Easy big fella!

Murray/The Star-Ledger

I’m as big a fan of Jesus Montero as there is.  I’m glad the Cliff Lee trade didn’t go through.  I’m glad they didn’t trade him for Roy Halladay.  I have not seen him catch in person though I think the Yankees should try him at catcher until they’re 100% sure he either can or can’t handle the position.  As bullish as I am on Montero, Bill James’ 2011 projections for him just seem insane.  If you haven’t seen yet, James predicts a .285/.348/.519 line with 21 HR’s.  Yes, that’s in the major leagues.

How realistic is this?  First, considering this in a perspective solely to Montero, that line is eerily similar to his 2010 AAA line of .289/.353/.517 line with 21 HR’s.  So James prediction essentially says Montero will repeat his numbers as a 20 year old getting his first taste AAA as a 21 year old getting his first taste of the major leagues.  For all of us who followed Montero this year, we know that he got off to a horrible start and a ridiculously hot finish.  While the slow start is  certainly a possibility (and maybe even a probability) in the major leagues, is there any way Montero would go on a tear like he did last year, hitting .351/.396/.684 after the All Star break?  It took a run like that just to land at his final AAA line, and I can’t see that type of production in the major leagues over such a long period of time.  That’s Pujolsian.  So I’d say for Montero to approach his AAA line in the majors in 2011, he’d have to be pretty consistently awesome for 6 months (with the expected normal peaks and valleys) as a 21 year old rookie catcher, in New York, playing on a team that expects to win the World Series.   Good luck with that.

How realistic is Montero’s projection in a historical context?  Since 1901 how many 21 year old (or younger) catchers have ever slugged over .500 while catching at least 100 games?  Answer: none.  Stretch that out to 22 years old and you get two catchers:  Johnny Bench in 1970 which was his 3rd year in the league and Brian McCann in 2006 in his first full season, though he was not a rookie.  Even going out to the age of 23 there are only 4 more catchers who slugged .500 or greater (Nokes, Carter, Hartnett, Mauer) at such a young age.  And yet, James projects Montero is to slug .517 as a 21 year old rookie.  Opening this comparison up to all positions there have been 30 seasons (by 23 players) since 1901 to slug .500 or greater at age 21 or younger, again none of them catchers.  The list literally is chock full of Hall of Famers as you might expect.  Even if James’ projection for Montero were based on him solely DH’ing, you can still see just how historic his line would be.

I am pretty sure that Montero will not reach James’ lofty projections and it’s unfair to expect him to. That will not make him a bust, overrated or a disappointment.  Let’s all acknowledge that now.  If somehow Montero makes history and hits those projections we will all be beyond thrilled.  I can’t wait to see Montero’s first at-bat in the majors and expect to enjoy the ride, I just want to keep things in perspective, which I simply feel James projections do not do.

Pettitte: ‘It would be one more year and that would be it’

Via KHOU.com, Andy Pettitte indicated that if he does in fact come back and play in 2011, that it would be his final season. “I’m just going to wait and see what my heart wants me to do,” said the lefty. “Right now, I can tell you my heart’s right here in Deer Park.  If something happens and I play one more year that would be it. It would be one more year and that would be it.”

I can’t imagine there’s anything left that Andy wants to accomplish after the career he’s had, so hopefully he comes back for next season and if nothing else, gets a proper send off. While I would understand if he wanted to call it quits now, we all want him back for selfish reasons. Hopefully he does.

Open Thread: Boston adds an arm

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Via MLBTR, the Red Sox swapped lefty reliever Dustin Richardson for former sixth overall pick Andrew Miller this evening, reuniting Miller with his UNC running mate Dan Bard. The big lefty has been a bit of wreck as a pro (5.95 BB/9 career), not coincidentally after the Tigers rushed him to the big leagues a few weeks after being drafted in 2006 (he debuted against the Yanks). I wrote a post at MLBTR a few weeks ago saying that I expected Florida to either trade or non-tender Miller this winter, and sure enough they did. He was intriguing as a non-tender guy on a cheap contract, but through arbitration he’s going to pull down something like $2M. Eh. It’s also the second year in a row that Boston acquire a former Marlins’ top prospect; last year they grabbed Jeremy Hermida. That worked out rather crappily.

