Archive for Mike Lowell
If you blinked, there’s a chance you missed Mike Lowell’s career as a Yankee. A 20th round draft pick in 1995, Lowell received a grand total of 15 plate appearances in pinstripes, picking up four singles in 1998. With Scott Brosius coming off a .300/.371/.472 season, the Yankees traded a then 24-year-old Lowell to the Marlins for three young pitchers: Todd Noel, Ed Yarnall, and Mark Johnson. Yarnall had been ranked as the 60th best prospect in the game by Baseball America before the 1998 season, and he was the only one to ever make an appearance in the Bronx (20 IP, 5.40 ERA). He was later traded to the Reds for Denny Neagle while Noel never made it out of A-ball and Johnson went to the Tigers in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft.
Lowell, meanwhile, went on to have a long and productive career first with the Marlins and then with the Red Sox. He doubled off Andy Pettitte in Game Six of the 2003 World Series, and during his career he hit .314/.377/.506 with a dozen homers in just over 300 plate appearances against the team that originally drafted him. Brian Cashman later said he wishes he could have a do-over on the Lowell trade, a trade that took place 12 years ago today. Pitching prospects, eh? They’ll break your heart.
Anyways, here is the open thread for the evening. The Devils, Isles, and Rangers are all back in action now that the All Star break is over, so hooray for that. Talk about whatever your heart desires.
Earlier this week we learned that the Yankees attempted to acquire Mike Lowell from the Red Sox as part of a three team trade with the Rangers, but now Buster Olney reports that the three clubs did in fact have a deal in place. The Yanks backed out because they didn’t like what they saw in Lowell’s medicals, unsurprising considering his recent hip trouble. There’s no word on the other players that would have been involved, but it’s safe to say it would have been fringy prospects, no one any team would miss.
I said on Monday that I wouldn’t be surprised in Lowell ends up in pinstripes at some point this month, but I’m going to retract that statement in the wake of Kevin Youkilis‘ thumb injury. Turns out the Red Sox might actually need him now.
The Yankees walked away from the trade deadline having upgraded three roster spots with Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, and Kerry Wood, and we know they wanted to add a utility infielder as well. They can still do that through a waiver trade in August, so the door isn’t closed on replacing Ramiro Pena, who unsurprisingly was unable to maintain his career best .312 wOBA from last year (seriously, his best full-season wOBA in the minors was .303 with Double-A Trenton in 2008). What is surprising is one of the players the Yanks targeted for that reserve infielder spot: Mike Lowell.
Ken Rosenthal said yesterday that the Yanks tried to pick up the former Bomber indirectly from the Red Sox on Friday. He says it would have been a three team swap involving the Rangers, who have long had interest in Lowell as they searched for a righthanded hitting first baseman, but didn’t elaborate on any other players that would have been involved in the deal. I can’t imagine it would’ve been much. The Red Sox were aware that Lowell would have ended up in the Bronx, and the Berkman trade did not alter the Yanks’ plans at all.
This isn’t the first time the Yankees have had interest in Lowell, as I’m sure you remember. After Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in 2007, Lowell – that year’s World Series MVP – became an obvious target to fill that third base void. Even after A-Rod re-signed, the Yanks still had interest in Lowell as a first baseman, reportedly offering him a four year deal worth upwards of $60M. Thankfully that ended up being untrue, because it would have been a massive albatross if Lowell accepted (there would have been about $20.4M still left on said deal), assuming his hip issues were inevitable.
I know there have been several studies showing that “contract years” are largely a myth, but Lowell’s 2007 season sure looks like one hell of a salary drive. After 1,189 plate appearances of .319 wOBA ball in 2005 and 2006, he rebounded to post a .377 wOBA in ’07 with his usually stellar defense, a season worth 5.2 wins above replacement. It was the best season of Lowell’s career, surpassing his 4.6 win season back in 2004. He certainly took advantage of Fenway Park during that contract year, hitting to a .426 wOBA at home and just .330 on the road.
Lowell predictably regressed back to a .344 wOBA and 3.0 WAR in 2008, solid numbers but not what he had produced the year before. Following the season he required surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, though he was ready in time for Spring Training and remained productive at the plate, putting up a .346 wOBA. His defense, like we saw with A-Rod, dropped off considerably after surgery, as his UZR dropped to -10.7 because of what FanGraphs has as a 21.7 run decline in his range from 2008. A-Rod’s defense has certainly gotten better as he’s gotten further away from surgery, but Lowell really gotten a chance to show us similar improvement because he hasn’t played much.
