King: Mariners scouting David Phelps

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to George King, the Mariners had a scout on hand to watch David Phelps‘ second spring start last night. He got hit around pretty hard but held the Orioles to only one run in 2.2 innings, striking out two and walking one. Phelps is currently competing for the fifth starter spot, though Joe Girardi confirmed he will make the team in some capacity.

The Mariners have been hit hard by injuries this spring. Co-ace Hisashi Iwakuma is sidelined with a finger sprain and top prospect Taijuan Walker is dealing with a shoulder problem. Manager Lloyd McClendon confirmed both guys will open the season on the DL, leaving the team with Erasmo Ramirez, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, and Scott Baker behind Felix Hernandez. Their need for another arm is obvious.

Seattle’s top trade chip is infielder Nick Franklin, who was pushed into trade chip status by the Robinson Cano signing. The 23-year-old switch-hitter hit .225/.303/.382 (90 wRC+) with 12 homers, six steals, and a 27.4% strikeout rate in his 412 plate appearance MLB debut last season. His defense is shaky — he’s already moved off short and is error prone at second — and more than a few people think he’ll have to drop switch-hitting and stick to batting lefty down the road. Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “profiles as a solid regular who could play in a few All-Star Games” before last season.

Franklin. (Presswire)
Franklin. (Presswire)

The Yankees desperately need a young infielder and Franklin certainly fits the bill even though I’m not his biggest fan. I’d trade four five years of Phelps for six years of Franklin in a heartbeat, but I suspect the Mariners are going to want another piece or two. Both the Mets and Rays have been talking to Seattle about Franklin — Tampa was reportedly on the verge of the deal, but then Jeremy Hellickson got hurt and they were reluctant to sacrifice pitching depth — so there is plenty of competition.

Of the various fifth starter candidates, the 27-year-old Phelps feels like the safest bet to be a productive big leaguer in 2014. In order to deal him, I think the Yankees would have to feel pretty good about Michael Pineda heading into the season and/or be open to signing a low-cost pitcher (Jeff Niemann? Jeff Karstens?) to replace the depth. Given their pitching situation, I’m guessing the Mariners would like to get a deal done sooner rather than later. That could work to New York’s advantage in trade talks.

In other news, King says both the White Sox and Brewers also had scouts on hand for last night’s game. Both clubs are looking for catching depth, something the Yankees can spare. Chicago has some infield depth to offer and we’ve already heard the Yankees will monitor Rickie Weeks this spring. Given the infield situation, the Yankees could swap Phelps+ for Franklin and a catcher for Weeks or one of the ChiSox infielders (or one of the Diamondbacks infielders). It doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other.

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Mailbag: Burnett, Haley, Marmol, OPS+, WAR

Got seven questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions, links, comments, whatever.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Why not an A.J. Burnett reunion? He could easily eat up 200 innings and wouldn’t be that expensive and doesn’t require a draft pick.

I mentioned this to Joe yesterday. If it wasn’t for 2010-2011, wouldn’t Burnett be the perfect one-year stopgap for the Yankees if Masahiro Tanaka is not posted? He has a 3.41 ERA (3.17 FIP) over the last two seasons, he misses bats (8.90 K/9 and 23.6 K%), the walks aren’t out of control (2.95 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%), he gets grounders (56.7%), his velocity has been steady, and he’s thrown 180+ innings in each of the last six years. What more could you want?

Of course, it’ll never happen. Burnett was a disaster during his final two seasons in New York and I think the Javy Vazquez wound is still fresh enough to keep the team from trying a reunion. Burnett has said he will either pitch for the Pirates or retire next season, so maybe he wouldn’t even entertain the idea of coming to the Yankees. If he was open to it and his name was anything but A.J. Burnett … man he’d be a perfect fit.

Dustin asks: If the Yankees miss out on Tanaka or he doesn’t get posted, what do you think of the Yankees offering Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza a one-year contract with a promise of not extending a qualifying offer? Yankees get a decent pitcher for one year that they can replace with one of the man good pitchers next off season, and Ubaldo/Garza can get to negotiate without having a pick attached to them. Do you think this is at all possible?

First, Garza will not cost a pick this winter, so that’s not an issue for him. He was traded at the deadline and a player has to be with their team for the full season to be eligible for the qualifying offer. Second, the Collective Bargaining Agreement strictly prohibits teams from promising they won’t extend the qualifying offer to help entice a free agent. I guess they could still do it under the table, but MLB is watching.

