Report: A’s wanted Montero and top pitching prospects for Gio

Via Andy Martino, the Athletics asked the Yankees for Jesus Montero and “top pitching prospects” when they inquired about left-baller Gio Gonzalez earlier this winter. A few weeks ago we heard that the A’s wanted young, high-end outfielders in return for the 26-year-old, but the Yankees don’t have any of those to offer and it was before Oakland got Collin Cowgill in the Trevor Cahill deal. Considering that Mat Latos just got traded for something less than Montero plus “top pitching prospects,” this was probably an easy no for the braintrust.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Edwin Jackson

If you take a look at MLB Trade Rumors’ remaining free agents list, you might notice something peculiar. Actually, maybe you won’t; I didn’t until Mike pointed it out. First browse the position players and identify players who could hit in the middle of a contender’s lineup. Then look at the relievers and see who could soak up high leverage innings. And then finally look at starting pitchers and see which ones will likely give you above-average production. We might quibble here and there on the details, but it’s pretty clear that the three best remaining players from those categories are Prince Fielder, Ryan Madson, and Edwin Jackson. It should come as no surprise to learn what they all have in common.

They’re all Scott Boras clients.

Boras has laid relatively low this off-season. He has placed only three players so far, four counting Andrew Brackman, and they’re all lower-tier types: Bruce Chen, Gerald Laird, and Willie Bloomquist. Yet his greatest assets are still not only on the market, but they’re the best choice for any team looking to upgrade. That means he’ll likely extract a decent price for them. While the market remains quiet for Jackson — his last MLBTR mention came more than a week ago, and it was to note a non-interested team — he’ll surely fetch a decent sum if only because he’s the best remaining pitcher on the market.

Chances are the Yanks won’t pursue him. They stayed out of the C.J. Wilson sweepstakes and reports are that they didn’t go big on Yu Darvish. It sounds as though they’re looking for either a true No. 2, or to shore up the back end of the rotation. Jackson could help them in the middle of the rotation, but probably not at a cost that the Yankees find appealing.

Pros

  • Jackson just turned 28 this past September, making him one of the younger options on the market. Many, if not most, free agents hit the market as they’re exiting their prime years. Jackson is just entering them. That makes it more likely they’ll pay for future, rather than past, performance.
  • He’s shown some improvement in his peripherals the past two years, notably in his ground ball rate. He’s also kept the ball in the park better in the last two seasons, which has led to his two best FIP seasons.
  • Even with a .330 BABIP last year, almost 20 points higher than his career average, he still managed a 3.79 ERA in nearly 200 innings.
  • His last two seasons have been split between the AL and the NL, but he’s actually performed better in the AL — while pitching for the White Sox, a team with a hitter-friendly park.
  • Once a big problem, he’s improved his walk rate in the last year and a half.
  • His numbers in the last three seasons: 622 IP, 7.09 K/9, 3.04 BB/9, 0.93 HR/9, 3.96 ERA, 3.91 FIP. Those aren’t outstanding numbers, but they’re solidly above average.

Cons

  • Scott Boras has him in a good position now and can likely extract a decent price. Plenty of teams need pitching, and as listed above Jackson has plenty of positive qualities. Chances are he’ll provide solidly above production for a salary of a slightly better pitcher.
  • He hasn’t exactly been a welcome member of any staff, as he’s pitched for six teams in his career. Part of that might be circumstance beyond his control. But there has to be something about a pitcher that so many teams are willing to part with.
  • Chances are that in addition to a sizable salary, Boras is also looking for a four-year contract, or even more. That’s a long time to commit to a pitcher who will at best be your No. 3.
  • As we mentioned earlier in the off-season, Jackson’s strikeout rate tends to fluctuate wildly. It’s not necessarily a red flag, but it does raise some eyebrows.

