A thought on trading Phil Hughes

Once upon a time, we considered Phil Hughes untouchable. Taken by the Yanks with the 23rd pick of the 2004 amateur draft — a thank you gift from the Astros for signing Andy Pettitte — the right-hander with a mid-90s fastball and a killer curve was the considered to be the nation’s top high school pitcher. He also symbolized a new era in Yankee drafts. No more John-Ford Griffins or Dave Parrishes for the refocused Front Office.

Over the years, Yankee fans fanatically watched Hughes mature. They wanted to believe that he was the harbinger of an organization that would one day produce good young players in the mold of Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera. With hired mercenaries striking out in October throughout the mid-2000s, Hughes was practically considered a savior.

Brian Cashman fed the hype as he frequently declared Hughes off limits. The Nationals at one pointed wanted Hughes for Alfonso Soriano, and the Mariners in 2005 mentioned his name in a deal involving Randy Winn. “I’ve got players people ask us about other than Phil Hughes,” the Yanks’ GM said to Tyler Kepner in 2006. “People ask about him, too. I really have no interest. There are some guys you can have longer conversations about than others.”

We, of course, staked out a strong position with regards to Hughes in late 2007 when the Twins were dangling Johan Santana. Save the Big Three, we said. They’ll bring more glory than Johan Santana.

These days, though, Hughes’ star has dimmed considerably. Despite some solid results against the Mariners earlier this week, 2011 has been a lost year for Hughes. He’s made just 14 starts and sports a 6.00 ERA. His K/9 is two strike outs below his career norm, his fastball has less zip, his breaking pitches no bite. He has improved upon his dismal start, but his pitcher is a far cry from the Number 2 starter we hoped he would be by this point in his career.

Across the land, Yankee-watchers are wondering about Mr. Hughes. At 25, he should be getting better, but as Steve Goldman noted earlier this week, he’s doing the opposite. “Hughes had a 1.38 ERA through his first half-dozen starts in 2010,” Goldman wrote, “but after that his ERA was just a fraction under 5.00 and he gave up 1.6 home runs per nine innings. His line from then until now: 40 games, 209.1 innings, 223 hits, 33 home runs, 68 walks, 152 strikeouts, 5.33 ERA.” That is a lot of innings with some not-very-impressive results.

And so I wonder if Phil Hughes should be as untouchable as he once was. Recently, Jon Heyman offered up a tidbit on Hughes: “Phil Hughes is expected to move to the bullpen, and it’s possible the Yankees could consider trading him in the offseason (some see him as the next Ian Kennedy, someone who might benefit from a move out of New York).”

Of course, the Kennedy comps would come, and if Hughes is on the block, looking to the Yanks’ situation with Kennedy makes sense. For Kennedy plus others, the Yanks were able to net themselves Curtis Granderson. While Kennedy has excelled in Arizona, that’s not a bad haul at all, and it’s a trade I would be willing to make over and over again. The two situations, though, aren’t exactly alike.

When the Yanks traded Kennedy, he was nearing his 25th birthday, but the two players’ ages are about all they had in common. Kennedy had excelled in the minors but due to injury and ineffectiveness, had thrown just 59.2 innings at the Big League level. He had missed most of 2009 with an aneurysm, and the Yanks had seemingly soured on him before that due to an attitude that many said was simply too brash. Kennedy was still a prospect and not yet a project.

Hughes, on the other hand, has now amassed 441 innings in the Bronx. He’s made 71 starts, and we’ve watched his velocity decline and stuff diminish since he was moved from the setup role in 2009 to a starting role last year. And, oh yeah, he’s arbitration eligible after making $2.7 million this year. Kennedy still has another year left before he’s due for arbitration, and the Diamondbacks are paying him just $423,000.

Other teams’ fans haven’t written off Phil Hughes. The folks at Bleed Cubbie Blue said they would be happy to have him, and I’d imagine others would too. After all, a 25-year-old with Hughes’ potential is alluring. Whether he can realize that potential is something I’ve begun to doubt a bit this year.

