Yanks Looking to Fill DL Spot – Chavez Interested

"The bat is actually holding my arms up. Don't tell anyone." (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Yesterday, a name popped up in my feed that I hasn’t seen in a while: Eric Chavez. Apparently the man is out of rehab for the millionth time, is finally off the A’s payroll, and now he’s looking for a new team to help pay his medical bills. There were whispers that the Yanks might be interested in the guy, along with White Sox, Mariners and Blue Jays.

Chavez was drafted by the A’s in the first round in 1996 and destroyed his way through the minor leagues. He was a September call-up in 1998, and played his first full season only three years after being drafted. He signed away his arbitration years and stuck with the A’s longer than anyone not named Ricky Henderson with two different extensions: the first in the 2000 offseason, for four years and $11M, and the second in the 2004 offseason for six years and $66M. There was a seventh year club option, but Oakland declined, leaving him a free agent for this upcoming year.

For the Yankees, this is one big fat pass. No. Carry on. Nothing to see here. It’s not that Chavez isn’t a decent baseball player: he’s got some left-handed power and could be a good choice to hang out on the bench until we needed him. He hit 25 homers or more for five years straight and, at the height of his career, hit nearly 30 while taking a league-leading 95 walks. He also featured on that playoff-contending 2006 Oakland A’s team with Zito, Harden, Swisher, and Huston Street. He’s capable with the glove and plays third base. He’s certainly an upgrade to the Ramiuardo Penunez combination we play sometimes over there, so why not?

The problem is that Eric Chavez is made out of glass. It’s not the bulletproof glass they use in prison windows that never breaks, either. It’s the delicate, handblown glass that’s in those expensive little knick-knacks you put on your mantle and breathing on it wrong could shatter it into a million pieces. In the last three years, Chavez has been on the 60-day DL six times. He’s had two surgeries on his back, shoulder surgery, two bulging disks in his neck, and neurological pain in his elbow. The man is, for lack of a better description, a complete and total mess.The last time he showed up in 100 games was 2006. He hasn’t even been able to hit the 50 game mark in the past three years.

While it’s possible (if unlikely) that Chavez manages to stay healthy for a year, there’s absolutely no guarantee that he’d be able to recapture the power that would make him a decent bat off the bench. Even before his injuries, Chavez was losing grip on the power he needed to be effective. His OPS has been trending downward since 2004 even if you cut out the years he was too hurt to make an impact either way.

All in all, it’s a bad idea. While Chavez might have the potential to be a decent lefty pinch-hit bat, I don’t think he’d manage to stay healthy enough to be effective. Even if he does, it’s doubtful he’ll be able to wrap his hands around the power that made him good in his better seasons. He’s 33 years old right now and he’s not getting any younger. Maybe he’s someone to look into next season if everything goes right for him in 2011, but quite frankly our DL spot will probably be filled by Mark Prior, after being vacated by Nick Johnson (played in 24 games). The Blue Jays can have him. I hear they have good healthcare in Canada.

The Black Hole Yankees, Mel Hall, and Me

As most of you already know, Mel Hall was a loathsome human being, a gutless bully, and a rotten apple with a stunning dearth of decency.

But flashback to the late-80s, and Hall was one of my favorite Yankees. It’s not easy to admit this now, and I wince when I think that I spent several years of my boyhood admiring a disgraceful cancer of a person. He was part of the haphazard collection of futility masquerading as the New York Yankees on WPIX 11 Alive! At seven-thirty each night, I sat riveted as the buoyancy of Scooter Rizutto’s commentary was tested by a relentless parade of cast-offs, has-beens, and over-the-hill prima donnas. It was a franchise whose blueprint for success consisted of chasing after aging superstars and overpaying them through their decline – an M.O. that had already become a vintage George Steinbrenner trait. Now, the excesses and inanity of the past decade had finally culminated in a series of atrociously bad teams and Seinfeld’s most memorable Frank Costanza moment.

