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Thursday, December 23, 2004
Anatomy of an undone deal

By Peter Gammons
Special to

Dec. 23

Frank McCourt first became aware of Javier Vazquez's reluctance to go to the West Coast over the weekend. He received permission from the Yankees for Vazquez to talk to Paul DePodesta, and as the Dodgers got closer to sending in the paperwork on the three-team Randy Johnson deal, the more they grew wary of Vazquez's familial concerns and convinced of his sincerity.

Javier Vazquez
Vazquez was an All-Star the first half of last season before it all came apart in New York.

There are a lot of he said/they saids here on who set what deadline for the physicals to be completed, albeit fewer than the rumors that have villainized Vazquez as the grinch who kept the Yankees and New York from getting Johnson for Christmas. But after Vazquez explained his side to DePodesta -- that his wife Kamille returns to Puerto Rico during every road trip to be with both sides' families, a practice that will become more important -- the Dodger GM told Vazquez that he, too, turned down a job opportunity in the East because of his wife's West Coast ties.

The Dodgers kept proceeding with the deal. They tried to get J.D. Drew and another pitcher, Derek Lowe or Eric Milton, signed to go along with the complicated trade that would have sent Brad Penny, Yhency Brazoban and Shawn Green for Vazquez, Mike Koplove, Dioner Navarro and Eric Duncan. Then came the question of the physical, and since the Yankees understand that it was a lot to ask for Vazquez, who'd just arrived in St. John with Kamille, their daughter Kamila and newborn son Javier Josue, to fly to L.A. two days before Christmas, Randy Levine asked McCourt to accept the physical and MRI done after the season. McCourt told Levine he'd have to be checked out by Dodger doctors, which couldn't happen with the Wednesday 5 p.m. deadline.

Vazquez did not refuse the physical, he asked that it be postponed, but the Yankees wanted the deal done and wanted the deadline. He did not ever threaten to refuse to report to spring training; he has a house in Jupiter, Fla., that is an hour from Vero Beach.

But by Tuesday, McCourt was convinced that Vazquez would, indeed, be miserable on the West Coast, would demand a trade after the 2005 season and be willing to walk away from the $25 million owed him in 2006-2007. "In the end," McCourt said, "what is more important than family? Anyone who knows us knows how strong and close we are as a family, and it's one value whose importance cannot be overstated. We came away with great respect for Javy's honesty, integrity and value system."

Vazquez, of course, is now a dead man walking in New York, persona non grata, because the Yankees are supposed to get whatever they want. He may be dumped on Arizona in another Johnson deal (which could be followed by a flip to Florida for A.J. Burnett), or moved through yet another third party. George Steinbrenner is willing to spend $60 million to get Johnson, between the 2005 contract, a two-year extension and portions of Vazquez's deal he is willing to swallow. If you want someone badly enough to pay $60 million to get him, you'll get him.

Vazquez asked for no money, no perks, nothing except the grounding of his family that made his trade to the Yankees, and signing, so intriguing. But after going 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA and making the All-Star team in the first half, he, like Mark Mulder, struggled in the second (4-5, 6.92) as his once-tidy delivery got inexplicably out of whack. In New York's eyes, Javier Vazquez should be forced to the court of that very tasteful New Yorker Donald Trump, so everyone could see him nod forward with his prematurely orange hair and proclaim, "you're fired."

Problem is, Trump, George Steinbrenner and Randy Levine can't fire Javy Vazquez. He is what they would call a dreaded "bad contract."

There are many complex factors in a player's drive to his contract. One is his competitiveness; when Pedro Martinez averages 200 innings a year and Red Sox management suggests a voidable contract, the competitor in him erupts. And competitiveness not only translates to winning the battle, but being able to get more than someone else. Then there's the agents' need to get the best deal possible, for future business. The union believes that this is a 200-year labor war that cannot be won if $1 is left on the table for personal happiness.

But teams can set values on players and walk away. Seldom do they, and soon thereafter they blame the player because their agents made promises that their bodies can't keep.

