Archive for Sergio Mitre

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

A sure sign that you’re the mop-up man in the bullpen: you’ve pitched in just two winning efforts all year. That pretty much defines the season for Sergio Mitre. He’s the long man and spot starter, which means he comes in only in the direst of situations. When Andy Pettitte had to miss a start, Mitre was the man. When a rain delay caused a schedule kerfuffle, Mitre took a turn. When the Yanks are down big, or when the starter doesn’t go long, Mitre’s the guy. He’s done rather well in these roles, perhaps well enough to earn himself a spot in higher leverage situations.

Mitre’s most recent appearances, both against the Mets this weekend, have impressed for a number of reasons. First, he held the Mets to just one hit in three innings, striking out two and walking none. Second, he didn’t allow them to make quality contact, as none of the hitters he faced hit the ball on a line. Third, he was replacing pitchers who had seen little luck facing the same hitters. On Saturday both Phil Hughes and Chan Ho Park allowed many more baserunners than innings pitched and each let the Mets extend their lead. On Sunday, after the Mets rocked CC Sabathia, Mitre tamed them with two perfect innings.

These performances have me wondering if Mitre might be an option of sorts for short relief. The Yankees have had some bullpen troubles, and could certainly use an effective arm. Why not ride the Mitre wave? He’s been a bit lucky so far — he won’t sustain his current .193 BABIP — but part of effective bullpen management is finding the pitcher who has everything working. That appears to be Mitre right now. Hitters just aren’t making great contact off him.

The biggest concern would be with his propensity to allow home runs. He has allowed three so far this year in 22 IP. That might be an improvement over his 2009 rate, but it’s still far too many for a high-leverage reliever. The mitigating circumstance here is that two out of the three came during starts, one of them coming off the bat of Justin Morneau on what appeared to be a decent pitch. The first, off the bat of a super-hot Ty Wigginton, came during Mitre’s third inning of work. While this doesn’t eliminate the home run threat, it certainly puts it in a bit more context. In high-leverage, short stints perhaps it wouldn’t be much of a problem.

We just don’t know, though, how Mitre would respond to high leverage at-bats. His pLI — the average Leverage Index (LI) of his appearances — is just 0.51. Of the 86 batters he has faced, only one has been in a high leverage situation. He did retire that batter on a grounder, but that’s meaningless in determining how Mitre would perform when faced with more of these situations. The only way to tell is by putting him into those situations in live games.

Will Girardi give him a shot? I doubt it. He clearly values having a long man in the pen, as he expressed when he explained why the team skipped Javier Vazquez‘s start last week. I’d like to see him get a shot, though. Mitre went through some tough times last year, but this year he has done his job and done it admirably. While some of the other guys struggle, and while Al Aceves sits on the DL, maybe the Yankees could find strength in their bullpen by using Mitre in short relief.

Categories : Death by Bullpen
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New York Yankees’ Sergio Mitre delivers a warm up pitch in the second inning of a spring training baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, in Port Charlotte, Fla., Friday, March 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

On a spring-like Friday, Joel Sherman dropped the not-so-breaking news that the Yankees will probably trade either Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin before Spring Training is out. Both of these vets have bounced around the league, and neither figures to be too high up on the Yanks’ depth charts. The team can’t send either to AAA, and instead of wasting roster spots, the Yankees will try to turn their surplus into something at all.

But who will go? In writing about it here yesterday, Mike voiced the prevalent opinion that Gaudin will stay. The soon-to-be 27-year-old has a better career track record than Mitre and has posted league-average numbers in the American League over 463 innings. Mitre, meanwhile, is 29 and with no real record of success. He wasn’t a highly-touted prospect while with the Cubs, and he hasn’t been very effective at getting outs as a Major Leaguer.

Yet the allure of Spring Training stats is strong with this one. Last night, in the Yanks’ 6-2 loss to the Rays, Mitre started and was stellar. Facing Major Leaguers who will make up most of Tampa’s Opening Day lineup, he threw 5 innings and gave up two runs on a pair of hits and a walk. He struck out seven. Gaudin relieved him and wasn’t effective. In 2.1 innings, Chad allowed three earned runs on seven hits and three walks. He struck out just one and walked away with his third loss on the spring. The appearance effectively ended Gaudin’s hopes of landing the fifth starting spot.

