Davidoff: Yankee sign Al Aceves to minor league deal

The Mexican Gangster wears pinstripes once again. The Yankees have signed Al Aceves to a minor league contract, according to Ken Davidoff. The contract includes a July 1st opt-out. He will join the Triple-A Scranton rotation for the time being.

Aceves, 31, allowed five runs in ten innings with the Orioles this spring. He opted out of contract when he was advised he did not make the team. Aceves had a 4.86 ERA (6.35 FIP) in 37 innings for the Red Sox last season, spending most of the year in Triple-A. The Yankees will carry David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno in their big league bullpen, so this move replenishes some rotation depth. Aceves has not been effective in a long time. I wouldn’t expect a return to 2009 glory anytime soon.

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Mailbag: Dodgers, Gardner, Aceves, Zoilo, Flores

Got six questions this week, so I tried to keep the answers reasonably short. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go to send us questions, comments, links, complaints, whatever.

(Harry How/Getty)
(Harry How/Getty)

Brad asks: With the Dodgers recent injury bug to their rotation and the news of Derek Jeter being out until late July at the earliest, would it make sense to swap Ivan Nova to LA for perhaps Mark Ellis and a reliever?

Yes and no. The Dodgers started the year with eight legitimate starters for five spots, but they’ve since traded Aaron Harang and lost Zack Greinke (collarbone), Chris Capuano (calf), and Chad Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) to injury. Behind Clayton Kershaw they have Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ted Lilly, and rookie Stephen Fife. I’m sure they’re in the market for a fill-in starter.

I’ve always been open to trading Nova, but Ellis wouldn’t work because he can’t play any position other than second base. Jerry Hairston Jr. would be a better fit, maybe even Luis Cruz if you think he’s better than his -52 wRC+ suggests. Los Angeles has a ton of relievers, good ones too, so there would be a fit there. I don’t like the idea of trading Nova for a utility man and a reliever though, even if it would fill two fringe roster needs. I’d rather use him as the second or third piece in a package for an impact player and instead trade prospects for infield and bullpen help.

Isaac asks: Would the Yanks ever consider extending Brett Gardner before he hits free agency? If so, what kind of deal makes sense? Does Carlos Gomez’s extension with the Brewers work as a baseline?

I think there’s a small possibility they would, but Gardner strikes me as a year-to-year guy because of his injury history. The thing that worries me most is that he’s going to be 30 this summer, and he’s the type of player who will lose his value very quickly once his speed starts to slip. I don’t really want to be on the hook for that decline.

The framework of Gomez’s deal actually works very well. His new four-year pact covers his final arbitration year and three free agent years for $28.3M total, and his $4.3M salary in 2013 should be similar to Gardner’s salary next season. An $8M average value for the following three years is reasonable. Gomez is several years younger with more power (and more raw tools in general), but he hasn’t had the same kind of success as Gardner. The Brewers bought potential. Eight million bucks a year for Brett’s age 31-33 seasons seems fine, I just worry about a quick descent into uselessness if the speed slips.

Tarik asks: Do you think Al Aceves‘ release was motivated by behavioral issues that just weren’t made public, or did Brian Cashman just not think he’d recover well from his injury? (Had to shorten the question, sorry Tarik.)

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

After seeing how things have played out the last 2+ years, I definitely think Aceves’ nutcase ways played a role in the team’s decision to release him. The back and collarbone problems likely contributed as well, but someone with the Yankees screwed up there. He healed just fine in time for Opening Day after the club’s doctors said he would miss the first few weeks.

I’m guessing the Yankees did a better job of keeping any behavioral incidents under wraps than the Red Sox have, or maybe the veteran clubhouse just did a better job of keeping him in line. Hell, maybe Aceves was on his best behavior with New York because he was a rookie back then. We don’t really know. It’s easier to understand why they released him nowadays, but I still can’t help but wonder if they could have found a trade partner.

Bill asks: Is there any chance the Yankees front office may value Ramon Flores more than any of the “Super 3″ based on his approach at the plate?

