Looking Ahead To The April Schedule

(Photo bia Mike Segar/Reuters)

According to our little Spring Training Countdown in the sidebar, we’re just 24 days away from pitchers and catchers reporting for duty in Florida. That’s the most exciting non-news days of the year — all the players have to do is inform the team that they’re physically in the Tampa area — but it gets us that much closer to baseball. Soon after will be full squad workouts and Spring Training games, and before you know it, the regular season.

The fun starts before the regular season though. The Yankees will play two exhibition games against the Marlins in their new stadium (April 1st and 2nd), the first games played by two big league clubs in the building, and that’s pretty cool. The Cubs did the honors when the New Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, if you remember. After that, the Yankees will wrap up their exhibition schedule with two games against the Mets, take a day off, then start the regular season. Let’s preview the awesomeness of April…

April 6th-8th @ Rays
Opening Day! The Yankees start the 2012 season at their home away from home in Tampa, and will face a Rays lineup rebuilt with noted Yankees-killer Carlos Pena and the insufferable Luke Scott. Old pal Jose Molina will be behind the plate as well. Hopefully these three games go better than the last three games of 2011, when the Yankees got swept at Tropicana Field in what would have been heartbreaking fashion had the games meant anything to them.

April 9th-11th @ Orioles
The most boring series of the month is the second one, a three gamer in Baltimore against the nondescript Orioles. We’ll probably get to see new imports Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen on the mound, but otherwise it’s the same old Orioles. At least we can still despise Buck Showalter. I’m sure there will be a ton of Yankees fans in the house even though it’s a mid-week series.

April 13th-15th vs. Angels
After a day off, the Yankees come home to Yankee Stadium for the first time this season and welcome Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, and the rest of the Angels to the Bronx. We’re all familiar with Wilson from his time with the Rangers, but Pujols has never played in the New Stadium and has only played six career games against the Yankees, none since 2005. He’ll play six games in the Boogie Down in 2012 alone.

April 16th-19th vs. Twins
A midweek four-game series against Minnesota isn’t anything to write home about, though the Yankees do completely own the Twinkies, especially at home. Did you know they’re 63-20 against the Twins during the Ron Gardenhire era (including playoffs)? That’s a .759 winning percentage, or a 123-win pace over a full season. Furthermore, the Yankees are 33-7 against them in the Bronx, and four of those losses were at the hands of Johan Santana when he was in his heyday. Pretty crazy.

April 20th-22nd @ Red Sox
Once they’re done having their way with the Twinkies, it’s off to Boston for the first Red Sox series of the year. I do loathe these series only because of the over-hyped drama and the fact that it’s a weekend series, which means FOX and ESPN are going to get involved. That and the fact that the Yankees also seem to lose to the Red Sox in the first half of the season before pounding on them in the second half. Nothing sends fans to the ledge quite like an early-season series loss to the Sawx.

April 23rd-25th @ Rangers
The Yankees will fly to Texas following the Sunday night game, and with any luck, we’ll get a look at Yu Darvish during these three games. Hopefully it’s not a long look, maybe an inning or two before the bullpen has to get involved, but the odds are in favor of him starting one of those games. Neftali Feliz too, I hope to see him in his new starting role. Imagine if we get a CC Sabathia-Darvish and/or a Michael Pineda-Neftali matchup? Oh boy.

April 27th-29th vs. Tigers
A day off follows the three games in Texas, then the Yankees will come back home for quick little six-game homestand. First they’ll look to exact some revenge for last year’s ALDS loss to the Tigers, but Detroit is going to bring new addition Prince Fielder to town. He and Miguel Cabrera will invoke memories of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez circa 2004-2007, so just be thankful they’re in another division.

The Yankees wrap up their April schedule with a home series against the Orioles that carries over into May, then they’ll fade into the monotony and grind of the regular season. They’re going to see the three biggest contracts handed out this winter during the first month of 2012, assuming they catch a Darvish start. It’s a tough schedule for the Yankees, but as a baseball fan, it will be fun to see all those players with their new teams.

Mailbag: Brown and Heyward

(Brown via Getty; Heyward via AP)

Poindexter asks: Cashman is looking for a young controlled bat via trade. Do we have the pieces to land Domonic Brown or Jason Heyward?

As they look to replace Jesus Montero‘s since traded bat, Brian Cashman said one of the options they’re exploring is a trade for a young bat using one of their young pitchers. Dealing A.J. Burnett for a DH-type or salary relief so they could sign a free agent is another option, but I think we can all agree that that’s a long shot. No one seems to want Burnett. Using the excess pitching to land a bat makes sense, and both Brown and Heyward are qualified targets.

The Yankees just used their top trade chip, so the farm system did take a significant hit. I do believe they still have the pieces to land a young hitter of that caliber, but they won’t come cheap. As we just saw with Montero, a highly touted young hitter will cost a ton in a trade. Brown’s and Heyward’s stock might be down at the moment, but I don’t think that means their clubs are ready to pull the plug yet. They’ll ask for a massive return and rightfully so. If the Yankees want to package Phil Hughes and Manny Banuelos and more, they can do that. But I don’t think it’s realistic.

