Scouting the Free Agent Market: Brett Anderson

(Jamie Sabau/Getty)
(Jamie Sabau/Getty)

The offseason is not so young at this point — pitches and catchers report in fewer than five weeks! — and so far the Yankees haven’t done anything to improve their starting rotation. We haven’t even seen the token “innings guy on a minor league contract for Triple-A” signing yet. If the Yankees do make any changes to their rotation before Spring Training, chances are it’ll be a small signing, not a huge trade. That’s my feeling, anyway.

Among the remaining unsigned starters, and there are still quite a few of them, by far the most interesting to me is left-hander Brett Anderson, formerly of the Athletics, Rockies, and Dodgers. Injuries have been a problem over the years, there’s no doubt about that, but at the moment, every free agent is significantly flawed. Teams are sorting through those free agents and deciding which flaws they can live with. Does Anderson make sense for the Yankees? Let’s take a look.

Injury History

Might as well start here since injuries define Anderson’s career. Last year he threw only 11.1 innings across three starts and one relief appearances mostly due to back trouble. Anderson hurt his back in Spring Training and needed surgery to repair a bulging disc. It wasn’t until mid-August that he was activated, and barely a week later he landed back on the disabled list with a blister. The blister kept him out until late-September.

Last year was the fourth time in the last five years Anderson was limited to fewer than 50 innings. It was the fifth time in the last six years he was unable to throw more than 85 innings. His list of injuries is quite long and quite significant:

  • 2009 (175.1 IP): Missed a little time with finger and biceps issues, but avoided the disabled list.
  • 2010 (112.1 IP): Separate instances of elbow inflammation and a forearm strain sidelined Anderson for three months total.
  • 2011 (83.1 IP): Elbow soreness ended his season in June. He had Tommy John surgery in July.
  • 2012 (35 IP): Returned from Tommy John surgery in August. An oblique strain ended his season in September.
  • 2013 (44.2 IP): Sidelined four months with an ankle sprain and a stress fracture in his foot.
  • 2014 (43.1 IP): A broken finger and a lower back strain cost him close to five months total.
  • 2015 (180.1 IP): Healthy! Except for calf cramping that caused him to miss a start in September.
  • 2016 (11.1 IP): Back surgery and a blister kept Anderson out the entire season, basically.

Yeesh. Little of everything there. Muscle pulls and ligament tears, broken bones and bulging discs, upper body and lower body. Based on that, Anderson has to be considered a complete lottery ticket. If he stays healthy in 2017, great! If not, well, that’s kinda what you expected going in. You hope to get lucky like the Dodgers did in 2015. Maybe half as lucky.

Recent Performance

Anderson threw only 11.1 innings last year and they were 11.1 terrible innings. Terrible as in 15 runs on 25 hits and four walks. Only five strikeouts too. On the bright side, a 50.0% ground ball rate! That’s pretty good. The rest? Awful.

Now, that said, I can’t put any stock in 11.1 innings, especially when the pitcher was coming off back surgery and missed a month with a blister right in the middle of those 11.1 innings. Anderson’s only meaningful sample of innings over the last five years is that 2015 season in Los Angeles. That’s it. Here’s what he did:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2015 180.1 3.69 3.94 15.5% 6.1% 66.3% 0.90 .320 .308
Career 685.2 3.86 3.70 17.5% 6.3% 58.2% 0.83 .329 .308

So after you smush all those little 40-something-inning seasons together to get Anderson’s career rates, it looks an awful lot like his 2015 performance. He’s not a big strikeout guy, never has been, yet he succeeds by limiting walks and keeping the ball on the ground. In fact, his 66.3% ground ball rate in 2015 was the third highest by a qualified starter since batted ball data started being recorded in 2002. (Derek Lowe had a 67.0% grounder rate in both 2002 and 2006).

Point is, when Anderson has been healthy, he’s been pretty effective, last year notwithstanding. Back during his prospect days, Anderson always stood out for his pitching acumen and ability to locate, not his sheer stuff. Presumably his pitchability hasn’t vanished with the injuries. It’s not like Anderson is a guy who needs to throw the ball by hitters to be successful.

Current Stuff

Because he missed so much time last year — Anderson threw 118 total pitches last year (118!) — and was either coming off injury (back surgery) or injured at the time (blister) when he was on the mound, I’m not sure 2016 PitchFX data tells us anything useful about Anderson’s current stuff. He was physically compromised.

When he’s been on the mound over the years, Anderson has consistently thrown five pitches regularly. He uses both a four-seam fastball and a sinker, plus both a curveball and a slider in addition to his changeup. Anderson’s velocity has dipped since his debut in 2009, but that’s to be expected. It would happen to anyone, not just someone who’s dealt with a ton of injuries. From Brooks Baseball:

brett-anderson-velocity

It would be a major red flag if Anderson’s velocity was down considerably last year, into the mid-80s or something. Instead, the four-seamer and sinker averaged 91.9 mph and 92.3 mph, respectively, in those 11.1 innings in 2016. They topped out at 95.6 mph and 95.2 mph as well, so the vee-low is there. That indicates the injuries haven’t damaged his arm beyond the point of no return, you know?

Because Anderson is a ground ball pitcher and not a strikeout pitcher — he’s made 115 career starts and only 12 times did he strike out more than seven batters (never more than ten) — let’s examine the ground ball rate of his individual pitches over the last two years. This tells us what healthy Anderson is capable of doing, and what he did in his most recent season, albeit in a miniscule sample size.

Four-Seam Sinker Curveball Slider Changeup
2015 54.5% 76.4% 58.8% 68.2% 59.7%
2016 50.0% 55.6% 37.5% 57.1% 40.0%
MLB AVG 37.9% 49.5% 48.7% 43.9% 47.8%

Two years ago, during his healthy season, Anderson got an above-average number of ground balls with all five pitches. That’s how you post the third highest ground ball rate by any starter in the 15 years batted ball data has been recorded. Last year, even with a bad back and a blister, Anderson got an above-average number of grounders with three of his five pitches. Yay?

The 2016 data doesn’t help us much because again, we’re talking about 118 total pitches, and I can’t imagine scouting reports would be all that helpful either. How much can information can you take from 118 pitches spread across four appearances? There’s very little video of Anderson in action in 2016 — MLB.com has three videos of Anderson from last year, and two are of him getting hurt — so here’s a clip of good, healthy Anderson from 2015:

That version of Anderson looks pretty good! Will that guy still exist in 2017, two years and one back surgery later? Damned if I know. That’s the hope though.

Contract Estimates

Things have been extremely quiet for Anderson this winter. So quiet there’s basically nothing in his MLB Trade Rumors archive. He was listed as a possible bounceback candidate in a December post, and the post before that is an injury update from September. No hard rumors at all. Anderson hasn’t been connected to any team so far this offseason.

Even though he was pretty good in 2015 and this free agent class is thin, Anderson was not included in either MLBTR’s or FanGraphs’ top 50 free agents. The only contract estimate we have comes from Jim Bowden (subs. req’d), who pegs Anderson for a one-year deal worth $5M. I had one year and $4M in my silly offseason plan, for what’s it worth.

One year and $5M or so seems to be the going rate for reclamation project starting pitchers. Derek Holland signed for $6M earlier this winter. Last offseason Matt Latos ($3M), Doug Fister ($7M), Kyle Kendrick ($5.5M), and Aaron Harang ($5M) all signed for similar amounts. Two years ago the Dodgers spent big to sign Anderson (one year and $10M) and it worked out well. Then he accepted the $15.8M qualifying offer and it was a waste of money.

