Got two good reads for you this morning. Josh Norris interviewed minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson and special advisor Gene Michael earlier this week about a number of topics, including pitching mechanics, the important of genetics, evaluating players, and all sorts of neat stuff. Patterson rejoined the organization during the offseason in effort to get a top pitching prospect to actually reach his ceiling while Michael has been with the team for what feels like an eternity, including two stints as GM. Both interviews are relatively short and well worth the read, so check ‘em out. · (13) ·
The Yankees beat the Twins this afternoon, but Ivan Nova didn’t pitch all that well (five runs in 5.1 innings). After David Phelps got knocked around last night, I guess it was only fair for Nova to return the favor and keep the fifth starter’s competition close. Eduardo Nunez, Corban Joseph, and Thomas Neal all had two hits while Ronnie Mustelier had three. Robinson Cano and Chris Stewart both doubled as well. Here’s the box score and here’s the rest from Tampa…
- Derek Jeter took batting practice on the field this morning and his surgically repaired/cortisone shot ankle came through just fine. “It’s a day-to-day thing. Today was here. We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” said the Cap’n. He doesn’t know what the next step is, but Brian Cashman indicated he could play in a minor league game as soon as tomorrow. [Meredith Marakovits, Chad Jennings & Andy McCullough]
- Hiroki Kuroda threw 88 pitches in seven shutout innings in a minor league game this afternoon, the team announced. Phil Hughes threw 57 pitches in three innings of three-run ball in a separate minor league game, in case you missed it.
- Brennan Boesch was scratched from this afternoon’s lineup with what is officially being called a “stiff left ribcage.” He missed about two weeks with the Tigers earlier in camp because of a right oblique problem, which may or may not mean something. Cashman said Boesch was removed from the lineup as a precaution and won’t play until Sunday at the earliest. [Evan Drellich, McCullough & Bryan Hoch]
- Alex Rodriguez is still doing physical therapy following left hip surgery and hasn’t resumed baseball activities. That’s not much of a surprise. “I think he is doing a lot of work in the pool,’’ said Joe Girardi while Cashman added: “I am not sure when his actual rehab to field activity will take place … Once he does baseball activity we will get him (to Tampa).’’ [George King]
- The Yankees will be in Lakeland tomorrow to play the Tigers. Andy Pettitte will get that start, and he’ll be joined by projected big leaguers Stewart, Travis Hafner, Jayson Nix, Nunez, Brett Gardner, Juan Rivera, and Ichiro Suzuki on the road trip. That game will not be broadcast anywhere, unfortunately.
Here is your open thread for the evenings. The Knicks and Islanders are both playing, plus MLB Network is airing some Spring Training games. Talk about all of that stuff and more. Enjoy.
Via Andy McCullough: Brian Cashman isn’t looking to trade right-hander David Phelps even though teams are apparently calling about him. “I’m not looking to move him, I’m only looking to move the bad stuff,” said the GM. I laughed.
Phelps, 26, got knocked around pretty hard last night, but he remains one of the team’s most important assets going forward given the plan to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. I’m not necessarily opposed to trading Phelps (or Ivan Nova), but it would have to be as part of a package for an impact bat. It would have to be for a significant upgrade. · (11) ·
This isn’t much of a surprise, but Brian Cashman confirmed this afternoon that Clay Rapada (shoulder bursitis) will indeed start the year on the DL. The left-hander threw 15 fastballs from a mound this morning, but is still a ways off from returning to game action.
Meanwhile, Joe Girardi indicated Phil Hughes (bulging disk) is likely to start the season on the DL as well. That is not yet set in stone, however. Hughes threw 57 pitches in a minor league game today, but it’s unclear if he’ll be stretched out enough to join the rotation when the season begins. Like I said, not much of a surprise. · (30) ·
Our season preview series continues this week with the starting rotation, though the format will change just slightly. Since there’s no clear starter/backup/depth lineage when it comes to starting pitchers, we’ll instead look at each type of pitcher — ace, number two, back-end, etc. — at different levels.
