The Traded Bullpen


Hey, I told you he'd never been a viable starter in the AL East. (Photo Credit: Flick user afagen via Creative Commons license)

For the longest time, it seemed like the Yankees were completely unable to build a solid bullpen. The relief corps fell apart following the departure of Jeff Nelson and later Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza. The merry-go-round of high priced free agent relievers and AAAA-type arms ran from 2003 through about 2008, when the team finally wised up and started growing their own relievers while seeking low-cost options capable of missing bats from the outside. The more the merrier.

As a result from this reliever hoarding, the Yankees ended up with some bullpen depth in recent years and were able to move a number of these guys in trades. They went from having a shallow and ineffective relief corps to actually being able to trade away effective arms to shore up other parts of the team. Crazy, I know. Anyway, let’s look at a bullpen of pitchers built entire of guys the Yankees have traded away in recent years, starting with someone that wore pinstripes a little more than two months ago…

The Long Man: Sergio Mitre

It wasn’t that long ago that our standard for pitching acquisitions was “better than Mitre,” but The Experience moved on to Milwaukee in the Chris Dickerson swap and has done fine work in low-leverage spots for the Brewers. His almost non-existent strikeout rate (3.24 K/9) is buoyed by his typically gaudy ground ball rate (53.0%), and of course he has the ability to go multiple innings if needed.

The Middle Reliever: Dan McCutchen

After spending a few years bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues as a spot starter, McCutchen has carved out as a nice niche for himself in Pittsburgh’s bullpen this year. The former DotF superstar isn’t striking out many batters (4.73 K/9), but he’s made up for it by limiting walks (1.69 uIBB/9) and getting a healthy amount of ground balls (45.1%). McCutchen was the fourth guy in the Xavier Nady-Damaso Marte trade.

The Lefty: Mike Dunn

I’m sure most of you remember Dunn’s big league debut with the Yankees in September of 2009, when he came out of the bullpen in Toronto only to walk three of the first five men he faced on 13 total pitches (not counting the other two batters). He went to the Braves in the ill-fated Javy Vazquez trade last offseason, walked 17 men in 19 IP for Atlanta before being traded to the Marlins for Dan Uggla this offseason. Dunn has emerged as Florida’s top setup man this year, striking out 33 and allowing just 14 hits in 27 IP. He has walked 15, though. Still, can’t argue with that strikeout rate from the left side.

The Setup Man: Tyler Clippard

Long-time readers of RAB are well-aware that I was never much of a Clippard fan. His six start cameo in the Bronx in 2007 was completely forgettable (6.68 FIP), then he was shipped to the nation’s capitol for Jon Albaladejo after the season. Clippard struggled as a starter in 2008 and for the early part of 2009, but a shift to the bullpen late that year changed everything. He’s turned into one of the most dominant relievers in the game, throwing multiple innings pretty much every time out with an 11.01 K/9 and a 3.23 FIP in a MLB-high 126.2 relief innings (105 appearances) since the start of 2010. I think it’s safe to say the Yankees would love to have a do-over on this trade.

The Closer: Mark Melancon

Melancon received four different call-ups with the Yankees in 2009 and 2010, striking out 13 and walking ten in 20.1 IP. He was sent to Houston in the Lance Berkman trade and almost immediately settled into their bullpen. Melancon finished last year with a 3.19 FIP in 20 appearances for the Astros, and this year he’s sporting an impressive 2.46 FIP on the strength of 8.28 K/9 and 2.76 BB/9 in 29.1 IP. He has since moved into the closer’s role with Brandon Lyon on the disabled list with a case of the awfuls, and he’s 5-for-6 in save opportunities so far.

* * *

If you’re going to give away good players in trades, relievers are good guys to do it with. They typically have short shelf lives and their impact is much smaller than what you can get from position players or starting pitchers. Of course, trading good players is always a bad thing either, it helps build a solid reputation and ups the chances of making good deals down the road. Of course, it helps when you get good players back as well.

