Plan B: Gavin Floyd

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Everyone knows the Yankees are looking to add a quality starting pitcher to their rotation this offseason, and everyone also knows the team wants Cliff Lee to be that guy. He’s proven to be an elite pitcher at the top of his game, and the Yankees have both the need and financial wherewithal to bring him aboard. The Rangers, the team that last employed Lee, also want to keep their ace and are fully expected to make a competitive offer to retain him. This won’t be a CC Sabathia situation, where the Yanks’ offer far exceeded everyone else’s. Given that heightened level of competition, the Yankees no doubt need to have a backup plan and a backup to that backup plan to shore up their rotation.

We know the Yanks have already expressed some interest in Jorge De La Rosa, but another interesting name hit the market yesterday: Gavin Floyd of the White Sox. The ChiSox have multiple needs this offseason, including adding a hitter or two and strengthening the pitching staff. GM Kenny Williams has obliterated the team’s minor league depth over the last two years, parting with a total off eleven prospects (eight pitchers) for Mark Teahan, Edwin Jackson, Juan Pierre, Tony Pena (the reliever), and Jake Peavy since the start of the 2009 season. Although we don’t know what kind of return KW is seeking for Floyd, there’s a good chance that he’s looking to fill multiple holes with one deal similar to what he did when he sent Javy Vazquez to Atlanta.

Floyd is still just 27 years old (28 in January) even though it feels like he’s been around forever. Philadelphia made him the fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft out of a Maryland high school (Mark Teixeira went fifth overall), and three years later he was in the big leagues. The right-hander made 19 starts (and five relief appearances) for the Phightin’s from 2004 through 2006, pitching to a 6.96 ERA that matched his ugly peripherals (6.17 FIP). Frustrated by the ups-and-downs that come with a young pitcher, Philadelphia traded him (and Gio Gonzalez) to the White Sox for Freddy Garcia before the 2007 season.

The South Siders exercised a little more patience than the Phillies did, having Floyd make 17 starts in Triple-A (3.65 FIP) before calling him up to start the second game of a doubleheader in early-June. To say Floyd struggled initially would be an understatement. He allowed ten (!!!) home runs and 25 runs in his first 24.1 innings in Chicago, so the team shifted him to relief for a month or so before giving him another crack at the rotation. The move paid off, as Floyd finished the season with a 3.41 ERA (4.20 FIP) in five starts. Chicago gave him a rotation spot out of Spring Training the next year, and the rest is history.

(AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

Since the start of the 2008 season, Floyd has pitched to a 3.99 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 94 starts, throwing at least 187 innings in each season. It’s been nearly a decade since he was drafted, and Floyd has developed into a rock solid middle-of-the-rotation workhorse for Kenny Williams’ team, eclipsing the 4.0 fWAR mark in each of the last two seasons. That performance earned the righty a four-year contract extension worth $15.5M. That deal will pay Floyd just $5M in 2011 and $7M in 2012 before his 2013 option comes into play ($9.5M with no buyout). Even if he doesn’t improve one bit and remains the same guy going forward, that contract is a steal.

So then why, if Floyd is so young and so productive and signed so (relatively) cheaply, is he on the market? I’m guessing part of it has to do with a lack of other trade pieces. John Danks is off-limits as one of the game’s best young lefties, Mark Buehrle and Peavy are untradeable given their contracts (and in Peavy’s case, his injury), and Edwin Jackson is decidedly mediocre. Like Danks, Gordon Beckham should be off limits. That leaves Floyd as pretty much the only piece on the team’s roster that has legitimate trade value, meaning he’s not overpaid or under-producing or straight up old. Presumably, that’s why he’s available, because the ChiSox really don’t have anyone else to trade.

Floyd’s skill set is pretty simple. He misses a fair number of bats (9.5% swings-and-misses over the last two years, league avg is about 8.5%) and puts up solid strikeout rates (7.4 K/9 since 2009) thanks to a true four-pitch repertoire. Floyd’s fastball has settled into the low-90’s and he throws both a big breaking curveball and a slider. A changeup serves as his fourth pitch, but he only throws it about six percent of the time. The two breaking balls allow Floyd to handle both lefties (.337 wOBA against) and righties (.322) fairly well. His ground ball rate is trending upwards, going from 41.2% in 2008 to 44.3% in 2009 to 49.9% this year, and sure enough his homerun rate is trending downwards as a result: 1.31 HR/9 in 2008, 0.98 in 2009, and 0.67 in 2010. Remember, US Cellular Field is a homerun park, so those homer rates are a bit inflated. The only real concern is that Floyd missed the last two weeks of the season with tightness in his throwing shoulder, but he didn’t need surgery and the ChiSox shut him down as more of a precaution than anything.

