December 2008

Yankees Inc. Inks

sabathia_250_121008.jpgAccording to rumors widely circulating at this hour, the Yankees have bagged their big man, reaching a preliminary agreement with CC Sabathia on a seven-year, $160 million contract. If the story is true, the Yankees have acquired the heaviest pitcher in team history, or at least the heaviest since Jumbo Brown last titled the Yankee Stadium mound back in 1936, through his age-35 season.

There is no doubt the Yankees are a better team now than they were yesterday; Sabathia is one of the best pitchers in the business and becomes the left-handed ace the Yankees have been missing for some years. While the Yankees should not expect to receive anything close to the 1.65 ERA-run that Sabathia gave the Brewers this fall, some form of what Sabathia did for the Indians over the last five seasons — durability, excellent control, a strong strikeout rate, and an ERA somewhere in the mid-3.00s — should be in the cards.

Now the requisite “but:” All of that requires health, and the Yankees are entering unknown territory when it comes to Sabathia. Over the last two years he’s thrown over 500 innings (regular season and playoffs) and faced well over 2,000 batters. Under normal circumstances, when it comes to that kind of workload, a physical breakdown wouldn’t be a question of “if,” but “when.” The two main complications are that “when” remains undefined (Tuesday? July? July of 2010?) and, perhaps more significantly, we have no idea if a pitcher built like the Incredible Hulk is subject to the same rules that affect everyone else.

Meanwhile, there are reportedly offers out to other pitchers, more questionable pitchers — Derek Lowe, a groundballer going on 36 who the Yankees aren’t capable of supporting defensively, and A.J. Burnett, a pitcher who is good sometimes and is hurt often. Mark Teixeira seems a good bet to go to the Red Sox, where he will improve an already very good club for years. The Yankees will go through the winter having gotten exactly what they wanted, but I can’t help but feel, as I have written throughout this offseason, that the real problems of offense and defense are being neglected.

More to come as details emerge.

Waiting for the big one

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WAITING FOR
SOMETHING TO BREAK…

…And hoping it’s not a leg or a Faberge Egg (Hey, A-Rod, how
far can you hit this priceless work of art?) but a deal. So far it seems that
there has been a little gabbing but not much deal-making out Vegas way. In
fact, even some of the gabbing hasn’t happened, as reports of Team A talking to
Team B about Players X and Y are quickly debunked by one of the general
managers in question. “Haven’t seen him,” he might say. “Not yet.” Or, “Sure,
we talked, but only about some very remote Dominican Summer League guys whom
you’ve never heard of, and frankly, neither have I.”

Thus far, Brian Cashman has had a chat with CC Sabathia, one
that seems to have gone better than Gene Michael’s with Greg Maddux under
similar conditions in 1992. Michael brought theatre tickets. Maddux wanted
Nintendo games. A bond was not established. Meanwhile, we have two Detroit deals going down.
The Tigers picked up a good field/no-hit catcher in Gerald Laird, who isn’t going
to help them all that much — compare and contrast: Laird’s .248 career
EqA to Brandon Inge’s .250 and the two catchers’ virtually equal caught-stealing
percentages. Inge’s reluctance to catch may have forced the move on the Tigers,
but that leaves them the problem of what to do with Inge, a very nice fielder
at the hot corner who doesn’t hit enough  (.235/.310/.408 over the last three seasons) to
justify a daily place in the lineup. Inge would be worth something in a platoon
role against lefties with additional time as a defensive sub, though probably
not as much as the $12.9 million still due on his contract.

In return, the Rangers received two pitchers, one of whom is
just 17 and thus so far away as to be a shot in the dark, and another,
Guillermo Moscoso, a likely reliever who has put up some very nice strikeout
numbers in the Minors. We can’t know for sure what will happen, but a good rule
of thumb (one in operation here at the PB) is that all trades where the selling
team receives only pitching prospects should be judged guilty until proven
innocent. In eight of 10 cases, the arms fall off, the pitchers don’t progress
or both, and they come to nothing. Position players are always more projectable
than pitchers, and if you want certainty, you’ve got to get one. Again, that
doesn’t mean that the trade won’t be a real winner for the Rangers, but that
the odds are against it.

