Whitley & Mitchell: Spot Starters [2015 Season Review]

Because of the health concerns in their rotation, the Yankees planned to give their starters an extra day of rest whenever possible this season. Off-days helped but that wasn’t enough. The team would have to insert a spot sixth starter on occasion to make it work, which they did quite often this summer.

Following his hit or miss debut last season, Chase Whitley was dubbed the de facto sixth starter in camp, little did we know at the time. Later in the season Bryan Mitchell held that role. Both spent time both with the Yankees and in Triple-A Scranton as depth arms in 2015, and both missed time with injuries. Whitley’s was more serious and Mitchell’s was much scarier.

Whitley. (Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

Ace Whitley

Had the Yankees held any kind of true roster competition in Spring Training, I’m pretty sure Whitley would have won a job on the pitching staff. The 26-year-old allowed two runs in 15.1 innings in camp, striking out 12 and walking only three. He made two starts and five relief appearances. Whitley was awesome during Grapefruit League play and it looked like he was going to be part of the Opening Day roster.

That wasn’t the case. The Yankees were planning to use him as their sixth starter, someone who would come up to make spot starts whenever the team needed an extra arm. That was his role. Sit and wait in Triple-A until everyone else needed a breather. Whitley made three effective starts with the RailRiders in April — he allowed four runs in 17 innings (2.12 ERA and 2.69 FIP) — before getting called up to make his first spot start.

On April 28th, Whitley held the Rays to one run in five innings. Unspectacular, but effective. What was supposed to be a one-start cameo turned into a regular rotation spot, however. Masahiro Tanaka was placed on the DL with a forearm issue the same day Whitley made his spot start, so the Yankees had to keep him in the rotation. Six days later, Whitley shut out the Blue Jays across seven masterful innings.

Whitley’s next start didn’t go so well — the Orioles scored five runs in 5.2 innings and took him deep three times — and the one after that was his final start of the season. In Tampa Bay on May 14th, after getting charged with three runs in 1.2 innings, Whitley walked off the mound with what proved to be a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Five days later, he had season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Whitley’s control disappeared in that final inning — he walked the final batter on four pitches and missed wide with several other pitches earlier in the inning, including one that went over everyone’s head to the backstop. Whitley later acknowledged his elbow had been bugging him for a few weeks, but he didn’t tell anyone and tried to pitch through it. At some point that night the ligament had had enough and snapped. So it goes.

In those four starts with the Yankees, Whitley had a 4.19 ERA (4.58 FIP) and soaked up 19.1 innings. By all accounts his rehab has gone well. The Yankees tried to sneak Whitley through waivers to remove him from the 40-man roster last week, but the Rays claimed him, so he’s no longer in the organization. The team has a bunch of these spare right-handers on the 40-man, so when time came to make space, the injured guy lost out.

The Yankees selected Whitley in the 15th round of the 2010 draft — he was a third baseman and pitcher in college, then the Yankees converted him to the mound full-time in pro ball — and got 95 innings of 5.02 ERA (4.23 FIP) ball out of him, which is essentially replacement level. Considering the expected return on a 15th round pick is basically nothing, Whitley was a nice little get for New York. So long, Ace. It’s been real.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Good Arm & Bad Results

When the season started, Mitchell was something like the seventh or eighth pitcher on the rotation depth chart. Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training, pushing Adam Warren into the rotation. Whitley was the sixth guy, and he got hurt almost exactly when Capuano returned. The question for Mitchell was whether the Yankees would go to him or Esmil Rogers whenever they needed a starter.

The Yankees never did need Mitchell to come up to make a start. At least not early in the season. He had a rough spring (nine runs in 12.1 innings) and started the season with Triple-A Scranton. Mitchell made 13 starts with the RailRiders and, predictably, was anywhere between very good and very bad. That’s his thing. He had a 2.79 ERA (3.07 FIP) in 67.2 innings in those 13 starts.

The Yankees called Mitchell up for the first time this season as part of the bullpen shuttle in late-June, when they needed a fresh long man. He made his first appearance with New York on June 20th and recorded one of those fancy three-inning saves in a blowout win. Mitchell stuck around for a bit after that, allowing two earned runs in 6.1 innings in his next four appearances, all in short-ish relief.

Following a brief return to Triple-A Scranton around the All-Star break — the Yankees wanted Mitchell to stay stretched out, so he was send down to make two starts — Mitchell was called back up to join the Yankees in early-August. He made a spot start against the White Sox on August 1st and allowed four runs in four innings on a limited pitch count. The Yankees then moved him back into long relief.

Mitchell’s best outing of the season came against the Indians on August 11th, when he threw three scoreless innings in extra innings, striking out five. In his next appearance, another spot start, Mitchell took a line drive to the face in what was a really scary scene.

