Game 99: Another rook

Sabathia won in his first return to Cleveland (Tony Dejak/AP)

Say hello to Josh Tomlin. He makes his major league debut for the Indians tonight, though it won’t come with much fanfare. While the Indians do have a crop of young pitching prospects, including Hector Rondon and Carlos Carrasco, Tomlin does not rank among them. He didn’t make Baseball America’s top 30 Indians prospects this year, nor did he even get a C grade from John Sickels. So there’s not a ton that we can immediately glean about him.

Thankfully Mike has old BA Prospect Handbooks on file, and he was able to find a bit on Tomlin, who was the Indians’ No. 28 prospect in 2009. Like most fringy guys he sits 89-91 with the fastball and uses a 12-6 curve as his best secondary pitch. He also has a changeup that, apparently, he’ll throw in any count. It has plenty of separation from his fastball, sitting 75-78. And then there’s a slider/cutter combo that I’m betting we won’t see much of tonight.

We’ve seen these guys beat the Yanks before, but I don’t think it’s an epidemic or anything. Tomlin lived on his low hit and walk rates in the minors, and we know guys like that struggle in the majors. Yeah, maybe he can hold AAA hitters to seven hits per nine, but he won’t maintain that in the majors. That doesn’t preclude him from getting lucky in his debut, but the Yanks should have more than enough to power though this one.

On the mound for the good guys, CC Sabathia goes for career win No. 150 against the team for which he recorded win No. 1. He’s been on a roll lately, and looks to continue it against a team that is a bit punchless on offense. It’s always nice to have your lefty on the mound against a team whose best weapons also bat lefty.

And finally, a happy birthday to A-Rod, who turns 35 today. His 600th would be pretty sweet this evening.


1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, DH
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C Curtis Granderson, CF
7. Curtis Granderson, CF Juan Miranada, 1B
8. Juan Miranada, 1B Frankie Cervelli, C
9. Brett Gardner, LF

And on the mound, number fifty-two, CC Sabathia.

Update by Mike: Jorge Posada has been scratched with a sore left knee. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.

Sherman: Joba not in danger of being sent to the minors

When the bullpen door swung open in the 8th inning last night, it wasn’t Joba Chamberlain that came in to preserve the one run lead. Rather, it was David Robertson (and later on, Boone Logan). The move was a long time coming, as Joba had allowed runs in six of his last ten appearances and at least one baserunner in 14 of his last 15 appearances. The guy is as unreliable as they come right now.

While Joba has lost exclusive rights to 8th inning work, Joel Sherman says he is in no danger of being sent to the minors to figure things out. Allow me to excerpt his explanation:

What is not possible, at least for now, is sending Chamberlain to the minors for two major reasons: 1) The Yanks feel it would be a terrible message to bust somebody from main set-up man all the way to Scranton in one move, so they will try to fix him outside the eighth inning and 2) They do not believe Chamberlain is failing because of an attitude problem. Yankee officials actually consider Chamberlain a hard worker. In other words they are not looking at this how they viewed a situation with Melky Cabrera in 2008. That season the Yanks thought Cabrera had become lazy and that was a factor in his struggles, so they did demote him in mid-August to Triple-A.

Whenever Joba starts doing his tight rope act and gives up runs (or worse, the lead), our first reaction as fans is to want him shipped to the minors. It’s our natural, knee-jerk response. We claim to see him unable to repeat his delivery, as if we’ve been trained and have sufficient experience to spot such things, and want him to go the Roy Halladay route; all the way back to A-Ball and rebuild him from the ground up. As if that’s ever worked for someone besides Halladay.

Anyway, point is that the Yankees are doing what’s best not just for the team, but what’s best for Joba. They’re trying to fix him, and will now do so in lower leverage situations. There’s unquestionably a confidence issue here, he’s human, and after getting his ass handed to him basically all season it’s only natural that Joba would start to get down on himself. Going straight to the minors would probably only exacerbate that problem. The Yanks have until August 7th to send him to the minors unconditionally, and after that Joba will have to clear waivers to be demoted. That is almost never an issue, however.

For now, the Yanks will work hard to get Joba back on track in situations less crucial to the outcome of the game, and even then he’ll be on a short leash. If that doesn’t work, then the minors are the next step. They’re just not the first step.

