"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: Transactions
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Hideki Matsui and the Loss of (My) Revenue

Hideki Matsui was my meal ticket.  This may smack of metaphor, but it’s almost literally true: every time Matsui homered, the curry shop/Matsui Shrine nearby my office handed me a coupon good for a $2 discount on a future meal. He helped put hundreds of dollars in my pockets over the years – in July 2007 I cleared over $20 bucks just by scheduling my curry fix to coincide exclusively with Godzilla’s crazy dinger binge. Other periods were not so lucrative.

His lengthy injury bouts took a toll on my bank account (pack a lunch? never!) but even a few months on the DL had not prepared me to contemplate a Matsui-less (ergo curry-for-more) future. Based on the resurgent 2009 campaign topped off with the two pillars of Yankee immortality, the World Series Championship and MVP, and the lack of superior options, I assumed Hideki Matsui would collect his ring in pinstripes.  And another $50 bucks or so would be in play for me in 2010.

Brian Cashman assumed no such thing. Matsui was either not in his plans for 2010 or he was such a low priority that the Angels could snap him up with some lip service about the outfield and a reasonable 1 year contract.  But whereas Matsui’s water logged knees may have been deemed too risky, Nick Johnson’s taffy tendons and balsa wood bones apparently pass muster. Matsui must have some grim future knee-cap disintegration scheduled to finish second to Nick “the wrist” Johnson in a reliability ranking.

All of this is to say I will miss Matsui. He was a terrific Yankee and, probably because he lacked a readily accessible English-speaking public persona, I created a very favorable one for him. I’ll miss his unorthodox bail-out hitting approach that seemed to preclude anything but a foul ball to the first base side and abandoned the outside corner as scorched earth, but remarkably produced a heckuva lot more variety than that.  And by opening up his front side so early, he got a good look at left-handed release points and smushed them accordingly.

His booming extra base hits in Game 6 of the latest World Series were fantastic representations of his pull-power skill, but it was the opposite field single that was the key hit of the game for me . That 2 out, 2 strike, “getting the job done” liner dulled the razor edge of the game to something less dangerous.  While in the stands for an interleague game versus the Cubs in 2005,  I watched him size up the loogy summoned to preserve a slim Chicago lead and I knew Matsui was taking him deep.

And yet after 7 years as a Yankee, my lasting visual memory of him is going to be from his very first year here.  In Game 7 of the ALCS, Matsui bested a tiring Pedro Martinez during the Yankees epic 8th inning comeback. While I can still picture his ringing double, the indelible image from that inning is not his sweet swing. It’s his celebratory jump and spin after scoring the tying run. Millions of eyes found the spot where Posada’s bloop was going to land and then swung in unison toward home plate to see Matsui tie the game. We all jumped up together.

Go Go Curry plans to follow Matsui to Anaheim with a new branch (the Manhattan location will stay open, phew, but will they continue to celebrate his Angel homers here in New York? It’s a little unseemly, no?)  So will some fans, advertisers and some ticket sales to be sure. Even still, the Yankees coffers figure to be full. But what of their stature in Japan? Matsui grew up dreaming of being a Yankee - an advantage in the initial courtship. Future generations of Japanese stars may dream of Boston and Seattle before the Bronx – especially if the emerging consesus of Matsui’s departure harbors the specter of Yankee disrespect. This is only temporary and in the evolution of Japanese player movement, possibly meaningless, but there’s no need to hasten the Yankees decline in prestige by treating a national hero shabbily.  I hope they treated him well right to the end and he gets the send-off he deserves.

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Just Don’t Call Them Winnie and Goose

One reason I’ve been rather silent of late is that there’s been jack all going on with the Yankees. The debate over left field never really moved me. To me it was obvious: put Granderson in left, Gardner in center, and enjoy the big defensive upgrade without losing anything on offense versus Damon and Melky. Still, with Johnny Damon still unsigned and Curtis Granderson well known for his struggles against left-handed pitching, there was grist for the mill. That ended yesterday, when the Yankees signed Randy Winn to a one-year deal for the $2 million that they had previously stated was all that remained of their budget for the 2010 season. Winn’s intended role on the 2010 Yankees will be a veteran bench bat, insurance against Gardner struggling, and a possible righty-swinging caddy for Granderson provided Winn can bounce back from what Jay Jaffe reported on twitter was the worst single season righty-vs-lefty split on record (.158/.184/.200 in 125 plate appearances).

Winn will be 36 in June, which doesn’t bode well for a big rebound, but on his career the switch-hitting Winn’s splits are very close to even, so some correction seems a given. Jaffe also posted Winn’s PECOTA projection from the upcoming Baseball Prospectus 2010, which is a mildly more encouraging .270/.333/.380 (.252 EqA). Does that line look familiar to you? Here’s a hint: the departed switch-hitting member of the 2009 Yankees’ starting outfield has a career .269/.331/.385 line.

That’s right, Randy Winn is Melky Cabrera, just a decade older and on the wrong side of his production curve. Melky is the better defensive center fielder and has a much stronger arm (Winn will evoke plenty of Johnny Damon references when he flings the ball back to the infield with that wet noodle hanging off his right shoulder), however Winn is better basestealer (over the last four years Melky had 44 steals at 76 percent, Winn had 66 at 81 percent), and is a much better defensive corner outfielder (save for the arm, of course). For what it’s worth, the Braves will pay Melky $3.1 million for the 2010 season having settled prior to arbitration.

So Winn is a veteran with range in the corners, speed on the bases, and something between average and replacement-level production at the plate? Sounds like a fourth outfielder to me. If not for his age, I’d say Winn has a bit more upside than that. He can play center passably, and on his career has been a near perfect league-average hitter (.286/.344/.418, 99 OPS+, .267 EqA). If he has a bit of a dead-cat bounce in the Bronx, he’ll go from being a typical bench player to something of an asset. Then again, if he doesn’t and Gardner struggles or an injury hits the outfield, the Yankees will have to start scrambling for Plan C, which might not be lefty-hitting Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffmann if Winn takes his spot on the 25-man roster.

To recap: *shrug*, as long as he doesn’t start too often . . .

In other outfield news, the Yankees traded minor league infielder Mitchell Hilligoss to the Rangers for former Phillies center-field prospect Greg Golson, who had been designated for assignment. Hilligoss was an appropriate token player for a DFA trade, a college shortstop taken in the third-round in 2006 who quickly moved to third, failed to hit in High-A each of the last two years, will be 25 in June, and played more first base than short or third in 2009.

Golson is now on the 40-man roster, but has options remaining. Former Rangers scout Frank Piliere described Golson as a tremendous athlete with elite speed, a strong arm, good range afield, and solid character, but something of a mess at the plate. Golson’s minor league stats back that up. Drafted out of an Austin, Texas high school with the 21st overall pick in 2004, Golson has swiped 140 bases at 79 percent in 5 1/2 pro seasons and shown a bit of pop, topping out at 15 homers between High-A and Double-A at age 21, but his swing and plate discipline are a disaster. He has struck out 737 times in 634 minor league games against just 148 unintentional walks, a K/BB ratio of nearly 5:1.

Golson is still just 24 and has a small taste of the majors and a year of Triple-A under his belt, so there’s some hope that if the Yankees can fix his approach at the plate, his athleticism could yield immediate results. That’s a huge “if,” but it seems worth the 40-man spot at least for a few months to find out if he can be fixed, particularly given that he is a righty-hitting center fielder. He’s certainly an upgrade on Freddy Guzman, though that’s an absurdly low standard.

With Winn, Golson, and Hoffmann behind intended starters Granderson, Swisher, and Gardner, the Yankees now have six outfielders on their 40-man roster. They’re done save for an non-roster offer to a righty outfield bat (with ex-Rays Rocco Baldelli and Jonny Gomes and ex-Yank Marcus Thames among the names being tossed around). Barring injury, Gardner will start, Winn will start the season on the bench, and Golson will start in Austin Jackson’s place in Scranton. All that remains is for the team to make a decision on keeping Hoffmann, which if they do bring in an experienced righty NRI, they likely won’t.

Pitchers and catchers report three weeks from today.

Javy Been?

Javier Vazquez, 2005 ToppsI always thought Javier Vazquez got a raw deal in his one season as a Yankee. When he was traded, I wrote on my old blog that “the Yankees were giving up on a 29-year-old pitcher who had pitched like an ace for four and a half seasons because of a mere three months of poor pitching.” That his results with the Diamondbacks and the White Sox the next two seasons were underwhelming soothed my ire, but I still viewed him as a missed opportunity right up until the Yankees reacquired him from the Braves yesterday.

To be fair, Vazquez isn’t an ace, which was part of the problem in 2004. In his final four season with the Expos, Vazquez posted a 3.65 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, and 3.91 K/BB, numbers that, coming from a 26-year-old pitcher, looked like the early work of a developing ace, which is exactly what Vazquez was acquired to be, arriving in the Bronx in the wake of the departures of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells. In the first half of the 2004 season, Vazquez came close, going 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and 2.97 K/BB, enough for him to make his first All-Star Team.

Then Vazquez’s shoulder began to ache (though he wouldn’t admit it until years later), and his season went off the rails. In the second half, he posted a 6.92 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and lost another strikeout per nine off his K rate while giving up 14 home runs in as many starts, or 1.6 HR/9, enough to earn him the derogatory nickname “Home Run Javy.” Things didn’t get better in his ALDS start against the Twins as he put the Yankees in a 5-1 hole that they nonetheless climbed out of thanks to Ruben Sierra’s game-tying homer in the eighth and Alex Rodriguez’s self-made run in the 11th inning. At that point, Joe Torre, who had put Vazquez on the All-Star team just three months earlier, pulled him from the ALCS rotation. Vazquez pitched in relief of Kevin Brown twice in that series, both times without much success. In the latter instance, he was brought into Game Seven with the bases loaded and gave up a first-pitch grand slam to Johnny Damon that drove the final nail in the 2004 Yankees’ coffin.

