Building a cheap bullpen may be best

The Yankees set a new attendance record, but something is still missing
RAB Live Chat

Heading into the season, some complained that the Yankees didn’t have any “proven veteran” in the bullpen beyond Mariano Rivera. Ben, Mike, and I always responded with the notion that spending money on experienced bullpen arms doesn’t necessarily translate into success. Just look at Paul Quantrill, Steve Karsay, and other failed Yankees experiments. In The Wall Street Journal, Dave Cameron looks at pitcher salary vs. performance, and concludes that there’s not a strong correlation. He cites three closers — Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood, and Brad Lidge — who are making a ton of money but aren’t outperforming cheaper counterparts, like David Aardsma, J.P. Howell, and Brian Wilson.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to note just how poorly Juan Cruz is pitching. Mike talked about stealing him for just a fourth round pick over the winter, but Cashman did not pursue it. Then, when the Yankees bullpen was terrible in the first month and Cruz was pitching to a 1.67 ERA, people were up in arms. Cruz’s ERA has since ballooned to 6.17, and he’s walked 5.2 batters per nine. Anyone still mad at Cashman?

The Yankees set a new attendance record, but something is still missing
RAB Live Chat
  • manimal

    It was the right move to make at the time but I’m glad cash didn’t do it.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      You’re glad Cash didn’t do it out of hindsight. He didn’t have that benefit when making the decision. He made the call he thought was right, and it played out that way. That’s all fine and good, but it doesn’t color what was happening while he had the decision still to make.

      So no, just because you say it was the right move at the time does not make it so. There were plenty of arguments then, and even more now, which say that it was not the right move.

      • Slugger27

        youre 100% right… same with the melky/cameron proposed trade

        the results now say it WASNT the right move

        its unfair to say anything was the right move a long time ago and “it just didnt work out”

        • whozat

          Well, the results now say that not making the trade has worked out well for the Yanks. They’ve gotten comparable production for a fraction of the cost.

          • Slugger27


            i guess i just dont like the whole “it was the right move at the time” …. if u wanna say “it made sense at the time” or “i can see their line of thinking at the time” then i can understand that

            but in both cases, the results show the RIGHT move was not making those deals

      • Ross

        But Joe, manimal could turn around and say “Just because you say it was the WRONG move at the time does not make it so.”

        If you want to take about whether or not it was the right decision in the offseason you can’t justify that opinion using information collected since the decision was made (Cruz’s 2009 ERA)… unless of course you’re saying that it suggest that Cashman new something we didn’t (which would be a valid if not highly conjectural argument).

        • Ross

          Good God. Spelling and grammar fail.

        • Joseph Pawlikowski

          I didn’t say it was the wrong move at the time. I’m saying that people who thought Cashman was crazy for not signing Cruz are themselves crazy. There were plenty of red flags on him, including his Veras-like control. So, as I said, there were plenty of indicators at the time that it was not the right move, while there were some that said it was. Cashman weighed them and made his decision. For people to second-guess him in April is what I’m calling crazy.

          • http://Istillholditagainsthim.Aswe'veseen,BPdepthisamust,andgonearethedaysofsuper-bloatedSteveKarsaycontractsformiddlerelievers.3milayearismaybealittlebitsteep,butnotcrazy.Sure,he'sflamedout,butsodoal gxpanos

            I still hold it against him. As we’ve seen, BP depth is a must, and gone are the days of super-bloated Steve Karsay contracts for middle relievers. 3 mil a year is maybe a little bit steep, but not crazy. Sure, he’s flamed out, but so do a lot of guys. It’s hard to find RP’s with as good a chance as Cruz had at succeeding; if it only costs a 4th rounder and 3 mil a year, I still say it was worth it.

            The principle of this post is absolutely right: cheap relievers are better to build a BP with. But cheapness doesnt make them good at baseball; the flexibility and depth it allows for, because BP arms are so erratic, are the advantages of a cheap BP. Cruz was a relatively cheap option on a short deal–the kind of options you want out there, and options the Yanks are uniquely able to aquire because of their resources.

            If you dont want Cruz for 2 yrs/6 mil, why get Marte for 3/12? It’s inconsistent. Marte is marginally better than Cruz. Hence, 4 mil as opposed to 3. Even with 7 mil tied up in those two guys, the BP is cheap. It’s not like Marte is Maddux in terms of walks, either. Many times relievers have poor control. Cruz is only a half walk or so/9 wilder than Marte.

