Yankees trade short-term bullpen quality for long-term depth by keeping Joba over Claiborne

(Nick Laham/Getty)
(Nick Laham/Getty)

Following yesterday’s crucial extra innings win over the Rays, the Yankees confirmed right-hander Preston Claiborne will be send down to clear a roster spot for Derek Jeter. The Cap’n is coming back from his third leg injury of the year and will join the team for their series opener against the Blue Jays in Toronto. New York has been using a three-man bench since Jayson Nix broke his hand last week, so it makes sense to send a reliever down.

On the surface, keeping Joba Chamberlain over Claiborne is a head-scratcher. Claiborne (2.78 ERA/3.17 FIP) has pitched far better and appears to have entered the Circle of Trust™ — he’s entered two of his last three games with a leverage index of 1.45+. Chamberlain (4.46/5.10) has been an untrustworthy mess all season, so much so that he rarely sees even medium-leverage work. Yesterday’s tenth inning appearance (2.15 LI) was the first time he entered a game with an leverage index over 0.35 (!) since late-July and the first time over 1.00 since late-June. Joba has been relegated to mop-up duty, and even then his leash has been short.

In terms of having the best possible bullpen and 25-man roster, sending Claiborne down in favor of Joba is an obviously bad move. The bullpen will be worse off today than it was yesterday once things are made official, I think we can all agree about that. This move isn’t about having the best possible bullpen right now though. It’s about having the best possible bullpen for the remainder of the season. With Claiborne likely to join High-A Tampa, the team will circumvent the ten-day rule since Tampa’s season ends on September 1st. They can bring him back on the 2nd, one week from today. They’re trading short-term bullpen quality for long-term (long-ish term really, the season ends pretty soon) depth.

Unless Michael Pineda, David Phelps, or Vidal Nuno suddenly get healthy, the only pitchers who figure to be called up next month are Dellin Betances and Brett Marshall. I suppose the team could add someone like David Herndon to the 40-man roster, but that would be a surprise. Point is, they don’t have a ton of pitching depth at the moment. At this point, keeping Joba around is preferable to not having him at all. The Yankees aren’t in a position to give away arms, especially ones with a legit mid-90s fastball and occasionally wipeout slider. Joba has stunk of late, but there’s a chance he will contribute in a positive way in the coming weeks. It’s possible. Baseball is weird sometimes.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

“I think it’s been kind of up and down for him. Rib cage muscles can be tough to recover from. I think he has thrown better of late but we need big innings out of this guy … So he is going to have to get it done,” said Girardi to George King when asked about Joba’s role earlier this month. “I think he got into a little bit of a funk and he has been up and down … With rib cage muscles a player comes back and maybe he isn’t where he was before he got hurt but there is no pain.’’

The Yankees will play three super important games against the Orioles next weekend, and not having Claiborne for that series will suck. The good news is that they have Thursday off, a guaranteed day of rest for the bullpen. They’ll head into that series with fresh arms, at least as fresh as can be this time of year. Bullpen depth will hopefully be less of a factor these next three days as the offense does what it’s supposed to do against the second worst pitching staff in baseball. Any team can beat any other team on a given day, but if the Yankees drop two of three to the Blue Jays, someone else will have gone wrong besides keeping Joba over Claiborne.

It would be easy to sit here and rip the team for making the bullpen weaker, especially considering how important every single game is at this point. They’re not all literal must wins, but they’re damn close. I’d be looking at the trees and glossing over the forest if I ripped them though. If the Yankees want to make the postseason — 7.8% chance according to Baseball Prospectus — they need to win a lot of games, not just this week’s. Joba is better than anyone they have stashed in the minors outside of Claiborne and he can help them win games in September. That sounds silly, but so does the notion of this team being a playoff contender. They’re going to need unexpected contributions to pull this thing off and Joba pitching well in September would qualify. He can’t help them if he’s not on the roster.

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2013 Trade Deadline Eve Open Thread

(Victor Decolongon/Getty)
(Victor Decolongon/Getty)

The annual non-waiver trade deadline is 4pm ET on Wednesday, so pretty much one day away. The Yankees have already pulled off one pre-deadline deal by acquiring Alfonso Soriano and a bunch of cash from the Cubs for minor league righty Corey Black. They were desperate for a right-handed power bat and the trade has already paid dividends, as Soriano hit a two-run homer and a walk-off single on Sunday.

