Though the off season has been full of big trades and free agent signings, the Braves have mostly steered clear of any major deals. Sure, they let go of Andruw, but that wasn't a big surprise, and they picked up Glavine, but most fans saw that one coming before the '07 season ended. The one transaction that hasn't received much attention is the Renteria trade involving Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez.
The Renteria trade actually began back in July -- maybe sooner -- when the Braves were shopping around for starting pitching. They were looking to move Renteira at the time, but pitching was scarce so they ultimately had to focus on offense. When Mark Teixeira became available it seemed like it was time to make a big move despite the fact that the Braves would be giving up the majority of their top minor league prospects. A lot of fans moaned and complained about trading the future for a shot at a playoff run, but in retrospect Schuerholz and company knew exactly what they were doing. Neither Elvis Andrus nor Jarrod Saltalamacchia were headed for super stardom and neither one will ever approach the offensive capacity of Teixeira, and with Yunel Escobar and Brian McCann around, both Andrus and Salty became very expendable. The Braves also included some young pitching in the deal, but they didn't give up anyone that would make a significant impact in the next several years.
Knowing that they would soon be dealing Renteria, Braves management no doubt spent plenty of time scouting around for replacement prospects and found two that they liked in Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez. The Tigers, who had a hole at shortstop and a deep farm system, were more than willing to make a trade happen. All in all, the Braves traded Renteria and a few above average prospects and got Mark Teixeira and two above average prospects in return. That's a pretty nice deal if you ask me, especially when you consider the fact that the Braves got Renteria for Andy Marte (what went wrong with him?), and the Red Sox paid a nice chunk of Renteria's contract during his time in Atlanta. Not bad...not bad at all.
Anyways, most fans really didn't pay much attention to the Renteria deal and it really didn't get much attention from the media either. It was a classic Braves transaction involving an aging veteran coming off of a career year and some unknown but very talented and undervalued prospects that few fans had ever heard of. Without getting too involved in the details, Gorkys Hernandez is widely regarded as a solid top 100 prospect in baseball and has put up some very solid numbers in the minors, but he was overshadowed in the Tigers farm system by Cameron Maybin. I'll write more about him later, but he'll be a great addition to the club in a couple of years and should be a great replacement following the loss of Elvis Andrus.
Jair Jurrjens was another overlooked prospect in the Tigers farm system who was playing in the shadow of Andrew Miller, but Jurrjens had a nice combination of solid strikeout rates and a good groundball percentage, something that recent Braves pitching prospects have been lacking. The great Braves teams of the '90s relied heavily on ground ball, finesse type pitchers like Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, so I was happy to see that Jurrjens would be battling for a spot in the rotation this spring. At 6'1" and 160 pounds he's not a big, overpowering pitcher, but he keeps his walk totals low, has good control and is an intelligent pitcher on the mound. Jurrjens doesn't consider himself to be a finesse pitcher, but feels that he falls somewhere in between finesse and power pitching. He throws 4 pitches, including a four seam fastball, a two seam fastball, a change up, and a slurve, and he also speaks 4 languages including English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamentu, a language spoken in his home of Curacao, also home of former Atlanta Brave Andruw Jones. Jurrjens began pitching professionally with the Tigers at the age of 17, and through 5 years in the minors he has maintained a 7.24 K/9 rate with 2.17 BB/9 and a ground ball percentage of just under 51%. To give you an idea of where that puts him developmentally, here are a few comparable pitchers that have seen time in the majors recently:
That's some decent company for a young pitcher to be in, and I think Jurrjens matches up pretty well with all of them. Duke, of course has had some struggles recently, but I think he'll rebound and have several more years of productive pitching before his career is over. It's worth noting that Tom Glavine carried a 7.13 K/9 rate along with a BB/9 of 4 and a gound ball rate of 49% in the minors, so if Jurrjens can manage to talk Glavine into sharing some off his secrets, then Jurrjens could possibly be one of the next great Atlanta pitchers. If we use Jurrjens' comparable players to project his 2008 stats (assuming he makes the major league team at some point, which I'm almost certain he will), we get some decent numbers:
Sheets and Willis are pretty consistent, but Duke just had a monster debut and kind of messes up the projection. However, given Dukes recent ERA surge, I think it's safe to say that an ERA in the 4.50 area is very reasonable, and a projection of about 100 innings pitched sounds pretty good. Obviously, depending on how Mike Hampton does coming off of a 2 year DL stint and how much the Braves can rely on several other young pitchers, Jurrjens could see anywhere from 50 innings to 150 innings with the major league club. Regardless of the number of innings we see out of Jurrjens, a 4.50 ERA would be better than the 5.76 and 6.22 posted by Kyle Davis and Jo Jo Reyes respectively in 2007. Chuck James held an ERA of 4.24 over 161 IP last season, and he walked away with 11 wins and 10 losses in 30 starts, so I would guess that a stat line for Jurrjens in 2008 would look something like 100 IP, 4.50 ERA and 8 wins to 6 losses. Over the next few years that ERA will sneak down below 4.00 and Jurrjens will likely have a few 15+ win seasons before the age of 30.
So that's my take on Jair Jurrjens. I think the Braves got a pretty good deal in the Renteria trade, and Jurrjens should make for a solid #3 starter by the end of next year and maybe even a #2 or #1 started in the next 5 years. I don't think he's got Hall of Fame stuff or anything, but in a time when pitching is at a premium, I'm glad to see the Braves get a solid young arm in the rotation.