Mailbag: Montero, Posada, Affeldt, Robertson

We’ve got four straight forward questions in this week’s mailbag, so no nonsense answers today. Remember to use the always handy Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send in any questions during the week.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)

Will asks: What do you think of Jesus Montero‘s debut so far on the big league team? It seems like he’s been striking out way too much. Do you think Montero has a good chance at making the playoff roster? And how much can we expect him to actually contribute?

I think Montero’s been fine overall, neither great nor terrible. He obviously started out very well and has cooled off a bit (still at .313/.389/.542 overall), but that’s a function of having just 54 plate appearances more than anything else. Yeah, the strikeout rate is high (27.8%), especially of late (11 whiffs in his last 28 PA), but it’s not terribly surprising for a 21-year-old kid making his debut. Montero’s shown that Yankee Stadium-friendly opposite field stroke and we’ve seen the power on display, so we know the tools are there. Regardless of what happens this month, good or bad, we weren’t going to learn too much about the kid anyway.

As for the playoffs, yeah I think he makes the roster as the primary DH against lefties. We’ll talk more about Jorge Posada in just a second, but I hope the team decides to leave the traditional backup catcher at home and rely on those two as emergency fill-ins should anything happen to Russell Martin.

Cliff asks: Not sure when you do these but I was curious if you think Posada is going to make the postseason roster. If not, do you think they will announce it before Sunday so we can give him a proper send off in the last home game?

I was pretty sure that Posada was going to make the playoff roster all along, but I think that AL East-winning hit on Wednesday cemented it. He can still hit righties (.270/.346/.464), so he’s probably the best choice to platoon with Montero at DH. Plus Jorge can also be useful off the bench as a pinch-hitter and super emergency catcher. I don’t put much stock in intangibles but they definitely do exist, so if nothing else, we know that Posada won’t be overwhelmed by the moment in the postseason. He’s been through all that already, and it’s just one less thing the Yankees would have to worry about.

I would be very surprised if the Yankees announce that Jorge will not be on the playoff roster in time for the final home game,but like I said, I expect them to carry him on the roster. So that last point is basically moot.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America)

Scout asks: If the SF Giants decline his 2012 option, Jeremy Affeldt will become a free agent, and evidently without compensation. Does the lefthander make sense for the Yankees, assuming he will require a two-year deal?

Damaso Marte‘s contract expires after the season, so the Yankees have one of those $4M a year LOOGY spots to fill. We’ll go more in depth with potential free agent targets and what not during the offseason (so I don’t want to spoil it too much), but yeah, Affeldt would be a fine target. He held lefties to a .144/.206/.200 batting line with 24 strikeouts and just five walks in 97 PA this year, which is quite a bit better than the .245/.369/.365 batting line they posted against him from 2009-2010 (43 K, 29 BB in 195 PA). I think that has more to do with health than anything.

Affeldt, 32, still has pretty good stuff (low-to-mid-90’s two and four-seamers with a curveball) and he has been really dominant against same -side batters when it comes to getting ground balls over the last few seasons. The Giants have a $5M club option for his services next year, but apparently it will be tough for them to bring both Affeldt and Javy Lopez back next season. I’m very much against multi-year deals for less than elite relievers, but the Yankees obviously aren’t. Affeldt would definitely be an intriguing target after the season, assuming he hits the open market.

Daniel asks: With the success that Robertson has had this year and should he have a similar year next year, should he be made the closer after Rivera? If Rivera retires at the end of his current contract, the Yankees will still likely have Soriano for another year, and he has experience closing, but Robertson appears to be the better pitcher.

The one thing we have to remember is: how often do relievers have back-to-back elite years? The answer is not very often, so we shouldn’t plan out the rest of David Robertson‘s career just yet. That said, he’s obviously the best in-house replacement for Mariano Rivera, just like Phil Hughes was in 2009 and Joba Chamberlain was in 2007. I’d almost prefer that if Robertson does take over as closer, he does it as the guy that replaces Rivera’s replacement. It’s going to be impossible to fill Mo’s shoes, and I suspect the natives will be restless if the new guy struggles out of the gate. We saw it when Tino Martinez took over for Don Mattingly, fans booed him like he kicked their dog or something.

