Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: April 2012

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
Stew. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

We are now in April and a new season has begun. That is true today and it was true in 2012 as well. Now that we’re in a new month, it’s time to go through the MLB Trade Rumors archives again. April is usually a slow month for rumors and transactions though. The season has just started and most teams are evaluating their rosters and minor league depth before looking for help outside the organization.

The Yankees remade their rotation during the 2011-12 offseason by signing Hiroki Kuroda and trading for Michael Pineda. They also brought back Freddy Garcia and salary dumped A.J. Burnett. The Yankees didn’t just lose on Opening Day in 2012 — that was the first of these six straight Opening Day losses — they got swept in the first series by the Rays. The cries of panic were quickly erased by a 10-3 stretch. The Yankees went 13-9 in April overall. Let’s dive into the MLBTR archives, shall we?

April 1st, 2012: Minor Moves: Scales, Bulger

The Yankees have signed Jason Bulger to a minor league contract, tweets MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch. He’ll pitch at Triple-A. After signing a minor league deal with the Twins this winter, Bulger disappointed in Spring Training, allowing 10 earned runs on eight hits and five walks in four innings. He last enjoyed success in 2009 with the Angels.

Bulger had some nice years with the Angels back in the day, throwing 99 innings with a 3.64 ERA (4.40 FIP) from 2009-11. He was just trying to hang on by time he signed with the Yankees. Bulger, then 33, spent the 2012 season in Triple-A, where he had a 3.41 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 34.1 relief innings. He walked 21 and struck out 28 as the designated “veteran arm who makes sure the kids don’t get overworked” reliever. The Yankees have a few guys like that this year (Ernesto Frieri, Jason Gurka), though they’re much deeper in young arms than they were five years ago. The odds of seeing Frieri and Gurka in the Bronx aren’t as good as they would have been a few years back.

April 4th, 2012: Giants, Yanks Swap George Kontos For Chris Stewart

2:32pm: The Yankees have acquired Stewart in exchange for right-hander George Kontos, reports MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch (on Twitter).

The big-ish surprise trade. Opening Day was April 6th, 2012, and two days earlier the Yankees changed course behind the plate and acquired Chris Stewart to back up Russell Martin. Francisco Cervelli was optioned to Triple-A. It was right around that time we started to learn about the value of pitch-framing, and Stewart was a master at it. Here are the numbers, per StatCorner:

Stewart Cervelli
2011 +16.8 in 460.1 innings +8.4 in 316.1 innings
2012 +14.1 in 395.1 innings +0.2 in 5 innings
2013 +21.7 in 844.1 innings +3.2 in 138 innings

On a rate basis, Stewart was one of the very best pitch-framers in baseball at the time. Cervelli was good, but not as good as Stewart. Stewart backed up Martin in 2012 and hit .241/.292/.319 (65 wRC+) in 157 plate appearances. Cervelli hit .246/.341/.316 (89 wRC+) in 99 Triple-A games.

The Yankees let Martin walk as a free agent following the season and were planning to go with Stewart and Cervelli behind the plate in 2013, but a foul tip broke Cervelli’s hand in April and kept him out most of the season. That gave Austin Romine his first extended taste of big league action.

Kontos, meanwhile, has two World Series rings with the Giants, and has carved out a nice career as a middle reliever. He came into this season with a 2.64 ERA (3.66 FIP) in 264 career innings. I thought Kontos had a chance to be a setup guy and wasn’t too pleased with the trade, but whatever. What’s done is done.

April 4th, 2012: Yankees Sign Ramon Ortiz

The Yankees signed right-hander Ramon Ortiz, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. It’s a minor league deal, Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger tweets. The Giants recently released the 39-year-old Praver/Shapiro client.

The Yankees have some nice pitching depth in the minors, which hasn’t always been the case over the years. It’s hardly been the case, really. They used to have to pick up guys like Ortiz to chew up innings in Triple-A. Ortiz, then 39 with over 1,400 big league innings to his credit, spent the entire season with Triple-A Scranton, where he had a 3.45 ERA (4.06 FIP) in 169.1 innings. That was the season Scranton had to play entirely on the road while PNC Field was being renovated, so Ortiz, a 12-year MLB veteran, stuck it out and road buses and lived in hotels all summer. Some guys stick around so long because they truly love the game.

By the way, those 169.1 innings Ortiz threw that season are still the most in the farm system since Steven White threw 175.1 innings back in 2006. Aside from Ortiz, only four Yankees farmhands have reached 160 innings in a single minor league season since White: Shaeffer Hall (164.1 in 2012), D.J. Mitchell (161.1 in 2011), Hector Noesi (160.1 in 2010), and Jason Jones (160 in 2008). Geez, those are some names. Shaeffer Hall was the Dietrich Enns of his time.

April 5th, 2012: Yankees Claim Cody Eppley

The Yankees claimed reliever Cody Eppley off of waivers from the Rangers, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets. The Rangers had designated the right-hander for assignment yesterday.

You never see it coming with these fringe relievers. The Yankees claimed Eppley off waivers the day before Opening Day, and while he didn’t make the Opening Day roster, he was called up in the middle of April and spent the entire rest of the season in the big leagues. He threw 46 innings with a 3.33 ERA (3.66 FIP) and a 60.3% ground ball rate. Eppley appeared in two games with the Yankees in 2013 before being released at midseason. He’s been bouncing around independent leagues and the Mexican League since 2014. The Yankees got their 40-something good innings out of Eppley and that was it, time to move on.

April 6th, 2012: NL West Notes: Padres, Dodgers, Phelps

The Giants originally requested right-hander David Phelps from the Yankees for catcher Chris Stewart, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. The Yankees ultimately sent right-hander George Kontos to San Francisco.

I don’t remember this at all. Phelps had yet to pitch in the big leagues at the time of the Stewart-Kontos trade, though he made his debut in the middle of the 2012 season. It’s easy to understand why the Yankees said no to Phelps but yes to Kontos. Phelps could start. Kontos couldn’t. Also, Phelps had a much cleaner injury history. (Kontos had undergone Tommy John surgery a few years prior.) The Yankees have never really missed Kontos. They would have missed Phelps given the 299.1 league average-ish innings he threw for them from 2012-14 though.

April 18th, 2012: Quick Hits: Lannan, Martin, Nationals, Orioles

The Yankees have no plans to talk to Russell Martin about a contract extension soon, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). Martin will become a free agent after this season, and the two sides briefly discussed a multi-year deal this past offseason.

The two sides did talk about an extension at some point, but nothing came of it and Martin ended up signing with the Pirates after the season. That led to the Stewvelli era in 2013. Here are the catchers the Yankees have lost or traded away over the last few offseasons:

  • After 2016: Brian McCann traded to Astros.
  • After 2015: John Ryan Murphy traded to Twins.
  • After 2014: Francisco Cervelli traded to Pirates.
  • After 2013: Chris Stewart traded to Pirates.
  • After 2012: Russell Martin leaves as free agent.
  • After 2011: Jesus Montero traded to Mariners.

The Yankees did all of that and they still have a budding star behind the plate in Gary Sanchez. Pretty cool. The super early guess here is Romine is sent packing after the season so Kyle Higashioka can take over as the backup in 2018, continuing the annual tradition of jettisoning a catcher in the offseason.

April 19th, 2012: Yankees Sign Nelson Figueroa

The Yankees have signed right-hander Nelson Figueroa to a minor league deal, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets.

Nelson Figueroa too? Geez, the Yankees signed so many veteran guys to stash in Triple-A in 2012 that I had to go back to look at their rotation to start the season. Here are their Opening Day starting pitchers:

The Delcarmen start was basically a rehab thing. He moved to the bullpen after that one little start, at which point Ortiz took his rotation spot. Figueroa helped replace Banuelos, who got hurt early in the season. Others on the 2012 Triple-A Opening Day roster include Mike O’Connor, Craig Heyer, and Pat Venditte. I had a prospect crush on Heyer for a while.

April 20th, 2012: No More Personal Service Deals & Milestone Bonuses

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed to put an end to personal service deals and milestone bonus clauses, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark reports. Existing contracts with these deals or bonuses won’t be affected by the changes, which were agreed to this month.

I don’t remember this. Alex Rodriguez had those home run milestone bonuses in his contract, though he didn’t trigger the first bonus until 2015. MLB and MLBPA changed the rules three years before that was a thing. I know Albert Pujols has an option for a ten-year, $10M personal services contract in his deal with the Angels, which was signed a few weeks before this report. Ryan Zimmermann has a personal services clause in his contract too.

MLB and MLBPA determined milestone bonuses violated a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that says performance statistics can not be used as a basis for incentives. The personal services stuff violated a clause about contracts extending beyond the player’s career as an active player. So, if you’re looking for a way the Yankees can sweeten the pot to lure a free agent in the future, milestone bonuses and personal services agreements are a no go.

