I find it funny how Red Sox Nation is treating the trade of Javier Vazquez to the New York Yankees.
I have seen many message board posts stating that Vazquez was a plus-4.00 ERA pitcher in the American League and that John Lackey is younger (he’s 31 and Vazquez is 33) and a better “money” pitcher.
OK. For arguments sake, let’s say all of that is true. But that the benefit is all to Lackey because of these reasons is very short-sighted.
The fact is this: The Yankees have added a pitcher that in 10 seasons has never pitched less than 198 innings. In effect, the Yankees have four pitchers who are capable of pitching 200-plus innings.
Vazquez is also a strikeout pitcher. In the new Yankee Stadium there is no better weapon against the longball flying out in the wind current in right-center than a strikeout pitcher. The Yankees have three of them in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez.
But the real reason that Vazquez helps the Yankees has nothing to do with the starting rotation. Vazquez in the rotation is huge boost to the bullpen.
For one thing, the Yankees starting four will provide the bullpen fewer innings that they will have to pitch. That gives pitching coach Dave Eiland and manager Joe Girardi an opportunity to use the bullpen judiciously and not have to tire any one pitcher out.
But the greatest boon to the bullpen is that it is almost a foregone conclusion that either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes are now free to become the setup man for Mariano Rivera.
That is not very good news to American League teams in 2010.
Last season the bridge to Rivera was supposed to be Brian Bruney. Though Bruney admirably lost weight and showed great command in April last season, an elbow injury landed him on the disabled list twice.
When he returned Bruney was not the same pitcher he had been. His command was lacking and hitters pounded him every time he fell behind in the count. The Yankees chose to deal him to the Washington Nationals just as the Winter Meetings started.
Another bridge from last season, left-hander Phil Coke, lost his job in the bullpen to veteran Damaso Marte in the postseason and he was traded to the Detroit Tigers in the Curtis Granderson trade.
In the absence of a legitimate bridge to Rivera this season, it looked as if David Robertson was the odds-on favorite to take the job until the Vazquez trade. Though I remain a big fan of the young Robertson and see him as a huge contributor in the bullpen in 2010, Chamberlain and Hughes provide more peace of mind because both have pitched in that role before.
If I had a choice of the two, I would move Chamberlain to the bullpen because he has not proved to me that he can pitch with the same confidence and command as a starter. He also struggled keeping his pitch count down and could not stay in games long enough.
Switched back to the bullpen this postseasn, Chamberlain was 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA. His ERA as a starter was 4.95. You tell me in what role he pitched better?
Remember that Hughes became the setup man by accident last season. He was supposed to have been sent down when Chien-Ming Wang came off the disabled list last season. But he stayed and with each relief appearance he got better until he was given the eighth-inning role exclusively in July.
But the Yankee brass has insisted that they think of Hughes as a starter and that he would begin the 2010 season as a starter. The confidence Hughes gained pitching out the bullpen should serve him well this spring.
Though Hughes would have to pitch under an innings limit of about 140 innings in 2010 like Chamberlain has the past two seasons is not a major hurdle either. Hughes, as the No. 5 starter, could start about 15 games or so and then shift to the bullpen at midseason in favor of swingman Chad Gaudin.
The Yankees bullpen next season will include Rivera, likely Chamberlain, Marte, Robertson, lefty Boone Logan (obtained along with Vazquez), Alfredo Aceves and Gaudin. If Logan or Aceves don’t pitch well there is some pretty good depth behind them.
Sinkerballer Jonathan Albaladejo has made the 2008 and 2009 teams by pitching well in the spring and he could do it again. Edwar Ramirez is still working to correct his flaws with his change-up and he made the team in 2009. The Yankees also have hard-throwing right-hander Mark Melancon available.
So the Vazquez siging, it would seem to me, would be a great boost to the bullpen. Can you imagine a stretch run with the Yankees having a bullpen of Rivera, Chamberlain, Hughes, Robertson and Marte? I would think that would be enough firepower to shut down any team after six innings.
And the Yankees will have a rotation that can easily pitch past six innings, if necessary.
So I am sorry, Red Sox Nation.
Though you seem to claim Lackey is better than Vazquez, you are missing the real point of the trade. The deal offers the Yankees what could be argued is one of the best bullpens in baseball.
I think the fact the Red Sox have lost Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner this off-season and they may lose Jonathan Papelbon to free agency next season would heighten the importance of depth in their bullpen.
Without depth in the bullpen in the American League East you are sunk. The Vazquez deal assures the Yankees have plenty of depth in 2010.
Your move, Theo Epstein!