There’s no way to justify it other than saying it’s a gut feeling, but it seems as though Jackson is the type of free agent who would sign with the Yankees and then pitch pretty poorly. Maybe it wouldn’t be Carl Pavano 2.0, but I do feel as though Jackson wouldn’t work out nearly as well as the numbers suggest. This is by no way an authoritative stance, but it’s just something that I’ve felt when evaluating Jackson as a free agent.

How good has Nick Swisher been compared to previous Yankee right-fielders?

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

While I’m sure Nick Swisher doesn’t need defending among RAB’s audience, his name has continued to arise this offseason due to a variety of factors: (a) As the Yankees’ only position-player free agent among the starting nine next offseason, he would seem to be the most tradeable; (b) Some folks are still irrationally mad at Swish for underperforming in three separate and completely unrelated small sample sizes; and (c) the Yankees need pitching, which is basically an extension of (a).

Here’s the problem with any trade speculation involving Swish: Nick Swisher is (as I mentioned in the above-linked piece) the living and breathing embodiment of the ideal New York Yankee on offense, a sabermetrician’s dream of patience and power who led the team in OBP in 2011 with a .374 mark despite starting the season in a horrid slump, notched the best BB% on the team, at 15% — a massive jump from 2010’s 9.1% not to mention the third-best mark in the American League — and finished 11th in the AL in pitches per plate appearance (20th in 2010 and 2nd in the league in 2009).

He’s really quite good at what he does, random postseason struggles aside. This becomes even clearer when taking a quick scan of the 2013 outfield free agent class:

Left fielders
Josh Hamilton (32)
Eric Hinske (35)
Mark Kotsay (37)
Carlos Lee (37)
Juan Rivera (34) – $4MM club option for 2013 with a $500K buyout
Luke Scott (35)
Delmon Young (27)

Center fielders
Michael Bourn (30)
Marlon Byrd (35)
Melky Cabrera (28)
Curtis Granderson (32) – $13MM club option with a $2MM buyout
Angel Pagan (31)
B.J. Upton (28)
Shane Victorino (32)

Right fielders
Matt Diaz (35)
Andre Ethier (31)
Torii Hunter (37)
Mark Kotsay (37)
Carlos Quentin (30)
Juan Rivera (34) – $4MM club option for 2013 with a $500K buyout
Ryan Spilborghs (33)
Ichiro Suzuki (39)
Nick Swisher (32)

Before the Dodgers extended Matt Kemp, fine, I’d have been alright with letting Swish walk in favor of Kemp patrolling whichever section of Yankee Stadium‘s outfield he wanted. However, as it currently stands, none of next year’s pending free agent outfielders are better than Swish. The only names on that list that I would maybe think twice about are Carlos Quentin and Shane Victorino, and Swish has been a better offensive player (.370 wOBA) than both outfielders over the last three seasons (both Victorino and Quentin have matching .354 wOBAs during that same timeframe). Yes, we all know Josh Hamilton’s been a beast (.388 wOBA over the last three seasons), but he also can’t stay healthy and will presumably be looking for a huge deal. With all of these players essentially the same age, I’d go with the devil you know who has also played in 150 games in each of his three seasons in pinstripes.

But wait, there’s more. Here’s a rundown of Yankee right-fielders over the last 20 individual seasons, sorted by OPS+:

