Game 100: And on the 100th game, it rained

That photo came courtesy of Mark Feinsand about 20 minutes ago, and you can see the Yankees scattering off the field after batting practice while the grounds crew runs out to get the tarp on the field. The AccuWeather guy said during the pregame show that the game is likely to be delayed for an hour so, but there’s enough of a window to play tonight.

It also rained during A.J. Burnett‘s last start, when he held the Royals scoreless through five innings before getting washed out. Both Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin are available at length tonight, though I’m sure Joe Girardi doesn’t want to use both guys tonight with Dustin Moseley starting tomorrow. Thankfully the Indians are throwing Fausto Carmona tonight and not some rookie no one’s ever heard of. The Yanks have actually seen this guy before.

Here’s the lineup, which features a somewhat less-achy Jorge Posada

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, DH
Granderson, CF
Cervelli, C
Gardner, LF

And on the bump, it’s A.J. Burnett.

In case you haven’t heard, the Indians traded Jhonny Peralta to the Tigers within the last few minutes, so he won’t be around to make four outs on six pitches tonight. For shame. Whenever the game starts, you can watch on YES. In the interim, the Mets and Cardinals are on ESPN (and SNY, of course). Enjoy the game, hopefully it starts soon enough.

Update 7:10 p.m.: The Indians say first pitch is now schedule for 7:40 p.m.

Pettitte ‘feeling good’ down in Tampa

As Andy Pettitte works his way back from a strained groin, the left-hander told the Associated Press yesterday that he is “feeling good.” As part of his rehab, he went through running and agility drills and made approximately 90 throws. He has been out since July 18 and hopes to make a quick return to the mound. Dustin Moseley will start in his place tomorrow.

In other injury news, Al Aceves is ready to take the next step in his return from a back injury. After throwing a bullpen session yesterday, Aceves will either throw live batting practice later this week or head out on a rehab assignment. Anything they get out of the Mexican Gangster this year will be gravy and could be a huge boost to the team’s beleaguered bullpen as well.

If the Yanks make a big move, it will come in August

Joel Sherman passes along some excellent advice: “Avoid writing what is not going to happen.” I read that line as I was 800 words into an article examining why the Yankees won’t look into two possible upgrades in the starting rotation, Roy Oswalt and Carlos Zambrano. The loss to me: 30 minutes of my life. The gain for you: the cost of reading some thoughts on moves that will not happen. I think we all win at least a little in this transaction.

To Sherman’s larger point, the chances of the Yankees making a deadline deal do not look optimistic. Instead their deadline dealings will probably resemble what they did last year. Acquiring a bench bat, or maybe a low-profile bullpen arm, is all we’ll probably see from Cashman and Co. by the time the non-wavier deadline passes at 4 p.m on Saturday.

That doesn’t mean that the Yankees will stay put. It just means that they won’t pursue any of the names currently available. That’s not only because they’re luxuries and not needs, but also because many of them will be available for another month. Plenty of interesting players will clear waivers, which will open the way for deals. This group will certainly include a number of starting pitchers.

All of this works in the Yankees’ favor. As we move through August the team will have a better idea of how Phil Hughes is reacting to the increased workload. They’ll also have a better assessment of Pettitte’s injury. If they feel they need a starter after that, they should have options available. If they don’t, they can save the money and prospects by sticking with in-house options.

There still exists a possibility of a pre-deadline move. Brian Cashman works quickly and stealthily, so anything is possible at any time. But considering the potential August trade market, they might choose to just wait it out. There will be options later, and those options might not be any worse than the ones they have right now.

As to Oswalt and Zambrano, it’s not happening. I kinda just wanted to drum up something on them to get everyone talking, but really that wouldn’t be a productive discussion. Both are owed too much money, more than they’re ultimately worth. While the Cubs would likely kick in some cash, there are some other negatives from Zambrano that make even a complete salary dump a questionable move. If the Yanks do acquire a starter, it will likely be a name we haven’t seen them associated with yet.

