Mailbag: Utley, Hundley, Nova, Cervelli

Update on the RAB Bracket Challenge
Joba suffered significant ankle injury, out indefinitely

Five questions this week, but the answers were a little longer than I expected. Sorry. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send us something.

(REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

Zac asks: Hypothetical: if Chase Utley returns but the Phillies decide he can’t play in the field every day due to his knees, and if they decided to make him available in trade to an AL team where he could DH, would/should the Yanks be interested? If so who would you offer?

Sure, the Yankees should at least entertain the idea. Utley will make $15M both this year and next, conveniently becoming a free agent just before the whole 2014 payroll plan takes effect. His offensive production has steadily declined in recent years, and it’s not just because of the injuries. He’s also become more and more susceptible to left-handed pitchers (just a .280 wOBA vs. LHP last year), and his ability to rake same-side pitchers is part of the reason why he was such a great hitter for so long.

The Phillies trading Utley would almost be like the Indians trading Victor Martinez a few years ago, in the sense that he’s an aging but still valuable player whose best position is DH. Using the V-Mart trade as a blueprint, something like David Phelps, Dellin Betances, and Chase Whitley could work as a trade package. Utley is three years older than Martinez was at the time of his trade, so maybe knock off the third player or something. Phelps and Betances for the Phils’ long-time second baseman? That’s reasonable, though I might be biased.

Hypothetical or not, Utley is a cautionary tale of how quickly second baseman can fall off the cliff. Robinson Cano is a star right now, but when his contract expires after next season and Scott Boras is asking for six or seven or eight years at $20M+ annually for a 30-year-old? You’ll be able to make a very strong argument that letting him walk is the best thing the Yankees could do.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Levi asks: What would it take to get Nick Hundley from the Padres? They seem to want young hitters, so would a package built around Tyler Austin do it?

Hundley just signed a new extension with San Diego, a three-year pact worth $9M with a $5M club option for a fourth year. The Padres also have Yasmani Grandal — part of the Mat Latos trade — waiting in Triple-A, plus some more excellent catching prospects down in the lower minors (Jason Hagerty, Austin Hedges). Hundley is only 28, has some power (career .165 ISO), and is generally regarded as a good but not great defender, yet I could definitely see them trading him after the season if Grandal shows he’s ready to step in full-time.

I do like Hundley and would have definite interest in trading for him next offseason if Russell Martin‘s contract demands get outrageous (thanks Yadi!), but I don’t think the two teams match up well in a trade. The Padres surely want young hitters in return, and the Yankees don’t really have any close to the majors bats to give them. Brandon Laird doesn’t count. Perhaps someone like Austin or Ramon Flores has a huge year and jumps a level or two, or maybe David Adams stays healthy and gets back on the prospect track, but otherwise I don’t think it’ll work. I can’t imagine a package of Single-A bats will get it done for San Diego. Like I said, I like the idea of trading for Hundley if Martin leaves, but I’m not sure they can get it done.

Paul asks: Why does everyone assume Ivan Nova is in the top 4 of the rotation? I agree he has the potential to be, but we’re really talking about a guy with half a season of being above average under his belt, hardly enough to warrant this much confidence. I could easily envision a scenario where Freddy & Phil are both outperforming him (not to mention Pettitte in May). So why does it seem that everyone just assumes he’s the #4 or higher starter?

Well Nova did finish last year well and hasn’t done anything to lose his rotation spot over the winter. That said, he’s been the team’s worst starter this spring and it’s not particularly close. He’s really struggled with command of all his pitches, and that’s a bit of a red flag considered he has an elbow injury in the recent past. I guess everyone’s been too focused on Michael Pineda to notice that something might be up with the other young right-hander.

The Yankees sent Nova down at midseason last year and I don’t think they’ll hesitate to do it again if he’s being outpitched by everyone else on the staff. For now, he deservedly gets the benefit of the doubt.

Aaron asks: With the number of teams searching for catching depth growing (TB’s reported interest, KC’s sudden need with Perez’s injury, etc.), do you see this increasing the odds that Cervelli is dealt before the season? I know at one point last July there were rumors of a near-deal with Pittsburgh for Brad Lincoln. What would Cervelli bring back now in a deal?

This was sent in a week or two ago, but my answer would be the same anyway. Frankie Cervelli‘s not going anywhere, the Yankees need him right now to be the backup catcher. Austin Romine needs to get some regular at-bats in Triple-A and the Jesus Montero security blanket is gone. If they trade Frankie and Russell Martin gets hurt, all of a sudden they’re looking at a big league catching tandem of Romine and Gus Molina. That’s not going to cut it.

