A VERY QUICK NOTE ON ARBITRATION OFFERS
As you have very likely seen by now, the Yankees have declined to offer arbitration to any of their free agents. They have elected not to get tied into an inflexible negotiating position with any of their veterans. The downside to this decision is that if Johnny Damon leaves the Yankees won’t pick up a free draft pick.
Now, on the positive side, this decision doesn’t mean that Damon and pals are definitely gone. The Yankees can keep talking to as many of their free agents as they’re interested in retaining, even Xavier Nady. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it ain’t over ’til the fat agent sings (about signing with another team). Meanwhile, a handful of players were offered arbitration, including some players that have been rumored to attract the roving eye of Brian Cashman to one degree or another–Chone Figgins, John Lackey, Mike Gonzalez, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. If the Yankees were to bring in any of these fellows, they would punt away their first-round draft pick for next June. Given that the Yankees actually do things with their draft picks these days, it is to be hoped that the penalty attached to signing these cats would act as a severe disincentive to action. With Curtis Granderson and Roy Halladay out there to be pursued in trade, there’s no reason for the Yankees to feel like they absolutely most sign a free agent.
IF I WERE A VOTE-MAN CONTINUED
Continuing our review of the Hall of Fame ballot…
Barry Larkin: One of the best offensive shortstops in history, with Jeter-like batting results in most seasons. He was an excellent glove in his prime, and his Reds won a World Series, something that seems impossible now. An MVP award attests to the high regard in which he was held during his career, as do 12 All-Star game selections. His main weakness was that he had trouble staying on the field, but his career totals are just fine in spite of that. He could hit .300, steal 40 bases at an excellent percentage, was willing to take a walk and hit almost 200 home runs. He’s a no-brainer Hall of Famer.
Edgar Martinez: Let’s get one thing out of the way: if designated hitter is a legal position, then there should be no penalty for playing there. Martinez was not a good glove at third, where he started, and he might or might not have been a decent first baseman but he was fragile and the Mariners had other options. Thus, the DH position allowed Martinez to reduce his injury risk and made him a pure asset instead of a compromised defender. Those seem like good things. Martinez was one of the best right-handed hitters of recent years–you might recall him personally dismantling Buck Showalter’s career in the 1995 ALDS. He won two batting titles, led the league in on-base percentage three times. A career .312/.418/.515 hitter, depending on how you adjust for era, Martinez figures as one of the 30- to 50-best hitters of all time. His career totals are a bit short of the big round numbers the voters typically like to see mainly because the Mariners weren’t smart enough to start playing him regularly until he was 27–he had to prove he could hit a Triple-A three times over before they gave him a real chance. This is one of the reasons the Mariners were a complete loss from expansion until the mid-90s. That’s not Martinez’s fault and he shouldn’t be penalized for it. He’s in my Hall.
Don Mattingly: Back in the early days of the Pinstriped Bible the readers and I spent thousands of words arguing Mattingly’s Hall of Fame case. I should re-run those one of these days. Suffice it to say that, in the days when feelings about Mattingly were still fresh, emotions ran high when I suggested that Mattingly’s short peak period didn’t quite qualify him for entry. This was a painful thing for me, because Mattingly was the player who really changed me from a very casual baseball fan to someone who would eventually end up writing about baseball for a living. Donnie Baseball had four Hall of Fame-level seasons, perhaps three more that were very good but not of that quality, and six seasons that really didn’t help. These were the post-back injury years–I still mourn that injury. As good as Mattingly was from 1984-1987–and despite the greatness of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, A-Rod, and the rest, I still haven’t seen anyone better–his peak just wasn’t long enough.
Fred McGriff: The Crime Dog confuses me. I wouldn’t hold up a true Hall of Famer over seven missing home runs. That would be pathetically small-minded and arbitrary. His offensive abilities were clearly worthy of enshrinement. He wasn’t just a one-dimensional slugger, but also walked and hit for solid averages. He played on five postseason teams and picked up a winning ring. At the same time, he wasn’t much of a fielder (though he was good enough at first to get over 2000 games there), not at all a baserunner. He never came close to winning an MVP award. He was just quietly good for about 18 years. I really have no idea what to do with him. The back of his baseball card says yes, but I just don’t have that feeling about him.
Jack Morris: The quintessential “league-average innings eater,” people mistake him for an ace because of one of the great World Series performances. You have to make crazy excuses and explanations to force him into the Hall. Walter Johnson was reputed to pitch to the score too, but still managed to post dominant numbers. Pass.
Dale Murphy: An excellent player on a mostly miserable team, in the late ’80s you could turn on TBS and the games were so sparsely attended that the crowd mic would clearly pick up the players talking to each other on the field. I tend to discount him on two levels: first, his peak was relatively brief. Second, he was a product of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, hitting .285/.374/.513 at what was called the Launching Pad, but only .251/.329/.445. He was a good player, and a much-admired one, but given that park advantage, even his best seasons aren’t quite as big as they should be to put him in the Hall given the brevity of his career.
