Mailbag: Chone Figgins as UTIL?

Patrick writes: Recently the Mariners have said that they would throw in cash in a deal that would rid them of Chone Figgins. Because he can play second, third, and some outfield, is Figgins worth anything at all or even a look at this point?

As the Yankee off-season progresses and their needs — few and far between — come into view, it’s clear that Brian Cashman will look to rebuild a bench that has been a source of strength for the Yanks lately. The club has Eduardo Nunez and his amusingly inept defense penciled in as well as Francisco Cervelli, but every spot is up for the grabs. The Yanks could use a power bat, another infielder, someone with thump, someone with speed.

Enter the idea of Chone Figgins. Once upon a time, Figgins was a semi-decent player for the Angels whose production never matched his reputation. In two playoff series against the Yanks, he was terrible, going just 6 for 44, but during the regular season, he managed to hit a respectable .298/.365/.393 against the Bombers in his career. Before departing Anaheim for northern climes, he was a versatile defender who spent time at third, second and in the outfield.

Yet after posting a 99 OPS+ in eight seasons with the Angels and signing a front-loaded four-year, $36-million contract with the Mariners, things have utterly fallen apart. In two years spanning over 1000 plate appearances, Figgins has hit .236/.309/.285 with a sub-par 71 percent stole base rate and 95 walks over two seasons. He hit it big after posting over 100 bases on balls in 2009, the first and only time he reached that plateau, and the Mariners were foolish enough to grant him an outsized deal for his ages 32-35 seasons.

In Seattle, Figgins is essentially persona non grata. Fans of the team have given up on him, and Seattle management has as well. According to a recent report, the Mariners would offer cash to any team willing to take Figgins, the two years and the $17 million he is owed off their hands. Get yer spare washed-up one-time middle infielders here! Just $5 million a season! It’s a bargain.

Of course, the problem with Figgins as a potential solution for any team is his recent sheer lack of success. He’s been flat-out awful lately, and while his 2011 was marred by a .214 BABIP, he wasn’t particularly good in 2010 with a .314 BABIP. It’s not unexpected to see guys of his offensive profile out of the game by their age 34 season; it’s happened to players better than him. So he enters the final two years of the contract with a giant question mark surrounding his status. The Mariners must pay him, but can they turn him into anything useful?

For the Yanks to even take a chance on Figgins, the price would essentially have to be nothing. The Mariners could pay half his money and offer him up as a potential reclamation project. For just $4 million a year, try to tease something useful out of the ghost of Chone Figgins. To make it worthwhile, the Yanks would have to be satisfied with the answer to one question: Is Figgins $3.5 million better than Eduardo Nunez?

As much as I am skeptical of Nunez’s long-term viability, the answer is likely not. Nunez hit a lackluster .265/.313/.385 in far too many plate appearances — 338 to be exact — and he made 27 errors at short, second and third. But Nunez has youth and money on his side. He’ll be playing his age 25 season in 2012 and will make under $500,000. The Yanks once thought highly enough of him to keep him out of some high-profile trade talks so the club won’t just throw in the towel. Unless someone truly superior lands in the Yanks’ lap, Nunez, with his versatile as shaky as it may be, will be their guy.

As a non-roster invitee searching for a team, Figgins could be worth a look. But until the Mariners decide to cut their losses, he’s just a shell of a player who would have been a fine super utility guy four or five years ago. His days are likely over.

Report: Yankees invite Wilson’s agent to New York for meeting Wilson, agent ask to visit Yankees in New York

Update (10:48pm): Via Joel Sherman, apparently Wilson and his agent are the ones that requested the meeting in New York. They asked for it to take place sometime before the Winter Meetings (Dec. 5-8th), and the Yankees are considering the request.

Original (9:08pm): Via Marc Carig, the Yankees have invited C.J. Wilson’s agent, Bob Garber, to New York for a meet with the team’s decision makers. Brian Cashman met with Garber today, and the meeting in New York will reportedly involve Cashman, Hal Steinbrenner, and pro scouting director Billy Eppler.

“I think it was very productive,” said Garber, referring to today’s meeting. “I think Brian is in a situation where he doesn’t want what happened to Cliff Lee to happen again. We have a lot of teams we have to narrow down. I think the Yankees are a team that we’ve narrowed down as a team we want to spend a little time with.” Garber said there are still six or seven teams seriously interested in his client, a list that includes the Angels. Cashman confirmed to Carig that he hasn’t made any free agent offers yet, so they’re still just talking. Doesn’t hurt to do that.

