A trip through the MLBTR archives: February 2008

(Chris Trotman/Getty)
(Chris Trotman/Getty)

It’s a new month, and that means it’s time to take our monthly trip back through the MLB Trade Rumors archive. As a reminder, I’m not trying to make fun of Tim or anyone else at MLBTR. Those guys are awesome and do a great job. I just like to look back at everything we talked about years ago to see how silly it looks in hindsight. What good are rumors if you’re only going to read them once, right? This is the gift that keeps on giving.

Last month we covered January 2008, so now it’s time to jump ahead to February 2008. February isn’t the best month for rumors — the Johan Santana race was mercifully over at this point as well — but there was still plenty of interesting stuff going on seven years ago. I was surprised, honestly. By the way, this is a monthly feature now, at least until everyone gets bored of it, and I’m going to try to post it during the first week of each month. (I’m closer this month than I was last month!) Anyway, away we go.

February 7th:

Two teams are showing significant interest.  Rosenthal believes the Reds are one, and the Twins or Rays could be another.  He rules out the Dodgers, Yankees, Rockies, and Indians.  The Reds have had preliminary discussions for Blanton already.  How about the Phillies?  They came calling in July.

This was back when Joe Blanton was good and a desirable trade target. He had just turned 27, and he’d put up a 3.95 ERA (108 ERA+) with a 3.50 FIP in 230 innings in 2007. Blanton had a career 4.10 ERA (106 ERA+) and a 4.00 FIP at the time and there was reason to believe he was just about entire his peak, especially since his FIP had gone from 4.43 to 4.16 to 3.50 from 2006-08.

The Athletics didn’t trade Blanton that offseason though. He opened the year in Oakland, had a 4.96 ERA (83 ERA+) with a 4.23 FIP in 127 innings before being sent to the Phillies for a three-prospect package headlined by ex-Yankee Josh Outman. Yeah, that one didn’t work out too well for A’s. Blanton, meanwhile, had 4.79 ERA (85 ERA+) with a 4.39 FIP through the end of his career after the trade, so no, he wasn’t about to enter his peak. He’d already had his peak.

February 8th:

Yankees GM Brian Cashman expects an arbitration hearing for Chien-Ming Wang.  It would be the team’s first hearing in eight years, even though the two sides are just $600K apart.

The Yankees and Wang did ultimately go to an arbitration hearing and I remember thinking it was pretty dumb on the team’s part to potentially create bad blood with their ace. Arbitration hearings are not pleasant. The Yankees beat Wang in arbitration and paid him $4M in 2008 rather than the $4.6M he was seeking. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. Wang hurt his foot that June and his days as an effective MLB pitcher were over. The Yankees haven’t been to an arbitration hearing since.

February 16th:

Carl Pavano doesn’t seem too popular in the Yankees’ clubhouse.

Pavano was still around back then — he was entering the final year of his contract — and he was working his way back from Tommy John surgery. This isn’t really a rumor but the linked story is pretty funny. Check it out:

To say Pavano is a pariah is an understatement. He asked one of the clubhouse kids for a small box today to store some things he had in his locker. The kid went over to a garbage pail, fished out an orange Nike shoebox, dumped a half-eated sandwich out of it and handed it to Pavano.

That more or less sums up Pavano’s tenure in pinstripes.

February 20th:

Peter Abraham thinks the Yanks should trade Hideki Matsui.

Not a rumor, just speculation. Matsui was pretty awesome in 2007, hitting .285/.367/.488 (123 OPS+) with 25 homers in 143 games, but his knees were starting to give out on him and the plan was to use him as the regular DH in 2008 with Johnny Damon in left, Melky Cabrera in center, and Bobby Abreu in right.

I remember thinking the Yankees should look into trading Matsui as well. Damon and Abreu were insanely durable players who never got hurt and Matsui at DH meant Jason Giambi would have to play first base. If they could get something decent for him with two years and $26M left on his contract, why not? The Yankees didn’t trade Matsui though, thankfully, and he hit .294/.370/.424 (108 OPS+) with nine homers in 93 games in 2008 while missing a bunch of time with knee problems.

