I figured that this was news sufficient to drag me out of the cave to blog.
Word last night was that the Yankees were looking to acquire a pitcher, one who would not be dealt simply in a salary dump. This morning, multiple sources revealed that it was Javier Vazquez in whom the Yankees were interested and, later this morning, eventually re-acquired along with Boone Logan. In return, the Yankees dealt Melky, Mike Dunn, and a player to be named later to the Braves. In all, this is a good trade, albeit one that opens as many questions in the outfield–and the rotation–as it answers with the acquisition of Vasquez; not necessarily bad questions, but uncertainties nonetheless.
Due to make $11.5 million in the last year of his three-year contract, Vazquez has been largely good and continued to be very reliable since the Yankees, in essence Randy Levine, dealt him to Arizona for Randy Johnson after the 2004 season. Having thrown at least 198 innings in each season over the last decade, Vazquez has also fanned at least 200 batters in each of the last three seasons. His last season with Atlanta was impressive, with Vazquez posting a 15-10 record with a 2.87 ERA, fanning 238 in 219 1/3 IP while walking just 44. That ERA will likely rise a good run-plus/inning in the AL but, should he post as the fourth starter something such as 15-10, 4.20 ERA over the course of 200 innings, while striking out roughly 1 per inning and keeping the walks down, I would definitely be happy with that. While the kids would be fine options for the fourth and fifth starting spots, the Yankees got a guy who, if healthy, is sure to go 200 innings despite turning 34 next July, post a pretty good record, and strike out some guys with a fastball still in the low 90s, a good change, and a nice slider and curve. He gives up a decent amount of homers (28 in a 162-game average over his career), especially when he leaves his fastball up, so that bears watching. He also ended his tenure with the Yankees on more than a down note, surrendering the grand slam to JD in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS collapse. He won’t have it easy with some Yankees fans, but is also older and more experienced now, presumably without an arm injury, and without the burden of being a staff ace with a big new contract extension. Instead, he is a good veteran slotted into the fourth spot pitching for a contract next year. That might bode very well for the Yankees.
In exchange, the Yankees gave up Melky, who may have been their starting left fielder and who came off a resurgent 2009 season in which he hit 13 homers, drove in 68, and hit .274/.336 while returning to the starting CF spot. They also gave up hard-throwing lefty reliever Mike Dunn, whom the Yankees interestingly did not trade for Granderson. This does a couple things. One, it opens up a sizable hole in the OF. It could be that Gardner plays center and Granderson moves to LF, especially since he has the better arm, and perhaps Hoffmann gets some platoon time against lefties in LF, with Granderson playing CF when Gardner sits.
More likely, to me, is the Yankees’ acquiring another outfielder who is better offensively than Gardner, and plenty are available for a reasonable price. The Yankees have expressed some interest in Mark DeRosa, but he is going to be 35 in February and had surgery on his wrist, causing his average to dip to .228 in 68 games with the Cards. Marlon Byrd is still available and, although he doesn’t walk a ton, he hits for power and can play all three outfield positions. The Yankees could make a big push for Holliday or Bay, but that seems unlikely given the Yanks’ push to maintain payroll costs. I wouldn’t want Bay regardless, given his defensive limitations. Despite what Mark Feinsand of The New York Daily News rightly said on ESPN this morning that JD’s ship with the Yankees might have sailed, I wouldn’t completely rule out his return. This bears watching.
The trade also adds a lefty reliever in Logan who, while not great in his career (5-5, 5.78 ERA in four seasons), is good against lefties (.231 BAA last year). They already have Marte, who came alive late last season as Coke faltered and was especially outstanding against the Phillies in the World Series. I thought that once the Yanks dealt Coke (pardon the pun) to the Tigers, Dunn would get a shot to make the club. Although erratic, Dunn’s arm is lively and, if he develops better control, he might get a chance to replace set-up men Soriano and Gonzales sometime in 2010. Now, perhaps Logan can be the LOOGY, and Marte can be freed up to work an inning at a time. If Logan doesn’t pan out, he is easy to replace.
We’ll see what this portends for a second lefty in the bullpen, but with the rotation consisting of a very deep C.C., A.J., Pettite, and Vazquez, this forces a decision on or competition between Joba and Hughes for the fifth spot. Both did very well in setup work–Joba to end 2007 and start 2008, and Hughes for much of 2009. I really cannot say who would be better suited for which role, for while Joba has more experience starting and has done better, the Yanks might see him and his comportment as better suited to relieve. The issue with that is a likely innings cap for Hughes in 2010, which would be about 150 since he only threw 86 innings last season. I am also not sure whether or not Hughes’s complementary pitches are sufficiently developed quite yet, whereas Joba has three good ones–fastball, curve, and slider.
Right now, it is tough for me to decide who should go where because each has been excellent relieving, and neither has a large body of work starting, so I am not sure whom to put in the rotation. At the same time, I don’t think they could go wrong with either in the bullpen. Both thrived there, and the bullpen is currently comprised of Rivera, Robertson, Marte, Aceves, possibly Gaudin and Melancon (the latter of whom would be better served with regular work in SWB if he doesn’t get/earn it in The Bronx), with Joba or Hughes to presumably assume the primary setup role. That’s pretty damn good. The more pertinent question to me is who starts, not who relieves, and it is more than a rhetorical ploy.
Look for another move from Cashman for an outfielder, though they might surprise me by sticking with Gardner and Hoffmann. Personally, I don’t see it. Good move from Cashman, to me, to re-acquire a guy in Vazquez whom he liked in 2004 and whom he did not deal to Arizona. That was Levine’s doing the Steinbrenner’s bidding. Vazquez had his struggles in the second half of 2004, no question, but apparently pitched with a bad shoulder. As a fourth starter, now in his early to mid-30s and entering the final year of his contract, Vazquez fits very nicely into the fourth spot behind Pettite. This gives the Yankees not just four very good starters, but ones with myriad strengths–C.C. and his hard-throwing repertoire, A.J. and his fastball/change/power curve combo, Pettite and his cutter/curve. and now Vazquez with a good fastball/change/slider/curve with sharp movement to all his off-speed pitches. Personally, I wasn’t worried when the Red Sox acquired Lackey. Now I am even less so, for Vasquez as a number four starter is better than most other teams will match against him.
Cashman deserves a lot of credit for a good hot stove season thus far–Granderson, Hoffmann via Rule 5 from dealing Bruney, re-signing Pettite, landing Vazquez while holding on to Joba, Hughes, and Montero, and keeping costs reasonable. Vazquez is costly but just for this year, and the Yankees can keep him if he succeeds in 2010, and jettison him if he does not. I am disappointed that they did not re-sign Matsui, but the offense is still the best in the majors, and they might still add to that.
Anyone fearing the consequences of Boston landing Lackey–not exactly a doomsday scenario–can rest a bit easier now, in my opinion.