Mailbag: Tulo, Soriano, Gardner, Rivera, Damon

Seven questions for this week’s mailbag. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Scott Cunningham/Getty)
(Scott Cunningham/Getty)

Anthony asks: After Derek Jeter retires at the end of the season, could you see the Yankees trying to swing a trade for Troy Tulowitzki? The Rockies could use some catching depth — what would a package headlined by Gary Sanchez look like? And given the length of his current contract, would such a trade make sense?

Well, the Yankees could try to swing a trade for Tulowitzki, but I’m not sure they have the pieces to get it done. This isn’t a Sanchez plus two or three okay prospects thing. Tulowitzki may be owed a ton of money ($118M from 2015-20) and he is injury prone, but he’s also the best all-around shortstop in baseball when he’s on the field. It ain’t particularly close either. It’s going to take an enormous package to land him.

Tulo will turn 30 after this season and given how much salaries have inflated the last year or two, his contract is actually something of a bargain. Don’t you think he’d get a lot more than six years and $118M if he hit free agency next winter? He’d blow right past that. Tulowitzki is so good that 120 games of him and 42 games of some replacement level shortstop is still arguably the best shortstop in the game.

I can’t think of a comparable player who was traded in recent years — maybe Prince Fielder? — but the Rockies would be right to ask for two top young players and another two pieces. If the Yankees offered me Sanchez, Ivan Nova, Eric Jagielo, and Jose Ramirez for Tulo, I’d probably say no because I can plug only one of those right into my big league roster. There’s way too much value in a shortstop who can hit*, play defense, and is signed to a below-market contract. The Yankees could try for Tulowitzki after the season and I hope they do, but their farm system would have to take a huge step forward in 2014 to get Colorado’s attention.

* Tulo has a 130 wRC+ at home and a 138 wRC+ on the road over the last three years, so he isn’t just a product of Coors Field.

Ryan asks: Any idea why Shinnosuke Abe never tried to make the jump to MLB? He appears to be a power-hitting catcher who also hits for average and gets on base well. Those are rarities in MLB (obviously why the Yankees went after Brian McCann so hard). Any idea why he was never posted? I know the Japanese league is more like AAAA, but it seems like he could’ve been a decent catcher in MLB looking at his statistics. He’s 34 now, so this is more of a question of the past, not about the future.

Abe (pronounced Ah-bay) turns 35 next month and he is one of the best catchers in Japanese baseball history, if not the best. Here are his career stats:

Year Age Tm G PA 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2001 22 Yomiuri 127 428 18 0 13 44 31 79 .225 .293 .373 .666
2002 23 Yomiuri 127 511 26 0 18 73 46 81 .298 .377 .478 .854
2003 24 Yomiuri 94 370 15 1 15 51 40 52 .303 .392 .500 .892
2004 25 Yomiuri 108 436 22 1 33 78 43 87 .301 .391 .625 1.016
2005 26 Yomiuri 130 534 16 0 26 86 51 78 .300 .365 .498 .863
2006 27 Yomiuri 129 497 26 2 10 56 35 76 .294 .349 .427 .776
2007 28 Yomiuri 140 580 20 0 33 101 57 76 .275 .355 .513 .868
2008 29 Yomiuri 125 484 27 0 24 67 44 66 .271 .350 .502 .852
2009 30 Yomiuri 123 462 20 2 32 76 34 87 .293 .357 .587 .943
2010 31 Yomiuri 140 569 27 2 44 92 58 91 .281 .368 .608 .976
2011 32 Yomiuri 114 437 21 0 20 61 35 66 .292 .363 .500 .863
2012 33 Yomiuri 138 555 22 1 27 104 69 47 .340 .429 .565 .994
2013 34 Yomiuri 135 529 17 0 32 91 86 59 .296 .427 .564 .991
13 Seasons 1630 6392 277 9 327 980 629 945 .290 .371 .520 .891
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/28/2014.

From what I understand, Abe wanted to play in MLB but the Yomiuri Giants were not willing to post him. They did the same thing to Hideki Matsui years ago. (Matsui signed with the Yankees after qualifying for international free agency.) Abe qualified for international free agency after 2009, but according to a report passed along by Yakyu Baka, he gave up on coming to MLB because his English was not good and his numbers had slipped in recent years (I assume he was referring to 2006-08). Obviously his performance rebounded.

