PINEDAf/x (and some projections)

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr./Getty)

There has been no lack of Michael Pineda PITCHf/x analysis in the aftermath of the Big Trade, and if you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out Lucas Apostoleris here, Whelk at DRays Bay here and our pal Matt Imbrogno here. With these fine fellows having already done some of the legwork I was planning on doing, I thought I’d shift my focus to a compelling comp:

Feel free to guess in the comments, or find out what we’re looking at after the jump.

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Mailbag: Manny, Burnett, Andruw, Pineda, Joba

As you can imagine, we got approximately ten million mailbag questions this week following the Michael PinedaJesus Montero trade. Oddly enough, no one really wanted to talk about Hiroki Kuroda. Poor guy. Anyway, I tried to answer as many as possible this week, which is why the answers are shorter than usual. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in sidebar.

(REUTERS/Brian Blanco)

Ben asks: I can’t believe I’m even writing this, but would you take a flier on Manny Ramirez now that Montero has vacated the DH spot? Or is the baggage not even worth a minor league deal at this point?

I wouldn’t even bother. That’s a lot of baggage, plus he still has to serve his 50-game suspension for last year’s failed drug test. Jon Morosi confirmed that he has to sign a contract before he can begin to serve a suspension, so he wouldn’t even be available until late-May or so. Maybe he can still hit, but I don’t think it’s worth the trouble to find out.

Den asks: Do you think the probability of A.J. Burnett being traded increased significantly after the deals with Kuroda and Seattle?

I do not, at least not significantly. It’s not a matter of the Yankees and their willingness to move Burnett, we know they want to, it’s whether or not another team is open to taking him while assuming some portion of his contract. So far all we’ve heard is that other clubs want the Yankees to pay basically everything, and if you’re going to do that you might as well keep him. The Pineda and Kuroda stuff won’t make A.J. any more desirable to other teams, unfortunately.

J.R. asks: How did Andruw Jones fair against RHP in the second half in 2011 (after the widened stance)? Did he do well enough that he could be the full time DH (or at least 400 AB)? Do injury concerns prevent this?

To the statcave!

Jones vs. RHP pre-ASG: .091/.167/.091 in 24 PA
Jones vs. RHP post-ASG: .214/.365/.571 in 52 PA

That works out to a .172/.303/.406 overall line in 76 PA, but the sample size is so small that we shouldn’t take it seriously. For what it’s worth, Andruw hit .215/.310/.477 in  403 PA vs. RHP with the Rangers and White Sox in 2009-2010. I don’t know of any injury concerns that would prevent Jones from playing regularly against right-handers (though he did have his knee scoped at the end of the season), but there are obvious performance concerns. I think using him as the full-time DH would be a last resort, or at least a second-to-last resort behind Jorge Vazquez. Also, statcave is totally going to be a thing now.

No LoMo for the Yankees. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Daniel asks: Due to the pitching depth that the recent moves create for the Yankees, could we see a move to get a young cost-controlled bat that could DH and play other positions (i.e. LoMo, Dominic Brown)? I would include Billy Butler, but he would keep the Yankees from using the DH for veterans needing a half-day.

I would love to see it, but I’m not counting on it. The Yankees have pitching depth but it’s not like they have a rotation full of aces and a few to spare; their depth is Burnett, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, and a bunch of MLB-ready back-end types in Triple-A. That won’t net a whole lot in a trade, certainly not a Brown or Logan Morrison type. Look at what it took to get Montero, it’ll take a similar package to get someone like those two. Unless they plan on turning around and trading Pineda, I don’t see it.

Greg asks: Everybody is focused on Pineda’s extreme fly-ball tendencies, but we’re all thinking about it in a vacuum.  How many of those fly balls at Safeco would have been out at NYS?

