Archive for Justin Maxwell
Only six questions this week, but some of the answers are kinda long. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything through the week.
Several people asked: What happens with Brian Cashman when his contract expires after the season?
A bunch of people sent in some variation of this question. Some nice (is it time for a change?), some not so nice (fire that idiot!). Needless to say, when you commit over $500M to free agents in an offseason only to get worse and potentially to miss the postseason for the second straight year, it’s only natural to wonder if a change in leadership is needed.
I’ve been a Cashman supporter over the years but I do think it’s time for the Yankees to make a change. He’s been the GM for 16 years now. That’s an eternity in GM years. The Yankees are still trying to win by almost exclusively signing free agents and that’s not just going to work in the game these days. The best players are not hitting the open market until their post-prime years. Baseball has changed but the Yankees have not. They’re still trying to build a team the same way they did 10-15 years ago and it’s not working.
I feel the Yankees have reached the point where bringing in a new GM with a different voice would really benefit the club. I think the same applies to managers and coaches too — eventually they get stale and it’s time for a new voice to shake things up. That’s human nature. It happens. The club’s way of doing business needs an overhaul, not one or two minor tweaks. I mean, given their payroll, other teams rely on the Yankees to make mistakes to contend, and there have been a lot of mistakes in recent years.
Who should replace Cashman? That’s a hard part. Assistant GM Billy Eppler is the obvious in-house candidate but he is being given serious consideration for the Padres GM job (he interviewed for the position yesterday, the team announced). He might not be a long-term option. Hiring someone from outside the organization is tricky because the New York market is so unique. Money doesn’t guarantee success and the expectations are through the roof. Experience in this kind of market is not required but it would preferred.
If Eppler gets the Padres job, I have no idea who the Yankees could replace Cashman with. Ex-Cubs GM Jim Hendry is in the front office as an advisor but no thanks. Advisor and ex-GM Gene Michael has made it pretty clear he’s out of the GM game at age 76. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer? Eh, maybe. Hiring Billy Beane or Andrew Friedman away from their teams is totally unrealistic. There figures to be a few GM openings this winter (Phillies? Diamondbacks?), so the Yankees would have competition for the top candidates.
I do think it’s time for the Yankees to bring in a new GM — I’ve been saying they could move Cashman to a high-level advisor role when the time comes for years now, similar to Kenny Williams and Mark Shapiro, and I still think that. He’s worth keeping around, especially if they bring in a GM from outside the organization — because there needs to be some change. The team-building strategies are too outdated to continue. Going from Point A (Cashman) to Point B (new GM) will be very difficult and my biggest fear is Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine hiring some figurehead GM they can walk all over.
Joe asks: Why don’t the Yankees switch Gardner and Ellsbury in the lineup? Why bat Ellsbury third when Gardner has shown more power this year?
I agree completely. (I said this earlier this week.) Jacoby Ellsbury‘s batting third because he’s the big name and he’s the guy with the huge contract, but he is totally miscast in that lineup spot in my opinion. Brett Gardner would be as well, don’t get me wrong, but when you look at their skills, I think Ellsbury makes more sense in the leadoff spot and Gardner third. To wit:
- Their batting averages (.288 vs. .284) and on-base percentages (.358 vs. .352) are essentially identical. It’s not like one guy has a big 25 or 40-point advantage or something.
- Ellsbury is quicker to steal than Gardner. I don’t have any stats to back that up (I don’t even know if that stuff is available) but I think we can all agree that’s the case.
- Gardner has shown more usable power this year (.144 ISO vs .106 ISO, 8 HR vs. 4 HR) and does a better job of taking advantage of the short porch. Every Ellsbury hit looks exactly the same — line drive to center or left-center. Hard to hit for power and clear the bases like that.
Since they get on base at almost the exact same rate, the Yankees would be better off using Gardner’s slight edge in power — remember, he has more power than Ellsbury but is still no better than an average power hitter overall — a little lower in the lineup, with potentially more men on base. It wouldn’t make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re struggling to score runs like the Yankees have been, I see very little downside to making the swap.
Daniel asks: Why is it that when you’re showing the rankings of different international prospects and you give MLB.com and BA’s, the rankings are so vastly different? It doesn’t seem like it’s quite as stark a difference with US prospects. Why the big gaps, and who do you trust more anyway?
