500 words on Michael Young

Nobody puts Michael Young in the corner. At least, that’s what the soon-to-be former Texas Ranger is saying.

In an explosive interview with Ken Rosenthal that hit FoxSports.com around an hour ago, the longest tenured Ranger said he believes a break up is all but inevitable, and he’s ready to burn his bridges in the process. Earlier this winter, the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre to a six-year, $96-million contract, thus unseating Young. The Texas braintrust seemingly agreed to hand Young their starting DH spot, but with Mike Napoli on board, Young saw his playing time disappear.

“To suggest that there was just a couple of weeks off and I had a change of heart in terms of what position I wanted to play is inaccurate,” Young said. “I’ll be the first to admit that I was not particularly keen on the idea of being a DH. But I did agree to do it. I wanted to put the team first. I wanted to be a Ranger. But in light of events that happened in the process, I got pushed into a corner one too many times. I couldn’t take it any more.”

Young, according to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, has a list of eight acceptable trade destinations. Although Colorado appears to be the leading landing spot, the Yankees are on the list. So should they augment their collection of 2003 All Stars with one who made the team every year from 2004-2009?

In a vacuum, Young would make sense for the Yanks. Despite the team’s fiscal edge, GM Brian Cashman has struggled to build a viable bench over the past few years. As the club gears up for Spring Training, Ronnie Belliard and the always-injured Eric Chavez will have a chance to win a roster spot. Young is a clear upgrade over anyone else in camp. Furthermore, the Yanks have the financial ability to take on some of Young’s contract. That he is owed $48 million over the next three years is an impediment but not an impossibility.

On the field, it’s tough to tell what sort of season Young will deliver. After hitting .284/.330/.444 with 21 home runs last year, Young may be starting a decline. PECOTA pegs him at .283/.336/.419 for 2011. His defense, meanwhile, has gone from bad to worse, and he’s a well below average defender at any infield position. He wouldn’t be a late-inning defensive replacement, and his ceiling is probably as an average bat off the bench who could spell Alex Rodriguez or Robinson Cano in case of emergency. With that contract, who needs it?

Furthermore, Young obviously wants to go somewhere else due to playing time. He seems to want his 600 at-bats as a DH or infielder, and the Yanks are all stocked up there. Furthermore, the Rangers and Yankees, not exactly on the best of terms these days, would likely have a tough time matching up in trade talks if either party is willing to return the other’s calls.

Until Young is dealt, the Yanks will hover around the periphery of this ensuing drama. I don’t expect a match, though, and I don’t think we want that match to be made either.

Open Thread: Notes from early camp

This is last year's picture and haircut. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Spring Training doesn’t officially start for a few days, but of course some guys are already down in Tampa working out and whatnot. Phil Hughes and Derek Jeter were among those at the complex today, unsurprising since they both live in the area. Erik Boland and Brian Costello were there and brought a tiny shred of news…

  • Hughes was the first one in this morning and threw a bullpen session in front of new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. He later said that not throwing his changeup in the first half hurt him in the second half, because the pitch “wasn’t there when I needed it.” That’s easily the biggest item on the agenda for Phil this year, use that changeup more to help neutralize left-handed batters. The whole pitch efficiency thing, throwing fewer pitches per batter, will follow.
  • The Cap’n was there was well, and he just took some batting practice. He worked with Kevin Long earlier this offseason, so hopefully whatever they did helps him find those 45 lost points of OBP. Jeter then shot down questions about a potential position change and being angry over his contract negotiations, as you’d expect.

Nothing exciting but hey, it’s baseball. I’m sure you’d rather read that than be reminded that today is the seventh anniversary of the Donovan Osborne signing. Anyway, here’s the open thread for the night. The Rangers are the only local team in action, and they’ve lost four in a row, so yeah. Anything goes, have at it.

NoMaas interviews John Manuel

NoMaas posted an interview with Baseball America’s John Manuel today, the man who’s been compiling the Yankees’ top 30 prospects list for the last I dunno, five, six, seven years or so. It’s been a while, he knows the system fairly well and spills the beans about Jesus Montero‘s ability to catch, some reasoning behind the Cito Culver pick, the non-Killer B pitching prospects, Rafael DePaula, plus a ton more. So yeah, go check it out.

Also, just as a heads up, I plan on posting my top 30 prospects list this Friday. Forgot to mention it in the chat last week.

