Ivan Nova’s circuitous route to success

If you’re reading this site, than you surely know that two Spring Trainings ago, Ivan Nova was property of the Padres. The Yankees left him off the 40-man roster after the 2008 season, and San Diego took a flier on the right-hander in the Rule 5 Draft. Nova was straight out of Single-A ball at the time and definitely not ready for the big leagues, so the Padres offered him back to the Yankees at the end of camp. Two years later, he was New York’s number two starter in the postseason.

Today at FanGraphs, Josh Goldman looked at other players who were returned to their original team after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft, and found that only one (Randy Wells of the Cubs) had the kind of success Nova had in 2011. We know all about the players who were taken in the Rule 5 Draft and went on to play well for their new club, but it’s not often a player is returned then goes on to have an impact. Remember, every team in baseball had a chance to claim Nova on waivers before he officially back with the Yankees, so it was quite a chain of events that led to him even being in the organization this year.

The Freddy Garcia Question

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees hit the lottery with Freddy Garcia this season, paying him next to nothing for 146.2 above-average innings. We’ve already had a Freddy Garcia Appreciation Thread and will surely wax poetic about him whenever we get around to covering him during our season review, but for now let’s take a second what the offseason could have a store for the big right-hander. Should the Yankees bring Freddy back?

Garcia’s base salary was just $1.5M this year, but he earned most of his $3.6M in incentives by making 25 starts (he would have had to make 30 starts to earn all of it). The reverse-engineered Elias projections available at MLBTR indicate that Garcia qualifies as a Type-B free agent by the skin of his teeth. He’s the last Type-B with a score of 60.271, just ahead of the unranked Jeremy Guthrie and his score of 59.981. So yeah, Freddy’s a Type-B by less than three-tenths of an Elias point according to the reverse-engineered rankings, which are not official.

The Yankees have to offer Garcia arbitration in order to receive a draft pick if he signs elsewhere, but the risk is that he accepts. An arbitration award would likely put his 2012 salary around $6-7M or so, about a $2M raise. That seems pretty reasonable to me if you’re expecting Freddy to repeat this year’s performance, but that’s hardly a given. There’s always a chance the two sides work out a handshake agreement like the Yankees did with Javy Vazquez last year, ensuring that Garcia will decline arbitration.

No one asked me, but I think Sweaty Freddy would be a fine back of the rotation insurance policy for next season. Not a number three starter you’d count on, just a veteran guy to have for the fifth spot. I can’t see why the Yankees wouldn’t offer him arbitration just to secure the potential draft pick, and if he does accept, then so be it. His 2012 salary figures to be very reasonable, and it’s comforting to know there won’t be a “welcome to New York” adjustment period.

Offseason Principle: Don’t Trade Montero

It has started way too early. We have gone from looking forward to a deep playoff run to looking at — though not necessarily forward to — the off-season. Emotions are still running high from the ALDS loss, making it difficult to address the Yankees’ challenges with a clear head. In an attempt to step back and soberly examine the Yankees, I’m going to address a few principles. Hopefully they can help answer a number of more specific questions that will arise as the free agent and trade markets develop.

As the title says, we’re starting with the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, Jesus Montero. After waiting all season for his arrival, Yankees fans got a glimpse of the future starting on September 1. He played in only 18 games and accumulated 69 PA, which doesn’t give us a representative sample. Still, he did impress in that short time, hitting .328/.406/.590. Is anyone not excited for the offense he can produce in the future?

In this way Montero represents the future. In another way, he represents an opportunity. Despite his lack of a position, scouts have said for years that Montero’s bat will play anywhere. That type of talent can bring back something of value in a trade. As Brian Cashman said just after the Yankees’ season ended, his team needs pitching. It’s easy to make the connection. Might the Yankees flip Montero for that No. 2 starter they need?

It sounds like a good idea in theory. Pitching has long been a problem for the Yankees. They could conceivably acquire a relatively young No. 2 pitcher by trading one of the best hitting prospects in the game. At least, that’s what it seems like. In reality that might not be the case.

