Via Jon Heyman, the Mariners inquired about the availability of Mason Williams while discussing Michael Pineda with the Yankees earlier this offseason. Heyman also hears that Williams is drawing raves throughout the game, but that’s nothing new really. I have no problem with trading prospects who have yet to sniff full season ball, but there’s no way they could have done both Jesus Montero and Williams in the same package without getting Felix Hernandez back. I suspect we’re going to hear about many teams asking for Mason in the coming years.
The Yankees enjoyed above average production from Paul O’Neill for the better part of a decade, but they had a bit of a hole in right field after his retirement following the 2001 season. They opened 2002 with Shane Spencer getting the majority of the playing time in right while John Vander Wal subbed in against the toughest of right-handers. New additions Jason Giambi and Robin Venture were expected to pick up most of the offensive slack.
Spencer, 29 at the time, was four years removed from his monster September showing in 1998, but he brought a .269/.324/.468 batting line in nearly 800 big league plate appearances into the season. He opened the year with a three-hit game on Opening Day, and finished the month of April with a .311/.403/.508 batting line. Vander Wal had reached base 16 times in his 43 plate appearances that month, a .372 OBP that was more than enough off the bench. He took at-bats away from Spencer in May, and by the end of the month he owned a .290/.369/.449 batting line. Spencer was hitting .256/.341/.388 following his May slump.
The duo didn’t last another month. Vander Wal reached base six times in his next dozen games while Spencer was unable to string together any success. Juan Rivera came up for a few days and Marcus Thames made his big league debut that month, both getting a short-lived crack at the right field job. With Rondell White banged up and the outfield stretched thin, then-manager Joe Torre started utility infielder Enrique Wilson in right against the Mets on June 29th. The Yankees got blown out and Wilson made a fool of himself in the field, the only time in his professional career (majors or minors) he would play the outfield.
During the nationally televised broadcast of the Saturday afternoon game, announcer Tim McCarver proclaimed that the Yankees needed Raul Mondesi to play right field. Mondesi, 32 years old at the time, was a star earlier in his career but he hadn’t aged well. He was hitting just .224/.301/.435 with the Blue Jays, and it was no secret that they were trying to unload him and his massive contract. George Steinbrenner didn’t need to hear anything more than what McCarver said on television. Less than two days after Wilson’s episode in right field, the Yankees acquired Mondesi from Toronto in exchange for non-prospect Scott Wiggins. They assumed the remaining $5.5M of his 2002 salary, and agreed to pay $7M of his $13M salary in 2003.
“Our outfield has been depleted, and when Joe (Torre) needs something, I’m going to do everything I can to get it for him,” said Steinbrenner in a statement after the trade.
As Keith Law explained two years ago (6:00 mark), the deal was made above GM Brian Cashman‘s head. The Yankees team president called the Blue Jays team president and brokered the trade because The Boss thought McCarver had a good idea. Pretty nuts.
Mondesi stepped right in as the full-time right fielder following the deal, and the start of his Yankees career went pretty well. He reached base four times in his first game with the team and nine times in his first three games without a single strikeout. A little slump followed, but Mondesi produced fairly consistently from the middle of July through the end of the season. In 71 games after the trade, he hit .241/.315/.430 with eleven homers. He had three singles and three walks in the four-game ALDS loss to the Angels.
The outfield picture was shored up the following offseason with the addition of Hideki Matsui, who replaced White in left while Bernie Williams and Mondesi remained in center and right, respectively. Mondesi had a scorching hot April in 2003 — .347/.422/.683 with eight doubles and eight homers in 27 games — but his production gradually declined during the rest of the summer. The Yankees were stuck in a four-game losing streak and mired in a 3-11 skid on May 26th when Mondesi lollygagged on a fly ball that would have ended the inning but instead dunked in for a two-run single, allowing the Red Sox to blow open what turned into the Yankees fifth straight loss. An inning earlier he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and one out with his team down by two, so the boo birds were out in full force.
With his batting line sitting at .258/.330/.471 in late-July, Mondesi was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the late innings of a game against the Red Sox. He showered and went home while the game was still being played, and a day later he missed the team’s flight to the West Coast. The entire organization — Steinbrenner included — had grown tired of him, and those last two incidents were the straws that broke the camel’s back. The Yankees shipped Mondesi and $2M to the Diamondbacks two days later, receiving outfielder David Dellucci, righty reliever Bret Prinz, and minor leaguer Jon-Mark Sprowl in return.
“To me, discipline is a big part of being a good team,” said Torre after the trade. “And a lot of the discipline has to come from within yourself. I know he was frustrated. He’s not a bad person, and I want to make sure everybody knows that. I just think he got emotional about it, and it’s not good for the club … It’s not acceptable what he did. Brian and I pulled the trigger on this one.”