April 25th, 2012: Michael Pineda To Undergo Labrum Operation

Michael Pineda has a tear in his right labrum and will undergo arthroscopic surgery next Tuesday, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (Twitter link). The 23-year-old will likely miss a full year, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweets. The Yankees acquired Pineda in an offseason trade that sent their top hitting prospect to the Mariners, but the right-hander has yet to pitch his first inning in pinstripes.

Oh boy. That was a bad day. Pineda’s velocity was down all throughout Spring Training — he came to camp out of shape too — and the Yankees had him start the season on the disabled list with what they called shoulder tendinitis. He made a rehab start a few days prior to this report and left the game after only a handful of pitches with pain in his shoulder. Tests revealed the labrum tear. Brian Cashman called it a “tragic diagnosis” at the time.

Pineda missed close to two full seasons following the surgery — he did throw 40.2 minor league rehab innings in the second half of 2013 — and all things considered, his stuff has come back very well following surgery. He can still get his fastball into the mid-90s regularly and his slider can be devastating. Pineda still doesn’t have a reliable changeup though, and his command is pretty terrible, which may or may not be the result of the surgery. I remember being worried he’d come back throwing 88-89 mph with no bite on his slider. That didn’t happen.

Even with his stuff coming back, the shoulder injury definitely derailed Pineda’s career to some degree. He missed his age 23 season and most of his age 24 season. Those are crucial developmental years, years Pineda could have been working on his changeup and command. There’s no guarantee Pineda would be a better today had he not undergone surgery. The surgery didn’t do him any favors though. Sucks.

April 28th, 2012: Bobby Abreu Links: Angels, Wells, Trout, Yankees

Mike Axisa of the River Ave Blues blog thinks the Yankees might have an interest in Abreu as at least a short-term fix while Brett Gardner is on the DL.  New York tried to acquire Abreu for A.J. Burnett in the offseason, before Burnett blocked the deal to avoid playing on the west coast.

That idiot Mike Axisa has a good idea every once in a while, but this probably wasn’t one of them. Gardner suffered what was essentially a season-ending elbow injury making a sliding catch in the team’s 11th game of the season — he did return very late in September and for the postseason — which sent the Yankees scrambling for outfield help. Here are their games started leaders in left field in 2012:

  1. Raul Ibanez — 65 starts
  2. Andruw Jones — 41
  3. Ichiro Suzuki — 26
  4. Dewayne Wise and Jayson Nix — 9 each
  5. Brett Gardner — 8
  6. Eduardo Nunez — 3
  7. Chris Dickerson — 1

I remember Nunez have some adventures during those three starts in left field. The Yankees rolled with an Ibanez/Jones platoon for much of the season, but Andruw was awful that year, which led to guys like Nunez and Nix playing out there. Eventually the Yankees traded for Ichiro to replace Gardner.

Anyway, I’ve gotten sidetracked. The Yankees and Angels reportedly agreed to a Burnett-for-Abreu trade during the 2011-12 offseason, but Burnett invoked his no-trade clause to block the deal because he didn’t want to go to the West Coast. He was traded to the Pirates, who were not on his no-trade list, a few weeks later.

Abreu, then 38, hit .208/.259/.333 (62 wRC+) in eight games with the Angels before being released on April 27th. The player called up to take his roster spot? Mike Trout. A good decision, that was. Abreu then hooked on with the Dodgers and hit a serviceable .246/.361/.344 (100 wRC+) in 92 games. Ibanez hit some enormous home runs late in 2012 and Ichiro played well after the trade. Good thing the Yankees didn’t listen to me and sign Abreu, huh?

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: March 2012

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Is it really March already? Geez. I feel like New Years was last week. Anyway, now that we’re in a new month, it’s again time to go back through the MLB Trade Rumors archives. We’re now in March 2012, and March is traditionally one of the slowest months for free agent and trade rumors. The offseason is over and teams usually wait a few weeks into the regular season before getting serious about acquiring upgrades.

The Yankees wrapped up their 2011-12 offseason business in February, when they traded A.J. Burnett following the Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda pickups. They also filled out their bench with low cost veterans like Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez. The rotation looked great and an offense that ranked second in baseball with 5.35 runs per game in 2011 was mostly intact. There were plenty of reasons to be excited in March 2012. Let’s dive into the rumors.

March 1st, 2012: Quick Hits: Burnett, Sizemore, Posey, Yankees

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner confirmed to reporters, including Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger, that he is intent on lowering payroll below $189MM by 2014 for luxury tax purposes (Twitter link).

The first reports of the austerity plan arrived a few weeks before this nugget. It started out as a little thing, then it continued to gain steam over the next year or two. The Yankees still haven’t gotten under the luxury tax, as you know, mostly because they reacted to their yucky 2013 season by committing $438M total to Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. (That doesn’t include the $20M release fee for Tanaka.)

Given what we know now, those four signings have worked out fairly well overall. The Ellsbury deal is pretty bad and will only look worse over time. Both McCann and Beltran were productive during their time in pinstripes though, and they were traded for some pretty good prospects. Tanaka has been pretty damn awesome when healthy, which has been most of the time. At the same time, the Yankees have played one postseason game since handing out those contracts, and you know the team’s ultimate goal is playing in October. Either way, the austerity play went bye bye in 2014. The Yankees are poised to try again in 2018.

March 7th, 2012: Mariano Rivera May Announce Decision Before All-Star Break

“I think maybe it will be before the All-Star break,” legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post regarding an announcement of whether he will pitch in 2013.  Rivera wants to be certain of his decision, which he seems to have already made privately.  Rivera said that when he does retire, “It would be nice that you tell the fans, so every stadium you go to, the fans will be there to show their appreciation and you appreciate the fans.”

Mo never did get a chance to announce his decision that year. He blew out his knee on the Kauffman Stadium warning track on May 3rd, ending his season. Rivera later said he was planning to retire following the 2012 season, and the injury changed his mind. He didn’t want to go out like that. Thank goodness. Had Rivera not changed his mind, this never would have happened …

… and that would have sucked.

March 10th, 2012: Levine: Yankees Plan To Keep Cano And Granderson

With the Yankees planning to get under the $189MM luxury tax threshold by 2014, many have wondered if the club will be able to retain both Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson after their contracts expire following the 2013 season.  Today, team president Randy Levine flatly stated that the team has a plan in place to retain both stars, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.

I literally lol’d when I saw this headline. I guess the plan was a) never make Granderson a competitive offer, and b) hope Cano is willing to take a discount. Swing and a miss, that was.

In all seriousness, this is a nice reminder plans can and do change. Levine made these comments 20 months before Granderson and Cano actually became free agents, and I’m sure the Yankees had every intention of retaining both at the time. Then Granderson missed a ton of time with hit-by-pitch related injuries in 2013 and Cano continued to raise his earning potential with his performance. Something something best laid plans.

March 11th, 2012: Cafardo On Phillies, Blanton, Lannan, Ramirez

With several teams in the market for a center fielder, Cafardo asked a National League scout if the Yankees would entertain a deal for Brett Gardner.  Gardner is currently slated to start in left field for the Yanks but a National League scout said that at some point the club might seek out a more traditional left field option.

Does the scout make those comments if the Yankees were playing Granderson (41 homers in 2011) in left and Gardner (49 steals in 2011) in center instead of vice versa? Granderson’s production certainly qualified him as a “traditional left field option,” and hey, Gardner in center and Granderson in left would have been a better defensive alignment too. Each position has a traditional offensive and defensive profile, but it’s okay to break from the norm once in a while.

March 15th, 2012: AL East Notes: Ibanez, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Orioles

Raul Ibanez doesn’t have emotional, historical or financial ties keeping him on the Yankees’ roster, so Joel Sherman of the New York Post wonders how long the club will stick with Ibanez if his struggles continue. But as Sherman point out, it’s still just March 15th.

Ibanez was so, so bad in Spring Training 2012. He hit .150/.190/.333 in 63 plate appearances, and it wasn’t until the final week of camp that he finally hit a ball out of the park. Ibanez wasn’t particularly great in the first half either, hitting .240/.298/.457 (98 wRC+) before the All-Star break. For a bat only dude, that ain’t good. Gardner hurt his elbow making a sliding catch in April though, leaving the Yankees short an outfielder the rest of the season. I wonder if they would have moved on from Ibanez at some point had Gardner been healthy. Fortunately for the Yankees, they kept Ibanez and he got molten hot at exactly the right time in September (and October).

March 16th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Pineda, Ibanez, Willis

The Yankees offered Dontrelle Willis a minor league deal this offseason, Sherman tweets. The Yankees might look into signing Willis, who was released by the Phillies this morning.

Dontrelle Willis! I don’t remember the Yankees being on him on at all. Willis was pretty far gone by this point too. His last good season was 2006, and from 2008-11, he had a 6.15 ERA (5.46 FIP) in 199 total innings. I assume the Yankees were looking at the then 30-year-old Willis as a reliever — he held left-handed batters to a .123/.169/.200 (.168 wOBA) batting line with 33.3% strikeouts, 3.3% walks, and 58.3% grounders in 2011, albeit in a limited sample. D-Train continued pitching in the minors and independent ball until 2014. He never pitched in the big leagues after 2011 though. It went so bad, so fast with him.

