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.

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Catching Up with Some Ex-Yankees

He looked nice in pinstripes, but he looks at home in the Cubbie blue & white, no? (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Aside from the clean-slate record, an awesome thing about the start of the new season is the batch of new players that comes in. Whether they be rookies coming up from the minors, off-season trades or free agent/pre-arbitration signings, it’s always interesting to see who’s becoming a Yankee this year.

Of course, with the arrival of new Yankees, others depart. Some of which we’re glad to see go, be that due to injury or ineffectiveness, and others we long to have back. I’d bet there’s a pretty strong correlation between who’s performing away from the Bronx and who would look better if they were back for another year in pinstripes. Considering the attention paid to the Yankee rotation and some recent bullpen drama, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the pitchers the Yanks let go and see how they were doing around the league.

Kerry Wood

Wood rode into the bullpen like a knight in shining Cubbie armor in the 2010 season, wowing everyone. It’s imagine everything aligning better for Wood during his short stay in pinstripes: none of his bequeathed runners scored, his stuff was great, he was saving rear ends left and right. Though Wood had an expensive option, there was no way the Yankees were paying closer money to a man who would almost certainly not repeat his unsustainably good 2010 performance. Wood raced back to the Cubs and signed for $1.5M. He’s racked up an impressive 2.15 ERA and 4.49 FIP, though the 95% LOB is likely to drop. Even so, the 2:1 K/BB ratio is extremely promising.

"How about some support?" (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

Dustin Moseley

The spot-starter/longman for the Yankees signed at the pitcher’s heaven of Petco Park and has found himself a home in the Padres’ rotation. He’s making a comfortable $900k and is, uh, pitching his brains out, to say the least. In his five starts, he’s pitched to a 1.99 ERA (3.90 FIP). The Adrian Gonzalez-less Padres offense, which is slightly feebler than a dead rabbit, has really gotten behind his strong performance, and helped him go…… 0-3. In his five starts, the Padres have scored him a total of two runs. Pretty sad. Although his numbers are likely to go up (Moseley isn’t likely to hold down his .243 BABIP or hold up his 81% strand rate), it’s pretty freaking impressive as is.

Chad Gaudin

Gaudin also making $900K in the NL, though his home is located across the country in Nationals Park. The man’s picked up right where he left off with the Yankees, throwing spectacularly mediocre stuff and getting knocked all around because of it. In his 8 innings, he’s given up 12 hits, six ER (one homer), and eight walks. The only positive thing about his line is the 10Ks, but it’s not helping anything else. I wonder if Riggleman will have the same fascination with him that Girardi did.

Sergio Mitre

All right, I know you’re really interested in hearing about: the man that Marc Carig of the Star Ledger calls The Experience. Although he technically started off the year as a Yankee, Mitre’s been shipped over to the Brewers in exchange for Chris Dickerson. In his tiny 9 IP sample, he’s managed to give up six hits, three ER and a homer, and walk more batters (3) than he’s struck out (2). Of course, this is a tiny sample, and Mitre could get his act together and become the Rolaids Relief Man Closer we all know he could be. Right? Right?

(AP/Dave Martin)

Alfredo Aceves

The man they call Ace fought injures all through 2010, and because of that (and who knows what else), Cashman decided not to tender him a contract. The Red Sox picked Aceves up for a microscopic $650k. He’s been pretty effective for them too, making six appearances and racking up a 2.25 ERA. Way less impressive is his 5.80 FIP, helped out by the two home runs he’s given up. It’s hard for me to want a guy in Boston to succeed, but Ace was pretty awesome for the Yankees when they needed him, and I don’t know if I’m quite ready to let him go just yet. Silly sentimental me.

Javier Vazquez

Two trips to the Bronx still couldn’t cure Javy’s problems: a dead fastball and a reputation that wasn’t going to leave once it stuck his first time around. Vazquez has over 2,600 IP on his arm – I don’t even want to know how many pitches he’s thrown – and that wear and tear is becoming evident. Vazquez signed with the Marlins for $7M and he’s basically the same old Javy: a junkball and some other stuff being whomped around by better hitters. He’s made four starts and walked more than he’s struck out, even if his h/9 is still under one. 20 IP is too small a sample to really paint a picture, but here’s some food for thought: his average fastball velocity was 89 MPH in 2010. His average fastball velocity in 2011 so far is 88.4.

* * *

The Yankees pitching staff is pretty band-aided together right now, but quite frankly I don’t have a problem with it. If Nova wants to go 6.1IP and feel good about, awesome. If Colon wants to show off his amazing two-seamer and a 96 MPH fastball, even better! Honestly, if the worst thing that happens to Freddy Garcia is that he gives up a home run to Jose Bautista, things are going pretty well. Yeah, Garcia is going to throw some crappy pitches. But luckily, there are lots of crappy hitters out there to compensate. Plus, it’s basically impossible not to have Bautista homer off you these days. That should not be the standard of judgment. Also, go Freddy. And someone give the guy a towel, will you? He’s looking kind of shiny out there on the mound.