Mitchell escaped with only a small nasal fracture, which was actually good news, all things considered. He didn’t have a concussion or any other neurological damage, and the ball managed to avoid his eyes and jaw. It hit the bill of his cap before deflecting into his nose.

Amazingly, Mitchell returned to the mound only eleven days later. He spent some time on the 7-day concussion DL while going through tests, but otherwise he was back on the mound in short order. Mitchell wasn’t any good after that, but at least he was healthy and back on the mound.

In ten appearances after the line drive, Mitchell allowed 12 runs on 13 hits and ten walks in 8.2 innings. He struck out only seven and opponents hit .333/.480/.513 against him. Yikes. Mitchell was not included on the wildcard game roster, because duh, and he finished the regular season with a 6.37 ERA (4.75 FIP) in 29.2 big league innings spread across two starts and 18 relief appearances.

It’s definitely possible the whole line drive to the face thing affected Mitchell’s performance down the stretch. If not physically then mentally. He could have been pitching tentatively because he feared getting hit again, something like that. Although he escaped with a relatively minor injury, that’s a really scary incident and it could have shaken him up. The fact he was able to physically pitch eleven days later was impressive, but that doesn’t mean he was ready to go mentally.

Anyway, the Yankees sent Mitchell to Puerto Rico to play winter ball this offseason, to make up some innings after spending so much time in the bullpen this summer. He’s thrown 21.2 innings in five starts (4.15 ERA) in winter ball so far but is struggling with control (14/12 K/BB), though that isn’t uncommon. Mitchell’s got a great arm but location continues to be an issue.

Next season will be Mitchell’s final minor league option year, so he has to stick in MLB for good in 2017 to be exposed to waivers. I expect the Yankees to bring him a camp as a starter and then send him to Triple-A Scranton to continue working as a starter next season, but a full-time move to the bullpen may be in the cards at some point. We’ll see.

After ten years, Yankees’ stagnant payroll is an issue that can no longer be ignored

This place is only six years old. (Presswire)
Oh what a lovely new ballpark you have. (Presswire)

Over the last 15 years, baseball has experienced incredible growth as an industry, with MLB revenue climbing from $3.4 billion in 2000 to north of $8 billion in 2015. They might even be over $9 billion at this point. Attendance is as good as it’s ever been, television contracts are enormous (at least for teams that don’t own their own network), and MLBAM is a media juggernaut.

Baseball is extremely healthy right now and, as a result, teams are spending more than ever on players. According to the USA Today salary database, the average MLB payroll has gone from $52.8M in 2000 to $65.8M in 2005 to $83.7M in 2010 to $114.8M in 2015. The average payrolls have more than doubled over the last 15 years. That’s incredible! The Yankees specifically have gone from a $92.8M payroll in 2000 to a $213.4M payroll in 2015.

That only tells part of the story, however. New York’s payroll increased $23.1M on average each year from 2000-05. They went from that $92.8M payroll in 2000 to a $208.3M payroll in 2005. That’s insane. The team’s payroll has held fairly steady over the last ten years though. It was $208.3M in 2005 and $213.4M in 2015 according to USA Today’s numbers, which I’m certain are not 100% accurate, but are good enough for our purposes. Here’s a graph:

2000-15 MLB Payrolls

The Yankees have added some significant revenue streams over the last ten years. First and foremost, the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009. That’s kind of a big deal. Then, in November 2012, a significant percentage of the YES Network was sold to News Corp. for hundreds of millions of dollars over a span of several years. And finally, MLB recently signed new national television contracts with FOX and TBS, more than doubling each team’s take. All of that additional revenue has not led to a payroll increase.

Of course, the Yankees have some significant expenses as well, including revenue sharing and the luxury tax. (They’re also paying off the new ballpark.) They’ve paid something along the lines of $20M annually in luxury tax for a few years now, and who knows how much they’re playing in revenue sharing. A Forbes article says the Yankees paid $95M (!) in revenue sharing in 2013. That’s ridiculous. Then again, the same article says the team led MLB with $461M in revenue that year. (That’s after revenue sharing and bond payments on the ballpark.) Forbes had the team’s revenue at $277M in 2005.

Revenue is up and expenses are up, but payroll has held steady for a decade now. To be fair, the Yankees have spent a lot of money on things not directly related to the roster the last few years. The team beefed up their pro scouting and statistical analysis departments, the Himes complex in Tampa was upgraded with major renovations a few years ago, and of course there was the unprecedented international spending spree a few years ago. Who knows what else has gone on behind the scenes?

But still, something isn’t adding up here. Annual revenue increased nearly $200M from 2005-13 according to Forbes — their numbers are estimations, it should be noted — yet payroll has not changed. Has all the extra revenue gone to increased expenses and behind-the-scenes stuff? I suppose it’s possible, but man, that’s really hard to believe. Especially when Hal Steinbrenner has been wearing out that “you don’t need a $200M payroll to win the World Series” line. He’s made it very clear he doesn’t want to spend more money.

