Trade Rumor Roundup: Ubaldo, Bedard, Kuroda

Still no trades, but lots of rumors. Here’s the latest concerning the Yankees…

  • There still has not been any significant movement regarding Ubaldo Jimenez, meaning that no team (including the Yankees) has shown a willingness to meet the Rockies asking price of three top prospects. (Joel Sherman)
  • The Yankees will have a scout on hand to watch Erik Bedard make his return from the disabled list tomorrow night, and the Mariners will have a scout watching Double-A Trenton tonight. Bedard has been out since late-June with a knee strain and will be facing the Rays in Seattle. We looked at him as a trade candidate last month. (Jon Paul Morosi & Josh Norris)
  • The Dodgers want any Hiroki Kuroda trade to be a “true baseball deal” and not just a salary dump. They want a young player in return for the right-hander, preferably a starting pitcher. Contrary to some reports, Kuroda will bring draft pick compensation (projects to be a Type-B free agent) if offered arbitration after the season. He will be treated like a player with six-plus years of service time, a courtesy MLB extends to Japanese vets. (Jayson Stark & Morosi)
  • “I’m going to be hard-pressed to find anything better than getting Bartolo Colon and Phil Hughes off the disabled list,” said Brian Cashman to Dan Martin today. “I can’t imagine I’m going to run into anything but you’ve still got to go through the motions … We’re prepared for chaos if it comes before Sunday’s deadline. But I like the team we have.” That’s just GM speak, Cashman’s not going to come out and say he’s desperate for anything because it’ll only work against him.

Hideki Irabu, 42, found dead in Los Angeles home

(Photo Credit: NY Daily News)

Via The Kyoto News, former Yankee Hideki Irabu was found dead at his Los Angeles home today. He was 42. TMZ reports that he committed suicide by hanging himself. Irabu lived in LA with his wife and two children, where he had investments in various Japanese restaurants.

The Yankees originally acquired Irabu from Padres in April of 1997, after San Diego purchased his contract from the Chiba Lotte Mariners. Irabu said he would only play for New York, forcing the trade. Ruben Rivera, Homer Bush, Rafael Medina, and $3M went to the Padres in the transaction. Irabu pitched for the Yankees from 1997-1999, posting a 4.80 ERA in 64 starts and ten relief appearances. His best season was 1998, when he pitched to a 4.08 ERA in 173 IP. The Yankees traded Irabu to the Expos for Ted Lilly, Jake Westbrook, and Christian Parker before the 2000 season. He is perhaps most remembered for being called a “fat pussy toad” (as in “full of pus”) by George Steinbrenner after failing to cover first base in Spring Training one year.

After two seasons in Montreal and one as the Rangers’ closer, Irabu was out of Major League Baseball at age 33. He returned to Japan and pitched another year with the Hanshin Tigers, and made a comeback with the Long Beach Armada of the independent Golden Baseball League in 2009. He spoke of attempting another comeback in Japan after that. Irabu ran into some trouble with the law after retirement, getting arrested for assaulting a bar manager in 2008 and for DUI in 2010.

Mailbag: Former Yankee Edition

Here’s a special Thursday edition of the RAB Mailbag, with three questions about former Yankees that may or may not be useful to the 2011 team. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in any questions.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Sam asks: Would you have any interest in trading for the Giambino to take over for Posada as a DH?

The Rockies just placed Jason Giambi on the disabled list with a quad strain, so he won’t be traded before the deadline. This question was sent in before then, obviously. Giambi is a prime candidate for an August waiver trade though, assuming the quad isn’t that serious and he can get back on the field within two weeks or so.

Unlike the subject of the next question, Giambi has hit all year and really hasn’t stopped hitting for any length of time in recent years. He’s got a .253/.378/.486 batting line in just about two seasons with the Rockies, and this year he’s rocking a .418 wOBA in 112 plate appearances. Giambi has been a part-time player though, mostly pinch-hitting and starting at first once or twice a week. Because he’s outperforming Jorge Posada both this year and last year (especially against RHP), he’d be a fine upgrade, though I doubt he maintains that level of performance playing every day. He might fall off to what, maybe a .360 wOBA? .375? .340? Either way, it’s an upgrade, but one they would have to wait to acquire if they wanted to at all.