On the spring, these two pitchers spot opposite numbers. Mitre has been the Yanks’ best starter. In 14 innings, he has allowed five runs on nine hits. He has walked three while striking out 14. Gaudin, meanwhile, has thrown 9.1 innings and has given up nine earned runs on 16 hits and five walks. He has struck out just five. Despite Mitre’s tradeability due to his lower salary, one might be tempted to say it is a no-brainer.

But the real question concerns Mitre. With a career K/9 IP of 5.5, he’s never been a strike out pitcher, and he’s having a Spring Training that makes one think of a flash in the pan. It’s true he’s another winter of strengthening away from Tommy John surgery, but nothing in his pre-surgical record suggests he will keep up this pitching success. Gaudin, at least, can rest on his AL laurels.

In the end, the Yanks don’t need to make a decision yet. They don’t need a fifth starter until late April and could juggle the rotation to keep both around until the right offer comes. When it’s time to trade one of them, though, I’d be far less sad to see Mitre vanish into the ether of the NL. He may be the Yanks’ Grapefruit League Cy Young, but history is littered with those pitchers who are Spring Training All Stars and revert to form come the regular season.

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Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are “almost certain” to trade either Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre before Opening Day given the team’s depth at the back of the rotation. He mentions that the Diamondbacks – who have Ian Kennedy penciled in as their number three starter at the moment – are looking for rotation help, but I’ll add the Mets and Dodgers to the mix as well. Both Gaudin and Mitre and out of options, so they would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors, which won’t happen. Trading them is clearly the way to go.

At a $2.95M salary for 2010, Gaudin makes more than three times as much as Mitre. He’ll also be a free agent after the season, while Mitre still has another season of arbitration eligibility coming to him. Mitre has been better this spring and is opening some eyes, but I’d look to deal him over Gaudin without thinking twice. There’s nothing in his track record to suggest he’s a better pitcher, while Gaudin has proven to be a league average AL pitcher (101 ERA+ in 463.2 IP in the AL) with a strikeout rate that has improved three straight years to the point of nearly one per inning. Neither player is going to fetch much in a trade, a Grade-C prospect at best, so I’d certainly keep the guy that would be more useful to the Yankees this season.

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Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have a meeting planned for this Sunday to discuss the fifth starter situation. The prevailing thought seems to be that Phil Hughes is at the front of the line for the job, sending Joba Chamberlain back to the bullpen, but I can’t imagine that the brain trust is going to base the decision on each player’s first three Spring Training appearances if it is in fact a true “open competition.” Stranger things have happened, I guess.

Either way, there might be some progress towards a resolution with this mess situation soon, and Mo knows we’re all looking forward to it. Maybe they’ll talk about the trade partner they found for Sergio Mitre following his strong exhibition season. Wishful thinking?

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Just a week ago, Sergio Mitre apparently led the fifth starter competition. But then Al Aceves pitched well, so he was the story. Last night Phil Hughes pitched well, so Wednesday’s stories revolve around how he has stepped up in the fifth starter competition. That, and how this is Joba’s last chance — ever, according to many scribes — to audition for the rotation. The way we’ve seen this story portrayed makes the Yankees’ braintrust seem rather fickle.

I’m not really buying any of it. Maybe the team had a fifth starter picked out before they even came to camp. Maybe they’ve already made a decision based on what they’ve seen. I doubt, however, that they’re anxiously awaiting the results of exhibition games in order to determine the winner. These games are played under completely different circumstances than normal games, and I’m not sure the Yankees can make their decision based on those results.

That isn’t to say that the games are meaningless. The staff can observe the pitchers and see if they’re doing the right things — mixing pitches, throwing strikes, challenging hitters, etc. The results, though, shouldn’t much matter. As we’ve been saying all spring, there’s just too much going on.