Given the decided lack of interest and his ugly medical history, it’s difficult to see Anderson getting anything more than one year and $5M or so. Maybe a desperate team stretches their budget and gives him $7M, but I don’t see it. A low base salary short-term deal with incentives based on innings and/or starts seems most likely, does it not?

Does He Fit The Yankees?

My vote is yes, and for a few reasons. One, Anderson won’t cost much money. He shouldn’t, anyway. If he holds out for big bucks, then walk away and wish him luck. Two, Anderson is still only 28 (29 in February). This isn’t some 36-year-old trying to hang on. Anderson’s still on the right side of 30 and theoretically offers more upside than the typical reclamation types you find in free agency. Three, Anderson fits Yankee Stadium well as a southpaw who get ground balls.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)

And four, and perhaps most importantly, the Yankees have the pitching depth to absorb an injury should Anderson get hurt again. They have a lot of young pitchers currently slated to compete for the fourth and fifth rotation spots, including Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell. Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams will be in Triple-A as well, ditto Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera. The arms are there to cover for an injury.

Anderson is very unique as a reclamation project given his age and the way he ostensibly fits Yankee Stadium. You needn’t look back too far to see the last time he was successful too. It was 2015, one season ago. He’d be a very nice (and affordable) upside play for the 2017 Yankees, a team banking on the upside of their young kids to have any shot at contention (and not looking to spend big to make additions).

It’s important to note the Yankees have tried to acquire Anderson several times in the past, so they seem to like him. They were reportedly one of the runners-up two offseason ago, when he first signed with the Dodgers. The Yankees also tried to trade for Anderson during the 2013 Winter Meetings and at the 2014 trade deadline. Perhaps their feelings have changed over the years, but once upon a time, there was legitimate and persistent interest.

The real question is, as always, whether Anderson wants to join the Yankees. What is his goal this season? To stay healthy and show he can be effective. At this point he can’t do much more than cross his fingers and hope he stays healthy. Pitch effectively though? Performance is something that can be affected by outside factors, such as a hitter friendly ballpark in a division with three other hitter friendly ballparks in the DH league, like Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees could always use another arm just to help lighten the load a bit on the kids. Anderson offers a smidgen of upside, unlike, say, Doug Fister or Jorge De La Rosa, and even if he gets hurt again, the Yankees would be right back where they started minus a relatively small amount of cash. The potential reward is not sky high, I don’t think Anderson is an ace when healthy or anything like that, but there’s a chance for him to be league average or slightly above. If he’s open to pitching in New York, the Yankees would be wise to scoop him up.

2017 Rule 5 Draft status suggests the Yankees will have to trade some prospects this year

Gleyber will be protected, because duh. (Presswire)
Gleyber will be protected, because duh. (Presswire)

The busiest day for the Yankees this offseason — and most teams, for that matter — was November 18th, the day clubs had to finalize their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees made 12 transactions involving 13 players that day. The team’s deep farm system meant six players were added to the 40-man roster. Even then, the Yankees still lost four players in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 Draft.

The Rule 5 Draft and 40-man roster crunch was pretty significant this offseason. The Yankees lost several potentially useful players, most notably Jacob Lindgren and Nick Goody, simply because there was no room for them. Having a great farm system comes with a cost. The Rule 5 Draft crunch is poised to be even more severe next offseason too. Check out the (partial) list of prospects who will have to be added to the 40-man after the 2017 season:

Catchers: None
Infielders: Abi Avelino, Thairo Estrada, Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade
Outfielders: Rashad Crawford, Dustin Fowler, Clint Frazier, Billy McKinney, Leonardo Molina, Tito Polo
Pitchers: Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Ian Clarkin, Nestor Cortes, J.P. Feyereisen, Zack Littell, Jordan Montgomery, Eric Swanson, Stephen Tarpley

That list doesn’t include outfielder Jake Cave, righty Nick Rumbelow, and lefties Daniel Camarena and Chaz Hebert, all of whom will become minor league free agents after the 2017 season. I know those guys are easy to overlook, but who knows what’ll happen this summer. Who would have guessed Kyle Higashioka would play his way on to the 40-man last year?

Also, that “none” under catchers may only be temporary. If Luis Torrens doesn’t stick with the Padres as a Rule 5 Draft pick, he’ll come back to the Yankees and have to be added to the 40-man roster after the season. That’s a must. If Torrens is picked in the Rule 5 Draft again in December, he’ll be able to elect free agency rather than come back to New York. Can’t let that happen. If Torrens does come back, he’ll land on the 40-man in November.

Okay, so anyway, that’s an awful lot of quality prospects, huh? Torres and Frazier are in a league of their own as top 100 prospects, but many of the other guys figure to be worth protecting too. Wade and Fowler are slated to spend 2017 with Triple-A Scranton. A successful season there means they’re a lock to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft. Others like Abreu and Acevedo have considerable upside, and those guys are always worth protecting.

The Yankees had to make compromises in November because 40-man roster spots are a finite resource. Would they have liked to protect, say, Torrens and Tyler Webb, and keep Lindgren? Yeah, probably, but there’s only so much space to go around. The Yankees will run into a similar problem next offseason, only to a much greater degree. They not only have more prospects eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, they have more high-end prospects eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

The solution is simple though, isn’t it? Just trade some of them. It’s basically impossible to protect them all, so rather than lose them for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft, just trade them. Package three or four together for one player, preferably a young starting pitcher with several years of control. Boom, problem solved. Two problems solved, really. The Yankees clear up the Rule 5 Draft logjam and add the young pitcher they’ve seemingly been craving for months. It’s perfect!

Except it’s not that easy. It never is. For starters, you have to find another team with the available 40-man roster space to make such a trade. No team is going to trade for these prospects only to expose them to the Rule 5 Draft. The other team’s 40-man situation is an obstacle. Prospects are like kids, teams always love their own more than they love everyone else’s. Not many clubs may be willing to cut one or two of their own players to make room for your players in a hypothetical four-for-one trade. There’s a reason trades like this are rare.

More realistically, we may see the Yankees make a series of smaller moves. One-for-one, two-for-one trades. Trades that swap a Rule 5 Draft eligible prospect for a non-Rule 5 Draft eligible prospect. That’s similar to the James Pazos-for-Zack Littell trade. The Yankees needed the 40-man space, so they sent Pazos to the Mariners for Littell, who is a year away from Rule 5 Draft eligibility. It bought them some time, basically. Not the sexiest move, but necessary.

There’s eleven months between now and the deadline to set the 40-man roster for the 2017 Rule 5 Draft, so this is hardly a pressing issue. It is something the Yankees have to plan for, obviously, and you can be sure it’ll affect their decision-making over the summer. In fact, Brian Cashman even admitted Rule 5 Draft status was a consideration when making trades last summer. How could it not be?

The Yankees did some great work rebuilding their farm system over the last few months and it’s set them up for sustainable success in the near future. Baseball doesn’t allow teams to keep prospects forever though, and rightfully so. There comes a time when you have to ether commit to the player (add him to the 40-man) or give him a chance to reach MLB with another organization (Rule 5 Draft). The Yankees will reach that point with several of their best prospects next winter, and since they can’t protect everyone, they figure to move a few in trades to clear the logjam.

Hot Stove Notes: Quintana, Lefty Reliever, Long-Term Deals

Quintana. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Quintana. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Seven weeks from today, the Yankees will open Grapefruit League play with a home game against the Phillies at the newly renovated George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Seven weeks sounds much closer than it actually is. Anyway, the Yankees still have some offseason business to handle. Here are the latest hot stove rumblings.

White Sox not budging on Quintana

Left-hander Jose Quintana is still with the White Sox and the team is not budging on their asking price, reports Ken Rosenthal. They want tippy top prospects. The Yankees are among the teams in the mix for Quintana, but Rosenthal says they’re less inclined to deal their top prospects. Other clubs like the Astros and Pirates are more willing to go for it because they’re closer to contention.

