Archive for Mailbag
Got five questions for you this week. The Submit A Tip box (in the sidebar) is the best way to send us stuff.
Conor asks: Would trading one of Tyler Austin, Mason Williams or Slade Heathcott for Nick Castellanos make sense for both teams? The Tigers are going to have him move to right field since they have Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder at the infield corners. Seems that trading him for a player whose already demonstrated he can play the outfield is a better idea.
Now that’s interesting. Castellanos is a one of the best prospects in baseball — Baseball America ranked him 11th overall while Keith Law ranked him 18th in their midseason updates — thanks to a career .316/.367/.443 batting line with 17 homers in 276 minor league games. Baseball America recently ranked him as Detroit’s top prospect, saying he’s “[o]ne of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues” in their subscriber-only scouting report. Since Cabrera, Fielder, and Victor Martinez are clogging the infield corners and DH spot, the Tigers shifted Castellanos from third base to right field this past July. Baseball America said “he could be an average outfielder” with experience.
The Yankees have plenty of high-end outfield prospects as you mentioned, as both Williams (#28) and Austin (#39) cracked Baseball America’s midseason update (Williams made Law’s, which was only 25 players deep). New York would probably have to kick in a little something extra, but a Castellanos-for-Williams trade (for example) isn’t outrageous at all. Both have their own red flags (Williams is coming off shoulder surgery, Castellanos strikes out a lot for a guy who hasn’t shown much power yet), but Castellanos doesn’t have an obvious spot with the Tigers while Williams would be coming from a position of depth. Prospect-for-prospect trades rarely happen because every team loves their prospects more than everyone else’s, but I do think a swap like this makes some sense for both clubs.
Jason asks: Just wondering what you would think of a possible Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, or David Phelps trade to the Rockies for either Michael Cuddyer or Jordan Pacheco. I think Pacheco fits perfectly with NYYs needs. Right-handed outfielder and third basemen and can even fake catcher at times. The Rockies need starting pitching badly.
I wouldn’t touch Cuddyer. He’s 33 years old and he was just barely a league average hitter (102 wRC+) in Coors Field last season. Plus he spent nearly half the year on the DL and isn’t anything special on defense despite the supposed versatility. The Rockies can have fun with that $21M he’s owed over the next two seasons, no way would I want the Yankees to give up something of value for that.
Pacheco, on the other hand, makes some sense. He turns 27 later this month and is a .306/.338/.413 career hitter in 593 plate appearances. Don’t get too excited, that’s only a 91 wRC+ because Coors has turned back into a launching pad. Pacheco always had strong walk rates in the minors (10%+), but it’s dipped to just 4.2% in the show. I’m not sure what that’s about. He can play the three non-shortstop infield spots adequately and catch in an emergency, plus he’s under team control for another five years. I’m not giving up Hughes, Nova, or Phelps for a bench player though, Colorado would have to be willing to take something less.
John asks: Since the Yankees need a cost controlled right-handed outfield bat for 2013 (and 2014) does it makes sense to target someone like Justin Maxwell? He has power and is slightly above average defensively. Sure he doesn’t take a walk and his contact rate isn’t that good but a relatively young, arbitration-eligible (until 2017) 4th outfielder/platoon bat with some decent speed, defense and power doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me…your thoughts?
The Yankees had the 29-year-old Maxwell in camp last season, but he was out of minor league options and they lost him on waivers to the Astros at the end of Spring Training. He put together a 107 wRC+ overall with Houston, but was especially tough on southpaws: .272/.387/.505 (144 wRC+). Maxwell has some Andruw Jones in him (the old version, not the Braves version) because he hits for big power (.232 ISO), will draw a walk (9.1%), and can strike out with the best of ‘em (32.4%). Andruw actually has more favorable rates, but Maxwell will steal the occasional base and is better on defense.
Clearly the Yankees should have dumped Jones and kept Maxwell last year, but that’s a pure hindsight statement. Maxwell is a platoon player on the short-end of the playing time stick and should be treated as such. The Yankees shouldn’t have to overpay to get him back just because. If the Astros will take a Grade-B prospect, sure. I wouldn’t go much higher, we’re not talking about Mike Trout here. Maxwell is under team control for another few years and that’s nice, but I don’t focus too much on years of control when talking about bench guys (and relievers). They rarely stick around that long anyway.
