Going for the Kill: Bring in Adam Dunn

Over the last few weeks I’ve been profiling some players on the trade market that may or may not make some sense for the Yankees and their needs. That series was more or less an introduction to those players, not necessarily an endorsement of their acquisition. This time I’m going to cut right to the chase: I want the Yankees to trade for Adam Dunn.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

I had been lukewarm about the idea all year long likely because he’d just be  rental, but the more I think about it, the more I want him in pinstripes. Perhaps the failed Cliff Lee got my hopes up and I’m still trying to cope with the disappointment of losing out on that big fish. Either way, Nick Johnson’s setback means the team currently has no designated hitter, which puts the Yanks at a considerable disadvantage in an ultra-competitive division. Another bat is very much needed in order to keep Ramiro Pena and Colin Curtis and Frankie Cervelli on the bench where they belong.

Scheduled to become a free agent after the season, Dunn is reportedly losing interest in signing a long-term deal with the Nationals. He’s a lock to be a Type-A free agent, and his $12M salary this year isn’t crazy enough to keep a team from declining to offer him arbitration. Even if he were to accept, there are worst things in the world than having a guy that productive signed for one year at $14-15M. It’s not like there are any age related concerns either, Dunn is still very much in the prime of his career at age 30.

Dunn’s credentials are well-known. In an era of baseball that suddenly features fewer homeruns and less offense in general, Dunn is arguably the best and most consistent longball threat in the game, whacking 38-40 homers in each of the last five years. He’s on pace for 39 this season, and that’s without the New Stadium’s short porch in right. All those homers are supplemented by a ton of walks (16.5% walk rate for his career), though he’s traded in some free passes this year in exchange for some more singles, kinda like Nick Swisher. There’s nothing wrong with that, a hit is always better than a walk.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Yes, Dunn does strike out a ton, there’s no denying it. He’s on pace for 191 whiffs this year, which would be the eighth highest single season total in baseball history and the third highest single season total of Dunn’s career. Strikeouts are (usually) the worst possible outcome, but we know that sometimes you have to trade them off for big time power, something Dunn obviously provides. His platoon split isn’t as crazy as you might think; he’s got a .397 career wOBA against righties, and .361 off lefties. That’s more than acceptable.

Dunn is so comically bad at anything on a baseball field aside from swinging a bat that it’s almost not worth mentioning his defense and baserunning. His three-year UZR‘s in the outfield and at first base are -49.4 and -18.6, respectively, among the bottom two scores in the game. So yeah, Dunn has been one the game’s two worst defensive players at not just one, but two positions over the last three years. His last stolen base came in 2008, and he has a grand total of two steals in the last two and a half seasons. Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning stats say he’s cost his teams an even six runs on the bases during that time, which actually isn’t as bad as I expected. That doesn’t change the point though, Dunn is strictly a designated hitter.

Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo maintains that it would take an “extraordinary offer” to pry Dunn loose, but it would be irresponsible of him to ignore offers with his team out of contention (14 games back) and Dunn’s sudden lack of interest in signing a new deal. Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator pegs Dunn’s value at $11.3M assuming a strong second half, which is equivalent to something like a Grade-B pitching prospect plus a Grade-B position player prospect according to Victor Wang’s research. I’m not talking Jesus Montero or Austin Romine here, those guys should only be moved for a super-elite player.

The Yanks have some surplus Grade-B prospects, so they can afford to overpay a little if that’s what a takes. Zach McAllister or Ivan Nova plus one of David Adams or Eduardo Nunez could headline the package with another low level, low probability prospect thrown in for good measure. For comparison’s sake, the last time Dunn was traded (from the Reds to Diamondbacks), he fetched a Grade-C hitting prospect (Wilkin Castillo), a Grade-B pitching prospect (Dallas Buck), and the perpetually over-rated Micah Owings (he can hit, he’s an ace!). Z-Mac/Nova and Adams/Nunez plus a third player isn’t all that far off.

The Yankees already have a fine offense. They lead baseball in on-base percentage at .353, but their power output has dropped off noticeably from last season. They’re on pace for 182 homers as a team (244 last year), and their isolated power has dropped from .195 to .174 from ’09 to ’10. It’s still a very good offense like I said, no doubt about it, but adding Dunn makes it the best in the league, with over-the-fence power everywhere you look.  The Yanks don’t need Adam Dunn, but they didn’t need Cliff Lee either. That didn’t, and shouldn’t, stop them from trying to improve the team wherever possible.

First Half Review: Those who met expectations

Over the past two nights we’ve been reviewing the first half of the Yankees’ season, looking at seven players who’ve exceeded expectations and seven who’ve fallen short. We’ll wrap up this short little series tonight by taking a quick look at those who are shooting par for the course. The guys that are doing pretty much exactly what we expected them to.

(AP Photo/Christine Cotter)

Javy Vazquez

GM Brian Cashman brought Vazquez back for a second tour of duty in Bronx not expecting the Cy Young contender from 2009, but instead a back-of-the-rotation horse that would keep the team in games and chew up innings. Javy went on to do anything but that in the early going. He was so bad through his first five starts (.337/.429/.663 against) that the team skipped his turn despite having the opportunity to give everyone in the rotation an extra day of rest.

