Sherman: Hughes will be the fifth starter

Phil Hughes, says Joel Sherman today in the Post, will be the Yankees’ fifth starter out of Spring Training. The team isn’t ready to make an official announcement, but the move has been all but decided since February. The job, says Sherman, was Phil’s to lose this March, and although Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves have pitched well during Grapefruit League action, Hughes, 23, has thrown as he needed to do in order to secure that final rotation spot.

Sherman offers up an extended take on the Yanks’ thinking:

But this was never a numbers contest. If so, Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre, both of whom statistically have outpitched Hughes, would still be in the mix. This was more about projection. The Yanks like Mitre and, especially, Aceves. But they view both as back-end starters who already have reached their ceilings.

They envision Hughes as a No. 3 starter or better depending on his ability to keep the aggressiveness he showed last year out of the bullpen while honing what, until this point, had been an unappetizing changeup. Thus, Yankee officials were elated Monday despite the poor overall line by how far Hughes’ changeup had advanced, both in its deception and his trust in deploying it.

The homers they saw more as a function of the wind and Hughes’ still gaining arm strength. His fastball was mainly 89-91 mph, and the Yanks anticipate several mph more over the next few weeks. If that comes along with the changeup, the Yanks really may have a No. 3 starter in the No. 5 spot in 2010. But, just as vital, they also may have a No. 3 starter in the No. 3 spot in 2011 should Andy Pettitte retire and Javier Vazquez leave as a free agent.

Now, I’ve been turning the news in Sherman’s column over in my mind all day, and I can’t come to terms with it. I’m a Phil Hughes guy, and I truly think he needs to have a chance to start. But this leaves Joba dangling in the wind. It throws into the Yanks’ ability to develop pitchers and their patience with young arms into doubt, and it makes me wonder just what the team accomplished after three years of highly-publicized Joba Rules. It doesn’t make sense.

Joba, just 24, hasn’t been bad as a Major League starter. Over 43 starts, many of which were limited by the Yanks’ overly cautious approach, he has thrown 221.2 innings and has struck out 206. His 101 walks are on the high side, but as one of the younger starters in the league, he has done the job admirably enough.

The problem though has been in the way the Yanks have kept the kid gloves on. A full 17 of Joba’s Major League starts were shorter than 15 outs. In some of those outings, Joba was just bad; in one, he left after getting struck by the ball; but by and large, the Yankees pulled him due to an innings limit or a pitch limit or some kind of limit. They kept the leash on for a very, very long time.

Now, we hear that the Yankees are ready to end that experiment for now. Sherman sees Chamberlain in the eighth inning with Aceves and Mitre serving as the team’s sixth and seventh starters should the need arise. Just yesterday, I decried such a move. The Yanks should, if not going with Chamberlain in the rotation, have him log innings at AAA. The team has toyed with Joba for so long that he has finally escaped the innings limit, but now they’re going to take him out of the rotation entirely. Who’s steering this ship anyway?

Maybe Sherman is wrong. Maybe his reading of the tea leaves will have been for naught, and the Yankees will surprise all of the B-Jobber analysts who want Joba in the bullpen. Maybe the Yankees will wake up and determine that, after three years of experiments, Joba’s year to dazzle — or fail — without any sort of limit is 2010.

I’m not too optimistic though, and I have to wonder if the Yankees should begin to think about ways to maximize Joba’s value through other avenues. If they’re not willing to let him take his lumps in the rotation as a 24-year-old pitching behind four others good enough to be staff aces, then cut bait and trade him. As early as 2011, the Yankees will need starters who don’t have innings limits, and these constant bullpen/rotation back-and-forths need to end. Joba’s role in 2010 shouldn’t involve rooting for an injury to another starter or waiting for Hughes to reach an inevitable innings cap. He should be starting. Period.

Link dump: Dead money, regressing starters, standing room

Some lunch time links while we make you wait another two hours for something on the fifth starter situation.

The Mets are shopping Gary Matthews Jr.


Teams that are paying money to other teams

At FanGraphs, Steve Sommer takes a look at teams that are sending 10 percent or more of their overall payroll to other teams. The Blue Jays lead the way at $16 million, or 23 percent of their payroll. In pure dollar terms, though, the Dodgers are paying out the most, $16.6 million. You can check out the whole list here. The Yankees are only shelling out $4.5 million in that regard, a mere 2 percent of overall payroll.

