Archive for Vernon Wells
The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the Yankees’ ill-advised outfield pickup.
The Yankees traded for Vernon Wells at the end of Spring Training and paid him $11.5M this past season. On purpose. Despite a .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) batting line in 791 plate appearances for the Angels from 2011-2012, someone in the front office looked at Wells and thought he would be a good use of a roster spot and tens of millions of dollars. Desperation makes people do weird, weird things.
Injuries had taken their told on the Yankees even before Opening Day arrived. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez had offseason surgeries delay the starts of their seasons while Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira got hurt in camp. Add in Nick Swisher leaving as a free agent, and the Bombers lost five of their six best hitters from last season without importing adequate replacements. That’s how you wind up trading for a guy like Vernon Wells. Desperation.
Amazingly, Wells actually made the Yankees look good for the first few weeks of the year. He hit .300/.366/.544 (148 wRC+) with six homeruns in April and legitimately belonged in the middle of the order. Against righties, against lefties, whatever. Wells was an everyday player and a big reason why the club exceeded expectations for the first 50 games or so. It looked like the pro scouting department had found another gem like Eric Chavez or Bartolo Colon, the guy with something left after everyone wrote him off.
But, of course, it didn’t last. I mean, it really didn’t last. There was no gradual decline, no steady slide back to Earth. Vernon just fell right off in the middle of May and stopped hitting all together. He just … stopped. Rollover grounder to short after rollover grounder to short, that’s what followed. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Healthy players — maybe Wells was nursing an injury, who knows? — just don’t stop hitting like that. Here, look:
That’s what it looks like when a hitter goes from really really good to really really bad in a heartbeat. Wells hit a homer on May 15th to raise his season batting line to .301/.357/.538 in 157 plate appearances, but his next 157 plate appearances? How about a .185/.204/.225 batting line. It didn’t stop there though. After hitting that homer on May 15th — his tenth of the season — Wells put up a .199/.243/.253 line with one (!) homer in his final 301 plate appearances of the year. One homer! It wasn’t even a real homer either. Look at this thing:
Hit Tracker says that homer traveled 344 ft. and would have been out in exactly one ballpark — Yankee Stadium. Vernon hit one dinger in his final 300 or so plate appearances and it bounced off the top of the wall of the shortest right field porch in baseball. Unbelievable.
Relegated to platoon status by the end of the season (even that was generous on Joe Girardi‘s part), Wells hit .233/.282/.349 (70 wRC+) with eleven homers in 458 plate appearances this summer. That includes a .269/.318/.379 (89 wRC+) line in 198 plate appearances against left-handed hitters, so he didn’t even have much platoon value. On top of all of that, Wells was downright Andruw Jones-esque in the outfield, with little range and half-hearted retrieval skills. The total package was sub-replacement level (-0.2 bWAR and -0.8 fWAR) for the low price of $11.5M.
Big league teams know more about stuff than fans ever will, but every so often a move is made that is just so head-scratching and obviously bad. The Yankees asked Wells to buck two years of terrible performance and paid good money to do it. I guess the good news is that because of the way the money in the trade is structured, Vernon will count $0 against the luxury tax in 2014. The team still owes him $2.4M in real dollars though, so it’s not like he’s free. Wells was awful for two straight years before coming to New York and he made it three straight in pinstripes. I just don’t know why anyone expected otherwise.
Got five questions for you today. If you want to send us anything throughout the week, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go.
Alex asks: Guys, do you think that with the haul the Cubs got for Matt Garza, the Yankees could reasonably expect to obtain a Mike Olt type of prospect for Phil Hughes? Obviously the package would be less than what the Cubs got for Garza, but using the framework, could the Yankees get a pretty solid return for Hughes?
Olt, whose stock is down quite a bit this year, ranked 44th on Baseball America’s midseason top 50 prospects list. I like him less than that and think he’s more of a 75-100 prospect, but my opinion doesn’t matter. Teams have their own internal evaluation of every player and that’s most important.
Pitchers similar to Hughes — that means a back of the rotation starter due to become a free agent — who have been traded at the deadline in recent years include Ted Lilly, Joe Saunders, Joe Blanton, Jason Marquis, Erik Bedard, and Jake Westbrook. Hughes is by far the youngest of the group, but age doesn’t really matter when you’re talking about a three-month rental.
The trade return for those guys ranges from a big league reliever (Saunders for Matt Lindstrom), one good but not great pitching prospect (Westbrook for Corey Kluber), four fringe prospects (Bedard), a promising young big leaguer (Lilly for Blake DeWitt), and a borderline non-prospect (Blanton). No one on par with Olt, obviously.
This is a seller’s market though, mostly because more teams are in contention thanks to the second wildcard and no one wants to sell. If you have an asset like a back-end starter, you might be able to fetch more than expected. An Olt-caliber prospect is probably the best-case scenario for Hughes. I do think the Yankees are going to keep him unless they get a legit big league bat in return, however.
Soriano was a complete disaster in left field when he first made the transition from second base, but he’s worked really hard to improve out there over the years. Experience helps as well. UZR has rated him a bit above-average in recent years while DRS has him a bit below-average. I prefer DRS personally, but the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I don’t watch enough Cubs games to say if one jibes with the eye test more than the other.