Early in the offseason Brian Cashman said he “would not recommend” the Yankees trade several top prospects for a high-end starter because they’re not one piece away from contention and need to build a young core. That was the logic behind passing on Chris Sale and that’s why they’re not gung-ho about Quintana. Maybe the extra year of control changes things, but it doesn’t seem so. That’s too bad. I really like Quintana. He’d be a wonderful addition.

Yankees still seeking lefty reliever

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are among the teams still in the market for a left-handed reliever. They’ve been looking for a lefty bullpen arm basically all offseason, so Heyman’s report isn’t coming out of nowhere. At the moment, New York’s lefty reliever depth chart looks like this:

  1. Aroldis Chapman
  2. Tommy Layne
  3. Chasen Shreve
  4. Richard Bleier
  5. Dietrich Enns
  6. Joe Mantiply
  7. Jason Gurka

Maybe flip Shreve and Bleier, but that’s it. Chapman is in his own little world as the closer — he won’t be used in a matchup situation in the seventh inning, for example — so the depth chart really starts with Layne. I’m not 100% convinced the Yankees need another lefty, but, if they’re determined to sign one, there are a few interesting free agents. Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins are the best of the lot.

Yankees not focusing on short-term additions

After signing Matt Holliday, the Yankees are not willing to deal prospects for short-term upgrades, said Cashman during a recent MLB Network interview (video link). “We’re very protective of the work we’ve done thus far, and we don’t want to do anything at the expense of a short-term gain. We want to make sure it’s for long-term efforts as well. And as we’ve seen since last winter, the price of doing business trade-wise is extremely high,” said the GM.

This kinda circles back to Quintana, who is under control through 2020 and qualifies as a long-term buy. Would the Yankees like to have him? Of course. But they’re not willing to give up top prospects to get him. Chapman is now under control for five years (well, three because of the opt-out) but the Yankees only had to give up cash to get him. If they could get Quintana for just cash, they’d do it. Trading top prospects for anything short of an established young player with several years of cheap control was never going to happen this winter.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Jason Hammel

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
(Dustin Bradford/Getty)

According to Brian Cashman, the Yankees went into this offseason looking for “pitching, pitching, pitching,” and so far they’ve (re-)signed Aroldis Chapman. And that’s it. Unless you count claiming Joe Mantiply off waivers and signing Jason Gurka to a minor league deal. The rotation has been untouched and Chapman has been the only bullpen upgrade.

Of course, this free agent class was very thin on pitching, so it’s not like the Yankees have sat idle while a bunch of potential aces came off the board. Rich Hill, who was in independent ball 18 months ago, was the top starter on the market. Ivan Nova was arguably the second best option. Yeah. This was not a good offseason to need pitching, that’s for sure. Free agency is thin and trade prices are sky high.

The best free agent starter still on the board right now is veteran righty Jason Hammel, who spent the last two years with the Cubs and became a free agent when the team declined his $12M option. They had to pay him a $2M buyout, so it was essentially a $10M decision. The Cubs reportedly left it up to Hammel, and decided to test the market. Does he make sense for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Recent Performance

Over the last three seasons the 34-year-old Hammel has been a boringly reliable middle of the rotation pitcher. He’s threw no more than 176.1 innings and no fewer than 166.2 innings in each of those three seasons, and during that time he has a 3.68 ERA (4.02 FIP). Like I said, boringly reliable.

The 2016 season was Hammel’s worst in seven years in terms of strikeout (20.8%), walk (7.7%), and home run (1.35 HR/9) rates. Homers were up around the league and Hammel wasn’t too far off from his career 1.13 HR/9, so maybe we can give him a mulligan there. Here are the last three years:

jason-hammel-rates

Not great, not awful, no alarming spikes. Hammel’s strikeout and walk numbers were indeed his worst in several years last season, but they weren’t that far off from his 2014-15 numbers either. Consistency is boring.

One aspect of Hammel’s performance that can not be ignored is his tendency to fade in the second half. It’s happened three years in a row now. Last season Hammel failed to complete four innings in three of his final seven starts, and he allowed 35 runs in his final 32.1 innings of the season. Egads. Look at this:

jason-hammel-era

Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend. Hammel is not a 200-inning workhorse. He’s essentially a 170-inning pitcher who is most effective during the first 140 innings. Things get dicey after that. As long as his next employer is aware of that and acts accordingly — use off-days to skip a start now and then, things like that — it’s not a huge problem.

Current Stuff

Hammel has gone through several transformations since his time with the Devils Rays way back when. He’s gone from four-seamer/curveball pitcher to sinker/slider pitcher to four-seamer/sinker/slider pitcher. Hammel still throws the curveball now and then, and every once in a while he’ll toss a changeup, but for the most part he’s a three-pitch pitcher these days. The 2016 numbers:

  • Four-seamer: 9.1% whiffs and 29.2% grounders (MLB averages: 6.9% and 37.9%)
  • Sinker: 2.8% whiffs and 58.8% grounders (MLB averages: 5.4% and 49.5%)
  • Slider: 17.5% whiffs and 42.2% grounders (MLB averages: 15.2% and 43.9%)

Hammel does not have a dominant pitch. He was able to get a good amount of ground balls with his sinker a year ago, and the slider was probably his best pitch overall considering it was basically average at getting both swings and misses and grounders. Because his changeup is close to a non-factor, lefties (.344 wOBA) had more success against Hammel than righties (.292 wOBA) last year. Here’s some video:

Like I said earlier, boringly reliable. Hammel won’t be appointment television. He’s not very exciting, but he is generally effective.

Injury History

The Cubs did not carry Hammel on their postseason roster — I’m not sure he would have been on the playoff roster anyway given Chicago’s other options — because elbow tightness ended his season in late-September. He also missed most of August with forearm tendinitis. That’s not good. Forearm trouble is a common precursor to elbow trouble. By all accounts though, Hammel’s elbow is structurally sound and he’ll be ready in time for Spring Training.

The recent forearm and elbow woes are the first time Hammel has had arm trouble in his big league career. He missed a month with a groin strain back in 2010 (who cares) and about two months total following right knee surgery in 2012. Hammel had surgery to repair cartilage damage, returned in six weeks, then felt renewed soreness and missed another two weeks. The knee has been problem free ever since.

Injuries have not been a problem throughout Hammel’s career. And it means basically nothing. Hammel finished the season hurt, with an arm problem no less, and it can be considered a recurring injury. He had forearm trouble in August and then elbow trouble in September. That’s scary and certainly a reason he remains unsigned in January. Forget that he’s been healthy most of his career. He finished the year hurt and that’s the most recent information.

Contract Estimates

(Jon Durr/Getty)
(Jon Durr/Getty)

Once Jeremy Hellickson accepted the qualifying offer, Hammel was no worse than the third best starter on the free agent market. He seemed poised to cash in big as a free agent, and he still might, but so far things have been quiet. Here are some contract estimates:

It sure seems like Hammel won’t be getting a three-year contract this offseason. I’m guessing he’d jump all over a three-year offer at this point. Recent reports indicate Hammel has received nothing more than one-years contract offers this winter, which is telling. Teams must be afraid of that elbow.

Hammel lost $10M when the Cubs declined his option. He and his agent — Hammel changed representatives earlier this winter because his market was not developing — are probably looking to at least recoup that $10M, so does that mean the floor is a one-year deal worth $10M? Possibly. I’m taking a shot in the dark here.

Does He Fit The Yankees?

