Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: February 2011

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Retro Week is now in the rear-view mirror, and since it’s a new month, it’s time to look back through the MLB Trade Rumors archive. This seems like a good way to transition from Retro Week back to the real world. As a reminder, these posts are for fun and are not intended to make fun of the reporters or the crew at MLBTR. What good are rumors if you read them once and forget about them?

We’re now in February 2011, and at this point of the offseason the Yankees had already lost out on Cliff Lee and were scrambling to fill out the rotation. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon were signed to minor league deals, and Scott Boras convinced the team to panic sign Rafael Soriano. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera also inked new contracts. Here’s a look back at everything Yankees-related that happened five years ago this month.

February 1st, 2011: New York Notes: Pettitte, Mets, Pitching

Yankees people continue to hear from friends of Andy Pettitte that they think the 38-year-old will pitch this year, tweets Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated.  Of course, there’s still no word from Pettitte himself on the matter.

Spring Training was inching closer and there was still no indication whether Pettitte would pitch again. He was 39 years old at the time and he was coming off a season with a 3.28 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 129 innings. A groin injury forced him to miss a bunch of time, and ultimately the rehab from that injury is what pushed Pettitte to retirement. His body didn’t recover as quickly as it once did and he didn’t want to go through the grind anymore. The Yankees desperately needed him though. The rotation at the time was CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, an unproven Ivan Nova, and no one in particular.

February 2nd, 2011: Yankees Acquire Justin Maxwell

The Yankees announced that they have acquired Justin Maxwell from the Nationals for minor league right-hander Adam Olbrychowski. When Washington had to clear roster space last week, they designated Maxwell for assignment.

Maxwell had a real nice year in Triple-A in 2011 — he hit .260/.358/.588 (157 wRC+) with 16 homers and eleven steals in 48 games — but he tore up his shoulder crashing into the wall while trying to rob a home run and needed season-ending surgery. The Yankees cut him loose in Spring Training the following year, the Astros claimed him, then Maxwell mashed lefties in 2012 (143 wRC+). Everyone complained because Maxwell was great and Andruw Jones stunk that year. The Yankees somehow survived and won the division anyway.

February 2nd, 2011: Yankees Remain In Contact With Kevin Millwood

The Yankees have added Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in the last week, but the team is still in contact with Kevin Millwood, reports Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link).  It could be that the Yankees just want to give themselves as many veteran starting options as they can, or, as Heyman opines, “they’re growing more worried” that Andy Pettitte will retire. 

The Yankees eventually did sign Millwood to a minor league contract — he spent a month in Triple-A before exercising an opt-out clause — but I remember there being a lot of talk that Millwood was a must sign. A must sign. He had a 5.10 ERA (4.86 FIP) with the Orioles in 2010 but the back of the rotation was a mess, and Millwood was a familiar name. Those were desperate times indeed.

February 3rd, 2011: Andy Pettitte To Retire

It’s the end of a three-month wait for the Yankees and a 16-year career for Andy Pettitte. The left-hander is set to announce his retirement tomorrow, the team announced.

And there it is. Pettitte decided to retire and Brian Cashman admitted the Yankees basically begged him to come back after missing out on Lee. Andy wasn’t having any of it. He wanted to be home with his family and who could blame him? He’d won titles, built a strong Hall of Fame case, made an ungodly amount of money … why put yourself through it again if the physical grind was too much? I was very sad Pettitte retired. Little did we know he would be back a year later.

February 4th, 2011: Yankees Consider Left-Handed Pitchers

The Yankees, who heard this week that Andy Pettitte will retire, have considered exploring trades for other left-handers, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir, Wade LeBlanc, Clayton Richard and Gio Gonzalez are among the possible targets some Yankees people have “kicked around.”

Yeesh. What a list of pitchers. Gio was pretty good and would have been a nice pickup. Saunders was with the Diamondbacks at the time and had a 4.47 ERA (4.57 FIP) in 203.1 innings in 2010. Kazmir had a 5.94 ERA (5.83 FIP) in 150 innings with the Angels and Richard had a 3.75 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 201.2 innings with the Padres. LeBlanc, who threw one inning with the 2014 Yankees, was an up-and-down arm with San Diego. Aside from Gonzalez, this was retread/back-end fodder city. Goodness.

February 4th, 2011: Robinson Cano Hires Scott Boras

Robinson Cano has hired Scott Boras as his agent, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com. The second baseman, who was previously a Bobby Barad client, met Boras in the Dominican Republic today.

I totally forgot about this. It was a huge deal at the time because it’s Boras and Boras always wants insane contracts. The Yankees controlled Cano through 2013 thanks to the extension he signed in 2008, so his free agency wasn’t imminent, but dealing with Boras is never fun. As it turned out, Boras never did negotiate a deal for Cano. Robbie dumped Boras for Jay-Z’s Roc Nation group in 2013. They negotiated his contract with the Mariners. I can’t imagine many elite players have hired Boras only to fire him before becoming a free agent.

February 4th, 2011: Yankees, Ronnie Belliard Agree To Minor League Deal

The Yankees and Ronnie Belliard have agreed to a minor league deal, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com (via Twitter).  The 35-year-old Praver Shapiro Sports Management client will earn $825K plus incentives if he makes the varsity squad.