CC and the Indians team that never was

(AP Photo: Paul Chiasson)

Tonight CC Sabathia will take the mound in Cleveland for only the second time in his career as an opposing pitcher. When he called Progressive/Jacobs Field home he treated it well, pitching 747 innings to a 3.84 ERA. The fans in Cleveland loved him, and it didn’t take long for Yankees fans to realize why. He’s a big dude with an even bigger smile, and it seems like he’s always the nicest guy in the room. His 95 mph fastball doesn’t hurt, either.

Sabathia didn’t run a typical course for a young pitcher. The 20th pick in the 1998 draft — behind pitchers Mark Mulder, Jeff Austin, Ryan Mills, J.M. Gold, Jeff Weaver, Kip Wells, Brad Lidge, and Seth Etherton — he signed in time to pitch 18 innings in rookie ball before calling it a season. In 1999 he missed two months with a bone bruise in his elbow, but he cam back in 2000 with a reassuring performance. After 56 innings in advanced-A ball Sabathia moved up to AA, where he was named an All-Star. He pitched in the Futures Game that year, as well as the Hall of Fame game in Cooerstown. As we’ve seen the Yankees do in the past, the Indians brought Sabathia around the big league club in September, though they never activated him. He’d have to wait until 2001 to get his shot.

Despit having just 232.2 innings of minor league work under his belt, the Indians broke camp with Sabathia in 2001, and he made his debut on April 8, pitching 5.2 innings and allowing three runs against the Orioles. It’s tough to expect much of a 20-year-old, even if he is the team’s top prospect, but Sabathia delivered in a number of ways. He led the league in hit rate (as in, lowest), which helped make up for his 4.7 walks per nine. He ended the year with a 4.39 ERA, which amounted to a 102 ERA+. It’s tough to imagine a 20-year-old with minimal minor league experience providing more.

One issue Cleveland knew it would face with Sabathia was affordability. By calling him up at age 20 they put him on pace to reach free agency heading into his age 26 season. The Indians had raised payroll from $76.5 million in 2000 to $93.3 million in 2001, but that budget increase was temporary. It was unlikely that the Indians would be able to afford Sabathia once he became a free agent, made all the worse because that time would come as he entered his prime. Still, they made all necessary attempts, which included signing him to a four-year, $9.5 million extension after 2001 season that covered his first two arbitration years and provided a $7 million option for his final season of team control.

CC pitched very well, especially considering he was age 21 through 23, during the first three years of that contract. It was good enough for him to sign another extension with Cleveland, this one buying out his first two years of free agency. It called for two years and $17.5 million, an enormous bargain in every way. The extension also included Cleveland picking up his 2006 option. So, all told, the Indians ended up paying $13.95 million for Sabathia’s three arbitration years, and then $17.5 million for his first two years of free agency.

It came as no surprise, then, that Sabathia wanted to get paid the next time around. He had played for cheap in Cleveland for five years (not counting his three reserve clause years because he had no control over that). It was time to get the dollars he deserved. His price tag jumped after his Cy Young award in 2007, and there was little chance he’d consider signing the four-year deal, worth between $68 and $72 million, that Cleveland had offered. Knowing they didn’t have a shot, they traded him to the Brewers mid-season, which turned out to be an excellent move. Instead of getting a first round pick when Sabathia signed with the Yankees, they would have gotten only a second-rounder because the Yanks also signed Mark Teixeira.

While it appears that Sabathia left Cleveland on decent terms, there does seem to be at least a little lingering resentment, at least from one beat reporter. Two weeks ago’s Anthony Castrovince unloaded on Sabathia. It came after comments CC made when asked about how the Indians broke up their 2007 team that came within a game of the World Series. “That wasn’t our fault,” Sabathia said. “They trade us. That’s on them.”

The issue, of course, is a bit more complicated than that. The Indians started off poorly in 2008 and were out of contention by the time Sabathia started pitching well. If he had started out the season well perhaps he and Cliff Lee could have made a difference, but it just didn’t work out. The Indians traded him because they had to — because there was no way they could afford to sign him again. It does seem pretty cut and dry. They didn’t have the necessary resources, so they had to make a move. That is on them. But that’s not an indictment. It’s just a reflection of the team’s financial situation.

