During the three and a half years of RAB’s existence we’ve gotten excited about a number of prospects. At our inception it was Phil Hughes, and it quickly turned to Joba Chamberlain (and even Ian Kennedy). The latest in the prospect craze is Jesus Montero. He is considered by many talent evaluators, including Baseball America’s Jim Callis, to be the game’s best hitting prospect. The only question is of whether he can catch in the bigs.
At the end of the regular season I answered a mailbag question about the Yankees catching situation in 2011. Ideally they’d carry Montero, Jorge Posada, and Francisco Cervelli. That would allow Montero and Posada to rotate between catcher and DH, with Cervelli serving as a true backup (i.e., plays once a week). But we know that ideal situations don’t often come to fruition. Plenty stands in the way of the Yankees and their heavy hitting catcher rotation.
Reader Mike writes in with an interesting question about the situation:
Isn’t 2011 the make or break year to use Montero? I mean lets say the Yankees want to go with Posada/Cervelli at C and someone else DHing that means Montero will end up in AAA again. But won’t that block Austin Romine‘s development? Isn’t Romine due for a promotion to AAA, and you can’t have both those guys on the same level considering both need to be playing everyday in the minors.
I’m not sure it’s a make it or break it year, but it certainly will mean something for Montero’s development. There’s a decent chance that Montero breaks camp with the team and plays the role described above. Yet there’s still a good chance that he opens the season back in Scranton. That means Romine starts in Trenton again, since, as Mike mentions, both players at this point need to catch full time. Romine could then move up to AAA once the Yankees are ready to promote Montero. Splitting the season between AA and AAA might be a good thing for Romine, who still has plenty of development ahead of him.
That might not seem interesting; it actually sounds pretty normal. What’s interesting is the question I asked myself after reading Mike’s question: What happens if they trade Montero? He might be the team’s best hitting prospect since Nick Johnson, but he’s not untouchable. As the Yankees rebuild the pitching staff this winter they might find that Montero helps them more as trade bait. We can all make a list of what players the Yankees should target if they trade Montero, but what I want to know is what the team plans to do at catcher in that scenario.
Going with Posada and Cervelli again is a poor idea. Posada started just 78 games at catcher, 10 fewer than in 2009. The Yankees simply cannot count on him to provide much production behind the plate. I doubt they sign a DH this off-season, in fact, because Posada will have to fill that spot often. That leaves Cervelli as the starting catcher, a role for which he is not suited. As a once-a-week back-up he’s more than adequate. Even if he has to spot start while the starter goes on the DL, you could do a lot worse. But if he’s the only one who can take on full-time catching duties, the Yankees should look elsewhere for a better alternative.
On the free agent market there aren’t many upgrades. Victor Martinez is the best of the lot, but there are a number of points against him: 1) He’ll cost a draft pick, 2) He’ll be 32 next year, 3) He has defensive issues, 4) He’ll almost certainly be overpaid by a catching-starved team. There are a couple of free agent catchers, John Buck and Miguel Olivo (should his option be declined), who can hit for power, but that’s the only dimension to their games. Perhaps the Yankees could look to one of these guys as a one-year stopgap, but I’m not sure that they present that large an upgrade over Cervelli.*
While Olivo had 3.2 WAR and Buck 2.9, they did it with over 100 more PA — and there’s no guarantee that they can repeat that in 2011. At the same time, I expect Cervelli’s defense to improve, since most of it consisted of mental lapses, which is a correctable issue.
Another option is to work a trade. This would likely be for a player coming off a down year, such as Mike Napoli, or a 2012 free agent. Again there aren’t many attractive names there, though Ryan Doumit does stand out a bit. The Pirates recently acquired Chris Snyder, who will likely start behind the plate for them in 2011. That means the Pirates can trade Doumit, who is one of their better bargaining chips. The only issue is that he is also not a great defensive catcher. Neither is Napoli. But, since Montero isn’t, either, I’m not sure the Yankees would be losing out in this aspect.
