Is Mike Gonzalez an inevitability?

Burnett and the Mystery Team
Rafael DePaula Non-Update: Still No Visa
(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

From most accounts, the Yankees are about to trim a bit from the payroll. Whether the Yankees ship A.J. Burnett to the Pirates or to a mystery team, it appears that he’s headed somewhere. Their main reward will come in the form of salary relief; Jon Heyman’s latest has the Yankees saving $13 million between this year and next, effectively netting them an extra $6.5 million this season.

Chances are they’ll put that money to use quickly. With the Burnett deal behind them they could snap up Raul Ibanez or Johnny Damon (or even Vlad Guerrero), and then perhaps Eric Chavez. That will probably cost them in the neighborhood of $3 million. The smart best is that they save the rest of the money for a mid-season acquisition. It might not seem like a lot, but $3 million gets you a $6 to $7 million per-year player in July.

Still, the Yankees could look to make one more move with that saved money. For years they’ve pursued lefty relievers on the free agent market. That has left them with some sub-optimal contracts. Damaso Marte threw just 21 regular season innings during his three-year, $12 million deal. The Yankees will pay Pedro Feliciano $4 million this year to throw zero pitches, after doing the same last year. That leaves Boone Logan as their only left option in the pen. Might the Yankees use those freshly available dollars to ink the one prominent lefty still available?

The Yankees having interest in Mike Gonzalez would be nothing new. Five years ago they were interested in the then-Pirates closer, and were rumored to be offering Melky Cabrera in exchange for him. That never materialized, though, and the Pirates sent Gonzalez to the Braves. After just 17 innings Gonzalez tore his UCL and missed the rest of the 2007 season, followed by a good portion of the 2008 season. He came back strong in 2009, sharing closer duties with Rafael Soriano, before both hit free agency.

Gonzalez’s deal with the Orioles didn’t go as smoothly as either party planned. Gonzalez got hurt in 2010 and was limited to just 24.2 innings, in which he produced a 4.01 ERA. His peripherals were a bit better, particularly his 11.31 K/9. But he walked far, far too many batters, which has been a problem for him his entire career. Last year he managed to stay healthy, but was downright terrible at times. That came mostly at the beginning, however. As the season rolled along he did show signs of improvement — he walked zero of the 33 batters he faced in August, while striking out nearly half of them. His playoff run, the first of his career, was also halfway decent, excepting the lone home run he surrendered.

There is a chance that Gonzalez, 34, can still be an effective reliever. He’s done it throughout his career, and he did round into shape as the 2011 season wore on. That he did his best work when pitching for a contender could also bode well for his performance as a Yankee. Furthermore, he could fit in the bullpen as mostly a LOOGY. While he walked 21 of the 230 batters he faced last year, only six of those were lefties. Overall he walked only 5.5 percent of lefties, while striking out nearly a quarter of them. A quick look at his splits page shows that he still has something in the tank when facing same-handed pitchers. His continued ability to strike out righties furthers his value, since he can conceivably face two lefties with a righty sandwiched in the middle.

Still, it’s tough to imagine that signing Gonzalez constitutes the best use of the Yankees’ saved dollars. They already have five of seven bullpen spots filed: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan, and Cory Wade. They also have minor league invitee Hideki Okajima, who probably has an inside track to that second lefty spot. Beyond him, there are a couple of players on the 40-man who could win a bullpen spot: George Kontos and D.J. Mitchell. Using one of these guys might be a necessity, since the team needs to retain some level of flexibility; Joba Chamberlain returns in June and will need a bullpen spot as well.

Given the Yankees’ M.O. in recent years, it’s in some ways easy to see them signing Gonzalez. He’s still there for the taking, with little serious interest in his services. He throws with his left hand, can handle same-handed pitchers well, and isn’t a total disaster against righties. But given the Yankees’ current roster structure, which includes hosting two Rule 5 picks on the 40-man, they might be better off pocketing those Burnett dollars with an eye towards the deadline. Right now $3 mil might not buy a lot, but at the deadline dollars stretch a little further.

Burnett and the Mystery Team
Rafael DePaula Non-Update: Still No Visa
  • Dropped Third

    Package burnet and soriano…. Sign another lefy

  • Mister D(elaware)

    Is Gonzalez really going to get paid or just paid?

  • fin

    If expanded playoffs take effect this year, it may be harder than ever to get what you need at the deadline as it seems alot more teams will have a chance to get into the playoffs and not want to give up players. I’m not so sure waiting around for the trade deadline is going to be wise in the future. It could be counter acted a bit if they put the deadline out further, like sometime late in August.

    • Plank

      At this point, I doubt they will add the extra wild card this season. It just doesn’t seem like there is enough time to get it done.

  • A.D.