You can toy around with Katron, which SG already did. Click the link and you’ll see that none of the fly balls Pineda gave up in Safeco would have been homers in Yankee Stadium except for the ones that were homers in Safeco. There aren’t even many balls hit to the warning track. Obviously this isn’t a perfect analysis because it doesn’t take into account things like different wind directions and altitude and all that, but the point is that just because a pitcher gives up a lot of fly balls doesn’t mean they’re all hit deep.

Kevin asks: Outside of the box idea: if David Adams or Corban Joseph can prove to be a decent enough prospect this year, any chance of moving Robinson Cano to third and sending Alex Rodriguez to DH? Second basemen tend to age horribly, so it could preserve his career a little longer.

I do think that’s a possibility, but obviously it won’t happen anytime soon. I think Adams has a chance to be an above-average second baseman in the big leagues, or at least moreso than CoJo, but he lost so much development time over the last two years due to the ankle problems. His probability nosedived.

I’m really curious to see what the Yankees are going to do with Cano long-term, because second baseman do tend to age horribly as you said, and his contract will be up in two years at age 31. That’s a year or two before you’d expect him to fall off a cliff, but unfortunately he’ll be in line for a massive contract if he keeps doing what he’s been doing. I’ve been saying it for months, give him a six-year deal right now and knock out the first half of the contract before he enters the danger zone for middle infielders.

Brian asks: Would it be fair (in a general sense) to say that if Jesus Montero was a pitching prospect, he’d be Michael Pineda?

That’s interesting, and I do agree. The primary tools are huge, meaning Montero’s bat and Pineda’s fastball/slider/control. The secondary tools are a big question mark however, specifically Pineda’s changeup and Montero’s defense/long-term position. They’re both physically huge — though that’s good for one and potentially bad for the other — and approximately the same age (Pineda’s ten months older). Position players are less risky though, just due to general attrition rates and pitching being such an unnatural thing. They are similar to a certain extent though, at least as far as pitchers and position players can be similar anyway.

Nik asks: When Joba is healed and ready to pitch again, where does he fit in? And what would you guess the bullpen sequence to look like?

I expect the Yankees and Joe Girardi to ease him back into things at first, meaning a low-leverage inning here and there for the first few weeks. Once he’s settled in and back in the swing of things, I have to assume he’ll be right in the seventh and eighth inning mix with Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. Those guys aren’t available every day, so adding Joba will provide some depth and allow him to fill the gaps every so often.

A brief (and flimsy) case for Johnny Damon

When the Yankees traded away their designated hitter last Friday evening, they created a hole of sorts in their lineup. Most teams would love to enter Spring Training missing only a left-handed bat who could DH against right-handed pitchers, but for the Yankees, the need to fill this slot — not quite the 25th man but close enough — became their last remaining off-season to-do.

Long before the Montero-for-Pineda deal had time to marinate, the Twittering masses were throwing names around left and right. One involved a familiar face who was last seen in pinstripes in 2009. That, of course, was the 38-year-old Johnny Damon whose bat just hasn’t been the same since he left New York. Damon, who could be had for just a few million dollars, reportedly has approached the Yanks about the job, but the club hasn’t yet jumped. They’re waiting for something — maybe a lower price, maybe another move.

At first, I didn’t love the idea of reuniting with Damon. He was certainly fine during his tenure in the Bronx even if he never really held down that center field job for which he was originally ticketed in 2006. He made his mark on Yankee history with a key play in the 2009 World Series and left, as he did from Boston, wanting more money than the Yanks were willing to pay him. As he left, he claimed he always wanted to play in Detroit and later Tampa Bay. It just rubbed me the wrong way.

But rubbing us the wrong way shouldn’t have much to do with baseball analysis, and when it comes to Damon’s DH candidacy, the analysis has been lacking. Most pieces calling for his return resemble this one from The Post’s Back Page blog. They are appeals to emotion, to Damon’s clutchiness in the playoffs (while ignoring his 4-for-17 ALDS this year), to his True Yankee-ness. Some want Damon back because he reminds us of good times and great wins.

