Archive for Cliff Lee
With four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation on the disabled list and not due back anytime soon, the Yankees are facing a pitching crisis. It’s not as bad as it could be thanks to the Brandon McCarthy pickup and the emergence of Shane Greene, but the team is pretty desperate for some quality arms. It’s tough to expect Masahiro Tanaka and/or Michael Pineda to return in the second half given the nature of their injuries.
The trade deadline is next Thursday and at this point it’s tough to see the Phillies not selling. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recently told Jim Salisbury nothing more than “we’re going to try to do what we can to improve our club,” which makes sense. It’s not often a team will come out and announce they’re in sell mode. It pushes fans away. The Phillies do have baseball’s sixth worst record at 43-56 though, and the rumors of a fire sale are louder than ever. If and when they do pull the plug, they have several players who would interest the Yankees. Here are the pitchers, later today we’ll cover the position players.
LHP Cliff Lee
Lee, 35, returned to the mound last night after spending two months on the disabled list with a flexor pronator strain. That’s a muscle in your forearm, though forearm issues are usually symptoms of an elbow problem. Either way, Lee returned last night and was terrible, allowing six runs on a career high-tying 12 hits in 5.2 innings. I watched the game and he just looked rusty. PitchFX confirms his velocity was fine and he threw all of his pitches, but his location was terrible. He looked like a guy who threw only 10.2 rehab innings after missing two months.
Anyway, prior to last night, Lee had a 3.18 ERA (2.70 FIP) in ten starts and 68 innings, numbers that are right in line with his stellar 2008-2013 performance (2.89 ERA and 2.85 FIP). His strikeout rate (8.07 K/9 and 21.1 K%) was down a touch from recent years but still very good while his walk rate (1.19 BB/9 and 3.1 BB%) was outstanding as usual and his ground ball rate (49.1%) was a career high. Cliff Lee was pitching exactly like Cliff Lee before the injury. Here is his pitch breakdown:
Even during these last seven years, when he was one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball, Lee never had blow you away stuff. It’s good stuff but not great stuff that plays up (a lot) because he locates everything so well. Lee is essentially a sinker/cutter/changeup pitcher who will mix in a few four-seamers, curveballs, and sliders per start, with the changeup being the only pitch that is above-average at getting both swings and misses and grounders. (Whiff+ and GB+ are like ERA+, but for swing-and-miss and ground ball rates for the individual pitches.)
Lee’s contract is pricey but it’s not an albatross given how well he was pitching before getting hurt — he is owed roughly $10M through the end of this season plus another $25M last year. His $27.5M option for 2016 comes with a $12.5M buyout and vests if he throws 200 innings next year or 400 innings combined from 2014-15. The injury will hurt his chances of meeting the latter. Lee has thrown at least 210 innings every year since 2008, so he’s been very durable in recent years. He’s guaranteed $47.5M or so through the end of next year and at most $62.5M through 2016. I don’t see that as a deal-breaker for a pitcher of this caliber.
The Yankees are included in Lee’s 20-team no-trade list according to Jon Morosi, but that doesn’t appear to be much of an obstacle. In a perfect world New York would just absorb Lee’s contract and give up little in the way of prospects. The Phillies are a financial powerhouse though and shedding salary is not a priority at the deadline. In fact, Ken Rosenthal says they’re willing to eat money to get the best possible prospect package in return. Jim Bowden (subs. req’d) suggested Aaron Judge and Luis Severino for Lee, which is ludicrous, but he isn’t going to come cheap either. Giving up two very good but not truly elite prospects for a legitimate difference maker like Lee seems pretty reasonable in a vacuum, actually.
Of course, the health of Lee’s forearm/elbow is a critical and any team that trades for him will have to have to feel confident in the medicals. Lee is scheduled to start again Saturday, his last scheduled start before the deadline (he is scheduled to start again on the 31st). Teams are only going to get two looks at him before the deadline and the first look last night stunk. Saturday’s outing could be enough to convince a pitching needy club to pull the trigger, or Lee’s post-injury audition could stretch a little longer and make him an August waiver trade candidate. The Yankees are enamored with him and they are desperate for pitching. The stars are aligned.
