The Bartolo Era Ends: Colon Heads To Oakland

Via Jayson Stark, Bartolo Colon has agreed to a one-year deal with the Athletics. He’s a stopgap solution for a team that traded away both Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill this offseason, and will be without Brett Anderson until at least midseason due to Tommy John surgery.

Colon, 39 in May, was an option for the Yankees right up until Friday night, when the Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda stuff went down. He was the team’s second best starter in the first half of 2011, painting corners with 95 mph heat and backing lefties off the plate with two-seamers inside. Once he started throwing 91-92 and wasn’t hitting the corners as frequently, it stopped being fun. Good luck Bart, thanks for those 164.1 IP.

The Hard Choices of the Offseason

(AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)

The offseason is the worst.

Not just for the total lack of baseball, though that’s a pretty big chunk of it. Not just the lesser sports which we are all forced to tolerate while we wait for our gentleman’s game to come back. There’s also that the decisions made during the cold winter months are a lot more permanent than the year-to-year fluctuations players have with their numbers. You can excuse away a bad year, especially if you’re trying really hard, but it’s not as easy to do so with a whopper of a trade or a big signing. Rationalizing a low average with caught line drives or a low OBP with a large strike zone against is one thing, but there’s no such protections with a big roster moves.

When the season starts, all — or many of — the numbers are influenced by randomness and factors that neither the players nor the ownerships/front office can control. That makes it easy for a fan looking for upside to feel better about his or her self. Every particular at-bat and game has so much go into it that, in most cases, there’s a bright side. Maybe the team was robbed of some stellar line drives. Maybe it was a display of warning track power. Maybe you were no-hit, but the opposing pitcher was so dominant it wasn’t even fair. Game-to-game stuff like a win or a loss can be rationalized.

Players, too. The perfect example for this is, of course, Adam Dunn. I don’t think anyone expects Adam Dunn to be as legitimately downright vomit awful as he was in 2011. That’s impossible, right? It could happen, I guess, but I (and many experts, and I assume Kenny Williams) don’t think so. Having a year like that means everything goes wrong all at once. So White Sox fans can comfort themselves knowing things will probably get better, even if Dunn isn’t the hitter he used to be. Yankees fans can have plenty of optimism in this area as well: maybe Derek Jeter stays that second-half monster he became after his injury. Maybe Alex Rodriguez stays healthy with his experimental knee surgery and his still-impressive power. Maybe Eduardo Nunez learns to field. Maybe Mark Teixeira stops hitting so many pop-ups. But even if they don’t, there’s lots of statistical noise here we can use to rationalize it. A.J. Burnett is a victim of a high HR/FB rate, for example. He’s going to be bad. But he could be slightly better.*

During the offseason, there’s nothing you can do after or during a trade. You’re stuck with the players your GM picked pick up, so here’s hoping they’re good ones. There’s no statistical noise in ‘Jesus Montero was just traded for Michael Pineda.’ You just have to hope that Brian Cashman knows what he’s doing (I personally do), and that everything will work out. It’s not like next year, Cashman gets to try again and see if he can get more for Montero, or if Montero has a massive year and Pineda’s awful, he gets to tweak the trade like a player’s mechanics to make it better. Once a trade or signing is done, that’s it. So long, thanks for all the fish. Hope everything turns out well for your team. Maybe it won’t! Of course, maybe you’ve traded Nick Swisher for Wilson Betemit.

There’s no going back. Not being able to go back is scary. All you’ve got left is this new guy, looking around at his new environment and staring at the hole he’s expected to fill from the guy you kicked out. And that’s on top of hoping that the GM wasn’t emotional about this, either: having your top prospect being traded for peanuts because he hates your bunt-loving manager sounds pretty damn awful to me. You’re not gonna be able to blame that on a torn muscle.

I don’t know how I feel about the Montero/Pineda trade. It could be great. It could be awful. It makes perfect sense in my head, what with New York needing arms and Seattle needing a bat (especially considering Cashman has been trying to give Montero to Seattle for a while now), but that’s a different statement than if I I like it. I guess it’s hard to make a decision because whether I like it or not, that’s the way it is. Even if I hate it, I don’t hate it enough to stop being a Yankees fan – Pineda’s an exciting possibility, he’s shown he’s capable, and he’s got a hell of a slider. Of course, like all Yankees fans, I loved Jesus Montero like you love a baseball player — that screaming power, the youth, the team control, all the potential and none of the inevitable disappointment. I’m sure I’ll either grow to love Pineda (in a good ending), or have bitter, hateful thoughts at Montero getting AL MVP and decide the world is a joyless, terrible place (in a bad ending). That’s just how being a fan is. The fact is, of these players will be subject to the random variation that comes with the long baseball season, and we’ll be justifying what they do no matter what. But we’re stuck with who we got, and all we can do is hope it all works out. (For us, not for them. Sorry, Jesus.)

