Mailbag: Maholm, Scrap Heap, Padilla, Fukudome

Welcome to the first mailbag of 2012. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box on the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Mick asks: What do you think of Paul Maholm on a one-year deal? Or would he really be an improvement over anyone the Yankees already have?

I like Maholm more than most, but he’s still not very good. Last year’s shiny ERA (3.66) hides the fact that he allows a substantial number of balls to be put in play (just 5.55 K/9 and 14.3 K% career). He does get grounders (49.9% last year, 52.3% career), but you’ve got to miss bats in the AL East to be anything more than back of the rotation batting practice. As I said back in November, the Yankees shouldn’t count on him to be anything more than that back-end guy, which makes him no upgrade over what they currently have.

At this point, if the Yankees aren’t going to bring in someone clearly better than Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, they’re just wasting their time. The A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and David Phelps group is more than capable of filling those fourth and fifth spots.

Will asks: Cashman got lucky with some scrap heap signings last year. I think he tries to go for it again by offering declining pitchers a one year minor league deal for the same amount Garcia and Colon got and see what they have. Of all the scrap heap pitchers, who would you take a run at? I would offer a deal to Brad Penny and Chris Young.

Just like I said above, they’re not making themselves any better by taking on more scrap heap guys. That said, there are a few interesting ones out there. I don’t know what the status of Young’s shoulder is (he had another major surgery last summer), but he’s one of the most extreme fly ball pitchers in the game (career 28.2% grounders). That combined with a nothing fastball is a bad mix for Yankee Stadium, so I’d steer clear of him.

Penny is slightly more interesting, but he’s been an above average pitcher just once in the last four years (2009). He’s got a 4.79 K/9 (12.2 K%) and a 46.4% ground ball rate during that time, which is scary. He’s also going to be 34 in May, so it’s not like he’s young anymore either. I’d take him over Young, but I wouldn’t be blowing up his agent’s phone to sign him.

Among the unsigned starters, I guess Maholm and Rich Harden interest me the most. When you’re talking about guys on one-year deals at a relatively low salary, Colon looks like the best of the bunch, and we saw how effective he could be in the first five months of last season. The only question is his health; did he start to break down late in the season, or just tire from a) the long layoff, and/or b) the long season after pitching so much in winter ball? If his shoulder is s0und, I’d go with the devil I know over the devil I don’t.

David asks: I was reading about Vicente Padilla how well he is doing now in his native Nicaraguan league. Can he be a option for the rotation?

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Padilla, now 34, is apparently throwing 95 down in Nicaragua this offseason, a couple months after he had surgery to repair a nerve problem in his elbow and a disc problem in his neck. Other than a 16 start, 95 IP cameo with the Dodgers in 2010, he’s been an effective starter once in the last five years (2009). He’s slightly more interesting in relief, where he could just air it out for an inning or two, but I wouldn’t count on him in the rotation.

Anyway, there’s not point in exploring Padilla as option because he and Mark Teixeira hate each other. It dates back to even before their days as teammates with the Rangers, and back in 2009 we saw that mini-blowup after Padilla hit Tex twice in a game. If Padilla was a difference maker, then maybe you try to work something out with Tex’s blessing. He’s not though, so just move along.

Mark asks: With an apparently short list of interested suitors, if the Yanks could get Kosuke Fukudome for 1 year/$2-3 million – would you bite as a 5th OF/DH option? Have to like that OBP.

When would he play? The DH thing isn’t an option because Jesus Montero needs to get as many plate appearances as possible. Whenever he does sit, it’ll likely be so Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter or even Robinson Cano get a day off from the field. I know Fukudome has a nice OBP (.361 career), but he has no power (career .139 ISO), doesn’t steal bases (29-for-57 career, or 50.9%), and the advanced metrics haven’t liked his defense in a few years now. He’s not worth taking plate appearances away from Montero. The Yankees have a fine fifth outfielder in Chris Dickerson, who can hit righties (career .341 wOBA), steal some bases (24-for-32 career in MLB), and play solid defense in all three outfield spots. His skill set fits the roster better.

Tucker asks: When was the last time the Yankees traded a major leaguer for a prospect(s)?

