Via Bob Nightengale: Alex Rodriguez is not planning to cut a deal with MLB regarding the Biogenesis investigation. Ryan Braun accepted a settlement and has been suspended for the rest of the season. Jim Axelrod reports Alex could face a lifetime ban — I assume MLB will try to treat each piece of evidence as an “offense,” allowing them to skip over the 50 and 100-game suspensions — but that won’t happen without a massive legal battle. For the sake of self-promotion, here’s what I wrote about the situation earlier.
8:30pm: There’s a “large gap” between how the Yankees and Cubs value Soriano, reports Buster Olney. The two sides are also haggling over who plays how much of his remaining salary. Paul Sullivan says Soriano confirmed the Yankees have spoken to his agent, but he has not yet been asked to waive his no-trade clause.
1:04am: Via George King: The Yankees are close to acquiring Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs. Chicago will pay the bulk of the $25M or so left on his contract through next season, and the money will be structured in such a way that Soriano has no impact on the 2014 luxury tax calculation, similar to Vernon Wells. King says the Yankees will send a mid-level prospect to the Cubbies.
Soriano, 37, has ten-and-five no-trade protection, but he has indicated he will not veto a deal to return to New York in the past. He came into Monday’s action hitting .259/.289/.476 (103 wRC+) with 17 homers this season, including a 123 wRC+ against lefties. Following what has become an annual slow start, he’s put up a .300/.326/.744 (186 wRC+) line with ten homers over the last 30 days. The Yankees are desperate for power, particularly from the right side, so Soriano definitely fills a need.
In his first minor league rehab game with Double-A Trenton, David Phelps allowed two runs on two hits (one homer) and three walks in 3.2 innings. He struck out six and threw 37 of 61 pitches for strikes (61%). Phelps is currently on the DL with a slight forearm strain, and Brian Cashman has confirmed he won’t automatically re-enter the rotation when healthy. His 30-day rehab window expires on August 22nd, but I doubt Phelps will need that much time.
The Yankees have not had an extra-base hit in 22 innings now, not since Eduardo Nunez doubled off John Lackey in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game. They haven’t hit a single homerun since the All-Star break and their last 20 hits overall have been singles. That’s awful, and to make matters worse, it’s the second time they’ve had a stretch of 20+ hits without an extra-base hit this month (!). It’s very hard to win when you can only move batters one base at a time. I’ll settle for some shots down the line or into the gap, but let’s hope the Yankees manage to actually hit the ball over the fence tonight. Here’s the lineup that will face right-hander Alexi Ogando:
- CF Brett Gardner
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- 2B Robinson Cano
- 1B Lyle Overbay
- DH Vernon Wells
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- 3B Brent Lillibridge
- LF Melky Mesa
- C Austin Romine
And on the mound for the Yankees is right-hander Phil Hughes, who is making his first start of the traditional second half.
It’s another hot but clear night in Dallas, and there’s no threat of rain. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy.
Rotation Update: The newly-acquired Matt Garza will make his first start for the Rangers tomorrow night. Derek Holland will be pushed back to Thursday’s series finale. Thursday’s started had been listed as TBA until the Garza deal.
- Derek Jeter (quad) fielded ground balls hit right at him and made throws to first base yesterday, his first time doing any real baseball activity since getting hurt. He also hit off a tee and soft toss. The Cap’n is expected to take regular batting practice and run today.
- Alex Rodriguez (quad) is down in Tampa but will have to rest for a few days before resuming any kind of baseball activity.
- David Phelps (forearm) will make his first rehab start for Double-A Trenton tonight. Brian Cashman has already confirmed Phelps won’t automatically re-enter the rotation when he’s ready to come off the DL.
- Curtis Granderson (hand) took three at-bats in a simulated game yesterday. “I’m getting there. I definitely need some [at-bats],” he said. Granderson will be re-evaluated after getting more simulate game at-bats today and tomorrow.
- Kevin Youkilis (back) started rehab work about two weeks ago following his surgery. His agent said it is “early in the process,” but Youkilis said he expects to return to the team this year. The original 10-12 week timetable put him on track to return in September.
- Jayson Nix (hamstring) had six at-bats in a simulated game yesterday. He is expected to go out on a minor league rehab assignment at some point soon.
