The case for Felipe Lopez

As the Yankees continue their pursuit of quality bench help, they’ve watched as talks with the Astros about Jeff Keppinger fell apart and movement on the Jerry Hairston Jr. front crawled to a standstill. There are plenty of other bench options on the free agent market, but they all have their warts. If they didn’t, teams would be after them as starters. One player that was a bonafide big league regular as recently as 2009 has seen his stock drop considerably thanks to a down 2010 campaign, and the Yankees could be in a position to capitalize. That player: Felipe Lopez.

Can't have that number in New York, Felipe. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Lopez looked to be the bargain signing of the offseason last winter, when the Cardinals got him for just one year and $1M guaranteed in late February. Things didn’t go as planned and Lopez hit just .231/.310/.340 (.295 wOBA, .273 BABIP) in 425 plate appearances before St. Louis released him. The Red Sox grabbed him late in the season, played him in exactly four games, and then offered him arbitration as a Type-B free agent after the season (so they’ll get a supplemental first round pick when he signs elsewhere, but his new team won’t have to surrender one). Lopez and Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa apparently had a dislike for each other, which in part led to the release. This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve heard about a player and TLR not seeing eye-to-eye, but I digress.

Obviously, any team that signs Lopez is going to do so hoping that his poor 2010 season was the result of playing in an uncomfortable environment rather than a decline in skills. From 2006 through 2009, a period in which he accumulated just short of 2,600 plate appearances (so small sample size warnings do not apply), Lopez hit .278/.349/.387 (.327 wOBA, .324 BABIP). If you look at just 2008 and 2009 (over 1,200 plate appearances and Lopez’s age 28 and 29 seasons), he hit .298/.366/.409 (.340 wOBA, .345 BABIP). Unlike Keppinger and Hairston, who are right-handed hitters, Lopez is a switch-hitter and he doesn’t have much of a platoon split: career .325 wOBA against righties, .318 against lefties. While he doesn’t offer much power (just a .129 ISO for his career), it’s obvious he can hit for at least a respectable average and draw enough walks (above average 10.24 BB% over the last two years) to yield quality on-base percentages.

When it comes to baseball skills that don’t involve a bat, Lopez is adequate at best. He has extensive experience at all three non-first base infield spots, though he’s awful at short according to UZR per 150 defensive games (-10.7 career) while being no better than average at second (-1.0) and third (+0.7). Lopez even has some experience in the corner outfield spots, but we’re talking about 109 career innings total. It’s not enough to think he could fill in there regularly. Once upon a time he was a baserunning threat, swiping 68 bases in 89 tries (76.4%) in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but he’s tailed off since then (just 22 steals in 38 tries since, an unacceptable 57.9% success rate). Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning stats have Lopez at just about average in non-stolen base baserunning situations (going first-to-third, scoring from second on a single, etc.) over the last two seasons, but that would be an upgrade for the Yankees based on recent years.

Lopez’s career arc compared very favorably to Juan Uribe’s until this past season, and the latter’s name popped up as a potential bench target for the Yankees a few times this offseason. Uribe landed a three-year contract worth $21M from the Dodgers, but Lopez will get nothing close to that. He settled for that one-year, $1M deal in 2010 coming off a pretty damn good year in 2009, so what could he possibly expect this time around after the year he had? I mean, at best he’d get that same 1/1 deal again, which is nothing at all. The problem will likely be playing time more than anything. Lopez needs to rebuild his value so that he can land a nice contract next offseason, and he won’t be able to do that sitting on the Yankees bench. Maybe they can work something out, maybe they can’t, but either way Lopez is one available piece that could make sense for the Yanks in a reserve role, where he could take the place of Eduamiro Penunez.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 3rd, 2011

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.


The Obligatory Grady Sizemore Post

It’s amazing how much can change in two years. Grady Sizemore was a legitimate MVP candidate as recently as 2008, just as he was in 2007 and 2006, but now the Indians would “love to trade” him according to Nick Cafardo. That’s what injuries can do to a player’s value.

Blame that grand slam on Jorge, amirite? (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Sizemore, still just 28 these days, was hampered by synovitis in his left (throwing) elbow all season long back in 2009, and was eventually shut down so he could have surgery to repair the condition in early September. The elbow gave him no trouble in 2010, but his left knee did. Sizemore originally injured the joint sliding into a base in April, and he then re-injured it on another slide against the Orioles on May 16th. He wouldn’t play again the rest of the season. Sizemore had microfracture surgery in early June, and the six-to-nine month recovery period has him in line to start Spring Training on time.

