Archive for Mailbag
Five questions for you this week and they’re all good ones. Might be biased, but I this is a quality mailbag. Send us any questions or comments or whatever through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Many people asked: What about signing Brian McCann this offseason?
Not sure what sparked it, but we got a ton of McCann questions this week. I guess people are just sick of watching the team’s current catchers on a daily basis.
Anyway, the 29-year-old McCann is scheduled to become a free agent this winter for first time in his career. A right shoulder injury really hampered him last season (87 wRC+), but he’s rebounded very well from offseason surgery to produce a .258/.333/.472 (125 wRC+) line that is right in line with his career norms (117 wRC+). Surgery on the front shoulder is a scary thing for a hitter, but McCann has come back very well and hasn’t seen a slip in his performance. It’s encouraging if nothing else.
Elite catchers — if McCann isn’t considered elite, then he’s damn close — almost never hit the open market, so McCann will be one of the hottest commodities out there this winter. Yadier Molina signed a five-year, $75M extension last year and I think that’s the baseline for McCann. Yes, we’re comparing an extension to a free agent, but Molina is also the better player. I think 5/75 is in the ballpark at least. Seems reasonable enough to me.
Now, the problem with signing a soon-to-be 30-year-old catcher to a five-year contract is that you can’t expect him to catch full-time all five years. It could happen, but McCann would be the exception and not the rule. I think you have to go into the deal thinking he can catch full-time for the first two years, split the third year at catcher and first base, then split the fourth and fifth years at first base and DH. Maybe you get lucky and you get three years as a full-time catcher instead of two.
McCann makes a ton of sense for the Yankees for many reasons. First and foremost, he’s a massive upgrade over their current catchers. He’s better than all of them put together. Secondly, he’s a left-handed hitter who should see his production tick up with the move into Yankee Stadium. Third, he has plenty of experience with division and playoff races and all that stuff. And fourth, the timeframe works well. A young catcher like Austin Romine or J.R. Murphy could be broken in slowly these next few years a la late-1990s Jorge Posada, and if things break right down the line, Gary Sanchez will be able to step in right when McCann is turning into a pumpkin. He’s a great, great fit for New York.
Nick asks: Who is Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason?
For all intents and purposes — there are some exceptions, players drafted particularly young or old — it’s high school players from the 2009 draft and college players from the 2010 draft this year. International players who signed at 18 or younger prior to 2008 or signed at 19 or older prior to 2009 are eligible as well. It’s always tough to pin down the international guys because we usually don’t know the exact date they signed.
The Yankees already took care of one piece of Rule 5 Draft business by adding Murphy to the 40-man roster this month. He would have been eligible this year and obviously would have been protected. As best I can tell, the following players are also Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter: CF Slade Heathcott, RHP Shane Greene, RHP Bryan Mitchell, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Chase Whitley, and RHP Zach Nuding. That appears to be it among the legitimate prospects. Sanchez has at least one and possibly two more years to go before becoming eligible..
Heathcott is obviously going to be protected since he is one of the team’s top prospects. Greene, Kahnle, Burawa, and Whitley are all damn near MLB ready and would be prime Rule 5 Draft bait. All four would get picked if left unprotected. The Yankees floated Kahnle’s name in trade talks before the deadline (for both Alfonso Soriano and Michael Young), which leads me to believe they are leaning against not protecting him. They were trying to get something before losing him for nothing. Greene had the best year of those four and is the only one with a realistic chance of starting.
Mitchell has a great arm but it’s hard to believe he could stick on a 25-man roster all of next season. He’s someone who would get a look in Spring Training and be offered back, more than likely. Nuding too. That said, Jose Ramirez was in the same boat last year and he wound up being protected. The Yankees have been rather aggressive when it comes to protecting Rule 5 Draft guys in recent years — I feel like almost losing Ivan Nova to the Padres in 2008 scared them into protecting everyone — so I wouldn’t be surprised if they added Heathcott, Greene, Burawa, Whitley, and Mitchell to the 40-man this winter. Greene, Burawa, and Whitley would be up-and-down bullpen options as soon as next summer, if nothing else.
Kevin asks: As bad as the farm system was this year, doesn’t it seem just as likely next year could be a bounceback season? Say two of Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Heathcott bounce back, Sanchez stays steady, and Greg Bird and Rafael DePaula continue to progress, can’t you see next year we’re talking about a Top 10 system? This stuff seems to considerably vary year-to-year.
Definitely. This was a bad year for the farm system but there is a lot of potential room for improvement. Literally every team has those “if this guy bounces back, if that guy stays healthy, etc.” prospects, but the Yankees have more than most. They’re adding what amounts to five first round talents into the system as well: 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, LHP Ian Clarkin, RHP Ty Hensley, and LHP Manny Banuelos. The first three were this summer’s first rounders and will be playing in their first full pro season while Hensley (2012 first rounder) and Banuelos (2012 top prospect) will be returning from injury. Full years from SS Abi Avelino and RHP Luis Severino will help as well. A lot would have to break right — it all won’t, some of these guys will inevitably disappoint — but the farm system has a chance to take a major, major step forward in 2014.
Paul asks: When does Joe Girardi have to announce a starter for a game? Is he able to use his Phil Hughes/David Huff tandem to somehow get the opposing manager to start his lefty-heavy lineup while starting Huff instead of Hughes?
The rulebook says that the starting pitcher becomes official when the lineup cards are exchanged at home plate before the start of the game. At that point the listed starter must face at least one batter before he can be replaced like every other pitcher. So, if they wanted the other team to start their lefty-mashing lineup against Hughes and replace him with Huff, they would have to wait at least one batter.
That said, this isn’t all that practical because Huff will need some time to warm up and the other club would see him getting ready in the bullpen beforehand. There’s also a gamesmanship aspect to this. I don’t think something like this would go over well around the game. If Hughes were to get hurt? Sure. But otherwise … eh.
Justin asks: Two part Brendan Ryan question. Recently, the YES announcers have quoted Kevin Long saying he could “fix” Ryan’s swing. A) Do you think that he can bring him to respectability of maybe a .260 hitter? B) Is he a better 2014 option over Jhonny Peralta or Stephen Drew?
Long is just a hitting coach, not a miracle worker. Ryan has never been an adequate hitter — career .252/.303/.341 hitter … in Triple-A — and it’s hard to think Long could do anything that would suddenly transform him from a .238/.300/.321 career big league hitter into say, a .260/.320/.350 guy for even one year. It could happen, baseball is weird like that, but I don’t think there’s enough starting material here for that to happen.
As for 2014, I think Ryan would be my last resort at shortstop. Well, second to last ahead of Eduardo Nunez. (Sorry Eddie, I’m over you.) I prefer Drew — a slick defender and a Yankee Stadium-friendly lefty hitter — over Peralta by quite a bit among free agent options, but both guys would be real nice fits next year. Drew could play short while Peralta takes over at third for the presumably suspended Alex Rodriguez. I do think — and this is completely baseless, by the way, just a guess — the Yankees want to avoid Biogenesis/PED guys going forward though, so Peralta might be a non-option. Ryan’s been a nice little late-season pickup but I absolutely do not want that guy penciled in as the number one shortstop come Opening Day.