The Steinbrenner dogma permeated all levels of the ballclub. As blown-out 35-year-old hamstrings, groins, and rotator cuffs forced an urgency for new blood, the hapless reinforcements brought up from a ravaged farm system quickly revealed their futility. (Which is generally what 7th-rounders are generally expected to reveal.) But that was okay, because there was always another 30-something former All-Star on the horizon that some second-division team was trying to unload. Until this time, the Yankees teams of this 80s weren’t so much bad as they were poorly constructed: while top-heavy with fading sluggers like Jack Clark and Ken Phelps, the pitching staffs were mostly populated by soft-tossing journeymen and AAA cannon fodder.

And yet, Mel Hall’s 1989 acquisition for spare parts represented, at least to some degree, a break from convention at the time. Still only 29, Hall had moderate lefty power – never a detriment at Yankee Stadium. He also possessed versatility in that he could play both corner outfield positions and even centerfield in a pinch – though, by all available measures, horrendously.

Hall’s role, however, was ill defined from the start. With a Yankees outfield that was already set going into the ’89 campaign, he would initially serve as an expensive, defensively challenged bench player whose splits suggested that most halfway decent pitchers could more or less have their way with him, irrespective of their handed-ness. More ominously, over his previous two seasons, he had posted a combined 1.1 WAR, and he hadn’t seen the fun side of 100 OPS+ since Reaganomics.

But after seeing him play, I didn’t care about any of that. Hall had actually been on my radar since the previous season, when I watched him uncoil one of the coolest homerun strokes I’d ever seen off Yankees ace-by-default Rick Rhoden. And as I write this now, I can’t think of any bigger indictment of teenage judgment than my believing that launching a bomb off the shell of Rick Rhoden was impressive.

Being a Wiffle Ball connoisseur of idiosyncratic batting stances was probably what got me on the Mel Hall bandwagon to begin with. Hall straddled the batter’s box with a wide-open lefty gait, his back leg crouched at a 90 degree angle and his front foot yawning to the right, all the way on the opposite side of the box. It was an impossible stance, one that couldn’t possibly allow for enough torque or drive to generate any power, and I pictured an exasperated high school coach pleading with an insufferably stubborn teenage version of Hall to bag it altogether. So in my mind, it was also a defiant stance, making it all the more appealing.

Regardless, normal people couldn’t hit like this. I know. I tried. And when my Babe Ruth coach caught my awkward rendition of the cocky leftfielder in a live game, he informed me that a.) I needed to pull my head out of my ass, and that b.) I had enough trouble hitting like myself, much less a freaking Yankee. Tough love.

At that point, it wasn’t about imitating a cool stance anymore. It was about being a rebel by association (or so I thought), about channeling another person’s cool confidence to help alleviate my own gnawing feelings of athletic ineptitude and utter dorkiness.

A few days after my first failed attempt at mimicking the Yankees fourth outfielder, I summoned up the nerve to give it another go. It happened in the late innings of a thumping at the hands of Kiwanis Club, and I was mired in one of my 0-for-infinity slumps. There was literally nothing to lose.

I waited until halfway through the at-bat before dropping into the inimitable crouch. The second I descended, I knew I’d nailed it: The gait, the crouch, the “Bring the heat, meat” bat waggle – all perfect. The kid on the mound paused before going into his windup, glancing at me as if to say, “Mel Hall? Really?”

Really. But two pitches later, I was a strikeout victim slogging my way back to the dugout under the glare of my coach and the simmering contempt of my teammates. As I descended the dugout steps, I overheard a grown woman in the stands mutter, “He thinks he’s black.”

I didn’t know this, but my dad had seen everything from the stands. He’d left work early enough to catch the last few innings of the game and to give me a ride home. Afterwards, in the parking lot, he polished off a concession stand hot dog as I shoved my 10-speed into his trunk. He knew I was smack in my Mel Hall phase but couldn’t for the life of him understand why. Breaking the uncomfortable silence, he said, “Jim Rice is who you should be looking at: balanced stance; smooth, level swing; quiet bat.” He loved Jim Rice and the Red Sox, which made for a bumpy ride between us at times. He was also right, of course, but I’d be damned if I’d ever emulate a Red Sock, future Hall of Famer or not.

On the drive home my dad offered a more palatable solution: “What about Mattingly? Why not try to hit like him?”

It was a fair point. I did love Donnie Baseball, but so did everyone else. Mattingly was the Yankees. In contrast, Mel Hall was a placeholder on a downtrodden team, a semi-talented nobody. To my adolescent eyes, he was an outlaw, a mercenary, and a rogue hell bent on proving everyone wrong.