Wells was never as good as his reputation as a Gold Glover, but both UZR and DRS agree that he’s been ever so slightly above-average in the field since shifting to left three years ago. He’s graded out as below-average in center for a half-decade now. I’ve been pretty underwhelmed with Wells’ defense, particularly his range, but I suppose it is better than the typical left fielder. Defensive stats aren’t precise enough to argue over fractions of a run and whatnot, and at this point I think Vernon’s the better defensive left fielder. Not by a ton though.
Jeremy asks: Hey Mike, what about Paul Konerko? Tradeable, right-handed, free agent next year…
Joe had a Konerko kick for a few weeks a while back, but I would go nowhere near him. For starters, Konerko has been dealing with some nagging back problems this summer, at one point receiving six (!) injections. Back trouble for older players (he’s 37) is a total dealbreaker for me.
If that wasn’t enough, Konerko really isn’t hitting this year. He’s at .248/.315/.365 (84 wRC+) with seven homers in 295 plate appearances, though he does have a stellar 149 wRC+ against southpaws in limited time. The strikeouts are up (15.3%), the walks are down (8.2%), the power is gone (possible related to the back trouble) … lot of red flags here. If Konerko was hitting like he did last year (26 homers and 132 wRC+), I’d be all for it. At this point I’m staying far away.
Chris asks: Much has been made of teams handing out monster contracts lately, primarily because the term comes back to bite teams in the long run. Could the solution to this be not allowing teams to control players for longer but shorter? Would MLB and the players union be willing to allow free agency after six years from the draft or two years on a team’s 25-man roster (whichever comes first)?
Baseball’s salary structure is very … weird. Players make the least amount of money during what is usually their best years — their first six seasons, during pre-arbitration and arbitration — and the most when they’re on the decline. The MLBPA would absolutely be in favor of anything that moves free agency up, which means the owners would be very much against it. They only like things that keep costs down. Small market teams would have a hard time competing if their best players could leave after two years. It would be impossible, really.
The only “solution” to prevent getting burned by long-term contracts is to not hand them out. Even if you moved free agency up, teams would still overpay for decline years. That seem inevitable. Whenever a huge contract is handed out, like seven or eight years, a lot of times the GM is assuming he won’t be around for the final few years of the deal, when it tends to go really bad. Many of these contracts are handed out with the idea that the worst part will be someone else’s problem. I have very little pity for clubs who get saddled with a long-term deal gone bad. They make their beds, they have to sleep in it.
Mark asks: Do the Yanks need make it priority #1 to acquire a long-term solution at third base this offseason (or before the trading deadline) as it is all but assumed that Alex Rodriguez will be banned for either 150 games or permanently starting either now or next year? Or is it another year of stop-gap temporary players and pray that either A-Rod is back at age 38/39 and that Eric Jagielo is hopefully ready by the 2015 season?
The Yankees shouldn’t count on Jagielo at all when planning the future of the third base position. He was just drafted and even though he’s polished and expected to climb the ladder quickly, he’s still in short season ball and so very much can go wrong before be makes it to the show. It’s the nature of the beast.
I think priority #1 should be finding a long-term shortstop, but third base is pretty much priority #2. This season confirmed it. They can’t count on A-Rod anymore and there are no real third base prospects on the immediate horizon, so they’ll have to look outside the organization. Finding that young guy to hold down the position for the next half-decade won’t be easy, so they’ll probably have to settle on stopgaps for the time being. Hopefully none with chronic back problems this time. Who knows, maybe Jagielo will emerge before they make any kind of trade for a long-term answer.
We’ve spent some time dissecting the team’s performance through the first half of the year. Mike wrote about the A’s, the B’s, and the C’s. Notice he left me with the scrubs – the D’s!* Well, at least the D’s aren’t the F’s. Am I right?
I know some of you might protest our decision to give Phelps a “D” grade. Whether you’re lobbying to give him a “C” doesn’t make much of a difference though — it doesn’t change reality. He’s not been great overall despite some solid starts. It’s also funny, in a peculiar kind of way, how quickly the shine wears off of a guy.
Anyway, Phelps has pitched to a 5.01 ERA (3.85 FIP) and has been worth 1.1 fWAR thus far. He’s struck guys out at a decent rate (8.17 K/9) and hasn’t given up too many long balls (0.87 HR/9). Phelps has allowed a few too many free passes though (3.48 BB/9) and gives up more hits throughout his starts than one would ideally prefer.
Consistency has been the issue here. Despite several quality starts, Phelps has seen his numbers balloon thanks to some really awful games (particularly of late). He allowed four earned runs in 6.1 innings against Minnesota, nine runs against Baltimore (in 2.1 innings!), and four runs to the Mets in a third of an inning. On one hand you can look at Phelps a bit less critically when you consider that he is and always was expected to be a back of the rotation type of arm. One other hand, results are results. Sorry, David.
