David Phelps Should NOT Be Just a Short Term Solution

May 1, 2012

I was in the midst of writing a “Girardi Needs to Yank Garcia from the Rotation” piece when the Yankees announced Sunday that Freddy Garcia is being removed from the rotation. He will not make his next scheduled start and will remain as the mop up guy* in the bullpen.

  • As opposed to the 9th inning guy (Rivera), the 8th inning guy (Robertson), the 7th inning guy (Soriano), the 6th inning guy (Wade/Logan), the LOOGY (Rapada), and multi-inning guy (Logan/Wade).

In a related transaction, Triple-A starting pitcher D.J. Mitchell, who many feel could be a good, multi-inning reliever, has been promoted with Cody Eppley, who has thrown well since he was recalled last week, was sent down to make room for Mitchell. Since Eppley threw 3 innings yesterday, he was likely not available today or tomorrow, and with Phelps also not likely available due to his three inning stint yesterday, he wasn’t available either.

They still have 13 pitchers on their 25 man roster. That is at least one too many.

With Cory Wade and now Garcia in the bullpen, why the need for Mitchell right now? Did Girardi expect CC Sabathia to get knocked around early today?

The bringing up of Mitchell told me that he will not be the starting pitcher the next Thursday (Garcia’s next scheduled start). And after the game we hear that Phelps will indeed start in Garcia’s stead.

That is a great move, with Phelps GETTING a role in the Yankees starting rotation is long overdue.

I say getting because the way the Yankees have developed their own starting pitching (not good) with ways most other successful teams do develop starting pitching (pretty good) is completely different.

The Yankees force their young pitchers to pitch well in the minor leagues, and then pitch extremely well in spring training to “earn” your spot. After you “earn” your spot, then a Yankee pitching prospect needs to pitch like an ace right off the bat to keep that rotation spot. Then that kid has to pitch well again the NEXT spring training to keep that spot.

What other team (besides the Yank-Mees) in their right mind would force a 16 game winner in the prior season to have to EARN a spot in the rotation for the next season the way the Yankees made Ivan Nova do this spring training. There was serious talk in late March of Nova being sent to minor leagues after his sub-par spring training. The minor leagues! Ship out a kid who won 16 games last year, with an ERA well below 4.00.

And all that might not even get you a sniff of the major leagues, since the Yankees are always seeking to “improve” their rotation each year with the biggest name free agent available.

Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays develop their pitchers. Each of their current starting pitchers were brought up in the middle (or end) of their first major league season to start games when the Rays needed them.  Then that guy was inserted into the starting rotation for the next season, and in several instances veteran starters were traded away to allow these kids that opportunity. Guys like Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel (who seems to have turned his career around) were shipped out to allow new starters an opportunity.

Same thing has been done in San Francisco and Texas.

So after a career minor league record of 38-15, 2.61 ERA, Phelps has now been granted an opportunity to start a major league baseball game, AFTER he had to “earn” that spot this spring training to get on the major league roster. I have written about Phelps many times before, most recently here but now people are finally realizing this kid is pretty good.

http://nybaseballdigest.com/2012/03/05/david-phelps-impresses-on-the-mound-what-else-is-new/

He throws strikes with four pitches, moves the ball nicely around the zone and can blow the ball by hitters when he needs to.

However, despite his four quality appearances out of the bullpen, he also had two outings where he allowed three earned runs in each. It was in these two games which Phelps has given up three of his four home runs allowed. In fact, five of his seven runs allowed have been caused by the four long balls.

I am sure that has really destroyed that precious xFIP.

It is these two outings which has many in the blogosphere very nervous. Let me break down these two appearances.

In the Boston game on April 21st, Phelps allowed six hits, three ERs while walking one in four innings. His ERA for that game (6.75) is less than Phil Hughes ERA of 7.88 this season and well below Garcia’s. This game saw Phelps give up a bunch of ground ball singles, a double and a two-run home run to Cody Ross, who he had whiffed in a prior at bat. He also retired Adrian Gonzalez twice including getting him to hit into a double play.

I guess Phelps was just lucky on that grounder.

Anyway, he was ahead of most of the hitters that game as he was in the Texas game. But in the Texas game, Phelps allowed two solo home runs, three walks (2 IBB) in 2.1 innings. He threw good pitches which were hit out, a 1-1 up and in fastball to Mitch Moreland, and a 0-2 low and away fastball to Mike Napoli. Both pitches weren’t exactly where they were supposed to be, but weren’t great fat pitches to hit either. I actually thought he should have bounced a curve ball to Napoli 0-2 after getting ahead on two straight fastballs.

There are times when a pitcher can make the most perfect pitch (and up and in and low and away fastballs are two great pitches), but if a hitter is looking for a particular pitch they can still hit it very hard. That is why it is imperative to get ahead (which Phelps consistently does), which forces many hitters to expand the strike zone.

I am not making excuses for Phelps, but despite two “bad” outings, he didn’t pitch as bad as the numbers suggest.

I saw Phelps throw in his last outing. He moved the ball in and out; throwing the ball very well against a pretty good lineup. Just ask Garcia, he’ll agree. Phelps jammed Miguel Cabrera on and inside fastball on the black and had Prince Fielder pout in front on an outside curveball, which induced the slugger to bounce into a double play. He threw a 3-1 changeup to get Phelps also set up Austin Jackson like he was a little leaguer, striking AJax out on three pitches, finishing him off with a high fastball which Jackson swung through.

It is not practical for the Yankees to not have another young arm in the rotation. Most successful teams continue to produce solid starting pitching, many of whom are not even first round pick. And if the Yankees feel they will sign Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke next year for contracts well over $100 million (the way Hamels is throwing, he might command near $200 million), then they are nuts. As a west coast guy, if Hamels did become a free agent, he will never sign with the Yankees. And after the crap Michael Pineda endured this spring training, Greinke will run far away from the Bronx.

Who else is a possible free agent? A Joe Blanton, Kyle Lohse or Brandon McCarthy? Please.

And what type of Mat Latos or Gio Gonzalez deal are you going to swing now since your biggest trade chip, Jesus Montero, was shipped out to Seattle?

There is a great strong chance Hiroki Kuroda and/or Andy Pettitte will not be around next season due to cost (Kuroda) and effectiveness (Pettitte). And will Phil Hughes begin to fulfill all his promise as a starting pitcher and become a fixture in the Yankee rotation?

The best situation for the Yankees is to develop and use another pitcher from their system in their starting rotation. And that doesn’t include a rehash of the 40 year old Andy Pettitte. Ivan Nova has proven he belongs, and it is time for the Yankees to allow Phelps a similar opportunity. He has been their best minor league starting pitcher since he has entered their system. 

If the choice is between a 25 year old David Phelps with a four pitch arsenal to both sides of the plate or a 40 year old Andy Pettitte who can barely break 86 MPH, and from what I have seen and heard throws many his pitches over the middle of the plate, the choice is very easy.

