Late last night word got out that Dodgers’ right-hander Hiroki Kuroda will require some kind of compensation to waive his no-trade clause at the deadline. Kuroda is expected to be one of the best available starters this summer, though Joel Sherman reports that the Yankees will not give the 36-year-old an extension to facilitate a trade. Kuroda is currently having his worst season in the States, but he still has a 3.10 ERA with a 3.82 FIP. I’ll take it.
Via K. Levine-Flandrup, the Yankees have signed 13th round pick Justin James to an unknown signing bonus (most likely above slot). He took his physical today. James, an outfielder from a Sacramento JuCo, is Dion‘s son and one of the higher upside prospects the Yankees drafted this year. He shows huge power in batting practice and high-end speed, though he’s very raw because he quit baseball in high school to focus on basketball. James is super intriguing, but there’s a lot of work to be done here. If he moves quickly, I’ll be surprised.
Meanwhile, KL-F also notes that second rounder Sam Stafford is in the middle of taking physicals and whatnot, so a deal could be announced shortly.
There was a point in time this winter when the Yankees could
have of had Zack Greinke, or at least it appeared that way. The righty met with Brian Cashman during the winter meetings to try to convince him he wanted to be a Yankee, but the GM voted against it and off to Milwaukee he went. Now they’ve got Freddy Garcia instead, who will face Greinke tonight. Sweaty Freddy has gotten the job done at a low cost, but he certainly doesn’t strike fear in opponents. It’ll be a while before we know if passing on the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner was a smart move, but what’s done is done. Here’s the starting nine…
Freddy Garcia, SP
Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.
The honorable Sensei John Kreese of NoMaas interviewed Yankees VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman, and it goes without saying that you should head over and read it. He asked some very tough questions, although Newman didn’t always give a direct answer. He did note that Hector Noesi is in the big league bullpen (and not starting for Triple-A Scranton) because winning in the majors is priority number one, and he welcomes the criticism. Newman also mentioned that Jesus Montero‘s focus on improving his defense may be hindering his offense. There’s also stuff about Andrew Brackman, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez (“We have to discipline him on occasion, just like in any family.”), Tyler Clippard (“The mistake we made was not seeing what [he] looked like in the pen.”), and lots more. It gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so make sure you give it a read. Well worth your time.
- Derek Jeter ran the bases today for the first time since suffering his calf strain. He went from home to first (four times), first to second (three times), and first to third (once). “Running is probably the most important,” said the Cap’n. “It feels good. I’m sure we will pick it up in the next couple of days. It’s a step in the right direction.” Jeter also fielding about three dozen ground balls and took 50 or so swings in batting practice. There’s no set timetable for his return.
- Bartolo Colon did some sprints and agility drills following Monday’s 60-pitch simulated game, but the most interesting news from Tampa is that he practiced some bunting. Colon lines up to pitch the same day as Brian Gordon, and the bunting could mean that they’re ready to give Bartolo that start against the Mets in CitiField. He is on his way to New York for “evaluation.”
- Rafael Soriano is throwing long toss and so far everything feels good.
- Mark Prior threw a bullpen session, his second in four days. If he feels fine tomorrow, there’s a chance he’ll throw to live hitters in batting practice later this week.
The season started slowly for both Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher, but both have managed to turn it around. Gardner got an earlier start, hitting his stride in late April and continuing through the present. It took Swisher another month to get into a groove, but now he’s resembling the player we saw the last two years. Right now Gardner and Swisher share an OPS, both at .779. That might make them appear equal in production, but they’ve gotten there in different ways.
Gardner, as it’s easy to imagine, has produced his numbers mostly one base at a time. Of his 91 times on base, 72 have been a walk, hit by pitch, or single. This gives him a .281/.360/.420 line, which is excellent for a guy with Gardner’s speed. Swisher, on the other hand, has used his normal combination of walks and extra base hits to accumulate his line. He has been on base 111 times, which includes 23 extra base hits, 48 walks, and three hit by pitches.
Is the fact that they share an OPS and indicator that they’ve been equals at the plate? Yesterday at FanGraphs Matt Klaassen examined the usefulness of AVG/OBP/SLG when we have better stats. OPS was fine for its time, but there are other measures, such as wOBA or Baseball Prospectus’s True Average, that put offensive events into better context. To that they’re also essential equals, with just one point of wOBA separating them.
So done deal, right? At this point they’ve produced nearly equal value at the plate according to both OPS and wOBA. But for the moment I’m not exactly satisfied with the answer, because wOBA does take stolen bases and caught stealings into account. That is not production at the plate (and I desperately wish for FanGraphs to move SB/CS to their baserunning stat next year and leave wOBA to plate production only). Stripping out baserunning, Gardner has a wOBA of about .341, while Swisher is at .348. Why the difference? Because at a time when offense is on the decline, Swisher’s power — a .167 ISO to Gardner’s .138 — has rendered him the superior hitter to this point, even though he slumped for the first two months.