Fifth starters are usually among the most discussed members of pitching staff because they tend to stink and we’re always talking about replacing them. A lot of Backup Quarterback Syndrome goes around as well — the guy in Triple-A can’t possible be any worse, right? Well, yeah. He can. Given how much the Yankees will rely on their pitching staff to keep them in the race this summer, they’ll need their fifth starter(s) to pitch like someone far better than typical back-end cannon fodder.
For the first time in a while, the Yankees have two legitimate fifth starter candidates. I’m not talking about guys who we think could be fifth starters, I mean guys who have actually pitched in the big leagues and have some kind of track record. Pretty much every team has some mid-20s college draftee in Triple-A who fans think could step right into the rotation and the Yankees are no different. Big league experience is a separator for New York this summer.
The more senior of the two fifth starter candidates is 26-year-old Ivan Nova, who followed up his strong rookie season (3.70 ERA and 4.01 FIP in 165.1 innings) with a nightmare sophomore campaign (5.02 ERA and 4.60 FIP in 170.1 innings) last summer. He led baseball in extra-base hits allowed (87) and was second among qualified starters in opponent’s ISO (.223) and OPS+ (130). Despite very promising improvements in the strikeout (8.08 K/9 and 20.5 K%) and walk (2.96 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) rate departments, Nova’s performance suffered because every one of his mistakes were punished. His lack of deception led to pretty much every hittable pitch being hit and hit hard.
In an effort to correct that problem, Nova and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have worked on a new, shorter arm action this spring. Mariano Rivera has also been in Nova’s ear and making sure he knows he has work hard to remain in the show. The right-hander has pitched well in camp — five runs with nine strikeouts and two walks in 14 innings across four starts — but we all know that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. It is certainly better than getting pounded of course, especially since Ivan’s rough spring last year (8.06 ERA in 22.1 innings) was a sign of things to come.
The less experience of the two fifth starter candidates is 26-year-old David Phelps, who put up a solid 3.34 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 99.2 innings as a swingman last summer. He pitched to a 2.76 ERA in 22 relief appearances and a 3.77 ERA in 11 starts, but it’s worth noting he always seemed to be on a pitch count as a starter because he’d just been yanked out of the bullpen. Phelps posted strong strikeout (8.67 K/9 and 23.2 K%) and walk (3.43 BB/9 and 9.2 BB%) rates, but was a little fly ball (42.9% grounders) and homer (1.26 HR/9 and 13.6% HR/FB). Given the constant back-and-forth between the bullpen and rotation and the fact that he was a rookie pitcher in a small park in the AL East, there’s no doubt Phelps impressed last year.
The right-hander showed up to camp early and has been ahead of his fellow pitchers — and opposing hitters — pretty much all spring. Prior to last night’s shellacking he’d allowed five runs with a dozen strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings this spring, a performance that was basically right in line with Nova’s. If the Yankees are truly deciding their fifth starter based on Grapefruit League performance, there’s no clear-cut favorite right now. Of course, the Yankees have a history of fake Spring Training competitions and there’s a good chance all of this fifth starter stuff is a farce.
Based on nothing in particular, I believe the job is Nova’s to lose. The Yankees know he can handle starting every five days physically and have already seen what he can do when he’s commanding the ball. They should figure out whey Nova was unable to carry his success from the second half of 2011 over into 2012, and that’s probably not something he could do in the bullpen. Phelps was never in the rotation for more than one continuous months last year, so who knows what he’ll do over the a full season starting every five days. The Yankees need certainty from their rotation this year and Phelps is more of a question mark.
That said, both of these guys are going to get an opportunity — probably many, really — to start this year. Phil Hughes‘ back is already acting up and there’s a chance he’ll start the season on the DL. CC Sabathia is coming off offseason elbow surgery and Andy Pettitte hasn’t thrown more than 130 innings in four years. Almost no team ever makes it through the season with just five starters, so the smart money is on both Nova and Phelps making a whole bunch of starts this year. If Nova wins the job in camp but doesn’t pitch well during the regular season, I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate much to replace him. This fifth starter competition might be a year-long thing.