Getting tired of reading about Phil Hughes yet? Well, we all know the story here – frustrating inconsistency topped off by too many home runs surrendered (1.58 HR/9, here’s the list of pitchers with the most HR surrendered — good to know the Yankees have two guys cracking the top 15). Through 102.1 innings, Hughes has pitched to a 4.57 ERA (4.48 FIP), and has been valued at 0.9 fWAR. In terms of peripherals, he’s striking out 7.74 batters per nine and has limited the walks (2.29 BB/9).
Despite very legitimate concerns over next year’s rotation, it seems pretty clear the Yankees are willing to part ways with the once-heralded Hughes. If they don’t trade him for a bat by the deadline, they’ll give him the qualifying offer after the season, which he probably won’t accept. The funny thing is, as maddening as Hughes has been, he’s still capable of throwing the occasional gem and should he string together some solid starts through the remainder of the season, you know some team will decide he’s worth committing a lot of dollars and several years too. It’s a shame it hasn’t really worked out in New York but that’s how it goes sometimes.
This is a tough break for Chris. He’s basically producing at a reasonable level, I argue … for a backup catcher. The problem is he isn’t a backup catcher. After the Yankees elected to forego Russell Martin for Francisco Cervelli, the most obvious predicament in the world occurred. Cervelli was injured and the team had to figure out where to go from there. That’s when Chris Stewart stepped in as the every day guy.
So what happens to a guy like Chris Stewart when he’s forced to play day in and day out? Well over 197 plate appearances he’ll hit .241/.316/.306 (.282 wOBA, 77 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR). He’ll take a decent number of walks (9.1 BB%) and will put the ball in play frequently (14.2 K%). He’ll also hit for no power whatsoever (three home runs, 0.65 ISO). Defensively, I think he’s generally regarded favorably. Again, I would argue that none of these stats are necessarily bad, they’re just not good.
To put it in perspective, the Yankees catchers collectively rank twentieth in all of baseball in terms of fWAR (1.1), twenty-fourth in wRC+ (68), and twenty-fifth in wOBA (.275). Obviously, not all of this production is Stewart’s doing, though he’s logged far and away the most innings behind the plate. Basically, the production the Yankees have received from their catchers ranks in the bottom third of all of baseball in just about every meaningful category.
Remember when Wells hit .300 with six home runs through April? Remember when folks were wondering whether Cashman was actually a genius for taking on one of the worst contracts in all of baseball? Yep, that didn’t last long. In completely predictable fashion, Wells turned back into the pumpkin he’s been for years — that is to say a grossly overpriced fourth outfielder.
Overall, Big Vern has batted .238/.276/.371 (.282 wOBA, 73 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR). On the plus side, he’s been generally pretty good in the outfield defensively despite a few questionable plays of late. On the down side, he’s managed to hit only four home runs since April. He’s also hit in the heart of order basically all season, even during his putrid May slump.
Given the amount of exposure he’s seen thus far, it’s not surprising he’s shown noticeable splits either (batting .207 against righties). Back in late May, I wrote about Vernon and what we could expect moving forward. Long story short, the conclusion was that he most certainly wasn’t the player we saw in April, and hopefully also not the guy we saw in May. I think this still holds true. Unfortunately, what we can expect is a “D grade” player who was brought to the team out of necessity. Hopefully, he’ll be used more sparingly going forward when and if Curtis returns.
First, let me start by saying that I for one am shocked that Hafner has made it to this point. I was expecting Pronk to pull a Kevin Youkilis and suffer some season-ending injury after the first month or so. Surprisingly, he has generally kept himself in the lineup despite some nagging injuries here and there (most recently a foot contusion that happened during batting practice). Unfortunately (and much like Wells), Hafner has been lousy since May and he too, has shown noticeable splits as to be expected.
Overall, Pronk’s batting .218/.314/.407 (.317 wOBA, 97 wRC+) and has been worth exactly 0.0 fWAR through 277 plate appearances. He has knocked 12 balls out of the park though, which is second on the team to only Robinson Cano (though Lyle Overbay and Wells are right behind him with 11). Hafner continues to take his fair share of walks (11.2 BB%) while striking out at a fair pace (26.0 K%).
Pronk was brought on board for one thing: his job is to mash. The thinking was simple. As long as he’s healthy (or at least relatively healthy), he’ll hit the ball. This hasn’t really been the case though. He’s struggled a lot. He’ll need to turn it around for the rest of the season as the Yankees need some much needed depth in the batting the order.
*Mike did not stick me with the D’s. It just worked out that way because of timing. Actually, I claimed the F’s too.
The Yankees 2013 offseason was “interesting,” to say the least. It involved a couple big names departing to greener pastures Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and several apparent retreads joining the NY ranks in their stead.
Among these acquired castoffs was Vernon Wells, who the Yankees – in seeming desperation – elected to pay $13.9M over the course of the next two seasons (though the bulk of the money owed was front-loaded to 2013). This was despite Vernon’s rash of injuries and meager .258 on-base percentage over the prior two seasons (apparently his 2011 .248 OBP was the lowest among all outfielders with at least 500 plate appearances since 1904 … so there’s that). To put it mildly, most of us had our doubts about the deal on a lot of levels.
