Mailbag: McCann, Rule 5 Draft, Ryan, Shortstops

Five questions for you this week and they’re all good ones. Might be biased, but I this is a quality mailbag. Send us any questions or comments or whatever through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Many people asked: What about signing Brian McCann this offseason?

Not sure what sparked it, but we got a ton of McCann questions this week. I guess people are just sick of watching the team’s current catchers on a daily basis.

Anyway, the 29-year-old McCann is scheduled to become a free agent this winter for first time in his career. A right shoulder injury really hampered him last season (87 wRC+), but he’s rebounded very well from offseason surgery to produce a .258/.333/.472 (125 wRC+) line that is right in line with his career norms (117 wRC+). Surgery on the front shoulder is a scary thing for a hitter, but McCann has come back very well and hasn’t seen a slip in his performance. It’s encouraging if nothing else.

Elite catchers — if McCann isn’t considered elite, then he’s damn close — almost never hit the open market, so McCann will be one of the hottest commodities out there this winter. Yadier Molina signed a five-year, $75M extension last year and I think that’s the baseline for McCann. Yes, we’re comparing an extension to a free agent, but Molina is also the better player. I think 5/75 is in the ballpark at least. Seems reasonable enough to me.

Now, the problem with signing a soon-to-be 30-year-old catcher to a five-year contract is that you can’t expect him to catch full-time all five years. It could happen, but McCann would be the exception and not the rule. I think you have to go into the deal thinking he can catch full-time for the first two years, split the third year at catcher and first base, then split the fourth and fifth years at first base and DH. Maybe you get lucky and you get three years as a full-time catcher instead of two.

McCann makes a ton of sense for the Yankees for many reasons. First and foremost, he’s a massive upgrade over their current catchers. He’s better than all of them put together. Secondly, he’s a left-handed hitter who should see his production tick up with the move into Yankee Stadium. Third, he has plenty of experience with division and playoff races and all that stuff. And fourth, the timeframe works well. A young catcher like Austin Romine or J.R. Murphy could be broken in slowly these next few years a la late-1990s Jorge Posada, and if things break right down the line, Gary Sanchez will be able to step in right when McCann is turning into a pumpkin. He’s a great, great fit for New York.

Slade. (Presswire)
Slade. (Presswire)

Nick asks: Who is Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason?

For all intents and purposes — there are some exceptions, players drafted particularly young or old — it’s high school players from the 2009 draft and college players from the 2010 draft this year. International players who signed at 18 or younger prior to 2008 or signed at 19 or older prior to 2009 are eligible as well. It’s always tough to pin down the international guys because we usually don’t know the exact date they signed.

The Yankees already took care of one piece of Rule 5 Draft business by adding Murphy to the 40-man roster this month. He would have been eligible this year and obviously would have been protected. As best I can tell, the following players are also Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter: CF Slade Heathcott, RHP Shane Greene, RHP Bryan Mitchell, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Chase Whitley, and RHP Zach Nuding. That appears to be it among the legitimate prospects. Sanchez has at least one and possibly two more years to go before becoming eligible..

Heathcott is obviously going to be protected since he is one of the team’s top prospects. Greene, Kahnle, Burawa, and Whitley are all damn near MLB ready and would be prime Rule 5 Draft bait. All four would get picked if left unprotected. The Yankees floated Kahnle’s name in trade talks before the deadline (for both Alfonso Soriano and Michael Young), which leads me to believe they are leaning against not protecting him. They were trying to get something before losing him for nothing. Greene had the best year of those four and is the only one with a realistic chance of starting.

Mitchell has a great arm but it’s hard to believe he could stick on a 25-man roster all of next season. He’s someone who would get a look in Spring Training and be offered back, more than likely. Nuding too. That said, Jose Ramirez was in the same boat last year and he wound up being protected. The Yankees have been rather aggressive when it comes to protecting Rule 5 Draft guys in recent years — I feel like almost losing Ivan Nova to the Padres in 2008 scared them into protecting everyone — so I wouldn’t be surprised if they added Heathcott, Greene, Burawa, Whitley, and Mitchell to the 40-man this winter. Greene, Burawa, and Whitley would be up-and-down bullpen options as soon as next summer, if nothing else.