March 16th, 2012: Yankees Sign Andy Pettitte

A year after retiring, Andy Pettitte is back in pinstripes. The Yankees announced that they signed the 39-year-old left-hander to a minor league contract. Pettitte, a Hendricks Sports client, can potentially earn $2.5MM on the deal, which doesn’t include incentives. 

I’ll never forget the moment we learned Pettitte was coming out of retirement. Joe and I were in the middle of recording the RAB Podcast (RIP) when Jack Curry broke the news on Twitter. We were both just kinda speechless, so we scrapped that podcast and started writing about the signing instead. It was a pretty crazy afternoon. Pettitte’s un-retirement came out of nowhere. There were no rumbling at all. If anything, there was the opposite. Pettitte was in camp as a guest instructor that year and he told everyone he had no interest in playing again. Funny how that works.

Andy’s return — he threw another 260.2 innings with a 3.49 ERA (3.64 FIP) after coming back — was pretty awesome. I was kinda worried he’d come back and get knocked around, and it would all look like one giant mistake, but nope. He was great.

March 17th, 2012: Yankees Links: Pettitte, Garcia, Posada, Wise, A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez told Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that he’d like to own a baseball team one day (Twitter link). According to the game’s bylaws, A-Rod will have to wait until he’s no longer under contract with one of the 30 clubs to do so.

I too would like to own a baseball team one day. My chances aren’t as good as A-Rod’s though. Being an owner is pretty good work if you can get it. The national television contracts and revenue sharing system make it basically impossible to lose money. I feel like it’s only a matter of time until A-Rod gets involved with an ownership group and purchases a team. Same with Derek Jeter. A-Rod stays in Miami and buys the Marlins while Jeter stays in Tampa and buys the Rays. Sounds good to me.

March 20th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Pettitte, Hughes, Nova, Damon

There was a split between upper management and the field staff over whether to sign Johnny Damon or Raul Ibanez, Tom Verducci of SI.com writes. Damon told the Yankees he would play for whatever they were offering Ibanez, but it wasn’t enough.

Interesting! I don’t remember hearing this. I assume the front office wanted Ibanez since, you know, he’s the guy they actually signed. Plus it makes sense that Joe Girardi and the other members of his staff would prefer Damon since they had him for a few years, and won a title with him. Ibanez went on to hit .240/.308/.453 (102 wRC+) with 19 homers in 2012, plus he had all the postseason heroics. Damon hit .222/.281/.329 (70 wRC+) with four homers for the Indians that year and was released in August. Score one for the front office nerds.

March 21st, 2012: Spanish Links: Vazquez, Wandy, Jorge Vazquez

Slugging Yankee prospect Jorge Vazquez is growing impatient with the minor leagues and would like to try Japan or Korea if there’s not a place for him in the major leagues, according to the president of the Mexican League’s Tigres de Quintana Roo, where Vazquez played in 2007 and 2008. “If they don’t give him an opportunity this year, he wants them to trade him, or to go to [play] baseball in the east,” Cuauhtémoc “Chito” Rodríguez told Fernando Ballesteros at Puro Béisbol. “He doesn’t want to continue on in Triple A anymore, not just with the Yankees, but with any other organization as well.” Vazquez made a case for being MLB-ready in 2011, putting up a .262/.314/.516 line with 32 homers at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

That .262/.314/.516 (121 wRC+) line in 2011 also came with a 33.2% strikeout rate and a 6.0% walk rate. He was repeating the level too. Remember how much everyone freaked out about Aaron Judge‘s strikeouts in Triple-A in the second half of the 2015 season? He had a 28.5% strikeout rate and an 11.2% walk rate. Vazquez was an extreme free swinger. The Yankees ended up releasing him at the end of Spring Training in 2012 and he’s been playing in Mexico ever since. He hit .319/.403/.513 (146 wRC+) with six homers in 33 games last year, and, as far as I can tell, he’s under contract to play again this year too.

March 22nd 2012: DePaula Obtains Visa; Yankees Deal Still In Place

Rafael DePaula is finally on the verge of beginning his professional baseball career. The pitching prospect agreed to sign with the Yankees for $500K in November, 2010, but hasn’t had a visa until now, so the deal hasn’t been completed. Agent Charisse Espinosa-Dash told MLBTR today that DePaula has his visa and that the original deal is expected to go through once the Dominican right-hander passes a physical.

The DePaula signing came with a lot of headache and very little reward. It took about 18 months for the contract to be finalized due to visa issues — DePaula had been previously suspended for lying about his age, which tends to gum up the works — and once he was able to play, his top prospect status didn’t last long. The Yankees traded DePaula as the second piece in the Chase Headley trade a few years back. DePaula, 26 next month, had a 2.66 ERA (2.17 FIP) with 32.8% strikeouts and 8.3% walks in 64.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year. It was his first season as a full-time reliever. DePaula was not selected in December’s Rule 5 Draft for the second straight year. Lot of hype, little payoff. Such is life.

March 23rd, 2012: Quick Hits: Nationals, Blue Jays, Soria, Carpenter

Joba Chamberlain dislocated his right ankle and lost a life-threatening amount of blood yesterday, Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News reports. The injury will end Chamberlain’s season and could threaten his career.

Ugh, the Joba ankle injury. That was brutal. Joba was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at the time of the trampoline accident, so the ankle injury didn’t delay his return all that much. He returned on August 1st and had a 4.35 ERA (4.01 FIP) in 20.2 innings the rest of the season. Chamberlain had a 3.70 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 382 innings before the Tommy John surgery and ankle injury, and he has a 4.05 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 173.1 innings since. He’s in camp as a non-roster players with the Brewers this spring. Prospects will break your heart, yo.

March 24th, 2012: Quick Hits: Phillies, Garcia, Abreu, Beras, Mets

Word is that the Yankees offered Freddy Garcia to the Marlins but Miami wasn’t interested, tweets Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com.  Garcia, who is a trade candidate following the club’s signing of Andy Pettitte, is signed to a one-year deal worth $4MM plus incentives.

In 2011, the Yankees had so little pitching they were signing guys like Garcia and Bartolo Colon out of near retirement. In 2012, they had so many arms they were able to trade Burnett and shop Garcia. Sweaty Freddy never did go anywhere though. He had a 5.20 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 107.1 innings spread across 17 starts and 13 relief appearances for the Yankees year. Yuck. In hindsight, letting Colon go and keeping Garcia was a huge mistake. You’re lying if you said you knew Colon would still be pitching in 2017 (!) though.

March 25th, 2012: Phillies Have Interest In Yankees’ Ramiro Pena

With second baseman Chase Utley sidelined with no timetable to return, the Phillies plan to start Freddy Galvis and are hoping to bolster their infield depth behind him.  With that in mind, General Manager Ruben Amaro & Co. have some interest in Yankees utilityman Ramiro Pena, according to George A. King III of the New York Post.

That’s 2009 World Series Champion Ramiro Pena to you. He had his moments as an up-and-down utility man from 2009-11. Pena spent just about the entire 2012 season in Triple-A, where he hit .258/.325/.328 (85 wRC+) in 101 games. The Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster after the season and Pena went on his way. Rakin’ Ramiro did play in the big leagues last year, you know. With the Giants. He hit .299/.330/.425 (103 wRC+) with a homer in 30 games while they were dealing with some infield injuries. Pena signed with the Hiroshima Carp, Kuroda’s former team, over the winter.

March 28th, 2012: Yankees Sign Jack Cust

The Yankees have signed Jack Cust to a minor league contract, reports Sweeny Murti of WFAN (on Twitter). Last night we heard that the TWC Sports client was likely to sign with an NL team, but the Yankees apparently swooped in.

I completely forgot the Yankees had Cust for a while. He never did play for them in the big leagues, but he did hit .249/.400/.475 (147 wRC+) with 20 homers in 98 games with Triple-A Scranton before being released. My lasting memory of Cust will be his baserunning gaffes against the Yankees back in 2003:

The Yankees led the game 5-4 in the 12th inning at the time. Had Cust not fallen down (twice!), he would have scored the game tying run. I miss the days when the O’s were a punching bag. Don’t you?

March 28th, 2012: Yankees Claim Craig Tatum Off Waivers

The Yankees have claimed catcher Craig Tatum off waivers from the Diamondbacks, the team announced. The 29-year-old backstop has been claimed off waivers three times in the last few months, first by the Astros, then by the D’Backs, and now by the Yankees. Their 40-man roster is now full.

I am an embarrassingly huge baseball nerd, so it’s not often a transaction involves a player I’ve never heard of, especially if said player once played for the Yankees. I have zero recollection of Tatum though. None at all. Apparently the Yankees claimed him from the Diamondbacks, outrighted him off the 40-man roster a few days later, and he played eight games with Triple-A Scranton that summer. Been out of baseball since. I remember most things and I have no memory of this happening. Now I wonder what else I’ve forgotten.

