Yanks give Angels okay to talk to Eppler, Oppenheimer about GM gig

Update (Oct. 12th): Via Joel Sherman, and Mark Feinsand, the Angels have asked for and received permission from the Yankees to interview Oppenheimer and pro scouting director Billy Eppler for their GM vacancy. That’s kind of a big deal, they haven’t let them interview for GM jobs before (that we know of).

Original Post (Oct. 11th): Via Jon Heyman, the Angels have Yankees amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer on a list of candidates for their vacant GM position. Tony Reagins stepped down as GM last month, surely shamed by the Vernon Wells trade. Kidding, just kidding. Or am I?

Anyway, this is not the first time Oppenheimer has been a candidate for a GM job. The Diamondbacks wanted to speak to him last offseason, but the Yankees denied them permission to do so, their contractual right. Oppenheimer is a Southern California guy and is widely considered to be one of the top GM prospects in the game, so we’ll have to see how this goes. With Brian Cashman set to ink a new deal soon, it seems more and more likely that Opp’s first GM gig will come away from the Bronx.

Tejeda among Baseball America’s just misses

Baseball America wrapped up their league top 20’s earlier this week, and today they posted a list of players that just missed those lists (subs. req’d). Catcher Isaias Tejeda just missed the Rookie Level GCL list, which was topped by Dante Bichette Jr. and Ravel Santana. “His tools have improved and he used a compact swing to bat .331/.404/.568 in 148 at-bats,” said the article. “[Tejeda] doesn’t chase many pitches out of the strike zone and works the gaps as a hitter. Behind the plate he blocks balls well and has good footwork, though his arm is just average.”

Three other Yankees farmhands were mentioned in the article: “Shortstop-turned-righthander Reynaldo Polanco has a promising fastball/curveball combination, outfielder Daniel Lopez has premium speed and second baseman Jose Rosario has a promising set of raw tools as well.” That GCL team was stacked this year, though it was a bit top heavy with position players.

DH should be far down the list of needs

In terms of position players, the Yankees appear set. Seven of their eight starters are essentially guaranteed to return. Only Nick Swisher remains a question, and it appears likely that the Yankees will exercise his 2012 option. That leaves only one hole in the every day lineup: DH. Yet the Yankees appear to be set here, too. That is, unless you’ve read some mainstream opinions on the matter.

Yesterday Joel Sherman tried to squeeze Carlos Beltran into the fray, opining that the Yankees could give him 50-60 games at DH. Today Ken Davidoff offered a slightly different suggestion, offering up David DeJesus as a more affordable option. Both writers peg their guy as a part-time DH and part-time corner outfielder. That would still leave room for Jesus Montero to get plenty of reps at DH, while working in as part-time catcher. I’m just not sure that signing a free agent who will spend 1/3 of the season at DH is such a hot idea, given the current roster construction.

Sherman presents the best case scenario for Montero: 80 games at catcher, 80 games at DH. That’s best case, because it 1) allows him to audition as the catcher of the future, and 2) keeps his bat in the lineup for the most possible games. Chances are, however, that Montero will catch far fewer games than that, leaving Russell Martin to handle the pitching staff. With fewer games behind the plate Montero will find more reps at DH. A more realistic scenario would have Montero behind the plate for 45 games while DHing in 105-110.

That’s where Alex Rodriguez comes into play. Joe Girardi said that they expect Rodriguez to be their third baseman, and if he remains healthy there’s no doubt he should take the majority of games out there. But keeping him healthy is certainly a priority. Giving him reps at DH could represent a means to that end. If Montero DHs in 110 games, A-Rod could then take 40, leaving him in the field for the rest. That would leave few DH reps for a potential free agent. Hence, the Yankees should look to reinforce their roster elsewhere.