The extremely high asking price for Scott Downs

After a strong start, the Toronto Blue Jays have faded back to their usual fourth place spot, barely hovering above .500 and 12 games behind the Yanks. So as the trade deadline arrives, the team will probably try to move some of its more valuable parts. To that end, Scott Downs, their 34-year-old lefty reliever having a decent season, is in high demand. Downs has thrown 42.1 innings over 47 appearances and is sporting a 2.34 with 10 walks and 35 strike outs. Lefties are hitting just .182/.308/.309 in 65 plate appearances against the southpaw, and both the Yankees and Red Sox are rumored to be very interested.

There is but one problem: The Blue Jays are asking for the world. According to Jon Heyman, Toronto asked for Jesus Montero, a laughable proposal, and George A. King says the Blue Jays wanted Joba Chamberlain. (Toronto has reportedly asked for Casey Kelly or Jose Igelsias from the Red Sox for their reliever.) Downs would be a great addition to the bullpen with Damaso Marte out and Boone Logan as the club’s only left-hander, but at that price, the trade isn’t not even worth discussing. Outside of the greats, no reliever — and particularly not a 34-year-old — is worth a player of Joba’s or Montero’s caliber.

The Yankees’ top five trade chips

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

We’re now just three full days from the trade deadline, so the rumor mill is going to pick up very soon. Unlike five or six years ago, the Yankees actually have some good young players to offer in a deal right now, players other teams in the league actually want. That used to not be the case, which is why Eric Duncan was promoted so aggressively back in the day; they were trying to boost his trade value. Thankfully don’t have that problem any more. There are waves of talent coming up through the system, so the Yanks could offer high probability players from the upper minors or high upside players a little further away.

GM Brian Cashman‘s stock line has been “No one is untouchable, but some are more touchable than others,” which is simple enough and right to the point. I’m sure the Yankees would move Robbie Cano or Phil Hughes in the right deal, but the odds that right deal comes along are very slim. As I put together this list of the players with the most trade value in the organization, I left those two off for that reason. It’s just incredibly unlikely that they’ll be traded.

I have to say, putting this together was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Balancing big leaguers with guys still in the minors is never easy to do, especially when you’re trying to figure out how much those players appeal to other teams.

Remember, this list is extremely subjective, so make sure you leave your two cents in the comments.

1. Jesus Montero, C

Despite being one of the game’s best prospects, Montero has been no stranger to the trade rumor circuit. The Yanks offered him for Roy Halladay last year, and then again for Cliff Lee this year. Rumors have swirled about the team “dangling” him for Joakim Soria, though that sounds like a game of rumor telephone gone wrong. Either way, it’s clear other teams value the Yanks’ best prospect, enough to consider swapping a front-line player for him.

Still just 20-years-old, Montero rebounded from a poor start to the season in Triple-A and has hit .371/.481/.645 with more walks (13) than strikeouts (11) in July. Even though his future at catcher is uncertain, Montero has immense trade value as a well-above average bat with six years of team control ahead of him. Victor Wang’s research pegs his trade value at a staggering $36.5M.

2. Brett Gardner, OF

I don’t believe the Yanks would go out and actively shop Gardner, but I do believe they’d have no trouble parting with him in a trade if it came down to it. They could market him as a .380 OBP, 40 steal, Gold Glove caliber centerfielder with four more years of cost control left, which has big time value on the trade market. We know that the White Sox, Royals, and Cubs have had varying levels of interest in trading for Gardner over the last year or so.

The Yanks would have to bring in a replacement via free agency after the season, which would be expensive but not an issue of talent with players like Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth out there. I get a trade value of $53.3M using Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator, though I suspect my WAR projections were a tad optimistic.

3. Joba Chamberlain, RHP

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Even though his 2010 season has been particularly horrific, other teams still have interest in Joba. The Diamondbacks asked for him in a Dan Haren deal, ditto the Blue Jays and Scott Downs. The Yankees would be selling low, very low, which is why I don’t expect them to move him, but they could present him as a guy that has flirted with the upper-90’s this year and shown a put-away slider and a good curveball.

Joba’s trade value isn’t as high as it was a few years ago not necessarily because he’s stunk this season, but because he’s about to enter his arbitration years. His league minimum salary is going to become a seven figure payout next year, which works against him. There are still plenty of teams out there that would be willing to move him back into the rotation, I’m sure of it. I have his trade value at $16.1M as a reliever and $21.9M as a starter.

