Open Thread: 10-0

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

I think we all remember Aaron Small and the job he did for the 2005 Yankees, but here’s the interesting thing about that season: he won ten games, but only made nine starts. He didn’t strike anyone out (4.38 K/9), but he kept the walks down (2.84 uIBB/9) so his FIP was rock solid at 3.88 (3.20 ERA). Small did benefit from some major homerun luck though, since his ground ball rate wasn’t spectacular (43..9%) but his 4.5% HR/FB ratio was. His 4.79 xFIP was far more indicative of his true talent level, which he demonstrated in the 2006 season. The Yankees signed Small to a minor league contract six years ago today, and I think it’s safe to say they had no idea how important he would end up being. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’re thankful for his service.

Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Isles, Knicks, and Nets are all in action tonight, but it’s Friday. Go out an live a little. Enjoy.

Vernon Wells headed to LAnaheim

Update (9:37pm): The Angels aren’t getting any cash in the deal, they’re talking on the full $86M. Unreal.

Update (7:16pm): Ken Rosenthal says it’s Wells for Napoli and former Yankee Juan Rivera. Toronto is paying part of Vernon’s salary, but it’s unclear how much.

Via MLBTR, the Blue Jays have traded Vernon Wells to the Angels for Mike Napoli. This is not a joke. The Angels really took Wells and the four years and $86M left on his deal for Napoli, who’s still in his arbitration years and has out wOBA’d Wells .361 to .342 over the last three years. I don’t know what the hell the HaLOLos are doing, but it’s tough not to love the job Alex Anthopoulos has done so far in Toronto.

Given the Angels current state of apparent dismay, I think an Alex Rodriguez for Jered Weaver and Dan Haren offer is in order.

Long on tune-ups for Tex

Tom Verducci caught up with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long recently, and the two spoke about a few things that Mark Teixeira has to tighten up offensively moving forward. One is his chronic slow starts, but the other two involve collapsing on his back leg and using the whole field. Verducci throws out a Jason Giambi comparison as a scare tactic, but the Giambino had a .396 OBP and a .249 ISO in his last five years with the Yankees. Give me that with Tex’s defense, and the last thing I’ll do is complain. Either way, it’s a short and interesting read, so check it out.

The RAB Radio Show: January 21, 2011

With everything pretty settled for the Yankees — we’ve talked enough about Andruw Jones at this point that it’s not worth revisiting — Mike and I take the show down a different path today. ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark wrote an article detailing the most underrated player by position. Mike and I don’t agree with a lot of them, so we run down our own lists.

Podcast run time 37:19

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Mailbag: Albert Pujols

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Dave asks: Now that Pujols has given the Cards an ultimatum regarding his contract, can we start imagining him with NYY? Who’s a better 1B – he or Teix? Didn’t he used to play other positions? Couldn’t he handle one of the outfield corners, or perhaps share 3B/DH with A-Rod (keeping both fresher)?

We’ve already gotten a swarm of emails about the possibility of Albert Pujols joining the Yankees in the next year or so, and those emails don’t figure to stop anytime soon. This post is going to serve as our default answer to that question barring any significant changes to the situation, so I suggest bookmarking it.

The idea of Pujols in pinstripes is drool-worthy. He’s the best player in the game and the most devastating hitter on the planet, and he’ll hit the free agent market at essentially age 32 (his birthday was a week or two ago, so at the start of the 2012 season he’ll be 32). He should still have a few seasons of super-elite production ahead of him, and even once he starts to slip, Pujols will still be one of the game’s best. But we’ve seen this movie before.

Three seasons ago a 32-year-old Alex Rodriguez hit the free agent market after opting out of his contract. He was coming off an MVP-winning 2007 season, when he hit 54 homers with a .449 wOBA in 158 games. He owned a .416 wOBA and two MVP awards in his first four years as a Yankee, playing in no fewer than 154 games in each season. That production and his relatively young age led to the mammoth ten-year, $275M contract.

That contract is now the mother of all albatrosses. A-Rod hasn’t played in more than 138 games in any of the three seasons since signing it, and his production, while still fantastic, has slipped down to a .393 wOBA since then, including .363 in 2010. He needed hip surgery barely 18 months after signing the contract, an issue severe enough that it will need to be monitored for at least the next few seasons, if not the rest of his career. With seven-years and no less than $184M left on the contract, the Yankees need to hope that their third baseman avoids injury and remains productive to at least break even on the deal. Getting surplus value is pretty much out of the question now.

This is nothing against Alex, he’s a great player, it just goes to show the risk associated with giving gigantic contracts to 30-somethings. He had played in 154+ games every year from 2001 through 2006, but he’s visited this disabled list in each of the three seasons since, and that doesn’t include all the added rest needed for his hip. It just goes to show that no matter how durable a guy is, things can change quickly once they start to get up there in age.

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Pujols is no different, and in fact he’s been battling an elbow issue for the last few years. He finally had surgery to correct it during the 2009-2010 offseason, but it still gave him trouble this past September. He might not get an A-Rod deal, but at the very least he’ll get Mark Teixeira‘s contract, and probably more since he’s just straight up better than Tex. Giving out another humongous contract to a guy in his 30’s is pretty much the last thing the Yanks need right now, especially if he’s not a pitcher.

