The Yankees knocked it out of the park with Jorge Posada’s retirement press conference today, the entire event was extremely well done. Diana Munson, Thurman’s widow, stole the show with her three minutes at the podium I thought, so I’m passing along the video here if you missed it.
If the Yankees don’t use Freddy Garcia as the fifth starter, what exactly can they do with him? As Mike mentioned in his earlier post, he’s quite inflexible. He doesn’t have significant bullpen experience, which rules out the most obvious alternative. Since the Yankees signed Garcia after the free agency filing period ended, they cannot assign his contract — i.e., trade him — until June 15th without his written permission. That leaves the Yanks in a bit of a bind.
The strongest point in favor of Garcia manning the fifth spot is his lack of baggage. He’s under contract, he’s capable, and there’s nothing to prove. While both Hughes and Burnett are under contract, their capability is ripe for debate, and it’s undeniable that both have plenty to prove. Garcia, then, is the simplest, most straight forward option for the rotation. At the same time, that works against him.
The Yankees probably want to see if they can squeeze a little more value out of the $82.5 million they’ll pay Burnett. At the same time, they probably want to see if they can actually get prolonged productivity over a pitcher who was once the No. 4 prospect in the game. Brian Cashman’s words do make it appear as though they wish to trade either Burnett or Hughes, which could ease the situation a bit. But even if they do, that leaves Garcia in competition with the non-traded pitcher. The point about flexibility remains.
Whatever the case with the other two pitchers, the Yankees will likely stand pat with Garcia throughout spring training. Injuries happen, so Garcia acts as a bit of insurance for the Yanks. If they reach the end of spring training healthy and decided that they’d prefer Hughes or Burnett in the fifth spot, it is conceivable at that point that Garcia would consent to a trade. He might have enjoyed his experience with the Yankees, but he might also prefer a chance to start with another team, rather than play the role of long man in the Yankees’ bullpen.
The biggest problem with the above scenarios is that Garcia’s greatest value for the Yankees comes in the rotation. He clearly won’t be as valuable out of the bullpen, even if he pitches moderately well there. He probably won’t fetch much in a trade, unless a team suffers multiple injuries in their starting rotation and becomes hopelessly desperate for a living, breathing pitcher. If the Yankees don’t use him as the fifth starter, the $4 million they used to sign him will have basically become garbage. That’s not ideal for a team that has used the word “budget” frequently this off-season.
Since Garcia is not involved in trade talks, and since he’d provide quality innings pitching in the fifth rotation spot, it’s easy to envision him there to start the season. The Yankees don’t have many other realistic options. They could try to trade him, but probably wouldn’t get equal value. They could move him to the bullpen, but he’s never really pitched there. It will probably take them moving one of Hughes or Burnett to make it work, but it does appear that the best solution for Garcia is to have him pitch every five days.
Via Tim Brown and Jon Heyman, the Tigers have agreed to sign Prince Fielder to a nine-year contract worth $214M. Detroit recently lost Victor Martinez for the year after he tore his ACL during an offseason workout, so they more than replaced the lost offense. Fielder was never a realistic option for the Yankees, but I have to admit I did have visions of him at DH dancing in my head after Jesus Montero was traded away. That’s some contract, wow.
Yesterday we examined A.J. Burnett’s case for the Yankees’ fifth starter spot, an admittedly flimsy case at best. Today we’re going to move onto Freddy Garcia, who would deserve the job with no questions asked if the decision was based solely on 2011 performance. He pitched to a 3.62 ERA and a perfectly league average 4.12 FIP in 146.2 IP, and was arguably the team’s most consistent starter from Game One through Game 162.
There are some question marks at age 35, but there are also some very real reasons why Garcia should get the get the ball every five days over Burnett and Phil Hughes. Let’s break it down…
He’s The Incumbent
Before rain suspended Game One of the ALDS last year, the Yankees intended to use just three starters in the five-game series, and one of the them was Garcia. Both Hughes and Burnett were in the bullpen to open the series with the Tigers. Like I said, Freddy outpitched both of those guys pretty handily during the regular season and earned that spot in the postseason rotation. He’s done nothing to lose it over the last three months.
