Archive for Justin Masterson
The Yankees have made a series of major moves this winter and barring something unexpected, the team you see right now will likely be the team they take into the regular season. Sure, there might be some tinkering here and there, but another big move probably isn’t happening. Once the season begins and we see how some things play out (the infield and bullpen, primarily), the Yankees can start to look for in-season upgrades via the trade market.
The most common trade deadline fodder is a player making decent money on a non-contender, and these days most teams stay in contention until late in the season thanks to the second wildcard spot. The Yankees have already blown past the $189M luxury tax threshold, so they’re in a position to take on salary to facilitate a trade without worrying about staying under the threshold. Obviously it’s way too early to seriously look at potential midseason trade targets, but here are a few players who could wind up on the block and be of interest to the Yankees.
The White Sox have three first base/DH types in the newly signed Jose Abreu, franchise icon Paul Konerko, and impending free agent Dunn. Dunn is the obvious odd man out here. The Yankees do not have a true backup to Mark Teixeira, so if his surgically repaired wrist flares up and causes him to miss significant time, one of their very first calls will be to the White Sox. Dunn is owed $15M this year, the last of his four-year contract, and the ChiSox will probably jump at the chance to unload even part of it. He would make sense for New York if Teixeira goes down with another injury.
Okay, the Dodgers figure to be the opposite of a non-contender looking to shed salary this summer. They do have a pricey front four of the rotation (Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren) with Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) and Josh Beckett (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome) slated to return early in the season, so it’s possible one will become available as Los Angeles looks to plug another hole on their roster via trade. The 29-year-old Billingsley is more marketable than either Haren or Beckett (the other three guys aren’t going anywhere) and his contract includes an affordable $15M club option for next season. It’s a long shot but there could be a fit between baseball’s two highest spending clubs come June or July (or August).
Asdrubal Cabrera & Justin Masterson
The Indians snuck into the postseason last year thanks to a baby soft late-September schedule — they won their final ten games of the season, all against the awful White Sox, Astros, and Twins — and they got worse this winter by losing Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir to free agency. I suppose they could still re-sign Jimenez, but there are no such rumblings at this point.
Both Asdrubal and Masterson are due to become free agents next offseason — extension talks with Masterson were recently “shelved,” according to Paul Hoynes — so if the Tribe is out of contention, both could wind up on the market if the club wants something more than a draft pick in return. Heck, Cabrera was pretty bad last year (95 wRC+ and 0.6 fWAR) and there’s no guarantee he’ll be worth a qualifying offer at the end of the year, so they might lose him for nothing. If Cleveland falls out of contention sooner rather than later, both guys could be fits for a Yankees team with a weak infield and in perpetual need of rotation help.
Rickie Weeks & Aramis Ramirez
Okay, now we’re talking. Non-contender? Likely check. Big salaries? Definitely check. Free agents after the season? Check as soon as their pricey club options for 2015 are declined. New York has holes at both second and third bases, so both Weeks and Aramis would make sense. The former would have to show something with the bat (94 wRC+ from 2012-13) while the latter would have to stay healthy (knee problems limited him to 92 games in 2013) first, of course. The Brewers figure to cut both Weeks and Ramirez loose next winter and would stand to save upwards of $18M by dealing both for a small-ish return at midseason. Given the state of the Yankees infield, both players will represent upgrades even if they are league average producers.
Chase Headley & Pablo Sandoval
We’ve already talked about both guys this winter (Headley, Sandoval). The Padres and Giants would not only have to fall out of contention for them to become available, but they’d have to believe they are unable to sign either player to an extension. Even at the trade deadline, both Headley and Sandoval would fetch something via trade that is more valuable than the draft pick their teams would receive when they sign elsewhere after the season. Either player would be the realistic best case upgrade scenario at the hot corner.
Jesse Crain, Jose Veras, Matt Lindstrom, Huston Street, Jason Motte …
… pretty much any reliever, really. Crain, Veras, and Lindstrom are on one-year contracts with presumed non-contenders, so they figure to be on the move come the trade deadline. Street is owed $7M with a $7M club option for 2015, but even if the Padres make him available, he wouldn’t be a great fit for the Yankees because he’s so insanely homer prone (1.40 HR/9 and 13.6% HR/FB from 2011-13). That won’t fly in Yankee Stadium.
