Past Trade Review: Javier Vazquez, Part II

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

TYA/Yankeeist readers may recall a semi-regular offseason feature I always greatly enjoyed doing, “Bizarre Moves from Seasons Past,” in which I’d examine a particular move or non-move the Yankees made and try to make sense of why they opted to go the way they did. For your reading enjoyment, here’s the full roster of previous “Bizarre Moves” posts:

I’d been racking my brain for some new entries in this series, but kept coming up blank until it finally hit me why: Brian Cashman and the Yankees haven’t really made any so-called “Bizarre” moves during the last few seasons. I won’t go so far as to say the transaction record has been flawless, but, for the most part, the trades, free agent signings and non-moves made by Cash since the 2008-2009 offseason have been understandable/defensible. Sure, we can all decry the A.J. Burnett contract now — and it certainly had its detractors back when it was signed — but the 2009 Yankees needed pitching, and though it may have been an overpay, Burnett filled an important need on the team that season.

Off the top of my head, the only flat-out terrible moves made by Cash — and here I’m defining flat-out terrible as “completely obvious to the entire world that they wouldn’t work out” — during the last couple of years were the additions of Randy Winn and Chan Ho Park. And even though they were pointless signings, it’s still hard to kill Cash for trying to bolster the bullpen and bench on the relatively cheap. I think we can all agree that nothing better underscores Cash’s restraint than his (non)activities during the previous calendar year (save Pedro Feliciano), which include remaining calm in the face of growing unrest regarding the pitching staff last January, and passing on unrealistic trades for questionable pitchers at last July’s trade deadline.

However, as quiet as Cash has been, we also know he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal when he thinks he’s found a good one. Being that the Javier Vazquez/Boone Logan for Melky Cabrera/Arodys Vizcaino/Mike Dunn deal was the last blockbuster trade Cash orchestrated, I thought I’d take a look back at it from RAB’s “Past Trade Review” perspective, as it really doesn’t fall under the “Bizarre Moves” heading. One other note — in fairness, Mike and Joe were a bit hesitant about me reviewing this deal seeing as how the book is still out on Vizcaino, but I think we can take a look at how the trade worked out given the other players involved while keeping Vizcaino in the backs of our minds.

Anyway.

Not content to rest on the laurels of the franchise’s 27th World Championship, Brian Cashman quickly went to work in the 2009-2010 offseason to bolster (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) the pitching staff, as the Yankees managed to win it all despite being just the second team in the last 20 years to utilize a three-man rotation throughout the entire postseason.

Noted workhorse and one-time Yankee Javier Vazquez — who Cashman had previously traded three players (Nick Johnson, Juan River, and Randy Choate) for in November 2003 following a superb season by Vazquez in which he struck out 9.4 men per nine, walked 2.2, and put up a pitcher triple slash 3.24 ERA/3.31 FIP/3.41 xFIP worth 6.0 fWAR, only to have Vazquez come apart at the seams in the second half of the 2004 season after an All-Star first half and subsequently get shipped out of town for Randy Johnson — was coming off a superb 2009 campaign with Atlanta, in which he racked up his fifth straight season of 200-plus innings (and 9th in the last 10 years), 2.87 ERA, and 9.77 K/9 and 1.81 BB/9, which led to a matching 2.77 FIP and xFIP, the latter of which led the entire National League.

With Brett Gardner showing that, at the very least, he was a reliable 4th outfielder if not outright platoon player, and the execrable Melky Cabrera coming off his 4th straight season of below-average offense (wRC+es of 98, 89, 69 and 94), the Yankees correctly made the no-brainer move of dealing from a position of strength in shipping the ever-underwhelming Cabrera to the Braves as the centerpiece of a deal that reunited Vazquez with the Yankees. Of course, Melky alone wasn’t enough (1.6 fWAR in 2009) to get a player of Vazquez’s caliber (fresh off a 6.5 fWAR campaign), and so the Yankees added the highly touted, right-handed, flame-throwing Arodys Vizcaino (who had just come off a 2.13 ERA/2.49 FIP season in 42.1 innings with Staten Island) and left-handed reliever Mike Dunn. The Braves also chipped in a lefty reliever of their own to complete the deal, sending Boone Logan to the Bronx.

