Why not pursue Hiroki Kuroda?

For a while we’ve waited for the Yankees to make a move. They’ve made a couple, sure, and one was quite the splash. But none of the moves really changed the outlook for 2012. Since Brian Cashman probably didn’t mean “Freddy Garcia, Freddy Garcia, Freddy Garcia,” when he declared the team’s needs for the off-season, we continue to wait. Yet with each passing day it seems less and less likely that the Yankees make a move for a starting pitcher.

Those chances seemed even slimmer yesterday, when ESPN New York reported that the Yankees won’t bid on Hiroki Kuroda. This follows a period when the Yankees denied a connection with Kuroda. While by every indication they do like Kuroda, he just doesn’t appear to fit into their budget. That has, in some ways understandable, inflamed the ire of Yankees fans.

The issue isn’t necessarily with the $12 million base salary Kuroda seeks. In fact, for a one-year deal that’s a more than reasonable rate. The issue is the additional cost they bear. Since they’re over the luxury tax, each additional contract they sign actually costs them 40 percent extra. That turns Kuroda’s $12 million into $16.8 million in total expenditures. It’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s one the Yankees currently face.

It’s still likely, though, that the Yankees could, if they were so inclined fit Kuroda into the budget. They can definitely use another starter, and Kuroda has a very fine four-year MLB track record. Brian Cashman has said in the past — even as recently as this November — that he can takes cases for payroll increases to Hal Steinbrenner for approval. If Cashman can make a compelling case, Hal would make an exception. Yet can Cashman really make a compelling case for Kuroda?

Cashman might like Kuroda. Billy Eppler might like Kuroda. Even Hal himself might like Kuroda. But that doesn’t mean he warrants making a payroll exception. Exceptions come for pitchers like Cliff Lee, who don’t hit the market open. The Yankees were willing to make an exception for him last year, though it didn’t work out. Can Cashman really justify making a similar case for Kuroda?

Let’s just say that Cashman can and does make a compelling case for Kuroda, and Hal makes the payroll exception. That pretty much ties the Yankees’s hands financially. It might seem as though they have unlimited funds, but they clearly do not. Hal has said no before — see the proposed Mike Cameron trade from July, 2009 — and he’ll likely say no after bringing in Kuroda. That means Justin Maxwell as the righty outfielder off the bench. That means no other fringe improvements. Most importantly, it means no in-season improvements.

That is to say, the idea behind not pursuing Kuroda could be with an aim to stay as flexible as possible going forward. The Yankees do have five starters, and they do have a rotation full of worthy kids in AAA. There’s a case to be made, especially from those who want the kids to get a shot, that holding onto that money is good in two ways. It means that the kids will get a shot to prove themselves earlier in the year, and it means that the Yankees can afford to make in-season improvements if available and necessary.

Think about it this way, too. The Yankees have a ton of money already tied up in the 2013 payroll. Not only do they have the $127 million listed on their Cot’s page, but they have an additional $26 million for Cano and Granderson, plus three third-year arbitration players, plus holes at a few positions. And while a few pitchers from the free agent class have been locked up, the Yankees still might want to have some funds earmarked for them. Doesn’t it make some sense to show restraint with Kuroda if it means making an exception for a superior pitcher who will be around for longer?

It’s certainly frustrating to see the Yankees turn down short-term options due to financial constraints. They are, after all, a veritable money making machine. But even the Yankees have their limits. Apparently they have reached them, or are at least approaching them. Being prudent might hurt right now, but for all we know it could be part of something bigger. At the very least, it could help keep opportunities open that wouldn’t be otherwise.

Yankee reserves over the years: A graphical look

In the comments of my graphical look at Yankee starters’ ERAs over the last several years, reader Mike Myers asked if I could do a headshot graph for the Yankee relievers or bench players. Well, in the spirit of the holiday, ask and ye shall receive, so today comes a graphical look at the primary players the Yankees have employed as members of their bench since the 2003 season. Why have I been using that as a cutoff? Admittedly it was fairly arbitrary, but pulling these charts and headshots together is a pretty labor-intensive process, so I’m plenty happy to not go any further back. As you’ll see, the graph gets pretty crowded as it is.

In order to define who made the cut, seeing as how the Yankees generally utilize anywhere between five and 15 different part-time players over the course of the season between cuts, trades and September call-ups, I initially used 100 PAs as a benchmark. While I mostly stuck to that parameter, I did end up getting a bit lenient so that I could include some memorable names that perhaps didn’t quite reach the 100 PA threshold, but came close enough. I did not end up using anyone below 50 PAs, so this should at least be a fairly representative sample of the primary players the Yankees looked to to give a boost (or not) off the bench during their respective seasons.