LHP Cole Hamels
Want an elite left-hander who is younger than Lee and doesn’t have the same immediate injury concerns? The Phillies can also offer up the 30-year-old Hamels, who is once again pitching brilliantly (2.83 ERA and 3.14 FIP in 17 starts and 114.1 innings) after opening the season on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis. It clearly has not had any lingering effect — his strikeout rate (9.05 K/9 and 24.7 K%) is excellent and both his walk (2.99 BB/9 and 8.2 BB%) and ground ball (48.5%) rates are strong. His fastball velocity is also identical to last year and 2010-13 in general.
Let’s dive in to his pitch breakdown:
The changeup has always been Hamels’ bread and butter. It’s an elite offspeed pitch he can and will throw in any count to batters on both sides of the plate. He picked up the cutter during the 2010 season and it has helped him go from very good to excellent. Hamels throws five different pitches at least 10% of the time each (give or take) and has a go-to out pitch in his changeup. That kind of repertoire makes him one of the best (and most underappreciated?) pitchers in the game.
The Phillies signed Hamels to a massive six-year extension worth $144M two years ago, and at this point he is still owed approximately $99M through the 2018 season. That’s broken down into $9M for the rest of this year plus $22.5M annually over the next four years. The deal also includes a $20M team option/$24M vesting option for 2019. The option vests based on innings and shoulder-related time on the disabled list. Hamels wouldn’t be a short-term commitment like Lee, you’d be getting this guy from age 30-34 and possibly his age 35 season as well.
Both Jon Heyman and Nick Cafardo hear the Phillies are not inclined to move Hamels unless they’re blown away. They see him as someone who can anchor the rotation going forward and be part of the next winning team in Philadelphia. In fact, Cafardo says they’d need three top prospects and a team to absorb his full contract to move him. That seems unlikely to happen. (For what it’s worth, Buster Olney says the Phillies are telling teams Hamels is not available at all.) Like Lee, Hamels is an elite left-hander who has been a workhorse, has experience in a big market, and shown he can dominate in the postseason. Either guy would fit wonderfully in the Yankees’ rotation.
RHP Kyle Kendrick and RHP Roberto Hernandez
Regardless of whether you think the Yankees should be buying or selling — this is a very binary thing, of course, nothing in the middle is allowed — I think we can all agree they need to add another starter to eat up some innings at the very least. Hanging Chase Whitley out to dry in the second half is a recipe for disaster. Another McCarthy-esque pickup feels like the absolutely minimum for New York before the deadline.
The 29-year-old Kendrick has thrown at least 150 innings three times in the last four years and is at 20 starts and 125.2 innings this season. The problem? He’s been terrible, with a 4.87 ERA (4.57 FIP) this year and 5.38 ERA (4.51 FIP) over the last calendar year. Hernandez, 33, has also thrown 150+ innings in three of the last four years and is poised to do so again this year (17 starts, three relief appearances, 100.1 innings). He has a 4.22 ERA (4.78 FIP) this season and a 4.41 ERA (4.78 FIP) over the last calendar year. Both guys would likely come cheap and chew up some innings, but that’s it. They won’t have an impact.
RHP Jonathan Papelbon and various relievers
Papelbon, who is now 33, recently told Matt Gelb he would welcome a trade to a contender, assuming someone is willing to take on the $18M he is owed through next season (plus a $13M vesting option for 2016). He has been excellent in 2014 (1.17 ERA and 2.36 FIP) even though his strikeout rate (7.75 K/9 and 22.5 K%) has fallen for the third straight year. The Yankees could use another reliever, every team could, but this seems like overkill. If they’re willing to invest that kind of money in a reliever, I’d so much rather see them give it to the younger and better David Robertson.
The rest of Philadelphia’s bullpen includes 28-year-old lefty Antonio Bastardo, who has a 3.38 ERA (3.19 FIP) in 42.2 innings this year. He has been effective against right-handed hitters over the years and is not just a specialist. Veteran righty Mike Adams is once again on the disabled list with a shoulder problem and is likely done for the year. He’s a non-option. Others like lefty Jake Diekman (4.43 ERA and 3.01 FIP) and righty Justin De Fratus (3.07 ERA and 3.86 FIP) are fresh off the generic middle reliever farm. There’s a reason the Phillies have been looking for quality bullpen help for about two years now. There’s not much to see here.
* * *
The Yankees are said to have no interest in a reunion with A.J. Burnett — the Orioles are reportedly trying to acquire him, by the way (imagine having Burnett and Ubaldo Jimenez in the same rotation, yikes) — which isn’t surprising. I doubt we’ll see any reunions with failed Yankees starters for a little while after the Javy Vazquez fiasco. They’ve shown they’ll let things like that scare them away from repeats for a little while.
