Hughes gives the Yanks the most options

In the finale of his fifth starter series, Mike listed a number of good reasons why Phil Hughes should start the season in the rotation. He probably has a stronger case than both A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia if we consider only the role of fifth starter. This competition, though, is about more than just a single role on the starting staff. It’s about maximizing resources. The Yankees have three pitchers capable of handling that role. Their task is to figure out how to use all three to realize peak value.

In terms of flexibility, Hughes offers the Yankees more than both Garcia and Burnett. He has roughly 10 times the number of innings in relief than Garcia and Burnett combined, and he has fared extremely well in that role. Through 56.1 innings across 49 appearances, Hughes has produced the following numbers:

ERA: 1.44
H/9: 5.43
HR/9: 0.32
BB/9: 2.72
K/9: 11.2
K/BB: 4.12

Even if we regressed these numbers a bit, since Hughes hasn’t pitched the equivalent of a full season in the bullpen, he’d still come out looking like a setup man at worst. While he might produce the most overall value in a starting role, the Yankees as a team might better deploy their resources, at least in terms of 2012, by using Hughes in the bullpen and one of Burnett and Garcia as the fifth starter. Combined with Hughes’s spotty track record as a starter and the Yankees’ depth in terms of back of the rotation pitchers, they could certainly choose to move Hughes now.

Hughes could also provide value to the Yankees via trade. Considering his age and salary, they could certainly get more in return for Hughes than they could for Burnett or Garcia. If they’re looking for a player they could use as the primary DH in 2012, and perhaps as an outfielder or DH in the future, they could use Hughes as trade bait.

The issue here is that Hughes is at the nadir of his value. In the early years he retained top prospect status, even though his performance disappointed. Even after 2010, despite his rough finish, he had more value than he does now. While the Yankees might be able to obtain a worthwhile player in exchange for Hughes, it’s still not good business to sell low on a relatively young player.

Looking around the league, though, there don’t seem to be many players available who 1) could help the Yankees’ current situation, and 2) cost little more than Hughes and a mid-level prospect. Teams do place their own values on players, so perhaps there is a match somewhere out there. But taking what we know, any match appears rough. Perhaps a reclamation project could make sense, but it’s hard to see the Yankees getting a legitimate bat in exchange for Hughes by himself.

While Hughes does present a solid case to take over the fifth starter job, the Yankees as a team might benefit more by using him in another role. He has a far better bullpen track record than Burnett and Garcia, and has more value to other teams in a trade. This could lead the Yankees to use him in one of those two capacities, while trotting out Burnett or Garcia every five days. It might not be an ideal situation, but it’s the one they have right now. As we’ve said since the Pineda trade and the Kuroda signing, it’s the best of problems to have.

Phil Hughes’ Fifth Starter Case

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

In the third and final installment of this Fifth Starter Case series (here’s the cases for A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia), we’re going to cover Phil Hughes. Believe it or not, he’s the fifth longest tenured player and second longest tenured pitcher on the Yankees, behind only Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano. The rest of the roster has completely turned over since April of 2007.

Anyway, the 2011 season was a disaster for Hughes, who missed a bunch of time with a dead arm and back spams. He was unable to build on his solid 2010 campaign, finishing the year with a 5.79 ERA and a 4.58 FIP in 74.2 IP. His strikeout (5.67 K/9 and 14.1 K%), walk (3.25 BB/9 and 8.1 BB%), and ground ball (32.0%) rates declined from the year before, and his fastball velocity disappeared following the dead arm…

(click to embiggen)

The velocity did come back a bit later in the season, but not to where it was last year. But still, he definitely didn’t look right physically at any point during the season. Joe already listed some reasons why you could be optimistic about Hughes in 2012, but it’s very easy to be down on the young right-hander after last year. Let’s see why he belongs in the rotation next year…

He’s Healthy

Injuries have followed Hughes his entire career, starting way down in the minors and continuing last year with the dead arm. The 80.1 IP jump from 2010 to 2011 probably didn’t help, but he won’t have to worry about that next season. He’s had an offseason of rest and is apparently taking his conditioning more seriously, so the Yankees do kinda owe it to themselves to see what he can do when he’s physically right. There’s no lingering dead arm, no innings jump, no excuses.

He Was Better Than His Numbers Indicate (for part of the season)

As a whole, Phil’s 2011 season was a train wreck. No denying that. He did, however, run off a nice eleven start stretch from July 6th (when he came off the DL) to September 12th (when the back spasms sidelined him), allowing more than two runs just three times. Those three times were complete duds — 19 total runs in 12.2 IP, with two of those three starts coming against the Athletics of all teams — but the other eight starts were at least five innings and no more than two runs. The only time he failed to complete six innings in those eight starts was his first one back from injury, against the Indians in Cleveland. Two runs or less in eight of eleven starts will more than get it done as a fifth starter.

