Yankees agree to deal with Feliciano

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Update by Mike (12/17/10, 10:16 a.m.): Ken Rosenthal says it’s a two-year deal worth a guaranteed $9M with a club option for 2013. Sounds like it’s a $4M salary in 2011 and 2012 with a $1M buyout on the club option. There’s no denying that Feliciano makes the bullpen stronger, but for how much longer? And the contract kinda stinks, but what can you do. Blame the Tigers and Joaquin Benoit.

Update by Joe (12/17/10, 10:02 a.m.): Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees have agreed to a two-year, $8 million contract with a third year option with Feliciano. It should be finalized and made official later today. If that’s not a team option I will be disappointed. Actually, scratch that. I’m a bit disappointed as is. Feliciano isn’t bad, but Bobby Jenks and Randy Choate both came off the board in the past couple of days and they’re both better deals.

Original Post (12/16/10): According to Bob Klapisch, the Yankees are getting close to a deal with lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano. Our anonymous source that’s both close to the situation and a friend of someone involved in he negotiations who asked not to be named but is a baseball person confirms that the two sides are close. Terms of the deal are unknown, but Scott Downs got three years and $15M while Randy Choate got two years and $2.5M, so I bet it’s somewhere between the two. With any luck, it’ll be a one year deal.

This move should come as no surprise. We first heard that the Yankees were interested in Feliciano one month ago today, and then learned that they had met with his agent at the winter meetings last week. Brian Cashman declared that acquiring a second lefty was one of his offseason priorities soon after the season ended, but it appears he isn’t fully confident in Rule 5 Draft selection Robert Fish, or minor league signings Andy Sisco and Neal Cotts. Can’t blame him, really.

Feliciano, 34, is well known around these parts after spending the last five seasons coming out of the bullpen for the Mets. He’s a true workhorse reliever, leading the league in appearances in each of the last three seasons (86, 88, and then 92 in 2010) even though he’s never faced more than 280 batters in a season. Feliciano has held left-handed batters to a .274 wOBA over the last three years, striking out 9.61 lefties for every nine innings pitched against them. He’s also generated a ground ball 57.0% of the time against same-side batters since 2008, an excellent rate.

Like every other reliever, Feliciano has his warts. His unusable against right-handed batters; they’ve tagged him for a .360 wOBA over the last three seasons. He can also be prone to walks and homers, giving out an unintentional free pass to roughly one out of every eleven lefty batters faced since 2008, and he allowed exactly seven homers in both 2008 (1.2 HR/9) and 2008 (1.1 HR/9) before dropping down to just one in 2010. It could be legitimate improvement, or it could be a fluke that will regress at Yankee Stadium. My money’s on the latter, but you’re welcome to feel differently.

One thing Feliciano really has going for him is experience. He’s spent the last half-decade as the Mets’ primary lefty, so he’s squared off against Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, and Brian McCann with great regularity. I don’t think facing David Ortiz or Adrian Gonzalez or Adam Lind in a big spot will scare him. With Choate and Downs off the board Feliciano is the best of the lefty reliever lot, and hopefully the contract will not be too outrageous. I’m a little skeptical given his history of walk and homer issues, but I recognize that relievers are so damn volatile that he’s just as likely to dominate as he is fall apart.

Sickels’ Top 20 Yankee Prospects

John Sickels of the Minor League Ball released his list of the top 20 Yankee prospects on Wednesday, led of course by Jesus Montero. Rather than simply copy and past the list here, I’ll let you click through. What I do want to mention is Sickels’ blurb on the overall farm system, which I’ll stick right here…

This system has two excellent hitters at the top, but thins out quickly in position players with impact potential after that. The pitching is quite rich; I count eight guys with the ability to hold rotation spots at the major league level, including a couple of potential anchors, and there are more arms behind them.

The system has some toolsy outfielders and some interesting catchers past Montero and Sanchez, but could use additional depth. Overall, though, it is a system that has a lot going for it, and if some of the sleepers from the ’10 draft pan out it can look even better next year.

The Yankees really went for upside in the 2010 draft with guys like Cito Culver, Mason Williams, and Angelo Gumbs, so most of their top shelf position players are still in the low, low minors. Montero and Brandon Laird are the only guys at the Triple-A level with the potential to be impact players at the big league level, and even Laird is on the fence in that regard. If he turns into a righty Eric Hinske (not a good comp, by the way), I wouldn’t consider that to be much of an impact even though he’ll certainly be useful.

The pitching is very important, because as we know the Yankees don’t have much of it at the big league level. It’s not just the Manny BanuelosDellin BetancesAndrew Brackman trio either, the Yanks have pitching coming in waves. The Triple-A level will offer David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell, Hector Noesi, and Andrew Brackman next season. Double-A will have the remaining two-thirds of the Killer B’s, Adam Warren, and Graham Stoneburner. Below that you have Marshall and Jose Ramirez. It just keeps coming, which is a great thing because not all of these guys are going to work out. Some will get hurt, some will suck, some will get traded away. It’s the nature of the beast. Unlike most of the position players though, the high-end pitching talent is no more than two years away, and that’s being conservative.