Lee and Hamels are obviously the big pitching names with the Phillies and I get the sense both are more available now than ever before. Lee seems more easily attainable, not that it won’t sting to get him. You have to give something to get an impact pitcher like that, assuming his arm is sound following the injury. Kendrick, Hernandez, and the miscellaneous bullpen arms are not needle-movers, just warm bodies to give innings in the second half. The Yankees could use use some of those types of pitchers too.
If the Phillies are selling, the Yankees should be interested in buying. At the start of the off-season it didn’t seem likely that the Phillies were in any kind of selling mode. Does a team that spends $44 million on Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd sound like a team that is ready to trade away its best players?
In the last few days, though, the rumor mill has churned out plenty of Phillies content, mostly related to them potentially trading their most expensive players. It started when we learned that they want to trade Jonathan Papelbon and his entire contract, using the cash savings for a starting pitcher. Peter Gammons took the issue further, saying the Phillies might even attach OF Domonic Brown to a Papelbon trade to sweeten the pot.
Trading a high-salary closer doesn’t necessarily fly in the face of the Phillies’ off-season moves to date. If they can free up enough cash to sign one of the free agent starters while losing only Papelbon, they could be better off in the long run. The rumors from this morning, on the other hand, will make you scratch your head. They might also make you say “gimme gimme gimme.”
Buster Olney reported that the Phillies “have indicated to other teams they are ready and willing to talk about Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in trades.” So, to review: the Phillies want to trade Papelbon to free up cash to sign a starting pitcher, but also are seeking to trade one of their very good starting pitchers. OK. Far be it from me to question the wisdom of Ruben Amaro, Jr. It’s his club and he can run it how he sees fit. It just so happens that the Yankees could be beneficiaries here.
Hamels, at age 30, might seem the more attractive of the two. Yet he has five years and $118.5 million left on his contract, including a $6 million buyout on a $20 million option for 2019. It’s not the worst contract for a 30-year-old; I’m sure he’d get more than that if he were a free agent today. Of course, his age and general effectiveness (2013 notwithstanding), he’ll probably fetch a decent price in a trade.
Lee, on the other hand, has two years and $62.5 million left on his contract — though that could be three years and $77.5 million, given his vesting option. That’s a lot of money annually, but the short-term nature of the deal, combined with Lee’s general elite level of play, makes that deal more palatable. It would certainly free up payroll for the Phillies, who could then sign another player to a dumb contract.
Plenty of roadblocks exist between the Yankees and Lee. For starters, Lee can block trades to 21 clubs, and surely the Yankees are on his list. It’s tough to forget that he spurned more guaranteed money from the Yankees — six years and $140 million at least, and it was rumored that the Yankees added a seventh year to the deal — in order to sign with the Phillies. Throughout the process we heard of Lee’s reluctance to play in New York, citing their older roster* and an incident wherein New York fans allegedly spit on his wife.
Time, of course, can change matters. The Yankees are looking a bit better than the Phillies right now, so Lee, who hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2011, could be more amenable to a trade. That’s when we hit another roadblock: the Phillies’ demands. According to Jayson Stark, the Phillies will want the receiving team to take on all of Lee’s salary, plus give up a “huge return.” That makes the deal seem less likely — not only because the Yankees don’t have much in the way of major prospects, but because Brian Cashman has shown no indications of trading prospects for a player with a huge salary (paying twice, as he says it).
Few teams can afford a contract of Lee’s size, even though it runs only two or perhaps three years. That gives the Yankees an advantage. Given their need for pitching, and the immense help that Lee would provide on that front, they should look into a trade. Yet it’s unlikely anything gets done here. The Phillies want it all, and it doesn’t make sense for teams to give that up. Yet given the Yankees’ needs, we can all dream a little.
Via Jon Morosi: The Yankees are one of 20 teams (!) included in Cliff Lee’s no-trade clause. He can also block trades to the Red Sox, Orioles, and Rangers. There has been some speculation the disappointing Phillies could put the left-hander on the trade market to kick start a rebuild.
