Past Trade Review: Denny Neagle

On the heels of two consecutive World Championships and three in four years, the 2000 Yankees limped into July with a pedestrian 39-36 record that had them three games back of the Blue Jays. The team was in clear need of another bat and another starting pitcher, and Brian Cashman addressed the first issue when he acquired David Justice from the Indians in late-June. Just about three weeks before the trade deadline, Cashman addressed the need for a starting pitcher, shipping four prospects to the Reds for left-hander Denny Neagle and minor league outfielder Mike Frank.

“We like these [prospects], but we’ve made the decision to go for it,” said Brian Cashman shortly after the trade. “Denny Neagle is the guy we wanted. We feel he was the best pitcher available on the market. He has postseason experience. He’s healthy. He’s been successful. And a left-hander at Yankee Stadium—all those attributes played a part in it.”

The Yankees had first hand knowledge of Neagle; he threw six innings against them for the Braves in the 1996 World Series. Those were just two of his ten career postseason appearances (up to that point), which featured a 3.09 ERA with a .249 wOBA against in 35 innings. Before the trade he’d pitched to a 3.52 ERA (4.65 FIP) in 18 starts with the Reds, and from 1995 through 1999 he owned a 3.46 ERA (3.97 FIP) in just about 1,000 innings. There were obvious reasons to expect Neagle to be successful for the Yankees, and at the outset he was.

In his first start for New York, Neagle tossed eight innings of one run ball against the Phillies and then followed that up with complete game, one run effort against the then-Devil Rays. His next two outings were good but not great (7 IP, 4 R against both the Twins and Royals), but it all started to go downhill from there. The Mariners hung seven runs on Neagle in 5.2 innings next time out, capped off by a Carlos Guillen grand slam in the sixth. Five days later he gave up six runs to the Angels, recording just five outs. Neagle received a brief reprieve after shutting out the Angels for 6.2 innings in his next start, but he went on to allow 36 runs and ten homers in his final eight starts of the season, covering 45.2 innings. His season ERA had risen from 3.52 with the Reds to 4.52 overall.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Neagle was on the team’s ALDS roster but did not pitch in the series. Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte both pitched on three days rest as the Yanks topped the A’s in five games. Those two starts, plus the need for third starter Orlando Hernandez to pitch in relief during Game Five, forced Joe Torre to start Neagle in Game One of the ALCS. He performed pretty well, holding the Mariners to two runs in 5.2 innings, but the Yankees didn’t bother to score and lost by the score of (yep) 2-0. Neagle then started Game Five with the Yanks leading the series three games to one, surrendering one run in 4.1 innings before Jeff Nelson relieved him and allowed a pair of inherited runners to score (and then some).

The Yankees eventually won the ALCS in six, advancing to the Subway Series. Pettitte, Clemens, and El Duque got the ball in Games One, Two, and Three, handing a two games to one series lead off the Neagle for Game Four. On another short leash, he held the Mets to two runs in 4.2 innings, but the Yankee bullpen made an early 3-2 lead stand up. The Yanks eventually won the series as you know, and Neagle was allowed to leave as a free agent after the season, signing that five-year, $51M contract with the Rockies. With the draft picks they received as compensation, the Yanks selected Bronson Sardinha and Jason Arnold.

All told, the Yanks received 91.1 innings out of Neagle, who pitched to a 5.81 ERA (5.23 FIP). His first playoff start was good but the other two were no better than acceptable, and all together Neagle was worth just 0.2 bWAR in pinstripes. The Yankees also assumed the $2.55MM left on his contract, a pittance by today’s salary standards. Mike Frank, the other player they received in the trade, never reached the big leagues with the Yankees, hitting .249/.329/.393 in 572 plate appearances with Triple-A Columbus in 2000 and 2001. He signed with the Cardinals as a minor league free agent after that, and has been out of baseball since 2002.

As for Cincinnati, they received a hodgepodge of four highly regarded prospects in the transaction. The headliner was 1998 third round pick Drew Henson, who had been rated the 24th best prospect in the game by Baseball America before the season. He played just 16 games in the Reds’ farm system that season, going 11-for-64 with eight doubles, a homer, four walks and 25 strikeouts. Cincy then traded him back to the Yankees (with outfielder Michael Coleman) after the season for another top prospect, outfielder Wily Mo Pena.

Left-hander Ed Yarnall was the second key piece for the Reds. Baseball America ranked him the 55th best prospect in the game before the 2000 season, and of course the Yankees originally acquired him in the ill-fated Mike Lowell trade. Yarnall had appeared in seven total games with the Yanks in 1999 and 2000, though he predictably struggled (14 K, 13 BB in 20 IP). Cincinnati never received even that much production out of him at the big league level; Yarnell made 11 starts for the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate after the trade (3.86 ERA) before bolting for Japan after the season. He returned to the U.S. in 2003, but not with the Reds and never to reach the majors again.

