Marcus: No Biogenesis suspensions expected today

Via Steven Marcus: No Biogenesis announcements are expected to come today. Yesterday we heard the league is planning to announce all the suspensions at the same time this week, and reportedly they are hoping to get an answer from Alex Rodriguez‘s camp about a possible plea agreement at some point today. I was getting worried this story wouldn’t drag on any longer, so needless to say, I’m relieved by this news.

Rosenthal: Yankees have yet to receive an offer for Phil Hughes

Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees had not received any trade offers for right-hander Phil Hughes as of yesterday. The team has reportedly been “aggressively pushing” him on the market in hopes of landing a bat, though that was before the recent Alfonso Soriano trade.

Hughes, 27, has a 4.58 ERA (4.64 FIP) in 112 innings across 20 starts this year. To no one’s surprise, his home/road splits are rather drastic. The Yankees aren’t exactly blessed with a ton of pitching depth at the moment, and if they’re not going to get a decent bat in return, they should just hold onto Hughes for the second half. No point in making a move just to make a move.

Scouting The Trade Market: Jeff Samardzija

Even after acquiring Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs and getting Derek Jeter back from the DL, the Yankees figure to focus primarily on adding offense in advance of Wednesday’s trade deadline. They still need help at third base and a platoon partner for Lyle Overbay, plus an upgrade behind the plate is in order as well. The lineup has improved quite a bit over the last week, but there is still more work to be done.

That said, starting pitching has been an issue of late as well. The team’s starters have allowed at least four runs ten times in 24 games this month, including seven times in the last 14 games. CC Sabathia has been bad for two months and a disaster of late, Andy Pettitte has struggled since coming off the DL, and Phil Hughes continues to be up and (mostly) down. Hiroki Kuroda is as good as it gets and Ivan Nova has been excellent of late, but having two reliable starting pitchers is no way to go through life.

I wrote about the idea of adding a starting pitcher at the trade deadline not too long ago, and remember, the Yankees will need an arm or three for next year as well. At the moment, the projected rotation for 2014 is Sabathia, Nova, David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Michael Pineda, and that’s unlikely to take them anywhere meaningful. Adding a starter who can help them both down the stretch this year as well as next season and beyond sure seems like something worth exploring.

On Saturday, Ken Rosenthal reported the Cubs are listened to offers for right-hander Jeff Samardzija in advance of the non-waiver deadline. The 28-year-old former Notre Dame star (as a wide receiver) has found a home in Chicago’s rotation these last two years, but the rebuilding Cubbies are willing to turn him into prospects if the right deal comes along — the “asking price (is) high, as expected,” hears Rosenthal. Does the one they affectionately call Shark make sense for the Yankees? Let’s break it down.

The Pros

  • After going up and down and working primarily out of the bullpen earlier in his career, Samardzija has pitched to a 3.87 ERA and 3.60 FIP as a starter the last two years. That includes a 3.94 ERA and 3.66 FIP in 21 starts this season. He’s averaged a solid 6.1 innings per start.
  • Samardzija’s strikeout rate as a starter is excellent. He’s at 9.21 K/9 and 24.5 K% since the start of 2012 (9.13 K/9 and 24.0 K% this year), including a very good 22.9 K% against non-pitchers. Samardzija’s 24.1% (!) swing-and-miss rate since last season is the ninth best among qualified starters, just behind Clayton Kershaw (24.2%).
  • In addition to the strikeouts, his ground ball rate is trending upward. Samardzija has a very good 48.1% grounder rate this year, up from 44.6% last year and 41.0% the year before. (He was in the bullpen in 2011). Strikeouts and grounders are a great combination.
  • As you probably guessed, Samardzija has nasty, nasty stuff. Among qualified starters, both his two-seamer (94.7 mph) and four-seamer (95.0 mph) have the third highest average velocity since the start of last year (only Stephen Strasburg and David Price are better), and he holds it keep into games. He also throws a low-90s cutter, a mid-80s splitter, and a low-to-mid-80s slider. The slider is his top secondary pitch.
  • Being a star football player for the Irish and an Opening Day starter for the Cubs are not exactly low-profile experiences. Samardzija knows all about being the center of attention and dealing with the media and all that.
  • Samardzija will earn $2.64M this year and is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in both 2014 and 2015. He’ll be relatively cheap these next two years and the team will have the flexibility to non-tender him if push comes to shove.

