King: Yankees continue to talk to Raul Ibanez

Via George King: Brian Cashman confirmed that the team is still speaking to Raul Ibanez and his agent about a possible return next season. “We are talking to Raul Ibanez and his agent.,” said the GM, in case you didn’t believe me.

Last month we heard the Yankees had “significant interest” in bringing Ibanez back as the left-handed half of a DH platoon only. Of course, they said the same exact thing last offseason, but plans have a way of changing. Given the offensive hit they’re expected to take in right field and behind the plate, I really want the team to pursue a bigger bat for the DH spot. Raul’s a great guy and he hit some amazingly clutch homers, but that 102 wRC+ just isn’t doing it for me.

It’s official: Ichiro’s back for two more years

The Yankees have officially re-signed Ichiro Suzuki to a two-year contract, the team announced. The deal is reportedly in the neighborhood of $13M, or $6.5M annually for luxury tax purposes.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated Jim Miller for assignment. They claimed the 30-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Athletics late last month. He pitched to a 2.59 ERA (4.74 FIP) in 48.2 innings for Oakland last year and owns a 2.42 ERA (4.42 FIP) with big strikeout (8.10 K/9 and 20.4 K%) and walk (5.12 BB/9 and 12.9 BB%) rates in 63.1 career big league innings.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks and Nets are playing each other tonight, and apparently that rivalry is a thing now. Talk about that game or anything else here, just don’t be an ass.

Injury Updates: Pineda, Campos, Cabral

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Got some injury updates, courtesy of Chad Jennings

  • Michael Pineda (shoulder) is still throwing off flat ground from “extended distances” according to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman. He’s been throwing off flat ground for more than a month now is still on target to return sometime in May or June.
  • Jose Campos (elbow) is currently throwing off a mound and is expected to ready in time for Spring Training after missing almost the entire 2012 season. “The doctors say he’s healthy. We’re going to proceed based on that recommendation,” said Newman, who confirmed Campos will begin the season back with Low-A Charleston.
  • Cesar Cabral (elbow) is basically doing the same thing as Pineda right now, throwing off flat ground from “extended distances.” The Yankees plan to keep the 2011 Rule 5 Draft pick next year, but Newman said he’s unlikely to return until May. Cabral has to spend at least 90 days on the active 25-man roster next season to satisfy the Rule 5 Draft rules.

Newman also confirmed to Jennings that top prospect Mason Williams (shoulder) has resumed swinging a bat in Tampa. He had surgery in August and was recently cleared to begin workouts. Sounds like he’ll be ready to go once camp starts.

MLB players should consider cheating.

I’ll admit the title is a bit of a misnomer. It should probably be “Some MLB players should consider cheating as it pertains to banned substances some of the time.” Also, before going any further with this, I’d like to point out that this article was inspired by one of my great friends (who will hopefully allow me to share his proposal on how to best resolve this issue at some point in the near future).  For the sake of the article (and dialog in general), let’s put conventional sentiments surrounding ethics as they pertain to athletics on the shelf for a moment*.

* In other words, let’s not just claim players shouldn’t use banned substances simply because it’s “wrong.” Before you all completely hate on me for writing this article, know that my personal beliefs on performance enhancers are not being reflected, but rather, my observations on how players may perceive the current environment are.  I am not really qualified to explain the long term effects of steroids to one’s physical health, so some of my points may be leaps of … ahem, faith. Okay, disclaimers in order … check.

As far as I can tell, the basic motivation for cheating comes down to one primary goal in baseball (and probably sports in general) – that is to obtain a competitive advantage whether it be via skill or durability. For some players, this means transitioning from “subpar or expendable” status to, say, a useful role player. For other players, it may mean going from very talented to exceptional. In any event, I believe certain players in Major League Baseball have much more to gain by cheating then they have to lose compared to others.