Rk Player OPS+ PA Year Age G AB 2B HR BB IBB SO HBP BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Paul O’Neill 176 443 1994 31 103 368 25 21 72 13 56 0 .359 .460 .603 1.064
2 Danny Tartabull 152 526 1992 29 123 421 19 25 103 14 115 0 .266 .409 .489 .898
3 Gary Sheffield 141 684 2004 35 154 573 30 36 92 7 83 11 .290 .393 .534 .927
4 Bobby Abreu 138 248 2006 32 58 209 16 7 33 1 52 1 .330 .419 .507 .926
5 Gary Sheffield 137 675 2005 36 154 584 27 34 78 7 76 8 .291 .379 .512 .891
6 Paul O’Neill 137 637 1997 34 149 553 42 21 75 8 92 0 .324 .399 .514 .912
7 Paul O’Neill 137 543 1995 32 127 460 30 22 71 8 76 1 .300 .387 .526 .913
8 Paul O’Neill 136 547 1993 30 141 498 34 20 44 5 69 2 .311 .367 .504 .871
9 Paul O’Neill 130 672 1998 35 152 602 40 24 57 2 103 2 .317 .372 .510 .882
10 Nick Swisher 129 635 2010 29 150 566 33 29 58 0 139 6 .288 .359 .511 .870
11 Paul O’Neill 123 660 1996 33 150 546 35 19 102 8 76 4 .302 .411 .474 .885
12 Nick Swisher 122 607 2009 28 150 498 35 29 97 2 126 3 .249 .371 .498 .869
13 Bobby Abreu 120 684 2008 34 156 609 39 20 73 2 109 1 .296 .371 .471 .843
14 Nick Swisher 117 635 2011 30 150 526 30 23 95 6 125 5 .260 .374 .449 .822
15 Bobby Abreu 113 699 2007 33 158 605 40 16 84 0 115 3 .283 .369 .445 .814
16 Raul Mondesi 110 403 2003 32 98 361 23 16 38 6 66 2 .258 .330 .471 .801
17 Paul O’Neill 107 675 1999 36 153 597 39 19 66 1 89 2 .285 .353 .459 .812
18 Paul O’Neill 104 563 2001 38 137 510 33 21 48 4 59 2 .267 .330 .459 .789
19 Raul Mondesi 96 302 2002 31 71 270 18 11 28 2 46 2 .241 .315 .430 .744
20 Paul O’Neill 92 628 2000 37 142 566 26 18 51 2 90 0 .283 .336 .424 .760
21 Shane Spencer 86 329 2002 30 94 288 15 6 31 4 62 4 .247 .324 .375 .699
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/1/2011.

Swish’s three seasons didn’t end up ranking quite as high as I’d have expected, although that’s really more a tribute to how beastly Paul O’Neill was in pinstripes than any shortcomings on Nick’s part.

However, the case for Nick Swisher as one of the best Yankee right-fielders of the past two decades really comes into focus when we look at the cumulative numbers (minimum 300 PAs, sorted by fWAR), courtesy of FanGraphs:

Who knew Danny Tartabull was a regular OBP machine? The Yankees have gotten some pretty robust offensive production out of their right-fielders for a large chunk of the past 20 years. As you can see, Swish is tied for third-best wOBA with Bobby Abreu and Tartabull, but more importantly, has been considerably more valuable than both men in a similar amount of PAs due to his superior glovework.

While the Yankees may not see another Paul O’Neill for a good while — believe it or not, O’Neill actually has a decent case for one of the top Yankee rightfielders of the last 50 years (2nd-highest fWAR, 3rd-highest OBP, 6th-highest wOBA) — they’ve arguably got the second-best thing in Nick Swisher.

Hoping For A Homegrown Outfielder In 2013

(Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com)

The Yankees are still dealing with their pitching questions this offseason, but as fans we can’t help but look ahead to future roster problems and wonder how they’ll be addressed. The outfield figures to be a hot topic next winter, when Nick Swisher becomes a free agent and the rest of the open market is pretty unappealing. If the Yankees intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, a homegrown Swisher replacement would be the best way to go.

Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t have any high-end outfield prospects close to the big leagues capable of replacing their current right fielder. Mason Williams is a potential star but is also four levels away from the show. Slade Heathcott hasn’t had a full, healthy season since turning pro, and Kelvin DeLeon inches closer to being a $1.1M bust with each swing and miss. Of course the Yankees don’t need to replace Swisher with a star prospect; they’ve shown you can win the World Series with guys like Ricky Ledee and Chad Curtis and Gerald Williams roaming an outfield corner.

