Linkage: Upton, Montero, Rivera

Don’t worry, these links won’t be sent to the minors to start the season…

Justin Upton close to a long-term deal

I was one of many Yankee fans patiently waiting for The Justin Upton to hit free agency, however just like Felix Hernandez and Seattle, Upton is signing long-term to stay in Arizona. The 22-year-old is set to receive a six year deal worth $50M, which will still allow him to hit free agency at age-28. After hitting .300-.366-.532 with 26 homers and 20 steals last season, Upton was probably going to build on those numbers in 2010 and set himself up for a pretty nice payday in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Too bad.

Could Austin Romine end up being more valuable than Jesus Montero?

Well of course he could. But for it to happen, Montero would need to become a full-time DH and produce like Paul Konerko (another big righty bat who was too big to stick at catcher), while Romine becomes a slightly better than league average backstop. Bryan Smith at FanGraphs ran through the numbers and the comparison,  but the moral of the story is that even just faking it as a catcher will make Montero so much more valuable than he would be anywhere else. That’s why the Yankees won’t move him from behind the plate until it’s absolutely necessary.

Strawberry: Jenrry Mejia is the next Mariano Rivera

I love Darryl Strawberry, I really do. He was my favorite player as a kid in the 80’s, but come on dude. You can’t just look at the velocity and movement that Mets’ prospect Jenrry Mejia gets on his fastball and compare him to the greatest reliever of all time. The 19-year-old Mejia was ranked as the 56th best prospect in the game by Baseball America, but he’s walked 92 batters in 210 career minor league innings. Mo? Try 98 walks in 432.1 minor league innings. Command > movement > velocity, folks. Learn it, love it.

And finally, here’s a new site to check out called Sabometrics. Make sure you check it out, there’s some pretty interesting stuff in there.

Why sending Aceves to the minors is a waste

Who would have thought that signing Chan Ho Park would cause such a ruckus? When pitchers and catchers reported two weeks ago the bullpen situation seemed set. Seven spots, seven pitchers. Then came Chan Ho, making eight pitchers for seven spots. Since then we’ve wondered who will take the fall. Ben wrote about it this morning, and Mike followed up with an excellent point on why Hughes, if he loses the 5th starter competition, should stay with the team in the bullpen.

We’re back, then, to the issue of who goes. As a hundred people and I bet between 80 and 90 say Sergio Mitre. The problem, as Ben noted, we can’t just assume the Yankees will trade him. I further doubt that they’d place him on waivers, since the team apparently likes him, and doesn’t want to reduce its leverage in a potential trade. It’s possible, of course, but I wouldn’t consider it likely right now. That could change, as always, between now and the end of March.

One option I’ve seen floated by a few writers is sending Al Aceves to AAA. He has options so it would be a painless process. Then, when something goes wrong — a pitcher gets hurt or pitches terribly — the Yanks can call up Aceves. Further, since he’d probably work as a starter in AAA they could have him both spot start and pitch out of the pen. They did this last year, optioning Aceves to start the season but recalling him in early May after the bullpen fared horribly in April. If it worked last year, I doubt the Yankees would rule it out this year.

Even still, I’m not convinced it’s right move. The team started out poorly last April, and the bullpen’s 55 runs allowed in 71 innings did not help matters. They recovered, turning the bullpen into a strength by mid-season. While the idea would be the same this year, there’s no guarantee that the Yankees can fight back from behind for a second straight year. With both the Red Sox and the Rays in the division, the Yankees should think only about bringing their best 25 players to the Bronx. They shouldn’t handicap themselves because of service time and option statuses.

In the past, I’ve argued that sending Hughes to AAA wouldn’t hurt that much. If the bullpen has holes, they can always recall him in a relief role. If the bullpen performs fine, he can continue building his innings in pursuit of pitching in the rotation without restrictions in 2011. That, however, runs contrary to another point I preach every April: a game on April 6 counts the same as a game on September 26. The implications might be different, but the win counts for just one. Wins now theoretically take the pressure off those late September games. In other words, sacrificing games in April makes no sense, even if the Yankees have shown over the past few years that they can overcome a poor start. Past performance, after all, does not guarantee future gains.

