David Aardsma gives Yanks another mid-season bullpen option

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Bryan Hoch reports that the Yankees have signed right-handed relief pitcher David Aardsma to a MLB contract for 2012, with a team option for 2013. Aardsma, 30, missed the entire 2011 season due to hip and elbow troubles, though he didn’t undergo Tommy John surgery until July. That means he’ll be out until at least this July, meaning he could help the Yankees in the second half. The bigger part of the move, however, is the team option for 2013. That gives the Yankees one more in-house bullpen option, which could come in handy should Mariano Rivera retire and Rafael Soriano opt out of his contract.

Aardsma first made a splash in 2003, when he closed games for the College World Series Champion Rice Owls. He holds Rice records for both single-season and career saves. From there it was onto the MLB draft, where the Giants selected him number 22 overall in 2003. He threw 18.1 innings for their advanced-A club that year, dominating the competition — he struck out 28 of the 74 batters he faced. Following the season Baseball America ranked him the Giants’ No. 3 prospect, one spot behind Matt Cain.

Things get a bit confusing here. Baseball America says that at Rice he ditched his slider for a knuckle-curve, and that his changeup is “major league-ready.” Yet Baseball Info Solutions data suggests he barely used either his changeup or his curve, instead opting for a slider. Pitch f/x, once introduced in 2007, confirms that he’s mainly a fastball-slider guy, with some splitter mixed in. Classification issues make it tough to determine how frequently he has used the splitter in the past; before 2010 many splitters were lumped in with his fastballs, but in 2010 he threw the splitter about 13 percent of the time.

As is the case with so many highly ranked prospects, Aardsma struggled out of the gate. His 10.2 innings in 2004 went about as poorly as possible; in those innings he walked 10 and struck out five. He did continue striking out a fair number of hitters in the minors, about one per inning, though his control remained an issue. In 2005, after seeing his strikeout rate dip below six-per-nine at the AA level, the Giants dished him to the Cubs in exchange for LaTroy Hawkins. While his strikeout numbers rose in the Southern League, he control problems lingered.

In 2006 Aardsma would return to the bigs. He was intriguing in ways, because he found ways to strike out batters. Unfortunately, he also walked far, far too many. A high strand rate saved him in 2006, but when that started to dip in later years his ERA suffered greatly. From 2006 through 2008, during which time he pitched for three different teams, he sported a 5.17 ERA. Despite striking out exactly one batter per inning during that span, he could not maintain a decent strikeout-to-walk ratio, putting 80 men on or free — 75 of them unintentionally. He was also incredibly hittable in that period, allowing almost a hit per inning. Combined with the walks, it was easy to see why, despite his strikeout tendencies, he just couldn’t keep runs off the board.

Before the 2009 season the Red Sox traded Aardsma to the Mariners for some forgettable minor leaguer. Something apparently clicked during his time in the Pacific Northwest. Last winter Matthew Carruth of Lookout Landing examined what changed with Aardsma when he came to Seattle. It wasn’t necessarily the huge park, though that surely helped a bit. Instead, Aardsma apparently focused on his fastball more, challenging hitters up in the zone and generating some more swings and misses. Pitching higher in the zone led to plenty more fly balls, but he did keep them in the park (even against lefties, who do not have nearly as hard a time as righties at Safeco).

For a $500K guarantee, the Yankees essentially made a mid-season bullpen acquisition. True, with Joba Chamberlain returning ahead of Aardsma, the bullpen could be full. But that’s only if nothing goes wrong. Aardsma provides some mid-season insurance. Still, he might not be all the way back from surgery. Since control is the last thing to come back after Tommy John, he could be pretty rough around the edges in 2012. That’s why the Yankees got a 2013 club option. If he shows flashes of his 2009 and 2010 self, the Yankees can keep him around to help the 2013 bullpen.

It’s odd to see the Yankees hand out a major league contract to a pitcher who missed all of 2011 with elbow woes. But, given the ease with which they can add Aardsma to the 60-day DL, it doesn’t make a huge difference. They can keep his 40-man roster spot free whenever they need it. In fact, he’ll probably hit the 60-day DL once the Eric Chavez signing becomes official. While there’s risk involved in the signing, it’s at a low level. The payoff can be huge, especially for the 2013 team.

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  • Jeff

    Maybe its me, but these last few signings seem a bit on the weird side.

    • FachoinaNYY

      I couldn’t disagree more strongly. I think the signings we have had this off season recently have been fantastic. This offseason in general has been incredible. I went into it thinking there was no way the Yankees would get better, but I really like the moves that were made. Maybe I am in the minority in this view. Losing Montero will obviously hurt, but I am so excited for Pineda, and this season in general, that I am ok with the trade(not to mention I think we won the trade in general with Campos).

