Open Thread: 42 for 42

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Mariano Rivera was a bit of a late bloomer. He didn’t make his big league debut until he was 25 years and five months old, the same age Phil Hughes is right now. Rivera’s first full year in the show came during his age 26 season, his first of a dozen (and counting) All-Star appearances came during his age 27 season, and he didn’t close out his first World Series game until he was a few weeks shy of his 29th birthday. That seems like such a long time ago, and it is. Nearly a decade-and-a-half.

Today is Mariano’s birthday, his 42nd. Number 42 for number 42. He’s still as good as ever, a god among men in baseball’s most volatile position. This past season he claimed the all-time saves record, but it wasn’t much more than a blip on the radar. Everyone knew Rivera was the greatest closer of all-time long before that, he didn’t need some silly record to make it official. The 2012 season might be Mo’s last, we don’t know, but part of me is convinced that he could close out games until he’s 50. I hope he does.

After you’re done wishing Mo a happy birthday, use this as your open thread for the night. Both the Islanders and Rangers are playing tonight, so there’s that. Talk about whatever you like, have at it.

Yankees sign lefty Juan Cedeno

Via Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed left-hander Juan Cedeno to a minor league contract. The 28-year-old pitched for the Rio Grande Valley White Wings of the independent North American Baseball League this past season, striking out 65 and walking just ten in 43 relief innings. According to the club’s sabermetric pitching stats page, he also had a Power Fitness Ration of 1.744. I don’t know either.

Before heading to the indy leagues, Cedeno spent a bunch of time in the Red Sox’s and Royals’ farm systems. He also did a year in Korea. Cedeno had some major control problems earlier in his career (78 BB in 90.1 IP in 2006), but he did a nice job of limiting the free pass in 2011. It’s a shot in the dark signing that carries zero risk, sometimes these lefty relievers come out of nowhere to contribute decent innings at the big league level. Throw the kid in Double-A and see what happens.

Yanks express interest in Kyle Drabek

Lack of baseball can make a person go mad. For instance, when browsing MLB Trade Rumors this morning I saw the following line: “The Yankees are interested in Kyle Drabek.” Madness. Sure, the Yankees probably have some level of interest in Drabek; they have interest in any pitcher at the right price. But this just seemed odd. It came from a Bob Elliott column in the Toronto Sun, and the article, too, contains the explicit reference: “The New York Yankees are interested in right-hander Kyle Drabek.” Could they actually mount a pursuit of the almost 24-year-old righty?

Drabek’s career began in 2006, when the Phillies drafted him with the 18th overall pick. He got off to something of a slow start, struggling in A-ball during his first season. But a quality showing in the New York-Penn League in 2008, followed by a rise to AA in 2009, increased his stock. Before the 2010 season Baseball America rated him the No. 25 prospect in all of baseball. By that point he was in the Blue Jays organization, coming over in the Roy Halladay trade. He debuted there at the end of the 2010 season, and that audition earned him a spot on the Opening Day 2011 roster.

While his first start went well, it was mostly downhill for Drabek from there. He faced the Yankees twice, throwing 7.2 innings total and allowing nine runs. After allowing eight runs in four innings against the Red Sox in mid-June he was left with a 5.70 ERA in 72.2 innings. That was cause enough for a demotion to AAA, a level at which he had never previously pitched. His season didn’t get much better there, as he threw 75 innings to a 7.44 ERA before coming back up in September. The remainder of his season consisted of two scoreless outings, a six runs in two innings affair, and finally one run in one inning. In short, nothing went the way the Jays had planned.

If the Yankees are actually interested in Drabek — and I’m not convinced that’s actually the case — they’d view him as a change of scenery guy. Chances are they wouldn’t part with anything of immediate value, since Drabek’s poor MLB showing casts some doubts about his future. He can recover, certainly; to write off any 24-year-old is folly. But Drabek’s extreme control issues, which haunted him in AAA as well as the majors, have to give any team pause in trying to acquire him. His buy-low status will likely lead to offers that don’t satisfy the Jays demands. After all, if Drabek can turn it around why would they sell low on him?

Even further, it’s not clear that the Yankees actually have interest in trading for Drabek. Elliott’s blurb pretty commandingly claims that’s the case, but later on he writes that the “Yankees people are asking Jays scouts questions.” This doesn’t seem terribly abnormal, especially for a pitcher within the Yankees’ division. If this is the entire proof of the Yankees’ interest, it might not be interest in trading for Drabek, but rather a measure of opposition research. That makes a bit more sense, considering teams’ natural reluctance to trade within their divisions. The Yankees and Jays haven’t hooked up for a trade since Raul Mondesi came to New York in 2002.

