Mailbag: Montero, Miller, Outfield, Yu, Hughes

I swear, one of these weeks I’m going to do a Jesus Montero-free mailbag. Maybe next week, just to see how it goes. Hopefully you folks don’t revolt or something. Anyway, we’ve got two Montero-related and three non-Montero-related questions this week. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the easiest (and preferred) way of sending questions in. Thanks.

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Chris asks: I wrote to you guys earlier about Montero’s conditioning assignment. What is the pro of keeping him as a catcher? Just trade value? Look at all the catchers that break down because of the position. Mauer being a great example. I’d rather keep that bat in an area where he can remain healthy for a LONG time.

That’s the exact reason why the Nationals moved Bryce Harper to right field the instant they signed him two summers ago, and I can see that side of the argument. The pros of keeping Montero at catcher, not that he’s much to write home about back there, is that he’d simply be more valuable at that position, both to the Yankees or in a potential trade. Catchers that can rake are rare and therefore extremely valuable. The downside if obvious, he and his bat would need regular days off, the nagging injuries, etc.

I agree with moving him to a position that will allow him to play every day and theoretically remain productive, but what position is that? Okay, DH is obvious, but what else is there? Mark Teixeira still has five years left on his contract, so first base isn’t much of an option even though it’s the most logical spot. The outfield isn’t going to happen, at least not anytime soon. That’s not the easiest transition to make. Split duty at DH and behind the plate, maybe 100 games at DH and 40 behind the dish, seems like the most logical plan for Montero next year, then reevaluate after the season.

Evan asks: Assuming, and I know this is a huge assumption, that Albert Pujols signs anywhere besides with the Cardinals, do you think a Shelby Miller for Jesus Montero swap makes sense?

I don’t, actually. If the Cardinals lose Pujols, they’ll just stick Lance Berkman at first and play Allen Craig in right, or use Craig with a platoon partner, something like that. Obviously Montero wouldn’t catch for them with Yadier Molina around. Miller is arguably the best right-handed pitching prospect in the game, but he’s thrown just 86.2 IP above A-ball. That’s not enough of a sure thing to get back in a Montero trade in my book. I’d prefer a player that’s unquestionably ready to step in and play in the big leagues right now, kinda like Jesus.

Nick asks: Who are the prospects that can replace Nick Swisher after 2012?

There aren’t any really, and that’s part of the reason why the Yankees brought in guys like Justin Maxwell and Jordan Parraz last offseason. Their outfield depth at the upper levels of the minors is pretty thin. Melky Mesa has a long way to go before he can be considered a viable big league option, and both Abe Almonte and Mason Williams are years away from being options. Slade Heathcott needs to stay healthy for a full year before we can think him getting to Double-A, nevermind the bigs. If the Yankees let Swisher walk after 2012, they’d have to fill the position from outside the organization. Either that or take a big hit in production.

(Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

Kevin asks: Will Yu Darvish generate a posting fee as high as Dice-K? Will a shallow free agent market balance out the recent dismal big Japanese pitcher free agent history i.e workload, adapting to a new culture? Who would you choose considering price between Darvish and Wilson? Is it possible to grab both and fill out the rotation with C.C., Wilson, Darvish, Nova and Hughes? Thanks.

I don’t think anyone knows what kind of posting fee Darvish will require, it’s all guesswork. It’s worth noting that although the Red Sox won the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka with that $51.1M bid, the second highest bid was $39-40M by the Mets. Boston really blew everyone out of the water for Dice-K. Darvish is supposedly better than Dice-K, but baseball salaries have come down a bit in recent years, and I do think Matsuzaka will scare some teams into lowering their bid. It only takes one team to go overboard though, and I’m willing to bet it takes at least $40M or so land him.

As for Darvish vs. C.J. Wilson, I’d rather go with Darvish. Wilson is the safer bet, sure, but Darvish offers more upside (and more risk) and is considerably younger. There’s also the benefit of keeping the draft pick and saving money because the posting fee is not counted towards the luxury tax. Wilson is the safe move and is probably the better bet in 2012 and 2013, but over the next five or six years, Darvish is the guy I want. And no, I don’t think the Yankees, or any team for that matter, will land both guys this winter.