March 28th, 2012: AL East Notes: Maxwell, Moore, Red Sox

The Astros and Orioles have some interest in Yankees outfielder Justin Maxwell, but haven’t discussed a possible deal with GM Brian Cashman, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Maxwell is out of options and could be available in trades before Opening Day.

“The stupid Yankees shoulda kept Maxwell and dumped Andruw Jones” was a thing for a while in 2012. Andruw was terrible that year, hitting .197/.294/.408 (89 wRC+) overall and .202/.294/.411 (88 wRC+) against lefties. The Yankees had no room on the roster for Maxwell, who was claimed by the Astros after New York put him on waivers at the end of camp. He went on to hit .229/.304/.460 (106 wRC+) overall that year, and .272/.387/.505 (143 wRC+) against lefties. Maxwell has bounced around since then, and he currently plays for the Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization.

March 29th, 2012: Minor Moves: Bard, Sullivan, Pearce, Michaels

The Yankees have signed Steve Pearce to a minor league contract, reports Josh Norris of the Trentonian (Twitter link).  Pearce, a former well-regarded prospect with the Pirates, signed a minor league deal with the Twins in December but was released on Tuesday.

At the time Pearce was a busted former top-ish prospect. He’d hit .232/.302/.366 (78 wRC+) in 521 total plate appearances with the Pirates as an up-and-down guy from 2007-11. Pittsburgh then cut him loose after the 2011 season. Here is how Pearce’s 2012 season played out:

  • March 27th: Released by Twins (signed a minor league deal over the winter).
  • March 29th: Signs minor league deal with Yankees.
  • June 2nd: Traded to the Orioles for cash.
  • July 28th: Claimed on waivers by the Astros from the O’s.
  • August 27th: Claimed on waivers by the Yankees from the Astros.
  • September 29th: Claimed on waivers by the Orioles from the Yankees.

Pearce didn’t play for the big league Yankees the first time. He hit .318/.419/.568 (173 wRC+) with eleven homers in 73 games with Triple-A Scranton before exercising an opt-out clause in his contract. The Yankees could either trade him to the O’s for some cash, or let him complete the opt-out and go there as a free agent. They took the cash.

After coming back to New York in August, Pearce went 4-for-25 (.160) with a homer in 30 plate appearances for the Yankees. He was essentially an extra bench bat once rosters expanded in September. It wasn’t until 2013 that Pearce really established himself as a big league caliber hitter. I was hoping the Yankees would sign him this winter — for the Chris Carter role, essentially, except Pearce can also play the outfield — but alas. He’s with the Blue Jays now.

Hideki Irabu, Twenty Years Later

(Bill Kostroun/Associated Press)
(Bill Kostroun/Associated Press)

A bit over twenty years ago, the San Diego Padres purchased the contract of Hideki Irabu from the Chiba Lotte Marines. There was no bidding process, nor was any other team able to offer Irabu a contract – the Padres were the early bird to the worm, and they stood to reap the rewards. This is noteworthy in and of itself, as it played a tremendous role in the creation and implementation of the posting system that we all know and loathe (though, to be fair, the system that brought Masahiro Tanaka over was an improvement, even if subsequent tweaks will prevent us from seeing Shohei Otani for a couple more years). But I digress.

The demand for Irabu was understandable. In addition to throwing the hardest recorded fastball in the history of the NPB (98 or 99 MPH, depending on the account), he was probably the league’s best pitcher from 1994 through 1996. Some called him the Japanese Nolan Ryan, while Bobby Valentine – a former manager – compared him to Roger Clemens (the 6’4″, 240 pound frame helped), and several scouts believed he would be better than Hideo Nomo. That last bit may not mean much nowadays, but it came on the heels of Nomo’s first two MLB seasons, which included a Rookie of the Year award, two Top-4 Cy Young finishes, over 10 K/9, a 133 ERA+, and 9-plus WAR (per both B-R and FanGraphs).

Unfortunately for the Padres (or fortunately, depending on how you want to weigh hindsight), Irabu refused to pitch in San Diego. He was a lifelong Yankees fan, after all, and that was the only organization that he would play for. And George Steinbrenner was more than happy to oblige, and a deal was struck. The Yankees sent top prospect Ruben Rivera (rated 9th overall by Baseball America a couple of months prior), Rafael Medina (64th on the same list), and $3 MM to the Padres, in exchange for Irabu, Homer Bush, and Gordie Amerson. They subsequently signed him to a four-year, $12.8 MM deal, with a team option for a fifth.

Fans, players, and talking heads the world over had strong opinions about the manner in which Irabu forced his way to the Yankees. A Tokyo-based newspaper was headlined “ARE YOU BLINDED BY MONEY?” on the heels of the deal, which is seemingly a timeless question for athletes. And both Andy Pettitte and Kenny Rogers questioned the signing, with the former griping about their comparative wages (Pettitte made around $600,000 in 1997). There was excitement, to be sure, but the skepticism and anger was palpable.

Irabu made his stateside debut shortly thereafter, making six warm-up starts in the minors. He dominated the competition, allowing a 2.32 ERA in 31 IP, and posting a ridiculous 34 strikeouts against just 1 walk. His fastball sat in the 94-96 MPH range, and his forkball had vicious bite in the upper-80s, low-90s. More than satisfied with his stuff and performance, the Yankees called him up to face the Tigers at home on July 10, 1997.

(Chuck Solomon/SI)
(Chuck Solomon/SI)

I was there that evening, as a part of a sell-out crowd (as compared to the average weekday audience of around 28,000), and I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen the stadium more excited for the first pitch of a relatively inconsequential game. That level of excitement was steady throughout the evening, with cheers at every strike and veritable roars with every punch out. When Joe Torre pulled Irabu in the top of the 7th the crowd reacted as though he had thrown a perfect game, demanding a curtain call. All told, he finished that night with 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 4 BB, and 9 K. It was a fine debut, and it seemed as though a legend was being born.

The brakes were pumped in short order, though, as Irabu was awful over his next seven starts, earning a demotion to the minors and a return engagement in the bullpen. In the eleven appearances between his first and last starts of the season, batters hit .343/.395/.663 against Irabu, which led to an 8.42 ERA in 41.2 IP. The first uses of ‘I-Rob-U’ were born during this stretch, as fans turned on him rather quickly. Some faint glimmer hope was found in his final start of the season, against those same Tigers, when he went 5 IP, allowing just 2 hits, 1 run, and no walks, while striking out 6. The final line was ugly – a 7.09 ERA and -0.9 bWAR in 53.1 IP – but there were flashes of brilliance sprinkled in.

That glimmer of hope expanded tenfold in the first few months of the 1998 season. Irabu allowed 1 run or less in six of his first seven starts, and boasted a 1.13 ERA in 47.2 IP when Memorial Day rolled around. When the first half came to a close, he was sitting on the following line: 86.2 IP, 67 H, 40 BB, 65 K, 2.91 ERA. The strikeouts and walks weren’t terribly strong, but we were at the tail end of the dark days of baseball analytics, and that ERA was quite good in the run environment of 1998. The wheels fell off in the second half, to the tune of a 5.21 ERA in 86.1 IP, and Irabu didn’t factor into the 1998 playoffs.

Overall, 1998 wasn’t a terrible year for Irabu. Disappointing? Sure. But 173 IP of 109 ERA+ ball isn’t too shabby, and he actually bested Pettitte in H/9, K/9, ERA+, and bWAR. The sequencing of it all kept him off of the playoff roster (as it should have, as he was all but unpitchable down the stretch) – but there were still some signs that he could be a competent back of the rotation starter. And, given his contract, he’d get the chance to be just that.

Instead, Irabu was viewed as a dead man walking in 1999, his season tarnished by Steinbrenner referring to him as a “fat pussy toad”  after he failed to cover first in a Spring Training game. (Pussy as in full of pus.) He was sent to the bullpen to open the season, spending the entirety of April as a mop-up reliever, before rejoining the rotation in May. The writing was on the wall at that point, it seemed, and Irabu did little to help his cause. His strikeout and walk rates improved markedly over his 1998 season, and he looked quite good in June (3.33 ERA in 24.1 IP) and July (2.64 ERA and 4.1 K/BB in 44.1 IP) – but that represented the high point to an otherwise dreadful season, including two-plus awful months to close the season (6.63 ERA between August and October).

The Yankees officially gave up on Irabu thereafter, and he was dealt to the Expos for Jake Westbrook, Ted Lilly, and Christian Parker in the 1999-2000 off-season. He spent three more years in the majors (two in Montreal, one in Texas), battling injuries, ineffectiveness, and demotions to the minors, throwing his last big league pitch on July 12, 2002 … he allowed a walk-off single to Jacque Jones in  a 4-3 loss to the Twins.

