Mailbag: Cano, Mo, Overbay, Joba, Montero

Rapid fire mailbag this week, so ten questions and ten answers. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Max asks: At what point should we worry about Robinson Cano‘s bad lefty splits going forward? He’s hitting .254/.299/.476 against lefties this year and had a .239/.309/.337 line last year. Sure, he still mashes righties but I’m really not comfortable with the idea of giving a potential platoon player a megadeal. Thanks.

Oh it’s definitely a red flag right. Cano hit lefties nearly as well as he hit righties until last season, when his performance fell off a cliff. I looked at the data as part of our season review and didn’t find any significant red flags. This year though, both his ground ball (56.3%) and strikeout (22.4%) rates are way up against southpaws. That could change in a hurry since it’s so early in the season. If that continues into the summer, I’d be very worried. Giving a super-long contract to a middle infielder is risky enough, and it would be even worse if he’s morphed into a platoon bat. Not worried yet, but I will be watching this.

Steve asks: Single-season saves record is Francisco Rodriguez at 62. Mariano Rivera is on pace for 66. What are the odds he does it?

This isn’t really a Mo thing, right? The other 24 players on the team have to create those save opportunities for him. They’d have to give him like, 67 save chances over the full season to get to 62 saves, which means another 51 save chances in the final 121 games of the year. It’s doable, the Yankees play a ton of close games because their pitching is good and their offense mostly stinks (94 wRC+!), but only twice has someone saved more than 55 games in one year. I think the odds are very small, maybe 5% on the high-end.

Vinny asks: Assuming Travis Hafner gets and stays healthy (big assumption), what will the Yankees do with Lyle Overbay whenever Mark Teixeira comes back? His performance against righties has been excellent.

His performance against righties has been excellent (160 wRC+), but so has Hafner’s (151 wRC+). Pronk also does a much better job of holding his own against southpaws (98 wRC+, where Overbay has been basically useless (-21 wRC+). Their overall hitting numbers aren’t particularly close either (106 vs. 139 wRC+). The Yankees will have to decide if Overbay’s advantages on defense and durability make up the difference in offensive production. Considering he’s a first baseman and first baseman only, I think the answer is clearly no.

The rarely seen Cesar Cabral. (Star-Ledger)
The rarely seen Cesar Cabral. (Star-Ledger)

Brad asks: Do you see the Yankees shopping for another LOOGY? Or do you believe Brian Cashman will wait to see what Clay Rapada and/or Cesar Cabral can contribute?

I definitely think they will see what they have internally first. That means Vidal Nuno and maybe even Josh Spence in addition to Rapada and Cabral. If those guys all manage to flop — or if Boone Logan gets hurt — in the coming weeks, yeah I could see them looking for lefty relief help at the deadline. It definitely isn’t a pressing need right now.

KG asks: Would the Yankees have the interest/package to trade for Nick Franklin? He may not end up a bonafide major league shortstop, but the Mariners have Dustin Ackley at second and Brad Miller just behind Franklin. Pipe dream?

I’m sure there would be some interest on New York’s part, but I don’t see why the Mariners would move him right now. He’s tearing up the Triple-A level (159 wRC+) and even though he’s unlikely to be a shortstop long-term, he’s much better than their big league shortstops. Ackley is awful but they won’t give up on him yet, but Miller is far from a sure thing. I think the Mariners will call Franklin up in the coming weeks and give him a chance. The only thing the Yankees have to offer are a bunch High-A and Double-A outfielders, none of whom is performing particularly well this year. I don’t really see a trade fit.

Anonymous asks: With Seattle having uber-catching prospect Mike Zunino just about ready for the show — any chance Seattle will take offers for Jesus Montero? What would the Yankees have to give to reacquire Jesus?

Teams usually aren’t quick to admit failure after a trade of that magnitude, so I don’t think Seattle would be open to moving Montero so soon without getting a big piece in return. They’re not going to sell-low and take two Grade-C prospects despite his dismal big league performance. The Yankees could stick him at DH, teach him first base, catch him on rare occasions … basically everything they could have done when he was with the organization. I don’t see this happening at all.

