The Yankees and Rule 5 Draft Targets

(Photo Credit: The Italian version of Wikipedia)

The Rule 5 Draft is almost like baseball’s island of misfit toys. It takes place during the final day of the winter meetings (so next Thursday), and is designed to help blocked minor leaguers (with so many years of experience) get a chance with another team in the big leagues. It costs $50k to select a player, then you have to keep him on your active 25-man big league roster all season. If you don’t, then you have to offer the player back to his old team. It’s pretty simple, and very rarely does it yield big results (Joakim Soria, Johan Santana, and Josh Hamilton are the most notable Rule 5 success stories).

The Yankees have been pretty active in the Rule 5 Draft in recent years, taking three players (RHP Danny Turpen, LHP Robert Fish, OF Jamie Hoffmann) in the last two drafts. None of those guys made it all the way through Spring Training, but the Yankees did give them a pretty long look in camp. Five years ago they took veteran Josh Phelps, who they carried on the roster as a right-handed bench bat (.311 wOBA) through mid-June. It’s not often a Rule 5 guy manages to stick even that long.

As usual, the Yankees really only have two spots to fit a Rule 5 player, either on the bench or in the bullpen. That’s pretty typical, no club goes into the Rule 5 Draft looking for a star, they’re just looking for useful spare parts. Here’s three guys that are available and make some amount of sense for the Yankees, particularly this guy…

(Photo Credit: www.milb.com)

Ryan Flaherty, UTIL, Cubs

No relation to John Flaherty, Ryan was the 41st overall pick back in the 2008 draft, which Chicago received as compensation for losing Jason Kendall to the Royals. Yeah, the Cubs actually received a high draft pick for losing Kendall. Crazy. Anyway, they drafted Flaherty out of Vanderbilt, where he was overshadowed by Pedro Alvarez and some big power arms. He’s steadily climbed the ladder since turning pro, reaching Triple-A for the first time this past season. The Cubs already have a ton of infield prospects on their 40-man roster, so they left Flaherty exposed to the Rule 5 Draft rather than clog up another spot.

The 25-year-old fits right into the Eric Chavez bench role quite perfectly. He’s not the defender Chavez is (few are), but he makes up for it with versatility. Flaherty has extensive experience at second, third, and short, and he’s also played a few dozen games in the corner outfield spots. He’s also a left-handed hitter, a talented one that posted a .364 wOBA without a huge platoon split (.372 wOBA vs. RHP, .341 vs. LHP) between Double and Triple-A this year. That platoon split is consistent with the rest of his career. Flaherty has some power (career .184 ISO with 31+ doubles and 19+ homers in two of the last three years), draws a fair amount of walks (9.3% career walk rate), and doesn’t strike out all that much (17.8%), even against southpaws. His makeup was also highly regarded back when he was drafted, and the Yankees have prioritized strong makeup in recent years.

Flaherty really does make a ton of sense for the Yankees, offering the kind of versatility and left-handed bat skills that would help balance out Eduardo Nunez and (the hopefully returning) Andruw Jones on the bench. Yankee Stadium could always help him get some more balls over the fence as well. Flaherty makes so much sense for the Yankees that I think they should trade up to make sure they get him*, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever said about a Rule 5 guy. They’ve got a chance to add a real useful (and real cheap) piece to their bench with this guy.

* You can’t trade picks, but Rule 5 Draft guys do get traded as players to be named later. Usually one team will offer another $100k — twice the Rule 5 Draft fee — and in return the second team will pick the guy the first team wants and send him over as the player to be named. The Yankees kinda sorta did this with Brian Bruney and Hoffmann two years ago.

(Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Phillippe Valiquette, LHP, Mariners

Perhaps the most hyped player available in the Rule 5 Draft, Valiquette has been getting some serious buzz after Keith Law mentioned that he’s a lefty capable of running his fastball up to 99 last week. The problem is that he’s had trouble staying healthy (didn’t pitch at all in 2011 because of an elbow problem) and doesn’t have much of a secondary pitch or a feel for pitching. He’s a classic thrower. Despite that big fastball, he’s only struck out 7.2 batters per nine in his career (4.4 BB/9) while working almost exclusively out of the bullpen. Teams will line up for days to take a chance at hard-throwing lefties, but Valiquette is a very long shot. The Yankees have almost no chance to get him without trading up.

