Derek Lowe willing to pitch out of the bullpen

Via Nick Cafardo: Right-hander Derek Lowe is willing to pitch out of the bullpen after spending the winter looking for a starting job. “I would love to be a starter, of course, but I understand the reality of having to work out of the bullpen,” he said, while also indicating a willingness to sign for relative peanuts. “I’ve made my money.”

Lowe, 39, pitched to a 3.04 ERA (3.77 FIP) with a 54.5% ground ball rate in 23.2 relief innings for New York after being plucked off the scrap heap in August. I’ve written several times this offseason that I’d like to see the Yankees bring him back on a low-risk (i.e. minor league) deal to serve as the swingman. That would send the loser of the Ivan NovaDavid Phelps fifth starter battle to the Triple-A rotation, where they would wait for the inevitable injury. Lowe is no savior, but he would be a nice little piece of pitching depth.

Scouting The Market: Low-Risk Pitching Depth

Dallas Braden
(Norm Hall/Getty)

Pitchers and catchers are due to report one week from today, and for the most part the Yankees’ pitching staff is pretty much set. Ivan Nova and David Phelps will battle for the fifth starter’s job in Spring Training, with the loser presumably sliding into a swingman role. Injury is pretty much the only thing capable of changing the other four rotation spots or other six bullpen spots at this point.

No team ever makes it through a season using just five starters and just seven relievers, of course. At some point the loser of that Nova-Phelps battle will move into the rotation, just like guys who start the season in the minors will find themselves in the Bronx. It’s inevitable. Assuming Dellin Betances continues pitching in relief as he did during the Arizona Fall League, the Triple-A Scranton rotation will likely feature righties Adam Warren and Brett Marshall and lefties Shaeffer Hall and Vidal Nuno. That leaves one starting spot for a veteran, a low-risk minor league contract guy — like Ramon Ortiz last season — to serve as depth. A seventh/eighth starter type.

The free agent market is pretty desolate at this point of the winter, but here are four pitchers who could fit the bill.

LHP Dallas Braden
Braden, 29, has not thrown a pitch in either the Majors or minors since April 2011 due to a pair of major shoulder surgeries — torn capsule (May 2011) and torn rotator cuff (August 2012). He attended Texas Tech’s alumni game about two weeks ago but did not pitch, and that’s the closest thing I can find to a rehab update. In other words, there is no update.

Braden was very good for the Athletics from 2009-2010 before getting hurt (3.66 ERA and 3.77 FIP), though his strikeout (5.30 K/9 and 14.2 K%) and ground ball (39.0%) rates didn’t exactly stand out. He’s always been a soft-tossing — average fastball velocity from 2009-2010 was 87.6 mph — changeup specialist, so losing velocity due to the shoulder problems might not be the kiss if death. Given the typical rehab time associated with rotator cuff repairs and the unlikelihood that he can contribute at all in 2013, Braden is more of a candidate for a David Aardsma contract — one-year with a super-low base salary plus a club option — than someone a team could count on for depth this summer.

RHP Derek Lowe
Back in October we heard the 40-year-old Lowe would look for a job as a starter before deciding whether to return as a reliever, and apparently the offers to start have been scarce given his continued unemployment. I wrote a mailbag post about re-signing the sinker baller back in late-December, saying I liked the idea of bringing him back as a swingman candidate on a minor league contract. Anything more than that would be pushing it, and Lowe doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would bide his time and wait for an injury down in Triple-A. I think he would sooner retire.

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

RHP Dustin Moseley
Another former Yankee, the 31-year-old Moseley had surgery to repair his rotator cuff and labrum last April. Like Braden, I can’t find any updates on his rehab beyond the initial reports. Considering how long these things usually take, he’s probably not going to be ready to return to game action until midseason. That alone makes Moseley, who pitched to a 3.30 ERA (3.99 FIP) in 120 innings for the Padres in 2011, a less-than-ideal candidate for Triple-A depth. He would have been a great fit if healthy, but no dice.

LHP Jonathan Sanchez
Sanchez, 30, just finished a nightmare season that saw him pitch to a 8.07 ERA (6.60 FIP) in 64.2 innings for the Royals and Rockies. He walked (53) more batters than he struck out (45), and his fastball velocity continued its gradual decline.

That said, Sanchez is one year removed from a 4.26 ERA (4.30 FIP) with the Giants in 2011, when he posted his third consecutive season with more than a strikeout per inning (9.06 K/9 and 23.0 K%). The walks (career 5.00 BB/9 and 12.6 BB%) are a concern and after nearly 800 big league innings, it’s getting to be time to stop hoping for improvement. Sanchez has shown swing-and-miss stuff in the recent past, so as long as he isn’t hiding an injury, he’d be a pretty good reclamation project for the Triple-A rotation. The problem is that he’s reportedly close to a deal with the Pirates.

