Monday, December 7, 2009

Bruney To The Braves? Nats

[UPDATE 1:50 PM: According to Joel Sherman, Bruney has been dealt to the Nationals for a PTBNL. Makes more sense than the Braves; Yanks realize the same benefit. h/t: TYU]

According to George A. King III, the Yankees are close to sending Brian Bruney to the Braves for prospect(s).

Putting aside for a second that this rumor is coming from The Post, it still makes no sense. The Braves have already signed Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito for more than $10M guaranteed in 2010. They're about to get blindsided by Rafael Soriano accepting arbitration for around $8M next year. Why in the world would they acquire another reliever - with a spotty track record at that - when he's arbitration eligible and due to make anywhere from $1.5M to $2M next year? The Braves desperately need and want an OF bat and need to free payroll from their starting rotation to acquire one. Why then would they accumulate $20M worth of relief pitching before the Winter Meetings even wrap?

From the Yankees standpoint, I think this would be a good deal. Bruney was initially thought to be a non-tender candidate, but all recent indications have been that he will be offered a contract. By moving him now, the Yankees free an incremental amount of payroll - not a major issue for them - but also give themselves some 40 man roster flexibility. Furthermore, it gives them some latitude with next year's bullpen as it takes an optionless pitcher out of the mix. Bruney would likely have been a candidate to be the "7th inning guy" or even "the 8th inning guy", but we've seen that movie before. The club has enough options with David Robertson, Mark Melancon, Damaso Marte, and potentially either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain to cover the late innings.

I'm not buying this one yet, but it'll be interesting to see where it goes.

Minor League Monday: Jesus Montero

Jesus Montero is the unquestioned crown jewel of the Yankees' minor league system. I was hoping to save him for some sort of momentous post, but given that this week marks the peak of the Hot Stove season we may as well trot out a Montero profile now. Besides, I want to make sure we get him in now in case he's included in a deal for Roy Halladay.

A righy swinging catcher, Montero was born in Venezuela and signed as an international free agent in 2006. Initially given a signing bonus of $2M, it was later reduced after a poor showing in minicamp and reports that Montero may have misrepresented his age. Still, Montero was considered the best power hitter amongst the 2006 international signees.

He made his U.S. debut the following year as a 17 year old in the rookie Gulf Coast League and posted a line of .280/.366/.421. Following the season, Baseball America listed him as the Yankees' sixth best prospect, and third best position player behind Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata. Despite just 33 games of professional experience, Montero's performance was enough to earn him a non-roster invitation to Spring Training in 2008, where he homered in his only at bat.

He spent the entirety of the 2008 season at low A Charleston, where he split the catching and DH duties with fellow top prospect Austin Romine, posted a .326/.376/.491 line with 17 HR, and earned mid-season and post-season All-Star honors. He was also selected to the mid-season Futures Game. Baseball America upped him to second on the Yankees' prospect list.

2009 saw both Montero and Romine promoted to high A Tampa, where they continued splitting time between catching and DHing. Montero destroyed the Florida State League through 48 games, hitting 356/.406/.583 before earning an early June promotion to AA Trenton. He showed no signs of slowing down there, posting a five game home run streak at one point and batting .317/.370/.539. All the more impressive is that he did it as a 19 year old in just his third professional season, in a league that historically favors pitching, and in a park that historically suppresses offense.

Montero's season ended prematurely, thanks to a broken finger suffered at the start of August. Still, he was named to the mid-season All-Star of both the Florida State and Eastern Leagues and was named to his second consecutive Futures Game. In their mid-season report, Baseball America named him the third best prospect in all of baseball.

Montero's finger injury has healed and he's currently playing winter ball in Venezuela for Los Navegantes del Magallenes. However, he's appeared in just nine games, none since November 5th, and is hitting just .115. His absence is not injury related though; he's just playing behind an older and more experienced teammate.

There are concerns about Montero's ability to be a catcher in the long term. He carries a 6'4" 225 lb frame and there are questions about his footwork and mobility. The Yankees will likely give him every opportunity to fail as a catcher before moving him to another position. His bat will play anywhere, as a recent profile stated Montero is "a potential once-in-a-generation force on offense".

