Mailbag: Mark Trumbo & Shaun Marcum

I’ve only got two questions for you this week, but they’re good ones and the answers are kinda long. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything through the week, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Many asked: What about Mark Trumbo?

As soon as the Angels agreed to sign Josh Hamilton, everyone kinda assumed they would then turn around and trade one of their spare outfielders for a starting pitcher (like R.A. Dickey). Mike Trout obviously isn’t going anywhere and Vernon Wells is useless, so that leaves Peter Bourjos (a no-hit, all-glove center fielder) and Trumbo. Buster Olney reported yesterday that the Halos will hang on to the young slugger, but that’s something they would say even if they intend to trade him.

Trumbo, 27 next month, hit .268/.317/.491 (122 wRC+) with 32 homers this season. He was absolutely terrible after May, hitting just .237/.285/.434 in his final 417 plate appearances and .202/.246/.293 in his final 211 plate appearances. Things got so bad that he was regularly benched in favor of Wells down the stretch. Trumbo is a .259/.302/.478 (113 wRC+) career hitter who doesn’t walk (5.3 K%) and will strike out a bunch (23.9 K%). He’s also a disaster in the outfield since his regular position is first base. Pretty much all he does is hit homers, that’s it. If you’re only going to have one tool, that’s a good one to have.

Power, especially from the right side, is hard enough to come by that Trumbo has a lot of value. He’ll get pretty expensive through arbitration soon (eligible in 2014) because homers pay, though he could be a non-tender candidate within two seasons. Any team who wanted Trumbo could have just signed Mark Reynolds, who is only two years older and offers the same big power but will also take a walk. If the Angels do trade any of their young outfielders, they figure to seek a high-end starting pitcher in return and the Yankees just don’t have that to offer. They match up better with the Nationals, who could dangle a similar player to Trumbo (Mike Morse) if they re-sign Adam LaRoche.

(Jeffrey Phelps/Getty)

Jed asks: I realize that the Yankees’ rotation is pretty much set, but don’t you think that Shaun Marcum could be had for a pretty reasonable price? With such big question marks for Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes … seems like it might be a good idea. Marcum has been pretty solid for a while – I don’t understand the apparent non-interest across the league.

I’ve been an irrationally big Marcum fan for years, and a few weeks ago I wrote that the Yankees should not stop looking for rotation help just because they re-signed Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda. Signing a pitcher like Marcum to a one-year, prove yourself contract to round out the rotation — bumping Nova and David Phelps into the sixth and seventh starter roles — seems like a great idea if the team is willing to spend the money.

Marcum, who turns 31 today, pitched to a 3.70 ERA (4.10 FIP) in 124 innings for the Brewers last season while missing more than two months with an elbow strain. He managed 190+ innings in both 2010 and 2011 after missing 2009 with Tommy John surgery. Marcum has posted solid strikeout (7.48 K/9 and 20.1 K%) and walk (2.44 BB/9 and 6.6 BB%) rates since returning from elbow surgery, but he’s a big time fly ball pitcher (37.3% grounders) who will surrender the long ball (1.07 HR/9 and 9.5 HR/FB%). He has AL East experience after spending the first six seasons of his career with the Blue Jays.

I like Marcum mostly because he’s a total bulldog and extremely aggressive on the mound. His fastball lives in the mid-to-high-80s and he’ll shove it down a lineup’s throat all night long. As Keith Law wrote in his Top 50 Free Agents write-up (subs. req’d), Marcum “goes after hitters like they kicked his dog.” A knockout upper-70s/low-80s changeup is his bread-and-butter pitch, and he’ll throw sliders and curveballs while also sinking and cutting the fastball. His margin for error is quite small given the fringy fastball, obviously.