As for Sickels’ actual list, I don’t have too many issues with it. No one strikes me as way out of place and the grades aren’t worth the argument, though I do think Brett Marshall deserves to be a little higher. More importantly, there are 20 players on the list, and 19 of them play an up-the-middle position or pitch. The lone exception is Laird. Strength up the middle is absolutely key and the Yankees thrived on it for years, getting well above average production from shortstop, centerfield, and catcher throughout the late-90’s and early-00’s. If a prospect at an up-the-middle position can’t cut it, he simply moves to a corner. If a prospect at a corner position can’t cut it, well then he’s out of luck. That why these guys are so valuable and why it’s important to have hordes of catchers and middle infielders. They have value both to the team and for use in trades.

So I guess that’s my minor league rant for the night. I’m just glad that despite all the holes in the big league roster, help is on the way in one form or another.

Open Thread: Zim

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Is it a coincidence that Don Zimmer’s tenure as Yankee bench coach started in 1996 and ended in 2003, the bookends of the most recent Yankee dynasty, or something greater? Probably the former, but it’s a great narrative. Zim, now the ripe old age of 79, had a pacemaker put in on Monday and is resting comfortably at his home. I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing him a speedy recovery. The 2010 season was his 62nd in baseball, and he’s actually the last former Brooklyn Dodger to still be in baseball in some capacity. What a life this guy’s lived, eh?

Here’s tonight’s open thread. The Isles, Rangers, and Nets are all in action tonight, and the 49ers and Chargers are on NFL Network. I’m sure you all have something else to occupy your time anyway. Anything goes, so have at it.

Feinsand: Yankees “exploring” Rafael Soriano (UPDATE: Nope)

Update (5:57pm): So much for that, Buster Olney says the Yanks are no going after Soriano after all. Unsurprising to say the least. Meanwhile, Kerry Wood agreed to sweetheart deal with the Cubs that will pay him just $1.5M for one year. He turned down $3.5M from the White Sox, and a source told Feinsand that the asking price to return to the Yankees was much higher. I guess he just really wanted to go back to the Cubbies. What can you do.

(3:32pm): Via Mark Feinsand, the Yankees are “exploring” the possibility of signing free agent reliever Rafael Soriano, having preliminary discussions with his agent Scott Boras. Joe laid out the case for signing him just this morning, but I’m not terribly fond of surrendering a first round draft pick for a reliever no matter how good he is. Feinsand’s source says that while the Yankees aren’t willing to meet any asking price, though they are comfortable paying him more than they would have Kerry Wood.

Bobby Jenks just came off the board as well, agreeing to a deal with the Red Sox. Oh well, I expected him to end up in Tampa anyway.

Russell Martin needs minor knee surgery

Via Joel Sherman, new Yankee Russell Martin needs some minor knee surgery. It’s the same procedure CC Sabathia had a few weeks ago, and he’ll be ready in plenty of time for Spring Training. Sherman says the issue popped up during the pre-signing physical, but the Yankees didn’t consider it serious enough to be a deal breaker. It’s a concern anytime a catcher has knee issues, but I wouldn’t get too worked up over this. Not every injury is the end of the world.

The RAB Radio Show: December 16, 2010

Relief pitching is the theme of the day. We talked about it in the morning, when Mike wrote about Pedro Feliciano and I wrote about Rafael Soriano, Bobby Jenks, and David Aardsma. There are options available, and while Jenks is off the board everyone else is still around. We talk a bit more in depth about the reliever market and what fits the Yanks’ needs the best.

Listen in, too, for our digression into the draft. I can’t quite remember how we got there, but there’s plenty towards the end about incentivizing kids to play baseball professionally. I

Podcast run time 40:18

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Taking down a non-rumor

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

It was inevitable. The Yankees lost out of Cliff Lee, and now the potential pitching trade targets are coming out of the woodwork. We’ve heard about Felix Hernandez, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Joe Blanton, Kevin freaking Slowey, and plenty of others that are not worth listing. Yesterday another name popped up, one that shouldn’t surprise any of you: Carlos Zambrano. His name has frequented the trade rumor circuit for years, for no other reason than because he’s an ace, or at least the perception is that he’s an ace.

Before we dive into explaining why Zambrano is a bad fit for the Yankees, we have to understand that there is no rumor in the first place. It all started with this little nugget from Bill Madden yesterday…

In the meantime, look for Cashman to spend his saved money on shoring up the bullpen, with re-signing Kerry Wood a new priority. And in addition to re-signing Pettitte, he’ll still be exploring the trade market with the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano, who experienced a turnaround both in temperament and results under the tutelage of new Yankee pitching coach Larry Rothschild the last six weeks of last season, a likely target.