Ronnie Belliard! The Yankees were looking to round out their bench at this point of the offseason and they brought Belliard in to compete for a job in camp. They wound up releasing him before the end of Spring Training. Belliard hooked on with the Phillies after that, spent two months in Triple-A, then retired. Remember when Matt Diaz was a Yankee for like two weeks a few years ago? Same deal. They signed him then released him before the end of Spring Training. Who’s going to be that guy this year, the recognizable name on a minor league pact who doesn’t get through camp?

February 6th, 2011: Cafardo’s Latest: Pettitte, Millwood, Blanton

The Yanks will “see what they have” with pitchers like Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and Sergio Mitre before they consider trading for someone like Joe Blanton.

Oy vey. Blanton had a 4.82 ERA (4.84 FIP) in 175.2 innings for the Phillies in 2010. In the wake of losing out on Lee, the plan was to see what the Yankees had in the bad pitchers they signed before trading for a different bad pitcher. And hey, it worked! Colon and Garcia were pretty good in 2011.

February 8th, 2011: Michael Young Requests Trade

MONDAY, 10:34pm: MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan has the list of eight teams Young is willing to accept a trade to: Cardinals, Yankees, Twins, Astros, Rockies, Dodgers, Angels, and Padres. The team has said they are dealing with just those eight teams right now.

It was kinda weird Young had a reputation for being a team first guy because he moved to different positions even though he complained and requested a trade each time. The Rangers had just signed Adrian Beltre and were planning to make Young their full-time DH. The Yankees had a full infield (Mark Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, Alex Rodriguez) and Jorge Posada was moving to DH full-time, so there was no room for Young. He was going to have to be a bench player, and since he had three years and $48M left on his contract at the time, it just wasn’t going to happen. Young did end up staying with Texas, but plenty of folks wanted him for the mythical supersub role that doesn’t seem to actually exist.

February 8th, 2011: MLB Teams Sign Six Dominican League Prospects

The Yankees signed 20-year-old center fielder Freiter Marte for $100K. Marte had been selected to play in the DPL All-Star Game.

Marte hit .270/.342/.377 with three homers and 19 steals in 85 Dominican Summer League games from 2011-12 before being released. A hundred grand doesn’t buy what it used to.

February 8th, 2011: Yankees Notes: Delgado, Washburn, Pavano

  • The Yankees have zero interest in Carlos Delgado. The longtime Blue Jays slugger wants to play in 2011, but hasn’t been getting much interest so far.
  • The Yankees checked in on Jarrod Washburn earlier in the winter, but talks did not progress much. However, the Yankees would consider Washburn if he’s willing to accept a minor league deal like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon did.

Delgado did not play in 2010 but he wasn’t retired. No one signed him. Sucks. The Yankees had a full infield and Posada at DH. There was no room for Delgado even if he did have something left in the tank. Remember when Delgado hit .344/.470/.664 (179 wRC+) with 41 homers in 2000? He was a damn monster back in the day.

Washburn was in the same boat as Delgado. He did not play in 2010 but wasn’t actually retired. No one wanted him. The Yankees did check in on him — Washburn had a 3.78 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 176 innings in 2009 — though they couldn’t work out a deal. Desperate times, man. The Yankees were trying to get dudes to come out of semi-retirement after losing out on Lee.

February 9th, 2011: Yankees To Sign Luis Ayala

The Yankees agreed to sign reliever Luis Ayala to a minor league deal, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (Twitter links). The right-hander a career ERA of 3.67 with 5.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in parts of six major league seasons.

Ayala had the worst 2.09 ERA in history in 2011. It’s not just that he had a 4.19 FIP, it’s that he allowed 33% of inherited runners to score, including 43% in the second half. Ayala had a nice and shiny ERA but he was ruining everyone else’s. He was a nice find for the Yankees and a serviceable middle reliever, but man, I see that 2.09 ERA and it does not compute.

February 9th, 2011: Yankees Sign Eric Chavez To Minor League Deal

The Yankees have signed Eric Chavez to a minor league deal, according to WFAN’s Sweeny Murti. ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the deal is done and that Chavez will earn $1.5MM if he makes the big league team (Twitter links). The third baseman, who is represented by Lapa/Leventhal, can earn up to $4MM more in bonuses.

Chavez played 154 total games from 2007-10 (81 wRC+) due to a variety of injuries and the Yankees were mocked for signing him. “They’re a lock for the 2003 World Series!” was a common refrain after the Chavez, Colon, Garcia, and Andruw signings. Chavez wasn’t great in 2011 (80 wRC+) but he did have a few big hits, so the Yankees brought him back in 2012, and he raked that year (126 wRC+). People went from laughing at the Yankees when they signed Chavez to wondering why they let him walk as a free agent two years later. Reminder: the Yankees are smarter than you.

February 9th, 2011: Yankees Void Deal With Vizcaino

The Yankees have voided their contract with reliever Luis Vizcaino, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  The right-hander tore his Achilles tendon late in the Winter Ball season and is not likely to pitch this season.

It’s amazing the Yankees got a draft pick for Vizcaino after the 2007 season. (They used it to take Jeremy Bleich.) The old Type-A/B system led to a lot of weirdness. Anyway, the Yankees signed The Viz to a minor league deal earlier in the offseason before the Achilles injury. He was active in 2015, you know. Vizcaino, now 41, had a 7.65 ERA in 20 innings with two teams in Mexico last summer.

