Peter Gammons blogs today that the Yankees plan to enter 2010 with both Joba and Hughes preparing to start. “They can always go from starting to the bullpen, but it’s tough going the other way,” says Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. Gammons also states that Cashman feels that David Robertson and Damaso Marte can set up Mariano for the seventh and eighth innings.
Like so much else at this point of the hot stove, we’ll see.
Why? For starters, prepping Joba and Hughes to start is exactly what the Yankees should do. Cashman is right in saying that stretching them out is easier earlier rather than later, and both have shown that they can be outstanding setup men. Saying this also likely plays a role in any conversations and negotiations the Yankees might have with potential acquisitions and, according to Gammons, the Yankees have not ruled out a run at John Lackey or Ben Sheets despite a professed desire to pare down payroll. That is, preparing Hughes and Joba to start has the benefit of having them ready to do so, but also to use as a bargaining chip against free agents to indicate that the Yankees have and may be ready to proceed with other, younger–and cheaper–alternatives. I am not necessarily advocating for or against that, just assessing its possible utility for Cashman and the organization.
The least believable item in Gammons’s piece to me was professing confidence in Robertson and Marte as setup men. They can surely play a role with the Yankees next year, and should. Robertson had a terrific K/IP ratio (63 K/43 2/3 IP). Marte was outstanding in the World Series, compiling 5 K (Utley and Howard twice each, and Werth once) in just 2 2/3 IP. Yet while Marte was solid down the stretch, allowing just 6 hits, 3 walks, and 5 runs earned in his last 14 appearances after returning from a shoulder injury that saw him struggle badly early on, and Robertson was good last year (2-1, 3.30 ERA), do we envision them as good enough to set up for Mariano? Should the Yankees sign Lackey, Sheets, or acquire someone else for the rotation, thus bumping Joba and/or Hughes into setup work, clearly Joba or Hughes move to the front of the pack to set up for Mariano. Ergo, what does that say about Robertson and Marte? Not that they’re poor options, although I still have some lingering questions about Marte despite his World Series heroics ala Graeme Lloyd in 1996, but rather there might be better ones available.
Buster Olney blogs that the Yankees are considering adding bullpen help. In particular, he mentions Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, Jose Valverde and Brandon Lyon as possible acquisitions. Soriano, from the Braves, is intriguing for despite a 1-6 record, his 2.97 ERA is pretty good, and he fans a ton–102 in 75 2/3 IP last year. He is also turning 30 this December. Gonzales, who will be 32 next May and is also of the Braves, fanned 90 in 74 1/3, though he walked even more than Soriano’s 27 by issuing 33 passes, too many to me. Yet that both Soriano and Gonzales allow so few hits (56 for Soriano last season, 53 for Gonzales) makes them especially tempting, for their WHIP is low as a result despite the walks–Soriano 1.057, Gonzales a bit higher at 1.197. The question becomes, how much to pay them? Soriano made $6,350,000 last year (after making $2.4 million in 2008), and would need to be every bit as good to justify both a high salary (probably $7+ million per over 2-3 years) and the loss of the Yankees’ first round pick. Same with Gonzales, who may come cheaper ($3.45 million last year but would still cost that pick. Valverde has been very good (4-2, 2.33 ERA, 56 K/54 IP last year for Houston), but again, for how much after he made $8 million last season? Does Lyon (6-5, 2.86 ERA, 57 K/78 2/3 IP, $4.25 million in ’09) work for people? Gonzales, Soriano, and Valverde are Type A free agents, which means the Yankees would surrender their top pick for acquiring any of them. Lyon is a Type B free agent, which means Detroit would receive a supplemental pick after the first round, but the Yankees would not lose their top pick.
In part I cannot help but wonder where these players would fit in should the Yankees actually be serious about paring down payroll, or at least spending it very judiciously. Several might be good investments, but are not priorities especially vis-a-vis left field and starting pitching.
This post is meant to hopefully prompt debate rather than act as stenography for professional stenographers during a slow stretch of hot stove. Accordingly, what say you? To acquire or not to acquire any of these relievers? If so, whom? Might the free agent status affect the Yankees’ decision-making especially when they have begun to stock youth and talent in the farm system? Feel free to share your thoughts below.