Mailbag: Brown and Heyward

(Brown via Getty; Heyward via AP)

Poindexter asks: Cashman is looking for a young controlled bat via trade. Do we have the pieces to land Domonic Brown or Jason Heyward?

As they look to replace Jesus Montero‘s since traded bat, Brian Cashman said one of the options they’re exploring is a trade for a young bat using one of their young pitchers. Dealing A.J. Burnett for a DH-type or salary relief so they could sign a free agent is another option, but I think we can all agree that that’s a long shot. No one seems to want Burnett. Using the excess pitching to land a bat makes sense, and both Brown and Heyward are qualified targets.

The Yankees just used their top trade chip, so the farm system did take a significant hit. I do believe they still have the pieces to land a young hitter of that caliber, but they won’t come cheap. As we just saw with Montero, a highly touted young hitter will cost a ton in a trade. Brown’s and Heyward’s stock might be down at the moment, but I don’t think that means their clubs are ready to pull the plug yet. They’ll ask for a massive return and rightfully so. If the Yankees want to package Phil Hughes and Manny Banuelos and more, they can do that. But I don’t think it’s realistic.

I love the idea of trading for a young bat, even if it costs Banuelos and then some. The Yankees have a clear need for a young hitter — preferably an outfielder — and a surplus of pitching at the Triple-A level. Using the position of depth to shore up the position of weakness is like, Sports GM 101. The problem is that there aren’t many of these hitters available, at least not at this point of the offseason, when Spring Training is right around the corner and every team thinks they’re ready to contend. I expect the Yankees to sign a free agent DH for peanuts a few days before the start of camp, and that will be that. Also, I’m starting to think your name really isn’t Poindexter. *shifty eyes*

Open Thread: MLB Network on Posada’s Career

I’ve been on a Jorge Posada kick lately because of his retirement, which is why I’m posting this MLB Network video looking back at his career. This Clubhouse Confidential clip about his Hall of Fame chances is worth the watch as well. I was expecting, and really hoping Posada would retire this winter because we knew the Yankees weren’t going to bring him back and I honestly didn’t want to see him wear another team’s uniform, but it’ll still take some getting used to when he’s not around next year. Kinda sucks.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, but all the hockey locals will be off until next week for the All-Star break. Talk about anything you like here (but politics, that gets messy), go nuts.

It’s official: Andruw’s back for another year

The Yankees announced that they’ve officially re-signed Andruw Jones to a one-year contract, meaning he passed his physical. He did have his knee scoped after the season, so the check-up was slightly more than routine. Back in December we heard that it was going to a one-year, $2M pact, and the AP has a breakdown of the plate appearance-based incentives. The 40-man roster is now full, so someone will have to get the boot when the Hiroki Kuroda signing becomes official. I ran down the list of candidates a few weeks ago. Welcome back, Mr. Jones.

Report: Yoenis Cespedes is now a free agent

Via Ben Badler, MLB has informed teams that 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is now a free agent. He recently established residency in the Dominican Republic, which was step one of the process. By now you’ve seen the Michael Bay-esque promotional video (both of them), though I still prefer 19-year-old Jorge Soler at the point, based on the little bit we know. Cespedes went 5-for-35 with no walks and ten strikeouts in winter ball, which isn’t all that surprising given his long layoff. He did hit a homer though, which you can see right here.

Hughes gives the Yanks the most options

In the finale of his fifth starter series, Mike listed a number of good reasons why Phil Hughes should start the season in the rotation. He probably has a stronger case than both A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia if we consider only the role of fifth starter. This competition, though, is about more than just a single role on the starting staff. It’s about maximizing resources. The Yankees have three pitchers capable of handling that role. Their task is to figure out how to use all three to realize peak value.

In terms of flexibility, Hughes offers the Yankees more than both Garcia and Burnett. He has roughly 10 times the number of innings in relief than Garcia and Burnett combined, and he has fared extremely well in that role. Through 56.1 innings across 49 appearances, Hughes has produced the following numbers:

ERA: 1.44
H/9: 5.43
HR/9: 0.32
BB/9: 2.72
K/9: 11.2
K/BB: 4.12

Even if we regressed these numbers a bit, since Hughes hasn’t pitched the equivalent of a full season in the bullpen, he’d still come out looking like a setup man at worst. While he might produce the most overall value in a starting role, the Yankees as a team might better deploy their resources, at least in terms of 2012, by using Hughes in the bullpen and one of Burnett and Garcia as the fifth starter. Combined with Hughes’s spotty track record as a starter and the Yankees’ depth in terms of back of the rotation pitchers, they could certainly choose to move Hughes now.

Hughes could also provide value to the Yankees via trade. Considering his age and salary, they could certainly get more in return for Hughes than they could for Burnett or Garcia. If they’re looking for a player they could use as the primary DH in 2012, and perhaps as an outfielder or DH in the future, they could use Hughes as trade bait.