Well, anyway, here’s your thread for the night. Both the Devils and Knicks are in action, but talk about whatever your heart desires.

For the Yanks, Carl Crawford just doesn’t make sense

Carl Crawford is set to grab millions of dollars this winter. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

In the 1971 film version of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Veruca Salt, the most spoiled the children who found golden tickets, belts out an ode to greed. “I want the whole world,” she sings. “I want it now.”

To be a Yankee fan the 21st Century is to embrace Veruca Salt’s attitude. Our favorite team is the most successful in the game’s history, and it is positioned as the leader in the biggest market in sports. It has more money to spend than anyone else and do so with abandon, covering up mistakes with dollars in a quest to win. As long as baseball’s financial structure doesn’t limit the Yanks’ spending, they’re not doing anything wrong.

But within that construct is the need to spend wisely. The Yankees might have more money than everyone else, but they still seemingly have a budget. This is a point seemingly lost on many, and nothing has highlighted that belief in the reams of dollars more than this off-season. First, we’ve seen people call for Derek Jeter to get paid whatever he wants, but as Joel Sherman explained this morning, the Yanks and Jeter have to come to deal that makes sense for both parties. They can’t sacrifice winning — still their primary goal — at the expense of one player, and they should try to make the most out of their dollars.

The other example is even better. Based upon a report in The Post that says the Yankees have “reached out” to Carl Crawford’s agent, the clamor for Crawford has grown a little louder. It’s tempting to demand Crawford in that Veruca Salt way. He is a premier offensive player who had the good fortune, like Mark Teixeira, of hitting free agency while 28. The team that signs him will end up with a few years of decline at the end of the contract but will get Carl Crawford on offense and defense in his prime.

The Yankees know Carl Crawford well. He’s played 138 regular season games against them and has hit .301/.329/.419 with 47 stolen bases in 56 attempts. He plays a mean left field, and as R.J. Anderson explored a year ago, Crawford will get and deserve a deal in excess of $100 million. Since the Angels seem willing to spend that much, Crawford will probably wind up there. But what of New York?

The Yankees’ outfield was a great source of value for the team last year. Based on Fangraphs’ WAR valuation, the entire starting outfield put up a combined 13.1 WAR valued at $52.2 million. Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson combined to make a whopping $12.8 million. While those totals will rise in 2011, there’s a very good chance that Carl Crawford will be making more than Yanks’ three Opening Day outfielders combined.

Now Crawford, over the last two seasons, has exploded into a high-production player. He posted a 5.7 WAR in 2009 and a 6.9 WAR in 2010. He’s doing all he can to earn and deserve that large contract. But if Brett Gardner, who posted a 5.4 WAR and made $450,000 in 2010, can continue to be a 3-4 win player, and if Crawford is making $19-$22 million next year while maintaining a 5-6 win pace, the Yankees would be paying a whopping premium — somewhere around $17-$19 million — for an improvement of two wins. In economic terms, it would be an inefficient use of resources to sign Crawford, and he doesn’t address a need the Yankees have going into 2011.

The Yanks have clear needs for next year. They need another starter, maybe two, and they want a left-handed reliever. They don’t need an outfielder when they already have three of the top outfielders in the American League. Even for a team with resources as seemingly unlimited as the Yankees, they don’t need to embody Veruca Salt every time a free agent comes a-knockin’.

Yanks still don’t know how many years Mo wants

Via Ken Rosenthal, Mariano Rivera‘s camp still has not informed the Yankees if the G.O.A.T. is seeking a one- or two-year deal. Either way I don’t believe it will be an issue, but common says tells you that you’d prefer to keep the commitment as short as possible with a guy that will turn 41 years old in just 17 days. If nothing else, this tells us how for along the two sides are in the negotiation process, meaning not far along at all.

Rosenthal also mentions that the Yanks expect Kerry Wood to test the closer’s market. Saves equal money people, both now and in the future. It’s only smart for Wood to see what’s out there.

