Yankees agree to extension with CC Sabathia

CC Sabathia stayed true to his word. After three years of professing his love for New York and the Yankees, the big lefty did not trigger the opt-out clause in his contract prior to tonight’s midnight deadline. As he says in the video above (via Zoodig), he and the team have agreed to a new contract extension that will almost assuredly keep him in pinstripes for the remainder of his career.

Now, for the gory details as reported by Buster Olney, Ken Rosenthal, and Joel Sherman. Essentially, it’s a five-year deal worth $122M guaranteed plus a sixth year vesting option worth $25M. That option depends on the health of his left shoulder. If Sabathia a) finishes the 2016 season on the DL with a shoulder injury, b) spends 45 days on the DL with a shoulder injury in 2016, or c) has to make six relief appearances in 2016 due to a shoulder problem, the option will not vest and he will instead receive a $5M buyout. There is no protection against elbow problems, and as far as we know, there are no provisions about his weight. At the end of the day, the Yankees added one year and $30M guaranteed to the four years and $92M still left on his original contract.

The team’s original offer, which we’ve know about for a while, was a five-year package worth $120.5M guaranteed according to Sherman, or half-a-mil more than Cliff Lee got from the Phillies. The Yankees increased their offer today to keep Sabathia from opting out and hitting the open market. The new deal ensures that CC is the highest paid pitcher in the game in terms of average annual value ($24.4M) and total package (the original $161M contract). We don’t know what other teams would have gotten involved in the bidding had he hit free agency, but I think it was in the Yankees’ best interests to avoid that scenario. Sabathia comes out looking like the good guy as well.

With that taken care of, the team can move forward with its offseason business. The rotation still needs help even with Sabathia back on board, but at least now the Yankees know they will have their ace left-hander ready to take the ball on Opening Day. Welcome back CC, I’m glad you never left.

Open Thread: Halloween

Joe's brother dressed up as the Red Sox Collapse for Halloween.

You know what the most underrated, and possibly best part of Halloween is? Going out tomorrow and buying about ten bags of leftover Halloween candy for like, three bucks at Rite Aid. Just can’t beat it, great way to stock up on junk food for the winter.

Anywho, here is your open thread for tonight. The Monday Night Football game is the Chargers at the Chiefs (8:30pm ET on ESPN), and the Rangers are the only local hockey team in action. They’re at home against the Sharks, and I know we have a few Sharks fans lurking in the comments. Anything goes, enjoy.

Discussion Question: If you had to trade one or the other, who would it be, Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances?

Sabathia, Soriano rank as Type-A free agents, Garcia a Type-B

Via MLBTR, the official Elias free agent rankings for the 2011-2012 offseason have been released. CC Sabathia, who is expected to opt out of his contract before tonight’s midnight deadline, is a Type-A free agent and the highest ranked player this winter. Rafael Soriano, who is not expected to opt out, also qualifies as a Type-A. Freddy Garcia is a middle-of-the-pack Type-B. None of the team’s other free agents (Jorge Posada, Bartolo Colon, Luis Ayala, etc.) qualifies as a Type-A or B.

If offered arbitration and he signs with another team, the Yankees will get that team’s first rounder and a supplemental first rounder (pulled out of the air) for Sabathia. Garcia will bring back just the supplement first rounder, and Soriano is a non-issue. The deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their free agents is midnight ET on November 23rd. The Yankees will surely offer Sabathia arbitration and I think they should offer it to Garcia. Anyway, the full list of Type-A’s and B’s is available on our 2012 Draft Order Tracker.

Mailbag: Sizing up off-season trades

Nick writes: So I know as Yankees fans (and just fans in general) that we over value our prospects/players. Everyone wants a top flight Ace, or a “#2″ starter but they don’t want to give up Montero and Banuelos (for the most part anyway). What type of pitchers are available for a package that could include some of the following prospects: Dellin Betances, Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, Adam Warren, David Phelps, George Kontos. Also, the Mets were somehow able to get a top prospect for Beltran for a half year. What kind of haul could Swisher bring back on the pitching prospect side? Maybe one of the Braves young starters? Not saying that should happen, just curious of his value for a full year.