Leading up the trading deadline that season, the big rumor was that the Yankees were going to trade for Randy Johnson, but the Diamondbacks wanted Vazquez and the Yankees refused. After that brutal second half, the Yankees softened on their stance. In what might have been the last big player transaction motivated by George Steinbrenner, Vazquez was traded to Arizona with lefty Brad Halsey and catching prospect Dioner Navarro for Johnson.

The irony was that, over the next two seasons, Johnson and Vazquez were nearly identical in terms of results. Dig:

Johnson: 100 ERA+, 8.0 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 430 2/3 IP
Vazquez: 99 ERA+, 8.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 418 1/3 IP

Neither was an ace. Both maintained their good stuff, but a showed propensity to give up the long ball and a frustrating inconsistency. Vazquez spent the second of those two seasons as a member of the White Sox, having been obtained by the defending World Champions for past and future Yankee pitchers Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino (whom the Yankees acquired when they dealt Johnson back to the desert), and center field prospect Chris Young.

Vazquez shaved a run off his ERA in his second season in Chicago without a meaningful change in his overall performance, then gave most of that back in his third and final season on the South Side, after which he was dealt to the Braves with LOOGY Boone Logan for a quartet of prospects led by slugging catcher Tyler Flowers. The return to the weaker, non-DH league worked expected wonders for Vazquez as he posted career bests in ERA, WHIP, and his strikeout, homer, walk, and hit rates, garnering his first-ever Cy Young votes (he finished fourth).

Despite the variations in his results, Vazquez has actually proven to be one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball over the last decade. Aside from his lone Yankee season, when his struggles led to early exits leaving him at just 198 innings pitched for the year, Vazquez has thrown more than 200 innings every other year this decade and started 32 or more games in each of the last ten seasons, a streak unmatched in the majors. In those ten seasons, he has only twice had a K/9 below 8.0 (2004 again being one of the two exceptions) and has never walked as many as three men per nine innings over the course of a full season. Over those ten seasons, he has posted a 3.98 ERA (113 ERA+) with a 1.22 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 3.79 K/BB, and a fairly pedestrian 1.1 HR/9. Brought back to the Bronx not as a potential ace, but as an overqualified mid-rotation innings eater, he has a much greater chance of success, both because of the lowered expectations, and because of his additional five years of experience, maturity, and conditioning.

In essence, Vazquez is A.J. Burnett without the injury history or the excessive contract (Javy’s actually entering the final year of an extension he signed with the White Sox that pays him $11.5 million for 2010). Burnett trumps Vazquez in that he’s spent several years in the AL East and is more of a groundball pitcher, but again, Vazquez isn’t being asked to replace Burnett as the number-two. He’s merely being asked to give the Yankees quality starts from the third or fourth spot in the rotation, a task of which he should be perfectly capable.

Now the question is, did the Yankees give up too much for one year of an above-average innings eater with a fly-ball tendency that could be exposed in the new Yankee Stadium? Maybe, but probably not. The players being sent to Atlanta for Vazquez are Melky Cabrera, lefty reliever Mike Dunn, and teenage pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino.

Dunn was a fungible bullpen arm, ostensibly replaced by Boone Logan, who was again acquired with Vazquez. Not that Logan is any good. He’s basically a left-handed Kyle Farnsworth, but minus the effective slider and all those pesky strikeouts. Logan has a mid-90s fastball that’s straight and thus very hittable, a curve he rarely uses, and an unimpressive slider. The less we see of Logan in 2010 and beyond the better this trade will look. Fortunately, Logan still has an option remaining and can be stashed at Scranton. As for Dunn, he was nothing special. Besides, when was the last time the Yankees were burned by trading a theoretically promising relief pitcher, particularly one in his mid-20s with alarming minor league walk rates?

The key to the trade will be the future path of Vizcaino, who was just rated as the Yankees’ top pitching prospect by my man Kevin Goldstein over at Baseball Prospectus. Here’s Goldstein’s scouting report:

Vizcaino’s combination of stuff and refinement is rarely found in a teenager. His clean arm action leads to effortless 92-94 mph fastballs that get up to 97 when he reaches back for a bit more, while his smooth mechanics allow him to harness his pitches and pound the strike zone. His power curveball already grades out as big-league average with the projection of becoming a true wipeout offering. . . . Vizcaino’s ceiling tops that of any pitcher in the system, by a significant margin. It will take time, but the skills are there for him to become an All-Star starter.

The trick is that Vizcaino won’t turn 20 until next November and has yet to pitch in a full-season league. I’m not saying he’s not going to fulfill his potential, but he’s so far away that he’s more of a dream than a reality right now. The odds seem just as good that the Yankees traded him at the peak of his value than that he will turn into the pitcher he’s projected to be. Still, there’s a legitimate risk that the Yankees just gave up a young home grown ace for a year of Javy Vazquez.

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“Fra-gee-lei” . . . that must be Italian!

2003 Topps Nick Johnson (Topps All-Star Rookie) [Note: this was Johnson's only regular issue Topps card as a Yankee, his 2004 card showed him in an Expos uniform.]Mere days after Hideki Matsui agreed to join the Angels on a one-year contract worth $6 million, the Yankees have come to terms with Nick Johnson on a one-year deal worth a reported $5.75 million plus incentives to replace Matsui as their designated hitter. The decision to sign Johnson, so it seems to me, was less one the Yankees had made entering the offseason and more one that was made as a result of other decisions made by and about departing free agents Matsui and Johnny Damon.

Though many believe Matsui signed with the Angels because Halos manager Mike Scioscia promised him the opportunity to play left field once or twice a week (though, actually, Scioscia only promised him an opportunity in Spring Training to prove he could still play the field, which he likely can’t), and The Daily NewsMark Fiensand reported late last night that the Yankees opted not to resign Matsui primarily because of the state of his knees, I have another theory.

Based on a piece by Matsui’s agent Arn Tellem that appeared on the Huffington Post on Wednesday, I believe Matsui took the Angels’ offer without giving the Yankees a chance to match or beat it because he was afraid the Yankees, who had been focusing on negotiating with Johnny Damon, might either not make an offer (true if you believe Fiensand’s unnamed source), or might take enough time doing so that the Angels would rescind their offer. Here are the key passages from Tellem:

Hideki’s overriding concerns have always been winning and playing for a quality organization. Over his 17 seasons in pro ball, his only two teams have been the Yankees and the Yomiuri Giants. Each is the premier franchise in its respective league. Beyond the Yanks, his preferences were the Angels and the Boston Red Sox, two dominating franchises with superb players, coaches and management. But with David Ortiz entrenched as Boston’s everyday designated hitter, the Red Sox were never a real option.

[snip]

Hideki chose to accept Angel’s offer rather than wait for Yankees to decide whether they wanted to bring him back. Failure to act quickly might have caused L.A. to withdraw its offer and forced Hideki to sign with a weaker team, thus forfeiting a shot at another World Series. Conflicted, Hideki stayed up all Sunday night mulling his final move in this limited game of musical free-agent chairs. He didn’t want to be left standing.

Now, I realize that almost everything an agent says in public is spin, but I see no reason for Tellem to basically admit to being the first to blink in a game of contract chicken other than having actually done so.

The catch here is that, while the Yankees might have preferred to bring back Johnny Damon as their designated hitter (he’s clearly no longer qualified to play the field, either), Damon has been firm in his desire for a contract that comfortably exceeds Bobby Abreu’s two-year, $19 million re-up with the Angels in both years and annual salary. The Yankees have wisely balked at Damon’s demands, which suddenly left them searching for option C.

Enter Nick Johnson, the once and future Yankee. As an underpowered on-base machine, Johnson is a good fit as a replacement for Damon in the number-two hole in the Yankee lineup, and as an oft-injured, defensively challenged first baseman who hit just eight homers last year in 574 plate appearances, he was willing to take a one-year deal with a base salary even lower than Matsui’s.

That’s all well and good, but there are a lot of reasons to be underwhelmed if not outright dissatisfied with the Johnson signing. First and foremost among them is his fragility. Yes, Johnson’s on-base percentage of .426 was surpassed only by MVPs Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols among qualifying batters in 2009, but it’s getting into the batters’ box in the first place that has been the challenge for Johnson. The 133 games he played in this past season were the second most of his major league career and he played just 38 games over the previous two seasons combined.

Here’s a quick look at Johnson’s injury history:

  • 1998: separated shoulder (out six weeks)
  • 2000: unknown left hand/wrist injury (missed entire season)
  • 2002: bone bruse in left wrist (missed three weeks)
  • 2003: fractured right hand (missed two months)
  • 2004: back (missed first two months); broken cheekbone (missed last six weeks)
  • 2005: bone bruse in right heel (missed a month)
  • 2006-7: broken right femur (suffered late September ’06, it wiped out his entire ’07 season)
  • 2008: torn ligaments and tendons in wrist (ended season in mid-May)
  • 2009: strained right hamstring (missed two weeks)

Johnson has had his share of fluke injuries, chief among them the foul ball that bounced back up and broke his cheekbone in 2004 and the broken leg he suffered in a collision with right fielder Austin Kearns in 2006, but the frequency and severity of his injuries is no fluke. Johnson is truly fragile and when he breaks he takes longer to heal than most players (to cite two recent examples, he was expected to return from his soft-tissue injury in 2008, but didn’t, and that broken leg, which kept him out of action for more than a calendar year, also took far longer to heal properly than was anticipated).

