Extracting value from Kei Igawa

What, exactly, does Johnny Damon think he'll get?
CC Sabathia's better than expected changeup

Since 2006, when George Steinbrenner granted him autonomy over baseball operations, Brian Cashman has signed four free agent pitchers: Andy Pettitte, Kei Igawa, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. Three out of four represents an excellent mark, especially considering the crop of free agent pitchers the team signed in the few years before ’06. Still, the one stings a bit. The Yankees bid $27 million when the Hanshin Tigers posted him, and it seemed like overpayment at the time. That fee, plus his five-year, $20 million contract, add up to quite the blunder. But can the Yankees salvage something in deal’s final two years?

If Igawa plays any role for the 2010 or 2011 Yankes, he’ll do it from the bullpen. The Yankees have built plenty of rotation depth, leaving Igawa somewhere around sixth or seventh in line for an open rotation spot. Even if the Yankees suffered six separate misfortunes, of which there’s an outside chance, they might not turn to Igawa. There’s little in his track record which suggests an ability to get through a major league order multiple times with limited damage. But perhaps he can prove of value pitching in short bursts out of the bullpen.

At The Hardball Times today, Jeff Sackmann examines minor league starters who might make quality major league bullpen candidates. After all, since many, if not most, relievers were starters who failed, a number of these middling starters will eventually make the move. Identifying them now can perhaps expedite the process. The Yankees, as we know, prefer to develop their young arms as starters, but we also know that they will move a starter to the bullpen if the need arises. With Igawa, it might be the only way to extract even a modicum of value.

Sackmann identified three qualities which might suggest an easy bullpen transition. First, that they pitch well the first time through the order. Or, as I’ll examine, that they pitch well in their first inning of work. Second, they have a large platoon differential. This goes hand in hand with the short bursts, and matters much more for a lefty like Igawa. If he’s only coming in for a few batters, chances are that more than half will be lefties. And third, he pitches well out of the stretch. So how does our K-man stack up?

The only area where Igawa doesn’t rate well is in his FIP the first time through the order. In lefty-lefty situations last year Igawa posted a 2.54 FIP, inducing 40 percent ground balls. He strikes out more lefties, but more importantly he walks far fewer — just four over 169 lefties faced last season, while he walked 38 out of 491 righties. Predictably, he allows far more home runs against righties as well. With men on base Igawa actually pitches a bit better than with none on, with a FIP of more than a run lower. This is mostly attributable to his home run rate with runners on, an important factor for a reliever. Of the 260 batters he faced with men on, he allowed just five home runs, while 17 of 400 batters with the bases empty took him out of the park.

Using Igawa’s minor league splits, there is evidence that he can pitch well in short bursts as well. While Sackmann rated him 3 on a 5-point scale in that category, he based it on the pitcher’s first time through the order. But most relievers won’t face nine hitters. In Igawa’s first inning of work he boasts a 4.08 FIP, his best mark of any inning in which he faced more than 100 batters in 2009. He induces more ground balls and fewer line drives, and allows fewer home runs. He also showed this tendency during his brief major league stint in 2007, performing far better in the first inning than in any other.

These numbers, of course, provide no guarantee that Igawa could succeed even in a limited role. They do, however, suggest that the Yankees could do worse than giving him a shot. As it stands Boone Logan is the second lefty out of the pen, but the Yanks could cut him loose if he pitches like he has over the last couple of years. At that point they might stick with Damaso Marte as the sole lefty bullpen arm, but they could certainly give Igawa a shot. There’s little harm in it. They have just 38 men on the 40-man roster, and could have up to three open spots if they end up returning Jamie Hoffman to the Dodgers. It doesn’t look like they’d have to make much of a sacrifice to get Igawa on the roster.

