Update: Vazquez to receive Yanks’ only arb offer

Contrary to initial reports, the Yankees will offer arbitration only to Javier Vazquez ahead of this evening’s midnight deadline. We had originally heard that the Yanks planned to offer it to Kerry Wood as well. The decision not to offer arbitration to Wood belies the Yanks’ concerns that he would have accepted and thus would earn far more than the team wants to pay their set-up man. Vazquez is expected to decline the offer, and the Yanks will recoup a supplemental first-round pick when he signs with another team this winter. The Yankees have declined to offer arbitration to Lance Berkman, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, but under the 2007 CBA, the club can continue to negotiation with any or all of their own free agents.

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Arbitration Decision: Javier Vazquez

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

As Joe detailed this morning, the Yanks’ decision to offer salary arbitration to Derek Jeter is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, their other key free agent made things difficult when he had an utterly terrible 2010. Still, I’d be willing to run the risk of extending a salary arbitration offer to Javier Vazquez.

The Javier Vazquez story begins last year when the Yanks decided to trade for him. In a deal I now call the Boone Logan Trade, the Yanks sent Melky Cabrera, Michael Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves for Logan and Vazquez. What made the deal so appealing was Vazquez’s contract status. With just one year left, the Yanks assumed he would maintain his recent success and his Type A status. The team would offer arbitration, and he would probably reject it. Had he accepted it, the Yanks would have had a quality pitcher at a reasonable rate.

Instead, Javy pitched himself all the way to Type B status. Javy went just 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA and threw only 157.1 innings. His strike outs dropped by 3 per 9 IP, and his walk rate doubled while his fastball velocity dipped well below 90. It was an utterly disastrous season, and the Yanks have a tough decision to make.

A few weeks ago, Mike went on the record with his view on the Javy issue. He wrote:

Javy Vazquez is a no-brainer. He’s a Type-B who made $11.5M in 2010, and of course he was awful (-0.2 fWAR) due to stuff that deteriorated as the season progressed. The best course of action is to simply cut ties and walk away. I know the Yanks considered two draft picks to be part of the deal (he was a Type-A once upon a time), but things didn’t work out. No sense in trying to force the issue, let Javy walk with no stings attached.

I disagree. The Yankees should offer Vazquez arbitration, and I doubt he would accept it. They could salvage something of this deal after all.

This move should come down to three factors. The first is Javy’s need to get out of New York. He’s still only 34 years old and ostensibly wants to keep pitching. To continue with his career — a career that saw him average 200 strike outs and 216 IP from 2000-2009 — he needs to pitch somewhere in which he is comfortable and can succeed. As much as I’m hesitant to believe that some players just don’t have the je ne sais quois to pitch in New York, Javy seems to fit the bill.

Furthermore, other teams are interested in him. The Nationals are interested in Vazquez, and the Marlins have met with him as well. Javy himself wants to pitch for the Marlins and appears to have interest from five other teams.

Finally, the Hot Stove League‘s rumblings and grumblings suggest that Javy wants more than a one-year deal. Low-level rumors have Vazquez shooting for a three-year contract, and with a high level of interest among fringe teams, he should be able to secure a multi-year commitment. Considering these factors, the odds are slim that he’d accept arbitration.

But let’s assume that the Yankees offer him arbitration, and he accepts. The two sides could agree on a one-year deal followed by a trade or the two sides could go to a hearing. Since Javy would probably lose the hearing, the Yankees could wind up paying him under $10 million next year. While holding out hope in Javy might just be a fool’s errand, he could justify such a meager investment. After all, he was a 5-win pitcher in the AL as recently as 2008, and unless his arm is totally shot, he’s due for a bounce-back year in 2011.

Still, though, I’d put the odds of his accepting arbitration at no greater than five percent, and for the chance to secure a draft pick and salvage the trade, those are odds I would play. The Yankees have been risk-averse when it comes to their arbitration offers to free agents on the bubble, and I would be more surprised to see them offer arbitration to Javy than not. If they’re willing to roll the dice though, they just might make a move that proves to be both risky and smart.

What Went Wrong: The Return of Javy Vazquez

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The old adage says that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, and the Yankees had plenty of momentum when they relied exclusively on their three best starters during their run to the 2009 World Title. That resulted in tremendous workloads for CC Sabathia (266.1 IP), A.J. Burnett (234.1 IP), and Andy Pettitte (225.1 IP), enough that Brian Cashman was concerned about a carry-over effect in 2010. Despite having Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Chad Gaudin, and Sergio Mitre in tow, he went out an acquired one of the game’s proven workhorses, bringing Javy Vazquez back to New York in a December trade with the Braves.

Vazquez had been treated as the scapegoat for the 2004 ALCS loss ever since being traded to the Diamondbacks as part of a package for Randy Johnson after that season, but life goes on and he continued to pitch. His lone season in Arizona featured a 4.06 FIP in 215.2 IP, but he demanded a trade during the offseason to be closer to his family on the East Coast, his contractual right. The D-Backs shipped Javy to the White Sox for a package built around young centerfielder Chris Young, and he went on to post a 3.80 FIP in his three seasons on Chicago’s south side. After a 2.77 FIP in 219.1 IP for the Braves in 2009 (and a fourth place finish in the Cy Young voting), Vazquez found himself back in the Bronx.

