Yankees remove Gaudin & Ring from 40-man roster, add Mesa

Via Marc Carig, the Yankees have outrighted reliever Chad Gaudin and Royce Ring from the 40-man roster. Gaudin elected to become a free agent, and as far as I know Ring didn’t. High-A outfielder Melky Mesa was added to the 40-man, protecting him from this winter’s Rule 5 Draft. I’m not sure he’d be able to stick on a big league team’s 25-man roster all season in 2011, but okay. Gaudin and Ring were both on borrowed time, they were going to be cut one way or other at some point. Yay hot stove news.

Update: Mesa was scheduled to become a minor league free agency, that’s why they added him and the move came so quickly. Makes sense.

What Went Right: Don’t Ya Know

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It all started with a challenge.

The Yankees, fresh off their 27th World Championship, let World Series MVP Hideki Matsui depart as a free agent after the 2009 season in their never-ending quest to get younger and more athletic. When camp opened up in February, it was unclear who would replace Godzilla as the fifth hitter in the lineup, protecting cleanup man Alex Rodriguez and mopping up any messes left behind by the middle of the order. Joe Girardi and the rest of the shot-callers could have taken the easy way out and stuck Jorge Posada in the five-hole. He’s a long-time Yankee stalwart with plenty of credentials to claim that spot, so it was a natural fit. Even Nick Swisher, fresh off a 29 homer season, would have made sense.

They didn’t take the easy way out though. Instead of going with the easy pick they issued a challenge to Robbie Cano, one of their youngest regulars. It’s time for you to be more than just a (very good) complementary piece, we need you to be a cornerstone, a centerpiece off the offense. Robbie’s excellent 2009 season (.370 wOBA, 4.4 fWAR) was marred by his failures with runners in scoring position (.207/.242/.332, .251 wOBA) and in high-leverage spots (.255 wOBA), understandably causing some to question the decision to move him up into the heart of the order. If he couldn’t hit with runners on base, how is he supposed to protect Mark Teixeira and A-Rod? We all knew that Cano had all the talent in the world, but could he deliver in his new role?

Cano’s response to those questions was a quick and emphatic YES. He opened the season with five hits (including a double and a homer) in three games at Fenway Park, and it wasn’t until the 17th of April that Robbie went hitless in a game. His month of April was the best by a Yankee not named A-Rod in more than a decade, as he finished the season’s first month with a .400/.436/.765 batting line (.497 wOBA) and eight homers. The hot hitting didn’t stop after April ended either, Cano entered the All Star break with a .336/.389/.556 line (.400 wOBA) and as the league’s first 4.0+ fWAR player.

The overall season performance is MVP worthy; a .319/.381/.534 batting line that featured career highs in wOBA (.389), homers (29), runs scored (103), runs driven in (109), walks (57, more than 2008 and 2009 combined), isolated power (.214), bWAR (6.1), and fWAR (6.4). Cano didn’t stop there either, he was the team’s best hitter in the postseason, a .343/.361/.771 (.464 wOBA) effort with four homers in the team’s six ALCS games. When Tex’s season ended in Game Four because of a hamstring injury, Robbie stepped right into the three-spot and homered the very next day. Regular season or postseason, Cano was an absolute monster in 2010, and it was all because of some subtle improvements.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Remember those struggles in men on base in 2009? Forget about that. Robbie hit .322/.407/.515 (.352 wOBA) with runners in scoring position and an even sexier .449 wOBA in high leverage situations this year. He was even better away from the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium (.402 wOBA) than at home (.376), as hard as that can be to believe. Comparing his 2009 and 2010 spray charts (courtesy of Texas Leaguers), you’ll see that he traded opposite field singles and doubles for balls yanked hard into rightfield, mostly over the wall. Cano’s pre-game screen drill with hitting coach Kevin Long is the stuff of legend, designed to help him keep his hands in on pitches over the inner third of the plate while stilling hitting the ball with authority, and it certainly paid off this season. His defense went from strong to spectacular, with jaw-dropping plays on balls hit up-the-middle becoming his specialty.

On a personal level, Robbie also reached many career milestones in his sixth big league season. He picked up his 1,000th career hit with a bases loaded ground rule double in the eighth inning of a late July game against reliever Victor Marte of the Royals, reaching that milestone in fewer at-bats than any Yankee not named Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly. A fourth inning solo homer off Brian Moehler of the Astros a few weeks earlier tied the game and was Robbie’s 100th career long ball. He also notched his 200th career double in his second plate appearance of the season and his 500th career RBI on the third to last day of the season, both again the Red Sox in Fenway.

