Injury Updates: A-Rod, Swisher, Joba

Got some late-evening injury news for you, courtesy of Marc Carig and Erik Boland

  • Alex Rodriguez (hand) had a cast put on today and isn’t expected to miss any more than eight weeks. No word on the earliest possible return, but I suppose six weeks is a reasonable estimate. Either way, the Yankees expect to get him back before the end of the regular season.
  • Nick Swisher (hip) came through today’s workout fine but Brian Cashman said “he’s not a player for us tomorrow (against the Red Sox).” He didn’t rule out a return Saturday or Sunday but insisted the team will play it safe.
  • Joba Chamberlain (elbow, ankle) will throw a bullpen session for the big league coaching staff tomorrow and make another minor league rehab appearance — with Double-A Trenton or Triple-A Empire State — on Sunday. Cashman acknowledged that Joba is “getting closer” but wouldn’t say when exactly he’ll be activated.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Lots more interviews coming in the Bronx, Ich. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Yankees had a scheduled day off today and from the looks of things, they might be getting some unscheduled rest this weekend as well. The Red Sox are coming to town for a three-game set starting tomorrow, but the current weather forecast calls for lots and lots of rain and thunderstorms. These two clubs have already played one doubleheader this season and frankly I have no interest in sitting through another. Hopefully the weather clears up and they get play all three games with limited (or preferably no) interruption.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. Matt Harvey will be making his big league debut for the Mets against the Diamondbacks in Arizona a little later tonight (vs. Wade Miley), plus MLB Network will be airing a game as well. Who you see depends on where you live. Talk about whatever you want here folks, the thread is yours.

Brewers designate George Kottaras for assignment

The Brewers designated backup catcher Gorge Kottaras today, clearing room on the roster for starter Jonathan Lucroy as he comes off the DL. Martin Maldonado played well enough in Lucroy’s absence to assume the backup job long-term.

The 29-year-old Kottaras posted a 122 wRC+ in 116 plate appearances for Milwaukee this year thanks to his gaudy 20.7% walk rate (!). I wrote more about him in a Scouting The Market piece earlier this month, so check that out for a full breakdown. The Yankees have the best record in baseball and therefore the lowest waiver priority, so they’re unlikely to get a chance to claim him. If they want Kottaras — and they should since he’s an upgrade over Chris Stewart and a left-handed hitter they could platoon with Russell Martin — they’ll have to swing a trade.

Scouting The Trade Market: Wilton Lopez

The third base situation figures to get a lot of attention in the days leading up to the trade deadline thanks to Alex Rodriguez‘s broken hand, but the Yankees still have a need for a non-matchup reliever in their bullpen. Joba Chamberlain‘s return from elbow and ankle surgery is so close that he’s actually going to be with the team in New York this weekend to show the brain trust what he can do in a bullpen session. His activation off the DL may or may not immediately follow.

Non-contenders are always the first place to look for help at the trade deadline and no one is non-contending like the Astros. They’ve won just two (!) of their last 22 games and 12 of their last 54 games since “peaking” at 22-23 in late-May. Carlos Lee is gone, Brett Myers is gone, and Wandy Rodriguez is gone. Could setup man Wilton Lopez be next? It’s certainly possible. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees.

The Pros

  • The Yankees are familiar with Lopez because he actually spent some time (2002-2007) in their farm system. He only made it into nine games during that time in part due to injuries, but also because he had a lengthy stint (2005-2007) on the voluntarily retired list. Lopez un-retired and spent two seasons in the Padres’ system before being claimed off waivers by Houston in 2009, where he’s been ever since.
  • The 29-year-old Lopez succeeds by limiting walks (career 1.66 BB/9 and 4.5 BB%) and getting ground balls (career 58.6%). His performance this season has been even better — 1.18 BB/9 (3.3 BB) and 59.6%.
  • A fastball-sinker-splitter pitcher, Lopez sits in the low-90s with the two fastballs and in the mid-80s with the split. A low-80s slider is a very rarely used fourth offering. The splitter helps prevent him from having a significant platoon split — he’s holding lefties to a .222 wOBA (.323 career) and righties to a .301 wOBA (career .291) this year.
  • Lopez is in his final pre-arbitration year and is making just $516k this season. He can’t become a free agent until after 2015 and he has at least one minor league option remaining. It might be two, I’m not 100% sure, but it’s definitely at least one.

