Open Thread: A.J. turns his number

(AP Photo/Rob Carr)

A happy birthday goes out to A.J. Burnett today, the right-hander turns 34. There’s no beating around the bush here, the Yankees need Burnett to be better than he was last year, and that would be true even if the team managed to sign Cliff Lee. Hopefully a new pitching coach and an offseason of rest (both physical and mental) does the trick. Know who else celebrates a birthday today? The best bad utility infielder infielder ever, Luis Sojo. He turns 45. Happy B-day to both.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders are the only local team in action, which kinda sucks. Baseball can’t come back soon enough. You know what to do, so have at it.

Rothschild to meet with Burnett in coming weeks

Via Buster Olney, new pitching coach Larry Rothschild is expected to fly down to Maryland to visit with A.J. Burnett in the coming weeks. A.J. called Rothschild as soon as he was hired, and the two are expected to talk about mechanics and whatnot at the upcoming pow-wow. I’m sure the cynics among us will say this should have happened weeks ago, but these guys can’t focus on baseball all year long. It’s 162 games plus Spring Training plus the playoffs, and everyone needs time to unwind and clear their head.

It’s official: Yankees sign Pedro Feliciano

The Yankees have officially signed left-handed reliever Pedro Feliciano to a two-year contract worth $8M. The deal also includes a club option for 2013. The two sides agreed to the deal in the middle of December, but the holidays got in the way of the physical and stuff. Feliciano presumably steps in as the team’s late-inning lefty reliever since he’s the “proven veteran,” pushing Boone Logan into the middle innings.

Our 2011 Draft Order Tracker and Depth Chart pages have been updated.

The RAB Radio Show: January 3, 2011

After some time off, the RAB Radio Show returns with some storylines to start 2011. We start at the most logical place: Andy Pettitte. We should hear something this week, and if he returns we’ll have Andy Pettitte Day on the show.

If Pettitte does not return, the Yankees will have a few options. Mike and I talk about the idea of finding a reliever now, to help shore up the bullpen, while they wait for the right starter to become available. Then we talk about which reliever we’d prefer, Soria or Soriano.

Finally, do any of the youngsters have a chance at breaking camp in the rotation? If you’re wondering about my answer, I repeat it a half-dozen times.

Podcast run time 21:53

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

Yanks anticipating the end of Andy

I turned the page on Andy when December ended. The Yanks are seemingly prepared to do the same in January.

As the Hot Stove League stumbles on, the Yankees are still waiting for the best remaining free agent pitcher to determine his future. Andy Pettitte has waited for over two months to announce his intentions for the 2011 season, but the Yankees believe an official announcement will come this week, Wallace Matthews reports. Unfortunately, says Bob Klapisch, “everything” points toward Andy’s retiring this winter.

With Pettitte’s decision nigh, Brian Cashman and Co. will have to shift their focus to other targets. Despite earlier reports that the Yanks were moving forward under the assumption that Pettitte would not be back, one club official told ESPN New York that the team is still waiting to hear from the 38-year-old lefty before setting their sights on someone else. “Starter, reliever, a bat, it depends on what’s out there,” the nameless source said. ‘”But we gotta know what Andy is gonna do first.”

Without Pettitte in the fold, the Yanks are looking at Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova as internal candidates for the fourth and fifth starter spots, but pitchers and catchers do not report for over 40 days. There are moves to be made yet. Even still, considering Pettitte’s recent injury history and age, it’s not unreasonable to think he would be good for only around 20-25 starts in 2011, and the club is well aware of Pettitte’s limitations right now.

The case for Felipe Lopez

As the Yankees continue their pursuit of quality bench help, they’ve watched as talks with the Astros about Jeff Keppinger fell apart and movement on the Jerry Hairston Jr. front crawled to a standstill. There are plenty of other bench options on the free agent market, but they all have their warts. If they didn’t, teams would be after them as starters. One player that was a bonafide big league regular as recently as 2009 has seen his stock drop considerably thanks to a down 2010 campaign, and the Yankees could be in a position to capitalize. That player: Felipe Lopez.

Can't have that number in New York, Felipe. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Lopez looked to be the bargain signing of the offseason last winter, when the Cardinals got him for just one year and $1M guaranteed in late February. Things didn’t go as planned and Lopez hit just .231/.310/.340 (.295 wOBA, .273 BABIP) in 425 plate appearances before St. Louis released him. The Red Sox grabbed him late in the season, played him in exactly four games, and then offered him arbitration as a Type-B free agent after the season (so they’ll get a supplemental first round pick when he signs elsewhere, but his new team won’t have to surrender one). Lopez and Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa apparently had a dislike for each other, which in part led to the release. This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve heard about a player and TLR not seeing eye-to-eye, but I digress.

Obviously, any team that signs Lopez is going to do so hoping that his poor 2010 season was the result of playing in an uncomfortable environment rather than a decline in skills. From 2006 through 2009, a period in which he accumulated just short of 2,600 plate appearances (so small sample size warnings do not apply), Lopez hit .278/.349/.387 (.327 wOBA, .324 BABIP). If you look at just 2008 and 2009 (over 1,200 plate appearances and Lopez’s age 28 and 29 seasons), he hit .298/.366/.409 (.340 wOBA, .345 BABIP). Unlike Keppinger and Hairston, who are right-handed hitters, Lopez is a switch-hitter and he doesn’t have much of a platoon split: career .325 wOBA against righties, .318 against lefties. While he doesn’t offer much power (just a .129 ISO for his career), it’s obvious he can hit for at least a respectable average and draw enough walks (above average 10.24 BB% over the last two years) to yield quality on-base percentages.

When it comes to baseball skills that don’t involve a bat, Lopez is adequate at best. He has extensive experience at all three non-first base infield spots, though he’s awful at short according to UZR per 150 defensive games (-10.7 career) while being no better than average at second (-1.0) and third (+0.7). Lopez even has some experience in the corner outfield spots, but we’re talking about 109 career innings total. It’s not enough to think he could fill in there regularly. Once upon a time he was a baserunning threat, swiping 68 bases in 89 tries (76.4%) in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but he’s tailed off since then (just 22 steals in 38 tries since, an unacceptable 57.9% success rate). Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning stats have Lopez at just about average in non-stolen base baserunning situations (going first-to-third, scoring from second on a single, etc.) over the last two seasons, but that would be an upgrade for the Yankees based on recent years.

Lopez’s career arc compared very favorably to Juan Uribe’s until this past season, and the latter’s name popped up as a potential bench target for the Yankees a few times this offseason. Uribe landed a three-year contract worth $21M from the Dodgers, but Lopez will get nothing close to that. He settled for that one-year, $1M deal in 2010 coming off a pretty damn good year in 2009, so what could he possibly expect this time around after the year he had? I mean, at best he’d get that same 1/1 deal again, which is nothing at all. The problem will likely be playing time more than anything. Lopez needs to rebuild his value so that he can land a nice contract next offseason, and he won’t be able to do that sitting on the Yankees bench. Maybe they can work something out, maybe they can’t, but either way Lopez is one available piece that could make sense for the Yanks in a reserve role, where he could take the place of Eduamiro Penunez.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 3rd, 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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