Trade rumors start early for the Yanks

Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

We’re still 51 days away from the July 31 trade deadline, but that won’t stop the rumors from flowing. As we’ve grown used to during the past decade or so, the Yankees have already been connected to the top names on the trade market. Even in May, a time when almost no notable trades occur, reporters connected the Yankees to Roy Oswalt. Now that we’re past the draft, the trade deadline is the next big milestone. That means we’re about to see plenty of weak rumors.

Today George King of the Post provides Lesson No. 1: If the only source behind a rumor is an anonymous person “familiar with” a team’s thought process, it’ probably best to discard it. In this case, King connects the Yankees to Cliff Lee. The consensus around the industry is that the Yankees will make a strong run at Lee this off-season. But to acquire him in July? That seems like a stretch, given what we’ve learned from the Cashman front office in years past.

But, before we even touch on Cashman’s M.O., let’s evaluate the rumor on the level that King reports it. The opening sentence states that “the Mariners believe the defending World Champions will be in the hunt when they shop stud lefty Cliff Lee.” This does not come from anyone within the Yankees’ organization. In fact, given the “person familiar with Seattle’s thought process” line from the next sentence implies that the source didn’t even come from within Seattle. So there doesn’t appear to be a reason for taking this rumor seriously.

Then we get to the question of why the Yankees would show interest. They already have a strong starting five. Whom would Lee replace in the rotation. The only candidate is Javy Vazquez, and he has shown marked improvement in his last few starts. The Yankees also owe him $12 million this year, and it’s doubtful they’ll find a taker. Even then, would they trade away Vazquez only to trade for Lee? That sounds doubtful, and I agree with MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes that the move would be convoluted.

Beyond that, we have the Cashman front office M.O. The Yankees have shown an unwillingness to trade prospects for rentals. The rumor has the Mariners interested in Eduardo Nunez and one of the Yankees’ catchers. Would they really trade Nunez and Romine for two months of Lee? King implies that the Yankees would want an extension window, but by all indications Lee wants to test the free agent market. With an already solid pitching staff, it seems wasteful to use valuable resources to acquire two months of a pitcher, when that same pitcher will be available to the highest bidder this off-season.

The Yankees don’t seem to need many, if any, major pieces at the deadline. King notes possible interest in Lance Berkman to fill in for Nick Johnson at DH, but those rumors are even further fetched than the Lee ones, at least right now. At this point the Yankees are not only waiting for word on Johnson, but they’re also using Jorge Posada as the primary DH. Posada will likely move behind the plate sometime next week, but he’ll still get plenty of reps at DH. If Johnson can indeed return this season, trading for Berkman would seem superfluous.

Chances are, if we see the Yankees make a deal it will be more along the lines of last year’s deadline. Jerry Hariston was their only addition then, and they could make a similar move this year. Perhaps that will be for an upgrade over Ramiro Pena. Perhaps that will be another bullpen arm. Whatever the case, I wouldn’t expect a big name to head into New York this summer. The Yankees have a solid foundation. All they need are complementary pieces.

2010 Draft: Day Three LiveBlog

The draft resumes at noon ET today, and you can listen in on the conference call via MLB.com, or follow along with Draft Tracker. Rounds 31 through 50 will go down today, but it should rather quickly as some teams drop out late. Use this as your open thread to talk about all things draft, because we’ll have regular Yankees-related content sprinkled throughout the day for you. Please follow our Ground Rules and keep your conversations in the appropriate places. Thanks in advance.

2010 Draft: Upside & Arm Strength

Even though teams have been selecting players for roughly 11 hours or so over the past two days, the 2010 MLB Draft is only 60% complete. The remaining 40% will be polished off today, but the Yankees and scouting director Damon Oppenheimer have made their intentions very clear: go big or go home. We’re used to seeing Oppenheimer mitigate his risky picks with high probability and safe college players in the middle rounds, but the proverbial dice have been rolled this year. Those middle rounds have instead been filled by very high risk, very high reward players that fill organizational holes created through trades, graduation, and attrition.