The Cons

  • Lopez is not much of a strikeout pitcher. His 7.11 K/9 (20.0 K%) this year is actually a career-high but still below the league average for relievers. He gets plenty of swings and misses (9.9% this year, 9.3% career), but he’s around the plate so much that the ball gets put in play.
  • The health track record isn’t pretty. Lopez missed almost all of June with an elbow strain, most of Spring Training with forearm soreness, and about two weeks with nerve inflammation in the elbow last year. That doesn’t include all the stuff that happened years ago.

There’s no indication that the Astros are actually open to trade Lopez, I’m just working under the assumption that everyone on their roster is available. Seems reasonable given their record and recent moves. The recently acquired Francisco Cordero is already 2-for-2 in blown save opportunities though, so I suppose there’s a chance they’d prefer to install Lopez as closer for the rest of the season in hopes of boosting his trade value for the winter. Teams are always willing to pay for saves.

Middle relievers get traded all the time, for anything from cash considerations on the low end to a pair of strong prospects on the high end (think Mike Adams). Lopez is in the middle and probably a little closer to the high-end than the average. Giving up a real prospect for a reliever bites, but at least in this instance you’re getting a guy under control for three more years with a minor league option. That’s a lot of flexibility and potential future value. If the Yankees want to add a bullpen arm in addition to a possible return from Joba, bring Lopez back for a second tour of duty with the organization would be a fine target.

Third base in the short-term

(REUTERS/Robert Sorbo)

Day one without Alex Rodriguez went well, as the Yankees mounted their league-leading 31st come-from-behind win to take the series from the Mariners. Starting third baseman Eric Chavez went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a pair of walks (one intentional) while presumed platoon partner Jayson Nix came off the bench to hit the go-ahead three-run double in the eighth inning. The seven-game West Coast trip went about as poorly as possible, but at least they picked up that nice little win before coming.

As I said, Chavez and Nix are expected to platoon at the hot corner either until the Yankees either make a trade or get A-Rod back from the DL. Obviously Chavez’s penchant for getting hurt is a concern, especially with the increased workload. As the left-handed hitter in the platoon, he’ll see the majority of the playing time at third. Here’s a quick look at the projected opposing starting pitchers for the next two series…

  • Friday vs. Red Sox: RHP Aaron Cook
  • Saturday vs. Red Sox: LHP Jon Lester
  • Sunday vs. Red Sox: LHP Felix Doubront
  • Monday vs. Orioles: RHP Miguel Gonzalez
  • Tuesday vs. Orioles: RHP Chris Tillman
  • Wednesday vs. Orioles: LHP Zach Britton

Now obviously these things are subject to change, especially with the trade deadline looming, but the next six games project to feature three right-handed and three-left-handed opposing starters. Chavez won’t have to start more than two consecutive games — next Monday and Tuesday — for at least a week. The Mariners come to town after the series with Baltimore and if they trade southpaw Jason Vargas as rumored, they’ll likely have five right-handed starters in their rotation. After that the Yankees are off to Detroit for four games and they have five right-handers in their rotation since Drew Smyly is on the DL. That’s when things will get tricky with the platoon and resting Chavez.

The trade deadline is 4pm ET on Tuesday, so the Yankees have plenty of time to swing a (major or minor) deal for a third baseman. I get the sense that Eduardo Nunez will eventually be back to replace Ramiro Pena, perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, and will get a chance to man the position regularly. The Yankees didn’t call him up yesterday just because of the travel and the timing — by not going to Seattle he’ll be able to play in two Triple-A games (yesterday and today) instead of zero big league games. Even if they leave Nunez down for a few more days, the schedule works in their favor through this weekend and early next week as far as not overtaxing Chavez.