I’d blockquote Castrovince, but there seems little point. His beef lies with CC’s, “That’s on them” sentiment. He claims that CC should have leveled with people when asked about the 2007 team. “This is a business, and it’s difficult for a team in a smaller market like Cleveland to afford to keep its core intact. That’s why it’s a shame we weren’t able to take advantage of the special opportunity we had in ’07. And as the ace of that pitching staff, I take the brunt of the blame,” was Castrovince’s suggested answer to the question. That would have been noble, but it was in no way necessary. And it misses the bigger point.

The Indians treated CC well, as Castrovince says (slipping in a fat joke, hardy har har), but he misses how many chances Sabathia gave the Indians. He knew he could have hit free agency at age 26 and would have gotten a mammoth contract, though perhaps not quite as large as the one the Yankees gave him. Still, that would have lined him up for yet another payday if he had signed, say, a five- or six-year deal. Yet he signed an extension with the Indians, at a rate grossly below the market standard, that covered two years of free agency. He gave the Indians a chance to build a team, and while they came close they fell short.

It was a good run for CC in Cleveland. The fans loved him, watching him grow from 20-year-old rookie to Cy Young award winner in seven years. He apparently liked it enough to give the team a discount. Yes, it’s a shame, for many reasons, that the 2007 squad couldn’t finish the job. That could have changed the course of Cleveland baseball. But it didn’t, so the Indians had to make some necessary moves. Sabathia had no obligation to once again sign below market. After sacrificing money for security for five years he decided to get paid. I find it hard to begrudge him that.

Stark: Yankees trying to trade Chan Ho Park

Via Jayson Stark, the Yankees are trying to unload the disappointing Chan Ho Park on some unsuspecting team desperate for relief help. CHoP has been on the chopping block (pun intended) for basically the entire season, but I suppose it’s possible that GM Brian Cashman has been getting a few trade inquiries, buying Park some time before what seems like an inevitable DFA. The Yankees aren’t going to get much in return, obviously, but a fringe prospect plus some salary relief is better than nothing.

If the Rockies are selling, should the Yankees be buying?

The Rockies, owners of one of the league’s deepest rosters, have dropped their last six games to fall to eight back in the NL West and four-and-a-half back of NL Wild Card, and now they’re considering selling before the deadline. Just take a quick glance at their roster, and you’ll see plenty of players that appear to fit what the Yankees need.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Despite valiant efforts to land Cliff Lee and Dan Haren, the Yanks biggest needs at the trade deadline are help for the bullpen and help for the bench. A full-time designated hitter is another possibility, but I’m curious to see what a Juan MirandaMarcus Thames platoon could do given regular at-bats. Besides, DH types are abundant during the August waiver trade period, so it’s not a high priority.

Starting on the bench, the Rockies could and probably will shop former Oriole Melvin Mora if they are serious about turning over some of their roster. Mora is owed about $472,000 the rest of the way, and he’ll become a non-compensation free agent after the season. We’re all familiar with Mora from his days with Baltimore, so this part is just review. He’s very versatile, having played first, second, third, and left this season, and his bat is basically league average if not a bit below. His .321 wOBA is actually not a product of Coors Field (.291 wOBA at home, .344 on the road), but his defensive shortcomings have him at perfectly replacement level this year, 0.0 WAR. Is that better than Ramiro Pena (-0.4 WAR)? It sure is.

(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

As for the bullpen, there are plenty of options, but the most attractive is probably Rafael Betancourt. His peripheral stats are off the charts this season (10.75 K/9, 1.25 BB/9), but his ERA sits at 4.50 because of some bad luck on balls in play (.374 BABIP). The big drawback is that Betancourt is an extreme fly ball pitcher (71% of the balls put in play off him during his career have been liners or fly balls), something that might not jive with the New Stadium. The contract situation isn’t great either. Betancourt is owed a touch less than $1.4M for the rest of the season, then is under contract for $3.775M next year. That’s not exactly a bargain basement price for a middle reliever.