It sounds completely insane now — trade Matsui, really?!? — but back then it wasn’t crazy at all. Trading a guy in his mid-30s who was in the middle of breaking down physically wasn’t a ridiculous idea.

February 20th:

SI.com’s Jon Heyman says Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon considered retiring a year ago in the spring.  He would’ve been walking away from $39MM.  He was coming off a fine season, too.

For some reason the link now redirects to Bleacher Report (?), so I can’t see if Heyman explained why Damon was considering retirement. Damon hit .285/.359/.482 (115 OPS+) with a career-high 24 homers in 2006, his first in New York, so there’s no performance reason why he would consider calling it quits. Then he hit .270/.351/.396 (96 OPS+) with 12 homers in 2007 and was banged up all year. Maybe Damon was hurting more than he let on and didn’t want to play through pain anymore? Either way, he didn’t retire. He still hasn’t, really. He’s been looking for a team to give him a chance since last year.

February 28th:

Freddy Garcia‘s agent talks about the Mets, Yankees, and Red Sox for his client.  Garcia is targeting a June or July return.

This was right when Garcia was going through all the arm injuries that robbed him of his hellacious mid-90s sinker and turned him into a junkballer. He threw only 58 innings for the Phillies in 2007 and was terrible (78 ERA+ and 5.85 FIP) before having surgery to repair his labrum and rotator cuff, and he remained unsigned until the Tigers took a flier in August 2008. So his agent was out there trying to get Freddy signed but no one bit.

Garcia made three okay starts for Detroit (eight runs in 15 innings), signed with the White Sox after the season, then had a 4.34 ERA (109 ERA+) with Chicago in nine starts while again battling injury. From 2007-09, Sweaty Freddy had a 5.02 ERA (92 ERA+) and 4.55 FIP in 129 total innings. He looked done after the shoulder injury. Garcia has stayed relatively healthy since 2009 though and he did ultimately end up with the Yankees from 2011-12. Here are his ERA+ marks by year from 2010-13:

119 <– Yankees!

Freddy was alright.

February 29th:

Rosenthal notes that the Yankees, in search of a right-handed outfielder, considered Shannon Stewart and Mike Cameron this winter.

The Yankees had been connected to Cameron on and off for years, so that’s not surprising, but Shannon Stewart! Remember when he got traded to the Twins at the deadline in 2003, had that absurd second half (.322/.384/.470 for a 124 OPS+), and finish fourth in the AL MVP voting? What the hell was that about?

Anyway, Stewart had just hit .290/.345/.394 (100 OPS+) with 12 homers in 146 games for the Athletics in 2007 after putting up a weak .279/.329/.383 (87 OPS+) line with Minnesota from 2005-06. The Blue Jays signed him, he hit .240/.325/.303 (71 OPS+) in 52 games and got released in August. Hasn’t played since.

The Yankees, meanwhile, tried Shelley Duncan (43 OPS+), Morgan Ensberg (34 OPS+), and Richie Sexson (101 OPS+) as right-handed platoon bats before picking up Xavier Nady at the trade deadline. Platoon bats, huh? They always sounds like such a great idea until they actually get on the field.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

After last month’s massive fire in that destroyed his New Jersey home, John Sterling is hosting a benefit later this month to help everyone else in his apartment complex who lost their homes, according to Peter Schwartz. “There are displaced families that need a little bit of help. It really is frightening to be on the street and all you have is the clothes on your back. You don’t realize that you’ve lost everything,” said Sterling. The benefit will be held on February 26th at D&D’s Bar and Restaurant in Manhattan and will be a meet and great with sportscasters, ex-Yankees, and New York Giants players. All the information is in Schwartz’s article, so check it out. It’s for a good cause.

