Colon & Garcia’s Opt-Out Dates

We’ve known for a while that both Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon have the ability to become free agents if they don’t make the Yankees out of Spring Training, but now we have some actual dates thanks to Ken Rosenthal. Garcia can opt out of his minor league deal on March 29th (next Tuesday) while Colon can do so on Opening Day, March 31st (next Thursday). If the Yankees plan on releasing Sergio Mitre, they’ll have to do it before March 28th (next Monday) to avoid paying him his full season salary ($900,000). In that case they’d only owe him 45 days termination pay.

I suspect the opt-outs won’t be that big of a deal, the Yankees are going to need to make a decision about the fourth and fifth starters very soon, by the end of the weekend at the latest simply because there are only so many games left in Spring Training. They need to start lining guys up and stretching everyone out to maximum capacity.

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Handicapping the back-of-the-rotation battle

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The regular season is now just ten sleeps away, but the Yankees have yet to announce who will serve as the their fourth and fifth starters at least at the outset of the season. I think we all expect the team to go out and get someone via trade at some point during the season, but for now, these guys will have to do. Given what we’ve seen in Spring Training, not necessarily in statistical performance but how they’ve looked on the mound, let’s slap some odds on each guy’s likelihood of breaking camp with the big boys cracking the rotation …

Ivan Nova (Odds: 3-2)
Nova’s case for a rotation spot started last September, when he was serviceable (4.50 ERA, 4.36 FIP) in seven starts and did no worse than earn himself a long look in camp. He’s toying with a new slider and stands out from the pack for no other reason than because he’s not some retread. Nova’s a homegrown guy and those are easy to like, but his limited exposure in the show will work against him. That and the fact that he has two minor league options remaining, since the team could safely stash him in Triple-A and then summon him at a moment’s notice. My guess is that he starts the season in the rotation, but who am I to say?

Freddy Garcia (Odds: 5-1)
The favorite for a job coming into a camp, Garcia is having one of his trademark awful springs at a time when he really can’t afford to. Ben chronicled the problem with Garcia last night, though he has one thing on just about all the other rotation candidates: a recent history of staying on the mound. He threw 157 innings with the White Sox last year, and although they weren’t high quality innings, they were innings nonetheless. Reliability counts, even in tiny little amounts.

Bartolo Colon (Odds: 10-1)
Perhaps the surprise of Spring Training so far as been Colon, who’s come out of the gate throwing 94 four-seamers and sinking his two-seamer against both lefties and righties. He’s also featured some kind of offspeed pitch, probably a splitter but more of a junkball, that has kept hitters off balance. Remember, Colon was pitching in winter ball just a few weeks before camp opened, so he’s (theoretically) ahead of the other guys and his stuff could just be a mirage. Once he steps on the mound in meaningful games against hitters with something more than tee-times on their minds, chances are this story will take a turn for the worst. Regardless, he hasn’t hurt his chances this month.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Sergio Mitre (Odds: 100-1)
Beset by an oblique issue, albeit slightly, Mitre hasn’t really gotten into this competition all that much. He’s started just one game in camp with three other long-relief appearances, and part of that is a function of there being only so many starts to go around, but you’d have to think he’d be getting a longer look if he was a legit candidate (Nova, Colon, and Garcia have each thrown at least five more innings in actual games this spring). The Yankees know Sergio and what he’s capable of, so perhaps he isn’t as high priority as the other guys. Either way, he always seemed destined for that same long-reliever role he’s filled over the last year-and-a-half.

* * *

We’ve been playing the fourth and fifth starter guessing game pretty much all winter, so these not completely arbitrary odds are nothing more than a snapshot in time, a record of where the competition stands as of March 21st. Both Colon and Garcia have the ability to become free agents if they don’t make the team out of camp, and it would be surprising to see the Yankees squander assets like that so early in the season.

Given the propensity for injury (especially with two guys like that), it’s better to have more pitchers around anyway, even if they stick them in the bullpen for the time being. Plus the team will also get the first few weeks of the season to evaluate them a little bit further, against real big league hitters. Every little bit helps, even if these guys will (hopefully) be gone by July.

