Pro-scouting meetings begin in the Bronx

(AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)

The Cardinals and Rangers will kick off the 2011 World Series on Wednesday night, but the Yankees will have already started planning out their offseason by then. The team’s annual pro-scouting meetings began at the home base in the Bronx on Monday, after Billy Eppler’s scouting department was given a week off following the club’s elimination from the ALDS. Advance scouting in the playoffs can be pretty intense, I imagine.

Brian Cashman spoke to Chad Jennings about the meetings on Monday afternoon, but he didn’t say much of anything. Typical Cashman-speak. “We assess ourselves,” said the GM when asked about what happens this week. “We assess our system. We assess the market that’s available to us. It’s all of it.” Despite reports of an imminent meeting with Hal Steinbrenner, Cashman said talks about a new contract might happen in the near future and might not be anything more than a phone call. As we’ve heard a number of times already, the two sides are expected to reach a deal without much of a problem.

There was a “no comment” on CC Sabathia and the status of his opt-out clause, and any talks about the futures of Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, and Freddy Garcia have yet to take place. Obviously Bartolo Colon and Luis Ayala will come up at some point as well, but I’m pretty sure a decision has already been made about the future of Jorge Posada. At least on the team’s end of things.

The offseason started a little earlier than we all would have liked this fall, but that’s going to happen most years. The baseball season is a year-round thing these days, and the Yankees have already starting preparations for the upcoming offseason. The World Series will end in about ten days, maybe less, and Sabathia’s opt-out decision will come no more than three days after that. The hot stove’s coming in a hurry, folks.

Mustelier makes a brief return in the AzFL

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (8-7 loss to Salt River) Saturday’s game
Rob Segedin, LF: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI – up to .324/.425/.441, but it’s an extreme offensive environment
Chase Whitley, RHP: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 HBP, 2-0 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) – 14 of 23 pitches were strikes (60.9%)
Preston Claiborne, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 3-0 GB/FB – half of his 24 pitches were strikes … three walks and two strikeouts in four innings

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (7-4 win over Scottsdale) Monday’s game … remember, they don’t play on Sundays
Ronnie Mustelier, 3B: 0 for 3, 2 K – first appearance since leaving a game with an apparent injury twelve days ago … he played five innings before being lifted, possibly by design
Corban Joseph, 2B: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 E (missed catch) – that’s his second homer in eight games out here after hitting just five in 131 games with Double-A Trenton

Open Thread: No Baseball

Jerry Jr. had a sad last night. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Man, nothing sucks more than a night without baseball. Game Seven of the NLCS was supposed to be played tonight, but the Cardinals had to go and ruin it by clinching the pennant yesterday. Now we’ve got no baseball for not one, but two days, a harsh little reminder of what lies ahead starting in about ten days. Oh baseball, don’t leave me.

Here is your open thread for the night. The Jets and Dolphins are the Monday Night Football Game (8:30pm ET on ESPN), and that’s pretty much it for local sports. Sigh. Talk about whatever you want here, anything goes.

Baseball America’s Draft Report Card

Baseball America posted some Draft Report Cards today (subs. req’d), including the Yankees. It’s not a report card in the sense that they hand out grades, instead they run through different categories like Best Pure Hitter (Dante Bichette Jr.), Best Fastball (Zach Arneson and Phil Wetherell), and Best Late-Round Pick (Dan Camarena).

Mark Montgomery, this year’s 11th rounder, is said to have the Best Secondary Pitch, “a slider that grades as major league plus already.” A college reliever from Longwood University in Virginia, Montgomery struck out 51 of the 124 batters he faced in his pro debut this summer (41.1%, a 16.2 K/9), and even whiffed five in one inning at one point. The Yankees have done a really nice job of turning double-digit picks into bullpen fodder in recent years, and Montgomery looks to be the next in line. He needs to jump to Double-A relatively soon though, you’re not going to learn anything about him against Single-A kids with that slider.

The CC Sabathia – Cliff Lee Connection

In 2011 the Yankees were supposed to have a dual-lefty tandem of CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee heading the rotation. Throughout the winter the Yankees were thought to be the frontrunners for Lee’s services, with Texas looming at all stages. No team topped the Yankees’ final seven-year offer. And yet Lee ended up signing with Philadelphia and leaving the Yankees with some big rotation questions both in 2011 and beyond. Reader Mike I. recently emailed to raise the issue:

Is right for me to assume that the CC contract issue could be completely different if the Yankees had signed Cliff Lee?

It is very right to assume that the Yankees would approach the Sabathia negotiations from a different angle if they already had a lefty ace on staff for the forseeable future. In fact, I’d go so far as to wonder whether the Yankees, at least in part, pursued Lee last winter so that they would have a bit more comfort in the 2011-2012 off-season following Sabathia’s inevitable opt-out. With Lee on staff the Yankees wouldn’t have such a glaring need atop the rotation and could back off if the bidding for Sabathia exceeded a certain level. Without Lee they might not have this luxury.

