Kiss ‘Em Goodbye: Laffey, Proctor, Valdes

The Yankees announced today that Scott Proctor, Raul Valdes, and Aaron Laffey have all been outrighted off the 40-man roster. Proctor and Valdes elected free agency rather than accept the assignment to the minors while Laffey was claimed off waivers by the Royals. The trio combined for 5.40 ERA in 28.1 IP late in the year, but that’s almost entirely due to Proctor.

The moves clear three 40-man spots, but as Joe explained earlier, there’s seven players due to come off the 60-day DL after the season.

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Welcoming back Scott Proctor

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Did anyone honestly think that Scott Proctor had any chance to pitch for the Yankees this year? Before the season no one would have given it a thought. Even after the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal last month I’m not sure anyone expected him to actually make the major league roster. And yet this morning we got the news that he would, indeed, don the pinstripes and make his return to the Yankees. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Proctor, and even longer since he’s been consistently effective. So what makes this time around any different?

For many of us the return of Proctor isn’t about pitching, per se. It’s about an emotional attachment to a guy who pitched so well that he fell victim to the Joe Torre bullpen death trap. (After all, the Death by Bullpen category was created because of Torre.) That tends to happen when a guy makes his debut as a Yankee and has quality stuff. It took Proctor a while to harness his fastball, but by 2006 he had turned into a reliable reliever at a time when the Yankees searched desperately for one. He was a savior of sorts, providing pain-free innings when the rest of the bullpen, especially Kyle Farnsworth, made games a bit more difficult.

It was hard to ask more of the guy than he provided in 2006. He led the league in appearances that year with 83, tossing 102.1 innings. All of them were in relief. No reliever has tossed 100 innings since. They key to his success was his walk rate, just 2.9 per nine, which was down a half point from the previous season. He also kept his hit rate down, thanks to a .258 BABIP. In even the previous season that didn’t seem possible, thanks to his straight as an arrow fastball. But it appeared that in 2006 he added a little movement, and that helped him succeed.

Of course, that many innings and that many appearances takes a toll on the arm. Proctor didn’t show the signs in 2006, though one teammate, Ron Villone, did. Even in 2007 Proctor produced quality results, a 3.81 ERA in 54.1 innings as a Yankee. But he clearly wasn’t the same pitcher as he was in 2006. While he managed to keep his hit rate at a normal level, he started to walk tons of batters — 4.8 per nine to be specific, or nearly two per nine more than the previous season. By July’s end the Yankees had apparently seen enough. They traded him to LA for Wilson Betemit, thereby acquiring the quality reserve infielder they had long sought.

In 2008 Proctor missed more than two months with elbow troubles, and in 2009 he underwent Tommy John surgery. He barely pitched in the majors in 2010, spending most of it with the Braves’ AAA affiliate. This year he re-signed with the Braves and earned a call-up after impressing in AAA. Yet his stint in the majors went terribly. He walked more than he struck out, and he allowed five homers in just 29.1 innings. His release from the Braves came with no surprise. The only surprise, really, was that the Yanks considered him at all.

Maybe the Yankees felt they owed him something. After all, towards the end of Torre’s tenure Brian Cashman spoke out about how his manager handled relievers. He reiterated those criticisms earlier this year. There’s also the issue of Proctor’s alcoholism, which apparently was part of the reason the Yankees traded him in 2007. In the linked article, a characteristically excellent one from Tyler Kepner, Proctor mentions that he wanted to show Cashman how he changed. Now he’ll get his chance.

While the emotional angle plays up well, it can’t be the only reason the Yankees are giving Proctor another chance. This is a business, after all, and recalling Proctor means they’ll have to sacrifice someone on their 40-man roster. That bears real costs, so they have to think that he can actually help the club. While he did experience poor results this year he did have some oomph on his fastball, averaging 93.7 mph. He hasn’t hit those speeds since 2008. He was also seemingly burned by his breaking stuff. Perhaps, then, the Yankees see something they think they can correct. They’d better, if they want this decision to work out.

