Mailbag: Wang, Outfield, Pastornicky, Pitching

Got five questions for you this week. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)
(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Nathan asks: Do you think Chien-Ming Wang can be more effective than either Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes (especially Nova)?

No, I don’t. Not at all. Wang, who turned 33 in March, hasn’t been an effective pitcher since hurting his foot in Houston in 2008. He’s managed a 6.39 ERA (5.12 FIP) with a 53.2% ground ball rate in 136.2 innings since then, and most of that came in the NL East with the Nationals. Wang looked great in the World Baseball Classic, almost like his old self, but he faced two teams (Australia and Japan) with a combined zero big leaguers on the roster. It doesn’t mean much.

The guy the Yankees had from 2005-2008 is long gone by now. Wang has had some very serious injuries since then, most notably the dreaded torn shoulder capsule. Guys who have had that surgery never come back the same. I’m talking Rich Harden, Johan Santana, Mark Prior, Chris Young, John Maine, and others. They never come back the same. Wang will join the Triple-A rotation today and if things go his way, maybe we’ll see him in the big leagues at some point. I don’t see any way he is better than Nova or Hughes right now. No chance at all.

Mark asks: Care to take a crack at predicting the 2014 outfield?

Unless Ichiro Suzuki manages to play his way off the roster this year — I don’t think it will happen, but it’s possible — I’m pretty sure it will be the same outfield they have now. Vernon Wells in left, Brett Gardner in center, and Ichiro in right. I think they’ll let Curtis Granderson walk as a free agent and find a better right-handed hitting platoon guy than Ben Francisco. Brennan Boesch could also be in the mix if he impresses this year.

In a perfect world, some of the kids in the minors will start to push those guys for spots next year. Zoilo Almonte has had an insane start to his Triple-A career these last few weeks, but let’s see how things play out this summer before ticketing him for the Hall of Fame. Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, and Ramon Flores could all wind up outfield options at some point in 2014, just probably not on Opening Day. I do think they’ll start the year with the veterans though, they always do.

(Scott Cunningham/Getty)
(Scott Cunningham/Getty)

Taylor asks: With Jeter’s injury and eventual retirement looming, would the Braves Tyler Pastornicky be a reasonable target to take over shortstop in the next few seasons? Blocked in Atlanta by Andrelton Simmons.

Pastornicky, 23, was originally drafted by the Blue Jays before going to the Braves in the Yunel Escobar trade. He opened last year as Atlanta’s everyday shortstop before playing his way back to the minors (65 wRC+) and opening the door for Simmons. It’s early, but he’s raked in Triple-A so far this year (160 wRC+).

Baseball America ranked Pastornicky as the seventh best prospect in the Braves system prior to last year (he wasn’t eligible for this year’s list). Here’s a snippet of the subscriber-only scouting report

He has a good feel for hitting and makes consistent line-drive contact, though he could stand to draw a few more walks. He doesn’t have a lot of strength, but he has a quick bat and could develop some gap power. Pastornicky has plus speed and the aptitude to steal bases. He has above-average range at shortstop, and he could get more out of his average arm with a more consistent arm slot.

They also note he’s exceeded expectations during his march to the big leagues and is a big-time competitor with good baseball instincts.

I’m not sure if Pastornicky will ever hit enough to be a big league regular, even at shortstop, but I do think he has a better chance of playing the position everyday than Eduardo Nunez just because of his defense. Nunez’s throws have been greatly improved in the early going, but he’s still a below-average defender overall. They’re very similar offensively players — contact guys with speed — but the defense separates them. I like both guys as stopgaps more than long-term shortstop solutions.

Justin asks: I know this question may lend itself to a long post, but can you address possible options for the Yankees to build/maintain a strong pitching staff for 2014-2016? Given the impending retirements of Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda and the lack of impact free agents, they’ve got a lot of eggs in the Michael Pineda/Manny Banuelos basket.

Oh don’t worry, the Yankees will just sign some veteran pitchers to one-year deals and get crazy unexpected production. I’m thinking one-year deals worth $10M for Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum this offseason, putting them in line for about 6 WAR in 2014. It is the Yankees way and it is their destiny.

