Yankees discussing left-handed starters, mostly mediocre ones

Via Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have “kicked around” the idea of pursuing a left-handed starter in the wake of Andy Pettitte‘s retirement. On the supposed list of targets: Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders, Wake LeBlanc, Clayton Richard, and Gio Gonzalez. My quick analysis is no, no, no, okay, and meh. Joe already looked at Kazmir, but a few of the other guys will be covered over the weekend.

You know who’s a half-decent left-handed starter? Jeff Francis. Too bad he signed with the Royals for half of what the Yankees are playing Pedro Feliciano in 2011. In fairness, Francis did say he chose Kansas City because of the opportunity they provide, but the back of New York’s rotation isn’t exactly tough to crack these days.

Vernon Wells headed to LAnaheim

Update (9:37pm): The Angels aren’t getting any cash in the deal, they’re talking on the full $86M. Unreal.

Update (7:16pm): Ken Rosenthal says it’s Wells for Napoli and former Yankee Juan Rivera. Toronto is paying part of Vernon’s salary, but it’s unclear how much.

Via MLBTR, the Blue Jays have traded Vernon Wells to the Angels for Mike Napoli. This is not a joke. The Angels really took Wells and the four years and $86M left on his deal for Napoli, who’s still in his arbitration years and has out wOBA’d Wells .361 to .342 over the last three years. I don’t know what the hell the HaLOLos are doing, but it’s tough not to love the job Alex Anthopoulos has done so far in Toronto.

Given the Angels current state of apparent dismay, I think an Alex Rodriguez for Jered Weaver and Dan Haren offer is in order.

Darek Braunecker has left the building

Via Jerry Crasnick, Cliff Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker has left the winter meetings, meaning there will be no deal made here. It’s unclear if the Yankees were even able to make their reported six-year offer today. I have to say, this Braunecker character is really starting to get on my nerves, and I’m not even doing business with him. What’s so hard about soliciting offers worth hundreds of millions of dollars on your client’s behalf and not playing hard to get? He’s going to end up costing Lee money with his crap.

Update (3:35 p.m.): Braunecker’s hold-up is also going to leave the Yanks in flux for now. Ken Davidoff says that the Yanks are “unlikely to commit more payroll” to other roster areas until the Lee situation is resolved, and he notes that Andy Pettitte will “probably stay undecided” about pitching in 2011 until Lee signs. The waiting is the hardest part.

Update (4:45 p.m.): Joel Sherman confirms that the Yankees did not make an official offer while Braunecker was here. Jack Curry says that Lee’s agent is aware of what the Yanks are willing to spend.

The Obligatory Hideki Okajima Post

This post seemed inevitable, and sure enough the emails started trickling in not long after we learned that the Red Sox will decline to tender Hideki Okajima a contract before tonight’s deadline, making Daisuke Matsuzaka’s buddy* a free agent. With the Yankees in the market for a second lefty, wondering if Okajima was worth targeting was only natural. I’m here to tell you that hell no, the Yanks should avoid the guy.

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Okajima burst onto the scene in 2007 by allowing a solo homerun to the first batter he ever faced in the big leagues (John Buck) and then not allowing another run until late-May, 19 pitching appearances later. Okajima was an All Star that season and finished the year with a 2.22 ERA (3.33 FIP) and a rather studly 1.5 fWAR  in 69 innings of setup work, and of course a World Series ring. Even more impressive is that he was effective against both lefties (.302 wOBA against) and righties (.222) thanks to a split-change and funky don’t-look-at-the-target delivery.

Although he wasn’t as dominant the next year, Okajima did pitch to a 2.61 ERA (3.62 FIP) and 1.1 fWAR in 62 innings even though right-handers started to figure him out (.356 wOBA against compared to .259 vs. LHB). Things started to fall apart in 2009 (3.39 ERA, 4.20 FIP, .371 wOBA vs. RHB, .225 wOBA vs. LHB) and then the wheels came completely off in 2010 (4.50 ERA, 4.64 FIP, .381 wOBA vs. RHB, .314 wOBA vs. LHB). The league, it appears, has finally caught up to him after four seasons in the States.

Oh hai baseball. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

There’s a lot not to like about Okajima, starting with his stuff. His fastball, never great to begin with, averaged a career low 86.3 mph last season and he’s using it more often than ever, basically two out of every three pitches. As funky as his delivery is, Okajima’s not particularly good at hiding the ball since he comes right over the top (right). If batters can see a mid-80’s fastball out of a pitcher’s hand, they’ll probably hit it not matter which way the guy’s head is going, and unsurprisingly Okajima’s heater was worth 2.8 runs below average in 2010, easily the worst mark of his career. His split finger has lost three inches of vertical break over the last two years, and it’s gone from two runs above average to 4.4 below. The curveball’s more than fine (1.52 runs above average in 2010), but that’s all he’s working with these days.

Another issue with Okajima is health after he missed close to two months with a back stiffness last summer, and then there’s the homeruns (one for every 7.2 IP over the last two years). And sheesh, he’s not even that great against lefties anymore. Like I said earlier, they got him for a .314 wOBA in 2010, below (in a bad way) the .304 left-on-left league average. Okajima’s not outrageously expensive but $2.75M for a LOOGY (his 2010 salary) is less than ideal, and I assume he’ll want a similar salary next year. Also, just think about what’s going on here, a team in the process of overhauling a weak bullpen is cutting him loose because he was part of the problem, not the solution. Boston can surely afford him, this is all about performance.