As we pulled up to my house, I grudgingly ended my seven-minute vow of silence. “Mel Hall’s cool,” I blurted. They were the most misguided words I’d ever spoken.

Reevaluating Johan Santana: part 2 of 2

This is part 2 of my attempt to reevaluate Johan Santana and his desirability as a trade target for the Yankees this summer. Yesterday we looked at the nature of Santana’s injury, and saw some speculation on when he might be back to full strength. I also noted that his decline in performance from his Minnesota years may obscure the fact that he’s still a very valuable pitcher, provided that he’s healthy. Today we’re going to examine Santana’s contract and try to handicap what a trade might look like.

The dollar bills

When the Mets acquired Santana from Twins in February of 2008, they immediately inked him to a long-term extension which replaced the final year of his contract. His new contract is a 6 year deal worth $137.5 million with a club option of $25M for 2014 ($5M buyout).The contract is backloaded, a present from Omar to Sandy, meaning that the annual salaries increase as the deal progresses. It’s often said that Santana has 4 years and $80 million left on his contract. It’s not so simple.

In 2011, Santana will make $22.5M. In 2012 his salary escalates to $24M and then to $25.5M in the final year of the deal in 2013. As mentioned, the team has a $25M club option ($5M buyout) for 2014. It’s worth noting that this club option transforms into a player option if Santana reaches certain milestones, which you can read about here. To my best understanding, Santana would have to win the Cy Young in 2012 or 2013, or finish second or third in Cy Young voting in both 2012 and 2013, or be on the active roster for the final 30 days of the 2013 season while pitching 215 innings in 2013 or a combined 420 innings between 2012 and 2013. Got that? Suffice it to say, if Santana earns his player option for 2014 it will mean that his 2012 and 2013 seasons were productive and valuable for his club. We will operate on the assumption that he does not earn his option though, since this would represent the more cautious scenario for the acquiring team.

Assuming the option is declined, this means that Santana is due $77M between now and the end of the contract. However, it’s extremely unlikely that Santana is dealt any time soon, meaning that by the time he goes on the trade market in July or August of 2011, roughly half of his 2011 salary should be paid out. The Mets don’t provide a convenient contract amortization schedule for us, so we’ll ballpark it and say that Santana will be due $10M in 2011 by the time he hits the market. This reduces the total contractual obligation of the acquiring team to $67M.

Again though, it’s not so simple. Santana’s contract defers $5M of the payout annually, a true Mets specialty (see: Bonilla, Bobby). Santana receives $5M of his annual salary seven years after the season in which the salary is earned at 1.25% compound interest. Say what you want about Omar Minaya, and you can say plenty, but getting a player to defer roughly a quarter of his annual salary for minimal interest is a nice touch. If we assume that the Mets defer $5M of the contract at the beginning of the year, this would reduce Santana’s 2011 salary to $17.5M, meaning that the total remaining obligation in 2011 by the time he’s dealt would be roughly $8M. In 2012 the total salary obligation would be $19M and $20.5M in 2013. Depending on how you slice it (and it’s unclear whether the team treats the deferred compensation as a future liability with no bearing on current cash flow or amortizes it over the course of the year in which the salary is earned, I’m guessing the former), the acquiring team would be on the hook for roughly $47.5M during the life of the contract and then $5M in both 2019 and 2020. The common refrain that  Santana is due $80M over 4 years is enough to make one blanch. However, when the club option and the deferred compensation are factored in, the total obligation is far more team-friendly.

The trade

It seems clear that the Mets won’t contend in 2011. The Braves and the Marlins have put together decent clubs, the Phillies are an evil four-headed monster, and the Nationals’ acquisition of Tom Gorzelanny essentially ensures them the divisional crown (I kid). The Mets’ focus ought to be on 2012 and beyond. They have a fair amount of money coming off the books after 2011 in Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Francisco Rodriguez, but one has to imagine they’ll at least attempt to keep Reyes long-term.