The Yankees are in the game’s largest market and they are the biggest brand in the sport — if not all sports — and that comes with its advantages, specifically money. Lots and lots of money. Look at that graph above. From 2003 to 2011 or so the Yankees blew the rest of the league out of the water with their payroll. That isn’t the case anymore. The rest of the league is catching up, so the Yankees are not taking advantage of their market. They’ve done the rest of the league a favor and leveled the playing field, and it’s showing in the standings. The Yankees haven’t finishing closer than six games back of the AL East winner since 2012.

That is the intention of the luxury tax and revenue sharing system, of course. After all, the luxury tax is officially called the Competitive Balance Tax. It’s meant to level the playing field and as far as the Yankees are concerned, it appears to be working beautifully. Hal doesn’t want to pay the tax. He’s made that abundantly clear. And I get that. The luxury tax is dead money. The Yankees have been writing an eight-figure check for a few years now for … nothing. The money does nothing. It goes into MLB’s Central Fund and that’s it. It’s an investment with no return.

It’s one thing to pass on some free agents because of the luxury tax. Over the last few offseasons the Yankees have only spent whatever has come off the books, little if anything more. But now the Yankees have apparently reached the point where Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller — two of their very best players — are reportedly being made available. There are baseball reasons to trade them, but it’s also financially motivated too. The Yankees didn’t shed much money this year, so they can’t afford any significant free agents, meaning the best way to add talent is by trading some of their best players.

That is screwed up, man. The thought of trading players as good as Gardner and Miller because spending money on free agents is not permitted is screwed up. It’s one thing when you can’t sign a free agent because payroll won’t increase, but once you start trading away good players to make things work financially, then it’s really a problem. Shouldn’t this concern the MLBPA? The Yankees haven’t increased payroll in ten years. I feel like the union should consider that a problem.

The Steinbrenners own the Yankees and they’re free to do whatever they want with the team, the same way I own this stupid blog and am free to do whatever I want with it. And fans are free to disagree with the team’s direction. When payroll stands still for a decade even though a new ballpark opened (!) and the News Corp. deal happened and the league itself keeps setting revenue records, it’s not hard to understand why fans might be unhappy. Now there’s talk about trading good players because signing expensive free agents is not an option? Holy mackerel.

The Yankees don’t have to go out and sign the biggest free agents. You needn’t look beyond their roster to see why that can be a really bad strategy. There’s a point of diminishing returns too, where every dollar you spend brings fewer and fewer wins to the roster. I thought the Yankees were beyond that point a few years ago, but with payroll holding steady and the team winnings 84-87 games the last three years, they’re not there any more. There are some obvious ways the Yankees could spent money this winter and add a lot of wins to the roster.

For a few years in the mid-to-late-2000s it was difficult to see how a static payroll was hurting the Yankees. The rest of the league was still so far behind it didn’t matter. Now though, in 2015 heading into 2016, it couldn’t be any more obvious the league is getting more competitive and the Yankees are no longer in a class of their own. They were kings of the sport and now they’re much closer to everyone else.

The Steinbrenners don’t have to up payroll. It’s their team and they can do what they want. But they also can’t ignore how failing to keep up with league-wide inflation — a modest goal, I’d say — is hurting their chances to field one of those “championship caliber teams” Hal is always talking about. The longer the Yankees’ payroll remains stagnant, the better it is for the rest of MLB.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Forgot to mention this last week: the late Yogi Berra will be honored with the President Medal of Freedom, the White House announced. Apparently the ceremony was today. The Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor and recognizes “especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Beyond his baseball career, Yogi served in World War II, established a scholarship at Columbia, and was involved with a learning center in New Jersey that provided educational programs to 29,000 students annually. Willie Mays will also receive the Medal of Freedom. That’s quite an honor.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. None of the local hockey or basketball teams are in action, so if you’re jonesin’ for some sports, you have to settle for college basketball. You folks know how these open threads work by now, so have at it.

Guest Post: Designated For Assignment: Inside the Turbulent Season of Chris Capuano

The following is a guest post from Steven Simineri, whose work can be found at Double G Sports, among other places.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

In baseball, being designated for assignment is essentially a sort of ‘limbo’ a player goes when he’s temporarily not on any roster. The term is sometimes abbreviated as DFA or DFA’ed. When a player is DFA’ed, he is immediately removed from the 40-man roster. The team then has ten days to trade him, release him, or convince him to stay with the organization in the minors. Most players will not accept a minor-league spot, so they usually end up moving on.

However, for veteran lefty Chris Capuano such transactions became a part of daily routine this season with the New York Yankees. He was designated for assignment four times in less than a month’s time and returned to the big leagues all four times. Once, he had checked into his Scranton-area hotel for less than an hour before general manager Brian Cashman called to summon him back to the big club.

