The Alfredo Aceves Mistake

(Photo Credit: Flickr user tedkerwin via Creative Commons license)

Last night’s loss to the Red Sox sucked for a million different reasons, and Al Aceves recording the final eleven outs was just salt on the wounds. He wasn’t great by any means, serving up singles to the first two men he faced before Derek Jeter* took the wind out of the Yankees’ sails with the bases loaded double play to end the sixth inning, but he was effective. We’re used to seeing that from Aceves following his stint in New York, and now ten weeks into the 2011 season, it’s pretty obvious the Yankees completely screwed up by letting him walk.

As you probably remember, Aceves’ final game as a Yankee came against the team he pitches for now, the Red Sox. The Yankees were in Fenway Park when he threw both a pitch and his back out all in one motion last May, an injury that kept him on the shelf the rest of the season. It was eventually diagnosed as a herniated disc, and two different attempts at rest and rehab resulted in setbacks. Then after the season, Aceves fractured his clavicle when he fell off his bike, an activity that may or may not have been against his back rehab regime. We have no idea and it’s unfair to speculate one way or the other.

That broken clavicle was supposed to keep Aceves on the sidelines for three months, meaning he would be a few weeks behind the other pitchers in Spring Training. The right-hander was non-tendered the very next day (relative to when we found out about the injury, not when it actually happened), and Brian Cashman explained the decision like so…

“Because of the back issue, we could not give him [a major league contract]. He was throwing off the mound for us and he always hit a wall,” Cashman said. “So we ultimately continued to fail throughout the entire process to get him off the DL and active. He had a lot of success for a period of time, but then ultimately we’d had to take steps back and we’d have to shut him down and re-do the treatment.

“We decided to non-tender him and offer him a non-guaranteed deal. But obviously when healthy you certainly know what he can do.”

Aceves sat in the free agent pool for a while, reportedly drawing interest from the Rockies, but it wasn’t until early-February that he signed a big league deal with Boston worth $650,000. He reportedly to camp completely healthy on the first day, showing that he was well ahead of schedule with the clavicle rehab, and he’s been healthy ever since. In 41 big league innings this year, he owns a 3.29 ERA and a 4.25 FIP. He also threw another eight innings in Triple-A.

I don’t know who it was and we probably won’t ever know for sure, but someone on the Yankees’ made a big mistake here. Maybe it was the medical staff that evaluated Aceves, maybe it was Cashman, maybe it was someone else we don’t even know exists or maybe it was all of them. Whoever it was, Aceves’ condition was misevaluated and the Yankees foolishly let an asset walk away. That he joined their biggest rival, both historically and with regards to the 2011 AL East title, just adds insult to injury.

The facts of the matter are this: Aceves was still in his pre-arbitration years (so the Yankees could have renewed his salary for something close to the league minimum), he had four years of team control left, he had two minor league options remaining, and he also had (has, really) a history of back trouble. Remember it kept him on the shelf a few times in both 2008 and 2009 as well. At that point of the non-tendering, the Yankees were still unsure about Andy Pettitte‘s status for 2011 and they still appeared to be the front-runner for Cliff Lee. But still, Aceves’ experience working both as a starter and as a reliever is nothing but a plus. I don’t put much stock into the whole “he can pitch in New York” thing, but we all knew he could do that as well.

The risk was minimal. We’re talking about a 40-man roster spot (and there were seven or eight open at the time of the non-tendering) and a six-figure salary, which is peanuts to pretty much every club, especially the Yankees. It’s not like they had to keep him in the show no matter either; he has options and could go down if he was performing poorly or something. That flexibility is something you usually something you don’t get from free agents. Instead of assuming that little bit of risk, they got cute and tried to bring him back on a minor league deal when they would have been able to sent him to the minor leagues anyway. It essentially boils down to the 40-man spot and the salary, which is a little ridiculous.