Dave Parker: In the first Hall of Fame entry, I said of Andre Dawson that as a center fielder he was a Hall of Famer, while as a right fielder he was Jermaine Dye. A similar bifurcation can be observed in Parker’s career. For about five years in the 1970s, Parker was a .300 hitter with power, speed, and a killer throwing arm (26 assists in 1977!). After that, but for the 1985 season he was just a guy, and often not a very good one, overweight and impatient at the plate. From 1980 on, a span of nearly 1,600 games, his hit only .275/.322/.444. The overall career is still impressive due to his longevity and the height of his peak years, but his case for Cooperstown comes down to about six seasons, and as with Mattingly, that’s not quite enough for me.
WE’LL WRAP UP THE BALLOT…
…In our next installment.
THIS QUOTE COSTS ONLY FIVE CENTS
The Yankees clubs for which Lefty Gomez pitched (1930-1942) went to seven World Series and won the first six. Thus, when the Yankees dropped the 1942 World Series to the Cardinals, he was less than excited to have “just” won a pennant. “The Yankees’ victory celebration,” he said after the fifth and final game, “will be held at Horn & Hardart. Don’t forget to bring your nickels.” Despite all the rings, Gomez never got a tickertape parade, so perhaps he had cause to be jaded. On the other hand, Derek Jeter will never get to eat at an automat, so you win some, you lose some.
COFFEE JOE’S NEW NUMBER
My pal Colonel Lindbergh suggests that “Coffee Joe” Girardi should perhaps now be called “Champagne Joe,” but I think not — it sounds too much like “champagne chicken.” Besides, “Champagne Joe” describes some toff who appears on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Indolent,” not a manager who is often thinking not two steps ahead of the opposition, but 42 steps with a half-twist to the right (in the Olympic thinking event, Girardi gets high marks for difficulty of routine). Perhaps he should be called “Calculator Joe,” and were this the 1920s or 30s, when sportswriters were all about bestowing nicknames like “The Little Napoleon” and “The Tall Tactician,” perhaps he would be.
In any case, I am sticking with my Girardi nom de baseball, even though Girardi is not going to be sticking with his uniform number, trading up from No. 27 to No. 28 to symbolize the quest for the next championship. Fortunately for Joe and his motivational techniques, No. 28 is not one of the many numbers the Yankees have nailed to the wall, though one very prominent Yankee, a Cy Young winner, did have a long hold on the digits.
Courtesy of the book, “Now Batting, Number…” by Jack Looney, select Yankees who have worn No. 28: outfielder Myril Hoag (1931, 1934-1935), pitcher Atley “Swampy” Donald (1938-1945), pitchers Tommy Byrne (1948-1951) and Art Ditmar (1957-1961), famously busted outfield prospect Steve Whitaker (1966-1967), relief ace Sparky Lyle (1972-1978), first basemen Bob Watson (1979-1980) and Steve Balboni (1983), southpaw Al Leiter (1988-1989), future pitching coach Dave Eiland (1991), pitcher Scott Kamieniecki (1993-1996), outfielder Chad Curtis (1997-1999), and DH David Justice (2000-2001). The current holder is Shelley Duncan.
Perhaps the Yankees could bring Sparky in for the ceremonial change of jerseys. He did a lot for the team and deserves the nod.
BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY, A TO-DO LIST
In no particular order, and without going into detail just yet, just a few of the matters that Brian Cashman and pals will have to grapple with in the coming days. Let me know if I missed anything:
? Derek Jeter is going into the last year of his contract. Do the Yankees try to offer an extension now, so as not to have the matter be a distraction throughout 2010? How will baseball’s post-downturn economic realities — for the most part, players are not getting $20 million a pop any more — affect negotiations?
? Mariano Rivera is also going into his walk year and expressed a wish for an extension in the giddy, celebratory moments after the World Series. He had a great season and was a key factor in the postseason, but he turns 40 in about three weeks. As with Jeter, the lack of a contract post-2010 might be a distraction.
? What roles will Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes have next year? Will they be starters? Relievers? Swing men?
? Does outfielder Austin Jackson, who hit .300 at Triple-A (but with only four home runs) have a role to play on next year’s club?
? How to approach aging but important free agents Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Andy Pettitte?
? How about lesser free agents like Xavier Nady, Jerry Hairston, Jose Molina and Eric Hinske?
? Are any members of a weak free agent class worth bidding on? If Damon or Matsui departs, do the Yankees want to take a shot at Jason Bay or Matt Holliday? Instead of trusting in Joba or Hughes again, do they want to bolster the back of the rotation with a veteran starter like John Lackey?
