The case for trading Dellin Betances

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In terms of the sheer number of transactions — not necessarily the magnitude of the moves — this has been the busiest Yankees’ offseason in quite some time. The team has already made six trades, one more than they made during the 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14 offseasons combined. They’ve also made two notable free agent signings in Andrew Miller and Chase Headley. It’s been a busy winter thus far.

All those trades have more or less exhausted New York’s big league trade chips, meaning the players on the projected 25-man roster with actual trade value. (So not Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, for example). The most notable exception is Brett Gardner, who seems unlikely to be dealt at this point. The other exception is Dellin Betances, who has not been seriously discussed as a trade chip this winter. So why don’t we do that now?

The case against trading Betances is pretty straight forward: he’s one of the five or six best relievers in the world, he’s cheap, and he’s under team control for another five years. That’s a core player a team can build around, even as a reliever. In fact, the Yankees (re)built their bullpen around Betances this offseason the way they built it around Mariano Rivera all those years. He was that dominant last season.

The case for trading Betances is much more complicated even though we all know no player is ever truly untouchable. There’s always a price. Don’t you think the Angels would listen if the Giants offered Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey for Mike Trout? I think they would. They’d be foolish not to. There are several reasons — some more valid than others — for the Yankees to consider dealing Betances. Let’s run ‘em down.

Injury & (Lack of) Command History

The 2014 season was the first time Betances did not have any sort of injury and/or command issues since 2006, his draft year. He spent parts of eight years in the minors and there were a lot of walks and injuries along the way. Let’s review:

  • 2006: Healthy and 7.8% walk rate after signing.
  • 2007: Missed two months with elbow inflammation and had a 15.0% walk rate.
  • 2008: Missed six weeks with shoulder inflammation and had a 11.7% walk rate.
  • 2009: Had a 13.1% walk rate then missed three months following Tommy John surgery.
  • 2010: Missed two months rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and had a 6.6% walk rate thereafter.
  • 2011: Missed three weeks with an unknown injury and had a 12.6% walk rate.
  • 2012: Missed three weeks with shoulder inflammation and had a 15.7% walk rate.
  • 2013: Healthy, 12.2% walk rate.
  • 2014: Healthy, 7.0 walk rate.

Like I said, lots of walks and lots of injuries. Arm injuries too. Betances has been healthy these last two years, plus his walk rate has been manageable since he moved into the bullpen full-time, though there’s too much ugly history here to ignore. One truly elite season doesn’t wipe this all away. Baseball history is littered with guys with bad command who figure it out for a season or three before falling apart. Look at Daniel Bard or Derrick Turnbow, for example.

He Can’t Possibly Be That Good Again, Right?

Here’s the list of full-time relievers with a sub-2.00 ERA, a sub-2.00 FIP, and 60+ innings in multiple seasons: Craig Kimbrel (2012-14), Greg Holland (2013-14), Eric Gagne (2002-03), and Dennis Eckersley (1990 and 1992). That’s it. Mariano Rivera never did it and David Robertson did it once (2011). Twenty-two others have done it in one season, including Betances last year, but only those four have done it multiple times.

If Betances repeats his 2014 dominance in 2015, he will buck a lot of history and join a very exclusive club. That isn’t to say Betances won’t be excellent in the future, I have no reason to believe he won’t be very good going forward, but it’s very likely he just had his career year. Robertson had a 1.08 ERA (1.84 FIP) in 66.2 innings during his age 26 season — the season Dellin just completed — and you know what? That was his career year. Robertson was very good during his age 27-29 season, but he never did repeat his age 26 performance.

“Selling high” isn’t really a thing — at least not in the sense that teams don’t see through superficial performance and know who is likely to decline going forward — because clubs make trades based on their own internal evaluations, not public opinion or FanGraphs stat pages, though Betances will have less trade value next winter. Even if he repeats his otherworldly performance — I suppose he could improve on it, but that’s damn near impossible — he’ll be one year closer to free agency and that matters.