After putting up a 4.91 ERA/4.78 FIP/4.51 xFIP in 198 innings (worth 2.2 fWAR) for the 2004 Yankees, there were high evenly tempered hopes that Home Run Javy’s second tour of duty as a Yankee would turn out significantly better. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as HRJ battled A.J. Burnett for much of the 2010 season to see who could be more historically awful. Javy wound up winning this ignominious battle with flying colors, putting up a 5.32 ERA/5.56 FIP/4.69 xFIP in 157.1 innings (worth -0.1 fWAR) and posting career-worsts in just about every major category.

However, for as wretched as Javy was in his second go-round with the Yanks, Melky was arguably even worse for the Braves, tying Carlos Lee for the least-valuable player in all of MLB in 2010. Somehow, both men found new employers for 2011 and each enjoyed an absurd amount of success relative to their 2010 failures, with Vazquez recording a 3.69/3.57/3.87 year in 192.2 innings (worth 3.2 fWAR) for the Marlins, while Melky had the year of his life in Kansas City, boasting a .305/.339/.470 slash in a season worth 4.2 fWAR. Suffice it to say, I don’t think either player would ever have put those respective seasons up at any point as members of the Yankees. Melky maybe, but Vazquez pretty clearly needs the National League to be a successful pitcher. In any event, if you look at the trade primarily as a Melky-for-Javy swap, I’d still say the Yankees wound up ahead even with Javy’s terrible season, as he out-fWARed Melky by 0.9.

What about the secondary components of the trade? For all the griping about Boone Logan, he’s actually been pretty effective as the Yankees’ sole left-handed reliever these last two seasons, putting up 0.7 combined fWAR across just over 80 innings (yes, I know fWAR is near-worthless in assessing relievers, but I’m using it anyway). Mike Dunn threw 19.1 frames for the Braves in 2010 (1.89 ERA/3.61 FIP) and walked 8.05(!) men per nine, before hooking on with the Marlins this past season and hurling 63 innings of 3.43 ERA/4.30 FIP ball, almost halving that absurd walk rate (though it still checked in at an unsightly 4.43 per nine) but not enough to provide positive value to the team (-0.1 fWAR). I’d say the Yankees got the better end of the left-handed reliever swap as well.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, while they may not regret losing Melky or Dunn, they almost certainly regret including Vizcaino — who ranked 16th on Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 list this past season, and currently checks in as the Braves’ second-best prospect overall on both BA’s list and John Sickels‘, behind only Julio Teheran — in the deal, as Vizacaino rocketed through the Braves’ system and reached the big league club this past August, throwing 17.1 innings of 4.67 ERA/3.54 FIP ball out of the bullpen with an 8.83 K/9. Vizcaino — still just 21 years old —  is expected to compete for a rotation spot on the staff come Spring Training. While the Yankees have their share of minor league pitching talent knocking on the door, having Vizcaino — who our own Mike Axisa would have slotted as #3 in between Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances on his  Top 30 Yankee Prospect list — in the mix for a potential rotation spot would certainly make the team’s 2012 starting rotation picture a bit less fuzzy.

RAB’s Top Ten Posts of 2011

As 2011 drew to a close, I poked around on Google Analytics, as I often do. We had over 16 million pageviews last year, and were it not for ALDS Game 5, we would have had more. We had a noticeably significant drop-off in traffic after the Yanks’ early departure from the October dance.

While I’m a few days late on it this year, I always like to highlight our top ten most trafficked posts of the year. As always these do not include game threads or open threads.

1. Predicting MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 50 Free Agents
Our most popular post of the year hit in November when Joe tried to predict landing spots for MLBTR’s top free agents of the winter. So far, out of his top ten predictions, he’s 2 for 9 with one still out there. That one, of course, is Edwin Jackson.

2. 2011 Preseason Top 30 Prospects
Mike ran down his top 30 prospects of the season shortly before Spring Training began. Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos took the top two spots, and I believe they’ll do the same again next month.

3. Camp Notes: Rotation, Burnett, Jeter, CC, More
This was a post from the first day of Spring Training. While the news was bland, it was baseball. We had waited all winter for that first day of camp.

4. Brian Cashman, Prevaricator Extraordinaire?
As the Yanks’ offseason continued, it’s been one of stasis. The team, in need of a pitcher, seems committed to bringing back nearly the same club — sans Jorge and Bartolo — as last year, and Brian Cashman keeps perpetuating the notion that the Yanks are just waiting out the right move. Moshe wondered in December if it was all just a ruse to keep potential trade partners from trying to take advantage of the club with all of the money.

