A look at the reclamation project reliever market

Bailey. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Bailey. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

In 19 days, we will know where Masahiro Tanaka will pitch next season one way or another. He’ll either sign with an MLB club or return to the Rakuten Golden Eagles for another season. The Yankees are expected to be heavily involved in the bidding for Tanaka, and, until his January 24th signing deadline passes, the right-hander figures to dominate the hot stove headlines.

The Bombers definitely need another starter — you can argue they need two more starters, really — and that is the top priority right now, but they also need bullpen help. Quite a bit of bullpen help, really. The Yankees have already signed lefty Matt Thornton to a two-year deal but he is just a lefty specialist at this point of his career. They could use another non-specialist — someone who can get both lefties and righties out — to pair with David Robertson and Shawn Kelley. Someone to knock the Dellin Betanceses and Preston Claibornes of the world down a peg.

We’ve already looked at Grant Balfour, who would be a great bullpen addition after his deal with the Orioles fell through. Great as long as the medicals check out, I mean. Other big-ish name relievers available in free agency are Francisco Rodriguez, Fernando Rodney, and former Yankee Luis Ayala. That’s … not very appealing. There are also plenty of reclamation project types though, guys coming off injury and/or poor performance who could sign relatively cheap. Maybe even on a minor league deal. Here’s a run down of the reclamation project lot.

Andrew Bailey
Bailey, 29, is a New Jersey native who was one of the very best relievers in baseball while with the Athletics from 2009-2011 (2.07 ERA and 2.74 FIP). The last two years with the Red Sox have been a struggle both performance-wise (4.91 ERA and 4.68 FIP) and physically, as thumb and shoulder surgery have sidelined him.

Bailey had surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule in late-July and the next pitcher to come back from a torn capsule to be even league average will be the first. Its list of victims includes Chien-Ming Wang, Mark Prior, Rich Harden, Johan Santana, and John Danks. Given the timing of the surgery, it’s unlikely Bailey will be able to pitch at all in 2014. At least not enough to make a real impact.

Mitchell Boggs
Two seasons ago, the 29-year-old Boggs was a key cog in the Cardinals’ bullpen as they advanced to the NLCS (2.21 ERA and 3.42 FIP). Last season was a total disaster (8.10 ERA and 7.42 FIP) as he lost the strike zone (7.71 BB/9 and 16.7 BB%) and found himself back in Triple-A, where he wasn’t much better (6.07 ERA and 5.09 FIP).

Boggs wasn’t hurt in 2013, he was just terrible. He’s always been a hard-throwing guy with sketchy command, but everything fell apart last year. The Mets, Cubs, Phillies, Indians, and Mariners are among the clubs with interest in him according to Jayson Stark. The Cardinals know pitching as well as anyone, and if they cut ties with Boggs — they traded him to the Rockies for a small amount of international spending money in July — he might not be salvageable.

Octavio Dotel
The 40-year-old Dotel was still going strong in 2012, when he had a 3.57 ERA and 2.30 FIP for the Tigers. He was limited to only 4.2 innings last year thanks to elbow inflammation that which required platelet-rich plasma treatment, according to Bob Nightengale. Dotel hoped to be healthy in time to showcase himself in winter ball, but that didn’t happen. Given his age and injury, Dotel is as risky as it gets. Add in his career-long problems with lefties — he’s basically a right-handed specialist — and there’s even more reason to be skeptical.

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

Joel Hanrahan
The Red Sox acquired Hanrahan last winter and he lasted only 7.1 innings before blowing out his elbow in mid-May and needing not only Tommy John surgery, but also surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon and remove bone chips from his elbow. Before getting hurt, he was awesome with the 2011 Pirates (1.83 ERA and 2.18 FIP) and slightly less awesome with the 2012 Pirates (2.72 ERA and 4.45 FIP).

Hanrahan, 32, is currently throwing off a mound as part of his rehab and he plans to showcase himself for teams in Spring Training, so says Tim Dierkes. Elbows are generally fixable and Hanrahan has always been a high-strikeout (career 9.29 K/9 and 24.0 K%) guy with no substantial platoon split. His experience as a closer is a plus, but, given the Yankees’ bullpen situation, not exactly a requirement at this point.