Abe probably isn’t coming over to MLB at this point, so he’ll have to settle for being an NPB Hall of Famer and arguably the best catcher the country has ever produced. Oh, and he’s also the first (and so far only) man to ever hit two homeruns in one inning during the World Baseball Classic (video). That’s kinda neat. How many homers would he have hit in Yankee Stadium with that swing? All. He would have hit all the homers.

Kevin asks: As long as he’s productive doesn’t Alfonso Soriano seem like the next candidate for the Yankees to go year-to-year with on one-year deals? I’m sure they can continuously find 400+ at-bats for him as long as he’s still hitting it out of the park and isn’t terrible in the field.

(Ron Antonelli/Getty)
(Ron Antonelli/Getty)

I think so. Soriano just turned 38 but he can still hit, making up for his low OBP with power. If he adjusts well to being a DH regularly, he makes sense for a lot of teams as a year-to-year guy. (Red Sox, anyone?) The Yankees could use him as a part-time DH and part-time outfielder in the coming years, especially against left-handed pitchers.

What’s a reasonable salary? I don’t know, maybe something like $6-8M? That would be awesome. The team can definitely find a spot for Soriano on the roster in the coming years if he’s willing to go one year a time. He’s a real nice guy to have lying around at the right price.

Elliot asks: Because Brett Gardner received an extension vs. a new contract, is his salary for luxury tax purposes next year (189 is moot for 2014) calculated $11.72 million as 1/5 of $58.6 million, or is it $13 Million next year (12.5 + .5 for the guaranteed money from the buyout)?

I’m so happy the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold is kaput because trying to figure out “tax hits” was a pain in the ass. Anyway, Brian Cashman confirmed to Chad Jennings that the extension acts as a new contract that starts next season for luxury tax purposes. Gardner’s tax hit this year will be $5.6M (the one-year deal he signed to avoid arbitration last month) and then it’ll be $13M from 2015-18 (the guaranteed dollars spread across the guaranteed years of the new extension). Things will get complicated if the 2019 club option is exercised, but that’s a very long ways off. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires before then anyway and who knows what’ll happen to the luxury tax system. No point in thinking about it now.

Andrew asks: Do you think Gardner’s extension is a bit of a warning klaxon to the prospects?

Nah, I don’t think Gardner’s extension has anything to do with the prospects. I think the extension was simply about signing a productive player for the next few years rather than dealing with a potential bidding war after the season, when he was scheduled to become a free agent. None of the team’s top outfield prospects are close to making an impact and besides, there are three outfield spots. There’s always a way to squeeze someone in if they earn the playing time. Gardner is a good MLB player right now and those are the guys you keep regardless of who is coming up through the system.

John asks: Did Mariano Rivera set a record for most time as a player in the Yankees organization? I can’t think of anyone else under contract for 23+ years.

I don’t even know how to go about looking this up. The Play Index says Rivera and Derek Jeter currently hold the record for most seasons with at least one game played for the Yankees at 19, and Jeter will make it 20 in a few weeks. Mo spent parts of six years in the minors before making his MLB debut while Jeter was down for parts of only four seasons. (Remember, some of those MLB and MiLB seasons overlap.) Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra both played at least one game in 18 seasons with the team and they spent hardly any time in the minors. Jorge Posada played in 17 seasons with the Yankees and had another five or so years in the minors. Jeter, Mantle, Berra, and Posada seem like Rivera’s only real competition here, and since the Cap’n is retiring after the season, Mo’s spot is safe for the foreseeable future.

Sad Sally asks: Is Johnny Damon the most underrated player of our lifetime?

Was Damon ever underrated? I never thought so. He was obviously very good for a very long time, and in a few years he should garner some Hall of Fame votes. I don’t think he belongs in Cooperstown but voting for him would not be insane. Know who I think is more underrated than Damon? Mike Mussina. The guy had a career of almosts — almost won a Cy Young, almost threw a perfect game, almost won a World Series — until winning 20 games in his final season and I feel like he gets overlooked because of his lack of hardware. Moose is a Hall of Famer in my opinion and it sure seems like a lot of people don’t realize how great he was, maybe because he played at the same time as Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and other all-timers. Easy to get overlooked in that era.

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Mailbag: Ellsbury, Damon, Blanton, Soriano

Five questions and five answers this week. If you want to send us a mailbag question, you probably know how to do it by now. (Hint: the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.)

