Free Agent Dumpster Diving Pays Off for Yankees By David Golebiewski The New York Yankees are

synonymous with financial largesse. Nine-figure long-term contracts. A total team payroll that trumps the gross domestic product of some small countries. A $1.5 billion baseball cathedral in the Bronx. Solid-gold bats, gloves and caps (OK, not really, but you get the point). But, for all the advantages that the club’s unlimited coffers afford them, a vital reason why the Yankees ran away with the AL East in 2011 was that they got some fantastic bargains while dumpster-diving in the low end of the free agent market. It was hardly by design. New York was left scrambling to fill roster spots as spring training rapidly approached. The starting rotation behind CC Sabathia was in flux, as the Yankees lost the Cliff Lee sweepstakes to the Phillies, didn’t pull off a trade for a top-tier arm and watched Andy Pettitte bid the Bronx adieu for a second time by retiring. The outfield featured quality starters but little depth, and the team needed someone to crouch behind the plate with a creaky, 40-yearold Jorge Posada no longer able to do so. That desperation led the Yankees to dial up some former stars with dubious career prospects and medical files bizarre enough to fill an entire season of House. Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones and Russell Martin combined for 11 All-Star appearances and about $230 million in career earnings entering the year, but all four were squarely in the Blue Light Special section of free agency. New York hit big on each seemingly busted veteran. Well-paid players in the prime of their careers no doubt propelled the Yankees toward the playoffs, but this quartet pushed them over the top, providing the difference between October baseball (however brief it was) and a bitter third-place finish behind the Rays and Red Sox. Bartolo Colon It's often said that starting pitchers need three solid offerings to keep hitters off balance and navigate lineups multiple times. Bartolo Colon spent the better part of a decade debunking that baseball axiom. The bulky right-hander peppered batters with one low-90s fastball after another, besting the 200 inning mark seven times in eight years from 1998 to 2005 while ranking ninth among starters in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a stat that compares a player's value to that of a readily-available waiver-wire or minor league player. But then Colon fell apart physically, and his fastball abandoned him. Following a 222.2 inning regular season, Colon left Game of the 2005 ALDS against the Yankees with a shoulder injury. He didn't get much offseason rest, rushing back to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in the spring. That's when the injury avalanche began.

Colon suffered rotator cuff, elbow, back, oblique and knee ailments from 2006 to 2009, throwing just 257 combined innings for the Angels, Red Sox and White Sox. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), an ERA estimator that judges hurlers on strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed, was 4.86. And that fastball? Colon still threw it about 80 percent of the time, but it sat in the 89-90 MPH range instead of 92-93. Colon then didn't pitch at all in 2010 due to a rotator cuff problem. As a bad-bodied, brittle pitcher in his late thirties, Colon looked cooked. He took the mound for the Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Republic Winter League, though, under the tutelage of manager and Yankees bench coach Tony Pena. Colon showed his old velocity, and New York came calling with a one-year, $900,000 minor league contract. At 38, Colon turned in a season reminiscent of his ...salad(?) days in Cleveland and L.A./Anaheim. He used his fastball (averaging 91.7 MPH) about 83 percent of the time, the second-highest rate among starters. That heater-centric approach led to 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.2 walks and 1.15 home runs per nine in 164.1 innings pitched, good for a 3.83 FIP. Colon ranked second among Bombers starters with 2.9 WAR. And aside from a strained hamstring that sidelined him in June, he stayed healthy. Colon's season didn't lack controversy, though. News reports emerged that in April of 2010, Colon had a procedure in which doctors extracted fat and bone marrow stem cells and injected them into his elbow and shoulder. Major League Baseball looked into the matter, though nothing emerged about their findings as of October. It's easy (and overly simplistic) that say that Colon got some unfair advantage from the treatment and that it made him into a different pitcher. But he didn't morph into some Strasburgian cyborg with superhuman powers; Colon merely resembled the guy he was from the late '90s to the early aughts. Freddy Garcia Freddy Garcia's epitaph appeared written in New York -- Buffalo, New York, that is. Like Colon, The Chief was once one of the game's true workhorses, topping 200 innings seven times in eight years from 1999 to 2006 and prompting the Phillies to swap Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd to the White Sox for his services before the 2007 season. Those innings took their toll, however. Garcia began the season on the DL with a biceps injury, made 11 brutal starts and underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum in August. He inked a minor league deal with the Tigers a year later and made a few middling September starts, rarely getting out of the mid-to-high-80s with his fastball before shoulder stiffness shelved him again. The Mets took a flyer on Garcia heading into 2009, and that's when The Rock look-alike's career hit rock bottom. He showed Wakefield-esque zip on his fastball in spring training and was released in April after coughing up 10 runs in 11 innings at Triple-A Buffalo. Garcia looked

