Yankees sign Steve Evarts to minor league deal

Via Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed 23-year-old left-hander Steve Evarts to a minor league deal. He selected 43rd overall by the Braves in the 2006 draft, taken two spots after Joba Chamberlain. Evarts ranked as Atlanta’s 15th best prospect before the 2008 season, and Baseball America lauded his feel for pitching, his upper-80’s fastball, and a dynamite changeup that acts like a screwball. In 98 professional innings, he’s struck out 81 and walked just 16 unintentionally. The problem is that he hasn’t pitched since 2008 due to varying injuries (including at least one elbow surgery) and disciplinary problems. The Braves released him at some point in early 2009.

Evarts has a pretty spotty record; he was charged with criminal mischief after smashing someone’s car with a bat in high school, and earlier this year he was arrested on felony battery and marijuana possession charges. I assume all of that stuff is cleared up and the Yankees did their homework. Chances are they’ll get absolutely nothing out of Evarts, but at some point he was a very promising prospect. No harm in trying.

Why the Mariners won’t trade Felix Hernandez

(Amy Sancetta/AP)

The No. 1 question we receive every day is some variant of, why don’t the Yankees trade for Felix Hernandez, or the Yankees should trade the farm for Felix. This is an understandable reaction to a rough situation. Many fans had so vividly imagined Cliff Lee in pinstripes that the reality of him going to Philadelphia has caused a bit of a blinder. The most prominent such blinder is the thought that Seattle might trade Hernandez to the Yankees.

The reason the Yankees won’t acquire Felix, at least in the near term, relates more to Seattle than it does New York. After all, they’re the one that holds the prized player. They have a number of reasons to hold Felix rather than cash him in for prospects. Given Felix’s ability and contract, along with the team’s overall situation, I can’t see them making a trade any time soon. I won’t go so far as to guarantee it — baseball is a weird game — but I’m confident that Seattle will hold onto Felix through at least 2013.

The first and most obvious reason for Seattle holding onto Felix is his ability. Whether or not you think he deserved the AL Cy Young Award, he is still a top five pitcher. He’s probably a top three pitcher. In the past two seasons he’s shown improvements in both his strikeout and walk rates, and now has the lethal combination of 8-plus strikeouts per nine and a 50-percent-plus ground ball rate. Only four pitchers in the majors accomplished this in 2010. Oh, and he’s only 25 years old. It would take quite the set of circumstances for any team to consider trading such an elite young pitcher.

Considering his performance and service time, Seattle has Felix signed to a team-friendly contract. After the 2010 season Felix has five years of service time, meaning he’d have been a free agent after the 2011 season had he not signed an extension. What kind of contract would Felix command if he hit the free agent market as a 26-year-old? I imagine he might have become the first $200 million pitcher. Yet he signed an extension with Seattle that covers five years and pays him $78 million. That will cost the Mariners just $10 million in 2011 before it jumps to $18.5 million in 2012 and gets to $20 million in 2014. He is the consummate bargain, even at $20 million annually.

Seattle can easily afford this contract. They’re not the Marlins; they’re not the Pirates; they’re not the Indians. They play in a fairly robust market and can certainly afford to keep elite players under contract. Their payroll is actually a bit down now, $91 million in 2010 after approaching $120 million in 2008. Furthermore, they have few large commitments in the future. The 2012 payroll has just $54 million committed, mostly to Felix and Ichiro, and after that their only big obligation belongs to Felix. Why, then, would they trade an elite pitcher? They can clearly afford him.

At this point we can turn to Zack Greinke to answer the previous question. The Royals could afford to keep him, but instead traded him to the Brewers. Kansas City is a bottom dwelling team, but has a big set of eyes on the future. Their farm system ranks as the best in baseball by no small measure, and they could start seeing those players pay off in 2012. Even then, it’s tough to expect a crop of 20- and 21-year-olds to bring a team into contention. The more realistic impact year is 2013, and at that point Greinke would have been a free agent. Trading him now, then, theoretically provides Kansas City with the best return, since they’re providing two years of Greinke at a below market rate. This is not the same situation Seattle faces.

Yes, the Seattle offense was historically bad in 2010 — often bad enough to negate the benefits that Felix brought. But this won’t always be the case. As with the Royals, the Mariners will rebuild. They might not have the same caliber system, but it still has a few strong prospects at the top. In June they’ll draft second overall, and they figure to have another decent pick in 2012. This will help them reload the system. Given their current young talent, their talent on the farm, and the talent they can afford on the free agent market, I imagine that Seattle will be back in the contention conversation before 2014. If they plan to contend before then, they have even less of a reason to trade Felix.

