What’s the excuse now?

In the unlikely event that you missed it last night, the Yankees have agreed to a contract with free agent reliever Rafael Soriano. I’m not a fan of the deal at all but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead I want to rant about a member of the pitching staff directly impacted by the Soriano signing, and that’s Joba Chamberlain.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

It’s pretty obvious by now that the Yankees have very little faith in Joba. If they did, they wouldn’t have bent over backwards to sign Soriano when the market for his services was non-existent. Part of that is on Joba and part of it is on the team for mishandling him so badly. I’m usually on board with most of the moves the team makes and have spent many hours defending Brian Cashman and the rest of the brain trust, but there’s no denying that they completely botched Joba’s long-term development. They were desperate for late inning relief help in 2007 because (wait for it) the last free agent reliever they signed to a multi-year deal flamed out. They just compounded the issue by refusing to send him back to the minors to get back in 2008 so that he could get back on a normal development track.

So what do they have now, they have a middle reliever with admittedly fantastic peripheral stats and zero consistency. What they don’t have is any decent help for the back of the rotation. Signing Soriano doesn’t help the rotation at all, Sergio Mitre can still stink up the first five innings just as easily as he could have before. Will they take this opportunity to move Joba back to the rotation, turning an absurd contract for a reliever into actual help for the starting staff? I doubt it, and that’s what annoys the crap out of me.

Before the Yankees started screwing around with Joba’s innings limitations in 2009, he was fantastic as a starter. The guy made 34 full starts from June 2008 through August 2009, meaning he wasn’t pulled early and was allowed to empty the tank. In those 34 starts, he had a 3.54 ERA (3.97 FIP) with 8.50 K/9, 3.84 uIBB/9, and 0.92 HR/9. Opponents had .329 wOBA off him during that time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say Joba was some kind of ace caliber starter during this time, but good grief, he was 23 years old basically the whole time. He was better and younger than Phil Hughes was in 2010. If a young kid performs like that in the AL East, you don’t stick him in the bullpen, you keep him in the rotation because at worst, he’s a mid-rotation starter. At best, he’s on his way to becoming something more.

I’m not asking for a miracle here, just give the guy a chance to start again in Spring Training. There’s basically no downside. If he gets hurt and his days as an effective pitcher come to an end, who cares? All the Yankees would be losing is a seventh inning reliever. If it works, well then geez, you’ve got yourself a young big league starter, something the team could really use right about now. It’s Spring Training, just try it. That’s all I’m asking. Just make an effort, give him the same kind of rope they gave Hughes this past year.

Now, I’m certain there are things going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. Heck, Joba’s shoulder could be shredded for all I know. If it is, then they need to trade him as soon as possible and make it someone else’s problem. If there are concerns about his attitude and they’re worried about him getting to comfortable, then just trade him. Stringing him along in middle relief isn’t the answer. And please, all that nonsense about his stuff playing up in the bullpen … give me a break. Of course it’s true, just like it’s true for every other pitcher in the history of the universe. That’s not a good enough reason, it’s just a cop out.

If the Yankees aren’t going to put Joba in the rotation now that they have Soriano on board, I just don’t know what to say. I’m really at my wit’s end here, I just can not fathom why they’ve already ruled him out as a starter after just 34 uninterrupted starts across two seasons, especially when he pitched pretty well. Having the kid pitch 70 innings of middle relief a season is a gigantic waste of resources, but then again that’s nothing new for the Yankees. I fully acknowledge that Soriano will make the Yankees a better team in 2011 but I don’t like the terms of the contract and I certainly don’t like what’s continuing to happen with Joba. It’s a tremendous waste, and refusing to take the necessary steps to correct things only compounds the problem. I really don’t know what more to say, I feel like this same post has been written a million times in the last year or two. I just don’t get it, I’ll continue to not get it.