Phelps has shown he can get out many of the game’s best hitters, and has the composure, confidence and repertoire to succeed at this level. There is no reason why he shouldn’t be GIVEN the balance of starts this season.

David Phelps needs to not be a short term stop gap and become part of the long term solution.


Arizona Fall League: Pitcher Reports on Those Who Could Make an Impact in 2011

November 30, 2010

About two weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the position players I viewed as making an impact in the major leagues, many as soon as the 2011 season.

This report is about the many pitchers I saw in the Arizona Fall League, which I attended for the first time in early November. I highly recommend talking in a week or so in the future out there watching great baseball played by rising stars in perfect weather.

That might be the trifecta.

Most of the time out in the AFL, the pitchers are sent to increase their innings, work on certain pitches or see what they can do against better competition. Some organizations use the AFL to assess whether certain pitchers are worthy of Rule 5 protection by adding them to the 40-man roster.

As a rule, the AFL teams carry about 18-20 pitchers, but only seven are active on any one day. That is the one reason why the Phoenix Desert Dogs and manager Don Mattingly had to stop their game early in late October. Also, the starters rarely go longer than four innings, so relievers dominate the rosters.

There were very few impressive starting pitchers in the AFL this season. I only had an opportunity to see Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Mike Montgomery once (in the Rising Stars) game, getting him on a bad effort. I did not see Danny Duffy or Casey Kelly at all.

STARTING PITCHERS

1) Manuel Banuelos—You already know how I feel about ManBan. Good fastball touching 95, plus change-up, a pretty good curve, which he can throw to both sides of the plate and outstanding mound demeanor. He can be a top of the rotation guy and is still only 19 years old.

2) Mike Montgomery—As I mentioned earlier, I only saw Montgomery once and that was in the Rising Stars game. He started the game (opposite Banuelos) and was a little nervous, showing very little command of his fastball (which hit 96) or change up (81-82), bouncing a few but not with any swings and misses. He also hung a few curves, which weren’t tight. He has a smooth delivery and a good frame, standing a lanky 6’5″. Like Banuelos, he isn’t afraid to throw back-to-back change-ups or start hitters off with off-speed pitches.

He had some elbow issues this year but his dominating performance in the Pan Am games and his high velocity AFL appearances have lessened any injury worries. Montgomery obviously is much better than he showed in the Rising Stars game, but I would like to see better consistency in his off speed pitches.

I also feel his stride could be lengthened to develop even more velocity but would not affect his overall delivery.

3) Alex Cobb—The Rays are taking their usual one level at a time approach with Cobb (like they did with Jeremy Hellickson), and he was out in the AFL to boost his innings. I saw him versus the Phoenix Desert Dogs (PDD), and he did well but against an inferior Desert Dogs lineup, clearly the worst in the AFL. He was behind the count on many occasions but then overpowered the weak lineup.

Cobb was hitting low-to-mid 90s repeatedly with a good change-up, but all over the place with his fastball. His walk rates in his career are OK, but his command needs to be there in order for him to succeed. Will start in Triple A Durham but has no shot at the majors in 2011, based primarily on organizational philosophy.

4) Josh Collmenter—Accurately nicknamed “Iron Mike” because of his straight over-the-top delivery. I saw him pitch this game, also against the PDD, and he was dominant.

His fastball was never above 90, but generated lots of swings and misses, mostly on high fastballs. He has that deceiving delivery in which he hides the ball well, then before a hitter realizes, the ball is on top of him.

Collmenter literally tilts his upper body and throws straight over the top. Many of his swinging strikes were on high fastballs out of the zone, but appear to be strikes coming out of his delivery. He had a curve ball with good downward break, and he was able to throw it for consistent strikes. He was also not afraid to throw it behind in the count or as a first pitch offering.

Collmenter utilizes what I call “reverse sequencing” pitching. That is getting ahead with soft stuff and, when the hitter has two strikes and looking for junk, gets a moderate fastball blown by him. This method is better utilized by pitchers who do not throw hard.

While he will not be a top guy in any rotation, Collmenter will get his shot sometime this season in Arizona. After his AFL performance, he was placed upon the team’s 40-man roster.

5) Eric Hurley—After missing all of 2009 and 2010 with shoulder (labrum) surgery, this former major leaguer threw his first meaningful pitch in two seasons out in the AFL. He much sharper later in the AFL, showing good arm strength and said he had no fears about going all out.

If the Rangers do not re-sign Cliff Lee, Hurley has an opportunity to make the Rangers staff this season.

RELIEF PITCHERS

1) Brad Brach—I am very partial to this kid because he is a local Jersey Shore product. He has exceptional numbers during his career, including a great 2010 campaign in the heavy hitting High-A California League where he recorded 41 saves to go along with a stellar 2.47 ERA. He continued his dominance in the AFL with a 2.87 ERA and .873 WHIP.

He only allowed a base runner in five of his 11 AFL appearances, and although he did not strike out many, he showed pitches which moved and commanded well. During the Rising Stars game, he allowed a runner to reach third base on a two base error and a wild pitch.

Brach proceeded to get two strikeouts sandwiched around a weak ground ball to short and got out of the inning.

Brach throws a sinking 91-92 MPH fastball with good movement and located the ball well on both edges of the plate, often coming inside to lefties. His slider is a true out pitch and is rarely hit hard. He throws strikes with a career SO/BB ratio of 7.00. But he does throw across his body some which could lead to arm issues down the line.

Although Brach is more of a fly ball pitcher, it has yet to haunt him (career 7 HRs allowed, 6 in the Cal League) and should play well in spacious Petco Park.

I can see him (who will be 25 next season) starting in Double A but getting some time in San Diego late this season if he continues performing.

2) Jeremy Jeffress—Everybody was buzzing about Jeffress hitting 101 on the gun in the Rising Stars game, but he also threw 21 pitches that inning, only 10 for strikes. Although this sounds bad, his command in the AFL was much better than when I saw Jeffress back in July in the Florida State League.

There he showed the power FB (up to 97), but as I wrote back then in my notes, “can’t locate to save his life.” Reminded me of Daniel Cabrera without the height.

In the AFL however, Jeffress dropped in some hearty breaking balls for strikes, and if he can continue to throw the curve for strikes with upper 90s heat, he may have a shot to stay in the majors. Personally, I never want guys who can’t locate pitches, but with an arm like that and an effortless delivery, Jeffress will always be given tons of opportunities.

However, give me a guy with less “stuff” but with command and ability to pitch any day.

3) Chris Carpenter—Showed great velocity and command of his fastball (hit 99-100 MPH) in rising Stars game, but overall walked almost a batter per inning out here. He has a career walk rate of 4.0 per 9 IP.

While working as a starter most of his pro career, Carpenter was relieving in the AFL. His change-up was not good, but his slider was devastating on several occasions and weak on others. However, like Jeffress, if he can not locate his fastball and get ahead in counts, the plus pitches do not matter much.

