Mailbag: Utley, Hundley, Nova, Cervelli

Five questions this week, but the answers were a little longer than I expected. Sorry. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send us something.

(REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

Zac asks: Hypothetical: if Chase Utley returns but the Phillies decide he can’t play in the field every day due to his knees, and if they decided to make him available in trade to an AL team where he could DH, would/should the Yanks be interested? If so who would you offer?

Sure, the Yankees should at least entertain the idea. Utley will make $15M both this year and next, conveniently becoming a free agent just before the whole 2014 payroll plan takes effect. His offensive production has steadily declined in recent years, and it’s not just because of the injuries. He’s also become more and more susceptible to left-handed pitchers (just a .280 wOBA vs. LHP last year), and his ability to rake same-side pitchers is part of the reason why he was such a great hitter for so long.

The Phillies trading Utley would almost be like the Indians trading Victor Martinez a few years ago, in the sense that he’s an aging but still valuable player whose best position is DH. Using the V-Mart trade as a blueprint, something like David Phelps, Dellin Betances, and Chase Whitley could work as a trade package. Utley is three years older than Martinez was at the time of his trade, so maybe knock off the third player or something. Phelps and Betances for the Phils’ long-time second baseman? That’s reasonable, though I might be biased.

Hypothetical or not, Utley is a cautionary tale of how quickly second baseman can fall off the cliff. Robinson Cano is a star right now, but when his contract expires after next season and Scott Boras is asking for six or seven or eight years at $20M+ annually for a 30-year-old? You’ll be able to make a very strong argument that letting him walk is the best thing the Yankees could do.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Levi asks: What would it take to get Nick Hundley from the Padres? They seem to want young hitters, so would a package built around Tyler Austin do it?

Hundley just signed a new extension with San Diego, a three-year pact worth $9M with a $5M club option for a fourth year. The Padres also have Yasmani Grandal — part of the Mat Latos trade — waiting in Triple-A, plus some more excellent catching prospects down in the lower minors (Jason Hagerty, Austin Hedges). Hundley is only 28, has some power (career .165 ISO), and is generally regarded as a good but not great defender, yet I could definitely see them trading him after the season if Grandal shows he’s ready to step in full-time.

I do like Hundley and would have definite interest in trading for him next offseason if Russell Martin‘s contract demands get outrageous (thanks Yadi!), but I don’t think the two teams match up well in a trade. The Padres surely want young hitters in return, and the Yankees don’t really have any close to the majors bats to give them. Brandon Laird doesn’t count. Perhaps someone like Austin or Ramon Flores has a huge year and jumps a level or two, or maybe David Adams stays healthy and gets back on the prospect track, but otherwise I don’t think it’ll work. I can’t imagine a package of Single-A bats will get it done for San Diego. Like I said, I like the idea of trading for Hundley if Martin leaves, but I’m not sure they can get it done.

Paul asks: Why does everyone assume Ivan Nova is in the top 4 of the rotation? I agree he has the potential to be, but we’re really talking about a guy with half a season of being above average under his belt, hardly enough to warrant this much confidence. I could easily envision a scenario where Freddy & Phil are both outperforming him (not to mention Pettitte in May). So why does it seem that everyone just assumes he’s the #4 or higher starter?

Well Nova did finish last year well and hasn’t done anything to lose his rotation spot over the winter. That said, he’s been the team’s worst starter this spring and it’s not particularly close. He’s really struggled with command of all his pitches, and that’s a bit of a red flag considered he has an elbow injury in the recent past. I guess everyone’s been too focused on Michael Pineda to notice that something might be up with the other young right-hander.

The Yankees sent Nova down at midseason last year and I don’t think they’ll hesitate to do it again if he’s being outpitched by everyone else on the staff. For now, he deservedly gets the benefit of the doubt.

Aaron asks: With the number of teams searching for catching depth growing (TB’s reported interest, KC’s sudden need with Perez’s injury, etc.), do you see this increasing the odds that Cervelli is dealt before the season? I know at one point last July there were rumors of a near-deal with Pittsburgh for Brad Lincoln. What would Cervelli bring back now in a deal?

