“As unpopular as trading Melky and IPK (along with a lesser prospect) could make me, I probably would.” – the world’s biggest idiot, yours truly, in November, 2007, referring to…Miguel Cabrera.
Well, that certainly was embarrassing. A bit less embarrassing is this post about saving the Big Three. In that situation we made our pleas to not trade Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, top-five prospects in 2007 and 2008, respectively, for Johan Santana. Even in hindsight that is somewhat understandable. The hype machine ran strong for Hughes and Chamberlain, and Santana was about to become massively expensive. With CC Sabathia‘s free agency looming, why not concentrate efforts there and hold onto the young arms?
With Miguel Cabrera, there is no justification for the prospect hugging mentality. At the time Cabrera had just completed his age-24 season, his third straight with an OPS+ over 150. His defense at third base looked poor to both the eye and the stats, and the media griped about his poor attitude, but those flaws are mere nitpicks when it comes to a generational talent. Following the 2007 season the Yankees had an opening at third and a virtual opening at first. Even if they hadn’t, there is always room for a player who can hit like Miguel Cabrera.
At the time the Marlins sought a starting pitcher and a center fielder. Detroit paid the price, sending top-five prospect Cameron Maybin and 2006 first rounder (projected first overall) left-hander Andrew Miller. In addition, the Marlins sent Dontrelle Willis to Detroit. That might have seemed like a sweetener for Detroit, but Willis was getting expensive and was coming off a poor season — though I’m not sure anyone knew at the time that he was cooked at age 25. Given the state of the farm system in 2007-2008, the Yankees very well might have matched up with the Marlins.
Phil Hughes’s name comes to mind first, as a pitcher comparable to Miller. Melky Cabrera was still a promising center fielder, though the Yankees also had Austin Jackson, who was a top-50 prospect before 2008, as a younger, more cost-controlled option. With a seeming horde of mid-tier prospects, perhaps the Yanks could have sweetened the pot and trumped Detroit’s offer. You could spend days imagining how Yankees history would have unfolded in that scenario.
The Yanks never really made a run for Cabrera, or at least that’s the way it’s portrayed, because they didn’t want to part with their three young, promising pitchers: Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. In hindsight, it’s a head-smacking idea. None of the three amounted to anything special. Each pitched well for certain stretches, but in the six full seasons since they debuted none has particularly stood out.
Looking back at this case boiled my blood a bit. It seems the Yankees haven’t made many good prospects-for-veterans trades since Cashman received “full autonomy” after the 2005 season. He’s made dozens of trades in that time, of course, but very few that involved prospects in exchange for solid, everyday veterans. The track record isn’t all that impressive when he did, either.
July 30, 2006: Traded C.J. Henry (minors), Jesus Sanchez (minors), Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle.
Perhaps Cashman spoiled us with this first big trade of his autonomous reign. Everyone knew the Phillies were going to trade Abreu. Given his large contract and the Yankees’ desperate need in the outfield, the match seemed perfect. The Phillies played tough, demanding Phil Hughes in early July, but Cashman waited them out and eventually landed them for what amounts to very little.
C.J. Henry was the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2005, but just a year later it was evident — to fans, at least, and apparently to evaluators as well — that he wasn’t going to work. Getting a previous-year first-rounder helped the Phillies save face, maybe, but this was a coup for the Yankees.
July 7, 2007: Traded Jeff Kennard (minors) to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Received Jose Molina.
While this is a minor move on the face of it, the Yankees certainly needed a backup catcher upgrade; they had been playing Wil Nieves there all year. Kennard was on the 40-man and expendable, so the trade worked out as well as a trade for a backup catcher can.
The Yankees actually weren’t in that bad of shape at the time of this trade. At 58-45 they were just three games behind the first-place Rays and one game behind the Red Sox. With Jorge Posada out, they could have used some pop, and had an opening in the outfield thanks to Melky Cabrera’s horrible play. Nady had hit 13 homers and 26 doubles with the Pirates in what was looking like a career year. Tabata had proven disappointing by that point, and the three pitchers were back-end arms, at best, expendable for a first-division team.
Nady hit .268/.320/.474 in his 247 PA with the Yankees, quite a bit lower than the numbers he produced with Pittsburgh. That helped plenty, though, because Cabrera had played so poorly. The Yankees got essentially nothing out of Nady the following year, when he blew out his elbow. Tabata, while nothing special, has produced above-average numbers in three of his four MLB seasons.
November 13, 2008: Traded Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez to the Chicago White Sox. Received Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira.
It’s still difficult to look at this trade and believe it happened. It wasn’t totally prospects-for-veteran, since Betemit had been in the league since 2004. But the Yankees certainly got a steal here, in a deal that probably no GM rejects. Hell, I’m not sure Kenny Williams rejects it.