The third top prospect that headed to Cincinnati was outfielder Jackson Melian, who Baseball America ranked the 72nd best prospect in the game before the season. The then 20-year-old hit .236/.309/.398 in a year-and-a-half with Cincy’s various minor league affiliates, eventually getting plucked off waivers by the Brewers before the 2002 season. Melian never reached the big leagues, though he bounced around in the minors (including a second stint with the Yankees) through 2008.

Brian Reith. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

The fourth player was not a top 100 prospect, just a Single-A right-hander named Brian Reith. He was the only player Cincinnati received in the trade that actually managed to play for them at the big league level, throwing 127.2 innings (5.92 ERA) spread out from 2001 through 2004 before being claimed off waivers from the Phillies. His Reds career was worth -1.4 bWAR.

Neagle has long been considered a bust in pinstripes, but the Yankees got far more out of him than the Reds got out of the players they received. Other than the payroll savings and the secondary deal for Pena, Cincinnati received almost no return for two-plus months of their best starting pitcher. Neagle pitched poorly in New York, but he helped the team win a World Championship, which is exactly why they brought him in. It’s certainly not a clear win, but I’d rather have been on the Yankees end of the deal.

Mailbag: Koji Uehara, Bad Contracts

Hopefully everyone still has a belly full of turkey and a fridge full of leftovers. Let’s work off the Thanksgiving hangover with a mailbag. Just two questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to send in any questions via the Submit A Tip box in sidebar, otherwise let’s get to it…

Shaun asks: What are your thoughts on Koji Uehara as a relief option? He was pretty good in Baltimore last year in relief. According to MLBTR “but is coming off a season in which he posted a 2.86 ERA and a whopping 11.00 K/BB ratio in 43 relief appearances.” Or do you see him as a sleeper closer candidate for Tampa Bay so ARod can ruin his ninth innings?

I like Uehara and think there’s a good chance he’ll out-perform every free agent reliever not named Rafael Soriano or Mariano Rivera in 2011. He doesn’t walk anyone (just 1.30 BB/9 when you remove intentional walks) and misses a ton of bats (8.38 K/9 and 12.1% swings-and-misses) with his fastball-splitter combo, two traits you absolutely want in a late-game reliever. Uehara stepped in as the O’s closer late in the year, though Yankee fans surely remember two of his more memorable blow-ups (video and video).

There are two major drawbacks with Uehara, however. He’s an extreme fly ball guy, with a whopping 82.5% of the balls put him play off him over the last two years resulting in something other than a ground ball. It’s no surprise that he’s given up 12 homers in 110.2 MLB innings (0.98 HR/9). The other issue are the injuries. Uehara’s missed 212 of 364 total days over the last two seasons with everything from a chest contusion to a strained flexor tendon in his elbow to a hamstring strain. He’s not young (36 in April), so it’s not something we can simply brush under the run.

Uehara made $5M in each of the last two seasons, though he originally signed that contract as a starter. I’m not sure what kind of salary he’s looking for, but at his age and with his injury history, I can’t imagine any team will guarantee him more than one year. Regardless, I think that other clubs with more pressing needs in the back of the bullpen will pursue Uehara more aggressively, perhaps to be their closer. Because of that I don’t think the Yankees have much of a shot to sign him without overpaying, and given his extreme fly ball tendencies and medical history, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Tyler asks: At what point does a bad contract become worth it? Take for instance, AJ Burnett. Despite his ups and downs, he pitched brilliantly in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, and made his horrible 2010 season a little easier to accept. Without him, it’s doubtful the Yankees win the 2009 Series. So is that one Championship worth an $80+M contract? Does he need to contribute to one more? Two more? Is his deal more valuable than Mike Mussina’s because it resulted in a Championship?

There’s two ways to answer this. The nerdy way would be to compare Burnett’s total WAR to what the league is paying per win and use that. Right now it’s about $4M per win, give or take, so A.J. would have needed to post a 4.0 WAR season (or thereabouts) to justify his salary. He didn’t, but that’s  just one-fifth of his contract, so there’s still a long way to go. His two seasons in New York have totaled $20.6M of production based on the data at FanGraphs, during which time he’s been paid $33M. Based on this method, he’s not “earning it.”