Take Phil Hughes’s appearance last night for example. The results show that he pitched very well: 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 59 pitches. Yet he faced mostly substitutes. Not only substitutes, but substitutes from the NL’s worst offense. Can the Yankees really trust the results in this case? Of course not. But they can observe other aspects of Hughes during the start and make determinations. That, I think, is what this competition is based on — if it’s really a competition at all.

Today Joba starts against Philadelphia, the NL’s best offense. If he goes his four innings, but allows five hits, two runs, and walks one, will that really be judged as worse than Hughes’s outing? The discrepancy in talent there is immense, the reserves on a terrible offense against the starters on the best offense. In fact, if Joba pitches well we should all be encouraged, since he did it against tougher competition.

This is all a rant to say that these stories in the newspaper don’t necessarily reflect the actual decision-making process. They’re stories based on the results of the game and conversations with staff. Maybe they give us a little insight into the team’s thought process, but maybe they don’t. Again, maybe the team is keeping its true intentions under wraps. We don’t know. What we do know, though, is that trusting the straight results of these spring training appearances won’t help us better guess the competition. There are just too many variables involved.

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Sergio Mitre doesn’t stand much of a chance to break camp as the Yankees’ fifth starter. After pitching well in his first few outings he came back to earth in his latest, quelling the story he had created a few weeks ago. He is once again an afterthought, a pitcher not totally taken seriously as a starting candidate for the Yankees. But, since he’s out of options, chances are he’ll head to Boston as a member of the bullpen.

Over the winter I wondered whether Kei Igawa would profile as a reliever. The idea came from The Hardball Times’s Jeff Sackmann, who identified key traits of quality relievers. These include pitching well the first time through the order (and also in the first inning of work), pitching well out of the stretch, and, less important for a righty like Mitre, strong platoon splits. If Mitre fares well in these aspects, perhaps he can survive as a short reliever. Otherwise, it’s difficult to determine his value to the team.

Mitre has a 5.56 career ERA, spanning 362.1 innings, so he’s already a prime candidate for bullpen conversion. As we often note, if you look through major league bullpens you’ll see a bevy of failed starters. That covers 90 games, 61 of which were starts. His relief numbers are actually worse than his starting numbers, a 6.44 ERA, though we can’t project much from a 36.1 inning sample. Still, perhaps there’s something in the numbers that provide an indicator.

Like most pitchers, Mitre is more effective when facing a batter for the first time. Opponents hit .260/.321/.393 off him initially, but as expected they get a bit better the second time, to the tune of .311/.367/.455. The second line is pretty horrible, and the first line doesn’t really stand out. In his 2007 season, however, Mitre did show better numbers the first time through the order. His OPS against the second and third time through were right around his career averages, but the first time through opponents hit .240/.286/.299. Unfortunately, we’re again dealing with a small sample, just 242 PA. To demonstrate what can happen in small samples, opponents hit .344/.373/.510 against Mitre the first time through in 2009, while they managed just .235/.297/.469 the second time through.

On pitches one through 25 for his career, opponents have hit .274/.337/.411 off Mitre, still not an eye-opening number. Again, he did a bit better in 2007, .248/.300/.309, but in that similarly short sample. In other words, over the only meaningful sample Mitre provides, his career numbers, he hasn’t fared too well in short bursts. Perhaps he’d change his style when relegated to the pen full-time, but that’s not something a team like the Yankees can bank on.

Worse yet, Mitre does not react well to having men on base. Pitching out of the stretch during his career he has allowed opponents to hit .323/.383/.472 over 759 PA. That is not a pitcher I want in with men in scoring position. His only saving grace in that regard is that he keeps the ball on the ground. Then again, that’s not a trait particular to having men on. He generally keeps the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time, which is the entire reason he continues to get a chance. It’s tough to ignore someone with that type of ground ball rate.

I do think that Mitre is better than he showed last season. Then he had just finished rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and surely wasn’t at his strongest. He also didn’t keep the ball on the ground quite to the rate he had earlier in his career. Given the chance I think he could be a decent fill-in starter. He pitched well in 2007 before getting hurt, and if he can rediscover that form he might provide value. I do not think, however, that it will be for the Yankees.