Yes because he’s a veteran starting pitcher who has been pretty good in recent years and won’t cost an arm and a leg. There is no such thing as too much pitching depth. The Yankees will appreciate having an extra veteran starter around whenever the kids inevitably hit a bump in the road all at once. You know it’s coming.

That yes comes with several caveats though. For starters, there’s the whole elbow thing. That’s kind of a big deal. Secondly, home runs have always been an issue for Hammel and Yankee Stadium will only exacerbate that. And third, Hammel won’t be playing in front of the Cubs’ historically great defense anymore. The Yankees have a solid team defense, much better than in previous years, but it’s not on par with Chicago’s.

Last year Hammel had a 3.83 ERA (4.48 FIP) with the Cubs. Again: boringly reliable. Move him to Yankee Stadium (and the other hitter friendly AL East parks) in the DH league and it might be a 4.50 ERA (5.00 FIP) in 2017. That kinda stinks, doesn’t it? I’m just spitballing though. Who knows what’ll happen next year. Point is, there are several reasons to believe Hammel’s performance is about to take a turn for the worst.

Still, it’s not like Hammel would be blocking a young pitcher. This isn’t like signing Mike Napoli and sending Greg Bird to Triple-A. Signing Hammel to the cheap one-year contract he appears destined to sign would be a worthwhile move for the pitching needy Yankees, even with the elbow red flags. (It ain’t my money!) It’s just a question of whether Hammel is willing to pitch in such a hitter friendly park. Yankee Stadium isn’t a good place to rebuild value.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Luis Valbuena

Bat flips are a plus. (Al Bello/Getty)
The bat flips are a plus. (Al Bello/Getty)

Now that we’re in January, the bargain-hunting period of the offseason has begun. Teams use these last few weeks before Spring Training to round out their rosters, and lots of free agents, especially the second and third tier guys, start to get antsy the longer they remain unemployed. That can lead to some nice value signings, the kind of signings that can be the difference in a division or wildcard race.

The Yankees are fairly well set on the position player side at the moment. A Brett Gardner trade or especially a Chase Headley trade would throw a wrench into things, but since those two are still Yankees, it’s not a problem at the moment. The only realistic spot to look for an upgrade is the bench, and even then New York has several young players who could fill out the roster, such as Rob Refsnyder.

If the Yankees are willing to go out into free agency to add another bench or platoon player, a possible target is former Astros third baseman Luis Valbuena, who remains unsigned even though the free agent infield market was so weak this winter. Justin Turner and Neil Walker were fair and away the best available non-first base infielders and both returned to their former teams. Valbuena is still out there. Does he make sense for the Yankees? Let’s break it down.

Offensive Performance

Valbuena, who turned 31 in November, finally settled in as a starting player the last three years after bouncing around earlier in his career. From 2014-16, his three seasons as a starter, he’s hit .243/.334/.442 (115 wRC+) with a 21.7% strikeout rate and an 11.5% walk rate. He’s averaged 27 doubles and 22 homers per 150 games during those three seasons.

Before a hamstring injury ended his season in July, Valbuena managed a .260/.357/.459 (123 wRC+) batting line with 13 homers in 90 games. His strikeout (23.7%) and walk (12.9%) rates were right where they normally sit. Most importantly, Valbuena’s quality of contact has remained steady. No spike in ground balls or increase in soft contact. Nothing like that. Via FanGraphs:

luis-valbuena-contact

Valbuena is, quite simply, a left-handed pull hitter who hits the ball in the air quite often. His 46.7% pull rate is 23rd highest among the 235 players to bat at least 1,000 times over the last three seasons, on par with guys like Brandon Moss (47.0%) and David Ortiz (46.2%). Also, his 33.6% ground ball rate is eighth lowest among those 235 batters. Dude hits lots of fly balls to right field.

I needn’t tell you what happens when a left-handed hitter pulls the ball in the air at Yankee Stadium. We’ve seen some players change their approach in an effort to take advantage of the short porch over the years, most notably Mark Teixeira, but Valbuena doesn’t have to change anything. His natural swing produces fly balls to right field. Here are his last two seasons with the Astros, via Baseball Savant:

luis-valbuena-spray-chart

There are some opposite field dingers in there and that’s cool, but yeah, it seems Valbuena and the short porch would get along well. He’s basically unplayable against southpaws — Valbuena has hit .253/.344/.473 (126 wRC+) against righties and .206/.299/.335 (79 wRC+) against lefties the last three years — but a left-handed platoon player with pull power and lots of walks is a nice little role player.

Baserunning is part of offense too, and it’s important to note Valbuena is a net negative on the basepaths. He doesn’t steal bases (4-for-11 in attempts since 2013) and over the last three years, he’s taken the extra base just 30.5% of the time. That’s going first-to-third on a single, things like that. The league average is right around 40%. So, when it comes to creating runs, Valbuena does it by drawing walks and pulling the ball in the air against righties. That’s it.

Defensive Performance

Back in the day, Valbuena broke into the big leagues as a shortstop with the Mariners. He then moved to second base and later third base, where he’s played almost exclusively since 2012. Valbuena hasn’t played short since 2011 and he’s played only 210 innings at second since 2012. The Astros had him dabble at first base these last two seasons, but not much (277 innings).

The various defensive stats agree Valbuena is not a good defensive third baseman. Some say he’s close to average, others say he’s far below that. Here are his last three defensive seasons at the hot corner:

Innings UZR DRS FRAA Total Zone
2014 971 -4.9 -10 -12.3 -3
2015 835 -9.3 -1 -4.4 1
2016 683 -0.8 -1 +6.2 -5
Total 2,489 -15.0 -12 -10.5 -7

Yeah, not great. Valbuena can stand over at third base and fake it at first, maybe even second in an emergency, and that’s about it. He’ll cost his team runs in the field. So, if he stops hitting homers and drawing walks, there’s nothing to salvage Valbuena as a player. He can’t contribute in any other way.

Injury History

As I mentioned earlier, a hamstring injury ended Valbuena’s season in July last year. He suffered the injury running out a ground ball against the Yankees:

The injury was originally diagnosed as a strain, and during his rehab a few weeks later, Valbuena suffered a setback that required season-ending surgery to repair his hamstring tendon. I can’t find any recent updates, but reports at the time of the surgery indicate he’s expected to be 100% healthy well before Spring Training.

Aside from the hamstring, Valbuena has had no serious injuries in his career. He missed a month with a right oblique strain in 2013 and that’s it. The oblique and hamstring are his only two disabled list stints. The fact Valbuena is coming off surgery right now is a concern, it has to be, but injuries haven’t been a chronic problem. The guy pulled him hamstring, pushed his rehab too hard, and suffered a setback. C’est la vie.

Contract Estimates

The Astros did not tender Valbuena the qualifying offer — the hamstring injury put an end to that, I think maybe they would have given him the qualify offer had he stayed healthy — so he’s not tied to draft pick compensation. He’s a true free agent with no strings attached. Anyway, here are some contract estimates:

Less than I expected! Even with the injury, I feel like plenty of teams could use Valbuena at $7M a year for two years. Of course, third base is loaded around the league at the moment, so the demand might not be there. Based on my quick glance, the Braves and Padres are the only teams that could offer Valbuena their full-time third base gig at the moment. Maybe the Twins too if they commit to moving Miguel Sano to DH.

The hamstring injury and the lack of available third base jobs are the reasons Valbuena remains unsigned, and they could cause him to settle for a smaller than expected contract. I wonder if Valbuena will end up taking a one-year deal worth $6M or $7M, something in that neighborhood. That’s Mitch Moreland (one-year, $5.5M), Welington Castillo (one-year, $6M), and Jon Jay (one-year, $8M) territory. Remember, David Freese is a solid third baseman himself, and it wasn’t until mid-March that he signed a one-year deal worth $3M last offseason.

