Mailbag: Hughes, Soriano, Wells, Konerko

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Former Ranger Mike Olt. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Former Ranger Mike Olt. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Alex asks: Guys, do you think that with the haul the Cubs got for Matt Garza, the Yankees could reasonably expect to obtain a Mike Olt type of prospect for Phil Hughes? Obviously the package would be less than what the Cubs got for Garza, but using the framework, could the Yankees get a pretty solid return for Hughes?

Olt, whose stock is down quite a bit this year, ranked 44th on Baseball America’s midseason top 50 prospects list. I like him less than that and think he’s more of a 75-100 prospect, but my opinion doesn’t matter. Teams have their own internal evaluation of every player and that’s most important.

Pitchers similar to Hughes — that means a back of the rotation starter due to become a free agent — who have been traded at the deadline in recent years include Ted Lilly, Joe Saunders, Joe Blanton, Jason Marquis, Erik Bedard, and Jake Westbrook. Hughes is by far the youngest of the group, but age doesn’t really matter when you’re talking about a three-month rental.

The trade return for those guys ranges from a big league reliever (Saunders for Matt Lindstrom), one good but not great pitching prospect (Westbrook for Corey Kluber), four fringe prospects (Bedard), a promising young big leaguer (Lilly for Blake DeWitt), and a borderline non-prospect (Blanton). No one on par with Olt, obviously.

This is a seller’s market though, mostly because more teams are in contention thanks to the second wildcard and no one wants to sell. If you have an asset like a back-end starter, you might be able to fetch more than expected. An Olt-caliber prospect is probably the best-case scenario for Hughes. I do think the Yankees are going to keep him unless they get a legit big league bat in return, however.

John asks: Who is considered — at this point in their respective careers — a better defender in left field, Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells?

Soriano was a complete disaster in left field when he first made the transition from second base, but he’s worked really hard to improve out there over the years. Experience helps as well. UZR has rated him a bit above-average in recent years while DRS has him a bit below-average. I prefer DRS personally, but the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I don’t watch enough Cubs games to say if one jibes with the eye test more than the other.

Wells was never as good as his reputation as a Gold Glover, but both UZR and DRS agree that he’s been ever so slightly above-average in the field since shifting to left three years ago. He’s graded out as below-average in center for a half-decade now. I’ve been pretty underwhelmed with Wells’ defense, particularly his range, but I suppose it is better than the typical left fielder. Defensive stats aren’t precise enough to argue over fractions of a run and whatnot, and at this point I think Vernon’s the better defensive left fielder. Not by a ton though.

Jeremy asks: Hey Mike, what about Paul Konerko? Tradeable, right-handed, free agent next year…

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Joe had a Konerko kick for a few weeks a while back, but I would go nowhere near him. For starters, Konerko has been dealing with some nagging back problems this summer, at one point receiving six (!) injections. Back trouble for older players (he’s 37) is a total dealbreaker for me.

If that wasn’t enough, Konerko really isn’t hitting this year. He’s at .248/.315/.365 (84 wRC+) with seven homers in 295 plate appearances, though he does have a stellar 149 wRC+ against southpaws in limited time. The strikeouts are up (15.3%), the walks are down (8.2%), the power is gone (possible related to the back trouble) … lot of red flags here. If Konerko was hitting like he did last year (26 homers and 132 wRC+), I’d be all for it. At this point I’m staying far away.

Chris asks: Much has been made of teams handing out monster contracts lately, primarily because the term comes back to bite teams in the long run. Could the solution to this be not allowing teams to control players for longer but shorter? Would MLB and the players union be willing to allow free agency after six years from the draft or two years on a team’s 25-man roster (whichever comes first)?

Baseball’s salary structure is very … weird. Players make the least amount of money during what is usually their best years — their first six seasons, during pre-arbitration and arbitration — and the most when they’re on the decline. The MLBPA would absolutely be in favor of anything that moves free agency up, which means the owners would be very much against it. They only like things that keep costs down. Small market teams would have a hard time competing if their best players could leave after two years. It would be impossible, really.

The only “solution” to prevent getting burned by long-term contracts is to not hand them out. Even if you moved free agency up, teams would still overpay for decline years. That seem inevitable. Whenever a huge contract is handed out, like seven or eight years, a lot of times the GM is assuming he won’t be around for the final few years of the deal, when it tends to go really bad. Many of these contracts are handed out with the idea that the worst part will be someone else’s problem. I have very little pity for clubs who get saddled with a long-term deal gone bad. They make their beds, they have to sleep in it.

