When righthander Javier Vazquez was acquired from the Montreal Expos back in December of 2003, the deal was viewed as one that would put the Yankees over the top and back to their World Series winning ways.
At the time, they were coming off a disappointing loss to the Florida Marlins in the Fall Classic and needed a public relations boost. Trading for one of the top young arms in the game – who was winning despite playing for a weak team in limbo – was mostly lauded and although the Yankees had to give up a few good young players, they appeared to have gotten the best of the deal.
Going north of the border were first baseman Nick Johnson, outfielder Juan Rivera and lefty reliever Randy Choate. Johnson was the big name in the trade, but was expendable with Jason Giambi in the fold.
A hot first half resulted in Vazquez being named to the American League All-Star team, but he faltered as the season wore on. Most Bomber fans will not recall his 14 wins, but rather an abysmal early relief appearance in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series to cap off a monumental collapse to the Boston Red Sox, who went on to break the Curse of the Bambino and win it all that year.
Although he did not know it at the time, Vazquez’s days in the Bronx were numbered. By the time January rolled around, he found himself on the move again, this time to Arizona as part of the Randy Johnson deal. He then went on to pitch for the White Sox (2006-08) and Braves (2009).
Last summer, Vazquez finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting after going 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA in Atlanta. He pitched over 219 innings and finished second in the league with 238 strikeouts.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman felt that the time was right to bring Vazquez back and he certainly will be coming in under much different circumstances. For one, the team is coming off a dominating season and a World Series win. Secondly, there will be a lot less pressure and expectations from him as the number four starter. With CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte ahead of him, Vazquez can be the best back end of the rotation starter in the game and is still only 33 years of age. With Vazquez earning at least 10 wins each year this past decade, he became just the 10th pitcher in major league history to do so. That becomes even more special when you consider that eight of the other nine are enshrined in Cooperstown.
Sent to Atlanta was a package that included three players and cash. Outfielder Melky Cabrera, lefthander Michael Dunn and righthander Arodys Vizcaino were moved with lefthander Boone Logan also coming to New York.
Cabrera was well-liked in the clubhouse and played with spirit but with the earlier offseason acquisition of Curtis Granderson, he was slated to slide over to left field and battle it out with Brett Gardner and even possibly Xavier Nady, who is a free agent that the Yankees have expressed interest in bringing back.
If Vazquez can just do what he needs to and not put any pressure on himself, he will be just fine. An innings eater and strikeout artist is not easy to find these days, especially as a luxury instead of a necessity. And that is what he is on a team like the defending champions.