“I didn’t waste a lot of time,” said Capuano, who is now plenty familiar with the two-hour drive on Interstate 80 between New York and Class AAA Scranton (Pa.). “I know you technically have a couple of days to actually report, but I’m someone who likes to not just sit around, I like to be proactive and get right to work. So when that’s happened I generally reported that next day down to Triple-A and not wasted anytime just try to stay in a routine.”

Pitchers are considered creatures of habit, but this wacky season provided the 37-year old southpaw with little routine. To keep his command sharp and his arm strength up, Capuano took to throwing a good deal of live bullpens with reserve hitters standing in the box.

“Well my arm hasn’t had enough work to really have a tired arm or sore arm, it’s more keeping the feel,” Capuano told me in the Yankees clubhouse. “And obviously, I haven’t done the best job at that, given that I’d have one good outing and one really bad one. It’s been tough, I haven’t been able to kind of master given that kind of inconsistent schedule being as consistent as I’d like on the mound.”

Capuano’s trying 2015 campaign started when he pulled a leg muscle covering first base during a spring training game. He was a good soldier, who tried to use his time in Scranton to iron out any mechanical flaws and get into a rhythm. In six starts for the RailRiders, Capuano posted a 1.27 ERA across 28 1/3 innings.

“Every time I’ve been able to go back down to Triple-A and get in the starting rotation for whether it’s been five or ten days, this last time I went down and made two starts and that’s really helped me I feel like to get that feel back and rhythm back,” said Capuano, who grew up in Massachusetts as a Red Sox fan.

Capuano, a career starter, began last season with his hometown team and pitched in 28 games out of the bullpen to a tune of a 4.55 ERA. But he was designated for assignment in late June. After a quick detour through the Rockies’ organization, Capuano was traded to the Yankees where he went on to make 12 decent starts, going 2-3 with a 4.25 ERA. He went at least six innings in eight of those starts and showed enough to earn a one-year, $5 million deal in the winter from the team.

Despite being a free agent, Capuano pitched for the MLB All-Star team in the 2014 MLB Japan All Star Series. Wearing a Yankee uniform, he started two games for the MLB All Stars, allowing just one earned run and striking out seven batters. There were reports that he had interest in possibly signing with a Japanese team. He eventually stood stateside, but Japan could offer more money and a more prominent role sometime in the future.

“I’d never rule it out just because I love the culture, I love the people,” said Capuano, who also pitched for Arizona, Milwaukee, the Mets and Dodgers from 2003 to 2013. “It’s a beautiful country and they’re very passionate about baseball over there. So I would never rule it out. My wife and I don’t have any children. I love to travel so I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

While this season was a trying one for the Springfield, Mass., native, Capuano is no stranger to hardships. From 05/13/07 — 06/03/10, the soft-tossing southpaw appeared in 26 games for the Milwaukee Brewers (19 GS) and the Brewers lost all 26. He has also endured despite two Tommy John surgeries on his left elbow, the second of which cost him two full seasons in the big leagues, 2008 and 2009.

“After I had the first one it was really eleven months and I was back but the second one I missed two years and that’s a lot of time to miss – kind of similar to the situation Andrew Bailey is in for us now,” said Capuano, who is the only two-time Tommy John patient to make more than 10 major-league starts after his second procedure. “But when you do make it back, I think it gives you a healthier perspective having gone through that. You appreciate the game, you appreciate being around your teammates and the ballpark that much more.”

His ERA this past season sat at an unsightly 7.97, but he definitely helped spike the IQ of the pitching staff. He was valedictorian of his high school class at Cathedral High. He had the academic numbers to get into Dartmouth or Yale, even signing a letter of intent to enroll at Yale. But then he saw the Duke campus during a camp and changed his mind. When he graduated in 2000 with an economics degree, he did so Phi Beta Kappa with a 3.86 G.P.A., an impressive number he would probably prefer as his earned run average.

At age 37, Capuano is fully aware that his big league career may soon be coming to an end. He has been approached by one television network about a career in broadcasting, but he is leaning towards going for his MBA degree full-time. Capuano knows that a baseball career is a fleeting livelihood, and he wanted to complete his economics degree so he could follow his father, Frank, a financial planner, into the business world after his baseball career ended.

“My father is a financial planner and I’ve done a lot of work with him over the years too and I’ve stayed active in our union and our pension committee,” said Capuano, who has also made an All-Star team in 2006 and earned a silver medal while playing on Team USA in the 2001 World Cup of Baseball. “There’s a whole world out there after baseball is done, but while I’m playing I’m going to enjoy it and have fun.”

Revisiting the 2005-2006 Offseason (Part I)

Bradley. (Juan Ocampo/Dodgers)
Bradley. (Juan Ocampo/Dodgers)

Let’s take a time machine back to ten years ago. Why ten years? Well, I don’t need to try hard to answer that. Ten is a pretty neat round number and it was also around the time that I started to become a fanatic MLB watcher – a lot of the things that happened back then made huge impressions on me.