I love the idea of trading for a young bat, even if it costs Banuelos and then some. The Yankees have a clear need for a young hitter — preferably an outfielder — and a surplus of pitching at the Triple-A level. Using the position of depth to shore up the position of weakness is like, Sports GM 101. The problem is that there aren’t many of these hitters available, at least not at this point of the offseason, when Spring Training is right around the corner and every team thinks they’re ready to contend. I expect the Yankees to sign a free agent DH for peanuts a few days before the start of camp, and that will be that. Also, I’m starting to think your name really isn’t Poindexter. *shifty eyes*

Open Thread: MLB Network on Posada’s Career

I’ve been on a Jorge Posada kick lately because of his retirement, which is why I’m posting this MLB Network video looking back at his career. This Clubhouse Confidential clip about his Hall of Fame chances is worth the watch as well. I was expecting, and really hoping Posada would retire this winter because we knew the Yankees weren’t going to bring him back and I honestly didn’t want to see him wear another team’s uniform, but it’ll still take some getting used to when he’s not around next year. Kinda sucks.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, but all the hockey locals will be off until next week for the All-Star break. Talk about anything you like here (but politics, that gets messy), go nuts.

It’s official: Andruw’s back for another year

The Yankees announced that they’ve officially re-signed Andruw Jones to a one-year contract, meaning he passed his physical. He did have his knee scoped after the season, so the check-up was slightly more than routine. Back in December we heard that it was going to a one-year, $2M pact, and the AP has a breakdown of the plate appearance-based incentives. The 40-man roster is now full, so someone will have to get the boot when the Hiroki Kuroda signing becomes official. I ran down the list of candidates a few weeks ago. Welcome back, Mr. Jones.

Report: Yoenis Cespedes is now a free agent

Via Ben Badler, MLB has informed teams that 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is now a free agent. He recently established residency in the Dominican Republic, which was step one of the process. By now you’ve seen the Michael Bay-esque promotional video (both of them), though I still prefer 19-year-old Jorge Soler at the point, based on the little bit we know. Cespedes went 5-for-35 with no walks and ten strikeouts in winter ball, which isn’t all that surprising given his long layoff. He did hit a homer though, which you can see right here.

Hughes gives the Yanks the most options

In the finale of his fifth starter series, Mike listed a number of good reasons why Phil Hughes should start the season in the rotation. He probably has a stronger case than both A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia if we consider only the role of fifth starter. This competition, though, is about more than just a single role on the starting staff. It’s about maximizing resources. The Yankees have three pitchers capable of handling that role. Their task is to figure out how to use all three to realize peak value.

In terms of flexibility, Hughes offers the Yankees more than both Garcia and Burnett. He has roughly 10 times the number of innings in relief than Garcia and Burnett combined, and he has fared extremely well in that role. Through 56.1 innings across 49 appearances, Hughes has produced the following numbers:

ERA: 1.44
H/9: 5.43
HR/9: 0.32
BB/9: 2.72
K/9: 11.2
K/BB: 4.12

Even if we regressed these numbers a bit, since Hughes hasn’t pitched the equivalent of a full season in the bullpen, he’d still come out looking like a setup man at worst. While he might produce the most overall value in a starting role, the Yankees as a team might better deploy their resources, at least in terms of 2012, by using Hughes in the bullpen and one of Burnett and Garcia as the fifth starter. Combined with Hughes’s spotty track record as a starter and the Yankees’ depth in terms of back of the rotation pitchers, they could certainly choose to move Hughes now.

Hughes could also provide value to the Yankees via trade. Considering his age and salary, they could certainly get more in return for Hughes than they could for Burnett or Garcia. If they’re looking for a player they could use as the primary DH in 2012, and perhaps as an outfielder or DH in the future, they could use Hughes as trade bait.

The issue here is that Hughes is at the nadir of his value. In the early years he retained top prospect status, even though his performance disappointed. Even after 2010, despite his rough finish, he had more value than he does now. While the Yankees might be able to obtain a worthwhile player in exchange for Hughes, it’s still not good business to sell low on a relatively young player.

Looking around the league, though, there don’t seem to be many players available who 1) could help the Yankees’ current situation, and 2) cost little more than Hughes and a mid-level prospect. Teams do place their own values on players, so perhaps there is a match somewhere out there. But taking what we know, any match appears rough. Perhaps a reclamation project could make sense, but it’s hard to see the Yankees getting a legitimate bat in exchange for Hughes by himself.

While Hughes does present a solid case to take over the fifth starter job, the Yankees as a team might benefit more by using him in another role. He has a far better bullpen track record than Burnett and Garcia, and has more value to other teams in a trade. This could lead the Yankees to use him in one of those two capacities, while trotting out Burnett or Garcia every five days. It might not be an ideal situation, but it’s the one they have right now. As we’ve said since the Pineda trade and the Kuroda signing, it’s the best of problems to have.