Robertson Updates: “Papelbon Money,” Interested Teams

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Free agency has been open for a week and two days now, and during the GM Meetings this week, David Robertson‘s representatives have been meeting with interested teams to talk about a potential deal. Agents for every other big free agent are doing the same exact thing. Here’s the latest on the Yankees long-time setup man and 2014 closer, courtesy of Andrew Marchand, Joel Sherman, Brendan Kuty, and Mark Feinsand.

  • To the surprise of no one, Robertson is asking for “Papelbon money” during his initial meetings with teams. That means a four-year deal worth $50M (plus a vesting option!). Robertson’s last three years (2.59 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 4.23 K/BB) are actually better than Jonathan Papelbon’s three years prior to free agency (2.89 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 3.85 K/BB), but Papelbon was a long-time closer who closed out a World Series, and teams seem to value that.
  • Brian Cashman confirmed he met with Robertson’s representatives earlier this week. “Clearly, as a free agent, he is going to maximize his value, period. Whatever that turns out to be,” said the GM. “I wouldn’t characterize it other than the fact to say he is helluva pitcher that did it in the toughest environment after the greatest player of all-time and he did it with ease. I would suspect that would command top dollar.”
  • At least half a dozen teams have already expressed interest in Robertson, including one team with a protected first round pick. Check out our 2015 Draft Order Tracker to find out who those teams are. The Yankees get the same supplemental first round pick should Robertson sign elsewhere no matter what. It doesn’t matter whether his new team has a protected pick.
  • The Tigers are not planning to spend big on a late-game reliever despite their perpetual bullpen problems. GM Dave Dombrowski said they picked up their $7M option for Joakim Soria so he could set up Joe Nathan next year. They also have hard-throwing youngster Bruce Rondon returning from Tommy John surgery.
  • The Cubs are another team not planning to spending big money on the bullpen this winter. They’re focused on top of the rotation help and will apparently employ the popular “stockpile a bunch of cheap guys with good arms and figure out the bullpen during the season” strategy.
  • The Rockies won’t pursue Robertson either. I didn’t expect them too, but who really knows with that franchise. They do weird stuff all the time. New GM Jeff Bridich said they will have a “healthy competition” in Spring Training to determine their closer.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Stephen Drew

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

The Yankees have a bunch of needs this offseason like every other team, yet because they need to replace the iconic Derek Jeter, I think the hole at shortstop will be discussed more than anything. Don’t get me wrong, needing a shortstop is a big deal, but the club also needs help at either second or third base and on the mound. I just think the search for a shortstop is going to get a ton of attention. A ton.

As Brian Cashman said earlier this week, the trade market for shortstops is limited right at the moment. The free agent market offers a bunch of imperfect solutions now that J.J. Hardy has re-upped with the Orioles, as Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera all belong at other positions. The only true shortstop left in free agency is a player who spent the last two months of 2014 playing second base for the Yankees: Stephen Drew.

Cashman acknowledged he will “have a conversation with” Drew’s agent Scott Boras this offseason and they’re planning to “stay in touch and see where it takes us.” Drew had a miserable 2014 season, first getting hung out to dry by the qualifying offer system then not hitting a lick once he did finally land a job in late-May. There is some thought that a regular Spring Training would help him next year, but who really knows? Does bringing Drew back make sense anyway? Let’s try to find out.

The Injury History

I think we have to start with Drew’s recent injury history. His problems all started in July 2011, when he destroyed his ankle sliding into home plate. It was ugly. He caught a spike sliding into the plate and his foot basically turned the opposite way. Drew shattered his ankle and tore a ton of ligaments. He had surgery and it kept him out almost an entire season — Drew didn’t return to the field until June 2012.

Then in Spring Training last year, Drew was hit in the head by a pitch and suffered a concussion. It kept him out for a bit more than a full month and forced him to start the season on the disabled list. Drew missed three weeks with a hamstring strain last summer and missed two weeks with a hamstring strain back in 2009, but that’s nothing, really. It happens. His two most severe injuries, the ankle and the concussion, were fluke injuries and not some kind of chronic problem. That doesn’t mean they haven’t affected his game though. Drew hasn’t really been the same player since the ankle injury, coincidence or not.

The Sagging Offense

Once upon a time, Drew was one of the better hitting shortstop in the game. He put up a .278/.352/.458 (113 wRC+) line with 15 homers in 2010 — remember the days when a batting line like that was only 13% better than league average? I miss offense — but was hitting only .252/.317/.396 (92 wRC+) with five homers in 354 plate appearances when he hurt his ankle in 2011. After returning in 2012, Drew hit only .223/.309/.348 (80 wRC) with seven homers in 327 plate appearances. He wasn’t particularly good before or after the ankle injury.