It’s not a massive, franchise crippling blunder or anything like that, but the Yankees absolutely screwed up by non-tendering Aceves. That he went to the Red Sox only makes it worse, but it would have been bad even if he joined those Rockies or another team. Even if he blows his back out tomorrow, the evaluation of his condition was obviously wrong and a potentially valuable piece was let go for nothing. With $19.15M worth of relievers on the disabled list and the likes of Amaury Sanit, Jeff Marquez, and Lance Pendleton in the bullpen, the Yankees really could use a multi-inning option with experience in the late-innings right now.  There’s no other way to put it, they straight up screwed the pooch by non-tendering Aceves.

* Brett Gardner gets an assist.

Trenton hits too many homers in win

Remember David Adams? He’s still out with a leg issue that can be traced back to the broke ankle he suffered last May, but apparently the plan is to have him back with Double-A Trenton by the All-Star break. So figure he’ll be back within a month or so. Austin Romine, meanwhile, has a “mild concussion” and will be out a minimum of seven days. Don’t screw around with head injuries, give the kid as much time as he needs.

As for the good news, Tim Norton has been deservedly promoted to Triple-A Scranton. He’s taking the place of the injured Kanekoa Texeira, who left last night’s game some kind of injury. I wonder if the injury contributed to his awfulness, can’t rule it out. Anyway, the draft is over, so this is the last night of bullet points…

  • Triple-A Scranton won. They had four hits total on offense, two by my man Gus Molina. David Phelps struck out eight in seven scoreless innings, Norton struck out two in his Triple-A debut, and Kevin Whelan nailed it down for his 18th save. Jesus Montero did not play, he’s still battling that eye infection.
  • Double-A Trenton won. Cody Johnson hit another homer, his second in as many days and eleventh in the last month. Jose Pirela, of all people, went deep twice, which is crazy because he came into the year with five homers in the first three years of his career. Nothing too exciting on the pitching side, Shaeffer Hall gave up five runs in five innings and Naoya Okamoto tossed two scoreless.
  • Both High-A Tampa and Low-A Charleston had scheduled off days.

Game 59: Shorthanded

The hits just keep on coming.

Injuries have a way of piling up, and they sure did for the Yankees today. Mark Teixeira feels well enough to start tonight despite suffering a contusion when he was hit by a pitch yesterday, but that’s the good news. Joba Chamberlain was placed on the disabled list with a strained elbow flexor and Russell Martin is day-to-day because his back locked up on his last night. Jorge Posada isn’t hurt, but he’s away from the team to be with his family while his son has surgery. The bench tonight: Chris Dickerson and Andruw Jones. Adversity, they has it. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Brett Gardner, LF
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Frankie Cervelli, C

A.J. Burnett, SP

Tonight’s game will be broadcast on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Sorry for you out-of-towners. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET, so try to enjoy.

Chavez still not close to returning

Via Bryan Hoch, Eric Chavez‘s bone-bruised left foot is getting better, but the infielder is still no closer to returning to the team. “He’s still not where he needs to be to run,” said Joe Girardi yesterday. “He is getting better, though, but he’s still not there yet.” According to the official site, Chavez is now on the 60-day disabled list, presumably to make room on the roster for recently claimed Jeff Marquez. That means he’s not eligible to be activated until July 5th at the earliest. Le sigh.

Joba to the DL with strained elbow flexor

Joba Chamberlain landed on the DL with a strained flexor muscle in his right elbow, the club announced a few minutes ago. The Yanks’ set-up man had been feeling soreness for weeks, according to manager Joe Girardi, and will miss at least three weeks. Joba himself doesn’t believe the injury is too serious, but he won’t throw for at least ten days. I’d be surprised if he’s back before the end of June.

In the meantime, Amaury Sanit will take his place on the roster, but that’s probably temporary. The Yanks need some late-inning depth, and this injury is clearly a big blow for the Yanks’ endgame plans as they now have three key relievers on the shelf. David Robertson will slide into the set-up role while Luis Ayala and Boone Logan will be called upon to get outs in higher leverage situations. Hold onto you hats, folks.

In other injury news, Russell Martin‘s back “locked up” on him last night, Girardi says. With Jorge Posada away from the club due to another surgery for his son, the Yanks’ bench tonight will consist of Chris Dickerson and Andruw Jones. Confirming what we knew already, Jeff Marquez will be activated for the bullpen, and Hector Noesi has been sent down.

