The steep, but reasonable, price of Ubaldo Jimenez

It appears that the Yankees’ Plan C is continuing to evolve as expected. After the Phillies signed Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte retired, they were stuck in a holding pattern. With nothing of note immediately available on the trade market, the only reasonable plan was to fill the rotation with stopgaps and hope that someone unexpected hit the trade market around deadline time. At the time I thought that might be Chris Carpenter, but it turned out to be someone better. For the past week-plus we’ve heard non-stop talk about Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez, whom no one thought would become available this year. While the rumors started with interest from the Reds, the focus has shifted to the Yankees.

In pure player terms, Jimenez is exactly what the Yankees need right now. The pitching staff did a phenomenal job in the first half, but there are concerns going forward. While Colon’s and Garcia’s previous two starts aren’t necessarily a portend for the future, it’s certainly a possibility that their luck has run out. That would not only leave the Yankees searching for pitching, but top end pitching. Jimenez has been just that in the past two-plus seasons, with a 3.35 ERA and 3.27 FIP in 550 innings since 2009. Even more impressively, he has a 2.94 ERA and 3.04 FIP in 291 innings away from the hitter-friendly Coors Field.

In Jimenez the Yankees would get their No. 1a to Sabathia’s No. 1, and they’d have him at a steep discount through 2013 (he’ll surely void his 2014 option, as is his right if he’s traded). Given his talent and contract, the Yankees would have to part with a significant package of prospects to entice the Rockies. As Mike said in the obligatory Ubaldo post, think the original Dan Haren trade, which sent a legion of prospects to the A’s. We got a preview of a possible package over the weekend, when SI’s Jon Heyman noted the Rockies’ asking price: Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Ivan Nova. That’s steep for sure, but it’s really just a starting point. They’re in the driver’s seat, so they might as well ask for the moon. The Yankees, Heyman further notes, will not part with any of those three pitchers along with Montero in a trade. Folks, we have what appear to be real, live negotiations.

(Unless, of course, you believe Buster Olney, who says that the two sides haven’t exchanged names. But, given their track records from this past winter, I’ll actually trust Heyman on this one. Plus, having names in place makes for better discussion.)

Once both sides step back from their original stances, the progression is logical. The Yankees will remove one of the pitchers from the deal, most likely Banuelos, leaving the package at Montero, Betances, Nova, and presumably another prospect, likely someone in the No. 8 to 20 range on the Yanks list. That’s a deal I would green light. There are no guarantees in baseball, and that goes doubly for guys who have yet to play in the majors. Both Montero and Betances have major upside and could contribute to future Yankees teams. But they both have enough flaws to leave the Yankees concerned. Cashing them in for a proven No. 1 or 2 pitcher who is right in the prime of his career provides the difficult balance between winning now and winning in the future.

Of course, it’s unlikely that the matter unfolds that smoothly. Two obstacles could stand in the way from the Yankees perspective. First is the matter of Banuelos. He’s the top pitching prospect in the Yankees organization, and this morning Heyman dropped an interesting item: the Rockies want a chip better than Montero as the centerpiece in any trade. That would seem to indicate Banuelos (though it could mean Betances, since Betances has a slightly higher ceiling). The trade does change if the Rockies demand Banuelos in Betances’s stead. He’s a lefty and a good bet to be in the rotation sometime in 2012, so it’s easy to see why the Yankees would be reluctant to include him.

The second obstacle is Ivan Nova. He’s the Yankees No. 6 starter right now, and their only real backup plan who has major league experience. Trading him would make Adam Warren the best depth option, since they’re apparently set on leaving Hector Noesi in the bullpen. True, acquiring Jimenez would give them a rotation of Sabathia-Jimenez-Hughes-Burnett-Colon/Garcia, but that fifth spot will still be important during the stretch run — more important still, because Burnett is pitching more like a No. 5, and Hughes still has plenty to prove. I still think the Yankees should go ahead, but I would understand their reluctance to remove MLB-tested depth options.

Chances are nothing happens on this front. The Rockies shouldn’t be overly motivated to move Jimenez, given his team-friendly contract and ace-like pitching. The prospective Yankees’ package of a front-line pitching prospect, a power hitting prospect, and a major league ready pitcher might be enticing, but I’m not sure it’s far enough over the top for the Rockies to take. Anything more than Montero-Betances-Nova plus a lesser prospect would have to give the Yankees pause. While Jimenez would help, they simply can’t empty the farm for him. With all of these moving parts, it’s likely the Yankees will have to turn elsewhere for pitching help. But if they can strike a deal in which they retain Banuelos, I think it would behoove them, both for this year and the future, to pull the trigger. It’s not often that a pitcher of Jimenez’s caliber becomes available. Considering the dearth of free agent pitching in the coming years, and the trend of signing young pitchers to long-term contracts, this is a move the Yankee should make.

