Mailbag: Hughes, Catcher, Johan, Joba

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We’ve got a relatively short but still sweet mailbag this week. I assume all of you were too busy scheduling your parties for Bartolo Colon‘s start tomorrow to send in questions. Anyways, this week we’re going to talk about a long-term deal for Phil Hughes, Plan B after Russell Martin, a Joba-for-Johan trade, and one more Joba-to-the-rotation scenario. Send your questions in via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Vinny asks: Though it will obviously be determined by a combination of performance coupled with salary demands, do you see Phil Hughes staying with the Yankees long-term once he hits free agency?

We’re a long ways away from this, but I’ll go out on a limb and say yes. That assumes he’s healthy and performing at a level deserving of a long-term extension, of course. The Yankees have no trouble paying to keep their own guys unless they have concerns with the medicals, so the cost won’t be a problem unless Hughes is being unreasonable. Remember, when Andy Pettitte left after 2003, it was because the Yanks were worried about his elbow. Sure enough, he hurt it the next year.

Hughes will hit free agency after the 2013 season, when he’ll be just 27 years old. Quality pitchers make major, major bucks when they hit the open market at that age, and the Yankees have more money than anyone. A seven-year deal (if it comes to that) would only take Phil through age 34 as well, so it wouldn’t be a crazy commitment. As it stands, I think he stays.

Joe asks: Even though Cashman stated that Russell Martin is the primary catcher, what happens if he does not make it? What will be the best pair then? Cervelli/Montero, Cervelli/Romine, Montero/Romine or at the very least Cervelli/Posada? Or sometime of different catcher combo?

If Martin doesn’t hack it for whatever reason, injury or poor performance, I’m all for turning Jesus Montero loose. Jorge Posada is the designated hitter now and should remain there; I only want him catching in an emergency or in an NL park during the World Series or something. Frankie Cervelli would stay in the backup role because that’s what he’s best suited for, and Austin Romine just isn’t ready yet. He absolutely needs more minor league seasoning.

Montero’s ready as far as I’m concerned. I have no worries about the bat playing against AL East pitching, and he could work on his defense at the big league level as long as he’s behind the plate regularly. In fact, an argument can be made that being around Joe Girardi and Tony Pena everyday would be the best thing for his defensive development. We all know he’s going to be below average defensively but that’s fine, you take the bad with the good. We’ve been talking about Montero’s time coming for over a year now, and that time is rapidly approaching.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Brian asks: Assuming he’s healthy, would the Yankees trade Joba Chamberlain for Johan Santana straight up?

They’d better be willing to do that. Joba’s nothing more than a middle reliever right now, a middle reliever they only control for another three years at a below-market but not absurdly team friendly rate. If you can’t give up a reliever for an ace level pitcher, you love your players far too much, I don’t care how good your guy is. If I was the Padres or Dodgers, I’d give up Luke Gregerson or Hong-Chih Kuo for a healthy Santana in a heartbeat.

Of course, Johan is not healthy and won’t be for some time, so this is just a hypothetical. Shoulder surgery is scary stuff, and Santana would have to show he’s healthy and effective before I’d consider trading for that contract. For all we know, that ace level pitcher could be gone forever.

Shaya asks: Is it all possible that Joba remains a reliever until his late twenties (when there is absolutely no more physical maturing and the body is more durable) and then they try again as a starter (a la C.J. Wilson etc.)?

Sure, it’s always possible. I don’t see it happening with the Yankees though, so Joba will have to either get traded or sign elsewhere as a free agent first. The Yankees seem pretty hellbent on keeping him in the bullpen, which is fine, it’s their call. I don’t agree with it but I’m not the one with my neck on the line if it blows up in my face.

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  • Felicia

    In the years to come what do you think that the Yankees will do with Francisco Cervelli? Will they keep him as a backup catcher or trade him?

