New Additions To Rotation Will Have Impact

Most Yankees fans will think of the 2003 offseason for its losses, not its gains, and there were many. The pitching staff has dramatically changed, and there will be two additions to it this year that will be sure to make an impact: Javier Vazquez who came over from Montreal in the Nick Johnson deal, and ex-Cub Jon Lieber who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his pitching elbow.

Vazquez's decision numbers are not lights out as his career record is 64-68. However, this was the same thing that was said when the Yankees signed their ace for this year, Mike Mussina, after the 2000 season. Moose's won-loss numbers were never lights out as most of his time was spent pitching for a Baltimore Orioles team that always seemed to fall short of expectations. It was his ERA that showed how good of a pitcher he really was, and the same case can be made for Vazquez.

Pitching in the doldrums of Montreal, Vazquez is not a name you hear much for pitching awards because he hasn't won more than 16 games in his career, but he is one of those pitchers that pitching gurus know about. It is his ERA and innings pitched which jump out at you. At a time when the league ERA has hovered in the 4.00s, Vazquez has only had one year (2000) when he had an ERA over 4.00, and that was 4.05, since he became a mainstay in the Expos rotation.

Having an ERA a run lower than the league average shows how important a pitcher is to his team, not wins. If you give up a couple of runs a game on a team which only scores 3-4 runs a game, you will be the hard-luck loser a good number of times throughout the year. Mussina can attest to this, both while he was in Baltimore (in 1998 he went 13-10 with a 3.50 ERA) and even in New York (in 2001 he went 17-11 with a 3.15 ERA). Vazquez will be one of those core guys who could be "the guy" much like Andy Pettitte was over the past few years – the guy who you could count on when you need eight innings pitched (Vazquez has averaged 218 IP) and that hard-fought win. He will give you the chance to win every time out, and with a lineup as stacked as the Yankees, Vazquez - at the young age of 26 - is a guy who should be signed long-term during the offseason, so he can become the mainstay and fan favorite that the recently departed Pettitte was.

This is not to say Lieber won't be an impact player this year, because he will. The 33-year-old Lieber is almost done recovering from surgery on his right elbow to repair torn ligaments. Lieber was the Chicago Cubs' workhorse in 2000 and 2001 giving the Northsiders reason to think "wait ‘til next year" with Kerry Wood being the up-and-coming fireballer he was. However, in the last year of his contract, Lieber's 2002 season was mired by elbow trouble and, once the Cubs were out of it, Lieber opted for elbow surgery, which would keep him out of the 2003 season and make it hard for him to sign a contract for 2003. While the Cubs wanted nothing to do with the bum elbow of Lieber, the Yankees signed him, knowing that they could potentially have trouble with Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells being at the end of their contracts.

The Yankees signed Lieber to a two-year $3.5 million contract, one which paid Lieber the minimum in 2003, a year in which Lieber was told to rehabilitate his elbow and not worry about trying to get back too quickly. Now that Lieber is ready, he will make an impact at the end of the rotation. Fighting for the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation with righty Jose Contreras and lefty Wells, Lieber - like Vazquez, Mussina and Wells - is a guy you can count on for quality innings, something the Yankees had trouble getting out of their starters at times last year, meaning a long bridge to closer Mariano Rivera and exposing the Yankees' bullpen troubles. Lieber will help to make the bridge a much shorter one, even though the Yankees have upgraded their pen with Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon, and the return of Steve Karsay.

The 2004 Yankees will be a very different group from years past, however, if you look at them on paper, they can be as good as the 1996 or 1998 teams, they just have to prove it on the field, and Vazquez and Lieber will be key components if the Yankees are to take a shot at their 40th American League Pennant and 27th World Series Championship.

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