At this point it might seem as though Gardner has been the better producer at the plate, since he turned around his season at an earlier point. But Swisher’s skill set has allowed him to make up the difference rapidly. It reveals a truth that we all know: Swisher is more valuable at the plate than Gardner. But it also reveals the further value in Gardner’s skill set. When we take stolen bases and caught stealings into account, Gardner’s wOBA is nearly equal to Swisher’s. When we add in UBR, FanGraphs’ base running stat, it becomes even more apparent that Gardner can compete with Swisher on an complete offensive level. Taking his batting and base running totals (from here), he’s four runs better than Swisher overall, 7.1 to 3.1.
Going forward, Swisher’s OPS figures to rise a bit, while Gardner might be near his peak. Maybe he adds some OBP, but Swisher has plenty of room to grow, given the skills he’s shown throughout his career. From an at-the-dish standpoint, by season’s end Swisher will almost certainly be the better hitter. But when we take into consideration the other part of offense, the bases, Gardner will make up some, if not all, of the difference. Different player provide value in different ways. The Yankees are lucky to have a good balance in this regard among their outfielders.
(And that doesn’t even mention defense, which is a completely different animal.)
The trade deadline is just 33 days away, but we have yet to see any major activity. Rumors continue to fly, but everything remains speculative at this point. The Yankees will surely inquire on any pitcher who can upgrade the rotation or bullpen, but all currently available pitchers are either a marginal upgrade at best, or carry major baggage. But that’s OK, says Brian Cashman. In the Post today Joel Sherman has some quotes from the Yanks GM, and he sounds pretty upbeat about his team’s chances.
“I don’t think I can trade for any starter that is better than Bartolo Colon or Phil Hughes, or a reliever better than Rafael Soriano,” he told Sherman. To an extent this is right. All three pitchers are on the disabled list, and all three are on the road to a Bronx return. The statement applies a bit less to Colon, since they lost him recently and still have the glaring hole in the rotation that he left. He will, in other words, retake his own spot. The real pick-ups, in terms of what we have become accustomed to this season, will be Hughes and Soriano. Both pitched poorly during their short times with the team, and both are far better than that. They’ll be major upgrades around deadline time.
With both Colon and Hughes off the DL, the Yankees rotation looks a bit more palatable. Either Freddy Garcia or Ivan Nova would move to the bullpen, which could help solidify that unit. Even after that, the Yankees could make another move to push the other of Garcia and Nova to the pen, to AAA. That’s not to say that neither of them is a fit for the Yanks as the No. 5 starter. It is to say that the Yankees probably won’t shy away from pitching this year just because they have five or six healthy arms. They know from recent experience how quickly that can change.
Last year at about this time the Yankees had five guys solidly in their rotation. A.J. Burnett‘s wheels came off in June, but it’s not as though his rotation spot was in immediate jeopardy. Javy Vazquez, after a rough start, had turned in several fine performances. Phil Hughes was still going well. When the Yankees pursued Cliff Lee, one refrain we heard was that they already had five starters — the five starters they had on Opening Day. Was another one really necessary? As it turned out, yes, they did need another starter. Javy fell back off the cliff; Pettitte got hurt; Hughes struggled with the longball; Burnett pitched better but never really regained his form. By the time the playoffs rolled around the Yankees had one top flight pitcher followed by a guy who hadn’t completely recovered from injury, followed by a bunch of question marks.
The question right now, and for the foreseeable future, is of whom the Yankees can target. Right now there appears to be nothing, and as Cashman says, he “can’t make it happen if it is not there.” Perhaps the most relieving part of Sherman’s column comes around the middle, when he says that the Yankees “have shown no interest in high-cost veterans with dubious stuff.” He then lists the pitchers from non-contenders who have been mentioned in trade talks: Brett Myers, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Livan Hernandez, and Jason Marquis. While there might be some upside to discuss in Dempster and Jackson, chances are the cost of acquiring them won’t be worth the value they’d add over what the Yankees currently carry. And that, really, hits the point of this entire trade season.
There will come a time in the next 33 days when the Yankees talk to a team about a pitcher who can make a difference. It might not be a bona fide ace, but the Yankees don’t necessarily need one of those; they already have one. It’s good to hear that the Yankees won’t make a move for a high-priced veteran with a recognizable name just because they can. That’s not going to help anyone. The market will develop from here, and the Yankees patient approach should pay off come July 31st.