Bullpen market gets some fresh faces following non-tender deadline

Eddy: Yankees sign Russ Canzler to minor league deal
It's official: McCann's a Yankee
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Forty-three players joined the free agent pool at midnight last night — including three Yankees (David Adams, Jayson Nix, Matt Daley) — when the non-tender deadline came and went. Here’s the full list. Most non-tendered players are spare parts not really worth carrying on the 40-man roster all winter, but some are legitimate big leaguers whose projected salary had eclipsed their on and off field value.

The Yankees grabbed Russell Martin three years ago after he was non-tendered and last winter they made a play for Nate Schierholtz before he signed with the Cubs. This year they’re seeking pitching help, both in the rotation and the bullpen, though the non-tender market very rarely offers quality starting pitchers. Bullpen help is plentiful though, and an interesting crop of relievers became free agents last night. Here’s a quick rundown of four newly available bullpen arms who could help New York as they seek a late-inning reliever to pair with David Robertson (and Shawn Kelley).

John Axford
I’m listing these guys alphabetically but it’s fitting we start with Axford, who spent 2007 bouncing around New York’s farm system before being released, tightening up his mechanics, and having lots of success with the Brewers. Years of hefty saves totals beefed up his salary and the Cardinals walked away rather than pay him upwards of $6M to be a seventh inning reliever in 2014. Not a bad idea given all their young power arms.

(Harry How/Getty)
(Harry How/Getty)

Axford, 30, had a 4.02 ERA (4.34 FIP) in 65 innings this past summer. His fastball still sits in the mid-90s and he still backs it up with a nasty curveball that allows him to miss bats (9.00 K/9 in 2013 and 10.82 career) and get an okay amount of ground balls (45.3% in 2013 and 46.9% career). Axford walks a fair amount of guys (3.60 BB/9 in 2013 and 4.05 career) and will occasionally lose the strike zone all together, plus he’s very homer prone, especially these last two years (1.34 HR/9 and 18.2% HR/FB). When he makes a mistake, it gets hit out of the park. That’s not exactly a desirable trait for a late-inning reliever.

I think there’s a good chance another club will offer Axford — who will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016, by the way — a closing job, which could put the Yankees at a disadvantage unless they promise him the ninth inning over Robertson. The homer problems are very scary but outside of Grant Balfour, Joe Nathan, and Brian Wilson, I’m not sure there’s a better combination of power stuff and late-game experience out there. The Yankees signed Axford as an undrafted free agent back in the day, so they know him pretty well and there’s some kind of relationship already in place.

Ronald Belisario
After missing the 2011 season due to drug-related visa problems, the 30-year-old Belisario has been workhorse in Don Mattingly’s bullpen. He’s pitched to a 3.24 ERA (3.36 FIP) in 139 innings over the last two years while relying on a heavy mid-90s sinker that has gotten a ground ball 62.8% of the time. The sinker doesn’t really miss bats (7.60 K/9) and location can be an issue at times (3.69 BB/9), but at least he keeps the ball in the park (0.39 HR/9 and 9.2% HR/FB) and can hold his own again lefties (.320 wOBA against). Like Axford, Belisario would remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016, though he figures to come much cheaper as a non-former closer. I was surprised to see the Dodgers non-tender him (that makes me wonder what they know that everyone else doesn’t) but Belisario a versatile and durable reliever, and that’s something every team needs.

Ryan Webb
I’ve always liked Webb, who is a classic “the results don’t match the stuff” guy. His low-to-mid-90s two-seamer runs all over the place and his low-80s slider looks like it should miss bats, but batters have consistently squared him up. Since landing with the Marlins three years ago, Webb has a 3.34 ERA (3.50 FIP) in 191.1 innings with a very good ground ball rate (56.0%) but unimpressive strikeout (6.07 K/9) and walk (3.15 BB/9) rates. His platoon split is manageable (.321 wOBA against lefties and .296 against righties). Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a history of improving strikeout rates, so maybe he could help Webb turn that nasty stuff into better results. At worst, he’s a decent middle reliever, but I think the 27-year-old has some untapped potential and is something of an upside play.

Wesley Wright
With Boone Logan likely leaving as a free agent, the Yankees figure to cast a wide net and target a bunch of lower cost players to compete for the lefty reliever spot. Wright, 28, is a pure specialist, holding lefties to a .228/.313/.342 (.296 wOBA) line in his career while righties have tagged him for a .263/.356/.500 (.367 wOBA) line. His strikeout (10.42 K/9) and ground ball (55.3%) rates against same-side hitters are very good despite a soft upper-80s fastball and low-80s slider. Wright has been around for a while and figures to get a guaranteed contract somewhere, and that might not jibe with what New York wants to do at this position. I get the sense they’ll add some pieces via waivers and minor league deals and see what happens in camp between Cesar Cabral, David Huff, and whoever else. If they are willing to sign someone to a low cost big league deal, Wright could be the guy.