The Yankees were coming off a 95-win season but were stopped in the postseason by the Angels in ALDS. They had a very fine offense – Alex Rodriguez came off an MVP season with a 173 OPS+ and guys like Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada also positively contributed to offense. Oh, and they had a rookie second baseman named Robinson Cano perform well enough to be voted 2nd in the AL Rookie of the Year race. However, the team wasn’t without question marks. The center field position was a big question mark. Bernie Williams had the worst season of his career and Yankees clearly needed an upgrade there.

Pitching was also a concern. Two of the big 2004-05 free agent acquisitions – Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright – suffered arm injuries and majorly underachieved when healthy. Randy Johnson had a bounceback second half but his age, of course, was always a concern. Mike Mussina had a 4.41 ERA, which is just below league average (96 ERA+) and it wasn’t clear if the breakout performances by Shawn Chacon (149 ERA+ with Yankees) and Aaron Small (133 ERA+) were for real. They did have a promising rookie starter named Chien-Ming Wang but, at least at the time, he wasn’t considered a secure rotation anchor. While New York did not end up making a major SP move, their bullpen clearly needed some help. Tom Gordon was going to be a free agent and he was one of the two only reliable relievers in the staff (the other being Mariano Rivera). Besides them, no regular reliever had an ERA+ over 100 so yea, upgrade was needed.

Anyways, it would be a super long post to summarize all the newsworthy 2005-06 offseason stuff in one so I’m going to do this in parts. Enjoy!

Nov. 4, 2005 – Yankees discuss center field options

The center field position was a big focus back then. Again, Bernie Williams had posted worst offensive numbers of his career (.249/.321/.367 with 12 HR’s) and his defense was, well, not great. FanGraphs defense metrics gave him a -30.2 rating, which is plain abysmal. Yankee fans were asking themselves – who is the next great Yankee center fielder? With Bernie’s contract coming off the books, it was almost inevitable that Yankees were going to make a move or two.

George King III wrote that the Yankees discussed multiple names that they could trade for: Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Mike Cameron and Milton Bradley. If not a trade, they were to explore signing Johnny Damon to a multi-year contract worth $10-12 million per year. Which, may not seem like much in 2015 but a hefty amount in 2005.

Now here’s a curious one. King wrote that Yankees definitely discussed Milton Bradley.

That brings us to the Dodgers’ Bradley, a talented 27-year-old switch-hitter with power and above average defensive tools that are packed in a suitcase with a lot of emotional baggage.

The Yankees have internally discussed acquiring Bradley, but every time his name is brought up, his problems usually scare Yankee brass in a different direction.

His temper got him traded from Cleveland to L.A., where he had a major problem with teammate Jeff Kent. And he missed time this past season with a knuckle injury and had left knee surgery in August.

Still, throughout the Joe Torre era, problem players have come to The Bronx and turned into solid citizens. The Yankees were so convinced Torre could handle problems they were on the verge of signing Albert Belle in 1998.

As a player, Bradley was a fine one. From his age 25-27 seasons (2003-05), Bradley was one of the most promising potential perennial All-Star outfielders. In those three seasons, he hit for a .290/.379/.463 line, good for 123 OPS+. But that temper problem raised an issue and, boy, it turned out to be a major problem throughout his career. Bradley’s knack for violence led to multiple fracas and some definitely unforgivable, despicable and irreparable moments.

Later in the offseason, the Dodgers traded Bradley to the Athletics for a package headlined by then-prospect Andre Ethier. Bradley would bounce around among four teams for rest of his ML career, which is marred by violence and a disastrous three-year, $30 million contract with the Cubs.

Nov. 6, 2005 – Yankees interested in Brian Giles

Giles. (Mangin Photography)
Giles. (Mangin Photography)

From 1999 to 2005, Giles was one of the most consistent and solid outfielders in the majors. In that period, the El Cajon, CA native hit for a .303/.418/.554 line, good for a 151 OPS+ in a span of seven seasons. Furthermore, in 2005, he led the league with 119 walks. How could he not have been an attractive option? Brian Cashman realized that and kept in touch with Giles’s agent, Joe Bick, wrote Anthony McCarron of Daily News.

It’s not clear from the article whether the Yankees were interested in Giles as a center fielder. McCarron wrote that, if the Yankees were to re-sign Matsui and get Giles, the team could “shift Matsui to center and use Giles in left” which is just a weird thing to think about. Matsui did play center in Japan and for 77 games in his ML career. He’s definitely not remembered for his glove though.