I listed each player’s ranking in our massive International Free Agency Open Thread the other day — the unofficial final tally was 22 players and $26.8M in bonuses plus penalties, by the way, and there are still some more signings to come — and in some cases the rankings are very different. Venezuelan OF Jonathan Amundaray was ranked seventh by MLB.com and 22nd by Baseball America, for example. Dominican OF Antonio Arias was ninth by MLB.com and 28th by Baseball America. A two or three spot difference is nothing, but 15-20?
I think this stems from the general lack of reliable information about international prospects. MLB.com and Baseball America do a really awesome job of digging up info on these kids, but it’s still tough to find a consensus. Remember, these are 16-year-old kids who have a lot of development left. They are even more unpredictable than high schoolers, so the opinions very wildly. It comes down to the difference in sources, I guess. I trust Baseball America (Ben Balder) the most because he’s been on the international free agent beat for a while now and always seems to have the most information and the best projections (about who is signing where, etc.). I think it’s important to consider all possible sources through. The more info, the better.
Joe asks: Hiroki Kuroda gets terrible run support, it seems. What Yankees starter has gotten the worst?
Kuroda has never gotten run support in the big leagues. The Dodgers never scored for him back in the day and even in 2012, when the Yankees had a good offense, they still never scored for him. Here is the where the team’s starters rank among the 157 starting pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings this season (only Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka have qualified for the batting title):
- CC Sabathia: 5.25 (14th)
- Vidal Nuno: 4.29 (69th)
- Chase Whitley: 4.22 (73rd)
- Tanaka: 4.06 (84th)
- David Phelps: 3.91 (95th)
- Kuroda: 3.65 (114th)
Juan Nicasio of the Rockies has received the most run support this year (6.79 runs per game) by almost a full run (Jesse Chavez and Matt Shoemaker are tied for second at 5.88). Andrew Cashner has received the least run support at 2.17 runs per game. Yikes. How in the world can someone pitch like that, knowing that if they give up two runs, they’ll probably lose? The Padres, man.
Dustin asks: Chris Capuano is now a free agent. Should the Yanks give him a minor league deal? Same for Jerome Williams and Justin Maxwell if they clear waivers. And would Nolan Reimold even be worth claiming on waivers and giving up something of minor value?
I’d take all four of those guys a minor league contract at this point, especially Maxwell, who might be a better option for the right-handed half of the right field platoon than Alfonso Soriano. He stunk this year (11 wRC+ in limited time), but Maxwell has hit .230/.344/.407 (105 wRC+) against lefties in his career. It’s not like the Triple-A Scranton outfield is full either. Reimold is hurt all the time (56 games from 2012-14) but has kinda shown he can hit southpaws (career 98 wRC+). Capuano has a knack for underperforming his peripherals and I consider both him and Williams as replacement level arms at this point of their careers. The Red Sox were nice enough to audition Capuano in the AL East for the Yankees. Of these four guys, Maxwell seems most likely to be useful.
TomH asks: RAB and others have recently noted a kind of creeping mediocrity among MLB teams, probably resulting from the Bud Selig era leveling moves. How do you think this pretty obvious general mediocrity will affect baseball’s popularity?
It’s probably a net win for the game. More teams are in the race and that means more fans are excited and paying attention (and going to games and buying merchandise). I joke all the time that the Yankees are unwatchable these days, but I watch a ton of non-Yankees baseball too, and I think the level of play around the league is very low right now. Most of MLB is Yankees-esque unwatchable. Is that because of Selig’s competitive balance? I’m sure that’s part of it. I think it’s good for the game overall to have more teams in the race and more fans interested, but I do think baseball is at its absolute best when there are two or three superpowers fans can hate. Maybe I’m just biased as a Yankees fan.
Got five questions for you this week. The Submit A Tip box (in the sidebar) is the best way to send us stuff.
Conor asks: Would trading one of Tyler Austin, Mason Williams or Slade Heathcott for Nick Castellanos make sense for both teams? The Tigers are going to have him move to right field since they have Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder at the infield corners. Seems that trading him for a player whose already demonstrated he can play the outfield is a better idea.