June 30, 2009: Traded Casey Erickson (minors) and Eric Fryer to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Eric Hinske and cash.
Another minor move that deserves mention, because Hinske played a role on the best team in the league.
December 8, 2009: As part of a 3-team trade, traded Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers and Ian Kennedy to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Received Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers. In addition, the Detroit Tigers sent Edwin Jackson to the Arizona Diamondbacks; and the Arizona Diamondbacks sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Detroit Tigers.
With Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui departing, the Yankees needed an outfielder and some pop at the plate. Granderson wasn’t exactly known as a power hitter at the time, but he had hit 20-plus in each of the previous three years, including 30 in 2009. He has certainly produced a few quality years with the Yankees, socking 115 HR with a 120 OPS+. It’s hard to call this trade a failure.
At the same time, Jackson has been quite good for the Tigers. He doesn’t have Granderson’s skills at the plate, though he has produced a higher OBP than Granderson since his debut. In terms of WAR Jackson actually comes out on top, 19.1 to 14.1 in bWAR and 14.6 to 13.9 in fWAR. Defensive measurement represents WAR’s most prominent flaw, so make of that what you will. This wasn’t a bad trade by any means, but it certainly wasn’t a steal of any kind.
The initial reaction to this trade was somewhat divided. Some Yankees fans hadn’t forgiven Vazquez for the second half of 2004. Others saw how he’d pitched after leaving and thought it was a good fit. At first the trade looked horrible, then it looked better, then it looked horrible again.
In the end, it was certainly horrible — not only for Vazquez’s performance, but because they could have used Vizcaino in a different trade later.
July 30, 2010: Traded a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. Received Austin Kearns. The New York Yankees sent Zach McAllister (August 20, 2010) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.
At the time this one didn’t seem too bad. Kearns had been good in the past and was seemingly amidst a resurgent season. McAllister was a middling prospect who probably didn’t have a role with the Yankees. Of course, the whole thing blew up in their faces. Kearns was generally horrible, and McAllister has started looking like a serviceable back-end starter.
July 31, 2010: Traded Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes to the Houston Astros. Received Lance Berkman.
Traded players to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. Received Kerry Wood and cash. The New York Yankees sent Andrew Shive (minors) (October 21, 2010) and Matt Cusick (minors) (October 21, 2010) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.
Needing offense, the Yankees stood to gain with the Berkman acquisition. He wasn’t atrocious, but he brought no power to the table, hitting just one homer and seven doubles in 123 PA while struggling with injuries. Losing Melancon didn’t seem like a huge deal, since he’d struggled at every opportunity. But he’s turned into a serviceable reliever (who has, fairly, struggled in both New York and Boston).
The trade for Wood made and continues to make all the sense in the world. That one couldn’t have gone better, indeed: Wood ran his luck all the way through October, while the Yanks gave up no useful players.
Kontos turned in a very good 2012 season and a poor 2013. He’s still only 29 in 2014, and might be a useful piece of a bullpen. Stewart…I’m not even going there.
This seemed to make sense, in that the Yankees needed an OF and they gave up what seemed like little. Mitchell wasn’t going to amount to anything, and they had just claimed Farquhar off waivers from the A’s earlier in the 2012 season. Yet Farquhar dazzled this year, particularly in the second half, when he took over as Mariners closer. Chances are he reverts to being crappy again next year, but again, there’s a mixed blessing here. Trading for Ichiro led to the ill-advised two-year contract. Then again, he also played a role in the Yankees staying afloat last September as the Orioles constantly threatened.
February 13, 2013: Traded Abraham Almonte to the Seattle Mariners. Received Shawn Kelley.
It’s tough to say, since Almonte only just made it to the majors. But Kelley has worked out well, and could help as the Yanks rebuild their bullpen post-Rivera.
July 26, 2013: Traded Corey Black (minors) to the Chicago Cubs. Received Alfonso Soriano and cash.
Soriano made the second half at least partly interesting, and really extended the Yanks life in the 2013 season. We all know how Cashman feels about Corey Black.
This revisiting of prospects-for-veteran trades isn’t meant as a referendum on Cashman or the organizational philosophy. It’s not meant as a rip on the farm system. Instead, it’s meant as something of an eye-opener.
If media narratives in any way reflect reality, teams are more protective of their prospects than ever. The Yankees appear to be in that boat. From back in 2007 to now, they’ve played the reluctant role when playing the prospects-for-veteran game. Yet when you look through their track record, there aren’t many clear wins when they do partake.