Fan Confidence: July 18th, 2011

Record Last Week: 2-2 (19 RS, 26 RA)
Season Record:
55-37 (474 RS, 360 RA, 58-34 pythag. record), one game back in the loss column
Opponents This Week:
@ Rays (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), vs. Athletics (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

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Hughes solid as Yanks salvage series in Toronto

The first two games of the series were pretty ugly, but it looked like the Yankees woke up before the third game and continued to play well into the finale today. The 7-2 win salvaged the four-game series with a split, which is pretty good considering how the the games went on Thursday and Friday.

Look, it curved!

Phil Hughes, Actually Not Terrible

Earlier this week we passed along a story about how Hughes and pitching coach Larry Rothschild were working on a new/old curveball grip and refining his mechanics, exactly the kind of story I tend to brush off. I’ll believe it when I see it. A new grip/refined mechanics is the “best shape of his life” for pitchers; it usually means little and is more of an excuse. Well we saw the new curveball on Sunday. I can’t say I saw the change in mechanics, I don’t exactly have the eye for that stuff, but the curveball was noticeably sharper. It didn’t just float and tumble, it had actual bite.

Hughes averaged 91.25 mph with his fastball and topped out at 92.8, and he held it well throughout the game. He could barely go six pitches before his velocity dropped in April. The location was better as well. Toronto batters swung and missed at eight of his 80 pitches, six times at the fastball. Three of those whiffs came in one at-bat against J.P. Arencibia in the fourth, when Hughes fed him three straight fastball for the strikeout. It was the first time all year we saw him actually overpower a hitter. He got better and more efficient as the game went on, throwing 20 pitches in the first and 18 in the second, before 13, 14, six, and nine in his final four frames, respectively. The Blue Jays had four hits off him (two for extra bases) and drew two walks, but the important thing is that they fouled off just 13 pitches. Usually that number is in the 30’s for Phil.

It was an all-around solid performance against a generally mediocre offense missing its best player, but it’s the best Hughes has looked in quite some time. Joe Girardi lifted him after just six innings with those 80 pitches, but he probably could have run him back out there for the seventh. I can understand wanting to take him out on a high note, but at some point they have to start letting Hughes go 100+ pitches if they expect him to stay in the rotation the rest of the year. Looking ahead to the rest of the schedule, Phil’s next two starts will be at home against the punchless Athletics and Mariners. If that’s not a chance to build confidence, nothing is. Hughes took a positive step forward in this game, but nothing more. He’s not out of the woods yet.

I am your worst nightmare.

Brett Gardner, Leadoff Hitter

Yawn, three more hits and a walk for Gardner in this game, this time from the leadoff spot with Derek Jeter getting the day off. Gardner led the game off by falling behind in the count 0-2, working the count back to 2-2, then singling back up the middle after an eight pitch at-bat. He then stole second (his 11th straight successful steal) and scored on Nick Swisher‘s single. Gardner singled to right as part of a four-run fourth inning, coming around to score on Curtis Granderson‘s double. Gardner then beat out an infield single in the seventh (was erased on a fielder’s choice on batter later) and walked in the ninth, scoring on Granderson single after yet another steal (12th straight). He scored three of their seven runs.

All told, Gardner had ten hits and a walk in 17 plate appearances during the series, stealing three bases in three attempts and striking out exactly zero times. They might not let him through customs next time they’re in Toronto. He ran into a little rut in late-June/early-July, but Gardner is up to .286/.364/.418 with 26 steals on the season, and .326/.400/.480 in his last 255 plate appearances. It’s been obvious that he should be leading off for quite some time, and there’s really no reason not to with Alex Rodriguez hurt. Slide everyone down a notch so Derek Jeter bats second, Granderson third, Mark Teixeira fourth, and so on. Give me a valid reason why they shouldn’t. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

A Perfect Bullpen

The first two games of the series really taxed the bullpen, and Mariano Rivera had an uncharacteristically long outing on Saturday, so it was refreshing to see some solid bullpen work. Not just solid, perfect. Nine up, nine down for Cory Wade, David Robertson, and Boone Logan. The first two struck out one batter apiece while Logan fanned the side, including lefties Adam Lind and Travis Snider. Fine way to end the series.

On the base, not tagged. So much wrong on one play.


Gardner drove the offense, but Granderson also had a single and a double, Teixeira a single and a walk, Robinson Cano a single, and Swisher two singles. Russell Martin used the power of the Russtache to double the other way. He saw just six pitches in four plate appearances, though. The Yankees went a combined 5-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Hooray offense.

How bad is Angel Hernandez? He completely botched that play at first to end the third. The throw pulled Jorge Posada off the bag but apparently Yunel Escobar didn’t touch the base either. Posada then stepped on the bag, so Escobar’s out. Except Hernandez didn’t call him out, which prompted Posada to run over to tag Escobar. And Jorge didn’t even apply the tag, he missed, and Hernandez called Escobar out anyway. Brutal.

It doesn’t feel like it, but the Yankees are actually 4-2 in their last six games and 21-10 over the last month or so. They’re 34-18 since the six-game losing streak. That’ll do.