In all seriousness, I do think veterans on one-year deals will be the crutch they lean on to fill out the roster while waiting (hoping) for some young players emerge from the farm system. The Yankees do the one-year veteran thing better than anyone, and as long as they use it as a way to supplement the roster rather than employ it as a core-building strategy, it works for me. It’s tough to see them finding veteran pitchers as productive as Kuroda and Pettitte on a one-year deals, but who knows? Maybe Halladay or Lincecum will be that guy.

Mark asks: Single biggest reason attendance appears to be lagging over the last two years?

Probably ticket prices. It costs a family of four about $100 just to sit in the grandstand, and that doesn’t include food and parking and all that. Suddenly a family outing to the ballpark on a weekend is a $200 event. There are countless other ways to spend that $200 and get more entertainment bang of the buck. So yeah, I do think they priced out a portion of the fan base and that’s a big reason why attendance is lagging. Obviously there is more going on here than just that. Eventually the Yankees will come up with a solution (dynamic pricing? hello???) that doesn’t involve blaming StubHub.

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Yankees sign Chien-Ming Wang to minor league contract

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)
(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Sunday: The contract is worth $3M at a big league level according to George King and Kevin Kernan. I assume that’s pro-rated for the time he’s actually on the roster, which is typical. Still a pretty nice chunk of change for Triple-A depth guy. The contract does include an opt-out clause, but the exact date is unknown.

Saturday: The Yankees have announced the signing and it is indeed a minor league contract. No word on how much he’ll make if he pitches in the big leagues yet. Wang will speak to the media following a workout Monday morning and will presumably discuss his decision to return to the team and the health of his shoulder. Hopefully we get to see him in a Grapefruit League game before the season starts.

Friday: The Yankees have been searching for a veteran starter to stash in Triple-A, and that search has led them to a familiar name. Jon Heyman reports the club has agreed to sign Chien-Ming Wang to what I assume is a minor league contract. He was in Tampa this week to throw bullpens and showcase himself for the team.

Wang, 33 next week, threw 12 shutout innings for Chinese Taipei in the World Baseball Classic earlier this month. The Yankees were one of a number of clubs to scout him during the tournament — reports indicate his trademark sinker was clocked in the 88-92 mph range — and apparently they liked what they saw enough to bring him in for more workouts.¬†Obviously the two sides are familiar with each other.

Due to numerous injuries, most notably a torn shoulder capsule that required surgery in July 2009, Wang has not been an effective big league pitcher since hurting his foot running the bases in Houston in June 2008. He pitched to a 3.79 ERA (3.90 FIP) with a 60.5% ground ball rate in 628.2 innings from 2005-2008, but since then he’s managed a 6.39 ERA (5.12 FIP) with a 53.2% ground ball rate in 136.2 innings. The Yankees are clearly banking on his World Baseball Classic showing being legit.

Wang will join a Triple-A Scranton rotation that will also include lefty Vidal Nuno and righties Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, and Dellin Betances. He’ll be able to opt-out of his contract on June 1st if he’s not called up to the big leagues thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is a road the team will cross when the time comes. Wang looked pretty darn good in the WBC, but he’s still unlikely to contribute much at the big league level. Either way, it’s no-risk move with some neato nostalgia involved.

Norris: Chien-Ming Wang working out for Yankees in Tampa

Via Josh Norris: Chien-Ming Wang is with the Yankees in Tampa and is working out for the team. He’ll throw a few bullpen sessions, stuff like that. Ken Davidoff confirmed with the right-hander’s agent that no deal has been reached and they are still talking to multiple teams.

Wang, 32, pitched very well for Chinese Taipei in the World Baseball Classic, throwing 12 scoreless innings across two starts. His trademark sinker was clocked in the 88-92 mph range and the Yankees have had interest in him for about a month now. We know the club is looking for a veteran starter to stash in Triple-A, but the fact remains that Wang has not been an effective pitcher since hurting his foot running the bases in Houston in June 2008. That said, if what he showed during the WBC — heavy sinkers and lots of quick outs — was legit, he’d be perfect on a minor league deal.