However, as John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman vehemently claim, “You simply cannot predict baseball!” Wells had recovered from his varying ailments (a torn ligament in his right thumb most notably), he focused on improving his offensive production by applying a shorter, more direct swing — all of which would presumably be enhanced by the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.
By mid-April, Vernon was batting in the heart of the order to the tune of .300/.366/.544 with six home runs. He was looking like a rejuvenated version of his former self and an early Comeback Player of the Year candidate — all while inadvertently making Cashman look less like a ninja and more like a genius.
May has been somewhat of a different story though. Consider the grid below, compliments of Baseball-Reference.
|Last 7 days||5||5||22||0||2||0||0||0||0||1||0||4||.091||.091||.091||.182||1||.111||-51||-49|
|Last 14 days||11||10||43||3||6||2||0||0||0||1||1||9||.140||.159||.186||.345||1||.176||-8||-4|
|Last 28 days||24||22||92||10||21||2||0||4||2||2||4||14||.228||.260||.380||.641||2||.230||66||76|
The numbers aren’t pretty, which is particularly hard to stomach considering he’s the guy often times backing up Robinson Cano in the lineup. A quick glance at Vernon’s April and May spray charts (provided by Texas Leaguers) confirms what our eyes have witnessed these past few weeks: he’s been hitting into far more ground outs in May (23%) then he did in April (12.87%). There have been far more ground outs hit towards the second baseman as well than there were last month - so it’s not like he is getting overly pull happy either (not that that would necessarily help him in NY).
In terms of the ground outs, it’s possible some of his May struggles have been exasperated by an atrocious BAbip (considering his career norm is .279). I’m leery of over-simplifying BAbip to the term “luck,” but regardless of how one wants to define the stat, Vernon has certainly not been the benefactor. Even if his stats do regress to what we’ve seen over the past few seasons from him, Vernon’s BAbip would still qualify as unusually low. Eventually, some of these balls should get through the defense. And considering that his recent struggles are by very definition inherently limited in sample size, it wouldn’t take much to get those numbers moving back in the right direction.
For what it’s worth, Texas Leaguers shows us that opposing pitchers will have thrown approximately the same amount of fastballs (fastballs including both two and four-seamers, cut fastballs, and split-fingered fastballs) by month’s end as they did in April. As to be expected, the vast majority of the fastballs seen were four seamers, and in that particular category he’s been proportionately only a few percentage points less effective at putting the ball in play in May (24.5%) than he was in April (29.6% in play) — nothing super drastic – though it is worth noting that opposing pitchers have been throwing more for strikes this month than last. The problem is the balls he is making contact with are simply not being hit well.
Anecdotally, there is also the possibility that his stance has opened up a bit again, thus resulting in longer swings. This would result in less time to see (and swing at) the pitch, which could explain the uptick in weaker ground outs. Perhaps he needs to re-explore the adjustments he made in the offseason. If he’s not seeing the pitches as well, it’d make sense that he’d be hitting the ball with less conviction more often. This could be the kind of ”quick fix” solution that resolves itself overnight. Unfortunately, that’s also the type of mechanical flaw that I’m sure both he and Kevin Long are constantly watching for and are proactively trying to prevent. It also strikes me as weird that he could go suddenly to different ends of the spectrum against a certain type of pitch.
So where does this leave us? Has Vernon turned back into the pumpkin (or worse) that most of us expected from day one, or is this just an unfortunate slump (that is being brought to attention a bit more than it probably should be given the team’s overall offensive struggles of late)? Frankly, it’s too soon to make any meaningful conclusion. At this juncture, this is merely an observation that’s worth keeping an eye on. If we find ourselves watching a still-struggling Wells come the All Star break, we’ll probably know where things are heading though. In the meantime, let’s hope get can keep it together at least until Curtis Granderson‘s able to return.
Like many of you, I was extremely skeptical when the Yankees acquired Vernon Wells for two non-prospects at the very end of Spring Training. The move stunk of desperation, but frankly the team was desperate at that time. They lost a lot of offense to injury in the prior weeks and something had to be done. The Angels had a player they wanted the dump and the Yankees had a need. The puzzle pieces fit.
Wells, 34, made the Yankees look very smart for the first few weeks of the season. He had three hits, including a homer, against the Red Sox during the second game of the season. Two days later he went deep again, and the homers kept coming — five in his first 15 games of the year. Wells finished April with a .300/.366/.544 (145 wRC+) batting line that exceeded every reasonable expectation. It was just what the Yankees needed.
Things haven’t been going so well for Vernon since then, however. Last night’s 0-for-4 dropped him to 3-for-21 (.143) on the month and 10-for-48 (.208) in his last 13 games. That dates back to the series in Toronto, when he bludgeoned his former team for three days. Wells is still hitting a respectable .270/.328/.468 (114 wRC+) on the season, but he has clearly been trending downward of late. Anecdotally, it seems like he’s been getting beat on a lot of outside pitches lately. Both fastballs and breaking balls. The strike zone plots do not show that he’s been getting more outside pitches of late, however (via Texas Leaguers):
Who knows why the slump is happening, but it’s happening. Maybe he’s just fatigued from playing everyday for the first time in two years. The slump shouldn’t be unexpected either, Wells was hitting far better than he did even during his prime last month. At some point he was going to cool off.