With endgame in place, Yanks need to work on opening

(Chris O'Meara/AP)

When the Yankees had a lead to start the eighth inning last season, they went 80-7. Two of those leads were blown in the ninth, so the Yankees lost five leads during the eighth inning. They were also 5-4 when tied after seven. Chances are that Rafael Soriano won’t turn all of those instances into wins, but he’ll certainly help. That’s one of the few consolations I can take in the three-year, $35 million deal he has reportedly signed with the Yankees.

In terms of the 2011 team, there are no complaints. The Yankees had plenty of money to spend, and they certainly upgraded the back end of the bullpen. This will lead to a greater enjoyment of the 2011 season. The Yanks might win a few games that they otherwise would have lost, and we will all be a little less irritable the next mornings. That doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is what this means for the 2012 and 2013 teams.

Maybe the Yankees really do have a limitless budget. Maybe they can raise it to $220 million if the right players become available. Brian Cashman has always asserted that he operates under a strict budget, but Brian Cashman also said that he wasn’t going to surrender his first round pick in this year’s draft. If Soriano’s contract doesn’t prevent the Yankees from making a move in the next three years, it’s hard not to like it. But if they can’t or don’t make a move because of payroll concerns, then the contract becomes a problem.

The Yankees might have improved the bullpen, but preposterous is the idea that a great endgame somehow covers up a weak opening. Behind CC Sabathia the Yankees have a second-year starter who was average in his first, a pitcher with good stuff who was pretty terrible last season, a 24-year-old with a back of the rotation ceiling, and 30-year-old who has just 416.1 career innings and a 5.27 ERA. They need some more help there, because in order for the endgame to even play a part they need a strong opening.

Hold onto your butts…

The easiest and quickest way to make the rotation a little bit better is, as thousands have already suggested, to use Joba there. Even 2009 Joba is better than Mitre, and that counts the slop he was throwing when they pulled the short start nonsense. In the bullpen his role has greatly diminished. In the rotation he can at least upgrade the team, even if it’s in a small way. There is absolutely nothing to lose. His stuff might play up better in the bullpen, as Cashman said earlier, but again, I don’t think we should be in the business of believing anything Cashman says.

Losing the draft pick hurts a bit, but it’s far from the primary aspect of this deal. The Yanks still do have a first round selection, but their 31st pick is gone. If they resolve to pick up some risky players in the later rounds they can somewhat make up for that pick, and there’s always the international market. I still don’t like the idea of surrendering a draft pick for a reliever, but it’s not worth getting too worked up over. The Yankees might even be able to recoup that pick if Soriano has a lights out season. He has an opt out after each season, so he could leave two years and $23.5 million on the table if he thought he could find something better. Considering his experience this year I don’t think that will be the case.

In Soriano the Yankees get an excellent reliever who can help lockdown the endgame. It cost them a lot of money relative to his potential contribution, and it cost them the chance to draft a young player. If he stays healthy and locks down the eighth inning before sliding into the closer’s role for the final year of the deal, it might end up working out. But knowing what we know now, about relievers in general and Soriano specifically, I’m not too excited over this deal. Though I realize I’ll sleep that much easier during the 2011 season.

Yankees agree to sign Rafael Soriano

MFIKY. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

According to SI’s Jon Heyman, the Yankees have agreed to terms with Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million deal. The deal comes as something of a surprise, since it wasn’t a week ago that Brian Cashman said he would not give up the team’s first round draft pick. They’ve done just that, and have given a relief pitcher $12 million annually.

We’ve talked about Soriano all winter, so there’s nothing much to add to this, at least initially. We’ll be back with a bit more thoughtful reaction later, but for now I’ll say I don’t like it. The draft pick doesn’t bother me as much as the contract. The Yanks get an expensive setup man for two years before he possibly slides into the closer role after Mariano Rivera‘s contract expires. Though, as we know, you can never count on Mo to call it quits.

The one thing I will add right now: I dislike this move less if it moves Joba back to the rotation.