(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Javy had thrown no fewer than 198 innings every year since 2000 (only one season below 200 IP during that stretch), and only that Randy Johnson guy had struck out more batters in that time. Unlike 2004, when a then-28 year old Javy Vazquez was expected to be a cornerstone in New York’s rotation going forward, the 34-year-old version was expected to do nothing more than soak up innings at the back of the rotation. Two-hundred league average innings was all the team needed out of him, and after the season the two sides would part ways with the Yanks landing two high draft picks as compensation when he signed elsewhere.

To say the 2010 season started inauspiciously for Vazquez would be an understatement. His very first pitch of Spring Training went for a solo homer off the bat of Jimmy Rollins, a sign of things to come. Javy’s first start of the season resulted in eight runs allowed to the Rays in just 5.1 innings, and five days later he was booed off the mound in Yankee Stadium after surrendering four runs in 5.1 innings to the Angels. Vazquez’s first five starts were simply atrocious, a 9.78 ERA with eight homers allowed in just 23 IP. Opponents were wOBA‘ing .457 off the Yanks’ fourth starter, and things got so bad that the Yankees had to skip his turn in the rotation in early May just to figure out what they should do.

To his credit, Javy rebounded from the rough start and pitched very well for about two months. He started 11 games (and made one relief appearance) from mid-May through mid-July, pitching to a 2.75 ERA (3.66 FIP) and holding opponents to a measly .249 wOBA. Vazquez was the team’s best starter not named Sabathia during the stretch, and he was giving the Yanks everything they asked of him and then some. Unfortunately it was all downhill from there.

The Angels tagged Vazquez for five runs in five innings on July 21st, and he allowed four or more runs in four of six starts after that stretch of brilliance. Even worse was the obvious physical decline. His fastball, already down two miles an hour from last year, was now regularly sitting in the mid-80’s (right). His breaking balls were flat and lacking depth, leaving the changeup as his only consistent weapon. That didn’t last very long, as Javy was yanked from the rotation for good after allowing four runs in three innings against the lowly Mariners on August 21st. He pitched to a 6.59 ERA the rest of the way, mostly in long-relief though he did make three spot starts. The low point came in his second to last appearance of the season, when he hit three straight Rays to force in a run, turning a blowout into a full-blown laugher. Perhaps all those innings finally caught up to him and/or he was hiding some kind of injury. Doesn’t matter now.

All told, 2010 amounted to the worst season of Vazquez’s career. His 154.2 innings were his fewest since 1999, his 5.32 ERA his worst since 1998, and his 5.56 trailed only Ryan Rowland-Smith (6.55) and Scott Kazmir (5.83) for the worst in baseball among pitchers that threw at least a hundred innings. If he hadn’t been mercifully pulled from the rotation late in the year, he would have led baseball in homeruns allowed. As it stands, the 32 he gave up were the fourth most in the game, and his 1.83 HR/9 was second worst. The Yankees paid him $11.5M and received -0.2 fWAR in return, meaning Javy was no better than some Triple-A fodder toiling away in the minors.

To make things worse, Vazquez pitched his way out of Type-A free agent status, falling down into Type-B range. Not that the team would offer him salary arbitration after such a horrible year, but they wouldn’t even have been able to get those two high draft picks even if they wanted to risk it.

We know the Yanks didn’t give up much for Vazquez thanks to the benefit of hindsight. Melky Cabrera was the worst everyday player in baseball this season (-1.2 fWAR, min. 450 PA) and has already been released. They didn’t even wait until the non-tender deadline. Mike Dunn has a live arm but has already been replaced by Boone Logan. The x-factor is prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who put together a 2.22 FIP in 114 IP before suffering an elbow injury. He’s a top 100 prospect, and if he comes back well from the injury, the Yanks will regret the deal even more.

Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankee brain trust wasn’t asking for much out of Vazquez. They wanted 200 league average innings, which meant an ERA right around 4.20. All they wanted was someone to take the pressure off the three guys at the front of the rotation and young Phil Hughes in the back, someone they could ride hard all year and count on for length each time out. Vazquez didn’t give them that at all, pitching so poorly that he couldn’t even beat out Dustin Moseley for a spot on the postseason roster. Expectations were relatively low, and Javy failed to deliver on even that.

The Arbitration Question: To Offer Or Not?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The free agent signing period officially starts this Sunday, but free agency won’t begin in earnest until later this month when we know which players will force teams to give up a draft pick to sign them. Some are obvious; the Cliff Lees, the Carl Crawfords, the Jayson Werths, those are the ones we don’t have to think about. They’re going to cost you. But with players like Paul Konerko, Carl Pavano, and Frank Francisco, it’s not so obvious. That’s why we have to take the wait and see approach.

