Mailbag: Colon, Options, Nady Trade, Big Three

I’ve got five questions for you this week, each bringing something unique to the table. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go if you want to send in questions.

Like a boss. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Findley asks: What are the chances that Bartolo Colon makes a start for the Yankees this season? And how would he fare?

I will say small, maybe 10% or so. The Yankees seem to like him in that Al Aceves role (even though we’ve only seen him in long relief so far), the versatile bullpen guy that could give you three outs or three innings. We also have to remember that his velocity has declined steadily during his outings (here’s his velo graph from game one, game two, and game three), maybe from lack of conditioning/fatigue, maybe from being physically unable to hold that velocity over 80-100 pitches. The guy had some major shoulder problems, you know.

I suspect that if he did start, Colon would be average at best. Six innings and three or four runs seems like a reasonable best case scenario, and finding a guy to do that shouldn’t be too hard. I wanted Colon to start the season in the rotation and think he should be there, but that’s only because I think he’s better than Freddy Garcia.

David asks: It seems like so called “toolsy” guys are a dime-a-dozen in the minor leagues. Athletic shortstops who have a great glove but nobody is real sure if the bat is ever going to show up. Obviously some of these guys even make it to the bigs (like Nunez/Pena). So, is it safe to say that predicting what a guy is going to be able to do in the field is a helluva lot easier than predicting his hitting ability? IE if you see a slick fielding high school guy, is it a much smaller leap to assume that guy will be able to do the same things in the big leagues? By comparison, some guy who can hit home runs off HS pitching (or hit for average for that matter) seems like much more of a crap shoot to project (hell, I even hit a few dingers in my day).

Hitting a round ball with a round bat is the hardest thing to the do in sports, so yeah, projecting offensive ability is tough that projecting defense. That doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk though. Players get bigger and might have change positions, which has a big impact on their future defensive value. The professional game is faster than anything these guys saw in high school and in college, so routine grounders aren’t so routine anymore. That said, the athleticism and reflexes needed for fielding a little more obvious than those needed for hitting. When it comes to batting, you’re talking about guys seeing breaking balls for the first time, getting pitched inside for the first time, using wood bats for the first time, etc. There’s a lot that can do wrong there.

But then again, I’m no expert, so I wouldn’t take my word as gospel. It just seems like projecting defensive ability would be a helluva lot easier than projecting whether or not a guy could hit Major League caliber pitching.

Charles asks: Is it possible for a team to exercise future club options early? For instance, is it possible to exercise Buchholz’s club options now, then trade him to another team if they could receive a good deal in exchange? Strictly hypothetical, not logical.

Just about all of these options have windows during which they must be exercised/declined, and that’s usually within ten days after the end of the World Series. Sometimes the contract will stipulate that the team has to decide on an option a year ahead of time, like the Blue Jays had to do with Aaron Hill’s 2012, 2013, and 2014 options this year. They had to either a) pick up all three before the start of this season, or b) forfeit the 2014 option all together. They passed this time around, but can still exercise the 2012 and 2013 options after this season.

Sometimes there’s no window and it’s anytime before the player becomes a free agent. I know the Phillies picked up Jimmy Rollins’ option a full year before they had to. Frankly, I think Buchholz would have more value without the options picked up in your hypothetical scenario. Instead of trying to trade a 26-year-old with five years and $30M coming to him with two club options, they’d be trying to trade a 26-year-old with seven years and $56M coming to him. I’d rather not have the options picked up and keep the flexibility.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Brian asks: So apparently the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is already calling the Pirates the winners of the Nady/Marte trade of a couple years ago. Is it still too early to tell who won? Granted Nady is gone and Marte likely wont pitch again this year, but Tabata has only played MLB level ball for a couple weeks now. And we did get that magical post-season out of Marte in 2009.

I think the Pirates won this trade rather convincingly. Xavier Nady predictably turned back into a pumpkin after the trade, and then he missed basically all of 2009 with the elbow injury. Damaso Marte‘s been a complete non-factor for New York outside of two weeks in October and November of 2009. If you want to fWAR this, the Yankees acquired exactly one win the trade.

As for Pittsburgh, they’ve already gotten two okay (1.1 and 0.9 fWAR) seasons (285 IP total) out of Ross Ohlendorf, not to mention a pair of up-and-down arms (393.1 IP combined) in Jeff Karstens (0.8 fWAR) and Dan McCutchen (-0.7 fWAR). Jose Tabata’s the real prize as a legitimate everyday outfielder. He’s not (yet?) the star we thought he’d become and probably won’t ever turn into that guy since he’s a corner outfielder with little power, but he can hit (career .336 wOBA) and is dirt cheap for the foreseeable future. He’s already been worth 2.7 fWAR by himself, and has a good chance of being a four win player this season.