Anonymous asks: Given that college baseballs apparently travel less in the air and have higher seams (which make breaking balls more effective), how would you evaluate college players in light of this? Would you downgrade fly ball pitchers and/or pitchers with less velocity (i.e., more reliant on breaking balls)? Would you give extra credit to hitters who had success against breaking balls?
It’s not just college balls, the balls they use in the minors are different than the ones they use in the big leagues as well. Craig Hansen and Bryce Cox were two guys who threw vicious breaking balls in school but couldn’t get the ball to move the same way as a professional, so they flamed out. Teams are obviously aware of this and I don’t really know how they address it. I’m guessing each club does it a different way. Preferably you’d see a pitcher several times (high school, college, summer league, private workout, etc.) before the draft, giving you plenty of chances (with different balls) to evaluate him. Hitters who can hit breaking balls tend to grade out well anyway, but I’m not sure if you’d give him extra credit for doing it against a college ball. I don’t really know the answer to this question, but the difference in balls (this applies to Japan and Korea as well) is something teams must consider when evaluating a player.
Chris asks: Would you consider new aged sabermetrics a “performance-enhancer”? 25 years ago players were judged based on simple stats which were visible and tangible to the fan. RBI, HR, AVG etc. Now advanced metrics allow us to judge players on a whole new level. Wouldn’t you agree that certain platoon players would have not found jobs 25 years ago but do today because certain metrics say they can still hit lefties or are victims of bad ball in play luck?
“Performance-enchancer” implies that they’re helping the player perform better than they normally would. A player getting a job because some front office executive used stats to determine he was being undervalued doesn’t really qualify to me. Maybe if the player was using stats to improve his performance they would be considered a “performance-enhancer,” but I’m not sure how that would work. It’s not like a pitcher could independently focus on lowering his HR/FB% or something. Looking at stats is the same as looking at scouting reports for me.
Just as an aside: The term “performance-enhancer” itself bugs me because it carries far too many connotations. I wish they’d just stick to calling them banned substances. No need to automatically tag them as performance-enchancing when we don’t know how much they really help. Trust me, there have been plenty of players who improperly used PEDs and wound up hurting themselves more than they helped.
After nursing from the mailbag teat during the holidays, it’s time to get back to the once-a-week Friday morning mailbag setup. I’ve got four questions for you this week and entirely too many words worth of answers. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
Davis asks: Now that the Diamondbacks have signed Cody Ross, is there a chance that they will trade someone like A.J. Pollock? He bats right, has showed solid doubles power and seems to be pretty good on defense. He might make some sense for the Yankees, even if only as depth in case of an injury.
The D’Backs have a ton of outfielders. We all know about Justin Upton, Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra, and Ross, but they also have Adam Eaton (117 wRC+ during his September call-up) and Pollock. The 25-year-old Pollock hit .247/.315/.395 (83 wRC+) in 93 plate appearances with Arizona last season, his big league debut. Prior to that he hit .318/.369/.411 (105 wRC+) in 471 plate appearances in the hitter friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Baseball America ranked him as the team’s sixth best prospect before the season, and here’s a snippet of what they had to say in their subscriber-only scouting report…
First and foremost, he’s a blue-collar player with great makeup and excellent instincts in all phases of the game. He’s a line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter who squares balls up consistently and produces lots of doubles. He could develop 15-homer power once he gets stronger. He makes contact so easily that it hampers his ability to draw walks. Though he has just average speed, Pollock is the system’s best baserunner … He’s solid defensively at all three outfield positions, making good reads in center field and displaying an average arm … Though some scouts see him as a fourth outfielder because he isn’t loaded with plus tools, the Diamondbacks envision him becoming a solid regular.
Because he was added to the 40-man roster just last year and didn’t accumulate a full season’s worth of service time, Pollock has two minor league options remaining and all six years of team control. He didn’t have much of a platoon split in the minors over the last two seasons and his big league performance tells us nothing, but either way it’s still too early to pigeon-hole him into the right-handed half of a platoon.
Pollock is a (much) better prospect than Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte, and he also provides more roster flexibility than Chris Dickerson, so yeah the Yankees should definitely be interested. I like his chances of sticking as a regular by 2014 much more than I do Mesa’s or Zoilo’s, that’s for sure. Prospect-for-prospect trades don’t happen very often because teams are like parents, they all love their own kids more than everyone else’s. I’m not sure what the D’Backs need at the big league level at this point or if they’re even willing to move Pollock despite their glut of outfielders, but he would certainly be a fit for New York.
