Looking at Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado

Last night it was announced on the Braves’ official site that the club was exploring the idea of trading right-handed starter Jair Jurrjens and versatile infielder/outfielder Martin Prado.

Given that Alex Anthopoulos is eyeing rotation help this winter and the fact the Jays are in need of a second baseman, one would think he’d be able to hit two birds with one stone by acquiring both players in a trade right? Not exactly.

After logging 403 innings in 65 starts from 2008-2009, Jurrjens seemed to be evolving into a rotation anchor for the Braves, and reported to 2010 spring training as a 24-year-old with his sights set on another big year.

Sadly, he dealt with shoulder inflammation instead and once the regular season got underway, he missed significant time because of an aggravated left hamstring. Then, closer to the end of the season, he partially tore the meniscus in his right knee, which eventually required offseason surgery. His ailments that year limited him to just 116 innings, in which he managed a 4.64 ERA/4.19 FIP.

This past season, it appeared that Jurrjens was fully healthy and back to normal, as he compiled a sparkling 1.87 ERA before the All-Star break, though that wound up being his only statistical bright spot. He re-aggravated his knee with what was revealed as a bone bruise and struggled mightily in the season’s second half before being shut down entirely.

Jurrjens’ health concerns are an obvious red flag for any team looking to acquire him this offseason, but that’s just one of many, as Jurrjens’ stuff presents some red flags as well.

Though he’s never been considered a strikeout pitcher, Jurrjens’ K/9 dropped to a career-low 5.3 this past season — a significant difference from the 6.5 mark he put up from 2008-2010. The main issue for this has been his average fastball velocity, which decreased gradually each season from 2007-2010 but dropped two miles an hour to 89 in 2011. In fact, after hitting 92 mph previously in his career, Jurrjens was tossing just 88 mph near the end of his 2011 campaign. As a result, his changeup has become much more hittable due to the shrunken velocity gap between the two pitches, leaving Jurrjens’ slider as his only effective off-speed pitch.

Even though Jurrjens improved his walk rate this past season and will be only 26 years old on Opening Day, his injury history, declining velocity, and ineffective changeup are too much to overlook. Add the fact that he’d be thrown into the AL East with the Jays as well and he’s clearly a pitcher to pass on.

Prado, on the other hand, is a more intriguing option.

The Venezuela native just turned 28 last month, and his versatility is one of his most attractive traits. After playing his entire career as an infielder at first, second, and third base, Prado was forced to learn left field quickly after the Braves acquired Dan Uggla last November.

After evolving into one of the Braves’ most valuable players by posting at least a .307 average and .809 OPS each season from 2008-2010, it appeared that Prado’s new position took a toll on him, as he managed a much different .260 average and .687 OPS in 2011. He was also dealing with a slight hangover from oblique and hip injuries that he suffered at the end of the 2010 season and missed over a month around June 2011 with a staph infection, never returning to form for the rest of the season.

Prado’s down year makes him an optimal buy-low candidate, and he could be a nice option for the Jays if Kelly Johnson doesn’t return. He’s been a leadoff hitter for a significant chunk of his career and would slot nicely above Yunel Escobar in the Jays’ batting order, especially if he manages to return to his previous form. In addition to hitting lefties and righties almost identically over his career, Prado has decent gap power and has smacked over 40 extra-base hits in each of his last three seasons. The main knock on Prado would be his defense at second base, though, especially if UZR is your bible considering he has a career mark of -8.4 in over 1600 career innings there.

Prado is arbitration-eligible for the second time this season after making $3.1 million in 2011, so his salary would be around $5 million next season and he’d be under club control through the 2013 campaign. Given his past production at the plate, positional versatility, leadoff-hitter potential, and affordable salary, I wouldn’t be surprised if Anthopoulos is already on the phone with Braves GM Frank Wren right now doing his due diligence in case Johnson doesn’t return.

-JM

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Jair Jurrjens Martin Prado Toronto Blue Jays

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