These types of nuggets can ignite a quick flame in the cold off-season months, but they rarely amount to much. It’s just something to discuss on a day when nothing major happens. The Yankees, we know, are looking everywhere possible for upgrades to the rotation. If the Blue Jays have indicated that they’d listen on Drabek, chances are the Yankees will start asking some questions. But it seems extremely unlikely that they ever get to serious talks. Trading a 24-year-old top prospect is one thing. Trading him to a powerful division rival, while selling low, is quite another.

Scouting The Trade Market: Matt Thornton

Dare the Yankees dip their toes back into the water of the lefty reliever pool? Brian Cashman has mentioned it as an area of need, yet twice in the recent past he’s been burned. Damaso Marte, after signing a three-year, $12 million deal before 2009, pitched only 31 innings. Pedro Feliciano signed a two-year, $8 million contract last winter and will not throw a single inning for the Yankees. Considering the dearth of available left-handed relievers on the free agent market, the Yankees will likely sit out this round.

Yet the trade market always remains a possibility. Just this morning, in fact, ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned that the White Sox are shopping Matt Thornton. We’ve heard plenty this winter about the Sox wanting to shed payroll, and losing the two years and $12 million remaining to Thornton would certainly help. Might they match up with the Yankees?


  • In the past four years Thornton has been one of the more successful relievers in the league. Since 2008, among relievers with at least 200 IP, Thornton ranks 14th in ERA, 3rd in FIP, 5th in strikeout rate, 11th in home run rate, and 19th in walk rate.
  • He absolutely kills lefties: 12 K/9, 0.79 HR/9, 2.71 FIP lifetime against them, despite the terrible start to his career. Since 2009 his FIP hasn’t crossed the 2.00 barrier against left-handed batters.
  • While his ERA jumped over the 3.00 mark last year, for the first time since 2007, his peripherals remained solid: 9.5 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 0.45 HR/9.
  • His poor season was more like a poor April. From May on he threw 51.1 innings, striking out 53 to 15 walks and allowing just one home run — 2.45 ERA.
  • It might seem obvious, since his overall numbers are so good, but he can handle righties, too. He might walk them at a greater clip than lefties, but in the past four years he’s had little discernible trouble against them.


  • He’s not exactly young. The Mariners didn’t call up Thornton until he was 27. He just turned 35, so his contract will end just after he turns 37. That’s not always good news for a guy who relies on mid-90s heat.
  • He’s not cheap, either. His contract extension, which kicks in starting in 2012, pays him $5.5 million in each of the next two years. It also has a $1 million buyout of a $6 million club option. The Yankees might not consider that a reasonable allocation of their rising payroll.
  • His trade cost might prove prohibitive. While the Sox are shopping him, they aren’t going to give him away. Reliable lefty relievers are a commodity in short supply, and so the Sox could initiate a bidding war and get a bit more than they should for a 35-year-old reliever with $12 million remaining on his contract.

While talking to the FanGraphs staff at spring training, White Sox Assistant GM Rick Hahn shared with us the essence of Thornton: “When he came over here we asked him what he wanted to do. He said, ‘I want to throw the ball right down the [expletive deleted] middle and see if they can hit it.’ So we let him throw the ball right down the [expletive deleted] middle.” It has worked exceedingly well for him during his five years in Chicago, and particularly in the last four. Yet that might be reason for pause. Can Thornton continue dominating hitters with his mid-90s heat for the next two years?

The problem with trading for Thornton straight up is finding reasonable value for both sides. Given his age and skillset, his contract might seem like too big a risk. At the same time, the White Sox want to receive some value for their reliable lefty reliever. It could cause a stalemate in negotiations with any organization. The better bet might be to pursue a package deal of John Danks and Thornton. Danks is a favorite at RAB. Before the trade deadline we scouted the trade market for Danks, and recently Moshe wrote up a comparison of Danks to Andy Pettitte. The Yankees could fill two positions in such a trade, and the White Sox would have a better chance of realizing value for both. The Yankees, for instance, might not be willing to trade Dellin Betances for just Danks, but might be more willing to included him in a deal for both Danks and Thornton.*

*Just an example. My trade proposal sucks.

The Yankees and the White Sox figure to talk on at least a few occasions this winter. Since the Sox are apparently in a reloading phase, they might wish to shed some players who either have inflated salaries or who will reach free agency soon. The two clubs have worked together in the past on trades, and we could see them hook up again this winter. Seeing Danks in navy blue pinstripes, rather than black, would be a welcome development.