Third, I don’t think either guy would go for that.  Ubaldo and Garza (and Ervin Santana for that matter) should have no trouble getting a nice multi-year contract as soon as the Tanaka situation is resolved. That is holding everything up, teams just want to know if he’ll be available before moving on to the alternatives. It would be hard for Ubaldo and Santana in particular to improve their stock in 2014 given their 2013 seasons. If any of those three are still sitting there unsigned when Spring Training rolls around, sure, make them a fat one-year offer. I just don’t expected them to still be on the board that long.

Kameron asks: Trey Haley was designated for assignment by the Indians yesterday. Do you think the Yankees should make a run at him? He has been around the 100 mph mark his entire career.

(Rich Pilling/Getty)
(Rich Pilling/Getty)

Yes, definitely. Haley’s name caught my eye when I saw the Tribe cut him to make room on the roster for John Axford. The 23-year-old had a 4.71 ERA (4.31 FIP) with 46 strikeouts and 39 walks in 44 innings at Double-A this season, so he’s a project. He has two minor league options remaining, so a team can afford to be patient with him.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Haley as Cleveland’s 14th best prospect before the season, saying his “fastball now operates at 93-98 mph (and) has touched 100 (with) late, heavy life” and his “curveball had good depth … it shows flashes of becoming a plus offering.” The raw stuff is awesome — the Indians paid him $1.25M as a second round pick in 2008, so he didn’t come out of nowhere — but the general strike-throwing ability needs a lot of work. The Yankees have a tight 40-man roster but they could make room for an arm like this. Someone is going to trade for Haley or claim him off waivers and it would be cool if it was the Bombers.

Dale asks: If Seattle needs a backup catcher and are trying to move one of Dustin Ackley or Nick Franklin, would a Austin Romine for one of the two of them be fair enough? Or would we have to include another outfield prospect?

I don’t think Romine would be enough for either guy but especially not Franklin, who hasn’t been a Mariner long enough to have his value destroyed. A package of Romine plus a second prospect (Nik Turley? Jose Ramirez? Peter O’Brien? I have absolutely no idea) might be enough to land Ackley at this point, who I prefer to Franklin. I like the idea of buying super low on a guy who is only 25 and two years removed from being arguably the best hitter in the minors. Franklin is expected to be more of a solid regular long-term, and while that’s pretty good, I’d rather take a shot on Ackley’s talent while he’s still relatively young.

Adam asks: Thoughts on Carmol Marmol for the pen? Could he be a fit or is he done?

I don’t think he’s done, he’s just incredibly erratic. Marmol, 31, struck out 59 batters in 49 innings this past season (4.41 ERA and 5.19 FIP), but he also walked 40 (!). He’s got a 7.33 BB/9 and 18.0 BB% over the last two seasons. Few batters can miss bats as well as Marmol but few hit the strike zone less often. I’d take him on a minor league contract in a heartbeat — there’s always a chance it clicks and he has a Kimbrelian year or something — but I’d be wary about guaranteeing him a roster spot.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Jorge asks: Would you rather have a lineup composed of all 100 OPS+es or half 150 OPS+es and half 50 OPS+es?

Well, there are nine lineup spots, so let’s call it four 150 OPS+es, four 50 OPS+es, and one 100 OPS. The idea is that the nine spots would average out to a 100 OPS+ but that wouldn’t actually happen in real life. The four 150 OPS+es would be stacked at the top of the lineup and they’d get more at-bats than the 50 OPS+es. Instead of averaging out to a 100 OPS+, that lineup would average out to a 105 OPS+ or something like that.

Anyway, I’d much rather have a lineup of nine 100 OPS+ players. I prefer a deep and circular lineup to a top-heavy one. Those four 50 OPS+ spots are just killers. That’s three full innings in any given game where you have close to no chance to score. The lineup of league average hitters might not be sexy but the more good hitters you have, the better your chances are of scoring. Simple as that.

Jamie asks: What’s the difference between WAR used on Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com? And why can’t they just agree on one? I think a universal WAR algorithm would go a long way towards old school guys taking it more seriously than they do.