Most of us have a set opinion of Igawa, based on his 2007 performance. It’s pretty clear that he won’t work out as a major league starter. The Yankees, however, probably want to get any value out of him that they can at this point, and there are numbers that suggest he could capably fill a bullpen role. With open 40-man spots, why not give him the chance? Worst case he sucks and they send him back to AAA. If they need to remove him from the 40-man at that point, I don’t think they’ll mind letting him walk as a free agent. But before it comes to that, I’d like to see him get his shot.

Credit: AP Photo/Duane Burleson

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What, exactly, does Johnny Damon think he'll get?
CC Sabathia's better than expected changeup
  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    After he held the Red Sox to one hit over 6 shut-out innings in relief, Kei held a special place in my heart. That place has progressivly gotten smaller and smaller, but nonetheless it’s there.
    I’ve always had a soft spot for underdogs. I liked Melky, I rooted for Hideki Irabu to be a success and I’ve rooted for Kei Igawa. If the Yankees would have gotten Aroldis, he would have shot up to #1B on my list (ever behind Melvin).
    I know that in the minds of almost everyone he’s dead to them, but I hope that someday Kei will be able to redeem himself at the major league level, whether it be from starting or relieving.

    • Mike Pop

      Did you root for Jeff Karstens before Igawa came in?

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        Eh…Karstens was what he was. A lot of teeth in that game.

        • pete

          yeah i’m pretty sure they replaced the ugliest man on the team with the runner up when they made that move.

    • Mr.Jigginz

      I got your back on this one,Andy….Wayyyyyyyyy back.jk.Actually,I’ve always had a “hope” for Kei.I really don’t see him ever coming close to earning the value of the contract given to him,but hopefully he’ll find his niche somewhere in this league,someday.

    • Brian

      Exactly, Andy. I was at that Yankees/Red Sox game, and I could not believe my eyes — Igawa shut them down! I loved reading this post because I have been saying for 3 years that Iagawa could be used out of the bullpen. If the Yanks are paying him so much, it’s certainly worth a try to see if he can perform as a reliever. And like JP says, if he still sucks, they can just send him back to Scranton.

    • Marty in Arlington, VA (born in Bronx)

      I absolutely agree that Kei Igawa should be given a shot as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen and made this argument about a month ago on a blog posting. As Joe P points out, Igawa’s numbers against lefties are incredible. Girardi seems to like the option of using lefty specialists twice in a game and a Marte-Igawa tandem could be powerful. At the very least, showcasing him in this role could enance his trade value. The Angels lost lefty specialist Darren Oliver. Could Igawa, as a proven lefty specialist, become part of a package for Juan Rivera? That’s a former Yankee who could be worth bringing home to play left field.

  • http://I’mnotsayinghe’sgoingtobegreat,andhewillprobablyfrustrateusasmuchasMelky mustang

    “Still, the one stings a bit”

    47 million !!!! For AAA guy that’s one big ass sting.

    Anyting you can get now is a plus.

  • Zack

    I could live without seeing Kei Igawa pitch another game; but if the ST battle for the 2nd lefty is between him and Logan and he wins then ok. Logan does have another option correct?
    And if they both suck during ST then let Melancon or whoever else stands out in ST get that last spot.

  • Mike Pop

    Solid idea. No risk really, except making my eyes hurt.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      De goggles! Dey do nothing!

      • Rose

        “Up and At Them!”

        • http://www.bomberbanter.com/ BomberBanter.com

          If I hear Igawa say, “Gee, I think those XRays gave me super powers,” then he can get a spot start; other than that, I think second lefty relief roll is all I can handle from him. That appearance against the Red Sox was special, but I think he’s shown us NOTHING since then. This is his chance to go out and earn a roster spot, and if he doesn’t, then you know what you’re dealing with for the rest of the time Igawa is here.

  • Slu

    I think WFAN and the tabloids would blow it so out of proportion if he made the team that, if I am making the decisions, it is just not worth it. I just don’t think there is any way he ever pitches for the Yankees again.