Robinson turned just 28 years old two weeks ago, so he’s very much in the prime of his career. In fact he should be just entering his prime years. That’s pretty impressive considering he was a .306/.339/.480 (.356 wOBA) career hitter with a pair of 4.4+ fWAR seasons before 2010. Cano proved to everyone that the young kid with a knack for getting the bat on the ball hitting in the bottom third of the order was capable of carrying the Yankees as their older stars continue to fade into the background, and his emergence as one of the game’s elite was far and away the highlight of the 2010 season. When he’s locked in, few are more fun to watch that the guy with the smile on his face.

What happens if the Yankees trade Montero?

(Kathy Willens/AP)

During the three and a half years of RAB’s existence we’ve gotten excited about a number of prospects. At our inception it was Phil Hughes, and it quickly turned to Joba Chamberlain (and even Ian Kennedy). The latest in the prospect craze is Jesus Montero. He is considered by many talent evaluators, including Baseball America’s Jim Callis, to be the game’s best hitting prospect. The only question is of whether he can catch in the bigs.

At the end of the regular season I answered a mailbag question about the Yankees catching situation in 2011. Ideally they’d carry Montero, Jorge Posada, and Francisco Cervelli. That would allow Montero and Posada to rotate between catcher and DH, with Cervelli serving as a true backup (i.e., plays once a week). But we know that ideal situations don’t often come to fruition. Plenty stands in the way of the Yankees and their heavy hitting catcher rotation.

Reader Mike writes in with an interesting question about the situation:

Isn’t 2011 the make or break year to use Montero? I mean lets say the Yankees want to go with Posada/Cervelli at C and someone else DHing that means Montero will end up in AAA again. But won’t that block Austin Romine‘s development? Isn’t Romine due for a promotion to AAA, and you can’t have both those guys on the same level considering both need to be playing everyday in the minors.

I’m not sure it’s a make it or break it year, but it certainly will mean something for Montero’s development. There’s a decent chance that Montero breaks camp with the team and plays the role described above. Yet there’s still a good chance that he opens the season back in Scranton. That means Romine starts in Trenton again, since, as Mike mentions, both players at this point need to catch full time. Romine could then move up to AAA once the Yankees are ready to promote Montero. Splitting the season between AA and AAA might be a good thing for Romine, who still has plenty of development ahead of him.

That might not seem interesting; it actually sounds pretty normal. What’s interesting is the question I asked myself after reading Mike’s question: What happens if they trade Montero? He might be the team’s best hitting prospect since Nick Johnson, but he’s not untouchable. As the Yankees rebuild the pitching staff this winter they might find that Montero helps them more as trade bait. We can all make a list of what players the Yankees should target if they trade Montero, but what I want to know is what the team plans to do at catcher in that scenario.

Going with Posada and Cervelli again is a poor idea. Posada started just 78 games at catcher, 10 fewer than in 2009. The Yankees simply cannot count on him to provide much production behind the plate. I doubt they sign a DH this off-season, in fact, because Posada will have to fill that spot often. That leaves Cervelli as the starting catcher, a role for which he is not suited. As a once-a-week back-up he’s more than adequate. Even if he has to spot start while the starter goes on the DL, you could do a lot worse. But if he’s the only one who can take on full-time catching duties, the Yankees should look elsewhere for a better alternative.

On the free agent market there aren’t many upgrades. Victor Martinez is the best of the lot, but there are a number of points against him: 1) He’ll cost a draft pick, 2) He’ll be 32 next year, 3) He has defensive issues, 4) He’ll almost certainly be overpaid by a catching-starved team. There are a couple of free agent catchers, John Buck and Miguel Olivo (should his option be declined), who can hit for power, but that’s the only dimension to their games. Perhaps the Yankees could look to one of these guys as a one-year stopgap, but I’m not sure that they present that large an upgrade over Cervelli.*

While Olivo had 3.2 WAR and Buck 2.9, they did it with over 100 more PA — and there’s no guarantee that they can repeat that in 2011. At the same time, I expect Cervelli’s defense to improve, since most of it consisted of mental lapses, which is a correctable issue.