Last year Aceves showed that he can provide quality relief innings. Not only can he go multiple innings, a strategy I’d like to see employed more frequently, but he also fares well in his single-inning stints. Though only eight of his 42 relief appearances lasted exactly one inning, he allowed just four hits in them, facing just three batters over the minimum. That’s a short sample, and won’t accurately forecast his one-inning appearances in 2010, but we do know he’s succeeded in those short outings. Given the rest of his 2009 season, he should get a shot to show that he can sustain the performance.

While the Yankees have rallied back from early season deficits before, they shouldn’t count on doing that every year. For every 2007 and 2009, there’s a 2008. Falling behind becomes an even tougher scenario for the Yankees, who share division space with perhaps the two other best teams in the AL, the Red Sox and the Rays. The way to avoid falling behind — or at least to put all your resources to preventing it — is to bring your best 25 players north. Given his performance last season, Al Aceves figures to be in that group. Not only is sending him to AAA a waste of his talent, but also could hurt the team. The Yanks have every reason to start him in the major league bullpen.

Photo credit: Jim Mone/AP

Why sending Hughes to the minors is a waste

One of the ongoing themes of Spring Training has been Phil Hughes and the possibility of being sent to the minors in 2010 to pile up innings. In his Chan Ho Park post earlier this morning, Ben wrote about just that, so allow me to excerpt…

For the Yanks, the best AAA candidate would seem to be Phil Hughes. He has an innings limit and should be working as a starter for as long as he can this year. If that means starting the year at AAA and being the first arm called up, that’s a risk I’d be willing to take. The Yanks could send Aceves down and keep Hughes in the 8th inning role, but this move reeks of short-term planning at the expense of long-term success. Last year, the Yanks’ pitchers enjoyed unexpected health. Can we expect them to do it again this year?

No, we can’t expect them to do it again this year, however keeping Hughes in the bullpen to start the year isn’t just a short-term move. If a starter were to go down, there’s Chad Gaudin, or Al Aceves, or Sergio Mitre, or Ivan Nova to fill in. There’s no shortage of candidates to make a spot start or three. However, if a starter were to go down for an extended period of time, well then you can stretch Hughes out to start. There’s no reason it can’t be done. Everyone’s all freaked out after Joba Chamberlain hurt his shoulder in 2008, but that’s one data point in a sea of them. There’s no evidence that moving back into the rotation caused Joba’s shoulder to bark. He’s a pitcher, it could have started acting up for a million reasons.

Just last year, we watched Bobby Parnell, Justin Masterson, J.A. Happ, and Scott Feldman start the season in the bullpen before moving to the rotation. Jonathan Sanchez, Carlos Zambrano, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt … all those guys make the transition during the season as well. It can be done. Pretty easily too. But I digress.

There’s several reasons the Yanks shouldn’t send Hughes down to the minors. First off, he’s one of the seven or eight best pitchers in the organization, top to bottom, and the best big league ready arms should always good north when the club breaks camp. Secondly, the single most important thing a young pitcher must learn how to do is get big leaguers out. That’s it. If he can’t get Major League hitters out, then he’s hurting the team. If Hughes’ spends the season in Triple-A Scranton getting stretched out in advance of filling a rotation spot in 2011, then what do you have? You have a guy who can give you 170 innings next year, but may or may not know how to pitch out of jams and what not.

Sure, it sounds fine. He’d just be the fifth starter after all. Those guys aren’t crucial. But what’s the alternative? Hughes spends the season in the bullpen, at worst, and next year you’re looking at a guy who can give you say, 130-140 innings that will probably be a bit better because he’s more experienced. Hughes has nothing to learn in the minors, at all. He can throw 35 changeups a game, but big deal. Throwing changeups to in big league situations is different than throwing them to minor leaguers. And there’s no rule against throwing changeups out of the bullpen. He can still work on it.