He’s Got A Chance To Be Part Of The Future

When it comes to both Burnett and Garcia, we know their days in pinstripes are numbered. Both guys will be gone when their contracts expire and they’re both well into their mid-30’s. Even though he will become a free agent after the 2013 season, Hughes at least has a remote chance of becoming part of the Yankees’ pitching equation in the future by virtue of his age. He’s still just 25, an age where it’s reasonable to say that his best years are probably still ahead of him. With Burnett and Garcia, there’s no doubt that their best work is already in the rear-view mirror.

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To make a long story short, Hughes’ case for the fifth starter job boils down to “he’s younger and has more long-term upside than the other two guys.” That’s basically it, you’re banking on him improving instead of banking on the other guys not declining with age. That’s it in a nutshell. The Yankees don’t need Hughes to be their number three starter like last year, giving him yet another shot to make it work as a starter in the fifth spot makes more sense than trying to squeeze water out of the aging veteran rock on some level.

One thing to keep in mind is the money, and I’m not talking about each player’s current salary. Garcia and Burnett have already made their millions, but Hughes has significant financial motivation to perform well over the next two seasons. He’s scheduled to hit free agency at age 27 (!), and if he shows that he can be a competent big league starter in 2012 and 2013, he’s looking at a serious payday on the open market. There’s no greater motivator than financial gain, and that extra motivation could work to the Yankees advantage.

Prospect Profile: Jose Campos

(Photo via SeattleSportsInsider.com)

Jose Campos | RHP

Background
The cousin of former big leaguer Kelvim Escobar and current big leaguer Alcides Escobar, Campos grew up in the Venezuelan port town of La Guaira. The Cardinals tried to sign him in late-2008/early-2009, but his parents refused to sign the contract. When the Mariners stepped in and offered a slightly larger bonus — $115k — he joined Seattle in January of ’09.

[Read more…]

Identifying potential (ideally left-handed-hitting) DH trade targets

As we all know by now, the Yankees are telling people they are hoping to fill their vacancy at DH via trade (which would presumably include dealing either A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes) first, and should that fail, scour the remaining free-agent market as a fallback option.

The following is a short-list of potential designated hitter candidates (ideally of the left-handed hitting variety, to create a platoon with Andruw Jones) that could make some sense as trade targets for the Yankees. It should be noted that none of these players are likely on the trading block — three of four are penciled in as starters — but what better to stoke the Hot Stove fires with than irresponsible rumormongerng?

Garrett Jones, Pirates. Prior to embarking on research for this post I’d never even heard of Jones, but he hit righties fairly well last season, posting a .351 wOBA/122 wRC+ in 406 PAs, including an 11.3 BB%. Combined with Jones ideally putting together something reasonably comparable to the .400 wOBA/151 wRC+ he compiled against LHP from last season, and that’d not only make for one of the more productive DHs in the league, but also perhaps the first-ever all-Jones platoon in baseball history. Garrett also carries a career .360 wOBA against RHP along with a 125 wRC+ and 11.3 BB% in more than 1,000 PAs — the man knows how to hit right-handed pitching.

At 30, he’s also no spring chicken, and I can’t envision the cost in players being all that considerable, although as Joe noted to me, “He’s one of their only decent bats, so I’m not sure they’d let him go cheaply. Considering his age and must-platoon status, I’m not sure there’s a good match there.” A late bloomer, Jones is also under team control for three more years, so that would likely impede a hypothetical deal further. Still, Brian Cashman and Neal Huntington do seem to like each other as trading partners, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cash figure something creative out given the team’s current glut of pitching.

Nolan Reimold, Orioles. Despite the fact that the Yankees and Orioles have hooked up for just one player-for-player trade in the 19 years since Peter Angelos bought the Orioles franchise, Ken Rosenthal yesterday posited that the birds could be a logical trade partner for Burnett. While a deal involving anyone seems highly unlikely, earlier this offseason I wrote about Reimold potentially being a useful bench piece. Unfortunately he doesn’t meet the left-handed-hitting component of our criteria, but he actually can hit righties, tagging them with a .360 wOBA/124 wRC+ (10.1 BB%) in 201 PAs last season, and he’s evinced a slight reverse platoon split during his career, with a .345 mark against righties compared to .332 against lefties. He’s also not currently projected to start for Baltimore, perhaps making him a bit more expendable. Still, file this under not bloody likely.