So, yes, Johnson’s on-base skills (.402 career OBP) would look mighty fine in the two hole, helping to set the table for Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, but there’s a good chance the Yankees will need someone else to fill that spot for a significant portion of the coming season, and if that person is Curtis Granderson (who would otherwise likely hit fifth behind Rodriguez), they’ll need someone else to take Granderson’s spot lower in the order.

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What Do We Have Here?

2008 ToppsOkay, first thing’s first: Curtis Granderson is a Yankee, so who the hell is Curtis Granderson?

Granderson grew up in the suburbs south of Chicago and attended the University of Illinois in the Windy City before being drafted by the Tigers in the third-round of the 2002 amateur draft. A slender center fielder with a nice power/speed combo who bats left and throws right, he moved steadily up the Tigers’ ladder. After a cup of coffee in September 2004 at age 23, he returned to the majors in July 2005 and took over Detroit’s center field job for good that September. In his first full season, Granderson led the American League in strikeouts with 174, but his outstanding defense in center field and average bat against righties helped the Tigers topple the Yankees in the ALDS and claim Detroit’s first pennant since 1984. In his sophomore season, Granderson cut down on his Ks, added 42 points of average, and led the league with 23 triples, turning in by far his best major league season with a .302/.361/.552 line, 26 steals in 27 attempts, and a 14.2 UZR in center, becoming the first American Leaguer to have twenty or more doubles, triples, homers, and steals all in the same season.

Granderson has been trying to live up to that season ever since. In 2008 he posted his best strikeout and walk rates at the plate, but his slugging percentage dipped below .500 and he stole just 12 bases and rated 8.9 runs below average in center according to UZR. This season, both his strikeout and walk rates regressed and he posted a career-low .249 batting average which dragged down his overall line to an underwhelming .249/.327/.453. His steals and defense rebounded, but the latter only got up to about average. Thus, despite making his first All-Star team and reaching 30 homers for the first time in 2009, he arrives in the Bronx off a very disappointing season, one in which he had a lower EqA and UZR than either Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner.

As you’re surely aware, Granderson’s big bugaboo is left-handed pitching. For his career, he’s hit just .210/.270/.344 (.208 GPA) against lefties, and in two of the last three seasons he’s been significantly worse than that against southpaws:

2006: .218/.277/.395 (.223)
2007: .160/.225/.269 (.169)
2008: .259/.310/.429 (.247)
2009: .183/.245/.239 (.170)

The good news is that Comerica Park, while it is a triples-hitter’s paradise, is hell on left-handed hitters, especially left-handed power hitters. It’s next to impossible to hit a triple in the new Yankee Stadium, but it is already well-known as a home-run hitting paradise for hitters of both hands, which means that Granderson is likely to get a significant boost from his home park, particularly as his triples already started to turn into home runs this year. Just a .261/.334/.451 career hitter at Comerica, Granderson has hit .284/.353/.516 on the road, and 20 of his 30 home runs in 2009 came outside of Detroit. As a Yankee, he could well reach 40 home runs in a season, a total which has been reached by a Yankee center fielder just five times, four by Mickey Mantle and one by Joe DiMaggio.

That’s quite exciting, but Granderson isn’t anywhere near a Hall of Fame player, and one wonders just how viable he’s going to be defensively in center field going forward. Once praised for his routes and jumps, both have become shaky over the past two seasons, as anyone who watched the All-Star Game or the Tigers’ one-game playoff against the Twins could tell you. Then again, the Yankees still have Cabrera and Gardner, the latter of whom had the best EqA and UZR (admittedly in a smaller sample) of the trio in 2009. The Bombers could easily slip Granderson’s pop into left field, let Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui low-ball one another for the DH job, and be both content and no less productive than they were in their just-completed championship season. To my eyes, where Granderson is going to play in 2010 is entirely up in the air right now.

As for the years beyond, Granderson is signed for a total of just $23.75 over the next three years and comes with a $13 million club option for 2013, his age-32 season. That’s a good deal for a player with his skill set, which mixes in some decent patience (138 unintentional walks over the last two years) with the power and speed, and one that ends at exactly the right time (Granderson’s top PECOTA comparable player prior to the 2009 season was Andy Van Slyke, whose last productive season came at age 32). If his new ballpark gives him the boost many expect, and Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long can finally solve his struggles with lefties, Granderson will become an absolute bargain and a true star. Of course, the latter is a huge “if.” The flip side of that is that he could prove to be a platoon left fielder as early as 2010, one who could be dangerously miscast as a number-two hitter despite having the high slugging and middling on-base percentage of a five or six-spot hitter.

So what did the Yankees give up to get him? The three-team deal that brought Granderson to the Bronx breaks down this way for the three teams involved:

  • The Yankees get Curtis Granderson for Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Coke
  • Tigers get Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, and Phil Coke for Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson
  • Diamondbacks get Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy for Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth

Jackson and Kennedy were two of the Yankees’ top prospects. Phil Coke was a key member of the 2009 bullpen. Coke was expendable because of the strong late-season comeback of lefty set-up man Damaso Marte, who is signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012, and because of the emergence of rookie lefty Michael Dunn, who was initially part of this trade but salvaged by the Yankees. Marte and Dunn have their issues (Marte will be 35 in February and was on the DL with shoulder trouble for most of 2009, Dunn is an unproven rookie with alarming walk rates above A-ball), but Coke had his own, specifically his gopheritis (1.5 HR/9IP). The Yankees made something out of nothing with Coke, who was converted from starting at age 26 late last year, and they’ve cashed him in before he had a chance to go back to being nothing.

Austin Jackson was the Yankees’ most advanced hitting prospect, but given the speed with which Jesus Montero has progressed, was no longer their top hitting prospect. A center fielder who projected as very much of a Granderson-like player (20 homers, 20 steals, but not a middle-of-the-order hitter, solid but not spectacular defense), Jackson was supposed to spend 2009 getting ready to take over the major league job in 2010, but despite earning rave reviews from scouts, his Triple-A performance left a lot to be desired as he hit a heavily average-dependent .300/.354/.405 with just four homers and 123 strikeouts. In Jackson’s favor is the fact that he’ll be able to repeat Triple-A at the still-tender age of 23 in 2010 and that he was a late convert to baseball as the Yankees’ money was really all that kept him from going to college to play basketball. However, in Granderson the Yankees get one of the better-case scenario versions of Jackson’s future now, and for up to four years. There’s an outside chance that Jackson could prove to be a better player than Granderson, and the Tigers will own him for six years prior to free agency, but by giving up two years and a lot of uncertainty, the Yankees get that player in their lineup immediately, using him to reinforce a world championship squad that had a big hole in its outfield.

Some of the uncertainty the Yankees are giving up comes in the form of Ian Kennedy. Drafted ahead of Joba Chamberlain in the first round of the Yankees’ extremely successful 2006 draft, Kennedy was the third amigo in the young starting-pitching trio of Chamberlain, Kennedy, and Phil Hughes which emerged in 2007. All three had their detours, but Chamberlain returned from his admittedly successful bullpen exile in the second half of 2008, and Hughes made a strong rebound from a pair of injury-plagued seasons by replacing Chamberlain in the bullpen this year. Both are now headed for the 2010 rotation behind CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and, most likely, Andy Pettitte. Chamberlain and Hughes are both top-notch starting pitching prospects with filthy stuff and ace potential. Kennedy, the oldest of the trio (he’ll be 25 a week from Saturday) is more of a mid-rotation arm, a three-pitch pitcher whose best pitch is his changeup. Kennedy frustrated the Yankees in 2008 by nibbling and refusing to throw his curveball, making him a very hittable two-pitch pitcher with some attitude problems. An aneurysm robbed him of most of the 2009 season, but he made a strong comeback at the end of the year, even making a courtesy appearance with the big club in September, a show of renewed faith on the part of the team. Organizationally, Kennedy is replaced by another 2006 draftee, six-foot-six righty Zach McAllister, a third-round pick who thrived after making the leap to Double-A last year and just turned 22 yesterday. If McAllister continues his progress at Triple-A in 2010, the Yankees will never know Kennedy is gone.

So the Yankees gave up two pitchers they could afford to lose, both 25 or older, one of whom has already reached his major league ceiling, and an unproven minor league version of Granderson. Jackson and Kennedy, the latter of whom has spectacular minor league numbers (19-6, 1.95 ERA, 273 Ks in 248 2/3 IP, 0.99 WHIP, 3.55 K/9), both hold the potential to give the Yankees and their fans some buyer’s remorse down the line, but it’s just as likely that neither develops into anything special. Then again, that’s also true of Granderson, who arrives in New York for his age-29 season not as an established star, but as a talented-but-flawed player hoping to fulfill his potential and in danger of becoming a part-timer.

Projecting the Postseason Roster

The Yankees are clearly using their final 20 games to figure out who will make their 25-man roster for the ALDS. That’s why minor league journeyman speedster Freddy Guzman is on the major league roster and why relievers such as Brian Bruney are getting game opportunities that otherwise seem unearned given their overall performance.

There are still some questions that need to be answered, chief among them whether or not David Robertson will be available and effective by season’s end, but prompted by Joe Girardi’s use of Bruney and Jonathan Alabaladejo last night and Brian Cashman’s comments about Joba Chamberlain (coming up), I thought I’d weigh in on the subject.

First, here are Cashman’s comments on Joba via Pete Caldera’s blog:

He needs to declare himself. He’s no different than anyone else. Everybody loves his tenacity,but we’re going to take the best 10 guys. There’s no assumptions there. He’s put himself in a position where the manager has to make a decision that there’s not one guy ahead of him that he needs to give the ball to. He might not realize it, but he’s in competition with any number of guys to take the ball.

