Open Thread: Hang on to the roof!

Apparently you can embed MLB.com video now, so we’re going to have a lot of run with this. I was a few weeks shy of my 14th birthday when Don Mattingly hit that homer, and that’s pretty much the first time I can remember feeling nothing but pure, unadulterated joy thanks to a baseball game. For those too young to remember, that was the sixth inning of Game Two of the 1995 ALDS, which the Yankees entered down 2-1 to the Mariners. Ruben Sierra led off the inning with a solo homer to tie, then Mattingly hit that bomb to give the Yankees the lead. Bananas. It was amazing.

Anyway, keep yourselves busy with this open thread until the regular old game thread comes along a little later. I loath these west case weekend night games. You all know what to do, so have at it.

The Obvious Next Step

While the Yankees’ winning ways have returned a little bit, I can’t be the only one who’s still worried about their production. Even when the Yankees win, there’s places where improvement could be had. A weak outing by a starter, a fat 0-fer in the middle of lineup, a barely-avoided bullpen meltdown – it’s these kind of things that the Yankees have to knock out of their system to become the champions we all know they are. A World Series team has no weakness, never loses, and always gets strong production out of the lineup 1-9.

I think it’s safe to say that the Yankees have probably pushed as far as can without external help. It’s silly to expect recoveries out of Posada and Jeter, and equally ridiculous to believe that Ivan Nova will actually start striking people out on his own. Likewise, it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect that Bartolo Colon will keep his ERA nice and reasonable and that Curtis Granderson will hit approximately seven gazillion homers, mostly off lefties. But what they’re doing now, even if it stays the same, needs to be helped out. This is where you and I come in, noble fans.

The best way for a fan to help their team of choice is to appease the baseball gods for games to come. I’m not talking about actual god (Mariano Rivera, blessed lord of the cutter, ruler of the bullpen, etc), but rather those magical beings up in the sky who give Cliff Lee doubles and have Jay Bruce fly out with Wilson Valdez pitching in the nineteenth inning. When annoyed that a pitching duel turned out to be anything but – look at Halladay v. Lincecum in the 2010 NLCS after one thew a no-hitter and one whiffed 14 – your wrath should be pointed at the baseball gods. My sources are trying to track down why the baseball gods love Edgar Renteria (2-time WS MVP) so much, but no dice yet.

It’s time to sacrifice one of our dear Yankees to the baseball gods above. Trust me, I know it’s not easy to bring this topic up, but there’s nothing else we can do. The Yankees have reached the limit of improvement that can be gained through normal options such as talking to Kevin Long, taking extra BP, and learning extra pitches. Supernatural options are the only options left. The question becomes – and this is the most important question – who?

When picking your sacrifice to the baseball gods, you need to toe some very careful lines. On one hand, sacrificing your stumbling, scuffling and occasionally-benched DH is like laughing at them, like throwing them your trash. Here, we don’t need this! Maybe you can do something with it. The baseball gods are not the waiver wire, and they demand respect. On the other hand, you don’t want to be sacrificing your star prospects or monstrously powerful cleanup hitters. After the sacrifice happens, after all, you still need some power in your lineup. A sacrifice will improve the way the baseball gods look at your team, but they’re not going to have Eduardo Nunez slug 30 homers. Then, there’s the matter of team history: a rule five pick or a half-season rental really has no attachment to the team, whereas a pointlessly long and overpriced contract is a burden on both the team and the gods.After a long and rigorous selection period, I’ve narrowed down exactly who should be sacrificed:

Pitching

In many ways, this is a totally obvious answer and required very little thought on my part. There is only one pitcher on the Yankees staff that is good (but not too good), could be replaceable (but not easily), and has the mystique and aura of the team all bundled up inside of him:  Joba Chamberlain.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Joba’s strong numbers from this year make him a worthy candidate, and his Yankee history makes him as sentimentally valuable as any family heirloom. No one else on the current 25-man has been hailed as both the next Mariano Rivera and the next potential number one starter, all while suffering a role-changing injury. On top of that, Joba’s farm heritage and extensive history of being ripped by the New York media about everything to his performance to his weight make him a quintessentially Yankee sacrifice. In basically every way, Joba is the perfect sacrifice to make sure Bartolo Colon’s arm doesn’t fall off andhave Nova learn a strikeout pitch in a vision. Also, the baseball gods love a good fistpump.

