Mailbag: Romine, Bush, Gardner, Posada

Time for another edition of the RAB Mailbag, and this one is free of Rafael Soriano/Joba Chamberlain vitriol. We’ve got questions about Dave Bush as a rotation candidate, Austin Romine as the catcher of the future, Brett Gardner‘s long-term outlook, and what happens with Jorge Posada after the upcoming season. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Arad asks: What about Dave Bush as a 4th or 5th starter?

Once upon a time, Bush was arguably the most dominant closer in college baseball history. The Blue Jays have done a great job in recent years of turning college relievers into starters (Shaun Marcum and Brett Cecil among them), which is what they did with Bush before trading him to the Brewers in the Lyle Overbay deal. But that is neither here nor there.

Bush’s last three seasons have been pretty damn awful. He had a 4.93 FIP in 2008, a 5.07 FIP in 2009, and a 5.13 FIP in 2010, so he’s bad and getting worse as he enters into his 30’s. Although his walk rate is solid (2.64 uIBB/9 in the last three years), his strikeout rate is below average (5.80 K/9) and so is his ground ball rate (38.9%). Oh, and he’s amazingly homer prone. Over the last three seasons he’s surrendered one homerun for fewer than every 6.1 IP. And this is in the NL Central, stick him in the AL East in Yankee Stadium and we could start taking bets on which sections of the bleachers will get souvenirs on the nights he pitches.

As I always say, there’s nothing wrong with a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, but there are enough red flags here to keep me away.

Ashley asks: If the Yankees were to use Jesus Montero as trade bait sometime throughout the season, how much will the drop off be from Jesus to Austin Romine? Is there any benefit to having Romine as the “catcher of the future” or will we trade for a big name catcher (if he exist)? Basically, assess the Yanks catching situation.

Romine was always a much safer bet to remain at catcher long-term, but questions popped up about his catching ability last season. Keith Law didn’t like what he saw out of him blocking balls in the dirt and what not in the Arizona Fall League, though in fairness Romine was probably fatigued after his first full season as an everyday catcher. His bat also dropped off considerably in the second half. Romine is still a quality catching prospect though, a borderline top 100 guy with the tools to catch in the show. He just has to continue developing those tools into baseball skills. It’ll definitely be a big hit though, Montero is going to be a star because of his bat. Romine will just a solid backstop.

The wildcard here is Russell Martin. If he plays well and the Yankees like what they’re getting out of him over the next two years, there’s always a chance they’ll re-sign him when he’s due to become a free agent in two seasons. IF not, and they trade Montero for a starter, I suspect Romine will get the first crack at that vaunted “catcher of the future” job. If he can’t handle it, they’ll either have to go out and get someone or hope Gary Sanchez doesn’t flame out. This isn’t an immediate concern though, we’re at least two seasons away before we have to really worry about who will do the catching long-term.

Anonymous asks: Gardner. Lead off guy? Centerfielder? Big time contributor or eventual fourth outfielder/pinch runner?

That was a pretty awesome catch. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

If he continues to play like he did last year, he’s a legit leadoff hitter that can play center full-time. He’s just masquerading as a leftfielder now because of Curtis Granderson. The wrist injury and subsequent offseason surgery is a bit of a problem and we don’t know if or how it will effect Gardner in the long run, so that’s something we’re just going to have to wait and see about.

Remember, Gardner is already 27, so this is pretty much what he’s going to be going forward. He won’t suddenly develop power, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He absolutely needs to get better at bunting, but the overall skill set is there to be a legit big league leadoff man for a few seasons. I believe in his ability to be at least an average regular a whole lot more now than I did twelve months ago, and at the absolute worst he’s a good reserve outfielder.

Mark asks: How many games will Jorge Posada have to play and what offensive #’s will he have to put up in 2011 to obtain a contract for 2012? Or due to his age and inability to play defense are we simply counting down the time until we say goodbye to yet another of the all-time Yankee greats to wear the pinstripes later this fall?