Also relevant to Joba’s situation is the fact that the Yankees, assuming they finish with the best record in the league, will be able to chose which of the two ALDS schedules they’ll play. One would require a normal four starters, but the other includes and extra off-day and would allow them to use just three starters in the first round. Given how Chamberlain has pitched of late, I’m guessing they’ll go with the three-starter scenario.

While I would understand the team trying to send a message to Joba by leaving him off the ALDS roster (while simultaneously allowing him to pitch simulated games to stay ready for the ALCS), I’d be surprised to see them pass up the chance to use him out of the bullpen in the ALDS.

Cashman’s quote indicates that the Yankees will bring just ten pitchers to the ALDS, which should result in something like this:

Rotation:

L – CC Sabathia
L – Andy Pettitte
R – A.J. Burnett

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Phil Hughes
L – Phil Coke
R – Alfredo Aceves
R – Joba Chamberlain
L – Damaso Marte
R – Chad Gaudin

Marte has allowed a run in just one of his eight appearances since returning from the DL. In those eight appearances, he hasn’t allowed any of his ten inherited runners to score, hasn’t allowed a home run, and has struck out six in 5 1/3 innings against two walks. Gaudin, whose start tonight could significantly reinforce or undermine his chances for making the postseason roster, has a 3.68 ERA as a Yankee and can be an effective long-man in case of an early exit by a starter, a deep extra-inning game, or can eat innings in a blowout.

Note that David Robertson is currently rehabbing a sore elbow and was last seen playing catch at 60 feet. If he’s able to return effectively during before the season ends, he could bounce Marte, Gaudin, or even Chamberlain from the roster.

So, if the Yankees are only taking ten pitchers, who are their 15 position players? First the starting nine:

1B – Mark Teixeira
2B – Robinson Cano
SS – Derek Jeter
3B – Alex Rodriguez
C – Jorge Posada
RF – Nick Swisher
CF – Melky Cabrera
LF – Johnny Damon
DH – Hideki Matsui

Then the top bench guys:

CF – Brett Gardner
OF – Eric Hinske
UT – Jerry Hairston Jr.
C – Jose Molina

That leaves two spots, which is where you might find a third catcher (Francisco Cervelli) a bonus speed-and-defense player (Freddy Guzman), or an extra infielder (Ramiro Peña). Given the lack of opportunities given to Shelly Duncan since his recall, I don’t think he’s being considered as a right-handed pinch-hitting option. By that same token, Guzman has only appeared in two games thus far, suggesting that he’s not being seriously considered either. It could be that one of those spots goes to a healthy Robertson, giving the Yankees 11 pitchers and an eight-man bullpen in the ALDS.

There are 11 games left on the Yankees’ regular season schedule, including tonight’s. That’s enough time for those last two bench players to make themselves known or for certain relievers to pitch themselves on or off the roster. Alabaladejo and Bruney did themselves no favors last night. We’ll see if Gaudin can do better tonight.

Everything’s Different Now

Last night’s series opener was the most important game the Yankees have played all season. With the pitching match-up firmly in their favor, a loss, which would have pushed them to 0-9 against Boston on the season, could well have set the tone for the remainder of the series, opening up the possibility of yet another Red Sox sweep. With the win, however, they got of the schnide and reinforced their belief that they’re a different and better team than they were during those first eight games. And they didn’t just win, they crushed the Sox, 13-6.

The Red Sox are too good a team to let one lop-sided win get in their heads, but one could just as easily see a Yankee sweep today as one could see a Red Sox sweep yesterday. After all, the Yankees just keep rolling. Last night’s win extended their current winning streak to four games and also put first place out of reach for the Sox in this series (even if the Sox take the last three, they’ll leave town a half game behind the Yankees in the AL East).

A.J. Burnett & Josh Beckett - 2005 ToppsThe catch is A.J. Burnett, who has exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations thus far this year with one glaring exception: he’s been awful in his two starts against Boston. One of the selling points for Burnett over the winter was the fact that he’d dominated the Red Sox in four starts last year (2-0, 2.60 ERA). This year has been a different story. Staked to a 6-0 lead at Fenway Park on April 25, he coughed up eight runs. Then, on June 9, he failed to get out of the third inning, allowing five runs on five hits and five walks in just 2 2/3 innings. The Red Sox hit .382/.512/.765 against Burnett in those two starts, and though he followed the last with a string of eight quality starts (6-1, 1.68 ERA), he seems to have run out of magic just in time to rematch with Boston, having allowed seven runs in 4 2/3 innings to the White Sox in his last start.

Curiously, both of Burnett’s starts against Boston matched him up against his former Marlins’ teammate Josh Beckett, who is once again his mound opponent tonight. Beckett was equally awful on April 24, but pitched well in his two starts against the Yankees since, combining for this line: 12 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 13 K, 1 HR. Beckett had a rough April, but since then has gone 11-2 with a 2.28 ERA and a 4.39 K/BB over his last 16 starts.

The Yanks have their work cut out for them tonight, but thanks to last night’s win, a loss today would only mean the battle’s on, not that the battle’s over.

Ramiro Peña replaces Anthony Claggett on the Yankee roster while the Yankees run out their standard lineup. The Red Sox have designated Billy Traber and, get this, John Smoltz for assignment. They’ve been replaced by 23-year-old Japanese rookie right-hander Junichi Tazawa and former Yankee camper Chris Woodward, the latter claimed off waivers from the Mariners. Josh Reddick, who was recalled yesterday when Rocco Baldelli hit the DL, is in left tonight with Victor Martinez at first base, Kevin Youkilis at third, and Mike Lowell on the bench.

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Preheat to .607

Entering their current two-game series in Toronto, the Yankees had to be anticipating a split due to Roy Halladay starting Game 1. Now that they’ve defeated Halladay, however, the Yanks have to be thinking sweep, which would give them a three-win head of steam heading into this weekend’s four-game showdown with the second-place Red Sox.

That’s easier said than done, however, as they have Sergio Mitre on the hill tonight. The Yanks are actually 2-1 in Mitre’s starts, and Mitre himself is 1-0, but things have been trending in the wrong direction. After a solid 5 2/3 innings his first time out (1 BB, 4 K), Mitre took a small step backwards in his second start (5 IP, 1 K), then crapped out against the White Sox on Friday, allowing five runs on seven hits in three innings. Most alarmingly, Mitre failed to induce more groundballs than flyballs in Chicago after getting 13 grounders to a pinch more than half as many flies in each of his first two starts.

After that disaster, Mitre said that the problem was mechanical and something he was going to address in his bullpen session. I’m curious to find out exactly what the problem was and whether or not he was able to fix it.

Opposing Mitre is 23-year-old rookie left-hander Marc Rzepczynski (pronounced rez-PIN-sky). Rzepczynski is also a sinkerballer, but compliments that pitch with a solid curve and change and is thus more of a strikeout pitcher than a groundballer. After posting a 9.8 K/9 across parts of three minor league seasons, he’s struck out 30 men in his 27 2/3 major league innings, albeit with 17 walks. He’s pitched in some hard luck thus far; the Blue Jays have scored just 3.13 runs per game in his five starts and thus gone 1-4 in those games despite Rzepczynski’s 3.25 ERA. If the Jays can get to Mitre tonight, however, Rzepczynski, who has allowed just one home run since reaching the majors, could deliver the win.

Alex Rodriguez gets a half-day off on the turf and Jorge Posada gets a full rest both in anticipation of starting all four games against Boston. Jerry Hairston Jr. mans third base, his worst defensive position, and bats eighth in front of Jose Molina. Nick Swisher hits fifth.

Cody Ransom has been DFAed to make room for extra bullpenner Anthony Claggett. Claggett, who came over in the Sheffield trade, was lit up by the Indians in the opening series at the new stadium in what remains his only major league appearance. He’s pitched well for Scranton since, but walks too many and strikes out too few, getting by with groundballs and a corresponding lack of homers. Seems Claggett is here to keep the pen rested in advance of the Boston series should Mitre only make it through three more innings. I’d expect Claggett to be farmed out again tomorrow in favor of Ramiro Peña, who no longer has to worry about playing center now that Hairston’s on the team. (For those wondering, barring an injury, Shelley Duncan won’t be eligible to be recalled until after the Boston series.)

He Meant To Do That

Heading into Sunday’s finale against the A’s, Yankee manager Joe Girardi figured he had a well-rested bullpen (Phil Hughes last pitched on Thursday night, Mariano Rivera hadn’t pitched since Wednesday) and his fifth starter on the mound making just his second major league start since 2007, so he devised a plan that required his starter to go no more than six innings.

As it turned out, Sergio Mitre only needed 72 pitches to get through the first five frames. Still, nursing a one-run lead heading into the sixth, Girardi had lefty Phil Coke warm and waiting. Kurt Suzuki led off with a single off Mitre, and with four of five hitters behind Suzuki being left-handed, Girardi put his plan into effect right there and then.

Since Girardi didn’t appraise me of his plan before the game, I had no idea what the hell he was doing. Mitre had given up three runs on nine hits, but he hadn’t walked anybody and was getting a ton of ground balls. After a rough first in which he allowed two runs on a double and three singles, two of the latter well-placed bouncers up the middle, Mitre had pitched effectively and economically. After pitching around a two-out single for a scoreless second, Mitre worked a four-pitch third, hitting Scott Hairston with a curveball with his first pitch, then getting a 1-6-3 double play from Jack Cust on his next offering and getting Suzuki to groundout on an 0-1 pitch. A pair of singles set up a Mark Ells sac fly in the fourth, but Mitre survived his own throwing error on a would-be double play by getting a successful 6-4-3 DP on the next pitch thanks to some great glovework by Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano (Jeter ranged into the hole, turned and fired a strike to Cano without making a leap; Cano caught the ball with his back to first then spun and made one of his signature all-wrist throws, hard and on the money to Mark Teixeira to beat Adam Kennedy at first). In the fifth, Mitre again induced a 6-4-3, then struck out Cust on four pitches.