This is your open thread for the evening. The Nets, Rangers, and Islanders are all playing and there’s some college basketball going on as well. Use this thread to talk about whatever you like tonight.

(Yes, I found a video if 18-year-old Hideki Matsui hitting a homer. You’re welcome.)

A-Rod apologized to Yankees’ brass during meeting at Yankee Stadium today

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
I’m going to get a lot of mileage out of his photo. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Last week we heard Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees were planning to meet at some point to clear the air following his 162-game suspension and legal weirdness last year. That meeting happened today, both the Yankees and A-Rod have announced. Here’s their joint statement:

“Today we held a meeting at Yankee Stadium between Hal Steinbrenner, Randy Levine, Brian Cashman, Jean Afterman, Alex Rodriguez and Jim Sharp. Alex initiated the meeting and apologized to the organization for his actions over the past several years.

“There was an honest and frank discussion on all of the issues. As far as the Yankees are concerned, the next step is to play baseball in spring training.”

Sharp is A-Rod’s lawyer, according to release. Alex has now met the team’s brass as well as new commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air. I’m glad this is out of the way, but something tells me there will plenty more A-Rod related distractions in the coming weeks. They’re inevitable.

Eppler confirms Esmil Rogers is coming to Spring Training as a starter

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

This isn’t surprising: assistant GM Billy Eppler has confirmed right-hander Esmil Rogers will report to Spring Training stretched out and prepared to work as a starting pitcher. “I don’t know, I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see. I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you,” said Eppler to Chad Jennings.

Rogers, 29, worked as a starter in winter ball this offseason, allowing six runs in 11.2 innings (4.63 ERA) while striking out 18 and walking four. He has a 5.50 ERA (4.72 FIP) in 225.2 career innings as a starter at the MLB level, though most of that damage came when he was stuck pitching for the Rockies in Coors Field from 2019-12 (6.24 ERA and 4.87 FIP in 114 innings). Still, his track record as a big league starter isn’t very good.

Rogers did make one fine spot start for the Yankees last season (one run in five innings) and there’s really no reason not to bring him to camp as a starter. New York has a lot of injury risk in their rotation and it’s better to have Rogers stretched out and ready to go just in case. He can always slide back into the bullpen if need be. At best, I think Esmil is the team’s seventh starter behind the regular five and Adam Warren.

Eppler also reiterated Warren is coming to camp as a starter as well. David Phelps was scheduled to come to camp as a starter before he was traded to the Marlins in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi swap. Minor league righty Bryan Mitchell is another rotation candidate and the Yankees recently signed veteran righties Scott Baker and Kyle Davies to add some extra rotation depth.

Injury Updates: Tanaka, Sabathia, Nova, Bailey, Heathcott, Barbato, Hensley

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Here are some injury updates with pitchers and catchers only ten days away from reporting to Tampa for the start of Spring Training 2015. The updates come courtesy of Brad Lefton, Dan Martin, Chad Jennings, and the Associated Press.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) adjusted his usual offseason program and has not been throwing with as much intensity as he had in the past. “Right from the beginning of camp last year, all the pitchers were throwing in the bullpen, but they were just easing into it, so there’s really no reason for me to push myself to throw full throttle before I even get there this time,” he said.
  • CC Sabathia (knee) is working out and throwing regularly at Yankee Stadium. “I don’t think we have anything to worry about how his arm works or how his knee works. Not anymore,” said Brian Cashman. Sabathia is expected to be a healthy player come the start of Spring Training.
  • Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) has been throwing on flat ground and recently said his elbow feels great. He should start throwing off a mound very soon if he hasn’t already. Nova is currently on track to rejoin the team in June after having surgery late last April.
  • Andrew Bailey (shoulder) is expected to be a healthy and active pitcher in Spring Training. He missed all of last season following shoulder capsule surgery. “He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler.
  • Slade Heathcott (knee) is also expected to be fully healthy for Spring Training. He had knee surgery last offseason and another one in June. “His progressions are moving forward really positively. The last checkup we had, he’s able to do full baseball activities, it’s just (a question of) how regular and how long of a duration,” said Eppler.
  • Johnny Barbato (elbow) is healthy and will start the season on time after missing the second half of 2014 with an elbow strain. “He was cleared and good to go,” said Eppler while noting Barbato healed up in time to pitch in Instructional League for the Padres last fall. The Yankees acquired Barbato in the Shawn Kelley trade.
  • And finally, Ty Hensley (face) has already resumed throwing bullpen sessions after he was viciously attacked during the holidays, according to his Twitter feed. Hensley’s jaw had to be wired shut due to the attack so he’ll likely lose some weight. He might have to rebuild some strength before the Yankees turn him loose this summer.