Mondesi played a little more than a full season with the Yankees, suiting up for 169 games in pinstripes. He hit .250/.323/.453 with 27 homers and 23 steals, but the team grew tired of his antics. They managed to find a buyer in Arizona, and shipped him off at the first opportunity. Wiggins managed to reach the bigs with the Blue Jays in 2002, giving up a run in 2.2 IP, his only big league time. Dellucci didn’t do much in pinstripes (nine hits and four walks in 58 plate appearances), Sprowl never reached the show, and Prinz threw 30.1 ineffective innings (5.08 ERA) for the team from 2003-2004.
Believe it or not, Mondesi is currently the mayor of the San Cristobal province in the Dominican Republic, the largest municipality in the country. He played three more years after the Yankees traded him away, before geting into the politics game. The trade was a classic Steinbrenner impulse buy but it wasn’t a total disaster, since Mondesi was basically league average at the plate and in the field during his time in New York. He was overpaid and kind of a jerk though, which ultimately punched his ticket out of town and is why we don’t remember him all that fondly.
Our long national nightmare Edwin Jackson’s free agency is finally over. The Nationals have reportedly agreed to sign the right-hander to a one-year contract worth somewhere around $10M, and now they’re trying to trade John Lannan (and his $5M salary) to balance the books. It’s a great deal for the Nationals, who suddenly have a pretty stacked rotation with Jackson, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Chien-Ming Wang. Gotta think there are a lot of teams out there right now wondering why they couldn’t get this guy at that price, maybe even the Yankees (though I’m perfectly happy with Hiroki Kuroda).
Following Larry’s examination of the best pitches in the Yankees’ rotation, we received an email from a reader who asked an excellent question.
I was wondering if you guys could do some kind of guide to what pitches each of our pitchers throw and how often.
Thanks to FanGraphs, identifying these pitches and frequencies becomes much easier. Previously, to identify a pitcher’s entire arsenal would require quite a bit of video watching, and would likely also require an outside resource. Frequency was out of the question, unless you had a paid subscription to a service such as Baseball Info Solutions. Now FanGraphs aggregates all of that data.
Today we’ll look into what the Yankees’ seven starters throw, and how frequently they throw it. But before we do, a few disclaimers. First, we’re going by Pitch f/x data here, since it’s captured on high-speed cameras. The Baseball Info Solutions data, also available on FanGraphs, gets recorded, from videos, by stringers. There’s much more room for human error there. Also, the Pitch f/x data includes more pitches, so there’s a more accurate breakdown.
At the same time, Pitch f/x isn’t error-free. It often misclassifies pitches, and consistently. For example, before 2010 it didn’t do a good job of separating different types of fastballs. I’ll try to combine personal knowledge of arsenals with the Pitch f/x data in order to provide a clearer look at each pitcher’s repertoire. Remember, too, that you can look into this yourself; the data is available on every FanGraphs player page.
A few weeks ago, Brian Cashman indicated that trading for a DH-type bat was preferable to signing a free agent, though there aren’t many of those guys out there to be had right now. We’ve talked about Jason Bay, Garrett Jones, Nolan Reimond, Lucas Duda, David Wright, Kyle Blanks, and Brandon Allen among others but one guy we haven’t discussed is Andre Ethier of the Dodgers. That’s mostly because the soon-to-be 30-year-old Dodgers star isn’t actually on the market, though that’s never stopped us before.
Jim Bowden kinda got the ball rolling with this ESPN piece (Insider req’d) earlier this week, suggesting the Yankees trade Dellin Betances and Austin Romine to Los Angeles for Ethier. I’ve been pretty hard on the Dodgers’ right fielder in our weekly chats over the last year or so, but mostly because he’s not much of an outfielder and not the upgrade over Nick Swisher the MSM would lead you to believe. As far as the DH spot goes though, he’s nearly a perfect fit.
The Yankees are looking for a left-handed bat to platoon with Andruw Jones, and the 30-year-old Ethier is very much qualified for the job. He’s hit .313/.398/.537 against pitchers of the opposite hand over the last three years, a 151 wRC+ that is the eighth best in baseball during that time. Ethier is miserable against lefties — .215/.279/.329 and a 65 wRC+ over the last three years, fourth worst in baseball — but the Yankees wouldn’t be asking him to stand in against southpaws. That will be up to Andruw on most days. Yankee Stadium will help him out a bit more than Dodger Stadium, though he would have to adjust to a new league and new pitchers.
