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Braves Send Aybar to Rays

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Dave O'Brien of the AJC is reporting that the Braves and Rays have agreed on a deal that will send 24-year old utility infielder Willy Aybar and infield prospect Chase Fontaine to Tampa Bay for left-handed reliever Jeff Ridgway. The move brings in another potentially useful left-handed specialist to compete with Royce Ring and Will Ohman for a spot in Atlanta's opening day bullpen. Ridgway, 27, posted impressive minor league stats in 2007 but struggled in three appearances with Tampa Bay. The left-hander went 2-3 with a 3.06 ERA and four saves for Durham, Tampa Bay's triple-A affiliate. Ridgway allowed 54 hits in 64.2 innings will striking out 67 and walking 30. What makes Ridgway especially intriguing is his ability as a lefty specialist. While pitching for Durham, left-handers hit only .163 off Ridgway. He utilizes a fastball in the 89-93 mph range as well as a big sweeping breaking ball that sits at around 77 mph and a changeup that he throws to right-handers. His low three-quarters delivery makes the ball especially hard to pick up by left-handed batters. In three appearances for Tampa Bay (0.1 IP), Ridgway allowed seven earned runs, good for an ERA of 189. I went back and watched his games. He relied most only his fastball in those appearances and his control was off, however the defense behind him didn't help either. I see a lot of similarities to Royce Ring and I think given a full year, Ridgway could be a useful LOOGY. Aybar has been trying to make a comeback to the majors this off-season after going through some off-the-field issues and a nagging hand injury. The utility infielder was acquired from the Dodgers in 2006 along with Danys Baez in the Wilson Betemit deal. He got some people excited with a strong finish to the '06 season, however substance abuse issues forced him into rehab and Aybar missed the entire '07 season. Aybar is out of options and was considered a dark horse to make the opening day roster so getting some value from him makes sense. He may start at third for Tampa Bay if the Rays feel that top prospect Evan Longoria could use some more seasoning in the minors or he could add depth at the position if Longoria opens the year as the Rays' third baseman. Fontaine was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft. There were high hopes for Fontaine, who has drawn comparisons to Chase Utley for his plate approach, however the failure to show improvement in his power or defense over the past two seasons has dropped his stock significantly. Fontaine would have to improve both aspects of his game, especially on the defensive side, to have a good shot at starting in the future. This trade seems pretty good for the Braves. Ridgway has decent upside and Frank Wren didn't give up all that much. You can never have too much pitching.

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