Game 78: Trying for four in a row

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Jay?? via Creative Commons license)

Does anyone even read these things anyway? I’m guessing no. Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, SS

A.J. Burnett, RHP

YES will have the game at 7:05pm ET. Enjoy.

Injury News: Eric Chavez is running at full speedRafael Soriano is almost ready to throw off a mound … if he’s ready by Saturday, Derek Jeter will playing in a rehab game(s) with Double-A Trenton … Phil Hughes may not need another rehab start, he looked pretty sharp today.

Saturday’s Starter: TBA

Via Marc Carig, the starter for Saturday’s game at the Mets is currently listed as TBA. Brian Gordon lines up for that game, but so does Bartolo Colon. Carig says Bartolo will participate in some drills before he can officially be announced as the starter, but presumably he feels fine after Monday’s 60-pitch simulated game. If everything checks out and he’s not at risk of reaggravating the hamstring, I say start him. No sense in wasting those bullets in a simulated game, even if he can only give them 80 pitches Saturday.

Yanks sign hard-throwing Logan Kensing to minor league deal

The Yankees made a bullpen acquisition earlier today, though it’s not one that has an immediate impact on the major league team. Via his agency, right-hander Logan Kensing has signed a minor league deal with the Yanks. Kensing last pitched the the majors in 2009 with the Marlins and the Nationals, combining for an ugly 8.92 ERA in 35.1 innings. That goes a long way in explaining his absence from the majors in 2010.

Kensing came into the league as a 21-year-old with the Marlins in 2004, though he didn’t become a regular until 2006. From 2006 through 2008 he threw 106.1 innings to a 3.98 ERA and 4.53 FIP, striking out more than a batter per inning while walking nearly five. He underwent Tommy John surgery, which limited him to just 13.1 innings in 2007 and cost him the end of the 2006 season. That he pitched as a regular in 2006, of course, means that Joe Girardi is familiar with him. Apparently Girardi liked him very much in 2006.

After he was designated for assignment in 2009 the Marlins traded him to the Nats for a low-tier pitching prospect. On May 15th the Nats designated him for assignment, but brought him back in July. While he wasn’t as bad from July through the end of the season, he still had a 6.65 ERA, due in large part to a pair of horrible performances. There’s no real way to pretty it up: he’s been terrible.

Kensing does throw hard, usually around 92-93. He goes to a slider often. The chances of him cracking the major league roster are pretty low, but he’s kind of an interesting pick-up, considering he even got to the bigs as a 21-year-old. But that was a long time ago, and he clearly hasn’t adapted well. Maybe a year away from the game — he didn’t even pitch in the minors in 2010, though he could have pitched independent ball — have helped. Chances are, he’s just an intriguing arm in Scranton.

Mark Teixeira’s Quiet Milestone

(Photo Credit: Flickr user dbfoto™ via Creative Commons license)

We’ve become numb to homerun records over the last decade or so, likely because of smaller ballparks, expansion, better advance scouting, PEDs … all of that and more likely contributed to the offensive explosion. Alex Rodriguez has chased 400, 500 and 600 career homers in recent years, plus Derek Jeter‘s recent pursuit of 3,000 hits has given us our fill of historic milestones. So when Mark Teixeira hit his 299th career homerun last night, it was barely a blip on the radar. It shouldn’t be though, his (inevitable) 300th homer will be an impressive feat, especially when put into context.

Just 129 hitters in baseball history have hit 300 career long balls, a group that does not include plays like Roger Maris, Joe Morgan, Brooks Robinson, Will Clark, and Bernie Williams. Furthermore, just seven switch-hitters have hit three hundred homers: Mickey Mantle (536), Eddie Murray (504), Chipper Jones (443 and counting), Chili Davis (350), Lance Berkman (345 and counting), Reggie Smith (314), and Ruben Sierra (316). Only four players (Albert Pujols, Ralph Kiner, Eddie Matthews, and Adam Dunn) have hit more homeruns in their first nine seasons than Tex, and he still has half a season to go. That’s pretty nuts.

I think part of the numbness to Teixeira’s pursuit of 300 homers has to do with his age. We’re not talking about a guy in his mid-30’s limping to the milestone at the end of his career; there’s no feel-good story here. He’s only 31, so we expect expect him to hit many more homeruns over the final five and a half years of his contract. Four hundred homers seem like a lock barring injury, and Tex has a legit chance to get to 500 as well. He’d have to hit another 15 this year and average just over 37 homers per year over the rest of his contact. That’s a lot of homers for a guy approaching his mid-30’s, but he could certainly give himself a nice head start this year and next.

Teixeira has certainly benefited from the short porch at Yankee Stadium, hitting 15 of his league lead-tying 24 homers at home. At least ten of those 15 have come as a left-handed batter, so the Yankees first baseman is clearly playing to his ballpark. That’s fine and that’s what he should do, especially since he’s strong enough to be successful with that kind of approach in road ballparks as well. His upcoming 300th homerun might just be a ho-hum moment, but he’s in a rather exclusive group of switch-hitting power bats when it comes to career accomplishments.

Scouting The Trade Market: Wandy Rodriguez

This is actually from the Yanks/Stros series in '08. (From Flickr user William Holtkamp via Creative Commons license.)

When the Yankees sought a pitcher to fill the spot reserved for Cliff Lee, Wandy Rodriguez’s name came up frequently. He’s a quality pitcher on a not-so-quality team, and he was just one year from free agency. While that might sound like a match on the surface, it misses a bigger point. With an already thin starting staff, Houston wasn’t about to give up its best pitcher before the season even started. Come trade deadline, though, he could become available.

