Rosenthal: Talks about Keppinger went nowhere

Via Ken Rosenthal, trade talks between the Yankees and Astros about infielder Jeff Keppinger went “nowhere.” I assume that means the Yankees have moved on after showing interest in him earlier this offseason. Keppinger would have been a real nice fit because he hits lefties and can play all over the infield, but oh well. There’s other fish in the utility infielder sea. No need to overpay for one in a trade.

Mailbag: Josh Hamilton

(Charles Krupa/AP)

Tucker writes: Josh Hamilton is set to become a free agent after the 2012 season. Could the Rangers missing out on Lee allow them to give Josh an extension? Would he want to hit the market? And most importantly, do the Yankees bite?

The Rangers, apparently, have money. When they acquired Cliff Lee in July most of the league thought it was a half-season rental. After all, the team was immersed in bankruptcy proceedings at the time. But then they emerged from them and signed an enormous TV deal. While the overall impact of the deal might have been overstated in initial reports, it still will provide the team with ample income for the next decade. They were going to spend a considerable portion of that money on Cliff Lee, so why not repurpose it for their biggest star?

This season Hamilton led the league in fWAR at 8.0 despite having just 571 plate appearances. Had he stayed healthy he could have finished with between 9 and 10 WAR. But that’s the problem right there. Hamilton has exactly four years of service time, meaning he’s been eligible to play in 648 games. Yet he has only appeared in 468. A few of those have been routine days off, but injuries have been the main culprit. In only one season has he played more than 133 games, and in two of his four seasons he has been at 90 or fewer. His health is no guarantee.

(Seriously, go to baseballinjurytool.com and type in Hamilton’s name. Then let your jaw drop when you see his four-year history of just day-to-day injuries.)

Earlier in the year, when an inflamed knee was bothering Hamilton, Will Carroll noted that “it’s his body‚Ķthat is hurting his ability to put that talent on the field.” He went on to project Hamilton’s future of 100- to 120-game seasons. He did break that in 2010, by a substantial amount when you include the playoffs, but does that mean he can handle it in the future? That’s such an enormous question mark right now, and it’s a huge part of the reason why we haven’t hard much in terms of a long-term contract.

I’m no doctor, so I won’t attempt any independent analysis of Hamilton’s future health. What I will project is that unless he plays in more than, say, 130 games next year, we won’t hear a thing about an extension next off-season either. And if he doesn’t break that barrier in 2012, I’m not sure we’ll see any kind of mammoth free agency offers for him. That a long way of saying that we won’t know much until Hamilton plays the final two years of his obligation to the Rangers. We just can’t reasonably project Josh Hamilton’s future.

To answer the actual questions here: If I were Hamilton and I played in another 130 games next year, I’d be all about an extension if Texas offered it. That’s some security that might not be around in another year. In that way, waiting for free agency could cost him. If he’s healthy in 2011 but not 2012 he’ll be far less valuable in free agency.

If, however, he’s valuable in both 2011 and 2012 and reasonably healthy during that span, I can see the Yanks jumping in there. I wouldn’t go nuts bidding for him — the injury history doesn’t just go away, and he’ll be 32 in his first year with a new team. But if the market is down on him because of those concerns I can see the Yankees setting it.

RAB Live Chat

Mailbag: Former Yankee farmhands succeeding elsewhere

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Bernie asks: Saw your tweet on Wilton Lopez and thought it might be a good idea for someone to put together a list of players that were drafted or signed by the Yankees but are currently enjoying success with another MLB team.

Bernie’s referring to this tweet, when I said I had no idea that Lopez, the great setup man for the Astros, was the same Wilton Lopez that pitched in the Yankees’ minor league system back in 2004. He actually retired after that year, then talked the Yankees into releasing him off the restricted list a few years later. Lopez then signed with the Padres and spent two years in their minor league system before being claimed off waivers by Houston in April of 2009. His 2010 season featured a 6.72 K/9 with a 55.7% ground ball rate and just four unintentional walks in 67 innings (0.53 uIBB/9), leading to a 2.96 ERA. With Matt Lindstrom gone, Lopez is expected to be Brandon Lyon’s primary setup man next season.

