Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are one of about ten teams that will watch Joel Zumaya throw next week. He hasn’t pitched in nearly 18 months after fracturing his elbow during a pitch, an injury that required two surgeries. Zumaya is still only 27 years old and is about as good as bullpen reclamation projects get, but obviously it’s minor league contract for bust. There’s just no way they could guarantee him anything given all his health troubles.
It was a busy day everywhere except Yankeeland today. Albert Pujols rightfully dominated the headlines, with the Marlins dangling a ten-year contract while the Cardinals sat there saying “really? we’re really doing this?” At least that’s what I imagine they were doing. I have to think they were unprepared for a serious bid by the Marlins of all teams. The Blue Jays got their new closer, sending a Double-A pitching prospect to the White Sox for Sergio Santos. Santos, who was an infielder as recently as 2008, is signed dirt cheap for the next three years with another three club options after that. Nice little deal for them.
The Yankees continue to do not much of anything, at least not as far as actual transactions go. The most notable deal they’ve made on this date throughout their history came in 1992, when they traded three players (Jerry Nielsen, J.T. Snow, and Russ Springer) to the Angels for Jim Abbott. Abbott had an okay two-year run in the Bronx (4.45 ERA in 56 starts), but he’ll be most remembered for being born without a right hand and throwing a no-hitter anyway.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Devils and Islanders are playing, and that’s pretty much it as far as local sports go. You can talk about that or whatever else you want here. You know what to do, so have at it.
We already know what the White Sox are seeking for John Danks (though that may change given their imminent rebuild), and today Joel Sherman fills us in on what the Athletics want in exchange for Gio Gonzalez: young, high-end outfielders. Oakland is hilariously thin in the outfield, but so are the Yankees, at least at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. That means they’d likely have to swing a three-team swap to make everyone happy, except me of course. Gio has gotten pretty overrated over the last few weeks, something the hot stove is guilty of doing time and time again. Do not want.
Via David Waldstein, Hiroki Kuroda is “now definitely willing” to pitch for a team on the East Coast. His preference for the West Coast is no secret, but the Dodgers’ effectively slammed the door on his return by signing both Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. He’s reportedly seeking $12-13M a year, which the Yankees see as a tough fit financially according to Joel Sherman.
Obviously the price has to be right, but Kuroda makes a ton of sense for the Yankees given their rotation questions. He shouldn’t require a long-term deal at age 36 (37 in February) and is a true power pitcher with three offerings (91-95 heat, slider, splitter). As Waldstein mentions, the Yankees might have a bit of advantage in Russell Martin, who caught Kuroda for the first three years of his MLB career and presumably knows the right-hander well.
The question comes up frequently, but we’ve yet to explore the possibility fully. The Yankees still seek a starter for their 2012 rotation, and there doesn’t appear to be much available on the market. While they have five starters in name, plus a few young backup plans, adding another mid- to upper-rotation arm will only help them in their quest to win the AL East and more. As many have asked, might David Robertson make sense in that role?
Why tackle this now? For starters, the Winter Meetings are going slowly for the Yankees, and things don’t figure to pick up. Maybe the Yankees have something on the horizon, but if they do it will come as a surprise to everyone. Meanwhile, we still enjoy exploring all reasonable avenues of improving the team. Also, Marc Normandin of Over the Monster recently wrote about Daniel Bard as a starter. That created the opportunity to piggyback some of the great work he did there.
While Marc’s work on Bard inspired this article, Bard might not provide the best comparable for Robertson. After all, Bard started game for UNC before turning pro, and then spent his first minor league season in the rotation. He’s been a reliever ever since, but at least he has a history of starting games. Robertson, on the other hand, has no such history. The last time he started a game was in 2005 when he was still hurling for Alabama. Since then he’s been used exclusively in relief. This makes him a bit more like Alexi Ogando, who had no starting experience prior to 2011. Then again, he had little pitching experience at all.
One big consideration in making a move is the translation between starter and reliever. That is, a pitcher will likely pitch better in relief for a number of reasons. Tom Tango applies what he calls the Rule of 17 for estimating these translations. Essentially, there are three factors that change by 17 percent when moving between the rotation and bullpen: strikeouts per PA, BABIP, and home runs per contact rate. What catches the eye, and what works to Robertson’s great benefit, is that walk rate doesn’t change much at all. He can’t really afford to walk more hitters than he already does — his almost 90 percent strand rate greatly aided his 2011 campaign — so any change in transition to the rotation would not be welcome. But if it remains flat, perhaps he can make it work.
If we use only Robertson’s 2011 season, clearly he’d look superb as a starter; his results were off the charts, both in terms of peripherals and results. There’s only a minuscule chance he can approach those numbers again in relief. Still, he did have two quality seasons in 2009 and 2010, following a rough rookie campaign in 2008. If we add up all his innings, though, he’s at 202 for his career. Since that’s a full season, it might be best to apply the Rule of 17 to his career stats and see what we get.
