Cashman On Development, KT, Montero, Misc.

"No Peter, I wouldn't agree that Darnell McDonald will be the AL MVP." (AP Photo/Bob Child)

Josh Norris sat down for a chat with Brian Cashman on Friday (part one, part two), getting the GM to spill the beans about a number of topics, including Jesus Montero, the draft, and a bunch of other stuff. Unfortunately he didn’t say anything controversial, so those of you who enjoy that sort of stuff are out of luck. Rather than give you just a link and telling you to check it out, I wanted to talk briefly about some of the stuff Cashman discussed. I block-quoted some of it and added my two cents below, but still, you should go check out the interview in its entirety. Josh did a great job as usual. On to the quotes…

We have been very aggressive in the draft and re-dedicated ourselves to tools, not necessarily to performance coming out of the amateur ranks.

I’m going to focus on the tools over performance part, because the Yankees have drafted quite a few guys with questionable college performances and turned them into quality prospects because they focused on the talent. David Phelps jumps to mind, he had a 4.65 ERA and a decidedly unsexy 7.26 K/9 in his final year at Notre Dame, but his minor league career features a 2.50 ERA (382.1 IP) and last year he struck out eight men per nine. David Adams hit just .286/.384/.411 in his draft year at Virginia, but as a pro he owns a .281/.370/.439 batting line with wood bats against much better competition. Andrew Brackman belongs in this conversation as well.

I guess the point here is that the development process is just as, if not more important than the talent acquisition process. You can spend all the money in the world and select Baseball America’s top ten draft prospects every year, but having the coaching staffs and personnel in the minors to help these kids realize their potential through instruction and training is absolutely crucial. At the professional level, pure talent will only take a player so far, they’ve got to put the work in and the team has the have the people in place to help made adjustments.

Kevin [Towers] and I are dear friends, but I only (got) Kevin involved because I knew he was going to be a GM someday somewhere else, but I wanted to get an outside perspective of our system. He’s a tremendous evaluator of talent, so Damon Oppenheimer used him for the draft. He went out there and saw the amateurs that were out there. He went through our farm system, and he was a guy I could lean on and ask for advice on a lot of different things. It was nice to have him for the short time we had him.

Until now, we had basically no idea what Towers did for the Yankees last summer aside from speculation about the Chad Huffman and Steve Garrison waiver claims. Cashman also said he had KT evaluate the team’s present minor league talent for an objective take on what they had, admitting that internal biases often come into play. I’m curious to know which (if any) drafted players came on Towers’ recommendation; he’s always been a polish and probability guy, but the Yankees went after upside and took a lot of risk this summer.

[The Russell Martin signing is] an indicator of who’s going to be the starting catcher. It’s going to be Russell Martin, period. Then after that, the back-up situation’s going to be open for discussion between Cervelli, Montero, Romine, we’ll see. Or all of them. … They all could split time and get a little education in the process.

Last week Cashman appeared to say that the starting catcher’s job would be an open competition, but that was a misquote. The competition is for the backup job, though I’m not sure how much of a competition it will really be. That’s not a knock on the process, it’s great to let the kids think they have a shot to earn a job in camp, but I believe Cervelli has a head start on the job simply because Montero and Romine need to play every day to continue their development.

Cashman also commented on Montero’s much maligned defense, saying “We believe he can catch, and we believe he can catch long-term.” That’s all well and good, but as Kevin Goldstein mentioned at Saturday’s BP/SABR event, the Yankees are the only ones that believe he’s a catcher. No one outside the organization believes that. Yes, some bias comes into play, but it’s basically the Yankees against the world. I think that as long as he can fake catcher as well as Posada did over the last few years, the Yankees will take it and wait to change Montero’s position until some yet to be determined point in the future. Or they could trade him for someone really, really good.

Open Thread: Today in weird contract clauses

I think that's Crawford's Obama pose. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

The Red Sox have apparently put a clause in Carl Crawford’s contract that prevents any team he’s traded to from turning around and trading him from the Yankees. I’m not sure how exactly this would be enforced; if the Sox eventually trade him to the Angels, and then the Angels want to deal him to the Yanks at some point in the future, what can Boston do? Take him back? I suppose they could bitch and moan to MLB and get Selig could step in, but if they’re so afraid of him playing for New York, why would they deal him if he’s healthy and productive? If they trade him because he stinks, you’d think they’d want him on the Yankees. Eh, whatever.

