Braves trade Vazquez to Yankees for Melky Cabrera

The Braves traded away a pitcher they would've preferred to keep, sending Javier Vazquez to the New York Yankees in a Tuesday deal for outfielder Melky Cabrera and two minor leaguers, including a top pitching prospect.

Vazquez and left-handed reliever Boone Logan were swapped for Cabrera, rookie left-hander Mike Dunn and right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, rated the Yankees'  third-best prospect. The Braves also received $500,000 in the deal.

"Melky Cabrera will fit on our club very well," Braves general manager Frank Wren said of the 25-year-old switch-hitter, who batted .274 with 28 doubles, 13 home runs and 68 RBIs in 154 games last season, including 103  in center field.

Vazquez had a career-best season in his first – and now only – season for the Braves, going 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 219 1/3 innings and finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young award voting.

The Braves, after signing Tim Hudson to a three-year extension, had one more starting pitcher than required and tried for two months to trade Derek Lowe. Teams balked at taking on the $45 million he is owed the next three years.

"All along in our winter planning we knew we had an extra pitcher that would allow us to improve our club in another area," said Wren, whose remaining priority is to add some power to the lineup. "We feel like we've got some good pieces in place for our outfield and we're looking to add some more offense."

When they couldn't trade Lowe (15-10, 4.67 ERA), the Braves turned to Vazquez, who has one year at $11.5 million left on his contract before becoming eligible for free agency.

Trading Vazquez leaves the Braves with a five-man rotation of Hudson, Lowe, ascendant youngsters Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, and Japanese veteran Kenshin Kawakami.

The Braves still have a glaring question mark at first base if they don't re-sign free agent Adam LaRoche, whose contract demands might put him out of the Braves' price range. Other options known to be under consideration include versatile free agent Mark DeRosa and free-agent outfielders Xavier Nady, who can play first base, and Johnny Damon. The Braves have also expressed trade interest in slugging Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla.

But the Braves, after shaving about $9 million in payroll Tuesday, might have something even bigger in mind. They aren't believed to be pursuing pricey free-agent outfielders Jason Bay or Matt Holliday, but could possibly make a run at San Diego's star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez or Nationals first baseman Adam Dunn.

The Braves have  stockpiled enough talent in their minor league system to potentially make a strong offer for Gonzalez, who has two years left on an affordable contract before he's eligible for free agency and what will be a huge payday. Still, it's not certain that the Padres are seriously considering trading Gonzalez this offseason.

The Braves believe first base prospect Freddie Freeman could be ready by 2011 or ‘12 and prefer not to make any long-term commitments at first base. LaRoche reportedly seeks a three-year contract worth close to $10 million annually and would have to take less to return to Atlanta.

Wren was asked Tuesday why the Braves traded Vazquez now, rather than wait for potentially better offers for him or Lowe.

"I don't think there was anything magic to the timing," Wren said, "other than when you find a good match – and when we start getting deeper into conversations over the weekend, we thought we found a good match – then we just felt it was time to move forward. We wanted to look for the deal that improves our club the most."

He said it was essential in the deal to get Vizcaino, whom he compared to the Braves' 18-year-old elite pitching prospect, Julio Teheran.

Cabrera is not the power hitter that so many Braves fans have waited for. He has a .269 career average with 36 homers, a .331 on-base percentage and just a .385 slugging percentage in 1,923 at-bats over four-plus seasons with the Yankees. Nine of his 13 home runs last season came at hitter-friendly new Yankee Stadium.

Cabrera is a solid defender with a strong arm and Wren envisions him playing all three outfield positions, perhaps sharing time with corner outfielders Matt Diaz and super prospect Jason Heyward, who's expected to reach the majors no later than June.

Cabrera can also spell Nate McLouth in center, assuming the Braves keep both players. Cabrera made $1.4 million in 2009 and should see that salary more than double in his second season of arbitration eligibility.

Vizcaino, who turned 19 in November, was 2-4 with a 2.13 ERA in 10 starts at short-season Class A Staten Island, with 48 strikeouts and 13 walks in 44 innings.

Dunn had a 6.75 ERA in four appearances for the Yankees. The 24-year-old converted outfielder had 99 strikeouts with 46 walks in 73 1/3 innings in the minors in 2009.

Vazquez had a no-trade clause to West Division teams, which limited the field of potential suitors. Many in New York were surprised to see the Yankees trade for him, considering how lackluster Vazquez was in a previous stint with the team.

He went 14-10 with a 4.91 ERA in 2004 for the Yankees and was dropped from the rotation in the postseason. In relief, Vazquez  gave up a grand slam to Johnny Damon in a Game 7 loss to Boston in the American League Championship Series.

Vazquez, 33, won't have to be an ace in a lavish Yankees rotation headed by CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte.

Despite his durability and 10 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins, Vazquez has been traded five times in seven years. The White Sox traded him to the Braves along with Logan on Dec. 4, 2008, in exchange for catching prospect Tyler Flowers, infielder Brent Lillibridge and two other minor leaguers.

Barely 12 months later, Vazquez and Logan were traded together again, back to the AL.