Kuroda speaks for first time since joining Yankees

The Yankees officially announced the Hiroki Kuroda signing — a one-year, $10MM contract with a full no-trade clause — earlier this week, and yesterday he spoke publicly for the first time since agreeing to come to New York. “[The Dodgers] were unable to ever make a formal offer, I couldn’t wait any longer,” said Kuroda to Dylan Hernandez. The right-hander confirmed he received offers from several teams but only seriously considered the Yankees and the Hiroshima Carp, his former team in Japan. He turned down more lucrative offers to wear pinstripes.

“They have an incredible tradition,” said Kuroda of joining the Yankees. “They contend for the championship every year. I wanted to play for a team like that. When you get to my age, you don’t know how much longer you can pitch and I wanted to experience that before my career ended.” Kuroda never got to pitch in the playoffs in Japan, and the Dodgers qualified for the postseason only twice in his four years there. “To be a part of a team like that is something I will be proud of.”

Kuroda also spoke briefly about his relationships with Russell Martin, Clayton Kershaw, and Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. Hernandez says that Kuroda’s wife and two school-age daughters will remain in Los Angeles while he is in New York this summer, and he’s preparing for 2012 as if it will be his last season. “There will be a lot of change,” he said. ““Not only a baseball player, but also as a person, I think this will be an important year for me.”

Open Thread: What?!?

With all due respect to the people who put this photo gallery/slideshow together, there is absolutely no chance that David Robertson‘s bases loaded, no outs escape act in the 11th inning of Game Two of the 2009 ALDS is the FOURTH most clutch moment in team history. No chance. None. Nada. I’m not even sure that would make the top forty clutch moments in team history, and hell, that wasn’t even the most clutch moment of the game. That would be Alex Rodriguez‘s game-tying, two-run homer off Joe Nathan in bottom of the ninth.

Sorry, I just caught that thing being passed around Twitter this afternoon and it blew my mind. We all love Robertson, but that’s nuts. Here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks and Nets are both playing tonight, but talk about whatever you like here. Enjoy.

Report: Yankees show interest in Raul Ibanez

Via Kevin Kernan, the Yankees have some interest in Raul Ibanez. Ibanez’s representatives contacted the Yankees about their DH opening last week, but apparently now the interest is mutual. I’m not the guy’s biggest fan, but Joe did made a decent case for him a few days ago. We have to be talking about a minor league contract at this point in the offseason, and I suppose it’s worth noting that Ibanez has posted a .337 wOBA with a .181 ISO against right-handed pitchers over the last two years. He’s unusable against lefties and on defense, though. The Yankees could do worse, but they probably could do better as well.

Kuroda’s contract includes full no-trade clause

Ken Rosenthal reports that the Yankees’ one-year, $10 million deal with Hiroki Kuroda includes a full no-trade clause. This might not seem like a big deal, since it’s just a one year deal. When was the last time the Yankees traded a member of their active rotation mid-season? Best I can remember is Jose Contreras, whom the Yankees traded in 2004. Of course, that was a your problem for my problem trade, as they got Esteban Loaiza in return. Prior to that they traded Ted Lilly, though he’d been bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen prior to the Yankees replacing him with Jeff Weaver. There was also Shawn Chacon in 2006, but he hadn’t made a start for nearly a month before the Yankees traded him. In other words, Kuroda didn’t have much to worry about, anyway.

The RAB Radio Show: January 27th, 2012

The big news this week was the Prince Fielder signing. While it didn’t directly affect the Yanks, it certainly changed the balance of power in the American League, and, really, MLB as a whole.

In the first part of the show Mike and I talk about the Yankees’ competition, which has grown this off-season. We run down what the increased power of the Angels and Rangers mean, plus the Tigers, Rays, and Red Sox.

Then we move onto what the Yanks can do to improve. That would be the DH and the other remaining bench spot. We run down some options for what they could do with those.

Podcast run time 45:51

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

[audio:http://riveraveblues.com/podcasts/TheRABRadioShow012712.mp3]

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

What can the Yankees reasonably expect out of David Phelps?

(Beverly Schaefer / For the Times)

Note: This post was initially written prior to the Big Trade. With the Yankee rotation depth chart now seven deep at the Major League level, the likelihood of seeing David Phelps starting for the big league club at any point in 2012 has probably shrunk to nonexistent. Though in Phelps’ favor, with the recent departure of Hector Noesi he and rotationmate Adam Warren have become the de facto “next in line” at AAA should the Yankees indeed simultaneously lose three starting pitchers to injury.