Assuming Rivera retires after next year, the last season on his current contract, I’m not sure the worst move in the world would be to let Rafael Soriano (a.k.a. the Proven Closer™) close at first, then have Robertson replace him if he fails. And if he doesn’t fail, then he’ll be a free agent after the year and Robertson could step after that. The closer’s job is overrated in general, and I think you can make a really strong argument that Robertson would be more valuable to the team pitching the seventh and/or eighth inning while a lesser reliever starts the ninth with a clean slate.

Rays blow out Yanks in game no one cares about

The last time the Yankees were losing by ten or more runs after just four innings of play (like they were in this game) was October 2nd of 2009, a game they lost to the Rays after clinching the AL East. Ah history, love how it goes and repeats itself like that.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

BartoLOLo CoLOLon

Wow, what a terrible start by Bartolo Colon. Granted, a Derek Jeter throwing error in the second didn’t help matters, but wow. The big guy allowed seven runs (five earned) on seven hits and a walk in just three innings, and pretty much everything was hard hit. Bart’s now allowed 30 runs in 39.1 IP over his last seven starts, which isn’t exactly what you want to see so soon before the postseason. It is what it is though. Hopefully Freddy Garcia settles down with the homeritis and stabilizes the third spot in the rotation.

Brackman, Betances & Montero

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

You can see why the Yankees gave Andrew Brackman all that money, that’s definitely a first round arm. It’s not first round command of course, but Brackman was sitting 90-93 with the cutter and showed both a curve and a slider. I’ve never heard about the cutter before, did he pick that up sitting in the bullpen, or is it just a lack of information? Either way, he allowed a single and a walk in 1.1 IP of work.

Dellin Betances was an eighth round pick, but he showed off a first round arm by firing some mid-90’s fastballs with a sharp curve. His command needs work as well, but that’s no surprise. Betances walked four and hit a batter in just 0.2 IP, and everything was up. Classic symptom of overthrowing. Two-thirds of the Killer B’s debuted, making this one of the most exciting blowout losses I can remember.

While that was happening, Jesus Montero was busy going 3-for-3 with two walks. One of the hits was a double, and he laid off some tough offspeed pitches for balls as well. So a really good day for one prospect, an okay day for another prospect, and a really bad day for another prospect. Nice little  microcosm of the Prospect Rule of Three.

Definitely not looking forward to seeing this kid for the next six years. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Leftovers

The Triple-A Scranton Yankees managed to score eight runs … well, the Scranton Yanks and Andruw Jones manged to score eight runs. Jones clubbed a two-run homer and also singled in a run, and both Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena had multiple hits. Chris Dickerson, Austin Romine, Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada, and Brandon Laird had one hit each, and Montero obviously contributed to the offense.

Matt Moore was stellar, striking out 11 batters in just five innings in his first career start. It’ll be tough to separate what was really him and what was a side effect of the Yankees celebration on Wednesday night, but that’s a problem for the Rays bloggers. The kid’s not the best pitching prospect in the game by accident though, he sure was fun to watch. The pitching rich get richer.

Scott Proctor was worse than Colon, believe it or not. He allowed a pair of two-run homers and five runs total in just an inning of  work. Aaron Laffey allowed a run and recorded four outs before giving way to Brackman. George Kontos cleaned things up with 1.1 scoreless innings at the end of the night.

Both the Rangers and Tigers lost on Thursday, so the magic number to eliminate each from the homefield advantage race dropped to one and two, respectively. That should be taken care of by the end of the weekend, if not sooner.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

It’s time to welcome the Red Sox to town … for a meaningless series. Meaningless for the Yankees, that is. Those guys have quite a bit on the line. Garcia gets the ball against Jon Lester on Friday night.