5. Yankees made bid for Darvish, high bidder could be announced tonight
That bid, we learned today, was for a meager $15 million, but everyone wanted to talk about Darvish.

6. Report: Indians, others have interest in Swisher
Despite the fact that he’s a very solid right fielder who fits well into the Yankee lineup and comes with a very affordable price tag, Yankee fans have searched high and low to find ways to trade Nick Swisher. Just before Christmas, word got out that a few teams, including the Indians, would be interested in a deal. Of course, trading Swisher just opens up another hole in the Yankee lineup and one not easily filled. He’ll be around on Opening Day.

7. 2011 Draft: Yankees take Dante Bichette Jr. with 51st overall pick
Many raised eyebrows and a good number of complaints were silenced by a stellar Gulf Coast League debut for the now-19-year-old Bichette.

8. Hideki Irabu, 42, found dead in Los Angeles home
The troubled former Yankee took his own life after a battle with his own inner demons and lofty expectations. Irabu was a heralded Japanese import who never lived up to his reputation.

9. Repeating History with Yu Darvish
Considering the Yanks were never that into Yu Darvish, he certainly garnered a lot of discussion this fall. He and the Rangers, by the way, have yet to work out a deal, but indications are that he will sign. Can he front a rotation that’s been searching for a true ace for a while?

10. Yankees win bidding for Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima
The Yanks put in a $2 million bid on Nakajima seemingly as an afterthought, and scouts say he’s not much of a hitter or fielder. Right now, it doesn’t sound as though a deal is on the horizon, but the two sides have until Friday to work out a contract.

So the hot topics were mostly about free agency and the winter of our discontent. The Yanks lost an ALDS they could have won and have yet to make a splash with Spring Training just a few weeks away. We yearned for Darvish; we got Nakajima; and we’re still waiting for some of those top 50 free agents to sign. It was a great ride in 2011, and we’ll be here again, of course, for 2012.

Updated: Yankees bid $15M for Darvish

Jan. 3rd: Just for the sake of completeness, here’s an update to let you know that the Yankees bid exactly $15M for Darvish according to Jon Heyman. You can now go back to your regularly scheduling complaining about the pitching staff.

Dec. 22nd: Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees bid somewhere between $15-17M for Darvish. Various reports also indicate that no team was even close to the Rangers, who apparently blew away the field with their $51.7M bid. This whole thing is reminiscent of the Daisuke Matsuzaka bidding, when it was the Red Sox (big gap) everyone else.

Dec. 20th: Via Andrew Marchand, the Yankees bid less than $20M for Yu Darvish. The Rangers won the right-hander’s negotiating rights with a $51.7M bid, so the Yankees weren’t even in the same ballpark. This morning we heard that they submitted their bid with the idea that he could fall into their laps if other clubs were tapped out this late in the winter, but obviously that didn’t happen. Marchand says the Yankees just weren’t sold on how Darvish’s stuff and makeup would translate over from Japan, and I guess you have to be sure if you’re going to invest nine-figures.

Open Thread: Johnny Damon

Still insane. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

I was conflicted when the Yankees signed Johnny Damon on this date in 2006, giving him a four-year contract just two years after he broke our hearts during the 2004 ALCS. He was the enemy, he wasn’t supposed to wear pinstripes. Like he’s done everywhere else, Johnny grew on the fans during his time in New York and became an integral part of the team.

I think we all have a “signature moment” associated with players, like Scott Brosius and his homer off Byung-Hyun Kim or Jim Leyritz and his homer off Mark Wohlers, and my signature moment for Damon is the double steal in Game Four of the 2009 World Series. Dunno why, but whenever I think of Johnny as a Yankee, that’s the first thing that jumps to mind. I remember thinking that he must have thought the ball went into center field when he first broke towards third, giving me a mild heart attack. Stuff like that is why baseball is better than any other spot; I’d never seen a player do that before, and Damon had just done it on the biggest stage possible.

Johnny turned 38 last month, a few weeks after wrapping a nice season with the Rays that was a far cry from his time in pinstripes. Damon hit .285/.363/.458 during his four years in New York, playing in 140+ games all four years even though he always seemed to be battling calf problems or a sore back or some other old baseball player ailment. I’m not sure if he qualified as a fan favorite, but he was a solid player with the Yankees and gave us one hell of a memory in that ninth inning on that cold November night.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders are the only local team playing tonight, but guess what? Still no MSG if you’re a Time Warner customer. Talk about whatever you like here, have at it.

