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.

Mailbag: Hanley, Arodys, Nova, Brackman, Ortiz

Six questions today, half of which have to do with players not even on the Yankees. Remember to the use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send in some questions.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user SD Dirk via Creative Commons license)

Keane asks: If Hanley went on the block would you be interested?

Of course, players like Hanley Ramirez are rare. He’s having an absolutely brutal year, coming into today at almost exactly replacement level (0.1 fWAR) thanks to a .280 wOBA and a -3.5 UZR, but that kind of talent at that age (28 after the season) are almost never available in trades. There’s something like three and a half years and $60M left on his contract, so he’s making big boy money and any teams that pursues him would have to really investigate him to figure out why he’s fallen off so much. He’s hitting a lot more ground balls than he used to, which explains the power drop off, and he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone as well.

Buster Olney talked to various executives about Ramirez and posted the results yesterday (Insider req’d), and it wasn’t pretty. MLBTR has a nice little recap, but the general idea is that Hanley needs an attitude adjustment and has to take his conditioning more seriously. It’s pretty generic and stereotypical stuff, the kind of stuff you don’t hear when a white player struggles. It’s just the way it is. Is anyone questioning Jason Bay’s attitude and work ethic? Adam Dunn? Dan Uggla? Nope, nope, and nope. Anyway, I would certainly be interested in Hanley even though I’m not 100% sure where he’d play (he’s never been much of a shortstop), but talent and production like that is hard to pass up. Obviously he requires a thorough evaluation first just to see if he’s fixable.

Ryan asks: The Vazquez/Logan for Vizcaino/Dunn trade we know is terrible (although defensible at the time), but I am curious how Vizcaino is doing? Where would he rank in the system had he not been traded. (Would be nice to have Dunn instead of Logan right now)

Arodys Vizcaino is having a very nice year in the Atlanta’s system, and in fact he was just named to the World Team for the Futures Game. He’s struck out 64 and walked just 18 in 66 innings mostly with their High-A affiliate, but he was recently promoted to Double-A. Vizcaino also missed some time in April with back trouble, which is not the first time he had that (back issues limited him to just ten starts for Short Season Staten Island in 2009). If he was still Yankees’ property and had progressed the same way, I probably would have had him third on my pre-draft top 30 prospects list.

Tommy asks: What ever happened with Juan Paniagua? News reports stated that the Yankees signed him to a $1.1 MM contract in the beginning of March, but I haven’t heard anything since.

He and Rafael DePaula are waiting on visas, that’s all. Both guys had been investigated and suspended for age and identify fraud reasons, and the people at immigration don’t appreciate that. It’s entirely possible they never actually get visas.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Marianee O'Leary via Creative Commons license)

Ryan asks: Seems like every time Nova’s rotation spot is in jeopardy, he runs off a few good starts in a row. I know a big problem coming into the year was turning a lineup over 2 and 3 times. He seems to be going deeper and deeper into games lately, so how is he faring against lineups the 2nd and 3rd time through?

From B-Ref

First Time: 1.45 K/BB, 96 sOPS+
Second Time: 1.44 K/BB, 112 sOPS+
Third Time: 1.09 K/BB, 88 sOPS+
Fourth Time: 3.00 K/BB, 120 sOPS (just eight batters faced)

sOPS+ is the opposing batters’ OPS relative to league average in that situation. Although his K/BB ratio is the same the first and second times through the order, opponents are hitting Nova more the second time around due in part to a .327 BABIP (.253 the first time through). The K/BB is the big number for me the third time around, and it’s worth noting that batters have drawn more more total walks against him the third time through in fewer plate appearances. Once they’ve seen him twice already, the element of surprise is gone.

Nova’s done a much, much better job of pitching deep into games this year (though we didn’t have a huge sample of starts last year), and last time out against the Reds we saw him complete eight full innings for the first time in his career. It’s not a coincidence that Ivan was mixing four pitches in that start compared to his usual fastball-curveball heavy approach. He’s not going to have all four pitches working every time out, but hopefully he continues with that approach just to keep hitters guessing.