There will be temptation this winter, particularly if Cliff Lee signs elsewhere, to trade Montero in order to upgrade the pitching staff. But doing so would leave the Yankees in a bind of sorts. The available veteran catchers are not world beaters; Montero could potentially outhit them all next year. He might not stick at catcher in the majors, but he’ll hit anywhere, even if it’s DH. After looking at the alternatives, I think it’s better to hold Montero and try to use other pieces, or just cash, to upgrade the pitching staff.
Every team has a few of them every single season; replacement level relievers, or worse. Most of the time these guys are buried in the back of the bullpen, throwing low-leverage innings once or twice a week when his team had a big lead or a big deficit. The Yankees were (un)lucky enough to have three guys like that this year, and they even came with a cheesy nickname: Chad Ho Moseley. Let’s review…
After a solid job as the Yankees’ makeshift fifth starter down the stretch last season, Gaudin was rewarded by being released in Spring Training. He ended up back in his old stomping grounds in Oakland, at least until they released him after 17.1 innings of 5.91 FIP pitching. The Yanks brought him back in late-May for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum and stuck him in their bullpen as a mop-up guy.
That’s pretty much exactly what Gaudin was, because opponents mopped the floor with him during his second tenure in pinstripes. He was somehow even worse with the Yanks than he was with the A’s (6.25 FIP), and a late season audition for a playoff spot which featured the Yanks forcing him into some high-leverage spot went predictably awful. All told, Gaudin put a -0.8 fWAR in 48 IP just with the Bombers in 2010 (-1.1 overall). Yuck.
Park was a late addition in the offseason, signing a low-risk one-year, $1.2M contract after pitchers and catchers had already reported in February. His relief stint with the Phillies in 2009 was excellent (53-15 K/uIBB ratio and 0 HR in exactly 50 IP), good enough that even with normal age-related decline (he was 36 when they signed him, after all) and the AL-to-NL transition that there were still reasons to expect him to be a serviceable relief arm.
As it turned out, CHoP was anything but serviceable. He made three appearances in April, taking the loss in the first game of the season, before hitting the disabled list for a month with a bad hamstring. That bought him some more time. CHoP returned in mid-May and allowed at least one run in four straight outings and in five of six, earning himself a demotion to mop-up duty. After five scoreless outings in June, CHoP pretty much fell apart. He was designated for assignment after the Yanks acquired Kerry Wood at the trade deadline, finishing his Yankee career with a 5.60 ERA and more than one homer allowed for every 16 outs recorded.
It was a worthwhile gamble that completely blew up in the Yankees’ faces; Park was worth -0.2 fWAR in pinstripes. That the Pirates claimed him off waivers and saved New York the final $400,000 of his salary was nothing more than a minor miracle.
The Yanks brought in the former Reds’ first round pick on a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training, and he pitched well enough in Triple-A (3.67 FIP in a dozen starts) that he forced the Yankees’ hand when his opt-out clause kicked in in late-June. Pitching in a mop-up role initially, Moseley moved into the rotation once Andy Pettitte‘s groin landed him on the disabled list.
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Moseley wasn’t terrible at first, giving the team two quality starts in his first three outings. It all kinda went downhill from there (6.41 ERA, .932 OPS against) as his inability to miss bats (13 BB, 11 K) manifested itself in his next four starts. Somehow the Yankees still managed to win three of those games, but Moseley found himself back in the bullpen with rookie Ivan Nova usurping him in the rotation.
In the end, the 28-year-old righty finished the season with with a 5.99 FIP and -0.4 fWAR in 65.1 innings for the big league team. He slightly redeemed himself with two scoreless innings in Game One of the ALCS, paving the way for the eighth inning comeback, but meh. Dustin’s effort was admirable, yet completely forgettable.
* * *
It’s unfair to toss Sergio Mitre into this mix because at least he managed to be replacement level this season (exactly 0.0 fWAR), but we have to mention him somewhere. He allowed just seven runs in his final 24.2 innings (2.55 ERA), so unlikely the Chad Ho Moseley monster he at least finished strong.
A trio of sub-replacement level long relievers (total damage: -1.4 fWAR, 148.2 IP, or 10.3% of the team’s total innings) didn’t sink the Yankees season by any means, but it sure was painful to watch.