February 11th, 2011: AL East Links: Guthrie, Bard, Balfour, Rays

Joel Sherman of the New York Post has the latest on some creative discussions between Kevin Towers and the man he worked for last year, Brian Cashman.The Yankees, who considered completing a sign-and-trade with Arizona to acquire Carl Pavano without surrendering a draft pick, discussed a similar deal with the D’Backs about Grant Balfour. The Yankees were moving toward Balfour before they signed his former teammate, Rafael Soriano.

The sign-and-trade idea was a good one. The Diamondbacks had two top ten picks in the 2011 draft — their normal pick (third overall, Trevor Bauer) and a compensation pick for failing to sign 2010 first rounder Barrett Loux (seventh overall, Archie Bradley) — so the idea was Arizona signs Pavano or Balfour, gives up their second rounder, then trades Pavano/Balfour to the Yankees for a prospect.

Had it gone down, the Yankees would have gotten the free agent and kept their first round pick, and for their trouble the D’Backs would get a prospect presumably closer to MLB than whoever they’d take with that second round pick. Pavano or Balfour would have had to agree to this because free agents can’t be traded until June 1st without their consent. Nice idea. Never worked out. Cashman and then D’Backs GM Kevin Towers are very close, which is why this was discussed. I can’t imagine many GMs would hook up for a deal like this.

February 14th, 2011: Latest On Sabathia Opt-Out Decision

10:38pm: Barring something unforseen, Sabathia is expected to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, a source with knowledge of the situation told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.

9:35am: Not many players would ever think about walking away from $92MM, but C.C. Sabathia is one of the few who could consider it. Sabathia can opt out of his contract with the Yankees after the season, but repeated today that he does not intend to do so. The left-hander told reporters, including Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger, that he will not opt out and that he doesn’t intend to address the issue again this season (Twitter link).

This was the start of Sabathia Opt-Out Watch. Sabathia said he wasn’t going to opt-out all summer and that was adorable. Of course he was going to use the opt-out in some way to make more money, which he did by leveraging it into an extension. Sabathia didn’t actually opt-out, but he used it to make the Yankees pay. They tacked another year and $30M onto his contract, plus the vesting option. Last season was the final season on the original seven-year contract Sabathia signed during the 2008-09 offseason. Time flies, doesn’t it?

February 16th, 2011: Minor Moves: Geary, Perkins, Cotts, Petit

The Yankees signed righty reliever Fernando Hernandez, tweets Eddy. The 26-year-old pitched in three games with the 2008 A’s as a Rule 5 Pick, though he spent last year with their Triple-A affiliate (4.77 ERA in 77 1/3 innings).

Hernandez reached the show with the Athletics in 2008, throwing three innings. He spent the 2011 season with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, didn’t pitch well (6.17 ERA), and wound up in an independent league at midseason. Hernandez has bounced around indy ball since. He had a 4.15 ERA in 65 innings for the Kansas City T-Bones last year.

February 20th, 2011: Millwood Rejected Yankees’ Minor League Offer

One of the few notable names left on the starting pitching market, Kevin Millwood still appears to be seeking a Major League contract. The veteran right-hander recently turned down a minor league offer from the Yankees, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. According to Sherman, the deal was structured similarly to the one Freddy Garcia signed with the club.

Millwood caved and signed a minor league deal with the Yankees on March 25th. As I said earlier, he spent a month with Triple-A Scranton before exercising an opt-out clause. Millwood landed with the Rockies the rest of the season and had a 3.98 ERA (4.29 FIP). Not too bad.

February 20th, 2011: Cafardo’s Latest: Molina, Aceves, Nathan, Cameron

Alfredo Aceves, who recently signed with the Red Sox, “wasn’t pleased” that the Yankees didn’t show a stronger interest in re-signing him. Brian Cashman said the Yanks only offered Aceves a minor league deal due to injury concerns.

The Yankees non-tendered Aceves earlier in the offseason and made no sense from the outside, especially since they were short on rotation depth with or without Lee. The team had concerns about his back and also his attitude, but it sure didn’t look good when Aceves had a 2.61 ERA (4.03 FIP) in 114 innings for the Red Sox in 2011. Aceves was never effective after that season and he seemed to get a little crazier each year. He spent last season in Mexico and had a 4.76 ERA in 87 innings. We’ll always have 2009, Ace.

February 21st, 2011: Steinbrenner On Jeter, Luxury Tax, Burnett, Soriano

Steinbrenner seems worried about the team’s drive to win, saying “I think maybe they celebrated a little bit too much last year,” the co-chairman said. “Some of the players are too busy building mansions and other things and not concentrating on winning.”  Shortstop Derek Jeter built a mansion in Florida during the offseason after negotiating a new three-year, $51MM deal.  When asked if the comment was directed at the team captain, Steinbrenner insisted that he wasn’t singling anybody out.

