The trade market that wasn’t

It all keeps coming back to Cliff Lee. A year ago, the Yankees were on the precipice of acquiring Lee from the Mariners, a feat which would have given them one of the best rotations in baseball. They failed, and a short time later were bounced from the playoffs by a team led by Cliff Lee. Soon after, they saw Cliff Lee spurn the them for the Phillies in free agency. By my count, that’s three separate instances of Cliff Lee-induced pain. When Andy Pettitte retired a few months after Lee went to Philadelphia, Cashman pivoted. In a manner reminiscent of the Red Sox in 2009, the Yankees decided to build the rotation on the cheap, allowing Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova to battle it out for the two remaining rotation slots (the other three being occupied by Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes). Once Hughes went down with an injury, Colon took his spot and performed admirably. Garcia has been fantastic too. Yet all along it’s seemed as if plan for the Yankees’ rotation was to run with these guys until a better option arose on the trade market. Freddy Garcia’s nice and all, but shouldn’t the Yankees go into battle in October with a serious complement to Sabathia? Yet here we stand a mere week or so away from the trade deadline and there seems to be no complement available? Where are the pitchers? Where are the targets? Where are the potential upgrades?

A few big names have arisen, to be sure. Ubaldo Jimenez was the target last week, but it doesn’t seem that Colorado is serious about trading him. Some have suggested that they were simply recognizing that the market was very weak and seeing if some team (like the Yankees) would be willing to panic and overpay for their lanky and affordable ace. In the absence of that a deal seems unlikely. James Shields has also been rumored to be available, but not to the Yankees. If Tampa decides to move the putative ace it won’t likely be an intra-divisional move. Hiroki Kuroda would be a potential option, one for whom I’ve long advocated, but his no-trade clause puts him in the driver’s seat and means that he’ll determine whether he gets traded and to where he gets traded. John Danks would be a nice upgrade, but there’s no indication that the White Sox are looking to move a starter and the teams don’t even match up particularly well for a trade anyway. Who’s left, Jason Marquis?

A year ago the Yankees came close to having a very good rotation and no Jesus Montero when they offered Seattle Montero for Lee. That deal fell through. A few months later, they came close to having a very good rotation and Jesus Montero when they tried to get Cliff Lee for nothing more than money. That deal fell through. The plus side is that the Yankees still have Montero, of course. Whether they really want him is another question. They don’t seem to have any interest in calling him up any time soon, and Cashman has gone out of his way to make it clear that Montero is available in trades. Yet there is no Cliff Lee on the market this year, no pitcher for whom Montero would be a suitable return. Right now the effort to swap Montero for a pitcher looks a day late and a buck short.

There is serious downside risk in relying on the trade market. Sometimes the targets don’t materialize and other times your assets don’t matchup with the best available targets. This shouldn’t be interpreted as a criticism of Cashman. No one that I’m aware of predicted that the Yankees would whiff on Lee twice, lose Pettitte to retirement, and then find themselves unable to upgrade the rotation via the trade market at all. It sounds like a worst-case scenario dreamt up on a Red Sox message board. Yet, as of July 23rd that’s exactly what’s happened. The best pitcher truly on the market seems to be Kuroda, a pitcher with a no-trade clause and a disinclination to leave Los Angeles.  It’s not the situation the Yankees hoped to be in at this point.

The old saying is that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. You can always hope that better opportunities arise later, but your risk goes up the further away you are from the acquisition target. This entire market could change very quickly, and that’s what makes the trade deadline so exciting. Yet, as of today it looks like the Yankees are dancing alone. The most realistic option at this point seems very unlikely, but I suppose there’s no harm in continuing to beat the drum once more, until the deadline passes. Help us, Hiroki. You’re our only hope!

Bats back shaky Hughes, Yanks win big over A’s

Brandon Laird's Hall of Fame career began on Friday.