Mark asks: Doesn’t Adam Kennedy make some sense to fill an Eric Chavez-type role? He also has the benefit of playing played 2B (a lot) and the outfield (a little).
Kennedy, 36, is opening a baseball academy in Anaheim but is not officially retiring and remains open to playing according to Alden Gonzalez. He hit .262/.345/.357 (97 wRC+) in 201 plate appearances for the Dodgers last season while missing more than a month with a groin strain and playing primarily first, second, and third bases. It was his best offensive season since 2009 and second best since 2005, thanks mostly to a career-high walk rate (11.4% in 2012 and 6.6% career) that I really can’t explain. His plate discipline rates didn’t change and he only had eight total plate appearances as the number eight hitter (ahead of the pitcher), so who knows.
As a left-handed batter, Kennedy hit righties pretty well last season (107 wRC+) but not over the last three seasons (85 wRC+). He does put the ball in play (14.4 K% and 86.1% contact rate) and offer some versatility (mostly the non-shortstop infield spots), which counts for something. It’s not much, but it’s something. If Kennedy is willing to leave Southern California and take a minor league contract, sure, bring him to camp a la Chavez in 2011. I can’t imagine guaranteeing him anything though, this isn’t some former star with upside.
Damix asks: Given the uncertainty of next year’s market for Phil Hughes, do you think signing Edwin Jackson to the same contract he received would have been a smarter plan for the 2014 budget?
The Cubs officially signed Jackson, who is a little less than three years older that Hughes, to a four-year deal worth $52M earlier this week. That’s $13M annually and the going rate for a slightly better than league average starter. Jackson has been consistently solid over the last four seasons even though his ERA has fluctuated wildly, plus he’s a workhorse who will provide 30+ starts and 180+ innings no questions asked. I think he would have gotten more money had a) his velocity not dropped more than a mile-an-hour last season, and b) he not had a brutal September (6.54 ERA).
Hughes, on the other hand, has been anything but consistent and a workhorse. He’s managed two league average seasons in the last three years and has a chance to make it three in four years before hitting the open market next winter. Hughes has a longer injury history but has done it in the AL East, in the tiny ballpark, and in the postseason (outside of the nightmare that was the 2010 ALCS), and that kind of stuff pays in free agency. If he repeats his 2012 season in 2013, I bet he winds up with a deal closer to Anibal Sanchez’s than Jackson’s given his age.
Anyway, back to the actual question. I’m not a huge believer in Jackson but that is definitely a fair price in my book. I think he’s been overrated because his stuff says he should be an ace, but the last half-decade of performance shows he’s coming up short. He’s a classic “we can fix him” guy, especially at that age. The Yankees are going to need to plug a few rotation spots next winter and Jackson would be a nice guy to have around, but I’m not losing sleep over it.
Jeff asks: Are the Yankees setting themselves up well for the future with the MLB draft? They have four picks in the first 65. Looking ahead to 2014 the Yankees will likely have at least 2-6 picks depending on what happens with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda and Kevin Youkilis. Those draftees won’t impact the team for 4-6 years, but is this a good way for the Yankees to focus on the farm?
As soon as Rafael Soriano signs somewhere, the Yankees will own three of the first 35 picks in this year’s draft and four of the first 65-ish picks (obligatory Draft Order page plug). That would change if they re-sign Soriano or sign one of the other compensation free agents (Michael Bourn, Adam LaRoche, Kyle Lohse), but I don’t see any of that happening. The Yankees have had three of the first 100 picks just
once twice in the last nine years (2008 and 2012), nevermind four of the top 65(-ish).
Based on last year’s slot values (which are expected to increase this year), those top three picks will all be worth seven figures and that’s huge as far as the draft pool and spending restrictions go. The Yankees have to start doing a better job with their high draft picks, it’s imperative given the new system and the team’s desires to curtail payroll. It’s too early to know much about the strength about this year’s draft class, but that’s irrelevant really. There is always talent available and they’re going to have some major bucks to spend in the first round. I think it’s fair to say this coming draft will be the team’s most important since 2006, when they were in desperate need of farm system help (and knocked it out of park with that draft haul).
As for the 2014 draft, I wouldn’t count on those extra picks yet. The Yankees would surely make Cano a qualifying offer, but Granderson, Kuroda, and especially Youkilis are far from guarantees. Given the impending payroll slashing, I don’t think the team would risk that much money in qualifying offers even if the players are worth it. Remember, the offers won’t be $13.3M again next year. They’ll go up since they’re based on the average of top 125 salaries. We’ll worry about that draft a year from now.