Knocking on the Door
The Yankees have a few back-end types slated for the Triple-A Scranton rotation, specifically righties Brett Marshall and Adam Warren and lefty Vidal Nuno. Marshall and Warren were discussed in earlier season preview posts, but the 25-year-old Nuno has opened eyes in camp by allowing one run in 17.1 total innings. The Yankees plucked him out an independent league two years ago and the left-hander told Chad Jennings the team’s minor league coaching staff with helping him develop a cutter and changeup, which he now considers his two best pitchers. Nuno is a soft-tosser without much margin for error, which can be a scary thing in a small ballpark, but he’s made a name for himself this spring and that’s pretty much the best thing he could have done. He never had any chance to make the team.
The Top Prospect
We’ve talked about most of them these past few days — Marshall, Warren, Nuno, Matt Tracy, Nik Turley, etc. — so there’s not much to add here. Most fifth starters tend to be prospects who fell short of a higher ceiling, so there is not such thing as a true “top” fifth starter prospects. It’s almost like being a DH. It’s a fallback spot more than anything. The Yankees have some nice rotation inventory in the upper level of the minors but few (none?) of those project to be real impact starters in the show. I guess that makes they fifth starter prospects by default.
The Deep Sleeper
I’m going to take this opportunity to highlight 20-year-old left-hander Chaz Hebert, who signed for $148k as the team’s 27th round pick in 2011. He didn’t crack my preseason top 30 prospects list, but he took step forward in his development last summer and posted a 2.52 ERA (2.44 FIP) with 30 strikeouts and just four walks in 25 innings for the rookie level Gulf Coast league affiliate. He’s a low-90s fastball guy with a hilariously slow A.J. Griffin-esque mid-60s curveball, something he’ll have to firm up to succeed at the higher levels. Hebert is more sleeper than legit prospect, but command of the fastball and a novelty breaking ball can get you pretty far in life.
* * *
The Yankees are fortunate to have two legitimate fifth starter candidates at the big league level and plenty of back-of-the-rotation depth in the Triple-A. You’d rather have projected aces obviously, but New York is in a much *much) better place pitching-wise now that it was six or seven years ago. They haven’t had to scramble for a Shawn Chacon or Aaron Small type for a few seasons now and that doesn’t figure to change now. Phelps and Nova give the team some options and competition is generally a good thing — those two will hopefully push each other all season long.
Nine questions this week, so I went rapid fire with short-ish answers. Next week will be the final mailbag before Opening Day, so get those last-minute hot stove/Spring Training questions in before then.
Joseph asks: I know this is fast-forwarding a whole season and much can change between now and November, but what are the chances the NYY attempt to pry away Elvis Andrus from TEX after the season? They obviously have Jurickson Profar/Mike Olt for the left-side of the IF for the next 4-5 years. What package you think would get that done?
Andrus, 24, will be one year from free agency after the season, plus he’s a Scott Boras client and will definitely go out on the open market after 2014. You’re trading for one year of him and one year only.
That said, he’s so young and so good (particularly defensively) at a premium position that the cost for even one year of him will be high. I don’t think Texas would have much of a problem getting two top prospects for him, maybe even another one or two lesser pieces as well. Shortstop help is very hard to find. I’d wait until he becomes a free agent and just try to sign him, but that might require something like ten years and $180M at his age.
I would not. I thought Wallace would be a dominant offensive player back during his draft days, but he’s got some holes in his swing and can be pitched to rather easily. I remember reading something once upon a time suggesting his big frame and very thick lower half contribute to his inability to adjust his swing. I think the Yankees could stick Joseph in the lineup and get similar, if not better production than they would get from Wallace. He could also fake non-first base spots as well.
Travis asks: Do you think that teams that are having rotation trouble are kicking themselves for not taking a chance on Vidal Nuno during the Rule 5 draft?
Eh, maybe one or two. The Nuno hype machine is a little out of control though. Sergio Mitre dominated Spring Training a few years ago, but it didn’t mean anything. Nuno has been impressive so far and I’m sure there’s a team or two who could use him in the rotation, but be careful not to overrate performance this time of year.
Peter asks: The Joba Chamberlain+ for Mike Olt rumors have swirled over the past week but what about Joba+ for Mitch Moreland?