Motte is the most interesting name in this cherry-picked group. Not only is he coming off Tommy John surgery and owed a considerable salary ($7.5M) heading into free agency, but the Cardinals have already replaced him at closer with Trevor Rosenthal and have more young power arms than they know what to do with. There is no such thing as too many good relievers, but trading Motte for a little salary relief and a player to plug a hole elsewhere on the roster seems very possible. If so, the Yankees should be at the front of the line for the right-hander.
This one is pretty far-fetched. The Rockies have been stuck between rebuilding and going for it these last few years, so trading their franchise player would not only require them being terrible in 2014, but also finally deciding to tear it down and start over. Tulo just turned 29 in October but he can’t stay on the field (126+ games played in only two of the last six years) and is owed at least $134M through 2020. When he’s healthy though, he’s a brilliant two-way player who plays elite defense and hits like a first baseman at shortstop. I wouldn’t count on Colorado making Tulowitzki available this summer, but if they do, the Yankees are one of the few teams that can absorb that contract.
The final day of the lamest Winter Meetings I can remember is upon us. The Rule 5 Draft starts the day — J.J. Cooper has a preview, including notes on several Yankees farmhands who figure to be selected — but the Yankees do not have an open 40-man roster, so they won’t be able to make a pick. Clubs and their executives tend to leave around midday Thursday, so don’t expect there to be many rumors or transactions in the afternoon. For shame.
Here are Monday’s, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s rumors. Late last night we learned the Yankees rejected a Brett Gardner-for-Brandon Phillips trade offer from the Reds, who are looking to unload their second baseman and the $50M left on his contract. We’re going to keep track of Thursday’s worthwhile rumors right here. All times are ET.
- 9:26pm: The Yankees were involved in trade talks for Brett Anderson before he was dealt to the Rockies. [Susan Slusser]
- 5:31pm: While talking to Johan Santana’s agent, Brian Cashman showed some interest in hard-throwing but not-always-strike-throwing reliever Henry Rodriguez. [David Waldstein]
- 5:28pm: The Yankees made their offer to Infante after Robinson Cano agreed to sign with the Mariners and before the Winter Meetings, which basically means last weekend. [Olney]
- 2:49pm: Apparently there was a three way trade being discussed involving Gardner, Justin Masterson, and Didi Gregorius. Gardner would have wound up with the Indians, Masterson with the Diamondbacks, and Gregorius with the Yankees. Huh. [Sweeny Murti]
- 1:10pm: Mark Ellis is “on the radar” as an Infante alternative for the Yankees. I looked at him as a possible target yesterday. [Ken Rosenthal]
- 12:20pm: The team’s offer to Infante is in the three-year, $24M range. He’s seeking four years and $40M. [Sherman]
- 12:09pm: The Yankees have offered Omar Infante a three-year contract. He is still holding out for a fourth year. The Royals are in the mix as well. [Jon Heyman]
- 9:00am: Future talks about Gardner and Phillips could be expanded to include other players, but the Yankees have essentially told teams they will only trade Gardner for a starting pitcher. They listened on Phillips out of due diligence. [C. Trent Rosecrans & Joel Sherman]
- Masahiro Tanaka remains the team’s top pitching priority. The new posting system is expected to be ratified soon but it’ll probably be another week or so before we find out whether Tanaka will actually be posted. Maybe longer. [George King]
- The Yankees are one of Joaquin Benoit’s likeliest destinations along with the Indians, Padres, Mariners, and Cubs. He’s seeking $7-10M annually across multiple years. Matt looked at Benoit as a free agent target earlier this week. [Jeff Passan & Buster Olney]
- While talking to reporters yesterday, Brian Cashman said the pool of available of second baseman is “deeper” than it is at third. He also said he has not spoken to a bullpen candidate who demanded the closer’s job. [Chad Jennings]
Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.
The Yankees did most of their heavy offseason lifting over the last few weeks, so the first two days of the Winter Meetings have been a bit of a bore. That’s been the case around the entire league, really. Hopefully things pick up over the next 36 hours — the Winter Meetings unofficially end following the Rule 5 Draft tomorrow morning — just to add some excitement to the week. This is supposed to be the most fun time of the offseason.
Anyway, here are Monday’s and Tuesday’s Yankees-related rumors. The most important thing we’ve learned so far this week is that the club is getting a ton of calls on Brett Gardner but they’re likely to keep him. They’re pushing Ichiro Suzuki in trades instead. Good luck with that. Guys like Joaquin Benoit, Mark Reynolds, Dustin Ackley, Danny Espinosa, and Michael Young are on their radar as well. We’ll keep track of the Wednesday’s rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All times are ET.