- Austin Romine (neck) has been limited by some stiffness. “I planned on catching him [Sunday], but he got to the ballpark and couldn’t turn to his left,’’ said Joe Girardi, who added Romine is getting better by the day.
- Frankie Cervelli (hand, elbow) has been participating in catching drills but has yet to do anything more than take dry swings. He said batting practice is “coming soon.”
A while back, I wrote a post cynically entitled “MLB players should consider cheating.” The basic premise of the article was simple: the financial incentive for many players to cheat often outweighs the incentive not to (i.e. repercussions such as suspensions or tainted reputations). I used Melky Cabrera as my primary example. He basically went from being a fringy fourth outfielder on the verge of losing an MLB job to a guy who enjoyed a two-year, $16M contract after being suspended for substance abuse and despite obvious performance concerns. Moral relativism aside, I argued Melky is better off now financially than he may have ever been before had he not cheated — a point that I still stand behind.
Given all the hoopla surrounding the Biogenesis scandal, I thought this might be a convenient opportunity to revisit the subject. Has the league taken the appropriate actions for deterring banned substances? For starters, some prominent athletes like Ryan Braun are facing lengthy suspensions (65 games in Braun’s case, which is resulting in $3.25M in lost wages for the rest of the 2013 season). Jhonny Peralta and Nelson Cruz will likely follow with similar penalties of their own along with several other notable players, though it does appear that the players will have some flexibility in the plea bargain in terms of timing, which certainly helps their wallets.
Then, of course, there’s Alex Rodriguez, who will probably face a massive suspension given the abundance of evidence apparently piled against him. Mike touched on this earlier — specifically discussing whether there’s an ideal time for A-Rod to accept his suspension. As an aside, this would also represent the first time the MLBPA has shown limited interest in defending one of its players on this particular matter, and players seem as vocal as ever about having the game cleaned up. Are a few high-profile suspensions enough to stop the majority of players from entertaining the idea of banned substances moving forward though?
Honestly, I’m not sure. I mean, we’re still talking about suspensions as the primary consequence at the end of the day. The “three-strike” rule (50 games for the first offense, 100 for the next, and a lifetime ban for the third) seems to generally still be the preferred avenue of Major League Baseball as a response. The problem with this mode of punishment though, at least as I see it, is that it doesn’t quite solve the issue. Players such as Melky can still take banned substances long enough to possibly earn a big payday without fear of much more than a 50-game suspension if it’s the first offense. Meanwhile, their respective teams are left out to dry once the penalty is issued. Unless the league makes these suspensions radically more severe (such as an immediate lifetime ban regardless of the substance or the circumstance), I just don’t see it this form of cheating ending as neatly as Selig might hope.
What if the repercussions worked a little differently though? For example, imagine if the team had the right to void a player’s contract altogether if they were caught taking PEDs? In the case of the Yankees and A-Rod, this would allow them to redirect a lot of dollars to other parts of the team that would otherwise be allocated to one player. I would have to think that a voided contract would certainly make players think twice about PEDs, though this might also be too extreme for the MLBPA’s liking.
Or, perhaps you could go another direction. Maybe a player who faces a suspension is automatically forced to accept a league minimum paycheck afterward for a couple seasons. If that player is part of some mega-contract already (like A-Rod) and the team chooses not to void the deal, the player would have to accept a few seasons at a discount. This allows the team to keep a player if they choose too, but also have a bit of a security blanket in case he doesn’t perform quite the same afterward. More importantly, the player won’t have the option of cashing in immediately upon return. Basically, he’ll have to prove himself all over again for a season or two prior to getting a big pay day. On the other hand, a player’s career won’t necessarily be over after one mistake thanks to an immediate lifetime ban.
Frankly, I don’t know if either of those options are feasible or even if they’re appropriate suggestions. I think the point here is that a different approach could potentially prove more effective if the league’s expectation is to have a clean game. I don’t think there’s a professional player on the planet who isn’t very conscious about his salary, and if the economic incentives of the game blatantly favor honest play, maybe the vast majority of players might consider it. At least, that’s the theory.
Following last night’s shutout loss to the Rangers, the Yankees have a team 85 wRC+ and average just 3.91 runs per game offensively. They’re a bottom five offense despite playing not just in a very good hitter’s park, but in a division full of hitter’s parks. That inability to generate offense is huge reason why they are just 22-28 in their last 50 games.
