In the context of falling short on Cliff Lee, the preeminent starter on the free-agent market this offseason, the signing of left-handed relief specialist Pedro Feliciano barely registers as a blip on the Yankees’ radar.
Still, they are a win-now team (aren’t they always?), and the addition of Feliciano with a two-year, $9MM is a nice one if only because top-end complementary pieces are a necessary luxury for perennial World Series contenders. To that end, Feliciano’s former team, the Mets, with whom he spent the first eight years of his career, were wise to collect a compensatory draft pick and let him walk.
Feliciano presumably becomes the Bombers’ primary lefty specialist ahead of Boone Logan, a journeyman who enjoyed his best season in 2010 with the Yanks, and Damaso Marte, whose status remains uncertain after undergoing major surgery on his throwing shoulder in October.
Since money is of little consequence to the Yankees, they assume little financial risk here, but the two years (with a team option for 2013) represent something of a gamble if only because relievers are prone to pretty wild fluctuations in year-to-year production, which says nothing of the fact that Feliciano is 34.
Where Feliciano has made his hay is in his retiring left-handed hitters and in taking the ball — a lot.
Indeed, he stifled lefties in 2010 (.211/.297/.276) and led the National League in appearances in each of the past three seasons.
However, bear in mind that Feliciano’s outings far exceed his innings during that stretch (266 to 175 1/3). That’s right, he has averaged about two-thirds of an inning per appearance, making him a true specialist.
And therein lies the rub: If Feliciano were to really go off the rails, the committed roster spot would be more valuable to the Yanks than negligible production.
Purists may bemoan this sort of excruciating specialization, but it’ll come in handy in high-leverage situations in September, October or November when a lefty thumper like Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton or Adrian Gonzalez saunters to the plate.
Make no mistake: This move was made with scenarios like those in mind.
The Twins and Red Sox, both of whom the Yankees have encountered in the postseason in recent years, are notably heavy on left-handed hitters in their respective lineups. Minnesota’s two best hitters, Justin Morneau and Mauer, are both lefties, and many of Boston’s best are of the same persuasion: Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew, David Ortiz, Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury.
As for whether Feliciano’s addition signals the end of a bullpen shuffle, that should not be the case, but the Yankees are left in the unenviable position of being buyers in a seller’s market. Joaquin Benoit parlayed one ridiculously good season into a three-year deal with Detroit, while Scott Downs was awarded similarly by the Angels. Meanwhile, Ex-Yank Kerry Wood re-signed with the Cubs for a fraction of what he’s worth.
General managers may be handing out bad deals to relievers like so much candy, but the Bombers are best advised to look within or scrape some arms off the scrap heap rather than follow suit off that bridge.
Feliciano is certainly not Lee, but he’s darn good a what he does.