Lee, 34, has pitched to a 2.45 ERA (2.60 FIP) despite his lowest strikeout (7.54 K/9 and 21.6 K%) and ground ball (41.8%) rates in years. He is owed approximately $80M through 2015, but that could jump to $94M if his option for 2016 vests. Players put big market teams on their no-trade clauses all the time so they can get something out of it, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Lee wanted the option exercised in return for agreeing to a deal. There’s no word on whether the Yankees would be interested in acquiring the southpaw, but Brian Cashman & Co. have been enamored with him for quite some time. I have to think they’ll check in if he does hit the market.
Only three questions this week, but the answers are kinda long. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
John asks: With all the talk of the Phillies trading people like Cliff Lee at the deadline, do you think the Yankees would be interested? Right now next year’s rotation is CC Sabathia and every one else is a question mark.
I think that depends entirely on whether the team tries to go through with the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax limit in 2014 in beyond. If they want to give it a shot, forget about Lee. If they scrap the whole plan — as has been rumored already — then yeah, I do think they would be interested. Brian Cashman & Co. seem to be enamored with the lefty, first trying to trade for him then trying to sign him as a free agent.
Lee, 34, is not the same pitcher he was a few years ago, but he’s still outstanding. Easily one of the top 15-20 starters in the game. His strikeout (7.25 K/9 and 20.1 K%) and ground ball (39.3%) rates have both been trending downward since he rejoined the Phillies, though he still doesn’t walk anyone (1.27 BB/9 and 3.5 BB%). Lee will earn $25M this year and in each of the next two years, plus his $27.5M vesting option for 2016 includes a $12.5M (!) buyout. Since we’re roughly one-fifth of the way through this year, that’s approximately $82.5M left on his contract if the option doesn’t vest.
If the Phillies eat say, $20-30M of that $82.5M, I think it would take a three- or four-player package to acquire Lee, and at least two of those players would have to be studs. He may be expensive, but he’s also really good. You won’t get him for free just because. Would Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Brett Marshall, and a fourth guy be enough? Maybe. Would I do it? Sure, especially if the Yankees plan on scrapping the 2014 payroll plan. The upgrade from Ivan Nova/David Phelps to Lee is legitimately four or five wins over a full season, and that’s the difference between baseball and golf and October given the rest of the AL East.
Mike asks: What would it take to acquire Nick Hundley? Seems to be Joe Girardi type of catcher, someone who does everything okay but nothing great.
I’m not sure if the Girardi comparison is accurate, but Hundley is a solid all-around catcher. He’s rebounded well this year (109 wRC+) after hitting miserably a year ago (29 wRC+), and he’s been close to a league average hitter overall (95 wRC+) since getting the job full-time in 2009. His defensive reputation is strong and he’s thrown out close to 32% of attempted base-stealers the last three years.
Hundley, 29, is under contract for just $7M between this year and next, which works out pretty well for the Yankees. Yasmani Grandal is the catcher of the future in San Diego, which could land Hundley on the trade block. Interestingly enough, Hundley recently called out Grandal — “You want to talk about a guy who is unproven and had a good couple months on steroids, go ahead,” he said — which is kind of a jerk thing to do. Quality catchers are very hard to find, so two quality (but not elite) prospects seems like a reasonable asking price. Marshall and Ramon Flores for Hundley? I’d think hard about it.
Andrew asks: Can I get a scouting report (and your personal opinion) on Rob Refsnyder? The kid is absolutely mashing, and it’s been long enough this season to call it more than a fluke.
The Yankees gave Refsnyder a little less than $206k as their fifth round pick last summer, and all he’s done this year is mash. I’m talking .391/.490/.523 (~184 wRC+) in 153 plate appearances between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa prior to last night’s game. Here’s a snippet of what Baseball America (subs. req’d) had to say before the draft:
Scouts like his bat and think he could be an average hitter. He’s always hitting — he holds his high school record for the highest career batting average and is a career .341 hitter over his three years with the Wildcats. The problem scouts have is that Refsnyder just doesn’t profile as a corner outfielder in pro ball because he has a flat swing that’s geared more for doubles than home runs. He’s an average runner with an average arm, so scouts who like the bat are interested in getting Refsnyder to move back to second base, a position he played in high school.
After playing the outfield during his pro debut last year, Refsnyder has played second base this year and he’s very much a work in progress at the position. He committed 12 errors in 29 games prior to last night, and although errors are hardly the best way to measure defensive competence, it’s an indication he’s a little rough around the edges. That’s not surprising, he didn’t play the position at all in college. He’ll need some time to adjust.