Moseley on his way to San Diego

Via Ken Rosenthal, the Padres are close to signing former Yankee Dustin Moseley to a big league contract of unknown terms. The Yankees recently non-tendered Moseley rather than going to arbitration with him in a move that Brian Cashman said was designed to “control costs,” which came after he pitched to a 5.99 FIP (-0.4 fWAR) in 65.1 IP. I fully expect Dustin to put up an ERA south of 3.50 in 180 or so innings with the Pads next year. Petco Park, the career reviver.

Yanks non-tender Moseley, Aceves

The Yankees have non-tendered Dustin Moseley and Alfredo Aceves, Mark Feinsand reported a minute ago. In light of the team’s decision to re-up with Sergio Mitre, Moseley’s departure was a foregone conclusion. The Yanks do not need to mediocre right-handers clogging up the roster in the name of depth, but the decision on Aceves is surprising. My guess is that the Yanks did not want to burn a 40-man spot on a guy who missed most of 2010 and will be out for around the first six-to-eight weeks of 2011. The club will, in all likelihood, try to resign him to a minor league deal without burning a 40-man spot on a question mark.

What Went Wrong: Chad Ho Moseley

Every team has a few of them every single season; replacement level relievers, or worse. Most of the time these guys are buried in the back of the bullpen, throwing low-leverage innings once or twice a week when his team had a big lead or a big deficit. The Yankees were (un)lucky enough to have three guys like that this year, and they even came with a cheesy nickname: Chad Ho Moseley. Let’s review…

(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)

Chad Gaudin

After a solid job as the Yankees’ makeshift fifth starter down the stretch last season, Gaudin was rewarded by being released in Spring Training. He ended up back in his old stomping grounds in Oakland, at least until they released him after 17.1 innings of 5.91 FIP pitching. The Yanks brought him back in late-May for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum and stuck him in their bullpen as a mop-up guy.

That’s pretty much exactly what Gaudin was, because opponents mopped the floor with him during his second tenure in pinstripes. He was somehow even worse with the Yanks than he was with the A’s (6.25 FIP), and a late season audition for a playoff spot which featured the Yanks forcing him into some high-leverage spot went predictably awful. All told, Gaudin put a -0.8 fWAR in 48 IP just with the Bombers in 2010 (-1.1 overall). Yuck.

Chan Ho Park

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Park was a late addition in the offseason, signing a low-risk one-year, $1.2M contract after pitchers and catchers had already reported in February. His relief stint with the Phillies in 2009 was excellent (53-15 K/uIBB ratio and 0 HR in exactly 50 IP), good enough that even with normal age-related decline (he was 36 when they signed him, after all) and the AL-to-NL transition that there were still reasons to expect him to be a serviceable relief arm.

As it turned out, CHoP was anything but serviceable. He made three appearances in April, taking the loss in the first game of the season, before hitting the disabled list for a month with a bad hamstring. That bought him some more time. CHoP returned in mid-May and allowed at least one run in four straight outings and in five of six, earning himself a demotion to mop-up duty. After five scoreless outings in June, CHoP pretty much fell apart. He was designated for assignment after the Yanks acquired Kerry Wood at the trade deadline, finishing his Yankee career with a 5.60 ERA and more than one homer allowed for every 16 outs recorded.

It was a worthwhile gamble that completely blew up in the Yankees’ faces; Park was worth -0.2 fWAR in pinstripes. That the Pirates claimed him off waivers and saved New York the final $400,000 of his salary was nothing more than a minor miracle.

Dustin Moseley

The Yanks brought in the former Reds’ first round pick on a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, and he pitched well enough in Triple-A (3.67 FIP in a dozen starts) that he forced the Yankees’ hand when his opt-out clause kicked in in late-June. Pitching in a mop-up role initially, Moseley moved into the rotation once Andy Pettitte‘s groin landed him on the disabled list.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Moseley wasn’t terrible at first, giving the team two quality starts in his first three outings. It all kinda went downhill from there (6.41 ERA, .932 OPS against) as his inability to miss bats (13 BB, 11 K) manifested itself in his next four starts. Somehow the Yankees still managed to win three of those games, but Moseley found himself back in the bullpen with rookie Ivan Nova usurping him in the rotation.

In the end, the 28-year-old righty finished the season with with a 5.99 FIP and -0.4 fWAR in 65.1 innings for the big league team. He slightly redeemed himself with two scoreless innings in Game One of the ALCS, paving the way for the eighth inning comeback, but meh. Dustin’s effort was admirable, yet completely forgettable.