There are a few caveats to attend here. First, Tango’s study encompassed all pitchers. Some performed better than this baseline, some performed worse. It’s tough to know where Robertson will fall on that curve. It’s unlikely, for example, that he’d have a .373 BABIP as a starter. Even though pitchers do have a degree of control over the types of contact they induce, .373 seems out of line for anyone. This is all part of the great unknown of this whole experiment.
Also a factor: Robertson’s discernible improvement in 2011. It wasn’t just in the results. Robertson added about a mile per hour to his fastball. This played a large role in his heightened strikeout rate, as did the “sneaky fast” nature of his fastball; that is, it gets on top of hitters faster than they might expect, thanks to his extended stride. There is a chance, then, that some of his improvement could be real, and could make his expected numbers look even prettier.
The one thing that could hold back Robertson is his repertoire. While he does have two quality pitches in his fastball and curveball, he doesn’t quite have that third pitch. He’s used a cutter, which has been effective at times. He also uses a changeup, but not at all frequently. He’d have to drastically increase its usage in the rotation. It’s not that using his changeup more frequently is out of the question; he really doesn’t have a chance to use a third pitch in the bullpen, after all. It’s that the third pitch adds another level of uncertainty to the conversion.
Finally, we have the issue of innings. Last year Robertson threw 66.2 innings, his highest total as a major leaguer. His previous high came all the way back in 2006, when he threw 82.2 innings combined between Alabama and the Cape Cod League. This is where a comparison with Ogando might work. In 2010 he threw about 75 innings between the minors and majors before making the jump to 169 innings in 2011. He did tire down the stretch, too. The Yankees couldn’t expect more than that from Robertson. It’s also unknown how Ogando will rebound from this increase in workload. He didn’t hurt himself in 2011, but there is still risk in the following year. Fatigue leads to poor mechanics, and poor mechanics can lead to injury, both in the present and in the future. The Yankees probably don’t want to take that risk with one of their best bullpen arms.
There certainly exists a case for converting Robertson to a starter. He took a significant step forward in 2011, and there’s a chance that his talents could play up well when throwing six, seven, or eight innings an outing. There are, unfortunately, a significant number of unknowns, uncertainties, and risks that go along with such a conversion. The Yankees are aware of these, I’m sure, and I don’t doubt that they’ve mulled the possibility, if only casually. It’s not a terrible idea in theory, but everything would have to break the Yankees way for it to work out. It’s understandable, then, if they wish to keep things as they currently stand. Robertson is plenty fine in his current role.
Via MASN, the Nationals have asked the Yankees about the availability of Brett Gardner, but were rebuffed. Washington has been looking for a long-term center fielder/leadoff type, a role Gardner fills perfectly. The problem is they don’t have any decent pitching to offer the Yankees since Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann are presumably off limits. John Lannan and Ross Detwiler are nothing worth getting excited over, nor are they an upgrade over what the Yankees already have stashed in Triple-A.
It’s been a slow offseason for the Yankees, but the same can’t be said for the Marlins. Not only did they change their name from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins, but they also redesigned their uniforms* and have a brand new ballpark set to open next season. That park is going to be filled with new players too; the Marlins have already signed Heath Bell and agreed to terms with Jose Reyes, and recent reports indicate that they’ve offered Albert Pujols a ten-year (!) contract. Obviously, these aren’t your
grandfather’s older brother’s Marlins anymore.
* Are they ugly? Yes. Is everyone talking about them? Also yes. No such thing as bad publicity.
Usually it’s the Yankees falling all over themselves to acquire big name players in the offseason while the Marlins sit on the sidelines, but the exact opposite is happening this winter. It’s kinda neat, actually. It’s fun watching big name players change teams, especially when the Yankees aren’t the ones taking the risk. Bell is a reliever, Reyes has had hamstring problems, and a ten-year contract is scary no matter who gets it. These are some bold but risky moves, if nothing else.
Of course the Marlins have a history of doing this sort of thing. They acquired Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, and Cliff Floyd (among others) leading up to the 1997 season, then won the World Series. Mission accomplished. A massive fire-sale followed, but they won their championship, so the plan worked. You can quibble with how they did it if you want, but a ring is a ring.
We’ve been spoiled by sustained success here in New York, but pretty much every other club operates in cycles. Three or four good years followed by three or four bad years, something like that. Retool, rebuild, then make another run and hope you get lucky. It’s easy for me to say from where I sit, but I do think a lot of clubs get a little too caught up in building for the future and not living in the moment, so to speak. The Rays are a pretty good example, they’ve got a great team right now and have gone to the playoffs in each of the last two years, but they didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline. Last year they needed an extra starter (Jamie Shields was awful and both Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann were banged up in the second half), and this past year they needed an extra bat. Instead of making a move that might have put them over the top, they stood pat. Is it better to shoot for success two or three or four years down the road, or to go for it all right now? I can see the argument for both sides.
Anyway, the Marlins are clearly going for it all right now. Bell, Reyes, and potentially Pujols are joining a club with a solid foundation in place, led by Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Mike Stanton, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, and Logan Morrison. The Yankees seem content with what they have, or at least they’re not rushing out to make any major upgrades just yet. It’s certain different than what they’ve done in years past and what the Marlins are doing right now.