Mailbag: Montero, Lee, Burnett, A-Rod, DH

Mailbag’s back, and we’re not going to make a whole day out of it either. Just a few questions with some rapid fire answers. If you want to send in some questions in the future, just use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar. I’m thinking every Friday morning is a fine time for the mailbag, no? Anyway, on to the questions …

Den asks: Just a thought. Is it a good idea to get Mo back as a pitching coach instead of a player? I thought that would be a good compromise without losing a ‘face’ of the Yankees. Would that even be possible?

No, give me Mariano Rivera as a pitcher every day of the week, he’ll way more valuable to the Yankees that way. Mo’s a great pitcher, one of the greatest that will ever play, but we have no idea about his ability to coach. If they did that, it would be a move based on sentimentality and not evidence of his ability to run a pitching staff.

If you’re talking about after he retires … still no. I suspect he’s the kind of the guy that you won’t see around the ballpark often once he hands ‘em up, just during Spring Training and stuff. But that’s just me.

Sean asks: How well does Montero call games? Are there any reports (scouting or otherwise) on this? If his defense (throwing runners out, blocking balls, etc.) is even at the same level of Posada or Cervelli, how can he not be with the club out of spring training (assuming his bat shows up)?

You don’t hear much about how well (or how poorly) minor league catchers call games because not many do it. A lot of times they’re told to focus on the physical aspects of the game as well as their training, and let the coaches call pitches from the bench. Also, a lot of times the pitcher will be working on something, say a changeup, and he’ll be mandated by the organization to throw X number of those pitches per start. There’s no game calling skill or strategy to that, it’s just a pitch for development’s sake. Outcome is meaningless. Long story short, I know nothing about his skills as a game caller.

Montero could probably break camp with the big league team next year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they sent him back to Triple-A for a month or two just to keep his service time down. The Yankees have plenty of money, but there are legitimate baseball reasons for Montero to go back down, namely his defense. The service time thing is an added benefit.

Anonymous asks: Who would you take, Wil Myers or Jesus Montero?

Montero, but Myers is awesome. The Royals’ prospect hit .315/.429/.506 with 37 doubles and 14 homers split between High-A and Double-A this year, his age-19 season. He’s just as likely to move out from behind the plate as Montero, probably to the outfield. Montero has more power and is a better pure hitter, but Myers has more plate discipline. They’re both awesome, but I’ll take Hey-Zeus.

AD asks: Any chance that having Lee on the team will help out A.J.? Burnett had his best year in Toronto observing and emulating Halladay’s work habits. A.J. likes Lee…same hometown..and A.J. was inspired to pitch a great critical game 2 in 2009 WS after watching Lee’s shutdown performance against the Yanks in gm 1. Whaddya think?

Eh. It’s all up to Burnett, not the people around him. I mean, yeah, the support system counts, but there’s only so much they can do. He and Lee share an agent and (essentially) a hometown, so maybe it would help more than we realize, but I’m not going to hold my breath. A.J. is what he is at this point of his career.

Anonymous asks: Checkout the numbers: 535 AB, 112 R, 137 H, 40 2B, 1 3B, 29 HR, 104 RBI, .256 AVG. That’s Alex facing a lefty over the last 4 years. I would have thought it would be a lot higher. Any clue why this is?

Yeah, I wish I knew. Here are his wOBA’s vs. LHP since joining the Yankees, starting with 2004 and ending with 2010: .446, .412, .421, .402, .378, .402, .323. His performance really started to suffer in 2008, so perhaps the hip is to blame. Maybe he’s having a tougher time getting to stuff on the outer half, and instead of driving those pitches with authority, he’s tapping them on the ground or popping them up to the outfield. Maybe he’s just getting old, can’t ignore that possibility.

Based on the last few years, even with the bad hip, 2010 looks like a massive outlier, so I’d expect some sort of rebound against southpaws next year. A-Rod‘s just too talented to all of a sudden stop hitting a demographic he’s typically annihilated.

Anonymous asks: Who would be a better DH option for next year, between V-Mart, Dunn, and Berkman? Granted that Dunn “doesn’t want” to be a DH, but he will try to be and the Yanks were interested in him during the trade deadline. V-Mart could give Posada a break at catching, and Tex a break at 1B once a week. Despite V-Mart stinks at catching, Cervelli won’t have to catch 100 games like this season. Simply resigning Berkman, and hope that 2010 season is just bad luck.

