Mailbag: Sabathia, O’Brien, Maeda, Betances

Late rally falls short; Yankees lose 3-2 to ChiSox
Friday Links: Ichiro, New Commissoner, Draft

Got seven questions for you this week. Send us anything at anytime through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Jerry asks: Just read a quote where Joe Girardi said there is no guarantee CC Sabathia ever comes back, obviously this is an extreme response, but it got me wondering, how does a retirement due to medical issues work as far as the contract is concerned? Does he not retire and continue to collect his check? Negotiate a medical buyout then retire? Are these contracts insured?

Here’s the full quote for those who missed it (via Brendan Kuty): “I think there’s always that possibility a player may not make it back, but I feel pretty good about he’s had done so far and the steps that were taken, and you just kind of keep your fingers crossed.”

Anyway, players forfeit the remainder of their contracts if they retire. If Sabathia’s knee is bad enough that he can never pitch again, he’ll simply sit on the 60-day DL for the next few years and the Yankee will collect whatever insurance they’re entitled to based on their policy. I suppose a buyout is possible, but I can’t remember there ever being one in MLB.

I remember reading that many times teams won’t insure these super-large contracts because the premiums are often higher than the contract itself. The Yankees do have insurance on Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez though — that’s based on what we heard after Teixeira’s wrist and A-Rod‘s hip problems — so I’m guessing they have one on Sabathia too. The only player I can recall who retired and walked away from his contract due to injury is Gil Meche, who forfeited roughly $12M a few years ago. I would be stunned if Sabathia did that. It would be stupid. The Yankees knew the risks when they agreed to pay him all that money. He shouldn’t let them off the hook out of the kindness of his heart.

Mark asks: Is it fair to say that Peter O’Brien is now the team’s second or third best prospect behind Gary Sanchez? Does O’Brien’s meteoric rise on this list along with his versatility make him more valuable to the Yanks over the long-term and make it more likely they’ll trade Sanchez for some pitching help this summer?

I’m going to post my pre-draft top 30 prospects next Friday and right now I’m on the fence about whether O’Brien is even a top ten prospect in the organization. He’s a one-tool guy — granted, that one tool is power, and if you’re going to be a one-tool guy, power is the one to have — without a clearly defined position and some concerns about holes in his swing. If he does make the top ten, he’ll be in the back half for sure. O’Brien’s having a monster season, no doubt about it, but 40 strikeouts and three unintentional walks (!) is a red flag. How usable will that power be at the next level?

I don’t think O’Brien’s big year makes it any more or less likely the Yankees will trade Sanchez. Or John Ryan Murphy for that matter. If anything, it might make it more likely they trade O’Brien. They obviously don’t think he can catch — they wouldn’t have tried him at third base last year and in right field this year if they thought he could hack it behind the plate — but some other team might be willing to give him a shot as a catcher. The Yankees will probably trade a catcher for a pitcher this summer because they have a ton of catching depth, not because someone broke out and made someone else expendable.

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)
(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)

J.R. asks: I know its early but can we get a scouting report on Kenta Maeda? Pitches, etc?

Maeda is the best pitcher in Japan now that Masahiro Tanaka is wearing pinstripes. There was some speculation he would be posted last offseason, but the Hiroshima Carp decided to keep him around for another year. Maeda is expected to be posted this coming offseason but he is not on par with Tanaka or Yu Darvish. It’ll be a little while before someone of that caliber comes along. Here’s a snippet of a Baseball America (subs. req’d) scouting report from last year:

Maeda doesn’t have a plus pitch, but he’s shown plus command at his best with the ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes, pitch to both sides of the plate and change hitters’ eye levels … Maeda’s size (6 feet, 161 pounds) doesn’t give him great fastball plane, but his fastball plays up because it has good sink and run and he commands it well. He throws a solid-average slider with short break, a low-70s curveball that he’ll use early in the count and an occasional changeup. Some scouts aren’t sold on Maeda’s stuff playing in the big leagues, but those who like him think he has No. 4 starter potential.

Righties Shohei Otani and Shintaro Fujinami are the early favorites to be the next elite pitching talents to come out of Japan, but they are only 19 and 20 years old, respectively. Long way to go before they’re MLB ready and made available via the posting process.