    Hopefully the Marte/Feliciano/Soriano waste has finally gotten the org off of signing veteran relievers for market deals

    • Steve (different one)

      It’s like 2 days before pitchers and catchers. Were the Yankees to get Gonzalez, it would be a one year, low base contract.

      The bigger issue is the roster, if they had the room for him, they would probably get a bargain. We shouldnt paint every veteran pickup with the same brush.

      • A.D.

        Very true, for some reason I’m associating several million to this signing without any reason to believe that would be the contract cost

  • Joe Kinlan

    Atually the Yankees have several lefty relievers in camp aside from Logan. Cesar Cabral was probably a steal in the Rule 5 Draft this offseason and is currently on the 40 man roster. Non-roster invitees to spring training include LHP prospects Manny Banuelos (probably not a candidate to break camp in the bullpen), Juan Cedeno and Michael O’Connor. And there’s also former Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima.

  • KyleLitke

    You think Okajima has the inside track? I would have thought Cesar Cabral would get a really good look, considering they traded up to get him in the Rule 5 and, being a Rule 5, he has to be returned to the Red Sox if they don’t carry him. I’m not saying that means they’d go out of their way to do so, if they sign Gonzalez that’s fine, but I have to think if the alternative is just Okajima they’d try Cabral first (unless he looks awful in Spring Training), and if he doesn’t work out they can always DFA him and go another route.

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      They actually don’t have to return Cabral. This is his second time as Rule 5 pick, so he can simply elect free agency if the Yanks cut him. The Yanks lost Zack Kroenke this way a few years back.

      • KyleLitke

        Ahh, gotcha, didn’t realize this was his second time.

  • fin

    Could they plan on using this money for one of the numerous washed up Dh’s, Chavez and Soler? I’m sure they arent sitting on ~30m surplus in thier minor league budget.

  • UYF1950

    Don’t discount Cabral who they picked up as a rule 5 player this past winter if he has a good spring training.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Mike Gonzalez feels more like an RAB meme at this point. I can’t see the team putting their resources there. Sorry.

  • BrianH

    Cabral would become a free agent if DFA’d. He was a rule 5 pick last year also.

  • Jesse

    I’d only sign him to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training and he can battle it out with Cabral, Okajima, and O’Connor as the second lefty. Don’t like it? Then pack your bags and see if another team takes a flyer.

  • CJ

    Cashman does like to chase bad lefties? Meanwell a lefty?

    • Steve (different one)

      Actually, he likes to chase excellent lefties that can’t stay healthy…

  • Matt DiBari


    Please, please, please, please no.

  • Rookie

    I don’t see the Yankees allocating the resources to Gonzalez. And I trust the Yankees’ talent evaluation and judgement (as long as they keep Levine out of the decision-making loop) to do the right thing. But my impression based on a quick glance at Gonzalez’ splits, history, etc, suggests to me that he could, at the very least, be one beast of a LOOGY. However, again, whether he’s a good use of a roster spot, a good allocation of $, etc., I’m confident that Cashman will make a wise choice there.

  • CJ

    Gary Carter R.I.P.

    • Fernando

      Indeed. What a shame that he lost his battle at such a young age. “The Kid” was a hell of a player.

  • RetroRob

    “They already have five of seven bullpen spots filed: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan, and Cory Wade…”

    The roster is even tighter than that considering one of the two remaining bullpen slots is going either to Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia. One is making the rotation and the other goes to the pen.

  • ThatstheMelkyMesaWaysa

    As wary as I am of signing lefties, there is always the chance that they will develop into the most valuable pen arms. I’m okay with signing Gonzalez

  • Preston

    I’m also fine with it, just no more multiple year deals for relievers please.

  • Chrisis

    “can handle same-handed pitchers well”

    Can’t most pitchers do that? Doesn’t matter anyway with the DH rule and all.

    • Jonathan

      Not as many as you’d think. Our resident LOOGY Boone Logan was 116 OPS points worse against lefties last year. He gave up a .462 SLG against lefties last year. Only Robbie/Grandy/Tex/Andruw/Jesus slugged higher in their full season last year. Of course Andruw and Jesus weren’t near full timers.

      • Chrisis

        I know that. But what about same-handed pitchers?

        • Preston

          Well done sir!

  • Jonathan

    Joe, did you steal this from me? Check out the comments about 3/8 of the way down the page. I obviously know you didn’t steal it from me. I just thought it was funny that not only does he give you that feeling Edwin Jackson was giving us a few weeks ago but that you used the same wording. As I said in the other comments a deal of about $1MM or so would definitely work for me. $1.5 MiLB for Chavez and $2MM or so for hopefully Damon.

  • Dave

    It was said in an earlier reply, but I also think that Cabral, if he pitches effectively in the spring, is coming north with the team as the 2nd lefty

  • kevin w.

    If he can sign for one-year, honestly why not?