Other alternatives: Phil Hughes (pending injury), Ivan Nova (pending effectiveness)

Hitting

This one was tougher, but I made the decision and decided the best option was Brett Gardner.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

While Gardner may not seem the best option at first, a longer look at his numbers and history prove he’s the right choice. He got off to a terrible slump, he’s managed to pull himself together over the past couple of weeks and has created a slash line acceptable for a sacrifice (.262/.350/.404). Like Joba, Gardner is a product of the Yankees farm system and was part of the magical 2009 World Series team, despite his less-than-stellar numbers in the postseason. Gardner makes a prime target because he doesn’t hit home runs, and sacrificing him is an implicit agreement to forgo smallball and acknowledge that homers are the only way anyone will score this season. Additionally, Gardner wears high socks, and there’s nothing the baseball gods love more than a ballplayer in high socks.

Other alternatives: Nick Swisher (pending ability to hit the ball), Mark Teixeira (too many homers)

It’s tough when a baseball team has reached this point in its life, but with the obvious solutions looming in front of both the team and the fans, there’s nothing any of us can do but follow through. Knowing that both these players will most likely go to baseball heaven is, of course, one of the few positives. In baseball heaven, Joba truly is the number one starter we all know he can be, and Gardner never gets caught stealing.

(note: Emma Span of baseball prospectus helped formulate this idea.)

Scouting the ChiSox

One of the more enjoyable things to speculate about is which players the Yankees are going to acquire next. Call it typical Yankee fan conceit if you want, but I’m not sure that’s it. Fans of every team look forward to what’s next, whether it be a prospect on the horizon, a free agent signing or a trade. Speculating about trades is an enjoyable exercise – you get to investigate other teams, other players, you get to dig around their financial situation and try to find a good deal (see my Beat L.A. piece last week) or dig around player’s statistical profiles and see if you can spot inefficiencies or underappreciated guys.

This summer, many expect the Yankees to attempt to add a starting pitcher. There’s considerable uncertainty in the rotation right now – no one knows if or when Phil Hughes will be back, and no one knows how long Colon and Garcia can continue providing the team quality innings. Aside from picking at the carcass of the Dodgers, one team fans look to as a possible trade target is the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox have a wealth of starters: Jake Peavy, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson. They also have Chris Sale, whom they use as a reliever, and Phil Humber, whom I’ve never imagined is much good but has managed to perform quite nicely so far.

In a column over at Baseball Prospectus yesterday, John Perrotto noted that the White Sox would listen to offers on Edwin Jackson. Jackson’s been passed around like a peace pipe over the course of his young career and is finally eligible for free agency after this season. Some fans wouldn’t mind seeing the Yankees take a stab at Jackson; some prefer Gavin Floyd; some prefer John Danks. I don’t know many who prefer Mark Buerhle, and personally I wouldn’t be happy at all to see him traded to the Yankees so I’ll simply avoid him for now. I also doubt the Yankees would be interested in Peavy or Humber. This leaves Floyd, Jackson and Danks. Who’s the preferable target?

John Danks

Pros – Danks is a young lefty, only 26 years old. He has a decent strikeout rate (6.90 career K/9), a career FIP of 4.30 and xFIP of 4.00. He’s also 0-7 on the year. Why is this listed in as a Pro, you ask? Thank you for asking. Danks hasn’t pitched horribly on the year, although he hasn’t pitched as well as he has in the past, so more than likely the unsightly win-loss record isn’t really indicative of his true talent level or future expected performance. Which is to say that it’s possible that the White Sox are big fans of the W-L record as an evaluative tool, and it’s possible they’re undervaluing Danks. Another plus to Danks is his durability – he’s put up 600 innings over the past three years, so he appears to be a good bet to stay healthy and provide innings. Finally, he’s 6’6″, which I find cool.

Cons – His strikeout rate isn’t exactly elite – he’s failed to top 7 batters per nine innings the last 3 years in a row. His walk rate isn’t particularly sparkly either, so his K/BB ratio is somewhat middle of the road. He’s also not a giant groundball guy, contradicting an opinion I held about him for no good reason. In other words, the peripherals are good but not great, and he doesn’t keep the ball on the ground in a tremendous way.

