Ten questions for the 2011 season

Looking for some light reading on the first day of the new year? Then check out Brian Hoch’s ten questions for Yankees going into 2011, headlined of course by the pitching staff. The other obvious questions involve age, and how it will impact Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mariano Rivera, among others. Sounds a lot like every other year, now that I think about it.

The River Ave. Blues Top Ten of 2010

As 2010 draws to an end, we’re closing the books on the Yanks’ season. The club came within two wins of reaching the World Series, but injuries and an offensive malaise against the Texas Rangers did in the defending World Champions. As we do every year, let’s run down the top ten most popular non-game thread posts from the year that was. Thanks for stopping by in 2010, and here’s to a run at 28 in 2011.

1. The A.J. Burnett Black Eye Theory Thread
Of course, our most popular post from 2010 was about A.J. Burnett‘s black eye. As RAB readers theorized about it, we never did find out which member of the Yanks grew so disgusted with Burnett’s pitching that they socked him im the face.

2. Steinbrenners in talks to sell Yanks to Dolans
File this one under “April Fools jokes gone horribly, horribly wrong or horribly, horribly right.”

3. Rumor: Lee deal ‘just about done’
Cliff Lee, always almost a Yankee, always never a Yankee.

4. The Yankees top five trade chips
On the eve of the trade deadline, Mike ran down the team’s top five trade chips. Of course, none of those players were traded in July, and all of them are still with the team as 2011 dawns. One — or more of them — could still be traded as the Yanks look to fill some holes, but I bet they’re all still with the franchise come Opening Day.

5. Prospect Profile: Jesus Montero
Few Yankee prospects of the past 20 years have had the buzz about them that Montero does. He’ll make his debut in 2011, and it’s no stretch to say that the Yanks’ offensive future is, in part, riding on his bat. Questions remain about his defense, but the kid sure can hit.

6. 2010 Preseason Top 30 Prospects
As Spring Training began, Mike ran down the organization’s top 30 prospects. See how this compares with Mike’s post-draft top 30 list and marvel at Dellin Betances‘ 2010 campaign. A sign of things to come? I sure hope so.

7. Yankees agree to deal with Feliciano
So far the Yanks’ biggest off-season move outside of signing the team’s own free agents, the club agreed to a two-year deal with Pedro Feliciano a few weeks ago. They haven’t made this one official yet, but that’s probably just because of the holidays. Feliciano will complement Boone Logan as the two lefties of the Yanks’ pen in 2011.

8. Freddy Schuman, long-time stadium stalwart, passes away
Freddy Schuman, known to Yankee fans as Freddy Sez, passed away in October at the age of 85. Banging his pan brought joy to countless Yankee fans over the years.

9. Heyman: Yanks made ‘big proposal’ on Soria
We’ve recently heard from sources close to the reliever that Joakim Soria would love to come pitch in the Bronx. He’s been a lifelong Yankee fan and would love to become Mariano Rivera‘s heir apparent. In July, the Yanks were rumored to have made a big offer to the Royals, and Soria’s name keeps popping up in rumors connecting him with the Bombers.

10. The idea of re-acquiring Johnny Damon
While it’s a move unlikely to happen, rumors of a reunion with Johnny Damon resurfaced last week. Joe analyzed a potential return to the Bronx for the one-time Yankee.

Honorable Mention: While not one of our ten most popular posts, we’d be remiss to end the year without mentioning the Boss. On July 13, 2010, just a few days after his 80th birthday, Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner III passed away at a hospital in Tampa, Florida. It was a tough year for the Yankee family.

Mailbag: Trading draft picks

What would have been the trade value of the top pick in the 2009 Draft? (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Bills asks: It seems that minor-league coverage has exploded into the main stream with blogs, streaming video, and MLB’s coverage of the draft. People, like you guys, follow minor league progression intensely and there seems to be a big market there. Will we see in the next few years draft pick trading, restricted to lets say first to third round with restrictions on trading compensation picks for failure to sign draftees to keep teams honest? The NBA and NFL both permit such trades and it adds a level of excitement to the event.

I think we’re going to see quite a few changes to the draft in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is due after the 2011 season. There has already been some talk about a worldwide draft, but as an outsider that seems like a logistical nightmare and not something that could be hashed out within a year. If it does get worked out and a global draft is in place for 2012 and beyond, the Yankees would be screwed. The core of their team and farm system over the last two decades has been the international free agent market, which would obviously vanish.

There has also been talk about instituting some kind of salary cap or hard slotting for rookies. Draft picks aren’t union members, so the player’s association can’t do much to stop the owners from putting this kind of system in place. In fact, the union might be for it since a hard slotting system would theoretically put more money in the big league players’ pockets. The Elias ranking and compensation draft pick system needs an overhaul as well, and we might see it go away all together. Anyway, the question is about trading picks, so let’s get to that.