(Gail Oskin/Getty)
(Gail Oskin/Getty)

Paul asks: Are there still deals that haven’t been made official yet? What’s the hold-up? Is it a 40-man roster thing?

The Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton signings are still not official. I don’t know why but the Yankees tend to drag these things out. I’m guessing the holidays gummed up the works as well. The 40-man roster is full so they’ll have to clear up spot for both guys. They’ll need to do the same if they add another starting pitcher as well, Masahiro Tanaka or otherwise. I suppose they could be working on an Ichiro Suzuki trade to open one spot, but who knows. Roberts and Thornton are the only big league contracts that are still not official yet, however.

Jake asks: Who was the better player when they signed with the Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury or Johnny Damon?

To the table:

Age Games AVG OBP SLG wRC+ HR SB SB% DRS fWAR
2011-13 Ellsbury 27-29 366 .303 .356 .469 123 45 105 82.6% +23 16.3
2003-05 Damon 29-31 443 .298 .364 .440 110 42 67 81.7% -17 9.4

Ellsbury was the better player overall in the three years prior to signing with the Yankees — Damon was way more durable; his ability to stay on the field was always a big part of his value — but remember that a lot of his production came during that outlier 2011 campaign. Like, 32 of the 45 homers and 9.4 of the 16.3 fWAR came that year. That season is getting further back in the rear-view mirror and I’m not all that confident Ellsbury will come close to that production again. Hopefully he proves me wrong.

I think the best way to answer this question is that Ellsbury is the more exciting player and he offered a greater upside, but Damon was more predictable and reliable. Ellsbury is a few years younger now than Damon was when he joined the Yankees and that’s a big deal. The team will, at least theoretically, get more of Ellsbury’s prime years. The Yankees are obviously counting on that considering the contract they gave him.

Alex asks: What about Joe Blanton as a depth signing? The Angels appear ready to release him this offseason and if the Yanks don’t add Tanaka (or even if they do), there could be value in a workhorse who underperformed his peripherals. What would his upside realistically be?

I mean this is in the nicest possible way:

Blanton was the worst pitcher in baseball last year, so bad that the pitching-starved Angels dropped him from their rotation. He hasn’t been even a league average pitcher since 2009 and he’s underperformed his peripherals in each of the last four seasons (5.09 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 540.2 innings since 2010). I have no reason to think a righty with a below-average fastball (averages a touch over 89 mph these days) will buck that trend in a small ballpark in the AL East. I don’t see Blanton as an upgrade over David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Vidal Nuno. He’s not even worth a 40-man roster spot in my opinion. Easy pass, even if he comes for the minimum. The Yankees need to add good pitchers. Emphasis on good.

Nick asks: With all the talk of contract overpaying this winter, I’d like to bring up Alfonso Soriano. If the Cubs are paying $13m of the $18m he’s owed in 2014, and even at age 38, couldn’t he be a bit of a bargain? $5m for a .250/.310/.480 hitter with 30+homers seems reasonable no?

Oh yes, absolutely. The three projection systems at FanGraphs (ZiPS, Steamer, Oliver) work out to a combined .240/.293/.455 batting line with 25 homers and 11 steals per 500 plate appearances, and that’s with Oliver expecting him to fall off a cliff (-0.1 fWAR). That is definitely worth $5M right there, especially to the Yankees given where they sit on the win curve. Soriano just turned 38 and there’s a chance he will completely crash and show his age next year, but the upside is a 30-homer, 10-steal right-handed batter. Getting that for $5M is great in this market. Among the guys who are not still in their arbitration or pre-arbitration years, Soriano is probably the best dollar-for-dollar player on the roster.

Kevin asks: Am I the only one who really likes Nik Turley? I don’t think he’ll be more than a #4 but the Yankees need to stop walking away from these back-end starter prospects. We could really use a young guy to soak up innings, even if its not elite status.

I see Turley as another member of the Phelps, Warren, and Nuno group, just a notch below because he hasn’t spend significant time in Triple-A yet. Solid enough to be a back-end starter but not exactly someone who is going to come up and make a real impact in the rotation. There is value in that, don’t get me wrong. Teams need those cheap back-end types for depth and to help cover for injuries, and heck, every once in a while one will exceed expectations and turn into Doug Fister. Turley had a good year with Double-A Trenton in 2013 (3.88 ERA and 4.18 FIP in 139 innings) and as a left-hander with a good breaking ball, he’ll get a million chances in this league, at worst as a reliever. I wouldn’t call him untouchable but he’s certainly worth keeping around. The only problem is that the Yankees have a serious 40-man roster crunch and Turley is near the bottom of the pile.

