A trade deadline The Boss would be proud of

Despite already having the best record in baseball and a budget (albeit flexible) at its limit, the Yankees owned the trade deadline in a way that would make George Steinbrenner proud.  They got big names in Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood because they were willing to take on salary and not let money get in the way of improving the team.  They also did this without sacrificing any major pieces for their future.  There was no trading Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps, just signing the checks that other franchises were unwilling to write.

In fact, the Red Sox were in on Wood as well, but wouldn’t take on as much salary.  The Sox wouldn’t take on the $1.5 million the Yankees were willing to pay to get Wood (Beware, that link is for John Tomase who’s not the most credible of writers).  So the Red Sox, who by inquiring on Wood think they are still in the race (and they are) let a few hundred thousand dollars get in the way of obtaining him.  Much like the Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira pursuits, the Red Sox had their chance and came up short when it came time to open the wallet (I guess they should have sold a few more memberships to Red Sox Nation).  Can you imagine how thrilled George would be to know this?

While the Astros did pick up a significant portion of Berkman’s salary, the Yankees still needed to commit to paying Berkman, having a down year, $3.1 million for 2 months of regular season work plus hopefully the playoffs.  Considering they have already committed $5.5 million to the DH position in Nick Johnson and we’re in a recession, this was not a tiny pill to swallow.  While upgrading the DH position in a big way was more of a want than a need, they saw an opportunity to strike with the biggest cost being money.  Again they went for it, and again, the Boss would be proud.

There were concerns after Steinbrenner’s passing that Hal would run the team more as a business and less as a fan leading the Yankees to cut back on spending going forward.  So far so good however, as the decision makers decided the increased payroll was worth the increased chances of winning it all.  Did the Yankees, as constructed on July 29th, have a chance to win the World Series?  Of course they did.  Do the Yankees, on August 1st have a better chance of winning the World Series?  Of course they do. Not only did the Yankees step up to the plate and take their shot, but for the most part their main competitors didn’t as the Red Sox and Rays didn’t wow anyone with their deadline moves.   Give credit to the guys signing the checks this year and know that what they pulled off the past few days would make the old man proud.

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Assessing possible waiver pickups

With the trade deadline behind us, teams are limited in the players they can acquire. Rather than having unrestricted trading access with the other 29 clubs, each team is restricted to players who clear waivers, or on whom they make a claim. Yankees GM Brian Cashman harkens back to earlier in this decade, when he, using the Yankees financial might, put in claims on nearly everyone in order to block trades to rivals. This year, with many teams at or above their target payroll, putting in a claim leaves a team at risk of absorbing a poor contract.

Cashman says he expects more activity in August this year than in years past, but considering the lay of the land, that might not be the case. As it stands the Red Sox are behind the Yankees in the standings, so they have a chance to put in a claim first. When the Jays place Roy Halladay on waivers — and they certainly will — the Sox will almost certainly put in a claim. Even then, a team like Texas or Detroit might place their claim first, effectively cutting out the Sox. The pickings could be slim by the time it gets to the Yanks and Sox.

Still, there are some extraordinarily bad contracts out there and not even the Sox, with their relatively low payroll, will dare put in a claim. That could open the negotiating table for the Yankees to acquire that fifth starter they sought last week. Problem is, few if any of the potential options do the Yankees much good. Jon Heyman breaks down the players who will clear and who might clear. He adds those who won’t clear but could be dealt to a claiming team, but the Yankees aren’t in a position to be dealing with those players.

The pitchers include Bronson Arroyo, to whom we should just say no; Aaron Harang, who is pitching like a No. 5 but is being paid like a No. 2; Miguel Batista, who is 38 (!!), hasn’t started a game this year, is walking 5.2 per nine innings, and despite the M’s stellar defense has allowed 10.1 hits per nine; Juan Cruz, who is pitching horribly (and people wanted to kill Cashman in April for not signing him); and Ron Mahay, whose walks would make us want to throw a brick through the TV.