I see Refsnyder as a (very) rich man’s Mitch Hilligoss. He can hit and he knows what he’s doing at the plate, but he doesn’t offer a ton of power and doesn’t have a set position. Maybe that means he winds up a very good utility man who can play second, third, and both corner outfield spots, who knows. Obviously they should give him to time to work on things at second. Refsnyder is mashing so far, but he also came from a big-time college program and should mash Single-A pitchers. I’ll get more excited about the performance if he maintains it at the Double-A level. His season to date has been very exciting though.
David asks: Would the Yankees have any chance to get under the $189mm “cap” if they had signed Cliff Lee a few years back? I think it would be much tougher which might be good or bad.
The Yankees (and Rangers) tried to sign Cliff Lee as a free agent during the 2010-2011 offseason, a year before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and luxury tax/revenue sharing rules were put in place. It’s not like everyone knew the new system was coming and the Yankees were willing to blow past it anyway, just to be clear.
Let’s say Lee signed the contract the Yankees offered him, which according to Jerry Crasnick was a six-year deal worth $132M plus a $16M player option for a seventh year. The option doesn’t count for luxury tax purposes since it’s not guaranteed, so Lee’s annual tax hit would have been $22M. Obviously if you add that to their current payroll obligations plus Robinson Cano‘s inevitable extension, the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 looks impossible. That’s a very simplistic way of looking at it though.
Had the Yankees signed Lee two winters ago, there’s a chance they would have been willing to let CC Sabathia walk as a free agent once he triggered his opt-out clause last offseason. At the very least they probably would have been a little less desperate to work out a new contract. The new CBA was agreed to (or at least details were released) in late-November — the first report of the team’s 2014 plan broke in early-December — and it’s unlikely Sabathia would have signed before then. He would have been the best starter on the market and the top free agents usually don’t sign until the Winter Meetings or later. The Yankees could have stayed in contact before backing away once the new CBA was announced.
On the other hand, they could have re-signed Sabathia and kept their lefty duo intact for the next few years. They probably would have never signed Hiroki Kuroda in that scenario but I think they still would have made the Jesus Montero-for-Michael Pineda trade. Two $20M+ pitchers means the other three spots would have had to have been filled by dirt cheap arms, and Pineda fit the bill. Maybe they would have kept Montero and targeted a lesser young pitcher instead, who knows. The what-if game has infinite possibilities.
I don’t think that the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014 would have been scrapped all together had the Yankees signed Lee two offseasons ago. It would be much more difficult to achieve had they re-sign Sabathia last winter, but we have no way of knowing if that would have been the case. Having Lee last year also would have improved the team’s chances of advancing beyond Game Five of the ALDS a great deal, and who knows how that would have impacted their planning.
August 4th: Via Danny Knobler, the Yankees did not put in a claim on Lee. Not all that surprising, but c’mon, a man can dream.
August 3rd: Via Jon Heyman and Jon Morosi, Lee has been claimed off trade waivers by the Dodgers. Because the Yankees are in the AL with the second best record in the league, every team other than the Rangers was ahead of them on the waiver totem pole.
August 2nd: Via Jeff Passan, the Phillies have placed left-hander Cliff Lee on revocable trade waivers. This is completely routine, literally hundreds of players will be placed on trade waivers this month. If a player is claimed, he can only be traded to the team that claims him. If he goes unclaimed, he can be traded anywhere.
As Matt Gelb explains, the Phillies were open to trading Lee prior to the deadline but were unwilling to eat any of the ~$95M left on his contract, and they wanted top prospects in return. The Yankees won’t place a claim because they won’t risk having that financial obligation foisted on them, but us fans can dream of a scenario in which they acquire Lee just by absorbing his contract and not giving up any prospects, high-end or otherwise. It would throw a massive wrench into the 2014 payroll plan, but man … that rotation.