The Mets may be looking to cut payroll now not only in recognition that their contention window is at least 2012, but also because of the team’s rather precarious situation. Yesterday Joel Sherman reported that the Wilpons may be interested in selling a non-controlling stake in the team in order to raise money. As Sherman noted, the obvious implication is that the Madoff scandal has handicapped them in a far more significant manner than they’ve let on. Indeed, part of the reason for seeking a strategic partner is the lawsuit attempting to recover money from the Madoff scheme. There was speculation yesterday that the trustee for the Madoff victims could be seeking as much as one billion dollars from Fred Wilpon. Wilpon’s statement admitted that the team desired to raise cash in response to this:

“To address the air of uncertainty created by this lawsuit, and to provide additional assurance that the New York Mets will continue to have the necessary resources to fully compete and win, we are looking at a number of potential options including the addition of one or more strategic partners”.

As Craig Calcaterra noted, though, it may not be possible for the Wilpons to keep a controlling stake in the team:

Even if these numbers are not accurate, however, the key point is clear: the Wilpons’ current financial situation is going to be directly impacted by how much the government is seeking in its clawback lawsuit. If it’s anything close to figure Hubbuch is reporting, they will have to sell way more than a minority share in the Mets.  Indeed, they’ll likely have to sell the whole team.

Bringing it back to Santana, it may be the case that the Mets could seek to unload his expensive contract in 2011, both as a way of shoring up their annual cash flow and for preparation for 2012 and 2013. If so, the trade of Roy Oswalt from the Astros to the Phillies last summer may serve as a model. Last July the the Phillies sent J.A. Happ and two prospects to the Astros in exchange for Oswalt. Oswalt had $23M left on his contract and the Astros agreed to pick up nearly half of it, $11M. Oswalt did not demand that the Phillies pick up his 2012 option for $16M; instead, if either Oswalt or the Phillies decline his 2012 option, he will receive $2M.

The Mets could consider something similar, picking up some of Santana’s salary and receiving prospects from the acquiring team in return. If the Mets were unable or unwilling to pay Santana’s salary then the cost in prospects would certainly be less. Obviously there are a lot of moving parts, but the primary concern is Santana’s health. If he doesn’t return to full strength then this is all moot. If he does, though, then it wouldn’t be completely surprising to see them try to unload his contract late this summer. Should the Yankees kick the tires and consider Santana again? Would the Mets be willing to do an Oswalt-like deal for him? Just when you thought you were out, just when you thought the Yankees’ saga with Santana was finally over..they pull you back in.

Open Thread: Fernando Seguignol

(AP Photo/Kyodo)

It probably sounds a little obscure, but 18 years ago today the Yankees signed a then 18-year-old Fernando Seguignol as an amateur free agent out of Panama. He was a big guy, checking in at 6-foot-5 and just 180 lbs. when he signed, but his stint with the organization lasted just a little over two years. With his career batting line sitting at .262/.313/.386  in 118 rookie level games, the Yankees traded Seguignol to the Expos straight up for a 28-year-old flamethrowing reliever named John Wetteland. Montreal’s financial situation certainly helped. Wetteland always walked the tight rope but was highly effective during his two years in pinstripes, winning World Series MVP honors in 1996. Seguignol had an uneventful Major League career, which ended with eight plate appearances for the Yankees in 2003. He retired in 2009 after spending a few productive seasons in Japan.

The signing is nothing more than a blip on the transactions radar, but it ended up having a significant impact in Yankee history, indirectly anyway. I wrote about the trade in-depth last spring, so check it out for a nice nostalgic moment. Otherwise, here is your open thread for the evening. The NHL Skills Competition is on Versus starting at 7pm, plus the Nets are in Milwaukee to face the Bucks. Talk about anything you want, enjoy.

Can Ivan Nova Be a Viable Fourth Starter?

My liking for Ivan Nova goes far beyond the rational. If this were 1988, I’d have his Donruss rookie card in a plastic sleeve, his customizable name-and-number T-shirt crammed inside my dresser, and his Sports Illustrated poster hanging on my wall, right beside a dog-eared mosaic of 80’s pseudo-stars like Xavier McDaniel, Yannick Noah, and Tim Witherspoon. (Like a bad hedge fund manager, I had a childhood propensity for balancing my irrational fondness for mediocrities such as Pearl Washington with obscurities like Jo Jo Townsell.)