Real quick: take a look at Boone Logan’s 2010 numbers. They look pretty spiffy, no? You can’t ask much more from a young lefty reliever. What made Logan look even better was the value he provided. Although he faced just 169 batters in 40 innings, he still produced 0.4 WAR, which was 0.6 more than the other player the Yankees acquired from the Braves last winter. Since Logan provided more value this year and will continue to provide more in the future, we can accurately term this the Boone Logan Trade. But it wasn’t always that way.
Because the Yankees started the season stocked with bullpen arms, Logan started the year in AAA Scranton. He made his way to the big league club early on, and made his first appearance on April 20. Things didn’t go so well during that first stint. Logan faced 49 batters in 10.2 innings and walked seven batters while striking out six. It led to six earned runs, a 5.06 ERA. The Yankees optioned him, but then recalled him again in mid-June, though that didn’t exactly go well either. This time Logan faced 33 batters in 7.2 innings, striking out seven and walking five. The results were better, but he clearly still had control issues.
Logan’s 3.93 first half ERA didn’t look so bad, but his walk issues made it hard to trust him against tough left-handed hitters. He finished the half with 12 walks in 18.1 innings, leading to an opponent OBP of .390. He threw 314 pitches to 82 batters, almost four per. Clearly something would have to change if he was going to stick in the second half. By the time the Yankees recalled him for the third time in the season, something had.
The second half didn’t open ideally for Logan, as he allowed a run in 1.2 innings against the Rays. The good news is that he didn’t walk a batter, and he threw 15 of 23 pitches for strikes (65%). He continued to throw strikes in subsequent appearances, and it paid off. He walked just eight in 21.2 second-half innings, a marked improvement over his first half numbers. It led to a mere .264 opponents’ OBP. Hitters also had trouble making solid contact, as his BABIP went down to .235. This was due, in large part, to a mere 8 percent line drive rate, down from 25 percent in the first half.
How did Logan accomplish this mid-season transformation? Part of it was certainly throwing more strikes. In the first half he threw 60 percent of his pitches for strikes, while in the second half that was up to 63 percent. That might not seem like a huge increase, but it can make a big difference when you’re often working one batter at a time. But it doesn’t account for the entire difference. The biggest change, as most of us can probably intuit, was pitch selection and effectiveness.
In the first half Logan was extremely fastball heavy, throwing it 70.9 percent of the time. He got a meager 8.9 percent whiff rate on it, leading to a 21.5 percent in play rate. In the second half he started leaning on his slider a lot more, using it 32.4 percent of his time. Opponents put it in play just 10.2 percent of the time, while whiffing 27.8 percent of the time. The pitch ended up being his best per FanGraphs’ Pitch Type Values, 3.8 runs above average overall, and 2.34 per 100 pitches. All it took was him using it more and commanding it better.*
*Looking at the PitchFX numbers, Logan got -0.07 inches of vertical break and -1.13 inches of horizontal break on the slider in the first half. In other words, it darted downward and towards a right-handed batter. In the second half it was 2.02 inches of vertical break and -0.29 inches horizontal. That might seem like less movement, but I have a pet theory on this. It basically goes that Logan was letting the slider fly more in the first half and was a bit more careful with it in the second half. He might have had more movement in the first half, but he was wild with it. In the second half the lower break figures point to a greater command over the pitch. Again, this is just a pet theory, but I’d love to hear some point-counterpoint on this if anyone is interested.
Just so you can see the difference, here are Logan’s slider plots from the first and second halves.
Everything was away in the second half, and he buried plenty in the dirt. It’s tough to pick out the subtleties, because he threw far more in the second half than in the first. But I do think it’s clear that he kept the slider below the zone in the second half, while he was low and away in the first half. This probably led to the pitch being a lot more effective.
Given his second half performance, it’s hard to not like Logan as the primary lefty in 2011. He showed great improvements, from his peripheral numbers — 10.38 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 in the second half — to his pitch selection and command. Whether he can maintain these improvements remains to be seen, but he’ll get every chance to do so. With Damaso Marte out for most of, if not all of, the 2011 season, Logan becomes the primary lefty in the pen. Six months ago that would have left me feeling queasy. Amazing what a little improvement can do.
