Saturday Night Open Thread

Kerry Wood was a Yankee for only three months, but I don’t think anyone didn’t like the guy. He was easy to root for — so talented but so sabotaged by his own body — and essentially an underdog despite his pedigree. Wood, 34, announced his retirement from baseball yesterday, facing one final batter before hanging up the spikes for good. He retires with a career 10.6174 K/9, the best by a right-handed pitcher in baseball history (min. 1,000 IP). By Game Score, his 20-strikeout game in 1998 was the best pitched nine-inning game in baseball history*. He was 20 years old at the time. We’re always going to wonder what might have been if not for the injuries, but Wood still managed to have a damn fine career. Congrats to him for being able to call it quits on his own terms.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network will air a game later tonight plus there’s some NBA playoff action going on somewhere, but talk about whatever you like here. Have at it.

* My favorite factoid about that game: the Astros’s 3-4-5 hitters — Jeff Bagwell, Jack Howell, and Moises Alou — went a combined 0-for-9 with nine strikeouts. That’s just nuts. Also, make sure you check out my FanGraphs post on Wood’s retirement. /self-promotion

Imagining a pinstriped reunion with Kerry Wood

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last off-season might have gone a bit differently if not for Kerry Wood’s desperate desire to again pitch in Chicago. After coming over to the Yankees at the 2010 trade deadline, Wood impressed all observers, allowing just two runs himself, plus one inherited runner, in 26 IP. In the playoffs he continued his impressive pitching, allowing just two runs in eight innings. After the season Wood became a free agent, and the Yankees expressed desire in re-signing him. But Wood yearned for his professional roots in Chicago so deeply that he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Had Wood been more open to a more lucrative one-year deal with the Yankees, they would not have signed Rafael Soriano.

This off-season, Wood has changed his tune. While he’d reportedly like to stay in Chicago, he won’t sign quite so cheaply this time. Rather than give one team preferential treatment, Wood seeks a market value deal for his services. The latest, from Dave Kaplan of CSNChicago.com (via MLBTR), speculates that Wood’s “days as a Cub appear all but over.” The Cubs apparently offered Wood a “substantial” raise over last season, but apparently it is not to his liking. That opens the market for him.

The Yankees have a relatively stacked bullpen, so Wood’s presence is not a necessity. As Mike noted recently, there are only two remaining bullpen spots and plenty of candidates to fill them. Since one will likely go to a long reliever — which they will need if they plan to start the season with Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett in the rotation — that leaves only one spot for Wood. It’s unlikely that the Yankees want to fill out their bullpen with unmovable bodies right now, so a Wood reunion is nothing but a fantasy. Yet it remains intriguing. A stacked bullpen can help bandage a wounded rotation until reinforcements arrive. Having Wood, Soriano, David Robertson, and eventually Joba Chamberlain* available to pitch later in games, the Yankees could seal down victories even if their starters go five innings and give up four runs.

*Unless, of course, Joba goes to the rotation. /troll’d

The bullpen situation isn’t the only one holding back the Yankees from making this move. They also have budgetary issues. The Yankees could decide to expand the budget in order to augment the starting rotation. But to make a budget-expanding decision for another relief pitcher? It seems unlikely. While there’s not a ton of risk in the move — it would cost around $4 million for one year — there’s also limited upside. Again, it would be reinforcing an area of strength. That can help in some ways, but it probably won’t make a huge impact.

Still, it’s tough to think of Wood and not remember his glorious run from August through October, 2010. His very first appearance set the tone for his tenure. He came in to relieve CC Sabathia in the 7th inning of a game in Tampa, striking out the final batter of the inning. He then walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth and then allowed a single before striking out the next two guys and then loading the bases with a walk. Chad Gaudin had to finish the job, but that’s because Joe Girardi didn’t yet know what he had in Wood. For the next three months Wood got the Yankees out of numerous jams, many of which were of his own creation. It wasn’t quite magical, but it was certainly something different. It’s the kind of run that makes fans want the player back with their team, despite the possible irrationality of it.

Many contenders could use bullpen help, and plenty of them likely have $4 or $5 million they could pay Kerry Wood. They also might have more prominent setup roles. This, combined with the Yankees’ needs elsewhere, makes it unlikely we’ll see a clean shaven Kerry Wood donning pinstripes in 2012. It’s a nice thought, given how well he pitched in 2010. But right now the case for bringing in Wood is based on nostalgia. That’s probably not something that will convince the Yankees brass to make the move.