The problem I see is that the two teams don’t really line up for a trade. Williams asked the Rockies for third baseman Ian Stewart in return and the Yanks simply don’t have that kind of bat to give up. The ChiSox already have a speedy singles hitter in Pierre so Brett Gardner doesn’t do much of anything, and you know they won’t want Nick Swisher back. That leaves Curtis Granderson, but I can’t imagine the Yanks will cut bait on him so soon after all the progress he made late in the season. Based on the present construction of their team, the White Sox are trying to win now, so a bunch of prospects probably won’t cut it. I just don’t see how this would work from where I sit, but KW likes to do crazy stuff, so maybe he figures out a three team trade or something. I’m not sure if the timing will work out either, meaning the ChiSox might want to act and make a trade before Lee is ready to sign, but that’s the nature of the beast.

We know the White Sox are at least willing to listen to offers for their young right-hander, and we also know the Yankees need to pick up at least one starting pitcher this offseason. The fit might not be there in terms of trade pieces, but Floyd makes a ton of sense for the Yankees and he’s a great Plan B should they be unable to land Cliff Lee for whatever reason.

Between the Yanks and Jeter, a hard line emerges

Derek Jeter makes a play on Denard Span during Game 1 of the ALDS. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

What’s the difference between a three-year deal and a five- or six-year deal? For the Yankees, it is the difference between a 39-year-old short and a 41- or 42-year-old short stop. For the Yankees, it is the difference between what they want to offer Derek Jeter and what Derek Jeter wants to offer them. So as the Hot Stove League enters its 17th day, the Yankees and their captain might just be settling in for a long, cold winter.

The tale of a tense negotiation has emerged over the last few weeks as Derek Jeter’s disappointing 2010 came to a close. We know he’s looking for what seems to be one final big payday, and we know the Yankees are rightfully wary about signing a 36-year-old short stop with a slowing bat and who isn’t a great defensive player to a long-term deal. Gone are the days of unnecessarily rewarding A-Rod with a ten-year contract, but here are the days of negotiating with the one player who will bear a grudge against that misguided ten-year deal.

The day of Derek drama began with a Joel Sherman column. Sherman explained how the team is trying to offer Jeter what they view as a fair baseball contract. They’re willing to “add some dollars beyond what they see as strictly Jeter’s on-field value to honor his status as an icon,” but they are toeing the line on the years. Right now, their offer is for three more years.

Sherman, who later noted how Jeter has little leverage, explained the good cop-bad cop routine Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman are playing with the captain. “Confidants of Cashman,” The Post scribe wrote, “said the GM is determined not to have the team get so lost in the past that it destroys the future by giving Jeter a contract that either lasts way beyond his effectiveness and/or overpays him to such a degree that hurts financial flexibility elsewhere.”

Later in the day, ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews added to Sherman’s report. According to his own sources, Jeter is looking for a long deal with a big payday. He writes, “The source says the Yankees are willing to give Jeter more money than his play currently warrants, but fewer years than Jeter currently wants. Jeter, the source said, wants more. Four years, minimum, and preferably five or even six. Right now, it is a standoff, a dirty dance, a game of chicken in which one side or the other must eventually blink.”

While some unnamed baseball officials believe the Yanks should offer a take-it-or-leave-it deal for three years and with an average annual salary of $15 million, the Yankees, Matthews said, are “fearful of taking that sort of a stance with their most beloved player since Mickey Mantle, fearful of a fan backlash and a public relations nightmare even though history says this team, better than any other, can survive parting ways with even the most beloved player in the bitterest fashion.”

At the end of the day, after the anonymous reporting, Randy Levine went on the record with his comments on the process. “Derek Jeter is a great Yankee and he’s a great player. With that said and done, now is a different negotiation than 10 years ago,” Levine said. “He’s a baseball player, and this is a player negotiation. Everything he is and who he is gets factored in. But this isn’t a licensing deal or a commercial rights deal, he’s a baseball player. With that said, you can’t take away from who he is. He brings a lot to the organization. And we bring a lot to him.”

