No Montero, no Romine, no Sanchez, no problem

Josh Norris posted Q&A’s with Slade Heathcott and J.R. Murphy. They’re both must reads.

Austin Romine is getting a little extra rest per the organization’s mandate. Remember, this is his first full season as an every day catcher and he has started to slow down of late, likely due to fatigue. No biggie, it’s always good to let the kids sit back and recharge the batteries every once in a while.

Triple-A Scranton (3-0 win over Rochester)
Kevin Russo, LF & Greg Golson, CF: both 0 for 4, 1 K
Reid Gorecki, RF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 K – five for eight over his last two games
Eric Bruntlett, SS & Jorge Vazquez, 1B: both 1 for 4, 1 2B – Bruntlett scored a run … JoVa drove in two & K’ed
Chad Tracy, 3B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB
Chad Huffman, DH: 1 for 4, 1 K
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 K
Chad Moeller, C: 1 for 4, 1 K – four for eight while filling for Jesus Montero and his bruised forearm
Tim Redding: 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 6-10 GB/FB – 75 of 104 pitches were strikes (72.1%) … check this guy out
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – ten of his 17 pitches were strikes (58.8%)

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Game 98: There’s a team worse than the Royals?

A-Bomb at the Jake | Credit: Tony Dejak/AP

There’s just something about ripping on the Royals. They warrant it in some ways — after all, their GM has made some questionable calls during his tenure. In any case, the team has been pretty bad for a while now, and while they have some prospects that could help turn it around I don’t think there’s a lot of faith in their front office to make the necessary moves in completely remaking the franchise. Which is a shame, because some of the smartest baseball guys I know are Royals fans.

Today the Yanks move onto a team that has fared even worse than Kansas City this year, the Cleveland Indians. They’re only a game back of the Royals, but it took a 7-3 run to even get there. Of course, after rattling off six straight coming out of the break they’re now 1-3 in their last four. Most recently the Rays took two out of three from them.

Taking the mound is former Yankee farmhand Jake Westbrook. He wasn’t in the system very long, having come over from Montreal, along with Ted Lilly, in the Hideki Irabu trade. The Yanks then flipped him to Cleveland six months later in the David Justice trade. He’ll go up against Javier Vazquez, another former Expos farmhand. The goal tonight: to not lose effectiveness after four innings.

In good news, A-Rod remains in the lineup despite getting hit on the hand with a pitch in his final PA yesterday. He says it feels fine. I bet it’ll feel a lot better after he knocks one out of the park. In 255 PA at Jacobs Field A-Rod has hit 10 home runs.


1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, DH
7. Curtis Granderson, CF
8. Francisco Cervelli, C
9. Brett Gardner, LF

And on the mound, number thirty-one, Javier Vazquez.

Curtis and Malec bound by more than baseball

Since his call-up in June we’ve heard a few stories about Colin Curtis’s battle with testicular cancer at age 15. It’s quite the story, especially since we normally associate cancer with older folks. What tends to get glossed over is Curtis’s connection with former Yankee farmhand Chris Malec. Always an RAB fave, Malec was diagnosed with testicular cancer during his senior year at UC Santa Barbara. Today Mark Viera of the Times recounted the duo’s tale, noting that they still keep in contact even after the Yankees released Malec this spring. It’s a great pre-game read.

A look at the Yankees’ trade deadline history, 2008-2009

The 2010 non-waiver trade deadline is just six days away now, and the Yankees are sure to make a move or two (or more) before then to shore up the bench and bullpen, among other things. Because of who they are, the Yanks are always connected to the big names before the deadline, as we’ve already seen with Cliff Lee and Dan Haren this year. Their interest in Lee was sincere, but the vibe I got from the Haren situation was that they were willing to take him if he fell into their laps, but they weren’t married to the idea of acquiring him.

The Yanks have made several moves of varying significance at the deadline during the last five years, so let’s look back and see what moves they actually made. Earlier today we covered the 2005, 2006, and 2007 deadlines while this post gets to 2008 and 2009.

Ross Ohlendorf, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karsten & Dan McCutchen for Xavier Nady & Damaso Marte
LaTroy Hawkins for Matt Cusick
Kyle Farnsworth for Ivan Rodriguez
Alberto Gonzalez for Jhonny Nunez

Much like the 2007 season, the Yanks found themselves looking up at the competition before the trade deadline. They were three games back in the AL East on the day of their first deal, when they sacrificed some prospect depth to bring in an everyday outfielder and one of those elusive reliable lefty relievers.

