Mailbag: Maholm, Scrap Heap, Padilla, Fukudome

Welcome to the first mailbag of 2012. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box on the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Mick asks: What do you think of Paul Maholm on a one-year deal? Or would he really be an improvement over anyone the Yankees already have?

I like Maholm more than most, but he’s still not very good. Last year’s shiny ERA (3.66) hides the fact that he allows a substantial number of balls to be put in play (just 5.55 K/9 and 14.3 K% career). He does get grounders (49.9% last year, 52.3% career), but you’ve got to miss bats in the AL East to be anything more than back of the rotation batting practice. As I said back in November, the Yankees shouldn’t count on him to be anything more than that back-end guy, which makes him no upgrade over what they currently have.

At this point, if the Yankees aren’t going to bring in someone clearly better than Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, they’re just wasting their time. The A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and David Phelps group is more than capable of filling those fourth and fifth spots.

Will asks: Cashman got lucky with some scrap heap signings last year. I think he tries to go for it again by offering declining pitchers a one year minor league deal for the same amount Garcia and Colon got and see what they have. Of all the scrap heap pitchers, who would you take a run at? I would offer a deal to Brad Penny and Chris Young.

Just like I said above, they’re not making themselves any better by taking on more scrap heap guys. That said, there are a few interesting ones out there. I don’t know what the status of Young’s shoulder is (he had another major surgery last summer), but he’s one of the most extreme fly ball pitchers in the game (career 28.2% grounders). That combined with a nothing fastball is a bad mix for Yankee Stadium, so I’d steer clear of him.

Penny is slightly more interesting, but he’s been an above average pitcher just once in the last four years (2009). He’s got a 4.79 K/9 (12.2 K%) and a 46.4% ground ball rate during that time, which is scary. He’s also going to be 34 in May, so it’s not like he’s young anymore either. I’d take him over Young, but I wouldn’t be blowing up his agent’s phone to sign him.

Among the unsigned starters, I guess Maholm and Rich Harden interest me the most. When you’re talking about guys on one-year deals at a relatively low salary, Colon looks like the best of the bunch, and we saw how effective he could be in the first five months of last season. The only question is his health; did he start to break down late in the season, or just tire from a) the long layoff, and/or b) the long season after pitching so much in winter ball? If his shoulder is s0und, I’d go with the devil I know over the devil I don’t.

David asks: I was reading about Vicente Padilla how well he is doing now in his native Nicaraguan league. Can he be a option for the rotation?

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Padilla, now 34, is apparently throwing 95 down in Nicaragua this offseason, a couple months after he had surgery to repair a nerve problem in his elbow and a disc problem in his neck. Other than a 16 start, 95 IP cameo with the Dodgers in 2010, he’s been an effective starter once in the last five years (2009). He’s slightly more interesting in relief, where he could just air it out for an inning or two, but I wouldn’t count on him in the rotation.

Anyway, there’s not point in exploring Padilla as option because he and Mark Teixeira hate each other. It dates back to even before their days as teammates with the Rangers, and back in 2009 we saw that mini-blowup after Padilla hit Tex twice in a game. If Padilla was a difference maker, then maybe you try to work something out with Tex’s blessing. He’s not though, so just move along.

Mark asks: With an apparently short list of interested suitors, if the Yanks could get Kosuke Fukudome for 1 year/$2-3 million – would you bite as a 5th OF/DH option? Have to like that OBP.

When would he play? The DH thing isn’t an option because Jesus Montero needs to get as many plate appearances as possible. Whenever he does sit, it’ll likely be so Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter or even Robinson Cano get a day off from the field. I know Fukudome has a nice OBP (.361 career), but he has no power (career .139 ISO), doesn’t steal bases (29-for-57 career, or 50.9%), and the advanced metrics haven’t liked his defense in a few years now. He’s not worth taking plate appearances away from Montero. The Yankees have a fine fifth outfielder in Chris Dickerson, who can hit righties (career .341 wOBA), steal some bases (24-for-32 career in MLB), and play solid defense in all three outfield spots. His skill set fits the roster better.

Tucker asks: When was the last time the Yankees traded a major leaguer for a prospect(s)?