    But what do I know?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      If I’m making the decisions, I don’t read the tabloids nor do I listen to WFAN.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        If I value my sanity, I don’t read the tabloids nor do I listen to WFAN.

        • http://www.teamnerdrage.com dr mrs the yankee

          But Jerome From Manhattan has some very important opinions you need to hear.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

            Is that the one about the hooker with dysentery?

            /Fenster’d

    • Zack

      “But what do I know?”

      Less than Cashman, because he doesnt let the media run his team. Or else Cano, Joba, Hughes, and Jesus would have been traded by now.

      • Slu

        I never said Cashman lets the media run his team, but he by no means ignores the media or the media’s reaction to his decisions. He uses the media as much as the media uses him.

        Would the benefit of this move outweigh the constant questions he and others in organization would get about it? Girardi having to constantly defend his use of Igawa, or his non-use, etc. Would the “distraction” outweigh the benefit? I am not sure it would. Especially if he was awful and/or blew a lead in a “big” game.

        And they listen to the public reaction to some extent, and it is naive to think they don’t. Every good business listens to their customers. Some things about the stadium were changed based on feedback from the public. I know that it is not a roster issue, but why is suggesting that they would not do this because of the public reaction and different to those that suggest they won’t bring in a player from the outside because of something he has said or done in the past? If it all about performance on the field, then none of these things should ever matter. Why would it matter what Sheffield said, for example, if they wanted to bring him back?

        But hey, let’s make it a completely black and white issue and call me an idiot because I suggested that it may not be worth it, PR-wise.

        • Zack

          Would it be a distraction? No. Girardi gets asked 100 questions whether they win or lose, the media writes negative stuff about the Yankees whether they miss the playoffs or make it for 10+ straight years. No move the Yankees make is ever right according to the media, so it doesnt matter.
          Did Brett Tomko on the roster destroy the season and cause massive distraction? No. Did Edwar Ramirez? Veras?

          The stadium issue is irrelevant to the team. Does their PR/Marketing/etc department pay attention to fans when it has to deal with revenue? Yes. Is Igawa in the bullpen going to decrease the revenue? No.

          I never called you an idiot. Just answered your question with my opinion.

    • Bo

      If you start listening to the fans, u start sitting with them. You cant make moves based on what fans think.

  • Rose

    This never made any sense to me. The players all around the MLB who had seen him previously were openly talking about how horrible this guy was. I don’t think it’s possible that any scout or talent manager would disregard all of this because of his irrelevant ability to perform well against fellow Japanese players.

    It was either that…or the scouts were actually agreeing with the outspoken players who said Igawa was worthless…and Cashman didn’t care and figured he had to make a drastic move after missing out on Dice K.

    I don’t even think the worst part about it was that the Red Sox got Dice K and we got stuck with Kei Igawa. I think the fact the Red Sox got Dice K and a very effective Okajima under the radar…while we made an unnecessary splash for Igawa is the worst part.

    As I read on another site somewhere…it seems like Boston has a much better knack at evaluating Japanese players than the Yankees do.

    • Zack

      “As I read on another site somewhere…it seems like Boston has a much better knack at evaluating Japanese players than the Yankees do.”

      Going off a grand total of 3 players?

      If DiceK was signed by NYY then all the stories would be about how Theo was smart not to sign a stubborn pitcher who walks too many and just gets lucky, not to mention showing up to camp injured and out of shape and missing the whole season.
      And no one expected Okajima to be that good his rookie year.

      • Rose

        And no one expected Okajima to be that good his rookie year.

        Especially after he gave up a bomb on his first pitch ever in the MLB to John Buck…I was rolling around on the floor laughing and loving every minute of it…but they go the last laugh that year…unfortunately.

    • JAG

      The Okajima loss was even tougher because Matsui was good friends with Okajima and was pushing the Yankees to pick him up. If only they’d listened, Okajima has turned out to be a fairly effective bullpen weapon.

      -JM

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Someone already asked you this before, but now I’m curious:

        Why do you sign all your posts with “-JM”?

