The Yankees are expected to activate offseason acquisition David Aardsma from the 60-day DL today. I wanted to learn a little bit about him before seeing him don the pinstripes. I decided to share what I learned. Enjoy, folks.
Late this past offseason (February 22, to be exact) the Yankees announced a signing that flew under the radar for even the most attentive of Yankees’ fans – the inking of former Mariners closer David Aardsma to a 1-year $500K deal with a team option for 2013. As Yanks fans we tend to not get too jazzed up about minor transactions, and besides, there were other things to concern ourselves with at the time: Mo’s retirement dance, Michael Pineda’s velocity, Russell Martin’s potential contract extension, and simply OMG BASEBALL IS BACK.
The day that Aardsma signed, however, I did put some thought into it. “I remember that guy,” I reminisced. “He was pretty good. I think he was on the Red Sox for a minute, and then saved a bunch of games for some bad Mariners teams. Huh. Whatever happened to him?” The answer: Injuries and a poor run of luck.
The first time I heard Aardsma’s name was when he was pitching for the Rice Owls in the 2003 College World Series, throwing pure gas throughout the tournament en route to an eventual championship. He was a closer then as well, setting both the school’s single season and career saves record during his college career. Numbers like that on a CWS champion team will get make you some friends at the draft, and that it did for David. Aardsma was selected by the San Francisco Giants 22nd overall in the 1st round of the 2003 Amateur Draft. After making his debut in A-ball that summer, Aardsma had prospect status bestowed upon him and was ranked at No. 3 in the Giants organization by Baseball America.
In 2004, Aardsma made the jump from A-ball to the majors and immediately struggled with his command. In fact, his inability to control his secondary pitches was what quickly led to his demotion, attempted conversion to starter in the minors, and subsequent trade to the Cubs in 2005. Things went from bad to worse, as Aardsma struggled in the Cubs’ system as well. His once robust K/9 rate had started to drop while the BB/9 continued to rise. From the North Side Aardsma was shipped to the South Side for one season, and then onto the Red Sox for another. After 5 years of service, the one time 1st round pick had become organizational depth.
The Red Sox seemingly had no space for a guy who walked 6.5/9 over 48.2 IP in 2008, so Aardsma was shipped to Seattle for Fabian Williamson (who?) prior to the 2009 season. Maybe the move out West was just what the doctor ordered, but the light suddenly went on when Aardsma got to Safeco. A bigger ballpark can always help a pitcher clean up his peripheral stats, but the change in Aardsma seemed to go deeper than that. He started throwing more strikes (BB/9 lowered to 4.3/9 over 71.1 IP) and did it by basically becoming a two pitch pitcher. Aardsma leaned heavily on a high-90s 4-seamer and complimented it with a hard slider. The results were overwhelmingly positive, as Aardsma posted a 2.52 ERA, 10.1 K/9, and notched 38 saves for a Mariners team that finished 85-77. David regressed a bit in 2010, but still managed to compile 31 saves for a team that lost over 100 games. His total of 69 saves in 2009-2010 was only 8 fewer than Mo racked up in that time.
Toward the end of the 2010 season, Aardsma was shut down when he required surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip (gasp! The A-Rod injury). While attempting to rehab his way back in early 2011, David felt that ominous “discomfort” in his pitching elbow. We all know the kind. Tommy John surgery in July of last year, followed by a set back in July 2012, has kept him on the shelf since. Having fairly major procedures back to back means that the now 30-year-old has not faced a major league batter since September of 2010.
So what can we really expect from a guy who spent over 2 years away from the majors? It’s likely that the final 9 games will serve as an audition of sorts, as Aardsma will be pitching to convince the Yankees to pick up his option in 2013. Command has never really been Aardsma’s forte, and the results were pretty unfavorable during his 5 rehab outings. TJ surgery will often sap a pitcher of command even after the elbow is fully healed (we saw this with Joba until about 2 weeks ago) so I’m not expecting things to go much better over a small sample size for Aardsma. The Yanks will probably use him in low leverage situations (trying to win a division here), and not 2 days in a row. Basically, fastball velocity and bite on the slider will be the 2 most important factors that the Front Office will look at in deciding whether to bring him back.
So why did I wax poetically for 700+ words about a guy who may only make 2-3 appearances in pinstripes? With uncertainty over Mariano Rivera’s 2013 return (and health) and the ever looming Soriano opt-out, a return to 2009-2010 form for David Aardsma could have him quickly installed as an important piece of the 2013 pen along with David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan. He won’t have an impact this season, but I’m optimistic that he may have one in 2013. Additionally, if you happen to follow Aardsma on Twitter, then you know that if anyone deserves this comeback, it’s him. Since signing with the Yankees, he has been positive through adversity, forthcoming with fans and bloggers, and just a general pleasure to follow. This is a guy who loves the game, loves being a Yankee, and wants to make the best of this opporunity, no matter the final outcome. I need to pull for people like that.
Good luck David – you worked hard for this day.