Mailbag: Hanley, Arodys, Nova, Brackman, Ortiz

Six questions today, half of which have to do with players not even on the Yankees. Remember to the use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send in some questions.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user SD Dirk via Creative Commons license)

Keane asks: If Hanley went on the block would you be interested?

Of course, players like Hanley Ramirez are rare. He’s having an absolutely brutal year, coming into today at almost exactly replacement level (0.1 fWAR) thanks to a .280 wOBA and a -3.5 UZR, but that kind of talent at that age (28 after the season) are almost never available in trades. There’s something like three and a half years and $60M left on his contract, so he’s making big boy money and any teams that pursues him would have to really investigate him to figure out why he’s fallen off so much. He’s hitting a lot more ground balls than he used to, which explains the power drop off, and he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone as well.

Buster Olney talked to various executives about Ramirez and posted the results yesterday (Insider req’d), and it wasn’t pretty. MLBTR has a nice little recap, but the general idea is that Hanley needs an attitude adjustment and has to take his conditioning more seriously. It’s pretty generic and stereotypical stuff, the kind of stuff you don’t hear when a white player struggles. It’s just the way it is. Is anyone questioning Jason Bay’s attitude and work ethic? Adam Dunn? Dan Uggla? Nope, nope, and nope. Anyway, I would certainly be interested in Hanley even though I’m not 100% sure where he’d play (he’s never been much of a shortstop), but talent and production like that is hard to pass up. Obviously he requires a thorough evaluation first just to see if he’s fixable.

Ryan asks: The Vazquez/Logan for Vizcaino/Dunn trade we know is terrible (although defensible at the time), but I am curious how Vizcaino is doing? Where would he rank in the system had he not been traded. (Would be nice to have Dunn instead of Logan right now)

Arodys Vizcaino is having a very nice year in the Atlanta’s system, and in fact he was just named to the World Team for the Futures Game. He’s struck out 64 and walked just 18 in 66 innings mostly with their High-A affiliate, but he was recently promoted to Double-A. Vizcaino also missed some time in April with back trouble, which is not the first time he had that (back issues limited him to just ten starts for Short Season Staten Island in 2009). If he was still Yankees’ property and had progressed the same way, I probably would have had him third on my pre-draft top 30 prospects list.

Tommy asks: What ever happened with Juan Paniagua? News reports stated that the Yankees signed him to a $1.1 MM contract in the beginning of March, but I haven’t heard anything since.

He and Rafael DePaula are waiting on visas, that’s all. Both guys had been investigated and suspended for age and identify fraud reasons, and the people at immigration don’t appreciate that. It’s entirely possible they never actually get visas.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Marianee O'Leary via Creative Commons license)

Ryan asks: Seems like every time Nova’s rotation spot is in jeopardy, he runs off a few good starts in a row. I know a big problem coming into the year was turning a lineup over 2 and 3 times. He seems to be going deeper and deeper into games lately, so how is he faring against lineups the 2nd and 3rd time through?

From B-Ref

First Time: 1.45 K/BB, 96 sOPS+
Second Time: 1.44 K/BB, 112 sOPS+
Third Time: 1.09 K/BB, 88 sOPS+
Fourth Time: 3.00 K/BB, 120 sOPS (just eight batters faced)

sOPS+ is the opposing batters’ OPS relative to league average in that situation. Although his K/BB ratio is the same the first and second times through the order, opponents are hitting Nova more the second time around due in part to a .327 BABIP (.253 the first time through). The K/BB is the big number for me the third time around, and it’s worth noting that batters have drawn more more total walks against him the third time through in fewer plate appearances. Once they’ve seen him twice already, the element of surprise is gone.

Nova’s done a much, much better job of pitching deep into games this year (though we didn’t have a huge sample of starts last year), and last time out against the Reds we saw him complete eight full innings for the first time in his career. It’s not a coincidence that Ivan was mixing four pitches in that start compared to his usual fastball-curveball heavy approach. He’s not going to have all four pitches working every time out, but hopefully he continues with that approach just to keep hitters guessing.

Lou asks: In reading the DOTFs it appears that Brackman has been shifted to the bull pen. Is this the case? Have the Yankees decided he could possibly help the bull pen in 2011, or is this more of a change to try and get him back on track?

