Pettitte still leaning towards retirement

Via Marc Carig, a person close to Andy Pettitte said the chances of the big lefty returning for the 2011 season are roughly 30%. “There is a very real possibility that he will retire,” said this person, and I think we all understood that from the get go. I certainly respect that Pettitte is making a major life decision here, but I would really like to see a resolution sometime soon. The wait is killing me, yo.

Cashman: Yankees might start season with current pitching staff

Via Wally Matthews, Brian Cashman acknowledged that the Yankees might begin the season sporting the same starting rotation they do right now, meaning CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and Sergio Mitre. “I’m not saying I want to do it,” said Cash, “but I may have to do it. Could I go out and get a starter? Yes, I could. But there’s just not much out there … I have March, April, May, June and July, really, to come up with someone.” The GM also said that he’s operating under the assumption that Andy Pettitte will not return, which is the right thing to do.

In other news, Bubba Crosby will be the starting centerfielder and Jesus Montero will be the starting catcher. I’ll believe it when I see it.

The RAB Radio Show: December 20, 2010

The Zack Greinke trade happened over the weekend, and we know the Yanks were at least somewhat involved. Mike and I have differing views of this, so we talk about the merits of each.

More interestingly, Brian Cashman said that he might have to go into the season with the current troops. That would make for an interesting pitching staff, but not interesting in the “they might be awesome” kind of way. It’s interesting in a hold-onto-your-butts kind of way.

Really, though, who could they get? That’s a perpetual point of conversation, and we’re definitely in on it.

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Looking at some Astros pitchers

Late last week we heard that the Yankees had spoken to the Astros about infielder Jeff Keppinger, prompting Joe and I discussed the possibility of expanding a trade to include a starting pitcher in that day’s podcast. It was only natural with the Yankees in perpetual pursuit-of-pitching mode, and I figured it was worth exploring in greater detail.

Before we dive in, we have to eliminate some candidates. The Astros just signed Ryan Rowland-Smith so he’s not an option, not that he should be anyway. Houston also picked up Aneury Rodriguez and former Yankee farmhand Lance Pendleton in the Rule 5 Draft less than two weeks ago, so it’s unlikely either one of those guys will be available. J.A. Happ was one of the centerpieces of this summer’s Roy Oswalt trade, and Bud Norris is their version of Phil Hughes, so for all intents and purposes we can cross those two off the list as well. That leaves a pair of veterans, which is really what the Yankees need. An experienced arm that will give them some predicable innings. Let’s break ’em down…

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Wandy Rodriguez

After missing close to six weeks with a groin strain early in the 2008 season, Wandy has been one of the games least-heralded great starters. He’s pitched to a 3.55 FIP in 538 innings since then, better than guys like Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, Andy Pettitte, and John Danks, just to name a few. In fact, just a dozen pitchers with that many innings since 2008 can top that FIP.

Wandy’s a strikeout artist (8.40 K/9 over those last three years) that doesn’t walk many batters (2.93 BB/9) and gets a good amount of grounders (44.8%), so the basics are there. His big breaking curveball has been the second best yakker in baseball over the last two seasons at 23 runs above average, trailing only Adam Wainwright’s legendary curve (45.7 runs above average, absurd). He does have a platoon split, but it’s not out of control; 4.18 FIP vs. RHB in his career compared to 3.58 vs. LHB. Over the last three seasons, those numbers drop to 3.80 and 2.47, respectively.

The Astros only have Rodriguez under contract for one more season. He’ll earn something like $8M in 2011, his final season of arbitration-eligibility. He should easily top the two-year, $21.5M guarantee Jorge De La Rosa received as a free agent when he hits the market next winter, a price that might not jive with Houston’s budget during their rebuilding effort. Even if GM Ed Wade decides to hold onto Wandy for now, there’s a pretty good chance that he’ll become available at some point during the season.