There are still some who could clear waivers. With the Red Sox behind the Yankees in the standings, it’s not likely. As Heyman writes, “The Yankees need a No. 5 starter, and the Red Sox know it.” Yet, let’s not forget that the Red Sox could use another starter themselves. The question, of course, is of whether they’d jettison Brad Penny or John Smoltz for a better option. The further question is of whether any of the might-clear names represent any kind of significant upgrade.

Of the players who might clear waivers, Heyman calls Jon Garland dependably mediocre, while I call him dependably crappy — his K rate continues to decline despite a move to the sissy league; Doug Davis, who leads the NL in walks — and the Yankees already have the AL leader; and Gil Meche, who like Harang is pitching like a No. 5 but is being paid like a No. 2. It doesn’t help that Meche hasn’t pitched a game since July 11 and has basically been pitching hurt to some degree all season. Oh, and don’t forget Uncle Ronny Villone, whose 1:1 K/BB ratio just isn’t welcome back in New York.

With Sergio Mitre holding down the fifth spot, there is plenty of room to improve. But look at the names above. Do any of them represent a true upgrade? Perhaps marginal, but even then you have to factor in the cost to acquire the player. At that point even a marginal upgrade might turn into a long-term downgrade. All that just for a few runs saved. Given what we know about Brian Cashman’s M.O., it’s safe to say that he’ll stay away from this crop.

The best thing that could happen to the Yankees is for some improvement in the bullpen. If Brian Bruney finally regains his form (and he was pretty good in the first 1.1 innings he pitched on Saturday), if Mark Melancon keeps throwing like he has his last three times out, if Damaso Marte can come back strong, and if Al Aceves is really only suffering from shoulder fatigue, the Yanks will have a strong bullpen even without Phil Hughes. While some think it’s too risky to put him back in the rotation after a long stint in the pen, he’s clearly their best option to fill the fifth starter hole. He can always return to the bullpen for the playoffs (though at that point you might see Joba in the pen and Phil in the rotation).

That’s a lot that has to go right, though, including the transition of Hughes back to the rotation. It’s not at all likely, and the Yankees face the prospect of Sergio Mitre or, gasp, Kei Igawa filling the fifth spot in their rotation for the rest of the year. There’s always the Jason Hirsh experiment, but that’s just as unlikely as the above scenarios. The Yankees are not in an easy spot with their pitching staff right now. They can, however, take solace in knowing that every other team in the AL has similar problems. It’s just a matter of whose are more exposed down the stretch. The above-mentioned players aren’t going to turn it around for any staff.

Going After The King

Felix HernandezAs the trade deadline approached late last week, we heard that the Yankees were connected to the usual suspects: Jarrod Washburn, Bronson Arroyo, Brian Bannister, middling guys like that to fill out the back of the rotation. But then something crazy hit the blogosphere on deadline day … the Mariners were actually listening to offers for Felix Hernandez. The next day we learned that Brian Cashman and the Yankees were one of the teams to give Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik a call about his young ace, but ultimately no deal went down. Theo Epstein sure made a valiant effort, though.

It’s hard to think of many pitchers in baseball with more trade value than King Felix. There’s that kid in San Francisco doing amazing things, but he’s almost two full years older than Hernandez. Zach Greinke is two-and-a-half years older, but is locked up below market value for the next four years. Jon Lester? Two years older. Justin Verlander? Three years older. Heck, Joba Chamberlain? He’s eight months older. Phil Hughes is just two months younger than the King, but far less established.

We’re talking about the Justin Upton of pitchers here, a kid who’s already one of the best players in the game at his position but still has his best years ahead of him. He ranks in the top ten in innings pitched (152.1), FIP (3.11), strikeouts (141), and wins over replacement (4.3) this year, and is only going to get better as he enters his prime years. Scheduled to become a free agent after the 2011 season, when he’ll be just 25-yrs old, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Hernandez will become the highest paid pitcher in history. If things go his way, he’s got a chance at being the first pitcher to crack that $200M plateau.