Yep, he’s in the bullpen, and at this point I’m pretty sure it’s just an attempt to get him back to pitching effectively. Andrew Brackman‘s been absolutely brutal this year and it hasn’t been much better since the demotion to the bullpen, almost like he’s back at square one. The control has completely deteriorated, back to 2009 levels. I can’t imagine his confidence is all that high, and they just had to try something to get him going. He still has one more minor league option for next season, but the clock is ticking.

John asks: David Ortiz is a free agent at the end of the year and the Yankees could use an upgrade at DH. His bat would look great in the middle of the Yankees order, especially in Yankee Stadium. Perhaps it’s an unlikely marriage, but do you think the Yankees may/should pursue Big Papi for 2012?

Man, I sure hope not. There’s no doubt he’s killing the ball this year (.421 wOBA), but he’s going to want a multi-year contract and he’ll be 36 this winter. That has bad news written all over it. Ortiz and his agent could point to Adam Dunn as a starting point for negotiations or perhaps Jorge Posada‘s contract, since he was the same age at the time of the signing and was coming off a similarly huge year. Signing him would strike me as a classic George Steinbrenner move, locking up an old, nonathletic player with no defensive value through his decline years just because he’s got a clutch reputation and is coming off a great year. Ortiz is having a huge dead cat bounce year, but I’d rather let the Red Sox be on the hook for his age 36, 37, and 38 seasons.

Jeter could need more than the minimum on the DL

Yesterday we learned that Derek Jeter has not resumed baseball activities other than throwing, nor has he starting running to test his strained calf. In this morning’s New York Post, George King has some quotes from Brian Cashman on the matter, and they make it sound as though Jeter won’t be back when he is eligible on June 29th.

“I can’t tell you right now when he will be ready,” Cashman said. “He is getting treatment every day and feeling better, but he can’t run and can’t swing the bat.”

When the Yankees placed Jeter on the DL last week, he argued that he would be ready in a week and didn’t want to sit around waiting for his DL stint to expire. The Yankees may kowtow to Jeter’s ego by continuing to hit him in the leadoff spot despite having better options, but they made the right choice by putting him on the DL against his wishes. It would have been quite a stretch through the NL, especially with the doubleheader on Wednesday, if the Yankees were playing without a backup infielder.

Portending a Soriano return to the eighth

When the Yankees signed Rafafel Soriano in late January, they thought they were getting a lockdown late-inning reliever. As the closer for the 2010 AL East Champions, Soriano had posted a 1.73 ERA in 62.1 innings while recording 45 saves and notching 8.2 strikeouts per 9 innings to just 2.0 walks. As a one-time setup man-turned-closer who had thrived in the East, the Yankees figured he would fit easily into the 8th inning role.

Before he hit in the disabled list in May, the club couldn’t have been more wrong. Lest we forget, Soriano had appeared in 16 games for the Yanks and just once had he posted a 1-2-3 innings He has so far walked 11 — only three fewer than all of last year — while striking out just 10. His 5.40 ERA with a 5.92 xFIP and an ugly 1.73 WHIP tell the story as well, and he had been booed off the mound a few times before inflammation in his right elbow shelved him. Considering how poorly he had pitched, we shouldn’t expect the Yanks simply to hand him back the setup role, right? Wrong.

After the Yanks’ nightcap loss in Cincinnati yesterday, Joe Girardi spoke with reporters about his injured players. Soriano is only now beginning a throwing program, but that’s not stopping the Yankee skipper from giving him his job back. “My inclination is Soriano would still be our eighth-inning guy, we got to see how he feels and how he’s throwing the ball. But my inclination is Soriano,” Girardi said. “That’s what we brought him here to do.”

On the one hand, Girardi’s statement isn’t much. Soriano won’t be eligible to come off the DL until around July 13. Hopefully, by then, he’ll be throwing like vintage Soriano and not like the Yanks’ early-season Soriano. Plus, the Yankees need the bullpen depth. With Soriano, Pedro Feliciano, Joba Chamberlain and Damaso Marte on the shelf, the Yanks have $17 million worth of arms on the shelf while David Robertson, Cory Wade, Luis Ayala and Boone Logan will be tasked with getting key outs. Saying that Soriano will be a key cog in the bullpen when he returns is akin to proclaiming that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow.

