Archive for Melky Cabrera
By the time Spring Training starts, odds are good that the Yanks will head into Tampa with five outfielders for four positions. Although Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera are currently behind Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher on the Yanks’ depth charts, the team wants to bring Johnny Damon back at the best price and will look at Mike Cameron before the winter is out.
Therefore, the Yanks have a good problem to have: They have a trading chip. Either Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera will draw interest from other clubs. The question, then, concerns the expendable one: Of Gardner or Cabrera, which one should the Yanks try to move?
Over the last four seasons, Yankee fans have grown quite familiar with Melky, for better or worse. As a 21-year-old in 2006, he inherited the starting left field job when Hideki Matsui went down with a wrist injury and was a pleasant surprise with the bat. He hit .280/.360/.391 with a 95 OPS+. While 2006 was a decent showing for Melky, the next two years would show him trending in the wrong direction. Over his next 1065 plate appearances, he hit .263/.316/.369 with just 16 home runs. With more Major League experience, he should have been getting better, but his only redeeming quality was his arm, and by the end of 2008, he had lost his starting job.
This year, facing some competition for his outfield spot, Melky seemed to turn it on early. He hit .285/.347/.439 in the first half with a few key clutch hits. He faded during the second half, but still managed to put up a 99 OPS+ season. For those of us in the anti-Melky camp, 2009 was a very pleasant surprise.
Still, we don’t know what to expect out of the youngster going forward. The 2010 season will be his age 25 year, and after 2148 Major League plate appearances, he has a career line of .269/.331/.385. He doesn’t have much speed or power but has a strong arm. He seems to be an ideal candidate for a fourth outfielder spot on a good team or a starting job on a lesser team but could still improve.
Then, we have Brett Gardner. A year older than Melky, the speedster has just 425 Major League plate appearances and three fewer years of service time. This year, Gardner hit .270/.345/.379. He covers a lot of ground in center field but doesn’t have Melky’s arm. He has a lot of speed but hasn’t gotten on base at a high enough clip at the Major League level to be a game-changer. We don’t know what Melky’s eventual ceiling will be, but Gardner’s may very well be what we saw this year. He’s a fast slap hitter, valuable as a late-game pinch runner but needs to find another 15 to 20 OBP points to stick.
And so the rumors. When Curtis Granderson arrived, many figured the Yanks would be able to trade one of their young center fielders. So far, rumor has it that both the Royals and White Sox have called to ask Brian Cashman about Gardner. Is the outfielder I find more expendable actually in greater demand than Melky? It would seem so.
Right now, we don’t have a sense of the potential returns. Maybe the Yanks could get Brian Bannister from the Royals, but then again, maybe he’ll be non-tendered today. The Yanks fleeced Ken Williams and the White Sox last year when they acquired Nick Swisher for a bunch of nothing. Could they do it again with Gardner? It’s nice to dream.
As it stands, the Yanks have the luxury of holding a strong hand made stronger by the Rule 5 arrival of Jamie Hoffmann. So far, Cashman has been able to capitalize on that advantage. Let’s see how he does now with a glut of young outfielders. If I were a betting man, I’d say we’ve seen the last of Gardner in pinstripes. But then again, if the Yanks sign another outfielder, Gardner may be more useful than Melky as a bench player. And so it goes.
So here’s a fun puzzle to play with a pair rumors from Joel Sherman. First, he says via Twitter, that the Cubs “want Mike Cameron for CF, but so might Yankees, which could be interesting since Cubs like Melky Cabrera.” Then, in his next update, he says that a team official from a club interested in Curtis Granderson believes the Yanks “really want” the 28-year-old for their outfield. So what do you think? Sign Cameron for a short deal, acquire Granderson and flip Melky to the Cubs for some prospects? If only it were that simple.
The MLB Players Association yesterday released its list of the 210 players eligible for arbitration. Maury Brown has the full list right here, and five members of the 2009 Yankees find themselves under team control and arbitration-eligible.