Does He Fit The Yankees?

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

The Yankees were said to be in “ongoing” talks with Valbuena during the Winter Meetings last month, and, at the time, it seemed like they were talking to him as a backup plan in case a Headley trade went down that week. His market has been very quiet since then. The last hard Valbuena rumor at MLBTR involved some interest from the Rays on December 17th. Prior to that it was the Yankees at the Winter Meetings. Yeah.

Okay, so anyway, as it stands, the position player portion of New York’s projected 2017 roster looks something like this:

Catcher: Gary Sanchez
First Base: Greg Bird or Tyler Austin
Second Base: Starlin Castro
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius
Third Base: Headley
Outfield: Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Judge
Designated Hitter: Matt Holliday
Bench: Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes, Aaron Hicks, Austin or Refsnyder

There’s some wiggle room there — Judge could strike out his way to Triple-A during Grapefruit League play, for example — but that seems to be it. Barring a Headley trade, which seems unlikely, Valbuena would fill that “Austin or Refsnyder” spot on the bench. I suppose he could replace Torreyes, which would mean Castro serves as the backup shortstop, but the Yankees didn’t like that idea last year.

Is Valbuena a better player than Austin or Refsnyder right now? Almost certainly. In a vacuum, signing him to fill that roster spot makes the Yankees a better team. This isn’t a vacuum though. Filling the Austin/Refsnyder spot with Valbuena comes with some consequences, namely:

  1. No fifth outfielder. Austin and Refsnyder have outfield experience, mostly right field but also left, so they’re options out there. Valbuena is not. Hicks would be the lone reserve outfielder.
  2. No platoon bat for Bird. Austin or Refsnyder, whoever gets that bench spot, will presumably platoon with Bird at first base, at least against really tough lefties. The Chris Sales and David Prices of the world. Valbuena can’t do that as a lefty with platoon issues.

Maybe these are minor considerations. Torreyes has played a tiny little bit of outfield in his career and the Yankees might feel comfortable relying on him as the fifth outfielder since that guy usually only plays the outfield in emergencies anyway. And Bird might not need a platoon partner. The Yankees could force feed him at-bats against southpaws to help him develop.

The Yankees supposedly need to shed salary before making any more additions, so this might all be moot. I like the idea of adding Valbuena on a cheap one-year contract to bolster the bench — he could see time at both corner infield spots as well as DH — but who knows if he’ll actually have to settle for a cheap one-year contract. And if he does, would he be willing to be a bench player with the Yankees? The short porch is nice, but other clubs could offer more playing time.

There are some drawbacks to signing Valbuena as well, namely the imperfect roster construction. The Yankees are probably eager to see what Austin can do with more playing time, for example, and Valbuena would cut into that. It’s hard not to get excited about Austin’s opposite field power at Yankee Stadium. At this stage of the rebuild transition, seeing what a young player can do should take priority over adding a win or maybe two to the bench with someone like Valbuena, shouldn’t it?

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: January 2012

(Getty)
(Getty)

It’s a new month and a new year, so our MLBTR Archives series now jumps into 2012. I’m not going to lie, these MLBTR Archives posts can get pretty tedious at times, but this one was a lot of fun. January 2012 was a busy month for the Yankees, both in terms of rumors and actual transactions. Putting this post together was a blast.

Prior to January, the Yankees hadn’t done much during the 2011-12 offseason. They signed CC Sabathia to an extension and re-signed Freddy Garcia, and that’s about it. They still needed to address the rotation because, on New Years Day 2012, the starting staff was Sabathia, Garcia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova in whatever order. Egads. Time to jump back in time to January 2012. Come with me, won’t you?

January 3rd, 2012: Boras Seeks Five Years For Edwin Jackson

8:16pm: At the beginning of the offseason, the asking price for Jackson was in the Lackey/Burnett range ($82.5MM), tweets ESPN.com’s Buster Olney.  The Yankees haven’t had talks with Boras about Jackson, tweets Jack Curry of the YES Network. No talks are expected unless his asking price drops.

Jackson was a stathead favorite back then and he’d just had the best season of his career in 2011, pitching to a 3.79 ERA (3.55 FIP) in 199.2 innings for the White Sox and Cardinals. He was only 28 at the time too, so many saw him as a guy who was about to have the best stretch of his career. And on top of that, Jackson was a Type-B free agent, meaning he didn’t cost a draft pick. Sign him up, right?

The Yankees passed even though more than a few wanted them to go after Jackson given their questionable rotation. The Nationals were able to pick him up on a cheap one-year contract, which was telling. Jackson had Michael Pineda Syndrome in that he was way more hittable than his power stuff would lead you believe. He had a solid season for Washington in 2012 (4.03 ERA and 3.85 FIP) before signing a four-year contract with the Cubs and completely falling apart (5.33 ERA and 4.29 FIP from 2013-16). Sometimes the “he has great stuff and just needs learn how to pitch” guys never learn how to, you know, pitch.

January 5th, 2012: Yankees Fail To Reach Deal With Hiroyuki Nakajima

The Yankees and Hiroyuki Nakajima have failed to reach an agreement on a contract, the team announced. New York won the negotiating rights to the infielder with a bid around $2MM last month.

It was a surprise when the Yankees won the negotiating rights to Nakajima, who Brian Cashman said they viewed as a utility man. They offered him a small contract and wanted six years of team control, as if he were a typical rookie and not an overseas veteran. Nakajima went back to Japan for another year, signed a two-year deal with the Athletics the following offseason, and never got out of Triple-A. He hit .290/.346/.439 for the Orix Buffaloes in 2016.

January 5th, 2012: Quick Hits: Manny, Braves, Oliver, Tejada

The Yankees never inquired on lefty reliever Darren Oliver before he signed with the Blue Jays, reports MLBTR’s Ben Nicholson-Smith (on Twitter).

Oliver was 41 at the time of this rumor and he had carved out a very nice second phase of his career as a reliever. From 2008-11, his age 37-40 seasons, Oliver had a 2.62 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 242 appearances and 257.2 innings. The Yankees needed a lefty reliever and Oliver had been as good as anyone the last few seasons, but still, the guy was 41, and his strikeout rate dropped from 26.6% in 2010 to 20.5% in 2011. There were some other red flags too. The Blue Jays gave Oliver a one-year deal worth $4M and he went out and threw 56.2 innings with a 2.06 ERA (2.95 FIP) and a 23.5% strikeout rate in 2012. Go figure. Old players: not always bad!

January 7th, 2012: Jorge Posada To Announce Retirement

Jorge Posada will announce his retirement within the next two weeks, a source tells Sweeny Murti of WFAN (via Twitter).  Previously, it was reported that Posada wanted to continue playing in 2012 if he could find the right situation.

Aw man. On one hand, it was sad to see Posada retire. He’s one of my all-time favorite players. Switch-hitting catchers with power are my jam. On the other hand, it was also something of a relief to hear Posada was calling it a career. He was pretty bad in 2011 (92 wRC+) and the Yankees were ready to hand the DH reins over to Jesus Montero, so there was no room for Posada on the roster. It would have been weird seeing him finish out his career as a DH with the Rays or something like that. Here’s his retirement press conference:

As of this writing, Posada has appeared on only 4.5% of the publicly available Hall of Fame ballots according to Ryan Thibodaux’s tracker. He’s already been mathematically eliminated from receiving the 75% needed for induction into Cooperstown, so Posada won’t get into the Hall of Fame this year, not that I expected it to happen. Jorge does need some help — 15 more votes, to be precise — to receive the 5% necessary to remain on the ballot another year. Man, Posada falling off the ballot after one year would be a serious bummer.

