Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Sweating the Small Stuff
2006-12-07 11:32
by Cliff Corcoran

For the first time in eleven years, the Yankees have claimed a player in the major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. Back in December 1995, the player they claimed from the Brewers was Marc Ronan, a then-26-year-old catcher who had caught six games for new Yankee manager Joe Torre's Cardinals in 1993. Those six games were destined to be Ronan's only major league appearances. With the newly acquired Joe Girardi, Jim Leyritz and a rookie named Jorge Posada in camp, Ronan was cut in spring training. This year, the Yankees' claim is far more compelling: former Baseball Prospectus cover boy Josh Phelps.

Phelps fits the description of the right-handed power-hitting first baseman the Yankees were looking for, though whether or not he does so any more than Andy Phillips, who is still on the roster, or Craig Wilson, who may yet be resigned, is questionable. Phelps, now 28, came up with the Blue Jays as a catcher and, arriving directly from double-A, went 0 for 13 in two sips of coffee in 2000 and 2001. In 2002 he abandoned catching and split the year between triple-A Syracuse and Toronto, mashing the ball in both places as a DH/first baseman. It was at this point that Phelps became a cover boy. At age 24, he was drawing comparisons to a young Dale Murphy, another tall, lean, powerful, right-handed-hitting converted catcher. Pegged as a future star in Toronto, Phelps suffered a slight sophomore slump in 2003. When his struggles got even worse in 2004, the Blue Jays dealt him to Cleveland for never-was Eric Crozier. Phelps did better with the Indians, hitting .303/.338/.579 over the remainder of the season, but departed for Tampa Bay as a free agent that winter. In Tampa, Phelps lost his DH job to Jonny Gomes after hitting .266/.328/.424 through June 5. He hasn't appeared in the majors since then, but he had his best season since 2002 with triple-A Toledo in the Tigers' system last year. Coming off that .303/.370/.532 season, Phelps signed a minor league deal with the Orioles on November 15, but the O's left him unprotected and the Yankees, against whom Phelps has hit .318/.369/.523 in 107 at-bats over his major league career, snapped him up.

The selection cost the Yankees $50,000 and the Yankees will have to offer Phelps back to Baltimore (in exchange for half of their money back) if they want to remove him from the 25-man roster at any point this season. Phelps will clearly compete directly with Andy Phillips this spring. Since Phillips is out of options, one of the two (if not both should Craig Wilson re-enter the picture) will likely be with another organization come opening day. With that, here's a chart comparing Phelps, Phillips, Wilson, and a pair of similarly skilled lefty first basemen, Carlos Peña, who made a cameo as a Columbus Clipper in 2006 before making a briefer one in Boston at the end of the year and is once again a free agent, and Hee Seop Choi, who after all the hand wringing we did over his landing with the Red Sox, had an awful, injury-shortened year in Pawtucket and has since signed a minor league deal with the Devil Rays:

Josh Phelps28R.268/.336/.473 (1203).288/.360/.524 (2719).308/.370/.532 (464-AAA)
Andy Phillips29R.228/.266/.391 (294).295/.363/.516 (2530).240/.281/.394 (246-MLB)
Craig Wilson30R.265/.354/.480 (1952).275/.357/.496 (2271).251/.314/.446 (359-MLB)
Carlos Peña28L.243/.331/.459 (1685).283/.393/.510 (2485).278/.383/.490 (418-AAA)
Hee Seop Choi27L.240/.349/.437 (915).275/.380/.511 (1794).207/.347/.361 (227-AAA)

Phelps stacks up well against that competition. If anything, his continued search for a major league contract may have as much to do with his glove as his bat. It remains to be seen whether or not Phelps, who has played the field in just 31 of his 343 post-catching major league games, can be trusted at first base. With Jason Giambi locked in at DH, his defense this spring is sure to be closely watched by Joe Torre and his staff. That said, mark Phelps down next to Brian Bruney and Darrell Rasner as further evidence that Brian Cashman and company are on point in all phases of their game.

Comments (56)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2006-12-07 14:15:17
1.   mikeplugh
C.R.E.A.M. dolla, dolla bills y'all!

I like the move. I'm in favor of giving Phillips another shot, with the numbers he put up over a long AAA sample. Phelps is good motivation for him to come out red hot in the Spring....and vice versa.

