Yankees agree to sign Hiroki Kuroda

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Rotation problem? What rotation problem? Less than an hour after acquiring Michael Pineda from the Mariners, the Yankees agreed to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal worth $10M according to Jack Curry and Joel Sherman. The right-hander still has to pass his physical, and Buster Olney says Hal Steinbrenner approved an expanded budget to sign him. The Yankees will not have to give up a draft pick.

I, and really all of us at RAB are Kuroda fans and have been pining for him this offseason, so it goes without saying that we like the contract. Kuroda isn’t a star but he’s a rock solid veteran pitcher that will give the team innings and a chance to win basically every time out. He misses bats (7.23 K/9 and 19.4 K% last two years), limits walks (2.19 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%), and gets ground balls (47.1%), so he does everything someone needs to do to succeed in a tough environment.

It’s worth noting that Russell Martin knows Kuroda from his Dodgers days, so that should help the right-hander with the adjustment to the new league, the tougher ballpark, basically everything. Also, the Yankees recently hired Kenji Nimura, who was Kuroda’s translator with the Dodgers (caption of picture #10). He’ll have a similar role here, so that should help as well. Apparently he speaks fluent Spanish and Japanese, so I doubt he was brought in specifically for Kuroda, especially since the hiring occurred earlier this offseason.

It sounds crazy given where they were a few hours ago, but the Yankees now actually have a ton of pitching depth. Pineda and Kuroda will join CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the rotation, leaving A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes to duke it out for the fifth starter’s spot. A trade is always possible, but pitching depth is never a bad thing.

Yankees trade Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

According to multiple reports, the Yankees have traded Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. Jon Heyman, Greg Johns, Larry Stone, and Jerry Crasnick all deserve some level of credit. Heyman says the Yankees asked about Felix Hernandez before pulling off this deal, but were told he is off limits. That’s not a surprise.

I wrote this mailbag about Pineda back in November, so you can check that out if you’re unfamiliar with the young right-hander. He turns 23 next week and finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last year thanks to his 9.11 K/9 (24.9 K%) and 2.89 BB/9 (7.9 BB%) in 171 IP. He is a fly ball pitcher (36.3% grounders last year) and kinda homer prone (0.95 HR/9), so that is a concern. As a fastball-slider pitcher with a show-me changeup, Pineda also has a bit of a platoon split. Plenty of time to work on that though, the guy’s got exactly the kind of power stuff that can play in the AL East. He is under team control for another five years, the next two for the league minimum. Here’s some video.

Campos is a 19-year-old right-hander with enormous upside according to Ben Badler and Kevin Goldstein. Apparently he’s related to the Escobars (Kelvim and Alcides), so he has baseball bloodlines. He checks in at a healthy 6-foot-4 and 195 lbs., and was considered Seattle’s fifth best prospect according to Goldstein (subs. req’d). “Campos had one of the best fastballs in the short-season leagues in 2011,” said KG in his write-up. “It’s plus and more in terms of velocity, sitting in the low 90s with plenty of 95-96 readings every time out. Campos also throws the pitch with the kind of command usually found only in big-leaguers; he works both sides of the plate, paints the corners, and comes at hitters with a strong downward angle.”

In 14 starts and 81.1 IP in the short season Northwest League, Campos struck out 85 and walked just 13. Just dominated the level. Goldstein does caution that he can become a one-pitch pitcher at times, as his changeup and slurvy breaking ball need work. At his age, that’s not much of a surprise. It sure sounds like the fastball is elite though, and that’s a good thing. Here is some video. It’s worth noting that the Yankees and Mariners are the two biggest spenders in Latin America year after year, and all four players involved in this trade were acquired as international free agents.

Losing Montero obviously hurts, especially since the regular lineup isn’t getting any younger. Despite all their work to help him over the years, it was pretty clear that the Yankees didn’t consider him a long-term catcher based on how they used him in September. A few years ago they were willing to trade him for three months of Cliff Lee, and now they got five years of Pineda. They certainly ended up getting better value in return for one of the best position player prospects in baseball, even if it cost them a shot at the 2010 World Series.