Open Thread: Darrell Rasner

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

From waiver wire fodder to rotation regular, Darrell Rasner is little more than a footnote in Yankees history. He made a total of 29 starts and seven relief appearances for New York from 2006-2008 (most coming in 2008), pitching to a 5.06 ERA and a 4.70 FIP in 158.1 IP. His best career start came on May 21st of his final season in pinstripes, when he held the Orioles scoreless over seven innings.

Three years ago today, the Yankees sold Rasner to the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League at his request. They received a million bucks in return, and Rasner received a new two-year contract and some financial security for his family. He pitched to a 5.09 ERA in 233.2 IP during the life of the contract, then inked another one-year deal with an option last winter. I don’t know what happened this season, but Rasner appeared in just one game (three shutout innings with five strikeouts) for Rakuten. Perhaps he got hurt? I don’t really know. No decision has been made on his option yet (their season is still being played), but hopefully he lands back on his feet.

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Here is your open thread for the night. All three hockey locals are in action (the Rangers and Islanders against each other), but you can use this thread to talk about anything you want. Have at it.

Yankees will follow-up on preliminary talks with Freddy Garcia

Via Marc Carig, the Yankees intend to have follow-up discussions with Freddy Garcia and his agent about a contract for next season. The two sides expressed mutual interest in a reunion earlier this month, and it’s a pretty safe bet that Garcia’s side did not ask for anything unreasonable if the team is willing to continue talks so early in the offseason. I like Freddy as a back-end starter, but really nothing more. I don’t think masquerading him as a number three guy will work all that well again.

The Cole Hamels trade possibility

The aftermath of the Phillies signing of Jonathan Papelbon has produced a few predictable responses. Certain folks panned the deal, because they think that relievers, even closers, are fungible and that their volatility does not warrant long, lucrative contracts. Others praised Phillies GM Ruben Amaro for further shoring up his 2012 team and heading for another playoff run. Most relevant to the Yankees, speculation ran rampant about the Phillies’ financial situation. They now have $121.6 million committed to 11 players in 2012, with some big numbers due to Cole Hamels and Hunter Pence through arbitration. Might they be willing to deal Hamels, who will be a free agent next winter?

Yesterday Buster Olney (Insider-req’d) laid out a Hamels trade as one of the Phillies’ three options. The Phillies can hold onto Hamels for one more year and let him enter the 2013 free agent class, they can offer him an enormous extension, or they can trade him now and try to recoup some of his value — perhaps replenishing a farm system that they have somewhat depleted in the last two years while acquiring Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Pence. Yet the trade option seems entirely unlikely, given the current and future states of the Phillies.

The Phillies are, first and foremost, a win-now team. They have won the NL East every year since 2007, and for the last two years they have owned baseball’s best regular season record. In each of the three years following their 2008 World Series Championship they have raised payroll, adding $15 million in 2009, $25 million in 2010, and almost $28 million in 2011. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, it doesn’t appear that the Phillies will limit themselves when it comes to payroll issues. They sell out every game and led MLB in attendance last season. They pull better local TV ratings than any other team, which could lead to a huge media rights deal, perhaps larger than the one the Rangers currently signed. This all points to a rising payroll, perhaps even approaching pinstriped proportions.

Even if the Phillies realize that they don’t have the payroll to keep Hamels past 2012, trading him isn’t much of an option. A team in win-now mode cannot afford to deal a pitcher of Hamels’ caliber. Olney speculates that they’ll get 90 cents on the dollar if trading him this winter, but even that seems optimistic. Moshe recently wrote about the troubles of dealing for an ace. This applies directly to Hamels, whether or not you consider him a true ace (whatever that means). Look back at recent deals for aces: Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and Cliff Lee. How much are the players traded helping their teams? This matters even more in a Hamels deal, since he’s coming from a contending team. The Phillies need players who can help them win now, and even a package of three helpful players will not equal what Hamels can provide.