Let’s just imagine for a moment that Seattle’s target contention year is 2014, the final year of Felix’s contract. Might they then decide to trade him and fortify the team for a run that year? Again, I don’t think so. No player they can acquire will provide the impact that Felix himself can. They might be able to shore up multiple parts, but they’ll be left weaker at starting pitcher. That brings me to the final point: Seattle can, in all likelihood, sign Felix to a mega deal once he hits free agency, or perhaps before. He’ll be just 29 at the time, so he’ll probably be in line for a Sabathia-like deal if the current baseball economic structure holds up. Why wouldn’t Seattle give it to him? In fact, if they didn’t I’d suspect that they know something that we don’t, and are holding off on a big offer for that reason.

When an opportunity arises to trade for a pitcher of Hernandez’s age and ability, any team will jump all over it. They might even empty the farm. It would be a justifiable move. But there’s a reason that pitchers of Hernandez’s age and ability typically do not become available in trades. Seattle has little reason to trade him. Maybe if they catch a few terrible breaks he’ll become available in a couple of years. But right now the team simply has no reason to trade him. I’d love to see him in Yankee pinstripes as much as the next guy. But let’s be realistic. It’s just not happening.

Prospect Profile: David Phelps


David Phelps | RHP

Raised in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, Phelps attended Hazelwood West High School and starred both on the baseball field and on the basketball court. He was named to the All-Conference Team as both an outfielder and pitcher as a sophomore, and was then named All-Conference, All-Metro Performer, and team captain as a junior and senior. His career with the Wildcats featured a 2.96 ERA with 172 strikeouts in 109.2 innings pitched, and he also set a school record with a 30 inning scoreless streak as a senior. He was also a member of the National Honor Society.

Committed to Notre Dame, Phelps was ranked as the sixth best prospect in Missouri prior to the 2005 draft, though he went undrafted due to the strong college commitment. His older brother Mike was drafted out of Central Missouri State in the 11th round that year by the Cubs. Phelps was a sparsely used reliever in his first season with the Irish (though he did make three mid-week starts), striking out 23 and walking ten in just 26.2 innings (7.09 ERA). After the season he joined the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska League, striking out 36 with 23 walks in 47.3 innings.

Phelps slid into Notre Dame’s rotation as a sophomore and establishing himself as the staff ace with one of the best pitching seasons in school history. He made 15 starts and threw five complete games, striking out 102 batters and walking just 30 in 110 innings (1.88 ERA). He became just the second pitcher in school history to record 100+ strikeouts with a sub-2.00 ERA in a single season, joining Aaron Heilman. As a reward, Phelps was named to the All-Conference First Team and received Academic All-District and Academic All-American honors. He joined the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod League after the season, but shut himself down to rest his arm after making just a pair of starts.

Expected to anchor the rotation again as a junior, Phelps was unable to match the success he had a sophomore, striking out 75 and walking 28 in 93 innings (4.65 ERA). Baseball America ranked him the fifth best prospect in the state of Indiana before the 2008 draft, expecting him to be drafted within the first eight rounds. The Yankees were able to select him in the 14th round with the 440th overall pick, later signing him for a $150,000 bonus, the maximum allowed after the fifth round without MLB’s approval.

Pro Career
Assigned to the Short Season Staten Island Yankees shortly after signing, Phelps made 15 starts for the Baby Bombers, making the All Star team after walking 18 batters and striking out 52 in 72.2 innings (3.27 FIP, 2.72 ERA). The Yanks were a tad conservative with Phelps in 2009, sending him to Low-A Charleston to start the season. After he pitched to a 3.41 FIP (2.80 ERA, 90 K, 25 BB) in 112.2 innings with the River Dogs he was promoted to High-A Tampa, where he struck out 32 batters and walked just six in 38.1 innings (2.34 FIP, 1.17 ERA). Phelps led all Yankee farmhands with 151 IP in 2009.

After just seven starts with Tampa to finish off the ’09 season, the Yankees sent Phelps to Double-A Trenton to begin 2010 and he just kept on pitching well. In 88.1 innings with the Thunder, he struck out 84 and walked just 23, good for a 2.44 FIP (2.04 ERA). He was promoted to Triple-A Scranton at midseason and again performed well, striking out 57 and walking 13 in 70.1 innings (2.92 FIP, 3.07 ERA). Phelps finished second in system with 158.2 innings this time around. His minor league career features a 7.4 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, and a 2.96 FIP (2.50 ERA) in 382.1 innings.