Bullpen Depth

The Yankees have acquired a lot of bullpen depth not just this offseason, but over the last several years. They’ve done it through the draft (Betances, Adam Warren, Danny Burawa, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, etc.), through trades (Justin Wilson, Gonzalez Germen, Johnny Barbato, Chasen Shreve, David Carpenter), and via the scrap heap (Jose DePaula, Esmil Rogers). That’s not even all the upper level bullpen arms. Just most of them.

Although someone of Betances’ caliber is irreplaceable, the Yankees do have a small army of bullpen arms ready to step in and do the job. The drop off from Betances to the guy replacing him — meaning the last guy in the bullpen, not the guy who takes over the late-innings — isn’t as big as it would have been last year. It’s big, don’t get me wrong, just not as big as it would have been before this bullpen-heavy offseason. The Yankees have a ton of bullpen depth and are in position to deal from that depth to improve other parts of the roster. Betances has, by far, the most trade value among these bullpen arms.

Now, just to be clear, I am not advocated trading Betances. I think the Yankees should keep him as the bullpen cornerstone in the post-Mariano and post-Robertson years. That said, Brian Cashman & Co. wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t at least entertain the idea of improving the team by trading Betances. They’ve acquired all this bullpen depth for a reason. Betances’ trade value is tough to gauge because elite relievers with five years of team control are never traded, but he could be part of the package to get an ace like Cole Hamels or a young position player like Addison Russell, for example. (Just spitballing here.)

The Yankees have changed course and built up a decent group of young players heading into the 2015 season, especially up the middle and on the mound. Betances is a huge piece of that. There is still more rebuilding work to be done (lots of it, really), and using Betances as a trade chip could be the quickest way to complete that process. His injury history, his lack of command history, the general volatility of relievers, and the team’s bullpen depth are all reasons dealing Dellin makes some sense.

Trade Betances?

Thanks to new hard-throwing approach, Chasen Shreve a promising addition to Yankees’ bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last week, in their first transaction of the new year, the Yankees traded longtime prospect Manny Banuelos to the Braves for a pair of relievers, righty David Carpenter and lefty Chasen Shreve. Carpenter has been in the league for a little while now and will step right into Shawn Kelley‘s old setup role. Shreve, on the other hand, is a relative unknown with only 12.1 MLB innings to his credit.

The 24-year-old Shreve is from Las Vegas and he attended the College of Southern Nevada, where he was Bryce Harper’s teammate in 2010. Harper hit 31 homers (with wood bats!) in 66 games as a 17-year-old against college kids and was drafted first overall that year. Shreve had a 5.57 ERA in 42 innings and was picked in the 11th round by Atlanta. Like a few other players on the team, Shreve benefited from the extra exposure as scouts flocked to see Harper.

Prior to the 2010 draft, Baseball America (subs. req’d) gave Shreve a one-sentence scouting report, saying he “was in the mid-80s last year and up to 91 this year, but he also battled arm injuries.” Whatever those arm injuries were, they haven’t hindered him as a pro. The Braves moved Shreve into the bullpen full-time immediately after signing and he averaged 68.1 innings from 2011-14, a full workload for a reliever. Here are his minor league stats, via Baseball Reference:

Year Age AgeDif Tm Lg Lev ERA G IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2010 19 -1.9 Danville APPY Rk 2.25 8 16.0 16 5 4 1 3 0 20 1.188 9.0 0.6 1.7 11.2 6.67
2011 20 -1.8 Rome SALL A 3.86 34 70.0 77 33 30 3 26 4 68 1.471 9.9 0.4 3.3 8.7 2.62
2012 21 -2.1 2 Teams 2 Lgs A+-AA 2.66 43 64.1 61 24 19 3 33 2 57 1.461 8.5 0.4 4.6 8.0 1.73
2013 22 -1.8 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-A+ 3.90 50 62.1 58 32 27 2 30 4 43 1.412 8.4 0.3 4.3 6.2 1.43
2014 23 -1.8 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-AAA 2.67 46 64.0 51 20 19 4 12 1 87 0.984 7.2 0.6 1.7 12.2 7.25
5 Seasons 3.22 181 276.2 263 114 99 13 104 11 275 1.327 8.6 0.4 3.4 8.9 2.64

Baseball America never ranked Shreve among Atlanta’s top 30 prospects in their Prospect Handbook and it’s easy to understand why — he has been young for his level every year of his career, yes, but he had a 3.48 ERA with forgettable strikeout (7.68 K/9 and 19.5 K%) and walk (4.07 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%) rates from 2011-13. Pair that with the “he was in the mid-80s last year and up to 91 this year” scouting report and he just wasn’t all that interesting, even as a lefty.

