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Via Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, the Yankees have reached an agreement with Freddy Garcia on a Minor League deal. Garcia marks the third formerly successful Major League pitcher the Yankees have signed to a minor league deal this year, along with Mark Prior and Bartolo Colon.

Like any Minor League deal, it’s hard to argue with this. It does nothing but add depth and give the Yankees insurance for Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, and would allow the Yankees to give their pitching prospects more time to get Major League ready in case of an injury or ineffectiveness.

In 2010, Garcia threw 157 innings with the White Sox to a 4.64 ERA with a 4.77 FIP and 4.59 xFIP. He struck out 5.10 per nine, while walking just 2.58. His major problem was giving up 1.32 HR/9; that’s been a theme for Garcia’s career: 1.09 HR/9, though he’s been at 1.3 HR/9 or above in four of the last five years going back to 2006.

Time to throw the Garcia spaghetti against the way and see what sticks.

Keith Law ranked Jesus Montero 4th among all prospects in his recent prospect rankings, and made a very interesting comment about Montero’s future that struck me as fodder for discussion:

There’s also a concern about the long-term effects that catching will have on Montero’s knees. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, and only five players in MLB history have caught 200 games at or above those numbers, three of them (Joe Mauer, Chris Snyder, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia) have had knee and/or back problems.

With a bat this potentially strong, why risk injury or give up the 20-25 games a year when your catcher has to rest? Montero could solve the Yankees’ DH problem for the next 10 years if they commit to it, a move they are unlikely to ever regret.

Brian Cashman recently stated that the Yankees believe Montero is better defensively than some catchers currently starting in the majors, which is faint praise but does suggest that they believe he can handle the position. Assuming for a moment that this is true, Law’s premise that they might be better off just sticking him at DH depends on the answer to the following question: would the health benefits of sticking him at DH AND the defensive benefits of getting him out from behind the plate outweigh the fact that having his bat at catcher is a major positional advantage for the Yankees? There are other considerations, such as the fact that A-Rod may need to DH soon, but I am leaving such issues out of the analysis at this point and focusing solely upon Montero.

Let’s look at the numbers, while noting that Law’s point seemed to focus primarily on health, something that we are unable to quantify. When determining replacement levels, a catcher is credited with 12.5 runs while a DH is debited 17.5 runs (which addresses the fact that similar offensive performance at those positions have widely disparate value). The Fangraphs glossary item on positional adjustments (h/t @alskor) addresses this issue directly:

Essentially, the width of the spectrum of major league players being used at their best positions is about 30 runs – if you have a league average defensive catcher and you make him a full time DH, you’ve whacked about three wins off of his value.

Now, let’s assume for a moment that Montero is terrible defensively, but just competent enough to remain at the position (if he is not at all competent, then it is obvious that he must be moved). According to +/-, the worst defensive catcher in 2010 cost his team 10 runs with his glove. Being that moving an average defensive catcher to DH would cost the club 30 runs, doing so to an atrocious defender would slash 20 runs, or two wins, from the player’s value.

Playing time is another issue that needs to be factored into this analysis. As Law notes, everyday catchers need frequent rest, such that Montero’s bat would be removed from the lineup regularly were he to remain a catcher. The catcher who played the most innings last year was Yadier Molina, who started 130 games. As a DH, Montero would likely be able to start in most games, meaning he would lose 20-25 games as the starting catcher. Now, let’s make another assumption and believe that Montero would be a top DH (again, we assume this because if he is not a great bat, it is almost certain that it would make more sense to try him at catcher, because the club can go out and obtain a solid DH fairly easily). Judging by my Twitter poll of some sabermetric folks, the value of those 25 games is somewhere between .5 and 1 win. Being that we are assuming that Montero will be an excellent hitter, let us go with 1 win gained as a DH. This means that the switch from catcher is costing the Yankees two wins defensively but gaining one win due to extra playing time, for a net of one win lost per season.

One other factor that needs to be raised is the idea that Montero may hit better if he is not getting beaten up behind the plate on a daily basis. I do not have access to the research on this issue, and from what I have heard it is fairly murky. As such, I will simply note that intuition would tell you that it should be easier for a player to focus upon hitting without the physical and mental burden of running the game as the catcher weighing upon him.