4. Austin Romine, C

Depth behind the plate is a wonderful thing. Teams will often overpay for quality catchers in trades or free agency because of dearth of good backstops, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Romine is the team’s best minor league trade chip behind Montero. He doesn’t offer the same offensive potential, but he’s a virtual lock to stay behind the plate, boosting his trade value. As a projected league average hitter with above average defense and six full years of cost control left, Romine could be the centerpiece in any kind of deal short of one involving a superstar. Wang’s research has his value at $23.4M.

5. Ivan Nova, RHP

Nova was considered a key piece in a potential Haren deal, and his value comes from being a big league ready starting pitcher with six full seasons on team control left. No, he’s not going to be an ace and is likely to top out as a mid-rotation starter (if that), but getting a player like that for six figures through 2013 is kind of a big deal. He’s imminently movable, and easily the player most likely to be traded in this post. Wang’s research has his trade value at just $1.5M, though I suspect it’s a little higher in reality. Maybe that’s just my bias.

* * *

Like Nova, Hector Noesi has six years of control left as a high probability back-end starter. His extreme control of the strike zone (232 K, 34 BB in his 233.2 IP over the last two seasons) is sure to appeal to other clubs, though the Yanks have were reluctant to include him a deal for Haren. Andrew Brackman has value because he has upside and is getting closer to the big leagues by the day, plus he’s pretty much answered any questions about his health. Dellin Betances is a notch behind him because he’s still in A-ball and has yet to pitch a full, healthy season. David Phelps, Adam Warren, Zach McAllister … those guys have limited ceilings and aren’t as much of a sure thing as either Nova or Noesi.

So what do you all think, am I missing someone? Is my order out of whack? I’m curious to see how the masses value the team’s players in trades.

Joba awaits his unknown future

It’s often easy to forget that Joba Chamberlain is still just 24 years old. He’s been with the Yankees at the Major League level, through thick and thin, for nearly three full years now, and the idea that veteran could be so young is often overlooked. Perhaps with that framework, we can better understand Joba’s struggles.

Two thousand ten has been a challenge for the right-hander. He “lost” the fifth starter role during Spring Training even though the Yanks seemed destined to hand the ball to Phil Hughes from the get-go, and although Joe Girardi handed him primary set-up duties for Mariano Rivera, that too is a job that has slipped through Joba’s fingers. Now, he’s just another bullpen arm, capable of throwing 97 with a devastating slider but also incapable of protecting a four-run lead.

On the season, most of his numbers aren’t terrible. Chamberlain has made 43 appearances and has thrown 42.1 innings. He’s allowed just 3.6 walks per nine innings and has struck out 10 per 9 IP, but opponents are hitting .295/.356/.422 against him. Despite allowing just three home runs, Joba’s ERA stands in at 5.95, and with a FIP of 3.01, Yankee fans and baseball analysts have been at a loss to figure out just what plagues Joba. Some say it’s a mental thing; others say it’s mechanical; still others say the Yanks have jerked him into and out of the starting rotation too many times for him to have a true sense of pitching at the Major League level.

Now, it’s all coming to a head. While Joba no longer has the set-up role, he’s not, says Joel Sherman, going to be dispatched to the minors. As he hits his three years of service time, we had long assumed that the Yanks wouldn’t send Joba down on the precipice of that anniversary. As Mike wrote yesterday evening, “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.”

There’s more to Joba than just a confidence issue though. There’s also the fact that he’s just 24. Baseball history is not littered with 24-year-old aces. Since 1961 — the dawn of the Expansion Era — just 88 pitchers have thrown at least 324 innings through their age 24 seasons while putting up an ERA+ better than Joba’s 111 mark. On the other hand, 258 pitchers have thrown that many innings with worse results than Chamberlain through age 24, and that group consists of such pitchers as Rick Sutcliffe, Ben Sheets, Javier Vazquez, John Smoltz and Dan Haren. If Chamberlain could turn into any of those four, the Yanks would be ecstatic.

At the same time, Joba’s strike out rate — generally a good indicator of a pitcher’s success — places him in rarefied airs over the last 49 seasons.

