I think it’s safe to say that most of us assumed Vazquez would make the team due to his $2 M salary this year, and that the only way to avoid Vazquez taking up a bench spot would be if another team traded for him, or in the seemingly unlikely event that the Pirates released him and ate his contract.
Now it seems that releasing Vazquez isn’t so unlikely. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened. Kovacevic points out that the Pirates ate Matt Morris’ $10 M salary in 2008, although that was after Morris put up a 9.67 ERA in his first five starts. The Pirates also signed Byung-Hyun Kim to a major league deal prior to the 2008 season, paying him a guaranteed $850,000, only to cut him at the end of Spring Training.
An interesting note in the article was Huntington’s response to whether he would consider a trade (sending a guy like Vazquez out):
“We have to. We’ve got six guys, realistically, for four jobs. So, we’ve got to make the right decision for the organization. I wouldn’t comment on any one player specifically, but we’ve got more people than we have jobs.”
The part I find interesting is the “six guys for four jobs” comment. We can assume that Huntington is talking about bench jobs, which raises the question as to who the six guys are, and what the four jobs are. I’m assuming that Jason Jaramillo is secure as the backup catcher. If the Pirates went with a five man bench, that would leave four more spots, but Huntington’s comment would mean that Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby weren’t guaranteed jobs (although I don’t think anyone has those two as anything less than locks to make the team). The reality is that there are two spots open on a five man bench.
Of course, the Pirates don’t have to go with a five man bench right away. They could get creative with their rotation and go with a six man bench. The Pirates have an off-day on April 6th, which means that rather than having the 5th starter pitch on April 10th, Paul Maholm could return on five days rest. In order to avoid every other pitcher going on four days rest, they would need a spot starter on April 11th (D.J. Carrasco?). After that, the Pirates could go with a four man rotation, with every starter getting at least five days rest, until April 24th, at which point they would need a regular five man rotation.
With a five man bench, the Pirates have Vazquez, Brandon Moss, Delwyn Young, John Raynor, Steve Pearce, Brandon Jones, and Neil Walker competing for two spots. That list is seven players, and Huntington said six players were competing for spots, which makes me think a guy like Walker isn’t really in this competition, despite being on the 40-man roster. Pearce and Jones currently have options remaining, but Vazquez, Moss, Young, and Raynor have to make the team, or risk being lost to waivers.
Even if the Pirates got creative with their 5th starter position, which essentially puts off any decision until late-April, I’m not sure I’d want Vazquez to make the team. If they had three spots open, right now I’d want Moss, Young, and Raynor, with Moss being the one on the chopping block once April 24th rolls around. If they went with a normal five man bench, I’d go with Young and Raynor, and hopefully get something in return for Moss and Vazquez.