I’ve only got four questions for you this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at any time.
Anthony asks: If the Yankees sign Brendan Ryan in the offseason as insurance for Derek Jeter, do you think his defensive contributions would be more valuable than the light-hitting, terrible defense of Eduardo Nunez?
Oh yeah, I have very little doubt about that. We don’t even need to get into WAR to make the point. Nunez is a below-average hitter and a horrible defender. Ryan is a horrible hitter and an above-average (bordering on elite) defender. Let’s have some fun and use the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 is average. Nunez is what, a 40 hitter and a 30 defender while Ryan is a 20 hitter and a 70 defender? I suppose Nunez could turn into a 50 hitter with some speed and contact-related BABIP luck, but that’s being a little too nice.
If I had to pick between these two, Ryan would be my everyday shortstop. The Yankees would need to boost their offense in other spots (right field, catcher, DH) to compensate for the noodle bat though. In a perfect world, neither guy starts next year. The team should look for a better, legitimate everyday option this winter. A more long-term solution. That won’t be easy to find and definitely won’t come cheap, but that’s the corner the Yankees have painted themselves into thanks to an unproductive farm system.
Vicki asks: What’s with park effects? How can we call it a stat when it changes significantly season to season, yet the park dimensions stay the same?
Park factors can be calculated in different ways and they’re all complicated. Long story short: they show how many runs are scored at one park compared to all other parks. For the long and painful to read answer, here’s how Baseball-Reference calculates their park factors. Like I said, they’re complicated. All sorts of adjustments are made.
Park factors are like just about every other stat in that they fluctuate from year to year. Robinson Cano is a lifetime .308 hitter, but he had one year where he hit .342 and another where he hit .271. Did his talent level change those two years? No, other stuff (injuries, mechanical funk, etc.) played a role. Park factors are the same way. They don’t change because of the dimensions, those are fixed and don’t change year to year (unless the team changes them), they change because of everything else. Something like the weather — a particularly hot summer in New York would boost the offense at Yankee Stadium even more, for example — or even the way a team stores their baseballs can change the way a park plays. There’s a million variables that come into play.
I treat park factors the same way I treat defensive stats. I use them directionally rather than for a hard, exact number. If a player has a +10.5 UZR and +8 DRS, I don’t take those exact numbers to heart, but I do consider the player to be an above-average defender. The system isn’t accurate enough yet to take those run totals at face value. Park factors can be used directionally as well. We know Yankee Stadium is a very hitter friendly park overall, it’s can just be slightly more or less hitter friendly in a given year. Same thing with Dodgers Stadium being a pitcher’s park or Progressive Field being neutral. Remember, single season park factors are based on an 81-game sample. That’s not much. You have to look at the overall picture, like Cano being a true talent .308 hitter and not a .342 hitter because that’s what he hit one random year.
Adam asks: Does Corban Joseph getting “called up” and put on the 60-day DL mean that he gets paid the MLB minimum for the last few weeks of the season? Does he get per diem too?
Yes, Joseph definitely gets paid a Major League salary and per diem (for road games) while on the 60-day DL these last few weeks of the season. He also collects service time. Being on the DL is exactly like being on the active 25-man roster with regards to salary and contract status and all that. Joseph was called up on September 6th, so by my unofficial calculation he’ll receive $72,592.59 in salary, $1,274 in per diem (13 road games at $98 per game), and 24 days of service time this month. Pretty sweet gig if you can get it.
Galla’s projection had the Super Two cutoff at 2.119 in April, but it has since moved two days based on the timing of call-ups this season. The Super Two cutoff is set at the top 22% of players with fewer than three full years of service time. Pineda is still working his way back from shoulder tightness won’t be joining the team this month, so he’s done accruing service time this year. I estimated his service time at 2.099 last month, but that is just an estimation. He’s still well short of the Super Two cutoff though, even if my number is off by 10-15 days. Pineda will be a regular pre-arbitration player in 2014. His free agency has been pushed back from after 2016 to after 2017 though, and that’s most important.
There are two other Yankees on the Super Two bubble: Nunez and David Huff. Nunez came into the year at 1.117, and since he hasn’t gone to the minors at all this season, he’ll finish at 2.117 of service time. Five days short of the projected cutoff. Huff came into the year at 1.166, and based on my estimation, he’ll spend 63 days in the big leagues this season between the Indians and Yankees. That puts him at 2.229. I could be off by a few days, obviously. This stuff is tough to figure out. Neither guy is anything special and they wouldn’t get a huge arbitration raise anyway, but those handful of days are worth several hundred thousand dollars in terms of salary next year.
Five questions and four answers this week. If you ever want to send us anything, mailbag questions or links or comments, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Dylan asks: If the Yankees re-sign Hiroki Kuroda next year, could they not have him start the season until end of May so he doesn’t hit a wall? They could have him get ready for the season in Extended Spring Training games. Has this ever happened in the league before for an older pitcher (besides when Andy Pettitte came out of retirement, but that wasn’t intentional for the Yankees)?
Although they didn’t sign over the winter with the intention of joining the rotation at midseason, this is basically what 2007 Roger Clemens, 2009 Pedro Martinez, and both 2012 and 2013 Roy Oswalt did. They didn’t find many offers in the offseason and waited until injuries struck and some contender needed pitching help in the middle of the year. Kuroda won’t have that problem this winter.
I do think there is some merit to the idea of holding him back until May — there was some talk of doing with Stephen Strasburg last year since everyone knew he was going to be shut down at some point — but games in April are just as important as games in September. Do you prefer to tack on the wins early or play catch-up late? The guy replacing him in April probably won’t be all that good, so I prefer the former. I think the solution would be lighten Kuroda’s workload from April through July by using off-days to skip or push back starts and take advantage of the All-Star break to give him close to two full weeks off. A phantom DL trip, basically.
Either way, I don’t like the idea of having one of the team’s best starters intentionally skipping a full month or two of the season. I’d rather just take my chances and hope he doesn’t hit a wall in that case. If you’re planning on getting say, 25 starts out of him instead of 32, I would prefer to get the 25 as soon as possible — you could always trade for pitching help at the deadline — and not run the risk of an injury turning those 25 starts into 12 starts or something.
JCK asks: If Phil Hughes dominates out of the bullpen down the stretch, do the Yankees have a chance to bring him back as a reliever in 2014? It would be nice to have 2009 bullpen Hughes in a post-Mariano Rivera world.
I think the chances of the Yankees re-signing Hughes as a reliever are small but still better than they are of them bringing him back as a starter, which are basically zero. There are only 22 games left in the season and I don’t think that’s enough time for Phil to show he can be truly dominant out of the bullpen like he was in 2009, especially since each game is so important and guys like Preston Claiborne and David Robertson will soak up the more crucial innings. Hughes might just be a mop-up man this month. Heck. Joe Girardi went to Joba Chamberlain over him last night. So yeah, I do think there’s a chance he’ll come back of a reliever, but that chance is still very small. Hard to see Phil returning to the Bronx next year in any role.
Tarik asks: Can you put Greg Bird’s season into perspective? Is he a legitimate hitting prospect? Is 20 too old for Low-A? Thanks.
Marc asks: Is there any chance Greg Bird could fake the corner OF and spot starts at catcher? Like a poor man’s Ryan Doumit, cause his bat is legit and it would be great to get the most value outta him.