Anthony asks: I was wondering if you can see the Yankees trading Phil Hughes this offseason. He’s been with the team for a while now (since ’07, no?) and we’ve only seen him perform to his expectations just twice: as a lights out reliever in ’09 and as a dominant starter in the first half of the ’10 season. What would someone like Hughes get the Yankees in a trade?

Hughes’ value is at an all-time low right now, so I can’t imagine they’d get much in return. He’s not that young anymore, nor is he cheap and under team control for another half-decade. He’ll make something like $3-4M in 2012, his second time through arbitration, then become a free agent after the 2013 season. I could definitely see the Yankees trading him, but I doubt they’d get anything special in return. Maybe another kid like Hughes, struggling to take the next step at the big league level. The Yankees aren’t exactly in a position to give away potential starters though, so I’m not sure I’d be okay with dealing him for another reclamation project just because.

Sherman: Front office unlikely to okay big bid for Darvish

Via Joel Sherman, Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman are unlikely to authorize a big money bid to win the negotiating rights for Yu Darvish this winter. Sherman hints that the Kei Igawa fiasco may be scaring them, and if that’s true, I assume they’ll never sign another white guy after the A.J. Burnett mess. Seriously, if they’re going to start ignoring talent pools because of nationality, soon enough they won’t have anyone to wear the uniform.

Anyway, I suspect this is all just posturing. No team, let alone the Yankees, has any incentive to come out and say “we’re going to bid big on Darvish.” It’s counterproductive. The team’s scouts love the right-hander according to Sherman, so they’d be foolish not to make a serious run at him.

Open Thread: World Series Game Two

FOX isn't paying Tim McCarver to count letters, you know.

Game One was pretty entertaining last night, no? I was worried the game would be lopsided, but it was close and interesting down to the final out. I’m sticking with my prediction of Rangers in seven, but like I said yesterday, I’m rooting for entertaining baseball more than anything else, and yesterday’s game delivered. Hopefully we get another fun game tonight.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. The Rangers and Cardinals give it another go starting at 8pm ET on FOX (Garcia vs. Lewis), plus the (hockey) Rangers and Islanders are playing as well. You folks know the routine by now, so have at it.

(hat tip to Mock Session for the screen cap and Dustin Parkes for pointing it out)

Yanks “likely” picking up Swisher’s option

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but after talking to “executives, agents and various baseball wiseguys” this week, ESPNNY’s Wallace Matthews reports that the Yankees will pick up Nick Swisher‘s $10.25 million option for 2012. While a portion of the fanbase loudly disagrees with this, it really is the smart move. Even if the Yankees would rather have someone else in right field, they’re better off picking up Swisher’s option and trading him. That would at least get them something in return, something that they could perhaps use to acquire Swisher’s replacement. Still, I wouldn’t bet against Swisher standing in right field on Opening Day 2012.

On a side note, Matthews mentions a frequent argument of Swisher detractors: his poor postseason numbers. In nine postseason series he’s hitting .169/.295/.323 in 147 PA. It makes me think back to Tino Martinez, who hit .209/.293/.306 in his first 150 postseason PA. From that point through the end of his first Yankees tenure he hit .280/.364/.434 in 217 PA. So to say that Swisher can’t turn it around is patently absurd, as we can see from a recent Yankee example.

What Went Wrong And Right: Trade Deadline

For more than six months Yankees fans looked forward to July. After missing out on Cliff Lee* the plan was clear: make due with the roster until a pitching upgrade materialized at the trade deadline. But July came and went without the Yankees making a single move. Yet that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Circumstances always color this type of evaluation, and the circumstances certainly weren’t favorable in the weeks preceding the deadline.

* I can’t count the number of times I’ve written that exact phrase, and I promise that it’s the last time you’ll ever see it under my byline.

