The Royals searched high and low for starting pitching options. By now, they’ve re-signed Jeremy Guthrie and traded for James Shields, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana. Prior to those moves, they were linked to Kyle Lohse, Anibal Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, R.A. Dickey, Jon Lester, and even lower impact pitchers like Carlos Villanueva.
In 2009, Javier Vazquez finished fourth in the National League’s Cy Young vote. The Yankees traded for him for the 2010 season, but he struggled and signed with the Marlins, where he was last seen in 2011. He didn’t pitch in 2012 and most assumed he’d retired at 35 years old.
Now, he’s going to pitch in the Puerto Rican Winter League and intends to pitch in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico as well. He says he’s been staying in shape and is ready to pick up where he’d left off, according to ESPN Deportes. He’s drawing interest from teams, including the Boston Red Sox.
I think he could help.
Vazquez pitched from 1998 to 2011, reaching 32 or more starts in all but two seasons. The two outliers saw him make 26 starts. In nine of those seasons, he walked 2.5 batters or less per nine innings. He reached 200 innings in nine seasons. He strikes batters out. I like pitchers like that.
He’s not perfect, of course. First, he hasn’t pitched in 15 months. Second, he’ll turn 37 in July. But pitchers can come back after long stretches of time off sometimes and older pitchers aren’t necessarily completely done. Now, both of those conditions together is pretty scary, and explains why there hasn’t been much said about him this offseason. I doubt many expected him to try to return and even if someone had, there are questions about how effective he can be.
Vazquez is a flyball pitcher and he’s prone to giving up home runs. His numbers haven’t been hurt quite the same as other home run-prone pitchers because he’s never walked very many and he can strike batters out, so he doesn’t have as many baserunners on when the homers occur and a lot of his outs come without the ball getting into play. Over his career, he’s been just above average with an ERA+ of 105. Best case is that he’s in shape and can stay at that level. There’s a lot of value in a pitcher who can throw close to 200 innings who doesn’t walk many and can get strikeouts.
Two factors are what make it unlikely that the Royals won’t even take a look. First, they’re already reportedly over their budget for 2013 after picking up Shields and Davis (and their contracts). Unless Vazquez was willing to take a low one-year offer or a minor league deal, he’s unlikely to sign with Kansas City. When he was still in the league, he made eight figures during his peak years. In his last year in 2011 (and coming off of a 5.32 ERA with the Yankees), he made $7 million. He could have probably demanded something close to that last year after a strong second half of 2011. He’s stayed away from the game for a year already, so if he’s not getting a deal he wants, it’s up to the itch of competition to drive him to sign somewhere. He could stay away if he doesn’t get even $4 million. Such a contract would require the Royals to trade off Luke Hochevar or Bruce Chen – something that’s proven to be difficult all offseason.
The second factor is contending. Vazquez wants to play for a contending team and be a part of a World Series winner. The Royals, after all their new pitching, are closer to that level, but they’re not the favorites in their own division. Vazquez would have to see himself as the final piece to the puzzle to go for a Royals offer. He was the #19 free agent of this offseason according to MLB Trade Rumors, so others will be looking too.
He could hang around and join a team mid-season like Roger Clemens had done in the past and Roy Oswalt did last year. That could give the Royals a chance to get close to the top of the standings and make their case. It may free up some more cash to go after another pitcher and, with two months or so gone from the season, it may make the deal more affordable.
These are all longshot scenarios, and really, there’s no guarantee that Vazquez can still be the pitcher he was before. If he pitches well in Puerto Rico, other teams will take notice and many are in better positions to make their case as real contenders than the Royals. If they’re interested, it may not matter if Vazquez doesn’t want to pitch for them.
Odds are the Royals are done. They feel comfortable with Hochevar and Chen as the last members of the rotation and, if something goes wrong there, they have Will Smith and other options to plug in until Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino come back from rehabbing injuries. But if they’re looking (and Vazquez is up to it), as I said before, I think he could help.
|162 Game Avg.||13||12||4.22||34||34||216||105||1.249||8.8||1.2||2.4||8.0||3.32|
|MON (6 yrs)||64||68||4.16||192||191||1229.1||107||1.274||9.0||1.1||2.4||7.9||3.25|
|CHW (3 yrs)||38||36||4.40||98||97||627.2||106||1.249||8.8||1.1||2.4||8.6||3.57|
|NYY (2 yrs)||24||20||5.09||63||58||355.1||87||1.337||8.9||1.6||3.2||6.9||2.17|
|ARI (1 yr)||11||15||4.42||33||33||215.2||100||1.247||9.3||1.5||1.9||8.0||4.17|
|ATL (1 yr)||15||10||2.87||32||32||219.1||143||1.026||7.4||0.8||1.8||9.8||5.41|
|FLA (1 yr)||13||11||3.69||32||32||192.2||106||1.183||8.3||1.0||2.3||7.6||3.24|
|NL (9 yrs)||103||104||3.99||289||288||1857.0||109||1.232||8.8||1.1||2.3||8.1||3.54|
|AL (5 yrs)||62||56||4.65||161||155||983.0||99||1.281||8.9||1.3||2.7||7.9||2.97|