This was sent in a week or two ago, but my answer would be the same anyway. Frankie Cervelli‘s not going anywhere, the Yankees need him right now to be the backup catcher. Austin Romine needs to get some regular at-bats in Triple-A and the Jesus Montero security blanket is gone. If they trade Frankie and Russell Martin gets hurt, all of a sudden they’re looking at a big league catching tandem of Romine and Gus Molina. That’s not going to cut it.

Considering that the Pirates weren’t willing to give up a borderline non-prospect like Lincoln for Cervelli, I have a hard time thinking the Yankees would get back enough to make a trade worthwhile. His trade value has probably gone down since then given the latest concussion as well. I know catching is scarce around the league, but I do think Frankie is more valuable to the Yankees right now that anything they realistically could get back in a swap. They shouldn’t overplay their hand with the catching depth, it can disappear quickly.

Arad asks: Let’s say there were to be an expansion draft, and the Yankees had to protect 15 players on their team, who would they be? This includes contract, age, ability and everything.

I’ve answered this question before, but the roster has changed a bunch of times since then so it’s worth revisiting. Maybe we’ll make a Spring Training tradition.

Just a quick primer on MLB’s expansion draft rules: Every team gets to protect 15 players, and that’s the entire the organization, not just 40-man roster guys. Players with no-trade clauses and 10-and-5 rights must be protected, which bites. Any player a) selected in the last two drafts (so 2010 and 2011), or b) signed at age 18 or younger within the last three years is ineligible for the draft and doesn’t have to be protected. Players due to become free agents after the season don’t have to protected either. Based on those rules, here are my 15 (in no particular order)…

  1. Alex Rodriguez (no-trade)
  2. CC Sabathia (no-trade)
  3. Derek Jeter (no-trade)
  4. Mark Teixeira (no-trade)
  5. Mariano Rivera (no-trade)
  6. Robinson Cano
  7. Curtis Granderson
  8. Brett Gardner
  9. Eduardo Nunez
  10. Ivan Nova
  11. Michael Pineda
  12. David Robertson
  13. David Phelps
  14. Manny Banuelos
  15. Austin Romine

I’m not sure if Cano and Granderson have to be protected since they are technically scheduled to become free agents after the season. The Yankees do hold 2013 club options for both guys though. If they don’t have to be protected, I’d take Phil Hughes and Adam Warren in their place.

Anyway, those no-trade clauses really kill the Yankees. I can see the argument for Hughes or Joba Chamberlain over someone like Phelps, but those two are going to be free agents relatively soon while Phelps has all six years of team control left. Teams can protect three additional players after each round, and the next three I would add are Hughes, Warren, and D.J. Mitchell. Joba, Dellin Betances, and Frankie Cervelli would be the next three after that.

Update on the RAB Bracket Challenge

March Madness kicks back up tonight, and by the end of the weekend we’ll know the Final Four teams. With so much swag gear from the RAB Shop at stake, it’s time to take a look at the leaderboard. The current first-place bracket is sitting pretty with seven of eight Elite Eight teams still alive and all four Final Four teams still alive. He smartly took NC State and Florida to the Sweet 16, and his score of 530 gives him a sixty point lead over the next closest bracket. Each round is worth more than the next, so his lead could evaporate in a night. One possible contender? Joe Pawlikowski, currently tied for 14th place with a score of 450. If he wins, can he still qualify for the prize? We may have to run this by the legal department.

I would like to think that I have had better brackets than this one. Four of my Elite Eight teams and two of my Final Four teams are out (Memphis and Florida State). It was fun while it lasted, Tigers and Seminoles. My current score is 380, good for 41.8% of all brackets. It’s ugly, but it’s not as ugly as the view of RAB’s Moshe Mandel. His score of 330 beats only 10.7% of all entries. They say that a chimp picking stocks blindly can do better than stock analysts. One has to think the same would have held true for poor Moshe.

Of course, things can change quickly in bracket challenges, and the most important decision you make is who you have winning the championship. There’s plenty of time for this thing to get shaken up.

ST Game Thread: Fenway South

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

No one knows how to over-manage quite like baseball managers, particularly Joe Girardi. Adam Warren is starting tonight’s exhibition game against the Red Sox because the Yankees didn’t want to give Boston a look at ace CC Sabathia so late in Spring Training. Nevermind that they’ve faced CC thirteen times since he came to New York, they have to hide him tonight just to make sure David Ortiz doesn’t see something he missed the other 59 times he faced him. I’m not complaining, but I’ve always found the idea of hiding starters from division rivals in Spring Training to be quite humorous. Anyway, here’s the lineup….