I think that’s possible but unlikely. The Yankees love athletes first and foremost, and Flores is a bat first player. A bat first player who has yet to show much power at that. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams both provide a ton of value in the field, more than they do at the plate really, while Tyler Austin is simply a better hitter. I like Flores a lot — I didn’t rank him fifth on my preseason top 30 prospects list out of boredom — but he’s clearly behind the other guys for me. He’s underrated, but I would hope the team doesn’t value him more than their other outfield prospects.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Mark asks: Are you in favor of bringing up Zoilo Almonte? If we’re going to get zero production from Ben Francisco as an extra outfielder – why not bring someone up who can at least provide defensive and base running value. Shame that Thomas Neal got hurt.

Not particularly, no. Almonte’s off to a really great start this year (125 wRC+) and he’s drawing a ton of walks (20.5%), but the book on him is that his left-handed swing is ahead of his right-handed swing. That’s typical and it’s just a repetition thing because there are way more righty pitchers than lefties. His splits since the start of 2010 — .267/.324/.433 against lefties, .282/.349/.487 against righties — bear that out.

The Yankees should absolutely be looking for a Francisco replacement, though. Neal was probably the best internal candidate, but he just went down with a hamstring injury. Melky Mesa is back to his super high strikeout ways, so he’s not really a big league candidate at the moment. I guess that makes Zoilo the top option by default, especially since Ronnie Mustelier is still sidelined. Mustelier would immediately become the top choice once healthy.

Jon asks: Let’s say J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez continue to rake while Austin Romine is playing pretty good. What do the Yankees do?

Celebrate! I don’t think the Yankees would dump Chris Stewart in favor of Romine, but I expect them to promote both Sanchez and Murphy at midseason. Romine and Murphy would just have to share catching and DH duties — Murphy can also squeeze in a few games at third base — at the Triple-A level for a few weeks. It’s not ideal but hardly the end of the world.

Mailbag: Andrus, Wallace, Moreland, Aceves

Nine questions this week, so I went rapid fire with short-ish answers. Next week will be the final mailbag before Opening Day, so get those last-minute hot stove/Spring Training questions in before then.

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

Joseph asks: I know this is fast-forwarding a whole season and much can change between now and November, but what are the chances the NYY attempt to pry away Elvis Andrus from TEX after the season? They obviously have Jurickson Profar/Mike Olt for the left-side of the IF for the next 4-5 years. What package you think would get that done?

Andrus, 24, will be one year from free agency after the season, plus he’s a Scott Boras client and will definitely go out on the open market after 2014. You’re trading for one year of him and one year only.

That said, he’s so young and so good (particularly defensively) at a premium position that the cost for even one year of him will be high. I don’t think Texas would have much of a problem getting two top prospects for him, maybe even another one or two lesser pieces as well. Shortstop help is very hard to find. I’d wait until he becomes a free agent and just try to sign him, but that might require something like ten years and $180M at his age.

Mark asks: Would you trade Corban Joseph and Adam Warren for Brett Wallace?

I would not. I thought Wallace would be a dominant offensive player back during his draft days, but he’s got some holes in his swing and can be pitched to rather easily. I remember reading something once upon a time suggesting his big frame and very thick lower half contribute to his inability to adjust his swing. I think the Yankees could stick Joseph in the lineup and get similar, if not better production than they would get from Wallace. He could also fake non-first base spots as well.

Travis asks: Do you think that teams that are having rotation trouble are kicking themselves for not taking a chance on Vidal Nuno during the Rule 5 draft?

Eh, maybe one or two. The Nuno hype machine is a little out of control though. Sergio Mitre dominated Spring Training a few years ago, but it didn’t mean anything. Nuno has been impressive so far and I’m sure there’s a team or two who could use him in the rotation, but be careful not to overrate performance this time of year.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Peter asks: The Joba Chamberlain+ for Mike Olt rumors have swirled over the past week but what about Joba+ for Mitch Moreland?

Moreland, 27, has hit .264/.328/.441 (100 wRC+) with 40 homers in 295 big league games over the last three years. He’s a left-handed hitting first baseman (who can fake a corner outfield spot) with a big platoon split, so he’d need a righty hitting complement. Moreland would help the Yankees right now obviously, but I wouldn’t give up much more than Joba for him. Maybe just a secondary prospect from 20+ range of my preseason top 30. Lefty hitting first basemen with platoon issues aren’t the most difficult players to find.