For the Yankees, Joba Chamberlain remains a pitching conundrum. He works hard; he throws hard. He strikes out a lot of opposing batters, and he flashed his greatness at age 21 in the Bronx during a pennant race. The Yankees could forget about Joba. They could try to trade him in a blockbuster package for an Adam Dunn-type player or a top starting pitcher. They could let him wither away in the pen.

Or they could remember that Joba Chamberlain is a 24 year old, and like most 24 year olds, he’s still trying to get his bearings in the world. While most of us struggle with careers at that age, he’s struggling on the greatest stage America’s Pastime has to offer. While my Chamberlain 62 t-shirt hasn’t left my drawers in a few months, I’m not quite ready to give up Joba yet, and neither should the Yanks.

Mailbag: Red Sox, 2015, Dunn, Deadline, Hal

Remember to send your questions in via email or the Submit A Tip box, the more the merrier. Today’s topics: the third place Red Sox, the 2015 rotation, Adam Dunn, biggest needs at the trade deadline, another look at the post-George Steinbrenner Yankees, and better pitching statistics. Let’s get too it…

The Red Sox seem to be fading fast. Sure they’ll start getting some guys back from injury, but will it be too late? Should we start just assuming that the Yanks and Rays will make it out of the AL East? – Anonymous

This question was sent Sunday night, after the Mariners beat the Red Sox for the second straight day. Boston has since gone on to beat the wimpy Angels the last two nights, so their fade has slowed down. Either way, no, we can’t assume they’re out of it yet.

Winning the division is nice, but the first thing the Yanks have to secure is a playoff spot, and they’ll do that by clinching a better record than either the Red Sox or the Rays. Boston has started to get their key guys back from injury – Victor Martinez, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz – like you said, and are just waiting on Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia now. I’m sure Theo Epstein will do something to fix that bullpen, making them even more dangerous.

They’re seven games out in the division right now, which is a big deficit but not enough to count out a team of that caliber. Not when they still have 16 combined games left against the teams in front of them (ten against the Yanks). The Rays are definitely the Yankees’ biggest threat right now, but anyone who thinks the Red Sox are done in July is kidding themselves.

If you had to pick one guy pitching for the Yankees in minors right now who will be a key starter for the team in 2015, who? – Moshe

It’s too bad the Yanks didn’t sign Gerrit Cole back in 2008, because that would have made this a much easier question to answer. I’m going to go with Andrew Brackman simply because he’s the closest to the majors among the team’s high upside pitching prospects. The Yanks don’t seem to have much patience for young starting pitchers that project to become back-end starters, which puts guys like Ivan Nova, Zach McAllister, David Phelps, and Adam Warren at an instant disadvantage. I’m willing to bet three of those four are traded by Opening Day 2012.

Brackman’s main competition for me was Jose Ramirez, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances, but those guys are still quite a ways off. Ramirez is still in Low-A, and a level-a-year climb doesn’t get him to the big leagues until the second half of 2013 at the earliest. Betances still has to stay healthy for a full season just for development’s sake. The more time he misses, the less likely it is that he’ll reach his potential. Nine great starts this year doesn’t change that. Banuelos is still in still in A-ball and his size (listed at 5-foot-10, 155 lbs.) is going to work against him whether you accept it or not.

My dark horse candidate is Hector Noesi, who like Brackman is in Double-A, but unlike Brackman doesn’t have blow-you-away stuff. He’s got good stuff, sure, but his best trait is his command and willingness to attack the strike zone. He’s the kind of pitcher that could come up right away and succeed because he’s willing to challenge batters, strike zone jitters shouldn’t (but always could) be an issue.

Remember, being a key starter in 2015 means a guy has to take his lumps at the big league level in 2012 and 2013 and possibly even 2014. Look at Phil Hughes, he came up in 2007 but didn’t turn into a key starter until 2010, and he’s better than anyone I mentioned above. Brackman could potentially be in the majors by the second half of next season, but even if it takes him a little longer he still has a considerable head start and more talent over the other guys.