How to handle David Phelps

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Going into the 2012 season, David Phelps was considered valuable rotational depth, with a chance to work his way onto the big league roster as a long man.  Phelps was part of an interchangeable trio of prospects, including Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell, who were expected to fill the swingman role that Hector Noesi occupied in 2011.  While I appreciated his polish and fastball command, I never really thought he had a chance of holding down a rotation spot for the Yankees long-term.  I am still leaning in that direction, but Phelps has done a lot of late to demonstrate that he may have been undervalued in the past, as Ivan Nova was a few years ago.  With injuries to the Yankee rotation and bullpen, Phelps has divided his time between spot starting, long relief, short relief, and several minor league stints.  Phelps has handled himself well in all of these roles (particularly over the last few weeks), but the Yankees’ usage of him has raised questions about how he should be best utilized this season.  There are several routes that they could take, each of which has positives and negatives.

Replace Freddy Garcia, take over the #5 spot

Freddy Garcia has bounced back from his nightmarish start to the season, showing that he still has something left in the tank.  Since returning to the rotation after Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia went on the DL, Freddy has given up 13 runs in 30 innings (about a 3.90 ERA) with 27 strikeouts against 9 walks.  This performance hasn’t given the Yankees much reason to make the switch, since there is a bit more uncertainty associated with Phelps (even though he has pitched well of late).  While Phelps could bump Garcia if he goes through another rough patch, the Yankees don’t seem especially interest in flip-flopping their roles.  If the Yankees have any interest in trading Phelps, giving him the opportunity to prove himself as a full-time major league starter is not a bad way to build value (assuming he succeeds).

Build up innings in AAA

Since Phelps’ long-term role is likely a starter (whether in the Yankee organization or elsewhere), it could make sense for the Yankees to let him get the opportunity to start every fifth day in the minors.  This would allow him to build up his innings, work on his secondary offerings, and allow him to experiment/tinker without too much concern about the outcome.  If he is going to earn a spot in the Yankee rotation next season (a big if), having no innings limit would be very helpful to the team.  The downside is that Phelps has already demonstrated his ability to succeed at the AAA level, and pitching in the minors may not provide enough of a challenge, possibly leading to stagnation or regression.

Long relief/swingman role

Phelps has proven himself capable of filling the niche that Noesi occupied last year, as he has the ability to work multiple innings to save the rest of the bullpen during a blowout.  He also can make a spot start should injury suddenly befall a member of the Yankee rotation.  The concern here is that Phelps’ usage could be sporadic (especially because the Yankees don’t get blown out too often), and the lack of work could hurt his performance and trade value.

Short relief

While the Yankee bullpen has been strong this season, there are still some areas where they can improve.  For the beginning of the season, Cory Wade held down the 7th-inning role very capably, but his recent struggles caused him to get demoted to AAA.  Clay Rapada, Boone Logan, and Cody Eppley have all exceeded expectations this season, forming a strong bridge to David Robertson and Rafael Soriano.  However, all three guys (with the possible exception of Logan) are best utilized in matchups against same-sided hitters, which limits their flexibility.  Phelps would likely not have the same platoon disadvantage, and could be used in middle relief roles against both righties and lefties.  This could provide some stability for the 7th inning, or any earlier important situations that the Yankees may come across.  When Joba Chamberlain comes back (which should be pretty soon), Phelps’ utility in this role will likely diminish, but until then this could be a good way of getting him some work in high-leverage outings.

As always, the concern exists about whether repeatedly switching Phelps between starter and reliever will cause him any long-term harm.  While many have blamed the Yankees’ treatment of Joba Chamberlain in this fashion for his subsequent injury problems, I’m not sure the connection is so clear.  Regardless, I don’t think Phelps is anywhere near Joba’s class as a prospect, and even with his recent improvements, his ceiling is probably that of a #4 starter.  Consequently, I have no problem with moving him around to help him fit the team’s biggest present need.  At the moment, that is in the major league bullpen.  I’d probably keep Phelps in a high-leverage short relief role until Chamberlain comes back, then shift him to more of a long-relief/swingman role (but try to get him some regular work so he stays sharp).  If Freddy Garcia falters before Andy Pettitte returns, Phelps should be able to step in and hold down the fort.