January 7th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Posada, Rivera, Nakajima, Chavez

Speaking of members of the Core Four, closer Mariano Rivera has said he might know by Spring Training whether he intends to keep pitching when his contract expires after this year, but won’t say which way he’s leaning, writes Marc Carig of The Star-Ledger.  The 42-year-old posted a 1.91 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 last season.

Rivera later admitted he was planning to retire following the 2012 season, but he decided to stick around another year after tearing his ACL in May and missing the rest of the season. Mo could probably show up to Spring Training this year, throw ten tune-up innings, then give the Yankees about 60 innings with a sub-3.00 ERA, right? He was a machine. Rivera could roll out of bed in December and paint the corners.

January 11th, 2012: Minor Moves: Powell, Mattingly, Hu, Phillips, Herrera

The Yankees signed Preston Mattingly to a minor league deal, tweets Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. The 24-year-old former first rounder posted a .232/.281/.354 line in the lower minors last year. He is the son of current Dodgers manager and former Yankees star Don Mattingly. 

Geez, I forgot the Yankees signed Mattingly’s kid. Preston never did actually play in the organization. The Yankees released him at the end of Spring Training and he’s been out of baseball since. The Dodgers drafted Mattingly with the 31st overall pick in the 2006 draft and he hit .232/.276/.336 (69 wRC+) in over 1,700 minor league plate appearances. Never made it out of Single-A. Preston went to college after his baseball career ended and played on the Lamar University basketball team.

January 13th, 2012: Stark On Yankees, Red Sox, Reds, Garza

The Yankees won’t be under the luxury tax threshold in 2012 or 2013, but they hope to spend less than $189MM in 2014, Stark writes. However, the CBA isn’t the only reason the Yankees are spending more cautiously. “I think this is what the Yankees were going to do, regardless,” one of Stark’s sources said.

Five years later, the Yankees are still trying to get under the luxury tax threshold, and they won’t be able to do it until at least 2018. This was the first report of the austerity plan. The first time we got wind of Hal Steinbrenner’s plan to cut payroll and throw away the team’s market advantage. Nowadays the Collective Bargaining Agreement ensures the Yankees or any other big market team has no way to flex their financial muscle without being taxed or penalized heavily. Parity: it’s just a fancy word for widespread mediocrity.

January 13th, 2012: Mariners, Yankees Swap Pineda For Montero

The Mariners needed hitting, the Yankees needed pitching.  The two teams addressed each other’s needs in a blockbuster trade of young stars, as right-handers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos will go to the Bronx in exchange for catcher/DH Jesus Montero and righty Hector Noesi.  Both teams confirmed the trade this afternoon.

January 13th, 2012: Yankees Sign Hiroki Kuroda

The Yankees have signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract, the team announced.  Jack Curry of the YES Network first reported the agreement (Twitter link).  The deal will pay Kuroda $10MM, tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney.  Kuroda is represented by the Octagon agency.

I’m going to lump these two moves together because they kinda felt like one big move. The time stamps of the RAB posts (Pineda trade, Kuroda signing) tell me the deals happened 54 minutes apart. The dust hadn’t come close to settling following the Pineda trade when news of the Kuroda signing broke. What a day that was, huh?

The Pineda trade was a classic out-of-nowhere Brian Cashman move. There was talk Montero could be traded for a pitcher all winter and pretty much no one wanted that to happen. He came up in September 2011 and raked, and everyone was looking forward to seeing him as the full-time DH in 2012. Montero’s name was certainly out there as a trade candidate though.

Pineda? There were no rumors about him, and certainly nothing connecting him to the Yankees. Pineda had just wrapped up an excellent rookie season and it seemed like the Mariners were ready to pair him with Felix Hernandez for the next half-decade. Instead, they cashed him in as a trade chip to get the big middle of the order bat they’d been lacking for years. That was the thinking behind the trade, anyway.

As for Kuroda, the Yankees had been linked to him for weeks, dating back to the 2011 trade deadline. I wanted the Yankees to sign him so bad. So, so bad. Kuroda was not the kinda guy to chase top dollar though. He wanted the best fit for his family and a chance to win, which is why he insisted on no-trade clauses wherever he played. The Yankees convinced him to come to New York and he was a damn good Yankee.

Both these deals were reported on January 13th, but it wasn’t until January 23rd than the Pineda trade became official and January 26th that the Kuroda trade was official. If I’m remembering correctly, the Pineda trade was held up because Montero had some visa issues and wasn’t able to get to Seattle to take his physical right away. Kuroda was home in Japan at the time and in no real rush to fly all the way to New York for his physical.

But man, was that a wild day or what? There was a lot of angst about the pitching staff that offseason. The Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee the previous year and made it through the 2011 season thanks to Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. We were all anticipating a rotation overhaul during the 2011-12 offseason and it just wasn’t happening, then BAM, Pineda and Kuroda were Yankees in the span of 54 minutes. What a time to be alive.

January 13th, 2012: Yankees Looking For Hitting, Carlos Pena On “Radar”

Now that the Yankees have addressed their pitching issues with two major transactions, the club is looking to add some offense, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.comCarlos Pena is “now on their radar,” and Heyman says the Bronx Bombers could be looking at other hitters as well.

With Montero gone and Posada retired, the Yankees suddenly had an opening at DH, and my goodness, they were connected to pretty much every veteran bat in the final few weeks of the 2011-12 offseason. The Yankees liked Pena for a long time — he spent time with Triple-A Columbus in 2006 and they claimed him on trade waivers in August 2011 — and always seemed to be linked to him, but it never did come together. He wound up back with the Rays in 2012 and hit .197/.330/.354 (98 wRC+) with 19 homers in exactly 600 plate appearances. Bullet dodged, I’d say.

January 13th, 2012: Analysis And Background Of The Montero/Pineda Deal

The Yankees initially tried to acquire Felix Hernandez from the Mariners, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter) and were willing to offer a package that included Montero, Betances, Banuelos and more.

“If they were going to trade Montero, why didn’t they ask for Felix instead of Pineda???” was a fairly common RAB comment back in January 2012. As if the Yankees didn’t try that. Hernandez was coming off his worst season in several years at time — “worst season” is a relative term here because Felix was still awesome in 2011 — but he was signed for another three years and he was still only 25. Crazy. Hernandez was the face of the franchise and the Mariners weren’t going to give him up. The Yankees asked, Seattle said no, so they moved on to the next best thing.

January 15th, 2012: AL East Notes: Yankees, Pineda, Red Sox, Rays

GM Brian Cashman tells Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM that the Yankees will have made a mistake if Pineda never develops into a #1 starter (Twitter link).

Well, Pineda hasn’t develop into a No. 1 starter, but it’s still hard to consider the trade a mistake given what we know now. Montero was a total bust for the Mariners and it sure seems like the Yankees sold as high as possible. Sure, there was an opportunity cost to trading Montero — who else could they have gotten for him besides Pineda? — but we’ll never know what other deals were out there. Neither the Yankees nor the Mariners got what they wanted out of that trade. Seattle ended up way worse off though.

January 15th, 2012: Yankees Have Spoken To Johnny Damon

With Jesus Montero headed to the Mariners, the Yankees have spoken to Johnny Damon about the possibility of returning to New York as a DH according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (all Twitter links). He says they don’t have much money left to spend on a hitter, adding that there’s a “very small chance” they would consider Jorge Posada since he has yet to make his retirement official.

Like I said, the Yankees talked to every available veteran bat following the Montero trade. Damon was 38 at the time and coming off a good season with the Rays, during which he hit .261/.326/.418 (108 wRC+) with 16 homers in 647 plate appearances as their full-time DH. Talks with the Yankees about a reunion never got off the ground though. Damon ended up signing with the Indians in mid-April and hit .222/.281/.329 (70 wRC++) with four homers in 224 plate appearances before being released in August. He hasn’t played since. Another bullet dodged.