* I get some kind of sick masochistic joy out of defending A.J. Burnett. I don’t know either.
** For other views on the Montero/Pineda trade, I, like Mike, strongly advise Lookout Landing, The Best Mariners Blog.
*** Sorry I’ve been absent for a while. You will now be subject to me on a more regular basis.

Open Thread: The Pineda-Kuroda Hangover

It’s been a pretty hectic 24 hours in Yankeeland, but I think we’re finally starting to get over the initial shock of last night’s moves. It’s important to note that the Jesus Montero/Hector Noesi-for-Michael Pineda/Jose Campos trade is not yet official, as Buster Olney notes that all four players must still take physicals. Given the drama of the failed Cliff Lee trade, we shouldn’t consider the physicals slam dunks. Assuming all goes well, the trade figures to be announced sometime next week.

In the meantime, I recommend reading this Red Sox Beacon post for a Red Sox perspective on last night’s moves. You should also check out this Beyond The Box Score post, which briefly touches on why Pineda should continue to be successful despite leaving the friendly confines of Safeco Field, and this PitchFX look at his repertoire via FanGraphs. The Hiroki Kuroda signing is pretty straight forward, but it’ll take a while to digest the trade. The implications are far-reaching, and we’ll break them all down here over the next few days and weeks.

For now, use this as your open thread after taking part in the poll below. I’m posting this a little earlier than usual because of the NFL playoffs, with the Saints and 49ers kicking off at 4:30pm ET (on FOX). The Broncos and Patriots follow at 8pm ET (on CBS). All five hockey and basketball locals are in action as well, assuming you still get MSG and can actually watch. You folks know what to do, enjoy the rest of the day.

Thoughts on the Montero/Noesi-for-Pineda/Campos trade?
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The Morning After: Pineda & Kuroda

(Pineda via AP, Kuroda via Getty)

After a winter of all talk and no action, Brian Cashman made his two biggest moves in roughly two years in the span of an hour or so last night. First he acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi, then he agreed to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal worth $10M. Just like that, the rotation went from question mark to strength. Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes went from the three, four, and five starters to fighting  for one rotation spot. It’s pretty awesome.

We’re going to analyze these moves from every freakin’ angle in the coming days, I’m sure of it, but for now let’s start with a collection of thoughts and links…

  • Cashman said over and over again that he didn’t like the pitching prices this offseason, and sure enough his patience was rewarded. After four years of Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez were each traded for a package of four young players earlier this winter, Cashman got five years of Pineda for just two young players, and he got the Mariners to kick in another prospect as well. Pineda was a steal compared to Latos and Gio.
  • My prospect game is slipping with age, and frankly I had never heard of Campos until the trade. Baseball America provided a full scouting report on the right-hander in their trade analysis, which I recommend reading to familiarize yourself with him. It’s free, you don’t need a subscription. Both Kevin Goldstein and John Sickels considered him the fifth best prospect in the M’s system.
  • There are a lot of great trade recaps out there, but I highly recommend Lookout Landing’s. Jeff Sullivan killed it when he wrote about the emotional disappointment involved with trading young players. We’re all going to miss Montero, but the fans in Seattle feel the same way about Pineda.
  • Assuming he throws a substantial amount of innings, I bet Noesi has a really good year in that division and in that ballpark with that defense next season. Don’t be surprised if he outpitches Pineda in terms of ERA and people are declaring him the “real loss” in the trade by the end of the year.
  • I honestly have no idea what they’re going to do with that last rotation spot, assuming CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda, and Kuroda are locks for the first four spots (in some order). Chances are the Yankees don’t even know what they’re going to do either, and I bet my opinion about what they will/should do will change by the day. Is there a right answer? I’m not sure.
  • I also don’t know what the Yankees will do about their now vacant DH spot, but I highly doubt they’ll sign Prince Fielder. I mean, maybe if he’s willing to do a one-year, $20M “pillow” contract, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think they’re more likely to start the year with a rotating DH than they are to sign or trade for a new one.
  • The ESPN Stats & Info Blog put together a great statistical look (with heat maps!) at Pineda, Kuroda, and Montero. It’s relatively short and painless, but informative.

I’ll close with this: it never ceases to amaze me how the Yankees — in the biggest media market in the sport — manage to pull off these deals with no leaks. Pretty much everything they do is a surprise. We heard nothing about their interest in Pineda until after the trade was made, and although we knew they liked Kuroda, we never heard they were close to a deal. The quiet weeks earlier in the offseason were frustrating, but the surprise sure is fun.

Yankees agree to sign Hiroki Kuroda

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Rotation problem? What rotation problem? Less than an hour after acquiring Michael Pineda from the Mariners, the Yankees agreed to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal worth $10M according to Jack Curry and Joel Sherman. The right-hander still has to pass his physical, and Buster Olney says Hal Steinbrenner approved an expanded budget to sign him. The Yankees will not have to give up a draft pick.

