Via Nick Cafardo: Right-hander Derek Lowe is willing to pitch out of the bullpen after spending the winter looking for a starting job. “I would love to be a starter, of course, but I understand the reality of having to work out of the bullpen,” he said, while also indicating a willingness to sign for relative peanuts. “I’ve made my money.”
Lowe, 39, pitched to a 3.04 ERA (3.77 FIP) with a 54.5% ground ball rate in 23.2 relief innings for New York after being plucked off the scrap heap in August. I’ve written several times this offseason that I’d like to see the Yankees bring him back on a low-risk (i.e. minor league) deal to serve as the swingman. That would send the loser of the Ivan Nova-David Phelps fifth starter battle to the Triple-A rotation, where they would wait for the inevitable injury. Lowe is no savior, but he would be a nice little piece of pitching depth. · (38) ·
Via Joel Sherman & George King: The Yankees continue to seek a veteran pitcher to stash in the Triple-A rotation, so they’ll scout Chien-Ming Wang with Team Taiwan during the World Baseball Classic. The former Yankees right-hander impressed Spring Training pitching instructor Billy Connors with a recent workout and is said to be seeking a Major League contract.
Wang, 33 next month, has not been an effective pitcher since hurting his foot running the bases during interleague play back in 2008. He got clobbered with the Yankees in 2009 and missed the entire 2010 season following surgery to repair his shoulder capsule. Wang pitched to a 6.68 ERA (5.85 FIP) with a 52.9% ground ball rate in 32.1 innings for the Nationals last year, and PitchFX clocked his trademark sinker in the low-90s. There’s no way I’d give him a guaranteed contract, but he would be a fine Triple-A depth guy. I’d prefer someone with a little more certainty, but that guy really doesn’t exist. · (29) ·
Got four questions with some pretty long answers today, so this is a hefty mailbag relative to most weeks. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or another.
Several people asked: What about Drew Stubbs?
When the Indians agreed to sign Michael Bourn earlier this week, the first thing pretty much everyone seemed to think was that either Michael Brantley or Stubbs were trade bait. Manager Terry Francona shot that down by saying they plan to play Brantley, Bourn, and Stubbs in the outfield with Nick Swisher at first base and Mark Reynolds at DH, but a trade should never be ruled out. Jon Heyman says the team is getting calls about its spare outfielders.
I wrote about the 28-year-old Stubbs early in the offseason, before the Reds traded him to the Tribe as part of the Shin-Soo Choo-Trevor Bauer deal. He was awful overall last season — 64 wRC+ with a 30.5% strikeout rate — but he continued to hit left-handers (111 wRC+) while providing plenty of value on the bases (30+ steals in three straight years) and in the outfield. Rather than rehash everything here, I suggest clicking the link and reading the previous post for the gory details. The short version is that I wouldn’t use him against righties at all but would everywhere else.
Cleveland signed Stubbs to a one-year, $2.825M contract last month, and he remains under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2015. I’d be all over him for the right-handed bench bat role if I was the Yankees, mostly because he’s affordable and will produce just as much against lefties as Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz while contributing far more outside the batter’s box. He’d give them a right-handed platoon bat and a late-inning pinch-runner. I don’t know what the Indians would seek in return, but if they’d take a depth arm like Adam Warren or a miscellaneous prospect like Corban Joseph, I’d be all over it.
Via Jon Heyman: There is a “significant difference” in valuation during talks about a new contract between Robinson Cano and the Yankees. The club views their second baseman as a top 10-15 player while Scott Boras is thinking higher than that. “There are few elite players,” said the agent. “That just is a very short list – less than five … Robinson is happy being a Yankee, and both sides recognize that this is one of the elite players in the game.”
Hal Steinbrenner recently confirmed the two sides had a “conversation or two” about a new deal, and Heyman says they have indeed started talks about an extension. A new agreement is not remotely close and there’s at least a chance Cano will become a free agent after the season. So yeah, this report isn’t terribly surprising. Boras always shoots for the moon with his top clients. I’ve written quite a bit about a new contract for Robbie lately, so make sure you check out this post from earlier in the week as well as today’s poll. · (173) ·
It was raining in parts of Florida today, so a bunch of teams had to limit or flat-out cancel today’s workouts. The Yankees managed to get some work in though, but there’s not much to update…
- Chad Jennings, as usual, has the day’s bullpen assignments. CC Sabathia thought he was going to throw today, but they pushed it back to Saturday. Joe Girardi confirmed it was confusion-related and not elbow-related. David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Ivan Nova were the only big leaguers to throw.