I liked Noesi more than most, but he was just a notch above the Adam Warren/David Phelps level in terms of long-term value. He can miss bats and can step right into a big league rotation, but the Yankees have the depth to cover the loss. Noesi’s inclusion in the trade is essentially the cost of doing business. The Yankees will end up with an open 40-man roster spot as a result of the trade, but that will eventually go to Andruw Jones. It hurts to lose Montero, no doubt, but Pineda fits the team’s needs better. This could easily end up another Josh Beckett-Hanley Ramirez situation, where both sides are happy with their return.

Chilly Friday Night Open Thread

We had some flurries earlier today, but now it’s just brutally cold and windy. Definitely not baseball weather, but we’ll get there eventually. If you’re like me and are staying inside so you don’t have to put on pants brave the cold, use this thread to talk about anything your heart desires. The Nets are the only local club in action though, so I hope you have something good on Netflix. Have at it.

Hannah put that video together, so show her some love. Well, show her some more love since this is the second time it’s been posted.

The reward for remaining patient

I go, “Brian Cashman, just get me a pitcher. Please, all I want is a pitcher.” And he wouldn’t give it to me! All I wanted was a pitcher, just one pitcher, and he wouldn’t give it to me. Just a pitcher!

When Brian Cashman emphasized pitching as his No. 1 off-season need, we didn’t expect that he would fill it by signing Freddy Garcia and no one else. Yet we’ve seen at least a half dozen pitchers sign free agent contracts or change teams via trade this winter, and the Yankees have remained on the periphery. We’ve heard various reasons, but it essentially boils down to them not liking the prices on anything.

Luckily for them, a few quality pitchers have remained on the market. While there are issues with all three of Roy Oswalt, Hiroki Kuroda, and Edwin Jackson, each would represent an upgrade for the Yankees’ rotation. The idea, it seems, was to wait out these guys until the prices fall. It appears, then, the Yankees patience has paid off. According to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, the prices have come down. He specifically pegs Oswalt at $8 million and Kuroda at $10 to $11 million. He also mentions Jackson, but only by name.

As Stephen mentioned in his post yesterday, the Yankees are reportedly against signing anyone to a multi-year deal. That includes Jackson, who seems like a prime candidate to receive one. Now that the prices have fallen on two guys who are seeking one-year deals, the time seems ripe for the Yankees to pounce. We could quibble forever over which of Oswalt and Kuroda helps the team more, but that’s beyond the point. Getting either one would put a nice bow on this off-season.

There has been plenty of impatience and frustration over the Yankees’ lack of activity this off-season. It’s understandable to a degree. They’re the Yankees, therefore they’re supposed to make big moves. But this is not a team in need of a huge move. They just need to augment what they currently have and bide their time until players they really want become available — or else their minor leaguers prove they’re ready for the show. Their tack of patience and restraint just might pay off.

The RAB Radio Show: January 13, 2012

Last week we hoped for some developments in the pitching market. Did we get them?

  • Edwin Jackson. We saw the two parties connected once again in the past week, further fueling speculation that a marriage with the Boras client is inevitable. But…
  • The Yankees reevaluated their budget, so that could change things. Mike and I discuss what the Yankees could be up to.
  • And yeah, the whole show is pretty much about pitching, now and in the future. We have basically a whole segment on the 2013 class.
  • And onto Jorge Posada. His career comes to an end, so Mike and I think back on his career and what it meant to the Yankees and to the game.

Podcast run time 50:21

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.
[audio:http://riveraveblues.com/podcasts/TheRABRadioShow011312.mp3]

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

The 2012 Oliver Projections: Yankee Offense and Pitching

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Our latest swing through projection-land brings us to The Hardball Times’ Oliver, the fourth of the six major offseason projection systems and perhaps also the angriest. Now obviously projection systems are devoid of emotion, but this being my third straight offseason of sifting through projection data I can safely say that Oliver dislikes the Yankees more than any other system, so as always, take these projections with a grain of salt.

For previous posts on the 2012 ZiPS, Bill James and CAIRO projections, click here, here and here. This time around, instead of taking you through the entire Yankee starting nine and projected rotation, I’m just going to touch on some of the more interesting/outlandish projections, saving us all some time in the process.

Part of the reason Oliver is hard on the Yankees is because it, like ZiPS, applies aging factors. Now I’m pretty sure some if not all of the other systems also do this to a degree, but Oliver and ZiPS seem to be the hardest on older players, and as we know, the Yankees have a fair amount of those, hence some of the aggressive projections. While in some cases the projections seem crazy — Oliver somehow had Curtis Granderson, no one’s idea of an old man, putting up a comical .336 wOBA in 2011 (his worst projection by far) and it also had Robinson Cano at .350 last year — in others the seemingly laughable projections were right on the money.

