Scouting The Free Agent Market: Justin Masterson

(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)
(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)

At the Winter Meetings this week and really throughout the rest of the offseason, the Yankees will be on the lookout for pitching. Rotation help and general depth. Their top four returning starters — Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), Michael Pineda (shoulder), CC Sabathia (knee), and David Phelps (elbow) — all have some kind of injury concern and the club needs to protect themselves. Expect them to kick the tires on everyone still available on the market, which includes basically every free agent pitcher.

One of those free agent pitchers is right-hander Justin Masterson, who will turn 30 in March. He had a miserable 2014 season with the Indians and Cardinals — St. Louis left him off their postseason roster — and is now looked at as something of a reclamation project. At this time last year he was considered a staff anchor who could fill any of the top three spots in a rotation on a given day. That is no longer the case. The Yankees need to add some certainty to their rotation, someone they can count on for innings, and Masterson may or may not fit the bill. Let’s look.

Up And Down Performance

Usually in this section I’ll put together a table with the player’s performance over the last three or four years, but with Masterson I think it’s best to post some graphs just to really drive home how up and down his performance has been the last few years. Check it out:

Masterson has alternated some really excellent seasons with some really awful seasons since his first full season as a starter in 2010. His strikeout rates have remained pretty much in line with the league average over the years while his ground ball rates have been consistently excellent, well above the league average and close to 60% of balls in play. As bad as 2014 was, he still had a 58.2% grounder rate. That’s as good as it gets.

Because he only has an average strikeout rate and is an extreme ground ball pitcher, Masterson’s success depends heavily on his infield defense. His batting average on balls in play has been consistently above .305 through his career with the exception of the 2013 season, when it was a career-low .285. Masterson’s walk rate shot up 11.7% this past season after sitting right around 9.5% from 2010-13, so he will walk some guys. More than anything, Masterson’s biggest problem is his vulnerability against left-handed pitchers. Check it out:

RHB wOBA RHB K% RHB BB% RHB GB% LHB wOBA LHP K% LHP BB% LHP GB%
2010 .307 22.8% 7.5% 62.6% .350 13.1% 10.4% 57.8%
2011 .259 22.8% 9.6% 61.0% .327 13.3% 5.3% 51.4%
2012 .277 23.3% 8.6% 59.0% .360 13.5% 10.5% 53.6%
2013 .238 32.0% 7.1% 63.6% .316 19.4% 10.9% 55.0%
2014 .332 25.5% 11.6% 63.1% .400 14.5% 11.7% 54.5%
Average .281 25.0% 8.8% 61.6% .347 14.8% 9.6% 54.3%

Overall, Masterson’s performance has gone up and down these last few years, and wouldn’t you know it? So has his performance against lefties. When he is reasonably effective against lefties — almost all of that success is BABIP-related too, his strikeout, walk, and grounder rates have remained fairly steady against left-handers over the years — he’s a very good pitcher overall. When not, well, he’s basically an average innings eater.

We’ll get to why Masterson dominates righties but struggles against lefties in a little bit when we look at his stuff, but for now we just need to know that he’s essentially a platoon pitcher. Yankee Stadium is not a good place to struggle against lefties because of the short right field porch, though Masterson’s grounder heavy ways would mitigate that somewhat. After more than 1,000 innings in the big leagues, improving against left-handers doesn’t seem like something that will just happen. The inability to consistently retire lefties is just something you’ll have to live with.

Stuff Breakdown

Masterson is a huge guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 250 lbs. — yet he has a very low arm slot and releases the ball almost behind a righty batter, similar to Randy Johnson, just from the other side. Masterson’s delivery is all arms and legs too. Big leg kick, long arm action in the back, everything’s moving and whipping around. I can’t imagine he’s a comfortable at-bat, especially for same-side hitters. Check it out:

As you can see in the video, Masterson is a big time sinker/slider guy. He will mix in a few straight four-seamers per start but the sinker and slider have combined for approximately 70% of his pitches since becoming a full-time starter in 2010. Masterson doesn’t have a changeup at all — he threw five (five!) changeups in 2014 and has thrown only 47 changeups over the last four seasons. He’s a sinker/slider/four-seamer guy.

