Nova could take Garcia’s rotation spot on Sunday

Yesterday we heard that the bullpen was a “consideration” for Ivan Nova once he got over his rotator cuff tendinitis, but apparently now he is in line to replace Freddy Garcia in the rotation as soon as Sunday. George King and Dan Martin report that if Ivan doesn’t experience any discomfort in his shoulder today following his latest bullpen session, he will indeed be on the bump to start the finale of this all-important four-game series with the Orioles. Garcia has been pretty ineffective in his last three outings but it’s not like Nova was tearing it up before he got hurt. That said, if I had to pick between the two, I’d lean towards the kid if I was the Yankees.

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Yankees turn to The Chief on Tuesday

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees used last Thursday’s off-day to juggle their rotation a bit, lining up their top four starters for the first four games of this all-important ten-game stretch. Things haven’t worked out as planned — they’re 1-3 in those four games — and today they hand the ball to Freddy Garcia, who they pushed back to accommodate everyone else in their rotation. It’s certainly not what the Yankees envisioned when they rearranged the pitching schedule, but that’s how things played out.

“They skipped me because they wanted to skip me … They made their decision, nothing I can do about it,” said Garcia yesterday, somewhat begrudgingly. Freddy was terrible earlier this season, earning him a demotion to the bullpen for the first time in his career. Injuries forced him back into the rotation in early-July and he’s since pitched well enough, a 4.16 ERA (4.17 FIP) in eleven starts. The last two starts have not gone so well though, as Garcia has failed to complete five innings both times while allowing seven total runs on 17 baserunners.

The Yankees desperately need their veteran junkballer to turn in a quality outing tonight, and that includes bulk innings since the middle relief is hide the children bad these days. The good news is that the Rays tend to struggle against soft-tossers as Rays blogger extraordinaire Jason Collette noted this morning, the guys who change speeds to the extreme and do most of their work off the plate. In his only start against Tampa this year (his first start following Andy Pettitte‘s injury), Garcia held the Rays to two runs (on two solo homers) in 5.1 innings while on a 70-pitch limit (he threw 74). In his only start against Tampa last season, he struck out seven in 6.2 scoreless innings.

“It’s another game. We know we have a one-game lead. I’ve just got to pitch good. I don’t have any pressure, nothing,” added Freddy yesterday, the typical kind of veteran-speak. There is pressure on the team though, pressure in the form of the surging Orioles and the club’s 24-25 record since the All-Star break. They need to start rattling off some wins (plural) in the worst way, and that could start tonight with a strong outing from Garcia, the guy the Yankees went out of their way to avoid these last few days.

Mailbag: Cruz, Phelps, Ichiro, Jeter, A-Rod

It seemed like we got an awful lot of questions this week, but I picked just four for the mailbag. Keep sending them in though, one of these weeks I’ll do a rapid fire mailbag with like, 12-15 questions. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime.

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

J.R. and several others asked: With the bullpen not looking great, would Juan Cruz make sense?

I started thinking about this as soon as I saw that the Pirates had designated Cruz for assignment (he was officially released yesterday). The 33-year-old missed just about a month with shoulder inflammation but otherwise has pitched to a 2.78 ERA (4.19 FIP) in 35.2 innings for Pittsburgh this season. His strikeout (8.33 K/9 and 20.4 K%) rate was fine and his walk rate (4.79 BB/9 and 11.7 BB%) was high, just like every other season of his career. That’s actually his lowest BB% since 2006, if you can believe it. The fastball isn’t what it used to be, but PitchFX says he’s still running it up there in the 92-94 mph range.

Cruz has struck out just one batter in his last nine appearances (7.1 IP and 36 batters faced), which includes three appearances before the DL stint and six after. He’s struggled a little bit of late but nothing crazy. You do have to be skeptical anytime a team releases a reliever in favor of Chad Qualls, so perhaps the reason why he’s available is something we just don’t know as outsiders. The Yankees don’t have much bullpen help coming in September, so signing Cruz to a minor league pact with the promise of a September 1st call-up sure seems to make sense from where I sit. I guess it depends on the medicals more than anything.