Trevor Cahill is a good young starter, but the poor kid just doesn’t seem to stand a chance against the Yankees. New York blew the doors off this one early, knocking Cahill from the game in the third inning. It’s Friday and it’s hot, so let’s quickly recap…

  • Everyone contributed offensively, even the guys off the bench. The Yankees scored five runs in the second with a barrage of singles plus a walk and a sacrifice fly. They didn’t bat around, but they came close. Most of the damage was done in the third inning, which featured both a three-run homer and a grand slam. You don’t see that happen in the same inning very often, not by one team anyway. Six straight batters reached to leadoff the inning, and one batter even had two hits in the frame. Add in some garbage time runs later, and you’ve got a season-high 17 runs and the most they’ve scored in one game since hanging 20 on the Red Sox in August of 2009.
  • Phil Hughes was pretty terrible, allowing seven runs in just 4.1 IP, walking four and striking out three. He also hit a batter. Blame the weather or the long layoffs between innings if you want, but the bottom line is that a starter has to get through at least five innings when staked to a 12 run lead. That’s the bare minimum. Hector Noesi was strong yet again in long relief, striking out three and walking nine in 3.2 scoreless innings. He needed 53 pitches to get 11 outs, Hughes 98 to get 13 outs. Phil has to be better next time out (against the Mariners), just has to be.
  • There’s a lot of offense to cover, so let’s run through it. Brett Gardner struck out three times but also had an infield hit in that second inning. Derek Jeter had two hits and a walk, Curtis Granderson two walks and a hit-by pitch, Mark Teixeira two walks and the grand slam, Robinson Cano two hits, Nick Swisher three hits (including the three-run homer) and a walk, Jorge Posada one hit, Eduardo Nunez two hits, and Frankie Cervelli was a perfect 3-for-3 with two walks. Granderson and Jeter each stole bases as well. Chris Dickerson came off the bench and singled.
  • If the Yankees have any trade interest in Oakland relievers, they sure got a good look at all of them in this game. Six different relievers appeared in the game for the A’s, none worse than Joey Devine. Check out his strike zone plot, and make sure you notice the pitches literally off the chart and in the margins. His first pitch of the night was the first pitch Brandon Laird saw as a big leaguer, a fastball behind his back. Laird drew a walk his first time up (his first since June 25th) then singled the next time, so he’s rocking a 1.000 AVG and 1.000 OBP at the moment. Congrats to him.
  • It’s been more than a dozen years since the Yankees played a home game in this kind of weather; July of 1999 was the last time the temperature exceeded triple digits at first pitch at Yankee Stadium. Yuck. Here’s the box score, here’s the WPA graph, and here’s the standings.

Saturday’s going to be another scorcher, but if you want to brave the heat and head up to the Bronx for the game, RAB Tickets can get you in dirt cheap. Rich Harden will give it a go against A.J. Burnett in the matinee.

Warren begins prep for big league start

Penn League Report has some video and scouting reports for Mason Williams, Cito Culver, and Brandon Pinder. It’s good news all around. Meanwhile, David Phelps will be back from his shoulder tendinitis pretty much any day now.

High-A Tampa (6-5 loss to Bradenton, walk-off style)
Eric Chavez, 3B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K – played seven innings in the field … made two plays in the field according to the recap, one ground ball and one line drive
Abe Almonte, CF: 2 for 5, 3 R, 1 SB
Emerson Landoni, 2B: 0 for 1
Ronnier Mustelier, 2B-3B: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB – just keeps hitting
Kyle Roller, DH: 1 for 5, 1 R, 2 K
Rob Segedin, RF: 1 for 4
Luke Murton, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 RBI
Neil Medchill, LF: 0 for 3
Mitch Abeita, C: 0 for 2, 2 BB
Kelvin Castro, SS: 0 for 4, 1 K
Mikey O’Brien, RHP: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 2-3 GB/FB – picked a runner off first … had walked eight guys against six strikeouts in his last six starts
Kramer Sneed, LHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2-1 GB/FB
Francisco Gil, RHP: 1.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 WP, 1-1 GB/FB

[Read more…]

Yankees announce 2011 HOPE Week

One of my favorite weeks of the year. The Yankees have announced their plans for the 2011 edition of HOPE Week, which will take place Monday through Friday of next week. All of the details can be found in the press release. Good on the Yankees for keeping this going, but hopefully the weather cools off before then.