I think that the ability to trade picks is something that will be discussed, and it could be tied to the compensation system. If adding picks through free agency is eliminated, they could allow teams to add picks through trades. It would have be regulated somehow, maybe by restricting it to the first three rounds like you suggested. If they didn’t regulate it, why wouldn’t a GM try to get a pick added in to any trade? Doesn’t even have to be a high pick either, just give me a 30th rounder or something. A smart team willing to spend money on the draft could turn that 30th rounder into something useful, and at worst they could use it to take a prospect to keep him away from another team.

I’m curious to see how draft picks will be valued in trades, because my feeling is that they wouldn’t be worth much in the grand scheme of things, not even the top overall pick. This isn’t the NFL or NBA or even NHL, where you get an immediate impact guy. As great as Stephen Strasburg is, it was still twelve months from the date of the draft to his major league debut. I can’t imagine a team would give up quality prospects for a draft pick, and if you’re trading the top pick that’s what you need to get back. Otherwise there’s no point in making the move. Maybe we’d see a lot of contenders moving picks at the deadline for missing pieces, say a third rounder for an extra bullpen arm or bench player. That gives a rebuilding team an extra pick, and the contender what it needs to go over the top (in theory). I’m guessing that deals involving top ten picks will be few and far between.

I’d be all for trading picks for selfish reasons, it would be fun to write about. And yeah, it would give non-contenders another way to rebuild while giving contenders more currency to trade. Could you imagine if the Yankees had been able to trade picks from say, 2000 through 2006? That would have been a disaster, the farm system would have been in even worse shape than it actual was. Anyway, I think that teams will be able to trade picks in the future, though it might not happen in the next CBA.

Mailbag: Vlad & Relievers

No, that's not Wilton. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Ryan asks: How different would the mid-2000’s of played out if the Yanks topped the Angels 5 year, $70 million contract for Vlad instead of signing Sheff for 3 years at $39 million after the 2003 season. Over the 3 years Sheff was in NY he produced a 10 WAR. Vlad over that 3 years, 16.6 WAR. I did enjoy Sheff but always felt that they should of went with Vlad.

You know what, I honestly don’t think things would have played out all that differently. The problems with those teams in the mid-00’s was pitching, not hitting. Plus it’s not like Sheff didn’t hit, because he absolutely did in 2004 and 2005 (.396 wOBA) before getting hurt. The Yankees almost certainly wouldn’t have traded for Bobby Abreu in 2006 with Vlad around, and you know what? They might not have been able to sign both Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon (four years, $52M each) prior to the 2006 season either. If they had signed only Matsui (since he was the incumbent), he and Vladdy would have been duking it out for DH at-bats the last few seasons. That would have been some ugly outfield defense, not to mention injury risk.

I wanted the Yankees to sign Guerrero instead of Sheffield as well, but I don’t believe the offensive and defensive upgrade he provided over Sheff would have been enough to overcome the pitching. And who knows how that contract would have impacted future free agent signings.

Tucker asks: A couple names for possible relievers: Mike MacDougal, Scot Shields, Jon Rauch, and Micah Owings.

The easy one is Shields, because he said he was likely to retire this offseason back in September. He hasn’t made an official announcement yet, but I imagine it’s coming. Even if he wanted to continue playing, he has been just a shell of his former self since injuring his knee in 2009. Over the last two years, Shields has struck out 7.2 batters per nine innings (down from 9+ at his peak) while walking 6.9 per nine, far too many. His swinging strike rate fell off a cliff as well. I’d be very, very afraid given his age (35), recent injury history, and overall career workload.

MacDougal is a walk machine, with 5.78 uIBB/9 over the last four seasons. His strikeout rate isn’t all that great either, just 6.73 K/9 during the same time. He still throws extremely hard, so that’s a plus. MacDougal has had a settle for a minor league contract in each of the last two winters, and I expect that trend to continue in this one. I’d have no trouble with giving him (or really anyone) a minor league deal to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle, but the expectations should be zero. Fun Fact: MacDougal’s real name is Robert Meiklejohn MacDougal.

He can hit! (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

People stopped complaining about the Yankees getting Ross Ohlendorf instead of Micah Owings in the Randy Johnson trade soon after they realized that Owings couldn’t pitch (5.03 FIP career) nearly as well as he could hit (.365 wOBA). He’s dealt with shoulder issues in recent seasons, and over the last two years he owns a 6.06 K/9 and a 5.06 uIBB/9. Owings is also a big time fly ball pitcher (64.1% non-ground balls in his career), so homers will be an issue as well. But again, same deal is MacDougal, minor league contract with no expectations is fine with me. I’m not guaranteeing either player anything more than a hotel room in Spring Training.

