The Obligatory Hideki Okajima Post

This post seemed inevitable, and sure enough the emails started trickling in not long after we learned that the Red Sox will decline to tender Hideki Okajima a contract before tonight’s deadline, making Daisuke Matsuzaka’s buddy* a free agent. With the Yankees in the market for a second lefty, wondering if Okajima was worth targeting was only natural. I’m here to tell you that hell no, the Yanks should avoid the guy.

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Okajima burst onto the scene in 2007 by allowing a solo homerun to the first batter he ever faced in the big leagues (John Buck) and then not allowing another run until late-May, 19 pitching appearances later. Okajima was an All Star that season and finished the year with a 2.22 ERA (3.33 FIP) and a rather studly 1.5 fWAR  in 69 innings of setup work, and of course a World Series ring. Even more impressive is that he was effective against both lefties (.302 wOBA against) and righties (.222) thanks to a split-change and funky don’t-look-at-the-target delivery.

Although he wasn’t as dominant the next year, Okajima did pitch to a 2.61 ERA (3.62 FIP) and 1.1 fWAR in 62 innings even though right-handers started to figure him out (.356 wOBA against compared to .259 vs. LHB). Things started to fall apart in 2009 (3.39 ERA, 4.20 FIP, .371 wOBA vs. RHB, .225 wOBA vs. LHB) and then the wheels came completely off in 2010 (4.50 ERA, 4.64 FIP, .381 wOBA vs. RHB, .314 wOBA vs. LHB). The league, it appears, has finally caught up to him after four seasons in the States.

Oh hai baseball. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

There’s a lot not to like about Okajima, starting with his stuff. His fastball, never great to begin with, averaged a career low 86.3 mph last season and he’s using it more often than ever, basically two out of every three pitches. As funky as his delivery is, Okajima’s not particularly good at hiding the ball since he comes right over the top (right). If batters can see a mid-80’s fastball out of a pitcher’s hand, they’ll probably hit it not matter which way the guy’s head is going, and unsurprisingly Okajima’s heater was worth 2.8 runs below average in 2010, easily the worst mark of his career. His split finger has lost three inches of vertical break over the last two years, and it’s gone from two runs above average to 4.4 below. The curveball’s more than fine (1.52 runs above average in 2010), but that’s all he’s working with these days.

Another issue with Okajima is health after he missed close to two months with a back stiffness last summer, and then there’s the homeruns (one for every 7.2 IP over the last two years). And sheesh, he’s not even that great against lefties anymore. Like I said earlier, they got him for a .314 wOBA in 2010, below (in a bad way) the .304 left-on-left league average. Okajima’s not outrageously expensive but $2.75M for a LOOGY (his 2010 salary) is less than ideal, and I assume he’ll want a similar salary next year. Also, just think about what’s going on here, a team in the process of overhauling a weak bullpen is cutting him loose because he was part of the problem, not the solution. Boston can surely afford him, this is all about performance.

I suspect that if Okajima had performed exactly the same way over the last four years for a team like the Padres or Royals instead of the Red Sox, no one would think twice about him. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with exploring possibilities, but let’s just keep moving along, nothing to see here.

* Kay’d

Yankees sign Buddy Carlyle

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have signed right-hander Buddy Carlyle to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. The 33-year-old spent the 2010 season in Japan, allowing 35 hits and 11 walks against just 14 strikeouts in 27.2 innings with the Nippon Ham Fighters. Carlyle pitched with the Padres, Dodgers, and Braves at various points from 1999 through 2009, posting a forgettable 5.61 ERA (4.97 FIP) in 245.2 innings. To his credit, he did toss up a 3.59 ERA (3.58 FIP, look at that) in 62.2 innings with Atlanta in 2008.

It’s just a minor league depth move, an arm to soak up innings in Triple-A so the actual prospects don’t get overworked. Meh.

The mystery pitcher: Chris Carpenter

(Tom Gannam/AP)

You might have missed it on the podcast last week, but Mike finally got me to reveal this mystery pitcher he’d mentioned in a chat a while back. Yes, if the Yankees miss out on Cliff Lee and turn to the trade market for another starter, I think they should target St. Louis’s Chris Carpenter. He’s not a perfect option, but the Yankees aren’t going to find one of those — not even Lee himself is a perfect option. In Carpenter they will find a number of benefits.

1. He’s a free agent after next season

There is a small but smart faction of Yankees fans who don’t want Lee at all, because of the effect he’ll have on mid-decade teams. At $23 million per year, he’ll drive the Yankees commitments up to around $96 million to four players in 2014. How they plan to field the other 21 I’m not sure. That’s the point of the anti-Lee movement, I suppose: sustainability in the future. Carpenter would bring no such problem. The Yankees can let him walk after the 2011 season and start over again. At that point their prospects will be one step closer to the majors — the ones they don’t trade for Carpenter, in any case. It might lead to a better outlook for 2012.

