Over the weekend, the Daily News’ Anthony McCarron analyzed the Yankees’ recent acquisition of starter Javier Vazquez. To the right of that text, in a sidebar titled “JAVIER VAZQUEZ, RHP,” McCarron briefly summarized his article, and outlined both “The Positives” and “The Negatives” pertaining to the team’s newly acquired strikeout specialist. One of the negatives — actually, the only negative listed by McCarron — seems flawed, however.
“Why has a guy so talented been on five teams,” asks McCarron, as Vazquez’s geographical fluidity — he has been traded five times over the last seven years — is the lone question mark, according to McCarron, that is tied to the Puerto Rican hurler. Apparently, if we are to cull some sort of significance from Vazquez’s lack of a steady home, then perhaps we are to believe that being traded five times in a seven-year period is indicative of a performative deviancy or personality problem. In some way, he must be defective. “He was a Yankee in 2004,” adds McCarron, “and they did not keep him at a time when they wanted to build around young aces, dealing him for Randy Johnson instead.” Again, the general willingness to trade Vazquez, despite his abundance of talents, must indicate the presence of an underlying (and significant) issue, right? Well, not exactly, as such a simple explanation completely avoids context and history.
With regards to the first trade Vazquez was a part of — from the Expos to the Yankees — in December 2003, daunted by a substantial set of rotational worries after losing David Wells, Andy Pettitte, and Roger Clemens, the Yankees decided to make a move for the 27-year old Vazquez after his most impressive season — 230 2/3 IP, 241 K, 3.31 FIP — with a struggling Montreal franchise. According to Tyler Kepner, at the time, Expos GM Omar Minaya did not want to trade the blossoming right-hander, however, the Expos were owned by the MLB and subsequently had “strict payroll limitations” which forced their hand. Therefore, the trade had little to do with Vazquez and had everything to do with the Yankees’ desires — they needed a pitcher and wanted to answer Boston’s trade for Arizona’s Curt Schilling — and Montreal’s organizational situation. This, then, explains one of the trades Vazquez was a part of (his first of five).
In the second trade Vazquez was involved in, after a disappointing debut with New York, the Yankees, and, specifically, owner George Steinbrenner, decided to deal Vazquez, sending him to the Diamondbacks in return for Randy Johnson, a pitcher that the sometimes irrational Mr. Steinbrenner had long coveted. Many reports note that Brian Cashman, aware of the deal’s long-term implications, never wanted to deal Vazquez for Johnson, but, fresh off of a stunning ALCS collapse to the rival Red Sox, the Boss pushed the deal through despite Cashman’s objections and the Yankees landed the Big Unit before the ink had dried on Vazquez’s extension. In that trade, again, there was nothing really wrong with Vazquez. Sure, his 2004 was a failure, however, the decision to move him was based primarily on an emotional reaction had by a fiery owner. Again, Brian Cashman, like Omar Minaya a year prior, wanted to keep Vazquez, yet both GMs were coerced into a deal. Thus, McCarron’s musings about the Yankees’ decision to include Vazquez in a package for Johnson and his thoughts about whether or not the move was as a red flag are hollow.
After returning to the National League and tossing 215 2/3 innings for Arizona in 2005, at the end of the season, Vazquez was once again traded—this time, to the White Sox. Fortunately for me, there is no long story to recount, nor is there any detailed context connected to the move. Basically, Vazquez requested the trade as he was unhappy living on the west coast. As stated by the man himself in September 2006, “Last year [the trade to Chicago] was my call, and I did that based on my family mostly.” Further demonstrating that Vazquez was traded due to geographical preferences — there was nothing wrong with him that brought on the move — the right-hander signed an extension with the ChiSox prior to the ’08 season and included in the extension was a limited no-trade clause allowing Vazquez to block trades to NL or AL West organizations. So, once again, it appears as though there is no genuine substance to the “he who is traded on multiple occasions, during a particular span of time, is automatically a problematic pitcher” theory.
The only time this theory was allowed any gravitas was in 2008, when the hotheaded Ozzie Guillen, Vazquez’s manager with Chicago, openly criticized the pitcher in September for his lack of aggressiveness and, with that, his lack of success in critical (big) games. After the regular season was over, the comments by Guillen seemed to take their toll — Vazquez’s ERA was ugly, too, which probably made him look bad, although his FIP was under 3.74 — as Vazquez was dealt for the fourth time in six years. He packed his bags and headed to Atlanta to pitch for the Braves, who, according to Jayson Stark, had been interested in the Puerto Rican pitcher for years. Thus far, this is the only instance where Vazquez was traded as a result of his own “doing,” although I wouldn’t put too much stock into the “big game” criticism, for it comes from a man (Guillen) who has had issues with just about everyone in Chicago. Nick Swisher is another example of a guy Guillen didn’t care for, and he seemed to fit in just fine once he landed in the Bronx.
Finally, in Vazquez’s most recent trade, the right-hander was shipped back to New York after one season in Atlanta. Again, though, the trade did not occur because of anything Vazquez did performance-wise and it certainly was not the result of a poor attitude or troublesome clubhouse demeanor. Instead, desperate to sign a bat or two this winter, the Braves decided to unload one of their more expensive starting pitchers and Vazquez was the only player they could actually trade. Prior to dealing Vazquez to the Yankees, for weeks, GM Frank Wren had attempted to find a trading partner for the much older and much more expensive Derek Lowe. However, there was little interest in the former Red Sox as his contract was prohibitive. This, then, forced Wren to deal Vazquez, who he truly would have liked to keep after the righty’s sensational season (interestingly, being forced to trade Vazquez appears to be a common theme in at least four of the five trades). Also, it is important to note the Vazquez was dealt back to the Yankees, a team that once traded him. If the club did not actually like Vazquez after 2004, I doubt they would have reacquired him for 2010.
In the end, the notion McCarron alludes to, that Vazquez might somehow be defective due to his transient history, is lacking in its legitimacy as four of the five trades the veteran was involved in were not brought on by his own performance, personality, or any other individual issue (according to published reports). Instead, as I have outlined above, organizational context was part and parcel to each trade and, in most cases, it appears as though the cited GMs were actually forced to deal Vazquez for one reason or another. Therefore, to think the starter’s trade-centric career path suggests an underlying concern is false. Vazquez, like any pitcher, has some issues — for example, his fly ball rate, which could be a problem in Yankee Stadium — however, his nomadic past is certainly not one of them.
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