The Traded Bullpen

Hey, I told you he'd never been a viable starter in the AL East. (Photo Credit: Flick user afagen via Creative Commons license)

For the longest time, it seemed like the Yankees were completely unable to build a solid bullpen. The relief corps fell apart following the departure of Jeff Nelson and later Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza. The merry-go-round of high priced free agent relievers and AAAA-type arms ran from 2003 through about 2008, when the team finally wised up and started growing their own relievers while seeking low-cost options capable of missing bats from the outside. The more the merrier.

As a result from this reliever hoarding, the Yankees ended up with some bullpen depth in recent years and were able to move a number of these guys in trades. They went from having a shallow and ineffective relief corps to actually being able to trade away effective arms to shore up other parts of the team. Crazy, I know. Anyway, let’s look at a bullpen of pitchers built entire of guys the Yankees have traded away in recent years, starting with someone that wore pinstripes a little more than two months ago…

The Long Man: Sergio Mitre

It wasn’t that long ago that our standard for pitching acquisitions was “better than Mitre,” but The Experience moved on to Milwaukee in the Chris Dickerson swap and has done fine work in low-leverage spots for the Brewers. His almost non-existent strikeout rate (3.24 K/9) is buoyed by his typically gaudy ground ball rate (53.0%), and of course he has the ability to go multiple innings if needed.

The Middle Reliever: Dan McCutchen

After spending a few years bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues as a spot starter, McCutchen has carved out as a nice niche for himself in Pittsburgh’s bullpen this year. The former DotF superstar isn’t striking out many batters (4.73 K/9), but he’s made up for it by limiting walks (1.69 uIBB/9) and getting a healthy amount of ground balls (45.1%). McCutchen was the fourth guy in the Xavier NadyDamaso Marte trade.

The Lefty: Mike Dunn

I’m sure most of you remember Dunn’s big league debut with the Yankees in September of 2009, when he came out of the bullpen in Toronto only to walk three of the first five men he faced on 13 total pitches (not counting the other two batters). He went to the Braves in the ill-fated Javy Vazquez trade last offseason, walked 17 men in 19 IP for Atlanta before being traded to the Marlins for Dan Uggla this offseason. Dunn has emerged as Florida’s top setup man this year, striking out 33 and allowing just 14 hits in 27 IP. He has walked 15, though. Still, can’t argue with that strikeout rate from the left side.

The Setup Man: Tyler Clippard

Long-time readers of RAB are well-aware that I was never much of a Clippard fan. His six start cameo in the Bronx in 2007 was completely forgettable (6.68 FIP), then he was shipped to the nation’s capitol for Jon Albaladejo after the season. Clippard struggled as a starter in 2008 and for the early part of 2009, but a shift to the bullpen late that year changed everything. He’s turned into one of the most dominant relievers in the game, throwing multiple innings pretty much every time out with an 11.01 K/9 and a 3.23 FIP in a MLB-high 126.2 relief innings (105 appearances) since the start of 2010. I think it’s safe to say the Yankees would love to have a do-over on this trade.

The Closer: Mark Melancon

Melancon received four different call-ups with the Yankees in 2009 and 2010, striking out 13 and walking ten in 20.1 IP. He was sent to Houston in the Lance Berkman trade and almost immediately settled into their bullpen. Melancon finished last year with a 3.19 FIP in 20 appearances for the Astros, and this year he’s sporting an impressive 2.46 FIP on the strength of 8.28 K/9 and 2.76 BB/9 in 29.1 IP. He has since moved into the closer’s role with Brandon Lyon on the disabled list with a case of the awfuls, and he’s 5-for-6 in save opportunities so far.

* * *

If you’re going to give away good players in trades, relievers are good guys to do it with. They typically have short shelf lives and their impact is much smaller than what you can get from position players or starting pitchers. Of course, trading good players is always a bad thing either, it helps build a solid reputation and ups the chances of making good deals down the road. Of course, it helps when you get good players back as well.