Since that skipped start, Vazquez has rebounded nicely and given the Yankees exactly what they wanted from him, if not more. He completed at least seven innings in seven of his next 11 starts, surrendering more than three runs just twice. The Yanks would have done better than just six wins during that stretch if they bothered to score more than 30 runs, just 2.7 per game.

Overall, Javy’s season numbers have come back down to respectable levels. His ERA sits at 4.45, his xFIP at 4.53, and his strikeouts at 7.58 K/9. The Yankees have to be thrilled with how well he’s pitched over the last two months, and right now he’s giving them exactly what they wanted.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Marcus Thames

The Yanks brought Thames in for one reason and one reason only: to mash lefthanded pitchers. By and large, he’s done exactly that. In a limited sample of 57 plate appearances against southpaws (due in part to a hamstring injury), Thames has hit .327/.421/.449. He’s even chipped in nicely against righties (.250/.370/.444 in 46 PA).

Thames has picked up the team’s only two walk-off hits of the season , including what the majority of fans consider to be their favorite moment of the first half. Although his defense in the outfield has left everyone speechless for all the wrong reasons, Thames has generally been a fine reserve player for the Yanks.

Joe Girardi

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s hard to judge a manager, unless of course he consistently does things that are so monumentally stupid that you wonder how he ever got into baseball in the first place. Girardi’s job is fairly simple given all the talent on his roster, and really all he had to do was not screw it up. A subpar bullpen and colossal failure of a bench are not his fault, yet he’s managed to keep the regulars rested and not tax the bullpen. The Yanks haven’t just tread water, they’ve thrived.

Girardi’s job doesn’t figure to get any easier in the second half with two key pieces in Nick Johnson and Al Aceves unlikely to come back anytime soon, but there’s enough talent on the roster for the team to remain a force. All he has to do to be successful is exactly what he has been doing.

Honorable Mention: Frankie Cervelli went from super hot to super cold in the first half, but a .305 wOBA while taking some of the catching load off Jorge Posada‘s shoulders is pretty much what we all had in mind coming into the season … Damaso Marte‘s primary job function is to shutdown lefthanders late in the game, and he’s crushed them to the tune of a .146/.200/.268 batting line against … The farm system has also done what we expected it to: pump out useful players to plug the occasional hole on a temporary basis, whether it be Ivan Nova or Colin Curtis or Kevin Russo or Juan Miranda.

Montero goes deep as SWB wins big

Outfielder and 2009 37th rounder Justin Milo retired. Maybe he got an offer to play hockey overseas. If so, good for him. Meanwhile, 2010 6th rounder Gabe Encinas said he’s leaning towards turning pro, though he and the Yankees have yet to sit down and talk about a deal. Encinas is one of the two or three best arms the Yanks drafted this year, and an over-slot bonus is a foregone conclusion.

Triple-A Scranton (12-5 win over Toledo)
Reid Gorecki, RF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB – threw a runner out at home & at second
Chad Tracy, 3B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 K – seven for 16 (.438) since signing
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 3 for 5, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 1 E (missed catch) – four of his last eight hits have been doubles
Juan Miranda, DH: 1 for 4, 2 R, 1 HBP
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 4, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 1 E (throwing) – that’s his second homer in three games since almost being traded for Cliff Lee … ten walks & seven strikeouts in his last nine games … the best news of all is that the league has stopped throwing him fastballs because of his recent hot streak, and he’s still mashing
Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Reegie Corona, 2B: both 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K – JoVa drove in three, Reegie two … Vazquez also got hit by a pitch
Eric Bruntlett, RF & Greg Golson, CF: both 2 for 3, 1 R – Bruntlett walked & drove in a run
Sergio Mitre: 3 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 2-4 GB/FB – 43 of his 60 pitches were strikes (71.7%) … he was sitting 89-92 … gotta believe this is his last rehab outing, he should be rejoining the team this weekend
Tim Redding: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 4-6 GB/FB – 57 of 87 pitches were strikes (65.5%)
Boone Logan: 1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – ten of his 11 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Ceremonies for Bob and George

When the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays resume play for the second half tomorrow night, the Bombers and their fans will turn out to the stadium with heavy hearts. Both Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner have passed away since the team’s last home stand, and the the Yankees announced this afternoon their pre-game plans to honor these two Yankee icons.

While the team is still firming up all of the details, the club is asking ticket holders to be in their seats by 6:45 for the ceremony. Currently plans include a video tribute to George Steinbrenner and a moment of silence for both men prior to the game. “Further tributes,” the Yankees said, “to Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Sheppard will be revealed during Friday’s ceremony, and additional ceremonies will be held during Old-Timers’ Day events on Saturday, July 17.” I hope they can produce a video tribute for Bob Sheppard as well. He deserves one.

In addition to these memorials, the Yankees will place a wreath in front of the Boss’ statue in the Gate 2 Executive Lobby and in front of Bob Sheppard’s plaque in Monument Park. United States Army Sergeant First Class MaryKay Messenger will perform the National Anthem.

Under George Steinbrenner, the Yankees have always honored their history and remembered the players lost to the passage of time. Friday’s events will be emotionally charged as a fanbase begins to say good bye to two beloved Bronx figures.

* * *
This thread can serve as the open thread for the evening. It’s the last night of the All Star Break without Yankee baseball, but a handful of other teams are in action. The Red Sox play the Rangers at 7:10 p.m., and the Mets face the Giants at 10:10 p.m.

A fond send-off from an almost-Yankee

As the celebrity memorials about George Steinbrenner have appeared, we haven’t linked to them simply because they’re too numerous to count. Everyone deserves to have his or her voice heard, and the Boss had a direct impact on thousands of people’s lives. There is one, however, from an unlikely source that I believe warrants some attention.

Over at ESPN Boston, Curt Schilling, almost a Yankee once and always a hated enemy of Yankee fans, penned a moving tribute to George Steinbrenner. The Boss, Curt said, was one of the people in baseball he most respected. George was, writes Schilling, responsible for baseball’s economic strides. He revitalized the game, he revitalized the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry, and he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

A certain passage from the piece leaped out at me:

After we beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, he stopped me outside the media room in the tunnel under the stadium. Here he was, I knew he was crushed, but even so he went to great lengths to talk to me and say things I’d forever remember and cherish.

Mr. Steinbrenner was the No. 1 reason I wanted to initially go to the Yankees when I learned the Diamondbacks wanted to move my contract. I loved playing for Mr. Colangelo and I saw Mr. Steinbrenner as an older, more passionate version of him. As a player, what more could you ask from the owner of your team? He did everything in his power, and sometimes things outside his control, to take care of his players and his fans, and made no qualms about who he had to bull over to do it.

So many people looked to him and the Yankees organization as being a big contributor to the unbalanced financial playing field in baseball. I say baloney. If every owner poured the percentage of his resources into their teams as Mr. Steinbrenner did, there would be far more happy fans in many more cities.

As Schilling readily admits, he and George had personality traits in common. They were both loud, brash and overbearing, and they both had a very strong desire to win. In fact, it was George’s ability to grate on people that had the Diamondbacks asking for Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson from the Yanks while they settled for much less from the Red Sox.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece on the almost-trade of Schilling and posited that he was almost a Yankee and almost a Yankee fan. I still get the sense reading his words about the Boss that Curt cheers on the Bronx Bombers even as he embraces Red Sox Nation. He respects the team; he respects the pinstripes; and he admired the Boss just as so many others did.

RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Just a reminder, my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 4:05pm ET today. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.

Nick Swisher and BABIP

Swish singles again | Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

This isn’t the Nick Swisher you used to know. When you started following him in Oakland because of his Moneyball appearance, or if you just started watching him last year, you could have easily pegged Swisher as a certain type of player. He doesn’t hit for high average, he strikes out a lot, he hits for power, and he takes a ton of walks. The value in the latter two compensate for the former two, which makes Swisher a pretty valuable player. I’m sure that if he continued that way the Yanks would have kept him around through 2012, when they’d have to pick up his $10.25 million option. Now, though, Swisher has changed the equation with his uncharacteristic first half.

In the past Swisher has always carried a low BABIP. He peaked in 2007 at .301, but has mostly been down in the .270 to .280 range. This year he’s up at .341, which might have some thinking that it’s a bunch of luck. Yet that is not what a high BABIP necessarily means.

Different players carry different BABIPs. It’s all about the hitting style. We usually reference a player’s career BABIP because, well, it’s the same player. But when that player changes his approach we should be cautious when making statements about his BABIP. Swisher has changed enough that we might see him sustain a number far higher than he has before in his career.

So what should we expect from Swisher? Clearly his approach has changed. His strikeout rate is down and his contact rate is higher than any previous year. His swinging strikes are slightly down, though not significantly so. He’s also swinging a ton more, 44.2 percent against a 39.2 percent career average. He’s hitting more line drives than ever, and he still has 15 home runs despite 13.3 percent HR/FB ratio, which is below his career average. So there are some factors that suggest that he’ll continue hitting well.

How well? According to xBABIP Swisher is still hitting a bit above his head. That calculator, which takes into account homers, strikeouts, stolen bases, line drives, flyballs, pop ups, and ground outs, peg him for a .309 mark. That would still be above his career average, but not quite to the level he’s hitting now. The good news is that he’s outpacing that now and theoretically could in the second half. The bad news is that regression can strike at any time. If it does guide Swish back down to earth, hopefully it has the courtesy to raise up some of the underperformers.

As Mike noted before the season, Swisher showed signs that he was playing above his head last year. Yet he made adjustments and has exceeded expectations this year. There is a good chance that he continues to outperform his expected numbers because, well, he’s a changed player. He has tightened up his stance and is displaying a more aggressive approach at the plate. This could lead to even more good things in the second half, even if the projections suggest otherwise.