Report: Yankees “stepping up” pursuit of Duchscherer

(Elaine Thompson/AP)

It appears as though the Yankees have found a target to help fill one of their pitching vacancies. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Yankees “are stepping up their pursuit” of right-hander Justin Duchscherer. We’ve seen the Yankees and Duchscherer connected before, at the 2009 trade deadline and then again last off-season. With a couple of questionable spots in the rotation, plus the perpetual need for bullpen arms, Duchscherer could fill a number of roles on the 2011 Yankees.

Duchscherer established himself as a quality relief pitcher from 2004 through 2007, when he produced a 3.69 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 256 innings. The A’s then decided to try him in the rotation, and it was for the most part a success. In 2008 he made 22 starts and pitched 141.2 innings to a 2.54 ERA (3.69 FIP). Unfortunately, that’s when injuries started to take hold.

During the 2008 season Duchscherer missed 62 days due to injury, 21 with a biceps strain and 41 with a right hip strain. The hip was the most problematic issue, since he had missed much of the 2007 issue after undergoing surgery on his labrum (similar to Alex Rodriguez). Duchscherer then missed the entire 2009 season after having bone spurs removed from his elbow. He returned to open the 2010 season in the A’s rotation, but after five starts he again needed hip surgery, this time on the left side.

Because of the injuries, and particularly because of his hip issues, it’s hard to imagine Duchscherer making much of an impact in 2011. While he has experience in the bullpen he apparently prefers to start, though for good reason. He suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and finds that the uncertainty of bullpen life worsens the condition. Considering his physical issues with starting, I’m not sure how well he fits here. Then again, with his combination of issues I’m not sure how well he fits anywhere.

We’ve yet to see anything regarding terms of a potential deal, but I’ll echo Larry from Yankeeist: there is no way this comes in a dime higher than the $1.75 million Duchscherer made last year, and could certainly be a split minor league/major league deal. I like Duchscherer and I think if healthy he can be an effective fourth starter on the team. But that’s a rather large if. The Yanks have the money, so they might as well go ahead, but I wouldn’t expect much from this move, much as I want to.

Jones v. Thames: The fourth outfielder battle

This won't make Great Moments in Yankee History. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Game 1 of the 1996 World Series was a shocking one for the Yanks and their fans. After a 15-year wait, the Bombers were back in the Fall Classic, but the Braves knocked around Andy Pettitte. Some 19-year-old kid named Andruw Jones stole the show as he belted a two-run home run in the second inning and added a three-run shot off of Brian Boehringer in the third. The Yanks would go on to lose the game 12-1, and with his glove and bat, Jones earned himself comparisons to both Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

Over the years, Jones almost lived up to his potential, but he never took baseball as seriously as he should have. In his age 28 and age 29 seasons, he hit 51 and 41 home runs respectively, and after 10 full seasons in the league, he had a .267/.345/.505 triple slash line with 342 home runs and over 1,000 RBIs. Those are the makings of a Hall of Fame-like career.

Since then, though, Jones’ production has dropped precipitously. He signed a two-year, $36.2 million contract with the Dodgers and couldn’t last in Los Angeles. Over the past four seasons, he’s averaged 104 games with a slash line of just .212/.312/.412 and has managed to add just 65 home runs to his total since then. He’ll turn 34 shortly after Opening Day, and he remains a free agent.

Throughout the winter, the Yankees have been intrigued by Andruw Jones. They realize his defense has declined along with his bat, and in fact, his once-mighty UZR now ranks him as merely an average player in the field. Yet, they see one number that intrigues them. In 102 plate appearances against lefties, Jones hit eight home runs in 2010 and sported a nifty .402 wOBA. With Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner vulnerable to lefties, the Yanks want a power right-handed bat who can play the field if need be. Jones, on their radar in 2009, might once again be there man, and the team is strongly interested in him.

Should Thames return in 2011? (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)

But what of the incumbent? Another 34-year-old with suspect defense held down the righty bat/fourth outfielder spot last year with mixed results. He certainly couldn’t play the field, but Marcus Thames broke out the boomstick at the right time. He hit .288/.350/.491 with 12 home runs in 237 plate appearances, and his .365 wOBA was just .005 off his career high. Against lefties, though, his numbers dipped. He hit just five home runs in 142 plate appearances and sported a .354 wOBA.

So now, as the Yanks look to fill in the blanks before Spring Training, the question becomes “who would you rather?” After running down these numbers, it might be tempting to lean toward Thames. He was productive against both lefties and righties last year and put up a career year, but his .248/.311/.491 body of work suggest that he’s not in line to do it again. They don’t call ’em career years for nothing. We also don’t need to know Thames’ -4.3 UZR to know he was a disaster in the outfield. That game against the Red Sox during which he just flat-out dropped a pop-up is good enough for me.

Perhaps then Jones with his .261/.361/.501 career line against lefties is the Yanks’ man. He can play a passable outfield for a few innings and can still flash the power. But salary demands are a concern. He’ll want way more than the $500,000 he earned in 2010, but Thames will want a raise from the $900,000 he earned. It seems that Jones will be the more expensive sure thing while Thames has the good will of 2010 going for them. With the Yanks’ money to spend, I’d err toward Jones. Would you?