Before exploring these players, a few notes on procedures: Salary arbitration is available for players who have not yet reached free agency and players who are free agents. A player with more than three years but fewer than six — with some exceptions for what is known as Super Twos — can file for arbitration. Conversely,the player’s former team can decide to non-tender those players at which point the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.
For current free agents not constrained by service time, clubs can offer salary arbitration to former players by Dec. 1. That move allows the team to recoup draft picks if the player goes elsewhere, but the team runs the risk of an unwanted or overpaid player accepting arbitration and sticking around. The arbitration discussed here is limited by service time and not contractual free agency. And so onto the Yankees.
Chien-Ming Wang — Service Time: 4.159 years; 2009 Salary: $5 million
The Yankees and their former ace have a tenuous relationship when it comes to salary disputes. In 2008, Wang lost in arbitration, and the Yankees made a big deal about saving $600,000 in the process. Last year, the two parties settled for $5 million in late December, but it’s clear that the Yankees are skeptical of Wang’s ability and future success. Considering the nature of his surgery and his recent ineffectiveness, they might have a reason for that skepticism.
Early on this off-season, the conversation has centered around Wang’s contract status, and rumors suggest that the Yankees will non-tender him. They could then try to sign him to an incentive-laden deal with a low base salary. Whether this will placate the sinker-ball specialist is up for debate. Some feel the two-time 19-game winner could test the open market; others say that his marketability in Taiwan is dependent upon the pinstripes.
Prediction: The Yanks will non-tender Wang but resign him to an incentive-based deal more favorable to the team.
Brian Bruney — Service Time: 4.164 years; 2009 Salary: $1.25 million
Last year, the Yanks and Bruney avoided arbitration after exchanging salary figures. Bruney wanted $1.55 million; the Yanks countered with $1.1 million; and the two sides nearly split the difference. Bruney had a worse year in 2009 than he did in 2008. He suffered through some early-season elbow problems and saw his walk rate increase while his strike out rate decreased. His ERA jumped over 2.10 runs, but the Yankees want to bring him back.
Prediction: A one-year deal worth approximately $1.7-$2 million.
Melky Cabrera — Service Time: 3.148 years; 2009 Salary: $1.4 million + $25,000 for reaching 525 plate appearances
Unless something drastic happens — Curtis Granderson, Mike Cameron or that long-rumored Melky and Ian Kennedy for [Insert Player Here] trade — Melky will again battle it out with Brett Gardner for the center field job. After putting up bad numbers in 2008, Melky rebounded with a nice 2009 campaign. I would expect the Yanks will settle with Melky but not offer him a long-term deal.
Prediction: One year, $2.5 million
Chad Gaudin — Service Time: 4.163 years; 2009 Salary: $2 million
A mid-season acquisition, Gaudin showed some good stuff while pitching for the Yanks. He’ll be 27 by Opening Day and will be a swing man for the Yanks next year. I doubt the two sides will head to arbitration here, and Gaudin should receive a bump from his $2 million salary.
Prediction: One year, $3-$4 million
Sergio Mitre — Service Time: 4.132 years; 2009 Salary: $1.25 million
Mention “Sergio Mitre” to a Yankee fan and you may find that fan fighting back the urge to scream. Just a year removed from Tommy John Surgery, Mitre was awful for the Yanks. He managed to win three games but sported a 6.79 ERA. Opponents hit .320/.361/.509 off of him. The Yankees hold a $1.25 million option for 2010, and although Mark Feinsand doesn’t expect them to pick it up, I do. For that low price, the Yanks can bolster their depth.
Prediction: One year, $1.25 million
Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.
Mid-way through the 2007 season, it became apparent that Johnny Damon was no longer a viable option in centerfield for the Yankees. The team was somewhat up a creek without a paddle, as Damon still had two-and-a-half years left on his contract, and they had to turn to the unproven Melky Cabrera full-time in one of the most important positions on the field.