Nov. 8, 2005 – Yankees decline Tino Martinez’s team option for the 2006 season

In the previous offseason, Yankees gave a homecoming contract to Tino Martinez as a backup 1B to Jason Giambi. Martinez had a .241/.328/.439 line that season with 17 home runs, good for a 103 wRC+ – not bad numbers for backup 1B. He also had a scorching hot May in which he hit for a 1.065 OPS with ten (!!) home runs (all in a span of 12 games nonetheless). After that month, the first baseman went on to hit for only .660 OPS in 188 PA for the rest of the season. Besides, Yankees had another backup 1B candidate in Andy Phillips.

Martinez didn’t seem too fazed about Yankees not bringing him back. “I know the team has to get younger,” he said in an interview with Mark Feinsand, “I totally agree with that.”

The 2005 season ended up becoming Martinez’s final ML ride. Andy Phillips, who hit .300 with 22 HR’s in with the then-AAA affiliate Columbus Clippers, ended up not hitting all that much in 2006 (.240/.281/.394 with 7 HR’s) so that’s that.

Nov. 9, 2005 – Team’s priorities: Matsui, CF, bullpen

In Mark Feinsand’s MLB.com article, he talked about what the Yankees had in sight for their team in the 2005-06 offseason. First and foremost: Hideki Matsui’s first Yankee contract, a 3-year $21 million deal, expired in the end of the 2005 season and he did provide a lot of offensive production in the duration. The Japanese slugger hit for a 125 OPS+ in those three seasons, mashing 70 HR’s on the way. Even more remarkably, he did not miss a single game to that date. Who says no to a power lefty batter who has proven himself to be very durable? Probably no one.

In the article, Feinsand mentioned Johnny Damon and Preston Wilson as the two prominent CF names in the FA market. He also brought up Juan Pierre as one of the possible trade targets. I do remember Yankees getting into talks with Juan Pierre and they tried to acquire him but nothing came of it. The Marlins proposed Juan Pierre + Luis Castillo for Robinson Cano + Chien-Ming Wang. Boy am I glad that New York didn’t pull the trigger on that one. MLBTR has a tidbit about Yankees possibly looking at Hunter but again, nothing came out of it. You guys all know how New York took care of this CF matter.

For the bullpen, I pointed out this before: besides Mo and Gordon, it wasn’t great. Oh yeah, also Flash was going to be a free agent and really wanted to close for whoever was going to sign him – as you know, that wasn’t going to be the Yankees.  Needless to say, New York was interested in big bullpen names at the time like B.J. Ryan, Kyle Farnsworth, Scott Eyre, Julian Tavarez, etc. to bolster their ‘pen.

Nov. 15, 2005 – Yankees and Matsui agree to a new deal

Matsui wanted to stay with the Yankees but wanted to be “paid to his worth” – and he got it. Back when four-year, $52 million contracts weren’t given out to closers, it was for All-Star caliber/above-average everyday ML’ers. I can’t think of any scenario back then that Yankee fans would’ve wanted anyone but Matsui as their starting left fielder. The deal pretty much made everyone happy – the Yankee front office, Matsui and his agent and the fans.

For his 2006-2009 contract, Matsui performed as expected. He hit for 120 OPS+ with .851 OPS in 429 games – not bad at all. Unlike his first three years though, Matsui was limited by injuries, missing 219 out of 648 regular season games. But, of course, we will all remember his beast-like MVP performance in the 2009 World Series, a pinnacle and an ending to his memorable Yankee career. Yankees let him go after that season. He had one more season with 100+ OPS+ season (2010 with the Angels: 126 OPS+) and was out of the majors after the 2012 campaign.

Sturtze. (EdTseng.com)
Sturtze. (EdTseng.com)

Nov. 15, 2005 – Yankees pick up 2006 option on Tanyon Sturtze

Before Scott Proctor came out of the bullpen 83 times and pitched 102.1 IP for the 2006 Yankees, there was the 2005 Tanyon Sturtze. Aside from Mo and Gordon, Sturtze was basically the team’s best reliever and Torre didn’t really have much reliable options to get the game securely to eighth inning. I mean, look at the list of relievers the Yankees had that weren’t Rivera, Gordon or Sturtze:

  • Paul Quantrill (released after pitching to a 6.75 ERA in 22 games)
  • Mike Stanton (same fate after 7.07 ERA in 28 games)
  • Alan Embree (got him after he was released by the Red Sox mid-season. Had a 7.53 ERA in 24 games in Bronx)
  • Felix Rodriguez (had a solid career up to that season. Faded away into obscurity after pitching for a 5.01 ERA in 34 games)
  • Wayne Franklin (Believe it or not, Torre saw him as a potential go-to LOOGY, despite having a 5.47 ERA in 302.2 IP prior to that season. Predictably, he didn’t work out – had 6.39 ERA in 13 games before getting released)
  • Scott Proctor (not yet a reliable reliever. Had 6.04 ERA in 29 games)
  • Buddy Groom/Steve Karsay/Ramiro Mendoza/Jorge DePaula/Jason Anderson/etc. (Yeah, no)

Sturtze had a pretty nice season up to June 27, when his ERA sat at 3.43 in 42 IP. From the beginning of July till the end of season however, he had a 6.25 ERA in 36 IP. It was clear that he was getting gassed by Torre’s frequent usage. Sturtze’s 2006 ended prematurely with a shoulder injury that shelved him for the remainder of the year. He would pitch 3 games for the 2008 Dodgers (managed by none other than Torre!) and never pitch in the bigs again.