I’m in the camp that thinks (hopes) Jorge will retire after the season. Even if he doesn’t, any contract he gets for 2012 would absolutely have to be a one-year deal. That’s imperative. But in order for him to get a new deal after the season, Posada would need to a) handle the move to DH with ease, and b) hit at an above average rate for the position. Offense around the league sucked last season, and AL DH’s (not counting NL DH’s in interleague play) hit just .252/.336/.426 in 2010. Posada easily cleared that playing mostly catcher (.248/.357/.454) and over the last three seasons he’s hit .267/.361/.474, so being an above average DH shouldn’t be much of an issue. Moving to the new position can be, since we’ve seen some playing in the past having trouble dealing with all the down time between at-bats. Becoming a full-time DH after playing the field for two decades isn’t as easy as it seems.

To be perfectly honest, I had never even considered the possibility that Posada could be back in 2012. I don’t think that either A-Rod or Jeter will erode so much next summer that they’ll be relegated to full-time DH duties in 2012, so it seems like the opportunity will be there if Jorge wants to come back for another season. But like I said, one-year contract, nothing more. They already gave him his legacy contract.

What’s the excuse now?

In the unlikely event that you missed it last night, the Yankees have agreed to a contract with free agent reliever Rafael Soriano. I’m not a fan of the deal at all but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead I want to rant about a member of the pitching staff directly impacted by the Soriano signing, and that’s Joba Chamberlain.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

It’s pretty obvious by now that the Yankees have very little faith in Joba. If they did, they wouldn’t have bent over backwards to sign Soriano when the market for his services was non-existent. Part of that is on Joba and part of it is on the team for mishandling him so badly. I’m usually on board with most of the moves the team makes and have spent many hours defending Brian Cashman and the rest of the brain trust, but there’s no denying that they completely botched Joba’s long-term development. They were desperate for late inning relief help in 2007 because (wait for it) the last free agent reliever they signed to a multi-year deal flamed out. They just compounded the issue by refusing to send him back to the minors to get back in 2008 so that he could get back on a normal development track.

So what do they have now, they have a middle reliever with admittedly fantastic peripheral stats and zero consistency. What they don’t have is any decent help for the back of the rotation. Signing Soriano doesn’t help the rotation at all, Sergio Mitre can still stink up the first five innings just as easily as he could have before. Will they take this opportunity to move Joba back to the rotation, turning an absurd contract for a reliever into actual help for the starting staff? I doubt it, and that’s what annoys the crap out of me.

Before the Yankees started screwing around with Joba’s innings limitations in 2009, he was fantastic as a starter. The guy made 34 full starts from June 2008 through August 2009, meaning he wasn’t pulled early and was allowed to empty the tank. In those 34 starts, he had a 3.54 ERA (3.97 FIP) with 8.50 K/9, 3.84 uIBB/9, and 0.92 HR/9. Opponents had .329 wOBA off him during that time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say Joba was some kind of ace caliber starter during this time, but good grief, he was 23 years old basically the whole time. He was better and younger than Phil Hughes was in 2010. If a young kid performs like that in the AL East, you don’t stick him in the bullpen, you keep him in the rotation because at worst, he’s a mid-rotation starter. At best, he’s on his way to becoming something more.

I’m not asking for a miracle here, just give the guy a chance to start again in Spring Training. There’s basically no downside. If he gets hurt and his days as an effective pitcher come to an end, who cares? All the Yankees would be losing is a seventh inning reliever. If it works, well then geez, you’ve got yourself a young big league starter, something the team could really use right about now. It’s Spring Training, just try it. That’s all I’m asking. Just make an effort, give him the same kind of rope they gave Hughes this past year.

Now, I’m certain there are things going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. Heck, Joba’s shoulder could be shredded for all I know. If it is, then they need to trade him as soon as possible and make it someone else’s problem. If there are concerns about his attitude and they’re worried about him getting to comfortable, then just trade him. Stringing him along in middle relief isn’t the answer. And please, all that nonsense about his stuff playing up in the bullpen … give me a break. Of course it’s true, just like it’s true for every other pitcher in the history of the universe. That’s not a good enough reason, it’s just a cop out.