The Yankees probably don’t win the 2009 World Series without Marte’s great relief work, so in that respect they “won” the trade. But in terms of value added and subtracted, the Pirates kicked their asses, even if none of three pitchers turns into anything better than what they are right now.

Tucker asks: Who would you say has been the most productive big leaguer out of the old big three (Joba, Hughes, Kennedy)? I’m leaning Kennedy but Hughes is right there.

I think it’s Joba Chamberlain and not particularly close. Let’s look at their big league resumes in general terms…

Joba: one full season as a starter (2009), one full season as a reliever (2010), one full season as a reliever/starter (2008)
Hughes: one full season as a starter (2010), one full season as a reliever (2009), one half season as a starter (2007 and 2008 combined)
Kennedy: one full season as a starter (2010), one half season as a starter (2007 through 2009 combined)

Hughes has a leg up on Kennedy because of his relief stint in 2009, and Joba has a leg up on Hughes because of the 2008 season he split between the rotation and bullpen. If you want to get technical and compare fWAR, then Joba (7.5) leads Hughes (6.0) by a sizable margin and IPK (3.0) by a mile.

Who would I want long-term? I’d take Joba if I could move him back into the rotation. If not, then give me Kennedy. Phil’s missing velocity and stuff this year raises a pretty big red flag. Four months ago I would have said Hughes without thinking twice about it. Funny how that works.

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Mailbag: Ohlendorf, Org. Players, Wild Card

This week we’ve got questions about a former Yankee reliever turned starter, plus stuff on organizational players, the 2011 AL Wild Card, and what everyone really wants to know: when do all the aces hit free agency? Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions.

Rock 'n Rohlendorf (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Joe asks: Looking over Ohlendorf’s career numbers and numbers last year, does he pass the Mitre test? (if the Yankees still had him of course)

You know, I was a real big Ross Ohlendorf fan back in the day, when he was throwing that 97 mph two-seamer and sharp slider in relief … though he was never able to miss a bat. That’s held true since the trade. He’s struck out just 5.9 batters per nine innings with the Buccos, and his ground ball rate (38.5%) isn’t nearly good enough to compensate. Ohlendorf also gives up quite a few homers (1.2 HR/9), and left-handers just crush him (.371 wOBA).

Ohlie used that Princeton education to beat the Pirates in arbitration this month, earning himself a $2.025MM salary in 2010. He’s essentially Mitre without all the ground balls and at more than twice the cost, so no, he doesn’t pass the test.

Brad asks: You did a nice article the importance of organization players, but it would be interesting to see if you have any recent examples (e.g, within the last 5 years) of players labeled as organizational players that emerged to be something more in the majors.  Do you have any thoughts?

I don’t know of too many examples, but the best is Ian Kinsler. He spent his freshman season at a JuCo, transferred to Arizona State and hit .230/.246/.262 in 66 plate appearances as a bench player, then transferred to Mizzou for his junior year and hit .335/.416/.536 against weak competition. Baseball America ranked him the 17th best prospect in Missouri for the 2003 Draft, hardly a state known for baseball. The Rangers took him in the 17th round, and it wasn’t until a monster half season in Single-A (.402/.465/.692 in 225 PA) that Kinsler put himself on the map. Considered a defense-first shortstop out of college, the rest is pretty much history.

A bunch of relievers qualify would here, those guys tend to come out of nowhere. Former Yankee Phil Coke and former Yankees farmhand John Axford certainly fit the bill. I know Freddy Sanchez was dangerously close to flaming out at some point before the Red Sox traded him to the Pirates. That’s really all I got, this would be pretty tough to research.

Erik asks: Is there any chance the wild card comes from this division in 2011?  The Sox are obviously stacked, Yanks can hold their own as long as starters can get thru 5-6 innings.  Both Baltimore (check out that lineup) and the Jays have improved a bunch.  You can’t count out TB either, though I think they’re the team that will suffer most this year. All that said, each of these teams play each other 17-20 times.  The beating they could all give to each other will surely hurt the overall standings, when there’s divisions like the West who have much lighter schedules.  I think you’re gonna have to win the East to make the playoffs – do you agree?

Won't have to face this guy anymore. (AP Photo/Chris Gardner)

I wouldn’t get too worried about the O’s. Yes their lineup is improved, but Mark Reynolds, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters all have on-base percentages at or below .330 over the last three years. That’s nearly half the lineup right there. Vlad Guerrero has one foot in the glue factory, Brian Roberts and Derrek Lee slightly less so. In fact, the only regular in their lineup that is undeniably a better hitter than their Yankee counterpart is Luke Scott in leftfield. Plus Baltimore’s pitching is awful. Nice team, definitely improved, but they’ll flirt with 90 losses unless some of their young arms really step up.

