Vazquez, Marlins discussions getting "hot"

This according to ESPN’S Jayson Stark:

Javier Vazquez isn’t a Marlin yet. But contract negotiations to bring him to Florida have gotten “hot,” according to one source familiar with those discussions.

Vazquez has been atop the Marlins’ shopping list for a week, since the trade of Dan Uggla freed up money for a veteran starting pitcher. And sources within the industry told ESPN.com late Tuesday that the club’s negotiations with the 34-year-old right-hander were “moving forward.”

It’s viewed as unlikely a deal would be finished until after Thanksgiving. But other clubs that have expressed interest in Vazquez are now saying they’re pessimistic about their chances of signing him.

This is interesting news for a team that usually never spends its dough on free agents. What I particularly find intriguing is the risk involved in a player like Javier Vazquez. Last season, he pitched very poorly, and it wasn’t all bad luck. His velocity has dropped and he was pitching more outside the zone than he had in previous years. Combine that with his advanced age (he is 34 years old) and those factors could be a sign of a rapid decline.

I have never thought it characteristic of the Marlins to offer deals to players with that sort of risk. The last two major free agents before this offseason that the Marlins nailed were Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado. In both cases, the players involved were “sure things,” insomuch that they were known to produce. What killed Rodriguez and ultimately drove him to sign a one-year deal late in the offseason were his initial demands and two consecutive seasons under 500 PA. In Delgado’s case, the Marlins simply won the bidding on a decently coveted free agent. As far as I recall, the Marlins have not spent money in low-year, high-risk deals because of their unwillingness to spend as a whole. Never have the Fish attempted a contract like the one the Oakland Athletics gave Ben Sheets last offseason, for exactly the same reasons why the A’s retrospectively regret the deal: there is always a chance the team will be stuck paying for no production.

At the same time, there are some good things going for him. The Marlins are interested in only offering one year to the right-hander, and it seems that is all he is asking for. That is a plus given the potential downside of the deal. If the Marlins catch a break, however, and Vazquez returns to even a halfway decent form, the deal will be a windfall. If Vazquez outperforms his contract, the Marlins will be able to happily offer arbitration knowing that he will be looking for a two or more year deal, thus receiving draft pick compensation for when he signs elsewhere. There is also the possibility of somewhat decent trade value if he performs well.

In my previous analysis of a possible Vazquez deal, I projected the pitcher with a normal (but crude) weighted projection method and got a true-talent 4.35 ERA. Such a pitcher would be worth 1.8 WAR this year, and if the price of free agents remains the same (and indications are that it is going up, in fact), that would be worth $7.2M in the market. If you think of that as the average expectation, the Marlins would be wise to go after him at the prices that have been quoted (Ken Rosenthal’s latest Hot Stove buzz says sources are saying the Fish have $3-8M to spend).

However, what if you weighed 2010 more, with the knowledge that Vazquez’ velocity has dropped and his control may have been compromised? In my previous methodology, I was weighing preseason projections at (7/12) and actual 2010 results at (5/12), to mirror a 5/4/3 weighted projection used in systems like Tom Tango’s MARCEL. But what if, instead of that breakdown, I used something like (5/12) for the preseason projections and (7/12) for 2010, implying that 2010 spoke more about Vazquez’ current true-talent than it usually would? Suddenly Vazquez’ projected ERA jumps to 4.62, implying just a 1.2 WAR pitcher worth $4.8M. Any further and we get even worse results, not compatible with a pitcher the Marlins would be willing to risk free agent money for.

So now that the Marlins have shown a healthy interest in Vazquez and that he has returned that interest in kind, the question will be whether the Fish think his 2010 problems were random variation or something much greater. Also, can the Marlins fix any physical, mechanical, or even mental issues (New York Yankees fans did always say that Vazquez couldn’t handle the Bronx) and return him to his more typical self? Since only Edwin Rodriguez and the Marlins speak with Vazquez, only they can know these answers. I personally believe it was a little bit of bad random variation and a decline in pitcher skill that caused Vazquez’ downturn. I can’t say for sure, but hopefully the Marlins will have a good idea of it before they have him sign on the dotted line.

Tags: Javier Vazquez Miami Marlins

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