- David Phelps has been working out for weeks and is way ahead of schedule — good way to get a jump start on that fifth starter’s competition, no? — so he faced hitters in live batting practice. Adam Warren, Cody Eppley, and Brett Marshall also faced hitters. [Bryan Hoch]
Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Rangers and Islanders are playing (each other!), and that’s pretty much it for local sports. Talk about that game or anything else here. Enjoy.
Via Bryan Hoch & Erik Boland: Michael Pineda has dropped 20 lbs. during his rehab from shoulder surgery and so far everything feels strong. “I won’t make this mistake anymore,” said the right-hander about showing up to camp overweight. “I’m feeling very excited, I’m feeling good. My shoulder is stronger right now.”
More importantly, the 24-year-old Pineda has started throwing off a full mound — he had his first session earlier this week and is scheduled for another tomorrow — and will begin facing hitters under controlled conditions next month. Controlled conditions means behind a L-screen, live batting practice, simulated game, that kind of stuff. Or at least I think that’s what it means, anyway. Brian Cashman said he is “cautiously optimistic” but still doesn’t anticipate getting Pineda back before June. Still .. progress! · (44) ·
Once upon a time, I thought Jose Reyes would tell us something about what it could take to sign Robinson Cano long-term. Both guys were great middle infielders playing for New York teams in their late-20s, so when Reyes hit the open market I figured it would give us a benchmark for Cano. Reyes, as you know, signed a six-year contract worth $106M with the Marlins last year. I was dead wrong. That won’t be nearly enough to keep Cano.
For starters, Robbie is just a flat-out better player than Reyes. Don’t get me wrong, Reyes is no slouch, but Cano has been more productive in the years leading up to his free agency. More importantly, he’s been far more durable. Reyes has a history of hamstring trouble — not exactly ideal for a speed player — including two DL stints in his walk year. Robbie could easily visit the DL this summer, but it would be a surprise given his supreme durability over the last six seasons.
As it stands right now, Cano is going to smash the current second base contract records. His new deal with blow past Chase Utley’s record for total guarantee ($85M) and Ian Kinsler’s record for average annual value ($15M). I mean, those won’t even be close to what Cano will get. He poised to receive a nine-figure deal with Scott Boras running the show, and nine-figure deals tend to have an average value north of $20M annually.
I wrote about Cano’s impending free agency earlier this week, but I want to get an idea of what fans are willing to pay him. For the sake of argument, let’s assume his 2013 production is on par with his 2010-2012 production. Let’s also assume that last year’s struggles against southpaws were a fluke and he gets back to mashing lefties like he had every other year of his career. I picked out four recently signed free agent contracts to serve as reference points.
Seven years, $142 M ($20.3M AAV)
This is the Carl Crawford contract, something that has gone horribly wrong so far. Crawford was only 29 at the time of the signing though, and he’d hit .300+ with 40+ steals in five of the previous six seasons. The lone exception was 2008, when he missed a bunch of time with a wrist problem. He was also an elite defensive player. Crawford was held back by his position, as left field is hardly a premium spot.
Eight years, $160M ($20M AAV)
This one isn’t all that recent, it’s the Manny Ramirez contract. Matt Kemp signed for the exact same amount last winter, but that was an extension. He almost certainly would have gotten more as a free agent. Either way, I wanted something here longer than Crawford’s contract but on par with the annual payout. Manny it is.
Eight years, $180M ($22.5M AAV)
I’m guessing this looks familiar, it’s Mark Teixeira‘s contract. Tex signed his deal at 28 but turned 29 before Opening Day, and like Cano he had been extremely durable and productive leading up to free agency. It’s easy to forget how much of a monster he was back in the day, but Teixeira was a lock for a .290/.370/.550-ish batting line with 30+ homers and 150+ games played every year before joining New York. He’s also an elite defender, but like Crawford an elite defender at a non-premium position.