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      once he hits arbitration heprobably wont be worth it. keep him til he gets expensive then dump him

      • The Big City of Dreams

        I’m surprised they haven’t dumped him already.

        • gc

          Because he can actually be pretty serviceable if his role is strictly that of a back-up catcher and not someone to be relied on to be an every day starter.

          • The Big City of Dreams

            Valid point.

      • Ed

        Assuming things don’t go horribly wrong with the rest of the team, he’s just going to have small amounts of playing time and really bad counting stats. He won’t get much in arbitration.

        I think he gets traded due to a roster crunch before money becomes an issue. Next year potentially has Martin, Montero, Cervelli, and Romine on the 40 man roster and fighting for a spot on the 25.

    • Ted Nelson

      How does he play/develop and how do the rest of their Cs? If Martin and Montero have the position locked down and Romine is knocking on the door there’s a lot less need for him than if all of those guys stink/get traded and Paco keeps up his improbable .315 wOBA. I sort of think the former is more likely. With Romine in AAA eventually, Cervelli is probably more valuable in a trade than as a back-up AAA C.

      • RL

        Cervelli is probably more valuable in a trade than as a back-up AAA C

        Definitely agree.

  • Ted Nelson

    The other thing to consider with a Johan-Joba trade is that Johan makes $20 mill per. I’m not saying I don’t do it (especially as the Yankees), but that’s a whole lot of money. Once you commit that to Johan it hurts your ability to acquire other starters going forward (and players at other positions if holes pop up… LF, C, SS, 3B could all become holes at some point before Santana expires). So there’s a large opportunity cost to consider.

    • RL

      LF, C, SS, 3B could all become holes at some point before Santana expires

      Well, since it’s probably 40+ years before Santana expires, I’m sure the holes will open up at those positions. They’ll probably even open up before his contract expires! :-)

      I’m pretty sure the Yankees wouldn’t pull the trigger on a Sanatan trade and take on that salary unless they’re fairly confident he’s recovered physically and he’d again be one of those elite starters they need.

      • RL

        Sanatan Santana

      • Ted Nelson

        3 more guaranteed years on Santana’s deal. Jeter obviously has 3 years, though maybe not all at SS. A-Rod is signed way past that and hopefully sticks at 3B for at least 3 years. Gardner has 4 more years of team control, but I was more thinking if 2010 was a fluke. There’s the depth at C that I’m not too worried, but you never know. RF, I guess, could be the biggest concern in the next 3 years with Swisher only having 2 years… though maybe it’s still SS.

    • Ted Nelson

      I do assume Mets would eat $, actually… so that’s less of a concern. I guess a better point about opportunity cost is just that you’d have to weigh Joba-Santana vs. other options, from internal ones to trade options to 2012 and 2013 FAs.

  • Ed

    Remember, when Andy Pettitte left after 2003, it was because the Yanks were worried about his elbow. Sure enough, he hurt it the next year.

    It’s not that simple. The Yankees were claming his UCL had a tear in it and that he was going to need Tommy John surgery. His UCL held up for the rest of his career without ever causing him trouble.

    The injury he had was a torn flexor tendon during the first at bat of his NL career. He hurt it doing an awkward check swing. That injury gets filed in the “why pitchers shouldn’t bat” category.

    I always got the vibe that the Yankees went into that offseason looking for a reason not to sign Pettitte and happened to find it in a meaningless blur in an MRI or something like that. While they love Pettitte now, they didn’t as much back then. Steinbrenner used to insist on trading him about once every year or two. I think his leaving was just an extension of that.

    Anyway, what’s more interesting to me is what happens to Joba when he becomes a free agent. Will he even want to come back?

    • Ted Nelson

      If Joba is the closer and in-line for a fat extension he probably comes back. Otherwise… I guess he’ll probably look for the best deal where he can get it, or the short-term situation that most allows him to build his value (starter or closer).