2. He could be a burden on St. Louis’s payroll

There’s good reason the Cardinals missed the postseason in 2010. They were lacking at several positions. The only upgrade they’ve come up with is Ryan Theriot, and he’s not a great bet to outperform Brendan Ryan next year. That still leaves a hole at third — David Freese is hardly proven — and second — Skip Schumaker might not have as putrid a year with the bat, but the dude simply cannot field his position at second. The Cardinals also have the Pujols negotiation, and indications are that they want to hammer out a deal this winter. He’ll get a significant raise over his $16 million 2011 salary.

That’s not to say that the Cardinals can’t afford Carpenter. It’s just that he’d be one of their better trade chips. With the need to improve not only in 2011, but for the subsequent decade that Pujols is under contract, they might need upgrades elsewhere. They won’t get Jesus Montero, but they could find a few prospects of their liking from the Yankees’ farm system.

3. He’s, you know, a good pitcher

Carpenter might not be the same guy he was when he won the Cy Young Award in 2005, but he still has something left in the tank. He induces plenty of ground balls and he doesn’t walk many guys. His strikeout rate isn’t killer, but it’s not in the mold of some other ground ball pitchers (a la Nick Blackburn). He also threw over 200 innings last year, another plus in his column.

There are downsides, of course. There are in any potential trade. With Carpenter they are considerable:

  • He’s not the healthiest guy. While he made 28 starts in 2009 and 35 starts in 2010, he missed most of the previous two seasons.
  • He hasn’t pitched in the AL since 2002, and he wasn’t that good when with the Blue Jays. Note, though, that he’s a completely different pitcher at this point.
  • The Cardinals could end up asking for a lot, since he will help them in 2011.
  • If he does become available, a number of other teams will be in on him.

It’s not a perfect fit, but looking around the league there aren’t many others who would work much better. It’s tough to find a guy who can pitch in the middle or top of your rotation who are available in a trade.

I won’t make a trade proposal, since it will inevitably suck. But I do think that the Yankees have the pieces to entice the Cardinals if it comes to that. I hope it doesn’t — it doesn’t sound like that attractive a proposition, and I don’t see many other viable options. This is why there is such a vocal and vehement pro-Lee clan. Without him, the 2011 rotation looks shaky at best.

It’s official: Javy’s a Marlin

Two-time former Yankee Javy Vazquez passed his physical with the Marlins and the team officially announced his signing at a press conference this morning. As a result, the Yankees now have an extra draft pick, a supplemental first rounder that at this point can be no worse than 55th overall (53rd once Jorge De La Rosa’s deal with the Rockies is finalized). More than likely it’ll be in the 45-50 range, which isn’t bad at all. Remember to check out our 2011 Draft Order Tracker, I update it after every deal becomes official.

The Experience returns for 2011

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Late last night we learned that the Yankees had re-signed Sergio Mitre to a one-year contract worth just $900,000 guaranteed with another $200,000 available in unspecified performance bonuses. Mitre was arbitration-eligible for the third and final time, and the Yankees had to at least offer him a contract by midnight tonight to retain his rights. They took it one step further and actually got the contract done before the deadline, giving him a very modest (in baseball terms) $50,000 raise. The move almost certainly spells the end of Dustin Moseley’s tenure in pinstripes, but I don’t think too many will complain about that.

Now we know who the Yanks’ swingman will be in 2011 and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Mitre was clearly the best of the group that included him, Moseley, and the already departed Chad Gaudin, posting the best ERA (3.33), WHIP (1.09), FIP (4.69), xFIP (4.34), tRA (4.97), WPA (-0.38), and fWAR (0.0) of the trio. By just about every measure – old school or advanced – he was the guy for the job just by being replacement level. Remember, Mitre finished this season extremely well, allowing 20 baserunners and just five runs in his final 20.1 innings after August 3rd, good for a 2.21 ERA and a .278 wOBA. We just didn’t see very much of him because the Yanks were trying to force feed Gaudin a playoff roster spot.

Most fans aren’t fond of the move because Mitre certainly isn’t great, and they believe the Yanks can find someone better. Well, like who? The list of free agents and potential non-tenders doesn’t offer much, maybe Kyle Davies or John Maine or Brian Bannister or Brian Moehler could do the job, but they all have significant warts of their own. The concept of a “huge upside long reliever” is a fallacy (unless you’re using a top prospect in that role), those guys are getting more important jobs. There’s also the price issue, the Yanks are paying Mitre very little in the grand scheme of things, and there’s no guarantee that any of the alternatives would a) sign for a similar price, and/or b) pitch better.

The other set of alternatives are in-house, guys stashed in Triple-A like Romulo Sanchez or Hector Noesi or D.J. Mitchell. Those options remain in play though, Mitre’s not going to block them just as he didn’t block Ivan Nova in 2010. All they did when they re-signed Serg is add a piece to the inventory, a known commodity at a reasonable price to fill out the fringes of the big league roster. That’s all, nothing major. Every team has guys like that because they’re a necessary evil.

I’m not saying you should jump for joy over Mitre re-signing, but when you consider the alternatives, there’s no reason to hate it. It’s a low consequence move; the Yankees need someone they can throw to the wolves and soak up innings every once in a while, and Mitre’s that guy. Better him than an actual prospect (that could have his development stunted) or a free agent being paid seven figures. If when/he stinks, they’ll find someone else to do the job and move on. That’s all you can do with everyone. I mean, yeah, if it was a multi-year deal then it would be an atrocity, but it’s not, so no harm no foul. It’s just another horse for the stable, that’s all.

With expanded October, a lesser regular season

I wonder if anyone has taken an objective look at the Major League Baseball playoffs and said that the October dance needs more teams because that’s what we’re about to get. If baseball’s latest proposal goes through, each league will send an additional team to the playoffs, and the two Wild Card clubs will play a best-of-three series in advance of the LDS rounds.

For many reasons, I don’t find this a particularly appealing idea. For one, as I wrote in early November, the playoffs are simply too long. To maximize national TV exposure, baseball has added more days off than are necessary in October, and the result is a schedule that’s simply too slow after a 162-game regular season. Adding another round and another three or four days to the calendar will slow things to a crawl.

But that’s the lesser argument. The more compelling critique of this plan involves the fact that it cheapens the regular season. Jeff Passan, in a withering takedown of the plan, summarizes:

Imagine the following: The Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees enter the season’s last week with 95 wins apiece. The Boston Red Sox, with 90 wins, hold a comfortable lead for the second wild-card spot, and Minnesota and Texas, each with 90 wins, have wrapped up their divisions. Suddenly, the only teams playing for something in that last week are the two best in the league. They will do everything they can to avoid a wild-card spot despite having clinched playoff spots already. Empty their rotations. Play full bore. A five-game series in the first round is already a crapshoot. A three-game series would be a complete toss-up.

Let’s say the Yankees win the AL East. The Rays exhausted their pitching staff while a team they were five games better than during the regular season – the six-month-long, 162-game regular season – was able to set up its rotation and rest its players. And that’s fair how, exactly?

Passan’s piece highlights the fiscal drive behind the added Wild Card round. Owners figure they can cash on if more teams are in the playoffs because they’ll get more money from the gate receipts, more money from TV and more money from merchandise sales. The owners’ pockets are happy, and when the owners’ pockets are happy, the players are usually well compensated too.

“As a member of a club, you’re talking about extra chances to get into the playoffs and have your season look like a success,” one MLB source said to Passan. “I make the playoffs, I keep my job.”

Passan sees this plan as the further lessening of the regular season. If one third of all baseball teams are in the playoffs, the rat race matters less and less. While Selig and Co. could opt to implement instant replay or ask Fox and ESPN executives to tone down the Boston/New York overkill and expand the overall appeal of the game, they’re going instead for the quick fix.

“Whether it’s the three-game series favored by the majority or the one-game-and-out playoff espoused by some writers – another potential insult to whatever remains of the regular season – the wrongs of expanding baseball’s postseason far outweigh the rights,” Passan wrote. Baseball, he says, “needs to stay true to itself, or at least whatever of itself remains, whatever part hasn’t been cannibalized by a god that’s colored green.”

Yanks re-up with Mitre again

The New York Yankees just cannot quit Sergio Mitre. A non-tender candidate as tomorrow’s midnight deadline approaches, Mitre instead was tendered a contract by the Yanks and will sign for a $900,000 base salary. He can earn another $200,000 in incentives, Jerry Crasnick reported this evening. At that price, Mitre is a fine notch on the depth chart, but he was used sparingly in 2010. He made 27 appearances and threw 54 innings with a decent 3.33 ERA but just a 4.81 K/9 IP and a 2.7 BB/9 IP. He shouldn’t be anything more than the team’s seventh starter and should be among the first to go if they need a roster spot.

Now that Mitre is back in the fold, the Yanks’ only remaining non-tender candidate is Dustin Moseley. Unless the team again wants to stock up on redundant players, there’s absolutely no need to bring back both Moseley and Mitre. Recent history would tell us the Yanks choose otherwise though. We’ll find out soon.