Categories : Death by Bullpen


  1. Drew says:

    The only guy I would love to have back is Tyler Clippard. I bought his jersey shirt back in the day, and I always trade for him in my franchise in MLB 2k11. Clippard >>>>>>>>>>>>>Soriano

  2. bonestock94 says:

    Would love to have the last 3 guys right now, although I loved having Berkman on the team.

  3. Nico says:

    They’d have a great cheap bullpen with these guys instead of Soriano, Feliciano and Marte. Now that’s a waste of money!

  4. James says:

    Perfect instance where Cashman has been terrible (apart from developing pitchers). In both the Clippard and Melancon trade they literally got nothing in-return. Al-ba-fuck-him was worthless. And Berkman was no better than Miranda. Then there’s the Javy Vazquez fiasco.

    This organization is fucking terrible at identifying and keeping pitching. It’s obvious at this point that Hughes belongs in the pen. And yet they’ll keep running him out there as some great white hope. Awful.

  5. mike_h says:

    spot starter should be Chad Gaudin

  6. Cuso says:

    No mention of Phil Coke here?

    under the “converted to starter” heading?

  7. vin says:

    Great subject. Rather than whining about Cashman, I’ll prefer to focus on the fact that the organization has yielded some quality major leaguers.

    • Yup, four of those five are homegrown draftees.

    • James says:

      You’ve got to be kidding. Whining? Any drunk monkey can spend the money that he does. Even acquiring guys like Swisher and Grnaderson involved taking on significant salary.

      No, Cashman made a big fuckin’ deal about growing pitchers when he got “control”. How has that worked out? The plain fact is, other teams have developed the talent. I have little doubt the same would be true for Joba and Hughes as it was for all of the above plus IPK and Coke.

      Know who else would look tasty in the Yankee farm right now?

      Arodys Vizcaino.

      • James, if I were to give you some money from my wallet, would that help ease the pain?

      • vin says:

        “Any drunk monkey can spend the money that he does. Even acquiring guys like Swisher and Grnaderson involved taking on significant salary.”

        What does that have to do with anything?

        “No, Cashman made a big fuckin’ deal about growing pitchers when he got “control”. How has that worked out?”

        4 of the 5 guys listed in this post were “grown” by the Yanks. As well as Joba, Robertson, Hughes, Nova, Noesi. With quality filler in AAA like Phelps, Mitchell, Warren and Pendelton. And there are high-end guys in the system like Banuelos and Betances.

        I think the underlying point of the post is that just because young players struggle, doesn’t mean that they’re careers are finished.

        “Know who else would look tasty in the Yankee farm right now?

        Arodys Vizcaino.”

        Yeah, I’d love to have him back, but Javy was coming off a Cy Young-caliber season, and he was traded for a lefty with major control problems, a spare part OFer, and a kid who had never pitched in full-season ball. That’s a move you make 10 times out of 10 if you’re the Yankees. Hell, the Pirates should make that move at least 9 times out of 10.

  8. vin says:

    Also of note… all 5 guys are in the NL.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      2011 AL Hitters: .253/.321/.395
      2011 NL Hitters .251/.319/.384

      2010 AL Hitters: .260/.327/.406
      2010 NL Hitters: .255/.324/.399

      2009 AL Hitters: .266/.335/.428
      2009 NL Hitters: .259/.330/.409

      And yes that includes PA’s with pitchers.

      • vin says:

        Thanks for doing the resarch… I was wondering if the difference was still significant. Guess not.

        However, relievers don’t usually face the pitcher… but a pinch hitter is probably less of a threat than a DH.

        Wonder what’s the biggest factor here… are the AL hitters in decline? NL hitters on the upswing? Or maybe the pitching is better in the NL… or that much worse in the AL?

        • JobaWockeeZ says:

          Yeah that shocked the hell out of me too. Originally I was going to back up your point but that failed.

      • CP says:

        2010 AL against NL pitchers: .269/.336/.411/.748
        2010 NL against AL pitchers: .251/.314/.401/.715

        2009 AL against NL pitchers: .263/.334/.434/.768
        2009 NL against AL pitchers: .257/.321/.404/.725

        The NL is quite a bit worse than the AL, and has been for a while.

