Hideki Okajima is exactly the type of signing a team in the hunt for a lefty specialist should make.
The Yankees signed the former Red Sox lefty to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Okajima was a find for the Red Sox based on luck, but he turned out to be an excellent reliever—and not just a lefty specialist—from 2007 through 2010. His performance in 2010 was subpar, but he had several injuries that hindered him. He spent much of 2011 in the minor leagues.
The saga of Okajima and how he wound up with the Yankees is a cautionary tale that the Yankees have clearly learned something from.
The Red Sox signed Okajima because he was lefty and that he was their bigger name acquisition Daisuke Matsuzaka’s friend, but he became an important cog in their bullpen until last season.
On the other side of the equation, the Yankees spent $8 million on Pedro Feliciano to be their lefty specialist and Feliciano didn’t throw one pitch for the Yankees in 2011 because of a shoulder injury; he had rotator cuff surgery in September and is trying to come back in 2012, but his career is in jeopardy. If the Yankees get anything from Feliciano next year, they’ll be lucky.
The same sort of luck that brought Okajima to the Red Sox was evident on the opposite end of the spectrum with the Yankees and Feliciano.
For years, the Yankees had watched Feliciano function as an effective workhorse for the crosstown Mets and signed him based on the need to get out the likes of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Hamilton.
One of the main reasons the Yankees signed him was because of his known durability; that’s why it was so absurd that Yankees GM Brian Cashman, in an act of self-preservation and shifting of the blame for Flushing (see what I did there?) $8 million down the tubes, dropped Feliciano’s injury on the doorstep of Citi Field and the Mets by using the term “abused” in discussing the pitcher’s past workload.
Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen came out swinging at the allegation with the perfect reply: “They didn’t know that when they signed him?”
Warthen also added that the Mets monitored Feliciano and that the pitcher always wanted the ball; in fact, he wanted to pitch more.
It quieted down quickly.
This all could’ve been avoided had the Yankees decided that a cheaper alternative like Randy Choate would’ve been at least as effective as Feliciano and gone in that direction rather than overspending for a luxury item.
Or they could’ve just signed someone’s friend and gotten lucky.
That would work just as well.
The one issue I can see is if Okajima is ineffective or injured, the Yankees won’t be able to blame the Mets. But if that happens, they’re not going to be paying the pitcher $8 million for nothing, so it’s a wash. And a cheap one at that.