The Yankees and Rule 5 Draft Targets

(Photo Credit: The Italian version of Wikipedia)

The Rule 5 Draft is almost like baseball’s island of misfit toys. It takes place during the final day of the winter meetings (so next Thursday), and is designed to help blocked minor leaguers (with so many years of experience) get a chance with another team in the big leagues. It costs $50k to select a player, then you have to keep him on your active 25-man big league roster all season. If you don’t, then you have to offer the player back to his old team. It’s pretty simple, and very rarely does it yield big results (Joakim Soria, Johan Santana, and Josh Hamilton are the most notable Rule 5 success stories).

The Yankees have been pretty active in the Rule 5 Draft in recent years, taking three players (RHP Danny Turpen, LHP Robert Fish, OF Jamie Hoffmann) in the last two drafts. None of those guys made it all the way through Spring Training, but the Yankees did give them a pretty long look in camp. Five years ago they took veteran Josh Phelps, who they carried on the roster as a right-handed bench bat (.311 wOBA) through mid-June. It’s not often a Rule 5 guy manages to stick even that long.

As usual, the Yankees really only have two spots to fit a Rule 5 player, either on the bench or in the bullpen. That’s pretty typical, no club goes into the Rule 5 Draft looking for a star, they’re just looking for useful spare parts. Here’s three guys that are available and make some amount of sense for the Yankees, particularly this guy…

(Photo Credit:

Ryan Flaherty, UTIL, Cubs

No relation to John Flaherty, Ryan was the 41st overall pick back in the 2008 draft, which Chicago received as compensation for losing Jason Kendall to the Royals. Yeah, the Cubs actually received a high draft pick for losing Kendall. Crazy. Anyway, they drafted Flaherty out of Vanderbilt, where he was overshadowed by Pedro Alvarez and some big power arms. He’s steadily climbed the ladder since turning pro, reaching Triple-A for the first time this past season. The Cubs already have a ton of infield prospects on their 40-man roster, so they left Flaherty exposed to the Rule 5 Draft rather than clog up another spot.

The 25-year-old fits right into the Eric Chavez bench role quite perfectly. He’s not the defender Chavez is (few are), but he makes up for it with versatility. Flaherty has extensive experience at second, third, and short, and he’s also played a few dozen games in the corner outfield spots. He’s also a left-handed hitter, a talented one that posted a .364 wOBA without a huge platoon split (.372 wOBA vs. RHP, .341 vs. LHP) between Double and Triple-A this year. That platoon split is consistent with the rest of his career. Flaherty has some power (career .184 ISO with 31+ doubles and 19+ homers in two of the last three years), draws a fair amount of walks (9.3% career walk rate), and doesn’t strike out all that much (17.8%), even against southpaws. His makeup was also highly regarded back when he was drafted, and the Yankees have prioritized strong makeup in recent years.

Flaherty really does make a ton of sense for the Yankees, offering the kind of versatility and left-handed bat skills that would help balance out Eduardo Nunez and (the hopefully returning) Andruw Jones on the bench. Yankee Stadium could always help him get some more balls over the fence as well. Flaherty makes so much sense for the Yankees that I think they should trade up to make sure they get him*, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever said about a Rule 5 guy. They’ve got a chance to add a real useful (and real cheap) piece to their bench with this guy.

* You can’t trade picks, but Rule 5 Draft guys do get traded as players to be named later. Usually one team will offer another $100k — twice the Rule 5 Draft fee — and in return the second team will pick the guy the first team wants and send him over as the player to be named. The Yankees kinda sorta did this with Brian Bruney and Hoffmann two years ago.

(Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Phillippe Valiquette, LHP, Mariners

Perhaps the most hyped player available in the Rule 5 Draft, Valiquette has been getting some serious buzz after Keith Law mentioned that he’s a lefty capable of running his fastball up to 99 last week. The problem is that he’s had trouble staying healthy (didn’t pitch at all in 2011 because of an elbow problem) and doesn’t have much of a secondary pitch or a feel for pitching. He’s a classic thrower. Despite that big fastball, he’s only struck out 7.2 batters per nine in his career (4.4 BB/9) while working almost exclusively out of the bullpen. Teams will line up for days to take a chance at hard-throwing lefties, but Valiquette is a very long shot. The Yankees have almost no chance to get him without trading up.

Trevor Reckling, LHP, Angels

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Reckling, 22, was considered the Halos’ fourth best prospect by Baseball America just two years ago, four spots ahead of the now crazy good Tyler Skaggs and five spots ahead of Jordan Walden. He’s taken a step backwards since then, and his 2011 season ended in mid-July thanks to a sprained elbow ligament. Reckling did not have surgery, and as far as I know he’ll be ready in time for Spring Training.

