Yesterday we heard that David Aardsma had signed a one year deal with the Yankees, along with an option for 2013, a deal that will play him at least $500K to rehabilitate following elbow surgery last year. We also heard that Joba Chamberlain was throwing off a mound and that Joe Girardi expects him to contribute in 2012. There was also news late last week that Hideki Okajima had failed his physical and would not be joining the team.
Despite possessing one of the best bullpens in baseball, led by Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, and Boone Logan, the Yankees have spent this off-season stockpiling talent in the relief core in hopes of spurring competition and building depth throughout the organization. Yet today, approximately a week from the start of spring competition, little seems up in the air. Rivera, Robertson, Soriano, Logan, and whoever loses out on the fifth spot in the rotation, whether it be Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia, seem guaranteed roster spots. Cory Wade, though his contract is not guaranteed, would probably have to pitch himself out of a spot.
That leaves, in all likelihood, one open spot in the bullpen and a half dozen legitimate candidates in camp. Here they are, from worst to first:
6. Manny Delcarmen - Delcarmen is a long shot to say the least. The former Red Sox setup man hasn’t pitched in the Major Leagues since 2010 and hasn’t had a productive Major League season since 2008. He’s 30 this year, signed to a minor league contract, and a right hander. It seems like almost everything is working against his making the team. With that being said Delcarmen has a track-record not just as a middle reliever, but a dominant middle reliever in the AL East. In 2007 he appeared in 44 games for the Red Sox, posting an outstanding 2.05 ERA. In 2008, he finished 11th among American League relievers in fWAR. Delcarmen is depth. He’s insurance in case none of the other options work out. Given his past success he at least deserves mention; if he pitches well he might have a shot.
5. Adam Miller - A former top of the line starting pitching prospect in the Cleveland system, Miller has struggled with injuries, performance, and just about everything else over the past four seasons. The Indians best prospect each spring from 2005 through 2008, Miller is now 27, his days on Baseball America lists long gone. The Yankees invited him to Spring Training hoping there was something left. Maybe there is. Miller shot through the minor leagues with a mid-90s fastball and hard breaking slider, both pitches described as plus. While it’s unclear how well that stuff has held up, and while the rest of his repertoire and his command have been suspect, it’s not unreasonable to believe a healthy Miller could succeed in a long relief role.
4. George Kontos - After six long seasons in the Yankees minor league system, George Kontos might finally be getting his chance. The righty from Lincolnwood, Illinois has appeared in 144 games at every level of the Yankees organization, about half of these as a starter and half as a reliever, pitching to the tune of a 3.33 ERA and striking out 527 batters in 530 innings. With a strong low-mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider Kontos has succeeded in a relief role since arm surgery several years ago knocked him out of a starting role. While Kontos would seem to fit well into the Yankees long term bullpen plans he may not be a fit yet. Kontos has struggled against left handers in the past and with only Boone Logan throwing from the left side in the bullpen, Girardi might look elsewhere.
3. Brad Meyers - Like Miller and Kontos, former National Brad Meyers has been bouncing around the minor leagues for quite some time. Drafted by Washington in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, Meyers debuted in style by shooting through the Gulf Coast League, Sally League, and California league in his first season. Yet an unsuccessful return to A-ball in 2008, followed by missed time in 2010, set him back. The 26-year-old, big (6’6″) right hander was Rule-5′d to the Bronx last December and looks somewhat unlikely to stick in New York. 2008 notwithstanding, Meyers has some pretty impressive minor league numbers, with a 2.86 ERA and 3.60 K/BB rate in 84 minor league starts. Meyers also has an impressive, sinking low-90s fastball, and an above average (at times) slider and changeup. His command is exceptional. As with Miller and Kontos, there is probably more long term than short term value here. If Meyers pitches well enough the Yankees might consider keeping him around. But with only one open spot in the bullpen and Meyers handedness I wouldn’t bet on it.
2. Clay Rapada - Singed to a minor league deal early this week, Rapada is a 30-year-old journeymen with an ERA over five in his Major League career. Yet the big, side-arming left hander has one thing going for him that could make him the favorite in all this: left handers really can’t hit the guy. In 52.2 big league innings, Rapada has surrendered 1.166 OPS to right handers and a .472 OPS to left handers. I have mixed feeling son Rapada. If Girardi is strictly looking for another lefty specialist, Rapada is gold. But his usefulness is extremely limited and his long term value is basically nil. Are we better of handing a roster spot to a guy who might face a couple batters a week (and get them out) with Boone Logan already on board? Or would it make more sense to give the spot to a young player with a live arm and tons of upside? It’s an interesting question.
1. Cesar Cabral - If the Yankees DO decide to head north with one of a number of young relief prospects, I think it will be Cesar Cabral. While never the kind of prospect Miller was, or even the kind of prospect Meyers was, Cabral has a lot going for him. Cabral is the youngest of the group at 23 and his upside is unmatched. A left hander with a fastball that touches the mid-90s, ana bove average changeup, and a pair of breaking balls, Cabral has shot through the Red Sox minor league system since the start of 2010, missing a ton of bats at every level. He lacks the experience of others on the list but was Rule 5′d a year ago by Tampa Bay and considered by a number of teams in last years draft. He also tore through the Dominican Winter League last December. Cabral will need to pitch well – to show that he can get big league leftys to swing and miss – but if he does that, Girardi and Cashman might be willing to take the risk. If Cabral doesn’t make the team he’s back in Boston. If Rapada or Miller don’t make the team, it’s still quite possible they’d accept a minor league assignent, creating even greater organizational depth.
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