I also don’t think the Jays have improved much. They traded their best starter and second best hitter, and lost their two best relievers and replaced them with a bunch of inferior ones. Going in the right direction, yes, but they’re not there yet. The Rays will certainly be tough, and of course the Red Sox will as well, but look at the other divisions. Oakland is improved but hardly a powerhouse, and the Rangers’ pitching thins out real quick after C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. The Twins lost a bunch of bullpen depth but are still a damn good team. The White Sox are probably the favorite to win the division after adding some offense in Adam Dunn, and the Tigers added offense (Victor Martinez) but their pitching to awfully thin once you get past the front three starters and top two relievers.

Ninety wins would have won the AL Wild Card last year, after 88 in 2009 and 90 in 2008. Let’s say the Yankees split their 72 games against the four other AL East teams and go 36-36 (18 games against each), that means they’d have to play .622 ball during the non-AL East portion of their schedule to get to 92 wins, which should be enough to secure a playoff berth. They played .633 against non-AL East teams last year and .528 within the division, so we’re not expecting miracles.  Will it be tougher to get in the postseason this year because teams in other divisions improved? Sure, but all those clubs are flawed as well. You can argue that the Yankees have the best bullpen and best lineup in the AL, which is more than enough to keep them in the hunt until they get some real starting pitching help. Winning the division is great, but I’m of the “just get in” mentality.

Dave asks: For curiosity’s sake, can you put together a list of when various aces are expected to reach free agency, and their age at that time? It would be interesting to see in one place when Felix, Lincecum, and Johnson will become available. Thanks.

After the jump is a list of the top 20 pitchers in terms of FIP over the last two years, and when they hit free agency…

[Read more…]

Friday Night Linkage: Gardner, Draft, Ohlendorf

Here’s some link to check out if you’re stumbling in at 3am…

Could Gardner be the next Nyjer Morgan?

Over at FanGraphs, Matt Klaassen wonders if gritty, gutty Brett Gardner could develop into this year’s version of Nyjer Morgan. Morgan, who posted a measly .320 wOBA and 0.9 WAR in 2008, broke out last season by putting up a respectable .340 wOBA to go with spectacular defense that made him just about a five win player. It was until the Morgan was traded to the Nats at midseason (and moved to centerfield) that he really took off, so maybe the Yanks should just stick Gardner in center right from the get-go.

I’m not bullish on Brett’s offensive ability, but if his defense is as good as the small sample sized metric says it is, he could legitimately be a four win player out of the 9-hole next season. That would be some helluva boost.

KLaw’s Top 50 Draft Prospects

It’s still super early, but that didn’t stop Keith Law from posting a list of his top 50 prospects for the 2010 Draft (sub. req’d). Bryce Harper predictably tops the list, and is followed by righties Anthony Ranaudo and Jameson Taillon of LSU and The Woodlands High School (Texas), respectively. KLaw ranked Lakeland High (Florida) third baseman Yordy Cabrera as the 32rd best draft prospect, which is where the Yanks are picking. At this stage of the game, these are nothing more than a very preliminary rankings, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it.

Ross Ohlendorf is a nerd

As you probably know, one time great Yankee Ross Ohlendorf interned with the Agriculture Department this winter, and talked about his experience with Tyler Kepner. “If there are things that interest me, and I am interested in a lot of things, I try to make an effort to learn more about them,” Ohlendorf said Wednesday. “If I’m going to do something, I want to put in the time to do a good job with it.” Next winter, Rock ‘N Rohlendorf wants to work in the legislative branch, perhaps in a the congressional agricultural committee. If that doesn’t work out, he wants to go home to Texas to work for a private equity firm. I’m serious.

Well, excuse me if being a big leaguer isn’t intellectually stimulating enough for you, Ross. Some guys…

(I kid, I kid)

T-Dubs holds the World Series trophy

Longtime RAB reader T-Dubs got to chill with the 2009 World Series trophy at the State Capitol in Connecticut on Friday. The first link takes you to some photos of his little adventure, and I have to say I’m pretty jealous.

The amazingly incredible Ross Ohlendorf

Tyler Kepner penned a piece on the amazing Ross Ohlendorf, who will spend his offseason tracing diseases in livestock through devices implanted in animals for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s a great read, I suggest you check it out. What I want to talk about Rob Neyer’s take, which for all intents and purposes says the Pirates fleeced the Yanks in the deal that brought Ohlendorf to Pittsburgh last year.