I suspect that if Okajima had performed exactly the same way over the last four years for a team like the Padres or Royals instead of the Red Sox, no one would think twice about him. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with exploring possibilities, but let’s just keep moving along, nothing to see here.

* Kay’d

Plan B: Eduardo Nunez

Via Buster Olney, the Yankees have identified their Plan B at shortstop in the unlikely event that Derek Jeter signs elsewhere or retires: Eduardo Nunez. They would rather give the 23-year-old the opportunity to win the job in Spring Training than pursue a veteran free agent (Olney mentions out-machine Orlando Cabrera, yuck). The Yanks sure do seem to have a lot of faith in Nunez, who’s drawn 50 unintentional walks with a .102 ISO in 1,034 plate appearances at Double- and Triple-A over the last two seasons. Let’s not forget that he was seemingly unable to throw a ball to first base without making it an adventure in his late season cameo this year.

If they want to go in-house, fine. Just start Ramiro Pena then, at least he’ll be brilliant defensively.

Chuck Greenberg opens mouth, inserts foot

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Yankees have been and always will be an easy target. They’re the biggest and baddest, the Goliath to everyone’s David. That has to do with their payroll and popularity, and that’s fine. We’re all used to it by now, and in fact I think we take a certain level of enjoyment in seeing how outrageous Yankee-bashing gets. Hating on the Yankees is the easiest form of hate, it requires little thought and even less research. Broad generalizations do just fine.

It’s one thing to bash the team, the entity that is the Yanks, but it’s another thing to overstep that bound and start getting personal. That’s what Rangers’ owner Chuck Greenberg did early Monday while appearing on ESPN’s Radio “Ben and Skin Show.” Here’s the quote…

“I think our fans have been great. I think particularly in Game 3 of the World Series they just blew away anything I’ve seen in any venue during the postseason. I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”

Greenberg’s comments come on the heels of Kristin Lee’s comments about Yankee fans, which for all intents and purposes said the same thing. The people at Yankee Stadium are violent and obnoxious, dangerous and disinterested. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the insults to the backbone of the sport.

The Yankees were reportedly furious over Greenberg’s comments, and were preparing to respond once the World Series ended. “At this time, we are honoring the commissioner’s policy regarding respecting and not distracting from the World Series,” said team president Randy Levine, but they wouldn’t have to wait that long. Greenberg spoke to both Levine and Hal Steinbrenner later in the evening, apologizing for his comments. Here’s the half-assed apology statement…

“Earlier today, in the course of praising the extraordinary support and enthusiasm of Texas Rangers fans, I unfairly and inaccurately disparaged fans of the New York Yankees. Those remarks were inappropriate. Yankees fans are among the most passionate and supportive in all of baseball. I have spoken directly to Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to apologize for my intemperate comments. I would like to express again how proud we are of our fans and how remarkably they have supported the Rangers throughout lean times and now during this magical season.”

That all well and good, but all he did was wear 15 pieces of flair. It’s the bare minimum, the least he could do. In fact, Greenberg didn’t even bother to issue the apology until Commissioner Bud Selig stepped in and gave the rookie owner a stern talking to. Hell, Greenberg barely even managed to apologize the people he actually insulted, us fans. I had to read it twice just to make sure it was actually in there.

Honestly, I couldn’t care less about being called violent or obnoxious or something like that, it’s the apathetic part that gets me. Maybe the corporate slime that inhabits the lower rungs of the New Stadium doesn’t care about this team, but we certainly do. Those of us here at RAB and countless other sites, those of us sitting out in the bleachers or in the grandstands, we care. You better believe we care.

The best and simplest course of action is to just roll our eyes and leave it at that. Take the high road. File it away in the Yankee-hate cabinet with countless other forgettable and unintelligent attacks on the team. But don’t think we’ll forget. Greenberg and his team now have a giant target on their backs, moreso than they did before the ALCS. So congrats Chuck Greenberg, you managed to look like a bigger ass than the people you insulted, and now you have all winter to think about it.

When Yankee hats become outlawed, only outlaws wear Yankee hats

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the Times piece on Yankee hats. In what seems to be a semi-regular article, Manny Fernandez notes that descriptions of suspected perps often include one particular item: “dozens of men and women who have robbed, beaten, stabbed and shot at their fellow New Yorkers have done so while wearing Yankees caps or clothing.”

He notes that it is “not surprising that Yankees attire is worn by both those who abide by the law and those who break it. The Yankees are one of the most famous franchises in sports, and their merchandise is widely available and hugely popular.” But now criminologists, fans and sports marketers are trying to figure out why. He posits that “some attributing the trend to the popularity of the caps among gangsta rappers and others wondering whether criminals are identifying with the team’s aura of money, power and success.”

Me? I think Yankee hats are popular because, well, millions of New Yorkers wear them. With record-setting attendance figures, a string of winning seasons, a World Series championship and high TV ratings, the Yanks have never been as popular as they are today, and people in New York — both those who are law-abiding and those are not — support the team. The Yankees have made the Yankee hat as famous as they can, and The Times is searching for trends where there are none to be found.