Mailbag: Bailey, Giambi, Johan, Relievers

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 anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Nate asks: If Homer Bailey is indeed being dangled, what kind of package would it take to land him? Should the Yankees go after him?

There has been speculation the Reds could trade Bailey in an effort to create payroll space, perhaps to sign Shin-Soo Choo long-term. Matt Swartz’s insanely accurate arbitration model projects the right-hander to earn $9.3M next season, his last before qualifying for free agency. Bailey reportedly hasn’t shown much interest in signing a long-term contract and presumably has his eye on a massive contract a year from now. Hard to blame him.

Bailey, 27, has emerged maybe not as an ace these last two years, but something damn close to an ace. He had a 3.49 ERA and 3.31 FIP in 209 innings this season after posting a 3.68 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 208 innings last year. Bailey was once one of the very best pitching prospects in the game — he was one spot behind Phil Hughes on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list after the 2006 season — and now he’s coming into his own as he enters his peak years.

Even though he only has one more year of team control left, I do think the Yankees should pursue Bailey if the Reds are indeed open to moving him. Not only would they be acquiring a really good pitcher –they could definitely use one or two of those, you know — but they would get a year to evaluate him in their league and ballpark before deciding whether to commit to him long-term. If not, they’ll get a draft pick. Kind of a win-win situation, I suppose.

Not too many pitchers of Bailey’s caliber have been traded one year from free agency in recent years, so we don’t have a good idea of what it would take to acquire him. Javy Vazquez (Expos to Yankees) and Cliff Lee (Phillies to Mariners) kinda fit the bill, but they were both better and more established than Bailey at the time of those trades. I’m guessing three prospects — one stud and two lesser pieces — is in the ballpark. The Reds don’t have any urgency to trade him though, so they won’t give him away. I don’t even think they will trade him. He’s a guy a win-now team keeps.

Andrew asks: With Jason Giambi looking to play one more year (according to Ken Rosenthal), would a reunion on a cheap one-year deal make sense? Cheap power designed for Yankee Stadium off the bench to hit for offensively challenged Yankees late in games (i.e., Brendan Ryan types should they re-sign him).

Giambi, who turns 43 in January, hit .183/.282/.371 (85 wRC+) with nine homers in 216 plate appearances for the Indians this year. That includes some really memorable walk-off homers as the Tribe made their push for a wildcard spot. I think it’s safe to assume moving into Yankee Stadium would help his power output, but how much? An extra five homers? Eight? Ten? The concerns I have are a) Giambi can’t play the field, and b) Derek Jeter figures to eat up a lot of DH time next season. The Yankees had an inflexible DH-only type on the roster this year (Travis Hafner) and it was a problem at times. I love Giambi as much as the next guy, but I don’t think he’s a fit for the current roster.

Michael asks: I wanted to know your thoughts about seeing Johan Santana in pinstripes for next year? He has a $25 million player and a $5.5 million buyout option. Can you picture Brian Cashman offering him a one-year, league minimum contract?

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)
(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

The Mets are obviously going to buy Santana out, but no, I can’t see the Yankees giving him a one-year contract at any salary. There’s no way they would (or should) guarantee him anything coming off his second (!) torn shoulder capsule. Torn capsules are the kiss of death; no one has ever had one and come back the same pitcher. The victim list includes Santana, Rich Harden, Mark Prior, Chien-Ming Wang, John Maine, John Danks, and Dallas Braden, among others.

That said, I do think the Yankees would be open to giving him a minor league contract a la Wang this year or Bartolo Colon in 2011. Santana came back from the first torn capsule and had a 4.85 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 117 innings last season, and that was in a big ballpark in the easier league. I’m not sure how anyone could expect anything out of him after another capsule injury, nevermind moving into Yankee Stadium and the AL East. Santana has been adamant that he wants to continue pitching, so if he wants to take a minor league deal to prove himself in Spring Training (and likely Triple-A early in the season), great. If not, no biggie.

Donny asks: After reading your “What Went Right: One-Run Games” post, I came to the conclusion that the team should keep David Robertson in the eighth and find someone else for the ninth. I came to this conclusion based on how Robertson reacted to his first introduction to closing (not good). My worry is that changing his role might have similar effects that it had on Joba Chamberlain and, to a lesser extent, Phil Hughes. Do you agree with this thought and if so, who should top the wish list (reasonably) if you are Brian Cashman?

Two things here. One, why is everyone freaking out about Robertson as the closer? How long as he actually been the team’s closer? A week, maybe, before getting hurt? That’s not enough to tell us anything about anything. Mariano Rivera blew three saves in the first two weeks of the 1997 season, remember. Robertson is one of the absolute best non-closer relievers in baseball. If you aren’t comfortable sticking him in the ninth inning, then who? He’s the perfect candidate. Two, moving Robertson from setup man to closer is not at all similar to moving Joba and Hughes back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. All you’re changing is the inning Robertson throws. The other two guys had to change their preparation, off-day routines, the way they pitched, everything. Huge, huge difference. Huge.