Irabu finished his career with 514 IP across 126 appearances (80 starts), posting a 5.15 ERA (4.97 FIP) along the way. His 18.1% strikeout rate and 7.8% walk rate were both better than average for their time, but his propensity for the long ball (1.59 HR/9 for his career) and gradually increasing hittability felled him. Luckily for the Yankees, their return for Irabu was much better than what they gave up back in 1997 – and he didn’t stop them from winning back-to-back World Series championships.

He returned to the NPB in 2003 at 34-years-old, pitching for the Hanshin Tigers of the Central League (in a rotation with Kei Igawa, because of course). He finished fourth in the Central League with 164 strikeouts, with a league-average-ish 3.85 ERA. He attempted a return engagement in 2004, but injuries essentially ended his career.

Irabu’s post playing days were discussed quite a bit when he committed suicide in 2011, and they don’t bear repeating here. Despite his struggles with the Yankees, I remember him somewhat fondly. He started one of the most exciting games that I’ve ever attended (I was eleven at the time), and his forkball stands out as one of the first filthy breaking balls in my memory. His career was a disappointment, and much of it was a circus – but the talent was there, and he was fun to watch when he was right.

If you’d like to take a few moments to see what could have been, I recommend these two videos. The first is from 1994, when he was still pitching in the NPB:

And the other is from his MLB debut:

The 2002 Yankees: A forgotten 103-win season

(Getty)
(Getty)

It’s been 15 years since the 2002 Yankees fell short of a fifth straight American League title and fourth World Series win in five years. Because that was a time of World Series or bust fervor, it’s easy to forget that the ’02 squad won 103 games and arguably had the Yankees’ best rotation of the decade. So let’s take a look back at that team as well as what could have been.

New Faces

Right now, Yankee fans are forced to adjust to a series of bright-eyed young kids coming up to the majors and a few solid veterans. The 2002 Yankees didn’t have a transition anything like the current squad, but they did see a few shifts after the 2001 World Series. They had holes in all four corners as Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius retired while Tino Martinez and Chuck Knoblauch became free agents.

The Yankees being the Yankees, they filled all four holes within eight days. The first move was to trade David Justice to the Mets, one of the rare times the crosstown rivals would hook up for a trade, for Robin Ventura. Four days later, they’d deal reliever Jay Witasick to the Giants for John Vander Wal, who’d man right field.

That move would get overshadowed because it was on the same day they announced the signing of the reigning American League MVP Jason Giambi as their new first baseman. Rondell White would sign for an ill-fated stint in left field four days after that.

The front office appeared done with all five main starters from ’01 returning and Steve Karsay signed to be the new set-up man. However, this was George Steinbrenner‘s team, so anything can happen. By anything, I mean that a 38-year-old David Wells called up Steinbrenner and unilaterally talked him into a two-year deal … even though he had a verbal agreement to sign with the Diamondbacks already. Seriously. 

A dominant regular season

2002 was the first year of the YES Network and those tuning into YES in the inaugural season saw a juggernaut of a team. They lost their first game before reeling off seven straight wins. They won 13 of 14 in mid-May, a stretch that included two three-game sweeps of a perennial Yankees punching bag, the Minnesota Twins.

The offense is what carried the team. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, all those guys were their normal selves for the most part. However, Giambi and a 26-year-old Alfonso Soriano combined for 80 home runs (41 and 39, respectively) and were a force near the top of the lineup. Soriano led the AL with 41 stolen bases and 209 hits., had more home runs than walks (23) and set Yankees records for at-bats (696) and strikeouts (157) in a season. He also had 51 doubles. Ventura was a surprise All-Star with 19 home runs at the All-Star break, so the Yankees literally had an All-Star at every infield position.

The Yankees were certainly based around hitting (they led baseball in runs scored, OBP and SLG and were second in home runs, third in hits), but their pitching staff wasn’t half bad. They had seven pitchers make at least eight starts and all had an above-average ERA+. Orlando Hernandez and Andy Pettitte each had strong years while David Wells rebounded from a bad ’02 to justify his contract.

The bullpen had four key pitchers: Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton, Karsay and, of course, Mariano Rivera. Rivera went on the DL twice in ’02 (was still dominant when he was healthy), leading in part to Stanton and Karsay each pitching at least 78 games. All four relievers had ERAs below 3.44.

2002 was also the first year the Yankees faced the NL West in interleague play, which led to two memorable moments. One was Barry Bonds hitting an absolute bomb to the back of the upper deck at old Yankee Stadium that Giants PBP man Jon Miller would say was “heading for New Jersey”.  The other was Marcus Thames’ MLB debut. He had to face the best pitcher going in Randy Johnson yet found a way to come through with a homer on the first pitch he saw.

Trade Deadline

The Yankees made two big trades in early July. The first was trading non-prospect Scott Wiggins to the Blue Jays to acquire slugger Raul Mondesi to man right field with Vander Wal, Shane Spencer and others not quite cutting it. Mondesi was a Steinbrenner move through and through as George wanted the past-his-prime outfielder and paid most of his remaining money.

(Mike’s Note: George traded for Mondesi after Tim McCarver said the Yankees needed a right fielder like Raul Mondesi during a nationally broadcast game against the Mets. Enrique Wilson started in right field on June 29th, made a few misplays in the loss, McCarver said they should trade for Mondesi, and a day later the trade was made. Yup.)

They also traded Ted Lilly, who was set to start the following Sunday, and two prospects in a three-team deal with the Athletics and Tigers to acquire 25-year-old righty Jeff Weaver, who they saw as injecting youth into a very old rotation. Weaver would pitch dreadfully in 2003 but was fine as a swingman in ’02 before two bad postseason appearances.

The Loss to the Angels

The Yankees led baseball with 103 wins. They didn’t get possession of first place for good until late June, but eventually won the division by 10.5 games. Ideally, that’d mean they’d face the AL’s worst playoff team (the 94-win Twins) in the ALDS, but instead they got the wild card winners, the 99-win Anaheim Angels. In their four-game set with the Angels, the Yankees led in the 5th inning or later of every single game. Yup. The pitching staff melted down in every game.

Game 1 would be a Yankees classic if it wasn’t for the rest of the series. Roger Clemens, arguably the team’s worst full-time starter, got the ball in Game 1 and was meh. He gave up four runs in 5 2/3 innings and left with the game tied. Ramiro Mendoza gave up a go-ahead home run to Troy Glaus to begin the 8th, but the Yankees rallied. With two outs in the 8th, Soriano and Jeter walked before Giambi tied the game with a single. That set the stage for Williams, who blasted the winning three-run homer.

Pettitte was pulled early in Game 2 and the Yankees came back again, this time with Soriano hitting a two-run homer in the 6th (off rookie Francisco Rodriguez) and the Yanks led, 5-4, until the 8th. Then, El Duque gave up back-to-back homers before Karsay and Weaver gave up two more runs in the 8th and 9th. A late Yankees rally fell short, 8-6, with a Mondesi pop out as the winning run.

The Yankees led 6-1 top 2nd of Game 3, but Mike Mussina was pulled after four innings after giving up four runs. Weaver, Stanton and Karsay combined to give up five runs over the next four innings as the Yankees lost, 9-6. David Wells and Ramiro Mendoza combined to give up eight runs in the 5th inning of Game 4 and the season was over like that.

What may have been the best pitching staff of the decade gave up 31 runs in four games and Mo only pitched one scoreless inning. You can chalk that up to bullpen mismanagement, but Rivera’s injuries that season may have been a reason not to go to him earlier (particularly in Game 2). However, Torre’s regular season bullpen load for Karsay and Stanton may have led to their hiccups in the postseason.

Legacy

There is an alternate universe where the Yankees held off the hot-hitting Angels, beat up on the Twins in the next round like they seemed to do every postseason and then met the Giants in Fall Classic for the first time since a great 1962 series.

The season marked the end of a 31-year-old Giambi’s peak as ’02 was his best year in pinstripes. Williams, then 33, also declined significantly after that year. Mussina and Clemens would rebound in ’03 and Rivera would too with a 1.66 ERA.

Spencer, Stanton and Mendoza moved on from the Yankees (besides one more stint for Mendoza two years later). The Yankees would splurge for Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras the next offseason and win another 101 games. With the postseason success a year later, it just leaves you wondering what might have been in 2002.

The best seasons at each position by a Yankee during the RAB era

2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)
2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)

RAB celebrated its tenth birthday Monday. Tenth! I can’t believe it. Ben, Joe, and I started this site as a hobby and it grew into something far greater than we ever expected. The site has been around for a World Series championship, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez getting to 3,000 hits, Mariano Rivera becoming the all-time saves king … we’ve seen lots of cool stuff these last ten years. Thank you to everyone who has been reading, no matter how long you’ve been with us.

For the sake of doing something a little out of the ordinary, let’s look back at the best individual seasons at each position by Yankees players during the RAB era. Who had the best season by a catcher? By a right fielder? That sorta stuff. We launched on February 20th, 2007, so this covers the 2007-16 seasons. Come with me, won’t you?

