Piggybacking on Olney’s keys for the ’13 Yankees

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

Last Friday, Buster Olney (Insider req’d) put together a post listing eight things that must go right for the Yankees in 2013. Most of them are obvious, like CC Sabathia having a strong season and Mariano Rivera returning to form, but I figured this was a good chance to piggyback on his idea and list some things I believe must go right for the club this year. I’m talking about big picture stuff, not just things that will help them contend in 2013.

Olney listed eight items, but I’m only going six deep. These aren’t listed in order of importance or anything like that, just in the order they came to me. They’re all important, but some are obviously more important than others.

1. Either Ivan Nova or David Phelps must emerge as a legitimate MLB starter.

The Yankees have three starting pitchers scheduled to become free agents after the season — Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes — and the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 means they won’t be able to go crazy on the free agent market next winter. Getting something out of Michael Pineda in the second half would obviously be helpful, but it’ll be just as important for either Nova or Phelps to step forward and solidify themselves as long-term starters. Finding a cheap starter in the organization is a necessity to remain competitive once payroll is slashed.

2. Austin Romine must stay healthy.

Romine is likely to open the season in Triple-A while Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli make us want to claw our eyes out at the big league level, which is the best thing for his development. The 24-year-old has caught just 103 total games over the last two years due to persistent back problems, so he’s lost a lot of development time at a crucial age. Gary Sanchez is still several years away, so Romine is the organization’s best hope for a productive catcher in the near future. He needs to actually stay healthy for that to happen, so a full season in 2013 is imperative for his long-term future.

3. Either Joba Chamberlain or David Aardsma must return to pre-surgery form.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Rivera is a baseball playing robot and I expect him to have little trouble being productive following knee surgery. David Robertson is as good a setup man as you’ll find in the game, and the left-handed duo of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada is one of the better LOOGY tandems in baseball. The middle innings — fifth, sixth, and seventh, basically — fall on the shoulders of two pitchers who have combined to throw 50.1 innings over the last two seasons.

Joba, 27, struggled when he came off the DL at the trade deadline but finished the season very well, allowing just one earned run and one walk against 17 strikeouts in his final 13 innings of the season. It’s not a guarantee he’ll pitch well in 2013 of course, but it is encouraging. Aardsma made one late-season appearance and will be coming off two lost years due to elbow and hip surgery. The Yankees can get by if one of these two flames out and is unable to find his form from a few years ago, but getting nothing from both would create some major bullpen headaches.

4. Ichiro Suzuki must produce on an extreme, either good or bad.

The Yankees handed out just one multi-year contract this offseason, deciding the 39-year-old Ichiro was worthy of that kind of commitment. It’s my belief the deal was motivated by off-field factors — merchandise and ticket sales, advertising opportunities, increased popularity in Japan, etc. — and not so much his expected on-field performance. The late-season hot streak was nice and all, but Ichiro has managed just a .277/.308/.361 batting line in his last 1,384 plate appearances. Consider me skeptical.

So, what the club needs most from Suzuki next year is an extreme performance. He either needs to hit the cover off the ball like he did down the stretch and make me look like an idiot, or he needs to play so poorly the club will have no choice but to replace him. Splitting the middle and treading water won’t help, it just means he’ll remain in the lineup and be a question mark heading into 2014. Ichiro needs to erase doubt this summer, either by hitting so well they have to keep him or by hitting so poorly they have to dump him.

5. Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Jose Campos must stay healthy.

Every team needs their top prospects to stay healthy for obvious reasons, and the Yankees have three of their best minor leaguers coming off major injuries. Williams (shoulder) missed the second half following surgery while Campos (elbow) barely pitched in 2012. Heathcott (shoulder) missed the first half following his second surgery in as many offseasons and has yet to play more than 76 games in a single season. All three are among the team’s very best prospects and if the Yankees are serious about sticking to a budget, they’re going to need cheap production. That isn’t limited to plugging these guys into the roster down the line either, they need to stay healthy to boost potential trade value as well.

