Scouting The Free Agent Market: Tim Lincecum

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)
(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

This is the time of the offseason when teams begin to bargain hunt and look for that low cost free agent to fill out the roster. The Yankees have added players like Brian Roberts, Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez later in the offseason for this reason the last few years. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s the nature of the beast.

The Yankees tend to target former stars with this moves, and one former star who remains available as a free agent is two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum. He’s no longer the pitcher he once was, but he’s still relative young (31) and his track record is as good as it gets, and that will surely land him a job at some point reasonably soon. Should the Yankees be interested? Let’s dive in.

The Performance

Lincecum’s career is hard to believe. He’s played eight full seasons in the big leagues now, and the first four were outstanding. It’s among the best four-year stretches in modern history. The last four seasons have been a total disaster though. Everything went south as soon as Lincecum turned 28. Look at this:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 bWAR fWAR
2008-11 881.2 2.81 2.81 26.9% 8.7% 47.1% 0.55 23.3 23.1
2012-15 615.2 4.68 4.08 21.6% 10.0% 45.9% 1.02 -2.7 3.1

How? How in the world does that happen? Lincecum went from a 2.74 ERA (3.21 FIP) in 2011 to a 5.18 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 2012. He owned a career 2.98 ERA (137 ERA+) following that 2011 season. That has since climbed to a 3.61 ERA (107 ERA+). Man. That’s nuts.

Anyway, last season was Lincecum’s least bad season of his four recent bad seasons. He had a 4.13 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 76.1 innings, his lowest ERA since 2011, though his strikeout (18.5%), walk (11.4%), and grounder (44.3%) rates were career worsts. You can’t help but look at this and cringe (his K% has also declined every year since 2008):

Tim Lincecum strikeoutsThere is no silver lining here. Lincecum was very bad last season, he’s been very bad for four seasons now, and there is nothing to indicate a return to form is coming. The Lincecum of 2008-11, the guy who was one of the most dominant and exciting pitchers in the world, is long gone. He doesn’t exist anymore. CC Sabathia has been great more recently than Lincecum. Sad but true. Check the stats if you don’t believe me.

The Stuff

People have been talking about the decline of Lincecum’s stuff for four years now, so it’s no secret. Velocity isn’t everything, we all know that by now, but it’s not nothing either. A 94-95 mph fastball is much different than an 87-88 mph fastball. It changes everything. Lincecum had the 94-95 mph heater back in the day. Now he has a fastball you could catch with your teeth.

Tim Lincecum velocity

Woof. That’s scary. Lincecum is not a big guy (he’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 170 lbs.) and he still has that max effort tornado delivery, which may have taken a physical toll over the years. Deliveries like that usually aren’t built to last. Look at Dontrelle Willis and Hideo Nomo. They had wild, twisty deliveries too, and they were both done as above-average pitchers by their late-20s as well.

Lincecum and the Giants were not oblivious to his declining stuff the last few years. They did alter his pitch selection, specifically by getting him to stay away from his four-seamer and emphasize his sinker and split-finger fastball. During that great 2011 season he threw 38.1% four-seamers, 14.9% sinkers, and 15.7% splitters. Last year it was 23.3% four-seamers, 25.2% sinkers, and 24.1% splitters. Yes, Lincecum threw more splitters than four-seamers in 2015.

The change in pitch selection hasn’t help a whole lot, though who knows, maybe Lincecum would have performed even worse without leaning on the sinker and split-finger. Here’s some video from last season so you can get an idea of what Lincecum is working with these days:

The electricity is gone. That sucks. I hate watching great players lose their greatness. The last four seasons have given us plenty of evidence — both statistical and the eye test — that Lincecum is little more than a replacement level starter at this point of his career. He crashed hard a few years back and I’m not sure why you’d expect any sort of significant rebound at this point.

Injury History

Despite his decline in stuff and performance, Lincecum has never had any kind of significant arm injury. The only arm problems he’s ever had were contusions (forearm in 2015, shoulder in 2010) due to batted balls, and a blister in 2013. The blister sidelined him for ten days in Spring Training. Put any 31-year-old pitcher in an MRI tube and you’ll find something scary, but Lincecum’s arm is structurally sound.

