Mailbag: Managers, Uggla, Asdrubal, Castro

Got six questions this week, so I tried to keep the answers short and go rapid fire. If you want to send us questions or links or complaints or whatever, the Submit A Tip box in a sidebar is the best way to go.

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Joe asks: If Joe Girardi leaves who would be on your short list of replacements?

I don’t even know where to start. There are no great candidates out there. You’d need someone familiar with being in a big market just because it’s completely chaotic, or it can be if the manager lets it. Bench coach Tony Pena seems like an obvious candidate and I guess the just-fired Dusty Baker is as well. Triple-A Scranton manager Dave Miley and Double-A Trenton manager Tony Franklin seem like long shots. I want no part of Mike Scioscia (if he’s fired) or Don Wakamatsu, who has big league managerial experience (with the Mariners) and works in the Yankees front office. I don’t see a ton of obvious candidates out there. Pena is clearly the best at this point.

Joey asks: B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla are both well-paid and under-performing for Atlanta. If the Braves cover most of the salary, do you think the Yankees would be interested in either player and would think its a good idea?

I don’t think the Braves would eat a ton of money to move Upton after just one year. Not with his brother still on the team and a roster that still managed to win 96 games despite his terribleness. As for Uggla … I don’t think I’d touch him. He hit .179/.309/.362 (91 wRC+) with 22 homers in 537 plate appearances this season, and he’s also 33 years old (34 in March). That’s right around the age second baseman tend to fall off the cliff. This sums up where his career is heading:


Source: FanGraphsDan Uggla

Go look at Uggla’s graph page on FanGraphs and notice how pretty much everything has been trending in the wrong direction for three years now. The Braves left him off their NLDS roster and they own him $13M in each of the next two years. Yeah, the Yankees could use him as a backup corner infielder/DH, but even if Atlanta eats so much money that he’s a $4M a year player, I wouldn’t touch him. The Bombers already have one Vernon Wells, no need to add the infield version as well.

Anthony asks: Say #HIROK decided to retire, could the Yankees still offer him a qualifying offer and get a pick?

The only way the Yankees would get a draft pick for Hiroki Kuroda (or any other player who turns downs a qualifying offer) is if they sign a Major League contract with one of the other 29 times before next summer’s draft. That’s it. They don’t get a pick if the player retires, goes to Japan, or signs a minor league contract.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Mr. Fish Fingers asks: Any interest in/chance of acquiring Jason Castro this off-season or (more likely) at some point in the season? Got to cost an arm and a leg, but he had a nice season in Houston and is under team control.

Theoretically, the Astros would want to build around Castro going forward, right? He just turned 26 and hit .276/.350/.485 (130 wRC+) with 18 homers this season, plus he’s a standout defender behind the plate. That’s a cornerstone player. If you’re a rebuilding team, you keep him. That said, the Astros seem to have completely given up on being competitive and are instead focused on having a strong farm system, so who knows. I’d take Castro in a heartbeat — he is arbitration-eligible for the first time this year and can’t become a free agent until after 2016 — and would open up the farm system to give Houston whatever they want. Gary Sanchez and Rafael DePaula? Sure thing. You hope that in six years, Sanchez will be what Castro is right now. Slade Heathcott and J.R. Murphy? Tyler Austin and Mason Williams? Done deal. No-brainer for me. I think Castro is the one guy the Astros will keep, however.

Jon asks: MLBTR got me thinking about Asdrubal Cabrera as a possible 2014 shortstop target. If I remember, Brian Cashman was hot on him previously, only one year left on contract and coming off a down year. Possible buy low, would the Yankees want the Indians to kick some money in to offset $10M ’14 Salary? What would it take in prospects?

Cabrera would make sense as a shortstop target if he was actually a shortstop. The 27-year-old is an awful defensive player — pick any defense stat and it’ll say he’s been terrible for several years running now — and to make matters worse, he isn’t hitting all that much either. Cabrera put up a .242/.299/.402 (95 wRC+) line with 14 homers this year, which is way better than what the Yankees got from the position this year but way below what his reputation would lead you to believe. He’s better than Eduardo Nunez, but we’re not exactly setting a high bar there. Is he so much better that it justifies the massive salary and a trading away a prospect or two? Asdrubal is someone worth looking at more in-depth if he actually ends up on the block at some point. My short answer is: meh.

Elliot asks: If Derek Jeter declines his option (crazy talk) do you see a situation where he wants a longer contract guaranteed, but will spread out the cost over more years and help the team get under $189 million?