Do you think Adam Dunn to Yankees would be good addition? – David Robertson’s biggest fan

Hell and yes. I’ve even written about this exact topic already. The Nationals are going nowhere quick and haven’t even offered the guy a contract extension, so it would be pretty foolish of them to keep him around and take the draft picks after the season (or hope to re-sign him). Prospects now are worth a whole lot more than draft picks later.

There’s no reason that Dunn would be a bad pickup for the Yanks, unless they plan on playing him in centerfield. Imagine that guy in the New Stadium.

Biggest need at the trade deadline: 5th starter, reliever, or bench help? I say 5th starter. – Will

I’m leaning towards the bullpen. Andy Pettitte will be back soon enough and that’ll take care of the whole fifth starter thing. They certainly have plenty of in-house options to run through in the interim. If he wasn’t on his way back, then yeah, I think another starter would be the priority.

The relief corps needs a lot of help though. Joba Chamberlain can’t be counted on for anything right now, and you can’t expect Al Aceves to come back and a) be effective, or b) stay healthy. Anything out of him is gravy. Jon Albaladejo could help in the 6th and 7th innings, but right now Robertson is the team’s only reliable righthanded reliever (NMD). That just won’t cut it.

The bench stinks, but you can survive with a bad bench when you have the kinds of regulars the Yankees do. Bad middle relief is the kiss of death, though.

You answered a question about the short-term impact of the passing of The Boss, but I have a nagging concern about the long-term. It seemed that when Hal and Hank began getting involved in the family business that they were reluctant, and I suspected they might have been doing it to please their father. Now that he’s gone, is there a concern that the Steinbrenner family could sell the team? Or have Hal and Hank embraced the pinstripes the way George did? I still remember your 2010 April Fool’s Day joke, and I don’t want that nightmare to become reality. – Howie

Ben is our resident Business of Baseball guy, so I handed this question off to him. Here’s his response:

Beyond a few comments by Randy Levine indicating that the Steinbrenner family has no intention of selling the Yankees, the owners themselves have been awfully quiet about their intentions since George’s passing. That said, the feeling around baseball is that Hal Steinbrenner and his brother and sisters will continue to hold onto the club for the foreseeable future. Despite his initial reluctance to do so, Hal has taken a liking to running the Front Office, and he appears to command respect among his peers. He has George’s drive to win but a cooler head on his shoulder, and Hank has clearly taken a backseat to Hal. For the Yankees, that could only lead to good results on the field.

With that in mind, the Steinbrenners will look to expand their empire as much as they can. They seem more focused on the bottom line than the Yanks have been in previous years, and even with a payroll in excess of $200 million, there is a limit to the Yanks’ spending. So perhaps the team will look at investing in the English Premiere League as had been rumored. Perhaps the Yanks will continue their push into Asian markets. Perhaps the club will continue to monetize the YES Network and all that comes of it. Whatever the future holds, it ought to be a lucrative one.

To see how the Steinbrenners are going to manage the club, I would look to the upcoming CBA negotiations as well. The Yankees and their spending will again be targeted, and I’d expect Hal to push back and hard. If he does, you know the family has truly embraced the pinstripes. Plus, no matter what happens, there is no love lost between the Steinbrenners and the Dolans. So that nightmare — our April Fools joke — will not come to pass.

I had a question regarding pitching stats. namely innings pitched. I think we know that not all innings pitched are created equally. You could get through an inning with as few as one pitch (come in with men on and induce a triple play) or a Joba-esque 35-40 pitches to get 2 outs. Is there any push to move or develop stats based on number of pitches thrown instead of innings pitched? – Anonymous

Innings aren’t all created equal as you, so yes, it would be better to use a more stable denominator. Batters faced would be a great start, so strikeouts per 27 batters, or walks per 27 batters, stuff like that would be better than the usual K/9 and BB/9. Rich Lederer introduced the concept of K/100 many moons ago, which is strikeouts per 100 pitches. Striking a batter out on three pitches is better than striking someone out on five pitches, and that difference is expressed in K/100. It measures dominance and efficiency.

It hasn’t caught on yet, obviously, but it’s easy to understand why it makes sense. One day we’ll start seeing some more extensive per pitch data, and it will be glorious.