It’s that time of year: Sign up for Yahoo fantasy baseball

You’re going to play fantasy baseball this year, right? I thought so. With pitchers and catchers just 10 days away, plenty of people are getting out in front of the ball and setting up leagues right now. Because why not? If nothing else it’ll give you a little extra time to find an extra team so you’re not stuck with an odd number.

If you want to start a new league, sign up with this link.

If you want to join an existing league, sign up with this link.

If you want to just join and find a league, sign up with this link.

While I won’t be partaking this year — having a kid takes up all my free time — feel free to coordinate in the comments and set up your own leagues. It’s not quite the RAB fantasy league relegation system we dreamed up a few years ago, but it’s a way to compete with some of your favorite, or least favorite, fellow commenters.

If you do set up a RAB league, email me, joe at riveraveblues dot com and let me know. If we get enough of them maybe we’ll hold some kind of competition.

Scouting the Trade Market: Last Minute Rotation Targets

The Return of Big Bart? (Alex Goodlett/Getty)
The Return of Big Bart? (Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Now that James Shields has landed in San Diego, the top free agent starters are all off the board and the only guys left unsigned are hangers-on. Roberto Hernandez, Chris Young, Kevin Correia, guys like that. The Yankees passed on Shields, Max Scherzer, and Jon Lester because they didn’t want to hand out another big contract but they could still use another starter. Every team except the Nationals could, really.

Pitchers and catchers will start reporting to Spring Training next week, though there are still a handful of pitchers on the trade block who could be moved between now and then. Cole Hamels is the obvious one, but he’s a complicated case. I’m taking about back-end starters, guys who eat innings and wouldn’t cost much more than salary relief to acquire. The Yankees have shown no real interest in those types of guys but they could jump into the mix. Here are a few back-end arms who are definitely available right now.

RHP Bartolo Colon, Mets

2014 4.09 3.57 17.9% 3.6% 39.3% 8.8% .331 .299
2012-14 3.40 3.52 16.0% 3.6% 41.9% 7.9% .292 .309

When the Yankees plucked Colon out of winter ball back in 2011, who would have guessed he’d still be kicking around in 2015? Not me, that’s for sure. The Mets have an enviable collection of young starters and have been shopping their high-priced arms hard all winter, and the 41-year-old Colon is the highest priced of them all — he’s scheduled to earn $11M this coming season.

Colon has pitched well since returning to the big leagues four seasons ago but his fastball velocity has been slipping in recent years, and that’s pretty scary for a guy who throws about 85% four-seamers and sinkers. Here’s his velocity graph since resurfacing with the Yankees a few years ago, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

Bartolo Colon velocity

His fastball velocity has been steadily declining and that is not at all surprising for a guy Colon’s age. It’s remarkable really that he is still throwing as hard as he is given the nearly 3,000 career innings he’s logged and the arm injuries he’s dealt with.

As the velocity has slipped, Bart has become increasingly fly ball and line drive prone according to the imperfect batted ball data we have. Opponents are squaring him up more often, basically, so it’s not necessarily a fluke his BABIP has climbed from .286 to .294 to .307 the last three seasons. And remember, he was pitching in two pitcher friendly parks (O.co Coliseum and Citi Field) the last three years.

