Mailbag: C.J. Wilson, Reegie, Martin & Montero

We’ve got just three questions in this week’s edition of the RAB Mailbag, but they all bring something different to the table. Make sure you use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Sean asks: What do you think the chances are of the Yankees pursuing, and signing, CJ Wilson this offseason? He has a shady performance history up until last year, but he did have a good year last year and is off to another good start this year. Three main things make me think he’d be a good fit for the Yankees: 1) obviously, their rotation needs some help; 2) he’s a lefty; 3) this year’s FA SP class will be pretty weak. Thoughts?

After CC Sabathia, Wilson will be the second best starting pitcher on the free agent mark after the season. It’s basically him and Edwin Jackson, which gives you an idea of how crappy the free agent pitching class is. I think those three things you listed are more incidental than proof that he’s a good fit, if you understand what I’m saying. The key fits the hole but it doesn’t unlock the door, you catch my drift? After all, don’t number one and three apply to Jackson as well? Anyway, although Wilson will be the top non-CC hurler on the market, there are a number of reasons I’m very skeptical of signing him. Let’s list ’em…

  1. He’s always walked a ton of guys, 4.10 per nine last year and 4.03 career. Yes, it’s down this season (2.73 BB/9), but it’s too early for that to mean anything.
  2. His swing-and-miss rate is decidedly below average, just 6.7% last year (6.8% this year).
  3. Velocity is nothing special, right around 90 mph as a starter.
  4. Very limited track record as a starter and a history of arm (specifically elbow) trouble.
  5. Will turn 31 during the offseason, so you’re definitely buying decline years and items two and three figure to get worse, not better.
  6. He’s in line for a contract on par with A.J. Burnett‘s and John Lackey’s, five years and $80M or so. That’s a lot of scratch.

I would absolutely love to rent Wilson for half-a-season, but I don’t think a) the Rangers will be falling out of the race anytime soon, or b) would be willing to help the Yankees. He’s a fine pitcher, no doubt about it, but I want no part of paying that guy eight figures a year just because he’s the best of a bad lot. I actually prefer Jackson since he’s younger (by three years), has been crazy durable (180+ IP in the last three years), and is trending upward in the missing bats department (swing-and-miss rate from 2008-2011: 7.6%, 9.8%, 10.4%, 10.8%). But again, imperfect solution, a product of the market more than anything.

Howie asks: Reegie Corona is on the 60 day DL. I think the last I heard was he might be healthy by midseason. So first off, is that still the case? Secondly, he’s not a major leaguer, so if he returns to minor league action, does he still need to be activated from the 60 day DL? Might that be the time he is DFA’d?

As far as I know, yeah, Corona’s still on track to come back from his broken arm around midseason. I assume the team will send him on a minor league rehab assignment before activating him from the disabled list, but ultimately he has to be activated before he can be officially sent to the minors. The Yankees’ 40-man roster currently has 44 players on it, four of whom are on the 60-day DL, so someone has to go whenever Corona is activated. Even before the logjam, he was always on the short list of DFA candidates.

With Frankie Cervelli beginning his rehab last night, it stands to reason that Gus Molina will be the first 40-man roster casualty. Jose Ortegano and Kevin Russo are on the bubble as well, but at least those two have redeeming qualities (Ortegano’s left-handedness, Russo’s versatility). Corona is basically a carbon copy of Ramiro Pena; a no-hit, defense-first middle infielder. I’m not sure why he was added to the 40-man roster in the first place, he was an extreme long shot to stick on a big league 25-man roster at the time. So yes, I would expect Corona to get canned not long after being activated. He’s the definition of a spare part.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Mark asks: Alright, help me out here…..we’ve read all about the defensive shortcomings of Jesus Montero. We know he can hit, we also know he isn’t that good behind the plate. Although we are only 16 games into the season, it sure looks to me like we have a stud behind the plate right now in Russell Martin. Tell me what he hasn’t done right – .292 batting average, .950 OPS, 2 SB, calling good games, blocking balls behind the plate and showing a pretty good arm in throwing runners out. And he’s only 28. Is it ridiculous to ask why Martin cannot be our catcher of the future and that Montero (assuming he isn’t traded away) is our future DH and back-up catcher next year?

Is it ridiculous? No, not at all, but we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. Frankie Cervelli hit .400/.481/.487 in his first 16 games last season and people were asking if his performance made Montero expendable. That sounds silly in hindsight, but trust me, it happened.