For better or worse, most Yankees fans have a segment of their DNA strand dedicated to an appetite for shiny, pretty things that go really, really fast. It’s a big reason why the Yankee blogosphere exploded with jubilation when Joba Chamberlain burst on

"Ivan, I have your rookie card!" (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

the scene in 2007 with a 100 MPH heater and a 12.8 K/9, only to have a collective meltdown when he “lost” his fastball as a starter in ‘09. It’s also why Ian Kennedy, his 89 MPH two-seamer, and his smirky smarminess were derided and dismissed more than they should have been.

For me, Ivan Nova and his mid-90s fastball feeds this innate desire nicely. That he’s homegrown and under-hyped only adds to the appeal. Plus, with his 6’4” power pitcher’s frame, the guy looks like a workhorse – something the Yankees desperately need going forward. (Granted, when it comes to pitchers, body type is often overrated: In their primes, Mike Mussina and Pedro Martinez looked more like skinny jeans hipsters from a Belle and Sebastian concert than top-of-the-rotation big league stalwarts.)

As I anxiously await the availability of the first wave of Ivan Nova bobbleheads and replica home jerseys to stream across the Atlantic, the only thing I currently possess that signifies my disproportional faith in him as a successful big league starter is faith itself. Getting others to believe is a different story. Since he’s never been an elite prospect, actual first-party scouting reports on Nova are scarce; those that do exist, project his ceiling as a fourth or fifth starter. Moreover, despite an overall solid rookie stint in the Bronx last summer, most trusted statistical projections systems despise Nova and all he stands for. CAIRO, for example, predicts a 2011 ERA of 5.24, a FIP of 5.03 and what essentially amounts to a replacement-level WAR (0.3) – on top of a diminished ground ball percentage (46.7). Which means that Ivan Nova is slated to get an A+ in terrible.

Such ominous forecasting would normally tripwire my denial alarms and prompt a full-scale treatise on irrationally pervasive Yankee hate. But CAIRO also predicts only 83 innings from the big righty, which perhaps indicates their presumption of a mid-season rotation acquisition more so than a Nova collapse. With that said, a 0.3 WAR? Even if he’s bad, he almost certainly won’t be Jeff Suppan bad.

Still, the more rational side of me understands the Nova pessimism. Touting a litany of eye-popping minor league and small-sample big league stats would be tough going at this point: Without question, some of Nova’s peripherals reveal trends that could be reason for concern. But here I go anyway.

First, the bad.

Nova’s career minor league WHIP of 1.370, for example, is downright frightening. Farnsworth frightening. Except that the Kyle has “proven” that he can “pitch” to a 1.389 WHIP through 11 seasons at the big league level, whereas Nova was losing the plate against the likes of Gus Milner and Tuffy Gosewisch.

Not that walking everyone in the park as a rangy 21-year-old is the end of the world. Many tall, young power pitchers in-the-making struggle with both their control and command early on. And while some of Nova’s minor league peripherals don’t exactly scream Baseball America cover model, they’re actually pretty solid – especially if we account for a learning curve leading up to his 2010 season at Scranton. For example, while Nova still gave up too many hits at SWB in 2010 (8.4 H/9), his 0.6 HR/9 through 145 IP placed him seventh among pitchers with more than 100 IP. He also significantly improved upon his control there, pitching to a 1.262 WHIP.

Most of these trends carried over into Nova’s abbreviated 2010 stint in the Bronx. While his hits-per-innings increased only slightly, both his WHIP and K/9 suffered considerably. Obviously, a hit in performance can be expected when jumping from AAA to the majors. But could it also be that a significant portion of the drop-off was due to fatigue? Consider that, when totaling his minor and major league innings, Nova pitched 27 innings beyond his previous high in 2010. Acknowledging that many of his big league innings were thrown in the high-leverage heat of an AL East pennant race, and we have to allow for the possibility that fatigue was a very real factor in contributing to his late-season lag. In fact, in his last four major league starts of 2010, he totaled only 17.1 innings with 9 Ks and 13 earned runs. Contrast that with his previous four outings, in which the big righty totaled 21.2 innings with 16 Ks and 8 earned runs. Small samples, for sure – but something to consider.

