“It was a disaster. We failed.”

That quote comes from Brian Cashman and refers to Kei Igawa, the $46M poster boy of Yankees’ pitching busts. Bill Pennington of The New York Times published a lengthy feature on the now 32-year-old southpaw today, which goes into detail about his time with the Yankees. Igawa still lives in Manhattan and commutes daily to Scranton or Trenton or wherever he may be and is considered a “great clubhouse guy” by the organization and his teammates, but he struggled greatly with the transition to MLB and the United States. The Yankees tried to re-work his delivery, but it didn’t take. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Within the piece we learn that the Cashman had twice negotiated deals with Japanese clubs that would have let Igawa return home, but he refused both times despite being told (very explicitly) that he was not coming back to the majors. Cashman was also prepared to trade Igawa to the Padres after they claimed him off waivers in August 2007, but “ownership was not willing to let him go yet.” Give it a read, it gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation.

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Igawa family OK as pitcher heads home

Kei Igawa has had a rough go of it in the United States. Signed in December of 2006 as the Yanks’ response to Daisuke Matsuzaka, the lefty never emerged as a viable Major Leaguer. He made just 14 appearances in 2007 and two in 2008 before landing in Scranton as a perennial AAA starter. His 6.66 ERA, 1.758 WHIP and 1.43 K/BB ratio are testament to his struggles.

But while Igawa, frustratingly for him and the Yanks, toils away as a $4 million minor league arm, none of that matters when it comes to family. Igawa hails from Oarai which is in the the Ibaraki Prefecture, and his hometown was hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami earlier this week. On Friday, as Major League Baseball began working on its own aid efforts, Igawa could not get a hold of his family.

Luckily, Igawa reached his family on Saturday, and everyone is OK. The left-hander is leaving camp to attend to his family and will be returning to Japan for the foreseeable future.

It’s easy to dismiss Igawa. He’s been a huge bust, representative of the way the Yanks went about building a starting rotation in the mid-2000s and hadn’t even made a Spring Training appearance this year. He’ll play out the last year of this contract exclusively at Scranton before returning to Japan to pick up the pieces of his baseball career. But when tragedy strikes, it doesn’t matter. No one should have to live through the uncertainty of the devastation of an earthquake, and it’s a relief to all involved that the Igawas are alive and as well as can be.

The Yankees as a club have given $100,000 to the Red Cross and Salvation Army as part of the relief efforts, and I’m sure the club will do more in the coming weeks. They have a deep presence in the Pacific and strong ties to Japanese baseball. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the terrible earthquake in Japan,” Hal Steinbrenner said yesterday. “We hope that the international community does everything in its power to support and assist the Japanese people in their time of need.”

Mailbag: Killer B’s, Igawa, A-Jax, Culver

I’ve got four questions this week, three of which deal with a current or former Yankees prospect. The other has to do with a guy taking up space in the minors. Remember to send in your questions via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Boom or bust? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Joe asks: Do you think there is any chance the Yanks keep and develop all of the Killer B’s?  I know the odds of all three reaching their ceiling and staying healthy are long, and as you or Joe or Ben said last week don’t fall in love with your prospects, but it be nice to see them all on the big club.  What % do you think it will occur?

If you’ve got three pitching prospects of that caliber, my general (and completely amateur) rule of thumb is that one will reach (or at least approach) his ceiling, one will fall short of his ceiling but still be a productive big leaguer, and the third will be a complete bust. The Yankees exceeded that with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, turning them into two viable big league starters and a reliever. Look back at the Red Sox five years ago; they got an ace, a reliever, and a bust out of Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, and Craig Hansen.

I’d expect Manny Banuelos to approach his ceiling, Andrew Brackman to fall short of his ceiling but be a useful player, and Dellin Betances to be the complete bust out of the Killer B’s. Nothing personal, it’s just that Dellin’s health record scares me. That said, I fully expect them to trade one of those guys, probably sometime this year. The big league team needs pitching right now, and the Yankees have some high end pitching depth and can afford to move one of those guys.

Of course I’d love to see all three of them stay with the team and flourish in the big leagues, but the odds are so stacked against it. I’d give it less than a 50-50 chance that all three will stay with the Yankees for the next few years, and less than a 5% chance that all three turn into productive players. Prospects will break your heart, the Killer B’s are no different than the hundreds that came before them.

Nicolai asks: If Kei Igawa was blocking somebody from being promoted to Scranton, could the Yankees just send him down to Trenton, Tampa or Charleston?

Yep, absolutely. The Yankees actually sent him all the way down to High-A Tampa for two starts in 2007. Igawa’s not blocking anyone from anything.

A different Joe asks: I was listening to the Yankees game and it was the Tigers radio crew. They claimed A-Jax would be a 15 homer and 40 SB guy this season. I personally don’t see this happening at all. Any thoughts on it?