The Cons

  • Although his walk rate these last two years is solid (3.12 BB/9 and 8.3 BB%), Samardzija went from a 2.89 BB/9 and 7.8 BB% last year to a 3.42 BB/9 and 9.0 BB% this year. He is prone to those ugly four and five-walk starts from time to time.
  • Samardzija is kinda homer prone. Since moving into the rotation last year, he has a 1.01 HR/9 and 12.7% HR/FB rate. He also has a bit of a platoon split, holding righties to a .291 wOBA (3.04 FIP) while lefties have put up a .307 wOBA (3.80 FIP). Not a huge difference, at least in terms of end results, but a difference nonetheless.
  • His track record is very limited even though he’s spent parts of six years in the show. Samardzija has yet to crack 175 innings in the season (only two seasons with more than 100 innings) and who knows how (or if) he’ll hold up for 200+ innings annually with his more-than-moderate-effort delivery. He’ll also turn 29 next January, so he’s young but not a spring chicken. Thirty is right around the corner.
  • Samardzija is out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers. Not a huge deal at this point, but it does limit flexibility if things go wrong.

The Yankees love physically big pitchers, and Samardzija is listed at 6-foot-5 and 225 lbs. on the Cubs’ official site. It’s also worth noting that pitching coach Larry Rothschild knows the right-hander from his time with the Cubs, though the fact that Samardzija broke out after Rothschild left town might be an indication the two didn’t work well together. Samardzija was also David Phelps’ teammate for a year at Notre Dame. The Yankees do have some inside info at their disposal.

Given their lack of upper level pitching prospects and an utter inability to develop high-end starters, trading for Samardzija might be the best chance for the Yankees to add an impact starter to their rotation at a reasonable financial price. It’ll cost more than a few quality prospects to acquire him, but his unique career path means there aren’t many comparable trades we can reference. Two and a half years of an above-average but not elite starter closing in on 30 with only one full year in the rotation to his credit? Don’t see many deals involving those guys.

Samardzija has not made much, if any, improvement from 2012 to 2013 outside of his ground ball rate. He’s really good right now, but I don’t think it’s safe assumption that he’ll continue to improve as he gains more experience just because he was awesome stuff. And it is awesome — legit bat-missing power stuff that would play just fine in the rough and tough AL East. Samardzija might just be another A.J. Burnett, the guy who looks like he should be an ace but continues to fall short of that performance level. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Burnett’s had a pretty damn good career.

Anyway, if I had a pitcher like Samardzija in this current market — it’s a seller’s market, prices are high — I’d want four young players back, at minimum. A top prospect, a second top-100 type of prospect, a third quality piece, and a fourth lower-level lottery ticket type. A bit more than the Cubs got for Matt Garza despite Samardzija’s lack of track record because of the two extra years of team control. Even if he “only” winds up as a good number three starter, the Yankees could definitely use a pitcher like a Samardzija, who at least offers a chance to blow up and become an ace.

Alex Rodriguez and the best case scenario

(Streeter Lecka/Getty)
(Streeter Lecka/Getty)

At some point very soon, perhaps even today, MLB will announce the rest of the suspensions stemming from their investigation into the South Florida performance-enhancing drug hub Biogenesis. Ryan Braun was the first casualty last week, mostly because he was willing to cut a deal and not file an appeal. Other players won’t go down as easily, and among those other players is Alex Rodriguez.

Bill Madden, Teri Thompson, and Michael O’Keeffe reported yesterday that MLB either has (or will) offer A-Rod a deal that would require him to sit out the rest of this season and all of next season. If he doesn’t accept that settlement, the league will attempt to use the mountains of evidence they have apparently obtained to ban him from baseball for life. Various reports indicate Alex will not agree to any kind of settlement and instead go through the appeals process and challenge the league head-on.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, a lifetime ban would be the best case scenario. Not only would they rid themselves of a big distraction, but they would be off the hook for the remaining four years and too-many-millions left on Alex’s albatross contract. That’s the best case scenario, but the best case scenario and most realistic scenario are not the same thing more often then not. As despised as A-Rod is, the union won’t let the league end their highest paid player’s career without a failed drug test and without a fight. It sets an awful precedent. There would surely be an ugly and lengthy legal battle.

Instead, the most realistic best case scenario for the Yankees might be a 250-game suspension, which is essentially the number of games he would miss by being suspended for the rest of this year and next. However, that 250-game suspension would be best served not this year and next, but next year and the year after. That would save them a huge, huge chunk of money against the luxury tax threshold — a suspended player’s salary does not count towards the luxury tax calculation, nor do they occupy a 40-man roster spot — which would be more helpful in 2014 and beyond than it would in 2013.

By sitting out the rest of this year and next, the team would save approximately $37.1M in real dollars. That’s A-Rod’s salary plus the luxury tax hit for the rest of this season. If he sat out next year and the first 50 games of 2015, they would only save $31.5M or so, assuming they actually get under the $189M luxury tax threshold. Five and a half million bucks is a ton of money, even to a multi-billion dollar company like that the Yankees, so they’d prefer the suspension to happen as soon as possible to save the most money. The alternative would be to save $6.5M or so against the luxury tax threshold in 2015.

