Calcaterra: ‘Very strong possibility’ Pettitte pitches in 2011

Update (5:22 p.m.): Via friend of RAB Craig Calcaterra, a source close to Andy Pettitte says there’s a “very strong possibility” that the big lefty will pitch in the upcoming season. Andy is reportedly doing his usual preseason routine to stay in shape and hasn’t any physical issues, a big plus. The stuff about Roger Clemens’ federal trial supposedly isn’t a factor in Pettitte’s decision either. According to Jon Heyman, the Yanks will offer Pettitte $12 million to pitch in 2011.

Earlier today, former Yankee Morgan Ensberg teased that we “wouldn’t believe” what he just found out about someone with the Yanks, and that he’ll announce it on XM MLB Radio tonight. There’s no reason to assume it’s related to Calcaterra’s report, but Ensberg and Pettitte did play together for three years in Houston and then for a season in New York. Let your mind wander at your own risk.

The RAB Radio Show: January 26, 2011

The Yankees continued adding to their spring training guest list today by signing Bartolo Colon. Yesterday they did the same when they signed Warner Madrigal. Neither represents an enormous signing, but both of them give the Yankees a low-risk pitcher who might help the team, but most likely will head elsewhere after spring training.

Plus, some Justin Duchscherer talk.

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Two years ago today, an Andy reunion

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The 2008-2009 offseason was a memorable one for Yankees fans. The team kicked it off by trading spare parts for Nick Swisher before going for the kill in December, signing CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira for a total of 20 contract years and $423.5M. Those moves would turn just about any team into a contender, but the Yankees still had one order of business left to finish heading into the new year: Andy Pettitte remained unsigned.

Pettitte, 37 at the time, was coming off his worst season in a decade. An achy shoulder hampered him throughout the second half of the season, and it saw him post a 6.23 ERA in his final eleven outings. He lost 14 games on an 89 win club, and his 4.54 season ERA was the second highest of his 14-year career. All that came at the cost of a $16M salary.

Similar to the Derek Jeter situation, the Yankees negotiated with Pettitte through the media. Also just like Jeter, a legion of fans were irate that the team wouldn’t give Andy what he wanted just because he was Andy Pettitte. The Yanks did offer the lefty a one-year deal worth $10M, but it was eventually rejected. If the Yanks had offered that much money to another 37-year-old pitcher with a PED past and a recent shoulder issue that was coming off his worst season in ten years, we’d be livid. But because it was Andy Pettitte, it wasn’t enough.

Negotiations carried on well into January, and in the middle of the month we heard that Pettitte’s return was less than 50-50, something that sounds all too familiar these days. The two sides eventually came to terms on January 26th, two years ago today. The new one-year deal guaranteed Pettitte just $5.5M, and he admitted that the pay cut stung.

“Heck, the bottom line is I’m a man, and I guess it does take a shot at your pride a little bit,” said Andy during a conference call with reporters soon after the deal was announced. “But when you put all that aside, I wanted to play for the New York Yankees and, you know, that was the bottom line.

“I know I could have made a lot more money than what I signed for (somewhere else), but if you want to play for one team you’re going to have to make sacrifices. If it means me taking a pay cut, then it means me taking a pay cut.”

Of course Pettitte ended up making much more than his $5.5M base salary that season. Incentives tied to innings pitched and days on the active roster put another $4.75M in his pocket, so his total earnings in 2009 climbed to $10.25M, more than the contract he turned down earlier in the winter. Then there’s another $365,000 from his World Series share.

As much as we’d like to make this date another anniversary for Pettitte, it’s extremely unlikely to happen. We’re all still waiting for Pettitte to give definitive word about his plans for 2011, but the Yankees have assumed the worst. Brian Cashman has maintained all offseason that they are not counting on Andy and are working under the assumption that he’s staying home for the season, something he reiterated at yesterday’s WFAN breakfast. Waiting and being patient is nothing new for these two parties, but now we’re venturing into uncharted territory.

Note: This post was originally published this morning, but quickly got buried by the Bartolo Colon news. I’m just moving it back up to make sure no one misses out.

Yankees place ninth in KLaw’s organization rankings

It’s prospect season, so there’s going to be a whole lot of rankings and lists coming out between now and the start of Spring Training. Keith Law kicked things off with his organization rankings today (Insider only), placing the Yankees’ ninth among the 30 teams. The system is obviously highlighted by Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez, and the Killer B’s, and beyond that they’re loaded with “back-end starter depth.” He teases us with a preview of Friday’s post about sleepers, saying that we’ll see one of the Yanks’ late round 2010 draftees on the list. Got a guess? I’m thinking Dan Burawa, KLaw’s raved about him before.

