Yankees avoid arbitration with Phil Hughes

6:09pm: According to multiple reports, Hughes received $7.15M. Wow, good for him.

5:31pm: The Yankees and Phil Hughes have avoided arbitration and agreed to a one-year contract for 2013, the team announced. No word on the terms, but MLBTR projected a $5.7M salary. Hughes, 26, will be eligible for free agency next offseason. I wrote about the idea of a contract extension a few weeks ago.

Projecting Derek Jeter

(Jamie Squire/Getty)

Three years ago, a then 36-year-old Derek Jeter looked dangerously close to being finished. He hit .270/.340/.370 (93 wRC+) across 739 plate appearances in 2010, by far the worst full season offensive performance of his career. The Cap’n rebounded in mid-2011 thanks to some mechanical work with former hitting coach Gary Denbo, and he rode those adjustments to a .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) showing last season. It was his best season since 2009 and second best since 2007.

An ankle fracture that may or may not be related to the bone bruise he played on for most of September ended Jeter’s season during Game One of the ALCS back in October. He had surgery a few weeks later and his rehab is progressing well based on last week’s update. Jeter has yet to do any baseball activities such as swing a bat or field some grounders, but he’s riding a bike and running in a pool. So far, so good, so right now he’s on track to be ready for Opening Day.

Great players tend to age differently than others, but no matter how iconic he may be, Jeter is 38 years old and Father Time is lurking. The number of full-time shortstops who qualified for the batting title at that age (or older) and managed to be above-average offensively is three, and only one has done it in the last 60 years. That was Jeter in 2012. Factor in the ankle injury, the significance of which should not be downplayed, and I think it’s far to say the Yankees captain is more of a question mark now than ever before, even after that disappointing 2010 season.

In a recent Insider-only ESPN piece, Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to look at the next three seasons of Jeter’s career. The standard disclaimer goes here: projections are not predictions, they’re an estimation of a player’s true talent level. Szymborski notes that even high-BABIP hitters like Jeter (career .354) tend to fall off rapidly in their late-30s, to the tune of 30+ BABIP points in a single season. Based on that alone, ZiPS measures the Cap’n at .288/.338/.396 next season, which isn’t far off from his 2010 effort. That does not factor in the ankle injury, however.

Szymborski notes that players who missed 30 or so days due to a leg injury — which Jeter would have done had he injury occurred in say, June instead of October — tend to underperform projections the following year. When he plugs the leg injury into ZiPS, it spits out a .277/.334/.369 projection for Jeter in 2013. That almost exactly matches his 2010 season, when he was close to 10% below league average. You can see Jeter’s ankle-reflecting projections in the table on the right, and they aren’t particularly pretty.

The league average shortstop hit .256/.310/.375 (86 wRC+) this past season, and that’s atrocious. So the good news is that even an old and somewhat hobbled Jeter projects to be an above-average hitting shortstop for at least the next two years, which, coincidentally, is how long he remains under contract (assuming the player option for 2014 is exercised). The bad news is that those projections are a big step down for the Cap’n, which is not what the Yankees need at a time when they’re losing offense in right field and behind the plate. Maybe at DH and third base as well.

Projections are wrong all the time, of course. ZiPS is consistently the best out there on a macro level, but on a micro level there are a ton of hilariously poor misses. The system projected a .280/.347/.393 line for Jeter last season, just as one example. I have no worries about Jeter preparing himself for the season, but I do worry about a potential setback if he pushes himself too hard. Just look at what happened to Andy Pettitte last summer. We all know Derek is going to put the necessary work in, but at some point the clock is going to strike midnight. Maybe it happens in 2013, maybe it happens in 2015. When you add the ankle problem on top of his age, the chances of Jeter’s production taking a big step back becomes even greater, and that’s one of the last things the club needs right now.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Here is your open thread for this evening. The Nets are playing, but otherwise you’re on your own for entertainment. Talk about whatever you like here, enjoy.

Report: Nationals land Soriano; Yanks another draft pick

Per Yahoo! Sports’ very own Jeff Passan, the Nationals have signed Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal worth $28 million, and the Yankees will get a supplemental first round draft pick. Although a slow market had many thinking Soriano had erred in exercising his opt-out, Scott Boras exacting two years at $14 million with a vesting option for the third from a team that saw its closer utterly collapse in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS this year.

With this signing and because Soriano declined a qualifying offer, the Nationals lose their first round draft pick, and the Yanks gain another compensation pick. According to Jim Callis, that would be the 32nd pick of the draft. The draft order could move a bit when Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn finally ink deals, but for now, it seems as though the Bombers will have around $5 million to spend based on the slotting system. Three late-first round picks will allow the Yanks a nice talent grab at the end.

Austin Romine, David Adams, and the WBC

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The official rosters have yet to be released, but right now we know at least four Yankees will participate in the World Baseball Classic in a few weeks: Mark Teixeira (USA), Andy Pettitte (USA), Robinson Cano (Dominican Republic), and Frankie Cervelli (Italy). Since Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki have already declined invitations from Team Japan while CC Sabathia (elbow), Mariano Rivera (knee), and Derek Jeter (ankle) are all coming off surgery, those four guys are likely to be the only Yankees to play in the tournament. I suppose Josh Spence could crack the Australia roster, but he isn’t on the 40-man roster and not someone really worth worrying about at this point.

