Crawford denies contact with the Yankees

About 24 hours before he signed a contract with the Red Sox, Carl Crawford dined with Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ brass at the Winter Meetings. Before that, there were reports that the Yankees were “very much engaged in discussions” with Crawford’s agents. According to Crawford himself, either none of those things happened, or he just has a terrible memory. He spoke to Dennis & Callahan on WEEI this morning, and his story doesn’t exactly match what we heard this winter.

“To be honest with you, I never talked to New York. They never offered me a contract. I never had any kind of communication with New York, so it was never an option to go to New York.” Emphasis mine. Maybe he’s talking about the Mets?

The RAB Radio Show: February 23, 2011

Mike is out today, so we’re bringing in Dave Gershman of Beyond the Box Score to co-host the show. We’re talking Baseball America’s Top 100 list, which includes six Yankees. We’re talking them, plus some other AL East prospects, on the show.

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Yanks made a hefty offer to Pavano

(Kevork Djansezian/AP)

Perhaps the oddest moment of an odd winter came during the Rafael Soriano press conference. Speaking to the press after Soriano’s introduction, Brian Cashman revealed that he had discussions with Carl Pavano. There was an offer, and Ken Rosenthal’s sources indicated that he was on the verge of a pinstriped return. That didn’t work out, though, as the Twins wooed him back with a two-year, $16.5 million deal. Still, he stood to make a decent sum from the Yankees.

Today SI’s Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees offered Pavano one year at $9.75 million plus incentives. That base salary would have trumped Pavano’s annual salary with the Twins, but there’s no chance that the incentives would have brought him anywhere near that $16.5 million guarantee. Still, I wonder what the situation would have been if the Twins only offered the two years and $13 million that the Pirates did. Might he have come back to New York for up to, say, $12 million in incentives?

The issue really highlights the fan divide on the subject. Despite question marks in the Nos. 4 and 5 rotation spots, many fans wouldn’t have wanted Pavano back under any circumstances. The emotions of seeing Pavano, flat-out accused by some fans of stealing $40 million from the Yanks, for some outweigh the positives he could bring to the mound. My stance runs counter to that; I mocked Pavano as much as the next guy, but on a one-year contract he made more sense than perhaps any other non-Lee pitcher this off-season.

The point is moot, of course. We’ll never get to see Pavano write his redemption story. Instead he’ll start on Opening Day for the Twins. The Yanks did make a significant effort, though, offering Pavano the highest average annual value. But in the end more money, and a less hostile environment, won out.

2011 Draft: Cape Cod League Standouts

One of many Cape Cod League alumni in the Yankees' system. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about scouting director Damon Oppenheimer in his six years running the Yankees’ drafts, it’s that he loves players who standout in the Cape Cod League. The Cape is the most prestigious amateur summer league around, pitting top college players against each other with wood bats. It’s traditionally been a very pitcher-friendly league, and last year was no different: batters hit just .233/.315/.310 overall, and pitchers posted a 3.05 ERA with 7.78 K/9 in the 44-game season.

Prospects like Rob Segedin, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Warren, David Adams, Dan Brewer, D.J. Mitchell, and Andrew Brackman went from the Cape to the Yankees’ system in short order, and I’m certain a few more will join them this winter. Here’s a few guys that stood out in the league last summer…

[Read more…]

Yanks land six prospects on BA’s Top 100

Baseball America released their annual list of the top 100 prospects in baseball today, which you can find here: 1-20, 21-40, 41-60, 61-80, 81-100. Jesus Montero was ranked as the third best prospect in the game, trailing only Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Domonic Brown and Julio Teheran round out the top five. Gary Sanchez came in at number 30, Manny Banuelos number 41, Dellin Betances number 43, and Andrew Brackman at number 78. Austin Romine snuck in as number 98. I’m pleasantly surprised that Romine made the cut, and that’s really quite a showing for the Yankees. Damn impressive.

This is only the second time in the 21-year history of BA’s top 100 that the Yankees have had six guys appear on the list. The other came back was 1999, with Nick Johnson (18), Ryan Bradley (25), Alfonso Soriano (39), Ricky Ledee (70), Jackson Melian (72), and Drew Henson (100). Only three of those guys made the top 50, though.

2011 Season Preview: Russell Martin

As we count down the days and weeks leading up to the season, we’re going to preview the 2011 Yankees by looking at each of their core players and many, many more. A new preview will be going up every day, Monday through Friday, from now until Opening Day.