The year-after effect for young starters

At ESPN’s TMI blog, Tango examines young pitchers who break out and then regress the following year. Clayton Kershaw, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, and Felix Hernandez qualify this year, and Tango warns that they could regress just like their predecessors. Check out the accompanying table for more recent examples. Also keep this in mind when you think about Joba Chamberlain. He pitched excellently in the rotation in 2008, but pitched markedly worse in 2009. To that end, Zack Greinke had a 5.80 ERA in the season following his breakout, in which he posted a 3.97 ERA.

Does wOBA undervalue Ichiro?

Jeff Sullivan at Lookout landing takes on the question and makes many fine points. To my mind, this is the best way to argue with stats. To categorically dismiss them is foolish. We can learn plenty by a player’s results. We can learn a lot more by thinking, in specific terms, what the stat might not be telling us.

Everything you need to know about Standing Room Only tickets

Ross at NYY Stadium Insider writes at length about the Standing Room Only tickets the Yankees have offered for the 2010 season. If you’re thinking about getting these slightly cheaper tickets, definitely read over his post.

Other links

I found a lot worth reading, so…

2010 Season Preview: Greatness in the 9th

Mariano Rivera pitches during Game 6 of the 2009 World Series. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

For the fifteenth consecutive season, the Yankees know that during home games when they have a lead in the ninth, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” will begin playing over the Yankee Stadium public address system. The Yankees know that Number 42, Mariano Rivera, Number 42 will come slowly walking off the bullpen mound. He will hit the edge of the outfield and start jogging, slowly and confidently, toward the infield. He will make his warm-up tosses, and he will go about his business as he has done 526 times in his career.

I don’t need to toast Mariano in this post. Regular RAB readers know how much we adore and worship at the Altar of Mo. We know we’re seeing something special every time Rivera comes into the game, and we know we have witnessed greatest unfold since Rivera made his mark in the 1995 ALDS. He is the Yankee Dynasty, an all-time great who will be enshrined in Monument Park and Cooperstown sometime before, say, 2020.

Last year, Mariano was just as good as ever, and it was, in a way, surprising. He threw the last pitch at old Yankee Stadium and a few weeks later, underwent a shoulder procedure to clear up some calcification in his pitching arm. The early going was rough; he allowed back-to-back jacks for the first time in his career. Yet, by year’s end, he sported a 1.76 ERA in 66.1 innings. He allowed 48 hits, walked 12 and struck out 71 while notching 44 saves. Father Time is impervious to Mariano.

Going forward, though, what can we expect from Rivera? He’ll be 40 and one of the top five oldest players in the Junior Circuit this year. Time, as Mick Jagger once did not sing, is not on his side, and Yankee fans will one day have to come to grips with the world without Mariano Rivera.

For now, though, we can ignore that scary future and check out his projections. As a 40-year-old closer, Rivera appears to be doing very, very well for himself. Take a peek (and click to enlarge):

Overall, Rivera’s numbers do show signs of decline; that is, after all, to be expected from a pitcher his age. Still, those numbers are very comforting. His 2.74 ERA would be his highest total since only 2007 when early-season woes resulted in an ERA over 3.00. The strike out numbers remain high; the walks remain low; and the long balls remain few and far between.

There is, of course, still the question of who will follow Mariano and just how much the Yankees will miss him. Mariano Rivera last year had a WAR of 2.0, and for closers, that’s high. But even the worst closers were around only 1.5 wins worse than Rivera. Sure, 1.5 wins could mean a lot in the AL East, but it isn’t life and death. I love Rivera more than any other Yankee I’ve seen in my life, and while his postseason presence is irreplaceable, his regular season results are not. It isn’t realistic to assume the Yankees can find another Mariano Rivera, but the team will have a closer once Mo retires.

This year, though, we don’t worry about that. We see Rivera, healthy and feeling good. We see Rivera throwing easily; we see projections that look rosy; and those familiar guitar strains will soon enough fill the air. Exit light. Enter night. Take my hand. We’re off to Never Never Land.