Now that’s interesting. Castellanos is a one of the best prospects in baseball — Baseball America ranked him 11th overall while Keith Law ranked him 18th in their midseason updates — thanks to a career .316/.367/.443 batting line with 17 homers in 276 minor league games. Baseball America recently ranked him as Detroit’s top prospect, saying he’s “[o]ne of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues” in their subscriber-only scouting report. Since Cabrera, Fielder, and Victor Martinez are clogging the infield corners and DH spot, the Tigers shifted Castellanos from third base to right field this past July. Baseball America said “he could be an average outfielder” with experience.
The Yankees have plenty of high-end outfield prospects as you mentioned, as both Williams (#28) and Austin (#39) cracked Baseball America’s midseason update (Williams made Law’s, which was only 25 players deep). New York would probably have to kick in a little something extra, but a Castellanos-for-Williams trade (for example) isn’t outrageous at all. Both have their own red flags (Williams is coming off shoulder surgery, Castellanos strikes out a lot for a guy who hasn’t shown much power yet), but Castellanos doesn’t have an obvious spot with the Tigers while Williams would be coming from a position of depth. Prospect-for-prospect trades rarely happen because every team loves their prospects more than everyone else’s, but I do think a swap like this makes some sense for both clubs.
Jason asks: Just wondering what you would think of a possible Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, or David Phelps trade to the Rockies for either Michael Cuddyer or Jordan Pacheco. I think Pacheco fits perfectly with NYYs needs. Right-handed outfielder and third basemen and can even fake catcher at times. The Rockies need starting pitching badly.
I wouldn’t touch Cuddyer. He’s 33 years old and he was just barely a league average hitter (102 wRC+) in Coors Field last season. Plus he spent nearly half the year on the DL and isn’t anything special on defense despite the supposed versatility. The Rockies can have fun with that $21M he’s owed over the next two seasons, no way would I want the Yankees to give up something of value for that.
Pacheco, on the other hand, makes some sense. He turns 27 later this month and is a .306/.338/.413 career hitter in 593 plate appearances. Don’t get too excited, that’s only a 91 wRC+ because Coors has turned back into a launching pad. Pacheco always had strong walk rates in the minors (10%+), but it’s dipped to just 4.2% in the show. I’m not sure what that’s about. He can play the three non-shortstop infield spots adequately and catch in an emergency, plus he’s under team control for another five years. I’m not giving up Hughes, Nova, or Phelps for a bench player though, Colorado would have to be willing to take something less.
John asks: Since the Yankees need a cost controlled right-handed outfield bat for 2013 (and 2014) does it makes sense to target someone like Justin Maxwell? He has power and is slightly above average defensively. Sure he doesn’t take a walk and his contact rate isn’t that good but a relatively young, arbitration-eligible (until 2017) 4th outfielder/platoon bat with some decent speed, defense and power doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me…your thoughts?
The Yankees had the 29-year-old Maxwell in camp last season, but he was out of minor league options and they lost him on waivers to the Astros at the end of Spring Training. He put together a 107 wRC+ overall with Houston, but was especially tough on southpaws: .272/.387/.505 (144 wRC+). Maxwell has some Andruw Jones in him (the old version, not the Braves version) because he hits for big power (.232 ISO), will draw a walk (9.1%), and can strike out with the best of ‘em (32.4%). Andruw actually has more favorable rates, but Maxwell will steal the occasional base and is better on defense.
Clearly the Yankees should have dumped Jones and kept Maxwell last year, but that’s a pure hindsight statement. Maxwell is a platoon player on the short-end of the playing time stick and should be treated as such. The Yankees shouldn’t have to overpay to get him back just because. If the Astros will take a Grade-B prospect, sure. I wouldn’t go much higher, we’re not talking about Mike Trout here. Maxwell is under team control for another few years and that’s nice, but I don’t focus too much on years of control when talking about bench guys (and relievers). They rarely stick around that long anyway.
Anonymous asks: Given that college baseballs apparently travel less in the air and have higher seams (which make breaking balls more effective), how would you evaluate college players in light of this? Would you downgrade fly ball pitchers and/or pitchers with less velocity (i.e., more reliant on breaking balls)? Would you give extra credit to hitters who had success against breaking balls?
