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.

Valuing Eduardo Nunez

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

As fans, we come up with our own evaluations of players. They’re impacted by our emotions and confirmation bias, though I think we’ve done a better job of being more objective over the years. Teams have their own evaluations of players as well, evaluations based on stats and hordes of scouting reports dating back to when the player was just some kid in Single-A. The evaluations of fans and teams are often totally different, that much is obvious.

Over the last two or three years, another thing has become obvious: Major League teams value Eduardo Nunez. The Braves have interest in him for the second straight offseason, and the Mariners wanted him in the Cliff Lee non-trade last year. Those are just the rumors we’ve heard about, but I’m willing to bet several other clubs have inquired about his availability without us knowing. We see Nunez as a hacker at the plate and unable to consistently make the routine throw, but other teams see him as a valuable piece. Why? I’ll give you six reasons why…

  1. Aaron Hill, two years and $11M
  2. Clint Barmes, two years and $10.5M
  3. Mark Ellis, two years and $8.75M
  4. Jamey Carroll, two years and $6.75M
  5. Willie Bloomquist, two years and $3.8M
  6. John McDonald, two years and $3M

Those six players have signed those contracts this offseason. They average 34.5 years of age, hit a combined .255/.307/.351 in 2011, and will earn an average of $3.65M next season. Nunez turned 24 in June, hit .265/.313/.385 in 2011, and will earn roughly $500k next season (as well as the year after). Now it’s easy to see why other teams have been asking the Yankees about Nunez. The middle infield market is absolute garbage these days.

It’s great that the Yankees have an asset in Nunez, an asset other teams covet, but what exactly should they do with him? We could argue this nonstop from here until Opening Day, and I don’t think there’s a right answer. If a deal comes along that will allow them to add an impact starting pitcher, then they should trade him. If nothing like that materializes, then they should keep him because Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter aren’t getting any younger. There’s no rush to do anything right now, so the Yankees can wait to see just what offers come along, if any.

Is Nunez a frustrating player to watch? Oh hell yes, there’s little argument to be made there. Frustrating does not mean worthless though. Eduardo has real life value as long as the middle infield situation around the game remains awful and utility guys are getting two guaranteed years and starting spots on the open market. It’s just a question of whether he’s more valuable to the Yankees on their roster, or as trade bait.

Inside the best-pitched game of the Yankees’ 2011 season

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

For my money, there are few things more thrilling in modern-day baseball than a complete-game shutout. A large part of my thirst for the complete game is that unless you’re Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, it’s a feat that’s grown rarer as baseball marches on. Last season there were 75 complete-game shutouts, or 2.5 per team, although four teams didn’t record a single one — Cleveland, Houston, Kansas City, and somewhat surprisingly, San Diego.

That 2011 tally of 75 may have been up from 2010’s 59 and 2009’s 63, but even though CGSHOs seem to be coming somewhat back into vogue, it hasn’t necessarily been that way for the Yankees.

The Yankees technically authored three complete-game shutouts in 2011, although only two were of the nine-inning variety. Phil Hughes was credited for a complete-game shutout for his rain-shortened six-inning win against the White Sox on August 2nd, but that really doesn’t count.

Truly, keeping an opposing team off the board for nine full innings is a pretty herculean task. When Bartolo Colon did it on Memorial Day back at the end of May, I was exceptionally pumped, as it was the first Yankee complete-game shutout since Sabathia authored one against the Orioles on May 8, 2009, not to mention the fact that if you’d told me Colon would pitch a CGSHO at any point in the 2011 season I would’ve thought you were crazier than the National League for making pitchers hit. It was also only the third recorded by a Yankee since 2006, and if you go back over the last 10 seasons, Yankee pitchers have only recorded 17 complete-game shutouts. Admittedly the Yankees’ potential shutout tally is inherently limited by the presence of the Greatest Closer of All Time, but that only adds to the scarcity and makes the accomplishment that much more impressive in my eyes.

As great as Bartolo’s game was, if you sort by Game Score, CC Sabathia threw an even more dominating start a month-and-a-half later, which, at 87, was the top Game Score by a Yankee pitcher of the 2011 season. At the time, it represented the second-highest WPA for a starting pitcher in all of MLB after Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter. Sabathia’s CGSHO wound up finishing third overall come season’s end.

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc ? WPA
1 CC Sabathia 2011-07-10 NYY TBR W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 1 9 0 113 79 87 0.761
2 Bartolo Colon 2011-05-30 NYY OAK W 5-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 0 6 0 103 71 85 0.365
3 CC Sabathia 2011-07-26 NYY SEA W 4-1 GS-7 ,W 7.0 1 1 1 3 14 0 102 71 82 0.167
4 Bartolo Colon 2011-05-18 NYY BAL W 4-1 GS-8 8.0 3 0 0 1 7 0 87 61 82 0.629
5 CC Sabathia 2011-06-30 NYY MIL W 5-0 GS-8 ,W 7.2 6 0 0 2 13 0 118 77 78 0.317
6 CC Sabathia 2011-04-05 NYY MIN L 4-5 GS-7 7.0 2 0 0 1 6 0 104 67 78 0.278
7 CC Sabathia 2011-05-19 NYY BAL W 13-2 GS-8 ,W 8.0 7 0 0 0 9 0 109 84 77 0.097
8 CC Sabathia 2011-07-16 NYY TOR W 4-1 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 1 1 3 8 0 110 74 77 0.339
9 Ivan Nova 2011-06-20 NYY CIN W 5-3 GS-8 ,W 8.0 4 1 1 0 7 0 105 70 77 0.289
10 CC Sabathia 2011-07-05 NYY CLE W 9-2 GS-7 ,W 7.0 5 0 0 2 11 0 100 69 76 0.162
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/17/2011.