The other obvious player to mention is John Axford, who will start the 2011 season much like he finished the 2010 season: as Milwaukee’s closer. The Yanks signed him as an undrafted free agent after the 2006 draft and used him as a classic organizational arm the next year, assigning him to whichever affiliate needed a fresh arm on a given night. Axford pitched for Triple-A Scranton, High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston, and Short Season Staten Island in 2007, striking out 9.6 batters per nine but walking 45 in 63 innings. He was released after the season, hooking on with the Brewers for 2008. He spent that year in the minors, and after the season Milwaukee tinkered with his mechanics, most notably raising his arm angle. That led to some increased velocity and earned him a September call-up in 2009. Axford established himself this past season with an 11.79 K/9 and a 3.72 uIBB/9 (2.48 ERA), usurping Trevor Hoffman as closer.

Carlos Monasterios, who the Yankees signed as an international free agent back in 2005, threw 88.1 innings with the Dodgers this past season, striking out just 5.30 batters per nine and unintentionally walking 2.64 (4.38 ERA). He was traded to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu deal, then the Mets selected him in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft before selling him to the Dodgers for what I hope was some kind of profit. Zach Kroenke (2005 fifth rounder) is another Rule 5 guy, but the Diamondbacks worked out a deal to keep him in the organization this past season. He made a very brief big league cameo this September after the team turned him back into a starter in the minors. He’ll compete for a job in Spring Training.

The Yankees traded Ramon Ramirez to the Rockies for Shawn Chacon after signing him as an international free agent back in 2003. He’s since bounced from the Rockies to the Royals to the Red Sox to the Giants, accumulating a 3.29 ERA in 295.2 big league innings. Manny Acosta was signed as a international free agent back in 1998 before being released in 2003. He caught on the with the Braves, pitched out of their bullpen in parts of three seasons, and finished the 2010 season as one of Jerry Manuel’s better relievers. In 39.2 innings with the Mets, Acosta struck out 42 batters and walked 17 unintentionally, leading to a shiny 2.95 ERA.

Randy Flores (yet another reliever) is still around as well; the Yanks drafted him in the ninth round of the 1997 draft before trading him to Texas for Randy Velarde way back in the day. He’s enjoyed a moderately successful career as a lefty specialist, mostly with the Cardinals. Shelley Duncan (2001 second rounder) is still trying to make it work out in Cleveland, hitting eleven homers with a .324 wOBA in 259 plate appearances this past season. Matt Carson was the team’s fifth round pick in 2002, though he didn’t reach the big leagues until 2009, after signing with the Athletics as a minor league free agent. He owns a career .255 wOBA in 105 plate appearances.

Here’s a list of some other players that were originally drafted or signed by the Yankees, but went on to have varying degrees of success elsewhere. I probably don’t need to mention most of them, but I will anyway (in no particular order): Tyler Clippard, Austin Jackson, Mark Melancon, Juan Rivera, Randy Choate, Jose Tabata, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, Cristian Guzman, Alfonso Soriano, Mike Dunn, Jeff Karstens, Melky Cabrera, Joaquin Arias, Dan McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Marcus Thames, Nick Johnson, and the recently retired Mike Lowell. I’m not counting Hideki Matsui (Japanese vet) or Juan Miranda, and although Jake Westbrook spent some time in the Yanks’ farm system, he was originally drafted by the Rockies (came to New York from the Expos in the Hideki Irabu trade). Among the big leaguers that the Yankees drafted but did not sign: Casey Blake, Daniel Bard, Aaron Heilman, Brian Tallet, Chris Davis, Drew Storen, Doug Fister, and Jason Grilli. I don’t think Phil Humber counts anymore. I’m sure I missed some players, but I think I hit on all the key ones. Let me know if I’m wrong.

Looking at Todd Coffey

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Aside from the obvious need for a starting pitcher, the Yankees also have to fill some voids on the bench and in the bullpen. While David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain are a fine setup tandem, no one would mind an upgrade. The problem is that unless you overpay for Rafael Soriano or trade half the farm system for Joakim Soria, that guy just isn’t available. The best course of action may be to simply add depth and upgrade the middle relief corps instead. I’ve already looked at Chad Durbin for this role, but another name caught my eye today: Todd Coffey.

A 41st round pick way back in 1998, Coffey slowly climbed the Reds’ minor league ladder before reaching the big leagues in 2005. He pitched out of Cincinnati’s bullpen in parts of four seasons before being designated for assignment and then claimed off waivers by the Brewers in September 2008. Coffey’s time with the Reds wasn’t anything special – a 6.0 K/9 and 2.3 uIBB/9 in just over 200 innings – but the now 30-year-old seemed to find himself in Milwaukee.

