The Javy Vazquez trade turned my mind back to his initial acquisition.
The Yankee World Series loss in 2003 was a painful one. Today, we regard it as the end of the dynasty era. The Yankees made the World Series in 6 of 8 years, but had lost the last two. The Yankees wouldn’t make it back until they won the 2009 World Series, but with a decidedly different team. I strongly believe that the 2004 offseason was the most important of my lifetime for the Yankees, and for baseball as a whole.
Brian Cashman had a huge job on his hands after the 2003 World Series loss. The 2003 team was one heavily reliant on its starting pitching. Andy Pettitte, David Wells, Mike Mussina, and Roger Clemens were all 200 inning starters, and the bullpen was solid. The team’s position players were not so healthy. Years of pitching dominance and aging hitters had left the team with a lot of holes. Players like Raul Mondesi, Karim Garcia, Aaron Boone, Robin Ventura, Enrique Wilson, Ruben Sierra, and a declining Bernie Williams received significant playing time. Jason Giambi was about to fall off the steroids cliff, and Derek Jeter’s defense started to look real bad. To make matters worse, the Yankee farm system was at an all-time low.
The star rotation dissolved away from the Yankees. Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte moved home to Houston. David Wells departed for San Diego. Jeff Nelson and other top relievers left for free agency. Brian Cashman had a gargantuan task on his hand: get back to the playoffs, despite a surging Red Sox team. He made the following moves:
- Acquired Kevin Brown for Jeff Weaver, Brandon Weeden, and Yhency Brazoban
- Acquired Javy Vazquez for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate
- Signed Gary Sheffield to a 3-year, 37 million dollar contract
- Traded Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias for Alex Rodriguez and cash
- Signed Tom Gordon to a 2-year, 7.25 million dollar contract
- Signed Paul Quantrill
- Signed Tony Clark
- Signed Orlando Hernandez
- Signed Travis Lee
- Moved Jose Contreras to the rotation
That’s a ton of action! And we thought the Yankees were busy this year. The 2003 and 2004 teams didn’t look a thing alike. Brian Cashman acquired two of the NL’s best pitchers in Brown and Vazquez, and arguably the two best available hitters in Sheffield and Rodriguez. He dealt from a position of strength with Nick Johnson, having Jason Giambi to man 1st base, and sacrificed star young 2b Alfonso Soriano to get the best player in baseball in Alex Rodriguez. Jose Contreras in 2003 looked great, and ready to start.
To make matters worse, things just didn’t seem to go according to plan all season. Giambi, Mussina, Vazquez, Brown, Contreras, and to a degree Alex Rodriguez struggled. However, the Yankees offset those issues with power. The 2004 team hit 242 home runs, including 16 from Tony Clark, 23 (!) from Derek Jeter, and 17 from Ruben Sierra. They won 101 games, and almost made it to the World Series.
2004 was the beginning of the arms race in the American League. The Yankees added 30 million dollars worth of payroll, and would add nearly 75 million from 2004 to 2005. It was the first “All star at every position” attempt by the Yankees, and they succeeded. While the pitching was left behind, its hard to fault Brian Cashman for that. On paper, the Yankee rotation in 2004 looked only a little bit worse than 2003. I think that Cashman did an excellent job, all things considered. I remember thinking that Vazquez in particular was a great move at the time, even if it didn’t work out.
Tomorrow, I’m going to take a look at the 2005 offseason, where I think Cashman deserves less praise. The late-Torre era had a lot of highlights and a lot of flaws, and this was the offseason where those stories started.