Sweaty Freddy has pitched in 329 games as a big leaguer, and he appeared in all but two of those games as a starter. He has basically no experience in a relief role. Hughes has pitched very well out of the bullpen throughout his career, and although Burnett doesn’t have much bullpen experience in his career (just five career relief appearances), the Yankees obviously felt comfortable enough with him in that role since that’s where they intended to put him in the playoffs before the weather forced him into a Game Four start.
Its worth noting that Garcia has undergone some major shoulder surgery in the not-too-distant past, so he might need more time to warm up than the typical pitcher. I know that’s part of the reason why the Rays never tried Jeff Niemann in the bullpen back in the day, when he was running out of minor league options without a clear path to the big leagues. Needing a long time to warm up isn’t an issue as a starter, but if Freddy needs a good 20-30 minutes to get going while pitching out of the bullpen, well that’s a major issue. He’ll need a full innings’ notice, which just isn’t how baseball works these days.
He’s Crafty (…and he’s just my type)
The front four of the Yankees rotation is quartet of hard-throwers. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda had two of the seven hardest fastballs in all of baseball last season while both Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova averaged better than 92 with the heat (92.1 and 92.4, respectively). The last time Garcia hit 92 mph with his fastball was about six years ago, and these days he does most of his living in the 85-88 mph range. He makes it work though, and it’s a pretty extreme change of pace from the rest of the pitching staff, bullpen included. A full five-man rotation of craftiness won’t work (coughTwinscough), but mixing one soft-tosser into a staff of power pitchers adds some nice variety and deception. Pitching is all about disrupting a hitter’s timing, and Freddy does that in a big way compared to his teammates.
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Given his age, his stuff, his injury history, and the fine line he treads every time he goes out to the mound, it’s easy to cast Garcia aside. He’s now four full years removed from shoulder surgery and has thrown 150 IP in each of the last two seasons, so the questions about his durability are being answered. He had to continually prove himself each time out last season, and he did just that in a tough pitcher’s environment (in terms of division and ballpark). Freddy showed he was up to the challenge, and we’ve heard a lot about the Yankees liking his toughness and his veteran presence. I hear he also gives the young players some nice veteran presents as well, but that’s besides the point.
The Yankees have very little invested in Garcia. He’s one a one-year contract and his $4M salary will represent less than 2% of their payroll next season. They don’t have to worry about his development (like they would with Hughes) or try to justify the investment they made in him (like they might feel they have to do with Burnett), they could just send him out there every give days and basically forget about him. If he pitches poorly, then just cut him. No big deal and no strings attached. Garcia’s been through it all in his career, and serving as the fifth starter on a contending team is job in which he is more than qualified.
During his conference call with reporters yesterday, Brian Cashman said that free agents are “secondary” in their pursuit of another bat according to Sweeny Murti. “Maybe I’ll use our excess pitching to find a bat,” he added. Joel Sherman reports that the team would prefer to trade A.J. Burnett for a DH-type (or salary relief) or deal a young pitcher for a young bat with several years of team control remaining. If that fails, then they’ll turn to the free agent market since no one seems to be in a rush to sign those guys.
I still think that — and the report of them having just $1-2M to spend on a bat — is all posturing and their way of getting Johnny Damon to lower his asking price. I’d love to see them land a young, controllable bat like a Domonic Brown or (preferably) Logan Morrison, but I don’t expect it to happen. As the Jesus Montero trade showed us, good young bats don’t come cheap.
