Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Veras Trade Makes Little Sense

The Yankees have had difficulties with their bullpen all season. The problems have been somewhat mitigated of late with the simultaneous emergence of Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves, David Robertson and Phil Hughes. So, with the troubles apparently gone, and Brian Bruney back in the mix, the Yanks did the logical thing and dealt away their depth, Jose Veras. Wrong.

I will keep Phil Coke out of the discussion. He is a lefty with a 3.64 ERA in an overwhelmingly right-handed bullpen. His numbers are all good, if not dominant. He deserves to be in the bullpen, even if Damaso Marte comes back effectively at any point this season.

Robertson has been good. But the sample size doesn't convince me that he is a top-line reliever. He has allowed 19 men on base (including an inexcusable 10 walks) in 15.2 innings, which smells to me like a formula for trouble. His 2.30 ERA and 24 strikeouts are both very impressive, but until he stops walking too many men (about 5.75 per nine innings) there is a real possibility that his numbers will dip substantially.

As for Bruney, his injuries continue to be an issue. He seems to spend about half of his time on the disabled list or battling with his control. The remainder of the time, he is very effective, but he is hard to count upon as a late-inning gun because of the persistent issues mentioned above.

Alfredo Aceves is a bulldog. I'm not going to deny his prowess. His WHIP is 1.00 in 31 innings, and his strikeout to walk ratio is 27-to-6. Fantastic stuff. So fantastic, in fact, that I feel like his future may be in the starting rotation given the difficulties of Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain.

The same argument applies to the emergent Phil Hughes. His ERA has quietly dropped to 4.57 during his stint in the bullpen, and he has looked downright dominant in several recent appearances. His season whip is a respectable 1.30. His BB/9 is just below 3.4, which is acceptable if not fantastic. It puts him closer to CC Sabathia than A.J. Burnett in terms of control this season.

So to recap, the Yankees have Phil Coke and Mariano Rivera locked into a seven-man bullpen. David Robertson has been effective so far, but his command is an issue. Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney are frequently hurt. Alfredo Aceves and Phil Hughes could be pushed into the rotation depending on how Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain's control develop. Edwar Ramirez is a backup plan who has proven to be a one-trick pony with his changeup, and Brett Tomko is a human batting tee with an affinity for turning over leads.

So why on Earth would the Yankees trade Jose Veras to the Cleveland Indians for (wait for it) CASH? Veras was the Yankees' best reliever last season, when he had a 3.59 ERA in 57.2 innings. This year, his control has been seriously questioned, because he walked 14 men in 25.2 innings. This translates to a 4.91 BB/9 rate, or lower than Robertson's. And last year, he walked 29 in his 57.2, or 4.53 BB/9. The number didn't go up as significantly as announcers and columnists seem to think. And they are still considerably better than Robertson's 5.75 this season. True, Veras' ERA was 5.96 so far, but slightly better control could have returned him much closer to his performance last season. I am definitely not sure Robertson is any better control-wise, and the Yankees are now without one of their highest-upside relievers.

I could understand trading him for a different reliever. I cannot understand giving him away. Nice trade, Indians' GM Mark Shapiro. You may have just added a very good piece to your bullpen for years, if you can help him with his control a little bit. And the Yankees may well miss him when they realize that their bullpen still isn't set in stone.

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