The unfortunate thing is that the Yankees need Wells to hit right now, very much so. With Kevin Youkilis injured and, for at least three games, Travis Hafner limited to pinch-hitting duties in the NL park, there needs to be someone in the lineup to complement Robinson Cano. As good as he is, Robbie can’t do it all by himself. Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki have been doing a fine job of getting on-base of late, but someone other than Cano needs to drive them in. Wells has to be that guy and right now he isn’t.
At some point Vernon will heat back up and go on a nice tear. At least I think he will. It is fair to be skeptical of him going forward given how dreadful he’s been the last two years, but I don’t think he’s suddenly regressed to sub-replacement level. The question is when will that rebound happen? Outside of Curtis Granderson and maybe Youkilis, the Yankees are unlikely to get any of their injured bats back this month. Their offense simply isn’t good enough to get by with a slumping Wells. He gave them more than they could have asked for in April, but now they need him to do more in May.
Six questions this week. Use the Submit A Tip box to send us anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or otherwise.
Several people asked: What about Shelley Duncan?
The Yankees are looking for a right-handed bat and the Rays designated former Yankee Shelley Duncan for assignment earlier this week, so this seems like a natural fit. The 33-year-old forearm-smasher hit just .182/.297/.309 (75 wRC+) in 64 plate appearances for Tampa, and during his three years with the Indians (2010-2012) he put up a .231/.309/.430 (103 wRC+) overall line in 770 plate appearances. That includes a .239/.316/.421 (102 wRC+) line against southpaws, meaning he didn’t have a platoon split.
Duncan is a three true outcome type, with healthy power (career .193 ISO), walk (9.7%), and strikeout (24.4%) rates. He doesn’t do much other than that, meaning he won’t steal any bases or play even average defense in left or at first base. Is he better than Ben Francisco? Yeah, probably, but it’s not slam dunk. If the Yankees can pluck him off waivers, then go for it. Francisco’s been terrible. I wouldn’t go out of my way to acquire Shelley or sweat missing out on him, though.
Nick asks: Given his start, how likely is it the Vernon Wells matches/exceeds Nick Swisher‘s performance this year? If he does (or gets close), should we credit the front office with a brilliant move or did the Yanks just get lucky?
I don’t think that will happen, honestly. Even with the hot start, Wells is on a .298/.362/.532 (139 wRC+) line while Swisher is at .265/.386/.410 (123 wRC+). There’s a nice gap there, but Swisher is underperforming his career norms while Wells is far exceeding his. They’ll wind up meeting in the middle at some point. I expect Verndog to wind up closer to his updated ZiPS projection (113 wRC+) than his current numbers.
Brian Cashman basically admitted the Yankees got lucky with Wells a few weeks ago, saying “there was no magic, unearthed data point” they uncovered. They expected him to fill the Andruw Jones role according to the GM. Maybe Cashman’s just playing coy, but Wells has been so outrageously good that I can’t imagine anyone saw this coming. It’s 95th percentile stuff.
Mark asks: Are you surprised by Jose Tabata’s free fall in Pittsburgh since his debut season in 2010 at the young age of 21? Maybe I’m off base here, but I have to think he’d be a prime candidate to replace Curtis Granderson next year as I suspect the Yanks would have kept him in the minors to develop and mature his game — something he hasn’t had the opportunity to do in Pittsburgh playing in the big leagues.
Not really, you can never be truly surprised when a prospect fails. Tabata was never the same caliber of hitter/prospect as say, Jesus Montero, plus he is apparently older than originally believed. He never showed much power for a corner outfielder and that’s continued to this day.
The Yankees value makeup too highly to bring Tabata back. He had (at least) two incidents in the minors that led to his trade in the first place, plus he’s had off-field issues with the Pirates. The guy’s a .269/.335/.369 (97 wRC+) career hitter in over 1,300 plate appearances, plus he’s probably closer to 30 than his listed age of 24. Tabata can get the bat on the ball — career 14.8 K% and 82.8% contact rate — that’s always been his thing, but otherwise there’s not much to see here.
Dustin asks: Any chance the Yankees could pry Justin Ruggiano from the Marlins?
Oh I’m sure of it. No reason to think the Marlins wouldn’t move him for the right offer. Ruggiano, 31, had an insane BABIP-fueled (.401!) half-season with Miami last year, when he hit .313/.374/.535 (146 wRC+) in 320 plate appearances. He’s back down to .239/.300/.402 (95 wRC+) this year, which is right in line with his career norms.
As a right-handed hitting outfielder, Ruggiano owns a career .263/.328/.516 (128 wRC+) line in 236 plate appearances against southpaws. That’s spread across seven seasons, so it isn’t very useful. Ruggiano plays okay defense in the outfield corners and will steal a bag here and there, so he’s definitely someone worth looking into as a Francisco replacement. I don’t know what it would take to acquire him, but Scott Hairston was traded to the Athletics for a middling Triple-A relief prospect (Ryan Webb) following his breakout with the Padres. Seems like decent framework, no?
