Thinking About Garcia’s Potential Relief Role

The Venezuelan Gangster? (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Barring something unforeseen, Phil Hughes is likely to break camp as the fifth starter. That will relegate Freddy Garcia to bullpen duty for the first time in his career, which I’m sure will be a bitter pill for him to swallow even though he’s reportedly willing to work in relief. A long man is a necessarily evil, especially early in the season when the starters are still getting into their routines and the weather can become a factor, but there might be a better way for the Yankees to deploy Garcia in relief. They could turn him into 2009 Al Aceves.

In essence, the Yankees could use Freddy as a multi-inning middle reliever. Traditional long men are saved for extra innings or blowouts or things of that nature, but that’s not what Aceves did three years ago. He was a jack of all bullpen trades, getting one out in a tight spot or throwing three innings to bridge the gap between starter and Mariano Rivera. Aceves was able to do that because he had a starter’s repertoire, bringing four pitches and command to the table. Garcia is the same way, with the stamina to throw multiple innings and the stuff to go through a lineup multiple times. Anecdotally, he seems to have the mentality for it as well.

Now, this is one of those things that sounds great in theory but is much more difficult to put into practice. Garcia, 35, is nine years older than Aceves was back in 2009, meaning it would be foolish to think he will be able to bounce back as well or as quickly. Add in those major shoulder problems from a few years ago, and his ability to rebound is a very real question. Aceves had a rubber arm and warmed up quickly, making him the ideal candidate for such a role. At this point it’s unclear if Garcia is physically capable of being used in this manner.

The Yankees have a rare luxury at the moment, employing six legitimate big league starters come Opening Day. Garcia is likely to get the short end of the stick and open the season as a reliever, but the team can do better than relegate him to low-leverage long relief spots. Freddy is a better pitcher than anyone in the bullpen other than the big end-game trio in the bullpen, so I’d like to see the Yankees give him a little more responsibility if possible. Again, it’s all about Garcia’s ability to do the physically. I don’t think there are any questions about his stuff, command, and mentality, it’s just a matter of his arm holding up.

JoVa reassigned to minor league camp

The Yankees reassigned Jorge Vazquez to minor league camp following tonight’s game. He never had much of a chance to make the team, so this isn’t a surprise. As you probably remember, JoVa came out last week and said he’s getting fed up with Triple-A and wants to play in the big leagues. I don’t blame him, but he’s unlikely to get his shot with the Yankees.

Minor League ST Notes: Video, DePaula, Adams

We had the big league notes earlier today, now let’s round up some of the more interesting minor league news from today…

  • Josh Norris posted a ton of video of yesterday’s workout. We’re talking Gary Sanchez, Ravel Santana, Dante Bichette Jr., Tyler Austin, and more. Make sure you check that out.
  • Rafael DePaula worked out with the Low-A Charleston group today. That doesn’t mean he’ll join the River Dogs when they break camp next week, but it’s an indication that he passed his physical and is officially a Yankee. Hooray for that. [Norris]
  • David Adams has been told that he will start the year with Double-A Trenton. That’s not terribly surprising, but it goes to show how much time he lost due to the ankle injury. He’s basically in the same place he was in March 2010. [Norris]
  • The Dellin Betances Experience was in full effect in his minor league start. He walked in a run before striking out the side. Good times. [Conor Foley]
  • The Joses — Campos and Ramirez — threw in minor league games today. Ramirez ran his fastball as high as 96. [Kiley McDaniel]

ST Game Thread: A Rare Sight

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

We haven’t seen much of CC Sabathia this spring. The big guy has only thrown eight official innings in camp, though he did also start a minor league game last week. Eight innings, four runs, that’s it. No one cares though, because he’s CC Sabathia and represents all that is right in the Yankees universe. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
DH Raul Ibanez
C Russell Martin
LF Andruw Jones
CF Brett Gardner
RF Justin Maxwell

LHP CC Sabathia – scheduled for 85-100 pitches

Available Pitchers: RHP David Robertson, LHP Cesar Cabral, LHP Clay Rapada, RHP George Kontos, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Ryan Pope, RHP Preston Claiborne, RHP Sean Black

Available Position Players: C Gus Molina, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Bill Hall, SS Eduardo Nunez, 3B Jayson Nix, CF Dewayne Wise, and RF Chris Dickerson will replace the starters. C Jeff Farnham, IF Addison Maruszak, and OF Abe Almonte are up from minor league camp and available if needed.

