Sergio Mitre and the value of a roster spot


When the Yankees tendered Sergio Mitre a contract for the 2010 season, they guaranteed him a 40-man roster spot. At the time it might not have seemed like a big deal. The team had just opened up two additional roster spots by trading Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, and Austin Jackson for Curtis Granderson, so space wasn’t an issue. But a 40-man roster spot is a 40-man roster spot. The Yankees could have used that spot in a number of different ways. Was Mitre the right decision?

First, we have to understand why the Yankees decided to allocate one of 40 roster spots to Mitre. The team values pitching depth. Over the past few years they’ve seen a number of starters succumb to injury and, for the most part, haven’t found adequate replacements. With Mitre, Chad Gaudin, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Al Aceves competing for one final rotation spot, and the losers presumably slated for the bullpen, the Yankees leave themselves a number of options should a starter get hurt.

Next, we have to look at what else the Yankees could have done with that roster spot, and at what price. Mitre signed for $850,000, a little less than double the league minimum. The depth options behind Mitre, Ivan Nova and Zach McAllister, would make a prorated portion of the league minimum if called to action, so the Yankees have to weigh that against Mitre and his salary. Could they have added someone else to that spot for cheaper? Probably not on the free agent market.

Then there’s the option of leaving the spot free, so the team has a spot to add a non-roster invite. Marcus Thames doesn’t present an issue here, because if he makes the team Jamie Hoffmann will head back to the Dodgers. But what if the Yankees end up liking one of their non-roster pitchers more than Mitre? What if they like Kei Igawa in a lefty relief role? What if Jason Hirsh lives up to his potential as the No. 42 prospect in baseball in 2007? What if Kevin Whelan finally puts it all together? There’s certainly a possibility, though not a particularly strong one, that the Yankees like a non-roster player better than Mitre.

Is it worth the roster spot and guaranteed salary, then, to keep Mitre, even if there are possibly better options? Obviously the Yankees think so. They liked Mitre when they signed him in late 2008 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, and they apparently didn’t let his string of poor performances in 2009 discourage them. They’re still hoping he returns to his 2007 form, especially his first half. That, to them, is worth $850,000 and the reduced flexibility of having a guaranteed contract in that roster spot.

The final point is how the Yankees can free up further roster spots. They currently have all 40 spots filled, but they’re not completely inflexible. If the need arises to add a non-roster player, the Yankees can DFA Edwar Ramirez or Boone Logan. This makes Mitre’s spot less critical. If he were first on the chopping block, perhaps it would be an issue, but with expendable players ahead of him the Yankees become a bit more justified in their decision to tender him a contract.

What do the Yankees expect Mitre to change from 2009? Mainly, it seems, his home run rate. His strikeout rate was about in line with his career average, and his walk rate was a bit lower. He allowed home runs at a higher rate than ever before in his career, though, 1.74 per nine. This coincides with an enormous HR/FB ratio, 21.7 percent. The home runs factored largely into his 5.30 FIP, as evidenced by his 4.00 xFIP. It appears, however, that Mitre has always allowed home runs at a greater rate than league average; his xFIP is consistently lower than his FIP, except in 2007 when just nine of 119 fly balls hit off him left the park.

Signing Mitre is a gamble for sure, but the downside doesn’t appear all that bad. Even if the Yankees like another pitcher more than him, they don’t have to act on that immediately. The above-named pitchers — Igawa, Hirsh, Whelan, in addition to Nova and McAllister — can all start the season in the minors while Mitre gets his shot. If it doesn’t work out, the contract is cheap enough that they can DFA him if necessary. It might hinder what the Yankees can do with that roster spot short term, but if necessary they can make it free again.

Credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Categories : Pitching


  1. Big Juan says:

    What if Jason Hirsh lives up to his potential as the No. 42 prospect in baseball in 2007?

    Heh…Francessa might lose it.

    And I have no problem with giving Meattray (/Andy’d) a 40-man spot. There’s probably as much upside with him as with any of the other options.

  2. a competent starting pitcher making $850,000 could easily be traded if they decide they have no use for him esp to an NL club that is desperate for piching and on a budget, ie Mets, Padres, maybe even the Reds, Natinals, etc.

  3. That old BA list is really great to read over with hindsight bias.

  4. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    Right now I would say that Meattray has more value to the Yankees than Edwar Changeup.
    It looks as though the 25 man roster is more crowded than the 40 man roster.

