Whether you like it not, picking up Swisher’s option is the right move

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees have three club option decisions to make this offseason, and two are painfully obvious. Robinson Cano‘s $14M option will be picked up while Damaso Marte‘s $4M option will not. That’s the easy part. The third decision may not be so cut and dry, but that’s entirely based on fan perception. Some people like Nick Swisher, who can be retained for $10.25M next season, and some people don’t. It works like that for literally every player. However, because of Swisher’s third consecutive awful postseason in pinstripes, there’s some belief that the Yankees would be better off parting ways with their right fielder of the last three years.

I’m not here to debate Swisher’s merits, but rather explain that no matter what side of the argument you fall on (like him or hate him), the obvious move is to exercise the option. Let’s break it down…

If You Like Him

This will be short and easy. Swisher’s incredibly productive (.358+ wOBA in five of the last six years, never fewer than 21 HR) and also incredibly durable (150+ games played in each of the last six seasons). By no means is his defense great, but it’s better than he gets credit for. His range-heavy +2.8 UZR over the last three seasons is a tick above-average and basically middle of the pack among all right fielders. Well-above-average offense and average defense plus durability equals a really valuable player, especially on a one-year deal that would pay him less than he’d get on the open market.

If You Don’t Like Him

I honestly don’t care why anyone dislikes any player, we all have our reasons. Could be his personality, could be the playoff performance, could be the batting average, doesn’t matter to me. Even if you think they should get rid of Swisher, the reason you pick up the option is so you can trade him. He still has value, quite a bit of it, and they shouldn’t just give that away (for two draft picks, which are worth something but not a ton) because of the ALDS. The Yankees pulled this exact trick with Gary Sheffield after the 2006 season, shipping him the Tigers for three minor league arms.

What could the Yankees get for Swisher? Who knows. The best comparable I can come up with is Josh Willingham, another bat-first corner outfielder that was traded one year before free agency. The Nationals received a Triple-A ready center fielder (Corey Brown) and a big league ready reliever (Henry Rodriguez) in the trade, two guys that Baseball America ranked as the 12th and 13th best prospects in Oakland’s system before the season. Decent return, nice deal for a rebuilding team.

Sheffield and Matt Holliday also fit the “corner outfielder traded one year before free agency mold,” but Sheffield was old and broken down at the time of the trade and Holliday is just straight up better than Swisher. They aren’t great comparisons. Neither is David DeJesus, who fits the narrative but is an inferior player to Swisher. Willingham seems to be the best fit. Two Grade-B prospects are better than two draft picks, which is why the Yankees should pick up the option and trade him rather than just decline the option if they don’t want him around.

* * *

Remember, it’s a $10.25M option with a $1M buyout, so the net value is just $9.25M. You all know what I think; the Yankees should just keep Swisher because they’re not going to beat his production at that price (in terms of dollars and years). If you think they should go separate ways though, at least recognize that they’d be better off exercising the option and trading him rather than outright declining it.

Link Dump: Comeback Player of the Year, Ortiz

Another rainy, yucky afternoon in New York, so I’ve got some inks that will hopefully brighten up the late lunch hour…

One of the two times Fat Elvis went deep in pinstripes. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Berkman, Ellsbury named Comeback Players of the Year

MLB announced today that Jacoby Ellsbury and former Yankee Lance Berkman have been named the AL and NL Comeback Players of the Year, respectively. Call me a homer, but I think Bartolo Colon should have taken home the AL award. I view this season as a breakout year for Ellsbury, not a comeback. Colon’s career was basically over, it had been four full year since he was last an effective pitcher. Put it this way, what would have surprised you more in March, Ellsbury having the year he had, or Colon having the year he had? Oh well, just my two cents. Congrats to Puma.

Ortiz and the Yankees

Amidst the chaos going on in the Boston, David Ortiz told ESPN’s Colleen Dominguez that he didn’t want to be part of the drama next year. That led to an exchange about the Yankees, and possibly wearing pinstripes in 2012…

“That’s something I gotta think about,” Ortiz said. “I’ve been here on the Red Sox a long time, and I’ve seen how everything goes down between these two ballclubs.”

Ortiz stopped well short of saying he wanted to play for the Yankees, but did express respect for the organization.

“It’s great from what I hear,” Ortiz said of the Yankees. “It’s a good situation to be involved in. Who doesn’t want to be involved in a great situation where everything goes the right way?

Well, I’m glad Ortiz is willing to spend some time thinking about joining the Yankees, but it takes two to tango. As Joe explained yesterday, acquiring a DH is so far down the team’s priority list right now that it’s one notch above “get a new second baseman.” They’d have to give up a draft pick to sign Ortiz since he’s a Type-A free agent (and will certainly be offered arbitration), and then deal with the inevitable PED questions when the Red Sox throw him under the bus as part of their smear campaign like they do everyone else.

Yanks exec interviewed for Phillies gig

Just a small note, but George King reports the Yankees allowed assistant pro scouting director Will Kuntz to interview for the Phillies minor league director position, but he did not get it. This comes on the heels of the news that both Billy Eppler and Damon Oppenheimer were given permission to interview for the Angels vacant GM position (Kuntz works under Eppler). I guess it’s good to know the Yankees front office people are wanted around the league.