Forget that. Let’s make a real case for Johnny Damon. On the surface, his numbers aren’t that appealing. His walk rate dropped a bit, and he’s not getting any younger. His .742 OPS is fine, but the Yanks can effectively get his production vs. right handed pitchers from Andruw Jones without paying anything more. On the season, Damon OPS’d .715 vs. righties while Jones posted a .709 mark.

If we drill down even deeper though an alluring if shaky picture emerges. Outside of Tropicana Field against right-handed hitters, Johnny Damon had 221 plate appearances and posted a .291/.357/.477 line, good for a .364 wOBA. Even factoring in a decline as he gets older, production like that while playing home games in lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium could make Damon a potential steal for the Bombers. That argument though rests on what is effectively one-third of Damon’s 2011 campaign. I wouldn’t eat breakfast off a table that flimsy.

Ultimately, Damon could be an answer for the right price. The Yanks can jettison a $2 million failure; just ask Randy Winn. Or else the team could opt to use the DH for Derek Jeter and A-Rod while Eduardo Nunez gets too many at-bats before a bat finds its way to the trade market. They probably couldn’t go wrong either way. We don’t need to resort to emotion though to make a solid case for Damon. A sample size nearly too small to be significant will just have to do instead.

Open Thread: The Montero Write-Up

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Every year for the last five or six I’ve published my list of the Yankees’ top 30 prospects right before the start of Spring Training, and it’s a blast to look back and see how hilariously wrong I was on some guys. I wait until mid-February for a very specific reason, so I can take stock of the farm system after all the offseason trades have been made. As you know, Jesus Montero is on his way to the Mariners with just a quartet of physical exams holding things up, but I had already written up his capsule for the Top 30. Rather than just delete it all, I’m going to post it right here, right now…

1. Jesus Montero, C/DH, 22
Take a good look, because this will almost certainly be Montero’s last appearance on any prospect list. The Yankees and their fans caught their first glimpse of the wunderkind in September, as he produced a stout .421 wOBA with four homers in 69 big league at-bats in the season’s final month. That came after a sluggish May and June in Triple-A, during which time he was benched two games for a “lack of energy” as reports surfaced that he appeared bored with the minors’ highest level. Despite that, he set a career high with 22 homers in 2011 (majors and minors).

Montero’s calling card continues to be his mammoth power, particularly to the opposite field. That was on full display in September, when three of his four homers and two of his four doubles went out to right and right-center field. He also excels at getting the bat on the ball, at least relative to most power hitters (career 16.5% strikeout rate in the minors), though he doesn’t walk all that much (7.8%). All the hard contact he produces projects to a .300+ batting average down the line. There are no questions about his bat and offensive potential, but questions still surround his defense. Montero is big and slow behind the plate, and although his arm is strong, his throwing suffers because of a long release. The Yankees used him behind the plate just three times in September, instead deferring to Romine whenever Russell Martin needed a day of rest.

After five minor league seasons, the waiting is over for both the Yankees and their top prospect. Montero is slated to serve as the primary designated hitter in 2011 with occasional starts behind the plate likely in the cards, and he’ll be expected to replace some of the right-handed pop the team is losing as Alex Rodriguez continues to decline. The Yankees have high expectations for Montero as Joe Girardi showed by batting him fifth on a number of occasions down the stretch in September. We’ve been hearing all about this kid for years now, and now it’s time to see him in action. Tomorrow has finally come.

Here’s your open thread for the night. All three hockey locals are in action tonight, but you folks know what to do by now. Have at it.

Physicals still holding up last week’s moves

Via Jon Morosi and Bob Klapisch, the Michael Pineda trade and Hiroki Kuroda signing are still not official because some of the players involved have been delayed in taking their physicals. Both Jesus Montero and Jose Campos are stuck in their home country of Venezuela at the moment, and Kuroda is still at home in Japan. It doesn’t sound like either move will be made official this week, so we wait.

