Mailbag: Josh Hamilton, Part Deux

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Mike asks: What kind of contract Josh Hamilton could get when he’s a free agent next year?

I wrote about Hamilton last year right around the holidays, so this is a good chance to go back for an update. The now 30-year-old outfielder followed up his 2010 MVP campaign by having the second worst year of his career, at least offensively. That’s relative to his lofty standards of course, because in no world is a .371 wOBA and a 129 wRC+ bad. He hit .290+ with 30+ doubles and 25+ homers for the third time in four years, and continues to be rated as a strong outfield defender by the advanced metrics.

The other thing Hamilton did in 2011 was get hurt, yet again. He missed more than a month early in the season after breaking his arm sliding into home plate, and he played through a sports hernia in the playoffs before having surgery after the season. Hamilton has been on the DL five times since resurfacing in 2007, including at least once in each of the last three seasons. Ailments include gasteroenteritis (2007), a wrist sprain (2007), fractured ribs (2009), a sports hernia (2009), more fractured ribs (2010), and then the broken arm and second sports hernia this year. He’s also been day-to-day with various leg problems (hamstring, knee, Achilles) about a dozen times since coming back into the league. Only once in his five-year career has he managed to play more than 135 games in a season, only twice more than 125 games.

Hamilton’s past is well known, and it’s fair to question how he’ll age after all he’s put his body through. This isn’t just an injury prone player now on the wrong side of 30, it’s an injury prone player with years of drug and alcohol abuse taking a toll on his body now on the wrong side of 30. The risk level is astronomical. Hamilton’s a great, great player on both sides of the ball, but he’s unable to maximize his talent because he can’t stay on the field all season. I know his left-handed pop would look great in Yankee Stadium, but signing a player like this would be a classic old Yankees move, if you catch my drift. Anyway, that wasn’t the question.

I think a nine-figure contract is out of the question for Hamilton next winter, even though his raw production probably warrants a payday like that. The Jayson Werth (seven years, $126M) and Carl Crawford (seven years, $142M) contracts seem excessive, but the Josh Willingham (three years, $27M) and Michael Cuddyer (three years, $31.5M) contracts seem too light. Perhaps the Jason Bay (four years, $66M) and Torii Hunter (five years, $90M) deals serve as a decent middle ground, four or five years and something like $16-18M per season. Sounds somewhat reasonable, no?

I don’t know what the Yankees are going to do in right field after next season, when Nick Swisher becomes a free agent with no obvious in-house candidate to replace him, but I sure hope Hamilton isn’t on the short list of solutions. Him and Andre Ethier, who will also be a free agent, are two guys I’m very much against signing. I’m sure the Yankees can fashion a platoon that’s as reasonably productive as those two guys over 162 games for a third of the cost on a one-year commitment. Hamilton’s a great hitter, but it’s a safe bet that his best years will be behind when by the time he hits the open market next winter. You don’t want to be the one on the hook when his body finally goes overboard and completely breaks down.

Open Thread: Rock Raines

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Tim Raines has the unfortunate distinction of being the second best leadoff hitter in baseball history, which is only unfortunate because he was overshadowed by the best leadoff hitter in baseball history, who was playing at the same time. He also spent much of his career tucked away in Montreal and never won a major award. Raines did reach base 3,977 times in his career though, the 46th most in history and more times than Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. During his five-year peak from 1983-1987, he hit .318/.406/.467 with 355 steals, 433 walks, and just 311 strikeouts in 3,394 plate appearances.

The Yankees acquired Rock from the White Sox on this date in 1995, sending a minor league pitcher named Blaise Kozeniewski to Chicago. Kozeniewski didn’t even play baseball in 1996 or ever again for that matter, so the Yankees basically got Raines for free. He spent three years as a platoon left fielder in the Bronx, helping the Yankees to the 1996 and 1998 World Series Titles. He posted a .299/.395/.429 batting line in pinstripes, a 115 OPS+ that is probably more than I think anyone could have expected back them, his age 36-38 seasons.

Raines is again eligible for the Hall of Fame this year after being unjustifiably left out last year, so hopefully this is the last time we have to see his name on the ballot. Rock obviously won’t wear a Yankees hat into Cooperstown whenever he does get elected, but we’re going to remember him for his only two World Series rings. That’s more important around here.

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Here’s tonight’s open thread. The Rangers, Devils, and Knicks are all playing tonight, but talk about whatever you want here. Anything goes, so have at it.