A better solution, then, would be to seek a player in the mold of Eric Chavez: solid but flawed in a way that prevents him from starting full-time. They might actually have one currently on the roster in Eduardo Nunez. In fact, the Yankees have said that they want to work him out in the outfield corners to get him more playing time. If the Yankees truly do feel this strongly about Nunez’s future, then they really have no pressing needs on offense. They have the DH spot occupied between Montero and Rodriguez, and have Rodriguez’s defensive replacement ready in Nunez. If Nunez is the backup infielder and fourth outfielder, the Yankees can fill out the bench with guys such as Chris Dickerson. There’s no need to beef it up at that point.

Speculating about the DH, then, appears to be a fruitless exercise. In fact, speculating about the offense might prove fruitless. If the Yankees like Nunez as much as they let on, they have no need for any additions this off-season. Their entire offense is already on the 40-man roster. The only way this gets interesting is if the Yankees are putting up a front with Nunez in order to increase his trade value. In that case we could see the Yankees add to the bench. But given the current rhetoric and roster construction, it appears unlikely. We’ll be in for a pitching-heavy 2012 off-season.

Replacing CC in the aggregate

While he likely won’t do it during the final game of the World Series, CC Sabathia is sure to opt out of his contract with the Yankees. By now everyone knows the song and dance. The Yankees gave Sabathia the opt-out and so cannot take umbrage with his exercising it. They’ll clearly make an attempt to re-sign him, and the prevailing opinion is that they’ll succeed. All could be back to normal within a week or so of the World Series.

Still, no one guarantees Sabathia’s return. On the open market he might find a mind-blowing offer from a team on the brink of contention, such as the Nationals. If he does depart, it would leave the Yankees in a short-term bind at the very least. The pitching staff fared well this year, better than anyone expected, but Sabathia was the undisputed ace. Could the Yankees expect similar results next year, even with a lesser pitcher heading the rotation?

The scenario is reminiscent of a scene in Moneyball, both the book and the movie, in which Billy Beane and his staff pondered how to replace Jason Giambi. Beane’s solution was to forget about replacing Giambi with a comparable player. For starters, few existed. Even if one did exist, the A’s clearly could not afford him. Their solution: tally up the production of all their departing players and try to find their replacements in the aggregate. That is, find three players whose production equals the average of the three departing players.

The Yankees rotation features many departing players indeed. If Sabathia goes, they’ll be left with just A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes — though Hughes provides no guarantees at this point. They’d have to find two or three pitchers to replace the production of Sabathia, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon, which amounts to 548.1 innings at a 3.46 ERA and 3.51 FIP. That doesn’t exactly represent readily available talent. In fact, only 37 pitchers in all of baseball produced an ERA below 3.46, and only 34 produced a FIP below 3.51. And of those 34, only Sabathia and C.J. Wilson are free agents.

The lack of free agent pitching means the Yankees would have to acquire at least one starter, and perhaps two, via trade. With the scarcity of pitchers who produce at the required aggregate level, the Yankees would have to surrender quite a bit to acquire these arms. At that point they might want to just try their own internal arms, but are guys such as Hector Noesi and Adam Warren capable of producing all those innings at those impressive ERA and FIP levels? While it’s possible, it’s not something that a serious contender can count on. The Yankees simply have to do better.

This brings us all the way back to Sabathia. While the Yankees might have solutions in quantity, they simply cannot reproduce the quality that Sabathia has provided for the past three years. Even if they try to replace their three departing pitchers with internal and external options, it appears unlikely they can match that production in the aggregate. Sabathia is the one elite guy on the market, and the Yanekes have an advantage in pursuing him. Given that their most abundant resource is their capital, they should leverage it in order to bring back the one guy who will make life easier in 2012 and beyond. Otherwise they might find themselves scrambling to find suboptimal solutions to their pitching vacancies.

What Went Right: David Robertson

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/Paul Sancya)

When the season started, David Robertson was third on the Yankees set-up reliever depth chart. He pitched very well in 2010, his first full season as a big leaguer, and he came into this year the proud owner of a 11.3 K/9 and 4.1 uIBB/9 in 135.1 career innings. On most teams, that guy is working the eighth inning or maybe even closing. On the Yankees, Robertson was just the sixth inning guy/fireman because of big money signee Rafael Soriano and incumbent setup man Joba Chamberlain.

