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Archive for the ‘Rumors’ Category

“Not interested” have seemingly become Brian Cashman’s favorite two words, which hasn’t exactly been music to the ears of many Yankees fans (or agents hoping to ignite a bidding war). Although it’s easy to see why Cashman would remain aloof when it comes to big ticket free agents or inflated trade demands seeking the team’s best prospects, the cold shoulder given to pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt has been harder for many to understand.

Is Roy Oswalt the best option for the Yankees? (Photo: AP)

As the winter has progressed, and the Yankees’ Hot Stove has remained without a flame, there has been a growing disenchantment among the fan base. All of sudden, the likes of Oswalt and Kuroda have become “must haves”, and the Yankees’ lack of interest a sign of irrational fiscal restraint. Earlier, I suggested the team might be in a warped version of a rebuilding mode, and apparently, many in the Yankees’ Universe have taken that sentiment a little too much to heart.

Whether or not the Yankees are laying the foundation for when Cole Hamels becomes a free agent next season, there is no reason for the team to make a rash decision on players whom, only weeks ago, most would have agreed weren’t a great fit. After all, is a 34-year old Oswalt, who is coming off a season with a bad back, really what the Yankees need? Is a 37-year old Kuroda, who has spent his brief career in the NL West, any better?

As constituted, the Yankees’ rotation has several question marks, but the only real candidate to be removed for an acquisition would be Phil Hughes. Considering his struggles over the last season and a half, many fans would likely welcome a veteran replacement, but should the Yankees be willing to pull the plug on a pitcher who was not only a highly touted prospect, but has had some success in the major leagues? Granted, penciling Hughes into the rotation represents a risk, but the potential reward (a young, reliable starter under team control for three more years) suggests it should be one the Yankees are willing to take, especially when contrasted against what could be expected from some of the proposed alternatives.

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As the baseball Hot Stove slowly builds from early embers, the Captain’s Blog will be busy identifying the top pitching targets that the Yankees should consider pursuing in a trade. In part one, a game plan to acquire Felix Hernandez was devised. Admittedly, such an acquisition probably falls under the heading of wishful thinking, so just in case that advice proves unsuccessful, one of two backup plans is now suggested (for a link to the other, click here).

Assuming the Mariners refuse to trade Felix Hernandez at any price, and the cost proves too prohibitive for the likes of Gio Gonzalez and John Danks, there are still several attractive options to consider. In particular, a trio of talented young right handers could all be made available by their respective teams, and Brian Cashman should be first line to kick the tires on each one.

Top-10 Right Handed Starters, Ranked by WAR: 2009-2011

Player WAR W L IP ERA ERA+
Roy Halladay 21.2 57 26 723.1 2.53 163
Justin Verlander 18.3 61 23 715.1 3.06 140
Felix Hernandez 16.7 46 31 722 2.73 147
Jered Weaver 16.7 47 28 671 3.03 134
Tim Lincecum 14.3 44 31 654.2 2.87 138
Josh Johnson 14.1 29 12 453 2.64 159
Ubaldo Jimenez 13.7 44 33 628 3.63 126
Dan Haren 13.2 42 32 702.2 3.41 122
Matt Cain 13.1 39 30 662.2 2.97 134
Zack Greinke 12.9 42 28 621 3.33 126

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Now that CC Sabathia has opted against opting out, the starting pitchers available in the 2011 free agent class pale in comparison to the offensive players testing the market. However, there are viable options to consider, including C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, and the soon to be posted Japanese standout Yu Darvish.

Should the Yankees be pumped up about a potential free agent like Yu Darvish, or focus on the trade market instead?

Although Brian Cashman will undoubtedly give careful thought to every prominent free agent starter, more and more, it seems as if the Yankees’ primary focus will be acquiring one in a trade. This strategy makes sense for several reasons. For starters (pun intended), there are heightened risks associated with many of the more attractive free agents (age for Buerhle and Oswalt; lack of a track record for Wilson and Darvish). Because these free agents would likely require a lucrative long-term contract (or in Darvish’s case, a hefty posting fee), a cost-risk analysis might not justify the pitcher’s expected contribution. Besides, in free agency, a team is often forced to pay more for past performance than future value, which especially seems likely among this group.

Another reason why it makes sense for Brian Cashman to explore a trade is because the Yankees have depth in their minor league system, particularly at pitcher and catcher. To some, that might be all the more reason to not make a move, but the recent release of Andrew Brackman is a cautionary tale. Less than eight months ago, Brackman was being touted as one of the Yankees’ three “killer-B’s”, but now he is looking for a job. Part of the reason for that decision was the Yankees’ prospect depth made Brackman’s 40-man roster spot a valuable commodity, but the tall right hander’s rapid fall from grace says more about the unpredictability of pitching prospects.  Although the organization should not be adverse to allowing its own prospects to develop, each and every one should be on the table in the right deal.