The Tigers also have reportedly signed punchless shortstop
Adam Everett, a career .246/.298/.355 hitter. If the Tigers’ infield is really
going to be composed of Miguel Cabrera, Placido Polanco, Inge, and Everett,
plus Laird at catcher, it’s going to be a very long year in Detroit, and that’s without considering the implosion
of the automobile companies. No matter what the outfield produces, there’s just
not enough offense there to start a fire.

IN MORE EXCITING NEWS…
There’s another Yankee in the Hall
of Fame. Joe “Flash” Gordon isn’t around to enjoy his enshrinement, but the
Veterans corrected a major oversight by recognizing the slick-fielding slugger
of the 1940s. If it seems as if I’m eliding his qualifications, it’s only
because I’ve written about them so many times, going back to the very
beginnings of my writing career. Gordon’s Hall of Fame case is one of the first
things I was ever paid to write about. Suffice it to say that he was a terrific
glove and a slugger at his position, and of the 18 second basemen in the Hall
of Fame, the only clearly superior players are (in no particular order) Joe
Morgan, Jackie Robinson, Eddie Collins, and Rogers Hornsby. You can argue with
that assessment, and no doubt some of you will, but you’ll find that even if
you want to slip in a Nap Lajoie or Charlie Gehringer ahead of Gordon, he
doesn’t sink too far.

UPDATES
…As events warrant.

MORE FROM ME
Various and sundry updates at Wholesome
Reading
,
including psychology’s impact on the economy. Warning! Politics!

Shuttle Diplomacy

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The word on the wire is that Brian Cashman is off to meet with CC Sabathia and nail him down before the winter meetings. Joel Sherman put it this way.

Cashman needs to look in Sabathia’s eyes and know for sure that if he takes all the Yankee money that the big lefty definitely wants to be a Yankee after all the talk that Sabathia wants the NL or West Coast.

One hopes that goes better than when George Bush looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and saw a fellow Texas Rangers fan, or something like that. Yeah, they love Pete Incaviglia in the Caucasus, but that doesn’t mean they’re pro-democracy.

Similarly, Sabathia may say he’s comfortable with the idea of a New York address, but the proof is in the performance. What makes that terrible to contemplate is that if he does come to the Yankees and the performance isn’t good, there could be a million reasons — a slump after a career year, the heavy workload of previous seasons, an injury, Jupiter being in the House of Mars — but all of us (you, me, Cashman, Sabathia) will have to wonder if he’s just not that into musicals.

Note: you can sing “Sabathia!” to the tune of “Camelot.” Just thought I would point that out, in case CC needed any added persuasion on the whole show tunes thing.

There is a lot hanging on this meeting. The organization has seemingly put all its eggs in the Sabathia basket. If the deal isn’t made, that egg is going to be on somebody’s face, as Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett seem to be drifting into other team’s orbits — and Mark Teixeira could end up with the Red Sox. That would leave Boston with a Mike Lowell problem given that the old man is through 2010 at $12 million a pop, but would upgrade their offense considerably both now and well beyond 2010. That may explain why Cashman made a stop in Washington to visit with Teixeira on his way to see Sabathia, albeit at Scott Boras’s request. The Yankees can’t afford for Teixeira to feel unloved by the Pinstripers, and it’s good that Boras realized that.

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While it seems certain that the Yankees do not have, or choose not to spend, enough money to sign both Teixeira and Sabathia, that doesn’t change the fact that they need both, or to put it the proper way, they need a major bat at first base or right field, and they need a top starting pitcher. Getting one doesn’t eliminate the need for the other. As such, devoting all their financial resources to bribing Sabathia out of his desire to play on the other side of the country may prove to be self-defeating. In fact, the Sabathia scenario may be self-defeating in one of two possible ways: (1) He signs but as a result the Yankees don’t invest appropriately in the rest of their lineup or, (2) he doesn’t sign, but takes so long doing so that the Yankees don’t have the opportunity to resort to plan B.