Ryan Madson
Elbows are generally fixable like I said, but Madson is the exception. The 33-year-old had Tommy John surgery in April 2012 and has not pitched since due to rehab and subsequent setbacks. He had another surgery last May to clean out scar tissue. Madson, who was unreal before getting hurt (2.78 ERA and 2.74 FIP from 2009-2011), has been holding private workouts for teams in recent weeks according to Jon Heyman. There’s really not much more he can do at this point. He’s a total unknown after missing two full years.

Eric O’Flaherty
O’Flaherty, 28, is the only left-hander in this post. He was stellar with the Braves from 2010-2012 (1.59 ERA and 2.98 FIP) because he dominated lefties (.219 wOBA against) and held his own against righties (.293 wOBA against). O’Flaherty blew out his elbow late last May and had Tommy John surgery, which figures to keep him out until midseason 2014.

The Braves have been talking with their former southpaw about a reunion all winter, and a few days ago Dave O’Brien said talks were still ongoing. With Thornton slated to be the top lefty come Opening Day, the Yankees can afford to be patient and wait for O’Flaherty — who is more than just a matchup southpaw, remember — to be ready at midseason. It’s worth noting O’Flaherty and former teammate Brian McCann are very good friends — McCann said he took #34 with the Yankees to honor O’Flaherty — which could give New York a recruiting edge.

* * *

The price for reclamation projects has gone up in recent years, just like it has for all free agents. Getting these guys on minor league contracts is the best case scenario but it might not be possible at this point. Bailey’s shoulder injury really scares me and the fact and he’s unlikely to help much in 2014 makes him an easy pass in my opinion. Hanrahan and O’Flaherty are the most appealing to me with Madson a distant third.

The Yankees can use some more certainty in the bullpen right now and none of these guys provides it. I think they need to add another reliever (or two) who they can count on to be ready for Opening Day. If they could snag someone like that plus, say, Hanrahan on a one-year deal (with an option, ideally) and treat him as a midseason pickup, great. I’d rather not see the Yankees treat a reclamation project as Plan A, however.

Mailbag: Salty, Andrus, Cruz, Anderson, Perez

Eleven, yes eleven questions this week. I combined two into one so there are only ten answers. Needless to say, I went rapid fire. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us stuff, mailbag questions or otherwise.

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

Dustin asks: With Jarrod Saltalamacchia not getting a qualifying offer, does he become a more attractive option for the Yankees over Brian McCann? Or does the fact that he only has one above-average season keep McCann in the lead?

It’s a combination of several things, really. The lack of track record and defensive shortcomings mostly. I do think there’s a strong case to be made that Salty at his price (three years, $36M?) is a better deal than McCann at his price (five years, $80M plus a pick?). Given where the Yankees are as a franchise, with some young catchers on the way and payroll coming down, a shorter term deal for a backstop makes more sense than going big on McCann. I would prefer Carlos Ruiz in that case — he is a far better defender than Saltalamacchia, plus he should come even cheaper — but I think McCann is elite relative to his position. Guys like that are hard to pass up.

Nick asks: So it seems that Texas would be willing to move Ian Kinsler or Elvis Andrus. What would it take to get either? Andrus isn’t as attractive now because of that contract, but still should be considered. And Kinsler is always hurt.

Kinsler makes sense only if Robinson Cano signs elsewhere this winter. I don’t buy him as a first baseman or corner outfielder. I was excited about Andrus a year or two ago and thought he made a ton of sense as a Derek Jeter replacement — his free agency lined up perfectly with the end of Jeter’s contract (after 2014) — but I also thought he would continue to get better, not have a career-worst season in 2013. He’s owed $124.475M through 2022 ($13.8M luxury tax hit), which is scary. Furthermore, I’m not sure the Yankees and Rangers match up well for a trade. Texas is presumably looking for a young outfielder or high-end starter, two things New York a) doesn’t have, and b) needs itself.