This season, with Adrian Beltre and Kevin Youkilis having MVP caliber seasons and David Ortiz finding the Fountain of Youth in mid-May, Lowell simply hasn’t played. He hit the disabled list in June after coming to the plate just 76 times in April and May (.306 wOBA). Sporadic playing time equals sporadic results, though ZiPS rest of the season projection calls for what I think is an optimistic .338 wOBA. One thing to keep in mind is that over the last two years Lowell has a .296 wOBA away from the Green Monster (.383 at home). Even worse than the production are the nagging hip issues, which includes a pair of DL stints due to inflammation and several individual days missed.
Even going beyond the performance issues, Lowell really doesn’t fit the Yanks’ needs in the grand scheme of things. He’s not a true utility infielder because he can’t fill in at short (and less importantly, second base), so Ramiro Pena would have to remain on the roster. The Yanks would essentially be swapping out Marcus Thames (.373 wOBA vs. LHP) with Lowell (.352 wOBA vs. LHP over the last two years), sacrificing a little offense for third base insurance should A-Rod’s hip act up. Insurance with his own hip issues, mind you.
Of course, the only way the Red Sox are moving Lowell at this point is by eating basically everything left on his contract, which is about $4.22M at the moment. Considering that they’re on the hook for $11.15M still owed to Julio Lugo, Alex Gonzalez, Boof Bonser, and Billy Wagner, eating another $12M for Lowell while getting just 0.1 WAR out of him this year seems like it would be a tough pill to swallow, but at this point they have no choice. Jed Lowrie and Bill Hall will be the backup infielders once Dustin Pedroia is healthy, and a smart organization like Boston won’t sit on a dead roster spot with Lowell just to avoid eating his salary.
The Red Sox will try to trade Lowell, but chances are they’re just going to end up releasing him at some point. And that’s what Lowell wants. He wants to be able to choose his next team where he can actually play and audition himself for next year. The Rangers, long considered a perfect suitor, now have their righty first baseman in Jorge Cantu. The Yanks became a more realistic landing spot for Lowell once that trade went down. I’m not saying I want Lowell on the Yankees, but based on their history with him I would not at all be surprised if he ends up in pinstripes sometime this month.
So the word in Boston is that Mike Lowell is on the outs, and could be gone within a week. Since he made his displeasure with his semi-platoon with David Ortiz known on May 19th, he has been buried on Terry Francona’s bench. While some of that can be attributed to Ortiz’ resurgence at the plate, he has been struggling lately, yet Lowell hasn’t gotten much of a chance to contribute. In 11 games in June, Ortiz has a .158/.333/.316 line with 1 HR. Considering Ortiz is also hitting just .217/.315/.326 vs. LHP on the year, they surely could have found more at-bats for Lowell, no?
I bring this all on up on the slight chance that the Sox just release Lowell in the next 10 days or so. I assume, by eating the rest of Lowell’s contract, the Sox will be able to find a trade partner. In the offseason, before failing a physical, the Sox had agreed to trade Lowell to Texas for intriguing catcher Max Ramirez. I expect a trade soon, while the Sox will likely get less of a return, they are in more dire need to rid themselves of a potential problem.
If the Sox can’t work out a trade, and Lowell is soon released, how would Lowell look in pinstripes, returning to his original organization? Is there room for him in New York? Would he be happy with the playing time? Would he even consider crossing to the other side of the rivalry? My answers are yes, yes, and yes.
The recent injury to Alex Rodriguez, however minor, has shown what a huge hole is created when he is out of the lineup. While Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada and Nick Johnson have all missed time this year, there were sufficient backups in place which allowed the Yankees to tread water at those positions. At third base, it’s a different story. Not only is A-Rod better than the aforementioned trio, his backups are worse. Ramiro Pena simply cannot hit at the major league level. Kevin Russo has shown nothing with the bat and has seen limited time at 3rd base. If A-Rod were to even go on the 15 day DL, it would be a huge blow to the Yankees.
If A-Rod remains healthy, is there a role for Lowell as a DH? While Lowell is (or was) being used in Boston as a DH against LHP, in his career he has OPS’d .797 against righthanders, so he doesn’t exactly have Marcus Thames type splits. That .797 OPS of course came primarily as a strong fielding 3rd baseman, and not a DH, so there was a ton of value in that type of offensive production. Could you bring in Lowell as a backup at the corners, and give him 60-70% of the at-bats at DH? You could still work Posada in at DH, and have Thames (or now Huffman) DH against lefties. If you are comfortable with Ramiro Pena in the OF, you can send Kevin Russo to Scranton. If you are comfortable with Russo at SS, you can send Pena down. If bringing in Lowell would provide enough of an upgrade, you can make it work roster-wise.
