Yankees offer Freddy Garcia arbitration

The Yankees have offered Type-B free agent Freddy Garcia arbitration. If he signs elsewhere, they will receive a supplemental first round draft pick as compensation. You can see all of the Type-A and B free agents (and their arbitration statuses) on our 2012 Draft Order page.

Garcia has until December 7th to accept the offer. He’s in line for a ~$6-7M salary if he does accept, but the two sides have been discussing a reunion in recent weeks. I have a feeling Freddy might have agreed to decline arbitration before the offer was made, similar to Javy Vazquez last season.

Yankees sign Jayson Nix

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have signed utility infielder Jayson Nix to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, they’ll have to pay him a $100k bonus if he’s not added to the 40-man roster or released just before Opening Day.

Nix, 29, spent last season with the Blue Jays. He’s a terrible hitter, owning a .207/.280/.368 batting line (.286 wOBA) in 869 career plate appearances. He did manage to hit 26 homers in 653 plate appearances from 2009-2010 though, so there is some pop in his bat. Nix has played second, short, and third extensively in recent years, and he’s also filled in at both corner outfield spots. His defensive stats aren’t anything special though. It’s just a depth move, I doubt he has much of a shot of making the team.

Open Thread: Aaron Small

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Does anyone represent the Yankees’ success with scrap heap pickups any better than Aaron Small? He was brought him in for minor league depth not long before Spring Training in 2005, but injuries and ineffectiveness at the big league level had him up as an emergency starter in late-July despite a 4.96 ERA in ten Triple-A starts. He won that first game but it wasn’t pretty; he allowed three runs and four walks in 5.1 IP against the Rangers, but a win is a win. Small made another start eight days later and held the Mariners to three runs in seven innings. The team needed pitching, so he kept getting the ball.

What was supposed to be a short-term, emergency starter thing turned into a regular rotation spot. Small famously finished the season with a 10-0 record, but he only made nine starts. He picked up one win out of bullpen in extra innings, and another in three innings of long relief. Small allowed two runs in 2.2 IP in his only ALDS outing against the Angels, a relief appearance in Game Three. The 10-0 record and 3.20 ERA looked great, the performance was entirely unsustainable. He wasn’t missing any bats (4.4 K/9) and wasn’t getting a ton of ground balls (43.9%), so something had to give.

Nevertheless, the Yankees signed Small to a one-year deal worth $1.2M as an arbitration-eligible player after the season. He started the 2006 season in the bullpen as the long-man, but he was just awful. In three starts and eight relief appearances, he allowed 29 runs and put 55 runners on base in just 27.2 IP. The fairytale story came to an end in late-June, when the Yankees designated Small for assignment. He finished the season in Triple-A and was out of baseball after the season.

After his career was over, Small returned home to Tennessee where he an his wife are active in their church. He survived a bout with encephalitis in 2008, which is an acute inflammation of the brain. He was in a medically induced coma for eight days, then six weeks later he was on the field for the final Old Timers’ Day at the Old Yankee Stadium. Today is Small’s 40th birthday, the big four-oh. It’s somewhat fitting since the story of his playing career is ten-and-oh.

* * *

Here is your Thanksgiving Eve open thread. All three local hockey teams are in action, otherwise you’re on your own for entertainment. You folks know how these things work, so have at it. The thread is all yours.

The 2012 Bill James Projections: Yankee Offense and Pitching

(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

One of the bright spots of the long baseball offseason is the release of the various major projection systems. Before diving into the latest batch, it behooves me to issue the following reminder issued by RLYW’s SG: “Projections are inherently limited, so remember to take these for what they are. They are rough estimates of a player’s current talent level. They are not predictions for what a player is going to do in 2012, and they are not playing time predictions either.”

Exactly. No one should look at a player’s projection and expect that that’s what they’ll do next season. They’re generally a reasonable barometer for what a given player might be expected to do, but they are not meant to be predictive. In an ideal world we’d get percentile projections from each system, but as far as I know only SG does that with CAIRO.

I took a look at Dan Szymborksi’s 2012 projections for the Yankees at TYA a few weeks ago, and today we’ll tackle the Bill James projections, which are generally scoffed at in sabermetric circles as they tend to be wildly optimistic. Why look at them then? For one, James himself disagrees that they are overly optimistic, and I also seem to recall some intelligent baseball mind somewhere noting that since he generally projects everyone high, if you look at players within the context of other James projections you’ll get a better idea of where his system thinks players stand. And two, it’s the offseason, the perfect time for speculation as to how next season’s team may perform.

