The Atlanta Braves traded infielder Willy Aybar to the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday night along with minor league infielder Chase Fontaine for lefty reliever Jeff Ridgway.
Aybar missed all of the 2007 season after spending time in a substance abuse program. He came back late in the season only to break the hamate bone in his right hand, which then required season-ending surgery.
The switch-hitting infielder alienated himself from the Braves when he missed several scheduled meetings with the team and Manager Bobby Cox in spring training. Braves' players were shocked that a player would disrespect the team by disappearing for several days, so it was unlikely Aybar would have been welcomed back in the Atlanta clubhouse.
Aybar was also out of options, so the Braves would have risked losing him if he had been sent back down to the minor leagues if he had not made the team out of spring training. Atlanta also has Martin Prado and Brent Lillibridge as options for the middle infield reserve role, and with Omar Infante now possibly out for half of spring training with a broken hand, those two players become even more important to the potential roster.
Fontaine started the season in Rome and hit .288 with 3 home runs and 26 RBI in 313 at bats. The lefty hitter struggled in the field, however, as the Braves moved him from shortstop to second base late in April. Fontaine struggled with his instincts in the infield and the Braves moved him to the outfield in early August.
The Braves promoted Fontaine to Myrtle Beach on August 10th and he played at second, third base, and in left field for the rest of the season. Fontaine hit .205 in 22 games in the Carolina League with 7 RBI.
With his struggles in the field, Fontaine was facing a tough task of finding playing time this coming season in Myrtle Beach. The Braves are probably going to have Travis Jones at second base and Brandon Hicks at shortstop for the Pelicans. Both players were college draft picks from last June's draft and had probably passed Fontaine on the depth chart. The potential outfield in Myrtle Beach (Gorkys Hernandez, Willie Cabrera, Concepcion Rodriguez, and Jon Mark Owings) also made it unlikely for Fontaine to see action there as well.
Ridgway is a 27-year-old southpaw with eight seasons in pro ball. He was drafted by the Devil Rays in the 14th round of the 1999 draft. Ridgway debuted in the big leagues this past season with three games in Tampa Bay. He allowed seven runs in only a third of an inning for an astronomical 189.00 earned run average.
The Braves envision Ridgway as insurance for Royce Ring and Will Ohman, the two left-handers almost assured of jobs in the Atlanta bullpen. Ridgway has options left, so the Braves can have him in Triple-A on call if needed in the big leagues.
Ridgway has been very successful as a lefty specialist the last three seasons in the minor leagues. Including his stint in the Arizona Fall League in 2006, Ridgway has held lefty hitters to a .192 opposing batting average with 2 home runs in 265 at bats against him the last three years. Last season for Durham he held lefty hitters to a .163 average (15-for-92) with only one home run.
Ridgway has also done well against runners in scoring position, limited batters to a .206 average (43-for-209) over the last three seasons.
Overall last season in Durham Ridgway was extremely effective, posting a 2-3 record in 54 games with a 3.06 ERA. Ridgway allowed 54 hits in 64.2 innings, with 30 walks and 67 strikeouts.
Scouting reports have Ridgway throwing a fastball that can run from 90 to 94 mph, along with a slurve and occasional changeup. He had Tommy John surgery in 2002 and then missed half of the 2005 season with an inflamed left shoulder.
As General Manager Frank Wren looked at the potential Richmond bullpen, there was no lefty reliever. Francisley Bueno and Dan Smith and maybe even Kelvin Villa are potential starters, but the potential relievers are all right-handed. The presence of Ridgway now gives the Braves insurance in case Ring or Ohman get injured or don't work out.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at email@example.com.
Braves acquire Ridgway from Tampa Bay
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