  5. [...] Will Sergio Mitre get the job done for the Yankees bullpen this [...]

  6. DP says:

    42 JASON HIRSH, rhp, Rockies
    Acquired from the Astros in the Jason Jennings deal, he should be nearly as effective at a fraction of the cost

    Sounds about right.

  7. Greg says:

    Mitre is just awful. If he’s starting we are in deep trouble

    • pete says:

      mitre has pretty good stuff and has put up decent numbers in the past, is still pretty young, and is another year removed from surgery. He may still be awful, but he could turn into a slightly-below-average MLB starter, which has a lot of value in the #7 spot on the SP depth chart

    • pat says:

      Mitre is such garbage yet Cashman signed him anyway. It’s weird that the General Manager of the New York Yankees, with his team of professional scouts, analysts, former General Managers and General-Managers-to-be decided he was worth keeping around. I mean clearly, Greg here knows something that they don’t. They should all be fired.

      • Chip says:

        Is this a serious comment? Maybe my sarcasm-detector is broken but you can’t be serious. Mitre is a below-average starting pitcher that is signed at double the league minimum which is essentially nothing. If he sucks, you cut your losses and wish him well.

        If AJ remembers who he is and gets injured and Andy suddenly figures out he’s 60 and falls apart, Mitre could very possibly be seeing starts this year. Would you rather have him as a backup plan or……..Igawa?

  8. pete says:

    Chances are Mitre can bring a lot more to the yanks than he can take away. Right now he’s (presumably) their 8th starter and could very possibly be pushed back as far as #10 if he doesn’t perform. So the chances of him pitching for the yankees at all if he is pitching poorly, meaning that there’s almost no chance of him hurting the yankees on the field. If he does take the mound for the yankees as a starter, chances are that it’ll be because he pitched his way past Gaudin, Hughes, Aceves, McAllister, and Nova, so he’ll either be fairly decent, or very hot. Or he’ll be pitching because of a ridiculous number of injuries, in which case, the yanks have got bigger problems.

    His salary is $850,000, so if it ends up that he brings nothing of value to the MLB club, then so be it. Nobody wants to spend $850,000 on nothing, but every team does it with a few guys because while it could end up being inefficient, it isn’t financially crippling, even in these hard, budget-causing times. And as Joe said, if the yanks need a roster spot, they probably won’t be forced to cut him, since it’s not very likely that both Ramirez and Logan prove their roster spots essential, so giving Mitre a roster spot isn’t going to cripple the club’s roster flexibility either.

    What I do see happening, though, is that by mid-season, even if mitre is pitching well in AAA, the yankees will have a quality bullpen AND 7 better starters, which would mean we’d still be paying him for nothing. However, unless he is getting absolutely shellacked in AAA, he will, as a guy who sits consistently in the low-mid 90s with his solid sinker, have some value in a trade to an NL team.

    • What I do see happening, though, is that by mid-season, even if mitre is pitching well in AAA…

      But the Mitre problem isn’t his presence on the 40-man roster, it’s the fact that he’s out of minor league options and needs to remain on the 25-man active roster.

      He won’t be starting in Scranton, he’ll be relieving in the bullpen with the big club.

      • pete says:

        oh didn’t realize he was out of options. that does complicate things. Still, I could deffinitely see him being an Aceves-type innings-eating middle reliever. Are you sure he’s “out of options”, though? I mean if he has a new contract, couldn’t he feasibly have new options on that contract? I’m not totally sure about the rules on this so I could be totally wrong, but it seems strange that the yankees would have signed him to anything more than the league minimum if he HAD to stay on the Major League roster.

        • Still, I could deffinitely see him being an Aceves-type innings-eating middle reliever.

          I wouldn’t want Mitre getting anywhere near Aceves-level inning totals.

          • pete says:

            but he won’t, unless he pitches well enough to warrant them, in which case you would.

            • Sweet Dick Willie says:


              The Yankees have so many options, that if Mitre is seeing significant time, it means he’s earning it.

              If he sucks, well, the Yankees have so many options that Sergio pours himself a tall glass of Pinstripe DFA Ale.

        • Chip says:

          No, options are a mystical thing created that everybody is born with but cannot reaquire these options once they expire (unless you’re injured one of the years but this doesn’t apply here)

          • Ed says:

            I think it’s theoretically possible to get more options. I can remember Cashman commenting in the past that he was exploring that with someone, but I can’t remember the case.