Damon has “tons of interest” in reunion with Yankees

During a recent radio interview, Johnny Damon said he had interest in a reunion with the Yankees for what I think is the third year in the row. “You guys know that I would have tons of interest to go to New York,” he said. “But I just don’t think they would be interested … They have had plenty of opportunities and I kept raising my hand, wanting to go back and, you know, hopefully it would be a perfect fit. It always had been. Have me for six weeks and then send me off on my merry way. That’s fine.”

Damon, 39, hit .222/.281/.329 (71 wRC+) with four homers and four steals in 224 plate appearances for the Indians last season before getting released. He hasn’t hit much since leaving the Yankees during the 2009-2010 offseason and he’s much more of a DH than an outfielder these days, but at this point the Yankees have nothing to lose. Damon said he’s cool with being cut loose when Granderson returns and it’s not like there’s a standout internal candidate, so what the hell, bring him to camp and see what he has to offer. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman responded to Damon’s comments by saying “we will focus on what we have at this time.”

Damon: It wasn’t about the money, but Yanks said no anyway

As the Yanks’ off-season unfolded and their DH platoon needs came into view, Johnny Damon‘s name surfaced amongst the Yankee rumors. Damon, a free agent whose numbers likely suffered in the Trop last year, is shy of 3000 hits and still unemployed. I wasn’t too keen on his return to the Bronx and made a rather flimsy case for him. By the time I warmed to the thought of a Damon reunion, the Yanks had locked up Raul Ibañez.

On Tuesday, Damon, still unemployed and hoping for any job offer, took to the airwaves. On SiriusXM, he spoke with Casey Stern and Jim Bowden, and of course, the conversation came around to the Yanks. What happened with the Bombers, Stern asked.

“The only conversation was me reaching out to them because obviously at this point in my career, I would like to have some say on who I can and can’t play for it,” Damon said. “I just wanted to make sure Cashman knew it wasn’t about the money. Pay me whatever, and I’ll try to help you win a championship.”

According to Damon, Cashman basically said thanks, but no thanks. The Yanks’ GM told the free agent that he and his scouts believed Ibañez would be a better option in the outfield because Raul had the chance to play the field for a few years. Damon defended his defense, saying he didn’t have a spot patrolling the Tampa Bay turf because the rest of the Rays’ outfielders were among the best in the league. “I like to think that my legs are a bit fresher,” he said. His arm, of course, is another matter.

Furthermore, Damon claimed that since he hits left-handed pitching so well and the Yanks already have Andruw Jones, he wasn’t a great fit. Cashman, he says, didn’t want to take at-bats away from Jones. “They brought in Andruw Jones to hit left-handed pitching and I actually do that more than right-handed pitching,” he said. Last year, Damon hit southpaws better than he did righties, but historically, he has been a better offensive threat against right-handers.

I’m not sure if we should make much of this at all. It sounds to me as though the Yanks’ reasons for pursuing Ibañez over Damon were a bit flimsy. The club isn’t really expecting Ibañez to be more than fifth outfielder on the depth charts. Maybe he’ll hit; maybe, playing his age 40 season, he won’t. He’s 2 for 21 during Spring Training, but no one on the Yanks is doing much hitting so far.

In an ideal world, perhaps the Yanks would have Ibañez and Damon in camp together competing for one job. If Damon’s words are true, he may have been willing to do that. For now, though, that ship has sailed. Damon appears to be lobbying Detroit for a job, and the Yanks will cobble together a few hundred left-handed plate appearances from Ibañez and others. Damon’s was the reunion never meant to be.

Damon: “We both are looking at other options now”

Via George King and Joel Sherman, both Johnny Damon and the Yankees are no longer considering a reunion. “We both are looking at other options now,” he said, calling the situation “unfortunate.” Brian Cashman added: “He called and I told him the truth. He is not the No. 1 option if and when I turn to DH options.” Sure sounds like it’s Raul Ibanez or bust now. Consider me unenthused.

Meanwhile, Sherman reports that the Yankees can’t afford both Eric Chavez and a left-handed DH even after the A.J. Burnett trade. It’s one or the other, though the brain trust is going to reevaluate things once the trade is made official. Great moments in posturing, right here.