  9. Kostas says:

    Good piece. I love reading up on former trade baiters who were average or even above average and then traded for what was deemed a missing or several missing pieces.

    Still concerns me that the Yankees seem to misjudge so much talent. But that is more about unrealistic expectations of the Yankees.

    • Still concerns me that the Yankees seem to misjudge so much talent.

      Do they?

      Clippard for Albaladejo seems like the only true misjudge above.

      Mitre was pushed out in a routine numbers crunch (for pitchers who present more value to this club than he did). No big whoop.

      McCutchen, Karstens, and Dunn were all inventory from a stock of largely interchangeable bullpen guys that nobody should get upset about using as a throw-in to get good talent like Nady, Marte, and Vazquez. They’re not all that different from the Aceveses and Pendletons and Carlyles and Logans and Felicianos that we’ve used to replace them.

      Melancon has some talent, but that Berkman trade is also eminently justifiable.

      And Melancon is the only one of the above I’d trust to even approach his current production levels in the AL East.

      The only real regrettable move in retrospect is the Clippard/Albaladejo swap.

      • James says:

        Yeah, a left throwing 94 is NOT interchangeable with Boone Logan.

        Melancon was always considered a closer candidate and they gave up on him for a guy who was no upgrade over what they already had.

        Of course, you also leave out Vizcaino who still has a huge upside.

        • CP says:

          Dunn’s average FB is 94.0, Logan’s is 92.8; and Logan’s number was higher before this year when he lost 1+MPH off his fastball.

          (and yes, I know you were already banned)

  10. MikeD says:

    …and they’re all over in the N.L., along with Dustin Moseley and his 3.00 ERA. Gee, I wonder why.

    So let’s bring all these guys back and get rid of our current bullpen, which just happens to be leading the league. The Yankee bullpen has been solid every year since Torre left, and Cashman basically changed the philosphy on how they stockpile and use arms in the pen.

    Here’s some shocking news. Everyone is down on Ivan Nova right now. Few will shed a tear if he’s traded for a bucket of balls to the Diambondacks, or the Padres, or the Pirates, or the Nationals, or some other second-division club. Those same people will come back crysing as soon as he’s posting a 3.00 ERA in the NL. There’s a reason why there’s a drain of these scubs from the AL to the NL, but we see much less of it in the other direction. They can’t cut it in the AL.

    They are ALL fungible.

    • That.

      I’d complain about the loss of Karstens/McCutchen/Mitre/etc. if we hadn’t already replaced them with in-house arms* that throw as well as they do. But we did just that, so big whoop.

      (*And no, that doesn’t include all the pricey imported FA arms that keep getting injured. We’ve replaced that Karstensesque crew with guys like Carlyle and Ayala and Pendleton and Marquez, etc., cheap guys who are just as fungible as the fungible, cheap guys we sent packing.)

      • MikeD says:

        I should add I’m not quite putting Nova in the fungible class. He’s young and has a good arm. He lacks, as Mike A will say, a swing-and-miss pitch. He’s been okay at the back-end of the rotation, and he might very well improve. Getting one’s ass kicked on the MLB level might very well help/encourage him to work on another pitch. If not, I’d like for him to get a shot out of the bullpen. If that fails, off he goes to the NL.

  11. jsbrendog says:

    man that escalated quickly.

  12. Samuel says:

    I always liked Melancon, McCutchen and Clippard a little.

    But Dunn I can do without. Mitre’s numbers last year out of pen showed his stuff translated better there.

    No issue with trading Dunn, Mitre and Clippard BUT I was always against the Nady/Marte deal and would have traded someone else for Berkman rather than a really good bullpen arm who was never given a real shot with major league club.

    Yanks put guys in doghouse quickly and don’t let up and they turn into a current closer (Melancon) and ace of a young starting rotation (Kennedy).

    James may be an idiot and major jerk in this thread, but it is true that the Yankees do not develop pitching, especially starters.

