NEW YORK — When Javier Vazquez last threw a pitch for the New York Yankees, it was a nadir in the team’s storied history. He gave up two homers to Johnny Damon, including a key grand slam, as the Yankees lost Game 7 of the 2004 AL championship series to Boston.
Now Vazquez is back, acquired Tuesday from the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Melky Cabrera as New York tweaks its championship roster in an effort to win back-to-back titles.
“Hopefully, I can erase those memories,” Vazquez said.
And while Vazquez has returned to fortify a rotation headed by CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, there still appears to be no room on the 2010 Yankees for Damon, a key to this year’s World Series win.
General manager Brian Cashman said he didn’t intend to add another “high-end player” with “dollars attached on a large scale.”
That would appear to exclude Damon, who turned down the Yankees’ $14 million, two-year offer last week and countered at $20 million as the team was reaching an agreement with Nick Johnson to become its designated hitter.
Coming off a $52 million, four-year contract, Damon hasn’t lowered his price enough for suddenly budget-conscious New York.
“The Yankees have always been about impact players and Johnny certainly has proven his value to the team in the locker room, on the field, in key situations in the postseason,” Damon’s agent, Scott Boras, said Tuesday. “It’s rare that those types of players are available to you at short-term reasonable costs to assist a team in repeating a world championship.”
In a trade that pushed New York’s payroll for next season over $200 million, the Yankees also obtained left-hander Boone Logan and sent the Braves a pair of pitching prospects, left-hander Mike Dunn and right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, along with about $500,000.
It’s hard to imagine the Yankees using Brett Gardner or winter meeting draft pick Jaime Hoffman as their regular left fielder.
While Cashman sounded as if he was ruling out Damon and fellow free agents Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, Mark DeRosa could fit into his price range. While DeRosa’s agent, Lonnie Cooper, has spoken with Cashman, Cooper said the GM hasn’t discussed any “next steps.”
Atlanta had six starting pitchers after giving Tim Hudson a $28 million, three-year contract in November. The trade left the Braves with a rotation that includes Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami.
“We knew that we would have an extra pitcher that would allow us to improve our club in another area and so we have worked hard the last two months to try to figure out the best package that we could acquire,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
Vazquez, a 33-year-old right-hander, is coming off an outstanding season. He was 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts this year for the Braves and finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting.
One of baseball’s most durable pitchers and top strikeout artists, Vazquez has reached at least 198 innings and 32 starts in each of the past 10 seasons.
He started 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA for the Yankees in 2004 and made his only All-Star team but faded to a 4-5 record and 6.92 ERA after the break, when he was bothered by an aching shoulder.
His first stint in New York ended miserably, when he relieved Kevin Brown trailing 2-0 in Game 7 of the ALCS and allowed a first-pitch grand slam to Damon, then gave up a two-run homer to Damon in the fourth.
Vazquez was dealt to Arizona after the season in the trade that brought Randy Johnson to New York. Following a year with the Diamondbacks, he spent three seasons with the Chicago White Sox, where manager Ozzie Guillen said he hadn’t been a big-game pitcher.
“I don’t really want to get into, you know, Ozzie said this or whatever,” said Vazquez, who has a 142-139 record and 4.19 ERA in 12 seasons.
He will make $11.5 million next year and can become a free agent after the season. New York’s top four starters will combine for $64 million in payroll — more than four teams paid their entire rosters last season.
With the trade and including the not-yet-finalized signing of Nick Johnson, the Yankees’ payroll stands at $200.9 million for 16 signed players. The trade allows Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes to remain in the bullpen.
“There’s a whole domino effect that this one transaction actually has through our 12-man pitching staff,” Cashman said.
Cabrera had been the Yankees’ starting center fielder for most of the last three seasons. After losing the job to Gardner during spring training this year, he quickly regained it and hit .274 with 13 homers and 68 RBIs, helping the Yankees win the World Series for the first time since 2000. But he has a .239 postseason average with just six RBIs in 67 at-bats.
A versatile switch-hitter, Cabrera made $1,425,000 last season and is eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.
“He has the ability to play all three outfield positions,” Wren said. “He’s just the perfect complement for the way we like to play the game.”
Logan, acquired by the Braves from the White Sox in the Vazquez trade last December, was 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA in 20 relief appearances. He held left-handers to a .231 average and figures to fill the hole created by the departure of Phil Coke, sent to Detroit in a deal that brought New York center fielder Curtis Granderson.
The 24-year-old Dunn had a combined 99 strikeouts in 73 1-3 innings at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Double-A Trenton, going 4-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 38 relief appearances. He made his major league debut on Sept. 4 and had a 6.75 ERA in four appearances.
Vizcaino, who is 19, was 2-4 with a 2.13 ERA at Class-A Staten Island, striking out 52 in 42 1-3 innings. With the deal, Atlanta freed up payroll to acquire a power hitter.
“We’ve been focused on that all offseason,” Wren said.