The relationship between Arodys Vizcaino and the Atlanta Braves stretches back to December 2009, when the team acquired him from the Yankees—who signed him as a 16-year-old in 2007. Since that trade, the symbiosis between player and team has come full circle, ensnaring several players—both notable and obscure—and millions of dollars in the transactional eddies that continue to spin in its wake.
The original trade that sent Vizcaino to Atlanta included Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, Boone Logan, and Javier Vazquez. None of those guys are currently with the Yankees. Then in 2012, the Braves traded him—along with minor league reliever Jaye Chapman—to the Cubs for Reed Johnson, Paul Maholm, and an undisclosed amount of cash. And finally on Monday, Atlanta reacquired him in exchange for their starting second baseman Tommy La Stella.
To say he’s had a strange, convoluted journey to this point in his baseball career is a considerable understatement. He’s been a starter and a reliever, a prospect and a bust, and he’s only pitched 22.1 innings to date at the major league level.
But his most recent “change” of scenery was slightly more complicated than a one-for-one swap. The Cubs sent their International Bonus slot numbers two, three, and four and the Braves sent their fourth slot back along with La Stella. It was a relatively complicated deal for the Cubs in that regard, because they have an infield loaded with some of the game’s best prospects and they’re about to see the other side of a two-year ban on signing international prospects for more than $300,000.
On July 2—the next big date on the calendar for 16- and 17-year-old international free agents to sign deals with MLB clubs—the Cubs will have served the two-year penalty for exceeding their international pool limit in 2013. At that point, the Cubs will be able to spend as much as they see fit under the current rules. Or Chicago could overspend again, as many teams strategically choose to do in an effort to outbid other clubs for top talent and secure large swaths of prospects rather than being limited on a case-by-case basis in order to stay under the league-mandated spending threshold.
The slots included in the Vizcaino-La Stella deal will basically cost the Cubs $832,000 in slot money next July. That’s great for the Braves since it will allow them to spend much more on international prospects next summer without worrying as much about tax penalties or receiving the same kind of suspension Chicago is currently serving. On the Cubs’ end, they appear determined to overspend next summer on the international market, so the loss of $832,000 in slot money won’t devastate their international crop for 2015, but it will end up costing them a lot more money in terms of the dollar-for-dollar tax on overspending. In other words, the slot money they sent to Atlanta may end up costing them nearly twice that $832,000 amount.
Many members of the baseball community believe this move is a precursor to more maneuvering for both teams. That makes sense because the Braves don’t necessarily have a fantastic option at second until prospect Jose Peraza reaches the majors. He might be able to play in the big leagues now, but it’s more likely that Atlanta will look to acquire a stopgap for the meantime in free agency or through another trade. The Braves appear to have made the deal in order to boost their financial flexibility on the international market this summer, but La Stella was a steep price to pay.
While Vizcaino has had three surgeries on his pitching arm and has struggled to contribute to the success of his many teams, La Stella was seen as a potential mainstay at second for the Braves. Before reaching the majors last season, the 25-year-old consistently ranked among the club’s top prospects and put together a career minor league batting line of .322/.407/.474. He has good discipline at the plate and a passable glove at second. He’ll never be a power hitter, but he is a left-handed hitting second baseman with good bat-to-ball skills and a projectable ability to get on base in the future.
The Cubs might be able to find a spot for him in the majors if they send super-prospect Javier Baez back to Triple-A to cut down on his obscene strikeout rate that reared its head in his debut last season. However, Chicago has Baez, Starlin Castro, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Addison Russell, Christian Villanueva, and a player that appears to be La Stella lite in Logan Watkins. Watkins and Baez appeared at second for the Cubs in 2014 along with Luis Valbuena—who could be a trade chip in his own right. That’s a crowded infield going forward. It seems unlikely that La Stella is the best option Chicago will have at second base going forward with all those infielders swelling into their potential in the minors.
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal believes Castro might be the “odd man out,” but this trade doesn’t make the Cubs future infield picture clearer at all. In fact, it does just the opposite. Perhaps they see him as a bench bat once their topflight prospects reach Chicago, but La Stella is pretty limited defensively and he isn’t an asset on the base path despite having the potential bring some value with his bat and on-base skills.
Apparently, the Cubs have simply coveted La Stella for some time and they had the ability to acquire him without having to part with much apart from tax- and penalty-free international spending money. If that’s the case, might as well. You can’t have too many good players, and La Stella might help team president Theo Epstein achieve his goal of winning the National League Central in 2015 without having to rush other prospects.
The move absolutely opens up many possibilities for the Cubs to trade other players this offseason, but “let’s not get carried away” with ourselves. The Braves could look to add a free agent second baseman to replace La Stella. Someone like former Cub Emilio Bonifacio might be a fit if he’s willing to agree to a short-term pact. Atlanta might also look to Phil Gosselin or Tyler Pastornicky as internal options for 2015.
Needless to say, this was a seemingly inconsequential trade with labyrinthine offshoots and corollaries.
You almost feel bad for La Stella, being thrust into competition with some of the most gushed-about young players in the game. On the other hand, if the Cubs really want to compete for a division title next season, they might lighten that burden for La Stella by trading some of his competitors for other pieces that could help the club achieve their goal.