    • The Big City of Dreams

      “Anyway, what’s more interesting to me is what happens to Joba when he becomes a free agent. Will he even want to come back?”

      If Joba is a free agent no way he comes back. I don’t see it happening. If he still wants to start there would be no reason for him to stay with the club.

      • Ted Nelson

        “If Joba is a free agent no way he comes back.”… “If he still wants to start there would be no reason for him to stay with the club.”

        So, if he doesn’t want to start there would be a reason to come back. He’s got 3 more years of team control, so if he’s not already the closer at that point the Yankees could decide to bring him back and let Soriano walk (if Rafa stays for all 3 years of his deal). If Joba hasn’t started since 2009 any new team that wants him to start would be taking a risk he actually can start and probably would not pay him top dollar. Mo makes about as much as a #2/#3 starter and Soriano as much as a #3/#4 starter… so financially Joba could be just as well off or way better staying in the role he knows with the Yankees rather than trying out a role he might not have played in years for a new team…

        Plus, Cashman said that Joba is not starting because he hasn’t been “the same” since the incident. If he is “the same” this season, who is to say the Yankees won’t move him back to the rotation?

        • The Big City of Dreams

          Even if he didn’t want to start he might want to leave anyway. I’m not in his mind and I can’t tell what he’s thinking but it wouldn’t surprise me if he left no matter what role they put him in. It all depends on how he views himself with the organization.
          Teams are always looking for starters not matter how far removed they are from starting. Aaron Heilman is competing for a job with the D backs and he hasn’t started a game since 2005.

          Cashman also said the starter debate is over. Joba’s not starting for the Yankees again. They are content with him as a middle reliever.

          • Ted Nelson

            “It all depends on how he views himself with the organization.”

            And how much money he can make… He would have to REALLY hate the Yankees to leave tens of millions on the table.

            “Aaron Heilman is competing for a job with the D backs and he hasn’t started a game since 2005.”

            Making $2 million on a 1 year deal. Again, if Joba is the Yankees closer he’s going to be making over $10 mill per easily. To leave tens of millions on the table he’s got to REALLY want to start and not be motivated by money at all. If he signs a 3-4 year deal to close for the Yankees he’ll never have to work another day in his life. $2 mill doesn’t go nearly as far.

            “Cashman also said the starter debate is over.”

            He said he’s a reliever. Before he said he was a starter. See how he can change his mind over time? If Joba is absolutely dominating in relief and the Yankees desperately need a starter, you really think there is NO way they try him?

            “They are content with him as a middle reliever.”

            That’s horsecrap. Just because he’s behind Mo and Rafa right now that says very little about 2014 when he’s a free agent. What are the odds Mo is still pitching in 2014? If Rafa hasn’t opted out or lost the closer job to Joba by then, Joba could certainly earn the job in 2014.

            • The Big City of Dreams

              “And how much money he can make… He would have to REALLY hate the Yankees to leave tens of millions on the table.”

              Would be out of the question if he does. Again no one knows what he’s thinking but it wouldn’t surprise me it he left.

              “Making $2 million on a 1 year deal. Again, if Joba is the Yankees closer he’s going to be making over $10 mill per easily. To leave tens of millions on the table he’s got to REALLY want to start and not be motivated by money at all. If he signs a 3-4 year deal to close for the Yankees he’ll never have to work another day in his life. $2 mill doesn’t go nearly as far.”

              Yea maybe but chances are he won’t be the closer for the Yankees anyway. The Yanks will do what they always do which is look into the free agent or trade market. For all we know Soria might be closing for the ball club.

              “He said he’s a reliever. Before he said he was a starter. See how he can change his mind over time? If Joba is absolutely dominating in relief and the Yankees desperately need a starter, you really think there is NO way they try him?”

              No they aren’t going to try him no matter how desperate they are. It doesn’t matter what he does or what need arises. The days of him starting games for the Yankees are over. I was once in the camp that believed if he pitches well in the pen then he sets himself up to get another shot but now I firmly believe he’ll never start again for this ball club.