Catching Up with Some Ex-Yankees

He looked nice in pinstripes, but he looks at home in the Cubbie blue & white, no? (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Aside from the clean-slate record, an awesome thing about the start of the new season is the batch of new players that comes in. Whether they be rookies coming up from the minors, off-season trades or free agent/pre-arbitration signings, it’s always interesting to see who’s becoming a Yankee this year.

Of course, with the arrival of new Yankees, others depart. Some of which we’re glad to see go, be that due to injury or ineffectiveness, and others we long to have back. I’d bet there’s a pretty strong correlation between who’s performing away from the Bronx and who would look better if they were back for another year in pinstripes. Considering the attention paid to the Yankee rotation and some recent bullpen drama, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the pitchers the Yanks let go and see how they were doing around the league.

Kerry Wood

Wood rode into the bullpen like a knight in shining Cubbie armor in the 2010 season, wowing everyone. It’s imagine everything aligning better for Wood during his short stay in pinstripes: none of his bequeathed runners scored, his stuff was great, he was saving rear ends left and right. Though Wood had an expensive option, there was no way the Yankees were paying closer money to a man who would almost certainly not repeat his unsustainably good 2010 performance. Wood raced back to the Cubs and signed for $1.5M. He’s racked up an impressive 2.15 ERA and 4.49 FIP, though the 95% LOB is likely to drop. Even so, the 2:1 K/BB ratio is extremely promising.

"How about some support?" (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

Dustin Moseley

The spot-starter/longman for the Yankees signed at the pitcher’s heaven of Petco Park and has found himself a home in the Padres’ rotation. He’s making a comfortable $900k and is, uh, pitching his brains out, to say the least. In his five starts, he’s pitched to a 1.99 ERA (3.90 FIP). The Adrian Gonzalez-less Padres offense, which is slightly feebler than a dead rabbit, has really gotten behind his strong performance, and helped him go…… 0-3. In his five starts, the Padres have scored him a total of two runs. Pretty sad. Although his numbers are likely to go up (Moseley isn’t likely to hold down his .243 BABIP or hold up his 81% strand rate), it’s pretty freaking impressive as is.

Chad Gaudin

Gaudin also making $900K in the NL, though his home is located across the country in Nationals Park. The man’s picked up right where he left off with the Yankees, throwing spectacularly mediocre stuff and getting knocked all around because of it. In his 8 innings, he’s given up 12 hits, six ER (one homer), and eight walks. The only positive thing about his line is the 10Ks, but it’s not helping anything else. I wonder if Riggleman will have the same fascination with him that Girardi did.

Sergio Mitre

All right, I know you’re really interested in hearing about: the man that Marc Carig of the Star Ledger calls The Experience. Although he technically started off the year as a Yankee, Mitre’s been shipped over to the Brewers in exchange for Chris Dickerson. In his tiny 9 IP sample, he’s managed to give up six hits, three ER and a homer, and walk more batters (3) than he’s struck out (2). Of course, this is a tiny sample, and Mitre could get his act together and become the Rolaids Relief Man Closer we all know he could be. Right? Right?

(AP/Dave Martin)

Alfredo Aceves

The man they call Ace fought injures all through 2010, and because of that (and who knows what else), Cashman decided not to tender him a contract. The Red Sox picked Aceves up for a microscopic $650k. He’s been pretty effective for them too, making six appearances and racking up a 2.25 ERA. Way less impressive is his 5.80 FIP, helped out by the two home runs he’s given up. It’s hard for me to want a guy in Boston to succeed, but Ace was pretty awesome for the Yankees when they needed him, and I don’t know if I’m quite ready to let him go just yet. Silly sentimental me.

Javier Vazquez

Two trips to the Bronx still couldn’t cure Javy’s problems: a dead fastball and a reputation that wasn’t going to leave once it stuck his first time around. Vazquez has over 2,600 IP on his arm – I don’t even want to know how many pitches he’s thrown – and that wear and tear is becoming evident. Vazquez signed with the Marlins for $7M and he’s basically the same old Javy: a junkball and some other stuff being whomped around by better hitters. He’s made four starts and walked more than he’s struck out, even if his h/9 is still under one. 20 IP is too small a sample to really paint a picture, but here’s some food for thought: his average fastball velocity was 89 MPH in 2010. His average fastball velocity in 2011 so far is 88.4.