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

In the middle of a career year with the Pirates (.396 wOBA in 360 PA), Nady quickly regressed to his league average-ish ways once in the AL East after the trade (.341 wOBA in 247 PA). Marte was very good once coming over, pitching to a 3.02 FIP in 18.1 IP down the stretch. Although both players did their part, the Yankees missed the playoff for the first time since 1994.  Nady returned in 2009 as an arbitration eligible player, but blew out his elbow barely more than a week into the season and never played for the Yanks again. It sounds harsh, but the injury was a blessing in disguise for the team, as it freed Nick Swisher from the realm of platoon players. Marte’s $6M option for 2009 was declined, though the Yanks re-signed him to a three year deal worth $12M. It was a curious move to say the least, but the lefthander gets credit for being Joe Girardi‘s best middle reliever during their run to the 2009 World Championship.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has to be pretty happy with the haul they received in the trade. Ohlendorf stepped right into their rotation and been a serviceable back-end arm (4.82 FIP in 281.1 IP), while Karstens (5.03 FIP in 249 IP) has filled a variety of roles for the team. McCutchen (5.17 FIP in 28.1 IP) has been up-and-down as a spot starter, but it shouldn’t be long before the righty settles into a defined role. Tabata is the real prize for the Pirates, as he regained some prospect status after the trade and was summoned to the big leagues for the first time this summer. He has a slightly above league average .334 wOBA in 176 plate appearances.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Four days after the deal with Pittsburgh, the Yanks turned some of the dead weight in their bullpen into potentially useful pieces. First they sent Hawkins (4.21 FIP in 41 IP), who had already been designated for assignment, to the Astros for minor leaguer Matt Cusick, who remains in the Yanks’ system and has hit .242/.313/.324 in 215 plate appearances split between Double- and Triple-A this season. A little later they traded the frustrating Farnsworth (5.64 FIP in 44.1 IP) to the Tigers for Rodriguez, who helped fill-in for the injured Jorge Posada. Unfortunately Pudge was as much of a help as expected (.263 wOBA in 101 PA). With the exception of Cusick, all of the players in these deals have since moved on to different teams via free agency.

The final pickup at the 2009 deadline was an under-the-radar move. Alberto Gonzalez had proven to be a slightly worse version of Ramiro Pena during his limited time with the Yanks (.179 wOBA in 73 PA), so he went to the Nationals for the hard throwing relief prospect Nunez. Nunez posted a 2.94 FIP in 19.1 IP with Double-A Trenton after the trade, and was sent to the White Sox in the Nick Swisher deal after the season. He reached the big leagues with Chicago briefly last season (5.39 FIP in 5.2 IP), while Gonzalez has been back and forth between the majors and minors for the Nats since the deal (.305 wOBA in 458 PA).

Chase Weems for Jerry Hairston Jr.

We think of it as a trade deadline move, but in reality the Yankees acquired Eric Hinske from the Pirates back in June. Hinske was fantastic in pinstripes (.350 wOBA in 98 PA), while the two prospects the Yanks surrendered in the deal (Eric Fryer and Casey Erickson) remain in A-ball, and are considerably old for the level. But again, this wasn’t technically a deadline deal.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The Yanks did make one move right at the deadline though, shoring up their bench even further by grabbing the veteran utility man Hairston from the Reds. He performed better than anyone could have expected after the deal (.325 wOBA in 93 PA), playing every position but first base, pitcher, and catcher for New York. Weems, meanwhile, is playing at the Low-A level for the third consecutive year, and is hitting .181/.263/.208 in 80 plate appearances as a backup catcher. Hairston (and Hinske) performed admirably in the playoffs, but headed for greener pastures as a free agent after the season.

The deadline didn’t stop the Yankees, they sent some cash to the Padres for Chad Gaudin in an August waiver trade. He gave the Yankees a 5.29 FIP in 42 IP down the stretch, when they were just running out the clock on the regular season.

* * *

As we’ve seen in these two posts, the Yankees have always been active at the trade deadline, but very rarely have they made a huge move. The Bobby Abreu trade came about because of injuries to not just one, but two star-caliber everyday players. Even though Nady and Marte are solid big leaguers if not more, that deal was hardly a blockbuster. Almost all of the other moves were small fixes to holes created by injuries or ineffectiveness, which is what I suspect we’ll see this year.