It’s not just college balls, the balls they use in the minors are different than the ones they use in the big leagues as well. Craig Hansen and Bryce Cox were two guys who threw vicious breaking balls in school but couldn’t get the ball to move the same way as a professional, so they flamed out. Teams are obviously aware of this and I don’t really know how they address it. I’m guessing each club does it a different way. Preferably you’d see a pitcher several times (high school, college, summer league, private workout, etc.) before the draft, giving you plenty of chances (with different balls) to evaluate him. Hitters who can hit breaking balls tend to grade out well anyway, but I’m not sure if you’d give him extra credit for doing it against a college ball. I don’t really know the answer to this question, but the difference in balls (this applies to Japan and Korea as well) is something teams must consider when evaluating a player.
Chris asks: Would you consider new aged sabermetrics a “performance-enhancer”? 25 years ago players were judged based on simple stats which were visible and tangible to the fan. RBI, HR, AVG etc. Now advanced metrics allow us to judge players on a whole new level. Wouldn’t you agree that certain platoon players would have not found jobs 25 years ago but do today because certain metrics say they can still hit lefties or are victims of bad ball in play luck?
“Performance-enchancer” implies that they’re helping the player perform better than they normally would. A player getting a job because some front office executive used stats to determine he was being undervalued doesn’t really qualify to me. Maybe if the player was using stats to improve his performance they would be considered a “performance-enhancer,” but I’m not sure how that would work. It’s not like a pitcher could independently focus on lowering his HR/FB% or something. Looking at stats is the same as looking at scouting reports for me.
Just as an aside: The term “performance-enhancer” itself bugs me because it carries far too many connotations. I wish they’d just stick to calling them banned substances. No need to automatically tag them as performance-enchancing when we don’t know how much they really help. Trust me, there have been plenty of players who improperly used PEDs and wound up hurting themselves more than they helped.
Via Brian McTaggart, the Astros have claimed Justin Maxwell off waivers. The Yankees designated him for assignment last week when they had no room for him on the Opening Day roster. Maxwell had a nice spring, so it’s not a surprise that he was claimed. At least the Yanks got to keep Chris Dickerson for outfield depth. Both guys were out of minor league options and I figured they’d lose both.
Via Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have designated outfielder Justin Maxwell for assignment. The writing was on the wall with this one, he was out of minor league options and the team had no room for him on the roster. A trade market never developed, I suppose. Maxwell had a huge spring and is a useful player, just not to the Yankees. He’ll likely get claimed off waivers, and yes, I know I said the exact same thing about Chris Dickerson.
I kinda took it easy this week, so only four questions. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send us something, mailbag questions or otherwise.
Sam asks: The Dom Brown trade idea has been repeated ad nauseum, but what about another guy in a similar situation: Brandon Belt. The Giants don’t seem to want to play him, but he could definitely help the Yankees. Short term he relieves Ibanez of his duties and long-term he can play a corner OF spot, back up 1B and help the Yankees get under 189. The Giants SS situation is pitiful. Nunez seems like a reasonable start to a trade. Thoughts?
I love me some Brandon Belt. He’s kinda like a prospect version of Curtis Granderson in the sense that he was a solid prospect who made some mechanical adjustments to his swing and turned into a monster. He makes perfect sense for the Yankees as a left-handed power bat who can hit for average and is willing to take a walk, plus he’s shown he can handle a corner outfield spot over the last year even though his nature position is first base. The Giants have been jerking him around a bit even though he’s clearly one of the four or five best hitters in the organization.
The problem is this: Belt is their Jesus Montero, and we saw what kind of return it took to get Montero. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable comparison at all. Eduardo Nunez would probably be the second or third piece of the trade package, not the headline. The Giants could be in the market for some young arms with a Matt Cain extension looking more and more unlikely, so maybe a Manny Banuelos, Eduardo Nunez, plus a really nice third piece gets it done. Someone like Adam Warren or Brett Marshall. Maybe it takes someone more established like Ivan Nova instead of Banuelos.
I’d have no trouble dealing Nova/Banuelos, Nunez, and Warren/Marshall for Belt, but I’m not sure the Giants would bite. Aubrey Huff’s disaster contract will be off the books after the season, and the club will have some outfield openings with Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera due to hit free agency next winter. I love to see the Yankees land Belt at some point, but I don’t think he’s a realistic option right now.
Steve asks: It appears that both Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral both could have solid value if they made the roster; Rapada destroys lefties and Cabral has been effective and has youth and potential on his side. Why not demote Cory Wade, who has options, and has been ineffective this spring?