        • Mr.Jigginz

          JM….OMG IT’S THA JESUS!!!![bowing at His majesty]

    • A.D.

      it seems like Boston has a much better knack at evaluating Japanese players than the Yankees do.

      SSS Alert!

      That really applies to all Japanese players, but looking at the Sox track record:

      Dice-K: Spent over 100M on bringing him over, have gotten a solid season, a very good season (albeit it terrible peripherals), and a lost season paired with some public dispute on his training regiment. The jury is still very much out, but so far probably not worth the total investment, given Dice-K has yet to record a FIP below 4 (or worse than Gil Meche)

      Okajima: no doubt a huge find, but I don’t think Boston really expected this, and it is just a reliever

      Tazawa: Wayyy to early, and this was less talent evaluation than breaking an unofficial rule, plenty of teams were high on him

      Yanks:

      Irabu: Didn’t meet the billing, and was league avg at best, but the Yanks were able to get Homer Bust, Jake Westbrook, and Ted Lilly in the various deal Irabu was part of, so that’s something.

      Matsui: Some injuries at the end, but otherwise an incredibly productive hitter

      Igawa: Thus far worthless.

      So Yanks haven’t done will with the pitchers, but I wouldn’t give Boston too much credit yet

      • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

        Homer Bust

        icwudt

        • A.D.

          Whooops, how could I ever call a guy who stole a base in every Yankee win a bust.

  • dalelama

    In my mind the signing of Burnett has yet to be a proven a “success”. We seemed to pay alot for a Jekyll-Hyde type pitcher who looks like Bobby Feller one moment and Ed Whitson the next. In my mind he certainly has underperformed for the “stuff” he possesses.

    • Steve H

      In my mind he certainly has underperformed for the “stuff” he possesses.

      That’s AJ Burnett. They knew that when they signed him, and year 1 of the deal is absolutely a success. That may change down the road, but they did not sign him expecting him to, at 32, completely stray from his career trends and become Bob Feller all the time.

      • Zack

        That.
        It is all about realistic expectations. Could he have been better some games? Yes. But if we expected him to dominate for 200 IP like he seemed to do every game vs the Yankees then your expectations were way too high.
        Is he overpaid? Yes. But that was the market at the time, fans insist we build through FA and not develop young SP so they had to choose between Lowe and AJ, they made the right choice.

        • A.D.

          fans insist we build through FA and not develop young SP

          Has nothing to do with it. The Yanks wanted to reload and continue contending, the biggest hole was the rotation, so they went out and signed the 2 best FA pitchers they could.

          • Zack

            I was making the point that if they dont build their own talent then yes they’re going to have to overpay for FAs.
            That was the issue in his post, they overpaid for AJ. If they developed SPs they wouldnt NEED to go out and sign the best and 2nd best guys available.

            • king of fruitless hypotheticals

              he is who we thought is was?

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

                We let him off the hook?

    • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

      what does this have to do with kei igawa?

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Meh, technically, he IS commenting on material that was explicitly stated in the post.

    • http://www.teamnerdrage.com dr mrs the yankee

      It’s a success because they signed him as a piece with winning the 2009 World Series in mind, and that’s what happened.

      He’s overrated, it often feels like there’s no grey area in the AJ performance spectrum and the contract will be suck in the 4th and 5th years but right now it’s a “success”.

      I’m also pretty sure the Yankees realize that his contract (and he) may suck in the tail-end but they had an immediate goal. When his stuff and effectiveness goes they’ll figure it out.

  • whitey

    Maybe he could run a shades stand out front of the stadium?! Yanks could recoup a little of their investment.

  • UnNamed Yankee Source

    How come Cash has not found a taker for this guy yet? We could use an outfielder right? Maybe do a little dumpster diving and swap Igawa for say Wily Tavares? or someone of similar contract status? The Mets need pitching.. Kenny Williams likes to make out of nowhere deals.

