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.

email

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.

Who has minor league options left (and how many)?

Minor league options are one of baseball’s weird little quirks. Every player gets three, and they’re used whenever a guy on the 40-man roster is sent to the minors. Once you burn all three, the player has to pass through waivers to go back to the minors. Oh, and sometimes a player can qualify for a fourth option depending on some special circumstances. Yeah, it’s weird like that.

A player can only use one option a year, regardless of how many times they go up and down. That’s why you’ll see them referred to as “option years.” If a player is in the minors for more than 20 total days in a single year, it counts as an option. Anything less and it does not. To learn more about this stuff, I recommend Keith Law’s classic Death, Taxes and Major League Waivers post at Baseball Analysts. I’ll let him bore you with the details.

Obviously, options are important because they can dictate who can and who can’t be sent back to the minors. That information isn’t publicly available, at least as far as I know, so I figured I’d compile it myself. We don’t need to look at everyone on the 40-man roster simply because a bunch of guys aren’t ever going back to the minors, like CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez. A few others are on the bubble, so let’s recap them and a could of notable young regulars…

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Andrew Brackman
Although 2011 will be his fourth full season since signing his Major League contract out of the draft, Brackman still has two minor league options remaining. He signed right on the August 15th deadline in 2007 but did not spent the required 20 days in the minors because the (minor league) season ended. The Yankees then carried Brackman on the 60-day disabled list all year in 2008 (Tommy John surgery), so he collected a year of service time instead of using a minor league option. His first option was used in 2009 and his second in 2010. Brackman will qualify for a fourth option because he will have used his three original options within his first five pro seasons. That’s one of those weird rules/ So yeah, the Yankees can send him down to the minors in each of the next two seasons without consequence.

Joba Chamberlain
Joba has all three options left. He was added to the 40-man for the first time in August 2007, when he was called up to the big leagues, and he hasn’t gone back to the minors since.

Colin Curtis
The Yankees added Curtis to the 40-man for the first time this past July, when he was summoned to the big leagues because the team was dealing with injuries and needed an extra position player during the NL park stretch of their interleague scheduled. Lil’ CC hung around a while but was eventually sent back down. He remained in Triple-A for more than a month later in the year, using his first option. He has two left.

Robert Fish
Added to the 40-man roster for the first time this offseason as a Rule 5 Draft pick, Fish has all three options left. Doesn’t matter though, he’ll be offered back to the Angels before the end of Spring Training.

Brett Gardner
After starting the 2008 season in Triple-A, the Yankees called Gardner up and added him to the 40-man roster for the first time that June 30th. He was with the team for about a month, ultimately sent down on July 26th because they had to make room on the active roster for the just acquired Xavier Nady. Gardner stayed in the minors until August 15th, so he was there for exactly 20 days. That’s not an accident, it prevented an option from being used. Gardner hasn’t been back to the minors since (not counting a very brief rehab stint in 2009), so he has all three options remaining.

Steve Garrison
Claimed off waivers from the Padres last year, Garrison was added to the 40-man (by San Diego) for the first time last (2009-2010) offseason. He used an option in his injury-riddled 2010 season, so he’s got two left.

"You might be using that last option this year, Greg." (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Greg Golson
Golson’s been around the block, having first been added to the 40-man roster by the Phillies after 2008. He spent basically all of 2009 and 2010 in the minors (save for the occasional cup-of-coffee, nothing major), using up his first two options. Golson has one left, which will inevitably be used this season.

Phil Hughes
Called up as a 20-year-old in what really was an act of desperation by the Yankees, Hughes was added to the 40-man for the first time in April 2007 and then went back to the minors after blowing out his hamstring. He spent a little more than three weeks in the minors that July but it was a rehab assignment, so it didn’t count as an optional assignment. The Yankees called him back up in August, so they didn’t burn an option that season.

Hughes began the next year with the big league team, but eventually hit the disabled list and then did the rehab thing again. The Yankees kept him in the minors for close to 40 days, however the first 30 were the rehab assignment. He did not eclipse the 20-day limit and did not use a minor league option in 2009. Hughes did use his first option in 2009, when he began the year in Triple-A and was called up in late April. He hasn’t been back to the minors since and has two options remaining.

Boone Logan
Logan’s out-of-options. He was first added to the 40-man by the White Sox in 2006, when they took him north out of camp because he had a great Spring Training despite having a total of 5.1 innings at the Single-A level to his credit. Yep. Boone spent considerable time in the minors in 2006, 2009, and 2010, burning all three options.

Justin Maxwell
Joel Sherman confirmed that Maxwell has one option remaining when he was acquired last month.

Sergio Mitre
The Experience has been out-of-options for a year now.

No need to look over your shoulder David, you aren't going back to the minors anytime soon. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

David Robertson
Called up and added to the 40-man roster for the first time on the same day as Gardner, Robertson went back to the minors on August 28th (in favor of Al Aceves) and then resurfaced 16 days later, preserving an option. He bounced up and down in April and May of 2009, burning an option. Robertson hasn’t been back to the minors since late May of 2009, so he still has two options at his disposal.

Romulo Sanchez
Chad Jennings confirmed with the Yankees this past December that Romulo is out-of-options.

Daniel Turpen
Same exact deal is Fish, so just re-read his comment and change “Fish” to “Turpen” and “Angels” to “Red Sox.”

Frankie Cervelli
Believe it or not, the Yankees added Cervelli to the 40-man roster for the first time after the 2007 season. That’s when he was first eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, before he ever got out of A-ball. Anyway, he spent most of 2008 in the minors, burning one options then spent the first five weeks of 2009 in the minors, burning another option. Frankie hasn’t been back to the minors since, so he still has that one option remaining.

Ramiro Pena
Pena was added to the 40-man roster for the first time in 2009, when he surprisingly broke camp with the big league team as the utility infielder. He went back to the minors for 43 games that summer, burning one option. Ramiro hasn’t been back down since, so he has two left.

* * *

Dellin Betances, Brandon Laird, Melky Mesa, and Ryan Pope were all added to the 40-man roster for the first time this offseason, so all three guys have all three options remaining. Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, Reegie Corona, Eduardo Nunez, and Kevin Russo were each added to the 40-man roster for the first time last offseason, and since they all spent most of 2010 in the minors, they all have two options left.

Standard disclaimer here: I can’t guarantee the accuracy of the above info. MLB has some weird rules, and what is and what is not an optional assignment is one of them. I do feel pretty confident though, the only real question is Gardner. Does exactly 20 days in the minors count as an option, or does it have to be more? Either way, it shouldn’t become an issue. Fish, Turpen, and Romulo are goners and probably soon, before the end of camp. That’ll free up three 40-man roster spots, at least one of which will go to Jesus Montero at some point. Let’s hope he never uses any of his minor league options.