Why they can’t

The Yankees will likely have difficulty finding a team that matches up with them. This theoretical team would need to fit a few criteria. They’d have to be a team with no designs on contending in 2012, since few teams could continue contending after trading a high-caliber starter and not receiving one in return. They’d also need pitching on the farm, so that they could eventually replace the starter they traded. Their offense would probably have to rank near the bottom of the league, which would give them reason to trade for a big bat with no position. If it’s a National League team, they need an opening at first base — and a coaching staff that thinks it can turn Montero into a first baseman.

Where does that leave the pool of suitors? The Giants might be the only team that could conceivably trade a high-end starter and not cripple themselves. Matt Cain is the interesting name here. The Giants might be willing to listen on him, since he hits free agency after the 2012 season. They also need offense, as they scored the fewest runs per game in the NL. But with Brandon Belt at first base, there isn’t really a spot for Montero. Even if the Giants thought he could catch, they have Buster Posey at that position. The Yankees and the Giants simply do not match up on a Montero trade.

The White Sox are another team that comes to mind, since they’re apparently going with a youth movement in 2012. John Danks becomes a free agent after next season, and so he might hit the trade block at some point this winter. But the Yankees face the same matchup problems here. The Sox are in the AL, which makes things a little easier, but they also have the DH and 1B spots locked up for a few more years. They might want to replace Adam Dunn, but his contract mostly prevents that. If the Sox were to trade for Montero they’d have to believe he could catch. It’s hard to find anyone who thinks that he can.

A look around the rest of the league returns few results. It’s hard to find a team that would trade a top-flight starter in the first place. When the return is a hitter without a position, the pool shrinks even further. There might be an answer out there somewhere, but it’s certainly not an obvious one. Something would have to change before a trade in order for said trade to make any sense.

Why they shouldn’t

Just because the Yankees can, in theory, trade Montero for a starter doesn’t mean that they should. They have a rare talent in Montero, and can use him to help propel the offense for years to come. While pitching might hold importance for the immediate future, offense could become an issue down the road — and not so far down the road, really. Why would the Yankees trade one of their few young power bats?

Take a look at the composition of the 2011 Yankees. Specifically, look at the age column. The only player under 30 to produce an OPS+ of league average or better was Robinson Cano. He and Granderson were really the only elite hitters on the team this season. The other guys on the roster have uses, for sure, and there’s a chance that one or two of them returns to glory. But even a return to glory would be short-lived, given their advanced ages. Combine that with an uncertainty about Granderson’s future — his 2011 was clearly an outlier in a career that started in 2005 — and it’s easy to see a need for offense.

Again, this is more of a far outlook. Maybe Mark Teixeira refocuses this winter and retains the swing that made him the Yankees’ MVP in 2009. Maybe Alex Rodriguez remains healthy and productive next season. That’s all fine and good, but it’s not as though the Yankees can expect them to do that for years into the future. Rodriguez will turn 37 next July, and Teixeira will turn 32 right around Opening Day. There’s hope that Teixeira can still produce high quality numbers for a few more years, but the window is closing on A-Rod. In just a few years the Yankees could find themselves lacking an elite bat beyond Cano.

(At which point Cano will cost $20 million or more per season.)

Montero represents the Yankees’ best opportunity to add a power bat to the middle of their lineup. If they trade him, they’ll again scramble for free agent hitters. While that has worked out in some instances, it has failed in others. Rather than roll the dice in both a trade of Montero and hoping for the right free agent to hit the market, it’s probably a better idea to keep Montero and let him do work in the middle of the lineup for years to come.

The right deal

No player should be untouchable. As an old friend of mine says frequently, everything’s for sale for the right price. If the Yankees can jump on a starter that they truly love and it costs them Montero and little more, they should probably jump on it. But as I described above, those convenient opportunities don’t appear to exist.

