Right now, it’s really easy to jump all over Brian Cashman for the Feliciano signing. He’s heading for shoulder surgery, everyone knew about his heavy workload the past three seasons with the Mets prior to signing and I’m sure everyone had their own pet LOOGY they would have preferred. But the decision Cashman made was a fairly conservative one at the time, but one that simply didn’t work out. Let’s walk through it.
First, take a look at the available Lefty specialists this past off season. The ones that were really good (Scott Downs, Brian Fuentes) were closer types who commanded big money (5 mil+) and/or 3 year deals, which I think we can all agree would be way too long for a Lefty specialist. Guys like that are overqualified for the role Brian was looking to fill, and most likely would want to go somewhere they can close games. Randy Choate was cheap (signed for 2 yrs/2.5 mil) but is as pure a LOOGY as there is and you’d like someone who at least has a chance against Righty batters. JP Howell went back to the Rays on a below market 1 year deal (1 yr/1.1 mil) as did JC Romero (1 yr/1.35 mil) which leads me to believe they wanted to stay put. Arthur Rhodes is 40, wasn’t worth giving up a draft pick, and would get killed in the AL East. Guys like Joe Beimel, Tim Byrdak, Radny Flores, Dana Eveland, Joe Flotsam, Jack Jetsum, etc all got minor league deals. Players in that position will choose teams that they have a chance to make the roster with out of Spring Training, which typically isn’t the Yanks.
So in the context of the marketplace, Feliciano was a decent bet with his collection of plus and minus. He has above average stuff, could get out Righties, pitched in New York the past 3 seasons and only commanded a 2 year deal for reasonable money (4 mil per). He also dominated guys like Ryan Howard, who the Yanks might have had in the backs of their minds with the Phils as the favorites to get to the Fall Classic. On the minus side, he had a heavy workload of appearances (led the NL all 3 years) though not innings pitched. In the past 3 seasons he pitched 53.1 IP, 59.1, and 62.2 IP, respectively. Signing Feliciano balanced the need for ability and signability, and his workload appeared to be offset by the relatively low number of innings pitched.
Finally, understand something about MRI’s. Players will undergo a pre-signing physical as standard operating procedure, which will include an MRI. But by their mid 20s, every pitcher in the sport will show signs of wear and tear by then. Wear and tear alone is no reason to pass on a player. If it was, you’d never sign anyone that age or older. The standard physical is designed to look for obvious red flags, but so often injuries that occur are much smaller, much harder to detect. Especially when looking at something as complex as a human shoulder. Understand this, it took not one, but two MRIs after the injury occurred (and they knew where to look) to find out what was wrong. That should tell you something about how difficult it was to detect.
Brian Cashman assessed the marketplace and made a determination, the player took his physical and they proceeded with the signing. Given the information he had at the time, it was a calculated risk that appeared to be worth taking. It’s easy to jump all over him after something doesn’t work out, but put yourself in his shoes for one minute. These decisions aren’t easy, and every GM has his share of blunders.
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