MLB Trade Deadline: Thinking Outside The Box With Hughes And Chamberlain

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The Yankees are trying to unload both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. In Chamberlain’s case, they’ll take whatever a team is willing to give. In Hughes’s case, they’d like to boost their offense with a third base or outfield bat. With the pending free agency and poor performance from both former phenoms, they’re not getting much of a return on either. Because the interest in the pitchers is limited, it would help the Yankees in their cause to get something for them if they alter the landscape. How about Hughes as a reliever, where he’s been successful in the past; and Chamberlain as a starter to see if he can perform adequately in the role over the remaining two months of the season?

In what would be a combination of Mike Francesa’s current dream and revisiting of a past nightmare by approaching the Twins to see if they’d send Justin Morneau in exchange for Chamberlain and the suggestion that the rebuilding Twins try Chamberlain as a starter, they might be willing to give it consideration if the Yankees throw in another prospect. The trade interest in Morneau is reportedly just as limited for the Twins as Chamberlain and Hughes are for the Yankees, so why not suggest to the Twins that they might get something from Chamberlain as a starter? Perhaps they’d see something they liked, would be able to sign him for another year and give him a full year in the rotation and an opportunity the Yankees never gave him: to function in one role without expectations, demands, hovering questions, rules and alterations that played a large part in his eventual destruction and disappointment.

Chamberlain would be agreeable to the idea because he knows he won’t get a lot of money as a free agent in his current state. Few will dispute that the Yankees mishandled him from 2008 onward. He needs a change of scenery and in spite of his status amongst his peers as overrated and the joy they take in his downfall because he’s not a likable person, he still has a mid-90s fastball and hard slider. His ancillary pitches have diminished due to lack of use, but he does have a curveball and changeup. Naysayers will say “he can’t start,” but no one knows if he can start because he was never given a true opportunity to be a starter with the Yankees’ ridiculous constraints on him in the interest of “protection.” Even when he had a brief run of sustained success in late July of 2009, the Yankees disrupted his rhythm by decreeing that he needed extra rest, made him wait a week between his July 29 start and his August 6 start and he reverted back to what he was with mediocrity and inconsistency. The Yankees’ self-harm with Chamberlain appeared almost intentional like a teenage girl cutting herself.

At this point it’s senseless to go into another rant regarding the mistakes the Yankees made with Hughes and Chamberlain. That the pitchers have neither come close to fulfilling their potential nor living up to the hype the Yankees saddled upon them goes without saying. That’s a matter for discussion once both are gone. Now that Hughes is performing as a back-of-the-rotation starter and Michael Pineda is ready to return makes it wasteful to keep Hughes as a starter or a reliever. A contending team might want Hughes as a starter and give up a low minor leaguer for him, or they might look at his prior success as a reliever for the Yankees’ 2009 World Series winning team and think he can help them as a set-up man for the final two months of the season and let him leave as a free agent with little risk or cost. The team that trades for him might even want to keep him as a starter or reliever.

The fact is that the value of Hughes and Chamberlain is gone. The Yankees don’t need them. They don’t even want them. The best bet for everyone is to restart the whole process and move along. The Yankees can still get something for them and they can be of use to whatever team trades for them if the participants think a bit differently and consider them in different roles than they’re being used in now.

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Campos is Cashman’s Misshapen Key

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This is a small but striking piece from yesterday’s New York Times—link.

Phil Hughes agreed to a 1-year contract to avoid arbitration. The contract pays him $3.2 million, a raise of $500,000.

There’s nothing notable about a four-year veteran receiving a contract with those dollar figures. But it was the conclusion that caught my attention. It says:

Teams are likely to inquire about Hughes, and the Yankees will be willing to listen to trade offers.

It was only four years ago when Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy were in the nascent stages of redefining the Yankees developmental apparatus. They were to be homegrown talent providing competence-to-brilliance at an affordable price.

Of course it didn’t work out that way.

Kennedy was traded and fulfilled expectations in a Diamondbacks uniform. Chamberlain was shuttled between the starting rotation and bullpen and is now recovering from Tommy John surgery, a mere shell of the dominating force and sensation he was on his arrival in 2007. And Hughes was also used as a starter and reliever, saw his velocity drop to levels where he couldn’t get anyone out in early 2011 and returned to some semblance of effectiveness late in the season.

