Missing Montero

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

For the first time since January’s trade, the Yankees will get a look at Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariner tonight. The deal already looks like a disaster on New York’s end with Michael Pineda out of the season (torn labrum) and Jose Campos out indefinitely (elbow inflammation), but luckily for the Yankees, you can’t pass final judgment on a trade of this magnitude after four months. The early returns are horrible, however.

Montero has settled in as a middle of the order bat for Seattle. That has more to do with the state of the team than his actual production though, because a .268/.282/.420 batting line (.298 wOBA and 91 wRC+) is hardly deserving of a primo lineup spot. I am surprised Montero is off to such a relatively slow start but not entirely. I mean, he is only 22. We all knew a slow start was possible just because rookies tend to suck. Add in a pitcher-friendly home park and offensively incompetent teammates, and you have a recipe for a slow start. It happens and I’m sure he’ll be more than fine in the long run.

On a personal level, I’ve already accepted the trade and said my goodbyes to Montero. That sounds incredibly lame and cheesy, but it’s hard not to get attached to these guys as you follow their progress through the minors. Heck, here’s the DotF from his pro debut in 2007. We know when these kids sign, when they hit, when they struggle, when they do anything in the minors before reaching the big leagues these days. If you read RAB regularly, they become as much a part of the Yankees experience as Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia and Yankee Stadium. You get attached to them and when they get traded, it bums you out. It’s only natural.

Regardless of what they said publicly, the Yankees didn’t believe Montero was a big league catcher defensively. Actions speak louder than words and when Frankie Cervelli went down with a concussion last September, it was Austin Romine who took over behind the plate. That’s why he was traded. If he was a corner outfielder or something, chances are he’d still be in pinstripes. And that’s fine, when the pieces don’t fit you adjust. I thought Montero could be serviceable enough behind the plate in my completely amateur opinion, enough to catch 50-80 games a year for the next few seasons. He didn’t have to catch forever, but a few years back there seemed doable. The Yankees didn’t agree so they made the move.

Like everyone else, I have favorite players around baseball and Montero is one of them. I disliked the trade at the time and am pretty annoyed at how it’s played out so far, but at the end of the day I root for the laundry. I hope Montero does well this weekend (and going forward) but I hope the Yankees do even better. I miss Jesus and really wish he was the regular DH/backup catcher this year, but he’s not and that’s just the way it is. I enjoyed his short time in pinstripes but as usual, the players change. The Yankees are the constant and that’s where my allegiance lies.

The RAB Radio Show: May 11th, 2012

It’s been something of an eventful week in Yankeeland. We got to see the new endgame tandem of David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. We also saw some breakout signs from Robinson Cano, which should jumpstart the offense. All in all it was a pretty decent week — save for the Gardner injury news, of course. Mike and I are covering it all.

Podcast run time 37:49

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

[audio:http://riveraveblues.com/podcasts/TheRABRadioShow051112.mp3]

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

5/11-5/13 Series Preview: Seattle Mariners

(Abelimages/Getty Images)

The Yankees have won 11 of 19 games against the Mariners over the last two seasons, though I don’t think any club has caused New York as much off-the-field grief as Seattle. A series of trades and non-trades have left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, and it’s not anything that will be easily forgotten. A sweep of this three-game weekend series would be a nice first step, however.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Mariners wrapped up a seven-game losing streak about a week ago and have since gone on to win four of their last five games, including two of three against the Tigers earlier this week. They’re 15-18 with a -4 run differential this year and the massively underachieving Angels are the only thing keeping Seattle out of the AL West cellar.

Offense

MLB Rules: Leave the Yankees, grow terrible facial hair. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Unsurprisingly, the Mariners are bad offensively. They average just 3.79 runs per game and are a bottom five club in batting average (.234), OBP (.289), and SLG (.368). They don’t hit many homers (27) or steal many bases (16), so they need a sustained rally and a total team effort to score runs. Their 85 wRC+ is ahead of only the Athletics among the 14 AL clubs.

Seattle has just three hitters with 100+ plate appearances who qualify as better than league average. Third baseman Kyle Seager (137 wRC+) hits for power (.212 ISO) but doesn’t reach base (2.8 BB%), so there’s a good chance his performance will come back to Earth as the season progresses. Like Derek Jeter, Ichiro (115 wRC+) is enjoying a bounceback season after being declared done a year ago, and now he’s hitting third rather than leadoff. Michael Saunders (116 wRC+) has changed his approach and is hitting for power now (.214), so the improvement may be real. He can still swing and miss with the best of them though (30.0 K%).