Mark asks: Do the Yanks need make it priority #1 to acquire a long-term solution at third base this offseason (or before the trading deadline) as it is all but assumed that Alex Rodriguez will be banned for either 150 games or permanently starting either now or next year? Or is it another year of stop-gap temporary players and pray that either A-Rod is back at age 38/39 and that Eric Jagielo is hopefully ready by the 2015 season?

The Yankees shouldn’t count on Jagielo at all when planning the future of the third base position. He was just drafted and even though he’s polished and expected to climb the ladder quickly, he’s still in short season ball and so very much can go wrong before be makes it to the show. It’s the nature of the beast.

I think priority #1 should be finding a long-term shortstop, but third base is pretty much priority #2. This season confirmed it. They can’t count on A-Rod anymore and there are no real third base prospects on the immediate horizon, so they’ll have to look outside the organization. Finding that young guy to hold down the position for the next half-decade won’t be easy, so they’ll probably have to settle on stopgaps for the time being. Hopefully none with chronic back problems this time. Who knows, maybe Jagielo will emerge before they make any kind of trade for a long-term answer.

2013 Midseason Review: Grade D’s

We’ve spent some time dissecting the team’s performance through the first half of the year. Mike wrote about the A’s, the B’s, and the C’s. Notice he left me with the scrubs – the D’s!* Well, at least the D’s aren’t the F’s. Am I right?

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

David Phelps
I know some of you might protest our decision to give Phelps a “D” grade. Whether you’re lobbying to give him a “C” doesn’t make much of a difference though — it doesn’t change reality. He’s not been great overall despite some solid starts. It’s also funny, in a peculiar kind of way, how quickly the shine wears off of a guy.

Anyway, Phelps has pitched to a 5.01 ERA (3.85 FIP) and has been worth 1.1 fWAR thus far. He’s struck guys out at a decent rate (8.17 K/9) and hasn’t given up too many long balls (0.87 HR/9). Phelps has allowed a few too many free passes though (3.48 BB/9) and gives up more hits throughout his starts than one would ideally prefer.

Consistency has been the issue here. Despite several quality starts, Phelps has seen his numbers balloon thanks to some really awful games (particularly of late). He allowed four earned runs in 6.1 innings against Minnesota, nine runs against Baltimore (in 2.1 innings!), and four runs to the Mets in a third of an inning. On one hand you can look at Phelps a bit less critically when you consider that he is and always was expected to be a back of the rotation type of arm. One other hand, results are results. Sorry, David.

Phil Hughes
Getting tired of reading about Phil Hughes yet? Well, we all know the story here – frustrating inconsistency topped off by too many home runs surrendered (1.58 HR/9, here’s the list of pitchers with the most HR surrendered — good to know the Yankees have two guys cracking the top 15). Through 102.1 innings, Hughes has pitched to a 4.57 ERA (4.48 FIP), and has been valued at 0.9 fWAR. In terms of peripherals, he’s striking out 7.74 batters per nine and has limited the walks (2.29 BB/9).

Despite very legitimate concerns over next year’s rotation, it seems pretty clear the Yankees are willing to part ways with the once-heralded Hughes. If they don’t trade him for a bat by the deadline, they’ll give him the qualifying offer after the season, which he probably won’t accept. The funny thing is, as maddening as Hughes has been, he’s still capable of throwing the occasional gem and should he string together some solid starts through the remainder of the season, you know some team will decide he’s worth committing a lot of dollars and several years too. It’s a shame it hasn’t really worked out in New York but that’s how it goes sometimes.

Chris Stewart
This is a tough break for Chris. He’s basically producing at a reasonable level, I argue … for a backup catcher. The problem is he isn’t a backup catcher. After the Yankees elected to forego Russell Martin for Francisco Cervelli, the most obvious predicament in the world occurred. Cervelli was injured and the team had to figure out where to go from there. That’s when Chris Stewart stepped in as the every day guy.

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

So what happens to a guy like Chris Stewart when he’s forced to play day in and day out? Well over 197 plate appearances he’ll hit .241/.316/.306 (.282 wOBA, 77 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR). He’ll take a decent number of walks (9.1 BB%) and will put the ball in play frequently (14.2 K%). He’ll also hit for no power whatsoever (three home runs, 0.65 ISO). Defensively, I think he’s generally regarded favorably. Again, I would argue that none of these stats are necessarily bad, they’re just not good.