Is that a lesson, that they should indeed be more reluctant, given their track record? Does it mean that they need to reassess how they evaluate their internal talent? I’d say no to the former and yes to the latter. Furthermore, looking at these deals makes me think that the Yankees should take advantage of this prospect-protective market and see what they can get for what they have in the minors. Given their current team landscape, it might be the best bet they have this off-season.
Via George King: Among the players on the Yankees’ radar this offseason is free agent right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez. The Indians made him a qualifying offer earlier this week and he’ll presumably reject it before next Monday’s deadline, meaning it will cost a high draft pick to sign him. For New York, that means the 18th overall pick.
Jimenez, 29, had a 3.30 ERA and 3.43 FIP in 182.2 innings this season, but he was awful in the first half (4.56 ERA and 4.50 FIP) and great in the second half (1.82 ERA and 2.17 FIP). He’s been incredibly up and down in recent years and there’s an A.J. Burnett-esque quality to him in that you don’t really know what you’re getting from start to start. Jimenez is still relatively young and he misses bats (9.56 K/9 and 25.0 K%), but his fastball velocity has declined in each of the last four years. The Yankees need pitching and should be looking at everyone, but Ubaldo is so very unpredictable. I don’t really know what to think. · (31) ·
The Yankees need pitching and quite a bit of it this winter. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are the only pitchers on the roster guaranteed rotation spots come Opening Day and both come with question marks following 2013. New York will reportedly go all out to land Masahiro Tanaka, but he alone won’t solve their issues. They’re going to need some back-end help as well, cheaper arms to fill out the rotation and provide a safety net for David Phelps and Adam Warren.
Obviously back-end fodder is plentiful and cheap in the offseason — Chris Capuano, Jason Hammel, and Mike Pelfrey stand out from the free agent crowd at first glance — but the trick is finding guys who will actually be effective. The Yankees have been hit (Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia in 2011) and miss (Sergio Mitre, Garcia in 2012) with this stuff in recent years like almost everyone else. These pitchers are pretty unpredictable. If they weren’t, they’d be getting much larger contracts.
An outside-the-box rotation option this winter is 32-year-old right-hander Randy Messenger, who flunked a big league trial with three teams as a reliever (4.87 ERA in 184.2 innings from 2005-2009) before joining the Hanshin Tigers in Japan and dominating as a starter (2.75 ERA in 543 innings from 2011-2013). Obviously there is much more to life than ERA. From Jeff Passan:
After reinventing himself as a starter in Japan with the help of a split-fingered fastball, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Messenger has thrived. He led the Central League in innings pitched and strikeouts this season with 196 1/3 and 183, and his 2.89 ERA was fifth among starters. It was his third straight sub-3.00 ERA season, though with run-scoring up across NPB this season, it marked Messenger’s best year compared to the rest of the league.
Scouts this season saw Messenger’s fastball reach up to 96 mph, though one said he sits closer to 92-93. His splitter and slider give him a strong enough off-speed complement that the scout believes he could be a back-end major league starter.
That’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. The addition of the splitter — a commonly taught and heavily used pitch in Japan and Korea — provides a tangible reason for the improvement. If there was no new pitch, I’d be inclined to think Messenger’s success stemmed from moving to the easier league more than anything. Colby Lewis and Ryan Vogelsong are the most notable recent examples of pitchers who flamed out in the big leagues, found success in Japan, then carried it over when they returned to MLB. It’s not unprecedented.
Brian Cashman has an affinity for physically huge pitchers like CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda — “I’m addicted to those big, hard throwers,” said the GM in February 2012 — so if nothing else, Messenger’s size* figures to grab their attention. They’ve apparently been scouting Asia pretty heavily — in addition to Tanaka, they also have interest in Korean righties Suk-Min Yoon and Seung-Hwan Oh — so I’m sure they’ve seen him a few times in person as well. Given their pitching needs, they should be considering all options, including unconventional ones like Messenger.
* Between the mound, being 6-foot-6, and that over-the-top delivery (check the photo), Messenger must release the ball from like ten feet in the air. Geez.
Now here’s the problem. According to Passan, Messenger has a standing three-year offer worth up to $15M from the (Hanshin) Tigers and has set a November 15th deadline to entertain offers from MLB teams. That’s one week from tomorrow. He is reportedly seeking a two-year deal in the $8-10M range to return to the States and, according to agent Matt Sosnick, he has only received one-year offers so far. One team offered one year plus an option. It’s unclear which teams made those offers. The price is reasonable and he’s obviously willing to take a discount to pitch back home.
