Open Thread: Planet Earth

The Yankees haven’t made many transactions on November 14th throughout team history, unless you count signing some guys named Corey Lee and Marc Ronan in 2002 and 1996, respectively. Instead, I’ll leave you with that collection of time-lapse sequences from the International Space Station, which I found on Gawker over the weekend. The neatest part(s) is seeing the flashes of lightning in the clouds, that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Monday Night Football game is the Vikings at the Packers (8:30pm ET on ESPN), and that’s pretty much it in the world of sports. You folks know how this works for now, so have at it. Anything goes.

Discussion Topic: Is Phil Hughes‘ future in the rotation or bullpen?

Hughes working out at Athletics Performance Institute this winter

By now we all know that Phil Hughes showed up to Spring Training out of shape last year, something Brian Cashman acknowledged this weekend. “He came him into spring training a little bit out of shape,” said Cashman to Andrew Marchand. “Not grossly, not overly, but he wasn’t in optimal position when Spring Training opened. That is not going to happen in 2012.”

To make sure that doesn’t happen again next season, Hughes is working out at the Athletes’ Performances Institute near his home this winter. “He is determined,” said Cashman. “He is going to Athletes’ Performance out there in California, which is something he did two years ago to be in optimal shape.” Based on his Twitter feed, Hughes has been working out with Blue Jays’ ace Ricky Romero almost daily. Next season is going to be pretty important for Phil, who is running out of time to prove himself as a viable starter for the Yankees. Glad to see that he’s taking the offseason work a little more seriously this time around.

The 2012 Bench Wishlist: A righty who can hit righties

(Photos: Johnson via Jonathan Daniel/Getty, Reimold via AP)

While many have given Andruw Jones his proper due for a terrific 2011 season off the bench, a closer review of his numbers made me wonder just how good his year was in a historical context. Granted, the bar for past Yankee bench players’ performances is a low one, but a look at every player who has played for the Yankees since 2002 shows that Jones — with a .371 wOBA and 1.4 fWAR — was probably the best non-full-time player on a Yankee roster of the past decade.

Jones of course was brought in to fill the Marcus Thames lefty-masher role, and rather thoroughly obliterated expectations. Unlike Thames, he unfortunately didn’t also have a surprisingly strong campaign against same-side pitchers (only a .316 wOBA vs. righties), but he of course torched lefties (.400 wOBA) while — again, unlike Thames — actually contributing on defense.

Indications are that Brian Cashman is interested in a return engagement with Jones, and while on the surface that seems like a strong move for the 2012 bench, it’s also probably a bit of a reach to expect that Jones has another .371 wOBA year in his bat going into his age 35 season.

Given the team’s relative struggles against northpaws this past season, it may might make some sense for the Yankees to buck orthodoxy and look into signing a right-handed hitting reserve who can actually hit right-handed pitching. I realize that no team in MLB is likely to actually specifically target a bench player with a reverse platoon split given everyone’s obsessions with matchups, but I don’t see why we have to limit ourselves to right-handers who can only hit lefties. The Yankees already destroy left-handed pitching as it is.

Reviewing the list of potentially available righties who fared well against RHP in 2011 yields two interesting names: Reed Johnson (.359 wOBA vs. RHP in 157 PAs), and Nolan Reimold (.360 wOBA vs. RHP in 207 PAs). Personal favorite Josh Willingham also fits the bill, though it seems incredibly unlikely that he won’t get a starting gig somewhere.

If it seems like the Yanks have been looking at Johnson forever, it’s because they pretty much have — back in the 2009-2010 offseason, there was a fair amount of speculation about the Yankees possibly looking at Johnson as the right-handed component of a left field platoon. Remember, this was before Brett Gardner established himself as a capable everyday player. Johnson wound up signing a one-year, $800,000 contract ($250k in incentives) with the Dodgers and had a terrible year, putting up a .287 wOBA over 215 PAs. He was abysmal against righties (.235 wOBA) and serviceable against lefties (.342). Johnson then signed a one-year, $900,000 minor-league contract with the Cubs last offseason, and wound up turning in a .354 wOBA in 266 PAs, with the aforementioned .359 wOBA vs. righties and .347 against lefties.

However, a deeper look into the numbers shows that the .359 wOBA was quite fluky, as Johnson’s a career .312 wOBA hitter against righties in over 2,000 PAs. Signing Johnson in the hope that he’ll be an asset against RHP is likely wishful thinking unless he all of a sudden figured out how to hit righties at age 35. That said, if the Yankees don’t bring Jones back, Johnson could probably fill the designated lefty-masher role, as he is the owner of a career .363 wOBA against LHP.