{democracy:133}

Steinbrenner statement on the passing of Christina Green

As the tragic and horrific events of Saturday unfolded, we heard of a Yankee tie early on. ESPN’s Keith Law reported that Christina Green, the nine-year-old who died in the attack, was Dallas Green’s granddaughter, and on Sunday, the one-time Yankee manager opened up to Mike Lupica. Today, the Yankees issued their own statement in support of Green and his family. “The Steinbrenner family and the New York Yankees organization join the entire nation in mourning Christina and send our deepest condolences to Dallas Green and his family as they deal with this tremendous loss,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “This is a tragedy that is beyond words and our thoughts and prayers are with the Green family, as well as all of the affected families.”

Open Thread: So long, Sax

Melido! (AP Photo/James A. Finley)

My new thing is looking back at historical transactions, so sue me. Anyway, 18 years ago today the Yankees traded Steve Sax to the White Sox for three players: Melido Perez, Bob Wickman, and Domingo Jean. Sax’s three seasons in New York were productive (102 OPS+, two All Star Games), but he was on the downside of his career at (soon-to-be) age 32. Sure enough, he played full-time for just one more season (71 OPS+) before fading off into obscurity.

Perez, just 25 at the time, spent the 1991 season as Chicago’s swingman, but he moved right into the Yanks’ rotation in ’92. He threw 247.2 IP that year, easily the best season of his career (138 ERA+). Three seasons later (another 383.2 IP with a 92 ERA+) he was out of baseball. Wickman was a middling prospect that pitched to a 106 ERA+ in 419.1 IP in pinstripes, and was traded to the Brewers in August of ’96 for what amounted to Graeme Lloyd. He had himself a nice long big leaguer career, banking over $42M with five different teams. Jean was just an A-ball prospect at the time, but he reached the big leagues in 1993 and pitched to a 94 ERA+ in 40.1 IP for the Yanks. That was the only major league action of his career, and he was traded to the Astros after the season for Xavier Hernandez.

The Yankees were the big winners of this swap, though from what I remember people either absolutely loved Steve Sax or hated him with a passion. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember there being much of a middle ground.

* * *

Here’s tonight’s open thread. None of the hockey or basketball locals are in action, but the National Championship game (Oregon-Auburn) is on ESPN at 8:30pm ET. I’m going to pick the Ducks just because it’s a cooler mascot than a lame old tiger. Chat about whatever, enjoy.

Putting a dollar value on the Yankees farm system

Prospects are great, we all love to follow their progress and stuff, but it’s always tough to gauge their value. It’s even tougher to gauge the value of a team’s farm system as a whole. Doug Gray at Reds Minor Leagues did just that however, using Victor Wang’s research and John Sickels’ latest round of farm system rankings to put a dollar value on each team’s far system. The Yankees check in at $140.8M, the sixth highest in the game. Interestingly, it’s split almost evenly between pitching and hitting, at $71.5M and $69.3M, respectively. Jesus Montero really has that much value, at least compared to his peers historically.

Unsurprisingly, the Royals top the list at a ridiculous $245.3M. The Rays are a distant second at $184.2M, but that doesn’t include the haul from the recent Matt Garza trade. I just wrote about the fantasy impact of Kansas City’s system at RotoGraphs, and it’s probably the best farm system I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve been doing this minor league thing long, but damn. It’s that good.

The RAB Radio Show: January 10, 2011

Today we’re taking my post on the Yankees and Red Sox free agency spending and expanding on it a bit. I left a couple of items out, including posting fees, so Mike and I discuss those issues and others. The best part, of course, is why the Yankees have spent so much more in free agency over the last five years.

To keep up with the news, we revisit the Rafael Soriano topic for the millionth time. It seems as though people are trying to concoct different ways to get him on the team. Mike and I wonder, do they even want him in the first place?

Podcast run time 22:40

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The major difference in spending between the Sox and Yanks

To date this winter, the Yankees have spent $12 million on other teams’ free agents. That covers just two players, Russell Martin at $4 million and Pedro Feliciano at $8 million. The Red Sox have spent just a little bit more, $157 million on Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks, and Dan Wheeler. It made me wonder how the teams have approached the free agent market during the last five years. We know the Yanks have spent more in general, but how much more than the Sox have they spent?

That’s where we get this little spreadsheet, which covers each team’s free agent outlays during the last five years. That is, from the winter following the 2006 season through the current off-season. You can click for a larger version.

It does seem a bit surprising that the Yankees have spent just $33.9 million more in free agency than the Sox. While fans and the media perpetually accuse the Yankees of buying their teams, the Red Sox aren’t that far behind in spending on other teams’ talent. The difference, as is made clear, comes from how each team handles its own free agents.

In those five years the Yankees have spent $477.5 million more on retaining its own free agents as the Red Sox. True, the Sox never had a Rivera, or a Jeter, or an A-Rod reach free agency, so the situations aren’t exactly comparable. The point, I think, is that much of the Yankees’ spending goes to towards retaining the players on their roster.

No one is trying to deny the Yankees’ monetary advantage. They can do things that other teams cannot. But it’s not as though they’re poaching other rosters. One winter they went nuts and spent $423.5 million on free agents — or 89 percent of their total free agency outlay over the last five years. For the most part, the Yankees use their most abundant resource as a tool to retain their own players. Most other teams don’t have that luxury.

NOTE: I forgot Kei Igawa on the Yanks’ side of the table. But I also didn’t include the posting fee for Matsuzaka. Mike and I tackled this issue on the podcast.