Reds sign Andrew Brackman

It seemed curious when, in early November, the Yankees declined their $2 million option on Andrew Brackman. That doesn’t seem too unreasonable for a former No. 1 pick, especially one who has, at times, shown promise. The reasons for the Yankees cutting bait weren’t immediately clear, so the possibility remained that he’d re-sign with the team on a minor league deal. That is no longer an option. According to Jon Heyman, the Reds have signed Brackman to a one-year deal at the major league minimum. He grew up in Cincinnati, so I’m sure that factored into his decision. While the Yankees optioned him three times — 2009, 2010, and 2011 — the Reds can apply for a fourth option since he used up his three original options within his first five pro seasons. Brackman was always a pipe dream of a prospect for the Yanks. Here’s hoping him the best in Cincy.

Love Me Non-Tender

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

I’m fairly certain we’ve used that headline for every non-tender deadline in RAB history, but I’m not going to stop until someone tells me to. Anyway, last night was this year’s non-tender deadline, when teams had to offer contracts to their players with less than six years of service time or cut them loose. The Yankees unsurprisingly tendered all of their eligible players contracts, but of course not every team followed suit. There’s a whole new batch of free agents on the market this morning, some more interesting than others.

A full list of non-tenders can be found here, and we’ve already talked about several of them. That includes Hong-Chih Kuo (interesting, but not sure if he wants to play next year), Ryan Spilborghs (hasn’t hit lefties in three years), and Joe Saunders (lefty reliever only). Unfortunately neither Tom Gorzelanny (lefty reliever candidate) nor Joe Thatcher (held lefties to .185/.250/.259 with a 5.23 K/BB ratio last three years, bothered by shoulder problems in 2011) were non-tendered, so the Yankees won’t be able to scoop them up for nothing but money and a roster spot.

A few people have already asked about Luke Scott, who the Orioles cut loose. He’d make a lot of sense for the Yankees if they needed a DH since he’s a left-handed power hitter willing to work counts and draw walks, but they don’t. Calling him an outfielder is a stretch, and they absolutely shouldn’t let him (or any free agent, really) take at-bats away from Jesus Montero next season. He just isn’t a good fit. I’d rather see the Yankees try to sign Jeremy Hermida to a minor league deal if they want to add some lefty hitting outfield depth, since the out-of-options Chris Dickerson is likely to end up elsewhere. Here’s a few more non-tenders of note…

(Keppinger via Jed Jacobsohn/Getty; Rhymes via Nick Laham/Getty)

Jeff Keppinger & Will Rhymes, IF

The Yankees have been connected to Keppinger quite a bit over the last year or so, as they showed interest in trading for him last offseason before he needed foot surgery in January. The 31-year-old was terrible in 2011 (.295 wOBA in 399 PA), but he’s shown flashes of being something more than a zero with the stick in the past. His .332 wOBA in 2010 was fueled by an 8.9% walk rate, and he excels at making contact (just 6.2% strikeouts and 2.8% swings and misses in his career). Just don’t expect any power whatsoever (career .108 ISO). Keppinger can play second and third, but he hasn’t logged many innings at short in recent years.

Rhymes, 28, is a tad more interesting. His big league performance (.313 wOBA in 312 PA) isn’t anything special, but he’s a .290/.357/.386 career hitter in nearly 1,400 Triple-A plate appearances. Rhymes is essentially a left-handed version of Keppinger, meaning he has no power (.085 ISO in the minors), draws a fair amount of walks (8.0% in the bigs, 8.8% in Triple-A) and makes a lot of contact (9.0% strikeouts and 2.8% swings and misses in MLB, 10.5% strikeouts in Triple-A). Although the Tigers had him play second base exclusively the last two years, he’s seen time at third and short in the minors. Interestingly enough, Detroit non-tendered Rhymes even though he has less than one year of service time, so whatever team signs him will control him through 2017. From what I can tell, he even has one minor league option remaining.

(Slaten via Greg Fiume/Getty; Mijares via Jason Miller/Getty)

Doug Slaten & Jose Mijares, LHP

Brian Cashman insists that left-handed relief help isn’t a priority at the moment, but you know they’re going to keep an eye out for anyone that could be useful in that role. They added Cesar Cabral through the Rule 5 Draft after bringing Mike O’Connor aboard on a minor league deal, and now they’ll have a crack at Slaten and Mijares.