As I mentioned last night, the Yankees have one too many pitchers. Their choices involve optioning a good young pitcher, trading one, or designating one for assignment. The first doesn’t make much sense — unless the Yankees want to keep one pitcher stretched out at AAA (that could even be Aceves, I suppose). The second is an option for sure, but not one a team can rely on. That leaves the third. I think, though, that the Yankees would trade Mitre for peanuts before they released him. Again, he can fill a back of the rotation spot for a team in need. But given his track record, and given the construction of the Yanks roster, I don’t think it will be for them. There are just too many pitchers better than him who deserve the spot more.

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The feeling around Tampa is that the lineup the Yankees trot out in tonight’s exhibition game will be the one Joe Girardi hands to the umpires on Opening Day. That marks one of the team’s more significant decisions this spring. As we’ve been saying since the outset, if the batting order represents a major decision the team is probably in good shape. After this the Yankees have just a few decisions to make, and only two that will actually affect who stays on the major league roster.

Fifth starter and bullpen

The most discussed position battle this spring has been for the last spot in the rotation. The Yankees insist that all five participants have an equal shot at winning, but that’s what they’re telling the public. Chances are either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes will pitch behind Javy Vazquez, with the others moving to the bullpen. The Yankees know that they’ll need to replace one or both of Vazquez and Andy Pettitte next season, so having at least one of their highly touted youngsters ready to step in would be to their benefit.

Yet the battle doesn’t quite end there. This battle will see four losers, but there remain only three spots in the Yankees’ seven-man bullpen. Mariano Rivera, Damaso Marte, Chan Ho Park, and David Robertson already have spots, so there isn’t enough room for Al Aceves, Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, and one of Joba and Hughes. This means that, one way or another, the Yankees will have to make a roster move. That might be trading Mitre, though there’s no guarantee they can find an acceptable suitor. Otherwise, it means optioning a player.

Of the eight bullpen suitors, only Joba/Hughes, Aceves, and Robertson have options. There’s almost no chance Robertson heads to AAA, so that leaves only two choices. The Yankees could send the either Joba or Hughes to the minors to remain stretched out, but they would also fit well in the bullpen. Sending Aceves down also appears to be a waste. They’ll have to pick one, though, since it remains unlikely that they’d actually DFA one of these players.

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25th man

The bench won’t be an issue for the Yankees heading into the season. Francisco Cervelli will back up Jorge Posada, Randy Winn will play the part of fourth outfielder, and Ramiro Pena figures to fill the utility role. That leaves just one spot open, and the Yankees have their battle between two players, Jamie Hoffmann and Marcus Thames. It won’t be an easy decision for the Yanks, either way.

This battle isn’t a matter of picking a winner and sending the loser to AAA. Either Thames or Hoffmann will end up elsewhere if he does not make the team. The Yankees must offer Hoffmann, a Rule 5 pick, back to the Dodgers if he does not make the 25-man roster. Perhaps at that point the two teams can work out a trade — maybe even a Mitre-for-Hoffmann swap — that would allow the Yankees to retain Hoffmann and place him in AAA. Chances are, the Dodgers would not refuse the Yankees’ offer of return.

When Thames signed with the Yankees he knew there was a chance he wouldn’t make the team out of spring training. In fact, with Hoffmann on board it would have made sense for the team to start the season with him in the majors and send Thames to AAA, where he could get at-bats while waiting for an opportunity. Seeing this in his future, Thames negotiated an opt-out clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent if he does not make the 25-man roster. He could, of course, still end up playing for Scranton if no other teams shows interest. Those chances, however, don’t appear strong.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Watch them tumble

The Yankees will likely keep a number of pitchers on staff through the end of spring training. The regulars won’t be completely stretched out, and there’s always a need to fill garbage innings when a pitcher gets hammered. But, while we might see guys like Jon Albaladejo and Romulo Sanchez still pitching in big league camp during the last week of March, there’s little to no chance they make the big league team. The Yanks have plenty of depth, to the point where they might have to option a good pitcher and release quality bench fodder. Thankfully, this is nothing but good news.