Holiday Mailbag: Derek Lowe

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Several people asked: What about a Derek Lowe reunion?

I hadn’t thought too much about Lowe this offseason until writing this MLBTR post last week, which is when a few people emailed in. The 39-year-old sinkerballer has fielded calls from five teams this winter, but all five want him as a swingman. He’s looking for a job as a starter though, which is what he said after the ALCS.

The Yankees have Ivan Nova and David Phelps ready to compete for the fifth starter’s job in camp, and while I would like to see them add a veteran starter for that role, I was thinking someone better than Lowe (coughShaunMarcumcough). There are six bullpen spots already accounted for: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, David Aardsma, and Clay Rapada. The final spot figures to go to a long-man and the loser of the Nova/Phelps role makes sense for that role, but I don’t think we should rule out a return to Triple-A for that pitcher either. Especially if one of the two gets his brains beat in during Spring Training.

Right-hander Cody Eppley and left-hander Cesar Cabral are also candidates for that final spot, but Eppley has minor league options left and Cabral isn’t expected back until May-ish following his elbow fracture. They’re depth pieces more than Opening Day bullpen guys. I could totally see a trade (Joba? Logan? Robertson?) opening up another bullpen spot, but that’s just my speculation. There haven’t been any rumors of New York shopping or even discussing their bullpen arms. It would make sense though, especially with Logan one year away from free agency and coming off a career-high workload and league-leading appearance total.

The Yankees are expected to “bottom-feed” for pitching depth later this offseason and Lowe fits the bill. He had a nice little run in the bullpen last year (3.04 ERA and 3.77 FIP in 23.2 innings) but has been a pretty ineffective in the rotation for more than three years now (4.73 ERA and 3.99 FIP since 2009). Then again, we’re talking about a potential seventh starter here, maybe even an eighth starter if Adam Warren or Brett Marshall makes a statement in Triple-A early in the season. I’d be totally cool with the Yankees bringing Lowe back on a minor league contract for a swingman role, but I don’t like the idea of guaranteeing him a contract or a roster spot.

What Went Right: Jayson Nix & Derek Lowe

The Yankees have developed a knack for finding value on the scrap heap, consistently turning other team’s discards into useful pieces. It’s a wonderful skill for a front office to have regardless of payroll size. As expected, the Yankees dug up two useful veterans who wound up taking on bigger than expected roles this season.

Remember the three-run pinch-hit double against the Mariners? (REUTERS/Robert Sorbo)

Jayson Nix
One of the team’s very first moves last offseason was to sign the 30-year-old Nix to a minor league contract. He had some pop in his bat and was very versatile, with experience at all three non-first base infield spots as well as the outfield corners. Nix showed the team what he could do in Spring Training, but ultimately he was sent down to Triple-A to open the season.

A minor (and unknown) injury delayed the start of his minor league season by two weeks, but he was playing in Triple-A before long. When Eric Chavez dove for a ball and had to be placed on the 7-day concussion DL in early-May, the Yankees recalled Nix to take his spot on the roster. When Eduardo Nunez‘s defensive troubles became an unavoidable issue, he was sent down to Triple-A while Nix took over as the primary utility infielder.

All told, Nix hit .243/.306/.384 (88 wRC+) with four homers and six steals in 202 plate appearances for New York while starting at least nine games at second, third, short, and left field. He produced a 97 wRC+ against left-handers, a 142 wRC+ at Yankee Stadium, and a 163 wRC+ with men in scoring position. His defense was adequate at worst as well. Nix missed time with a hip flexor strain at the end of the season and played sparingly in the playoffs, but overall he was a rock solid bench piece for a team increasingly in need of quality bench help.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Derek Lowe
The Braves ate a whole bunch of money when they traded Lowe to the Indians last offseason, and before long it was easy to see why. The 39-year-old right-hander pitched to a 5.52 ERA (4.49 FIP) with Cleveland and was released in early-August. The Yankees pounced a few days later when CC Sabathia‘s elbow forced him to the DL and the pitching staff needed help, signing the former Red Sox through the end of the season.

Lowe agreed to pitch in relief and rewarded the team’s faith in him immediately. His first appearance in pinstripes was a four-inning save against Rangers in relief of David Phelps, who had replaced Sabathia in the rotation. Lowe appeared in several low-leverage situations but had worked his way up the bullpen totem pole by mid-September. Joe Girardi was using him regularly as a stabilizing force in the middle innings by the end of the regular season, effectively deploying him as a setup man to the setup men. He was 2009 Al Aceves-esque for a few weeks.