? Do they offer Chien-Ming Wang a contract and thus get tied into an arbitration situation with an injured player?
? What about other arbitration eligible types like Chad Gaudin, Melky Cabrera and Brian Bruney?
? Do they pick up the club option on Sergio Mitre?
? Coffee Joe is also going into the last year of his contract. Does the World Series win earn him an extension as well?
Man, do the Yankees have a lot to talk about, and so do we. If I’m Cashman, I don’t linger at the parade. I get right back to the office and start working this stuff out. After all, yesterday the Red Sox picked up outfielder Jeremy Hermida (career .276/.359/.456 outside of Florida, and still only 26 next year), so the opposition is already hard at work trying to knock the Yankees off their perch.
YANKEE STADIUM II (III) AND ITS DETRACTORS
In yesterday’s chat, I was asked “What do you think of the new Yankee Stadium? Does the avalanche of home runs to right bother you?” My response: “Not at all. It just is what it is. At worst, it really requires the Yankees to re-embrace their traditional love of left-handed hitters and pitchers, something that had gotten lost with the various shrinkages of the left side of Yankee Stadium over the years.”
As the year has rolled on, I’ve been mystified by the cynical response to the way the new park plays, not least because it has been competitively advantageous for the Yankees. The offense has out-homered the opposition 107-78 in the same number of at-bats, and the pitching staff’s ERA is a third of a run lower at home than on the road. As long as the Yankees keep the park in mind when building the team in the future, it can continue to be so. This year, Yankees opponents have gotten lefties to the plate at Yankee Stadium roughly 850 times, as compared to 1384 tunes for the Yankees. That advantage might be ephemeral — the Yankees won’t always have four switch-hitters and three lefties in the lineup every year — but if they can maintain some semblance of that balance, as well as place renewed emphasis on the drafting a development of left-handed pitchers, and the park should continue to be an asset.
Whatever the Yankees do, I hope that they won’t rush out as soon as the season is over and reconfigure the fences. First, 81 games (plus a few postseason contests) isn’t enough to get an accurate reading on the park. Second, if people talk, let ’em. Whether it’s Coors Field and its altitude or the old Polo Grounds with its shortened foul lines, which resulted in home runs which were criticized as cheap, or even Babe Ruth’s porch at Yankee Stadium I, they’re all legitimate versions of a playing field. The great thing about baseball there are no correct parks or incorrect parks. They just play the way they play. The Yankees have nothing to apologize for.
MATSUI’S MASHING AND THE FUTURE OF EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING
Whenever one of the Yankees’ potentially departing free agents has a big night, usually Johnny Damon but on Thursday night Hideki Matsui, a conversation starts up as to whether the player should be retained. The talk has some validity. The Yankees are not deep in outfield prospects, Austin Jackson’s .301/.362/.413 at Scranton translates to only .266/.330/.385 in the Majors, and he’s been cold for about 10 weeks; because the free agent class is going to be on the weak side, with an emphasis on older players. That limits Brian Cashman’s choices. He can let Damon and Matsui go, figuring that although they’ve done well this year, their negatives — age (Damon will turn 36 in November, Matsui next June) and defensive limitations (Damon has slipped, Matsui’s knees don’t even let him play) — are good enough reason to move on.
In a vacuum, letting the oldsters go would be correct call. However, it also means the menu of alternatives could be a Brett Gardner/Melky Cabrera/Nick Swisher outfield and a rotating DH, which would be offensively light, or the above with Jackson mixed in, or the above with a very young Jesus Montero mixed in at DH, or giving too much money and too many years to Matt Holliday or Jermaine Dye or Magglio Ordonez … or hope to trade the entire farm system to the Braves for Jason Heyward, which won’t happen. It is because of scenarios like these that general managers are paid the big bucks.
As always, much pain could have been avoided if the Yankees had been more adept at drafting and development in recent years. The farm system has clearly improved over the last few seasons, but even having said that, it seems that too often there is cause to observe that the development of position players lags far behind that of pitchers. This has been a glaring problem for so long that it’s hard to believe that the Yankees have not spent time identifying the problem (I am not pointing fingers at anyone, but they need to point fingers at someone or someone(s) or some aspects of what they are doing) and doing something to remedy it, which surely would be cheaper than continuing to pay bonuses to players who end up doing little more than filling out the farm system.
Even if those changes are implemented tomorrow, they will take time to pay off for the big team in the Bronx, so this season’s dilemma remains. I wish I had a brilliant suggestion to solve the problem, other than Montero should be allowed into the mix before long if he heals up well — no use wasting a ready bat waiting for a defensive evolution that might never come — but whereas as season’s outset it seemed like there was no scenario in which it would be worthwhile to bring Damon and Matsui back, now one can at least glimpse situations in which retaining one or both on a short-term contract — most likely Damon given Matsui’s utter loss of speed — isn’t more likely to have a worse outcome than any of the other possibilities.