Catcher: 2007 Jorge Posada

Very easy call behind the plate. Posada had the best offensive season of his career in 2007, hitting .338/.426/.543 (157 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 589 plate appearances. He caught 138 games that year — it was Jorge’s eighth straight season with 120+ starts behind the plate — and went to his fifth and final All-Star Game. Posada also finished sixth in the MVP voting. By bWAR (+5.4) and fWAR (+5.6), it was the third best season of his career behind 2003 (+5.9 and +6.0) and 2000 (+5.5 and +6.1). Honorable mention goes out to 2015 Brian McCann and 2016 Gary Sanchez. (Sanchez’s +3.0 bWAR last year is second best by a Yankee catcher during the RAB era.)

First Base: 2009 Mark Teixeira

Another easy call. Teixeira’s first season in pinstripes featured a .292/.383/.565 (142 wRC+) batting line and AL leading home run (39), RBI (122), and total bases (344) totals. He went to his second All-Star Game and won his third Gold Glove at first base as well. Teixeira was the MVP runner-up to Joe Mauer, though Teixeira and the Yankees swept Mauer and the Twins in the ALDS en route to winning the World Series. Got the last laugh that year. Both bWAR (+5.0) and fWAR (+5.1) say Teixeira’s 2009 season was far and away the best by a Yankees first baseman since RAB became a thing. Honorable mention goes to a bunch of other Teixeira seasons.

Second Base: 2012 Robinson Cano

The only question at second base was which Cano season to pick. His run from 2009-13 was truly the best five-year stretch by a second baseman in franchise history. Cano hit .313/.379/.550 (149 wRC+) with 33 homers in 2012 while playing 161 of 162 regular season games. He set new career highs in homers, slugging percentage, total bases (345), bWAR (+8.7), and fWAR (+7.6) while tying his previous career high in doubles (48). Robbie was a monster. He went to his third straight All-Star Game and won his third straight Gold Glove, and also finished fourth in the MVP voting. The club’s best season by a non-Cano second baseman during the RAB era belongs to Starlin Castro. Quite the drop-off there, eh?

Shortstop: 2009 Derek Jeter

The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)
The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)

As great as Teixeira was in 2009, he wasn’t even the best player on his own infield that year. The Yankees flip-flopped Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order that season and the Cap’n responded by hitting .334/.406/.465 (130 wRC+) with 18 home runs and 30 steals in 35 attempts as the leadoff man. It was also the first (and only) time in Jeter’s career the fielding stats rated him as above-average. I remember thinking Derek looked noticeably more mobile in the field. That was the year after Brian Cashman reportedly told Jeter the team would like him to work on his defense after finding out Joe Torre never relayed the message years ago. The 2009 season was the second best of Jeter’s career by fWAR (+6.6) and third best by bWAR (+6.5) behind his monster 1998-99 seasons. The Cap’n was an All-Star that year and he finished third in the MVP voting behind Mauer and Teixeira.

Third Base: 2007 Alex Rodriguez

The single greatest season by a Yankee not just during the RAB era, but since Mickey Mantle was in his prime. I went to about 25 games that season and I swear I must’ve seen A-Rod hit 25 home runs. He went deep every night it seemed. Rodriguez hit .314/.422/.645 (175 wRC+) that summer and led baseball in runs (143), home runs (54), RBI (156), SLG (.645), OPS+ (176), bWAR (+9.4), and fWAR (+9.6). All that earned him a spot in the All-Star Game (duh) and his third MVP award (second with the Yankees). A-Rod received 26 of the 28 first place MVP votes that year. The two Detroit voters voted for Magglio Ordonez. For reals. What an incredible season this was. I’ve never seen a player locked in like that for 162 games. Alex was on a completely different level than everyone else in 2007.

Left Field: 2010 Brett Gardner

With all due respect to Damon, who was outstanding for the 2009 World Series team, 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon. Gardner hit .277/.383/.379 (112 wRC+) with five home runs and 47 steals that season to go along with his excellent defense. Damon, meanwhile, hit a healthy .282/.365/.489 (122 wRC+) with a career high tying 24 home runs and 12 steals in 2009. His defense was so very shaky though. Remember how he used to take those choppy steps that made it seem like he had no idea where the ball was? Both bWAR (+7.3 to +4.2) and fWAR (+6.1 to +3.6) say 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon, but forget about WAR. Gardner got on base much more often and was the better baserunner. I think that combined with the glove more than makes up for Damon’s edge in power. Honorable mention goes to Matsui’s .285/.367/.488 (124 wRC+) effort with 25 home runs in 2007.

Center Field: 2011 Curtis Granderson

Remember how much Granderson struggled the first four and a half months of the 2010 season? He was hitting .240/.307/.417 (91 wRC+) with ten homers in 335 plate appearances prior to his career-altering pow wow with hitting coach Kevin Long that August. Granderson made some mechanical changes and hit .259/.354/.560 (144 wRC+) with 14 homers in 193 plate appearances the rest of the way. He went from a passable outfielder to one of the game’s top power hitters seemingly overnight. That success carried over into 2011, during which Granderson hit .262/.364/.552 (146 wRC+) with 41 home runs. He led the league in runs (136) and RBI (119), went to the All-Star Game, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. My man.

Right Field: 2010 Nick Swisher

We’re picking between Swisher seasons here, and I’m going with 2010 over 2012. Swisher managed a .288/.359/.511 (134 wRC+) line with 29 home runs in 2010, making it the best offensive season of his career. Add in right field defense that was better than Swisher got credit for, and you’ve got a +3.7 bWAR and +4.3 fWAR player. Right field lacks that big eye-popping season like the other positions during the RAB era. Swisher was reliably above-average but not a star.

Designated Hitter: 2009 Hideki Matsui

Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)
Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)

I came into this exercise with a pretty good idea who I’d have at each position, and I assumed 2009 Matsui would be the easy call at DH. Then when I got down to it and looked at the stats, I realized 2015 A-Rod was pretty much right there with him. Check it out:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR XBH RBI bWAR fWAR
2009 Matsui 528 .274/.367/.509 127 28 50 90 +2.7 +2.4
2015 A-Rod 620 .250/.356/.486 130 33 56 86 +3.1 +2.7

That’s really close! Matsui hit for a higher average and got on-base more, though A-Rod had more power. A lefty hitting 28 homers in Yankee Stadium isn’t as impressive as a righty hitting 33, even when considering the 92 extra plate appearances. Since they’re so close, I’m fine with using the postseason as a tiebreaker. Matsui was excellent in October while A-Rod went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Wild Card Game loss to the Astros. Tie goes to the World Series MVP.

Now that we have our nine position players, I’m going to build a lineup, because why not? Lineups are fun. Here’s how I’d set the batting order:

  1. 2009 Derek Jeter
  2. 2012 Robinson Cano
  3. 2007 Alex Rodriguez
  4. 2009 Mark Teixeira
  5. 2007 Jorge Posada
  6. 2011 Curtis Granderson
  7. 2009 Hideki Matsui
  8. 2010 Nick Swisher
  9. 2010 Brett Gardner

Look good? It does to me. Dave Pinto’s lineup analysis tool tells me that lineup would average 6.87 runs per game, or 1,113 runs per 162 games. The modern record for runs scored in a season is 1,067 by the 1931 Yankees. (Several teams from the 1800s scored more.) The 1999 Indians were the last team to score 1,000 runs. They scored 1,009.

Starting Pitchers

Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mike Mussina 200.1 3.37 131 3.32 +5.2 +4.6
2009 CC Sabathia 230 3.37 137 3.39 +6.2 +5.9
2011 CC Sabathia 237.1 3.00 143 2.88 +7.5 +6.4
2012 Hiroki Kuroda 219.2 3.32 127 3.86 +5.5 +3.8
2016 Masahiro Tanaka 199.2 3.07 142 3.51 +5.4 +4.6

Chien-Ming Wang‘s 2007 season as well as a few more Sabathia seasons (2010 and 2012, specifically) were among the final cuts. Late career Andy Pettitte was steady and reliable, but he didn’t have any truly great seasons from 2007-13.

Sabathia is the gold standard for Yankees starting pitchers during the RAB era. From 2009-12, he was the club’s best pitcher since guys like Pettitte, Mussina, David Cone, and Roger Clemens around the turn of the century. Mussina had that marvelous farewell season and Tanaka was awesome last year. Kuroda? He was the man. One-year contracts don’t get any better than what he did for the Yankees.

The Yankees haven’t had an all-time great pitcher during the RAB era, a Clayton Kershaw or a Felix Hernandez, someone like that, but they had four years of a bonafide ace in Sabathia plus several other very good seasons. Everyone in the table except Kuroda received Cy Young votes those years. Sabathia finished fourth in the voting in both 2009 and 2011.