Lou asks: In reading the DOTFs it appears that Brackman has been shifted to the bull pen. Is this the case? Have the Yankees decided he could possibly help the bull pen in 2011, or is this more of a change to try and get him back on track?

Yep, he’s in the bullpen, and at this point I’m pretty sure it’s just an attempt to get him back to pitching effectively. Andrew Brackman‘s been absolutely brutal this year and it hasn’t been much better since the demotion to the bullpen, almost like he’s back at square one. The control has completely deteriorated, back to 2009 levels. I can’t imagine his confidence is all that high, and they just had to try something to get him going. He still has one more minor league option for next season, but the clock is ticking.

John asks: David Ortiz is a free agent at the end of the year and the Yankees could use an upgrade at DH. His bat would look great in the middle of the Yankees order, especially in Yankee Stadium. Perhaps it’s an unlikely marriage, but do you think the Yankees may/should pursue Big Papi for 2012?

Man, I sure hope not. There’s no doubt he’s killing the ball this year (.421 wOBA), but he’s going to want a multi-year contract and he’ll be 36 this winter. That has bad news written all over it. Ortiz and his agent could point to Adam Dunn as a starting point for negotiations or perhaps Jorge Posada‘s contract, since he was the same age at the time of the signing and was coming off a similarly huge year. Signing him would strike me as a classic George Steinbrenner move, locking up an old, nonathletic player with no defensive value through his decline years just because he’s got a clutch reputation and is coming off a great year. Ortiz is having a huge dead cat bounce year, but I’d rather let the Red Sox be on the hook for his age 36, 37, and 38 seasons.

Mailbag: Traded Prospects

Here’s a special one-question edition of the RAB Mailbag, but don’t worry, we’ll definitely get to some more throughout the course of the week.

Hey! Since many, many moves were made both prior to the season and during the season concerning movement of prospects, it doesn’t seem to have affected the farm system too much. Contrary to this, the farm system as a whole seems to have taken a giant leap forward, especially with the development of our young pitching corps. But I still wonder, how much better (in terms of subjective quality or actual ‘ranking’) would our farm system be if we still had all the players pre Javy-trade.

The Yankees have made several trades involving prospects over the last twelve months, most notably for Curtis Granderson, Javy Vazquez, Boone Logan, Lance Berkman, and Austin Kearns. As far as we know right now, the Kerry Wood trade only involves money. Here are the prospects that were dealt away in those moves, in no particular order: Austin Jackson, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn, Mark Melancon, Jimmy Paredes, and Zach McAllister. Ian Kennedy surpassed the rookie limit of 50 big league innings back in 2008, so technically he wasn’t a prospect at the time of the trade.

The best overall prospect with the highest long-term value traded away is Vizcaino, who posted a 2.22 FIP (2.74 ERA) in 85.1 innings split between Low-A and High-A this season before being shut down with a small ligament tear in his elbow that did not require Tommy John surgery. During one stretch from early-May to mid-June, he went 44 innings between issuing a walk. Baseball America ranked him the sixth best prospect in the South Atlantic League two weeks ago, saying he “shows a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96, a hammer curveball and excellent control … [h]is changeup continues to improve and could give him a third plus pitch.” It’s a frontline starter package, for sure. If he was still with the Yanks, he’d almost certainly be their top pitching prospect if healthy, but I’d probably dock him a bit for the injury and the uncertainty it brings. For sure, The Killer B’s (Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman) would have another running mate, so perhaps we’d be calling them The Killer B’s Plus V.