Since we’re talking about the best young pitcher to come along in years, possibly decades, it would have taken a tremendous package to acquire him before the deadline. We’re talking about a Herschel Walker type of trade for the Mariners, one that sets them up at multiple positions for years. What could the Yankees have offered?

Joba Chamberlain? he’s yours
Phil Hughes? sure thing
Jesus Montero? no problem
Austin Jackson? free shipping
High upside, low level prospect like Arodys Vizcaino? you can have two

That’s the kind of package we’re talking about; several young players in their pre-arbitration years, and I don’t mean the Brett Gardners and Ramiro Penas of the world. A package of Zach McAllister, Austin Romine, and Mark Melancon doesn’t even get you invited to the party. If a team like Texas wanted to get in on the action, they’d have to offer up guys like Derek Holland, Justin Smoak, Elvis Andrus, and more. It’s an extraordinary deal that would have made a Roy Halladay trade look like the Joe Blanton trade, given how young and dominant Felix is.

The real question is this: Are you willing to give all that up? Having to part with Joba and Hughes in the same package is really something you want to avoid at all costs, but if you’re going to do it, Felix Hernandez is the kind of guy you do it for. Considering his tremendous performance, about the only concern you can have about Felix is the workload he’s been run through. He’s thrown 1,056 innings since his 18th birthday, and is on pace to throw over 190 innings for the fourth straight year. He’s never been Verducci’d though, with his biggest increase in innings from year to the next coming in ’04-’05, when he went up just 23 IP.

For the sake of this post, I ran Felix Hernandez through Beyond the Box Score’s trade calculator, which says King Felix has a trade value of $38.1M based on my almost arbitrary WAR predictions. Victor Wang’s research says that Montero and Jackson combine for $59.9M in value (one top-10 hitting prospect, one 26-50 hitter), while a low level arm like Arodys adds another $1.9M. Joba’s trade value comes in at $50.6M while Phil Hughes’ registers at $46M.  However, those values represent best case scenarios based on my WAR assumptions, which are far from perfect. The total value of that package is $158.4M, but we have to factor in attrition rate. Felix’s value represents just under 25% of the package’s value, but I honestly have no idea if that is an appropriate flame out factor. This is all just food for thought, and for all I know I just wasted 15 minutes of my time calculating that stuff.

I know we have plenty of Felix fans out there, but would you be willing to give up the package of young players required to obtain him? It’s a lot of eggs to put in one basket, that’s for sure. Remember, Hernandez already turned the Yankees down for the Mariners as an amateur even though the Yanks (and Braves) offered more money, so it’s no slam dunk that he signs an extension to keep him in pinstripes past 2011.

Photo Credit: The Seattle Times

Wanting Washburn

The Yankees didn’t acquire a back-end starter like we expected when today’s non-waiver trade deadline came and went, but it wasn’t because of lack of effort. They’ve been connected to Brian Bannister of the Royals and more notably Jarrod Washburn of the Mariners, who ended up in MoTown this morning. While Seattle ultimately received a fringy starter (Luke French) and an okay prospect (Mauricio Robles), they were asking for much more than that initially.

Via Twitter, Joel Sherman notes that the Mariners asked the Yankees for an “Austin Jackson-level player” for Washburn, while the Brewers were told it would take Alcides Escobar, Mat Gamel, or Manny Parra, arguably their three best young players (non-Yovani Gallardo division). The Yanks balked at the Jackson price, submitted a list of players they were willing to give up, but never heard back from Seattle. I’m curious how deals like this evolve. I can understand asking for top prospects on the first pass, but how does a player end up with a third team for a package of nothing special while the two teams that were very interested end up empty handed? It’s just … odd.

Trade Deadline Open Thread: Friday

Okay folks, today’s the day, the Trade Deadline.