Steve asks: Assuming Andy Pettitte returns successfully, what would David Phelps have to do the next month to win the postseason rotation spot over Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia?

This was sent in before Nova was placed on the DL, so let’s remove him from the discussion. The easy answer is that Phelps would have to pitch phenomenally well the rest of the season, and I don’t mean slightly out-pitch Hughes or Garcia. Those guys have track records and will get the benefit of the doubt. Phelps would have to pitch like Hiroki Kuroda has been of late, I mean completely dominating each time out. That’s not easy to do.

Obviously a lot depends on the ALDS schedule and who the Yankees would be playing in a potential playoff series, but right now I would lean towards Garcia as my Game Four starter. Both Hughes and Phelps have shown not just that they can pitch in relief, but that they can be true weapons out of the bullpen. As an added bonus, both would be in position to contribute multiple innings in relief. The fourth starter is marginalized in the postseason — quick hooks, starting only when absolutely necessary — and I would rather let Freddy be that guy.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Donny asks: I doubt I am the first to bring up this idea, but with everyone working under the assumption that Nick Swisher is not re-signed, doesn’t Ichiro Suzuki make sense? I would think a one year deal worth $6-8 million would work with some kind of team option for 2014, no?

A few people asked this as well and I’m not really a fan of bringing Ichiro back. Maybe if they trade Brett Gardner this winter it would make more sense, but I doubt that happens. I’m not a fan of powerless corner outfielders — the Yankees would be lucky to get ten total homers out of Gardner and Ichiro next season if they’re both starters — no matter how much contact they make or how great their defense and base-running is. Having one guy like that in the outfield is fine, but two is really pushing it. If the Yankees let Nick Swisher walk, they’ll need to replace him with someone who can hit for some power, particularly against left-handers. That ain’t Ichiro.

Kevin asks: With all of the recent talk of Derek Jeter possibly breaking Pete Rose’s hit record, which do you think is more likely to happen at this point: Alex Rodriguez passing Barry Bonds or Jeter passing Rose?

Jeter is currently 999 hits behind Rose, so he’ll need another five or six really good years to become the all-time hit king. I’m talking 180+ hits a year on average until he turns 43 or 44. A-Rod, on the other hand, is 118 homers behind Bonds, which works out to another five or six really good years (20+ homers per season). Both seem improbable at this point but not impossible. I know which one I think is more likely to happen, but this question is screaming for a poll…

Which is more likely to happen?
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Mailbag: Melky, Soriano, Swisher, Felix, Garcia

Got seven questions for you this week, so consider this a jumbo-sized edition of the mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions and whatnot.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Countless people asked some variation of: Can/should the Yankees sign Melky Cabrera to a cheap one-year deal after the season following his suspension?

Sure, it’s worth exploring. Based on my last few days at MLBTR, the fans of the other 29 teams are wondering the same thing as well. I suppose the Yankees may have a leg up considering their history with Cabrera, plus the fact that his good buddy Robinson Cano plays here. Either way, I’m sure the club can make a competitive offer if they’re so inclined.

The real question is what kind of hitter do you expect him to be going forward? I don’t buy that testosterone alone turned him into an MVP caliber hitter, but I also don’t think this season’s performance — .346/.390/.516 (146 wRC+) — is a reasonable expectation going forward simply because I don’t believe anyone is a true talent .346 hitter. Not Melky, not Mike Trout, not Miguel Cabrera, not Derek Jeter. No one. If he’s more of a .310 hitter doing forward, that’s still really awesome and shouldn’t be considered a knock. If they can get him for one-year at like, $5-8M to shore up the outfield next season, sure that’s something they should seriously consider. Whether or not it’s actually realistic is another matter entirely.

Daniel asks: The Cubs are offering to turn Alfonso Soriano into a $3M/year player. Any interest in him as a RF solution next season?