Cashman Notes: A-Rod, Andruw, Nakajima

Brian Cashman spoke to reporters earlier today, mostly about the experimental knee procedure Alex Rodriguez underwent in Germany earlier this month. Let’s recap the news…

  • “He had recovered we felt fully from his [knee] surgery,” said Cashman, who confirmed that Alex also had the procedure on his left shoulder. “I think this is more about maintaining health going forward.” The GM said A-Rod has already resumed physical activity, and for some reason he’s working out in Boise of all places (h/t Don W). The procedure was apparently taped to ensure there was no funny business. (Mark Hale, Marc Carig, Will Carroll)
  • “Nothing to report,” said Cashman about Andruw Jones, “other than I’m still talking to him.” A week or two ago we found out that the two sides hadn’t made much progress towards a new deal (Hale)
  • One way or the other, the Hiroyuki Nakajima situation will be wrapped up by next week. The two sides have 30 days to hammer out a contract after the Yankees won the infielder’s negotiating rights in early-December, and that window closes either Friday or Saturday of next week. It sounds like Cashman is waiting to see what happens with Nakajima before pursuing a new deal with Eric Chavez. (Bryan Hoch)

Of all the bad contracts…

The Yankees currently have a need, and for once they’re not throwing money at it. According to some reports, it’s not because they haven’t found anything they like, but rather because they’re unwilling to raise payroll any further. They’re already at around $200 million for 2012, and we’ve already heard more than enough about the possible austerity budget for 2014. Whether they’re really trying to get payroll to a certain level by 2014, of they’re just getting out of the habit of giving out big-money, long-term contracts, it means that their biggest need this off-season, pitching, won’t get typical Yankee attention.

While avoiding long-term contracts for pitchers such as C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, and Edwin Jackson make sense to varying degrees, what’s striking about this off-season is the Yankees’ reluctance to explore short-term deals that could boost the 2012 rotation. They’ve distanced themselves from Roy Oswalt even after learning he seeks only a one-year deal. More alarmingly, they’ve backed off Hiroki Kuroda, a pitcher who is not only seeking a short-term deal, but is also a pitcher the Yankees reportedly like.

Why would the Yankees choose not to pursue a pitcher they like if he only requires a one-year contract? There are a few reasons, but these seem the most plausible.

1. They’re not interested in paying the price for Kuroda plus the luxury tax. The contracts on the book are already there and can’t go anywhere. Adding Kuroda will effectively add nearly $17 million to total 2012 expenditures.

2. They’re worried that Kuroda won’t handle the transition to the AL in general, and the AL East specifically, well. If he’s not measurably better than Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett, he’s not worth much, never mind $17 million. Since the Yankees clearly have a budget this winter, that $17 million could effectively wipe out any remaining flexibility, which could affect other aspects of the team. In other words, it’s a bigger risk than they’d normally consider for a player on a one-year deal.

Unfortunately, this ties the Yankees hands. They can’t do anything with the big contracts currently on the books. The players have no-trade clauses, play an integral role on the 2012 team, or are untradeable. That money is on the books and is not going anywhere, much to everyone’s chagrin.

We can look back through recent Yankees history and take umbrage with certain contracts. The A-Rod contract stands out. The Yankees not only had him on what was, at the time, a fairly reasonable contract, but they also had payments coming fro Texas to help offset the costs. When he opted out and re-signed they lost it all. Now they’re paying luxury tax on a $27.5 million average annual contract for the next six years. While Rodriguez played an integral role on the 2009 championship team, it’s still pretty clear that the Yankees will later suffer for that contract. It’s certainly one that is holding them back from making other moves.

Yet if you look at the contracts doled out after A-Rod, it’s hard to find complaints. The Yankees needed CC Sabathia in the worst way following 2008. While no one wants to hear it now, they also needed A.J. Burnett. At the time they had two returning starting pitchers, Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain, both of whom were coming off fairly major injuries. Cashman said at the outset that he was signing two starting pitchers. Sabathia and Burnett were hands down the best available. The Yankees did take a gamble on Burnett’s health, though that has rarely been an issue in his three seasons with the team. It’s easy to hate the contract now because of his performance, but at the time it made total sense. The Yankees simply needed talented arms at that exact moment.

Then there’s the Mark Teixeira contract, another one that’s coming under increased scrutiny after two disappointing seasons. But as with Burnett, it’s tough to look back on that and see a folly. The first baseman at the time was Nick Swisher, a player the Yankees apparently held in lesser regard than Xavier Nady. Their 3-4-5 hitters were going to be Hideki Matsui, A-Rod, and, well, probably Nady or Swisher. That might not be horrible, but it’s not the formidable core we’d seen from past Yankees teams. Bringing in Teixeira beefed up the offense in a significant way.