            In hindsight, Cash was right, but I still think he was wrong.

            • Joseph Pawlikowski

              Sorry, the comparison of Marte and Cruz just doesn’t hold up. Marte has been consistently good in his MLB career. Cruz has not. Not that I favored that 3/12 for Marte. Just saying the comparison isn’t sound.

              • gxpanos

                The comparison isn’t sound if you say they’re similar pitchers. I said Marte is better than Cruz, but paying Cruz 3/4ths of what you pay Marte is sound, especially since Cruz would be under contract for 2, not 3, years.

                If Marte is part of the BP philosophy for 3/12, then Cruz should be for 2/6.

                • The Fallen Phoenix

                  That’s not necessarily true. Just because you spend $10 on a hammer doesn’t mean you should then spend $8 on another hammer, especially if you only have $10 with which to buy tools.

                • jsbrendog

                  or, if you can buy a hammer for $10, $8, or $1, maybe you think you really need or like the shiny $10 hammer. fair enough. so you get it.

                  butj ust in case you buy the $1 hammer too cause you know it will get a lot of use and you don’t want to overwork your $10 hammer but if you work it in conjunction with the $1 hammer you’ll be ok. and if the $1 hamer breaks you go right back to dollar tree and just buy another one.

      • crawdaddie

        Based on Cashman’s interview with Francesa yesterday and what I’ve read over the course of the last 7 months or so, I’m not so sure Cashman could’ve convinced ownership (Hal) to spend the money on Cruz last offseason. Unlike his father, Hal doesn’t appear to sign off on an unlimited budget. Cashman has alluded to really having to battle for ownership approval for Tex and Pettitte with perhaps Cashman using up all his bullets for those two players, at least, as it concern signing more free agents last offseason.

    • Bo

      Maybe he would have thrived in a pennant race. Who knows? He certainly would have helped in Apr/May when the bullpen was beyond terrible.

  • Mike Axisa

    It’s not just the walks that are killing Cruz. His strikeout rate has literally been cut in half. He was a double digit K/9 guy for years, now he’s under six.

    • Ross

      Someone should tell him about a little product called “Swagger” from Old Spice.

  • Brett

    Really cool of you guys to point out these (your) misses and not just the hits

  • Bo

    You forget to mention having the best closer ever covers up a lot of mistakes in the pen.

    It would be a little different if Brian Wilson was closing here.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      Didn’t forget to mention. Figured it was implied.

  • Drew

    Bullpen arms are so volatile year to year. A 3 ERA arm one year has a good shot at being a 5 era the next. It’s probably because, for the most part, the most consistent bullpen arms are slotted into the closer role.

    Also, I was one of those geniuses that was crying when we didn’t get Cruz. I’m an ass.

    • Ross

      The point is you weren’t an ass regardless of which side of the argument you were on. It wasn’t a clear decision either way. In the end I still think that it was a 55% do it 45% leave him alone scenario. I said yes, but not that vehemently. The only asses were the people that were 100% convicted one way or the other – or, the people who were drawing conclusions that didn’t follow from the data at hand.

      • Joseph Pawlikowski

        I think you nailed it, Ross. I, too, was in favor of the move, but I didn’t bemoan Cashman in April because he didn’t make it. Those are my targets. To call out anyone else would be pretty inconsistent on my part.

        • jsbrendog

          wait….being a hypocrite blowhard isn’t part of being a yankee fan?

          ::had explodes::

          (but seriously, well played)

          • Bo

            Would he have been worse than Edwar, Alby, Veras, Tomko, etc etc etc? The only thing not in his favor was the draft pick. And after using 3 on high ticket items they were never going there.

            • jsbrendog

              yes he wouldve been worse. because he couldnt be sent to the minors and replaced, costs A LOT more monetarily, and wouldve severely limited the yankees options

  • Don

    Aardsma, Howell, and Wilson – you just named the 3 closers on my fantasy team. ; )

  • leokitty

    I think after the Kyle Farnsworth contract we’re not going to see a lot of FA relief pitchers in pinstripes. Part of the reason why I was boggled by the Marte deal, but LHP are harder to find and I can’t fault them for not having a premonition he’d miss basically the whole year.

    • jsbrendog

      kyle farnsworth had 1 yr of success previously, the yr before he signed.

      damaso marte had like, 8 yrs of success out of 9 previously, many in the al with the white sox. i sign pitchers like that almost every time.