Going to lump these two together. First things first: 20 is absolutely not too old for Low-A. It’s perfectly age appropriate if not slightly young for the level (he turns 21 in November).
Secondly, Bird hit .288/.428/.511 in 573 plate appearances this year, a 170 wRC+ than was the eighth best in all of minor league baseball among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for their league’s batting title (not counting the unaffiliated Mexican League). Four of the seven guys ahead of him were in short season leagues with fewer than 260 plate appearances (including Gosuke Katoh at 172 wRC+), another was a 29-year-old journeyman in Triple-A (Chris Colabello at 196 wRC+), and the other two were two of the best prospects in the game (George Springer at 174 wRC+ and Miguel Sano at 172 wRC+). So, simply put, Bird was one of the absolute best hitters in all of minor league baseball this year regardless of age and level. He mashed.
Tyler Austin hit .322/.400/.559 (~163 wRC+) last season, which actually might be more impressive than Bird’s season considering he was promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa at midseason. The talent pool in the second half of full season leagues tends to get watered down because all the best performers get promoted and replaced by guys coming up from a lower level. Jesus Montero‘s best minor league season was 2009, when he hit .337/.389/.562 (~169 wRC+) between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton as a 19-year-old. That’s definitely more impressive than what Bird this year in my opinion considering his age and the levels. Before that, you have to go all that way back to the holy grail of minor league offensive seasons to find a better performance in the Yankees system: 1999 Nick Johnson, who hit .345/.525/.548 with Double-A Norwich. Minor league wRC+ data doesn’t go back that far, but I think it’s safe to say that was close to if not above 200 wRC+. So yeah, Bird mashed in a way very few others have in recent years.
Earlier this week, Jim Callis said Bird has “legitimate power” while Keith Law added “he does have plus raw power,” so we have some consensus there. The Yankees would have tried him in the corner outfield before sticking him at first base if he was capable of doing it, but the back problem that moved him out from behind the plate might be making his mobility an issue. Bird has to prove he can hit at the upper levels of the minors, which makes him no different than every other Single-A prospect in the history of the universe. The offensive bar is very high for first base prospects though — it takes Prince Fielder or Eric Hosmer potential to be a truly elite first base prospect — so Bird will continue to get the short end of the prospect stick. He hit way more than was reasonably expected this season, now let’s just sit back and see what we does next year with High-A Tampa before we start worrying about where he fits into the team’s long-term plans. To be honest, Doumit pretty much sucks and I’m hoping Bird is something much better than that. Versatility is overrated.
Jon asks: With Pete O’Brien being an error machine at third, do you think he could still move to RF? He should have the arm and his bat should easily profile right?
O’Brien runs like a catcher, so I don’t see how a corner outfield spot would work. Most likely, he’ll be a first baseman/DH who can fill in at third or catcher in a real pinch. He’s a prospect because of his big right-handed power, which is something that is in very short supply these days. Righty hitting/righty throwing first baseman is not the sexiest profile in the world, especially considering there are concerns about O’Brien’s approach at the plate. The best right/right first basemen in recent history — Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt, Paul Konerko, Allen Craig, Derrek Lee, Kevin Youkilis, Richie Sexson — all had disciplined approaches that upped their offensive production. More than a few of those guys (Pujols, Lee, Youkilis, Sexson) were top notch defenders as well. The only member of that recent right-right first base group who has stuck in the big leagues despite a poor approach is Mark Trumbo. Trumbo is a flawed hitter and an mediocre player overall because of his defense, but I would be thrilled if that’s what O’Brien turned into. I’d sign up for it today.
Just four questions this week but they’re really good ones. The best way to send us anything is through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Travis asks: Should the Yankees look to sign Scott Kazmir for 2014?
It’s hard to believe Kazmir is still only 29 years old. He won’t even turn 30 until January. Kazmir missed essentially all of 2011 and 2012 due to shoulder and back injuries before showcasing himself in an independent league. He turned a non-roster invite from the Indians into a rotation spot in Spring Training, beating out Daisuke Matsuzaka. Kazmir has pitched to a 4.25 ERA and 4.00 FIP in 125 innings across 23 starts this year, his best season since 2009 and a very impressive comeback. He deserves some major props for sticking with it.
Kazmir hasn’t gotten many ground balls (40.3%) and he has been homer prone (1.22 HR/9 and 12.2% HR/FB) this summer, but his strikeout (8.28 K/9 and 21.6 K%) and walk (2.95 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%) rates are really good. He’s handled left-handed batters very well (.242 wOBA and 2.22 FIP), righties not so much (.361 wOBA and 4.80 FIP). After all the injuries, the thing you worry about most is the quality of his stuff. He uses his two-seam fastball far more than four-seamer at this point and the velocity has been fine all year:
It’s not the blazing upper-90s heat he had back in the (Devil) Rays days, but that will work. His trademark slider averages 82.8 mph and more importantly, PitchFX says it’s averaging 4.6 inches of movement overall. That’s in line with 2007-2009 (the first years of PitchFX) and better than what he showed in 2010. Having seen him pitch a few times this year, I’m comfortable saying it isn’t the same wipeout slider that helped him lead the AL in strikeouts at age 23. The pitch is more effective than it has been in years, however. Kazmir also works with an upper-70s/low-80s changeup.
When I first read the question, my initial reaction was “no way.” I mean, c’mon. It’s Scott Kazmir. He hasn’t been effective in like forever. But, when I saw that he was missing bats, limiting walks, sustaining his fastball velocity, and getting more break on his slider, I have to say that I’m intrigued. I would be very skeptical about giving him a multi-year contract though. Yes, he is only 29, but he’s got an ugly (arm) injury history and he is still a homer/fly ball prone lefty with a massive platoon split. Lots of red flags. There’s a non-zero chance he could turn back into a top shelf starter, but I think you have to consider him more of a back-end guy at this point. The Yankees will need starters this winter and while Kazmir might not be the most ideal solution, he’s someone worth considering.
Damix asks: Josh Johnson was both terrible and injured this year, but given the budget and rotation uncertainty, is he worth a shot for next year?
Johnson, who turns 30 in January like Kazmir, was indeed awful (6.20 ERA and 4.61 FIP) in 81.1 innings across 16 starts for the Blue Jays this year. He missed a little more than a month with a triceps issue earlier this season and is now done for the year with a forearm strain. Johnson had Tommy John surgery way back in 2007 (has it really been that long already? geez) and missed most of 2011 with shoulder inflammation. He had a 3.81 ERA and 3.41 FIP in 191.1 innings with the Marlins last summer, and that’s the guy Toronto was hoping they’d get in 2013.
Unlike Kazmir, Johnson is injured right now and will head into the free agent market as an unknown. There’s still time for Kazmir to break down, but that’s besides the point. It’s been three years since Johnson was truly dominant in a full season of work, but he did miss bats (9.18 K/9 and 21.6 K%) and get ground balls (45.1%) for the Blue Jays this year. He also gave up a ton of homers (1.66 HR/9 and 18.5% HR/FB) and got slaughtered by right-handed batters (.441 wOBA). If they could get him on a one-year contract with a low base salary and bunch of incentives, great. The Yankees won’t have a ton of money to spend under the $189M luxury tax threshold and they can’t afford to spend $10M or so on a reclamation project pitcher. They need some more certainty.