Wade does have one option left, and I think it’s very reasonable to consider sending him to Triple-A to open the season. If the Yankees feel comfortable with Cabral’s ability to get out right-handers with his changeup, having three left-handers in the bullpen for a few weeks won’t be the worst thing in the world. I’m inclined to ignore Wade’s spring just because it is Spring Training, but he obviously has little margin for error given his soft stuff.
I do worry that Girardi won’t be able to control himself with three lefties to deploy, but sending Wade down is a definite option if the Yankees want a little more time to evaluate Rapada and Cabral. I just don’t think they’ll do it.
Richard asks: I’m looking for some good Twitter feeds to follow for baseball in general, and also fantasy baseball – can you make any suggestions/recommendations?
I’m going to tell you what I tell everyone else: look through who I follow and you’ll get an idea of the best baseball feeds out there, both real and fantasy baseball. Some of my personal favorite follows are @MLBDepthCharts, @2003BPro, @2003BA, @McCoveyChron, @BayCityBall, @MLBFakeRumors, @LookoutLanding, @BenBadler, @SamMillerBP, and @CloserNews. Of course, there’s also @RiverAveBlues as well.
Jon asks: Is Justin Maxwell an aberration — a large man who can steal bases?
Now that’s a good one. Maxwell is listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 lbs. on the official site and he’s averaged 44.5 steals per 162 games in Triple-A. Let’s assume that translates into 30 steals over a full big league season just for argument’s sake. The number of players that large to steal that many bases in a single MLB season is … zero. It’s never been done. Dropping the weight requirement altogether gives us just five 30+ steal seasons by a player standing at least 6-foot-5. Alex Rios did it twice (2008 & 2010), Von Hayes did it twice (1982 & 1984), and Darryl Strawberry did it once (1987). If you reduce it further to 6-foot-5 and at least 20 steals, you still only get 29 instances in baseball history.
Tall base stealers are obviously very rare, making Maxwell quite unique. He is a crazy good athlete, that’s never been the problem, it’s just his inability to make contact. Injuries have hindered him as well, and I’m not just talking about last year’s shoulder problem. I’m pretty surprised there are so few tall base stealers, but I guess the Rios/Strawberry/Maxwell type of athletes who opt for baseball are few and far between.
Via George King, both the Astros and Orioles have interest in Justin Maxwell. They have yet to call Brian Cashman about the right-handed hitting outfielder, however. Maxwell is out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers, so the Yankees will have to decide what to do with him relatively soon. With Curtis Granderson (elbow) and Nick Swisher (knee) banged up, I’m sure they’re going to hold onto him for just a little bit longer.
As March wears on, different needs arise for different teams. Some suffer injuries and need to trade for additional help. Others make it through the spring in relatively healthy shape and have surpluses from which they can trade. The Yankees, to this point, fall into the latter category. They not only have six starters for five rotation spots, but they also have an out of options player with some value along with a marginal player generating a little interest. That puts them in a position of strength. How far should they go in taking advantage of it?
In theory, the Yankees could trade all three players in question: Freddy Garcia, Justin Maxwell, and Ramiro Pena. But trading from a surplus isn’t always the right answer. As the Yankees experienced this spring, plans can change in an instant. Holding onto those players in some way or another can work out for the better. So how should the Yankees approach the situations for Garcia, Maxwell, and Pena?
After Garcia helped patch up the 2011 rotation, the Yankees were apparently eager to bring him back into the fold. Shortly after they offered him arbitration, they signed him to a one-year, $4 million contract. But he wasn’t exactly their Plan A. After the Yankees acquired both Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, Garcia was seemingly squeezed out of a rotation spot. That appears to still be the case, despite his strong spring performances.
The Yankees reportedly offered Garcia to the Marlins, but were rebuffed. It’s not clear whether the Marlins weren’t interested at all, or whether the Yankees asked for too much in return. Whatever the case, it does appear that the Yankees are willing to deal Garcia to help clear up their pitching situation. If that is the case, I hope that they didn’t work out a deal with the Marlins because they were asking for too much in return. Garcia can be greatly valuable to the 2012 team.