              “That’s horsecrap. Just because he’s behind Mo and Rafa right now that says very little about 2014 when he’s a free agent. What are the odds Mo is still pitching in 2014? If Rafa hasn’t opted out or lost the closer job to Joba by then, Joba could certainly earn the job in 2014.”

              2014?????? Joba might not be on the club by the end of the season. When the Yankees get to the middle of the yr and are putting together packages for a shot Joba’s name will more than likely be involved. It’s obvious the team doesn’t trust him and once they are able to find a starter they like Joba will no longer be on the team.

  • Johnny O

    I get the Joba’s value to the Yankees is extremely limited. But my concerns with Johan are injuries, declining performance, and salary commitment. We’re ignoring the first one in this hypothetical, but he’s not the same pitcher as he was in Minnesota. The hits/9 are up, walks/9 up slightly, and K/9 waaaay down. Also consider he’s gone from the Metrodome to Death Valley (and facing the pitcher), a scenario in which he should IMPROVE, not decline. I don’t know the numbers, but everyone says he’s lost a few MPH too.

    2011 is out but 2012 and 2013 he’s making $49.5M plus a $5.5M buyout of a $25M option for 2014.

    I don’t think I want that at any price.

    • Ted Nelson

      “I get the Joba’s value to the Yankees is extremely limited.”

      I really don’t think it is limited, let alone “extremely limited.” (Though I know that’s the perception and you were saying it’s the perception.) In terms of WAR Joba was the Yankees’ 5th most valuable pitcher last season. I know… I know… they got Soriano and relievers are stupid anyway… but Kerry Wood was on the team a few months and the Yankees have exactly 1 starter who goes late in games on a regular basis. I think he’s still valuable.

      “he’s not the same pitcher as he was in Minnesota.”

      He’s still been good. Andy Pettitte threw softer than Johan in 2010 (average MPH by pitch available if you scroll down a pitcher’s fangraphs page) with a higher FIP and similar K/9… he did alright in the AL and Yankee Stadium.

      Mets would likely have to eat $ to move Santana, and definitely if they want to get anything back for him.

  • RollingWave

    Well.. Hong-Chih Kuo isn’t exactly the brightest picture of health either (to put it mildly). though I do hope he stays healthy.

    As for Cervelli: assuming that last year’s average is around his true talent, then I don’t really see why anyone would want to trade him. it’s rare enough that you get a STARTING catcher who could get on base, let alone a BACKUP one. Most yankee fans are too spoiled by Jorge Posada and don’t realize how much of an epic offensive upgrade Cervelli is from say.. John Flatherty

    • Ted Nelson

      You trade Cervelli, or anyone, if another team is willing to give you a player or package you value more. In Cervelli’s case, his value to the Yankees could become considerably less by the end of the season when he *might* be 4th on their C depth chart with another top 25 type prospect (Sanchez) a few years away from making him 5th. His value to a team with no Cs could be considerably more. If you have a feeling he’s going to be 4th on your depth chart shortly taking away your leverage and someone else offers you something you value more than him… maybe you make that trade. Though maybe one of the 3 guys ahead of him is the right one to trade, and he maybe he’s 1st on your depth chart at the end of the season…

      So, I certainly wouldn’t just rule out trading Cervelli because he’s a decent C. I wouldn’t rush into it, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

      John Flaherty had 3 seasons where he was at or above Cervelli’s wOBA in more PAs… so I don’t know if Cervelli is an “epic” upgrade unless he continues his 2010 pace.

  • Plank

    The Phil Hughes extension question got me wondering who the Yankees have gone all 6 years with then let go in FA without retaining them. I feel like that is a common practice for other teams, but something the Yankees don’t do. They either keep them if they are all-stars or get rid of them before they hit FA.

    I feel like I’m missing an obvious one or two though.

