I feel like this was inevitable. At some point this winter, the Yankees would be connected to David Freese. It made too much sense. The Cardinals don’t need him anymore with second baseman Kolten Wong ready (Matt Carpenter would slide back to third) and the Bombers need some help at the hot corner. Add in the big-ish name, past postseason success, and familiarity with a baseball-crazy market and pennant races and all that, and it’s a match made in rumor heaven.
The Yankees have long had their eyes on Freese — they reportedly agreed to acquire him from the Padres for Kei Igawa back in 2007, but George Steinbrenner backed out because he didn’t want to eat any of Igawa’s contract — and sure enough, Mark Feinsand reported yesterday two sides have been talking trade. Later in the day we found out a deal is unlikely because they don’t match up well, or, in other words, the Cardinals don’t have much interest in what New York has to offer. That doesn’t mean a trade is off the table completely though, the offseason is still young and these two clubs have months to find common ground. Does he fit the Yankees’ needs though? Let’s take a look, starting with the negatives.
- Freese’s power was absent in 2013. He slugged only nine homers with a .119 ISO in 521 plate appearances, down from the almost perfectly league average .150 ISO he posted from 2009-2012. Freese saw his HR/FB rate drop from 18.8% in 2011-2012 to 10.5% this year.
- His batted ball profile did not change (no sudden spike in ground balls, for example) and his .320 BABIP this past summer was actually a career-low by more than 30 points. He’s a high-BABIP hitter who managed a career-worst .262/.340/.381 (106 wRC+) in 2013.
- Freese is pretty bad defensively regardless of whether you want to use the eye test or the various fielding stats: -14 DRS, -13.1 UZR, -12.5 FRAA, and -19 Total Zone in his career. If you watched the postseason at all, you saw how positively statuesque he is at third.
- Freese won’t give you anything on the bases. He’s gone 6-for-12 in stolen base attempts in his 466-game big league career and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 34% of the time, below the 40% league average.
- The injury history is rather long. Freese missed time with back trouble this season (started the year on the DL) and he’s had three surgeries since breaking into the show: left heel debridement (2009), right ankle tendon reconstruction (2010), and a left hand fracture (2011). He’s also had a lot of day-to-day stuff over the years (mostly hamstring and wrist).
- I usually try to steer clear of off-the-field stuff here, but Freese has three alcohol-related arrests in his recent past and that seems like something worth mentioning. He was arrested for DUI in 2002 and again 2009, and was also arrested for public intoxication and resisting arrest in 2007. The second DUI was a violation of his probation stemming from the 2007 arrest.
- Freese didn’t hit this past season but he has hit every other year of his career, putting up a .296/.363/.446 (125 wRC+) line from 2009-2012 and .293/.372/.467 (133 wRC+) with 20 homers in 567 plate appearances in 2012 alone. Both his walk (career 8.6%) and strikeout (21.0%) rates are right in line with the league averages.
- As a right-handed batter, he does most of his damage against lefties (career 134 wRC+) but can still hold his own against righties (114 wRC+). Even this past season, the worst of his career, he managed a tolerable 98 wRC+ against righties. He doesn’t need a platoon partner.
- We have to mention the postseason, right? Freese is a career .289/.357/.518 (141 wRC+) hitter with seven homers in 185 plate appearances across 41 postseason games, but I have to point out those numbers were built almost entirely during that monster 2011 run (245 wRC+). He was okay in 2012 (106 wRC+) and downright awful in 2013 (50 wRC+).
- Matt Swartz projects Freese to earn $4.4M through arbitration next season — for some reason I thought it was over $7M — and he will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2015 as well. He won’t be eligible for free agency until the 2015-2016 offseason.
Freese isn’t a bat first player, he’s a bat only player. He doesn’t help on defense and you can’t count on him to play 140+ games either — he’s only done that once in his career (144 in 2012) — so if he doesn’t hit, he’s a replacement level player (like he was this summer). There’s a chance his subpar 2013 season at the plate has to do with his back problem, which means he could rebound next year if he’s healthy or continue to get worse since back injuries have a way of lingering forever. I think it’s very clear Freese’s reputation, which was boosted by 2011 postseason heroics, far exceeds his actual worth right now.
