Jorge de la Rosa a longshot for Yanks rotation

(Jack Dempsey/AP)

What does it mean for a team to express interest in a player? I’ve been writing about hot stove issues for five years now and I still don’t have a clear definition. Did they call his agent? Did they sit in a conference room and ponder the possibilities? I’m sure it means different things to different people, too, which makes it harder for us to determine a team’s intent. In today’s Daily News Mark Feinsand and Peter Botte write that, “the Yankees have expressed interest in lefthander Jorge de la Rosa.” It’s an interesting thought — a plan B should they lose out on Cliff Lee — but I’m not sure de la Rosa fits with the Yankees.

The first thing that stands out about de la Rosa is his walk rate. In his career he has walked 4.55 per nine, and that number has come down only slightly in recent years. In the last two seasons he has a walk rate of 4.05 per nine, which is still quite high. For comparison, A.J. Burnett‘s walk rate was 4.22 per nine in 2009, which was the second highest mark of his career. It was 3.76 per nine this year. I imagine Rockies fans often uttered, “throw strikes!” in earnest when de la Rosa was on the mound.

The Burnett comp can be taken a step further. Before signing with the Yankees Burnett boasted a strikeout rate of 8.4 per nine innings. That’s the rate at which de la Rosa struck out batters in 2010. His career rate is 7.98 per nine innings, though he did see a considerable jump when moving from the Royals to the Rockies in 2008. The problem is that when Burnett came to the Yankees he saw his strikeout rate take a dive. After striking out 9.56 per nine in 2007 and 9.39 per nine in 2008, Burnett struck out just 8.48 per nine in 2009 and 6.99 last season. The last thing the Yankees need is another high strikeout, high walk pitcher who loses his strikeout stuff.

The Yankees need a pitcher who can give them length. CC Sabathia can go deep into games, but everyone else in the rotation has issues. Phil Hughes didn’t have many eighth inning appearances in 2010, and forget about it with Burnett. In 2009, when de la Rosa pitched a career-high 185 innings he averaged just a sliver more than 5.2 innings per start. Burnett averaged 5.2 innings per start last season. All those strikeouts are nice, but if they mean de la Rosa is regularly turning the ball over to the bullpen in the fifth or sixth inning, I’m not sure it helps the team all that much.

De la Rosa’s low innings totals should also raise a red flag. Not only has he topped out at 185 inning, but after that he hasn’t pitched more than 130 innings in any season. Part of this involves his injury history. From 2006 through 2010 he has spent 164 days on the DL, each time with a hand or arm in jury. True, one of them was a non-recurring fingernail tear, so perhaps we can write that off as a fluke. But we can’t write off an elbow strain that caused him to miss 41 days in 2007, nor can we look the other way when we see that he missed 74 days last season with a strained flexor band in his middle finger. He also ended the 2009 season with a strained groin. In fact, if you head to Baseball Injury Tool you can see that he’s had five separate hand injuries. I’m not sure if that bodes poorly for his future, but I can’t imagine it bodes well.

What does de la Rosa bring to the table, beyond strikeouts? He does get a decent number of ground balls, and posted the highest rate of his career in 2010. I’m not sure that’s sustainable in any way — I’d definitely take his career track record over a 121 inning sample. He also could stand to benefit from leaving Coors Field; his HR/FB ratio is consistently high. Then again, Rockies pitchers in general don’t have a higher than average HR/FB ratio. If changing stadiums helps bring that rate down, though, de la Rosa could be a quality pitcher. He has produced xFIPs of 4.06, 3.76, and 3.77 in the last three years. His numbers have trended higher, at least in part, because of that HR/FB ratio.

In writing this post I’ve tried to look for the positives in de la Rosa. I remember when the off-season started I thought he might be a decent addition. But then I started researching him a bit more, and nothing really impressed me. If his strikeout rate takes a hit in the transition from the NL West to the AL East, he has even less worth to a team. The Rockies tried to retain him, but it appears as though he’s seeking the biggest payday. Let another team sign him to a four or five year deal. The Yankees might be short on pitchers should they lose out to Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte retires, but even then I’m not sure I’d get on board with signing de la Rosa. He just has “bad experience” written all over him.

Mailbag: Wood, Cano, Pena, Montero, Sanchez

It’s Friday morning, so that means it’s time for yet another edition of the RAB Mailbag. This week we field questions about setup relievers, second base prospects, Carlos Pena, and of course, Jesus Montero. You can send your questions in any time using the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Dan asks: Has there been any information on negotiations with Kerry Wood? Assuming he decides to close for a mediocre team as opposed to setting up for the Yanks, who would be the best in-house and free agent options to take over as the bridge to Mo?

