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Thursday, December 4, 2003
Yankees give up three players in deal news services

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees made their first big move of the offseason, bolstering their rotation by agreeing Thursday to acquire Javier Vazquez from the Montreal Expos.

Tom Candiotti's Take
The Yankees need to retool their rotation, and Javier Vazquez is a stellar fit.

Vazquez is only 27 years old and has a great arm. His command is his biggest asset. The right-hander hits his spots and keeps the ball down, displaying tremendous control. His 2003 numbers are All-Star caliber: just 57 walks in 230 innings with 241 strikeouts. A strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 4-1 is impressive.

I believe Vazquez's personality also will be a good fit for the Yankees. In fact, the pressure of playing in New York should make him a better pitcher. It's an opportunity for him to dial up the intensity. I've talked to Vazquez a handful of times, and I've been impressed with him.

One plus for Vazquez is that he won't be expected to be the savior. With Joe Torre's Yankees, it's all about the team. Remember the 1998 Yankee team that won 114 games and then won the World Series? No one star stood out.

How did the Yankees do in terms of keeping pace with the Red Sox and their recent acquisition of Curt Schilling? Well, for next year, Boston has the advantage on paper, because Schilling is a dual ace alongside Pedro Martinez. He's a veteran with a proven track record (and the 2001 World Series co-MVP).

But because Vazquez is 10 years younger than Schilling, this deal has tremendous upside for the Yankees. It bodes well for their rotation for years to come.

ESPN baseball analyst Tom Candiotti was a major-league pitcher for 16 seasons.

In exchange for the 27-year-old right-hander, New York sent first baseman Nick Johnson, outfielder Juan Rivera and left-hander Randy Choate to Montreal. The deal is contingent on all the players passing physicals.

"It's tough to trade a pitcher like Javier Vazquez, but I think we have a better opportunity with the situation going forward," Expos general manager Omar Minaya said at a news conference in Montreal.

The Yankees issued a statement acknowledging the trade but said they wouldn't make any additional comments until after the physicals, citing major league rules.

"The Yankees are a winning team, and now I will see myself getting involved in the rivalry of that team with Boston," Vazquez told the radio station WPAB in his hometown of Ponce in Puerto Rico. "The Yankees are a team that always wants to win, and what every ballplayer wants is to win."

Vazquez fills one of the holes in the Yankees' starting rotation. He went 13-12 with a 3.24 ERA for the Expos last season, ranking third in the NL in strikeouts with 241 in 230 2/3 innings.

He's three years younger than Bartolo Colon, a free agent that attracted the Yankees' interest.

"I think Vazquez is one of the better young pitchers in the game," Minaya said. "When he goes out there, he gives you everything. He's got one of the higher pitch counts in the game. That means he wants to be out there."

Minaya had been talking with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman for more than a month.

"Brian called me right after the season," Minaya said. "I told him, 'I don't have to trade Javier Vazquez. If you are interested, be aggressive.' And to his credit, he was aggressive."

New York's rotation, the backbone of its run to four World Series titles and six AL pennants since 1995, is unsettled. Roger Clemens retired, and Andy Pettitte and David Wells filed for free agency. In addition, Wells had back surgery Tuesday.

The Yankees' rotation includes Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver and Jon Lieber, who hasn't pitched in the major leagues since reconstructive elbow surgery in August 2002 but hopes to be ready for the start of the season.

Johnson, 25, played first base for much of last season because of Jason Giambi's knee injury after starting the season as the regular designated hitter. While he's regarded as a top hitter -- he batted .284 with 14 homers, 47 RBIs and a .422 on-base percentage -- he has been injury prone throughout his career.

Rivera, 25, hit .266 with seven homers and 26 RBI in 173 at-bats and has a strong throwing arm.

Fantasy Focus
  • Click here for a fantasy breakdown from the Yankees-Expos trade.
  • Choate, 28, pitched only 3 2/3 innings over five relief appearances for the Yankees last season, compiling a 7.36 ERA. He went 3-5 with one save and a 3.91 ERA in 54 games at Triple-A Columbus.

    Montreal, which is owned by the other 29 teams, is faced with payroll limits. Vazquez, eligible for salary arbitration, probably will get a raise from the $6 million he made last season after losing his hearing. He is eligible for free agency after next season.

    Johnson is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter; Rivera isn't yet eligible.

    New York will have to find another backup first baseman to spell Giambi, who had knee surgery after the season.

    Meanwhile, the Yankees are pushing ahead on several fronts.

    Gary Sheffield, who met Monday and Tuesday with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner at the team's spring training complex in Tampa, Fla., worked out Wednesday at the Yankees' minor league complex in Florida and took a physical Thursday.

    Sheffield, a free agent, is closing in on a three-year deal with the Yankees worth about $39 million. About $15 million of the money will be deferred, and the deal will include an option for 2007.

    In other news Wednesday, left-handed reliever Felix Heredia agreed to a $3.8 million, two-year contract to stay with the Yankees. Heredia was 0-1 with a 1.20 ERA in 12 appearances with the Yankees, who claimed him off waivers from Cincinnati on Aug. 25.

    Heredia had a $1.7 million player option for 2004, which he declined. His new deal calls for $1.8 million salaries in each of the next two seasons and gives the Yankees a $2.5 million option for 2006 with a $200,000 buyout.

    New York also is trying to re-sign Gabe White, another left-handed reliever. Chris Hammond, signed last offseason as a left-handed setup man, may be traded.

    The Yankees also are close to a $6 million, two-year agreement with right-hander Paul Quantrill, who played for the Dodgers last season. Backup catcher John Flaherty has agreed to a $775,000, one-year contract, but must pass a physical for the deal to be finalized.

    Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.