Moreland, 27, has hit .264/.328/.441 (100 wRC+) with 40 homers in 295 big league games over the last three years. He’s a left-handed hitting first baseman (who can fake a corner outfield spot) with a big platoon split, so he’d need a righty hitting complement. Moreland would help the Yankees right now obviously, but I wouldn’t give up much more than Joba for him. Maybe just a secondary prospect from 20+ range of my preseason top 30. Lefty hitting first basemen with platoon issues aren’t the most difficult players to find.
J.R. asks: With some of the stories emerging about Alfredo Aceves, do you think “character” and “makeup” issues directly lead to his release from the Yankees?
Yes, absolutely. Non-tendering him after 2010 was still a questionable move — even with the injuries, did he really have zero trade value? — but it’s becoming more and more obvious why they did it. I’m in the camp that thinks the Yankees are overrating character and makeup these days, but Aceves is on a different level. He’s borderline Carlos Zambrano crazy.
John asks: I am one of the biggest Andy Pettitte fans you will find so this a very selfish question. Do you think his body can handle 175 innings a year at 40? If things go ok this year, would he consider closing for Mariano Rivera next year to extend his career as we know he has the mindset mastered?
I do worry about Pettitte holding up physically all season, as I wrote in the series preview post earlier this week. If he has trouble holding up this year, I think he would sooner retire than come back as a reliever. Pettitte doesn’t strike me as someone who would hang around when he isn’t effective. If he does hold up and throw those 175+ innings, bring him back as a starter. No doubt about it.
Mads asks: Not Yankees related, but would a trade between the Cardinals and Rangers with Profar and Oscar Taveras make sense? Cardinals get shortstop help and Rangers get an impact outfield bat, plus they extend Andrus.
It does make sense, but I think both teams would say no to this trade. Part of the reason is that teams love their own prospects more than everyone else’s, but it’s not quite surplus for surplus either. As I said before, Andrus is a Boras client and working out an extension might be damn near impossible at this point. The Cardinals have no other legitimate outfield prospects to replace Carlos Beltran after the season, plus Matt Holliday isn’t getting any younger. It sounds good on paper, but I think both teams would be wary.
Mark asks: Do you think Mark Teixeira‘s recent injury coming on the heels of Alex Rodriguez‘s hurts Robinson Cano‘s chances of getting the 8-10 year offer both Boras and he were hoping to get from the team and increase the odds that he leaves the team after this year?
You’d think yes, right? But it probably won’t. There will be plenty of competition for Cano’s services next winter — Dodgers, Tigers, Angels, maybe even the Rangers, Nationals, and Phillies could pursue him — that his price will still be astronomical. I’m not convinced he’ll get ten years anyway, but eight definitely seems doable. We have to remember that many GMs don’t care about the back-end of huge contracts because the job turnover rate suggests it won’t be their problem.
Ryan asks: Explain to me how the Tigers can cut free of Brennan Boesch‘s contract, owing very little on his untradeable contract. Yet, the Yankees can’t consider just releasing Alex Rodriguez because they would still owe him the $100+ million left on his contract. Is it the wording on the contract? Is it that they would still owe him too much, even if they didn’t owe him all of it, to really consider doing that? Seems weird that other teams can release their players and save at least a little cash and move on, but the Yankees are stuck with the albatross contracts to the bitter end. Is it just a perception? Also, not saying the Yankees should do this with A-Rod necessarily. It’s more of a curiosity as to why they don’t, can’t, or won’t. Thanks!
They can’t. One-year contracts for players with less than six years of service time (like Boesch) are not guaranteed. They can be released in Spring Training and owed less than the full amount — 30 days termination pay is released by March 13th, 45 days after that — which is what the Tigers did with Boesch. The Yankees pulled this same trick with Chad Gaudin a few years ago, releasing him in camp and paying him just a fraction of his original deal. A-Rod’s contract is fully guaranteed, as is nearly every free agent contract.