2011 Season Preview: Miscellaneous Relievers

Heading into spring training it appeared that the Yankees had the bullpen all figured out. Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Pedro Feliciano, and one of the long man candidates potentially composed one of the best Opening Day bullpens the Yanks have had in years. But, as happens so often, some of them got hurt. While they all might be fine by Opening Day, they won’t remain that way all year. The Yankees will likely go through about a dozen relievers at various points. In today’s preview we’ll take a look at some of the ones near the top of the list.

Ryan Pope

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

A move to the bullpen last year did Pope good. Before that he was a middling starter who appeared to have little hope of cracking the big league rotation. A move to the rotation might have revived his career with the Yankees. It impressed them enough that they added him to the 40-man roster. That status alone could put him atop the list for a bullpen call-up. He’s probably not a future setup man or anything along those lines, but with some progress this year he could turn into a serviceable middle reliever.

Romulo Sanchez

The recent spate of bullpen injuries could benefit Sanchez, who previously appeared the odd man out. He’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the big league team they’ll have to place him on waivers. Since basically every team could use bullpen help, especially expected second division teams, it’s easy to envision someone taking a chance on him. The Yanks might avoid that situation if one of their relievers starts the season on the DL — and the team decides that Sanchez is a better overall option than Sergio Mitre.

I just wrote about Sanchez earlier this week, so for a more complete take check out that.

Sergio Mitre

The Yankees keep bringing back Mitre. Two years running they’ve non-tendered him, only to bring him back on a non-guaranteed contract. So apparently he likes it in New York, too. Unfortunately, he hasn’t proven much during his tenure with the team. In 2009 he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery, and last year he missed time with an oblique injury and otherwise wasn’t much used.

Since he has apparently gained the Yankees’ favor, I thought that he’d break camp as the long man. But as spring progresses we’ve seen indications that suggest otherwise. As we noted earlier this week, some scouts are convinced the Yanks will let Mitre go at the end of spring training. They do have a number of options for that last spot, and Mitre seems behind everyone in the competition. If he does make the team expect much of the same from 2010. That is, sparse usage in mop-up duty.

Mark Prior

The Yankees and Prior are on the same page, in that they both expect him to open the season at AAA to help him build up strength with an eye on a possible big league return. The most important aspect of Prior is that he’s none of the guys he has been in the past. That is, he’s not the phenom ace who led the Cubs to the 2003 ALCS. Nor is he the injury prone schlub who hasn’t pitched a big league game since 2006. He appears to be in decent health now, and his repertoire has necessarily changed.

If Prior stays healthy there’s a good chance he makes it back to the bigs in a relief role this year. It’s hard to say what he’ll do, because we don’t know what kind of pitcher he’ll become as he redevelops his game.

Steve Garrison

(David Goldman/AP)

Last September the Yankees claimed Garrison off waivers from the Padres, though it was too late for him to get into a minor league game. He’s not much of a prospect, but he is left-handed and on the 40-man, and therefore will get plenty of shots to crack the big league club, especially in relief. Mike wrote a profile of Garrison earlier this spring. An interesting note: if he starts the season at AA, he’ll be playing in front of his hometown crowd. He was born in Trenton, NJ.

Andrew Brackman

In the early days of camp Brackman seemingly impressed just as much as his fellow Bs. His groin injury cost him about a week, which is a big deal early in the spring. He pitched only 2.2 live innings before heading down to minor league camp, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything about his closeness to the bigs. At some point he could take some turns in the rotation, but later it’s also possible that he breaks into the majors as a reliever.

His current arsenal certainly profiles well out of the bullpen. He features a 93-95 mph fastball that he keeps low in the zone, and an above average curveball. Baseball America notes that he also added a “nascent slider that shows potential,” but he’ll probably need to develop his changeup, something he’s struggled with, if he’s going to find success in the rotation. Without that he might be ticketed for the bullpen in the long-term. He might be ticketed there in the short-term, too, though that might not come until later in the season.

It’s tantalizing to imagine him in the bullpen come August. That 93-95 mph fastball could reach the upper 90s, and his curve could prove a devastating knock-out pitch. While ideally he progresses throughout the season and enters the rotation at some point, Brackman the reliever could provide plenty of value on his own.