Slaten, 32 in February, has managed to appear in 204 games over the last five seasons, holding lefties to a .241/.304/.361 batting line with 73 strikeouts and 23 walks in 301 plate appearances. He’s a big guy (listed at 6-foot-5, 215 lbs.) without big stuff (upper-80’s fastball and low-80’s slider, so generic LOOGY stuff), and he missed time with nerve damage in his elbow in 2011. Mijares, 27, is a shorter and fatter version of Slaten (6-foot-0, 230 lbs.) with his upper-80’s heat and low-80’s slider, but his velocity dropped off big time this year. He’s held same side hitters to a .212/.276/.331 batting line with 65 strikeouts and 21 walks in 287 career plate appearances, but those numbers are worse since his 2009 breakout (.259/.323/.406 with 33 strikeouts and 11 walks in 156 plate appearances).

Peter Moylan, RHP

Unlike the other guys mentioned in this post, Moylan would be an injury reclamation project. He missed basically the entire 2011 season with a bulging disc in his back, and he just had surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff in September. It wasn’t a total repair, more of a cleanup that will keep him on the shelf for six months.

The 33-year-old from Australia is a low-arm slot righty specialist more than anything, using an upper-80’s sinker and upper-70’s slider to get ground balls (career 64% grounders) and hold righties to a .215/.276/.301 batting line over the last six years. Moylan won’t strike many guys out, not even righties (23.0% strikeouts), and he’s damn near unusable against lefties (.277/.406/.381 career). It remains to be seen how Moylan’s stuff will rebound following the back and shoulder injuries, but he’s basically another Luis Ayala, just with more ground balls and fewer strikeouts. You can do worse as the seventh guy out of the bullpen.

An Informed Opinion of Yu Darvish

(Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

Yu Darvish has been and will continue to be a hot topic for at least another week, until we learn which MLB team placed the highest bid for his negotiating rights. It could very well be the Yankees since they have the most money and the need in the rotation, but if you believe what they’ve been saying the last few days, they might not even make a bid at all. I have a hard time believing that, but I guess stranger things have happened.

Meanwhile, until we find out who wins the bid, we’re left debating why the Yankees should or shouldn’t pursue Darvish. We all have our own opinions, but for the most part we’re lacking information. We just don’t know much about the guy, just what we’ve ready over the last year or two. I’m not sure many of us have seen him pitch regularly, and it’s tough to have an informed opinion that way. In an effort to shed some light on Darvish, I’m bringing in Patrick Newman of the indispensable NPB Tracker for some help since he’s actually seen the guy pitch pretty regularly over the last few years.

I met Patrick for the first (and only) time this part March, while in Arizona catching some Spring Training games. We chatted about Darvish and some other players, but what stuck with me most was the list of flaws Patrick rattled off about Japan’s best pitcher. One thing I remembered was him saying that Darvish would get away with some pitches in Japan that MLB hitters wouldn’t let him forget, but otherwise I couldn’t remember much of the conversation. I asked him to repeat that list of flaws to share with the RAB faithful, and he ended up writing nearly 450 words about Darvish. Here are those 450-ish words, unabridged…

First of all, you have a really good memory.

My assessment of Darvish was based on what I saw last season (2010). My big concerns were that he seemed to go to his vertical slider (which is really more like a power curve) quite a bit, and my perception was that he was leaving a lot of them hanging over the middle of the plate. NPB hitters seemed to foul those pitches back a lot of the time, and he wouldn’t get away with those types against MLB hitters. Also last year, he showed a lot of 90-92 mph fastballs, and would top out around 95.

This season he was a lot better. The most obvious difference was his fastball velocity, which was more consistently around 94 and touched 97 on his best days. His cutter seemed to take a step forward this year, giving him three pitches above 90 mph with movement (2-seamer, 4-seamer, cutter). I think the velocity gains are real, as he added 10 kg of strength to his frame last offseason. I didn’t really see the same mistakes with his slider this year, he actually looked like he was using all his stuff effectively. There would be times when decent hitters would start to catch up and foul off his harder stuff, and he’d come right back with a slow curve or softer slider, and the hitter would be helpless. So he looked better overall this year, and my concerns about his mistake pitches and velocity are mostly gone. He’ll certainly still make the odd mistake, as he’s not a robot, but I’m more optimistic about him than I have been of anyone in the past.

Most of these are eyeball-level observations, drawn from memory of the games I watched during the season. So grains of salt apply. Here’s some data for reference and additional context: http://npbtracker.com/data/player.php?p_id=242

This doesn’t mean that Darvish is without question marks. All the usual stuff applies — five-day rotation, different ball, different mound, facing batters that can actually hit home runs, being prepared mentally, coping with travel, etc. I have the impression that Nippon Ham has really let Darvish do his own thing — he tends to tweak his delivery a lot, more than any other pitcher I can think of offhand. Who knows if an MLB pitching coach is going to be cool with that? Also keep in mind that Darvish is going to have more pressure and attention than possibly any player that has preceded him. Ichiro was stalked relentlessly by the Japanese media when he joined the Mariners, but I don’t think the Americans necessarily expected much from him. American fans have been anticipating Darvish for years, so he’ll have the Japanese insanity and the American expectations to live up to. I think he will be successful though, and I hope he is.