In 2008, Yankee centerfielders hit just .261-.320-.391, which represented the fifth lowest OBP and seventh lowest IsoP in the league. Furthermore, the group’s defense didn’t make up for their offense shortcomings, as they posted a collective +1.9 UZR/150. Melky got the lion’s share of the work in center (67.5% of the total innings), but he was demoted to the minors in mid-August after a 300 plate appearance stretch of futility in which he hit .227-.277-.280.
After flirting with various trade scenarios in the offseason, the Yankees came into Spring Training this past February with the same cast of centerfield characters as last year. Most (myself included) figured a mid-season trade for a centerfielder was in order. Instead, both Melky and Brett Gardner excelled in camp (Melky hit .349-.408-.508, Gardner .379-.446-.621), and the Yanks started the season with a somewhat unconventional platoon in the middle outfield spot.
Across the board, the performance in centerfield improved in 2009. The Gardbrera duo (plus a two game cameo from Jerry Hairston Jr.) hit .273-.338-.400, as Melky once again carried most of the load. Not only was the offensive upgrade welcome, but the defense also improved immensely thanks to Gardner. The team’s UZR/150 in center jumped to +7.5, third best in the AL. The league average offense and well-above average defense gave the Yankees the most production out of the centerfield position since Bernie Williams was in his heyday.
Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac, Getty Images
How fitting for RAB.
A few minutes ago, Joe Girardi revealed that Melky Cabrera suffered a mild strain of his left hamstring during the 6th inning of last night’s game. He will be unavailable for the remainder of the World Series, and the Yankees are working to replace him on the roster, most likely with Freddy Guzman. Official word will come down at 6 p.m., and we’ll update this post accordingly. With Melky out, the Yankees will hand center field over to Brett Gardner this evening, and the Yanks’ lineup will feature a 6-7-8-9 combination tonight of Robinson Cano, Gardner, Jose Molina and A.J. Burnett. On the bright side, the bench is very strong tonight.
Update (5:45 p.m.): The Yankees have announced that Ramiro Peña will take Melky Cabrera’s place on the roster. Peña isn’t as fast as Guzman but provides more versatility both with the bat and in the field. Peña could be asked to bunt tonight as well if the situation calls for it.
In the winter of 2007-2008, when River Ave. Blues was still in its blog infancy, the hot topic of the Hot Stove League was Johan Santana. The Twins were gearing up to trade their lefty ace, and the Yankees were deeply involved in the negotiations.
As the winter dragged on, we staked out a position deemed extreme by many — but not Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman. “Save the Big Three,” we proclaimed, as it became clear that any Johan Santana deal would probably include some combination of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy along with other top prospects or Major League contributors. The money, we argued, would be better spent on CC Sabathia a year later when the big man hit free agency. Plus, we reasoned, the Yanks wouldn’t have to pay twice for CC, first in prospects and then in dollars, as they would for Santana.
When all was said and done that winter, our position held the day, but it was not without controversy. Throughout 2008 and even into 2009, a debate raged among Yankee fans over that non-trade, and when the Yanks missed the playoffs in 2008 for the first time since 1994, Cashman and the anti-trade faction received its fair share of criticism.
Yet, last winter, the pieces fell into place. The Yanks landed CC Sabathia, and this year, that signing has paid off in a big way. CC took home MVP honors after the ALCS, and after posting tremendous numbers this season, Sabathia has powered his way through three playoff starts. It’s been wine and roses for the Yanks and CC this year.
With the Yanks gearing up to face the Phillies in the World Series, let’s take a look at how those pieces from the Santana trade are doing. I’m going to assume that the most popular iteration of the trade — Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Melky Cabrera for Johan Santana — would have gotten the deal done. The Yanks probably would have thrown in a fourth lesser prospect as well.
Still just 23 years old, Hughes has been one of the most heralded young arms in recent Yankee history. He made his debut in 2007 and threw admirably as one of the youngest starters in the league. His 2008, however, was a complete wash. He started the season 0-4 with an ERA of 9.00 and then missed May, June, July and August with a variety of injuries. By the end of 2008, Yankee fans were wondering about the hype, and many rued not trading Hughes when his stock was high.