What Went Wrong: Joba Chamberlain

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

For the fourth year in a row, the Yankees relief corps was a strength in 2011. Joe Girardi‘s bullpen machinations helped keep everyone fresh and effective, including journeymen like Luis Ayala and Cory Wade. It also helps when you have three power arms that can pass as relief aces for most teams, but not everything went right with those guys. In fact, in the case, of Joba Chamberlain, this season went about as wrong as possible.

With big money signee Rafael Soriano taking over eighth inning duties to start the season, Joba was pushed back to the seventh inning. No big deal, he was still responsible for three outs either way. He allowed seven runs in his first eleven appearances before settling down and firing off six straight scoreless outings, then took over the eighth when Soriano came down with some elbow issues in mid-May. Joba continued to pitch well, allowing just one run across eight innings before needing 35 pitches to record five outs against the Angels on June 5th. It was his highest pitch count of the season (by seven pitches) and his most since since September of 2009, when he was a starter.

Three days later, the Yankees announced that Joba had been placed on the disabled list with a strained flexor muscle in his right elbow after feeling soreness for weeks. He would not throw for ten days, and was expected back in about three weeks. One day later, the news was much more grim. Chamberlain’s strained flexor muscle turned into a torn elbow ligament, and he would ultimately require Tommy John surgery. He hadn’t shown any of the usual symptoms or experienced any of the usual pain associated with a torn ligament, so the diagnosis was a bot of a surprise.

The elbow reconstruction was performed in mid-June, and while on the shelf, Joba required another surgery for an appendectomy. Not long after that, he needed another surgery to clean out an infection that developed during said appendectomy. Despite all that, Joba started his throwing program late last month, about two weeks ahead of schedule (unofficially). Tommy John rehab is a long and arduous process, and even the most optimistic of time tables have him returning in late-April. June would be the much more reasonable expectation.

Joba’s fastball velocity was perfectly fine this year, but that’s not really an indicator of elbow trouble. Velocity is more indicative of shoulder issues. Elbow problems general show in control, or lack thereof. Joba threw 45.3% of his pitches in the strike zone this year, which is actually perfectly league average, but it is down from his 48.4% from 2008-2010. Although his swing and miss rate (10.3%) was his best since 2008, his strikeout rate (7.53 K/9) was a career low and down more than two full strikeouts from last year. The strikeouts had been replaced by ground balls (59.7%), either intentionally or unintentionally.

The Yankees were able to survive Joba’s season-ending injury because of their bullpen depth, and they’re going to have to get by without him early next year as well. It would make sense for the team to have him stretch out and rehab as a starter, but we all know it won’t happen. They should be able to ease him back into late-inning work thanks for Soriano and David Robertson, but command is usually the last thing to come back after elbow surgery. It’s very possible that we won’t see the real Joba again until Opening Day 2013.

Breaking down the payroll

As always, the Yankees will have some work to do this offseason, primarily with shoring up their pitching staff. They have a decent amount of money coming off the books, mostly in the form of Jorge Posada ($13.1M) and Kei Igawa ($4M), and that money will be plugged right back into the team. In fact, that money and then some figures to be spent this winter. With some help from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, let’s look at the Yankees salary commitments for 2012…

That’s guaranteed money only, and I took the liberty of leaving CC Sabathia out given his opt-out clause. The ten players (not counting Marte) account for $150.25M, and based on MLBTR’s projections, we should conservatively tack on another $17.9M for the six arbitration-eligible players (David Robertson, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes, and Russell Martin). That makes it $168.15M for 16 players.

The pre-arbitration guys don’t make a ton of money (relative to the baseball pay scale, that is), but they add up. There’s 18 of them on 40-man roster right now plus two more coming in David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell (who are Rule 5 Draft eligible), so let’s conservatively estimate those guys at $10M total (half a mil each). Andrew Brackman is a bit of a wild card. He earned $1M last season and I have to imagine he’ll make at least that next year per the terms of his big league contract. Let’s call it another $1M for simplicity’s sake, putting us at $179.15M for 37 players. Of course, a few of those pre-arb guys (Reegie Corona, Kevin Whelan, Justin Maxwell, etc.) figure to meet the roster axe at some point in the not too distant future.

So after all that, the Yankees still need to a) re-sign Sabathia, b) add one more starter, preferably two (assuming one is a Bartolo Colon/Freddy Garcia-type), and c) fill out the bench. Item (c) can be minimized by having Brandon Laird replace Eric Chavez and one of the minimum salary guys replace Andruw Jones. I’d be fine with Laird, at least to start the season, but I’m not sure who would replace Jones as the designated lefty masher. Greg Golson? Maxwell? Eh, not likely. Gonna have to spend a little something there. It was nice having a strong bench this past season.

