The Cole Hamels trade possibility

The aftermath of the Phillies signing of Jonathan Papelbon has produced a few predictable responses. Certain folks panned the deal, because they think that relievers, even closers, are fungible and that their volatility does not warrant long, lucrative contracts. Others praised Phillies GM Ruben Amaro for further shoring up his 2012 team and heading for another playoff run. Most relevant to the Yankees, speculation ran rampant about the Phillies’ financial situation. They now have $121.6 million committed to 11 players in 2012, with some big numbers due to Cole Hamels and Hunter Pence through arbitration. Might they be willing to deal Hamels, who will be a free agent next winter?

Yesterday Buster Olney (Insider-req’d) laid out a Hamels trade as one of the Phillies’ three options. The Phillies can hold onto Hamels for one more year and let him enter the 2013 free agent class, they can offer him an enormous extension, or they can trade him now and try to recoup some of his value — perhaps replenishing a farm system that they have somewhat depleted in the last two years while acquiring Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Pence. Yet the trade option seems entirely unlikely, given the current and future states of the Phillies.

The Phillies are, first and foremost, a win-now team. They have won the NL East every year since 2007, and for the last two years they have owned baseball’s best regular season record. In each of the three years following their 2008 World Series Championship they have raised payroll, adding $15 million in 2009, $25 million in 2010, and almost $28 million in 2011. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, it doesn’t appear that the Phillies will limit themselves when it comes to payroll issues. They sell out every game and led MLB in attendance last season. They pull better local TV ratings than any other team, which could lead to a huge media rights deal, perhaps larger than the one the Rangers currently signed. This all points to a rising payroll, perhaps even approaching pinstriped proportions.

Even if the Phillies realize that they don’t have the payroll to keep Hamels past 2012, trading him isn’t much of an option. A team in win-now mode cannot afford to deal a pitcher of Hamels’ caliber. Olney speculates that they’ll get 90 cents on the dollar if trading him this winter, but even that seems optimistic. Moshe recently wrote about the troubles of dealing for an ace. This applies directly to Hamels, whether or not you consider him a true ace (whatever that means). Look back at recent deals for aces: Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and Cliff Lee. How much are the players traded helping their teams? This matters even more in a Hamels deal, since he’s coming from a contending team. The Phillies need players who can help them win now, and even a package of three helpful players will not equal what Hamels can provide.

It is probably in the Phillies’ best interest, then, to retain Hamels for at least the 2012 season. In this scenario Olney warns that, because first-round free agent compensation could disappear next off-season, “they would run significant risk of watching a homegrown, talented pitcher walk away with almost nothing to show for it (other than their 2008 championship rings.)” That’s always a risk, for any team with an impending free agent. The Phillies, however, are in a position to add a 2012 championship banner, and they’re in a much better position for that with Hamels than without. Another championship could also further boost the team’s financial strength.

If the Phillies do wish to retain Hamels, chances are they’ll approach him this winter with an extension offer in hand. How much would it take? Hamels will be 29 in 2013, which makes him comparable to CC Sabathia in age and ability. From 2001 through 2008 Sabathia produced an ERA-* of 83. In his three years leading into free agency he produced an ERA- of 69, which was second best in the majors to Johan Santana (min. 450 IP). In his career to date Hamels has an ERA- of 80 and in his last two seasons it’s 74. Add in another high-quality season and he’s right at Sabathia’s level. On the open market next winter that could easily fetch him a six- or seven-year deal in the $140 to $160 million range. In buying out his last year of arbitration, perhaps the Phillies could get away with a seven-year deal in the $150 million range, or six years and $140 million at best.

*ERA- is like ERA+, but in reverse. It also creates easier comparison scales between players. That is, you can say that at an 83 ERA-, Sabathia was 17 percent better than average. This is not necessarily true of a 117 ERA+. If you want an esoteric explanation of why, read this article by Patriot.

And yet, it seems as though the Phillies have the payroll for that. They clearly have it this year; Papelbon’s salary merely replaces the departing Brad Lidge’s, so there’s no big change there. With Hamels at $23 million, the Phillies would have $118 million committed to six players in 2013, with Jimmy Rollins as a possible seventh player (likely bringing payroll to near $130 million). If that sounds awful Yankee-like, well, it is. They have $127 million committed to six players in 2013. With another sellout season in 2012, which is all but guaranteed, plus a deep playoff run, the Phillies could easily justify the continuing rise of their payroll into Yankee territory. If that is indeed the case, signing Hamels makes all the sense in the world. (Remember, Roy Halladay’s deal expires after 2013.)

