Brian’s big gamble


After losing the 2003 World Series, the Yankees knew they had to make some changes to their team. Although they out-hit and generally out-pitched the Florida Marlins, Jack McKeon out-managed Joe Torre, and nowhere was that more evident than in the fact that Jose Contreras pitched in two more games that series than Mariano Rivera did.

Yet, despite their 101 wins, the Yanks radically overhauled their team. Andy Pettitte left for Houston. Roger Clemens retired, unretired and joined the Astros. David Wells, a World Series goat who left his Game 5 start after just one inning, broke up with George Steinbrenner and signed with the Padres.

As the Yanks went searching for pitching, they encountered a few obstacles. Arizona demanded a king’s ransom for Curt Schilling which, considering what they eventually accepted from the Red Sox, is more galling today than it was in 2003. The Yanks eyed Bartolo Colon for a minute or two and eventually reeled in Vazquez. Tyler Kepner called it a pivotal move for a team in flux.

The Yankees were so confident in Vazquez’s ability to succeed in New York and play a big role with the team that they quickly signed him to a contract extension. The Yanks gave him an ace’s salary — four years and $45 million — before the youngster had even thrown a pitch in the Bronx.

We know how this first part of the story ends. Vazquez had an All Star-worthy first half and then struggled during the second half before serving up the the home run that would break the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. Yesterday, speaking with reporters after the Yanks reacquired, Vazquez said he had some arm issues during that second half. “In the second half,” he said, “my arm didn’t feel as good as it did in the first half, and it was really the first time in my career, and really the only time in my career, that I felt my arm wasn’t where it’s supposed to be. I started getting treatment a little later than I should have. I never said anything. I went out there every five days. I hated not being out there. That might have been my mistake, I never said anything.”

After the season ended, George Steinbrenner dispatched Vazquez to the desert. The Boss stepped in and landed himself Randy Johnson in exchange for Vazquez. The Yanks had wanted Randy since the Mariners traded him in 1998 but just kept missing out. Now, they had their man but at the expense of Cashman’s favorite youngster.

Yesterday, the Yankee GM revealed that he tried to reacquire Vazquez twice after trading him. He called Arizona after 2005 before the right-hander was shipped to Chicago, and he called Chicago in 2008 before Javy went to Atlanta. Both times, he said, the Yankees “just didn’t match up.”

So now, the Yankees have their man at the expense of Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino, a live young arm who has yet to see action above short-season single A. Although Vazquez this time will be the team’s third or fourth starter, expected to give innings with an ERA in the low-4.00 range, this move is Cashman’s big gamble. It pushes Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes out of the rotation for at least part of the next season and puts the emphasis back on a pitcher who probably shouldn’t have been traded in the first place.

The Yankees don’t need Javier Vazquez to be great. They need him simply to be good, and you can bet that no one is rooting harder for him than Brian Cashman. Long accused of poor pitcher evaluation skills, Cashman opted to shore up the rotation with a pitcher who has been through the New York mill and emerged shaken but not damaged. Now we’ll have to see if he can do it again.

Categories : Musings


  1. Mike bk says:

    reading those comments from Cash makes me think of the Cameron thing where we were constantly looking into him, but never got the right price. It also makes it clear that if Cash had the kind of control he has now that he never would have dealt Vaz in the first place.

    Did anyone else notice the mlbtr note from feinsand about the cubs being willing to take igawa before the vaz deal? It was in a possible Zambrano deal, so either the cubs wanted melky that bad or were that desperate to dump Z. I think Vaz at this point is much better than Z, cheaper and a shorter commitment. Well done by Cash.

  2. Camilo Gerardo says:

    After the playoff surge, Cash might not be so sure of Pettitte’s shoulder for another full year in addition to not wanting to see Sergio/Ace/Gaudin starting meaningful games if it would have came to that

    • Mike Pop says:

      A lot of pitchers have World Series ‘hangovers’ right?

      Hamels and Kazmir come to mind.

      • When you look at how many innings pitchers throw in the playoffs, it’s not a surprise. Pettitte threw 30 additional innings, Burnett 27 and Sabathia 35 in 2009 after the regular season ended. It’s definitely a drain.