- 10:15pm: The Yankees rejected a Gardner-for-Phillips offer from the Reds. Happy to see the team values Gardner so highly, it would have been very easy to say yes to that offer following Robinson Cano‘s defection. [Heyman]
- 6:47pm: The Reds are indeed interested in Gardner right now. The Yankees do not have interest in lefty reliever Sean Marshall, however. He was almost traded to the Rockies earlier this week before something popped up in his medicals. [Sherman]
- 5:23pm: If you were hoping the Yankees would sign Bartolo Colon, forget it. He agreed to a two-year, $20M contract (!) with the Mets. That’s a lot. [Rosenthal]
- 5:04pm: The Yankees were interested in Jason Vargas before he took a four-year, $32M deal from the Royals a few weeks ago. Weird. The soft-tossing, pitch-to-contact types are not usually the guys they target. [Nightengale]
- 4:59pm: Freddy Garcia‘s agent reached out to the Yankees, but they said they weren’t interested. With all due respect to Sweaty Freddy, there’s no need for a reunion. [Marchand]
- 4:05pm: Brian Cashman told reported the Yankees are “ready to rock ‘n roll” when asked if they are holding back money for Masahiro Tanaka. He also indicated they may fill out their rotation and bench with low cost pickups later in the offseason, similar to 2011. [Sherman & Andy McCullough]
- 2:27pm: The Yankees have no intention of giving Infante a four-year contract, and rightfully so. He’s sticking to that demand though. [Feinsand]
- 2:25pm: The Reds have “little interest” in Gardner, surprisingly. They need a leadoff man and center fielder. [Sherman]
- 12:24pm: The Yankees like Diamondbacks shortstop Didi Gregorius. He could play second this year before taking over as the long-term Derek Jeter replacement, at least in theory. Whether he’s attainable is another matter. [Joel Sherman]
- 10:34am: There are “no active talks” between the Yankees and Reds about Brandon Phillips at the moment. They can do better. [Ken Rosenthal]
- 10:22am: The Yankees are one of eight teams with interest in Johan Santana. All talks are in the preliminary stages and it would be a minor league contract. Johan is returning from his second torn shoulder capsule. [Andrew Marchand]
- 10:03am: Apparently the Yankees and Tigers are discussing a deal involving Gardner and Austin Jackson. That seems … weird. I wonder if Detroit thinks it’ll be easier to sign Gardner long-term or something. [Peter Gammons]
- 9:52am: There “are no legs” to any talks about Masterson between the Yankees and Indians. They only need his arm anyway, amirite? [Buster Olney]
- 9:30am: The Yankees would like to get their hands on the available Justin Masterson. The Indians want young, controllable pitching in return, and since they already have three center fielders on their roster, a trade involving Gardner would require a third team. [Bob Nightengale]
- No surprise here, but the Yankees are no longer in on Nelson Cruz or Shin-Soo Choo after signing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. They remain engaged with free agent infielder Omar Infante. [Mark Feinsand]
Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.
When pitching becomes available, the Yankees will undoubtedly show interest. So when we learned yesterday that the Indians are willing to listen on Justin Masterson, it was only a matter of time before some reporter noted that the Yankees are in on him. Sure enough, this morning Bob Nightengale mentioned that the Yankees “would love to grab [Indians] Masterson in a 3-team trade involving CF Gardner.” Plenty of other teams will be interested, of course, and we know the Yankees have limited resources to use in a trade.
Buster Olney might have thrown cold water on the idea, but trades with no legs can sprout legs pretty quickly, especially when every team is in the same place with nothing else really to do except talk trade. Then again, this situation appeared to be a long shot even when we first heard about it. For that reason, we’ll start with the cons of the deal.
- The Yankees and the Indians don’t match up directly. With Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley, the Indians have no need for Brett Gardner. That would necessitate a third team, as Nightengale noted. While we saw a three-team trade yesterday, they’re notoriously complex.
- The Indians, who made the playoffs in 2013 for the first time since 2007, are still contenders in 2014. They already lost Scott Kazmir, and their best 2013 starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, is currently a free agent. Without Masterson they’d have Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer in the rotation. That’s young, sure, but they’d need more to become a playoff rotation.
- In fact, they might need more now in order to be a playoff rotation, further confounding the situation.
- Masterson is a free agent after this year, leaving the Yankees again in a position where they need rotation upgrades. That could be a pro, as Mike wrote yesterday, but how many of those six pitchers will actually make it to free agency?
- Masterson improved his game in 2013, increasing his strikeout rate and improving his performance against left-handed hitters. At the same time, he still generates a huge number of ground balls.
