The Morning After: Breaking up the Red Sox

Three-run dinger in his first at-bat last night. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Blame Robert Andino. Had the Orioles’ utility infielder not laced that single off Jonathan Papelbon last September, the Red Sox would have remained alive in the postseason hunt and none of this probably happens. Instead, the ball found grass and the dominoes started to fall when Terry Francona and Theo Epstein walked away from the organization last winter. Papelbon moved on as a free agent, new manager Bobby Valentine was brought in (by ownership?), and the losing resumed.

The Red Sox are mired in fourth place in the AL East, closer to having the worst record in the circuit than they are a Wild Card spot. Prior to last night’s game, Boston was 74-88 in their last 162 contests despite a payroll north of $170M. GM Ben Cherington (Epstein’s replacement) took a drastic step to improve his team yesterday, completed a trade that can be legitimately described as franchise-altering. Heading to the Dodgers are Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and $12M. Coming back are James Loney, prospects Allen Webster, Rubby DeLaRosa, Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus, and roughly $260M of cleared future payroll.

You can make a really strong case that this is one of the biggest trades in baseball history, certainly one of the biggest during my lifetime. Prior to this move, only one player with more than $100M remaining on his contract had ever been traded — Alex Rodriguez when he came to the Yankees in 2004. Both Gonzalez (~$109M) and Crawford (~$107M) are still owed nine figures after this year. A trade of this magnitude has a ripple effect throughout baseball, including an indirect impact on the Yankees. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts on the trade…

  • I think the deal is just flat-out brilliant on Cherington’s part. Yes, he did surrender one truly great player in Gonzalez, but in the process he rid himself of two of the most out-of-favor players in team history. Clearing a quarter-billion dollars in payroll and getting real live prospects in return is the stuff GM dreams are made of.
  • While the Red Sox made a great move for the long-term health of the franchise, the short-term damage is severe. David Ortiz may miss the rest of the season, which means they’ve have very little power in the lineup, particularly from the left side. They’ll have to find two corner outfielders, a first baseman, and maybe a DH after the season (more on that in a bit). That’s not easy to do. On top of that they have to replace Beckett in an already porous rotation.
  • On the other end of the deal, pretty bad job by the Dodgers to absorb that much money and give up those kinds of prospects. That said, they just acquired an impact first baseman, a potential impact starter, and a potential impact outfielder for what amounts to one Albert Pujols financially. The future might be ugly, but that team has a phenomenal chance to win now.
  • For more about the prospects involved, check out my MLBTR post. I really like DeLaRosa, that kid has a great arm. He’s not the next Pedro Martinez or anything, but his mid-90s fastball/power slider combination is true swing-and-miss stuff. Getting him alone would have been a coup for the Sox, but getting another strong pitching prospect in Webster and a useful role player in Sands is icing on the cake. DeJesus is just roster fodder in my eyes.
  • I couldn’t be happier that Gonzalez is out of the AL East. He is having a down year — a 114 wRC+ with Boston after three straight years of 140+ and six straight years of 120+ — but the guy still scared the crap out of me whenever he was at the plate. Gonzalez remains a terrifyingly good hitter and not having to see him 18+ times a year is a win for the Yankees.
  • It must be nice to free up all that cash, but that was only half the battle. The Red Sox have been pretty terrible when it comes to signing free agents lately, plus the new Collective Bargaining Agreements mean they can’t just dump all that money into the draft and international free agency. Reinvesting the savings wisely is much, much easier said than done.
  • I fully expect Boston to pursue Nick Swisher this offseason. They’re going to be looking for a first baseman as well as corner outfield help, and he provides both in addition to being a switch-hitter and all that. He makes a ton of sense for them. If a happens, hopefully they give him that Jayson Werth contract he wants.
  • There’s a pretty good chance that starting with 2010, the Red Sox could miss the playoffs for five consecutive years. This season will already be year number three, and although they have the ability to turn it around quickly, I’m not giving the new GM the benefit of the doubt just yet. This isn’t exactly a soft division. (h/t Jamal G.)
  • Here’s the question: are the Red Sox done selling off players? There will absolutely be a market for Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia this winter, though I can’t imagine Pedroia would go. Ellsbury sure, Lester maybe, but not Pedroia. That would be a stunner. At the same time, I can seem them signing all three to contract extensions and move forward with them as the core. Will be interesting to watch.