That all changed during the 2014 season, when Shreve posted his best minor league strikeout (10.24 K/9 and 29.0 K%) and walk (2.79 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%) numbers. He was briefly called up to MLB in July and returned when rosters expanded in September. During his short MLB cameo, Shreve struck out 15 and walked three in his 12.1 innings while averaging 92.5 mph and topping out at 95.2 mph with his fastball according to Brooks Baseball. That’s not the same “he was in the mid-80s last year and up to 91 this year” guy that was in the scouting report back in 2010.

Obviously there’s the physical maturity factor — Shreve was a 19-year-old kid when Baseball America wrote his pre-draft scouting report back in 2010 and now he’s a 24-year-old man who has been under the watch of professional coaches and instructors. He also changed roles and became a full-time reliever. Adding velocity during this phase of a career isn’t exactly unheard of. There is a little more to the story, however. Jake Seiner explains:

Determined to start moving the other direction, he made a conscious decision to change who he was as a pitcher. In Spring Training (of 2014), he mentioned to M-Braves pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn that he was capable of throwing harder but had held back in past years to gain better control, like childhood heroes Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Lewallyn instructed him to rear back and fire more often, and a few months later Shreve was a Major League reliever. In the Minors, the 24-year-old left-hander posted a 2.67 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 64 innings.

“He was a guy that, the last two years, he was a crafty type guy who would move in and out,” Holbert said. “He went from 88-89 to 93-94 or whatever it was, and it stayed.

“It was very strange, if you ask me. It was a different approach and a different way, but it worked out for him. I wish all those other years, we would’ve seen that same Chasen. Maybe he would’ve been in the Majors even sooner.”

Shreve made a conscious decision to change who he was as a pitcher last year in an effort to advance his career, and it worked. Most guys have to learn to scale it back and not throw as hard as possible every pitch so they can improve their command. Shreve did it the other way. He started throwing harder and the result was more strikeouts, fewer walks, and a better pitcher.

There was a tangible reason for Shreve’s improvement last year and that’s exciting. Lefties who sit 92+ and touch 95 aren’t all that common, even in relief. A total of 366 pitchers threw at least 40 innings last year, and of those 366, 172 averaged 92+ mph with their fastball. Of those 172, only 33 were left-handed. Shreve didn’t come close to throwing 40 innings, but he did show that kind of velocity, and his change in approach gives us a reason to believe it’s real.

In addition to his new fastball, Shreve also threw a mid-80s slider and a low-80s changeup during his MLB debut last year. (I’ve seen the changeup called a splitter in some places, but same difference. Both pitches accomplish the same thing.) Here’s a look at that slider, courtesy of Shreve’s only pitching highlight video at MLB.com:

Striking out Ryan Howard — especially as a left-hander — isn’t exactly a tremendous accomplish, but that doesn’t really matter. The slider looks like a decent offering based on that one-pitch sample, and since hitters swung and missed at it 16.7% of the time last year (MLB average for a slider is 15.2%), there’s reason to believe it’s a quality second pitch. The changeup had an even better whiff rate (18.8%), but he rarely threw it, so I’m just going to ignore it for now. Shreve has the requisite two-pitch mix to be a quality big league bullpener.

As for Banuelos, he was once the Yankees’ top prospect — I ranked him number one in 2012 and number two behind Jesus Montero in 2011 — but has been derailed by elbow problems the last few years, including Tommy John surgery. He returned from elbow reconstruction last season and didn’t look much like the pre-injury version of himself, though that wasn’t entirely unexpected after missing nearly two full years. The Yankees talked Banuelos up all summer because that’s what teams do, talk up their prospects, but other reports indicated he didn’t look all that hot. Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrote there was “a big gap between his old 92-95 mph fastball with a little pop and the current 90-92 version” after seeing Manny in June, for example.

