Report: Yankees considered pursuit of Beltran

Via Bob Klapisch, the Yankees toyed around with the idea of pursuing Carlos Beltran as a free agent earlier this winter. They consider him an upgrade over Nick Swisher, but they ultimately passed because of Beltran’s balky knees. Klapisch’s source likened the situation to Hideki Matsui, who was allowed to leave after 2009 because of his knee problems.

Back in October we heard that the Yankees were discussing Beltran in team meetings, but that was so early in the offseason it was hard to believe it was anything more than due diligence. Beltran parlayed his bounceback .389 wOBA, 4.7 fWAR season into a two-year, $26M contract with the Cardinals late last week. Given the return for similar players, it’s hard to believe Swisher would have landed the Yankees anything more than a pair of decent prospects in a trade. Certainly not a quality starting pitcher without adding prospects into the deal.

Report: Beltran’s name came up in team meetings

Via Wally Matthews, Carlos Beltran‘s name came up as a potential right field target during this week’s organization meetings in Tampa. “He’s on our list,” said one team official. “But we have to make a decision on [Nick Swisher] first.” The Yankees are very likely to exercise Swisher’s $10.25M option for next season, even if it’s so they can trade him.

Beltran, 35 in April, just enjoyed his best season since 2008 (.389 wOBA, 4.7 fWAR), which coincidentally is the last time he stayed healthy enough to play in more than 81 games. Matthews says that Scott Boras is shopping Beltran hard even though he can’t officially negotiate with any team other than the Giants until six days after the end of the World Series. This is the time of year when the Yankees consider every player available on the market, so it’s hard to take this report seriously. It’s likely due diligence more than anything.

Yanks turned down K-Rod, not in on Beltran

With the Yanks’ crosstown rivals looking to free up money to keep Jose Reyes while attempting to restock their financially depleted system, a few Mets have flitted across the Yanks’ radar. The Flushing Nine delivered an All Star surprise when they shipped K-Rod to the Brewers last night, but they didn’t send away their high-priced closer before checking in with the Yankees.

According to numerous sources (Olney, Klapisch), the Yankees could have gotten K-Rod for simply money as well but opted against the move. As we noted in last night’s post on the trade, I was nominally in support of a move to acquire K-Rod, but the Yanks’ rationale for turning down the Mets’ offer seemingly rests on two grounds, one sounder than the other.

The first, I have to assume, concerns the dollars. K-Rod is owed around $5 million this year and with a $3.5 million buyout. Even with the Mets’ picking up some salary, that’s a hefty amount to pay to a late-inning guy for two and a half months. The Yanks were willing to pick up Kerry Wood’s hefty salary last year because they needed set-up help. This year, their pitching dollars are likely allocated to any potential starter or lefty relievers who may become available. Plus, Brian Cashman should know by now that sinking dollars into replaceable late-inning set-up men isn’t a good use of resources.

The other reason seems to concern the bullpen composition itself. Joel Sherman reported that, had the Yanks acquired K-Rod, either he or Soriano would have manned the 7th while the other secured the 8th. The team, he said, thought that “would be a problem with [the] emotional duo.” Both are used to closing; both would be in reduced roles. It’s worth remembering too that K-Rod’s demotion to the 7th or 8th will likely cost him a hefty 2012 salary. Valid reason for giving up the chance to upgrade the bullpen for only dollars, albeit a lot of them? Perhaps so.

In other Yankee/Met news, Buster Olney says that the Yanks are not interested in Carlos Beltran. The Mets have more leverage with regards to Beltran than they did with K-Rod and will ask for a steep package for the outfielder who would make a fine AL DH. I believe he could have a role on the Yanks as a DH/OF, but that would involve marginalizing Jorge Posada. As Beltran is the best bat available, the Yanks are sending signals that want to spend on starting pitching.

The poor man’s Beltran

Yesterday I examined Nick Swisher‘s unfortunate results from the left side of the plate and argued that he’s a likely candidate to do better in the coming year. I also mentioned that Carlos Beltran was a fan favorite as a trade target. You don’t need me to explain why he’s a favorite as a trade target, but I’ll do it anyway. Beltran has always played excellent defense, he’s a switch-hitter, and he hits for power. He’s the lifetime owner of a .371 wOBA, a .282/.359/.495 batting line, and 289 home runs. This year he’s doing a touch better with a .284/.371/.512 line, a .382 wOBA. He’s showing a bit more power despite coming off a serious knee injury and hitting half his games at Citi Field. As trade targets go, you really can’t do too much better than Carlos Beltran. He’s a free agent after this season and he’s doing his best to set himself up for another nice payday. It’s not like he exactly needs another payday, having pulled in $119M from the Mets over the past seven years, but hey, I’ve lived in New York. Life ain’t cheap.