Between the utter lack of a changeup and the easy to see low arm slot, it’s no surprise Masterson has struggled against left-handed batters throughout his career. They can pick up the ball out of hands well and he doesn’t have a pitch to get them out. He basically has to hope they beat his sinker into the ground or come up empty against the slider. There’s nothing that moves away from lefties and keeps the ball off the barrel of the bat. At the same time, the sinker/slider/arm slot combo is hell on righties.

Both the sinker and slider have been above-average at getting both swings and misses and ground balls over the years — even in 2014 — while the four-seamer is very slightly below-average at both. From 2010-2013, the sinker/slider/four-seamer repertoire got the job done for Masterson and he was a quality MLB starter. That wasn’t the case this past season, and, probably not coincidentally, his velocity dropped off noticeably. From Brooks Baseball:

Justin Masterson velocity

Masterson’s average sinker velocity has gradually declined from 92.74 mph in 2011 to 89.68 mph in 2014, though the drops in four-seam fastball and slider velocity are much more drastic. Masterson’s four-seamer sat 94.11 mph in 2013 and 90.97 mph in 2014. The slider went from 83.67 mph to 82.05 mph from 2013-14. We’re talking about losing three miles an hour off the four-seamer and one and half miles an hour off the slider. That’s huge. So huge that I can’t help but wonder if something is physically wrong.

If you’re a team looking to sign Masterson, you almost have to hope he was either a mechanical mess this summer or was hiding some kind of minor injury. Something that explains the velocity loss because usually velocity doesn’t come back on its own unless there was a physical or mechanical problem. Masterson’s control isn’t good enough — just look at his walk rates in the graph above — to get by with reduced velocity. We saw it last year. Masterson with a low-90s sinker and mid-80s slider is a much different animal than Masterson with an upper-80s sinker and low-80s slider. The latter is far less effective.

Injury History

Masterson has been on the DL just once in his career, and it was for right knee inflammation this past July. A balky knee could explain the loss in velocity, especially since it is his push-off leg. He was out a little more than three weeks with the knee and was actually traded to the Cardinals while on the DL. Masterson had a 5.51 ERA (4.08 FIP) before the knee injury and a 7.04 ERA (5.84 FIP) after, so getting healthy didn’t help his performance.

Other than the knee, Masterson did miss three weeks with an oblique strain in September 2013, though the Indians never bothered to place him on the DL because rosters were expanded. So it’s really two DL worthy injuries in his career but only one actual DL stint. Masterson also had arthroscopic surgery to repair a slight tear in his left (non-pitching!) shoulder during the 2011-12 offseason. He was healthy in time for Spring Training and hasn’t had any problems since. Oblique strains happen. This knee issue is a much bigger concern. What caused the inflammation?

Contract Estimates

The Indians and Masterson discussed a contract extension last offseason. Jon Heyman said Masterson was reportedly looking for two or three years at $17M annually — considering his performance from 2010-13, that was a pretty damn reasonable contract demand — while the Tribe countered with a two-year pact worth $30M. The two sides broke off talks and now the consensus is Masterson is looking at a one-year contract to rebuild value.

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: One year at $9M.
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): One year at $7M.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): “If he’ll take $5 million a year and agree to work in relief, he’s good value, but if he wants starter money and a rotation job, I’m out.”

Did the Indians know Masterson’s stuff was about to decline and that’s why they didn’t meet his asking price? I don’t think we can rule it out, maybe they had some concern about his long-term outlook, but predicting a pitcher will lose three miles an hour off his fastball from one year to the next seems like something that can’t be done. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, Masterson’s looking at a one-year contract, probably in the $5M to $10M range.

Wrapping Up

The Yankees need to fill multiple rotation spots this winter after trading Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius. Going big for Max Scherzer or Jon Lester would be a huge help, but in the end those guys are still only filling one rotation spot. The club figures to scour the second and third tier of the pitching market and that’s where Masterson sits. In all likelihood he will only get a one-year contract, so he’s relatively low risk in that regard, but the velocity loss and career-long struggles against lefties make him high risk on the field. Even with the fallback of being reliever — Masterson’s pitched out of the bullpen before and been very effective — there’s a chance he’s just a bad pitcher now. It happens.