This year, though, has been an utter revelation for Yankee fans and Phil Hughes. He made a few spot starts in place of Chien-Ming Wang and flashed some decent stuff, but the youngster really came into his own upon moving into the bullpen. As the 8th inning bridge to Mariano, Hughes went 5-1 with a 1.44 ERA in 44 games. In 51.1 innings, he walked just 13 and struck out 65. He put up a 22.7 RAR and a 2.2 WAR out of the bullpen, and without Hughes in the 8th, the Yanks’ season would have played out much differently.
For Melky, 2008 was a setback. He was the subject of many trade rumors and didn’t play well at all. He hit .249/.301/.341 and lost his starting job to Brett Gardner by early August. This year, though, with increased competition from Gardner, Melky responded in turn. Although he faded a bit down the stretch, Melky hit .274/.336/.416 with a career-best in home runs (13), doubles (28) and OPS+ (97). In the ALCS, he went 9 for 23 with four RBI and three walks. At 25, Melky has 2148 Major League plate appearances under his belt and could yet turn into an adequate offensive outfielder.
Similar to Hughes, Kennedy had a terrible 2008. He also went 0-4 with a gaudy 8.17 ERA and found himself demoted after not pitching poorly. To make matters worse, he flashed an attitude unappreciated by many in New York. This year, he had a strong start at AAA but came down with an aneurysm in his arm. He made a triumphant return to the Majors and threw an inning against Anaheim in mid-September. He is currently throwing in the Arizona Fall League where he has allowed five earned runs in 11.1 innings but has a 13:1 K:BB ratio. He will probably factor into the Yanks’ 2010 plans.
The centerpiece of the deal landed in New York after all but in Queens and not the Bronx. He has been a bright spot amidst a dismal Mets team. With the Mets, he has gone 29-16 in 59 starts. He has a 2.79 ERA in the NL and has struck 352 while walking 109 in 401 innings. His K/9 IP in the NL is 1.6 strike outs lower than it was in the AL. This season, his velocity started trending downward, and he missed the final six weeks of the season after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips in his arm. The Mets still owe him at least $98.5 million over the next four seasons or $118 million over five.
Late last week, Cashman spoke with John Harper of the Daily News about this very topic. “When we added David Cone from Toronto,” Cashman said “we were a piece away at the time. But when Santana became available, in my opinion we weren’t a piece away yet. So I told ownership, ‘Listen, six months really isn’t a long time to wait – though it turned out to be a long time for me, to be honest – and if we can have the patience and discipline, I can’t guarantee you we’ll be able to get Sabathia, but think about what our organization will look like if we can add him and keep these other assets.’”
And so today, those assets are still in place. The Yankees are playing the World Series with CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera primed to contribute. Although Ian Kennedy hasn’t yet been what we expected and Melky has hit some development roadblocks over the last few years, the Yankees are right where they expected to be when Cashman turned down the Santana offer. I certainly think it’s worked out nicely for them. Do you?
We’ve all seen this before: Yankees offense scores 900 runs in the regular season, goes to sleep in the playoffs. The difference this year is that some guys are still hitting. That, and the superb pitching allowed even a porous offense to come out ahead in the first five postseason contests. But, as we saw yesterday, the holes in the lineup can be killers. The Yanks could have scored eight, 10 runs yesterday if they hit with runners in scoring position. Instead, they relied on the solo homer. That won’t always work.
That the bottom of the order isn’t hitting is one thing. That Mark Teixeira isn’t hitting is another. He’s had a pretty bad playoffs overall, notching just two hits in the ALDS. Of course, those two hits were as big as they get: a single prior to a game-tying homer, and a walk-off shot in the same game. Since then, in four games, Teixeira has just one hit. He is 1 for 13 in the ALDS with a lone single, walking three times to five strikeouts. It hurts so much more because he’s batting in the three hole.
