Yanks pick up OF Justin Maxwell

With that swing Maxwell drove in four. (John Bazemore/AP)

Via MLBTR we learn that the Yankees have acquired recently DFA’d outfielder Justin Maxwell from the Nationals. It’s not a particularly big move, but it does give the Yankees a potential fifth outfielder, as well as some depth for AAA. That is, he’ll likely push Greg Golson back to the minors. The Yankees will send Adam Olbrychowski to the Nationals.

Maxwell, 27, was rated the Nationals’ No. 8 prospect heading into the 2010 season. Baseball America call him a “physical specimen with plus athleticism” and noted his patience and power potential. His review ends with an encouraging note, too: “If he hits, he can be a valuable four-tool player.” In between, though, were a few negatives, including injuries, inconsistent contact skills, and a poor arm. The injuries remain an issue: Max well recently underwent Tommy John surgery, though he’s expected back for spring training.

The Nationals have recalled Maxwell in three seasons, but he’s managed just 260 PA in his career. In 2009 it appeared he was on the path to regular playing time, as he produced a .357 wOBA, which included plenty of power, in 102 PA. But in 2010 he fell off, a mere .279 wOBA in 131 PA. Even in AAA he experienced a power dip, though his .390 OBP helped compensate.

The Yanks aren’t asking much of Maxwell. He’s out of options, so either he makes the team or he heads back through the waiver process. (Edit: He does have a remaining option.) I think he’s a better option than Greg Golson, but even if he’s not there’s little risk in this move. The only downside is having to remove someone from the 40-man roster. That man is Jordan Parraz. They still have to remove someone for Andruw Jones. Mike and I discussed 40-man roster issues on a recent podcast.

This move won’t make an enormous difference in the 2011 season, but it’s another example of the Yankees shoring up when there’s an opportunity. If Maxwell helps, great. If not, he’s easily expendable. We’ve criticized Brian Cashman in the past for not using his resources to build powerful benches. It appears this year that he’s put a bit more focus on that aspect of the team.

Bonus: Here’s another Maxwell grand slam.

Update by Mike (2:58pm): Joel Sherman says that Maxwell does in fact have one option remaining, which is excellent news.

A look ahead at potentially available starting pitchers

When the Yankees seek pitching help during the 2011 season, it will likely come from outside the organization. This morning Joel Sherman reminisced about previous years where the Yankees used a young player they had not intended, but this situation feels a bit different. When Phil Hughes came up in 2007 he was the the best amateur pitching prospect in the game and had just finished a season in which he threw 146 innings. In 2011 Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos might appear attractive options, but in 2010 they combined to throw as many innings as Hughes did the season before he made the bigs. Both pitchers are short on experience, and I think that keeps them out of the picture, at least as starters, for the 2011 season. Unless Andrew Brackman breaks out in a serious way, the Yankees are going to have to explore other options to fill in rotation spots.

Today Buster Olney listed 11 pitchers who might become available during the 2011 season. Some we’ve written about, and some we haven’t. But if the Yankees don’t get much use out of Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova doesn’t delvier in his sophomore effort, or Andrew Brackman isn’t ready, they’re going to look to the market for a replacement. These 11 names will likely come up in discussions if their teams make them available.

(John Raoux/AP)

James Shields: In 2010 James Shields saw some of his stats spike. With his strikeout rate also went his home run rate and BABIP. That still amounted to peripherals that far outpaced his 5.18 ERA. We’re undoubtedly going to see better from Shields in 2011, but that doesn’t mean he’s a fit for the Yankees. Not only will the Rays likely need him to remain in contention, but they probably won’t be so willinng to trade him to the Yankees. He still has a team friendly contract: $4.25 million this year, followed by options for $7 million, $9 million, and $12 million.

Joe Blanton: We hear a lot about Blanton, mainly because of rumors that the Cliff Lee signing left the Phillies short on cash. Blanton has had his ups and downs throughout his career, and he has seen his home run rate jump, and his ground ball rate decrease, since moving to Philadelphia. He currently has two years and $17 million remaining on his contract, so he’s affordable. But I’m not sure he’s quite the answer the Yankees seek. It depends on how desperate they become.

Edwin Jackson: We talked about Jackson’s case here. His availability will depend on Chris Sale’s and Jake Peavy’s statuses. But if the Sox are in contention, I can’t see them trading a useful pitcher unless it fetches them a player who can immediately help the team. I’m not sure the Yanks have an expendable player who would fit the bill.

Paul Maholm: He’s a groundball heavy lefty who doesn’t strike out anyone, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good pitcher. His career FIP is 4.28 and xFIP is 4.31, so he’s not a total disaster. But when he allowed a lot of hits on balls in play, which happens with such a contact-heavy pitcher, his ERA gets inflated. In the past two years it has been considerably higher than his peripherals indicate.

Shaun Marcum: The Brewers are all-in for 2011, but that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed anything. A few bad breaks and they could be well behind the Reds and the Cardinals, and maybe even the Cubs, by the time July rolls around. They might want to hang onto Zack Greinke, but Shaun Marcum could fetch them a farm-replenishing return. He had a superb return from Tommy John surgery in 2010, and despite poor velocity he can still rack up strikeouts at a league average rate while keeping his walk rate low. His changeup is an especially effective weapon, which could help him fend off lefties salivating over the short porch.