Looking at this from Masterson’s perspective, if he’s going to take a one-year contract to rebuild value, Yankee Stadium probably isn’t the best place to do it. Even as a ground ball pitcher. Most guys in his situation gravitate towards teams will bigger ballparks even though clubs nowadays are aware of park effects and can see through superficial stats like ERA. Big ballpark teams like the Twins, Marlins, Tigers, Giants, and Braves have all reportedly been in touch with Masterson so far this winter, so unless the Yankees really make it worth his while financially, the right-hander will probably head somewhere that is a little easier to pitch.

Thoughts following David Robertson’s departure

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, word came down that David Robertson had agreed to a four-year contract worth $46M with the White Sox. The Yankees preemptively replaced their closer by signing Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36M contract last week. I have thoughts.

1. It was really easy to say goodbye to Robinson Cano last offseason because Seattle’s contract offer was ridiculous. The Mariners blew everyone right out of the water. That isn’t the case with Robertson. Four years and $46M is perfectly reasonable for a pitcher of his caliber. The difference between Robertson’s contract and Miller’s contract is basically what the Yankees are paying Brendan Ryan on an annual basis. It’s an amount of money that I don’t think should ever stand between the Yankees and keeping a homegrown player who ranks among the best players at his position. Now the Miller signing goes from adding an elite reliever to the bullpen to replacing one and maintaining the status quo. Brian Cashman said Robertson “checks every box” when looking for a closer, but I guess that wasn’t enough to keep him. It’s one thing to let a homegrown star like Cano leave because a desperate team came out of nowhere with an insane offer. It’s another when you let one go because you wouldn’t compete against a reasonable contract.

2. Devil’s advocate: Robertson had his worst season since 2010 in 2014 and his FIP (chart) has been gradually trending in the wrong direction since 2011. His velocity had fallen off in the second half (chart) in each of the last three years as well, perhaps indicating he was getting worn down. A total of 86 relievers in history had at least five 60+ inning seasons before their age 30 season — Robertson’s one of them — but only 26 have eight such seasons before their age 33 season. Will Robertson be one of those guys? The Yankees very likely got the best years of Robertson’s career, replaced him with a comparable reliever making $2.5M less per season, and gained a draft pick in the process. It’s a smart move, though it doesn’t make the team any better. Like I said, it only maintains the status quo. How they use the savings and draft pick — will the compensation pick for Robertson make them more willing to give up their first rounder for a qualified free agent? — is pretty important in this equation. Whether you agree or disagree with them, there were several valid reasons to let Robertson go.

3. The Yankees are going to end up having four different primary closers in four years — Rafael Soriano in 2012, Mariano Rivera in 2013, Robertson in 2014, and whoever in 2015 — after having one from 1997-2011. I think (hope) they’ll sign a low cost veteran free agent to close, someone like Soriano or Jason Grilli who can start the ninth inning fresh and live in that confined role, so Joe Girardi can use Miller and Dellin Betances liberally in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. The alternative would be letting Miller close since he’s the high-priced free agent pickup, or letting Betances close so he can fulfill his eerie Mariano Rivera-esque career path destiny, going from failed starter prospect at 25 to dominant multi-inning setup man at 26 to replacing the team’s departed free agent closer at 27. I would prefer to see them sign Soriano or Grilli or whoever — the Yankees will probably trade for Jonathan Papelbon after replacing Cano and Robertson with Jacoby Ellsbury and Miller just to make sure they pour every last grain of salt in the wound — to close as long as they limit it to a one-year contract. No need to go multiple years with someone like this. You want to be able to easily cut bait next summer if necessary.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. As of right now the bullpen is Miller, Betances, Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, and Justin Wilson, plus one open spot that will depend on whether David Phelps is needed in the rotation. The Yankees have a slew of internal candidates for that last spot if Phelps has to start — Jacob Lindgren, Manny Banuelos, Jose DePaula, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, perhaps an upcoming Rule 5 Draft pick, etc. — but those young guys will inevitably get their shot at some point next season anyway. There’s definitely room to add another reliever there, maybe even two if the Yankees are willing to option Wilson to Triple-A or slip Rogers through waivers — he’s out of minor league options — to send him down to the minors. The bullpen is a low level priority right now but the Yankees are going to wind up playing a ton of close games next season again. It’s inevitable. Adding more depth there wouldn’t be a bad idea.