The numbers over the last two years are pretty awful, we’re talking a 5.34 ERA with 4.36 BB/9 and 6.21 K/9 in 247.2 IP between Double and Triple-A. Any team that takes a flier on Reckling would be doing so on the scouting report, which includes a low-90’s fastball and a pair of sliders, a sweepy mid-70’s version and a snappier low-80’s version. He’s also got a herky jerky delivery (seen here) that allows him to hide the ball well but probably also contributes to his control problems. After four years of working exclusively as a starter and with his development stalled out, a change of scenery and role could be in order. Whatever team takes Reckling (if anyone does) will probably just tell him to go to the bullpen, shut off his brain, and just air it out for an inning at a time with his two best pitches.

* * *

The Yankees protected five players from the Rule 5 Draft, with the most notable unprotected guy being Pat Venditte. Some team will assuredly select the switch pitcher, even if it’s just to see what he’s got in Spring Training. They’ll likely get him back though, just like they did when the Padres took Ivan Nova back in 2008. New York’s one empty 40-man roster spot figures to go to Freddy Garcia at some point soon, and the deadline for clubs to set their roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft is next Monday. You can’t select a player without having an open spot, so the Yankees are probably going to have to give someone the axe if they want to take Flaherty, which they totally should.

Breaking down the payroll, part two

It’s been a little over a month since we last broke down the Yankees’ payroll, but a lot has changed since then. Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher had their clubs options officially picked up, Andrew Brackman was cut loose, Rafael Soriano did not opt-out of his deal, and CC Sabathia signed a new contract extension. Let’s take stock of who the team currently has under contract for next season…

Freddy Garcia’s new one-year contract is not yet official, but all reports indicate that it will have a $4M base salary plus incentives. That brings us up to a dozen players and a total payout of $177.125M. Using MLBTR’s projections, the Yankees will have another $17.9M tied up in their six arbitration-eligible players. Chris Dickerson just missed the Super Two cutoff, so he’s not yet eligible for arbitration. That’s $195.025M for 18 players.

There are currently 22 pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster, and the new CBA raised the minimum salary to $480k. If we estimate those 22 guys at half-a-mil each, it’s another $11M on the payroll, bringing us to $206.025M for 40 players. It doesn’t work like that though, not all 22 of those guys will be in the big leagues this year. Cory Wade, Ivan Nova, Jesus Montero, and Eduardo Nunez seem to be the only guys with a realistic chance of sticking all year. The other 18 pre-arbitration guys will spend the majority of the year in the minors and earn minor league salaries.

Adding Wade, Nova, Montero, and Nunez to the 18 players above gives us a payroll of $197.025M with three spots on the 25-man active roster left open. Preferably, one of those spots will go to Andruw Jones, another to a starting pitcher, and the last to someone filling the Eric Chavez role (backup corner infielder, lefty bat off the bench). The Yankees are all but guaranteed to go over the $200M mark next season, even if they just re-sign Andruw and fill the last two spots with Hector Noesi and Brandon Laird.

If the Yankees are planning to stick to that $200M limit they’ve talked about in recent years, then they won’t be making any major signings this winter without shipping some salary out. They could save a few bucks if the arbitration salaries are lower than projected, but it’s unlikely to be enough to land a big name pitcher. The Yankees are either going to have to start next season with a higher payroll than what they’ve indicated they’d like it to be, or they’re going to have to get creative to make major upgrades this winter.

A cool 26 grand for losing the ALDS

By no measure did the Yankees have a successful postseason experience this year. Faced with a slim deficit at home in Game 5, the Bombers, as we know, bombed. They couldn’t get that one hit to push them onto the ALDS, and we all had to sit there as inferior teams faced off in both the American League Championship Series and World Series. Had the Yanks won that Game 5, they had a decent path to another World Series title.

Yesterday, Major League Baseball announced the playoff shares for the various clubs that tried to make their ways through the crapshoot that is the postseason, and although the Yanks lost, each player still walked away with a playoff share of over $26,000 each. According to the Commissioner’s Office, the Yanks split $1,718,977.33. They awarded 53 full shares at $26,238.86 each, 11.94 partial shares and three cash awards. That’s not a bad haul for five games of work.

The Cardinals, World Series victors after a playoff season that saw 38 games played out of a possible 41, took home full shares of $323,170 each. That total marks an increase over last year’s pot, but the 2009 Yankees still hold the modern-day record. Each player on the last Yankee World Series championship club took home $350,030. Here’s to another big payday after the 2012 season.