After the last set of projections is issued, which is usually sometime in February, I’ll compile all of the systems and spit out one “overall” projected line for each player. This is admittedly a far-from-perfect method, as the systems vary in both the specific stats they project and how they calculate them to a certain extent — for example, SG doesn’t include baserunning in his wOBA calculation for CAIRO, which ends up resulting in wOBAs that tend to look a little scary across the board; The Hardball Times’ Oliver and Tom Tango’s Marcel projections don’t adjust for park; while Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA and ZiPS do adjust for park, but don’t carry wOBA. The funny thing is, in spite of all of these variations (or maybe because of), the resultant averages of these six projection systems actually wind up being fairly reasonable.

Lineup

Derek Jeter

2011 Bill James projection: .295/.365/.410, .344 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .297/.355/.388, .332 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .291/.360/.393, .333 wOBA

Bill James likes Derek Jeter. Despite a woeful 2010, he thought Derek could bounceback this past season — all things considered, James’ 2011 projection for Derek didn’t end up being that off. Once again James likes Derek in 2012. A year ago I would’ve said a .333 wOBA was undoable from Derek; now I’d actually be a bit surprised if he didn’t top it.

Curtis Granderson

2011 Bill James projection: .264/.341/.471, .355 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .262/.364/.552, .394 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .260/.348/.494, .364 wOBA

James had the most aggressive Granderson projection for 2011, and of course Curtis wound up outperforming everyone’s expectations. The 2012 projection recognizes Curtis’ impressive season, but doesn’t think he’ll come anywhere close to replicating it.

Robinson Cano

2011 Bill James projection: .308/.356/.502, .371 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .302/.349/.533, .375 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .303/.350/.505, .366 wOBA

Somewhat surprisingly James’ 2012 projection for Cano is slightly lower than his 2011. Perhaps it’s due to Cano having a very good season in 2011, but one that didn’t quite match the level of excellence he established in 2010. While a .366 wOBA is nothing to turn one’s nose up at, it would also be pretty disappointing following three straight seasons of .370 or better for Robbie. Projection systems always seem to underestimate Cano, and he’s likely the best bet in the Yankee lineup to exceed his projection, especially now that he’ll be batting behind Granderson and in front of A-Rod.

Alex Rodriguez

2011 Bill James projection: .284/.381/.530, .393 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .276/.362/.461, .361 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .277/.373/.497, .377 wOBA

Even though the majority of forecasts haven’t been released yet I’m willing to bet James is the most aggressive on Alex, probably by a lot. ZiPS has him at only .264/.350/.474. Alex had a disappointing, injury-plagued season in 2011, and the ZiPS projection essentially sees a repeat of that effort. I too see a bounceback year for A-Rod, and James’ .377 wOBA is pretty spot-on with my expectations.

Mark Teixeira

2011 Bill James projection: .282/.383/.532, .393 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .248/.341/.494, .361 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .271/.370/.522, .383 wOBA

Tex’s projections might be the biggest case of wishful thinking of all of James’ Yankee projections — it’s also the best projection for the Yankee starting nine — although it’s pretty disheartening to look at a .383 wOBA and think “Yeah, I can’t see Tex pulling that off.” In theory, he should be able to reach that plateau rather handily, but I have less confidence in Tex picking himself back up than Alex. Still, it’s worth noting that the James projections see Alex and Tex as the Yankees’ two best hitters, while ZiPS thinks it will be Cano and Granderson again. Let’s put it this way — if all four of them can turn in at least .370 wOBA seasons, the Yankee offense will be pretty dynamite once again.

Nick Swisher

2011 Bill James projection: .257/.359/.472, .362 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .260/.374/.449, .358 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .255/.366/.461, .361 wOBA

James sees Swish essentially turning in a repeat of his 2011 season, with slightly less OBP and slightly more power. That would be fine, although it’d be great to see Swish also get back above that .370 wOBA plateau, which he’s done during two of his three seasons in pinstripes.

Jesus Montero

2011 Bill James projection: .285/.348/.519, .376 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .328/.406/.590, .421 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .289/.351/.505, .371 wOBA

James’ very aggressive 2011 projection for Montero was one of the more widely discussed derided of last year’s offseason, although now that we’ve seen what Jesus is capable of at the Major League level, it doesn’t look quite as farfetched as it previously did. James’ 2012 Montero projection is revised down slightly from last year’s, although a .371 wOBA projection for a player with 69 career MLB PAs is still pretty optimistic, no matter how good Montero may have looked in September. Still, I feel pretty confident saying that we’d all do backflips if Montero managed to meet this triple slash during his first full season in the big leagues, though I also wouldn’t be shocked if he beat it.

