The biggest story to come out this past weekend was probably the "Braves being interested in Eduardo Nunez" rumors that sprouted up after the infamous "sources" stated that Atlanta was interested in the Yankees' utility infielder as a replacement for Alex Gonzalez at short. Personally, I still can't fathom why so many teams and fans are so high on Nunez, but if this is real then it's certainly a path the Yankees should consider pursuing. And with the slow pace that the Hot Stove Season is moving at right now, why not play the hypothetical trade game and look for potential trade pieces from Atlanta's side for Nunez. Given the Yankees' needs this offseason, there are a few interesting possibilities out there on the Braves roster.
Brooks Conrad- 2B/3B
Hey, why not swap one utility guy for another? Conrad is stuck behind Dan Uggla at 2nd and the Chipper Jones/Martin Prado duo at 3rd, and he would fit the bill of a solid defensive utility infielder that Nunez currently does not.
Conrad's also not a complete waste of space at the plate. He's a switch hitter with good numbers against lefties (even if it was in just 24 AB in 2011) and the first thing that stands out is his BB rate, which has jumped to 9.0% in 2010 and 12.3% in 2011 as he started to get more plate appearances. He also cut down on the K % a bit in 2011, a sign that even at 31 Conrad has some room to improve at the plate, and his contact rates show a guy who doesn't make a lot of bad contact on pitches out of the zone. His GB/FB rate is solid, and he's got some pop in his bat for a little guy (career .199 ISO), so an appointment or two with renowned hitting doctor Kevin Long could help him maximize his skill set and tailor it to hitting in Yankee Stadium while cutting down on the swings and misses.
As a backup, Conrad brings more to the table than he takes off of it. He can swing the bat a little, draws walks, can play 2 infield positions and probably SS if needed, and runs the bases well. The addition of Conrad would cover the weaknesses present in Nunez's game that became more obvious when he was forced to play every day last season, and Conrad would have to be considered an upgrade at the utility IF position over the likes of Brandon Laird and Ramiro Pena. Being an older player, the Yankees might even have room to get another prospect, albeit a low-level one, included in the deal for the younger Nunez if the Braves are that in love with him.
Jair Jurrjens- SP
This is the name that everybody talks about in relation to any potential trade with the Braves. And they are reportedly already entertaining offers for the 25-year-old righty, so I might as well discuss him.
On the surface, Jurrjens doesn't appear to be a good fit for the Yankees. His fastball velocity and K/9 dropped to career-lows in 2011 at 89.1 MPH and 5.33 respectively, likely a result of the continuing injury issues that plague him. At such a young age arm issues raise a big red flag, particularly when they appear to already be sapping a pitcher of his stuff. And Jurrjens' inconsistent GB/FB rates should raise concern as to how his game would translate to pitching in the AL East and Yankee Stadium, especially if he's going to be pitching with a diminished fastball.
That being said, there are some things to like about Jurrjens. He made a big improvement in cutting down on his walks in 2011, posting a career-best 2.61 BB/9. And he is just 25 years old, presumably approaching the prime of his career with an already mature approach on the mound. Working with Larry Rothschild could be just the thing Jurrjens needs to get the most out of his stuff and become a consistently effective pitcher. And adding him through a trade lessens the commitment and risk the Yankees take on in terms of years and money. He might not fit the bill of top-tier starter that the Yankees are looking for, but he's also not Brien Gordon or Sidney Ponson. You can't say that Jurrjens in 2012 isn't a better deal than Freddy in 2011.
Arodys Vizcaino- RHP
This one is admittedly a bit of a pipe dream, but it would be nice to see if the Braves were interested in moving the kid who was a key prospect piece in the fateful Javy Vazquez Reunion Tour trade of a couple years ago. Bringing Vizcaino back could be a way for Cash to help right some of the wrongs of that trade, and with where Vizcaino is with the Braves right now it isn't completely outside the realm of possibilities.
The Braves moved Vizcaino quickly through their system this year, giving him stops at all 3 MiL levels before calling him up for an audition late in the season. Vizcaino was impressive in 97 combined MiL innings, striking out 100 while walking just 28. But as he moved up through the system, he started being used more as a reliever than a starter. And his 17.1 IP at the Major League level in 2011 were all as a reliever, with his BB/9 increasing dramatically to 4.67 while his K/9 dipped slightly to 8.83, still a good number but not representative of the stuff and command combo he exhibited in the Minors.
This transition from starter to reliever could signify some uncertainty in Atlanta as to how they see Vizcaino being used at the Major League level. The trade of Derek Lowe could signify a willingness to let him compete for a rotation spot in 2012, but utilizing him as a reliever late in 2011 probably did more harm than good to his development as a starter, and the Atlanta bullpen is a bit crowded right now with the emergence of Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, and Christhian Martinez in 2011. If there is some internal waffling on what Vizcaino's future holds with the organization, now would be a perfect time for the Yankees to capitalize and bring his name up in discussions.
These are just 3 names that stood out most to me in looking at Atlanta's current roster. I'm sure we could dig deeper into their farm system and find some attractive pieces as well or hypothesize about how to include Jason Heyward into a deal. But a trade involving Eduardo Nunez isn't likely to be a blockbuster, and it would behoove the Yankees to not try to make it one and risk bringing guys like ManBan and Dellin Betances into the discussion. They have needs, the Braves apparently have a want in Nunez, and that should be the main focus of the discussions. While Atlanta currently has a high asking price for Jurrjens, that should come down if and when talks become real, and including guys like Conrad and Vizcaino in the talks should still allow the Yankees room to use their mid-level pieces to finish a deal if a trade became that involved. Going back to what I said last week and what anybody with any sense would say, for the right deal nobody should be off the table. And from a Yankee perspective, adding value at their positions of need for Eduardo Nunez would be the right deal.