6. Alex Rodriguez must hit at least 13 homers.

Despite all the recent PED stuff, I’m working under the assumption A-Rod will rejoin the team around the All-Star break because that’s what the doctors (and the Yankees!) said following his latest hip surgery. If they’re able to void or otherwise shed his contract, great. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

Anyway, A-Rod is currently sitting on 647 career homers and is 13 away from triggering the first of five $6M homerun milestones in his contract. Triggering that bonus in 2013 — the next homer bonus would then be 54 homers away, a total even in-his-prime Alex would have trouble reaching in one year — gives the team another $6M to spend under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. It doesn’t sound like much, but $6M does go a long way. It’s enough to add an $18M player at the trade deadline. I don’t care anything about this latest PED stuff, I care about A-Rod reaching this first homer bonus this summer to give the team more flexibility next year.

email

Season Review: Miscellaneous Pitchers

As we wrap up our seemingly never-ending review of the 2012 season, it’s time to look back on the last handful of pitchers. These are the guys who spend some time on the big league roster this year but not much, ultimately contributing little in the grand scheme of things.

(Elsa/Getty)

Adam Warren
After losing the long man competition to David Phelps in Spring Training, the 25-year-old Warren got his big league shot when both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte hit the DL in late-June. He made a spot start against the White Sox and got absolutely pounded, surrendering six runs on eight hits (two homers, one double, five singles) in 2.1 innings. Warren walked two and struck out one. He spent the rest of the regular season back in Triple-A but did get recalled when rosters expanded in September, though he did not appear in a game.

Chad Qualls
Acquired from the Phillies in early-July, the 34-year-old Qualls appeared in eight games with the Yankees. He allowed five runs and ten hits in 7.1 innings with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two), though he did generate a bunch of ground balls (51.9%). His most notable moment in pinstripes was probably retiring the only two men he faced (Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo) on July 13th, keeping the deficit at three and allowing the Yankees to mount a late-innings comeback. The Yankees traded Qualls to the Pirates for Casey McGehee at the deadline.

Justin Thomas
Plucked off waivers from the Red Sox early-May, the 28-year-old Thomas spent the rest of the summer in Triple-A before getting the call when rosters expanded in September. The left-hander appeared in four games, allowing three runs in three innings. To his credit, Thomas did retire six of seven left-handed batters he faced with New York (two strikeouts). The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear room on the roster for David Aardsma late in the season, and Thomas has since moved on as a minor league free agent.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

D.J. Mitchell
Mitchell, 25, also lost the long man competition to Phelps in camp. He went down to Triple-A for a few weeks before resurfacing when the Yankees needed an arm in early-May and then again in mid-July. He made four appearances total — two in each big league stint — and allow two runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings. Like Qualls, he walked more batters (three) than he struck out (two) but generated a healthy number of grounders (57.9%). Mitchell was traded to the Mariners as part of the Ichiro Suzuki and spent the rest of the year in the minors.

Ryota Igarashi
Igarashi, 33, was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in late-May and managed to appear in two games with the Yankees. He allowed one run in one inning against the Mets on June 8th and three runs in two innings against the Blue Jays on August 12th. Both stints in the big leagues were very temporary, as he was sent down right away in favor of a fresh arm. It’s worth noting that Igarashi was a monster down in Triple-A, pitching to a 2.45 ERA (2.11 FIP) with 13.50 K/9 (34.4 K%) in 36.2 innings as the team’s closer. The Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster in August and he signed a new deal with a team in Japan earlier this offseason.

David Aardsma
The Yankees signed the 30-year-old Aardsma to a one-year, $500k contract in late-February knowing he was unlikely to contribute much this year since he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander suffered a setback in June which delayed his rehab, but he progressed far enough that the team adding him to the active roster in late-September. He appeared in just one game before the end of the season, allowing a solo homer in an inning of work. After the season the Yankees exercised Aardsma’s $500k option for 2013 and will have the former Mariners closer in the bullpen to open next season.

Yankees activate Gardner & Aardsma; designate Pearce & Thomas

The Yankees have activated both Brett Gardner and David Aardsma off the 60-day DL. Although Gardner has been taking batting practice and whatnot, I assume he will be limited to pinch-running and late-game defense duties from here on out. Aardsma is unlikely to see any meaningful innings.