Oh man, I forgot about the “some guys are too busy building mansions” line. That was from Hank Steinbrenner, by the way. Not Hal. But still. The owner basically called out Jeter following their contentious contract talks. Derek was in the middle of building St. Jetersburg …

Derek Jeter mansion

… at the time and everyone knew it. It was no secret. Hank said he wasn’t calling out Jeter specifically, but come on, we’re not stupid. I don’t think we’ve heard from Hank since. The Yankees seem to keep him under wraps these days. Either way, that comment added some excitement to the first few days of Spring Training. It blew over pretty quickly.

February 23rd, 2011: Minor Moves: Sisco, Mujica, Russell, Armstrong

The Yankees and Braves each inked a veteran international free agent, with New York signing Cuban shortstop Yadil Mujica and Atlanta signing Australian outfielder-turned-pitcher Andrew Russell, a righty, tweets Eddy.

Mujica hit .229/.291/.278 in 137 games as a utility player at three levels from 2011-12. The Yankees released him and he hasn’t played professional baseball since, as far as I can tell. Not every player who leaves Cuba makes it to the big time here.

February 24th, 2011: Pitching Notes: Hudson, Buehrle, Carpenter

In today’s blog post at ESPN (Insider req’d), Buster Olney reports that the Yankees did not inquire about Tim Hudson. Yesterday we heard that the Braves aren’t looking to move one of their starters anyway.

This rumor never quite made sense. The Braves were good in 2010 (91-71) and they projected to be good in 2011 (89-73), and Hudson was one of their best pitchers. He had a 2.83 ERA (4.09 FIP) in 215 innings in 2010 and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting, plus he had two cheap years left on his contract ($9M each) with a cheap club option ($9M) for another year. And he had ten-and-five rights and could have vetoed any trade. I don’t remember what we were all talking about back then, but I have to think most were on board with acquiring Hudson if he were available. The Braves were good though. Why would they move their best starter?

February 25th, 2011: AL East Notes: Yankees, Werth, Pavano, Jays, Rays

Joel Sherman of The New York Post reports that the Yankees “have told their scouts to bear down on several teams they think could have starters available” in a trade this summer. The teams they are targeting include the Braves, Angels, A’s, White Sox, and Cardinals according to Sherman.

The Cardinals ended up needing to trade for a starter at the deadline that season — they got Edwin Jackson from the ChiSox — so they didn’t have starters to spare. The Braves and Angels were in contention in 2011 and needed all their starters, and while the A’s did have some extra arms, Billy Beane is known for seeking huge returns. Point is, finding help at midseason is tough. It’s best to do all your shopping during the offseason.

February 26th, 2011: Yankees Keeping Eye On Liriano

The Yankees are keeping a close eye on Twins starter Francisco Liriano, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today.  Meanwhile, the Twins are keeping tabs on Yankees prospects.

Liriano was very good in 2010 (3.62 ERA and 2.66 FIP) and I remember wanting him real bad that offseason, with or without Lee. Then he had a 5.09 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 2011. Liriano was so unpredictable earlier in this career. Giving up actual prospects to get him and then having him pitch like that would have only compounded the problem after missing out on Lee. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

Rosenthal: Yankees talked Jose Reyes trade with Rockies

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Early in the offseason the Yankees engaged the Rockies in trade talks about Jose Reyes, reports Ken Rosenthal. The Yankees were planning to play him at second base had a deal gone down. The Bombers eventually moved on and acquired Starlin Castro after a trade with Colorado failed to come together.

Here’s a little more on the trade talks from Rosenthal:

The teams talked about different ways to make a Reyes trade work, according to major-league sources. The Yankees, who wanted Reyes to play second base, would have required the Rockies to pay a significant portion of his remaining salary. But the two sides never got close to a deal, sources said.

Reyes, 32, is owed $48M over the next two seasons, assuming his $22M option for 2018 is bought out. He was arrested in Hawaii on domestic abuse charges in early-November — Reyes and his wife got into an argument and she ended up in the hospital with injuries to her face, neck, and leg — and his trial is scheduled to begin on Opening Day.

I have to think trade talks with the Rockies took place before that, so very early in the offseason. I know the Yankees used Aroldis Chapman‘s domestic dispute to get him at a bargain price, but man, Reyes put his wife in the hospital and he’s facing criminal charges. (Chapman is not.) Nope. Nope nope nope. Reyes has to be a non-option after that.

From a pure baseball perspective, Reyes is starting to slow down, and I don’t just mean on the bases. He hit .274/.310/.378 (80 wRC+) last year with seven homers and 24 steals, and his defense has been on the decline for a few years now. He did play some second base with the Mets very early in his career. It’s one thing to hope a young guy like Castro rebounds. Reyes might be in irreversible decline.

Earlier this offseason Brian Cashman said “if it’s old and expensive, it’s more likely that we didn’t check in on that,” so Reyes was one of the exceptions. Rosenthal says the Yankees wanted the Rockies to pay down a ton of that $48M, and in that case I guess Reyes qualifies as old and cheap. Either way, the Yankees didn’t get him. Phew.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Tim Lincecum

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)
(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

This is the time of the offseason when teams begin to bargain hunt and look for that low cost free agent to fill out the roster. The Yankees have added players like Brian Roberts, Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez later in the offseason for this reason the last few years. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s the nature of the beast.

The Yankees tend to target former stars with this moves, and one former star who remains available as a free agent is two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum. He’s no longer the pitcher he once was, but he’s still relative young (31) and his track record is as good as it gets, and that will surely land him a job at some point reasonably soon. Should the Yankees be interested? Let’s dive in.