To trade Hughes, though, the Yanks would have to fill some holes. Perhaps they could use an everyday player for the aging left side of the infielder. Perhaps they could use a young starter with potential who also needs a change of scenery. Without drawing up a complicated multi-team deal, there simply aren’t too many landing spots for Hughes or desirable pieces for the Yankees.

Maybe the Yanks and Hughes are simply stuck with each other for now. Despite his poor showing this year, he’ll get a raise for 2012, and suddenly, the Yanks are paying Phil Hughes $3-$4 million. For that, they’ll need more than an inconsistent starter with potential or a mid-inning reliever. Now if only the real Phil Hughes, whoever that may be, would please stand up.

UPDATE: Staten Island Yanks being sold, SWB Yanks being purchased

Update (Sept. 15th): More from Pimpsner. Apparently Mandalay doesn’t want anything to do with the Staten Island franchise after the sale if the Yankees are not involved. They will likely look to purchase another team, and their are several on the market. Important thing to remember: SI will remain the Yankees affiliate.

In other news, Mandalay and the Yankees are teaming up to buy the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees for $14.6M. Much of that money is going towards PNC Field renovations, which will force the team to play all their games on the road next year.

Original Post (Sept. 14th): Via Robert Pimpsner, the Staten Island Yankees are being sold to a NYC hedge fund manager for $8.3M. It’s the second time the franchise has been sold in the last five years, but the first time it was the Yankees and Mandalay Sports Entertainment that did the purchasing. Average attendance has been dropping in recent years, and the sale was financially motivated. It’s unclear if Mandalay will remain involved with the team, but the franchise will remain in Staten Island and affiliated with the Yankees. An official announcement is expected soon.

Open Thread: Rooting for the Rays

(AP)

The Yankees are off, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything on the line tonight. The Rays and Red Sox are starting a huge four-game series in Fenway Park this evening (Hellickson vs. Weiland), a series that will determine the AL wildcard, for all intents and purposes. If Tampa sweeps, they’ll tie Boston and then we’ll really have ourselves a race. If they don’t, then they’re still going to have to make up some serious ground during the final week and a half of the season. It can happen, but it probably won’t.

Regardless of who wins tonight, the Yankees will gain a half-game on one team and lose a half-game to the other. I’d much prefer to see them gain ground on the Red Sox and increase their lead in the division than put even more distance between then and the Rays. They’re eight games up on the wildcard with 14 left to play, so that race is really close to being over. I feel confident in saying that the Yankees will make the postseason, even if the Rays manage to sweep. That’s why I want Tampa to take this series, to help put some distance between the Yanks and Sox. For the next four days, I’m pro-Tampa.

Anyway, the game will be shown on MLB Network at 7pm ET tonight, and you can talk about it (and more!) here in the open thread. You all know what to do by now, so have at it.

How Mariano became the Sandman

The game of baseball has countless sounds associated with it, like the crack of the bat, the pop of the mitt, Take Me Out To The Ball Game, and if you’re in the Bronx, “Enter Sandman” as well. Mariano Rivera has been storming out of the bullpen to the song for more than a decade now, but how did a quiet guy from Panama end up with Metallica as his entrance music? As Bryan Hoch explains, is was largely due to Trevor Hoffman.

Some Yankees higher-ups saw Hoffman’s theatrical entrance with “Hell’s Bells” during the 1998 World Series (and, more importantly, they saw how the fans reacted), and decided they needed something like that for Mo. I don’t remember this at all, but apparently Rivera came out to “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City” by Guns n’ Roses in 1999, but neither stuck while “Enter Sandman” did. Something about Mo warming up to Axl Rose makes me want to stick a pen in my ear. Anyway, make sure you check out the article, it’s a pretty neat story.