The Yankees are never really sellers, so they haven’t traded too many established big leaguers away for prospects in recent years. The last time it happened was after the 2006 season, when they sent Gary Sheffield to the Tigers for Kevin Whelan, Humberto Sanchez, and Anthony Claggett. The Randy Johnson trade kinda sorta counts, since the return was highlighted by the three prospects (Ross Ohlendorf, Stephen Jackson, Alberto Gonzalez) they received and not the middle reliever (Luis Vizcaino). Tony Womack for Ben Himes and Kevin Howard is really pushed the limits of “prospect;” that was a clearly a “get rid of Womack at all costs I don’t care what we get back” type of move. Other than that, there haven’t been too many big leaguer-for-prospect moves in Yankeeland over the last decade or so.

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The obligatory “Injured Pitchers” post

With Cliff Lee officially a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Yankees are left trying to salvage their offseason by spreading their money around and shoring up several aspects of their team. There simply aren’t any other high-end starters on the market to go after. The process started with the now completed Russell Martin signing, and today Joel Sherman reported the Yanks will “try to pluck a veteran starter with good stuff but questionable health (off the free agent market) and have him pitch as long and as hard as he can, basically until his arm blows up or a better option comes along.

Those kinds of pitchers are always plentiful on the free agent market, and they’re popular targets in the blogosphere because we dream of them being healthy and returning to what they once were. With Lee off the market and not in New York, it’s inevitable that we’ll have to look at some of these guys as potential targets, so let’s get it out of the way now. I’m going to do something a little different though, instead of actively campaigning for one or two players I’m just going to state the facts and let you decide who’s worth the gamble. Talk about ‘em in the comments…

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Jeff Francis

Francis is kind of the exception here because he isn’t actually coming off an injury. After missing the entire 2009 season due to shoulder surgery, the 29-year-old lefty did manage to make 19 starts (and one relief appearance) while pitching to a 3.88 FIP in 104.1 innings for the Rockies in 2010. His ERA was ugly (5.00), but we all know that isn’t the best way to judge performance. Francis is a generic soft-tossing command lefty, spotting a fastball, changeup, and curveball on the corners of the plate. He misses just enough bats (8.4% swing-and-miss rate, 5.8 K/9 since 2008) and doesn’t walk many guys (2.6 BB/9 career, removing intentional walks), and he also gets a pretty nice amount of ground balls (~45% over the last few years) as well. Francis’ margin for error is small, but the track record is there.

Brad Penny

The one-time Red Sox whipping boy made nine highly effective starts (3.40 ERA, 1.1 fWAR) for the Cardinals this year before a shoulder strain ended his season. Penny is a known quantity at this point; he’s struck out a touch more than five-and-a-half batters per nine innings over the last four seasons (~7% swings-and-misses) despite having the stuff to do more, and his walk rate has been below three per nine in five of the last seven years. Penny has always been a ground ball guy but took it to the extreme in St. Louis last year (52.8%), completely unsurprisingly given Dave Duncan’s track record. Like Francis, Penny does have World Series experience, and he did not have surgery for his injury, which is always a plus.

Chien-Ming Wang

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Ah yes, our old friend. Wang, now 30, was last an effective pitcher in June of 2008, when he infamously injured his foot running the bases in Houston. Surgery to repair damage to the capsule in his shoulder followed, and he was unable to reach the bigs for the Nationals in 2010 despite proclamations from his agent. Everyone reading this knows the deal with the Wanger, so I don’t need to get into the specifics. Extreme sinkerballer, lots of weak contact, won’t strike anyone out. Seen it, lived it, got a t-shirt.

Brandon Webb

Webb is the big name of the group, the former Cy Young Award winner than racked up 19.9 fWAR from 2006-2008, the second most in baseball. Now 31, Webb hasn’t pitched in what amounts to two seasons due to labrum damage, and reports out of Instructional League a few weeks ago had him sitting the low-80’s with his once devastating sinker (18.1% fly balls in his career, completely ridiculous). There’s a belief that those reports are overblown in an effort to keep his price down, however. We really don’t know what Webb is capable of right now; I don’t think he can rebound and be the beast (3.23 FIP from ’06-’08, again behind only CC) he once was. If he’s 60% of that guy though, it’d be an upgrade to the back of the Yankees’ rotation. For what it’s worth, Joel Sherman reported today that the Yankees “don’t like him all that much.”