The 26-year-old right-hander’s month of April was more notable for how often he didn’t pitch rather than how often he did. Robertson seemed to warm up every single game, but would be left with nothing to show for it when the starter got through the sixth inning and Joe Girardi went to his late-inning formula. He appeared in half of the team’s first 20 games, striking out ten in 8.1 IP. When Soriano went down with an elbow issue in mid-May, Robertson took over seventh inning duties. When Joba went down with an elbow issue of his own in early-June, he took over the eighth inning.

At the time of Joba’s injury, Robertson owned a shiny 1.16 ERA in 23.1 IP, but his underlying performance told a different story. He’d struck out 38 batters in those innings, but also walked 18. Those kinds of control problems can be scary late in the game, but it was like someone flipped a switch after the responsibility increase. After walking 18 in his first 23.1 IP (6.9 BB/9), Robertson walked just eight in his next 26.1 IP (2.7 BB/9). His strikeout rate remained sky high, and opposing batters were unable to top a .500 OPS off him. When Soriano returned from the disabled list in late-July, Robertson kept the eight inning job and forced the $35M man into the seventh inning.

All told, Robertson struck out 100 batters on the nose this season, becoming just the third full-time reliever in Yankees history with a triple-digit strikeout total. Mariano Rivera did it in 1996, and Goose Gossage did it three times. Robertson did it in at least 30 fewer innings than those guys, though. Only one batter managed to take him deep in 2011, J.J. Hardy of the Orioles on August 29th. That was also the only run he gave up on the road this season. Robertson’s 1.08 ERA was the second lowest among relievers with at least 60 IP, his 1.84 FIP third lowest this year and 11th lowest in a single season since 2000. We’re talking 2003 Eric Gagne, 2006 J.J. Putz territory.

In a season in which the Yankees got just 68 total innings out of their Opening Day eighth and ninth inning relievers, it was Robertson who emerged and did more than just fill in capably. He excelled and developed into one of the very best relievers in the game, a strikeout fiend with a knack for pitching out of jams. The “heir to Mo” talks are premature, but just the fact that the thought has crossed people’s minds is a positive sign. Robertson went from a nice complementary piece to a core Yankee in just six months, and he’ll be counted on for much more next season.

The Great What If: Miggy the Yankee

Four years ago this month, Alex Rodriguez opted out of the final three years of his contract, and at the time Brian Cashman was adamant the Yankees would not re-sign him. “How can we?” said the GM. “We lose all our money from Texas.” A-Rod was owed $72M during the remaining three years of the deal, but the Rangers were responsible for $21.3M of that. As soon as he opted out, Texas was off the hook.

A few weeks later, Hank Steinbrenner went over Cashman’s head and inked the reigning AL MVP to another ten-year contract. In between the opt-out and the re-signing, there were plenty of rumors about who the Yankees were targeting as their next third baseman. I remember talking about Wilson Betemit playing full-time, Miguel Tejada, Scott Rolen, Ryan Zimmerman (the next big thing at the time), you name it. One player that was both on the market and a trade target of the Yankees was Miguel Cabrera, who just helped the Tigers past the Yankees in the ALDS. This four-year-old Mark Feinsand column has the details…

Brian Cashman met with the Marlins at about 6 p.m. last night at the GM meetings. No offers were made, but a source with knowledge of the situation said the Marlins made it clear that the Yankees would have to include either Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain or Ian Kennedy in any trade for Cabrera, something the Yankees are not willing to do.

The Yankees would likely offer a deal involving their next tier of prospects, which includes Alan Horne, Humberto Sanchez, Ross Ohlendorf and Jose Tabata.

“The Marlins have evidently let it be known that he’s available, so we’re looking into it,” Hank Steinbrenner said. “But everything is really very preliminary.”

[snip]

“I’m sure I’ll be challenged like I have been in the past on those guys,” Cashman said. “No one is untouchable, but some guys are less touchable than others, and those guys fall into that category. I will be tested a lot and this organization will be tested a lot on that.”

