In light of the recent news reports loosely tying Nationals left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez to performance enhancing drugs, and considering the injury history of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Dan Haren, I started wondering if it is time for Mike Rizzo to sign free agent starting pitcher and rumored target Javier Vazquez to bolster their starting pitching depth. Vazquez, who spent the first six years of his career as a member of the Montreal Expos, underwent minor right knee surgery last week but is expected to be fully recovered in time to pitch for his home country of Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic next month.
Although Javier Vazquez spent last season out of baseball after passing on free agent offers, choosing instead to spend more time with his family, in 2011 his last season in the majors, Vazquez provided the Marlins with a 13-11 record with a 3.69 ERA, a 1.183 WHIP with 162 strikeouts in 192.2 innings pitched, and for his 14-year career, Javier has a 165-160 record with a 4.22 ERA and 1.249 WHIP spanning 2,840 total innings. Vazquez struggled mightily in his two separate 1-year stints with the New York Yankees, as his 5.09 ERA in 355.1 innings pitched can attest to, which explains most of the discrepancy with his statistics between his 5 seasons in the American League (4.65 ERA, 1.281 WHIP in 983 innings pitched) and his National League numbers (3.99 ERA, 1.232 WHIP in 1,857 innings).
Vazquez resurfaced this winter pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter League, likely to prepare in anticipation of his World Baseball Classic appearance, and reports have been that his velocity has been between 92-95mph on his fastball with good control of the strike zone. Let me be the first to question the accuracy of those radar guns, as the now 36-year-old Vazquez averaged just 92.05mph on his fastball for his career and averaged 91.24mph back in 2011. (Thanks to BrooksBaseball.net) Even if the guns are running “hot”, these rumors still portend a good chance his arm is healthy, a great sign considering Vazquez made 31+ starts in 12 of his 14 seasons and made at least 26 starts every year. In addition to his fastball, Vazquez throws a sinker, both a slider and curveball as breaking pitches, and will on occasion flash a changeup to keep a left-handed hitter honest.
In light of his recent knee surgery, it probably behooves Vazquez’s contract negotiations to wait until after the WBC early next month, as we are late in the offseason, he’s injured, and he has not pitched in the majors since September 2011. I would assume even today because of the dearth of quality starting pitching Vazquez could find a guaranteed 1-year contract similar to what Jair Jurrjens received from Baltimore ($1.5 million dollars with incentives), but if he makes a few reasonably impressive starts next month, he might legitimately command a contract more similar to Jeff Karstens with Pittsburgh (1yr $2.5mm) or Bartolo Colon received from Oakland (1yr $3mm) earlier this winter.
The Nationals currently have one space available on their 40-man roster due to the recent trade of Mike Morse, and Vazquez would seem to be a clear upgrade over Zach Duke (career 4.52 ERA, 1.485 WHIP, .279/.332/.416 slash line against LHBs) as the team’s long reliever and emergency starter if healthy. The Nationals were extremely fortunate to have their top-5 starters make 150 of 162 possible starts last season, and due to the law of averages and the slight question marks involved with each member of their starting rotation, I believe Mike Rizzo would be wise to add a proven veteran to his pitching staff in 2013. If the front office could convince him today to sign for a 1-year major league deal worth $2 million dollars or less, I think they should take advantage and add Vazquez as valuable insurance and return him to the organization that originally drafted him back in 1994.