Now, all of that said, yeah the Yankees definitely need to bring in a good late-inning reliever this offseason in my opinion. With Rivera retiring, they’re losing an elite reliever. That’s 60 or so elite innings gone.Off the roster. Doesn’t matter what inning or role they came from, that’s a lot of production to replace. Free agent relievers are always risky investments, but the Yankees don’t really have a choice. A bullpen full of kids scares the crap out of me. Looking at the list of free agents, potential bullpen targets include Jesse Crain, Matt Lindstrom (if his option is declined), Edward Mujica, and the perpetually underrated Jamey Wright. I had my eye on Grant Balfour earlier this year, but he had a great season and won’t come cheap.

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Cashman discusses decision to pass on Johan Santana

It’s a (very) old story by now, but I thought this was interesting. Brian Cashman brought up the Yankees’ decision to pass on Johan Santana prior to the 2008 season while talking to Andy McCullough about the team’s blend of stats and scouts recently. “We had data that indicated that this was a high-risk player going forward, health-wise,” said the GM, citing the left-hander’s velocity and slider usage in particular. “I fought hard … It was a public bloodbath because Hank Steinbrenner was very adamant about wanting him. But we did the right thing. We stood down. We listened to the information we had at hand, and trusted it. And were rewarded for doing so.”

As you may remember, the asking price for the then-29-year-old Santana involved some combination of Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera, Mitch Hilligoss, and others. That doesn’t include the nine-figure contract extension he would have required. The Yankees passed and instead decided to wait a year and use the money to sign CC Sabathia, a very risky decision — Sabathia could have easily signed an extension and skipped free agency — that has worked out beautifully. Santana, now 34, is likely to start the season on the DL with continued shoulder woes and has started just 109 games during his five years with the Mets due to various injury problems, most notably a torn shoulder capsule.

Life After Shoulder Surgery

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

I didn’t see the top half of the eighth inning in last night’s win  because I was busy watching Johan Santana throw the first no-hitter in Mets history. Having grown up in a family full of Mets fans, it was pretty exciting. I have a bit of a soft spot for the Amazin’s though I never actively root for them like I did last night. It was a lot of fun and that’s what baseball is supposed to be all about.

As you know, Johan came back this season from major shoulder surgery. He tore the capsule in his left shoulder, the same injury that kept Chien-Ming Wang on the shelf for the better half of two seasons. It was a long road back and Santana deserves a ton of credit for getting back in time for Opening Day and throwing a career-high 134 pitches to finish off the no-no. The Cardinals went into the game leading the NL in AVG, OBP, and SLG, so he certainly earned it.

The Yankees are currently waiting for one of their own to return from a serious shoulder procedure, though it’s still kinda weird to consider Michael Pineda a member of the team given the zero meaningful innings he’s thrown in pinstripes. His shoulder injury was significant but not as significant as Johan’s, who had to have the joint cut open and fashioned back together. Pineda’s surgery was arthroscopic, just a scope. That doesn’t make it insignificant, but it’s better than having an incision.

Santana’s no-hitter and successful return from shoulder surgery don’t really mean anything as far as Pineda is concerned. The Yankees have invested a lot in the young right-hander — in terms of players, not necessarily money — and need him to become a big part of the future, but it’s very easy to feel like he’ll contribute nothing of substance to New York and that’s disappointing. Pineda is no more likely to make a full recovery today than he was yesterday, but Johan’s historic night was a nice little reminder that shoulder surgery is not always a career death sentence.

Four years later, revisiting the winter of Johan

For the Yankees, the off-season of 2007-2008 was practically the polar opposite of this year’s. That year, a good number of fans were rooting for the Yanks to do nothing whereas this year we’re rooting for them to do anything (as long as it’s sensible and short term). We didn’t want the Yanks to trade a package of pitchers centered around Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes for Johan Santana, and on a blustery night in February of 2008, we learned that the Mets, and not the Yanks, had secured the rights to Santana.

We staked out a position against a Santana trade. There was no doubt that Johan, a lefty, would have fit the Yanks’ needs, but he had a year remaining on his contract. According to the rumors, the Twins had asked for a lot for that one remaining season of team control, and the Yanks would have had to sign Santana to a lengthy contract as well. With CC Sabathia‘s free agency on the horizon and promising arms moving up the ranks of the farm system, we wanted the Yanks to wait, and they obliged.

Santana went to the Mets for a package of not much. Deolis Guerra hasn’t broken out of the minors yet while Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey aren’t pieces the Mets are missing. The Twins, it seems, were either willing to take less if it meant sending Santana to the NL or weren’t asking for the sky in the first place. The Mets gave Santana $137.5 million, and it kinda, sorta worked out for a little bit.

Over the first three years of his contract, Santana made 88 starts and had a 2.85 ERA for the Mets. Alarmingly, his strike out rate dipped by nearly 2 per 9 innings, and he has not made a professional appearance since September 2, 2010. Just three seasons into a six-year deal, Santana had to undergo shoulder surgery similar to Chien-Ming Wang‘s, and he’s still trying to make it back to the Mets’ mound.