WPA Graph & Box Score has the box score and video, FanGraphs has the other stuff.

Up Next

From one artificial surface to another. The Yankees are off to Tampa for a four game series, which A.J. Burnett will open against rookie Alex Cobb on Monday night. The bad news: They’ve never faced Cobb before. The good news: Ken Singleton and David Cone will be in the booth all series.

Bad days for Montero, Banuelos in losses

The Astros, Rockies, Royals, and Mets all had scouts at today’s Double-A Trenton game. You’ve heard about the latter three over the last few games, but Houston is new. Remember, it could be nothing. Could just be routine coverage, or (gasp!) they could be there to see the other team.

Triple-A Scranton (7-6 loss to Toledo in 11 innings, walk-off style)
Kevin Russo, 2B-3B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K – 13 for his last 37 (.352)
Mike Lamb, 3B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI – 11 for his last 33 (.333) with five doubles, two triples, and a homer … poor guy gets lifted for defense in AAA
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 1
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 5, 3 K – ouch
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 0 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 E (fielding)
Terry Tiffee, DH: 2 for 5, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Brandon Laird, RF: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 2 K, 1 E (throwing)
Jordan Parraz, LF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 K
Luis Nunez, SS-2B: 1 for 5
Austin Krum, CF: 2 for 3, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 SB
Adam Warren, RHP: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 2-6 GB/FB – 63 of 100 pitches were strikes … not counting the All-Star Game, that’s 13 runs in his last 15.1 IP
Randy Flores, LHP: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB – nine of 13 pitches were strikes … gotta imagine he’s feeling the heat with J.C. Romero in the house now
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 2-1 GB/FB – nine of 15 pitches were strikes (60%)
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2-1 GB/FB – seven of 11 pitches were strikes
Logan Kensing, RHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 16 of 27 pitches were strikes (59.3%) … blew the save after I had written up the offense … jerk
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 0-1 GB/FB – just 10 of 21 pitches were strikes (.476) … walked in the winning run after intentionally walking the previous batter to load the bases

[Read more…]

Heyman: Wigginton’s name has come up in Yanks, Rox talks

Via Jon Heyman, Ty Wigginton’s name has popped up in recent talks between the Yankees and Rockies. Earlier today we learned that the two sides have already have multiple discussions about Ubaldo Jimenez. Wigginton’s name gets connected to the Yankees twice a year, every year (trade deadline and offseason), so he’s not some great unknown. He’d be a fine fill-in for Alex Rodriguez, but wouldn’t do much beyond that. Wigginton isn’t cheap ($4M this year, $4M next year, plus an option), certainly not for a bench player. Frankly I don’t see what he offers that Brandon Laird doesn’t, aside from the veteran presents.

Sunday Open Thread


First series after the All-Star break, and I’d call it a success. They split the four games the hard way, dropping the first two (in blowout fashion) but rebounding to win the next two. Brett Gardner had a huge series, Eduardo Nunez had a ton of hard contact, Phil Hughes looked something other than awful, lots to take away from that one. The proverbial rust is off, now it’s time to get back to the grind.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is in Tampa for the Rays and Red Sox (Niemann vs. Beckett), plus Breaking Bad comes back tonight. Yippee. Talk about whatever you want, anything’s game.

Heyman: Yanks, Rox have had multiple discussions about Ubaldo Jimenez

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Rockies have had multiple conversations about Ubaldo Jimenez, but they have not yet gotten around to exchanging trade offers. Colorado isn’t sure they want to deal their ace yet, and in fact GM Dan O’Dowd told Jerry Crasnick: “We will listen to anything, but the reality is that [a trade] is not very likely to take place.” That basically means “blow me away,” because the Rockies aren’t exactly under any kind of pressure to move Jimenez. He’s not going to be a free agent after the season and he’s not old.

Anyway, Heyman says New York is willing to part with Jesus Montero, but Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, and Ivan Nova have been deemed untouchable. That’s probably just a negotiating ploy though, those are the kinds of guys you concede later (if need be) rather than offer up front. The Rockies have been scouting the Yankees’ farm system of late, so there’s that. Of course this would be much more than a Ubaldo-for-Montero swap, a three- or four-for-one is likely.

Heyman also notes that while the Yankees are focusing on Ubaldo, they also have interest in Hiroki Kuroda but not much in Wandy Rodriguez. They don’t like the $30M or so left on his contract, which is something I mentioned in last week’s podcast. I liked Wandy better as a rental than a guy you’d be stuck with though 2013. We’ve written up trade candidate posts for all three, so everything you need to know about them is here: Ubaldo, Kuroda, Wandy.

Update: Heyman says the Rockies have named their price for Ubaldo: Montero, Betances, Banuelos, and Nova. They also want tickets to the Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth/Anthrax concert in September, suites on road trips, discounts from W.B. Mason, proceeds from the DJ3K merchandise, and all the bacon and eggs the Yankees have. Seriously though, that’s just a starting point for negotiations. They’d be stupid not to ask for that.