Report: Indians, others have interest in Swisher

Via Ken Rosenthal, the Indians are one of several clubs with interest in trading for Nick Swisher. The Tribe is apparently in the hunt for Carlos Beltran, and they see Swisher as a backup plan. Sounds great in theory, but Cleveland has little to offer the Yankees. Justin Masterson isn’t happening, and Fausto Carmona isn’t an upgrade over what they already have in their rotation. He probably isn’t even available anyway.

Josh Willingham is a very similar player to Swisher as Joe wrote last week, and last year he got traded for two Grade-B prospects when he had one year left before free agency like Swisher does now. Hard to see how that would help the Yankees more than their current right fielder in 2012. The Indians are just doing their due diligence more than anything, but it’s really tough to find a trade match involving Swisher that makes sense for both sides.

One way to add a frontline pitcher

Moshe Mandel contributed to this post.

At this point four years ago, the Yankees faced a difficult choice. They were among the few potential landing spots for Twins’ ace Johan Santana. The match seemed perfect. The Yankees desperately needed an ace. They had just re-added Andy Pettitte, but they still needed someone to slot in ahead of him and Mike Mussina. Santana was there for the taking — Minnesota had made it clear that he would not be with them to start the season. But the Yankees had other plans.

Why trade prospects and sign Santana to a big money contract, when they’d have to wait just one year for another left-handed ace to hit the free agent market? And so they spurned the Twins and waited for CC Sabathia. That was a risky move for sure, but a calculated one. There was no way that Sabathia was signing an extension before his free agency. The Indians had offered him one, but it wasn’t even close to the offers he’d get after the 2008 season. There was also no chance they’d trade him before the season, because they were just one game away from the World Series in 2007. And so the Yankees waited.

We can look at the current market similarly, but it’s not at all the same. Yes, there are a number of high-end pitchers scheduled to reach free agency following the 2011 season. If this were 2008, and the circumstances were similar to Sabathia’s, the Yankees might be justified in sitting it out this winter, sticking with their internal options, and waiting to nab a starter from the free agent market. But as we saw with John Danks’s extension, this is a different game. There might not be any top-end starters left for the Yanks once the 2011 season ends.

Matt Cain: The Giants have some good and expensive pitching, but chances are they’ll work to hold onto Cain. Recent reports indicate that they’ll try to get something done before spring training.

Zack Greinke: He has the best chance of anyone to reach free agency, but it’s not clear if the Yankees consider him an option in New York. Still, a pitcher with his track record at age 28 could be enticing.

Cole Hamels: The Phillies have spent tons of money building their roster. Why would they hold back when it comes to an ace-level left-hander?

That’s the extent of the high-end pitchers on the market — guys who could firmly step into the No. 2 spot, or even the No. 1 spot, for the Yanks. There are some other decent names on the list, such as Anibal Sanchez and Shaun Marcum, but it’s more difficult to see them atop the rotation. These three best fit as top of the rotation arms. Yet once free agency begins we might see only Greinke on the list of available pitchers.

If the Yankees do desire one of these pitchers, they might have to get creative. That would necessarily involve a trade, though it’s tough to envision any of the three pitchers becoming available in a trade — at least before July. But, since this is the time of year when crappy trade proposals run rampant, perhaps we can find something here. In fact, Moshe and I independently formulated the same framework for a deal that would bring Cole Hamels to New York. So, please indulge us for a moment.

Philadelphia gets: Gio Gonzalez, Austin Romine, another non-top-5 prospect from NYY

Oakland gets: Brett Gardner, Manny Banuelos

Yankees get: Cole Hamels

Our trade proposal sucks. But let’s examine it anyway.

Why it works for Philly: Instead of getting one more year of Hamels and then getting six to seven expensive years of free agency, they get four years of Gonzalez at arbitration prices. They also get a few prospects to help replenish their system. Romine in particular could entice them, because their starter, Carlos Ruiz, is 33 this season. The additional prospect helps replenish their system.

Why it works for Oakland: They get an absolute haul for Gonzalez. In fact, that might be the weakest part of this deal (other than the Phillies actually trading Hamels, of course). They get Gardner for three arbitration years and Banuelos for six. Perhaps the Yanks could sub out Betances here, but it still seems unlikely. I can’t imagine Oakland saying no to this.