Michael asks: Please give me a statistical reason to think that Dante Bichette Jr. is not done as a prospect.
First things first: statistics are just a small part of the prospect pie. The further you get away from the big leagues, the less meaningful the stats become. The scouting report should always come first in my opinion.
That said, it’s tough to defend DBJ at this point. He hit .248/.322/.331 (84 wRC+) with three homers in 522 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston last season, was sent back there this year, and responded by hitting .210/.291/.322 (80 wRC+) with ten homers in 470 plate appearances. The increase in power (.083 vs. .112 ISO) comes with an increase in strikeouts (18.0 vs. 24.0 K%). Bichette, a righty bat who turns 21 next month, managed a .250/.319/.440 line in 94 plate appearances against lefties this year, so I guess that’s the reason to think he’s still a prospect. He was productive against southpaws. Things are looking grim, but I wouldn’t write him off yet at this age.
Stephen asks: Half-embarrassed to admit this, but I had no idea Alfonso Soriano was close to 400 homeruns. I figured at the end of his career he may be closing in on that, but at this point, he is close to making 500 a real possibility. Is Soriano a Hall of Famer? I have honestly never even considered the possibility because he has only had two really good years, but his career numbers are pretty solid. He’ll also probably get his 300th stolen base in the next year or two as well.
Soriano hit his 400th career homer on Tuesday night, making him only the 43rd player in history with 2,000 career hits and 400 homers. He’s only the sixth with those two milestones plus 250 career steals. Only 24 of those 43 players are in the Hall of Fame, but I count ten more who will be or should be enshrined at some point: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Piazza. A few others are on the bubble. Obviously guys like Bonds, A-Rod, and Manny have no prayer of getting into the Hall at this point, but their bodies of work are Hall of Fame worthy.
Anyway, out of those 43 players in the 2,000-hit/400-homer club, Soriano’s career 28.2 WAR ranks … 43rd. I guess that makes sense since he just joined the club, but it goes to show how much of his offensive value was squandered on defense over the year. Soriano should zoom passed Paul Konerko (28.7 WAR) at some point, but the next guy on the list is Carlos Delgado (44.4 WAR). That would be very hard to do at age 37 (38 in January). He hasn’t hit fewer than 20 homers since his rookie year in 2001 and even though he’s about to have his second consecutive 30+ homer season, it will probably take him at least four and possibly five seasons to get to 500 career. Even if he does, I don’t think 500 homers is an automatic ticket into the Hall of Fame anymore.
I remember being so enthralled by Soriano when he first broke into the league because he was this rail-thin guy who huge power and big speed. He was so exciting. It’s hard to believe his career is coming to an end now and even harder to believe how much he’s accomplished. Four-hundred homers? Two-thousand hits? Almost 300 steals? Did anyone realistically think that was possible when he was a rookie? Crazy. Soriano is a career .272/.321/.504 (113 OPS+) hitter who’s had a brilliant career. A brilliant career at is just short of Cooperstown worthy in my eyes.
Just four questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week. Mailbag questions, links, comments, whatever.
Travis asks: Is there a case to be made for trading Brett Gardner in the offseason? His calling card is his speed and once that goes, I believe his production for the team will be severely limited. The Yankees will have Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte and Slade Heathcott (presumably) on the roster for 2014, which could make Gardner expendable. He may or may not get the Yankees a draft pick after 2014, depending on his production and if his legs hold up and he doesn’t get hurt. Add in his age (30, 31 after next season) and you have the makings for a trap contract (if an extension is given). What are your thoughts?
There’s no one on the roster I wouldn’t trade right now. The Yankees don’t have a Mike Trout or a Clayton Kershaw, that untouchable player you can build around for the next half-decade. I very much agree Gardner will be close to useless once his speed slips, which is why I wouldn’t bother trying to sign him to an extension. He’s not all that young, like you said. Based on what we know right now, I’d be completely fine with letting him walk as a free agent after next season. Let someone else pay for his decline years.
Trading Gardner has more to do with the possible return than anything. What can one year of an above-average but not elite center fielder get you on the open market? Is last winter’s Shin-Soo Choo trade comparable? He was a much better hitter but a fraction of the defender and completely unproven in center. The Indians turned him into a top 20 pitching prospect (Trevor Bauer). One year of David DeJesus — a much more comparable player to Gardner than Choo — brought back absolutely nothing (Vin Mazzaro!) a few years ago. Coco Crisp fetched a then above-average big league reliever (Ramon Ramirez) and is probably the best comparison. Teams have done a better job of valuing defense since then, however.
Trading Gardner makes sense in a vacuum, but who would the Yankees play in center in his place? Sign Jacoby Ellsbury? Re-sign Curtis Granderson? I don’t think Ichiro can do it full-time and Wells sure as hell can’t. Mesa will be out of options next year and likely cut from the roster before the end of the Spring Training. Heathcott won’t be ready either. There’s a lot of variables here, it’s not like trading Gardner would be dealing from a position of depth. If some team wants to overpay, sure, move him. If not, he’s more valuable to them next year than anything they’ll probably get back in a deal.
Andrew asks: Whatever happened to the Cuban pitcher the Phillies supposedly signed but then never agreed to a contract with? He’s still out there, any idea why and if the Yankees could get him to fill in next year?
Andrew’s talking about 26-year-old Miguel Alberto Gonzalez, who agreed to a six-year contract worth more than $50M with Philadelphia back in July. The contract fell apart a few weeks later over concerns about his elbow, specifically bone spurs. He had some removed two years ago and is said to have made a full recovery, but apparently there was enough of a concern on the Phillies’ part to call off the agreement. The two sides could always work out a new deal. I have no idea if Gonzalez could step into the rotation and help the Yankees next year, but he’s still out there if they want to sign him. Six years and $50M is a ton of money though.
Travis asks: Could the Yankees make a play for David Freese if Alex Rodriguez is suspended for all or most of 2014?
Get ready for a winter full of Freese-to-New York rumors, ’cause they’re coming. Ken Rosenthal (video link) recently said the Cardinals are expected to shift Matt Carpenter to third base (his natural position) with top infield prospect Kolten Wong taking over at second (his natural position) next season, making Freese available in what figures to be a thin third base market. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? As long as Wong doesn’t expect, I suppose.
Freese, 30, is hitting .266/.342/.380 (106 wRC+) with six homers in 412 plate appearances this year, his worst season as a big leaguer. He missed a few weeks with a back strain earlier this summer and has a long injury history, including heel (2009), right ankle (2010), left ankle (2010), and hand (2011) surgeries. Freese will earn $3.15M this year and is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2015, so he’ll be relatively affordable. Given his age and injury history, this isn’t someone you look to sign long-term. Ideally he’d be a two-year stopgap between A-Rod and Eric Jagielo, right? We can dream.