No one player can put any team over the top, and in their Ahab-like pursuit of Sabathia, one wonders if the Yankees are remembering that. If their financial resources are as circumscribed as everyone else’s in this dire economy, it would make a great deal of sense to spread those resources out. After all, Sabathia’s teams have how many World Series rings? It takes a full cast.

O.J. GOING AWAY FOR AT LEAST NINE YEARS
Couldn’t have happened to a better guy. I am reminded of one of the most inscrutable quotes in baseball history. After Pinky Higgins, the openly bigoted former manager and GM of the Red Sox, died , his former pitcher, the African American Earl Wilson said, “Good things happen to some people.” I’m not sure what he meant, but the words came to mind when I read about O.J’s sentencing.

MORE FROM ME
I’ve been slow on Wholesome Reading again this week as I’ve had to devote considerable time to the BP annual, but now that the weekend is upon us I will be doing my usual catching up. Which is not to say that there’s nothing to look at: we page Franz Josef, a regret for suicides on my birthday, and the plan to reinflate the housing market through cheaper mortgages. Warning! Politics! And bad cake!

NEXT WEEK
Look for more frequent updates in this space as we react to all the news from the winter meetings. 

Moving and shakin’… except for the Yanks

TRAVELIN’
LIGHT

The Pinstriped Bible comes to you
today from the YES network’s palatial home offices in Stamford, Conn. The “S” in “YES” stands for “Sports,”
but for me, it stands for “Stamford.” If only they could have gotten a “C”
in there for Connecticut it would have been
prefect: “Yankees Entertainment, Stamford, Connecticut,” but I suppose that YESC can be
difficult to say. Maybe if you add an exclamation point. The great thing about
being at YES headquarters is that virtually every room has a TV set to the only
channel that matters, which at this time of day means a heavenly chorus of Mike
Francesas. You can feel his voice in your hair follicles.


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Meanwhile, a few moves have gone
down, none of them Yankees but still interesting. The Giants had to make a move
to replace the formerly ageless Omar Vizquel, who went all Rabbit Maranville ’33
on them last year, and they did so by signing Edgar Renteria to a two-year
contract. What they’ll get out of him is anyone’s guess, as Renteria has had a
couple of .330 years in his career and a great many other seasons where the .330
guy seemed to have been abducted by aliens and replaced by a guy 75 percent as
good. Since Renteria doesn’t have the greatest range at shortstop in the biz,
the level of offense he provides makes a big difference as to whether he’s even
helping. Both the Red Sox and the Tigers decided he wasn’t worth it based on
what they saw. The Cardinals and the Braves got better results. Renteria had
better — give the Giants his best for his own sake — he’s been playing for so
long, and has had so many hits, that with a good finish to his career he’ll be a
Hall-of-Fame candidate just on his sheer hit total.

Meanwhile, the Padres have
apparently dealt Khalil Greene to the Cardinals, seemingly a big upgrade for
them over incumbent Cesar Izturis. Like Renteria, Greene is a weird case. As a
rookie in 2004, Greene batted .273/.349/.446 and seemed likely to be a useful
all-around hitter. In subsequent seasons he seemed to emphasize power at the
expense of making contact, exactly the wrong approach for his ballpark. The
wheels came off this season even before injuries sat him down, and the task for
the Cardinals will be getting him focused on just making better contact.

And the Tigers signed Jack Wilson.
I’m sitting on the Hot Stove “Mom’s Basement” set just now, so I’ll reserve
comment, and only Wilson’s mom will be hurt. Suffice to say that
the Tigers have to replace Renteria, and since he didn’t hit, Wilson doesn’t represent
too much of a decline with the bat, while the glove should be an
upgrade.