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What happens when rusty pitchers face rusty hitters? It’s tough to say, which is why I don’t put stock in the results. That doesn’t mean that these performances go unnoticed. After all, if jobs are actually won and lost in spring training the coaching staff has to base their decisions on something. I’m just not sure that traditional statistics tell us what we need to know when the players are not only rusty, but also working on specific aspects of their games.

One of the few Yankees camp competitions involves the fifth starter spot. As the team tells it, the job is completely up for grabs. Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, Al Aceves, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain all have an equal shot. But while the Yankees might say that publicly, many of us doubt that they’ll pick anyone but Chamberlain or Hughes, their most promising young pitchers. Yet the performances of two presumed also-rans might have changed the story.

Both Sergio Mitre and Al Aceves have pitched well so far this spring, neither allowing a run. Mitre has allowed just two hits and has walked one in five innings, while Aceves has been perfect with four strikeouts through six. We don’t know what kind of impression this has made on the Yankees’ brass, but the media has jumped on the story. Could one of these two break camp as the No. 5 starter, relegating both Hughes and Chamberlain to the bullpen?

It’s not as far-fetched as you might think. On Mike Francessa’s show last Wednesday, Brian Cashman admitted that the optimal 2010 Yankees team has both young pitchers in the bullpen blowing away guys. The idea is that they’d help save games for all five starters, avoiding losses when lesser relievers might blow the game. I’m not sure if I buy it — I’ve always advocated having your top five pitchers in the rotation and not worrying about a numerical designation — but if it’s coming from the general manager I suppose it has a chance of happening.

Just after talking about the optimal 2010 team, Cashman also said what we all know to be true. The future of the franchise is better served by having one or both young pitchers in the rotation. This is why I think the Mitre and Aceves stories are non-starters. The Yankees might have to replace two starting pitchers next year. While a few free agent options exist, the team probably wants to fill one of those spots with one of its own, young, cost-controlled arms. They’d be better served in 2011, then, by having at least one of Hughes and Chamberlain starting in 2010.

If the improbable does happen, if Mitre or Aceves impresses enough this spring that the team wants to use him in the rotation, I doubt both Hughes and Chamberlain will go to the bullpen from the start. In that unlikely scenario, chances are one will go to Scranton to stay fresh while the other pitches out of the bullpen. While sending Hughes to Scranton might be a waste, it might be a necessary action at that point. After all, we’ve seen many top spring training performers flop when the game start to count. It would benefit the Yankees, then, to have someone in Scranton ready to jump into the rotation.

Again, I don’t envision this happening. If Mitre continues pitching well perhaps the Yankees trade him at the end of spring training. If Aceves continues pitching well maybe he’ll get higher leverage innings out of the pen. Neither, I expect, will start the season in the rotation. The Yankees want to get the most out of Hughes and Chamberlain, and that probably means having one in the rotation all year.

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When the Yankees tendered Sergio Mitre a contract for the 2010 season, they guaranteed him a 40-man roster spot. At the time it might not have seemed like a big deal. The team had just opened up two additional roster spots by trading Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, and Austin Jackson for Curtis Granderson, so space wasn’t an issue. But a 40-man roster spot is a 40-man roster spot. The Yankees could have used that spot in a number of different ways. Was Mitre the right decision?

First, we have to understand why the Yankees decided to allocate one of 40 roster spots to Mitre. The team values pitching depth. Over the past few years they’ve seen a number of starters succumb to injury and, for the most part, haven’t found adequate replacements. With Mitre, Chad Gaudin, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Al Aceves competing for one final rotation spot, and the losers presumably slated for the bullpen, the Yankees leave themselves a number of options should a starter get hurt.

Next, we have to look at what else the Yankees could have done with that roster spot, and at what price. Mitre signed for $850,000, a little less than double the league minimum. The depth options behind Mitre, Ivan Nova and Zach McAllister, would make a prorated portion of the league minimum if called to action, so the Yankees have to weigh that against Mitre and his salary. Could they have added someone else to that spot for cheaper? Probably not on the free agent market.