5. The compensation draft pick for losing Robertson is neat — that pick is currently 30th overall but it’ll change depending where the remaining unsigned qualified free agents land — but it is only a small consolation prize. Talent tends to come off the board very linearly in the draft these days thanks to the spending limits. The best players go at the top of the draft and everyone else falls in line behind them. The days of hoping a top draft prospect falls due to contract demands are pretty much over. Assuming the Yankees don’t go bonkers and sign a bunch of qualified free agents, having the extra pick will be fun as someone who enjoys the draft and writes far too many words about it every year. After the club forfeited all those picks last winter and using their remaining selections on seemingly nothing but college relievers, I’m looking forward to the excitement of the Yankees having two first round picks next June.

Nightengale: White Sox agree to sign David Robertson to four-year, $46M deal

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The White Sox have agreed to sign David Robertson to a four-year contract, reports Bob Nightengale. Jon Heyman says the deal is worth $46M. The Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick as compensation for losing their closer. Earlier on Monday we heard the Yankees were willing to go to four years — in exchange for a lower average annual value — to keep Robertson but Jack Curry says they never even made a formal offer.

Even with Robertson leaving, the Yankees still have a devastating late-inning combo in Dellin Betances the recently signed Andrew Miller. The club could look to sign a low cost closer, someone like Jason Grilli or Rafael Soriano, which would allow Joe Girardi to use Betances and Miller liberally in the middle innings. Heck, even Shawn Kelley could be a viable closer candidate in this scenario. Either way, the Yankees are going to have to win a lot of close games to contend in 2015 and the bullpen will be important.

Letting Robertson go at that price — and replacing him with Miller, which is a lateral move at best — is really disappointing. Four years and $46M) seems very fair for a reliever like Robertson, who has been elite for four years now and has shown he can handle pitching the late innings in New York. There are valid reasons to let him go — fair among of mileage on his arm, 2014 was his worst season since 2010, etc. — but man, it still sucks to see a homegrown Yankee like this.

Cashman confirms Yankees will try to re-sign Slade Heathcott and Jose Campos

Campos. (AP)
Campos. (AP)

The Yankees will try to re-sign both outfielder Slade Heathcott and right-hander Jose Campos to minor league contracts, Brian Cashman told Andrew Marchand last Friday. Both players missed the entire 2014 season due to injury — Heathcott did play in nine games, but c’mon — and were non-tendered last week along with left-hander David Huff.

By non-tendering Heathcott and Campos, the Yankees were able to remove them from the 40-man roster without exposing them to waivers. They would have had to clear waivers had the team outrighted or released them, and there’s a decent chance one or both would have been claimed since they’re relatively young and have potential. The non-tender was the best way to try to keep them as non-40-man roster players.

Although they are both free agents right now, changing organizations isn’t always that appealing to guys like Heathcott and Campos, as J.J. Cooper explained last week:

The now-free agent can opt to sign with someone else, but that’s often not as appealing as returning to the organization one already knows. Go to another organization and you’re often just another guy. Stick with your existing organization and you have a few coaches, a signing scout or a roving instructor who is sticking up for you in organization meetings.

We don’t know for sure that Heathcott or Campos will re-sign with the Yankees, and (ex-Reds righty Curtis) Partch could try to make another team’s bullpen. But it’s a slight advantage in a business where teams are looking for any advantage.

Heathcott, 24, has played only 309 games since being the team’s first round pick in the 2009 draft due to a series of shoulder and knee injuries. Knee procedures limited him to those nine games this summer. The 22-year-old Campos has only thrown 111.2 innings — all with Low-A Charleston — since being acquired from the Mariners as the second piece in the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade. He missed most of 2012 with an elbow fracture and all of 2014 following Tommy John surgery.

At the time of the non-tender, neither Heathcott nor Campos were among New York’s top prospects. Their prospect status has taken a big hit over the last year or two due to the continued injury problems. They’re still interesting, but not much more than that.

Monday Night Open Thread

The 2014 Winter Meetings are in now in full swing. I recommend checking out this David Waldstein article detailing the history and evolution of the meetings. Executives used to be able to sit in the lobby and talk trades. Now they have to hole up in their suites because of all the media and fans and job seekers. “You can’t even walk across the lobby anymore,” said Brian Cashman. Make sure you check out Waldstein’s article. Really good stuff.

This is your open thread for the night. The Falcons and Packers are the Monday Night Football game, plus the Rangers, Devils, and Nets are all in action. Talk about those games, rumors from the Winter Meetings, or anything else right here.