Winter Classic at Yankee Stadium? Wait ’til 2016

The Yankees have been trying to bring the NHL’s Winter Classic to the Bronx since their new stadium opened in 2009, but scheduling conflicts with the Pinstripe Bowl have prevented that from happening. Despite the team’s continued efforts, Larry Brooks says Yankee Stadium is likely out of play until their Pinstripe Bowl contract expires just before 2016. The 2013-2015 Winter Classics are expected to be held in Ann Arbor, Washington D.C., and Minnesota.

If you’ve been reading RAB long enough, you know I’m also a hockey fan, casual more than anything. I know a few people that went down to Philadelphia for yesterday’s game at Citizens Bank Park, and I have yet to hear a bad thing about the experience despite the wind and cold. A game in the Bronx would be absolutely amazing and another huge cash influx for the team, presumably bigger than whatever they’re getting out of the Pinstripe Bowl. If you missed the Rangers beating the Flyers in yesterday’s crazy dramatic Winter Classic, there are the highlights.

Forced Comps: Montero, Banuelos, Betances

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Comparisons have been a part of baseball since long before the internet showed up and made everyone an expert. Players are routinely compared to one another, and this happens with prospects more than anyone else. Fans like to see comps because they want to know how good their favorite minor leaguers will be in the future, but comps often distort the truth more than anything. I used to think Austin Jackson had some Mike Cameron in him, but holy crap was I wrong with that one. Cameron hit 28 homers in Double-A one year, which is two fewer than Jackson hit in his entire minor league career. Comps need to go more than position and skin deep, if you catch my drift.

The most common comps you’ll see are the lazy ones, like my Jackson-Cameron laugher. Lefties from New England get dubbed a Tom Glavine type, soft-tossing righties are the next Greg Maddux, short-ish players that lack tools but play hard are a David Eckstein clone, so on and so forth. Some comps are forced, meaning the two players have one or two things in common — one of them is almost always appearance — but nothing else. I gave up on comps a while ago because ultimately it’s a disservice to both fans and the players, as we end up disappointed when Jesus Montero turns into a really good player but not the historically great Miguel Cabrera.

That said, comps are unavoidable and we see them every day. The Yankees top three prospects have each had a comp tag applied in recent years that’s stuck around, but none of the three are all that accurate. The players may look the same, but that’s not enough to make a comparison valid in my opinion. Let’s dig in…

Jesus Montero
Comp: Carlos Lee
Why It Fits: Handedness and body type
Why It Doesn’t: The big thing here is that Lee is a dead pull hitter, with just 16.0% of his career balls in play going to right field. Here’s his spray chart from the last three seasons (via Texas Leaguers), which really drives home the point. Montero, as you know, is more of an opposite field hitter. Lee also walked (5.3%) and struck out (11.0%) less in the minors that Montero has (7.8 BB% and 16.5 K%). It would be a success if Montero winds up having a career as long (13 seasons) and productive (.355 wOBA and 114 wRC+) as Lee has, but they’d go about it in very different ways.

Manny Banuelos
Comp: Johan Santana
Why It Fits: Smallish lefties, best pitch is changeup
Why It Doesn’t: Banuelos is primarily a fastball-changeup guy like Johan was once upon a time, but his third pitch is a curveball while Santana’s was a slider. Sliders are more effective against same side hitters while curves are a bit more universal, typically used against both righties and lefties regardless of the pitcher’s handedness. Secondly, Banuelos’ changeup isn’t as good as Johan’s. It just isn’t. Santana’s changeup is one of the best ever, and it’s a stretch to use that as a basis of comparison for anyone.

Dellin Betances
Comp: Daniel Cabrera
Why It Fits: Super-tall hard throwers with big stuff and walk problems
Why It Doesn’t: This comp is the most accurate of the three in this post, but again we’re talking about a slider pitcher (Cabrera) versus a curveball pitcher (Betances). Unlike Banuelos and Johan, that is their second pitch, not third. Cabrera was also injury-free in the minors, which Dellin most certainly hasn’t been. There’s also the makeup issue, as Cabrera was a notorious hot-head that had run-ins with coaches and teammates and intentionally threw at batters when things didn’t go his way. Betances has never had that problem, not that we know of anyway.

* * *

Maybe I’m just being nitpicky, but I feel comps should go a little deeper than typically do. In case you haven’t noticed, no one has ever become the next anyone. Every player is unique and they should be treated as such.