The Yankees remained quiet in 2010, though they did trade for Curtis Granderson. Yet his contract is relatively reasonable — he far outperformed it in 2011. The following off-season, though, the Yankees did hand out some big contracts. Mariano Rivera got two years and $30 million. Derek Jeter got three years and $51 million. It’s easy to complain about that contract, since Jeter will probably never provide production commensurate with his salary. It’s tough to say what they were going to do in that situation. Would they have let him walk? Would he have walked? Who would have played shortstop? There are just too many questions involved with that deal.

That leaves just one big-money contract from last winter: Rafael Soriano. Bringing him in wasn’t a bad move, per se. After all, he’s capable of legitimate shutdown performances. But at the time the Yankees already had a quality setup corps in Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson. Adding Soriano wasn’t exactly necessary. As I wrote at the time

In terms of the 2011 team, there are no complaints. The Yankees had plenty of money to spend, and they certainly upgraded the back end of the bullpen. This will lead to a greater enjoyment of the 2011 season. The Yanks might win a few games that they otherwise would have lost, and we will all be a little less irritable the next mornings. That doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is what this means for the 2012 and 2013 teams.

Maybe the Yankees really do have a limitless budget. Maybe they can raise it to $220 million if the right players become available. Brian Cashman has always asserted that he operates under a strict budget, but Brian Cashman also said that he wasn’t going to surrender his first round pick in this year’s draft. If Soriano’s contract doesn’t prevent the Yankees from making a move in the next three years, it’s hard not to like it. But if they can’t or don’t make a move because of payroll concerns, then the contract becomes a problem.

Now the Yankees have a legitimate need. The $11 million they’re paying Soriano this year could easily buy them a stopgap solution for the 2012 rotation. But they’re now holding back, because the payroll is already high enough. Of course, the other contracts are holding them back as well. Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter, Rivera, Cano, Sabathia, and Burnett all make more than Soriano. But when they were signed they at least filled areas of need. Soriano did not. The Yankees could have passed on him and had just as much success in 2011. Yet they did sigh him, and now they can’t or won’t make a move because of payroll concerns.

Perhaps at the time the Yankees didn’t plan to significantly stifle payroll starting this off-season. Maybe they thought they could continue to add players as needed, even with Soriano on the payroll. Either way, the Yankees are suffering currently because of this move. The Soriano signing, while not bad at the time, was unnecessary. That unnecessary contract is apparently the difference, right now, between adding a needed player and not.

Guest Post: The Lottery Ticket

The following is a guest post from Tyler Wilkinson, the madman behind all but one of the graphics available at The RAB Shop. He wrote about everyone’s favorite topic, Joba the Starter. If you’re uninterested in living through that discussion again, then just skip right over this post.

(AP Photo, Tony Gutierrez)

Joba Chamberlain’s ascent and decline have been well documented. He was a fire-balling 21-year-old bubble wrapped to protect him from his manager. A reliever. A starter. A reliever again. Hurt. Fat. Hurt again. And now, four and a half years after being fit for pinstripes, nearly forgotten.

We have seen the mountain top. We know what waits there. We know that in 2008, a 22-year-old Joba with all the pressures of New York on his back threw 65 innings over 12 starts for the Yankees, striking out 10 and walking 3 per game. We know that in 2009, his 31 starts didn’t go as well, with the strikeouts dropping to 7.4 and walks climbing to 4.4. He also hit 12 batters, presumably all of them Youkilis.

A pitcher who at age 23 had started 43 games with varying levels of success, striking out 9.6 batters per 9 innings. That’s more than Clemens at his age. More than Nolan Ryan, Koufax, Maddux and other arbitrary Hall of Famers that were all given more of a chance than Joba. Would Chamberlain have reached their level? Almost certainly not. Should 221.2 innings as a starting pitcher determine an inability to succeed? Almost certainly not.

As Chamberlain recovers from the Tommy John Surgery that cut his 2011 campaign short, it is easy to look back on the potential he exuded and wonder where it all went wrong. It is also easy to write his Yankees obituary. But as we embark on a 2012 season with a Yankees rotation infested by doubt and A.J. Burnett’s ghost, now is the time to exhume the corpse of Joba and give it one more try.