Look, Ohlendorf’s been real good for the Pirates this year, and Jose Tabata has enjoyed a nice resurgence in their farm system. However, let’s provide some context. Ohlie’s got a 5.57 K/9, a 4.74 FIP, and a 5.44 tRA. He’s managed to put up a 3.97 ERA in the NL Central, but wouldn’t anywhere else. FanGraphs pegs him as +0.9 WAR pitcher, which ranks 62nd out of 67 pitches with 150 IP. Brad frickin’ Penny has been a +2.3 WAR player in 23.2 fewer innings and he got his ass handed to him all season. Ohlendorf is servicable, but for the Yanks he was never going to be anything more than what he was: a longman/middle reliever and trade bait.

Ben already looked back at the deal earlier this summer, and said if he was able to go back in time without knowing what the future held, he would have done it all over again. Remember, when the deal was made the Yanks were just two games back of a wildcard spot, Ohlendorf had been banished to the minors, and Tabata had already been disciplined twice for insubordination. It’s not like the Yankees made the move just for the sake of making it. Hindsight’s fun, isn’t it?

Checking in with Ross Ohlendorf

When we heard that Ross Ohlendorf had been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a cog in the Nady/Marte trade, I found myself a bit disappointed. Sure, he was a disappointment as a reliever in the majors, but he was finding some level of success as a starter at Scranton. With the Yankees pitching woes at the time, I thought that maybe he could pull a few spot starts later in the season. Alas, it was not meant to be. He’s with Pittsbugh now, starting for their AAA Indianapolis team. He’s tossed 41.2 innings since the trade, all as a starter, and has struck out 35 to just eight walks. His ERA sits at 3.24. This past Sunday, he pitched eight innings, allowing just one run while striking out six and walking one. He’d tossed eight innings of no-run ball on August 13.

The Princeton Packet, hometown newspaper of Ohlie’s alma mater, caught up with the alum to see how things are going in Hoosier country.

“I would prefer to start,” said Ohlendorf, who went back to finish his coursework and graduated from Princeton in 2005. “Before the draft, I think there was a little discussion about whether I should be a reliever. I relieved some in Cape Cod the year before. I certainly am looking forward to hopefully having the opportunity to be a starter.”

“I do feel like I’ve been getting used to starting again. I need to get back to using my change-up more. I was able to do that. Overall, I’m definitely happy with how it’s going. It could be going better, but I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.”

He also reminisces about his times with the Yanks, particularly about his above-6.00 ERA as a reliever in the majors.

“I felt I pitched well the majority of the time,” the 6-foot-4 right-hander said. “I had four to five really bad outings. I was able to see that as long as I pitched well, I could get guys out. At the same time, I was able to see things that got me into trouble and what I needed to work on to be able to do consistently better. It’s mainly throwing my off-speed pitches for strikes and locating my fastball and not overthrowing it.”

Checking his game log, that statement checks out. He allowed more than two runs in four appearances, getting hammered against the White Sox, Mets, Orioles, and finally again against the Mets, which was the final nail in his coffin. In his 25 appearances, he held the opponent scoreless 13 times, and allowed just one run six times, three of which were in appearances of more than one inning.

Here’s to hoping Ohlie enjoys a long and fruitful career as a starter for the Pirates. Or at least a better career than Bobby Bradley, Sean Burnett, John VanBenschoten, Brian Bullington, Brad Lincoln, etc., etc., etc.

Setting the Randy Johnson trade record set

A sentence in a recent Tom Verducci mailbag set a few Yankees a-twitter this week. “Remember,” wrote Verducci, “the Yankees preferred Ross Ohlendorf over Owings in the Big Unit trade, otherwise he’d be their No. 3 starter and DH these days!”

Now while Ross Ohlendorf clearly has a bright future as a Major League reliever ahead of him — his stuff and his recent 6 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 7 K line are testaments to that — Micah Owings is a desirable starter with excellent stuff. Yankee fans would have every right to be a little dismayed if the team truly favored Ohlendorf over Owings. But the problem with Verducci’s claim is that it’s simply not true.

A few weeks earlier, Verducci’s Sports Illustrated colleague and fellow columnist Jon Heyman wrote about Micah Owings’ role in the Randy Johnson trade talk as well. His take, however, was completely different from that of Verducci’s: “The Yankees tried hard for Owings in Randy Johnson trade talks after the 2006 season, even offering to send Arizona a few million more if they’d include him. No go.”

What Heyman wrote jibes with press reports from the time of the trade in December 2006 and January 2007. At the time, New York reporters offered up differing takes. Some said that the Yankees maybe could have landed Owings if they were prepared to shell out more money for the D-Backs and accept fewer players in return. Others said that Owings was considered to be an “untouchable” in Arizona’s farm system.

While Verducci’s analysis seems off the mark, what Heyman offers seems most realistic. The Yanks wanted Owings as any team would, and the Diamondbacks opted to hold on to their prized prospect. With Ohlendorf on the team, a compensation pick from Vizcaino on the way and the Big Unit’s health issues lately, I’d say the Yankees did just fine for themselves in that trade.