The Yankees are reportedly close to acquiring Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs for a mid-level prospect, a nice little pickup that will add some much needed right-handed pop to the lineup. Soriano is just one man though, he alone won’t save the offense. The Bombers still need more help, particularly in the power department. We’re talking about a team that hasn’t had an extra-base hit in their last 22 innings, remember.
Over the weekend, the Astros designated former Ray and former Yankees farmhand Carlos Pena for assignment as they continue their youth movement. Yankees fans have seen what the 35-year-old Pena brings to the table firsthand over the years — he’s a career .231/.353/.501 (109 OPS+) hitter with 26 homers in 113 games against New York — but is there enough left in the tank to help a club that desperately needs offense? Let’s look:
- Offensively, Pena’s calling card is his power. He’s hit at least 19 homers in each of the last six years and swatted eight in 325 plate appearances for Houston. As a dead pull left-handed hitter (2013 spray chart, 2011-12 spray chart), he should fit very well in Yankee Stadium.
- In addition to the power, Pena will also work the count and draw plenty of walks. He’s seen an average of 3.98 pitches per plate appearance this year (4.14 from 2011-12) with a 13.2% walk rate (15.6% from 2011-12). Both rates are well-above-average and damn near elite.
- Pena is pretty durably, having been on the DL just twice in the last five years. He missed a month with a broken finger when CC Sabathia hit him with a pitch in 2009, and he missed two weeks with a foot strain in 2010.
- Following all those years in Tampa, Pena is very familiar with the AL East and playing in tight second half races. He’s also widely considered a strong clubhouse presence. I don’t know how much that helps, but I can’t imagine it’s a bad thing.
- Pena is owed a touch more than $1M for the remainder of the season and will become a free agent this winter. If he goes unclaimed on waivers and is released (likely), any team can sign him for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.
- Pena is not going to hit for average, like at all. He strikes out a ton (27.4 K% this year, 28.4 K% from 2011-12) and has not hit above .230 since 2008. Pena had a .209 AVG when Houston cut the cord and has actually hit below the Mendoza line in two of the last four years.
- The power is slipping. Pena put up a .141 ISO with the Astros, the second straight year his slugging ability has slipped. He’s gone from a .251 ISO from 2008-11 to a .151 ISO since the start of 2012.
- Despite his reverse split this year (77 wRC+ vs. RHP and 133 wRC+ vs. LHP), Pena is a platoon bat. He hit .223/.355/.434 (120 wRC+) against righties from 2010-12 but just .166/.295/.343 (81 wRC+) against southpaws. Lefties shut him right down.
- Pena was once a Gold Glove caliber first baseman, but now he’s just pretty good. He can’t play anywhere else, though. It’s first base, DH, or nothing. Not much flexibility.
The Yankees actually claimed Pena off trade waivers from the Cubs in August 2011, if you remember. The two sides obviously didn’t work a trade. Brian Cashman recently told George King he “wouldn’t be able to say” if the team has interest in the first baseman, which is GM speak. The team obviously saw something they like once upon a time, and in fact hitting coach Kevin Long knows Pena well from their time together with Triple-A Columbus in 2006. Pena credits Long with helping resurrect his career, so there’s a relationship already in place.
Although a right-handed power bat is the top priority (at least until the Soriano trade is finalized), the Yankees are desperate for any kind of power right now. Travis Hafner has been a drain on the offense, hitting just .161/.243/.273 over the last two months. Pena could replace him as the left-handed half of the DH platoon in addition to giving Lyle Overbay a proper backup, something the team lacks. He will also add some much needed patience to the lineup and be able to take aim at the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. That should boost his power production a bit. It wouldn’t take much for him to be an upgrade over Pronk at this point. Not at all.
Right now, the offense is so bad that the Yankees are in a position where they almost have nothing to lose. The bench is generally unusable and about five-ninths of the regular starting lineup is a non-factor. They can afford to give someone like Pena — a flawed but usable player — an opportunity to see if the short porch and a potential playoff race boosts his production. If he doesn’t hit, then they really wouldn’t be any worse off. They have both the flexibility and desperation to give someone like Pena a look now that he’s freely available.