By Mark Feinsand AND Bill Madden / Daily News Sports Writers
The Yankees bolstered their rotation Tuesday by bringing a familiar face back to the Bronx.
Javier Vazquez, best remembered around these parts for serving up a grand slam to Johnny Damon in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, was reacquired by the Yankees in a five-player trade that sent Melky Cabrera, two minor-league pitchers and $500,000 in cash to the Braves. The Yankees also got left-handed relief specialist Boone Logan.
Vazquez went 14–10 with a 4.91 ERA in his lone season in pinstripes, pitching well enough to make his only All-Star team in the first half before a second-half collapse. His year ended with the dismal outing against the Red Sox in Game 7, and less than three months later, he was sent packing to Arizona in the Randy Johnson trade.
“As a baseball player, you know you’re going to have some good times and some tough times,” Vazquez said. “For me, ’04 was a tough time, but this is a great opportunity to come back. Hopefully I can erase those memories.”
Vazquez, 33, went 10–5 with a 3.56 ERA before the All-Star break in 2004, but he battled a sore shoulder for much of the second half without telling anybody, resulting in a 4–5 record and 6.92 ERA.
“It wasn’t an injury, my shoulder just didn’t feel right,” Vazquez said. “It may have been my mistake that I never said anything, but that’s over with. I’m ready for a brand new start.”
In addition to Cabrera, the Yankees sent left-hander Mike Dunn to the Braves along with Arodys Vizcaino, a 19-year-old righty ranked last week by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in the organization.
Having pitched at least 198 innings in each of the past 10 seasons, Vazquez provides some much-needed stability at the back of their rotation. Vazquez ranks second to Livan Hernandez in starts (327) and innings (2,163) among big-league pitchers since 2000, while his 2,001 strikeouts this decade are second only to Johnson — the man the Yankees dealt him for nearly five years ago.
“(Vazquez) is a tremendous pitcher with a long career of success and durability,” Brian Cashman said. “The second half of ’04, which was poor, cannot erase the long success that he’s had in both the American and National League.”
According to a source, Cashman discussed a possible trade for Carlos Zambrano with the Cubs, who were even willing to take back Kei Igawa and the $12 million he’s owed over the next three years. But those negotiations fell apart when the Cubs refused to pick up any of the $53 million owed to Zambrano over the next three years, so Cashman turned his attention to Vazquez.
Vazquez will earn $11.5 million this season, the final year of the three-year, $34.5million extension he signed with the White Sox in 2007. Cabrera would have received more than $3 million in arbitration this year, so the Yankees added roughly $8 million to their payroll with the move.
Adding Vazquez to a rotation that already features CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte means the Yankees can now move either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain to the bullpen, as the pair will compete with Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin and Alfredo Aceves for the No. 5 job.
“Somebody is going to end up the odd man out of the rotation,” Cashman said. “If Opening Day was today and we were up at Fenway Park and everybody stayed healthy, we’re not going with a six-man rotation, so somebody is going to have to pitch in the bullpen.”
Although Vazquez’s first tenure with the Yankees didn’t have a happy ending, the circumstances are completely different this time around. Instead of being asked to replace Pettitte and Roger Clemens at the top of the rotation, Vazquez will now slot into the bottom half, where the Yankees are looking for him to give them 200 innings and 12 to 14 wins.
“We’re bringing Javy Vazquez in here to solidify the back of our rotation,” Cashman said. “We’re not saying he’s going to come in here and win 20 games here and lead us.”
Cabrera had been the Yankees’ starting center fielder for most of the last three seasons. He hit .274 with 13 homers and 68RBI last season and became a fan favorite with his knack for late-game heroics, as he had three “walk-off” hits.