Then there’s the option of leaving the spot free, so the team has a spot to add a non-roster invite. Marcus Thames doesn’t present an issue here, because if he makes the team Jamie Hoffmann will head back to the Dodgers. But what if the Yankees end up liking one of their non-roster pitchers more than Mitre? What if they like Kei Igawa in a lefty relief role? What if Jason Hirsh lives up to his potential as the No. 42 prospect in baseball in 2007? What if Kevin Whelan finally puts it all together? There’s certainly a possibility, though not a particularly strong one, that the Yankees like a non-roster player better than Mitre.

Is it worth the roster spot and guaranteed salary, then, to keep Mitre, even if there are possibly better options? Obviously the Yankees think so. They liked Mitre when they signed him in late 2008 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, and they apparently didn’t let his string of poor performances in 2009 discourage them. They’re still hoping he returns to his 2007 form, especially his first half. That, to them, is worth $850,000 and the reduced flexibility of having a guaranteed contract in that roster spot.

The final point is how the Yankees can free up further roster spots. They currently have all 40 spots filled, but they’re not completely inflexible. If the need arises to add a non-roster player, the Yankees can DFA Edwar Ramirez or Boone Logan. This makes Mitre’s spot less critical. If he were first on the chopping block, perhaps it would be an issue, but with expendable players ahead of him the Yankees become a bit more justified in their decision to tender him a contract.

What do the Yankees expect Mitre to change from 2009? Mainly, it seems, his home run rate. His strikeout rate was about in line with his career average, and his walk rate was a bit lower. He allowed home runs at a higher rate than ever before in his career, though, 1.74 per nine. This coincides with an enormous HR/FB ratio, 21.7 percent. The home runs factored largely into his 5.30 FIP, as evidenced by his 4.00 xFIP. It appears, however, that Mitre has always allowed home runs at a greater rate than league average; his xFIP is consistently lower than his FIP, except in 2007 when just nine of 119 fly balls hit off him left the park.

Signing Mitre is a gamble for sure, but the downside doesn’t appear all that bad. Even if the Yankees like another pitcher more than him, they don’t have to act on that immediately. The above-named pitchers — Igawa, Hirsh, Whelan, in addition to Nova and McAllister — can all start the season in the minors while Mitre gets his shot. If it doesn’t work out, the contract is cheap enough that they can DFA him if necessary. It might hinder what the Yankees can do with that roster spot short term, but if necessary they can make it free again.

Credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

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Jan
08

Who wants a fringy starter?

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The Yankees have reached the point this winter where they’re searching for one last piece. Not a major piece but rather a complementary one, an outfielder who can provide an alternative, if need be, to Brett Gardner. With just 41 days left until pitchers and catchers, the Yankees can take their time and let the market develop — and perhaps let Johnny Damon‘s asking price fall into their range. But, until then, we’ll continue to speculate.

For the most part we’ve focused on free agent acquisitions, mainly because we’ve discussed trade options and haven’t found much. But things change as Spring Training nears. The Yankees acquired Javy Vazquez, and now might trade one of their pitchers. Does that open up any new possibilities?

While it’s possible that the Yankees could trade Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin to a second-tier team for outfield fodder, but if they want to do so they’ll have to be patient. A number of starting pitchers remain on the free agent market — including Jarrod Washburn, Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland, and Doug Davis — who are similar to the Yankees’ duo. As we near Spring Training and their prices come down, they’ll begin to fill out team’s rotations. Unless a number of them continue holding out for more money, Gaudin and Mitre will probably remain fallback options.

The one scenario where the Yankees could unload Mitre is in a salary dump. The problem there lies in finding a team that matches up. How many teams would trade a moderately priced outfielder for Mitre? What if they added a fringy prospect to go along with the fringy starter? When discussing plans for the outfield, Brian Cashman said, “It might not just be a free agent. It could Come via trade.” Unless the Yankees plan to deal prospects and not one of their surplus pitchers, I’m not sure there’s an obvious match.

As the Yankees continue to wait, we’ll continue to wonder. From everything Cashman has said lately, the team does seek a right-handed outfield bat. Tired as the subject has gotten, it’s the last item left on the team’s agenda. They’re taking their time, as they should. It’s best at this point to wait for the right player, not the easiest to acquire.

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