Now, that said, the third base market is a wasteland. The best available free agent is Juan Uribe, who was very good this past season but a release candidate in both 2011 and 2012. The alternatives are Michael Young and Mark Reynolds. So yeah, the free agent market doesn’t offer much help. With the Padres reportedly hanging onto Chase Headley and Pablo Sandoval only kinda sorta on the market, Freese figures to be the best third baseman on the trade block this winter barring something surprising. He’s the best of an underwhelming lot of players.
The Yankees don’t have much to offer the Cardinals in the trade, hence St. Louis’ reluctance to pull the trigger. There is a chance the Cardinals will non-tender Freese prior to the December 2nd deadline rather than risk paying him $4.4M to be a bench player in 2014, at which point New York could simply sign him as a free agent. Maybe this is a repeat of the Russell Martin situation — the Yankees offered Frankie Cervelli to the Dodgers for Martin, who balked and eventually non-tendered their backstop days later. Maybe they low-balled St. Louis and are content with waiting to see if he gets cut loose next month (when they might have a better handle on the Alex Rodriguez‘s situation) before upping their offer. Freese would help the Yankees but only at the right price. I don’t think he’s someone they should go all out to acquire regardless of their third base needs and the lack of alternatives.
Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are “weighing a run” a free agent first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales. Their scouting reports grade him out as a solid defender and a positive in the clubhouse. The Mariners did make him a qualifying offer, so the Bombers would have to forfeit a high draft pick (18th overall) to sign him.
Morales, 30, hit .277/.336/.449 (116 wRC+) with 23 homers in 657 plate appearances. He’s a true switch-hitter who produced against both lefties (118 wRC+) and righties (115 wRC+). Obviously his bat would help New York’s lineup, but … I don’t get it. The Yankees don’t need another first baseman/DH, especially not one that will require a sizable contract (Morales is a Scott Boras client) and forfeiting a draft pick. They might have inquired but Morales really doesn’t make sense for the current roster. Due diligence, I assume. · (51) ·
It’s no secret the Yankees have a lot of roster questions to answer this winter. Re-signing Robinson Cano is the biggest item on the agenda, but, in terms of the overall big picture, rebuilding the rotation is probably the most important. As of now, the starting staff includes CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and three big questions marks. Heck, both Sabathia and Nova are question marks following the seasons they just had. Fixing the starting staff is a huge priority for the coming weeks.
“We’ve got a lot [of needs],” said Brian Cashman to Andy McCullough at the GM Meetings earlier this week. “I don’t know if I can separate any of them. I think I need to import 400 innings for the rotation … We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
When he says “400 innings,” Cashman means they need to add two starters. They’re not going to sit down and literally count projected innings totals until they add up to 400 or anything like that. The club need two starters to replace Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, that’s what he’s saying. They need to find some quality arms to replace those 400 innings (really 386.2!), but I don’t think they should stop there. The Yankees should look to add an extra 200 innings on top of that.
By saying they’re looking to add two starters, Cashman is implying the team can replace Phil Hughes with internal options. That’s possible, Hughes wasn’t exactly good last year, but the GM is showing an awful lot of faith in guys like Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno. Guys who have never made it through even half-a-season as a starter in the big leagues. I suppose Cashman could be counting on Michael Pineda as well, but that would be beyond silly at this point. He’s smarter than that.
Overall, the Yankees’ rotation ranked 18th in baseball with a 4.08 ERA (3.88 FIP) in 2013, and that includes a generally excellent season from Kuroda. This isn’t a “if we can just replace what we had last year, we’ll be fine” rotation. This is a “oh crap we need to replace what we had last year and improve upon that” rotation. Perhaps some of that improvement will come in the form of a rebound from a Sabathia and a full, consistent season from Nova. That’s not as silly as expecting Pineda to contribute, but it’s not exactly something you can take to the bank either.