Russell Martin

2011 Bill James projection: .266/.367/.379, .334 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .237/.324/.408, .325 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .256/.355/.400, .355 wOBA

Martin is the first Yankee I can ever remember essentially not caring about his offensive performance considering how valuable he wound up being on defense. I suppose a decade of Jorge Posada catching will do that to a man. Still, it’d be nice to see him pick that .325 wOBA up some, and while I don’t think he’ll hit James’ .355 mark, Russell’s on-base prowess should enable him to at least get somewhere in the high-.330s.

Brett Gardner

2011 Bill James projection: .275/.377/.371, .349 wOBA
2011 actual numbers: .259/.345/.369, .330 wOBA
2012 Bill James projection: .273/.369/.372, .341 wOBA

Ah, Brett Gardner. Perhaps the streakiest player in the lineup, Gardner recently acknowledged his uneven 2011 campaign and will be working with Kevin Long in the coming weeks to correct what he deemed a timing issue. Let’s hope it takes — for as valuable as Gardner is on defense, finding the missing .038 of OBP points will be crucial to Brett becoming a key cog in the lineup and also a viable leadoff option for Joe Girardi against righties. James sees improvement across the board for Gardner, and a .341 wOBA seems like a plenty reasonable benchmark. Maybe Brett can work with Jacoby Ellsbury and also develop a completely out-of-nowhere power stroke, too. A Brett Gardner with a .500-plus SLG would be a top-ten WAR player in all of baseball.

If you plug the starting nine’s 2012 James projected numbers into Dave Pinto’s Lineup Analysis, we get a lineup that projects to score 5.7 runs per game. Yes, please. The 2011 team averaged 5.35 runs per game, while the ZiPS-projected lineup was at 5.3 runs per game. Obviously the R/PG figure on the 2011 season is comprised of more than just nine players, but this provides something of a general vicinity for what one could reasonably expect out of the 2012 Yankee offense, if everything goes right. The “best” iteration of the lineup scores 5.75 runs per game and features Nick Swisher at leadoff.

Starting Pitching

And here’s the pitching staff, subject to change.

CC Sabathia

2011 Bill James projection: 237.2 IP, 3.32 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9
2011 actual numbers: 237.1 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9
2012 Bill James projection: 235.0 IP, 3.33 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 7.9 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9

James’ 2012 projection for Sabathia is basically the exact same thing as his 2011 projection for Sabathia. That’s a good thing.

Ivan Nova

2011 Bill James projection: 80.0 IP, 4.61 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 6.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9
2011 actual numbers: 165.1 IP, 3.70 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9
2012 Bill James projection: 183.0 IP, 4.28 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 6.1 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9

Nova’s projections were all over the map last offseason, with some systems — Oliver and Marcel — thinking quite highly of him despite little to go on, and others really hated him. James was in the middle, though of course Nova wound up outperforming everyone’s expectations. James’ 2012 projection for Nova seems plenty reasonable for me, and he seems a decent bet to outperform it.

Phil Hughes

2011 Bill James projection: 177.0 IP, 3.56 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 8.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
2011 actual numbers: 74.2 IP, 5.79 ERA, 4.58 FIP, 5.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9
2012 Bill James projection: 102.0 IP, 3.71 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 8.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9

James’ 2011 projection for Hughes seems rather optimistic in retrospect, although it’s important to note that four of the six systems had Hughes with a sub-4.00 ERA. I’m not sure if the innings projection means that James sees Hughes spending time as both a starter and reliever, or if he doesn’t expect him to stay healthy enough for a full season of starts, but either way those are some incredibly optimistic numbers coming off the season Hughes just had. If Hughes manages to exceed a 3.71 ERA as a starter, many of us are going to have to revise our Hughes obituaries.

A.J. Burnett

2011 Bill James projection: 191.0 IP, 4.01 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
2011 actual numbers: 190.1 IP, 5.15 ERA, 4.77 FIP, 8.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9
2012 Bill James projection: 173.0 IP, 4.32 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9

I actually don’t think the idea of Burnett pitching to a 4.32 ERA is crazy, although that will likely be one of the more bullish Burnett projections you’ll see this offseason after two straight horrendous seasons. We keep saying this, but it seems like Burnett pretty much has to be better than he’s been.

Freddy Garcia

2011 Bill James projection: 148.0 IP, 4.20 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.30 HR/9
2011 actual numbers: 146.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 5.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
2012 Bill James projection: 144.0 IP, 4.25 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 5.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9

For the second straight system, Freddy’s solid showing in 2011 hasn’t influenced his 2012 projection at all ZiPS at all, as James’ forecast for 2012 is basically identical to his 2011 iteration. Though that in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if Freddy does come back it will hopefully be as the fifth starter instead of the third starter, and a 4.25 ERA would be more than acceptable in that role.