HOT STOVE
PARTICIPATION

As I’ve said many times now, I’ll be
on the Hot Stove show in a matter of minutes. During the program I’ll be
checking back to check out your feedback and react to it. Keep me fueled with
intelligent repartee, America!

State of the Pinstriped Bible: A URL and an experiment

YHS_Logo.jpgThere are some changes here at the Pinstriped Bible to talk about. The first thing to be aware of is for the first time in a long time we have a steady URL. None of that active server pages stuff: from now on, www.pinstripedbible.com will always point here.

Here’s the experiment: this Thursday, I’ll be making an appearance on the YES Network Hot Stove show. My role will be a bit like that of Mr. McFeely on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” except with more fat and a less impressive moustache. I’ll be bringing the word from the outside, specifically your word. When you come to the Pinstriped Bible, you will also note that for the first time we have comments enabled right here on the page. These comments will form the basis of an exchange between host Bob Lorenz and myself. “What are your readers thinking about this week’s hot stove action?” Bob might say, and I, shot to appear as if I am in a remote bunker (Bob must be protected), will answer, “Well, Bob, we have 142 comments on C.C. Sabathia signing with the Mets!” At that point, Bob will do a spit take, or maybe I will–we haven’t worked out all the details yet.

Hey, don’t panic. C.C. hasn’t signed with the Mets and isn’t going to; that’s just an example. The point is, C.C. supplies the news, I supply the commentary, and you, the loyal readers, supply the 142 comments. It’s not too different from our practice of many years, except that I will be representing your reactions on the air for discussion by Bob and his guests (I am technically not a guest, but a “bunker-dweller”). As such, I’d like to hear from you on the following : What do you think the biggest story of the Yankees’ offseason has been so far?

A. The pursuit of C.C. Sabathia and other free agent pitchers to the possible exclusion of home-grown prospects such as Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy in next year’s rotation? 

B. The team’s apparent lack of interest in Bobby Abreu, to the extent that the team would not even risk a one-year contract through arbitration? 

C. The apparent lack of fervor for Mark Teixeira and the corresponding decision to acquire Nick Swisher and anoint him the starting first baseman? 

D. The team’s apparent expectation that the offense will be re-inflated by a resurgent Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano? 

E. All or None of the Above. 

And, of course, you should feel free to explain. I’ll do my best to summarize your responses and present them to Bob this Thursday at 6:30 on YES. If the resultant discussion is fruitful, we’ll do so again in subsequent episodes of Hot Stove–and who knows? They might even let me out of the bunker. Stay tuned.

Not particularly snappy answers to Melky questions


melkyps1203.jpgQ
: If Melky Cabrera goes 20-for-40 in spring training and Brett Gardner goes 5-for-40, should it change anything about our expectations for either player?

A: No.

Not that anybody asked, but it’s a story we should get out in front of. An even better question is, “If they both go 20-for-40, who do you pick?”

A: Gardner. Even if we assume fielding is a wash, he does other things that Cabrera can’t do.

Q: Could you platoon them?

A: Not in any way that’s going to work. Gardner is a left-handed hitter. Cabrera masquerades as a switch-hitter, but so far he’s been completely ineffective from the right side, hitting .251/319/.329 overall and .213/.279/.299 in 2008. Those rates were fueled by a .227 average on balls in play, which suggests either extraordinary bad luck, extraordinary defense against him when batting right-handed, or the weakest swings in the history of weak swings.

Q: Say Melky does get back on track. What’s his upside?