Ethier doesn’t do anything other than hit righties, which is why he should be considered nothing more than a DH candidate. His defensive numbers — -24.6 UZR, -11 DRS, -21.8 TZ, and -9.3 FRAA — rate him as one of the five or so worst outfielders in the game over the last three seasons, grouping him in with Raul Ibanez, Delmon Young, and Ryan Braun. So yeah, it’s bad. Ethier also has knee problems, having surgery in September to remove loose bodies and repair cartilage in his right knee. Getting him out of the outfield should help with that, in theory. He doesn’t steal bases or take the extra base very often either. Ethier is what he is, and that’s a righty mashing DH-type. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, he’d fit right into this Yankees lineup.
The problem is that the cost to acquire him is probably very high right now. The season hasn’t started yet, and the Dodgers didn’t spend over $44M on free agents this winter to sell off their third best player before pitchers and catchers report. He’s also slated to make close to $11M in 2012, which is about six times what the Yankees have said they have to spend on a DH. I’m looking at Ethier more as a trade deadline target, once the Dodgers fall out of the race and the Yankees have had a chance to evaluate their in-house options. I don’t know what the cost would be, but I have to imagine there will be competition for his services (the Red Sox, Rangers, Braves, and Nationals could all use a corner outfielder). This doesn’t figure to be a salary dump situation.
Ethier isn’t the kind of guy you lock into a multi-year contract when he hits free agency after the season, but he’s a damn fine rental player. The Yankees have the prospects to get a deal done — Bowden’s suggested proposal isn’t insane, but the Yankees need the catching depth and I’d hold onto Romine — and figure to have the need come late-July, so there’s a natural fit here. They can get some extra input on his personality and makeup from former teammates Russell Martin and Hiroki Kuroda, and then make a decision based on their needs and the cost. A doubt a trade will happen anytime soon, but expect to see the Yankees connected to Ethier quite a bit this summer if they can’t solve their DH issue on the cheap.
In perhaps the most extreme case of overreaction in baseball history, the Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214M contract two weeks ago after learning that Victor Martinez would miss the season with a knee problem. It’s the fourth largest contract in baseball history, and like many of you, I couldn’t help but think that Mark Teixeira eight-year, $180M contract suddenly looked a whole lot better by comparison. Fielder is the better player at the moment, but Teixeira didn’t get his contract at the moment. He signed it three years ago.
Given the enormous outlays, let’s compare the two players and their contracts. To do this, we’re going to go back in time a bit and look at the player Teixeira was when he signed his contract, because that’s more applicable when comparing these massive deals. He was 28 years old when the Yankees signed him prior to 2009, a year older than Fielder is right now. Both guys are Scott Boras clients, so that makes the comparison a little easier. With all due respect, no agent is as successful as Boras when it comes to getting top dollar.
We’re going to break the comparison into four sections: offense, baserunning, defense, and durability. The first three are self-explanatory, and durability is quite underappreciated in my opinion. If you’re giving out contracts like these, you want to be damn sure the player can stay on the field. Let’s start with the money-makers, the bats…
Both players are well above average offensively, both in terms of getting on-base and launched baseballs into orbit. Teixeira was approximately 40% better than league average back in the day while Fielder is roughly 50% better than league average today, so Prince is the better hitter by a not small margin. It is worth noting that Teixeira is a switch-hitter, and back then he had a relatively small platoon split (134 wRC+ vs. RHP and 148 vs. LHP from ’06-’08). Fielder is a lefty and has shown a somewhat significant split throughout over the last three years (168 wRC vs. RHP but 119 vs. LHP). He’s the better hitter, but the switch-hitting thing is a definite plus for Tex.
Baserunning is an important part of the game, but it really doesn’t have as much impact as you might think. The different between the best and worst baserunners in a given season will be something like 30 runs, and we’re talking Michael Bourn vs. Jorge Posada type of stuff. Most players are within five runs of league average (one way or the other) with few outliers.
He’s slow and he makes funny faces when he runs, but Teixeira was a pretty good baserunner once upon a time. He took the extra base 40% of the time from 2006-2008 (meaning he went first-to-third on a single, first-to-home on a double, etc.), ever so slightly above the league average (39%). Fielder is well below average on the bases, taking the extra roughly half as often as the average player (league average is 41% these days). In terms of runs created on the bases (that’s BsR), Tex was essentially league average again while Fielder was well below. We’re talking a 15 or so run difference between the two players over a three-year span, or five runs a year. None a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless.
Just ignore the stolen base stuff, neither of these guys are asked to do much of that.
Advanced fielding metrics aren’t perfect, especially for first baseman. They are useful over large samples though, especially in conjunction with the ol’ eye test. Teixeira is a great fielder and always has been by reputation, and the numbers back that up. Fielder is the opposite, a poor defender with the reputation to match. You can quibble with the exact numbers if you want, but they pass the sniff test. A 30 or so run gap is significant, even when talking about a three-year stretch.
