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Javier Vazquez Digs Out His Pinstripes

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Whoever said that cringe-inducing cliché that one can't go home again obviously didn't have the New York Yankees in mind.

First, once heralded prospect Nick Johnson returned to the borough of his origin. Now the man Johnson was once traded by the Yankees for, Javier Vazquez, will also don the pinstripes again, giving them the above-average third starter they have so badly needed. (he was fourth in the NL Cy Young voting last season).

In 2004 Vazquez was a 27-year-old pitcher who had spent his six year career in in the low-profile environment of Montreal. In his fourth season he broke out as one of the most promising young stars in the National League, with his last three years with the Expos highlighted by low WHIPs and high K/9 ratios (sabermetric stats GM Brian Cashman was just becoming hip to). 

But Vazquez was only given one shot in 2004 New York and he didn't live up to expectations. Posting a 14-10 record with a 4.91 ERA, Javier was routinely pounded by hitters and serenaded by Yankee fans with Bronx cheers. Even his WHIP registered in at 1.268 (over a point and a half higher than the previous season) and his K/9 ratio plummeted from 9.4 in 2003 to 6.8 in his stint with the Yankees. After getting bombed by Boston in the infamous 2004 ALCS, the promising young pitcher was prematurely shipped off to the Diamondbacks for the aging and ornery Randy Johnson. And every Yankees fan remembers how well that turned out.

But after an excellent season in 2009 with the Braves when Vazquez went 15-10 with a career best 2.87 ERA and most importantly (especially now to the fully Sabermetric-embracing Cashman) recorded a pristine 1.026 WHIP and a career high 9.8 K/9 ratio against a career low 1.8 BB/9 mark, Javier is back with the Yankees. And this time New York didn't have to give up much for the pitcher.

While Melky Cabrera is unquestionably a fan favorite who will forever be remembered for his multiple clutch performances in 2009, if all goes as planned Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner should have center field more than covered. The Yankees, without argument, got the best of this deal, so the only question is whether or not Javier Vazquez can handle the Bronx pressure in his second tenure with New York.

But this time the pressure will be far less. Expected to anchor a 2004 rotation that included John Lieber, a pre-revitalized Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown (no comment necessary), Jose Contreras (and his Santa's sack of mental issues), and an aging (who knows how old?) Orlando Hernandez (who actually pitched well in limited time), Vazquez buckled under the strain of leading a team with championship expectations but less-than-championship-caliber talent.

This time around Vazquez will fit nicely into the middle of a rotation that is now fully rounded out, including CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes (the smart money is on Joba). Instead of representing the lone, young hope of an aging and inadequate pitching staff, Javy will be able to work within himself against most teams' second and third starters, allowing his natural ability to provide the Yankees with a pitcher that rivals John Lackey for the best third starter in all of baseball.

In seems ironic that the Yankees would re-sign two players from a period that represented consistent disappointment and volatility for the franchise. But by every measure New York and their general manager have simply corrected two mistakes. Nick Johnson was never a replacement for Tino Martinez. He is simply a fundamentally sound hitter that contributes to whatever team that employs his services by simply playing the game the correct way.

Likewise Javier Vazquez is not a No. 1 pitcher set to lead a team to the promised land. He is simply an excellent second or third starter that will pitch effectively and, when used properly in the correct situation, can help contribute to a collective effort to reach that promised land again.

Don't call it a reunion. It is simply the continuation of a sound philosophical approach that will continue to bring championships to New York for years to come. The team's success in the 2009 season can be largely attributed to their their "role players" like Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera that gave the New York Yankees the depth and versatility necessary to win a championship. By adding Johnson and now Vazquez, New York has improved on that sound doctrine of team building in an intelligent and relatively cost-effective way (we're not talking Roy Halladay money here), and have once again drawn — at the very least — even with their rival (and opening day opponent) in Boston.

Yankee Notes: The Vazquez deal would appear to be the end of the Yankees' high profile spending for the winter. Cashman stated — in relation to the Vazquez deal — that he "didn't intend to add another 'high-end player' with 'dollars attached on a large scale.' "

As reported by ESPN, that would seem to end the Johnny Damon era in New York, although with the Yankees admittedly anything is possible. But with Scott Boras as his agent, it is hard to imagine Damon as anything but a player who will require a contract that involves "large dollars attached to a large scale."

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