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Best wishes for Gene Monahan

You’ve probably read by now that longtime Yankees trainer Gene Monahan is battling a serious illness and will miss his first Spring Training since the early 1960s. Over at the LoHud blog, Sam Borden wrote, "Every baseball reporter has a story about the time they got sick or the time they stabbed themselves with a pen or the time they got a bloody nose in the clubhouse, and Monahan is a great guy who was always there with a band-aid or a Tylenol."

I have a story like that. About five years ago, I went up to the Stadium to do some interviews. My pass was mislaid, and I spent about an hour outside the press gate in the midday sun while the Yankees tried to locate the guy who could resolve the problem. It was a terrifically hot day. I didn’t realize it, but I was becoming dehydrated, and my choice of beverages that morning, which involved caffeine and more caffeine, wasn’t helping. The interior of the old Stadium, though dark, was cramped and warm. A little while later I was in the Yankees' clubhouse chatting with a couple of colleagues, including my YES-mate Jon Lane, near Tanyon Sturtze’s locker, when an odd feeling overtook me. I remember thinking, "Gee, I feel funny. Maybe I should sit down for a—" I never finished the thought. The room went fuzzy. Something hard hit me in the face. Fade to black.

The next thing I saw was Gene Monahan leaning over me. I was on the floor; that’s what had hit me. Gene had waived some smelling salts under my nose and was checking me over until the paramedics could come in for me. Someone told me I fainted and that Gene was taking care of me. "I’m sorry," I told him.

"Don’t worry about it," he said.

"I must be taking you away from an important hamstring pull or something."

"That’s okay."

"I’m so embarrassed."

"Don’t be. This happens once a week."

"Really? You have a sportswriter keel over once a week?"

He laughed. "Well, no, not really."

Hey, at least he tried. At that point the ambulance crew arrived and loaded me onto a gurney for my trip to the hospital. I was loaded up with fluids and released with an embarrassing rug-burn on my forehead and nose. It all turned out to be much ado about nothing -- half a decade on, I’m still here (knock wood). Still, I will never forget the experience of being carried out of the Yankees' clubhouse as players and pundits alike looked on, and I will always be grateful to Monahan for taking care of me. I wish him the best of luck and a speedy recovery from whatever ails him.

It seems to me that the move of the offseason that’s been undeservedly forgotten is the Yankees’ acquisition of Javier Vazquez. With all the focus on Johnny Damon’s departure and uncertain future and Vazquez’ unsatisfactory stay in pinstripes back in 2004, the move has totally flown beneath the radar, though it gives the Yankees far better pitching depth than they had last year. The 2009 postseason hinged on not having to go to a fourth starter after CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte. Now the fourth man is in place if he’s needed, or if one of the other pitchers slumps, is injured, or gets old.

Boston has gotten far more ink for signing John Lackey. Lackey is a very fine pitcher, but consider that over the last three years, Vazquez has made 97 starts, thrown 644.1 innings, struck out 651, and posted an adjusted ERA of 119. Lackey has made 84 starts, thrown 563.2 innings, struck out 448 batters, and an adjusted ERA of 129 (the raw ERAs are 3.48 for Lackey and 3.74 for Vazquez). Lackey has allowed fewer runs but has been less durable and has a skill set that may be more vulnerable to fluctuations. PECOTA projects Vazquez to post a 3.74 ERA, Lackey 3.60, which is close enough to be a wash. Whether Vazquez is there or three-fourths of a run higher during the regular season, that should be just fine given what should be a solid Yankees offense.

Vazquez also completely makes what would have been the process of getting Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, or both back into the starting rotation a sideshow instead of the main event it would have been had the Yankees not brought him on. This is a guy who would be a second starter for a lot of teams and the Yankees have him at number four. There are a lot of ifs in this year’s rotation beyond the fifth spot -- will last year’s workload weigh down Sabathia, can Burnett stay off the DL for another year, does Pettitte have another year in him, and how far will Vazquez fall back from last year’s career-best season? If some of these things break the right way, the rotation could be one of the best in team history. No one seems to have noticed.