And that’s the other thing too, what happens with Tex if you sign Pujols? You can’t trade him because a) he’s got a full no-trade clause, b) no other team is taking on that contract, and c) eating like, half the money left on it just for the sake of moving him is a terrible idea and a massive waste of resources. I guess you could use one guy at first and DH the other, but you’re then wasting one guy’s defensive skills, which the team is paying for and are excellent. You can’t move Tex back to third (moving A-Rod to DH) because he hasn’t played the position since 2003 and has a grand total of 99.2 big league innings there. Pujols has the elbow problems and has been a full-time first baseman since 2004, so moving him isn’t much of an option either.

I’d love love love to see Pujols in the middle of the Yankee lineup, with Robbie Cano batting ahead of him and A-Rod and Tex behind him, but it’s the definition of overkill. You’re going to compromise roster flexibility well into the future, tying up about $90M annually in THREE players (all corner infielders in their 30’s, too), and all for what amounts to a DH upgrade. I fully expect the Cardinals to re-sign Pujols at some point this calendar year, but even so I can’t imagine the Yankees getting involved. I’m certain his agent will bring them up just to drive up the price, but there’s just no fit. The Yankees can afford it, but that’s doesn’t mean it’s the wisest idea.

RAB Live Chat

Mailbag: Scott Baker

Shave that goatee, son. (Rex Arbogast/AP)

Reggie C. writes: What about the possibility of acquiring Scott Baker from the Twins? He’s a potential buy-low candidate. Baker probably isn’t as good as his ’09 stats, but he can’t be as bad as ’10? If Pettitte retires, is Baker an option?

To this point in the off-season I’ve thought about a lot of potential fills for the back end of the Yankees rotation, but until Reggie’s email I hadn’t considered Scott Baker. Let’s take a look at his case.

In 2008 Baker was the Twins’ best pitcher, but since then he’s declined a bit. He went from a 3.45 ERA and 3.79 FIP to 4.37 and 4.08, and then 4.49 and 3.96 in 2010. Last year was a particularly rough one. After getting lit up for six runs in 4.2 innings against Cleveland — against Cleveland in mid-July his ERA stood at 5.15. After a rough first half, that was not the start he needed to the second half. Then, after he recovered and posted a 3.28 ERA over his next eight starts, he sat out almost three weeks with right elbow soreness. He returned to pitch well in his final two starts, but was relegated to the bullpen in the ALDS.

Baker’s problem during the past two seasons has been home runs. During his 2007 and 2008 campaigns his homer rate hovered around one per nine, which, while not great, is acceptable — especially for a fly ball pitcher such as Baker. In the last two years that has been up around 1.2 per nine. That becomes a bit more troubling when we factor in Baker’s home park last season. Even with the comfy confines of Target Field he still gave up more than his share of homers. Even worse, lefties hit more fly balls off him than righties, which bodes poorly for his chances at Yankee Stadium.

Still, just because Baker hasn’t been lights out in the past two seasons doesn’t mean he hasn’t been serviceable. He pitched 200 innings in 2009 and 170.1 in 2010, and in both seasons his ERA outpaced his FIP. This isn’t to say he’s due for a regression, but when we examine other factors it appears more likely. For instance, the Twins had a 69.3 percent defensive efficiency last season, 16th in the majors and 9th in the AL, while the Yankees converted 71.1 percent of balls in play into outs, second in the majors and the AL. Looking just at the outfield, Minnesota had a -3.1 UZR while the Yankees had 7.6. In other words, had Baker pitched for the Yankees in 2010 I suspect his BABIP would have been a tick lower than .329.

My favorite aspect of Scott Baker’s game is his low walk rate. Over the last three seasons Baker’s walk rate is just 2.21 per nine, which puts him behind just 14 other pitchers (three of whom are currently his teammates). The low walk rate certainly helps mitigate the home run issue, since it means fewer runners on base. Baker’s WHIP did jump this year, but that was probably due to the BABIP spike. Again, I suspect that the Yankees’ superb outfield defense would have made some degree of difference there.

Would the Twins be willing to deal Baker? They do have Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, and Kevin Slowey for the rotation, with a few other options, including Nick Blackburn, able to fill the fifth spot. Baker is signed to a relatively team friendly contract; he’ll earn $5 million this season and $6.5 million in 2010, followed by a $9.25 million team option in 2013. There have been indications that the Twins would be willing to trade Kevin Slowey if they re-signed Pavano (and we’ll examine Slowey’s case next week), so I wonder if they’d dish Baker for a package of prospects. After all, the team payroll is over $100 million for the first time ever, and they might want to shave a few dollars here and there.

I’m not sure what I would give up for Baker, but I do think he’s a fit for the Yankees’ rotation. The fly ball tendencies are a bit scary. He might let a few more baseballs leave the park at Yankee Stadium, but he does have a low walk rate and a good outfield defense to help mitigate those concerns. Unfortunately, considering Baker’s track record and his contract, I fear that the asking price will be one of the Bs. The Yanks will need those guys if they want to avoid having rotation issues like this in the future.