The Cubs say this guy will stay as a starter but with a hard fastball and two other average pitches, his future role is definitely as a reliever who can be given time in Chicago this season.

4) Craig Heyer—I wrote about Heyer in the AFL here. For an unknown reason, Heyer was left unprotected by the Yankees for the Rule 5 draft, and I anticipate him being selected by another organization. With the way Kevin Towers likes to build solid bullpens, I can’t see Heyer passing by Arizona. Heyer’s ground ball tendencies will play well in cozy Bank One Ballpark.

5) Ramon Delgado—This is my sleeper guy. Delgado is a complete strike throwing machine. Saw him in my first game out in the AFL, and he was first pitch strike all the time. He can throw any of his three pitches (FB, sinker, slider) for strikes and will throw them in any count.

But mainly Delgado is first pitch fastball at the knees come right at you type of guy. The first time I saw him pitch, he got through the inning in six pitches. Delgado is a quick worker (funny how that happens when you throw strikes) who throws from a low 3/4 slot and gets good ball movement. The movement is tough to “square up” for hitters.

Very similar to Heyer in that he also was left unprotected, but Delgado did get some work this season at Double A, where he posted a 1.10 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 16 IP.

This is a guy who is quietly efficient. He throws strikes with great career walk and strikeout rates while keeping the ball in the park. Who couldn’t use a pitcher like that in their bullpen?

I would also grab this guy in the Rule 5 next week. Look for the Texas Rangers (his AFL pitching coach Brad Holman loved him) to grab him if he lasts that long.

There were other pitchers who I saw and liked including starter Daniel Merklinger (Milwaukee)—good curve and change, also saw him in July in the FSL and was placed on the Brewers 40 man roster this month; Josh Zeid (Philadelphia)—nice fastball, slider combo, throws strikes; Josh Fields (Seattle) – throws heat but lacks command; Josh Lueke (Seattle)—good fastball and biting slider. However, teams with teeth (and big rocks) would need to overcome his background.


New York Yankees: Looking to Do What the Tampa Bay Rays Could Not

October 18, 2010

Before the pennant races concluded, many people thought, and wrote, that the Yankees did not want to win the American League East because they did not want to to possibly face Cliff Lee twice in a five game series.

Once again, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

And the Yankees now have it.

They are in the same situation as the 2010 AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays were: Since they split the first two games in Arlington, they are now in a five game series against the Rangers.

And Cliff Lee is starting Game 1 and, if necessary, will start in Game 5.

Most Yankee fans thought they were getting a break when Lee had to pitch Game 5 in the ALDS and could not start Game 1 in Arlington.

I marvel at all the people who say that the Yankees should be happy that they got a split in Texas, “which is all they really needed, anyway.” Actually, the opposite is true.

When you win the first game on the road, nothing short of winning two should be acceptable.

It seems that Yankees fans (and many in the media) are already throwing in the towel in Game 3, assuming Lee will keep his masterful pitching performances going.

That may be the case, but it also can be far from the truth.

Lee has faced the Yankees three times this season, and is 2-0, 3.09 ERA. In the first game, Lee threw a complete game, allowing four runs while striking out only two hitters.

In his second start against New York, the Yankees rallied late, beating the Rangers in Texas. Although he struck out 11, Lee also gave up four runs this game. In his third start, Lee won 4-1, but walked three, his season high.

Twice in his three starts against the Yankees this year, Lee allowed four runs—so the Yankees have gotten to Lee this season. The issue in all three of those games this season was the Yankee starting pitching was atrocious.

Dustin Moseley, Javier Vazquez and Phil Hughes all were hit around by the opposition.

Even last year during the World Series, the Yankees lost twice to Lee, but after getting dominated in Game 1, they scored five runs off Lee in seven innings in his second start.

Again, by scoring five runs off Lee in Game 5 last year, they should have won the game, but A.J. Burnett was pretty bad that day.

I have all the confidence in Andy Pettitte tonight. The major league’s all-time winningest postseason pitcher is coming off a tremendous performance in the ALDS, but it was 11 days ago.

Unlike CC Sabathia, who has no command after longer rest, as he has gotten older, Pettitte is much better with longer rest between starts. Over the last three years, Andy is 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA on six-plus days rest, better than his overall numbers. 

Looks like a good pitching match-up to me, a game the Yankees can win. In Lee’s 28 starts this year, Lee has allowed four or more runs in 11 games. And in those games, the opposing team was not patient at the plate, working the count, but were aggressive early in the count.

Lee threw primarily fastballs the first time through the order in his two games in the ALDS. In Game 1 at Tampa Bay, he threw only fastballs in the first inning when the Rays loaded the bases.

At that point, the Rays stopped being aggressive and did not score.

If the Yankees are aggressive early, and look to attack the first pitch fastball, they can score runs. You can not “pitch count” Lee out of the game, but need to bang him around and knock him out.

If the Yankees get four runs off Lee, they will win tonight.

Be aggressive early and let Pettitte do his thing.


Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays Game 5: Price vs. Lee, Battle of the Aces

October 12, 2010

Tonight’s Game 5 final game of the ALDS is also the battle of each teams bona fide aces. Oh, and by the way, according to MLB.com, tickets are still available.

This is the first time since the 2003 ALCS between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox when each teams aces were starting a final game of a postseason series. Pedro started that great game—a game I was at by the way—going up against Roger Clemens.

That game made Aaron Boone a hero.

Interestingly, the Red Sox had one of these games in the 2003 ALDS Game 5 when Pedro also faced off against Barry Zito.  

In 2001, the Game 7 matchup also pitted Clemens who went up against Curt Schilling.

All three of those games turned out to be classics.

Before the massive changes in regards of starting pitchers, this Game 7-type matchup would happen quite often.

David Price won 19 games with a 2.72 ERA this season and is one of the leading candidates for the American League Cy Young Award.

Cliff Lee was acquired by the Rangers for this exact moment. I wrote back in July that the Rangers would be the team to beat based upon their lineup strength and the acquisition of Lee.

I felt that C.J. Wilson was pretty good, and the young Tommy Hunter would be improve enough to be tough to beat come October.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Kudos there to a huge baseball fan. This was one of the great hits back when I was a young teen.

Anyway, both teams are in a position they would have paid dearly for back about a month ago.

In Game 1, Price was victimized by lack of command of his primary pitch, the fastball. It was all over the place, mostly right over the middle of the plate.

But never on the corners where he pinpointed control was mostly evident during the regular season. Not in regards to walks, but in the way hit attacked the edges.

Nor was his high fastball thrown out of the zone where hitters usually chase that pitch.

Most major league players can hit the mid-to-high 90′s fastball, including Price’s if it is over the plate. Price threw fastballs 80 percent of the time in Game 1, too many to a really good fastball hitting team.