I agree that having one universal WAR would lead to it being taken more seriously, but I also think the different versions (we could throw WARP from Baseball Prospectus into this ring) are a feature, not a bug. The WAR model isn’t perfect and as long as the various systems are coming up with different numbers, they will continue to be tinkered with and improved. I consider that a good thing.

As for the differences, B-Ref uses Total Zone for position player defense while FanGraphs uses UZR. The different defensive stats lead to different player values. On the pitching side, B-Ref’s WAR is built on runs allowed while FanGraphs’ WAR is built on FIP. I prefer FanGraphs for position players and B-Ref for pitchers — FIP is theoretical and if you want to but a number on a player’s value, it should be based on what he’s done, not what we think he should have done — but either way WAR is not definitive. It’s one tool in the shed. The concept of WAR (combining everything a player does into one number) is a really good but it’s not close to being a finished product.

Mailbag: Franklin, Soriano, Anna, Lineups, Rule 5

Only five questions this week, and some of the answers are kinda short. We must have received about a dozen different variations of the first two questions. Great minds think alike, I hear. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything.

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Many people asked: What about Nick Franklin?

Now that Robinson Cano is locked in at second base for the next decade, the Mariners don’t have an obvious spot for the 22-year-old Franklin. He hit .225/.303/.382 (90 wRC+) with 12 homeruns and six stolen bases in 412 plate appearances this past season, his first taste of the show. Franklin is a switch-hitter who has always struggled against lefties, so much so that there’s been talk of making him hit exclusively left-handed. He’s the anti-Derek Jeter on defense — good amount of range but makes a lot of errors because he boots grounders and makes bad throws — and the total package is more solid regular than future All-Star.

Franklin has understandably been getting talked up as a trade chip since the Cano signing and the hype has surpassed reality, kinda like Mike Olt a year or so ago. He’s good but not truly great. The Yankees can use a young second baseman now and Franklin would certainly fit, though I don’t think the Mariners are ready to move him. They could always send him back to Triple-A and have him work at other positions or wait for a better offer. There’s no need to rush into a decision. I’m more intrigued by Dustin Ackley to be honest, because at least there’s All-Star caliber talent hiding in their somewhere. I’d rather see New York buy super low on him and hand him over to Kevin Long than pay market rate for Franklin. Franklin fits a need, no doubt, but I feel like there’s a disconnect between what he actually is and how he’s being valued.

Many people asked: What about moving Alfonso Soriano to second base?

This ain’t happening. Soriano hasn’t played second base at all since 2009 or regularly since 2005, and, in case you forgot, he was pretty terrible there. We saw it firsthand from 2001-2003. He wasn’t Eduardo Nunez bad, but he misplayed a lot of balls on the infield during his time there. Soriano is going to be 38 next month and he’s played 3.2 innings at second base over the last eight years. This isn’t even something the Yankees can seriously consider.

Andrew asks: Will Dean Anna be competing for a MLB roster spot in Spring Training or was he added purely for depth in the minors? I have not heard any discussion about him being a potential 2B option for the Yanks.

Can’t it be both, compete for a job in camp and be added for depth? The Yankees have an open position player spot right now — could be two if they cut one of Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki — and that figures to go to whatever infielder they acquire in the coming weeks. If they don’t add an infielder, Anna probably has to beat out Nunez for a roster spot. For some reason the incumbent always seems to have up in these competitions. I’m intrigued by Anna’s on-base skills and like him as an up-and-down depth player, but if he makes the team out of camp as even a semi-regular at second, something probably went wrong somewhere.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Andy asks: Can you make up what a potential Yankees line-up would look like now? Against both lefties and righties.

Given the roster as it sits today, meaning no obvious second/third baseman, here are the lineups I would run out there:

                  vs. RHP                   vs. LHP
1.   CF Jacoby Ellsbury 1.   CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2.   LF Brett Gardner 2.   SS Derek Jeter
3.   RF Carlos Beltran 3.   1B Mark Teixeira
4.   C Brian McCann 4.   DH Alfonso Soriano
5.   DH Alfonso Soriano 5.   RF Carlos Beltran
6.   1B Mark Teixeira 6.   C Frankie Cervelli
7.   3B Kelly Johnson 7.   3B Kelly Johnson
8.   SS Derek Jeter 8.   2B Brendan Ryan
9.   2B Brendan Ryan 9.   LF Brett Gardner

You and I both know Jeter will bat second against righties and lefties as long as he’s healthy. That’s just the way it is. I would bat him lower in the order against righties until he shows he can hit them, however. The Cap’n had a 99 wRC+ against same-side pitchers even during his big bounceback 2012 season, so I’m skeptical about what he can do at his age and following what amounts to a lost season.