Montero really should be in the big leagues right now, he’s absolutely ready and is simply too good for the Triple-A level, but the Yankees don’t have an obvious spot for him. I guess in a perfect world, the plan would involve trading Cervelli as part of a package for a starting pitcher come June or July and calling Montero up to serve as the backup and occasional DH, an apprenticeship under Martin that would continue in 2012. Then once Martin hits free agency as a 30-year-old after the 2012 season, Montero is inserted as the starting backstop. That’s a perfect case scenario though.

Part of me thinks the Yankees should at least try Montero in the outfield at some point, just to see if he could fake a corner outfield spot while he’s young and work him into the lineup that way. Brett Gardner‘s not exactly lighting the world on fire in left right now, plus he really isn’t much of an obstacle for a guy with Montero’s offensive prowess anyway. That’s just me thinking about loud though, I’d hate to waste to see Montero waste some of those hits in Triple-A when he could be helping the big league team.

The overweight, out of shape, but now underweight, Phil Hughes

It seems we all have our pet theories on why Phil Hughes lost velocity on his fastball. But as outsiders, our knowledge ends there. Few of us have connections to people who know the facts of the matter, and without the facts we cannot proceed beyond speculation. Newspaper writers are degrees closer to the situation, in that they know people within the organization that possess the facts, or some of the facts. But that doesn’t mean it always adds up.

Joel Sherman dropped a curious tidbit on his Hardball blog yesterday. Apparently Hughes showed up to camp overweight, but the media was so focused on Joba’s gut that they overlooked, to borrow a term from Sherman, the doughy Hughes. The team knew, and sent him to what they call “The Fat Farm,” which conjures all sorts of images. The problem, according to Sherman’s source, was that Hughes needs that extra bulk to be effective, and that his trips to The Fat Farm cause him to lose too much weight. Hence, lost velocity.

It’s an odd theory, sure, and it doesn’t sound much different than many of the pet theories I’ve heard during the past few weeks. Brian Cashman scoffed at the notion, which is to be expected. But he also offered up that Hughes was “just a little out of shape.” That’s a bit more damning than “lost too much weight,” which lends it a little more credibility. Then again, “in shape” is such an ambiguous term that I really have no idea what someone means when they say “just a little out of shape.” If the definition of in shape varies from person to person, the degrees of shape vary even more.

Anyway, Sherman then dropped a line that he’s dropped before, and so far as I can tell he’s the only one who has dropped it: “there has been worry about [Hughes’s] work ethic in the past.” I did a quick search for this, and the only negative mention I found was from Sherman himself, in a column from December, 2007. In discussing a potential Johan Santana trade, Sherman cut to the chase: “Hughes is the surest thing, and he has a questionable work ethic and more of an injury history at 21 than Santana at 28.” Through a few queries and pages of results, I didn’t find any other first-hand mentions of Hughes having a poor or questionable work ethic.

(Admittedly, that might be because most newspaper sites rank lowly in Google results, because they do things like move article URLs after a period of time. Let me tell you that one of the most annoying things is trying to Google a story from a few years ago, finding a link on a blog, and then getting an article not found message on the newspaper’s website. If they kept the articles in the same place all the time, maybe I’d have found the newspaper article itself in the search results and not the blog linking to it. End rant.)

What turned up were two mentions of Hughes having a strong work ethic. In a column from early spring training 2008, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch wrote a short feature on Hughes, in which Joe Girardi praised his work ethic. “He’s in great shape,” said Girardi. One year later John Harper wrote that, “The Yankees don’t have issues with Hughes’s work ethic, but privately they worry they haven’t seen the same dominating stuff he showed a couple of years ago.” Sherman’s statement did come first, so perhaps Hughes had slacked off at one point in the past. But he clearly had righted that by early 2008.

(And, if I remember correctly, though I can’t find it, there was some attribution to Hughes’s poor start in 2008 to his showing up to camp lighter than normal.)

There is definitely disappointment in Hughes. It’s pretty clear that he showed up to camp out of shape — why would Cashman say that if it weren’t true? — in a year when the Yankees really needed him. But beyond that we just have pet theories. Maybe one of them is right. Maybe he’s undertrained, or overtrained, or improperly trained. Maybe he needs to be heavier in order to pitch effectively. Maybe he just needs to be in proper physical shape. Whatever it is, he and the Yankees have put together a plan to help him recover, and things appear to be going well. He threw 30 pitches in the bullpen on Wednesday, and will throw another today. When he comes back is anyone’s guess. I’m just a little disappointed it got to this point in the first place.

Adams, Cervelli begin rehab stints in Tampa loss

Update: The Low-A Charleston game is over and has been added to the post.