Relief Pitchers

IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mariano Rivera 70.2 1.40 316 2.03 +4.3 +3.2
2009 Mariano Rivera 66.1 1.76 262 2.89 +3.5 +2.0
2011 David Robertson 66.2 1.08 399 1.84 +4.0 +2.6
2014 Dellin Betances 90 1.40 274 1.64 +3.7 +3.2
2015 Dellin Betances 84 1.50 271 2.48 +3.7 +2.4
2015 Andrew Miller 61.2 2.04 200 2.16 +2.2 +2.0
2016 Dellin Betances 73 3.08 141 1.78 +1.1 +2.9

So many great relief seasons to choose from. I had to leave out several Rivera seasons (2007, 2010, 2011, 2013), several Robertson seasons (2012-14), a Miller season (2016), a Rafael Soriano season (2012), and even a Phil Hughes season (2009). Remember how great Hughes was in relief in 2009? Hughes and Rivera were automatic that year. The Yankees have been blessed with some truly excellent relievers these past ten years. The great Mariano Rivera retired and somehow they have replaced him seamlessly. We’ve seen some amazing performances since launching RAB.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: February 2012

Burnett. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Burnett. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Now that the calendar has flipped to February and Spring Training is creeping closer and closer, it’s time for another trip through the MLB Trade Rumors archive. February can be a sneaky busy month for rumors and transactions. Teams are looking for last minute roster fillers and free agents rush to take whatever jobs they can find. Lots of small moves happen in February.

The Yankees addressed their rotation in one fell swoop in January 2012, when they acquired Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda on the same day. They then spent much of February shopping A.J. Burnett, who they no longer needed, and making minor signings for the bench and Triple-A depth. Time to look back at the surprisingly busy month that was February 2012.

February 2nd, 2012: AL West Notes: Rangers, Trumbo, Morales, Mariners

The Mariners inquired about Yankees prospect Mason Williams during the Michael Pineda trade talks, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).

At the time, Williams was 20 years old and coming off a .349/.395/.468 (148 wRC+) batting line with three homers and 28 steals in 68 games with Short Season Staten Island. Baseball America ranked him the 85th best prospect in the game right around the time this rumor came out, four spots ahead of Chris Archer. That wasn’t Mason’s peak as a prospect — that came the following year — but he was someone on the rise.

I would have traded Williams for Pineda instead of Montero a hundred times out of a hundred back then. Williams was a super tooled up and interesting young player. Montero was an elite prospect who raked during his September cameo in 2011. I was ready for Montero to go all Miggy Cabrera on the AL East when they traded him for Pineda. Alas. By the way, Williams has Montero beat in career fWAR (+0.5 to -0.8) and bWAR (0.0 to -0.1).

February 7th, 2012: Yankees Sign Bill Hall

The Yankees have signed utility infielder Bill Hall, based on his tweet, “IT’S OFFICIAL IM A YANKEE!!!!!!!! #IwannaRing!!!!”  He signed a minor league deal, tweets Erik Boland of Newsday.  Hall is a client of Gaylord Sports Management.

I have nothing to add to this. I just thought the “IT’S OFFICIAL IM A YANKEE!!!!!!!! #IwannaRing!!!!” stuff was pretty funny. Hall was very excited to be a Yankee … then he got released at the end of Spring Training and spent the season in Triple-A with the Orioles. Life comes at you fast.

February 8th, 2012: Yankees Sign Russell Branyan

The Yankees signed first baseman Russell Branyan to a minor league deal with a spring training invite, reports Dan Martin of the New York Post.

Oh man, I completely forgot the Yankees had Branyan. They were looking for a cheap left-handed designated hitter at the time and Branyan was as good a candidate as anyone. He split 2011 between the Diamondbacks and Angels, hitting .197/.295/.370 (84 wRC+) with five homers in 146 plate appearances. Still, Big Russ could do this:

Branyan, who was 36 at the time, never did play for the big league Yankees. He was hurt and played only 33 games with Triple-A Scranton in 2012, during which he hit .309/.438/.655 (199 wRC+) with eleven homers. Branyan didn’t play at all in 2013, resurfaced in the Mexican League in 2014, and has been out of baseball since.

February 9th, 2012: East Links: Yankees, Jones, Cespedes, Rays, O’s

The Yankees want Garrett Jones from the Pirates in any trade involving A.J. Burnett reports ESPN’s Buster Olney, but Pittsburgh isn’t interested in moving him and talks haven’t progressed (Twitter links). Yesterday we learned that the Pirates are not on Burnett’s no-trade list.

The Yankees were after Jones a long time before finally getting him as part of the Martin PradoNathan Eovaldi trade. They tried to get him from Pittsburgh a few times and tried to sign him as a free agent during the 2014-15 offseason. You’ll notice a trend in this post. The Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch players who ended up wearing pinstripes at one point anyway.

February 13th, 2012: AL East Links: Vlad, Theo, Red Sox

Vladimir Guerrero has made it known to the Yankees that he wants their DH spot,” tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney, but Raul Ibanez remains the frontrunner.

The Yankees never did sign Vlad — he hooked on with the Blue Jays, played a handful of minor league games in 2012, then retired — but this rumor reminded me just how badly I wanted them to sign Guerrero back during the 2003-04 offseason. He had just turned 29 and had hit a) .330/.426/.586 (152 wRC+) with 25 homers in 2003, and b) .324/.405/.581 (145 wRC+) with 98 homers from 2001-03. George Steinbrenner wanted Gary Sheffield though, so the Yankees signed Sheffield and Vlad went to the Angels. Bah. I mean, Sheffield was pretty great, but he was no Vlad.

February 14th, 2012: A.J. Burnett Rumors: Tuesday

The Hafner for Burnett deal is no longer on the table, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweets.

Like I said, the Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch of guys who ended up being Yankees at some point anyway. Travis Hafner was entering the final year of his contract and had just hit .228/.346/.438 (118 wRC+) with 12 homers in 66 games around injuries in 2011. He would have slotted in as the team’s left-handed hitting designated hitter in 2012. Instead, Hafner had to wait until 2013 to get that job.

February 15th, 2012: Latest on Jorge Soler

TUESDAY, 2:18pm: The Yankees have serious interest in Soler, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney tweets.

12:33pm: Many teams remain involved in the bidding for 19-year-old Cuban prospect Jorge Soler, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). The Cubs have been extensively linked to the outfielder, but they’re not the only club involved. 

Has it really only been five years since Soler was a free agent? Seems like it was much longer ago. Anyway, the Yankees did what they usually do with a big name Cuban free agent, which is bring him in for a workout and feign interest, but ultimately don’t come particularly close to signing him. The Cubs gave Soler a nine-year deal worth $30M, and while he would go on to develop into a top prospect, he’s yet to put it together at the MLB level. Chicago traded him straight up for Wade Davis this winter, which still blows my mind. Somehow the Yankees got much more for a half-season of Aroldis Chapman than the Royals did for a full season of Davis.

February 15th, 2012: A.J. Burnett Rumors: Wednesday

The Yankees tried to convince the Angels that Burnett could be their fifth starter, according to Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com.  The Yankees would have obtained Bobby Abreu in the proposed trade, but Burnett rejected the deal because he’d prefer to play on the East Coast.

Abreu played for the Yankees before the Burnett trade, but I’m still counting this. The Yankees tried to trade Burnett for a bunch of dudes who played for them at one point or another. Abreu, who was about to turn 38 at the time, had lost all his power by this point — he hit .242/.350/.342 (96 wRC+) with eight homers in 2011 — and he was so bad in 2012 that the Halos released him before the end of April. The Yankees and Angels had a deal though. Burnett for Abreu. Burnett said no because he and his wife preferred the East Coast though. That was his right.

February 18th, 2012: Yankees Sign Clay Rapada

The Yankees have signed lefty reliever Clay Rapada to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, reports David Waldstein of The New York Times (Twitter links). MLB.com’s Zack Meisel first reported that the two sides were nearing a deal. The Meister Sports Management client was released by the Orioles a few days ago.

The Yankees are said to be looking for a cheap lefty reliever these days, and five years ago, they were in the exact same position when Rapada fell into their laps. He was nails in 2012, throwing 38.1 innings in 70 appearances (lol) with a 2.82 ERA (3.20 FIP). Lefties hit .183/.263/.255 (.238 wOBA) with 28.7% strikeouts and 44.9% ground balls against him. Pretty awesome for a scrap heap pickup. Rapada hurt his shoulder in Spring Training 2013 and spent the next few seasons bouncing around the minors. He retired following the 2015 season.

February 19th, 2012: Pirates Acquire Burnett From Yankees

After more than a week of back-and-forth discussion, the Yankees and Pirates formally announced the deal that will send A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh.  The trade allows the Bombers to unload $13MM of the $33MM still owed to the veteran pitcher over the next two years.  Aside from shedding payroll, the Yanks also receive outfielder Exicardo Cayones and right-hander Diego Moreno in the trade.