Brett Myers

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Ever so quietly, Myers was the best free agent signing of the 2009-2010 offseason. After agreeing to a one-year deal that paid him just $3.1M in 2010, Myers pitched to a 3.56 FIP in 223.2 innings for the Astros, racking up 4.0 fWAR. Not only did he make 33 starts, his most since 2005, but Myers also went at least six innings in every single start except his very last one, when he only mustered 5.2 IP. After having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip in 2009 and dealing with elbow trouble in 2007, this season was a brilliant rebound for the 30-year-old.

There’s really nothing that stands out about Myers. His fastball averages almost exactly 90 mph (I’m guessing he tired late in the year after being hurt in 2009), and he backs it up with a curveball and slider. He has almost no platoon split (3.54 FIP vs. LHB, 3.57 vs. RHB in 2010, 4.24 vs. 4.50 career), a good but not great strikeout rate (7.24 K/9 in 2010, 7.46 career), a good but not great walk rate (2.66 BB/9 in 2010, 3.04 career), and a very solid groundball rate (48.7% in 2010, 47.5% career). The one thing that stands out from last season is his homer rate, which dropped off quite a bit last season and should creep back up next year. That said, Myers is a rock solid starter, capable of 30 or more starts that should be no worse than league average.

Myers was sure to decline his part of an $8M mutual option for 2011 after the season he had, but Wade (who had Myers in Philadelphia) was proactive. He signed the righty to a two-year contract extension with a third year club option worth no less than $23M. Myers would make a lot of sense for the Yankees, but I just can’t imagine the Astros would be willing to trade him less than five months after giving him the extension.

* * *

I don’t like Myers because he is a wife-beater, so I’m happy that he’s the unlikely trade target. Rodriguez simply makes far more sense for the Yankees and their current needs. He’s left-handed, can strike people out, and is on a short-term commitment. The Javy Vazquez trade could be a good comp in terms of prospect package required since both guys were coming off strong seasons with just one year left on their deals, so that means an average or worse big leaguer, a lower level pitching prospect, and a fungible relief prospect. Feel free to fill in the blanks, but just know that it won’t take Jesus Montero or someone like Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances to land him. Wandy definitely makes some sense for the Yanks, so I hope they’ve at least brought up the idea of acquiring him during the Keppinger talks.

The asking price for Zack Greinke

(Steve Ruark/AP)

Yesterday we were all a little shocked to see the Royals trade Zack Greinke to the Brewers. That led to two inevitable questions. First, could the Yankees have topped Milwaukee’s offer? Second, what players would it have involved? As normally happens with these situations, at least one of those questions got a bit clearer the day after. It started with SI’s Jon Heyman reporting that the Royals wanted Jesus Montero and Eduardo Nunez. But, while he reports that Greinke would be amicable to a New York move, the Yanks “weren’t convinced NY was right for the kid.”

Before we jump to conclusions about what this means, let’s make sure to note the caveats that go along with Heyman’s statement.

1) The Royals might have wanted Montero and Nunez, but they likely wanted more than just those two.

2) There’s no guarantee that the Royals would have even taken the Yankees package had they offered it.

3) We don’t know what he meant by the Yanks not thinking NY was right for Greinke. We also don’t know where that information originated.

Let’s start with the last point first. Might social anxiety disorder have affected Greinke to a greater degree in New York than elsewhere? Maybe. Maybe not. To make an assumption either way is a folly. For most of the off-season we’ve heard comments about how Greinke couldn’t handle the pressure of New York, with the only evidence being SAD. But SAD comes in many varieties, and literally no one making such a comment has any idea what Greinke has experienced. Any presumption of his reaction to New York, then, is further folly. The only things we know about Greinke involve his performance on the pitcher’s mound.

That works both ways. After reading Joe Posnanski’s brilliant profile of Greinke on Friday, I was even more convinced that Greinke would be a fit in New York. A guy who despises losing above all? That seems to fit right in with the New York mindset. Yet to think that his SAD wouldn’t affect him in New York is as great a folly as assuming that it would. We don’t know what it would do. Again, all we can do is judge him as a ballplayer. That moves us to the first point.