Nov. 18, 2005 – Bullpen options shrinking for the Yankees

By then, it became clear the few relievers Cashman and Torre eyed weren’t going to be feasible targets. In the Feinsand article, Joe Torre apparently had a conversation with LHP Scott Eyre. Eyre had a career-best 2005 season, leading the National League with 86 appearances while pitching for a 2.68 ERA and somehow getting an MVP vote. However, the 33-year old signed with the Chicago Cubs for a two-year deal with an option for third. Eyre did not replicate his solid season during the contract but he did alright – 3.81 ERA in 139.1 IP with 159 K’s.

Feinsand also noted that B.J. Ryan would also be an unlikely target because the lefty preferred to sign with a team that would grant him the closing spot. New York, of course, had Mariano Rivera. Ryan definitely had a credential to be closing for any ML team. From 2003~05, Ryan struck out 285 hitters in 207.2 IP and had a 172 ERA+ for the Orioles. He later signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for a five-year, $47 million contract, huge money for relievers at the time. Ryan had a sublime 2006 season (1.37 ERA, 38 saves, 335 ERA+, yeesh) but needed Tommy John surgery in 2007. He turned in a solid 2008 campaign (2.95 ERA, 32 saves, 144 ERA+) but was released during the 2009 season after walking 7.4 batters per nine innings and striking out only 13 batters in 20.2 IP. I’d say New York dodged a bullet here.

Also, as mentioned, Tom Gordon wanted to sign with a team that would give him the closing spot and a three-year contract. Yankees offered him a two-year contract and, of course, a set-up role. Needless to say, that didn’t really get it done. The 38-year old later signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for a three-year, $18 million contract and a closer spot. After a decent 2006 campaign, Gordon wasn’t really closer-caliber for the last two years of the deal, being replaced by Brett Myers during the 2007 season. As a Yankee, Gordon had a 2.38 ERA in 170.1 IP and as a Phillie, 4.19 ERA in 129 IP.

That’s it for part one. Gotta say, it’s pretty fun digging up news from ten years ago and see how things have changed or could have been different. Stay tuned for part two soon.

Carpenter & Bailey: Veteran righties who didn’t provide depth [2015 Season Review]

Last offseason the Yankees remade almost their entire bullpen. In fact, the only reliever who was in both the 2014 and 2015 Opening Day bullpens was Dellin Betances. Everyone else had been replaced. (Adam Warren was another bullpen holdover, but he moved into the rotation.) Bullpen turnover is not uncommon and the Yankees went through a lot of it last winter.

One of the new bullpen additions was right-hander David Carpenter, who came over from the Braves with Chasen Shreve in the Manny Banuelos trade. Carpenter had been one of Craig Kimbrel’s primary setup men in recent years and was expected to fill a similar role in 2015. Fellow righty Andrew Bailey also re-upped with the Yankees last winter as he continued to rehab from shoulder surgery. Neither player contributed much this season.

Carpenter. (Presswire)
Carpenter. (Presswire)

When Good Relievers Go Bad

From 2013-14, Carpenter pitched to a 2.63 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 126.2 innings for Atlanta. He missed bats (27.4 K%), he limited walks (7.0 BB%), and he threw hard (95.3 mph). Carpenter was pretty much everything the Yankees look for in a reliever. That he came with three years of team control as an arbitration-eligible player was icing on the cake.

Carpenter never did come close to repeating that success with the Yankees. After starting the year with four mostly low-leverage appearances — because the Yankees lost a lot the first week of the season — Carpenter was asked to protect a one-run lead in the sixth inning against the Orioles on April 15th. He gave up a game-tying home run on his second pitch and was ultimately charged with three runs in one-third of an inning.

Just like that, Carpenter fell out of the Circle of Trust™. Joe Girardi had Andrew Miller and Betances in the late innings, and both Shreve and Justin Wilson were pitching well, so Carpenter was relegated to very low-leverage work. Here are the game situations when he entered his next ten appearances following the meltdown in Baltimore:

eighth inning, Yankees up nine
eighth inning up nine
seventh inning up two
seventh inning tied
eighth inning up three
nine inning up six
sixth inning down four
eighth inning up five
sixth inning up five
sixth inning down three

Not many important innings in there. Even in that third appearance, when he entered with the Yankees up two in the seventh, Carpenter was only asked to get one out. Carpenter allowed eight runs (seven earned) on ten hits and three walks in 6.2 innings spanning seven appearances in mid-May, at which point he had really fallen out of favor.

