There's a feeling of deja vu in the Bronx air today.
According to multiple sources, the Yankees and Braves hooked up on a trade that will bring pitcher Javier Vazquez back for a second go-round in the Bronx. The move comes days after they signed free agent Nick Johnson, a player they dealt to Montreal to acquire Vazquez in December 2003.
Melky Cabrera, left-handed reliever Mike Dunn and minor league starter Arodys Vizcaino will head to Atlanta with lefty reliever Boone Logan joining Vazquez on a northbound train. While Yankee fans probably have less than happy memories of Vazquez's one year in pinstripes, with Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS figuring prominently in their nightmares, it's worth noting that was the worst year of his big league career. That's not going to stop talk radio and tabloids bringing it up nonstop for the next little bit, but the man's record goes beyond one game and one year.
Vazquez has made at least 32 starts in each of the last 10 seasons and thrown 200 innings in nine of them while flashing the kind of power arm that carried their pitching staff to a title. In 2009, Vazquez struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings and posted a sparkling 2.77 FIP (fielding independent pitching, i.e. things pitchers control absent defense) to go with a 2.87 ERA. If he gives the Yankees 85 percent of that performance, he does have a habit of following strong years with middling ones, he'll give them a fourth starter that's the envy of the rest of baseball.
There's more to like about the deal. Vazquez is under contract for 2010 only at $11.5 million. That's a reasonable salary for the Yankees and it does nothing to take away future salary flexibility while solidifying the weakest remaining spot on the Yankee roster. And, looking way ahead, will bring them two first round picks if he leaves as a free agent in a year's time. The move will allow the Yanks to avoid placing too much of a burden on the shoulders of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes and makes it more likely that one of them will be pitching out of a strengthened bullpen come April.
Cabrera's departure makes you think that there's another shoe to fall as the Yankees probably aren't willing to make Brett Gardner an everyday player for the 2010 season. It could mean Johnny Damon finds his way back to the Bronx on a bargain deal, it could mean a late poaching of Matt Holliday or something that isn't on the public radar screen as yet. Cabrera's coming off a strong season, but he's hardly irreplaceable and, ultimately, it is easier to find a left fielder than a quality starting pitcher.
They bought high on Vazquez, although we won't know about Vizcaino for a long time, but the move makes sense on every level. It's been a very strong off-season for Brian Cashman.