As for the rest of the AL East, the Rays ranked second behind the Royals, the Blue Jays came in fourth behind the Braves, and then the Red Sox and Orioles placed 11th and 24th, respectively. Tomorrow brings Law’s top 100, I figure there will be four or five Yankee farmhands on there. Montero, Sanchez, Banuelos for sure, I could see Betances and/or Brackman going either way.

Yanks sign Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal

Full-size spare included. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

Update by Mike (1:13pm): Joel Sherman says Colon can become a free agent if he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training. It’s a zero risk move, and if nothing else it’ll light a little fire under the asses of Sergio Mitre and whatever kids audition for a rotation spot in camp. Minor league deal with an opt out before the season … who cares? No complaints.

In seven winter ball starts, Colon struck out 28 and walked just six, posting a 1.93 ERA in 37.1 IP. Yankee bench coach Tony Pena was his manager, so you figure he had some input before they signed him.

Original Post (11:49am): FoxSports.com’s Jon Morosi reports that the Yankees have signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Buster Olney notes that Colon will earn $900,000 plus incentives if he makes the team. The two parties had been connected previously this winter, but I honestly didn’t think there was anything to it. There is little indication that Colon can handle a starting job in the majors at this point.

Colon last pitched more than 100 innings in 2005, the year he somehow won the Cy Young award. In the following four years he threw just 257 innings, with his high, 99.1, coming in 2007. His contract expired after that season and he found his way to the Red Sox in 2008. After starting the season in the minors he got the call in late May and pitched decently well in six starts. Then he hit the DL with a lower back injury and sat out until late September, when he returned to make one start. In 2009 he caught on with the White Sox, but again injuries derailed his season. He missed 44 days with knee troubles, returned for one start in July, and then missed the rest of the season with elbow troubles. His 4.19 ERA doesn’t quite reflect how badly he pitched: his FIP was 5.70, thanks mostly to a homer rate of 1.88 per nine.

Given Colon’s recent health history, which probably played into his complete absence in 2010, I don’t think the Yanks expect much from this. He wanted to make a comeback, and is — get this — in the best shape of his life. Since this is a minor league deal, it means little risk for the Yankees. The only downside is that they need to give him innings in the spring, which means that someone else will move to the minor league complex a bit earlier. (Or, I suppose, that Colon gets cut early.) It’s nice to see the Yankees going after reclamation projects as back of the rotation possibilities, but I find it nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which Colon can help the team.

Defining A Bust

Busts don't get much bigger. (Photo Credit: John Iacono/SI)

The term “bust” gets thrown around quite a bit these days. It’s short, simple, easy to spell, and vague enough that it can be used it describe a variety of things without much basis or room for debate. It epitomizes the knee-jerk nature of the internet, just ask Andrew Brackman after the 2009 season. Of course not all busts are created equal, so why do we lump them all together under one umbrella term?

Although busts can happen at any level in any sport, we’re going to focus on the term as it related to minor leaguers and prospects. This is where it gets used most often anyway. Players who flame out will typically fall into one of four categories, though we should probably acknowledge that a fifth exists and covers all the miscellaneous stuff that happens. Let’s take a look…

1. Injury Busts
This is probably the most common kind of bust, especially when it comes to pitchers. Players get hurt and it can irreparably change their careers, it’s just part of life. Sometimes it’s a fluke thing, sometimes it’s the result of flawed mechanics or poor form. Unless the team consciously puts a player in harm’s way or the player deliberately injuries himself, there’s no sense in assigning blame here. Shit happens man, usually there’s nothing you can do about it.

Brien Taylor is worth a mention here because he certainly qualifies as an injury bust, but that doesn’t mean taking him first overall in 1991 was a poor decision. He was the best prospect in the draft class and is arguably the best high school pitching prospect of the last 25 years. He killed the minors in his first season (161 IP, 121 H, 187 K, 2.57 ERA), but he blew out his shoulder in an off-the-field incident. Calling Taylor a bad pick because of the injury is revisionist history at it’s finest.

2. Talent/Skills Busts
Sometimes a player just doesn’t have it. They’re lacking a key baseball skill to become a successful player, or maybe they simply don’t have enough talent as everyone else. Tim Battle is a perfect example of the former; the kid had all the talent in the world but simply couldn’t recognize pitches that broke and was unable to get the bat on the ball consistently. Those two flaws proved to be fatal, and he was done before his 23rd birthday.

