Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All Questions Answered - Volume I

What would you give up for Justin Upton?
Several sources have reported that the Diamondback are either shopping Justin Upton, or very willing to listen to offers. According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are one of the many teams interested in the 23-year old outfielder. Before delving into any trade ideas, let's take a quick look at Upton's resume.

2007 - .221/.283/.364, .277 wOBA, 2 HR, 2 SB, 152 PA (age: 19)
2008 - .250/.353/.463, .347 wOBA, 15 HR, 1 SB, 417 PA (age: 20)
2009 - .300/.366/.532, .388 wOBA, 26 HR, 20 SB, 588 PA (age: 21)
2010 - .273/.356/.442, .349 wOBA, 17 HR, 18 SB, 571 PA (age: 22)

Upton is regarded as a very good defensive right-fielder, and defensive metrics back that up (9.1 UZR/150, 7 DRS, 20 TZ in 2010). Several scouts, in fact, believe that he has the range and smarts to play center-field, to boot. Upton is owed $49.5 million over the next five seasons.

To me, Upton is a superstar in the making. His 2010 was somewhat disconcerting, particularly with a three-percent up-tick in strikeouts - but that must be taken in stride, as Upton spent the majority of the season as a 22-year old. In other words, most players his age are in Double-A or Triple-A, as opposed to spending the past three years in the Majors. Upton also battled nagging injuries throughout the season, for what it's worth. He's a rare talent, and he's fairly proven at the Major League level, to boot.

Now, to answer the question, I would give up a fair amount for Upton. Brett Gardner, who is four years older than Upton, would have to be in the package as a ready-made replacement for the Diamondbacks. Ivan Nova and Joba Chamberlain could provide the Diamondbacks with two potential starters (or solid relievers) for a consistently pitching-starved team. One of David Phelps, Graham Stoneburner, and Adam Warren serves as a potential mid-rotation starter. Austin Romine remains a solid prospect, and could help to back-up the injury-maligned and lefty-embattled Miguel Montero. And Brandon Laird has a decent bit of power potential to be slotted in at any of the four corners.

In the end, I don't really think that that would get it done. The Diamondbacks simply have too much leverage in this situation, and any team would love to add Upton to its roster. A realistic package from the Yankees would probably include Gardner, Jesus Montero, and Manny Banuelos, and perhaps even more. As great as I believe Upton will be, I would not be willing to give up so many important organizational pieces to upgrade an area that is already a Major League strength.

Are there any conceivable replacements for Jeter in 2011? 2012? And so forth.
This year's free agent class is limited to stop-gaps. Orlando Cabrera, Christian Guzman, and Edgar Renteria represent the 'best' of the group, and I shudder to think of them starting at shortstop for the Yankees.

The 2012 free agent shortstop group has two interesting names - Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes. Their names, however, fail to paint a proper picture. Rollins will be 33 next offseason and, in addition to seeing his production decline for three consecutive years, has missed time in two of the last three years. No thanks. Jose Reyes is younger and remains in the prime of his career, but his list of injuries has grown fairly extensive, as well. Should he hit the market following a healthy and effective 2011, a bidding war would likely ensue. I wouldn't be against Reyes, but that doesn't help the Yankees in 2011.

There are a few interesting names being bandied about on the hot stove as potential trade candidates - Jason Bartlett, Stephen Drew, J.J. Hardy, and Marco Scutaro. I assume that neither Bartlett or Scutaro are likely candidates, as I cannot see the Rays or Red Sox making a deal with the Yankees ... nor do either particularly interest me. Hardy is a very good defender, but he doesn't offer much with the bat. He has shown some potential with the bat, but I don't think he'll ever be more than a league-average hitter. That's certainly not a bad combination, but I don't see him as the sort of player the Yankees would pursue.

Stephen Drew is interesting. He's a roughly-average defensive shortstop, he has a nice power-speed combination to go along with a solid approach at the plate, and he's a left-handed pull hitter. Should the Yankees actually go forward and seek to replace Jeter (which I don't see happening), Drew would be my preference.

From within the organization, the Yankees have Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez as essentially finished products. Pena strikes me as the all-glove, no-hit type with little room for growth. Nunez is somewhat intriguing, as he's grown progressively more patient at the plate, shown good base-running instincts, and, at least according to Baseball America, developed into one of the finest defensive shortstops in the minors. I could get behind Nunez receiving a fair shot. Cito Culver has some potential, but he's three or four years away.