Jonathan asks: What do you think about possibly acquiring one of Atlanta’s catchers this year? It’s a strange situation because we don’t know if Evan Gattis is for real, Gerald Laird was awful for years and Brian McCann is coming off the surgery. Which, if any would you be interested in acquiring and what do you think it would take to get them. Thanks!
I wouldn’t touch Laird, the Yankees have enough backups as it is. That’s the easy part. Gattis is a great story — seriously, read this — and the 26-year-old has hit .253/308/.542 (132 wRC+) as McCann’s replacement early this year. The consensus is that he isn’t good enough defensively to be an everyday guy behind the plate.
McCann, 29, was arguably the best catcher in baseball for the better part of a decade (118 wRC+ from 2006-2012) before hurting his right shoulder and struggling last year (86 wRC+). He had offseason surgery and is due to return to the team soon, as in next week. That will likely send Gattis back to Triple-A, though I suppose they could finagle the roster and work out a way to keep all three, at least for the time being.
I love the idea of acquiring McCann for half-a-season — he’ll be a free agent this coming winter — even considering the risk following his surgery. He’s strong defensively and a left-handed bat with power and patience. The team would also get a few weeks to evaluate him firsthand before decided whether to pursue him after the season. The price would have to be reasonable though, maybe something along the lines of two pretty good but not great prospects (assuming a deal happens right at the deadline).
Alex asks: Under the rules of the 1992 expansion draft, which players would you protect on the Yankees roster? Subsequently, if you were then picking, which unprotected player would you take?
We do this question every so often and it’s always fun. The expansion draft rules are right here, but here’s the short version: each team can protect 15 total players, but players with no-trade clauses must be protected. Players who were free agents during the offseason and players drafted in the previous two drafts (so 2011 and 2012 for us) are not eligible for the draft. AL teams can protect an additional four players after each round. Here’s who I would protect, assuming the draft was held last November 17th (same date as 1992 draft)…
|No-Trade Clauses (4)||Protected Pitchers (5)||Protected Position Players (6)||Notable Unprotected|
|Alex Rodriguez||Phil Hughes||Robinson Cano||Boone Logan|
|Mark Teixeira||David Robertson||Brett Gardner||Joba Chamberlain|
|CC Sabathia||Ivan Nova||Curtis Granderson||Frankie Cervelli|
|Derek Jeter||David Phelps||Gary Sanchez||Eduardo Nunez|
|Michael Pineda||Mason Williams||Vidal Nuno|
|Tyler Austin||Slade Heathcott|
I think this is pretty self-explanatory, no? I was on the fence with Nunez because of the dearth of even decent middle infielders, but I opted to protect the third prospect (Austin) instead. The Yankees could probably trade him for a better infielder than Nunez anyway.
Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera would not be eligible for the draft since they were free agents last winter. Nunez, Nuno, Heathcott, and Warren would the four guys I would add after the first round, but a few of them would probably get plucked in the draft. Such is life. If was the expansion team picking from that lot of players, I’d take Heathcott first, no doubt about it. Warren and Nuno are useful pieces, but Heathcott has star potential and that’s what you’re looking for when you’re building a team from scratch.
Here’s a pretty interesting read from Andy Martino, who spoke to Brian Cashman about the decision to trade for Vernon Wells (among a number of other topics). “We had thought (Wells) would be a fit here, at the very least, in that role that Andruw Jones had been playing for the past two years,” said the GM. “But no, there was no magic, unearthed data point. The fact that he was having a tremendous spring didn’t really move us … Our needs grew and we were able to come up a little bit more on the what we were willing to take on.”
Cashman acknowledged the two sides were talking all winter — we first heard the they were discussing Wells back during the Winter Meetings — and that allowed them to quickly wrap-up negotiations a few weeks ago. As he seems to indicate, it was basically just a matter of how much money the team was willing to absorb. The injuries and offseason defections created some big holes in the lineup and they had to act. Wells has been a godsend in the early going (163 wRC+) and is a big reason why the Yankees have been able to do a lot more than just tread water so far.
We all knew the Yankees’ lineup would look a little different coming into the year, but an injury-filled Spring Training meant the offense looked even more different than expected when the regular season opened last week. Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner were the only players in the lineup for both Opening Day 2012 and Opening Day 2013, and a whopping six players made their debut for the team last Monday. That’s the first time that’s happened in over 100 years, since before the Yankees were the Yankees (they were the Highlanders at the time).
Two series and six games into the season, it’s the new-look middle of the order that has carried the club offensively. The players who were with the team last year — specifically talking about Cano and Ichiro Suzuki here — have mostly been a drain on the offense. I’m talking about a combined .631 OPS for those two. No, seriously. If you add Cano’s (.330) and Ichiro‘s (.301) OPS together, that’s what you get. Good grief. Thank goodness it’s only been six games.