Scouting the Trade Market: Brandon Allen

While there are a number of low-cost and low-risk DH options on the free agent market, that’s not the only place the Yankees will look to fill that void. There are also players on the trade market who can slot into a platoon DH role for the Yankees. While they might cost something in terms of players, they can still come at a relatively low price. They can also come with a low risk level. One such name that came up this morning is the Oakland A’s first baseman Brandon Allen.

Allen started his career in the White Sox system after they drafted him in the fifth round of the 2004 draft. He then went to Arizona in the Tony Pena trade in mid-2009. Since then he’s had a rough go in the majors, though he has continued to obliterate the Pacific Coast League. Here’s a look at how he could fit the Yankees’ needs.

Pros

  • He’s a lefty with power. In 1,116 PA in AAA, he has an ISO of .269. While the PCL is known as a hitters’ league, Allen’s ISO is still well above the league average. In fact, his .273 ISO last year was more than 100 points higher than league average. He also beat the league average by more than 100 points in 2010. He also displayed prolific power before he reached AAA and the PCL.
  • He can also take a walk. The last time he had more than 75 PA at any minor league stop and had a walk rate under 10 percent was in 2007 — in A-ball. In 367 MLB plate appearances he has a 10.9 percent walk rate.
  • He also has contact skills. From Baseball America’s 2010 scouting report: “He toned down his swing and hit more balls to the opposite field in 2009, allowing him to hit a career-high .298 in the minors.” From Kevin Goldstein’s scouting report of the same year: “Allen has a solid approach and enough bat to profile as an everyday first baseman in the majors, combining plus power with a surprisingly solid contact rate, leaving scouts to project him as a .280+ hitter with 20-25 home runs annually.”
  • His biggest weakness seems to be inside pitching, something that Kevin Long, with his now-famous home run drill, might help fix.
  • While he has struggled in the majors, he has fared much better against right-handed pitching. That plays to his favor, considering the Yankees’ current DH situation.

Cons

  • While his major league experience is limited, he has failed pretty badly in that time, hitting just .210/.287/.383 in 367 PA. He struggled even more after the trade to the A’s, hitting .205/.259/.356 in 158 PA last year.
  • Contact rate has been a huge issue. While he kept his strikeout percentage in the low 20s in the minors, he has been in the mid 30s in the majors. Again, as Baseball America has said, it’s partly because “pitchers exploited him on the inner half.” While Long is known for his work in this area, his ability to fix Allen is not guaranteed.
  • At a time when they could have used a first baseman, the Diamondbacks did things like sign Andy LaRoche and Russell Branyan, and trade for Juan Miranda, rather than give Allen a real shot. They also traded him for a middle reliever, which gives you an idea of what they thought of his ability to adapt. That the A’s are shopping him again is another warning signal.
  • As with any player on another team, the Yankees would have to trade living, breathing players for him.

One reason why the Yankees, in all likelihood, won’t acquire Allen is that his upside might be better realized by a lower-tier team. The excellent Pirates blog Pirates Prospects has already put together a trade target article on him. He could also better help a team like the Indians; they could use a first baseman, particularly a lefty-hitting one, pretty badly. Since the Yankees would want him only to DH, and probably part-time at that, they might not be willing to part with the kind of prospects that other teams will, even if those prospects amount to No. 5 starter types.

Still, it’s always nice to have a look at a young left-handed bat who has flashed power. If the Yankees believe that Kevin Long can provide a fix, then he’s a worthy acquisition target. He would pair well with someone from the list of DHs available on a minor league contract, to give the Yankees a few low-cost, low-risk options. It does appear that Allen has an option remaining, too, reducing the risk of acquiring him. Chances are the Yankees won’t get far here. That’s fine. Perhaps Allen isn’t their guy, but he’s just another option in a long list of potential LHB DHs.