His hip, however, is not. Lincecum had surgery in September to repair a torn labrum and impingement in his left hip. It’s the same procedure Alex Rodriguez had back in 2013. Heck, the same doctor (Dr. Philippon in Colorado) operated on both A-Rod and Lincecum. Lincecum’s rehab is reportedly going well, and he’ll throw for teams in early-February to show he’s healthy, according to Jon Heyman.

“He’s throwing every day and says he’s doing great. He’s got no instability in his hip, and he’s enthusiastic about his progress,” said agent Rick Thurman to John Shea. Physical therapist Brad Schoenthaler added Lincecum is “doing great. He looks really strong. His hip pain and compensation patterns have cleared up. Everything’s coming back a lot quicker than we expected.”

Surgery to repair torn labrums and impingements in the hip is fairly new — they’ve gotten better at detecting these injuries, hence the uptick in recent years — and not many pitchers have had it. Jason Isringhausen was one of the first to have his hip repaired this way back in the day and he came back fine, with no loss of stuff or effectiveness. Brett Myers had it towards the very end of his career. That’s pretty much it. We don’t have much data on the long-term impact of the procedure on moundsmen.

Contract Projections

FanGraphs was the only site to give a contract estimate for Lincecum this offseason, and their crowdsourcing results spit out a one-year contract worth $6M. That’s the going rate for veteran reclamation project starters these days. Think Henderson Alvarez ($4.25M), Rich Hill ($6M), Kyle Kendrick ($5.5M), Aaron Harang ($5M), and Chris Capuano ($5M). They’ve all signed for similar amounts the last two offseasons. Lincecum is in that group now.

Keep in mind Lincecum has already made a ton of money in his career. The Giants paid him $89M over the last five seasons alone. He is presumably in a situation where he doesn’t need to chase every last dollar and can instead look for the best opportunity to get his career back on track. Lincecum is still only 31. I doubt his goal is to simply hang on. He wants to put himself in position to have a strong second phase of his career.

Wrapping Up

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

I have no interest in Lincecum as a starter. There’s no reason to think he will provide value in that role in 2016, even with a healthy hip. He’s been too bad for too long now. I do think Lincecum is interesting as a reliever, however. He hasn’t relieved much in his career but limiting him to one time through the lineup and letting him focus on his two best pitches could do the trick.

Lincecum has shown throughout his career that he’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so he might feel right at home in the bullpen. He’s pitched in high pressure games, he’s pitched in the World Series, he’s pitched for a team with championship expectations. He’s excelled in those situations. I don’t think there is any question about Lincecum’s toughness and competitiveness.

The question is about his stuff and whether he can get big league hitters out consistently. I’m guessing plenty of teams would take a flier on Lincecum as a reliever, which makes me think there’s close to no chance he comes to New York. Why would he come to tiny Yankee Stadium to try to rebuild value when he could go to a more favorable ballpark, especially if the Giants would take him back? He’s a rock star in San Francisco.

The Yankees have three open bullpen spots right now and more than enough internal candidates. Lincecum would be, at best, their fourth option out of the bullpen. I like the idea of using him in the Adam Warren role, as a guy who can go two innings at a time, if necessary. Whether Lincecum is open to that is another matter. I don’t like him much as a starter these days, but as a reliever he could be an interesting gamble. Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t seem like a good fit for Lincecum personally. Not at this point of his career.

Cotillo: Yankees sign Carlos Corporan to minor league deal

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

According to Chris Cotillo, the Yankees have signed catcher Carlos Corporan to a minor league contract. I assume he received an invitation to big league Spring Training. Corporan joins Eddy Rodriguez and Sebastian Valle as upper level backstops the Yankees have signed to minor league deals this winter.

Corporan, 32, is a career .218/.280/.342 (69 wRC+) hitter in 232 big league games with the Brewers, Astros, and Rangers. Like most catchers the Yankees have acquired in recent years, Corporan is a pitch-framing extraordinaire and has a reputation for being a strong defender behind the dish. That’s his thing. He’s a classic defense first backup.

In all likelihood Corporan will compete with Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine for the backup catcher’s job in Spring Training, and that could go in any direction. Sanchez seems like the favorite, but sending him down for a few weeks to work on his defense would be entirely justifiable, plus another 35 days or so in the minors delays his free agency by a year.

