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

Yanks make up for draft slots with international signings

While the Yankees farm system does not rank among the best in the league, it has certainly improved over the past few years. It got into such bad shape in the first place because in addition to picking in the 25 to 30 range every year, the Yankees also sign free agents, sometimes costing them first-round picks, and otherwise trade young talent for veterans. There is one place where the Yankees can still tap talent, though. The international market brings no draft order restrictions, so teams are free to bid on any player they want. As Ben Badler of Baseball America shows, the Yankees have more top-30 international signees than any other team in baseball.

The obvious caveat here, which is obvious when looking under the Notable Prospects section for the Yanks, is that the prospect doesn’t necessarily have to be in the system today. Badler counts players signed by the organization, regardless of whether they were subsequently traded. As Badler also notes, the Yankees have already seen production from two of their notable international signees. Arodys Vizcaino and Jose Tabata (along with international signee Melky Cabrera) have turned into Javy Vazquez, Xavier Nady, and Damaso Marte.

2010 RAB Fantasy Baseball League

Update (4:07pm): And now the second league is full.

Update (3:58pm): Here’s the info for the second league, it’s identical to the first. The ID and password to sign up is included when you click the link.

Update (3:25pm): We have a commish for a second league, so it’s being created now. I’ll add the League ID and password here once it’s ready.

Update (3:10pm): The league is full, but I still haven’t had anyone email about being the commish of a second, alternate league.

3:00pm: It’s time, once again to form the RAB Fantasy Baseball League. You can see the league setting here, but note that I did change the maximum number of moves per week to eight (rather than no max) to keep people for swapping pitchers in and out to pile up W and K. Make sure you read the settings before signing up, because everything you need to know is in there, including the draft date and time. If you want in, then find the league on Yahoo! using the ID# and stuff, and join in. But people, only join if you’re serious, I plan on making this a keeper league.

Because I gave those in the league last year first dibs on spots, there’s only four left (out of 20. Yes, 20). If someone is willing to be the commissioner of a second league with the same settings, email me.

The Early Season Grind

For whatever reason, the Yankees haven’t been a very good team early in the season lately. Last year they went just 12-10 in April, but 91-49 the rest of the way. If you go back three years, the Yankees are 35-39 in April but 251-161 from May on. It’s frustrating, and no one can seem to figure it out what’s causing this. We’ve just come to accept it.

In his blog post today, Buster Olney examined each American League team’s schedule in the early going. The Yanks have the third toughest schedule in the early going (according to Buster), thanks to 12 straight games against teams that finished .500 or better last season to start the campaign. Just 19 of their first 41 games will be played in the Bronx, and given their recent historical suckiness in April, it’s really not all that hard to envision a scenario in which the Yanks are under .500 on May 1st.

Of course, there’s two sides to every coin. The rough April (and part of May) means that June through September will be much kinder. The Yanks will play just three games against a team that finished over .500 last year (the Phillies) from May 28th through June 25th of this season, and 11 of their first 17 games in September are against some perennial doormats. With fewer games against the better teams in the league in the second half, that means winning streaks stay alive longer, and losing streaks don’t last very long.

A good start is always nice, and yes games in April count just as much as games in August and September, but the Yanks are going to face a tough part of the schedule at some point, and I like that they’ll do it in April. More than likely, they would have stumbled to a .500 or so record in that month, but now it’ll come with the reassurance of knowing that they’ll have a chance to build some serious momentum in the second half and go on into the playoffs with the head of steam like last year. Oh sure, it’ll give the talking heads a lot to … uh … talk about.

“They’re complacent!”

“The starters are worn down from last year!”

“They miss Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon!”

I can see all the headlines now, but it’ll just be the usual MSM gibberish. The important thing is that the toughest part of the schedule will be behind them, and they’ll have a chance to make the rest of the league pay once the team hits their stride. Now, just imagine if they get off to a hot start…