Aside: Wouldn’t it make sense for the Rangers to trade both Andrus and Kinsler, then sign Cano and play Jurickson Profar at shortstop? Dealing Andrus and Kinsler would surely net them that young outfielder and high-end starter.

Ryan asks: I haven’t heard any mention of the Yankees and Nelson Cruz. His name hasn’t been floated on here since the trade rumors last January. Whats the deal? I would have though he’d be a great addition to the lineup.

Grant Brisbee explained why Cruz is such a risk yesterday, so I’ll link you to that. Long story short: Cruz is basically Alfonso Soriano without the defense. His numbers against righties aren’t anything special (.249/.299/.465 since 2011) and while home/road splits usually get way overblown, it’s hard to ignore how much more productive Cruz has been at his hitter-friendly home ballpark (.279/.340/.546 since 2011) than on the road (.247/.299/.432). The Yankees already have one Soriano, no need to give up a draft pick (Cruz received a qualifying offer) to get another.

Kevin asks: Juan Oviedo and Eric O’Flaherty seem like natural fits for the Yankees next year given the payroll and need for bullpen arms.

Oviedo is the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez, the ex-Marlins closer. He’s missed the last two seasons due to elbow problems that eventually required Tommy John surgery. I would bring him in on a minor league deal no questions asked, but there’s no way I’d guarantee him anything after missing two years. He took a minor league deal (with the Rays) last year and will have to take one again. O’Flaherty missed most of 2013 after having his elbow rebuilt. He was one of the most dominant lefty relievers in baseball before the injury (held same-side hitters to a .195 wOBA from 2011-2012) and I think he’ll get a nice contract this winter despite coming off surgery. Would he take one year and $2M to rebuild value? I’m not sure the Yankees can afford to go higher than that for an injured pitcher who won’t be ready until June or so.

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

Bryan asks: How about a flyer on Brett Anderson? The A’s have rotation depth and the cost wouldn’t be super high (you’d think) right now. Or would they be better off with a guy like Josh Johnson (who only costs money) if they want to take a gamble?

Man I love Anderson, but he just can’t stay healthy. He’s thrown more than 115 innings just once (175.1 in 2009) and over the last two years he’s been limited to 79.2 innings total. Anderson has been pretty awesome whenever he’s stayed healthy for more than a month at a time, but he’s going to make $8M next season. That’s a huge chunk of change for an always hurt pitcher. I’m not sure the Yankees can afford a risk like that. Payroll is tight as it is, and that doesn’t even factor in the trade cost. If I’m going to bring in a reclamation project starter, I’d go with Johnson because he only costs money. I’d prefer neither, to be honest.

Biggie asks: If Curtis Granderson accepts his qualifying offer would there be a market to trade him? What type of return would you expect? I would love him to accept, move him for another piece and sign Carlos Beltran for two years and $28M.

I don’t think the Yankees would have any trouble finding a taker for Granderson if he accepts the $14.1M qualifying offer. Chances are they could get a better prospect in return than they’d be able to select with the compensation pick as well. A contender in need of a bat like the Cardinals (if Beltran bolts), Tigers (for vacant left field), and Reds (if they don’t think Billy Hamilton is ready) would presumably show interest in Granderson on a one-year deal, ditto non-contenders like the Phillies, Mets, White Sox, Giants, Mariners, and Rockies. They wouldn’t get an elite prospect in return, but a rock solid Grade-B prospect who is at Double-A or higher. That’s very fair value if not a bargain.

Mike asks: What about Kelly Johnson as a free agent? He can fill in around the infield except at short and play the corners in the outfield.

If Cano does leave as a free agent and the Yankees decide to pass over David Adams and Corban Joseph as internal replacements, Johnson is the guy I’d want them to bring him to play second base. He shouldn’t required a multi-year contract like Omar Infante nor would he require the general headache of trading for Brandon Phillips. Johnson is a Yankee Stadium friendly left-handed hitter who hits for power (16+ homers in four straight years), plus he’ll steal a decent amount of bases and play solid defense. As an added bonus, he can also play left field in a pinch. The trade-off is a low average and strikeouts, which aren’t the end of the world for a number eight or nine hole hitter. Even if the Yankees re-sign Cano, Johnson makes sense as a lefty bat off the bench. Definite fit.

