Rosenthal: Yanks unlikely to pursue a catcher

Even with Jorge Posada dealing with a Baker’s cyst and Frankie Cervelli hitting .195/.273/.293 in his last 131 plate appearances, the Yankees are not going to pursue a catcher before Saturday’s trade deadline according to Ken Rosenthal. They have depth at the position in the form up Chad Moeller and Jesus Montero, and frankly there are no attractive catchers on the trade market anyway. I suppose they could look at someone like Chris Snyder while employing Posada as a full-time designated hitter, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Rosenthal also mentions that the Yanks want Adam Dunn but aren’t confident that they’ll be able to land him, and the asking price for bullpen help remains high. Go figure.

Why Kei Igawa is still a (Scranton) Yankee

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

There’s no denying that one of Brian Cashman‘s biggest mistakes has been the acquisition of Japanese lefty Kei Igawa. After getting blown out of the water on the bidding for Daisuke Matsuzaka by the Red Sox, Cashman and the rest of the brain trust turned to Igawa, who was coming off a five season stretch with the Hanshin Tigers where he topped 200 innings four times (172.1 IP the other year) and posted a 3.14 ERA, 8.59 K/9, and 2.47 BB/9. He wasn’t going to be the ace Dice-K is was supposed to be, but he was expected to solidify the back of a rotation that featured the likes of Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, and Darrell Rasner the year before.

The Yanks won Igawa’s rights with a $26,000,194 bid during the posting process; the extra $194 was an ode to his league leading strikeout total in 2006. They then gave him a five year contract worth $20M, but have gotten basically nothing out of him. Igawa’s Yankee career consists of 71.2 innings of 6.66 ERA, 6.19 FIP, 5.74 xFIP pitching, totaling -0.2 WAR. It’s quite literally $46M flushed down the toilet.

It’s not like the Yankees haven’t had a chance to unload Igawa, either. The Padres claimed the lefty off waivers back in August of 2007, he was part of the Johan Santana trade talks, ditto Mike Cameron, and the Cubs even showed some interest in him as recently as this offseason. None of that materialized, and in hindsight, yeah they should have just let the Padres have him and the $17M or so left on his contract. The Yanks still believed Igawa was salvageable and wanted to try to extract value out of him, but of course that never happened.

Late last night in one of his classic Heard This tweets, Buster Olney said that one reason why the Yanks have yet to deal Igawa is because doing so would cost them big time against the luxury tax. Ben and I couldn’t exactly figure out how that would work (neither could Maury Brown), but Jayson Stark explained the situation back in May:

At least now, you see, Igawa doesn’t count against their luxury-tax payroll because they were able to dump him off the 40-man roster. But if somebody actually wanted him (not that there’s any indication of that), the Yankees would have to pay virtually his entire salary. And that would pull all those dollars back onto their luxury-tax bill, to the tune of a 40 percent tax on whatever they’re paying.

In other words, one GM said, “They have huge incentive not to trade him, even if they could. So he’s one of the all-time stuck-in-purgatory cases.”

Essentially, if the Yanks trade Igawa and eat any of the money left on his deal, it counts against their big league payroll and thus the luxury tax. As long as he’s in the minors and not on the 40-man roster, which has been the case for more than two years now, his salary does not count towards their Major League payroll. The luxury tax isn’t cheap, 40% for every dollar on the payroll in excess of $170M, so they’d be looking at $2.2M in extra luxury tax if they deal Igawa today and ate every dollar left on his deal. That’s pocket change for the Yanks, but is it worth paying on top of Igawa’s salary just to get rid of him? Nah.

There’s a lot of venom towards Igawa and his sunglasses for obvious reasons, but I dunno, having him in Triple-A doesn’t bother me as much as it does some others. It’s not like he’s blocking an actual prospect, he’s just the veteran swingman/long man that every Triple-A team employs to soak up miscellaneous innings here and there. Does it suck that the Yanks still have to pay him another $4M next year? Sure, but they’re stuck paying that money anyway. Might as well get something out of him.

So until his contract expires after next season, Igawa is stuck in Scranton, not wanted by the Yankees, not wanted back in Japan. His occasional appearance in DotF is a reminder of just how poorly this deal turned out.