Part of Joe Girardi's plan: Phil Coke vultures the win from Sergio Mitre in the sixth thanks to a two-run Mark Ellis home run. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)Mitre had thrown 91 pitches in his last start, so there was no good reason to take Mitre out. It smacked of overmanaging, particularly after Coke gave up a two-out, two-run homer to righty-swinging Mark Ellis that gave the A’s a 5-4 lead.

Fortunately, the Yankee offense was having none of that. After Mitre gave up two runs in the top of the first, the Yankees answered back with four in the bottom of the first, the key hit being a three-run bases-loaded double by Robinson Cano (who went to third on the throw home, but overslid the bag and was tagged out for the third out). After Ellis’s two-run jack gave the A’s their second lead of the game, the Yankees stormed right back with three in the bottom of the sixth when Melky Cabrera drew a one-out walk, Cody Ransom doubled him to third, Derek Jeter singled them both home, then Damon doubled and scored on a Mark Teixeira single. (Jeter didn’t score in that sequence because he was picked off first by A’s starter Dallas Braden, who has a sick move. Jeter was roughly two steps off the bag when Braden quickly stepped off the rubber and fired the ball right at Jeter’s bellybutton. The ball got there almost before Jeter could react and all first baseman Daric Barton had to do was put his glove on Jeter’s stomach and catch the ball.)

With Phil Coke thus having successfully vultured the win, Girardi went to Phil Hughes, who worked a 1-2-3 seventh striking out Hairston and Cust and then Suzuki to start the eighth. Hughes then lost a eight-pitch battle with Ryan Sweeney, walking him, and gave up a double to Daric Barton to put runners on the corners and put his scoreless streak in jeopardy. Girardi promptly brought in Brian Bruney, who struck out Mark Ellis on four pitches, then brought in Mariano Rivera for the four-pitch save. A pair of groundouts and a pair of strikeouts later, the Yankees had taken the series with a 7-5 win, wrapping up their second-half-opening home stand with a 9-1 record.

I love it when a plan comes together.

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Now Batting for the Yankees, Eric Hinske

Eric Hinske ROY 2003 ToppsThe Yankees acquired a left-handed bench bat today, picking up 2002 Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske from the Pirates for minor leaguers Casey Erickson and Eric Fryer. The move comes on the same day that Xavier Nady is visiting Dr. Lewis Yocum to determine if he does indeed need a second Tommy John surgery.

Hinske is a decent addition to the bench, but before we get to how he fits on the team, lets take a quick look at what the Yankees gave up to get him.

Eric Fryer was the catcher/outfielder obtained from the Brewers for lefty Chase Wright. A tenth-round pick out of Ohio State in 2007, the righty-hitting Fryer, now 23, was hitting .250/.333/.344 with 11 steals in 16 attempts for High-A Tampa, spending most of his time in left field. This is just his third professional season

Pitcher Casey Erickson is also right-handed, 23, and a former tenth-round pick (the Yankees’ in 2006). He’s bounced between starting and relieving in his brief professional career. Though he made a strong showing in short-season Staten Island’s rotation last year (2.76 ERA, 4.6 K/BB), he has pitched primarily in relief for Charleston of the Sally League this year. A groundballer in his first full-season in a full-season league at age 23, he’s nothing special, particularly in the Yankees’ pitching-rich organization.

That’s not much to lose, a pair of 23-year-old A-ballers with very little projection, one a mid-round draft pick and another the bounty for a player who had been designated for assignment. That’s certainly a price worth paying for an immediate upgrade to the major league team’s 25-man roster.

So, is Hinske an upgrade? An if so, how much of one? That partially depends on who he replaces on the roster, which we likely won’t know until just before game time tonight. Here’s my guess.

With Jose Molina set to return from his quad strain, the Yankees are likely on the verge of sending both Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Peña down to Triple-A to get regular playing time. Cervelli and Peña are both 23, and neither has played a game at Triple-A. Cervelli may yet prove to be a viable starting catcher in the major leagues, but will need more development time to achieve that potential. Peña still seems more like a reserve infielder to me, but the Yankees will never find out if he could be more without letting him play every day at Triple-A.

As much of a revelation as Cervelli has been, he’s still only hitting a Molina-like .269/.290/.343 and has made just eight starts in the last month. Peña’s line is a near match at .267/.308/.349, and he’s started just five games in the last month. In Peña’s case, that line is simultaneously impressively and alarmingly close to his career minor league line of .258/.316/.319.

Replacing Peña, Hinske will be a clear upgrade at the plate. He arrives in New York hitting .255/.373/.368 on the season and is coming off  a season in which he hit 20 home runs for the AL Champion Rays. Hinske’s worst major league season came for the Red Sox in 2007, and even that .204/.317/.398 would be an upgrade on Peña, as would Hinske’s career line of .254/.337/.436. The one catch is that the left-handed Hinske flat-out cannot hit left-handed pitching (.221/.298/.363 career), though even that line rivals what Peña has done at the plate in the major leagues. The flip side of that split, of course, is that Hinske’s career line against right-handed pitching  is a solidly league-average .264/.347/.456.

The acquisition of Hinske is above all else a smart solution to the Yankees’ need to have an extra infielder on hand to back up Alex Rodriguez. Hinske isn’t a great defender, but he can play the four corners (third, first, left and right) well enough to spot start against right-handed pitching. Though he’s played just 21 games at third base over the last four seasons, only 11 of which have been starts, he hasn’t made an error in any of them.

Playing for his fourth AL East team, Hinske is familiar with the pitchers in the league and the division and unlikely to suffer from a return to the harder league, where he spent his entire career prior to this year. The only real complaint I have about the move is that Hinske is left-handed. Yes, pairing the lefty-swinging Hinske with the right-handed Cody Ransom will allow Joe Girardi to play matchups at third base on Rodriguez’s weekly days off, but the only other exclusively right-handed hitters on the team are Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, leaving Hinske little value as a pinch-hitter when Ransom’s not in the game. A right-handed bench bat could be used to hit for Brett Gardner or Hideki Matsui against a tough lefty. I suppose Hinske could also hit for Molina after his return, but since such a move would require inserting Jorge Posada for defense, there’s no reason not to simply use Posada’s superior bat in those circumstances.

Nonetheless, Hinske is a valuable and versitile reserve. He’s also been on the last two American League pennant winners. Here’s hoping he extends that streak with the Yankees.

All Your Pitch Are Belong To Bucs

While Angel Berroa continued to sit idle on the Yankees’ bench, the team designated right-handed pitchers Steven Jackson and Eric Hacker for assigment to make room for catcher Kevin Cash, in wake of the injuries to both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina, and veteran right-hander Brett Tomko, in wake of the bullpen’s struggles and his own dominance in spring training and Triple-A Scranton.

This all amounts to very little as Jackson was on the 25-man roster for nine days in April without ever getting into a game, Cash is serving as a back-up to Francisco Cervelli and has gone 1-for-10 since being recalled, Hacker struggled in three starts for Scranton (0-1, 7.88 ERA), and Tomko has thrown just 2 1/3 innings since being called up. Still, it’s worth noting no that Jackson and Hacker have reached their destinations.

In both cases, that destination is Indianapolis, as in the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A club of the Pittsburgh Pirates. There they join former Yankee farmhand Daniel McCutchen and aspire to join the major league team which features former Yankees Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens in its rotation, those last three having gone to Pittsburgh along with outfield prospect Jose Tabata in the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade. Here’s a quick look at each of these former Yanks as well as Romulo Sanchez, the hard throwing reliever the Yankees obtained in exchange for Hacker.

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Baltimore Orioles II: Cellar Repeller

I’ll get to the Orioles in a second. First here’s what’s new about the Yankee roster:

  • Alex Rodriguez is back, playing third and hitting fourth in the tonight’s lineup.

That’s huge. Joe Girardi has posted a lineup without Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada in roughly one third of the Yankees’ games this season (nine of 28). Amazingly, the Yankees have scored 5.67 runs per game in those nine games, but their record in those games has been 3-6, and four of those games have occurred during the team’s current five-game losing streak, with the Yankees averaging just four runs per game in those four games. Losing Posada for a month or so has undermined the impact of Rodriguez’s return, but Rodriguez’s return similarly negates the impact of the loss of Posada. Yankee third basemen have hit .202/.248/.283 in Rodriguez’s absence. It’s difficult to underestimate the importance of his return.

  • Jose Molina is on the DL with a Grade 2 strain in his left quadriceps. Kevin Cash, who hurt his right shoulder on a slide in April and was just activated from the DL on Tuesday, has been called up to take Molina’s place.

Francisco Cervelli draws the start tonight. I have no idea how Girardi is going to dole out the starts going forward, but I would be surprised if Cervelli and Cash are much more productive in place of Posada and Molina than the Yankee third basemen were in place of Alex Rodriguez. Here’s what I wrote about Cash in my Yankee Campers piece back in February:

Kevin Cash is only three years younger than Chad Moller and a whole lot worse at the plate. He has a great arm, but that simply makes him a younger, less-productive version of Jose Molina. At 31, he’s a career .184/.248/.285 hitter in 557 major league plate appearances. His career OPS+ is 38. He’s among the worst of a worthless breed. The Yankees should be publicly apologetic for not being able to do better.

And here’s what I said about Cervelli:

Cervelli played just 21 games for Trenton last year, but hit .315/.432/.384 in them. That high on-base and poor power is typical of Cervelli, a strong defender who turns 23 in early March and could yet emerge as a major league starter. The Yankees hope Cervelli, the leader in their parade of low-minors catching prospects, will advance quickly, but they’d be wise not to rush him out of desperation. He looked completely overmatched in his five major league plate appearances last September.