What’s sustainable and what’s not from Curtis Granderson

(Jim Mone/AP)

We can all find the date on his Baseball Reference game log. On August 10 Curtis Granderson, then hitting .240/.307/.417, started working with hitting instructor Kevin Long in order to improve on what had been a disappointing season. Granderson didn’t start either game in Texas, though he made appearances in both. When he returned to the starting lineup on August 13 in Kansas City, he appeared to be a more confident hitter.

For the rest of the season Granderson hit .261/.356/.564 in 192 PA, which improved his season stats to .247/.324/.468. That was just about in line with his 2009 numbers, with a little added power. The Yanks hoped they were getting something closer to the .280/.365/.494 Granderson of 2008. In 2011 they’ll again hope he can show signs of improvement. There are some indicators that might be the case. Let’s take a look at a few improvements Granderson made, and whether they’re sustainable.

Walk rate. Before his work with Long, Granderson drew 29 walks in 335 PA, or 8.7 percent. This harkened back to his breakout 2007 season, except without the batting average and power. It made for a pretty miserable OBP.

After the work with Long, Granderson walked 24 times in 192 PA, or 12.5 percent. This is more like his previous two years, in which he walked more than 10 percent of the time. I’m not sure if he can sustain that exact rate, but it is noteworthy that none of these walks was intentional. He earned them fair and square. It was enough to bring his season average up to 10 percent, which is right in line with 2009, but a bit below 2008.

We have seen a few projection systems try to peg down Granderson, but few of them see him getting much above that 10 percent marker: Both PECOTA and Marcel have him at 9.9 percent. Yet I can certainly envision him finishing with a walk rate between 11 and 12 percent. If he’s hitting ahead of, say, Russell Martin, pitchers might be a bit more careful with him. This is one of his improvements I think he can sustain.

Power. One of Granderson’s saving graces in the first part of the season was his power. In those 335 PA he hit 10 homers, 11 doubles, and six triples, which amounted to a .417 SLG (.177 ISO). While that’s good for a center fielder, it’s not quite up to the standard Granderson had set in the previous three years, when his lowest ISO was .204. And so he and Long went to work.

In the season’s final month and a half Granderson hit 14 homers, or one every 13.7 PA. That was good for a .564 SLG and .303 ISO. Clearly he’s not going to sustain that over a full 600 PA. Only one hitter crossed the .300 ISO barrier in 2010, and that was the home run champ, Jose Bautista. Only one other player came within 10 points of it. Granderson will not slug .550 on the season in 2011.

Still, the improvement does give me confidence that he can return to a SLG around .500. It will depend on his batting average, for sure, but he’s displayed some pretty impressive power in the past. I’d probably peg him at a .220 to .230 ISO, which is around where he landed last year. Spread over an entire season that will be immensely valuable, especially for a center fielder.

Fact: Only four center fielders finished with a better ISO than Granderson in 2010. Two of them, Josh Hamilton and Carlos Gonzalez, primarily played the corner positions. One of the others, Colby Rasmus, finished one measly point ahead. Make no mistake: Granderson can rake.

Batting average. This has kind of been Granderson’s boon in the past two seasons. In 2007 he hit .302 and in 2008 he hit .280, but those were on the backs of some pretty high BABIP numbers. When his BABIP dropped in 2009 and 2010, so did his average. Yet he did recover a bit after his work with Long.

Before August 9 Granderson had a .240 BA on a .284 BABIP. After the work he had a .261 BA on a .264 BABIP. Obviously the change in approach had something to do with the fluctuating numbers. He walked more and hit more homers, hence fewer balls in play. But I still wonder if he has room to improve that BABIP. If so, he could see a slight increase in his average.

For a quick look, here’s how some of the popular projection engines see Granderson’s 2011.

Bill James: .264/.341/.471
Marcel: .253/.329/.448
PECOTA: .257/.333/.460

The current projection engines don’t make much of Granderson’s in-season improvement. Nor should they. They’re not there to filter out the nuance of how a season progresses. They’re taking the long view. And in the long view, there’s not much that suggests an improvement from Granderson. But our exacting view just might hold merit. After all, he did change something, and he did notice improved results after that.

Given what we know about Granderson and what we saw from him in August and September, here’s my admittedly biased projection for his 2011 season:


Is that really so bold?