Plenty of teams will be in on Beltran this summer. Plenty of teams could use a half-season rental of a switch-hitting, power-hitting good defender. The primary deterrent to acquiring Beltran is likely his steep salary, but the Mets have indicated that they’re willing to absorb some of that salary in exchange for better prospects. Now, this could simply be posturing to get more teams involved and extract more from interested parties, but it’s hard to know for sure. The Mets may have more financial flexibility now that they partnered with David Einhorn. They may not be an East Coast version of the Los Angeles Dodgers anymore – they may be able to eat some of his contract.

This is a long way of saying that this confluence of factors – Beltran’s skillset and the Mets’ flexibility of demands – may mean that another team snatches Beltran from Queens before the Yankees can get their sticky little fingers all over him. But the Yankees could find a decent replacement in Twins outfielder Jason Kubel.

All the stars are lining up for Kubel to get traded this summer: he’s on a losing team, he has a decent in-demand skillset, and he has an expiring contract after this year. Twins’ blog The Bat Shatters makes the case for keeping Kubel, and summarizes the arc of his career nicely:

Kubel destroyed Minor League pitching for 4 years before getting a shot at the bigs in 2004. He didn’t disappoint, hitting .300/.358/.433 as a 22-year-old in 23 games with the Twins. That fall, he endured a serious knee injury which kept him out of baseball for the entire 2005 season, and while he re-emerged with the Twins in 2006, the results were nothing like before. Kubel struggled for a couple of seasons in 2006 and 2007 before putting it all together in 2008. In ’08, he hit .272/.335/.471 with 20HRs and 78RBIs while seeing part-time action in the outfield. In 2009, he had his ‘breakout’ hitting .300/.369/.539 with 28HRs and 103 RBIs. In a contract-year last season, he only managed a .249 batting-average, but did surpass the 20 homerun plateau for the 3rd straight season while driving in 92 runs…

Over the last three years, Kubel has the 11th highest OPS (.883), the 11th highest batting average and the 8th most HRs against right-handers…among all of the outfielders in baseball. You won’t find his name on the WAR leaderboards, but that’s because his defense is so atrocious. If he was strictly in a DH role, his value would increase. Without Thome next year, the Twins will likely have an opening at DH, a role Kubel is familiar with and could probably excel in.

I’m not trying to make it sound like Kubel is a superstar player. He’s not. What I am trying to say is that Kubel, as a left-handed hitter with power, possesses an offensive skill-set that is not all that common in MLB, and is not easily replaceable if they trade him or let him go.

As Krueger notes, Kubel hits right-handed pitchers well, the type against whom Nick Swisher has struggled lately. Kubel is the owner of a career .286/.345/.499 line against right-handed pitchers. By way of comparison, Beltran is a career .293/.364/.529 hitter against right-handed pitchers. Kubel is playing for a paltry $5.25M this year, a far cry from Beltran’s hefty salary, and he’ll be a free agent when the season is done. He isn’t as good against left-handed pitchers (.664 OPS against), but if he’s deployed properly he could do some damage in the Yankee lineup and bop a few fly balls over that short porch in right.

Kubel may cost less than Beltran for an acquiring team (depending on how much money the Mets eat), and this is for good reason. He’s not as good in the field as Beltran, and he’s not capable of hitting left-handed pitchers nearly as well as Beltran can. But he’s not a scrub: he has a solid bat, he’s cheap, and he’s a free agent at the end of the year. He currently profiles as a Type B free agent, so the Yankees could offer him arbitration and pocket the picks if he declines. If he accepts it’s not the end of the world – he only makes $5.25M in 2011, and the Yankees could always trade him elsewhere.

As it stands right now the Yankees have the corner outfield and DH spots manned by capable hitters, and I’m not sold that the team needs to do anything in the trade market to bolster the offense. I’d far rather see them call up that kid in Scranton that everyone won’t shut up about. But if something changes – if Posada, Gardner or Swisher get injured, or if Montero is traded – then Kubel might be a good fit. If the Yankees are looking for another outfielder-DH-bench bat type with thump and don’t want to pay the high price likely commanded by the Mets for Beltran, they could do worse than Kubel.