Then, with the Red Sox in 2013, Drew managed to hit .253/.333/.443 (109 wRC+) with 13 homers in 501 plate appearances. It was part of the whole “everything’s going right” thing that swept through Boston that summer (and most World Series winning teams each year). Drew then hit a very weak .162/.237/.299 (44 wRC+) with seven homers in exactly 300 plate appearances this past season between the Red Sox and Yankees. He didn’t have a normal Spring Training in 2012 (ankle), 2013 (concussion), or 2014 (qualifying offer mess), remember.

All together, we’re talking about a player who has hit .228/.305/.382 (85 wRC+) in a bit less than 1,500 plate appearances over the last four seasons. That’s broken down into .243/.326/.410 (100 wRC+) against righties and .192/.252/.313 (50 wRC+) against lefties, making him a pure platoon player. Drew’s one good year since 2011 came in hitter friendly Fenway Park —  he hit .283/.367/.491 (127 wRC+) at home and .222/.295/.392 (88 wRC+) on the road — which is a bit weird because Fenway usually doesn’t favor dead pull left-handed hitters. Or at least it doesn’t favor them as much as pull happy righties.

Now, that said, Drew is a dead pull left-handed hitter, which ostensibly makes him a good fit for Yankee Stadium. Drew didn’t hit in the Bronx last year (19 wRC+) and other pull happy lefties like Kelly Johnson and Travis Hafner didn’t tear the cover off the ball during their time in pinstripes, so the short porch does not guarantee success all by itself. More important than the ballpark situation is Drew’s continually increasing strikeout rate and propensity to hit fly balls:

PA K% BB% GB% FB% LD% O-Zwing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
2010 633 17.1% 9.8% 40.2% 40.8% 19.0% 24.6% 60.7% 42.3% 82.6%
2011 354 20.9% 8.5% 38.9% 40.5% 20.6% 23.8% 61.0% 42.6% 79.3%
2012 327 23.2% 11.3% 32.2% 40.2% 27.6% 18.9% 56.6% 38.2% 79.5%
2013 501 24.8% 10.8% 33.2% 41.6% 25.2% 22.6% 57.1% 40.5% 77.7%
2014 300 25.0% 9.0% 31.3% 51.3% 17.4% 23.6% 61.3% 43.1% 78.8%

Drew’s plate discipline hasn’t changed all that much these last five years. For whatever reason he didn’t swing as much as usual in 2012, either at pitches in (Z-Swing%) or out (O-Swing%) of the zone, but otherwise his swing and contact rates have held steady the last few seasons. He’s drawing the same number of walks but his strikeout rate is climbing, faster than the ever-increasing league-wide strikeout rate. If Drew isn’t swinging at substantially more pitches out of the zone or making substantially less contact in general, it suggests that maybe selectivity is the problem. He’s taking too many hittable pitches. I dunno.

The fly ball stuff is a bigger problem than the increased strikeouts because fly balls will kill a player’s batting average, especially when the player’s average fly ball distance has gradually declined over the last few seasons like Drew’s (via Baseball Heat Maps):

Stephen Drew batted ball distance cropped

It’s not a huge decline, but it’s a decline nonetheless. Most 250-something-foot fly balls are caught for outs. Especially these days with teams focusing on defense more than ever. Drew’s batting average continues to sink and this explains why, at least somewhat. (Remember, batted ball data includes some scorer’s bias. One scorer’s fly ball is another’s line drive.) More strikeouts and more medium-depth fly balls has killed Drew’s offensive production these last few years, and not all of it can be blamed on the traumatic ankle injury either.

Now, that said, I don’t think Drew will be as bad as he was last year again. He almost can’t be that bad again, right? He is only 31 (32 in March) and he’s an athletic guy, so falling off from a 109 wRC+ in 2013 to a 44 wRC+ in 2014 and having that be his true talent level doesn’t seem possible to me. I’m not saying he’s a true talent 109 wRC+ guy either. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. I just don’t know know where. Drew’s last few seasons have been very weird. The scouting report will be a huge factor here. Forget the numbers; how do teams think he’s looked?

Glovework

The Yankees moved Drew to second base in deference to Jeter last year even though he had never played a position other than shortstop in his entire career, MLB or minors. He had some inexperience-related hiccups at first but settled in eventually, and I thought he actually looked quite good at second by the end of the season. That’s a testament to his athleticism and baseball instincts, I think.