To be effective tonight, Price has to get a feel for his fastball. If he can locate and get swings and misses plus some weakly hit balls, he can stay with that pitch at 80 percent. But if he is not locating, he must mix in his slider more often just to show that pitch.

Lee was good in Game 1, throwing his usual high percentage of strikes at 73 percent. And of course, he did not walk anybody.

Many of the times which Lee was hit hard over the season, lineups would approach him by attacking the first pitch strikes thrown their way. They knew that if if they got behind by “working the count” to such a control artist, they has no chance versus his array of changes and curve balls.

I wrote about this a few months ago, too. You can not always take pitches early against Lee.

You need to attack early on his first pitch fastball. But in Game 1, the Rays were more tentative then they were back on May 5 or August 16. During both games, the Rays scored their runs when they attacked Lee early in the count, especially when men in scoring position.

But in Game 1, the Rays were taking pitches early and it cost them, especially in that first inning when they left the bases loaded.  

As I said earlier, both teams want their aces on the hill with a chance to win a postseason series.

But the big controversy was when Rays manager Joe Maddon entrusted the “crucial” Game 2 to his A.J. Burnett clone, the inconsistent James Shields.

First off, in a five-game series, heck even a seven-game series, ALL GAMES ARE CRUCIAL. It did not matter if Shields threw in Game 1, 2, 3 or 4.

The important thing is that Shields actually was pitching, so Game 2 was not an issue. It is funny that I read lots of “Matt Garza came through big” articles after he “saved” the Rays in Game 3.

Either way Maddon set up his top three rotation, and based upon how everyone pitched, the Rays were going to be down 1-2 after three games anyway. Doesn’t matter if Garza pitches great in Game 2 or Game 3.

It was idiotic why there was so much talk about Maddon going with Shields in Game 2. They all were going to throw anyway, so why not have Garza available for a really crucial Game 3. The important game whether the series was even or the Rays were up two or down two.

Maddon threw Shields in Game 2 because he was a better than a full run at home this season than he was on the road. His HR and strikeout rates were also much better in the Trop than on the road.

Maddon also probably did not want to throw his two power guys in Price and Garza back-to-back but instead wanted to intercede his change-up, off speed guy. And don’t even talk about the second-year guy Wade Davis. He was never going to get a start ahead of Shields.

Imagine if the fly ball pitcher Shields was to pitch in the homer haven, Ballpark at Arlington? We still might be in the middle of that third game.

I have also heard many whiners crying about how they want the Rays to win, so the Yankees do not have to face Lee.

Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it. The Rays have come back to win two games on the road and are a very formidable team. Just because Shields has not thrown well lately does not mean that he can’t throw well against the Yankees.

He already has this year, at home in Tampa.

And either way, the other teams ace will not be able to throw three times in the ALCS, and will likely throw Games 3 and 7. And at that sequence, they might not even get the chance to make their second start.

So both managers want this spot in Game 5 with their aces on the mound.

Price needs to locate his fastball better, mix in his off speed stuff if he needs to and be left in the game if he is dominating. And the Rays must attack Lee early in the count to have a chance to win.

It has worked before and will work again tonight.


New York Yankees: Can They Pry Away Zack Greinke From the Kansas City Royals?

October 11, 2010

I want to preface this by saying that I heard from a friend who was at several of the Kansas City Royals instructional league games/practices/workouts last week. All the general talk amongst Royals people was Zack Greinke and if he will be traded this offseason.

Greinke has a contract which runs through 2012, when he will be all of 29 when he reaches free agency.

But general consensus of those associated Royals employees was NO, Greinke would not be traded this offseason. The most likely scenario is he could be moved during the 2011 or even 2012 trade deadline.

And the Royals would want top dollar in trade value if and when he might be traded.

The same questions arise when a pitcher of Greinke’s caliber (and prime age) might become available via trade:

1) What teams have the financial capability to pony up the type of money to bring on $26 million over the next two seasons and possible demands via an extension?

2) What team has the type of prospects, especially Major League-ready pitching prospects, which a team like the Royals would want back in trade?

There are the typical teams which have the dollars, such as the New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves and both Chicago teams. But none of those teams has anywhere near the prospects that several other teams do.

The Mets’ and Red Sox’s systems are not that deep, the Angels just traded for Dan Haren and like their top system guys and the White Sox appeared to have traded their entire farm system for Jake Peavy and Manny Ramirez.

The Braves have quaite a few young pitching prospects, but they are at lower levels, and the Royals want at least one arm with Major League ready talent. The Florida Marlins have tons of good top level and Major League prospect players, but they are in the same boat as the Royals.

They keep their young guys to replenish the Major League team with good, young and cheap talent. In fact, the Marlins followed the Royals’ lead by signing their top pitching stud, Josh Johnson, to a multi-year deal. Guys like Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, and Chris Volstad are not going to be moved to take on more payroll.

The Cardinals have a few good young pitchers in their system and also have the somewhat disgruntled Colby Rasmus possibly available. If Tony LaRussa returns to St. Louis, could Rasmus be part of a deal for Greinke? 

Probably not. The Cardinals might not have enough money for their own guys. They need to re-sign Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter (at least one of the two) and Albert Pujols to longer deals in the next year or two.

The Tampa Bay Rays inquired about Greinke this past trading deadline, and would have done a deal if available. They have the prospects and were willing to handle the current salary structure.

But I believe they were looking for in-season help, and while not looking to trade this offseason, the Rays could possibly try and work something out next season if the need arises. Tampa seems pretty satisfied with what they have now. 

David Price, Matt Garza, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and probably Jeremy Hellickson taking over for James Shields, who also could be traded, provide Tampa with a formidable rotation for 2011.

There are just not that many teams which have the financial and prospect capabilities to pull off this type of trade.

Well, except one.  

The New York Yankees have the money. And with the player development side built up behind General Manager Brian Cashman, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and Senior V.P. Mark Newman, they now have one of the top farm systems in all of baseball.

I don’t care what Baseball America says or how they rank the Yankees. The pinstripe parade of young talent has already produced quality Major League talent, and is strong at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, especially in the area of pitching.

Good arms like Manny Banuelos, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell, and Ivan Nova not only provide the Yankees with multiple arms ready to contribute in the Bronx, but also valuable trade bait to obtain top major league talent.

There are only so many spots open in a Major League starting rotation, and the Yankees, with their penchant in spending money on Major League arms, are not going to keep all this talent in house.

It is just not possible. They can keep several of these kids in the Minor Leagues for a few more seasons, but most need to be brought up or moved. No way they all get their Yankee chance.

They already tried to trade Warren as part of the Cliff Lee deal this past July, adding him when Seattle balked at the injured David Adams. And I still believe the Mariners made a terrible decision by taking the Rangers deal over that of the Yankees.  

I have seen most of the above Yankee farm hands pitch several times and while many are keepers, most are trade chips.