 

Scouting The Trade Market: Carlos Beltran

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The trade deadline is still more than two months away, but you can be sure every team in the league has already started the process of scouting potential trade targets and what not. The Yankees waited until right before the deadline to bring in Kerry Wood, Lance Berkman, and Austin Kearns last season, but the year before they jumped on Eric Hinske in June, about a month before the July 31st deadline.

We’ll take a look at several players that may or may not be available come trading time between now and the deadline, starting today with Carlos Beltran. This series isn’t intended to give a definitive “yes” or “no” on a player, but instead we’ll just present some pros and cons to see if the pieces fit. Sometimes they will, other times they won’t. Let’s go backwards with this one, starting the cons before the pros…

The Cons

  • Beltran has missed a total of 145 games during the 2009 and 2010 seasons with knee issues, including what was initially reported as microfracture surgery.
  • He will earn $18.5M this season and also has a full no-trade clause. That works out to about $3.08M per month, in case you’re trying to figure out the proration.
  • Beltran happens to play for the Mets, and the Yankees and Mets don’t get together for trades very often. Certainly not for major players like Beltran, anyway. It’s been almost seven years since the Felix Heredia-Mike Stanton swap, the last time these two clubs made a deal.  The David Justice-Robin Ventura swap in December 2001 is the last trade between the Yankees and Mets that I would consider significant.

The Pros

  • Despite the knee injuries and concern about his ability to stay healthy, Beltran has done exactly that this season. He’s started 35 of the Mets’ 41 games in right field, including a stretch of 21 straight games. He played all nine of innings in both games of a double-header during at stretch as well as a 14-inning game later on.
  • We can’t rely on the advanced stats to measure his defense in right because it’s so early in the season (-2.3 UZR but +2 DRS), but my informal poll of Mets’ fans on Twitter says he’s been “surprisingly good.” Beltran was one of the best center field defenders in his prime, and I assume the instincts are still in place even if the foot speed is not. I guess the most important thing is that the knee issues haven’t turned him into Marcus Thames with the glove, he’s still playable in the outfield.
  • Beltran can still hit, sporting a .286/.381/.564 (.404 wOBA) batting line so far. Even if you remove that three homer game against the Rockies, he’d still be hitting .273/.373/.492 (.388 wOBA), which is right in line with his .282/.360/.495 (.371 wOBA) career line. ZiPS projects a .273/.362/.474 (.365 wOBA) performance from here on out, for what it’s worth.
  • He’s a switch hitter without much of a platoon split (.368 wOBA vs. RHP, .384 vs. LHP in his career) and has long been one of the very best baserunners in the game. Beltran hasn’t attempted to steal a base this year (understandable given the knee), but he still scores well in first-to-thirds, moving up on wild pitches, etc.

Even though the Yankees started the season with a pretty set lineup, it’s obvious how Beltran could help them. Nick Swisher isn’t hitting in right field, and even though most of us expect a rebound to come at some point, he’s shown in 2008 that a bounceback isn’t guaranteed over the course of a full-season. There’s also the DH spot that could be open for a myriad of reasons. Jorge Posada could continue to stink, the Yankees could decide Jesus Montero isn’t ready/Jesus Montero might stink/Jesus Montero might get traded. It’s not all that tough to see where the Yankees could use Beltran.

The Mets already have that $18.5M set aside for Beltran’s salary this year, and I’m sure they’d be willing to eat some of it to move him. The more they eat, the better the return, that’s usually how this process works. Since Beltran (and Scott Boras) offered his services to the Yankees at a discounted rate years ago as a free agent, I’m willing to bet the no-trade clause would be a non-issue. I’m not going to speculate on what it would take to acquire him, but I think last year’s Berkman trade is a halfway decent comparable. Beltran’s a better player this year than Berkman was last, so we’d have to adjust upward of course. That at least that puts us in the ballpark and not the parking lot though.

The injuries to David Wright and Ike Davis could either speed up or slow down the Beltran trade process, depending on your point of view. The Mets could hold onto him and try to hang around in the race (or at least until one of the other marquee names gets healthy), or Sandy Alderson could get a jump on everyone else and try to sell high on Beltran early in the season. Either way, he’d clearly help whatever team acquires him.

Mailbag: Bernie, Cutters, Cashman, Jorge, More

I bailed on the mailbag last week for no good reason, but I’ll make up for it today with a bunch of questions and some shorter, punchier answers. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in any questions throughout the week.

Bernie was awesome, but he's no Beltran. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

eyerishyank asks: Got into a twitter battle today with Tommy Dee of the Knicks blog about Beltran vs Bernie and who is the better player, could make for an interesting blog entry. I think it is Bernie, though defense and baserunning goes to Beltran. Can we quantify Beltran’s decline? Can we measure Bernie’s championships? I think Sabermetricians may go the way of Beltran and “old school” may go Bernie.