Mike asks: I get it that Pat Venditte doesn’t have great stuff, and his main point of interest is that he switch-pitches, but after seven years in the minors with a 2.31 ERA and 376/86 K/BB ratio, isn’t it at least worth just seeing if he can do it in AAA? Why not just release him if they believe in him that little?

This question was sent in right before Venditte was promoted to Triple-A Scranton. Teams still need players to fill out their minor league rosters and soak up the playing time left over by the actual prospects, which is why guys like Venditte continue to get jobs even though the team may not believe they’re a future big leaguer. No club has a prospect for every roster spot on every minor league affiliate. Organizational players are necessary and somewhat important. That said, Venditte has been nails against left-handers this year (.071/.188/.071 with a 43.8% strikeout rate). With Cesar Cabral and Fred Lewis both pitching poorly and getting demoted to Double-A Trenton recently, Venditte just might be next in line for a call-up if another lefty reliever is needed. Unlikely? Yeah, probably. It’s not completely far-fetched though.


Andrew asks: With Dellin Betances being amazing in his new bullpen role, why not approach him with an extension right now? He’s under team control for 6 years I believe, why not offer him 6 years, $10 million? It would give him a big payday now, but also give the Yanks cost certainty as he advances into a more high leverage role.

The Yankees do still have six years of control left over Betances and yes, he has been totally awesome this year. He’s also been completely unpredictable throughout his career and I think his flame out potential is lot higher than many either realize or want to admit. There’s not much of a difference between him and, say, Daniel Bard. Electric when on but a perpetual risk of falling apart at any moment.

David Robertson will earn approximately $11.2M during his six years of team control, so that six-year, $10M deal is in the ballpark. Relievers don’t make much during their years of team control unless they rack up saves, and right now Betances isn’t closing. Maybe he’ll close next year — don’t you just love him as a dominant fireman for the middle innings though? — which would change things. Six years and $10M is a relatively small amount, yet it comes with quite a bit of risk and wouldn’t be much of a bargain unless he takes over as closer at some point relatively soon. I’m not a fan of rushing into extensions with non-closing relievers. Their earning power is so relatively small that it’s not worth the risk, especially when they have fewer than one year in the show. Maybe after 2015?

Russell asks: After watching Gerrit Cole, I am wondering why he turned down the Yankees. Growing up a Yankees fan, being selected by them and turning them down? I do not understand why.

Cole simply decided to go to college, that’s all. Teams knew he would be a tough sign coming into the draft, but the Yankees rolled the dice anyway because they never get a chance to draft that kind of talent. They were prepared to offer him a far-above-slot $4M bonus, but Cole’s family is wealthy and money wasn’t a big factor, so he went to UCLA. That’s life. No player should base a decision like this on their fandom growing up.

Sandy asks: What minor league players must the Yankees protect or could lose to the Rule 5 Draft in December?

General rule of thumb is high school players drafted in 2010 and college players drafted in 2011 (or earlier) will be eligible for this winter’s Rule 5 Draft. International prospects are always tough to pin down because the exact dates they signed are often unknown. Based on that, the notables who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season are OF Tyler Austin, RHP Danny Burawa, SS Cito Culver, OF Ben Gamel, 2B Angelo Gumbs, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Branden Pinder, and OF Mason Williams.

Of those eight, I think only Austin, Montgomery, and Williams are locks to be added to the 40-man roster and protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Williams hasn’t hit a lick in two years, but the Yankees have a tendency to protect their one-time top prospects regardless of whether they would actually stick in MLB for a full season (coughJoseCamposcough). There’s a good chance Burawa and/or Montgomery will be called up at some point this season, so they’ll likely already be on the 40-man. Culver and Gumbs shouldn’t be protected and both Gamel and Pinder are on the fence at best. That’s what I think right now, but there are still six months before these decisions have to be made.

Late rally falls short; Yankees lose 3-2 to ChiSox
Friday Links: Ichiro, New Commissoner, Draft
  • TWTR

    I do not understand the obsession with pitching help. The pitching has been pretty good; the offense has been horrible.

    • Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew) RIP Egon

      Ehhhhhh….You gotta believe that some of these guys that are under performing will start to play like the back of their baseball card. McCann will be better, when Beltran comes back (eventually) he will be better, Ellsbury was great for the first month before the slump so the pieces are definitely there. Pitching is real concern. 3/5 of the rotation is Phleps/Nuno/Whitley. Yes Pineda will take his spot back but thats only one guy. IMO at the trading deadline I would address pitching first, infield defense, and then maybe a bat but I have no idea where they would play if Solarte continues to be awesome. Yeah I would love Chase Headley at 3B and have Roberts/Johnson/Solarte battle for 2B but who knows.

      • nyyankfan_7

        They were smart enough to stay away from Stephen Drew now we can only hope they are smart enough to stay away from Chase Headley. He is about to become the Kim Kardashian of the MLB – make huge amounts of money with no more talent than the people who watch him.

        • Chris

          I agree 100% with this. I am not sure what the obsession with Headley is. Sure he had a good year a few years ago and is a solid defender, but I’m not seeing him as a $100 million guy.

        • Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew) RIP Egon

          Headley is not a superstar but to call him a Kardashian is an insult to every human being on the planet.

          • jjyank

            Thank you.

        • RetroRob

          He has a career OPS+ of 114, and away from Petco is a career .289/.363/.447/.810 hitter. Put him in one of the better hitting ballparks like Yankee Stadium and he’ll outdo his road numbers.

          Based on your statement, all I have to say is we clearly must have a lot of talented people who watch Yankee games. Let’s sign them to contracts.

      • TWTR

        Even if everything you say happens, they still need offense more than pitching.

    • Mike HC

      The problem is that we need both. It seemingly changes on a game to game basis which one we need more.

      • RetroRob

        Yes. It’s not an either/or situation. They are short on both pitching (starters) and hitters.

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      They need both.
      The biggest issue with the pitching is the depth.
      Another injury and they’re in dire straights.
      As it is, with so many short starts, they are at risk of running the quality part of the bullpen into the ground (not counting DRob).
      In reality, they’ve been slightly worse than league average in both runs scored and runs allowed (granted some of the runs allowed is due to the awful IF defense). Neither starting pitching

      As it looks now, they have a #1 starter and several back of the rotation starters. Hopefully Pineda can help that, but they could still use another quality, top 3 in the rotation innings eater.

  • Travis L.

    Rafael DePaula is also Rule 5 eligible this coming offseason. I’d like to see him, Austin, Montgomery and one of Pinder/Burawa on the 40 man. I dont think Williams would stick, but like Mike said, the Yankees have a tendency to add those “used to bes” anyway.

  • Kosmo

    I hope NY is in on Maeda. Yes he´s not Tanaka or Darvish but he´s very good. He knows how to pitch and he´s young.

    • ALZ

      So did Daisuke and Igawa.
      If you can get him for a cheap price you should get him, but he might be a #3 I’ve heard, more likely #4. That’s not really worth spending much money on, and locking up that spot for years to come.

      • JLC 776

        Good #3s or #4s can be quite vital… but more to your point, I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on Maeda. Too much risk for a guy without a plus pitch.

        • Kosmo

          He´s worth Iwakuma type money. Scouts always seem to say Japanese pitchers “stuff“ won´t play up in MLB. I´ve watched some video of Maeda, his stuff is crisp and he can run his fastball up to 93.

          Next season´s rotation:
          maybe a healthy Pineda
          a shakey CC
          maybe Nova by midseason
          Phelps ?

  • The Great Gonzo

    Isn’t the Daniel Bard comp a little short sighted though? I mean, on the surface they are very similar pitchers, but the difference (seemingly) being that the Yankees know what they have in Dellin and the temptation to re-convert him to a Starter seems to have been avoided thus far. The Sox tried to move Bard back into the rotation and that’s when the wheels fell off.

    That said, I think it was inevitable that Bard would come apart, and his stuff (if I recall) wasn’t to the level that Betances has exhibited (DAT HOOK)…

    Still wouldn’t throw a dime at him until he can show this kind of production over more than 1/3 of a season.

