Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees “got out” of their minor league contract with reliever Luis Vizcaino after the righty blew out his Achilles in winter ball. Last month we heard that The Viz broke his ankle and would be out three or four months, but apparently the injury was more serious than originally thought. Vizcaino could have earned $750,000 if he made the club, albeit an unlikely scenario, but now he’s probably out for the year. The Yanks have a small army of pitchers in camp on minor league deals, so there’s little, if any, loss of depth here.
The Yankees finalized their minor league contract with Eric Chavez today, and Jerry Crasnick has the details. Chavez will earn a $1.5M base salary if he makes the club, far from a given, and there’s another $4M or so in bonuses tied to time on the active roster and plate appearances. Five million (potential) bucks for a bench player is a ton, but the only way the former Athletic earns all those incentives is if he’s healthy and productive. I’m just surprised the base salary is so high, but then again it’s only three-quarters of a percent of the team payroll. What do I care.
Anyways, here is the open thread for the night. Both the Nets and Knicks are in action, but talk about anything. Just be cool.
We know that a number of Yankees didn’t meet their normal performance levels last year. Is that a sign of age, or is it just a fluke? If you listen to hitting instructor Kevin Long, it’s the latter. Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York got Long on record, and to say he’s confident is an overstatement. Here’s Matthews’s paraphrase:
One thing that stood out, however, is that despite the Yankees scoring an MLB-leading 859 runs (the Boston Red Sox, with 818, were a distant second) and 201 HRs, third-highest in the league, KLong believes seven of the nine regulars in the Yankee lineup can have better seasons in 2011.
The only exceptions are Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. Long thinks that, given the standout nature of their performances, it wouldn’t be easy for them to “duplicate what they did last year.” Then the kicker: “But I expect the rest of them to do better.” Of course he thinks that; they’re his guys. But this is always nice to hear. It’s also a bit surprising in the case of Brett Gardner. If he tops last year we’ll all do a jig down River Avenue.
Frankie Piliere of AOL Fanhouse posted his list of the top 100 prospects today, with Jesus Montero coming in at number four behind only Mike Trout, Julio Teheran, and Eric Hosmer. “Will he be a good defensive catcher? No,” said Piliere, “but he has shown enough improvement to be an adequate defender. That combined with a potentially special bat make for an impressive total package.” Piliere has always been one of the few defenders of Montero’s defense, not that he thinks he’ll great behind the plate, but playable.
Manny Banuelos came at number 13 (“picked up a couple ticks on his fastball and lives at 93-95 now”), Gary Sanchez number 34 (“Sanchez’s bat rivals Montero’s at the same age and he looks like he’ll be a better defender”), and Dellin Betances at number 44 (“the towering right-hander has all the components you look for in a frontline starter”). Andrew Brackman makes the back half of the list at number 60. Very nice showing for the Yankees, especially since four of their five guys cracked the top 50.
Some Yanks have showed up at spring training, and so have some beat writers. It’s boring, but we try to make light of it.
From there we talk pitching, mainly Alfredo Aceves. The Yanks did bring in Luis Ayala, but I’d be surprised to see him last past spring training. Still, there’s at least something mildly intriguing about him.
Podcast run time 27:41
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The answer, as Ben explained on Sunday night is no. The Yankees will not end up with Michael Young and the $48 million remaining on his contract. There is just no room, even if you like him as a player. The entire Yankees’ infield is under contract for the next three seasons, which leaves Young without a possible position. But that doesn’t mean the Yankees can’t play a role in helping him find a new home.
A reader emailed over the weekend with a question that I dismissed out of hand at first, but then reconsidered. It sounded a bit better the second time around, but there are still too many moving parts to make it work. The idea: Trade for Young, then flip Cano for a pitcher. That’s a downgrade at second base, but not an enormous one, and an upgrade on the staff. Would that work in the Yanks’ favor?
I’m inclined to say no. I don’t think they’ll find a pitcher right now who could equal Cano’s value. They’d also have to work this as a three-way trade, since they’d immediately lose leverage in trading Cano if they first acquired Young, and they’d lose leverage in acquiring Young if they traded Cano. That makes the idea a bit too complex for reality. Plus, as I said on FanGraphs yesterday, it’s probably not a good idea to trade a 27-year-old who was your best hitter the previous year.