Kevin asks: As bad as the farm system was this year, doesn’t it seem just as likely next year could be a bounceback season? Say two of Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Heathcott bounce back, Sanchez stays steady, and Greg Bird and Rafael DePaula continue to progress, can’t you see next year we’re talking about a Top 10 system? This stuff seems to considerably vary year-to-year.

Definitely. This was a bad year for the farm system but there is a lot of potential room for improvement. Literally every team has those “if this guy bounces back, if that guy stays healthy, etc.” prospects, but the Yankees have more than most. They’re adding what amounts to five first round talents into the system as well: 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, LHP Ian Clarkin, RHP Ty Hensley, and LHP Manny Banuelos. The first three were this summer’s first rounders and will be playing in their first full pro season while Hensley (2012 first rounder) and Banuelos (2012 top prospect) will be returning from injury. Full years from SS Abi Avelino and RHP Luis Severino will help as well. A lot would have to break right — it all won’t, some of these guys will inevitably disappoint — but the farm system has a chance to take a major, major step forward in 2014.

Huff. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Huff. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Paul asks: When does Joe Girardi have to announce a starter for a game? Is he able to use his Phil Hughes/David Huff tandem to somehow get the opposing manager to start his lefty-heavy lineup while starting Huff instead of Hughes?

The rulebook says that the starting pitcher becomes official when the lineup cards are exchanged at home plate before the start of the game. At that point the listed starter must face at least one batter before he can be replaced like every other pitcher. So, if they wanted the other team to start their lefty-mashing lineup against Hughes and replace him with Huff, they would have to wait at least one batter.

That said, this isn’t all that practical because Huff will need some time to warm up and the other club would see him getting ready in the bullpen beforehand. There’s also a gamesmanship aspect to this. I don’t think something like this would go over well around the game. If Hughes were to get hurt? Sure. But otherwise … eh.

Justin asks: Two part Brendan Ryan question. Recently, the YES announcers have quoted Kevin Long saying he could “fix” Ryan’s swing. A) Do you think that he can bring him to respectability of maybe a .260 hitter? B) Is he a better 2014 option over Jhonny Peralta or Stephen Drew?

Long is just a hitting coach, not a miracle worker. Ryan has never been an adequate hitter — career .252/.303/.341 hitter … in Triple-A — and it’s hard to think Long could do anything that would suddenly transform him from a .238/.300/.321 career big league hitter into say, a .260/.320/.350 guy for even one year. It could happen, baseball is weird like that, but I don’t think there’s enough starting material here for that to happen.

As for 2014, I think Ryan would be my last resort at shortstop. Well, second to last ahead of Eduardo Nunez. (Sorry Eddie, I’m over you.) I prefer Drew — a slick defender and a Yankee Stadium-friendly lefty hitter — over Peralta by quite a bit among free agent options, but both guys would be real nice fits next year. Drew could play short while Peralta takes over at third for the presumably suspended Alex Rodriguez. I do think — and this is completely baseless, by the way, just a guess — the Yankees want to avoid Biogenesis/PED guys going forward though, so Peralta might be a non-option. Ryan’s been a nice little late-season pickup but I absolutely do not want that guy penciled in as the number one shortstop come Opening Day.

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2012 Rule 5 Draft Liveblog

10:45am: The Yankees did not take or lose any players in the Rule 5 Draft, in either the Major League or Minor League phase.

9:50am: The Rule 5 Draft marks the unofficial end of the Winter Meetings as executives will leave the meetings in droves in about an hour or two. Clubs will spend some time (and cash) this morning hoping to grab the next Johan Santana or Dan Uggla, or even just the next Joe Paterson or Lucas Luetge. Digging up a useful left-handed matchup reliever is a pretty great return on a Rule 5 pick.