Lastly, I consider the trade to be an indication that Bobby V. will be back as manager next season. Instead of firing him they got rid of Gonzalez, a great player and one of his most outspoken subordinates. These rebuild things tend to happen step-by-step — first the coaches go, then the manager goes, then finally the team realizes it’s the players who needed the change. The Sox fired their pitching coach last week, then skipped right over the “fire the manager” step and dumped some players. Regardless of what happens with Valentine, yesterday was a monumental day for the Red Sox in terms of their rebuilding effort, and that’s generally bad news for the Yankees.

The Morning After: Ichiro!

“Dammit Ichiro, I thought I told you to trim those sideburns!” (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The Yankees were dealt a pretty big blow when Brett Gardner went down with likely season-ending elbow surgery last week, an injury he initially suffered back in April. They’ve done well without him but the offense has been devoid of speed and the outfield defense suffered in a big way. A replacement outfielder was definitely on the trade deadline shopping list but it wasn’t a necessity.

After fiddling around with Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Jayson Nix, Dewayne Wise, and even Eduardo Nunez earlier in the year, the Yankees addressed the outfield situation yesterday by acquiring Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners for D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar. Seattle will pay all but $2.25M of his $17M salary. Ichiro will become a free agent after the season, so it’s a straight rental. As has become the tradition following notable news items, here are some scattered thoughts on the trade…

  • Machinations: Apparently Ichiro requested a trade a few weeks ago and the ball got rolling when Mariners president Chuck Armstrong called Randy Levine, which sent shivers down my spine. The trade was perfectly fine, very reasonable, but anytime those above the baseball operations department get involved, I get nervous.
  • Expectations: I don’t expect very much from Ichiro the rest of the way — maybe he gets the batting average up to .300 (and his OBP up to .330) by being platooned properly and he winds up stealing a bunch of bases. Yankee Stadium won’t help him much because he’s a ground ball hitter, not a guy who lifts the ball in the air to the pull side. Perhaps joining a contender bring his bat back to life and maybe his career-low .279 BABIP corrects. Either way his primary value will come on defense, on the bases, and by putting the ball in play. The Yankees have lacked that.
  • Left or Right: Given his throwing arm, it would make sense to put Ichiro in right and shift Nick Swisher to left. Then again, there is more ground to cover in left field in Yankee Stadium. Ichiro hasn’t played left in more than a decade, so that will take an adjustment. I’m not exactly sure which corner would be best for him, but I feel like there is no wrong answer.
  • Durability: One of Ichiro’s underrated skills — and it is a skill — is his durability. He missed a little more than two weeks with an ulcer in 2009 but otherwise has never been on the DL since coming over from Japan. He’s played in 159 games and led the league in at-bats in eight of the last nine seasons. This is a guy who is used to playing the outfield everyday and is more suited to do so than Ibanez, Jones, or anyone on the roster not named Curtis Granderson or Swisher.
  • Marquee Value: Like Derek Jeter, Ichiro is the rare player with legitimate marquee value. He’s going to help sell merchandise, put butts in the seats, and drive up YES Network ratings. That value is generally overstated — he’s not going to pay for himself or anything — but it is real and should not be neglected. He’s going to bring a definite buzz to the team, some of which we saw last night.
  • The Return: With all due respect to Farquhar, Mitchell was the real loss for the Yankees. I always considered him a swingman/long reliever type and the Yankees seemed to feel the same way, but there is value in that as long as he’s cheap. David Phelps pushed Mitchell down the totem pole a bit and the presence of Adam Warren in Triple-A and Brett Marshall in Double-A made him expendable. I would have rather given up Warren — hence my post-draft prospect rankings — but it’s not a huge difference.
  • Pitching Depth: Mitchell was the next-in-line whenever the Yankees needed an arm from Triple-A, so I suppose that duty now falls on the shoulders of Warren.  He was obviously terrible in his big league debut, but one appearance doesn’t define a career. Behind him you have Cory Wade as a call-up option and that’s really it as far as 40-man roster candidates go. The Yankees work the waiver wire and scrap heap as well as anyone, so I bet they pluck an arm of two off waivers for depth in the coming weeks.
  • Roster Spots: The Yankees currently have ten (!) players on the 60-day DL and will need to clear room for these guys at some point. Yesterday’s moves cleared two spots — Mitchell’s and Wise’s — but one went to Ichiro. They have one open spot at the moment and with any luck, it will go to Joba Chamberlain when he’s activated in a week or two. Moving Mitchell helped clear up a logjam of sorts, albeit very slightly.
  • Miscellany: The Yankees replaced the 34-year-old Wise with the 38-year-old Ichiro, let’s stop acting like the roster got lifetimes older … I hope Ichiro goes on to have a monster David Justice-esque second half but the Yankees don’t trick themselves into thinking he’s worth a spot on next year’s team as a stopgap outfielder … how about Farquhar? Dude went from waiver claim and being designated for assignment twice this season to being traded for a future Hall of Famer … I’m still in awe that Brian Cashman and the Yankees in general are able to make all these significant moves completely under-the-radar, there are no leaks whatsoever. This came out of the blue.