Anonymous asks: Do you believe the Yankees are planning to trade Joba Chamberlain for pieces around the deadline, considering the Yankees’ surplus of middle relief options? Joba could bring back a cost-controlled piece.

He’s an injury-prone middle reliever who will be a free agent after the season. You don’t get “pieces” in return for that, and the only cost-controlled piece he’ll bring back in a mid-level prospect. Joba’s value to the Yankees as a seventh inning reliever is much greater than anything they’ll realistically get in return. Teams aren’t giving up anything worthwhile for him, I know I wouldn’t.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Mike asks: Sort of a two-part David Aardsma question now that the Marlins released him. Firstly, why are teams not giving him a shot in the Majors, and secondly, would it make sense for the Yanks to go pick him up again?

I don’t know why he hasn’t been given a big league shot yet, but I don’t believe it’s because he’s been overlooked. Teams know Aardsma, and anytime a former standout closer becomes a free agent, he gets looked into. They must not like what they’ve seen, either in his stuff or command — he did walk eight in 14 innings before the release, which he requested — or whatever. If Aardsma wants to come back to the organization and pitch in Triple-A for a few weeks, great. I wouldn’t give him a big league job over Shawn Kelley or Preston Claiborne (or Joba) right now though.

Tuckers asks: I know it’s too soon to predict, but what do you think about the Yankees signing Tim Lincecum after the season? I think there’s a good argument to be made either way.

My answer at this exact moment is no. That is subject to change between now and the offseason, but his velocity continues to hover around 90 mph and his offspeed stuff isn’t as devastating as it was when he was 93-95. His walk (4.25 BB/9 and 11.0 BB%) and homer (0.92 HR/FB and 15.6% HR/FB) rates are career-worsts, and that’s in a big park in the NL. The Yankees do a wonderful job of squeezing production from seemingly cooked veterans, but I don’t think Lincecum is coming on a cheap one-year deal. So yeah, right now my answer is no. If he adds some velocity this summer, my opinion will change.

Brad asks: So the Yankees seem to have a glut of serviceable, young starting pitchers. Is there a deal out there for them to turn some quantity of these into an impact bat?

I don’t think so. I don’t see any team giving up an impact back for guys like Ivan Nova and David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno. Two or three projected fifth starters doesn’t get you one really good bat. Maybe they could get a David Adams type, but that wouldn’t qualify as an impact bat in my opinion.

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Must-Click Link: Life after being released

The Yankees released right-hander David Aardsma just before the start of the season, but it wasn’t until late last week that he signed a minor league contract with the Marlins. Dan Barbarisi wrote about Aardsma’s life during those two weeks between the release and the new contract, two hectic weeks that were filled with unofficial workouts, canceled plans, and waiting for phone calls. It’s definitely not a side of the game we think about all that much. It’s a great piece and gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation. Check it out.

Yankees release David Aardsma

The Yankees have given David Aardsma his unconditional release, manager Joe Girardi confirmed this afternoon. The right-hander was designated for assignment last week to clear a 40-man roster spot prior to the season. The release indicates he went unclaimed on waivers.

Aardsma, 31, was cut loose because the team preferred relievers capable of pitching multiple innings. He pitched well in Spring Training despite missing a few days with a groin problem, but hip and Tommy John surgeries have kept him on the shelf for the last two years. I assumed some team could claim Aardsma off waivers given his $500k base salary, but I guess no one wanted to roll the dice. Maybe the medicals are worse than we realize.

Yankees designate David Aardsma for assignment

This is surprising. The Yankees have designated right-hander David Aardsma for assignment, presumably to make room on the 40-man roster for their various scrap heap pickups. Joe Girardi said he was unable to provide distance out of the bullpen and “didn’t really fit.”

Aardsma, 31, missed the last two years due to injury but had a strong spring and looked poised to assume a middle relief role this season. The Yankees signed him to a one-year, $500k deal last year with a $500k option for this year, so he was cheap if nothing else. I know they need the 40-man space, but Aardsma was their fourth best right-handed reliever. Very weird, but ultimately not a huge loss.

