ST Open Thread: The A-Team

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

For the first time all spring, Joe Girardi is trotting the A-lineup out there, starting all of the regulars in what is their expected Opening Day batting order spot. Of course those guys won’t play the full game, but Girardi did say that he was going to start tinkering with some lineup arrangements after yesterday’s off-day. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll get a look at Brett Gardner leading off with Derek Jeter batting second. He won’t bat eighth or ninth, so don’t get your hopes up.

On the mound will be Ivan Nova, who’s scheduled for 75 or so pitches. and could conceivably get five innings of work in. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Swisher, RF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, DH
Curtis Granderson, CF
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

Available Pitchers: Ivan Nova, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Mark Prior, and David Robertson. Ryan Pope, Eric Wordekemper, Steve Garrison, and Romulo Sanchez are also in the house in case of emergency.

Available Position Players: Jesus Montero (C), Eric Chavez (1B), Doug Bernier (2B), Ramiro Pena (SS), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Eduardo Nunez (LF), Justin Maxwell (CF), Jordan Parraz (RF), and Andruw Jones (DH).

In other news, Sergio Mitre threw 26 pitches in the bullpen and felt “perfect.” He’d been battling some kind of oblique issue, but it appears all is (on its way to being) well. The game starts at 7:05pm ET and is being broadcast on YES. Smile, the regular season starts two weeks from tomorrow.

Opening Day payroll currently at $189M

For the first time since 2007, the Yankees are expected to the begin the regular season with an Opening Day payroll below $200M. Dan Barbarisi hears from the team that the current payroll is right around $189M, but will jump to $192-193M if/when guys like Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and Eric Chavez are added to the roster. Rafael Soriano‘s salary essentially replaces Andy Pettitte‘s, so the team still has $20-something million bucks burning a hole in their pocket after Cliff Lee joined those youngsters in Philadelphia. It’s too bad they can’t just buy players from other teams.

The RAB Radio Show: March 16, 2011

Cliff Lee already ticked off Yanks fans by snubbing them in favor of the Phillies. That’s fine. It’s part of the game. But insulting the Yankees using criteria that is actually more critical of the Phillies? This, sir, means war.

And we couldn’t get through the radio show without mentioning Manny Banuelos. I’m clearly baiting Mike here.

Also, new theme music!

Podcast run time 29:09

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich.

Yankees on Felix’s no-trade list

Via Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are one of ten teams listed in Felix Hernandez’s no-trade clause. Others include the Red Sox, Mets, Angels, Dodgers, and Phillies, so Felix clearly can’t handle the pressure of a big market. Am I doing this right? That’s how it worked for Zack Greinke, no?

Anyway, the reason big market teams are on everyone’s no-trade clause is because they are the clubs that can offer the most in exchange for waiving it. If a player wants an extension or an option picked up as a condition of accepting a trade, well the big market teams can give it to them. It’s that simple, it’s all about maximizing leverage. Should the Yankees and Mariners ever get in serious talks about Felix, the NTC will be the smallest of obstacles.

Link Dump: Banuelos, Montero, Soriano

Here’s a few links to check out as you wait for today’s edition of the RAB Radio Show

Even more on Banuelos

Didn’t get enough talk about why Manny Banuelos shouldn’t start the season in the big league rotation this morning? Luckily for you, Kevin Goldstein tackled the same topic today (subs. req’d), but did so a lot better than I did. “Twenty-year-old starting pitchers in the big leagues are rarities, but having a player like Banuelos, who has made just three starts above Class-A ball, in the big leagues would be nearly unprecedented,” said KG. “Make no mistake about it, Banuelos could at the very least hold his own in the big leagues right now, but the real question revolves around how long he could do it.”

It’s essentially the long-term gain vs. short-term pain argument, but I recommend reading the whole thing.