* * *

The Yankees pitching staff is pretty band-aided together right now, but quite frankly I don’t have a problem with it. If Nova wants to go 6.1IP and feel good about, awesome. If Colon wants to show off his amazing two-seamer and a 96 MPH fastball, even better! Honestly, if the worst thing that happens to Freddy Garcia is that he gives up a home run to Jose Bautista, things are going pretty well. Yeah, Garcia is going to throw some crappy pitches. But luckily, there are lots of crappy hitters out there to compensate. Plus, it’s basically impossible not to have Bautista homer off you these days. That should not be the standard of judgment. Also, go Freddy. And someone give the guy a towel, will you? He’s looking kind of shiny out there on the mound.

Report: Wood, Cubs close to deal

TTFN, Kerry. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

While Mark Prior has landed with the team first drafted him, so too is Kerry Wood. According to David Kaplan, the Cubs and Wood are closing in on a deal. Terms haven’t been reported yet, but earlier in the evening, Wood was rumored to be seeking a two-year, $12-million deal.

For the Yankees, this move is nothing more than an official seal on Wood’s departure. While the team had been interested in bringing him back to fill out the bullpen, the Yanks wanted him to return for the right price while Wood wanted more than the team was willing to pay a set-up man. Instead, the club will likely turn their attention to Rafael Soriano or Bobby Jenks. Joe will have more on those two in the morning.

Wood’s stay in New York was short but sweet. The Yanks acquired him on July 31 in exchange for Andrew Shive and Matt Cusick, two non-prospect minor leaguers. In 26 innings spanning 24 games, Wood struck out 31 and sported a 0.69 ERA despite walking 6.2 batters per 9 IP. That low ERA was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, and while his presence will be missed, he is eminently replaceable at a reasonable cost.

Checking in with former Yankees

Contrary to popular belief, the Yankees aren’t the only team trying to acquire players at the winter meetings. In fact, some other teams are even trying to acquire players that played for the Yanks at one time or another. Jon Lane at YESNetwork.com rounded up the latest on some former Bombers, including Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, and Kerry Wood. One former Yank he did not mention is Tom Gordon, who I’ve seen in the halls in the few times. Flash lives in the area and does some broadcasting work for MLB Network Radio, but Gordon Edes says the 43 year old is trying to find a team willing to take a chance on him. He hasn’t appeared in a game since early-May 2009, so I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were him. Still kinda cool to see him hanging around though.

Yanks eyeing Wood for the right price

Kerry Wood’s name hasn’t come up too often this winter. The Yanks’ midseason acquisition pitched great for the Bombers in 24 games. He went 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA (and a still-impressive 3.39 FIP) in 26 innings. He struck out 31 and walked just 18, and most assumed that, since Wood wanted to close and wanted closer money, he wouldn’t be back with the Yanks.

This evening, we learn that the Yanks talked to Wood’s people today. The team, says Hoch, would love to have Wood return, but GM Brian Cashman said any offer from the Yanks “won’t compete with closer money.” If the market for Wood shrivels up, a welcome return to the Bronx for this potent bullpen arm could be in order.

Wood, Vazquez to be offered arbitration; Javy to reject

This is certainly unexpected. ESPN New York’s Wallace Matthews reports that the Yankees will offer arbitration to Kerry Wood and Javier Vazquez. While the Vazquez news comes from a source of Jayson Stark’s, the decision on Wood comes right from Cashman: “I’m thinking yes on Wood. We’ll do them a favor. If we put them into an arbitration setting, then we can take them out and make a fair market value offer to them.”

Updated (2:49 p.m. by Ben): Here’s an interesting twist on this deal: Ken Rosenthal reports that Javier Vazquez has agreed to reject the Yanks’ arbitration offer. In doing so, the Yanks will earn a supplemental first-round draft pick. “Teams frequently make such gentlemen’s agreements with Type B free agents,” Rosenthal said. “No harm is done to the signing team, which does not lose a pick for signing a Type B player.” As I predicted yesterday, the Yanks are doing their best to salvage the Javier Vazquez deal.