In other news, right-hander Shawn Kelley has been told he made the team thanks to his ability to throw multiple innings. Jayson Nix, Lyle Overbay, and Ben Francisco were also told they were on the club. No surprised there.

2013 Season Preview: The Relievers

Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.

(J. Meric/Getty)
(J. Meric/Getty)

Mariano Rivera is worthy of his own post, but he is just one of many when it comes to the bullpen. The Yankees used 17 different relievers last season, including ten for at least ten appearances. That is pretty much par for the course these days — they used 26 (!) different relievers in 2011 and 18 in 2010 — since no team ever makes it through the season without injuries or underperformance. In fact, the Yankees have already lost one reliever (Clay Rapada) to the DL and the season hasn’t even started yet. He is the first injured bullpener, but he won’t be the last.

The Setup Man
Over the last two seasons, soon-to-be 28-year-old David Robertson has emerged as one of the very best relievers in all of baseball. He’s pitched to a 1.84 ERA (2.15 FIP) with a 12.79 K/9 (34.8 K%) since 2011, all of which are top five marks among big league relievers. Robertson managed to curtail his career-long walk issue last season — career-best 2.82 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%, including just five walks in his last 33 innings — but I’m going to need to see him do it again before I buy that as real improvement. His track record of iffy command is too long to be washed away in one (half) season.

With Rivera back and Rafael Soriano gone, Robertson is the unquestioned Eighth Inning Guy™ and backup closer whenever Mo needs a day to rest. That means we’re unlikely to see him brought into mid-to-late-inning jams to clean up the mess, which is where he and his strikeout-heavy ways are best deployed. Regardless, Robertson is an extremely valuable reliever who will see a ton of high-leverage work. Outside of Rivera, he’s the most important pitcher in the bullpen.

The Lefty Specialist
The Yankees have had enough injury problems this spring, but one player who seems to have survived the bug is Boone Logan. The 28-year-old dealt with a barking elbow for a few weeks and didn’t get into a game until last week, but he appears to be on track for Opening Day. Logan threw a career-high 55.1 innings in a league-leading 80 appearances last summer, which may or may not have contributed to the elbow issue. Given his extremely slider usage — 51.4% (!) last year, the third straight year his usage increased — it would be foolish to think the workload didn’t contribute to the elbow problem somewhat.

Anyway, Logan has quietly emerged as a high strikeout left-hander these last two years, posting a 10.58 K/9 and 26.9 K% since the start of 2011. Despite the strikeouts, he hasn’t been especially effective against same-side hitters, limiting them to a .240/.309/.413 (.314 wOBA) line over the last two years. That’s nothing special for a primary lefty specialist — Rapada has been far more effective against left-handers — but he redeems himself (somewhat) by being more than a true specialist. Righties have hit just .243/.355/.386 (.315 wOBA) against him these last two years, so Girardi can run Logan out there for a full inning if need be. He’s definitely useful, though perhaps miscast as a late-inning guy.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Middle Men
It has been two years since either Joba Chamberlain or David Aardsma has had a full, healthy season. Both had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and both had another major injury as well — Joba his ankle and Aardsma his hip —  and both were pretty darn effective before the injuries. The Yankees will count on both as their pre-eighth inning righties this year, mixing and matching with Logan and Rapada (when healthy).

All of the team’s relievers are cut from a similar cloth and these two are no different. Both Joba and Aardsma are high strikeout guys with swing-and-miss offspeed pitches, the question is just how effective they will be following the injuries. Chamberlain, 27, was pretty bad in the second half last year before finishing strong while the 31-year-old Aardsma made one late-September appearance and nothing more. They could be awesome, they could be awful, they could be something in-between. I’m guessing we’ll see a bit of all three at times this summer.

Rapada, 32, will start the season on the DL due to shoulder bursitis and there is no timetable for his return. He’s been crazy effective against lefties in his relatively short big league career (.231 wOBA against), though righties have hit him hard (.453 wOBA). As a soft-tossing, low-arm slot guy with a funky delivery, he’s a true specialist. But damn is he good at what he does.