Chris asks: What would it take to get Matsui? I’d rather him than a guy like Beltran. 1. Matsui is a proven clutch player unlike Beltran who was left holding the bag in 06-08 during the worst collapses ever. 2. Matsui knows and hits Red Sox pitching unlike Beltran and 3. He costs less (in terms of money and probably prospects).

This was sent in before the Carlos Beltran trade, and I’m not going to spend any time disproving the three points made. Beltran’s a better player than Hideki Matsui and always has been (as for the clutch stuff, look their numbers with RISP, Beltran destroys Matsui), and there’s very little to argue otherwise. But Beltran’s not an option now and probably never really was, so let’s move on.

Anyway, signs point to Matsui being pretty much done. He had a great game against the Yankees on Sunday (5-for-5 with two doubles) and has been on a tear over the last week or so (.500/.528/.882 in eighth games), but that doesn’t make the rest of the season moot. Before this current hot streak, Godzilla was hitting just .212/.294/.328 overall with sub-.300 wOBA’s both at home and on the road. It wasn’t just an Oakland Coliseum thing. Posada’s days as a productive player are over, but he’s still outhitting Matsui against right-handed pitchers, .339 wOBA vs. .290. Andruw Jones is also outhitting Matsui against lefties, .374 wOBA vs. .367, so I’m not sure where the upgrade is.

If the Athletics were to trade Matsui, the return would have to be minimal. He’s got no defensive value and is in clear decline, one hot week doesn’t change that.

(AP)

Matt asks: Any chance the Yankees will make a play for Melky Cabrera? He’s having a good season in KC and he’s a switch hitter.

Melky’s having a great year, he’s hitting .297/.333/.453 (.347 wOBA) and has been worth 3.2 fWAR, more than the first five-plus years of his career combined (2.6). Where does he play though? Is the plan for him to replace Andruw? Jones is outhitting Melky against left-handed pitchers (.374 wOBA vs. .332), though he’s a definite upgrade over Chris Dickerson. What would happen when Alex Rodriguez comes back though? Dickerson’s the one going down for him. I’m also unconvinced that Melky could play like he has in a part-time role, it’s not an accident that he’s having his best season when he knows he’ll be playing everyday (or when he’s in his age 26 season, but that’s besides the point).

The Royals appear uninterested in dealing Cabrera because they will be able to retain him as an arbitration-eligible player next year, and it would take quite a bit to acquire him now. I don’t think the upgrade is big enough to warrant a move, not when he’d only be a bench player.

* * *

I don’t really see any of these three guys as a fit for the Yankees. They have a big bat waiting in Triple-A if they want to replace their designated hitter, and the cost associated with acquiring Melky to replace Jones makes it a lateral move at best. Reunions are always fun, but there’s no match here. Nostalgia won’t win them anything this year, not unless they bring back early-2000’s Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina.

Two quality starters available, but the Yanks must choose one

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Yankees will make a big move in the next four days. Earlier in the month it might have appeared that the trade market was relatively bare and that there was no clear upgrade for the Yankees. Yet, as happens every year, the story has changed as we have approached the non-waiver trade deadline. The Yankees have a definite need in the rotation, and there are a couple of starters on the market who could help fill that.

Ubaldo Jimenez and Hiroki Kuroda could not be more different. One’s old, one’s young; one throws a mid-90s fastball, the other in the low 90s; one relies on ground balls, while the other is more the strikeout type; one is 36 and a free agent at year’s end, while the other is 27 and has two more years before reaching free agency; one will cost a bounty in prospects, while the other might not even agree to a trade. Yet both of them can help the Yankees rotation by slotting into the upper portion. In the coming days we could see one of them in pinstripes. Which one makes more sense?

Performance: Jimenez

If you look at only ERA, you might wonder how in the world Jimenez has out-performed Kuroda. Jimenez owns a 4.20 ERA, while Kuroda is at 3.11. Of course, that would suggest that ERA is completely under the pitcher’s control, which it is not. Jimenez has both a lower FIP and xFIP than Kuroda. He also has performed much better since struggling earlier in the year, producing a 3.03 ERA in his last 11 starts. Again, ERA isn’t everything, but he’s also struck out a batter per inning in that span, while walking just 17 (2.14 per nine).