On the other hand, though, why? David Robertson — and Joba before him — has proven himself more than capable of holding down the eighth. While Robertson’s wild tendencies and his 5.9 walk rate are alarming, that he strikes out so many batters allows him some leeway with the bases on balls. In the intangibles department, he throws with confidence and hasn’t allowed himself to be fazed by high-leverage jams. At least with Robertson, the Yanks have a pitcher who has excelled in that role while Soriano, this year at least, hasn’t show them much.

Of course, the ideal solution would be the one first proposed earlier this winter when the Yanks signed Soriano. I had originally wanted the high-priced reliever to serve as a fireman, but Joe Girardi seems to prefer labels. Soriano was The Eighth Inning Guy before, and he will be when he gets back. The better use for either Soriano, if he’s throwing well, or Robertson, if he continues to do what he does best, would be as a fireman. Use these guys as the situation and not the inning dictates. After all, it’s more important to get to the 7th or 8th with the three-run lead intact than it is to watch a lesser reliever surrender a big hit while the better arms wait for their assigned inning. The Yanks’ bullpen — so far a strength — could be even stronger.

Ultimately, as much as Soriano hasn’t been as advertised this year, the Yanks and their fans should be rooting for him to return healthy and effective. The bullpen needs depth badly right now. That said, I’m not so keen on the idea of simply sticking him into the setup role right away, but that does seem to be the way Girardi manages.

Banuelos, Mitchell strong in wins

Promotions!

  • Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy, and Kyle Roller have all been promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa. I assume Heathcott and Roller are ready to play and will be activated off the disabled list soon. Finally, a reason to follow Tampa.
  • Going the other way are Kyle Higashioka and Kevin Mahoney, which sucks for them. Higashioka is hitting .268/.362/.463 this month and has homered in his last two games; dude didn’t deserve a demotion, not with his defense.
  • Kramer Sneed is scheduled to start for Charleston tomorrow in place of Nik Turley. That could mean promotion or injury.

In other news, Mark Prior threw in outfield today, his second time doing so in three days. It’s still unclear how much longer he’ll be on the disabled list though. Gus Molina also has a minor toe problem that has kept him out of the lineup for a few days, but it’s no big deal.

Triple-A Scranton (10-5 win over Norfolk)
Austin Krum, CF: 1 for 4, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB – threw a runner out at second
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB – four multi-hit games in his last ten contests
Mike Lamb, DH: 1 for 4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K – he’s going to play first and DH, primarily
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
Terry Tiffee, 1B: 2 for 5, 1 RBI, 1 E (throwing) – Jorge Vazquez’s injury must be serious enough if they brought in him and Lamb
Jordan Parraz, RF: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – I find it very hard to believe that’s just his fourth homer, seems like he’s hit much more
Greg Golson, LF: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
P.J. Pilittere, C: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB – day game after a night game, hence no Jesus Montero
Doug Bernier, SS: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Greg Smith, LHP: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 8-3 GB/FB - 51 of 81 pitches were strikes (63%) … picked a runner off first, which is no surprise, he’s got a dynamite move
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 0.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 18 of 32 pitches were strikes (56.3%) … nothing’s working, sheesh
Josh Schmidt, RHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB - ten of 14 pitches were strikes (71.4%)
Randy Flores, LHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1-2 GB/FB – eight of 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%)

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Keith Law on Williams and Gamel

Yesterday we heard Keith Law’s unflattering opinion of Cito Culver, but today he posted something on two other Short Season Staten Island hotshots: Mason Williams and Ben Gamel (Insider req’d). “Mason is loose-bodied and an above-average runner, but needs to get a lot stronger and to work on recognition of offspeed pitches — he struck out twice in ugly fashion on breaking balls,” said KLaw. “He glides forward when he strides, reducing his time to recognize non-fastballs, but there is some bat speed there and it’s a great baseball body.”

As for Gamel, Law said he “at least showed that he recognized the difference between a ball and a strike, but struggled with picking up the changeup, not a huge shock for a teenaged hitter with only ten games of pro experience to that point. He has good hip rotation but tries to get his arms extended on balls on the inner half, which is just going to result in a lot of weak contact or foul balls … The fact that he showed a clue at the plate (on a night when most of the lineup was flailing) is a real positive.” I like Gamel but he’s going to have a hit because his defensive value in the corner outfield figures to be small. Having a decent approach less than a month after your 19th birthday is a pretty good start.