14th rd. pick Travis Dean working out for Yankee scouts last week. (Photo provided by Jake Tucker)

Give Me Upside Or Give Me Death

As outsiders, it’s easy to say the Yanks should go after guys with significant ceilings as much as much as possible. We’re not the ones dealing with the budget nor are our jobs on the line. The farm system is sorely lacking up-the-middle athletes with upside, so Oppenheimer deviated from his usual college-heavy approach and really focused on athleticism and future projection.

This all starts at the top with the Cito Culver, the highly criticized first round pick. “I had basically over 100 years of scouting experience go in and see this kid,” said Oppenheimer. “We were ahead of the game because we knew so much about him.” A switch hitter that the Yankees project to be an above average hitter down the road, Culver can not only stay at short long-term, but field the position at an above average clip.

19th rd. pick Kevin Jordan (Photo Credit: BaseballFactory.com)

The pursuit of upside certainly didn’t end there, as prep centerfielders Angelo Gumbs (2nd round) and Mason Williams (4th) basically kicked off the Yanks’ selections in day two. Gumbs has true five-tool potential, with blazing speed that works both ways and bat speed that allows him to catch up to the very best fastballs. Only 17-years-old, he’s a project considering his limited experience against quality offspeed offerings, but the potential return is enormous. The only thing Williams lacks is power, though he produces consistent hard contact with a sweet swing while providing above average defense in the middle outfield spot. He was expected to be drafted in the top three rounds, but last until the fourth.

Despite all of the potential offered by those three I just mentioned, centerfielder Kevin Jordan (19) just might be the best prospect they draft this year. Brian‘s son, Kevin started the year as one of the best high school players in the country before missing time with a flu-like illness that cost him 15 lbs. off his already lean 6-foot frame. The lefty swinger is an explosive athlete that shows very good raw ability on both sides of the ball with the innate ability to center the ball on the barrel of the bat. Jordan offers the same tremendous ceiling as Gumbs, though he’s further in the process of turning his physical gifts into baseball skills.

Jake Anderson (7) and Tyler Austin (13) are raw defensively in the outfield and behind the plate, respectively, but feature refined offensive approaches for kids their age. If just one of these six players makes good on their promise, they Yanks will have had themselves a successful draft. They’re all teenagers out of high school, and in fact 11 of the 30 players Oppenheimer has selected this year come from the prep ranks. He selected just a dozen high schoolers last year, and never more than 14 in his five previous drafts as scouting director. He should fly right by that total later today.

You Can’t Teach Arm Strength

As much as the Yanks’ system lacks position players with considerable upside, they might be hurting for pitchers with premium velocity even more. That problem has been addressed in a big through the first 30 rounds of the draft, with college arms surprisingly leading the way.

JuCo righty Tommy Kahnle (5), one of Keith Law’s top 100 draft prospects (sub. req’d), impressed in the Cape Cod League last summer by touching 97 with his fastball and teaching his changeup to stop in mid-air. College closers Dan Burawa (St. John’s, 14) and Kevin Jacob (Georgia Tech, 18) have both hit 98 with life in the past while backing up their gas with a put-away offspeed offering, so they should jump right on the fast track. Jacob will be especially tough with his deceptive delivery. Prep right Taylor Morton (9) sits comfortably in the 92-94 range and has shown more in the past, but his arm strength takes a back seat to his changeup and pitchability.

And after all that, the best pure arm the Yanks have drafted may belong to Loyola Marymount righty Martin Viramontes (27), who peaks at 96 with a split-change hybrid and a power breaking ball. Standing 6-foot-5, 190 lbs., and still just 20-years-old, there’s still room and time for him to fill out and add even more velocity. Nearly a third of the 17 pitchers Oppenheimer has taken so far have run their fastball up to 96 in the past, which is a rather staggering number.