This is an unequivocal no for me. Soriano is having a real nice .263/.320/.448 (112 wRC+) year with the bat, but he’s a 36-year-old one-dimensional player. If he’s not hitting homers, he has zero value. Soriano doesn’t walk, doesn’t hit for average, doesn’t steal bases anymore, and doesn’t play much defense either. He’s under contract through 2014 so you’re talking about a $6M commitment for a player that is basically a bad HR/FB% slump away from a forced retirement. Soriano would be like, my Plan F for right field next season.

Brett asks: Let’s say the Yankees don’t re-sign Nick Swisher this offseason and then think like you and let Cano walk after 2013. With Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson (Yankees sign him after Cano leaves) all two years older and currently not even performing that well, as well as a black hole offensively at catcher, do you really think the Yankees lineup will be good enough?

I spy a nice free agent payday. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Well that’s the thing, why are we assuming catcher is a black hole? If they let Cano and Swisher walk, the Yankees will have the opportunity to turn over the second base, right field, catcher, and DH positions in the next two offseason. If you think A-Rod is resigned to being a DH down the line, then you can bring in a new body for third base. That four of the nine lineup spots they have to work with. Plenty of room to add some offensive punch.

Bill asks: So with Swisher all but assuredly leaving next year, what do you think the chances are he ends up in Boston? The team needs some pop in right field and they need a good clubhouse guy, with everything that is going on in Boston right now. Think this is a possibility?

Absolutely. If for whatever reason the Yankees had declined his option last offseason, I think the Red Sox would have been the first team to call Swisher’s agent. Pretty much every contending team in need of a bat — the Rangers, Dodgers, Braves, Tigers, Giants, Reds, etc. — figures to have some interest because he’s versatile (corner outfield or first base) and a switch-hitter. Swisher could go 0-for-October and he’ll still have plenty of suitors on the free agent market after the winter.

Sal asks: Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where teams start structuring contracts so that players are paid appropriately in their peak years but the contract dollars are “tapered” in the end years so that they don’t over pay for a players decline?

No, definitely not. I’m sure the club would love it, but I highly doubt the players and agents would. I think it’s pretty normal to want to make more money the older you get, which is why most multi-year contracts include some kind of year-to-year raise. Another part of this is that most GMs won’t be around to see the end of the multi-year contracts they hand out, specifically the big six and seven-year ones. What do I care if I saddle the next GM with a back contract when I could win right now and enhance my reputation? It’s a good idea, but I don’t think the players and agents would go for it.

I found this floating around on Twitter and have no idea where it originated, but props to you good sir (or madam).

Tucker asks: This is a bit of a hypothetical, but would the Yankees even have the pieces to acquire Felix Hernandez if he were made available? Could the Rangers swoop in and nab him instead?

No, I don’t believe the Yankees have the pieces to acquire any kind of high-end talent like that right now. Not unless they’re willing to dangle Cano and the other club really values him despite being a year away from free agency. The lack of impact, near-MLB ready prospect really hurts them here.

The Rangers could certainly jump in and make a great offer for Felix if they wanted — if you’re Seattle, don’t you have to listen if Texas offers Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt? I have to think that would at least get their attention. The Yankees can’t put together any kind of offer like that right now, so they’re handcuffed on the trade market. As much as I’d love to see him in pinstripes, there’s just no realistic trade scenario for Justin Upton at the moment.

Craig asks: Do you think Freddy Garcia is now (or should be) in the post-season rotation?  Even if Andy Pettitte comes back?  I think I’d rather take my chances with him than Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes.

Right now, with both CC Sabathia and Pettitte on the shelf, yes Freddy would definitely be in postseason rotation. I’d probably have him start Game Two behind Hiroki Kuroda in that scenario, which is … yikes. If Sabathia and Pettitte come back, I would use Freddy as the fourth starter and stick Phil Hughes in the bullpen for October. I don’t see how they could trust Nova in the postseason given his current performance, but he does have about six weeks to figure things out.