Tonight’s game starts at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

3/27 Camp Notes: Swisher, Pettitte, Mo, Joba

The Yankees are playing the Blue Jays in a nationally televised game a little later tonight, so we’ll have a regular game thread along shortly. Here is the day’s news from Tampa…

  • Nick Swisher (groin) is not in tonight’s lineup, though he did face Andy Pettitte during the lefty’s live batting practice session this afternoon. He will take his hacks in minor league games the next two days and hopefully return to the lineup on Friday. [Erik Boland & Sweeny Murti]
  • Pettitte threw 35 pitches in that live BP session this afternoon, and Swisher said his changeup was “dropping off the table.” Pettitte was pleased with his ability to locate the fastball away but thought his cutter was flat. He’s also not yet comfortable pitching out of the stretch. [Marc Carig, Jack Curry & Murti]
  • Mariano Rivera and Boone Logan both pitched in a minor league game this afternoon. Rivera struck out two and broke a bat in a perfect inning, though Logan apparently gave up a hit or two. [Josh Norris]
  • Joba Chamberlain will talk to the media at 5:45pm ET. He’s expected to say that, contrary to reports, he did not lose a life-threatening amount of blood when he dislocated ankle and that his career is not in jeopardy barring something unforeseen (like infection). [Buster Olney]
  • Unsurprisingly, Hiroki Kuroda will start the second game of the season. The rotation has been lined up for weeks, but these things are always subject to change until the club makes it official. [David Waldstein]

Early season trade candidates: hold or deal?

The Yankees might be forced to trade Maxwell soon (via Reuters Pictures)

As March wears on, different needs arise for different teams. Some suffer injuries and need to trade for additional help. Others make it through the spring in relatively healthy shape and have surpluses from which they can trade. The Yankees, to this point, fall into the latter category. They not only have six starters for five rotation spots, but they also have an out of options player with some value along with a marginal player generating a little interest. That puts them in a position of strength. How far should they go in taking advantage of it?

In theory, the Yankees could trade all three players in question: Freddy Garcia, Justin Maxwell, and Ramiro Pena. But trading from a surplus isn’t always the right answer. As the Yankees experienced this spring, plans can change in an instant. Holding onto those players in some way or another can work out for the better. So how should the Yankees approach the situations for Garcia, Maxwell, and Pena?

Freddy Garcia

After Garcia helped patch up the 2011 rotation, the Yankees were apparently eager to bring him back into the fold. Shortly after they offered him arbitration, they signed him to a one-year, $4 million contract. But he wasn’t exactly their Plan A. After the Yankees acquired both Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, Garcia was seemingly squeezed out of a rotation spot. That appears to still be the case, despite his strong spring performances.

The Yankees reportedly offered Garcia to the Marlins, but were rebuffed. It’s not clear whether the Marlins weren’t interested at all, or whether the Yankees asked for too much in return. Whatever the case, it does appear that the Yankees are willing to deal Garcia to help clear up their pitching situation. If that is the case, I hope that they didn’t work out a deal with the Marlins because they were asking for too much in return. Garcia can be greatly valuable to the 2012 team.

While he’ll likely start in the bullpen, Garcia could very well end up in the starting rotation before long. Ivan Nova, who suffered an elbow injury in the Yankees’ final game of 2011, has experienced a rough spring. He has by far the worst numbers of any Yankees starter. He does have a track record, and there appears to be little chance he’ll start the season anywhere but in the rotation. But if he falters in April, the Yankees could move quickly and push Garcia into the rotation.

The problem with trading Garcia is that he’s relatively valuable to both the Yankees and other teams. A No. 4 or No. 5 starter who can consume 150 to 170 innings per season is nothing to scoff at, even for a middling team. After all, those innings have to come from somewhere. While the Yankees appear to have a surplus now, and another reinforcement on the way in May, that might not always be the case. Few teams go through the season with even six starters, so the Yankees can definitely use Garcia.

On the other hand, what can they get in return for him? The 2012 team is pretty set. Maybe they could acquire a bullpen arm, but rare is that team that has a glaring need in the rotation while also having a spare, useful bullpen arm. Any bench upgrade would be marginal at best. It seems unlikely that a team would trade a legit B prospect for Garcia. That is, the Yankees probably aren’t going to get back as much value for Garcia as they can potentially realize from him themselves. He might not be an ideal fit in the bullpen, but his capacity to jump into the rotation is probably more valuable than anything they’d get in return.

Justin Maxwell

Mike wrote about Maxwell yesterday, so there’s no need to dig too deeply into his case. It all boils down to a lack of viable options for him. The Yankees can’t send him down to AAA without first passing him through waivers, and as Mike noted it’s unlikely that he’ll pass through. Their only other options are to carry him on the 25- man roster or to trade him. Since they don’t have room on the 25-man, a trade seems the most likely route.

