Yankees contact Jim Edmonds

Funny how a simple phone call can garner so much attention.

As you probably heard by this point, the Yankees reportedly contacted Jim Edmonds, who said he wants to play in 2010. Apparently the Yankees have contacted him, and Edmonds, despite his stated desire to play in St. Louis, will consider playing in New York. “That’s a pretty nice situation over there,” he said.

We know the Yankees want to sign a complementary left fielder, so the Edmonds connection was inevitable. I can’t imagine, however, that they’re very serious suitors. The 39-year-old, 40 in July, hasn’t played since 2008, and while he posted good numbers in limited duty for the Cubs, there’s no certainty that he can continue to produce at that level in 2010, especially with a move back to the AL.

For a few years Edmonds was among the best center fielders in baseball, perhaps the best in 2003, when he posted a 1.002 OPS and finished 17 spots behind Juan Pierre in the MVP race, and 2004, when he posted a 1.061 OPS. Those days, however, are far behind him, as he saw a decline in each of the three following years, ending his contract in St. Louis with a .252/.325/.403 campaign. He got off to a rough start in San Diego, too, OPSing .498 before they released him. Again, he played better once in Chicago, but that was over just 298 PA.

Edmonds presents a few problems. First, his defense appears on the decline. UZR typically rated him on the positive side from its inception in 2002 through 2006, but in 2007 he ran into the negatives, and then fell far into the negatives in 2008. He played center field those years, so perhaps a move to left would help cover up his diminished range. But can the Yankees expect even that, given his age and his year away from the game?

His platoon splits present an even bigger problem. During his prime he hit lefties just fine, showing even splits during his peak years of 2003 and 2004. But since 2006 he’s been downright terrible against lefties. This includes a .479 OPS in 2006, .631 in 2007, and .441 in 2008. Those all come in limited samples, and rightfully so. With an already lefty-heavy team, it doesn’t make sense to add yet another lefty who has trouble hitting lefties. The Yanks got into trouble with that in the mid-00s.

As I mentioned in the guide to off-season sanity, we hear plenty of noise and disinformation at this time of year. Maybe the Yankees did contact Edmonds about a possible minor-league deal. Other than that no-risk move, however, I don’t see a reason why the Yankees would pursue him. Maybe they’re just using him as leverage against Damon.

Reports: A’s prospect Grant Desme retires

Via Jon Paul Morosi, one of Oakland’s very best prospects is retiring from baseball to become a priest. Grant Desme, who was the A’s second round pick in 2007, is a career .286-.365-.557 hitter in the minors, and was ranked by Baseball America as the team’s 8th best prospect earlier this week. It sucks for Oakland, but good for Desme for doing what he wants. Goes to show just how many different ways prospects can fall short of their ceilings.

Friend of RAB Amanda Rykoff caught Desme in action in the Arizona Fall League a few months ago, in what ultimately turned out to be one of his final games.

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The David Robertson – Mark Wohlers comparison

The 2009 Yankees featured an excellent bullpen, and a big part of that came from the success of David Robertson. A 17th round pick in 2006 out of the University of Alabama, Robertson dominated the minor leagues and forced his way onto the major league roster just two years after turning pro. He had some hiccups during his 30-inning cup of coffee in 2008, but came back strong in 2009 to earn a regular spot in the bullpen.

We saw plenty of good from Robertson, jokingly nicknamed K-Rob, in 2009. His strikeout rate, 13.0, ranked second among major league pitchers with at least 40 innings. Using his fastball, which traveled a mile per hour faster than in 2008, he blew away hitters. According to FanGraphs pitch type values, Robertson’s fastball measured 4.7 runs above average, or 0.73 runs above average per 100 pitches. His curveball provides another weapon, as he can drop it as a change of pace. We saw more than one hitter’s knees buckle on a K-Rob hammer in 2009.

When examining the Yankees bullpen, I lumped Robertson in with the presumed bridge to Mariano, along with Joba/Hughes and Marte. Given the way he pitched in 2009 we can expect that he’ll get every shot to pitch in high leverage situations. But one thing remains troubling about Robertson: his walk rate. This has been an issue for him throughout his baseball career, dating back to his days as closer for Alabama. His strikeouts help cover it up, but his walk rates, typically in the mid-4s, are too high almost every year. Is this something he can correct in the future?

Certainly the possibility exists that Robertson can improve his walk rate. In fact, a similar pitcher with a familiar face did just that almost 15 years ago. From 1992 through 1994 Mark Wohlers pitched 134 big league innings and walked over 4.5 hitters per nine innings. Robertson doesn’t have that much experience — he didn’t hit the majors until 23 — but his walk rate hovers around that area. Wohlers compensated for the plentiful walks by striking out a ton of hitters, reaching 10.2 per nine by 1994, and allowing few home runs, just three in those 134 innings. Robertson, by comparison, has struck out 99 hitters in his 74 big league innings while walking 38 and allowing 7 home runs.

The good news for Robertson is that in 1995, when Wohlers turned 25, the same age Robertson will be for the 2010 season, he reduced his walk rate to 3.3 per nine, while raising his strikeout rate to a K-Robian 12.5 per nine. This resulted in a 2.09 ERA and his installation as the Braves closer. Wohlers continued the trend in 1996, lowering his walk rate even lower, to a downright awesome 2.4 per nine. The next year, however, the walk rate crept back up, and after that Wohlers was never the same.