2014 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2014 Winter Meetings-002

Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings begin today in San Diego. They technically last four days but it’s really more like three and a half — everyone leaves after the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. The Yankees took care of two important pieces of offseason business on Friday by acquiring Didi Gregorius and signing Andrew Miller, but they still need more pitching and another infielder wouldn’t hurt either. They needed pitching even before trading Shane Greene to get Gregorius.

“The winter’s a long winter. So even if I felt one thing today, it doesn’t mean it’s the same thing tomorrow. I think we legitimately have to walk through and consider all avenues. Some might be more realistic than others, but there’s certain things that can impact us, and we can change our course of action that we weren’t necessarily pursuing early,” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff last week. “We as an organization are open to trying to address the obvious needs. If those efforts prove naught in some cases and I can’t get anywhere with it, then we might be open to considering other aspects, to significantly improving certain areas and wait on the other areas over time to develop.”

The next four days will be the busiest of the offseason in terms of rumors and signings and trades. The Yankees will surely be involved to some degree — even if they don’t make a move this week, expected them to be connected to a lot of players. Most of the top free agent hitters are off the board but all of the top free agent pitchers remain unsigned, so it’s a good time to need pitching like the Bombers. We’re going to keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so talk about all of them here and make sure you check back often. All timestamps are ET.

  • 8:53pm: There is “no real evidence” the Yankees are in on Jon Lester. If they do go big for a starter, they prefer Max Scherzer. That sure sounds like posturing, doesn’t it? [Jon Heyman]
  • 7:07pm: “Don’t count out the Yankees with Jon Lester,” said one front office person. Lester is supposedly down to the Cubs and Giants, barring a last minute change of heart. Developing! [Jerry Crasnick & Ken Rosenthal]
  • 4:26pm: The Yankees have talked to the Braves about Craig Kimbrel, the Marlins about Steve Cishek, and the Royals about both Wade Davis and Greg Holland. There’s no match with Kansas City though because they want rotation help in return. [George King]
  • 1:45pm: The Giants would likely be out on Chase Headley if the Yankees are willing to offer him $11M to $12M annually on a four-year deal. Man, getting Headley at four years and $44M or so would be awesome. [Jerry Crasnick]
  • 12:19pm: The Yankees are willing to go four years for Chase Headley and David Robertson. As with Andrew Miller, they’ll tack on the fourth year in exchange for a lower annual salary. There is “growing hope in the organization” that Headley will return. [Andrew Marchand & Buster Olney]
  • 11:10am: Jason Hammel, who the Yankees had some interest in earlier this offseason, is returning to the Cubs. It’s a two-year contract worth $18M with a club option. That’s one pitching option off the board. [Jon Heyman & Chris Cotillo]
  • 10:00am: The Yankees recently met with Chase Headley‘s representatives to reiterate their interest in re-signing him. Headley has “suggested to some” that returning to New York is his top choice. A week or two ago we heard the Yankees wouldn’t offer him more than three years and that Headley has a four-year, $64M offer in hand. [Jon Heyman]
  • The Yankees do not have interest in Padres right-handers Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross. They aren’t convinced the trio is really available. Cashner and Kennedy will be free agents next offseason while Ross is under team control through 2017. [Andy Martino]
  • Before they acquired Gregorius, the Yankees called the Cubs and asked about Starlin Castro. Chicago said he wasn’t available. The Yankees made several trade offers for shortstops earlier this winter. [Jon Heyman]

A trip through the December 2007 archive at MLBTR

The 2007-08 offseason was all Johan, all the time. (Getty)
The 2007-08 offseason was all Johan, all the time. (Getty)

RAB has now been up and running for eight MLB seasons, and during that time we’ve seen countless rumors involving the Yankees and free agents or trades, and a very small percentage of them have actually come to fruition. I’d guess less than 5% of rumors turned into an actual transaction during those eight years.

So, with the Winter Meetings in full swing, I figured I would take a look back to RAB’s very first offseason to relive all the silly hot stove rumors we obsessed over day after day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s silly to obsess over rumors, this stuff is fun and that’s what it’s all about. I just want to look back at these rumors and mostly remember how I reacted at the time. Every time we hear the Yankees are connected to a player, we react and instantly decide one way or another whether it would be a good idea. That’s human nature.