I’m not quite sure how to value Freese in a trade at this point. He’s not particularly young, his hot corner defense is just okay (awful this year by the various metrics), his power has vanished (.114), he’s injury prone, and he’s touted as a clutch god because of his work in the postseason two years ago. That last part is why a ton of people will overvalue him, kinda like Andre Ethier. Ethier hit some walk-off homers a few years ago and suddenly he became a star when the actual production said otherwise. Yes, the Yankees should look into acquiring Freese if he becomes available, I just don’t know what an appropriate package would be. He’s a solid regular at a hard-to-fill position, not a star or a true impact player.
Jeb asks: Austin Aune’s season has been … interesting. I’m assuming he has a decent arm because he started at SS and had a chance to play QB. Is there a chance that he could be converted to a pitcher?
Interesting is a nice way to put it. The 19-year-old Aune is hitting .177/.209/.234 (~25 wRC+) with a ridiculous 67 strikeouts (!) in 148 plate appearances. That’s a 45.3% strikeout rate (!!!). Remember, the Yankees gave this kid a double-slot $1M bonus as their second round pick (89th overall) just last summer. He was raw because he was a top quarterback recruit who split time between the two sports in high school, but raw doesn’t explain that. I hope the Yankees have Aune working on some swing adjustments because that would at least explain the extreme contact problems. I wouldn’t pull the plug on him as a hitter yet, he is still just a teenager with only 311 pro plate appearances to his credit, but yeah. This isn’t exactly encouraging.
Got five questions for you this week. The best way to send us anything is the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
John asks: Looking ahead to next year (because that’s sort of all we have at this point) the Yankees clearly need another outfielder (or two). As such, being purely hypothetical here, would you rather have Curtis Granderson at 1/$14M, Carlos Beltran at 2/$30M or Shin-Soo Choo at 4/$60M?
Of those three choices, I’m definitely taking Granderson on a one-year, $14M deal. Beltran would be my second choice and Choo a distant third. Choo sure gets a lot of attention for an injury prone platoon player who isn’t all that good on defense, doesn’t he? He’s awesome against right-handed pitchers, among the best in the world, but there’s much more to life than that.
Anyway, Beltran is still a really good hitter, the the big drop in walk rate and overall rise in swing-and-miss rate are major red flags for a 36-year-old hitter. I’ve explained this before. Add in his injury history and the overall risk that comes with guys closer to 40 than 30, and I’m very skeptical about giving him a multi-year pact. I don’t think it would be a disaster if the Yankee signed Beltran to a two-year, $30M contract (that would be a nice raise from his current two-year, $26M deal), but it’s not a slam dunk at this point.
Granderson, even at a premium salary, on a one-year contract is a pretty great deal. All of his injuries this year were flukes, he’s shown his old power, and he’s not at the point where you’d expect him fall of a cliff at age 32 (33 in March). The Yankees have enough really old veteran players on multi-year pacts and I really don’t want to see them add another to the pile at this point. Granderson for one year limits the risk and gives them a productive player. He’s the lesser of three evils, in this scenario.
Nick asks: Suggested post (motivated mainly by Jon Morosi’s column): Hiroki Kuroda‘s chances of winning the Cy Young. Consider the contenders and say what Hiroki realistically needs to do between now and season end to be in with any kind of shot.
I looked at the AL Cy Young race a little more in depth at CBS last week, so I’ll point you to that rather than regurgitate it all here. Long story short: there are a lot of legitimate candidates in the AL but Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer stand out from the pack right now. Chris Sale deserves to be in that group as well, but he won’t get much love thanks to his crummy teammates.
Kuroda has the great 2.33 ERA and AL-best 174 ERA+, but his record (11-7) isn’t anything special, his strikeout rate (6.40 K/9 and 18.1 K%) is below-average, and his FIP (3.25) is very good but not on par with the other Cy Young candidates. To make a serious push for the award, pretty much one thing has to happen: the Yankees need to win his starts. A lot of them. He’ll have to maintain that ERA/FIP and finish the year with an 18-8 record or something to have a serious shot. That’s the easiest way to do it.
Even then, it’s probably not enough. Remember, for a Yankee to win a major award, they need to have an insanely great year that is far better than the other candidates. Think 2007 Alex Rodriguez. There’s definitely a Yankee bias at work in the voting. Kuroda’s been awesome, but his performance this year is still a notch between Felix, Scherzer, and Sale for me. Those guys have been outrageously good.
Brian asks: I saw a little blurb on MLBTR regarding Mike Trout and the Angels. Trout is obviously worth far more than his current league minimum contract, but if the Angels sit back and decide to continue to paying him league minimum, could Trout theoretically hold out like they do in football? Is there any baseball precedent to that?
There is no precedent for that in baseball as far as I know, certainly not recently. If he were the hold out, I imagine the team would suspend him without pay, which would do some damage to his image. It happens. At this point of his career, Trout is stuck making whatever the Angels are willing to pay him. Is it fair? Of course not. But that’s the salary system that was collectively bargained.
Trout has one more year at (or near) the league minimum before becoming eligible for arbitration, when he’ll at least have some say in his salary. He can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 campaign. I don’t know if Trout will hold enough of a grudge to pass on a long-term contract if the Halos make an offer, but it would surprise me. He’s already in nine-figure contract extension territory and that’s hard to pass up.
Rosco asks: I know a lot of people are praising MLB for suspending players for PEDs associated with the Miami clinic, but shouldn’t we worry that none of them tested positive? How many other players are using that we do not know about because it seems the testing systems has some holes?
That’s the part going completely unnoticed. Not a single player tested positive and a local newspaper in Miami managed to get wind of the scandal before the league. That’s the nature of the beast though, the drugs will always be ahead of the tests. There’s no doubt the recent suspensions send a strong message — we’re going to go to great lengths to find you if you’ve been cheating! — but that alone won’t be enough of a disincentive for many players. The only thing MLB can do is test and test, that’s all. Sports will never be completely clean.
Lee asks: I saw these stats on defensive shifts a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t seen any commentary on them anywhere, and would love to hear your thoughts. The Yankees are THIRD in the use of defensive shifts? Wow, I guess I’ve been so mesmerized by how bad their offense is that I didn’t notice! But even more incredible, ZERO runs saved???? That’s almost funny — they just can’t get anything right this year.
Yeah, the Yankees definitely seem to suck at shift. Anecdotally, they seem to pitch away from the situation quite a bit, meaning they pitch outside with soft stuff while playing the hitter to pull. That doesn’t make sense. The defense on the left side of the infield has been terrible pretty much all year, which is another factor. I give them credit for trying — it’s interesting that four of the top five shifting teams are from the AL East, no? — but I’m not sure they have the personnel to pull off some fancy shifts at this point. The infield defense is too immobile.
Got six questions for you this week, so this is one of the longer mailbags we’ve had. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything throughout the week.
Joe asks: Any chance the Red Sox decline their team option on Jon Lester and if so should the Yankees sign him? Also what are your thoughts on Tim Hudson for them next year?