Anyways, here is the night’s open thread. The Pro Bowl is apparently still being played these days, and can be seen on FOX at 7pm ET. That means no Simpsons or Family Guy. Lame. The Knicks are also playing tonight, but that’s pretty much it. Go ahead and talk about anything your heart desires.

Yanks Looking to Fill DL Spot – Chavez Interested

"The bat is actually holding my arms up. Don't tell anyone." (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Yesterday, a name popped up in my feed that I hasn’t seen in a while: Eric Chavez. Apparently the man is out of rehab for the millionth time, is finally off the A’s payroll, and now he’s looking for a new team to help pay his medical bills. There were whispers that the Yanks might be interested in the guy, along with White Sox, Mariners and Blue Jays.

Chavez was drafted by the A’s in the first round in 1996 and destroyed his way through the minor leagues. He was a September call-up in 1998, and played his first full season only three years after being drafted. He signed away his arbitration years and stuck with the A’s longer than anyone not named Ricky Henderson with two different extensions: the first in the 2000 offseason, for four years and $11M, and the second in the 2004 offseason for six years and $66M. There was a seventh year club option, but Oakland declined, leaving him a free agent for this upcoming year.

For the Yankees, this is one big fat pass. No. Carry on. Nothing to see here. It’s not that Chavez isn’t a decent baseball player: he’s got some left-handed power and could be a good choice to hang out on the bench until we needed him. He hit 25 homers or more for five years straight and, at the height of his career, hit nearly 30 while taking a league-leading 95 walks. He also featured on that playoff-contending 2006 Oakland A’s team with Zito, Harden, Swisher, and Huston Street. He’s capable with the glove and plays third base. He’s certainly an upgrade to the Ramiuardo Penunez combination we play sometimes over there, so why not?

The problem is that Eric Chavez is made out of glass. It’s not the bulletproof glass they use in prison windows that never breaks, either. It’s the delicate, handblown glass that’s in those expensive little knick-knacks you put on your mantle and breathing on it wrong could shatter it into a million pieces. In the last three years, Chavez has been on the 60-day DL six times. He’s had two surgeries on his back, shoulder surgery, two bulging disks in his neck, and neurological pain in his elbow. The man is, for lack of a better description, a complete and total mess.The last time he showed up in 100 games was 2006. He hasn’t even been able to hit the 50 game mark in the past three years.

While it’s possible (if unlikely) that Chavez manages to stay healthy for a year, there’s absolutely no guarantee that he’d be able to recapture the power that would make him a decent bat off the bench. Even before his injuries, Chavez was losing grip on the power he needed to be effective. His OPS has been trending downward since 2004 even if you cut out the years he was too hurt to make an impact either way.

All in all, it’s a bad idea. While Chavez might have the potential to be a decent lefty pinch-hit bat, I don’t think he’d manage to stay healthy enough to be effective. Even if he does, it’s doubtful he’ll be able to wrap his hands around the power that made him good in his better seasons. He’s 33 years old right now and he’s not getting any younger. Maybe he’s someone to look into next season if everything goes right for him in 2011, but quite frankly our DL spot will probably be filled by Mark Prior, after being vacated by Nick Johnson (played in 24 games). The Blue Jays can have him. I hear they have good healthcare in Canada.

The Black Hole Yankees, Mel Hall, and Me

As most of you already know, Mel Hall was a loathsome human being, a gutless bully, and a rotten apple with a stunning dearth of decency.

But flashback to the late-80s, and Hall was one of my favorite Yankees. It’s not easy to admit this now, and I wince when I think that I spent several years of my boyhood admiring a disgraceful cancer of a person. He was part of the haphazard collection of futility masquerading as the New York Yankees on WPIX 11 Alive! At seven-thirty each night, I sat riveted as the buoyancy of Scooter Rizutto’s commentary was tested by a relentless parade of cast-offs, has-beens, and over-the-hill prima donnas. It was a franchise whose blueprint for success consisted of chasing after aging superstars and overpaying them through their decline – an M.O. that had already become a vintage George Steinbrenner trait. Now, the excesses and inanity of the past decade had finally culminated in a series of atrociously bad teams and Seinfeld’s most memorable Frank Costanza moment.