Today another reader emailed with an interesting take. He basically wondered whether the Yanks might jump into a potential trade and act as a middle man. Young is not worth the $48 million remaining on his contract, and so money is going to have to change hands in any trade, whether that’s Texas kicking in cash or taking on a bad contract. They might be reluctant to do that, since they’d either be taking on expensive players of little use to them, or otherwise paying for Young to play elsewhere. That’s where the Yankees come in.
If the Rangers have a deal with a team, but the matter of money still persists, maybe the Yankees can jump in the middle and help cover the financial difference. Even if he’s forecasted optimistically — that is, an average of 3 WAR per season — Young is overpaid by somewhere around $15 million over the next three years. If the Yankees can use their financial might to help cover some of that difference, probably by taking a contract, maybe they can get something in return that can help the 2011 team.
Of course, this creates an incredibly complex situation. Let’s use the White Sox as an example, even though they’re not on Young’s approved trade list. And let’s say that, even though we know they’re right around their payroll limits, that they’re willing to take on Young if they can shed at least some money from their 2011 ledger. For simplicity’s sake we’ll talk Edwin Jackson. He is owed $8.35 million this year, meaning Chicago probably wants more salary relief. Would the White Sox be willing to send a player the Yanks’ way in order to help cover some more of the cash?
For another instance, let’s look at the Dodgers. With Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Garland, and Vicente Padilla, they have six starting pitchers under contract. The Yankees could use one of them. If the Yankees could help facilitate an exchange of players and money between the Rangers and the Dodgers, how much is that worth to both parties? Enough to send a pitcher the Yanks way? If so, the Yanks have to consider that.
In reality, this is unlikely to work. When three teams get involved deals tend to fall apart. Further complicating matters is the Rangers’ asking price, which involves a pitcher and a major league position player. It’s tough for a team to justify that when trading for Young and his contract, and to give up even more in the name of salary relief probably renders it an unworthy option. But the Yankees’ most valuable resources is its capital. They should explore all ways they can use it to their advantage, even if it facilitates a trade between two other teams. After all, money ain’t free, and the Yanks could get something useful out of the deal.
No one was happy yesterday when news broke that Al Aceves signed with the Red Sox. He was such a good story, going from the Blue Jays system to the Mexican League, and then eventually, along with Manny Banuelos, to the Yankees. After blowing through the minors he came up to help the pitching starved 2008 Yankees, and lent an even bigger hand to the bullpen in 2009. Now not only is he gone, but he’s gone to them.
We’ll always have our memories of Aceves. Here are some of my favorites from his years in pinstripes.
September 9, 2008: His first start
Early September, 2008, is not a time Yankees fans like to recall. Heading into play on the ninth the Yankees were 76-68, 10 games back of the Rays for first. But that wasn’t their only woe. They were actually in fourth place at the time, two games in the loss column back of Toronto. They had already lost Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain, and Andy Pettitte had started to tank. The Yankees needed pitching desperately. They turned to Acevecs, who, after spending most of the year in the minors, came up a week and a half earlier as a reliever.
Aceves earned his start on September 4, when he pitched five innings in relief of Darrell Rasner, who allowed five runs early to the Rays. He allowed just one run while striking out four, which was an admirable accomplishment against the eventual division champs. The Yankees mounted a late rally, scoring five in the ninth, but came up short. Still, it was clear that Ace was ready to take the ball five days later.
That day Aceves lasted seven innings and didn’t surrender a single run until the Yankees had already put four on the board against Ervin Santana. He needed just 89 pitches to get through those seven innings, mainly because he induced so many ground balls. Of the 26 Angels who put the ball in play, 14 hit it on the ground and only two hit the ball squarely on a line. An inning of relief from both Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte sealed the victory. Unfortunately, the Jays won both ends of the doubleheader, putting another half game between the two.
September 20, 2008: Penultimate game
It took a 12-5 finish to salvage a third place finish in 2008, and Aceves helped them achieve that mark. While he got smacked around by Boston when the two teams met towards the end of the season, he did pitch a gem just before that. It didn’t catapult the Yankees into contention, but it certainly had some meaning.