January 16th, 2012: Yankees, Hideki Matsui Have Been In Contact

There has been some contact between Hideki Matsui and the Yankees this offseason, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. The Yankees, who have also been in touch with Johnny Damon, appear to have just $1-2MM to spend on a DH. That would likely be enough to sign the 37-year-old Matsui, who’s coming off a disappointing season in Oakland.  

Another veteran bat, another old friend. Matsui was 37 at the time and he authored a .251/.321/.375 (93 wRC+) batting line with 12 homers in 585 plate appearances for the Athletics in 2011. I have zero recollection of Matsui with Oakland, but it happened. Look:

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Friggin’ wild, man. As with Damon, reunion talks with Matsui never did advance — it didn’t go over too well when the Yankees passed on both — and he wound up with the Rays, where he hit .147/.214/.221 (20 wRC+) with two homers in 103 plate appearances before being released in August. He hasn’t played since. Yet another bullet dodged.

Bringing Damon or especially Matsui back sure would have been cool from a nostalgic point of view, but it was pretty clear neither had much to offer at that point of their careers. Both guys left town a hero rather than stick around long enough to see themselves become the villain.

January 16th, 2012: Quick Hits: Orioles, Cespedes, Dodgers

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney suggests the Yankees could use their DH spot to see what Jorge Vazquez can do at the big league level or to give Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter partial days off (all Twitter links). The 29-year-old Vazquez posted a .262/.314/.516 line with 32 homers at Triple-A in 2011.

Jorge Vazquez! Oh man, good times. Vazquez was a guy the Yankees plucked out of Mexico in December 2008, and he put up some big numbers in the minors, including a .262/.314/.516 (121 wRC+) batting line with 32 homers in 500 plate appearances with Triple-A Scranton in 2011. I remember the man they call El Chato hitting a home run clear over the batter’s eye in dead center field in Spring Training 2011.

Of course, Vazquez was an older guy (29 at the time of this rumor) with zero defensive value and no plan at the plate whatsoever. Everyone oohed and aahed at the homers but ignored his 33.2% strikeout rate and 6.0% walk rate in 2011. The Yankees never seriously considered Vazquez for the DH position — how was he supposed to give A-Rod and Jeter partial days off anyway? — and in fact they released him following Spring Training 2012. Folks were Mad Online about that.

Vazquez is still active, you know. Or at least he was last season. He hit .319/.403/.513 (146 wRC+) with six homers in 139 plate appearances for a team in the Mexican League last summer. Vazquez has been playing in Mexico ever since being released by the Yankees. He hit a walk-off homer to win the Caribbean Series last February:

Vaya con Dios, El Chato.

January 17th, 2012: Quick Hits: White Sox, Guerrero, Gonzalez, Hart

The representatives for Vladimir Guerrero and Raul Ibanez contacted the Yankees about their DH opening, Newsday’s Ken Davidoff tweets.

Every agent with a veteran free agent bat called the Yankees after the Montero trade, it seems. The Yankees ended up signing Ibanez to replace Montero, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

As for Vlad, he actually never played again. He hit .290/.317/.416 (96 wRC+) with 13 homers in 590 plate appearances as a 36-year-old for the Orioles in 2011, and that was it. No one signed him following that season and his career ended. Guerrero is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. Bullet dodged? Hard to say since Vlad didn’t play in 2012. That no team bothered to sign him tells you he was considered a liability at this point of his career, not as asset.

January 18th, 2012: Gerardo Concepcion Close To Free Agency

18-year-old Cuban lefty Gerardo Concepcion has established residency in Mexico, agent Jaime Torres told Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com.  He should be able to declare free agency and negotiate with Major League teams very soon.  The Yankees, Rangers, Cubs, White Sox, and Phillies are among the interested clubs, Rojas tweets.

I totally forgot about this dude. Concepcion was the Next Big Thing out of Cuba and those stupid Yankees didn’t sign him because they never sign Cuban players. The Cubs gave him a five-year deal worth $7M, and he showed up to camp in 2012 with a mid-80s fastball and iffy secondary pitches. Concepcion had a 5.50 ERA (4.74 FIP) with 16.4% strikeouts and 12.9% walks in 178.1 minor league innings from 2012-15. Egads.

Last year the now 24-year-old Concepcion found some success as a reliever, pitching to a 5.13 ERA (4.78 FIP) with 19.7% strikeouts and 10.6% walks in 59.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A. He even made his MLB debut in June, allowing one run in 2.1 innings. The Cubs non-tendered him after the season and re-signed him to a minor league deal. Meh. Maybe Concepcion will figure it out as a reliever. Can’t say the Yankees missed out here.

January 20th, 2012: Stark On Tigers, Pineda, Dodgers, Rockies, Angels

There are also two “conspiracy theories” floating around regarding the deal.  One school of thought has people wondering if Pineda’s fading velocity down the stretch trigged the M’s to trade him.  There are also clubs wondering if the Yankees had concerns about Montero’s mental make-up.

The concerns about Montero’s makeup were nothing new. We’d heard about his #badattitude for years. Makeup and work ethic issues led to Montero’s failure as a baseball player as much as anything.

Pineda’s velocity drop at the end of the 2011 season was a big red flag and the reason many weren’t fond of the trade, especially since we were all still in “Montero is the next Miguel Cabrera!” mode at the time. Here is Pineda’s game-by-game velocity in 2011, via Brooks Baseball:

michael-pineda-velocity

That drop in his final start was the big concern, but Pineda’s velocity had been fading for weeks. He was over his previous career high in innings — he finished 2011 with 171 total innings, up from 139.1 the year before — and the Mariners did give him extra days off down the stretch in 2011.

The velocity loss could have been due to fatigue, or the irregular work. That was the hope. Then Pineda blew out his labrum in Spring Training 2012 and missed two full seasons. Womp effin’ womp.

January 26th, 2012: Yankees Designate Kevin Whelan For Assignment

The Yankees designated right-hander Kevin Whelan for assignment to create 40-man roster space for Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. The 28-year-old debuted with the Yankees in 2011, appearing in two games.

Geez, Whelan stuck around a long-time, huh? The Yankees got him in the Gary Sheffield trade with the Tigers following the 2006 season. He spent the next four and a half seasons toiling in the minors before making his MLB debut in June 2011, when he allowed one run in 1.2 innings. He walked five and struck out one. Whelan cleared waivers and spent the 2012 season in Triple-A Scranton before becoming a minor league free agent. He bounced from team to team for a few years and got back to the show briefly with the Tigers in 2014. He’s been out of baseball since 2015. Relief prospects, man. They’ll break your heart.

January 27th, 2012: Yankees Interested In Raul Ibanez

The Yankees have interest in Raul Ibanez, Kevin Kernan of the New York Post reports. Ibanez has drawn interest from a number of clubs, including the Mets and Tigers, in recent weeks. We heard ten days ago that ACES had contacted the Yankees about Ibanez, but this is the first concrete indication that the interest is mutual.

Ibanez was a less than inspiring choice for DH. He was 39 and had just hit .245/.289/.419 (90 wRC+) with 20 homers in 575 plate appearances for the Phillies. Add in his terrible defense and you had a -1.9 fWAR and -2.0 bWAR player. The Yankees eventually signed Ibanez and he looked washed up in Spring Training. It was bad. Fast forward six months, and the dude was a postseason hero. Something something can’t predict baseball.