Nick’s question raises a number of issues I’d like to address regarding off-season expectations. He’s clearly right. As fans we tend to overvalue the players in the Yankees’ system while underestimating other teams’ needs. Even if we take a step back and try to look at the situation from a different vantage point, we often misunderstand what teams seek in trades. It all leads back to the RAB off-season mantra: your trade proposal sucks.

Thankfully, Nick’s question stops short of a trade proposal. Here’s a breakdown of a few choice parts and what they mean for the Yankees’ off-season.

What type of pitchers are available for a package that could include some of the following prospects: Dellin Betances, Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, Adam Warren, David Phelps, George Kontos.

This question brings one issue to mind. Rarely, if ever, will you see a quantity trade. That is, the more players you add to a hypothetical trade package, the less likely it is to become reality. If a team does desire to trade a No. 1 or 2 starter, they’re going to value quality over quantity. More players in a trade package typically means less high-end value.

Guys such as Phelps and Kontos are afterthoughts in any significant deal. They might go in a package for a pitcher, but they’re not going to play a big part in said package. Even a guy like Sanchez won’t headline any deal. Maybe the Yankees can entice a team by packaging Betances, a high-end and near major league ready arm, with Sanchez, a far away but promising prospect. But there is no chance that they package, say, Sanchez as the headliner in a deal along with Phelps and Kontos. They’re just not going to get much back for that, because the only high-end player in the deal is at least three years away from the majors.

Any trade for a useful pitcher will have to include either Montero, Banuelos, or Betances as the headliner. A few of those other guys might be included, but they’re not the indispensable parts. Without a high-end prospect that is near or at the major league level, teams simply will not part with their top talent. Maybe that changes if the Yankees are looking at a player in a contract year, such as John Danks. But even then it’s hard to see a deal getting done without Betances at least.

Also, the Mets were somehow able to get a top prospect for Beltran for a half year. What kind of haul could Swisher bring back on the pitching prospect side?

The Mets found themselves in a unique position this season. They had one of the best outfielders in the league and had no use for him themselves. They also had a number of teams that could have used the upgrade. But most importantly they had the Giants, a team that was in a rough spot. They were clinging to a three-game lead in the NL West, with Arizona nipping at their heels. Their offense was horribly underpowered, to historic proportions. They absolutely needed Beltran, and so they gave up a valuable pitching prospect for him.

It’s a bit different in the off-season. Teams can take their times constructing rosters. They can also look at a slightly less productive, but much cheaper, option to start the season and then see what develops. In addition, there are a number of free agent outfielders who can fill spots for just money (and perhaps a draft pick). Why trade a pitching prospect for Swisher when you can sign Carlos Beltran, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Josh Willingham, Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwick, or David DeJesus? Some of them might not be quite as good as Swish, but they also won’t cost a prospect.

That is to say, Swisher’s trade value isn’t that great. Mike made this point pretty clearly in his post about picking up Swisher’s option.

Maybe one of the Braves young starters?

This just brings up a quick note. The Braves traded Derek Lowe today. That doesn’t hurt their rotation much, but the move does make them more reliant on young starters. They’ll likely opt to retain their depth and focus on other areas. I’d be shocked if Atlanta moved any other starters this off-season.

To put it another way: if the Royals are looking to add starters rather than trade some of their young prospects, you can bet that most teams won’t be willing to trade young starters. In fact, as we’ve seen lately, far more teams are promoting and extending their young pitchers. The free agency game just isn’t attractive, and it appears that both players and teams are starting to recognize this.

We can expect the Yankees to remain active this off-season, looking under every rock for a deal that will improve the team for 2012. That might be a trade or an undervalued free agent, but whatever the case we can expect plenty of rumors from the hot stove. What we can’t expect is the Yankees to acquire something for nothing. Furthermore, we can’t expect the Yankees to acquire rare resources that other teams control and covet — especially if they’re only willing to part with fairly common prospects. That is, you’re either going to see the Yankees make a big splash with one or two enormous moves, or you’re going to see them operate as they did last off-season, taking advantage of their pro scouting department to find a few underrated players. Either way, it will make for great winter entertainment.