Last winter, the Yankees added seven minor leaguers to the 40-man roster. If I had to guess, I’d say it will be closer to four or five this winter.
Of the players eligible for the Rule 5 draft, only Dellin Betances and Brandon Laird jump out as guys who absolutely need to be protected. Beyond that, each addition is likely to depend on how many roster spots come open and how highly the Yankees think of some of their lower-level players.
This post is not an attempt to list every Yankees minor leaguer who’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft. These are simply some of the names who jumped out to me as leading candidates at various positions. My friend Donnie Collins has a more comprehensive list.
Pitchers:Wilkins Arias, Dellin Betances, Jairo Heredia, Craig Heyer, Alan Horne, George Kontos, Adam Olbrychowski, Jonathan Ortiz, Lance Pendleton, Ryan Pope, Pat Venditte, Kevin Whelan, Eric Wordekemper
Betances (right) is the no-brainer of the group. He’s a huge talent who seems to be finally healthy, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could pitch his way to New York as early as next season.
Heredia is also a pretty big talent, but injuries have held him to only 39 innings above Low-A. The Yankees took a chance on getting the young and raw Ivan Nova through the Rule 5 in 2008, and that worked out. They took no such chances with Hector Noesi last year. The Yankees have to make a similar decision on Heredia this year.
Beyond Betances, the names that standout most are Arias, Pendleton and Pope. Arias is the only lefty on the list, Pendleton is coming off a nice year in Double-A (he finished in Triple-A) and Pope was invited to big league camp this spring then got an Arizona Fall League assignment this offseason. Heyer is also in the Fall League. Those Fall League assignments suggest the Yankees like the potential of Heyer and Pope, but one year ago Zach Kroenke, Grant Duff and Colin Curtis were all sent to the Fall League, but each was still left exposed to the Rule 5.
Horne and Kontos would be much more prominent in this discussion if not for injuries. Kontos is pitching again, but after a solid regular season, he’s struggling in Arizona.
Infielders:Brandon Laird, Jose Pirela, Brad Suttle
Laird (right) was terrific this season. He can already play the infield corners, now he’s in the Fall League learning to handle the outfield. He seems like a lock.
Pirela is the biggest name of a few small-name middle infielders who are eligible. He’s never played above Class A, and the Yankees already have quite a few middle infielders on the roster. Suttle is an interesting case: A fourth-round pick who showed an impressive bat in college but missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury. He started to hit in the second-half of this season, but I’m not sure he could actually stick on a Major League roster at this point.
The top candidate here is Mesa (right). He can hit for power, he can run and he can throw. He also struck out 129 times in 121 games this season. And that was an improvement on last year’s 168 strikeouts. Strikeouts aside, Mesa can play center field and he brings a ton of tools. Beyond Laird, I’d say Mesa is the top position player worth a spot.
Of the other outfielders: Neither of the Almonte’s has played above Class-A, while Krum and Sublett hit below .230 in Double-A this season. Sublett and Abraham Almonte are converted infielders.
No big names are eligible at catcher. Right or wrong, Gil (right) has been treated more like an organizational catcher than as a prospect. P.J. Pilittere will become a free agent this winter, but he’s not someone the Yankees are likely to consider adding to the roster, and he’s much better off finding a new organization.
Jesus Montero and Austin Romine are a year away from Rule 5 eligibility.
The Orioles officially declined their $1.2MM club option on lefty Mark Hendrickson, according to a team press release. They'll pay a $200K buyout instead. The move was widely expected.
Hendrickson, a 6'9" southpaw, turned 36 in June. This year he posted a 5.26 ERA, 6.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, and 42.9% groundball rate in 75.3 innings. He deserved an ERA more like 4.18, according to Baseball Prospectus' SIERA stat. Hendrickson's FanGraphs splits show he's been plenty effective against left-handed batters over the past few years.
He may have taken the loss in two World Series games, but Cliff Lee is still the marquee name among all free agent starting pitchers. The 32-year-old has a 2.98 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, and 0.61 HR/9 in 667.3 regular season innings since 2008. He tossed 248 innings this year including the playoffs despite not making his first start until April 30th. Lee is eligible for free agency for the first time in his career and will finally get to settle down with one team. For more on his market, check out Mike Axisa's October 4th post.