The Yankees plugged a relatively small hole with a move that was notable only because it involved a historic player. Ichiro is obviously well past his prime and any thoughts of a revival are wishcasting at its finest. He can still be useful on defense and on the bases, but the Yankees will wisely bat him near the bottom of the lineup. Ichiro’s a fun and entertaining player, and sure hope the Yankees can help get him that World Series ring he surely covets.

The Morning After: Joba Chamberlain

(REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

The Yankees got some awful news yesterday (really Thursday night), as Joba Chamberlain suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle playing with his son. It’s a really bad fluke injury and I do not recommend Googling it at all. It’s expected to keep him out for all of 2012, but the club is still awaiting test results to determine the extent of the ligament damage and any fractures. Here are some random thoughts and links on the injury…

  • A report yesterday indicated that Joba lost a “life-threatening amount of blood,” but both his agent and father denied that was the case. “There was no life-threatening loss of blood,” said agent Jim Murray while Harlan Chamberlain was a bit more blunt: “That’s [B.S.].”
  • David Robertson was one of those who visited Joba him the hospital yesterday. “He was feeling good,” he said. “[He’s] in good spirits.”
  • The moralizing of the injury was inevitable. People are calling Joba stupid and reckless and while he obviously made a mistake, the guy’s biggest crime was wanting to play with his kid. If trampolines are so dangerous, how come no one is getting upset that he put his five-year-old son in danger?
  • It’s still way too early to know what the Yankees will do with Joba contractually. His one-year, $1.675M contract is not guaranteed as an arbitration-eligible player, so the Yankees could release him anytime before Opening Day and pay him only 45 days termination pay (roughly $415k). If there’s “no trampoline” language in his deal, they could release him and pay him nothing. More than likely I think they’ll wait the season out, see how he’s doing come December, then decide whether or not to non-tender him (he won’t get a raise next year if he doesn’t play at all in 2012). I don’t think they want to repeat the Al Aceves mistake again. Who knows, maybe insurance will cover his salary this season.
  • As for the bullpen, Joba wasn’t going to be back until mid-June anyway. Nothing will change for the first few months of the season, but now they can’t count on adding that power arm at midseason. It creates an opportunity for guys like George Kontos, Adam Warren, David Phelps, and D.J. Mitchell. Chamberlain’s injury opened the door for Hector Noesi last year, and now another young arm will get a chance.
  • Stephen Drew, Jason Kendall, and Kendrys Morales are examples of comparable injuries, as are Yankees farmhands David Adams and Ravel Santana. The recovery time seems to range anywhere from six months to nearly two years. Of course all those guys are position players, and we’re talking about Joba’s push-off leg. If he can’t push off properly, he’ll inevitable blow out his arm at some point.