        • JMK THE OVERSHARE's Glenn Beck Complex says:

          If I recall correctly, they were also pretty well-rested before the playoffs started, so that may prove to lighten the strain for this upcoming season. Then again, it’s hard to say, but I think it’s possible they feel a bit of pressure from the toll of those 30 extra innings.

          • scooter says:

            I wonder if there is a study focused specifically on the hangover effect. Vazquez’s ability to give quality innings could really save our bacon next season.

            If you add in playoff innings to regular season innings, I wonder what the abuse points totals would be for CC, AJ, and Andy

            Here are the regular season totals:

            Not so surprising – AJ and CC are in the top 30 – as are Vazquez, Beckett, Lester, and Lackey. Pettitte comes in at 61 (and very low on stress)

            Interestingly, Pedro is #2 overall on the “stress” scale (PAP/IPs), and #34 overall, despite only starting 9 games.

            I should just take the playoff stats and figure this out, but not on December 23

        • Steve H says:

          Yeah, it’s the start(s) on extra days rest thats at issue, it’s the extra innings total that certainly leaves some concern.

        • pete says:

          last year was a strange and (I would think rare) occurrence because the yankees were so dominant during the regular season that they were able to coast into the playoffs, giving their starters a lot of extra rest, yet come playoff time they employed a 3-man rotation. I don’t think many teams that have used the 3-man postseason rotation have had the luxury of resting those three starters prior to the playoffs, so there isn’t a whole lot of history to draw from.

          That said, pettitte’s getting pretty old, and threw a lot of innings last year. CC threw a ton of innings for the 3rd year in a row last year, and AJ threw a lot (for him) for the 2nd year in a row. I think the yanks made sure that at no point last season were they overworking any of them, but you can never be sure that the body of work itself won’t cause a lot of damage. It seems like the commonly accepted truth right now is that pitching, regardless of preparation, rest, etc, wears down an arm. If that is the case, then all three of those guys are bound to begin declining at some point in the near or near-ish future.

    • Drew says:

      Eh, he’s going to be 38 next year. I think it has less to do with pitching in the post season and more to do with the reality of his age and AJ’s track record. Either way it’s sick to snag Vaz.

  3. I really don’t think I can ever emphasize how much I love this deal.

    Vazquez behind C.C., A.J. and probably Andy is glorious.

  4. Bob Michaels says:

    This was a Great Deal, the Randy Johnson trade has been righted in more ways than one.

  5. A.D. says:

    Johnson and Soriano for Spivey and Schilling, yikes.

  6. vin says:

    That 2004 team had too many flaws. The move to acquire JV was a good one, but there weren’t any decent fallback options once he started struggling. Lieber, Mussina, and Brown were all pretty much average, but none threw more than 176 innings.

    Combined, Quantrill and Gordon threw more innings than any starter outside of Javy (only 13 behind him). Throw in the fact that Sturtze pitched 77.1 innings (only 3 starts), and it’s clear that the team didn’t get nearly enough quality length from its starters.

    Interestingly, the 2004 team’s starters pitched more innings per outing than 2009. The difference being that last year’s team had:
    A) their 3 best guys pitch a large amount of innings
    B) a deeper, more versatile bullpen
    C) an ace who could give substantial rest to the bullpen every 5th day

    2004 Yanks 5.81 IP/start (team ERA+ – 96)
    2009 Yanks 5.77 IP/start (team ERA+ – 100)

    For comparison’s sake – team batting stats:
    2004 OPS+ 111 (897 runs)
    2009 OPS+ 122 (915 runs)

    All this was meant to say that Vazquez was a small part of the problem in 2004, and his new role in 2010 will be much better suited than his previous one.

    • JMK THE OVERSHARE's Glenn Beck Complex says:

      Yup. 2004 just didn’t have the goods. Good hitting, yes, but a tired bullpen, no ace, injured starters, abhorrent defense all killed it.

    • Bo says:

      A lot of flaws. Yet they still had a nice 3-0 lead in the alcs.

      So the flaws werent that extreme

  7. JobaJr says:

    If Javy can get us an ERA under 4.00 with more than 10 wins, I’ll be overjoyed.

  8. Accent Shallow says:

    I’m not entirely enthused by the return of Home Run Javy, but that is quite the deep rotation, whether he is the 2, the 3, or the 4. Of course, if it results as Joba/Hughes as setup man and Aceves/Gaudin making starts when someone gets hurt, I may not be too happy.

