Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Forgotten Signing of the Winter Season

As it becomes clearer that Andy Pettitte will probably not come back to the Yankees for another season, there has been speculation that Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves and Dan Giese are the leading candidates to be the fifth starter, in that order.

Ian Kennedy likely fits somewhere on that list as well, although it seems to me that the Yankees would like to see some more solid innings out of him at the Minor League level before he gets a call back up to the bigs. But a strong spring, a couple of injuries or some ineffective outings from other candidates certainly can go a long way in shaping opinion on the baseball field.

While the job is most likely Hughes' to lose, and the other kids' to earn, the Yankees signed an interesting contingency plan in early November who has largely gone under the radar.

Sergio Mitre, rehabbing right now from Tommy John surgery, went 5-8 with a 4.65 E.R.A. in 2007. He sat out the entire 2008 season with an injury. His career record of 10-23 and 5.36 E.R.A. are unimpressive, and those  '07 numbers don't particularly pop, especially in the National League, but I see silver lining in this signing.

Mitre will be 28 next year, and 29 the year after. Those are peak years for a starting pitcher.  Many pitchers receive a boost in stuff  after Tommy John surgery, and better stuff never hurt anyone. And finally, Mitre had an E.R.A. of 2.82 on July 19th. 

His half-season of mastery at age 26 was essentially destroyed by six bad starts in late July and August when he had already more than doubled his career-high innings total. The main culprits were the Padres and Giants, who each shelled him twice. He had not faced either opponent in the prior two seasons as a starter. 

All of these indicators to me say that Mitre has the skills to be a solid to good major league starter. This signing has nothing but potential value to the Yankees. A kid this skilled doesn't become available for next to nothing very often. A pure upside move like this, when a kid has everything to prove, could help the Yankees tremendously when Mitre is ready to return midseason. 

If A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes or Chien-Ming Wang go down in July or August, Mitre could come up and turn some heads. Or if Hughes and the crowd are ineffective and Mitre's pitching well in Scranton. Watch out for the former Marlin. He has some skills.

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