Romine is out of options and has been outrighted before, meaning if he doesn’t make the team, he’ll have to go through waivers and can elect free agency if he clears. I imagine he would do that and look for a better opportunity. I know I would. Realistically, the only way Romine stays with the Yankees beyond Opening Day is by making the team or getting hurt and landing on the DL.

It’s possible Sanchez could be the backup with Corporan in Triple-A. Or Corporan could be the backup with Sanchez in Triple-A. Or Romine could be the backup with Sanchez and Corporan in Triple-A. Lots of possibilities here. The Yankees have been emphasizing youth over the last 15 months, so I think Sanchez will get the backup job. Corporan is just insurance in case things don’t go as planned.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Make sure you check out this post by Jeff Sullivan on what might be the beginning of the end for pitch-framing. There seems to be some evidence umpires are aware of the emergence of framing as a valuable and sought after skill, and have made some adjustments to eliminate those extra strikes. Several of the game’s top pitch-framers saw their numbers take a big hit last season, including Brian McCann. Interesting stuff.

This is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils all have games this evening, plus there’s some college hoops on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, the decline in pitch-framing, or anything else right here.

Luis Torrens is “healthy and ready” for Spring Training following shoulder surgery

(SI Advance)
(SI Advance)

Catcher prospect Luis Torrens is “healthy and ready” for Spring Training following shoulder surgery last year, Brian Cashman confirmed to George King (subs. req’d). Torrens missed the entire 2015 season after having surgery last March to repair a torn labrum. He went into last season as the No. 6 prospect in the system, in my opinion.

“He is healthy and ready, full bore, for Spring Training,” said Cashman. Farm system head Gary Denbo told King that Torrens spent his down year taking English classes and hitting the weight room. He was healthy enough to perform some baseball activities (hitting, throwing, etc.) late in Instructional League back in September and October.

Torrens, who is still only 19, missed two months during the 2014 season with a shoulder strain. He started the year with Low-A Charleston, played nine games, got hurt, then joined Short Season Staten Island once he got healthy. Torrens hit .270/.327/.405 (115 wRC+) with the Baby Bombers as one of the youngest players in NY-Penn League. He had a 21-game hitting streak at one point.

The Yankees signed Torrens for $1.3M out of Venezuela in July 2012. He was mostly an infielder as an amateur who moved to catcher full-time after signing. Torrens received a ton of praise for his baseball aptitude soon after signing and he was getting rave reviews for his progress behind the plate in 2014. He took to the position very quickly.

It goes without saying shoulder surgery is very serious for a catcher. A lot of defensive value is tied up in the arm. (Torrens has thrown out 41% of base-stealers in his career.) I’m glad to hear Torrens was healthy enough to work out at Instructs and will be “full bore” for camp. He’s one of the best all-around prospects in the system when healthy.

Cashman confirms Yankees unlikely to start the season with a six-man rotation

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

With each passing year, there is more and more talk the Yankees may use a six-man rotation going forward. Maybe not all season, but part of the season. The team went to great lengths to give their starters extra rest whenever possible last summer — Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi made 63 of their 107 starts with extra rest (59%) — and I’m sure that will be the case this coming season too.

At the moment, the Yankees intend to start the 2016 season with a normal five-man rotation, Brian Cashman confirmed to Bryan Hoch. “Right now, it’s more likely that we go the conventional route and have five starters,” said the GM. “And whoever is the loser out of that battle for five spots would potentially be a long man in the ‘pen, waiting in the wings. But who knows? We’ll have to wait and see.”

The April schedule includes a ton of off-days, as usual, so the Yankees will be able to give their starters plenty of extra rest without jumping through too many hoops early in the season. In fact, whoever starts Opening Day will be able to make each of his first four (and five of his first six) starts on extra rest thanks to scheduled off-days. I assume Tanaka will get the ball on Opening Day, but we’ll see.

Here is a real quick and dirty tentative rotation schedule for April. The Yankees must be looking forward to all those early-season off-days this year. Check this out:

April rotation schedule

The Yankees will be able to have their starter on extra rest 16 times (!) in the first 20 games. They won’t have to use a starter on normal rest until April 17th, the 12th game of the year. And doesn’t that April 27th game sure look like the perfect time to use a spot sixth starter? It would give the rest of the rotation two extra days of rest before their next starts thanks to the off-day on the 28th.

