The Yankees won 1-0 for the second time this season last night behind a season-best performance by Jaret Wright (6 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 10 K--Wright's first 10K outing since September 1998), but the big news of late has been the series of roster moves the team has made over the last several days. With another move expected today, the Yanks have added a pair of outfielders, demoted a pair of relievers, and bounced one of their starters to the bullpen.
After an outstanding first-half in Columbus (2.84 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 4.87 K/BB in 14 starts), 29-year-old Kris Wilson was promoted on Wednesday, ultimately at the expense of 27-year-old Matt Smith. Smith has yet to allow a run in the major leagues, hurling 12 scoreless frames across three stints with the big club this year. Wilson pitched two perfect innings against Cleveland on Wednesday and was immediately given Shawn Chacon's spot in the rotation.
Chacon had struggled mightily since being activated from the disabled list, posting a 10.34 ERA, 2.10 WHIP and walking almost twice as many as he'd struck out in four starts. Chacon's first start off the DL wasn't pretty, but it wasn't a disaster (5 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, 2 K). Unfortunately, his next start was. Staked to a 9-2 lead after four innings against the lowly Washington Nationals in his next turn, Chacon was only able to get one more out, surrendering four runs in the fifth and getting the hook after having needed 100 pitches to get through 4 1/3 innings (incidentally, he was replaced by Matt Smith, who allowed both inherited runners to score before getting an inning-ending double play). Thanks to the contributions of T.J. Beam, Everyday Scott Proctor and, to everyone's surprise, Mariano Rivera, the Yankees wound up losing that game 11-9 and Chacon officially took up residence in Joe Torre's doghouse.
Skipped the next time through the rotation, Chacon turned in a Jaret-Wright-like effort (not the insult it sounds like) against the Marlins (5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 0 K), then was skipped again only to get beaten about the head and neck by the Indians in his next turn, surrendering seven runs on three homers, three walks and three other hits in just an inning and a third. The Yankees went on to lose that game 19-1 thanks once again to Beam and Everyday Scotty Proctor, with Mike Myers lending a hand as well.
The way I see it, the removal of Chacon from the rotation is a classic case of Joe Torre prematurely losing trust in a pitcher in response to an embarrassing loss (or in this case, two, both of which were as much the bullpen's doing as Chacon's). Chacon began the season with a pair of rough starts and two more unpleasant relief appearances, but then ran off a string of four starts in which he allowed exactly one run in each, lasting a minimum of 6 1/3 innings in the first three. In the fourth he was removed with two outs in the fifth inning after being hit in the leg by a Mark Lortetta comebacker that eventually resulted in his DL stay. Even with those poor early season outings included, Chacon's ERA following the comebacker game was 3.68.
Including his rehab start in Columbus, Chacon only made three starts on schedule following that injury before Torre started skipping him in the rotation, forcing Chacon to pitch on seven and then eight days of rest in consecutive starts. Unless Chacon is still, or newly injured, I don't see why Torre won't at the very least give him tomorrow's start on regular rest. It's not as if Wilson is a tremendous improvement. Sure, he looked sharp in those two innings in Cleveland, and he has been fantastic for the Clippers this year (allow me to stress this year), but he also has a 5.28 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 237 career major league innings and has been equally bad as a starter and reliever across that span.
What's more, pushing Chacon to the bullpen is a recipe for disaster. Chacon has limited relief experience in his career, but when he's pitched out of the pen he's been dreadful. The primary data point for that statement is his 2004 season when, after Chacon had pitched exclusively as a starter over his first three major league seasons, the Rockies decided to make him their closer. The result was a 7.11 ERA, a 1.94 WHIP and as many walks as strikeouts (though he still picked up 35 saves, which should tell you something about the value of that statistic). Since then, Chacon has thrown just 4 1/3 innings out of the pen, but in that small sample allowed nine hits (including two doubles, a triple and a homer) and four walks (one intentional) against just two Ks, resulting in a 6.23 ERA.
What I'm getting at here is that if Shawn Chacon isn't going to be in the Yankees rotation, he needs to either be on the DL, in the minors, or traded, because he's Scott Erickson bad out of the pen. Unfortunately, the Yankees have not only moved Chacon into the pen, but have removed not only "Shutout" Smith, but T.J. Beam from it, leaving them with a relief corps half of which is comprised of Bombs Chacon, Everyday Scotty, and One-Out Myers. Bad news.
Speaking of which, I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that Proctor has a 7.22 ERA across his last 28 2/3 innings dating back to May 16 and has allowed a home run every 3.58 innings across that span, which translates to 2.51 homers per nine-innings. By way of comparison, Home Run Javy Vazquez allowed 1.5 HR/9IP in his season with the Yankees and Randy Johnson allowed "just" 1.28 HR/9 last year. Proctor is part of the problem. That he remains one of Torre's go-to guys while Matt Smith is starting his fourth stint with Columbus is an outrage. As cruel as it may have been, the Yankees caught a huge break when Tanyon Sturtze went down with a season-ending shoulder injury, but Scott Proctor has risen up to replace him. The Yankees need to learn to ignore the fact that Smith throws with his left hand, to ignore the fact that Proctor throws in the mid-90s and started the season with a 1.42 ERA and just one-homer allowed over his first 25 1/3 innings pitched. The wrong man is in the Yankee bullpen.
