The Yankees aggressively pursued Javier Vazquez, making him an early target of the Hot Stove/Cold War between the Bronx and Boston. Vazquez has always been someone who is both coveted and worrisome. Despite never being officially diagnosed with a significant injury, Vazquez has often run into a wall, but has always recovered quickly with a short rest. Over the last four seasons, he has been able to pitch over 200 innings with effectiveness. Given he started that streak at age 22, one could look at Vazquez’s history as a ticking time bomb or as proof that we have a new member of the Abuse Sponge Club (Livan Hernandez, Proprietor).
So the Yankees, trapped in their pro wrestling gotterdammerung plot line with the Red Sox, apparently have to go tit-for-tat in the wake of the Schilling deal. That’s not to diminish what they’ve achieved. Schilling might be more famous, and he might own Vazquez on a wargaming table. He’s also older, more fragile, and less likely to give his team 35 starts. In contrast, Vazquez is in his prime. At 27, he has endured and survived a heavy workload, and he’s far removed from an age when heavy workloads are sources of really desperate concern (take a look at Mark Prior’s workload if you want to be alarmed). It’s especially intriguing to see that Nate Silver’s latest PECOTA projections for him rank Vazquez as just about the most promising pitcher for value in the season to come. Then there’s Nick Johnson. We’ve touted Johnson for a very long time now, and we’ve seen that potential barely shine through a litany of worrying hand and wrist injuries. Nevertheless, he’s only 25, and his precocious progress through the Yankees chain deserves to be remembered for the promise it hinted at. It’s one of the reasons why the new PECOTA projections see him as the sort of player with tremendous breakout potential. Anybody who can reasonably project to hitting as well as Todd Helton without Coors Field getting an assist looks pretty valuable. There’s irony that among his closest comps, you’ll find a young Jason Giambi, but the blend of possibility and risk is perhaps best highlighted by the two most-comparable hitters: Darrell Evans (who went on to enjoy a career that deserves a lot more Hall of Fame consideration than he got) and Mike Epstein (whose fame endures for all sorts of reasons, some but unfortunately not all of them good).