On Thursday, Santana took the mound at Sun Life Stadium in Miami where he threw for teammates and reporters. Anthony DiComo was on hand, and he spoke with the Mets afterwards. They still do not know what the future holds for Santana. “How close is he going to be to where he was? I don’t know if anyone can tell,” manager Terry Collins said of his erstwhile ace.

Doctors too are cautious in their assessments. Santana was supposed to return last year but suffered through some setbacks. After a winter of rest, his arm either is ready now or may never be. “The beginning of next season is going to be telltale,” Dr. Jonathan Glashow said to DiComo. “After a long winter’s rest, if he’s not back to his level by Spring Training or beyond, I would be somewhat more pessimistic that he’ll ever get it.”

The Mets still owe Santana at least $54.5 million over the next two seasons, and had the Yanks made the move for Johan, fans would be screaming bloody murder over the dollars. Instead, the Mets are treated as the Mets. It was an expensive move that turned into an injury, and outside of the dollars, they didn’t lose much in terms of prospects. As Ian Kennedy turned into Curtis Granderson and a very respectable Major League pitcher and Phil Hughes has turned into an enigma, I’m still glad the Yanks never made that Santana trade. The price was just too high.

Mailbag: Hughes, Catcher, Johan, Joba

We’ve got a relatively short but still sweet mailbag this week. I assume all of you were too busy scheduling your parties for Bartolo Colon‘s start tomorrow to send in questions. Anyways, this week we’re going to talk about a long-term deal for Phil Hughes, Plan B after Russell Martin, a Joba-for-Johan trade, and one more Joba-to-the-rotation scenario. Send your questions in via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Vinny asks: Though it will obviously be determined by a combination of performance coupled with salary demands, do you see Phil Hughes staying with the Yankees long-term once he hits free agency?

We’re a long ways away from this, but I’ll go out on a limb and say yes. That assumes he’s healthy and performing at a level deserving of a long-term extension, of course. The Yankees have no trouble paying to keep their own guys unless they have concerns with the medicals, so the cost won’t be a problem unless Hughes is being unreasonable. Remember, when Andy Pettitte left after 2003, it was because the Yanks were worried about his elbow. Sure enough, he hurt it the next year.

Hughes will hit free agency after the 2013 season, when he’ll be just 27 years old. Quality pitchers make major, major bucks when they hit the open market at that age, and the Yankees have more money than anyone. A seven-year deal (if it comes to that) would only take Phil through age 34 as well, so it wouldn’t be a crazy commitment. As it stands, I think he stays.

Joe asks: Even though Cashman stated that Russell Martin is the primary catcher, what happens if he does not make it? What will be the best pair then? Cervelli/Montero, Cervelli/Romine, Montero/Romine or at the very least Cervelli/Posada? Or sometime of different catcher combo?

If Martin doesn’t hack it for whatever reason, injury or poor performance, I’m all for turning Jesus Montero loose. Jorge Posada is the designated hitter now and should remain there; I only want him catching in an emergency or in an NL park during the World Series or something. Frankie Cervelli would stay in the backup role because that’s what he’s best suited for, and Austin Romine just isn’t ready yet. He absolutely needs more minor league seasoning.

Montero’s ready as far as I’m concerned. I have no worries about the bat playing against AL East pitching, and he could work on his defense at the big league level as long as he’s behind the plate regularly. In fact, an argument can be made that being around Joe Girardi and Tony Pena everyday would be the best thing for his defensive development. We all know he’s going to be below average defensively but that’s fine, you take the bad with the good. We’ve been talking about Montero’s time coming for over a year now, and that time is rapidly approaching.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Brian asks: Assuming he’s healthy, would the Yankees trade Joba Chamberlain for Johan Santana straight up?

They’d better be willing to do that. Joba’s nothing more than a middle reliever right now, a middle reliever they only control for another three years at a below-market but not absurdly team friendly rate. If you can’t give up a reliever for an ace level pitcher, you love your players far too much, I don’t care how good your guy is. If I was the Padres or Dodgers, I’d give up Luke Gregerson or Hong-Chih Kuo for a healthy Santana in a heartbeat.

Of course, Johan is not healthy and won’t be for some time, so this is just a hypothetical. Shoulder surgery is scary stuff, and Santana would have to show he’s healthy and effective before I’d consider trading for that contract. For all we know, that ace level pitcher could be gone forever.

Shaya asks: Is it all possible that Joba remains a reliever until his late twenties (when there is absolutely no more physical maturing and the body is more durable) and then they try again as a starter (a la C.J. Wilson etc.)?

Sure, it’s always possible. I don’t see it happening with the Yankees though, so Joba will have to either get traded or sign elsewhere as a free agent first. The Yankees seem pretty hellbent on keeping him in the bullpen, which is fine, it’s their call. I don’t agree with it but I’m not the one with my neck on the line if it blows up in my face.