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January 30, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Wednesday, January 30

by Daniel Rathman

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The Mets have been busy over the past week, meeting with Scott Boras about Michael Bourn and reeling in Scott Atchison on a minor-league deal. According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, whether Bourn ultimately lands in Queens or elsewhere, general manager Sandy Alderson has at least one other move up his sleeve.

After inking Atchison, Mets have room for more bullpen upgrades
Less than an hour after the Mets announced the Atchison signing, Heyman tweeted that Alderson was “still in the market for more relief help,” with the search possibly including closers as well as middle-inning arms. That jibes with the team’s decision to hold a private workout for Brian Wilson earlier this month, and though the Mets came away skeptical of the former Giant’s health at that point, Alderson told ESPN’s Jim Bowden on Sunday that they are willing to give him a second look.

As of right now, only three pitchers are virtually guaranteed spots in manager Terry Collins’ bullpen. Right-hander Frank Francisco is likely to be the Opening Day closer, with fellow northpaw Bobby Parnell handling the primary set-up duties and spelling him when necessary. Left-hander Josh Edgin, who recorded 30 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings and held like-handed hitters to a .233 TAv, should be in line for specialist duties, with a chance to earn set-up looks as well.

Beyond that trio, there is a plethora of candidates and little certainty about which of them will break camp with the major-league squad. Assuming that Shaun Marcum passes his physical, the rotation will feature Johan Santana, Jonathon Niese, Marcum, Dillon Gee, and Matt Harvey, leaving three relatively inexperienced pitchers to battle for swingman and spot-start work. Jeremy Hefner, whose 3.70 FIP last year was markedly better than his 5.09 ERA, may have the inside track on that job, though Collin McHugh and Jenrry Mejia could make a play for it, too. More likely—as MLB.com beat writer Anthony DiComo suggested in his Inbox column eight days ago—Mejia, who was bumped from the rotation by the Marcum signing, will lead the rotation at Triple-A Las Vegas and be the first pitcher promoted if a member of the fragile starting five gets hurt. Since Hefner and McHugh are older and have much lower ceilings, one of them would be better served in the long-man role than Mejia, who needs a consistent workload to improve.

That’s four spots filled, and either three or four more to go; fortunately, the fifth member of the bullpen seems easy to deduce. If Atchison, who reportedly chose his destination based on the likelihood that he would begin the season in the majors, did not err in his judgment, then he should be in line to capture a middle-inning assignment. A sixth reliever, if Heyman’s report proves prescient, is expected to come from outside of the organization. Suddenly, only one or two openings are up for grabs.

Our own Jason Martinez, who does an outstanding job of projecting all 30 teams’ rosters at MLB Depth Charts, currently has Greg Burke and/or Pedro Feliciano rounding out the staff, with several younger pitchers lurking on the periphery. Burke and Feliciano were both added (or, in Feliciano’s case, brought back) on minor-league pacts earlier this winter: The former worked the 2012 season in the minors for the Orioles (Double-A Bowie) and Marlins organizations (Triple-A New Orleans), and has not appeared in the majors since 2009, while the latter opted to return after spending two years with the Yankees without making a major-league appearance.

One other factor potentially at play is whether Collins will want a second lefty in his bullpen, so that either Edgin or the other southpaw can split higher-leverage duties with Parnell while the other serves as a specialist. If so, then that may suggest that the smart money is on Feliciano, assuming that his shoulder is healthy again. The alternatives include Aaron Laffey, who was signed on a minor-league deal in December, Robert Carson, who got his feet wet last year, and minor-league veteran Scott Rice, who has made 480 professional appearances but is still waiting to realize his big-league dreams.

Whether the Mets sign Wilson or another reliever in the coming weeks, with at least a half-dozen pitchers fighting for one spot, the last-man competition at St. Lucie will be one to watch this spring.

Yankees could try to void Alex Rodriguez’s contract
Meanwhile, across town, the Yankees might be looking to subtract—$114 million over five years, to be exact. According to Andrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York, general manager Brian Cashman and the team’s owners are searching for loopholes that would enable them to shed Rodriguez’s paychecks from the books, in the wake of a Miami New Times report that indicated that he and several other major leaguers purchased performance-enhancing drugs from a Miami clinic as recently as last year.

The trouble for the Yankees, as many pointed out yesterday, is that the collective bargaining agreement already includes punitive measures for players who are caught using PEDs—namely, unpaid suspensions. It says nothing of an organization’s right to evade a contract for drug-related reasons, and leaves the Yankees with few avenues toward that end. In fact, per ESPN sports business expert Darren Rovell, the team’s optimal recourse might be convincing a doctor to declare Rodriguez’s hip injury as “career-ending,” which would then turn his salaries away from ownership and to its insurance company. Even that seems to be a longshot.

At this point, it appears the contract-voiding talk is all smoke and no fire. Then again, this new saga—both from the Miami clinic angle, and from the Rodriguez contract front—may just be getting started.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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