Checking in on the Yanks’ Rule 5 losses

Nearly four years ago, a series of rule changes sucked all the fun out of the Rule 5 Draft by giving teams an extra year to evaluate their players before having to add them to the 40-man roster. After watching players like Shane Victorino, Dan Uggla, Josh Hamilton, and Joakim Soria get selected from 2004 to 2006, the only two players drafted since 2007 that have stuck with their new team while even just approaching a one WAR season are Brian Barton (Cardinals, 2007) and Everth Cabrera (Padres, 2008).

The Yankees haven’t acquired a player in the Rule 5 Draft and kept him on their 25-man roster for a full season since who knows when. Josh Phelps stuck around until late June in 2007, which is longer than most Rule 5 guys last. It’s not exactly an avenue most big market teams use to acquire talent. Jamie Hoffmann, the player the Yanks’ took in the latest version of the Rule 5, couldn’t even make it through Spring Training and was returned to the Dodgers earlier this week.

Last year the Yankees had four players selected in the Rule 5 Draft, though three were eventually returned. They worked out a small trade with the Twins to allow them to keep the fourth player, righty Jason Jones. Of course that was after he trashed the organization on his way out. I’m not sure the Yanks were waiting for him with open arms, if you know what I mean. This year, the Yanks lost a pair of relievers in this year’s Rule 5 Draft, righty Kanekoa Texeira and lefty Zach Kroenke.

Jamie Hoffmann crashes into the outfield wall after catching a fly ball hit by Ryan Church in the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Texeira, acquired from the White Sox in the Nick Swisher heist and Victorino’s cousin, was selected by Seattle in the Rule 5 after posting a 2.84 ERA (3.69 FIP) and a 7.8 K/9 in 101.1 IP for Double-A Trenton last year. Baseball America rated him the Mariners’ 26th best prospect coming into the season thanks to his high-80’s sinker, sharp high-70’s slider, and occasional low-80’s changeup, however they mentioned that he’s too homer prone (0.6 HR/9 last year) for high leverage work in the big leagues.

The Hawaiian born righty has appeared in eight games for Seattle so far, allowing five hits, three walks, one hit batsman, and one earned run in 8.2 innings, striking out five. Obviously it’s a very small sample in very meaningless games, however it’s apparently enough that the Mariners plan on holding onto him when the season starts, and have even explored other ways to keep him in the organization (i.e. a trade with the Yanks). GM Jack Zduriencik drafted Texeira out of high school when he was the Brewers’ scouting director, so he certainly has a bit of a soft spot for him. Cliff Lee’s injury will force the team to carry twelve pitchers early on, and one of those spots will go to Texeira.

Kroenke, on the other hand, isn’t enjoying the same kind of success with his new organization. The 25-year-old lefty was lights out for Triple-A Scranton last year (72.1 IP, 1.99 ERA, 3.64 FIP), and Baseball America rated him Arizona’s 30th best prospect after they Rule 5’d him on the strength of his 89-91 mph heater, average slider, and fringy changeup. He’s allowed ten hits, two walks, and six runs in 5.2 innings this spring, and got his brains beat in during one particularly horrific outing against the Dodgers two weeks ago.

The Diamondbacks currently have two other lefty relievers on their 40-man roster, Clay Zavada and Jordan Norberto. Zavada’s guaranteed a spot in the bullpen after posting a 3.92 FIP in 51 innings last year, when he starting his career with 19 consecutive earned run-less appearances. And besides, he’s got a plus-plus mustache tool. The other lefty, the 24-year-old Norberto, has thrown just 23.2 innings above A-ball and Baseball America says he has plenty to work on, namely finding a second pitch. He’s unlikely to start the year in Arizona’s pen, so there’s a definite opening for Kroenke. Even with his crummy camp, they could decide to take him anyway because of all the lefty mashers (Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe, Andre Ethier, etc.) in their division.

