 million. Not bad for two veteran guys who could combine for 375 or so innings and maybe 25 or more wins.

The Braves might want to consider bringing Ben Sheets back next season if he keeps up his current success. Who knows how much that might cost, but with his successful track record in the past, and him now showing he’s healthy and can still be effective, Sheets is too good to let get away. The price might be high, but Sheets is proving he might well be worth it.

Tommy Hanson and Mike Minor should be back. Plus, you have Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran in the mix. Oh, and then there’s that Kris Medlen fellow that could start if needed. He’ll get his chance Tuesday to prove to everyone he can still do that.

Brandon Beachy will be back next season. He could be a late-season addition as he comes back from Tommy John surgery. You can’t count on him early, but he still has to be in the conversation.

Left-hander Sean Gilmartin is now in Triple-A. He’ll get at least five more starts this season and then probably return there for next year. But if he does well, Gilmartin could contribute at some point if needed.

Yes, I’m assuming Jair Jurrjens will not be in the mix.

That’s 10 pitchers right there that are on the board as potential 2013 starters. Sure, some will be used in deals, and you know injuries are always possible. But that is still very good depth.

The Braves made this trade, to get a quality starter and a much-needed reserve outfielder, and they still maintain tremendous depth in the pitching department.

Plus, and do not discount this at all, the Braves have had several pitchers at Double-A Mississippi and High-A Lynchburg establish themselves as quality prospects this season. Zeke Spruill and David Hale have had solid seasons in the Southern League. Both should be in big league camp next spring.

There is one pitcher that has emerged as a quality prospect that could have made Vizcaino available more than any other, and that’s right-hander J.R. Graham. The Braves put him in the rotation to work on his pitches, but there’s still a chance his future will be in the bullpen. Graham has a 2.56 ERA in 112.2 innings of work this season, and he’s now on the radar as a serious prospect.

Plus, Cody Martin, Aaron Northcraft, Gus Schlosser and Dimasther Delgado have all been good in Lynchburg. They are all older pitchers (either 22 or 23) and could all be good reliever prospects in the next few years.

Think about this: since spring training, the Braves have traded J.J. Hoover (for Juan Francisco), Todd Redmond (for Paul Janish) and now Vizcaino and Chapman and still have great depth.

When you make a trade, you make it from your strength. The Braves know Vizcaino still has potential, and sure, I gulped a bit when I saw he was included. An arm like that is something you’d prefer to hang onto if possible. But when it comes to making trades, you can deal a pitcher like Vizcaino only if you have the depth to replace him in the system.

A lot of prospects have been mentioned here, and we haven’t even gotten into some of the arms that were just drafted last month. A year from now, guys like Alex Wood and Lucas Sims and others will populate the prospect list even more.

The Braves got a starting pitcher who can help them now, who is under control for next season if the Braves want to keep him, and who instantly makes a struggling rotation better. Plus, they got a reserve outfielder that makes an awful bench much more respectable.

Oh, and did we mention that there are reports this morning that the Braves got the Cubs to pay Maholm’s and Johnson’s salaries for the rest of this season, which if true allows the Braves to have more financial flexibility to bring in more talent if needed.

Yeah, don’t complain about this trade. Let Keith Law of ESPN embarrass himself by saying the Braves paid too high a price. But don’t you buy that one minute. This was an outstanding trade for Atlanta.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at .  Follow Bill on twitter @BillShanks and email him at .