With the rationale out of the way, the next step is to determine potential trade targets. Brian Cashman and his Yankees’ brain trust have likely already begun assembling such a list, but just in case they need some help, the Captain’s Blog will be spending the next week highlighting the top pitching trade targets whose acquisition would be worthy of a concerted effort. So, where to start?

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Now that the summer trading frenzy has gotten underway, Yankees’ fans will start beating the drum for a blockbuster of their own. The only problem is there aren’t many obvious candidates available on the market. Otherwise, history tells us that Brian Cashman would probably have pulled the trigger already.

The names most commonly tied to the Yankees in trade rumors are the Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda and the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez. According to Buster Olney, the Yankees currently prefer the much older Kuroda because of his greater consistency. On the surface, that statement seems absurd when you consider the career bWAR of the Dodgers’ right hander is just barely higher than the number compiled by Jimenez in 2010 alone. Sure, Kuroda has been more consistent, but Jimenez has been better.

Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Hiroki Kuroda, 2008 to 2011

  Ubaldo Jimenez    Hiroki Kuroda
Year fWAR bWAR AvgWAR   fWAR bWAR AvgWAR
2008 4.3 3.1 3.7   3.6 2.2 2.9
2009 5.7 5.1 5.4   2.2 0.2 1.2
2010 6.3 7.2 6.8   4.2 2.5 3.4
2011 2.5 1.9 2.2   1.7 2.5 2.1
Total 18.8 17.3 18.1   11.7 7.4 9.6

Note: AvgWAR = bWAR + fWAR/2
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

In sports, consistency is often viewed both pejoratively and euphemistically. To some, the term is used to cover up for a lack of elite production (akin to the “professional hitter” moniker), while others employ it in a demeaning manner (kind of like saying a woman has a nice personality). However, consistency has very direct meaning, and players who exhibit it have real value…provided the level of that consistent production is accurately tied to their cost.

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Is Francisco Liriano the offseason pitching acquisition for which Brain Cashman, and the Yankee fan base, has been patiently waiting?

Liriano would help round out the Yankees' rotation, but do health concerns make the rumored cost prohibitive?

According to a newspaper report out of Minnesota, the Twins’ recent inability to sign their talented young lefthander to a long-term deal has led some in the organization to consider trading him while his value is high. Not surprisingly, this news immediately prompted speculation about Liriano being traded to the Yankees. Over at IIATMS, Jason provided a nice rundown of various reactions to this rumor from throughout the Yankees’ blogosphere, but as always, the devil is in the details.

The Yankees’ farm system is brimming with highly regarded prospects, but most major deals involving the pinstripes always seem to center around two: Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos. At this point, Montero, who some have compared to Frank Thomas and Mike Piazza, seems close to untouchable, but there has been no such indication regarding Banuelos. Although the TINSTAAPP (there is no such thing as a pitching prospect) concept is very popular in some circles, Banuelos’ scouting report suggests that he may be the exception that proves the rule. If the Yankees’ internal evaluations are as optimistic, trading this young lefty would seem to require an extreme level of prudence.

When healthy, Liriano has proven to be a terrific pitcher who excels at missing bats, which is usually a pre-requisite for dominance. However, the “when healthy” caveat can not be taken lightly. Although all pitchers are a risk, ones who have already exhibited a history of arm problems and undergone a Tommy John surgery carry with them an extra bright red flag.

The risk associated with Liriano’s injury history is further compounded by his impending free agency after the 2012 season. As a result, any team acquiring him would have two options: (1) sign Liriano to a long-term deal just one strong season removed from his recovery; or (2) wait until after 2012 and run the risk of having to give him a Cliff-Lee type contract. Even though money isn’t as much of a concern to the Yankees, sinking a pretty penny into an injury prone pitcher would probably make even the Steinbrenners swallow hard.

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The Yankees and Johnny Damon have reportedly discussed a return to the Bronx, but concerns over a lack of playing time have made the possible reunion unlikely.

Is Johnny Damon returning to the Bronx?

Although the Yankees are set in the outfield, the team’s bench has been severely depleted this offseason. Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns have already signed elsewhere, and Marcus Thames seems destined to the do the same. As a result, the Yankees have no depth, literally.

Not only do the Yankees lack a viable fourth outfielder, but they also do not have a capable bat to backup Jorge Posada in the DH role. Last season, Posada and the Yankees outfield trio of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher missed a collective 92 games. If that is repeated in 2011 (or if Posada is forced to go back behind the plate), the team will not only need to acquire another pitcher during the season, but another hitter as well.

