Javier Vazquez interested in the Marlins


Following the general trend of chasing Marlins rumors left and right this week, Sun-Sentinel beat writer and friend of the Maniac Juan C. Rodriguez reports that free agent pitcher Javier Vazquez is interested in the Marlins as a destination, in particular due to the team’s proximity to his native Puerto Rico:

"Free agent starter Javier Vazquez has told associates he would love a return engagement in the National League, particularly with the Florida Marlins due in part to the proximity to his native Puerto Rico. Fellow Puerto Rican Edwin Rodriguez has a relationship with Vazquez, as do several members of the Marlins front office that had Vazquez in Montreal."

Remember, in 2009 Vazquez may have had his best season, a stellar lone campaign playing for the Atlanta Braves. However, he is also coming what was undoubtedly his worst season since his rookie year in 1998, a disastrous 2010 season with the New York Yankees. So there are a few angles which need to be considered for a move like this, so this would be as good a time as any to discuss them. Would the Marlins be making a good move in looking into Javy Vazquez? That depends on these aspects:

1) Do the Marlins need a starter?
2) How will Vazquez perform?
3) Do the Marlins have the money?

Is there a need?

The Marlins are heading into the 2011 season with three starters guaranteed spots as of right now. Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Anibal Sanchez are assured rotation spots, with Chris Volstad almost as likely to have a place in the rotation as well. However, a fifth rotation spot remains to be filled, and the Marlins are currently looking at two names to hold down that fort. Sean West and Alex Sanabia have both impressed the team at times, but remain significantly worse choices than the other four starters. West started 2010 out with a back injury, first getting on the field for Triple-A New Orleans on June 1st. Two months later, the Marlins called him up to replace the departed Nate Robertson before succumbing to a knee injury for the remainder of the year. Now there is news that West was shut down in the Arizona Fall League after experiencing elbow discomfort. None of that is good news for a player who has had a previous injury history in the minors, having missed an entire season in 2007 with labrum surgery.

Sanabia impressed late last season with a brief stint in the majors, pitching a strong 72 1/3 innings with an impressive 5.2% BB% and a 3.65 FIP to match up with his 3.73 ERA. However, there is obvious reason to believe that Sanabia isn’t as good as he pitched last season. Despite allowing just 35.6% of his balls in play on the ground, he allowed just six homers in those innings, a rate of 0.72 per nine innings. His xFIP of 4.57 is more indicative of how well he pitched last season, and that is sure to regress as well. Sanabia is still young, having just turned 22 late in 2010, so there is still time for him to develop. The Marlins will likely want to see another season in the minors from him, but injuries will probably force him to pitch in the majors more than they’d like him to in 2011.

In fact, it is this injury risk that makes the Marlins interest in another starter seem more legitimate. Last year, the Fish couldn’t squeeze out enough innings from Nolasco, but they lucked out on 195 innings from the injury-prone Sanchez. This year, we cannot expect to be so lucky. Given that Vazquez is known as a guy who can eat up a lot of innings, acquiring such a pitcher would be very beneficial not only as a replacement for the guys we have but a buffer for when those guys get hurt.

Is Vazquez still good?

This is a good question considering his 2010 season. Vazquez is coming off ayear in which he failed to throw at least 198 innings for the first time since 1999 because he was pitching so poorly. All of his numbers dropped across the board to a frightening degree. The Yankees did not hesitate to leave him off of the postseason roster, and even if you properly understand small sample sizes, a sudden drop to a 5.32 ERA and a 5.56 FIP has to scare you. So why should the Marlins be interested?

Well, obviously our best guess is that Vazquez isn’t this bad. If we run a crude projection like I have been for the last projections of Marlins acquisitions, you get Vazquez as a true talent 4.35 ERA pitcher. Such a guy in a league that scores 4.4 runs per game is worth just around 1.8 WAR in 185 innings according to my method. If Sanchez pitches this well, he’d be assured 185 innings as well. And of course, he is just two seasons removed from being one of the best pitchers in the National League. If the Marlins could get him on the cheap, he would be worth the price of admission.

Unless, of course, something has drastically changed since that excellent 2009 season that signifies a different talent level from that guy. Unfortunately, it does appear like there is an effect like that. Noticeable among the downturns of Vazquez’ 2010 was his fastball speed, which dropped from a clockwork-consistent 91-92 MPH to a surprising 88-89 MPH. For a young player, this would be something of a concern, but it would also be something that a team thought could be fixed. However, Vazquez is 36 years of age, and a precipitous fall in velocity could just be age hitting him quite suddenly (and ironically in New York once again). If you check out this article from Albert Lyu of FanGraphs, you can see that Vazquez also suffered from decreased control, particularly of that fallen fastball. As a guy similar to Nolacso who needs control and a variety of effective pitch types in order to make up for a lack of overwhelming stuff, this scouting information of decreased velocity and increased wildness may be a sign that we need to weight those previous seasons less.

Can the Marlins afford him?

You would think that after a terrible season like the one Vazquez had, teams would be shying away from him. However, this does not seem to be the case:

"Here’s the stumbling block: According to a source that has spoken to Vazquez, he’s already received some hefty offers, the kind the Marlins would have trouble meeting. Vazquez, 34, might sign for slightly less to pitch in South Florida, but it would have to be a competitive offer. At this point, it’s clear some teams are willing to overpay for Vazquez, who before last season had totaled 198 or more innings in 10 consecutive years. Coming off a down year with the Yankees, even Vazquez has been surprised at the money teams have put on the table for him."

The Marlins are the type of team who could benefit from a player using a one-year stint to recover his value on a cheap contract, but if Vazquez is receiving hefty offers, the Marlins will pass. Remember that the savings from the trade of Dan Uggla have been mostly used up in acquiring Omar Infante and signing John Buck. The Marlins have $3-4M left in their coffers according to various beat writers, and if Vazquez is looking for $8-10M to recover from that 2010, the Marlins will pass for either cheaper options or their in-house corps. As it has always been ith the Fish, it will ultimately come down to the money, but it is good to hear the Marlins might be interested and involved.