The Yankees didn’t want to cut Carpenter loose so early in the season — after all, he was pretty good from 2013-14 and they controlled him through 2017 — so they stuck with him. Girardi gave Carpenter plenty of work too. He appeared in nine of 17 games at one point in late-May/early-June. The Yankees kept running him out there hoping something would click.

The final straw came on June 2nd, when Carpenter was brought into the sixth inning of a tie game against the Mariners. Seattle had runners at the corners with two outs, and all Carpenter had to do was retire Austin Jackson, who ultimately hit .259/.299/.358 (83 wRC+) against righties in 2015. Carpenter got ahead in the count 1-2 but couldn’t put Jackson away, eventually allowing a go-ahead double.

The Yankees designated Carpenter for assignment the next day, opting to keep Jacob Lindgren on the roster when Masahiro Tanaka came off the DL. Carpenter finished his stint in pinstripes with a 4.82 ERA (5.33 FIP) in 18.2 innings. He also allowed four of nine inherited runners to score. His strikeout rate (13.4%) was way down even though his velocity was mostly fine. Rather than factor into the end-game equation, Carpenter was a big liability for the 2015 Yankees.

A few days later the Yankees flipped Carpenter to the Nationals for infield prospect Tony Renda. Carpenter allowed one run in six innings across eight appearances for Washington before landing on the DL with a sore shoulder. He didn’t pitch again the rest of the season and the Nats outrighted him off the 40-man roster a few weeks ago. Carpenter elected free agency and recently signed a minor league deal with the Braves. Relievers, man.

The Return of Bailey

Over the last few years the Yankees have rolled the dice on injured relievers, rehabbing them to health while hoping they’d contribute down the line. They did this with Matt Daley and David Aardsma, though neither paid dividends. They tried it again with former All-Star Andrew Bailey.

Bailey. (Presswire)
Bailey. (Presswire)

The Yankees first signed Bailey to a minor league contract last offseason that included a club option for 2015 worth $2M or so. He never did pitch last year as he rehabbed from shoulder capsule surgery — Bailey suffered a few setbacks — so the Yankees declined the option and signed Bailey to a new minor league contract. This one included a $2.5M club option for 2016.

Bailey’s rehab progressed nicely, enough that he was able to pitch in Spring Training. He allowed four runs in 5.2 innings, but while the results stunk, the important thing is Bailey was healthy and actually pitching. It was progress. The Yankees had Bailey stay behind in Tampa to continue working his way back after Grapefruit League play ended. He made six appearances with High-A Tampa in April before suffering another setback.

It wasn’t until late-June that Bailey was healthy enough to pitch again. The Yankees took it very slow with him and let him climb the minor league ladder gradually. After some tune-up appearances in Tampa, Bailey spent a month with Double-A Trenton then another month with Triple-A Scranton. He finished the season with a 1.80 ERA (2.87 FIP) in 35 minor league innings.

The Yankees put Bailey through the grinder immediately before calling him up. They had him work back-to-back days, multiple innings, enter in the middle of an inning … the works. They really tested him with the RailRiders before bringing him up when rosters expanded. Bailey passed every test and joined the team in September. He made his first MLB appearance since 2013 on September 2nd, allowing a run on a hit and two walks in one-third of an inning against the Red Sox.

Bailey threw 12 strikes with his 22 pitches that afternoon and looked pretty amped up. I can’t say I blame him. Girardi continued to pick his spots with Bailey — remember, the Yankees were trying desperately to stay in the AL East race and later clinch a wildcard spot — which is why he entered eight of his ten appearances with the Yankees trailing. The other two where his first game (Yankees up by nine) and his ninth game (11th inning of a tie game).

With the bullpen taxed and the Yankees barely hanging on in the AL East race, Girardi turned to Bailey with the Yankees trailing by one in the seventh inning against the Blue Jays on September 23rd. It was a game they basically had to win to stay in the division race. Instead of keeping it close, Bailey served up a three-run home run to Russell Martin that all but crushed New York’s AL East hopes.

Bailey’s month in pinstripes featured a 5.19 ERA (6.48 FIP) in ten appearances and 8.2 innings. He also allowed three unearned runs (so eight runs total in 8.2 innings) and two of six inherited runners to score. Bailey had nearly as many walks (five) as strikeouts (six) despite a healthy 12.0% swing-and-miss rate. The Yankees really could have used another reliable bullpener down the stretch and Bailey had the pedigree, but it didn’t happen.

As expected, the Yankees declined Bailey’s $2.5M option after the season. They could have held on to him as an arbitration-eligible player, but instead outrighted him off the 40-man roster because space is tight. Bailey elected free agency rather than accept the assignment, and he is currently a free agent. Like Daley and Aardsma, the Yankees didn’t invest much in Bailey, but they didn’t get much of a return either.