Levine’s comments echo those of Hal Steinbrenner’s. Last week, on two radio appearance he stressed how the Yankees are “running a business” and how these negotiations would be business-like. It’s no surprise then that the Yanks are trying to get as good a deal as they can in the early going.

It’s easy to be worked up and outraged over this from either side. How could the Yankees not re-sign Jeter quickly? How could Jeter let his pride get in the way of reality and demand a six-year contract? Yet, the World Series ended on November 1, and pitchers and catchers aren’t due in Tampa until mid-February. At some point, the Yanks and Jeter will have a press conference and begin to lick their wounds. Hopefully, the middle ground they reach won’t hamstring the team for too many years or too many dollars. After all, the Yanks are indeed running a business, and they’re in the business of winning.

Open Thread: Taking back the comments

I can't believe they didn't make this place more football friendly! (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Okay, look. We have to do this every so often because the commenting sections of our posts get unwieldy as hell from time to time, especially when there are lots of trade rumors like there are right now. Please take a second to look over our basic Commenting Guidelines, which just ask you to be courteous more than anything. We have a perpetual Off-Topic Thread available for you to talk about anything at literally any time. The link is  right under the 1976 frieze in the banner, and in addition to that feel free to use the daily Radio Show posts as an open thread in the afternoon. Right now there are far too many off-topic comments and thread hi-jacking going on, and it’s scaring away new readers, which is bad for us. So please oblige. Thanks in advance.

And with that, here’s the night’s open thread. The Rangers, Isles, Knicks, and Nets are all in action, plus I’m sure there’s college basketball on somewhere. You guys know what to do, so have at it.

Where were the league’s best pitchers at age 24?

He might not have finished with the sexiest numbers, but Phil Hughes had quite an eventful 2010. In his first full season as a starter he made his first All-Star team and started his first playoff game. He also crossed his personal innings ceiling. In 2006 he threw 146 innings, but barely topped 100 in the following three seasons. In 2010 he threw 176, plus another 15.2 in the postseason. But it wasn’t all positive. Hughes did struggle at times, especially with the home run. It makes it difficult to project him going forward.

Thankfully for him, the home run problem is a new development. It might not even be a big concern going forward. For starters, seven of his 25 homers came against the Blue Jays, and six of those came in just two games. Furthermore, 12 of those 25 game during an eight game stretch during which Hughes struggled mightily. It’s the kind of stretch that many pitchers his age experience.

Before: 11 GS, 69.2 IP, 56 H, 21 R, 21 ER, 20 BB, 68 K, 4 HR

During: 8 GS, 47.2 IP, 53 H, 33 R, 32 ER, 14 BB, 34 K, 12 HR

After: 10 GS, 59 IP, 53 H, 29 R, 29 ER, 24 BB, 44 K, 9 HR

While he did recover a bit after the homer barrage, he still did struggle at times. Is that a concern the Yankees should have going forward? I tend to say no, since he those last 10 starts were innings he hadn’t pitched in four years. But it still has to be a concern that Hughes started off so well and tapered at the end.

This got me wondering where the best pitchers in the majors this season were at age 24. It is, after all, still a young age for a pitcher. Many guys come along slowly, and considering his past injuries and journey through the bullpen, Hughes could certainly rank among them. Here are the top 10 by FIP, and where they were at age 24.

Josh Johnson: Pitched just 87.1 innings because of injury. He had Tommy John surgery and pitched only 15.2 innings in his age 23 season.

Cliff Lee: 3.61 ERA and 4.35 FIP in just 52.1 innings. He wouldn’t be a full-time starter until the next season, during which he had a 5.43 ERA and 4.97 FIP.

Francisco Liriano: After missing his entire age-23 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Liriano pitched well enough in 2008, but managed just 76 innings.

Adam Wainwright: Basically doing the same thing Hughes did at age 23, pitching out of the Cardinals bullpen. Hughes actually might have been better at it, too. But all the same, he threw just 75 innings that season before transitioning to the rotation and throwing 202 as a 25-year-old.

Just to note, that’s the top four pitchers, per FIP, this season, and Hughes threw far, far more innings than any of them — the closest was 90 IP away.

Justin Verlander: Absolutely rocked, pitching 201.2 innings to a 3.66 ERA and 3.99 FIP in a super follow-up to his AL Rookie of the Year Award season.