Only three of last year’s Rule 5 picks managed to stick with their new team, highlighted by Luetge. The Mariners kept him, the Orioles kept infielder Ryan Flaherty, and the Astros kept right-hander Rhiner Cruz. The Yankees selected two players last year but neither made it out of Spring Training healthy. Right-hander Brad Meyers hurt his shoulder in an offseason workout, spent the entire season on the DL, then was returned to the Nationals after the season. Lefty Cesar Cabral nearly made the team out of camp before breaking his elbow. He’s still with the Yankees and will get another look in Spring Training.

The Yankees have a full 40-man roster and are unable to make a selection today, but they do have a handful of players who could be picked. Left-hander Vidal Nuno and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte were mentioned as possible selection candidates by Baseball America (subs. req’d), though Venditte has gone undrafted in each of the last two years and he’s now coming off right shoulder surgery as well. Marc Hulet at FanGraphs tabbed right-hander Graham Stoneburner as one of the draft’s best available players. I honestly can’t remember the last time the Yankees lost a player in the Rule 5 Draft and regretted it.

The Rule 5 Draft rules are pretty simple and if you’ve been reading RAB long enough, surely you know them by now. If not, I recommend taking a quick glance at the Wikipedia page. The draft is scheduled to begin at 10am ET and usually lasts a half-hour or so. I’ll liveblog the whole thing here because hey, someone’s gotta do it. All you hot stove talk should go here.

Mailbag: A-Rod, Dice-K, Rule 5 Draft

I took it a little easy this week, so I only have three questions for you. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions or anything else.

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Roy asks: Do you think that Alex Rodriguez will be so rusty as to be useless between now and the postseason? I expect that he will take a long time to be back in sync. Just a gut feeling.

Useless is a pretty strong word, but I am definitely concerned about his hand injury lingering and negatively impacting his production when he returns. I don’t just mean being rusty, but not having enough time to rebuild strength in the hand. It’s not at all uncommon for hand, finger, and wrist issues to linger like that even after the break is fully healed. If you can’t grip the bat properly, you’re not going to hit Major League pitching. It’s as simple as that.

For A-Rod, the concern is even greater since it’s his left (bottom) hand. The entire front arm — shoulder, wrist, hand, etc. — is where the power comes from, and that’s where the injury happened. What’s the old saying, the bottom hand is the car and the top hand is the driver? If the car isn’t working right, the driver is irrelevant. Rust and not seeing live pitching for a while is just a small part it. If A-Rod has lost too much strength in that hand during the downtime, he might be physically unable to drive the baseball with the authority when he comes back, at least initially. That’s what I’m worried about.

Chris asks: If the Yankees bring Hiroki Kuroda back next year do you think it would be worth it to try and bring in Dice-K for one year at say $4-6M? Scott Boras might want him to take a one-year show me deal and I think Kuroda might be able to get through to him.

Oh hell naw. He’s coming off the Tommy John surgery now so pretty much anything he does this year can be thrown right out the window as far as evaluating him going forward, but Daisuke Matsuzaka’s been around a while and we’re all well aware of what he is. He nibbles and avoids contact to the extreme despite having the stuff (at least pre-surgery) to challenge hitters, which results not just in walks, but also hitter’s counts. Those are the real problem, not so much all the ball fours.

Dice-K isn’t all that young anymore (32 next month) and even in his best years he was a low-4.00s FIP pitcher. He’s also been an extreme fly ball pitcher (career 36.2% grounders) and when you combine that with the walks (4.29 BB/9 and 11.00 BB%) and Yankee Stadium, you’re looking at a lot of multi-run homers. An NL team with a big park like the Dodgers, Giants, or even the Mets makes a ton more sense for Dice-K as a player, who needs to rebuild his value on a one-year deal. Staying in the AL East won’t do that, no matter how buddy-buddy he is with Kuroda. This one’s a definite no for me.

Travis asks: Who is Rule V eligible next offseason?

Marshall via Mike Ashmore.

