The Yankees added a veteran right-hander to their bullpen today when they signed the soon-to-be 37-year-old Chan Ho Park to a one-year deal. Park comes to the Yankees hot off of 3.1 scoreless innings against them in four appearances in the World Series.
Park’s career has been defined by the nine seasons he spent as a starter with the Dodgers, particularly at Dodger Stadium. In his career, Park has a 2.95 ERA at Chavez Ravine, 5.12 everywhere else. Foolishly disregarding his own dependence on the ballpark, in 2002 Park joined the Texas Rangers as a free agent, going from the DH-free league to the AL and from a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s paradise. He was predictably shellacked. His career ERA at the Ballpark in Arlington was 5.74, as Park’s tendency towards wildness and home runs combined to destroy his effectiveness. His career never truly recovered from the experience, especially after Park also had to deal with a plethora of difficult injuries.
Park had always been resistant to relief work, but two years ago, Joe Torre finally chucked him into the bullpen. Results were mixed. Park had a 3.84 ERA in relief, allowed 75 hits in 70.1 innings, walking 28, allowing 10 home runs, and striking out 49. He was also pounded in the second half. This is not the kind of relief pitching you would cross the street for, not when you have better options. Park had also pitched well in five short starts (2.16 ERA in 25 innings), so he decamped for Philadelphia. Seven starts and a 7.29 ERA later, he was off to the bullpen for good.
It was at that point that things changed for Park and he made himself a free agent attractive enough to pique Brian Cashman’s interest. In 38 games, Park posted a 2.52 ERA. In 50 innings, he allowed but 43 hits, 16 walks, struck out 52, and, most significantly, allowed zero home runs. Ne home runs pa. None. During this phase, right-handed hitters batted .206/.265/.252 against him.
Here are two problems with the signing as I see them:
1. Park is not going to be this good again. He is not going to stop batters from parking one this year; that home run number is going to go up. Additionally, his strikeout rate could revert, making for a bad combination.
2. Did the Yankees really need him?
The Yankees can only carry so many relievers. Assuming two catchers, five outfielders (Brett Gardner, Randy Winn, Marcus Thames, Swish Nicker, Curtis Granderson), six infielders (Mark Teixeira, Robbie Cano, Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Ramiro Pena, and perhaps Kevin Russo), and five starting pitchers, the Yankees will have room for seven relievers: Mariano Rivera, Dave Robertson, Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, Alfredo Aceves, Damaso Marte, Chad Gaudin, and a second lefty TBD -- Boone Logan, Royce Ring, or maybe Paul Krugman.
Unless the Yankees do without a second infielder or fifth outfielder and hamstring themselves with 13 pitchers, an especially self-defeating thing to do early in the season, Park’s signing forces someone out, and we haven’t even talked about the rather depressing Sergio Mitre. The Yankees could go without a second lefty, at least for awhile, but that seems unwise, especially if they don’t want to break Marte again. They could ditch Gaudin, possible given that they had essentially no interest in using him after they picked him up last year, but that would be a mistake; throwing over a 27-year-old with a good slider for a 37-year-old is just bad policy, especially one who can serve as a spot starter who can keep you above replacement level. They could send down Robertson or Aceves, but these are valuable pitchers who can contribute right now and should continue to do so for years to come. There are simply no good answers here.
That said, Brian Cashman seems to be reacting to and learning from past experience. Building and maintaining a bullpen is the hardest thing a manager or general manager can undertake. As a breed, even the best relievers are inconsistent. That’s why when you find a Mariano Rivera, you hold on to him. In the past two years, the Yankees have twice had to rebuild their bullpen on the fly, starting out the season with one group -- Billy Traber? LaTroy Hawkins? -- and finishing with another. Last year, pitchers like Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras, who had helped rescue the 2008 bullpen, had to be rescued themselves. I believe those tense restructurings are what Cashman was referring to today when he said, "You can never have enough." He’s been there.
Still, this seems like overkill given the talent already on hand, and one that has a relatively low percentage chance of paying off. We haven’t even discussed other up-and-coming relievers like Mark Melancon, who is going to be a very solid reliever in the majors -- his combination of strikeouts and a very high groundball rate is going to be devastating. Perhaps he spooked the Yankees with his 10 walks in 16.1 Major League innings last season, but he wasn’t wild in the Minors and won’t be wild in the show. He’s 25, ready, and would have been certain to allow fewer home runs than Park. Now he’ll be lucky to see the Bronx this year.
Bullpen depth is a great thing, but the Yankees already had it. With this signing, they run the risk of bumping quality pitchers to the Minors for a likely has-been like Park or a never-was like Mitre. They have better pitchers than Park for high-leverage relief, which means Park becomes another up-by-four/down-by-four reliever. Those spots are a great place to get a neophyte reliever experience, not to pad a senior’s retirement account. This is a minor deal, and we shouldn’t overreact to it, but it’s not a good one.
MORE FROM ME
I’ve got new entries up at Wholesome Reading and another to come after I’m done here. Warning: Politics!
First chat of the week: I’ll be taking questions at Baseball Prospectus on Tuesday at 1 PM ET and all are welcome. Feel free to post questions in advance at the link above.
I’ll be back here doing the same (with a more Yankee-riffic bent, I imagine) on Friday at 12:30 PM ET. I’m looking forward to my first official YESchat.