Thanks to the magic of the MLB Trade Rumors archive, I went back and scrolled through every rumor involving the Yankees in December 2007, seven years ago. That was the winter of Johan Santana, so there were a lot of them. The highlights are below. Enjoy.

Important: Just to be perfectly clear, in no way am I making fun of Tim and everyone at MLBTR. I wrote there for three and a half years and they’re all awesome. I just want to look back at how silly some of these rumors sound now and MLBTR is an indispensable resource.

DECEMBER 1st:

UPDATE, 12-01-07 at 1pm: Olney now says the Yanks don’t have any serious interest in Loretta, and haven’t spoken to him in over a month.

Yeah I don’t even remember the Yankees being connected to Mark Loretta, who, by the way, was 35 at the time and had just put up an 88 OPS+ with the Astros. He re-signed with Houston and had a 96 OPS+ in 2008. The Yankees had a young Robinson Cano at second but Loretta was a utility player by then, playing all over the infield. That 88 OPS+ came with a .352 OBP and more walks (44) than strikeouts (41). Of course, 2008 was when men were men and a .352 OBP wasn’t the stuff of legend like it is today. I’m pretty sure I would have been okay with bringing Loretta aboard in a part-time role.

DECEMBER 1st:

UPDATE, 12-1-07 at 5pm: Ken Rosenthal says the Twins are asking for shortstop Alberto Gonzalez or starter Alan Horne as the third player from the Yankees.  Doesn’t sound like Hughes + Kennedy is any kind of possibility.  The Yankees cracked and put Hughes in…unless the Red Sox crack and put Ellsbury in it seems like Santana will end up in the Bronx.

UPDATE, 12-1-07 at 3:30pm: La Velle E. Neal III has a Santana update for us.  He says the Yanks are offering Hughes, Cabrera, and Ian Kennedy right now.  If that’s for real, I think the Twins should accept.  However, Neal’s assertion runs contrary to Jon Heyman’s take – he says the third player will not be Kennedy, Alan Horne, or Jose Tabata.

I’m not going to look back at all the Johan rumors because that would be insane. But Alan Horne! Alberto Gonzalez! They were kinda big deals back then. Horne had a 3.11 ERA with 165 strikeouts in 153.1 innings for High-A Tampa during the 2007 season and was one of the team’s four of five best prospects. His injury troubles began the next year and he threw only 107 more innings in his career. Gonzalez was a slick fielding shortstop who to this day continues to get paid American dollars to field slickly, mostly in Triple-A.

DECEMBER 3rd:

Billy Beane is happy to field offers on Dan Haren and Joe Blanton, but he’ll require a king’s ransom for either pitcher.  Jayson Stark says Beane asked the Yankees for two of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy for Haren.

Haren was 26 at the time and had a career 113 ERA+. He was traded to the Diamondbacks later that offseason and got better. Blanton was also 26 and had a career 106 ERA+. He wasn’t very good after that. Trading two of Hughes, Joba, and Kennedy for either guy would have been considered blasphemous at the time. It would have been worth it for Haren. Blanton … not so much.

DECEMBER 3rd:

The Yankees are receiving a lot of interest in The Farnz, according to Brian Cashman.

Apparently other teams actually wanted Kyle Farnsworth. December 2007 was weird.

DECEMBER 4th:

Chien-Ming Wang‘s agent, Alan Nero, wanted to talk to the Yankees about a long-term deal for him.  The discussion ended when the Yankees requested that Nero make the first move.

Wang was a monster from 2006-07, pitching to a 123 ERA+ and 11.0 bWAR in 417.2 innings. He was about to enter his arbitration years — the two sides actually went to an arbitration hearing that winter and the Yankees won, so Wang earned $4M in 2008 instead of $4.6M — and it seemed like the perfect time to sign him to a long-term extension. Four, five, six years. Something that like. Wang then hurt his foot in June 2008 and was never the same. Sucks. The Yankees dodged a bullet there.

DECEMBER 4th:

UPDATE, 12-4-07 at 4:10pm: Joel Sherman confirms the Cubs’ interest, so that’s officially 11 teams in on Bedard.  Sherman says the Yankees and Mets are unlikely to snag the southpaw ace, and names the Dodgers as the frontrunner.  Peter Angelos is letting Andy MacPhail run the show but doesn’t want Bedard traded within the division.  Sorry Yankees and Blue Jays.