Triple-A Scranton (3-0 win over Lehigh Valley) the pitching staff has a 20.1 IP shutout streak going
Greg Golson, LF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 3B, 2 K, 1 HBP
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 3B, 1 RBI, 2 K – eight for his last 20 (.400)
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 K – he’s been alternating three-hit games with no-hit games for a week now
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4 – hasn’t homered in four games now, what gives?
Chris Dickerson, CF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 CS – nine for his last 17 (.529)
Justin Maxwell, DH: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K – the homer streak ends at four consecutive days
Jordan Parraz, RF: 3 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 BB
Brandon Laird, 3B & Ramiro Pena, SS: both 0 for 4, 1 K
The Ghost of Kei Igawa, LHP: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 3-4 GB/FB – 35 of 59 pitches were strikes (59.3%) … just making one spot start since two-fifths of the SWB rotation is in the big league team’s bullpen
George Kontos, RHP: 3.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 4-1 GB/FB – 30 of 46 pitches were strikes (65.2%) … more solid relief work, there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll see him in the Bronx at some point this year
Andy Sisco, LHP: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – seven of his 12 pitches were strikes
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – eight of his dozen pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Derek Jeter, lefty

It’s no secret that Derek Jeter has gotten off to a rotten start this season, hitting a woeful .219/.282/.234 (that’s a .234 wOBA for those of you scoring at home) with a 72.9% ground ball rate that makes last year’s 65.7% ground ball rate blush. In an effort to improve his performance, Jeter has taken a drastic step and will now hit left-handed. At least that’s what I inferred from this Madame Tussaud’s ad roaming around the NYC subway system. It’s hard out here for a shortstop, the Cap’n’s gotta do what the Cap’n’s gotta do.

Anyway, here is your open thread on this Yankees’ baseball-less evening. The Mets are (still) playing the Astros, and there’s a ton of NHL and NBA playoff action on. So talk about whatever you want, go nuts.

Thanks to Dan for the photo.

Mariano Rivera Jr. commits to Quinnipiac

Via Matt Eisenberg, Mariano Rivera Jr. has committed to attend Quinnipiac in the fall and will attempt to make the baseball team as a walk on. Mo Jr. trying to walk on? Walk on water maybe.

Lame humor aside, you might remember that Senior and Junior visited the campus back in December. “My mind was already set then,” said Mo Jr. “I had to show [my father]. He liked some of the stuff and he fell in love with it, from security to the people to the faculty. He liked it; he liked it a lot.” According to the article, he owns a pretty standard fastball, slider, curveball, changeup repertoire, but not his father’s famed cutter. For shame. I’m setting the odds that the Yankees draft him at some point this summer at like, 3-2. Even that seems high.

On attendance, temperatures and April games

As I sat in the Terrace section of Yankee Stadium three weeks ago, I pondered the scene around me. For the second year in a row, I nabbed some tickets to the home opener, and while last year’s crowd celebrated the World Series ring ceremony on a sunny day in early spring, this year’s sparse crowd seemed more focused on huddling together to stay warm. With rain falling and highs reaching only 43 degrees, the weather seemed better suited to football than Opening Day.

Now, over the years, I’ve spent many a cold night at Yankee Stadium. I’ve sat through blistering winds in early May and chilly but crisp nights in late October. I’ve seen snow fall early in the season and have worn more layers than I care to count to the stadium. But on Opening Day, sitting there in three shirts, a sweater, a winter jacket and with a wool hat and gloves on, I said to myself, “No more.” Unless it’s Opening Day, I’d rather just wait until the weather is warmer.

Yet, last Friday and Saturday, when game-time temperatures were in the upper 40s, I again found myself at Yankee Stadium, bundled up to brave the cold. By the time the Yanks had won Saturday afternoon’s affair against the Rangers, I had spent around seven of the previous 22 hours in the cold at Yankee Stadium. I realize that was my choice, but it was a tough one. By the end of the second game, my friend Jay who also went to both games said he wasn’t sure he could keep going to these freezing games. It’s impossible to deny that the dog days of summer are much, much better for baseball than the rainy days of early April.

Somehow, though, the Yankees were scheduled for home games throughout April. Already, they’ve had 13 home games scheduled. Two have been rained out, and for two others, the team has offered to give fans make-goods for a future date because the weather was just that miserable. They end the month with six month home games, and luckily, temperatures may actually be in the upper 50s or low 60s then.

Meanwhile, baseball has been wringing its collective hands over attendance woes. CNBC’s Darren Rovell noted this week that attendance was down slightly across the board, but that a few teams — including the Yankees — had seen steep declines. Even though the Yanks are third in home attendance in the Majors right now, the current average — 41,685 — is nine percent lower than 2010’s per-game average.