Of course, the Yankees would be looking at Drew as their regular shortstop now, no questions asked. The defensive stats all agree he was a disaster at short earlier in his career, back around 2006-08, but the numbers have been all over the map these last five seasons. Here are the stats:

Innings at SS DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2010 1,259.1  0 8.9 -2 -2.3
2011 731.1 3 4.3 -1 -2.5
2012 658.2 -7 -7.0 -4 -4.2
2013 1,093.1 -2 5.3 -3 -4.6
2014 413.1 4 3.0 -2 -0.3
Total 4,156.0 -2 14.5 -12 -13.9

So we’ve got some differences of opinion, huh? Both Total Zone and FRAA have rated Drew as consistently below-average while UZR has him above-average with the exception of 2012, which makes sense because he was coming off the ankle injury. DRS is all over the place. I guess that means the consensus is he’s below-average in the field?

That goes against what my eyes tell me. I’ve always thought Drew was very good in the field. But my opinion could be skewed after watching hundreds and thousands of ground balls scoot by Jeter over the years. I’d like to think I watch enough non-Yankees baseball to know an above-average shortstop when I see one, but maybe my brain needs to be re-calibrated. For what it’s worth, Keith Law (subs. req’d) said he believes Drew “can play average defense at shortstop for 120 games or so” in 2015.

Contract Estimates

It’s obvious at this point Drew is going to wind up a one-year “prove yourself” contract. Maybe something with a low base salary and a ton of incentives based on plate appearances. That would be the best case scenario for the team, not so much Drew himself. Here are some contract estimates from around the world wide baseball web:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: One year at $7M.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): One year at $8M to $10M.
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): One year at $8M. (He predicted the Victor Martinez contract exactly. Like I said, he’s so weirdly excellent at this.)

Sounds about right to me. Drew signed for the pro-rated qualifying offer last year and wound up taking home approximately $10.1M. A one-year deal at $8M would represent a pay cut strikes me as fair value. You’d be asking the guy to be your starting shortstop. That job doesn’t pay, like, $2M on the open market, even after the year Drew had.

In Conclusion

Drew might be the most complicated and difficult to analyze free agent on the market this winter. Between his awful but Spring Training-less season in 2014, his injuries from 2011-13, and his production in 2013, who knows who the real Stephen Drew is? The best case scenario seems to be the 2013 version and the worst case scenario (2014) was so bad I can’t possibly believe that’s the real him. It can’t be, right?

I think we can all agree Plan A for filling the shortstop hole this offseason would be acquiring a young player who could man the position not only in 2015, but for the next five or six years as well. I prefer Starlin Castro but maybe you prefer someone like Didi Gregorius or Jose Iglesias. That’s cool. We all have our own favorite flavors. But trading for that young shortstop might not be possible. Trading for an older shortstop like Alexei Ramirez or Jimmy Rollins might not be possible either.

If that is the case, the Yankees will have to decide between going short-term and rolling the dice with Drew on a one-year contract, or committing multiple years and many millions of dollars to another free agent like Hanley, Asdrubal, or Lowrie. Drew’s recent history is ugly and there are a lot of reasons not to sign him. But, if the Yankees opt for one of the other free agents, chances are they’ll have to move that guy to another position and find themselves looking for a shortstop again next winter, just like they will be if they sign Drew.

Francisco Cervelli traded to Pirates

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees have traded Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates. They’ll get back relief pitcher Justin Wilson. The team has since announced the trade in a press release.

Wilson is a hard-throwing lefty reliever. He sits mid 90s with his fastball, which he favors heavily. Pitchf/x has him with a two-seamer around the same velocity, as well as a cutter that sits around 90.

I’m not going to pretend to know more about the guy than his stat sheet indicates. The excellent Pirates blog Pirates Prospects sums up Wilson’s 2014 thusly:

Wilson had a rough season, struggling more with his control and getting hit a little harder, although he still allowed only a 220/320/323 line. He had a tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time: opponents had a .755 OPS against him in high leverage situations, compared to .568 in medium and .622 in low leverage situations. (He was better in high leverage situations in 2013, so, no, this doesn’t mean he isn’t “clutch.”) Hurdle became increasingly reluctant to use him in high leverage situations later in the season and he also had much shorter outings on average. He continued to pitch without regard to left- or right-handed opponents and, in fact, had a mild reverse platoon split. Wilson threw fastballs over 90% of the time, possibly in part due to being behind in the count a lot.