Obviously, the numbers can be fiddled with by altering the assumptions that were made in the course of analysis. If you maintain the assumption that Jesus will be a great hitter but peg him as a -5 defensive player, the loss becomes 1.5 wins. Similarly, if you maintain the assumption about his defense but think we are being overly optimistic about his bat, you again end up with a loss of 1.5 wins. I think it is fair to say that statistically, moving Montero from catcher to DH would cost the Yankees somewhere between 1 and 1.5 wins of value on a yearly basis, possibly closer to 1.5 at the start of his career and then dropping closer to 1 as he ages.

Now that we can put an estimated number on the value side of the equation, we need to address the health issue. First, we need to make one last assumption: assuming that they want to, the Yankees can keep Montero for his entire career, such that we can conduct this analysis while considering the value he might provide at the end of his career. If catching costs Montero enough playing time over his career to outweigh 1-1.5 wins a year, it would make sense to move him off the position to save his bat. This is where we get into areas that are tough to quantify. Looking at the history of catchers in MLB, they seem to decline quicker than other players. If Montero’s size makes him a strong candidate for injury and early decline, the Yankees would be best-served by moving him off the position to preserve his bat. If the Yankees do not see him as a particularly high risk for injury, and believe that he unlikely to lose 15-20 wins of value over his career due to the physical strains of catching, they should keep him behind the plate for as long as they can.

The inability for us to evaluate the injury risk makes it impossible to reach a firm conclusion on this issue. I will say that when I first read Law’s comment, I thought that he was mistaken, and now I am not nearly as certain. Montero’s purportedly great bat and awful glove narrows the value gap between catching and DH’ing considerably, and the possibility of injury might close the gap entirely.

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

Yankees’ CF Curtis Granderson recently returned from a goodwill tour of New Zealand, where he not only experienced the unique culture of the island nation, but also served as an ambassador to the country’s fledgling baseball community. Naturally, Granderson’s activities were mostly ignored by the New York tabloids. Wallace Mathews of ESPNNewYork did briefly cover the trip in a blog post, but only to drum up controversy by linking to video of the centerfielder riding on the backseat of a motorcycle.

Fortunately, in this age of social media, fans were able to tag along on Granderson’s trip by following his travels on youtube, twitter, Yankees.com and his charitable organization’s website (grandkidsfoundation.org). In addition to the aforementioned motorcycle tour, Granderson also embarked on other cultural adventures (including meeting Prime Minister John Key, whose son plays baseball), but mostly focused on the country’s athletic scene, including visits with professional basketball, cricket and rugby teams.

Baseball was the main reason for Granderson’s visit, which coincided with the IBAF under-16 championship trials for the Oceania region. In addition to presiding at numerous camps and clinics for young baseball players from New Zealand and other countries participating in the tournament, Granderson also served as a visiting dignitary promoting interest in a game that has slowly been making inroads on the island. The trip was the center fielder’s fourth as part of Major League Baseball’s International Ambassador program. His previous visits included Europe (England, the Netherlands and Italy), South Africa and China.

Not only is baseball’s popularity at on all-time high in the United States, but the level of interest and participation abroad has been exploding. The number of foreign born players in the majors is the most obvious evidence, but the growing number of countries eager to host MLB’s ambassador visits is even more encouraging. The popularity of the World Baseball Classic has been an offshoot of this global expansion, and perhaps also a driver, but for whatever reason, interest in baseball seems to be spreading beyond the traditional strongholds of Asia and the Americas.

Granderson’s dedication to the Ambassador program is laudable because a major leaguer’s offseason seems to grow shorter each year. From the Yankees perspective, the fact that his latest visit involved him wearing the interlocking NY logo is an added bonus. As the game of baseball expands its frontiers, it is in the Yankees’ best interest to have their brand on the forefront, and trips like Granderson’s help to do just that. After all, despite previously being unknown in the country, Granderson’s travels were widely covered by the New Zealand Herald, which compared his stature to Tiger Woods, David Beckham and Roger Federer, because of the power and presence of the Yankee name.

The Yankees, with their crossed over NY symbol and their pinstriped pyjamas, are the most recognisable sporting brand on the planet. Granderson, the starting centre fielder with an unrivalled skill set, is a star of the present and future.” – New Zealand Herald, January 28, 2011

Granderson’s goodwill trip was a success for the Yankees and Major League Baseball, but no one fared better than New Zealand baseball. Not only did the country’s amateur players receive tutelage and encouragement from a major league superstar, but its under-16 squad upset a heavily favored team from Guam to advance to the August world championship in Mexico. The next step for the country will be to have one of its own become a big leaguer. Toronto Blue Jays’ minor leaguer Scott Campbell, who hails from Aukland, is currently the best hope, but even if he doesn’t make it, sooner or later someone will. Trips like Granderson’s can only help in that regard.