The Steinbrenner dogma permeated all levels of the ballclub. As blown-out 35-year-old hamstrings, groins, and rotator cuffs forced an urgency for new blood, the hapless reinforcements brought up from a ravaged farm system quickly revealed their futility. (Which is generally what 7th-rounders are generally expected to reveal.) But that was okay, because there was always another 30-something former All-Star on the horizon that some second-division team was trying to unload. Until this time, the Yankees teams of this 80s weren’t so much bad as they were poorly constructed: while top-heavy with fading sluggers like Jack Clark and Ken Phelps, the pitching staffs were mostly populated by soft-tossing journeymen and AAA cannon fodder.

And yet, Mel Hall’s 1989 acquisition for spare parts represented, at least to some degree, a break from convention at the time. Still only 29, Hall had moderate lefty power – never a detriment at Yankee Stadium. He also possessed versatility in that he could play both corner outfield positions and even centerfield in a pinch – though, by all available measures, horrendously.

Hall’s role, however, was ill defined from the start. With a Yankees outfield that was already set going into the ’89 campaign, he would initially serve as an expensive, defensively challenged bench player whose splits suggested that most halfway decent pitchers could more or less have their way with him, irrespective of their handed-ness. More ominously, over his previous two seasons, he had posted a combined 1.1 WAR, and he hadn’t seen the fun side of 100 OPS+ since Reaganomics.

But after seeing him play, I didn’t care about any of that. Hall had actually been on my radar since the previous season, when I watched him uncoil one of the coolest homerun strokes I’d ever seen off Yankees ace-by-default Rick Rhoden. And as I write this now, I can’t think of any bigger indictment of teenage judgment than my believing that launching a bomb off the shell of Rick Rhoden was impressive.

Being a Wiffle Ball connoisseur of idiosyncratic batting stances was probably what got me on the Mel Hall bandwagon to begin with. Hall straddled the batter’s box with a wide-open lefty gait, his back leg crouched at a 90 degree angle and his front foot yawning to the right, all the way on the opposite side of the box. It was an impossible stance, one that couldn’t possibly allow for enough torque or drive to generate any power, and I pictured an exasperated high school coach pleading with an insufferably stubborn teenage version of Hall to bag it altogether. So in my mind, it was also a defiant stance, making it all the more appealing.

Regardless, normal people couldn’t hit like this. I know. I tried. And when my Babe Ruth coach caught my awkward rendition of the cocky leftfielder in a live game, he informed me that a.) I needed to pull my head out of my ass, and that b.) I had enough trouble hitting like myself, much less a freaking Yankee. Tough love.

At that point, it wasn’t about imitating a cool stance anymore. It was about being a rebel by association (or so I thought), about channeling another person’s cool confidence to help alleviate my own gnawing feelings of athletic ineptitude and utter dorkiness.

A few days after my first failed attempt at mimicking the Yankees fourth outfielder, I summoned up the nerve to give it another go. It happened in the late innings of a thumping at the hands of Kiwanis Club, and I was mired in one of my 0-for-infinity slumps. There was literally nothing to lose.

I waited until halfway through the at-bat before dropping into the inimitable crouch. The second I descended, I knew I’d nailed it: The gait, the crouch, the “Bring the heat, meat” bat waggle – all perfect. The kid on the mound paused before going into his windup, glancing at me as if to say, “Mel Hall? Really?”

Really. But two pitches later, I was a strikeout victim slogging my way back to the dugout under the glare of my coach and the simmering contempt of my teammates. As I descended the dugout steps, I overheard a grown woman in the stands mutter, “He thinks he’s black.”

I didn’t know this, but my dad had seen everything from the stands. He’d left work early enough to catch the last few innings of the game and to give me a ride home. Afterwards, in the parking lot, he polished off a concession stand hot dog as I shoved my 10-speed into his trunk. He knew I was smack in my Mel Hall phase but couldn’t for the life of him understand why. Breaking the uncomfortable silence, he said, “Jim Rice is who you should be looking at: balanced stance; smooth, level swing; quiet bat.” He loved Jim Rice and the Red Sox, which made for a bumpy ride between us at times. He was also right, of course, but I’d be damned if I’d ever emulate a Red Sock, future Hall of Famer or not.

On the drive home my dad offered a more palatable solution: “What about Mattingly? Why not try to hit like him?”

It was a fair point. I did love Donnie Baseball, but so did everyone else. Mattingly was the Yankees. In contrast, Mel Hall was a placeholder on a downtrodden team, a semi-talented nobody. To my adolescent eyes, he was an outlaw, a mercenary, and a rogue hell bent on proving everyone wrong.

As we pulled up to my house, I grudgingly ended my seven-minute vow of silence. “Mel Hall’s cool,” I blurted. They were the most misguided words I’d ever spoken.