Clearly Banuelos’ stock has dropped a bit because of the injuries, and, had he repeated his 2014 showing in 2015, his trade value next offseason would have been tiny. The Yankees used him to get a no doubt big league reliever in Carpenter and an interesting, suddenly hard-throwing southpaw in Shreve, who at this point in time appears to have more actual MLB value than Banuelos despite having a fraction of the name value. In fact, I would say Shreve definitely has more MLB value than Banuelos right now, not “appears to.” If Shreve’s velocity spike is real — and the conscious decision to simply air it out suggests it is — the Yankees may have landed themselves a quietly promising lefty bullpen piece with last week’s trade.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 5th, 2015

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Weekend Open Thread

The holidays this year were so perfectly timed with Christmas and New Year’s right smack in the middle of the week, and as much as I enjoyed the little two-week break, I think I’m ready for things to go back to normal Monday. I must be getting old. Anyway, the video above features the 20 longest homers of 2014, and here are the weekend links:

  • A new year means Jayson Stark’s annual Strange But True column. It’s a must read each and every year. Here’s part one, here’s part two. The Yankees earn a mention because, well, they “lost three games in three days at Yankee Stadium — to three different teams.” They lost to the Twins on June 1, the Mariners on June 2 (makeup of the April 30 rainout), and the Athletics on June 3. Sigh.
  • Keeping with the end of the year theme, David Laurila posted a collection of 2014’s best quotes from his conversations with players, coaches, and executives. There are some real gems in there. Some insightful, some funny, all worth reading.
  • I’m passing this one along even though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet: Chris Mitchell is working on a system to forecast the future MLB value of hitting prospects, a system he named KATOH after Yankees prospect 2B Gosuke Katoh. According to KATOH, one of the best hitting prospects in the minors is Yankees OF Alex Palma, who was in rookie ball last year. OF Ramon Flores and OF Leonardo Molina both rate highly as well.
  • Tony Blengino wrote two really great pieces on players with favorable (and not so favorable) batted ball profiles heading into season. Here’s the AL, here’s the NL. The Yankees aren’t featured prominently or anything, but I find this batted ball stuff so interesting. Wish there was more (and better) data available.
  • Here’s a good piece from James Wagner about Carlos Alvarez, a former Nationals shortstop prospect who went by Esmailyn “Smiley” Gonzalez before it was discovered he lied about his identity. Washington gave him a $1.4M bonus thinking he was 16 when he was really 20. Alvarez, who said Nationals advisor Jose Rijo took a $300,000 kickback from his bonus, is still playing in Mexico and other countries. His case led to the team firing GM Jim Bowden and to MLB overhauling their operations in Latin America.

Friday: This is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks, Nets, Islanders, and Devils are all playing, plus there’s some college football and basketball on as well. Yuo folks have been doing this long enough by now, so you know how this works. Have at it.

Saturday: Use as your open thread again. Go nuts.

Sunday: For the last time, this is your open thread.

DotF: Flores and Pirela wrap up excellent winter ball seasons

It’s been a while since the last winter ball update, and since just about all of the leagues have finished their seasons, this will be the final check-in of the year. Before we get to the final minor league update until April, here are some notes:

  • 1B Greg Bird and OF Aaron Judge were both named to the Arizona Fall League Top Prospects Team. Vince Lara-Cinisomo has (free!) scouting reports on those two as well as the other 20 players on the Top Prospects Team, one of whom is former Yankees farmhand C/1B Peter O’Brien.
  • Chad Jennings put together a list of the longest tenured homegrown Yankees, and it’s actually outdated a bit because RHP David Phelps has since been traded. RHP Ivan Nova, who signed with the club back in 2004, is the longest tenured non-Alex Rodriguez player in the organization.
  • The Yankees have released RHP Elvin Perez, according to Matt Eddy. The 24-year-old spent four years in the Dominican Summer League before coming stateside last summer. He had a 2.75 ERA (3.20 FIP) in 39.1 innings for the Rookie GCL Yanks in 2014.