As for how I graded them out, I decided to go with fWAR, to take into account both offensive and defensive contributions. It’s not perfect, but being that it also takes playing time into account I felt it’d help give a reasonably accurate picture of who helped and hurt the most in limited duty.

(click to enlarge)

While not an exact science, here’s how the individual fWARs for the players selected tally in each season:

fWAR
2003 1.1
2004 0.3
2005 -6.7
2006 -2.5
2007 0.5
2008 0.3
2009 -0.1
2010 1.3
2011 1.0
  • I still don’t know how the 2005 team — who gave over 1,000 combined PAs to Tony Womack, Bernie Williams and Ruben Sierra and got -5.6 fWAR — won 95 games.
  • Enrique Wilson wins the honors for worst Yankee of the decade, minimum 100 plate appearances. He accrued -2.4 fWAR over the 2003-04 seasons, which means he owes the Yankees $7.1 million for letting him anywhere a professional baseball field. Tony Womack was a close second, at -2.3 fWAR in just one terrible, terrible season. In fact, Womack’s 2005 is the worst season in Yankee history, minimum 100 PAs!
  • And if we expand the list of cumulative numbers to go all the way back to 1901, Enrique Wilson remains dead last, which means he’s the worst player in Yankee history!
  • The 2010 bench was arguably the best of this lot, with 2003 (paced by Juan Rivera, John Flaherty and Ruben Sierra) and 2011 right behind it. Although 2011 would’ve been tops by a strong margin had I not included Ramiro Pena and his -0.9 fWAR.

Yankees to wear 1912 throwbacks for Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary

(Photo via Baseball Hall of Fame)

The Yankees play in one of the newest ballparks in baseball, but next year they’re going to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the oldest. They’ll be in Boston to play the Red Sox when Fenway Park turns 100 years old on April 20th, a century after they were in town when the place opened in 1912. Well, technically the New York Highlanders were there in 1912, since they didn’t become the Yankees until 1913.

The Sox will have all sorts of pre-game ceremonies to honor the place before the game, and the impossible to read Fenway Park 100th Anniversary Events site says that both clubs will wear 1912 throwback uniforms during the game. Reports earlier this month indicated that the Yankees had not yet agreed to wearing their old uniforms, but apparently the people at Fenway got the a-okay recently. A second throwback game between the Red Sox and Athletics is still tentative according to the Fenway site. The Yankees have not yet confirmed that they will be wearing the 1912 jerseys during the game, just to be clear.

Aside from various patches and whatnot, the Yankees have been using their current road jerseys since 1918* and their current home uniforms since 1936. The uniform above is the 1912 Highlanders’ outfit they’ll apparently wear during the game in Fenway Park, a ratherĀ  generic uniform aside from the multi-colored socks. You can see the accompanying home uniform at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s site.

I do like that the Yankees have been using their uniforms for a baseball eternity, but the throwback idea is also pretty neat. What fun is having such a rich history if you can’t go back and re-live it from time to time? Plus you know the team will make money off this, those hats and jerseys will be up for sale before you know it. Like I said, the Yankees have not yet confirmed any of this, but I hope it’s true. I’m looking forward to seeing Mariano Rivera finish off the Red Sox 2012-style in 1912 uniforms.

* From 1927-1930, the uniform actually said YANKEES instead of NEW YORK across the chest.

Open Thread: Juan Espino

(Photo via BaseballBirthdays.com)

This week will be a slow one as front offices around the league try to take a step back and enjoy the holidays, so don’t expect to see many transactions. In fact, the Yankees have made just one noteworthy move on December 26th throughout their history. On this date in 1974, they signed 18-year-old catcher Juan Espino out of the Dominican Republic as an amateur free agent.

Espino made a slow and deliberate climb up the minor league ladder, spending two years with High-A Fort Lauderdale (1976-1977), two and a half years with Double-A West Haven (1978-1980), and two and a half years with Triple-A Columbus (1980-1982) before making his big league debut in June of 1982. He appeared in just three games that month, all off the bench, then was sent back to Triple-A. Espino resurfaced in 1983, reaching base seven times (one walk, five singles, one homer) in 25 plate appearances spread across ten games.

The Yankees sold Espino to the Indians just before the 1984 season, then purchased his rights back from Cleveland a year later. All told, he played in 49 big league games — all with the Yankees — hitting .219/.244/.238 with that one homer in 78 plate appearances. Espino spent the last few years of his career in Triple-A with the Yankees and Cardinals, retiring after the 1988 season as a .256/.335/.374 career hitter in more than 2,000 plate appearances at the minors’ highest level. Christmas week transactions, changing the baseball landscape forever.