Brandon McCarthy, who has had at least one arm-related DL stint in each of the last six years and has only twice eclipsed 100 innings in a season, managed to get two guaranteed years as a free agent this winter. I have a hard time thinking Marcum will take a one-year deal to serve as New York’s fifth starter when other clubs will probably offer more opportunity. He grew up in Kansas City and I suppose the Royals could try to make him the final piece of their rebuild rotation, for example. I’d love to see the Yankees sign him for the back of the rotation, which would theoretically free them up to use Nova or Phelps in a trade. I just don’t see it happening.

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The Pitching Backup Plans

(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

If you haven’t headed over to our Depth Chart page in a while, you might not have noticed that as of right now, the Yankees currently sport a five-man pitching rotation of…

  1. CC Sabathia
  2. Phil Hughes
  3. Ivan Nova
  4. David Phelps
  5. Adam Warren

If you’re optimistic, you can say Michael Pineda will take Warren’s spot sometime in June. If not, then I don’t know what to tell you. Either way, that’s not a championship-caliber rotation. The Yankees have some work to do this winter, and for the most part I think the pitching plan involves waiting for Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to declare their love of pinstripes and sign nice little one-year deals to rejoin the team in 2013. That would be ideal.

What if that doesn’t happen though? It doesn’t take much effort to envision a scenario in which Kuroda decides to return to Japan and Pettitte decides to stay home with the wife and kids. The Yankees would really be in a bad spot if that happened because … well … look at that rotation above. Luckily this free agent class offers some solid rotation options, so the Yankees would have plenty of alternatives if things don’t go according to plan. Some of those options are better fits than others, however.

Zack Greinke
The undisputed best pitcher on the market, Greinke is probably looking at a contract worth $120M+ across five or six years. Matt Cain type of money. Fair or not, the Yankees are concerned about how the 29-year-old would fit in New York though. Greinke met with Brian Cashman face-to-face during the 2010 Winter Meetings in an effort to convince him that he wanted to pitch in the Big Apple, but no dice. Cashman wasn’t having any of it. There isn’t a team in baseball that couldn’t use a pitcher of this caliber in their rotation, but the combination of asking price and other concerns make Greinke almost a non-option for the Yankees.

Dan Haren
There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t want their team to take a one-year flier on Haren this offseason. He’s been an ace-caliber pitcher for the last half-decade or so and he’s still relatively young (turned 32 in September), which is all you could ask for from a free agent. That said, there are major red flags here. Haren has battled back trouble through the years and they caused him to hit the DL for the first time in his career this season, plus his fastball velocity has been declining for years.

The Angels were trying to trade Haren before having to make a decision about his option last Friday, but ultimately they came up with nothing and had to decline the net $12M deal ($15.5M option with a $3.5M buyout). The combination of the Cubs pulling out of the Haren-for-Carlos Marmol trade talks and the fact that no other club made a viable trade offer makes me think his medicals are looking pretty grim. You also have to look at it this way: if Haren is looking for a one-year, “re-establish my value” contract, why would he come to New York? A fly ball heavy pitcher in a small stadium in the AL East is no way to rebuild value. The Yankees should look into him because of his track record, but I don’t see Haren as a slam dunk no-brainer they should go all out to sign. Lots of risk here.

(Pool/Getty)

Anibal Sanchez
I’m a pretty big Anibal Sanchez fan and I consider him the best non-Greinke free agent pitching option this winter. He offers the best combination of youth (28), performance (3.70 ERA and 3.40 FIP since 2010), and durability (major shoulder surgery in 2008, but 195+ innings in each of the last three years). Sanchez made a brief cameo in the AL this season following his trade to the Tigers and he handled himself well, plus he impressed in his three postseason starts. Not the sexiest name but a rock solid pitcher. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about an appropriate contract, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a team gets an aggressive and offers the A.J. Burnett/John Lackey contract (five years and $82.5M). I highly doubt the Yankees would offer that much, but Sanchez would be my first target if Pettitte and Kuroda decline to come back.