* * *

It’s unfair to toss Sergio Mitre into this mix because at least he managed to be replacement level this season (exactly 0.0 fWAR), but we have to mention him somewhere. He allowed just seven runs in his final 24.2 innings (2.55 ERA), so unlikely the Chad Ho Moseley monster he at least finished strong.

A trio of sub-replacement level long relievers (total damage: -1.4 fWAR, 148.2 IP, or 10.3% of the team’s total innings) didn’t sink the Yankees season by any means, but it sure was painful to watch.

Moseley tabbed for Game 162

During the postgame interview, Yankees skipper Joe Girardi announced that Dustin Moseley will get the ball for the Yanks’ final game of the season. The right-hander is 4-3 with a 4.77 ERA in 15 games, eight of which were starts, and he will face John Lackey at 1:35 p.m. The Yankees are in a do-or-die situation for the American League East in that they have to win to stay in contention. They also need the Royals behind Sean O’Sullivan to beat Wade Davis and the Rays. Girardi said though that he won’t risk injury to his regulars to win the division, but for now, Dustin Moseley will get one more crack at it as the 2010 regular season draws to a close.

The Unexpected Heroes

It happens every year. Injuries and/or ineffectiveness force each and every team to call up players from the minors, sometimes minor league lifers and other times rookies. Inevitably one of two or those players comes up big in some way, whether it be in one at-bat or over a prolonged stretch of time. The Yankees have enjoyed quite  bit of success from unexpected sources this season, and they ultimately needed every little bit of it en route to clinching a playoff spot.

Some call-ups obviously did more than others, but these five moments really stand out from the pack. Presented in chronological order, let’s relieve the magic by the unexpected heroes…

May 21st: Kevin Russo buries the Mets (video)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Yankees were dealing with a plethora of injury issues in May, with everyone from Curtis Granderson (hamstring) to Nick Swisher (biceps) to Robbie Cano (knee) to Jorge Posada (foot) battling ailments and needing various degrees of rest. Russo was recalled because he provided enough versatility to sub for any of the walking wounded, but even the staunchest of Russo backers expected little with the bat.

With the Yanks coming off three straight losses and heading across town to take on the Mets, Russo drew his first career start, an assignment in leftfield. The two New York clubs played to a scoreless tie through six, but the Yanks threatened to break things open when Elmer Dessens relieved Hisanori Takahashi. Nick Swisher led the seventh inning off with a solid single to center, though Frankie Cervelli tried to kill the rally with a tailor made double play to ball to second. Unfortunately for the Mets, it was not meant to be. Alex Cora airmailed the flip to Jose Reyes, throwing the ball into leftfield and allowing Swish to move to third and Cervelli to second, all with no outs.

That brought Russo to the plate with a chance to give the Yanks a lead even if he made an out. He had picked up his first career hit in his first at-bat, but on Dessens’ second offering he picked up his first career extra base hit, poking a double down the rightfield line and into the corner. Both Swisher and Cervelli came around the score, and those two runs were all the Yanks needed on the day. Mariano Rivera nailed things down in the ninth, and the losing streak was kaput.

June 27th: Chad Huffman & Colin Curtis break Jonathan Broxton (video and video)

When Granderson and Marcus Thames hit the disabled list earlier in the season, the Yankees were stretched a little thin in the outfield. Huffman did a poor but still admirable job filling in, and during interleague play he found himself substituting for another injured outfielder: Brett Gardner, who left this game against the Dodgers after Clayton Kershaw hit him on the wrist with a fastball in the third inning. Huffman singled in his first at-bat, but his moment to shine didn’t come until the ninth inning.

Down four runs coming into the frame, the Yankees were already mounting a rally off Broxton when Huffman came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Broxton challenged the rookie, giving him three straight fastballs at 96. After taking the first two for a ball and a strike, Huffman lined a single to the opposite field to drive in a pair of runs and bring the Yanks to within one. The next batter was Curtis, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the previous inning and remained in to play defense. Again, Broxton came right at him, and the kid who made his big league debut less than a week earlier in his home state of Arizona fouled off the first two pitches for a quick 0-2 count.

At this point, against a reliever of Broxton’s caliber, most kids with six big league plate appearances to their credit are toast. But not Curtis, he hung in there and then some. The third pitch was a fastball down for a ball, the fourth was a slider in the dirt for a ball, and the fifth a fastball well of the plate for another ball and a foul count. Just working the count back full was impressive, but then Lil’ CC went ahead and fouled off the next four pitches. The tenth pitch of the confrontation was Broxton’s 40th of the inning, a fastball at the knees that Curtis grounded sharply to first. James Loney fielded it cleanly and stepped on first for the force, but Grandy slid in safely and beat the throw home to tie the game.