That’s not to say that the Yankees would have been better off in that situation. There’s a real argument that having Sabathia around, even if he gets a new six- or seven-year deal, is preferable to Lee. Even if we set our arbitrary start point to 2008 — the year that Lee broke out and won the AL Cy Young Award, and the year after Sabathia won the same award — Sabathia and Lee are similar pitchers. Lee has a slight advantage in ERA and a slightly larger one in FIP, while their xFIPs match up closely. Sabathia has thrown more innings, which helps close the gap. But even then we’re ignoring a significant portion of both careers.

Not only has Sabathia been more durable since 2008, but he’s been more durable throughout his career. He hasn’t missed any time, ever, with an arm injury, and hasn’t spent time on the DL since 2004. Sabathia also has a much longer track record of success. He broke into the bigs in 2001 at age 20 and has been at least serviceable in every year of his career. He hasn’t produced an ERA north of 4.12 since 2002, and hasn’t broken the 3.40 barrier since 2005 — that is, in terms of ERA and FIP, 2009 was his worst season in the last six years. This track record seems to make Sabathia a better long-term bet than Lee, even if Lee has caught up to Sabathia in terms of production. Even still, Sabathia is younger than Lee.

Yes, the situation this winter would have looked quite a bit different had the Yankees acquired Lee. At the same time, I’m not sure it’s a better situation. The Yankees had a seven-year offer out to Lee last December. At this point I’d rather have CC for the next seven years than Lee for the next six. So if the Yankees would have been more apt to walk away from Sabathia if they had signed Lee, then I’m of the opinion that missing Lee might be best in the long term.

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Joel Sherman raised a similar Sabathia-Lee connection in his blog this morning. This is his second of two points he expects the Sabathia camp to make in negotiations:

The Yankees offered Cliff Lee seven years at $146 million last year after he had turned 32 and done nothing yet for the Yankees. Sabathia again is 31 and has done plenty for the Yankees, and why should he accept an offer that is one penny less than seven years at $146 million?

While the offer to Lee has some significance, it doesn’t really make a difference once Sabathia hits the open market. At that point his contract is not necessarily subject to past offers, but is subject to what the market will bear. Why should he accept an offer that is one penny less than 7/146? Because the market might not produce a contract at that level. This is one reason I think the Yankees land Sabathia at somewhere around the 5/125 contract that Lee got last winter. There just doesn’t seem to be a better offer awaiting him.

Crazy Trade Idea: Swisher for Marcum

(Matt Slocum-Pool/Getty Images)

I don’t do this often, because drumming up trade proposals is the safest way to look like an idiot on the baseball blogosphere. Usually I just come up with a possible trade target, state his qualifications, list what some similar players brought back in a trade, and leave it at that. I’m going to do something different this time, only because this deal seemed not completely insane when it came to me: Nick Swisher for Shaun Marcum.

Hear me out, I think it makes some sense for both clubs. I mentioned last week that one way or the other, the Yankees should pick up Swisher’s option, even if they want to get rid of him. It’s a below-market salary and it makes him a trade commodity, so that’s the route they’d have to go to pull off this swap with the Brewers. Now let’s dig into the details…

Their contracts are close to a wash.

Both Marcum and Swisher will be free agents after the 2012 season, and both comfortably project to be Type-A free agents at the moment. Swisher will be owed $10.25M once his option is picked up, and MLBTR’s projections have Marcum at $6.8M his final time through arbitration. They do note that peers like Matt Garza, John Danks, and Jeremy Guthrie could lift that salary a little higher (perhaps into the $8M range), but even if they don’t, a $3.45M gap isn’t huge. I’d have to think the two sides could work that out.

Their performances are close to a wash.

Despite a sluggish finish (more on that in a bit), Marcum had a very strong year for the Brewers. He pitched to a 3.54 ERA (3.73 FIP) in 200.2 IP, his first time over the 200 IP plateau. That performance is pretty damn close to what he did for the Blue Jays in 2010 (3.64 ERA and 3.74 FIP in 195.1 IP), his first year back from Tommy John surgery. Over his last three years (that’s 2008 plus 2010-2011 because of the elbow injury), Marcum has been worth 10.0 bWAR, a bit below Swisher’s 11.4 bWAR during his three years in pinstripes. Perhaps the salary difference offsets the production difference.

Each team would be filling a need.

The Yankees need starting pitching, obviously. The free agent market is uninspiring beyond C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, the latter of whom isn’t even a free agent (technically). Marcum brings four-plus years worth of AL East experience as well as less risk because he won’t require a long-term contract. The Brewers will lose Prince Fielder to free agency barring some unforeseen miracle, and Swisher can step right in at first base and replace some of what they’re losing in the middle of the order.

Each team would be dealing from a position of depth.

The Brewers are set to bring all five starters back next year, including swingman extraordinaire Marco Estrada (8.55 K/9 and 3.67 FIP this year). They will also have top-ish prospects Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta stashed away in Triple-A in case of emergency. If the Yankees have anything to spare, it’s offense. They’d still boast one of the game’s best lineups without Swisher.