Of those three, give me Adam Dunn. He could legitimately hit 50 homers in Yankee Stadium and is always an on-base threat. Victor Martinez might be more useful since he could spot start behind the plate and at first, but he’s pretty awful defensively, not much better than Jorge Posada at all. We know all about Berkman, would be nice if he started hitting lefties though.

I don’t think the Yanks will sign a designated hitter this winter, at least not a big money one like those guys. At some point Montero is going to work his way into the lineup, and they’re going to need that DH spot so he and Posada can rotate. Unless someone like Berkman falls into their laps dirt cheap in February, I think you’ll see Posada, A-Rod, Derek Jeter, and Marcus Thames (assuming he re-signs) rotate at DH until Montero forces their hand. If he doesn’t, they’ll probably look for someone at the trade deadline. These kinds of guys are easy to find in July.

Past Trade Review: Mark Wohlers

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Yesterday we broke down the first of two trades Brian Cashman made during the summer of 2001 to overhaul his team’s middle relief corps, and now it’s time to move on to the second.

July 1st: Acquired Mark Wohlers from Cincinnati for minor league Ricardo Aramboles

Of course, whenever Yankee fans hear the name Mark Wohlers they all think back to one moment: 1996 World Series, Game Four, eighth inning, Yanks down by three, Jim Leyritz at the plate. Wohlers gives up that game-tying three-run homer and the Yankees go on the to win the game and eventually the series. That one homer literally changed the course of Yankee franchise history, because if they lose that game and go down three games to one in the series, who knows what happens after that.

Anyway, Wohlers came over from the Reds five years later, still sporting the same high-90’s gas that won him Atlanta’s closing job in the mid-90’s. His performance in Cincinnati was solid but hardly spectacular, a 3.94 ERA with 21 strikeouts and five unintentional walks in 32 innings as Danny Graves’ primary set-up man. Like Witasick, Wohlers got a crack at some high leverage work after the deal.

In his first game with the Yanks, Wohlers threw a scoreless ninth inning against Tampa with the Yanks up by five. Next time out he entered the seventh inning of a two run game with a man on first and two outs against the Orioles, striking out Larry Bigbie to escape the jam. A walk and a single put two men on in the eight, at which point Joe Torre turned to Mariano Rivera for the five out save. Mo allowed one of the inherited runners to score but eventually nailed it down.

Wohlers stranded two inherited runners in the eight inning the next day, but allowed two to come around to score in the ninth, cutting the Yanks lead to 6-3. Mo came in and finished the game off. Wohlers was shaky, and had pretty much lost Torre’s faith when he allowed a total of eight runs across two innings in two consecutive appearances in mid-July. That was the last time he’d see setup work, instead relegated to traditional middle relief and mop-up duty. Wohlers pitched well enough in that role, throwing up a 2.45 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 29.1 innings after that eight-run meltdown in July. From July 20th to September 30th, he never entered a game with the Yankees leading by fewer than five runs.

The Yankees carried Wohlers on their various playoff rosters but he wasn’t used much. In fact he only appeared in one game that postseason, Game Three of the ALCS when the Mariners torched Orlando Hernandez and Mike Stanton for eight runs in five-and-a-third innings. Wohlers took over for Stanton with a man on third and one out in the sixth, and the first batter he faced (Bret Boone) took him deep. He allowed two more runs to score in the seventh before giving the ball over to Witasick. The Yanks lost that game 14-3, and Wohlers wouldn’t throw another pitch until Spring Training.

(AP Photo/Chris Garnder)

As for the Reds, well they got basically nothing out of Aramboles. He never reached the big leagues, appearing in just four games above Double-A. His back story is somewhat interesting though; he originally signed with the Marlins in 1996 but the deal was voided when it turned out he was just 14-years-old. The Yanks swooped in and signed him two years later and he gradually climbed the minor league ladder (Tommy John surgery cost him a big chunk of the 1999 season, however). Aramboles was a solid yet unspectacular pitching prospect easily overlooked in a stacked farm system (yes, the Yanks’ system was one of the very best in the game back then), sporting a 3.82 ERA with 7.12 K/9 and 2.24 BB/9 in 92.1 innings at the time of the trade. He was just 19-years-old and barely out of A-ball however, so there was reason for optimism.

