What Went Right: Andruw Jones & Eric Chavez

The world's wealthiest ball boy. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees were left with a bunch of money in their pocket after Cliff Lee decided to rejoin the Phillies last offseason, and that money was spent in a variety of ways. Part of it went to Rafael Soriano, part of it went to Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, and part of it went towards the bench. For the first time in a long time, the Yankees sought out viable reserve players during the offseason rather than wait until the trade deadline to shore up their bench.

Andruw Jones

It was going to be tough to fill Marcus Thames‘ shoes following his big 2010 season as the team’s designated lefty-mashing outfielder (.354 wOBA vs. LHP, .365 overall), but the Yankees were counting on Jones to not just match that production, but exceed it. They signed him to a one-year, $2M contract in late-January, and watched him hit a homerun in his first very at-bat of the season. Andruw was getting the occasional pinch-hitting appearance and spot start in left field, and aside from a two-homer game on May 25th, he struggled through an unproductive first half. He headed into the All-Star break as a .195/.278/.356 hitter overall and a .231/.315/.446 hitter against southpaws.

While off for the All-Star Game, Jones got some unsolicited advice from his mother, who suggested that he go back and look at old tape from when he was raking with the Braves. He widened his stance to feel more comfortable at the plate, and the results came immediately. Jones hit a pair of homers in his first game after the All-Star break, drove in another run in his next start, then ran off a stretch of five hits (including a double and another homer) in three starts after that. At one point in late August, he went deep four times in the span of 16 at-bats.

Andruw turned his season around with his mother’s help, and hit .291/.416/.612 with nine homers in 125 second half plate appearances. He annihilated lefties, tagging them for a .344/.452/.639 batting line after the break. That performance raised his season numbers to .247/.356/.495 overall (.371 wOBA) and .286/.384/.540 against lefties (.400 wOBA), so on a rate basis he did manage to outperform Thames, by a not small margin either. Jones only got one playoff plate appearance against the Tigers right-handed heavy pitching staff (a sac fly), and late in the season we learned that he was playing through a small tear in his left knee that had to be drained multiple times. Kinda makes his second half surge that much more impressive.

Eric Chavez

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

It’s easy to forget now, but not only was Chavez in camp as a non-roster invitee this spring, he was competing for a roster spot against Ronnie Belliard. Mini-Manny showed up to camp out of shape and suffered a leg injury shortly thereafter, effectively taking him out of the race. The job was Chavez’s to lose at that point, and he responded by hitting .395/.422/.558 and staying generally healthy (there were some calf spasms, but nothing crazy) during Spring Training. He opened the season as the backup corner infielder/left-handed pinch-hitter.

Chavez got just one plate appearances through the team’s first seven games of the season (he reached on an error), but he made an impact in his first start in game eight. He went 3-for-5 with two doubles off the Green Monster in Fenway Park, filling in at DH. He started the next day at third base and picked up another hit, then started to earn more and more playing time. The power production wasn’t really there, but Chavez was hitting .303/.410/.424 with six walks and just three strikeouts on May 5th, when the inevitable happened.

While legging out a triple against the Tigers, Chavez came up limping at third base and was immediately removed from the game. He was originally diagnosed with a small fracture in his left foot, but that was later changed to a really deep bone bruise. He dealt with setback after setback during his rehab, and didn’t return to the lineup until July 26th, 72 team games after suffering the injury. Chavez stepped right in and played a healthy amount of third base when he came back because Alex Rodriguez was on the shelf, picking up 11 hits (including his first homer) and a walk in his first 33 plate appearances post-injury. He also started to take some DH at-bats away from Jorge Posada.

Chavez ended the season in a bit of a slump (.213/.255/.298 in his final 51 plate appearances) that dragged his overall numbers down (.263/.320/.356 in 175 PA, a .294 wOBA), but he was a monster with men on base (.379/.447/.561) and in scoring position (.415/.468/.537). Despite the years of injuries, he was surprisingly good on defense, flashing some of that old Gold Glove caliber ability at the hot corner. I don’t think many of us expected much out of Chavez, so he exceeded just about every expectations. He’s reportedly “leaning heavily” towards retirement, which is understandable after the injuries. He was a nice veteran guy to have on the bench, someone still capable of putting together quality at-bats and having value in the field.

Finding a match between the Pirates and Yanks

(Scott Cunningham/Getty)

The offseason is officially right around the corner, which means lots of trade speculation and free agent rumors and all that fun stuff. We might as well get a jump on things by discussing something Joel Sherman mentioned yesterday, that the Pirates “have prioritized finding a catcher this offseason.” Pittsburgh recently announced that they plan on cutting ties with the injury-plagued duo of Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, opening up their catcher’s job. Former fourth overall pick Tony Sanchez hit a speed bump by posting a weak .306 wOBA in 469 plate appearances at Double-A this summer, and the rest of their catching crop (Mike McKenry, Jason Jaramillo, and former Yankee farmhand Eric Fryer) are nothing to write home about.

Since the Yankees actually have some catching to spare, young catching at that, it makes them a potential trade match with the Buccos. We know the two teams seriously discussed a Frankie Cervelli-Brad Lincoln swap before the trade deadline, plus Brian Cashman and Neal Huntington have gotten together for three trades in the last four years, so it stands to reason that there’s a decent working relationship in place there. The question is what do the Pittsburgh have that fills a need for New York?

Obviously, it’s all about pitching for the Yankees, starting pitching in particular. They’re not going to get a starter for Cervelli, not after yet another concussion, but there’s also Austin Romine to consider. He’s definitely a trade chip as well. The problem is that the Pirates don’t have much pitching to offer, and in fact they’re going to be in the market for some this winter just like the Yankees. Dig through their 40-man roster, and there’s only two arms worth even a second though: Charlie Morton and James McDonald. This is coming from a guy that loves Jeff Locke too.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

By almost every metric, Morton was Pittsburgh’s best pitcher this past season. He managed a 3.77 FIP across 171.2 IP because he didn’t give up any homers (0.31 HR/9, lowest in MLB), the result of him reinventing himself as a sinkerballing Roy Halladay look alike (58.5% ground ball rate). He only struck out 110 batters in those 171.2 IP (5.77 K/9), and 23 of those 110 strikeouts came against pitchers. His unintentional walk rate (3.77 uIBB/9) isn’t anything special either. Morton’s still pretty young (28 in November) and cheap (MLBTR projects a $2.2M salary his first time through arbitration this winter), so there’s always a chance he could improve as he gains more experience with his new Halladay-esque delivery.

Huntington flat out stole McDonald from the Dodgers, getting five years of him (and another prospect!) for two months of Octavio Dotel at last year’s trade deadline. He’s a much different pitcher than Morton, more of a strikeout (7.47 K/9) and fly ball (38.9% grounders) guy. He gave up a ton of homers last year (1.26 HR/9) and compounded the problem by walking a lot of guys (3.89 uIBB/9). His career numbers, not that he’s been around all that long, are almost identical to what he did in 2011. McDonald just turned 27 and is still in his pre-arbitration years, and although I’ve liked him ever since he was being mismanaged in Los Angeles, he’s not going to step in and unquestionably solidify the rotation. Neither of these guys will really, especially not in the AL East.

Having an abundance of MLB ready or near-MLB ready catching is a definite luxury the Yankees enjoy, and it figures to be their primary currency when making trades. There’s no reason to sell low on Cervelli (following the concussion) or trade away Romine for questionable pitching help, or even bullpen help at this point. I can see why the Pirates would have interest in some of the Yankees young backstops, but they’re not going to want to trade one of their better starters for catching help (not necessarily straight up, just as framework for a deal I mean). There’s not enough incentive for the Yankees to make a move given what Pittsburgh has to offer.

Jesus Montero and ZiPS

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

You might have seen this earlier, but Dan Szymborski posted his 2012 Yankees ZiPS Projections early Monday afternoon, the first team of the offseason. You can click the link and peruse all of the projections at your leisure, but I’m going to spend some time focusing on everyone’s favorite player, Jesus Montero. We’ll discuss the other guys at some point this offseason … eventually.

Following his big September debut (.328/.406/.590 and a .421 wOBA), the ZiPS system forecasts a .271/.333/.486 batting line with 37 doubles and 27 homers in 579 at-bats for Montero in 2012. At first glance, that might seen a bit disappointing because of the generally low AVG and the OBP, but it most definitely shouldn’t be. I said this on Twitter, but if Montero does that next season, he’ll probably win Rookie of the Year even if the majority of his at-bats come as a DH*. ZiPS isn’t being tricked by that big September either, the system called for almost exactly the same thing for 2011: a .276/.334/.503 line with 34 doubles and 28 homers in 539 at-bats.

* For comparison’s sake, Eric Hosmer hit .293/.334/.465 with 27 doubles and 19 homers in 523 at-bats this year, and he should finish either first or second in the voting.

I see Montero’s current situation as similar to Ivan Nova‘s after last season, at least to a certain extent. Nova wasn’t great in September 2010 but he showed enough to warrant a much longer looking 2011, which he got and in turn rewarded the Yankees. Montero made such a strong impression last month that the team has almost no choice but to play him full-time next season, it’s just a question of where. We’ve talked about the whole DH/backup catcher thing, but putting it into practice is much easier said than done. The ZiPS numbers don’t mean anything at the end of the day, but they’re a nice little reminder of just how much Montero can help the Yankees if given the chance.

Standard Disclaimer: Projections are not predictions. Dave Cameron put it best when he said “Projections are information about what we think we currently know, while predictions are speculation about things that we probably cannot know.”

Noesi improves in second winter ball start

DWL Licey (11-6 win over Aguilas) Sunday’s game
Hector Noesi, RHP: 3.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 5-1 GB/FB – although this wasn’t great, it was an improvement after his stinker the first time around … remember, he’s on a strict pitch count

AzFL Phoenix (4-1 win over Salt River)
Corban Joseph, 2B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI. 1 K – eight for his last 24 (.333) with two doubles, a homer, three walks, and one strikeout
Ronnie Mustelier, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 K, 1 SB – exactly two hits in four of his six games out here

Open Thread: World Series Game Five

How about that Derek Holland kid? That was his Andy Pettitte, Game Five of the 1996 World Series moment right there, which is pretty cool because apparently he idolizes Pettitte; Andy texted him a congratulations after the game. Only one non-Lance Berkman hitter managed to hit the ball out of the infield off Holland, and the Cardinals offense doesn’t suck. We’re down to a best-of-three series now, which is great news for those of us that want to see a Game Seven.

Here’s your open thread for the evening. It’s Chris Carpenter vs. C.J. Wilson at 8pm ET on FOX tonight, plus you’ve got Monday Night Football (Ravens at Jaguars, 8:30pm ET on ESPN) and the (hockey) Rangers in action. Talk about anything you want here, it’s all fair game.

Oh by the way, that’s a neat little (well, not little, it’s nearly 15 minutes long) video of World Series highlights through the years. The Yankees are well represented, both good and bad, as you probably expect.

Phillies decline Roy Oswalt’s option

The Phillies have declined their 2012 option for Roy Oswalt, making him a free agent. They did the same with Brad Lidge, but no one cares about him. The 34-year-old right-hander (Oswalt, not Lidge) will receive a $2M buyout rather than a $16M salary for next season.

Given their need for starting pitching, it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ll hear about the Yankees and Oswalt at various points this winter. Matt looked at the former Astro last month, and I’m sure we’ll look at him a little more during the offseason. One thing worth noting is that Oswalt’s back problems got so severe this season that he openly pondered retirement, which is scary in more ways than one. Any deal would obviously have to be short-term, like one year plus an option, for the career NLer.

Collective Mailbag: Edwin Jackson

At least a dozen emailers, paraphrased: Will the Yankees show any interest in Edwin Jackson this off-season?

If it feels as though Edwin Jackson has been around the league for nearly a decade, it’s because he has. He made his debut in 2003 at age 19, throwing 22 innings for the Dodgers. That came after he rolled through the AA Southern League with relative easy, producing a 3.70 ERA and a 2.86 FIP. It’s tough to mistake that type of talent as anything but star-bound.

It didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off. The Dodgers let him start the 2004 season in AAA, and he got rocked down there. His stint in the majors went just as poorly. A repeat in 2005 completely removed Jackson’s prospect luster. The Dodgers wasted little time in trading him to the Rays for Danys Baez and Lance Carter. That is, they traded a 22-year-old who, two years prior, was Baseball America’s No. 4 overall prospect, for what amounted to an overrated reliever and an utterly crappy one.

Here’s where Jackson’s story becomes relevant to the Yankees’ interest in him. Once he was out of options, in 2007, the Rays made him a full-time starter. In each year since then he has made at least 31 starts. That makes him seem a durable pitcher, something teams value on the free agent market. But in those five full-time seasons Jackson has displayed a measure of inconsistency. His ERA has fluctuated wildly, moving 1.00 or more in three of the last four off-seasons (and 0.85 in the fourth).

Yet we know that ERA tends to fluctuate year-to-year, at least to some degree. That’s why we have FIP: to look at a pitcher through events over which he has most control. In this manner Jackson has shown inconsistency too, especially in his strikeout rate. Here are Jackson’s K/9 numbers from the last five years:

7.16
5.30
6.77
7.78
6.67

Again, we’re not talking small fluctuations here. We’re talking a change of at least 1.00 per nine every season. That should make wary anyone with a long-term contract offer in hand.

There are a number of things to like about Jackson. He’s still just 28 years old, so there shouldn’t be any decline-related worries. As mentioned, he’s also made at least 31 starts in each of the last five seasons, so he’s proven himself durable. He’s also seen his FIP pretty consistently decline over the last three seasons. from from 4.88 in 2008 to 3.55 this past season. His xFIP has also dropped a bit, to around 3.70 in each of the last two seasons. He pitched plenty of those seasons in the AL as well — in fact, you could say that he pitched better in Chicago than he did at either of his NL stops.

In terms of a deal, chances are Jackson would command three to four years. Normally I’d say three, but the market works in strange ways when it comes to starters — especially those that Scott Boras represents. Only nine free agent pitchers in history have signed deals longer than four years, and given how few of them have worked out it’s pretty safe to say that four years is the max. If the Yankees were going to offer Jackson a contract I’d prefer three years at max, with a $33-$35 million ceiling. I’m not sure that gets the job done, but anything more could be a big mistake.

That said, I’m not sure the Yankees seriously consider Jackson this winter. They have a number of in-house options for the 2012 rotation. They might not be better than Jackson right now, but I suspect that the Yankees think they’ll be close enough in the near future that signing him makes little sense. He’s not a terrible get, especially on a three-year contract (that expires when he turns 31). But given the market, which I think will provide him a fourth year, and the current number of righties on the brink of the rotation, I think the Yankees pass on Jackson. He’s not a bad idea as a backup plan, though.