Mat Latos: Yeah, he was only 22 this year.

Roy Halladay: He was actually very good, a 3.16 ERA and 2.34 FIP. But he pitched only 105.1 innings, because he was so bad in his age-23 season that Toronto had to send him all the way down to the bottom of the minors to start over.

Yovani Gallardo: 2010 was his age-24 season, and he managed just nine more innings than Hughes. He was pretty good, though, a 3.84 ERA and 3.02 FIP.

Felix Hernandez: He was also 24 in 2010. We need not make the comparison.

Jered Weaver: The Angels passed on Hughes in the 2004 draft in order to take Weaver. In 2007, his age-24 season, Weaver threw 161 innings and had a 3.91 ERA and 4.06 FIP. Those are pretty Hughes-like numbers.

If you want to add in some ERA leaders who were not FIP leaders:

Clay Buchholz: The Red Sox kept Buchholz in the minors in 2009. In the majors he threw 92 innings to a 4.21 ERA and 4.69 FIP. So Hughes threw more and was better.

David Price: Another age-24 pitcher in 2010. He was considerably better than Hughes.

Roy Oswalt: He was a stand-out 24-year-old.

Tim Hudson: Hudson pitched 202.1 innings in his age-24 season, but managed a Hughes-like 4.14 ERA and 4.33 FIP.

Ubaldo Jimenez: 198.2 IP, 3.99 ERA, 3.83 FIP.

There were plenty of pitchers who were already stars at age-24, but there were plenty who didn’t even spend a full season on the major league roster, or, in Wainwright’s case, were in the bullpen. Phil Hughes’s season might not have blown us away, but his 2010 performance certainly bodes well for his future.

The RAB Radio Show: November 17, 2010

It’s been a pretty crazy 24 hours thanks to the Juston Upton trade rumors. We heard the Yankees inquired, but that’s just a formality. Of course they’re going to be interested in a player of Upton’s caliber. That means trade proposals. Mike and I don’t necessarily make one, but instead discuss some of the players who have been mentioned.

Then it’s onto the relief pitcher market, which just took a turn when the Tigers signed Joaqin Benoit to a three-year, $16.5 million deal. I approved of the Yankees pursuing Benoit, but not for a contract worth nearly that much. What does this mean for other free agent relievers? How does it affect the Yanks’ situation?

And then there’s the Manager of the Year. Girardi actually got one third place vote.

Podcast run time 29:34.

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Gardenhire, Black take home Manager of the Year honors

Ron Gardenhire of the Twins and Bud Black of the Padres were named the Manager of the Year in their respectively leagues this afternoon. Gardenhire received 16 of 32 first place votes and beat out second place Ron Washington by a sizable margin. Joe Girardi received one third place vote. It was much closer in the NL, where Black received 16 first place votes and Dusty Baker took home 13. Black totaled 104 points, Baker 103. So that was close, congrats to both guys.

The Obligatory The Justin Upton Post

Every year right around this time the hot stove seems to kick it up a notch, and 2010 is no different. Players that were previously thought to be untouchable are suddenly on the market and having their names mentioned in trade talk, and such is the case with The Justin Upton*. “I’m open to listening on anybody,” said new Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers. “We got more hits on Upton and [Stephen] Drew. They’re difficult to move, but sometimes to make your club better, you have to move good players. You never know when a deal might present itself.”

While the D’Backs are indeed listening to offers for their franchise player, it’ll take a king’s ransom to acquire him according to various reports, as it should. Both the Yankees and Red Sox have already inquired, and although their interest appears to be nothing more than due diligence, it’s enough to get everyone all worked up. As Ben explained in his now infamous Carl Crawford post, the Yanks aren’t really desperate for outfield help, but that’s not going to stop us and Upton is a special case anyway.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The very first pick in the 2005 draft, B.J.’s younger brother reached the big leagues a little more than two years later. He was three weeks shy of his 20th birthday at the time. That 43 game cameo in 2007 resulted in just a .277 wOBA, but that was fine. No one expected the kid to come up to the show and start raking two years out of high school. Upton started the next season as the team’s every day rightfielder and more than held his own. He wOBA’d .347 in 417 plate appearances, missing almost two months due to a left oblique strain. Combined with his defense, which was decidedly below average according to various metrics, Upton was just a half-a-win player that season, but again he was just 20. He should have been a sophomore in college, not playing everyday in the big leagues.