      Anyways, I think the value these low level signings will have will be huge in comparison to the little cost they have.

      • Jeff

        I can only say I hope your right

  • ADam

    Regardless of what Rivera does, do you think Cashman tries to unload Soriano’s ridiculous contract before the 2013 season? If the eat a little bit of money say ~4MM they unload a ton of cash that can go toward another ace no?

    • Jeff

      I like the way you think

    • All Praise Be To Mo

      Next year it won’t be so bad, only 1 year left, he’ll probably be pushing for a new contract and pitch the 8th or 9th, hopefully he pitches the 9th, does great and we can offer him arb and watch him walk out the door after next year and get some picks back for him.

      • ADam

        Its bad every year… He’s a deadweight contract. Cashman can play hardball with him, tell him there is no way he is closing for this team.(Look at the money Pappleboner and Bell just got, there will be teams out there who will Pay 10 Mill for one year of Soriano) Id rather have the ~10 Million freed up towards someone who can give you 200 innings than an *8th inning guy that gives you 70.

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

      I think Soriano will opt out.

      • All Praise Be To Mo

        If he opts out, can we offer arbitration? He probably wouldn’t want to accept and come back since he’d probably lose in arbitration and only reason to opt out would be guaranteed closer’s role somewhere else for more money.

        • Needed Pitching

          there’s no arbitration for free agents anymore
          free agent compensation is tied to whether the Yankees make a qualifying offer or not (qualifying offer is the average of the 125 highest paying contracts, currently about 12.4M, which is less than what he would make if he didn’t opt out, so there’s no way he would opt out only to accept a lower qualifying offer)

      • Plank

        I hope he’s good enough in 2012 that opting out makes sense for him.

        • Havok9120

          Hear, here!

          Then let him walk.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        It’s all part of Mo’s ruse. He says he’s going to retire, Soriano opts out because he thinks the Yankees need a closer and will offer him huge bucks to stay, then Mo comes back and the Yankees have $14M to give to Hamels.

        He works in mysterious ways.

        • A.D.

          That would be awesome

        • Havok9120

          That might be the most epic thing Mo has done outside the World Series. And that’d be saying something.

      • JoeyA

        This bullpen can go from really good to really mediocre in a hurry if Mo retires and Soriano opts out.

        • ADam

          Your putting too much emphasis on the bullpen… who where the Cardinals *8Th Inning Guy and *Closer last year

          • All Praise Be To Mo

            Wasn’t that the Texas bullpen who blew the games before and allowed the comeback? Remember us in 96 with Stanton, Nelson, Mo and Wetteland when we turned games into 6 innings affairs? A shutdown bullpen is a huge weapon to have, especially in the playoffs.

            • Jesse

              Amen. I grew old of the mediocre at best bullpen guys up until Mo in the mid ’00s rather quickly.

      • ADam

        What makes you think that? Just curious?

      • Tom

        I’m also curious why you think that.

        Is it a scenario where he thinks Robertson will be installed as the next closer and going into his FA he won’t rack up saves (which will hurt the next contract)?

      • DM

        The only way he opts out is if he became the closer this year and pitched lights out. No other scenario will be worth it to give up the money that last year will pay him.

        • Tom Swift

          He would be trading $14 MM for one year for a greater amount of guaranteed money over multiple years. If he thinks he has the Yankees over a barrel, he might make that trade. So the Aardsma move decreases Soriano’s leverage and lessens the chance Soriano opts out.

          • DM

            Even more than that, he lost leverage already. He didn’t pitch that well and had arm issues too. He was given that contract to be the 8th inning guy and close some games so Rivera wouldn’t have to pitch too many games in a row. He didn’t do that. And Robertson starts this year ahead of him. A 7th inning guy (even a great one) isn’t opting out of 14mil — even with Rivera retiring. The Yankees signed him to that deal coming off a great closer season, not a 7th inning guy season. The Yankees wouldn’t bow to him, and he wouldn’t get 14 mil for a 2 yr deal from anyone else — never mind a 1 yr deal.

      • CJ

        The only way Soriano opts out is if he has a lights out sub 2 ERA. Maybe saves 12 games if Mariano misses time with ‘stiffness’. It’s a win-win or lose-lose situation. Lights out-opts out or mediocre-collects $14 million

      • Havok9120

        I’m curious as to why you think that. Think he’s chaffing by having so little to do, that the Papplebon contract is making him think he can do better (probably from us) after Mo hangs it up? Something else entirely?

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      I think if Mo retires, Boras will have Soriano opt-out in an attempt to take advantage of the Yankees hole at closer.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Barring meltdown, wouldn’t the last year of the deal, and the year of the potential Mo-rapture, be the best time to actually keep Soriano?