Jackson beginning to feel a lot like Soriano

It sure is quiet. Yes, a little too quiet, if you know what I mean. For most of this winter there has been little, if any, talk about MLB Trade Rumors’ No. 6 free agent, Edwin Jackson. In fact, the first page of his MLBTR archives takes us all the way back to early December, an oddity for such a highly rated free agent. Normally there is some level of buzz surrounding this type of player, even if he’s not close to signing. Yet with Jackson we’ve seen scant few mentions. Most of them have been 1) noting that he’s still on the free agent market, 2) mentioning teams not interested in him, or 3) mentioning unlikely destinations, such as Baltimore and Minnesota. Yet activity has picked up lately.

One year ago, another top free agent went through similar motions. Just take a look at this page from Rafael Soriano’s MLBTR archive. As with all MLBTR archive pages, it spans 10 posts. The dates on those posts: December 6th through January 1st. Edwin Jackson’s page goes from December 5th to January 2nd. While the nature of the pages is slightly different, the stories are developing similarly. Soriano went from having some interest — from the White Sox and the Angels, mostly — to radio silence for a bit. At the beginning of January his name started coming up as a Yankees target, and later that month the two parties came to terms. Would it surprise anyone, then, if the Yankees ended up with Jackson?

Remember, earlier last off-season the Yankees reportedly had no interest in Soriano. In fact, in late November Joel Sherman said: “Soriano is not an option to come in on a closer’s salary and serve as the set-up man to Rivera now and the closer-in-waiting for when Rivera eventually retires. The Yankees do not want to invest that kind of money in a set-up man and Soriano is determined to close now.” That all changed, of course, after the Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee and Soriano never got that big offer to close games. With Jackson, though, there needn’t be a change of heart. The Yankees have already expressed interest in him, with the hopes that his price tag falls to what they consider an acceptable level.

Yet even after the failed Lee pursuit, reports still indicated that the Yankees weren’t interested in Soriano. Sherman, Fox’s Ken Rosenthal, and ESPN’s Buster Olney all stated, at some point or another, indicated as such. (See previous link to Soriano’s MLBTR archive.) Yet one voice persistently connected the Yankees and Soriano. Jon Heyman, then with SI and now with CBS, continued insisting that the Yankees were monitoring the situation, even when everyone else reported otherwise. He was right then, and it appears he’s back on the job. Just yesterday he sang Jackson’s praises while connecting him to the Yankees. Could this portend another mid-January signing?

Scott Boras obviously knows what he’s doing. He’s held onto two valuable chips, Jackson and Prince Fielder, while a number of trade candidates and free agents have come off the board. Only Matt Garza remains as a well-known and viable trade candidate. Boras could easily hold back Jackson until the Cubs move Garza, creating a powerful situation. Any team that wants a lineup or rotation upgrade must then go to him. That could jack up the asking price for both Fielder and Jackson.

At an even higher price point — say, four years and $57 million, mirroring the last four years of the John Danks deal — would the Yankees be interested? After all, all we’ve heard this winter is that they’re looking to reign in their spending. Yet that might not be the concrete plan. Team president Randy Levine might have merely been making a calming statement to fans when he spoke to the New York Post last week, but his words do stand out. “There’s obviously room to improve the team. I don’t like to get into the amounts, but obviously there’s room to improve the team.”

Last winter, Heyman obviously had the inside track on the Soriano signing. He was the only one pointing in that direction, and he ultimately broke the news. This might have been through a connection with Boras, but it also might have been through connections to the non-baseball operations side of the front office. If Heyman does have and use that connection, perhaps he does have an inside track on the team’s feelings for Jackson.

Signing Jackson would be far from the worst thing for the 2012 Yankees. He’d probably step behind CC Sabathia as the team’s second best starter, pushing everyone else down the ladder. He’d create a bit more depth, since his presence would push one of the bottom two out of the rotation — perhaps in a trade, which could add more depth. The only downside is that adding Jackson will render the goal of a $189 million payroll by 2014 more difficult. But, really, that’s of little concern. That’s something for the Yankees to figure out, and if they sign Jackson it signals that they either have a solid plan in place, or otherwise don’t care that deeply about the limit.

It’s a bit much, at this point, to say that the parallels between Soriano and Jackson mean that the Yankees will sign him later this month. But it’s also hard to see the two situations and rule out the Yankees completely. They might be playing coy for now, but it would come as no surprise if the Yankees eventually emerged as frontrunners for Jackson’s services.