Look, I want Phil Hughes to be a starter for the long haul as much as the next guy. I just think that the minimal gain you get towards his future innings limit is completely negated by missing out on all of that experience against big leaguers. We know Hughes can go through a lineup three times, he’s done it his entire life in the minors. All he’s going to do in Triple-A is spin his wheels. You don’t learn anything from carving guys up, you learn from making mistakes and getting smacked around a bit. Keeping Hughes in the Majors to start the year puts the best team on the field and is the best thing for his development.

Frankly, I’m kind of astonished I had to write this post. There’s a lot of dumb ideas tossed around in Spring Training because there’s nothing else to talk about, and this is the perfect example of that.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Chan Ho Park and the very crowded bullpen

Chan Ho Park and Dave Eiland chat during the newest Yankee’s first mound session yesterday in Tampa. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

When the Yankees signed Chan-Ho Park, they were adding to a significant strength. Last year, the Yanks’ pen had a 3.91 ERA with an AL-leading 40 wins and only 17 losses. The pen’s overall 1.25 WHIP (1.25), 8.4 K/9 IP and 2.43 K/BB were all at or near the top of the league, and although we weren’t sure what Park’s role would be with the team, we knew that the Yanks’ pen had gotten even deeper with a pitcher who was 15 relief runs above replacement last year.

With Park in Tampa yesterday, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi revealed their plans for the right-hander. As he signed a guaranteed contract (albeit for a small price) and the Yanks view him as a key piece of their pitching staff, he is assured a spot on the Opening Day roster. “He can do a lot of things,” Girardi said. “He’s a guy who gives me a lot of versatility out there.”

How that will impact the rest of the team’s bullpen is an open subject. “There’s clearly a lot of competition,” Cashman said. “Hopefully we can stay healthy, but it’s unrealistic to expect health. A lot of time this stuff works itself out. I just feel, before we start games, we have a better foundation going into the game of spring training this year than we did last year. We’re a little deeper, a little more flexible.”

Considering that Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, Jonathan Albaladejo and Brian Bruney all broke camp with the Yanks last year, Cashman is certainly right to note the depth and flexibility of this year’s pen. Even the worst bullpen the Yanks can assemble is better than last April’s, and as the old baseball maxim goes, there is no such thing as too much pitching.

So what would these potential bullpens look like for the Yankees? Let’s assume that the Yanks are going to take 12 pitchers north with them to Boston at the start of April. The guys guaranteed to make the team right now are CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Javier Vazquez, Mariano Rivera, Damaso Marte and Chan Ho Park. That leaves us with a series of candidates to fill out the final five spots, but in reality, two of those spots are taken.

Because the Yankees are not going to risk putting them on waivers, both Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin are, today, members of the 25-man roster. I fully expect Mitre to be traded before the end of Spring Training, but we cannot assume he definitely will be off the Yanks by April 4. If he isn’t traded, the Yanks will keep him around.

We’re left with three spots. David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and darkhorse candidate Boone Logan will be fighting for those three spots. All of these pitchers have options remaining, and that roster flexibility gives the Yanks numerous options. So far, this is a problem 29 other teams would love to have.

Now, the challenging part of this equation is ability. I believe the Yanks want to put the best team forward, but at the same time, they’re not going to sacrifice depth for a marginal bullpen upgrade. Last year, based on either BP’s Win Expectancy above Replacement Level (WXRL) or Fangraphs’ relieving runs above replacement, three of these candidates were among the Yanks’ top four relievers. Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson were the three best non-Mariano relievers on the 2009 Yankees, and yet, the team seems willing to open up the year with one of those guys at AAA.

For the Yanks, the best AAA candidate would seem to be Phil Hughes. He has an innings limit and should be working as a starter for as long as he can this year. If that means starting the year at AAA and being the first arm called up, that’s a risk I’d be willing to take. The Yanks could send Aceves down and keep Hughes in the 8th inning role, but this move reeks of short-term planning at the expense of long-term success. Last year, the Yanks’ pitchers enjoyed unexpected health. Can we expect them to do it again this year?