I remember thinking the system was near-worthless after it spat out a .244/.326/.401 (.321 wOBA) line for Jorge Posada in 2011, and Posada managed to underperform that, finishing the season at .235/.315/.398, .309 wOBA. The only other Yankee it more or less hit the nail on the head on? Alex Rodriguez, who Oliver had at .271/.356/.491, .365 wOBA for 2011, while Alex’s actual line was .276/.362/.461, .361 wOBA. That’s not exactly good news, as we saw in last week’s post about A-Rod’s contract.

The flip side of this, however, is that Oliver seems to really like younger players. Last offseason it projected a 3.71 ERA for Phil Hughes in 185 innings. Can you imagine how excited we’d all be if that had happened? Despite Phil’s poor 2011 campaign, Oliver still has a man crush on Phil, projecting a 4.08 ERA over 150 innings and getting his K/9 back over 7.00. Talk about carrying a torch.

Oliver also really liked it some Ivan Nova last offseason despite the fact that Nova had all of 42 Major League innings under his belt, projecting the righty to throw 145 innings of 4.25 ERA ball, which seemed crazy at the time. Nova of course wildly exceeded expectations, though Oliver isn’t fooled, and has Nova regressing to a still-respectable-for-the-back-end-of-the-rotation 4.33 ERA in 185 innings.

This year the role of Ivan Nova seems like it’ll be played by Hector Noesi, who Oliver projected a 2011 MLE line of 65 innings of 4.25 ERA ball with 7.1 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9 despite zero Major League track record. Following a solid 2011 debut, Oliver again likes Noesi for a 4.25 ERA, only this time in 102 innings, with a 6.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and 0.9 HR/9 — numbers we’d all happily sign up for.

You’re no doubt curious about Jesus Montero. Last offseason Oliver forecasted a .284/.337/.497, .357 wOBA line in 152 PAs. This year, Oliver is projecting a .284/.339/.502, .360 wOBA line in 554 PAs. That’s the second-highest Oliver-projected wOBA among Yankee starters after Robinson Cano’s .363.

As for the Yankees’ one-time big guns, Oliver sees A-Rod falling to a .266/.348/.471, .355 wOBA line, which would represent a lower OBP but slightly more power than in 2011; while Mark Teixeira took the biggest hit by far, falling from a team-high .381 projected wOBA last offseason to .358 this winter.

As for the kids, Manny Banuelos is forecasted for 60 innings of 4.92 ERA ball with a 7.1 K/9, 4.7 BB/9 and 0.9 HR/9; Dellin Betances at 75 innings of 4.96 ERA ball with a 7.8 K/9, 5.4 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9; while Adam Warren, David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell have MLB equivalencies of 140 IP/4.63 ERA, 143 IP/4.59 ERA and 144 IP/4.91 ERA, respectively.

For those wondering about Yu Darvish and what might have been, Oliver forecasts a 2012 MLE line of 207 IP, 2.46 ERA, 9.9 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and 0.4 HR/9, good for an astonishing 6.8 WAR. I think it’s fairly safe to say this won’t happen.

If you plug the starting nine’s 2012 Oliver-projected numbers into Dave Pinto’s Lineup Analysis, we get a starting lineup that projects to score 5.2 runs per game, the lowest projected rate we’ve seen thus far. As a point of comparison, the 2011 team as a whole averaged 5.35 runs per game. The “best” iteration of the Oliver lineup scores 5.209 runs per game and features Nick Swisher at leadoff.

The 2012 ZiPS-projected lineup averaged 5.3 runs per game, the James edition a hearty 5.7, and CAIRO’s spit out 5.6 runs per game. So again, it’s not terribly outlandish to claim that Oliver is not the Yankees’ biggest fan.

If the Yankees do nothing more this offseason, Oliver currently has them projected to finish tied for first place in the AL East with a 92-70 record, with the best record in the American League and third-best in baseball. Last offseason when I looked at the Oliver projections in January, the Yankees were projected to finish at 87-75 and 2nd place in the ALE. All things considered, that’s a pretty nice projection for a team that could still probably use a starting pitcher.