The best immediate impact guy they traded was Jackson by far. He had a 3.6 fWAR season for the Tigers thanks to a slightly above average .333 wOBA combined with a strong +4.2 UZR in center. I have a hard time believing that Jackson would have made the Yanks out of Spring Training had the trade never gone down, simply because a starting outfield of Jackson, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher would have been very questionable back in April. He likely would have returned to Triple-A for at least a few weeks, and the Yanks would have brought in another outfielder, probably Johnny Damon now that I think about it. If he was still a Yankee prospect, he’d be their second best position player prospect behind Jesus Montero, but he’d only be in the middle of their top ten prospects behind Montero and The Killer B’s.

The other four guys were all second tier prospects with similar value. Melancon is  the best of the bunch as an MLB-ready strikeout reliever, and sure enough he pitched to a 3.19 FIP (3.12 ERA) with 9.87 K/9 and 4.15 BB/9 in 17.1 innings for Houston after the trade, good for 0.3 fWAR. Dunn spent most of the season in Triple-A but came up late in the year to post a 3.60 FIP (1.89 ERA) in 19 innings for the Braves, though his impressive 12.79 K/9 came with a hideous 8.05 BB/9. Paredes was one of the system’s better sleepers, a slick fielding middle infielder with some pop (.130 ISO this year) and lots of speed (50 steals, 82.0% success rate).

McAllister took a big step back before the trade, getting surpassed by several of the higher upside arms in the system throughout the summer. Before the trade he posted a 4.73 FIP (5.03) in 132.1 Triple-A innings after never having an FIP higher than 3.26 at any level in any season of his career. He also become exceptionally homer prone, giving up 19 in 24 starts after surrendering just 17 in the first 74 outings of his career. The numbers after the trade are from too small a sample to draw any conclusions from (4.08 FIP, 6.88 ERA, 17 IP).

There’s no question that the Yanks’ system would be considerably stronger had all of those trades never gone down, and that’s mostly thanks to Jackson and Vizcaino. Melancon and Dunn are solid depth pieces, Paredes and interesting low-level guy, but frankly McAllister had no place on a team like the Yankees and trade bait was almost certainly his ultimate future one way or the other. The Yanks certainly have a top ten system right now, but if you add a high upside arm like Arodys and a solid everyday centerfielder in Jackson (thanks to the benefit of hindsight, of course), it jumps into the top five, maybe even top three. Their depth would be improved greatly, and the cache of arms would be even deeper. For fun, here’s a rough top list of the ten best Yankee prospects had those trades never gone down…

  1. Jesus Montero
  2. Arodys Vizcaino
  3. Manny Banuelos
  4. Andrew Brackman
  5. Dellin Betances
  6. Austin Jackson
  7. Gary Sanchez
  8. Austin Romine
  9. Slade Heathcott
  10. Hector Noesi

Quibble about the order if you want, but the names are generally correct. No matter how you slice it, that’s a monster top ten.

Remember, prospects serve two purposes: the plug into the big league roster and trades. They were able to trade Vizcaino because of all the other high-upside arms they had in-house, and the reason they were able to acquire a power hitting centerfield with top notch defense like Granderson is because they had someone like Jackson to deal away. The other guys are just the cost of doing business, potentially useful pieces for almost certainly useful pieces. The farm system would be stronger with them, no doubt, but the big league team is stronger because they traded away, and that’s what matters.

Photo Credits: Jackson with the Honolulu Sharks of Hawaii Winter Baseball in 2007 via Kyle Galdeira, Jackson with the Tigers in 2010 via Mark Duncan, AP.

KLaw’s analysis of the Vazquez trade

As he does with ever major move, Keith Law gave his take of today’s Javy Vazquez trade, noting that the Yanks “could very well enter 2010 a better team on paper than they were at the same time before 2009.” That should scare the crap out of the rest of the league. KLaw acknowledges that Arodys Vizcaino is a fantastic prospect, but also adds that Melky Cabrera is a “fairly pricey for a fourth outfielder,” and that Mike Dunn still has a ton of work to do on his command.

It’s definitely a long term sacrifice for a short term gain, but the Yanks can afford to take such risks.