The Rockies also have southpaw Joe Beimel to offer, but he’s got unimpressive peripherals (4.50 K/9, 2.25 BB/9 vs. LHB this year) and about $315,000 left on his contract. Plus the Yanks don’t really need another lefty reliever. Manny Corpas has always been a personal fave, and he’s established himself as a ~6.4 K/9, ~2.4 BB/9, ~48% ground ball pitcher over the last several seasons. The Rockies locked him up long-term a few years ago, so he’s owed $1.02M the rest of this year, $3.5M next year, and then there’s a pair of club options for 2012 ($6M or $250,000 buyout) and 2013 ($8M or $500,000 buyout). If Corpas’ 2012 option is declined, he’s still under team control as an arbitration eligible player. They might not want to move him given the cost certainty. Matt Belisle has found a niche in Colorado’s bullpen over the last two years (9.10 K/9, 1.79 BB/9, .3% grounders), but his limited track record of success makes him a risky proposition. He’s owed the same $315,000 as Beimel the rest of the way, and still has another year of arbitration eligibility ahead of him.

Since we’re here, we might as well talk about Brad Hawpe as a DH option, and make no mistake about it, he’s strictly a DH. Over the last three seasons the guy has a -60.4 UZR in the outfield, the worst of any player at any position. The second worst defensive player during that time is Jermaine Dye, who had a -40.5 UZR, so it’s not like it’s close either. Thankfully he can really hit, though he hasn’t produced as expected this year. Coming off four consecutive seasons of at least a .376 wOBA, Hawpe is all the way down to .327 this year, losing close to 50 points off his isolated power. His batted ball profile is basically unchanged, but for whatever reason just 8.1% of his fly balls are leaving the yard (compared to ~17.6% over the last three years). Comparing Hawpe’s spray chart from this year to the past few years, it looks like his isn’t pulling the ball as much as he used to. Maybe his bat has slowed as he entered his 30’s (he turned 31 last month).

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Regardless of what the problem is, someone’s still going to have to pay Hawpe the $2.78M left on his deal this season, plus the $500,000 buyout of his $10M option for 2011. Even though he projects to be a Type-A free agent, an arbitration offer isn’t guaranteed, and despite his offensive production over the last four years, Hawpe is still just a platoon guy. He’s got a .380 wOBA vs. RHP in his career, but just .323 vs. LHP. It’s not Curtis Granderson bad, but bad enough that Thames will still see plenty of at-bats.

I ran Mora, Hawpe, Corpas, and Betancourt through Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator (here’s the breakdown), and frankly none of them have much value. Using what I think are optimistic (and admittedly, somewhat arbitrary) WAR projections, Mora comes in at $1.3M, Hawpe at -$0.2M (assuming his option is declined and arbitration is not offered), Betancourt at $2.8M, and Corpas at $4.5M (assuming his 2012 option is picked up, but the 2013 option is declined). Hawpe has negative value because his production is down and he’s owed so much money. Based on Victor Wang’s research, none of the four is worth even a Grade-B position player prospect. Mora could fetch an older (23+) Grade-C pitching prospect (Wilkin DeLaRosa?), the two relievers someone like Dan Brewer or Bradley Suttle. If that’s the case, I imagine the Rockies would just keep Corpas and Betancourt.

Whether or not the Rockies decide to go ahead and sell remains to be seen. They do have some players that could help the Yankees down the stretch and shouldn’t cost an arm and leg. Mora is certainly familiar with the AL East, ditto Betancourt and the AL in general. I prefer Corpas to Betancourt, but I’m not the one calling the shots.

From Irabu to Swisher with a side of Justice

Once upon a time, the Yankees had to make a trade to get a player they coveted. Due to the vagaries of the Japanese league’s posting system and the international player market at the time, in April of 1997, the Yankees had to ship a package of players to the San Diego Padres for the rights to Hideki Irabu. The heralded right-hander — Japan’s Roger Clemens — had landed with the Padres in January but refused to play for anyone but the Yankees. So the Bombers sent Ruben Rivera, Rafael Medina — two amateur free agents the club had signed — and $3 million to San Diego. Today, they have Nick Swisher, and it’s all because of that trade from 1997.

Trade histories often run deep as multiple prospects and established veterans are shipped off for a variety of parts. Over time, those players acquired become key cogs in a system moving ever forward. Some contribute to championship clubs while others are repurposed in future trades while still others never make their mark on the game. The path from Ruben Rivera and Rafael Medina, a pitcher who threw 90.2 forgettable innings for the Marlins in the late 1990s, to Nick Swisher unveils the tale of the Yankees over the last 13 seasons.