I love Banuelos, Warren, and Phelps, and with his power fastball and knee bucking breaking pitch, I believe Brackman is more suited to a late inning relief role. Betances is good, with great strikeout capabilites, but I do not believe he has the strike zone command yet to be the top of the rotation starter most others believe.

Most guys look at the size and wow factor and deem them “high ceiling” guys. Power guys get all the attention, but guys who get hitters out with an array of pitches are better suited in the majors. I like my starting pitchers who can throw consistent strikes to both sides of the plate and have command within the strike zone.

Like Banuelos, Warren and Phelps.

I have seen Dellin pitch several times, he is a nice kid, but throws too many fat pitches over the middle of the plate. He does not have that great command right now, and I don’t believe he can get that down the road.

But he can be one of the key chips to get Greinke from the Royals. Why? Because many others believe he is a top of the rotation starter. 

He had a good season coming back from Tommy John surgery, and with Cashman coming out saying he was possibly “the best pitching prospect we have ever had,” his value might be highest right now, especially with the history of arm injuries.

And since Brackman is better suited for the pen, and ready for the Majors sometimes in 2011, that makes Joba Chamberlain expendable, too. The Royals want two top pitching guys and the Yankees have that in Betances and Joba.  

And Phil Hughes isn’t going anywhere.

I would package those two right handers and and any positional prospect not named Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy, or Gary Sanchez. While I am not enamored with Romine, I do believe that the young catcher would be more valuable traded for a need sometime next season.  

But will the Royals trade their ace?

The Royals have several young pitchers who are very highly rated in Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Christopher Dwyer, and John Lamb, all left-handed and all who did well at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, a very tough park to pitch. Will Smith and former top pick Aaron Crow are also in the mix.

Throw in former top picks Mike Moustakas at third base and Eric Hosmer at first base, and the Royals have pitching and sluggers to anchor what looks like a solid core of young players, ready to all contribute in 2012.

And that is the rub. Do the Royals keep Greinke around to provide mentorship (and a right handed arm) for all the youngsters or do they trade him an help replenish with more Major League ready talent?

They will never be able to pay Greinke that type of big time money he will be due in 2013, and will save about $26 million over the next two seasons.

The trade would benefit the Royals. They would definitely allow the somewhat local product Joba to be a starter again, and he and Betances would add two right-handed power arms to the flurry of lefty pitching talent on the rise. As the Minnesota Twins proved all year, Joba would fare much better in the weaker A.L. Central.

The Royals will not really be a good team with Greinke now, they will not be able to afford him in two years, and they could get two power arms and a position player in return. If I were the Royals, I would shoot for the versatile Eduardo Nunez.

Besides recent first round pick shortstop Christian Colon, the Royals do not have another top middle infield prospect in the system. But if the Royals really want a catcher, then Romine is also expendable, maybe in addition to the two pitchers and Nunez. 

The Royals would be best suited to trade Greinke and the Yankees have the prospects to make the trade.


Mid-Market MLB Method: Lock Up Now or Wait Until After Arbitration Years

August 24, 2010

When the Tampa Bay Rays opened the 2008 major league season, third baseman Evan Longoria was playing for the Durham Bulls in the Triple A International League.

It was the minor leagues for the Rays first choice in the 2006 draft, and was the third overall pick. Many people, including myself, suggested the Rays were trying to save themselves some money by delaying Longoria’s “arbitration clock” by sending him to the minors.

Isn’t the idea to try and win games? Longoria was the Rays best opportunity at third base to help them win, but was mired in Triple A for financial reasons.

But being mired lasted all of seven games and 25 at bats, before Longoria was promoted to the majors. The Rays were going to let the clock start early on their prize after all.

But even the Rays startled everyone by signing Longoria the next day to a six year, $17.5 million contract through 2013 including three club options for 2014-2016. The Rays bought out all of Longoria’s arbitration years and his first three free agent years with club options.

Based upon Longoria’s performance, the team has made out very well. Even though they gambled on an unproven young talent and are going to save a bunch of money over the long haul.

This buying out of a players early “control” years is a growing trend which began in the early-to-mid 1990′s by General Manager John Hart when he was with the Cleveland Indians. He signed up youngsters Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Carlos Baerga, plus Joey and Albert Belle to multi-year deals WHILE they were really good…and really young. 

For example, Lofton has a 7.7 WAR* in 1994 (shortened season due to strike), the highest in baseball that season and his WAR was 7.3 in 1993. He made only $925K that year and $1.925 million in 1995. His salary would have been much higher had Lofton actually gone to arbitration in 1995.

*That is the first time I used the WAR stat in any article ever. While I am not needing to be rushed to the hospital, I am still in shock. It was needed for reference on how good Lofton was those seasons. Don’t expect it all the time.

Hart needed to do this to keep together what he projected his core would be for many years at reasonable prices than what these players would receive through arbitration and early free agency. As a smaller market team, Hart reasoned the Indians had a smaller window to win.

Signing up young players is a great tactic for these small market** teams to use.

**I love the term small-market. With all these billionaire owners, they can afford to spend their OWN PERSONAL money on players. I don’t mean to spend frivolously big on free agents like you are Omar Minaya, but to spend to keep the players your organization develops.

Why then are there small markets when these guys have their own money they can spend. Before he died, Carl Pohlad of the Minnesota Twins was the richest owner in baseball but did not spend money. Lucky the Twins re-signed Kirby Puckett when Carl was alive, but I am not so sure he would have signed Joe Mauer to that contract last off season.

Should other small-market teams use the same ideas?

Of course, they should. They have to in order to compete with the so-called big boys of Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

But these big teams do the same thing.

The Red Sox signed Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis to long term deals before even going to arbitration on Lester and Pedroia and after the first arbitration year for Youkilis. I fully expect them to extend Clay Buchholz after the 2011 season.

They want to see players perform for two or three seasons before they sign players longer term. This allows for any adjustment periods the league makes to the players after their rookie and sophomore seasons.

The Yankees also did that with Robinson Cano two seasons ago and even Derek Jeter, who was signed to a ten-year deal after his second arbitration year. Yankees would probably sign Phil Hughes to a multi-year deal, too, after 2011, buying out several arbitration years and maybe a free agent year or two.

Even the Philadelphia Phillies tied up their young guys Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, who were tied up after their first arbitration years.

There is quite a bit of talk now about the MLB financial statements for several teams being made public. These statements put teams like Pittsburgh and Florida into bad light, and for once it was not about their on field records. They show that the teams have made tens of millions of dollars but have not put that much of that money into player salaries.

These teams need to start signing their young stars when they believe their young players are going to be well-above average for the long haul. This is tricky because if you jump too soon on a player, you could be left holding the bag at big dollars for very little in the way of results.

Similar to what Scott Kazmir and Nate McLouth have become.

But certain smaller-market teams have reaped the benefits of signing young talent early, like Milwaukee with Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo and Corey Hart, the Marlins with Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson; and the Mariners with Franklin Gutierrez and Felix Hernandez.