The Eric Chavez Appreciation Thread

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

It wasn’t supposed to work. When the Yankees agreed to bring Eric Chavez to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, it was supposed to be nothing more than a sidebar story for a weeks before the two sides parted ways before the end of camp. Chavez hadn’t been healthy in years and even when he was healthy, he didn’t produce. There was no risk involved, but it didn’t exactly qualify as a high-upside signing either.

Chavez came to camp and got his fair share of playing time (45 plate appearances), and he hit. Boy did he hit. A .395/.422/.558 batting line with just six strikeouts, but most importantly, he stayed healthy. There wasn’t even a day-to-day situation, no lingering soreness, a tight something, nothing at all. Chavez did his work and stayed healthy, and he performed well enough that the Yankees took him north out of Spring Training as their backup corner infielder.

After a pinch-hitting appearance in the second game of the season, Chavez sat on the bench for more than a week and didn’t start a game until the team’s eighth of the season. Filling in at DH in Fenway Park, the former Oakland Athletic went 3-for-5 with a pair of opposite field doubles off the Green Monster. He started at third base the next day and picked up another hit. Chavez’s playing time gradually started to increase, and by the team’s 25th game of the season, he was hitting .290/.405/.355 with twice as many walks (six) as strikeouts (three) in 37 plate appearances.

The power production wasn’t there, but that wasn’t all that surprising given his history of back and shoulder issues. The important thing is that the Yankees had a rock solid left-handed bat available off the bench, a veteran player that would put together a quality at-bat. Chavez’s season came to halt on May 5th, when the inevitable happened and he got hurt. He suffered a deep bone bruise in his right foot rounding the bases on a triple in Detroit, an injury that kept him on the shelf for more than two months, a total of 72 team games.

When he finally did return, Chavez got regular starts at third base because Alex Rodriguez was on the shelf with his knee injury. He went 11-for-32 in his first eight games back, then started to see some more time at DH. A month later, his season batting line sits at .274/.331/.363 in 148 plate appearances, or about 148 more than I expected him to get before the season. He also has three hits and a walk in ten pitch-hitting appearances, and his defense at the hot corner has been surprisingly awesome. I figured he’d lost a step in the field after all the injuries, but he’s been legitimately fantastic with the glove, living up to the Gold Glove reputation.

The Yankees came into the season with their best bench in a long time, opting to shore up the reserves in the offseason rather than in-season like they had in the past. Chavez was a total flier, it was impossible to expect anything from him given his lengthy injury history (just 154 games played from 2007-2010), but he’s been a very value reserve player for a team that has dealt with injuries, especially on the infield. He embraced his role, the first time in his life he wasn’t playing everyday, and the Yankees have reaped the rewards.

What’s important in the final two weeks

The end is nigh. Today marks the final day off in the Yankees’ 2011 regular season schedule. They’ll play 14 games in 13 days starting Friday, running through a gauntlet of AL East foes (and the Twins once). That might sound like a daunting task, but the Yankees have mitigated it by placing themselves in a favorable position.

At the start of September they trailed the Red Sox by a game and a half, though they had a comfortable 7.5 game lead in the Wild Card race. Since then the Red Sox have collapsed, going 3-10 and yielding the AL East lead. The Yankees now sit four games ahead of their foes and have a magic number of 11. Even more importantly, their magic number for a playoff spot is down to seven. This is important, since it takes a little emphasis off the grueling schedule ahead.

Because they haven’t yet clinched the Yankees can’t quite start planning ahead. They’ve taken their foot off the accelerator to a degree, but they can’t trot out a lineup composed almost exclusively of September call-ups just yet. But with the Sox and the Rays locking horns this weekend, the Yankees stand to gain some ground. They could be in a position to clinch the Wild Card early next week, and the division not long after.

The expediency with which they clinch holds a certain importance this year, since the team faces a few challenges as they prepare for the playoffs. Here are some things to consider in the final two weeks.

Get Alex Rodriguez Reps

Joe Girardi said that Rodriguez will appear on Friday’s lineup card, and barring any last-minute setbacks he’ll play third base and bat fourth in that game. There’s a chance that he could hold those spots for each of the 14 remaining games. He has appeared in just 90 this year, and is guaranteed to play in his fewest number of games since 1995. Resting him at this point would be counterproductive.