Update: Heyman provides further details. Apparently Soriano can opt out after each of the first two years. So maybe he’ll pitch lights out in 2011 and go bye-bye after the season ends.

Update by Mike: Chad Jennings spoke to someone in the organization that said the Yankees have not had any internal discussions regarding moving Joba back to the rotation. Because the best pitchers should pitch the fewest innings, you know.

Oh, and Buster Olney says Soriano did not receive a no-trade clause. It doesn’t matter, the contract itself is a no-trade clause.

Open Thread: Rube

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

I have no idea why, but I was always liked Ruben Sierra, at least when he played in New York. The Yankees first acquired him from the A’s for Danny Tartabull at the 1995 trade deadline, and then a year later he was shipped to Detroit for Cecil Fielder. In between the trades he called Joe Torre a liar for supposedly reneging on a promise of a more playing time, prompting the then-manager to call Sierra a “spoiled kid” and “uncoachable.” Usually a player can’t come back from something like that, but Sierra did, rejoining the Yankees in 2003 in a trade for Marcus Thames.

Torre and Sierra buried the hatchet, and he went on to become a moderately productive part-time player. He hit .244/.296/.456 with 17 homers in just 338 plate appearances in 2004, and of course his big moment came after the season in the playoffs. The Yankees were down 5-2 to the Twins in Game Four of the ALDS, but Sierra corrected things with a huge three-run homer off Juan Rincon to tie things up in the eighth inning, helping the Yanks to the eventual series win. The Twins haven’t won a playoff game since, a stretch of ten games (really twelve since it goes back before Game Four). The Yankees re-signed Sierra for the final time six years ago today, and all told he hit .254/.310/.421 with 45 homers and horrifyingly bad defense in pinstripes.

Anyways, here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Rangers and Islanders are in action, but you’re free to talk about whatever your heart desires. Enjoy.

The Mariano Rivera story: How great is great

After fifteen years of watching Mariano Rivera make mincemeat out of opposing batters, we know just how dominant he is. Today, at the Pinstriped Bible, Cliff Corcoran pur Mariano Rivera in context, and by using a variety of statistics that measure reliever wins and player contributions, Corcoran has the following to say of Mo: “There have been relief pitchers that have had better single seasons than Rivera ever has, but none has ever been as good for as long, and any attempt to compare peaks is moot because Rivera has pitched at a peak level throughout his career.” Mariano Rivera — he’s better than you.

The RAB Radio Show: January 13, 2010

We mentioned this morning that Kevin Long and Derek Jeter are getting a jump start on the spring. They’ll get together to work out some kinks in Jeter’s swing so that he doesn’t have a repeat of 2010. I’d love to talk about that more, but I’m no hitting instructor. But Jaime Cevallos is.

If you’re not aware, Cevallos is an independent instructor who has worked with a number of major leaguers, including Ben Zobrist. He has a method, and from all I’ve read about it he makes a number of solid points. He joins us on the show today. Here are a couple of videos that go along with it. First, here’s a bit on how he helped the Charleston River Dogs in 2002. Then there’s a bit analyzing Jason Heyward’s swing.

You can find more about Jaime at TheSwingMechanic.com. He also has a book, Positional Hitting.

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Let’s talk about Armando Galarraga

Word got out last night that the Tigers, with Brad Penny now on board, could look to unload the arbitration-eligible Armando Galarraga. Surely you remember him from the non-perfect game this past summer. We all know that he did in fact throw that perfect game, but the record books will say otherwise because of Jim Joyce’s rather infamous blown call on the 27th out. Despite that feat, Galarraga is the odd man out of the rotation because the Tigers have their hearts set on using Phil Coke (Phil Coke!) as a starting pitcher in 2011. I think you all know what’s next … should the Yankees have interest in Galarraga?