BA’s Top 20 Rookies

The gang at Baseball America compiled their list of the top 20 rookies for the 2011 season (subs. req’d), led by Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays. This isn’t a top prospect list, it’s a list of players poised to make the greatest contribution to their big league team this year. Hellickson has himself a guaranteed rotation spot, so it’s easy to see why he edged Freddie Freeman of the Braves. Jesus Montero came in at number ten, noting that in the best case scenario he’d “push his way into the catcher and DH slots for 300-400 productive at-bats.” In the worst case, Hey-Zeus could end up back in Triple-A. Big whoop.

No other Yankees farmhands made the cut, though I’m sure Ivan Nova at least garnered some consideration. The fact that Montero is ahead of guys with guaranteed Opening Day jobs like Brent Morel, Michael Pineda, Jake McGee, and Jordan Walden says a lot.

The Soriano Contract

We’ve ripped Rafael Soriano‘s contract to shreds on this corner of the interweb, but what about an objective opinion? Tim Dierkes of MLBTR examined the contract this afternoon, explaining why it’s not guaranteed that Soriano will opt out of his contract even if he has an excellent 2011 season. “A strong 2011 might allow Soriano to find a three-year deal for around $25MM,” said Tim, “but that’s not a big enough improvement over the two years and $23.5MM that would remain on his current deal.  Getting three years as opposed to one after the ’12 season has added appeal, but the Yankees backloaded Soriano’s contract so that it’ll still be a tough choice for him.”

There are a ton of closer-types scheduled to become free agents after the season, so Soriano would have to compete with several other viable alternatives on the open market next summer should he choose to go that route. Then again, when’s the last time a player had an opt-out clause and didn’t use it?

How a suspension screwed the D’Backs and helped the Yankees

When the Yankees signed Juan Carlos Paniagua for $1.1M last week , most of us thought “cool” and moved on. Not the Diamondbacks though. Both Ben Badler and Nick Piecoro explain that Paniagua was originally known as Juan Carlos Collado, and had signed with Arizona for $17,000 back in 2009. MLB later suspended him because he falsified his name (but not his age) and then voided the contract for that same reason. The problem is that Paniagua went from throwing 88-90 to the mid-to-upper 90’s during the suspension, raising his prospect status considerably. Hence the seven figure payout.

“[Paniagua] was probably working out with the Diamondbacks [during the suspension], getting instruction, eating better and then they lost the rights,” said a scout to Badler. “It’s crazy.” It’s messed up and completely unfair, especially if Paniagua really was working out at Arizona’s facility during the suspension. Then again … go Yanks!

Joba: ‘I have no soreness, I have no pain’

Update (1:50pm): Carig reports that the MRI confirmed the oblique strain, but Joba’s well enough that he’ll play some catch as soon as tomorrow. Guess it’s not that bad of a strain.

1:32pm: Via Chad Jennings, Dan Barbarisi & Marc Carig, Joba Chamberlain isn’t feeling any pain in his injured oblique but won’t pitch until at least next week. “I feel fine,” he said. We still haven’t gotten word on the MRI results, but Joba said the team is taking the safe route by holding him off for a week, so I guess that’s a good sign. If it was bad, they probably wouldn’t even have penciled him in for next week.

I do know one thing about oblique problems: if they aren’t given proper time to heal, they can be re-injured very easily. They also hurt like a bitch, you don’t even want to take a deep breath.

2011 Season Preview: Joba & Robertson

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Adding Rafael Soriano to the bullpen improved the team in more innings than just the eighth. By pushing last season’s setup duo of Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson into the middle innings, the Yankees are now able to deploy a pair of super-high strikeout relievers at a point in the game when most other teams are crossing their fingers. That’s a very real advantage for the Yankees, though it’s not enough to make up for the mish-mash of has-beens at the back of the rotation.

Middle relievers are typically the most replaceable part of the roster, and in the last three years we’ve watched the Yankees shuffle guys in and out of that role until they found something that clicked. They shouldn’t have to do that this year, hopefully correcting the early season bullpen woes that have popped up in each of the last few seasons.

Best Case

Looking at Joba and Robertson as one entity of middle innings relief, the best scenario is lock down work bridging the gap between starter and the big guys in the eighth and ninth inning. So many games are won and lost in those middle innings that the tangible effect of having what amounts to two setup men available for those innings could be three or four wins in the standings. That’s the best case, obviously.