If the Yanks make a big move, it will come in August

Joel Sherman passes along some excellent advice: “Avoid writing what is not going to happen.” I read that line as I was 800 words into an article examining why the Yankees won’t look into two possible upgrades in the starting rotation, Roy Oswalt and Carlos Zambrano. The loss to me: 30 minutes of my life. The gain for you: the cost of reading some thoughts on moves that will not happen. I think we all win at least a little in this transaction.

To Sherman’s larger point, the chances of the Yankees making a deadline deal do not look optimistic. Instead their deadline dealings will probably resemble what they did last year. Acquiring a bench bat, or maybe a low-profile bullpen arm, is all we’ll probably see from Cashman and Co. by the time the non-wavier deadline passes at 4 p.m on Saturday.

That doesn’t mean that the Yankees will stay put. It just means that they won’t pursue any of the names currently available. That’s not only because they’re luxuries and not needs, but also because many of them will be available for another month. Plenty of interesting players will clear waivers, which will open the way for deals. This group will certainly include a number of starting pitchers.

All of this works in the Yankees’ favor. As we move through August the team will have a better idea of how Phil Hughes is reacting to the increased workload. They’ll also have a better assessment of Pettitte’s injury. If they feel they need a starter after that, they should have options available. If they don’t, they can save the money and prospects by sticking with in-house options.

There still exists a possibility of a pre-deadline move. Brian Cashman works quickly and stealthily, so anything is possible at any time. But considering the potential August trade market, they might choose to just wait it out. There will be options later, and those options might not be any worse than the ones they have right now.

As to Oswalt and Zambrano, it’s not happening. I kinda just wanted to drum up something on them to get everyone talking, but really that wouldn’t be a productive discussion. Both are owed too much money, more than they’re ultimately worth. While the Cubs would likely kick in some cash, there are some other negatives from Zambrano that make even a complete salary dump a questionable move. If the Yanks do acquire a starter, it will likely be a name we haven’t seen them associated with yet.

The Yankees’ top five trade chips

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

We’re now just three full days from the trade deadline, so the rumor mill is going to pick up very soon. Unlike five or six years ago, the Yankees actually have some good young players to offer in a deal right now, players other teams in the league actually want. That used to not be the case, which is why Eric Duncan was promoted so aggressively back in the day; they were trying to boost his trade value. Thankfully don’t have that problem any more. There are waves of talent coming up through the system, so the Yanks could offer high probability players from the upper minors or high upside players a little further away.

GM Brian Cashman‘s stock line has been “No one is untouchable, but some are more touchable than others,” which is simple enough and right to the point. I’m sure the Yankees would move Robbie Cano or Phil Hughes in the right deal, but the odds that right deal comes along are very slim. As I put together this list of the players with the most trade value in the organization, I left those two off for that reason. It’s just incredibly unlikely that they’ll be traded.

I have to say, putting this together was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Balancing big leaguers with guys still in the minors is never easy to do, especially when you’re trying to figure out how much those players appeal to other teams.

Remember, this list is extremely subjective, so make sure you leave your two cents in the comments.

1. Jesus Montero, C

Despite being one of the game’s best prospects, Montero has been no stranger to the trade rumor circuit. The Yanks offered him for Roy Halladay last year, and then again for Cliff Lee this year. Rumors have swirled about the team “dangling” him for Joakim Soria, though that sounds like a game of rumor telephone gone wrong. Either way, it’s clear other teams value the Yanks’ best prospect, enough to consider swapping a front-line player for him.

Still just 20-years-old, Montero rebounded from a poor start to the season in Triple-A and has hit .371/.481/.645 with more walks (13) than strikeouts (11) in July. Even though his future at catcher is uncertain, Montero has immense trade value as a well-above average bat with six years of team control ahead of him. Victor Wang’s research pegs his trade value at a staggering $36.5M.

2. Brett Gardner, OF

I don’t believe the Yanks would go out and actively shop Gardner, but I do believe they’d have no trouble parting with him in a trade if it came down to it. They could market him as a .380 OBP, 40 steal, Gold Glove caliber centerfielder with four more years of cost control left, which has big time value on the trade market. We know that the White Sox, Royals, and Cubs have had varying levels of interest in trading for Gardner over the last year or so.

The Yanks would have to bring in a replacement via free agency after the season, which would be expensive but not an issue of talent with players like Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth out there. I get a trade value of $53.3M using Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator, though I suspect my WAR projections were a tad optimistic.