(Gregory Bull/AP)

Ryan Dempster: If I were to make a list of underrated pitchers, Dempster would finish in the top three. Ever since moving back to the rotation in 2008, after four years in the bullpen, Dempster has shined. In fact, 2010 was his worst year of the three, and even then he had a 3.85 ERA and 3.99 FIP. He can strike out guys, and his walk rates are usually acceptable. His contract is a bit much, as he’s owed $27.5 million over the next two seasons. But if the Yanks can get him for a decent price, I think they’d jump.

Carlos Zambrano: Mike has previously said everything I want to say, and more, The Mariners won’t trade Felix Hernandez.

Jeremy Guthrie: His name has come up in many discussions this winter, but the hangup is always the prospect of trading him within the division. He has four years of service now, meaning he’ll be arbitration eligible in 2012 before hitting free agency. That said, I’m not sure he’s the best guy for the job. His home run rate is always fairly high, and he doesn’t strike out many batters. Last year his ERA was ahead of his FIP and way ahead of his xFIP. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll come back down to earth in 2011, but there is little indication that he possesses some skill, such as Matt Cain, that renders him exceptional.

Fausto Carmona: I wrote about Fausto Carmona in December. While I think he’s a worthy risk, I don’t see the Indians having any reason to trade him.

Justin Masterson: If they wouldn’t trade Carmona, why would they trade Masterson? He won’t turn 26 until March, and he has shown some decent peripherals during his short time in the bigs. Still, he might profile better as a middle reliever, since he lacks an out pitch against lefties.

Prospect Profile: Dan Brewer

(Photo Credit: Flickr user paul.hadsall)

Dan Brewer | OF

Raised just outside of Chicago in Brookfield, Illinois, Brewer comes from an athletic family and has three siblings that played sports at the collegiate level. He starred in three sports at Lyons Township High School, playing both baseball and football all four years while wrestling for the first three. Named to the All-Conference First Team three times and twice receiving All-State honors (once First Team, once honorable mention), Brewer helped the Lions to IHSA Class AA State Championship as a sophomore, and hit .460 with 13 homers and 57 runs driven in as a senior.

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A quick look at Oscar Salazar

With Freddy Garcia now on board, the Yankees have just about finished their offseason shopping. It hasn’t been an ideal or even a fun winter, but it is what it is and life goes on. The Andruw Jones signing solidified the bench, but the Yanks are still one man short unless they plan on carrying both Eduamiro and Penunez. That’s why I want to talk about Oscar Salazar.

Just when you thought uniforms couldn't get any uglier... (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

The 32-year-old Salazar was designated for assignment by the Padres yesterday, having been made redundant by Jorge Cantu. The former Mexican Leaguer first broke in with the Tigers way back in 2002, then battled a bunch of injuries before resurfacing with the Orioles in 2008. Baltimore shipped him to San Diego midway through the 2009 season in exchange for Cla Meredith.

So what does Salazar do that he’s worth talking about? Well, for one he can hit, at least better than most bench players. His .237/.318/.336 (.289 wOBA) batting line in 148 plate appearances last season won’t show that, but he was suppressed a bit by Petco Park (.258 wOBA at home, .322 on the road) and hit .295/.367/.500 (.373 wOBA) in 248 trips to the plate as a reserve player in 2008 and 2009. He never had an ISO worse than .190 until he got to Petco, and his career walk rate is very strong at 10.3% (10.8% last year). Even if Salazar drops to say, a .150 ISO and an 8.0% walk rate, he’s Babe Ruth compared to a who’s occupying that last bench spot now.

Not only can Salazar hit a little, but he’s also pretty versatile. He played every position other than pitcher, catcher, shortstop, and centerfield for the Padres last year, though most of his work came in the outfield. The sample sizes aren’t large enough for the advanced metrics to be meaningful, but the fans’ scouting report has him below average in leftfield. We can safely assume he’s below average everywhere else. What can you do, one game a week with a below average defensive player in the field won’t kill ya.

One of the problems with the Yankees’ bench right now is that it’s very right-handed. Jones, Frankie Cervelli, Nunez, even Greg Golson, they all bat right-handed. Pena is a switch-hitter, but he’s not scaring anyone with the stick. Salazar is a righty batter as well, so it’s not a great fit, but he does have a reverse platoon split for his career (.350 wOBA vs. RHP, .333 vs. LHP). That’s in a small sample though, so the data isn’t reliable. The Yanks are going to end up carrying a bunch of righties anyway, might as well carry one that can outhit the others and at least fake defense all over the field.

The 40-man roster is full at the moment, so full that the Jones signing isn’t even official yet. They’re probably waiting for Spring Training to start before finalizing it so they could clear a spot by sticking Damaso Marte on the 60-day DL. If the Yankees want Salazar, they won’t have to claim him off waivers. They could simply wait until he clears and elects free agency, then sign him to a minor league contract. If someone claims him or he chooses to remain with San Diego or doesn’t want to sign with New York, then so be it. It’s not the end of the world.