January 30th, 2012: Yankees In Serious Talks With Bill Hall

The Yankees are in serious talks with utility man Bill Hall, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.  Rosenthal thinks Hall could reprise a 2010 Red Sox-type role, and notes that the 32-year-old works out in the offseason with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long.  No deal is imminent and Hall is still considering a couple of teams, tweets Andy Martino of the New York Daily News.

The Yankees were never not connected to Bill Hall. Everyone offseason they were trying to sign him and every trade deadline they were trying to acquire him. By this point Hall was well past his prime even though he was only 32. He hit .211/.261/.314 (57 wRC+) for the Astros and Giants in 2011, and no level of defense and versatility could make up for that. The Yankees did eventually sign Hall to a minor league deal, but he didn’t make it out of Spring Training. The last time he topped a 90 wRC+ was 2006.

January 30th, 2012: Minor Moves: Delcarmen, Tolbert, Gonzalez

The Yankees signed Manny Delcarmen to a minor league contract, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets. The right-hander, who last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2010, owns a 3.97 ERA with 7.7 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 in 292 2/3 innings over the course of six MLB seasons.

Really thought Manny Delcarmen would be a successful closer for an NL team, you guys. Delcarmen, who was only 29 at the time, had a 4.74 ERA (5.04 FIP) from 2009-10 before spending 2011 in Triple-A with the Mariners and Rangers. The Yankees gave him that minor league contract and he spent the season with Triple-A Scranton, where he had a 4.42 ERA (4.23 FIP) in 57 innings. Delcarmen hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2010, though he did make two relief appearances in the Mexican League last summer, so he’s still giving it a go.

January 31st, 2012: Yankees Hire Jim Hendry

11:57am: The Yankees have hired former Cubs GM Jim Hendry as a special assistant, ESPNChicago.com’s Bruce Levine reports. The Cubs dismissed Hendry in August, before hiring Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

The Cubs fired Hendry in late-July, but he agreed to stay on a few extra weeks to help the team sign their draft picks while the front office was in flux. Hendry had spent 17 seasons with the Cubs and was their GM from 2002-11, during which time he built some great teams (97 wins in 2008) and some terrible teams (66 wins in 2006). Tom Ricketts, who bought the Cubs in late-2009, decided it was time for a new voice. I’m guessing he doesn’t regret that decision.

Anyway, the Yankees hired Hendry as a special assistant and he’s still with the team as one of Cashman’s top lieutenants. He handled contract talks with Scott Boras about James Kaprielian two years ago. I’m sure he had a hand in the Starlin Castro trade as well. Hendry’s work as Cubs GM made him an easy punching bag, but he’s long had a reputation for being a great scout and talent evaluator. His current role suits him well. Hendry’s better off as an advisor than as the guy calling the shots.

The Yankees have fielded offers for Michael Pineda, but it might not be a good time to trade him

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

For the first time in nearly three decades, the Yankees decided to sell at the trade deadline last year, and it helped them build one of the game’s best farm systems. The selling continued this offseason with the Brian McCann trade and it could continue to, uh, continue with a Brett Gardner and/or Chase Headley trade. Those two have popped up in more than a few rumors this winter.

One Yankee who hasn’t been mentioned in trade rumors but has generated interest is right-hander Michael Pineda. Andrew Marchand reports the Yankees have “fielded plenty of trade offers” for Pineda this winter as clubs look to buy low and get him on the cheap, but so far Brian Cashman & Co. have held on to the frustrating and enigmatic (frustratingly enigmatic?) right-hander.

Trading Pineda makes sense from a big picture perspective. He’ll be a free agent next winter and probably isn’t a long-term piece — so far there have been zero indications the Yankees want to sign him to an extension — so if the Yankees can turn him into a prospect or two, then do it. It would fit right into the rebuilding transitioning plan. Pineda wouldn’t be that hard to replace, right?

At the same time, this might not be the best time to trade Pineda. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Yankees shouldn’t trade him. By all means, if some team comes along and makes a nice offer, go for it. Pineda should not be off limits. I’m just not convinced that will actually happen though. Here are a few reasons why the time might not be right to trade Pineda.

1. The free agent pitching class stinks. But Mike, if the free agent class stinks, isn’t that a good thing for a potential Pineda trade? Yes, in theory. The problem is Pineda himself kinda stinks. He has a 4.60 ERA (91 ERA+) in 59 starts and 336.1 innings over the last two years, and we haven’t see him make any improvements. Pineda is still the same guy right now that he was two seasons ago. If anything, he’s gone backwards.

Pineda’s underlying stats are really great, which is why he’s so frustrating. Over the last two seasons the guy has a 25.5% strikeout rate and a 5.2% walk rate, numbers that are incredible for a starting pitcher. And yet, Pineda seems incapable of limiting hard contact and is far more hittable than his cutter/slider combination would lead you to believe. He’s a tough guy to figure out. He really is.

Pineda is not a long-term buy. He’s a one-year rental, and if you’re looking for a one-year rental, the free agent market offers plenty of alternatives. Why trade an actual prospect(s) for Pineda when you could sign, say, Jason Hammel, who has reportedly received nothing but one-year offers? Jake Peavy, Jon Niese, Doug Fister … you could sign one of those dudes for a year and possibly get similar-ish production as Pineda.

Of course, the difference between Pineda and guys like Hammel and Peavy and Fister is upside, or the illusion of upside. Pineda will turn 28 in two weeks and is right in the middle of what should be the prime of his career. All those other guys have seen their best days already. Still, if given the choice between trading a prospect(s) for Pineda or giving up nothing but cash to get Hammel or Fister for a year, how many would take Pineda?

(Counterpoint: It only takes one team to say “I’ll take Pineda over the free agents, here’s a quality prospect or two” for a trade to happen.)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

2. Offers could be better at the trade deadline. Teams seem much more willing to be patient and let things play out in the offseason. Give the fifth starter’s spot to the unheralded prospect with great stats and only 23 innings above Double-A? That sounds like a great idea in December and January. He’s a Rookie of the Year sleeper candidate! Everyone else is underrating him!

Things are often much different come June and July though, once that prospect has a chance to fail and, well, fails, because baseball is all about failing. Teams are ostensibly more willing to pay big to get the help they need at the trade deadline, when the standings are staring them in the face and fans are impatient and there’s more urgency. That’s why a half-season of Aroldis Chapman fetches four prospects in July while a full season of Wade Davis fetches one Jorge Soler in December. Yeah.

There are risks with keeping Pineda and waiting until the deadline to trade him, obviously. His value would tank should he get hurt or pitch poorly, two things Pineda is known to do from time to time. But, if he stays healthy and pitches averagely, the Yankees might be able to turn him into a nice young player at the deadline. Teams always need pitching. It’s not like the demand will disappear.

3. The Yankees are short on pitching themselves. As it stands, the Yankees are poised to go into the season with two kids at the back of the rotation. Trading Pineda would make it three and, uh, yikes. That could get a little dicey. Sure, the Yankees could trade Pineda for prospects then sign one of those many one-year free agent candidates I mentioned earlier, but any time you add a second step to the equation, things get complicated.

The Yankees insist they’re trying to contend while rebuilding, and nearly all the moves they’ve made this offseason support that plan. Subtracting pitching would go against the “trying to contend” idea. The Yankees need to add pitching, really. Going young in two rotation spots makes me nervous, even if I am excited about the youth movement. I worry about innings limits and five-and-fly starts and things like that. Imagine going young in three rotation spots. Gosh.

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Like I said earlier, if another team comes along and makes a good offer for Pineda this offseason, then trade him. Carrying him into the season in hopes of getting better offers at the deadline is too risky to pass on a quality offer now. I don’t think that good offer is coming in the next few weeks though, in which case keeping Pineda is not just the best option, it’s the only option.