    • Steve H

      Wily Tavares is useless.

      • UnNamed Yankee Source

        He can play in AAA too, but at least he will be a FA at the end of the year.

        • Zack

          But the Reds arent accepting Igawa’s contract so does it matter? Yanks would have to send 6m to them to balance out the contract.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

        Wily Tavares is useless.

        As was the initial comment that started this mini-discussion.

      • Master of all Trades

        Igawa is also worthless. Sounds like a fair trade.

    • Bo

      Because GM’s arent stupid.

      • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

        the astros, mets, royals, white sox, and pirates beg to differ

        • Thomas

          I’d say Huntington is doing a solid job, so far.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

            Co-sign. I like what he’s done, and it’s not his fault that he inherited one of the three biggest organizational messes in major league baseball (Non Mets Division).

  • Chris

    A better way to extract value from him is by having him grow a beard, get implants, and charge 50 cents a pop for fans to see the “Bearded lady with a league average fastball.”

    • Steve H

      Heh. It’s funny that you mention league average fastball though. The majority of lefties with league average fastballs do find a way to stick in the majors (and for 15 years) because they are lefty and throw just hard enough to stick around. BTW, you really think Igawa can grow a beard?

  • A.D.

    These numbers, of course, provide no guarantee that Igawa could succeed even in a limited role.

    Agreed, Igawa has been fine in the minors, and has been pretty bad in the bigs, mainly because he just gets crushed, vs not having enough pitches to go multiple times through a line up.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      All the more reason to make him a LOOGY.

      • Bo

        Why make him a lefty specialist when he cant get lefty’s out??

        • JobaWockeeZ
          • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis

            ietc

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

            (golf clap)

  • UnNamed Yankee Source

    ~ SOLUTION ~

    Lets post him!

    Sell his contract back to Japan.

    (can we do this?)

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      Only with his consent.

      I have no idea if he’d be willing to give it, as I have no idea if anyone has ever asked him.

      Still, I’d rather make him a LOOGY or trade him for a fringy marginal prospect than just sell him back to Japan for nothing. It’s not like 8M left on his deal is some sort of Wellsian albatross on our payroll, blocking us from making other moves.

      • Zack

        “It’s not like 8M left on his deal is some sort of Wellsian albatross on our payroll, blocking us from making other moves.”

        Well if the claim that they only have 2m to spend in LF is true then that is false, because 2m they can maybe get Reed Johnson, 6m would be Damon’s best option.

      • Bo

        Apparently according to u Eric and most here that 8 mill is an albatross because they cant sign a LF worth a damn because of it.

        • JobaWockeeZ

          Yes it is when it’s reported they are only willing to spend 2 million.

          Simple math Bo. 8 > 2. It’s not hard.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada
      • http://www.teamnerdrage.com dr mrs the yankee

        Japanese teams have approached him and he’s turned them down for whatever reason. I guess someone has to like Scranton.

    • A.D.

      They could sell him back to Japan with his permission (which he presumably would grant), Yanks looked into this previously, but found no Japanese team willing to give enough money to make it worth it to the Yanks.

  • Bo

    This has to be comedy. If they thought he could bring value as a lefty rp dont u think they would have tried it?? They know he cant get major league hitters out. In any capacity.

    He should have moved 2 yrs ago when a few NL teams inquired. And every scout that gave their blessing on him should be evaluated.

    Otherwise hes going to make the Scranton HOF.

  • Bo

    I think we’ll all survive and the team will continue to prosper if we’re not subjected to Igawas mug and those sunglasses again.

    Keep him far away from the Bronx.

  • MattG

    The problem with having a second lefty in the pen is you have to use him. The problem is exasperated when that second lefty is a fringy player.

    I’d rather Cashman just create a depth chart of relievers regardless of throwing hand.

    Who are the other finalists for the 40 man spots? The Yankees can leave them open indefinitely, correct?