Over those last two injury plagued seasons, Sizemore hit just .239/.328/.410 (.324 wOBA) with a -6.0 UZR/150 (SSS), a far cry from his 2006 through 2008 peak. During those three years he hit .279/.380/.499 (.382 wOBA) with a total of 85 homers and 93 steals, adding on a studly +7.5 UZR/150 in center. Sizemore’s 20.1 fWAR during those years was the fourth most in baseball, behind only Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, and David Wright. He was a bonafide superstar, one of the game’s absolute best, and he was still in his mid-20’s.

For the sake of completeness, we have to acknowledge Sizemore’s warts as well. He’s just a career .311 wOBA hitter against lefties (.386 vs. RHP), and even during that absurd three-year peak he only had a .333 wOBA vs. southpaws. The need for a right-handed hitting reserve outfielder would only increase. Sizemore can also strikeout with the best of them, going down on strike three in 22.4% of his career at-bats. Again, looking at just the three year peak, he still had a 22.8% strikeout rate. And then there’s all those recent injuries, of course.

Two hands, Sizemore. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

So, if Sizemore was that good when he was healthy, why would the Tribe want to move him? First thing that jumped to my mind was cost, but Sizemore isn’t that expensive. He’s their second highest paid player (behind Travis Hafner, yikes), but is still owed just $7.5M in 2011 before a $9M club option ($500,000 buyout) for 2012 comes into play. For a rebuilding team, that might be too much. Another possibility is that they aren’t confident in his health going forward, and want to move him before his value drops even more. A third possibility could simply be that he’s one of their most tradeable commodities, and they feel an infusion of young players would be better going forward than even a healthy Sizemore.

The Yankees come into play for no other reason than pure speculation, nothing has connected them to Sizemore this offseason at all. In fact, they passed on pursuing Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth because they’re comfortable with their outfield alignment. Hard to blame them, really. A trade for Sizemore would be similar to the Nick Swisher trade in that the Yanks would be buying low, but the major difference is why they’d be buying low. Swish was healthy with the White Sox, he was just unlucky when it came to balls in play. Sizemore’s stock is down because he’s hurt, it’s not like we’re just waiting for a BABIP rebound here. That’s quite a problem, because it’s a lot tougher to predict performance going forward when a guy has 140 plate appearances in the last 15 months.

The Indians are apparently searching for pitching, pitching, and more pitching these days, something the Yankees can spare at the minor league level. Cleveland’s outfield is pretty full (nine outfielders on their 40-man roster, including Grady), so I’m not sure if they’d even want Gardner in a potential trade. They do need a third baseman, I know that much, so maybe Brandon Laird has some value to them. They’re not going to give Sizemore away just because, he’s far too young and talent to write-off. New-ish GM Chris Antonetti will market Grady as the guy he was from ’06-’08, not the injured mess he’s been since. Whether or not a deal can be struck is not for me to worry about, that’s up to the guys making the big bucks.

Without being privy to his medical information, I’m inclined to say “pass” on Sizemore, which is tough to say because I love the guy as a player. He’s the very definition of a five-tool talent when healthy, a lefty power bat that would fit right in with Yankee Stadium and be an upgrade over all three regular outfielders. The Yanks have been preaching patience all offseason, and this is where they should exercise it. Let Sizemore prove he’s healthy and productive on Cleveland’s dime, then act accordingly if there’s a fit. The potential for zero or minimal return is just too high for me right now, especially when you consider how much it’ll probably take to acquire him. I suspect we’ll see the Indians hold on to their once franchise player through the offseason, hope he stays healthy and performs like he’s capable of in the first few months of 2011, then look to trade him at the deadline when his stock is higher. That’s when the Yankee should kick the tires, no sense in assuming the risk now.

Open Thread: Twentyeleven

Get it? 20 and 11? Eh, eh? (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

(Update, 1/2/11): Time to recycle this thread once more. In a grand demonstration of the NFL’s parity, the 7-8 Rams face the 6-9 Seahawks tonight, with the winner qualifying for the postseason as the four seed. The loser is out all together. Parity doesn’t mean more good teams, it’s just means a lot of mediocre teams. Enjoy that mess.

