With their offseason shopping essentially complete, the Yankees splurged for one more reliever earlier this week, signing David Aardsma to a one-year contract with a club option for 2013. The terms are hilariously team friendly, as the right-hander will make just $500,000 in 2012 with another $500,000 in available incentives. The option is also worth $500,000 as well, and any incentives he earns in 2012 will raise his 2013 salary by the same amount. At most, they’ll have to pay him $2 million over the next two years after he made $4.5 million in 2011 alone.
Of course, Aardsma is damaged goods. The 30-year-old didn’t pitch at all last season due to hip trouble and later elbow problems that required Tommy John surgery. He’s expected back in August, but GM Brian Cashman said the signing has more to do with 2013 than it does 2012.
“Once we get him in here, get to know him, start handling the process, we’ll have a better feel over time,” said Cashman to Chad Jennings of The Journal News yesterday. “(Maybe) he’s ahead of schedule. He might be behind schedule. This is more of a long-term effort on our part rather than something that I expect will help us in 2012. [Joba Chamberlain] I know is going to help us in 2012. [Aardsma] might help us in 2012, but we expect him to help us in 2013 if we want because we control the contract status on him.”
Before the injuries, Aardsma had stepped in as a Capital-C closer for the Mariners, saving 69 games in 78 chances from ’09-’10. Walks have always been a problem (career 5.05 BB/9 and 12.8 BB%), but he did a slightly better job of avoiding the free pass with Seattle (4.39 BB/9 and 11.8 BB%). Missing bats has been a constant throughout his time in the show — career 9.08 K/9 and 23.0 K% with 9.60 K/9 and 25.9 K% from ’09-’10 — and the late-game experience doesn’t hurt. Aardsma was close to a replacement level pitcher before joining the Mariners, but did improve during his prime years.
It’s worth noting that the Yankees have turned this trick before, once successfully and once unsuccessfully. They signed Jon Lieber to a two-year, $3.5 million contract in January of 2003 knowing that he would miss the season with Tommy John surgery. He rewarded them with 176.2 IP and a four-win season in 2004. They also signed Octavio Dotel to a one-year, $2 million deal two years later knowing he would miss half the season with elbow surgery. He suffered numerous setbacks and then allowed 13 runs in ten late-season innings.
The Yankees have very little to lose with the contract. Aardsma carries less risk than either Lieber or Dotel because they’re only obligated to pay him little more than the league minimum this year and potential next year as well. So if Aardsma’s health or performance aren’t up to snuff, they’ll simply cut him like they would anyone else. If he comes back from surgery strong and pitches close to how he did in Seattle, they’ve got a cheap little bullpen option for next season. It’s a shrewd move and zero risk situation for the Yankees.
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