Reevaluating Johan Santana: part 2 of 2

This is part 2 of my attempt to reevaluate Johan Santana and his desirability as a trade target for the Yankees this summer. Yesterday we looked at the nature of Santana’s injury, and saw some speculation on when he might be back to full strength. I also noted that his decline in performance from his Minnesota years may obscure the fact that he’s still a very valuable pitcher, provided that he’s healthy. Today we’re going to examine Santana’s contract and try to handicap what a trade might look like.

The dollar bills

When the Mets acquired Santana from Twins in February of 2008, they immediately inked him to a long-term extension which replaced the final year of his contract. His new contract is a 6 year deal worth $137.5 million with a club option of $25M for 2014 ($5M buyout).The contract is backloaded, a present from Omar to Sandy, meaning that the annual salaries increase as the deal progresses. It’s often said that Santana has 4 years and $80 million left on his contract. It’s not so simple.

In 2011, Santana will make $22.5M. In 2012 his salary escalates to $24M and then to $25.5M in the final year of the deal in 2013. As mentioned, the team has a $25M club option ($5M buyout) for 2014. It’s worth noting that this club option transforms into a player option if Santana reaches certain milestones, which you can read about here. To my best understanding, Santana would have to win the Cy Young in 2012 or 2013, or finish second or third in Cy Young voting in both 2012 and 2013, or be on the active roster for the final 30 days of the 2013 season while pitching 215 innings in 2013 or a combined 420 innings between 2012 and 2013. Got that? Suffice it to say, if Santana earns his player option for 2014 it will mean that his 2012 and 2013 seasons were productive and valuable for his club. We will operate on the assumption that he does not earn his option though, since this would represent the more cautious scenario for the acquiring team.

Assuming the option is declined, this means that Santana is due $77M between now and the end of the contract. However, it’s extremely unlikely that Santana is dealt any time soon, meaning that by the time he goes on the trade market in July or August of 2011, roughly half of his 2011 salary should be paid out. The Mets don’t provide a convenient contract amortization schedule for us, so we’ll ballpark it and say that Santana will be due $10M in 2011 by the time he hits the market. This reduces the total contractual obligation of the acquiring team to $67M.

Again though, it’s not so simple. Santana’s contract defers $5M of the payout annually, a true Mets specialty (see: Bonilla, Bobby). Santana receives $5M of his annual salary seven years after the season in which the salary is earned at 1.25% compound interest. Say what you want about Omar Minaya, and you can say plenty, but getting a player to defer roughly a quarter of his annual salary for minimal interest is a nice touch. If we assume that the Mets defer $5M of the contract at the beginning of the year, this would reduce Santana’s 2011 salary to $17.5M, meaning that the total remaining obligation in 2011 by the time he’s dealt would be roughly $8M. In 2012 the total salary obligation would be $19M and $20.5M in 2013. Depending on how you slice it (and it’s unclear whether the team treats the deferred compensation as a future liability with no bearing on current cash flow or amortizes it over the course of the year in which the salary is earned, I’m guessing the former), the acquiring team would be on the hook for roughly $47.5M during the life of the contract and then $5M in both 2019 and 2020. The common refrain that  Santana is due $80M over 4 years is enough to make one blanch. However, when the club option and the deferred compensation are factored in, the total obligation is far more team-friendly.

The trade

It seems clear that the Mets won’t contend in 2011. The Braves and the Marlins have put together decent clubs, the Phillies are an evil four-headed monster, and the Nationals’ acquisition of Tom Gorzelanny essentially ensures them the divisional crown (I kid). The Mets’ focus ought to be on 2012 and beyond. They have a fair amount of money coming off the books after 2011 in Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Francisco Rodriguez, but one has to imagine they’ll at least attempt to keep Reyes long-term.

The Mets may be looking to cut payroll now not only in recognition that their contention window is at least 2012, but also because of the team’s rather precarious situation. Yesterday Joel Sherman reported that the Wilpons may be interested in selling a non-controlling stake in the team in order to raise money. As Sherman noted, the obvious implication is that the Madoff scandal has handicapped them in a far more significant manner than they’ve let on. Indeed, part of the reason for seeking a strategic partner is the lawsuit attempting to recover money from the Madoff scheme. There was speculation yesterday that the trustee for the Madoff victims could be seeking as much as one billion dollars from Fred Wilpon. Wilpon’s statement admitted that the team desired to raise cash in response to this:

“To address the air of uncertainty created by this lawsuit, and to provide additional assurance that the New York Mets will continue to have the necessary resources to fully compete and win, we are looking at a number of potential options including the addition of one or more strategic partners”.