Hughes is a tradable commodity fighting for his spot in the starting rotation with non-existent on-field value. Other teams will be attracted by his age and the hope that he can fulfill that potential away from the usage guidelines imposed upon him by the Yankees, but aside from their own headaches or projects, they’re not going to give up much of anything to get Hughes.

This is why it’s so ludicrous to think that the same Yankees front office is suddenly learning its lessons as they acquire Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.

The concept that Campos is the “key” to the trade—at 19-years-old and having spent last season in low-A ball—is either delusional or a transparent attempt at propaganda to assuage the anger that Montero was traded at all.

Have the Yankees proven that they’re able to assess pitchers under Brian Cashman? The same GM who signed the likes of Kyle Farnsworth, Steve Karsay, A.J. Burnett and Pedro Feliciano?

There are some instances in which Cashman gets a pass. Carl Pavano was a disaster that, had it not befallen the Yankees, would’ve hit someone else because there were about four other teams prepared to pay Pavano the same amount of money the Yankees did.

But these examples of dropping the lowest grade haven’t happened often enough to warrant deferring to his or anyone in the organization’s judgment when it comes to pitchers.

Now they’re waiting and following the same trajectory with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances as they did with Kennedy, Chamberlain and Hughes. They point to studies—both medical and historical—to validate the babying that’s gone on since both joined the organization.

Is it paranoia?

Is it fear?

Is it arrogance?

Is it a calculating desire on the part of the GM to accrue the credit that the likes of Theo Epstein has for being a “genius”?

Any reason is an explanation.

I’d be very concerned if Cashman is doing these things because he thinks they’re the right way to go about nursing a pitcher to the majors. That would indicate a total obliviousness to what’s happened right in front of his eyes to all of these starting pitchers who will go on his ledger as, at best, disappointments. The mandates on innings and pitch counts not only hindered the development of the three pitchers from 2008, but both Hughes and Chamberlain got hurt in spite of them.

They couldn’t pitch effectively and didn’t stay healthy, so what was the point?

Some refer to the development of Ivan Nova as “proof” that the Yankees can nurture pitchers. But Nova was never considered a prospect and the Yankees repeatedly left him exposed to other clubs. Nova was selected by the Padres in the Rule 5 draft of December 2008 only to be returned to the Yankees the next spring. They didn’t know what he was and as recently as last season, they sent him to the minors as the odd man out when they had too many starting pitchers.

Was it so hard to look at Nova and see something different? Didn’t it impress the organization when he buzzed Jose Bautista and Bautista took a few steps toward the mound attempting to intimidate the rookie and Nova didn’t back down an inch?

There are aspects to pitching more important than high draft status a dazzling array of stuff. Nova’s fearless. That counts for something.

Is it poor recognition skills or did they want to bolster the pitchers that were “supposed” to be the centerpieces?

Cashman was once adept at speaking to the media, saying three notebook pages worth of stuff, yet saying nothing at all. As he’s aged, he’s dispatched the circular dialogue sprinkled with non-committal corporate terminology to allocate blame and place the onus on players in an unfair manner.

Feliciano’s shoulder injury was left at the door of the Mets when Cashman said the pitcher had been “abused”. Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen shot back asking how the Yankees didn’t know about Feliciano’s workload before they signed him.

A few days ago ESPN’s Jim Bowden revealed this Cashman analysis of Pineda:

Brian Cashman told me last night that Michael Pineda better improve the change-up & develop into a #1 starter or he will have made a mistake

Cashman also compared Montero to Mike Piazza and Miguel Cabrera.

Is Cashman really putting that yoke around the neck of a 23-year-old as he enters a new clubhouse to stand behind CC Sabathia in the starting rotation, pitching for a team and fanbase to whom anything less than a World Series win is considered disastrous?

I would not have traded Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos. I would have done as the Yankees did simultaneously to the trade being announced and signed Hiroki Kuroda and moved forward with what I had. Unless Cashman has something else on the burner, his reservations about Pineda and blustery proclamations about Montero made it too high risk a decision to feel good about. If he doesn’t feel cocksure about Pineda, how does he justify trading a bat he valued so highly?

Those who are trying to play up the inclusion of Campos as important had better look at the Yankees history of pitchers and how many of them have fulfilled the hype—not the promise, but the hype.

It’s right there in black and white, on the medical reports and in the trade buzz.

If you’re thinking that Campos is their new discovery and saving grace for a risky trade, you’d better look at history and think again.

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