You read that right.
As much of a butt of jokes as Sergio Mitre was, there are pitchers for roles and roles for pitchers; the Yankees didn’t need Mitre to be a starting pitcher despite the pretense they put up with him “competing” for a role in the starting rotation this year; they needed him to be a long reliever.
That’s what he was and he was okay at it; he never complained; pitched when asked; and for the most part was serviceable.
Today the Yankees traded Mitre to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Chris Dickerson. This comes a day after they signed Kevin Millwood to a minor league contract; the same Kevin Millwood who was said to be out of shape and threw an unimpressive session for scouts in a Scott Boras-arranged exhibition last week. The Yankees were the only team to send anyone to look at Millwood.
They have Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon vying for the final spot in the starting rotation. Ivan Nova will presumably be the fourth starter, although none of this has been officially announced as of yet.
What’s the plan now?
Is there one?
Since there hasn’t been a coherent strategy all winter, why should anyone expect something different as they continue the same pattern?
The Yankees had their entire 2011 blueprint contingent on signing Cliff Lee; when Lee took his talents to Philadelphia, the Yankees started scrambling in ill-disguised desperation. First it was a bizarre, Twilight Zone-ish attempt to bring back Carl Pavano; then they repeatedly called the Mariners about Felix Hernandez and have been told—over-and-over—that King Felix is not available.*
*After the attempted trade for Lee last summer that degenerated into an accusatory fiasco between the two clubs as to who said what and whether a trade had been agreed to, the Yankees supposedly decreed they weren’t going to deal with the Mariners again; what happened?
They’ve been pursuing Francisco Liriano and Brett Myers with the media treating these wish lists as if they’re the divine right of the Yankees to get the players they want simply because they want them.
Liriano and Myers aren’t available either.
So they brought in Garcia and Colon on minor league contracts; they were worth a shot and have pitched respectably this spring. And now they’ve signed Millwood.
Are they going to stick either Garcia or Colon in the starting rotation and the other in the Mitre role of long relief? How long’s that going to last?
Colon has relieved three times in his big league career and two of those times were in his rookie year of 1997.
Garcia has relieved once in his career.
That’s a combined total of four relief appearances for two pitchers who’ve been in 631 big league games.
Will they know how to warm up properly? Can they get into game face quickly? Will they pitch effectively in an unfamiliar role?
I highly doubt it.
At the very least, with Mitre, you knew what you were getting. It may not have been great, but you knew what it was. Games in which he’d enter as a long reliever generally meant the starting pitcher had put his team in a hole and they needed some length to get through the middle innings. The long reliever’s job is that and more.
If you watched Hisanori Takahashi with the Mets last season, you saw the true value of a competent middle reliever who could give 3-5 innings at a time. Takahashi entered games in which the Mets were in danger of getting blown out, calmed things down and gave the club a chance to crawl back into the game. With the Yankees lineup, that’s not a small thing as they’re never really out of any game.
Mitre wasn’t good, but he knew his place and was a usable piece.
With a rookie, Nova, as the fourth starter; either Colon or Garcia as the fifth starter; and Phil Hughes still on an innings/pitch count, wouldn’t they have been better off keeping Mitre than to trade for Chris Dickerson? Do they need another outfielder? Are they that worried about Curtis Granderson‘s strained oblique and were so undecided as to what they were going to do with either Garcia or Colon that they had to do this now?
This made no sense. In fact, it looked like the Yankees were confronted with the dilemma of what to do with all these over-the-hill and mediocre pitchers and jumped at the opportunity to get something for Mitre before the offer was pulled.
It was a mistake.
I published a full excerpt of my book 9 days ago here.