* * *

Some of the big name non-tenders like Andrew Bailey (shoulder capsule) and Daniel Hudson (Tommy John surgery twice in the last 17 months) come with major injury concerns and aren’t expected to be healthy enough to pitch until the second half of the season at the earliest. Given the nature of their injuries, I think 2015 is a more realistic target for a return. Others like Tommy Hanson and Dan Bard are too far removed from consistent success to warrant anything more than a minor league contract at this point. Everyone loves a good reclamation project, but the Yankees need healthy players who can actually help them come Opening Day right now given the state of the roster. Once they’ve brought in a few of those, they’ll be in better position to roll the dice on guys with something to prove.

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Eddy: Yankees sign Russ Canzler to minor league deal
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  • Mikhel

    The Yanks could offer Bailey a small two-year contract. They already missed on Joakim Soria who is ready to be the closer for the Rangers and Bailey could be a great investment if their plan for the closer in 2014 doesn’t work out as they expect.

    • Frank

      Plus, Bailey’s a local kid from NJ. Could be a good match.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’ve never even heard of Webb, but I’m intrigued.

    Obviously, if the money and years are right, I’d look into Axford as late inning insurance.

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  • jjyank

    Seems like there are some good options. If there’s one thing we should all trust about the FO, it’s finding good bullpen options on the cheap.

  • D

    The Yankees should offer Boone Logan a two-year $3.75M a year $7.5M total deal with a $4M mutual option for a third year ($500K buyout so he makes $8M total for two years) which becomes vested if he appears in 100 games 2014-15 or 60 games in 2015. If he wants a third year, make it three years $3.5M a year $10.5M total with a $500K bonus for every year he appears in 50 games so he could make $11M, $11.5M, or $12M total.

    He has been by far the Yankees’ best lefthanded reliever after Mike Stanton thus deserves a contract.

    Cabral and Huff should compete for the second lefty job, not be the lefties.

    If the Yanks can piss away $8M on Pedro Feliciano and $20M on paying Burnett 2013-14, they can give $8-12M to Logan (more if they paid him bonuses for All-Star Game appearances, MVP awards, and second to tenth place award vote finishes.)

    • jjyank

      While I don’t necessarily disagree with signing Logan, that last paragraph is a terrible, terrible reason to do so.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I’m starting to think “D” is shorthand for a well-known screenname round these parts.

        I like Boone Logan. I’m not signing off on that money on him, but with the injury potential which seems lurking there, as well as those innings catching up at some point.

    • MannyGeee

      Meh… LOOGYs come and LOOGYs go. And with the complete abuse Girardi gave this dude over past year, Logan is a Scott Proctor candidate in the making.

      Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE what he’s become as a member of this team, but I can’t see his arm staying on for 2-3 more seasons.

    • Ed

      It’s better to let a reliever go too soon rather than hang on too long. Especially one who just had surgery.

  • Pseudoyanks

    Axford. Closer competition in Spring Training with DRob. “Loser”gets 8th inning. Make it happen Cash.

  • LarryM Fl

    The Yankees have an excellent opportunity to strengthen the roster.The process has already started with McCann and Ryan and the non tender of Nix, Adams and the trade of Stewart. If Cano can be signed at a fair contract in years and salary. It will go a long way to making this team healthy in all ways.

    The Yankees have to spread the money around and not chase Cano. He should be happy with 25 million a year. I’m sure he can find an apartment in the city to meet his tight budget.

  • the tenth inning stretch

    I’d love to see the Yanks bring in Hudson on a Lieber-type deal.

  • Aims

    Anyone else see that MLB trade rumors is reporting that the yanks refused to go over 200mil with cano? I feel like one of these teams will eventually off more than that, even if its not by much, but maybe its all talk.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I think 200 mil gets it done in the end.

      • Bavarian Yankee

        I think so too. Nobody will offer more than 8/200. 8/200 is crazy enough if you ask me.

  • Ed

    I think the problem with Belisario is that he spent his first two years as one of Joe Torre’s favorite relievers, then spent two years with Mattingly using him very similarly. His arm is probably on the verge of falling off.

    Back when Torre was managing the Dodgers, there was a point where Belisario, Sturtze, and Proctor were all sharing one spot on the 25 man roster as they rotated between the DL, AAA, and the major league roster.

  • nycsportzfan

    I was gonna ask about both Webb and Wright today. I didn’t wanna mention Webb because i thought consensus was gonna be the BB/K rate wasen’t good enough. I like em more now that i got to read about em. Wright is definetly intriguing as a lefty specialist.