I don’t know if Jeter will want that, but there is a scenario in which opting out and signing a multi-year deal would help the Yankees get under the luxury tax threshold. Right now his option is worth $9.5M and can be worth as much as $16.5M with awards-based incentives. The team would have to treat him as a $16.5M player in 2014 — you can’t plan on him costing only $9.5M and then have him blow the whole thing up by finishing fifth in the MVP voting or something. They could, I suppose, guarantee the extra $7M (instead of basing it on incentives) and spread it out over multiple years. Instead of a one-year deal worth $9.5M and potentially $16.5M, it could be a three-year deal worth $16.5 guaranteed. That would lower the average annual salary (and his “tax hit”) from at least $9.5M and possibly $16.5M in 2014 to $5.5M flat. It’s worth considering, but remember, it takes two to tango.

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Looking ahead to 2013: The Bossman cometh?

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty)

I need to preface this post by saying that I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’m a huge Nick Swisher fan, and assuming he turns in a fourth straight 120-plus wRC+ offensive campaign in pinstripes this coming season, I’d expect the Yankees to look to retain the pending free agent’s services on a multi-year deal. So long as his contract requirements remain within reason, anyway.

By “within reason,” I’d say anywhere from the three-year, $21 million ($7M average annual value) deal personal favorite Josh Willingham signed with the Twins this winter (which still seems like the steal of the offseason) to Michael Cuddyer’s three-year, $31.5 million deal ($10.5 million AAV) with the Rockies. However, since breaking into the league in 2004, Swish has been the superior all-around player by a not insignificant margin, and being that he’ll be two years younger than Cuddyer was this past offseason he definitely has a case for a bigger deal than Cuddyer’s, and a strong case for a bigger contract than Willingham’s sweetheart deal. Between his apparent superiority to these similar players and the fact that this will be his first foray into free agency, I’d expect him to start out at the very least looking for something that will pay him $13 million a year.

Given the incredible value the Yankees have gotten out of Swisher thus far — since 2009, Swish has been paid $21.2 million for his services by the Yankees, and according to FanGraphs’ $/WAR calculation, has been worth $47.6 million — $13 million seems like an eminently reasonable ask; however, at the end of the day I’d expect length to be a bigger sticking point than AAV. As an outfielder coming off his age 31 season next winter, one has to think Swish will be looking for enough financial security to take him as close to the end of his career as possible. I could see his initial ask starting at five years, but I don’t see the Yankees being interested in committing any more than three years to their switch-hitting right fielder. Maybe they’d go to four, but I’m not sure I’d expect the Yankees to hand out a four-plus-year contract to an outfielder on the wrong side of 30 that isn’t named Curtis Granderson, who — barring an unforeseen precipitous decline in production — the team will be looking to re-sign after 2013.

So, in the event that the Yankees and Nick Swisher can’t arrive at a happy medium next winter, the Bombers may in fact be finding themselves in the market for a right fielder. Enter B.J. Upton, slated to be a free agent for the first time in his career next offseason. As an outside observer, it seems as though the Rays have been waiting for Upton — the second overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft — to become the superstar many predicted he’d blossom into forever.

I asked noted Rays fan Jason Collette, of Baseball Prospectus and DRaysBay fame, for some color on this notion, and he was kind enough to respond with the following:

BJ will always leave a portion of this fanbase wanting. There’s a portion of this fanbase that finds Upton to be an unmotivated and lazy waste of talent that the Rays need to move. There’s a portion that is disappointed with him but are holding out hope that 2012 is a lot like 2007. There’s a portion that appreciates him for what he is rather than what he is not. I think he could go 30/30 in Yankee Stadium given his best swings are when he goes the other way, but he is never hitting .300 again without some serious BABIP help. He goes through hot streaks that are really hot and then slumps for long periods at a time while tinkering with his swing. He made some changes with his legkick late in the season over the final 6 weeks that yielded positive results, so it bears watching. There is a level of A.J. Burnett hate with him with a portion of this fanbase that sees nothing wrong with booing him after a strikeout or when he’s thrown out on the basepaths. However, there is a larger portion that will miss him when he leaves and hopes that he does not hang around the American League to blossom as it is tough enough to watch Carl Crawford do the same for Boston. In the end, he always leaves fans wanting something; the degree of that want comes from each fans attitude toward Upton.

Upton was drafted as a shortstop back in ’02, but was an unmitigated disaster at the position, and despite posting a respectable .323 wOBA as a 19-year-old in 177 plate appearances in 2004, his defensive woes helped demote him to AAA Durham for the entirety of the 2005 season. Upton didn’t make it back to the bigs until August 1, 2006, but he struggled mightily (.275 wOBA in 189 PAs) while playing third base, a position he’d never played professionally prior to that season.

At the outset of the 2007 season, Upton was shifted to second base to start the season, with the idea that he could play anywhere from second to short to third to the outfield on any given day. Upton responded to his first camp-breaking with the Rays by exploding out of the gate, posting a .471 wOBA in April 2007, and ultimately finishing the year with a career-high .387 wOBA (138 wRC+), shifting into center field full-time and seemingly finally establishing himself as the offensive force everyone had been waiting for. Only it didn’t last.