Considering Jimenez got a late start in the spring, and missed two weeks in April, it’s understandable that he needed most of May to round back into form. But now he’s in that form, and he’s looking like an ace again. This isn’t a knock on Kuroda, whose performances have been very good since coming to the States in 2008. But in that span Jimenez ranks 10th in all of baseball with 18.8 WAR. His ERA, FIP, and xFIP are all relatively in line with Kuroda, but he has pitched 130 more innings.

Cost: Kuroda

It’s hard to make an argument that the Dodgers would get even one of the Yankees’ top five prospects in exchange for Kuroda. He’s a free agent after the season, and if he doesn’t retire he’ll either re-sign with the Dodgers or move back to Japan. In fact, it’s not even a sure thing that he’ll waive his no-trade clause: “My honest feeling is that I can’t fathom wearing another uniform than the Dodgers uniform right now,” he said yesterday. The point might be moot.

Jimenez, on the other hand, is said to cost three of the Yankees’ top prospects. If that seems like a steep price, well, it is. But remember, the payoff is a top-15 pitcher since 2008, so he’s not only good, but he has a track record. Is that worth eighteen years of total team control on three top prospects? It’s impossible to get a strong consensus on that, because of the polarizing prospect bias. Some think you always trade prospects for vets, while others would rather hang onto every prospect.

Yet here’s an interesting twist. CBS Sports’s Danny Knobler mentioned that the Rockies want three or four players from this list: Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Dellin Betances, Ivan Nova, or Phil Hughes. If they can get Hughes into that deal, maybe that changes things. Hughes, Betances, and Romine is a much easier pill to swallow than Nova, Betances, and Montero. Though when we hold this up to the reality test, and we see Hughes’s performances lately, it’s tough to imagine that the Rockies are interested.

Overall Help: Jimenez

Jimenez not only slots into the Yankees rotation right behind Sabathia this year, but he could remain there for at least the next two. That takes the pressure off the Yanks to make a splash in the free agent markets to come, which don’t appear particularly strong. Remember, many teams are locking up their young aces, and so we won’t see many of them reach free agency. That’s where the Yankees are strongest. They might have to make a sacrifice now in order to maintain a strong rotation.

If the Yankees get Kuroda, they might be tempted to spend $90 million on C.J. Wilson this winter. While that wouldn’t be the worst investment — I fully believe he’ll perform better than A.J. Burnett, though that’s not setting the bar particularly high — it’s another big contract for a player around age 30. It might cost some pieces from their farm system, but getting Jimenez in pinstripes means they can forget about the free agent class this winter and focus on developing from within. They’ll have three surefire bets for the rotation next year in Sabathia, Jimenez, and Burnett, with a few guys from the farm who could step into those final two spots.

Jimenez’s contract, too makes matters a bit easier. He’ll be a No. 2 getting paid like someone of lesser ability, and so can free up payroll for the Yankees to make other acquisitions. While the Yankees do play a different game than everyone else, I’m sure they’d like to play the value game every once in a while. After all, they need cost-controlled players so that they can continue spending $180 million on guys like Teixeira and $160 million on guys like Sabathia.

There is nothing wrong with the Yankees’ pursuit of Hiroki Kuroda, and if they ended up with him by Sunday I’d honestly be thrilled. He’ll provide an upgrade over their current fifth starter, Phil Hughes, and will stabilize the rotation heading into the playoffs. Jimenez, on the other hand, will be their No. 2 for years to come. He’ll cost considerably more, but he brings more benefits, both in the short and long term. It hurts to give up prospects, but in this case, considering the alternatives — and the alternative of doing nothing — Jimenez makes the most sense.

The Sleeping Giant

(Photo Credit: Flickr user compscigrad via Creative Commons license)

For the last decade or so, the AL East has been a two-horse race between the Yankees and Red Sox. The Rays have gotten involved in recent years by alternating good and great seasons, and the Orioles were definitely a factor back in the late-90’s.The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have always just kind of been there. Only three times did they fail to win at least 80 games from 1998-2010, but never once did they win more than 87. They actually finished second in the AL East in 2006, but they spent the bulk of those years in third place behind the Yanks and Sox. Given the events of the last two years, their days buried behind New York and Boston may be coming to an end.

You’ve probably heard by now, but Toronto pulled off a pair of trades yesterday that might as well be considered one three-team trade. First they shipped reliever Jason Frasor and prospect Zach Stewart to the White Sox for Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen, then they flipped Jackson to the Cardinals along with Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, Corey Patterson, and either cash or three players to be named for Colby Rasmus, minor leaguer P.J. Walters, and relievers Trever Miller and Brian Tallet. GM Alex Anthopoulos identified two clubs with different needs and connected the dots. The White Sox needed to unload some cash, the Cardinals needed pitching depth, and the Blue Jays earned something on the side as the middle man.

The Rasmus trade is very similar to last year’s Yunel Escobar trade. Toronto had the veteran player (Alex Gonzalez) the Braves sought, set their price, and expanded the deal to include some lesser pieces to make it work. These aren’t spare parts either. Escobar and Rasmus are two legitimate up-the-middle players that were acquired before their 28th birthday and with several years of contractual control left. Escobar has been a four-win player this year, and Rasmus is a lefty power bat moving from a park with an 82 LHB HR park factor to one with a 114 LHB HR park factor. There’s a common denominator here: Anthopoulos bought low on both players because of attitude problems. Yunel had tons of trouble with Bobby Cox and the coaching staff in Atlanta while Rasmus managed to get on Tony LaRussa’s bad side. Maybe jerks are the new market inefficiency.

Alex. Anthopoulos. (Getty)

Anthopoulos took over for J.P. Ricciardi the day before the final game of the 2009 season, but it’s JPR that gets credit for letting Alex Rios and his contract go to the ChiSox on a waiver claim. Rios has been below replacement level this year and still has another three years and $38M left on his deal. Anthopoulos managed to unload $100M worth of Vernon Wells on the Angels last winter, a win even though the return was negligible. That’s $140M+ worth of bad players taken completely off the books within 18 months of each other. Some of that money was redistributed and used to lock up young cornerstones like Ricky Romero (five years, $30.1M) and Adam Lind (four years, $18M), not to mention the world’s greatest player, Jose Bautista (five years, $75M).

The Roy Halladay trade was one that had to be made because Toronto was going to lose him to free agency after the 2010 season. Anthopoulos acquired a prospect with frontline starter potential (Kyle Drabek) and one of the game’s top catching prospects (Travis d’Arnaud) in exchange for Halladay, turning what seemed like an unwinnable situation into one that could pay big dividends. You can’t ask for much more given that tough spot, everyone knew Halladay had to go. Brandon League for Brandon Morrow gave them another high-strikeout power arm for the AL East. Shaun Marcum turned into Brett Lawrie, one of the top offensive prospects in the game. Carlos Villanueva has a 3.25 FIP and was acquired for a relatively insignificant amount of cash. Anthopoulos’ obsession with draft picks (15 top 100 and 20 top 150 picks over the last two drafts combined) have helped create what is now considered to be one of the game’s three best farm systems.

All the young, cost-controlled players are nice, but remember that Toronto is not a small market. The team is owned by Rogers Communication, which is like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Time Warner, and Cablevision combined up in Canada. The city itself has about 2.5M people within the city limits plus another 5.5M or so in the surrounding areas. The ballpark holds close to 50,000 people, and as we saw in the early-90’s, the seats will be packed if the team is competitive. The Jays had a $98M payroll as recently as 2008, and everything is in place for them to support a nine-figure team. Don’t be surprised to see them dip their toe in the deep end of the free agent pool in the coming years.

The Jays aren’t going anywhere this year, they’re the fourth best team in baseball’s toughest division, and their 52-52 record and +12 run differential bears that out. But they certainly play the Yankees tough every time they meet, and that was with guys like Rajai Davis and Juan Rivera in the lineup. Replace them with Rasmus and soon enough Lawrie, and they’ll only be tougher. Anthopoulos is building his team from the middle out, focusing on up-the-middle players and pitching. He’ll have money to work with in coming years and even more young players on the way. Toronto won’t be a factor in the division race this year and probably not next year, but they’re well on their way to being a force in the AL East.