Uh, where's the ball? (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Chris Young

Young is a rather unique pitcher, relying on extreme deception and size (dude’s 6-foot-10) rather than pure stuff. He missed all but four starts in 2010 due to a shoulder strain, and when he did pitch he averaged just five innings per start with a 3.88 FIP. His always pedestrian fastball dipped into the mid-80’s over the last two years, but he’s so big and hides the ball so well that it looks like he’s releasing the ball ten feet away from the batter. That’s how he’s managed an above average swing-and-miss rate (9.4%) and generally avoided getting clobbered. Young certainly benefited from Petco Park in San Diego, owning a 53% fly ball rate for his career, far and the away the highest in baseball during that time. His margin for error is microscopic these days.

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Remember, these players are looking for one thing: an opportunity. Well, that and money, we can’t forget that. Those five guys are trying to reestablish their value, so they’ll join the team that gives them the best chance to accrue innings and prove they’re healthy and productive so they can go back out on the market next year and cash in. If that means a year with the Nats or Pirates, so be it. Don’t expect the Yanks to be able to sign two or three of them either, the more there are, the less of an opportunity they’ll have.

So which one is your preferred target? Any other that weren’t covered here?

Pondering Penny, again

Yesterday afternoon, following the Yanks’ loss to the Rangers, Mike reported that the Yankees were interested in Brad Penny. While early reports indicated that Penny may have promised the Red Sox that he would not sign with an AL East competitor following his release, George A. King III disputed those stories. Penny is free to go where he wants.

While the Yankees could use Penny to fill a fifth starter spot currently split between Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre — or the fourth starter spot with Joba in limbo — the Yankees aren’t the only team interested in Penny. According to MLB.com, the Rockies, Marlins, Rays, White Sox and Rangers are all considering Penny as well. It must feel good to be wanted.

For their part, the Yankees offered up some qualified “He’s better than Sergio Mitre” praise for Penny. “He’s got good stuff,” Johnny Damon said to King. “His secondary stuff might need a little tweak but his fastball was electric, it cut and he hit his spots with it. Bring him here, why not? I love the way the guy competes.”

Yankee fans, on the other hand, have seen Penny twice this year, and most of us probably aren’t that impressed. On July 11, Penny threw probably his best start of the season and beat the Yanks. He tossed six shut-out innings and allowed six hits and a walk while striking out five. On August 21, in his last Boston start, Penny gave up eight runs on 10 hits and a walk in four innings of work. This effort capped a five-start run in which Penny went 1-4 with a 9.11 ERA. Opponents are hitting .333/.397/.595 off Penny during this stretch.

So why are the Yankees interested? Well, as I mentioned, Penny would be better than Mitre. This stretch notwithstanding, Penny’s numbers — 7-8, 5.61 ERA — aren’t as bad as they seem. Penny’s BABIP is an absurd .327 even though his line drive and HR rates are in line with league averages. Why the high BABIP? Well, the Red Sox’s defense is terrible. Their team UZR is -22.2, worse only than the Royals, Orioles, Twins and Indians in the AL. Combine that defense with a little bit of bad luck, and you get an underperforming pitcher.

Right now, Penny’s FIP stands 4.58 with an xFIP of 4.96. That’s tolerable, and Penny won’t give the Yankees innings — he hasn’t pitched out of the 6th yet this year — he’ll give them some back-end stability as the team looks to get their rotation in line for October. If the Yanks sign Penny to the league minimum, they won’t expect much, but they don’t need much. Six innings of 4.58 ERA baseball would be a-OK with me.

Yanks interested in Penny

Via MLBTR, the Yanks have some interest in the recently released Brad Penny. Penny, who the Yanks creamed in his last start with Boston, is due to clear waivers on Monday and would then be free to sign with any team for the pro-rated minimum. His numbers are ugly (5.21 tRA, 4.48 FIP, 5.61 ERA) but the Yanks probably figure he’d be an upgrade over Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin as the fifth starter down the stretch. As a fifth starter for the pro-rated minimum during September, why the hell not?