Kroenke is in a different spot than most other Rule 5 guys, because he was Rule 5’d last year as well. The Marlins’ gave him a whirl last spring, and when he didn’t stick he went through the process of being outrighted off the 40-man roster and returned to the Yanks. Because of that prior outright, Kroenke can elect to become a free agent if Diamondbacks decide they don’t want him at any point in2010. Any lefty reliever Kroenke’s age and with his pedigree would surely try his hand on the open market rather than return to an organization with no fewer than two, and possibly three, lefty relievers ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Yankees are unlikely to welcome back either of the players they lost in the Rule 5 Draft this year, but for entirely different reasons. Texeira’s effectiveness has all but earned him a spot in Seattle’s bullpen, while Kroenke’s unique situation means he’ll likely head elsewhere even if he doesn’t stick with the Diamondbacks. Thankfully the team has enough bullpen depth to absorb the losses, but losing a pair of serviceable arms is never ideal. Such is life in the Rule 5 game.

Report: Granderson to play CF, Gardner LF

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have decided that Curtis Granderson will start the season as the every day centerfielder, pushing the incumbent Brett Gardner to left. He notes that Granderson’s sometimes awkward routes have improved as camp has progressed, and the Yanks didn’t feel it was enough of an upgrade defensively to make the switch. The move will probably cost the Yankees something like five runs defensively over the course of the season, though we don’t have enough reliable data on Gardner’s defense to say with any certainty.

I guess the biggest thing is just making sure Granderson was comfortable. There’s no need to move him back and forth between center and left depending on who else was playing the outfield on a given day (Gardner, Randy Winn, Marcus Thames), the guy will have enough to get used to in his first season in New York as it is.

Past Trade Review: Cashman’s Top 5 Blunders

Yesterday I listed Brian Cashman’s three most lopsided trades. Those, of course, all fell in his favor. Yet he’s not immune from the bad trade. His blunders aren’t as great as his successes — it’s tough to make up the wins he gained by acquiring Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu, and Nick Swisher — but he’s still lost on a number of deals. Here are the trades that cost the Yankees the most in terms of WAR.

(Note: Since many of the deals happened before 2002, I’ll use the historical WAR database to determine the values.)

Mike Lowell

When thinking about Cashman’s worst trades, the first that came to mind was Mike Lowell. In 1999 he shipped Lowell to Florida for a package that featured Ed Yarnall, long coveted by the Yankees. Chances are Lowell wouldn’t have gotten the 339 plate appearances he did for the Marlins in 1999, because Scott Brosius would have been coming off a career year. Still, we can’t try to figure out when a player’s clock would have started. We’re still going with first six years, though his 339 plate appearances indicate that he’d have a seventh year before free agency.

From 1999 through 2005 Lowell was worth 16.4 WAR. Ed Yarnall was worth 0.3 in 1999 and -0.3 in 2000, leaving his overall WAR at zero. Mark J. Johnson was worth -0.6, and Todd Noel never made the majors. This certainly ranks as Cashman’s biggest blunder.

Loss: 17 WAR

Photo credit: Alan Diaz/AP

Damaso Marte

Not even a half season after signing him as a free agent, the Yankees traded lefty reliever Damaso Marte to the Pirates for Enrique Wilson. Apparently he hit well against Pedro Martinez, which is a perfectly acceptable reason to make a trade. Sarcasm aside, I don’t remember much of this trade, and so it likely went uncriticized in the press. Marte, at the time, had pitched just 8.2 major league innings. Upon his call-up to the Pirates he got hit around a bit in 36.1 innings and was worth 0 WAR. That would quickly change.

Over the next six years Marte was worth 7.9 WAR. Wilson actually cost the Yankees wins, as he was worth -2.2 WAR. It seems odd that such a minor trade would carry double-digit win implications, but this was the case with Wilson and Marte.

Loss: 10.1 WAR

Photo credit: Steve Nesius/AP

Ted Lilly

Thankfully, Ted Lilly was the only player of note the Yankees traded for Jeff Weaver. I remember the concern at the time that trading John-Ford Griffin could come back to bite them. He had hit very well at Staten Island during his debut in 2001, and was having a fairly decent, Austin Jackson-like surge upon his promotion to AA in 2002. He was also the No. 76 prospect in the game headed into that season. Yet it was Lilly whom the Yankees could have used in the following years.