When it comes to trading a player like Maxwell, urgency is the key. How badly does a team need outfield help, and where are they in the waivers order? Finding a relatively desperate team far down on the waivers list is the key. Otherwise, teams might hold onto their trade chips and simply wait for the Yankees to waive him. They can play one team off another, but for a player of Maxwell’s caliber that might not be very effective. Odds are that Maxwell joins another organization and the Yankees get little to no return for him.

Ramiro Pena

Believe it or not, there is a team potentially interested in Pena’s services. The Phillies will start the season without Chase Utley and Michael Martinez. With Placido Polanco also dealing with an injury, the Phillies could certainly use some infield help. We learned over the weekend that they have some interest in Pena. Unfortunately, as Mike said, he’s not going to fetch much in return.

Pena does have some value to the Yankees. He’s already on the 40-man roster, and can play high-quality defense. Since he’s one of three players on the 40-man roster who can play shortstop, he’s probably more valuable to the organization than the couple hundred thousand dollars or D-prospect he’d fetch in a trade.

Having a surplus is always a nice thing. It leaves a team with options that its competitors do not have. The Yankees could try to cash in its trade chips for prospects or other useful parts, but that just doesn’t appear likely in this case. They might be forced into that position with the out-of-options Maxwell, but in the cases of Garcia and Pena they have players who provide value in their depth. That value is, in all likelihood, greater than what they’d receive in return from another trade. If the Yankees can get back a decent prospect in a Maxwell/Garcia package, so be it. But unless they find something that will significantly improve their farm system, they should hold onto their surplus. They never know when they might need it.

Second Lefty Poll: Rapada or Cabral?

Hooray for funky lefties. (Paul Sancya/AP)

It as appears as though the Yankees only have one open relief spot at the moment, assuming the loser of the Phil Hughes/Freddy Garcia fifth starter competition heads to the bullpen. With three rounds of roster cuts already in the books, the number of realistic candidates for that last spot is down to just two: left-handers Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral.

The Yankees have been looking for a second left-handed reliever for a few too many years, but now they appear to have a pair of qualified candidates. Rapada and Cabral share handedness but not much else. They’re different pitchers with different styles at different points of their careers. Which one is a better fit for the Yankees?

The Case for Rapada
A 31-year-old journeyman, Rapada has impressed by retiring all but one of the 12 left-handed batters he’s faced this spring. The one exception is a walk (after getting ahead in the count 0-2, no less), but he’s atoned by striking out seven of the remaining 11 batters. Rapada’s big league track record is limited, though he has held the 136 lefties he’s faced to a .153/.252/.200 batting line with a 26.5% strikeout rate. His Triple-A track record is more of the same.

Rapada has been groomed as a lefty specialist since the day he signed with the Cubs as an undrafted free agent in 2002. They dropped his arm angle almost immediately, and now he relies of the deception of his sidearm motion more than sheer stuff — mid-80s heat with a mid-70s slider — to get same-side hitters out. He’s a true LOOGY and has excelled in the role over the last few years. There should be no growing pains.

The Case for Cabral
Cabral, a 23-year-old taken from the Red Sox (via the Royals) in this past offseason’s Rule 5 Draft has impressed as well this spring. He hasn’t been as good as Rapada, but he’s struck out eight of the 20 left-handers he’s faced while allowing six hits and walking zero. One of those hits was a homer. Cabral moved to the bullpen full time to start the 2010 season, and since then he’s held same-side hitters to a .202/.263/.294 batting line with a 35.4% strikeout rate in 133 PA. That’s mostly at High-A with a little Low-A and Double-A mixed in.

The Yankees obviously like Cabral, otherwise they wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of trading up in the Rule 5 Draft to get him. He’s more of a power pitcher than Rapada, sitting in the low-90s with a changeup and a slurvy slider. The changeup is his best secondary pitch, which theoretically means Cabral could face some right-handed batters and at least hold his own. He has all three minor league options remaining and is under team control through at least 2017. With zero Triple-A or MLB experience, there figures to be more than the usual ups and downs associated with young pitchers.

* * *

Unless something unexpected happens, the Yankees can only break camp with one of the two. Rapada can opt out of his minor league deal at the end of Spring Training, and he’ll surely get a job elsewhere given his spring performance. Because he is out of minor league options, the Yankees won’t be able to add Rapada to the 40-man roster and send him to Triple-A. Cabral simply won’t clear waivers as a Rule 5 Draft pick, he’s been too impressive as well.

The last bullpen spot won’t sink the season, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s really no wrong answer here. Both Rapada and Cabral are worthy of being the second left-handed reliever on a contending team.

Who should the Yankees take as the second lefty?
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