Mailbag: Pollock, Kennedy, Jackson, Draft

After nursing from the mailbag teat during the holidays, it’s time to get back to the once-a-week Friday morning mailbag setup. I’ve got four questions for you this week and entirely too many words worth of answers. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Davis asks: Now that the Diamondbacks have signed Cody Ross, is there a chance that they will trade someone like A.J. Pollock? He bats right, has showed solid doubles power and seems to be pretty good on defense. He might make some sense for the Yankees, even if only as depth in case of an injury.

The D’Backs have a ton of outfielders. We all know about Justin Upton, Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra, and Ross, but they also have Adam Eaton (117 wRC+ during his September call-up) and Pollock. The 25-year-old Pollock hit .247/.315/.395 (83 wRC+) in 93 plate appearances with Arizona last season, his big league debut. Prior to that he hit .318/.369/.411 (105 wRC+) in 471 plate appearances in the hitter friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Baseball America ranked him as the team’s sixth best prospect before the season, and here’s a snippet of what they had to say in their subscriber-only scouting report

First and foremost, he’s a blue-collar player with great makeup and excellent instincts in all phases of the game. He’s a line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter who squares balls up consistently and produces lots of doubles. He could develop 15-homer power once he gets stronger. He makes contact so easily that it hampers his ability to draw walks. Though he has just average speed, Pollock is the system’s best baserunner … He’s solid defensively at all three outfield positions, making good reads in center field and displaying an average arm … Though some scouts see him as a fourth outfielder because he isn’t loaded with plus tools, the Diamondbacks envision him becoming a solid regular.

Because he was added to the 40-man roster just last year and didn’t accumulate a full season’s worth of service time, Pollock has two minor league options remaining and all six years of team control. He didn’t have much of a platoon split in the minors over the last two seasons and his big league performance tells us nothing, but either way it’s still too early to pigeon-hole him into the right-handed half of a platoon.

Pollock is a (much) better prospect than Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte, and he also provides more roster flexibility than Chris Dickerson, so yeah the Yankees should definitely be interested. I like his chances of sticking as a regular by 2014 much more than I do Mesa’s or Zoilo’s, that’s for sure. Prospect-for-prospect trades don’t happen very often because teams are like parents, they all love their own kids more than everyone else’s. I’m not sure what the D’Backs need at the big league level at this point or if they’re even willing to move Pollock despite their glut of outfielders, but he would certainly be a fit for New York.

Mark asks: Doesn’t Adam Kennedy make some sense to fill an Eric Chavez-type role? He also has the benefit of playing played 2B (a lot) and the outfield (a little).

Kennedy, 36, is opening a baseball academy in Anaheim but is not officially retiring and remains open to playing according to Alden Gonzalez. He hit .262/.345/.357 (97 wRC+) in 201 plate appearances for the Dodgers last season while missing more than a month with a groin strain and playing primarily first, second, and third bases. It was his best offensive season since 2009 and second best since 2005, thanks mostly to a career-high walk rate (11.4% in 2012 and 6.6% career) that I really can’t explain. His plate discipline rates didn’t change and he only had eight total plate appearances as the number eight hitter (ahead of the pitcher), so who knows.

As a left-handed batter, Kennedy hit righties pretty well last season (107 wRC+) but not over the last three seasons (85 wRC+). He does put the ball in play (14.4 K% and 86.1% contact rate) and offer some versatility (mostly the non-shortstop infield spots), which counts for something. It’s not much, but it’s something. If Kennedy is willing to leave Southern California and take a minor league contract, sure, bring him to camp a la Chavez in 2011. I can’t imagine guaranteeing him anything though, this isn’t some former star with upside.

(Greg Fiume/Getty)

Damix asks: Given the uncertainty of next year’s market for Phil Hughes, do you think signing Edwin Jackson to the same contract he received would have been a smarter plan for the 2014 budget?

The Cubs officially signed Jackson, who is a little less than three years older that Hughes, to a four-year deal worth $52M earlier this week. That’s $13M annually and the going rate for a slightly better than league average starter. Jackson has been consistently solid over the last four seasons even though his ERA has fluctuated wildly, plus he’s a workhorse who will provide 30+ starts and 180+ innings no questions asked. I think he would have gotten more money had a) his velocity not dropped more than a mile-an-hour last season, and b) he not had a brutal September (6.54 ERA).

Hughes, on the other hand, has been anything but consistent and a workhorse. He’s managed two league average seasons in the last three years and has a chance to make it three in four years before hitting the open market next winter. Hughes has a longer injury history but has done it in the AL East, in the tiny ballpark, and in the postseason (outside of the nightmare that was the 2010 ALCS), and that kind of stuff pays in free agency. If he repeats his 2012 season in 2013, I bet he winds up with a deal closer to Anibal Sanchez’s than Jackson’s given his age.

Anyway, back to the actual question. I’m not a huge believer in Jackson but that is definitely a fair price in my book. I think he’s been overrated because his stuff says he should be an ace, but the last half-decade of performance shows he’s coming up short. He’s a classic “we can fix him” guy, especially at that age. The Yankees are going to need to plug a few rotation spots next winter and Jackson would be a nice guy to have around, but I’m not losing sleep over it.

Jeff asks: Are the Yankees setting themselves up well for the future with the MLB draft? They have four picks in the first 65. Looking ahead to 2014 the Yankees will likely have at least 2-6 picks depending on what happens with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda and Kevin Youkilis. Those draftees won’t impact the team for 4-6 years, but is this a good way for the Yankees to focus on the farm?