Hal Steinbrenner has held firm on that $200M (or thereabouts) payroll limit over the last few years, so the Yankees will have to get a little creative to address all their needs. Sabathia did take a reduced salary in the first year of his current contract, so maybe he’d agree to that again knowing Rivera, Swisher, and Feliciano will be coming off the books after the season. Yu Darvish would likely come at a lower annual salary than C.J. Wilson, but would also require a massive up front posting fee payment. Also keep in mind that the salary estimates for the arbitration and pre-arbitration players are conservative and probably a little high, so that $179.15 might be more like $175M or so. Insurance might cover Feliciano’s salary for all we know. And who knows, maybe Soriano will opt out, but I’m not holding my breath.

The Yankees appear to have about $25M to play with this winter, which is a ton of free cash in most years. This isn’t most years though. Sabathia needs to be retained and they need even more pitching on top of that, so something has to give here.

The Red Sox Chaos From Afar

(Elise Amendola/AP)

You’ve surely seen it by now, but The Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler published this exposé on the Red Sox and their clubhouse issues on Wednesday, shedding light on some very real problems. I recommended reading the whole thing, but if you don’t have time, Craig Calcaterra has a nice little recap. The stuff about starting pitchers drinking in the clubhouse during games, Jacoby Ellsbury‘s isolation, and the general lack of leadership are genuine problems, but there’s also some personal stuff about Terry Francona that I don’t think was relevant or anyone’s business. The Francona stuff is a classic Red Sox smear job, a tactic they’ve employed after every major break-up during the John Henry era.

While all that was going on, long-time GM Theo Epstein was busy finalizing a deal to go to the Cubs, eschewing the final year of his Red Sox contract so he could try to end another curse*. Joel Sherman says Epstein had already made it clear he was leaving after his contract expired for personal and professional reasons, so ownership let him go now. Ben Cherington, one of the best GM prospects in the game, figures to take over after serving as Epstein’s top lieutenant for basically forever.

Reportedly, Epstein’s new deal with the Cubs will pay him $15M over five years, which almost assuredly makes him the highest paid GM in the game. The Yankees are in the middle of supposedly peaceful talks with Brian Cashman about a new contract, and despite what Ken Rosenthal says, I have to think Epstein’s deal will have a trickle down affect. Cashman’s tenure with New York has been more successful than Epstein’s with the Sox, especially if you want to look at the short-term, the last four or five years. Point to the payroll if you want, but I’m pretty sure those guys in Boston have done a bang-up job of proving that spending money on free agents isn’t as easy as it looks.

The last six weeks or so have been a full blown collapse for the Sox, and not just in the standings. Epstein’s gone, Francona’s gone (and ownership is bringing up personal info to throw him under the bus), revelations about a fractured clubhouse are coming to light … it makes you appreciate the Yankees, doesn’t it? Cashman’s contract talks are going smoothly, just like Joe Girardi‘s did last year, there are no issues (we know of) in the clubhouse, there’s no chaos at all. The Red Sox franchise has to be embarrassed by what’s happened over the last few weeks, but it’s nice and quiet for the Yankees. Yeah, they lost in the ALDS, but as our neighbors to the north are showing, there are much worse fates than that.

* Can you imagine that? Ending the Red Sox curse then ending the Cubs curse? That would be some legacy.

Claiborne gives up a hit, throws four pitches in one inning

Finally starting to get some winter ball assignments. Pat Venditte, Jorge Vazquez, and Walt Ibarra are playing in the Mexican Pacific League while Josh Schmidt, Maldueno Gonzalez (Dominican Summer League kid), Jose Lopez (DSL kid), Ali Castillo, Jose Pirela, Frankie Cervelli, Juan Marcano, Jose Gil, Luis Nunez, Francisco Duran (DSL kid), Jesus Montero, Jackson Valera, and Reegie Corona will play in the Venezuelan Winter League. We’re still waiting on rosters from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Remember, just because these guys are on the roster, doesn’t mean they’ll play. These are competitive leagues that play to win, so if someone doesn’t perform well, they’ll get benched. Also, I would be surprised if Cervelli played this winter given his latest concussion.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (5-3 loss to Surprise)
Corban Joseph, 2B: 1 for 5, 1 2B, 1 K
Rob Segedin, LF: 0 for 4, 1 K – threw a runner out at second
Chase Whitley, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0-1 GB/FB – eight of 14 pitches were strikes (.571)
Preston Claiborne, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-1 GB/ FB – dude threw just four pitches, all strikes … how about that?

Open Thread: More Rain

(Photo Credit: USA Today)

Man, the story of the 2011 season is rain, isn’t it? The Yankees dealt with a ton of it during the regular season and again in the ALDS, and recently the other playoff series have been dealing with it as well. This afternoon’s ALCS game was delayed for a few hours because of rain, and there’s a pretty good chance that tonight’s NLCS game will be delayed as well. Comerica Park and Busch Stadium are relatively new parks, why weren’t these places built with retractable roofs?!? Grumble grumble grumble.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Tigers and Rangers started just a few minutes ago (FOX), then the Cardinals and Brewers are scheduled to start a little later (8pm ET on TBS). Like I said though, no guarantee that one starts on time. Talk about whatever you like here, anything goes.