Mailbag: Vlad & Relievers

No, that's not Wilton. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Ryan asks: How different would the mid-2000’s of played out if the Yanks topped the Angels 5 year, $70 million contract for Vlad instead of signing Sheff for 3 years at $39 million after the 2003 season. Over the 3 years Sheff was in NY he produced a 10 WAR. Vlad over that 3 years, 16.6 WAR. I did enjoy Sheff but always felt that they should of went with Vlad.

You know what, I honestly don’t think things would have played out all that differently. The problems with those teams in the mid-00’s was pitching, not hitting. Plus it’s not like Sheff didn’t hit, because he absolutely did in 2004 and 2005 (.396 wOBA) before getting hurt. The Yankees almost certainly wouldn’t have traded for Bobby Abreu in 2006 with Vlad around, and you know what? They might not have been able to sign both Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon (four years, $52M each) prior to the 2006 season either. If they had signed only Matsui (since he was the incumbent), he and Vladdy would have been duking it out for DH at-bats the last few seasons. That would have been some ugly outfield defense, not to mention injury risk.

I wanted the Yankees to sign Guerrero instead of Sheffield as well, but I don’t believe the offensive and defensive upgrade he provided over Sheff would have been enough to overcome the pitching. And who knows how that contract would have impacted future free agent signings.

Tucker asks: A couple names for possible relievers: Mike MacDougal, Scot Shields, Jon Rauch, and Micah Owings.

The easy one is Shields, because he said he was likely to retire this offseason back in September. He hasn’t made an official announcement yet, but I imagine it’s coming. Even if he wanted to continue playing, he has been just a shell of his former self since injuring his knee in 2009. Over the last two years, Shields has struck out 7.2 batters per nine innings (down from 9+ at his peak) while walking 6.9 per nine, far too many. His swinging strike rate fell off a cliff as well. I’d be very, very afraid given his age (35), recent injury history, and overall career workload.

MacDougal is a walk machine, with 5.78 uIBB/9 over the last four seasons. His strikeout rate isn’t all that great either, just 6.73 K/9 during the same time. He still throws extremely hard, so that’s a plus. MacDougal has had a settle for a minor league contract in each of the last two winters, and I expect that trend to continue in this one. I’d have no trouble with giving him (or really anyone) a minor league deal to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle, but the expectations should be zero. Fun Fact: MacDougal’s real name is Robert Meiklejohn MacDougal.

He can hit! (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

People stopped complaining about the Yankees getting Ross Ohlendorf instead of Micah Owings in the Randy Johnson trade soon after they realized that Owings couldn’t pitch (5.03 FIP career) nearly as well as he could hit (.365 wOBA). He’s dealt with shoulder issues in recent seasons, and over the last two years he owns a 6.06 K/9 and a 5.06 uIBB/9. Owings is also a big time fly ball pitcher (64.1% non-ground balls in his career), so homers will be an issue as well. But again, same deal is MacDougal, minor league contract with no expectations is fine with me. I’m not guaranteeing either player anything more than a hotel room in Spring Training.

At this point, Rauch is the only real major league pitcher left in the group. His fine 2010 season was propped up by the best homerun rate of his career (0.47 HR/9), and that’s due to a) playing half his games in Target Field, and b) lucking out and not surrendering a single long ball to a right-handed batter. Over the rest of his career, he’s a one homer per nine innings guy, and I’d expect him to be at least that going forward. Rauch’s strikeout rate has hovered right around seven per nine with the exception of 2006 and 2008, when he was over eight, and his unintentional walk rate is close to two per nine in the last half-decade or so. He’s another extreme fly ball guy (66.4% non-grounders in his career), so that scares me a bit in Yankee Stadium, but Rauch is a quality big league arm that could help the Yankee bullpen. I have no idea what kind of contract he’s looking for, but I’d be skeptical of a multi-year guarantee.