And here’s what I wrote about Cervelli when he was called up earlier this week:

After losing most of last year to a broken arm, Cervelli now looks not unlike the catcher-version of [Ramiro] Peña. He’s a strong defender, easily major league quality, with little to recommend him at the plate other than a good batting eye. Cervelli looked overmatched at the plate in his very brief September call-up last year, while playing for Italy in the WBC this March, and in spring training after Italy’s elimination from the tournament. The sample size is minuscule, of course, but the competition in each was something less than what he’s likely to see in the majors in May, and he went a combined 4-for-25 (.160) with just one extra base hit and, despite that good batting eye, just one walk across those three appearances. Thus far this year, he’s hitting just .190/.266/.310 for the Trenton Thunder.

Though I did temper that a bit with this:

I’m not particularly worried about the Yankees “rushing” the 23-year-old Cervelli because Jesus Montero is now just a level behind him at High-A Tampa and is crushing the ball. Montero’s defense is far from major-league-ready, if it ever well be, but he’s nipping at Cervelli’s heals. Peña has handled the jump to the majors wonderfully. Cervelli, who has a veteran disposition—despite his lack of production he was a clubhouse leader on Team Italy—seems as likely as anyone to do likewise.

The way I see it, Girardi might as well start Cervelli and hope for the best given that Cash has already proven himself to be an incompetent major league hitter. That said, if one of these guys has a good day at the plate, he should ride the hot hand.

  • Mark Melancon has been optioned to Triple-A Scranton.

That makes room for Rodriguez, but it doesn’t clear a 40-man roster spot for Cash, so another move is coming. If it doesn’t involve Angel Berroa getting designated for assignment, I’ll hit the roof. The problem is that the need to add Cash takes that 40-man spot away from Shelley Duncan, but then Shelley sat out Scranton’s double-header yesterday with a sore shoulder (his left, not the one he separated last year). Oy.

My suggestion for adding another bat is that the Yankees release the perpetually injured Christian Garcia, who is taking up a 40-man roster spot while working out in extended spring training. The hope there being that they could resign him like they did Humberto Sanchez. John Rodriguez or a recovered Duncan could then take Berroa’s 25-man spot while Berroa and Garcia will have made room for Cash and the extra bat.

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Hamstrung

2001 ToppsJorge Posada tweaked his already-tender right hamstring while sliding into second base in the sixth inning of last night’s game. He had an MRI this morning, which revealed a Grad 2 strain, and was placed on the 15-day disabled list soon after. He’s likely to miss a month if not more. The Yankees had hoped to get an offensive boost with Alex Rodriguez’s return from hip surgery, likely on Friday, but with Posada out, Rodriguez’s return will merely return the Yankees to the status quo, as Rodriguez will be hard pressed to out perform the .312/.402/.584 line Posada has put up thus far this season.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the status quo is pretty darn good. Entering tonight’s game, the Yankees are tied with the Texas Rangers for the second most runs scored per game in the American League behind the overachieving Blue Jays. The Yankees’ 5.84 R/G is nearly a run better than their mark from 2008 (4.87 R/G, seventh in the AL), and is evenly split between home (5.8 R/G) and the road (5.87 R/G). Also, Rodriguez is going to be in the lineup more often than Posada, who had been on pace for 115 games between catcher and DH.

It’s still bad news, but it’s not as devastating as Posada’s shoulder injury was last year because of the additions of Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, and the rebounds of Robinson Cano, Hideki Matsui and, thus far, Melky Cabrera. It’s also good news that we’re talking about a fairly routine hamstring injury and not a recurrence of Posada’s shoulder woes.

Still, losing Posada for any length of time creates a hole in the lineup. Jose Molina’s .257/.333/.343 line looks robust next to his 2008 performance (.216/.263/.313), but it’s simply replacement level rather than well below and falls short of what the Yankees had been getting from Ramiro Peña (.313/.371/.344), though the bottom would surely to fall out on Peña were he to stay in the lineup much longer.

Francisco Cervelli has been called up from Double-A to take Molina’s spot on the bench. After losing most of last year to a broken arm, Cervelli now looks not unlike the catcher-version of Peña. He’s a strong defender, easily major league quality, with little to recommend him at the plate other than a good batting eye. Cervelli looked overmatched at the plate in his very brief September call-up last year, while playing for Italy in the WBC this March, and in spring training after Italy’s elimination from the tournament. The sample size is minuscule, of course, but the competition in each was something less than what he’s likely to see in the majors in May, and he went a combined 4-for-25 (.160) with just one extra base hit and, despite that good batting eye, just one walk across those three appearances. Thus far this year, he’s hitting just .190/.266/.310 for the Trenton Thunder.

Cervelli’s here because the top catcher at Triple-A Scranton, Chris Stewart, is hitting .178/.275/.200 and isn’t nearly as good behind the plate as Cervelli. Kevin Cash, who was supposed to be the third-string catcher, is on the DL with a shoulder injury of his own. I’m not particularly worried about the Yankees “rushing” the 23-year-old Cervelli because Jesus Montero is now just a level behind him at High-A Tampa and is crushing the ball. Montero’s defense is far from major-league-ready, if it ever well be, but he’s nipping at Cervelli’s heals. Peña has handled the jump to the majors wonderfully. Cervelli, who has a veteran disposition—despite his lack of production he was a clubhouse leader on Team Italy—seems as likely as anyone to do likewise.

One hidden aspect of Posada’s DL stay is that it will make the loss of Xavier Nady sting all the more. The Yankees haven’t suffered in right field since Nady’s injury because Nick Swisher has been on fire, hitting .300/.434/.688 on the season. Where the Yankees have missed Nady is in their limited pinch-hitting options late in close games. A three-man bench of Jose Molina, Angel Berroa, and Brett Gardner doesn’t offer Joe Girardi much in terms of late-game pop. That wouldn’t have mattered as much with both Rodriguez and Posada in the lineup, but with the hole at third moving to catcher, the Yankees will continue to long after a bench bat. All the more reason for them to use Rodriguez’s return as an excuse to designate Angel Berroa for assignment and purchase the contract of non-roster slugger Shelley Duncan, who is now hitting .347/.421/.716 with ten jacks for Scranton.

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Ouchies

Never mind last night’s game. Painful as it was, it was just one loss. Far more damaging is the fact that three Yankees were placed on the disabled list after the game.

We knew Chien-Ming Wang was unlikely to make his next schedule start in Detroit on Tuesday and had already been skipped this time through the rotation thanks in part to Monday’s rain-out and Thursday’s off-day. Still, it smarts to hear Brian Cashman say that Wang’s problem is in his hips, a cascade injury of sorts stemming from the broken foot he suffered last June, and that he will need roughly two weeks of physical therapy. It’s not the bit about his hips that hurts—that may be bogus, after all—it’s the bit about the two weeks of physical therapy. Yes, a minimum DL stay is roughly two weeks, but Wang hasn’t pitched in a week, and his DL appearance could have been made retroactive, giving him a week to fix his clearly flawed mechanics and bringing him back after missing just three starts. Instead he’ll miss at least five starts. Add those to the three awful starts he already made, and suddenly Wang’s season is in the 20- to 25-start range at best.

The good news is that the Yankees have Phil Hughes looking very read to take Wang’s place. Hughes is 3-0 with a 1.86 ERA and 19 Ks against three walks in 19 1/3 innings for Scranton.  If Hughes pitches well in Wang’s stead, the Yankees will have an interesting choice to make once Wang’s ready to return. (Note that the Yankees haven’t officially named Hughes Tuesday’s starter and are currently filling Wang’s roster spot with an extra reliever.)

In addition to Wang, Brian Bruney has landed on the DL with a strained flexor mass in his right elbow. You’ll be excused if you think you’re having deja vu. Last year, Bruney had a tremendous April (1.59 ERA, 11 1/3 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 6 BB, 12 K, opponents hitting .175/.292/.350) but broke his foot covering first on April 22 and was out until August. This year he was again dominating in April (3.38 ERA, 8 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 12 K, opponents hitting .111/.172/.148), but woke up with elbow pain on the morning of April 22 and is now back on the DL. The good news is that this year’s injury is muscular and the Yankees hope that a couple weeks off will allow it to heal completely.

David Robertson has been recalled from Scranton to help replace Bruney. Robertson struck out three in a pair of scoreless innings against the Indians in the Yankee Stadium opener, but was optioned back to Scranton the next day as the Yankees though they might need an extra bad with Hideki Matsui’s knees and Mark Teixeira’s wrist acting up. The injury to Wang allows Robertson to return to the team just before his minimum ten days in Triple-A had elapsed. Robertson has not allowed an earned run in eight Triple-A innings, but has struck out 14 against just two walks in those frames.

Joining Robertson in the Yankee pen (as of 5:30 this evening, per Pete Abe) is Mark Melancon (pronounced mel-LAN-son), who hasn’t allowed a run, earned or otherwise, in 10 1/3 innings for Scranton this year while striking out 17 against just three walks. In a perfect world, both will be here to stay, and Steven Jackson, who has been on the 25-man roster since Sunday without seeing action despite the Yankees playing a total of 25 innings over their last two games, will be the man farmed out to make room for Hughes on Tuesday.

The perpetually rehabbing Humberto Sanchez was released to make room for Melancon. It was the obvious move, though a disappointing one as Sanchez went to high school in the Bronx and remained active in the community. He would have made a good story had he made an impact with the Yankees, but he just couldn’t get healthy and the Yankees have too many other quality arms to worry about retaining Sanchez, who turns 26 in about a month.