Scouting The Trade Market: Matt Garza

The Yankees are slowly continuing their never-ending search for a starting pitcher(s), choosing to let the market come to them this winter rather than jumping in headfirst. Lost in the new CBA madness yesterday was a report from Ken Rosenthal indicating that the Cubs’ new regime is willing to trade Matt Garza, exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees could use in their rotation. Really, the only way he could be more perfect is if he was left-handed, or at least that’s what the perception is. Let’s break down the former Rays’ qualifications…

The Pros

  • Garza, 28 in a few weeks, has legitimate swing-and-miss stuff. His fastballs (both two- and four-seamers) have been living in the 92-96 mph range for years now, and he backs them up with a mid-80’s slider that eats up righties. He also throw a hard, mid-80’s changeup and a mid-70’s curveball he likes to drop in for a called strike rather than bury in the dirt for a swing-and-miss.
  • The peripheral stats (2.95 FIP) are as good as it gets. Garza struck out 23.5% of the batters he faced in 2011 (8.85 K/9) while walking just 7.5% (2.86 BB/9), and he got a ground ball 46.3% of the time. That allowed him to keep the ball in the building (0.64 HR/9) despite pitching in a notorious hitters’ park.
  • Garza has proven to be durable, making at least 30 starts and throwing at least 180 IP in each of the last four seasons. If you go back to 2006 and include his time in in the minors, it’s six straight seasons of at least 30 starts and 175 IP. Pretty impressive.
  • After all that time with the Rays, Garza is obviously familiar with life in the AL East. He’s pitched in the playoffs as well as the World Series, most notably throwing this gem against the Red Sox in Game Seven of the 2008 ALDS.
  • Arbitration-eligible as a Super Two for the third time this winter, MLBTR projects Garza to earn $8.7M in 2012. That puts him in line for $13M+ in 2013, his final trip through arbitration before hitting free agency after the season. It’s not a total bargain, but it’s definitely a below-market salary.

The Cons

  • It wasn’t until he moved to the NL that his performance really jumped into that frontline pitcher category. During his three full seasons with the Rays, Garza pitched to a 4.24 FIP with 7.10 K/9 (18.8% of batters faced) and a 3.04 BB/9 (8.1%). Rock solid numbers, but hardly ace-like.
  • Up until this year, Garza was a rather extreme fly ball pitcher. He had a measly little 39.0% ground ball rate during his three years in Tampa, allowing one homer for every 8.1 IP (1.10 HR/9). That’s in a pitchers’ park too.
  • Garza does have a bit of a reputation as a hothead, getting into a handful of altercations with teammates over the years. This on-field incident with Dioner Navarro is probably the most memorable. I don’t put much stock into it, but it did happen.
  • Although he’s been very durable in his career, Garza does have a pair of elbow-related DL stints to his credit. He missed close to three weeks this summer with a bone bruise, and missed more than two weeks back in 2008 due to an inflamed radial nerve in the elbow.

Garza’s a very interesting case. Based on the PitchFX data, he really changed up his pitching style after moving from the Rays to the Cubs. He scaled back the usage of his fastballs, throwing them about 50% of the time rather than 60+% of the time, and mixing in a lot more offspeed stuff. More sliders, more curveballs, more changeups, he threw all three of those pitches at least 10% of the time this past season. That’s a first for him. That begs the question: was his drastic improvement this year the result of changing his plan of attack, or moving to the easier league?

I’m pretty confident in saying that the answer is a little of both. Garza is very unlikely to maintain the sub-3.00 FIP he posted in 2011 after a move to the AL East, but that’s not a knock on him because no one does that. The great Roy Halladay had one sub-3.00 FIP season in all his years with the Blue Jays, and it came almost a decade ago. Even if he regresses to a ~3.50 FIP guy moving back into the tougher league, holy cow is that guy valuable, especially over 30+ starts and 200 or so innings. Garza does play with a lot of confidence and swagger, which like to see, but also the kind of confidence and swagger that’s easily misconstrued when he’s struggling.