    • Mike HC

      Good point. Similar story to Joba as well. Hopefully the fact everybody is buying fully into him as a reliever can help avoid some of the possible reasons guys that came before him flamed out.

      Of course, the flameout potential is high for every pitcher, especially those dialing it up to 98-99 on a regular basis.

      • The Great Gonzo

        We might have to agree to disagree with Joba. He came into the League with a trailer truck full of red flags around his health, which is why he fell to NY, if memory serves. That being said, they shoulda played it smarter with him, knowing those red flags.

        On the dialing it up to 98-99 on every pitch point, yeah. I think that since Betances works with such a legit breaking ball, his flameout potential is slightly lower than that of a guy who’s game is “pound them with heat”. That being said, by virtue of being a reliever he could be gone in a flash.

        • Mike HC

          Like you said, Joba’s previous injuries made him even more susceptible to being toyed around with. But point taken that Joba had previous arm problems before hitting the majors that Dellin has not had to my knowledge.

          • Zack D

            Dellin had elbow ligament alignment surgery in 2009.

            • Mike HC

              Thank you. Which is why I added the “to my knowledge” part. Already having the TJ surgery out of the way used to almost be considered a good thing. Now with all the guys needing a second one, who knows.

              • Mike HC

                Now I see you said alignment … I can’t keep up with all these injuries and surgeries.

        • RetroRob

          Joba was viewed by many as an injury waiting to happen, and it did.

          We may not know exactly what happened, but Joba did injury himself in Texas one August day and was never the same. Lost velocity and his slider lost tilt. He became hittable and had remained since.

          Betances could suffer a similar fate, although he seems less like a max-effort pitcher. His velocity comes easy. His command, however, has been all over the place during his career, so hard to predict where he’s going, hence the Bard comparison.

  • Brian in MA

    RE: Cole – A top level athlete who went to college who actually wanted to go to college. Weird.

    • The Great Gonzo

      Him and Ryan Fitzpatrick, playing chess in the park, doing Smart Athlete Things.

    • Deep Thoughts

      Who would have guessed a Gerrit Alan Cole from Newport Beach CA would not feel financially pressured to sign up for a bonus in the millions at the first opportunity.

  • hornblower

    A quibble about O’Brien. He has power but also hit for average at A and is doing ok at AA. These two leagues are not known to be hitter friendly and he has 17 homers. Not walking is a problem but that can change. He is adequate behind the plate and is a pretty good athlete so learning first or the outfield should not be a problem. Most MLB teams are desperate for power in this post-juice era. He could provide some down the road.

  • The Other Matt

    I understand that O’Brien may only have one tool – and as Mike pointed out that it happens to be the best tool to have if you’re a one tool player – but I wouldn’t be so apt to let him go in a trade so quickly, regardless of his lack of a true position. Not to say that he deserves to be in the big leagues at this juncture, or would be able to perform at that level presently, but just take a look at our team right now – or baseball altogether for that matter. One thing that almost every analyst says seems to be lacking in the game today is right handed power hitters. Now of course that would in turn make O’Brien a hot commodity in case of a trade, but wouldn’t it make sense to try and hold on to a guy like that. Not that Mike is screaming for him to be traded, but I feel as though it’s being advocated – by not just him – in any deal we potentially make this season. Looking at our club right now and in the short term future – next season and 2016 – there doesn’t seem to be very many guys who hit for power. Obviously you have Teixeira and McCann, but then what? Now I know Beltran has hit close to .500 slugging the past two seasons, but who is to say what he will be the next two years? Additionally, Soriano’s future is I guess is about 50/50 whether or not he will come back next season. Maybe more so in the direction that he won’t, but I digress. Let’s just say O’Brien continues to impress with the bat, as far as power is concerned, and is a legitimate option for next year’s club. That would be great, as it would be one less expense you would have to make, for the future. Even if he won’t ever turn out to be an average fielding RF or 1B, we’re still in the AL and have the DH. I’d much rather have the Yankees give O’Brien a shot than go out and get some washed up Travis Hafner-type that we saw last year to be a permanent DH. Not to mention, if he has a pretty strong arm – which majority of reports I’ve seen said he does – then he can’t be all that worse than Beltran in right moving forward. Seriously. Give him a crash course in right field, and see what comes of it.

