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Catching Up With Jonathan Albaladejo

Hey y'all. I'm in Tampa today, where the Yankees will be throwing Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy back-to-back-to-back against the University of South Florida today. I'm looking forward to that. (Chamberlain, as you may know, is being treated as a starting pitcher this spring, but the plan remains to have him begin the season in the bullpen.) Ran into a few ex-Nats here this morning, including Billy Traber and Darrell Rasner. Both, I'm told, have a legitimate shot at making the Yankees' roster, since Manager Joe Girardi wants to carry a long reliever, and there is no clear-cut choice.

(Yes, seeing Traber made me feel guilty for always bringing up his name in my stories -- such as the one today about Brian Schneider and Ryan Church -- as a symbol of how far the Nationals' pitching staff has come in the span of a year. I really don't mean anything by it. He's just a convenient guy to pin it on, particularly when his old locker at Space Coast Stadium is now filled by Collin Balester. But as I wrote, no offense intended.)

I talked for awhile this morning with Jonathan Albaladejo, the big (6-5, 260 pounds) right-hander whom the Nationals traded to the Yankees in December, following a very impressive 14-appearance stint last September. In 11 of those 14 appearances, he failed to allow a run, and he never gave up more than one run in any of them, striking out 12 batters and walking only two in 14 2/3 combined innings.

About the trade, which brought Tyler Clippard to the Nationals, Albaladejo said: "At first I felt kind of sad, because I loved Washington and I wanted to stay. But after I thought about it for awhile, I was happy. When you're a baseball player, you always want to play for the Yankees."

Here is the interesting part: Albaladejo admitted he has a better opportunity to make the big league roster with the Yankees than he would with the Nationals -- an amazing thing to contemplate, given the respective payrolls. (Mariano Rivera's $15 million salary in 2008, for example, is more than the Nationals' entire bullpen will earn.)

"I'm not saying it's going to be easy here [to make the Yankees' roster], but that bullpen in Washington is pretty solid, pretty incredible," Albaladejo said. "At the end of [last] year, I talked to Manny [Acta], and he said I had a real good chance to make the bullpen the next year. But they're pretty solid."

Albaladejo is right. The Yankees really only have four bullpen spots locked up. Rivera is the closer. Chamberlain and newly signed LaTroy Hawkins will be the main set-up men (with Chamberlain possibly sliding into the rotation again in midseason, depending on his innings count), and Kyle Farnsworth is also guaranteed a spot, if for no other reason than the fact he makes $5.5 million. But that's it -- the remaining spots are up for grabs, with Albaladejo, Traber and Rasner all in the mix, along with pitchers like Brian Bruney, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens.

In Washington, it's a much tougher path to a big league bullpen spot. Chad Cordero, of course, is the closer. Jon Rauch returns to his top set-up role, with Luis Ayala, Jesus Colome and Saul Rivera also in the mix. Ray King will be the lefty specialist. That's six spots basically wrapped up, with maybe Chris Schroder (3.18 ERA, 43 K's in 45 1/3 innings last year) or Ryan Wagner (former No. 1 pick, coming back from arm injury) sneaking into the seventh spot.

Which bullpen would you rather have? Perhaps the combination of Chamberlain setting up Rivera would lead me to choose the Yankees' pen straight-up -- although I prefer the Nationals' depth. And when you factor in the relative cost of the two pens (roughly $30 million for New York's, roughly ($13 million for Washington's), I do believe I'd take the Nationals'.

By Dave Sheinin  |  February 29, 2008; 9:55 AM ET
 
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