Thursday, January 5, 2012

Zambrano Trade Hurts Yankees' Chances Of Trading A.J.

There hasn't been a whole lot of A.J. trade chatter lately, although that may be an option that the Yankees are still open to and even pursuing behind the scenes.  But with the Cubs moving Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins last night, and eating a hefty chunk of his remaining salary in the process, the likelihood that the Yankees actually move A.J. now is slim to none.

The Yankees opening bid for what they were willing to pick up on A.J.'s remaining salary was $8 million.  That's a decent chunk, but still not nearly enough out of the $33 mil that he's owed for teams to be willing to take him off Cash's hands.  For the sake of comparison, the Cubs are picking up $15.5 mil of Zambrano's remaining 18, or 86.11%.  That same percentage of the balance of A.J.'s contract would be $28.42 million, a figure much too rich for the Yankees' cost-saving blood.  For that kind of money, they might as well keep him on the team and pay him to at least eat innings.

Then there's the pesky little 2nd year still remaining on A.J.'s contract.  Zambrano, psychotic as he is, represents a smaller risk for the Marlins because if he goes off the reservation again, at least they know they're done with him after the season.  Any team willing to take on A.J., regardless of what the Yankees agree to pick up money-wise, is stuck with him for another year.  And with the way he's pitched, that's not an ideal situation to be in.

A.J. being traded was probably never actually going to happen, although I would have been the first one to celebrate and suggest a parade through the Canyon of Heroes if it did.  But with the precedent set by the Zambrano trade yesterday, any slight chance that something could be done was definitely killed.  And that means we can all really start to prepare ourselves for another season of this guy:

Triple-R: The Outfield

(One for all and all for one.  Courtesy of The Daily News)

The Yankee outfield trio of C-Grand, Swish, and Gardy slowly started to establish themselves as one of the best all-around outfields in baseball in 2010, especially after Curtis got the Dr. Long treatment on his swing in the second half.  In 2011, that trend continued in a big way thanks to Curtis' monster year, and it's now a fair statement to say that the Yankee outfield is among the top 3 in baseball, top 5 on its worst day.  So what should we be looking for in 2012?

Brett Gardner, LF- Remain

I know Gardner's numbers were down a bit across the board in 2011, but a lot of that can be attributed to his horrific start.  And despite my continued pleas for him to work with Kevin Long to try to develop a little more leg drive and power to his swing to put balls in the gaps more often and make his speed on the basepaths an even bigger weapon, that doesn't seem like it's going to happen.  So we're left with the Brett Gardner that we've seen over the past few seasons, a lightning-quick slap hitter who generates most of his value with his elite-level range and defensive skills, and in this lineup that's just fine.  Gardner should see a little more time hitting leadoff against righties in 2012, but I think it's safe to say that another season around .260/.360/.370 with a .340 wOBA is in the cards.

Curtis Granderson, CF- Regress

C-Grand's situation is a bit tricky.  I don't see his 2012 being a true regression in the sense that he'll drop back down to the levels of early 2010 or worse, but rather a decrease in the power output he had in 2011.  I've talked before about how Curtis improving his approach at the plate and being more selective should help him repeat his performance, and I believe that it will.  But I don't see the HR totals being sustainable this season and the net loss from that should result in a slight regression from his 2011 numbers, not that having a slight regression from a career year is a bad thing.  When you consider his defensive inadequacies, at least as they're measured by most sabermetric defensive ratings, and the fact that he'll hit the 30-year-old plateau before the beginning of the season, there's the possibility of some decline beginning in that department as well.  I don't expect it to be much, and I still expect him to put up All Star-caliber numbers again, but do believe C-Grand will experience a slight regression in 2012.

Nick Swisher, RF- Remain

Swish is another interesting case when it comes to picking one of the Rs for him.  In 2010, Swish abandoned his traditional "work the count and draw walks" approach after working with the esteemed Dr. Long in the offseason for a more swing-happy tactic that produced very good results (.377 wOBA).  This past season, he got back to his pitch-taking roots, boosting his BB rate back up to 15.0% from a career-low 9.1% in 2010 and sacrificing some hits and power as a result.  He still finished with very good numbers (.358 wOBA), comparable to his 2010 season in many categories, and his final 3.8 WAR was not far off from the 4.1 he had in 2010.  I see him finding a balance between his approaches from the past 2 seasons in 2012 and so I believe we'll see production from Swish similar to what he's already done, with a line somewhere in the .270/.370/.470, .360wOBA range.  You could make the "playing for a contract" case for Swish, but at 31 he's a little beyond the age where he can have a career year, and that line I just suggested will still get him a damn good contract from somebody.