Yanks interested in Chien-Ming Wang, had “major interest” in Vazquez

As expected, the Yankees had someone on hand to scout Chien-Ming Wang during his World Baseball Classic start on Friday night and remain interested in signing him according to Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman. George King says his fastball was clocked in the 88-92 mph range, which is pretty good considering a) the extent of his shoulder injuries, and b) it’s only early-March. Wang, 32, held a weak Australia lineup to four singles in six scoreless innings despite the mandatory 65-pitch limit.

Meanwhile, Nick Cafardo says the Yankees were one of five teams with “major interest” in Javy Vazquez before he blew out his knee and required surgery. The 36-year-old reportedly threw the ball very well during his winter ball stint in Puerto Rico and was considering a return to MLB after sitting out last summer, though the knee injury is likely to keep him out all year. Despite Wang’s lack of success since his mid-2008 foot injury and Vazquez’s ugly stints in pinstripes, the Yankees aren’t leaving stones unturned as they search for a veteran starter to stash in Triple-A for depth. Wang looked pretty darn good the other night, I’d be cool with giving him a minor league deal if the medicals check out.

Yankees looking for pitching depth, keeping tabs on Chien-Ming Wang

Via Joel Sherman & George King: The Yankees continue to seek a veteran pitcher to stash in the Triple-A rotation, so they’ll scout Chien-Ming Wang with Team Taiwan during the World Baseball Classic. The former Yankees right-hander impressed Spring Training pitching instructor Billy Connors with a recent workout and is said to be seeking a Major League contract.

Wang, 33 next month, has not been an effective pitcher since hurting his foot running the bases during interleague play back in 2008. He got clobbered with the Yankees in 2009 and missed the entire 2010 season following surgery to repair his shoulder capsule. Wang pitched to a 6.68 ERA (5.85 FIP) with a 52.9% ground ball rate in 32.1 innings for the Nationals last year, and PitchFX clocked his trademark sinker in the low-90s. There’s no way I’d give him a guaranteed contract, but he would be a fine Triple-A depth guy. I’d prefer someone with a little more certainty, but that guy really doesn’t exist.

Mailbag: Darvish, Felix, Nova, Wang, Banuelos

Just four questions this week, but they’re good ones. We’ll look at where the money for Yu Darvish would be coming from, bad blood between the Yankees and Mariners, an Ivan NovaChien-Ming Wang comparison, and comps for Manny Banuelos. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you send a question in.

(Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

Mark asks: In regards to your recent post on Yu Darvish, can you explain how any team, let along the Yankees, can afford to pay a one-time posting fee of $40 million in these current economic times? I always thought the Steinbrenners ran the Yanks at break-even or at a slight loss. Unless MLB allows them to borrow from their YES broadcast subsidiary, I cannot imagine any owner, even the Steinbrenners, having that kind of cash lying around in a liquid investment, but I could be wrong. Or are posting fees paid out over the life of the contract? If not, I wonder why it doesn’t make more sense financially for the Yankees to boost their payroll by say $10-15 million as a way of spreading the wealth around to more players versus just one.

The posting fee is a one-time payment that has to be made when the player signs his contract, so the Red Sox had to cut the Seibu Lions a $51.1M check for Daisuke Matsuzaka back in December of 2006. If the team and the player don’t agree to a deal, like what happened with the A’s and Hisashi Iwakuma this past offseason, then the team doesn’t have to pay the posting fee.

I have no idea what the Yankees’ finances look like, but I’m certain they have $40M+ lying around somewhere to make a payment like that. With a $200M payroll, they’re making ~$17M payments for player salaries twice a month (just salaries, doesn’t not include benefits and non-player personnel), so I’m sure the cash is somewhere in Yankee Global Enterprises. I hear the New Stadium comes equipped with a cash printing press in the basement*, actually. I know I kinda danced around the question but like I said, I haven’t seen their books, but I have to think there’s $40M on reserve somewhere, likely much more than that.

* This may or may not be true.

Elliot asks: While this is very speculative, do you think that Jack Zduriencik getting a two-year extension with the Mariners hurts the Yankees ability to trade for King Felix? Do you think there is still bad blood between Cashman and him because of the failed Cliff Lee Negotiations? 