What Went Wrong: Rafael Soriano

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Having a budget surplus is a good thing, except when some of the higher-ups have an itchy trigger finger. After losing out on Cliff Lee and pretty much all significant free agents last winter, the Yankees took an unnecessary plunge into the open market. On January 13th, they agreed to sign former Rays closer Rafael Soriano to a three-year contract worth $35M (surrendering their first round pick to Tampa in the process), and as an added bonus, he was given the ability to opt-out of the contract after each of the first two seasons. The deal was ownership-driven, specifically by Randy Levine.

Soriano was coming off two straight dominant seasons (2.66 FIP in 138 IP), but he had never stayed healthy for three consecutive years in his career. The plan was to make him Mariano Rivera‘s well-paid setup man (the contract is the sixth largest ever given to a reliever in terms of average annual value), forcing David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain into the sixth and seventh innings, moves that were somehow going to make the rotation stronger. The bullpen had been improved, but at an unfavorable cost.

The new setup guy went through Spring Training without a hitch, which is good news. Soriano opened the season with a 1-2-3 inning against the Tigers on Opening Day, but little did we know that it would be nearly four month before he had another clean inning. He pitched again in the team’s fourth game of the season, shrugging off concerns about a lack of velocity. The entered the game with a four-run lead the next day, but allowed the Twins to tie it thanks to three walks and a hit in two-thirds of an inning. Soriano did not speak to reporters after the game, compounding the problem. After hearing from team officials and agent Scott Boras, he apologized the next day.

Soriano went through April by putting men on base and occasionally allowing runs, finishing the month with more walks (eight) than strikeouts (seven) and a 7.15 ERA in 11.1 IP. After allowing just a dozen earned runs for the Rays in 2010, he had already allowed nine in his first month as a Yankee. He also missed a few games with a sore back. Soriano opened May with three straight scoreless outings, but ten days into the month he had to go for a precautionary MRI on his balky right elbow.

The MRI showed nothing more than inflammation, and two days later he was back on the mound. After walking two in a scoreless inning against the Red Sox, Soriano was again shelved due to the elbow, and this time he was expected to miss a week. A bullpen session had to be cut short a few days later, forcing the Yankees to put their setup guy on the DL on May 17th. Another throwing session had to be cut short a week later, and this time it prompted a visit to Dr. James Andrews. Andrews diagnosed the injury as an inflamed elbow ligament, the same one he’d replaced in Soriano’s elbow via Tommy John surgery in 2004. He was expected to miss at least six weeks.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Soriano’s rehab went fine, right on schedule, and he faced hitters for the first time on July 13th. He started a minor league rehab assignment on July 18th, then was officially activated off the disabled list on July 29th. During his absence, a span of 67 team games, Joba went down with an elbow injury of his own while Robertson emerged as a dominant, All-Star caliber setup man, the kind of pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting with Soriano.

After a few appearances to get back into the swing of things, Soriano took over seventh inning duties while Robertson continued to pitch the eighth. He retired the first 15 men he faced after coming off the DL, then finished the season on a nice little roll with just two notable hiccups: an extra-innings three run homer to Coco Crisp on August 24th, and another three-run homer to Matt Joyce to turn a one-run lead into a two-run deficit on September 27th, his final appearance of the regular season. He allowed just one baserunner in 4.1 IP during the ALDS, but unfortunately that one baserunner was a go-ahead solo homer to Delmon Young in the seventh inning of Game Three.

All told, Soriano threw 39.1 IP during his first season as a Yankee, pitching to a 4.12 ERA and a 3.97 FIP. For comparison’s sake, scrap heap pick-up Cory Wade threw 39.2 IP with a 2.04 ERA and a 3.76 FIP for the Yankees in 2011. Soriano’s strikeout rate (8.24 K/9) was identical to what he did in Tampa last season, but his walk (4.12 BB/9) and homerun (0.92 HR/9) rates were considerably worse, nearly double his 2010 rates. His calling card of being unable to stay healthy for three consecutive season remained intact as well.