And there it is. Most trades involving the Yankees these days come together quickly. We’ll hear a rumor or two, then bam, the deal is done. Some come out of nowhere, like the John Ryan MurphyAaron Hicks swap. A press release just showed up in everyone’s inbox when that trade was made. The deal was done. No rumors at all.

The Burnett trade was not like that. This one dragged on for a little while. Burnett went on to have two good years with the Pirates, throwing 393.1 innings of 3.41 ERA (3.17 FIP) ball from 2012-13, while the Yankees received little more than salary relief from this trade. Moreno hung around the system for a few years and did reach the big leagues in 2015. You may remember his 5.1 innings of no-hit relief against the Rangers:

The Yankees release Moreno last summer and he’s since hooked on with the Rays. Cayones was one of the two players the Yankees sent to the Angels for Vernon Wells in 2013. The Halos released Cayones after the 2015 season and as far as I can tell he hasn’t played anywhere since. (The other player the Yankees traded for Wells, lefty Kramer Sneed, spent last year in indy ball and the Mexican League.)

February 20th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Chavez, Martin, Rivera

Catcher Russell Martin told Daniel Barbarisi of the Wall Street Journal he talked this winter about a three-year deal with the Yankees, but the discussion never progressed beyond the initial stages.  Martin avoided arbitration with a $7.5MM contract for 2012.

At this point the “no extensions” policy was in full effect, though the Yankees were willing to make an exception for Martin. Quality catchers are hard to find. The two sides never did reach a deal and Martin left as a free agent following the 2012 season. We were then subjected to a year of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli before Brian McCann arrived.

I wonder how the long-term catching situation would have shaken out had the Yankees and Martin agreed to a three-year deal. It would have meant no Stewvelli in 2013, first and foremost, but also no McCann. It could have played out like this:

  • 2012: Martin and Stewart
  • 2013: Martin and Cervelli
  • 2014: Martin and Cervelli
  • 2015: Murphy and Austin Romine
  • 2016: Murphy and Romine
  • 2017: Gary Sanchez and Murphy

Eh, who knows. Fun to think about it. I’m glad the Yankees have Sanchez now and we didn’t have to sit through any more Stewvelli than we had to.

February 21st, 2012: Yankees Sign Raul Ibanez

The Yankees have found their new designated hitter, officially announcing an agreement with Raul Ibanez that was first tweeted by ESPN’s Buster Olney yesterday.  The framework for a deal was done weeks ago with the ACES client, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who pegs the value at $1.1MM.  Plate appearance incentives can bring the total to $4MM, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

After being unable to trade Burnett for a lefty hitting designated hitter, the Yankees signed Ibanez. And you know what? He kinda stunk for most of the season. Ibanez was hitting .235/.303/.437 (95 wRC+) on August 31st, which, when combined with his terrible defense (Brett Gardner missed most of 2012 with an elbow injury, forcing Ibanez to play the outfield fairly regularly), meant he was sub-replacement level. Then Raul started smacking clutch dingers left and right in September and October. That was pretty cool. He made everyone forget about those rough few months in a hurry.

February 22nd, 2012: Yankees Notes: Rivera, Betances, Rodriguez

Joel Sherman of the New York Post doubts the Yankees will spend on the best free agent closer available, though it’s a strategy they might have chosen in the recent past. Brian Cashman believes it’s unwise to sign relievers other than Rivera to significant contracts, and the GM aims to keep payroll under $189MM by 2014.

How times have changed, eh? Then again, you could argue Chapman is the closest thing we’ve seen to Rivera in terms of year in, year out dominance. Also, the game has changed a lot these last five years. Teams lean on their bullpens much more heavily now than they did in 2012. For example, relievers threw 34.0% of all innings back in 2012. Last season it was 36.7%. It doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but that number is only trending up.

February 22nd 2012: Yankees Sign David Aardsma

11:21am: The Yankees have signed 30-year-old right-hander David Aardsma, the team announced. It’s a Major League deal worth $500K that includes a club option for 2013. The deal includes $500K in incentives and the 2012 option is worth $500K, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times tweets. Aardsma underwent Tommy John surgery last July and won’t be ready to contribute until midway through the 2012 campaign.

I, like many others, was irrationally excited about the Aardsma signing. He had a few nice years with the Mariners, then blew out his elbow. The Yankees picked him up and rehabbed him, and were rewarded with one whole inning in 2012. And he gave up a homer to J.P. Arencibia in that one inning too. It was worth a shot, but it didn’t work out. Aardsma has bounced around the last few years and is currently unsigned.

February 27th, 2012: Yankees Sign Eric Chavez

Eric Chavez is returning to the Yankees for 2012, officially signing a one-year, $900K deal with incentives.  Chavez, 35, will reprise his role as a backup corner infielder and DH for the Yanks. The left-handed hitter posted a .263/.320/.356 line with two homers in 175 plate appearances in the Bronx in 2011, his first season in New York after spending 13 in Oakland.

Chavez’s second season with the Yankees was far better than the first. He hit .263/.320/.356 (80 wRC+) with two homers in 2011, which obviously isn’t great. Chavez then managed a .281/.348/.496 (126 wRC+) line with 16 homers in 313 plate appearances in 2012. Hell yeah. He played a fair amount of third base too while Alex Rodriguez nursed various injuries. Chavez played two years with the Diamondbacks after that before joining the Yankees as a scout. Billy Eppler poached him and now Chavez is an assistant general manager with the Angels.

February 27th, 2012: AL East Notes: Johnson, Pettitte, Blue Jays

Andy Pettitte visited Yankees camp and told reporters, including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, that he doesn’t plan on making a comeback. Pettitte said he’s “loving life” away from the ballpark and enjoying time with his family.

Good times. Good times. Pettitte un-retired 18 days after this report. He said he got the itch to continue playing after coming to Spring Training as an instructor, and the rest is history. That was pretty cool. I remember Joe and I were recording an episode of the RAB podcast (RIP) when news of the Pettitte signing broke, and we were both just kinda speechless. I’m pretty sure we scrapped that podcast all together so we could write about Andy’s return. That was fun.

Raines, Bagwell, and Rodriguez voted into Hall of Fame, Posada drops off the ballot

Raines. (Ron Frehm/AP)
Raines. (Ron Frehm/AP)

There are three new members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Wednesday night it was announced Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez have been voted into Cooperstown by the BBWAA this year. Bagwell received 86.2% of the vote while Raines and Rodriguez received 86.0% and 76.0%, respectively. Trevor Hoffman fell five votes shy of induction. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Bagwell, who was on the ballot for the seventh time, retired as a career .297/.408/.540 (149 wRC+) hitter with 449 home runs and 202 stolen bases. His 1994 MVP season, during which he hit .368/.451/.750 (205 wRC+) with 39 home runs and 116 RBI in 110 games around the work stoppage, is the 24th best offensive season in history in terms of OPS+. To put it another way, it’s the eighth best offensive season by someone other than Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, or Babe Ruth.

Unlike Bagwell, who spent his entire career in the NL with the Astros, Raines did suit up for the Yankees. He was a platoon player for the 1996-98 teams and won a pair of World Series rings. Raines spent most of his career with the Expos and was a career .294/.385/.425 (125 wRC+) hitter with 170 home runs and 808 steals, the fifth most all-time. This was Raines’ tenth and final year on the Hall of Fame ballot. He received only 24.3% of the vote in his first year, which is crazy.

“Tim Raines was one of the greatest leadoff hitters to ever play the game. Period,” said Joe Girardi in a statement. “He was a game-changer whose numbers speak for themselves. For me personally, he was a treasured teammate and someone people always seemed to gravitated toward. Everyone loved the Rock, except opposing pitchers and catchers.”

“Tim Raines was by far one of my favorite teammates,” added Derek Jeter. He taught me how to be a professional and more importantly to enjoy the game and have fun every day. Congratulations Rock.”

Rodriguez, another former Yankee, was on the ballot for the first time. He was a career .296/.334/.464 (104 wRC+) hitter — remember the days when that batting line was only 4% better than average? good times — who finished with 2,844 hits and 311 home runs. Rodriguez also caught more games (2,427) than anyone in baseball history. He spent a few forgettable months with the Yankees in 2008.

The most notable ex-Yankee on the ballot was Jorge Posada, who received only 3.8% of the vote and will drop off the ballot going forward. That’s a damn shame. I don’t necessarily think Posada is a Hall of Famer, he’s borderline, but I was hoping he’d stick around on the ballot for a few more years. Alas. Other former Yankees on the ballot include Roger Clemens (54.1%), Mike Mussina (51.8%), Lee Smith (34.2%), and Gary Sheffield (13.3%). Moose is gaining support.

Looking ahead to next year, notable former Yankees Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon will join the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Andruw Jones too, though he was only a Yankee briefly. Clemens, Mussina, and Sheffield will still be on the ballot as well. In two years the Yankees will get their next Hall of Famer, when Mariano Rivera joins the ballot. Andy Pettitte too, but only Rivera is a shoo-in. Jeter hits the ballot the following year.