Given Sabathia’s dominance of the Rays on July 10th, I wanted to see how exactly he attacked them that afternoon. The following is a breakdown of Sabathia’s complete-game shutout compared with his insane eight-start run from June 25nd through August 1st (62.2 innings, 78(!) strikeouts, 16 walks, .503 OPSa, 1.01 ERA), his entire season, and the league average numbers for left-handed pitchers:

Sabathia’s four-seamer was something else on July 10th, averaging 95mph, going for a strike over three-fourths of the time, coaxing a swing well over 50% of the time, and generating a well-above average percentage of whiffs. Interestingly, he increased his deployment of the slider both during the July 10th game and throughout his eight-start run, compared with how frequently he used it on the season.

I say interesting because CC appeared to be getting into some trouble later in the season due to increased slider usage, although looking at the data in this chart compared to the August data in that link we see that the slider was breaking slightly less during his rough August stint (-0.43 inches of V-break compared to -0.73 during the dominant run) and was also roughly one mph slower. Those are both such minimal changes that I don’t feel comfortable drawing any conclusions about the slider one way or another, although given how important it is to CC’s repertoire it’s possible something even as minor as 0.30 less inches of average vertical break at one mile per hour slower would have a deleterious effect.

But I digress. The other interesting thing that sticks out to me on the above chart is that CC got zero swings-and-misses on on his sinker during the eight-start beast run, despite throwing it 12% of the time. Like any good sinkerballer, it’s obviously more of a pitch-to-contact pitch for him, but I hadn’t really realized that about his sinker until I looked at the numbers.

In any event, I’ll eagerly await the next CC Sabathia shutout complete-game shutout, not to mention a few more insane 1.00-ERA runs he’d like to string together.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 28th, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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Open Thread: Cody Ransom

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

As much as we’d like it to be, a Triple-A team is never all prospects. It’s just not realistic. Clubs use their Triple-A team basically as a taxi squad these days, keeping spare parts for the big league roster stashed down there in case of emergency. There’s a few extra bullpen arms, a sixth or seventh starter, the fifth outfielder, maybe an extra utility infielder, stuff like that. Not all of these guys have to be long-term pieces though, and in fact they shouldn’t be unless you want to clog up your 40-man roster and have little flexibility.

The Yankees signed Cody Ransom to be one of those spare pieces on this date in 2007, stashing him in Triple-A in case someone got hurt. He started the next season in Triple-A, hitting .255/.338/.482 with 22 homers in 116 games before being called up to replace Richie Sexson in mid-August. Ransom made his first appearance as a Yankee the next day, pinch-running for Jason Giambi in the seventh inning before being pinch-hit for by Wilson Betemit in the eighth. He got his first at-bat the next day, replacing Giambi in the late innings of a blowout, clubbing a two-run homer off Jeff Fulchino of the Royals. After again replacing Giambi five days later, Ransom hit a three-run homer off Fernando Cabrera of the Orioles. Two at-bats as a Yankee, two homers. The legend had been born.

Ransom saw a decent amount of playing time the rest of the way, especially once the Yankees had been eliminated from postseason contention. He hit two homers against the Red Sox in Fenway Park on the second to last day of the season, and finished the year with a .302/.400/.651 batting line in 51 big league at-bats. He also recorded the final out at the Old Yankee Stadium, an unassisted putout on a Brian Roberts ground ball to first. A faction of fans though Ransom was worthy of regular playing time that offseason, perhaps inserting him as the regular first baseman or making him him a super-utility guy that plays a different position every day or by trading the disappointing Robinson Cano (.271/.305/.410 in 2008) and making him the full-time second baseman. Those fans got their wish in the spring, when news broke of Alex Rodriguez‘s hip injury and subsequent surgery. Ransom was going to be the full-time third baseman until A-Rod came back.

In a column that has since disappeared off the face of the internet, Ian O’Connor infamously argued that the Yankees were better off with Ransom at third than Alex. “[F]acts are facts,” he wrote. “The Yankees haven’t reached the World Series in Rodriguez’s five seasons, and they reached six in the eight seasons before he arrived. Coincidence, or guilty as charged?” That sounds even sillier now than it did back then, and of course Ransom was awful in 2009. He was hitting .180/.226/.320 when he blew out his quad in late-April, then he resurfaced in late-June as the utility infielder. With his batting line sitting on .190/.256/.329 on August 8th, the Yankees sent Ransom packing and released him. He finished the season in Triple-A after re-signing to a minor league pact, then moved on to the Phillies after the season.