Damon isn’t a perfect fit. His defense is below average and he swings from the left side (although he has developed into an above average hitter against southpaws). The ideal acquisition would be a right handed bat capable of playing plus outfield defense, but no such candidate remains on the market. Vladimir Guerrero swings from the right side, but he really shouldn’t even keep a glove in his locker anymore. In other words, Damon, although an imperfect solution, is really the Yankees last chance to add quality depth via free agency.

From Damon’s perspective, the idea of relinquishing an everyday role is probably hard to accept. However, it isn’t hard to figure out a scenario in which he would play 100 games. Still, that may not be enough for a player used to being in the lineup every game. Ultimately, Damon’s decision may be determined by which teams can offer him a starting position. If a competitive team like the Rays is able to promise him extensive playing time, his choice would be easy. If he is only able to find playing time on an uncompetitive team, however, Damon may eventually decide that a more limited role in a place that he enjoys is the better option.

As has been the case all offseason, the Yankees will need to exercise patience as Damon sorts through his options, but if a reunion is in the offing, the signing would be a rare example of moving ahead by looking back.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

Everybody knew that Zack Greinke would be traded before Spring Training, but the suddenness of the deal, not to mention the destination, was somewhat of a surprise. However, despite attempts to suggest the contrary, the Yankees were not caught off guard by the transaction.

In 2009, Zack Greinke was the best pitcher in baseball, but the rest of his career has been much less dominant (Photo: SI).

As soon as Cliff Lee finally made up his mind, Greinke trade rumors became the new fuel for the hot stove. Because the Yankees and Rangers were both jilted by Lee’s decision, the natural assumption was that both would be the front runners for the Royal’s ace, but once again, a “mystery” team emerged from the pack. Not surprisingly, Greinke’s trade to Milwaukee was portrayed as another blow in the Yankees’ off season of discontent, but in reality, it was really evidence of a firm hand steering the ship.

Without a doubt, Greinke is a very talented pitcher, but some of the recent analysis of the trade seems to be based on the notion that the right hander’s real plateau is his 2009 Cy Young season, in which he had a WAR of 9.4 and ERA+ of 205, and not the more “normal seasons” that have surrounded it. That’s not to suggest Greinke isn’t a top of the rotation starter, however. In particular, WAR likes Greinke enough that his 2008 and 2010 seasons both ranked among the top-20 pitchers in all of baseball. Although ERA+ is less kind (ranked 21 in 2008 and 61 in 2010 among all qualified pitchers), Greinke’s performance before and after his Cy Young season has been strong enough to suggest continued success, especially with a move to the weaker NL Central, but that doesn’t mean he should be viewed along the lines of Lee or any other top ace in the major leagues.

On the Strength of a Historic 2009 Cy Young Season, Zack Greinke Has Ranked Among the Best Starters in the Majors Since 2008

  2008 2009 2010 Total Rank
WAR 4.9 9.4 5.2 19.6 4
ERA+ 126 205 100 133 11
xFIP 3.76 3.15 3.76 3.55 11

Note: Minimum of 450 innings.
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

It remains to be seen how well the Royals made out in the deal (respected evaluators like ESPN’s Keith Law and BP’s Kevin Goldstein disagree somewhat), nor is it certain that the Yankees could have offered a similar package without including higher end prospects like Jesus Montero. Regardless, it seems as if the Yankees made an informed decision that Greinke’s past health issues and overall performance, combined with the asking price, all conspired to make him a less than ideal alternative to the team’s failed pursuit of Lee. In other words, there likely wasn’t any panic in the Yankee offices when the Greinke deal was announced.

So, if Greinke wasn’t the best fit for the Yankees, who is? Even with the return of Andy Pettitte, the Yankees will still need to fill one rotation slot. Mark Buehrle seems to be an ideal candidate, but White Sox GM Kenny Williams has stated that the veteran lefty is not on the trading block. One pitcher rumored to be available is the Rays’ Matt Garza. However, even if Tampa was willing to trade within the division, the volatile right hander’s declining peripherals suggest that he wouldn’t qualify as a frontline starter, nor be worth the expected cost. In fact, he has the hallmarks of another A.J. Burnett, and the Yankees likely have their fill of pitchers with that profile.

Considering the lack of attractive options, the Yankees may well decide to entrust the role to rookie Ivan Nova and then bide their time for a midseason acquisition. Patience has been the off season-long theme for the Yankees, and the Royal’s trade of Greinke shouldn’t trigger a change of course. It might be hard as a fan to accept, but as long as Brian Cashman practices what he preaches, the 2011 season remains in good hands, even if the Yankees seem to be lacking the necessary arms.

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