Furthermore, even if the Giants were willing to trade Cain for Montero, or the White Sox were willing to part with Danks for him, I still wouldn’t favor such a deal. Both of those players hit free agency after 2012. Even if the Yankees retained them they’d pay market value. That further drives up payroll, which in turn makes it more difficult to acquire other players. It’s not our money, of course, but if the Yankees are only going to invest a certain amount in payroll, it’d be nice to see them allocate it in a way that allows them to add the most production for the least amount of money. That becomes more important when contracts like A-Rod’s, Teixeira’s, and hopefully Sabathia’s are on the books.

Montero, on the other hand, represents one of the greatest values in baseball. Through 2014 he’ll cost no more than a half million per season. After that he has three years of arbitration before hitting free agency. Those cost-controlled years can prove integral in keeping payroll open for other acquisitions. It means they can overpay for someone on the free agent market. But if they trade for Danks they’ll have to either 1) worry about paying him market value in 2013 and beyond, and 2) worry about finding, and paying, a big bat to help replace the declining production of their current guys. And if the Yankees were to let Danks go after a year, adding Banuelos and other young arms to the rotation, they’ll have given up six years of Montero for one of Danks. It just doesn’t make sense.

If the Yankees were to trade Montero, it would have to not only involve a No. 1 or 2 pitcher in return, but that pitcher would have to be under contract for many years. That would necessarily mean that the Yankees would include more than just Montero to complete such a deal. If Felix Hernandez is the target, then perhaps the conversation moves somewhere. But after him, are there any starters that fit the criteria of a No. 1 or 2 pitcher and are under contract for three or more years — and could be had for a Montero-centered package?

Maybe the right deal is out there somewhere. Maybe there’s a GM who is holding back and waiting for the right deal to come along. At this point, it’s difficult to see. What’s easy to see is the potential impact Montero could have on the Yankees lineup. He’s their best power bat prospect, one of the few in their system that could conceivably slide into the No. 4 or 5 spot in the coming years and help ease the declines of their aging stars. That need could be just as important as a No. 2 starter.

What Went Wrong: 4-5-6 Hitters In The ALDS

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

That's all she wrote. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Yankees somewhat surprisingly won 97 games during the regular season and finished with the best record in the American League, but they lost three of five to the Tigers in the ALDS to end their season. They outscored Detroit 28-17 during the five-game set, showing that when faced with a small sample, it’s not about how many runs you score, but when you score them. The Yankees posted the lowest ERA (3.27) among the eight teams during the LDS round, but they lost the three games by a total of four runs.

A number of things will typically go wrong whenever a team loses a playoff series, but nothing went more wrong for the Yankees than their supposed heart of the order. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher, otherwise known as the 4-5-6 hitters, went a combined 9-for-55 with two doubles, one homer, seven walks, and 16 strikeouts. That works out to a .164/.266/.255 batting line and a .243 wOBA. All the other Yankees in the series combined to hit .305/.386/.466, roughly a .378 wOBA. It seemed like every time the Yankees had something cooking on offense, these three would come to the plate and almost immediately put out the fire for Detroit.

To get an idea of how awful A-Rod, Tex, and Swish were during the ALDS, just look at the players around them. Robinson Cano, who hit third in front of them, reached base nine times in the five games but scored just two runs, when he drove himself in on a pair of homeruns. Jorge Posada, who hit seventh behind them, had a monster ALDS (six hits and four walks), but he drove in a total of zero runs because no one was on base in front of him. The 4-5-6 hitters went a combined 1-for-13 with two walks and five strikeouts with runners in scoring position, and the most damning instance of their RISPFAIL came in the seventh inning of Game Five. With the bases loaded and one out, A-Rod struck out, Teixeira walks, and Swisher struck out to end the threat. It was the last time the Yankees would make any kind of sustained rally on the season.