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

For the first time since 1999, the Yankees will have someone not named Jorge Posada behind the plate on Opening Day. Former Dodger Russell Martin was inked to a one-year, $4M contract in the offseason, pushing Posada to designated hitter and (presumably) Frankie Cervelli to the backup role. The move was made not in hopes that Martin would recapture his 2007 magic (though that would be welcome), but that he would simply solidify the defense behind the plate.

The Yankees assumed risk in this move (just like all them), though perhaps more than usual. Martin is on steady decline offensively, particularly in the power department. He missed the end of the 2010 season after suffering a hairline fracture in his hip when he stepped on home plate awkwardly, though the good news is that he did not damage the labrum. His pre-signing physical revealed a partially torn meniscus that required minor surgery. The Dodgers know Martin better than anyone, and they chose to walk away from an expected salary around $7M in 2011 plus another year of control in 2012 (via arbitration-eligibility) by non-tendering him.

That said, Martin just turned 28 years old, so he’s theoretically in prime baseball playing age. Things could go well, things could go poorly, or it could end up being a mix of the two. Let’s explore…

Best Case

There is no more demanding position in the game than catcher. The physical abuse from squatting behind the plate, foul tips, and miscellaneous bumps and bruises often lead to short peaks, and Martin’s workloads over the last three seasons have been excessive. He started no fewer than 133 games behind the plate every year from 2007 through 2009, and he was on pace to start another 135 in 2010 before the hip injury ended his season in August.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

A winter of rest and a manager willing to play his backup catcher twice a week helps rejuvenate Martin’s career, and he gets back on the path that he appeared to be on after 2007. Hitting coach Kevin Long makes some minor tweaks that bring back Martin’s power stroke (.095 ISO over the last three years), along with an assist from Yankee Stadium. Coupled with 11.4% walks (his rate over the last three seasons, removing intentional walks), the 2007 All-Star resurfaces, and Martin gets on base more than 37% of the time and pops close to 20 homers with double-digit steals out of the eighth and ninth spots of the lineup.

With the hip and knee fully healed, Martin’s mobility behind the plate is a non-issue, and he’s blocking A.J. Burnett breaking balls in the dirt and framing Phil Hughes cutters on the corners with aplomb. His 33.9% success rate at throwing out basestealers over the last two years proves to be no fluke, and Martin posts the best throw-out rate by a Yankees starting catcher since before the Posada era. The entire package adds up to a four or five WAR pace and a player in high demand at the trade deadline.

Worst Case

That heavy workload has taken just too much of a toll on Martin’s body. His power is completely gone and Yankee Stadium’s friendly confines are no help despite his tendency to go the other way into right field. The downward trend of his contact skills (6.4% swinging strikes in 2008, 6.8% in 2009, 7.1% in 2010) not only continue, but are exacerbated by battle tested AL East pitching staffs. Without the pitcher hitting behind him, Martin is finding walks harder to come by.

The hip and knee issues sap agility and quickness behind the plate, rendering Martin a slightly better version of Posada when it comes to blocking balls and moving around. Elite burners like Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Rajai Davis, and Jacoby Ellsbury expose Martin’s throwing arm, showing that anyone can appear to be good at gunning down base stealers when the biggest speed threats in your division are Chris Young, Tony Gwynn Jr., and Dexter Fowler.

With little defensive value and offense that makes fans pine for Cervelli’s .315 wOBA of a year ago, Martin barely keeps his head above replacement level and ends up in the pile of cast-offs with Kelly Stinnett and Todd Pratt and Chris Widger after the season.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

What’s Likely To Happen

It’s clear that Martin is no longer the budding superstar that he appeared to be in 2007, when he hit .293/.374/.469 (.368 wOBA) with 19 homers and 21 steals while piling up 5.8 fWAR, but the Yankees don’t need him to be. He was brought in to solidify the defense behind the plate and be something more than an automatic out at the bottom of the lineup, rather modest expectations. The knee and hip injuries are a legitimate concern, though Martin has already done catching drills in camp and so far all is well.

Offensively, Martin should benefit from a move into Yankee Stadium. He does a solid job of going the other way towards right field, and about 74.4% of his balls-in-play in that direction are non-grounders (about 55% pure fly balls). He’ll definitely hit a cheapie homer or five this season. The walk rate has consistently been in double-digits throughout his career, peaking over the last three seasons, and it’s not like he’s been facing crappy pitching in the NL West. The intentional walks won’t be there to inflate Martin’s on-base percentage, but anything over .335-ish with solid defense is an upgrade for New York.