While he’ll likely start in the bullpen, Garcia could very well end up in the starting rotation before long. Ivan Nova, who suffered an elbow injury in the Yankees’ final game of 2011, has experienced a rough spring. He has by far the worst numbers of any Yankees starter. He does have a track record, and there appears to be little chance he’ll start the season anywhere but in the rotation. But if he falters in April, the Yankees could move quickly and push Garcia into the rotation.
The problem with trading Garcia is that he’s relatively valuable to both the Yankees and other teams. A No. 4 or No. 5 starter who can consume 150 to 170 innings per season is nothing to scoff at, even for a middling team. After all, those innings have to come from somewhere. While the Yankees appear to have a surplus now, and another reinforcement on the way in May, that might not always be the case. Few teams go through the season with even six starters, so the Yankees can definitely use Garcia.
On the other hand, what can they get in return for him? The 2012 team is pretty set. Maybe they could acquire a bullpen arm, but rare is that team that has a glaring need in the rotation while also having a spare, useful bullpen arm. Any bench upgrade would be marginal at best. It seems unlikely that a team would trade a legit B prospect for Garcia. That is, the Yankees probably aren’t going to get back as much value for Garcia as they can potentially realize from him themselves. He might not be an ideal fit in the bullpen, but his capacity to jump into the rotation is probably more valuable than anything they’d get in return.
Mike wrote about Maxwell yesterday, so there’s no need to dig too deeply into his case. It all boils down to a lack of viable options for him. The Yankees can’t send him down to AAA without first passing him through waivers, and as Mike noted it’s unlikely that he’ll pass through. Their only other options are to carry him on the 25- man roster or to trade him. Since they don’t have room on the 25-man, a trade seems the most likely route.
When it comes to trading a player like Maxwell, urgency is the key. How badly does a team need outfield help, and where are they in the waivers order? Finding a relatively desperate team far down on the waivers list is the key. Otherwise, teams might hold onto their trade chips and simply wait for the Yankees to waive him. They can play one team off another, but for a player of Maxwell’s caliber that might not be very effective. Odds are that Maxwell joins another organization and the Yankees get little to no return for him.
Believe it or not, there is a team potentially interested in Pena’s services. The Phillies will start the season without Chase Utley and Michael Martinez. With Placido Polanco also dealing with an injury, the Phillies could certainly use some infield help. We learned over the weekend that they have some interest in Pena. Unfortunately, as Mike said, he’s not going to fetch much in return.
Pena does have some value to the Yankees. He’s already on the 40-man roster, and can play high-quality defense. Since he’s one of three players on the 40-man roster who can play shortstop, he’s probably more valuable to the organization than the couple hundred thousand dollars or D-prospect he’d fetch in a trade.
Having a surplus is always a nice thing. It leaves a team with options that its competitors do not have. The Yankees could try to cash in its trade chips for prospects or other useful parts, but that just doesn’t appear likely in this case. They might be forced into that position with the out-of-options Maxwell, but in the cases of Garcia and Pena they have players who provide value in their depth. That value is, in all likelihood, greater than what they’d receive in return from another trade. If the Yankees can get back a decent prospect in a Maxwell/Garcia package, so be it. But unless they find something that will significantly improve their farm system, they should hold onto their surplus. They never know when they might need it.
Late-March is a cruel time of year for baseball fans. Spring Training games have become dull and monotonous while regular season games are still two weeks away. It’s a horrible limbo of meaningless baseball, and we often wind up spending too much time trying to find meaning in games that don’t count. We know we shouldn’t do it, but subconsciously it’s unavoidable. We want to believe the big breakout is coming or that so-and-so really did develop another pitch. It’s just a natural part of Spring Training.
Yankees camp is no different this year. Career journeyman Clay Rapada looks like the answer to our LOOGY prayers, Phil Hughes has been throwing the best changeups of his life, and both Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nunez look like the best hitting shortstop in the American League. Perhaps the most impressive player in camp has been career up-and-down guy Justin Maxwell. He’s hit .414/.485/.586 in camp after putting together a .418 wOBA with 16 homers in 204 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton in 2011. His performance has been so impressive that some are wondering if he should break camp with the team rather than someone like Raul Ibanez.