The other way to look at this is completely subjective; how much do you personally value that World Series title and how much do you feel Burnett contributed to it? Obviously they don’t win it without him, but is that championship in year one enough to justify a five-year deal? The Yankees and their fans aren’t exactly long-suffering, so the value of a World Series victory to them isn’t as great as it is to say, the Indians or Brewers or Rays. Do I think that last season justifies his contract? I don’t, but you might feel differently.

Really, it’s all about expectations. The Yankees expect a certain level of production out of every player they employ (fans have their own set of expectations, which are quite often unrealistic), and whether or not he reaches that level of performance is what justifies the cost. I suspect the Yanks were counting on getting one very good year, two good years, one bad year, and one year lost to injury/replacement level production out of A.J. when they gave him that contract. He’s already gotten the bad year and one of the good years out of the way, and the odds are against him providing that very good year based on his age and recent performance.

Mussina’s situation is different because he was fantastic with the Yankees, it’s not like he failed to perform and needed a World Series win to make his resume respectable. No one should be complaining about what Moose did in pinstripes, he was worth every penny of  both contracts no matter how you look at it (FanGraphs values his Yankee career at $106.4M without counting his great 2001 season, and he was paid just over $109M during that time). With Burnett, we’re just in wait-and-see mode. Some might feel that the World Series win makes his contract worth it automatically, others not so much. It’s all about preference.

Explaining the Yankees behavior towards Jeter

When the Yankees started talking about the Jeter negotiations to the media, we knew something was afoot. Why would they go out of their way to make their position clear? Why would they strongarm a player who has helped define the franchise? While most fans didn’t appear to have a problem with the Yankees offering Jeter three years at $45 million, they did have a problem with the way the Yankees conducted themselves. In today’s Daily News, Bill Madden gives us the answer.

But sources close to the Jeter/Close camp have said their starting point was six years, $150 million and that they aren’t budging on $25 million per year

The Yankees, I’m sure, would have preferred to reveal Jeter’s position and leave it at that. Few, if any, fans would side with Jeter at that point. But the two sides have an agreement to not reveal the other’s position to the media. That’s actually what makes this leak so odd. If the Yankees broke their word and leaked it, why would they have started the war of words earlier this week? With Jeter’s position known, words are unnecessary. It is self-evidently ridiculous.

On the other side, why would Jeter’s camp ever let a figure like that reach the media? It obviously will not help them garner any further support. The general tenor among fans seems to be that 3/45 is fair, but that the Yankees shouldn’t spend so much time telling the world how fair it is. How does anyone close to Jeter think that leaking a six-year, $150 million demand will make anyone see their side? It only makes the 3/45 offer appear more fair. And it also, in a way, justifies the Yankees media barrage. I, too, would lash out if my negotiating tactics were termed “baffling” when my offer was fair and the player’s was the height of absurdity.

But before we get into a tizzy over this, there are two things to remember. First, these might not actually be Jeter’s demands. “Sources close to the Jeter/Close camp,” is ambiguous as it gets — maybe a step better than “someone familiar with their thinking.” This might be a misrepresentation for all we know. Second, this is just Jeter’s opening position, just as 3/45 is the Yankees opening position. Of course, if Jeter really won’t budge on $25 million per season he might end up sitting out 2011. Or else playing for $8 million elsewhere. Because the Yankees aren’t going near that figure.

We’ve been hit by a wave of Jeter news and speculation lately, to the point where most of us probably don’t want to hear it any more. We might be in luck. With the two sides so far apart and with the Yankees having a number of other items on the off-season agenda, I imagine that we’ll see the Yankees taking care of those more reasonable priorities. This isn’t to say that they’ll break off negotiations, but rather that there’s no sense in talking until Jeter realizes that he’s not getting anything near $25 million per season. After all this, silence might be the Yankees’ best weapon.

Update by Mike (11:05am ET): Newsday’s Jim Baumbach hears from a “person familiar” with the negotiations that Jeter is asking for less than above six-year, $150M deal rumored above.

For Derek and Mo, it’s a matter of leverage

Two Yankee greats approaching the latter years of their careers are free agents this year, and the Yankees would love to keep them around. Both of them want to be rewarded for their contributions to a rich and storied franchise. Mariano Rivera wants two years at $18 million per while Derek Jeter wants a negotiation that isn’t “baffling” and something more than three years at $15 million per. One of these future Hall of Famers have leverage; the other does not.

Jeter, as we’ve explored lately, is the one without the leverage. The Yankees, wary of his age and declining numbers, have offered him a three-year, $45-million contract, and although he wants more, he has no bargaining chips. The Mets, a potential landing spot with Jose Reyes seemingly on the block, are not interested, and George A. King III reported yesterday that few other teams are either.

