Scouting The Market: Low-Risk Pitching Depth

Dallas Braden

(Norm Hall/Getty)

Pitchers and catchers are due to report one week from today, and for the most part the Yankees’ pitching staff is pretty much set. Ivan Nova and David Phelps will battle for the fifth starter’s job in Spring Training, with the loser presumably sliding into a swingman role. Injury is pretty much the only thing capable of changing the other four rotation spots or other six bullpen spots at this point.

No team ever makes it through a season using just five starters and just seven relievers, of course. At some point the loser of that Nova-Phelps battle will move into the rotation, just like guys who start the season in the minors will find themselves in the Bronx. It’s inevitable. Assuming Dellin Betances continues pitching in relief as he did during the Arizona Fall League, the Triple-A Scranton rotation will likely feature righties Adam Warren and Brett Marshall and lefties Shaeffer Hall and Vidal Nuno. That leaves one starting spot for a veteran, a low-risk minor league contract guy — like Ramon Ortiz last season — to serve as depth. A seventh/eighth starter type.

The free agent market is pretty desolate at this point of the winter, but here are four pitchers who could fit the bill.

LHP Dallas Braden
Braden, 29, has not thrown a pitch in either the Majors or minors since April 2011 due to a pair of major shoulder surgeries — torn capsule (May 2011) and torn rotator cuff (August 2012). He attended Texas Tech’s alumni game about two weeks ago but did not pitch, and that’s the closest thing I can find to a rehab update. In other words, there is no update.

Braden was very good for the Athletics from 2009-2010 before getting hurt (3.66 ERA and 3.77 FIP), though his strikeout (5.30 K/9 and 14.2 K%) and ground ball (39.0%) rates didn’t exactly stand out. He’s always been a soft-tossing — average fastball velocity from 2009-2010 was 87.6 mph — changeup specialist, so losing velocity due to the shoulder problems might not be the kiss if death. Given the typical rehab time associated with rotator cuff repairs and the unlikelihood that he can contribute at all in 2013, Braden is more of a candidate for a David Aardsma contract — one-year with a super-low base salary plus a club option — than someone a team could count on for depth this summer.

RHP Derek Lowe
Back in October we heard the 40-year-old Lowe would look for a job as a starter before deciding whether to return as a reliever, and apparently the offers to start have been scarce given his continued unemployment. I wrote a mailbag post about re-signing the sinker baller back in late-December, saying I liked the idea of bringing him back as a swingman candidate on a minor league contract. Anything more than that would be pushing it, and Lowe doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would bide his time and wait for an injury down in Triple-A. I think he would sooner retire.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

RHP Dustin Moseley
Another former Yankee, the 31-year-old Moseley had surgery to repair his rotator cuff and labrum last April. Like Braden, I can’t find any updates on his rehab beyond the initial reports. Considering how long these things usually take, he’s probably not going to be ready to return to game action until midseason. That alone makes Moseley, who pitched to a 3.30 ERA (3.99 FIP) in 120 innings for the Padres in 2011, a less-than-ideal candidate for Triple-A depth. He would have been a great fit if healthy, but no dice.

LHP Jonathan Sanchez
Sanchez, 30, just finished a nightmare season that saw him pitch to a 8.07 ERA (6.60 FIP) in 64.2 innings for the Royals and Rockies. He walked (53) more batters than he struck out (45), and his fastball velocity continued its gradual decline.

That said, Sanchez is one year removed from a 4.26 ERA (4.30 FIP) with the Giants in 2011, when he posted his third consecutive season with more than a strikeout per inning (9.06 K/9 and 23.0 K%). The walks (career 5.00 BB/9 and 12.6 BB%) are a concern and after nearly 800 big league innings, it’s getting to be time to stop hoping for improvement. Sanchez has shown swing-and-miss stuff in the recent past, so as long as he isn’t hiding an injury, he’d be a pretty good reclamation project for the Triple-A rotation. The problem is that he’s reportedly close to a deal with the Pirates.

Categories : Hot Stove League
  • Robinson Tilapia

    Really tough call. I’d say do the Aardsma thing with Braden (just to come full circle on the Alex stuff, of course) and Moseley, but would the upside-if-healthy be that great on either guy? Always eternally grateful to Dustin Moseley, but there seem to be better places to put our money.