To address my second and third yes votes above, why would Lowell be happy as a part-time player in New York if he’s not happy in Boston? Lowell, frankly, has been bitter since soon after resigning with the Sox after the 2007 World Series. He took a hometown discount as the Phillies were offering him a longer deal, but Lowell wanted to stay with the Sox and took fewer years and total dollars. It wasn’t long before the rumors started about the Sox acquiring new players that would have pushed Lowell out of his starting role. This displeasure was strongly evident when the Sox made the hard push to sign Mark Teixeira after the 2008 season, which would have moved Kevin Youkilis to 3B, and Lowell on the trade block. Lowell was pissed. After winning the World Series MVP and taking a hometown discount, he felt he deserved better. Lowell’s feelings were only compounded this offseason when the Sox signed Adrian Beltre (after many Adrian Gonzalez rumors) to play 3rd, pushing Lowell to the bench. This, a nearly two-year-old chip on his shoulder, just might be enough for Lowell to not only accept a reduced role for another team, but also to do it for the Yankees, just to spite the Red Sox.
There are a lot more questions than answers, and at the end of the day I don’t think the Sox will cut Lowell knowing that he could end up in pinstripes. We don’t know whether Lowell can play even a passable 3rd base anymore. He was terrible in 2009, but was struggling with a major hip injury. We don’t know how much is left in his bat; in 2008 and 2009 he was about league average, and he has just 74 ABs this year. We don’t know if he would consider a part-time role — or any role — with the Yankees. If the Yankees had the opportunity to get Lowell for the minimum, I think it’s something they would have to look into, and see if they can catch lightning in a bottle. If not, they can cut him themselves, no harm, no foul.
For more of my work head over to Mystique and Aura.
Yesterday I listed Brian Cashman’s three most lopsided trades. Those, of course, all fell in his favor. Yet he’s not immune from the bad trade. His blunders aren’t as great as his successes — it’s tough to make up the wins he gained by acquiring Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu, and Nick Swisher — but he’s still lost on a number of deals. Here are the trades that cost the Yankees the most in terms of WAR.
(Note: Since many of the deals happened before 2002, I’ll use the historical WAR database to determine the values.)
When thinking about Cashman’s worst trades, the first that came to mind was Mike Lowell. In 1999 he shipped Lowell to Florida for a package that featured Ed Yarnall, long coveted by the Yankees. Chances are Lowell wouldn’t have gotten the 339 plate appearances he did for the Marlins in 1999, because Scott Brosius would have been coming off a career year. Still, we can’t try to figure out when a player’s clock would have started. We’re still going with first six years, though his 339 plate appearances indicate that he’d have a seventh year before free agency.
From 1999 through 2005 Lowell was worth 16.4 WAR. Ed Yarnall was worth 0.3 in 1999 and -0.3 in 2000, leaving his overall WAR at zero. Mark J. Johnson was worth -0.6, and Todd Noel never made the majors. This certainly ranks as Cashman’s biggest blunder.
Loss: 17 WAR
Photo credit: Alan Diaz/AP
Not even a half season after signing him as a free agent, the Yankees traded lefty reliever Damaso Marte to the Pirates for Enrique Wilson. Apparently he hit well against Pedro Martinez, which is a perfectly acceptable reason to make a trade. Sarcasm aside, I don’t remember much of this trade, and so it likely went uncriticized in the press. Marte, at the time, had pitched just 8.2 major league innings. Upon his call-up to the Pirates he got hit around a bit in 36.1 innings and was worth 0 WAR. That would quickly change.
Over the next six years Marte was worth 7.9 WAR. Wilson actually cost the Yankees wins, as he was worth -2.2 WAR. It seems odd that such a minor trade would carry double-digit win implications, but this was the case with Wilson and Marte.
Loss: 10.1 WAR
Photo credit: Steve Nesius/AP
Thankfully, Ted Lilly was the only player of note the Yankees traded for Jeff Weaver. I remember the concern at the time that trading John-Ford Griffin could come back to bite them. He had hit very well at Staten Island during his debut in 2001, and was having a fairly decent, Austin Jackson-like surge upon his promotion to AA in 2002. He was also the No. 76 prospect in the game headed into that season. Yet it was Lilly whom the Yankees could have used in the following years.
As we well know, Ted Lilly qualified for free agency after the 2006 season. From the point the Yankees traded him in 2002 he was worth 9.7 WAR. Weaver, during his season and a half with the Yankees, was worth 1.1 WAR. That breaks down to 1.4 WAR in the second half of 2002 and -0.3 WAR in 2003. They still had him under team control for a few years, but instead packaged him in a deal for Kevin Brown. Brown was worth 2.5 wins in 2005, but -0.9 in 2004. Even if we count that, which we won’t, it doesn’t come close to balancing out Lilly’s 9.7 WAR.