Other teams like the Braves with Brian McCann (and likely Jason Heyward soon), have done this.

The Pirates have a couple good, young talented ballplayers in Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen. Alvarez is signed through 2014 (including club options), but it would be good to spend some of that profit and also sign McCutchen after his first full season to a long-term commitment, saving long-term money.

The smaller-market teams need to decide who the players they want to keep. Not just “team” players who can be replaced cheaper through from their farm system, but players who already have been All-Stars.

And who they feel will continue to be All-Stars and league leaders, not league average.

McCutchen appears to be that type of player a team can take that risk.

Many other teams have major decisions to make.

Players like Wandy Rodriguez of the Astros, Dallas Braden and Trevor Cahill of the A’s, and Jair Jurrjens of the Braves need to be looked at longer term at below future-market rates. 

But the biggest task might fall to the Cincinnati Reds have to decide if Joey Votto (yes, of course!), Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto need to be locked up soon. They all are coming up on their arbitration years.

This would be a great move for the first-place Reds to sign all three, who have plenty of young players in the fold who could keep the Reds at the top of the NL Central standing for many years to come. Similar to what their in-state brethren, the Cleveland Indians, did almost 20 years ago.   

Most of the big market teams seem to like to get their players just before or a year after their first year of arbitration. 

I feel it might be better for the smaller-market teams to take a bigger risk by signing top guys earlier, like Longoria in Tampa and Troy Tulowitzki (his college teammate) in Colorado. The Rockies would be wise to lock up Carlos Gonzalez to a “Longoria type” deal this off season and keep the young slugger locked up in Colorado through age 30.

It sure worked for the Rays.


Cliff Lee: With CC Sabathia Leading the Way, Is Lee To Yankees a Done Deal?

August 23, 2010

A story in today’s New York Post quotes CC Sabathia after his 17th win yesterday, “I’m here,” Sabathia said. “Hundred percent.”

Sabathia is referring to the clause in his contract to opt-out after next season. CC was not sure he or his family would like the hustle of New York, and being Californians, wanted the option to go back to the west coast.

I think you know I’ve built a house here, right?” CC said. “My kids go to school here. We live here year round. So I’m not going anywhere.”

That is great news for the Yankees, who have relied on Sabathia more this year then they even did last season. A remarkable feat indeed, considering CC won 19 games in the regular season last year, three more in the post season and was the stopper when the rotation became erratic.
Deja vu all over again in 2010, right?
What CC’s declaration also tells me is that Cliff Lee is even more likely to sign with the Yankees next season after becoming a free agent. After being traded THREE times in less than a year, Lee wants to play with what is comfortable to him.
And CC is comfort food for Cliff Lee.
They are really good friends since their days with Cleveland, and CC is perhaps the biggest cheerleader for players to come to New York. And with Lee and Yankee rotation stalwart A.J. Burnett both hailing from Arkansas and sharing the same agent, Lee is almost guaranteed to become part of the 2011 Yankee rotation.
But would it be a good idea?
Lee has not been that good since the early July trade to the Texas Rangers. In his nine starts for Texas, Lee has a 2-4 record with a 4.18 ERA, and the Rangers are 3-6 in Lee’s nine starts. His seasonal ERA has risen almost a full point from 2.34 to 3.09.
And most of this damage has come from the American League East opponents Lee has faced, the same opponents he would face in about half his starts if he were a Yankee next season.
Baltimore beat Lee up Saturday, hitting four home runs in the process. The Orioles also bombed Lee in his first Rangers start, belting three more dingers. It is interesting, but the Orioles (the last place Orioles) have scored at least one run in eight of the 15 innings they have faced against Lee.
Lee did not fare well against Tampa Bay in his one Ranger start, allowing six earned runs, and lost both his Tampa games while pitching for the Seattle Mariners. Lee dominated Boston for most of his one start as a Ranger, but blew the lead in the bottom of the 9th inning. It was a game the Rangers would eventually lose.
And that game was the first of many games Lee has allowed late leads to evaporate. On the 11th, Lee dominated the Yankees but blew up in the 7th inning, allowing four hits and two runs before leaving. His next start, Lee had a two-run lead in the 8th against the Rays before allowing five hits and four runs.
In Lee’s five starts against the AL East since the trade, the Rangers are 0-5 and Lee has a 6.22 ERA. But in his four starts versus the lowly Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s, Lee is 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA*.
*Funny thing, is that Lee is dominant against all teams but the AL East and the San Diego Padres, who have tattooed Lee for 10 earned runs in 13+ innings.
Is it the vaunted issue of pitching against the AL East? If so, then it would be a major problem if Lee signed with the Yankees at a five (or more) year deal for CC type money. Similar to how the Red Sox must feel about signing John Lackey away from the comfy AL West to the powerful AL East.
Is it because certain teams approach Lee differently? In his most recent start against the Rays, Lee faced 34 batters, and has 27 of them swing at a pitch before taking a called strike. In his last start, the Orioles also were very aggressive, with 19 batters swinging at a pitch before getting down in the count by taking a strike.
Or coming off his 272 inning 2009 season, is it that Lee has just tired some during this season? He did miss the first month of 2010 with a small suspension for throwing at an opponent and then suffering a minor injury.
What ever it is, Lee has not been the same pitcher.
The Yankees would want to sign Lee for their own purposes, but to also keep him away from one of the AL contenders for the next four or five years like Texas or LA, maybe Boston if they can deal away Lackey or Daisuke Matsuzaka.
But the last time the Yankees signed a free agent pitcher to keep them away from their rival did not work out as expected, right A.J. Burnett fans?
Even though the Rangers still have an eight-game lead in the AL West, Lee’s performance has not been what they, or anyone else has expected. Lee will not have the comforts of facing the NL or AL West lineups in the post season.
Despite last years playoffs, the Yankees have scored seven runs in 15 innings against Lee this year, and Tampa Bay has beaten Lee three times this season.
Lee’s performance against the AL East playoff teams should be a huge factor regarding the value of his next contract. If he suffers through a miserable 2010 post season, would the Yankees go all-out for Lee as is expected?
CC Sabathia hopes so, and might change his mind about the future if Lee is not in pinstripes.

New York Yankees Very Complimentary to Dallas Braden On His Perfect Game

May 10, 2010

On Mothers Day 2010, Oakland A’s Dallas Braden threw the 19th perfect game in MLB history.

Congratulations to Dallas.

As you can see on his page on Baseball-Reference, I sponsor his page, and have sponsored it since early last season.

You probably know his story.  I heard it early last season, and that is why I sponsored his page at BR.

He was raised by his grandmother in high school after his mother died of cancer. He was a troubled kid, and was going to join the marines so as not to be a burden to his grandmother. Braden would sleep in his truck, had nowhere to go until he enrolled at American River College, where he played baseball.