(Update, 1/1/11): Let’s bump this sucker back up top for the first night of the new year. The Rangers and Devils are in action, plus the Winter Classic (Pens-Caps) is on as well following a weather delay. You’ve also got the Nets and some college football. Enjoy.

(Original Post, 12/31/10): Sheesh, I can’t believe 2010 is over already. Where did the time go? Anyway, thanks to everyone for another great calendar year at RAB, we’re all looking forward to 2011.

And with that, here’s your open thread for what will probably be most of the weekend. RAB will return to normal on Monday, with some actual non-mailbag posts and the radio show and the whole nine. Until then, use this sucker as you see fit. Happy New Year’s, everyone.

NY Giants open thread

It’s the final day of the NFL season, and the Giants need a little help to sneak into the playoffs. They need to beat the Redskins (4:15pm ET, FOX) and they need the Packers to lose to the Bears, nothing else will do. Chat about the game here if you like.

The River Ave. Blues Top Ten of 2010

As 2010 draws to an end, we’re closing the books on the Yanks’ season. The club came within two wins of reaching the World Series, but injuries and an offensive malaise against the Texas Rangers did in the defending World Champions. As we do every year, let’s run down the top ten most popular non-game thread posts from the year that was. Thanks for stopping by in 2010, and here’s to a run at 28 in 2011.

1. The A.J. Burnett Black Eye Theory Thread
Of course, our most popular post from 2010 was about A.J. Burnett‘s black eye. As RAB readers theorized about it, we never did find out which member of the Yanks grew so disgusted with Burnett’s pitching that they socked him im the face.

2. Steinbrenners in talks to sell Yanks to Dolans
File this one under “April Fools jokes gone horribly, horribly wrong or horribly, horribly right.”

3. Rumor: Lee deal ‘just about done’
Cliff Lee, always almost a Yankee, always never a Yankee.

4. The Yankees top five trade chips
On the eve of the trade deadline, Mike ran down the team’s top five trade chips. Of course, none of those players were traded in July, and all of them are still with the team as 2011 dawns. One — or more of them — could still be traded as the Yanks look to fill some holes, but I bet they’re all still with the franchise come Opening Day.

5. Prospect Profile: Jesus Montero
Few Yankee prospects of the past 20 years have had the buzz about them that Montero does. He’ll make his debut in 2011, and it’s no stretch to say that the Yanks’ offensive future is, in part, riding on his bat. Questions remain about his defense, but the kid sure can hit.

6. 2010 Preseason Top 30 Prospects
As Spring Training began, Mike ran down the organization’s top 30 prospects. See how this compares with Mike’s post-draft top 30 list and marvel at Dellin Betances‘ 2010 campaign. A sign of things to come? I sure hope so.

7. Yankees agree to deal with Feliciano
So far the Yanks’ biggest off-season move outside of signing the team’s own free agents, the club agreed to a two-year deal with Pedro Feliciano a few weeks ago. They haven’t made this one official yet, but that’s probably just because of the holidays. Feliciano will complement Boone Logan as the two lefties of the Yanks’ pen in 2011.

8. Freddy Schuman, long-time stadium stalwart, passes away
Freddy Schuman, known to Yankee fans as Freddy Sez, passed away in October at the age of 85. Banging his pan brought joy to countless Yankee fans over the years.

9. Heyman: Yanks made ‘big proposal’ on Soria
We’ve recently heard from sources close to the reliever that Joakim Soria would love to come pitch in the Bronx. He’s been a lifelong Yankee fan and would love to become Mariano Rivera‘s heir apparent. In July, the Yanks were rumored to have made a big offer to the Royals, and Soria’s name keeps popping up in rumors connecting him with the Bombers.

10. The idea of re-acquiring Johnny Damon
While it’s a move unlikely to happen, rumors of a reunion with Johnny Damon resurfaced last week. Joe analyzed a potential return to the Bronx for the one-time Yankee.

Honorable Mention: While not one of our ten most popular posts, we’d be remiss to end the year without mentioning the Boss. On July 13, 2010, just a few days after his 80th birthday, Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner III passed away at a hospital in Tampa, Florida. It was a tough year for the Yankee family.