To put it in perspective, the Yankees catchers collectively rank twentieth in all of baseball in terms of fWAR (1.1), twenty-fourth in wRC+ (68), and twenty-fifth in wOBA (.275). Obviously, not all of this production is Stewart’s doing, though he’s logged far and away the most innings behind the plate. Basically, the production the Yankees have received from their catchers ranks in the bottom third of all of baseball in just about every meaningful category.

Vernon Wells
Remember when Wells hit .300 with six home runs through April? Remember when folks were wondering whether Cashman was actually a genius for taking on one of the worst contracts in all of baseball? Yep, that didn’t last long. In completely predictable fashion, Wells turned back into the pumpkin he’s been for years — that is to say a grossly overpriced fourth outfielder.

Overall, Big Vern has batted .238/.276/.371 (.282 wOBA, 73 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR). On the plus side, he’s been generally pretty good in the outfield defensively despite a few questionable plays of late. On the down side, he’s managed to hit only four home runs since April. He’s also hit in the heart of order basically all season, even during his putrid May slump.

Given the amount of exposure he’s seen thus far, it’s not surprising he’s shown noticeable splits either (batting .207 against righties). Back in late May, I wrote about Vernon and what we could expect moving forward. Long story short, the conclusion was that he most certainly wasn’t the player we saw in April, and hopefully also not the guy we saw in May. I think this still holds true. Unfortunately, what we can expect is a “D grade” player who was brought to the team out of necessity. Hopefully, he’ll be used more sparingly going forward when and if Curtis returns.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Travis Hafner
First, let me start by saying that I for one am shocked that Hafner has made it to this point. I was expecting Pronk to pull a Kevin Youkilis and suffer some season-ending injury after the first month or so. Surprisingly, he has generally kept himself in the lineup despite some nagging injuries here and there (most recently a foot contusion that happened during batting practice). Unfortunately (and much like Wells), Hafner has been lousy since May and he too, has shown noticeable splits as to be expected.

Overall, Pronk’s batting .218/.314/.407 (.317 wOBA, 97 wRC+) and has been worth exactly 0.0 fWAR through 277 plate appearances. He has knocked 12 balls out of the park though, which is second on the team to only Robinson Cano (though Lyle Overbay and Wells are right behind him with 11). Hafner continues to take his fair share of walks (11.2 BB%) while striking out at a fair pace (26.0 K%).

Pronk was brought on board for one thing: his job is to mash. The thinking was simple. As long as he’s healthy (or at least relatively healthy), he’ll hit the ball. This hasn’t really been the case though. He’s struggled a lot. He’ll need to turn it around for the rest of the season as the Yankees need some much needed depth in the batting the order.

*Mike did not stick me with the D’s. It just worked out that way because of timing. Actually, I claimed the F’s too.

Sherman on the Yankees’ plans for Phil Hughes

The Yankees are said to be “aggressive pushingPhil Hughes on the trade market in hopes of landing a bat, but Joel Sherman says they aren’t just looking for a short-term fix. They want a position player they can control for multiple years. Sherman hears the team will make Hughes a qualifying offer after the season and either recoup a draft pick or get him back on a one-year deal (if he accepts), which they don’t mind. “(They) believe, at worst, he would be tradeable if that were the case,” he writes.

Hughes, 27, has a 4.57 ERA and 4.48 FIP in 102.1 innings spread across 18 starts this season. His strikeout (7.74 K/9 and 20.5 K%) and walk (2.29 BB/9 and 6.1 BB%) rates are better than the league average but not eye-popping, and, as usual, his bugaboo remains the long ball (1.58 HR/9 and 11.8% HR/FB). Hughes would almost certainly benefit from playing in a larger home park, which is why the Yankees don’t expect him to accept the qualifying offer after the season, Sherman says. Given his age and strong non-homer peripherals, other clubs are expected to offer multi-year pacts this winter. Either way, this next few weeks figure to be Phil’s last in pinstripes. It’s just a question of whether he’s traded or walk away on his own.

Rosenthal: Rockies interested in Phil Hughes as a reliever

Via Ken Rosenthal (video link): The Rockies have interest in acquiring Phil Hughes, but they want him as a reliever and only if the price is right. The Yankees have been “aggressively pushing” the right-hander in recent weeks in hopes of landing a bat.