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

This year? No way, not in Comerica. Austin Jackson has 17 homers total in his last 1,816 plate appearances dating back to 2007, so I don’t see a sudden spike happening. I could definitely see 15 homers at his peak, maybe even 20, but 2011 is too soon for that. If Jackson did pop double-digit homers this year, that would mean everything went right for him and he even squeezed in an inside-the-parker or three. Of all the projection systems out there, only CAIRO and ZiPS have him hitting more than six homers, and both forecast seven.

I like Jackson and there’s no doubt that he’s an above-average player, but expecting 15 homers out of him this year is a bit much. Even the 40 steals is a bit of a question mark (27 last year), but it’s not as unbelievable as the power numbers. Just for some perspective, only three different players have had a 15-40 season in the last three years, and Carl Crawford was the only one to do it twice.

Anthony asks: What’s the projection for 2010 first rounder Cito Culver as a major leaguer? Does he have the potential to be a solid starter on a high caliber team?

Culver’s long-term value is going to lie mostly in his glovework, which, luckily, is really really good. Is he going to be Derek Jeter? Absolutely not. Is he going to be Cesar Izturis? Eh, maybe. It’s always possible. I think the best case scenario for the Yankees’ 2010 first round pick is an above-average defensive shortstop (probably not Gold Glove caliber though) that hits for average, draws some walks, and steals some bases. Culver doesn’t have much power and doesn’t project to down the road, but he’s switch-hitter with some contact skills, and he did manage to a walk in nearly ten percent of his plate appearances in his pro debut last summer.

If I had to put numbers on it, which I hate doing, I think his offensive ceiling is something like .300/.360/.400, right around a .350 wOBA. Culver also has the speed and skills to steal a healthy amount of bags, maybe even 40+ in his basestealing prime. Stick that at shortstop over 600 plate appearances with say, +4 or +5 run defense, and you’ve got a four win player. Again, that’s not Derek Jeter, but that’s a player good enough to start on a championship team. Of course, Culver has a long, looong way to go to live up to that potential.

Mailbag: Igawa, Garcia, Double-A, Mets, Pujols

This week’s edition of the mailbag brings queries about Chris Garcia, the difference between minor league levels, the ghost of Kei Igawa, and then the Mets and Red Sox. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send in a question.

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Bruce asks: It’s funny (but not really) that after all the money thrown at Kei Igawa that he’s never even mentioned as a possible desperation move to fill the fifth slot in the rotation. He’s got to be the highest-priced “organizational player” ever.

Yep, Igawa was a spectacular bust, and it shows you how little faith the organization has in him by not even mentioning him as a candidate for the back of the rotation. Hell, he didn’t get an invite to Major League Spring Training, he’s with the kids in minor league camp. Igawa’s contract comes off the books after the season, and the only reason they haven’t gotten rid of him yet is because if they do so, they’ll get stuck paying the luxury tax on his contract. There’s no harm in having him soak up innings at Triple-A, but that’s pretty much the only thing he’s qualified for these days.

Cody asks: Whatever happened to Christian Garcia? I know he had TJ surgery last season and then the Yankees released him. Any chance they bring him back if all goes well?

Good timing on this question, Chad Jennings posted an update yesterday. Allow me to quote…

Once a highly touted pitching prospect in the Yankees system, right-hander Christian Garcia was released last season after a series of injuries derailed his promising career. The Yankees are aware that Garcia, 25, has been working out and plans to throw for scouts, but I was told today that the Yankees have no plans of bringing Garcia back to the organization.

Garcia blew out his elbow in his first start last year, so he’s about nine or ten months out from his second Tommy John surgery. The kid just couldn’t stay healthy, and there’s really no reason to believe he ever will. I don’t fault the Yankees for not wanting to bring him back at all. It’s a shame, he had a great arm.

Joseph asks: With all of the talk of Brackman having an outside shot of the rotation, it had me thinking which was the harder transition from leagues in the minors. Is it from High-A to AA or from AA to AAA.

The biggest jump is Triple-A to MLB, no doubt about it, but in the minors only, going from Single-A to Double-A is probably the biggest jump. Double-A is the first time hitters will consistently run into pitchers that have some sort of game plan and can throw a breaking ball for strikes, while pitchers will regularly face batters that will lay off stuff out of the zone or sit on a 2-0 fastball. It’s not so much that the physical talent is that much better in Double-A than Single-A, it’s that the preparation and experience is. That’s why they say Double-A is the great equalizer. If a kid does well at that level, chances are he’ll have himself a nice big league career.

Omar Good-bya (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Chris asks: If the Mets completely fall apart and spend very little over the next few years could they create heavy debate about being a team in NYC and collecting a revenue sharing check? I can see this becoming a battle in the next CBA if a team like the Mets, in a massive media market spends very little. This situation may spur on a salary floor. What do you guys think?

I don’t think that’ll happen. The Mets, as far as I know, are profitable in terms of ticket sales, merchandising, advertisements, etc., and that’s what revenue sharing payments are based on. Even with the Madoff stuff, the team would really need to fall in the dumps to start getting some revenue sharing money. With a nine-figure payroll, it won’t happen anytime soon.