Sorting out the last bench spot

I can has bench job? (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

You know we’re getting down to the final few days of the offseason when we’re continually talking about the last spot on the bench. The Yankees have a few in-house options for that spot alongside Andruw Jones, Frankie Cervelli, and Eduamiro Penunez, so let’s sort them out…

Justin Maxwell
What He Offers: speed, power, walks, defense
What He Lacks: contact skills, durability

Probably the most physically gifted of the team’s fifth bench options, Maxwell’s relatively short big league career (260 PA) features a .178 ISO and 14.8% walks, exceptionally good numbers. For comparison’s sake, Jason Heyward had a .179 ISO with a 14.6% walk rate in his stellar rookie season last year. I could be a function of small sample size, though it’s worth noting that in exactly 900 PA at the Double and Triple-A levels, Maxwell owns a .222 ISO and an 11.6% walk rate. The underlying skills are there, which Baseball America noted when they named him Washington’s eighth best prospect before last season. He’s also a high-percentage basestealer (78.9% success rate in the minors) with a pair of 35 SB seasons under his belt in the high minors.

Guys with power, speed, the ability to draw walks and defend well in center are a rare breed, but what’s holding Maxwell back are some big time holes in his swing. He’s struck out in 37.9% of his big league at-bats, 26.6% in Double and Triple-A. He’s very similar to Andruw Jones in that you’ll get a low batting average, but he’ll still get on base at an okay clip and occasionally run into a few pitches. There’s also the injury bug. Maxwell is on his way back from Tommy John surgery right now (on his non-throwing elbow), but he’s also battled wrist and toe issues in the past.

Greg Golson
What He Offers: speed, defense, a tiny amount of power
What He Lacks: ability to draw walks, make consistent contact

Golson did a fine job as a late-inning defensive replacement and occasional pinch-runner last year, but he’s been around long enough that we know what he brings to the table offensively, and it’s just not much. In nearly 1,600 PA at Double and Triple-A, he owns a very good .161 ISO (though most of that is tied up in Double-A) but subpar walk (5.7%) and strikeout (34.1%) rates. Thankfully he can defend very well in three outfield spots and be a highly effective basestealer (78.9% success rate with no fewer than 20 SB in four of the last five years).

Limited by his lack of offensive ability, featuring not even one standout tool at the plate (power or getting on base or being able to make a ton of contact), means Golson’s speed and defense have to be that spectacular for him to hold down a roster spot.

Colin Curtis
What He Offers: a little of this, a little of that
What He Lacks: a standout tool

Lil' CC did a good. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The forgotten man, Curtis has one thing on both Maxwell and Golson: he’s a left-handed hitter, and the Yankees have zero of those on their bench right now. He’s a classic ‘tweener, doing just enough to get by but lacking a standout tool that can carry him. His offensive performance at Double and Triple-A is fine but nothing special (.118 ISO, 8.5% walks, 17.7% strikeouts) in a little more than 1,400 PA, and he’s never been much of a basestealer (just 25-for-42 in his career). Curtis can man the outfielder corners capably and play center in an emergency, but he’s not good enough to play their regularly.

* * *

Of course, the wildcards in all of this are are Kevin Russo, Eric Chavez, and Ronnie Belliard. Russo isn’t not great offensively (.093 ISO, 8.7% walks, 17.0% strikeouts in over 950 PA at the upper levels of the minors) or on the bases (55-for-77 in SB attempts in his career, 71.4%), but he does something none of those three guys above can do: play the infield. The Yankees have groomed him as a utility player basically his entire career, so he has experience playing the three non-first base infield spots as well as all three outfield spots (mostly left though). Since that last man on the bench doesn’t figure to see too many plate appearances, maybe they’ll decide to go with the versatile guy just to have at least two players on the bench capable of playing the infield (Russo and Penunez) and two capable of playing the outfield (Russo and Jones).

As for Chavez and Belliard … they’re the veterans on minor league deals. I have little faith in Chavez staying healthy or being productive through Spring Training, though it’s worth noting that his lefty bat would make sense for the bench. Belliard is probably the front-runner for a job given his versatility and occasionally productive bat, though he’s not going to swing the balance of power in the AL East.

If I’m picking out of those six, I’d probably go with Belliard for the time being. Maxwell is clearly the best player of the bunch, and that’s why he should spend the summer playing regularly and batting near the top of Triple-A Scranton’s order. He’s been banged up pretty bad in three of the last four years, so catching up on some at-bats wouldn’t be the end of the world. I think the chances of the Yankees carrying both Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena to start the year went down considerably once Belliard and Chavez came aboard, but I’m not sure how much that helps. Granted, it’s the 25th guy on the roster, but a little optimization never hurt.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 7th, 2011

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

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