Finally, Cody Ransom tore his right quadricep on a steal of second base in the eighth inning of last night’s game. With Alex Rodriguez about two weeks from returning, Ransom has been sent straight to the 60-day DL to make roster space for Angel Berroa as the only other infielder on the Yankees 40-man roster had been first baseman Juan Miranda. The 31-year-old Berroa carried his hot spring over to the Triple-A season and was hitting .316/.365/.491 for Scranton. He will start at third base tonight, reigiting the spring-training battle between himself and Ramiro Peña, as one of them is likely to be farmed out when Alex Rodriguez returns in a couple of weeks. Worth noting: Berroa has played just one game at third base in the major leagues prior to today and played just 14 games there in the minors before this season.

Here’s the full Yankee lineup (the Red Sox’s remains the same as last night):

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Johnny Damon (LF)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
R – Angel Berroa (3B)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)

This is the first time Posada will catch A.J. Burnett this season. Pitching behind Chien-Ming Wang in the rotation, Burnett started after a loss in each of his three previous starts and each time helped lead the Yankees to victory. In his last start, however, he got a no-decision after walking seven men against just two strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings (he compensated by allowing just three hits, but two of them were home runs).

Today he’ll be taking on his former Marlins teammate, Josh Beckett. Beckett should have started last night had he not been serving a five-game suspension for throwing at Bobby Abreu after Abreu had called time during Burnett’s windup. Beckett was dominant in his first start of the season, but has been less impressive in his last two starts, putting up this line: 12 IP, 14 H, 8 R (7 ER), 6 BB, 10 K, 5.25 ERA.

Observations From Cooperstown–Trade Rumors, The Bench, Duncan, and HOF Elections

In the wake of the Mark Teixeira signing (and press conference), the Yankees have made both Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher available in trade talks. They may end up dealing one of the two, depending on which one can bring the better package in return. I’m still not convinced that’s the right thing to do, unless the return equates to a competent center fielder or a high-grade backup catcher. But there’s no harm in at least exploring the market, which includes teams like the Mariners, Reds, and Giants, and possibly the Dodgers if they don’t re-sign Manny Ramirez. The Reds appear to be one of the most interested parties, but they may not have the right parts to offer. They have no spare center fielders of any real value, and only a moderately tempting backup catcher in Ryan Hanigan. Perhaps the Yankees would have interest in Homer Bailey, who was once rumored to be heading to the White Sox for Jermaine Dye. At one time hailed as the game’s best pitching prospect, Bailey has fallen on hard times in the major leagues and may not have the stuff to succeed as a high-end starter. All in all, he’s a risky proposition who looks too much like the next Charles Hudson to me.

The Giants might be a better match. They can offer either Aaron Rowand or Randy Winn in a deal for Swisher or Nady. At one time, Rowand was a Gold Glove caliber center fielder, but followers of the Giants say his defensive play fell off considerably in 2008. And Winn isn’t really an everyday center fielder, but rather a corner outfielder who can play the middle for short stretches. Unless the Giants can pad their offer to include a pitcher or a catcher, I might have to take a pass on a potential trade with Frisco.

Then there are the Mariners, who need offense in the worst way. They’d prefer Hideki Matsui to either Swisher or Nady, largely because of the Japanese marketing possibilities. But who would the Mariners offer in return for “Godzilla?” They have an unwanted catcher in Kenji Johjima, who was simply dreadful in 2008. They have a shopworn pitcher in Erik Bedard, but his health, attitude, and general contempt of the media would be a bad fit in New York. Once again, the potential return in a trade looks so questionable that Brian Cashman should be very careful before he commits himself to dealing one of his extra outfielder/DH types…

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Christmas Came Early (Tex Marks The Spot)

What’s my take on the Yankees signing Mark Teixeira? Regular readers might already know:

Some samples from the above:

Teixeira was third among major league first basemen in VORP last year, behind only a pair of monster seasons by Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman. Pujols is the best player in baseball, an institution in St. Louis, and signed through 2011 (if you count the club option that is all but guaranteed to be picked up). He’s also the same age as Teixeira. Berkman will be 33 on Opening Day, and is also signed through 2011 (again counting a club option for the final year). Over the past four seasons, Teixeira has averaged 55.05 VORP per season. Last year the only other first baseman to surpass that mark was Kevin Youkilis, who is 11 months older than Teixeira.

Though the Yankees are flush with pitching prospects, outside of Montero, they don’t have any coming mashers in their system. Teixeira was fifth among all hitters in baseball in VORP last year. He’s also a superb defender, and won’t turn 29 until April. Prior to this past season, PECOTA projected that Teixeira would hit .284/.384/.502 in his age-34 season in 2014. Teixeira then beat his PECOTA projection for 2008. A seven year contract that would take Teixeira through age 35 would not be a bad investment.

The Yankee system is nearly barren when it comes to everyday player prospects. Center fielder Austin Jackson is the only notable hitting prospect in the organization to have played above the Sally League, and catcher Jesus Montero is the only prospect in the system who projects as an elite run producer at the plate. . . . Whenever an elite run producer becomes available while still in his 20s, the Yankees absolutely must prioritize that player in order to compensate for their failure to properly stock the farm system with bats. When such a player becomes available at a position of existing need at the major league level, as is the case with Mark Teixeira this offseason, the Yankees have an obligation to their fans and the future of the franchise to sign that player.

It’s quite possible that none of the young pitchers listed above will mature into the sort of dominant ace that CC Sabathia has become, but then again, one might. In fact, more than one might. There is, however, no chance of any player in the Yankee farm system maturing into an all-around defensive and offensive weapon on par with Mark Teixeira. If Brian Cashman is serious about the team-building process he began in the winter of 2005, if Hal Steinbrenner is serious about allowing Cashman to execute his vision, the Yankees must immediately revamp their plans to focus on signing Teixeira.

L – Johnny Damon (LF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S/R – Swisher/Nady (RF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)

Take Teixeira out of that lineup and it’s not a pretty picture given the 2008 performances of Posada, Matsui, Cano, and Gardner and the advancing age of Damon, Jeter, Posada, and Matsui. . . . Oh, and before I go, here’s one more lineup to consider:

L – Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
R – Dustin Pedroia (2B)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Kevin Youkilis (3B)
L – David Ortiz (DH)
R – Jason Bay (LF)
L – J.D. Drew (RF)
S – Jed Lowrie (SS)
Does it really matter? (C)

That can’t be allowed to happen.

The ideal solution to the Yankees’ production problems would be Mark Teixeira, a player who fits the Yankees’ needs about as perfectly as can be given his position, youth, and defensive reputation, the last of which stands in stark contrast to the Yankees 13th place finish in defensive efficiency among AL teams in 2008. With Sabathia off the market, Teixeira is now the belle of the free agent ball, and while it would be obscene for the Yankees to land both CC and Tex, modesty didn’t stop them from giving Burnett an obscene contract.

. . .

Still, even after the Burnett signing, chasing Teixeira is not out of the question for the Yankees. With big contracts including those of Giambi, Abreu, Pettitte, Pavano, and the retired Mike Mussina coming off the books, the Yankees still have, by my math, $23.5 left over from their 2008 payroll, which is very close to the average annual salary Teixeira’s is likely to make under his next contract, which is likely to resemble Sabathia’s and its $23 million annual average.

Would the Yankees dare hand out another nine-figure deal after spending $242.5 million on a pair of starting pitchers? Stay tuned.

The figure in that last sentence should say $243.5 million, but throw that out; it’s now $423.5 million, nearly half-a-billion dollars, for three players. That’s obscene, but Alex addressed my liberal guilt already, so I’ll not dwell on it. The reality of the situation is that, per the figures quoted above, the Yankees’ 2009 payroll is still roughly equivalent to their 2008 payroll, only the team has redirected the money they had been spending on aging players (including the declining and defensively challenged Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu, the 40-year-old Mike Mussina, and the comically fragile Carl Pavano) to a 29-year-old lefty who is arguably the best pitcher in the game, a 29-year-old switch-hitting, Gold Glove first baseman who is among the most productive hitters in the game, and, well, A.J. Burnett (can’t win ‘em all). So, really, the Yankees’ spending is no more obscene than it was before they handed out these three contracts, it’s just a lot smarter (well, at least 67% smarter).

I think it’s worth pointing out that, because Teixeira has switched leagues mid-season each of the last two years, his two best seasons have been somewhat obscured. He won the Gold Glove in his last two single-league seasons (2005 and 2006), and in his last two campaigns posted these lines:

2007: .306/.400/.563 (150 OPS+), 30 HR, 105 RBI, 53.1 VORP
2008: .308/.410/.552 (151 OPS+), 33 HR, 121 RBI, 67.7 VORP

In 2008, he also drew 97 walks against 93 strikeouts. Oh, and on his career he’s slugging exactly .541 against both left-handed and right-handed pitching.

Really, the only reason not to like the Teixeira deal is the length of the contract, but Tex will still be just 36 in the eighth and final year of the deal. By comparison, Jason Giambi was 37 last year and hit .247/.373/.502. Teixeira’s ex-teammate and fellow switch-hitter Chipper Jones was 36 last year and hit .364/.470/.574.  Here’s a quick look at the age-36 seasons of the top seven players listed as most similar to Teixeira at his current age 28 on Baseball-Reference:

  • Carlos Delgado: bounced back from a league-average age-35 season to hit .271/.353/.518. Never had an OPS+ below 129 from ages 28 to 34.
  • Kent Hrbek: retired after a poor age-34 season.
  • Fred McGriff: Production fell off after age 30, but stayed comfortably above average. Hit .277/.373/.452 at age 36.
  • Jim Thome: Save for a season lost to a broken hand, mashed every year through to his .275/.410/.563 performance at age 36.
  • Will Clark: Had just one OPS+ below 123 from age 30 to 36; went out with a flourish as he retired after a .319/.418/.546 performance at age 36.
  • Jeff Bagwell: First OPS+ below 135 came in age-35 season. Hit .266/.377/.465 at age 36.
  • Willie McCovey: Often on DL after age 32, but other than his age-34 season, was still mashing when healthy. Hit .253/.416/.506 in 344 at-bats at age 36.