The case of Mark Wohlers shows us that yes, Robertson can correct his walk tendencies. Wohlers not only did it, but did it at the same age as Robertson. True, Wohlers burnt out young, his last effective season coming at age 27, but given the general volatility of relievers I think the Yankees would be more than glad to get three year of Wohlerian performances out of Robertson, even if it means his flaming out early.

We really don’t know, however, if Robertson will make the correction. He can still be a useful cog if he continues to walk hitters at his current clip. But he’ll be a much better fit for the late innings if he throws more pitches in the zone, or otherwise gets hitters to swing at more pitches out of the zone. That much is obvious. What I’ll be looking at in the 2010 season is of the actual adjustments he makes. Clearly he’s a talented pitcher. Maybe everything will come together for him at age 25.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Yanks bring aboard Segovia as a non-roster invitee

This isn’t breaking news, but we’ve yet to address it here. The Yankees have invited righty reliever Zack Segovia to Spring Training as a non-roster player. He’s appeared in just nine big league games over the last three years, and even his minor league numbers aren’t all that impressive. There’s no harm in inviting a guy to ST, and if anything he’ll be someone Triple-A Scranton manager Dave Miley could run out there every day to take the pressure off the younger arms in the bullpen.

Yep, it’s that kind of morning.

When the Yanks traded Roberto Kelly

It’s hard to believe that 2009 marked the first time since Paul O’Neill patrolled right field that the Yanks won a World Series. Since the era of O’Neill, the Yanks tried a variety of players in right. Raul Mondesi got his crack, and Gary Sheffield and Bobby Abreu held down the three-hole in the lineup for a few years. Now, the spot is Nick Swisher‘s for the foreseeable future, and we fondly remember O’Neill.

It wasn’t always like that though. When Paul O’Neill first arrived in the Bronx, fans and commentators responded skeptically. He was some overhyped 29-year-old from Cincinnati who was more known for his temper than for his bat. He could never hit as well as he was supposed to, and the Yanks gave up a one-time untouchable player to get him.

The trade come down on November 3, 1992. The Yankees, a few weeks removed from a fourth place, 76-86 finish, were looking for a big lefty bat, and the team needed some pitching too. So they traded Roberto Kelly for Paul O’Neill. At the time, media coverage focused around what the Yanks gave up rather than what they got back. “The Yankees,” Jack Curry wrote, “scrapped their glorious plans involving Roberto Kelly yesterday and traded their once-untouchable outfielder to the Cincinnati Reds for power-hitting right fielder Paul O’Neill.” Kelly was “someone they would not trade because of his potential to be their next superstar.”

In O’Neill, the Yanks had potential, but Murray Chass wondered if they had anything else. Chass saw the troubles and the way Steinbrenner would grate on O’Neill. He didn’t know if the temperamental lefty could survive the wrath of the Boss after suffering through Lou Piniella while with the Reds.

Meanwhile, with Paul in the fold, speculation about the Yanks’ impending moves grew louder and louder. Curry wondered if the team would pursue Barry Bonds, and David Cone, Jim Abbott and Greg Swindell were rumored to be on the team’s wishlist as well. My, how times have changed.

In the end, the Yanks were the clear winners of that trade. O’Neill played 1254 games in the Bronx over the next nine years, and his arrival signaled the start of a smarter approach to team-building. Playing next to Bernie Williams and hitting in front of him, O’Neill went on to put up a .303/.377/.492 with 185 home runs in the Bronx, and outside of an ill-fated two-week stint by LaTroy Hawkins, no one has worn 21 since he did. As for Roberto Kelly, he wasn’t as lucky. The one-time future superstar played just 699 over the last few years of his career and hit .299/.342/.446. He retired after a short return to the Bronx in 2000 and now serves as the first base coach for the Giants.

In 1992, the Yankees took a chance on a 29-year-old, and only the water coolers lived to regret it.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Zelevansky

Open Thread: Uniform numbers and nothing else

Every one in a while I run across one of those “on this date in history” items that involves the Yankees. As I traipsed around the internet today, I ran across a pretty significant one. On January 21, 1920, the Yankees announced that their players would wear uniform numbers. No other team in baseball did this at the time. Instead of letting players pick, they had numbers assigned based on batting order position. Hence, Babe Ruth got 3, and Lou Gehrig eventually got 4.

While the format for handing out numbers changed — players choose now — I’m glad nothing else did. It’s kind of neat that the Yankees don’t have their names on the backs of their jerseys. It’s also good for fans, who can buy one overpriced authentic jersey and wear it through multiple players. It worked out real well for those who bought Jason Giambi jerseys. Not so much, though, for people like my buddy Jon who bought a Sheffield jersey.

Oh, and just because we haven’t yet mentioned it, the Pirates DFA’d former Yankee Anthony Claggett to make room for former Yankee Octavio Dotel. Claggett is the second former Yankee the Pirates have DFA’d this week. Steven Jackson is the other. They released Eric Hacker in November, and he has since signed a minor league deal with the Giants.

In local sports, the Rangers visit Philly and the Panthers face the Islanders. No local basketball, though NBA fans will probably want to watch the Lakers at Caveliers at 8 on TNT. Big East basketball fans can catch Seton Hall at Louisville on ESPN or ESPN2.

And now, your open thread.