Cole Hamels, Curtis Granderson and the tough choices ahead

(Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

One of Larry’s objections to the Pineda/Montero swap is the future availability of Cole Hamels on the free agent market. If the Yankees can pick up Hamels to slide in behind Sabathia, the argument goes, then perhaps they should have kept Montero to provide cheap production out of the designated hitter slot over the next few seasons. I wrote about Hamels last week, speculating that the Yankees might be preparing to make a run at him next winter.

Last Friday’s trade radically altered the landscape of the Yankees roster. In acquiring Michael Pineda from the Mariners, the Yankees acquired a potential number one or two starter with five years of cheap team control. According to well-sourced reporter Joel Sherman, the price was particularly important because the team is serious about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. With the new roster in place, it seems reasonable to wonder whether the team will be able to afford Hamels, or their own Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and/or Nick Swisher, all of whom hit free agency in the next few years.

In projecting precisely whom the Yankees will be able to afford, it helps to have a handle on a reasonable estimate of future prices. Towards that end, I asked  Joe, Mike, Ben, Moshe and Larry to all provide me their best estimates for what they expect Swisher, Granderson, Cano and Hamels to pull in in their new contracts. These were the results of our inputs:

Robinson Cano: AAV of $22.0M, high of $23M, low of $20M.
Nick Swisher: AAV of $12.67M, high of $15M, low of $12M.
Curtis Granderson: AAV of $17.0M, high of $18M, low of $15M.
Cole Hamels: AAV of $21.67, high of $23M, low of $20M.

I’ll be using these figures going forward, and also making a few assumptions about the future Yankees payroll. The first one is that the Yankees won’t allow Robinson Cano to leave via free agency. He’s a homegrown star at a difficult position to fill, and he’ll only be 31 when he hits the free agent market after the 2013 season. It’ll hurt, but I expect the Yankees to resign Cano at $22M per year, the average listed above. The second assumption is that Alex Rodriguez will hit his 660th home run this season, and will hit his 714th home run in 2014, thus triggering his second $6M bonus. The third assumption is that Russell Martin does not sign an extension with the Yankees, and that they’ll use Austin Romine by 2014. With this in mind, this is what the roster would look like heading into the 2012-2013 offseasons:

The specific names attached to the $500k salaries aren’t all that important, but the idea that a cheap player will occupy the fifth starter’s spot and most of the bullpen. Banuelos, Betances, and Warren are interchangeable with whatever young player your heart desires. The cost is important.

The Yankees will have roughly $40M to spend on their rotation, bullpen, center field, right field and designated hitter positions. If they pay Granderson $17M and Swisher $12M, they’ll have around $10M to fill out the final rotation spot and the bullpen. They could go with a cheap arm in the fifth starter position, fill out the back end of the bullpen with minimum salary guys, and sign a decent set up reliever. If they choose to let Granderson walk and sign Hamels and Swisher, they’d have about $7M left over for the center field position (or left field, if they shift Gardner to center), bullpen and DH. This would be difficult to pull off. If they chose to forgo both Granderson and Swisher and sign Hamels, then they’d have around $18M left for two outfielders, the DH and the bullpen.

There doesn’t seem to be any way that the Yankees can get under $189M with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Cole Hamels all under contract at market rates.  From a financial perspective, the “easiest” solution would be for the Yankees to acquire a cheap, cost-controlled outfielder (like a Domonic Brown) who could step in and fill Swisher’s role for cheap. This would allow the Yankees to move Gardner to center and allow Granderson to walk, replacing Gardner with a relatively cheap left fielder and spending big on Hamels and the bullpen.

Personally, I’d very much like for them to spend on Hamels, probably even at the expense of Curtis Granderson. The offense would take a bit of a hit, but the idea of a Sabathia-Hamels-Pineda-Nova rotation is enticing. That’s just me, though, so I’m providing the link to my Google Doc with all the relevant numbers. If you save your own version, you can edit and mess around with various roster scenarios and post your version in the comments. Any way you cut it, though, there are some very hard decisions ahead for the Yankees front office.