These kinds of busts fall at the feet of both the player and team. Although it takes a certain amount of God-given ability to play the game at a high level, it’s up to the player to put in the work needed to improve and advance. Some guys just don’t do that. It’s also up to the team to recognize who has “it” and who doesn’t. Trust me, this is much, much easier said than done. When someone learns how to perfect scouting to even a 50% success rate, they’ll become very, very rich.

3. Development Path Busts
Players that bust because of a poor development path/plan are hard to define, but they do exist. Eric Duncan jumps to mind. He was the best power hitting high school prospect in the country when the Yankees drafted him in 2003, and a year later he posted a .358 wOBA with 43 doubles and 16 homers in 538 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa as a 19-year-old. Given the state of their big league team and the need for prospects to use in trades, the Yanks rushed Duncan up the ladder in an effort to make him more desirable in a trade. First overall pick Delmon Young was the only 2003 high school draftee to beat Duncan to Triple-A, a level he reached at age 21. The aggressive promotions hurt his development because he simply wasn’t ready to face that caliber of competition.

Who knows, maybe Duncan wasn’t going to cut it out no matter how much time he was given, but the team certainly did him no favors. Fernando Martinez of the Mets is another example of this, that kid was in the big leagues at age 20 with less than a season’s worth of playing time at either Double-A or Triple-A. Every prospect has a unique development path, and it’s not often that being rushed helps them out. Development busts are on the team.

4. Expectation Busts
This one is tricky because these players aren’t really busts, but we consider them to be because they didn’t meet our expectations. Look at Joba Chamberlain. He’s a fine reliever and a productive big leaguer (already the fourth best 41st overall pick in draft history), but a legion of fans consider him a bust because he did not/has not yet reached his ceiling. Then you have people throwing the bust tag on Brackman after one pro season (his first off major elbow surgery, mind you), which was silly and short-sighted, as he showed in 2010. Expectation busts fall on the fans because they’re the ones that aren’t satisfied and are usually being unreasonable. We’re all guilty of it, don’t try to hide.

* * *

Regardless of what you want to call it, busts are an unavoidable evil. There’s something like 5,000 players in the various levels of the minor leagues and only 750 big league jobs up for grabs. That’s a 15% success rate, and even that seems high when you consider a) all the kids playing around the globe in hopes of securing a contract, and b) that some big leaguers aren’t even qualified to be in the show. That won’t stop everyone from breaking out the term with little to no context when a prospect goes bad or a trade doesn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge that different kinds of busts exist.

Trust me, I’m well aware of how much it sucks when one of our favorite prospects doesn’t make it for whatever reason, but prospects are like buses in the city. The next one will be along in five minutes.

What future for Joba’s past shoulder injury?

Guess when Joba suffered his shoulder injury. (Click to enlarge)

Joba Chamberlain and the Amazing Disappearing Velocity has long been one of my least favorite Yankee mysteries from the past half a decade. We know the story well. Joba left a start in Texas in 2008, missed a month of the season and returned without his velocity. He struggled through 2009 in the rotation as rumors of a shoulder injury more serious than the Yanks were letting on persisted and pitched exclusively out of the pen in 2010 with his velocity nearing pre-injury levels. Despite rumors, we never really knew the extent and severity of the injury, the cause of the long-term impact it would have on Joba.

On Tuesday, Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman seemingly spilled the beans. He mentioned Joba Chamberlain’s shoulder injury during his breakfast with Mike Francesa and spoke at length about it during an afternoon appearance on the Michael Kay Show. We now have insight into Joba’s struggles in 2009 and a firm reason why the Yanks want him in the bullpen.

“I don’t think his stuff is the same since he hurt himself in Texas. He used to be a guy who threw the same as a starter and as a reliever. He threw the high-octane 94-99 and you saw it in the first inning as a starter as well as what out of the bullpen,” he said to Kay. “But since the Texas episode, the stuff as a starter has been watered down. I think we’ve seen enough of a sample even though you can argue it’s a small one. But in terms of the velocity and stuff like that, you have to respond to [the statement] ‘Well, if this is what he is as a starter now, that’s not what he was.'”

Cashman continued: “He was 89-92 vs. a guy that was 93-98. It’s a radically different animal now and so the stuff plays up better in the pen. I know people say it always does, but his stuff was consistent as both a starter and a reliever. It’s just not the same anymore that way.”