Ransom is the model Quad-A masher, the guy that puts up big numbers in the minors but wilts against big leaguers. He turned a solid late season showing in 2008 into a full-time job to open 2009, but his true colors eventually shined through. Ransom does have a World Series ring though, the same one as A-Rod. Coincidence? Ian O’Connor thinks not.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. The afternoon football games are still being played, and the late game is the Steelers at the Chiefs (8:20pm ET on NBC). That’s all you’ve got as far as sports go, but The Walking Dead midseason finale is on tonight. I’m giving that show one last chance, I didn’t think a show about bloodthirsty zombies could move along so slowly and with so little action. Anyway, anything goes here, so talk about whatever you want. Enjoy.

Noesi, Sanchez, Pena continue strong winter ball showings

The Yankees have re-signed Josh Romanski, though they lost Steve Garrison to the Mariners. Not the end of the world. Apparently if a minor leaguer is released before becoming a six-year free agent, they go year-to-year after that. A team can’t sign someone and get his extra years of control, if you know what I mean. That’s why Romanski became a free agent even though he was just drafted (by the Brewers) in 2008.

Arizona Fall League (final stats)
Corban Joseph, 2B: 25 G, 22 for 97, 14 R, 8 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 9 BB, 17 K, 1 SB, 3 CS (.227/.287/.371)
Ronnie Mustelier, UTIL: 16 G, 22 for 64, 8 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 7 K, 3 SB, 1 CS (.344/.354/.516)
Rob Segedin, 3B/LF: 29 G, 27 for 108, 21 R, 6 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 17 BB, 25 K, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.250/.367/.407)
Dan Burawa, RHP: 12 G, 0 GS, 14.1 IP, 20 H, 16 R, 12 ER, 8 BB, 11 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (7.53 ERA, 1.95 WHIP)
Preston Claiborne, RHP: 12 G, 0 GS, 12 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 7 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 1 HB, 1 WP (3.00 ERA, 1.50 WHIP)
David Phelps, RHP: 8 G, 8 GS, 32.2 IP, 36 H, 16 R, 16 ER, 9 BB, 28 K, 3 HR (4.41 ERA, 1.38 WHIP)
Chase Whitley, RHP: 12 G, 0 GS, 16.2 IP, 12 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 13 K, 2 HR, 2 HB (1.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP)

Dominican Winter League
Abe Almonte, OF: 21 G, 3 for 24, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 SB, 1 CS (.125/.192/.125) – I wonder if he’s just out of has, he just stayed healthy for a full season for the first time in his career and is now playing winter ball
Zoilo Almonte, OF: 5 G, 2 for 12, 3 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K (.167/.286/.167) – hasn’t played in a while
Melky Mesa, OF: 16 G, 9 for 41, 6 R, 2 2B, 3 3B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.220/.273/.415)
Gary Sanchez, C/DH: 7 G, 5 for 15, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 7 K (.333/.412/.333)
Ronny Marte, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 0 IP, 1 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB (? ERA, ? WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League
Walt Ibarra, IF: 23 G, 10 for 61, 6 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 15 K, 1 CS (.165/.215/.197)
Ramiro Pena, IF: 16 G, 17 for 57, 5 R, 3 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 7 BB, 7 K, 1 SB, 1 CS (.298/.375/.456) – Rakin’ Ramiro
Jorge Vazquez, 1B/DH: 37 G, 52 for 149, 24 R, 5 2B, 14 HR, 44 RBI, 12 BB, 43 K, 1 HBP (.349/.399/.664)
Pat Venditte, SwP: 19 G, 0 GS, 23.2 IP, 15 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 1 BB, 21 K, 4 HR, 1 WP (3.04 ERA, 0.68 WHIP)

Puerto Rican League
Ray Kruml, OF: 13 G, 9 for 40, 3 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 6 K, 2 SB, 2 CS (.225/.225/.275)

Venezuelan Winter League
Dan Brewer, OF: 6 G, 1 for 19, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K, 1 HBP (.053/.174/.053) – need to make up the at-bats he lost due to injury this year
Colin Curtis, OF: 15 G, 14 for 51, 9 G,4 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 5 BB, 9 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.275/.351/.471)
Jose Gil, C/1B: 22 G, 18 for 63, 15 R, 7 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 6 BB, 12 K (.286/.348/.476)
Jose Pirela, IF: 35 G, 47 for 140, 15 R, 5 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 6 BB, 16 K, 2 SB, 1 CS, 3 HBP (.336/.368/.457)
Rich Martinez, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA, 2.50 WHIP)
Hector Noesi, RHP: 6 G, 6 GS, 23.1 IP, 25 H, 14 R, 6 ER, 6BB, 15 K, 1 WP (2.31 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) – he’s up to 104.1 IP on the season after throwing 160.1 IP in 2010 … I think they might have shut him down because he hasn’t pitched in close to two weeks

Based on his Twitter feed, Zach Varce is playing winter ball in Colombia this year. If I knew where to find those stats, I’d pass them along.