The general rule of thumb is high schoolers drafted four years ago (2008) and college players drafted three years ago (2009). There are some exceptions, like Corban Joseph. He was a high schooler drafted in 2008 but had to be added last season because he was a little older than most kids when he graduated. Anyway, the big name this year is right-hander Brett Marshall. I’m not his biggest fan but he’s a no-brainer, you add that guy to the 40-man roster. If the Yankees leave him unprotected, he’d be a candidate to go first overall in December’s draft.

The rest of the drafted player crop is highlighted by right-handers Graham Stoneburner and Mikey O’Brien, though I don’t think the Yankees should protect either. I have a hard time believing both could stick on a big league 25-man roster all season. Adding Ryan Pope or Addison Maruszak to the 40-man would be a huge reach as well. Both are having nice years in Double-A but aren’t actual prospects. Fringe guys all the way.

It’s always tougher to tell which international free agent signees are eligible because their exact signing dates are unclear. I’m almost certain outfielder Abe Almonte is Rule 5 eligible this winter and I’m really on the fence about him. He’s been solid in Double-A while batting injury (.353 wOBA) and is a speedy, leadoff type of center fielder. Utility man Jose Pirela may be eligible as well, but I’d have no problem leaving him unprotected. He had a solid year in Double-A overall (.365 wOBA), but he was repeating the level and it was basically just a great first half.

Ultimately, I think the Yankees should only protect Marshall this offseason (among the player that I know are Rule 5 eligible). Almonte, Pirela, O’Brien, and Stoneburner may be capable of helping the Yankees down the line, but they’re unlikely to next season. There are already too many players like that on the 40-man. Sometimes the best way to keep a player is leave them unprotected like Ivan Nova in 2008. He wasn’t big league ready so it was inevitable that he was coming back. Those four are in the exact same boat for me.

Update: Left-hander Nik Turley is the obvious one I missed. He’s Rule 5 eligible as well. Turley’s had a great season (3.36 FIP in High-A) but I think he’s in the exact same situation as Nova a few years ago. Solid pitching prospect but not ready to stick on a big league roster all season. I wouldn’t protect him but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees did.

The Trade Deadline and the Rule 5 Draft

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

I still feel like the season has just started, but we’re already fewer than seven weeks away from the non-waiver trade deadline. We’ve already taken a very brief look at what the Yankees could be in the market for prior to July 31st, though the shopping list has changed somewhat because the starting rotation has sorted itself out and David Robertson is one day from returning. Brett Gardner‘s elbow injury continues to linger though.

Anyway, rather than talking about needs, I want to spend some time talking about what the Yankees have to offer in trades. Specifically, I want to discuss three young right-handed pitchers: Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, and Mikey O’Brien. All three are having solid years and are pitching at the Double-A level or above, which is when you can really start to get serious about thinking a guy may be able to help your big league roster at some point relatively soon. More importantly, all three guys share one thing in common that is beyond their control: they’re all eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this coming offseason.

The renewed emphasis on the farm system in the mid-aughts resulted in a lot of players being protected or left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft in recent years. The Yankees famously lost Ivan Nova to the Padres for about three weeks in 2008, and over the years we’ve seen guys like George Kontos and Lance Pendleton get selected in the Rule 5 Draft before being returned. Zack Kroenke was selected and returned in 2008 before being retained by the Diamondbacks in 2009.

At the same time, the Yankees have protected hordes of players from the Rule 5 Draft by adding them to the 40-man roster. Right now they’re carrying Brandon Laird, D.J. Mitchell, Austin Romine, Corban Joseph, and Zoilo Almonte on the 40-man for that very reason. In the past it’s been guys like Ryan Pope and Reegie Corona, Anthony Claggett and Kevin Russo, Romulo Sanchez and Chris Garcia. Some saw time in the big leagues after being added to the 40-man, some didn’t. None of them had any kind of impact and were all eventually cut off the roster.