At his age, you have to expect Colon to continue declining in 2015. At best, maybe he’ll be able to maintain last year’s performance. The guy is going to turn 42 in May and he’s an extremely fastball reliant pitcher who is having a harder time cracking 90 mph with each passing start. I think the Mets would give him away at this point as long as they shed themselves of his $11M salary, but he still feels more like a “all hell broke loose” last resort for the Yankees.

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

RHP Dillon Gee, Mets

2014 4.00 4.52 16.5% 7.5% 44.1% 11.5% .315 .321
2012-14 3.85 4.09 17.8% 6.4% 44.9% 11.1% .294 .341

Like I said, the Mets have been trying to unload a high-priced starter all offseason, and it’s sort of sad Gee’s $5.3M salary is considered high-priced for a New York team. (Gee will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well, so he’s not necessarily a one-year rental.) The 28-year-old has been a popular target this offseason as the Rockies, Padres, Giants, Nationals, Rays, Royals, and Twins had interest in him at various points.

There was a stretch from May 2013 through July 2014 where Gee was damn near ace-like, pitching to a 2.67 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 209 innings across 31 starts. Then he finished last year with a 5.10 ERA (4.83 FIP) in his final 13 starts and 77.2 innings. Gee’s had a bunch of shoulder problems over the years (labrum tear in 2009, blood clot in 2012, strain in 2014) and he’s not a big stuff guy, sitting in the upper-80s with his two and four-seam fastballs while also throwing low-80s sliders and changeups. He’s the quintessential “won’t kill you” mid-to-back-end starter, someone who will flash enough brilliance to make you think he can be something more.

Unlike Colon, the Yankees would actually have to give up something of value for Gee, who is young, affordable, and a bonafide Major League starting pitcher. Two and a half years of Bud Norris was traded for a low level pitching prospect and an MLB ready utility man a few years ago, which might be a point of reference for a Gee trade. One year of Ross Detwiler cost two low level prospects, guys on the back half of their team’s top 30 prospects list. Gee shouldn’t cost much more than that.

Jackson. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Jackson. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

RHP Edwin Jackson, Cubs

2014 6.33 4.45 19.4% 10.0% 39.4% 11.9% .358 .404
2012-14 5.00 4.00 19.4% 8.2% 46.6% 11.2% .323 .357

Somewhere out there, someone is still waiting for Jackson’s ERA to catch up to his FIP. He’s only 31, it’ll happen any day now! Except that when a guy has had a considerably higher ERA (4.57) than FIP (4.17) in his last 1,500 innings (1,473 to be exact), it’s time to say that’s just who he is. That’s Jackson. Ricky Nolasco is the same way. Some guys are sabermetric teases.

Jackson has been flat out terrible for the Cubs these last two years, pitching to 5.58 ERA (4.09 FIP!) in 316 innings since signing a four-year, $52M contract during the 2012-13 offseason. A total of 865 different pitchers have appeared in at least one MLB game since the start of last season and Jackson ranks 865th with -3.6 bWAR. Dead last. He’s been that bad. The only good thing you can say about him at this point is that he still throws hard, averaging 94 mph with his four-seamer last year. The stuff is still there and that’s something.

The Cubs have their top three starters (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel) and they have a small army of pitchers set to compete for the last two rotation spots: Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner, Kyle Hendricks, Felix Doubront, Travis Wood, and Jackson. They been shopping Jackson for weeks with no luck, and I don’t think that’s surprising. He’s so pricey and unproductive that there’s no way a team could justify giving up something of value for him. If the Cubbies are willing to eat a huge chunk of that $26M, great, otherwise there is very little reason to kick the tires on Jackson.