LF Brett Gardner
CF Curtis Granderson
RF Andruw Jones
3B Eric Chavez
DH Raul Ibanez
1B Brandon Laird
C Jose Gil
2B Ramiro Pena
SS Doug Bernier

RHP Adam Warren

Available Pitchers: RHP Dellin Betances, RHP D.J. Mitchell, RHP Cory Wade, RHP George Kontos, LHP Juan Cedeno, LHP Mike O’Connor, RHP Phil Wetherell, RHP Craig Heyer, RHP Zach Varce, LHP Aaron Dott, and SwP Pat Venditte all made the trip and are available if needed.

Available Position Players: C Gus Molina, 1B Addison Maruszak, 2B Kevin Russo, SS Carmen Angelini (!), 3B Jorge Vazquez, LF Colin Curtis, CF Justin Maxwell, and RF Cole Garner will replace the starters. C Mitch Abeita, IF Jose Toussen, and OF Austin Krum also made the trip and are available if needed.

Tonight’s game starts at 7:05pm ET and can seen on YES locally or ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

3/22 Camp Notes: Phelps, Warren, Pettitte

The Yankees are playing the Red Sox in brand spankin’ new JetBlue Park tonight, so we’ll have a game thread a little later on. Here are the day’s camp notes for the time being…

  • Adam Warren will start against the Sox tonight instead of David Phelps, who is away from the team because his wife is giving birth. Congrats to them. Phelps is scheduled to go on the road to face the Phillies tomorrow, but he probably won’t make the trip. [Chad Jennings & Bryan Hoch]
  • As expected, Andy Pettitte‘s legs were a bit sluggish yesterday following his 50-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday. He had to back off his regular workouts a bit but is still scheduled to throw live batting practice tomorrow. The hope is that he’ll appear in one of the final two Spring Training games. [Kevin Kernan, Dan Martin & Erik Boland]
  • Nick Swisher (groin) said he feels “pretty decent” but won’t play for a few days. Derek Jeter (calf) is on track to play tomorrow but still must go through a full set of on-field workouts. Freddy Garcia (hand) will start Saturday after getting hit by a comebacker last week. He’s scheduled for 50-65 pitches. [Jennings]
  • Rather than face the division rival tonight, CC Sabathia started against a bunch of Yankees’ Double-A players on a side field today. He allowed one run in six innings. [Jennings & YankeesPR]

And the drum beats on: Michael Pineda, velocity, and AAA

(AP Photo)

Last year, when he was competing for a spot in the Mariners rotation, Michael Pineda did not face intense scrutiny. People watched and dissected his performances, as they do for every pitcher. But given the Seattle media market combined with the Mariners current place in the baseball world, the attention paid him was relatively mild. One year later, you can’t click on three Yankees-related links without seeing a Pineda mention. And most of it isn’t exactly glowing.

The level of scrutiny that Pineda faces is new to him, though it’s not to us. We’ve seen it happen dozens of times before. In Pineda’s case it makes all the sense in the world. He’s a young pitcher with high expectations, due to his 2011 performance, his former top prospect status, and the trade that brought him to New York. Yet it seems that attention paid him has gone from intense to overkill. Let’s quickly review the timeline of Pineda’s brief Yankees tenure.

1. When the Yankees acquired Pineda, Brian Cashman himself said that Pineda adding a changeup to his arsenal was the key to his success. Many analysts and scouts agreed.

2. Pineda comes into camp overweight, a cause for instant criticism.

3. Pineda receives early praise for his changeup, and throws it often in his early spring outings.

4. Now lacking a point of criticism, the media turns to his missing velocity as a point of major concern.

5. He builds velocity over a few starts, going from 89-91 in his first start to hitting 94 in his most recent one. But that’s not 96-97, so the criticism continues.

It’s all a bit absurd, and it grows even more so. At least one beat writer has led the charge in calling for Pineda to start the season in AAA, criticizing him at every opportunity (and even when there is no clear opportunity). Thankfully, the Yankees don’t operate to satiate the media and their desire for clicks and page views. They operate in a manner that will benefit them on the field, both now and in the future.