Now, I’m not talking about your Alex Rodriguez or your Barry Bonds. Personality traits aside, it’d be completely asinine to claim that either of those players weren’t incredible in their day. Both represent generational talents, who in their prime (and perhaps even past it), would represent an upgrade for any team looking to contend. The problem with cheating for these guys is a matter of perceived legacy. They were always likely to get paid assuming they could stay on the field. If they get caught cheating, the only real jeopardy they’d face is exclusion from the Hall of Fame (assuming the HOF doesn’t change its criteria which I think it will in time). Sure, they may face a suspension as the rules currently stand, but my guess is they’d still typically acquire the big contract more often than not as they’re naturally more gifted than their peers, and being gifted is an expensive commodity.  To put this into clear context, I’m not talking about a guy like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, or any of the other exceptional players in the league.

No, the type of guys I’m referring too are of the Melky Cabrera ilk. Let’s rewind back to 2010. Having been traded to the Braves (in the infamous Javier Vasquez swap) from the Yankees, he was awful. We’re talking a .255/.317/.354 slash line (.292 wOBA) with four home runs bad. For those wondering, that translates out a 77 wRC+ and a -1.1 fWAR. Basically, if all was just in the world, he would have had to pay the Braves for letting him “contribute” to their cause (and he’d probably have to offer a sincere heart-filled apology to [insert generic replacement level player here] for keeping him in the minors). Instead, he was non-tendered as the Braves wanted no part of his $3.1M salary.  But the point stands; at this juncture, Melky barely qualified for any Major League roster spot … anywhere.

But something happened, and no, it wasn’t the invigorating atmosphere of Kauffman Stadium or the refreshingly cool San Francisco air that caused it (presumably). Over the next two seasons with the Royals and Giants, Melky was legitimately good. This past season he was so good, in fact, he even contended for the batting title in the NL (.346/.390/.516, .387 wOBA, 149 wRC+, with 11 home runs). There were rumblings as far back as May, that by the end of the year, he was going to cash in a serious contract too, whether it be with the Giants or another team – some even mused a paycheck as lofty as four or five years, $50-60M (roughly $10-15M per year) which was probably quite realistic. For a guy who was about to potentially face a minor league contract, and who was barely a footnote in Major League Baseball as recently as 2010, that’d be one hell of a pay day.

Obviously, things went a bit differently though. Melky was caught using a banned substance. He didn’t win the batting title (because he withdrew his name from consideration), and he was suspended from baseball for 50 games. Now you’d think that teams might have been worried this offseason that some major performance regression could happen for Cabrera and that his performance as player wasn’t entirely legitimate the past couple seasons. You might reasonably expect that Melky could be an interesting “buy low” type of candidate for a lot of teams looking to strike gold on a player with some question marks along with some potential. Instead, the Toronto Blue Jays set the market with a two-year deal worth $16M – that is to say eight million dollars per season despite the question marks surrounding him! Not too shabby, really.  And if he puts up solid numbers for the Blue Jays for the next couple seasons, he’ll be right back in line for another solid pay day the next time he hits free agency. That’s far more certainty than he had a few seasons ago when he was viewed as nothing beyond a fourth outfielder/depth guy.

So let’s pretend we’re the proverbial little red devil sitting on the shoulder of the next Melky Cabrera for a moment. We’re going to say. “Son, let’s be honest. You suck. Your dream of being a Major Leaguer could disappear very soon altogether. Go ahead; give yourself a boost while you still can. Maybe you’ll turn it around and extend your career a little while (let’s face it, you’re not getting any younger). Maybe you’ll heal faster from your injuries. Maybe you’ll even become more productive like the Melk Man with a just a bit of help, and you’ll put yourself (and let’s not forget your family) in a better position to earn whatever you can while you can! And if worse comes to worst, you’ll get caught, you’ll face suspension, and you’ll be viewed as a pariah. But then again, that sounds a lot like what’s happening right now. Just consider it. You know everyone else is.”

Of course, ironically, Melky still has the footnote to his name.  He’s just substantially wealthier for it.