Lowe pitched to a 3.04 ERA (3.77 FIP) in 23.2 innings for the Yankees down the stretch, though he did get hit around in his three postseason appearances. Considering his dreadful performance with the Indians, it was easy to have very low expectations for Lowe. He instead proved his worth as a battle-tested and versatile veteran arm, adding depth to the bullpen down the stretch by essentially replacing Cory Wade as Girardi’s go-to middle reliever.

Twelve Yankees hit free agency

A total of 137 players around the league officially hit free agency today, including a dozen Yankees: Eric Chavez, Pedro Feliciano, Freddy Garcia, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Hiroki Kuroda, Derek Lowe, Russell Martin, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, and Nick Swisher. Rafael Soriano can join them if he opts out of his contract by Wednesday’s deadline, which seems likely. Feliciano’s inclusion in the list of free agents is an indication that the Yankees have already declined his $4.5M club option. That is not surprising at all after the left-hander threw zero meaningful pitches during his time in pinstripes.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, players don’t even have to file for free agency anymore. They just hit the open market. I never understood the point of that anyway. Players are free to sign with new teams starting Saturday. Click here for the full offseason schedule.

Lowe will look for starting job before deciding to return as reliever

Via Peter Botte and George King: Derek Lowe will look for an opportunity as a starting pitcher this offseason before deciding whether to return to the Yankees as a reliever. “I would like to start again,” he said. “I knew when I came here I was going to be a reliever. My first priority is to start.”

Lowe, 39, was picked up off the scrap heap in August and had his moments with the Yankees, most notably his four-inning save against the Rangers and some order-restoring middle relief work in the final weeks of the season. All told, he pitched to a 3.04 ERA (3.77 FIP) in 23.2 relief innings with New York. The Yankees will definitely need to bring in a reliever or two this offseason (especially if Rafael Soriano opts out), but I would be stunned if they considered Lowe for a starting job next year.

Derek Lowe pitching his way onto the postseason roster

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

When the Yankees signed Derek Lowe in August it was tough to think of it as an impact move. Lowe had started off the season well enough, pitching to a 3.06 ERA through his first 11 starts. But then that nearly 1:1 K/BB ratio started catching up with him. His next 10 starts were pure disaster, an 8.77 ERA and more walks than strikeouts. At this late stage in his career, it was tough to expect anything of him. If not for the injury to CC Sabathia, the Yankees might not even have signed Lowe in the first place.

Yet Lowe came onto the scene strong, holding down the fort for the final four innings against Texas, preserving a win for David Phelps. But it didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off again. He allowed at least one run in each of his next six outings, which included a blown game against Toronto. It seemed like the end of meaningful appearances for Lowe. But after last night’s two-inning win, perhaps Lowe has changed some opinions. It might have punched his ticket to the postseason roster.

No, we should not evaluate Lowe based on a single performance. If we did that we could just as easily base it on the one-out, four-hit, two-run appearance he had against Baltimore a month ago. Or we could even look to the crazy 10-9 win over Oakland a couple of weeks ago, when Lowe allowed the tying run that pushed the game into extras. The case for Lowe on the postseason roster involves a brief but positive trend, coupled with a generally positive performance in pinstripes.

Since signing with the Yankees in mid-August Lowe has thrown 23.2 innings in 17 appearances, holding opponents to a .261/.306/.370 line. That’s not elite, but it’s serviceable for a middle reliever who can go multiple innings. He has also managed to keep home runs in check while striking out more than twice the number he’s walked. He has also kept inherited runners in check, allowing just one of nine to score. Again, not world-beating, but certainly worthy of consideration.

Furthermore, Lowe has stepped up his game since sitting down for nine days in mid-September. Since coming in to relieve a knocked-around Phil Hughes during the doubleheader against Toronto, Lowe has allowed just seven hits in 12.1 innings, striking out five and walking four (one intentional). He has allowed just two runs in that span and has held opponents to a .171/.244/.171 line. Yes, he has not allowed an extra base hit in that time, which is one reason why he’s kept runs off the board. (In fact, he hasn’t allowed an extra base hit all month.)

When evaluating pitchers for postseason rosters, we needn’t consider the whole picture. What a pitcher did in April probably has little bearing on what he’ll do in October. The season goes through phases, and as we’ve seen so many times in the past the hot hand prevails. Lowe has certainly been on a hot streak lately, which should be enough to warrant an LDS roster spot. They do have an extra spot, as only six of seven bullpen spots seem set in stone (Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, David Phelps). The Yanks could go with Cody Eppley, but they might prefer someone who can give them length and perhaps face a lefty or two.

Even when the Yankees signed Lowe it didn’t appear he’d be a strong candidate for the postseason roster. They did, after all, sign him after he’d been cut by the Indians, who had little to gain or lose by releasing him. After his first few performances it looked like he’d be out of consideration, but he’s changed that perception in the last few weeks — a time when the Yankees needed him the most. The performance last night in Boston might have just put his name onto the ALDS roster.