As Craig Calcaterra noted, though, it may not be possible for the Wilpons to keep a controlling stake in the team:

Even if these numbers are not accurate, however, the key point is clear: the Wilpons’ current financial situation is going to be directly impacted by how much the government is seeking in its clawback lawsuit. If it’s anything close to figure Hubbuch is reporting, they will have to sell way more than a minority share in the Mets.  Indeed, they’ll likely have to sell the whole team.

Bringing it back to Santana, it may be the case that the Mets could seek to unload his expensive contract in 2011, both as a way of shoring up their annual cash flow and for preparation for 2012 and 2013. If so, the trade of Roy Oswalt from the Astros to the Phillies last summer may serve as a model. Last July the the Phillies sent J.A. Happ and two prospects to the Astros in exchange for Oswalt. Oswalt had $23M left on his contract and the Astros agreed to pick up nearly half of it, $11M. Oswalt did not demand that the Phillies pick up his 2012 option for $16M; instead, if either Oswalt or the Phillies decline his 2012 option, he will receive $2M.

The Mets could consider something similar, picking up some of Santana’s salary and receiving prospects from the acquiring team in return. If the Mets were unable or unwilling to pay Santana’s salary then the cost in prospects would certainly be less. Obviously there are a lot of moving parts, but the primary concern is Santana’s health. If he doesn’t return to full strength then this is all moot. If he does, though, then it wouldn’t be completely surprising to see them try to unload his contract late this summer. Should the Yankees kick the tires and consider Santana again? Would the Mets be willing to do an Oswalt-like deal for him? Just when you thought you were out, just when you thought the Yankees’ saga with Santana was finally over..they pull you back in.

Open Thread: Fernando Seguignol

(AP Photo/Kyodo)

It probably sounds a little obscure, but 18 years ago today the Yankees signed a then 18-year-old Fernando Seguignol as an amateur free agent out of Panama. He was a big guy, checking in at 6-foot-5 and just 180 lbs. when he signed, but his stint with the organization lasted just a little over two years. With his career batting line sitting at .262/.313/.386  in 118 rookie level games, the Yankees traded Seguignol to the Expos straight up for a 28-year-old flamethrowing reliever named John Wetteland. Montreal’s financial situation certainly helped. Wetteland always walked the tight rope but was highly effective during his two years in pinstripes, winning World Series MVP honors in 1996. Seguignol had an uneventful Major League career, which ended with eight plate appearances for the Yankees in 2003. He retired in 2009 after spending a few productive seasons in Japan.

The signing is nothing more than a blip on the transactions radar, but it ended up having a significant impact in Yankee history, indirectly anyway. I wrote about the trade in-depth last spring, so check it out for a nice nostalgic moment. Otherwise, here is your open thread for the evening. The NHL Skills Competition is on Versus starting at 7pm, plus the Nets are in Milwaukee to face the Bucks. Talk about anything you want, enjoy.

Can Ivan Nova Be a Viable Fourth Starter?

My liking for Ivan Nova goes far beyond the rational. If this were 1988, I’d have his Donruss rookie card in a plastic sleeve, his customizable name-and-number T-shirt crammed inside my dresser, and his Sports Illustrated poster hanging on my wall, right beside a dog-eared mosaic of 80’s pseudo-stars like Xavier McDaniel, Yannick Noah, and Tim Witherspoon. (Like a bad hedge fund manager, I had a childhood propensity for balancing my irrational fondness for mediocrities such as Pearl Washington with obscurities like Jo Jo Townsell.)

For better or worse, most Yankees fans have a segment of their DNA strand dedicated to an appetite for shiny, pretty things that go really, really fast. It’s a big reason why the Yankee blogosphere exploded with jubilation when Joba Chamberlain burst on

"Ivan, I have your rookie card!" (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

the scene in 2007 with a 100 MPH heater and a 12.8 K/9, only to have a collective meltdown when he “lost” his fastball as a starter in ‘09. It’s also why Ian Kennedy, his 89 MPH two-seamer, and his smirky smarminess were derided and dismissed more than they should have been.