Soriano will not be exercising his opt-out clause before tonight’s midnight deadline, meaning he will return to the Yankees bullpen in 2012. He figures to again handle the seventh inning since Robertson is entrenched in the eighth, making him an $11M middle reliever. That’s $11M the Yankees could have put towards starting pitching this winter. The bullpen is better with him, there’s no doubt about it, but staying on the field has been a struggle for Soriano throughout his career, and 2011 was no different.

Can Phil Hughes be saved?

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Last week at TYA I wrote about the plight of Phil Hughes, recapping the right-hander’s many ups and downs (though mostly downs) since debuting in the Major Leagues on April 26, 2007. I’d hazard a guess that many in Yankeeland have just about reached their limit with Hughes, and it seems the general consensus is that the Yankees would be lucky if their formerly prized righty developed into a reliable number three starter. I don’t necessarily disagree, although that’s a pretty big fall from grace for a pitcher who was near-universally regarded as a future number-one starter (if you’re in the mood to weep, have a look at our own Mike Axisa’s prospect profile of Hughes in the pre-RAB days), as he rocketed his way through the Yankees’ minor league system.

Given that last week’s piece was primarily prose-driven and fairly unencumbered by statistics, I wanted to take a deeper dive into the numbers to see whether there was anything noteworthy that might signal that perhaps Hughes hasn’t reached his peak yet.

For the purposes of this post, I’ve divided Hughes’ career into 11 segments dating back to the beginning of the 2008 season (I’d have gone further, except ’08 is the first season we have PITCHf/x data for): (1) his messy April 2008 as a starter; (2) his brief reappearance in September of that season; (3) his stint as a starter in 2009; (4) his stint as a reliever in 2009; (5) his stint as a reliever in the 2009 postseason; (6) the first 12 starts of his dominant first half in 2010; (7) his considerably uglier second-half of 2010; (8) his three starts in the 2010 postseason; (9) his three terrible starts at the beginning of 2011; (10) his improved second-half as a starter in 2011; and (11) his final four appearances of 2011 as a reliever.

I’m also taking a look at the three main pitches Hughes has thrown the most over his career: the four-seamer, curveball and cutter. Though Hughes has offered a changeup periodically throughout the years, it’s never been a successful pitch by any metric. PITCHf/x also has Hughes as having thrown a number of sliders in 2008 and 2009, although the Yankees rather famously asked Hughes to scrap his slider (ready for more weeping? Per the aforelinked Axisa piece, “Hughes’ slider reportedly puts his other pitches to shame; it’s a power pitch that breaks hard and late and induces plenty of swings and misses, however the Yankees made Hughes keep it in his pocket in an attempt to develop his other pitches”), and while he’s shown flashes of some sort of slider here and there — this 2008 piece from The Hardball Times refers to it as more of a “slurve,” while it most recently turned up again this past spring, as something of a cutter-slider hybrid — there’s not enough of a sample to do any meaningful analysis.

A handful of two-seamers also showed up during my research, though I’m not sure it’s accurate to say “Phil Hughes has a two-seamer,” given that people with far more advanced understanding of PITCHf/x than I have noted that technically there doesn’t appear to be a tremendous difference between his four- and two-seam fastballs, not to mention the fact that if he does have one, he hasn’t thrown it with any consistency since last season (according to PITCHf/x he only threw one two-seamer this year).

Additionally, given what we know about the limitations of PITCHf/x, there are likely some classification issues as it is, but I can only go on the data we have available to us.


The following table (all data in this post courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com) shows the evolution of Hughes’ four-seam fastball over the 11 delineated periods. The light blue highlights denote Hughes’ relief stints, while the yellow highlights signal when Hughes was better than league average in a given category.

Hughes’ four-seamer has always been his best pitch, but as we saw back in April when the velocity’s not there he may as well be throwing batting practice. The most effective it’s ever been as a starter — and this is certainly open to debate — is during his lost second half of 2010. During that time his four-seamer was averaging 93mph, he recorded a career-high (as a starter) 9.6% Whiff%, got hitters to foul it off 25% of the time (down from 30% during his superior first half) and put it in play less than 18% of the time, marking the last time he was below league-average in the latter category as a starter.