The Yankees didn’t lose to the Tigers in the ALDS solely because of A-Rod, Teixeira, and Swisher, but they were certainly a significant contributor to the series loss. When your third, fourth, and fifth best hitters in the regular season (by wOBA) combine to hit like the corpse of Chone Figgins in the postseason, it’s going to be really tough to advance. Quality pitching, which the Yankees generally received in the ALDS, can only take you so far.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 10th, 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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Going to war with the A-Rod you have

When I walked by the newstand on Saturday morning, the cover of the Daily News caught my eye. On Friday, one day after the Yanks’ crushing loss to an inferior Tigers’ team in Game 5 of the ALDS, the esteemed paper polled its reactionary readers about the future of the Yankees. Who should stay, who should go, who should bear the weight of the world — or at least the ALDS loss — on his shoulder?

The answer, of course, was A-Rod. It always is A-Rod. It always has been, and it always will be. As of now, 69 percent of poll respondents say the Yanks should dump A-Rod. That’s actually down from upwards of 75 percent earlier this weekend. Time heals all wounds or something.

This need to lay the blame on someone for the ALDS loss is both obviously New York and entirely frustrating. The Yankees lost the ALDS due to a confluence of factors. Joe Torre in the Commissioner’s Office couldn’t read a weather forecast on Friday before Game 1, the Yanks couldn’t score off of Max Scherzer in Game 2, CC couldn’t control the strike zone during Games 3 or 5, and the team failed to get that one big hit that would have put them over the top on Thursday. Along the way, their 4, 5 and 6 hitters did absolutely nothing with the bat, and despite hot series, Robinson Cano scored no runs via anything other than his own home runs and Jorge Posada had no RBIs despite going 6 for 14.

Still, it’s A-Rod the Choker, A-Rod the guy who did this rather than the guy who blasted a Joe Nathan offering deep into the night in October 2009. It was A-Rod who went just 2 for 18, offering up a close replica of his 1 for 14 showing in 2006 against the Tigers. He struck out with the bases loaded, and he struck out to end the Yanks’ season.

By no stretch do I think A-Rod had a good ALDS. He made a few nice plays in the field but couldn’t get his groove back at the plate. For Alex, in fact, that was a theme this August and September. After starting the year at .295/.366/.485 through mid-July, A-Rod found himself on a 27-home run pace when he had to undergo knee surgery. In his first game back in late August, he jammed his thumb, and played just 19 games the rest of the way. In 84 plate appearances, he hit just .191/.345/.353 with three long balls as he battled aches and pains.

Had Joe Girardi bumped him out of the four spot during the playoffs, he would have a legitimate reason for doing so. The A-Rod the Yanks had in October wasn’t the A-Rod the Yanks had in May or June. But Girardi was far more willing to be flexible — almost too flexible — with the bullpen and not flexible enough with the lineup. Brett Gardner and his hot bat were minimized in the nine spot, Jorge Posada knocked the ball around hitting behind some cold bats and A-Rod hit fourth as though it were inscribed on stone tablets as the 11th Commandment. Thou shalt bat A-Rod fourth no matter his health.

What makes the Daily News poll somewhat less outrageous though is the hidden nugget of truth in it. The Yanks probably can’t dump A-Rod; after all he has no-trade protection in his contract. But if the Yankees had their druthers, they wouldn’t have A-Rod under contract for the next six years and owed $143 million to boot. A-Rod will be a fine third baseman for the next three years or so, but after that, things could get ugly as his decline continues. Already, New York sports media folk write about Jesus Montero and the DH as though he’s hogging A-Rod’s eventual position and will have to be traded for it. Talk about shooting off your nose to spite your face.

Basically, then, we as Yankee fans are stuck with A-Rod. He’s our problem when he struggles; he’s our superstar when he drops A-bombs into the left field bleachers. Blemishes and all though, A-Rod ain’t going anywhere before 2017, no matter how hard the Yankees try. We can learn to like it or boo him for the next half a decade. We’re going to war with the A-Rod we have and not the A-Rod we might want or wish to have at a later time. No amount of ALDS struggles or reactionary polls will change that.