One thing that I found to be very noticeable while putting these posts together was the quality of the players the Yanks were giving up. Back in 2005 and 2006, GM Brian Cashman was finding ways to piece deals together with marginal prospects, using his ability to take on salary as his biggest trade chip. However, as we’ve seen the last two season, the Yankees now have quality prospects and young big leaguers to use in trades, players other teams actually want. Just look at the recent Lee and Haren rumors, the Yanks would have never been able to get serious about a pitcher of that caliber if their farm system was in the same state as it was a few years ago.

We all love prospects. I was a huge Jose Tabata fan early on, but remember that prospects serve two purposes to their organization: to provide cheap players at the big league level, and to be used as trade fodder. The important thing for the Yankees (or any team, really) is to make sure they trade the right prospects, the guys they aren’t high on internally or don’t fit in with the team long-term. You can’t keep them all, if you do you’re going to get burned more often then not. The Yanks will undoubtedly part with some minor leaguers by this Saturday, and just remember that it’s part of the baseball circle of life.

A look at the Yankees’ trade deadline history, 2005-2007

The 2010 non-waiver trade deadline is just six days away now, and the Yankees are sure to make a move or two (or more) before then to shore up the bench and bullpen, among other things. Because of who they are, the Yanks are always connected to the big names before the deadline, as we’ve already seen with Cliff Lee and Dan Haren this year. Their interest in Lee was sincere, but the vibe I got from the Haren situation was that they were willing to take him if he fell into their laps, but they weren’t married to the idea of acquiring him.

The Yanks have made several moves of varying significance at the deadline during the last five years, so let’s look back and see what moves they actually made. This post covers 2005, 2006, and 2007 while 2008 and 2009 will be a long a little later this afternoon.

Eduardo Sierra & Ramon Ramirez for Shawn Chacon
Cash considerations for Joe Thurston

(AP Photo/John Dunn)

It’s hard to believe how little pitching depth the Yankees had in 2005, especially since they were two-and-a-half games up in the AL East a week before the deadline. Having already acquired Al Leiter (4.53 FIP in 62.1 IP after the trade) from the Marlins for cash considerations plus Darrell May (10.88 FIP in 7 IP) and Tim Redding (11.02 FIP in 1 IP) from the Padres for Paul Quantrill earlier in July, the Yanks grabbed Shawn Chacon from the Rockies for two relief prospects.

“Saturday we have a starter now. It’s as simple as that,” said GM Brian Cashman at the time of the deal, a terrifying reminder of how bad things got in the mid-aughts. Chacon pitched as well as you could have expected after the trade, posting a 4.53 FIP in 79 IP across 12 starts and two relief appearances. He also pitched well in his lone postseason appearance, limiting the Angels to two runs in 6.1 IP in Game Four of the ALDS. The good times ended there though, but we’ll cover that in a bit.

The prospects dealt for Chacon went different ways. Sierra has never appeared in the big leagues, and has posted a 4.84 ERA in 148.2 IP for three teams since the trade. He currently pitches for Reynosa in the Mexican League. Ramirez, on the other hand, contributed a 3.65 FIP in 85 IP to Rockies across the 2006 and 2007 seasons. They then dealt him to the Royals for Jorge DeLaRosa, and a year later Kansas City traded him to the Red Sox for Coco Crisp. Ramirez currently resides in Boston’s bullpen of doom, with a 4.77 FIP in 40.1 IP this season.

The Thurston move was simply a matter of minor league depth and needing a warm body in Triple-A. The utility infielder never played for the Yankees after being acquired from the Dodgers, instead hitting .238/.287/.374  a in 118 plate appearances for Triple-A Columbus. The Yanks also made a waiver trade in late August, grabbing Matt Lawton from the Indians for A-ball pitching prospect Justin Berg. Lawton was terrible in pinstripes (.249 wOBA in 57 plate appearances), and although Berg is nothing special, he gets credit for reaching the majors with the Cubs both this year and last (4.31 career FIP in 32.2 IP).

Hector Made for Sal Fasano
C.J. Henry, Carlos Monasterios, Jesus Sanchez & Matt Smith for Bobby Abreu & Cory Lidle
Shawn Chacon for Craig Wilson

Unlike 2005, the Yankees’ pitching staff was relatively sound in 2006. Not great, but good enough. The lineup was the real weakness, with both Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield missing considerable time because of wrist injuries and Andy Phillips’ .289 wOBA masquerading as an everyday first baseman. Cashman made three moves in the days leading up to the deadline, the first of which brought the world’s greatest mustache to New York.