Nine years, $214M ($23.8 AAV)
Boras managed to land this contract for Prince Fielder last winter, from a team that already had a pretty awesome first baseman no less. Fielder was only 27 at the time of the deal, so three years younger than Robbie will be next winter. He was both insanely productive and durable in the years leading up to free agency, I’m talking 155+ games a year every year. Prince doesn’t get enough credit for playing every day. His offense is needed to offset his defense, which is below-average at a corner spot.
* * *
The only two ten-year contracts given to free agents in recent years were the Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols deals. Cano is great, but he’s not in a class with those two. At least not compared to who they were when they signed those contracts. I feel comfortable saying Fielder’s contract is the likely cap for Robbie next winter, though I suppose the new cash-flush market and free-spending Dodgers could change that.
After a slight elbow-related speed bump, Felix Hernandez and the Mariners finalized their landmark seven-year, $175M contract extension earlier this week. It is the largest pitching contract in history, both in terms of total value — surpassing CC Sabathia‘s $161M commitment — and average annual value. Felix is young, durable, elite, and certainly worthy of the largest pitching contract the world has ever seen, but don’t expect that record to last very long.
At some point in the next nine months or so, the Cardinals will likely sign Adam Wainwright to a long-term contract extension to make sure he doesn’t become a free agent after the season. Wainwright is excellent but don’t count on him surpassing Felix’s contract — he’s several years older with a major arm injury (Tommy John surgery) in the not-too-distant past. Then, at some point in the next 21 months or so, the Tigers and Dodgers will — I’m comfortable leaving out the “likely” here — sign Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw, respectively, to mammoth contract extensions. Those two, particularly Kershaw, have a very real chance of getting a larger deal than Hernandez.
The number of ace-caliber pitchers hitting the open market continues to dwindle — the last legitimate, inarguable ace to be a true free agent was Cliff Lee three winters ago — as teams become more progressive and sign their players to extensions early in their careers. That wasn’t always possible because of market sizes, but fat new television contracts — both local and national — and revenue sharing and all sorts of other stuff are giving clubs a means to keep their stars. Baseball has intentionally leveled the playing field, at least somewhat.
That’s a problem for the Yankees. Their advantage has always been the ability to outspend literally every other team, but that ability is dwindling in two directions — other teams have more money to spend and the Yankees are scaling back payroll. Not only are fewer ace-caliber pitchers hitting the market in general, but the competition to sign them is much greater. The days of a signing like Mike Mussina, who New York landed with little competition during the 2000-2001 offseason, are a thing of the past.
The Yankees are not oblivious to this, which is why they made the Michael Pineda trade last winter. Pineda, who turned 23 a week after the trade, was far from an established ace, but he had an above-average big league season under his belt and the tools — specifically a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, both of which missed bats — to be an ace down the line. Signing an ace is becoming harder to do and the Yankees have had no success growing their own ace, so they traded for someone else’s developing ace. That trade, obviously, has been an unmitigated disaster thus far. That doesn’t mean the idea was wrong (I preferred keeping Jesus Montero, for what it’s worth).
If there is an ace coming in New York’s farm system, a) I don’t see him, and b) he’s not coming anytime soon. With Verlander, Wainwright, and Kershaw bound to get locked up in the near future, the only two ace-caliber pitchers scheduled to hit free agency in the next two offseasons are Tim Lincecum and Josh Johnson, both of whom carry significant question marks (poor performance and injury, respectively) right now and will be free agents next winter. David Price will be a free agent following the 2015 season, but of course he
could will get traded before then and his new team might lock him up long-term before he hits the market.
The Yankees have done a pretty swell job of filling out their rotation with veteran stopgaps on one-year contracts, and that looks like something they’ll have to continue doing for the next few years. It will be harder to do with payroll coming down, but Pineda or Ivan Nova or David Phelps or even Brett Marshall could step forward to seize one rotation spot and make life a little easier. Baseball is flush with cash these days and fewer top pitchers are becoming available, which is a big problem for New York going forward. They either have to start developing their own above-average pitchers or develop enough prospects to trade for pitching and hope they work out better than Pineda has.
The Yankees have placed Alex Rodriguez on the 60-day DL to clear room on the 40-man roster for the recently-acquired Shawn Kelley, the team announced. It’s just a procedural move, A-Rod isn’t expected to return form his left hip surgery until after the All-Star break. · (40) ·