The 2013 free agent market for starting pitchers once appeared a gold mine of talent. Little by little that will dwindle. Jered Weaver is already off the board, and Hamels could be next. That leaves Matt Cain, John Danks, Zack Greinke, and Anibal Sanchez: a good group, for certain, but not the class that we had once envisioned. There still remains the chance that Hamels reaches that point and becomes the most coveted starter on the 2013 market. But given the Phillies position that seems unlikely. They’re going to need Hamels in the future if they’re going to maintain their high payroll and winning winning ways. That means that they’ll almost certainly hang onto Hamels this winter, no matter what a few national writers might speculate.

Sabathia finishes fourth in AL Cy Young voting

As expected, Justin Verlander won his first career AL Cy Young Award today, receiving all 28 first place votes. He’s the first Tigers pitcher to win the award since Willie Hernandez won both the Cy and MVP Awards in 1984. Congrats to him.

CC Sabathia finished fourth in the voting (63 points), behind Verlander (196), Jered Weaver (97) and Jamie Shields (66). He finished third in the voting last year, fourth in 2009, and fifth in 2008 after winning it with the Indians in 2007. Mariano Rivera finished eighth in the voting with four fifth place votes, and David Robertson received one lonely fifth place vote.

The full results can be found at BBWAA’s site. Both the AL and NL Manager of the Year Awards will be announced at 2pm ET tomorrow.

Yankees have expressed interest in Grady Sizemore

Via Jerry Crasnick (Insider req’d), the Yankees are one of at least eight teams to express interest in Grady Sizemore and may have requested his medical reports. The medical stuff is pretty standard, so I wouldn’t ready much into it at all.

The 29-year-old Sizemore is reportedly looking for a one-year contract to rebuild his value, sorta like Adrian Beltre did with the Red Sox. He’s had five surgeries since 2009 (one on each knee, one on his left elbow, and two for sports hernias), which is why he’s only played 210 games over the last three seasons after playing in at least 157 games every year from 2005-2008. Sizemore has hit just .234/.314/.413 when healthy over the last three years, and frankly I’m not sure what the Yankees would do with him. He’s obviously looking to play everyday if he wants to rebuild his value on a one-year deal. I don’t really see the fit, but there’s no harm in kicking the tires.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: George Sherrill

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

As always, one of the Yankees’ goals for the offseason is to secure a reliable left-handed reliever to partner with Boone Logan. Whether or not they actually need a second lefty for the bullpen is up for debate, but they’ve made it pretty clear that finding a second southpaw is important to them.

Other than the fact that he’s left-handed and a free agent, there’s really nothing that makes George Sherrill stand out from the crowd. Yeah, he does have a bit of an interesting back story, playing for four different independent league teams before making his big league debut as a 26-year-old for the Mariners in 2003. He was also part of the five-player package the Orioles received in exchange for Erik Bedard, and has since moved on to the Dodgers and Braves. He is left-handed and breathing, so let’s break down his qualifications…

The Pros

  • Simply put, Sherrill annihilates left-handed batters. He held them to a .256/.275/.333 batting line with 32 strikeouts and just one walk in 81 plate appearances in 2011, and over the last three seasons it’s a .192/.246/.258 line with 80 strikeouts and 17 walks in 252 plate appearances. He just crushes same-side hitters.
  • He has a fairly generic two-pitch repertoire, throwing a mid-to-high-80’s fastball and a low-to-mid–70’s slider. You really don’t have to worry about his losing his stuff or anything like that, there’s not much to lose. Left-handed batters have swung-and-missed at the slider nearly 20% of the time since the start of 2009 (17.6%, to be exact).
  • Sherrill is no stranger to the AL East, having spent a year-and-a-half closing for the Orioles in 2008 and 2009. He won’t require any kind of draft pick compensation to sign, and after completing a one-year deal worth $1.2M with the Braves, he’s unlikely to get a multi-year contract or anything more than a modest raise this offseason.

The Cons

  • In typical lefty specialist fashion, Sherrill is close to unusable against right-handed batters. He held them to a .236/.358/.364 batting line in 68 plate appearances in 2011, but that includes just six strikeouts and ten unintentional walks. Over the last three years, righties have hit .288/.373/.474 against him with 44 strikeouts and 43 walks (nine intentional) in 359 plate appearances.
  • Sherrill is a fly ball pitcher, even against lefties. His career ground ball rate is just 36.1%, and it’s just north of 40% against left-handed batters over the last three seasons. It’s not a surprise that he’s given up one homer for every 12 innings pitched as a big leaguer (0.75 HR/9).
  • Sherrill has been on the disabled list in three of the last five years. He missed basically all of September with elbow inflammation this year, lost two weeks due to back tightness last year, and was sidelined for a month with shoulder inflammation in 2008.
  • He wears his hat with a flat brim, and it looks pretty stupid. Nicknames include “The Brim Reaper” and “Flat Breezy” according to Wikipedia.