Last winter, most of the non-“Killer Bs” buzz regarding Yankee prospects surrounded Ivan Nova and Hector Noesi, both of whom acquitted themselves rather well during their first full seasons in the big leagues. With Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances both expected to need further seasoning in AAA before getting the call to contribute at the MLB level full time, the two pitchers that we started hearing a fair amount about last offseason and who now appear to be next in line in the rotation pecking order when one of the Yankees’ presumed starting five inevitably goes down with an injury are David Phelps (who Mike profiled a little over a year ago) and Adam Warren (Axisa profile). Today I’m going to take a look at what the Yankees might reasonably expect out of the former.

I found myself intrigued by the now-24-year-old right-hander — who most prospect mavens have pegged as a back-end-of-the-rotation guy at best — after seeing John Sickels recently rank him aggressively at #7 on his list of top 20 Yankee prospects, saying the following:

“I like (Phelps) more than most people do. Has developed the secondary pitches needed to off-set the fastball, and was one of the few pitchers who didn’t get killed in the Arizona Fall League. Could be a fourth starter if given a chance.”

While “fourth-starter-upside” isn’t anything to get terribly excited over — and from what I gather, I get the sense that people aren’t terribly enamored of Sickels’ evaluations as it is — I don’t know that I’d automatically thumb my nose at a guy who could hypothetically settle in as a #4 starter in an MLB rotation.

Phelps was drafted by the Yankees out of Notre Dame in the 14th round of the 2008 draft, and was immediately put to work in short season Staten Island. Here’s a chart of his progression:

While I don’t think Phelps is expected to generate an overwhelming number of strikeouts should he make it to the bigs, it’s still decently impressive that he’s managed to sustain a 7.00+ K/9 ever since moving up to Charleston, while never allowing his walk rate to rise above 3 men per nine. Reasonable strikeout and walk rates combined with a HR/9 that’s never eclipsed 1.0 — even this past fall in the notoriously hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League — has helped Phelps keep his FIP below 4.00 every season. Based solely on his raw numbers, there’s a fair amount to like from this picture.

The other reason I wanted to examine Phelps is that, by virtue of playing in the aforementioned AzFL, we have access (albeit limited) to PITCHf/x data, which is installed in two of the league’s six parks. Poring through the data, I found the two games on the Phoenix Dirt Dogs’ schedule that had them playing in Peoria and Surprise and also coincided with two of Phelps’ eight starts.

On November 7 Phelps threw 5 innings of two-run, three-hit ball with three strikeouts, one walk and one home run. On November 17 Phelps threw 5 innings of two-run, five-hit ball with six strikeouts, no walks and no home runs.

Here’s a breakdown of the 134 pitches he threw:

So based on this data Phelps is a fastball-slider righty, who also won’t shy away from throwing a changeup ~8mph slower than his fastball, or dropping in a curve. In Mike’s profile from December 2010, he noted the following about Phelps:

“Once a scrawny kid that would sit in the low-90’s on a good day, Phelps has filled out his 6-foot-3 frame (190 lbs.) and now throws his fastball at 93-95 mph consistently. Minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras made some minor adjustments soon after Phelps signed, leading to the improved velocity. He also throws a two-seam fastball right around 90 mph, a good curveball, and both a below average slider and changeup. The curve is the closest thing Phelps has to a strikeout pitch, but it still needs some more improvement. At the moment he’s a ground ball pitcher, but that can change if one of the offspeed pitches takes that step forward.”

I saw a lot of 89-91mph fastballs in the PITCHf/x data, and so I’m guessing Phelps’ arm was somewhat tired by the time he got to the AFL after throwing roughly 114 innings in 2011 in both rehab and Scranton (Ed. Note: Phelps missed close to three months this summer with shoulder fatigue, so that could have contributed to the diminished velocity as well). If Phelps actually does usually sit at ~93mph with his fastball, a strong early showing at AAA could make him a valuable trade chip come July. Ultimately, I don’t know that anything about Phelps screams dominance, but it also doesn’t seem crazy to think that he could contribute as a starting pitcher at a league-average level in MLB.

For more on Phelps, be sure to check out TYA’s Brad Vietrogoski’s Top 30 Yankee Prospects capsules over at An A-Blog for A-Rod. Phelps checks in at #8.