Houston threw a wrench in the plan by signing Rodriguez to a three-year, $34 million contract with a $13 million fourth-year option. That doesn’t preclude them from trading him, since it’s a market value contract (and maybe a bit below market). But it does change the proposition, from acquiring a rental to acquiring an arm for the next few years. He’s someone who can help in that time, though. So far this year he has a 3.21 ERA and 3.94 FIP (3.48 xFIP) through 13 starts and 84 innings.

The Pros

  • From 2008 through 2010 he was the Astros best pitcher, posting an 8.4 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, and 0.85 HR/9, good for a 3.36 ERA and 3.55 FIP. That amounted to 10.2 WAR, best on the team by a full win.
  • His fielding-independent performance has remained pretty consistent through his peak years, peaking at 3.62 and bottoming out at 3.50. He has also kept his ERA reasonably in line with the number, so it does appear that he is as good as his peripherals indicate.
  • Since 2008 he ranks 16th in IP, 13th in ERA, 15th in FIP, 11th in xFIP, and 17th in WAR among NL pitchers with more than 350 IP. In other words, he’s a solid No. 2 – No. 3 pitcher.
  • He eats lefties for breakfast, striking them out more, walking them less, and keeping the ball in the park more often. That’ll play well at the Stadium.

The Cons

  • He has a clause in his contract that turns the $13 million option into a player one if he’s traded. Put in a different context, that means the Yankees would be trading for a rental and then signing him to a three-year, $36 million contract — while giving up the players that reflect that they’re getting him for all those years.
  • He’s a late bloomer and is actually 32 this season. That means the Yankees would have him for his age-33 through his age-35 seasons. It’s not the worst proposition, but it’s always dicey dealing with pitchers at that age.
  • He’s been remarkably poor during interleague play during his career, with a lower strikeout rate and higher walk rate than his career numbers. This carries over to his good years, as he’s been horrible during the last three years of interleague play.
  • He pitches quite a bit better at home than on the road, though that seems a bit odd, considering how hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park is, especially for righties. I’m not sure if that’s a big consideration in acquiring him, but it does stand out.

Left-handed pitching is clearly a priority for the Yankees, and Rodriguez fits that need well. He’s not just someone who throws with his left hand, but rather a high-strikeout, low-walk guy who can keep fellow lefties in check while handling righties just fine. In that way he appears to be a good target for the Yankees. But the cons list takes away a lot of his value. The Yankees would be making a significant commitment to him, and unless they’ve scouted him extensively, as they would a potential free agent signing, they might be disinclined to make a deal. The contract itself isn’t bad, and it would give the Yankees another lefty in the rotation for a few years. But it’s still a hefty commitment for a deadline deal.

If Rodriguez had not signed the extension, I would have thought a trade possible, or even likely. But the contract, especially the player option clause, complicates matters. There’s still an outside chance, but the more complexities you add to a trade the less likely it becomes. We might hear the Yankees inquiring on Rodriguez, but I’d have to put the chances of an actual trade at less than one percent.

Building A Postseason Pitching Staff

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Snap Man via Creative Commons license)

We’ve wasted countless words here talking about specific players the Yankees may or may not target at the trade deadline, and the majority of the time we’ve written about pitchers. The one point we keep missing or just ignoring is the goal of a trade. Yes, it’s to make the team better (duh), but for when? Given the Yankees and their perpetual pursuit of World Championships, the goal is too build a better postseason team, specifically a better postseason pitching staff. That’s a different animal than a regular season staff, very much so.

Right now, at the end of June, the pitching staff is a dozen guys deep because they’re playing everyday and they don’t want to overworking certain players, yadda yadda yadda. Come playoff time, that all changes. There’s no screwing around, you’ll see clubs rely heavily on their three best starters and three or four top relievers. That’s pretty much it. Just look back at 2009, the Yankees used just three starters in the playoffs and the relief quartet of Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Phil Hughes threw 34 of 46.1 total relief innings (73.3%). Those seven guys combined to throw 92.5% of the team’s total innings that postseason.

If anyone beyond the six or seven top pitchers gets into a postseason game, it’s either a) an emergency (short start or extra innings), b) a blowout, or c) overmanaging. This is nothing new, and it’s not something unique to the Yankees. As much as we don’t want to see them on the roster, the Brian Gordons and Buddy Carlyles of the world are only here to help navigate this current stretch of the 162 game regular season. The beauty of the postseason is that we get to see who the manager really trusts because he’s in “win at all costs” mode.

At the moment, I see just three guys on the Yankees’ staff that are absolute locks for the postseason roster: Mo, Robertson, and CC Sabathia. I don’t think anyone else’s spot is guaranteed. Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia have done a bang-up job at the back of the rotation so far, but will they start a playoff game for the Yankees this year*? Who knows if Bartolo Colon will return from the hamstring injury and pitch the way he did earlier in the year. Furthermore, who knows if he’ll hold up all year? It’s a roll of a dice every time he goes out there. How effective will Rafael Soriano be? Phil Hughes? A.J. Burnett was not used out of the bullpen in last year’s ALDS, he’s certainly not guaranteed to pitch. Obviously some guys will step up and seize jobs between now and then, but others will make it by default.

The clear needs right now for a potential Yankees’ postseason pitching staff are a legitimate number two starter behind Sabathia, two reliable right-handers out of the bullpen, and a lefty specialist that can actually get lefties out. It’s entirely possible that all four needs will be filled from within, but the smart money is on some outside help being needed. The Yankees have another month to really evaluate their internal options before the trade deadline, and beyond that they can sort out the rest of the staff and ride the hot hands into October. Just remember, the pitching staff at the end of the season will look little the one the Yankees have now, and with good reason.

* Assuming they get that far, of course. The playoffs are far from a given.