Travis asks: Mike, not a whole lot is made of the DSL. Since the Yankees have added a second GCL team, can you do a top ten DSL players that could make the jump to GCL play?
The DSL, or Dominican Summer League, is the lowest level of affiliated professional baseball aside from Extended Spring Training, which isn’t even a real league. The DSL is for internationally signed players (not just Latin America either) before they’re deemed ready to come to the United States. Some prospects, like Jesus Montero, skip the DSL entirely. Others, like Francisco Rondon, can spend several years there.
The Yankees have had two DSL affiliates since 2007, and prior to that they had one and a half — one full squad and another they split with the Padres. I don’t pay much attention to the team’s DSL affiliates because there’s so much misinformation out there about the kids playing in the league, plus the vast majority of them never make it to the states anyway. The addition of the second Gulf Coast League affiliate should bring more players stateside in the coming years.
I’m going to short-change Travis here and only list seven DSL players who could/should make the jump to the GCL this coming season. I just don’t have enough info on the rest of the guys down there to list another three players, but trust me, there are plenty of others who will come stateside this year. These guys are alphabetical, so don’t confuse this for a ranking.
- SS Abi Avelino — Signed for $175k in 2011, the 17-year-old Avelino was touted as a defensive whiz at the time of the deal. He hit .313/.409/.402 (139 wRC+) with 19 steals (in 21 attempts) this summer, creating some optimism about his offensive potential.
- RHP Cris Cabrera — The Yankees signed the 20-year-old right-hander for $400k back in 2009, but his development has been derailed by Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Cabrera was healthy this year and pitched to a 2.84 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 57 innings. He’s a low-to-mid-90s fastball guy when right.
- RHP Rafael DePaula — If you’ve been reading RAB long enough, then you probably already know DePaula was the team’s best prospect in the DSL this summer. It wasn’t particularly close either. Here’s his Prospect Profile.
- RHP Dallas Martinez — Martinez, 19, draws comparisons to Manny Banuelos because he’s an undersized pitcher from Mexico. The right-hander received a six-figure bonus in 2011 and pitched to a 2.19 ERA (3.14 FIP) in 65.2 innings this summer. He’s a three-pitch guy with polish but not a ton of upside.
- OF Wilmer Romero — Signed for $656.5k in 2010, Romero hit .292/.347/.500 (139 wRC+) with six homers this summer after a disappointing 2011 effort (94 wRC+). The 19-year-old has filled out and slowed down a bit, so the tools package isn’t as impressive as it was a few years ago.
- RHP Luis Severino — The Yankees signed the 18-year-old Severino for $225k in 2011 and he posted a 1.68 ERA (3.14 FIP) in 64.1 innings this year. His fastball sits in the 91-96 range and his slider is on the path to becoming an out pitch.
- IF Chris Tamarez — A shortstop when the Yankees signed him for $650k back in 2010, the 19-year-old Tamarez has since moved over to third. He hit .333/.390/.487 (149 wRC+) with five homers this summer, but there’s concern about his propensity for the swing-and-miss despite modest power potential.
There’s a very good chance C Luis Torrens, who signed for $1.3M this July, will skip right over the DSL and play in the GCL next year. The team’s two other big money 2012 international signings, OF Alex Palma and SS Yancarlo Baez, are less likely to come stateside right away. 3B Miguel Andujar was New York’s top international signing in 2011 and he jumped right to the GCL this year.
Dan asks: Could you write a piece on how many of the classic five tools each player on the roster really has? Sure to generate conversation.
The five traditional tools are the ability to hit for average, hit for power, run, throw, and field. I’m no scout and won’t dare slap 20-80 grades on players, so I’m going to stick to three “scoring” categories: average, above-average, and below-average. Those are simple enough and I think most fans can dish those out. I am going to stick to 40-man roster players who have appeared in the big leagues, giving us 13 players…
I consider only two players to be above-average at four of the five tools: Cano (lacking run) and Ichiro (lacking power). I think you can make an argument that Ichiro’s arm only plays as average because he takes forever to actually throw the damn thing, but he does have a reputation and that alone prevents runners from taking the extra base. Teixeira is probably the next closest to four above-average tools, but he’ll need to remember how to hit for average first. Gardner doesn’t get enough credit for being able to do a little of everything other than hit for power.