2012 Draft: Astros will select first overall

With some help from the Twins, the Astros have clinched the worst record in baseball this year. That means they’ll pick first overall in next June’s amateur draft, and unfortunately for the Houston faithful, there’s no clear cut top talent in this class. Stanford’s Mark Appel is the early favorite to go first overall, but he’s hardly Stephen Strasburg.

The Yankees, meanwhile, can still pick anywhere from 26th to 31st. In all likelihood, they’ll pick 30th overall for the second time in six years (there’s a compensation pick earlier in the round that pushes everything back one). They took Andrew Brackman with the 30th pick back in 2007. Of course that pick could be surrendered as compensation for signing a Type-A free agent, say C.J. Wilson. The Yankees are also guaranteed to have the 89th overall pick after failing to sign second rounder Sam Stafford this summer.

Game 156: Rest

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It’s not quiet the full Triple-A lineup, but it’s pretty close. I have a feeling the few regulars in the starting nine will find themselves on the bench before the eighth and ninth inning rolls around. The division’s clinched, time for a breather.

Derek Jeter, SS
Eduardo Nunez, 2B
Mark Teixeira, DH
Nick Swisher, RF
Andruw Jones, LF
Jesus Montero, C
Jorge Posada, 1B
Brandon Laird, 3B
Greg Golson, CF

Bartolo Colon, SP

The game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Sabathia will not start again during regular season

Via Jack Curry, CC Sabathia will not make another start during the regular season. The Yankees ace left-hander is likely to throw a simulated game on Sunday, which will line him up for Game One of the ALDS next Friday. I guess this means Hector Noesi will make another start, and I approve of that. Sabathia won’t get a second consecutive 20-win season, but so be it. The playoffs are far more important.

Finding a role for Burnett in October

(AP Photo)

We’re just about a week away from the start of the ALDS, and now that the Yankees have officially clinched the AL East crown, we can talk seriously about the playoff roster. For the most part, the four starting pitchers are set in stone. We have no idea what the order of the rotation will be behind CC Sabathia in Game One, but that’s not important right now. The question I’m curious to know the answer to is: what happens with A.J. Burnett?

Barring something completely unforeseen, the Yankees will carry eleven pitchers in the playoffs and use the extra spot on a position player, likely a pinch-runner/defensive specialist type. Of those eleven pitching spots, nine are accounted for…

  1. Sabathia
  2. Ivan Nova
  3. Bartolo Colon
  4. Freddy Garcia
  5. Mariano Rivera
  6. David Robertson
  7. Rafael Soriano
  8. Boone Logan
  9. Cory Wade

Those last two spots are up in the air. Luis Ayala and Hector Noesi have been solid in mostly low-leverage roles all season, so you have to figure they’re at the front of the line. Aaron Laffey and Raul Valdes could conceivably pitch their way onto the roster as a second lefty, but there’s not exactly much time left for them to do that. Phil Hughes is a total question mark at this point because of his back, and at this point I have a hard time considering a realistic option for the playoff roster. That leaves Burnett as the last candidate, unless Joe Girardi really likes what he’s seen out of Scott Proctor this month. (kidding)

Joe wrote about the merits of using Burnett in relief last month, and the point still stands. He’s been far more effective the first time through the order than any time after that, and his velocity does tend to tail off as his pitch count increases. It’s certainly swing-and-miss stuff (11th best strikeout rate in the AL), so perhaps Burnett could be effective just by shutting his brain off and letting if fly for an one inning at a time. He could, potentially, give Girardi another power arm in relief, which is always what you want.

The problem is that A.J. has never pitched in relief before, at least not for any significant length of time. I don’t think going from the rotation to the pen is a huge adjustment, but it’s certainly an adjustment. You don’t have the same amount of time to warm up and there’s not much of a day-to-day routine, so you’d like to give him some time to get used to that. With only seven games left, they’d basically have to put him in the bullpen right now to have enough time to evaluate him. They’d have to find a spot starter for Saturday (no big deal during September), but they could conceivable get three one-inning looks at him that way (Saturday, Monday, Wednesday).