In other rookie reliever news, T.J. Beam is getting optioned down today so that the Yankees can finally bring Kevin Thompson back up. Beam's demotion is well earned given his 10.13 ERA, 1.86 WHIP and four homers allowed in eight innings pitched. Not that Beam should be judged on that small sample alone, but that poor performance combined with the fact that he only had five triple-A appearances under his belt when he was called up makes him the obvious candidate for demotion. (Meanwhile, to beat a dead horse, a poll over on the Clippers' we site reports that 42.98 percent of fans believe that Colter Bean has been the Clipper's Most Valuable Player over the first half of the season. The only other Clipper in double digits is the recently demoted Kevin Reese. Meanwhile, Free Colter Bean reports that Mr. Bean is bearing down on the all-time record for appearances by a Clipper, a record that's over 100 years old. Sigh.)
Kevin Thompson never should have been sent down in the first place, having gone 3 for 11 with a double a homer and three walks in his five appearances with the Yankees before being demoted for Jose Veras, who never got into a game with the Yanks. With Johnny Damon likely to miss the final two games of the first half due to a sore abdominal muscle and the Devil Rays starting lefties in both games, Thompson's righty bat and center field glove are at peak value to the Yankees over the next two days as the only alternatives are the lefty-hitting Bubba Crosby and Aaron Guiel.
Guiel is the Yankees' other recent addition. Like Bubba Crosby, he's a 30-something lefty-hitting outfielder celebrated for his hard-nosed playing style and teen idol good looks. Guiel isn't as fast or as strong a fielder as Crosby, but unlike Bubba, the 33-year-old Guiel has a strong minor league track record at the plate (.290/.387/.515 over 13 minor league seasons with the Angels, Padres and Royals organizations as well as a brief stint in the Mexican league in 2000). Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to make that translate into consistent major league success.
Guiel got his first shot at the majors age 29 with the Royals in 2002, the same year that Tony Peña took over as manager. He struggled mightily through 240 Bubba-like at-bats that year, but then seemed to break out at age 30 in 2003 with a .277/.346/.489 line across 354 at-bats. The next year, however, he struggled something awful before being put on the DL with blurred vision in his left eye. Guiel eventually got laser surgery on both eyes and returned to the team after tearing up the Pacific Coast League, but didn't get back on track in the majors until the following season when he hit .294/.355/.450 across 109 at-bats after having once again beat up on the PCL.
The Royals finally fired General Manager Allard Baird this May and his replacement, former Braves' assistant GM Dayton Moore, likely realized that the 33-year-old Guiel was neither going to be a part of the Royals future, nor had even modest trade value. So, on June 30 Guiel was designated for assignment despite some signs of life over a very small sample (3 homers and 7 walks in 59 plate appearances in the majors on top of a .249/.388/.525 line in triple-A).
With Brian Cashman wanting to wait to make a deal until as close to the non-waiver trading deadline as possible in order to drive town teams' asking prices, taking a flier on Guiel is a solid bargain basement move. That said, having both Guiel and Crosby on the team is redundant. As I've been arguing since spring training, I'd much rather see Kevin Thompson in Bubba's spot, and with the recently demoted Kevin Reese available as a lefty option in case Guiel doesn't pan out, I just don't see the point in hanging on to Bubba any longer. Thompson and Guiel/Reese give the Yankees a righty-lefty set of back-up/platoon-worthy outfielders, both of whom can play center (Reese and Thompson have been the Clippers' primary center fielders since Melky's promotion), steal a base, and, unlike Mr. Crosby, hit.
Though I think Reese deserved a longer look (5 for 13 with two walks and a steal in the majors, though no extra base hits), Guiel's 2003 and 2005 major league numbers and minor league track record are very intriguing. If Guiel can hit .280/.350/.460 or so from the left side (or perhaps even better, particularly in terms of his slugging, if not forced to face lefty pitching) while splitting right field with either Bernie (.329/.374/.488 vs. lefties) or Thompson (who, like Guiel, would represent a significant defensive upgrade in right), the Yankees may not need to trade for a right fielder. And speaking of defense, this fiercely objective site speaks very highly of Guiel's throwing arm. Does replacing Bernie's .253/.285/.374 performance against righties with Guiel's bat, arm, and 103 career Rate in right field not sound like a good idea to anyone?
In other news, Erubiel Durazo exercised his out-clause in his minor league deal with the Yankees and was released following a .290/.400/.419 performance in 19 games with the Clippers. And for anyone who hasn't already heard, the Yankees signed 16-year-old catching prospect Jesus Montero for $2 million this past week. Montero is one of the most highly regarded, if not the most highly regarded, international free agent from this year's group and, while many expect the 6'3" Montero to change positions before reaching the majors, the Yankees believe he's their Catcher of the Future, which, combined with Jorge's strong performance thus far this year, should take some of the edge off seeing Dioner Navarro in a Devil Rays' uniform this weekend.