If the Yankees aren’t going to put Joba in the rotation now that they have Soriano on board, I just don’t know what to say. I’m really at my wit’s end here, I just can not fathom why they’ve already ruled him out as a starter after just 34 uninterrupted starts across two seasons, especially when he pitched pretty well. Having the kid pitch 70 innings of middle relief a season is a gigantic waste of resources, but then again that’s nothing new for the Yankees. I fully acknowledge that Soriano will make the Yankees a better team in 2011 but I don’t like the terms of the contract and I certainly don’t like what’s continuing to happen with Joba. It’s a tremendous waste, and refusing to take the necessary steps to correct things only compounds the problem. I really don’t know what more to say, I feel like this same post has been written a million times in the last year or two. I just don’t get it, I’ll continue to not get it.

With endgame in place, Yanks need to work on opening

(Chris O'Meara/AP)

When the Yankees had a lead to start the eighth inning last season, they went 80-7. Two of those leads were blown in the ninth, so the Yankees lost five leads during the eighth inning. They were also 5-4 when tied after seven. Chances are that Rafael Soriano won’t turn all of those instances into wins, but he’ll certainly help. That’s one of the few consolations I can take in the three-year, $35 million deal he has reportedly signed with the Yankees.

In terms of the 2011 team, there are no complaints. The Yankees had plenty of money to spend, and they certainly upgraded the back end of the bullpen. This will lead to a greater enjoyment of the 2011 season. The Yanks might win a few games that they otherwise would have lost, and we will all be a little less irritable the next mornings. That doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is what this means for the 2012 and 2013 teams.

Maybe the Yankees really do have a limitless budget. Maybe they can raise it to $220 million if the right players become available. Brian Cashman has always asserted that he operates under a strict budget, but Brian Cashman also said that he wasn’t going to surrender his first round pick in this year’s draft. If Soriano’s contract doesn’t prevent the Yankees from making a move in the next three years, it’s hard not to like it. But if they can’t or don’t make a move because of payroll concerns, then the contract becomes a problem.

The Yankees might have improved the bullpen, but preposterous is the idea that a great endgame somehow covers up a weak opening. Behind CC Sabathia the Yankees have a second-year starter who was average in his first, a pitcher with good stuff who was pretty terrible last season, a 24-year-old with a back of the rotation ceiling, and 30-year-old who has just 416.1 career innings and a 5.27 ERA. They need some more help there, because in order for the endgame to even play a part they need a strong opening.

Hold onto your butts…

The easiest and quickest way to make the rotation a little bit better is, as thousands have already suggested, to use Joba there. Even 2009 Joba is better than Mitre, and that counts the slop he was throwing when they pulled the short start nonsense. In the bullpen his role has greatly diminished. In the rotation he can at least upgrade the team, even if it’s in a small way. There is absolutely nothing to lose. His stuff might play up better in the bullpen, as Cashman said earlier, but again, I don’t think we should be in the business of believing anything Cashman says.

Losing the draft pick hurts a bit, but it’s far from the primary aspect of this deal. The Yanks still do have a first round selection, but their 31st pick is gone. If they resolve to pick up some risky players in the later rounds they can somewhat make up for that pick, and there’s always the international market. I still don’t like the idea of surrendering a draft pick for a reliever, but it’s not worth getting too worked up over. The Yankees might even be able to recoup that pick if Soriano has a lights out season. He has an opt out after each season, so he could leave two years and $23.5 million on the table if he thought he could find something better. Considering his experience this year I don’t think that will be the case.

In Soriano the Yankees get an excellent reliever who can help lockdown the endgame. It cost them a lot of money relative to his potential contribution, and it cost them the chance to draft a young player. If he stays healthy and locks down the eighth inning before sliding into the closer’s role for the final year of the deal, it might end up working out. But knowing what we know now, about relievers in general and Soriano specifically, I’m not too excited over this deal. Though I realize I’ll sleep that much easier during the 2011 season.