Robertson’s performance has been pretty consistent throughout his three big league seasons; he’s always had a 10+ K/9, a walk rate near 4.5 per nine, and has surrendered close to one homer for every eleven innings pitched. His ground ball rate has hovered right around 40% as well. We don’t normally think of D-Rob as a consistent guy, but overall he is. His best case scenario is basically the best of his individual peripherals, meaning a ~13 K/9 (2009) and a ~4.40 BB/9 (2008) and a ~42% ground ball rate (2008). Put that together over 60 innings of medium/high-ish leverage work and you’ve got something very close to a one win middle reliever. That guys aren’t common.

Joba’s different than D-Rob because he’s bounced between starter and reliever so much, but for the first time in his career, he was able to come into camp knowing precisely what his role will be this season. It’ll be very tough for Joba to improve on his 2010 performance in terms of the process stats, meaning his peripherals. A 9.67 K/9 with 2.51 uIBB/9 and a 45.6% ground ball rate (2.98 FIP) is as good as it gets for relievers. His ERA sucked, but blame that on the well-below average 66.6% strand rate and .361 BABIP when runners were in scoring position. If those issues regress to league average (72.2% and ~.300, respectively) and he sees slight improvement in the strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates, we’re talking one of the ten best relievers in the game. Joba’s best case basically has him showing that Soriano was completely unnecessary, a high-leverage grunting and farting monster that invokes memories of 2007.

Worst Case

As is the case with relievers, they can be pretty unpredictable and start sucking for no apparent reason. Small sample size is a part of it, these guys just don’t throw enough innings in a season for their true talent level to win out, as is (usually) the case with starters. Aside from injury, the worst thing that can happen to Robertson would be his own fault, if he starts nibbling more and more. If he does that and his walk rate climbs over 5.00 BB/9 while the strikeout rate drops below one per inning (because hitters aren’t chasing anymore), then he’s going to have a problem and is no better than Brian Bruney.

For whatever reason, some people are acting like 2010 was Joba’s worst case. I guess it was in terms of ERA and stuff like that, but we’re smarter than that (I think). There are the standard concerns, like his strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates declining for whatever reason, but it seems like Joba’s worst enemy are expectations. If he puts up Daniel Bard peripherals in 2011, he will have gotten worse. Seriously. I guess the worst thing Chamberlain could do is pitch like he did as a starter in 2009 (7.61 K/9, 4.35 BB/9, 4.82 FIP) out of the bullpen, in which case he’s just a slight upgrade over Sergio Mitre and falls into that “only when losing” cache of relievers. There’s also this rib/oblique issue, and that could carry over into the season.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

What’s Likely To Happen

Like I said, relievers are incredibly unpredictable, so this section is nothing more than an exercise in guesswork. We’d like to think that we’ve seen enough of Joba and D-Rob to know what to expect out of them in 2011, but it doesn’t matter. Reliever volatility is a bitch.

One thing I do expect to see is some improvement in Robertson’s control issues. He walked 4.45 batters per nine in 2008 (30.1 IP), then walked 4.74 per nine in 2009 (43.2 IP), and then last year it was 4.84 per nine (61.1 IP), however intentional walks are inflating those numbers a bit though, especially since Robertson issued six of ’em last year. If we take those out, we’re talking about a 3.86 uIBB/9 in 2008, 4.53 in 2009, and 3.96 in 2010. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not great, but it’s a better indicator of his ability. Robertson’s never going to be a control artist, but a walk rate right around four is tolerable.

To be honest, Joba just needs to keep doing what he did last year and the success will come. He struck guys out, didn’t walk many, got some ground balls, it’s just that some of the stuff out of his control didn’t go his way. I’m encouraged by his new mechanics, but that’s probably nothing more than Spring Training optimism talking. His velocity returned in the second half, so hopefully that’s sustainable. I fully expect these two to perform like they have over the last two years, at least in terms of the underlying performance. What happens with ERA is anyone’s guess.