Four years ago, the Yankees had several players participate in the World Baseball Classic, most notably Jeter and Cano. While those two were off representing their countries, the club was a little short on middle infielders in Spring Training and gave some of their minor leaguers extended looks. That’s how Ramiro Pena, who had never played above Double-A at that point, wound up playing in 30 of the team’s 34 Grapefruit League games that year, receiving the fourth most at-bats of anyone on the team. He hit an okay .277/.329/.338 and flashed serious leather in camp, which was good enough to beat out the veteran Angel Berroa for the utility infielder position on Opening Day. Pena received an opportunity in 2009 and took advantage of it.

This spring, those WBC-created opportunities will belong to Austin Romine and David Adams. Romine, 24, was due to get a long look in Spring Training anyway given the team’s current catching situation, but with Cervelli away from the club, he’ll get even more at-bats in front of the team’s decision makers. Brian Cashman recently said he envisions Romine starting the season in Triple-A, but a strong camp has a way of changing minds. Since Chris Stewart appears to be a lock for one of the two catching spots, it’s Romine vs. Cervelli for the other and only one will be with the team in Spring Training. I think it’s fair to wonder why Cervelli is playing in the WBC given the big league opening. Maybe not the smartest career decision.

(Jordan Megenhardt/MLB.com)

As for Adams, he figures to get plenty of playing time at second base while Cano is away with the DR squad. The Yankees like the 25-year-old enough to have him work at third base late last season and in the Arizona Fall League a few weeks ago, presumably in an effort to increase his versatility in advance of a big league bench job. Adams can’t play shortstop and wouldn’t work as a true utility infielder, but the Yankees have yet to replace Eric Chavez and he could fill that spot. His primary competition would be Corban Joseph, who is a defensive liability at both second and third. As we saw with Pena a few years ago, the Yankees won’t hesitate to skip Adams over Triple-A if he’s the best man for the job, something he has a chance to prove in camp.

One other benefit of the WBC — if you can really call it a benefit — is the opening of Pettitte’s rotation spot. He’ll be getting his work in with Team USA while Ivan Nova and David Phelps have a true Spring Training competition for the fifth starter’s spot. Usually when there are multiple pitchers competing for one spot, one winds up pitching in relief of the other in the same game, meaning the starter tends to face big league hitters while the guy coming out of the pen faces the minor league replacements. With Pettitte away from the team, both Nova and Phelps can start every five days for the Yankees and truly compete for the rotation head-to-head with no scheduling or competition weirdness. Things will be a little more fair.

I enjoy the World Baseball Classic as a fan because hey, it’s meaningful baseball in March. The tournament itself is pretty meaningless, but I find it fun nonetheless. I do worry about players, especially ones as important to the 2013 Yankees as Cano and Pettitte, getting hurt while playing for other clubs, but it comes with the territory. Some of the absences this March will create some opportunities for young players in camp, specifically Romine and Adams. Both are on the outside of the big league roster looking in now, but there are openings available and a strong few weeks could be the difference between an assignment to Triple-A or a six-figure job in the Bronx.

Rule changes tentatively approved for 2013

Geez, that wasn’t even a good move Brett.

Three notable rule changes were approved at last week’s owners’ meetings, and they must now being given the okay by the players’ union before they can be officially implemented this coming season. That isn’t expected to be much of an issue. Here’s the skinny on the changes, courtesy of Jayson Stark

  • The Jeff Nelson move, as Michael Kay calls it, will now be considered a balk. That’s the ol’ fake-to-third, throw-to-first move. A handful of players fall for it each year. MLB can actually implement this without the union’s approval, but they’ll run it by the players for the sake of labor relations peace.
  • Coaches and managers will now be allowed to bring interpreters to the mound. That’s a pretty big deal and not just for the Hiroki Kuroda‘s and Hyun-Jin Ryu’s of the pitching world. There’s an awful lot of young Latin American-born pitchers who have yet to fully grasp the English language out there. Heck, I still haven’t grasped it.
  • Teams can now have a seventh coach in uniform and in the dugout during games. They had been limited to six before. A number of teams are carrying second hitting coaches these days — the Yankees haven’t added one yet — and this accommodates them.

Monday Night Open Thread

Just as a heads up, I’m going to be out of town for most of the week and will be pretty busy in general. Content is going to be a little light for the next few days, though I expect the Yankees to make a major move since I won’t be around to write about it. I hope you’re all ready for that massive four-team trade that sends Curtis Granderson to the Mariners, Boone Logan to the Nationals, and both Justin Upton and Mike Morse to the Yankees. Imagine that.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Neither of the two basketball locals are in action, so you’re on your own as far as entertainment goes. Talk about whatever you like here. Have at it.