That goes back to the argument that Joe Sheehan made, and that I echoed, last week: only trade Montero for the very best. In many ways, Greinke ranks among the very best. But in other ways he might not. The biggest obstacle here is not Greinke’s performance or his health issues, but rather his time under team control. He becomes a free agent after the 2012 season, which means the Yankees would be giving up six-plus years of Montero for two of Greinke. During that time span Greinke will make $27 million. Montero likely won’t make $27 million total until, at the very earliest, his second year of arbitration. And if he made a cumulative $27 million after his second year of arbitration, he’ll have put up some absolutely insane numbers.

Then there are the other chips to consider. As Joel Sherman notes, the Yankees view Nunez as a starting shortstop. He might not be as good a prospect as Alcides Escobar, even in the Yankees’ lofty estimation, but if they view him as a starter they shouldn’t treat him as a throw-in for every potential trade. On top of that, the Royals probably wanted one of the Yankees’ many right-handed arms. At this point we’re at a pretty substantial package. I’d argue that Montero, Nunez, and a RHP — whether it be Betances, Warren, or whoever — can provide more value to the Yankees in the next six years than Greinke will. That might come through performance, or through inclusion in another trade. But when we add up the value these players will provide, I’m confident it will be more than Greinke’s value in the next two seasons.

The Yankees have a difficult balancing act right now. They have a small window for their current crop of superstars. But then they have to reload for the next window. If they trade Montero for Greinke they lengthen the current window, but they hamper their chances of re-opening one soon. That might be tough for many of us to reconcile. After all, we want them to have the best possible team in 2011. But holding onto Montero is the correct move here. His bat will help replace the production of their current aging superstars. That should help them maintain a top team for years to come.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 20th, 2010

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

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Mailbag: Russell Martin, Utility Player?

Jeterian. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Tom asks: I know Russell Martin was said to be looking for a catching job, as opposed to a bench/utility gig. With that in mind though, if they end up with him and Montero splitting time at catcher, could Martin see some action at third? Depending on circumstances it could be a better option than using the utility man (Pena?) every time A-Rod needs a day, as well as allow him to get more playing time, for example if he and Montero are both playing well.

Like Jorge Posada, Martin was drafted as a second baseman out of a junior college late in the draft (17th round for Martin, 24th for Jorge). He stayed on the infield for one year in the minors before being converted to catcher, again just like Posada. Martin has played third base sparingly since then (that was 2003), just one more game in the minors and a dozen total in the big leagues. I think his ability to be a utility player, even just a guy that fills in at third once in a while, has been overstated a bit this winter. He’s not much more of an emergency option at that spot these days, not a guy that could play there on a semi-regular basis.

I do like your idea of using Martin at third and Jesus Montero behind the plate whenever Alex Rodriguez needs a day off, but I think we’re being a little unrealistic and perhaps unfair with our expectations. It sounds like a great idea and looks good on paper, but we have to remember that Martin is going to need days off (complete days off) after the absurd workloads he’s experienced over the last few seasons. We also have to remember that his experience at the hot corner (especially at the big league level) is very limited, and it could be hazardous (literally) to put him out there. He could misread a hop or not react to a line drive in time, all sorts of stuff, and nobody wants that.

Now that the Yankees have a little extra cash to throw around, I fully expect them to bring in a more qualified bench player at some point this offseason. We’ve already seen them connected to Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jeff Keppinger just this past week alone, and both of those guys would be a considerable upgrade over Eduamiro Penunez and would allow the Yankees to avoid using Martin on the infield. I’m sure he could do it if the team asked him too, I’m just not convinced it’s a wise thing to do on a regular basis.

Like I said, I like the idea in a vacuum, but I’d rather not screw around with Martin and make his life any more difficult than it already is right now. He already has an entirely new pitching staff to learn, not to mention change leagues and cities. Expecting him to play third base even justĀ  once every two or three weeks is probably piling on. I’d much rather see the Yankees just bring in a more qualified utility infielder and let Martin focus on his job behind the dish.