Why it works for New York: They get a second ace lefty to complement Sabathia. In fact, Hamels is quite similar to Sabathia in terms of their pre-free agency numbers. Through 2008 Sabathia had a 3.66 ERA and 3.62 FIP, while Hamels has a career 3.39 ERA and 3.63 FIP. There are certain differences among them — Sabathia’s pre-free agency numbers came in a tougher offensive era, and he was in the majors longer — but all told they’re fairly even. With one more season along the lines of his 2010 or 2011 seasons, Hamels will be a perfect comp for Sabathia. They’ll both even hit free agency after their age-28 seasons.

Why Philly won’t do it: Philly might have a lot of money on the books, but there’s little stopping them from extending payroll further. They know the value of making the playoffs, having been there every year since 2007. It helps them sell out every game and will lead to a huge TV rights deal, if they don’t already have one. Additionally, after 2013 they have a lot of money coming off the books, so extending Hamels could cause complications in just one season, 2013. Plus, there’s plenty of allure in retaining a homegrown ace. They would probably rather just extend Hamels.

Why the Yanks won’t do it: They’d essentially be trading their No. 2 prospect, their starting left fielder, and a good catching prospect for one year of an ace. Of course, an extension would have to be part of this deal, but that just gives the Yankees the right to pay Hamels $23 million per season for the next six or seven years. There’s a legitimate chance that they don’t want to get bogged down in that kind of contract. There’s also the matter of Banuelos. Do the Yankees think that he can reach Hamels’s heights? That’s a pretty lofty ceiling, as his career numbers show. If they do think he can reach Hamels levels, how long will it take? Can they put together a rotation between now and then that will keep them in the postseason picture? There are tons of question to ask along with this. And that doesn’t even get into the hole in left field.

To reiterate, this will not happen. I’m certain that the Phillies will sign Hamels long-term. I’m also certain that Brian Cashman will not pay this type of premium for a pitcher just one year away from free agency. If anything, the players involved in this deal illustrate the value of developing pitchers internally. The Phillies have gotten several good to excellent years out of Hamels. If they can swing their final year of cost control for another young lefty, plus prospects, that’s a huge win. Even if Banuelos won’t reach Hamels’ production, even reaching 80 percent of it would probably make him more valuable as a pitcher to the Yankees.

It’s easy to become antsy at this point. The Yankees have some flaws in their rotation, and we’d prefer to see those addressed before the 2012 season begins. But given the asking prices of available pitchers, it just doesn’t seem likely. After all, would you give up all that even for Hamels?

Mailbag: Betances as Burnett

(Photos: Betances via J. Meric/Getty; Burnett via Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Arad asks: If Dellin Betances has a career similiar to A.J. Burnett would that be a positive? Would you take that right now? I think I would.

Oh hell yes, I’d take that in heartbeat. Burnett has been awful these last two seasons, there’s no denying that, but the first eleven seasons of his career were pretty damn good. For starters, he was almost exactly one year younger than Betances is right now when he got to the big leagues, and about two months younger than Betances is right now when he stuck in the big leagues for good. There was a broken foot and an elbow injury (caused by a batted ball) mixed in, but here is what Burnett did during his pre-arbitration years (1999-2002)….

Age 22-25: 78 G 501.2 IP, 3.82 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 7.55 K/9, 4.34 BB/9, 7.4 fWAR, 6.3 bWAR

Not great, but definitely a serviceable young arm for the rotation. Burnett made four starts in 2003 before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery, so his arbitration years (2003-2005) were impacted a great deal by injury…

Age 26-28: 56 G, 352 IP, 3.61 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 8.49 K/9, 3.45 BB/9, 8.0 fWAR, 4.9 bWAR

A.J. had 55 million reasons to leave the Marlins for the Blue Jays after the 2005 season, so for his six team controlled years, Florida got 853.2 IP of 15.4 fWAR and 11.2 bWAR pitching out of the right-hander. For comparison’s sake, Edwin Jackson has produced 14.0 fWAR and 10.7 bWAR during those same six years of his career, but in 225.1 more innings. Those first six years are the ones you have to focus on when talking about prospects, because they aren’t guaranteed to remain with the team beyond that point. For the sake of completeness, here is what Burnett did from 2006-2009, before his last two disaster years…

Age 29-32: 114 G, 729.2 IP, 3.97 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 8.88 K/9, 3.55 BB/9, 14.9 fWAR, 10.4 bWAR

Betances and Burnett are similar in that they are hard throwing but erratic, and also possess a knockout curveball. Dellin’s changeup is reportedly better than anything A.J. has ever shown, though. Burnett skipped right over Triple-A (just four career Triple-A starts, and three were rehab starts from 2004-2007), which Betances obviously won’t do. They even have the injury bug in common, though A.J. didn’t start having health problems until he got to the show.