Hughes, 27, has a 4.57 ERA and 4.48 FIP in 18 starts this year, and he hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen regularly since 2009. Obviously his homerun issues would only be exacerbated in Coors Field, but that wouldn’t be the Yankees’ problem. The Rockies don’t have many realistically available bats to help New York outside of someone like Tyler Colvin (7 wRC+) and maybe infielder Jordan Pacheco (46 wRC+). Meh. The Yankees would be better off just sticking Hughes in the bullpen themselves in that case.

Rosenthal: Yankees are “aggressively pushing” Joba and Hughes

2:16pm: For what it’s worth, Rosenthal says the Phillies are not one of the teams pursuing Joba. The turntables have … turned.

12:49pm: Jon Heyman says the Yankees have been talking to teams about trading Hughes for a bat, and the Angels might have interest. “I think he could fetch quite a bit,” said a rival executive.

11:30am: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees are “aggressively pushing” both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes on the trade market. He hears Joba could be moved to an NL club soon. Another source says that while the team is talking about both, nothing is imminent. The non-waiver trade deadline is exactly three weeks away.

The Giants, Braves, and Phillies are among the clubs who are said to have interest in Chamberlain. There have been rumblings of a salary dump trade involving Michael Young and/or Carlos Ruiz with the Phillies, but that’s one I’ll have to see to believe. Buster Olney (subs. req’d) says the Yankees are planning to make Hughes a qualifying offer after the season and therefore seek something worth more than a supplemental first round pick in a trade. Plans change of course, and what the team says and what they actually do are two different things. It’s all posturing.

Poll: Is it time to trade Phil Hughes?

A few days ago, I asked my Twitter followers if they had any requests for my next post topic. I considered a few of the responses but ultimately chose this one: “Make the case that the Yankees should trade Phil Hughes right now.” Well, I’m not sure I personally agree with this proposal, but for the sake of discussion, I’ll give it a shot.

Phil Hughes
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Hughes is out of here at the end of the season anyway! At this point, it seems inevitable that the Yankees will allow Phil Hughes to walk once the 2013 campaign ends. I discussed some potential contract outcomes for Hughes back in mid-May; he figures to have a decent payday coming his way even if he is mostly mediocre for the remainder of this season. You know some team will give him an Edwin Jackson-esque contract. If he finishes the season strong, who knows, maybe he gets even more. Despite the obvious question marks surrounding next year’s rotation, it seems like the presumed austerity budget will prevent the Yankees from re-signing him once he hits free agency. Although Buster Olney thinks a qualifying offer could happen, I wonder whether it actually will happen considering that the price tag would be pretty high if he actually accepted, which could strain the budget.

He’s a perennial underachiever! He was supposed to be a future Yankees ace. Instead he’s a middle-to-back of the rotation type of arm with the potential for the occasional hot streak. He owns a career 4.41 ERA (4.27 FIP) and has never been valued at more than a 2.5 fWAR. Is that useful? Sure. Is it that hard to replace? Questionable, especially if he’s being paid Edwin Jackson money. He also has shown the propensity for giving up the long ball. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher in a hitter’s ball park. His skillset just doesn’t make sense for New York and their stadium. Let the kid find a niche elsewhere. He’s 27 years old. Maybe he’ll figure things out in another season or two. Maybe he won’t. To make matters worse, he’s also had some obvious durability concerns over the years.

Perhaps a decent player in return is plausible! To follow up on the first argument, the team could potentially use Hughes to acquire a player who could help the team now and down the road since he probably won’t be back after the season. Some team will be looking for more starting pitching down the stretch and heading into the playoffs (whether that’s due to their own rotation’s ineffectiveness or injury), and if Hughes continues to put up quality starts he may draw some interest. While I’m not sure that Hughes could bring back a useful player by himself, maybe if he were packaged with one of the team’s better prospects, a quality trade could be possible. If the idea is to shed team salary, then trying to find a young MLB ready position player with a few years of team control would make a lot of sense – especially if the team has soured a bit on some of their own prospects. For what it’s worth, the team has already begun testing the market with him and Joba.

The rotation will be fine without him! With the exception of the last few starts, Hughes hasn’t been one of the team’s more consistent contributors this year. He could become one down the stretch, but who knows how that’ll play out or if it’ll ultimately even matter. The team could potentially piece together some decent starts in Hughes’ absence with Ivan Nova – not to mention Michael Pineda, who will be available soon as well. Frankly, given the offensive woes, it may not make one bit of a difference who pitches anyway unless they’re prepared to throw a shut out every start.