J.R. asks: With some of the stories emerging about Alfredo Aceves, do you think “character” and “makeup” issues directly lead to his release from the Yankees?

Yes, absolutely. Non-tendering him after 2010 was still a questionable move — even with the injuries, did he really have zero trade value? — but it’s becoming more and more obvious why they did it. I’m in the camp that thinks the Yankees are overrating character and makeup these days, but Aceves is on a different level. He’s borderline Carlos Zambrano crazy.

John asks: I am one of the biggest Andy Pettitte fans you will find so this a very selfish question. Do you think his body can handle 175 innings a year at 40? If things go ok this year, would he consider closing for Mariano Rivera next year to extend his career as we know he has the mindset mastered?

I do worry about Pettitte holding up physically all season, as I wrote in the series preview post earlier this week. If he has trouble holding up this year, I think he would sooner retire than come back as a reliever. Pettitte doesn’t strike me as someone who would hang around when he isn’t effective. If he does hold up and throw those 175+ innings, bring him back as a starter. No doubt about it.

(Chris Trotman/Getty)
(Chris Trotman/Getty)

Mads asks: Not Yankees related, but would a trade between the Cardinals and Rangers with Profar and Oscar Taveras make sense? Cardinals get shortstop help and Rangers get an impact outfield bat, plus they extend Andrus.

It does make sense, but I think both teams would say no to this trade. Part of the reason is that teams love their own prospects more than everyone else’s, but it’s not quite surplus for surplus either. As I said before, Andrus is a Boras client and working out an extension might be damn near impossible at this point. The Cardinals have no other legitimate outfield prospects to replace Carlos Beltran after the season, plus Matt Holliday isn’t getting any younger. It sounds good on paper, but I think both teams would be wary.

Mark asks: Do you think Mark Teixeira‘s recent injury coming on the heels of Alex Rodriguez‘s hurts Robinson Cano‘s chances of getting the 8-10 year offer both Boras and he were hoping to get from the team and increase the odds that he leaves the team after this year?

You’d think yes, right? But it probably won’t. There will be plenty of competition for Cano’s services next winter — Dodgers, Tigers, Angels, maybe even the Rangers, Nationals, and Phillies could pursue him — that his price will still be astronomical. I’m not convinced he’ll get ten years anyway, but eight definitely seems doable. We have to remember that many GMs don’t care about the back-end of huge contracts because the job turnover rate suggests it won’t be their problem.

Ryan asks: Explain to me how the Tigers can cut free of Brennan Boesch‘s contract, owing very little on his untradeable contract. Yet, the Yankees can’t consider just releasing Alex Rodriguez because they would still owe him the $100+ million left on his contract. Is it the wording on the contract? Is it that they would still owe him too much, even if they didn’t owe him all of it, to really consider doing that? Seems weird that other teams can release their players and save at least a little cash and move on, but the Yankees are stuck with the albatross contracts to the bitter end. Is it just a perception? Also, not saying the Yankees should do this with A-Rod necessarily. It’s more of a curiosity as to why they don’t, can’t, or won’t. Thanks!

They can’t. One-year contracts for players with less than six years of service time (like Boesch) are not guaranteed. They can be released in Spring Training and owed less than the full amount — 30 days termination pay is released by March 13th, 45 days after that — which is what the Tigers did with Boesch. The Yankees pulled this same trick with Chad Gaudin a few years ago, releasing him in camp and paying him just a fraction of his original deal. A-Rod’s contract is fully guaranteed, as is nearly every free agent contract.

Losing Al Aceves

Photo credit: Jim Mone/AP

The bullpen was not in great shape. Brian Bruney had been lights out, but he’d also gotten hurt. Jose Veras, who showed plenty of potential in the second half of 2008, had an aversion to leaving men on base. Damaso Marte couldn’t keep the ball in the park. Edwar Ramirez‘s changeup magic had worn off. All told it added up to a horrific month for the Yankees bullpen: a 6.46 ERA, 5.41 FIP, and 4.53 xFIP through the first month of 2009. If that team was going to contend it had to improve the bullpen. With one move at the end of April it accomplished just that.