Erik Bedard was 28 years old and coming off a year in which he had a 146 ERA+ with 221 strikeouts in 182 innings. I’m guessing that if he hit the trade market these days, I’d be pretty gung-ho about the Yankees doing whatever they could to acquire him. Angelos would have never ever ever traded him to New York though.

DECEMBER 5th:

UPDATE, 12-5-07 at 9:45am: Joel Sherman says the Yankees don’t like the price for Mahay and are considering alternatives such as Damaso Marte or John Grabow.

The search for a reliable left-handed reliever in the post-Mike Stanton era was entering year six at this point. The Yankees did acquire Marte at the 2008 trade deadline, so it seems the seeds for that deal were planted in the previous offseason. Mahay got a two-year, $8M deal from the Royals. He was 37 at the time but somehow had a 115 ERA+ and 1.7 bWAR as a lefty specialist during the life of the contract. How about that?

DECEMBER 5th:

UPDATE, 12-5-07 at 8:30am: The Yankees could’ve had Santana for Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Marquez, and Mitch HilligossBrian Cashman, however, never wanted to sacrifice Hughes for Santana and convinced his bosses that the Yankees couldn’t afford him now that Andy Pettitte is in the fold.

My goodness, talk about a poo poo platter of prospects. Marquez did eventually reach MLB — the Yankees traded him as part of the package for Nick Swisher a few years later — but was a complete non-factor. He’s been out of baseball since 2012. Hilligoss set a Low-A South Atlantic League record with a 38-game hitting streak during the 2007 season. He hit .310/.352/.415 that year, .241/.287/.298 the next, and has been out of baseball since 2011. Prospects will break your heart.

DECEMBER 6th:

Joel Sherman noted today that the Twins and Yankees briefly discussed expanding the Johan Santana talks to include Joe Nathan.

This was back when we all thought the only possible way the Yankees would find a reliable eighth inning guy to set up Mariano Rivera would be by acquiring some other team’s All-Star closer. I wanted them to sign Andrew Miller B.J. Ryan so badly back in the day.

DECEMBER 6th:

Just a small blurb from Elliott – the Giants and Yanks have discussed Hideki Matsui.  Elliott notes that Matsui has a full no-trade clause.  He makes $13MM in each of the 2008 and ’09 seasons.  On November 8th, Ken Davidoff noted that the Yanks would prefer to move Matsui over Johnny Damon.

UPDATE, 12-6-07 at 1:38pm: Abraham has more than a no comment now – he confirms that the Yankees and Giants have discussed Matsui.  Abraham speculates that Noah Lowry could make sense.

Wait, what? What!? I don’t remember this Matsui to the Giants business at all. Godzilla’s knees were just starting to turn to mush around that time too. Seems weird an NL team had interest in him. Then again, San Francisco was running Barry Bonds out there year after year and he was barely mobile after 2003 or so.

Lowry had a 114 ERA+ in 156 innings in 2007 (87 walks and 87 strikeouts!) and literally never pitched again. He developed compartment syndrome in his forearm in Spring Training 2008 and it ended his career. That really sucks. Imagine if the Yankees had traded Matsui for Lowry in December 2007. Good gravy.

DECEMBER 8th:

31 year-old Japanese reliever Kazuo Fukumori is drawing plenty of interest – 10 teams have inquired, if you believe his agent.  A new interested party has been revealed – the Yankees.  They met with Alan Nero on Wednesday.  Fukumori wants a two-year deal.

Fukumori signed with the Rangers for two years and $3M. He threw four total innings for them and allowed nine runs on eleven hits and four walks in four innings. Pretty good reminder that most non-elite players who come over from Japan ain’t worth the trouble.

DECEMBER 10th:

Bob Matthews of the Times-Union Democrat and Chronicle (yes we’re really digging for rumors) notes today that the Phillies have “mild interest” in Mussina.  The 39 year-old Pennsylvania native may not want to leave New York, but it might not be a bad career move.

There was never any serious talk of moving Mussina even though he had a career worst 88 ERA+ in 2007. I’m guessing his stellar rebound in 2008 would have been lazily attributed to moving to the NL had he been dealt to the Phillies. I miss Moose.

DECEMBER 11th:

Carl Pavano, the American Idle, is deciding whether to take a minor league contract with the Yanks.   Peter Abraham says the Yankees are offering this to make sure they can collect on insurance.