Arizona Fall League (season is over)

  • OF Tyler Austin: .304/.392/.449 (135 wRC+) with two doubles, two homers, ten walks, and 19 strikeouts in 19 games.
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: .260/.317/.274 (67 wRC+) with one double, seven walks, and 18 strikeouts in 20 games.
  • 1B Greg Bird: .313/.391/.556 (156 wRC+) with six doubles, six homers, 13 walks, and 23 strikeouts in 26 games.
  • C Kyle Higashioka: .409/.480/.682 (216 wRC+) with three doubles, one homer, three walks, and two strikeouts in six games.
  • OF Aaron Judge: .278/.377/.467 (133 wRC+) with five doubles, four homers, 13 walks, and 22 strikeouts in 24 games.
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 10 G, 13.1 IP, 18 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 14 K, 2 HR, 1 HB, 1 WP (6.08 ERA, 4.25 FIP)
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 10 H, 11.2 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 3 ER, 8 BB, 9 K, 1 WP (2.31 ERA, 4.24 FIP)
  • RHP Alex Smith: 10 H, 10.1 IP, 25 H, 15 R, 12 ER, 8 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 2 HB (10.45 ERA, 7.79 FIP)

Australian Baseball League (season ends January 25th)

  • OF Adam Silva: 24 G, 21-89, 10 R, 3 2B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 8 BB, 23 K, 1 SB, 2 HBP (.236/.313/.303)

Dominican Summer League (season is over)

  • SS Abi Avelino: 2 G, 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K (.250/.250/.500)
  • C Eduardo de Oleo: 3 G, 0-3, 2 K
  • OF Eury Perez: 30 G, 18-93, 9 R, 3 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 21 K, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.194/.202/.258)
  • OF Jose Rosario: 10 G, 7-27, 5 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 4 BB, 2 K, 1 SB (.259/.355/.333)
  • RHP Joel De La Cruz: 7 G, 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 WP, 1 HR (0.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) – unearned homeruns are my favorite baseball oddity
  • RHP Gonzalez Germen: 10 G, 7 IP, 9 IP, 7 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 4 K (7.71 ERA, 1.71 WHIP)
  • RHP Esmil Rogers: 3 G, 3 GS, 11.2 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 18 K (4.63 ERA, 1.29 WHIP)  — I have to think he’ll work as a starter in Spring Training

Mexican Pacific League (season is over)

  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 16 G, 16 IP, 16 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 12 K, 2 HR, 1 HB (1.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP)
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 9 G, 9 GS, 37.2 IP, 29 H, 14 R, 12 ER, 18 BB, 27 K, 2 HB, 2 HR (2.87 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) (season is over)

  • SS Vince Conde: 4 G, 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K (.200/.200/.400)

Venezuelan Winter League (season is over)

  • C Francisco Arcia: 25 G, 16-87, 3 R, 3 2B, 8 RBI, 4 BB, 21 K, 1 HBP (.184/.228/.218)
  • UTIL Ali Castillo: 59 G, 71-233, 43 R, 10 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 14 BB, 34 K, 16 SB, 6 CS, 3 HBP (.305/.346/.408) — great winter for the Castillo, who could wind up in Triple-A Scranton this year
  • OF Ramon Flores: 56 G, 68-196, 36 R, 8 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 31 BB, 33 K, 2 SB, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.347/.435/.505) — guessing we’ll see him in MLB at some point next year
  • UTIL Adonis Garcia: 57 H, 73-233, 28 R, 13 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 41 RBI, 15 BB, 22 K, 4 SB, 4 CS, 6 HBP (.313/.369/.468)
  • OF Ericson Leonora: 5 G, 3-11, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 5 K (.273/.273/.545)
  • UTIL Jose Pirela: 47 G, 50-169, 31 R, 11 2B, 4 3B, 6 HR, 2 RBI, 26 BB, 30 K, 3 SB, 1 CS, 2 HBP (.296/.394/.515) — next up for him, trying to win the second base job in Spring Training
  • C Jackson Valera: 3 G, 0-3
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 1 G, 0 IP, 2 H 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 HR — the ol’ infinity ERA and WHIP is never good
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 24 G, 23 IP, 26 H, 14 R, 12 ER, 7 BB, 16 K, 2 HB, 3 HR (4.70 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) — was always a long shot bullpen candidate, but now he’s a really long shot

Mailbag: Ryan Vogelsong

(Pool/Getty)
(Pool/Getty)

Ethan asks: Would Ryan Vogelsong make any sense for the Yankees? Essentially Chris Capuano #2, but probably can be counted on for a few more innings. I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them crashed and burned out of the gate, so why not double up?