The Yankees won’t know exactly how much money they have to spend this winter until Alex Rodriguez‘s appeal hearing is wrapped up, but there does appear to be $5M or so available for non-Tanaka pitching help. If Messenger can’t hack it in the rotation, they could always stick him in the bullpen and let him air it out with the fastball and splitter. There’s a need for relief help as well. I am very intrigued by Messenger but I wish we knew more — I can’t even find video of the guy from his time in Japan. His aggressive signing timetable doesn’t jibe with New York’s situation, which could remove him from the pitching picture entirely.
During a recent radio interview, Curtis Granderson hinted at declining the $14.1M qualifying offer the Yankees made him on Monday. “You definitely got to continue to weigh all your options to see what’s the best fit for you … There are 29 other ballclubs out there, and we’re now at a point where every team has the chance to be a contender here in the near future,” he said. Justin Terranova has a transcript, so check it out.
Granderson, 32, should have no trouble finding a multi-year contract this winter. The question is whether he wants to take what he can get right now, or accept the offer and hope to rebuild some value with a full healthy season in friendly Yankee Stadium before going back out onto the market next winter. There’s a strong case to be made for both and it’s a win-win situation for New York. If he rejects and signs elsewhere, they get a high pick. If he accepts, they get him back on a one-year deal. That might destroy their plan to get under the $189M luxury tax, but that’s life. · (26) ·
Robinson Cano was named the AL Silver Slugger Award winner at second base on Wednesday night. It’s his fourth straight Silver Slugger and fifth overall. He also won way back in 2006. No other Yankees won Silver Sluggers, obviously. No one else on the team really hit this year. All of the winners can be seen right here. Congrats to Robbie. · (6) ·
As I mentioned the other day, MLB is testing out the new manager’s challenge-based replay system in the Arizona Fall League this week. The first test game was last night and sure enough, the new system was put to the test. See the video above. They actually reviewed another bang-bang play at first base later in the game as well. Both times the replay was very quick and easy; I was pleasantly surprised. MLB is leaning towards implementing the system for 2014 but nothing is final yet.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening, day two of free agency. Once again, not a whole lot happened. It’ll pick up soon, I promise. The Rangers are the only local team in action, so you’re on your own for entertainment if you don’t like hockey. Talk about anything and everything right here. Enjoy.
Via Susan Slusser: The Yankees are one of several teams with interest in free agent right-hander Grant Balfour. The Athletics did not make their closer a qualifying offer, so he will not cost a draft pick to sign. Bullpen-needy teams like Tigers, Rockies, Angels, and Rays are also said to be in the mix.
Balfour, 36 next month, pitched to a 2.59 ERA (3.49 FIP) in 62.2 innings while going 38-for-41 in save chances this season. He misses bats (10.34 K/9 and 27.5 K%) but walks a few too many (3.88 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%), gives up homers (1.01 HR/9 and 11.1% HR/FB), and is fly ball prone (37.9% grounders). The Yankees could use a veteran late-inning reliever to replace Mariano Rivera and I loved the idea of signing Balfour a few months ago, but I think his huge season may have pushed him out of New York’s price range. He’s a definite fit though. · (16) ·
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the team’s nominal ace for two years running.
It’s hard to believe that once upon a time, there was legitimate concern about how Hiroki Kuroda would handle a small Yankee Stadium and the AL East after opening his big league career in spacious Dodger Stadium and the generally pitcher-friendly NL West. Those are two extremely different run environments, nevermind the general concern associated with a pitcher on the wrong side of 35.
Kuroda showed last season that those concerns were unwarranted by pitching to a 3.32 ERA and 3.86 FIP in a career-high 219.2 innings. He fit in so well that the Yankees gave him a nice big raise and brought him back for 2013, and pretty much no one had a problem with it. Why would they? Kuroda’s awesome. He was getting up there in age but it was a one-year contract. The risk was small, the reward potentially high.
It’s easy to forget that the start of Kuroda’s season was only a fraction of an inch away from being disastrous. In the second inning of his first start, he reached for a Shane Victorino line drive with his barehand and took the ball right off his fingertips. Joe Girardi and the trainer came out to look at him, but Kuroda ultimately stayed in the game after a few test pitches. It was obvious he wasn’t right though, he plunked two of the next four batters and walked another on four pitches. He was removed from the game after that.
Tests showed no break thankfully, just a contusion that needed a few days to heal. Kuroda made his next start five days later and still seemed to be showing some lingering effects from the liner as he walked four in 5.1 innings against the Indians. The Yankees took advantage of an off-day to give the right-hander and his bruised finger some extra rest, and the results were immediate. In his third start of the year, Kuroda held the Orioles to five singles and zero walks while striking out five in a complete-game shutout.