There’s a chance, maybe even a good one, that some combination of Phelps, Warren, and Nuno can replace Hughes and be an upgrade in 2014. That is very much up for debate though. I am a firm believer in expecting nothing from unproven kid starters and letting them be in a position to surprise rather than be relied upon. Catch my drift? I’m sure you do. The Yankees don’t have to go out and sign the three best free agent starters or anything (they’re welcome to do that!), but adding Chris Capuano to the PhelpsWarrenNuno mash-up (for example)? Would something like that be too much to ask? Maybe it is given the limited payroll space.
The Yankees have a lot on their plate this winter. They’ve got to fix their offense regardless of whether Cano re-signs and they’ve got to add a whole bunch of pitchers, starters and relievers. Asking for one more rotation option might be very Spoiled Yankee Fan™ of me, but I am so in favor of adding as many arms as possible. We saw the importance of depth this past summer. Adding two starters and relying on a bunch of kids in the fifth spot might be the best New York can do this winter, but that leaves them very vulnerable if injury (or continued ineffectiveness from Sabathia, continued unpredictability from Nova) strikes.
Tuesday, 9:15am: Peter Gammons says the two sides had the contract worked out weeks ago, but Ryan had minor surgery after the season and they had to wait for the pre-signing physical. Sounds like it’s a done deal.
Wednesday, 6:11pm: The Yankees are “close” to re-signing Ryan, reports Joel Sherman. The contract is said to be “small” and would not deter the team from bringing in other players to improve the left side of the infield.
12:20pm: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees and Brendan Ryan have mutual interest in a reunion and a deal could happen quickly. The no-hit, slick-fielding infielder indicated a willingness to return to New York after the season. The Yankees clearly need help on the left side of the infield, though I’m hoping for someone who can contribute (much) more at the plate. · (57) ·
Via Jon Heyman: Hal Steinbrenner has spoken to Derek Jeter and explained to him the Yankees will look for a starting shortstop this winter in the wake of his injury-riddled season. The Cap’n has not spoken publicly since signing his new one-year, $12M contract, but Heyman says he understands what the team is doing and is okay with it. I’ve always assumed Derek Jeter will play shortstop for the Yankees until Derek Jeter says it’s time for Derek Jeter to stop playing shortstop for the Yankees, but it sounds like he may wind up spending most of his time at DH in 2014. The Yankees are said to be “close” to a new deal with Brendan Ryan and have been connected to several other infielders. · (54) ·
Via Andy McCullough: Brian Cashman confirmed the agent for Brian Wilson has told the Yankees his client is unwilling to shave his beard, meaning he can’t sign with New York thanks to the whole facial hair policy. “Cross him off the list,” said the GM.
Wilson, 31, allowed one run in 19.1 total innings for the Dodgers this year after coming back from his second Tommy John surgery. He showed his usual mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider, which was encouraging. I thought Wilson was a prime bullpen target for the Yankees had he been willing to shave off that beard, but I guess not. He misses bats with power stuff and has huge game/World Series experience. What more could you want? · (55) ·
As expected, Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer was named the AL Cy Young Award winner on Wednesday night. He was a nearly unanimous winner, taking home 28 of 30 first place votes. Scherzer deserved the award even when you look beyond his gaudy 21-3 record. Hiroki Kuroda did not receive a single Cy Young vote and neither did any of his teammates. That last part isn’t so surprising, but I figured Kuroda would still grab a fourth or fifth place vote or two despite his brutal finish. Oh well. The full voting results are right here. Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw deservingly took him the NL hardware. · (8) ·
If the GM Meetings are anything like the Winter Meetings, then they effectively ended today. The final day of the Winter Meetings (Thursday) are always a bore, the hotel is usually a ghost town after mid-morning. The Yankees didn’t make any moves today but Jon Heyman says a Hal Steinbrenner-led contingent (yay!) met with various agents throughout the day, including bigwigs Scott Boras and Dan Lozano. As I’ve been saying, the GM Meetings are all about laying ground work. The details are hammered out in the coming weeks.
Here is your open thread for the night. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing and I’m sure there’s college basketball on somewhere. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here. Enjoy.