Braden always said the baseball saved his life. But his contrived dispute with Alex Rodriguez made him a national figure.

His rift with Alex is so overblown. But Alex was wrong to run across the mound, and Braden was also wrong by calling Alex out publicly on it.

Just plunk him next time he faces the Yankee third baseman.

Alex was very complimentary towards Braden, as were the rest of the Yankees, who were late getting on the field for batting practice as they were watching the final two innings of the perfecto.

“I’ve learned in my career that it’s always better to be remembered for some of the good things you do on the field — and good for him,” Rodriguez told reporters before playing the Red Sox. “He threw a perfect game. And, even better, he beat the Rays.”
 
Yankee manager Joe Girardi was equally praising.
 
Throwing a perfect game is an amazing achievement, with the one key factor is impeccable control by the pitcher. That eliminates walks obviously, but great control allows a pitcher to hit all his spots to both sides of the plate. That gets more outs on the balls put into play since the hitter is not getting good wood on the ball.
 
Guys like Catfish Hunter, Tom Browning, Mark Buerhle, David Wells, Jim Bunning, Kenny Rogers and Dennis Martinez had great control their entire careers.
 
Pitchers like David Cone and Len Barker are the exception rather than the rule.
 
Dallas Braden has great control with an amazing change-up that seems to stop in mid-air.
 
Those two qualities helped him reach perfection.
 
Congratulations.

A New Big Money Pitcher Has Early Struggles For The New York Yankees

April 16, 2010

Due to financial reasons, a highly paid pitcher moves from a solid team, and comes to the Bronx with high expectations.

People spoke on how he comes from a weaker divison, and wonder how this right hander, who is a control specialist but strikes out his share of batters, will fare in the mighty American League East, a division which had four of the top five hitting teams in the AL.

This starter is a workhorse, rarely missing a start and throwing 200+ innings with relative ease.

But this right handed stud pitcher was bombed in his first two starts against two of the top hitting teams in the majors.

Javier Vazquez?

Nope. Jim “Catfish” Hunter of the 1975 New York Yankees.

Catfish became a free agent after the 1974 season, and, became the first big money free agent, signing a HUGE $3.75 million, five-year contract on New Year’s Eve 1974, which at that time it was THE landmark contract. 

After his first four starts, Hunter was 0-3 with a 7.36 ERA, while the Yanks were 0-4 in his four starts, including two losses to the rival Boston Red Sox. George Steinbrenner was none too thrilled, and neither were Yankee fans. Similar to Vazquez, Hunter was booed early and often at the Stadium.

In a positive trend for current Yankee fans, Hunter went on to pitch into the eighth inning over his next 32 starts, including 27 complete games. Catfish ended that season at 23-14 with a 2.58 ERA, throwing 328 innings.

And as with Catfish, Javier Vazquez is a good pitcher, who will have good starts, great starts…and some bad starts.

It just so happens that his two bad starts were his first two of the season, and coming off the heels of his 2004 Game 7 relief appearance against the Boston Red Sox.

Just let the guy pitch and stop trying to dissect every little nuance of his starts.

I have read that his velocity is down from his usual 91-92 to 88. I have also read that Vazquez is not comfotable pitching in New York, and I have even heard (many times) the argument that Vazquez is a National League pitcher who can not pitch in the hitting established American League, specifically the AL East.  

First, Vazquez has shown he can pitch effectively in the AL, as his 15-8, 3.74 ERA, 1.140 WHIP indicates. During that season, Vazquez beat a good hitting Cleveland Indians team (96-66, 1st place) two times.

That Cleveland team went to the ALCS and included Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Garko, all who banged out 20+ home runs.

Javy also dominated (3-0, 2.20 ERA in 5 starts) a good hitting Minnesota Twins team which had Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Torii Hunter in the lineup.

Last year Vazquez beat the Philadelphia Phillies twice (he lost once) in five starts, with a 3.00 ERA and 1.030 WHIP. The Phillies were the best hitting team in the NL last season.

Vazquez can beat good hitting teams.

Due to the Designated Hitter, it is widely assumed the American League is the tougher league to pitch in due to the deeper lineups. While it may have been so in all prior seasons, it is not so thus far in 2010.

Going into yesterday’s games, the National League is the superior hitting league, with higher batting averages, OBP and slugging percentages. The NL OPS is a full 18 points higher than the AL, even with the pitcher having to hit!

Three NL teams were slugging over .500 (Phillies, Dodgers, DBacks), while the highest team in the AL, Boston was slugging only .478!

And I went through the various lineups for each team, and categorized each hitter as regular or difficult. I want to point out that while every hitter in the major leagues can hurt a pitcher at any time, there are many hitters who are impactful enough to hurt a team during each at bat.

These guys include hitters like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira (although not in April), Ryan Howard, Hanley Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, etc. Hitters who put fear into the pitcher nearly every time they come to the plate.  

Going through the NL lineups I came up with 56 such impact hitters, and in the AL there were only 44 such hitters. Both leagues had seven teams with four or more impact hitters, and while there are two more NL teams, the NL does have deeper lineups.

In the NL, Philadelphia, Colorado, Los Angles Dodgers, Arizona, and Atlanta have five deep impact lineups. The AL has Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Angels, Texas, Minnesota and New York with five or more impact hitters.

Boston has Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury (a stretch) and Victor Martinez as the only impact hitters in the lineup. They appear to be an easy team to pitch against. Pedrioa is carrying the offense now, so pitch around him and get out the easy outs like David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and JD Drew (I don’t care how many walks he gets, he stinks) have not been good for at least a year.

It just so happen that Vazquez’ first two starts were against two of the top hitting teams in the AL, the Rays and the Angels. Wait until Vazquez gets to face the Kansas City Royals (surprisingly good so far, but it will not continue), Oakland A’s (not one impact hitter), Toronto (doing it with young pitching), an underperforming Baltimore lineup and an overrated Detroit Tigers top nine hitters.

Many times it not the teams you face, but when you face them.

When good pitchers struggle, it is usually that his pitch location is off and he gives up the big hit, leading to a big inning. A winning pitcher (and team) limits offenses to very few big innings, innings which often change the complexion of an individual game.

This is done by hitting spots with key pitches when men are on base.

When runners are on base this season, Vazquez has been throwing his key pitches over the middle of the plate, allowing the big inning. In his 12 innings of work, Vazquez has had five 3 up/3 down’s, three additional zero run innings, but four innings of two or more runs. He has not given up a single run inning yet.

By making a few more quality pitches, Vazquez would not be getting knocked around – by the hitters, the media or the fans.

The season is long, the games are numerous and Vazquez will have at least 30 more starts to right the ship. He is a quality pitcher, with four working pitches and has shown as recently as last season he can dominate top hitting teams.

Just give him the best opportunity to succeed, which does not include booing every time he gives up a run scoring single.

And then Vazquez will be like Catfish Hunter, a winning Yankee pitcher.