That game was the beginning of a nine-start stretch in which Kuroda allowed only 13 runs (1.92 ERA and 3.28 FIP) in 61 innings, holding batters to a .204/.234/.321 batting line. He completed seven full innings of work in seven of those nine starts. Believe it or not, his worst outing of the season — five runs on eight hits in only two innings against the Orioles — is included in this nine-start stretch.
Kuroda had an effective but ultimately average month of June (3.92 ERA and 4.43 FIP in 39 innings across six starts) before putting together an utterly dominant month of July. He made five starts — one apiece against the Orioles, Twins, Red Sox, Rangers, and Dodgers, so not exactly the easiest competition — and allowed two runs total, pitching to a 0.55 ERA and 2.33 FIP in 33 innings. Kuroda went at least seven full innings in four of the five starts and the only reason he didn’t work deep into the other game was a lengthy rain delay that cut his outing short.
In 19 first half starts, Kuroda pitched to a 2.65 ERA (3.60 FIP) in 118.2 innings. Only Felix Hernandez (2.53 ERA) had been better at preventing runs among AL hurlers, and obviously he enjoys a much more pitcher-friendly atmosphere in Seattle. Kuroda did not make the All-Star team mostly because his teammates never scored runs and his win-loss record sat at a forgettable 8-6. Chris Tillman, he of the 11-3 record (3.95 ERA and 4.94 FIP) got the final pitching spot on the AL squad.
As neat as an All-Star Game berth would have been, Kuroda probably needed the rest more than anything. He was able to take a full week off between starts thanks to the break and he continued to dominate early in the second half — 1.25 ERA and 2.02 FIP in 36 innings across his first five starts. Following eight shutout innings against the Angels on August 12th, Kuroda owned a league-leading 2.33 ERA (3.20 FIP) and was a legitimate Cy Young candidate. Not an “he’s good and a Yankee so he should be a Cy Young candidate,” a real live Cy Young candidate.
Unfortunately, Kuroda hit a wall in mid-August, the same wall he hit in mid-August last year. I assume it is due to his age and his workload — he stopped throwing his regular between-starts bullpen session in an effort to stay fresh late in the season — and a million other things. Regardless, his Cy Young hopes crashed and burned with eight dreadful starts to close out the year. Here is the carnage in table form:
|4/1 to 8/12||24||6.4||2.33||3.20||1.02||3.79||0.70||.226/.265/.338|
|8/13 to 9/29||8||5.8||6.56||4.46||1.62||2.86||1.54||.316/.364/.551|
I wasn’t exaggerating, that’s really awful! Kuroda was an absolute disaster in his final eight starts. That batting line against is in the neighborhood of what Robinson Cano hit this summer (.314/.383/.516). Kuroda turned every batter he faced in his final eight starts into Cano with more power. Seriously. As soon as the Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention, they effectively shut him down for the season. They never called it that, but they did skip his final start.
The Yankees faded out of the race partly because of Kuroda’s poor finish, but then again they wouldn’t even have been in the race in the first place had he not pitched so well during the first four-and-a-half months of the season. Those disastrous last eight starts, exactly one-quarter of his season, doesn’t erase all of the good he did before then. That he pitched to a 3.31 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 201.1 innings overall despite that ugly finish is a testament to how outstanding he was for much of the summer. The guy was truly dominant and the anchor of the staff.
It will take quite a bit of research to answer definitively, but my hunch is that Kuroda was one of the best one-year pitching contracts in baseball history. Not just Yankees history (that’s a given), but all baseball history. Heck, he might be on that list twice for these last two seasons. He’s been that good. New York made Kuroda a qualifying offer before the deadline earlier this week, so if he leaves for another MLB team, they’ll receive a draft pick in return. There is reason to be concerned about him going forward given his age and how he finished, but there’s not doubt #HIROK was one of the few things to go right for the Yankees in 2013.
Gosuke Katoh | 2B
Katoh was born but not raised in Tokyo — his family moved from Japan to Southern California when he was a child. He got into baseball when his parents enrolled him in Little League to help him learn English and socialize. Katoh starred at Rancho Bernardo High School — he hit .451 with 12 doubles and eight homers as a senior — and really jumped onto the prospect map during the Area Code Games last year. He was a very good student with a strong commitment to UCLA.
Prior to the 2013 draft, Baseball America (no subs. req’d) ranked Katoh as the 39th best draft prospect in California and the 189th best draft prospect overall. The commitment to UCLA had many clubs thinking he was going to be a tough sign, but the Yankees rolled the dice and selected Katoh with their second round pick, the 66th overall selection. He signed within two weeks of the draft for a straight slot $845,700 bonus.