Edwin Jackson
Keith Law said it best this weekend: “It’s time to accept that this is almost certainly what Jackson is going to be. He looks like an ace, holding mid-90s velocity or better for 100 pitches, but just turned in another season of good-not-great performance, this time entirely in the National League.” There’s nothing wrong with that at all, especially at age 29 and with his track record of durability (180+ innings in five straight years). I’m just not expecting Jackson to get any better even though he’s yet to hit 30. He would be my number two target behind Sanchez if Kuroda and Pettitte don’t come back, number three if Haren’s back checks out okay.

Kyle Lohse & Ryan Dempster
Lohse is going to get a significant contract this winter, maybe the biggest behind Greinke, but I wouldn’t touch either him or Dempster unless they’re willing to come real cheap. They’re two guys who have had most (all?) of their success in the NL and don’t operate with much margin for error. It’s also worth noting that Lohse received a qualifying offer from the Cardinals and would require draft pick compensation. Solid pitchers for sure, but not guys I would consider impact additions for the Yankees.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Jeremy Guthrie, Brandon McCarthy & Shaun Marcum
All three have their warts, but all three have some kind of track record of success in the AL. Guthrie is probably the safest bet while McCarthy is both the riskiest (very long injury history) and has the highest upside. Marcum’s kind of the in the middle. I prefer any of those three to Lohse and Dempster and would consider them solid additions on one-year contracts. Anything more than that is really pushing it.

Because he doesn’t really fit anywhere else, I’m going to mention Carlos Villanueva here. I’m a big fan (perhaps too big), but I like him best as a sixth starter/swingman. I wouldn’t want the Yankees to sign him with the idea of him making 30 starts and throwing 200 innings. I can’t see how anyone could expect him to do that in 2013.

Francisco Liriano, Joe Blanton, Joe Saunders, Scott Feldman & Roberto Hernandez
I wouldn’t trust any of these guys with a starting spot, at least not right out of the chute in Spring Training. To be honest, Liriano is the only one who is remotely intriguing to me. He’s still on the right side of 30 and has a year of ace-caliber performance in the not-too-distant past to his credit (2010). I consider guys like Jeff Francis, Erik Bedard, Scott Baker, Kevin Correia, Dustin Moseley, and Jason Marquis to be minor league contract only options for the Yankees. This is the bottom of the pitching barrel right here, but thankfully there are plenty of other options out there.

Crazy Trade Idea: Swisher for Marcum

(Matt Slocum-Pool/Getty Images)

I don’t do this often, because drumming up trade proposals is the safest way to look like an idiot on the baseball blogosphere. Usually I just come up with a possible trade target, state his qualifications, list what some similar players brought back in a trade, and leave it at that. I’m going to do something different this time, only because this deal seemed not completely insane when it came to me: Nick Swisher for Shaun Marcum.

Hear me out, I think it makes some sense for both clubs. I mentioned last week that one way or the other, the Yankees should pick up Swisher’s option, even if they want to get rid of him. It’s a below-market salary and it makes him a trade commodity, so that’s the route they’d have to go to pull off this swap with the Brewers. Now let’s dig into the details…

Their contracts are close to a wash.

Both Marcum and Swisher will be free agents after the 2012 season, and both comfortably project to be Type-A free agents at the moment. Swisher will be owed $10.25M once his option is picked up, and MLBTR’s projections have Marcum at $6.8M his final time through arbitration. They do note that peers like Matt Garza, John Danks, and Jeremy Guthrie could lift that salary a little higher (perhaps into the $8M range), but even if they don’t, a $3.45M gap isn’t huge. I’d have to think the two sides could work that out.

Their performances are close to a wash.

Despite a sluggish finish (more on that in a bit), Marcum had a very strong year for the Brewers. He pitched to a 3.54 ERA (3.73 FIP) in 200.2 IP, his first time over the 200 IP plateau. That performance is pretty damn close to what he did for the Blue Jays in 2010 (3.64 ERA and 3.74 FIP in 195.1 IP), his first year back from Tommy John surgery. Over his last three years (that’s 2008 plus 2010-2011 because of the elbow injury), Marcum has been worth 10.0 bWAR, a bit below Swisher’s 11.4 bWAR during his three years in pinstripes. Perhaps the salary difference offsets the production difference.