Here’s the thing though: the Yankees don’t get the choose. They’re just along for the ride. Since A-Rod is reportedly going to fight any suspension, it’s unlikely said 250-game would start this year. Several players are likely to appeal, meaning the process could take a while. Weeks if not months. Think of it as slowly peeling off the band-aid rather than pulling it off. Because of that, it would take something very unexpected — like, say, another quad injury — for Alex to not return to the team in 2013. Instead of saving a few extra million this year, the most likely scenario shaves cash off A-Rod’s future luxury tax hit. That’s an okay trade-off, at least in my opinion.

I truly believe the Yankees are doing all they can to delay A-Rod’s return to the team in hopes of … I don’t know. Maybe they don’t even know. I guess in hopes that he would get banned and not return to the team ever? It’s clear the two sides don’t trust hate each other, and the club probably doesn’t want to deal with the day-in, day-out aggravation even if he improves their lineup. And improve their lineup he would; it’s hard to believe Alex would be worse that New York’s current third base situation, which is the least productive in baseball.

Unless he a) gets hurt again, b) has his appeal moves to the front of the line, or c) surprisingly decides to settle, A-Rod is going to return to the team at some point soon whether the Yankees like it or not. Under the best case scenario, they would have to begrudgingly sit through another 50 or so games of him this year, when he could help push them into a playoff spot. He could be gone for a year and a half after that, potentially even forever. It would be easier for the Bombers to financially swallow releasing A-Rod or buying him out in the middle of 2015, when the suspension would expire and he’ll be almost 40. That’s the best of an awful situation.

Fan Confidence Poll: July 29th, 2013

Record Last Week: 3-4 (20 RS, 26 RA)
Season Record: 55-50 (407 RS, 415 RA, 51-54 pythag. record), 7.2 GB ALE/2.5 GB WC
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, @ Dodgers (two games, Tues. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Padres (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Pineda goes four innings in latest AAA start

OF Tyler Austin‘s re-evaluation has been pushed back, reports Josh Norris. He’s been out a little more than two weeks with a bone bruise in his right wrist.

Triple-A Scranton (9-2 win over Louisville)

  • LF Adonis Garcia: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI
  • 3B Ronnie Mustelier: 0-4, 1 R, 1 BB
  • DH Randy Ruiz: 1-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 K — that’s 14 homers in 40 games, or 57 homers across 162 games
  • C J.R. Murphy: 2-5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 K — eleven hits in his last 39 at-bats (.282), but seven doubles
  • RF Thomas Neal: 3-5, 1 R, 1 2B — 5-for-9 since being sent down
  • RHP Michael Pineda: 4 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 6/0 GB/FB — 38 of 55 pitches were strikes (69%) … more “innings management,” I assume
  • RHP Dellin Betances: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — ten of 13 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Glory Days: Jeter and Soriano lead Yankees to walk-off win on Matsui’s day

The afternoon started with a celebration of Hideki Matsui‘s career and ended with Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano teaming up for a turn-back-the-clock walk-off win. It was like 2003 all over again. The Yankees salvaged the series with a 6-5 win on Sunday.

It’s So Good To Be Back
Boy Jeter sure does have a flair for the dramatic, doesn’t hit? In his (second) first game back from injury, the Cap’n sent the first pitch he saw from Matt Moore over the right-center field fence for a solo homer and a quick 1-0 first inning lead. It was one of those “is this real life?” moments, the kind that would be cheesy if you saw it in a movie. And yet, here we are. Again.

The first inning scoring did not stop there, thankfully. With the help of some shoddy defense, the Yankees tacked on two more runs on Vernon Wells’ sacrifice fly and Ichiro Suzuki‘s two-out, two-strike single. Robinson Cano and Soriano scored after reaching on what amounted to two infield singles that deflected off defenders. Good to see the club capitalize on those opportunities. They’ve squandered enough of ’em this year.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Blown Leads
In what may have been (and unlikely was, in my opinion) his final appearance in pinstripes with the trade deadline looming, Phil Hughes blew that first inning three-run lead and was booed off the field as he failed to complete five innings of work. The Rays answered back with a run in the second before Wil Myers clobbered a hanging slider to left for a three-run homer in the third. It was a moonshot. No doubt it was gone off the bat.

At one point from the second through fourth innings, eight of 13 batters reached base against Hughes, who allowed a second homer to Myers in the fourth to blow another lead. That was only a one-run lead, however. Tampa tagged the right-hander for five runs on nine hits, two walks, and one hit batsman in four innings and two batters of work. It was the second straight and seventh overall time Hughes failed complete five innings of work this season, tied for the most in the league with Scott Diamond. If it was indeed his final outing as a Yankee, Phil didn’t exactly endear himself on the way out the door.