Bullpen Injury Updates: Mitre, Joba, Feliciano, Logan

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

We’re inching closer and closer to Opening Day, so minor injuries are starting to become a little bit more of a concern. Here’s the latest on what’s going on with the walking wounded out in the bullpen, courtesy of Marc Carig and Chad Jennings

  • Sergio Mitre is scheduled or three or four innings this afternoon, so it’s safe to say his oblique issue is a thing of the past.
  • Joba Chamberlain‘s strained oblique was well enough that he threw long-toss yesterday, and tomorrow he’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session. Assuming that goes well, he should get back into a game sometime next week.
  • Pedro Feliciano is dealing with a dead arm, but Joe Girardi downplayed the extent of the fatigue and just called it “extra rest.” The only reason this is a concern is because Feliciano is 34 years old and has made like 900 appearances in each of the last four years, but dead arms are pretty common this time of year.
  • Boone Logan went through a dead arm phase of his own recently, but now he’s dealing with back spasms. He did pitch in last night’s game, so the back stuff is pretty fresh. “As long as they’re just back spasms, it’s usually four or five days,”  said Girardi. “They’re no fun, I know that.”

Wouldn’t that be something; more than $9M tied up between three lefty relievers, and they all start the season on the disabled list? Yikes. Hopefully that won’t come to fruition.

Why would the Yankees release Mitre now?

(Gene J. Puskar/AP)

On his blog today, Joel Sherman discusses the pitching battles in camp. While the bulk of the post focuses on Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, there is mention towards the bottom of Sergio Mitre. For the past two years the Yankees have staged a fifth starter battle in camp, and while Mitre has competed in both he seemed more a novelty than a serious candidate. But even though he probably won’t pitch out of the rotation, he appears ticketed for the long man role in the bullpen. At least, that’s the way it appears from the outside.

Leading off the final section of his post, Sherman writes, “There are scouts saying that they are convinced the Yankees are going to release Sergio Mitre.” The evidence: Mitre just happened to suffer a vague injury just before a spotlight start against the Red Sox, and was seeming fine just a day later to the point where he could pitch again on Thursday. I’m not sure what one has to do with the other. Maybe the Yankees really wanted to start Banuelos against the Sox, but I don’t see why that says anything about Mitre’s status.

While the Yankees lack bona fides for the fourth and fifth rotation spot, they do possess depth. If they break camp with Colon and Garcia in those spots, they have Ivan Nova a phone call away at Scranton. Andrew Brackman could be right behind him. Even though they were sent to minor league camp, Hector Noesi and David Phelps could be options with a little more AAA seasoning. And, as we’ve heard from numerous scouts and scouting types this winter, the Yankees could, if they were so inclined, call on Manny Banuelos. Even Mitre himself could make starts if the Yankees aren’t comfortable with any of their minor leaguers.

Given this rich depth, chances are Mitre won’t make it through the entire season on the 25-man roster. The team will pursue starting pitching as the season progresses, and they’ll look at relief options from the farm system. It’s likely that at some point in the season they’re comfortable with 12 pitchers who are better than Mitre. But things rarely work out as planned. Mitre is no one’s idea of a mid-rotation starter, or even a viable setup man. His value is that he’s a slightly above-replacement pitcher who can fill the long-man spot in the bullpen and make a spot start if necessary. I’m not sure why the Yankees would throw that away.

If the Yankees did take Colon, Garcia, and Nova to the Bronx, they’d be down one arm on the carousel. If Colon then gets bombed, or, more likely, gets hurt, they’d move Nova into the rotation and summon a bullpen arm from AAA. But whom? Wouldn’t it be better to have Nova in that spot? Mitre would remain in the bullpen while the Yankees made that quick swap. Then, if Garcia, or even Nova, falters, they could move onto Brackman. But without Mitre they’d have to add a long man and a starter. I don’t see how that helps the team.