If the Yankees get six years out of Betances like the six Florida got out of Burnett, they should be thrilled. If he manages to stick around for another four years after that and gives them what Burnett gave Toronto for three years and New York for one, then it will have been a minor miracle. Yeah, he will have fallen short of his ceiling in that case (most do), but he would have developed into an above-average starter for ten years. That’s better than most. Anyway, a question like this is begging for a poll, so…

If Betances had Burnett's career, would you take it right now?
View Results

Edwin Jackson’s Changing Market

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

As the Yankees have continued their (extremely passive) pursuit of pitching this winter, we’ve wasted far too much bandwidth sorting through all different kinds of options. Joe recapped pretty much all of them yesterday, though John Danks came off the board last night by signing an extension with the maybe rebuilding, maybe going for it White Sox. Unfortunately, that contract affects one of the other pitchers the Yankees may or may not be targeting.

As some have pointed out this winter, Danks and Edwin Jackson are basically the same pitcher, or at least they’re the same pitcher in terms of performance over the last three years. Danks is 18 months younger and a fastball-cutter-changeup command lefty while Jackson is a fastball-slider power righty, which certainly changes how you’d project them going forward, at least somewhat. Point being, they’re comparable pitchers in terms of expected value, which is why the deal Danks agreed to last night will impact what Jackson gets this winter.

For one, Danks wasn’t a free agent. He was still under Chicago’s control as an arbitration-eligible player, meaning he couldn’t peddle his services to the highest bidder. Despite that, he still got a fat contract. Jackson is a true free agent with a comparable performance to Danks, so he should be able to find more on the open market as the last available pitcher with some peak years remaining. The kicker here is that both guys are represented by Scott Boras, who does absolutely everything for a reason. If we fans know that Danks and Jackson are comparable, you can be sure Boras does.

Now I know hearing five years and $65M+ for Jackson is a little wacky, just because he just come off as the type of pitcher deserving of that kind of commitment. It also doesn’t seem like there’s a team out there that would give him that much, but I refuse to bet against Boras. This is the same guy that got a team that didn’t need a seventh, eighth, or ninth inning reliever to give Rafael Soriano three years and $35M. Michael Young plays third base, is making $80M across five years, and is the face of the Rangers’ franchise? No big deal, he got them to displace Young (again) and sign Adrian Beltre for that same five year, $80M contract. Boras is the best in the business for a reason.

The Yankees appear to be in no rush to upgrade their rotation, which probably is the best way to do things. Rushing into decisions is usually bad news, as the Phillies learned when they unnecessarily gave up their first round pick to sign Jonathan Papelbon before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement had been announced. Signing Jackson for five years and too many million isn’t a smart move just because he’s the last pitcher on the market with a smidgen of upside, but that’s the road someone will end up traveling. I’d prefer to see the Yankees go short-term with Hiroki Kuroda or Roy Oswalt and let the pitching market develop as the season progresses.

Yankees, Jones haven’t made much progress on new deal

Via Mark Feinsand, the Yankees and Andruw Jones haven’t made much progress towards a new contract for 2012 yet, though both sides are interested in a reunion and have stayed in touch. Some other clubs have expresses interest in the outfielder, possibly even those darned Red Sox.

Brian Cashman said during the Winter Meetings that pitching was the priority and the bench would have to wait, though it wouldn’t be a surprise if Jones was looking to sign relatively soon. He was beastly off the bench last season, especially against lefties, and it was basically a repeat of his 2010 season. I’m not at all concerned that it was a fluke. Considering that the backup option is someone like Justin Maxwell, it would behoove the Yankees to get Andruw back on board as soon as possible.

Cross another name off the list: White Sox extend John Danks

Via Jon Heyman, the White Sox and John Danks have agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $65M. Danks, 26, was one of many pitchers we’d identified as possible trade targets for the Yankees, though apparently Kenny Williams was asking for two of Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos. That’s simply too much for a very good but not great pitcher with only one year of control left before free agency. We never did hear anything about how interested the Yankees actually were in the left-hander, but feel free to speculate.