At this point, Rauch is the only real major league pitcher left in the group. His fine 2010 season was propped up by the best homerun rate of his career (0.47 HR/9), and that’s due to a) playing half his games in Target Field, and b) lucking out and not surrendering a single long ball to a right-handed batter. Over the rest of his career, he’s a one homer per nine innings guy, and I’d expect him to be at least that going forward. Rauch’s strikeout rate has hovered right around seven per nine with the exception of 2006 and 2008, when he was over eight, and his unintentional walk rate is close to two per nine in the last half-decade or so. He’s another extreme fly ball guy (66.4% non-grounders in his career), so that scares me a bit in Yankee Stadium, but Rauch is a quality big league arm that could help the Yankee bullpen. I have no idea what kind of contract he’s looking for, but I’d be skeptical of a multi-year guarantee.

Open Thread: Bartolo Colon

Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)

Via MLBTR, the Yankees have interest in Bartolo Colon according to the man himself. In an RAB exclusive, I’m here to announce that the Yankees have interest in me as well. See what I did there? I wouldn’t think twice about this rumor, just make some fat jokes, remember A-Rod‘s three homer, ten RBI game, and move on. Colon’s got about as much to offer as Pedro Martinez at this point, and that guy was toast before he even stepped on the mound in Game Six of the 2009 World Series.

Anyway, here is this evening’s open thread. The only local team in action tonight is the Knicks, who are in Orlando to face the rebuilt Magic. Chat about whatever, enjoy.

Rosenthal: Talks about Keppinger went nowhere

Via Ken Rosenthal, trade talks between the Yankees and Astros about infielder Jeff Keppinger went “nowhere.” I assume that means the Yankees have moved on after showing interest in him earlier this offseason. Keppinger would have been a real nice fit because he hits lefties and can play all over the infield, but oh well. There’s other fish in the utility infielder sea. No need to overpay for one in a trade.

Mailbag: Josh Hamilton

(Charles Krupa/AP)

Tucker writes: Josh Hamilton is set to become a free agent after the 2012 season. Could the Rangers missing out on Lee allow them to give Josh an extension? Would he want to hit the market? And most importantly, do the Yankees bite?

The Rangers, apparently, have money. When they acquired Cliff Lee in July most of the league thought it was a half-season rental. After all, the team was immersed in bankruptcy proceedings at the time. But then they emerged from them and signed an enormous TV deal. While the overall impact of the deal might have been overstated in initial reports, it still will provide the team with ample income for the next decade. They were going to spend a considerable portion of that money on Cliff Lee, so why not repurpose it for their biggest star?

This season Hamilton led the league in fWAR at 8.0 despite having just 571 plate appearances. Had he stayed healthy he could have finished with between 9 and 10 WAR. But that’s the problem right there. Hamilton has exactly four years of service time, meaning he’s been eligible to play in 648 games. Yet he has only appeared in 468. A few of those have been routine days off, but injuries have been the main culprit. In only one season has he played more than 133 games, and in two of his four seasons he has been at 90 or fewer. His health is no guarantee.

(Seriously, go to baseballinjurytool.com and type in Hamilton’s name. Then let your jaw drop when you see his four-year history of just day-to-day injuries.)

Earlier in the year, when an inflamed knee was bothering Hamilton, Will Carroll noted that “it’s his body…that is hurting his ability to put that talent on the field.” He went on to project Hamilton’s future of 100- to 120-game seasons. He did break that in 2010, by a substantial amount when you include the playoffs, but does that mean he can handle it in the future? That’s such an enormous question mark right now, and it’s a huge part of the reason why we haven’t hard much in terms of a long-term contract.

I’m no doctor, so I won’t attempt any independent analysis of Hamilton’s future health. What I will project is that unless he plays in more than, say, 130 games next year, we won’t hear a thing about an extension next off-season either. And if he doesn’t break that barrier in 2012, I’m not sure we’ll see any kind of mammoth free agency offers for him. That a long way of saying that we won’t know much until Hamilton plays the final two years of his obligation to the Rangers. We just can’t reasonably project Josh Hamilton’s future.

To answer the actual questions here: If I were Hamilton and I played in another 130 games next year, I’d be all about an extension if Texas offered it. That’s some security that might not be around in another year. In that way, waiting for free agency could cost him. If he’s healthy in 2011 but not 2012 he’ll be far less valuable in free agency.

If, however, he’s valuable in both 2011 and 2012 and reasonably healthy during that span, I can see the Yanks jumping in there. I wouldn’t go nuts bidding for him — the injury history doesn’t just go away, and he’ll be 32 in his first year with a new team. But if the market is down on him because of those concerns I can see the Yankees setting it.