Another option is to work a trade. This would likely be for a player coming off a down year, such as Mike Napoli, or a 2012 free agent. Again there aren’t many attractive names there, though Ryan Doumit does stand out a bit. The Pirates recently acquired Chris Snyder, who will likely start behind the plate for them in 2011. That means the Pirates can trade Doumit, who is one of their better bargaining chips. The only issue is that he is also not a great defensive catcher. Neither is Napoli. But, since Montero isn’t, either, I’m not sure the Yankees would be losing out in this aspect.

There will be temptation this winter, particularly if Cliff Lee signs elsewhere, to trade Montero in order to upgrade the pitching staff. But doing so would leave the Yankees in a bind of sorts. The available veteran catchers are not world beaters; Montero could potentially outhit them all next year. He might not stick at catcher in the majors, but he’ll hit anywhere, even if it’s DH. After looking at the alternatives, I think it’s better to hold Montero and try to use other pieces, or just cash, to upgrade the pitching staff.

What Went Wrong: Chad Ho Moseley

Every team has a few of them every single season; replacement level relievers, or worse. Most of the time these guys are buried in the back of the bullpen, throwing low-leverage innings once or twice a week when his team had a big lead or a big deficit. The Yankees were (un)lucky enough to have three guys like that this year, and they even came with a cheesy nickname: Chad Ho Moseley. Let’s review…

(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)

Chad Gaudin

After a solid job as the Yankees’ makeshift fifth starter down the stretch last season, Gaudin was rewarded by being released in Spring Training. He ended up back in his old stomping grounds in Oakland, at least until they released him after 17.1 innings of 5.91 FIP pitching. The Yanks brought him back in late-May for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum and stuck him in their bullpen as a mop-up guy.

That’s pretty much exactly what Gaudin was, because opponents mopped the floor with him during his second tenure in pinstripes. He was somehow even worse with the Yanks than he was with the A’s (6.25 FIP), and a late season audition for a playoff spot which featured the Yanks forcing him into some high-leverage spot went predictably awful. All told, Gaudin put a -0.8 fWAR in 48 IP just with the Bombers in 2010 (-1.1 overall). Yuck.

Chan Ho Park

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Park was a late addition in the offseason, signing a low-risk one-year, $1.2M contract after pitchers and catchers had already reported in February. His relief stint with the Phillies in 2009 was excellent (53-15 K/uIBB ratio and 0 HR in exactly 50 IP), good enough that even with normal age-related decline (he was 36 when they signed him, after all) and the AL-to-NL transition that there were still reasons to expect him to be a serviceable relief arm.

As it turned out, CHoP was anything but serviceable. He made three appearances in April, taking the loss in the first game of the season, before hitting the disabled list for a month with a bad hamstring. That bought him some more time. CHoP returned in mid-May and allowed at least one run in four straight outings and in five of six, earning himself a demotion to mop-up duty. After five scoreless outings in June, CHoP pretty much fell apart. He was designated for assignment after the Yanks acquired Kerry Wood at the trade deadline, finishing his Yankee career with a 5.60 ERA and more than one homer allowed for every 16 outs recorded.

It was a worthwhile gamble that completely blew up in the Yankees’ faces; Park was worth -0.2 fWAR in pinstripes. That the Pirates claimed him off waivers and saved New York the final $400,000 of his salary was nothing more than a minor miracle.

Dustin Moseley

The Yanks brought in the former Reds’ first round pick on a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, and he pitched well enough in Triple-A (3.67 FIP in a dozen starts) that he forced the Yankees’ hand when his opt-out clause kicked in in late-June. Pitching in a mop-up role initially, Moseley moved into the rotation once Andy Pettitte‘s groin landed him on the disabled list.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Moseley wasn’t terrible at first, giving the team two quality starts in his first three outings. It all kinda went downhill from there (6.41 ERA, .932 OPS against) as his inability to miss bats (13 BB, 11 K) manifested itself in his next four starts. Somehow the Yankees still managed to win three of those games, but Moseley found himself back in the bullpen with rookie Ivan Nova usurping him in the rotation.

In the end, the 28-year-old righty finished the season with with a 5.99 FIP and -0.4 fWAR in 65.1 innings for the big league team. He slightly redeemed himself with two scoreless innings in Game One of the ALCS, paving the way for the eighth inning comeback, but meh. Dustin’s effort was admirable, yet completely forgettable.

* * *

It’s unfair to toss Sergio Mitre into this mix because at least he managed to be replacement level this season (exactly 0.0 fWAR), but we have to mention him somewhere. He allowed just seven runs in his final 24.2 innings (2.55 ERA), so unlikely the Chad Ho Moseley monster he at least finished strong.