On Friday, September 19, 2008, the Yankees started a series against the Baltimore Orioles. This was a largely meaningless series from a pennant race point of view. The Yankees were well behind the Red Sox and had only the slightest prayer for the Wild Card. The Orioles, as usual, were in last. But these three games would be the final three games at Yankee Stadium. As we did every year since I can remember, a buddy and I picked up tickets from one of his dad’s clients and got to sit first row behind the Yanks dugout. But that was Friday, when Carl Pavano started. If only we’d been at the game that Saturday.
Aceves started the game, and it started in inauspicious fashion. Brian Roberts pulled a double down the right field line. But then Adam Jones tried to bunt him to third and popped up right to Aceves. That eliminated the runner and made Nick Markakis’s subsequent single easier to stomach. Aceves didn’t record a 1-2-3 inning until the fourth, and that would be the only inning he retired the side in order. But he still managed to complete six innings without allowing a run. Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte, and Mariano Rivera continued the shutout, and the Yanks came back in a pretty wild bottom of the ninth, which ended with a Robbie Cano bases loaded, walk-off single.
May 16 and 17, 2009: Walk-off weekend
This is another instance where I was at the game before Aceves had his moment. On May 15 it appeared that the Yanks were about to lose a game against the Twins. But a late rally set up Melky Cabrera with a walk-off opportunity. He delivered, giving the Yanks an unexpected victory. Little did I know, walking out of the Stadium to “New York, New York,” that it was just the beginning of quite the memorable weekend.
The next day the Yanks led 3-2 heading into the eighth inning, but Phil Coke kind of ruined that. Joe Mauer had taken him deep the day before. On the 16th it was Justin Morneau. That tied the game at three. Three batters later Coke had given the Twins the lead. The Yanks ended up tying the game in the bottom half, but then the game went into extra innings. Mariano Rivera pitched his two innings, but the Yankees needed someone for the 11th. That man was Aceves.
He took out Nick Punto, Denard Span, and Brendan Harris, which bought the Yanks enough time. In the bottom half A-Rod hit a walk-off, two-run homer off Craig Breslow, and that was that. Two days, two walk-offs.
The very next day the Yanks found themselves in a similar situation. Tied at two in the ninth, Mariano Rivera again took the ball. But he couldn’t possibly pitch two innings on two consecutive days. And so Joe Girardi handed the ball to Alfredo Aceves in the 10th. Again he set them down 1-2-3. Johnny Damon rewarded his vigilance with a walk-off homer in the bottom half.
Aceves might not have played the most prominent role in either win, but he did his job and did it well. For those who worship at the altar of the pitcher win, the weekend saw two for Aceves.
July 5, 2009: Garden variety four-inning save
If it weren’t for the offense, Aceves might not have mattered in this game. They came out and scored four in the first two innings, but by the bottom of the fourth they were down 8-4 thanks to five earned runs on Joba’s ledger. But they scored six in the next two innings. After Jon Albaladejo got the Yanks through the fifth, he handed the ball to Aceves. Al pitched four shutout, one-hit innings, including five strikeouts, to keep keep the Yanks ahead for good.
That was another crazy weekend. Not only had the Yankees won on a walk-off the previous day (that was the disastrous Halladay-Wang matchup), but they hung on in admirable fashion on the fifth. The game was important for Aceves, too. With Wang hurt the Yankees needed a starter on July 9 in Minnesota. They apparently didn’t want to pull Phil Hughes out of the bullpen, so they handed the ball to Aceves. It was the second time in his career he earned a start after an effective long relief appearance.
August 7, 2009: The maraton
The Yankees-Red Sox 15-inning marathon on August 7, 2009, provided many lasting memories. A.J. Burnett walked six, but they appeared to be somewhat strategic. He allowed none of them score. And if not for a dinky slap by Jacoby Ellsbury to lead off the game, he wouldn’t have allowed a hit. And, of course, there was J.D. Drew running down Eric Hinske’s apparent game-winning hit, and finally Alex Rodriguez‘s game-winning blast.
Overlooked is Aceves’s contribution. He pitched three innings, from the 10th through the 12th, allowing just two base runners and striking out three Red Sox. He kept giving the Yanks opportunities to end it, but the offense just didn’t come through. Still, his role in that game really can’t be understated.
There were certainly other moments where he shined — his two innings of relief in Game 5 of the 2009 World Series come to mind, because he kept the Yanks alive for their failed ninth-inning rally. But the games above are the ones I’ll remember Aceves for. Have any to add?