The RAB Radio Show: March 25, 2011

The Yankees have been active during the last 24 hours, adding some pitching and outfield depth. That leaves us with plenty to talk about. We bring on Jay, whom you might know better as @jaydestro, to talk through the series of moves.

We also hit on some other topics, including our favorite surprises of the spring.

Podcast run time 40:33

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Oh noes! Hughes’ velocity reportedly down

Via Danny Knobler, scouts are “stunned” by Phil Hughes‘ lack of velocity this spring, noting that he’s sat 87-89 with more 87’s than 89’s. Joel Sherman backs up the report, but says the Yankees and Hughes himself aren’t concerned because his velocity was down last spring as well. We seem to get a story on Hughes’ velocity at least once a year, though this year it’s a bit more of a concern considering his 80.1 IP jump from 2009 to 2010. The conspiracy theorists among us will probably think the Kevin Millwood signing indicates that the team is worried about their young right-hander, but I’m not sure I buy that.

Bottom line, if the Yankees were worried about Hughes at all, he wouldn’t be pitching this spring. His 22 Grapefruit League innings lead the team, and it’s not like he’s getting hit around either. If he’s still throwing 87-89 in May, then I’ll worry.

2011 Season Preview: Brian Cashman’s expiring contract

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Do general managers react to contract years in the same way as players? While the effect doesn’t apply to every player — see Andruw Jones‘s contract year in 2007 — Dayn Perry, writing in Baseball Between the Numbers, found that there is a small, but statistically significant, uptick in player performance when a free agent contract is on the line. Maybe that’s why the Yankees have a policy of not negotiating new contracts until the old ones expires. That policy applies to players, coaches, and executives alike. As such, Brian Cashman is headed into a contract season.

If we’re to believe Cashman’s peers and bosses atop the Yankees organization, this will not be an issue. They love Cashman and want him back. Cashman, by most indications, enjoys his position. In that way, I’m not sure that his impending free agency means much. The Yankees have been down this road before, and despite a poor 2008 season the team eagerly re-upped with Cashman. Now, three years and a World Series title later, I expect much of the same. The situation might change if the Yankees miss the playoffs, but given recent history I’m not sure about that.

It is fitting, though, that Cashman’s toughest season will come in a contract year. The Yankees have made some depth moves to help shore up the rotation, but at some point they’re going to need someone better than Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon, or perhaps even Ivan Nova, pitching in the rotation. That’s how competitive the AL East has become. It’s not enough to have just a solid rotation. The Yankees need to go above and beyond. They tried this winter, but were snubbed despite having made the best offer. Now Cashman has to get creative in order to upgrade. Money alone won’t get it done this time.

Maybe the Yankees’ brass is just making overtures to feign a sense of stability. Maybe Cashman really does pine to run a franchise where his moves aren’t downplayed because of his deep pockets. If one is true, the Yankees will be searching for a new GM this fall. But given most indications, the Yankees like Cashman. They did, after all, re-sign him after the team failed to make the playoffs in 2008. From Cashman’s angle, he hasn’t worked for another company his entire adult life. His family is settled in the area, and he wields more power than other GMs. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s still a pretty good bet that Cashman’s back for 2012 and beyond.

Yanks trade Mitre to the Brewers

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Update (11:41am): The Yankees have received OF Chris Dickerson from the Brewers. He has one option remaining and is a legitimate center fielder (+15.7 UZR/150 but in a limited sample), so think of him as Curtis Granderson insurance should the oblique thing drag on. The soon-to-be 28-year-old was awful last season (.206/.250/.268, .242 wOBA in 106 PA), but he missed close to four months after having wrist surgery.

Dickerson hit .283/.383/.440 with 16 steals while with the Reds from 2008-2009 (421 PA), and is a .282/.382/.471 career hitter at the Triple-A level. So yeah, he has some on-base skills, plus he hits righties well (career .347 wOBA). Considering Mitre’s limited value and the fact that they were probably going to release him before Monday’s 45-day termination pay deadline, the Yankees actually made out really well in this swap.