    Sanchez would be a AAA try-out type of guy and see what’s there, which every team does all the time and the Yanks most recently did with Maine, Millwood, etc. I’m not expecting much.

    Lowe? Thank you for September, but you’re 40 and someone will bring you to camp with an actual chance at making their team.

    In conclusion? Dom DeLuise was a funny guy.

    I do love these “what’s still out there” posts.

  • http://espn.com Favrest

    Braden is high reward or at least the highest of the available guys on that list.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Yeah, that does seem to be the case. While this season is probably lost (and therefore the Yankees would still probably need another starter to stash away in AAA or simply rely on the guys already there, plus some from the lower levels), signing him to an Aardsma-type deal might be worth the risk.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Is what you’d potentially be getting 6-12 months later that worth it, though? Aardsma has closed effectively. Braden has been a mid-rotation starter on a team in continuous rebuilding mode (BUT TEH BILLY BEANE IZ BETTAH.)

        Other than an MiLB flyer on Sanchez, I’d probably pass on all these guys.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          During the ’14 season, the Yankees will potentially need several cost-effective starters. If Braden can return to form (yes, that’s a big if), he could pay big dividends in ’14, so yes, I think it’s possible that he’d be worth it.

          (Obvious disclaimer on need to understand his rehab status and medical reports)

          • Ted Nelson

            To me the question is just how much of a discount you get for signing him now vs. just waiting until he’s healthy enough to start making rehab starts. Perhaps he’s easier to secure now, but you also might be putting his rehab on your insurance and giving a big f-you to A-Rod (and to a lesser extent maybe CC, too). I don’t see him getting offered even a guaranteed deal when healthy. I have to imagine that the success rate of coming back from TJS (Aardsma) is far higher than serious shoulder injuries (Braden).

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Yeah. Pretty much what I was trying to say above.

              I don’t think the CC/Alex stuff is something that a serious talk couldn’t smooth over. They wouldn’t be the first set of players to become teammates years after some stupidity. It also wouldn’t shock me if the org gave them the heads up that they were pursuing him early.

              • Ted Nelson

                Yeah, my comment wasn’t written very clearly. What I sort of assumed and didn’t actually say was that the primary concern is probably financial: is the money you’re paying him this year actually giving you any benefit compared to just waiting? Then those were sort of “hidden” costs I was listing.

                I don’t think it would really matter in the long-run, but doing it right now would almost definitely spark a mini-firestorm in the NYC media and might come across a little as kicking A-Rod while he’s down. Basically, I’m wondering if the chance of Braden ever being effective again is even worth that minor inconvenience. And I have no idea the answer. If not, then just having to pay him this year probably trumps that reason anyway.

            • Cris Pengiucci

              Good comments. Obviously there are other factors to consider, and as much as I don’t like Braden’s antics, I truely didn’t factor those into my comemnts. That’s for the team to do. Of the choices listed, if a selection had to be made (so, my thinking was clearly in a vacuum), I see this as the best choice. Certainly plenty of potential drawbacks, but also potential reward.

              In my vacuum, this could be a good decision. If a minor league deal could be reached, the risk is minimal. I guess the potential conflicts with A-Rod and CC would also need to be taken into consideration. Are these signs of poor make-up that would deter the Yankees from going after him or simply a sign of his competitive nature? Not for me to determine.

              • Ted Nelson

                For me the financial cost is more the concern, with the PR/HR implications being secondary. Basically, is the money you pay him this year worth the expected benefit vs. just waiting until he’s ready to go? With someone coming off TJS I think the answer is more likely to be yes than someone coming off major shoulder surgery, though I don’t pretend to know what Braden’s expected production going forward should actually be.

  • Phil

    This organization is a mess.

    • Colombo

      Why, because they are looking for veteran filler for AAA? Buy low reclamation projects that could potentially help us later this year or next? Every team does this. Step away from the ledge.

      • jjyank

        Yeah, pretty much this. Besides the fact that this is all Mike’s own speculation, not actual reports of interest, these are just depth pieces. Like Mike said, 7th/8th starter types. Considering every single name here has been much better than that at one point or another, I’d say it’s a solid list of options for the 5th rotation slot of the AAA team. I swear, some people just don’t get it.