So that’s really all I have to say. I hope the latest tests show the best case scenario and Joba crushes his rehab and is able to get back on the mound sooner rather than later, but I’m not going to hold my breath. I was really looking forward to seeing him back out on the mound this summer.

Update: Via Sweeny Murti, apparently Joba could be released from the hospital as soon as today. The MRI results are not back yet, but the doctors told him there’s a chance he could be back on a mound by July. Fingers crossed.

The Morning After: Andy Pettitte

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Remember what it was like when the Yankees had rotation problems? That was only twelve weeks ago, and since then they’ve added Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda while subtracting A.J. Burnett. Yesterday they put the cherry on top, dragging Andy Pettitte out of retirement and signing him to a minor league deal worth $2.5M with no incentives. To call it surprising would be an understatement.

The 39-year-old Pettitte is very much a unique case. This isn’t Bartolo Colon v2.0, a guy who’s trying to come back after major arm problems at an advanced age. Andy voluntarily left the game a year ago and simply got the itch to pitch again. The Yankees have always left the door open and the two sides eventually figured things out once he decided to return. For more on the signing process and stuff, check out my recap post at MLBTR. Here are some random thoughts and musings…

  • One important thing to keep in mind: this is a comeback attempt, Pettitte isn’t guaranteed to do anything. He could get a month into workouts then decide it isn’t worth it and go back home. He could return to the team and pitch horribly due to age and rust. That would be worse.
  • Another important thing to keep in mind: Brian Cashman told Pettitte not to come back after the Pineda and Kuroda moves. Andy keep working out on his own and still wanted to sign. Pretty clear indication that he wants to do this and still thinks he can pitch at a high level.
  • Cashman said yesterday that they offered Pettitte a one-year deal worth $10-12M in December, and I’m almost certain that would have meant no Hiroki Kuroda. I do not believe they would have spent all that money on those two and then kept Jesus Montero. It would have been Pineda and Pettitte instead of Pineda and Kuroda.
  • I don’t know what the Yankees will do with their rotation whenever Pettitte is ready to go — Cashman made it clear yesterday that he’s going to be a starter — but there’s no rush to figure this out. They can wait the six or eight or however many weeks, then sort things out. It’s cliche, but these things tend to take care of themselves.
  • That said, I think it’s pretty obvious that Freddy Garcia is trade bait right now. He has some trade value because his contract is so much more favorable than Joe Blanton’s or John Lannan’s, and he’s at least their equal on the mound. I wouldn’t expect a ton in return. Maybe some salary relief and a Grade-B prospect.
  • The Triple-A starters — specifically David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell — are getting hosed, but that’s part of the game. I’m pretty sure we’re going to see at least one of these guys this summer, most likely in relief now. I’m also pretty sure one will get traded at some point, but I thought that before Pettitte came back anyway.
  • I am skeptical about how much Andy can actually help the team after a year away from the game, but he did go out on top after 2010. This isn’t a Jorge Posada situation. Posada was forced into retirement because his skills had obviously faded. Andy was still an above-average hurler when he decided to hang ’em up, and that’s slightly encouraging. The year off might even be a good thing for his arm and body.
  • One more little note: As soon as Pettitte appears in a big league game, he’ll reset his Hall of Fame clock. Right now he’s scheduled to appear on the ballot in 2015, but if he pitches this year it will get pushed back to 2017 at the earliest. I don’t expect him to get in, but who knows how much closer he’ll get to 300 wins now.

It’s hard not to love the contract itself. Pettitte isn’t soaking up a 40-man roster spot at the moment and he won’t get a dime of that $2.5M until he’s added to the roster. Chances are it’s pro-rated as well, he won’t even get the full amount. The Yankees now have a ridiculously great piece of rotation insurance stashed away with zero risk involved. The fact that he’s a fan favorite (and left-handed!) is just icing on the cake.