(Jeff Gross/Getty)
(Jeff Gross/Getty)

Tucker asks: While the idea of the Yankees signing Brian Wilson has been floated out there, and it definitely has a lot of appeal, I just can’t imagine him being willing to go to the barber, even if it means forfeiting a couple million. Do you agree with this?

Wilson already turned down a million bucks to shave his beard, but maybe $6-7M will change his mind? Ultimately, I think Wilson will wind up signing with a non-Yankees team because they’ll offer more money and guarantee him the closer’s job, not because he wouldn’t have to shave his beard. That would suck, he’s a perfect fit in my opinion (as long as you look beyond the beard and seemingly intentionally insufferable personality).

Thomas asks: Is there any chance that the Yankees try and get another full-time DH this season? If so, if he doesn’t retire, is it possible we would get another taste of Raul Ibanez? I’m sure Yankees fans would like to see him again.

Zac asks: Jason Kubel is one year removed from a 30-HR season and should come cheap following a poor year in which he battled injury. Is he s fit for the Yankees?

Going to lump these two together since Ibanez and Kubel are nearly the same exact player. If the Yankees don’t sign Beltran — he’s pretty much the only big name outfielder I can see them realistically signing — either guy would make sense as a part-time right fielder and part-time DH. They could also serve as that lefty bat off the bench I always seem to be talking about. New York could find a spot for their power even if they sign Beltran, though I think Ibanez is the safer bet at this point. Supposedly he’s only considering retirement or a return to the Mariners (he lives in Seattle during the offseason). As long as they keep him or Kubel away from lefties and have a defensive replacement handy, they’d make some sense for the current roster. I still don’t like the idea of adding a full-time DH. They need to keep that spot open for various old guys.

Anthony asks: Hey Mike, Chris Perez was just released by the Indians. Being that the Yankees will look to add a piece or two to the bullpen this offseason, do you think the team should give him a look? While I don’t see him serving as the closer, perhaps he can provide some value in the 7th or 8th?

I wrote about Perez in a mailbag back in May and said I wanted to see how he performed the rest of the season before thinking about him as an option for 2014. Well, from that date forward, he pitched to a 5.21 ERA (4.65 FIP) in 38 innings while opposing batters hit .283/.351/.520 against him. He and his wife were also arrested for drug possession. So … yeah, things didn’t go so well. The Indians got so sick of him that they didn’t even wait until the non-tender deadline to release him. Perez has really nasty stuff, but he clearly has some things to work on. I’m not sure if the Yankees have enough bullpen depth (or payroll space) to take on a second project reliever in addition to Dellin Betances.

Mailbag: Sheets, Burnett, O’Flaherty, Floyd

Got five (really six) questions this week, the last mailbag before the madness of the winter meetings. Send in your questions via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Biggie asks: What is Ben Sheets’ status? I thought he was going to miss just one year. Could he be a buy low option for the Yanks? I haven’t heard about him since March of last year. Thanks!

Yeah, I haven’t heard anything about him recently either, and I spent entirely too much time digging through Google News archives to find an update. His August 2009 elbow surgery was more extensive than I realized, I thought it was regular old Tommy John surgery. Apparently he had the ligament replaced and also had his flexor tendon and pronator tendon repaired. It was his second time having the flexor tendon fixed. “I have no idea,” he replied when asked if he’d ever pitch again shortly after the surgery. “My arm will tell me.”

Sheets is 33 years old now and he hasn’t been an effective pitcher since 2008 (4.71 FIP with the Athletics in 2010), so it’s tough to expect anything from him at this point. Then again, we all saw what Bartolo Colon did last year. CC Sabathia and Sheets did play together for half-a-season in 2008, so there is a tiny bit of a connection there. Like I always say, I’d give pretty much anyone a minor league pact, but there’s no way you could offer him anything more than that.