I loathe the concept of lefty specialists, but the Yankees obviously place a pretty high value on them judging by all the money they’ve spent on Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte in recent years. Dominant lefty specialists can absolutely be valuable pieces of a bullpen, but it’s the guys that are no better than average that really defeat the point and drive me nuts. Those guys are on the roster only because of the hand they throw with, not because they have a chance to be successful. I hate that.

Anyway, Sherrill is one of those lefty specialists with a track record of shutting down lefties, something he’s been doing basically since he broke into the league with the Mariners. That doesn’t guarantee future success though, something the Yankees have learned the hard way the last few seasons. Relievers really are a roll of the dice, especially specialists who live their lives one small sample size to the next. I don’t necessarily endorse a Sherrill signing, but I’d much rather see the Yankees take a shot with him on a one-year deal than someone else on a multiple year pact.

Matt Kemp’s Contract And The Yankees

(US Presswire)

The Dodgers’ ownership situation is a total mess at the moment, but that didn’t stop the club from locking up Matt Kemp for the better part of a decade. The center fielder and likely NL MVP agreed to an eight-year contract extension worth $160M yesterday, securing the kind of deal that only comes along when 27-year-old center fielders have MVP-caliber seasons. Funny how that worked out.

Many Yankees fans, myself included, were already fitting Kemp for pinstripes since he was due to become a free agent after next season. Nick Swisher‘s contract also expires then, so naturally the Yankees would just sign one of the very best players in the world to fill the right field void, he’d crush opposite field bombs like this, and we’d all live happily ever after. I had a feelingĀ  the Dodgers would find a way to keep Kemp long-term (it’s only a matter of time before they sign Clayton Kershaw long-term as well), but now that dream scenario of signing him after next season is officially the table.

The Yankees still have to figure out what’s going on in right field though, because there isn’t anyone in the farm system coming up to fill the void and the idea of moving Jesus Montero or Derek Jeter out there is just a pipe dream. The free agent market without Kemp still boasts some star caliber names, but none are as young or offensively dominant as the Dodgers’ cornerstone. Josh Hamilton is a great story, but he’ll be 32 shortly after Opening Day 2013 and has had major problems staying healthy in recent years. It’s fair to wonder how his past substance abuse will hinder his ability to stay on the field down the road. Andre Ethier can’t hit lefties (.270 wOBA vs. LHP last three years) and is arguably the worst defensive outfielder in the game. Unless you happen to have a strong affinity for Carlos Quentin or Shane Victorino, there’s not much else to see here.

Without Kemp on the market, it’s entirely possible that the Yankees’ best long-term option in right field is the guy they have out there right now. Swisher certainly isn’t without his faults, but he’s extremely durable, hits for power from both sides of the plate, and catches everything he’s supposed to in the outfield. The Yankees know him (and his medical history) better than anyone else, and he offers a level of certainty that I really don’t see in the other candidates. Hamilton is the high upside play, but he could easily turn into the position player version of Carl Pavano. If a reasonable agreement – say three years or so – can be worked out between the Yankees and Swisher, then that is probably the team’s best bet with Kemp now a non-option.

Thankfully, the right field question isn’t one that needs an answer right now. The Yankees have an above-average player set to man the position in 2012 and twelve months for the market to develop. Trade options could emerge, internal options could emerge, all sorts of stuff can happen. Unfortunately Matt Kemp won’t be the answer, but that’s okay. That’ll give the Yankees more money to spend on pitching anyway.

Yankees have spoken to Andruw Jones about returning

Via Marc Carig, the Yankees have spoken to Scott Boras about possibly bringing Andruw Jones back in 2012. Boras also confirmed that his client had left knee surgery after the season, which was expected after he played with a small tear all year.

Jones, 34 in April, started off slowly this past season but hit the snot out of the ball in the second half, finishing the year with a .371 wOBA overall and a .400 wOBA against left-handed pitchers. It didn’t come out of nowhere either; he had a .364 wOBA overall and a .402 wOBA against lefties in 2010. Jones is almost the perfect guy for the job because he works deep counts, hits for huge power, is capable on defense, and is a veteran guy who’s seen it all before, but I do have to think he’d jump at the chance to be a full-time player if another club offered him the opportunity.

Open Thread: Planet Earth

The Yankees haven’t made many transactions on November 14th throughout team history, unless you count signing some guys named Corey Lee and Marc Ronan in 2002 and 1996, respectively. Instead, I’ll leave you with that collection of time-lapse sequences from the International Space Station, which I found on Gawker over the weekend. The neatest part(s) is seeing the flashes of lightning in the clouds, that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Monday Night Football game is the Vikings at the Packers (8:30pm ET on ESPN), and that’s pretty much it in the world of sports. You folks know how this works for now, so have at it. Anything goes.

Discussion Topic: Is Phil Hughes‘ future in the rotation or bullpen?