As soon as Rafael Soriano signs somewhere, the Yankees will own three of the first 35 picks in this year’s draft and four of the first 65-ish picks (obligatory Draft Order page plug). That would change if they re-sign Soriano or sign one of the other compensation free agents (Michael Bourn, Adam LaRoche, Kyle Lohse), but I don’t see any of that happening. The Yankees have had three of the first 100 picks just once twice in the last nine years (2008 and 2012), nevermind four of the top 65(-ish).

Based on last year’s slot values (which are expected to increase this year), those top three picks will all be worth seven figures and that’s huge as far as the draft pool and spending restrictions go. The Yankees have to start doing a better job with their high draft picks, it’s imperative given the new system and the team’s desires to curtail payroll. It’s too early to know much about the strength about this year’s draft class, but that’s irrelevant really. There is always talent available and they’re going to have some major bucks to spend in the first round. I think it’s fair to say this coming draft will be the team’s most important since 2006, when they were in desperate need of farm system help (and knocked it out of park with that draft haul).

As for the 2014 draft, I wouldn’t count on those extra picks yet. The Yankees would surely make Cano a qualifying offer, but Granderson, Kuroda, and especially Youkilis are far from guarantees. Given the impending payroll slashing, I don’t think the team would risk that much money in qualifying offers even if the players are worth it. Remember, the offers won’t be $13.3M again next year. They’ll go up since they’re based on the average of top 125 salaries. We’ll worry about that draft a year from now.

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Possible trade target: Adam Kennedy

The 2010 trade deadline is now just 24 days away, and we know GM Brian Cashman considers the bench to be the team’s biggest weakness right now. It’s safe to say that they’re going to bring someone in from outside the organization to shore things between now and then, it’s just a matter of who. We’ve already looked at Jeff Keppinger, Ty Wigginton, David DeJesus, and Octavio Dotel as trade possibilities, so let’s move on to another potential fit: Adam Kennedy.

Photo Credit: Matt Slocum, AP

The Angels won a whole lotta games last decade with a middle infield of Kennedy and David Eckstein, which kinda blows my mind. You’ve got to be strong up the middle to win, yet Kennedy’s .349 wOBA in 2002 was the greatest offensive production the team got out of either player during their time in Anaheim. Both players have since moved on, shacking up in St. Louis for a few years before Eckstein landed in Toronto, Arizona, and San Diego while Kennedy headed to Durham (minor leagues), Oakland, and now Washington.

Strictly a utility player at this point, Kennedy can play everywhere but shortstop, so right off the bat the Yankees would have to carry an extra player to spell Derek Jeter on occasion. His defensive value at first (-2.3 UZR over the last three seasons), second (+0.7), and third (-5.3) are nothing special at all, but they aren’t horrific and Kennedy could also fake a corner outfield spot in an emergency. He’s not going to remind anyone of Ramiro Pena with the glove, but he’ll hold his own.

On the bases, I was actually surprised to see that Kennedy was so successful at swiping bases. He’s a perfect nine-for-nine in stolen base attempts this year, and 36-for-43 (83.7% success rate) over the last three seasons. In non-stolen base baserunning situations (like moving up on grounders, sac flies, taking the extra base, etc.), Baseball Prospectus says he’s added just about three runs to his team’s ledger, which is a solid total. Quite simply, the guy is a very sound baserunner, a not tremendously important skill but one that’s appreciated. No one likes baserunning gaffes.

Photo Credit: Haraz N. Ghanbari, AP

Bench players are almost never anything special with the stick; if they were, they’d be starters somewhere. Kennedy’s lone above average offensive season since 2005 came last year with the A’s (.337 wOBA), though there’s nothing in the peripherals to suggest a massive fluke except a somewhat inflated BABIP (.326). Perhaps it was just a dead cat bounce season for the 34-year-old, since he did revert to his sub-.310 wOBA form this year. The offensive skill set is a simple one: Kennedy makes a lot of contact (88.8%) and slaps the ball into the ground (46.3% grounders), so he doesn’t really drive the ball and hit for power (.107 ISO even with last year). He is a lefty batter, so he’s got that going for him.

Putting it all together, you’ve got a an average (at best) defensive player, a below average offensive player, and an above average baserunner, which for all intents and purposes equals a below average player. Kennedy has been replacement level all season (-0.1 WAR), so it would be foolish to expect him to be anything more than a half-a-win player in the second half, which is what the Yanks got out of Jerry Hairston Jr. last year. There’s about $600,000 left on Kennedy’s contract this year with a $500,000 buyout of his $2M option for next season, so the (monetary)cost isn’t prohibitive. Maybe Cashman could get the Nationals to kick in some money, like he did with the Pirates and Eric Hinske last year.

Kennedy’s trade value is so small that I’m not even going to bother to run him through Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator. We’re talking a Grade-C prospect at best, maybe a guy in Double-A if the Nats kick in a few hundred grand. Looking at the Yanks’ system, that means someone like Zoilo Almonte or Sean Black or Lance Pendleton. No one that will hurt. There hasn’t been any indication that Washington is actively shopping their utility infielder, but they’d be foolish not to listen.

Between Kennedy, Wigginton, and Keppinger, the three guys I’ve previewed, I’d go with Kennedy. Wigginton is a newly minted All Star and has some name recognition that will boost his perceived value beyond his actual value (.198/.314/.260 in his last 156 plate appearances), and Keppinger was never anything special to start with. Like it or not, Kennedy’s playoff and World Series experience does give him a leg up over the other two guys, especially since all three are just as likely to suck.