  • rl1856

    I probably have a higher opinion of Joba than some. Last year his velocity improved throughout the year, starting at ~92 and steadily increasing to 95-96 by the end of the season. Slider velocity and vertical movement were about the same throughout the year, but horizontal movement improved by the end of the year. Maybe it has taken him 2 years to heal from his late 08 shoulder injury ? Also much has been made of his weight coming into camp. Buried in most Joba weight reports is the observation that he has added mass to his upper body. Is this muscle or something else ? Who knows but if his velocity and other stats are more in line with how he was pitching at the end of last season, then he could be real surprise in ’11. Most of the expert predictions for ’11 reflect a much improved Joba so I am not alone in my opinion. Will he start again ? I think he have to be traded for that to happen.

    • Ted Nelson

      Good points. I’m also optimistic.

      As far as ever starting for the Yankees… Cashman gave as a reason that Joba’s stuff (maybe he just said Joba in general, don’t remember if he said stuff) has not been the same since that injury/incident. If his stuff is “the same” again, I could see them giving him a shot if they still need a starter heading into 2012.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        I don’t think he starts for the Yankees under any circumstance even if they need a starter. I doubt the Yankees want to deal with that headache of moving him again.

        • Ted Nelson

          That’s you opinion. You’re entitled to it. Doesn’t make it a fact, though.

          Based on Cashman’s statement that Joba is not starting because “he has not been the same” I assume that *if* Joba goes back to being “the same” and *if* the Yankees really need one or more starters going into 2012 he *might* get a chance to start. I think there’s more than a remote possibility that those two conditions are both met.

          I don’t see it as much of a headache to anyone but fans. Cashman doesn’t seem to make his decisions based on fan’s initial reactions, nor do I think he should even consider fan reaction in his decision making process. Fans will almost always respond positively to winning and negatively to losing. He should make his decisions based on Ws and Ls, and the fan reaction will follow.

          • The Big City of Dreams

            It’s an opinion based on him being thrown aside by the organization. The kid is pitching in middle relief for God’s sake. It doesn’t matter if they need a starter and Joba returns to form there is no chance in hell that he ever starts for this club again. He has a better chance starting for another organization. The Yankees seem dead set on keeping him in the pen and that’s where he’s going to stay.

            • Ted Nelson

              “It’s an opinion”

              Exactly. Unless you are Brian Cashman I’ll take your opinion with a grain of salt… and even then you might not be brought back by the Steinbrenners so I wouldn’t take your opinion as fact.

              It is clearly pointless to discuss things with you if you think your opinion is fact.

              • Ted Nelson

                Also “middle reliever” is not a real thing. It’s just a way to describe pitchers who aren’t starters and aren’t relievers. He can still pitch in high leverage situations and still be better than most closers in baseball and still be a “middle reliever.”

                • Ted Nelson

                  “Also “middle reliever” is not a real thing. It’s just a way to describe pitchers who aren’t starters and aren’t relievers.”

                  …aren’t “closers”…

                  • The Big City of Dreams

                    It is a real thing. That’s the role he’s in. He’s a middle reliever. Joba will come into games when the starter has a high pitch count or gets knocked out early. If that’s not a middle reliever what is.

              • The Big City of Dreams

                “Exactly. Unless you are Brian Cashman I’ll take your opinion with a grain of salt… and even then you might not be brought back by the Steinbrenners so I wouldn’t take your opinion as fact.

                It is clearly pointless to discuss things with you if you think your opinion is fact.”

                It’s an opinion based on statements made by the GM and manager. Hell they made their decision back in ST 2010. The kid isn’t going to start for the team under any circumstance. He’s not starting this yr or in the future. Do you honestly believe if he’s doing exceptional in the pen and a need arises they are going to take him out??? The minute the organization thinks about it someone will say he’s finally back on track why move him. Ted you have far too much faith in Cashman. Joba starting for the Yankees will never happen again.