Each team would be filling a need.

The Yankees need starting pitching, obviously. The free agent market is uninspiring beyond C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, the latter of whom isn’t even a free agent (technically). Marcum brings four-plus years worth of AL East experience as well as less risk because he won’t require a long-term contract. The Brewers will lose Prince Fielder to free agency barring some unforeseen miracle, and Swisher can step right in at first base and replace some of what they’re losing in the middle of the order.

Each team would be dealing from a position of depth.

The Brewers are set to bring all five starters back next year, including swingman extraordinaire Marco Estrada (8.55 K/9 and 3.67 FIP this year). They will also have top-ish prospects Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta stashed away in Triple-A in case of emergency. If the Yankees have anything to spare, it’s offense. They’d still boast one of the game’s best lineups without Swisher.

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Ultimately, I would say no to this trade if I was the Yankees, though I think it would be a lot easier for them to replace Swisher’s production this winter than find a pitcher of Marcum’s caliber. That doesn’t mean they should run out and sign Carlos Beltran for multiple years, but they could dig up a productive right fielder. Hell, I bet a platoon of Chris Dickerson and Andruw Jones would be worth about three wins, and if not, it’s easier to find a corner outfield bat than a starting pitcher at the trade deadline.

I do worry about how Marcum finished the season (35 runs in 34 IP across four regular season starts and three playoff starts), mostly because something might be wrong physically. He had the elbow surgery two years ago and dealt with a hip flexor strain this summer. Then again, he could have just hit a wall after going from 15.2 IP in 2009 (all minor league rehab) to 195.1 IP in 2010 following the elbow surgery. Marcum also has little room for error as a soft-tossing (fastball has averaged ~87 mph last five years) fastball-changeup specialist, especially one that gives up a lot of fly balls (39.2% grounders in his career) and doesn’t miss a ton of bats (7.3 K/9 since 2008).

As Joe reminded us three offseasons ago, our trade proposals suck. I fully acknowledge that my trade proposal is dumb and extremely unlikely to happen, but I do think it’s slightly less dumb than most of the proposals you’ll find out there. There is reason for each team to explore a Swisher-for-Marcum swap, but at the end of the day, the Yankees would assuming too much risk while giving away too much certainty.

Mailbag: Darvish, UDFAs, Montero, Brewers

Sorry if you thought it was Friday, it’s still only Thursday. I skipped the mailbag last week for ALDS reasons, and I figured today was the best day to tackle this week’s edition given the off day and upcoming madness tonight. Most of the questions that were sent in are outdated now (who’d you rather face in the ALDS, Texas or Detroit?), so only four questions today. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to submit your queries.

(AP Photo/Chris Park)

Patrick asks: Any way Yu Darvish would accept a minor league deal? Would that allow the team that signs him to have him under control for pre and arbitration years?

No, definitely not. Darvish isn’t coming over for a minor league contract. Japanese players are like everyone else; when they come over here, they are still subject to the same rules. That means pre-arbitration salaries for the first three years of their career, then three years of arbitration-eligibility before free agency. However, as a courtesy to veteran players of the Japanese leagues, MLB and the various clubs have allowed Japanese players to become free agents after their initial contracts expire. That’s how Hideki Matsui became a free agent after the 2005, or Hiroki Kuroda last season.

Daisuke Matsuzaka signed a six-year contract when the Red Sox acquired him, basically simulating the six years of team control. Darvish is still so young that I have to believe whatever team lands him will try to do something similar. I can’t imagine a team would pay through the nose for the posting fee and agree to acquire just the first two of three years of Darvish’s career. A five or six-year deal is in order here, if not longer.

Matt asks: I was reading an old Baseball America Handbook and it said that Rays infielder Elliot Johnson signed with Tampa Bay as a non-drafted free agent. How can a guy not drafted out of high school sign as a free agent? And if it’s possible, why don’t we see more guys do it?