Open Thread: Bartolo Colon

Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Phillips. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)

Via MLBTR, the Yankees have interest in Bartolo Colon according to the man himself. In an RAB exclusive, I’m here to announce that the Yankees have interest in me as well. See what I did there? I wouldn’t think twice about this rumor, just make some fat jokes, remember A-Rod‘s three homer, ten RBI game, and move on. Colon’s got about as much to offer as Pedro Martinez at this point, and that guy was toast before he even stepped on the mound in Game Six of the 2009 World Series.

Anyway, here is this evening’s open thread. The only local team in action tonight is the Knicks, who are in Orlando to face the rebuilt Magic. Chat about whatever, enjoy.

Rosenthal: Talks about Keppinger went nowhere

Via Ken Rosenthal, trade talks between the Yankees and Astros about infielder Jeff Keppinger went “nowhere.” I assume that means the Yankees have moved on after showing interest in him earlier this offseason. Keppinger would have been a real nice fit because he hits lefties and can play all over the infield, but oh well. There’s other fish in the utility infielder sea. No need to overpay for one in a trade.

Mailbag: Josh Hamilton

(Charles Krupa/AP)

Tucker writes: Josh Hamilton is set to become a free agent after the 2012 season. Could the Rangers missing out on Lee allow them to give Josh an extension? Would he want to hit the market? And most importantly, do the Yankees bite?

The Rangers, apparently, have money. When they acquired Cliff Lee in July most of the league thought it was a half-season rental. After all, the team was immersed in bankruptcy proceedings at the time. But then they emerged from them and signed an enormous TV deal. While the overall impact of the deal might have been overstated in initial reports, it still will provide the team with ample income for the next decade. They were going to spend a considerable portion of that money on Cliff Lee, so why not repurpose it for their biggest star?

This season Hamilton led the league in fWAR at 8.0 despite having just 571 plate appearances. Had he stayed healthy he could have finished with between 9 and 10 WAR. But that’s the problem right there. Hamilton has exactly four years of service time, meaning he’s been eligible to play in 648 games. Yet he has only appeared in 468. A few of those have been routine days off, but injuries have been the main culprit. In only one season has he played more than 133 games, and in two of his four seasons he has been at 90 or fewer. His health is no guarantee.

(Seriously, go to and type in Hamilton’s name. Then let your jaw drop when you see his four-year history of just day-to-day injuries.)

Earlier in the year, when an inflamed knee was bothering Hamilton, Will Carroll noted that “it’s his body‚Ķthat is hurting his ability to put that talent on the field.” He went on to project Hamilton’s future of 100- to 120-game seasons. He did break that in 2010, by a substantial amount when you include the playoffs, but does that mean he can handle it in the future? That’s such an enormous question mark right now, and it’s a huge part of the reason why we haven’t hard much in terms of a long-term contract.

I’m no doctor, so I won’t attempt any independent analysis of Hamilton’s future health. What I will project is that unless he plays in more than, say, 130 games next year, we won’t hear a thing about an extension next off-season either. And if he doesn’t break that barrier in 2012, I’m not sure we’ll see any kind of mammoth free agency offers for him. That a long way of saying that we won’t know much until Hamilton plays the final two years of his obligation to the Rangers. We just can’t reasonably project Josh Hamilton’s future.

To answer the actual questions here: If I were Hamilton and I played in another 130 games next year, I’d be all about an extension if Texas offered it. That’s some security that might not be around in another year. In that way, waiting for free agency could cost him. If he’s healthy in 2011 but not 2012 he’ll be far less valuable in free agency.

If, however, he’s valuable in both 2011 and 2012 and reasonably healthy during that span, I can see the Yanks jumping in there. I wouldn’t go nuts bidding for him — the injury history doesn’t just go away, and he’ll be 32 in his first year with a new team. But if the market is down on him because of those concerns I can see the Yankees setting it.

RAB Live Chat

Mailbag: Former Yankee farmhands succeeding elsewhere

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Bernie asks: Saw your tweet on Wilton Lopez and thought it might be a good idea for someone to put together a list of players that were drafted or signed by the Yankees but are currently enjoying success with another MLB team.