washed up at 32 years old, his surgically-repaired shoulder having robbed him of the low-to-mid90s heat he once showcased with the Mariners. Thankfully, the White Sox gave him one last chance in June. Garcia adapted to his lower-octane arsenal, going to his breaking and off-speed stuff nearly 60 percent of the time while posting a 3.35 FIP. Chicago exercised a $1 million club option on him for the 2010 season, and he all but scrapped his 87-88 MPH fastball, throwing it just 30 percent. Garcia logged logged 157 innings while striking out 5.1 batters per nine innings, walking 2.6 per nine and allowing 1.3 HR/9. Sure, his 4.77 FIP wasn't great, but it sure beat getting lit up in the International League. New York, frantically trying to fill the back end of its rotation as the calendar flipped to February, gave Garcia a one-year, $1.5 million minor league deal with $3.6 million in possible incentives. It looked like a terrible match of pitcher and ball park on paper. A finesse, fly ball pitcher making home starts at a stadium that increased homers by 34 percent during its first two years in existence? Good luck with that. Despite those concerns, Garcia didn't get rocked and managed to stay healthy, save for cutting his index finger in an August kitchen mishap (Jeremy Affeldt, Brett Cecil, Garcia...pitchers make bad chefs). He whiffed 5.9 per nine and walked 2.8 in 146.2 frames, giving up just a homer per nine innings in pinstripes. Garcia caught some breaks with runners on base, as his 77 percent strand rate was 4-5 percentage points above his career average, but he was a quality back-end starter whether you judge by ERA (3.62) or FIP (4.12). Even with roughly $3 million in bonus money earned, Garcia proved to be a great value by totaling 2.2 WAR. He did that despite averaging 87.2 MPH with his fastball (thrown 36 percent of the time), besting just Wakefield, Livan Hernandez, R.A. Dickey, Shaun Marcum and Bronson Arroyo among right-handed starters. If Garcia went to an Independent League tryout, he might not get signed. Yet he remains a serviceable starter by flummoxing hitters with slow sliders, curves, changeups and splitters. Velocity isn't everything, and reports of Garcia's demise turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Andruw Jones When Yankees fans first caught a glimpse of Andruw Jones, he was a beaming teenager from Curacao circling the bases for the Braves in Game One of the 1996 World Series. Jones jolted pitches from Pettitte and Brian Boehringer deep into the Bronx night, replacing Mickey Mantle as the youngest player to go yard in the Fall Classic. Though New York ultimately prevailed in six games, Jones finished the series 10-for-20 and showcased the power and fielding prowess that would lead to over 400 career home runs and 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards. The 34-year-old version of Jones fitted for pinstripes wasn’t nearly as svelte, fleet of foot or celebrated. After departing Atlanta for the Dodgers following the 2007 season, Jones became a

devoted follower of the Body By Boomer Wells fitness plan, suffered a knee injury, tanked at the plate and drew his release with a year remaining on his contract. Chastened by having to settle for a minor league deal with the Rangers, Jones partially revived what had once looked like a slam-dunk Hall of Fame career in 2009 as a lefty-masher, and he did much the same on the South Side of Chicago in 2010. Asked to replace Marcus Thames as the Yankees’ resident lefty bopper, Jones signed a one-year deal worth $2 million, or roughly what he made per month during his later years with the Braves. He proved worth the modest investment and then some. Jones batted .247, got on base at a .356 clip and slugged .495 in 222 plate appearances, the great majority of which (65 percent) came against southpaw pitching. The one-time center field wunderkind stuck to the outfield corners in New York, and advanced defensive metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating show that he added a few runs of value compared to an average fielder. Getting platooned, pinch-hitting and drawing all of one plate appearance against the righty-heavy Tigers in the 2011 American League Division Series – this isn’t how most envisioned Jones’ post-Braves career unfolding. But he was inarguably one of the best reserve players in the game, contributing 1.4 WAR. Whether Jones' early-career brilliance leads him to Cooperstown one day could come down to how much merit voters give advanced defensive stats. His 71.7 career WAR, fueled largely by otherworldly fielding figures, ties him with Hall of Famers Ed Delahanty and Duke Snider and...Graig Nettles, a sublime third baseman who had his best seasons with the Yankees but failed to impress Cooperstown gate holders. Wherever Jones' career goes from here, Yankees fans at least got to see flashes of the former phenom from the home dugout this time. Russell Martin Posada's ailing body -- he suffered a fractured foot, played through a painful cyst that made it hard to squat and dealt with concussion-like symptoms in 2010 -- relegated him to a part-time DH role in 2011. Problem was Russell Martin, though just 28, also appeared to be falling apart. With the Dodgers, Martin shouldered one of the heaviest workloads ever among catchers in their early-to-mid-twenties. He appeared in 449 games from age 24 to 26, the third-highest total alltime for a catcher in that age range (Randy Hundley and Gary Carter rank one and two). ThenDodgers manager Joe Torre even had Martin, who began his pro career as a third baseman, manning the hot corner on days that he wasn't behind the plate in 2008. All of that playing time seemed to sap his power, as Martin went from hitting 19 home runs and slugging .469 at age 24 to just seven homers and a .329 slugging percentage at 26. Martin's power outage continued into the summer of 2010 (five HR, .332 slugging percentage) before his ability to ever catch again came into question on August 3.