Unsung Hero
What a freaking job by the bullpen in this game. After Myers hit his second homer off Hughes to tie the game, four relievers combined to retire 15 of 16 batters faced. Preston Claiborne chipped in two perfect innings, Boone Logan one perfect inning, David Robertson one scoreless inning (allowed a single), and Mariano Rivera one perfect inning. The foursome allowed four balls out of the infield in five innings against one of the best offenses in the game. Just a stellar, stellar job.

Victory
Thanks to that bullpen work, the game was knotted at five into the ninth inning. Professional leadoff man Brett Gardner, who has shown a knack for brutally long at-bats of late, lead off the bottom of the ninth with an eight-pitch walk against the hard-throwing Jake McGee. He fouled off three of those eight pitches, and not a single one was clocked at lower than 96. Gardner had his team in business.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Jeter came to the plate fully intending to bunt Gardner to second, and I know that because he squared around to bunt the first pitch before it came inside and nearly hit him. It was so far inside that catcher Jose Lobaton missed it and the ball went to the backstop, allowing Brett to advance to second. The winning run was in scoring position without an out being sacrificed, and the Cap’n was in position to be the hero on a storybook day …

… except Rays manager Joe Maddon intentionally walked Jeter following the wild pitch. He went against the book and decided the left-on-left matchup against Robinson friggin’ Cano was a safer bet than McGee against a great narrative. And you know what? He was right. Robbie struck out on three pitches, the third of which was a called strike three on a fastball right down the middle. The double play was in order and McGee was a ground ball away from escaping the jam.

McGee got that ground ball, but not where he wanted. Soriano jumped all over the first pitch fastball down in the zone and chopped a seeing-eye ground ball single back up the middle for the walk-off win. The Yankees brought him in because they desperately needed more production against lefties, and that’s exactly what he gave them on Sunday. Soriano swatted a two-run Yankee Stadium cheapie homer off Moore in the third before picking up the walk-off single against McGee. Just like they drew it up.

LOL Strategy
Two minor grievances. First, the shift on Matt Joyce in the second. I’m actually fine with the initial decision to shift — yes, Hughes is a fly ball pitcher, but Joyce tends to pull his ground balls to the right side (spray chart) — but the problem is that he showed bunt on the first pitch of the at-bat, which he took for a called strike on the corner. Joyce pretty much told them he was going to bunt to beat the shift, but they went ahead with it anyway. Did no one pick up on that? He bunted for the hit on the second pitch.

Second, the hilariously bad sixth inning. Ichiro Suzuki led off with a single and never once attempted to steal. Instead, Brent Lillibridge tried to bunt him to second to get to … David Adams and Chris Stewart? I suppose they could have pinch-hit Eduardo Nunez and/or Melky Mesa against the left-hander Alex Torres, but doesn’t Ichiro have to try to steal there? Or at least try a hit-and-run? Speed is his thing. To make matters worse, the exact same thing happened in the eighth inning, except Lillibridge managed to get bunt down. The end result was the same though. Very odd.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Leftovers
Jeter’s homer wasn’t just the team’s first long ball of the second half — a span of nine (!) games, their longest homer-less streak since April 1984 — it was their first homer by a right-handed batter since Jayson Nix took Yu Darvish deep on June 25th. That’s a span of 477 plate appearances. Incredible.

Ichiro had himself a helluva day, going 4-for-4 and seeing 25 total pitches. Soriano went 4-for-5 with the two-run homer and walk-off hit while scoring two runs. After two straight hitless games to start his second tour of duty in the Bronx, Soriano showed everyone he can still deliver at the plate.

The bottom three spots in the line did nothing (combined 0-for-11 with the sac bunt), so those top six spots did all the damage. They were 12-for-24 (.500) with three walks and a sac fly (.536 OBP). All of a sudden, with Jeter back in his customary two-hole, the Yankees have a competent Major League lineup for the first time pretty much all season.

At 39 years and 32 days, Jeter became the oldest shortstop in Yankees history in this game. Phil Rizzuto was the previous oldest at 38 years and 325 days. Jeter looked fine at short but wasn’t really tested with any tough plays.

And finally, congrats to Matsui. It was a great ceremony for a truly great career. There aren’t enough players like him.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees are seven back of the Rays and Red Sox — they’re tied atop the AL East — in the loss column and two back of the second wildcard spot. There are four teams within three games of that spot. Gonna be a fun stretch drive.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are going going back back to Cali Cali. They’re off on Monday and will open a quick little two-game set with the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night, when Andy Pettitte gets the ball against the Zack Greinke.