The Red Sox do have quite a bit of pitching depth going into next year, with Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, and Ryan Dempster all under contract for 2014 with youngsters like Allen Webster and Brandon Workman waiting in Triple-A. Lester, who is still only 29, had an awesome start to the season but has been terrible for more than two months now. Following last night’s outing, he is sitting on a 4.38 ERA and 3.97 FIP, which isn’t much better than what he did last year (4.82 ERA and 4.11 FIP)
Lester has not been a truly dominant ace since 2010 (3.25 ERA and 3.13 FIP), so I don’t know if he’s a guy who simply peaked early or what. He’s definitely worth examining more in depth, in a non-mailbag setting. The Red Sox hold an affordable $13M option for next year, and when you consider that Ervin Santana was terrible last season (5.16 ERA and 5.63 FIP) yet still found a team willing to pick up his $13M option, I’m guessing Boston will pick up Lester’s and look to trade him rather than cut him loose entirely. If they do cut him loose though, I would definitely want the Yankees to look into him. Reasonably young AL East proven lefties are a rare commodity.
As for Hudson, I’m very wary of a 38-year-old coming off a major ankle injury like that. He was good but not great before getting hurt (3.97 ERA and 3.46 FIP) and it’s fair to wonder how he can rebound. Even though he’s not a pitcher, we needn’t look further than Derek Jeter to see how hard it can be for an older player to come back from a traumatic ankle injury. If Hudson’s willing to take a low-base, incentive-heavy one-year contract with no guarantees, sure, look at him. I just wouldn’t want the Yankees to sign him with the idea that he’ll automatically step into the rotation.
Alex asks: If Alex Rodriguez were to get injured this year, say a pulled hammy, can he decide to start serving his suspension before the appeal is heard to get some games out of the way and miss less time next year if the suspension is reduced?
Sure, A-Rod can drop the appeal at any time and start serving the suspension right away. I don’t think he would in the case of injury because he would still get paid while on the DL. He won’t get paid during the suspension and that’s what this is all about. Alex isn’t stupid, he knows his career is probably over after the suspension. He’ll try to stay around as long as possible to collect as much of his contract as he can, especially since it’s front-loaded and his salary goes down the next few years.
Donny asks: How about Mark Reynolds (DFA’d)? He sure has sucked since May 1st, but so has every other third basemen we have run out there this year.
I can’t imagine many teams have cut their leading homerun hitter, but that’s what the Indians did when they designated Reynolds for assignment yesterday. He is hitting .205/.307/.373 (93 wRC+) with 15 homers on the year, but it has definitely been a tale of two seasons. Reynolds hit .254/.340/.503 with 12 homers in his first 50 games and .173/.272/.235 with three homers in his last 49 games. He’s been awful since the end of May.
That said, Reynolds is useful. Limited, but useful. The just-turned-30-year-old has hit .215/.333/.411 (111 wRC+) against lefties this year, plus he can play the two corner infield spots. “Play” the two corner infield spots, if you catch my drift. He’s a bad defender and he strikes out a ton (32.0 K%), but he hits lefties and works the count very well (11.2 BB%). The Yankees could send David Adams, who is unlikely to play all that much anyway, back to Triple-A Scranton and platoon Reynolds at first with Lyle Overbay. It’s probably too late for a move like this to impact the playoff push, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be an upgrade.
Paul asks: Let’s assume for a moment that the season ended today. Where would the Yankees pick in the draft, and is it a strong draft this year? I’m looking for any kind of silver lining to this season, help me out here.
The Yankees currently have the 14th best (16th worst) record in baseball, so they would have the 17th overall pick in next summer’s draft if the season ended today. The Blue Jays have a compensation pick for failing to sign this year’s tenth overall pick (RHP Phil Bickford), which is why it’s the 17th overall pick and not the 16th. New York had the 17th overall pick in the 2005 draft (SS C.J. Henry), which they got from the Phillies as compensation for losing Tom Gordon. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1993 for the last time they picked that high (RHP Matt Drews, 13th overall).
As for the quality of next year’s class, here’s what an unnamed scout said to Chris Crawford (subs. req’d) back in June:
“On paper, it’s a much better crop (than 2013),” an NL scout said. “It’s not the strongest group of advanced bats again, but there’s so much more depth than there has been the past two years, particularly with the high school hitters and even more particularly up the middle. This year, other than J.P. Crawford, there isn’t one high school shortstop I would have taken in the first round. Next year, there’s about four or five that I’d consider. It’s all speculation, but I feel much more confident about getting a quality player this year than the last two.”
It’s still way, way too early to get a firm grasp on the quality of next summer’s draft class. NC State LHP Carlos Rodon is the clear favorite to go first overall right now, he’s David Price-esque, but everything else is up in the air. We have to wait for the high school and college seasons to start in January and February before players start falling into place.
He turns 21 in December, so let’s not jump off the ledge worrying he’ll be old when he debuts just yet. The Yankees have been relatively conservative with Sanchez so far, having him repeat Low-A Charleston last year and spending most of this year in High-A Tampa. I like that, I do think they’ve been a little overly aggressive at times with their top guys the last few years. I wouldn’t expect Sanchez to have a realistic chance to make the team out of camp next year, though that could come in 2015. Have patience. They need a catcher in the worst way, but rushing the top prospect to fill that hole isn’t the answer, especially not with J.R. Murphy in Triple-A.
Ori asks: Who is the best Yankee pinch-hitter ever? I remember Ruben Sierra being a particularly good one.
Hooray for the Play Index? Hooray for the Play Index! Here are the team’s top ten pinch-hitters during the DH era (since 1973), minimum 20 pinch-hitting opportunities (34 qualifiers):
Bernie Williams is 12th with a .768 OPS and Sierra is 21st with a .646 OPS. Hassey has the highest batting average as a pinch-hitter in team history (Strawberry is second) while Johnson has the highest OBP and SLG (Strawberry is second in both).
Johnson, who played with the Yankees from 1977-79, and Strawberry are clearly a notch above everyone else here. I like that pinch-hitting was part of their role too; they weren’t full-time guys who came off the bench a few times like Matsui or Giambi. They were legit part-time players who were expected to pinch-hit in key spots. Strawberry was awesome, still my all-time favorite player to this day.
Five whole questions for you today. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or otherwise.
Nathan: Looking at their stats since the trade, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano aren’t too far apart. In retrospect, would you still have made that trade? A-Rod has the better stats but has been the bigger headache.
First, the side-by-side comparison (2004-present):
A-Rod was the far better player because he was a better hitter and a better defender at a tougher position. Does the headache, which really only became truly insufferable these last few weeks (at least to me), outweigh the production? I definitely don’t think so. The Rodriguez-Soriano trade worked out marvelously for the Yankees. It’s the new ten-year contract they gave Alex after 2007 that has been mostly a nightmare. The 2009 World Series does still counts for something.
Bruce asks: Why is Michael Pineda still only throwing four innings a start?
The Yankees say it’s “innings management,” and it makes sense they would try to limit his workload following shoulder surgery. He did throw six full innings in his third minor league rehab game (with Double-A Trenton), but since reaching Triple-A Scranton he has yet to throw more than five innings and 86 pitches. The last two starts have been limited to three innings (41 pitches) and four innings (58 pitches).
Pineda has thrown 39 innings in nine official minor league games this year. That doesn’t count all the simulated and Extended Spring Training games though, and there were a ton of those as you probably remember. I’m guessing they want to limit him to about 100 innings or so (hooray round numbers!) this season, and want to make sure there are some left for the big league team in September. Pineda’s has already been down long enough to delay his free agency a year, so that’s not a concern. I prefer flat out skipping starts to short starts to control innings, but the Yankees obviously feel differently. I’m sure Pineda will be allowed to start pitching deeper into the game in the coming weeks.
