• Enter Next Sandman?

    Posted by on October 20th, 2006 · Comments (17)

    Watching the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright throw in the 2006 NLCS made me think of something Yankees-related.

    Mariano Rivera will be 38-years old by the end of next season. Would it make sense for the Yankees to use Philip Hughes in their bullpen next season, as a set-up man, with the hope that eventually he will replace Rivera as the next closer in the Bronx?

    Hughes, while he’s been a starter to date, has the stuff to close – like Wainwright. Plus, doesn’t he help the team more if he’s a part of 45-55 wins (as a reliever) than if he’s a part of 15-25 wins (as a starter)?

    Of course, there’s a couple of issues here. First, the Yankees need starters now and in the seasons to follow and Hughes would fill that need. Secondly, there’s always the strong chance that Joe Torre would ruin Hughes’ arm if he was used as a relief pitcher – by using him too often.

    Still, this could be a way for Hughes to break in with the Yankees next year – by just coming into a game and pumping gas for an inning while dropping an occasion hook here and there. If handled properly, working out of the pen would be the way to ensure that Hughes’ arm his not abused (given his age) – assuming that Torre could be controlled.

    Hughes could set-up for Mo in 2007 and 2008 and then be the new Yankees closer in 2009 (when Rivera should be ready to step down). Put it this way – who else is onboard now to replace Mariano when the time comes? J. Brent Cox? I’m not sure that Cox has the command of a Hughes – at least yet.

    Young starter converted to reliever Hughes can be to Rivera what young starter converted to reliever Rivera was to former Yanks closer John Wetteland. If this worked then, why can’t it work again?

    Comments on Enter Next Sandman?

    1. October 20th, 2006 | 2:23 pm

      No way, I’d be a waste to stick Hughes in the pen long term. He’s got great control and improving command of 4 pitchers, relievers are guys with 1-2 good pitches, tops.

      I’d rather see Hughes get 700 outs a year rather than 3 in the 9th inning every couple of days.

      JB Cox may close, but Mark Melancon has a better shot to replace Mo. These things never work out the way they’re supposed to, so more than likely someone we’ve never even thought of will take over for Mo.

    2. October 20th, 2006 | 2:29 pm

      I’d rather see Hughes remain a starter simply because that’s where the Yankees most glaring need is.

      Also, if you feel that Mo can hang around until 2009, you have two full years in which J. Brent Cox or Mark Melancon,
      http://ym.mostvaluablenetwork.com/prospect-profiles/prospect-profile-mark-melancon/
      (both of whom have closing experience) can step up and show that they can handle the job.

    3. Mike in DC
      October 20th, 2006 | 2:33 pm

      I agree with the others in that it seems that Hughes’ value, like Papplebon’s – lies in his continuing to start. Although, God forbid, anything happens to Mo next year Hughes might be a good place to look for a replacement… just a thought, hopefully they won’t have to even think about that!

    4. Raf
      October 20th, 2006 | 2:37 pm

      I’d see what Hughes can do in the rotation first. Remember, Mo was moved to the pen because he failed as a starter.

      Having said that, if Hughes has durability issues, I can see him working out of the pen.

    5. Guinness
      October 20th, 2006 | 2:46 pm

      Assuming that Hughes actuall throws “gas”, which is more commonly related to 97-98mph, and nothing I’ve seen or read qualifies him in that range. He has to develop either a gross change-up to go with his 91-93mph, or be able to live on corners like Mo’s fastball, because he most certainly doesn’t have a cutter. Much less THAT cutter.
      The thing with him is, while all his pitches are good and effective, none of them are great strike out pitches like Papelbons slider or Mo’s cutter, and you’re closer has to have that.
      On another note, his performance in the All-Star game doesn’t bode well for his ability to come into a close game late with good hitters staring at him.
      Leave him in the rotation, where he belongs and pray for something even resembling Mo comes down the line if needed. He can come up when he’s ready, because if you rush him you end up with the results the Red Sox had this year with guys like Hansen (who was lights out in the minors) and Lester (before the sickness he has). Let him develop as a pitcher and avoid throwing him into a fire that causes a loss in confidence.

    6. JeremyM
      October 20th, 2006 | 2:56 pm

      Thanks for the most depressing post ever. Mo is turning 38 next year? For some reason I had it in my head that he was 34 or 35. Mortality sucks.

    7. October 20th, 2006 | 3:10 pm

      The thing that concerns me about Cox and Melancon is that college closers don’t make big league closers the majority of the time. Yeah, a Street or someone slips in, once in a while, but, for the most part, it seems like they don’t convert 90% of the time.

      Most of your great, proven, long term closers were starters in school and in the minors.

    8. rbj
      October 20th, 2006 | 3:25 pm

      Mo is only 29. Yeah. 29. I’m going to stick my fingers in my ears and hum so you can’t tell me otherwise.

      You need to have effective starters in order to get a lead that can then be handed over to the closer. Starting pitching comes first.

      Steve, I think the position of closer is still evolving, so it may yet be that a good college closer can translate into a pro closer. OTOH, it may be that just building up arm strength (and in game experience) by being a starter (think innnings thrown and situations faced) helps pitchers who then become closers.