Felix Hernandez is not getting traded anytime soon, with or without Zduriencik’s extension. He’s only 25 and is under contract for four more years (three more after this season), he’s absolutely going to be part of the next winning Mariners team. They’re not some small-market outfit, they have tons of cash to throw around and a pretty strong young core with Felix, Michael Pineda, Justin Smoak, and Dustin Ackley. They could turn that team around in a year.

As for possible bad blood, yeah I do think there is some, but I don’t think it’s enough to get in the way of a potential Felix trade. He’s a very special case. When it comes to bit pieces though, a spare reliever or a bench bat, then forget it, you can find that stuff anywhere. Zduriencik did what he felt was best for his team, but I have to believe he burned some bridges with that maneuver. I’m sure other teams noticed too.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Mark asks: Do you think Ivan Nova compares favorably to Chien-Ming Wang at this point of his career?

Yes, I do think Nova now is better than Wang then, but they are different pitchers. Yeah, both rely on ground balls, but Wang relied on them to the extreme, I mean he never struck anyone out (3.3 K/9 from 2005-2006) and was regularly over 60% grounders before his foot and shoulder gave out. Nova is more of a 50-55% ground ball guy with 5.5 K/9 or so, and I’d happily trade about ten percentage points of ground balls for one extra strikeout every four innings. Wang was also a year older than Nova is now when he debuted, and although it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s not insignificant.

I will say this, Wang generated more consistently weak contact than I can remember ever seeing out of one pitcher. The history of baseball says it should not have worked for a guy allowing that many balls to be put into play (especially for a team as defensively awful as the 2005-2007 Yankees, man were they terrible with the glove), but it did because he never seemed to let the ball out of the infield. Wang was a 3.60-4.00 ERA guy before getting hurt, and that’s pretty much what I think Nova can be most years, with a little more at his peak.

Patrick asks: Who’s a good comparison for Manny Banuelos? I’d love to say Johan Santana but that’s unfair. What about Ricky Romero?

This question was sent in just a few minutes after Sweeny Murti said a scout dropped a Romero comp on Banuelos, and I’m guessing that’s not an accident. Looking strictly at the whole low-to-mid-90’s fastball/knockout changeup/third pitch curveball thing, then Romero’s a very good comp. The Blue Jays ace uses a two-seamer as well, plus he’s an inch or two taller than the Yankees young southpaw, but otherwise it fits. Of course when Romero was Banuelos’ age, he was a sophomore at Cal State Fullerton, a year away from being drafted (sixth overall in 2005), and four years away from making his big league debut. The two have had very, very different development paths.

Johan’s third pitch was always a slider, and plus his changeup was one of the best we’ll ever see. That’s an unfair comparison to slap on anyone, nevermind just Banuelos. Cole Hamels, Jaime Garcia, and John Danks are also fastball-change-curve, but all three of those guys have added cutters in recent years and are a few inches taller as well. They’re better comps than Santana, but still not perfect. Jeff Francis, Jason Vargas, and Mark Buehrle have the same repertoire, but none of them throw as hard as Banuelos.

That Romero/Hamels/Garcia/Danks group is pretty damn good, and I’m sure the Yankees would be absolutely thrilled if Banuelos develops into any one of them. They’re all well-above-average starters with strikeout stuff, and with the exception of Garcia (who’s in just his second full year as a big leaguer), they’ve shown the ability to stay healthy and eat up innings year after year. Getting that kind of value from Banuelos would be a major player development win.

Mailbag: Hughes, Wang, Prospects, Farm Teams

Four questions on this Friday morning, one about a current Yankees’ pitcher, one about a former Yankees’ pitcher, and a pair about the farm system. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Shai asks: Is Hughes a candidate for fall/winter ball? Given his few innings this year and his obvious need for secondary pitch development maybe it would be good for winter ball participation.

Yeah, I definitely think so. The Arizona Fall League eligibility rules have apparently changed since I last looked at them, but Phil Hughes is ineligible anyway because he has more than a year of service time. They could send him to Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, but I can’t ever remember the Yankees sending a pitcher to a Latin America winter league. I know Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera used to play in the DSL every year, but they’re obviously not pitchers. Hughes needs innings one way or the other, whether the Yankees consider him part of their future or not. Another handful of starts in winter ball.