He tagged up from third base on a fly ball that Jamey Carroll hit to San Diego's Chris Denorfia and was tagged out standing up by catcher Nick Hundley. Martin, motoring toward the plate and unable to stop himself, tripped on Hundley's leg and then jammed his right leg on the edge of the dirt circle around home plate, tumbling into the grass and writhing in pain. Martin suffered a hairline fracture and torn labrum in his right hip, ending his season and ultimately his tenure in L.A. He didn't have surgery on the hip and the Dodgers, wary of his health and unwilling to give him a raise in arbitration, non-tendered the former franchise cornerstone. New York, needing a Posada replacement and aware that its well-regarded catching prospects weren't ready, came calling. Martin got a one-year, $4 million deal that included $1.45 million in playing time-based incentives. Some panned the move, especially when Martin underwent right knee surgery less than a week after signing. However, he made sure no one forgot the name Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin by staying healthy, re-discovering his power stroke and snagging all that bonus cash. Appearing in 125 games behind the dish, Martin popped 18 home runs while batting .237/.324/.408. That might sound ho-hum until you consider that run-scoring dipped again in 2011, the collective line for MLB catchers was just .244/.312/.388 and Martin still posted aboveaverage OBP and slugging marks despite a .252 batting average on balls in play that was a full 50 points below his career average entering the year. Defensively, Martin held his own. He threw out 30 percent of base runners (slightly above the 28 percent league average) and ranked as an average overall backstop according to Total Zone, a defensive system that rates catchers based on steals, caught stealing, errors, pick offs passed balls and wild pitches. Combine Martin's solid bat and glove at a premium position, and you have an All-Star worth 3.1 WAR, a top-10 mark among major league catchers. Happily, the Yankees can enjoy Martin's services next year as he is arbitration-eligible one last time in 2012. By taking a low-cost gamble, New York picked up a quality starter at a hard-to-fill lineup spot and a perfect bridge to the likes of Austin Romine, Jesus Montero (maybe) and, later on down the line, Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy. Conclusion Sometimes, it pays to be thrifty. The Yankees spent big on the free agent land mine known as relief pitching, with little to show for it. Pedro Feliciano (Two years, $8 million) might not ever throw a pitch for the club following late-season rotator cuff surgery and Rafael Soriano (Three years, $35 million) was plagued by an elbow injury and control woes (Cory Wade, a mid-season minor league sign, out-WARed them both). But in the shallow end of the free agent pool, New York struck gold.

Colon, Garcia, Jones and Martin combined for nearly 10 WAR while making less than $13 million. Adding one win to the roster on the free agent market typically costs between $4-$5 million (and deep-pocketed teams in contention can justify spending more), but our dumpsterdiving quartet cost just $1.34 million per win. Fangraphs.com shows that their contributions were worth about $43 million. That means they provided around $30 million in surplus value (the difference between what a player's production is worth and his actual salary): Player Salary WAR Free Agent $ Value $13.8 M $12.9 M $9.9 M $6.3 M $42.9 M

Russell Martin Bartolo Colon Freddy Garcia Andruw Jones Total

$5.45 M $0.9 M $4.5 M $2 M

3.1 2.9 2.2 1.4

$12.85 M 9.6

The Yankees won't ever be confused with a ballin'-on-a- budget squad, not when more than a third of the roster pulls down eight figures annually and the team outspends the Royals, Rays, Pirates and Padres combined. That said, through a combination of need, luck, diligent scouting and extra hours in the training room, New York got a tremendous return on investment on veterans thought to be on their last legs. Even if you're rich, it doesn't hurt to buy a lottery ticket every now and then. References Baseball-Reference.com Cot's Baseball Contracts Fangraphs.com

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