The 27-year-old Reimold’s a bit more of an interesting case. He burst onto the scene in 2009, and raked to a .365 wOBA over 411 MLB PAs after beginning the year utterly annihilating AAA (.530 wOBA in 130 PAs). Reimold took a huge step backwards in his sophomore season, breaking camp with the team but slumping horribly out of the gate, and bottomed out at .205/.302/.337 on May 11 before being demoted to AAA. Reimold hit OK after his demotion, though didn’t exactly light the world on fire (.341 wOBA in 401 PAs) and was recalled in September more due to rosters expanding than really deserving it. Reimold finished the year even worse than he began it, posting a woeful .212/.229/.303 line over the season’s final month.

Reimold began the 2011 season back in AAA, and didn’t really do anything to distinguish himself (.332 wOBA) but got called up anyway in mid-May and stuck in the bigs for the remainder of the season, ultimately posting a .341 wOBA across 305 PAs (including finishing the year out strongly with a .426 September wOBA). As previously noted, that full-season wOBA consisted of a .360 mark against same-sided pitchers (though strangely only a .295 mark against lefties), and Reimold has been a slightly reverse-platoon hitter throughout his brief MLB career, with a .345 mark against righties compared to .332 against lefties.

Now, I’m not saying Reimold is the answer to the team’s bench prayers — nor would he be particularly easy to acquire, given how loath Peter Angelos is to trade with the Yankees — but given that he’s spent the last two seasons still trying to reacquire his 2009 mojo, perhaps a change of venue would be beneficial. As to what Reimold would cost, I have no idea, but value-wise he’s probably not worth more than perhaps a B-level pitching prospect.

Again, the likelihood of the Yankees and Orioles actually consummating a deal is slim to none, but if new Oriole GM Dan Duquette was willing to talk and the price was right, the Yanks could do worse than considering Reimold (10.3% career BB%) for a seat on the bench.

Nova finishes fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting

Jeremy Hellickson was named the AL Rookie of the Year today, receiving 17 of 28 first place votes. He is the third starting pitcher to win the AL award since 1969, joining Dave Righetti and Justin Verlander. Hellickson finished the season with a 13-10 record and a 2.95 ERA, though his 4.44 FIP is much more of an eyesore.

Ivan Nova finished fourth in the voting behind Hellickson (102 points), Mark Trumbo (63), and Eric Hosmer (38). He received one first place vote, five second place votes, and ten third place votes, which adds up to 30 points. The full voting can be found on the BBWAA’s site. Craig Kimbrel won the NL award unanimously.

The AL Cy Young Award will be announced tomorrow at 2pm ET, and I’ll be surprised if Justin Verlander doesn’t win. CC Sabathia is a pretty safe bet for a second straight top three finish in the voting.

Why the Yankees won’t sign C.J. Wilson

The Yankees might be in the market for pitching, and C.J. Wilson might be the best starting pitcher on the free agent market, but that doesn’t mean the two are a natural fit. Earlier today Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports relayed some information from major league execs. The general feeling seems to be that Wilson will get “at least five years” with an option, though one executive speculated that he’ll end up with a six-year deal. “It just takes one club,” the exec said. While that one team might have been the Yankees in years past, the possibility seems much less likely this off-season.

In the past the Yankees have heavily pursued starting pitching when they had a need. In 2008 they laid out a record-breaking contract for CC Sabathia before another team made an offer, and then outbid the Braves for A.J. Burnett. Last off-season they reluctantly added a seventh-year option to their offer for Cliff Lee. The Yankees again seek that elusive No. 2 to complement CC Sabathia atop the rotation, but the pursuit feels different this time. It doesn’t seem as though the Yankees will outbid the league for the top free agent starter, as they have in years past.

Earlier this month Mike wrote up the pros and cons of Wilson. While every free agent pitcher has a few things going against him, Wilson’s list of cons seems a bit deep for a pitcher about to sign a five- or six-year contract. The Yankees might go to four years, and maybe add a fifth option. But with a few alternatives on the free agent market (Edwin Jackson and Mark Buehrle), a possibility on the international market (Yu Darvish), and even more possibilities on the trade market, the Yankees will likely refrain from an all-out pursuit of Wilson. If another team comes in with an over-the-top offer, and Morosi’s sources indicate that such an offer is on the horizon, the Yankees will likely just let him walk and move on to the next target.