As we well know, Ted Lilly qualified for free agency after the 2006 season. From the point the Yankees traded him in 2002 he was worth 9.7 WAR. Weaver, during his season and a half with the Yankees, was worth 1.1 WAR. That breaks down to 1.4 WAR in the second half of 2002 and -0.3 WAR in 2003. They still had him under team control for a few years, but instead packaged him in a deal for Kevin Brown. Brown was worth 2.5 wins in 2005, but -0.9 in 2004. Even if we count that, which we won’t, it doesn’t come close to balancing out Lilly’s 9.7 WAR.

Loss: 8.6 WAR

Photo credit: Ben Margot/AP

Nick Johnson, Randy Choate, Juan Rivera

After the losses of David Wells, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees clearly had to reload their rotation. One measure they took was to acquire Javy Vazquez from the Expos. He didn’t come cheap, of course. At the time he was just 28 years old and was coming off four straight seasons pitching more than 200 innings. It cost the Yankees Nick Johnson, who was blocked by Jason Giambi, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate. Considering the Yankees kept Vazquez for just one year, it certainly cost them.

During his sole pinstriped season Vazquez was worth 2.3 WAR. He added another 4.6 WAR over the next two seasons, the terms of his contract with the Yankees. They traded him for Randy Johnson, who was worth 5.8 WAR as a Yankee. That helps soften the blow, but doesn’t completely erase it (especially since we’re not counting it). Johnson currently has nine years’ of service time, so he would have been eligible for free agency after the 2006 season. From 2004 through 2006 he was worth 8.9 WAR. Juan Rivera would have been under team control through 2008, during which time he produced 1.8 WAR for the Expos and Angels. I have no idea how long Choate would have been under control, but he was 0.4 in 2004, -0.4 in 2005, and 0.0 in 2006 and 2007, so he’s a wash in any case.

Loss: 8.4 WAR

Photo credit: H. Rumph, Jr./AP

Ramon Ramirez

In 2005 the Yankees desperately needed rotation help. It seemed everyone was getting hurt. They turned to an unknown minor league lifer named Aaron Small to fill a spot, and right around the trade deadline they acquired Shawn Chacon from the Rockies in exchange for two relievers, Eduardo Sierra and Ramon Ramirez. Having been solidly in my blogging days, I researched these guys but didn’t find much. The need, at the time, for starting pitching was too great to think about two minor league relievers.

Fortunately, Chacon helped the Yankees make the playoffs that year. Unfortunately, that was about the extent of his value to the team. Meanwhile, Ramirez pitched well for the Rockies, Royals, and Red Sox following the trade. He has been worth 4.0 WAR in his four major league seasons. Chacon helped enormously with his 2.7 WAR in 2005, but negated much of that with a -1.2 number in 2006, making his total 1.5. That’s only a 3.5 WAR loss, so no big deal, right? The problem is that Ramirez is still under team control for three more years, and could continue to widen that gap.

Loss: 3.5 WAR and counting

Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP

Open Thread: The best in New York

Later tonight on MSG, a new original series with an interactive fantasy game component entitled The Lineup: New York’s All-Time Best Baseball Players will make its debut. The idea is simple and one that baseball fans can appreciate: A panel of sports analysts will debate the best players in New York history.

Tonight’s episode — the first of ten — will focus on the backstops. Which catcher is the best in the storied history of New York’s baseball past? The Yankees, Mets, Giants and Dodgers all have plenty to offer, but Yogi Berra should probably come out on top. Tonight’s panelists set to debate something we often discuss here include Gary Carter, Sparky Lyle, Will Leitch of Deadspin fame and Elias Sports Bureau’s Steve Hirdt. Fran Healy will moderate the discussion. At the end of the pisode, the top player at each position will be named to the “Lineup.” See what they did there?

In conjunction with the TV show, fans can follow along online at the show’s website and nominate their own baseball greats. As the panel names its top five at each position, online participants earn points for each correct guess, and a few lucky will win some baseball memorabilia each week. The first episode airs tonight at 10:30 p.m., and this week’s prize is a ball signed by Donnie Baseball himself.

Meanwhile, here’s your open thread. You know the drill. The Knicks are in action tonight, and the Devils are playing right now. LOST is new as well. Be good to each other.