Original Post (11:03am): That’s the word from Jerry Crasnick of Mitre was one of four pitchers competing for three roster spots, so this trade makes the situation clear. Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, and Freddy Garcia will all break camp with the team, though we’re not quite sure about the roles yet. Nova will be in the rotation, but it’s still unclear which of Colon and Garcia fills the fifth spot and which goes to the bullpen.

This also puts the Kevin Millwood signing into better perspective. He’s now essentially insurance in case something goes wrong with Colon or Garcia early in the season, when the young arms might not quite be ready.

Mailbag: Slowey, Joba, Prior, Bunting!

Mailbag time. This week we’re going to talk about Kevin Slowey, Joba Chamberlain as a long reliever, Mark Prior’s chances of making the team, and sacrifice bunting. My favorite strategy. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send your questions in throughout the week.

(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Brock asks: Assuming that the MLBTR post about the Twins willing to accept Slowey for relief pitchers is accurate, would you support the Yankees if they went ahead with a move like this? Who would you be willing to give up?

We’ve gotten a ton of Kevin Slowey questions this week, so Joe and I addressed it in yesterday’s podcast. I also looked at him earlier this month. Slowey’s is clearly an upgrade over the dreck the Yankees have at the back of the rotation right now, but he’s a flawed pitcher. He has the lowest ground ball rate of any pitcher in baseball since his debut (31.6%), he has trouble against lefties (.354 wOBA against), and he’s been on the disabled list with an arm-related ailment in each of the last three seasons, including wrist surgery two years ago. That said, he’s young (27 in May), cheap ($2.7M in 2011), under contractual control through 2013, and he doesn’t walk anybody (1.46 uIBB/9 career). He’ll give up some homers, but at least the lack of walks will somewhat mitigate the damage.

As you said, the Twins reportedly want a late-inning reliever in return, and people have asked about giving up Joba. The two right-handers are at the same point of their careers contractually, so they’d be trading three years of Joba for three years of Slowey, so that works out well. However, I’m pretty sure the Yankees could stick Joba in the rotation right now and get Slowey-level production out of him. I also think he’s poised for a big year, though I still acknowledge that an average starter is more valuable than a top-end reliever. Maybe I’m just Joba-hugging too much, but I wouldn’t give that up for Slowey.

Given Slowey’s obvious faults, I wouldn’t trade for him unless the Yankees could get him on the cheap. The Twins have already lowered his value by sticking him in the bullpen, so there’s no need to pay market value for him. There’s no doubt that he’s better than Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood, and Sergio Mitre, but I don’t see him as an “acquire at all costs” guy.

Drew asks: Okay so my friend and I got into an argument today about Joba. He is convinced that Joba can go out and throw 3 innings and be the long reliever if necessary. He said he throws only 60 pitches max, AND that in bullpen sessions he throws 60-100 pitches so his arm would be okay. I told him he is out of his freaking mind. Please set him straight and tell him he’s crazy.

I think every middle reliever, a guy accustomed to throwing one inning at a time, could go out and thrown three innings or 40-50 pitches in an emergency. That doesn’t mean it’s ideal though. Joba could certainly be the long reliever, but they’d have to stretch him out a bit, to at least 40 pitches or so. I don’t think he could just go right into the season as is and be expected to throw three innings at a time.

That said, Joba’s too good for long relief work. More than a strikeout per inning, fewer than three walks per nine, and a ground ball rate around 45% … that guy should be pitching in some kind of leveraged role, even if it’s just medium leverage.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Ellis asks: What’s up with Mark Prior? His stats look great this spring – is he in the running for a bullpen spot?