        • trr

          I think we as Yankee fans have a heightened level of expectations, that all deals/signings should be superstar mega-deals…so if we’re not trading for Felix Hernanadez or Justin Verlander we’re somehow floundering…Of course, that’s a little nuts. These would all be low cost/low risk signings (if indeed they were to happen at all), so that any positive impact would be gravy…

          • jjyank

            I mean it’s quite possible the original poster was referring to a larger/different picture. But when there’s no explanation at all and it comes in a thread about possible minor league depth signings…it comes across as spoiled.

            There’s an apparent opening in the AAA rotation. Might as well sign a guy who has been a successful MLB player in the past and roll the dice, right?

          • Robinson Tilapia

            I just think people comment without thinking, complain for the sake of complaining, or they just plain don’t know.

            Of course they can’t all be big deals. Of course you need AAA depth, org depth, etc. It’s just common sense.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Yeah, it’s February and they don’t have their post-season roster set yet. Just terrible.

    • Robinson Tilapia

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      For only $1.95, Phil can teach you short, succint, sure-fire ways to rile up a fanbase on any sports blog. Spend 30 seconds somewhere, walk away, and come back an hour later to a lather so rich you could shave Brian Wilson’s beard with it.

      From the makers of “How to Drive Up Blog Traffic by Talking About Fast Food and Fat Guys.”

      • Jersey Joe

        Not only this, but you can get a commenting name on RAB: FOR NO COST TO YOU!

        A $10 value, for just $1.95!

        Plus shipping and handling.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Choose from “Rick,” “Phil,” “John,” “Terry,” and “stuart b-z.”

    • Pat D

      Just like the RNC.

      That’s the best I could come up with, all the other good stuff was taken.

  • Jersey Joe

    STarting pitching depth is always available, and I don’t think the candidates are limited. I think people are forgetting that we have a solid 5 man rotation along with Phelps and Pineda. I think as long as we have someone who can throw 5 innings and allow 3 or fewer runs, we’re good. (That almost sounds like Jaret Wright – ew)

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Yeah, I’d agree with this.

      Please don’t bring up Jaret Wright ever again. Also, don’t bring up Chris Britton. Ever.

    • jjyank

      Agreed as well. Pineda is often the forgotten piece when we’re talking about depth. I know, we’re not supposed to expect much in 2013, anything we get is gravy, etc., but still. If he can be at least league average after he comes back, that’s probably a bigger addition than anyone mentioned in this article.

  • LK

    The only guy who seems like an option for 2013 is Lowe, but as you said he might not be amenable to pitching in AAA. I think I’d be alright with Warren/Marshall as the 7th and 8th starters.

  • Jersey Joe

    Zach Duke!

  • LK

    I don’t really get the Braden idea. It’s like picking up a worse version of Pineda who had far more extensive shoulder problems.

  • HW7

    Sign Braden and maybe he’ll let you play with that sweet RC car.

  • Slappy McWaterbug

    Roger Clemens!

  • vin

    Wonder what Kei Igawa is up to these days…

  • MannyGeee

    I have an IRRATIONAL hate for Dallas Braden. And it has nothing to do with “TEH 209z!!!”, or his not wanting to share his mound with A-Rod (#nohomo), or his grandmother (who looks like a skinny version of Charlie’s mom from Philly…)

    Nope. His perfect game came on mothers day 2010. I was at Fenway for the Sox/Yanks Sunday night game with my brother in law (long story short, ex GF gave him tix for Christmas, they were broken up by Valentine’s day). I had to sit in Boston Beer Works for 2 hours and watch that ass hat get his perfect game, listen to A-Rod sucks chants (since “an enemy of my enemy is my friend” on Yawkey Way) and then go in the stadium and watch AJ Burnett get absolutely PLASTERED by the Sox that night (7ER in 3.1P?) Humberto Sanchez came in and closed out the game, if memory serves. Oh yeah, Jeremy Hermeida took him yard. It sucked out loud…

    So yeah, fuck Dallas Braden.

  • Manny’s BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte’s Fibula)

    I’d vote for Braden, only because I’d hope he’d knock Arod’s teeth down his throat for being such an asshole.

    • TCMiller30

      I have a feeling if it came to that, Braden would lose.

      • TCMiller30

        And I would much prefer that outcome.