Members of the New Zealand under-16 national team (Photo: New Zealand Herald).

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. (Writer’s Note: I may not have come up with that line on my own)

As the Hot Stove season winds to a close and pitchers and catchers start reporting and Spring Training begins, we’re going to see a lot of articles grading the Yankees’ offseason. If I’m a good predictor, which I think I can be at times, many of these columns are going to be negative in nature. The case? They’re going to probably call the Yankee offseason a failure because they didn’t land Cliff Lee. They didn’t land Jayson Werth. They didn’t land Carl Crawford. They didn’t trade for Zack Greinke.

I’m going to put myself in a camp that may be a little lonesome: the 2010-2011 Hot Stove Season was a success for the New York Yankees. While I am not a fan of the Rafael Soriano contract, it does strengthen the team for 2011. The other deals the Yankees made don’t burden future payroll and helped fill needs the Yankees had.

Pedro Feliciano gives the Yankees a second lefty in the bullpen and can provide insurance in case Boone Logan reverts to pre-demotion form. Andruw Jones gives the Yankees a competent fourth outfielder not only at the plate, but also in the field.

The team also filled out some minor league pitching depth, headlined by the signings of Mark Prior and Bartolo Colon. Should we have expectations for either one of these guys at the Major League level? Of course not. But that’s the point of minor league deals: throw some stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

The Rafael Soriano signing was a big splash, but the overall tone of this offseason has been rather low key. There were times of turmoil and head scratching like there are no matter what month the baseball calender shows. Still, the 2011 Yankees are likely to be just as good as the 2010 team, which was just two wins away from the World Series.

This Hot Stove season did not see the Yankees land the biggest target out there, but it also saw them improve the team in meaningful ways.

Jan 312011

Way back on November 29 of last year, I wrote a piece looking forward to the 2011-2012 Hot Stove season. On the list of possibly expiring contracts was fan favorite, Nick Swisher.

Like Cano, Nick Swisher has an option for the 2012 season ($10.25MM) with a $1MM buy out. The OF FA class of 2012 doesn’t look particularly strong and Swisher’s got a skill set that should age well. He’s also gotten himself into very good shape and doesn’t have a body that is likely to break down. I’d bet on the Yankees picking up that relatively cheap option and keeping Nick on patrol in YSIII’s right field.

Via LoHud:

“I don’t want to leave New York,” Swisher said. “This is the place to be. I love it. I absolutely love it… Meeting my wife, and Kevin Long, and the city of New York just completely resurrected my career.”

Since day one, Nick Swisher has fit in with the Yankees in every way possible. His personality supposedly helped loosen up the Yankee clubhouse; that same personality has made him a hit with the media and the fans, and most importantly, his performance on the field has been fantastic. Since joining the Bombers in 2009, Swisher’s hit to a .376 wOBA and has been worth 7.4 fWAR (7.7 bWAR).

Unless he absolutely tanks, or gets viciously injured, I’ll stick to the prediction I made back in November. Swisher will be 31 for the 2012 season so he won’t be too old and $10.25MM is a relatively affordable option. The list of outfield free agents is long, but pretty thin. Carlos Beltran, J.D. Drew, David DeJesus, and Grady Sizemore are on the list, but three of them are health risks and DeJesus doesn’t represent any sort of an upgrade over Nick Swisher; in fact, he’s more or less a downgrade. All signs point to Nick Swisher sticking around through 2012.

Brian Cashman has become something of a lightning rod this off season, drawing criticism from fans and media types for both his lack of activity and distancing himself from the Soriano deal. But he also has his defenders, and while appearing on Mike Silva’s radio show last night Mike cited a poll he ran where the voting came in 2/3 positive on Cashman. We all know GMs will have their share of good and bad moves, but who’s more right here? On balance, is he a good or bad GM?

I wanted to take a look at what his track record has been since taking over full control of Baseball Ops in 2005. That’s an important milestone for Brian, taking full control (and responsibility) for baseball decisions. In the previous period, some moves were made by George, others by ‘The Crack Committee’ so the waters are too muddied to know whether or not Brian was 100% behind those moves. I’m going to look at each year the way BR does it, beginning in November (when the off season begins) and ending in October of the following year. This way I capture the off season and mid season moves on the same list. I won’t look at any of this year’s off season moves, since its obviously too soon to know whether they’ve worked out or not. I’m only going to look at major moves, ones involving at least one MLB player that spent time on the 25 man roster. I won’t look at retaining their existing players as free agents (such as A-Rod, Mo, Pettitte or Jeter) since its simply maintaining the status quo. But I will look at free agents they let walk, such as Johnny Damon from last year. I’ll do a quick analysis of each move, and assess a grade of net plus or net minus for the franchise. I’ll total up each at the end of the post, and give a final total at the end of part 5.