Matt asks: With the recent Albert Pujols contract negotiations, I have begun to think about what his value is. It seems to me that the value of a win is greater the higher above replacement it is. Doesn’t it make sense that a player who is worth 7 WAR is more valuable than 2 players who are worth 7 WAR together simply due to the fact that the team will have another position available which they can fill with another player. Because a player like Albert Pujols gives you equal production to that of two good players while still allowing you to fill that extra position with more value, shouldn’t he make more than the total value of the two good players’ contracts?

Yep, exactly. You said it perfectly, one great player is better than two pretty good players. The more wins you’re getting out of a player, the higher a cost. You might pay, say, $3M per win for a one or two WAR player, but once you get into Pujols territory, $7M or $8M per win becomes the norm. It’s not a linear scale.

Reg asks: Although most people are conceding the AL East to Boston, there has been little mention of the fact that they lost Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. True, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez may make up the offensive punch but Youkilis is not the defensive third baseman Beltre was. Also, there are questions re pitchers Josh Beckett and John Lackey. Do you think that the Red Sox should be odds-on favorites to (a) win the AL East or (b) advance to the World Series?

a) Sure, I think they’re the favorites in the AL East right now, I don’t think you’ll find anyone that can put up too much of an argument otherwise. They’re not going to lap the field or win the division by like, ten games. The other four clubs are too good for that to happen, but I feel comfortable saying they’re the best team in AL right now.

b) Nope, I’ll always take the field when asked that. The Yankees, Rays, White Sox, Athletics, Rangers … all those clubs could take down the Sox in a five or seven game playoff series. Do they have a really good chance of going to the World Series? Sure, but odds-on favorite? Nah.

Why Kei Igawa is still a (Scranton) Yankee

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

There’s no denying that one of Brian Cashman‘s biggest mistakes has been the acquisition of Japanese lefty Kei Igawa. After getting blown out of the water on the bidding for Daisuke Matsuzaka by the Red Sox, Cashman and the rest of the brain trust turned to Igawa, who was coming off a five season stretch with the Hanshin Tigers where he topped 200 innings four times (172.1 IP the other year) and posted a 3.14 ERA, 8.59 K/9, and 2.47 BB/9. He wasn’t going to be the ace Dice-K is was supposed to be, but he was expected to solidify the back of a rotation that featured the likes of Shawn Chacon, Sidney Ponson, and Darrell Rasner the year before.

The Yanks won Igawa’s rights with a $26,000,194 bid during the posting process; the extra $194 was an ode to his league leading strikeout total in 2006. They then gave him a five year contract worth $20M, but have gotten basically nothing out of him. Igawa’s Yankee career consists of 71.2 innings of 6.66 ERA, 6.19 FIP, 5.74 xFIP pitching, totaling -0.2 WAR. It’s quite literally $46M flushed down the toilet.

It’s not like the Yankees haven’t had a chance to unload Igawa, either. The Padres claimed the lefty off waivers back in August of 2007, he was part of the Johan Santana trade talks, ditto Mike Cameron, and the Cubs even showed some interest in him as recently as this offseason. None of that materialized, and in hindsight, yeah they should have just let the Padres have him and the $17M or so left on his contract. The Yanks still believed Igawa was salvageable and wanted to try to extract value out of him, but of course that never happened.

Late last night in one of his classic Heard This tweets, Buster Olney said that one reason why the Yanks have yet to deal Igawa is because doing so would cost them big time against the luxury tax. Ben and I couldn’t exactly figure out how that would work (neither could Maury Brown), but Jayson Stark explained the situation back in May:

At least now, you see, Igawa doesn’t count against their luxury-tax payroll because they were able to dump him off the 40-man roster. But if somebody actually wanted him (not that there’s any indication of that), the Yankees would have to pay virtually his entire salary. And that would pull all those dollars back onto their luxury-tax bill, to the tune of a 40 percent tax on whatever they’re paying.

In other words, one GM said, “They have huge incentive not to trade him, even if they could. So he’s one of the all-time stuck-in-purgatory cases.”

Essentially, if the Yanks trade Igawa and eat any of the money left on his deal, it counts against their big league payroll and thus the luxury tax. As long as he’s in the minors and not on the 40-man roster, which has been the case for more than two years now, his salary does not count towards their Major League payroll. The luxury tax isn’t cheap, 40% for every dollar on the payroll in excess of $170M, so they’d be looking at $2.2M in extra luxury tax if they deal Igawa today and ate every dollar left on his deal. That’s pocket change for the Yanks, but is it worth paying on top of Igawa’s salary just to get rid of him? Nah.

There’s a lot of venom towards Igawa and his sunglasses for obvious reasons, but I dunno, having him in Triple-A doesn’t bother me as much as it does some others. It’s not like he’s blocking an actual prospect, he’s just the veteran swingman/long man that every Triple-A team employs to soak up miscellaneous innings here and there. Does it suck that the Yanks still have to pay him another $4M next year? Sure, but they’re stuck paying that money anyway. Might as well get something out of him.

So until his contract expires after next season, Igawa is stuck in Scranton, not wanted by the Yankees, not wanted back in Japan. His occasional appearance in DotF is a reminder of just how poorly this deal turned out.