Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Re-Examining The Javy Vazquez Trade

When I wrote my post about the Vazquez trade, I thought for sure I would be the leading voice in the wave of disappointment that was to follow from Yankeeland.  Then I hear Mike Francesa calling the trade "a steal" for the Yankees on the radio, the PTI guys agreeing that the deal was "good" for the Yankees, and many other blogs commenting on how positive a trade this was for the Yankees.  So now that I've realized I'm pretty much alone here on this anti-Javier Vazquez side of the line and I've had some time to calm down and digest what everyone else is saying, it's time to take another look at this trade.

In Vazquez, the Yankees are getting a guy who was probably one of the 3 best, definitely one of the 5 best pitchers in the NL last season.  He had a 15-10 record with 238 K's, a 2.87 ERA, and a 1.03 WHIP.  Vazquez threw for 219.1 innings last year and has been an innings eater his entire career, throwing for 200+ in every season except one since 2000.  And in this second go-around with the Yankees, Vazquez is coming in to be the 4th starter behind CC, A.J., and Andy, which takes a lot of the pressure and expectations off his shoulders.  On paper and in theory, this is a good move for the Yankees; it gives them a strong veteran arm to bolster the back end of the rotation and gives them a proven commodity to include back there as they let Hughes and Joba battle it out for the 5th spot in spring training instead of having to go to the well of Gaudin, Mitre, Nova, or free agent signee X.

Now the downside.  Vazquez has been traded 3 times since his last appearance with the Yankees and those seasons consisted of 3 with losing records and ERAs above 4.50 for Arizona and the Chi Sox.  Before his turn around last year in Atlanta, Vazquez had a losing record for his career and even right now his career record stands at 142-139 with an ERA of 4.19, not exactly Cy Young material.  And that one season that I mentioned earlier in which Javy didn't throw for 200+ innings?  That was with the Yanks in 2004.

And then you have Vazquez's career playoff numbers.  Between the Yankees in 2004 and the White Sox in 2008, Vazquez has thrown 15.2 innings and given up 18 ER and 34 combined H and BB for an all-worldly terrible 10.34 ERA and 2.17 WHIP.  That even more than his past numbers with the Yanks in 2004 is the major indicator of the kind of pitcher Javier Vazquez is.  Sure he's going to give you innings, and for his career he's giving up less than a hit per innin.  But when the going gets tough, Vazquez gets going right to the clubhouse right after he melts down and gets shelled by the opponents.  It's a fact.

Now as far as what the Yankees gave up to get him, maybe I went a little overboard with my projections for Melky Cabrera.  I do believe he has the potential to hit 20 HRs and get 80+ RBIs, but do I think he's ever going to reach those levels?  Probably not.  Melky is still young and still seems to enjoy the celebrity that comes with being a Yankee a little more than others.  By the time he figures out how to dedicate himself completely to the game, it will be too late and his prime will be in the rearview mirror.  Not to mention that for a guy with a supposedly above average arm in the outfield, when's the last time you saw Melky throw anybody out at home?

The issue I have with giving up Melky is that it leaves the Yankees with a hole in left field because for some reason they still don't seem to think Brett Gardner is capable of being an everyday player.  And even if he did play, you have to play Gardner in CF to maximize his speed, which means C-Grand goes to left, something he probably won't want to do and wasn't imagining he would be doing when he came into town.  With the Yanks and Damon still miles apart in their negotiations from a $$$-perspective and Cashman saying yesterday that they weren't looking to add any more high-profile guys for next year (bye-bye Bay and Holliday), now you're back in the Mark DeRosa Bargain Aisle to fill out the roster and that's not an aisle I want to even push my shopping cart through, let alone peruse and possibly buy from.

Giving up Dunn for Vazquez when the Yanks were unwilling to include him in the Granderson deal and showed that they considered him to be the leader for that 2nd-lefty spot in the pen is also confusing.  Now they're basically counting on Marte being healthy and effective all year next year or hoping that Boone Logan reverses his trend of being completely useless.  Tack on the fact that they gave up what Baseball Prospectus called their 3rd-best prospect in Vizcaino (yeah, yeah.  I know he's still in A-Ball, but still...) and it still looks to me like the Yankees gave up too much and potentially weakened a couple other parts of their lineup for rotation depth.  Mind you, that same depth could have been achieved through free agency and would not have come at the expense of outfield and bullpen depth, but that's why Cash is running the show and I'm sitting here in my living room writing about it.

Now nobody here is expecting Javy to be Cy Young next year.  But Yankee fans haven't forgotten how awful he was down the stretch in 2004 and certainly haven't forgotten him coming into Game 7 of the ALCS in 2004 and giving up what was basically the nail in the coffin for the Yankees' season in the form of a Johnny Damon grand slam on his first pitch.  That knowledge of his past will have Vazquez on a short leash with Yankee fans and an even shorter leash with the NY media.  Vazquez has had his greatest struggles in large markets with big fan expectations and big media coverage, most recently in 2008 with the White Sox.

I'd like to think Vazquez has matured since his last stint in NY and can handle the situation better this time as a 4th starter instead of a potential front-of-the-rotation guy, but there is nothing he has done since leaving the Yankees that indicates that will be the case.  So basically, I'm not as over-the-top against this deal as I was yesterday, and I do recognize the potential for Vazquez to be a big-time contributor next year.  But I'm also very wary of him given his past history in big markets, big moments, and especially New York.  If this move works out and he produces at a level that he's capable of, the Yankees once again vault over the competition as the best team with the best staff in baseball.  If Vazquez bombs again, however, I'll be right at the front of the line to destroy him and Cash for bringing him back. 

Stay tuned, we've only got 100+ days until we get to see how this will play out...