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.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Jon Lester

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Even before trading Shane Greene to get Didi Gregorius, the Yankees needed rotation help. Now they really need rotation help. Their top five starters right now are (in whatever order) Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, David Phelps, and probably Bryan Mitchell, at least until Ivan Nova returns from Tommy John surgery at midseason. Tanaka (elbow), Sabathia (knee), Pineda (shoulder), and Phelps (elbow) all landed on the DL this past season and their injury concerns will carry into 2015.

Along with Max Scherzer (Scouting the Market), one of the top two free agent starters available this offseason is ex-Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, a legitimate ace who’s shown he has big market and postseason chops. The Yankees have insisted all winter they will not hand out another massive contract after getting burned by the Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez deals. One Yankees executive even went so far as to tell Joel Sherman that Lester’s “name never even comes up in discussions.”

That said, these are the Yankees, and they could change their mind and offer a market-busting contract at literally any moment. They’ve done it before and it’s a safe assumption they’ll do it again at some point. Lester has obviously been excellent through the first nine seasons of his career, but whichever team signs him won’t be getting those nine years, they’ll be getting the next six or seven or however many years of his career. Those figure to look quite a bit different than 2006-14 Lester. Is 2015-? Lester a fit for the Yankees? Let’s look.

High-End Performance

We’re all familiar with Lester. We’ve been watching him pitch against the Yankees multiple time every year for nearly a decade now. He’s excellent. I know it, you know it, we all know it. This section is just a formality, really. Here’s how Lester has pitched these last three seasons.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHP wOBA
2012 205.1 4.82 4.11 19.0% 7.8% 49.2% 13.9% 0.339 0.321
2013 213.1 3.75 3.59 19.6% 7.4% 45.0% 8.3% 0.317 0.294
2014 219.2 2.46 2.80 24.9% 5.4% 42.4% 7.2% 0.275 0.309
TOTAL 638.1 3.65 3.49 21.1% 6.9% 45.6% 9.5% 0.310 0.309

Lester had what as likely a career year in 2014, two years after having the worst year of his career. He was excellent this past season but the 2012-13 seasons weren’t anything special (4.28 ERA and 3.84 FIP).

Lester did rebound from that ugly 2012 season and that’s a positive. A lot of pitchers are unable to rebound after a rough season like that. Realistically, I think you sign Lester hoping you get the 2014 version in 2015 but expecting the overall 2012-14 version. That make sense? If you’re expecting six or seven years of 2014 Lester, you’ll be disappointed. That won’t happen.

Stuff Breakdown

Unlike, say, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale, Lester is not a huge stuff guy from the left side. He’s not going to blow anyone away with fastballs or buckle knees with nasty breaking balls. He’s basically a three-pitch pitcher these days (four-seamer, cutter, curveball) who will throw two other pitches (sinker, changeup) a handful of times per start and nothing more. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, here is Lester’s pitch selection over the years:

Jon Lester pitch selection

Between the four-seamer and cutter, Lester throws a fastball roughly 70% of the time nowadays. It works because he mixes the two pitches well and can locate them to both sides of the plate against lefties and righties. Chances are he’ll throw you a fastball for any given pitch, but good luck guessing whether it’ll be a four-seamer or a cutter, and where it’ll be located. It’s the Cliff Lee model — good but not great stuff that plays up because of location and unpredictability.

We’re going to get into Lester’s workload in a second, but he turns 31 next month and has thrown a lot of innings over the years. You knew that already. So, then, it’s no surprise his velocity declined across the board last season:

Jon Lester velocity

It’s not a huge decline but it is a decline. Lester’s four-seamer averaged 94.01 mph in 2013 and 93.15 mph in 2014. The cutter went from 90.66 to 88.88. The curveball went from 76.85 to 75.95. This is totally normal! Pitchers lose velocity as they age and Lester is probably going to lose even more velocity in the coming years. Lester’s release point has gradually dropped about three inches over the years as well …

Jon Lester release point

… and that’s also a normal part of the aging process. That’s the life of a pitcher over 30.