That all looks pretty good to me. Tanaka is coming off surgery to remove a bone spur, so the Yankees will want to take it easy on him early next year. Eovaldi’s season ended early due to an elbow issue as well. Sabathia’s knee flared up again in September and Pineda hasn’t pitched a full season since 2011. Luis Severino figures to be the other starter and he’ll be on some sort of innings limit. The Yankees have good reason to want to give these guys extra rest.

Of course, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. The Yankees have to get through Spring Training with five healthy starters before they can start mapping out rotation schedules and possible dates to use a sixth starter. “I think if you can give guys extra rest, that’s always a benefit,” added Cashman. “But theory and practicality, that’s where the rubber meets the road. We have a long way to get to before that really is a legitimate option or not.”

I’m sure we’ll hear more about the possibility of a six-man rotation in the coming weeks. It’s unavoidable. It’s what people talk about when there’s nothing else to talk about. That talk will only grow louder if the Yankees do manage to trade Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller for a starter in the coming weeks. I don’t think it’ll happen, but you never know. No one expected Alex Rodriguez to become a Yankee on this date in 2004, right? Right.

Rob Refsnyder ranks ninth among MLB.com’s top second base prospects

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

MLB.com’s look at the top ten prospects at each position continued yesterday with second base. Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada predictably topped the list, and was followed by Reds IF Jose Peraza and Cubs 2B Ian Happ in the top three. Rob Refsnyder placed ninth on the top ten list. MLB.com’s scouting reports are free, as always.

“An outfielder at Arizona, Refsnyder’s transition to second base has been slow and steady. It’s always encouraging when a solid hitter in the Minors performs well in his big league debut, and that’s exactly what Refsnyder did in 2015,” said the write-up. Here’s a piece of their latest scouting report:

He recognizes pitches and manages the strike zone better than most players. Refsnyder’s compact right-handed stroke yields line drives to all fields and he projects to top out at 12-15 homers per season … While Refsnyder has improved at second base, he’s not a smooth defender and likely won’t ever be more than adequate there. He’s not suited for the left side of the infield, though he has the average speed and arm strength to get the job done on an outfield corner.

Like it or not, the Yankees have made it pretty clear they’re not comfortable with Refsnyder playing a full-time role at this point in time. They didn’t give him much of a look despite Stephen Drew‘s long stretches of nothing last year, then they acquired Starlin Castro to be their long-term second baseman earlier this offseason.

That isn’t to say the Yankees will never be okay with Refsnyder playing regularly. It might happen someday. Right now though, there’s no obvious place for him on the 25-man roster, which means another season in Triple-A. There are pretty much only two ways Refsnyder can have an impact for the 2016 Yankees: 1) Castro or Didi Gregorius get hurt, or 2) as a trade chip. That’s about it.

Gary Sanchez ranked second on the MLB.com’s catchers list and the Yankees did not have any representatives on the right-handers, left-handers, or first basemen lists. (Greg Bird no longer qualifies as a prospect. Too much MLB time.) The third base list comes out later today and the Yankees won’t have anyone on that either. Shortstops is tomorrow and Jorge Mateo figures to crack the top ten, though shortstop is always a super deep prospect position.

Scouting The Trade Market: Aaron Hill

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Over the last few years the Yankees have made a habit of bringing in low cost, potentially washed up veterans late in the offseason to see if they can strike gold. Sometimes it works (Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez), sometimes it doesn’t (Vernon Wells). Such is life. With a one open bench spot — and a backup third baseman in theory only — the Yankees could make a similar move in the coming weeks.

One apparently washed up veteran who could be a fit for that open bench spot is Diamondbacks infielder Aaron Hill, who Jon Heyman says is on the trade block. Arizona wants to move him because they have a younger and better option in Brandon Drury. Hill hasn’t been good for two years now, but he could have something left to offer in a limited role as the 25th man on the roster. Should the Yankees be interested? Let’s see.

The Performance

Like I said, Hill has not been very good the last two seasons. He hit .244/.287/.367 (78 wRC+) with ten home runs in 541 plate appearances in 2014, then followed it up by hitting .230/.295/.345 (71 wRC+) with six home runs in 353 trips to the plate last season. Yikes. That’s a .238/.290/.359 (75 wRC+) batting line in his last 894 plate appearances.

