October 1, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Luis Ayala (38) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Baltimore Orioles 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
In response to the uncertainty surrounding Jonny Venters’ elbow, Frank Wren and the Atlanta Braves acquired 35-year-old right-handed reliever Luis Ayala from the Orioles in exchange for 24-year-old left-handed pitcher Chris Jones.
Ayala was extremely effective in 2012, posting a 2.64 ERA over 75 innings with Baltimore, and though he is right-handed, his career splits indicate a particular effectiveness against left-handed batters. Ayala’s acquisition in the bullpen helps to battle a bullpen that already has two dominant lefties (Eric O’Flaherty and Luis Avalan) along with RHP Jordan Walden, who has been more effective in his career against left-handed hitters.
There is some cause for concern in Ayala’s repertoire, as advanced stats indicate (3.67 FIP last year) that he’s been a little lucky over the past two seasons, and when you combine that with a lackluster strike-out rate (5.97 per 9 for his career), it doesn’t inspire awe. With that said, however, the potential loss of Venters for the season leaves a bit of a hole, and I wholeheartedly endorse bringing in a legitimate, veteran option into the bullpen.
As far as the Braves’ loss in the deal, many people believe that Chris Jones is a major-leaguer one day, and there’s some upside in the 24-year-old. He pitched 60 innings over 45 games in double-A last season with pretty good success, posting a K/9 of 9.15 and a FIP of 2.38. There is likely a middle-relief ceiling there, so the “downside” in this trade isn’t really there, but it’s not as if Ayala was acquired for absolutely nothing.
There is an attitude of mystery in this deal because there doesn’t seem to be a defined spot for Ayala at the moment, even in the absence of Venters. With Varvaro out of options, this is either a pure reaction to Venters being likely out for the year or an indication of a future DL stint or trade for another pitcher. If there is a “need”, however, this is yet another move that I love from Frank Wren, and if Ayala can duplicate his last two seasons of quality production, there’s a chance that Atlanta’s bullpen could still be among the best in baseball, even without the dominance of Venters.