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Durability is a skill to a certain extent, and like I said earlier, I think it’s underappreciated. Fielder is arguably the most durable position player in the sport right now, appearing in all but one game over the last three years and starting all but five of them. That’s pretty amazing. Teixeira missed more than five weeks with a quad strain in 2007, but otherwise he appeared in 162 and 157 games in 2006 and 2008, respectively.
This is a pretty good spot to talk about the body types, because they are important. Teixeira’s got the prototypical robot baseball player build, meaning 6-foot-3 and 220 lbs., with less body fat than I have in my left thigh. Fielder’s a portly little guy, listed on the Tigers official site at 5-foot-11 and 275 lbs. That doesn’t mean he’s out of shape — there’s a difference between being fat and being out of shape — but his body is absolutely a concern going forward. All that extra weight can lead to knee and back problems later in his career. Three years ago (and even today), no one had any reason to be concerned about Teixeira physically.
Adding up the WARs
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no difference between 14.5 and 14.1 WAR. The various WAR models just aren’t accurate enough to get worked up over a four run difference. All this tells us is that Teixeira’s fielding and baserunning closed the gap between his offense and Fielder’s, nothing more. This is how each player performed in the three years leading up to their free agency, not an indication of how they’re likely to perform going forward. It might give you an idea of what to expect in the future, but make that assumption at your own risk.
At the end of the day, we have two very similar players in 2006-2008 Teixeira and 2009-2011 Fielder. Both guys were top ten draft picks once upon a time, both play the same position, both are young and very much in the primes of their careers, and both have provided the same amount of value in the three years leading up to their free agency. They’re both $100M+ players, no doubt about that. Going forward though, wouldn’t you rather have the switch-hitter than provides better defense and has the better body? I know I would.
In many ways, Fielder’s contract is one of Boras’ best. He got Teixeira 8/180 when both the Yankees and Red Sox were heavily involved in the bidding, but then three years later he got Fielder 9/214 with almost no big money teams in the market for the first baseman. Convincing the Tigers to sign Prince to that contract when they already had a better player with his own nine-figure contract at the same position is nothing short of player representation genius in my book.
As far as Spring Training position battles go, the Yanks have few, and those they have aren’t very compelling. The pitching staff has the non-problem of having three hurlers — A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes — for one rotation spot, and barring an injury, the starting lineup is set in stone. It will be, then, business in Tampa as the Yanks will use March to fine-tune the team for the regular season.
Yet, the club will have to make some decisions, and it may come down to those who are out of options. As I see it now, the Yanks have 23 guys with their tickets punched to the 25-man roster. It goes a little something like this:
This array of players leaves us with few noticeable holes. With Jones set to DH against southpaws, they could use another bat who can handle right-handers and serve as a weapon off the bench. They also could carry another infielder, as they did for much of last year. The in-house options include Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird while Eric Chavez remains a free agent. We’ve heard Bill Hall’s name bandied about, but he hasn’t yet received his non-roster invitation to Spring Training yet.
For the empty outfield/DH spot, the Yanks could still look to the free agent market for help. Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez and Hideki Matsui have all been linked, one way or another, to the Yanks this winter. It’s possible one of them could take spot No. 24 or 25. The Yanks though will let those players’ prices drop before making any sort of move. If one happens, it will be on our terms, and not yours, the Yanks’ brain trust has telegraphed.
The in-house options are Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell, and they’ll either break camp with the Yanks or on some other team. The two of them — along with Boone Logan, the only lefty on the 40-man with Major League experience — are out of options. The Yanks will have to take Dickerson and Maxwell with them north if they want to keep them or else the two players will have to clear waivers to remain in the Yanks’ system.
Throughout the winter, Mike has examined these two players in depth. He looked at Dickerson’s possible role earlier this month and Maxwell’s potential in December. Of the two of them, Dickerson seems to hit right-handers far better than Maxwell has, and that’s a need the Yanks have right now. The club may also be able to flip Maxwell for something reasonably useful as he’s a few years younger than Dickerson.
Complicating the roster dance are Brad Meyers, a right-hander, and Cesar Cabral, a lefty. The Yanks grabbed these two guys during the Rule 5 draft. Meyers would have to go back to the Nationals if the Yanks opt to exclude him from the 25-man, and Cabral could pick free agency as he’s a two-time Rule 5er. Cabral also would give the Yanks more bullpen options and pitched exceptionally well in Winter Ball this year. As Logan is out of options, he won’t bump Boone, but a solid spring could make the Yanks think twice about a second southpaw in the pen.
So for the Yankees, the big battles are all but over. We have to pick a fifth starter from a group of three guys who are all flawed for various reasons, and the last two guys on the team have to earn that trip to the Bronx. The guys without options have the inside track, but even then, they’re expendable AAAA types. With two weeks until pitchers and catchers, that’s not a bad problem to have.