2006-12-07 14:23:51
2.   standuptriple
After looking at that it's hard to see some people's infatuation with Wilson. He's easily replacable at a fraction of his cost.
2006-12-07 14:24:08
3.   Maniakes
Any chance of moving Phelps back to catcher part time (catch every 5th game, play 1B other days)? The pickings for backup catchers is getting very thin.
2006-12-07 14:25:11
4.   Shaun P
Its fascinating to watch the Yanks play the (almost) free talent game, while the Royals shell out $55M over 5 years for the likes of Gil Meche.

Now, if the Yanks can just find a good glove middle infielder who walks a bit and can't/hasn't/won't play 1B, so Torre won't be tempted into any "Cairo at 1B" shennanigans . . .

2006-12-07 14:29:08
5.   Cliff Corcoran
4 I don't think that exists. Chris Gomez might walk a bit, but he played a lot of 1B for the O's. Otherwise, there's no walking to be had among that crowd. And Phelps is questionable at 1B and hasn't played C since 2001, no way they try him back there.
2006-12-07 14:29:31
6.   Cliff Corcoran
Second half of that was obviously re: 3, of course.
2006-12-07 14:32:40
7.   Cliff Corcoran
Oh, and something I left out of this post because I didn't want to drown you all in slash stats, all of these guys with the possible exception of Phillips have strong splits, meaning they'd mash even more if platooned. Andy for some reason couldn't hit lefties last year, and did better against righties. Might have been a small sample thing. Of course if you platoon the righties their playing time gets mighty small, so this becomes an even less significant discussion than it already was. Still, sweating the small stuff can pay off . . .
2006-12-07 14:44:01
8.   randym77
IMO, Andy was a victim of scouting. They realized he had trouble hitting high, outside pitches from lefties. If he learns to hit those, his splits would probably return to his norm...and he'd be a pretty good hitter.

Rule 5 was surprisingly exciting today. The Reds grabbed Josh Hamilton from Tampa via a trade. He's gotten a lot of local media coverage, because he played for Hudson Valley. Plus, he has that whole redemption storyline going.

2006-12-07 15:06:19
9.   mehmattski
7 I could have taken it, I brought along my slash SCUBA gear today. I think the Phelps claim is... intriguing. It will provide a good atmosphere of competition with Phillips... however with all the bashers in the lineup already, my greatest concern at first base is that of defense. If Phelps isn't better than Giambi fielding the ball, what's the point? I'd like to see Melky in the lineup a lot more than Phillips/Phelps, so if there's no defensive upgrade, let Giambi play first.
2006-12-07 15:34:56
10.   StolenMonkey86
not to be rude, but Andy Phillips' career OBP is .266 in the majors, not .226 (which is impressive, granted, for a .228 BA)
2006-12-07 16:09:31
11.   Jeteupthemiddle
I'm in favor of also signing Craig Wilson.

He can play 3B and corner outfield as well as 1B.

Though, I suppose the roster spot could be better filled with a true utility guy.

2006-12-07 16:15:11
12.   yankz
Good news, Cano is above average according to Dave Pinto.

2006-12-07 16:36:23
13.   Simone
I still think that the Yankees should sign Wilson.

I wished Bubba away and he went away last season. Sturtze finally went away this off season. I am now wishing Andy Phillips away. He isn't a major league caliber player and definitely is not a full time 1st baseman. Next on my list to wish away is Scott Proctor.

2006-12-07 16:36:53
14.   sabernar
12 But Jeter is below.

11 Guiel can be the 5th OF, why do we need Wilson? And Wilson (according to Pinto's numbers) is horrible at 1B (6th worst in MLB). I'd stay away from Wilson. Give Phelps a try and see how he fields with Mattingly giving him a hand.

2006-12-07 16:54:01
15.   randym77
13 Scott Proctor?? Can't you wish away, say, Randy Johnson instead?
2006-12-07 16:59:53
16.   yankz
14 We know. Why bring that up?
2006-12-07 17:30:14
17.   C2Coke
15 Really? He did give the Yankees 17 wins redardless of his wildness last season. I have good feelings about RJ next year because he has the potential to make history again. Now, how about the DL one? We don't need anyone to make DL history...
2006-12-07 17:46:12
18.   randym77
17 I think he was just lucky. The Yanks usually scored a ton when he pitched.
2006-12-07 17:57:17
19.   Jim Dean
Whoa - "...are point in all phases of their game."

Nieves or Chavez as backup catcher?

Still, despite your unrestrained optimism, Cliff, thanks for the great breakdown of a good, value-packed move.

2006-12-07 17:57:46
20.   C2Coke
18 That's what I thought at the beginning, but then after 10 starts I had another thought because the same thing didn't happen with any other pitcher. I thought perhaps it's his "scary" presence that motivates the offense to score lots of runs. Whatever it takes to make it work and win the games, right?...just a thought.
2006-12-07 17:58:42
21.   C2Coke
19 Not many are out there as backup C.
2006-12-07 18:34:18
22.   kdw
Interesting. NYT has an article on the Red Sox and possible tampering claims.

2006-12-07 18:44:21
23.   randym77
20 I don't buy it. And he's been a post-season dud.

22 Hmmmm. Imagine how irate everyone will be if they don't sign Mat$uzaka...

2006-12-07 19:10:53
24.   Simone
22 Eh, the Red Sox will get away with everything as usual except their scheme to reduce Matsuzaka's ultimate cost. No team gets away with scheming against Scott Boras' clients. The Red Sox will pay for Matsuzaka one way or the other because Boras will be sure to get that money out of their cheap pockets.
2006-12-07 19:52:00
25.   monkeypants
14 Wilson can emergency C, and he may even be able to back-up C. Plus he has massive platoon splits. I would take his bad defense at first IF he could platoon with Guiel/Giambi at 1B/DH, with occasional C duty. That kind of roster flexibility is valuable, and the team hasn't had such a 1B/OF/C/DH creature since Leyritz.
2006-12-07 19:56:17
26.   kdw
Rotoworld says that Dotel has reached a 1-year agmt with the Royals. Is it just me or does it seem like they've done a fair amount recently?
2006-12-07 20:35:06
27.   Cliff Corcoran
19 Oops, typo. Meanwhile, Cash was thisclose to a Zaun deal but Barajas's deal with Toronto fell through and Zaun ran back to the Jays. Not Cash's fault, he went after the right guy and almost got him.

26 It's just you.

2006-12-07 20:39:57
28.   Yu-Hsing Chen
In the Royal's case, there's not much they could do in the FA if they don't up the ante, i suppose at least showing the baseball world they are alive and kicking isn't a terrible sign.
2006-12-07 20:47:55
29.   OldYanksFan
NEW YORK -- Ron Villone declined the Yankees' arbitration offer Thursday, leaving the left-hander available on the free-agent market.

I guess we only get a draft pick if he ends up signing elsewhere? His agent is Boras and Ron wants 2 years... the Yanks are only willing to give one. He wants to stay with the Yanks, but also wants that 2nd year.

2006-12-07 20:49:11
30.   OldYanksFan
"Bonds, Giants agree on one-year deal.
Slugger, 21 homers shy of Aaron, set to re-sign for $16 million"
2006-12-07 21:07:15
31.   yankz
I think we should all get over this Wilson as backup C thing. I'll bet money it doesn't happen.
2006-12-07 21:14:00
32.   BklynBmr
NY Post (George King): Leyritz thinking comeback


Andy, now The King... it's time for Paulie and Scotty B. to start getting loose.

2006-12-07 21:16:39
33.   yankz
According to Pete Abraham's overwhelmingly awesome blog:

"Brian Cashman doesn't have most of the power with the Yankees. He has all of it."


2006-12-07 21:24:02
34.   Jim Dean
27 True dat. But that's where the BUC search should begin, not end. Oops, it ended with Chavez. That's quite a drop-off.
2006-12-07 21:36:07
35.   ChuckM
Frfom rotoworld...

According to's Jon Heyman, the Yankees have told Andy Pettitte they'll go to $17 million for 2007 and give him a second year if that's what it will take to sign him.
Still, interested parties have seen the competition as a 50-50 proposition, writes Heyman. The Astros are currently at $12 million and likely will have to go higher, something they'd be foolish not to do after deciding Carlos Lee was worth $16.67 million per year. "Certainly, we have a geographical edge," Astros GM Tim Pupura said. "And certainly, you have to expect the Yankees to have a financial edge."

I love Andy, but at that price, Lily looks a helluva lot better. He's holding us hostage like free Hummer Clemens did to Houston for the past few years. I look at Lilly as Jimmy Key light. On the plus side, if we sign Petitte for that much, it means Phil Hughes will be up that much sooner...

2006-12-07 21:45:45
36.   yankz
Villone declines arbitration. Does he sense Cash$ has his sights set on another LHRP?
2006-12-07 22:17:09
37.   Cliff Corcoran
34 The only other option was Lieberthal. Piazza signed as a full-time DH, Molina signed as a starter in SF. There's just nothing else out there worth trying. You want Einar Diaz or Sandy Alomar Jr.?

35 Don't sweat the price, sweat the years. Lilly got four, if they hold Andy to two max they come out ahead regardless of salary. No way is Lilly within shouting distance of Key.

Good news on Villone, not that there's much else out there in the lefty reliever dept either. Slim pickins all around.

2006-12-07 22:44:16
38.   kdw
37 Amen on the years not the $$. Two years of Andy Pettitte would be a bargain compared to 4 years of Lilly or 5 of Meche or lifetime employment for Zito.
2006-12-08 02:29:48
39.   C2Coke
38 Two years of Andy Pettitte would be a bargain compared to 4 years of Lilly or 5 of Meche or lifetime employment for Zito. Golden words.
2006-12-08 02:31:19
40.   C2Coke
35 If Lilly was a RHP with same level of ability. He would only be so undesirable at this point.
2006-12-08 04:26:31
41.   wsporter
In today's Post George King references a rumor wherein we bring back Damaso Marte from from Pittsburg for Kevin Thompson. I would believe it or something like it with KT as a subject given Ca$hmoney's little cuddle with Boras in F.L.A. ("Slapshot").

It's a way to hang on to Bernie as a 5th outfielder and get back a lefty releiver we never should have traded in the first place. Personally I wish Bernie would get a bar stool and a microphone and just play his guitar in the club house and during the stretch and leave playing ball to someone else but I don't run the joint.

2006-12-08 04:35:32
42.   OldYanksFan
"Amen on the years not the $$. Two years of Andy Pettitte would be a bargain compared to 4 years of Lilly"

In theory yes. But 2 years at $17(or 34) vs. 4 years at $10(or 40) isn't that much of a savings. Furthermore, Lily may have gone 3/30 or 4/36, as he wanted back in NY.

How much Money has Pettitte made in MLB? 50mil? 75mil? 100mil? Is an extra few mil that important to him?

I think $15mil and better then a 50% chance to play in the WS is a pretty good offer.

2006-12-08 04:41:29
43.   randym77
41 The Pirates are desperately seeking a young OFer. Dunno if Kevin Thompson is that much better than Chris Duffy, though.
2006-12-08 05:02:59
44.   Jim Dean
37 Come on! If Jorge gets hurt, the price on a prospect only goes up. Now's the time to deal something for someone to come into Spring Training, show Torre what they got, then develop in AAA. Cash has had four years to see this coming. And it's because catchers are so rare that he should have had, or made some effort towards, an ascension plan all along. David Parrish doesn't cut it. Nor does Jesus Montero.
2006-12-08 05:07:13
45.   wsporter
42 I think you're right at $17 million per; thats not enough difference to justify signing Pettitte and not even making an offer to Lilly unless they're telling us they REALLY value flexibility and shorter term commitments. At $15 million per there is a difference of about 7 million annually in NPV on the contract payouts (at a 5% discount rate). It would be a nice deal for the Yankees given what's happened elsewhere.
2006-12-08 05:27:04
46.   Jim Dean
45 Roster flexibility and a better pitcher, no?
2006-12-08 05:42:24
47.   wsporter
43 Yeah, but I think KT would represent the ceiling on my offer for Marte; he's pretty expensive right now for a 5-6 guy out of the pen. I really like KT as our 5th outfielder but have a feeling the only home dugout he'll sit in this year will be the one in Scranton/WB if he's not moved.
2006-12-08 06:00:04
48.   Sliced Bread
45 No question Cashman is mostly pursuing shorter commitments these days, Damon being an exception.

Good idea, Cash, but I don't like Pettitte at $17 mill for 1 year, or even $15 mill for 2 years.

Igawa may not be better than Pettitte but I'm more excited by the prospect of watching a young, relatively unkown pitcher working for the Yanks than good ol' Andy P.

As much as I liked Pettitte, (and as much as I acknowledge the Yanks pitching is very questionable for next season) I'd like to see Cashman abandon the Yankees recent tendency of going with the devil they know rather than the one they don't.

Think about the players who have come back to the Yanks during the Cashman years:

Tino departed '01 returned '05
Wells departed '98 returned '02
Nelson departed '00 returned '03
Stanton departed '02 returned '05
Mendoza departed '02 returned '05
Cairo departed '04 returned '06
Ruben departed '96(*not under Cashman) returned '03
Did I forget anybody? How did these retreads work out for us?

One of the things I loved most about Cashman's acquisitions last summer (Abreu, Lidle, and Wilson) was that they weren't retread Yankees past-their-prime, or players who had October success against the Yanks (making them obvious targets like Damon, Unit, Giambi, Wright etc).

I'd rather see Cashman maneuvering off the radar, giving cheaper options a chance, and not dealing in this grossly inflated free agent market.

Veto Zito.

Pettitte? Fergetitte.

2006-12-08 06:23:41
49.   williamnyy23
I think the biggest concern with Lilly was his lack of durability. He has never topped 200 IP and has averaged 5.4IP/start over the past two seasons (essentially making him a left handed Jaret Wright, or a wilting Lilly). With Mo getting older and the set-up group far from established, the Yankees would be wiser to target more durable starters. For all the criticism of Zito, durable is certainly one thing that he is. Still, the long-term commitment limits flexibility. That's why I think Pettitte is the best of both worlds: he is more durable than Lilly, but requires less of a commitment than Zito. Also, he has this friend who I've heard is also a very good pitcher and might be persuaded to join him on the staff.

While not all pinstriped encore performances have worked out, I think Wells in 2002/3 went very "well" up until Game 5 of the 2003 W.S. In 2002, Wells was 19-7 with a 117 ERA+, and followed up that year going 15-7 with a 106 ERA+. Also, in both seasons, Wells threw over 200 IP. If you think about it, that's exactly what the Yankees need at this point.

Finally, I think Tino's 2005 encore was solid. He gave the Yankees league average offense to go along with solid defense at 1B. Also, there was a two week period when he literally carried the offense. That might not seem like much, but if my memory serves, it was a crucial point in the season.

2006-12-08 06:33:40
50.   Sliced Bread
49 For me, Wells coming up lame in Game 5 overshadowed his 200 innings of work.

As for Tino, he didn't cost the Yanks $15 million dollars for his past-prime performance.

Pettitte simply costs too much in my opinion.

Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2006-12-08 06:37:24
51.   Sliced Bread
50 In addition, the Yanks paid the '02-'03 David Wells not even a fifth of what Pettitte currently commands.
2006-12-08 06:44:35
52.   williamnyy23
51 Their respective salaries are irrelevant, especially in the current market. Wells was a lefty whom the Yankees "brought back". Even though his WS walk-off overshadows his 2002/2003 regular season, the fact remains that he performed quite well in those seasons. If the Yankees could bring Pettitte back and get a similar level of production, then it would be a good move. Unless signing Pettitte prohibits the Yankees from making another move, then the salary he gets is just bookkeeping.
2006-12-08 07:05:58
53.   Sliced Bread
52 Pettitte's salary would not be "just bookeeping" in my opinion. To me It's overpaying for production that can likely be attained at a fraction of the cost.
2006-12-08 07:42:46
54.   Yankee Fan In Boston
53 what is mark mulder expected to rake in? his numbers are almost pettitte-esque. i haven't heard his name much (at all now that i think about it) in connection with the yankees.
2006-12-08 09:23:46
55.   williamnyy23
53 Andy Pettitte has a career ERA+ of 119 and has pretty much been at least 10% above average his whole career. Like it or not, the going rate for a pitcher such as that is approximately $16mn per year. Whom do you think could provide that level of performance at a fraction of the cost, keeping in mind that the Yankees currently only have two starters locked in for 2007?
2006-12-08 09:55:07
56.   Sliced Bread
55 Pettitte's career numbers are irrelevant. This is a 34 year old pitcher with a history of injuries who was so burned out at the end of last season he considered retiring. I wouldn't invest $16 million dollars in him. You might, and Cashman might, but I wouldn't.

If Pettitte returns I will root for him, as I always did, but I would not advise signing him at this point.
I would give Rasner, Karstens, Hughes, and perhaps even Sanchez a shot instead.
They might not be as effective as Pettitte, but my guess is they would be adequate.

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