There’s no excuse not to. For one, Joba’s mere presence is a luxury. Relegated to the sixth inning behind David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, and Mariano Rivera, Joba’s anticipated contribution to the 2012 squad is negligible. As witnessed when Joba went down last season, Joe Girardi is more than capable of filling innings with spare part relievers. Losing him to the starting rotation would have virtually no affect on the bullpen and if it becomes evident that the experiment is failing, Joba can go right back to the pen with no harm done.

The main reasons to try it are the current state of the rotation and the now omnipresent budget. Joba Chamberlain at his peak is the number 2 starter the Yankees are searching for. In an offseason where the Yankees have chosen not to throw money at big money targets like C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, or even one year deals for the likes of Hiroki Kuroda or Roy Oswalt, Chamberlain lays in the weeds as a cost-controlled option already on the books. A lottery ticket sitting in the Yankees’ wallet that doesn’t even require a trip to the store. If the 2008 version of Joba the Starter turns up, he’s an improvement over every non-Sabathia member of the current rotation. If 2009 Joba turns up, he still may be an improvement over back-end question marks like Phil Hughes, Burnett and an even older Freddy Garcia.

There is no downside. Joba will not be ready for Opening Day, so start him in AAA. He has minor league options left. Let him prepare as a starter, get reacclimated to the schedule, the pitch counts, the feeling of losing a game in which you pitched well enough to win. If he gets hurt, the Yankees are where they were in 2011; a playoff team with a shutdown bullpen and question marks in the rotation. If he pitches terrible, same deal. But, on the microscopic chance he succeeds, the Yankees have their coveted pitcher. Cheap. For the 2013 season as well, before he becomes a free agent. An answer to an offseason of questions. A cost-effective solution for the suddenly thrifty Steinbrenner boys. Joba is a lottery ticket worth scratching, now more than ever. Here’s hoping for the jackpot.

Yankees sign Hideki Okajima to a minor league deal

If the Yankees feature a second lefty in the 2012 bullpen, they’ll do so on the cheap. Earlier in the off-season they signed Mike O’Connor and selected Cesar Cabral in the Rule 5 Draft, and now they’ve added Hideki Okajima to the list of non-roster spring training invitees (via David Waldstein). Okajima pitched well for the Red Sox in 2007 and 2008 before declining steadily. He missed some time in 2010 with a lower back injury, which might explain his horrible performance. Last season went a bit better, though it was mostly spent in AAA. The chance of Okajima making the Opening Day roster is slim, but he’s as good a bet on a minor league deal as any.

A-Rod undergoes experimental knee procedure

One of the keys for the 2012 Yankees is getting a healthy Alex Rodriguez. It’s unrealistic to expect him to play 150 games, since he hasn’t done that in the last four seasons. But getting to 135 games seems like a reasonable goal, and it will help the Yankees immensely. Rodriguez has taken a big step in that direction already this winter. According to a report in The New York Post, he underwent “experimental therapy called Orkine” on the right knee that caused him to miss 38 games in July and August.

While the Post termed Orkine experimental, it’s something that’s really been around for a while. It’s a platelet-rich plasma therapy, something we’ve seen other athletes undergo in the recent past. Takashi Saito made headlines in 2008 when he had the procedure in lieu of Tommy John surgery. Yankees fans will remember when Xavier Nady tried it in 2009, only to eventually require TJS. Several athletes have used platelet-rich plasma for knee and ankle injuries. Notables include Troy Polamalu, Tiger Woods, and Kobe Bryant. Rodriguez actually underwent the procedure on the advice of Bryant — whom is reportedly “looks pretty damn spry,” according to at least one NBA fan.

The Post got an excellent quote from Dr. Jonathan Glashow, who is the co-chief of sports medicine at Mout Sinai Hospital.

A lot of athletes I’ve talked to really think this stuff works, but we really don’t have a lot of scientific knowledge behind it of exactly what’s happening. It’s a great way to reduce inflammation and therefore pain, and that’s the essence of it. I think a lot of the athletes who have wear-and-tear on their knees benefit from this. You do it for a while and if it doesn’t stay good you do it again in a few years.

Even more encouragingly, it doesn’t appear that A-Rod will spend much time on the sidelines following the procedure. He underwent it within the last month, and recovery time isn’t very long. Bryant played in a game mere weeks after the procedure. Rodriguez still has a month and a half before he even reports to spring training. That should give him time to get in condition for the season.

Lest anyone think this is repeat of the Gallea or even the Bartolo Colon situation, Alex did get the Yankees’ blessing before getting the plasma injection. The Yankees also cleared it with the commissioner’s office, so there will be no surprise investigations popping up.