Dustin Ackley (81 wRC+) has been pretty awful to start the season, ditto Justin Smoak (39 wRC+), Brendan Ryan (48 wRC+), and Chone Figgins (61 wRC+). Figgins is going to get released at some point this summer, it’s inevitable. Part-timers John Jason (139 wRC+ in 44 PA), Munenori Kawasaki (38 wRC+ in 32 PA), Alex Liddi (108 wRC+ in 55 PA), and Casper Wells (84 wRC+ in 31 PA) have produced mix results as part-time players tend to do. Mike Carp (40 wRC+ in 25 PA) spent some time on the DL with a shoulder problem and was just re-added to the roster.

And then there’s Jesus Montero. The former Yankees wunderkind is hitting .268/.282/.420 (91 wRC+) in 117 plate appearances, which really isn’t what I expected when I predicted he’d win the Rookie of the Year award. Lots of season left though. Montero has been batting cleanup lately and he’s hit four homers so far, tied with Seager and Saunders for the team lead. He’s only drawn three walks (2.6 BB%) but isn’t striking out a ton either (20.5 K%). Miguel Olivo’s injury has Montero catching almost everyday at the moment, though he spent most of his time at DH earlier this season. I hope he hits about five homers this series and the Yankees win all three games. Can that be arranged?

Starting Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Felix Hernandez
The Yankees just can’t escape Felix. They managed to hit him pretty hard last September, but otherwise he’s completely shut them down over the years. There’s actually been some concern in Seattle because his fastball velocity is down noticeably, but it hasn’t mattered. Hernandez is still amazing. He strikes people out (8.77 K/9 and 25.0 K%), doesn’t walk anyone (2.41 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%), and gets ground balls (47.7%) with a diminished fastball or otherwise. Felix now sits in the low-90s with his heat, but his array of offspeed pitches is unmatched: high-80s changeup, mid-80s slider, low-80s curveball. He carves hitters up when ahead in the count, and unfortunately his 66.2% first pitch strike rate is one of the best marks in baseball. With all due respect to Justin Verlander, I don’t think there’s a tougher assignment in the AL than King Felix.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Saturday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Hector Noesi
The other guy in the Montero-Michael Pineda trade, Noesi’s career a full-time starting pitcher in the big leagues is off to a rocky start. His ERA (6.30) and FIP (5.65) are both unsightly and they’d be worse if it wasn’t for a pair of gems against the lowly Athletics (8 IP, 0 R) and Twins (7 IP, 1 R). Noesi hasn’t missed bats (5.40 K/9 and 14.0 K%), hasn’t limited walks (3.90 BB/9 and 10.1 BB%), and hasn’t gotten ground balls (33.0% and 1.90 HR/9). Just as he did in New York, Hector uses five pitches — low-90s two and four-seamers, mid-80s slider, mid-80s changeup, upper-70s curve — but will rely most heavily on the two-seamer and changeup.

Sunday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Blake Beavan
This has trap game written all over it. Everything about Beavan says the Yankees should pound him. He doesn’t miss bats (3.78 K/9 and 9.8 K%) and doesn’t get ground balls (33.3%), two traits that are very problematic despite a fantastic walk rate (1.08 BB/9 and 2.8 BB%). Beavan’s two and four-seamers sit right at 90, and he backs them up with a mid-70s curveball. His upper-70s slider and low-80s changeup are rarely used third and fourth pitches, so think of him as an approximation of 2011 Hughes. If someone is going to allow the Yankees to put the ball in the air that often, they shouldn’t make it out of the third inning. But like I said, trap game.

Part of the Cliff Lee trade, Beavan is actually a little questionable for this start after getting hit by a Miguel Cabrera line drive in his pitching elbow last time out. If he’s unable to pitch, the start will likely go to Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma (6.75 ERA and 4.70 FIP). This one promises to be a blast with Andy returning.

(Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
The Mariners were off on Thursday for travel, so their bullpen is fresh. Michael Kay will surely drool over closer Brandon League’s power sinker-splitter combination, and he’s performed quite well this season (3.14 FIP). Setup man Tom Wilhelmsen (3.63 FIP) is one of the best keep secrets in baseball, a great back story will dominant power stuff. Lefty specialist and Rule 5 Draft pick Lucas Luetge has pitched well overall (2.73 FIP) and has manhandled lefties, holding them to two singles in 25 plate appearances. The six walks (one intentional) kinda stinks though.