Bernie’s referring to this tweet, when I said I had no idea that Lopez, the great setup man for the Astros, was the same Wilton Lopez that pitched in the Yankees’ minor league system back in 2004. He actually retired after that year, then talked the Yankees into releasing him off the restricted list a few years later. Lopez then signed with the Padres and spent two years in their minor league system before being claimed off waivers by Houston in April of 2009. His 2010 season featured a 6.72 K/9 with a 55.7% ground ball rate and just four unintentional walks in 67 innings (0.53 uIBB/9), leading to a 2.96 ERA. With Matt Lindstrom gone, Lopez is expected to be Brandon Lyon’s primary setup man next season.

The other obvious player to mention is John Axford, who will start the 2011 season much like he finished the 2010 season: as Milwaukee’s closer. The Yanks signed him as an undrafted free agent after the 2006 draft and used him as a classic organizational arm the next year, assigning him to whichever affiliate needed a fresh arm on a given night. Axford pitched for Triple-A Scranton, High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston, and Short Season Staten Island in 2007, striking out 9.6 batters per nine but walking 45 in 63 innings. He was released after the season, hooking on with the Brewers for 2008. He spent that year in the minors, and after the season Milwaukee tinkered with his mechanics, most notably raising his arm angle. That led to some increased velocity and earned him a September call-up in 2009. Axford established himself this past season with an 11.79 K/9 and a 3.72 uIBB/9 (2.48 ERA), usurping Trevor Hoffman as closer.

Carlos Monasterios, who the Yankees signed as an international free agent back in 2005, threw 88.1 innings with the Dodgers this past season, striking out just 5.30 batters per nine and unintentionally walking 2.64 (4.38 ERA). He was traded to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu deal, then the Mets selected him in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft before selling him to the Dodgers for what I hope was some kind of profit. Zach Kroenke (2005 fifth rounder) is another Rule 5 guy, but the Diamondbacks worked out a deal to keep him in the organization this past season. He made a very brief big league cameo this September after the team turned him back into a starter in the minors. He’ll compete for a job in Spring Training.

The Yankees traded Ramon Ramirez to the Rockies for Shawn Chacon after signing him as an international free agent back in 2003. He’s since bounced from the Rockies to the Royals to the Red Sox to the Giants, accumulating a 3.29 ERA in 295.2 big league innings. Manny Acosta was signed as a international free agent back in 1998 before being released in 2003. He caught on the with the Braves, pitched out of their bullpen in parts of three seasons, and finished the 2010 season as one of Jerry Manuel’s better relievers. In 39.2 innings with the Mets, Acosta struck out 42 batters and walked 17 unintentionally, leading to a shiny 2.95 ERA.

Randy Flores (yet another reliever) is still around as well; the Yanks drafted him in the ninth round of the 1997 draft before trading him to Texas for Randy Velarde way back in the day. He’s enjoyed a moderately successful career as a lefty specialist, mostly with the Cardinals. Shelley Duncan (2001 second rounder) is still trying to make it work out in Cleveland, hitting eleven homers with a .324 wOBA in 259 plate appearances this past season. Matt Carson was the team’s fifth round pick in 2002, though he didn’t reach the big leagues until 2009, after signing with the Athletics as a minor league free agent. He owns a career .255 wOBA in 105 plate appearances.

Here’s a list of some other players that were originally drafted or signed by the Yankees, but went on to have varying degrees of success elsewhere. I probably don’t need to mention most of them, but I will anyway (in no particular order): Tyler Clippard, Austin Jackson, Mark Melancon, Juan Rivera, Randy Choate, Jose Tabata, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, Cristian Guzman, Alfonso Soriano, Mike Dunn, Jeff Karstens, Melky Cabrera, Joaquin Arias, Dan McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Marcus Thames, Nick Johnson, and the recently retired Mike Lowell. I’m not counting Hideki Matsui (Japanese vet) or Juan Miranda, and although Jake Westbrook spent some time in the Yanks’ farm system, he was originally drafted by the Rockies (came to New York from the Expos in the Hideki Irabu trade). Among the big leaguers that the Yankees drafted but did not sign: Casey Blake, Daniel Bard, Aaron Heilman, Brian Tallet, Chris Davis, Drew Storen, Doug Fister, and Jason Grilli. I don’t think Phil Humber counts anymore. I’m sure I missed some players, but I think I hit on all the key ones. Let me know if I’m wrong.