Lester showed he can pitch with the reduced velocity in 2014 and while it’s easy to think he’ll be able to adjust a la Andy Pettitte because he’s a command-based lefty, the fact is we don’t really know how or if he’ll adjust in the future. Whichever teams sign Lester will do so assuming he can adjust and remain effective, otherwise they wouldn’t give him six or seven or however many years.

Okay, so we know what Lester throws, how often he throws it, and how hard he throws it. Now let’s look at how effective these individual pitches are in terms of generating swings and misses and getting ground balls. With the help of Brooks Baseball once again, here are how Lester’s three main pitches rate at getting whiffs and grounders:

FB Whiff% FB GB% CT Whiff% CT GB% CB Whiff% CB GB%
2012 6.2% 36.6% 13.0% 47.3% 10.9% 48.2%
2013 6.7% 35.3% 11.2% 50.0% 9.4% 43.3%
2014 6.9% 29.3% 12.4% 48.1% 18.7% 52.6%
MLB AVG 6.9% 37.9% 9.7% 43.9% 11.1% 48.7%

Generally speaking, Lester’s four-seamer has been average at getting swings and misses and below-average at getting grounders while the cutter and curve have been above-average at getting both whiffs and grounders. The four-seam fastball is the worst of Lester’s three main offerings. The cutter and curveball are his moneymakers.

The Yankees have become a very cutter-happy organization in recent years. Phil Hughes added a cutter. David Robertson added a cutter. David Phelps and Adam Warren added cutters after being drafted. Sabathia’s been working to add a cutter. Manny Banuelos and Ian Clarkin both added cutters in the minors. Many teams shy away from the cut fastball — most famously, the Orioles took the cutter away from top prospect Dylan Bundy even though it’s his best pitch — but the Yankees embrace it, perhaps due to Mariano Rivera‘s success. Lester fits right in with the organizational philosophy.

Early-Career Workload

During his regular season career, Lester has thrown 1,596 innings through his age 30 season, the 35th most over the last 25 years. Pitch count data only goes back to the 2000 season, and since then, Lester’s 26,321 pitches through age 30 are the 16th most in baseball. Here’s the top 25 in regular season pitches before age 31 since that 2000 season via Baseball Reference:

Rank Player Pitches
1 CC Sabathia 37,026
2 Jon Garland 32,416
3 Felix Hernandez 31,478
4 Mark Buehrle 31,170
5 Carlos Zambrano 30,403
6 Barry Zito 30,198
7 Zack Greinke 29,955
8 Justin Verlander 29,116
9 Matt Cain 29,033
10 Cole Hamels 27,888
11 Javier Vazquez 27,506
12 Ervin Santana 26,846
13 Dan Haren 26,726
14 Edwin Jackson 26,509
15 Johan Santana 26,327
16 Jon Lester 26,321
17 Tim Lincecum 25,793
18 Brett Myers 25,763
19 Jake Peavy 25,662
20 Jeff Weaver 24,649
21 Roy Oswalt 24,250
22 Josh Beckett 24,234
23 Kyle Lohse 24,001
24 Scott Kazmir 23,889
25 John Lackey 23,828

It’s a shame we can’t go back any further, so this will have to do.

Now, obviously all pitches are not created equal. I’m guessing a higher percentage of Lester’s 26,321 pitches before age 30 were “stressful” than Zack Greinke’s 29,955. Lester was pitching in pressure packing AL East games the moment he got to the big leagues. Greinke didn’t play on a contender until he got to the Brewers in his age 27 season. Throwing a lot of pitches is generally bad. Throwing a lot of stressful pitches is worse. Lester’s thrown an awful lot of them in his career, I reckon.