Sal asks: Based on the way Derek Jeter‘s Yankee Lifelong Legend Legacy is going, and with all kinds of earning potential out there for him even after he retires (corporate sponsorships and maybe even buying a stake in the Yankees), do you think he can end up with more lifetime earnings from the game of baseball than, uh, you know where I’m going with this … Alex?
According to Baseball-Reference, A-Rod is baseball’s all-time career earnings leader at $353.4M. Jeter is second at … $253.2M. That’s a nine-figure gap between first and second place. Geez. Keep in mind that Alex still has four years and $86M left on his contract after this season while the Cap’n just has a $9M player option for 2014. Given what feels like an inevitable Biogenesis-related suspension, A-Rod probably won’t see all of that $86M. He’ll probably still get a nice chunk of it though, so the career earnings gap will only widen.
I am completely out of my element when it comes to sponsorships and ownership stakes; I have no idea how lucrative that stuff can be outside of “very.” Forbes has Jeter at $9M in endorsements (Nike, Ford, Gillette, etc.) this year and A-Rod at just $0.5M. We’ve seen him in ads for Nike and Pepsi, among other stuff, in the past. I have to think Alex’s endorsements well will dry up following the Biogenesis stuff, but will that be enough to allow Jeter to pass him in career earnings over the time? It’s possible, especially if he does wind up purchasing a stake in the team, but he’s got a ton of ground to make up.
Mike asks: Does the Yankees being in 4th place make the waiver market at least slightly more favorite than in years past? Seems like there has been times where another team behind them was able to block a player from getting to them, now will they have easier access to players they want and can they now block players from getting to Boston, Tampa, or Baltimore?
Sure, being this low in the standings will definitely help the Yankees on the waiver trade market. Of course, I wish the team was higher in the standings and didn’t need the players, but that’s not the case. The Yankees have waiver priority over all of their wildcard competitors (Orioles, Indians, Rangers, Royals), meaning they’ll get first crack at whoever is on waivers. That means they can both block players and trade for them, if they want. It’s a nice consolation prize and could be helpful at some point.
Shaun asks: It may be to early to speculate, but do you see ownership’s trend of going above Brian Cashman being a problem with Cashman’s next contract? I know autonomy was a big deal to him during previous negotiations. If anything, ownership is making it more difficult to get under the $189 threshold.
Eh, I doubt it. Cashman knows how the Steinbrenner’s operate, and I believe even he said there is no such thing as true autonomy at the GM level. Besides, he signed his most recent contract after the Rafael Soriano signing. Hal is much less meddlesome than his father, though I suppose Cashman could be sick of it after 15 (!) years on the job. Ownership has gone over his head quite a bit these last few years, but it would surprise me if that was a big problem for him going forward.
That said, I do think this is Cashman’s last contract as Yankees GM. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before. His current deal expires after next season, at which point I think he will be promoted to some other position. The “President of Baseball Ops” position the Cubs made up for Theo Epstein sounds nice. The Nationals just promoted GM Mike Rizzo to that just yesterday, so it’s already a trend. Cashman will have been the GM for 16 years when his deal is up, and a promotion is the natural order of things at that point. It appears as though former pro scouting director and current assistant GM Billy Eppler is being groomed to take over sometime soon, or at least he’s the only obvious in-house successor. I would be surprised if the Yankees brought in a new GM from the outside and threw them to the wolves. Experience and familiarity with the New York market would be a prerequisite.
Got five questions for you today. If you want to send us anything throughout the week, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go.
Alex asks: Guys, do you think that with the haul the Cubs got for Matt Garza, the Yankees could reasonably expect to obtain a Mike Olt type of prospect for Phil Hughes? Obviously the package would be less than what the Cubs got for Garza, but using the framework, could the Yankees get a pretty solid return for Hughes?
Olt, whose stock is down quite a bit this year, ranked 44th on Baseball America’s midseason top 50 prospects list. I like him less than that and think he’s more of a 75-100 prospect, but my opinion doesn’t matter. Teams have their own internal evaluation of every player and that’s most important.
Pitchers similar to Hughes — that means a back of the rotation starter due to become a free agent — who have been traded at the deadline in recent years include Ted Lilly, Joe Saunders, Joe Blanton, Jason Marquis, Erik Bedard, and Jake Westbrook. Hughes is by far the youngest of the group, but age doesn’t really matter when you’re talking about a three-month rental.
The trade return for those guys ranges from a big league reliever (Saunders for Matt Lindstrom), one good but not great pitching prospect (Westbrook for Corey Kluber), four fringe prospects (Bedard), a promising young big leaguer (Lilly for Blake DeWitt), and a borderline non-prospect (Blanton). No one on par with Olt, obviously.
This is a seller’s market though, mostly because more teams are in contention thanks to the second wildcard and no one wants to sell. If you have an asset like a back-end starter, you might be able to fetch more than expected. An Olt-caliber prospect is probably the best-case scenario for Hughes. I do think the Yankees are going to keep him unless they get a legit big league bat in return, however.
Soriano was a complete disaster in left field when he first made the transition from second base, but he’s worked really hard to improve out there over the years. Experience helps as well. UZR has rated him a bit above-average in recent years while DRS has him a bit below-average. I prefer DRS personally, but the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I don’t watch enough Cubs games to say if one jibes with the eye test more than the other.
Wells was never as good as his reputation as a Gold Glover, but both UZR and DRS agree that he’s been ever so slightly above-average in the field since shifting to left three years ago. He’s graded out as below-average in center for a half-decade now. I’ve been pretty underwhelmed with Wells’ defense, particularly his range, but I suppose it is better than the typical left fielder. Defensive stats aren’t precise enough to argue over fractions of a run and whatnot, and at this point I think Vernon’s the better defensive left fielder. Not by a ton though.
Jeremy asks: Hey Mike, what about Paul Konerko? Tradeable, right-handed, free agent next year…
Joe had a Konerko kick for a few weeks a while back, but I would go nowhere near him. For starters, Konerko has been dealing with some nagging back problems this summer, at one point receiving six (!) injections. Back trouble for older players (he’s 37) is a total dealbreaker for me.
If that wasn’t enough, Konerko really isn’t hitting this year. He’s at .248/.315/.365 (84 wRC+) with seven homers in 295 plate appearances, though he does have a stellar 149 wRC+ against southpaws in limited time. The strikeouts are up (15.3%), the walks are down (8.2%), the power is gone (possible related to the back trouble) … lot of red flags here. If Konerko was hitting like he did last year (26 homers and 132 wRC+), I’d be all for it. At this point I’m staying far away.
Chris asks: Much has been made of teams handing out monster contracts lately, primarily because the term comes back to bite teams in the long run. Could the solution to this be not allowing teams to control players for longer but shorter? Would MLB and the players union be willing to allow free agency after six years from the draft or two years on a team’s 25-man roster (whichever comes first)?
Baseball’s salary structure is very … weird. Players make the least amount of money during what is usually their best years — their first six seasons, during pre-arbitration and arbitration — and the most when they’re on the decline. The MLBPA would absolutely be in favor of anything that moves free agency up, which means the owners would be very much against it. They only like things that keep costs down. Small market teams would have a hard time competing if their best players could leave after two years. It would be impossible, really.