Yankees agree to sign Rafael Soriano

MFIKY. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

According to SI’s Jon Heyman, the Yankees have agreed to terms with Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million deal. The deal comes as something of a surprise, since it wasn’t a week ago that Brian Cashman said he would not give up the team’s first round draft pick. They’ve done just that, and have given a relief pitcher $12 million annually.

We’ve talked about Soriano all winter, so there’s nothing much to add to this, at least initially. We’ll be back with a bit more thoughtful reaction later, but for now I’ll say I don’t like it. The draft pick doesn’t bother me as much as the contract. The Yanks get an expensive setup man for two years before he possibly slides into the closer role after Mariano Rivera‘s contract expires. Though, as we know, you can never count on Mo to call it quits.

The one thing I will add right now: I dislike this move less if it moves Joba back to the rotation.

Update: Heyman provides further details. Apparently Soriano can opt out after each of the first two years. So maybe he’ll pitch lights out in 2011 and go bye-bye after the season ends.

Update by Mike: Chad Jennings spoke to someone in the organization that said the Yankees have not had any internal discussions regarding moving Joba back to the rotation. Because the best pitchers should pitch the fewest innings, you know.

Oh, and Buster Olney says Soriano did not receive a no-trade clause. It doesn’t matter, the contract itself is a no-trade clause.

Open Thread: Rube

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

I have no idea why, but I was always liked Ruben Sierra, at least when he played in New York. The Yankees first acquired him from the A’s for Danny Tartabull at the 1995 trade deadline, and then a year later he was shipped to Detroit for Cecil Fielder. In between the trades he called Joe Torre a liar for supposedly reneging on a promise of a more playing time, prompting the then-manager to call Sierra a “spoiled kid” and “uncoachable.” Usually a player can’t come back from something like that, but Sierra did, rejoining the Yankees in 2003 in a trade for Marcus Thames.

Torre and Sierra buried the hatchet, and he went on to become a moderately productive part-time player. He hit .244/.296/.456 with 17 homers in just 338 plate appearances in 2004, and of course his big moment came after the season in the playoffs. The Yankees were down 5-2 to the Twins in Game Four of the ALDS, but Sierra corrected things with a huge three-run homer off Juan Rincon to tie things up in the eighth inning, helping the Yanks to the eventual series win. The Twins haven’t won a playoff game since, a stretch of ten games (really twelve since it goes back before Game Four). The Yankees re-signed Sierra for the final time six years ago today, and all told he hit .254/.310/.421 with 45 homers and horrifyingly bad defense in pinstripes.

Anyways, here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Rangers and Islanders are in action, but you’re free to talk about whatever your heart desires. Enjoy.

The Mariano Rivera story: How great is great

After fifteen years of watching Mariano Rivera make mincemeat out of opposing batters, we know just how dominant he is. Today, at the Pinstriped Bible, Cliff Corcoran pur Mariano Rivera in context, and by using a variety of statistics that measure reliever wins and player contributions, Corcoran has the following to say of Mo: “There have been relief pitchers that have had better single seasons than Rivera ever has, but none has ever been as good for as long, and any attempt to compare peaks is moot because Rivera has pitched at a peak level throughout his career.” Mariano Rivera — he’s better than you.

The RAB Radio Show: January 13, 2010

We mentioned this morning that Kevin Long and Derek Jeter are getting a jump start on the spring. They’ll get together to work out some kinks in Jeter’s swing so that he doesn’t have a repeat of 2010. I’d love to talk about that more, but I’m no hitting instructor. But Jaime Cevallos is.

If you’re not aware, Cevallos is an independent instructor who has worked with a number of major leaguers, including Ben Zobrist. He has a method, and from all I’ve read about it he makes a number of solid points. He joins us on the show today. Here are a couple of videos that go along with it. First, here’s a bit on how he helped the Charleston River Dogs in 2002. Then there’s a bit analyzing Jason Heyward’s swing.

You can find more about Jaime at He also has a book, Positional Hitting.

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