After 17 glorious seasons with the Yankees, Jorge Posada will officially announce his retirement from baseball today at 11am ET at Yankee Stadium. He spent his entire career in pinstripes and retires as a .273/.374/.474 career hitter with 275 homers and five World Series rings (though all he did in 1996 was tag along for the ride). Posada has a prominent place in Yankees history and his career 44.9 bWAR is tenth most in baseball history among players who spent at least 75% of their career games behind the plate. He’s not a lock for the Hall of Fame, but Jorge has a very good case and figures to spend several years on the ballot.
Ten days after the agreement was reported, the trade sending Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners in exchange for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos was made official yesterday. The Yankees dealt away their best position player prospect since Derek Jeter, a guy most of us thought was pretty close to untouchable over the last four years or so. That wasn’t the case though, it never is. Brian Cashman is fond of saying that “no one is untouchable, but some are more touchable than others.” That continues to be true.
For starters, the Yankees have dangled Montero in trade talks several times in the past. They weren’t going to give him away, but he was out there if someone was serious about swinging a deal. The Yankees offered him to the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay during the 2009-2010 offseason, and of course there was the Cliff Lee non-trade fiasco. Other teams have asked for him over the years — the White Sox for John Danks, the Athletics for Gio Gonzalez, the Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez — and that’s just the stuff we know about. As much as we maybe didn’t want to believe it, Montero was very available.
We all know about the long-term position and defensive questions Montero carried, but chances are the team had some other concerns that contributed to their willingness to trade him. Allow me to excerpt The Star-Ledger’s Jeff Bradley…
“A big-time talent,” [VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman] said of Montero. “There’s no one questioning his talent. But he hasn’t had a great year with the bat this year. We expected more, honestly.”
Newman went on to say, “The biggest deal for him is maturity. I’ve been doing this a while and I don’t know how you significantly accelerate the maturation process. You can put him around mature people, but he’s got a ways to go in figuring out how this game works and how this world works. He’s bright. I think he’ll eventually get it. The discipline and turmoil that he’s had to deal with is part of the process. You’ve got to deal with stuff. You’ve got to take the training wheels off. That’s what he’s going through.”
When asked if Montero had allowed his hopes of making the Yankees roster out of spring training last year get too high, Newman nodded. “He thought he had a chance to make the team in spring training. He thought he was the best player here at Triple-A last year. Now, he sees (Eduardo) Nunez is up there doing well. He thinks, ‘I was better than him.’ He sees Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, and he thinks, ‘I was better than all of them, and they’re up there and I’m down here.’ I had a zillion conversations with him about that. But his case is not unique. These guys are down here reading the blogs about themselves, where even a few years ago, players moved through development stages in anonymity.”
Now, just to be 100% clear, these comments are not recent. They were made back around the trade deadline according to Bradley. It’s not like Newman is throwing Montero under the bus on his way out the door Red Sox-style, he voiced these concerns when the kid was still in the organization and six months before he was traded away.
The idea that Montero was “bored” in Triple-A this past summer is nothing new, but that’s not the only incident (if you can actually call that an incident) that involved a lack of maturity on his part. Remember, the Yankees did bench him for a few games in 2010 because he didn’t run out a ground ball, and they benched him again in 2011 because his play lacked “energy.” During yesterday’s trade announcement conference call, Montero admitted that Alex Rodriguez stepped in and threatened to fine him $100 a day last September because he wasn’t spending enough time in the batting cage. There’s the whole “boys will be boys” mindset, especially when you’re talking about kids this young after they were handed a boatload of money. I have no doubt a sense of entitlement comes into play.
The Yankees know way more about Montero and his maturity level — both as a person and as a player — than we ever will, and we really can’t say that they had legitimate long-term concerns about him with any certainty. I’ve always been of the belief that talents reigns supreme, and I’ll live with the occasional bad apple or grumpy player as long as he’s productive on the field. The Yankees seem to have placed a renewed emphasis on strong work ethic and makeup, and in recent years they’ve sought out players with those traits in free agency, trades, and even the draft. Maybe they felt Montero didn’t fit the mold despite his ability to hit baseballs a long way.