According to King’s sources, Jeter isn’t drawing any other interest at his asking price. Most GMs recognize that Jeter wants to stay a Yankee and that the Yankees want Jeter to stay, and thus, no one is going to get into the bargains only with the intention of driving up Jeter’s price. “What he needs to happen, and it won’t, is for Boston to get in it to amp up the price,” one of King’s sources said. “But that’s not going to happen because he is an icon. And if they did that, Theo and Cashman would go to blows. There is nobody to drive the price up.”

While one of King’s AL sources says that the Orioles, Nationals, Cardinals or Giants “might” interest in Jeter, Derek’s return to New York is a matter of “when” and not “if.” Jeter and the Yanks will have to work this one out between themselves without the threat of another team. That is not what the Yanks are facing with Rivera.

So far, all we know about the Rivera negotiations are his demands. He wants two years at $18 million per, a figure that would make him the fifth — or sixth, once Cliff Lee signs — highest paid pitcher in baseball. That total would represent a raise of $3 million over his 2010 salary and would set the market for closers going forward. The Yankees have yet to respond to Rivera’s demands, but as Mark Feinsand reported yesterday, Mo would have suitors lining up for him if he can’t reach a deal with the Yankees.

“Jeter may not have many teams looking to pay him millions, but Rivera certainly will,” one of Feinsand’s sources said. “He’s still one of the best – if not the best – closers in the game.”

Unlike Jeter, Mariano’s numbers haven’t shown an obvious decline. His strike out totals dipped by nearly 3 Ks per 9 IP in 2010, but he notched 33 saves with a 1.80 ERA. He has been very public in his desires to reach 600 saves and could do so as a Yankee or not. With Rafael Soriano the only other big-name closer out there, teams looking for relief options would flock to Rivera.

And so the Yankees are in a bind. They don’t want to spend more than they have to on either player. If Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners had their druthers, Jeter would sign the deal offered to him and Rivera would take a one- or two-year contract at $15 million a year. But leverage is a tricky thing, and somehow they have to come to terms with one player who has it and one who doesn’t. A funny thing might happen on the way to Opening Day: Because of leverage, Mariano Rivera just might end up making more than Derek Jeter next year.

Thanksgiving Open Thread

Charlie Brown had a 13.7 WARC in 2010 (wins above replacement cartoon).

Bumped back up top (7:00pm ET): Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers out there. If you’re not from the United States, then I suggest eating a huge turkey dinner anyway. I have a lot to be thankful for, but I’m not going to bore you with the details. More than anything, I’m thankful for all of you wonderful people that make RAB so great and for being a Yankee fan. When the biggest problem your team has is that they only want to pay their franchise player $15M a year rather than $20M, you have it pretty good.

Ben, Joe, and I will be doing the family and dinner thing today, so I leave you with this open thread. There’s a boatload of football games on, starting with Patriots-Lions (12:30pm CBS), then continuing with Saints-Cowboys (4:15pm, FOX), and wrapping up with the Bengals at the Jets (8:20, NFL Network). If you’re in the Tri-State Area, don’t worry if you don’t have the NFL Network, WPIX (channel 11, for me anyway) will also be carrying the game. Happy Turkey Day everyone.

From the archives: When Bernie Williams nearly left New York

Bernie goes boom against the Padres in the 1998 World Series. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

On this date in Yankee history in 1998, the Yankees signed Bernie Williams to a seven-year, $87.5-million. The deal was a surprise as it was the largest in Yankee history at the time, and it had appeared as though the team and Williams would head in different directions. The Yanks were on the verge of signing Albert Belle, and Williams was all but Boston-bound before he and the Boss had a conversation.

As a young fan, I idolized Bernie’s calm demeanor and steady play. I was crushed as the Yanks prepared to move forward without him, and I returned home from a pre-Thanksgiving party on the night of Wednesday, November 25, 1998 to a note from my parents. It simply said that the Yanks had signed Bernie. My disappointment quickly turned to elation, and Number 51 stayed in pinstripes for the rest of his career. What follows is a post I wrote in 2008 about the Bernie machinations. It all went down 12 years ago today…

October 12, 1999 — For the first time since Bucky Dent carved himself a place in playoff lore, the Yankees and Red Sox are gearing up to meet in the postseason. Boston is all abuzz as the AL East Champions are playing host to the Wild Card team and defending World Champions from New York. While the Yankees finished with 98 wins this season, the Red Sox’s 104 victories were tops in the Majors, and the Yanks will have to hope that their superior pitching can overcome a power-packed Boston lineup.