So what does this mean for the 2011 rotation and Ivan Nova’s career as a starter going forward? For one thing, most signs indicate that he’s not headed for greatness. But as a fourth starter, he doesn’t need to be. In fact, earlier this week, Paul Swyden over at Fangraphs cogently illustrated how Ivan Nova could actually prove to be an upgrade over past Yankees fifth starter immortals like Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner. Not only do I agree with Swyden’s thesis, but when compared to fourth starters on some other contending AL clubs, Nova can more than hold his own. Consider the following number fours from the past five World Series champions:

Jonathan Sanchez’s unforeseen emergence notwithstanding, these are not seasons for the ages. As you can see, all Nova has to be in 2011 is slightly better than bad. So the question isn’t whether or not he can develop into Chien-Ming Wang, circa 2006, but if someone with Nova’s talent and skill set can hold his own as a fourth starter on a championship-caliber ballclub. If I had one, I’d bet my bobblehead on it.

Reevaluating Johan Santana: part 1 of 2

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

By now it is nearly impossible to discuss the Yankees’ search for starting pitching without saying something like, “It’s no secret that the Yankees need starting pitching help”. It’s all been said. Even if Andy Pettitte postpones his date with retirement another year and returns for the 2011 campaign it’s likely that the team could still be looking for help on the trade market this summer. Ivan Nova is a fine fifth starter option, but it would really be nice if he was the sixth starter, an option in case of injury or a terrible outbreak of Bad A.J. The problem is that the trade market is a bit weak. There’s no Cliff Lee on the market this summer. Wandy Rodriguez looked like a decent target, but the Astros just extended him for three years. Gavin Floyd and Chris Carpenter could be very good options, but a lot needs to happen for these teams to put the players on the market. Plan B might be patience, but there’s a fair amount of contingency contained therein.

One trade option is Johan Santana. Mike addressed the possibility of acquiring Santana in this mailbag piece several weeks ago, outlining all the reasons why the Yankees shouldn’t attempt to acquire Santana: he’s coming off major shoulder surgery, his performance is in decline, and he’s expensive. All of these things are true, and yet I’m going to attempt a possibly quixotic reexamination of his desirability. This will be a two part piece. Today we will examine the nature of his injury and his perceived decline over the past 3 years and tomorrow we’ll look at his contract status and try to evaluate whether he makes sense for the Yankees as a trade target.  It sounds crazy, and it’s going to take a decent amount of time to make the case. All good things take time though, unless we’re talking about a Chipotle burrito, so try to stick it out with me. It’s not like there’s anything better to do on a freezing weekend in January. What, you gonna watch curling?


When Johan Santana was injured late last summer it was initially reported that he had a strained pectoral. This was slightly deceiving, in that the location of the injury is not where one would expect. When you hear “strained pec”, you think about how sore you feel if you do too many bench press sets. As Will Carroll noted, the strain happened right where the muscle inserts into the humerus, just below the shoulder. You can see the picture here. Despite initial good news out the Mets camp, which cruelly raised the hopes of Mets fans, it turned out that Santana’s injury was far more serious. Santana had torn the anterior capsule in his left shoulder and required surgery to repair it. The injury is more rare than a Tommy John surgery, and Carroll went to sources to get more information about the actual nature of the injury:

The anterior capsule is the front lining of the shoulder joint which then attaches to the labrum and then to the bone. The capsule is torn with the labrum often with an acute traumatic shoulder dislocation. However, in baseball with repetitive throwing the anterior capsule can just gradually stretch out and eventually give a thrower pain and a feeling of weakness and a velocity loss. This repetitive microscopic tearing and stretching injury ultimately is what the thrower may describe as a “dead arm” The type of surgery performed is very similar to the open surgery pioneered by Dr. Frank Jobe that was performed on Orel Hersheiser in the ’80s, but now with advances the same surgery can be done arthroscopically. However, the healing concepts are the same and therefore the rehabilitation can be very long to get back to high level throwing. Certainly 6-9 months is not unreasonable.

In order to repair this injury, the surgeon usually attempts to repair the ligaments arthoscopically. This was Dr. David Altchek’s goal with Santana, but he found that the tear was difficult to reach with an arthoscope and had to make an incision in the shoulder in order to repair it. This is obviously a less desirable method because it causes scar tissue, which can affect range of motion and lengthen the time of rehabilitation. As such, Santana may not return to the majors until the All-Star Break in 2011.  The final word from Carroll:

Santana will immediately begin rehab which is normally tagged at 20-28 weeks with an overlap of a throwing program towards the end. There’s no new info on whether there was anything found during the procedure that would change the outlook or prognosis. The first real sign we’ll get is likely to be when pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie in February.