Take Manny Ramirez. He is the classic "bad contract." He cleared waivers a year ago and nearly got traded to the Mets. He also happens to be close to the best right-handed hitter in the game, he is a very nice person without any evil intent, he has the right priorities (a World Series ring and the Hall of Fame over the MVP) and by and large played very hard.

It isn't Alex Rodriguez's fault that the Rangers had to dump his contract. When has he ever not played hard, or well? Shawn Green may have been hurt and often lets guilt about his contract affect him, but he is human and a fine human being. Ditto Carlos Delgado. Jeff Bagwell has an arthritic condition that cannot be cured. The Pirates didn't have to sign Jason Kendall to that contract, nor did he try to get hurt.

There are players like Mark McGwire, Junior Griffey, Scott Rolen, David Ortiz, Mariano Rivera and Brad Radke who sign contracts not based on market value, but other values. Which is fine. Ortiz wanted to stay in Boston, and Fern Cuza respected his wished. Same for Sam and Seth Levinson with Rolen.

But salaries have become such an obsessed public landscape that players are judged like factories. Problem is, they are human. Jason Giambi is human. Ramirez. Bagwell. Kendall.

"What Javier Vazquez cares about isn't more money or something that shows off his status as an All-Star pitcher," McCourt said. "He cares about his family, first and foremost."

Giants better with age
  • The Giants signed star outfielder Moises Alou to a two-year contract. Alou, 38, joins Omar Vizquel, 37, Jeff Fassero, 41, Mike Matheny, 34 and Armando Benitez, 32, as this offseason's free agent signings.

    C-Mike Matheny, 35
    1B-J.T. Snow, 36
    2B-Ray Durham, 33
    3B-Edgardo Alfonzo, 31
    SS-Omar Vizquel, 37
    LF-Barry Bonds, 40
    CF-Marquis Grissom, 37
    RF-Moises Alou, 38
    Average age: 36

    They tried hard to get Dave Roberts before the Red Sox shipped him to San Diego for Jay Payton and Ramon Vazquez. But they would not deal a pitcher; Boston either wanted a prospect (Matt Cain or Merkin Valdez) or Dustan Mohr and either Jesse Foppert, Brad Hennessey or Noah Lowry. So Roberts was traded elsewhere and the Giants got Alou, the RBI machine, to bat around Bonds.

    Diamond Notes
  • The Astros did not feel they could risk the $4 million that Wade Miller could make in arbitration, especially with Drayton McLane loading everything up to try to bring Carlos Beltran and Roger Clemens back to Houston. But the Red Sox got encouraging medical reports from Dr. Lewis Yocum, ran their own physical Wednesday and figure he's worth the risk. Put it this way: if Miller is healthy, the only free agent on the market with better stuff or upside is Pedro Martinez. And the combined guarantees of Miller, David Wells, Matt Clement, Matt Mantei and John Halama for next season is less than the $17.5 million Martinez earned last year. "If Wade takes a little longer to come back," said one Houston official, "what they may have is the best pitcher acquisition in the middle of the season."

  • The Astros have been talking to some of the lower level free agents like Scott Schoeneweis and Ismael Valdes, since right now all they have are Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte and Brandon Backe. But pitching prices keep skyrocketing. "When Orlando Hernandez gets two years guaranteed for $8 million when he's thrown 84 (actually 84 2/3s) innings in two years," said one AL GM, "how can you blame Esteban Loaiza for asking for two years?"

  • Detroit non-tendered 1B-3B-C Eric Munson, who still may hit and is drawing interest from the Cubs, Red Sox, Devil Rays, Twins and others.

  • Scott Boras told other interested teams last week that he would hold off shopping Jason Varitek until his situation with Boston was decided one way or another, with Jan. 8 the drop-dead date. And it should be completed Friday at four years, $40 million.

  • "The market price for a third starter these days is $8-9 million, a fourth starter $6-7 million," said one AL GM. "What Billy Beane has done is get Dan Meyer and Danny Haren -- two young pitchers who are in the third- or fourth-starter area for the next three years at a total combined cost of $6-9 million. The A's may drop back to 85 wins, but they also could have that young bullpen come quickly, and with a positional team that is better. They could win 90 games in a season in which they're rebuilding."