Trevor Reckling, LHP, Angels

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Reckling, 22, was considered the Halos’ fourth best prospect by Baseball America just two years ago, four spots ahead of the now crazy good Tyler Skaggs and five spots ahead of Jordan Walden. He’s taken a step backwards since then, and his 2011 season ended in mid-July thanks to a sprained elbow ligament. Reckling did not have surgery, and as far as I know he’ll be ready in time for Spring Training.

The numbers over the last two years are pretty awful, we’re talking a 5.34 ERA with 4.36 BB/9 and 6.21 K/9 in 247.2 IP between Double and Triple-A. Any team that takes a flier on Reckling would be doing so on the scouting report, which includes a low-90’s fastball and a pair of sliders, a sweepy mid-70’s version and a snappier low-80’s version. He’s also got a herky jerky delivery (seen here) that allows him to hide the ball well but probably also contributes to his control problems. After four years of working exclusively as a starter and with his development stalled out, a change of scenery and role could be in order. Whatever team takes Reckling (if anyone does) will probably just tell him to go to the bullpen, shut off his brain, and just air it out for an inning at a time with his two best pitches.

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The Yankees protected five players from the Rule 5 Draft, with the most notable unprotected guy being Pat Venditte. Some team will assuredly select the switch pitcher, even if it’s just to see what he’s got in Spring Training. They’ll likely get him back though, just like they did when the Padres took Ivan Nova back in 2008. New York’s one empty 40-man roster spot figures to go to Freddy Garcia at some point soon, and the deadline for clubs to set their roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft is next Monday. You can’t select a player without having an open spot, so the Yankees are probably going to have to give someone the axe if they want to take Flaherty, which they totally should.

Breaking down the payroll, part two

It’s been a little over a month since we last broke down the Yankees’ payroll, but a lot has changed since then. Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher had their clubs options officially picked up, Andrew Brackman was cut loose, Rafael Soriano did not opt-out of his deal, and CC Sabathia signed a new contract extension. Let’s take stock of who the team currently has under contract for next season…

Freddy Garcia’s new one-year contract is not yet official, but all reports indicate that it will have a $4M base salary plus incentives. That brings us up to a dozen players and a total payout of $177.125M. Using MLBTR’s projections, the Yankees will have another $17.9M tied up in their six arbitration-eligible players. Chris Dickerson just missed the Super Two cutoff, so he’s not yet eligible for arbitration. That’s $195.025M for 18 players.

There are currently 22 pre-arbitration players on the 40-man roster, and the new CBA raised the minimum salary to $480k. If we estimate those 22 guys at half-a-mil each, it’s another $11M on the payroll, bringing us to $206.025M for 40 players. It doesn’t work like that though, not all 22 of those guys will be in the big leagues this year. Cory Wade, Ivan Nova, Jesus Montero, and Eduardo Nunez seem to be the only guys with a realistic chance of sticking all year. The other 18 pre-arbitration guys will spend the majority of the year in the minors and earn minor league salaries.

Adding Wade, Nova, Montero, and Nunez to the 18 players above gives us a payroll of $197.025M with three spots on the 25-man active roster left open. Preferably, one of those spots will go to Andruw Jones, another to a starting pitcher, and the last to someone filling the Eric Chavez role (backup corner infielder, lefty bat off the bench). The Yankees are all but guaranteed to go over the $200M mark next season, even if they just re-sign Andruw and fill the last two spots with Hector Noesi and Brandon Laird.

If the Yankees are planning to stick to that $200M limit they’ve talked about in recent years, then they won’t be making any major signings this winter without shipping some salary out. They could save a few bucks if the arbitration salaries are lower than projected, but it’s unlikely to be enough to land a big name pitcher. The Yankees are either going to have to start next season with a higher payroll than what they’ve indicated they’d like it to be, or they’re going to have to get creative to make major upgrades this winter.

A cool 26 grand for losing the ALDS

By no measure did the Yankees have a successful postseason experience this year. Faced with a slim deficit at home in Game 5, the Bombers, as we know, bombed. They couldn’t get that one hit to push them onto the ALDS, and we all had to sit there as inferior teams faced off in both the American League Championship Series and World Series. Had the Yanks won that Game 5, they had a decent path to another World Series title.