The Yankees, as you know, went on to win the game in extras, thanks in large part to the efforts of these two young outfielders. Too date, those are Huffman’s only two big league RBI and his last hit before being sent back down. Curtis eventually went back to Scranton but has since resurfaced as a September call-up. Before this game, Broxton had a 0.83 ERA with a 48-5 K/BB ratio in 32.2 innings. Since then though, he’s got a 6.59 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 21 walks in 28.2 innings. The Yanks straight up broke him that night.

August 8th: Dustin Moseley tames the Red Sox (video)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The common themes in this post seem to be injuries and losing streaks, and sure enough this moment features a little of both. Moseley was starting every fifth day in place of the injured Andy Pettitte, and made his third start of the season against the Red Sox on a nationally televised Sunday night game. It was a recipe for disaster, something the Yanks could ill afford after losing five of their previous eight games.

Instead of wilting, Moseley thrived. One-two-three went the Sox in the first, then again in the second. They didn’t put a runner on base until Bill Hall singled on a ground ball through the left side with one out in the third, but Moseley quickly recovered. He sat the next two men down without incident, and then worked himself out of a bases loaded, two out jam in the next frame with yet another groundout. Hall led off the fifth inning with a solo homer, but Moseley sat five of the next six men down in order (with a 3-6-1 double play mixed in) and took the ball into the seventh.

That’s when things got a little dicey thanks to an Adrian Beltre double and a single by (of course) Hall, putting runners on the corners with one out. Joe Girardi pulled the righthander from the game after that even though he had thrown just 87 pitches, but Joba Chamberlain allowed Beltre to score and hang another run on Moseley. His final line couldn’t have been much better considering the circumstances: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 13 GB, 6 FB. The Yanks took the screws to Josh Beckett a few innings earlier to take the pressure off, but Moseley came up big in a spot where his team really needed a win. He’s not a traditional prospect like the other guys in this post, but he certainly wasn’t someone that the Bombers expected to rely on this season. For at least this one night, he justified their faith in him.

Sept. 14th: Greg Golson is unimpressed by Carl Crawford (video)

With the Yankees in the middle of a four game losing streak and in Tampa to take on the division rival Rays earlier this month, Jorge Posada hit a go-ahead homerun in the top of the tenth inning that had the potential to made things all right in Yankeeland, at least for one night. Mariano Rivera came in for the save opportunity in the bottom half, and Golson had already taken over in rightfield after Juan Miranda pinch hit for Curtis in the eighth inning.

Mo was in the middle of his recent rough patch, and things looked ominous when Crawford led off the frame with a single. He eventually stole second with one out, and all it would take was a single to knot things up. Matt Joyce, with a hit and a run driven in already to his name on the evening, came to the plate and managed to work the count full. He lifted the seventh pitch of the at-bat moderately deep to right, deep enough to move Crawford over to third on a sacrifice. Or at least he thought it was.

Golson settled in under the fly ball close to the line and caught it flat-footed when Crawford broke for third. It wasn’t until he heard Granderson yelling from center that he realized the Rays’ leftfielder was going, and that’s when he he uncorked an absolutely beauty of the throw. It reached A-Rod at third on a single bounce and in plenty of time for him to apply the tag for the rarely seen 9-5 game ending double play. For at least one night, the win and the throw put the Yanks back on top in the AL East.

Sept. 26th: Juan Miranda takes a walk (video)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Just a dozen days after Golson’s throw ended a four game losing streak, Miranda’s batting eye did the same. The Yanks and Red Sox played to a rather suspenseful two-all tie through nine innings and headed to extras. Miranda entered the game in the top of the tenth as a defensive replacement for Mark Teixeira, who had to be pinch run for in the ninth. Hideki Okajima made things very interesting in the bottom half of the tenth, loaded the bases on two singles and an intentional walk with none out. Thames nearly ended things when he hit a screamer to third, but Beltre made a play on it and got the force at the plate for first out.

A career .237/.313/.393 hitter against southpaws in the minors, Miranda stepped to the plate with a chance to give the Yanks arguably their most important win of the season. Okajima fed him nothing but soft stuff, feeding him a curveball off the plate for a ball before getting a swing-and-miss on a changeup in the dirt. The third and fourth pitches of the at-bat were more curveballs off the outer half, and Miranda laid off both to work himself into a favorable 3-1 count. It’s a big time hitter’s count, one where the batter looks to do some serious damage, but the fill-in first baseball remained disciplined. Victor Martinez called for a changeup down in the zone to try to induce the inning ending double play, but Okajima missed inside and Miranda simply took the pitch for ball four and the walk-off walk. The losing streak was over, and more importantly the win reduced the Yanks’ magic number for a playoff spot to just one.