Archive for Mike O’Connor
Baseball America published their annual list of the offseason’s minor league free agents today, a collection of 549 total players. Here are the players the Yankees are losing to the open market…
RHP: Jason Bulger (AAA), Kelvin Castro (R), Manny Delcarmen (AAA), Grant Duff (AA), John Maine (AAA), Ronny Marte (HiA), Jon Meloan (AAA), Tim Norton (AAA), Ramon Ortiz (AAA), Kevin Whelan (AAA)
LHP: Lee Hyde (AA), Mike O’Connor (AAA), Josh Romanski (AA)
C: Jose Gil (AAA), Gustavo Molina (AAA), Craig Tatum (AAA)
3B: Kevin Russo (AAA)
SS: Doug Bernier (AAA), Walter Ibarra (AA), Ramiro Pena (AAA)
OF: Edwin Beard (SS), Cole Garner (AAA)
Pena, who has spent parts of the last four seasons in New York, headlines the crop of mostly older, veteran players. Losing the three Triple-A catchers is part of the reason why the Yankees claimed Eli Whiteside yesterday. Someone needs to sit on the bench and be the backup in Scranton. Whelan and Russo had very brief stints with the Yankees a few years ago, and Garner made some noise early in Spring Training this year. Duff and Norton have already transitioned to coaching within the organization.
The Yankees already re-signed four would-be minor league free agents to new minor league contracts a few weeks ago, most notably lefty Juan Cedeno and outfielder Abe Almonte. Andrew Brackman (Reds) is the most notable former Yankees farmhand cut lose by another team.
Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees have optioned Dellin Betances to Triple-A and reassigned both Mike O’Connor and Juan Cedeno to minor league camp. This is the third round of roster cuts (round one, round two) and effectively reduces to second lefty reliever race to just Cesar Cabral and Clay Rapada. Rapada has been the front-runner all camp, but I’m starting to think Cabral will get the nod. He’s quietly been very effective and is several years younger than Rapada, so there’s at least a chance at upside going forward.
If the Yankees insist on finding another left-handed reliever for the 2012 bullpen, I hope it’s along the lines of the player they acquired earlier today. Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees have signed LHP Mike O’Connor, presumably to a minor league deal*. He might not have the name value of Damaso Marte or Pedro Feliciano — in fact, I’m sure that most readers hadn’t even heard of him — but that’s the whole point. Identifying a few under-the-radar players could be just as effective as signing a name brand to a multiyear deal.
* Editor’s Note: Joel Sherman confirmed that it is in fact a minor league deal.
Those who do know O’Connor likely caught one of his nine appearances for the Mets in 2011. They called him up in early May, and he served them generally well. Only two runs scored on his watch, and they came in his final two appearances of the year. After allowing a run against the Pirates the Mets optioned him back to AAA, eventually designating him for assignment.
Most of O’Connor’s big league experience came in 2006, when he threw 105 innings in 20 starts and one relief appearance for the Nationals. His 4.80 ERA and 5.37 FIP left plenty to be desired. By 2009 it had become apparent that his low-strikeout ways just weren’t cutting it as a starter, even in the minor leagues. That year he spent time with three different organizations, and by the end was pitching almost exclusively in relief.
In 2010 he caught on with the Mets and made zero starts for the AAA Buffalo Bisons, and his numbers spiked. His strikeout rate jumped to almost a batter per inning while his walk rate remained low. It amounted to a 2.67 ERA and 2.95 FIP in 70.2 innings over 51 outings. The longball gave him something of a problem in 2010, but he still struck out plenty, 9.85 per nine, while walking under three per nine. He struck out eight of the 29 batters he faced in the majors.
As expected, O’Connor was death on lefties in the minors. During his 2010 campaign he still sported a 51.4 percent ground ball rate, 2.03 FIP, and 2.41 xFIP against lefties, striking out 31 in 29.3 innings. While Driveline’s MiLB splits doesn’t have 2011 figures, his MiLB.com page shows a similarly dominant story: 2.70 ERA, 2.09 GB/FB, 30 strikeouts in 23.1 innings vs. LHB. That doesn’t guarantee major league success, but it does demonstrate that he has a leg up when facing same-handed batters.
This signing won’t bowl over anyone. Chances are we’ll never see O’Connor in the Bronx. But he’s an interesting option if the Yankees don’t want to spend big on yet another lefty reliever. They’ve been burned before by that method — even righties on multiyear deals have burned them. O’Connor is an under the radar option who could perhaps step in and complement Boone Logan in the pen. If he doesn’t, there’s no harm done. I sincerely hope the Yankees try to find more bench and bullpen solutions along the lines of O’Connor this winter.