Are there solid, logical arguments for Pineda to start the season in AAA? There is the issue of his service clock, which the Yankees could delay by starting him in the minors. That would afford them another year of control, making Pineda a free agent after the 2017 season rather than 2016. Held back long enough, they could even delay his arbitration clock, setting his first hearing for 2015 rather than 2014. That seems like a decent incentive, especially knowing the front office’s desire — nay, mandate, as Hal Steinbrenner tells it — to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season.

Today at FanGraphs Dave Cameron offered an additional argument. He points to Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who, like Pineda, experienced a drop in velocity when he came into camp before the 2010 season. Cameron admits that the situations don’t line up, but I think he undersells the degree of difference between Pineda and Bumgarner. Bumgarner had experienced his velocity dip during the 2009 season. When it persisted in 2010 spring training, the Giants decided to keep him in the minors. This is quite different from Pineda, who not only spent all of 2011 in the majors, but also retained his velocity throughout (discounting his final start, which came on 11 days’ rest).

What both the service time and the Bumgarner arguments miss is the effect a minor league assignment would have on Pineda. Instead of looking at the situation from your armchair, look at it from Pineda’s point of view. He pitched successfully for a full major league season. He has pitched reasonably well all spring — better, certainly, than at least Ivan Nova, if not others. And now the Yankees are going to send you to the minors to work on your velocity, with the added benefit of them gaining more of your services for a cheaper price. Oh, and by the way, the Triple-A team is on a perpetual road trip because of stadium renovations. How would you feel if you were in his shoes? It’s an important consideration — as Joe Torre liked to say, there’s a heartbeat to the game.

If the Yankees feel that they can get the most out of Pineda by sending him to the minors, and if they think his confidence won’t go into the crapper, then it’s something to consider. But by all indications, this is a guy who has given it his all this spring. He might have shown up a bit overweight, but are we going to blame a 23-year-old for taking it easy the off-season after experiencing his most intense workload ever? Even so, Cashman says he’s already dropped 12 pounds and has worked as hard as anyone this spring. Is that someone you want to send away? Or is it someone you want to put in your rotation? He is, after all, one of the five most talented pitchers in camp. It seems like he should be treated as such.

At long last, Rafael DePaula gets his visa

Update (6:16pm): Here’s is Ben Badler’s report. He says recent reports still have DePaula running his fastball up into the high-90s. The physical should be a non-issue — he’s been working out at the team’s Dominican complex for the last 14 months or so — and I assume the Yankees will hold him back in Extended Spring Training for a bit before bumping him to Low-A Charleston. DePaula figures to be on a faster track than most international free agent pitchers.

2:33pm: Via Ben-Nicholson Smith, Dominican right-hander Rafael DePaula has finally landed a visa. The soon-to-be 21-year-old was having trouble getting to States because of a suspension stemming from age and identity fraud several years ago. The Yankees agreed to sign him for $500k back in November 2010, though the deal was contingent on him securing a visa. With that taken care of, now all he has to do is pass his physical. DePaula is a significant prospect, arguably top ten in the system, but he lost a big chunk of development time this last year or so. Here’s some video.

JoVa growing tired of Triple-A

Life as a 30-year-old Triple-A slugger can be tough, especially when you’re with the Yankees and there’s no clear path to the big leagues. That’s the life of Jorge Vazquez, who hit .262/.314/.516 with 32 homers in Triple-A last year but has received close to zero consideration for the DH spot or even a bench job in the Bronx. Unsurprisingly, he’s getting kinda fed up and looking for a change.

“If they don’t give him an opportunity this year, he wants them to trade him, or to go to [play] baseball in the East,” said the president of JoVa’s former Mexican League team recently (via MLBTR). “He doesn’t want to continue on in Triple-A anymore, not just with the Yankees, but with any other organization as well.”

We’ve heard rumors of Vazquez pursuing opportunities in Japan before, and yet he’s in camp with the Yankees right now. The guy has serious power but he’s a total hacker, striking out 314 times (28.6%) and unintentionally walking just 47 times (4.3%) since signing with New York midway through the 2009 season. He gets himself out too much and that power won’t show up consistently against big league hurlers because of it. I understand being frustrated, but if he wants to go, the Yankees shouldn’t stand in his way.