2010 New York Yankees Trades and Transactions

December 8, 2009

As part of a 3-team trade, traded Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers and Ian Kennedy to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Received Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers.

Very complex deal, so I’m just using WAR here. Phil Coke (1.1), Austin Jackson (3.8) and Ian Kennedy (2.4) combined for 7.3 WAR last year, while Curtis posted 3.6 WAR. I think Curtis has more upside in him, and we all know A-Jax’s BABIP was sky high last year and unlikely to repeat. But Austin Jackson alone outproduced Granderson last year, so there’s no positive way to spin this. You can’t make a final determination for a few more years, but as things stand now the team would have been better off standing pat.

Grade-Net minus

November 9, 2009

Johnny Damon granted Free Agency.

Fans were sorry to see the popular Damon go, but the Yanks didn’t miss him much. Brett Gardner put up a surprising 5.4 WAR playing LF while Johnny posted a 1.9 WAR with the Tigers. Defense counts, folks.

Grade-Net plus

Hideki Matsui granted Free Agency.

Another popular Yankee fans were sorry to see go. Had a solid season for the Angels, posting an .820 OPS and 1.9 WAR despite the big positional adjustment for DH. Yanks wound up getting 3.1 wins out of their DH spot between Posada, Thames and Johnson.

Grade-Net plus

December 22, 2009

Traded Arodys Vizcaino (minors), Melky Cabrera, Michael Dunn and cash to the Atlanta Braves. Received Boone Logan and Javier Vazquez.

Melky was awful for the Braves, posting a -1.2 WAR. Dunn spent some time with the Braves, posting a 0.1 WAR but was quickly traded. Arodys Vizcaino hurt his elbow and had TJ surgery. From the Yankee side, Vazquez was very bad at the beginning and end of the season, but managed a good mid-season stretch  that kept his WAR (-0.2) from getting too ugly. Boone Logan was the best part of this trade for either team, giving the Yanks a much-needed LOOGY and posting a positive 0.4 WAR.

Grade-Net plus (for Logan)

February 8, 2010

Signed Randy Winn as a free agent.

Low risk/low reward move for bench help, which didn’t work out. Not significant, but not positive since Winn did nothing as a Yank and was quickly released by the team.

Grade-Net minus

February 10, 2010

Signed Marcus Thames as a free agent.

Low risk, medium reward move which paid off nicely. Thames added a potent lefty bat as DH and off the bench, and was worth about double in production what the Yanks paid him.

Grade-Net plus

February 28, 2010

Signed Chan Ho Park as a free agent.

Low risk move in terms of dollars, but Park was unusable except in low leverage situations. Signed to add veteran stability to bullpen, didn’t deliver.

Grade-Net minus

July 30, 2010 (Standings)

Traded a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. Received Austin Kearns. The New York Yankees sent Zach McAllister (minors) (August 20, 2010) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.

Kearns did little as a Yank, but Zach McAllister was exposed at AAA and in all likelihood won’t be missed. Brian deserves credit for getting something out of Z-Mac while he still had some value, but the player he landed didn’t pay off. I’ll give Brian a generous net plus, only on getting some actual MLB production in exchange for someone like McAllister.

Grade-Net plus

July 31, 2010

Traded Jimmy Paredes (minors) and Mark Melancon to the Houston Astros. Received Lance Berkman.

Berkman did little for the Yanks, but Melancon also did nothing for the Astros. Melancon excelled at AAA but lost his control in the majors, and then made matters worse by complaining about New York fans, which he made known after he was sent to Texas. Melancon wasn’t cut out for New York, but Brian would have been better off hanging onto him for another deal.

Grade-Net Minus

Traded players to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. Received Kerry Wood and cash. The New York Yankees sent Matt Cusick (minors) (October 21, 2010) and Andrew Shive (minors) (October 21, 2010) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.

Best move Cashman made all year, and it came at little cost. Wood was terrific down the stretch as a Yank, stabilizing the bullpen and setting them up for a deep playoff run. Cusick is a career minor leaguer and Shive is a reliever with control problems.

Grade-Net plus

Total Net plus transactions-6

Total Net minus transactions-3

Tomorrow I’ll look at Brian Cashman’s 2009 transactions.

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