I think there is some merit to that line of thinking, especially since Maxwell is just 28 years old and has significant tools. He passes the eye test at 6-foot-5 and 235 lbs., and all throughout his lengthy Triple-A career (924 PA) he’s shown power (.192 ISO), patience (12.4 BB%), and speed (62-for-79 in stolen base attempts, 78.5%). Maxwell is also capable of playing all three outfield spots, though his throwing arm isn’t anything to write home about. His biggest drawback is his complete inability to make consistent contact. Maxwell has struck out in 30.6% of his Triple-A plate appearances, and that big Triple-A performance last year came with a 35.3 K%. That’s unfathomable. It’s a Mark Reynolds strikeout rate against minor league pitchers.
Back in December I wrote about the possibility of Maxwell serving as the Yankees fourth outfielder/lefty masher should Andruw Jones sign elsewhere, and my opinion of him hasn’t really changed. Thirty-three plate appearances in Spring Training shouldn’t sway your opinion about any player. Hell, 33 regular season plate appearances shouldn’t change your opinion. It’s a week’s worth of playing time, that’s it. Maxwell has done the majority of his work off the bench this spring, which means a lot of that damage has come against the opponent’s second string, minor league pitchers we already know he can mash. The only thing we’ve learned about Maxwell this month is that his shoulder is healthy after he tore his labrum making a catch at the wall last May.
If nothing else, Maxwell has been an interesting story this spring. I have a hard time seeing him as anything more than a backup plan at the moment, and the Yankees are going to be forced to make a decision about his future pretty soon because he’s out of minor league options. With so many teams looking for outfield help — Braves, Mets, Nationals, Marlins, and Indians, among others — there’s bound to be a trade match somewhere. Out of options players usually don’t command much in a trade, but maybe Maxwell’s big spring means the Yankees can get a Grade-C prospect in return rather than a Grade-D prospect. It is Spring Training after all, a man can dream.
I think last year’s shoulder injury really derailed whatever Yankees career Maxwell may have had. Had he stayed healthy all year, we certainly would have seen him with the big league team last summer, perhaps instead of Dickerson for all that time. We never got a look at him as a September call-up and never got to see what could come from extended work with Kevin Long. There’s a non-zero chance the Spring Training performance is a sign of things to come, but I wouldn’t put money on it. The Yankees don’t have much time left to evaluate him, but a decision about his future is due soon.
As far as Spring Training position battles go, the Yanks have few, and those they have aren’t very compelling. The pitching staff has the non-problem of having three hurlers — A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes — for one rotation spot, and barring an injury, the starting lineup is set in stone. It will be, then, business in Tampa as the Yanks will use March to fine-tune the team for the regular season.
Yet, the club will have to make some decisions, and it may come down to those who are out of options. As I see it now, the Yanks have 23 guys with their tickets punched to the 25-man roster. It goes a little something like this:
This array of players leaves us with few noticeable holes. With Jones set to DH against southpaws, they could use another bat who can handle right-handers and serve as a weapon off the bench. They also could carry another infielder, as they did for much of last year. The in-house options include Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird while Eric Chavez remains a free agent. We’ve heard Bill Hall’s name bandied about, but he hasn’t yet received his non-roster invitation to Spring Training yet.
For the empty outfield/DH spot, the Yanks could still look to the free agent market for help. Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez and Hideki Matsui have all been linked, one way or another, to the Yanks this winter. It’s possible one of them could take spot No. 24 or 25. The Yanks though will let those players’ prices drop before making any sort of move. If one happens, it will be on our terms, and not yours, the Yanks’ brain trust has telegraphed.
The in-house options are Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell, and they’ll either break camp with the Yanks or on some other team. The two of them — along with Boone Logan, the only lefty on the 40-man with Major League experience — are out of options. The Yanks will have to take Dickerson and Maxwell with them north if they want to keep them or else the two players will have to clear waivers to remain in the Yanks’ system.
Throughout the winter, Mike has examined these two players in depth. He looked at Dickerson’s possible role earlier this month and Maxwell’s potential in December. Of the two of them, Dickerson seems to hit right-handers far better than Maxwell has, and that’s a need the Yanks have right now. The club may also be able to flip Maxwell for something reasonably useful as he’s a few years younger than Dickerson.