    Our system isn’t producing amazing power hitters out the ass either – it honestly isn’t producing much of anything expect relievers – so it’s not like we have a luxury of power hitters to choose from. Not to mention we play in a hitter’s ball park with two outfielders locked up for a while, that don’t happen to hit very many home runs. It might behoove the organization to look at things from a full perspective and realize, hey this kid O’Brien has some power, if nothing else. Let’s keep him and give him a shot, instead of being on the lookout and trying to make a move for the next over the hill, $25 million a year power hitter. I know baseball transactions/trades are never as simple as getting a guy you want and giving up pieces you don’t, but as good as Samardzija is, or anybody we may acquire in a trade this season or off-season, I’d be hard press to give up Peter O’Brien.

    • hornblower

      Fortunately OM Cashman makes the decisions not Mike or the “GM” on this board. O’Brien, Jagielo and Judge are the three best non-pitcher prospects in the system. All have good power and are decent athletes.

  • New Guy

    MIKE?! Why do you have talk shit about my boy Pinder like that?

  • Kiko Jones

    “The only player I can recall who retired and walked away from his contract due to injury is Gil Meche, who forfeited roughly $12M a few years ago. I would be stunned if Sabathia did that. It would be stupid.”

    Why was Meche’s decision stupid? He figured he’d made more than enough “real world” money already—aprox. $50m—and chose not to sit on the bench for a couple of seasons just to cash a check. I dunno if I’d done it, but I find it to be pretty honorable just the same. Certainly not stupid.

    “No player should base a decision like [Cole’s] on their fandom growing up.”

    If there’s anyone who CAN easily make a decision like that is a player from a wealthy family. That’s the kind of freedom that coming from money brings you—the ability to say, “Wow, I can sign with my fave team and if it doesn’t pan out I can always go to college w/o worrying about tuition or scholarships.”

    • Masahiro Nakamura

      I agree. If you’re a yankees fan and a big one too, getting 4 million and money doesn’t matter, I don’t know why you wouldn’t sign.

      I guess college mattered that much to him.

      • jjyank

        It probably did. And yes, he can go to college later if baseball doesn’t work out, but let’s be real here. That’s not even close to the same thing, experience wise. There’s no way I would have made the friends that I made and had the type of camaraderie I had with them if I was a 25 year old living off campus rather than an 18 year old in the dorms. For many, going to college is just as much about the experience as it is about the education.

        • Kiko Jones

          When you’re rich you can buy the experience. Ha!

          Seriously, I hear ya. But I dunno if I’d been able to give up the chance to play for the Yankees under his circumstances.

          Maybe one day when he’s 45 he’ll say to himself, “You know, even if it’s not the same, anyone can go to college, and at any age. Playing for the Yankees is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I blew it. Damn it!”

          It would be interesting to ask Mike Trout or Rick Porcello what they’d done in Cole’s shoes.

          • Deep Thoughts

            I’d be shocked if at least one of Trout and Cole isn’t at least considering a free-agent bid with the Yankees once his team control ends.

    • RetroRob

      Meche was also going through a nasty divorce with his wife and he had children living in two different cities and states. His decision seemed to have more to do with trying to repair a rather complicated personal life, which he viewed as more important than the money. And who knows, maybe he enjoyed screwing his wife out of the extra $6M she was going to get. Unlikely, but just throwing it out there since there is no way of knowing. Yet maybe we can give Meche some quality points for why he retired, but it seems to have less to do with him not believing he was earning the money.

      CC’s family life seems quite stable. Since baseball players salaries are kept artificially low during their most productive years, they have certainly earned the right to their very high salaries in their later years, and the protection that comes with hit, a protection they don’t have during their younger years. It’s the rules the MLB owners agreed to and are quite happy with. The Meche cases are extremely rare.

