The Yankees held a conference call with Javier Vazquez and Brian Cashman a couple of hours ago, and my goodness, I bet Vazquez never thought he would have to answer so many questions about six seasons ago.
But it's understandable. This trade has a unique dynamic to it, journalistically and from a fan's perspective, because the Yankees usually reacquire players associated with great success, rather than great failure.
Vazquez, always polite, said, "Obviously, as a baseball player, as an athlete, you’re going to have some good times. You’re going to have some bad times. It's a great opportunity to be back, and hopefully, I can erase those memories."
As for that 2004? He was hurting in the second half, for the first time in his career. Surely, as a consequence of that pain/discomfort and the results, his confidence took a hit. I just spoke with Mel Stottlemyre, the Yankees' pitching coach that season, who said, "I think it really hurt him that he wasn’t able to put together the second half that he would’ve liked to. His confidence did go downhill. "
I asked him about Ozzie Guillen's comments from just two years ago. Vazquez, saying, "I'm not part of the White Sox anymore," added, "I'll hopefully be part of another postseason. I'm glad I'm getting the opportunity (with the Yankees) again."
This whole "not a big-game pitcher" thing fascinates me, so I called Don Cooper, the White Sox's pitching coach, who worked with Vazquez from 2006 through 2008. Said Cooper, who stressed the respect he has for his boss Guillen: "If you pitch for (13) years, there's got to be some big games along the line. Or good matchups against some big teams."
So this deal made a great deal of sense for Cashman. It was just a matter of whether the Braves would trade Vazquez. That Atlanta did so, reflects the reality that there just wasn't a market for Derek Lowe, whom the Braves would've preferred to deal.
To hear Cashman speak, you could draw some pretty clear conclusions. First of all, not only can you write off Jason Bay, Johnny Damon or Matt Holliday to play leftfield, but you can probably write off folks like Mark DeRosa, too. The Yankees are hellbent on adhering to their budget of under $200 million, and if DeRosa was too pricey last week (and he was), then adding $8 million or so to their payroll (Vazquez's $11.5 million salary minus Melky Cabrera's projected salary of about $3.5 million) isn't going to change that.
As Cashman said, "Finding a quality pitcher is harder to find someone to play leftfield."
I asked Cashman whether they have contemplated a scenario in which Brett Gardner started in centerfield and Curtis Granderson in left. I have heard that floated by other Yankees officials. Said Cashman: "That scenario would be only if Brett Gardner proves he's the best centerfielder on our club. Curtis Granderson, we’ll pencil him as our centerfielder. If there are adjustments to be made, that's on our manager."
As for the starting rotation and bullpen, Cashman said that there would be a competition for the fifth starter's spot among Alfredo Aceves, Joba Chamberlain, Chad Gaudin, Phil Hughes and Sergio Mitre, although, as Joel Sherman reported earlier today, Gaudin and Mitre are trade candidates in spring training.
What the Yankees have to do with Chamberlain, IMO, is determine why his velocity jumped when he went to the bullpen for the playoffs. It certainly appeared that Chamberlain was more relaxed and more willing to air it out - and less concerned about injury. Chamberlain's game and body language changed, as a starter, once he suffered that shoulder injury in Texas, in August 2008.
Was it all mental? Can he get back to being a starter who can throw in the high 90s? If he can't, then he's the guy to go into the bullpen.