RCK asks: Do you know what the incentives are on Chien Ming Wang’s contract? I can only find articles saying they’re worth $4MM total, but nothing about what the milestones are. Speaking of Wang, where do you think he’ll land next year?

Wanger signed a one-year deal with the Nationals worth $1M guaranteed this offseason after they paid him $3M last season. There’s another $4M worth of incentives in his contract, and Mark Zuckerman says they’re based on the number of games he started. I have no idea what the breakdown is, though he’s made six starts this season and might already be banking some of that extra cash.

It’s great that Wang is back in the big leagues, I’m legitimately happy for him, but he’s having a very odd season so far. He’s walked 13 and struck out just nine, and his ground ball rate is merely very good at 54.5%. In his heyday (2006 and 2007), he was at 60.8% grounders. After spending all that money and waiting all that time for him rehab, I have to imagine the Nationals will re-sign him after the season, when he’ll become a free agent by virtue of having six-plus years of service time. Wang still has a long way to go in his comeback, but he’s off to a nice little start.

Will asks: Which Yankee prospects have seen their stock rise and which have seen their stock tumble? Can you see any players make the BA Top 100 list for the first time and can you see anyone drop in their ranking?

(Tom Priddy/MiLB.com)

The two biggest risers for me are Mason Williams and J.R. Murphy, and I really liked Murphy coming into the season. His improved defense behind the plate increases his stock considerably, it’s just a shame that his season ended prematurely with that leg injury. I remember seeing someone mention that it happened on a foul ball, but I haven’t seen that confirmed anywhere. Williams obvious had the huge season with Short Season Staten Island, but apparently he has way more power potential than I realized. I thought he was a 10-12 homer guy at his peak, but apparently he’s got a shot at 20+. That would be amazing given the rest of his skill set and athleticism.

As far as droppers … I mean obviously the big one is Andrew Brackman. Yes, he has pitched much better of late (since that nine walk, 3.1 IP disaster), but it doesn’t erase what happened earlier in the year. He’s not young (in prospect years) and he still has a ways to go before proving that the improvement is real. Slade Heathcott‘s third shoulder injury in four years really puts a damper on things for me, because it’s the same body part over and over. You have to worry if it’ll become (or already has become) a chronic problem. All the time Graham Stoneburner missed because of the neck certainly isn’t a positive, same deal with David Adams and his never-ending injury troubles. Ryan Pope had a chance to see big league bullpen time this year but wound up hurt, back in Double-A, and eventually DFA’d. Melky Mesa and Jose Ramirez didn’t help their causes either.

The Yankees landed six players on Baseball America’s Top 100 List and five on Keith Law’s Top 100 List before the season. Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances are locks for the list next year, and I think Gary Sanchez has a decent shot of making it again as well. It’s not set in stone though. I have to imagine Brackman will drop off the list, and Austin Romine was barely sneaking on in the first place. Williams is the only serious candidate to jump into the list, and if he does so it’ll be in the back half somewhere, 75-100 or so. There will be many guys closer to the majors ahead of him. So what’s that, three shoo-ins and three others with a legit chance to make it? Not bad at all.

Melvin asks: For the next mailbag, what (if anything) does it mean that most of the Yankees farm teams aren’t making the playoffs? The farm system is well regarded in terms of prospects, is it maybe just a matter of the non-prospects not performing? So in short, does this even matter?

Winning in the minors is always secondary to development, but everyone wants to win. It’s good for business (for the affiliates), and you don’t want your young players getting familiar with a losing atmosphere. The Yankees’ four full-season minor league affiliates are likely to miss the postseason this year for the first time (as a group) in basically forever, but I don’t think it means anything at all. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an anomaly.

New York’s affiliates have been making the postseason and winning league championships for years now, so this is way out of the ordinary. At least one of the full season squads has won a championship every year from 2007 through 2010, and that doesn’t count the five titles won by Short Season Staten Island since 2000, or the four the GCL Yankees have won since 2004. Yankees affiliates have finished the season with a combined over-.500 record in each of the last 28 years, and the streak is likely to continue in 2011. If none of the four full season teams make the playoffs again next year, and then against the year after that, and it starts to become a trend, then I’ll wonder what’s up. But one year? Nah, I’m just chalking it up to being a total fluke.