By the way, of those 25 pitchers in the table above, I count only five (Garland, Johan, Myers, Beckett, Lackey) who had a substantial arm injury after their age 30 season. (Sabathia had knee trouble.) I wouldn’t think much of that though, there’s a lot of recency bias here. Most of those guys simply haven’t the chance to pitch at all much after the age of 30 yet, like Lester. Heck, Felix is still only 28.

Injury History

As you know, Lester overcame a treatable form of anaplastic large cell lymphoma earlier in his career. He was diagnosed in August 2006, underwent chemotherapy, and was declared cancer-free in November 2006. That’s obviously very serious and has to be noted. Lester’s been a horse since then and has done all sorts of wonderful charity stuff to benefit cancer research these last few years.

As for actual baseball injuries, Lester has been on the DL just once, for a lat strain in July 2011. He missed 19 days and hasn’t had any trouble since. Lester missed a start with a hamstring strain in 2012 and missed another start with a hip strain in 2013. That’s his injury history right there. No arm problems whatsoever and no other significant injuries. The best predictor of future injuries is past injuries and Lester’s been very healthy since become a full-time big leaguer in 2007.

Contract Estimates

Because he was traded at midseason, the Athletics could not make Lester the qualifying offer and therefore he will not cost a draft pick to sign, unlike Scherzer. Giving up a draft pick is a minor consideration when you’re talking about elite players, but signing Lester and being able to keep your first rounder is pretty cool. Here are some contract estimates:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: Six years, $132M. ($22M AAV)
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): Six years, $138M. ($23M AAV)
  • MLB Trade Rumors: “Lester should command at least the six years and $147MM Greinke received two years ago, and potentially more.” ($24.5M AAV)

According to Jon Heyman, Lester already has several offers in the $130M to $140M range, though the Red Sox are in a bit lower than that. The Cubs, Dodgers, and Braves are also said to be involved to some extent. I’m sure other clubs are in the mix as well. One executive told Ken Rosenthal that Lester is going to wind up with seven years — “Book it,” said the exec — and that makes sense to me. If Lester’s sitting on a bunch of six-year offers, it’s probably only a matter of time before a team gets desperate and offers that seventh guaranteed year, which will be the separator.

It’s worth noting that when Sabathia signed his initial seven-year, $161M deal with the Yankees, he was only 28. Greinke was 28 when he signed with the Dodgers and Hamels was 28 when he signed his six-year, $144M extension with the Phillies. Lester turns 31 in a few weeks and we’re talking about a difference of three peak years and that’s significant. Cliff Lee had just turned 32 when he signed his five-year, $120M deal with the Phillies. That might be a more appropriate contract comparison for Lester than Greinke and Hamels.

Of course, the market is going to determine Lester’s contract, not what similar-aged pitchers received the last few years. There’s so much money in the game these days and so few elite players to spend it on. Lester is well-positioned to get at least six years and I do think it’ll end up getting seven years when it’s all said and done — maybe a six-year deal with a seventh year vesting option? — probably with an average annual value north of $24M. That’s the market. Even with offense hard to find, aces come at a premium.

Wrapping Up

So, long story short, Lester is very good and healthy. He’s a big guy — listed 6-foot-4 and 240 lbs. — with two solidly above-average pitches in his cutter and curveball even though his overall velocity is starting to disappear. There’s an awful lot to like here. It goes without saying Lester would be an immense help to the 2015 Yankees, but, at the same time, I have a tough time overlooking all the aces — Sabathia, Cain, Verlander, Lincecum, etc. — who’ve suddenly fallen apart with little to no warning recently.

If the Yankees do decide to reverse course and spend big on a free agent, few targets make as much sense as Lester. I don’t just mean this offseason either, few free agent starters offer this kind of pedigree. There has not yet been any indication the Yankees are going to get seriously involved in the Lester market, but, as I said earlier, that could change in a heartbeat. Personally, I think they should focus on smaller additions to upgrade as many roster spots as possible, but adding someone of Lester’s caliber is never bad move.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 8th, 2014

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

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