That move was a good first step, but the Yankees need much more help than that. They need an everyday third baseman — seven different players have combined to hit .217/.276/.288 (55 OPS+) at the hot corner this year — especially since it looks increasingly unlikely Alex Rodriguez will return to the team at some point. A righty platoon bat for Lyle Overbay, a catcher, and maybe even a starting pitcher should be on the trade deadline shopping list as well.

The Yankees haven’t made a notable trade at the deadline since way back in 2006, when they brought in Bobby Abreu. By notable trade, a mean a legitimate above-average player. Someone who didn’t require you to squint your eyes and say “maybe he has something left in the tank.” I don’t know if the team will buck that trend in the next 24 hours or so, but if they were ever going to do it, this would be the perfect time.

We’re going to keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here in this post, so check back often. All times are ET, obviously. Talk about anything trade deadline related — rumors, crazy hypotheticals, etc. — here as well.

  • 10:33pm: Forget about Callaspo, he has reportedly been traded to the Athletics. [Rosenthal]
  • 7:16pm: Young has ruled out a trade to the Yankees and the team no longer has interest in Rios. [Andrew Marchand & Buster Olney]
  • 6:40pm: The Yankees have interest in Alberto Callaspo and have spoken to the Angels about him. Unclear if talks are serious at all. [Danny Knobler]
  • 5:49pm: Mike Morse is very available, but the Yankees and Mariners have not yet had any serious talks. When the Nationals made Morse available over the winter, they wanted Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez in return. [Sherman & Josh Norris]
  • 4:41pm: The Yankees have renewed their interest in Alex Rios. He recently said he would agree to waive his no-trade clause to come to New York after reports to the contrary. [Scott Merkin]
  • 3:59pm: With 24 hours to go before the deadline, the Yankees are focused on finding a righty platoon partner for Overbay and perhaps a trade to rid themselves of Joba Chamberlain. I suppose they could accomplish both at once. [Sherman]
  • 3:01pm: The Yankees are not completely out on Young at this point, but their chances of landing him are “very limited.” [Heyman]
  • 1:50pm: Young will only waive his no-trade clause to return to the Rangers. So much for that idea. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 1:05pm: If Young is indeed being traded soon, the Yankees say it won’t be to them. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:19pm: The Phillies are planning to call up third base prospect Cody Asche, which is a pretty strong indication Young will be traded soon. Not necessarily to the Yankees, mind you. Several other clubs (Red Sox, Rangers, etc.) are said to be interested. [Jeff Passan]
  • 12:00pm: The Yankees are still bugging the Giants about Hunter Pence, but there doesn’t appear to be a match at this point. San Francisco plans to make the outfielder a qualifying offer after the season, so any trade return would have to be greater than the value of a supplemental first round pick. [Jon Heyman]
  • The team continues to monitor Michael Young, which they’ve been doing for quite some time now. The Phillies recently indicated they are willing to move their third baseman as well as some other players. [Andy Martino]
  • Ownership has a “strong desire to reinforce this team and find a way to get in the playoffs,” said Brian Cashman. The Soriano trade is a prime example of that. [Bryan Hoch]

Martin: Tigers have interest in Joba Chamberlain

Via Dan Martin: The Tigers have some interest in Joba Chamberlain. Detroit’s relievers have a 4.15 ERA (3.53 FIP), which is a bottom five mark in baseball. They’re definitely lacking quality bullpeners beyond Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit. The Giants, Braves, and Phillies are also said to have interest in the right-hander.

Chamberlain, 27, is an impending free agent with a 5.40 ERA (4.95 FIP) in 23.1 innings this year. He’s a reclamation project arm at this point; someone who sits 94.7 mph with his fastball (according to PitchFX) and still has a nasty mid-80s slider that misses bats (9.64 K/9 and 22.3 K%). The Yankees are reportedly “aggressively pushing” Joba in trade talks, but rental middle relievers who are both inconsistent and injury prone usually don’t bring much back via trade.

