The Yankees re-acquired pitcher Javier Vazquez today from the Atlanta Braves in the team's third major move of the offseason. Vazquez, 33, pitched for the Yankees in 2004 and went 14-10 with an ugly 4.91 ERA and instantly becomes the team's biggest question entering the 2010 season.
Vazquez had a great first half in his first go with the Yankees, but fell apart after the All-Star break and into the playoffs. Though many now believe that a shoulder injury hindered him in 2004 and was the cause of his poor second half, the statistics say otherwise, that's just how Vazquez can be.
There's no question Vazquez is durable, he has 10 straight seasons of 198+ innings and has never gone below 154. But he also has struggled mightily with consistency in his career. Before his monster '09 season he had ERA's of 4.67, 3.74, 4.84, and 4.43 dating back to his first stint with the Yankees.
More disturbing is that there were plenty of whispers in New York that Vazquez simply wasn't cut out for the pressures of the big city and that media scrutiny was affecting his performance.
His last outing for the Yankees was in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS against the Boston Red Sox. Yep, that Game 7. Vazquez came into the game in the second inning relieving starter Kevin Brown with the bases loaded. His first pitch was crushed into the right field stands by none other than Johnny Damon.
After the horrible ending to the season the Yankees shipped Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Dioner Navarro and cash to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson. Since then Vazquez has bounced around from the Diamondbacks to the White Sox, to the Braves last season where he posted a 15-10 record with a 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts, easily his best season in the majors.
The deal could be the steal of the offseason if Vazquez comes anywhere close to last season's production. But if the media really was his undoing, the Yankees may have created a bigger problem.
Still, the Yankees gave up little to get Vazquez; outfielder Melky Cabrera and prospects Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino. And as a fourth starter, Vazquez faces far less pressure and the double-digit wins he'll almost certainly provide gives the team stability at the back end of the rotation. It also allows the Yankees to move either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain to the bullpen, hopefully permanently.
The Yankees also answered the Red Sox signing of John Lackey with a right cross of their own. With the arms race in full swing, the Red Sox will feature some combination of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Tim Wakefield while the Yankees boast CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Vazquez, Andy Pettitte, Chamberlain, and Hughes. Give a slight nod to the more durable Yankee rotation.
But perhaps most importantly, the Yankees have filled holes on their title team without parting with top prospect Jesus Montero or Hughes or Chamberlain, and they haven't taken on an astronomical salary. Vazquez is stated to make $11.5 million next season before becoming a free agent. So at least if the Yankees realize they made a mistake and Vazquez really can't handle New York, he'll be out the door in 12 months.
The Yankees must still find a third outfielder, but so far they've turned Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, Arodys Vizcaino, and cash into Vazquez, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Johnson.
Not a bad offseason for the defending champions.
Kevin Baumer writes about college and pro sports. He lives in New Providence, NJ.
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