Scouting Report
Phelps has come a long way since high school. Once a scrawny kid that would sit in the low-90’s on a good day, Phelps has filled out his 6-foot-3 frame (190 lbs.) and now throws his fastball at 93-95 mph consistently. Minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras made some minor adjustments soon after Phelps signed, leading to the improved velocity. He also throws a two-seam fastball right around 90 mph, a good curveball, and both a below average slider and changeup. The curve is the closest thing Phelps has to a strikeout pitch, but it still needs some more improvement. At the moment he’s a ground ball pitcher, but that can change if one of the offspeed pitches takes that step forward.

Although his secondary stuff is good but not great, it all plays up because Phelps has very strong control and pounds the bottom of the zone. His delivery is very simply and easily repeated, which bodes well for future command and health. He’s already demonstrated the ability to be a workhorse, logging no fewer than 151 innings in each of the last three seasons. Here’s a brief clip of Phelp’ delivery courtesy of Mike Ashmore, and you can see a few more on his YouTube channel.

2011 Outlook
Phelps will start the season back with Triple-A Scranton and should be among the first call-ups when the Yankees inevitably need a pitcher. He’s at a slight disadvantage because he’s not on the 40-man after the moment, though he’ll have to be added after the 2011 season to avoid exposure to the Rule 5 Draft. If the Yankees don’t sign a pitcher and both Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova have unimpressive Spring Trainings, Phelps has an outside chance at opening the season with the big league team. Very unlikely though.

My Take
Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has proven to be very skilled at finding undervalued pitchers in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft, and Phelps is just another example of that. He was an absolute steal both in terms of draft round and bonus money, and climbing the ladder that quickly with so many other quality arms around him is pretty impressive. Phelps has already exceeded all possible expectations, and although I remain nothing more than cautiously optimistic because of his lack of a knockout offspeed pitch, he’s a quality pitching prospect that could contribute to the big league club either on the mound or as a piece of trade bait very, very soon.

Mailbag: Chad Qualls

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Rafi asks: If the Yankees are indeed still looking for a RH RP, allow me to throw out a name that seams to be totally off everyone’s radar: Chad Qualls. This guy has closer experience with a decent K (7.35/9) rate, good BB (2.5) rate, and of course, great GB rate (55% – the league leader this past year, was Tim Hudson at 64.1). He did walk 3.2/9 last season, but almost all his other numbers were the same. The biggest differences? A .399 BABIP leading to 13 H/9. While his 7.32 ERA was easily his high (almost double his previous), his FIP was 4.13, and xFIP was 3.91. Since he’s coming off such a poor looking year, and is a type-B, what kind of contract do you think he’ll get? I think he’s a great fit.

Qualls has been in the back of my mind all offseason mostly because his name stares me right in the face whenever I go to update the 2011 Draft Order page. Considering the season he had, which by most statistical measures was awful, I was stunned to hear that he turned down the Rays’ offer of arbitration. His stock was certainly down and accepting arbitration would have guaranteed him some sort of raise on this past season’s $4.185M salary. Is he going to get even $4M for one year on the open market? Hell no. Bad job by his agent declining.

Anyway, I’ve been a fan of Qualls’ ever since his playoff performance with the Astros during their run to the 2005 World Series. He threw 13 innings across nine appearances in Houston’s 14 postseason games, striking out ten, getting 68.8% ground balls, and holding opponents to a .233 wOBA. It was a beastly performance, no other way to put it. Unfortunately that was half-a-decade ago and not indicative of what he has to offer now.

As you said, Qualls’ underlying performance in 2010 wasn’t too far off from the rest of his career, he was just victimized by a .399 BABIP and a 53.0% strand rate (league average is 72%). There are legitimate concerns, though. His strikeout rate has declined in each of the last two seasons, from 8.67 K/9 in 2008 to 7.79 in 2009 to 7.47 in 2010, and unsurprisingly his swinging strike rate has declined as well (11.3%, 10.3%, 8.2%). His ground ball has also declined over the last two years, from 58.3% in ’08 to 56.9% in ’09 to 55% in ’10, and his walk rate was a career high 2.59 BB/9 (removing intentional walks). There’s a lot of stuff trending in the wrong direction here.

One thing to remember is that Qualls started the year coming off a very serious knee/leg injury that ended his 2009 season in late August. Jason Michaels hit him with a comeback line drive, resulting in a dislocated knee cap, a torn meniscus (in two places), and his quad muscle being partially torn off the bone. Ouch. There’s a chance the injury still hampered him a bit in 2010. Another thing to remember is that he’s 32, so his hellacious sinker might not be what it once was. Even if the pitch has lost just a little bit of sink, it’ll have a pretty big difference.