3. Joba Chamberlain, RHP

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Even though his 2010 season has been particularly horrific, other teams still have interest in Joba. The Diamondbacks asked for him in a Dan Haren deal, ditto the Blue Jays and Scott Downs. The Yankees would be selling low, very low, which is why I don’t expect them to move him, but they could present him as a guy that has flirted with the upper-90’s this year and shown a put-away slider and a good curveball.

Joba’s trade value isn’t as high as it was a few years ago not necessarily because he’s stunk this season, but because he’s about to enter his arbitration years. His league minimum salary is going to become a seven figure payout next year, which works against him. There are still plenty of teams out there that would be willing to move him back into the rotation, I’m sure of it. I have his trade value at $16.1M as a reliever and $21.9M as a starter.

4. Austin Romine, C

Depth behind the plate is a wonderful thing. Teams will often overpay for quality catchers in trades or free agency because of dearth of good backstops, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Romine is the team’s best minor league trade chip behind Montero. He doesn’t offer the same offensive potential, but he’s a virtual lock to stay behind the plate, boosting his trade value. As a projected league average hitter with above average defense and six full years of cost control left, Romine could be the centerpiece in any kind of deal short of one involving a superstar. Wang’s research has his value at $23.4M.

5. Ivan Nova, RHP

Nova was considered a key piece in a potential Haren deal, and his value comes from being a big league ready starting pitcher with six full seasons on team control left. No, he’s not going to be an ace and is likely to top out as a mid-rotation starter (if that), but getting a player like that for six figures through 2013 is kind of a big deal. He’s imminently movable, and easily the player most likely to be traded in this post. Wang’s research has his trade value at just $1.5M, though I suspect it’s a little higher in reality. Maybe that’s just my bias.

* * *

Like Nova, Hector Noesi has six years of control left as a high probability back-end starter. His extreme control of the strike zone (232 K, 34 BB in his 233.2 IP over the last two seasons) is sure to appeal to other clubs, though the Yanks have were reluctant to include him a deal for Haren. Andrew Brackman has value because he has upside and is getting closer to the big leagues by the day, plus he’s pretty much answered any questions about his health. Dellin Betances is a notch behind him because he’s still in A-ball and has yet to pitch a full, healthy season. David Phelps, Adam Warren, Zach McAllister … those guys have limited ceilings and aren’t as much of a sure thing as either Nova or Noesi.

So what do you all think, am I missing someone? Is my order out of whack? I’m curious to see how the masses value the team’s players in trades.

Stark: Yankees trying to trade Chan Ho Park

Via Jayson Stark, the Yankees are trying to unload the disappointing Chan Ho Park on some unsuspecting team desperate for relief help. CHoP has been on the chopping block (pun intended) for basically the entire season, but I suppose it’s possible that GM Brian Cashman has been getting a few trade inquiries, buying Park some time before what seems like an inevitable DFA. The Yankees aren’t going to get much in return, obviously, but a fringe prospect plus some salary relief is better than nothing.

If the Rockies are selling, should the Yankees be buying?

The Rockies, owners of one of the league’s deepest rosters, have dropped their last six games to fall to eight back in the NL West and four-and-a-half back of NL Wild Card, and now they’re considering selling before the deadline. Just take a quick glance at their roster, and you’ll see plenty of players that appear to fit what the Yankees need.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Despite valiant efforts to land Cliff Lee and Dan Haren, the Yanks biggest needs at the trade deadline are help for the bullpen and help for the bench. A full-time designated hitter is another possibility, but I’m curious to see what a Juan MirandaMarcus Thames platoon could do given regular at-bats. Besides, DH types are abundant during the August waiver trade period, so it’s not a high priority.

Starting on the bench, the Rockies could and probably will shop former Oriole Melvin Mora if they are serious about turning over some of their roster. Mora is owed about $472,000 the rest of the way, and he’ll become a non-compensation free agent after the season. We’re all familiar with Mora from his days with Baltimore, so this part is just review. He’s very versatile, having played first, second, third, and left this season, and his bat is basically league average if not a bit below. His .321 wOBA is actually not a product of Coors Field (.291 wOBA at home, .344 on the road), but his defensive shortcomings have him at perfectly replacement level this year, 0.0 WAR. Is that better than Ramiro Pena (-0.4 WAR)? It sure is.