There is some speculation that Santana would not be fully recovered until well after he actually returns to the majors. Dr. Craig Levitz speculated that it would actually take 3 months, or 70-80 innings, after Santana’s return for him to regain his top form. He also noted that pitchers with this type of injury often return stronger than before, and that there is little risk of recurrence. As Levitz said, “Over all there is not a lot of damage to the shoulder with this injury…Once they close the hole in the soft tissue, it should never be a problem again.”


Things have been different for Johan Santana since he left the American League for the National League Mets. From 2002 to 2007 he had an ERA of 2.92, striking out almost 10 batters per nine innings and walking 2.2 per nine innings. His strikeout to walk ratio was a Lee-esque 4.38. Due to a very low hit rate, Santana’s WHIP hovered around 1.00. For good reason he was considered one of the preeminent pitchers in all of baseball. Contrary to expectations, Santana’s strikeout rate has dipped about two batters per nine innings since joining the Mets, and his walk rate has increased ever-so-slightly to close to 2.5. As such, he’s posted FIPs in the mid 3.50s since coming to New York, certainly respectable but not exactly the commensurate with the highest expectations fans might have had for the well-paid ace. This chart shows his performance as a Met compared to his career numbers:


Peripherals-wise, 2010 was Santana’s worst year. This is to be expected, given that he was coming off minor elbow surgery from the offseason prior and had his season cut short by the shoulder injury in September. One thing we don’t know is to what extent Santana pitched through discomfort or pain in 2010 before acknowledging his injury. We also don’t know if the gradual destruction of his shoulder ligaments was responsible for the decline in performance. The quote from Carroll’s source above seems to confirm that the pitcher will likely experience discomfort, weakness and a loss of velocity before actually needing surgery to repair the injury. It would be logical to expect a bounceback in velocity and strikeout stuff, but within any injury there is a large amount of risk and variance. It all hinges on how well Santana heals.

Despite the decline in performance, Santana was still a very valuable pitcher for the Mets in 2010. As a quick and easy comparison, his 3.5 fWAR in 199 innings in 2010 ranks similar to Shaun Marcum and Wandy Rodriguez’s performance. Over the past three years, despite an injury-shortened 2009, he’s accumulated 11.0 fWAR. This is more than Andy Pettitte, James Shields, John Lackey or Ted Lilly. If he had thrown 200 innings in 2009 it’s likely that he would register more fWAR in the past 3 years than Matt Cain, Roy Oswalt or Javier Vazquez. Of course, he didn’t throw 200 innings in 2009, so the point is moot. Regardless, Santana is still a valuable pitcher. Compare his performance data above with this data for CC Sabathia:

Sabathia and Santana both have fairly similar FIPs and ERAs, but Santana seems consistently able to outperform his FIP. They also have similar strikeout rates. Sabathia’s walk rates are slightly worse than Santana but CC generates far more groundballs than Santana, a clear boon in Yankee Stadium. Santana’s flyball tendencies play well in Citi Field but would likely be less advantageous in another venue. Sabathia’s numbers are also more impressive in the AL East. All things considered, Sabathia is a more desirable starter, but simply because Santana isn’t replicating his same level of dominance from years past doesn’t mean that he’s no longer valuable. Mid-3 FIP pitchers with good control and strikeout stuff don’t grow on trees.

Johan Santana isn’t what he once was, and he’s coming off a major injury with a long rehabilitation timeframe. There are good reasons for optimism though, reasons that don’t solely consist of fluff and happy thoughts. If Santana can pitch again like he has as a Met, he’ll have good value for his team. Of course, there’s the whole question of the contract, a question which I’ll address tomorrow morning before trying to ascertain how the trade market could firm up. See you then.

The Ultimate Scapegoat

*Mike summed up some of his own frustrations about the response to the Yankees’ offseason last week. I thought I’d be more specific.