The Performance

Lincecum’s career is hard to believe. He’s played eight full seasons in the big leagues now, and the first four were outstanding. It’s among the best four-year stretches in modern history. The last four seasons have been a total disaster though. Everything went south as soon as Lincecum turned 28. Look at this:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 bWAR fWAR
2008-11 881.2 2.81 2.81 26.9% 8.7% 47.1% 0.55 23.3 23.1
2012-15 615.2 4.68 4.08 21.6% 10.0% 45.9% 1.02 -2.7 3.1

How? How in the world does that happen? Lincecum went from a 2.74 ERA (3.21 FIP) in 2011 to a 5.18 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 2012. He owned a career 2.98 ERA (137 ERA+) following that 2011 season. That has since climbed to a 3.61 ERA (107 ERA+). Man. That’s nuts.

Anyway, last season was Lincecum’s least bad season of his four recent bad seasons. He had a 4.13 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 76.1 innings, his lowest ERA since 2011, though his strikeout (18.5%), walk (11.4%), and grounder (44.3%) rates were career worsts. You can’t help but look at this and cringe (his K% has also declined every year since 2008):

Tim Lincecum strikeoutsThere is no silver lining here. Lincecum was very bad last season, he’s been very bad for four seasons now, and there is nothing to indicate a return to form is coming. The Lincecum of 2008-11, the guy who was one of the most dominant and exciting pitchers in the world, is long gone. He doesn’t exist anymore. CC Sabathia has been great more recently than Lincecum. Sad but true. Check the stats if you don’t believe me.

The Stuff

People have been talking about the decline of Lincecum’s stuff for four years now, so it’s no secret. Velocity isn’t everything, we all know that by now, but it’s not nothing either. A 94-95 mph fastball is much different than an 87-88 mph fastball. It changes everything. Lincecum had the 94-95 mph heater back in the day. Now he has a fastball you could catch with your teeth.

Tim Lincecum velocity

Woof. That’s scary. Lincecum is not a big guy (he’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 170 lbs.) and he still has that max effort tornado delivery, which may have taken a physical toll over the years. Deliveries like that usually aren’t built to last. Look at Dontrelle Willis and Hideo Nomo. They had wild, twisty deliveries too, and they were both done as above-average pitchers by their late-20s as well.

Lincecum and the Giants were not oblivious to his declining stuff the last few years. They did alter his pitch selection, specifically by getting him to stay away from his four-seamer and emphasize his sinker and split-finger fastball. During that great 2011 season he threw 38.1% four-seamers, 14.9% sinkers, and 15.7% splitters. Last year it was 23.3% four-seamers, 25.2% sinkers, and 24.1% splitters. Yes, Lincecum threw more splitters than four-seamers in 2015.

The change in pitch selection hasn’t help a whole lot, though who knows, maybe Lincecum would have performed even worse without leaning on the sinker and split-finger. Here’s some video from last season so you can get an idea of what Lincecum is working with these days:

The electricity is gone. That sucks. I hate watching great players lose their greatness. The last four seasons have given us plenty of evidence — both statistical and the eye test — that Lincecum is little more than a replacement level starter at this point of his career. He crashed hard a few years back and I’m not sure why you’d expect any sort of significant rebound at this point.

Injury History

Despite his decline in stuff and performance, Lincecum has never had any kind of significant arm injury. The only arm problems he’s ever had were contusions (forearm in 2015, shoulder in 2010) due to batted balls, and a blister in 2013. The blister sidelined him for ten days in Spring Training. Put any 31-year-old pitcher in an MRI tube and you’ll find something scary, but Lincecum’s arm is structurally sound.

His hip, however, is not. Lincecum had surgery in September to repair a torn labrum and impingement in his left hip. It’s the same procedure Alex Rodriguez had back in 2013. Heck, the same doctor (Dr. Philippon in Colorado) operated on both A-Rod and Lincecum. Lincecum’s rehab is reportedly going well, and he’ll throw for teams in early-February to show he’s healthy, according to Jon Heyman.

“He’s throwing every day and says he’s doing great. He’s got no instability in his hip, and he’s enthusiastic about his progress,” said agent Rick Thurman to John Shea. Physical therapist Brad Schoenthaler added Lincecum is “doing great. He looks really strong. His hip pain and compensation patterns have cleared up. Everything’s coming back a lot quicker than we expected.”

Surgery to repair torn labrums and impingements in the hip is fairly new — they’ve gotten better at detecting these injuries, hence the uptick in recent years — and not many pitchers have had it. Jason Isringhausen was one of the first to have his hip repaired this way back in the day and he came back fine, with no loss of stuff or effectiveness. Brett Myers had it towards the very end of his career. That’s pretty much it. We don’t have much data on the long-term impact of the procedure on moundsmen.

Contract Projections

FanGraphs was the only site to give a contract estimate for Lincecum this offseason, and their crowdsourcing results spit out a one-year contract worth $6M. That’s the going rate for veteran reclamation project starters these days. Think Henderson Alvarez ($4.25M), Rich Hill ($6M), Kyle Kendrick ($5.5M), Aaron Harang ($5M), and Chris Capuano ($5M). They’ve all signed for similar amounts the last two offseasons. Lincecum is in that group now.