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Although he turns just 29 in two days, Galarraga has already earned the journeyman tag. He signed with the Expos out of Venezuela on Halloween day in 1998, then was traded to the Rangers as part of a package for former Yankee Alfonso Soriano seven years later. A little more than two years after that, Texas flipped him to the Tigers for a nondescript minor leaguer. Galarraga made just three appearances with the Rangers (zero with the ExpoNats), but it looked as if Detroit had found itself something useful following his 2008 season. That’s the year he posted a 3.73 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP in 178.2 innings.

As fine as that performance was, the underlying red flags were enormous. Galarraga wasn’t striking out many batters (6.35 K/9) and he wasn’t making up for it with a bunch of ground balls either (43.5%). His walk rate was rock solid (2.97 uIBB/9) and right in line with his minor league walk stats, but he was very prone to the long ball (1.41 HR/9). Opponents hit just .226/.294/.410 (.319 wOBA) off of him thanks to a .247 BABIP, which was the third lowest in the game among pitchers with at least 100 IP that season. Galarraga’s 4.88 FIP was far more indicative of what his performance might look like going forward rather than the 3.73 ERA.

Sure enough, Galarraga took a beating in 2009. His ERA climbed nearly two full runs to 5.64 (5.47 FIP) and his strikeout (5.95 K/9), walk (3.45 uIBB/9), ground ball (39.9%), and homer (1.50 HR/9) rates all declined. A correction to a .302 BABIP in 143.2 IP didn’t help matters either. Last season was slightly better but no not really. Galarraga’s ERA fell to 4.49 (5.09 FIP), but so did his strikeout (just 4.61 K/9 now) and ground ball (37.3%) rates, as well as his BABIP (.268). The walk (3.12 uIBB/9) and homer (1.31 HR/9) were back at 2008 levels, but that only does so much.

(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

So that leaves us where we are today. Galarraga’s a big (6-foot-4) and skinny (180 lbs.) guy that throws mostly two-seamers (35.2% of the time, averaging 90.6 mph) and sliders (33.0%, 86.7 mph), but he also mixes in a straight four-seamer (18.8%, 91 mph) and changeup (12.2%, 84.2 mph) on occasion. His peripheral stats over the last three years are wholly underwhelming: 5.69 K/9 (below average 8.0% swings and misses), 3.37 uIBB/9, 1.41 HR/9, 40.4% grounders, and a 5.13 FIP. The only pitchers with a worse homerun rate than Galarraga’s over those last three years are Aaron Harang and Dave Bush, and the only pitchers with a lower BABIP in that time are Tim Hudson and Ted Lilly. Not a good combo. Unsurprisingly, Galarraga also has a massive platoon split for his career (.307 wOBA against vs. RHB, .371 vs. LHB). There’s not much to like here.

We don’t know how much Galarraga will earn in his first trip through arbitration, but it’ll surely be over the $1M mark, possibly even $2M. Since these aren’t guaranteed contracts, the Tigers could flat out release him in Spring Training and pay just a portion of his salary, which is exactly what the Yankees did with Chad Gaudin last year. Because that 2011 salary isn’t guaranteed, whatever team signs him wouldn’t be able to get him for the league minimum with Detroit on the hook for the rest like we’re used to seeing. Galarraga would be able to sign with whatever team offers the most money. The other thing Detroit could do is try to send him to the minors. He’s out-of-options, so he’d have to pass through waivers to go back to Triple-A, and it’s highly unlikely that another team would claim him with a seven-figure salary. Either way, there’s not much for the Yankees to see here, unless he’d be willing to take a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training after a release. There’s no harm in that.

Perhaps the more interesting news came from the Central Division of the other league last night. The Cubbies may be open to moving Tom Gorzelanny after their Matt Garza pick up, and I’d have more interest in him than in Galarraga bar none. I wrote about Gorzelanny last month, and although he won’t be great, he definitely passes the “better than Sergio Mitre” test, something I’m not sure we can say about Galarraga.