It’s Just Speculation: Jair Jurrjens to the Royals

Every once in a while I like to throw out a wild trade idea in the It’s Just Speculation section. They don’t always make complete sense, but they’re fun to debate regardless. This time around it’s Jair Jurrjens, an All-Star pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. Yes, the Braves already dealt away Derek Lowe from their starting rotation and noted that they are happy with the depth they have, but GM Frank Wren hasn’t specifically stated that they wouldn’t trade from their strength again.

Current Royals GM Dayton Moore has already stated that it is his desire to improve the top of the Royals’ starting rotation this offseason and he’s not opposed to using prospects from his deep farm system to do it. With the team’s lack of payroll flexibility, taking the trade route is obviously Moore’s best option.

Yet there’s not much upper-tier talent available on the trade market. Other than the Tampa Bay Rays and the Atlanta Braves, who are overflowing with good, young pitching, other teams are hoarding their best pitchers in hopes of contention next season. The Braves in particular are an interesting trade partner for the Royals. Moore has been known to acquire a couple ex-Braves….ok, plenty of ex-Braves. Although Jair Jurrjens wasn’t on the Braves when Moore was hired by the Royals, Jair should be enticing for him nonetheless.

With the Scott Boras client inching towards free agency and the desire to place more of their young pitching firmly into the rotation, the Braves may be inclined to trade Jurrjens for some offensive help. But where can the Royals spare an offensive player good enough to entice the Braves? What about Alex Gordon? After a breakout season, Gordon is entering his arbitration years and is starting to get more costly, much like Jurrjens. Gordon would fill the void that the Braves have had in left field for a while as well as inject a little additional speed into the lineup, a target of GM Frank Wren lately.

But can the Royals give up such an important cog in their lineup? Eric Hosmer will be entering his first full season in the majors and is a likely candidate to break out. His teammate across the diamond, Mike Moustakas, struggled early last season, but really turned it on the final month (.352/.380/.580). If both break out, they could certainly take up the slack. As for the hole in left, Lorenzo Cain has strikeout issues, but is essentially ready for a long-term trial in Kansas City. If Cain doesn’t work out a couple months into the season, top hitting prospect Wil Myers may be able to take his spot. Although Myers had a down season at the plate in 2011, he’s tearing up the Arizona Fall League (.338/.471/.632, 17/16 BB/K) and could be on the fast track tot he big leagues if he keeps it up.

Of course other players would likely be involved in such a deal, but it is an intriguing proposition. The Atlanta Braves recently sent Jurrjens to the instructional league for a start at the end of the season instead of shutting him down completely. It could be that they were parading him as healthy again for a possible trade.

With Derek Lowe now out of the rotation, the Braves may be more unlikely to pull the trigger on such a trade and have too much inexperience in the rotation. But the idea’s not completely too far-fetched.

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Trade Bait: Indians buy Low on Lowe

The Atlanta Braves are becoming well known for making notable moves within days of the beginning of the offseason. Last year it was a trade for Dan Uggla in mid-November, a few years ago it was trading Edgar Renteria to the Detroit Tigers. They’ve done it again, this time it’s Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians. The Braves will include Lowe, and all but $5 million of his salary in return for Single-A reliever Chris Jones.

Lowe certainly hasn’t been the pitcher for the Bravos that he was in Los Angeles and the team had already noted that he would be moved to a relief spot if he was on the team still in 2011. Yet, even with his regression (10.2 H/9 and 3.4 BB/9), Derek owned the second largest groundball rate in all of baseball last season. But that doesn’t typically work out too well with Uggla at second and an aging Chipper Jones at the hot corner.

With Lowe, the Indians now have three of the top groundball pitchers in baseball in their rotation. Between he,  Justin Masterson, and Fausto Carmona the Indians infielders will not be bored in 2012. Lowe also brings a veteran pressence and signficant post season experience to a rotation that also includes Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Tomlin. If Derek can survive in his return to the American League, he should be a good addition to this young team.

The Braves on the other hand free up $5 million in dedicated payroll and open up a spot in their rotation for Randall Delgado or top pitching prospect Julio Teheran, as well as allow Mike Minor to move out of the 5th spot. Either pitcher was likely to outperform Lowe in 2012 and certainly beyond. When teamed with the $9.4 million the team will save in paying the buyout on Nate McLouth‘s recently declined option, the Braves have freed up approximately $14.4 million of possible payroll. However, declining McLouth’s option was already assumed and the team has a couple players eligible for healthy jumps in arbitration in Michael Bourn and Jair Jurrjens.

Reliever Chris Jones is nearly a throw-in on the deal. Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein notes that he has a good breaking ball and deception and profiles as possible future LOOGY. It’ll be a bonus if Jones develops into that relief role, but not something the Braves are ultimately counting on. 

It’s possible that the extra $5 million will help the team land a notable free agent bat in the outfield, but it is unlikely. Though it has surpassed a $100 million payroll a couple times in the past decade, the team keeps crying “poor”.