The catchers were the toughest to grade given their sporadic playing time over the last few years, and I think all three of those guys could be considered below-average across the board. Cervelli runs well for a catcher and both Stewart and Romine have strong defensive reputations, so I’ll give them a little love in those departments. My biggest problem with the five tools is that plate discipline gets ignored, and it’s an area where several Yankees (Gardner, Granderson, A-Rod, Tex, Youkilis) would rate as above-average. Durability is another one, the ability to stay on the field counts.
I suspect there will be a lot of disagreement about these, so let me have it in the comments.
Several people asked: What’s the market for Rafael Soriano? Would the Yankees consider bringing him back? What happens to the draft pick if he doesn’t sign soon?
I received a few Soriano-related questions over the last week, so I figured I’d lump them all together here. The easiest question is the last one. The Yankees will get a pick for Soriano as long as he signs a guaranteed contract with another MLB team (so no Japan or Korea) prior to next June’s draft. If he takes a minor league deal or signs after the draft, the Yankees won’t get that supplemental first round pick. Also, it doesn’t matter which team signs him, New York gets the same exact draft pick regardless under the new system.
Now, as for his market, it’s basically non-existent right now. The Dodgers and Red Sox are not in the mix according to Jim Bowden and Rob Bradford, respectively, though those reports came prior to the Joel Hanrahan trade. That figures to change the market in some way. Scott Boras has been trying to sell the Tigers on Soriano for a while now according to Bill Shaikin, but Danny Knobler heard owner Mile Ilitch won’t be talked into signing him after dropping $100M+ on Torii Hunter and Anibal Sanchez. That’s it, no other reports on interested clubs this offseason.
Soriano’s market was similarly quiet two winters ago, when Yankees ownership swooped in and signed the right-hander in mid-January. There are more teams (many more teams, actually) with money to spend this time around, so I think it’s only a matter of time before Boras finds a taker. It could be the Dodgers, the Angels, the Rangers, the Nationals, who knows. I still think Soriano will wind up with the Tigers though, they’re clearly in win-now mode and have some serious bullpen question marks. Bruce Rondon is a great prospect, but he’s posted a 5.81 BB/9 (15.1 BB%) in 93 innings over the last two seasons. Hard to see a serious contender giving that guy the reigns to the ninth inning.
For the Yankees to get involved, Boras and Soriano would obviously have to be willing to take a one-year deal. I can’t imagine they’ll give him two guaranteed years given the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. Soriano walked away from $12.5M with the opt-out (he received a $1.5M buyout) and another $13.3M by rejecting the qualifying offer, but he would have to take less to return to New York if no market develops. He wouldn’t have any leverage. The Yankees could bring him back as a setup man for like $10M and let him go after the season, though I’d have to think another qualifying offer would be out of the question. It would surprise me if Soriano’s market was so poor that he had to come crawling back to the Yankees, but I don’t think it’s completely out of the question. Just very unlikely.
Two people asked: What about Freddy Sanchez?
Sanchez, 35, played zero big league games this past season due to shoulder surgery (labrum) and back surgery (herniated disc). He was rehabbing from the shoulder procedure when the back problem popped up in July, which led to the Giants acquiring Marco Scutaro prior to the trade deadline. That worked out pretty well for San Francisco.
Prior to the injuries, Sanchez was a classic low-power, contact-oriented middle infielder. He won the 2006 batting title with the Pirates and hit .291/.338/.397 (104 wRC+) in 740 plate appearances with the Giants from 2010-2011. Sanchez will put the ball in play from the right side of the plate (13.9 K% and 84.7% contact rate), but he won’t walk (6.1 BB%), won’t hit for power (.106 ISO and 5.2% HR/FB), and won’t steal any bases (13-for-22 career). He did most of his recent damage against lefties (122 wRC+ from 2010-2011) rather than righties (98 wRC+), though it wasn’t a massive split.
Defensively, Sanchez has been a second baseman exclusively since 2008. He has less than 1,350 innings of experience at third as a big leaguer and just 351 innings at shortstop, all of which came more than a half-decade ago. The various metrics have consistently rated him as an above-average defender at second through the years. The surgery was on his right shoulder, so it’s unclear if Sanchez still has the arm strength to make the throw from the left side of the infield. I’m not saying he can’t do it, but he has to prove he can before a team could seriously consider him a utility infielder.
Sanchez’s agent recently told Derrick Goold that his client is healthy and looking for an opportunity to prove himself this coming season. Several unknown teams have expressed interest, though none have made offers. The Yankees have Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez in-house, both of whom are able to play the left side of the infield (not necessarily well, but they can do it) and be something more than zeroes with the bat. Sanchez has to still prove he can do both of those things, which is why I think he’d look to join a team that offers more of an opportunity. If he wants to take a minor league deal and compete for a job, great. Otherwise the two sides don’t fit well with each other.