On May 4th, after the Red Sox knocked around Phil Hughes for four runs in four innings, Alfredo Aceves made his season debut. He had made his major league debut just a few months earlier, in August of 2008, and he had thrown a quality 30 innings by season’s end. The peripherals weren’t pretty — 3 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9 and just 4.8 K/9 — but the results impressed. Since the Yankees had a full rotation and bullpen to start the 2009 season he started in Scranton, but he was sure to take the shuttle at first opportunity. The poor bullpen provided that opportunity, and Aceves quickly filled the void.

His appearance against the Red Sox was good, not great, though he did manage to strike out seven in 4.1 innings. During his next few appearances he began to earn Joe Girardi‘s trust. He finished two straight games during Walkoff Weekend against Minnesota. He pitched two innings, three innings — whatever it took. He even threw four innings in relief of an ineffective Joba Chamberlain on July 5th, earning a save in the process. While he did hit a few rough patches later in the year, he was generally among the Yankees’ most effective relievers that year. His presence helped the Yankees go from worst bullpen in April to one of the best by season’s end.

During the 2009 season Aceves experienced back issues. They cropped up in late July, and bothered him through his rough patch in August. He stayed mostly healthy that year, though, but in 2010 he finally succumbed. While delivering a pitch against the Red Sox he aggravated his back and left the game. Reports of his rehab and recovery persisted throughout the season, but every time he got close he suffered another setback. But hey, he’s a pitcher and that kind of thing happens. Best to move on and try again next season, right?

There was no indication of what came next. Maybe it had to do with how he approached his rehab. Maybe there were unreleased details regarding the bike accident that broke his collar bone during the off-season. For whatever reason, the Yankees decided to not tender Aceves a contract this past off-season. It came as something of a shock, given how effective he’d been when healthy and how relatively little he’d cost. It’s not often that you see a player who makes less than a million dollars non-tendered.

Making matters worse, the Red Sox ended up signing Aceves later in the off-season. Things got worse still when Aceves went through a normal spring training and appeared perfectly ready to start the 2011 season. Rock bottom has come recently, as Aceves has been a key member of the Red Sox bullpen. In August he’s been at his best, allowing just two runs while striking out 18 and walking five in 14.2 innings. As a reliever this year he has a 2.15 ERA in 67 innings, holding opponents to a .190/.259/.326 line. It’s one reason that Boston’s bullpen has overcome the question marks it faced earlier in the season.

The Yankees aren’t necessarily missing Aceves’s presence in the bullpen. They rank third in the majors with a 3.02 ERA, and fourth with a 3.30 FIP (just a single point behind the Red Sox). They have their late innings covered by David Robertson and Rafael Soriano, and they have a band of other relievers who have stepped up and have pitched exceedingly well in their roles. In fact, if the Yankees had kept Aceves they might have missed out on one of their most effective relievers this season.

Cory Wade did not start the season in the Yankees’ farm system. In the off-season he signed a minor league deal with Tampa, but they did not recall him by his opt-out date. The Yankees, shorthanded in the bullpen after injuries to Soriano and Chamberlain, scooped him up and added him to the major league roster. In 28.1 innings he’s shown good stuff, resulting in a 2.22 ERA. He’s had the peripherals to go with it, too, a 3.43 FIP and 3.49 xFIP despite a below average strikeout rate. Aceves’s numbers line up comparably: 2.15 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and 4.27 xFIP as a reliever. With those numbers in mind, Wade just might be the better option in 2011. Yet if the Yankees had kept Aceves they might never have discovered this hidden gem. Maybe he would be the one helping Boston’s bullpen currently.

Losing Al Aceves was sad at the time, given all he had contributed in 2009. It hurt plenty when the Red Sox signed him, and hurt even worse when he started to help their bullpen. But it wasn’t all bad for the Yankees. They have one of the best bullpens in the league. Not only that, they discovered one of their most effective relievers at a time when they might not have, had Aceves been on the roster. This doesn’t excuse the Yankees’ decision; they refused to pay Aceves half a million, yet spent $8 million on Pedro Feliciano. But there is a silver lining in this. If they can knock around Aceves in this series, well, maybe the issue will finally lay at rest.

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.