The issue here is that Hughes is at the nadir of his value. In the early years he retained top prospect status, even though his performance disappointed. Even after 2010, despite his rough finish, he had more value than he does now. While the Yankees might be able to obtain a worthwhile player in exchange for Hughes, it’s still not good business to sell low on a relatively young player.

Looking around the league, though, there don’t seem to be many players available who 1) could help the Yankees’ current situation, and 2) cost little more than Hughes and a mid-level prospect. Teams do place their own values on players, so perhaps there is a match somewhere out there. But taking what we know, any match appears rough. Perhaps a reclamation project could make sense, but it’s hard to see the Yankees getting a legitimate bat in exchange for Hughes by himself.

While Hughes does present a solid case to take over the fifth starter job, the Yankees as a team might benefit more by using him in another role. He has a far better bullpen track record than Burnett and Garcia, and has more value to other teams in a trade. This could lead the Yankees to use him in one of those two capacities, while trotting out Burnett or Garcia every five days. It might not be an ideal situation, but it’s the one they have right now. As we’ve said since the Pineda trade and the Kuroda signing, it’s the best of problems to have.

Phil Hughes’ Fifth Starter Case

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

In the third and final installment of this Fifth Starter Case series (here’s the cases for A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia), we’re going to cover Phil Hughes. Believe it or not, he’s the fifth longest tenured player and second longest tenured pitcher on the Yankees, behind only Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano. The rest of the roster has completely turned over since April of 2007.

Anyway, the 2011 season was a disaster for Hughes, who missed a bunch of time with a dead arm and back spams. He was unable to build on his solid 2010 campaign, finishing the year with a 5.79 ERA and a 4.58 FIP in 74.2 IP. His strikeout (5.67 K/9 and 14.1 K%), walk (3.25 BB/9 and 8.1 BB%), and ground ball (32.0%) rates declined from the year before, and his fastball velocity disappeared following the dead arm…

(click to embiggen)

The velocity did come back a bit later in the season, but not to where it was last year. But still, he definitely didn’t look right physically at any point during the season. Joe already listed some reasons why you could be optimistic about Hughes in 2012, but it’s very easy to be down on the young right-hander after last year. Let’s see why he belongs in the rotation next year…

He’s Healthy

Injuries have followed Hughes his entire career, starting way down in the minors and continuing last year with the dead arm. The 80.1 IP jump from 2010 to 2011 probably didn’t help, but he won’t have to worry about that next season. He’s had an offseason of rest and is apparently taking his conditioning more seriously, so the Yankees do kinda owe it to themselves to see what he can do when he’s physically right. There’s no lingering dead arm, no innings jump, no excuses.

He Was Better Than His Numbers Indicate (for part of the season)

As a whole, Phil’s 2011 season was a train wreck. No denying that. He did, however, run off a nice eleven start stretch from July 6th (when he came off the DL) to September 12th (when the back spasms sidelined him), allowing more than two runs just three times. Those three times were complete duds — 19 total runs in 12.2 IP, with two of those three starts coming against the Athletics of all teams — but the other eight starts were at least five innings and no more than two runs. The only time he failed to complete six innings in those eight starts was his first one back from injury, against the Indians in Cleveland. Two runs or less in eight of eleven starts will more than get it done as a fifth starter.

He’s Got A Chance To Be Part Of The Future

When it comes to both Burnett and Garcia, we know their days in pinstripes are numbered. Both guys will be gone when their contracts expire and they’re both well into their mid-30’s. Even though he will become a free agent after the 2013 season, Hughes at least has a remote chance of becoming part of the Yankees’ pitching equation in the future by virtue of his age. He’s still just 25, an age where it’s reasonable to say that his best years are probably still ahead of him. With Burnett and Garcia, there’s no doubt that their best work is already in the rear-view mirror.

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To make a long story short, Hughes’ case for the fifth starter job boils down to “he’s younger and has more long-term upside than the other two guys.” That’s basically it, you’re banking on him improving instead of banking on the other guys not declining with age. That’s it in a nutshell. The Yankees don’t need Hughes to be their number three starter like last year, giving him yet another shot to make it work as a starter in the fifth spot makes more sense than trying to squeeze water out of the aging veteran rock on some level.

One thing to keep in mind is the money, and I’m not talking about each player’s current salary. Garcia and Burnett have already made their millions, but Hughes has significant financial motivation to perform well over the next two seasons. He’s scheduled to hit free agency at age 27 (!), and if he shows that he can be a competent big league starter in 2012 and 2013, he’s looking at a serious payday on the open market. There’s no greater motivator than financial gain, and that extra motivation could work to the Yankees advantage.