At his peak, from 2007 through 2009, Qualls struck out 8.38 batters per nine innings, walked just 1.77 per nine unintentionally, and got a ground ball 57.3% of the time. That’s an extremely valuable reliever, and any team that signs Qualls is banking on him returning to that level of performance, or at least thereabouts. Some normal BABIP and left-on-base rate regression will bring his ERA and WHIP back to reality, but the declining peripherals are enough to cast doubt on his ability to be effective going foward.

With all that said, I do prefer Qualls to all of the other right-handed relief options still on the market (Jon Rauch, Aaron Heilman, Octavio Dotel, etc.) and would be willing to roll the dice with him going into next season since it’s not my money. A ground ball pitcher does worry me a bit given the questionable defense on the left side of the infield, but seeing-eye singles are better than long fly balls that could go over the fence. Qualls is a Type-B free agent so it won’t cost a draft pick to sign him, and given how the rest of the relief market has played out this winter, a one year deal at $2-3M seems like a logical contract. I wouldn’t expect greatness, but I would expect a more than serviceable middle relief option with a chance for a bit more.

An $18 million luxury tax bill

Major League Baseball sent out the luxury taxes bills on Tuesday, and the Yankees are on the hook for $18 million. It’s their lowest luxury tax payment since 2003, down from $25.7 last offseason. “Atta baby. And right now we’re in the $170s,” joked Brian Cashman, referring to the team payroll (in millions, of course). The Red Sox are the only other team over the limit, and their luxury tax payment comes in at $1.49M. Checks are due January 31st.

For luxury tax purposes, the Yankees had a $215.1M payroll in 2010, down $11.1M from 2009. The threshold climbed to $170M this past year, so the Yankees were taxed the maximum 40% (since they’re repeat offenders) on the $45.1M they spent in excess of the threshold.  Since the current incarnation of the luxury tax was instituted in 2003, the Yankees have paid out a total of $192.2M. Boston is the second biggest luxury tax culprit at $15.34M. The money goes into MLB’s central fund, which is used to cover player benefits, “injury growth,” and other vaguely described items.

Here’s what Brian Cashman had to say, courtesy of ESPN NY

“We’re doing a better job of managing our payroll and managing our decision-making as we enter the free-agent market,” Cashman said. “Our payroll doesn’t necessarily have to live at that level, but it’s nice to know that our owners are committed to allow us to get there if we need to.”


“We weren’t going to exceed where we were this past year, but the bottom line is that now that the Lee thing has declared itself, it would be hard-pressed for us to get up to that level,” Cashman said.


“You need a strong farm system that prevents you from being desperate in the free-agent market,” Cashman said. “You don’t want to be desperate in the free-agent market, because you’ll get slaughtered.”

Because of the Lee non-signing, the Yankees have a good amount of extra cash burning a hole in their pocket, but the problem is there are no decent players to spend it on. The top free agents still on the market don’t fit with the Yankees, and spending upwards of $20 million on complimentary pieces isn’t the wisest idea. Instead, Cashman has said the team will be patient and add a piece here and there, then take the payroll savings into the season. Then when some team is looking to unload a contract during the summer, the Yankees will be first in line.

Open Thread: Boomer

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

It was impossible not to like David Wells. He was big, loud, obnoxious, and looked like he had just been plucked from the bleachers. But man, could that dude pitch. Boomer was the kind of guy that could roll out of bed in mid-January, step on a mound, and paint the corners with a fastball and drop a curve in for a strike at the knees. He was simply blessed with a rubber arm and pinpoint control. Although his Yankee tenure (the second one) ended on a sour note, he gave the team 851.2 IP over four seasons with a 3.90 ERA and 16.4 bWAR total. And, of course, there’s the perfect game. Easily my most memorable David Wells moment. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Anyways, here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Devils and Nets are in action, but meh. You guys know what to do by now, so have at it.

Yankees sign Leonel Vinas to minor league contract

Via Bryan Hoch, the Yankees have signed 19-year-old right-hander Leonel Vinas to a minor league contract after being called to Tampa for three private workout sessions. He spent the summer pitching for a Hank Steinbrenner sponsored youth team here in New York, defeating Mariano Rivera Jr.’s team at Yankee Stadium for the “Boss’s Cup.” Vinas struck out 168 batters in 84 innings this year, throwing no-hitters against Adelphia University and Suffolk Community College. According to the article he throws a fastball, curveball, and changeup, and will start his career as a reliever in rookie ball next season.

I’m always a fan of long-shot stories like this, so I wish him nothing but the best of luck.