    9. Ron McGathy
      October 20th, 2006 | 4:11 pm

      Thanks for the opportunity to post and the exceptional blog. I appreciate your postings.

      There is a much closer example to what you suggest with Hughes. If you don’t mind me mentioning the Red Sox and Jonathon Papelbon. He was slated to be a starter but instead they brought him up as a reliever because of their set rotation at the first of the year. When they needed more starters later in the year they couldn’t move him because he was to entrenched as the closer. It will be very interesting to see what they do with him next year both in terms of the Red Sox and maybe as an example of what you suggest.

    10. Guinness
      October 20th, 2006 | 4:15 pm

      Um, if anyone thinks that Hughes can be Papelbon, they’re not looking at the same guy I am. As a closer, he throws close to a hundred mph, and has a nasty slider and splitter. As much as I don’t like the fact, Hughes can’t be compared to him quite yet because he doesn’t have nearly the stuff that Papelbon does.

    11. RICH
      October 20th, 2006 | 4:15 pm

      “Most of your great, proven, long term closers were starters in school and in the minors.”

      On the other hand, most of the LOUSY closers have also been starters in school and in the minors.

      You often implore the Yankees to “think outside the box”, they’re trying something here and not necessarily going one way at the expense of other tactics.

    12. October 20th, 2006 | 4:37 pm

      I didn’t consider lousy closers since they don’t remain closers for very long.

    13. Don
      October 20th, 2006 | 5:39 pm

      Starter for Hughes.

      MO will be irreplaceable.

    14. baileywalk
      October 20th, 2006 | 5:43 pm

      Wow, Steve, no offense, but that’s a horrible idea! Hughes is looked at as a potential ace. Why would you throw away 15-20 wins a year to get 40 saves? It doesn’t make sense. It’s much harder to find someone who can be an effective starter than an effective relief pitcher. Hughes has command of four pitches. That means he’s TOO GOOD for the bullpen. The reason people think Papelbon is better for the closer’s role is that he doesn’t have much after his fastball. Hughes does. Relievers, no matter how good, are still guys not good enough to start. Hughes is way too good to stick in the ‘pen.

      As for Mo’s replacement: it could be J.B. (doubtful), it could be Melancon (maybe), or it could be David Robertson (another college closer who is hard to hit and strikes out a ton). Or it could be someone who’s not here yet.

      We don’t know that yet. But panicking and making Hughes a closer would be a disaster.

      I think J.B. looks more like a setup guy. Melancon and Robertson seem more likely to become closers. Right now, the Yankees are pitching-rich in the minors. Which means we should all just chill out, sit back, and look forward to the guys who will be coming up over the next few years.

      But when Hughes comes up, it has to be as a starter.

    15. baileywalk
      October 20th, 2006 | 5:49 pm

      Um, if anyone thinks that Hughes can be Papelbon, they’re not looking at the same guy I am. As a closer, he throws close to a hundred mph, and has a nasty slider and splitter. As much as I don’t like the fact, Hughes can’t be compared to him quite yet because he doesn’t have nearly the stuff that Papelbon does.

      ————————-

      Hughes is ten times the pitcher that Papelbon is. As starters, there’s no comparison. Papelbon has a great fastball, but that’s about it — and if he’s starting, he’s not going to be throwing 97 anymore (and Paps wasn’t hitting 100; he was 94-95 most nights, 96-97 on a good night).

      But “stuff” isn’t just about velocity. Hughes’ curveball (the harder-breaking one he strikes people out with) is better than anything Papelbon throws. Hughes has great control with all four of his pitches, and his fastball isn’t much off of Paps’ (it’s 91-96).

      There’s a reason Papelbon wasn’t even the top-ranked pitcher in the Sox’s farm system. He’s all fastball and nothing else. You can’t last long that way if you’re a starer. Don’t be surprised if he ends up back in the ‘pen.

    16. adam
      October 20th, 2006 | 5:57 pm

      no way hughes should be a closer, but if you are deadset on replacing mariano with a starter currently in the yankee system, you should be looking at dellin betances. how about a guy that is 6’7″ coming out of the pen throwing absolute gas.

      anyway, young starters are the greatest commodity in all of baseball, why not just use the vast checkbook to sign the best closer available when mo hangs up the spikes? someone like hutson street, k-rod, or that ilk could very well be a free agent when mariano calls it quits.

    17. October 22nd, 2006 | 8:49 pm

      the toughest thing to get nowadays is great starting pitching. it’s easier to get a great reliever than a great starter.

      look at the WS teams’ closers: T. Jones & Isringhausen. A journeyman reliever and a has-been phenom. remember 96 and Wetteland?

      I think a team can get by with ‘just’ a good closer. But having a great starter is more valuable than a great reliever (at least imo).

      Plus the fact that Hughes would be wasted as a RP. Like others have said, he’s got 3 plus pitches. That’s 2 too many for a reliever.

      If you want an idea out of the box, how about RJ as a reliever. He still dominates lefties, and could pitch effectively against righties. He only has 2 pitches, and for just an inning, he could let loose and probably hit 98 mph (like he did in Detroit).

      the next Mo. There may never be one. Melancon has good stuff. But more likely he’s not in our system yet. we could always sign a guy like BJ Ryan.

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