Ironic in this meeting is one center fielder for the Red Sox, the former Yankee Bernie Williams. Williams, after becoming a Yankee mainstay, left the Bronx after the Yankees’ 125-win season last year. While the Yankees were prepared to offer Williams a five-year, $60-million contract, the star and his agent Scott Boras rejected that deal. They knew they could get more elsewhere and were tired of playing games with George Steinbrenner.

So now Williams will face off against his old team in Fenway. The Yanks — with their tempestuous twosome of Paul O’Neill and Albert Belle — look strong, but can they overcome the Red Sox?

* * *

We know that didn’t happen. Bernie Williams wasn’t on the Red Sox in 1999, and the Yankees were the AL East champs again.

But it was close. For a while in 1998, it looked like Bernie was Boston-bound, and if he had landed in Fenway, it’s not hard to imagine the Sox taking the division. Williams was the top offensive center fielder in the AL in 1999. His VORP that year — a measure of how much better he was than the next best available option — was 79.9. Darren Lewis, the Red Sox’s starting center fielder, pulled down a -24.8 VORP. That swing of 100 would have theoretically netted the Sox 10 more wins and a spot atop the AL East. It’s funny how history turns out.

“Bernie on the Red Sox?” you might say with a chuckle. “That never would have happened, right?” While it can be tough to see through Scott Boras’ hyperbole and fake seven-year offers, by all accounts in November of 1998, Bernie Williams nearly ended up in Fenway.

Bernie’s tale begins in 1997 when the Yankees were trying to extend their center fielder. They offered him a five-year deal worth just south of $40 million. As you could guess, they were laughed out of the room, and for a while, it seemed as though their offer and past contract snubs were insulting enough to convince Williams to cease negotiations entirely. Money and loyalty are powerful motivators.

Throughout November, Scott Boras and the Yankees engaged in their usual dance as reports of other deals surfaced. At various times, the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rockies and Red Sox all expressed interest in Williams. But by the end, it became a battle between rivals. The Yankees and the Red Sox squared off with a big x-factor waiting in the wings.

To the dismay of Yankee fans, that x-factor was none other than hotheaded slugger Albert Belle. As the Yankees and Bernie looked to finalize their looming divorce, a new marriage between the Yankees and Belle was on the horizon. While the Yanks were initially interested in Jim Edmonds, those talks fizzled, and at 32 years old, Belle was one of the most sought-after free agents of 1998. The hip condition that would end his career two seasons later was nowhere to be found, and his numbers and temper were fearsome.

When Williams rejected that five-year, $60-million deal, the Yankees turned their attention to Belle. When I left my apartment on Wednesday night, November 25, 1998, to attend a friend’s Thanksgiving Eve party, I believed that Bernie Williams’ tenure in the Bronx was over. The Yanks and Bernie, as Buster Olney had reported that morning, were nearing a final separation, and Bernie was about to land in Boston.

The Yankees however had an out: Scott Boras offered them one last chance to match the Red Sox’s supposed seven-year, $90-million deal. Bernie, it seemed, wasn’t as keen to get out of New York as earlier reports indicated. When I got home late that night, my dad had left me a note on the door: Bernie Williams signs with the Yanks for seven years and $87.5 million, it said. I was ecstatic. Somehow, the Yankees and Bernie were able to overcome their differences, and Bernie would remain a Yankee.

In the end, it was always tough to tell if Bernie was actually going to leave. Three columnists in The TimesJack Curry, Harvey Araton and Buster Olney — all speculated that Boras used vague, half-serious offers to get the Yanks to ante up. By keeping the archrival Red Sox involved, Boras knew the Yanks would pay, and he won.

When the real 1999 ALCS dawned, the Yanks, led by Bernie, beat the Red Sox with their sad excuse for a center fielder. As we know, Bernie’s Yanks would go on to great success. While Bernie faded by the end of his career and had a tough time coming to grips with the end of his playing career, keeping Bernie out of Boston was a sage move indeed.

Quick Draft Order Tracker Update

Just a quick heads up, I have added all of the Type-A and B free agents that were offered arbitration (with Elias scores) to our 2011 Draft Order Tracker. It’s also been updated to reflect the now finalized Victor Martinez, Joaquin Benoit, and John Buck signings as well. There’s a total of 14 Type-A’s and 21 Type-B’s, so the supplemental first round could theoretically be 35 picks long. That won’t happen though, some guys will re-sign with their old club, some will accept arbitration, some might should retire (coughTrevorHoffmancough).

I did the math, and the absolute worst that the Javy Vazquez compensation pick can be is 57th overall. More than likely, it’ll be right around 50 somewhere, which isn’t bad at all. That pick is protected, so the Yankees keep it no matter how many free agents they sign.