Maybe the Yankees really do want Nova to start the season in the major league bullpen. The sentiment is certainly understandable. But I don’t see the sense if it means releasing a guy who can provide depth. Having Mitre around, especially in a low-level bullpen role, helps the Yankees hedge against injuries or ineffectiveness from Garcia and Colon. To remove him is to bump each pitcher up a rung, which means a quicker path to a, gulp, Sidney Ponson-type retread. That’s just not something the Yanks need right now. Depth is the name of their game, and Mitre provides just that for now.

Mitre scratched with left oblique soreness

Updated (11:40 a.m.): Per Mark Feinsand, Sergio Mitre has been scratched from his start tonight and could be on the shelf for a while with what the Daily News scribe is calling “some type of ribcage/oblique type injury.” Mitre later said he woke up with soreness in his left oblique but expects to be pitch again by Thursday. Mitre missed considerable time last season with a left oblique strain, but his latest injury is reportedly in a different spot.

In the short term, the Yankees will instead send Manny Banuelos to the mound tonight to face the Boston Red Sox in their game airing on ESPN at 7:05 p.m. In the long term, though, an extended Mitre injury could all but end the rotation competition at least for April. If Mitre is out for a few weeks, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova will share the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation while the odd man out will inherit the long relief role. If Mitre makes it back to the bump later this week, the race for the rotation continues.

To calm the masses ahead of time, Banuelos’ start is not an indication that the Yanks are considering taking the 20-year-old north. He was scheduled to pitch in relief today anyway, and the club wants their Number One pitching prospect to accrue more than just 15 innings of AA ball before he’s old enough to drink. He’ll arrive in the Bronx soon but not that soon.

An early glimpse at a rotation race

Once upon a time, Yogi Berra once said of left field in Yankee Stadium that “it gets late early out there.” He was talking about the sun conditions in the outfield, but it stuck. Thirteen games into the Grapefruit League, though, it’s still early. Yet, with Opening Day looming at the end of the month, the Yanks have some rotation decisions to make.

As we well know, the Yanks are trying the kitchen sink approach to the rotation. Left high and dry when Andy Pettitte called it a career and Cliff Lee left for the museums and subways of Philadelphia, the Bombers reeled int Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon to go with Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova. The idea, as many have noted, is to somehow produce enough starts from the four of them to make the offense and bullpen do its thing. If a top-flight starter hits the market in late June or early July, so much the better.

As the early days of Spring Training melt away, it’s easy to ignore results. When Justin Maxwell and Melky Mesa are playing out half of the Yanks’ games, the final scores matter little, and the process is what informs the club. Still, as the innings start to mount, we can check in on the four starters fighting for two spots.

Leading the innings charge so far is Grapefruit Opening Day starter Bartolo Colon. The Yankees seem willing to give him as many chances as possible to fail, and while he’s pitched “the worst” of the bunch, his stuff and approach have been sound. In nine innings, he’s allowed three runs on eight hits and a walk. He is, in fact, the only one of the bunch to give up a walk, but he has responded with 12 strike outs. More importantly, he hasn’t been afraid to attack the zone. The fastball velocity isn’t where it once was, but for now, he’s been confident going after hitters.

Right behind him has been Freddy Garcia. The presumptive fourth starter has made two outings and has thrown 5 innings with a bunch of zeroes. He struck out three and gave up two hits with nothing else. There’s not much left to say about Garcia. He made 28 reasonably fine starts last year and has come out competing this spring. As “intangibles” as that sounds, he ought to make the rotation.

The other two guys — Nova and Mitre — have looked good as well. Both have thrown five innings spanning two games while giving up nary a run. Nova has K’d two while Mitre has four strike outs. As much as you can judge a bunch of pitchers through five innings, everyone has impressed.

Now, the Yankees don’t expect these guys to continue this top-flight pitching. After all, the Yanks are looking for a fourth and fifth starter and not a pair of aces. But based on what we’ve seen so far, I have no reason to believe the team’s plans have changed.

Although Colon has seemingly expressed a willingness to pitch in long relief, he and Garcia are the presumptive starters. They both have veteran experience and both can elect free agency if not chosen for the Yanks’ roster out of Spring Training. Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi can’t burn their pitching depth before April, and the folks after Nova and Mitre on the depth charts aren’t quite ready for regular Major League action. Early on, the script is playing out as written.