As far as comparable trades, there’s obviously the one that sent Garza to the Cubs last offseason. The Rays received five young players in return, including two high-end prospects (Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee), a fourth outfielder (Sam Fuld), and two useful Triple-A pieces (Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer). That was for three years of Garza though, not two. The Shaun Marcum swap also fits to a certain extent; the Blue Jays got one top-25 caliber prospect (Brett Lawrie) for two years of Marcum. Two years of Zack Greinke returned a defense-first shortstop (Alcides Escobar), a potential above-average center fielder (Lorenzo Cain), a hard-throwing reliever (Jeremy Jeffress), and a top pitching prospect in the low minors (Jake Odorizzi). That trade was universally panned though, most felt the Royals looked to fill specific needs rather than focus on getting the best possible return.

Brian Cashman and Epstein* have never made a trade because of the Yankees-Red Sox thing, but that doesn’t mean anything now. The Yankees should absolutely call to see what it would take to acquire Garza, and I think they should pursue a trade as long as the Cubs aren’t being completely out of this world unreasonable. Based on the recent deals involving similar pitchers, it sounds like it’ll take a four-player package of youngsters, with at least one of them being a true stud and the others being useful players, not throw-ins.

* Epstein is technically the President of Baseball Ops and Jed Hoyer is the GM, but I have to imagine Theo will somehow be involved in a trade involving his team’s best pitcher and a guy that could legitimately be part of the next contending Cubs’ team.

How the new luxury tax affects the Yankees

There is plenty to digest in the new collective bargaining agreement. MLB and the MLBPA made sweeping changes in a number of areas, though the greatest ones cover amateur players. Yet there is one change that could affect teams at the Major League level — or, at least, it will affect the Yankees. As Mike noted on Monday, the luxury tax threshold and tax rate will increase in 2014. That gives the Yankees two more years at the current level, but it could become costlier for them to spend in two years. That could affect how they approach this off-season.

As the Yankees search for another pitcher this off-season, they’ll look at a number of pitchers who will be with the team through 2014. That might be a straight free-agency contract, as in the case of Edwin Jackson or C.J. Wilson. It could also come in the form of an extension following a trade. Whatever the case, the Yankees could in many ways add to the 2014 payroll this off-season. As is typically case for future Yankee payrolls, they already have quite a few commitments on the books.

Before signing any further contracts, the Yankees have $75 million tied up for 2014. Chances are that will be at least $80 million, since only the $3 million buyout in Derek Jeter‘s player option currently counts. While $75 to $80 million might seem like a decent starting point, it covers only three to four players: Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and perhaps Jeter. With multiple starting positions and rotation spots left to fill, the Yankees could find themselves increasing payroll even further. That’s going to cost them plenty under the new CBA.

While the luxury tax threshold will increase to $189 million, the tax rate will jump 10 points, to 50 percent of all payroll above that $189 million level. This actually helps the Yankees at their current levels. Last year’s $207 million Opening Day payroll would have been taxed at 40 percent above $178 million, or $11.9 million. At a 50 percent rate above $189 million the tax bill would have been just $9 million. The tax rates even out at a $233 million payroll, meaning the new luxury tax, compared to the old one, benefits the Yanks at all payroll levels up to $233 million. That is, their overall payroll, including tax, would have been higher under the old system.

(And I realize that Opening Day and luxury tax payroll figures aren’t the same; this is just a for-instance.)

This helps the Yankees in many ways, especially since it begins in 2014. Again, the Yankees are down to three or four players, and have a good chunk of payroll already committed. If Robinson Cano commands, say, $22 million per season, that’s $102 million for five players. The payroll might even climb dramatically from there. They have one outfielder and one relief pitcher under team control, and both — Brett Gardner and David Robertson — will be entering their third years of arbitration. That leaves two outfield spots, catcher, three rotation spots (assuming Ivan Nova keeps it up), and nearly an entire bullpen. Even if Gardner and Robertson combine to earn $10 million those are a lot of spots to fill for under $100 million. This new luxury tax threshold, then, will certainly benefit the Yankees when they need it most.

For an example of how it can help, let’s look to the Yankees’ all-time high payroll, $213 million in 2010. That year they actually paid $227 million that year, with the 40 percent tax above $178 million. Let’s say that their absolute maximum, in any year, is $230 million. That’s the number which Brian Cashman can exceed in no scenario. With the new 50 percent tax on payroll over $189 million, the Yankees could support a $216 million payroll and still pay the same $230. It might seem like a small amount, but that $3 million might cover, say, Ivan Nova’s arbitration case. That gives the Yankees a bit more flexibility than in the past.

The change might seem small, but it does benefit larger market teams. They can either stay at the same payroll levels as in the past and save money, or they can extend payroll a bit further and still pay less than they would have under the old tax rate. Of course, it also allows other teams to move towards $189 million, rather than $178 million, tax free. But the Yankees are likely more concerned about their own books than those of their opponents.