Yesterday, Major League Baseball announced the playoff shares for the various clubs that tried to make their ways through the crapshoot that is the postseason, and although the Yanks lost, each player still walked away with a playoff share of over $26,000 each. According to the Commissioner’s Office, the Yanks split $1,718,977.33. They awarded 53 full shares at $26,238.86 each, 11.94 partial shares and three cash awards. That’s not a bad haul for five games of work.

The Cardinals, World Series victors after a playoff season that saw 38 games played out of a possible 41, took home full shares of $323,170 each. That total marks an increase over last year’s pot, but the 2009 Yankees still hold the modern-day record. Each player on the last Yankee World Series championship club took home $350,030. Here’s to another big payday after the 2012 season.

Yanks not having any “hi-level” trade talks about starters at the moment

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are not currently having any “hi-level” trade discussions with any teams about a starting pitcher(s). They do have interest in Matt Garza though, who a) I really like, and b) is totally available. Things figure to pick up next week at the winter meetings, but the Yankees are definitely moving at their own pace this offseason. “We’re not desperate to do anything,” said Brian Cashman to Mark Feinsand, which is consistent with this idea of playing it cool and letting the market come to them. We’ll see, but I doubt the Yankees will have a quiet winter.

Open Thread: Jesus Montero

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Yankees have had no shortage of mega-hyped prospects in recent years, dating back to Drew Henson and Alfonso Soriano and continuing in recent years with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. Soriano and Joba came up and had immediate impact, just like the most recent mega-hyped Yankees prospect: Jesus Montero.

Montero started the 2010 season at Triple-A as a 20-year-old, posting a .375 wOBA with a career high 21 homers in 123 games. The Yankees sent him back there to start this season, and after a strong April he slumped through May and June. He hit the snot out of the ball after that, finishing the Triple-A season strong before getting his first taste of the big leagues on September 1st. The Yankees didn’t hold him back, Montero started at DH on Sept. 1st against Jon Lester and the Red Sox in Fenway Park in a game that carried major weight in the AL East race. He didn’t get a hit, but he was hit by a pitch in the later innings and scored the go-ahead run.

That first week in the big leagues just kept getting better and better. Montero scored that go-ahead run in his first game, then he picked up his first career hit in his second game. He had his first career two-hit game in his third contest, and then in his fourth game he hit his first two career homers. Montero hit .328/.406/.590 (.421 wOBA) in his 69 plate appearances in the season’s last month, twice homering off extreme sinkerballer Jim Johnson and also once off AL Cy Young Award runner-up Jered Weaver. He also hit one out of Junichi Tazawa.

Montero turns 22 years old today, the age when a typical American kid is getting ready to wrap up his senior year of college. He’s almost guaranteed to have a prominent role with the 2012 Yankees, either as a pure DH or a DH/backup catcher hybrid or something else entirely. If he hits, something he’s done his entire career, then the role is secondary. The Yankees will get Montero’s bat into the lineup everyday.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. The Giants and Saints are your Monday Night Football matchup (8:30pm ET on ESPN), and that’s it for local sports. You can talk about anything you like here, it’s all fair game.

Please Help: There’s only two more days left to vote for Brian McElhinny for the 2011 Blogging Scholarship. I wish that existed when I was in school. Brian writes Raise The Jolly Roger, a great Pirates’ blog. Anyway, please click the link and go vote, it literally takes about five seconds, maybe less if you have a super-fast internet connection. Thanks.

More CBA madness: Draft pool even smaller than expected

Via Jim Callis, the pool for the first ten rounds of the draft is closer to $180M than the $200M that was reported last week. It doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it basically means each team will have ~$667k less to spend next draft. The Yankees have signed guys like Graham Stoneburner, Mark Melancon, and Dante Bichette Jr. for close to that amount in recent years.

Furthermore, Callis also says that if teams do not sign a pick, they will not be able to allocate that pick’s money elsewhere. There had been some speculation that clubs with extra picks would simply not sign one of their first rounders, then redistribute the money to get better players with their remaining extra picks. Teams won’t be able to do that, apparently. This new setup is about as close to hard slotting as you can get without actually implementing hard slotting.

Valuing Francisco Cervelli

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

The Yankees’ deep catching corps could start paying off soon. Two of their young catchers, Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, have already made their Major League debuts. Both of their names have surfaced in various trade rumors and speculations, and there is a chance that the Yankees could trade one this off-season in a deal for an impact pitcher. If that impact pitcher does not surface, or if the Yankees find the price prohibitive, they can use their catching depth in other ways. Given a few recent deals, they might have another catcher of value on the roster.