Considering that the Pirates weren’t willing to give up a borderline non-prospect like Lincoln for Cervelli, I have a hard time thinking the Yankees would get back enough to make a trade worthwhile. His trade value has probably gone down since then given the latest concussion as well. I know catching is scarce around the league, but I do think Frankie is more valuable to the Yankees right now that anything they realistically could get back in a swap. They shouldn’t overplay their hand with the catching depth, it can disappear quickly.

Arad asks: Let’s say there were to be an expansion draft, and the Yankees had to protect 15 players on their team, who would they be? This includes contract, age, ability and everything.

I’ve answered this question before, but the roster has changed a bunch of times since then so it’s worth revisiting. Maybe we’ll make a Spring Training tradition.

Just a quick primer on MLB’s expansion draft rules: Every team gets to protect 15 players, and that’s the entire the organization, not just 40-man roster guys. Players with no-trade clauses and 10-and-5 rights must be protected, which bites. Any player a) selected in the last two drafts (so 2010 and 2011), or b) signed at age 18 or younger within the last three years is ineligible for the draft and doesn’t have to be protected. Players due to become free agents after the season don’t have to protected either. Based on those rules, here are my 15 (in no particular order)…

  1. Alex Rodriguez (no-trade)
  2. CC Sabathia (no-trade)
  3. Derek Jeter (no-trade)
  4. Mark Teixeira (no-trade)
  5. Mariano Rivera (no-trade)
  6. Robinson Cano
  7. Curtis Granderson
  8. Brett Gardner
  9. Eduardo Nunez
  10. Ivan Nova
  11. Michael Pineda
  12. David Robertson
  13. David Phelps
  14. Manny Banuelos
  15. Austin Romine

I’m not sure if Cano and Granderson have to be protected since they are technically scheduled to become free agents after the season. The Yankees do hold 2013 club options for both guys though. If they don’t have to be protected, I’d take Phil Hughes and Adam Warren in their place.

Anyway, those no-trade clauses really kill the Yankees. I can see the argument for Hughes or Joba Chamberlain over someone like Phelps, but those two are going to be free agents relatively soon while Phelps has all six years of team control left. Teams can protect three additional players after each round, and the next three I would add are Hughes, Warren, and D.J. Mitchell. Joba, Dellin Betances, and Frankie Cervelli would be the next three after that.

Update on the RAB Bracket Challenge
Joba suffered significant ankle injury, out indefinitely
  • Slugger27

    why are you protecting phelps over betances?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      That is a bit curious. I can see an argument being made there, just not one that I agree with. I also definitely don’t agree with him being that low on Axisa’s “Who would I protect?” depth chart, no matter the argument.

      SSS and mancrush alert on, but the Dellin we’ve seen so far in ST looks a bit closer to starter material than reliever material.

    • thenamestsam

      I was wondering that too. If Mike thinks Phelps is the more valuable guy, then shouldn’t he have ranked higher on the prospect list?

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Maybe, but these also aren’t legal documents he’s offerring either. He’s allowed the occasional contradiction.

        • thenamestsam

          You’re absolutely correct, and I wasn’t trying to be a dick, I’m legitimately curious. I can think of legitimate reasons for the apparent contradiction (maybe he thinks an expansion team would be more likely to grab a guy who’s ready now like Phelps than someone who still needs some grooming), I just wanted to know what Mike’s reasoning was, or if there was any. I didn’t intend it as any kind of criticism whatsoever.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Of course you weren’t. I was just keeping us open to the fact that, even as blog owners, they’re still having fun and don’t necessarily have to be 100% internally consistent all the time.

        • Slugger27

          hes allowed to change his mind sure. but id still like an explanation. if he thinks betances is a better prospect (and hes written so in the past) yet thinks phelps is worth protecting instead, then id certainly like to hear why.

    • Thomas

      My guess is the closeness to the big leagues. While Betances is the better prospect and I’d trade Phelps for Betances any day of the week, Phelps can start in the majors on opening day whereas Betances probably needs more time in AAA. Thus, Phelps would be more valuable to the expnsion team, which needs starters right now not in one year.

      As the rounds progress and the expansion team has filled out its major league roster and is now looking at filling their minor leagues, then it would probably want Betances over Phelps.

    • Mike Axisa

      Betances is the better prospect because he has way more upside. I think Phelps has a much better chance of helping a big league team right now though, and a guy like that would be the ideal target for an expansion team.