How it went wrong

The Yankees staff put together an unexpectedly solid first half. Both Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia realized their best case scenarios, holding down rotation spots for the first three to four months. That bought the Yankees enough time to search for alternatives on the trade market. But when the time came to make those upgrades, they declined to do so. Again, circumstance colored this decision. But that doesn’t completely excuse it.

We saw a similar situation last year. In early July, when the Yankees thought they had a deal worked out for Lee, the Yankees already have five starting pitchers. Phil Hughes, while slumping, still had the luster of his excellent first few months. Javy Vazquez had recovered and was pitching better than any non-CC member of the rotation. Andy Pettitte was Andy Petttite. A.J. Burnett, despite a disastrous June, was not a candidate to leave the rotation. And so it didn’t hurt so badly when the Yankees lost out on Lee.

In the second half everything changed. Vazquez quickly declined. Burnett produced a 5.95 ERA in the second half. Pettitte hurt himself and suffered a costly setback. Hughes continued to decline and produced a 4.90 ERA in the second half. That left the Yankees with precious few pitching options. When the playoffs rolled around they had to rely on a still-injured Pettitte and a shaky Hughes. The lack of pitching absolutely killed them in the ALCS.

This year the Yankees again had five starting pitchers around deadline time, six if you count Ivan Nova, who was in the minors in the weeks prior. In a way that made it easier for them to get through the trade deadline period without making a rash move. But in another way they were setting themselves up for a repeat of 2010. Sure enough: Phil Hughes continued his mediocre pitching, Freddy Garcia got hurt and then lost some of his sharpness, Bartolo Colon’s magic wore off, and Burnett’s production dropped off considerably. For the second straight year the Yankees had few solid options beyond CC Sabathia for their playoff rotation.

How it went right

It’s tough to deal for a quality starting pitcher when there aren’t many available. As July approached it seemed as though few teams would make available a useful starter. Throughout the month the market continued to appear weak. Some teams remained in denial about their chances. Others asked for far too much in exchange for their pitchers. It led to a real dearth of opportunities for the Yankees.

Only a few mid- to high-range pitchers moved in July, and the Yankees had good reason to not pursue any of them.

Ubaldo Jimenez: The Rockies wanted the moon for a pitcher who just didn’t look the same as he did in the first half of 2010. He might have made a nice addition, but at the price Cleveland eventually paid — their two top pitching prospects plus two other prospects — he likely wasn’t worth the effort. Had the price come down he would have made a good deal more sense, but at that point why would Colorado trade him?

Doug Fister: After a decent full-season debut in 2010, Fister was rolling along at a similar pace for the Mariners in 2011. Problem was, he didn’t miss bats, and his home run rate was a bit low — it’s usually a warning sign when a pitcher in a large ballpark has a big FIP-xFIP difference. I’m typically scared of that type of pitcher with the Yanks, since it can lead to a lot of home runs. Even in the pitcher-friendly Comerica Park his home run rate increased. But so did his strikeout rate, which isn’t something you normally see. There’s no “should of” in this for the Yanks, but the Tigers got an absolute steal.

Erik Bedard: After throwing about 80 innings in each of 2008 and 2009, Bedard missed the entire 2010 season. As always, he was the guy with a lot of potential who couldn’t stay on the mound. So it came as no surprise that, after a very good start to the 2011 season, he got hurt at the end of June. He made one poor appearance upon his return, at which point the Mariners immediately traded him. He went to Boston and did pitch well there — until he got hurt in September.

Edwin Jackson: This actually might have been a nice move for the Yanks. Jackson had produced good numbers for the White Sox in the first half, and was clearly on the trading block. The Blue Jays ended up getting him for the minuscule price of Jason Frasor and Zach Stewart. The only catch was that the Jays took on the remainder of Mark Teahen’s contract. Again, with the Yankees’ monetary advantage they could have done that and just released Teahen if they were so inclined. Yet Jackson put his inconsistency back on display with his move to the NL, as his strikeout rate dipped considerably in the second half. At the time we couldn’t have seen that, though, and for the cost Jackson might have been a quality upgrade.