The trade deadline is 4pm ET tomorrow, and the Yankees will definitely be in the market for a fill-in third baseman with Alex Rodriguez on the DL with a broken bone in his hand. Pitching help — both rotation and bullpen — could also be a target, though they figure to be done looking for outfielders following the Ichiro Suzuki pickup. We’re going to keep track of any Yankees-related trade deadline rumors right here throughout the day, so check back often for updates. The latest will be on the bottom. Here are Sunday’s rumors if you missed them…
- Stephen Drew is one potential option as the Yankees look for infield help. Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers worked for the Yankees in 2010 and knows their farm system, which could expedite things. Drew will likely clear waivers in August, so he doesn’t necessarily have to be traded by tomorrow. Joe looked at him in-depth last week. [Joel Sherman]
- “I don’t think they are even in on it,” said someone in the know about the Yankees and Chase Headley. Yesterday we heard that the asking price was a bit too rich. [Sherman]
- Cliff Lee is on the market and the Phillies intend to trade him either before the deadline or in the offseason to clear payroll. They obviously want a monster haul in return, but the Yankees won’t get involved because they don’t want to take on his contract. [Buster Olney & Sherman]
- We heard yesterday that the Yankees had interest in Rafael Betancourt, but they have not contacted the Rockies about the right-handed reliever. [Sherman]
- The Yankees are prioritizing defense in their search for infield help. They have players ahead of Ty Wigginton on their shopping list, unsurprisingly. [Jon Heyman]
- The Yankees are not close to any trade as of this afternoon, but that is always subject to change rather quickly. [Olney]
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but the Yankees are not pursuing Cliff Lee according to Joel Sherman. There’s been some thought that Philadelphia would look to move the veteran left-hander in an effort to save money after signing Cole Hamels long-term. The Yankees are one of nine teams on Lee’s no-trade list, plus Jon Heyman says the Phillies plan to keep him at least through the deadline anyway.
Lee, 33, is having his worst season in five years (3.95 ERA and 3.40 FIP) but is still pretty darn good. He’s been much more homer prone (1.14 HR/9) than at any other point since turning into the Cy Young Award winning version of himself. The Yankees probably don’t have the prospects to land a pitcher of Lee’s caliber anyway, especially if they want the other team to foot some of the bill. Their non-interest in Lee isn’t terribly surprising, but you know, just in case you were wondering.
Got five questions for you this week. Make sure you use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions or anything else at any time.
Biggie asks: Joel Sherman wrote an article about how the Rockies would benefit from trading Carlos Gonzalez, who after this year has five years around $73M left on his deal. I know Sherman was reaching, but what would it take to land the talented CarGon? He would look great in Yankee pinstripes and cost, per year, about the same as Nick Swisher.
Gonzalez is a star of the first order, a career .384 wOBA hitter with base-stealing skills (career 76-for-94, 80.4%) and average defense in the outfield. Yes, he has a massive home/road split — .432/.332 wOBAs — but I don’t believe his true offensive talent is essentially Denard Span or Will Venable outside of Coors Field. Plus if you put him in New York and Yankee Stadium, he’d still have the ballpark going for him. CarGo isn’t quite Carlos Beltran circa 2005, but he’s not all that far off.
Anyway, Gonzalez would be a perfect fit for the Yankees as a young (27 in October), left-handed hitting outfielder that is under contract for the next five seasons at a below market rate ($11.4M average annual value/luxury tax hit). The Yankees targeted Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson for similar reasons in recent years, but CarGo is a better player. The problem is that I don’t think the Yankees have the pieces to get him, unless they’re willing to part with Ivan Nova. The Rockies need pitching in the worst way and I highly doubt David Phelps, Adam Warren, or the injured Manny Banuelos will grab their attention, ditto the Low-A kids who are years away from the bigs. If we knew Michael Pineda was going to be fine going forward, then sure include Nova in a potential package. Obviously we don’t, however.
Chris asks: How have the Yankees defensive metrics been this year? It seems like missing Brett Gardner in left field hasn’t been that big of a deal. Are they average, above or below compared to everyone else and how are they doing compared to last year’s team?
As a team, the Yankees rank 26th in UZR (-14.4) and 20th in DRS (-12), so they’ve been a bad defensive team so far this year. Obviously you have to take defensive stats with a massive grain of salt this year early in the season, so keep that in mind. I think the Yankees get consistently elite defense from only one position on the field and it’s (arguably) the least important: first base. I consider Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, and Alex Rodriguez to be average at their positions, Cano a bit above average at second, and both Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter well below average at their positions. Ranking in the bottom third of the league defensively certainly passes the sniff test.
The advanced stats were split on New York last year, ranking them top ten in UZR (+23.2) and nearly bottom ten in DRS (-12). Pick your poison here. I think they were probably in the middle, an average defensive club overall with most of that due to Gardner running everything down. For a quick and dirty look at a team’s defensive performance, just use 1-BABIP. The Yankees are at .703, so right now three out of every ten balls put in play off the team’s pitchers are falling in for hits. That’s one of the worst marks in the game (21st). The Yankees had a pretty good defensive club last year and the year before, but I definitely think it’s fair to say they’ve taken a step back this year, with or without Gardner.