Signability

Always on the look out for bargains, the Yanks drafted several promising players lower than where their talent warranted. Williams, Morton, Taylor, and Viramontes lead that group, but they’re not the only ones. Prep righty Gabe Encinas (6) has a strong commitment to Loyola Marymount, but a high six figure offer could be enough to bring his supreme pitchability into the organization. Tulane third baseman Rob Segedin (3) has added leverage as a draft eligible sophomore, and prep righty Josh Dezse (28) has scholarship offers from several Big Ten programs in hand. Canadian lefty Evan Rutckyj (16) is off in his own unique signability world because he yet to commit to a school, but the talent is undeniable.

Keep in mind that both Jacob and Viramontes are Scott Boras clients, and those guys never come cheap.

What’s Left?

Oppenheimer and the Yankees appear to have achieved their goal of adding upside and power arms to the farm system, though they still have 20 more rounds to play with. As ridiculous as it sounds, they could stand to add another “veteran” (i.e. college) catcher to Shane Brown (23) just to help take the load off all the young catchers in the lower levels of the system that do not yet have a full season of squatting behind the plate to their credit. A few more college starters to soak up innings would be welcome as well, but beyond that they should just keep gunning for athleticism, upside, and arm strength.

Once the draft concludes later today, the Yanks will shift their focus to signing as many of these players as possible. Teams will traditionally sign about 30-35 of their picks, so the Yanks are going to end up letting some talent walk away after the August 16th signing deadline. The key is signing the right players, the guys ready for the rigors of pro ball and with the potential to become great. They may not have landed the big sexy names everyone hopes for, but Oppenheimer & Co. very shrewdly put together the making of a great haul highlighted by high ceilings.

Bats back shaky Hughes in bird hunt

Facing the Orioles for the third time this year and second in two starts, Phil Hughes couldn’t dominate Baltimore, but the Yankee offense picked up the slack. Thanks to a Nick Swisher two-run home run, the Yanks had a lead before the Orioles could record an out, and the Yanks went to bed tonight 12-7 winners. With Tampa’s 9-0 win over Toronto, the Yankees remain two games out of first in the AL East.

Biggest Hit: Curtis Granderslam

Credit: AP Photo/Gail Burton

With Stephen Strasburg’s taking center stage in the I-95 area between Baltimore and Washington — and throughout baseball, in fact — the Yankee game seemed to be a bit of an afterthought. The Orioles claimed a paid attendance of 23,171, and the crowd seemed to consist mostly of Yankee fans. After the Yanks jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, the team couldn’t quite bury Kevin Millwood. Curtis Granderson fouled out to end the first, and a Derek Jeter double play ended the second.

In the third, we were on the verge of watching much of the same unfold. After a Nick Swisher strike out, Mark Teixeira beat the shift with a dinky single, and A-Rod struck out as well. Robinson Cano singled, and Jorge Posada walked. Curtis Granderson worked the count to 2-2 and then deposited the Millwood offering 382 feet into right field for a grand slam. The Yanks had a comfortable 6-0 cushion, and Granderson had his fourth dinger of the year.

For Curtis, the home run was one of his two hits on the night, and with his 2-for-5 effort this evening, Granderson found his triple slash up to .256/.333/.444. He’s still not producing at quite the level the Yanks had hoped, but since returning from the DL, he is 12 for 37 (.324) with 2 home runs and 8 RBI. He stole a base as well tonight and seems to have his legs under him.

Credit: AP Photo/Gail Burton

Hughes in trouble

Tonight, we watched Phil Hughes pitch with some grit. He couldn’t quite put the Orioles away today, and I think facing the same team for the second time in a week took a toll on him. He allowed a season-high nine hits, and while many of those were not hard-hit balls, he had trouble getting the third strike and the third out on more than one occasion. He didn’t have the hammer working and didn’t record a K until Luke Scott fanned in the 4th.

Yet, Hughes made it work. He still induced seven swinging strikes and avoided issuing free passes. Even as his ERA crept up ever so slightly to 2.71, Hughes improved to 8-1 on the season, and he showed how keeping runners off base can limit the runs scored even on a night when the hits fall. Hughes will draw the weak-hitting Houston Astros in his next start this weekend at the Stadium, and as he is now pushing 70 innings, he should be hitting his stride.