Other pitchers might have been made available, but with the slim market chances are they would have cost too much. For instance, the Astros and Yankees had a brief conversation about Wandy Rodriguez that ended when Houston declined to pick up roughly half of Rodriguez’s salary. The Yankees clearly did not intend to overpay at the deadline, and in many ways that helps them now and in the future. But that’s going to happen when there is only one pitcher on the market who stands to help you for ar easonable price.

It was hard to call the Yankees losers at the deadline given their needs. The position players and bench were well in place, as was the bullpen. The only needs existed in the starting rotation and the market was thin, filled with flawed and overpriced players. At the same time, they did need an upgrade in pitching. It didn’t cost them the division, and it really didn’t even cost them in the ALDS (the offense was to blame there). But in the ALCS it could have hurt a lot. The trade deadline didn’t go wrong, really, but it didn’t go right, either.

What Went Wrong: Alex Rodriguez

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/Charlie Neibergall)

Spring Training can be deceiving. Every year we see players put up huge numbers in camp before having miserable regular seasons, and we also see players with terrible exhibition stats before raising hell in games that count. It’s the nature of the beast, the small sample, the questionable competition (minor league players, etc.), all sorts of stuff. We fall for it every year, looking for meaning in meaningless games.

When Alex Rodriguez came to Spring Training this year, he was ten pounds and three percentage points of body fat smaller than he was in 2010. Not that he was fat before or anything like that, but he was noticeably slimmer and seemed much lighter on his feet. A-Rod then proceeded the hit the snot out of the ball for six weeks (.388/.444/.898), and before you knew it, people were predicting an MVP award and a return to the glory days of pre-2008.

For a while, Alex was on that MVP pace. He came out of the gate like a madman in April, with five homers, eleven walks, six strikeouts, and a .370/.483/.826 batting line in the team’s first 17 games of the season. A-Rod fell into a slump after that, hitting just .171/.236/.232 with no homers over the next three weeks or so. He righted the ship with a two-homer day against the Rays on May 17th, and hit well enough over the next few weeks to carry a .301/.377/.509 batting line into July 1st.

Although he played in 80 of the team’s first 86 games, Rodriguez clearly wasn’t 100% physically. Joe Girardi said A-Rod was playing through a sore left shoulder in mid-June, and a few days later we learned that he was playing through a sore right knee, an injury he apparently suffered during the series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He was voted as a AL’s starting third baseman in the All-Star Game (and he actually deserved the honor), but he had to skip the event when that sore right knee turned into a slightly torn meniscus. After a second opinion, the decision was made to have surgery.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The procedure was supposed to keep him on the shelf for four-to-six weeks, and it ended up being more like seven. Not really a big deal. After a pair of rehab games with Triple-A Scranton, A-Rod returned to the lineup on August 21st and promptly went 0-for-5. He did pick up two hits next time out, then homered in his third game back, but he was playing with a new injury, a sprained left thumb. It was a fluke injury more than anything, he jammed the digit will making a play at third base in his first game back against the Twins. He missed time in early-September then even more in the middle of the month when the injury lingered.

After coming back from the knee injury, Alex played in just 19 of the team’s final 37 games. He hit .191/.345/.353 in 84 plate appearances during that time, but at least he walked more than he struck out (15 BB, 13 K). The crummy performance carried over into the ALDS, when Alex contributed to the punchless 4-5-6 hitters with a 2-for-18 showing in the five games against Detroit. Despite the sluggish performance with the bat, I though A-Rod looked very good on defense later in the season and in the playoffs, but that’s hardly a consolation prize.

All told, the now 36-year-old Rodriguez had his worst season since he was a 21-year-old kid with the Mariners in 1997. He hit .276/.362/.461 overall, a not terrible .361 wOBA that placed seventh among the 28 third baseman with at least 400 plate appearances this year. His power production declined considerably, evidenced by a .185 ISO that was his first sub-.225 ISO since that 1997 season. For the second year in a row, he struggled to hit lefties (.277/.367/.383), a demographic a right-handed cleanup hitter should crush.