Alec asks: Mike, since the day the Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee, what kind of pitcher has he been? Do you think he has been earning him money or is it a blessing in disguise that he wanted to go to Philly?
Oh no, this isn’t a blessing in disguise. Lee has continued to be one of the very best pitchers in baseball since the start of last season, right on par with the guy he was before hitting free agency. You can’t look at his win total (zero!) this year and draw any conclusions from that, Lee’s been absolutely stellar for the Phillies…
|ERA||K%||BB%||HR%||fWAR/200 IP||bWAR/200 IP|
Yeah, he’s been pretty fantastic. We could spend all day playing the What If Game had the Yankees signed Lee — Jesus Montero is never traded, Nova is never given a real chance, etc. — but the only thing know for sure is that the guy was a brilliant pitcher before signing his megacontract and he has continued to be a brilliant pitcher since.
Mike asks: What would you think of the idea of trading for Ichiro or signing him in the offseason? He’s nothing like the Ichiro of old, but could still be a ok half of a platoon split for a stop gap RF next year or feel in while Gardner is out.
Since the start of last season, a span of 1,023 plate appearances, Ichiro is a .269/.303/.347 hitter. That includes a .264/.288/.375 batting line in 302 plate appearances this year. At 38 years old. There should be alarms going off in your head. Hitters that old who see their performance decline that much are most likely done being effective big leaguers. The odds of Ichiro rebounding next year (in any uniform) are tiny, miniscule compared to the odds of him getting worse. I know he’s a brand name and all that, but I can’t see any way a contending team could add Ichiro, play him full-time, and expect to improve their club. This is just … no.
Hanks asks: Here’s a question I’ve had on my mind for a while. We’ve been spoiled by over 15 years of winning teams, and there appears to be no end in sight. Surely “what goes up must come down” and at some point the Yankees will go through a long stretch where they are bottom dwellers. But, I just can’t envision how that would happen – it seems like they are primed to keep on winning indefinitely. Given the current landscape of the league can you describe a scenario that would see the end of this great run?
The easy answer would be to say it’ll happen when all of their older and higher priced players all collapse at the same time, but it’s not that simple. Sure, the Yankees are locked into CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez for all eternity, but they’ll have the opportunity to change their second base, catcher, and two of three outfield situations in the next 18 months. That’s just the offense. Ivan Nova gives the team some long-term youth in the rotation and the one-year deals for Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte give them a lot of flexibility.
For the Yankees to have a true collapse and go into a long stretch of suckiness, a lot of their younger and prime years players are going to have to drastically under-perform while the old guys start playing like real old guys. They have the money to cover up the typical year-to-year injuries and player evaluation mistakes, so it’ll take a whole bunch of them at one time. Maybe I’m just biased, but I think situations like 2008 — missing the postseason for one year before getting right back to contending the next year — is “bottom dwelling” for the Yankees. Given how the team is built right now, it’s really hard to see how they’ll be non-competitive over multiple, consecutive seasons.
In many respects the current Yankee offseason has been remarkably similar to last year’s. While the team hasn’t been spurned by the biggest free agent starter available this time around, for a second straight year they’ve been notably cautious with upgrading the roster (well, with the exception of the ill-advised signings of Pedro Feliciano and Rafael Soriano), as Brian Cashman seems determined not to overpay for anything other than the closest he can get to as sure a thing as there is in baseball.
This approach is fairly sound from a pure baseball operations perspective, although it’s left factions of the fanbase a bit skittish (especially in the aftermath of the John Danks extension), particularly with regards to a perceived lack of interest in the still-available starters on the board despite Cashman’s repeated public declarations of wanting to improve the pitching staff.
In trying to make sense of the Yankee front office’s increasing reluctance to be in on, well just about anyone, I keep coming back to the one event that has ostensibly dictated every move (or non-move) the team has made during the last calendar year, and that’s missing out on Cliff Lee. In hindsight I don’t think the team ever really thought Lee wouldn’t take its offer — especially considering it wound up representing the most years and guaranteed money (seven years, $148 million) — and what we’ve seen since is an organization that’s had to completely revamp its roster planning on the fly.