      As for CC, if he really can’t play again, and I was in his situation, I’d go back to the Yankees and offer to “retire” as long as they basically made him whole by drawing up a new contract as an employee of the team, but not a player. The Yankees would save quite a bit because he would no longer be calculated into the luxury tax. I wonder if MLB would step in and stop that? I wonder if they could if the Steinbrenner’s simply employed him through one of their other YES Global Enterprise companies.

      • Kiko Jones

        Yeah, except I doubt there are any $20m+ positions at YESGE, heh heh.

  • The Other Matt

    And I sure hope the Yankees won’t protect Mason Williams, unless he was to show a vast amount of improvement between now and the end of the season. We always seem to be in some 40 man flux, and while certain guys will always be expendable, you can add Mason Williams to those list of guys. If some team wants to take the chance of having him on their 25 man roster for a full season, so be it. I’m not that high on Austin, either, after the past couple years with all of his injuries, though if he were to show some level of productivity and sustain being healthy I wouldn’t mind him being protected. At least he could play in right or maybe even third and not be blocked by Gardner and Ellsbury, as Williams is. Not to mention, we don’t really need another light-hitting left handed outfielder, that being Williams, and Austin is a right-handed bat. We already have Flores on the 40 man and at least he has shown some ability to swing the bat in the upper levels of the minors. Additionally, if Burawa isn’t protected I would suspect that he would be picked up. But as Mike said, he might have a chance to be added to the 40 man by season’s end anyway.

  • Frankie Beans

    Yankees are a 89-90 win team. No matter if CC, Pin comes back and throw in a few decent trades. Yankees are 89-90 win team. If they make the playoffs their bats will go back to sleep because they will be facing other teams 1-2 punch.

    You can talk all you want about “what about this guy” “When this guy comes back” Watching these games tells you that some of their loses are mind boggling.

    • jjyank

      “No matter if CC, Pin comes back and throw in a few decent trades. Yankees are 89-90 win team.”

      So…if CC reverses his fortune and Pineda pitches to his ability AND the Yankees swing a few decent trades, that doesn’t change their original projection? I…don’t see the logic in that statement.

      • Improbable Island’s Dirty Midget Whores (formerly RRR)

        Frankly? I think he’s being optimistic. I think we’re closer to an 84 to 85 win time…and we still may win the division.

        • jjyank

          My issue was the logic, not the actual numbers.

  • ropeadope

    There was some speculation he would be posted last offseason, but the Hiroshima Carp decided to keep him around for another year.

    Mike, this is a bit off topic, but could you give some insight as to the impact the dropping of the atomic bomb had on the carp industry in Hiroshima, and on the carp themselves? Was their survival endangered, or was the carp population largely unaffected? Were they edible throughout the period? Did the industry suffer a downturn? You hear a lot about the human toll, but the carp adversity (if any) remains a hidden story.

  • chris

    Interesting things about Shohei Otani:

    A) He wants to come to the majors and will most likely be posted very young, although not for a few years at least

    B) He is both a pitcher and an outfielder, with good power.

    C) The Yankees were highly connected with him until he decided to stay in Japan after high school. So we know there is already interest.

  • Mikhel

    Venditte might not need to prove himself at AAA since he has pitched in both the Mexican winter league and the Venezuelan winter league and has performed fine.

    Had the chance to watch him in his time in Mexicali, México and the guy has good stuff, looks a bit better as a leftie than a rightie, with more punch and speed in his pitches. Due to him and another switch pitcher from México, the Venditte rule was created. The mexican kid was scouted by the Yanks but never had an official offer nor a Yankee scout per se attending his games (only scouts who report back to the Yanks but are not on the Yankees payroll, more or less an intermediary between an unknown player and X team scout).

  • RetroRob

    I’d be more on the O’Brien bandwagon if I saw more plate discipline. Or should I say any place discipline. Those very low walk rates indicate a hitter who MLB pitchers will eat up. I hope I’m wrong, but that really is the biggest concern to me about putting him as a top prospect. It’s not his position. If he can hit, the position will come. I’m just not convinced he’ll hit on the MLB level beyond the occasional, running-into-a-fastball thing.

    Yet I keep watching him, hoping I’m wrong, or that I start to see some increase in his walk rate.