Lucas Duda, Mets. This is even less likely than a deal with the O’s, as the Mets would presumably have to be blown away to trade a player that is arguably their second-best hitter and one who also happens to be cost-controlled. After all, the CitiField faithful are going to need something to get excited about given the bleak outlook of the next few years. Still, with the Yankees’ excess of arms, perhaps a deal involving Phil Hughes and one of the fourth-starter types at AAA (who would probably fare quite a bit better both in the NL and at the cavernous ballpark in Queens than in the Bronx) or some sort of package of minor leaguers would be compelling enough to evoke a rare crosstown trade for the left-handed Duda, who obliterated righties to the tune of a .380 wOBA/145 wRC+. Though Duda projects to be the Mets’ starting right fielder, the 26-year-old hasn’t shown much of an ability to hit portsiders to this point (in an admittedly small sample of 86 PAs, Duda has a .282 wOBA), so perhaps the cost wouldn’t be excessive given the need to platoon. (h/t to YankeeSource for inspiring this idea following his musing on Daniel Murphy).

David DeJesus, Cubs. The long-linked-to-the-Yankees local product DeJesus is a no-go at the present moment, having signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Cubbies at the end of November. However; should Chicago fall out of contention come July — and at the present moment, it’s not clear that they’re better than roughly a 3rd-place team on paper — DeJesus will likely be an attractive trade candidate. Though he had a tough year in Oakland last season, he still hit righties well (.347 wOBA/120 wRC+), and owns a career .356 wOBA/116 wRC+ against northpaws.

Again, with Jones and Duda projected to hit 5th for their respective teams, the Pirates and Mets would likely look for more than the Yankees would feel comfortable dishing, despite both franchises having basically already been eliminated from 2012 playoff contention. The unfortunate O’s are also a lock for last in the AL East yet again, though that still won’t be enough for Angelos to attempt to improve his team via dealing with the Yankees. If the Yankees do decide to go into the season addressing their DH needs in-house, DeJesus will likely be a name that will once again come up frequently should the Cubs falter, and would seem to be the most probable to be dealt out of this quartet.

Remembering the days of Jose Canseco

(Photo via AP)

As he is wont to do every now and then, Jose Canseco took to Twitter earlier this week to beg some Major League GMs for a job. The poster boy for the steroid age is a sprightly 47, but he still thinks both that he could handle Major League pitching and that he has been unfairly railroaded from the game for “exposing” baseball’s PED-filled underbelly.

Every time Canseco’s name comes up, I always flash back to the 2000 baseball season when Jose somehow ended up on the Yankees for two months. He got 137 plate appearances over 37 games and hit .243/.365/.432, good for a 103 OPS+ in an era of off-the-charts offense. He struck out in his one post-season at-bat during the World Series against the Mets, but he got a ring out of it. Needless to say, he did not return to the Bronx in 2001.

So how exactly did Canseco end up on the Yankees? It was, in fact, a calculated risk that turned into something of a mistake. We’ll get to that though. First, the club reaction. When the Yankees landed Canseco on a waiver claim from the Devil Rays in August of 2000, no one knew what to do with him. “I’m a little stunned,” Joe Torre said at the time. “I’m a little surprised. I don’t have an opinion one way or another.”

George Steinbrenner was less diplomatic. “I think they got caught up in something they didn’t think about,” he said, vaguely referring to his third-year GM, “but I’m behind my people. I’m totally supportive of what they did. I’m happy the man is coming here, and I’m hoping he does the job for me.”

The Boss later backed down and sided with his baseball people when Torre continued to question the move. “I want it made very clear that I support the decision of Brian Cashman 100 percent, and I’m very surprised by anyone who would be surprised by his aggressiveness,” he said. “Jose Canseco has been a very big contributor.”

As the story behind the claim played out, those watching the Yankees were skeptical. Jack Curry critiqued the deal as only Jack can. Canseco himself called his three months with the Yanks as “the worst time of my life.”

During the summer of 2000, we learned exactly what happened. The Yanks were concerned that the Blue Jays, just a few games behind them in the AL race, would pounce on Canseco via a trade, and they put a waiver claim in to attempt to claim him. No one else bit, and the Yanks ended up with Canseco. Brian Cashman refused to work out a deal with Tampa Bay GM Chuck LaMar, and LaMar simply let Canseco and the remaining $1 million on his deal go to New York.

The next year, as Canseco grumbled, Cashman defended his move. “There is no question he was a member of this team and he did contribute. We only won this division by two games, and while he may have played a small part, he definitely played a part and he contributed,” he said. Thus ended a strange, strange chapter in Yankee lore.

Open Thread: Hip Hip

As I said earlier, Joe Posada’s retirement press conference was nothing but first class today. The Yankees really did a wonderful job. The video above if Jorge’s statement on his retirement, but that was just a small part of the day. You can see basically the entire event — albeit broken up into small clips — at the YES Network’s site. Here’s the video archive.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils are all playing tonight, but Time Warner customers like myself are still without MSG. Anyway, talk about whatever you want here. Except politics, that always gets messy.