We saw fliers taken on Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia — neither of whom end up being Yankees if the team signs Lee — but they came exceptionally cheap and with little risk. If they didn’t work out, all the team had to do was eat a minimal amount of cash and dump them. We watched them sit tight at last July’s trade deadline, unwilling to overpay for less-than-sure-thing Ubaldo Jimenez.
This offseason many are now clamoring for the team to try Hiroki Kuroda or Roy Oswalt on one-year deals, and while I won’t go so far as to build a case against either, as either hurler appears to make a a good amount of sense as a one-year stopgap for the Yankees (and for the record, I’m fine with signing either one), the fact that the Yankees haven’t been terribly aggressive on either player should also signal that maybe these right-handers aren’t the no-brainers they would appear to be on paper. There’s a lot to like about Kuroda, but while the difference in environments is often overstated the relative difficulty level between pitching in the NL West and AL East is still very real, and I’d imagine the Yankees’ internal projections see Kuroda as more of a #4 than the #2 type many are hoping he could be. How many teams in 2011 paid their number-four starter the $12 million many presume the 36-year-old Kuroda is seeking?
As for Oswalt, consider this — the Yankees decided to roll the dice on Bartolo Colon last winter despite having not pitched in the Majors in over a year and a set of medicals that would make Ben Sheets envious. While the Colon move worked out far better than the Yankees ever could have expected — and cost nothing — the reticence on Oswalt would seem to indicate that the team doesn’t believe Oswalt’s asking price matches up with his questionable health.
The other side of the Lee coin is that, as a general manager with a fair number of high-profile free agent pitching signings that haven’t worked out — Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Kei Igawa and A.J. Burnett immediately spring to mind, not to mention two failed Javier Vazquez deals (though both were defensible at the time) — I think Cash is now hellbent on not overpaying another team’s free agent for past production. It’s why he’s stayed away from the Wilsons, Buehrles and even Darvishes of the world this winter, and why he’s (to this point) ignored Edwin Jackson.
Should the market for, say, Oswalt somehow fall below the $5 million threshold, Cash (and every other GM in the game) would undoubtedly be all over it, but until that point I’m not sure I’d expect to see Oswalt in pinstripes. Same goes for Kuroda. When you consider that the Yankees got Colon and Garcia for a combined $2.4 million (pre-incentives) and turned them into 5.8 bWAR, that tells me that the team feels confident enough in its in-house options that it doesn’t feel like it has to make a free agent upgrade, or is only interested in backfilling the back of the rotation with pitchers on the team’s terms.
With no sure thing available for just money since Lee last year, the Yankees have had to forge a very different path for themselves. Many of us spent a lot of time looking at potential low-cost options for the rotation last offseason — I for one wrote up Jeff Francis, Brad Penny and Justin Duchscherer among others last winter — and it appears that’s exactly what the Yankees intend to do once again. I wouldn’t be surprised if they wound up with Rich Harden, who I looked at back in November; or maybe even someone completely off the radar like Joel Pineiro (not saying I endorse this, but maybe he’s worth a shot on a Colon/Garcia-type deal); or the oft-injured Chris Young.
Or maybe Cash stands pat, happy to go into the season with a rotation of CC Sabathia-Ivan Nova-Phil Hughes-A.J. Burnett-Freddy Garcia, with Hector Noesi waiting in the wings. Many are expecting the bottom to fall out on Nova, but I’ve begun to wonder if, in the desire to rein in expectations, we’re actually underrating what Ivan can do. I’m also — perhaps foolishly so — bizarrely optimistic on Hughes and Burnett. If either or both can turn in a season of starting with an ERA under 4.50, the robust Yankee offense will still be in position to win a lot of their starts.
Additionally, for what it’s worth — and depending on your opinion on forecasting systems, it may not be much — as rosters currently stand the Yankees are projected to win the AL East by both CAIRO (with a 94-68 record) and Oliver (92-70). While the usual projection caveats of course apply, and rosters will obviously change prior to opening day, that the Yankees would appear to have a roughly 93-win team on paper even if they don’t add a single piece the rest of the winter should be pretty heartening, all things considered.
While we’ve grown accustomed to splashy acquisitions, Cashman has proven himself fairly adept at dumpster diving in the wake of the Cliff Lee saga, and it seems like Yankee fans may once again have to forgo filet mignon in favor of dog food for a second straight offseason.