A slumbering giant lifts an eye

It’s far too early to call Mark Teixeira’s season-long slump over, but after a disastrous weekend in Toronto, the Yanks’ number three hitter showed some signs of life today. He beat the shift twice and powered a late-game home run 417 feet to right-center. He also walked twice. Sometimes, the cure for what ails you consists of a few lucky hits and a blast.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Derek Jeter walked to lead off the game. If he can get his isolated patience back to its career norm of .070, the Yankees should start scoring even more runs…Nick Swisher is an utter beast in Baltimore, and he’s making a strong All Star case for himself. His 3-for-6 night pushed his triple slash numbers up to .311/.397/.551…Robinson Cano is a hitting machine…David Robertson since May 8: 11 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 6 BB, 11 K.

A-Rod’s 0-for-5 was a bit of a disappointment. He found himself up in some good hitting situations and couldn’t come through. He seemed perturbed after grounding out to end the 6th with the bases loaded…Brett Gardner left the game in the 7th with soreness in the thumb he broke last year. Although he expects to play on Wednesday, he said doctors had warned him it could take up to a year to feel right again. Apparently, he often feels the pain, but tonight it was particularly troublesome. Gardner appeared to be tagged on the thumb in the sixth when Nick Markakis threw him out at third.

Chad Gaudin was just terrible. Staked to a 12-3 lead, Gaudin allowed seven of the 13 Orioles he faced to reach base, and the Yanks opted to ask Mariano to pretend to stretch before Gaudin got the last few outs of the game. He showed why the A’s were so willing to cut bait a few weeks ago, and I have to believe that either Romulo Sanchez or Ivan Nova could be as effective or better than Gaudin is now.

Boring. Just the way I like my WPA graphs

Up Next: More Orioles

The Yankees will look to extend their winning streak against the Orioles to 10 straight later tonight as CC Sabathia (5-3, 4.14) will take on the birds at 7:05 p.m. He faces Chris Tillman (0-1, 7.71) in a 7:05 p.m. game.

Montero & Heathcott each picks up a hit

Another bullet pointer after a long day of draft action…

Game 58: For the birds

Yes Phil, still two games back of the Rays. (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

I don’t know about you guys, but it feels like an eternity since I watched the Yankees last play a game. I guess the draft will do that to ya.

There’s no better way to come back from a rather wretched trip to Toronto with an off day followed by a Phil Hughes start against the last place Orioles. I’m curious to see how Hughes’ approaches the O’s hitters today, because it’s his second time facing them in an as many starts, and third time this season overall. In his first start he went fastball heavy and really had to battle through 5.2 IP of work, but last week he mixed the curveball in more and cruised through seven innings.

He’ll be opposed by Kevin Millwood, who the Yanks worked over last week. He also leads the AL with 14 homers allowed, tied with some guy named Ian Kennedy for the second most in all of baseball. Dan Haren, of all people, has surrendered the most with 16. Expect a big series from Nick Swisher, he rakes in Camden Yards for some reason. Here’s the starting nine:

Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada DH
Curtis Granderson CF
Francisco Cervelli C
Brett Gardner LF

And on the mound, St. Phil with his 7-1 record and his 2.54 ERA.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and the game is on My9 tonight, not YES. Enjoy.

Series Preview: Yankees (35-22) at Orioles (16-41)

It hasn’t been long since we last previewed a Yankees-Orioles series, so not much has changed since then. But we’ll take a look anyway, if for no other reason than to examine the altered pitching matchups.

There aren’t many differences in terms of numbers, though I’d expect they wouldn’t change drastically during just two series. The Yankees obviously have fallen a bit on offense, and actually saw their FIP rise, almost certainly because of A.J.’s homer-happy Friday. Yet overall their runs per game did decrease.