Ellsbury and Gardner had almost identical batting averages (.246 vs. 247) and on-base percentages (.317 vs. .323) against lefties last season, but Gardner hit for much more power (.071 vs. .180 ISO). That doesn’t really jibe with the rest of his career though. Ellsbury and Gardner have identical career 96 wRC+ against southpaws, so the tiebreaker goes to the guy who will steal 40+ bases no questions asked (who also happens to have a $153M contract). Batting Gardner ninth instead of eighth against lefties allows him to serve as a second leadoff man, so to speak.

The rest is pretty straight forward, right? Soriano was awesome last year but McCann is the (much) better hitter against right-handers, which is why I have him batting cleanup against righties. I’d use a straight splatoon at catcher as a way to give McCann regular time off as well. He’s going to need the rest, it comes with the territory, so you might as well rest him against southpaws and get Frankie in there. Jeter and Teixeira still mash left-handers (or at least they did the last time they were healthy), making them a natural fit for the two-three spots against southpaws.

Laying the lineup out like this makes it easy to see how much the team needs a second or third baseman, preferably a righty bat. Those lineups would look so much better if they moved Ryan to the bench, shifted Johnson to second, and had someone like Mark Reynolds to bat seventh or eighth, no?

Jon asks: Explain the minor league Rule 5 Draft. How could you just lose players for $12,000? How many could you protect? Could the Yankees have chosen players from other minor league teams for $12,000 or did their lack of room on the 40-man roster prevent it?

The lack of 40-man space has nothing to do with the ability to make picks in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. The minor league phase is pretty complicated, so I’ll direct you to this J.J. Cooper explanation. I don’t even fully understand it. All I know is that if you take a player in the minor league phase, he’s yours to keep. Those guys do not have to go through the same roster hoops as the players drafted in the Major League portion. The Rule 5 Draft exists as a way to give players an opportunity with a new organization if they’re buried or overlooked by their current team, and, for the most part, it accomplishes that goal.

Mailbag: Cano, Mo, Overbay, Joba, Montero

Rapid fire mailbag this week, so ten questions and ten answers. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Max asks: At what point should we worry about Robinson Cano‘s bad lefty splits going forward? He’s hitting .254/.299/.476 against lefties this year and had a .239/.309/.337 line last year. Sure, he still mashes righties but I’m really not comfortable with the idea of giving a potential platoon player a megadeal. Thanks.

Oh it’s definitely a red flag right. Cano hit lefties nearly as well as he hit righties until last season, when his performance fell off a cliff. I looked at the data as part of our season review and didn’t find any significant red flags. This year though, both his ground ball (56.3%) and strikeout (22.4%) rates are way up against southpaws. That could change in a hurry since it’s so early in the season. If that continues into the summer, I’d be very worried. Giving a super-long contract to a middle infielder is risky enough, and it would be even worse if he’s morphed into a platoon bat. Not worried yet, but I will be watching this.

Steve asks: Single-season saves record is Francisco Rodriguez at 62. Mariano Rivera is on pace for 66. What are the odds he does it?

This isn’t really a Mo thing, right? The other 24 players on the team have to create those save opportunities for him. They’d have to give him like, 67 save chances over the full season to get to 62 saves, which means another 51 save chances in the final 121 games of the year. It’s doable, the Yankees play a ton of close games because their pitching is good and their offense mostly stinks (94 wRC+!), but only twice has someone saved more than 55 games in one year. I think the odds are very small, maybe 5% on the high-end.

Vinny asks: Assuming Travis Hafner gets and stays healthy (big assumption), what will the Yankees do with Lyle Overbay whenever Mark Teixeira comes back? His performance against righties has been excellent.

His performance against righties has been excellent (160 wRC+), but so has Hafner’s (151 wRC+). Pronk also does a much better job of holding his own against southpaws (98 wRC+, where Overbay has been basically useless (-21 wRC+). Their overall hitting numbers aren’t particularly close either (106 vs. 139 wRC+). The Yankees will have to decide if Overbay’s advantages on defense and durability make up the difference in offensive production. Considering he’s a first baseman and first baseman only, I think the answer is clearly no.