Wilson still has excellent stuff and, despite his control problems, wasn’t at all easy to hit in 2014. He has two options left, but the Pirates showed no inclination to send him to the minors. There’s no reason to think he can’t bounce back and be a dominant reliever again in 2015.

So a hard-throwing lefty reliever with some upside, who can face both lefties and righties? Sounds pretty good as a project. He also has only two years of service time, so won’t be arbitration eligible until next off-season.

Mike made a Boone Logan comp: lefty with good stuff but struggles to command his pitches. That could work. Logan had his rough spots but was mostly a success.

Cervelli has shown promise in limited action the last few years, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy at all. With Austin Romine (also frequently injured) out of options, it was inevitable that the Yankees would ship off a catcher this off season. Nice to see them get back a chance at a decent mid-inning reliever who could blossom into a setup man.

Corey Kluber wins AL Cy Young, Yankees shut out in voting

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Indians right-hander Corey Kluber was named the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner on Wednesday night, the BBWAA announced. He received 17 of 30 first place votes and beat out Mariners righty Felix Hernandez by only ten points. If one first place vote had gone to Felix instead Kluber, Hernandez would have won.

No Yankees pitcher received a Cy Young vote, which isn’t all that surprising. I was hopeful Dellin Betances would steal a bottom of the ballot vote a la David Robertson in 2011, but that didn’t happen. White Sox southpaw Chris Sale finished a distant third in the voting and former Yankee Phil Hughes finished seventh. The Twins right-hander received one fourth place vote and four fifth place votes. Good for him. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

At the GM Meetings earlier today, MLB announced the launch of Pitch Smart, which is a “series of practical, age-appropriate guidelines to help parents, players and coaches avoid overuse injuries and foster long, healthy careers for youth pitchers.” The website includes things like rest guidelines for pitchers in different age groups, a list of frequently asked questions, and other resources that may help cut down on the number of elbow injuries and Tommy John surgeries. Good job by MLB putting this together. Hopefully it actually makes a difference.

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks and Nets are both playing, plus Game One of the All-Star Series in Japan will be replayed on MLB Network at 9 pm ET. I won’t spoil the outcome of the game for the few of you who managed to go through the entire day without seeing it, but here’s the box score if you’re interested. Have at it.

2014 Season Review: Kuroda’s Final Season?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Just as we all expected, the only pitcher from the Opening Day rotation to avoid the disabled list this past season was the 39-year-old who had an abysmal end to the 2013 season. Hiroki Kuroda was, once again, the rock in Joe Girardi‘s rotation, taking the ball every fifth day as CC Sabathia (knee), Ivan Nova (elbow), Michael Pineda (shoulder), and eventually Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) went down with injuries. Even the replacements were getting hurt, like David Phelps (elbow).

Kuroda’s first two years with the Yankees followed a similar blueprint. He was excellent from Opening Day through about mid-August before falling off down the stretch, mostly due to fatigue. It got to the point where Kuroda had to stop throwing his usual between-starts bullpen sessions to stay fresh in September. The late-season fade was much more severe in 2013 than 2012, which is why Kuroda was more of a question mark coming into 2014.

This past season though, Kuroda started out slowly and finished strong. It was the exact opposite of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He had a 4.62 ERA (3.75 FIP) in his first eight starts and a 3.41 ERA (3.56 FIP) in his final 24 starts this summer, which worked out to a 3.71 ERA (3.60 FIP) overall. His usual slow September instead featured a 2.81 ERA (2.73 FIP) and was his strongest month of the season. In fact, let’s take a second to look at Kuroda’s monthly splits:

I Split W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WP BF WHIP SO9 SO/W
April/March 2 2 5.28 5 5 29.0 34 19 17 4 6 18 0 1 125 1.379 5.6 3.00
May 2 1 4.00 6 6 36.0 41 21 16 5 5 31 2 2 158 1.278 7.8 6.20
June 1 2 3.52 5 5 30.2 24 12 12 2 9 18 0 0 119 1.076 5.3 2.00
July 2 2 3.38 6 6 40.0 39 16 15 4 7 26 3 6 167 1.150 5.9 3.71
August 2 1 3.45 5 5 31.1 24 12 12 1 8 19 1 4 126 1.021 5.5 2.38
Sept/Oct 2 1 2.81 5 5 32.0 29 11 10 4 0 34 1 0 125 0.906 9.6 34.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/11/2014.

Kuroda was better in May than he was in April, better in June than he was in May, and better in July than he was in June. August was a slight bump in the road, but Kuroda was then better in September than he was in July or August. He just got better and better as the season progressed, which is the exact opposite of what you’d normally expect from a veteran starter pushing 40, especially one who had stumbled to the finish the last two years.