The hard-throwing right-hander Shawn Kelley (9.85 FIP in 3 IP) is just getting back in the swing of things after having what amounts to his second Tommy John surgery in 2010. He originally had it back in 2003, but the latest procedure technically “re-secured the Tommy John graft to the bone,” whatever that means. Righty Steve Delabar (4.64 FIP) has some serious strikeout (11.25 K/9 and 31.8 K%) and walk (1.13 BB/9 and 3.2 BB%) rates, but he’s surrendered four homers in 16 IP. Iwakuma and the left-handed Charlie Furbush (4.05 FIP) both serve as multi-inning/long man types.

The Yankees did not have the luxury of an off day yesterday, but CC Sabathia gave them eight innings. Rafael Soriano will definitely be unavailable tonight after appearing in each of the last three games, but check out our Bullpen Workload page to see how the rest of the relief corps is holding up. There are quite a few good Mariners blogs out there, but make sure you check out USS Mariner and Lookout Landing.

Mailbag: Peavy, Mustelier, Jeter, Teixeira, Mo

Kind of a long mailbag this week, with five questions that cover everything from trade candidates to prospects to historical comparisons. Remember to use the Submit a Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Peter asks: Mike, you wrote up Jake Peavy as a trade candidate on MLBTR a few weeks ago. Do you see the Yanks possibly targeting him in July? If so, what’s a fair price?

Here’s the link to that MLBTR post. Peavy, 30, has been one of the very best pitchers in baseball this season, pitching to a 1.89 ERA (2.22 FIP) with 7.57 K/9 (22.6 K%) and 1.20 BB/9 (3.6 BB%) in 52.1 IP across seven starts. He’s been absolutely phenomenal, no doubt about it, but there are still some red flags.

For one, Peavy’s recent injury history is quite scary. He’s been on the DL five times in the last four years, including lengthy stints for an elbow strain (2009), an ankle strain (2009), shoulder surgery (2010), and shoulder inflammation (2011). The shoulder surgery was not a typical labrum or rotator cuff issue, he torn his right lat muscle right off the bone. The injury isĀ  rare and the medical procedure so unique that the recovery timetable was completely unknown. Peavy is showing now that he’s healthy, but the injury stuff has to be in the back of everyone’s mind.

Statistically there’s not much to worry about. He’s always been a fly ball pitcher but now he’s taken it to the extreme, with a 28.7% ground ball rate on the season. That explains his .234 BABIP to a certain extent and even though not every fly ball is hit deep, you have to assume his 2.8% HF/FB rate is going to correct at some point. That’s insanely low. Peavy’s salary — $17M this year with a $22M option for 2012 ($4M buyout) — is quite high as well.. I mentioned Erik Bedard as a trade comp in the MLBTR post, meaning one top-ten prospect (in a farm system, not all of baseball) and another Grade-C secondary piece could work as a trade bounty. The Yankees could have interest, and thankfully we have a few months to see if Peavy holds up physically and can maintain his performance before the deadline.

Willie and many others asked: Is it time to start getting a little excited about Ronnie Mustelier?

(Rudy C. Jones/MiLB.com)

I was surprised by how many people asked about Mustelier following his promotion to Triple-A earlier this week. We must have gotten at least ten questions about him, but I guess that’s what happens when a player hits .351/.397/.550 in 295 plate appearances since signing last summer.

Just some real quick background info: Mustelier is 27 years old (28 in August), short (5-foot-10), kinda fat (210 lbs.), a right-handed hitter, and versatile (has played second, third, and the outfield corners). He spent a number of years playing in Cuba before defecting, and as a hitter he makes consistent contact (13.2 K%) but doesn’t walk much (6.4 BB%) or steal bases (12-for-18). The Yankees like Mustelier enough that they sent him to the Arizona Fall League last year, where he hit .344/.354/.516 in 16 games while missing time with injury. Here’s some video.

The most important thing to understand is that Mustelier has been very old for his level since signing. This is an older guy pounding young pitchers and that can skew the results. The Yankees have done a good job getting him to Triple-A quickly so they can evaluate him against the best pitching in the minors, though I wouldn’t expect to see him in the big leagues anytime soon. Baseball America didn’t even have Mustelier on their 80-player Yankees prospect depth chart in the 2012 Prospect Handbook, so there’s a whole lot of unknown here. His versatility is a plus, but we need to see another few hundred minor league at-bats to know if there’s anything worthwhile here.

Arad asks: Had this argument with my brother, who is the better player over their careers using everything, Jeter or Honus Wagner? Thanks Mike!