Right now, unless Laffey or Valdes really impress the rest of the way, I think Ayala’s a lock for one of those last two spots. That means it’s down to Noesi and Burnett for the final spot. If Noesi makes the roster, he’d be the longman, almost assuredly. If Burnett makes the roster, there’s a non-zero chance that he dominates enough to become fourth in line behind Mo, Robertson, and Soriano. It’s the story of his career though, there’s a chance of greatness but not enough of it. If the Yankees are thinking about using  A.J. in relief in the postseason, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to move him to the pen immediately, just to give him as much time as possible to get used to it. Either way, it’s tough to see Burnett having much of an impact next month.

Catching up to the Red Sox

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Yankees officially beat out the Red Sox for the AL East title last night, but the two teams have been chasing each other for more than a decade now. It’s been a vicious cycle of free agent signings and trades and front office innovation, and Boston was winning the war in the mid-aughts. The Yankees have turned the table in recent years, and Brian Cashman spoke to Ken Rosenthal about how they’ve done it. He didn’t reveal too much, which shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve listened to the GM talk to the media for the last 13 years or so.

“[The Red Sox] were having a great deal of success with players of lesser ability,” said Cashman. “I studied what they were doing to some degree, adjusted accordingly, brought the Yankees up to speed, brought us into the 21st century.”

The Yankees have done a better job in the so-called scrap heap department in recent years, namely with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia this season. Does luck play a role? Absolutely. Luck is the residue of design though, and the Yankees definitely did their homework with these two beforehand, particularly Colon. Luis Ayala has been the best seventh man in the bullpen in baseball this season, and in recent years we’ve seen guys like Marcus Thames, Edwar Ramirez, and even Brian Bruney contribute positively to the Yankees cause. Not everyone on the roster needs to have a long-term role with the organization, filling the gaps with players capable of exceeding expectations has helped get the Yankees ahead of the Red Sox the last few years. Perhaps role players are the new market inefficiency.

“How they approached their pitching program was of interest to me,” added Cashman, explaining why the team hired Joe Kerrigan to be bullpen coach after the 2005 season. Kerrigan had been Boston’s pitching coach from 1997-2001. “I was throwing out much more [pitching] talent than the Red Sox had and they were having more success. It goes to execution, game plans, stuff like that.”

The Yankees still have not had a great deal of success turning their prospects into legitimate big league starting pitchers, though injuries have played a part in that to a certain degree. It’s also not an easy thing to do in the first place, and the win-now mentality isn’t exactly conducive to letting a young kid take his lumps either. If you don’t have instant success like Ivan Nova, it’s tough to keep a job in this town. They’re trying though, and I think they’ve been getting better at it in recent years, but they still have a way to go.

“Cash does it the right way,” said Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers, who spent last year as a special assistant with the Yankees. “The way he works the room in meetings, it works. If he wants the analytical view, he asks [the stat people] a question and they provide the information. They usually only speak when asked. With the Yankees, it’s not, ‘these guys and us.’ They’re all kind of one.”

That last line is pretty telling, because for the longest time, all we heard about was separation between the Tampa faction and the New York faction. Cashman basically dissolved the Tampa faction after (supposedly) getting autonomy before the 2006 season, merging everyone into one united front office. Of course he did some house cleaning as well, firing several of George Steinbrenner‘s long-time employees, including former scouting director Lin Garrett. Rosenthal explains that the Yankees are now “among the most aggressive teams on the statistical side, with more than 20 people working on analytics.”

Cashman’s contract is up after the season, and as I’ve said before, it wouldn’t surprise me if he left and it wouldn’t surprise me if he stayed. I’d like to see him back, but that’s another discussion for another time. Rosenthal’s article and Cash’s comments give us a little look at how the team has adapted in recent years, and how the Yankees are learning from their biggest rival. I’m sure this is a two-way street too, chances are the Sox have been doing the same as well.