My first reaction was nah, Vogelsong’s probably not worth the trouble, likely because his stinky postseason performance was still fresh in my memory. His combined NLCS and World Series line was 6.2 IP, 14 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. Eek. The Giants’ non-Madison Bumgarner starters were really awful in October.

Anyway, upon further inspection, the 37-year-old Vogelsong appears to still be a perfectly cromulent back-end innings guy at this point of his career. He’s thrown at least 175 innings in three of the last four seasons, with a broken finger suffered on a hit-by-pitch (stupid no-DH-having NL) being the only reason he was limited to 103.2 innings in 2013. Innings are good. Teams need innings.

Here is what Vogelsong has done since resurfacing with the Giants back in 2011 after spending three seasons finding himself in Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan (via Baseball Reference)

Year Age Tm ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP ERA+ FIP WHIP HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2011
33 SFG 2.71 30 28 179.2 164 62 54 15 61 139 5 129 3.67 1.252 0.8 3.1 7.0 2.28
2012 34 SFG 3.37 31 31 189.2 171 76 71 17 62 158 8 105 3.70 1.228 0.8 2.9 7.5 2.55
2013 35 SFG 5.73 19 19 103.2 124 73 66 15 38 67 6 60 4.91 1.563 1.3 3.3 5.8 1.76
2014 36 SFG 4.00 32 32 184.2 178 86 82 18 58 151 9 87 3.85 1.278 0.9 2.8 7.4 2.60

Vogelsong was really awful in 2013 even before the finger injury, but he bounced back well this past season. That said, while his 4.00 ERA in 2014 looks nice on the surface, in this offense-starved era and in that huge ballpark, it’s only an 87 ERA+, so comfortably below-average.

It is worth noting Vogelsong’s underlying performance this past season was right in line with his very successful 2011-12 seasons. The strikeout, walk, and home run rates are nearly identical, ditto his small-ish platoon split, though his ground ball rate had steadily declined from 45.6% in 2011 to 38.4% in 2014. Vogelsong’s 72.3% strand rate in 2014 was well below his 78.1% mark from 2011-12, hence the inflated ERA.

Beyond the stats, Vogelsong’s stuff has held up well these last four seasons. His velocity rebounded after a small drop last season — between the velocity and performance dip, it sure seems like he was nursing some kind of unreported injury in 2013, no? — which you can see here (via Brooks Baseball):

Ryan Vogelsong velocity

The swing-and-miss rates on his pitches have also remained steady across the board with the exception of his changeup, which got a whiff more 12% of the time from 2011-12 but only 7.2% in 2014. Although Vogelsong has thrown his changeup a healthy ~14% of the time with San Francisco, it is only his fifth most used pitch behind his four-seamer (~30%), sinker (~20%), cutter (~20%), and curveball (~18%). Losing a few swings and misses on your fifth pitch isn’t the end of the world. At least I don’t think it is.

Because of his age, it’s more likely Vogelong will get worse next season rather than maintain his established level of performance another year. That’s why he won’t cost much to sign. He worked on a one-year deal worth only $5M last year, so Capuano money. As Ethan said in the question, that’s basically who Vogelsong is, Capuano v2.0, though probably a better bet to throw 150+ innings. One year and $5M is the going rate for a projected ~1 WAR starter these days.

Beyond the obvious (age, declining ground ball rate, etc.), my concern with Vogelsong is that the Giants aren’t pursuing him at all. They know him better than anyone and they need an innings guy as much as the Yankees, if not more, yet John Shea recently reported the two sides haven’t had any contract talks. What do the Giants know that we don’t? There has to be a reason they’re staying away given their need for pitching. That makes me a little nervous.