The rarely seen Cesar Cabral. (Star-Ledger)
The rarely seen Cesar Cabral. (Star-Ledger)

Brad asks: Do you see the Yankees shopping for another LOOGY? Or do you believe Brian Cashman will wait to see what Clay Rapada and/or Cesar Cabral can contribute?

I definitely think they will see what they have internally first. That means Vidal Nuno and maybe even Josh Spence in addition to Rapada and Cabral. If those guys all manage to flop — or if Boone Logan gets hurt — in the coming weeks, yeah I could see them looking for lefty relief help at the deadline. It definitely isn’t a pressing need right now.

KG asks: Would the Yankees have the interest/package to trade for Nick Franklin? He may not end up a bonafide major league shortstop, but the Mariners have Dustin Ackley at second and Brad Miller just behind Franklin. Pipe dream?

I’m sure there would be some interest on New York’s part, but I don’t see why the Mariners would move him right now. He’s tearing up the Triple-A level (159 wRC+) and even though he’s unlikely to be a shortstop long-term, he’s much better than their big league shortstops. Ackley is awful but they won’t give up on him yet, but Miller is far from a sure thing. I think the Mariners will call Franklin up in the coming weeks and give him a chance. The only thing the Yankees have to offer are a bunch High-A and Double-A outfielders, none of whom is performing particularly well this year. I don’t really see a trade fit.

Anonymous asks: With Seattle having uber-catching prospect Mike Zunino just about ready for the show — any chance Seattle will take offers for Jesus Montero? What would the Yankees have to give to reacquire Jesus?

Teams usually aren’t quick to admit failure after a trade of that magnitude, so I don’t think Seattle would be open to moving Montero so soon without getting a big piece in return. They’re not going to sell-low and take two Grade-C prospects despite his dismal big league performance. The Yankees could stick him at DH, teach him first base, catch him on rare occasions … basically everything they could have done when he was with the organization. I don’t see this happening at all.

Anonymous asks: Do you believe the Yankees are planning to trade Joba Chamberlain for pieces around the deadline, considering the Yankees’ surplus of middle relief options? Joba could bring back a cost-controlled piece.

He’s an injury-prone middle reliever who will be a free agent after the season. You don’t get “pieces” in return for that, and the only cost-controlled piece he’ll bring back in a mid-level prospect. Joba’s value to the Yankees as a seventh inning reliever is much greater than anything they’ll realistically get in return. Teams aren’t giving up anything worthwhile for him, I know I wouldn’t.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Mike asks: Sort of a two-part David Aardsma question now that the Marlins released him. Firstly, why are teams not giving him a shot in the Majors, and secondly, would it make sense for the Yanks to go pick him up again?

I don’t know why he hasn’t been given a big league shot yet, but I don’t believe it’s because he’s been overlooked. Teams know Aardsma, and anytime a former standout closer becomes a free agent, he gets looked into. They must not like what they’ve seen, either in his stuff or command — he did walk eight in 14 innings before the release, which he requested — or whatever. If Aardsma wants to come back to the organization and pitch in Triple-A for a few weeks, great. I wouldn’t give him a big league job over Shawn Kelley or Preston Claiborne (or Joba) right now though.

Tuckers asks: I know it’s too soon to predict, but what do you think about the Yankees signing Tim Lincecum after the season? I think there’s a good argument to be made either way.

My answer at this exact moment is no. That is subject to change between now and the offseason, but his velocity continues to hover around 90 mph and his offspeed stuff isn’t as devastating as it was when he was 93-95. His walk (4.25 BB/9 and 11.0 BB%) and homer (0.92 HR/FB and 15.6% HR/FB) rates are career-worsts, and that’s in a big park in the NL. The Yankees do a wonderful job of squeezing production from seemingly cooked veterans, but I don’t think Lincecum is coming on a cheap one-year deal. So yeah, right now my answer is no. If he adds some velocity this summer, my opinion will change.

Brad asks: So the Yankees seem to have a glut of serviceable, young starting pitchers. Is there a deal out there for them to turn some quantity of these into an impact bat?

I don’t think so. I don’t see any team giving up an impact back for guys like Ivan Nova and David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno. Two or three projected fifth starters doesn’t get you one really good bat. Maybe they could get a David Adams type, but that wouldn’t qualify as an impact bat in my opinion.