The decline in production isn’t really a huge problem though, the Yankees can live with an overpaid .350-.360 wOBA third baseman. The real problem is the injuries. A-Rod has been on the disabled list every year since signing his new ten-year, $275M contract, and this year he failed to play 100 games for the first time ever. It’s been four years since he last played in more than 140 games. That’s a whole lot of at-bats for Eduardo Nunez types. Once again, we’re left heading into the offseason hoping that a winter of rest will help Alex stay on the field for a full season next year, but that looks more and more like a pipe dream.

What Went Wrong: Jorge Posada

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/Mike Carlson)

After more than a decade behind the plate, the Yankees decided that Jorge Posada‘s days as a catcher were done last offseason. They signed Russell Martin in December, making Posada’s transition to DH official. The Yankees had concerns not just about his defense, which had deteriorated to unacceptable levels, but also his long-term health. Jorge scored poorly in two of the three ImPACT tests he took in 2010, the result of countless foul tips to the head over the years.

Everyone knew the statistics, or at least it seemed that way. Posada was just a .223/.336/.358 career hitter in 350 career plate appearances as a DH coming into the season, a performance that foretold certain doom for 2011. Maybe that’s a little overdramatic, but it wasn’t promising even if 350 plate appearances spread across 14 years isn’t much of a sample. However, it stood to reason that fewer time spent behind the plate would help keep Jorge fresh and therefore make him more productive at the plate. There were two sides to narrative.

Posada did not get a hit in the first game of the season, but he did reach base three times (a single and two walks) in the second. All was right in the world when Jorge hit two homers in the third game of the season, then another in the fourth game. After a four-game, 15-at-bat hitless streak (eight strikeouts), Posada went deep in each game of a two-game set against the Orioles in mid-April. He homered again nine days later, but that was basically the end of Posada as an effective hitter.

An 0-for-17 stretch followed the two homers against Baltimore, and it took 18 games for Jorge to record his next ten hits. With his batting line sitting at .165/.272/.349 on the morning of May 14th, Joe Girardi penciled Posada in as the number nine hitter against the Red Sox. Insulted by the move, Jorge pulled himself from the lineup and originally covered by saying his back was stiff. He told the Yankees he wanted out out of frustration, but later apologized for the incident. The team never discussed releasing him even though he was in breach of contract.

(AP Photo)

Posada returned to the starting lineup three days later, and promptly went 2-for-3 with a double against the Rays. Another double followed the next day, and Jorge went on a little mini-tear that saw him hit .330/.392/.426 with three homers in 102 plate appearances immediately following the benching. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. He reached base just ten times in his next 56 plate appearances, and with Eric Chavez coming off the DL, Posada lost playing time. From August 1st through the end of the season, a span of 55 team games, he batted just 88 times.

Jorge finished the season with a .235/.315/.398 batting line and 14 homers, easily the worst full season of his career. His .309 wOBA ranked 14th out of the 16 DH’s that came to the plate at least 300 times. Posada did not go down without a fight though, he was the Yankees best hitter in the ALDS (6-for-14 with four walks in five games against the Tigers), the last hurrah for a great Yankee. He threw a base stealer out while catching six emergency innings in a September game against the Angels, and he even played an inning at his original position, second base. Ironically enough, defense was the highlight of his season.

Despite the awful overall performance, Posada did hit right-handed pitchers well, to the tune of .269/.348/.466 in 316 plate appearances. He was completely unusable against southpaws though, hitting .092/.169/.108 in 71 plate appearances. That’s the only reason why he was in the lineup against the Tigers in the ALDS, they started four righties. The Yankees managed to get an almost exactly league average performance out of their DH’s in 2011 (.249/.329/.427), but that’s because Chavez, Andruw Jones, and Jesus Montero helped pick up the slack. Posada, an all-time great Yankee, was part of the problem this past season, almost assuredly his last in pinstripes. The end is almost always painful, and Jorge will be no exception.