The idea of sending Phil Hughes, Eighth Inning Superstar, to the minors is enough to rankle the heartiest Mike Francesas among us, but it’s something the Yanks should consider. With Chan Ho Park on board, they have the arms and the depth to afford to make this move, and if it doesn’t work out in April, the Yanks can always summon Hughes from the minors. After all, most of the April 2009 bullpen was long gone before the Yanks popped their celebratory corks in November.

Yankees sign John Van Benschoten

Via Baseball America, the Yankees have signed former Pirates’ first rounder John Van Benschoten to a minor league contract. JVB led Division I with 31 homers as an outfielder in 2001, so when Pirates drafted him 8th overall that year (three spots after the Rangers took Mark Teixeira), they naturally stuck him on the mound. Makes sense, right? Sure, he closed for Kent State, but back then the Pirates were the only team that liked him better on the mound.

JVB went on to be named the team’s top prospect in 2003 and 2004, and thrice appeared on BA’s Top 100 Prospects list. He managed to make it to the big leagues in 2004, and has posted a 9.20 ERA in 90 IP spread out among several stints in Pittsburgh. Among pitchers with at least 75 career innings, that is the worst ERA in the history. I’m not kidding. He’s also had surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in both arms.

Who knows, maybe they’re putting a bat back in his hands?

Open Thread: The Lord takes the mound

Mariano Rivera threw his first bullpen of the 2010 season today, tossing 21 pitches to Frankie Cervelli early this morning. Everything went nice and easy for Mo, as it tends to do. He essentially makes his own schedule in Spring Training, not traveling for road games or anything like that, so he’ll likely make his debut in a week or two.

Here’s your open thread for the night. The Knicks are the only local team in action, but you’ve also got House and 24. Enjoy the thread.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

A-Rod to cooperate with Galea investigators

So much for that quiet Spring Training. After his name surfaced in newspaper reports this morning, Alex Rodriguez confirmed today that he will meet with federal authorities to discuss his involvement in an ongoing investigation into a Canadian doctor arrested on drug charges in October. Anthony Galea, a Toronto-based sports specialist, is suspected of supplying HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs from Canada into the United States, but so far, the nature of his ties to A-Rod remain unknown.

According to various reports, Mark Lindsay, the chiropractor who oversaw A-Rod’s rehab from hip surgery last year, has close ties to both BALCO and Galea, and authorities are probably curious to find out if A-Rod wants more. Lindsay has also treated Chien-Ming Wang.

At camp today, A-Rod could not comment on his association with Galea due to the ongoing investigation. “I can’t really get into that,” he said to reporters. “You’ll know within time all at the same time.”

The Yankees, in a statement, attempted to distance themselves from the latest PED controversy to descend upon A-Rod at Spring Training. “The New York Yankees have not been contacted with regard to an investigation of Dr. Tony Galea,” the team said. “The Yankees never authorized Dr. Tony Galea to treat Alex Rodriguez, nor do we have any knowledge of any such treatment. The Yankees authorized Dr. Marc Philippon to operate on Alex and oversee his rehabilitation. At the request of Dr. Philippon, we also authorized Dr. Mark Lindsay to supervise the daily rehabilitation program established by Dr. Philippon. We will continue to monitor the situation.” Ben Shpigel of The Times reported, however, that team executives are annoyed that A-Rod’s name would surface in yet another PED investigation just one year after the latest controversy.

For what it’s worth, Jose Reyes was questioned in this investigation as well. Reyes spent time this winter with Galea and has closer ties to him than A-Rod appears to. Yet, nothing came of that questioning, and I expect the same result here. Call me naïve, but I can’t imagine A-Rod would have been foolish enough to get himself involved in another PED scandal since the last one broke a year ago.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens