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Possible trade target: David DeJesus

The Yankees boast a .361 OBP and a .355 wOBA as a team, the best and second best marks in baseball, respectively, but they still seem to be one bat short. Part of the problem is the underperforming Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, but Nick Johnson‘s absence (.388 OBP before getting hurt) hurts as well. There have been rumors that the Yanks will look to acquire another hitter before next month’s trade deadline, and that it could be a versatile outfielder. We’ve already looked at a pair of possible bench options in Jeff Keppinger and Ty Wigginton, and now it’s time to look at a potential every day player: David DeJesus.

Photo Credit: Nick Wass, AP

Over the last two seasons, perhaps no player has been linked to the Yankees in speculative rumors more than DeJesus, and I’ve never quite figured out why. He was born in Brooklyn but raised in New Jersey, and I remember him having a pretty big series in the Bronx a few seasons back, but that’s pretty much the only connection I can find. Then again, the Yankees were in need of a young and productive outfielder for quite a few years there, so he made sense.

The 30-year-old DeJesus is enjoying the finest season of his career this year, already racking up 2.3 WAR in the team’s first 73 games (five win pace). His .325/.394/.482 batting line (.383 wOBA) represents career highs across the board and not not by small margins either, though a BABIP 41 points over his established career baseline is certainly helping things out. DeJesus has shown a pretty significant platoon split in his career (.319 wOBA vs. LHP, .358 vs. RHP), though it’s not as pronounced as say, Curtis Granderson‘s. For what it’s worth, ZiPS rest of the projection calls for a .297/.369/.451 batting line (.360 wOBA) the rest of the way, which represents a career year.

Defensively, DeJesus can play all three outfield spots, though he’s at his best in left (+18.9 UZR/150 career) and is basically average in center (-1.2) and right (+0.1). This year is the first time he’s played right on basically an every day basis, though he doesn’t really have the arm strength typically associated with the position. Regardless, he’s no worst than a league average defensive outfielder on a full-time basis.

Baserunning is a different matter, because DeJesus is a shockingly bad basestealer. He’s not Robbie Cano bad, but bad enough. He’s just 18-for-38 in stolen base attempts over the last three years, which is an unacceptable 47.4% success rate. I know some people don’t like the word unacceptable, but I think it absolutely applies in this situation. If you aren’t a good basestealer, you simply stop trying to steal bases. Easy fix, end of story. The good news is that DeJesus is a very good baserunner in all other baserunning situations (moving up on grounders, going first-to-third, etc.), having been worth 8.34 runs above average in those spots since 2008.

Photo Credit: Ed Zurga, AP

As for the cash money, DeJesus is owed about $2.6M the rest of this season, and there’s a $6M option for his services in 2011 with a $500,000 buyout. He’s currently projected to be a Type-B free agent, but he’s very close to Type-A status (exactly one point away) and could conceivably play his way there in the second half. Remember that every dollar the Yankees spend is actually $1.40 because of the luxury tax, so the $3.1M he’s guaranteed becomes a $4.34M expense for the Yanks. If they pick up the option, it becomes more than a $12M expense. Hal Steinbrenner put his foot down with the budget last year, refusing to approve a trade for Mike Cameron because it would have added $5M to the payroll, and so far there hasn’t been any indication that he will budge this year.

The problem with DeJesus isn’t production, far from it. The money is an issue that the brain trust will have to consider, but there’s also the question of where exactly does he fit with the team? The Yankees already boast a tremendously productive starting outfield in Brett Gardner (2.0 WAR), Nick Swisher (2.3), and Granderson (1.4), so it’s not like DeJesus is going to come in and take one of those guys’ job. The designated hitter’s spot is, for all intents and purposes, open for the rest of the year because you can’t count on Johnson a) returning anytime soon, and b) staying healthy when he does return. I suppose a five headed outfield/designated hitter platoon monster of Gardner, Granderson, Swisher, DeJesus, and Marcus Thames could be employed, but when is the last time a team tried something crazy like that and it actually worked?

We still don’t know what the Royals will ask for in exchange their best outfielder, but they’re not going to just give him away given his age, production, and salary. Assuming the option is picked up, Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator pegs DeJesus’ trade value at $26.5M, which Victor Wang’s research says is basically equivalent to a top hitting prospect, or a top pitching prospect and a lesser prospect. If you want to start piecing together Grade-B and C prospects, you’re talking three players minimum. If Kansas City were to kick in any money in the deal, that’s just more you’d have to surrender in terms of young players.

This post isn’t intended to say whether or not the Yankees should look to go out and acquire DeJesus, I’m just presenting the information and explaining what the situation is. There’s no denying that he’s an above average every day player, but there are very real cost issues – in terms of both money and players – that need to be addressed, plus the entire playing time situation.

The Yanks sure can hit lefties

It seems like 10 years ago, but it hasn’t been so long since the Yankees’ offense had trouble against left-handed pitching. In fact, it was one of the defining characteristics of the late-00s teams. As the years passed and the pitching staffs got worse, the problem got worse. In 2004, for example, the team allowed almost five runs per game, but the offense was good enough to bludgeon opponents. While they had a .798 OPS against righties, they excelled against lefties, an .843 OPS.

In 2006 that started to change. While the team hit lefties very well, an .800 OPS, they hit righties better. This wasn’t a huge deal, mainly because of the high mark against lefties. Yet it was strange that they had hit righties better. They hadn’t done that in three years. Matters got worse in 2007, when they posted a .789 OPS against lefties against a .844 mark against righties. This was good, in that they killed the pitchers they faced most often. But those times facing lefties, 27 percent of the season’s plate appearances, they just didn’t fare as well.

The issue came to a head in 2008. The offense was down in general, a .769 OPS for the season. Yet against lefties they hit very poor, a .734 team OPS. They also faced lefties more often, in 30 percent of the season’s plate appearances. This was made worse because the two prominent left-handed hitters in the lineup, Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi, both hit lefties very well. It was everyone else who flailed and faltered against them. Yet at season’s end neither was asked to come back.

Despite featuring many of the worst culprits of the lefty deficit in 2009, the Yankees as a team hit them much better. Not only that they hit them better than righties. Yankees hitters again faced lefties in 30 percent of their plate appearances, posting a .846 OPS. They had a .837 mark against righties last season. No longer could teams line up their middling lefties to face the Yankees and expect dominance. With a lineup featuring four switch-hitters and two lefty-killing left-handed hitters, the Yankees were up to the task.

This year we’re seeing more of the same. The Yanks are down to three switch-hitters in the starting lineup, and actually started the season with four left-handed hitters. Despite that, they’ve posted an .814 OPS against lefties in 33 percent of their plate appearances. The mark against righties isn’t great, .796, but considering the league-wide offensive drought that’s still a very good mark. The AL as a whole has a .748 OPS against righties and a .723 mark against lefties. Part of the Yankees’ offensive success this year, it seems, is taking advantage when facing a lefty.

By 2009 the stereotype of the Yankees not hitting lefties had gotten old. We’d been hearing it for at least a couple of years, and it was frustrating by that point not only because we’d heard it so often, but because it was true. That all changed last year. The new additions hit lefties very well, and continue to do so. It might not seem of great importance, since it covers around 30 percent of plate appearances, but considering how much better than the league the Yankees hit lefties, I think it is definitely an important part of the offense.

Behind the plate, a conundrum

Credit: AP Photo/Peter Morgan

Finding a good Major League catcher isn’t easy. Finding a good Major League catcher who can hit is even harder. For the last 13 seasons, though, the Yankees have had just that in Jorge Posada, and now I’m starting to wonder if Jorge’s time is behind the dish is running out.

This year, Jorge has fought off a variety of injuries and has appeared in 45 of the team’s first 72 games. Of the team’s 635.1 innings, he has caught just 222.0 — or around one-third — of them. As his 147 OPS+ and his .279/.386/.524 line indicates, he can still mash the ball, but his days as the regular catcher are behind him.

To pick up the slack, the Yanks have turned to 24-year-old Francisco Cervelli. Never known for his offense while rising through the Yanks’ farm system, Cervelli has a whopping 21 games of AAA experience under his belt, and the Yankees have been milking him for all of his worth since he arrived in the Majors last year. Overall this year, his numbers aren’t too shabby. He’s hitting .287/.368/.367, and pitchers have seemingly enjoyed throwing to him in the 383.1 innings he’s caught.

But Cervelli is something of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. His overall numbers are powered by a 6-for-12 start to the season and a hot streak that saw him hitting .400 through mid-May. Since May 18, when he went a costly 0-for-4 in a Yankee loss to the Red Sox, Cervelli is hitting just .211/.302/.267 with 16 strike outs in 108 plate appearances. He has just four extra-base hits in that span. The truth is that this May-June Cervelli is closer to reality than the April-May Cervelli who hit .400/.471/.517 over 71 plate appearances.

What are the Yankees to do? When I examined this issue a few weeks ago, I wondered how the team would handle Posada. The answer has become clearer recently: The Yankees will, with Nick Johnson out, use Jorge to DH as often as they can. As the trade deadline approaches, it’s certainly easier for the team to acquire a bat to replace Johnson, but doing so would push Jorge into the field more often. It’s questionable at best as to whether Posada’s body can withstand catching nearly every day from July through late October. He’s far better off as the DH right now.

So the Yankees can move forward with Cervelli for the time being. Austin Romine, while hitting a robust .294/.360/.447 at AA, won’t make the big jump to the Majors. He’s not a fringe prospect as Cervelli was, and the Yankees would rather see him develop than be moved up too quickly. Jesus Montero‘s hitting hasn’t been up to par at AAA, and the 20-year-old may not see his future behind the plate anyway.

As problems go, this isn’t a bad one to have, and I’d be surprised if the Yanks tried to land a catcher at the trade deadline. After all, their price tags are generally just too steep. There is now, however, some urgency behind the developments of Romine and Montero. Someone will soon have to step up to replace Jorge no matter how tough a task that would be.

Laird goes deep twice in win over Erie

Zoilo Almonte and Ray Kruml were promoted to High-A Tampa at the expense of Francisco Santana of Neil Medchill, who were sent to Low-A Charleston. Meanwhile, NoMaas checked in with Brett Marshall following his first start since Tommy John surgery. He said he was throwing 93-95 on Monday, and will likely head to Charleston after his start on Saturday. Oh, and Juan Miranda is on the disabled list.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 win over Pawtucket)
Justin Christian, LF: 2 for 3, 1 BB, 1 SB – threw a runner out at the plate
Reid Gorecki, CF & Greg Golson, RF: both 0 for 3 – Gorecki drew a walk & drove in a run
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K – 14 for his last 42 (.333)
Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Rene Rivera, DH: both 1 for 4 – JoVa drove in a run … Rivera crossed the plate once & K’ed twice
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI – now has five homers, one more than Montero
Eric Bruntlett, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B
Tim Redding: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 11-5 GB/FB – 72 of 106 pitches were strikes (67.9%)
Zack Segovia: 2.1 IP, zeroes, 2-5 GB/FB – 20 of his 31 pitches were strikes (64.5%)

[Read more…]

Yankees promote Andrew Brackman to Double-A

Via Josh Norris, 2007 first rounder Andrew Brackman has been promoted to Double-A Trenton. The 6-foot-10 righthander has rebounded from a disastrous 2009 campaign to post a 2.84 ERA (eerily enough, also a 2.84 FIP) in his last eight starts (44.1 IP). More importantly, he’s walked just nine batters in 60 IP (1.35 BB/9) all season after walking 76 in 106.2 IP (6.41 BB/9) last year. He gets the ball tomorrow.

Congrats to Brackman, it’s great to see him improve so much as he gets further away from Tommy John surgery.

Open Thread: Happy Birthday, Phil

That first start sure seems like a long time ago, don't it? (Photo Credit: Nick Laham, POOL/AP)

Well look at that. The Yankees’ blossoming ace turns the ripe old age of 24 today. Hard to believe he’s still that young, no? Here’s a partial list of big league starters older than Mr. Hughes…

Clay Buchholz (22 months older)
Yovani Gallardo (four months)
Josh Johnson (16 months)
Ian Kennedy (14 months)
Tim Lincecum (24 months)
Mike Pelfrey (30 months)
David Price (11 months)

Also older than Phil Hughes? Andrew Brackman, who is six months his elder. Pretty crazy, huh?

Anyway, here is your off day open thread. The Mets and Tigers are playing on both SNY and MLB Network, and you’ve also got Oklahoma and South Carolina in College World Series action (loser is eliminated) on ESPN2. Apparently the NBA draft is on somewhere as well, if that’s your thing. Talk about whatever you want, just don’t be a jerk.