Former Yankee John Rodriguez is another guy that signed as an undrafted free agent out of high school. From the official rules

A player who is eligible to be selected and is passed over by every Club becomes a free agent and may sign with any Club until the player enters, or returns to, a four-year college full-time or enters, or returns to, a junior college.

In English, that means a high school kid can sign as a free agent as long as he goes undrafted, has a diploma/GED, and has not yet attended any kind of college. The best players (high school or otherwise) always get drafted at some point (even if it’s the later rounds), which is why they’re never undrafted free agent. It’s not their choice to go undrafted and become a free agent, the teams control their fate.

Rodriguez and Johnson were the fringiest of fringe prospects, which is why they weren’t drafted. College wasn’t an option for Rodriguez for whatever reason (money, grades, who knows), so he ended up signing with the Yankees after participating in a tryout camp. I’m not sure what Johnson’s story is.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Jeff asks: What will the future hold for Jesus Montero in 2012? Will the Yankees retain Russell Martin and have a catching platoon where Montero can DH on some of the days Martin catches? We know Montero can hit in the majors, so is the best option to ease him into being a major league catcher? What is Montero’s ceiling? Would it be a stretch to think he could have a .400 OBP in his rookie season and drive in 100 RBI with 30-40 HRs?

I’m certain the Yankees will bring Martin back next year. It’s very clear the front office loves him, and he provides very real defensive value while being a non-zero at the plate. With neither Montero, Austin Romine, or Frankie Cervelli ready to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues, there’s a clear opening for Martin on the roster.

Ideally, I’d like to see Montero be the regular DH (against both righties and lefties) while still catching 30-40 games. It’s obvious he’s ready for 600 at-bats in the big leagues, and this is probably the best way to get him that playing time. Any time he spends behind the plate can be a DH day for Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter or whoever needs it. I’m not ready to say he’ll be a .400 OBP/30+ HR/100+ RBI guy right out of the chute, but he has the kind of talent to do that long-term. Something like .280/.340/.460 with 20+ homers would be more than acceptable in my book next season. Remember, this kid is just 21.

Sam asks: If the Brewers lose Prince Fielder to free agency, do you think they would consider trading Shaun Marcum or Yovani Gallardo for a package headlined by Montero?

I don’t think it’s an “if,” I’m pretty sure the Brewers will lose Prince as a free agent. They went all-in this season to try to win with him, they openly acknowledge that, but I don’t think they’re going to go right into a rebuilding mode next year. They’ll still have Marcum, Gallardo, and Zack Greinke in 2012, plus Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and John Axford aren’t going anywhere for a while. That’s a pretty good core right there. First baseman aren’t the toughest players to replace in free agency (Carlos Pena for a year? Josh Willingham?), so they can plug that hole. No, they won’t replace Fielder’s production, but they still have enough talent to win that division.

That said, the Yankees would have to listen if Milwaukee is open to trading a starter. Gallardo is a stud and I’d give up Montero for him without hesitation, but the problem with Marcum and Greinke is that they’re going to become free agents after next season. At least Gallardo is locked up through 2014 with an option for 2015. Giving up six years of Montero for one year of those two, regardless of how good they are, isn’t the wisest thing in the world. I’m sure the Brewers would be open to a deal involving Marcum or Greinke, but I can’t imagine they’d discuss Gallardo.

Setting the record straight

One of the more exciting aspects to the offseason has been the emergence of Manny Banuelos as one of the game’s premier pitching prospects. Last week he debuted nationally, giving everyone but fans in the tri-state area the opportunity to get a good look at him. Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein put together a significant writeup of Banuelos. Ultimately he concluded that Banuelos’ stuff was MLB-ready, but that Banuelos wasn’t ready from an innings and durability standpoint to handle the major leagues. He then concluded his article with a rather odd dig at the approach of Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ front office to the offseason:

In the end, the question of Banuelos’ readiness is less about the prospect and more about the failures of the Yankees to shore up their rotation in the offseason by putting all their eggs in the baskets of Cliff Lee and the anticipated return of Andy Pettitte. “If A.J. Burnett is their number five starter, everyone is happy in Yankees land,” said the National League executive. “If they signed Lee; if Pettitte came back, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Just because the Yankees [screwed] up this off-season doesn’t mean they should sacrifice this kid in the process.”