Loss: 8.6 WAR
Photo credit: Ben Margot/AP
Nick Johnson, Randy Choate, Juan Rivera
After the losses of David Wells, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees clearly had to reload their rotation. One measure they took was to acquire Javy Vazquez from the Expos. He didn’t come cheap, of course. At the time he was just 28 years old and was coming off four straight seasons pitching more than 200 innings. It cost the Yankees Nick Johnson, who was blocked by Jason Giambi, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate. Considering the Yankees kept Vazquez for just one year, it certainly cost them.
During his sole pinstriped season Vazquez was worth 2.3 WAR. He added another 4.6 WAR over the next two seasons, the terms of his contract with the Yankees. They traded him for Randy Johnson, who was worth 5.8 WAR as a Yankee. That helps soften the blow, but doesn’t completely erase it (especially since we’re not counting it). Johnson currently has nine years’ of service time, so he would have been eligible for free agency after the 2006 season. From 2004 through 2006 he was worth 8.9 WAR. Juan Rivera would have been under team control through 2008, during which time he produced 1.8 WAR for the Expos and Angels. I have no idea how long Choate would have been under control, but he was 0.4 in 2004, -0.4 in 2005, and 0.0 in 2006 and 2007, so he’s a wash in any case.
Loss: 8.4 WAR
Photo credit: H. Rumph, Jr./AP
In 2005 the Yankees desperately needed rotation help. It seemed everyone was getting hurt. They turned to an unknown minor league lifer named Aaron Small to fill a spot, and right around the trade deadline they acquired Shawn Chacon from the Rockies in exchange for two relievers, Eduardo Sierra and Ramon Ramirez. Having been solidly in my blogging days, I researched these guys but didn’t find much. The need, at the time, for starting pitching was too great to think about two minor league relievers.
Fortunately, Chacon helped the Yankees make the playoffs that year. Unfortunately, that was about the extent of his value to the team. Meanwhile, Ramirez pitched well for the Rockies, Royals, and Red Sox following the trade. He has been worth 4.0 WAR in his four major league seasons. Chacon helped enormously with his 2.7 WAR in 2005, but negated much of that with a -1.2 number in 2006, making his total 1.5. That’s only a 3.5 WAR loss, so no big deal, right? The problem is that Ramirez is still under team control for three more years, and could continue to widen that gap.
Loss: 3.5 WAR and counting
Photo credit: Nick Wass/AP
In what can only be described as a good sign, the Yankees, contrary to rumor, have not offered Mike Lowell a four-year deal to play first base in the Bronx. The Daily News has the story at the bottom of an article. The same article says Mariano Rivera will probably accept an overly-generous three-year, $45 million deal. That’s awfully swell of him.
obsessively checking this site’s stat numbers conducting my daily look at our search hits for River Ave. Blues, I came across an interesting hit for the site. Someone searched for “Was Ed Yarnall released 2007″ and landed here. That got me thinking about Ed Yarnall, a one-time pitching prospect for the Yankees and the Marlins.
On February 1, 1999, Ed Yarnall served as the lynch pin in a deal that sent third base stud Mike Lowell – blocked at the Bigs by Scott Brosius – to the Marlins for Ed Yarnall, Mark J. Johnson and Todd Noel. Yarnall would be the only player in that trade to appear in pinstripes, and his 20 innings in the Bronx were far from memorable. He went 1-0 with a 5.40 while striking out 14 and walking 13 in 20 innings.
In 2000, the Yankees exchanged Yarnall and Drew Henson, among others, with the Reds for Denny Neagle, and Yarnall would never again pitch in the Bigs. He bounced around the Minors and pitched in 2006 for Omaha, the Royals’ AAA affiliate. At the age of 31, Yarnall is now pitching in Mexico for Vaqueros Laguna. The other pieces in the Lowell trade – Noel, a former first round draft pick, and Johnson, who landed with the Tigers for 25 innings in 2000 – amounted to nothing.
So that got me thinking: Is the Mike Lowell trade one of the more disappointing deals of the Brian Cashman Era? With Scotty Bro holding down the Hot Corner, the Yanks had a valuable commodity in Lowell. But the Yanks got nothing in return, and Lowell went on to outperform Brosius from 1999-2001, Robin Ventura in 2002-2003 and Aaron Boone in 2003. It was only that arrival of A-Rod that pulled the Yankees third base spot ahead of Lowell.
Funny how these things work out sometimes.