The next year, 2009, was Upton’s masterpiece. He hit .300/.366/.532 (.388 wOBA) with 26 homers, and performed well enough on defense to be a 4.6 fWAR player. In all likelihood, TJU would have eclipsed the five-win plateau as a 21-year-old had he did missed three weeks with another oblique strain (this one on the right side). Just 26 players in the history of baseball have performed at a five-win pace at that age, 20 of which are either in the Hall of Fame or will be some day. The kid was that good already, and as a reward the D’Backs gave him a six-year contract worth $51.25M, buying out all of his arbitration years in addition to two years of free agency.

(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

As awesome as he was in 2009, Upton was just pretty good in 2010. He dropped down to a .349 wOBA and 3.1 fWAR, which is still well above average, but just not up to the lofty standard he had set the year before. A sore shoulder originally suffered on a swing bothered Upton during the season’s final month, and a visit to Dr. James Andrews after the season reveal a small tear in his labrum. He didn’t need surgery and is rehabbing this winter, which brings us to these latest rumors.

Since the season ended the D’Backs have hired a new GM, one affectionately known as the Human Trade Rumor. That’s just how Towers seems to operate, in a very public way. As if putting a package together to acquire Upton wasn’t hard enough already for Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankees’ brain trust, it’s made even more difficult by the fact that KT knows their players and farm system better than just about all opposing GM’s after working with the team in 2010. Pulling a fast one with a great stats/meh tools minor leaguer like say, a Zach McAllister before he was dealt to Cleveland, is improbable.

What makes Upton so special is the raw talent and especially the power. When Baseball America ranked him the second best prospect in the game in 2007, they said he “does everything exceptionally well and already has the body and composure of a big leaguer,” noting that he “whips his bat through the hitting zone and has great leverage in his swing, which allows him to sting the ball like few players can and gives him plus power potential.” In his three full big league seasons, TJU boasts a .205 ISO, which is slightly off from the .215 ISO that Robbie Cano put up this year. That’s the kind of power we’re talking here. Take a look at his spray chart below, the power is to all fields as well, especially important in Yankee Stadium. It’s not like he’s pull happy.

Now, as good as Upton is, he’s not without his flaws. He strikes out a ton, once every 3.36 trips to the plate during his three full seasons. Of course there are the injury concerns, namely the shoulder, and he also has a sizable platoon split (.388 wOBA vs. LHP, .343 vs. RHP). Upton has also been much better in hitter friendly Chase Field (.384 wOBA) than he has been on the road (.326). Remember though, we are talking about someone that didn’t turn 23 until this August; Upton’s more than two full years younger than Ramiro Pena and just a month older than Brandon Laird, for example. The fact that he hasn’t fully figured out how to consistently hit on the road and against same-side pitchers yet should be no surprise.

Dave Cameron figured that based on his contract, Upton has an excess value of $70M if he develops into merely a very good player (3.5-5.0 fWAR) and over $100M if he turns into a superstar (4.5-6.5 fWAR). Both totals seem a little outrageous, but let’s roll with it since the legwork is already done. Towers is a smart fella, so you can bet he’s going to market him as a superstar. A trade with the Yankees would unquestionably start with Jesus Montero, and even then you’re adding two or three quality pieces. Including guys like Laird and Eduardo Nunez and Ivan Nova won’t cut it. Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances will have to be involved, maybe Brett Gardner, and then even more. Players of Upton’s caliber don’t come cheaply, especially when they’re this young and signed at a below market rate for the next five years.

I’m a big Justin Upton fan and he’s the kind of player you move mountains to acquire, so I hope that talks with Arizona progress from due diligence to legitimate discussions. It’s sounding more and more like a trade is possible, too. As solid as the Yankee outfield is now, Upton makes it better and he instantly becomes the centerpiece of the offense going forward, a surer thing than Montero because he’s shown he can do this and this in the big leagues (seriously, click that first link). It’s a long shot, and it would be extremely costly to make it happen, but man, The Justin Upton in pinstripes would make the Yankees demonstrably better both now and in the future.

* In case you’re wondering, the The Justin Upton nickname came about from a reader typo in one of Keith Law’s ESPN chats like two years ago. TJU is a great nickname, so it stuck.