    • Just curious, what do you think would have been the better option to acquiring Vazquez?

      • Accent Shallow says:

        He definitely makes the rotation better (or at least provides more stability), but I would have been fine with Joba/Hughes as 4/5, especially with a depth-type signing or two.

    • Brian says:

      People are getting a little too greedy around here. Take a step back and look at the Yankee rotation. Javy Vazquez, who would be an ace on a lot of MLB teams, is now our #4 starter. And we got him for basically nothing. I can’t express how much I love this deal, and I’m glad that Cash learned his lesson from 2008 (don’t have 2 young starters in the rotation). 55 days until pitchers and catchers.

      • Accent Shallow says:

        That’s not the lesson I took from 2008 at all — both Hughes and Kennedy then were a hell of a lot less proven than Hughes and Joba now.

      • Yeah I completely disagree. Just because Hughes and IPK didn’t work out doesnt mean you shouldn’t have young staters in a rotation.

      • Ed says:

        2008 was the fallout of the team’s mistakes in 2007. The lesson to be learned was don’t rush your young pitchers through the minors.

        • Bo says:

          Those guys rushed themselves because they dominated the minors.

          What were they supposed to do? LEave them in AAA and not challenge them?

      • Broll The American says:

        Very true about the getting greedy. Imagine you were a Brave fan right now. You watch your best guy leave for a very average light hitting outfielder, a middle relief guy and a lotto ticket. Primarily because Lowe is a bust and you owe him lots of money. How could you be excited about your upcoming season?

  9. Sal says:

    I wonder what happened with Sheets? They seemed to be really interested in him?

    • Drew says:

      A guy who will likely pitch 200 innings happened with Sheets. He was nothing short of a risk. An expensive one at that.

    • A.D. says:

      Probably just too much guaranteed money/he’s willing to wait longer than the Yanks wanted to sign.

    • I think the amount of people on here that wanted Sheets made it seem like the organization wanted Sheets more than they actually did.

    • Stryker says:

      i believe sheets would be an even bigger gamble than vazquez. sheets is reportedly looking for a contract similar or better to what javy has now. javy has been an EXTREMELY durable starter over his career while sheets’ track record isn’t the greatest. i’d rather spend a similar amount of money for a guy who has a record of succes, rather than a record of 2 great years while the rest are iffy.

    • Bo says:

      You cant give a guy who hasnt pitched in a yr a big deal especially when you need that slot to give you innings.

  10. Combined CAIRO/CHONE baseline projections for Vasquez:

    193.5 IP, 185 H, 81 ER, 22 HR, 48 BB, 188 SO, 1.204 WHIP, 3.77 ERA, 3.48 FIP (if I did the calculations correctly). I’ll gladly sign up for that.

  11. Bo says:

    The trade is win win. Rotation gets deeper and stronger and the bullpen gets better with one of Joba/Hughes sliding in there.

  12. Jai says:

    ”I’m like a honeybee,” Cashman said. ”I’ll get all the honey and go back to the hive and have at it. There’s been a lot of buzzing.”

    That is the lamest quote ever, Cash-money.

  13. Bucksky619 says:

    Here’s why this is a stupid argument. Vazquez is not replacing anyone. He just has to be better than who ever was holding down the back end of the rotation last year, none of which we’re deemed worthy of a postseason start. Vazquez has ten seasons of 200 innings pitched, 200+ strikeouts and 10+ wins. Anyone who looks at this move as risky or a gamble is quite frankly not too bright. Every Yankee fan should stop acting like everything needs to be perfect all the time. I’m quite ready to see this Yankee team go to war, they’re still better than Boston too.

  14. Whitey14 says:

    The addition of Vazquez probably opens up the gap between New York and Boston to 10 – 12 games, in my humble opinion. It feels like they were able to add Granderson and Vazquez while giving up very little, which is symbolic of a GM doing a great job of knowing other team’s financial situations and which players/pitchers fit his own team’s needs. Well played Mr. Cashman.

    • ecksodia says:

      I don’t think we gave up very little, but considering the return, and the deals as they stand at this point in time, I thought we gave up relatively little.

  15. [...] With a healthy skepticism of Vazquez’s previous tenure in the Bronx, we thought Cashman was taking a big gamble but ultimately saw the deal as a positive. The Yanks had a durable innings eater with a low-90s [...]

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