The Orioles might have a new manager, but that hasn’t changed the team. Some teams go on a run after changing the man at the helm, but those teams are usually better than these Orioles. It’s not like changing one administrative figure — to someone who was already within the organization, at that — will turn around a disappointing team. Some of their guys might come around this year. Adam Jones might start hitting and Brad Bergesen might start pitching well. But changing from Dave Trembley to Juan Samuel isn’t going to accomplish that overnight.

Pitching matchups

Tuesday: Phil Hughes (2.54 ERA, 2.85 FIP) vs. Kevin Millwood (4.29 ERA, 4.71 FIP)

Phil Hughes has faced only one other team two times, the Red Sox, and got hit pretty hard the second time around. By then it looked like the scouting report on him got out, and the Red Sox took advantage by fouling off a ton of pitches. The Mets did the same in Hughes’s next appearance. He did recover in the next, striking out eight Indians in seven innings and then striking out seven Orioles in seven. Will the O’s respond like the Sox?

It’s doubtful, if only because the O’s offense doesn’t hold a flame to the Sox. But it might not be as easy going for Hughes this time around. It’s one thing to face a team for the second time. It’s another to face them six days apart. It’s tough to pick against Phil Hughes against a team like the O’s, but this could be a tough one for him.

On the other end, Millwood has been not so good lately. He did get off to a decent start, giving the Orioles length while keeping the games reasonably close. In three of his last five outings, though, he has allowed five or more runs. His shortest was last time out against the Yanks, in which he lasted 5.2 innings. It’s clear that the Orioles will let him keep going even when he’s getting hit hard. They don’t have many better options in the bullpen.

Wednesday: CC Sabthia (4.14 ERA, 4.53 FIP) vs. Chris Tillman (2 GS, 7 IP, 6 ER)

CC will be the story tomorrow — I’m sure we’ll have something on him in the morning. This season just hasn’t been right for him. He started off strong, but in May he’s faded a bit. This all seems odd, because he’s getting more ground balls and hitters are squaring up pitches poorly (13.1% line drive rate), but when they do hit it in the air the ball has tended to leave the park. This signals a few mistakes, or perhaps less than perfect command. Whatever the problem, it’s left CC off to what looks like a poor start, but what has really been a bad month.

We saw that at work against the Orioles last time out. Sabathia essentially made two mistakes all game, the homers to Jones and Scott. They were costly, though. As I said in the recap, he was absolutely cruising through the first six innings. He was even on pace for a complete game. Yet he appeared to tire in the seventh. Even though he was under 100 pitches, he didn’t come out for the eighth. That does seem a bit concerning.

Tillman, who came to the Orioles in the Erik Bedard trade, is one of the more promising young arms in their system. They demoted David Hernandez to the bullpen in order to clear a rotation spot for Tillman, and he hasn’t yet stepped up to the challenge. While his first start against Toronto went fine enough, the Red Sox absolutely rocked him last time out, scoring four runs and racking up 57 pitches with one out in the second. He’s a talented pitcher, so he surely has a few good games in his arm. It would be a shame to have one of them come this week.

Thursday: A.J. Burnett (3.72 ERA, 4.18 FIP) vs. Jeremy Guthrie (3.71 ERA, 4.40 FIP)

Burnett thought he pitched well on Friday night. Except, of course, for those three homer balls he hung. They do happen, especially when a power pitcher meets a power-hitting team. This time he gets a chance against the Orioles, who likely won’t go as homer happy as the Jays. Burnett continues to show improvements over last year, walking fewer batters while keeping more balls on the ground. His strikeout rate is still far below the standard he’s set, but that will change as his curveball improves.

Jeremy Guthrie has faced the Yanks twice this year, and each time they’ve hammered him. In 11.2 innings he has allowed 11 runs and struck out just six. He put together a nice string of quality starts since then, his worst coming on May 30 against Toronto in which he allowed four in six innings. Before that he went three straight starts with allowing just one run. His last start against Boston was a 7.1-inning affair in which he threw just 95 pitches. That’s very un-Guthrie-like. He normally gets around or above the 100-pitch mark by the sixth.