Mark asks: Given the strengthening trend of teams locking up their young stars and the potential backlash to overpaying for non-premium players in their early-30s, do you think MLB will see a dramatic correction in free agent prices – similar to 2003-2005?

I think we’re starting to see it already with Jonathan Papelbon’s contract (four years and $50M) and all these sucky middle infielders getting two guaranteed years. Given the new restrictions on draft and international free agent spending, teams figure to start locking up their best young players even more than they are now because it will be tougher to replace them down the road. Simple supply and demand, there will be fewer quality free agents out there but still approximately the same number of holes to fill. I’m sure the agents are thrilled.

Craig asks: I don’t think the Yankees should take this drastic an approach to get rid of A.J. Burnett, but is there any precedent of teams packaging a bad contract and a prospect in order to entice another team to take on the dead weight?

The only thing close to thins that I can think of is the Hanley Ramirez-Josh Beckett swap. The Marlins insisted that Mike Lowell and the $18M left on his contract be included in any trade involving Beckett, but even then they still got a really good haul because Beckett was 25 years old and coming off a three pretty good years.

The Yankees aren’t exactly in the position to give away a starter at the moment, even one as miserable as Burnett has been for the last two years. He’s still good for innings every five days, and he buys the kids in Triple-A a little more time. I don’t see why they should eat a big chunk of his contract and trade a prospect just to get rid of him, it’s just a bad allocation of resources.

(Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Dustin asks: What are the chances the Yankees could get Eric O’Flaherty from the Braves for Eduardo Nunez? Also what do you think of potentially going after Gavin Floyd? Most seem interested in Garza and Danks, but Floyd is pretty good and would probably be significantly cheaper when compared to the other Chicago pitchers.

I don’t love Eduardo Nunez, but I’d want more for him than a lefty reliever, even a good one like O’Flaherty. The middle infield market tells us that he’s worth more than that, whether we want to believe it or not. O’Flaherty’s really really good, but the Yankees need bench help more than they need bullpen help.

As for Floyd, he’d be another fine pickup for the rotation. I don’t think he’ll be as good as Garza going forward, but he and Danks are pretty much on the same level in my eyes. Danks’ left-handedness is nice, but Floyd is under contractual control for two more seasons (assuming his 2013 option is exercised), not just one. I think the White Sox prefer to hang onto him for that reason, but I also don’t think he’s off limits. I do think it would also make him a little more expensive to acquire in a trade, but I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again.

Dan asks: If the 2012 season was starting tomorrow with no significant additions to the roster … player egos be damned, what would be your everyday batting order?

Against left-handed pitchers, I’d go…

  1. Derek Jeter, SS
  2. Curtis Granderson, CF
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Mark Teixeira, 1B
  5. Nick Swisher, RF
  6. Andruw Jones, LF – pretty please re-sign
  7. Jesus Montero, DH
  8. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
  9. Russell Martin, C

The guys in the 2-3-4 sports are pretty interchangeable to me, I wouldn’t argue those three occupying those three spots in any order. A-Rod‘s struggles against southpaws is now a two-year thing rather than a possible one-year fluke, and there are simply too many other guys in the lineup that mash lefties. No disrespect, but that’s where he belongs. If Jones doesn’t come back, then just bump everyone up a notch and bat Gardner ninth. Against right-handers, it would be…

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Curtis Granderson, CF
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
  5. Mark Teixeira, 1B
  6. Nick Swisher, RF
  7. Jesus Montero, DH
  8. Derek Jeter, SS
  9. Russell Martin, C

Just like A-Rod can’t hit lefties, Jeter can’t hit righties. He did manage to post a .307/.362/.376 batting line against them after coming off the DL this past season, but I’m going to need to see a lot more (it’s only 223 at-bats) to forget about the year-and-a-half before that. It’s tempting to put Montero a spot or two higher, but he just doesn’t have to track record to justify it at the moment.