Chances are that Proctor is a non-factor down the stretch and that he’s off the roster either before season’s end, or early in the off-season. But his mere presence on the roster evokes feelings of the days when he was a real force in the Yankees’ bullpen. He was, for a stretch in 2006, the only reliable piece of the bridge to Mariano. He won’t be in that role this year. He won’t sniff high-leverage situations. But there’s something reassuringly nostalgic about having him back on the roster. May he pitch well and prosper again in pinstripes.

Yankees calling up Montero, three others today

Today’s the day, the day that teams can expand their rosters and the day Jesus Montero finally joins the big league team. Mark Feinsand reported late last night that three others will be getting the call: Brandon Laird, Chris Dickerson, and … wait for it … Scott Proctor! I’m dead serious. The Yankees must have promised him a call-up when they signed last month, and remember, he spoke about wanting to rejoin the team two summers ago, when we learned about his alcoholism.

Proctor made a handful of appearances with Triple-A Scranton, but he was below replacement level in 29.1 IP with the Braves earlier this year (6.44 ERA, 6.04 FIP, 5.80 xFIP). Despite all his arm problems, Proctor still has a pretty decent fastball. I’m pretty surprised they’re only calling up one pitcher though, I figured a Lance Pendleton or Aaron Laffey or Raul Valdes would also join the team just to soak up any garbage innings. They’ll certainly add a few more players once the minor league season ends on Monday, like Pendleton, Hector Noesi, Greg Golson, and Ramiro Pena. Probably a few others as well.

Laird and Dickerson will just fill out the bench, allowing the Yankees to rest the regulars in blowouts and what not. Dickerson figures to serve as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner. The Yankees will need to free up two 40-man roster spots to accommodate Montero and Proctor, and I’m guessing Justin Maxwell will be one of the moves. He’s done for the season with a shoulder injury and will be out-of-options next year, they can just outright him no problem. Steve Garrison and Kevin Whelan could also be roster spot casualties.

Scott Proctor: Recovering Alcoholic

T-Kep writes about reliever Scott Proctor, who has admitted to alcohol abuse while with the Yankees and said it affected his performance at times. Mariano Rivera urged the righty to straighten his life out, but it wasn’t until recently that Proctor actually did. Although the team hasn’t admitted as much, it sounds like his off-the-field activities factored in to the decision to trade him back in 2007. The most important thing is that Proctor, married with three young children, has finally gotten his life back together. Currently out with Tommy John surgery, Proctor said he’d love to rejoin the Yanks when he’s heathy. (h/t Pinto)

Torre, Bronx-bound in 2010, blames Proctor for injury

Known for his high workloads with the Yanks (102.1 IP in ’06, yikes), Scott Proctor had Tommy John surgery last week after battling elbow issues for parts of the last two seasons. Now, his longtime manager Joe Torre says that Proctor’s stupidity is to blame. “There’s playing hurt, and then there’s playing stupid,” Torre said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with someone’s intelligence. If you can endure pain and still are able to do what you do, that’s one thing. If you’re willing to play, which means you certainly are brave, but you can’t be the player that you need to be, then it’s not very smart to do for your own health, and you’re not helping the team either.”

Now, I understand that Joe is trying to say that Proctor should have spoken up about when he needed a break, but it’s not like the guy forced his way into 166 games in a two year span. Joe is usually an excellent communicator, but some things are better left unsaid.

In other Joe Torre news, The Post reports that the 2010 preliminary schedule features a trip to the Bronx by Torre and the Dodgers. It would be the Dodgers’ first visit to the Bronx since the 1981 World Series and Torre’s first since his uncomfortable departure in 2007. Derek Jeter told the Murdoch-owned tabloid that it would be “awkward” to play against Torre.

Friday evening notes: Bernie and Scott Proctor

A few notes to keep us busy as Friday evening turns into Saturday morning (and my studying for my contracts final gets more and more boring):

  • A few hours ago, we talked about Bernie and the WBC. Now, it sounds as though Bernie is going to make a serious run for the team. For the first time since 2006, Bernie is going to don his baseball uniform and play for the Carolina Giants of the Puerto Rico Winter League. I really hope this is simply a tune-up for the WBC and not the beginning of a Major League comeback attempt for the 40-year-old Bernie.
  • The injured Scott Proctor was non-tendered by the Dodgers. Somewhere, Joe Torre is crying into his green tea. What ever will he do without his favorite toy next season?