Pavano was about to enter the fourth and final season of his four-year contract after throwing 11.1 total innings from 2006-07, though he was going to be out until midseason 2008 following Tommy John surgery. The Yankees wanted to get him off the 40-man roster but have him accept the outright assignment to Triple-A so they could continue to collect insurance. He said no, because being on the 40-man has perks. Benefits, pension contributions, licensing money, etc. I don’t blame him.

DECEMBER 11st:

Missed this tidbit – the Yankees have interest in Corey Patterson.  They’d almost have to trade an outfielder for that to make sense.  George King says they also have minimal interest in Kris Benson.

Patterson was still only 27. Think of the upside! He was once the best prospect in baseball! It’s amazing how we’ll hold onto any little sliver of hope when it comes to former top prospects. Benson didn’t pitch at all from 2007-08 due to injury. He was a reclamation project.

DECEMBER 13th:

The Yankees made A-Rod’s ten-year deal official.

Welp. The trade for A-Rod was phenomenal. He had a 153 OPS+ and 29.8 bWAR from 2004-07 before opting out. That ten-year contract is going to go down as the worst contract in sports history.

DECEMBER 15th:

UPDATE, 12-15-07 at 8:48am: Ed Price adds that the Yankees and Mets have both shown preliminary interest in Prior.  Apparently he is throwing on flat ground and could be ready by May.

I repeat: it’s amazing how we’ll hold onto any little sliver of hope when it comes to former top prospects. Prior had last pitched in MLB in August 2006 and his shoulder was complete cooked. He tore his capsule three (3) times — once in Spring Training 2007, once in Spring Training 2008, and again in April 2009. The Padres beat out the Yankees and Mets and signed Prior, a San Diego native, later that month. He still hasn’t pitched in MLB since August 2006.

DECEMBER 19th:

A source of Stark picks the Yankees as the favorite for Johan, but it should be noted that they’re having internal debates about pulling Phil Hughes off the table.

Things were pretty quiet for about a week after the Winter Meetings aside from more non-stop Santana updates. Man, remember how relentless the Johan stuff was? It was an all day, every day thing. I’m so happy the Yankees have become so tight-lipped during the offseason. Most of their moves are surprises that come out of nowhere. It’s exhausting following this stuff everyday and hey, surprises are fun.

DECEMBER 26th:

Murray Chass reports this morning that the Twins have scaled back their demands for Johan Santana, at least with the Yankees.  He says they are now willing to substitute Jeff Marquez for Ian Kennedy.  So the Yankees would have to give up Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, and Marquez (and one more player, I’m guessing).

On December 5th we heard the Hughes/Melky/Marquez/Hilligoss package would get it done. On December 26th we heard the Twins were willing to swap out Kennedy for Marquez. Okie dokie.

If I’m remembering correctly, the team’s final offer for Santana was that Hughes/Melky/Marquez/Hilligoss package. Remember there was only one year left on Santana’s deal at the time. He wasn’t traded to the Mets until February 2nd, so there was still more than a month of non-stop Johan watch to come at this point.

DECEMBER 29th:

Interesting note – Neal says Kei Igawa‘s name has surfaced in regards to the Yankees talks.  It wouldn’t materially change the deal though.

This is another Santana update. The Yankees could have let Igawa go on waivers in August 2007 — the Padres claimed him off trade waivers, so New York could have dumped Igawa and his entire contract on San Diego — but ownership didn’t want to cut bait less than a year into his five-year contract. Apparently the Twins had some interest in him during Santana talks. The Yankees also worked out two deals to send him back to Japan, but Igawa declined both moves. Four chances to get rid of him and none worked.

DECEMBER 29th:

El Vocero, one of the bigger newspapers in Puerto Rico, is reporting that the Yankees signed Juan Gonzalez to a two-year, $2MM deal.

Juan Gone was 37 at the time. He had last played in MLB in 2005, and that was only one at-bat with the Indians. He played in 33 games in 2004 and had a 109 OPS+ in 185 total games from 2002-04. What the hell were the Yankees thinking? They took this “prefer old players” thing way too far.

UPDATE, 12-29-07 at 12:43pm: I’m told the article is the equivalent of an April Fool’s joke.

Oh. Silly Puerto Ricans.