Prospect Profile: Taylor Dugas

(Photo via MiLB.com)

Taylor Dugas | OF

Background
A Louisiana kid from Lafayette, Dugas was a two-way star at Teurling Catholic High School. He hit .518 with 19 homers and 51 doubles during his four years with the Rebels while also going 31-6 with 195 career strikeouts on the mound. Dugas hit .640 with ten homers and 34 steals (in 35 attempts) as a senior, earning him the Louisiana Baseball Coaches Association Player of the Year award as well as numerous other honors. He was also a standout quarterback on the football team and thrice earned Academic Honor Roll status.

Despite his high school accomplishments, Dugas wasn’t considered much of a pro prospect because of his small frame. Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank him as one of the top 40 draft prospects in Louisiana in 2008 and no team rolled the dice in the draft. Dugas followed through on his commitment to Alabama after going undrafted, and he stepped right into the lineup to hit .352/.412/.479 with a team-leading 83 hits and 13 steals (in attempts) in 56 games as a freshman. The performance earned him freshman All-America honors.

[Read more…]

Thoughts on a random Wednesday

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Baseball news is going to start to slow down in a day or two because of the holidays, and it won’t be until after the new year that things pick back up. Sure, there will be a move or three between Christmas and New Year’s, but GMs and agents and players tend to take it easy that week. Can’t really blame them, it’s a 24/7/365 profession and everyone needs a break at some point.

1. Now that R.A. Dickey has officially been traded to the Blue Jays, I sorta hate that I’m going to have to root against him. He was a blast to watch on the other side of town this season, and I don’t think he’ll have a ton of trouble switching leagues. Yes, the parks aren’t as friendly in the AL East, but he’ll still be well-above-average if not ace-caliber. Someone (I believe Bill Petti) has done recent research showing that the knuckleball removes some of the hitter’s skill from the equation in the pitcher-batter matchup, which would obviously serve Dickey well in the tougher league. The one real criticism I have of the Rays over the last few seasons is their unwillingness to make the big move to go for it, but we certainly can’t accuse the Blue Jays of that. The see an opening in the division and are going for it like hell.

2. So what changed about the Yankees’ evaluation of Russell Martin over the last 12 months? They offered him that three-year, $20M-something extension last offseason after the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (and incentives to get under the luxury tax) were in place, yet they wouldn’t go near the two-year, $17M deal he took from the Pirates a few weeks ago. Do they think his offense will continue to decline? That he’s not a safe bet to stay healthy the next two years given his big career workload? Is his defense not as good as advertised? The Yankees have passed on a ton of free agents over the years and for the most part you can understand why. With Martin, given the dearth of quality catching, it just makes no sense to pass on that price even with the 2014 payroll plan looming, especially since they were so willing to give Ichiro Suzuki two years. So weird.

Late Add: Forgot to include this in the original post, but isn’t Martin + Chris Dickerson > Chris Stewart/Austin Romine/Frankie Cervelli + Ichiro + $4M? Doesn’t that seem obvious?

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

3. This is worthy of a larger post later in the offseason, but is there a more important Yankees position player right now than Mark Teixeira? Given the offensive hits the team will take in right field and behind the plate (Derek Jeter is unlikely to hit .316/.362/.429 again as well), the Yankees badly need to Tex to halt his decline and get back to his 30+ homers, 125+ wRC+ ways. I’m not asking him to hit like he did from 2005-2009 (141 wRC+), but he needs to do better than a .332 OBP. Hopefully good health — remember, he had the cough and wrist issues in addition to the calf problem this past year — will help Teixeira improve his offense next season. The Yankees need him to be a middle of the lineup force again. It’s imperative.

4. Here’s the list of unsigned free agents; anyone in particular you want to see the Yankees sign before Spring Training? The big names are Michael Bourn and Scott Hairston and Shaun Marcum and A.J. Pierzynski and blah blah blah. I’m talking about someone off the beaten path, like infielder Ronny Cedeno (110 wRC+ vs. LHP in 2012) for the bench or right-hander Matt Lindstrom (2.85 ERA and 3.24 ERA from 2011-2012) for the bullpen. I’d love to see right-hander Tim Stauffer (3.15 ERA and 3.72 FIP from 2010-2011 before elbow surgery in 2012) on a minor league deal to stash in Triple-A for rotation depth. Any irrational favorites?