The last time Hill was actually good was the 2013 season, when he hit .291/.356/.462 (124 wRC+) with 11 homers in 362 plate appearances. Interestingly, Hill pulled the ball much more often that season than he has the last two years. Check it out:

Aaron Hill batted balls

Hill’s soft and hard contact rates have held fairly steady the last four years and they’ve been better than average as well. (League averages are 18.6 Soft% and 28.6 Hard%.) The drop in pull rate is the biggest difference — Hill’s ground ball and fly ball rates have stayed in the same range the last few seasons — which could be an indication his bat is slowing. He might not be able to get around on the ball as quickly as he once did.

At the very least, you’d want someone in what would be Hill’s role to be able to hit pitchers of the opposite hand. He’s a right-handed batter, and, well, his numbers against lefties the last few seasons are not good at all.

Aaron Hill lefties

Hill actually hit righties (77 wRC+) better than lefties (58 wRC+) last season. And man, those walk and strikeout rates are bad news. They’re both going in the wrong direction.

It’s not even clear Hill is a potential platoon candidate at this point. Not great! Second basemen have been known to completely fall off a cliff in their early-30s, and it looks like that may have happened with Hill. Two years ago he was incredibly productive. The last two seasons have been a total disaster.

The Defense

Like most big league second baseman, Hill came up through the minors as a shortstop before shifting to the other side of the bag. He was a full-time second baseman from 2007-13 before the D-Backs stopped playing him everyday in the second half of 2014 because he stopped hitting. Hill has played a little over 1,350 innings at second base and roughly 350 innings at third base the last two years.

The defensive stats were always split on Hill at second base. UZR liked him there while DRS said he was below-average, for example. Based on the eye test, he seemed solid at second, not great but not a liability either. The stats are also split on his work at third base in that tiny sample. Point is, Hill is not some kind of standout gloveman like, say, Juan Uribe. He’s also not unplayable like Pedro Alvarez. You can run him out there at second and third bases on occasion and he won’t kill you.

Injury History

Hill doesn’t have any significant long-term injury concerns like, say, Alex Rodriguez‘s hips. He missed a few games last September with a hamstring pull and missed two months in 2013 when he took a pitch to the hand and broke a bone. Otherwise Hill has dealt with nothing more than random day-to-day stuff the last few seasons. A tight hammy, jammed fingers from sliding into a base, that sort of stuff.

Contract Status

The D’Backs gave Hill a three-year extension worth $35M back in February 2013 — he had one year left on his current deal at the time, so they tacked another three years on top of it — and so far that deal has been a disaster. It started in 2014. Woof. Hill is owed $12M next season, the final year on that contract. He’ll be a free agent next winter.

What Would It Take?

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

I don’t know what it would take, but I do know what it should take: almost nothing. An Aaron Hill trade should be similar to the Vernon Wells trade in that the acquiring team gives up nothing in particular and takes on a little bit of cash. The Yankees ate 25% of the money owed to Wells in that trade, and 25% of the money owed to Hill is $3M. Even that seems a little pricey. The D’Backs are in no position to demand something of value for Hill. They’re looking to shed as much of his contract as possible. That’s all.

Wrapping Up

There’s very little to like about Hill at this point of his career, right? He hasn’t hit in two years — not even lefties! — and while his defense is acceptable, it’s not enough to make up for the expected lack of offense. Plus he’s expensive. Hill would fill a need as a backup third baseman, but so what? He’s been so bad.

And yet, I can’t shake the feeling the Yankees might have some interest in Hill. They have a history of rolling the dice on veterans who looked to be done by sticking them in part-time roles, and Hill does fill a need and have a history of righty pop. And he’s familiar with the AL East from his days in Toronto. I feel like that can only help him.

In all likelihood, no, the Yankees will not pursue Hill, even though he figures to come so insanely cheap it would be close to a no risk move. If he stinks, cut him and move on. The D’Backs can’t expect actual prospects and/or significant salary relief in return. I don’t see much upside in Hill, even in a part-time role, but I’ve said that about several other veterans who have gone on to be productive in pinstripes.