Quick primer on the rules: If a team offers one of their free agents arbitration and he signs elsewhere, they’ll receive two draft picks if he’s a Type-A (the signing team’s top pick and a sandwich rounder pulled out of the air) or just one if he’s a Type-B (the sandwich rounder). Of course the player has to decline that arbitration offer for the team to be entitled to that compensation, which is no longer a given these days. Salaries are coming back down to Earth and teams are shying away from older players, so the chances of these guys accepting arbitration has gone up considerably in recent years. But you knew that already.

The Yankees haven’t offered arbitration to any of their free agents in the last two offseasons, and there’s really no reason to expect them to alter that practice now. The last compensation pick they received for losing a free agent came way back in 2008, when they gained a supplemental first round pick for losing Luis Vizcaino (they used the pick on Jeremy Bleich). Yeah, it’s been a while.

Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte all qualified as Type-A free agents, and we know that it’s pretty much Yankees or bust for those three. Since the chances of them signing with another club are tiny, I don’t see the point in offering them arbitration. There’s nothing to be gained by it, and an offer would put all of the risk on the Yankees. There are worse things in the world than having those three on well, well above-market rate one-year deals, but I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to assume the risk given the tiny chances of the reward. Perhaps you feel differently.

Javy Vazquez is a no-brainer. He’s a Type-B who made $11.5M in 2010, and of course he was awful (-0.2 fWAR) due to stuff that deteriorated as the season progressed. The best course of action is to simply cut ties and walk away. I know the Yanks considered two draft picks to be part of the deal (he was a Type-A once upon a time), but things didn’t work out. No sense in trying to force the issue, let Javy walk with no stings attached. That leaves two more decisions to be made…

Lance Berkman

When the Yanks acquired Berkman at the trade deadline, he waved his no-trade clause under the condition that they would not pick up his $15M option for 2011. Usually it’s the other way around, the player wants the option picked up in exchange for agreeing to the deal. I guess that means Puma really doesn’t want to stick around and plans on exploring the open market this winter.

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Under normal circumstances, there’s no way you’d offer Berkman arbitration given his bloated salary and declining production (yes, I know he was pretty good with the Yanks, but his .345 season wOBA was the worse of his career), but this isn’t a normal situation. Berkman’s demonstrated a desire to get out of town by demanding that they decline his rather lucrative option, and unless he’s had a change of heart over the last few months, I think they should offer Fat Elvis arbitration and hope he declines.

Yeah, it’s very risky given his salary and the team’s not infinite payroll, but I think there’s enough writing on the wall to risk it. Granted, it’s not my money, so what do I know. If Berkman was a Type-A instead of a Type-B, I definitely wouldn’t offer because a team is unlikely to give up a high pick to sign him. But since that’s not the case, I say go for it. Be bold.

Kerry Wood

Wood earned $10.5M this year, which is a boat load for a reliever, even a closer (which he was at the start of the year). In fact, he was the seventh highest paid relief pitcher in baseball this season, just ahead of B.J. Ryan. Yeah, the Blue Jays are still paying that guy.

Anyway, Wood (a Type-B like Berkman) will probably be able to find a job closing games somewhere, but he’s not going to sniff that kind of annual salary again. Remember, he was on the disabled list twice before the trade, and his 26 innings with the Yankees were unfathomable lucky (6.23 BB/9, .235 BABIP, 98.1% strand rate). Considering those three things (improbability of finding that much money on the market, his health track record, and unsustainably good performance), I’d wish Kerry good luck and decline to offer him arbitration. If he accepts and you’re stuck with a $11-12M setup man … yikes. The Yanks have money, but that doesn’t mean they should spend it stupidly. Sorry Kerry.

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So assuming the Yanks offer arbitration to Berkman and Berkman only, they’ll receive one extra draft pick next year if/when he declines. Not much, but it’s better than nothing in a stacked draft class, especially when the Yanks are expected to forfeit their first round pick to sign a Type-A free agent of some kind. The deadline to offer arbitration is Nov. 23rd and players then have seven days to accept or decline, so this is going to sneak up before we know it.

Berkman, Wood, Vazquez qualify as Type-B free agents

This winter’s Elias rankings are out, and MLBTR provides the goods. Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood, and Javy Vazquez all qualify as Type-B free agents, meaning the Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick in next year’s draft if they sign elsewhere. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera unsurprisingly check in as Type-A’s, so in the unlikely event that they sign elsewhere, the Yanks would receive both a first rounder and a supplemental first rounder.

Of course, the Yankees have to offer each player salary arbitration to receive those compensation picks. The Yanks haven’t offered anyone arbitration in the last two years, and there’s no reason to expect them to start now. Berkman might accept given his salary ($14.5MM), ditto Wood ($10.5M). They’re unlikely to get that big of a payday on the open market, and regardless of how good they were down the stretch in New York, that’s just too much for spare parts. Forget Javy, no chance they offer him arbitration. Just sever ties and move on.

As a reminder, our 2011 Draft Order Tracker is up and running, so check back in throughout the offseason as picks change hands during free agency.