Complicating the roster dance are Brad Meyers, a right-hander, and Cesar Cabral, a lefty. The Yanks grabbed these two guys during the Rule 5 draft. Meyers would have to go back to the Nationals if the Yanks opt to exclude him from the 25-man, and Cabral could pick free agency as he’s a two-time Rule 5er. Cabral also would give the Yanks more bullpen options and pitched exceptionally well in Winter Ball this year. As Logan is out of options, he won’t bump Boone, but a solid spring could make the Yanks think twice about a second southpaw in the pen.
So for the Yankees, the big battles are all but over. We have to pick a fifth starter from a group of three guys who are all flawed for various reasons, and the last two guys on the team have to earn that trip to the Bronx. The guys without options have the inside track, but even then, they’re expendable AAAA types. With two weeks until pitchers and catchers, that’s not a bad problem to have.
The Yankees have a very balanced outfield situation, at least in terms of the 40-man roster. Their big league outfield is set with Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, and Brett Gardner, a three-man unit that’s been the best in the AL and arguably the best in baseball over the last two seasons. Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa are both on the 40-man but are still a ways off from being big league options. Then there’s Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell, the former of whom we saw quite a bit of last season. The latter is still very much an unknown.
Maxwell, 28, was having a dynamite season with Triple-A Scranton this past summer (.418 wOBA and 16 homers in 48 games) before he tore his labrum robbing a homer at the wall. He had surgery and his season was over before the calendar flipped to June, though he picked up some service time late in September when the Yankees called him up and immediately placed on the 60-day DL to free up a 40-man spot for Jesus Montero. When they needed to clear more 40-man space this offseason, they opted to release Greg Golson and designate Colin Curtis for assignment rather than dump Maxwell. That’s a pretty good sign that they think he has some value.
Chad Jennings spoke to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman yesterday, who indicated that Maxwell is expected to be healthy next season and has a chance to contribute off the bench. “He’s got some tools, and he’s a high-caliber individual who works,” said Newman, who isn’t kidding about the tools part. When Baseball America ranked Maxwell as the Nationals eighth best prospect prior to the 2010 season (the last time he was prospect eligible), this was part of their scouting report (subs. req’d) …
A physical specimen with plus athleticism, Maxwell has above-average power potential and a patient offensive approach. Nats hitting coach Rick Eckstein and first-base coach Marquis Grissom got the idea to lower his hands to chest level after watching video of other long-levered sluggers like Willie Stargell and Dave Winfield, and the adjustment fueled Maxwell’s September surge by getting him in a stronger position to drive the ball more consistently. He’s a plus runner who stole 41 bases in 50 tries last season. He’s also an above-average defender in center field with excellent range and instincts.
As wonderful as that sounds, Maxwell’s weakness has always been his inability to make consistent, quality contact. He’s drawn walks (14.6%), hit for solid power (.178 ISO), and been a threat on the bases (11-for-13 in stolen base attempts) in his 260 big league plate appearances, but he’s hit just .201 and has struck out 31.9% of the time. In 924 career Triple-A plate appearances, he owns a 12.4% walk rate (very good), a .192 ISO (also very good), gone 62-for-79 in stolen base attempts (78.5% success rate, pretty good), a .259 batting average (decent at best), and a 30.6% strikeout rate (very bad). The guy does everything but get the bat on the ball with regularity.
If the Yankees truly feel that Maxwell can help the team off the bench, his bench chance to do so would be as a defensive replacement and a platoon bat against lefties. He has shown a sizable platoon split in his limited big league time, and also demolished lefties in Triple-A this past season with a similar split throughout his minor league career. In a perfect world, the Yankees would just send Maxwell back to Triple-A this season with an eye towards the second half or 2013, but he’s out of minor league options. They can’t send him to the minors without first passing him through waivers, and that creates a bit of a roster problem.
When it comes to next year’s fourth outfielder, I think Plan A, B, and C should be Andruw Jones. He did everything the Yankees could have possibly asked him to do in 2011 — hit for power, draw walks, hit lefties, play average defense, contribute in the clubhouse — which was nothing more than a repeat of his 2010 season with the White Sox. If he wants to come back, and it sounds like he does, then they should welcome him back with open arms. However, if the Yankees drag their feet and Jones ends up elsewhere, letting Maxwell compete with a non-roster invite or two (Scott Hairston? Conor Jackson?) for the job is a pretty decent backup plan. He has some interesting tools, so they might as well see what he can do if Andruw doesn’t come back.