This is a criticism of Cashman has been bandied about frequently since Pettitte retired. Yet the question remains: what exactly would these critics have liked Cashman to do differently? Did the Yankees really screw up this off-season? It’s true that there were plenty of pitchers available in the free agent and trade markets this winter. So did Cashman err by not landing them? Let’s review, keeping in mind that Lee signed with the Phillies on December 15, 2010.

Ted Lilly: A perpetually underrated fly-ball lefty, Lilly signed a big extension with the Dodgers on 10/16/10. The Yankees never had a chance.

Hiroki Kuroda: Another personal favorite, Kuroda never actually hit the free agent market either. He resigned with the Dodgers on 11/15/10 during the Dodgers’ exclusive negotiating window prior to free agency. When he signed, he said he didn’t need to listen to any other offers once the Dodgers told him they wanted him back.

Jorge De La Rosa: Signed with the Rockies for 2 years and $21.5M with a player option for $11M on 12/3/10. His strikeout rates have always been intriguing, but one could justifiably be concerned about how his career 4.5 BB/9 would play in the AL East. Like Lilly and Kuroda, De La Rosa signed before Lee chose the Phillies.

Shaun Marcum: The Blue Jays traded Marcum to the Brewers on 12/5/10 in exchange for infielder Brett Lawrie. Marcum is currently shut down with shoulder tightness and has never thrown more than 159 innings in a single year.

Aaron Harang: Coming off several poor years, Harang signed a low-money contract with the Padres on 12/6/10.

These are the pitchers whom the Yankees missed out on by waiting on Cliff Lee. Of these, only Marcum could have possibly been a decent upgrade for the Yankee rotation (since Lilly and Kuroda never actually hit the free agent market). However, there are justifiable concerns about his injury history and durability, not to mention the fact that it hardly made sense for Cashman to acquire a starter by trade while he was waiting on Lee and Pettitte to decide.

After Lee signed with Philadelphia, spurning New York for a younger team (ahem),  there were really only two pitchers Cashman could have acquired: Zack Greinke and Carl Pavano. Cashman pursued Pavano, going as far as to make him a significant offer for one year. Pavano rejected it. As for Greinke, Cashman met with him and even listened to Greinke make an appeal for Cashman to acquire him, but he ultimately decided against it. Of all the options, is really the only decision with which one could quarrel. Yet this is why you pay your GM the big bucks. He’s responsible for weighing the performance risk of the potential target (which he judged to be high) against the cost of acquiring the target (which we know to be high).

Ultimately it made sense for Cashman to wait on Lee and  Pettitte despite the risk that neither of them would be donning the Yankee pinstripes this season. He really had no other choice to go all-in on these two pitchers. Was he supposed to fill his starting pitcher slot with the Kevin Correias and Jorge De La Rosas of the league while Lee and Pettitte were still out there? What happens if Lee and Pettitte both want to join the club? The risk of wasting a roster slot with a subpar pitcher was not worth forgoing the potential payoff of a rotation of Sabathia, Lee, Hughes, Pettitte and Burnett.

The alleged “screw-up” of the Yankee front office this season is more a function of things out of Cashman’s control: the timing of the trades, the timing of Lee and Pettitte’s decisions, and the relatively bare starting pitching market. One is certainly entitled to second-guess the front office, but aside from disagreeing with Cashman on whether Greinke would be a good fit in New York the criticism seems unfounded. As unenthusiastic as fans are about the prospect of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in the Yankees rotation to start the year, there wasn’t a whole lot Cashman could do otherwise to prevent it. Sometimes things just don’t go your way.