The Yanks’ GM then alit upon Joba’s seemingly subpar 2010 and spoke about the way the Yanks evaluated him as a reliever. Calling Joba a “huge bounce-back candidate,” Cashman expressed his faith in the pitcher Baseball America once considered the third-best prospect in all of baseball. “I think I think he’s a tremendous reliever,” the GM said. “He had a high batting average in balls in play, and so I think that ultimately he was more unlucky than people realize. He had some tremendous overall numbers in terms of relief stuff.”

Still, as an ardent believer that Joba should have one last chance at the starting rotation, I — without the luxury of Joba’s medicals — have to wonder if the Yanks are jumping the gun. Cashman spoke at length about sample sizes and even admitted that Joba’s sample was arguably a small one. What if it took him a long time to recover from the shoulder injury? What if he’s still building strength up to correct the damage? And why didn’t the Yankees shut him down permanently in 2008 when they knew his shoulder was hurt and their playoff chances were slim?

A day that will live in Yankee infamy. (AP Photo, Tony Gutierrez)

As Cashman’s comments reverberated throughout the baseball world today, a few commentators took on his assertions. In an extensive post on Pinstriped Bible that covers familiar ground, Cliff Corcoran reviews Joba’s injury and lays the blame on the errant throw from Ivan Rodriguez that sent Joba tumbling to the ground. Corcoran quotes himself and so will I:

. . . Chamberlain saw the home plate ump rule the ball foul and came forward off the mound pointing to both Kinsler and the umpire. Ivan Rodriguez didn’t hear him, and Rodriguez’s throw to second base came directly at Chamberlain’s head. In ducking that throw, Chamberlain lept backwards off his feet and landed on his rump before tumbling over in a backwards somersault. Before Chamberlain’s body hit the ground, however, his right arm reached back and attempted to brace his fall.

Chamberlain denied that the fall had anything to do with his injury. [Note: I suspect Chamberlain was simply protecting Rodriguez here. The moment he took that spill, I was worried about an arm injury.]

“I just got stiff,” Joba said at his locker after the game. “It was a little tight in the fourth, and I came back out in the fifth and, it’s not necessarily even in my shoulder. It’s kinda in my deltoid below my shoulder, so my strength was fine and my velocity was fine, I just kind of got a stiff arm.”

[snip]

Said Chamberlain, “It doesn’t hurt in the wrong places to really, hopefully, be concerned, so I’m just gonna go and get everything taken care of . . . just so they can rule out everything and make sure everything’s alright. This is just getting stiff a lot in a short amount of time. It’s a little stiff, but other than that’s why we go back and just rule everything out.” Joba said he’d never had this sensation in his arm before, but when informed that Girardi intended to have him skip his next start, he said he’d, “hopefully just miss one if that’s the case”

Of greater concern is the Chamberlain quote that appeared on Peter Abraham’s blog last night in which Chamberlain said, “It was something where it grabbed and popped and got stiff.” “Grabbed” and “stiff” I can deal with, but “popped” makes me panic.

That one start Joba hoped to miss turned into a month, and when he returned, he was used only as a reliever in low-pressure situations. His velocity was clearly off, and it didn’t rebound until he moved to the bullpen in 2010. Cause and effect or just the effect of time heeling all wounds?

While Corcoran and I may be tilting at windmills in our efforts to blame Pudge for the decline and fall of Joba, we saw that game unfold and that disaster happen in August of 2008. It didn’t look good, but not everyone agrees. Rob Neyer wonders if Joba is just another pitcher who can’t stand the physical pressures of throwing 100 pitches every five days. It’s certainly another reasonable explanation, but it makes you wonder why the Yanks were so eager to have Joba make his return before 2008 ran out.

Ultimately, Joba is still a wanted man. “Some teams have obvious reached out to us about him in a steal attempt,” said Cashman. These clubs are “not necessarily giving up what I feel is fair value.” But just what is fair value? Is Joba a future set-up man doomed to bounce around the league and never living up to his potential? Is he Mariano’s heir apparent who is being groomed through tough love? Can the Yanks even get what they consider full value out of Joba is the whole world knows about a mysterious shoulder injury?

I think Cliff Corcoran said it best: “I’d still rather take my chances on a 25-year-old who has a 7.6 K/9, a low-to-mid-90s fastball, some bad luck on balls in play, and is another year removed from that supposedly career-altering injury than on the likes of Sergio Mitre or the slop throwing free agent alternatives, and I’d still be loathe to trade any significant prospects for a rotation solution without at least giving that 25-year-old a look first. Still, it’s nice to have a somewhat more substantial answer to why the Yankees won’t use Chamberlain that way, even if Cashman’s admission has likely diminished Chamberlain’s trade value in turn.”