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.