Well, at least in name only. The July 31st deadline is nothing more than a formality, as teams can still make waiver trades through August. Just last year, the eventual World Champion Phillies acquired a key bench piece in August when they traded for Matt Stairs. There will surely be some movement today, but don’t think that just because the Yankees don’t make a move before 4pm that they won’t at all.

There were a few moves made yesterday, as the Pirates shipped lefties John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs for prospects, the Dodgers acquired a much needed late-inning reliever in George Sherrill. The Yanks were apparently interested in the Royals’ Brian Bannister, but talks didn’t progress when they asked the Royals to assume part ($650k) of the money owed to him through the left of the year. Then there’s always Jarrod Washburn.

We’ll update this post throughout the day with major news, so make sure you keep checking in. Will Roy Halladay be traded? I’m not so sure. However, chances are the Red Sox are going to make a big splash. A Victor Martinez or Adrian Gonzalez kind of splash. That should stir up those perpetually on the ledge.

First Update by Joe (11:31 a.m.): And just after this thread goes up, we get word that Jarrod Washburn is headed to Detroit. That’s one down. Will Cashman strike with Bannister or Duchscherer?

RAB has exclusive footage of the meeting where Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik informed Washburn of the trade:

A look at trade deadlines past: 2007

The final stop in our trade deadline series will be 2007. I mean, we all remember 2008, right? You can find 2005 here and 2006 here.

Lay of the land

At 9-14, the Yankees sat last in the AL East on April 30, 2007. Even then, it took a couple of A-Rod walk-offs to even keep them at that level. They recovered, but then fell back off, again finding themselves in the cellar, tied with the Devil Rays at 22-29. Meanhwile, Boston has the best record in baseball. By July 15 they’d hit some kind of stride, creeping into second place but still 8.5 games behind the first-place Red Sox.

At this point the offense was starting to come around. Johnny Damon had somewhat recovered from his putrid start, which included leg cramps and a reported desire to walk away from the game. Robinson Cano had bounced back after a slow April. Bobby Abreu returned to form after a May which was so bad that some wanted to trade him for Jermaine Dye, who was hitting equally poorly.

Then, of course, were Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, who were both tearing the cover off the ball. Melky Cabrera had heated up after a slow start. Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter were both hitting to their expectations. Only two real holes remained on the offense, and they were Jason Giambi, who was out with plantar fasciitis and a partial tear of his plantar fascia, and Doug Mientkiewicz, who after kind of turning it on was out as a result of a Mike Lowell elbow.

The rotation looked the best it had in years, though that’s not saying a lot. Chien-Ming Wang was having another standout year, Andy Pettitte was contributing quality innings for the first time since 2003, and even Mike Mussina had recovered after a shaky start (though we know how that story ended). Roger Clemens was in the rotation and pitching okay. The bullpen is what needed some serious help.

Things were just starting to get good. The Yanks had propped themselves up by mid-July, and after the All-Star Break they went on a tear.

Cashman’s moves

There were plenty of Yankees rumors leading up to the deadline, mostly focusing on acquiring Eric Gagne. It seemed like they were close with the Rangers, but it just didn’t work out. The Red Sox jumped in and got him. That was the big name. There were other little ones.

In an attempt to find someone, anyone who could pitch a scoreless inning, Cashman took a few shots in the dark. First was Runelvys Hernandez, though that experiment ended on July 7. He picked up Scott Williamson, who hadn’t pitched well since 2004. That was it on the bullpen front, though. Neither worked out, obviously.

There were a couple moves of note, though. Sick of watching Wil Nieves, the Yankees dished Jeff Kennard for Jose Molina. Then, in a surprise move which left the bullpen even weaker and spelled the end of Torre-favorite Miguel Cairo, Cashman traded Scott Proctor for Wilson Betemit.