Assuming David Phelps is headed back to the bullpen at some point, I’d rank the potential playoff starters are Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Garcia, Hughes, Nova. Just remove players and bump everyone else up as needed due to injury. I don’t think it’s out of the question that Phelps pitches his way ahead of Nova in the pecking order, but I wouldn’t count on it. I think he’ll run out of innings before that happens.

Thoughts after another win over the Rangers

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Yankees have won three straight over the Rangers and seven of their last eight overall, restoring some order to the universe after playing sub-.500 ball for about three weeks. They’re on the verge of sweeping Texas in a four-game series, something that was honestly unthinkable when the week began. The Yankees are playing so well and with the quick turn-around for the afternoon game today, there’s no use for a focused post this morning. Instead, here is a collection of some random thoughts. Feel free to expand or add to the discussion in the comments…

1. I think that we, as a fanbase, don’t give Freddy Garcia enough credit. He had that brutal April and it seems to have lingered in everyone’s minds, but he’s been rock solid ever since regardless of role (starter or reliever). Part of the problem is that he doesn’t fit the profile of the type of pitcher that usually succeeds in the AL East. He’s not a hard-thrower and he doesn’t miss bats, but he generates lots of weak contact and simply outsmarts hitters. When I saw the weather prior to the game last night, my thought was that the Yankees were in pretty good shape because Garcia’s a veteran starter who has pitched through everything. A little rain wouldn’t bother him. Freddy really does deserve a lot of credit for stepping up once Andy Pettitte went down.

2. He isn’t going to continue hitting this well through the end of the season and into the playoffs, but don’t the Yankees have to find a way to keep Eric Chavez in the lineup once Alex Rodriguez comes off the DL? They could get him three or four starts a week at third base and/or DH, but to do so they would have to take some playing time away from Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez. I suppose they could platoon those two and use Ichiro in left for the fly ball pitchers (Phil Hughes and Garcia) while Ibanez gets the call for the ground-ballers (CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova). Either way, Chavez has been far too productive to turn him back into a once-a-week type player. Someone’s going to lose at-bats when A-Rod comes back and it shouldn’t be him.

(AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr)

3. Isn’t this Melky Cabrera stuff just sad? You know I’m not the biggest Melky fan in the world, but it’s sad because he was so close to a life-changing contract. We have no idea how much the added testosterone helped his performance, but the story about him getting into shape and taking his career seriously after getting released by the Braves seemed completely plausible. Melky always had some skills, he makes lots of contact and he has a pretty good idea of the strike zone, so it’s not completely unexpected that he turned into a BABIP machine during his peak years. Now his free agent value is destroyed — I was thinking something along the lines of six years and $80-90M this offseason, but he might have to settle for a one-year, prove yourself contract now. He was staring at money that would put his great great great grandkids through college, now he has to do it all over again to land that kind of payday. Rough.

4. On the heels of his perfect game yesterday — which was just absolutely brilliant, I can’t tell you how filthy he was if you didn’t see it — would you take Felix Hernandez over any other pitcher if you had one game to win? I’m pretty sure I would. The top three names that immediately jumped to mind for me were Felix, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw, but I’d rather have Hernandez over the other two. MLB Network joked (or maybe it wasn’t a joke) yesterday that the ninth inning of the perfect game were the three biggest outs of his career, and that kinda bummed me out. Felix has never pitched in the postseason and only once have the Mariners finished above third place during his career, but he just seems to give off that vibe that he would be untouchable on the big stage. Maybe I’m completely off the mark here, but he always seems to perform his best when facing top teams like the Yankees or Red Sox or Rangers or the Rays yesterday.

5. Is this not the most likable Yankees team in quite some time? At least since the 2009 squad, and I think you might even be able to go back farther than that. The mid-aughts teams were just awful in that regard, full of grumpy and unlikeable players that came off as far too corporate (Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown stand out as notable examples). This team has likeable players all over the place, from Chavez to Sabathia to Kuroda to Curtis Granderson to Robinson Cano to many others. They’re all just very easy to root for and it makes the whole baseball fan experience that much better. The Yankees placed a renewed emphasis on makeup and character a few years ago, and I think this is a byproduct.