      • Havok9120

        Not if he opts out. Not unless DRob implodes AND Joba can’t cut it. I’d rather give it to either of them than overpay for Soriano’s reputation. He’s got enough of our money.

        Does DRob walk way too many to be a closer? Maybe. But we know he can take the ball every night for multiple nights and handle the strain. Two intangibles that have sunk more “closers of the future” than we can count.

        Its all about the money and if he opts out and wants a BIGGER contract? Let him find it elsewhere unless he’s truly lights out this year.

  • All Praise Be To Mo

    Cash-ninja strikes again. I like this move to cover the bullpen the 2nd half of this year, and then also next year if Mo retires there’s a lot of uncertainty in the pen. Low risk, high reward if you ask me.

  • mike

    never a big fan of him….always seemed really lucky when watching him- but then again we have been spoiled over the past few years :)

    • A.D.

      xFIP consistently over 4…kinda has been luck/he definitely isn’t a stud

      • Havok9120

        Luckily, no one’s asking him to be.

      • Ted Nelson

        Aardsma isn’t very good, but outperforming your xFIP is not synonymous with luck. Can be luck, but it can also mean that pitched well and therefore were under the league average HR-rate.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    There is one Mariano and 29 other closers. Yes, we are spoiled. Mo’s efficiency at closing games will not be duplicated IMHO. So, Cashman arming the team with possibilities especially with Soriano’s contract provisions is smart. As indicated above if Soriano does opt. out after a fabulous 2012 we have the option to offer arbitration. Boras will be watching carefully over the course of the season for landing spots. At least we have an option. Soriano can pitch but he’s no Mo.

    Robertson has another year to progress toward a possible destiny with the 9th inning and all important year of instruction from the master Mariano.

    • Jeff

      Big year for Robertson agreed.

  • http://twitter.com/_swarlsbarkley Drew

    Love this move. Nuff Said

  • Gonzo

    After the contract Madson got, what are the odds Soriano opts out? I realize it’s a decision that has lots of variable yet to play out, but as of today, I’d be surprised if he opted out.

  • baravelli

    Is it possible that Aardsma’s name is alphabetically first in the baseball encyclopedia? If so, it’s worth acquiring him just for that.

    • Havok9120

      I laughed.

  • Wayne Tolleson

    It certainly appears Cashman is taking a “the more the merrier” approach to replacing Mo. Assuming Soriano doesn’t opt out, the Yanks can choose from D-Rob, Joba, Soriano and Aardsma without having to go outside what we already have.

    I have always felt the whole Joba to the bullpen idea was with an eye toward him ultimately being Mo’s replacement, but obviously all bets are off with him coming off TJ surgery. I would prefer to see Joba back in the rotation, but that’s seems awfully unlikely to happen, at least in Yankee pinstripes.

    And though we know there will never be another Mo, having a good back 4 in the pen certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing for year one of life after Mo.

  • LeftyLarry

    This guy has a big arm, well worth the gamble IMO.

  • Bronx Byte

    If and when Mariano retires, the Yankees may have the option of using co-closers until somebody steps forward and claims the job.
    No way No. 42 gets replaced regardless of who it may be.

    • A.D.

      Given the Yanks currently have an 8th and 7th inning guy, I imagine that co-closers isn’t going to happen. Girardi loves set roles, I imagine this will continue.

  • CJ

    How much is the 2013 option? I dont see aardsma helping in 2012.

  • Mike HC

    Definitely a pre emptive strike to off set the pain of Mo retiring next year. This year will be more about just getting back into form for next year.

  • GardnergoesYardner

    When Joba was on the 60 Day DL last year/part of this year, does he get credit for all of the service time? Not really sure how that works.

    If he does, he’ll be a free agent after next year, and he hasn’t really shown the Yankees any evidence that he could replace Mo. I think it’s between Soriano and DRob, with Aardsma as insurance. He should be a nice depth piece.

    My money goes on DRob if he has even a half decent year this year, because I think the Yankees would prefer to use their own guy. Plus personality wise, having a chest pounding man like Soriano is a huge change from the quiet professionalism of Mo. DRob has more of the calm, confident mindset, and I think that’s extremely important, especially when replacing the greatest of all time.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      If you’re on the MLB DL, you collect service time.

  • Fernando

    Soriano would be foolish to opt out. He’s not getting an extension from the Yankees — either for that same money or at all. Cashman’s strategy is not to spend big on bullpen arms. They have lots of bullpen arms in minors and Cashman has done well in reclamation projects (Wade, Ayala). Soriano can take an effin walk if he wants. Remember, Cashman never wanted Soriano in the first place.

  • Pinade is greata

    This is such a great signing as next year joba and aards setup for the new closer Drob. Bye bye sori. Aards was lights out when right.