Strong, Abbreviated Seasons
As usual, Andy Pettitte's options appear to be retirement or a return to the Yankees. That leaves Jorge de la Rosa as the second-best lefty available and perhaps the second-best starter overall since the Dodgers locked up Ted Lilly. As a Type A free agent, De La Rosa will cost a draft pick along with his contract. De La Rosa, 30 in April, missed ten weeks this season with a torn tendon in his finger. He throws hard, strikes out plenty, gets groundballs, and walks too many.
Three Semi-Interesting Names
If you dig a bit you'll find Hisanori Takahashi, Chris Capuano, and Bruce Chen as a trio of lefties capable of starting. All three had decent peripherals as starters this year, though only Chen topped 100 innings in the role.
Many teams in the starting pitching hunt just won't have the cash to seriously bid for Lee. De La Rosa will get plenty of action, but there aren't many other free agent lefties you'd plug into a rotation.
Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News/MCTCliff Lee lost twice in the World Series, including Monday night's series-clinching win for the Giants.
In the losing clubhouse Monday night, pitcher Cliff Lee spoke about the enjoyment he gets playing for the Texas Rangers. At the same time, he gave little indication that Monday's Game 5 start in the World Series wouldn't be his last in a Rangers uniform.
I expect this team to do some really good things next year. I don't know if I'm going to be a part of it or not. To be honest with you, I would love to be, but so many things can happen. You never know.
Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscon Nov 02, 2010Print This Post | ..."email_popup(this.href); return false;" title="Email This Post"> ..."email_popup(this.href); return false;" title="Email This Post">Email This Post
The Yankees have made their first 40-man moves of the offseason.
Chad Gaudin and Royce Ring were both outrighted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, removing them from the 40-man roster. Gaudin immediately elected free agency.
Filling one of those spots is toolsy outfielder Melky Mesa. Mesa would have been eligible for free agency had he not been added to the 40-man, hence this move being made immediately before other players are protected from the Rule 5.
NEW YORK -- Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said his team's payroll will remain at roughly the same levels going into next season. If that is so, it appears the Yankees will likely have room for one major new free agent signing, with their top priority being Rangers ace Cliff Lee.
"I can safely say we're going to stay within the same level," Steinbrenner said, on an interview Tuesday afternoon on ESPN 1050. "I'm obviously not going to get into details. But we know we're expected to field a championship caliber team and we're going to do what it takes to do that. So, if we have to get creative in a trade, or if we have to go out for a big free agent, we're going to do it."
The Yankees opening day salary was an estimated $206.3 million this season, up from $201.5 million on opening day 2009. But even if the Yankees slightly increase payroll once again, it may be enough to sign another top free agent, assuming the Yankees make good on Steinbrenner's goal of re-signing franchise icons Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
Speaking at the conclusion of organizational meetings in Tampa, Steinbrenner said general manager Brian Cashman has reached out to the agents of both Jeter and Rivera.
Steinbrenner said he wants both to remain in pinstripes, though he added: "Having said that, we're running a business here."
Meanwhile, Steinbrenner said he believed the apology he received from Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg was sincere. The Yankees owner said Greenberg conveyed to him that his remarks about Yankees fans were "ridiculous, if not stupid."
On a radio interview on Monday, Greenberg called Yankees fans "violent", "apathetic," and "an embarrassment."
Speaking to WFAN radio later in the afternoon, Steinbrenner called the Yankees' ouster in the ALCS to the Rangers a head scratcher, and wondered if the long layoff between playoff series played a factor.
He admitted to being "a little bit too raw" from the loss to expand on the positives of 2010.
Notes: The Yankees outrighted right-handed pitcher Chad Gaudin and and left-hander Royce Ring to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In response, Gaudin elected to become a free agent. The Yankees moved outfielder Melky Mesa to the 40-man roster.