The Yankees are never really sellers, so they haven’t traded too many established big leaguers away for prospects in recent years. The last time it happened was after the 2006 season, when they sent Gary Sheffield to the Tigers for Kevin Whelan, Humberto Sanchez, and Anthony Claggett. The Randy Johnson trade kinda sorta counts, since the return was highlighted by the three prospects (Ross Ohlendorf, Stephen Jackson, Alberto Gonzalez) they received and not the middle reliever (Luis Vizcaino). Tony Womack for Ben Himes and Kevin Howard is really pushed the limits of “prospect;” that was a clearly a “get rid of Womack at all costs I don’t care what we get back” type of move. Other than that, there haven’t been too many big leaguer-for-prospect moves in Yankeeland over the last decade or so.

The case for, and against, Vicente Padilla

If you ask Brian Cashman, on the record, if he thinks the team needs another starting pitcher, he’ll probably say no. He and Joe Girardi have stood at Sergio Mitre‘s back after each of his starts this season, even the last three. He’s the fifth starter going forward, they say, and he won’t lose that spot just because of a few bad outings. No one’s really buying it. They just brought in Chad Gaudin, and are thinking about starting him on Sunday. It suggests that the Yankees might still be on the lookout for someone to fill that fifth spot, allowing Gaudin to pitch out of the pen and give the big starters some rest in September (if they can put some more distance between themselves and the Sox).

August is scrap heap time in baseball, a period when teams place most if not all of their players on waivers to gauge interest around the league. Players of significance usually don’t change teams at this time of year, but it does happen. General managers, for the most part, are searching out pieces to fill in the puzzle, rather than someone to anchor the team. That’s exactly what the Yankees should be doing right now. Instead of remaining content with Sergio Mitre, they should be looking around to see if there are any viable alternatives.

One name that immediately comes to mind is Vicente Padilla, recently designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers. That would seem to raise a red flag — after all, the Rangers don’t have the best pitching, right? It’s not the best, but this year they rank fifth in the AL in starter’s ERA, and fourth in the AL in overall ERA. This isn’t like picking up a starter the Indians or Orioles released. So let’s take a little look at Vicente.

A 1998 amateur free agent signing by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Padilla landed in Philadelphia in the Curt Schilling trade. There he posted two very good seasons, in 2002 and 2003, before missing some time in 2004 and 2005. The Phillies dished him to Texas for a song, and after something of a bounceback season the Rangers signed him to a three-year, $33.75 million deal before the 2007 season.

For the past three years Padilla has been something of a disappointment. His ERA and WHIP have been far above acceptable levels for a pitcher making that type of money. His strikeout rate has been up and down, and his walks have been above the level he established in Philly. There’s been little to like about Padilla, especially his propensity to hit batters, apparently unprompted.

So what would the Yankees see in this guy? For starters, his woes this year might be partly a product of his home ballpark. His ERA on the road is two full runs lower than at home. Get him out of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and perhaps you have a useful pitcher. Then again, his strikeouts are higher at home and his walks are lower, so there’s no guarantee that he can find a home in a new ballpark. In addition, one of Padilla’s few poor road starts this year came at Yankee Stadium.

Padilla also pitches well against righties, a .676 OPS vs. a .862 OPS against lefties. Since the league has more righties than lefties, that’s not a bad thing. Then again, the Yankees have that quality in Gaudin, so Padilla could be redundant. So far, the case for him isn’t looking too strong.

The case against him is far stronger. Padilla has never been a front line starter, and it’s questionable whether he can hold down even the fifth spot in a rotation. The Rangers might have improved their staff this year, but even so they wouldn’t jettison a useful pitcher just because. They let him go for a reason — just like they placed him on waivers in June for a reason. Mike Maddux is considered one of the best pitching coaches in the game, so if he can’t reclaim Padilla, can any coach?

Strangely, even with all signs pointing to Padilla’s ineffectiveness carrying over to a new club, a team might be willing to pay more than the minimum for Padilla by working out a trade with Texas. That should put the Yanks right out. Even if they sign him for the prorated league minimum, he could be ineffective and redundant. The Yanks could use a guy to help fill in the back end of the rotation, but if they’re going to pick someone up it might as well be someone better than what they already have.