Nope, there hasn’t been any mention of Wood at all this offseason, other than a little blurb saying the Cubs would welcome him back. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the Yankees haven’t had any negotiations with him and his agent all. Hell, they haven’t even started really negotiating with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera yet.

Assuming he heads elsewhere for a higher profile job and/or more money, the in-house candidates to take over that all important eighth inning job are obvious: Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson, not necessarily in that order. Boone Logan will likely see some late inning action against left-handers as well. I think the Yanks want to see Joba grab a hold of that setup job and run with it, but I don’t think they’ll just give it him like they did last year. D-Rob’s a damn fine backup plan, so Joba’s going to have to earn it. I do love Robertson in that fireman role though, he’s much more valuable that way.

Arad asks: Two parter, 1) Do the Yanks have any good second basemen prospects in their minor leagues? 2) If so, what do you think of eventually, when Jeter retires to move Cano to short…I mean he has a great arm and is a very good fielder?

The two most notable second base prospects in the Yanks’ system are David Adams and Corban Joseph. I guess we could lump Eduardo Nunez in there as well, but meh. Adams is the best prospect of the bunch and is also the much safer bet to stick at second long-term because he’s considerably better defensively than CoJo, who is probably going to wind up at third base down the road. Most believe that Adams will develop into a rock solid everyday second baseman in the big leagues, though not necessarily a star. There’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact it’s tremendously valuable while he’s in his cost control years.

As for Cano, he played short in the minors until sliding over to second in Single-A because he couldn’t cut it defensively. He’s since improved and is obvious a very good defender now, and it certainly seems like he has the equipment – hands, arm, range – to be no worse than average at short. That said, I’m at the point where I wouldn’t screw with Cano at all. He’s peaking now and is one of the game’s truly elite players, so I wouldn’t mess around with that. Let him be himself and find a new shortstop. No need to fix what ain’t broke, especially with a guy as talented as Cano.

Kevin asks: Is Carlos Pena worth a look on a one year deal? He credited Kevin Long with his turnaround with the Rays so he could do well with a second go around. Also, I believe he is a Type B free agent (correct me if I’m wrong) so he wouldn’t cost a draft pick. His on base skills combined with the short porch would look good batting sixth.

Yep, Pena’s a Type-B. He’s also a Scott Boras client, so I would be stunned if he took just a one year deal even with his down 2010. A big chunk of his value stems from his defensive skills, and Boras knows that. So even if you plan on signing him to be the designated hitter, they’ll still want you to pay for his defense even if you aren’t using it. Pena could probably hit 40+ homers in Yankee Stadium, and he did credit Kevin Long with helping him fix his swing when he was with Triple-A Columbus in 2006, but chances are he’ll find a starting first baseman’s job elsewhere.

Remember, the Yankees have all but announced that Jorge Posada will be the full-time DH next season, so I don’t expect them to try to acquire another DH this offseason. Someone would have to fall into their laps dirt cheap in February, which of course is very possible.

Hmmm asks: Yankee fans are impatient. They want to win now. They want you to be an allstar now and aren’t in the business of re-building or waiting around for the next title. With that said, do you see Jesus Montero struggling in the majors and fan getting on his case? What can we realistically expect his numbers to be next year? I can all but see the know it all fans saying what a bum and bust he is if he struggles even a little bit. Your take?

Yankee fans as a group are impatient, probably to a ridiculous degree. Montero will get a chance to produce, but if the calendar flips to June and he’s barely able to crack a .300 wOBA, the natives will start to get restless. I can guarantee the bust label will be thrown around rather quickly, probably the first time he strikes out with men in scoring position, it’s just the nature of the beast. Thankfully the Yankees aren’t as impatient as the fans, and they’ll give Montero a chance to struggle and learn from those struggles and adjust. It’s what he did in Triple-A this season and the smart money is on him doing it again when he breaks into the bigs.

Since 1961, the expansion era, there have been just four players who have qualified for the batting title at age 21 (which Montero will be in 2011) while playing at least 50% of their games at catcher: Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons, Pudge Rodriguez, and Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Butch Wynegar. Wynegar was the worst of the bunch offensively, putting up a still rock solid 98 OPS+ in 1977. If we lessen our criteria to just 400 plate appearances, the list adds two players: Darrell Porter and none other than Tim McCarver. Again, Wynegar remains the low man on the offensive totem pole.