To clear spots on the 40-man roster, both Steve Pearce and Justin Thomas were designated for assignment. Casey McGehee can hit lefties just as well (probably better, actually) as Pearce, but he offers more versatility and big league/pennant race experience. That last part probably doesn’t matter much. I thought the Yankees would keep Thomas as the third lefty for the final week of the season, but I guess Cory Wade built up enough good will last year and earlier this season to keep his job.

Joba, Aardsma, and lessons learned

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

When the Yankees play the second game of their three-game set against the Twins later tonight, they’ll do so with a new reliever available in the bullpen. Right-hander David Aardsma is set to join the club today after losing more than two calendar years due to injury. An oblique problem sidelined him in September 2010, then a torn labrum in his hip and Tommy John surgery (and a subsequent setback) cost him all of 2011 and all but nine games of 2012. It’s been a long road back, that’s for sure.

Since the Yankees are stuck in a tight division race with only those nine games left to play, there’s very little chance we’ll see the 30-year-old Aardsma in anything more than a low-leverage blowout situation. The eighth inning of last night’s game — the inning Cory Wade was unable to escape — seems like the kind of inning the former Mariners’ closer would be allowed to navigate. Not a particularly close game and with only a handful of outs remaining, not really enough for the other club to mount a legitimate comeback.

“When (Joe Girardi) calls down, or (Larry Rothschild) calls, or whoever does it, and my name is called, I’ll be ready,” said Aardsma yesterday. “And then I go out there and go pitch. I haven’t faced a big-league hitter in two years, but it’s a matter of, I know my stuff’s been good. It’s been playing really well down in Tampa. I know it’s not the same caliber, but I know my stuff is good. Now it’s just a matter of going out there, getting comfortable, and facing hitters. I’m not expecting to go out there in the toughest situation ever — I don’t think they would do that — but they do want me ready.”

Although the AL East crown has yet to be locked up, the Yankees don’t really need Aardsma to be much help this week. Earlier in the season after Mariano Rivera got hurt and Wade imploded? Yeah they needed bullpen help then but opted to wait for Joba Chamberlain. He struggled mightily at first before straightening things out and becoming the fourth wheel in the David Robertson-Rafael Soriano-Boone Logan end-game trio. The Yankees found out the hard way that not everyone coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery can be useful right away, but they got a little lucky with how quickly Joba turned things around.

That same problem — the general ineffectiveness following elbow surgery — could present itself with Aardsma, who really didn’t pitch all that well during his minor league rehab stint. The circumstances are much different though, as he’s just a spare arm for these next nine games and not someone the team is really counting on for an impact. Next year will be  a different story, but we have all offseason to worry about that. I’ll be surprised if Aardsma appears in even three of the next nine games, but even if he does, I think we all learned from Joba earlier this season not to count on him for much right away.

Update: Aardsma will join Yankees tomorrow

5:02pm: Aardsma told reporters that he will be activated tomorrow. I’m guessing Justin Thomas will be the 40-man casualty. I suppose there’s a chance the Yankees will add both Aardsma and Brett Gardner on Tuesday, which would be pretty neat.

4:30pm: Right-hander David Aardsma appears set to join the Yankees at some point this series based on his Twitter feed. Last night he said that today would be a “big day,” and then this afternoon he tweeted out a photo of Target Field. No one ever accused me of being smart, but it sure seems like the Yankees will activate him at some point during the next three days. They’ll have to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate him.

Aardsma, not Feliciano, could still join Yankees this year

Via Joel Sherman, there is still a chance that David Aardsma could join the Yankees before the end of the regular season. He had been pitching in minor league rehab games until the season ended last week, even pitching in a set of back-to-back days. That’s usually one of the final steps before being activated. Aardsma wasn’t pitching all that well following his late-June setback, but his 30-day rehab window expires next weekend. The decision is coming one way or another.

In other news, left-hander Pedro Feliciano is unlikely to join the bullpen before the end of the season. He had been pitching in minor league rehab games as well, including doing the whole back-to-back thing, but he sprained his ankle covering first base in his last outing a little more than two weeks ago. The Yankees used that to reset his rehab clock and we’re unlikely to see him throw a single pitch in pinstripes after signing a two-year, $8M deal last winter.