Would you look to trade Phil Hughes right now?

Mailbag: Hughes, Bullpen, A-Rod, Pena

Four questions in this draft-free mailbag. If you’re interested in the draft though, check out today’s open thread. Otherwise, think up some questions for next week’s mailbag and send them to use with the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Kenny asks: What are your thoughts on re-signing Phil Hughes next year to close? Granted, he’d have to want to close and it would take a few other things like Michael Pineda coming back strong, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and David Phelps continuing to progress, but he could dominate there.

Barring injury or a complete performance collapse, there’s no chance Hughes will re-sign with the Yankees as a closer. Zero. None. Not unless they pay him like a starter. Some team(s) will offer him a nice contract and a rotation spot, and that’s where he’ll go. He has no reason to come back as a reliever.

I do think Hughes would be awesome in the bullpen though, and in fact we already know he would be. We’ve seen him do it in 2009 and remember, he was dynamite out of the bullpen late in 2011 and during the postseason. If for some unexpected reason the Yankees don’t need a starter next year, sure, bring him back a reliever. He wouldn’t be open to it, however. The money is in the rotation.

Nick asks: Why not have an eleven-man pitching staff? They have several guys in the pen who can throw multiple innings, and a long man in Adam Warren so I think they can handle it. The 12th guy on the staff seems to go weeks between games (at least for the last few years). The extra bench player could allow them to do more of a platoon with several of their veterans, who are old and have platoon splits.

The easy answer is that a seven-man bullpen is commonplace these days and teams always hesitate to go against the grain. It’s been a while since the Yankees used a six-man bullpen and I don’t see them going back anytime soon. Having the extra arm is always nice, really.

That said, I do think teams could get away with it as long as they have three or four relievers capable of throwing two innings at a time. It also means having no lefty specialist. The Yankees have more platoons than they know what to do with — seriously, pretty much the only positions they aren’t platooning in some way this year are catcher, first base, second base, and center field — so having that extra position player would be nice.

Considering how important the pitching staff is for this team, carrying the extra pitcher (Joba Chamberlain? Shawn Kelley? Preston Claiborne?) over the extra position player (Brennan Boesch?) isn’t the end of the world. I do think a six-man bullpen is more doable that most realize, however.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Biggie asks: If an Alex Rodriguez suspension comes is he suspended without pay? If so, does his entire salary count against the salary cap or is it adjusted? We are almost 60 games in and suspensions sound two weeks away. Add an appeal and this can possibly carry over into next year. What would that mean to the 2014 $189 budget if anything. Thanks!

Well, the suspensions are nowhere close to two weeks away. The appeals alone will probably take months, especially if they do indeed go after 20 or so players. If A-Rod gets suspended, it won’t happen anytime soon.  This labor war party is just getting started.

Anyway, yes the salary Alex forfeits during a suspension would not count against the luxury tax. Ken Davidoff was nice enough to spell it all out today, so I strong suggest reading that. We’re talking upwards of $15M in savings if he does get the 100-game ban MLB is seeking, so it’s a big chunk of change. That can fill a lot of roster holes.

Ariel asks: With our replacement shortstops playing abysmally, do you think the Yankees regret giving up on Ramiro Pena? Do you think he would be playing as well as he has with the Yanks?

You can file this under questions I never thought would be asked. New York has gotten a .216/.286/.289 (67 OPS+) from their shortstops this year while Rakin’ Ramiro has hit .318/.372/.506 (143 wRC+) in 95 plate appearances as utility infielder with the Braves. What the hell is that about?

Now, obviously Pena won’t maintain that pace. It’ll be a minor miracle if he does. A 50.0% ground ball rate and 16.7% HR/FB rate in that ballpark just don’t make sense considering the type of hitter he is, plus the .353 BABIP is a bit above what you’d expect even if he was a true-talent .320 BABIP guy. Pena could always pick it defensively, so that wasn’t the issue.

Considering who the Yankees have used at short and what they’ve gotten out of the position this year, I definitely think they want him back. Of course this kind of production was completely unforeseen, and I don’t think he’ll maintain this at all. He might hit better than he did in the Bronx, but Pena didn’t suddenly become Troy Tulowitzki.