Contract – Danks makes $6M in 2011, he’s eligible for arbitration again in 2012, and he becomes a free agent after the 2012 season. At the time of a potential trade you’re acquiring a year and a half of team control.

Gavin Floyd

Pros – He’s put up a mid 7.5 K/9 three years running, and in each year he’s kept his walk rate below 3 batters per nine innings. He’s the owner of a 4.43 FIP lifetime, but has put together a 3.77, 3.46 and 3.44 FIP three years running. Quite simply, he’s a very solid mid-3 FIP pitcher with good control and above-average strikeout stuff. Better yet, we know that the Sox have been willing to listen on offers for Floyd as recently as November. It’s possible they don’t love him like they should.  

Cons – He battled a hip injury in 2009 and a minor shoulder injury in 2010, although neither required him to spend time on the DL. He’s only topped 200 innings once in his career. And worst of all, he was a former member of the Philadelphia Phillies, a clear sign of moral weakness.

Contract – Floyd makes $5M in 2011, $7M in 2012, and has a club option for $9.5M in 2013. At the time of a potential trade the team is acquiring 1.5 years of control and a club option for another year.

Edwin Jackson

Pros – He’s got a higher K rate than Floyd or Danks in 2010 and 2011, and he’s sporting a 3.24 FIP in 2011 following a 3.86 effort in 2010. He seems to be getting better, an entirely expected development considering he’s only 27 years old. He’s been around so long, and been traded to and from so many teams, that he likely feels older to most fans than he is. He also throws the ball very hard, consistently registering one of the fastest fastballs in baseball.

Cons – No one’s jumping up and down about that walk rate (~3.5 BB/9 at best), and while he’s sported a K rate over 7 per 9 the past two years, he has an average of 6.75 K/9 on his career.

Contract – Jackson makes $8.75M in 2011 and is a free agent after this season. He’d likely be the cheapest to acquire of all three.

It’s odd how similar these three pitchers are, to be frank. They all have career groundball rates around 43%, they all strike out 6 to 7 batters per nine innings, and they all have walk rates in the 2-3 batters per nine innings range. All things considered, Floyd probably ranks the most favorable trade target to me, despite my preconceived preference for Danks. Floyd’s really shown great control since 2009, and an acquiring team would get to keep him through 2012, provided he’s still healthy. Danks is still no slouch, and there’s probably a good case to be made that Danks will improve as he matures and gains more experience. A young, tall, durable lefty with good stuff isn’t anything to sneeze at. Yet, it would certainly be nice to see Danks improve his control. In Jackson there’s also an interesting question of projection – he has really good stuff, and he’s still young, despite spending a lot of time in the majors. Is he showing signs of maturation as a pitcher in the past two years? It would certainly seem that way, and as such Edwin Jackson wouldn’t be a bad target for the Yankees at all this summer.

All three of these pitchers would look nice in Yankee pinstripes this summer. It would be fantastic to see if Cashman could pull another Wilson Betemit deal with Kenny Williams and get an undervalued commodity with plenty of team control for low cost, but it’s extremely difficult to anticipate a move like that. For now I’ll continue to wish Jake Peavy well on his road to recovery and hope Ozzie Guillen has a fight with one of these three guys and runs them out of town all the way to the Bronx.

2011 Draft: Baseball America’s Mock Draft v2.0

Jim Callis of Baseball America posted his second mock draft late yesterday, and he now has the Pirates taking Rice 3B Anthony Rendon first overall. Last time he had them taking UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole. You can see the list of picks for free, but you’ll need a subscription to see Callis’ analysis. The Yankees don’t have a fist round pick, so they’re not included in the mock draft. Lame. Anyway, these things are always good because the picks are informed projections, not just guesswork. Gives you a good idea of what the teams are looking at and where each player’s stock is.

Finding the hidden gems

The Yankees hit the scrap heap jackpot this season with the likes of Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and Eric Chavez, not to mention all the production that Russell Martin has given them after signing as a free agent. Dan Barbarisi wrote about the process that goes into signings like that, and how the Yankees rely on their pro scouting department to unearth such gems. “It’s easy to recommend a guy when the numbers are there,” said scout Tim Naehring. “The most difficult thing is feeling confident and putting in a report when the production isn’t there. The biggest challenge is sticking your neck out and saying, ‘I know there’s more in there. I know there’s better performance coming.'” Give a read, very interesting stuff.