Carl Crawford: Why This Tampa Bay Ray Will Not Be a New York Yankee in 2011

April 4, 2010

Too many articles talked about Joe Mauer heading to free agency after this season and signing with the Yankees. That was never going to happen because of Mauer’s native roots and his homegrown status of being a Twins first-round draft choice and first pick overall.*

* Do you think the Twins feel good that they did not take Mark Prior first overall? Just before the draft, Prior was going all John Elway on Minnesota, saying he did not want to play for the Twins. Good thing for Minnesota they listened to Prior’s rants. However, if the homegrown Mauer was not available, the Twins were ready to take Mark Teixeira. Besides Mauer and No. 5 overall Teixeira, the 2001 draft might have the worst first round in history.

Now Yankee fans are clamoring for next season’s free agent list. I have seen articles preaching that the Yankees are going to go after and sign Cliff Lee (and if Lee is healthy, the Yankees will do just that), Jayson Werth of the Philadelphia Phillies (possible), but especially Carl Crawford of the division rival Tampa Bay Rays.

I have read that certain Web sites claim their sources have told them that the Yankees hierarchy “absolutely love Crawford.” Jon Heyman, a respected national baseball writer, also claims the Yankees love Crawford, and they want him to play left field for the Yankees—probably for the next five seasons.

With Crawford as a free agent after this season, it will take a five-year deal to land him. In addition to the Yankees, the usual cast of characters—like the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets—would be in the running, too.

Most baseball executives and media people believe Crawford will sign with the Yankees. Financial estimates are that it will take a five-year deal for about $15 million per year to get Crawford. That is $75 million for a guy with a career split of .297/.335/.437/.772 with an OPS+ of 103, just above league average .

But he steals lots of bases, plays good defense, and has a little pop with his bat.

Except for the pop, with the same amount of plate appearances, that description could be Brett Gardner—and he will cost a whole lot less. I am not saying that Gardner is as good as Crawford, but he will do a lot of the things Crawford does—except for the power.

The Yankees do not need Crawford for 2011, and they will not sign him after this season.

Why? Because, like Mauer, Crawford will re-sign with the only team he has known—the Tampa Bay Rays. They can afford it.

There is so much talk about how the small-market Rays can’t afford Crawford and their other free-agent-to-be, Carlos Pena—and the Rays will lose both players.

The term “small market” is so overused, it is comical. First, revenue sharing reaps teams such as Tampa—and Pittsburgh and Kansas City—at least $25 million every year right at the start. Each team also receives at least $35 million for MLB through licensing agreements.

Second, at the end of the 2010 season—Bye, Tom Hicks—every owner of every baseball team will be stupid rich. The owners made their money outside of baseball, and they are part of the best restricted club in the entire country.

Tampa owner Stuart Sternberg is worth a ton of money. He made it on Wall Street and got out to buy the Rays just before the stock market fell in value.

The idea of the luxury tax and revenue sharing was developed so teams can put that money back into signing free agents—not other teams’ free-agents-to-be, but their own .

That is why the Florida Marlins ponied up the money for Josh Johnson, the Royals ponied up a couple of years ago for Zach Greinke, and the Rays will pay to keep Crawford. Although the Marlins appeared to be forced to pay Johnson, I still believe the Marlins never would have let him leave through free agency.

By having money from a wealthy owner—and revenue and licensing sharing funds in their coffers—the Rays will re-sign Crawford.

The second reason Tampa will re-sign Crawford is that he has been the face of the franchise for a few years now. Sure, Evan Longoria is the younger, power-hitting third baseman. But he has been with the franchise only two seasons, while Crawford will be entering his 13th season with Tampa—his 10th in the majors.

Crawford, who will be 29 this season, was even quoted in the Heyman SI.com piece that “I’ve been here since I was 17. This is all I know .” The Rays and Crawford’s agent, Brian Peters, tried to get a long-term deal done just after the 2009 season. But they were far apart, and talks were tabled until after the season.

That gives the Rays an exclusive negotiating window of about 15 days after the World Series ends to deal with Crawford.

The third—and maybe most important—reason Tampa will re-sign Crawford is that the Rays, excluding arbitration cases, are now only on the hook next season for $13 million in player salaries. Their best player, Longoria, is tied up for through 2016 at very reasonable rates. It is ridiculous that Longoria’s salary is only $2 million this season. It might be the best contract ever for a sports team based upon production received.

Rays who are free agents after this year include Crawford, Pena, Pat Burrell, Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate, and Gabe Kapler. There’s no way Burrell re-signs. Soriano is a maybe based upon his 2010 season—but not more than a two-year deal—while Balfour, Choate, and Kapler are replaceable spare parts.

The Rays have arbitration deals with many of their younger players, including BJ Upton, Matt Garza, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, JP Howell, and Dioner Navarro. I believe they get all those guys done for about $25 million—unless they deal Bartlett, who could be a free agent in 2012.

That is about $40 million—I rounded up—really tied up for next season. With a payroll of $70 million this season, Tampa’s obligations are about $30 million under what it is currently paying.

What the Rays do very well is promote their young talent. The have youngsters like Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, and Reid Brignac—who will make an impact this year or next. All will be playing at near league- minimum salaries for the next couple of seasons.

Some people are saying Jennings, a natural center fielder, is destined to take over for Crawford, who plays left field. Jennings is more likely to take over for Upton in center field, with the team moving Upton to right field or out of Tampa by trade.

I mentioned the hard-hitting Sean Rodriguez, one of the Rays younger players. He was obtained from the Los Angeles Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade, and he is expected to play a big role this year with his ability to play multiple positions. The Rays traded Kazmir mostly to rid themselves of his contract so they can afford to re-sign Crawford.

While many are saying the Rays could let Crawford go as a free agent and collect the two draft picks, they would not be getting the top draft picks—unless the Mets sign Crawford. The Rays made their current team by drafting near the top of the first round and by making shrewd trades. The pick from the Yankees or Red Sox would not be near the top.

Finally, I cannot see the Rays letting Crawford go as a free agent—knowing he will likely land with the Yankees or Red Sox—and have to play against him for the next five seasons. While Crawford is a player based upon his legs, he is good enough to give a team the same future production in the next five years as he has during the previous six full seasons.

But that production—an OPS+ of 103—is not good enough for a corner outfielder, and not at that asking price.

Not for a team signing another team’s free agent, but it is good to fit into the scheme of the current team.

The Rays can most certainly afford Crawford at $15 million per year.  They could even sign Crawford and Pena and still be at the same salary as last season—but with the versatile Zobrist and Rodriguez providing power, Pena is likely gone.

The Rays will compete this year—at some points this season, they will occupy first place in the AL East and could make the playoffs.

Crawford fits well with the Rays. He is the first homegrown star, the Rays want him back, and he is going to make a lot of money.

And that money is going to come from the Rays.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.