Game 97: Hot hot hot

(Photo Credit: Flickr user via Creative Commons license)

It’s brutal in New York. Temperatures in the high-90’s, more humidity than I care to cite, and seemingly no breeze. The Yankees did not take batting practice outdoors this afternoon because of the heat, but they’ll have to endure it for the first couple of innings, at least until the sun goes down. That’ll help, even a little bit. Anyway, here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, 1B
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Frankie Cervelli, C

Phil Hughes, SP

Now that’s a lineup I can get behind. It’s a My9 game, so head over there for first pitch a little after 7pm ET. Enjoy, and stay cool.

A quick note on Curtis Granderson and plate discipline

The Yankees are a power and patience offense, so it’s not a surprise that they lead baseball with a 9.9% walk rate and are second with a .178 ISO (one point behind the Red Sox). Their best player all season has been Curtis Granderson, who personifies that power and patience approach. His .299 ISO is third best in baseball, trailing only Jose Bautista (.358) and Lance Berkman (.305), plus his 11.8% walk rate is a top 30 mark and continues to climb. Only Nick Swisher (15.0%) and Russell Martin (12.1%) have better rates on the Yankees.

That walk rate is not an outlier for Granderson, who walked 10.0% of his plate appearances last year and in 10.5% of his plate appearances from 2008-2010. What is sort of surprising is the number of pitches he’s seeing; Curtis leads the majors by averaging 4.48 pitches seen per plate appearance. Bobby Abreu (4.42), Carlos Santana (4.41), and Adam Dunn (4.41) are next in line. He had averaged 4.11 P/PA from 2008-2010. Furthermore, Jack Curry noted the other day that Granderson had fouled off 135 two-strike pitches to stay alive this year, second in the AL to the unstrikeoutable Dustin Pedroia (150). It’s not all about the long ball with Grandy, who’s been putting together quality at-bats all season. That’s great to see.

Scouting The Trade Market: James Shields

If you can’t beat him, trade for him, amirite? Rays right-hander James Shields has dominated the Yankees twice within the last two weeks (one earned run in 15.2 IP), but that’s not the real reason we’re talking about him here. Tampa is gradually dropping out of the race and the generally belief is that Shields’ days with the team are numbered as he gets more expensive and their next top pitching prospect (Matt Moore) gets closer to the show. The Reds are one team with interest, and earlier this week Buster Olney (Insider req’d) noted that no one explores options more thoroughly than Tampa. If they move him, it’ll be because they’re improving the team, not just saving money.

So with all that in mind, let’s break Shields’ game down and see what kind of fit he is for the Yankees, if he’s one at all…

The Pros

  • Shields is in the middle of the best season of his career. His 2.53 ERA is backed up by a 3.14 FIP and a 2.98 xFIP, and he’s got career highs in strikeout rate (8.69 K/9), swing and miss rate (11.6%), and homerun rate (0.86 HR/9). His 45.6% ground ball rate is his second best ever, and although his 2.30 BB/9 is his worse walk rate since his rookie year, it’s still pretty damn good.
  • Although his world class changeup gets most of the attention, Shields legitimately throws six different pitches. That low-80’s changeup works off three different fastballs: a low-90’s four-seamer, a low-90’s two-seamer, and a high-80’s cutter. He doesn’t use the last two often (6.8% and 4.9% of the time this season), but he does use them. Shields is throwing his high-70’s curveball more than ever this year (22.0%), which is part of the reason why he’s had so much success. A slider is his other offering.
  • That repertoire is the reason why Shields has virtually no platoon split for his career, though he has a slight one in 2011. It’s not significant enough to worry about. Because that’s not good enough, he also has arguably the best right-handed pickoff move in baseball. He leads the league with ten pickoffs, and runners have stolen zero bases off him in three attempts this season. During his career, runners have stolen just 38 bases in 62 attempts (61.3%).
  • Only eight pitchers have thrown at least 200 IP every season since 2007, and Shields is one of them. He’s on pace to do it yet again this year. You don’t throw that many innings without being healthy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Shields has never been on the disabled list. He’s obviously a career AL East pitcher and has been very successful in baseball’s most unforgiving division, so the transition should be minimal. Shields has pitched in the playoffs and in the World Series, so that’s another plus.
  • The contract is as friendly as it gets. Shields will be paid a total of $4.25M this season (about $708k per month), then there are club options for 2012 ($7M with a $2M buyout), 2013 ($9M with a $1.5M buyout), and 2014 ($12M with a $1M buyout). Escalators tied to innings pitches, starters, and finishes in the Cy Young Award voting could put another $6M in his pocket. Either way, that’s an absolute steal.