Anyway, Aramboles suffered another elbow injury in 2002, then missed the entire 2003 season after tearing his labrum. His return in 2004 wasn’t pretty, and he’s now been out of affiliated baseball for more than half-a-decade. The Reds got just 158.2 minor league innings out of him after the deal.

It’s tough to call this one a win for the the Yankees but it kinda sorta was. Wohlers gave them 0.1 bWAR in 31 appearances while the Reds got nothing out of Aramboles and didn’t even receive much in the way of payroll relief; Wohlers was only making $500,000 that year. He didn’t give them that setup righthander they were looking for, but Wohlers was pigeon-holed into a role where he didn’t cost them any games during the majority of his tenure in pinstripes. All he did was soak up innings in low-leverage spots at a low cost. Not a trade to write home about, but certainly not a disaster.

Banuelos hit around in Peoria

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (15-1 loss to Peoria)
Brandon Laird, LF: 0 for 3, 1 HBP
Jose Pirela, DH: 1 for 3
Manny Banuelos: 3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 4-1 GB/FB – 40 of 64 pitches were strikes (62.5%) … opponents are hitting .355 off him … the Arizona Fall League isn’t kind to pitchers, no it isn’t kind at all

Open Thread: World Series Game Two

Barry once hit .362/.609/.812 with 232 walks and 41 strikeouts in a single season. True story. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

What did you all think of last night’s game? I thought it was pretty exciting actually, at least until the Giants started to pull away at the end. Though watching Vlad Guerrero play defense in rightfield bordered on hilarious and unwatchable. Knocking around Cliff Lee is no small feat, but San Fran’s hacktastic approach might not work so well against C.J. Wilson since he throws so many pitches out of the zone. Matt Cain is the better pitch on paper, but he might get outdone in this one because his teammates kinda suck.

Anyway, here’s your thread for the game. If you’re too heartbroken over the Yankees not being in the Fall Classic and can’t bear to watch, then go ahead and talk about something else then. Anything goes. Enjoy.

Oh, one small site note: We did some rearranging, and the commenting guidelines are now a pull-down from the “About” button in the nav bar above (under the street sign). Read them if you haven’t, or refresh your memory if you already have.

Berkman, Wood, Vazquez qualify as Type-B free agents

This winter’s Elias rankings are out, and MLBTR provides the goods. Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood, and Javy Vazquez all qualify as Type-B free agents, meaning the Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick in next year’s draft if they sign elsewhere. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera unsurprisingly check in as Type-A’s, so in the unlikely event that they sign elsewhere, the Yanks would receive both a first rounder and a supplemental first rounder.

Of course, the Yankees have to offer each player salary arbitration to receive those compensation picks. The Yanks haven’t offered anyone arbitration in the last two years, and there’s no reason to expect them to start now. Berkman might accept given his salary ($14.5MM), ditto Wood ($10.5M). They’re unlikely to get that big of a payday on the open market, and regardless of how good they were down the stretch in New York, that’s just too much for spare parts. Forget Javy, no chance they offer him arbitration. Just sever ties and move on.

As a reminder, our 2011 Draft Order Tracker is up and running, so check back in throughout the offseason as picks change hands during free agency.

Mazzone expresses interest in New York job

Leo Mazzone would get back in the game if the right offer came around, and the former Braves and Orioles pitching coach said New York could be the place for him. In a SIRIUS XM radio appearance this morning, Mazzone spoke with Gary Williams and Steve Phillips about his future in the game of baseball. Williams asked Mazzone if any jobs were of particular interest to him, and Mazzone responded, “Yeah, there certainly is, and it has New York in front of it, too. I mean, it can be in the American League or the National League.”

Of course, Mazzone wants back in, and of course, he would eye the two most prominent openings in the game. I wouldn’t, however, expect the Yankees to take him up on his offer. Despite his successes in Atlanta, Mazzone has been out of a job since the end of 2007 when the Orioles dismissed him. He seemed to have lost his magic touch in Baltimore, and the Yanks’ coaching M.O. lately has focused around younger, more progressive types who have some ties to the organization. I believe Mazzone will get his chance somewhere; it just won’t be in the Bronx.