It’s April all over again for Tex. It appears the long breaks have disrupted his rhythm. That’s anecdotal, of course, but it matches with what we’ve heard about Teixeira from day one. He starts slow every year because he needs to get into a rhythm from both sides of the plate. Joe Morgan (of all people) explained it on a Sunday Night Baseball broadcast, noting that while most hitters transfer their weight from their back foot to their front, Teixeira stays on his back foot for his whole swing. I wonder how much Tex would benefit from having a non-roster pitcher, like Brian Bruney, throw him live BP, at game speeds.
Robinson Cano came to the plate twice yesterday with runners on first and second with none out, and twice bounced into a fielder’s choice. In fact, he doesn’t have a hit with runners in scoring position all series. His only RBI came on a triple with a man on first. He’s just 3 for 13 in the series with a GIDP. The Yankees certainly need the guy who hit .320 this season.
Batting after Cano is Nick Swisher, who has been equally as bad if not worse. After going 1 for 12 in the ALDS, Swisher is 2 for 10 in the ALCS with five strikeouts. A few of those have been costly, coming with a runner on third and less than two outs. Swisher’s woes at the plate are amplified when A.J. Burnett starts. Because Jose Molina bats ninth and Jorge Posada is out of the lineup, Swisher hits sixth. Unless he does something tonight, putting him in that spot isn’t the best idea.
Rounding out the order is Melky Cabrera who, after a good Game 1, has slowed down considerably. He went 1 for 2 with two walks in the opening match, but since has gone 2 for 11 with no walks and four strikeouts. He’s the No. 9 hitter, so it’s tough to expect the world from him. Still, Melky has stumbled in the playoffs. He’s just 5 for 25 this postseason, which is bad even for the last hitter in the lineup.
So far the Yankees have gotten by with timely (i.e., late) hitting and solid pitching. But the home runs won’t come against everyone. The Yankees have to start taking advantage of their opportunities earlier in the game, and that means Teixeira, Cano, Swisher, and Melky have to produce. After yesterday’s loss, the Yankees could use it tonight more than ever.
If there’s one thing the baseball world can do without right now, it’s another article expounding on the Yankees offense. It’s really good. Everyone knows it, and it’s their biggest advantage heading into the postseason. But, as the old saying goes, you’re only as good as your weakest link. Over the course of a 162-game season teams can cover up their weaknesses. If a poor hitter kills a rally one game, the team can make it up at some point days, weeks, or months later. That’s not the story in the playoffs. One killed rally can ruin a season.
Sports PhD recently ran a bit on the worst hitters on each playoff team. For the Yanks, that honor goes to Melky Cabrera and his .752 OPS. Of the players examined in the post, this is the highest OPS, meaning the Yankees have the strongest weakest link — at least according to this standard of analysis. There are a few flaws, not least of which is the use of OPS, something I’m trying to move away from. There are far better metrics, such as wOBA. The other issue is that some of the listed players didn’t exactly get regular playing time.
Here’s the Sports PhD list. In addition to OPS, I’ve added wOBA figures for each player. Also, I added the Twins (the Twins and Tigers were left off the list).
Melky looks even better in this comparison, smoking the next closest wOBA by a long shot. Just looking at this data, it’s easy to surmise that of all the teams’ weakest links, the Yankees is the least concerning.
As mentioned above, there is an issue with the playing time involved for some players. For instance, 10 Angels had more plate appearances than Gary Matthews, so to describe him as the weakest regular is a bit inaccurate. Of the nine Angels likely to start on Thursday, Erik Aybar is the weakest link with a .776 OPS and a .339 wOBA, so he’s right around Melky’s level. Then again, Scioscia could go and start Jeff Mathis with his .596 OPS and .267 wOBA and make him the weakest link.
Then there’s Jason Varitek, who will probably get Jose Molina playing time in the playoffs. That is, catching Josh Beckett and little else. On days when Martinez catches, Alex Gonzalez will be the weakest link and he’s quite weaker than Varitek, sporting a .635 OPS on the season and a .275 wOBA.
