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November 30, 2005

Shooting the Bull
by Sean McNally

Coming into the offseason, the Yankee brass and many Yankee fans had visions of big No. 52 taking the ball in the seventh and eighth inning to setup the last active No. 42 in baseball.

But alas, JP Ricciardi apparently valued him more to the tune of five years and $47 million.

Billy Wagner took $43 million from the Wilpons to be a Met for the next four years, making it a real possibility that Tom Gordon has thrown his last pitch for the Yankees.

So where does that leave the Yankee pen beyond Mariano Rivera? Well, as of this writing, a few isolated online sources are reporting that fireballing hothead Kyle Farnsworth for the next three seasons at $17 million adding his name to a list of question marks setting up the Greatest Closer Of All Time™.

The Yanks have roughly 11 guys on their 40-man roster, not counting Rivera and the apparently signed Farnsworth, that could see bullpen duty. Two of these guys should be eliminated from the setup man derby. Those poor souls are Jorge DePaula and Wayne Franklin.

That leaves nine applicants:

· Jason Anderson (26 RHP, 60/18 K/BB in 67.2 IP 2.66 ERA at AAA)
· T.J. Beam (24 RHP 105/25 77 IP 1.99 ERA between Low-A and High-A)
· Colter Bean (28 RHP 82/39 71.2 IP 3.01 ERA at AAA)
· Sean Henn (24 LHP 64/27 86.1 IP 3.23 ERA at AAA)
· Jeffery Karstens (23 RHP 147/42 169 IP 4.15 ERA at AA – 27 starts)
· Scott Proctor (29 RHP 36/17 44.2 IP 6.04 ERA at MLB)
· Matt Smith (25 LHP 92/36 82.1 IP 2.76 ERA between AA and AAA)
· Tanyon Sturtze (31 RHP 45/27 78 IP 4.73 ERA at MLB)

And the last mystery guests?

Well, the Yanks signed some guy named Jose Veras who believes he will be setting up Rivera. But if he does, I'll eat SG's hat.

Then there's the back end of the rotation/long relief portion of the program.

The Yanks have their top three starters set in Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang. The final two rotation spots will be filled by Shawn Chacon, Carl Pavano, Aaron Small or Jaret Wright.

Figuring that Chacon and Pavano win the starting pitcher derby, that leaves Small and Wright shuffling off to hang with Joe Kerrigan in the bullpen – unless they are traded.

Trading one of the two seems sensible, and both would have some value. Small's value is at its absolute peak right now, so why not hoist him off on another team, perhaps the Reds for disgruntled tools freak Wily Mo Pena or to the Phillies for Jason Michaels and add a potential impact outfielder.

We'll reluctantly eliminate Small. He seems like a nice guy and last year was a great story, but this is business. That leaves a starting rotation of Johnson, Mussina, Wang, Chacon and Pavano, with a bullpen with Rivera, Wright, Sturtze, Farnsworth and holes.

For those of you counting, that's nine pitchers, and since Joe usually likes to carry at least 11 hurlers, we have two vacancies at the inn.

Anderson had his shot, and is likely headed to Columbus, again. Ditto for Colter Bean, who appears to be running out of chances.

T.J. Beam has garnered quite a bit of press, likewise Brian Cashman has mentioned Matt Smith as a serious candidate. I think both should be looking for apartments in central Ohio, for this season at least. Karstens is a starter who will be headed to the bushes.

That leaves Proctor and Henn. Henn's into the fire debut last year did not go well, and his development would be best served by going to the minors.

If I were calling the shots, and for purposes of this rant I am, I'd non-tender him. He's really shown me nothing other than he throws hard and occasionally knows where it is going.

So we’re back to the same two open spots, one of whom must be a lefty.

The two most promising free agent candidates are Ricardo Rincon and Mike Myers.

Many people would favor Myers here, and he’s for sure death on lefties (and it would hurt a division rival), but I say the move here is Rincon.

He's younger, his ERA+ is more consistent (Myers improved his ERA+ by more than 50% in 2005) and he's not completely hapless against righties (.240/.387/.520 vs. .385/.510/.641 for Myers).

So we have one more slot to fill, and given the market, I doubt the chic choice of Octavio Dotel is going to be available. That should push Cashman toward the undervalued bin, and he should fix his gaze firmly on that other New York team.

Braden Looper, for all his flaws as the Mets closer, is a free agent and the bloom is very much off his rose.

In 534 career innings, Looper's given his teams an ERA+ of 118 and a 333/193 K/BB ratio, not fantastic, but as a seventh-inning matchup righty, pretty damn sexy.

That makes our hypothetical pitching staff look like the following:

SP - Johnson, R.
SP - Mussina, M.
SP - Wang, C.
SP - Chacon, S.
SP - Pavano, C.

RP - Wright, J.
RP - Sturtze, T.
RP - Rincon, R.
RP - Looper, B.
RP - Farnsworth, K.
CL - Rivera, M.

I don't know about you, but that looks like a darn solid bullpen, and the Yanks didn't need to open the vault hardly at all.