(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

As for the bullpen, there are plenty of options, but the most attractive is probably Rafael Betancourt. His peripheral stats are off the charts this season (10.75 K/9, 1.25 BB/9), but his ERA sits at 4.50 because of some bad luck on balls in play (.374 BABIP). The big drawback is that Betancourt is an extreme fly ball pitcher (71% of the balls put in play off him during his career have been liners or fly balls), something that might not jive with the New Stadium. The contract situation isn’t great either. Betancourt is owed a touch less than $1.4M for the rest of the season, then is under contract for $3.775M next year. That’s not exactly a bargain basement price for a middle reliever.

The Rockies also have southpaw Joe Beimel to offer, but he’s got unimpressive peripherals (4.50 K/9, 2.25 BB/9 vs. LHB this year) and about $315,000 left on his contract. Plus the Yanks don’t really need another lefty reliever. Manny Corpas has always been a personal fave, and he’s established himself as a ~6.4 K/9, ~2.4 BB/9, ~48% ground ball pitcher over the last several seasons. The Rockies locked him up long-term a few years ago, so he’s owed $1.02M the rest of this year, $3.5M next year, and then there’s a pair of club options for 2012 ($6M or $250,000 buyout) and 2013 ($8M or $500,000 buyout). If Corpas’ 2012 option is declined, he’s still under team control as an arbitration eligible player. They might not want to move him given the cost certainty. Matt Belisle has found a niche in Colorado’s bullpen over the last two years (9.10 K/9, 1.79 BB/9, .3% grounders), but his limited track record of success makes him a risky proposition. He’s owed the same $315,000 as Beimel the rest of the way, and still has another year of arbitration eligibility ahead of him.

Since we’re here, we might as well talk about Brad Hawpe as a DH option, and make no mistake about it, he’s strictly a DH. Over the last three seasons the guy has a -60.4 UZR in the outfield, the worst of any player at any position. The second worst defensive player during that time is Jermaine Dye, who had a -40.5 UZR, so it’s not like it’s close either. Thankfully he can really hit, though he hasn’t produced as expected this year. Coming off four consecutive seasons of at least a .376 wOBA, Hawpe is all the way down to .327 this year, losing close to 50 points off his isolated power. His batted ball profile is basically unchanged, but for whatever reason just 8.1% of his fly balls are leaving the yard (compared to ~17.6% over the last three years). Comparing Hawpe’s spray chart from this year to the past few years, it looks like his isn’t pulling the ball as much as he used to. Maybe his bat has slowed as he entered his 30’s (he turned 31 last month).

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Regardless of what the problem is, someone’s still going to have to pay Hawpe the $2.78M left on his deal this season, plus the $500,000 buyout of his $10M option for 2011. Even though he projects to be a Type-A free agent, an arbitration offer isn’t guaranteed, and despite his offensive production over the last four years, Hawpe is still just a platoon guy. He’s got a .380 wOBA vs. RHP in his career, but just .323 vs. LHP. It’s not Curtis Granderson bad, but bad enough that Thames will still see plenty of at-bats.

I ran Mora, Hawpe, Corpas, and Betancourt through Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator (here’s the breakdown), and frankly none of them have much value. Using what I think are optimistic (and admittedly, somewhat arbitrary) WAR projections, Mora comes in at $1.3M, Hawpe at -$0.2M (assuming his option is declined and arbitration is not offered), Betancourt at $2.8M, and Corpas at $4.5M (assuming his 2012 option is picked up, but the 2013 option is declined). Hawpe has negative value because his production is down and he’s owed so much money. Based on Victor Wang’s research, none of the four is worth even a Grade-B position player prospect. Mora could fetch an older (23+) Grade-C pitching prospect (Wilkin DeLaRosa?), the two relievers someone like Dan Brewer or Bradley Suttle. If that’s the case, I imagine the Rockies would just keep Corpas and Betancourt.

Whether or not the Rockies decide to go ahead and sell remains to be seen. They do have some players that could help the Yankees down the stretch and shouldn’t cost an arm and leg. Mora is certainly familiar with the AL East, ditto Betancourt and the AL in general. I prefer Corpas to Betancourt, but I’m not the one calling the shots.