Now, that said, a one-year contract worth $5M is nothing. It’s a move the Yankees could easily back out of if Vogelsong stinks or a better option comes along. The team is going to need innings from somewhere, and Vogelsong is as likely to provide them as any non-Max Scherzer/James Shields free agent at this point. I don’t think he’s any kind of rotation savior or anything, but he could help at a low cost. I will define my interest as: tepid.

Bullpen depth could lead to Adam Warren working as a starter in 2015

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Even after losing David Robertson to free agency and trading away Shawn Kelley (and losing Preston Claiborne on waivers), the Yankees have a ton of upper level bullpen depth at the moment. Andrew Miller replaced Robertson, the just acquired David Carpenter replaces Kelley, and the team also added lefty Justin Wilson in the Francisco Cervelli trade. The Yankees seem to have more relievers than bullpen spots at the moment. Look:

That’s 16 17 pitchers for 14 bullpen spots — seven in MLB and seven in Triple-A — and I still feel like I’m forgetting someone. (Update: Forgot Wilson!) Obviously it isn’t that simple — DePaula, Mitchell, and Whitley could all wind up in the Triple-A Scranton rotation, we have no idea if Pinder and Burawa can get MLBers out consistently, etc. — but the point stands. On paper, the Yankees have a ton of bullpen depth right now.

What the Yankees don’t have is a lot of rotation depth. The rotation right now is Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chris Capuano in whatever order, but both Tanaka (elbow) and Sabathia (knee) have major injury concerns. No pitcher is a lock to make it through Spring Training healthy, though it is especially true for those two. Pineda isn’t exactly known for his durability either.

Because of the rotation concerns, the Yankees told Warren to come to Spring Training as a starter and prepared to compete for a rotation spot. (They told David Phelps the same before he was traded away.) In fact, I bet they told Rogers the same thing. He’s been a starter before, including last season in Triple-A with the Blue Jays (and one spot start with the Yankees), so there’s no reason not to stretch him out. It doesn’t hurt anyone and gives the team options in camp.

Warren did a nice job as a swingman in 2013 and really seemed to find himself in short relief last year, when his velocity ticked up and he missed more bats than ever. He was a starter his entire career before the 2013 season though, and I’m sure that if you asked him, he’d like to be a starter once again. That’s where the money is at, after all. I’m certain he sees the injury questions in the rotation as a big opportunity this coming year.

Warren has made three career big league starts (6.97 ERA and 6.83 FIP) but the numbers are skewed heavily by his disastrous six-run, 2.1- inning MLB debut back in 2012. He made two spot starts in 2013 and both went fine — two runs in three innings while on a strict pitch count in the first, five shutout innings in the second — plus he also made several strong multi-inning relief outings, including five of at least four innings (four runs in 23.1 innings in those five outings).

That really doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what Warren can do as a starter in 2015 though. Those long relief appearances have selection bias — the reason he was in there 4+ innings is because he was getting outs, they wouldn’t have left him in that long if he was getting hammered — and 2013 Adam Warren isn’t the same as 2015 Adam Warren. He has more experience now and is presumably more comfortable in the league. That matters.

Even as a short reliever last year, Warren threw three pitches (four-seamer, slider, changeup) regularly while also throwing some curveballs and cutters, according to Brooks Baseball. He definitely has enough pitches to start, the question is whether his stuff is good enough to turn over a lineup multiple times. The answer could easily be yes, especially now in this no offense era, and that after his success last season he is more willing to attack hitters and better understands how to maximize his arsenal. Like I said, experience matters.

I like Warren most as a short reliever and I can’t say I’m confident he can turn over a lineup multiple times, but there is no harm in seeing what he does as a starter in Spring Training. Remember, this doesn’t have to be a permanent thing either. The team may only need him to start until Ivan Nova returns at midseason, perhaps as early as May. Warren was an important part of the relief crew last year but the Yankees do now have enough bullpen depth to replace him. Moving him into the rotation is much more viable now than it was a year ago.