I’m glad Patrick reminded us that Darvish isn’t a robot, I feel like we often get too caught up in expecting players — especially pitchers — to be perfect all the time. Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing is fond of saying that it’s not easy to throw a strike, and I think we often forget that. Anyway, it’s good to see that I wasn’t just making up all that stuff about Darvish getting away with mistake pitches in Japan, and it’s also good to see that he’s basically as good as ever at the moment. It would be hard for him to pick a better time to come to MLB.

The one thing that I think is important to point out here is that Darvish isn’t Daisuke Matsuzaka, the last mega-hyped pitcher to come out of Japan. Dice-K’s best season with the Seibu Lions was probably 2005, when he pitched to a 2.30 ERA with 226 strikeouts in 215 IP (9.46 K/9). You can make a case that his 2006 season was better — 2.13 ERA with 200 K in 186.1 IP (9.66 K/9) — but I don’t think it’s worth the argument. Now compare that Darvish, who over the last five seasons has averaged a 1.72 ERA with 217 strikeouts in 205 IP (9.53 K/9) for the Nippon Ham Fighters. Dice-K’s best season with the Lions would probably be Darvish’s sixth best season with the Fighters.

Anyway, all we can do now is wait, wait to see if the Yankees placed a bid and wait to see who wins the right to talk to the guy. Darvish certain passes the eye test as a 6-foot-5, 220 lb. right-hander that can dial his fastball up to 97 with an assortment of breaking balls to use when ahead in the count, but there’s always going to be that element of the unknown until he gets on the bump for an MLB team.

The second worst contract in baseball history

Albert Pujols signed the second worst contract in baseball history last week, and he did it all without meeting with a team he thought was based in Los Angeles.

OK. OK. Perhaps I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but bear with me. Right now, Alex Rodriguez‘s 10-year, $275-million contract, signed when he was heading into his age 32 season, is generally considered to be one of the worst in baseball history. Four years into the deal, A-Rod has struggled to stay healthy, averaging just 124 games per season, while hitting .284/.375/.521. It’s an impressive slash line, but that is a far cry from the .306/.389/.578 line he put up beforehand.

To make matters worse, as we know, A-Rod’s world was rocked by scandal a few months after signing the deal when revelation of past steroid use became public. All of a sudden, the historic milestone clauses that could push A-Rod’s contract value over the $300 million mark became onerous. A-Rod gets paid no matter what, but a tainted home run race won’t draw as much money to the Yanks’ coffers as it otherwise would have.

A-Rod, who turned 36 this past July, is under contract for six more years and will earn another $143 million from the Yanks. It’s highly doubtful he’ll be worth it even if he can stay healthy enough to regain some semblance of his All Star production levels. Now, the Yanks could do worse than have A-Rod under contract for a while, but they were bidding against themselves in the winter of 2007 when A-Rod opted out. He walked away richer, and even before the ink dried on that contract, we knew a contract covering A-Rod’s age 32-41 seasons would not look pretty.

Enter the Angels. Or the Marlins. Or even the Cardinals. Albert Pujols is a great baseball player. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer with a career 1.037 OPS, 445 home runs, three MVP awards and two World Series rings. He’s also going to be 32 when the 2012 season opens and just signed a contract for $254 million covering his age 32-41 seasons. With an injury-plagued past, he’s coming off a year in which he hit only .299/.366/.541. For him, that’s a down year, and at his age, it’s not unreasonable to expect a slow and steady decline.

Of course, just like A-Rod in decline is still a very good player, so too is Albert Pujols. He makes the offensively-challenged Angels instantly better in the short term. In the long term, I’m glad the Yanks haven’t just forked over $254 million in guaranteed dollars to a first baseman. At least A-Rod played a premium position.

So all of these dollars got me thinking: If A-Rod’s deal is generally considered one of the worst in baseball, can’t we call Pujols’ contract the second worst? He’s a bit better offensively than A-Rod was at the same point in his career, but he plays an easier position. He’s signed for the same time period and is likely getting paid by the Angels for what he’s already done in his career — for another team, to boot — than what he will do going forward.

But who cares? I’m looking forward to seeing the Angels sink $25 million in 37-year-old Albert Pujols in a few years. There’s a larger concern though. Baseball’s system is now set up to reward the past. With new CBA, draft pick compensation is going to be tightly controlled, and the international free agency system will be limited as well. Free agency, then, will reign supreme, and teams will have to overpay for top talent. The Yanks are seeing that now as pitchers who aren’t rotation aces are getting paid as such, and teams are demanding the stars and the moon in trades for younger arms.