A: Darned if I know, or anyone else does either. Before this season’s problems, Cabrera seemed headed for a peak of somewhere around .290/.350/.420. That seems crazily optimistic now. To get there, let alone the realm of star quality, he’d have to completely reinvent himself.  In his career to date, he’s shown a proclivity for hitting grounders, an approach that makes home runs kind of unlikely. Selectivity seemed to be something that we could project as an asset back in 2006, but that is no longer the case. Then there’s the aforementioned platoon problem. Cabrera hit in some bad luck this year, and if he avoids the lefties his batting average should rebound a bit. That said, batting average isn’t everything. You have to reach base and hit with power too, and the likelihood of Cabrera recovering his patience and learning to elevate his swing seems pretty remote. The chance of even one of them happening seems remote.

Q: So what should the Yankees do?

A: I’m partial to giving Gardner a try. Though he doesn’t profile as a real offensive producer, he should have sufficient patience that if he hits .280 he’ll get on base at an above-average rate. Throw in some stolen bases and good defense and you have a valuable package. If he succeeds, great, and if not, in an ideal world Austin Jackson could challenge for the job before the year is up. Unfortunately, there is a broader problem in that the entire Yankees outfield might not produce next season. Johnny Damon is a near-certainty to regress. If Xavier Nady is the starting right fielder, he represents a 20-run discount on Bobby Abreu while only slightly improving the defense. The Yankees will be asking a great deal of the infield, which makes the center field decision even more important than it seems on the surface. If Cabrera is worth 65 runs of offense to the Yankees next year, and Gardner 75, then they had better go with Gardner because those ten runs are going to count.


abreu1203.jpgQ
: Doesn’t that point up the whole not-offering-arb to Abreu thing?

A: Well, sort of. I can’t speak to the Yankees’ perception of their finances, so let’s stick to this in pure baseball terms. The team is lacking a strong right fielder. It’s not that the Yankees can’t move on from Abreu–there are strong arguments that they should, among them his declining plate judgment and his odd phobia about balls hit to the wall. The problem is that they need to replace that offense. They could theoretically replace it anywhere on the field. If your new right fielder is 20 runs worse (as I suggested above) and your new first baseman is 20 runs better, then at worst you’ve broken even. The problem right now is that Nick Swisher/Xavier Nady isn’t as potent as Jason Giambi/Bobby Abreu, and a country mile off from what Mark Teixeira/Nick Swisher would be.

If all financial matters were equal, then offering Abreu arbitration would have been a win-win scenario for the Yankees. If he declined, the Yankees would pick up some juicy draft picks, picks they can really use. If he accepted, they would have one more year of Abreu, possibly a last good one, without being on the hook for any decline that came later. In that scenario they could also immediately dedicate themselves to trading Nady, whose trade value will never be higher than it is right now (I borrow that last thought from the estimable Cliff Corcoran). There’s a reason that Nady has been with four teams in the last four seasons, and unless the Yankees are careful they’re about to find out what it is.

Q: Hey, Adam Dunn wasn’t offered arbitration. You haven’t mentioned him as a possible acquisition target for the Yankees. Why not?

A: Because my dreams just aren’t that big. A lefty slugger who has popped 40 homers a year for the last five seasons? If the Yankees could clear DH for him they would greatly benefit, but look at the points we’ve just gone over–offense isn’t management’s priority. It’s a shame that economy has brought on an austerity kick now instead of say, 2005, when the Yankees could have banked their money instead of blowing it on Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. This winter, when the team has legit multiple targets to spend on, they can only afford to have CC Sabathia on the brain. Dunn seems to me to be the kind of player who won’t age well as he hits 33 or so–still five years off–and so does Sabathia, with his hulking frame and heavy workload. Five years from now, Teixeira might be the only one left standing.

A COUPLE OF MORE SITE NOTES
A reminder that as part of our new setting here, there is a handy RSS feed for you to subscribe to. It’s at the bottom of the blue sidebar at the right. We’re also going to be putting a snack bar and a Jacuzzi over there, so keep your trunks handy. Finally, keep those comments coming–I’m paying rapt attention. Finally, tune in to YES on Thursday at 6:30 to see an audio-animatronic version of myself interact in lifelike fashion with the actual Bob Lorenz. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.