Are there any free agent pitchers that you like, besides Lee? Any available for trade?
All of the safer bets have already been signed - Ted Lilly, Jon Garland, Jake Westbrook, and Hiroki Kuroda are off the market. Carl Pavano is still available, and he has been a fine pitcher over the past two seasons - but I wouldn't be terribly excited to repeat that failed experiment.

Erik Bedard, Ben Sheets, and Brandon Webb represent the high-risk, high-reward arms on the market. I would certainly endorse giving any of the three a shot, but I wouldn't be too thrilled if the Yankees counted on any to contribute to the rotation for the entire year. I would probably rank the three Webb, Bedard, Sheets, for what it's worth.

As for trades, I've seen the following names mentioned: Jeremy Guthrie, John Danks, Ricky Nolasco, Wandy Rodriguez, Zack Greinke, and Chad Billingsley. Guthrie is a solid, back of the rotation type - he doesn't strike many batters out, nor does he keep the ball on the ground, but he has had success in the AL East. Danks sort of reminds me of Andy Pettitte, and his groundball numbers have trended upwards each year. He's a fine pitcher, and he could be a solid third starter ... his asking price would probably be fairly high, though. Nolasco is an underachiever in the vein of Javy Vazquez, having underperformed his fine peripherals in two consecutive seasons. The Marlins seem to enjoy being on the receiving end of poor deals, so perhaps he could be had for pennies on the dollar - his flyball rates leave a bit to be desired. Rodriguez is a very interesting name. He's had very good peripherals and results over the last three seasons, and the Astros have been notorious for receiving the short end of the stick in trades. My only hang-ups here are his age (31) and injury history. I mention Greinke and Billingsley only because their names have been thrown around a bit - I don't see either being moved this offseason, nor do I see the Yankees giving up the pieces that would be needed for either.

From that group, I could get behind a deal for either Danks or Rodriguez, with Danks being my preference. In a deal, I would probably look to deal from the group of Ivan Nova, Joba Chamberlain, Brandon Laird, and Austin Romine, and I'd prefer to limit it to that. I'm not sure if that would land either lefty, however.

What can we reasonably expect out of Jesus Montero in 2011?
Let's take a look at a couple of projections.

James - .285/.348/.519, .376 wOBA, 21 HR, 39 BB, 75 K, 442 PA
CAIRO - .261/.326/.446, .337 wOBA, 18 HR, 41 BB, 85 K, 467 PA

As much as I like Bill James' projection, I do find it to be a bit optimistic, as it essentially has Montero replicating his Triple-A numbers with the Yankees. SG's CAIRO projection appears to be fairly pragmatic, yet palatable at the same time. I could certainly see Montero struggling in the early stages of the season, improving slowly yet surely, and ending up with something quite similar to that.

However, it may be most reasonable to temper expectations severely. About two years ago, fans, scouts, and analysts were touting the merits of uber-prospect Matt Wieters, expecting the young catcher to set the world on fire. Wieters destroyed pitching at every level of the minors, and made his debut in May of 2009. That year, Wieters hit a solid .288/.340/.412 with a .330 wOBA and 9 home runs in 385 plate appearances. While that may not be stellar, it's a fine rookie season nonetheless. Paul Konerko, the player to whom Montero's baseline is most often compared, batted .214/.275/.326 with a .267 wOBA and 7 home runs in his first 247 plate appearances.

It is from there, however, that these two comps differentiate. In Wieters' second season, he showed a bit more plate discipline, yet made weaker contact and saw his bottom line plummet. Konerko, on the other hand, batted .294/.352/.511 with a .372 wOBA and 24 home runs, which is essentially his career norm. Of course, there are plenty of examples of prospect performing admirably, such as Jason Heyward and Buster Posey - but that's the exception, not the rule.

In the end, I'm really not quite sure what to expect. I do think that the CAIRO projection is reasonable, but I don't think that that anything less should be considered a disappointment.

I am really looking forward to making this a regular feature of Sliding Into Home. It's a great way for us to connect with our excellent readers. Don't hesitate to send me questions at any time, on any topic - domenic.lanza@gmail.com.

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