So the Yanks will spend cautiously and, some might say, wisely as free agent dollars explode. That’s the system the owners and players association have crafted to protect, on the one hand, current MLBPA members and, on the other, smaller market teams. At least the Yanks aren’t alone in signing a great player to an absurd contract though. For the next ten years, they have company.

It’s official, Freddy Garcia’s back

Monday: Via The NY Post, we have a breakdown of Garcia’s incentives. He’ll make an additional $250k each for his 25th, 27th, 29th, and 30th starts, then $275k for his 31st start and $300k for his 32nd start. Freddy only made 25 starts in 2011, in part because the Yankees avoided using him like the plague back in April. Things figure to be different this time around.

In other news, Marc Carig reports that Curtis has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton. He remains with the organization, but is no longer on the 40-man roster. Part of me wondered if some NL team would grab him as a lefty hitting fifth outfielder, but nope. The shoulder injury was too much of a red flag, I guess.

Friday: A little more than two weeks after agreeing to a new deal, Freddy Garcia is officially back in pinstripes. Sweaty Freddy signed his one-year contract this morning, which Bryan Hoch says is worth $4M guaranteed plus another $1.575M in incentives based on games started.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees have designated Colin Curtis for assignment. The 26-year-old outfielder missed the entire 2011 season after suffering a shoulder injury in Spring Training, though he’s hitting .300/.391/.450 in winter ball so far (23 games). Curtis figured to be the team’s extra outfielder in Triple-A this year since Greg Golson has been released and both Justin Maxwell and Chris Dickerson are out of options. There’s a chance he’ll get claimed off waivers, but the shoulder injury is working in the Yankees’ favor.

Open Thread: Jose Veras

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The last two Open Threads have focused on bullpen arms, and tonight we’re going to make it three in a row. First came scrap heap pickup Brian Bruney, then came big money free agent signing Mike Stanton, and now we’re diving back into the scrap heap for Jose Veras. The Yankees signed Veras to a minor league deal on this date in 2005, about two months after the Rangers released him.

Veras, 25 at the time, was the prototypical bullpen flier. He threw very hard but struggled with his command, so he’d never gotten a chance in the big leagues. After pitching very well as Triple-A Columbus’ closer early in 2006 (2.41 ERA with 10.3 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 59.2 IP), the Yankees called him up for his first taste of the show that August. He got into a dozen games, striking out six and walking five in 11 forgettable innings. Veras did pretty much the same thing the next year, but he got his big break in 2008.

After starting the year with Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees called him up for good in early-May. Veras was striking out a ton of batters and keeping the walks in check, allowing him to climb up Joe Girardi‘s bullpen pecking order. By the end of the season he was getting regular seventh and eighth inning work thanks to his 9.8 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 57.2 IP. Part of the Opening Day roster in 2009, Veras allowed runs in eight of his first 13 appearances. He’s lost his late-inning job and was working mop-up duty when the team finally designated him for assignment in mid- June.

Veras always had crazy nasty stuff, doing things like this in between his bouts of wildness. His overall body of work in New York wasn’t anything special — 4.43 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 in 103.2 IP — and the Indians snatched him up after the Yankees cut him loose. He’s since moved on to the Marlins and Pirates, having an okay season in Florida in 2010 (3.75 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 5.4 BB/9 in 48 IP) and a kinda sorta breakout year in Pittsburgh in 2011 (3.80 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9). Now 31 years old, Veras had that one nice year for the Yankees, which is pretty much all you can ask for from these scrap heap types.

Update: How about that, Veras was traded to the Brewers for Casey McGehee tonight. Now the guy has two reasons to celebrate December 12th.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. The Rams and Seahawks are your incredibly yucky Monday Night Football game (8:30pm ET on ESPN), and the Devils are playing. That’s pretty much it, but talk about anything you like here.

No surprises here: Yankees will not non-tender anyone

Today is the deadline for teams to offer contracts to their players with less than six years of service time, a.k.a. the non-tender deadline. A new batch of free agents will be on the market tomorrow, just don’t expect it to be anyone overly exciting. Here’s a list of those who could be non-tendered today, and here’s a way to keep track of all the non-tender action.

Anyway, the Yankees will tender contracts to all of their eligible players today according to Dan Barbarisi, which is completely expected. None of their six arbitration-eligible players (David Robertson, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Russell Martin, and Brett Gardner) will be grossly overpaid next year, plus there is no obvious reason for them to cut any of their pre-arbitration players loose. Nothing groundbreaking here, just some housekeeping.