Adding C.J. Wilson to the 2012 rotation would surely shore up the pitching staff. Despite the factors working against him he’s still managed to have the 15th best ERA and the 22nd best FIP, while pitching the 20th most innings, in the last two years. While those numbers are certainly good, they’re not top-10 quality. The Yankees will likely balk at paying such a price for a top-20 arm. They have options elsewhere, and some up-and-coming pitchers in the minor league system, who could fit into the 2012 rotation. Wilson would be nice, but he’s just not worth the premium contract that he’s reportedly going to get.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Ryan Doumit

(Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

While free agency has just started and few players have inked contracts, the Yankees’ offense seems to be fairly close to complete. There are not many areas of their offense they can upgrade in a cost effective manner, with DH the only position that is technically open. Jesus Montero is available to fill that role. Instead, the bulk of the work on the Yankees’ offense will come on the bench, as Brian Cashman attempts to supplement an aging lineup with a versatile and powerful group of reserves. They will likely look for a player in the Andruw Jones/Marcus Thames mold, a righty bat who can mash lefties and can play corner outfield. Assuming Eduardo Nunez remains in the utility role, the Yankees are also likely to bring in a replacement for Eric Chavez, a market that has a number of available options (I discussed this in greater detail last week).

If the Yankees carry 14 position players, that leaves two more slots available for bench players, one of which might be filled by a pinch runner/defensive replacement from the Chris Dickerson/Greg Golson family. The other slot should go to a third catcher, who is made necessary by the fact that the backup catcher (Montero) is also the regular DH. The problem with this plan is that carrying a guy like Gustavo Molina practically wastes a roster spot, as he would never be used in any context other than to catch a few innings if Martin has been pinch-run or hit for and Montero is in the game at DH. This seems like a fairly inefficient use of roster space for a team that could afford a more creative alternative. Enter Ryan Doumit.

Pros

  • In terms of the roster inefficiency I mentioned above, Doumit gives you many more options than a traditional backup catcher might. He can play first base and right field as well, which would allow Joe Girardi to use him occasionally to rest Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira.
  • Most importantly, he does not hit like a catcher. Doumit is a switch hitter with a .336 wOBA for his career, and his numbers have been dragged down by some injury plagued seasons. When healthy, he provides a strong bat for someone who would be a part-time player.
  • Considering that their other two catchers and their other back-up outfielder are all going to be righties, it helps that Doumit is a switch-hitter who hits better from the left side. He is not unusable against lefties, with a .315 career wOBA against them, but he hits righties to the tune of a .344 wOBA and most of his power comes from that side.
  • Doumit played in just 71 games last season due to an ankle injury that came in late May, but did hit .303/.353/.477 for a 129 wRC+.
  • Doumit is just 30 years old, so he should have a few effective seasons left in his bat.

Cons

  • Doumit can play a number of positions, but he does not play any of them particularly well. He is adequate in right field, poor at first base, and atrocious behind the plate, which is a problem considering that his primary defensive role is as the extra catcher.
  • Ryan is frequently injured, spending time on the DL in every season since 2005.
  • As I mentioned above, he is not a great hitter against lefties.

Personally, I think Doumit is a perfect fit for this Yankees’ roster. He would serve as the extra catcher, but brings other skills to the table that would allow him to accumulate a reasonable number of at-bats.  He could be the primary pinch-hitter against righties, and would allow Joe Girardi more flexibility in terms of how he uses Russell Martin and Jesus Montero, as well as when he rests Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira. For an illustration of the sort of situations in which an extra catcher who can hit lefties well would be useful, see Russell Martin’s at-bats against tough righties in big spots in the ALDS. He could also be a hedge against injuries at a number of positions, and the Yankees would not be hurt too badly if he was forced into regular duty. Furthermore, while he does have flaws, those can be mitigated by the role he would play on the Yankees. He would not be counted on to play catcher for any extended period of time, and his brittle nature could be offset by being used less frequently. If the Yankees could get him on a short-term deal with an AAV of $4-5 million dollars, he would be a strong addition to the club and would represent excellent and efficient use of a roster spot.

All that said, the reasons that I like Doumit are the same reasons that other clubs might offer him good money to start for them. There is supposedly a healthy market for his services, and he might find a club willing to take a chance on his health or his defense and offer him something more than the 250 or so at-bats the Yankees could guarantee. If so, he is unlikely to take a bench role and would end up being too expensive for the Yankees anyhow.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 14th, 2011

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

Top stories from last week:

  • Jorge Posada acknowledged that his Yankees career is over, though he is unsure if he still wants to play next season. “I will always be a Yankee,” said Posada. “The Yankees for me is my second family. It would be tough to put on another uniform for real and learn another set of rules and all that stuff, but that’s one of those things. I have to see if I want to keep playing.”
  • Brian Cashman told reporters that he’s been in contact with several other teams about pitching help, and also said that other clubs have inquired about the availability of his young catchers. The GM confirmed that Ivan Nova‘s strained flexor is 100% healed.
  • The Yankees held a private workout for 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and they have their eye on two other Cuban players. Cashman has reached out to the agents for Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson.
  • Jonathan Papelbon fled the Red Sox and the AL East, agreeing to join the Phillies on a four-year contract.
  • Jesus Montero still plans to go home to Venezuela this winter despite the Wilson Ramos kidnapping.
  • The 2012 Spring Training schedule was released.

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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