Nah, he apparently signed his contract knowing that he needs to go to Triple-A and prove himself. Prior has looked great in camp, but it’s only been a handful of innings against (mostly) minor league competition late in games. He has to show a little more against Triple-A caliber hitters (there’s a lot of Single- and Double-A players late in Spring Training games) and prove he can pitch on back-to-back days. Prior has looked way better than I expected and he’s definitely put himself in consideration for a call-up at some point, but he’s still got some more things to work on before that happens.

Vinny asks: While I know how you guys feel about sac bunts, in certain situations, would you advocate Jeter bunting more to cut down on his double plays? Obviously it would depend on the situation during the game, but I think we can all agree that giving away one out is better than grounding into two, both from an outs and a momentum perspective.

Yeah definitely, but like you said, it depends on the situation during the game. Early in the game, absolutely not, and probably not in the middle innings either. It would have to be late, seventh or eighth or ninth inning in a one-run (either way, leading or trailing) or tied game, where scoring that one run is the sole focus.

I hate sacrifice bunting, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless. Late in a game where one run can improve the team’s chances of winning so greatly, that’s when it’s a sound strategy. It defeats the purpose pretty much anytime after that.

Yankees sign Millwood to minor league deal

(AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)

Update by Mike (3:04pm): Marc Carig says Millwood will get $500,000 each for five, ten, 15, 20, and 25 starts, plus a million bucks if he reaches 30.

Update by Mike (12:06pm): Wally Matthews says Millwood can become a free agent if he’s not on the big league roster by May 1st. He get’s $1.5M pro-rated, so the same as Garcia.

Update by Mike (10:56am): Andrew Marchand says the terms of the contract are similar to Freddy Garcia’s. Garcia will $1.5M with the big league team plus another $3.6M in possible incentives, so it’s pretty cheap. Glad to hear Millwood is coming dirt cheap as well.

Update by Mike (8:49am): Heyman says it’s a done deal, the Yankees have signed Millwood to a minor league contract. He adds that either Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia will be in the rotation to at least start the year (presumably Ivan Nova gets the other spot) since Millwood will need some time to prepare.

Original Post (3/25/2011, 12:00am): In an effort to corner the market on players who had memorable moments in 2003, the Yankees and right-handed pitcher Kevin Millwood are “close” on “an incentive-laden minor-league deal,” Jon Heyman tweeted late this evening. The Yanks had long been linked to Millwood, but until recently, the pitcher had said he wouldn’t sign anything but a Major League deal.

For the two parties, this deal seems to be the culmination of a winter-long seduction. Once Andy Pettitte retired, the Yanks seemed to have a passing interest in Millwood and were, according to our coverage still considering him in early February and still interested two weeks after that. Millwood reportedly rejected a Minor League deal after Spring Training had started. Although he wanted a Major League deal, the Yankees continued to watch him throw. A meeting of the minds seemed all but inevitable.

As the Yanks prepare to head into the season with Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon around, this move is basically for depth. They’ll have to jettison Sergio Mitre and will most likely do so before Monday when they will owe him only termination pay. With Millwood, they know have a seventh starter in the wings with some Major League experience. He might not be as good as he once was, but if he has to hold down the fort for a few turns through the rotation, he should be adequate.

Here’s what I said about Millwood when his name popped up a few weeks ago, and the same still holds true:

For the Yankees, Millwood would simply be another piece for the depth charts and another placeholder. If someone goes down and Millwood is still out there, he would be potentially a better and more reliable choice than an unknown AAA kid. He won’t blow the world away, and he won’t throw quality innings. He will though throw innings. Maybe there’s something to be said for that right now…

The same still holds true. Beyond Freddy Garcia, the Yanks are short on Major League starting depth. Maybe Manny Banuelos would be ready by mid-season, but the club isn’t inclined to rush him. Hector Noesi and Adam Warren aren’t high-ceiling guys, and the Yanks can stash Millwood at AAA to give them depth in case someone goes down early. It’s not impressive, but it’s another piece. Hopefully, it’s one the Yanks won’t have to use this year.