    • Ted Nelson

      Always so rational and coherent…

      A-Rod is the only MLB player ever to take PEDs and lie about it! What a jerk! What a meanie! I hate him!

      • Manny’s BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte’s Fibula)

        I was being facetious Mr. Serious.

        That being said, Once was a mistake that can be forgiven and overlooked due to the circumstances.

        What he did IMO has pretty much disgraced himself and the Yankees organization by association and unfortunately they have no recourse other than to stand behind him and try to recoup some of the $114 million they still owe him. I was the biggest Arod supported but with this new information and the extend to which it appears that he has been using, he’s pretty much Lance Armstrong minus the Philanthropy.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          If I could be Mr. Half-Serious-Not-Wanting-To-Go-Down-This-Rabbithole, I will say that it’s slightly unfair to say “minus the philanthropy.”

          There are no rubber bracelets, but Alex gave a shitload of money to Children’s Aid Society’s programming up in Washington Heights. I’ve seen some of the stuff they’ve been able to set up first-hand. It’s good stuff.

          I’m not in the mood to really defend Alex more right now, so let’s leave that at that.

          • Manny’s BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte’s Fibula)

            I concede it wasn’t fair to say “minus the philanthropy” but what Arod has done pales in comparison to Armstrong, who’s life has been pretty much dedicated to that charity which IMO has made his lying and cheating easier to swallow since it ultimately resulted in a greater good.

            For all we know, Arod’s charitable work could have just been what his PR firm has advised for his image. I was just reading about Kirby Puckett the other day who was renowned for his philanthropy especially with children and when someone commented to him after visiting a sick child, he was quoted as saying “I don’t give a sā€”-. It’s just another kid who’s sick.”

            Not saying that’s Arod and the end result of donating to the charities is the same but who knows what’s really happening behind the scenes. He’s already shown himself to be a fraud in other parts of his life.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Well, he spent some of his childhood in the area he supported. There’s that.

              Whether it’s him, or PR, and it’s always a combination of both, the money was spent well.

              Stop making me defend him right now. He’s still going to think I’m part of the grand conspiracy to bring him down anyway.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      That’s not how it would go, of course.

      If they both actually were in pinstripes at the same time, I’m sure bygones would be bygones. By that, of course, I mean that CC and Alex would say something that began with “Listen, you little shit….” and Braden would respond with “yes, sirs.”

      • Pat D

        They could probably just run through those YouTube Greatest Movie Insult lists and that would leave him a quivering, sniveling wreck.

  • Nate

    Why not take a MiLB flyer on Dice-K?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      This is a perfect example of what Jersey Joe was trying to say above. There’s no shortage of potentially high-upside guys you can give a couple of months of a looksee in AAA to.

      • Nate

        Also, I know he is a jerk, but Zambrano probably has the highest upside of anybody out there, if healthy. I’d love to see him signed to a MiLB deal with an opportunity to compete for the 5th starter spot. As a bonus, maybe he’d punch out Stewart/Cervelli.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        While Dice-K is an example of the others that are out there that could help the team this year, I wouldn’t consider him a “high-upside” guy. He is what he is. He’s lost velocity, won’t challenge hitters, and you can probably expect a hig 4′s, low 5′s ERA from him. I suspect you weren’t directing the “high-upside” portion of the comment specifically at him.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Only at the ass-wiggle he does before each pitch.

  • John C

    I’m shocked that Sergio Mitre isn’t on that list

    • Havok9120

      The Experience needs to make another appearance or this season will be a failure.

  • Vern Sneaker

    Re Mike’s mention above of AAA lefty Vidal Nuno, I’d add LH Matt Tracy to the mix. Saw him in relief at Staten Island in one of his first pro appearances two years ago — he throws a couple of pitches and we’re all like, whoa, who’s this guy. Then he moves up fast fast fast.

  • Manny’s BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte’s Fibula)

    I’m kind of surprised Shaeffer Hall has made it this far without having been converted to a reliever. I read years ago that he was pretty much a lock to end up in the pen and he’s now made it all the way to AAA as a starter.

    • Vern Sneaker

      Probably because he’s one of those crafty lefty-types: three pitches he can command, all location and pitching smarts, tops out around 89-90, few walks, average Ks.