Despite his status as occasional punchline at RAB, Francisco Cervelli is not a bad player. At time his play frustrates. Many of his mistakes seem boneheaded and avoidable; his throws are often inaccurate to the point of hilarity; and it appears he stabs at pitches and drags them back over the plate, which is the poorest of framing methods. While those do hinder what could be a better overall game, Cervelli does provide some value. In the last two seasons, as the Yankees’ primary backup catcher, he has produced a .317 wOBA, which is only slightly below league average. That includes a .348 OBP, which ranks 13th among all catchers with at least 450 PA*.

*An admittedly arbitrary sample size which Cervelli barely fulfills.

With the possibility of Montero fulfilling the backup catcher role while also DHing, and with the further possibility of Romine transitioning to the bigs as a backup, Cervelli could be expendable. He might be a tough sell at this point, given the frequency and recency of his concussion history. Still, he’s been pronounced fully recovered, and it sounds as though he’ll be raring to go for spring training. He might end up reporting to a location other than Tampa for it.

In the past week or so, two catchers have changed teams in relatively minor deals. First the Marlins traded John Baker to the Padres for Wade LeBlanc. Then, yesterday, the Rays traded John Jaso to the Mariners for Josh Lueke. The returns might not be overwhelming, but both the Marlins and the Rays realized returns for catchers similar to Cervelli. Jaso might seem superior, because he produced quality numbers in 2010. But his 2011 negated much of that. The result is a .318 wOBA (101 wRC+) in 687 career PA. Baker has been around a while, but injuries have hindered his career. In 760 career PA he has a .333 wOBA (99 wRC+). Both of them, then, are average hitters who are both at least two years older than Cervelli (.308 wOBA, 85 wRC+ in 560 PA).

A few teams could remain in need of a catcher. Minnesota might want a caddy for Joe Mauer who is a bit better than Drew Butera (.215 wOBA, 28 wRC+ in 409 career PA). Anaheim has been on the market for a catcher who can hit better than Jeff Mathis (.246 wOBA, 45 wRC+ in 1360 career PA). Houston could use someone younger and better than Humberto Quintero (.258 wOBA, 54 wRC+ in 1137 PA). LA might need someone now that Rod Barajas has gone (does Matt Treanor actually count?). Colorado has reportedly been mulling the idea of signing Ramon Hernandez and trading Chris Iannetta. Perhaps they’d be amenable to trading for Cervelli instead. That’s a considerable list, and it includes only the obvious candidates. Cervelli would almost certainly perform better than any of their current options.

The issue with trading Cervelli is the same one that Mike found when valuing Eduardo Nunez: is Cervelli worth more to the Yankees or to another team? As a Yankee he provides some experience as a backup catcher, allowing them to work in Jesus Montero at his own pace. It also allows them to give Austin Romine some time at AAA. He also ensures a certain level of depth in the system. Is that worth more to the Yankees than what they could get on the trade market? Judging by the Jaso and Baker trades, the Yankees might not find much to their liking.

Wade LeBlanc, who went to the Marlins in the Baker deal, is a soft-tossing lefty with a poor ground ball rate. He’s had success in limited runs, but even pitching in the spacious confines of Petco Park did little to aid his home run rate. At age-27 there’s little hope he’ll reach a level significantly above replacement. Josh Lueke has a bit more promise as a strikeout reliever. He posted quality minor league numbers at many levels, including AAA. Yet even with his promise Lueke comes with plenty of personal baggage, which obviously reduces his value. That is to say that neither Baker nor Jaso fetched much in a trade. That could tip the scales towards the Yankees keeping Cervelli.

I the Yankees want to cash in on Cervelli, chances are they’ll have to sell him as part of a bigger package. They could probably shop him on his own to a few teams, but they might not realize much in return. As a second or third chip in a larger deal, however, he could prove valuable. At the same time, that makes a deal less likely; the Yankees would have to find a player they really liked on a team that needs a catcher, and base the offer around another player. Chances are, then, that Cervelli provides more value to the Yankees than he does on the market. Which is just fine. Minus some boneheaded mistakes, he’s actually provided some decent value for the Yanks in the last two years.