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The Meaning Of The Arodys Vizcaino - Tommy La Stella Trade

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In the aftermath of the recent Cubs trade with the Atlanta Braves, there are some hints about trading for pitching.

Back to Atlanta for you, Arodys.
Back to Atlanta for you, Arodys.
Brian Kersey

I've been taking some time away from writing about the Cubs, as the summer months leave a few things less tended than they should be. Many of the things I write about are either purely hypothetical or what I heard on a minor league game. Those stopped in mid-September. Nonetheless, on occasion, I have ideas that I think ought to be plugged on Bleed Cubbie Blue, specifically because nobody else is talking about them. The way the Cubs acquire and utilize pitching is today's topic.

The trade that returned Arodys Vizcaino to the Atlanta Braves for Tommy La Stella is a bit of a proxy on pitching. Once you understand the general mindset on pitching, moves like this tend to make sense. When pitchers are acquired, be it by the draft, international free agency, as veteran free agents, or by trade, hopes are always high. The same is true of hitters, but pitchers have an added factor that makes it apply to them more.

For instance, take the Cubs - University of Cincinnati Bearcats connection from the 2008 draft. That season, the Cubs scout at some Bearcats games saw something in teammates Josh Harrison and Tony Campana, and the Cubs drafted both. Harrison was an All-Star last year while Campana seems to be fading from relevance. But, as hitters, either could get plugged into a lineup past their due-date (Campana's may have already expired) and give you a few key hits on a given day.

With pitchers, however, the due date is a bit different.

The Cubs acquired Ivan Pineyro for Scott Hairston from the Nationals in July 2013. When a trade is made for a pitcher, it is all about projection in that case. That projection, to be fair, has to be made exactly at the time of the deal. Pitchers get injured all the time, and for much the same reason, much of the time. Their body breaks. When your body breaks, you are then a different athlete. Sometimes better, but often worse.

A temptation with pitchers, who will normally all get broken a few times in their career, is to wait until the dust clears, and decide later if the selection was wise. This is a soft way of evaluating pitchers. I am a frustrated game-maker, as I've noted a few times here. Whether dealing with the possibility of creating an interactive-style baseball, football, or basketball game, one of the items that gets routinely short-shrifted is injuries.

***

Injuries happen in all sports. In baseball, they happen more than their share of time to pitchers. The pitching motion isn't natural, and it wreaks havoc on the elbow and shoulder especially. If a baseball team goes through a spring training scenario without suffering a season-ending injury, they are very fortunate. (Note that I'm talking about a system here, not just a twelve-or-so selected-player sample.) It can happen, but whether in college or at the professional level, with that much throwing, and that many scrimmage games, someone's arm, shoulder, or elbow is likely to cause some pitcher to have something wrong happen.

Getting back to the injury premise, let's imagine the fictitious Rockford Rabble-Rousers have a team in a pro league, complete with satellite teams to help them stock players in West Virginia and somewhere in Montana. They prep in Biloxi, Mississippi before the players get sent off to their teams. When you have three teams of players getting ready for a season, they all know the big money is in the 815 in Rockford. If they go to West Virginia or Montana, that's okay, I guess. But the real loot is in the 815. (Yeah, this is a parody of things.)

You have 40 or 50 pitchers, each pushing to get the big money they'd get from a big assignment. Charlie Russell has been in WV and Montana before, but he really wants to get to Rockford, where the real MLB scouts come to watch games. Over the off-season, he developed this new breaking ball that he's been working on, and if he gets it down right here in Biloxi, he might just (SNAP!!!!!!!!!!)

Ow.

Russell's career is over. He tried his specialty pitch one time too many, and his elbow just gave out. However, to get where he wanted to be, he had to aggressively use a pitch that he knew might end his career at any time. It was a chance he had to take to have a career at a higher level in the game he loved. Get it fixed, and go sell insurance, or whatever.

***

When the Cubs acquired Vizcaino and Pineyro, hopes were high that they could either be leverage relievers, or even starters with the parent club in Chicago. One of the things that, hopefully, the present brass is better at realizing now than in previous regimes is the ability to spot talent that will be productive. Not could be productive. I think it's already a given that they're rather good at that.

The hope is that, with all the internal scouting, coaching, technology, and the like, the Cubs get better at bringing players from the farms to the field in Wrigley. If the decision with Vizcaino was that he probably wasn't going to be better than the eight guys likely to be fighting for an opening day roster spot, now was as good of a time as ever to move him.

Pineyro was in a bit of the same spot over the winter. After a very solid 2013 for a month or so, hopes were high for him in 2014. He wasn't really very healthy, and was sent off to the Mesa Solar Sox to see if he was worthy of a 40-man roster spot, the equivalent of a guy fighting for a spot on the Rockford Rabble-Rousers. After scuffling some in the Arizona Fall League, Pineyro knew he needed to produce. Other pitchers had been better, and helthier than he had been. He need to shake off his bad 2014 and make that pitch that he needs to for his future's success.

Aaaaaaand, "Owwwwwww."

I don't know what Pineyro's injury was. I don't know if Vizcaino will make it to April healthy, or if he will be a leverage guy for the Braves. When a team acquires pitching, it's about percentages. With your coaching, his skillset and background, what is the likelihood that he will be a productive player in your system?

Some guys will stun you positively. Some will come in with production similar to what you'd expect. And, this is the big part, many will fail to get anywhere significant at all. Many of them, especially depending on your definition of "significant."

When the Cubs added Vizcaino in the Paul Maholm trade, the front office saw the potential of something very big. That never really happened with Chicago, but that happens. Which is why the team now likes to select quite a few pitchers in rounds 2-14 in the June draft. Dream high on their potential, sure. Realize, though, that many will get to that point where they have to keep pushing with that pitch that may well end their career until they get to the point where they are comfortable with their level of success.

Which leads to injuries at a somewhat high rate for anyone on the mound.

When the Cubs have a pitcher (or a hitter, for that matter) in their pipeline who probably provides more in trade value than in projected value over the long haul, it's time to trade him. Especially if he carries a higher than average risk at walking off the field with a trainer to get his throwing wing looked at.

Tommy La Stella draws some walks, and has hit rather well as a minor league player. I'd guess his career will be buttressed somewhere between Todd Walker at the high end, and Blake DeWitt at the low end. If the front office doubted the likelihood of a healthy Vizcaino breaking camp with the team (due to injuries or ineffectiveness), now is the time to trade him, not in late March when teams rarely are willing to burn roster spots on injury-prone players, especially after a potentially dicey spring. They need to sort out Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily, anyway.

Whether La Stella is the precursor to any other trades or not, I think he's a better pinch-hitting option on Opening Day against the Cardinals than Logan Watkins. La Stella has earned a shot at another year in the major leagues. If he can't hit, and Javier Baez does, perhaps La Stella goes back to Iowa.

You don't have to like La Stella to understand the trade. Vizcaino was on his last chance. Armando Rivero is probably ahead of him in the eyes of the brass, and the bullpen was loaded from the right side already. There is probably a less-than-ten percent chance this trade blows up on the Cubs. La Stella, at least temporarily, upgrades the left-handed bench hitting, at the cost of some international free-agent money the team wasn't going to spend anyway, and a pitcher the front-office had probably soured on.

I'm guessing this might not have been the initially-discussed deal. Rumors swirl about Atlanta's ability to retain Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. This may have been an "Okay, how about if we..." kind of a trade. The Braves have knowledge of Vizcaino. The Cubs' info was more current. Since pitchers are so fragile, sometimes, you're best off taking something of value for one. While you may or may not like the value, La Stella is value.

Especially if Vizcaino gets injured again.