Montero is clearly venturing into some rarefied air next season. If he’s a league average offensive player and manages to whack a dozen or so homers, we have to consider that a major win. The kid is supremely talented, but adjusting to life in the AL East as a young backstop is a tough gig. Just ask Matt Wieters, who is every bit as talented as the Yanks’ top prospect, if not more.

Rebecca asks: What do you think about BA saying that Maquinito has a higher ceiling than Jesus Montero?

That struck me as a surprise, but then again they’re talking about pure ceiling. You can dream on almost anyone and project them to be a superstar, but I guess they feel Gary Sanchez has a higher ceiling than Montero because he’s a safer bet to remain behind the plate. Remember, higher ceiling does not equal better prospect. Montero is considerably closer to reaching his ceiling given where he is and what he’s accomplished already, Sanchez is just a pup with 196 professional plate appearances to his credit.

I thought ranking him the second best prospect in the system was a tad aggressive, especially considering some of arms the Yanks’ have in Doublee-A, but the Yankees didn’t give the kid $3M for nothing. They think he can be something special, and the ranking backs that up.

Hot Stove Notes: Cashman, Lee, Jeter

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made a guest appearance on Yankees Hot Stove tonight, talking about the latest and greatest concerning the Bombers’ offseason. Here’s the video in case you missed it. As is his forte, Cashman said a whole lot without saying much at all. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, the guy’s not going to go on television and reveal his deepest and darkest offseason secrets. Anyway, it was certainly an interesting segment, so here’s the highlights…

  • Cashman wouldn’t necessarily call his trip to visit Cliff Lee and Co. in Arkansas a “recruiting trip,” though he said he likes to go and meet free agents on their turf. He says he learned that from Pat Gillick, who was an executive with the Yankees a long, long time ago.
  • Lee is going to have similar meet-ups with other teams as well, so that wasn’t something that will be unique to Cashman and the Yanks. I can almost guarantee Cash had his 2009 World Series ring on when he was there. Flaunt that sucker and let Lee know what’s coming his way if he chooses New York.
  • Cashman emphasized that if he signs a player, Lee or otherwise, he wants it to be on his terms. It was made very clear that this is not a situation where they’ll go all out to sign the lefty, and in fact Cash said it wasn’t a “desperate situation.” They have a limit, and if it doesn’t work out they’ll move on to Plans B, C, D, and so on.
  • “I never want to envision Derek Jeter being anything but the New York Yankees’ shortstop,” said the Yanks’ GM. “We met in Tampa on Monday … so the process as started.”
  • It wasn’t in the video linked above, but when discussing what Jeter means to the team, Cashman said “Iconic off-the-field value doesn’t translate in my world.” Oh snap. Someone make a t-shirt.

We’ve also got these two notes courtesy of Marc Carig, who I assume spoke to the GM during Joe Torre’s charity even Thursday night…

  • Both Mike Harkey and Gil Patterson have interviewed for the vacant pitching coach job, but Cashman expects there to be a larger pool of candidates and presumably many more interviews.
  • Cash indicated that he could be in the market for a catcher this offseason, though he wants the youngsters (i.e. Jesus Montero, Frankie Cervelli, and probably even Austin Romine) to compete in Spring Training. It would be nice to see the team bring in a veteran backstop just as insurance, but I suspect they won’t do anything more than sign someone to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. If anything, they have the resources to go out and trade for a catcher during the season.

So that’s that. Another day closer to Spring Training.

Cano wins Silver Slugger Award

Having already received his first career Gold Glove earlier this week, Robbie Cano added some more hardware to his mantle today, taking home his second career Silver Slugger Award. He also earned the honors in 2006, his first full season in the big leagues. Cano hit .319/.381/.534 this season, leading all second baseman in hits (200), RBI (109), wOBA (.389), and fWAR (6.4) in addition to OBP and SLG. He set career highs with 29 homers and an 8.2% walk rate. Congrats Robbie, this one was well deserved.

Open Thread: Happy Veteran’s Day

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Global Voyager)

Happy Veteran’s Day to all of you veterans out there. My grandfather served in WWII and I had a few acquaintances (not even friends, really) enlist out of high school and stuff, but that’s pretty much the extent of my connection to the armed forces. We can’t thank you enough, you’re the reason cowards like me can sit at a computer and pretend to speak intelligently about baseball all the damn time.

Anywho, this is your open thread for the night. Both the Rangers and Islanders are in action, but there’s also a football game on. Who knew? The Ravens are in Atlanta, but you need to have the NFL Network to be able to watch. You guys know what to do, so have at it.