Looking at Todd Coffey

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Aside from the obvious need for a starting pitcher, the Yankees also have to fill some voids on the bench and in the bullpen. While David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain are a fine setup tandem, no one would mind an upgrade. The problem is that unless you overpay for Rafael Soriano or trade half the farm system for Joakim Soria, that guy just isn’t available. The best course of action may be to simply add depth and upgrade the middle relief corps instead. I’ve already looked at Chad Durbin for this role, but another name caught my eye today: Todd Coffey.

A 41st round pick way back in 1998, Coffey slowly climbed the Reds’ minor league ladder before reaching the big leagues in 2005. He pitched out of Cincinnati’s bullpen in parts of four seasons before being designated for assignment and then claimed off waivers by the Brewers in September 2008. Coffey’s time with the Reds wasn’t anything special – a 6.0 K/9 and 2.3 uIBB/9 in just over 200 innings – but the now 30-year-old seemed to find himself in Milwaukee.

Spending the 2009 season as manager Ken Macha’s bullpen ace, Coffey threw a whopping 83.2 relief innings, the third most in baseball. His strikeout rate was just okay at 7.0 K/9, but he made up for it by walking just 1.9 batters per nine innings unintentionally and getting a ground ball 52.3% of the time with his low-to-mid-90’s fastball and mid-80’s slider. Batters swung and missed on 10.7% of the swings they took against Coffey, more than they did against strikeout artists like Bobby Jenks, Heath Bell, Carlos Marmol, and Kerry Wood. That fine season earned him a $2.025M salary for 2010 in his second trip through arbitration.

Coffey’s peripheral stats took a bit of a hit in 2010, not coincidentally as he battled a thumb contusion on his throwing hand that cost him three weeks in June. His strikeout and whiff rates actually climbed to 8.1 K/9 and 11.2%, respectively, but his walk rate jumped to 2.6 uIBB/9 and his ground ball rate fell just about five percent to 47.6%. Coffey’s ERA, just 2.90 the year before, shot up to 4.76, but you can blame that on a microscopic 63.9% strand rate. League average is right around 72%, so he ran into quite a bit of bad luck there. Instead of giving Coffey another raise through arbitration, the Brewers non-tendered him earlier this month, a completely understandable move.

Although the walk, ground ball, and improving strikeout rates are traits you want in a reliever, Coffey is flawed. His platoon split is pretty massive, as lefties tagged him for a .344 wOBA over the last two years while righties were held to just a .288 wOBA. He’s also surprisingly homer prone despite the proven ability to keep the ball on the ground, giving up the long ball at a rate almost exactly equal to one for every nine innings pitched over the last two seasons (0.98 HR/9, to be exact). Coffey is flawed, no doubt about it, but so is every other middle reliever on the face of the earth.

It shouldn’t cost much to sign Coffey at this point, definitely nothing close to what he earned in 2010. A one-year contract with a six-figure salary seems almost inevitable regardless of what team he joins, a price that’s just a drop in the hat to the Yankees. Right now the Opening Day bullpen projects to have two of Romulo Sanchez (out of options!), Ryan Pope, Danny Turpen, Luis Vizcaino, etc. in it, so adding Coffey would be an obvious upgrade. He can be a very valuable piece if used correctly, meaning he’s kept away from lefty batters. Cheap moves that are easy to back out of, like this would be, is the name of the bullpen game. The risk is minimal.

Aside: Not that it matters, but the 6-foot-4, 240 lb. Coffey has been a fan favorite wherever he’s played, mostly because he comes out of the bullpen to the Ultimate Warrior’s entrance music and does a full sprint to the mound. The Brewers even started keeping track of his sprint times and called it Coffey Time!, even keeping a leader board. It’s irrelevant to his value as a player, but baseball’s supposed to be fun and Coffey is just that.