- At age 29 in 2014, Masterson is in position for a monster year. At various points in the past he has shown a decent walk rate (2011), a high strikeout rate (2013), and the ability to pitch over 200 innings (2011 and 2012). If he puts them all together in his walk year, he’ll provide insane value.
- Since coming up in 2008, and throug his 1013 career IP, Masterson has never hit the DL. That’s only slightly misleading; a ribcage injury last September would have put him on the DL if it weren’t for expanded rosters. True, Masterson did undergo shoulder labrum surgery — but on his non-throwing shoulder. Perhaps that threw him off in his career-worst 2012.
- After earning just over $5.5 million last season, Masterson appears in line for a $10 million salary this season, according to Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors. That’s easily affordable for the Yankees.
Unfortunately, in a situation like this, the pros also lend themselves to cons. The Indians will likely get more value out of Masterson, especially considering their current state of pitching, than they would in a trade. The necessity of adding a third team pretty much puts the nail in the coffin on this one. Maybe there’s one nail left to be hammered down, leaving just enough breathing room to keep our hopes alive.
Just four questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us your questions throughout the week. A word of advice: I tend to write these things Thursday evening, so get your question in before then if you want me to answer it that week.
Nostradamus asks: I like the idea of Justin Masterson in pinstripes with his ground ball tendencies. If he can pitch close to his 2011 numbers he’d be a great pick-up. What would it take to get him? Maybe we can get Shin-Soo Choo in a package deal?
Masterson, 27, was awesome last year (3.21 ERA and 3.28 FIP) and kinda crappy this year (4.93 ERA and 4.16 FIP). In fact, if you look at his last four seasons, 2011 is the outlier, not 2012 — he pitched to a 4.63 ERA and 3.98 FIP from 2009-2010. The success last year came from a drop in walk rate (2.71 BB/9 and 7.2 BB%) and a big drop in HR/FB (6.3%). Those two rates bounced right back up to his career norms — 3.58 BB/9 (9.2 BB%) and 9.9% HR/FB — this year, hence the 2009-2010-esque performance.
I think there’s a disconnect between what people think Masterson is and what he really is, but he’s still on the right side of 30 and has been pretty durable in recent years. His sinker is ridiculous (career 56.0% grounders), but he doesn’t have a changeup and lefties tend to hit him pretty hard (career .351 wOBA against). I can’t think of many pitchers like Masterson who have been traded two years prior to free agency, but he’s not someone I think the Yankees should go out of their way to acquire. I think the price will be inflated relative to his actual production. Add Choo on top of that and I’m not even sure the Yankees have to pieces to get it done. The Indians want pitching, pitching, and more pitching, and the Yankees don’t have enough to spare.
Jeff asks: With Ichiro Suzuki interested in coming back next year and the Yanks seemingly interested in Torii Hunter, could you see both on the Yanks next year? Hunter could play RF with Ichiro as the righty-hitting DH (like Raul Ibanez). Or would you rather see a DH who’s a infielder?
Well, in that case I would recommend playing Brett Gardner in center, Hunter in right, Ichiro in left, and Curtis Granderson at DH. I don’t think the Yankees would sign both guys though unless Ichiro came really cheap, like true fourth outfielder money. A million bucks or two, that’s it. Even then it would still be tough to squeeze all four of these guys into the lineup since Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter need semi-regular reps at DH. I’m not sure how Ichiro or Hunter would adjust to part-time work like that, so I’d prefer signing a DH who is used to being platoon bat and sitting on the bench for a while. It’s not an easy adjustment. Infielder or outfielder depends on whether or not Eric Chavez returns, really.
Patrick asks: So its been reported to Joakim Soria would be willing to set up his idol Mariano Rivera. Awesomeness. How much would you be willing to spend and are you overly concerned that he’s had to have TJ twice?
Yes, the second Tommy John surgery is a big concern. Tons of guys have it and the procedure is relatively routine, but only the first time around. The second time is much different. We culled together some data on two-time TJS guys at FanGraphs over the summer, and only pitchers we dug up who threw at least 300 innings after the second surgery were Doug Brocail, Chris Capuano, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Jason Frasor. Many other two-time TJS guys had more arm problems afterward, likely because there was something wrong (bad genes? bad mechanics?) that caused them to need the two elbow reconstructions in the first place. It’s also worth noting that a bunch of guys had the second procedure near the end of their careers, so they weren’t going to reach that 300-inning level anyway.