Mailbag: Beltran, Kuroda, Joba, D’Backs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013 Midseason Review: Grade F’s

We’ve spent some time dissecting the team’s performance through the first half of the year. Mike wrote about the A’s, the B’s, and the C’s while I covered the D’s. Let’s wrap this up with the F’s and incompletes.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Every championship-caliber team has a group of individuals who go above and beyond, who perform incredible feats in incredible moments. These are the players who carry the team on their shoulders through thick and thin. Unfortunately, the players listed in this post are not those guys!

No, instead we’re going to discuss the “F” team. These are the retreads. These are the players that we, as fans, wish we did not have to watch on a daily basis. These guys are the ones who make us cringe, curse, and grind our teeth for three hours or so a night on a daily basis.

The Shortstops
Ah, yes, the shortstops. Jayson Nix. Alberto Gonzalez. Luis Cruz. Reid Brignac. Eduardo Nunez*. You’ve all been awful. For simplicity’s sake, let’s refer to the old table.

2013 NYY SS

It’s sad, really. The Yankees shortstops have collectively posted a .241 wOBA and a 44 wRC+ (-1.2 fWAR). Relative to the rest of the league, this production (or lack there of) is ranked second worst in all of baseball.

While power is certainly a bit of a rarity from the shortstop position, it is both saddening and mildly surprising (at least to me) that this group, together, has only managed two (!) homeruns thus far. Hell, even the Marlins have three (though to be fair, the Cardinals and the White Sox both have one, and the Rangers none). I think, more than anything, what this tell us is a) how fortunate the Yankees are to have had Derek Jeter all these years, and b) how even a super-star in decline (like Derek Jeter or A-Rod perhaps) can still be a really preferable option to the alternative much of the time.

If the Yankees expect to reach the playoffs, they’ll need more from these guys, plain and simple. We’re not talking Troy Tulowitzki production (though that would be okay too), they just can’t be well-below replacement level. Right now, the shortstop position is a black hole in the lineup and it’s noticeable.

* I was a little torn about whether Nunez belonged in the “Grade F” group or with the “Incompletes.”  At the end of the day I chose to throw him in with this lot which is probably a bit unfair. Nunez had a really great opportunity to prove his valuable to the team early on when it became obvious that Jeter would not be available for much of the year, and simply has not capitalized on his opportunity. Anyway you look at it, Nunez’ season has to be deemed a disappointment thus far. Of course, if you feel it’s unfair to give him a letter grade given his limited playing time, that’s fine too.

The Third Basemen

2013 NYY 3B

Next stop on the depressing infield tour is third base. It’s ugly. Really ugly. The good news is that the Yankees third basemen ranked higher relative to the league than their shortstop counterparts. The bad news is it’s not by much. They rank fourth worst in all of baseball with only the Twins, Blue Jays, and Brewers trailing. The group has managed to hit six home runs collectively (over 625 plate appearances) and has batted to a .219/.279/.295 (.256 wOBA, 56 wRC+) line. They haven’t taken many walks (6.2 BB%) though they have struck out at fair pace (25.8 K%), and as already mentioned, power has been a scarcity.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The culprits hear are pretty obvious. Kevin Youkilis was the super non-durable (and super desperate) backup plan to Alex Rodriguez. Even prior to his back injury, which ultimately sidelined him for the year, he looked pretty shot. He was getting an awful lot of weak ground outs down the third base line.  His patented patience never really surfaced and he basically looked uncomfortable at the plate from moment one. I suppose if you’re generous you can give him a pass if you want to call his season “incomplete” too. I’m not that generous though. He’s getting an “F” in my book.

From there you can talk about Nix, who really has been used way more than he probably should be in an ideal scenario. Frankly, he was getting exposed out there. He’s an adequate fill in on occasion, but he’s not a starter. If the Yankees keep throwing him out their day in and day out, they should expect below replacement level production. As for Adams, I wrote a while back that we should temper our expectations. Well, our expectations certainly have been tempered. After an impressive hot streak following his big league arrival, he’s basically looked lost at the plate for months. There was a pretty clear reason why was he was optioned to AAA.

Austin Romine
I hate seeing the young guys come up and struggle even though they do it most of the time. I mean, it has to be tough making the transition. After a lifetime of hard work, a prolonged stay in the Majors simply doesn’t pan out for many. For others, it’s a precious window that closes quickly. Very few stick around for an extended period of time, and even fewer make a big impact. That’s not to say Romine won’t enjoy a successful MLB career, but he’s had a pretty rough start.