The Yankees are blaming the weather, and I’m inclined to agree, at least in part. “The fact that we’ve had this early April schedule has hurt us,” Randy Levine said to ESPN New York. “Over the course of the season, we expect everything to equalize. But early on, the fact that the weather has been so bad [and] we’ve had so many games in April has hurt.”

On the other hand, though, a good number of partial season ticket holders have dropped their plans. The Yankees either cut benefits and postseason access from the plans or the costs became too high. The attendance issues too are reflected on the secondary market. It’s now possible to buy reasonably good seasons for well under $10 a pop. With markdowns so far below face value, supply is outstripping demand.

As we can’t yet draw too many statistical conclusions from the Yanks’ play, it’s also early to condemn the attendance numbers. But I’m comfortable saying the Yanks shouldn’t have 19 home games — or nearly 25 percent of their home slate scheduled — for before May 1. It’s not a secret that spring is a cold, wet time in the northeast, and baseball has plenty of warm-weather teams and domed stadiums to play host to most April games.

Despite my promises to myself, I’ll keep going to games, and I’ll keep bringing layers and gloves. I know we’ll be complaining about the heat in New York come mid-July, but these early April home games are a bit brutal. I don’t blame anyone for staying home. It’s much warmer on my couch, after all.

The Pitching Waves

Millwood's on his way. Uh ... yay? (Photo Credit: Mike Ashmore)

Sixteen games into the 2011 season, two things are very clear about the Yankees: they have a great offense, and boy does their starting pitching stink. They’re second in the majors with a .357 wOBA but first with a 126 wRC+, hitting at least six more homers than every other team. Just wait until their .260 BABIP (third lowest in baseball) starts to correct. At the same time, the Yankees’ rotation has the worst ERA (5.06) and third worst FIP (4.38) in the American League, and their average of 5.32 innings per start is the worst in baseball.

Obviously that has to change, we’ve known that since the last September. Even if the Yankees had landed Cliff Lee, they’d still be in need of starting pitching right now, that’s how bad it’s been. That’s another post for another time, I suppose. The offense and some timely bullpen work have helped the team overcome its starting pitching problems during the first 16 games of the season, but obviously this isn’t a sustainable approach to securing a playoff berth. Some pitching help is on the way though, just not the kind of help a contender wants to rely on.

At the moment, both Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon have done a bang up job of turning the clock back, at least temporarily. Who knows how long it’ll last. Kevin Millwood will make a second minor league start for Triple-A Scranton this weekend, and there’s ten days until his opt-out clause kicks in. The Yankees will have two more looks at him before deciding what do, though you’d have to imagine that if he shows anything that looks like it could get big league batters out, he’ll be called to join the team. Millwood represents the next wave of pitching help, as unappealing as it sounds.

Behind him lies Carlos Silva, who apparently showed up to Extended Spring Training slightly less fat than the Yankees expected. He isn’t doing anything more than conditioning drills last we heard, but you have to figure he’s not far off from climbing on a mound. He did pitch with the Cubs in camp just a few weeks ago. If he goes on the Millwood plan, meaning some starts in ExST and two or three appearances with the full season minor league affiliates, then we have to figure he’s about four weeks away, at the very least. Silva, as unspectacular as he is, is the second wave of pitching help.

By the time he comes up, if he does at all, we’re talking early-June or so, which is the start of trading season. The Yankees are surely mining the pitching market at the moment, but it’s not often that teams will commit to selling off valuable pieces this early in the season. If the Twins keep tanking, maybe Francisco Liriano becomes available sooner than expected. Maybe the struggling Astros make someone available, maybe MLB’s takeover of the Dodgers put someone on the market, who knows. A lot will change over the next few weeks and the Yankees are simply going to have to bide their time until it does. For all intents and purposes, the trade market is the third wave of pitching help.

Although Millwood and Silva are the obvious guys on the way, there is also one constant: the farm system. If the Yankees need to plug hole in-between some of these veteran scrap heapers, there’s always a Hector Noesi or an Adam Warren a phone call away. Best of all, those guys are already in game shape, there’s no need to wait. The first round of pitching help, essentially Garcia and Colon, has worked out well so far, but it’s just been one turn through the rotation for both of those guys. How long it will last is anyone’s guess. Millwood and Silva will offer some alternatives (not necessarily help, but at least alternatives) in the coming weeks before the trade market heats up, plus there’s always the farm system. Until the rotation gets settled, the offense is really going to have to carry to load, and it’s certainly good enough to do that.