    No matter how many “great arms” they drafted in recent years, very few, IF ANY, will get a good shot with big club.

    • No matter how many “great arms” they drafted in recent years, very few, IF ANY, will get a good shot with big club.

      Hughes, Joba, and Robertson. IPK was given a chance and is not still with the club only because we needed to give Arizona a good pitcher in order to get MVP candidate Curtis Granderson.

      And they weren’t drafted, but Nova and Noesi belong in that group as well. That’s 6 young pitchers in the past 3 years who were all given significant shots with the team, only one of which is gone. That’s pretty good, all things considered. Few contenders have more than 6 homegrown young pitchers as key contributors.

      Melancon is the only one who really got the cold shoulder.

      • Samuel says:

        Hughes was always the golden boy so he is going to get more chances than anybody. Joba was bounced around so much, it is really laughable. Robertson has always been one of my favorites, but he, too, was traveling the Scranton shuttle for awhile.

        Once kids do really well in Triple A, there is no sense to keep shuttling them back and forth.

        You can’t ever say Kennedy got a fair shot. He pitched poorly in April 2008, made that one off-hand comment, and was banished. He had talent and I would have loved to have traded someone else in the Granderson deal – even Joba.

        Nova and Noesi have not even received a big chance yet. Nova does not even have a full seasons worth of starts yet and except for last night, Noesi doesn’t even pitch unless there is no one else.

        If the Yankees want to get gutsy and prove that their farm system produces, they can let Noesi and Garcia stay on turn and give Freddy one more start. If he bombs again, release him and bring up Noesi for the remainder of the year and give him a spot in the rotation next year.

        It takes at least a year and a half, (prob more than two full seasons) to get a gauge on a young pitchers worthiness.

        Just ask Doc Halladay.

        It seems that the Rays continually produce the best pitching talent year in and year out.

        Maybe the Yankees (and other teams) should be following their model on developing pitching.

        • The Big City of Dreams says:

          The pitchers on the Rays seemed primed and ready to step in and produce. I’m not sure if that’s because they get a ton of minor league innings or are developed properly or are high draft picks but whatever it is it works.

          • Samuel says:

            The Rays basically have each pitcher go one level at a time, and monitor innings so when they are promoted to the major leagues, they are ready to throw 200+ innings.

            David Price is the exception, but they worked Jeremy Hellickson one level at a time and he is a good, young pitcher working every five days in the majors and should be good for 200 plus innings.

            And Phil Hughes is hurt (again), has been babied his entire career and still is not capable of throwing 200 plus innings any time soon.

            Price even went to the bullpen for the 2008 playoffs, pitched very well, then was moved back to the starting rotation the next year where he is more important.

            Joba was a reliever in the 2007 playoffs, moved back to the rotation, then the Yankees started jerking him around. Now he is a set up guy with a bad elbow.

            Shields, Price, Hellickson, Davis and Niemann all developed within and the Rays have traded away excess starters who pitch all-around the majors, too. Now 23 year old Alex Cobb is starting and pitching decently.

            AJ is paid handsomely and I would rather have Andy Sonnastine start a big game rather than Burnett.

            The Rays develop starters while the Yankees develop relievers.

            Which is more important?

  13. Kulish says:

    The bitching over losing Miranda by James is hilarious. Talk about complete hindsight.

  14. Kulish says:

    The whining over losing Miranda by James is hilarious. Talk about complete hindsight.

  15. Kulish says:

    Sorry about the multiple posts. iPhone issue.

  16. special kid says:

    in conclusion: cashman failed

  17. Naved says:

    tyler clippard still pisses me off.

  18. Skip says:

    Hrmm. James is an angry man.

  19. FrankM says:

    Aceves would be a nice option right now

  20. Mike HC says:

    Really good article, and article idea.

  21. Stan the Man says:

    Outside of trading with the White Sox do the Yankees actually ever get the upside of a trade?

    What was the thought behind the Yanks trading Coke and Dunn in one off-season when they only had Marte at the time on the roster?

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