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Should We Trade Jair? (4/27 Game Thread)

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Today, Jair Jurrjens pitches against the Cardinals' Joel Piniero, who's had a maddeningly up-and-down career. He's 3-0 right now, but with more walks than strikeouts, so we ought to have a good chance tonight if Jair can keep the ball down.

Speaking of Jair, on yesterday's game thread, reader Brent offered an interesting, if heartbreaking, suggestion: trade him for offense. He wrote:

We could flip someone for some much needed outfield help, and if I were the Braves I think I might look to move Jurrjens. Don't get me wrong, I love Jurrjens- he is absolutely the kind of pitcher I want to build a team with. That being said, he would have immense value on the trade market because of his age and contract situation. If we could move him for a high quality outfielder, or high quality package of everyday player prospects, we could greatly improve at positions of need without losing a whole lot in pitching. This is all way down the line, but its better than talking about a loss...

[W]e are going to have a log jam of very solid pitchers, and it makes no sense to hold onto all 6 of them. We could no pick up Hudson's option, but that doesn't strike me as a good decision. Vasquez and Lowe are in there barring injury, and I can't imagine Hanson being anywhere but in Atlanta next year. So that leaves Kawakami and Jurrjens, and while Jurrjens is better and cheaper, what are we going to do with Kawakami? Eat the salary and trade him for nothing?
I hate the idea -- the thought of getting rid of a good young pitcher, the rarest commodity in baseball, makes my stomach turn -- but I see his point. Next year, we'll have 5 starting pitchers on the books: Derek Lowe ($15m), Javier Vazquez ($11.5m), Kenshin Kawakami ($6.667m), Jair Jurrjens (probably ~$650,000), and Tommy Hanson (probably ~$300,000), and we'll have a $12m option for Tim Hudson, and Jo-Jo Reyes and Charlie Morton still occasionally look like above-average major league starters.

My position has been fairly steady: if we can lock up Jurrjens long term, buying out his arbitration years and first year or two of free agency, then we have to do that. If we can't -- and, because he's a Boras client, this is a distinct possibility -- then trading him starts to look a lot more intelligent.

Right now we have four more years of a cost-controlled Jair Jurrjens (and about 5 more years of Reyes and about 6 more years of Morton). Next year is Jurrjens's last pre-arb year, and then his arb years will be below-market but probably not cheap, based on his impressive performance so far. Vazquez and Hudson are both gone after next year, which will leave us with Lowe, Kawakami, Jurrjens, Hanson, and Morton or Reyes as #5.

Three questions:
  • The Boras: can we lock up Jurrjens long-term?
  • The economy: will anyone be interested in paying $11-$12 million for one year of Hudson or Vazquez, who are, even by 2009 starters, relatively cheap #2 starters?
  • The youth: will Charlie Morton or Jo-Jo Reyes continue to struggle at the major league level?
If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then obviously we have to keep JJ; if the answer is no, then we pretty clearly have to think about moving him. (Though we'd better make sure that we get a ton in return.) Frankly, the first is probably the most unlikely: Boras is famed for always taking his clients to arbitration and then free agency; the Braves' only hope for a hometown discount is the CuraƧao connection, and Andruw Jones is no longer in the organization. So it will be extremely important this year for us to find ways for Reyes and Morton to refine their command and confidence to be able to succeed at the major league level: if we're going to clear a way for path to the starting rotation by trading Jurrjens, the organization's best asset other than Brian McCann, they'd better be up to the challenge.

But man, I hate thinking about losing him. He's the best young pitcher we've had since Kevin Millwood, and the fact that there was a decade between those two tells you just how rare they are. Tommy Hanson may be the next, but he hasn't done it yet, and there are still a million things that could go wrong before he realizes his potential -- as Morton and Reyes, our top pitching prospects before him, are discovering. What do you think of Brent's suggestion? Do you agree?

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