Upton followed his monster 2007 with a good (.354 wOBA, 118 wRC+), but disappointing 2008, given the new baseline he’d established the year prior. Upton’s OBP was still monstrous (.383, after .386 in 2007), but his power mysteriously vanished, and his slugging dropped over 100 points to .401. Upton continued his slide in 2009, falling to a below-average .310 wOBA (88 wRC+), which was easily his worst full season in the bigs. Upton has since recovered a decent amount of his value, posting near-identical 2010 (.337 wOBA, 113 wRC+) and 2011 (.337 wOBA, 115 wRC+) campaigns while providing above-average defense in center, though his erratic performances these last several seasons have rendered Upton’s true talent level something of an enigma.

One aspect of Upton’s game that would undoubtedly be very appealing to the Yankees is his ability to draw walks. Upton has a career 11.2% walk rate, well above league average. His career OBP is a respectable .342; however, the reason it’s not higher is because Upton also has a propensity to strike out. A lot. Upton’s career K% is 24.8%, and his 25.2% K% was the fifth-worst in the AL last season. His strikeouts have dramatically suppressed a batting average (career .258) that one would expect to be a good bit higher for someone with a carer BABIP of .327. Upton also has a career 11.3% HR/FB%, also an above-average rate, and the high BABIP and HR/FB% show that when Upton does put a bat on the ball, good things tend to happen. Unfortunately this isn’t as common as an occurrence as one would hope. Perhaps there’s something in Upton’s swing that Kevin Long can fix?

Upton would also probably be the best defensive right fielder the Yankees would hypothetically have fielded since perhaps Raul Mondesi, and an outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Upton seems like it would be hands-down the finest defensive outfield in the game. The dropoff in offensive production from Swisher to Upton would be fairly substantial, but not massive (Swish is a 117 career wRC+ hitter; Upton 110), while Upton would make a lot of the difference up in fielding.

Upton’s patient/hacker dichotomy — his 3.86 pitches seen per plate appearance (P/PA) ranked 31st in the AL last season, ahead of the likes of Derek Jeter, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez, among others, while his swinging strike percentage of 20% that was the 4th-highest in the league, and well above the 15% league average — is somewhat reminiscent of Curtis Granderson’s, although Grandy led the league in P/PA in 2011 and recorded a 16% swinging strike percentage.

Given his abilities I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the 27-year-old Upton’s (turning 28 in August) best-case-scenario is blossoming into modern-day Curtis Granderson — if you compare the first five years of each player’s career, the results are remarkably similar, with one elite season early on followed by some good — though not great — subsequent campaigns. Upton’s got the edge in OBP, though Granderson certainly has the edge in power. Some may argue that Upton’s running out of time to get there, but his 2007 shows that it’s not crazy to envision him finally putting it all together on a consistent basis as he enters the prime of his career, similar to the way Granderson turned in a career year in his age 30 season.

The parallels between Granderson and Upton become even more apparent when you look at their WAR graphs:


Source: FanGraphsCurtis Granderson, B.J. Upton

And cumulative by age:


Source: FanGraphsCurtis Granderson, B.J. Upton

Also, for those curious about the righty Upton’s splits, while he unsurprisingly hits lefties better (career 118 wRC+), he’s playable against righties (101 wRC+).

So after all of this analysis, we haven’t even answered perhaps the most important question — how much will Upton be looking for, and what can he reasonably expect to be offered? Unfortunately for B.J., as a career .339 wOBA hitter, it seems unlikely he’d see anything close to the mega-deal his former teammate Carl Crawford signed prior to the 2011 season, as Carl has been the superior player (not to mention a massive disappointment one year into his monster Boston contract); although to play devil’s advocate, Carl’s career wOBA was only .008 points higher than Upton’s at the time of his free agency, so perhaps I’m selling Upton a bit short. Upton is making $7 million in his final year as a Ray, and will obviously look to exceed that on an annual basis.

With teams seemingly increasingly shy to commit mega dollars and years to anyone outside of elite talent, it seems like a stretch to see anyone signing Upton for longer than five years, and given his erratic offensive play, I’m not sure he’s worth more than $10-$12 million a year (although FanGraphs’ $/WAR valuation has him worth an average of $17.3 million over the last five years).

Upton will probably start out asking for something like seven years and $105 million ($15M AAV), but I’d ultimately expect him to end up signing for something closer to five years, $60 million — which, if the Yanks can’t agree to terms with Swish, should very seriously consider Upton if his price does fall to this range — unless he has another year like 2007 in him in 2012. In that case, all bets are off.