What Went Wrong: Aceves & Marte

The 2009 Yankees were a club that relied heavily on its bullpen, and for the most part to great success. Chien-Ming Wang was horrific before being sidelined with a shoulder issue, Joba Chamberlain was perpetually bumping up against some kind of limit, and the fifth starter conglomerate of Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin were hardly reliable. The bullpen picked up the slack, and the Yanks were able to ride that bullpen right to a World Championship.

The bullpen was again a strength in 2010, especially in the second half, but two key contributors from the previous year were essentially non-factors after the first few weeks of the season, and the Yankees suffered because of it.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Al Aceves

Maybe not the most valuable member of the 2009 bullpen, Aceves was certainly the most versatile and relied upon. His 80.2 relief innings were by far the most on the team (Mariano Rivera was second at 66.1 IP) and he pitched in every possible role. Long-relief, righty specialist, middle relief, setup man, four-inning closer, you name it and Aceves did in the 2009. The Yankees penciled Ace in for a similar role this season, but it was not meant to be.

The Mexican Gangster missed the end of Spring Training with a stiff lower back, a sign of things to come. He was healthy enough to crack the team’s Opening Day roster, and proved his value in the second game of the season, firing two perfect innings in a tie game against the Red Sox in Fenway Park on just 23 pitches. He was used somewhat sparingly through April and early May, perhaps held back because of lingering issues with his back that we didn’t know about, but when he pitched he was pretty good: nine games, eleven innings, and just four earned runs allowed, all of which came within his first three outings of the season. The only concern was his lack of strikeouts (just one compared to four walks), but that early in the season no one thought much of it.

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

The Yankees were again in Fenway on May 8th when a rain delay forced starter CC Sabathia from the game. Aceves was brought in to pick up the slack, his third appearance in five days, and after recording the final out in the fifth, he went back out for the sixth. Kevin Youkilis led off the frame with a single, and two batters later J.D. Drew singled as well. Boston was mounting a mini-rally with the Yanks up by three. Jeremy Hermida stepped to the plate with men on the corners and two outs, and one pitch later Aceves was done for the season.

A first pitch curveball to Hermida dropped in for a strike, but it also dropped Aceves to the ground. Okay, not really, he never went down. But he did buckle at the waist and limp off the mound in a way that made you think it was a hamstring or quad or something like that. Aceves immediately left the game with what turned out to be the same thing that hampered him in March: a stiff lower back. Three days later he was placed on the disabled list with a bulging disc, and two weeks after that he reaggravated the injury while rehabbing in Tampa. Aceves had a few epidurals throughout the summer but nothing worked, and he was eventually shut down for the year after re-injuring himself in a minor league rehab start.

The Yankees were never able to replace Aceves in that jack-of-all-trades role, instead relying on several pitchers to pick up the slack. Gaudin and Mitre were given opportunities to do it, but they just couldn’t replicate the Gangster’s success. The Yankees had a solid setup crew for the seventh and eighth innings, but the gap between them and the starter was largely a revolving door all season.

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Damaso Marte

Marte’s absence wasn’t as damning as Aceves’, nor was it as unexpected. After all, he did miss a huge chunk of the 2009 season with a shoulder issue before returning for that brilliant playoff run. The 35-year-old lefty specialist not only managed to stay on the field into July this season, he was also pretty effective. His overall numbers (4.08 ERA with a dozen strikeouts and eleven walks in 17.2 IP spread across 30 appearances) don’t really tell the story given the nature of his job. Marte faced 45 lefty batters in 2010 and just nine reached base. They hit just .146/.200/.268 against him, which works out to a .227 wOBA. He did a fine job neutralizing lefthanders, exactly what he’s supposed to do.

Marte pitched a scoreless inning in Oakland on July 7th, but that was the last time we’d see him this season. He was placed on the disabled list the very next day with shoulder inflammation, an issue that just kept lingering all summer. The Yankees eventually ruled him out for the season in early September, and he had surgery to repair a torn labrum just last week. Damaso won’t return until after the 2011 All Star break at the very earliest.

* * *

The Yankee bullpen managed to survive the injuries to Aceves and Marte, but there’s no denying they would have been a better team with those two healthy and performing like they’re capable of. We already know that Marte is basically a no-go next season, but Aceves’ status is still up in the air. Given the nature of back injuries, it’s wise to expect nothing from him in 2011 and treat whatever he gives the team as a bonus.