      • Slugger27

        but with warren, and mitchell, and freddy garcia/pettitte…. phelps is a lot more replaceable in this organization than betances.

        also, i disagree that any expansion team would take phelps over betances.

      • thenamestsam

        Thanks for the response Mike. It’s an interesting question to me. Expansion teams in the past have definitely acted in the way you’re describing, basically looking to build some semblance of a respectable team as quickly as possible even at the expense of taking higher upside guys. But that seems like pretty short sighted thinking.

        The fans are going to come out at first no matter what, but the long term key is still building a winning team, not a mediocre one. A smart expansion team should (it seems to me) take Betances over Phelps every time, realizing you’re not going to contend at first and that stocking up on the best prospects possible is the key to long term success. With how much smarter team management has become in the decade+ since the last expansion I wouldn’t be surprised if a theoretical new expansion team went more by this plan and would be happy to gobble up prospects like Betances from every team for the first few rounds. They’d be hideous the first year, but they could easily amass one of the best systems in the game.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I think Nova certainly gets the benefit of the doubt, as anyone is allowed a slow start during ST but, yes, there should be some concern.

    I also don’t think either he or Pineda are 100% out of the woods as to never seeing AAA again if their mechanics wind up out of whack.

    I pray for no TJ here. Really.

    • Gonzo

      I keep thinking about that forearm(?) injury in the playoffs last year.

    • Bo Knows

      A minor muscle strain six months ago, where no structural damage was found. Nova was checked extensively when it happened, rechecked extensively before he was allowed to throw, and probably checked again when he got his ST physical.

      • Gonzo

        And this does not make me feel better.

        • Bo Knows

          Then how about this, even if there was a ligament injury when he strained his forearm, short of a full on tear, it will heal itself completely given proper rest. Nova had basically 6 months worth of rest and rehab. His command problem are shown up in only the homer and hits rate; but homers are annoying but certainly not troubling yet, and a large number of those hits allowed have come off gb’s which is Nova’s main strength. If gb’s aren’t being converted extreme groundball pitchers like Nova are going to look awful.

          • Now Batting

            I haven’t really watched or followed any spring training games this year. Is it possible Nova’s stats look bad because he has lesser defenders behind him?

        • Havok9120

          Then you’re being paranoid. You could be right, but ALL the evidence (including his last start and the beginning of this one) says you’re wrong. *shrug*

  • JoeyA

    Can’t imagine letting Cano go after next season. Between he and Granderson, I’ll take Cano but it will definitely be interesting moving forward.

  • RJ

    Joba Chamberlain dislocated right ankle yesterday and had surgery last night. Cashman called it a significant injury.

    From Jack Curry

    not good

    • Gonzo

      Wow, that is a tough break for the kid.

    • thenamestsam

      According to Will Carroll he was on some kind of trampoline when it happened. What the hell?

      • DM

        He needed a change of pace after he broke his pogo stick (too heavy).

      • Sayid J.

        Yes. Joba Chamberlain has children. Joba Chamberlain also likes spending time with his children. It is quite unfortunate that he got injured, but that’s all it is, unfortunate. Can’t fault Joba here. Unlucky, but he’s just trying to spend time with his kids.

  • bpdelia

    If open ankle dislocation means the same thing as the open wrist dislocation I had in college hockey it means his bone ruptured through the skin and had to be put back with pins. Talking 8 weeks until he is even standing. 12 till hes really moving around. This pushes him back to at least late august. Very possibly ends any hope of him pitching in ml this year.

  • JoeyA


    Looks like the bullpen just took a hit:

    Joba disclocated ankle jumping on trmapoline with his kid. UGH

    • Boomer’s Boy

      Joba was out until the break already, not a big loss.

  • Mberk15

    Cervelli? Seriously? I would protect Jessica Steinbrenner over Cervelli.

    • M-Three

      Cervelli should be cut from any discussion of who you would pretect. The guy is so overated by some Yankee fans for reasons i can’t understand. I look forward to later in this season when Romine takes over the back-up catcher spot so then we can finally get rid of Cervelli.

    • Boomer’s Boy

      Yeah I don’t understand the Love affair with Cervelli. Why protect a career back-up?? Rey Ordonez had more pop in his bat than Cervelli has now. He is horrible at throwing out runners. I’d rather see Gil start the season as Martin’s caddy then Cervelli.

    • Ted Nelson

      It’s not as much about Cervelli being good as much as catchers being rare.