  • YankFanDave

    When Cook was traded I thought the Yanks left (no pun intended) themselves short of lefties, I completely forgot about Kai. Your point likely factored-in in some small way to the comfort of trading Cook.

    Might the means of getting value be to keep him in the minors where he shows well and attempt to get some value via a trade (came close a couple of times.) That seems to be their strategy since he hasn’t had a sniff of the majors since 2008 (not even roster expansion call up) regardless of good minor league performance. Time is running out on that tactic though.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada
    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada
      • YankFanDave

        Point taken, need to work on my spelling.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

          Much appreciated.

          • YankFanDave

            With your aka you have an advantage when it comes to spelling.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

              Math + cruelty = success.

  • Charlie

    no thanks. his putrid pitching an his face are just things that i don’t want to see. winning>extracting value out of kei igawa

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      But, if extracting value out of Kei Igawa is possible, than that value would contribute to wins.

      Therefore, the equation is actually:

      extracting value out of kei igawa = winning

      • Charlie

        you could probably extract more value out of boone logan though. plus, its not a given at all that we could extract any value out of kei igawa.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

          I’ll agree that making Igawa into an effective lefty reliever is far from a given.

          Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, though. He’s currently an ineffective starter. Might as well see if he can be successful in a new role.

          • king of fruitless hypotheticals

            well, you can’t get turnips from a stone.

            but heck…i’d rather see kei igawa do SOMETHING other than set AAA records.

            can’t we trade him to the pirates ffs???

  • Matt

    I normally think people in New York a bit a quick to judge: a bad season or postseason and Yankee fans don’t ever want to see a player again (think A-Rod).

    In this case the fans are right: Igawa is a terrible pitcher, who is simply way overpaid. Forget him; I’d rather see a young kid with some potential get some experience than waste time with Igawa.

  • Jeffrey

    Igawa has had a grand total of 70 major league innings, so it would seem a bit premature to conclude that he can’t pitch in the major leagues on such a small sample size, especially if you give him some slack for first-year adjustment period(Dice K needed it too). He has been very successful in AAA and we should not forget the reports on him before he was signed:

    “He does make me think of (Jarrod) Washburn,” says one NL Central scout who was assigned to Matsuzaka, and later Igawa by his employers, who were expected to be serious contenders for both pitchers this offseason. “He’s got a little swagger in him, more than Matsuzaka, at least demonstrably. He’ll sit right in the 90mph range until he needs a big strikeout and than he reaches back for added gas.”

    I see no reason to assume that Boone Logan will do better than him as a lefty out of the bullpen. I don’t think that this will happen but I wouldn’t have any preclusions.

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  • ShuutoHeat

    Use him as a mop up to burn up innings. Make him pitch till his arm falls off…

  • Dave

    Something about Igawa just screams NY MET!

  • pete luciano

    Can you imagine Igewa in the bullpen. Can’t throw strikes, he would be a disaster. How about Cashman penny pinching Johnny Damon while he’s got $46m tied up in this bum. Please.

  • Bill

    If the Yanks bring him up, won’t his salary count towards the luxury tax again? I think that’s the reason they removed him from the 40 man roster in the first place. Bringing him up will cost them a few million dollars in luxury tax as well as forcing them to cut or expose someone else from their 40 man roster.

  • mrpappageorgio

    Wow, a little time goes by and people forget. Forget this guy gets shelled by big league hitting. Forget that he simply cannot keep the ball down and walks a ton of hitters.

    Why can’t people face the facts – Kei was a huge mistake. Leave it at that, let him be in AAA. He’ll be back in Japan soon.

  • CommerceComet

    Kei Igawa is my AAA benchmark. Every time I start getting excited about a young AAA prospect, I compare his stats to Igawa’s. Since it has been pretty much proven that Igawa can’t pitch in the bigs, I’m not real optimistic about a pitcher who doesn’t out-perform Igawa in AAA.

    Admittedly, $47 million is a pretty expensive barometer.

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