Carlos Beltran‘s a better player, but that’s not a knock on Bernie Williams. They have identical .371 wOBA’s for their careers, although Beltran was power while Bernie was batting average and on-base percentage. The difference is in the stolen base department, where Beltran’s 88.1% success rate is the best in baseball history (239 SB, just 39 CS), and on defense. Bernie’s got himself a bunch of Gold Gloves, but Beltran slaughters him in both CF UZR (+32.4 to -90.8) and John Dewan’s +/- system (+59 to -61).

I hesitate to give Bernie credit for the titles because that’s a team thing, and although he certainly contributed to the cause, it’s wrong to punish Beltran for his sucky Royals teammates for all those years. If you want to compare postseason stats, then Bernie hit .275/.371/.480 (545 PA) in October, Beltran .366/.485/.817 (101 PA). Yeah. Their career arcs are similar, right down to the decline at age 32-33, but when you have two players with similar offensive ability, the guy with the crazy stolen base rate and brilliant defense wins.

Evan asks: With Soriano set to be the primary setup guy, if there is any overlap in batters that he and Mo would both face, is it possible that the batters that faced Soriano’s cutter would be better equipped to deal with Mo’s? Could there be a noticeable negative effect in Mo’s performance this coming season as a result?

I don’t think so. Theoretically they won’t be facing the same batters in the same game, unless something bad happens along the way. Batters see fastball after fastball at-bat after at-bat, game after game, season after season, and I suspect that as long as Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera aren’t leaving their cutter in the happy zone, they’ll be perfectly fine. Would we ask the same question about a curveball or changeup?

Daniel asks: Does it seem strange to anyone else how many interviews Cashman has done this offseason? Feel its a little out of the ordinary. Could it be that maybe he is advertising himself for a new job next season? No matter what the reason I’m sure there is some strategy to it. What do you think?

It seems odd but I think it’s just a coincidence more than anything. They had the Soriano press conference, then he was doing the WFAN breakfast, then it was the Foley’s thing, then today it’ll be Andy Pettitte‘s presser, all one right after the other. I don’t think there’s much to it, other teams won’t hire him based on what he says to the media.

Pounder asks: Just wondering, what if Jorge is floundering, or is in some other way unhappy with his situation come July, would he be open for a mid year trade?

Can’t see it. And besides, if he’s floundering, he’s untradeable with that contract. The Yankees would have to eat a ton of his salary, and in that case I just say keep him and hope he rebounds late in the year.

I think 2000 was the last time Sheets was healthy. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Tucker asks: I know you have already discussed Ben Sheets, but assuming Pettitte doesn’t come back and with how thin the market is right now, could he start to become a more intriguing target? It seems like at the right price, he could become the epitome of low-risk, high-reward.

Obviously this question was sent in before the andy Pettitte news broke. Anyway, Sheets had Tommy John surgery late last year and is out until August at the earliest. Considering that it usually takes guys 18 months or so to get their old command back, he probably won’t be ready and effective until Opening Day 2012. I’d pass unless he’s willing to play for dirt cheap, though I suspect he just won’t be ready in time to make a meaningful contribution.

Sheepmeister asks: Do you think Orlando Cabrera or David Eckstein would be worth looking at for the utility inf position at a cheap price?

Nope, both are just names. Cabrera hasn’t topped a .316 wOBA in any of the last three years, and he’s never played a position other than shortstop in the big leagues. Eckstein is slightly worse, topping out at .313 wOBA over the last three years (.296 over the last two years) and being relegated to second base because he literally can’t make the throw from shortstop anymore. I have little faith in Eduardo Nunez, but seriously, he could outperform these two next year.

Michael asks: How did you guys start this blog/know each other and how did you get in on the YES Network.com?

Before RAB, the three of us were blogging at our own sites scattered across the web. I knew who Ben and Joe were but we weren’t anything more than casual acquaintances, exchanging the occasional email. Eventually we all ended up writing at the now defunct MVP, me on the minor league side and them on the big league side, and then one day I got an email from Ben saying the he and Joe were starting a site and asking if I wanted to come along. The rest, as they say, is history.

As far as YES, then contacted us about two years ago about a potential partnership, and it was a pretty easy decision on our part to tag along. That’s pretty much it, they link to our stuff from time to time and we retain full editorial control of the site. We wouldn’t have partnered up without that last part.