As likable as Sal Fasano was, he simply wasn’t very good. He put up a .228 wOBA in 57 plate appearances after the trade, which is somehow worse than what Kelly Stinnett (.258 wOBA in 87 PA) did as Jorge Posada‘s backup in the first half of the season. Made, the prospect sent to the Phillies for Fasano, was a toolsy middle infielder still in A-ball. He’s been out of baseball since the 2007 season, with just ten plate appearances above A-ball to his credit. That, of course, was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Yanks-Phils trades that year.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

With both Matsui and Sheffield out, the Yanks regularly employed a Melky CabreraJohnny DamonBernie Williams outfield alignment during the summer of 2006. Yes, it was almost as bad as it sounds. After weeks of rumors, Cashman finally went ahead and acquired Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle from Philadelphia once the price dropped sufficiently. The Phillies were also responsible for getting Abreu to waive his no-trade clause, eventually paying him $1.5M to both waive the NTC and agreeing to the condition that his $16M option for 2008 did not have to be picked up.

Slotted right into the three-spot of the lineup upon his arrival, Abreu was pretty damn awesome after the trade. He put up a .405 wOBA in 248 plate appearances after the deal, though his defense was suspect as usual. Lidle solidified the back of the rotation, posting a 6.35 FIP in 45.1 IP, though he had some awful homerun luck (21.6% HR/FB compared to 12.8% career). Neither player did anything noteworthy in the ALDS, just like the rest of the team.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Sadly, Lidle was killed that October when a single-engine aircraft he was piloting crashed into an Upper East Side high-rise. Even though he was a free agent and unlikely to re-sign with the Yanks, the team wore black armbands in his honor during the 2007 season, and his wife Melanie and young son Christopher were invited to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day 2007 (left).

Abreu spent two more years in pinstripes, posting a .364 wOBA during the 2007 and 2008 seasons, though his atrocious defense limited his overall value. The Yanks did end up exercising that 2008 option before letting him walk as a free agent after the season. As expected, the prospects surrendered in the deal have on to achieve different things. The centerpiece, 2005 first rounder C.J. Henry, never got on track in A-ball for Philadelphia before asking for release during the 2007-2008 offseason. He then re-signed with the Yanks, spent another year giving the baseball thing a try before giving the sport up and joining his brother Xavier on the University of Kansas basketball team.

Smith posted a 4.70 FIP in 12.2 IP for Philadelphia, but his career has been derailed by a series of injuries, including Tommy John surgery. The Cubs released him after Spring Training last season, and he’s been out of baseball since. Sanchez, a catcher at the time of the trade, has since converted to pitching and developed into a decent pitching prospect. He’s still in A-ball, though the Phillies added him to the 40-man roster this past offseason to avoid losing him in the Rule 5 Draft, which is what happened with Monasterios. Monasterios is currently with the Dodgers, and has pitched to a 5.41 FIP in 57.1 IP this season.

The last trade the Yanks made at the 2006 deadline involved their 2005 deadline pickup: Shawn Chacon. After a strong second half in 2005, Chacon bombed (6.26 FIP in 63 IP) during the first half of the 2006 season, and was then flipped to the Pirates for Craig Wilson. Wilson wasn’t any good in New York (.264 wOBA in 109 plate appearances), but he was more productive than Phillips at first. Both he and Chacon bounced around after the 2006 season and are now out of baseball.

Jeff Kennard for Jose Molina
Scott Proctor for Wilson Betemit

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The Yanks marched into the 2007 deadline seven games back in the division, but instead went with a few tweaks rather than a major upgrade. Molina was acquired from the Angels to replace the completely overmatched Wil Nieves (.187 wOBA in 66 PA), and almost instantly became the best backup catcher of the Jorge Posada era. He posted a .334 wOBA in 71 plate appearances after the trade, then re-signed with the Yanks after the season and spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons as their rock solid, defensive specialist backup backstop. Kennard was in Double-A at the time of the trade and has never pitched in the big leagues, bouncing between affiliated ball and independent leagues over the last season or two.

Cashman’s other deadline move sent the burnt out Proctor to the Dodgers for Betemit, who provided some pop off the bench (.301 wOBA in 92 PA, but a .190 ISO) while playing all over the infield. He returned the next year and posted a .308 wOBA in 198 plate appearances before being dealt in a five player trade that brought Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira to the Yanks. Proctor pitched to a 4.90 FIP with the Dodgers in 70.2 IP during the second half of 2007 and the first half of 2008 before injuries, including Tommy John surgery. He’s bounced around since then, and is currently pitching with the Braves Triple-A affiliate.