Wagner is the greatest shortstop in baseball history and it’s not all that close. Obviously it was a much different era, but he hit .325/.392/.462 during his 16-year career despite not officially joining the big leagues until age-27. That’s worth 110.0 bWAR and only one other shortstop is over even 75 career bWAR (Cal Ripken Jr. at 90.9). Jeter is at 69.4 bWAR and counting. No version of WAR is perfect, but the gap between Wagner and everyone else is impossible to ignore.

Jeter is very clearly the best shortstop in Yankees history and is in the conversation for a top five spot all-time with Wagner, Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Arky Vaughan, and Luke Appling. Robin Yount and Alex Rodriguez deserve acknowledgement as well, though they both spent significant portions of their careers at other positions. Wagner’s the best shortstop ever though, very hard to dispute that.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Alex asks: Mike, I read all the pieces you wrote about Mark Teixeira. One thing, which you addressed, slightly still interests me. Since Tex is a switch hitter, it seems like hitting righties from the right side is out of the question. But isn’t everyone a “switch hitter” to a degree? I bet A-Rod could turn around and produce a poor line from the left as well. Has any switch hitter ever became a one-side hitter? Will it hurt to try?

Here are those three posts on Teixeira (part one, two, three, four). I don’t know of any players who successfully dropped switch-hitting this late in their careers. Lots of guys stop switch-hitting in the minors, including Frankie Cervelli and Eduardo Nunez, but that’s very early in their careers. A lot of players mess around with switch-hitting in batting practice and may be able to survive on athleticism in a game situation, but I’d put money against it.

Teixeira’s been switch-hitting his entire life, going all the way back to high school. The guy has never been at the platoon disadvantage at a high level and he’s never seen a breaking ball that breaks away from him. If he were to stop hitting from the left side, he wouldn’t magically replicate his performance against lefties as a righty (.397 wOBA) as a righty against righties. If Teixeira’s offensive problems become so severe that dropping switch-hitting is being seriously discussed, it’s a transition that would have occur during the offseason and in Spring Training. I don’t see any way you could ask him to do that midseason and be productive. You’re setting him up for failure both short and long-term that way.

Jon asks: I literally got physically ill when I heard about Mariano Rivera‘s torn ACL. The question is does Mo fit into the new budget? Do they bring him back next year at $10-15 million if it costs them Cole Hamels?

Well the new budget doesn’t kick in until 2014 unless ownership decides to implement next season. That would suck. I can’t imagine any scenario in which Rivera gets a two-year contract after this season, not at his age and not coming off a major injury. In that sense they could pay him whatever and still sign Hamels knowing that Rivera and his salary will be gone in 2014, when the payroll tightens up. It would be a major surprise if Mo’s next contract somehow extends beyond next season.

I am curious to see how negotiations with Rivera play out this winter. Are the Yankees going to pay him the $15M+ next year just because he’s Mariano Rivera? Or will they try to scale it back a bit, maybe $10-12M given his age and injury? Considering that they offered Andy Pettitte eight figures this past December after he sat at home for a year, I’m willing to bet they’ll have no problem paying Mo something similar to, if not in excess of his current salary.

Sabathia stellar again in win over Rays

It’s kinda hard to believe, but the Yankees were one bad David Robertson inning away from sweeping the Rays in this three-game set. They’ll have to settle for taking two of three as CC Sabathia manhandled Tampa Bay for eight innings in the 5-3 win.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

X+1

Having to beat the other team is hard enough, but having to beat your own team as well is damn near impossible. We’ll talk about Eduardo Nunez‘s defensive adventures in just a second, but all you need to know right now is that they led to a pair of unearned runs in the first and second innings and cost Sabathia something like 10-20 extra pitches. That’s rough.

After the second inning though, CC was untouchable. He retired 18 of the next 22 batters he faced including eight via strikeout. Rays’ batters swung and missed 16 times at his 119 pitches, a season-high for both swings and misses and total pitches. Sabathia recorded 22 of his 24 outs on the infield, and this was his fourth consecutive start of exactly eight innings. The opponents during those four starts: the Rangers, Tigers, Royals, and Rays. Those clubs can hit a little.

There are a lot of reasons to love Sabathia, but I think my favorite is that whenever I think he has X innings left in the tank, he goes X+1. In the sixth inning I thought he had one inning left, but he had two. That’s what I’m talking about. The Yankees’ bullpen was a little short because of the recent workload, but as usual CC picked up the slack and gave his team a ton of high-quality outings. Considering how shaky the first two innings were, the big man deserves a ton of credit for going eight. He was awesome.