Though he was still missing one mph off his heater in the second half of 2011, the pitch was actually still pretty good, netting a slightly above-average Whiff% and ultimately clocking in at a fairly robust 0.57 wFB/C, which would have made it one of the most effective in the AL had he enough innings to qualify.


The only breaking pitch presently in Hughes’ arsenal is his curveball, which again, at varying points in his career, was expected to be a major weapon. For even more weeping, here’s a Baseball America quote circa 2006 from a piece by our own Joe Pawlikowski written in August of last year (emphasis mine):

Hughes’ greatest accomplishment as a pro has been to forsake his slider in favor of a knockout curveball, which is more of a strikeout pitch and produces less stress on his arm. It’s a true power breaking ball that sits in the low 80s with 1-to-7 break. Club officials call it the best in the system because Hughes can throw it for quality strikes or bury it out of the zone, and because he uses the same arm slot and release point he uses for his fastball.”

Sob sob sob. I’m pretty sure none of those superlatives accurately describe Hughes’ present-day curveball.

Since becoming a full-time starter at the outset of the 2010 season, he’s never thrown it for strikes at above a league-average rate. Though this may partially be by design, it also hadn’t generated an above-average percentage of swings until this past season. It’s also never been an above-average swing-and-miss pitch for any significant stretch of time as a starting pitcher, which is a major problem when you’re a Major League pitcher in need of a good breaking ball.

That said, second-half-2011 Hughes did seem to show some promise with what appeared to be yet another variation on his curveball. The pitch still has a ways to go, but he appeared to be getting a good deal more comfortable in deploying the curve when getting ahead of hitters with two strikes.


And here’s a look at Hughes’ cutter:

Hughes didn’t start throwing the cutter until 2009 and had great success with it in relief that season. The pitched peaked for Hughes as a starter in 2010, and then seemingly out of nowhere the cutter became useless in 2011. This development may have been the most baffling of all for Hughes during this past season. While much of the cutter’s decline can likely be tied to his overall decrease in velocity, I’m not sure I’ve seen an explanation as to why he was able to regain roughly three of the missing four mph on his four-seamer, while only two of the missing four mph on his cutter came back. As such, Hughes was ostensibly a two-pitch pitcher during the second-half of 2011, although in one sense that makes his relative success — though Hughes posted a 4.55 ERA over 11 second-half starts, he actually pitched pretty well if you take away his two random disaster outings against Oakland, with an ERA of 3.13 over 54 2/3 innings — perhaps a bit more heartening.


Phil Hughes clearly still has plenty of work to do if he has any hopes of representing a top-of-the-rotation solution for the Yankees — or any team in MLB for that matter — although I do think some of the data we’ve looked at today provides a glimmer of hope. I’m definitely curious to see what a Phil Hughes who’s hopefully back at 92-93mph with his fastball can do with a still-developing-but-hopefully-finally-usable curveball, and the most important piece of the development puzzle for Hughes is that expectations have been lowered dramatically — think Ivan Nova heading into last season.

At this point no one’s expecting anything better than a #4, and probably more like a #5 starter-type performance out of Hughes, but I think he could surprise a lot of people next season. Another reason I’m somewhat bullish on Hughes for next year is that though his rate stats were basically uniformly down in 2011, if you look at the daily graphs his numbers were almost universally trending in the right direction across nearly all 10 categories following his return to the rotation in early July. It may not be much, but it’s a start.

The tools and ability are there, which should enable him to exceed even the lowest expectations, but it’ll require an enhanced focus, commitment to his craft and also a professional to help him harness his natural talent. I realize that all sounds like a bunch of intangible crap, particularly after spending an entire post focused on the numbers, but I can only encourage #65 to “throw harder” and “develop a non-fastball out pitch so that you don’t lead the world in foul balls,” so many times before I go hoarse. He knows he needs to do these things, and it’s incumbent upon him to effect the changes that can turn his career around. If I’m Phil Hughes I would not only be intent on completely rededicating myself this winter, but I’d also be banging down Larry Rothschild‘s door for as many one-on-one tutorials as possible, as 2012 may represent the last opportunity the soon-to-be 26-year-old will have to show he can hack it as a front-line starter in the Majors.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 31st, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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