Where this gets real interesting — and yes, now I’m going to expound on the Yankees offense — is when looking at the second weakest link. To spare some time, I’ll go with just the AL teams, using wOBA as the low-water mark.
The Yankees have an even greater advantage when it comes to second worst hitter. The players will start to even out as we get further towards the top (though I believe the Yanks would come out on top one through nine), but at the bottom, the Yankees have an advantage.
Like most analysis, this one is not perfect. Some of the above-listed, poor-hitting players bring have other strengths. Pedro Feliz, for example, is an excellent defender at third, as is Barmes at second. Colby Rasmus has the highest UZR/150 of any NL center fielder. So it’s not as if these players are complete drags on the team. It’s just that when they come up, they make outs at a higher frequency than their peers. The Yankees’ advantage is that their worst player is better than those of other teams.
There’s no shame in being the ninth best hitter in this Yankees lineup — they had eight players with an OPS+ of 120 or higher. Yet even as the worst hitter in the Yanks lineup, Melky Cabrera is still better than the worst hitter in any other lineup — and if Mathis starts for the Angels, Melky’s superiority is only strengthened. Then again, in Game 2 that advantage is squandered, as Jose Molina is in Mathis territory. So much for that.
The calendar has flipped from September to October, and while the playoffs aren’t quite here, everyone can feel it. These last three games won’t mean much, except maybe to CC Sabathia, who tries for his 20th win tonight. The rest is just a tune-up. But for two Yankees, it will be about setting a tone for the new month, the one that, for the Yankees and their championship-focused mentality, is all that matters.
Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera have been slumping of late. That’s fine. The Yankees had matters pretty well at hand coming into September, so to have two-thirds of their outfield struggling wasn’t the worst thing in the world. As we like to say when players slump, better now than in the playoffs. Players streak and players slump. Neither lasts forever, which is why it’s perfectly fine that both have had their struggles in September.
Of the two, Johnny’s has been worse, if only because he’s a more important piece than Melky. While he’s still getting on base — a .347 OBP on the strength of 14 walks — Damon has seemingly lost the power stroke that made him a Yankee hero earlier this season. He has only four extra base hits in 96 September plate appearances, all doubles. Even worse, he has just 19 hits, making a slash line of .235/.347/.284.
It could be that Damon, who will turn 36 in November, is breaking down in his old age. But given the amount of rest Girardi has provided him, that seems unlikely. Damon has appeared in just 22 September games, starting only 20. He’s had two two-day breaks in the past 11, so there’s no doubt he’s as well rested as he’s been at this point. In that 11 game span, by the way, Damon is hitting .083/.267/.083. From September 1 through 19, he hit .298/.385/.368, so there was only a loss of power. There doesn’t appear to be any reason to think Damon will continue this slide.
Melky’s slump is less pronounced than Damons, but that’s because Melky has a lower baseline. In September he’s hitting .287/.361/.414, which is actually pretty good. In fact, if the Yankees could get Melky to hit that way consistently, he could definitely man center field. The problem, as with Damon, is his play of late.
We last wrote about Melky on September 8. He had just gone 3 for 4 with two RBI in the second game of the Tampa Bay doubleheader, in which he went 4 for 7 with a walk overall. Since our previous criticism, on August 19th, Melky had hit .348/.392/.464. But, just like every other time we criticize Melky, he turned it around. From the 8th through the 30th, Melky’s hitting .214/.302/.321.
Some players are going to slump in October. It’s just part of the game. If Melky continues hitting poorly, well, the Yanks just have to accept that. Thankfully, they can use Brett Gardner and have his speed in the lineup. But the Yankees can ill-afford to have Damon’s woes continue into the cool October nights. Unfortunately, there’s not much Girardi can do, other than to play Damon all three games this weekend and hope he hits a rhythm. He’ll have plenty of time to rest on Monday and Tuesday.