Emphasis mine. There’s zero reporting there. That’s Bill Madden saying that he considers Big Z a likely target without any concrete information. He didn’t even bother with anonymous scouts or persons close to the situation, he just threw a name out there and qualified it with “likely.” The part about Rothschild is irrelevant; he’d been the Cubs pitching coach since 2002 and now all of a sudden those last six weeks of the season are different? Doesn’t pass the sniff test, but of course everyone ran with it because all they saw was this…

In the meantime, look for Cashman to spend his saved money on shoring up the bullpen, with re-signing Kerry Wood a new priority. And in addition to re-signing Pettitte, he’ll still be exploring the trade market with the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano … OMG CARLOS ZAMBRANO!!!!

It’s nonsense, made up to fill out some lines in the newspaper. There is no rumor, just Bill Madden’s speculation. Now that that’s out of way, let’s move on to how bad of a move acquiring Zambrano would be if the Yankees did magically trade for him at some point.

He’s Not As Good As You Think

Once upon a time, Carlos Zambrano was a bonafide star in the marking. He pitched to a 3.58 FIP from ages 21 through 24, racking up 14.0 fWAR from 2003 through 2005 with no less than 4.5 fWAR or 209.2 IP per season. The problem is that his FIP and fWAR declined in each of those years, and since that ’05 season Zambrano’s been no better than pretty good.

After a 4.14 FIP, 3.9 fWAR campaign in 2006, Big Z has pitched to a 4.09 FIP with 11.8 fWAR total. He’s eclipsed the three-win plateau just once in the last four seasons, and his performance over that time is right on par with Joe Blanton’s (11.7 fWAR) and slightly worse than Scott Baker’s 12.4 fWAR). A.J. Burnett has even been able to outproduce Zambrano during that time (12.9 fWAR), and he spent 59 days on the disabled list in 2007.

Zambrano is a high strikeout (8.10 K/9 over the last two years), high walk (4.24 BB/9 after taking out intentional walks) pitcher that gets a fair share of ground balls (44.2%), and he’s done a better job of getting his case of homeritis under control in the last few seasons (0.51 HR/9). His swinging strike rate has been below league average for three years now (8.0%), and all of those innings (839.1 IP with the Cubs before he turned 25) seem to be slowly eating away at his velocity.

This isn’t to say that Zambrano is a bad pitcher, just that he’s not the ace he’s made out to be. There’s no denying that he’s a legit innings eater, assuming he isn’t being suspended by his own team like in 2010. His 50th percentile projection is probably something like 2.8-3.2 fWAR going forward, which would absolutely help the Yankees right now, but this isn’t a vacuum. There are other factors to consider besides performance.

He’s Really Overpaid

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Four pitchers in all of baseball make more money on an annual basis than Zambrano, and for all intents and purposes it’s the four best pitchers on the planet: Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, and Roy Halladay. That’s it. He’ll make $17.875M in 2011 and then $18M in 2012 before a $19.25M vesting option for 2013 comes into play. The option vests based on Cy Young Award voting, so I wouldn’t expect it to kick in, but we’re still talking $35.875M over the next two years. According to the data at FanGraphs, Zambrano was worth $50.8M in production over the last four seasons while being paid $63.025M. He hasn’t been worth his salary since 2006.

For the Cubs to make this even worth the Yankees’ consideration, they’d have to eat something like $15M left on Zambrano’s deal, and even then they’re not getting anything worthwhile in return.

He’s Insane

It amazes me that people are so quick to write off Zack Greinke as unable to handle New York because Social Anxiety Disorder sounds scary, yet think that Zambrano is fine. The dude is crazy. He’s gotten in teammate’s faces for not making defensive plays behind him, gotten into fights in the dugout (twice in the same game!), beaten the crap out of inanimate objects, and plenty of other stuff that you’ll find if you google “Carlos Zambrano crazy.”

We have absolutely no idea how Greinke would handle the pressure cooker of New York, we just think we do. We know how Zambrano acts when things don’t go his way though, and it involves going off the deep end more times than not. What happens when he has the inevitable four or five start slump (it happens to every pitcher) and has 50,000 people booing the crap out of him every five days? And just think about it for a second, half of the Cubbie faithful wants this guy gone. That tells you right away that there’s a problem, a problem the Yankees don’t need.

* * *

The entire idea of Carlos Zambrano in Yankee pinstripes is little more than a figment of Bill Madden’s imagination right now, and that’s a good thing. The negatives outweigh the positives, but you know the Cubs will value him as an ace-caliber pitcher on the trade market anyway because once upon a time he was that guy. He’s not now, hasn’t been for a few seasons. There is a ton of risk in Zambrano given his well-documented temper, risk that can be far more damaging than some free agent signing blowing out his arm. Just say no to Big Z.