"The snow is my fault too, guys." (AP Photo/John Marshall Mantel)

It’s been a pretty lame offseason for the Yankees so far. We’ve missed the guys we want. We ended up signing some players that may or may be good choices for the team. Our minor league signings are taking heat. Our pitching rotation is questionable. Our sluggers are aging. Our GM is raising money for prostate cancer.

Wait, what?

I can’t remember the last time I heard Brian Cashman take this much heat (2008?). Every single thing that Cashman has done this winter has been criticized by someone somewhere. I would not be surprised if John Q. Obnoxious Fan woke up yesterday and said, “God, what nerve does Cashman have, making coffee for himself?” At times, it seems the man can do nothing right. If I was Brian Cashman, I’d be more than frustrated with that part of the Yankees fanbase. I think it was perfectly legitimate for him to air some of those grievances to Ken Rosenthal: “Why are people bitching so much? That’s my question. That’s my frustration.” Rest assured, Cash, I would have had much stronger words with a fanbase like this one if I was you.

It’s not that Cashman hasn’t made bad moves in the past. He has. He is not perfect. What gets my goat, though, is how much stuff  he gets blamed for that is absolutely out of his control, or the things that are totally irrelevant.

For example, this whole Cliff Lee business. During the negotiations, and even slightly after, it was hard to pin the tail on exactly who’s fault it was, which obviously meant it was Cashman’s fault. Never mind that same group hating on him would have most likely also lambasted the man for offering a 32-year-old starter (with an injury history!) a seven- or eight-year contract. Never mind that Lee made it obvious afterwards that he wanted to sign with the Phillies. Never mind the Yankees offered him more money. It is obviously Cashman’s responsibility to whip out his mind control device and convince players who aren’t interested to sign with the team. Duh. We all know the Yankees have a mind control device Cashman just wasn’t interested in using because Gene Michael used it to convince Greg Maddux to sign in 1992. Wait, no he didn’t.

Another thing-  do people expect Cashman to open his closet and have a fifth starter who passes the Better Than Mitre test just fall out? He knows the rotation is a problem. I’m sure he has looked at all the different options for that problematic spot. But at this point, there’s nothing he can do. Sure, he could sign Millwood or Garcia or Duchscherer to an unreasonable contract, but he’d certainly get criticized for that. Sure, he could trade our well-grown farm system, but he’d certainly get criticized at for that too. And the fact is, those moves aren’t smart ones. Why would he do them? Why would a fan of the team, a person who wants the team to improve, suggest that we make a stupid move just for the sake of making a move? The Yankees are not the Angels. We do not need a Vernon Wells-type thing going on here.

What grinds my gears the most is how I’ve seen and heard people get down on Cashman for doing charity events. Charity Events! People are yelling at him because he is raising money to fight prostate cancer. Baseball is a game. It’s a game we really love, but it’s a game. Cancer will kill you. Between winning baseball games and fighting cancer, fighting cancer is the way to go. Plus, it seems unreasonable that being a GM would take up every waking moment of his life; finding a single night to help fight cancer doesn’t seem unreasonable. I don’t think Cashman is the kind of guy who needs to be sitting at home staring at the phone waiting for Andy Pettitte or Kevin Millwood to call him. He has people to do that for him. Instead, he takes his “celebrity status” and uses it to raise money to fight cancer. That sounds like a class act to me. That certainly sounds like something I’d want my GM doing in his spare time. How in anyone’s right mind could you blast a guy for raising money to fight cancer? It boggles me.

I’m not even going to start with the “checkbook GM” thing.

This is what I do. Whenever I’m angry about Brian Cashman (rarely), I try to think about all the GMs he is not. He is not Tony Reagins, who is now the laughing-stock of the baseball community. He is not Dayton Moore, who signed Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera. He is not Sandy Alderson, tasked with fixing the mess that is the Mets.

I am expecting someone to blame Cashman for the Astros extending Wandy Rodriguez. I am also expecting someone to blame Cashman for waking up in the morning and putting on his slippers. I mean, he’s only won what, four World Series rings as GM? Taken us to the postseason every year except 2008? What a crappy performance the guy has put on. Fire Cashman. Punish him by making him manage the Pirates. Wait, that might be what he wants, according to some fans and media-types. I guess we’ll just have to force him to stick around here for a few more years. Damn. What a drag.