* * *

Check back later today for the second half of this review, when we relive the 2008 and 2009 deadlines and offer up some thoughts about what could happen this year.

A little missing from Phil’s fastball

There is no doubt that Phil Hughes‘s fastball has been his most effective weapon this season. FanGraphs’ pitch type values rates it as 12.7 runs above average, and he has gotten the majority of his swings and misses this season with the four-seamer. It has been the main difference between Hughes the starter in 2008/2009 and Hughes the starter in 2010.

Photo credit: Elaine Thompson/AP

After gaining a reputation in the minors for throwing 92-94 and touching the upper 90s, Hughes had trouble cracking 91 on the radar gun during his early years. This was less noticeable in 2007, when PitchFX data wasn’t widely analyzed. But in 2008 his velocity was front and center. After suffering a hamstring injury in 2007 Hughes might have been tentative with his fastball in 2008, but even in 2009 he wasn’t hitting 92 with any consistency as a starter. It took a move to the bullpen for him to rediscover his fastball.

Given the opportunity to empty the tank in short spurts, Hughes took advantage. His fastball averaged around 95 mph while pitching out of the pen, and he took those lessons with him to camp this year. His fastball now averages 92.5 mph, made all the better by his newfound cut fastball. That one comes across a bit slower, but it substitutes speed for movement, giving Hughes two different looks with the fastball. He has played them off each other well, and has generally been effective with both.

Lately we’ve seen a big of change in Phil. He has gotten hit a bit harder, resulting in an ERA that has gone from 2.54 at the beginning of June to 4.04 following yesterday’s game. Not all of his starts have been bad in that span, but he hasn’t been particularly effective or efficient in general. For instance, he pitched seven innings only three times in the past two months, while he reached that mark four times in May alone. He’s still throwing strikes, but it seems like they’re not of as high a quality as earlier in the year. Part of that rests on his fastball.

That’s not to say that there are problems with his fastball. He’s actually been pretty consistent with the speed, as you can see in his velocity chart:

Click for larger

Yesterday his velocity was a bit down from normal, averaging just under 92 mph and maxing out at just 93, while he had consistently broken 94 in nearly every previous start. That’s not a huge dip, though. What caught my eye, though, was the loss of vertical break. For the season Hughes’s fastball has averaged 9.9 inches of vertical break, which is right in line with where it’s been for most of his career. Just last Tuesday, when Hughes faced Anaheim, the vertical break on his fastball was above 10 inches. That resulted in five swinging strikes, a good rate for him this season. Yesterday, however, that break fell all the way to 8.91 inches, which is fairly pedestrian for Hughes.

A high vertical break number usually leads to what commentators will call a sneaky fastball. It doesn’t necessarily travel at breakneck speeds, but it kind of sneaks up on the batter. This was said of David Robertson last season, and to no surprise he averaged 11.2 inches of vertical break on his fastball. Hughes just didn’t have that sneaky aspect of his fastball going yesterday, and unsurprisingly he saw a lower than normal swinging strike rate, just 3 of 56 fastballs. Against the Angels last Tuesday he induced swinging strikes in five of 61 pitches. In his July 4 start he got seven swings and misses on 61 fastballs.

Normally we could just see this as a blip and move on — possibly being a bit thankful that it came against the Royals and not a team that could really capitalize. But with Hughes we’re moving into rough waters. He’s now past his innings total from last year, which wouldn’t be a big deal if he’d thrown more than 75 innings in 2008 and 105 innings in 2007. Instead he hasn’t hit the 111.1 inning mark since 2006. It makes projecting the remainder of his season a difficult proposal.

One thing we for which we can be thankful: Phil Hughes is not Joba Chamberlain. They’ve taken different paths to the bigs and have developed in distinctly different manners. There is no guarantee that Phil experiences the same issues that Chamberlain did last year when he hit his previous innings high. But underscores the big point: we don’t know how Hughes will react from here on out. That’s a bit scary for a team that need to continue its strong play for another two-plus months.

The good news is that Hughes has used his curveball a bit more. It’s gotten hit a bit, but it should become a more effective weapon as he uses it more. Yesterday he throw it 20 times, a healthy number considering his overall pitch total (95). If he does lose a little bit off the fastball due to fatigue, it’s the curveball he’ll need to get him out of jams. That seems like a positive for his development. The Yankees can only hope that it’s also a positive in terms of 2010 results.