The news of Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo in Puerto Rico to scout the retired (but only sort of) SP Javier Vazquez has been a breath of fresh air for baseball pundits, whose lungs have been sufficiently blackened and exercised by the recent Hall of Fame balloting, and the ramifications of those results.
For Rizzo and the Nationals, the potential signing of former Expo Vazquez is a shrewd one, but still one that is a bit curious. With the signing of Dan Haren earlier in the offseason, it was thought by many that not only did Washington have their starting rotation set for 2013, but it was arguably one of the top 5 rotations in the league.
To spend time and effort courting a player who would be an awkward fit at best for the team - the signing of Vazquez would have him slotted as a sport starter/long relief/AAA insurance policy type of arm should Dan Haren or another starter's health befall him- doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If you also take into consideration the reality that Vazquez could easily slot into the starting rotations of a number of contending teams immediately, foregoing any potential trips to the bullpen or the minor leagues that would most assuredly be part of a deal with the Nationals, it makes for curious conjecture.
I'd like to add some of my own curious conjecture. What if the perfect spot starter target for Rizzo and the Nationals was still available, has as good, if not slightly better, numbers than Vazquez, and would be conducive to a mid-season deal should a starter miss significant playing time?
Here are the career numbers for both Vazquez, and this mystery player (all stats courtesy of Fangraphs):
|Javier Vazquez||165||160||450||443||2840||8.82||8.04||2.42||1.18||1.25||0.295||38.6 %||11.0 %||4.22||3.91||3.75||55.1|
|MYSTERY PLAYER||163||96||357||335||2213||8.74||7.39||2.08||0.79||1.2||0.299||47.2 %||9.1 %||3.28||3.37||3.57||51|
Quite similar, with a slight edge to Mystery Player, simply for the fact that he does a better job of keeping the ball in the park, and runners off base, seen with his better BB/9 and HR/9, and ground ball rates (GB%).
The last couple of years of production for each player looks like this; keep in mind, this table consists of data from the 2011-12 seasons, but for Vazquez, it's really just 2011:
|Javier Vazquez||13||11||32||32||192.2||8.31||7.57||2.34||0.98||1.18||0.279||34.2 %||8.0 %||3.69||3.57||3.87||3.2|
|MYSTERY PLAYER||13||13||41||32||198||10.55||6.91||2||0.95||1.39||0.333||45.1 %||9.6 %||4.32||3.68||3.75||3.3|
Again, very similar production, though we do see that while Vazquez (kinda-sorta) retired on a high note, Mystery Player has been a victim of the Law of Diminishing Returns, confirmed by the rise in WHIP and FIP as compared to career numbers.
So who is Mystery Player? It's none other than Roy Oswalt .
Oswalt, recently of the Texas Rangers, is similar to Vazquez in that he is also in a semi-retired purgatory, but is happy to ply his trade for the right team at the right price, with said team preferably a contender. Another deal with terms and timing similar to what he signed with the Rangers last season could be an alternative for the Nats, should another team swoop in and give Vazquez more money or innings than what the Washington are willing to this coming season. Oswalt, who was signed midseason to take over the rotation spot of Neftali Feliz once he was shelved due to Tommy John surgery, could fill a similar role for the Nats, giving them a veteran presence and a mid-season band aid, should one of the rotation miss a significant amount of time due to injury. The only question that lies with Oswalt would be his current health status, given his balky back, and his ability to be ready to pitch immediately, should the Nats call his name.
The possible signing of Vazquez is predicated upon a number of conditions being satisfied for it to be a reasonable pursuit for the Nationals. While sources point to Vazquez pitching well in the Puerto Rican winter leagues, he is still over a year departed from throwing significant MLB innings; how he prepares for and handles a possible return to the majors remains a question mark for any team who signs him. There also remain questions regarding his other demands and stipulations - will he take a minor league deal? Will he pitch out of the bullpen to start? Likewise, Oswalt comes with baggage - is he totally healthy? Will he be ready to make immediate contributions to the team should he be signed in the middle of the season. For the Nationals, the answers to these questions come down to picking the lesser of two evils; while both players have the potential to be solid contributors as injury replacements, they both have stipulations that require a significant amount of compromising in order to be worthwhile signings.
For now, these questions and answers remain an academic exercise for the Nats, in many respects, a fire drill should the flames of injury be fanned a little too vigorously. Fortunately for Rizzo, he has his choice of firemen to call on to extinguish those flames, should the alarm be sounded.