The only “solution” to prevent getting burned by long-term contracts is to not hand them out. Even if you moved free agency up, teams would still overpay for decline years. That seem inevitable. Whenever a huge contract is handed out, like seven or eight years, a lot of times the GM is assuming he won’t be around for the final few years of the deal, when it tends to go really bad. Many of these contracts are handed out with the idea that the worst part will be someone else’s problem. I have very little pity for clubs who get saddled with a long-term deal gone bad. They make their beds, they have to sleep in it.
Mark asks: Do the Yanks need make it priority #1 to acquire a long-term solution at third base this offseason (or before the trading deadline) as it is all but assumed that Alex Rodriguez will be banned for either 150 games or permanently starting either now or next year? Or is it another year of stop-gap temporary players and pray that either A-Rod is back at age 38/39 and that Eric Jagielo is hopefully ready by the 2015 season?
The Yankees shouldn’t count on Jagielo at all when planning the future of the third base position. He was just drafted and even though he’s polished and expected to climb the ladder quickly, he’s still in short season ball and so very much can go wrong before be makes it to the show. It’s the nature of the beast.
I think priority #1 should be finding a long-term shortstop, but third base is pretty much priority #2. This season confirmed it. They can’t count on A-Rod anymore and there are no real third base prospects on the immediate horizon, so they’ll have to look outside the organization. Finding that young guy to hold down the position for the next half-decade won’t be easy, so they’ll probably have to settle on stopgaps for the time being. Hopefully none with chronic back problems this time. Who knows, maybe Jagielo will emerge before they make any kind of trade for a long-term answer.
Only four questions this week, but they’re good ones. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us any questions throughout the week.
Jeff asks: Carlos Beltran is a free agent next year. While the Yankees do have an abundance of outfielders, you see any chance they try to pick him up?
Do the Yankees have an abundance of outfielders? They have a bunch of warm bodies, but how many are legitimate everyday or even (gasp!) above-average players? I think Brett Gardner is the only guy you can say that about with any certainty.
Anyway, Beltran makes sense for the Yankees next season just like he did nine years ago (before he signed with the Mets) and even two years ago (before he signed with the Cardinals). He’s hitting .309/.346/.533 (146 wRC+) with 19 homers for St. Louis this year, and he continues to be a true switch-hitter who hits both lefties and righties. Perhaps most importantly, he has managed to avoid the DL these last two seasons. That’s encouraging given his history of knee problems.
Beltran turned 36 in April, and there are two significant red flags in his performance. His walk rate (5.1%) is a career-low by far, dropping from 10.5% last year and his 10.5% career average. His swing-and-miss rate (9.2%) is essentially identical to last year (9.3%), which was his career-high. Beltran has a career 7.3% whiff rate and was at 6.6% as recently as 2011. Seeing an older hitter cut his walk rate in half with an increased swing-and-miss rate suggests he may be cheating and starting his bat a little earlier. That’s not uncommon for guys that age.
The Yankees could certainly use a switch-hitting power guy in the middle of the lineup, especially since they should shuffle him between right field and DH to keep his legs fresh. Beltran has made it very, very clear he wants to play for the Yankees in the past*, which could work in their favor if he’s willing to take a one-year deal. I don’t like the idea of a two-year contract at this point of his career, but there’s a definite fit at the right price.
* For what it’s worth, I think passing on Beltran prior to 2005 was the biggest blunder of the Brian Cashman era, especially after he came to the team at the last minute and was willing to sign at a relative discount.
Brian asks: If the Yankees wanted to, what should they get in return in a trade for Hiroki Kuroda? To me, it may be a great opportunity to get some quality prospects in exchange for a valuable commodity.
From what I can tell, the 38-year-old Kuroda does not have a no-trade clause. He had one last year for sure, but I can’t find anything indicating this year’s contract includes one. That seems kinda odd and I’m just going to assume he does have no-trade protection. Why would he demand one in 2012 but not 2013? Weird.
Anywho, Kuroda is pitching like an ace this year (2.65 ERA and 3.62 FIP) and getting him for the second half would be a huge help to some contender. Just imagine the Dodgers or Rangers or Diamondbacks or even the Red Sox getting their hands on him. Low maintenance, affordable, proven in a big market, everything you could want in a rental starter.
If the Yankees were to move him, I think they should seek a return on par with what the Brewers got for Zack Greinke last year. Kuroda now is better than Greinke was last year, though he’s much older and Greinke had more “name value” as a former Cy Young winner. The Angels gave up their number two (Jean Segura), four (Johnny Hellweg), and nine (Ariel Pena) prospects for Greinke, though only Segura was a top 100 guy (#55 by Baseball America).
That’s the framework I’d be looking for in return for Kuroda. A top-100 prospect who is big league ready — Segura stepped right into the Brewers’ lineup after the deal — and two other good but not great prospects. Kuroda has shown a willingness to use his no-trade clause however — he blocked deals to the Yankees and Red Sox while with the Dodgers in 2011 — so getting him to agree to a deal wouldn’t be easy even if the Bombers wanted to move him, which I doubt they do.
Kevin asks: Was Hiroki Kuroda an all-star snub? And does he have a legit shot at the Cy Young award?
Oh yes, he absolutely was an All-Star snub. During the All-Star lineup/starting pitcher press conference, Jim Leyland confirmed he took Chris Tillman (3.95 ERA and 4.95 FIP) over Kuroda because he had more wins (11-3 vs. 8-6). Kuroda ranks second in the AL in ERA, seventh in bWAR (3.2), and 11th in fWAR (2.3 WAR). Definitely a snub considering eleven (!) AL starting pitchers were named to the All-Star team, including the injury replacements.
The Cy Young award is tougher to defend. No AL pitcher is having an outrageous season that moves them to the front of the pack yet; instead there are a bunch of guys — specifically Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, and Chris Sale — who are simply having excellent seasons. For a Yankee to win a major award, he needs to blow everyone else out of the water and make it obvious like Alex Rodriguez in 2007. There is a voter bias against Yankees for sure, and that will work against Kuroda. He’d need a dynamite second half to make a serious run at the award, otherwise he’s a guy who will get a few fourth or fifth place votes at best.
Dan asks: With the Diamondbacks wanting bullpen help is there anything they’d give up that is valuable for Joba Chamberlain? Surely he’d fair better in the NL West.
The AL-to-NL switch isn’t as significant for relievers, who are much more likely to face a pinch-hitter than the opposing pitcher. The D’Backs have had some interest in Joba in the past, particularly during the rumored Dan Haren trade talks. That was back when Joba was, you know, good. Good and under control for a few more years.
These days Chamberlain is just a rental reclamation project reliever, which is nothing to get excited about. Brandon League was a Proven Closer™ having a good (but not great) year when he was traded at the deadline last year, and all he fetched was two non-top 30 prospects. Maybe Arizona would give up a failing former top prospect like RHP Anthony Meo (5.86 ERA and 6.06 FIP in 43 innings), a lottery ticket type. I wouldn’t expect much in return for Joba at this point, unless he’s like the second or third piece in a package deal. He won’t bring back much by himself.