I still prefer Willy Aybar because he’s a switch-hitter with power, but Salazar would be an upgrade over Nunez or Pena or Golson or whoever else the team has in-house for that last bench spot. They don’t even have to give him the job outright, let him compete for it in Spring Training. It’s not a big upgrade, just a marginal one, but every little bit helps. Given the cost, it makes a ton of sense. Which means it probably won’t happen.

The calming influence of Brian Cashman

The past few months have not been the most kind to Brian Cashman. After watching the Yanks get dispatched in the ALCS by the Rangers, he was powerless to stop his his prime off-season target from heading back to Philadelphia. Meanwhile, he took gruff from the unscrupulous among us for his charity work which included scaling a building in December and tending bar in Midtown for three hours last week and heat for putting together a “Best of the Early 2000s” slate of back-end rotation candidates.

Meanwhile, as Andy Pettitte stews — and in a certain sense, holds the short-term fate of a few key organizational cogs in his hands — Cashman has had to defend himself from New York columnists as well. Bill Madden’s baseless speculation that Cashman wanted to test his hand at team-building with a budget earned a sharp rebuke from the Yanks’ GM who denied the entire story.

Lately, then, the Yankees owners have taken to publicly defending the team official often viewed as the ultimate scapegoat in New York. Anything that goes wrong is Cashman’s fault, and anything that goes right is a result of the Yanks’ fiscal might.

A few hours ago, MLB.com’s Peter Gammons issued a different take on Cashman and his role with the Yanks. As Gammons sees it, Cashman isn’t a divisive figure in the club’s hierarchy. Rather, he is the calming influence amidst a Front Office. He writes:

Hal is private, and we all think he is tough. He also knows what his father once told me, that, in the end, Brian will do what’s in the Yankees’ best interest, not just his own. Cashman proved it in 2005 when his contract was up and, in the best long-term interest of the organization, would not do a back-page cosmetic deal in the pennant race. He proved it again in 2006 when the Yankees lost in the playoffs to the Tigers, when George Steinbrenner and Levine wanted to fire Joe Torre and were well down the line toward hiring Lou Piniella, and Cashman stood his ground, talked his bosses off the ledge and saved Torre’s job…

When Hal Steinbrenner admitted to Sherman that he orchestrated part of Cashman’s response in the Jeter negotiations, it was evident that even with Levine’s occasional imitation of the organ at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, there is a sense of stability around the Yankees that will remain in place as long as Cashman is in charge of the baseball operations.

It is also very clear that if Cashman were to leave, Hal Steinbrenner can see the rush for power that would take place below him, which, with the contracts for some of their older players outstanding, might send the Yankees into the kind of chaos Cashman has been able to avoid. Had Torre been fired in 2006, would the Yankees have won a World Series championship three years later? My point, precisely.

As the Hot Stove League has worn on, Cashman has opened his mouth more frequently than ever before this year. Some of that is in response to his critics, and some of his comments have been about the need to keep the organization focused on its player development path. It makes reporters used to silence from the normally tight-lipped GM uncomfortable, but it’s not a sign of his weariness of being a Yankee. After all, it’s the only organization and work place he has ever known.

I don’t think Brian Cashman is the best GM out there. I’ve been critical of his bench-building skills, and I find that he doesn’t use the Yanks’ financial might to improve the team around the edges. The signings of Andruw Jones and, to a lesser extent, Russell Martin could change that this year, and the bullpen certainly won’t suffer from having Rafael Soriano around. Right now, though, Cashman’s the best guy for the job, and as long as he wants to stay, I believe Hal Steinbrenner will keep him.

Open Thread: Mike Lowell

(Photo Credit: SportsMemorabilia.com)

If you blinked, there’s a chance you missed Mike Lowell’s career as a Yankee. A 20th round draft pick in 1995, Lowell received a grand total of 15 plate appearances in pinstripes, picking up four singles in 1998. With Scott Brosius coming off a .300/.371/.472 season, the Yankees traded a then 24-year-old Lowell to the Marlins for three young pitchers: Todd Noel, Ed Yarnall, and Mark Johnson. Yarnall had been ranked as the 60th best prospect in the game by Baseball America before the 1998 season, and he was the only one to ever make an appearance in the Bronx (20 IP, 5.40 ERA). He was later traded to the Reds for Denny Neagle while Noel never made it out of A-ball and Johnson went to the Tigers in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft.

Lowell, meanwhile, went on to have a long and productive career first with the Marlins and then with the Red Sox. He doubled off Andy Pettitte in Game Six of the 2003 World Series, and during his career he hit .314/.377/.506 with a dozen homers in just over 300 plate appearances against the team that originally drafted him. Brian Cashman later said he wishes he could have a do-over on the Lowell trade, a trade that took place 12 years ago today. Pitching prospects, eh? They’ll break your heart.

Anyways, here is the open thread for the evening. The Devils, Isles, and Rangers are all back in action now that the All Star break is over, so hooray for that. Talk about whatever your heart desires.