            More importantly though, players are extremely unlikely to voluntarily sign up for more options. Options are really only beneficial to players that aren’t ready for the majors yet, as it lets them get their development time in while giving them higher priority to make the majors when there’s an opening. When you get to the borderline guys like Mitre, they’re generally better served not having options. It forces the Yankees to either keep him in the majors, or release him, at which point he’d most likely sign on with another team and stay in the majors.

            His contract is guaranteed, so he’s getting paid the same if he’s in the minors or if he’s released. Time spent in the majors accumulates service time, which gets him closer to full free agency and gets him increased retirement benefits (which is huge for a fringe player). He’s much better off playing in the majors on a crappy team than sitting in AAA hoping to get another shot in the majors or a World Series ring.

      • him, gaudin, hughes, and aceves, your 6, 7, 8, and 9 starters respectively. that. is. not. good.

        • I’m comfortable with Hughes as the sixth–obviously–and Gaudin as the seven. After that, though, it gets dicey; then again, it does for every team. If there was a way to get Mitre to AAA as the 8th starter, I think he’d be providing much more value to the team because he wouldn’t be hurting it by pitching more often, as he will in the ‘pen. Maybe I’m being too skeptical, and maybe I just really dislike the guy, but I don’t have much confidence in his ability to be anything more than he was in 2009.

          • Chip says:

            Gaudin and/or Mitre would be the 3rd starter on the Mets. I like our depth right now

          • right, my point was that having your 6-9 starters in the pen where they will not be getting innings or be stretched out to start is a poor game plan.

            • A solid point. Our 2010 bullpen is scheduled to be three true relievers (Mo, Marte, Robertson) and four swingmen starters (Hughes, Aceves, Gaudin, Mitre). Those 4 swingmen are the presumptive 6-7-8-9 starters in our depth chart, meaning if we need an emergency spot start from someone, we’d better hope he’s stretched out enough to be able to pitch more than 4 innings.

              It would be nice to have at least one of those four spot starters in Scranton on an actual rotation, stretched out. If only there was a good candidate to go to Scranton from the four options of HUGHES, Aceves, Gaudin, and Mitre.


            • Chip says:

              Well guys like Aceves, Gaudin and Mitre you don’t really have to worry about stretching out. They’re old enough and not really prospects so you just tell them to keep pitching. Maybe they can only go 4 innings the first time they need to spot start but they’d get stretched out fairly quickly.

              The point is, you want your best pitchers pitching in the big leagues unless you have a case like Hughes where he needs to get innings

            • pete says:

              the one thing is that if it is only a spot start we’re talking about, then having Aceves, Mitre, and Gaudin all in the same pen means you can probably get at least 7 innings without going to your “true relievers” without overextending anyone or anything. If somebody goes down long-term with injury, though, then it’s a different story. That’s why I want Hughes starting in AAA.

            • Sweet Dick Willie says:

              The Mexican gangster is always stretched out.

              No problemo.

  9. JohnC says:

    Its also possible that the Yanks could plan to showcase him in ST for other teams for a potential trade.

  10. Chip says:

    I actually think Hirsh might have a shot. His numbers in the Yankee system down the stretch look a lot like his 2006 AAA numbers so who knows?

    On a side-note, do the Yankees 5th starter candidates destroy the Pirates projected starting pitchers?

    Seriously you have Joba, Hughes, Aceves, Mitre and Gaudin against Duke, Maholm, Ohlendorf, Morton and Karstens? I’m not sure about the Pirates actual rotation but assuming that’s the case the Yankees have an average CHONE FIP of 4.28 against the Pirate’s 4.41. Am I the only one who finds this quite ridiculous?

  11. pat says:

    51 CLAY BUCHHOLZ, rhp, Red Sox
    His fastball hit 97 mph at the end of last season, and at times it’s his fourth-best pitch
    Opening Day Age: 22. ETA: 2008


  12. Peter (O.G.) says:

    Even putting his name in the mix for the 5th starter spot seems like an insult to hughes, joba, ace and gaudin.

    Mitre just isn’t good. No reason to sugar coat it.

    • pete says:

      reading the comments above yours can often help you avoid making embarrassingly boversimplified statements like this one.

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