Several people asked: What about a Derek Lowe reunion?
I hadn’t thought too much about Lowe this offseason until writing this MLBTR post last week, which is when a few people emailed in. The 39-year-old sinkerballer has fielded calls from five teams this winter, but all five want him as a swingman. He’s looking for a job as a starter though, which is what he said after the ALCS.
The Yankees have Ivan Nova and David Phelps ready to compete for the fifth starter’s job in camp, and while I would like to see them add a veteran starter for that role, I was thinking someone better than Lowe (coughShaunMarcumcough). There are six bullpen spots already accounted for: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, David Aardsma, and Clay Rapada. The final spot figures to go to a long-man and the loser of the Nova/Phelps role makes sense for that role, but I don’t think we should rule out a return to Triple-A for that pitcher either. Especially if one of the two gets his brains beat in during Spring Training.
Right-hander Cody Eppley and left-hander Cesar Cabral are also candidates for that final spot, but Eppley has minor league options left and Cabral isn’t expected back until May-ish following his elbow fracture. They’re depth pieces more than Opening Day bullpen guys. I could totally see a trade (Joba? Logan? Robertson?) opening up another bullpen spot, but that’s just my speculation. There haven’t been any rumors of New York shopping or even discussing their bullpen arms. It would make sense though, especially with Logan one year away from free agency and coming off a career-high workload and league-leading appearance total.
The Yankees are expected to “bottom-feed” for pitching depth later this offseason and Lowe fits the bill. He had a nice little run in the bullpen last year (3.04 ERA and 3.77 FIP in 23.2 innings) but has been a pretty ineffective in the rotation for more than three years now (4.73 ERA and 3.99 FIP since 2009). Then again, we’re talking about a potential seventh starter here, maybe even an eighth starter if Adam Warren or Brett Marshall makes a statement in Triple-A early in the season. I’d be totally cool with the Yankees bringing Lowe back on a minor league contract for a swingman role, but I don’t like the idea of guaranteeing him a contract or a roster spot.
Tom asks: I’ve seen people suggest that Joba Chamberlain‘s career is a failure with the reasoning that when he was a prospect, he was promised to be something so special that even considering the attrition rate for prospects, he should have turned out better. Are you happy with Joba’s apparent role now as a good relief pitcher?
Oh no, he’s absolutely not a failure. Joba was selected with the 41st overall pick in the draft and here’s the full list of players taken with that pick who have been above replacement level in their career.
|1973||Red Sox||Fred Lynn (minors)||OF||46.7|
|1980||Cardinals||Dan Plesac (minors)||LHP||15.9|
|2006||Yankees||*Joba Chamberlain (minors)||RHP||6.5|
|1982||Phillies||Lance McCullers (minors)||RHP||4.7|
|1991||Tigers||*Trever Miller (minors)||LHP||4.2|
|1965||Athletics||Bob Stinson (minors)||OF||3.5|
|1983||Reds via Yankees||*Joe Oliver (minors)||C||2.2|
|1970||Giants||Butch Metzger (minors)||RHP||1.0|
|2007||Athletics||*Sean Doolittle (minors)||1B||0.8|
|1990||Red Sox via Braves||*Frankie Rodriguez (minors)||RHP||0.4|
That’s it, ten guys and Joba is currently the third best with a chance to climb into second before things are all said and done. The Yankees have gotten plenty of return on their draft pick and $1.1M signing bonus, so there’s no way he can be considered a failure.
Now, being a disappointment is another matter entirely. Joba will billed as an ace-in-waiting — “Chamberlain fits the No. 1 starter profile in nearly every way,” wrote Baseball America (subs. req’d) when they ranked him as the third best prospect in baseball prior to 2008 — as a prospect and he has not delivered on that promise, so in that sense he’s a disappointment. There’s wasted talent here in that he’s been used primarily as a reliever when he had the stuff to start, but the team played a big role in that obviously.
The Yankees gave Joba only 33 full/unrestricted starts (3.88 ERA, ~4.00 FIP) and ten pitch-count limited starts to prove his worth in the rotation in 2008 and 2009. As a 23-year-old in 2009, he pitched to a 4.34 ERA (4.43 FIP) in 24 starts and 130.2 innings before being limited during the final month of the season, when he got hit pretty hard. He didn’t light the world on fire from April through August, but that performance in the AL East at that age doesn’t strike me as something that warrants being banished to the bullpen for good. That’s what happened though. It is what it is.