Spending the 2009 season as manager Ken Macha’s bullpen ace, Coffey threw a whopping 83.2 relief innings, the third most in baseball. His strikeout rate was just okay at 7.0 K/9, but he made up for it by walking just 1.9 batters per nine innings unintentionally and getting a ground ball 52.3% of the time with his low-to-mid-90’s fastball and mid-80’s slider. Batters swung and missed on 10.7% of the swings they took against Coffey, more than they did against strikeout artists like Bobby Jenks, Heath Bell, Carlos Marmol, and Kerry Wood. That fine season earned him a $2.025M salary for 2010 in his second trip through arbitration.

Coffey’s peripheral stats took a bit of a hit in 2010, not coincidentally as he battled a thumb contusion on his throwing hand that cost him three weeks in June. His strikeout and whiff rates actually climbed to 8.1 K/9 and 11.2%, respectively, but his walk rate jumped to 2.6 uIBB/9 and his ground ball rate fell just about five percent to 47.6%. Coffey’s ERA, just 2.90 the year before, shot up to 4.76, but you can blame that on a microscopic 63.9% strand rate. League average is right around 72%, so he ran into quite a bit of bad luck there. Instead of giving Coffey another raise through arbitration, the Brewers non-tendered him earlier this month, a completely understandable move.

Although the walk, ground ball, and improving strikeout rates are traits you want in a reliever, Coffey is flawed. His platoon split is pretty massive, as lefties tagged him for a .344 wOBA over the last two years while righties were held to just a .288 wOBA. He’s also surprisingly homer prone despite the proven ability to keep the ball on the ground, giving up the long ball at a rate almost exactly equal to one for every nine innings pitched over the last two seasons (0.98 HR/9, to be exact). Coffey is flawed, no doubt about it, but so is every other middle reliever on the face of the earth.

It shouldn’t cost much to sign Coffey at this point, definitely nothing close to what he earned in 2010. A one-year contract with a six-figure salary seems almost inevitable regardless of what team he joins, a price that’s just a drop in the hat to the Yankees. Right now the Opening Day bullpen projects to have two of Romulo Sanchez (out of options!), Ryan Pope, Danny Turpen, Luis Vizcaino, etc. in it, so adding Coffey would be an obvious upgrade. He can be a very valuable piece if used correctly, meaning he’s kept away from lefty batters. Cheap moves that are easy to back out of, like this would be, is the name of the bullpen game. The risk is minimal.

Aside: Not that it matters, but the 6-foot-4, 240 lb. Coffey has been a fan favorite wherever he’s played, mostly because he comes out of the bullpen to the Ultimate Warrior’s entrance music and does a full sprint to the mound. The Brewers even started keeping track of his sprint times and called it Coffey Time!, even keeping a leader board. It’s irrelevant to his value as a player, but baseball’s supposed to be fun and Coffey is just that.

Open Thread: Chuck Knoblauch

(AP Photo/Steve Mitchell)

I know almost everyone remembers Knoblauch for his unusual batting stance and the throwing issues and the Blauch-Head play, but his first two years in New York were pretty damn good. A leadoff hitter that got on base 37.7% of the time with more walks (159) than strikeouts (127) and the ability to hit 35 homers across two seasons? Yes please. At his peak with the Twins (1995-1996), Chuck was a .337/.437/.503 middle infielder. The end of Knoblauch’s career was a mess, but the team went to the World Series all four years he was in pinstripes, winning three of them. His last good deed as a Yankee came in Game Five of the 2001 World Series, when he led off the 12th inning with a single and later came around to score the winning run after Scott Brosius tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. Good times, good times.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Rangers are in Newark playing the Devils, plus the Isles and Nets are in action. Talk about whatever you want, go nuts.

Food For Thought: Robbie Cano

Baerga’s sudden and rather scary fall from grace was due in part to knee issues, but otherwise he was just a guy that peaked very early. Cano’s development path has been a bit more traditional, with his age 26 and 27 seasons being his two best to date. Middle infielders can unexpectedly fall off, perhaps due to the beating they take turning the double play at second, but I would be surprised if Cano just all of a sudden stopped being a productive big leaguer like Baerga.

(related graphs) (h/t Matt Imbrogno)