But you never know what GM Frank Wren has up his sleve. Rather than letting Jair Jurrjens retire for the offseason, they sent him to instructional league, possibly as a showcase. With Delgado, Teheran, and Arodys Vizcaino knocking on the door and Kris Medlen returning, the Braves are stocked with pitching talent. Don’t rule a Jurrjens trade for a big bat out of the question.

Overall, this is a decent move for both sides. It’s a relatively risky move for the Indians if they want to count on Lowe in the rotation. But if that doesn’t work out, Lowe pitched well as a closer in the past. A $5 million reliever isn’t all that bad.

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Over Spilled Milk: Renteria to the Tigers

Although the Atlanta Braves have a rotation that is stocked with talent, only one of their starters toed the rubber for the National League in the All-Star game this season. That pitcher was Jair Jurrjens, who lead all NL starters in wins and ERA at the break. Interestingly enough, Jair didn’t come up in the Atlanta Braves minor leagues, a system known to be regularly stuffed with pitching prospects. So let’s see how he did get to Atlanta.

In October 2007 Frank Wren had recently taken over the reigns of the Braves GM job from the legendary John Schuerholz and needed to start making moves to improve the team down the road. At shortstop he had a Edgar Renteria, who had just come off one of the best seasons of his career, sporting  a .332/.390/.470 line for the 2007 season. Yet he also needed to make way for the talented Yunel Escobar to start regularly in the majors.

With Renteria’s value at it’s highest, it wasn’t too hard to find a suitor for the infielder. On October 29th Wren matched up with Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski who was trying to get his team over the hump and into contention for a World Series crown. Renteria was sent to the Tigers for two prospects, Jair Jurrjens and center fielder Gorkys Hernandez.

Renteria would play one decent season with the Tigers, batting .270/.317/.382. After the 2008 season, he became a free agent and would sign a free agent deal with the San Francisco Giants. The Tigers did not receive draft pick compensation in return as they declined to offer him arbitration. 

In the final year of this contract with the Giants, Edgar’s clutch-hitting helped the team win 2010 World Series. After the season Renteria was obviously miffed when the Giants didn’t try to re-sign him and he eventually moved on to the Cincinnati Reds. But his offensive statistics have never rose even close to those he posted in Atlanta and his defense is now on the decline.

As for Jair Jurrjens, he would quietly evolve into a viable pitching talent. With a 12-4 record and a 1.87 ERA heading into the break, Jair has molded himself into one of the league’s top starting pitchers.

Gorkys Hernandez played decently enough in the Atlanta system to be selected as part of the Nate McLouthtrade in 2009. Hernandez has shown up in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects in 2008 and 2009, but hasn’t shown the plate discipline needed to excel to the major leagues. At last check, Gorkys holds a .289/.345/.403 line at Triple-A, but with a 19/59 strikeout ratio. Not a good ratio for a light-hitting outfielder that is has been groomed for lead-off.

McLouth hasn’t worked out well either, but the Braves are still pretty happy about this trade overall. They sold high on Renteria and received at least six years of a young, talented pitcher in return.

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Trade Bait: Renteria is now a Tiger

The Detroit Tigers made the first splash of the off-season today as they acquired shortstop Edgar Renteria from the Atlanta Braves for a couple of prospects.  The slick-fielding .291 lifetime hitter was traded for right-hander Jair Jurrjens and centerfielder Gorkys Hernandez.

Renteria, a better fielder than Carlos Guillen, will take over short and allow the sore-legged Guillen to move to first base.  The move not only improves the overall defense of the infield, but it solves the first base hole that has existed for the past few seasons.

In Jair Jurrjens the Braves get a, as Kevin Goldstein said, a pitcher that “…throws a low 90s fastball, decent slider, and deceptive changeup.”  Although others were speculating that the Braves would scoop up Nate Robertson in the trade, Jurrjens is younger and will be cheaper for more years than Robertson.  The move will give the Braves more fiscal flexibility over the next few seasons and ensure that they will have at least one Curacao native on the team still with Andruw Jones likely to leave via free agency.

Hernandez is a centerfielder with great upside.  Although he may never reach the power potential that scouts think he’ll develop, Gorkys is blazingly fast.  In a couple years he could provide the Braves with good defense in the outfield and a decent leadoff bat with speed that hasn’t been seen in that spot since Rafael Furcal.  His acquisition could make the outfield picture somewhat cloudy in a couple years as Jeff Francoeur is already in right, Brandon Jones is poised to take over left, Brent Lillibridge may move to centerfield, and prospect Jordan Schafer.

Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski pulled off this trade with the new Atlanta Braves GM Frank Wren.  Overall, this trade looks pretty good for both sides as the Tigers improve their infield defense and add a good hitting shortstop, while the Braves solve their shortstop problem, add a cheap starter and improve their farm system that was hit hard in the Mark Teixeira trade.

This is a pretty significant trade as it takes a major shortstop off the weak trade and free agent market.  Yet the Tigers and the Braves were able to keep from announcing it until after the World Series….”cough, cough”.

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