People don't realize it, but it's pretty tough being a Yankee fan. You have to get used to seeing your nestlings leave the nest long before they're ready to make room for bigger birds. But this is the way the Yankees have always operated and, as long as George Steinbrenner is in command, will always operate. The difference this time is that while the Yankees usually do this kind of thing mid-season for a quick fix (as I mentioned in my last column), this time they're making the move with an eye on the future.
The provision that this deal is based around is the assumption that the Yankees are able to sign Vazquez to an extension. It's unknown how long that extension will be for, but it will likely be around $7-9 million per year for however long it is. Vazquez is only 27 years old as of right now, right around the age when pitchers generally enter their prime, and he appears to be coming into his own. If the Yankees can lock Vazquez up for at least four years, they could have an ace to go with Mike Mussina in the rotation.
Vazquez's numbers, short of his W-L record were downright filthy in 2003. He was 10th in the NL in ERA, fourth in WHIP ratio, third in strikeouts and second in innings pitched. He tied for the third most Quality Starts in the NL (22 of his 34 starts), had the fourth-highest K/9 (behind names like Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Curt Schilling himself) and K:BB ratio. Every single one of those numbers points to a high level of success for the youngster.
So what was my problem with the trade? It's simple, I had grown attached to Nick Johnson. As a Yankee fan, you have to learn not to get attached to prospects, because they very rarely stick around long enough and usually end up leaving town. Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano (so far) are notable exceptions, but I remember growing fond of Shane Spencer and Ted Lilly before they were shipped out.
Johnson was a special case though, he was quickly becoming one of my favorite Yankees because he seemed to fit in so perfectly. He played excellent defense at first base, he had a left-handed swing tailor made for the Stadium, he had a quiet, business-like demeanor at the plate that just gave you the feeling like he knew what he was doing up there and he perfectly fit the "mold" that the Yankees have been trying to follow since the mid-90s. Johnson was an expert at being patient at the plate, and that didn't go unnoticed. His .422 OBP would have been the third-highest in the league had he garnered enough plate appearances to qualify.
I'll miss Juan Rivera too, but for different reasons. Rivera was a standout in the minors, and I really just feel bad that he came up at a time when the Yankees didn't need an outfielder. I'm excited about the fact that both he and Nick The Stick will have more opportunities to shine in Montreal/San Juan/Portland/Washington, and you'd better believe that I'll be following the Expos closely in 2004.
But for now, I'm going to have to rest in the quiet knowledge that the Yankees always do this to me and to the rest of us Yankee fans out there. The good news (and the bottom line) is, the Yankees are almost never wrong in their trades. The only prospect that they let go recently that has come back to haunt them is Mike Lowell. Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have always made the right moves over the last few years, so why does this feel like it could be different?
I guess we'll just have to hope that they're right.