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Here is your open thread for the night. The Falcons and Saints are your Monday Night Football Game, the Nets open their season against the Wizards, and all three hockey locals are in action. Lots to relax with tonight. Talk about whatever you like here, enjoy.

Winter leagues coming to a close

A whole bunch of former Yankees farmhands landed with new teams over the last few weeks, including Greg Golson (Royals), Jon Albaladejo (Diamondbacks), Eric Hacker (Giants), and Kanekoa Texeira (Reds). Mitch Hilligoss was released by the Rangers, and the Hanshin Tigers released Marcos Vechionacci after he hit .255/.359/.436 in 128 plate appearances in their farm system last year. The Yankees could use an extra corner infielder at Double/Triple-A next year, maybe he’ll come back for an encore.

Anyway, the various winter leagues in Latin America are starting to wrap-up their seasons, so you’re probably only going to get one more update after this one. Then it’ll be about three months of silence before the regular season gets underway.

Dominican Winter League (final stats)
Abe Almonte, OF: 31 G, 6 for 39, 3 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K, 2 SB, 2 CS (.154/.195/.154)
Zoilo Almonte, OF: 11 G, 6 for 35, 4 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 CS (.171/.216/.200)
Melky Mesa, OF: 20 G, 10 for 48, 6 R, 3 2B, 3 3B, 4 RBI, 4 BB, 10 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.208/.283/.396)
Gary Sanchez, C/DH: 8 G, 6 for 20, 3 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K (.300/.364/.300)
Cesar Cabral, LHP: 20 G, 0 GS, 12.2 IP,7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 13 K, 1 WP (0.71 ERA, 0.79 WHIP) – Rule 5 Pick better hope he pitches like this in Spring Training if he wants to make the team
Juan Cedeno, LHP: 15 G, 0 GS, 8.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K (1.04 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)
Ronny Marte, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 0 IP, 1 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB
Hector Noesi, RHP: 10 G, 10 GS, 46.2 IP, 45 H, 22 R, 14 ER, 10 BB, 27 K, 1 HR, 2 HB (2.70 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) – finishes the year at 127.2 IP, still a good bit behind the 160.1 IP he threw in 2010
Francisco Rondon, LHP: 1 G, 1 GS, 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League
Jose Figueroa, OF: 7 G, 2 for 7, 3 K (.286/.286/.286) – 19-year-old spend last season in the Dominican Summer League, where he hit .200/.337/.343
Walt Ibarra, IF: 44 G, 20 for 132, 14 R, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 8 BB, 32 K, 2SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.152/.206/.174)
Ramiro Pena, IF: 32 G, 31 for 118, 12 R, 4 2B, 4 HR, 4 BB, 10 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.263/.336/.368)
Jorge Vazquez, 1B/DH: 54 G, 70 for 205, 34 R, 7 2B, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 21 BB, 62 K, 3 HBP (.341/.409/.639)
Felipe Gonzalez, RHP: 2 G, 0 GS, 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HB (20.25 ERA, 3.00 WHIP) – 20-year-old spent the season in the Dominican Summer League, striking out 43 in 57.1 IP
Cesar Vargas, RHP: 2 G, 0 GS, 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HB (4.50 ERA, 2.50 WHIP) – soon-to-be 20-year-old struck out 85 in 71.2 IP in the Dominican Summer League this year
Pat Venditte, SwP: 30 G, 0 GS, 29 IP, 27 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 6 BB, 41 K, 6 HR, 1 WP (2.54 ERA, 0.85 WHIP)

Puerto Rican League
Ray Kruml, OF: 20 G, 13 for 59, 5 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 6 SB, 2 CS (.220/.242/.305)

Venezuelan Winter League
Dan Brewer, OF: 6 G, 1 for 19, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K, 1 HBP (.053/.174/.053)
Colin Curtis, OF: 32 G, 29 for 111, 17 R, 6 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 16 BB, 21 K, 3 SB, 1 CS, 3 HBP (.261/.369/.369)
Jose Gil, C/1B: 31 G, 22 for 80, 16 R, 8 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 7 BB, 16 K, 1 SB (.275/.330/.438)
Gus Molina, C: 40 G, 29 for 113, 10 R, 6 2B, 5 RBI, 9 BB, 22 RBI, 2 HBP (.257/.317/.310)
Jose Pirela, IF: 55 G, 67 for 220, 24 R, 7 2B, 4 3B, 3 HR, 35 RBI, 11 BB, 25 K, 4 SB, 1 CS, 4 HBP (.305/.345/.414) – nice winter
Rich Martinez, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA, 2.50 WHIP)