Now obviously protecting a player and possibly getting some mileage out of him is preferable to losing him for $50k in the Rule 5 Draft, but it’s not an either/or situation. The Yankees could also use some of those borderline players in trades before they become Rule 5 eligible to clear up the 40-man roster crunch before it even happens. The Red Sox did this to a certain extent last summer when they acquired Erik Bedard in exchange for four miscellaneous prospects, two of whom — Stephen Fife and Chih-Hsien Chiang — were Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season.

That’s kinda where O’Brien, Marshall, and to a much lesser extent Warren fit in. They’re right on that protect/expose bubble and the question becomes: are they more valuable on the 40-man roster in the coming years or as trade bait? How necessary are these three with similar pitchers like David Phelps and Mitchell already on the 40-man? The answer could very easily be yes, there’s always going to be a need for pitching. That’s not always a given though, not every prospect is going to make it. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean the Bombers should they go around shopping these guys, but perhaps they should be among the first offered when it does come time to talk trade.

The Yankees are carrying 48 players on their 40-man roster right now thanks to the eight 60-day DL guys, but at least three of the 40 healthy players — Dellin Betances, Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa — are unable to help the big league team right now if needed. They just aren’t ready for it. A case can be made that Corban Joseph and Matt Antonelli belong in that group as well. There are going to be bubble players every year with regards to the Rule 5 Draft, and many times the best way to maximize what you get out of those guys is by trading them before they’re even eligible.

Yanks take one, trade for another in Rule 5 Draft

Cabral. (Photo Credit: www.prorumors.com)

The Angels agreed to sign both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this morning, but the Yankees managed to steal the spotlight with their moves during the Rule 5 Draft. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit. The Yankees selected 26-year-old right-hander Brad Meyers from the Nationals with their pick, then later acquired 22-year-old left-hander Cesar Cabral from the Royals for cash. He was Kansas City’s pick from the Red Sox organization. The Yankees did not lose any players during the Rule 5 Draft, and Greg Golson has been released to make room on the 40-man roster.

Meyers was Washington’s fifth round pick in 2007, and Baseball America ranked him as their 27th best prospect prior to last season. “Meyers pounds the zone with a polished four-pitch mix,” they wrote in their Prospect Handbook. “His 88-90 mph fastball bumps 92, and it plays up because of the deceptive angles created by his lanky body [Ed. note: 6-foot-6, 195 lbs.] and high front side in his delivery (video). He has excellent command of his fastball and three secondary pitches: an average changeup, average slider and a short curve that he uses as a show pitch.”

Meyers. (Photo Credit: John C. Whitehead/The Patriot News)

The problem with Meyers has been health, specifically foot problems. He missed some time with a heel injury in 2009, then suffered a stress fracture in his left foot while jogging after the season. He had surgery, returned to the mound, then missed more time because some screws in his foot were giving him trouble. Meyers made 24 starts (and one relief appearance) in 2011, pitching to a 3.18 ERA with 7.5 K/9 and a miniscule 1.0 BB/9 in 138.2 IP. The Yankees are almost certainly looking at him in a long relief role. As per the Rule 5 Draft rules, they must carry him on their 25-man active roster all season or put him on waivers and offer him back to the Nationals.

Cabral is in a slightly different situation. He was a Rule 5 Draft selection last year, so if the Yankees don’t keep him on their active roster but he clears waivers, they don’t have to offer him back to Boston. He can elect free agency if that happens though. Cabral was in the Rays organization at this time last year, though he did not crack their top 30 list in the Prospect Handbook. He owns a low-90’s fastball with a changeup that’s better than his breaking ball, so that doesn’t exactly make him a traditional lefty specialist candidate. Sure enough, he had a reverse split this season and has in the past as well. Here’s some video.

The Yankees apparently liked Cabral enough that they tried to trade with Astros, Twins, and Mariners — owners of the top three picks in the Rule 5 Draft — to make sure they got him. The ended up making the deal with the Royals, who picked fifth. Due to waiver claims and such, Cabral has now been part of the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays organizations in the last year or so. Both he and Meyers will audition for jobs in Spring Training, but as is always the case with these guys, they’re unlikely to stick.