Ultimately, Martin is just a role player for the Yankees. He’ll hit in the bottom third of the lineup and be asked to shut down the opponent’s running game first and foremost. It’s a dirt cheap contract and the Yankees have the ability to retain him in 2012 as an arbitration-eligible player, so if Martin proves useful, they’ll have plenty of option with regards to his future. Quality catching is at a premium around the league, so teams will come calling if he’s just decent.

ZiPS projects the starting rotation

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Dan Szymborski released the Yankees edition of his 2011 ZiPS projections this week, and Joe already used some of the data to explore a few potential bounce back performances from key players. Now it’s time to take a look at what the system says about the rotation, since that’s the part of the team with (by far) the most questions. Let’s break the guys down into three categories…

The Locks
CC Sabathia: 33 GS, 230.1 IP, 8.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 3.32 ERA, 3.24 FIP
A.J. Burnett: 30 GS, 182 IP, 7.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 4.50 ERA, 4.14 FIP
Phil Hughes: 26 GS, 147.2 IP, 8.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 4.08 ERA, 3.84 FIP

Is ZiPS taking into account the Larry Rothschild effect? It has all three guys increasing their strikeout rate by at least half-a-strikeout per nine, more in Burnett’s case. I’m definitely digging the peripherals from Hughes, though 26 starts and 147.2 IP tells you the system sees him getting hurt at some point. Earlier this winter we saw that there’s better than a one-in-three chance that he’ll hit the disabled list at some point in 2011, not terribly surprising after such a huge innings jump from 2009 to 2010 (80.1 IP). As for A.J., that would be his best year as a Yankee. Not in terms of ERA of course (though it would be a 0.76 run improvement over last year), but in terms of FIP. I’d be pretty happy with that season out of him, wouldn’t you?

The Back-End Candidates
Ivan Nova: 28 G, 26 GS, 149.2 IP, 5.3 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 5.29 ERA, 4.94 FIP
Freddy Garcia: 15 G, 15 GS, 82 IP, 5.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 4.96 ERA, 4.60 FIP
Sergio Mitre: 25 G, 14 GS, 91.2 IP, 5.1 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 4.71 ERA, 4.34 FIP
Bartolo Colon: 8 G, 8 GS, 38.1 IP, 4.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 5.86 ERA, 5.29 FIP

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Here’s where things kinda get messy. Nova seems to have firm grasp on a rotation spot, but other than a small sample of crappy Colon, ZiPS has him performing the worst of the back-of-the-rotation candidates. With peripherals like that, he’d need a ton, and I mean a ton of ground balls to be even league average. Garcia is nothing more than serviceable, a decent fifth starter for half-a-season until someone better is brought in via trade. Mitre has the best projection of the best, and that really doesn’t surprise me, but we don’t know what the system has him doing as a starter and what it has him doing in relief. He’s younger than Garcia and Colon and more experienced that Nova, so with a little luck his ground ball heavy approach could yield solid results.

This foursome doesn’t inspire much confidence, but you didn’t ZiPS to tell you that. We’ve run through pretty much every pitching scenario this winter, and the more I think about it, the more I see the Yankees starting the year with Garcia and Colon in the rotation, Mitre as the long man in the bullpen, and Nova in Triple-A waiting for the first slip-up. Don’t ask me why, just a hunch.

The Kids
D.J. Mitchell: 26 G, 25 GS, 132 IP, 5.0 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 5.86 ERA, 5.29 FIP
David Phelps: 23 G, 23 GS, 122.1 IP, 5.2 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 5.15 ERA, 4.67 FIP
Hector Noesi: 22 G, 20 GS, 106 IP, 6.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 5.26 ERA, 4.74 FIP

Phelps with the changeup. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

We can dream about Andrew Brackman or Adam Warren, but these three seem to be the next in line for a rotation spot. All three will start the season with Triple-A Scranton after finishing 2010 there, and Noesi has a leg up on the others because he’s already on the 40-man roster. All three are capable of a lot of innings, but they won’t necessarily be quality innings. Noesi has the best projected strikeout and walk rates of the bunch, but ZiPS also has him giving up the most homers (18) in the fewest innings of the trio.

Regardless, we’re really splitting hairs here. The projections aren’t fond of any of the guys, not terribly surprising for young pitchers. There’s always a chance one surprises, and the even better news is that the Yankees have more depth behind those guys in the form of Brackman and Warren. Back in the mid-aughts, when the rotation was really getting ugly, they never had these kinds of kids waiting in the wings. They’re going to help the big league team in some way this season, whether it be on the mound or in a trade.