The Long Man
When Spring Training started, it was assumed the loser of the Ivan Nova/David Phelps fifth starter competition would move to the bullpen and serve as the long man. Phil Hughes‘ back injury is likely to land him on the DL coming Opening Day, meaning both Nova and Phelps will be in the rotation to start the year. Long man replacements include 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren and 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno, the latter of whom has gotten talked up as a potential Rapada placement. He’s been, by far, the more impressive pitcher in Grapefruit League play. Either way, the long reliever job will go to Nova or Phelps whenever Hughes returns, which could be as soon as the second turn through the rotation.

Knocking on the Door
Beyond Warren and Nuno — starters by trade who are relief candidates by default — the Yankees have a number of legit bullpen backup plans slated for Triple-A. The two most obvious candidates are right-handers Shawn Kelley, 28, and Cody Eppley, 27, both of whom are on the 40-man roster, have big league experience, and have minor league options. Kelley is a traditional fastball/slider/strikeout guy while Eppley is low-slot sinker/slider/ground ball righty specialist. There’s a good chance one of these two — likely Kelley because Eppley was been terrible in camp — will crack the Opening Day roster as a Hughes/Rapada replacement. Right-hander David Herndon, 27, will be in the big league mix once he finishes rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at midseason.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Among the bullpen prospects scheduled to open the season with Triple-A Scranton are 22-year-old slider machine Mark Montgomery, the team’s top relief prospect. He ranked tenth on my preseason top 30 prospects list and should make his big league debut at some point this season. Montgomery gets compared to Robertson but that isn’t particularly fair even though he’s also an undersized strikeout fiend with a trademark breaking ball. No need to set yourself up for disappointment like that. Remember, it took Robertson two years before he finally stuck in the show and three before he became truly dominant.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 23, and left-hander Francisco Rondon, 24, will both be in the Triple-A bullpen and one phone call away as well. Whitley is a three-pitch guy who projects more as a middle reliever than a late-inning arm, but he’s a very high probability guy. Rondon opened some eyes in camp by flashing a knockout slider after being added to the 40-man roster in November. He needs to work on his command and get some Triple-A experience before being a big league option, however. Whitley is pretty much ready to go.

The Top Prospects
Montgomery is New York’s top relief prospect at the moment, but right-handers Nick Goody and Corey Black deserve a mention as well. The 21-year-old Goody posted a 1.12 ERA (~0.89 FIP) with 52 strikeouts and just nine walks in 32 innings after signing as the team’s sixth round pick last year. The 21-year-old Black pitched to a 3.08 ERA (~2.70 FIP) in 52.2 innings after being the team’s fourth rounder last summer, but the Yankees have him working as a starter at the moment. He is expected to move into a relief role in due time if he doesn’t firm up his offspeed pitches. Both Goody (#21) and Black (#24) cracked my preseason top 30 and both are expected to open the year with High-A Tampa.

* * *

The Yankees have had consistently strong bullpens during the Girardi era, due in part to his willingness to spread the workload around rather than overwork one or two guys. The front office has (mostly) gotten away from big money relievers and focused on adding depth and power arms. Girardi got away from his strength last year because of injury (Rivera, Joba, Robertson for a month) and ineffectiveness (Cory Wade), instead relying heavily on his primary late-inning guys. That will hopefully change this year and the team will get back to having a deep and diverse bullpen, something they’ll need given the diminished offense.

Update: David Aardsma sidelined by groin injury

2:12pm: Aardsma told Dan Barbarisi the groin injury is nothing serious and he will throw a bullpen session tomorrow. Sounds like no big deal, thankfully.

1:30pm: Via Joel Sherman: David Aardsma is currently sidelined by a groin injury. He doesn’t say anything about the nature or extent of the injury or how long the right-hander will be out.

Aardsma, 31, allowed one run in an inning of work against the Tigers last Saturday, the last time he appeared in a game. With Boone Logan (elbow) and Clay Rapada (shoulder) out with injury and David Robertson having trouble getting loose earlier this week, the Yankees’ primary relievers are dropping like flies. Good thing it’s only early-March and the season doesn’t start for another three weeks.