A trio of sub-replacement level long relievers (total damage: -1.4 fWAR, 148.2 IP, or 10.3% of the team’s total innings) didn’t sink the Yankees season by any means, but it sure was painful to watch.

Chuck Greenberg opens mouth, inserts foot

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Yankees have been and always will be an easy target. They’re the biggest and baddest, the Goliath to everyone’s David. That has to do with their payroll and popularity, and that’s fine. We’re all used to it by now, and in fact I think we take a certain level of enjoyment in seeing how outrageous Yankee-bashing gets. Hating on the Yankees is the easiest form of hate, it requires little thought and even less research. Broad generalizations do just fine.

It’s one thing to bash the team, the entity that is the Yanks, but it’s another thing to overstep that bound and start getting personal. That’s what Rangers’ owner Chuck Greenberg did early Monday while appearing on ESPN’s Radio “Ben and Skin Show.” Here’s the quote…

“I think our fans have been great. I think particularly in Game 3 of the World Series they just blew away anything I’ve seen in any venue during the postseason. I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”

Greenberg’s comments come on the heels of Kristin Lee’s comments about Yankee fans, which for all intents and purposes said the same thing. The people at Yankee Stadium are violent and obnoxious, dangerous and disinterested. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the insults to the backbone of the sport.

The Yankees were reportedly furious over Greenberg’s comments, and were preparing to respond once the World Series ended. “At this time, we are honoring the commissioner’s policy regarding respecting and not distracting from the World Series,” said team president Randy Levine, but they wouldn’t have to wait that long. Greenberg spoke to both Levine and Hal Steinbrenner later in the evening, apologizing for his comments. Here’s the half-assed apology statement…

“Earlier today, in the course of praising the extraordinary support and enthusiasm of Texas Rangers fans, I unfairly and inaccurately disparaged fans of the New York Yankees. Those remarks were inappropriate. Yankees fans are among the most passionate and supportive in all of baseball. I have spoken directly to Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to apologize for my intemperate comments. I would like to express again how proud we are of our fans and how remarkably they have supported the Rangers throughout lean times and now during this magical season.”

That all well and good, but all he did was wear 15 pieces of flair. It’s the bare minimum, the least he could do. In fact, Greenberg didn’t even bother to issue the apology until Commissioner Bud Selig stepped in and gave the rookie owner a stern talking to. Hell, Greenberg barely even managed to apologize the people he actually insulted, us fans. I had to read it twice just to make sure it was actually in there.

Honestly, I couldn’t care less about being called violent or obnoxious or something like that, it’s the apathetic part that gets me. Maybe the corporate slime that inhabits the lower rungs of the New Stadium doesn’t care about this team, but we certainly do. Those of us here at RAB and countless other sites, those of us sitting out in the bleachers or in the grandstands, we care. You better believe we care.

The best and simplest course of action is to just roll our eyes and leave it at that. Take the high road. File it away in the Yankee-hate cabinet with countless other forgettable and unintelligent attacks on the team. But don’t think we’ll forget. Greenberg and his team now have a giant target on their backs, moreso than they did before the ALCS. So congrats Chuck Greenberg, you managed to look like a bigger ass than the people you insulted, and now you have all winter to think about it.

Romine picks up a pair of knocks

Baseball America has started posting their top ten prospects lists for all 30 teams, starting today with the Orioles. They’ll be posting the Yankees’ list on Friday, so get ready for that.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (3-2 loss to Surprise)
Brandon Laird, LF: 0 for 4
Austin Romine, C: 2 for 4, 1 K – they stole three bases off him in three tries, including one by Graham Stoneburner’s brother

No pitchers. Lame.

Report: Yanks to speak with Gil Patterson about pitching coach vacancy

Via Mark Feinsand, Athletics pitching coordinator Gil Patterson has received permission from his team to speak with the Yankees about their vacant pitching coach position. Patterson has coached in the Yanks’ minor league system a few times, most recently 2005-2006, and according to B-Ref he was fired in 1984 for refusing to let Al Leiter pitch with a sore arm. Imagine that.

Anyway, the Yankees are obviously familiar with Patterson and he’s familiar with them, so it’s no surprise that he’s the first outside-the-organization name we heard about. Make sure you check out this 2006 profile by Tyler Kepner, that’s some great stuff.