6:28pm: The Yankees and Cardinals don’t match up well and are unlikely to work out a trade involving Freese, reports Ken Rosenthal. He says New York simply doesn’t have much to offer.
5:00pm: Via Mark Feinsand: The Yankees and Cardinals are discussing a trade involving David Freese. No word on what other players would be involved or heading to St. Louis or anything like that. Matt Swartz projects Freese to earn $4.4M next year and he won’t be eligible for free agency until after 2015.
Freese, 30, hit .262/.340/.381 (106 wRC+) with nine homers in 521 plate appearances this season. Obviously any team that acquires him would be banking on a return to 2012 (133 wRC+) or 2011 (123 wRC+) form. Freese is a limited defender with poor range and a lengthy injury history, so his value is tied up entirely in his bat. His reputation far exceeds his production at this point, but Freese makes some sense for the Yankees as long as the cost is reasonable. I’m just not sure that’s the case. · (63) ·
Early in the 2013 season, it appeared that Ivan Nova would fall into the What Went Wrong category. Through his first three starts he allowed 10 runs in 14.2 IP and hadn’t recorded as much as a single out in the sixth inning. In the third inning of his fourth start, he exited with what appeared to be an elbow injury about fifteen seconds after trainer Steve Donohue came to check on him. His season had disaster written all over it.
Given how many young pitchers undergo the procedure every year, it would have surprised few if Nova required Tommy John surgery. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case. The Yankees quickly assured us it was a triceps injury, abating some of the fear. About a month later he was back on the roster, pitching out of the bullpen. Apparently, something clicked for him between the injury and the return.
Able to air it out in shorter appearances, Nova let loose with fastballs that, for the only time in his career, consistently exceeded 95 mph. Even more impressive was how he kept the velocity up for a five-inning relief appearance against the Mets, allowing just one run while striking out six. Unfortunately, due to the returns of Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis, the Yankees had to option Nova. It seemed like poor timing for the move, given his resurgence.
Nova didn’t let the demotion get him down, and his persistence paid off. After about two weeks in the minors he got the call again to make a spot start against the Rays. It went well enough, as did his follow-up appearance, a 5.2-inning mop-up job against the Orioles. That earned him a spot in the rotation, wherein he produced one of the best second halves in the majors.
In 87.1 post-ASB innings Nova produced a 2.78 ERA, seventh best in the American League and good enough to bring his season-long ERA down to 3.10. His velocity had dipped back to normal levels, and actually took a further hit in his final four starts. And his peripherals looked a lot like his career numbers. So we must ask the question, was Nova actually good or did he merely get lucky?
Part of the answer is that Nova’s second half peripherals are a bit deceiving, in that they’re arbitrary end points. If you look at his peripherals from the time of his return from the DL, a bit less arbitrary in nature, his peripherals look a bit better. Then there’s the issue of peripherals not being a true measure of a pitcher’s ability. Some pitchers are better at inducing poor contact, meaning they’ll out-perform their peripherals. Other issues play roles, including focus and recovery.
All of that is a long way of saying that it’s incredibly difficult to judge whether a pitcher is lucky or good based on a single season, never mind a portion of a season. Add in Nova’s inconsistent performances for the last few years, and he becomes even more of a mystery. We’ve seen him pitch like one of the best in the league, and we’ve seen him pitch like a guy who will scramble for minor league deals in his late 20s. How could we possibly know which Nova pitches for the Yankees in 2014?
We can leave that speculation for another time, when we’re bored in January and February. For now we can reflect on Nova’s 2013 and how his resurgence helped make the season enjoyable for that much longer. The pitching staff, considered a strength before the season, broke down as CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes got knocked around start after start. Nova stepped up mid-season and gave the Yankees quality innings every fifth day. Without him, they wouldn’t have remained in contention for as long as they had, and they could have been staring down their first losing season since 1992.
Instead Nova did answer the challenge, not only salvaging some respectability in 2013, but giving the team hope for 2014 and beyond. In a season when so many things went wrong, Nova was one of the bright spots.