Phelps’ emergence this season has been a pleasant surprise, and his versatility will be important for the Yankees’ pitching depth this season.  He has put himself in the rotation mix for 2013 if Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda do not return, and potentially boosted his value to bring back a useful piece in a trade.  Joe Girardi will likely utilize Phelps in a variety of roles between now and October, and I would be surprised to see him go back to AAA anytime soon.  Whatever role he occupies, Phelps should be a useful piece for the Yankees’ pitching staff this season.

Thinking about Chase Headley

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

When word got out that Alex Rodriguez suffered a broken bone in his left hand when Felix Hernandez hit him with that 3-1 changeup on Tuesday night, you couldn’t help but immediately dream up elaborate trade scenarios to plug the third base hole. Hanley Ramirez was dealt to the Dodgers a few hours later, taking that option off the table. Stopgaps like Marco Scutaro and Stephen Drew make sense but do not satiate our trade deadline appetite.

Aside from Hanley, the other big name on the market is Chase Headley of the Padres. San Diego has made it know that they’re willing to move their best player as long as they get a nice bounty of young kids in return, and a whole lotta teams have expressed interest. Yesterday we heard that the Yankees will at least entertain the idea of making a run at him, a guy who would more than capably replace A-Rod at the hot corner for the time being. Quite frankly he would be an upgrade.

Headley, 28, owns a 125 wRC+ this year and has you’d expect, he’s been substantially better away from Petco Park. The switch-hitter has a 103 wRC+ at home this season (91 career) compared to 147 on the road (129 career). He hasn’t hit for much power even away from Petco — career .148 ISO on the road — but he’s already hit a career-best 12 homers this year. Headley draws lots of walks (12.2%) and puts together lengthy at-bats (4.08 pitches were plate appearances), leading to strong OBPs. Move him out of San Diego and who knows, his offense may really take off just because his mind is clear of cavernous Petco. Plus entering his prime years won’t hurt.

Much of Headley’s value comes from his defense at the hot corner, which basically every metric agrees is above-average if not better. He played 196 games and nearly 1,700 innings in left field from 2008-2009 in deference to Kevin Kouzmanoff, but he’s not an outfielder. Not an everyday outfielder, I should say. Headley is making $3.475M this season and will be arbitration-eligible as a Super Two both next year and the year after. He’ll be a free agent after 2014. That’s nice and affordable, pretty much as good as it gets.

(Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Acquiring Headley to replace A-Rod this year before shifting him to a corner outfield spot and using him to replace Nick Swisher is a bit of a stretch given his limited exposure to the outfield. It’s possible but hardly a slam dunk. There’s a chance that the position change — or worse, bouncing him between third, the outfield, DH, etc. — will negatively impact his production at the plate and overall value. These guys aren’t robots, changing positions on the fly at the big league for a contending team is very hard to do. The Yankees love to rotate their DHs, so sticking A-Rod there full-time next year and going forward seems unlikely.

If you want to play some fun fantasy GM games, the Yankees could acquire Headley to replace A-Rod this summer then flip him to the Diamondbacks as part of a Justin Upton package during he offseason. Arizona wants a third baseman but is very unlikely to deal with the Padres– not only are they division rivals, but there is still some bad ownership blood following the defection of Jeff Moorad. The Yankees would get their temporary third base fill-in and then a long-term corner outfielder. It’s perfect! … on paper.

Back in reality, the Yankees simply may not have enough to acquire Headley. The asking price is high as it should be — the third best market is barren and the Padres have the best available player to offer. Headley’s young, cheap, productive, and under control for a few more years. That guy will require a haul, likely three or four prospects with at least one stud and two or three other solid pieces. That’s just me spit-balling though, I have no idea what exactly the Padres are seeking.

I irrationally like Headley — I think he has star potential outside of Petco during his peak years — but the Yankees seem more likely to add a short-term stopgap at the hot corner. He’s a square peg they would have to force into a round hole once A-Rod returns, not to mention give up a healthy amount of prospects to acquire. Logistically it just doesn’t work not matter how much I would like it too.