Joe Girardi had just been hired as Joe Torre’s successor, and he had managed Cabrera during his lone season at Florida’s helm. “I didn’t have any problems with him,” said the skipper. “I had him and I know what he did for me. He’s a great player and a smart player. He really understands the game of baseball. I loved having him.” Cabrera was just 24 at the time, and was coming off a .402 wOBA season, his third straight over .399. He was getting super expensive through arbitration, and the tight-walleted Marlins just couldn’t afford him.

We were in the middle of our “Save The Big Three” campaign back then, but that had nothing to do Miggy Cabrera. It was all about Johan Santana. We didn’t want to Yankees to trade any of Hughes, Joba, or IPK for Johan simply because there was just one year left on his contract and he’d shown signs of decline the previous year. For Cabrera, an elite hitter still yet to reach his prime, I’m sure we would have felt differently. I know I would have.

Cabrera (and Dontrelle Willis) eventually went to Detroit for a six-player package highlighted by Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin, an offer the Yankees likely could have matched. Baseball America ranked Maybin and Miller as the sixth and tenth prospects before the season, respectively, while Hughes and Tabata were fourth and 27th, respectively. The rest is just filling in the blanks. The question is: what would happened next?

For one, A-Rod’s time in pinstripes would have been over. Maybe he goes to the Dodgers, maybe he goes to the Red Sox, maybe he goes to the Mets. Who knows. All I know is that albatross contract would be gone, at least to a certain extent. Miggy signed an eight-year deal worth north of $150M before he ever played a game for the Tigers, so you have to figure the Yankees would have locked him up to something similar. Still, I feel a lot better about Miggy for the next six years than I do Alex.

Of course, Cabrera was a third baseman in name only. He lasted just a year-and-a-half at the hot corner for the Tigers, so chances are Mark Teixeira would not be a Yankee either. Is Adrian Beltre playing third base? Casey Blake? Derek Jeter? Jose Bautista? If Hughes and Tabata get traded, that means the Xavier NadyDamaso Marte deal looks very different, perhaps involving Austin Jackson instead. Jackson to the Pirates means no Curtis Granderson, since a condition of the Tigers dealing their center fielder was that they got a young center fielder in return. Would a Cabrera trade have meant that Ian Kennedy would still be a Yankee with Brett Gardner in center?

We could spend all day dreaming up scenarios, but it’s worth mentioning that as great a hitter as Miggy is, he’s not without his demons. He’s had three separate alcohol-related run-ins with the law; one involving an argument with his wife, one involving some strangers at a restaurant, and another when he got busted for DUI. I’m not sure how that would have gone over with the media hounds we have here in New York, but who knows how things play out in the first place. A trade changes everything, it changes career paths and it changes lives.

It’s easy to sit here and say the Yankees should have traded Hughes and whoever else for Cabrera given what we know now, but it’s never that simple. Miggy in pinstripes could have meant no 2009 World Series, or it could have meant multiple championships.  The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that he would have raked, raked and raked and raked in a much friendlier ballpark than the one he’s playing now. It’s the great what if, the question we can’t answer but can enjoy debating.

CoJo’s slump continues in the AzFL

If you’re curious about what goes on in Extended Spraining Training and Instructional League, give today’s Baseball Today podcast listen. Keith Law talks about the two leagues at length, starting around the 34-minute mark. He also spoke about winter ball briefly.

Here’s some more info on Francisco Gil’s 50-game suspension. He got busted for Sibutramine, a performance-enhancing substance.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (7-6 loss to Peoria) Monday’s game
Corban Joseph, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 1 SB – hit a homer in his first game here, but just 1-for-13 since
Rob Segedin, LF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI – has a hit in three of four games so far

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (3-2 loss to Peoria) Tuesday’s game
Rob Segedin, LF: 1 for 3, 1 BB – make that hits in four of five
Dan Burawa, RHP: 1.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 3-2 GB/FB – 18 of 28 pitches were strikes … faced 21 batters so far, but just two strikeouts