Anyway, here are some happier numbers…
- Kevin Youkilis: 9-for-22 (.409), two walks, one hit-by-pitch (.480 OBP), four doubles, one homer (.727 SLG)
- Travis Hafner: 7-for-20 (.350), two walks (.409 OBP), one homer (.500 SLG)
- Vernon Wells: 5-for-17 (.294), four walks (.429), one double, two homers (.706 SLG)
The Yankees have scored 24 total runs this year and those three guys have scored (11) and driven-in (11) basically half of them (46% to be exact). New York is hitting .272/.323/.399 as a team but without those three it drops down to .194/.273/.295. Youkilis, Hafner, and Wells have really carried the load in the first six games. They’re driving the offense.
Now, here’s the bad news: these guys aren’t going to keep hitting like this forever. Youkilis seems like the best bet to continue providing big production, but he’s still going to come back to Earth at some point. The good news is that some other players in the lineup — specifically Cano, Ichiro, and Gardner — will improve going forward to help balance things out. That’s usually how things go, some players are slumping while others are hot and it evens out. When it happens during the first week of the season, we tend to notice. When it happens in the middle of the dog days, no one really cares.
Despite yesterday’s seven-run outburst, the Yankees have struggled offensively in their six games this year. Those struggles pale in comparison to the pitching problems, but they exist nonetheless. They need (especially) Cano and some others to start hitting as much as they need the middle of the bullpen to straighten itself out because Youkilis, Hafner, and Wells won’t be able to carry the offense all year as they have so far. That trio has been awesome, but they still need some help sooner rather than later.
Four questions and four answers this week, the final mailbag before Opening Day. Hooray for that. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
Ryan asks: The Vernon Wells trade … will essentially be the Yankees paying an above average one-year deal with help in the second year. My question is, where was this in the offseason, when they could have overpaid for one-year deals? Is this simply because they learned that Mark Teixeira‘s salary would be paid by the World Baseball Classic and freed up extra money?
I think it’s a combination of things. First and foremost are the injuries — the Yankees probably didn’t think they needed any more help in the offseason because they were already good enough. That’s a dangerous way to think as we see now thanks to all the lost players and recent scrambling. Secondly is the WBC money, since it is a nice chunk of change they’re getting back. Then again, spending those savings (and potentially more) on Wells might not have been the brightest idea.
Brian Cashman made it pretty clear Wells will be the team’s everyday left fielder while Curtis Granderson is out — “So the rest of these guys are fighting for support positions,” said the GM to Chad Jennings — and I can’t help but think the team views him as a Granderson replacement for 2014. Maybe Wells will play his way out of that role, who knows. The Yankees have had a lot of success with these veteran scrap heap pickups in recent years, but dropping $13.9M on a player is beyond a scrap heap pickup to me. That’s a big commitment.
Matt asks: Hindsight being 20/20n, would you rather have Wells for the reported two years, $13.9 million or Alfonso Soriano for the same?
Soriano, no doubt about it. He was actually good last season, hitting .262/.322/.499 (116 wRC+) with 32 homers. Wells … hasn’t done anything close to that lately. There’s also some tangible evidence — switching to a lighter bat at in mid-May, at which point his production took off — suggesting Soriano’s revival was real and not a fluke. Even though he’s three years older than Wells, he’s much more productive.
The issue with Soriano is that the Cubs wanted a legitimate prospect in return. They didn’t consider it just a salary dump like the Angels did with Wells. It’s also unclear if they would have structured the money in such a way that Soriano would have counted as zero dollars towards the 2014 luxury tax threshold. I don’t want either player, but if I had to pick one I would rather give up an actual prospect to get the much better player. The Yankees obviously disagree.
Mitch asks: Four years from now, which contract do you think will have been better for the Yankees — Mark Teixeira’s or Jason Giambi‘s?
It’s unfair to directly compare the contract terms — seven years, $120M vs. eight years, $180M — because of inflation and Collective Bargaining Agreement changes and all that. Let’s keep it to on-field performance.
Giambi hit .260/.404/.521 (145 wRC+) during his seven years in New York while Teixeira is at .263/.357/.506 (128 wRC+) after year four with four more to go. Forget the wrist injury, I don’t think there’s any way his offensive production would catch up to Giambi’s even if he was perfectly healthy. In terms of batting runs above average (wRAA), Tex is basically halfway to Giambi’s total in pinstripes in ~60% of the playing time (107.4 vs. 214.1).
The question now is whether Teixeira’s defense will be good enough to compensate for the offensive gap. Giambi was at -35 DRS and -22.4 UZR during those eight years with the Yankees while Teixeira is at +28 DRS and +19.6 UZR after year four. That’s a huge gap and that figures to only grow larger. Combining offense and defense, Giambi averaged +25.6 runs produced per year in pinstripes. Teixeira is at 33.9 per year. It’s a huge difference built largely on questionable defensive metrics. Giambi was a better hitter and I’m an offense first guy, so I’ll say his contract will go down as the better one for the Yankees with the obvious caveat that Tex still has four years to change things.