Scout’s Notes via Josh Norris

You may have missed them over the holiday weekend, but Josh Norris published a series of short posts with quotes from scouts about various Yankees’ prospects. Among the players covered are system headliners Jesus Montero (“He might be Miguel Cabrera”), Manny Banuelos (“I think he’s the real deal”), Mason Williams (“an above-average major league center field profile”), and Dellin Betances (“he’s going to be a bullpen guy”). Corban Joseph, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver, Branden Pinder, and personal fave Bryan Mitchell were covered as well, and Norris also posted an interview with Adam Warren. They’re all quick reads and get RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check ’em out.

Scouting The Waiver Market: Jai Miller

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

I gotta say, I was surprised by how many people sent in mailbag questions about Jai Miller over the weekend. You folks really don’t miss a thing. Anyway, Miller is a soon-to-be 27-year-old right-handed hitting outfielder that the Athletics designated for assignment on Friday after acquiring three 40-man roster players from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade. He had a huge year for their Triple-A squad, hitting .276/.368/.588 with 32 homers and 16 steals (in 16 attempts!) in 475 plate appearances before getting a late season cup of coffee, but now he’s waiver fodder.

The Yankees are lacking upper level outfield depth, so players like Miller will surely pop up on their radar whenever they become available. Does he made sense for them though? That’s what we’re here to find out. Let’s start with his negatives…

The Cons

  • As good as Miller was in Triple-A this past season, it was his fourth straight full season at the level. He posted a .357 wOBA in 2008, a .375 wOBA in 2009, a .351 wOBA in 2010, and then a .410 wOBA this past year. You have to wonder if his huge year is the result of tangible improvement (more on that later), or just repeating the level yet again.
  • No stranger to strike three, Miller struck out 179 times this season, or 37.7% of his plate appearances. In 1,750 career plate appearances at the Triple-A level, he’s struck out 550 times, or 31.4%. For comparison’s sake, Mark Reynolds struck out in 31.6% of his plate appearances this year, the worst rate in the majors. Putting the ball in play is not his forte.
  • Miller appears to be out of options, meaning he must clear waivers to be sent to the minors next season. These things are tough to know for certain unless you’ve followed the guy’s entire career closely, so don’t hold me to that.

The Pros

  • Miller has definite power in his 6-foot-3 and 205 lb. frame, though his 32 homers and .312 ISO this season are career highs by far. During his three previous Triple-A stints, he hit 19, 16, and 18 homers with .205, .224, and .264 ISOs, respectively. As you can see here, he’s able to drive the ball out of the park the other way, at least on occasion.
  • All those strikeouts are due in part to his propensity to work deep counts. Miller walked in 11.4% of his plate appearances this season and 10.4% of the time during his Triple-A career. It’s not a mind-blowing walk rate, but it’s absolutely above average.
  • The 16-for-16 thing this year might be an aberration, but Miller had stolen 31 bases in 43 chances (72.1% success rate) in his prior Triple-A seasons. He wasn’t the highest percentage base stealer prior to 2011, but he is capable of swiping the occasional bag.
  • Miller can man all three outfield spots and is a fantastic defender, with Baseball America even calling him a potential Mike Cameron clone in their 2010 Prospect Handbook, the last time he was prospect eligible.

Interestingly enough, Miller showed almost no platoon split in 2011 and hasn’t throughout his minor league career, so he’s not necessarily a platoon candidate. Given the considerable increases in his strikeout rate and power production this year, there’s a chance he altered his swing or approach in some way. We won’t know that for sure unless we talk to the guy (or his hitting coach) because minor league data is so limited. The power spike in 2011 could be a fluke, but he could be pulling a Nelson Cruz circa 2008 for all we know.

Based on what we know, we can’t definitively say that Miller would be better use of a 40-man roster spot than Justin Maxwell, another right-handed hitting outfielder that is out of options. Miller is 13 months younger than Maxwell though, and he also isn’t coming off major shoulder surgery. If nothing else, he’s the healthier choice. Because he’s been designated for assignment and outrighted off the 40-man roster before, Miller can elect free agency if he clears waivers this week. It would make more sense for the Yankees to wait the process out to see if he becomes a free agent, then pursue him on a minor league deal if he does. I wouldn’t call Miller a priority on the waiver wire, but he would be an interesting pickup for the Triple-A outfield if everything falls into place.