In 1997, the Yankees were fresh off of their first World Series title in 18 years, but the club knew it had to both improve and look for ways to expand its market into the emerging international scene. With Jimmy Key pushing 35 and Dwight Gooden no sure thing, the Yanks turned their eyes to Irabu, a famous name in Japan, and landed him at the cost of Ruben Rivera, then one of the team’s top prospects. The Padres earned nothing much from the Yanks in that deal, but the Yanks didn’t get much from Irabu either.

Despite the hype, Irabu had a tenuous tenure with the Yanks. He incurred the wrath of George Steinbrenner when he failed to cover first base. The tabloids had a field day with him, and “fat pussy toad” still evokes images of Hideki Ira-boo-boo. Still, despite a 29-20 record with a 4.80 ERA (95 ERA+), Irabu pitched on part of two championship clubs even if he never earned himself a World Series invite. The Yankees eventually shipped him to the Expos for Jake Westbrook, Ted Lilly and Christian Parker, not a bad haul in the long run.

Westbrook, the sinker baller who lost to Javier Vazquez and the Yankees last night, was not long for the pinstriped world. Considered a top pitching prospect prior to the 2000 season, the right-hander appeared in three games for the Yanks. He went 0-2 and got shellacked to the tune of 15 hits and 10 earned runs in 6.2 innings. But the Yanks realized Westbrook’s true value in a late-June trade that still stands as one of Brian Cashman‘s bests.

With the Yanks’ offense struggling, Cashman packaged Zach Day, Ricky Ledee and Westbrook to the Indians for David Justice, and the lefty with the sweet, sweet swing was an instant sensation. Over 78 games with the Yankees that year, he hit .305/.391/.585 with 20 home runs and seemed to carry the Bombers when they need a pick-me-up. In the ALCS against the Mariners, his towering three-run home run in the 7th inning against Arthur Rhodes set the stadium shaking, and it gave the Yanks a lead they would not relinquish. It also won him the series MVP award.

After a poor 2001 season, Justice’s time in the Bronx would be up as the club tried to get younger while filling roster holes. Although Justice would end up in Oakland in 2002, he spent one week in December with the Mets, an in return, the Yankees landed themselves Robin Ventura. The long-time White Sox stalwart had an unmemorable time in the Bronx. He hit 27 homers in 2002, but in the middle of 2003, he was mired in an offensive malaise. The Yanks shipped him and his .251/.344/.392 line to the Dodgers for Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor.

As the Yankee Dynasty declined, Proctor came to stand for everything wrong with Joe Torre’s managerial approach. After two cups of coffee in 2004 and 2005 where he flashed plus stuff with little command, Proctor stuck in 2006 and earned a spot in the Circle of Trust. He made 83 appearances and threw 102.1 innings of decent relief work. In 2007, after Proctor had made 52 appearances in the club’s first 103 games, Brian Cashman took away Torre’s favorite toy and traded him to the Dodgers for — drumroll, please — Wilson Betemit. (Proctor, of course, met his demise when Torre took over the Dodgers in 2008 and used him again in half of the club’s games until his elbow gave out. He has yet to pitch in the Majors since.)

We all know the rest of this story. Betemit was an underperforming backup infielder who had some power but couldn’t field a lick. With Swisher’s bad 2008 fresh in his memory, Chicago White Sox General Manager Ken Williams traded Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira to the Yanks for Wilson Betemit, Jhonny Nunez and Jeff Marquez. It too stands out as one of Brian Cashman’s all-time heists.

Inevitably, this week, the Yankees will move some players and acquire others. They want bullpen help; they need bench help; and they appear to be lurking on the wings of some starting pitching rumors, waiting to pounce. In 13 years’ time, who knows which trade will take on a journey through recent Yankee history? This tale — one that, for now, ends with a home run last night and an All Star Game appearance — started with an overhyped Japanese pitcher, a top outfield prospect and a team hellbent on getting its man. Somehow, that Irabu deal turned out OK so many years later.

Catch RAB on The Pulse Network’s Sports Buzz

I’ll be making another appearance today on the Pulse Network’s Sports Buzz show. Today’s hit comes at 11 a.m., and I’m calling in to chat trade deadline. I’ll talk about which players the Yankees are interested in, the areas in which the club needs the most improvement and which deals are most likely to get done before Saturday’s trade deadline. You can watch it live right here.