RAB Live Chat

Jorge de la Rosa a longshot for Yanks rotation

(Jack Dempsey/AP)

What does it mean for a team to express interest in a player? I’ve been writing about hot stove issues for five years now and I still don’t have a clear definition. Did they call his agent? Did they sit in a conference room and ponder the possibilities? I’m sure it means different things to different people, too, which makes it harder for us to determine a team’s intent. In today’s Daily News Mark Feinsand and Peter Botte write that, “the Yankees have expressed interest in lefthander Jorge de la Rosa.” It’s an interesting thought — a plan B should they lose out on Cliff Lee — but I’m not sure de la Rosa fits with the Yankees.

The first thing that stands out about de la Rosa is his walk rate. In his career he has walked 4.55 per nine, and that number has come down only slightly in recent years. In the last two seasons he has a walk rate of 4.05 per nine, which is still quite high. For comparison, A.J. Burnett‘s walk rate was 4.22 per nine in 2009, which was the second highest mark of his career. It was 3.76 per nine this year. I imagine Rockies fans often uttered, “throw strikes!” in earnest when de la Rosa was on the mound.

The Burnett comp can be taken a step further. Before signing with the Yankees Burnett boasted a strikeout rate of 8.4 per nine innings. That’s the rate at which de la Rosa struck out batters in 2010. His career rate is 7.98 per nine innings, though he did see a considerable jump when moving from the Royals to the Rockies in 2008. The problem is that when Burnett came to the Yankees he saw his strikeout rate take a dive. After striking out 9.56 per nine in 2007 and 9.39 per nine in 2008, Burnett struck out just 8.48 per nine in 2009 and 6.99 last season. The last thing the Yankees need is another high strikeout, high walk pitcher who loses his strikeout stuff.

The Yankees need a pitcher who can give them length. CC Sabathia can go deep into games, but everyone else in the rotation has issues. Phil Hughes didn’t have many eighth inning appearances in 2010, and forget about it with Burnett. In 2009, when de la Rosa pitched a career-high 185 innings he averaged just a sliver more than 5.2 innings per start. Burnett averaged 5.2 innings per start last season. All those strikeouts are nice, but if they mean de la Rosa is regularly turning the ball over to the bullpen in the fifth or sixth inning, I’m not sure it helps the team all that much.

De la Rosa’s low innings totals should also raise a red flag. Not only has he topped out at 185 inning, but after that he hasn’t pitched more than 130 innings in any season. Part of this involves his injury history. From 2006 through 2010 he has spent 164 days on the DL, each time with a hand or arm in jury. True, one of them was a non-recurring fingernail tear, so perhaps we can write that off as a fluke. But we can’t write off an elbow strain that caused him to miss 41 days in 2007, nor can we look the other way when we see that he missed 74 days last season with a strained flexor band in his middle finger. He also ended the 2009 season with a strained groin. In fact, if you head to Baseball Injury Tool you can see that he’s had five separate hand injuries. I’m not sure if that bodes poorly for his future, but I can’t imagine it bodes well.

What does de la Rosa bring to the table, beyond strikeouts? He does get a decent number of ground balls, and posted the highest rate of his career in 2010. I’m not sure that’s sustainable in any way — I’d definitely take his career track record over a 121 inning sample. He also could stand to benefit from leaving Coors Field; his HR/FB ratio is consistently high. Then again, Rockies pitchers in general don’t have a higher than average HR/FB ratio. If changing stadiums helps bring that rate down, though, de la Rosa could be a quality pitcher. He has produced xFIPs of 4.06, 3.76, and 3.77 in the last three years. His numbers have trended higher, at least in part, because of that HR/FB ratio.

In writing this post I’ve tried to look for the positives in de la Rosa. I remember when the off-season started I thought he might be a decent addition. But then I started researching him a bit more, and nothing really impressed me. If his strikeout rate takes a hit in the transition from the NL West to the AL East, he has even less worth to a team. The Rockies tried to retain him, but it appears as though he’s seeking the biggest payday. Let another team sign him to a four or five year deal. The Yankees might be short on pitchers should they lose out to Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte retires, but even then I’m not sure I’d get on board with signing de la Rosa. He just has “bad experience” written all over him.