David Aardsma: The Bullpen Wildcard

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The Yankees will have familiar faces holding down important bullpen roles this season. Mariano Rivera is slated to close for the 17th consecutive season while David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain handle the primary setup duties. Boone Logan, entering his fourth season with the Yankees, will be the primary left-hander. Second lefty Clay Rapada and likely swingman David Phelps were with the club last year. The last spot is going to a relatively new face, or at least as new as a face can be when the player is entering his second year with the team.

David Aardsma, the 31-year-old former Mariners closer, joined the Yankees last spring on a bargain one-year contract worth just $500k. The deal included a $500k club option for a second season, which the team exercised back in November. Incentives could put another $1.5M in his pocket, but that’s still a super low-risk contract. Aardsma was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery when he signed the deal and was not expected to return until midseason. A setback pushed his return back further, and ultimately he was only able to appear in one game in late-September.

“I felt good, but I wasn’t fully back into pitching mode,” said Aardsma to Dan Martin about his one-inning outing against the Blue Jays. “It feels good to be getting ready for a real Spring Training for once.”

It’s easy to forget that Aardsma is coming back from not just one injury, but two. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip in January 2011, and it was during his rehab from that procedure that he blew out his elbow and needed the reconstruction. Prior to his one-inning cameo in September, he had not appeared in a big league game since September 2010. That’s an awful lot of rust to shake off this spring.

Before the injuries hit, Aardsma was a very good but not great reliever with Seattle. His save total — 69-for-78 from 2009-2010 — was impressive, but otherwise he pitched to a 2.44 ERA (3.44 FIP) with 9.6 K/9 (25.9 K%) and 4.39 BB/9 (11.9%) in 121 innings during his two healthy seasons with the Mariners. Prior to that he’d pitched to a 5.29 ERA (4.90 FIP) in 144.2 innings with the Giants, Cubs, White Sox, and Red Sox from 2004-2008.

Strikeouts have always been Aardsma’s thing, evidenced by his career 9.08 K/9 and 23.0 K%. Hitters have swung and missed at his pitches approximately 11.4% of the time during the PitchFX era according to Brooks Baseball, which is comfortably above-average. Walks and fly balls are also this thing, unfortunately. Aardsma’s career walk rate (5.06 BB/9 and 12.8 BB%) is scary, though it was a bit better with Seattle. His career 35.2% ground ball rate is very low, but it has helped him maintain a low BABIP  — .244 with Seattle and .287 career — since fly balls are easily converted into outs. They also make him a bit homer prone (career 0.95 HR/9 and 8.8% HR/FB), which is not ideal in Yankee Stadium.

Aardsma is a three-pitch reliever, sitting in the 92-96 mph range with his fastball and backing it up with low-to-mid-80s splitters and sliders. He threw all three pitches during his one-appearance cameo in September according to PitchFX, and all three showed up at their pre-injury velocity (or thereabouts). The slider is for righties and the split for lefties, so he hasn’t shown a big platoon split — .243 wOBA with a 25.4 K% against righties and .283 and 26.4% against lefties while with the Mariners, respectively. His career split is tiny.

Coming off two lost years, we really have no idea what to expect from Aardsma in 2013. The right-hander told Martin that he’s already thrown four bullpen sessions leading up to Spring Training and hasn’t had any problems with the hip or elbow, which is great. Being healthy is the important first step. Having swing-and-miss stuff is a solid foundation, though the walks — I foresee a lot of “effectively wild” statements in the coming weeks and months — and fly balls are a concern. For a guy slated to start the season in a low-to-mid-leverage middle relief role, they aren’t they end of the world. A concern, but not a dealbreaker.

In essence, Aardsma will be taking over the Cory Wade role. The were both fly ball and homer prone right-handers without long track records of success, but the similarities stop there. I’m skeptical that Aardsma can replicate Wade’s success — at least Wade’s success before he completely imploded in late-May last summer — and that will be worth watching early in the season. If he’s missing bats and keeping the walk rate somewhat reasonable, he should be fine. If not, the Yankees will probably wind up testing that Triple-A bullpen depth before long.