* * *

Ultimately, I would say no to this trade if I was the Yankees, though I think it would be a lot easier for them to replace Swisher’s production this winter than find a pitcher of Marcum’s caliber. That doesn’t mean they should run out and sign Carlos Beltran for multiple years, but they could dig up a productive right fielder. Hell, I bet a platoon of Chris Dickerson and Andruw Jones would be worth about three wins, and if not, it’s easier to find a corner outfield bat than a starting pitcher at the trade deadline.

I do worry about how Marcum finished the season (35 runs in 34 IP across four regular season starts and three playoff starts), mostly because something might be wrong physically. He had the elbow surgery two years ago and dealt with a hip flexor strain this summer. Then again, he could have just hit a wall after going from 15.2 IP in 2009 (all minor league rehab) to 195.1 IP in 2010 following the elbow surgery. Marcum also has little room for error as a soft-tossing (fastball has averaged ~87 mph last five years) fastball-changeup specialist, especially one that gives up a lot of fly balls (39.2% grounders in his career) and doesn’t miss a ton of bats (7.3 K/9 since 2008).

As Joe reminded us three offseasons ago, our trade proposals suck. I fully acknowledge that my trade proposal is dumb and extremely unlikely to happen, but I do think it’s slightly less dumb than most of the proposals you’ll find out there. There is reason for each team to explore a Swisher-for-Marcum swap, but at the end of the day, the Yankees would assuming too much risk while giving away too much certainty.

What Went As Expected: Robinson Cano

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

After spending the first four-plus years of his career as a strong complementary player, Robinson Cano turned into a legitimate star in 2010. The Yankees installed him as their fifth place hitter and watched him respond with an MVP-caliber campaign. At 27 years old, Cano was just entering his prime and figured to be a mainstay in the heart of the order for years to come. He did nothing to change that outlook in 2011. Let’s review his season by dividing it into three unequal parts.

The Hot Start

Much like last season, Robinson came out of the gate like a madman, hitting four doubles and two homers in the first nine games of the new year. More doubles and homers followed over the next few weeks, and Cano ended the month of April with eight homers and a .320/.340/.639 batting line. His plate discipline had taken a step back, but it was still early in the season and there wasn’t enough of a sample to worry just yet.

The Slump

After hitting two homers against the Blue Jays on April 29th, Cano fell into a deep and somewhat prolonged slump. He had just two singles in his next four games, and just seven hits (one triple, one homer) in the nine games that followed that. His strikeout rate started the climb a bit, but the most noticeable difference between the slumping Cano and the hitter we saw in 2010 was the utter lack of discipline. Robbie was chasing pitches in the dirt, pitches over his head, and generally just swinging at everything. There were times he would just give away at-bats by chasing pitcher’s pitches early in the count.

Following that two homer game against the Jays, Robbie hit just .241/.301/.398 in his next 146 plate appearances, dragging his season line down to a still solid but very un-Cano-like .273/.314/.502. He drew just seven unintentional walks in his first 249 plate appearances of the season, a ghastly 2.8% walk rate. If it wasn’t for six hit-by-pitches, Robbie’s OBP would have been a much more unsightly .289. Thankfully, the slump came to an end in early-June.

The Crazy Finish

Cano woke up with a three-hit game against the Indians on June 10th. They were three singles, but it was just his second three-hit game and eighth multi-hit game since mid-April. Robinson had multiple hits in seven of his next eleven games, including three doubles and two homers. He just didn’t stop hitting after that; putting up a .319/.370/.551 batting line in his final 432 plate appearances of the season, a performance that looks a whole lot like the .319/.381/.534 he hit during his breakout 2010. With 20 unintentional walks, Cano beefed up his walk rate to 4.7% down the stretch. Still subpar, but at least it was in line with his career average (4.6%).

One year after being installed as the five-hole hitter, Joe Girardi moved Robinson up to the third spot in the order just before the season ended. Cano carried that stellar finish into the postseason, whacking two homers (including a grand slam) and two doubles in the five games against the Tigers. He reached base a total of nine times in the series (once on an intentional walk), and drove in nine of the team’s 28 runs.

* * *

For the second straight year, Cano was the Yankees’ best middle of the lineup force. His 81 extra-base hits (46 doubles, seven triples, 28 homers) where the second most in the game (two behind Jacoby Ellsbury) and the second most by a middle infielder in franchise history (Alfonso Soriano had 92 in 2002). Although his .375 wOBA was down a bit from last year (.389), it was still the second best among second baseman (Dustin Pedroia was just ahead of him at .377) and his third straight year over .370.

At 4.6 bWAR and 5.6 fWAR, it was the third straight year and fourth time in five years that Cano ranked among the league’s elite at his position. Unlike 2010 though, Robinson’s 2011 production was no surprise. We expected him to be this great.