Joba set the bar crazy high with his out of this world 2007 debut and that led to unrealistic expectations that were impossible to meet. He also didn’t do himself any favors through the years by showing up to camp out of shape and getting arrested for DUI, so I don’t want to make it seem like I’m absolving him of blame for the failure to reach his ceiling. I wanted Joba to get more time to show what he could do as a starter but that didn’t happen, so I’m disappointed. In no way is having one decent year as a starter and 3+ years as a good to great reliever a failure though. Not at all.
Several people asked: What about Alfonso Soriano?
Soriano, 37 next month, is coming off a .262/.322/.499 (116 wRC+) line with 32 homers this past season, his best performance in about four years. He’d hit .248/.305/.463 (100 wRC+) in nearly 1,600 plate appearances from 2009-20112 until the dead cat bounce in 2012. Soriano did not benefit from BABIP luck — his .303 mark exactly matched his career average — but his HR/FB rate did spike back up to 17.8% after sitting at 12.4% from 2009-2011 (17.1% from 2006-2008). There is an explanation for that.
After opening the season with no homers and a .250/.288/.302 batting line through his first 125 plate appearances, Soriano switched to a lighter bat — 33.5 ounces to 32 ounces according to Gordon Wittenmyer — in mid-May to compensate for his age-related loss of bat speed. He hit seven homers from mid-May through the end of the month and .265/.331/.551 with all 32 of those homers in his final 490 plate appearances of the year. The lighter bat led to a big change in batted ball profile, which you can see in the day-to-day graph…
After posting a ground ball rate right at 30% from 2009-2011, Soriano was hitting the ball into the ground 40-45% of the time early in the season. The ground ball rate came down and the fly ball rate went up following the change in bats, and more fly balls means more homers. Unlike many HR/FB (and therefore overall production) spikes, there’s a tangible reason why he started hitting the ball differently after mid-May.
Soriano has hit left-handers pretty well over the last three seasons (127 wRC+) and that continued this past year (117 wRC+). He’s been good enough against righties (116 wRC+ in 2012 and 105 from 2010-2012) that he’s not a straight platoon candidate. Soriano will still strike out a bunch (23.3 K% from 2010-2012) and not walk (6.2 BB% from 2010-2012 when you remove all the intentional walks), plus these days he is no longer a stolen base threat (13-for-17 in stolen base attempts from 2010-2012). Depending on your choice of defensive metric, he’s either pretty good (UZR and Total Zone) or pretty bad (DRS and FRAA) in left. Based on what I’ve seen these last few years, which admittedly isn’t a ton, I lean towards the latter.
Soriano’s contract is a nightmare, as the Cubs still owe him $18M in both 2013 and 2014. Jon Heyman recently reported Chicago is willing to pay $26M of that $36M to facilitate a trade, but only if they get a good prospect in return. If the Yankees were to swing a trade for their former second baseman, the luxury tax would only apply to whatever they’re paying Soriano. Say the Cubs eat that $26M, the luxury tax would only apply to the remaining $10M ($5M annually) assumed by New York. It wouldn’t be an $18M luxury tax hit even though he’ll actually earn that much salary.
The Yankees need both a right-handed hitting outfielder and a DH, two roles Soriano is qualified to fill at this stage of his career. Scott Hairston is likely to command a two-year, $10M deal similar to what Jonny Gomes received from the Red Sox, so the Bombers could simply sign him for the same salary as Soriano and keep their prospect(s). They’re both low-OBP, power-driven right-handed hitters, but Hairston is quite a bit younger. The lighter bat is nice, but you still have to worry that at some point Soriano just won’t be able to produce anymore given his age. More than anything else, the price will dictate if he’s a reasonable acquisition. Both the money and prospect cost has to be right since he’s a git, but not a perfect fit.
Only three questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at any time. I might do a few mailbag posts next week since things will be slow during the holiday and I know I’ll have the itch to write but not the itch to think real hard, so submit accordingly.
Jimmy asks: So the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett and he had a good season for the Pirates. Can we get some analysis in terms of did his command and velocity improve? Or was it the transition to a weaker division and league combined with the effects of PNC Park and their defense? Why was he so good? Since they’re still paying so much of his contract, should the Yankees have seller’s remorse?