Fred asks: With six starting pitchers to start the season, and maybe seven if Michael Pineda actually returns at some point, doesn’t it make sense to employ a six-man rotation every two or three turns through the rotation? With CC Sabathia‘s innings load being an issue, plus the ages of Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, doesn’t it make sense to insert whoever the sixth starter is a couple times a month to help soak up innings, keep the other guys fresh? It basically means the top five starters go about two or three less starts for the year and the sixth man gets about a dozen starts. Helps everyone no?
Well, let’s see all the starters get healthy at the same time before we start worrying about this. Phil Hughes has return from his bulging disk before anything can happen, and who knows how that will go. This also assumes all six (or seven) starters are actually effective and worthy of making starts. Someone is bound to disappoint, it’s just usually how it goes.
Now, that said, yeah I do think the Yankees should consider sliding in a sixth starter now and then just to take the load off Sabathia and, in particular, Pettitte. They could use off days to push them back a bit or even skip them entirely if fatigue becomes an issue. It’s a difficult thing to balance because the theoretical sixth starter has the remain stretched out, and if he’s the long man they’ll lose him out of the bullpen for a few days. If he’s in the minors they’ll have to make sure he’s lined up properly to pitch on whatever days. As I said, Pettitte is the big one for me since he hasn’t thrown a full season since 2009. The Yankees should monitor him carefully throughout the summer.
5:27pm: Despite their attempt at some fancy accounting, Ken Rosenthal has confirmed the Yankees will not receive any kind of “credit” towards the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. Wells will simply count as zero dollars for the luxury tax. At least that makes him easy to designate for assignment.
3:21pm: The Yankees have gone from dumpster diving to desperation in their search for outfield help. The Bombers have (finally) acquired Vernon Wells from the Angels in exchange for minor leaguers Exicardo Cayones and Kramer Sneed, the team announced. The Halos will pay $28.1M of the $42M left on his contract according to Mike DiGiovanna, and Jeff Fletcher says New York will pay him $11.5M this year and $2.4M in 2014. The club will have to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate their new outfielder, but they say that will announced at a later time. Okay then.
Wells, 34, has hit .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) in 791 plate appearances with the Angels over the last two seasons. Perhaps his poor 2012 campaign (88 wRC+) was the result of the torn right thumb ligament that required surgery and cost him more than two months, but there’s no real excuse for the even-worse 2011 effort (79 wRC+). Wells has hit lefties well over the last two years (119 wRC+) but poorly over the last four years (87 wRC+), with 2010 being his only above-average season (134 wRC+). He’s a dead-pull right-handed hitter, which usually doesn’t mix well with Yankee Stadium. Despite his reputation, the various metrics have rated him as below-average defensively over the last few years.
The Yankees are getting a bunch of intangible qualities in Wells, who has long been regarded as a strong clubhouse presence and is familiar with the AL East given his time with the Blue Jays. They are very clearly banking on his strong Cactus League performance — 13-for-36 (.361) with a double and four homers — being an indication he’s getting back to being his pre-2011 self as he gets further away from thumb surgery. To their credit, the Yankees have had a lot of success getting unexpected production from declining players in recent years. They squeeze water out of washed up veteran rocks better than anyone.
“He looks good … He could be a good pickup. (The Angels) were not asking for much money,” said one exec to Andy Martino while a scout added: “He is a legitimate Major League hitter. He is a professional hitter. Everybody downgraded his abilities because of the contract, (but) he’s still a good player.”
Cayones, a 21-year-old outfielder, was acquired from the Pirates as part of the A.J. Burnett trade last year. He hit .228/.374/.291 (111 wRC+) with seven steals in 200 plate appearances for Short Season Staten Island last year. Sneed, 24, pitched to a 5.37 ERA (4.66 FIP) with nearly as many walks (38) as strikeouts (40) in 63.2 innings for High-A Tampa last summer. The left-hander was New York’s 32nd round pick in the 2010 draft. Neither Cayones nor Sneed was much of a prospect, so it’s a pure salary dump trade.
It’s obvious Wells will be on the roster come Opening Day, especially since New York committed precious 2014 payroll space (even just a small amount) to the three-time All-Star and gave up two real live players to acquire him. Maybe he’ll just serve as a platoon partner for the various left-handed outfielders (and Travis Hafner at DH), or maybe he’ll play everyday thanks to his reputation. I guess we’ll find out. The trade is not good news for Ben Francisco, Thomas Neal, and Melky Mesa, who had been in the running for the righty-hitting outfield job. Juan Rivera is presumably safe given his ability to play first.
The trade doesn’t make much sense overall, so much so that it’s one of the most confusing deals of the Brian Cashman era. The Yankees are now paying $26M over the next two years for two outfielders — Wells and Ichiro Suzuki — who could very easily be replacement level given their 2011-2012 performances. It’s one thing to try out these veteran retreads on minor league contracts or low-base salary one-year deals, but it’s another to guarantee them multiple years and eight figures. Given the players they allowed to walk this winter and their unwillingness to sign free agents to multi-year contracts, this is a very questionable move (at best) that is unlikely to improve team appreciably or answer a roster question. Truly baffling.
Fun (but useless!) Fact: No active player has played in more regular season games without appearing in the postseason than Wells (1,601).