It is probably in the Phillies’ best interest, then, to retain Hamels for at least the 2012 season. In this scenario Olney warns that, because first-round free agent compensation could disappear next off-season, “they would run significant risk of watching a homegrown, talented pitcher walk away with almost nothing to show for it (other than their 2008 championship rings.)” That’s always a risk, for any team with an impending free agent. The Phillies, however, are in a position to add a 2012 championship banner, and they’re in a much better position for that with Hamels than without. Another championship could also further boost the team’s financial strength.

If the Phillies do wish to retain Hamels, chances are they’ll approach him this winter with an extension offer in hand. How much would it take? Hamels will be 29 in 2013, which makes him comparable to CC Sabathia in age and ability. From 2001 through 2008 Sabathia produced an ERA-* of 83. In his three years leading into free agency he produced an ERA- of 69, which was second best in the majors to Johan Santana (min. 450 IP). In his career to date Hamels has an ERA- of 80 and in his last two seasons it’s 74. Add in another high-quality season and he’s right at Sabathia’s level. On the open market next winter that could easily fetch him a six- or seven-year deal in the $140 to $160 million range. In buying out his last year of arbitration, perhaps the Phillies could get away with a seven-year deal in the $150 million range, or six years and $140 million at best.

*ERA- is like ERA+, but in reverse. It also creates easier comparison scales between players. That is, you can say that at an 83 ERA-, Sabathia was 17 percent better than average. This is not necessarily true of a 117 ERA+. If you want an esoteric explanation of why, read this article by Patriot.

And yet, it seems as though the Phillies have the payroll for that. They clearly have it this year; Papelbon’s salary merely replaces the departing Brad Lidge’s, so there’s no big change there. With Hamels at $23 million, the Phillies would have $118 million committed to six players in 2013, with Jimmy Rollins as a possible seventh player (likely bringing payroll to near $130 million). If that sounds awful Yankee-like, well, it is. They have $127 million committed to six players in 2013. With another sellout season in 2012, which is all but guaranteed, plus a deep playoff run, the Phillies could easily justify the continuing rise of their payroll into Yankee territory. If that is indeed the case, signing Hamels makes all the sense in the world. (Remember, Roy Halladay’s deal expires after 2013.)

The 2013 free agent market for starting pitchers once appeared a gold mine of talent. Little by little that will dwindle. Jered Weaver is already off the board, and Hamels could be next. That leaves Matt Cain, John Danks, Zack Greinke, and Anibal Sanchez: a good group, for certain, but not the class that we had once envisioned. There still remains the chance that Hamels reaches that point and becomes the most coveted starter on the 2013 market. But given the Phillies position that seems unlikely. They’re going to need Hamels in the future if they’re going to maintain their high payroll and winning winning ways. That means that they’ll almost certainly hang onto Hamels this winter, no matter what a few national writers might speculate.

Sabathia finishes fourth in AL Cy Young voting

As expected, Justin Verlander won his first career AL Cy Young Award today, receiving all 28 first place votes. He’s the first Tigers pitcher to win the award since Willie Hernandez won both the Cy and MVP Awards in 1984. Congrats to him.

CC Sabathia finished fourth in the voting (63 points), behind Verlander (196), Jered Weaver (97) and Jamie Shields (66). He finished third in the voting last year, fourth in 2009, and fifth in 2008 after winning it with the Indians in 2007. Mariano Rivera finished eighth in the voting with four fifth place votes, and David Robertson received one lonely fifth place vote.

The full results can be found at BBWAA’s site. Both the AL and NL Manager of the Year Awards will be announced at 2pm ET tomorrow.

Yankees have expressed interest in Grady Sizemore

Via Jerry Crasnick (Insider req’d), the Yankees are one of at least eight teams to express interest in Grady Sizemore and may have requested his medical reports. The medical stuff is pretty standard, so I wouldn’t ready much into it at all.

The 29-year-old Sizemore is reportedly looking for a one-year contract to rebuild his value, sorta like Adrian Beltre did with the Red Sox. He’s had five surgeries since 2009 (one on each knee, one on his left elbow, and two for sports hernias), which is why he’s only played 210 games over the last three seasons after playing in at least 157 games every year from 2005-2008. Sizemore has hit just .234/.314/.413 when healthy over the last three years, and frankly I’m not sure what the Yankees would do with him. He’s obviously looking to play everyday if he wants to rebuild his value on a one-year deal. I don’t really see the fit, but there’s no harm in kicking the tires.