Mailbag: Beltran, Kuroda, Joba, D’Backs

Only four questions this week, but they’re good ones. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us any questions throughout the week.

(Jeff Curry/Getty)
(Jeff Curry/Getty)

Jeff asks: Carlos Beltran is a free agent next year. While the Yankees do have an abundance of outfielders, you see any chance they try to pick him up?

Do the Yankees have an abundance of outfielders? They have a bunch of warm bodies, but how many are legitimate everyday or even (gasp!) above-average players? I think Brett Gardner is the only guy you can say that about with any certainty.

Anyway, Beltran makes sense for the Yankees next season just like he did nine years ago (before he signed with the Mets) and even two years ago (before he signed with the Cardinals). He’s hitting .309/.346/.533 (146 wRC+) with 19 homers for St. Louis this year, and he continues to be a true switch-hitter who hits both lefties and righties. Perhaps most importantly, he has managed to avoid the DL these last two seasons. That’s encouraging given his history of knee problems.

Beltran turned 36 in April, and there are two significant red flags in his performance. His walk rate (5.1%) is a career-low by far, dropping from 10.5% last year and his 10.5% career average. His swing-and-miss rate (9.2%) is essentially identical to last year (9.3%), which was his career-high. Beltran has a career 7.3% whiff rate and was at 6.6% as recently as 2011. Seeing an older hitter cut his walk rate in half with an increased swing-and-miss rate suggests he may be cheating and starting his bat a little earlier. That’s not uncommon for guys that age.

The Yankees could certainly use a switch-hitting power guy in the middle of the lineup, especially since they should shuffle him between right field and DH to keep his legs fresh. Beltran has made it very, very clear he wants to play for the Yankees in the past*, which could work in their favor if he’s willing to take a one-year deal. I don’t like the idea of a two-year contract at this point of his career, but there’s a definite fit  at the right price.

* For what it’s worth, I think passing on Beltran prior to 2005 was the biggest blunder of the Brian Cashman era, especially after he came to the team at the last minute and was willing to sign at a relative discount.

Brian asks: If the Yankees wanted to, what should they get in return in a trade for Hiroki Kuroda? To me, it may be a great opportunity to get some quality prospects in exchange for a valuable commodity.

From what I can tell, the 38-year-old Kuroda does not have a no-trade clause. He had one last year for sure, but I can’t find anything indicating this year’s contract includes one. That seems kinda odd and I’m just going to assume he does have no-trade protection. Why would he demand one in 2012 but not 2013? Weird.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Anywho, Kuroda is pitching like an ace this year (2.65 ERA and 3.62 FIP) and getting him for the second half would be a huge help to some contender. Just imagine the Dodgers or Rangers or Diamondbacks or even the Red Sox getting their hands on him. Low maintenance, affordable, proven in a big market, everything you could want in a rental starter.

If the Yankees were to move him, I think they should seek a return on par with what the Brewers got for Zack Greinke last year. Kuroda now is better than Greinke was last year, though he’s much older and Greinke had more “name value” as a former Cy Young winner. The Angels gave up their number two (Jean Segura), four (Johnny Hellweg), and nine (Ariel Pena) prospects for Greinke, though only Segura was a top 100 guy (#55 by Baseball America).

That’s the framework I’d be looking for in return for Kuroda. A top-100 prospect who is big league ready — Segura stepped right into the Brewers’ lineup after the deal — and two other good but not great prospects. Kuroda has shown a willingness to use his no-trade clause however — he blocked deals to the Yankees and Red Sox while with the Dodgers in 2011 — so getting him to agree to a deal wouldn’t be easy even if the Bombers wanted to move him, which I doubt they do.

Kevin asks: Was Hiroki Kuroda an all-star snub? And does he have a legit shot at the Cy Young award?

Oh yes, he absolutely was an All-Star snub. During the All-Star lineup/starting pitcher press conference, Jim Leyland confirmed he took Chris Tillman (3.95 ERA and 4.95 FIP) over Kuroda because he had more wins (11-3 vs. 8-6). Kuroda ranks second in the AL in ERA, seventh in bWAR (3.2), and 11th in fWAR (2.3 WAR). Definitely a snub considering eleven (!) AL starting pitchers were named to the All-Star team, including the injury replacements.

The Cy Young award is tougher to defend. No AL pitcher is having an outrageous season that moves them to the front of the pack yet; instead there are a bunch of guys — specifically Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, and Chris Sale — who are simply having excellent seasons. For a Yankee to win a major award, he needs to blow everyone else out of the water and make it obvious like Alex Rodriguez in 2007. There is a voter bias against Yankees for sure, and that will work against Kuroda. He’d need a dynamite second half to make a serious run at the award, otherwise he’s a guy who will get a few fourth or fifth place votes at best.

Dan asks: With the Diamondbacks wanting bullpen help is there anything they’d give up that is valuable for Joba Chamberlain? Surely he’d fair better in the NL West.

The AL-to-NL switch isn’t as significant for relievers, who are much more likely to face a pinch-hitter than the opposing pitcher. The D’Backs have had some interest in Joba in the past, particularly during the rumored Dan Haren trade talks. That was back when Joba was, you know, good. Good and under control for a few more years.

These days Chamberlain is just a rental reclamation project reliever, which is nothing to get excited about. Brandon League was a Proven Closer™ having a good (but not great) year when he was traded at the deadline last year, and all he fetched was two non-top 30 prospects. Maybe Arizona would give up a failing former top prospect like RHP Anthony Meo (5.86 ERA and 6.06 FIP in 43 innings), a lottery ticket type. I wouldn’t expect much in return for Joba at this point, unless he’s like the second or third piece in a package deal. He won’t bring back much by himself.

Once again, Beltran came to the Yankees at the last minute

Seven years ago, Carlos Beltran and Scott Boras famously came to the Yankees during the final minutes of the outfielder’s free agency, offering to join the team at the discount rather than sign elsewhere. The Yankees said no thanks, and off went Beltran to the Mets for seven years and $119M. Jon Heyman says Beltran (no longer a Boras client) did the same thing this year, offering himself to the Yankees at the last minute for the same two years and $26M he got from the Cardinals. The Yankees again declined, and now he’s in St. Louis.

I still think that passing on Beltran before the 2005 season was one of the biggest mistakes the Yankees have made under Brian Cashman, though in hindsight you can say they dodged a bullet given all his injuries in recent years. This time around it’s a different story, because he is older with bad knees and the Yankees don’t need the offense or an outfielder. It’s pretty clear that Beltran wants to wear pinstripes though, it just doesn’t look like he’ll ever get the chance.

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.