The Yankees lost to the Twins tonight, and David Phelps got hit pretty hard (five runs in 3.2 innings). Mariano Rivera struck out the side in his scoreless inning while David Robertson — pitching for the second time in as many days — struck out just two in his scoreless inning. Slacker. David Aardsma fired a scoreless inning while Boone Logan surrendered one run in his one inning. Offensively, the Yankees were held to just one hit, a Robinson Cano single. Brett Gardner, Kevin Youkilis, and Travis Hafner all drew walks to round out the offense. Here’s the box score and here’s the rest from Tampa…
- Derek Jeter said his ankle is doing better following yesterday’s cortisone shot, and he hopes to resume baseball activities tomorrow. I’m guessing the team will give him one extra day of rest. He remains optimistic about Opening Day and says he’d be disappointed if he has to start the season on the DL. [Wally Matthews & Andy McCullough]
- For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman said Jeter will only play in minor league games for the rest of Spring Training. If he appears in any Grapefruit League game, they’d lose the ability to backdate a potential DL stint when the season opens. [Jack Curry]
- Phil Hughes will throw three innings in a minor league game tomorrow as he works his way back from a bulging disk. Still seems unlikely that Phil will be ready in time for the start of the season, but progress is good. [Chad Jennings & Meredith Marakovits]
- No surprise here, but Joe Girardi all but confirmed his top three starters to open the season will be CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte, in that order. Just in case you were beating the “Vidal Nuno for number two starter” or something. [Bryan Hoch]
- VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman said Mark Montgomery is not in the mix for the Double-A Trenton bullpen, meaning he will start the year with Triple-A Scranton. Lefty Shaeffer Hall might get pushed into the bullpen because of the numbers crunch. [Josh Norris]
- Dellin Betances was sitting 92-94 in a minor league game this afternoon. Mechanics were still a mess though, which is just par for the course for him. Newman told Norris they’ve working on shortening Betances’ stride. [Kiley McDaniel]
- Jose Campos is throwing pain-free, according to Newman. It’s a “coin-flip” as to whether he begins the year with Low-A Charleston or High-A Tampa. I suspect he’ll be with the River Dogs. [Norris]
The Yankees will be on the road to play this same Twins team tomorrow in Fort Myers. That game will not be broadcast anywhere, unfortunately.
Fresh off his MVP-winning performance with the World Baseball Classic champion Dominican Republic, Robinson Cano is back in Yankees camp for the first time in about three weeks. He had 32 at-bats during the WBC, which put him at 50 total for Spring Training. That leads the Yankees. So yeah, Cano won’t be rusty despite being away from the team. Let’s just hope he avoids the injury bug that seems to be spreading through the clubhouse. Here’s the starting lineup, which looks an awful lot like what we figure to see for much of April…
- CF Brett Gardner
- LF Ichiro Suzuki
- 2B Robinson Cano
- 1B Kevin Youkilis
- DH Travis Hafner
- RF Brennan Boesch
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- 3B Jayson Nix
- C Frankie Cervelli
Available Pitchers: RHP Mariano Rivera, RHP David Robertson, LHP Boone Logan, and RHP David Aardsma will all pitch. Robertson pitched yesterday and I believe this will be his first set of back-to-back appearances in camp.
Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Dan Johnson, 2B Gil Velazquez, SS Walter Ibarra, 3B Ronnie Mustelier, LF Addison Maruszak, CF Melky Mesa, and RF Thomas Neal are all scheduled to come off the bench.
Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES and MLB.tv (no local blackout). Enjoy.
Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees are “asking around about everybody” in trade talks according to rival GMs. Andy Martino hears they’re still looking for first and third base help, specifically. Rosenthal suggests signing Kyle Lohse and trading either Ivan Nova or David Phelps for a bat, which is similar to the idea I floated about signing Shaun Marcum over the winter.
The idea of signing a pitcher and trading for a bat is a pipe dream more than anything — “I don’t think it would make any sense whatsoever,” said Brian Cashman to Rosenthal. “We have all of our pitching intact. Our problem is not our pitching. Pitching is our strength.” — mostly because there just don’t seem to be many bats available. Certainly not any kind of impact bat who will replace the production of Curtis Granderson or Mark Teixeira for a few weeks. Well, at least they’re trying. · (74) ·