Getting Alex going is of great importance right now. As we’ve seen throughout the year, even the best bats on the team can go cold for stretches. Even Curtis Granderson, the team MVP, has slowed down lately. The more quality bats the Yankees have in the lineup, the better chances they get a few who are hot and will produce runs in the postseason. Despite his power outage Rodriguez has still been one of the most productive Yankees, on a rate basis, this season. Getting him sharp in time for the postseason will surely add some runs to the ledger.

Rest The Walking Wounded

Playing through injuries is the reality of a 162-game schedule. Every player does it at some time or another, but that doesn’t mean he could use a breather when convenient. These guys will likely keep playing straight through the game when they clinch, but will be due a few games off in the days following.

Russell Martin could use a couple of days off. He’s battled through nagging injuries all year, most recently a foul ball off the thumb. Nick Swisher has that elbow issue, and while it doesn’t seem to be much of a problem now he could still probably use a few days without high-stress throws. And that doesn’t even mention the guys who could use a breather after going at breakneck speed all season, such as Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson.

In essence, clinching early allows Girardi to give these guys a few days to back off, recover, and get ready for the playoffs. The earlier they clinch the earlier they can take these breaks, and the earlier they can get back in the swing of things.

Lining up the pitching staff

The Yankees are already shifting around the pitching staff, but as Mike mentioned earlier this week, they have to do some serious rotation juggling to get CC in line for a Game 1 start in the ALDS. They also have to line up the guys they want going in Games 2 and 3 as well. The sooner they clinch, the sooner they can tinker with things and give guys extra (or perhaps short) rest leading into the series.

While there is no way to line up the bullpen, the same principle applies to them as the position players. There’s a certain balance the Yankees need to strike between giving them rest and giving them work to keep them sharp. A week of meaningless games will afford them that exact opportunity. Heading into the playoffs they should have Soriano, Robertson, and Rivera rested and sharp enough to pitch any game needed.

2011 Minor League Awards

(David Schofield/MiLB.com)

The 2011 season was almost guaranteed to be a disappointment after the near-flawless year the farm system put together in 2010. The breakout-heavy and injury-free season spoiled us rotted, but everything returned to normal this summer. There were some more injuries, some more players not making as much progress as we’d like, and a few less players breaking out. It’s disappointing after the success of 2010, but this was a pretty normal season for the farm system.

For at least the 29th consecutive year, the Yankees’ six domestic affiliates combined to an above-.500 record (352-342). Although none of the four full season affiliates qualified for the postseason (the first time that’s happened as a foursome in basically forever), both the Short Season Staten Island Yankees and the Rookie Level GCL Yankees won their league titles. Staten Island’s title was the franchise’s sixth in 13 years of existence, while the GCL Yanks took home their fourth title since 2004.

This post is not intended to be any sort of prospect ranking, it’s just a recognition of those who had great years regardless of their future potential. Sometimes we just have to step back and say damn, that guy was awesome without obsessing over the underlying data and wondering whether or not it’s sustainable. Here are my 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 awards posts. Just as a reminder, I disqualify the Player of the Year from the other major awards just to mix things up.

Minor League Player of the Year: Mason Williams, CF, SS
I’ve never given the PoY to a guy that didn’t play in a full season league and I don’t intend to make a habit of it, but Williams gets the nod in a year lacking an obvious candidate. The now-20-year-old center fielder demolished older competition in the New York-Penn League, hitting .349/.395/.468 with 28 steals in 68 regular season games. Williams let the league with 94 hits (by ten), and placed second in the circuit in batting average, triples (six), total bases (126), and steals. Only three players topped his .863 OPS, and all three are two years older than him. Williams, the Yankees fourth round pick in 2010, received the largest signing bonus they handed out that year, and now you know why. He excelled against college kids and helped his team to the best record in the league as well as a championship.

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