Oh, and send in some mailbag questions. Need ‘em for tomorrow. plskthx

City: SI Yanks owe $300K in payments

According to the New York City Comptroller’s Office and the Economic Development Corporation, the Staten Island Yankees, New York-Penn League affiliates of the Bronx club and owned by the Yanks, owe the city $300,000 in back-rent, unreported attendance totals and improper deductions. The team does not agree, and the SI Yanks plan to bring the issue to an arbitration hearing.

The finer points of the dispute are rather arcane, but Comptroller John Liu lays them out in a press release which accompanies his office’s audit report (PDF). In essence, the terms of the lease deal between the SI Yankees and the EDC make rent payment levels contingent upon game attendance figures, and the team must pay a fee for each now-show complimentary ticket it issues over the course of the season. The team, says Liu’s office, underreported attendance totals for the 2009 season and now owes the city $118,366 in rent and $39,140 in no-show and complimentary ticket fees. Separately, the team took unallowable deductions in calculating money owed to the city through its net-signage revenue provisions and now must pony up $151,058. The EDC, leaseholders of the stadium in Richmond County, say the team owes back-rent and ticket fee payments only but not the net-signage revenue.

To rectify these deficiencies, the Comptroller’s Office has urged the team over the $308,564 it ostensibly owes while instituting better controls for its complimentary ticket policy. Since the various parties disagree, to arbitration this will go. As Frank Donnelly at SILive.com reported, the two sides “want to put the issue behind them,” but the EDC is prepared to go to court to collect its money. And once again, a professional sports franchise with a sweetheart stadium deal from its host seems to be withholding money that should go to fill the city’s coffers.

Is Scott Downs worth the cost?

(Chris Gardner/AP)

If we’ve learned anything about the free agent market in the past few years, it’s that buying relief pitchers often leads to disappointment. Even Damaso Marte, who had been a solid pitcher throughout his career, crumbled after signing what was essentially a free agent contract. Chan Ho Park, who shined in the Phillies pen during the 2009 season, flopped horribly in 2010. The stories go on seemingly forever, extending back to the days of Paul Quantrill. Yet there’s always the temptation with at least one reliever on the market. This year it’s Scott Downs.

I’ll put this bluntly: I want Scott Downs in the Yankees bullpen. The guy is simply a beast. He strikes out his share of guys, he avoids walking too many batters, he keeps the ball on the ground, and he limits balls that leave the park. During the last three seasons he has produced a 2.83 ERA and 3.16 FIP, placing him easily within the top 20 relief pitchers of that period. What’s even better is that he’s a lefty who can hold his own against righties. But is he worth the cost to the Yankees?

Again, I’ll be blunt: No. It pains me to type those two letters. Downs is such a perfect fit for the 2011 bullpen. The Yankees need another lefty. Downs can fill that role, as well as a late-innings setup role. But the downsides to signing him outweigh the potential benefits he’d have over a replacement.

1. He’s a Type A free agent. The Blue Jays will undoubtedly offer him arbitration. He made $4 million in 2010, so even a $1 million raise makes him an affordable relief pitcher. If he declines, he’ll cost an acquiring team a first round draft pick. Chances are that will be a second rounder for the Yankees, but that might be even worse. Because the Yankees will almost certainly decline, for the third straight year, to offer any of their own free agents arbitration, they’ll receive no supplemental draft picks. That would push their first pick in the draft into the triple digits. That’s no way to build a strong farm system.

2. He’ll turn 35 before Opening Day. Even handing Downs a deal in the mold of Marte’s would be a risk, since it would mean he’d be on the team through his age-37 season.

3. His performance brings no guarantees. You can say this to varying degrees with any player, really, but especially with relief pitchers. Downs has been tremendous in the last four years. In fact, in the last three years only four relief pitchers have a better ERA than Downs: Joakim Soria, Mike Adams, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Mo. Only five relievers have a higher ground ball percentage, and Downs has a very low HR/FB ratio to go along with that. But that means nothing heading into next year. One bad year can make this a bad deal overall, especially when it involves a pitcher of Downs’s age.

On a one-year deal, Scott Downs would be the perfect addition to the Yankees’ bullpen. But as a Type A free agent he just doesn’t fit. Maybe, just maybe, the Yankees and Jays can pull off something similar to what the Braves and the Rays did last year after Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration. But considering the intra-division implications, I’m not sure that happens. Scott Downs could make a very nice setup man for a contending club next year. I’m sad it won’t be the Yanks.