The Morning After: A.J. Burnett

"Two words dude: Primanti Bros." (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

After far too much back-and-forth, the Yankees and Pirates finally agreed to a trade that will send A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh for two minors leaguers and $13M is savings for New York. Let’s round up some miscellaneous links surrounding the move…

  • Burnett will take his physical on Sunday, and the trade should become official on Monday afternoon. Once that happens, the Yankees will move toward signing both Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez for roughly $1M each. (Sweeny Murti, Erik Boland, Jon Heyman & Joel Sherman)
  • Remember all that talk about the Mystery Team? Apparently it was the Phillies, who would have had to trade Joe Blanton for salary relief to make it work. That’s just … weird. Not sure I follow Philadelphia’s logic there. (Buster Olney)
  • If you’re still curious about Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones, I recommended reading the trade recaps at Pirates Prospects and Baseball America. There’s a tiny chance Moreno turns into a semi-useful reliever, but I wouldn’t count on it. This deal was all about freeing up money.

Every since we first found out that the Yankees were shopping Burnett, I’ve been saying I didn’t expect them to trade him. I certainly didn’t expect them to get $13M salary relief in a potential deal. I figured they’d be lucky to get $8M back. Then again, I’m constantly wrong about this stuff. Saving that much on a pitcher they had very little use for is a good deal in my book, even though paying $20M for A.J. to pitch elsewhere is less than ideal.

The Morning After: Pineda & Kuroda

(Pineda via AP, Kuroda via Getty)

After a winter of all talk and no action, Brian Cashman made his two biggest moves in roughly two years in the span of an hour or so last night. First he acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi, then he agreed to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal worth $10M. Just like that, the rotation went from question mark to strength. Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes went from the three, four, and five starters to fighting  for one rotation spot. It’s pretty awesome.

We’re going to analyze these moves from every freakin’ angle in the coming days, I’m sure of it, but for now let’s start with a collection of thoughts and links…

  • Cashman said over and over again that he didn’t like the pitching prices this offseason, and sure enough his patience was rewarded. After four years of Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez were each traded for a package of four young players earlier this winter, Cashman got five years of Pineda for just two young players, and he got the Mariners to kick in another prospect as well. Pineda was a steal compared to Latos and Gio.
  • My prospect game is slipping with age, and frankly I had never heard of Campos until the trade. Baseball America provided a full scouting report on the right-hander in their trade analysis, which I recommend reading to familiarize yourself with him. It’s free, you don’t need a subscription. Both Kevin Goldstein and John Sickels considered him the fifth best prospect in the M’s system.
  • There are a lot of great trade recaps out there, but I highly recommend Lookout Landing’s. Jeff Sullivan killed it when he wrote about the emotional disappointment involved with trading young players. We’re all going to miss Montero, but the fans in Seattle feel the same way about Pineda.
  • Assuming he throws a substantial amount of innings, I bet Noesi has a really good year in that division and in that ballpark with that defense next season. Don’t be surprised if he outpitches Pineda in terms of ERA and people are declaring him the “real loss” in the trade by the end of the year.
  • I honestly have no idea what they’re going to do with that last rotation spot, assuming CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda, and Kuroda are locks for the first four spots (in some order). Chances are the Yankees don’t even know what they’re going to do either, and I bet my opinion about what they will/should do will change by the day. Is there a right answer? I’m not sure.
  • I also don’t know what the Yankees will do about their now vacant DH spot, but I highly doubt they’ll sign Prince Fielder. I mean, maybe if he’s willing to do a one-year, $20M “pillow” contract, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think they’re more likely to start the year with a rotating DH than they are to sign or trade for a new one.
  • The ESPN Stats & Info Blog put together a great statistical look (with heat maps!) at Pineda, Kuroda, and Montero. It’s relatively short and painless, but informative.

I’ll close with this: it never ceases to amaze me how the Yankees — in the biggest media market in the sport — manage to pull off these deals with no leaks. Pretty much everything they do is a surprise. We heard nothing about their interest in Pineda until after the trade was made, and although we knew they liked Kuroda, we never heard they were close to a deal. The quiet weeks earlier in the offseason were frustrating, but the surprise sure is fun.