Although he did get better as the season went along, Kuroda was not as good as he was from 2012-13 this past season. He was a little more shaky and his best starts were merely very good, not outstanding. According to Game Score, Kuroda’s two best starts of the season came in September, when he held the Red Sox to one run in seven innings on the 3rd (73 Game Score) and the Orioles to two runs in eight innings on the 25th (77 Game Score). Only two starts with a 73+ Game Score after having eight in both 2012 and 2013.

Kuroda recorded an out in the eighth inning in only two of his 32 starts after doing it in six of 32 starts last year and in eight of 33 starts the year before. He was still a workhorse who threw 199 total innings, the 18th most in the league, but he averaged only 6.22 innings per start, down a touch from 6.29 innings per start last year and 6.66 innings per start the year before. Again, Kuroda was still very good this past season, he was just not quite as good as he was his first two years in pinstripes.

Because he’s considered retirement in each of the last two winters and slipped a bit performance-wise this year, I and I think a lot of other people assumed this would be Kuroda’s final season. He’s a prideful guy and seems like the type who would retire before going through an ugly disaster year. If that is the case, Kuroda’s final start with the Yankees was overshadowed because it was also Derek Jeter‘s final home game, a game he won with a walk-off single. Girardi said he wanted to send Kuroda back out for the ninth inning in that game so he could get one last ovation from the Yankee Stadium faithful, but Kuroda declined.

“I was really grateful when he approached me to do that. But yesterday was meant for Jeter, so I didn’t want to take anything from him,” said Kuroda to Wally Matthews the next day. Girardi summed up Kuroda’s tenure in pinstripes by telling Matthews “Hiro’s meant a lot to our organization as well and has been a really good Yankee and a really good role model as well … Obviously he’s pitched well enough to pitch again if he wants. But that’s up to him. There comes a point in your life sometimes you say, enough’s enough.”

There’s still no word on whether Kuroda will play or retire next season, and even if he decides to play again, there’s no guarantee he will return to the Yankees. He could decide to pitch closer to his family’s home in Los Angeles, or he could return home for one final season in Japan. Either way, Kuroda was once again a very important part of the rotation, and the Yankees needed him more than ever this year due to the injuries. If this is it for him, I will miss watching him pitch and I greatly appreciate what he did these last three years. Baseball needs more people like Kuroda.

An appreciation of simple, unchanging jerseys

No interlocking NY on Ruth's jersey, one of the few changes in Yankees uniforms through the years.
No interlocking NY on Ruth’s jersey, one of the few changes in Yankees uniforms through the years.

Aside from a few league-wide holiday exceptions, you know what jerseys the Yankees will wear game in and game out. They’re the jerseys they’ve worn as long as most of us have been alive. Even before our time, the design hasn’t change much.

Contrast this to nearly every other team in baseball.

Just across town, the Mets have six different jerseys, with four different caps. They’ve even made changes to their home jerseys for the 2015 season. Yes, there are games where they wear those digital camouflage jerseys. It’s hard not to feel embarrassed for them.

(And yes, I understand that the Mets and Padres have donned camo uniforms for military appreciation events. The thought is there. The execution, not so much.)

The Twins also recently changed home jerseys. The new jerseys don’t look bad, but they don’t look like much of an upgrade. As you might imagine, Twins fans aren’t in love with the change. Some of that is disliking change in general — we got that around these parts lately. But it’s hard to see the point of this uniform change.

The Twins and the Mets are far from the worst offenders. The San Diego Padres have changed their primary uniforms — not including all their alternates — 12 times in their 45-year history.

My apologies for even bringing this up, but there were the sleeveless jerseys in the 90s and 00s. No teams still wear those, do they? Sheesh.

The idea of classic, unchanging jerseys crossed my mind when watching the Jets play the Steelers this week. It seems that NFL teams go through uniform changes every year, but the Steelers have stayed consistent for decades. Yes, they have the throwback bumblebee jersey, but they come out once a year and are a nice homage to a different era. How many other teams have stuck with the same jerseys throughout the years?

The point of this is that there really is no point. I appreciate that a Yankees jersey I buy now will continue to be the jersey they wear on the field next year, 10 years from now, and presumably until baseball dies out. Buy an authentic one, and it’ll almost always be someone’s jersey.

Just another perk of being a Yankees fan, I guess. We don’t have to worry about the team introducing some embarrassing alternate jersey.