I, and really all of us at RAB are Kuroda fans and have been pining for him this offseason, so it goes without saying that we like the contract. Kuroda isn’t a star but he’s a rock solid veteran pitcher that will give the team innings and a chance to win basically every time out. He misses bats (7.23 K/9 and 19.4 K% last two years), limits walks (2.19 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%), and gets ground balls (47.1%), so he does everything someone needs to do to succeed in a tough environment.

It’s worth noting that Russell Martin knows Kuroda from his Dodgers days, so that should help the right-hander with the adjustment to the new league, the tougher ballpark, basically everything. Also, the Yankees recently hired Kenji Nimura, who was Kuroda’s translator with the Dodgers (caption of picture #10). He’ll have a similar role here, so that should help as well. Apparently he speaks fluent Spanish and Japanese, so I doubt he was brought in specifically for Kuroda, especially since the hiring occurred earlier this offseason.

It sounds crazy given where they were a few hours ago, but the Yankees now actually have a ton of pitching depth. Pineda and Kuroda will join CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the rotation, leaving A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes to duke it out for the fifth starter’s spot. A trade is always possible, but pitching depth is never a bad thing.

Yankees trade Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

According to multiple reports, the Yankees have traded Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. Jon Heyman, Greg Johns, Larry Stone, and Jerry Crasnick all deserve some level of credit. Heyman says the Yankees asked about Felix Hernandez before pulling off this deal, but were told he is off limits. That’s not a surprise.

I wrote this mailbag about Pineda back in November, so you can check that out if you’re unfamiliar with the young right-hander. He turns 23 next week and finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last year thanks to his 9.11 K/9 (24.9 K%) and 2.89 BB/9 (7.9 BB%) in 171 IP. He is a fly ball pitcher (36.3% grounders last year) and kinda homer prone (0.95 HR/9), so that is a concern. As a fastball-slider pitcher with a show-me changeup, Pineda also has a bit of a platoon split. Plenty of time to work on that though, the guy’s got exactly the kind of power stuff that can play in the AL East. He is under team control for another five years, the next two for the league minimum. Here’s some video.

Campos is a 19-year-old right-hander with enormous upside according to Ben Badler and Kevin Goldstein. Apparently he’s related to the Escobars (Kelvim and Alcides), so he has baseball bloodlines. He checks in at a healthy 6-foot-4 and 195 lbs., and was considered Seattle’s fifth best prospect according to Goldstein (subs. req’d). “Campos had one of the best fastballs in the short-season leagues in 2011,” said KG in his write-up. “It’s plus and more in terms of velocity, sitting in the low 90s with plenty of 95-96 readings every time out. Campos also throws the pitch with the kind of command usually found only in big-leaguers; he works both sides of the plate, paints the corners, and comes at hitters with a strong downward angle.”

In 14 starts and 81.1 IP in the short season Northwest League, Campos struck out 85 and walked just 13. Just dominated the level. Goldstein does caution that he can become a one-pitch pitcher at times, as his changeup and slurvy breaking ball need work. At his age, that’s not much of a surprise. It sure sounds like the fastball is elite though, and that’s a good thing. Here is some video. It’s worth noting that the Yankees and Mariners are the two biggest spenders in Latin America year after year, and all four players involved in this trade were acquired as international free agents.

Losing Montero obviously hurts, especially since the regular lineup isn’t getting any younger. Despite all their work to help him over the years, it was pretty clear that the Yankees didn’t consider him a long-term catcher based on how they used him in September. A few years ago they were willing to trade him for three months of Cliff Lee, and now they got five years of Pineda. They certainly ended up getting better value in return for one of the best position player prospects in baseball, even if it cost them a shot at the 2010 World Series.

I liked Noesi more than most, but he was just a notch above the Adam Warren/David Phelps level in terms of long-term value. He can miss bats and can step right into a big league rotation, but the Yankees have the depth to cover the loss. Noesi’s inclusion in the trade is essentially the cost of doing business. The Yankees will end up with an open 40-man roster spot as a result of the trade, but that will eventually go to Andruw Jones. It hurts to lose Montero, no doubt, but Pineda fits the team’s needs better. This could easily end up another Josh Beckett-Hanley Ramirez situation, where both sides are happy with their return.

Chilly Friday Night Open Thread

We had some flurries earlier today, but now it’s just brutally cold and windy. Definitely not baseball weather, but we’ll get there eventually. If you’re like me and are staying inside so you don’t have to put on pants brave the cold, use this thread to talk about anything your heart desires. The Nets are the only local club in action though, so I hope you have something good on Netflix. Have at it.

Hannah put that video together, so show her some love. Well, show her some more love since this is the second time it’s been posted.