At this point, Romine has batted .160/.182./.213 (.176 wOBA, 0 wRC+) and has been worth -0.4 fWAR.  He’s taken basically no walks (1.3 BB%) and has struck out 22.8% of the time. This includes zero home runs. Of course, he’s only had 79 plate appearances. Joe Girardi‘s been unable to play Romine because he’s been awful in limited opportunities. It seems like this has probably been fairly detrimental to Austin’s confidence (and the team’s confidence in him). Romine, on the other hand, really hasn’t been able to bounce back because he rides the bench almost full-time. On the plus side, when he is in the game, he puts forth solid defense for the most part.

When I think about Romine’s predicament, I ultimately arrive at one point: the Yankees were not adequately prepared at catcher, and Romine was probably not ready to be a big leaguer when he was brought up. He missed substantial time during his minor league development due to back injuries in 2011 and 2012, and really never had the chance to progress at a typical pace. He was thrown onto the big league roster when Francisco Cervelli went down, and backup catcher Chris Stewart became the primary backstop. Maybe we should be apologists for Romine. Maybe we shouldn’t be. Either way, he’s been pretty abysmal through the first half.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Joba Chamberlain
It appears as though the Joba Chamberlain saga is finally coming to a rather inglorious end. The once heralded prospect turned elite setup reliever, turned failed starter, turned back into not-quite-so-elite reliever will likely be gone by the trade deadline, or if not, most certainly by the off-season. Although Joba spent some time this season on the disabled list with a strained oblique, there were no massive setbacks to deal with like Tommy John surgery or an ankle dislocation.

As for Joba’s pitching stats, they speak for themselves (negatively). Through 22.1 innings pitched, he’s produced a 5.24 ERA (5.03 FIP). Joba’s strikeout rates are definitely respectable, as they generally are (8.87 K/9), but he’s given up way more walks (4.3 BB/9) than normal. He’s also seemed way more prone to the long ball (1.61 HR/9) than he has in the past. While I’m sure Joba wasn’t delighted about losing his eighth inning gig to David Robertson a couple seasons ago, I’m sure he’s been pretty disheartened this year about losing the seventh inning job as well. In fact, he’s no longer really being used in any high leverage situations, mostly just mop up duty at this point. Instead of responding to the challenge positively, Chamberlain has taken a step backward. As David Cone noted on Sunday afternoon’s brutal loss to the Twins, he looks like isn’t throwing with any conviction.

I do believe Joba is a better pitcher than what we’ve seen this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned things around in the second half whether with NY or somewhere else altogether. Not to bludgeon a dead horse much further, I also believe the Yankees have mishandled Joba for a few years now, which in turn has hindered him to some degree. Ultimately though, Chamberlain needs to be accountable for his production, which has been pretty lousy. Basically, this seems like a sad ending to what otherwise could have been a promising career in pinstripes. In any event, I think the relationship between Joba and the organization has soured, which is a shame.  Such is life.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Incompletes
Mike and I were originally thinking of dedicating a separate article to the walking wounded. This includes Derek Jeter (ankle, quad), Mark Teixeira (wrist), Curtis Granderson (forearm, hand), A-Rod (hip), and Cervelli (hand, elbow). What is there really to say though? Injuries have decimated this team.

Would the Yankees be six games back out of first place if these guys weren’t all injured? Maybe. I have to believe though they’d be much more formidable. I suppose it’s appropriate to throw Zoilo Almonte into the mix as well. While he’s been a breath of fresh air offensively with all the quality at bats, he hasn’t been around all that long. After a torrid start, he’s since cooled somewhat, and who knows what he’ll happen from here (though if I had to guess, I’d say he’ll turn back into the AAAA guy I expected).

The team could have absorbed extended injuries to one or two of these guys perhaps. Having them all out basically all season has been a nightmare though. Who knows how long Jeter will be sidelined with this most recent setback, or whether A-Rod will face a big suspension. Granderson’s basically a non entity at this point. All we do know is that the guys who have been brought on board to supplement the production of these big names aren’t getting it done. While we can’t grade these players on game performance, I think we can say it’s been a very disappointing season for them (and the team) in terms of injuries.