Eduardo Scissorhands

Wide left. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Nunez’s defense is a very real problem and it has been since last season, and we’re starting to reach the point where waiting around for him to straighten himself out is no longer an option. In the first inning it was a muffed routine grounder with two outs that extended the inning and in the second it was a routine throw to second that wound up in right field and again extended the inning. A big leaguer can’t be doing that stuff, not when they provide relatively little on offense. Tampa tried laying down some bunts towards Eduardo after the second error, but fortunately they couldn’t get any of them down.

Girardi said after the game that they’re going to re-evaluate the way they use Nunez at so many different positions in an effort to get his defense up to snuff, but that won’t be a quick process. Something’s gotta give though, they can’t keep running him out there like this. I mean, they lifted him for a defensive replacement in the sixth (!) inning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player pulled for defense that early. Nunez should be legit embarrassed.

Answering Back

Eduardo’s errors put the Yankees in a two-run hole pretty early, but the mostly dormant offense started to wake up in the bottom of the second. Curtis Granderson got it all started with a leadoff homer to deep right, the third time he’s taken David Price deep in his career. No other left-handed batter has homered off Price more than once.

That was just the start of the game tying rally. Nunez began to redeem himself two batters later by working the count full and drawing a walk before stealing second. That’s when Chris Stewart single him in, his fourth run-scoring hit of the season. Chris Stewart people, this is really happening. The Yankees had a chance to add more runs after Derek Jeter drew a walk, but Nick Swisher hit a line drive right back to Price. He saved his face/caught the ball and flipped over to first for the double play. That’s just bad luck, but at least the Yankees were able to knot things up before long.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Welcome Back, Robinson

It’s been a slow and frustrating start to the season for Robinson Cano, but he started to show some signs of life in Kansas City and seemed to announce his triumphant return to awesomeness against the Rays on Thursday. His first hit of the day was a hotshot ground ball single back up the middle, his second another hard hit ground ball back up the middle, and his third a mammoth two-run homer over the home bullpen and into the right field bleachers to break a 2-2 tie. All three hits came off a very tough left-hander in Price, which is exactly what we like to see. Robbie went 3-for-4 overall and extended his hitting streak to eight games. His season batting line now sits at .286/.331/.437. He’s getting there.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With Robertson unavailable due to his recent workload, ninth inning duties fell on the shoulders of Rafael Soriano. Pitching for the third straight day, Soriano allowed a cheap run — infield single, defensive indifference, ground ball, ground ball — in an otherwise uneventful inning, his first save of the season. He’s still searching for that elusive first 1-2-3 inning of the year, but honestly I don’t care right now. Props to Soriano for getting those last three outs despite his pitching for the third time in as many days.

Andruw Jones doubled in the team’s fifth and final run in the fifth, a laser into the left field corner with two outs off Price. It seemed like the Yankees were going to squander another rally before he picked up Granderson, who’d grounded into a double play one batter earlier. Jones also appeared to hurt his hamstring(s) running out a ground ball earlier on the night — he was shown grabbing at the back of his legs — but apparently he was just fixing his sliding pants. He remained in the game until Dewayne Wise replaced him for defense in the late innings.

You know who’s very quietly hitting the snot out of the ball? Alex Rodriguez. He went 2-for-4 with a double on Thursday night, raising his season batting line to .287/.388/.443. The power numbers aren’t what they used to be, but that’s a damn productive hitter. Alex is hitting .329/.427/.514 in his last 82 plate appearances, dating back to mid-April.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees welcome Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, and the rest of the Mariners to the Bronx for a three-game series starting Friday night. Hiroki Kuroda and Felix Hernandez square off in the opener. RAB Tickets can help get you in the building if you want to see the King.

Update: Gardner re-strains elbow muscle, shut down for ten days

10:10pm: According to Joe Girardi, Gardner basically re-injured himself. He strained the same muscle in his elbow that landed him on the DL in the first place but did not do any further damage. He’s going to be shut down for at least ten days and Girardi said it could be as long as a month. Coulda been worse, I suppose.

4:18pm: Via Marc Carig, outfielder Brett Gardner has suffered a setback in his rehab from a bone bruise and right elbow strain. He felt soreness and had swelling in his elbow following his latest minor league rehab game and is headed for an MRI now.

Gardner played seven innings with Triple-A Empire State each of the last two days as part of his rehab assignment, going 3-for-5 with a triple and two walks. He played left field in both games. Dewayne Wise’s spot on the roster is safe for now, but if the MRI reveals any kind of long-term injury, the Yankees will probably have to consider looking outside the organization for outfield help.