The Cons

  • As great as he’s been this season, we can’t completely ignore Shields’ atrocious 2010 campaign. His 5.18 ERA didn’t match his 4.24 FIP, but Shields led the league in hits allowed (246, or 10.9 H/9), earned runs allowed (117), and homeruns allowed (34). Opponents hit .294/.338/.490 off him overall and .313/.356/.534 off him away from pitcher friendly Tropicana Field.
  • The roads woes are not an isolated incident either. Shields has been a 4.67 ERA (~4.45 FIP) pitcher away from home over the course of his career, when batters have tagged him for a .276/.323/.467 batting line.
  • I don’t put much stock in this stuff, but Shields hasn’t pitched well against the Red Sox in his career, a 4.95 ERA and ~4.05 FIP in 18 career starts. His numbers at Fenway Park are even worse: a 7.71 ERA with a ~4.90 FIP in eight career starts. In fairness, he did throw a complete game shutout against the Red Sox earlier this year, the video you see above. As for the current version of Yankee Stadium, he owns a 3.71 ERA (~4.40 FIP) in four career starts there.
  • Shields is incredibly homer prone. That 0.86 HR/9 this year might be a career best, but it’s still not all that great. He allowed one homer for every six innings pitched last season and 1.1 HR/9 from 2007-2009. His career HR/FB% is 11.6%, which is quite high. It’s not uncommon for changeup pitchers to be homer prone, every once in a while they’ll leave one up, and a high changeup is just a batting practice fastball.
  • He’s been healthy in the big leagues, but it’s worth nothing that Shields did miss the entire 2002 minor league season because of shoulder surgery. Once it’s in a guy’s past, he’s never really clear of danger.

The elephant in the room here is the intra-division issue. Brian Cashman and Rays GM Andrew Friedman have made exactly one trade with each other, a 2006 swap that involved Nick Green coming to New York and cash going to Tampa. Talks between the two clubs about Matt Garza never really got off the ground this winter because “strong impressions were that it would be something that would cost us more because we are in the division, kind of like Roy Halladay,” according to Cashman. “There was also reluctance from them to trading within the division.” That whole intra-division thing would be a major, major obstacle.

In terms of talent and expected production, Shields is about as good as it’ll get. He’s not in the Halladay/Cliff Lee/Felix Hernandez/uber-pitcher category, but he’s proven over several years to be a well-above-average hurler in the tougher league, and this year he’s been ace-like. He’s still very much in the prime of his career at age 29, so there’s no reason to expect a significant age-related drop-off anytime soon. And that contract, goodness is that contract favorable. Any team that trades for him would be getting more than three of his peak years for a total of $29.5M or so, assuming all the options are picked up. That’s a steal, fire-your-agent kind of robbery.

The Rays are extremely well run and have a knack for getting both quality and quantity in trades. They turned Jason Bartlett (Jason Bartlett!) into three big league relievers and a useful prospect. We saw the Garza haul, which cost the Cubs their two top prospects (Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee), two other near-MLB ready prospects (Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer, both of whom have played in the bigs this year), and a serviceable bench player (Sam Fuld). You’d have to mark up from there if you want to envision a package for Shields because he’s better now than Garza was last year and he has a much more favorable contract than his former teammate. Think two top prospects, three other near MLB ready guys, and maybe more. I don’t believe a trade of this magnitude would happen between the two teams, but the Yankees would have to strongly consider it if Tampa shows the willingness to move him to one of their biggest rivals.

Update: Buster Olney says the Yankees called the Rays about Shields, but were told that he’s not available.