That was it. Nothing major, just a few moves to the team going forward. This was a bit strange, because the Yankees were looking for relief help and so many relievers changed teams before the deadline. In addition to Gagne, Scott Linebrink, Dan Wheeler, Ron Mahay, Octavio Dotel, and Wil Ledezma all found new homes. The Yanks had someone better than all them, though.

How it all worked out

In early August, the Yankees decided to do something a bit unorthodox. They announced they’d take a look at first-year pro Joba Chamberlain as a reliever. The idea was that someone with Joba’s electric stuff could make a difference in the bullpen. They were right, and Joba served as the bridge to Mo over the last two months of the season. It was better than any deadline acquisition they could have made.

(Especially Gagne, who famously tanked.)

Yet even with a mostly quiet deadline, the Yankees picked up steam. Phil Hughes came back after tearing his hamstring amid a no-hitter and then rolling his ankle during rehab, pitching serviceably the rest of the way. The offense started hitting — including Jason Giambi, who came back in early August.

Despite their torrid start, the Red Sox cooled off, and found their lead as little as 1.5 games on September 23, with seven games left. They’d end up winning it, but the Yanks took the wild card with relative ease, The Yanks had almost come all the way back, by doing almost nothing.

The pickings were seemingly slim in 2007. The Yanks definitely could have used Mark Teixeira, but there was no way they could match the Braves’ package without giving up Phil Hughes, and in 2007 that was off the table (partly because he was untouchable, partly because hew as injured at the deadline). Even then, that was one helluva trade, and I’m not sure the Yanks could have matched it anyway.

It was all going so well, and they would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling midges.

In the three years we’ve examined, the Yankees have made one big move, the 2006 trade for Bobby Abreu. Other than that they’ve gone with a series of lesser moves in hopes of shoring up a few weaknesses. I expect much of the same this year. Maybe they get a pitcher today, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The Yanks look good now, their flaws no greater than those of other teams.

Trade deadline open thread – Thursday

Update (12:44pm): The Tigers traded speedy outfielder Josh Anderson to the Royals for cash today. One less option for a Brett Gardner fill-in.

It’s going to be kind of hard to top yesterday, no? With Cliff Lee headed to Philadelphia, seven players changing hands between the Mariners and Pirates, and Freddy Sanchez headed to San Fran in exchange for a top pitching prospect, it would take quite a few moves — or a Doc Halladay move — to top it.

The Yanks weren’t quiet, slipping in an acquisition of Jason Hirsh under the radar. I’ve always been a fan of Hirsh, but I don’t expect him to contribute this year. Hopefully he can work back into shape in Scranton, get a few big league innings in September, and help the team next year.

As far as new rumors go, we heard yesterday that the Yankees were interested in Josh Anderson to help fill in for the injured Brett Gardner. Today we learn that they’re also interested in Corey Patterson. The Yanks have an abundance of potential 40-man roster spots, so they can afford to take a gamble. Xavier Nady and Chien-Ming Wang are both on the 15-day DL and could clear up spots with moves to the 60-day. Sergio Mitre didn’t cost a 40-man spot, because the Yankees DFA Brett Tomko to call him up, so Jose Veras’s vacated spot is still there. Kevin Cash is also out for the season, and although I’m not exactly sure of the rules, they could probably release him and free up a spot.

That might be unnecessary, though, as the Yankees could call up Austin Jackson. I’d still call the move unlikely. WIth the available 40-man spots, Patterson might be a better option right now, since his primary role would be replacing Johnny Damon late in games for defensive purposes. The lack of a true backup center fielder does make it tough to give Damon a day off, because that would put both Eric Hinske and Nick Swisher in the outfield.

Apparently, the Blue Jays have been scouting the Yanks minor leagues, though that would appear to be in preparation to trade a reliever, not Halladay. Mike talked about Scott Downs over the weekend.

That seems to be about it for now. As yesterday, this is a trade deadline open thread. We’ll update it with any big stuff, or Yankee-related stuff, as it comes along.