Burnett, 35, pitched to a 3.51 ERA (3.52 FIP) in 202.1 innings and 31 starts for the Pirates last season. His strikeout rate (8.02 K/9 and 21.2 K%) was almost identical to his career norms, though his walk (2.76 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%) and ground ball (56.9%) rates were his best in six and seven years, respectively. His homer rate (0.80 HR/9 and 12.7% HR/FB) also dropped quite a bit, but that was expected. He didn’t enjoy any BABIP luck (.294 after .294-.319 from 2008-2010) but surely got some help from PNC Park, which is much more pitcher friendly than Yankee Stadium.
For the most part Burnett did not change his pitch selection much. He scrapped the cutter he toyed with in 2011 and otherwise threw a few more sinkers at the expense of changeups, but nothing drastic. His fastball averaged 92.2 mph, continuing a slow and steady decline that is very normal for a pitcher in his mid-30s. Burnett did throw more strikes through, a lot more in fact. His 61.1% first pitch strike rate was his best in eight years and about five percentage points better than what he did in New York. More than half (51.1% to be exact) of his pitches were in the strike zone as well, his highest rate in the PitchFX era and nearly seven percentage points better than 2011. That could be an NL thing (weaker lineups), a mechanics thing, or a million other things. Who knows?
It’s probably worth noting that Burnett threw to Rod Barajas this season, who was his catcher during his strong 2008 campaign with the Blue Jays. Maybe the two just work together well, but if nothing else it probably helped the transition a bit. It was pretty obvious after 2011 that Burnett had to go and the Yankees would have to each a big chunk of his contract to make it happen, which sucks. I don’t think the Yankees have (or should have) seller’s remorse though. He had just had two of the worst seasons by a starter in team history in back-to-back years and was showing no signs of turning things around. Burnett worked hard, he tweaked his delivery every other start it seemed, but nothing was working. At some point a change as to be made, especially if you’re trying to contend.
Mark asks: It seems that the Mariners are looking for some outfield help and are most likely missing out on Nick Swisher, as they did Josh Hamilton. Do you think they would be interested in Curtis Granderson and possibly send something back of quality in return? Say a right-handed bat like Jesus Montero? What else would the Yanks need to add to get a return of that quality?
The Mariners added offense in Kendrys Morales earlier this week and are still looking for outfield help, but they have very little of value to offer the Yankees for Granderson. They aren’t getting Taijuan Walker or any of Seattle’s other big pitching prospects, and I doubt the M’s have soured so much on Montero that they’d trade him for one year of Granderson, or even one year of Granderson plus a prospect. Justin Smoak is awful and Franklin Gutierrez hits the undesirable trifecta (awful, injury prone, expensive), so forget them.
The Yankees could ask for infielder Kyle Seager or nominal catcher John Jaso, but I would expect a no to both. Right-handed hitting outfielder Casper Wells could probably be had and he’d make a ton of sense for New York, but he alone is not nearly enough of a return. As I’ve been saying for weeks, it’s very hard to envision a realistic trade scenario in which the Yankees move Granderson and actually improve the team. The Mariners could use the Grandyman, but they don’t have much to make it worthwhile.
Mike asks: Just wondering if you think the Yankees should have any interest in Kelly Shoppach. He has the AL East pedigree and would provide some desperately needed RH pop. Too expensive?
Shoppach, 32, has spent most of the last three seasons with the Rays and Red Sox, so he’s certainly familiar with the division. His overall offensive performance is pretty bad (even for a catcher) during those three years (.202/.294/.374, 85 wRC+), but that doesn’t tell the whole story. As a right-handed batter, Shoppach pounds lefties (.246/.336/.437, 115 wRC+) and gets completely dominated by righties (.156/.248/.301, 52 wRC+). It’s worth mentioning that since 2010, only one batter (Mark Reynolds) has made less contact on pitches in the strike zone than Shoppach (73.4%). His career 33.4% strikeout rate is ghastly for a player without huge power.
The various catcher defense rankings (2010, 2011, 2012) rate Shoppach as anywhere from average to above-average behind the plate, which surprised me. He’s also thrown out 31.5% of attempted base-stealers over the last three seasons, which is much better than the league average. For some reason I thought he was a butcher back there. The Yankees already have three right-handed hitting catchers in Frankie Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and Austin Romine, but that shouldn’t stop them from pursuing Shoppach at a reasonable (one-year, $3M?) price just so they could get some offense from the catcher position, even if it’s just against lefties.