Montero's likely ticketed for AAA Scranton in 2010, but the organization may want to send him back to Trenton to start the season. There's a chance that he could see the Bronx this year, but I wouldn't count on it. Just to gain some perspective though on how good this 20 year old is, here are his MLB projections for 2010 and his combined minor league equivalents from 2009:

(Click for larger image)

Clearly not enough to warrant a Major League starting job, at least not on a team that hopes to contend, but to consider that a 20 year old potential catcher could put up such lines is very impressive. In the history of baseball there have been 11 men to post slugging percentages over .400 as 20 year old rookies: Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, Bob Horner, Orlando Cepeda, Ruben Sierra, Willie Mays, Miguel Cabrera, Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Arky Vaughan, and Ron Santo. Seven Hall of Famers, one more who should be, one more who might be, and two guys who had lengthy productive careers. That's pretty lofty company.

Montero will be mentioned in any major trade discussion the Yankees have, and will be asked for in even the minor discussions. Maybe the right deal will present itself where it would be worthwhile to deal Montero. Maybe Montero never pans out to what he promises to be, or maybe a move from behind the plate leaves him without a spot on the Yankees, or saps him of his full value. But right now, it's one of the pleasures of being a Yankee fan to look at what he's already done and imagine what may be in the future.

HoF Veterans Committee Announces Inductees

We have the first bit of news from the Winter Meetings and it involves the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee inductees. We previewed this back when the ballot was announced last month.

On the manager/umpire ballot former Royals and Cardinals manager, as well as one-time Yankee farmhand, Whitey Herzog was voted in. He's joined by former umpire Doug Harvey. Herzog was named on 15 of 16 ballots, Harvey on 14. Twelve votes were needed for induction.

On the executive side, the voters once again pitched a shutout, shamefully denying former union head Marvin Miller again. Miller was named on seven ballots, with nine needed for induction. Former Tigers owner John Fetzer was closest with eight votes.

Aside from Herzog, all nominees with Yankee connections were shutout: Billy Martin on the manager's ballot, former owner Jacob Ruppert, former GM Gabe Paul, and former announcer Bill White on the executive ballot.

Like post-season awards, I try not to get too worked up over Hall of Fame votes, but it's an absolute sham that Marvin Miller is continually denied induction.

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

Thus begins the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway every Memorial Day weekend, and it's an apt phrase for this morning as the Winter Meetings begin in Indianapolis. I'm sure there will be a flood of tweets and blog updates and exclusive scoops and the like stemming from Indy these next four days. Unlike what we've heard for the last month though, I'm more inclined to believe that this week's rumors will have some merit to them.

Still, with the constantly evolving landscape of MLB economics, we may not see as much as we'd hope this week. Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, and John Lackey will set the overall market as the top free agents and there aren't any indications that any of them are close to signing. With the Rule 5 Draft occurring Thursday and the non-tender deadline Saturday, teams may wait another week until the entire landscape is known.

As for the Yankees, their hands are somewhat tied at present. They currently have 39 players on their 40 man roster, meaning they only have room to sign one Major League free agent. It looks increasingly less likely that the spot will be filled by Mike Cameron, who reportedly is close to signing with the Cubs. That deal however apparently is contingent upon the Cubs moving Milton Bradley, and the rumored trade with Tampa may not be as close to completion as had been thought. It's also unlikely that the spot will be filled by Cuban pitcher Noel Arguelles, as he is reportedly close signing with the Royals.

Based on the news coming out of last week's organizational meetings, that spot could have gone to Andy Pettitte, who was deemed the top off-season priority. However, according to Joel Sherman this morning, Pettitte has rejected the Yankees initial offer of one year, $10M guaranteed. Though it's likely just part of the negotiating process it's a bit concerning. The club is willing to guarantee Pettitte's salary from last year without any incentive clauses; he isn't worth much more than what he's already been offered.

The Yankees could make room on the 40 man via trade, as they did with last year's Nick Swisher deal. A trade for Roy Halladay would likely make room on the 40 man, but I doubt he'll be dealt to anyone this week. The Yankees could make a package deal this week with spare parts, otherwise they'll have to wait to non-tender to open additional room.

So, as the clubs start their engines, we should buckle our seat belts in preparation for the ride.