SPRUNG FROM THE BUNKER WITH A BIG FACE
I couldn’t let Friday end with that face at the top of the screen. It’s like a cellulite eclipse. Let’s tear through a few items before breaking for the weekend. Someone write in and remind me to take a break from editing the Baseball Prospectus annual (Pre-order now! I don’t get anything if you do! Not a dime! But you should.) to spend an hour on the treadmill. They’re going to let me go back in the Dot-com Bunker on the next show, Jan. 8, 2009. This time I might sneak onto the main set when no one is looking, just to see what it feels like to sit in one of those comfy chairs the New York Times guys get. I can dream, and yet the positive to not being in the plush chairs is that they don’t issue rations when you’re in the Bunker, so weight loss is pretty much inevitable. I skipped lunch yesterday, and after about two hours in my cell I was getting pretty low. It’s hard to answer questions about CC Sabathia when you’re thinking, “I wonder if Bob Lorenz would be good with barbecue sauce?” Did you see how they cut to me before my second segment? Next time, instead of working at my computer, you might see me opening up a pizza delivery box.
No, no, no. No pizza. Treadmill, Steve. Treadmill.
In yesterday’s Hot Stove show thread there was something of a debate on the subject of Mark Teixeira vs. Manny Ramirez. To me, the most interesting thing about said debate is not the players involved but the apparently universal sense that the Yankees need to bolster the offense. The sense that they need to improve the defense as well is not universal, or no one would be arguing for Manny. The correct answer, though, is “both,” especially if the Yankees want to fully exploit the Scrooge McDuck money they just put into arms. Think of it this way: Teixeira, as a Gold Glove defender at first base and a top hitter, is all positive. He’s not only adding runs above average on offense, he’s taking them away from the bad guys when in the field. Say Teixeira is worth 50 runs over the average player with the bat, and 10 runs above average with the glove, so you could say that his total contribution to the winning effort is 60 runs.
With Ramirez, the math is different. As Rob Neyer wrote this week, under normal conditions he’s such an egregiously indifferent outfielder that most metrics see him as being worth about 20 runs below average. Those runs have to be held against his offensive totals, such that if Ramirez is worth about 60 runs over the average player with the bat, after fielding is considered, he’s really only a 40-run advantage — or less than Teixeira. Another way of looking at it is to say that Teixeira adds about five wins over the average player with his bat, then gives his team another with the glove. Ramirez gives his team six wins with the bat, but also contributes two losses with the leather.
We haven’t even talked about the elephant in the room with Manny, which is, “If he’s paid, will he give a damn?” but we don’t have to, because there’s another consideration, which is that if he’s signed to a three-year deal, his team is buying his age-37, 38 and 39 season. Hall-of-Fame hitter or not, this is a dangerous thing to do. Ramirez’s fielding is already a problem. If he loses a half a step, he’s not just going to be damaging in the field, he’s going to be a visible joke. Sure, he could DH, but the age is still an issue — at some point age is going to set in, and while we don’t know if it will happen during those three years, there’s a good chance that it will. In contrast, the team that buys eight years of Teixeira will get him from age 29 through 36. His contract will end where Ramirez’s begins. That consideration alone should swing the discussion toward Teixeira.
What we still don’t know is the Yankees’ position on all of this. They’ve signed two starters, supposedly don’t want to go crazy with their budget, and yet are rumored to be looking at still one more free-agent pitcher. This last point would almost certainly be overkill. Few teams go five deep in quality starters in their rotation, and the Yankees have sufficient alternatives in, at the very least, Phil Hughes, winter ball-reborn Ian Kennedy, and Alfredo Aceves, that if one falters they can move to Plan B without too much trouble. Foregoing Andy Pettitte at No. 5 would probably be worth half a Teixeira. Establishing Hughes, Kennedy, or Aceves in the rotation would mean a couple of seasons of pre-arbitration, pre-free-agent salaries at that roster position, along with the possibility of buying that now-established player out of their arbitration/free-agent years, such that their costs are controlled for years. This beats going back to the free-agent market for next year’s A.J. Burnett. Plus, you get to save the offense and the defense. To put it another way, send $22.5 million a year on Teixeira now, save $10 million on Pettitte this year, save $17 million on Burnett II next year, and the year after that, and for however long the team controls the young pitcher it puts into the fifth spot in 2009. At that point, Teixeira starts to look darned cheap — $12.5 million for him, plus the $10 million you would have wasted on an old pitcher anyway.
Stay safe and warm this snowy weekend. The Pinstriped Bible rides again on Monday or with breaking news, whichever comes first.