That said, Soria is a special pitcher because his track record is elite and he’s only 28 years old. He’s reportedly seeking a multi-year contract and that’s no surprise, but I don’t want to see the Yankees go more than one guaranteed year with him, especially if they’re serious about the 2014 payroll plan. A one-year deal ($4-6M?) with a club or even vesting option (based on appearances) would be ideal since it gives the club some protection in case he gets hurt again or just doesn’t pitch well. You can make the argument that it should be preferable for Soria since he’d be able to rebuild value and go back out on the market in search of a big contract next winter. If they guarantee him like $8M (salary plus buyout) and keep the deal to one guaranteed year, that would be perfect. Anything more would make me nervous.
Travis asks: So if A-Rod winds up having to DH a lot sooner than expected, is David Adams a legitimate internal option to play third base? My gut says no. Do you see the Yankees going after any free agent in particular to back up at third? Do they go after Chavez again? I’m worried about his durability if he sees increased workloads like he did last year.
Outside of Eduardo Nunez, who the Yankees say will stick to shortstop and only shortstop going forward, Adams is by far the team’s best internal hope for a third baseman. At least in the near future since guys like Dante Bichette Jr. and Miguel Andujar are way down in the low minors. It’s unlikely Corban Joseph can handle the position at the big league level and not because of his range or instincts or anything like that, he just doesn’t have the arm for it. That’s not an easy throw to make.
Adams could always hit, that was never really a question, but the injuries have been a problem these last three years. He missed an awful lot of time with the ankle problem and still hasn’t played a full, healthy season since 2009. I think there’s enough patience and bat control there for him to be a .280/.340 guy with doubles power in the show, maybe 10-15 dingers at his peak. Obviously that’s someone you’d rather have at second than at the hot corner, where teams typically expect more offensively. I think the Yankees will break him in as a utility man down the line, but for next year the plan probably involves bringing Chavez (or a similar player) back if he’s open to it.
In the aftermath of yet another strong Jeff Niemann performance against the Yankees — whose seven-inning, one-run outing last night improved his career ERA against New York to 2.75 over six starts — I couldn’t help but wonder what Niemann’s overall numbers against the Bombers looked like in relation to other starters that have consistently had success when facing the team.
Going back to the beginning of 2009, here are the top 10 starters against the Yankees by lowest ERA (minimum three starts), courtesy of David Pinto’s wonderful day-by-day database:
Most of the names on this list would probably align with Yankee fans’ perceptions of pitchers the team typically struggles against — and frankly I was shocked that King Felix’s name didn’t top the list. His aberrant start last September slightly skewed his numbers, but prior to that completely out-of-character dud, no pitcher in baseball had had more success against the Yankees. Felix had thrown 40 innings of six-run ball (1.35 ERA) against the Yankees, including 24 innings of one-run ball (0.38 ERA!) at Yankee Stadium dating back to the beginning of 2010, and not having been saddled with a loss against the Bombers since May 3, 2008.
However, there are a couple of eye-openers — I can’t say I expected Carl Pavano to make the top 10, although I suppose that makes some sense given his unique brand of right-handed slop. And the other is Niemann, who, believe it or not, has the third-lowest ERA among all starters against the Yankees since the beginning of 2009, his first full season in the bigs. Now, I don’t mean to knock on Niemann, who clearly has the Yankees’ number, but it does seem a bit odd that a hurler who’s been a decidedly average — if not below-average — right-hander during his career (102 ERA-; 105 FIP-) would be so successful against the best offensive team in baseball during that timeframe.
For the most part, aside from Niemann and Pavano, almost everyone else in that group makes sense — hard-throwing, high-strikeout right-handers, but I was also curious to see whether there were any other similarities among this group that might uncover why they’ve routinely stymied the Bombers’ bats. Courtesy of Brooks’ Pitcher Cards, here’s what each pitcher in the top 10 throws and how hard they throw it:
Here’s where things get interesting. Four of the top five pitchers in this study throw a sinker more than 30% of the time, and the fifth — Niemann — just misses that cutoff, at 29% of the time. Additionally, both Pavano and Jake Arrieta are also sinker-heavy, which means that seven of the top 10 throw a sinker more than 25% of the time.
Of course, it’d be easy to say, “well maybe the Yankees just stink against sinkers,” but that’s not even remotely true, as they have the second-best wSI/C in baseball since 2009. Still, there’s something about this variety of sinkerballer — several of whom also prominently feature a curve (Hernandez, Niemann, Haren and Arrieta each go to the hook more than 10% of the time) — that seem to have the Yankees’ goose cooked.