Niese. (Andy Marlin/Getty)
Niese. (Andy Marlin/Getty)

LHP Jon Niese, Mets

2014 3.40 3.67 17.6% 5.7% 47.7% 9.8% .329 .289
2012-14 3.49 3.69 18.1% 6.5% 49.0% 10.4% .317 .292

Another Met because hey, these guys are available. The Yankees and Mets haven’t gotten together for a real trade (sorry, Gonzalez Germen) since the Mike Stanton/Felix Heredia swap in December 2004, but I don’t think either Brian Cashman or Sandy Alderson would let the crosstown thing get in the way of a deal that improves their club. Neither seems to care all that much about fan or media scrutiny, and if they think they can best help their team by trading with each other, it’ll happen.

Anyway, Niese is 28 and he’s the best pitcher between himself, Colon, and Gee. He’s been very good for three years running now and has averaged 170.1 innings in his five full MLB seasons. Plus his contract is rock solid: Niese is owed $7M in 2015 and $9M in 2016 before team options for 2017 ($10M) and 2018 ($11M) come into play. (Both options include a $500,000 buyout.) So he’s pretty young, pretty good, and signed affordably. Lots to like here. But, of course, there’s a catch.

The single biggest concern with Niese is health. Despite averaging those 170.1 innings the last five years, the southpaw has had on and off arm problems, including both elbow and shoulder issues. He missed time with shoulder inflammation in 2013, a shoulder strain later in 2013, shoulder soreness in 2014, a hyper-extended elbow in 2014, and then more shoulder inflammation later in 2014. The Mets’ willingness to trade Niese seems to be as much about clearing a spot for a young pitcher as it is moving him before his arm completely blows out.

The good news is that most of Niese’s arm issues were very minor and sidelined him for no longer than two weeks (the shoulder strain cost him two months), though that’s just putting lipstick on a pig. His health is a big concern going forward and why trading for him is quite risky even though he’s the most effective non-Hamels pitcher realistically available right now. I think the Detwiler and Norris trades I mentioned for Gee work as references for Niese, though the prospects would likely have to be of a higher quality.

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

LHP Travis Wood, Cubs

2014 5.03 4.38 18.7% 9.7% 34.4% 8.8% .371 .276
2012-14 4.08 4.33 18.2% 8.7% 33.9% 9.2% .331 .274

Nothing but Mets and Cubs pitchers in this post. What can you do? They’re the teams with spare starters to trade right now. Wood will make $5.686M this coming season and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well, though, given his recent performance, he might be a non-tender candidate next winter. That’s why the Cubbies could look to trade him now and get something in return.

Wood had an excellent season in 2013, pitching to a 3.11 ERA (3.89 FIP) in exactly 200 innings, but he had a 4.50 ERA (4.53 FIP) in the 262 innings before that and a 5.03 ERA (4.38 FIP) in the 173.2 innings since. Looking at his career since breaking into MLB full-time back in 2011, the 2013 season is the outlier, not 2014. Wood is a small stuff lefty, sitting in the mid-to-upper-80s with his fastball and throwing his cutter once out of every three pitches. His ground ball rate is tiny but he does have one of the highest infield pop-up rates in baseball since 2011, so it’s not like he’s giving up a ton of scary fly balls.

As I mentioned before, the Cubs have a ton of back of the rotation options, but Wood is affordable and has averaged 176.2 innings the last three years, so he’s someone they could easily justify keeping. He just turned 28 last week and his soft stuff limits his upside, especially since he has such a big platoon split, though there’s just enough here to keep him interesting. Wood might only be a younger version of Chris Capuano and that’s not someone you give up a ton to get, yet his recent All-Star season and age might mean it’ll take a real live prospect or two to pry him loose.

* * *

There’s a reason all five of these guys make some kind of sense for the Yankees. Colon and Jackson could provide innings and would come almost free. Niese is a pretty damn good pitcher when healthy. Gee and Wood are low upside but affordable innings guys who wouldn’t require an arm and a leg to acquire. Based on the way the Cubs and Mets have operated this winter, all five guys are available right now, in the days leading up to camp, and this might is be best time to acquire one of them, before pitchers around the league start getting hurt in Spring Training and the demand rises.