I’d rate those as four positive indicators (Delgado, Thome, Clark, Bagwell), one negative (Hrbek), and two middling (McGriff with McCovey only because of the injuries).

As mentioned above, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA, which projects players’ future performance based on the careers of similar players throughout the history of the game, predicted prior to last season that Teixeira would stay healthy and productive through to a .284/.384/.502 performance at age-34 (the PECOTA Cards only show the ensuing seven years). Teixeira has since beaten his PECOTA projection for 2008.

You can never know what will happen in the future. All long-term contracts are risks, but it seems to me that Teixeira is among the best bets in baseball to still be healthy and productive eight years from now. As for 2009, he’s exactly the player the Yankees need. The only catch is that having landed both CC and Tex, they’ll have no excuses if they fail to win it all next year, but then, that’s the way they like it.

. . .

By the way, Alex shot me a note to let me know that Todd Drew had his surgery yesterday. All went smoothly and he is recovering nicely. The Yankees signing Teixeira is nice and all, but getting a good word on Todd was the best news of the day, and the real reason that Christmas came early here at the Banter.

What’s Wang With This Picture?

Chien-Ming Wang, 2008 Topps

The Yankees have signed Chien-Ming Wang to a $5 million contract for the 2009, thereby avoiding arbitration with the first of their four arb-eligible players (Xavier Nady, Melky Cabrera, and Brian Bruney are the other three). The contract in and of itself is insignificant. Wang made $4 million last year, but missed the second half of the season with a lisfranc fracture in his foot and thus only got a $1 million raise. No big deal. I do, however, find the Yankees’ treatment of Wang’s arbitration years interesting.

Last year, Wang and Robinson Cano both became eligible for arbitration for the first time. With Cano asking for $4.55 million in 2008, the Yankees decided to buy out his arbitration years entirely with a four-year, $30 million contract. Wang, meanwhile, asked for $4.6 million and the Yankees took him to arbitration to save $600,000 and beat him.

To me, that says alot about the Yankees’ relative enthusiasm for these two players. That’s not to say that they don’t value Wang on a year-to-year basis, but Wang is 2 1/2 years older than Cano and, while its easy to forget even following his foot injury this past season, he has a less than rosy injury history.

Way back in 2001, labrum surgery cost Wang all of his second professional season, forcing him to restart at short-season Staten Island at age 22 in 2002. In his rookie season of 2005, he was shut down in mid-July with another labrum scare that, fortunately, turned out to be solved by his simply spending two months on the DL. In 2007, he started the season on the DL with a hamstring strain suffered in spring training, and last year he broke his foot running the bases in Houston, ending his season after just 15 starts. Thus, Wang has avoided the DL in just one of his four major league seasons.

Beyond those injuries, Wang is also sometimes looked upon with suspicion because of his poor strikeout rates. He has been able to succeed despite striking out just 4.02 men per nine inning on his career (against a league average of 6.48) because of his extreme ground-ball rate, but there’s a sense that that balance will not hold indefinitely. Fortunately, Wang managed to increase his strikeout rate in both 2007 and 2008, topping out at 5.12 K/9 last year thanks to the coaching of Dave Eiland, who had him working in more sliders when he needed a K. Unfortunately, Wang’s walk rates have risen as well, so that his K/BB ratio has held relatively steady near his career sub-par 1.58 mark (league average is 2.01).

On top of concerns about his fragility and effectiveness, there’s age. Wang was 25 as a rookie and will be 29 this season. That’s certainly not old, but he’s several months older than both CC Sabathia and  Josh Beckett. Wang’s arbitration years will take him to age 30, where as Cano’s contract is only guaranteed through his age-28 season. It seems to me that this is the primary reason why the Yankees are taking Wang year-by-year, but went ahead and bought out Cano’s arbitration years in bulk.

There’s another thing that strikes me about Wang’s new one-year deal. It seems unlikely that Wang’s value is going to be lower next year than it is now. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the Yankees to try to negotiate a two-year deal and thereby preemptively suppress Wang’s 2010 salary based on his injury-shortened 2008 season? Perhaps having failed to get a multi-year deal out of the Yankees last year, Wang and his agents wouldn’t agree to such a thing. Still, I think the fact that the Yankees continue to go year-by-year with Wang supports a notion I had when the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett for five years:

The Yankees don’t intend to re-sign Chien-Ming Wang after he becomes a free agent.

Think about it. Sabathia is signed for at least three years and possibly seven. Burnett is signed for five years. Joba Chamberlain is well on his way to establishing himself in the rotation. That’s three spots in the 2011 rotation that are already spoken for. Wang will become a free agent following the 2010 season. If the Yankees can, over the next two years, develop just two more young arms (with Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Zach McAllister being the top candidates), there’s no room for Wang in 2011, and no need to pay a free-agent salary to a player whose arbitration years the Yankees wouldn’t even buy out. Even if the Yankees only develop one more starter by 2011, that leaves just one empty spot in the 2011 rotation, and there’s a good chance that they will be able to find a better way to fill that last spot than to give a big-money, long-term deal to a 31-year-old Chien-Ming Wang.

Of course, when it comes to pitching anything can happen. It could be that none of the pitchers above is healthy or productive enough to claim a rotation spot in 2011. Projecting pitching even just three years into the future is a dangerous game, but the way everything looks right now, I think we’re only going to see Wang in pinstripes for two more years. Enjoy him while you can.

A.J. Stands for Awful Judgment

There are so many things to dislike about A.J. Burnett and his new Yankee contract that I don’t know where to start. I suppose I’ll start with in the cheapest, easiest place, with a comparison of Burnett and Carl Pavano at the moments at which they signed their big Yankee contracts:

A.J. Burnett Carl Pavano
Age 32 29
ML Seasons 10 7
Seasons w/ 30 GS 2 2
Seasons w/ 200 IP 3 2
IP last 3 yrs 524 2/3 559 1/3
Contract Term 5 yrs 4 yrs
Age at end of contract 36 32
Average annual salary $16.5M $9.9875M

There’s no question that A.J. Burnett has better stuff that Carl Pavano. There’s also no question that Carl Pavano’s contract was a smarter, better investment at the time it was signed than Burnett’s is today. None. Pavano arrived in New York off not one, but two consecutive 200-inning seasons (Burnett managed just 165 2/3 innings in 2007), was three years younger, signed for one year less (making him a whopping four years younger in the final year of his deal), and the average annual salary of Pavano’s deal was 40 percent lower than that of Burnett’s.

Oh, and here’s another little nugget, the two pitchers’ career K/BB rates entering their Yankee contracts:

Pavano: 2.28
Burnett: 2.25

One could argue that the comparison between these two pitchers isn’t entirely fair. Pavano’s performance (or lack thereof) during the length of his contract was an extreme case that is extremely unlikely to be repeated, even by a pitcher with Burnett’s sketchy history. At the same time, the Pavano contract was widely panned upon it’s signing, long before anyone knew just how badly things would go, and I think it’s clear that this Burnett contract is an even worse move. It may not be entirely fair, but it is extremely informative, if for no other reason than it’s illustration of the fact that Brian Cashman, a general manager I have long defended in this space, did not learn from one of the biggest mistakes of his career.

Sh*t Sandwich

ESPN is reporting that the Yankees have signed A.J. Burnett to a five-year deal worth $82.5 million dollars. I cannot help but react emotionally to this signing. It is an inexplicably awful, irresponsible, wrong-headed move. I hate hate hate it. It makes me physically sick. Combined with the New Stadium, it is enough for me to question my allegiance to this team. I cannot be consoled. I assume many of you feel the same way. Consider the comments of this post group therapy . . .

Roster Fairing

While everyone was talking about CC, AJ, Melky and Mike yesterday, the Yankees lost four players in the Rule 5 draft, the most of any organization (the Angels lost three pitchers, the Rockies were the only other team to lose more than one player in the major league portion of the draft). To me this is evidence of how well stocked the Yankees farm system is, at least in terms of pitching.

Remember, the Yankees traded away Jose Tabata and three pitchers (Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, and Daniel McCutchen) at the trading deadline (Tabata, Karstens, and Ohlendorf are all on Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster; McCutchen is not yet Rule 5 eligible). They traded two more pitchers in the Nick Swisher deal (Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nuñez, both now on the White Sox’s 40-man, with Nuñez being replaced in the Yankees’ system by the non-Rule 5 eligible Kanekoa Texeira), let Darrell Rasner head off to Japan, cleared out another eight spots on the 40-man roster via free agency (some of which were filled by players activated from the 60-day DL), filled the remaining empty spots on the 40-man, and still had enough talent in their system to be the most targeted organization in the Rule 5 draft. That’s impressive.

Since I didn’t address them at the time, here’s a quick look at the six men added to the 40-man roster this offseason as well as the four men taken in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft yesterday and, for yucks, the two taken in the Triple-A portion of the draft.

First the 40-man additions listed in rough approximation of their proximity to the major leagues:

Steven Jackson – RHP

The last remaining player from the deal that sent Randy Johnson back to Arizona after the 2006 season, Jackson utilized an improved split-finger fastball to have a break out season in relief for Triple-A Scranton this year. After the All-Star break, Jackson posted a 0.87 ERA while striking out 26 in 20 2/3 innings against just eight walks and no homers. On the season, he struck out 91 in 79 2/3 innings while allowing just four homers. A big righty who will turn 27 in March, Jackson could be part of the fungible minimum-wage portion of the Yankees bullpen in 2009.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver