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Joe Mauer’s Contract, Lesson of Ian Kennedy, and the Carlos Beltran Disaster



By Mike Silva ~ August 19th, 2011. Filed under: Morning Digest.

We talk about bad contracts all the time, but watching the Yankees play Minnesota last night got me to thinking about Joe Mauer‘s deal.

This is the first year of an 8 year/$184 million dollar deal ($23 million AAV) that Mauer signed last March. It’s hard to argue with the Twins giving him that money. After all, he’s a hometown boy, plays a premium position, and was coming off an MVP year. Since he signed the contract, however, Mauer has been a shell of his former self. Maybe not; it looks more like 2009 was an outlier for Mauer than the beginning of a career ascent.

Prior to 2009 an average Mauer season was a .317 batting average, 9 HRs, and 60 RBI. In 2009, Mauer hit .365 with 28 HRs and 96 RBI. He walked more than he struck out.

Going into last night’s game, Mauer had played in only 64 games, has one HR and 23 RBI with a .281 batting average.

For the first time Mauer has started to hear boos from the home crowd. The Twins are also moving him around the field to keep him healthy. He’s played first base and started in right field for the first time last night. I don’t know if it’s realistic for Mauer to rediscover his ’09 MVP stroke, but his numbers from ’04 to ’08 don’t profile very well at first or right. What you have is an overpaid player at either position. Fortunately, the Twins have been able to expand their payroll north of $100 million, but this contract can be potentially crippling down the road.

The big winners might be the Yankees and Red Sox, who undoubtedly would have put a major bid in for Mauer if he went to free agency.

Perhaps Mauer is a product of the hitter-friendly Metrodome, where he owned a career batting average of .326 and 36 of his 82 career home runs. Target Field hasn’t been as kind, as he’s only hit 1 home run there in two seasons.

***

Ken Rosenthal had a great piece on Ian Kennedy at Fox Sports. Kennedy currently owns a 7 game winning streak, the longest in the majors tied with CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander. What amazes me is how there are scouts that are skeptical:

One scout remains skeptical of Kennedy’s success, noting that the right-hander is taking advantage of light-hitting NL West opponents. The numbers support the scout’s opinion somewhat — Kennedy is 6-0 with a 2.14 ERA against the NL West, 9-3 with a 3.86 ERA against all other opponents.

If I had to take a guess the skeptical scout is probably one affiliated with the Yankees. When did the NL West become the minor leagues? Kennedy still has to pitch in hitter-friendly Chase Field and Colorado. Sure, Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park are friendly to pitcher, but Giants did win the World Series last year. They don’t hit like the Red Sox, but I suspect Kennedy could navigate challenging American League lineups. Two of his wins came in Interleague play.

How is Kennedy successful?

He succeeds with fastball command. He throws strikes in any count with his changeup and curve. He jams hitters, gets them to chase, even adjusts and becomes more efficient if his pitch count in the early innings is high.

“He controls the plate,” Putz said. “He doesn’t just nibble on the corners. He’ll brush your ass back in a heartbeat.”

Basically Ian Kennedy has become a pitcher. You don’t need to throw 95 mph to win in this league. If you do, but can’t pitch, you are destined for mediocrity.

Rosenthal points out how the pitcher he saw with the Yankees was “nervous and unsure of himself.” Considering there is very little rope to hang yourself when pitching for the Yankees, it’s not surprise.

2008 would have been the perfect year to stick with a struggling young pitcher like Kennedy. Joe Girardi was in the first year of his contract, and the team wasn’t good enough to win a championship. Instead, the organization panicked and started to plug holes with mediocre stop-gap starters. Darrell Rasner was given 20 starts;  Sidney Ponson 15.

After giving up 5 runs in 2 innings at Anaheim on August 8th, Kennedy was banished to the minor leagues. What’s funny is that no one talks about how he was very good for Scranton that year. He struck out over a batter an inning with a 2.35 ERA.

Let’s fast forward to 2012-2013 when perhaps the next wave of young pitchers makes it to the Bronx. Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos might struggle like Kennedy. Will they get a short month to prove themselves before being banished? Will the team panic and replace them with another version of Ponson?

Maybe the Yankees don’t own the rights to Ian Kennedy any longer, but they should pay attention to what he is accomplishing out in Phoenix. You need patience with young pitchers. If they don’t start to develop that in the organization, then you may never see one of their homegrown pitchers succeed in pinstripes.

They have been a bit better with Ivan Nova, but even he was sent down to the minor leagues. Maybe the Nova-experience is a turning point for the organization. I doubt it. With A-Rod, Jeter, and Rivera in their late prime the focus is to win as much as they can now. Doing that at the expense of development will only doom the organization long term going forward. There is no reason they can’t use the 4th or 5th spots in the rotation to develop internal young arms. If you can pitch 5-6 innings and give up 3 runs you will win double-digits with the Yankees. Nova hasn’t been great all year, but even at his worst, he was keeping the team in the ballgame.

It will be interesting to see how both Betances and Banuelos are handled if and when they make it to the big leagues.

***

Will Carlos Beltran go down as Brian Sabean’s Larry Andersen deal? In case you forgot, the Red Sox acquired Andersen for their 1990 stretch drive. They traded a Double-A prospect by the name of Jeff Bagwell. Andersen pitched well for Boston the last two months of the season, and helped them win the AL East. That cost them the career of Bagwell, who hit 449 career home runs. Could you imagine him playing with the short left field Green Monster 81 times a year?

Brian Sabean decided to “go for it” with the acquisition of Beltran. They have scored 2.6 runs per game since Beltran’s arrival, going 6-12 during that time. He’s since injured his wrist on a check swing and reports indicate his timetable for a return is uncertain. If the Giants don’t make the playoffs, and Beltran continues to be a non-factor, this could go down as an all-time steal. That is, of course, if Zack Wheeler does his part and becomes a front-end of the rotation type of pitcher.

I still can’t criticize Sabean for making the deal. You have to seize any opportunity to make the playoffs. The Giants are one of the few teams that are pitching rich and could afford to deal a prospect of Wheeler’s caliber. Quite frankly, the injury could happen to any player. This is just a case of bad luck.

For as unlucky the Mets have been with injuries this year, they may have caught a huge break. What if Beltran’s wrist injury happened in the middle of July? What would we be talking about now?

I have to believe we will see Beltran again. The Giants are 2.5 games back of Arizona in the NL West. If they are going to win the division they’re going to need Beltran in September. Their offense has been subpar all year. They had no choice but to get the best bat on the market.

This story is still playing out. Right now, it looks like the Mets dodged a bullet. There is still plenty of time for the Giants to salvage something from their investment. To be continued.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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5 Responses to Joe Mauer’s Contract, Lesson of Ian Kennedy, and the Carlos Beltran Disaster

  1. JW Buckley

    When Ian Kennedy was with the Yankees, Mike Mussina finally had a 20 win season. He won those games not by blowing batters away with his fastball, but by using the corners, changing speeds and an 88 mph fastball. In short, he did it by pitching. It seems to me that Kennedy, at the age of 26, has learned how to pitch. The Yankees may have given up on Kennedy, but they used him as a key in a huge trade with Arizona and Detroit. They got back Curtis Granderson in the three way trade with Arizona, and Detroit. Considerring that Kennedy is at this point, 15-4, the Tigers also did very well in the trade and Granderson is a legitimate MVP candidate, I think it would be hard to argue that any of those teams did not do well in the trade. I also think that there has been a change of direction with the yankees since Brian Cashman has been granted more authority that when George Steinbrenner was the drivibg force. The Yankees have been stockpiling their prospects in the minor leagues and have, in fact, refused to include some of them in potential major trades. We’ll see how that new found philosophy plays out over the next few years.

  2. Brien Jackson

    I’ve blasted the Yankees for lacking patience with young pitchers before, but whether they had patience with Kennedy specifically or not really doesn’t matter at this point. They didn’t just run him out of town for spare parts, they got Curtis Granderson in return. At the very worst, that trade represents a value-for-value swap by every team, especially once the Diamondbacks sent Edwin Jackson to Chicago.

  3. Mike Silva

    Brien

    That’s a fair point, but did they send the right pitcher out of town? I don’t think you ever go a chance to effectively evaluate Joba, Hughes, Kennedy. They gave up on them too quick. Granted, Kennedy got hurt, which was a freak injury, so that probably played into it. Point being they hopefully learned with the next crop.

  4. Brien Jackson

    Well for the sake of not starting a ruckus, I’ll keep my opinion on Joba to myself. As to Hughes or Kennedy, I think you can wonder if they should have dealt Hughes, but that has to be all hindsight. At the time, Hughes certainly looked like a better asset than Kennedy, and he did have a strong 2010 all things considered. It’s unfortunate that he got hurt this year, but obviously you can’t predict those sorts of things in advance, especially in a guy with no history of arm problems. I’m not ready to give up on Hughes either. He’s been getting steadily stronger since the Oakland start, and really, that was his only bad outing since coming off the DL.

    But as for the trade, I think it helps to look at it in general terms. They traded an average reliever and two unproven youngsters for an All-Star centerfielder with power in the prime of his career with a very favorable contract. I’d do that deal every time.

  5. Joseph DelGrippo

    Mike,

    The D’Backs weren’t making the trade unless they recieved Kennedy in return.

    They didn’t want Joba or Hughes. They wanted Kennedy because they knew he was the best pitcher of the three, not necessarily having the best “stuff” or “upside.”

    And the Yankees have not “given up” on Joba or Hughes. Until his injury, Joba was pretty good this season out of the pen and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Hughes has been pretty good, too, since returning to the rotation.

    His last four starts have recorded a 3-1 record, 1.80 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and a 3:1 K/BB ratio.

    He has worked his fastball, curve and change up more and has relied less on his cutter.

    Brien: “But as for the trade, I think it helps to look at it in general terms. They traded an average reliever and two unproven youngsters for an All-Star centerfielder with power in the prime of his career with a very favorable contract. I’d do that deal every time.”

    Excellent, excellent point.

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