The Yankees, fresh off their 27th World Championship, let World Series MVP Hideki Matsui depart as a free agent after the 2009 season in their never-ending quest to get younger and more athletic. When camp opened up in February, it was unclear who would replace Godzilla as the fifth hitter in the lineup, protecting cleanup man Alex Rodriguez and mopping up any messes left behind by the middle of the order. Joe Girardi and the rest of the shot-callers could have taken the easy way out and stuck Jorge Posada in the five-hole. He’s a long-time Yankee stalwart with plenty of credentials to claim that spot, so it was a natural fit. Even Nick Swisher, fresh off a 29 homer season, would have made sense.
They didn’t take the easy way out though. Instead of going with the easy pick they issued a challenge to Robbie Cano, one of their youngest regulars. It’s time for you to be more than just a (very good) complementary piece, we need you to be a cornerstone, a centerpiece off the offense. Robbie’s excellent 2009 season (.370 wOBA, 4.4 fWAR) was marred by his failures with runners in scoring position (.207/.242/.332, .251 wOBA) and in high-leverage spots (.255 wOBA), understandably causing some to question the decision to move him up into the heart of the order. If he couldn’t hit with runners on base, how is he supposed to protect Mark Teixeira and A-Rod? We all knew that Cano had all the talent in the world, but could he deliver in his new role?
Cano’s response to those questions was a quick and emphatic YES. He opened the season with five hits (including a double and a homer) in three games at Fenway Park, and it wasn’t until the 17th of April that Robbie went hitless in a game. His month of April was the best by a Yankee not named A-Rod in more than a decade, as he finished the season’s first month with a .400/.436/.765 batting line (.497 wOBA) and eight homers. The hot hitting didn’t stop after April ended either, Cano entered the All Star break with a .336/.389/.556 line (.400 wOBA) and as the league’s first 4.0+ fWAR player.
The overall season performance is MVP worthy; a .319/.381/.534 batting line that featured career highs in wOBA (.389), homers (29), runs scored (103), runs driven in (109), walks (57, more than 2008 and 2009 combined), isolated power (.214), bWAR (6.1), and fWAR (6.4). Cano didn’t stop there either, he was the team’s best hitter in the postseason, a .343/.361/.771 (.464 wOBA) effort with four homers in the team’s six ALCS games. When Tex’s season ended in Game Four because of a hamstring injury, Robbie stepped right into the three-spot and homered the very next day. Regular season or postseason, Cano was an absolute monster in 2010, and it was all because of some subtle improvements.
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Remember those struggles in men on base in 2009? Forget about that. Robbie hit .322/.407/.515 (.352 wOBA) with runners in scoring position and an even sexier .449 wOBA in high leverage situations this year. He was even better away from the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium (.402 wOBA) than at home (.376), as hard as that can be to believe. Comparing his 2009 and 2010 spray charts (courtesy of Texas Leaguers), you’ll see that he traded opposite field singles and doubles for balls yanked hard into rightfield, mostly over the wall. Cano’s pre-game screen drill with hitting coach Kevin Long is the stuff of legend, designed to help him keep his hands in on pitches over the inner third of the plate while stilling hitting the ball with authority, and it certainly paid off this season. His defense went from strong to spectacular, with jaw-dropping plays on balls hit up-the-middle becoming his specialty.
On a personal level, Robbie also reached many career milestones in his sixth big league season. He picked up his 1,000th career hit with a bases loaded ground rule double in the eighth inning of a late July game against reliever Victor Marte of the Royals, reaching that milestone in fewer at-bats than any Yankee not named Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly. A fourth inning solo homer off Brian Moehler of the Astros a few weeks earlier tied the game and was Robbie’s 100th career long ball. He also notched his 200th career double in his second plate appearance of the season and his 500th career RBI on the third to last day of the season, both again the Red Sox in Fenway.
Robinson turned just 28 years old two weeks ago, so he’s very much in the prime of his career. In fact he should be just entering his prime years. That’s pretty impressive considering he was a .306/.339/.480 (.356 wOBA) career hitter with a pair of 4.4+ fWAR seasons before 2010. Cano proved to everyone that the young kid with a knack for getting the bat on the ball hitting in the bottom third of the order was capable of carrying the Yankees as their older stars continue to fade into the background, and his emergence as one of the game’s elite was far and away the highlight of the 2010 season. When he’s locked in, few are more fun to watch that the guy with the smile on his face.