Open Thread: Where It All Started…

Sheesh, look how young and scrawny the captain was in that video. I guess that’s to be expected though, it is 20 years old after all. And how about that, he’s playing third base as well. That’ll serve him well when he moves off shortstop at some point in the future never. I also enjoyed this 12-year-old interview with Derek and Alex Rodriguez; it’s worth watching just to see Jeter’s old cell phone. I think you had to hand-crank that thing to power it up.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Nets are the only local team in action tonight, which is about as dull as it gets. You guys have done this before, so have at it.

Yanks Under the Knife: Alfredo Aceves, Brett Gardner

Some people have none of the luck. Take, for instance, Alfredo Aceves. While the Yanks said he might have been available during the World Series had the team made it that far, the versatile long-man missed most of 2010 with a back injury. The Yanks announced this afternoon that Aceves had surgery to fix a broken left clavicle yesterday. The righty injured his collar bone in a bike accident in Mexico. Aceves, says the team, will need three months for rehab, and thus, an early March return will put him a few weeks behind schedule.

Meanwhile, Brett Gardner is set to go under the knife next week in order to cure his right wrist tendinitis. After a hot first half in which he hit .309/.396/.415, Gardner posted just a .232/.364/.330 line during the season’s second half and attributed his slide to a very sore wrist. The Yanks expect their left-fielder to be ready for Spring Training.

The RAB Radio Show: December 1, 2010

I don’t mean to scare you away, but: Derek Jeter. No, it’s nothing bad. Mike and I just acknowledge what’s been going around and how it differs from our expectations. I thought we’d have a few more figures exchanged before they settled on something, but all indications are that Jeter has finally drank the reality potion.

(No, I will never stop using that line.)

Want a quality way to fill out a bench? Check out the guys who aren’t tendered contracts. There are a few this time around, and Mike and I go through the pitchers and the bench guys who could help out. They’re long shots mostly, but on the right deal they can provide some punch. Or serviceability, at the very least.

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The Other Hairston Brother

Aside from the obvious (Cliff Lee, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera), we know what the Yankees are looking for this offseason (lefty reliever, bench help) without knowing any real specific targets. That’s fine, I’m sure even the Yanks haven’t 100% decided on who to pursue yet. A new batch of free agents will hit the market tomorrow night, the deadline for teams to offer contracts or arbitration to players with less than six years of service time. If a player isn’t offered a contract at this time, he simply becomes a free agent. The Padres have already let it be known that they’re not going to tender Scott Hairston a contract simply because they either a) can’t afford to, or b) don’t want to pay him upwards of $3MM or more in his third time through arbitration. Luckily for the Yanks, he’s just what they need.

(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

A legion of Yankee fans are enamored with Jerry Hairston because he helped the team to their 2009 World Championship, but his younger brother is no slouch himself. Once one of the game’s top prospects with the Diamondbacks, Scott was ranked the 26th best prospect in the game prior to 2003 by Baseball America, and then the 34th best the next season. Back then he was a middle infielder (like his brother) and a career .322/.402/.571 hitter in the minors (with more walks that strikeouts!), so there were certainly plenty of reasons to be excited.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for Hairston in Arizona; he posted a .303 wOBA in just about 600 plate appearances across four seasons, shifting from second base to the outfield. They dealt him to the Padres a few days before the 2007 trade deadline for minor league reliever Leo Rosales, and Hairston instantly became a hit in San Diego. His first three hits with the Padres were homeruns, one of which was a walk-off job against the Giants. He hit another walk-off homer a few weeks later, and overall Hairston put up a .406 wOBA and 1.0 fWAR in just 95 plate appearances after the trade.

Hairston clubbed 17 homers and put together an above average .339 wOBA in 2008 (2.2 fWAR), and he was again killing the ball for San Diego in 2009 (.390 wOBA, 2.2 fWAR again) before being dealt to the Athletics at midseason, when the Pads were out of it and looking for young players. He didn’t do much with the A’s, just a .279 wOBA in 248 plate appearances before being traded back to San Diego for Kevin Kouzmanoff (with a few others thrown in) after the season. Hairston was disappointing for the Pads in 2010, putting up a measly .290 wOBA in 336 plate appearances (0.4 fWAR), in part due to a hamstring strain.

The Yankees are presumably in the market for a lefty masher, someone that can fill the Marcus Thames role, and Hairston fits beautifully. He demolishes southpaws, with a .359 wOBA against them over the last three seasons. From 2008 through 2009, he tagged them for an even better .385 wOBA. He’s not much against righties (.298 wOBA during that time), but hey, Thames wasn’t supposed to be either. Hairston’s power is very real, with an ISO close to .200 (.188 to be exact) during his career (.249 ISO in the minors). If we only look at the seasons in which he’s been a full-time player, it’s a .192 ISO. Although Hairston hasn’t maintained his mammoth minor league walk rate in the bigs, he’s certainly not a hacker.

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

A lot of Hairston’s struggles in 2010 can be attributed to his abnormally low batting average on balls in play, which came in at just .236, the seventh lowest among batters with at least 300 plate appearances. His batted ball profile didn’t change much at all, with line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates right in line with his career totals. There’s nothing that suggests an underlying performance issue. Sometimes things just don’t break right. The more serious problem is that Hairston’s been on the disabled list exactly once in every season since 2005, but never for an extended period of time (39 days maximum). He’s had strains in his shoulder, oblique, biceps (twice), and hamstring, so durability is a very real concern. I guess you have to take the bad with the good, and hope some improved conditioning leads to fewer aches and pains.

Defensively, Hairston is capable of manning all three outfield spots and manning them well, though the vast majority of his experience has come in left and in center. With UZR/150’s in the sevens in each spot (+7.2 in LF, +7.7 in CF career), he’s not just adequate defensively, he’s an asset. I’m sure that if push came to shove, he could move back to infield in an emergency as well. Unlike Thames, who was simply awful in the field, Hairston can provide value on both sides of the ball, which is ideal for a bench player on a team with only three non-backup catcher reserve spots to play with.

Who knows, maybe the Yankees can pull a package deal and sign both Scott and Jerry Jr. to come off their bench next season; much was made about how happy the two were finally playing together last season. I wouldn’t count on it, Jerry’s going to get offered a better opportunity elsewhere and he’d be foolish not to take. Scott absolutely fits what the Yanks are looking for at the moment though, and it shouldn’t take much money to sign him. The $900,000 they gave Thames last season probably works, maybe up it a bit since he’s a more complete player. Either way, a fantastic bench/platoon player is about to hit the market tomorrow, and I sure hope the Yanks pursue him.

Looking at Joba Chamberlain’s slider

When Joba Chamberlain burst onto the scene in 2007, he did so with a hellish slider that got swings-and-misses more than half the time. That same slider has since regressed from outstanding to merely pretty good, still checking in at more than one run above average per 100 thrown in 2010. Lucas Apostoleris at Beyond The Box Score used some PitchFX Data to break down Joba’s slider, noting that not only did he throw it harder than ever before this season, but it also had less movement. Consequently, he left a lot more up in the strike zone, and spinning offspeed stuff that doesn’t break and is left up in the zone tends to get hit real hard. Check it out, there’s lots of neat and interesting graphs in there. Hopefully Larry Rothschild can get Joba figured out.

Rumor Round-up: Lee, Greinke, Downs

Slowly, slowly, the Hot Stove League is beginning to heat up…

Rangers to offer Lee five years

If the Yankees want to sign Cliff Lee, they’re going to have to make a significant commitment to him. While George A. King reported yesterday that the Yanks seem to have an easy path to landing Lee, today, he notes that the Rangers are set to offer five years to Lee. King believes the Yanks are willing to go six years for Lee at around $23 million per, and the Rangers are not expected to meet that offer.

The Rangers, says King, will try to convince Lee that he’s better off in a state that features lower taxes and is closer to home. But Lee seems to want the dollars. If it’s only about the money, the Yankees will land their guy, but I can’t be the only one nervous about paying yet another guy on the wrong side of 30 more than $20 million annually through 2016.

Yanks wary of Greinke’s Bronx desires

Yesterday afternoon, we reported on a rumor involving Zack Greinke. Supposedly, the Royals’ ace claimed he was amenable to pitching in New York despite earlier reports to the contrary. In the same King story linked above, The Post scribe notes that the Yanks are still wary of Greinke’s make-up. The Yanks, he says, “don’t buy it.” They believe he “does not want to pitch under the burning lights of the Yankees’ universe.” The Bombers are also unwilling to give up Jesus Montero, and it is believed that any package would start with the Yanks’ young stud.

Scott Downs, Type A, too costly for Bronx bullpen

With Damaso Marte out until forever at least the All Star Break, the Yankees want to find another southpaw to complement Boone Logan. To that end, Scott Downs is an appealing target. He’s been very effective for the Blue Jays for the past six years, and lefties in 2010 were just 12 for 79 (.152) against him.

Yet, the Yankees, says Ken Davidoff, will probably not pursue him. For one, Downs will turn 35 shortly before Opening Day, and for another, he’s a Type A free agent who declined arbitration. If the Yanks sign Cliff Lee, they’d give up a second-round draft pick for Downs, and if they don’t land Lee, Downs would cost them a first-rounder in a talent-rich draft. Cashman, says Davidoff, “doesn’t want to give up the draft pick.” Giving Downs the Damaso Marte money he’ll want and having to surrender a draft pick makes this alluring free agent simply too costly.

Could the Yankees find a second LOOGY in the Rule 5 Draft?

We know that the Yankees are actively seeking a second left-handed reliever this offseason, but so far the only movement they’ve made on that front involves signing Andy Sisco and Neal Cotts to minor league contracts. They have expressed interest in Pedro Feliciano, but he’s not exactly the most desirable option. I’ll continue to dream of Randy Choate, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

We have to remember that free agency isn’t the only way to acquire players, however. It may be the most efficient given the team’s vast resources, but there are plenty of other ways of securing talent. In fact, both of the Yankees current lefty relievers (Damaso Marte and Boone Logan) were acquired via trade. In this post I want to look in another direction, the Rule 5 Draft. New York’s recent history in the Rule 5 isn’t great (Jamie Hoffman in 2010, Josh Phelps in 2007), but it’s a lot easier to hit on a relief specialist than a bench player. Let’s look at some available lefty arms, starting with a former big leaguer…

(AP Photo/Jeffery Washington)

Fu-Te Ni, Tigers

You’ve probably heard of Ni, who’s been up with Detroit in each of the last two seasons. They recently outrighted him off the 40-man roster, exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft. Ni’s a traditional LOOGY, with a funky low arm slot delivery and a big old breaking ball that’s allowed him to hold lefties to a .276 wOBA in the big leagues (.357 vs. RHB). There’s really not much to break down here, he is what he is, and that’s a recently turned 28-year-old that throws left-handed and has no fewer than four years of team control left. This is the kind of player the Rule 5 Draft was made for.

Scott Diamond, Braves

Diamond in an exhibition game against the Yankees in March 2009. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2007, the 24-year-old Diamond make a strong first impression in his first attempt as full season ball in 2008 by posting a 3.13 FIP in 152.2 innings. The success continued into 2009 (3.26 FIP in 131 IP), then again into 2010 (3.22 FIP in 158.2 IP). Atlanta has a strong farm system and a lot of players worth protecting, so Diamond was a 40-man roster crunch casualty and left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft.

Diamond’s repertoire is suited for battling both left-handers and right-handers. He pounds the zone with three pitches: a low-90’s fastball backed by a curveball and changeup that qualify as no worse than average. He held both lefties and righties to a ~.250 average and ~.650 OPS against in 2010, and his strikeout numbers are solid (7.27 K/9 over the last two seasons). It’s not crazy to think that a shift to relief could add a few ticks to Diamond’s fastball and improve those strikeout numbers. Some team could pop him as a starter, but relief could be his ultimate role.

Jeremy Horst, Reds

A 21st round pick back in 2007, the 6-foot-4, 220 lb. Horst was outstanding during his first full season in Cincinnati’s system (2.48 FIP in 102 innings), but he struggled the next. After a 4.57 FIP in 162 innings last season, the Reds shifted Horst to the bullpen this spring and kept him there all season. The result was a career revival, more specifically a 2.30 FIP (9.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9) and just two homers allowed in 72 innings across three levels. The Reds declined to add him to the 40-man roster after the season, so he’s available to any team willing to keep him on their 25-man roster for all of 2011.

Since we’re talking about a potential lefty specialist, we need to dig a little deeper, and therein lies the problem. Lefties hit .302/.342/.715 (!!!) off of him last season, righties .231/.282/.478. Why? Because he’s a changeup pitcher without much else, so there’s no weapon to consistently combat same-side batters. When Horst missed spots with his change, he’s paid dearly as those slugging percentages suggest. While it would be nice to bring in a second lefty capable of facing right-handed batters as well, the equipment isn’t there for Horst to get the job done at the major league level just yet. For shame.

* * *

I suspect the Yanks are looking for someone more established to serve as their second lefty since it’s entirely possible that Logan’s second half success was a mirage. The Rule 5 Draft might not be the avenue they want to travel, but it’s virtually harmless. The worst that could happen is that the player stinks in Spring Training and is lost on waivers at the end of March, in which case they’re out $50,000. Big whoop. If they do decide to take someone in the Rule 5 for the second straight year, they likely won’t get a chance at Diamond. He’s prime Rule 5 Draft bait and is likely to come off the board early, though Ni could still available and I’d absolutely give him a chance. Horst, eh.

The Yankees could always surprise everyone and take one of their own players, namely Wilkins Arias. The 30-year-old has done fine work (3.42 FIP) with Double-A Trenton over the last three years, but I would certainly bet against this. If they wanted to keep him, they’d have protected him. They have plenty of open 40-man spots. Filling one of those spots with a cheap, young lefty specialist next week just might be the best way to go.