Six years ago, Javier Vazquez came into Yankee spring training, being touted as the "ace" of a shaky Yankees pitching staff, but also looked at as the future of the most storied franchise in baseball.
Early on, Vazquez didn't disappoint and was even named to the 2004 American League All-Star team.
What happened after that, is what many Yankee fans are not completely sure of. Many fans felt that Vazquez crumbled under the pressure of New York, which ultimately culminated in giving up a grand slam to Johnny Damon in Game Seven of the ALCS, to cap off the biggest collapse in sports history. There were also many rumors of Vazquez being hurt down the stretch that season, and that he had a "dead arm."
But no matter what exactly happened, that was then, and this is now.
Now, Vazquez is back for his second tour of duty in pinstripes, and this time, he's in a completely different situation than in 2004.
In 2004, Vazquez was the "future ace" of the Yankees staff, and had a lot of expectations put on his shoulders. This past off-season, Brian Cashman made what may have been one of the best trades he has made as Yankees General Manager. He gave up the fan-favorite, but replaceable Melky Cabrera for Vazquez and Lefty reliever Boone Logan. Look at it this way: Cashman gave up an outfielder who has an unimpressive .269 career batting average and only 36 career home runs in five seasons as a Yankee, for a proven starting pitcher who will eat innings.
Vazquez is coming off of a career year where he went 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA, and 238 strikeouts. Now, the main knock against Vazquez here is that this career year that he had came in the National League, where the offenses are not as potent, and you essentially get a free out with the ninth hitter being the pitcher.
But here's something that you can't take away from Vazquez: In eleven seasons in the Majors, he has thrown 200 or more innings in nine of those seasons. He's had over 200 strikeouts in five of those seasons, showing that he has tremendous stuff.
So even if Vazquez doesn't put up that 2.87 ERA like he did last season, he's going to take the ball every fifth day and is going to keep the team in the game. And with a Yankees pitching staff that already includes C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, all Vazquez needs to do is eat innings and keep games close. He's not being counted on as an "ace". He's simply being looked at as a piece to the puzzle, a No. 4 starter.
Although the Yankees won the World Series last season, they did have one weakness in their postseason run: They used a three-man rotation, which caused pitchers such as Andy Pettitte to be used on three days' rest in the World Series. The Yankees got lucky with this rotation set-up last season, and who knows if they'll be able to get away with it again. If Vazquez can give the Yankees quality innings, he could give the Yankees a solid fourth starter in the postseason, if the Yankees should make it again (and they should).
And with the Yankees offense, all that's asked of Vazquez is to eat innings and to keep the games close enough for the team to win. Vazquez is in a much better situation in this tour of duty with the Yankees than in 2004, and in my opinion, this better situation will lead to a huge success for the Yankees in 2010.