Keep in mind Lincecum has already made a ton of money in his career. The Giants paid him $89M over the last five seasons alone. He is presumably in a situation where he doesn’t need to chase every last dollar and can instead look for the best opportunity to get his career back on track. Lincecum is still only 31. I doubt his goal is to simply hang on. He wants to put himself in position to have a strong second phase of his career.

Wrapping Up

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

I have no interest in Lincecum as a starter. There’s no reason to think he will provide value in that role in 2016, even with a healthy hip. He’s been too bad for too long now. I do think Lincecum is interesting as a reliever, however. He hasn’t relieved much in his career but limiting him to one time through the lineup and letting him focus on his two best pitches could do the trick.

Lincecum has shown throughout his career that he’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so he might feel right at home in the bullpen. He’s pitched in high pressure games, he’s pitched in the World Series, he’s pitched for a team with championship expectations. He’s excelled in those situations. I don’t think there is any question about Lincecum’s toughness and competitiveness.

The question is about his stuff and whether he can get big league hitters out consistently. I’m guessing plenty of teams would take a flier on Lincecum as a reliever, which makes me think there’s close to no chance he comes to New York. Why would he come to tiny Yankee Stadium to try to rebuild value when he could go to a more favorable ballpark, especially if the Giants would take him back? He’s a rock star in San Francisco.

The Yankees have three open bullpen spots right now and more than enough internal candidates. Lincecum would be, at best, their fourth option out of the bullpen. I like the idea of using him in the Adam Warren role, as a guy who can go two innings at a time, if necessary. Whether Lincecum is open to that is another matter. I don’t like him much as a starter these days, but as a reliever he could be an interesting gamble. Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t seem like a good fit for Lincecum personally. Not at this point of his career.

Scouting The Trade Market: Aaron Hill

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Over the last few years the Yankees have made a habit of bringing in low cost, potentially washed up veterans late in the offseason to see if they can strike gold. Sometimes it works (Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez), sometimes it doesn’t (Vernon Wells). Such is life. With a one open bench spot — and a backup third baseman in theory only — the Yankees could make a similar move in the coming weeks.

One apparently washed up veteran who could be a fit for that open bench spot is Diamondbacks infielder Aaron Hill, who Jon Heyman says is on the trade block. Arizona wants to move him because they have a younger and better option in Brandon Drury. Hill hasn’t been good for two years now, but he could have something left to offer in a limited role as the 25th man on the roster. Should the Yankees be interested? Let’s see.

The Performance

Like I said, Hill has not been very good the last two seasons. He hit .244/.287/.367 (78 wRC+) with ten home runs in 541 plate appearances in 2014, then followed it up by hitting .230/.295/.345 (71 wRC+) with six home runs in 353 trips to the plate last season. Yikes. That’s a .238/.290/.359 (75 wRC+) batting line in his last 894 plate appearances.

The last time Hill was actually good was the 2013 season, when he hit .291/.356/.462 (124 wRC+) with 11 homers in 362 plate appearances. Interestingly, Hill pulled the ball much more often that season than he has the last two years. Check it out:

Aaron Hill batted balls

Hill’s soft and hard contact rates have held fairly steady the last four years and they’ve been better than average as well. (League averages are 18.6 Soft% and 28.6 Hard%.) The drop in pull rate is the biggest difference — Hill’s ground ball and fly ball rates have stayed in the same range the last few seasons — which could be an indication his bat is slowing. He might not be able to get around on the ball as quickly as he once did.

At the very least, you’d want someone in what would be Hill’s role to be able to hit pitchers of the opposite hand. He’s a right-handed batter, and, well, his numbers against lefties the last few seasons are not good at all.

Aaron Hill lefties

Hill actually hit righties (77 wRC+) better than lefties (58 wRC+) last season. And man, those walk and strikeout rates are bad news. They’re both going in the wrong direction.

It’s not even clear Hill is a potential platoon candidate at this point. Not great! Second basemen have been known to completely fall off a cliff in their early-30s, and it looks like that may have happened with Hill. Two years ago he was incredibly productive. The last two seasons have been a total disaster.

The Defense

Like most big league second baseman, Hill came up through the minors as a shortstop before shifting to the other side of the bag. He was a full-time second baseman from 2007-13 before the D-Backs stopped playing him everyday in the second half of 2014 because he stopped hitting. Hill has played a little over 1,350 innings at second base and roughly 350 innings at third base the last two years.

The defensive stats were always split on Hill at second base. UZR liked him there while DRS said he was below-average, for example. Based on the eye test, he seemed solid at second, not great but not a liability either. The stats are also split on his work at third base in that tiny sample. Point is, Hill is not some kind of standout gloveman like, say, Juan Uribe. He’s also not unplayable like Pedro Alvarez. You can run him out there at second and third bases on occasion and he won’t kill you.

Injury History

Hill doesn’t have any significant long-term injury concerns like, say, Alex Rodriguez‘s hips. He missed a few games last September with a hamstring pull and missed two months in 2013 when he took a pitch to the hand and broke a bone. Otherwise Hill has dealt with nothing more than random day-to-day stuff the last few seasons. A tight hammy, jammed fingers from sliding into a base, that sort of stuff.