For me, Ivan Nova and his mid-90s fastball feeds this innate desire nicely. That he’s homegrown and under-hyped only adds to the appeal. Plus, with his 6’4” power pitcher’s frame, the guy looks like a workhorse – something the Yankees desperately need going forward. (Granted, when it comes to pitchers, body type is often overrated: In their primes, Mike Mussina and Pedro Martinez looked more like skinny jeans hipsters from a Belle and Sebastian concert than top-of-the-rotation big league stalwarts.)

As I anxiously await the availability of the first wave of Ivan Nova bobbleheads and replica home jerseys to stream across the Atlantic, the only thing I currently possess that signifies my disproportional faith in him as a successful big league starter is faith itself. Getting others to believe is a different story. Since he’s never been an elite prospect, actual first-party scouting reports on Nova are scarce; those that do exist, project his ceiling as a fourth or fifth starter. Moreover, despite an overall solid rookie stint in the Bronx last summer, most trusted statistical projections systems despise Nova and all he stands for. CAIRO, for example, predicts a 2011 ERA of 5.24, a FIP of 5.03 and what essentially amounts to a replacement-level WAR (0.3) – on top of a diminished ground ball percentage (46.7). Which means that Ivan Nova is slated to get an A+ in terrible.

Such ominous forecasting would normally tripwire my denial alarms and prompt a full-scale treatise on irrationally pervasive Yankee hate. But CAIRO also predicts only 83 innings from the big righty, which perhaps indicates their presumption of a mid-season rotation acquisition more so than a Nova collapse. With that said, a 0.3 WAR? Even if he’s bad, he almost certainly won’t be Jeff Suppan bad.

Still, the more rational side of me understands the Nova pessimism. Touting a litany of eye-popping minor league and small-sample big league stats would be tough going at this point: Without question, some of Nova’s peripherals reveal trends that could be reason for concern. But here I go anyway.

First, the bad.

Nova’s career minor league WHIP of 1.370, for example, is downright frightening. Farnsworth frightening. Except that the Kyle has “proven” that he can “pitch” to a 1.389 WHIP through 11 seasons at the big league level, whereas Nova was losing the plate against the likes of Gus Milner and Tuffy Gosewisch.

Not that walking everyone in the park as a rangy 21-year-old is the end of the world. Many tall, young power pitchers in-the-making struggle with both their control and command early on. And while some of Nova’s minor league peripherals don’t exactly scream Baseball America cover model, they’re actually pretty solid – especially if we account for a learning curve leading up to his 2010 season at Scranton. For example, while Nova still gave up too many hits at SWB in 2010 (8.4 H/9), his 0.6 HR/9 through 145 IP placed him seventh among pitchers with more than 100 IP. He also significantly improved upon his control there, pitching to a 1.262 WHIP.

Most of these trends carried over into Nova’s abbreviated 2010 stint in the Bronx. While his hits-per-innings increased only slightly, both his WHIP and K/9 suffered considerably. Obviously, a hit in performance can be expected when jumping from AAA to the majors. But could it also be that a significant portion of the drop-off was due to fatigue? Consider that, when totaling his minor and major league innings, Nova pitched 27 innings beyond his previous high in 2010. Acknowledging that many of his big league innings were thrown in the high-leverage heat of an AL East pennant race, and we have to allow for the possibility that fatigue was a very real factor in contributing to his late-season lag. In fact, in his last four major league starts of 2010, he totaled only 17.1 innings with 9 Ks and 13 earned runs. Contrast that with his previous four outings, in which the big righty totaled 21.2 innings with 16 Ks and 8 earned runs. Small samples, for sure – but something to consider.

So what does this mean for the 2011 rotation and Ivan Nova’s career as a starter going forward? For one thing, most signs indicate that he’s not headed for greatness. But as a fourth starter, he doesn’t need to be. In fact, earlier this week, Paul Swyden over at Fangraphs cogently illustrated how Ivan Nova could actually prove to be an upgrade over past Yankees fifth starter immortals like Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner. Not only do I agree with Swyden’s thesis, but when compared to fourth starters on some other contending AL clubs, Nova can more than hold his own. Consider the following number fours from the past five World Series champions:

Jonathan Sanchez’s unforeseen emergence notwithstanding, these are not seasons for the ages. As you can see, all Nova has to be in 2011 is slightly better than bad. So the question isn’t whether or not he can develop into Chien-Ming Wang, circa 2006, but if someone with Nova’s talent and skill set can hold his own as a fourth starter on a championship-caliber ballclub. If I had one, I’d bet my bobblehead on it.