Perhaps the best hope for a homegrown outfielder in 2013 is a prospect that gets little hype, at least compared to Williams and Heathcott. The Yankees added Zoilo Almonte to the 40-man roster after the season, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft but also showing confidence in his ability to contribute in some capacity down the line. He posted a .402 wOBA with High-A Tampa during the first half of 2011 before producing a .308 wOBA with Double-A Trenton in the second half. Like Brett Gardner in his prospect days, Almonte has struggled at a new level each time he’s been promoted at midseason before hitting his stride the next time around.

A switch-hitter, Almonte is almost a poor man’s version of Swisher at the plate. He draws a decent number of walks (9.1% at High-A and above) and hits for okay power (.155 ISO at High-A and above), though most of his pop is into the gaps rather than over the fence at age 22. He performed better against left-handed pitchers both last year and throughout his career, but that’s not terribly surprising for the natural right-handed hitter. Add in solid but unspectacular defense and 15+ stolen base ability, you’ve got someone with the potential to develop into a big league regular down the line. The Yankees obviously believe he can do it sooner rather than later, otherwise they wouldn’t have protected him from the Rule 5 Draft.

The last two times the Yankees worked a homegrown outfielder into the regular lineup, they went about it in very different ways. Injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield pressed Melky Cabrera into everyday duty whether the team liked it or not, but Gardner got broken in slowly during the 2008 and 2009 seasons before getting a full-time job in 2010. The latter is obviously preferred if you’re talking about someone less than a star prospect (a Mike Trout or Desmond Jennings), so the Yankees would still need to invest in a solid fourth outfielder or platoon partner if they decide Swisher is too rich for their taste and intend to see what they have in Almonte.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 19th, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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Mailbag: How much for A-Rod, the free agent?

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Brian writes: Just curious. If A-Rod was a free agent this offseason, what would his value be in terms of years and AAV?

When Albert Pujols signed his contract with the Angels, amongst Yankee fans, it put the spotlight back on A-Rod’s massive deal. The two 10-year humdingers aren’t what I would call good contracts, and the Yanks have seem A-Rod, who is going to get paid through 2017, break down considerably over the past three years. There’s no doubt that if A-Rod were a free agent today, he wouldn’t get a six-year, $143-million deal — essentially what he has now with the Yanks.

But what, as Brian wrote to us, would he get? I asked Joe, Larry, Mike, Moshe and Stephen to chime in on this one, and what follows is a RAB roundtable on this intriguing question. While opinions differ as to his likely landing place, everyone believes A-Rod would get three guaranteed years and decent money to boot. Keep reading for our predictions. [Read more…]

Open Thread: Jason Giambi

(G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

Just nine of the 31 nine-figure contracts in baseball history have run their course and been completed, and one of those nine belongs to former Yankees Jason Giambi. The Giambino signed with New York ten years ago today, receiving a seven-year contract worth a cool $120M. Tino Martinez was ushered out of town, and the Yankees brought in a former MVP and arguably the best hitter in the game.

Giambi’s first year in pinstripes was pretty much everything we could have hoped for; he hit .314/.435/.598 with 41 homers and accumulated 7.0 fWAR and 7.3 bWAR. The only three position players to put up a seven-win season with the Yankees over the last 25 years are Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Giambi. He dropped to still productive .250/.412/.527 with another 41 homers the next year, but then the injuries and the steroid stuff started to come into focus. Over the final five years of his contract, Giambi hit .247/.392/.496 with another 127 homers, but he was a butcher on defense and struggled whenever he played DH.

Everyone remembers Aaron Boone’s walk-off homer in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, but Giambi set the stage twice by homering off Pedro Martinez earlier in the game. The Big G was a .279/.409/.510 hitter in the postseason with New York, though he came to town too late to be part of the dynasty and left too early to be part of the 2009 World Championship team. He hit .260/.404/.521 during his seven years with the Yankees, which is pretty damn impressive. Some people out there really don’t like the Giambi because of the steroids and all that, but he was a fun dude and absolutely mashed, even in his down years. He’ll always be a personal fave.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. The late NFL game is the Raven at the Chargers (8:20pm ET on NBC), but you can talk about anything you want here. You know what to do, so have at it.