Contract Status

The D’Backs gave Hill a three-year extension worth $35M back in February 2013 — he had one year left on his current deal at the time, so they tacked another three years on top of it — and so far that deal has been a disaster. It started in 2014. Woof. Hill is owed $12M next season, the final year on that contract. He’ll be a free agent next winter.

What Would It Take?

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

I don’t know what it would take, but I do know what it should take: almost nothing. An Aaron Hill trade should be similar to the Vernon Wells trade in that the acquiring team gives up nothing in particular and takes on a little bit of cash. The Yankees ate 25% of the money owed to Wells in that trade, and 25% of the money owed to Hill is $3M. Even that seems a little pricey. The D’Backs are in no position to demand something of value for Hill. They’re looking to shed as much of his contract as possible. That’s all.

Wrapping Up

There’s very little to like about Hill at this point of his career, right? He hasn’t hit in two years — not even lefties! — and while his defense is acceptable, it’s not enough to make up for the expected lack of offense. Plus he’s expensive. Hill would fill a need as a backup third baseman, but so what? He’s been so bad.

And yet, I can’t shake the feeling the Yankees might have some interest in Hill. They have a history of rolling the dice on veterans who looked to be done by sticking them in part-time roles, and Hill does fill a need and have a history of righty pop. And he’s familiar with the AL East from his days in Toronto. I feel like that can only help him.

In all likelihood, no, the Yankees will not pursue Hill, even though he figures to come so insanely cheap it would be close to a no risk move. If he stinks, cut him and move on. The D’Backs can’t expect actual prospects and/or significant salary relief in return. I don’t see much upside in Hill, even in a part-time role, but I’ve said that about several other veterans who have gone on to be productive in pinstripes.

Recent free agent signings clear up trade possibilities for Brett Gardner

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Over the last week, the two best unsigned free agent outfielders came off the board when Justin Upton signed with the Tigers and Yoenis Cespedes agreed to return to the Mets. Others like Alex Gordon and Denard Span signed a few weeks back, so, with Spring Training a little less than a month away, Dexter Fowler (tied to draft pick compensation) and Austin Jackson are the top available free agent outfielders.

The Upton and Cespedes signings took away two potential trade partners for Brett Gardner, though a trade with the Mets was never all that likely. I think Brian Cashman and Sandy Alderson would do a deal if they felt it improved their teams, but a crosstown trade might make the ownership groups a little queasy. No one wants to lose a trade to their geographic rival.

Anyway, with Upton and Cespedes (and Gordon and Span) off the board, the trade market for Gardner has become a little more clear. Gardner has been on the market all winter as the Yankees look for ways to land a young pitcher, though the crowded free agent outfield class complicated things. Now the free agent market isn’t so crowded. Here are the teams that could be in play for Gardner.

Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles did bring back Chris Davis recently, yet their outfield situation remains Adam Jones and some combination of Hyun-Soo Kim, Nolan Reimold, L.J. Hoes, and Rule 5 Draft pick Joey Rickard. And I guess Mark Trumbo too. There’s a clear fit for Gardner in Baltimore — the O’s could bat him leadoff and drop Manny Machado into a run-producing lineup spot — but the chances of a major Yankees-Orioles trade are tiny.

Chicago Cubs
The Cubbies have been after Gardner for a while — they originally wanted Gardner in the Starlin Castro trade — and they could still use a true center fielder and leadoff hitter. Chicago does have a full outfield at the moment (Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler), though Soler’s name has popped up trade rumors, so a Gardner deal could rekindle those efforts. But, again, the problem with a Cubs trade all winter has been their lack of young pitching to offer. I’d argue the Yankees should focus on getting the best possible talent for Gardner regardless of position, but they’re focused on arms.

Chicago White Sox
Reports indicate the White Sox were in on both Upton and Cespedes in recent weeks, though they were not willing to extend their offer beyond three years. The ChiSox have added both Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason in an effort to fix one of MLB’s least productive infields, and they shouldn’t stop there. They’re not good enough to be AL Central favorites and not bad enough to rebuild. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Jose Abreu in their primes, the White Sox should continue adding in an effort to contend, and Gardner would be a massive upgrade over Avisail Garcia. Quintana or Carlos Rodon for Gardner isn’t happening, but could Erik Johnson? That’s the extent of Chicago’s pitching depth.

Cleveland Indians
The Indians, again. They talked to the Yankees about an outfielder for pitcher trade earlier this winter, though obviously nothing came of it. Cleveland has plenty of pitching to spare and they need outfield help — Michael Brantley will be out until at least May following shoulder surgery, so their outfield mix right now is Rajai Davis, Abe Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Collin Cowgill — so it seems like there should be a match. The problem? The Indians operate with a very strict budget and don’t have room for a $13M a year outfielder. The Yankees would have to pay down some of Gardner’s salary, which of course means they should expect more in return. The Tribe likely have their eyes on cheaper outfield options.

Los Angeles Angels
It never seemed like the Angels were going to make a serious run at Cespedes or Upton. They have a clear need for a left fielder — the currently have a Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon planned, and yikes — and some pitching depth to spare, namely Nick Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Matt Shoemaker. Some are more available than others, obviously. (Heaney’s close to untouchable, I think.)

Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

I think there’s a real possibility for an Angels trade right now. Angels GM Billy Eppler is said to be a big Gardner fan and the Halos really need both a leadoff hitter and another lefty bat. Gardner would push Kole Calhoun into a middle of the lineup spot. He’s a great fit for them, assuming it works financially. (The Angels want to stay under the luxury tax threshold and have about $12M in wiggle room.) I don’t think I would call a trade likely, but I do think if Gardner is dealt, the Angels are the favorite to land him.

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have a lot of outfielders (Matt Holliday, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Brandon Moss) but no true center fielder. Grichuk’s the most athletic of the group so he has the center field job by default. St. Louis doesn’t strike me as the kind of organization to make a knee-jerk reactionary move, but it’s tough to ignore all the improvements the Cubs made this winter, so the Cardinals could feel some pressure to keep pace. Gardner would solve a clear roster problem and the Cards have some young pitching to offer (Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney). Money is no issue either — St. Louis bid big for Heyward and David Price, and were in the market for Chris Davis, yet they’ve only walked away with Mike Leake this offseason.

Washington Nationals
I’m not sure the Nationals are a possibility for Gardner following the Ben Revere trade. Yes, they made a run at Cespedes, so they’re still willing to add an outfielder, but Gardner and Cespedes are very different types of players. Washington might not want another left-handed hitting leadoff type with Revere on board. Never say never, but it appears the Nationals are no longer a match for Gardner following the Revere trade.

* * *

Keep in mind the Yankees are not the only team with a spare outfielder at the moment. The Dodgers would probably love to move Andre Ethier before he gains ten-and-five rights in April, plus the Rockies have four outfielders for three spots (Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Gerardo Parra). The outfield trade market is not limited solely to Gardner. Outfield needy teams have options.

Realistically, the Angels and Cardinals appear to be the best possible fits for Gardner. The White Sox, Cubs, and Indians are also potential suitors to a lesser extent. I still don’t expect the Yankees to trade Gardner before Spring Training, but at least now the trade market is a bit more clear with the big name free agents off the board. That also means there are fewer suitors, though there are still several clubs out there in need of outfield help.

Cashman doesn’t anticipate any significant moves before Spring Training

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees have completed six trades this winter, including acquiring two former All-Stars, yet it still feels like this has been a slow offseason. The team has yet to sign a big league free agent — they’ve never gone a full offseason without signing a free agent to a Major League contract — and it doesn’t sound like one is on the way either.

“I don’t (expect any more significant moves this offseason),” said Brian Cashman during a YES Network interview (video link). “I’m open to anything, but I don’t anticipate anything developing between now and pitchers and catchers showing up in Spring Training. Keep your fingers crossed. If there’s a good opportunity we’ll jump on it, but I think we’ve exhausted all opportunities so far.”

Cashman said the Yankees did “float a lot of weather balloons” this offseason, meaning trade proposals, including deals involving Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. “Nothing took place because nothing presented themselves as an opportunity to pull down. So, we move forward,” added the GM.

Obviously Cashman wouldn’t come out and say a big move is on the way, that doesn’t benefit the team at all, but it does truly seem like the Yankees might be done for the offseason. (Aside from small moves like waiver claims and whatnot.) Then again, the Yankees are very good at keeping things close to the vest, so who really knows?

At the moment the Yankees have no glaring needs on the MLB roster. They have an open bench spot and several open bullpen spots, but have plenty of internal candidates for both. Yes, they could stand to upgrade some positions. That’s true of every team. Right now though, the roster seems kinda set.

Curry: Indications are Yankees will not pursue Doug Fister

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to Jack Curry, indications are the Yankees will not pursue free agent right-hander Doug Fister. He’s said to be seeking a two-year deal worth $10M to $11M per season, and hey, in this market, who can blame him? You can’t get what you don’t ask for.

Fister, 31, battled injury and ineffectiveness last season. He had a 4.19 ERA (4.55 FIP) in 103 innings spread across 15 starts and ten relief appearances with the Nationals. His strikeout (14.0%) and ground ball (44.6%) rates were both way down as well. A forearm/flexor tendon injury sidelined him for a month at midseason.

Even at his peak, Fister was never much of a hard-thrower. He was one of those guys with a deep arsenal who located well and kept hitters off balance. Last year through, his fastball velocity dipped into the mid-80s as a starter, which is really scary (via Brooks Baseball):

Brooksbaseball-ChartA year ago at this time I thought Fister would be the Yankees’ top free agent target. For starters, they drafted him in the sixth round of the 2005 draft (he didn’t sign), so I figured he still had some supporters in the organization. Also, Fister is super tall (6-foot-8) and he never walks anyone (career 4.7 BB%), two traits the Yankees love.

Obviously the poor 2015 season changed everything. Fister is a reclamation project now, and reclamation project pitchers usually don’t sign with the Yankees unless they have no other option. (Think Bartolo Colon.) Yankee Stadium and the AL East is no place for a pitcher to rebuild value.

I do think Fister would be a good signing in the “you can never have too much pitching” sense, though it’s hard to see him as someone who moves the needle a whole lot. I do think he’s a bounceback candidate, but two years? Nah. The Yankees are said to be looking for a starter on a minor league contract. I don’t think they’ll do much more than that.