Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chicago Trades for Vazquez

The White Sox made another big move Wednesday, sending Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez, top outfield prospect Chris Young, and Luis Vizcaino to the Diamonbacks for starter Javier Vazquez. Vazquez's name will be added to a rotation including Mark Buerhle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras, and Brandon McCarthy as backup. This seems quite the impressive move, but i'm not so certain it will work out as planned.

I'm not contending that Hernandez or Vizcaino are worth much. They aren't. Hernandez is nearing the end of his career, as despite a memorable appearance in the playoffs, he had a 9-9 record with a 5.12 ERA last year. Its doubtful much of the old "El Duque" will show up in Arizona, where hitters might feast on his finesse stuff. Vizcaino wasn't bad last year, with a 6-5 record and a 3.73 ERA as a middle-reliever, but he was far from the best in a very good bullpen last year. He'll probably do fine for Arizona, but its Young they should be concerned about. After trading Aaron Rowand to the Phillies, Young seemed to be the natural replacement for Rowand. Brian Anderson will be out there next year, but he won't be able to replace Rowand's defense and he doesn't have the future capabilities of Young. In that sense, this deal may hurt them.

But, for next year, it seems to help a lot. But I question the move simply because I'm not sold on Vazquez. Realistically, he's had three good seasons and they were all with Montreal, in an extremely low pressure situation. He was great in 2003, when he struck out 241 batters, but when he signed with New York following a trade in January 2004, he regressed. He was 14-10 in New York with a 4.91 ERA, but he'll be remembered there for his horrible second half and the grand slam he gave up to Johnny Damon in game 7 of the 2004 AL Championship series.

Last year, with Arizona, he was inconsistent. He had streaks of excellent pitching, but he was a dissapointment overall, going 11-15 with a 4.42 ERA and .266 opponent batting average. The reason those numbers should jump out is because Chicago plays in a hitter's park that may not be so friendly to Vazquez, who gave up 35 HRs last year. Those numbers should jump out. If anyone expects Vazquez to come up here and post the numbers he did with Montreal, they are in for a dissapointment. Vazquez doesn't seem to handle pressure well (and the White Sox have plenty of it with big expectations next year) and he hasn't really regained his form since 2004.

Its possible that he'll catch on fire because of a very good staff and follow suit the way Jose Contreras did late last year. But I don't think there are any guarantees that Don Cooper will get to him the way he did with Contreras. He just got Contreras to trust his fastball. Vazquez has a much broader repertoire that includes an outstanding change-up, but his mechanical issues and inconsistent delivery remain problematic.

He'll probably win 12-15 games and have an ERA around 4.50. That won't hurt the White Sox too much if the rest of the staff performs up to expectations. But, in many ways, I believe that last year won't be repeated. Career years for Garland, Contreras, and basically the entire bullpen carried them to the World Series. Its hard to believe all that success will be repeated when the White Sox sold off a key member of that group (Rowand) for a ticking time bomb in Thome and now their future center fielder for what is now another mediocre starting pitcher.

Maybe he'll be like Loiza and surprise everyone with a great year. Its very possible that Chicago will be better next eyar. But Vazquez, like Thome, brings no guarantees with him. But the Twins should be nervous anyways, because there is no marathon trade for Terry Ryan on the horizon and the White Sox may have gotten a lot better this offseason.