That’s not exactly a strong endorsement, but it’s more than you could have said in April.
I was immensely frustrated by last night’s game, first because Sergio Mitre started it, second because after the Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the fourth Mitre was allowed to pitch the fifth so he could un-tie it again, third because Joe Girardi spun the game as a good start but for a wayward defensive play, and fourth because of a conversation with Brian Cashman that Michael Kay related during the game.
Let me take the last one first. Kay quoted Cashman as saying (I paraphrase, as I don’t have a transcript handy) in defense of Mitre that if you look around the league, who has a fifth starter that’s better than Mitre anyway? This may very well be true — few teams go four deep in good starters, let alone five — but it should not be an excuse to stop trying to find something better, particularly when, in Chad Gaudin, you have someone who has been demonstrably better in his career.
Even if one is willing to grant that Mitre had a good start — I’m not, but you may, Girardi may, Cashman may — that is but one start in a career in which the pitcher has allowed nearly six runs per nine innings pitched. In 57 games started, he’s made just 20 quality starts, or 35 percent, when the league average is closer to 50. And while it is positive that he’s walking just two batters per nine when he used to walk three or four, there are other aspects to pitching. Further, six strikeouts in five innings is nice, but the Jays weren’t playing John Olerud, Roberto Alomar and Paul Molitor. Getting Rod Barajas and Jose Bautista to swing and miss is not exactly unusual. Further, note that Mitre got three strikeouts in the first, then two more in the second, and one leading off the third. After that, he failed to K his last 14 batters. The Jays weren’t fooled anymore.
Gaudin isn’t a great pitcher, but he’s made 69 starts in his career, and at 26 has more time to work things out than the 28-year-old Mitre. Gaudin has made a quality start 42 percent of the time, below average but better than Mitre by a reasonable amount — given the same number of starts, Mitre would make 24 quality starts to Gaudin’s 29. That little edge is something worth shooting for. As I said yesterday, just because the Yankees’ place in the postseason is assured doesn’t mean that it can be taken for granted.
? Tough blow for the Nationals losing Jordan Zimmerman to TJ surgery. Nothing derails a building program faster (and more predictably) than pitcher injuries.
? Keith Law made a very good point at ESPN.com — that even if the Jays got Kenny Williams to take Alex Rios on a waiver claim, the very fact that they gave him away for nothing underscores the magnitude of the misjudgment by J.P. Ricciardi by issuing the contract in the first place.
? Ryan Franklin of the Cardinals demonstrates why many closers are overvalued, as is the closer’s role itself. The man has allowed six runs all year. Where is it written that he is a closer, or that he should have even been considered? P.S. Mariano Rivera is not overrated. He’s sui generis.
? Geovany Soto hit a home run last night, but he’s still looking like the new Rick Wilkins. And Jacoby Ellsbury is the new Dave Collins, who Bill James called, “A leadoff man who doesn’t score runs.” Good enough for me.
? Kevin Goldstein’s most recent article at BP is about how good middle infield prospects aren’t making their way into the Minors. What this says to me is that Derek Jeter’s replacement will be long in coming. Sadly, Troy Tulowitzki (hit for the cycle last night) and Hanley Ramirez are tied up forever.
MORE FROM ME
I talk about the years of Phil Rizzuto’s MVP, when shortstops out-hit first basemen, at Baseball Prospectus. Also, a reminder that I’ll be chatting live at BP Thursday at 1 p.m. EST. As always, if you can’t make it to the event itself, you can put your questions in the queue at the link above and I’ll look ’em over when we start up.
I HAVE THIS FRIEND NAMED ADAM … And whenever I write here that Brian Cashman or Joe Girardi say something completely indefensible, something like, “Xavier Nady is the starting right fielder,” he writes me and says that I’m too quick to criticize and that there’s a secret plan afoot that will set matters aright. Adam hasn’t actually issued his usual warning this time around, but he must have gotten through to me in the past (maybe it was regarding Kyle Farnsworth, though I’m still not certain), so I have decided, in my best Pollyannaish way, to believe that Mr. Girardi is building Mr. Nady’s trade value. There are teams out there, hungry, less discriminating National League teams, that might like to have an X-Man of their very own. There is a master plan at work of such savage cunning that the terms “Pinstriped Weaselry” don’t do it justice. You heard it here first: some club is gonna get suckered.*
(*The foregoing may prove to be a work of pure fantasy. Management is not responsible for any personal items left unattended in your vehicle.)
Meanwhile, my pal Rob Neyer proves that great minds think alike:
So, let’s see … younger, better against right-handed pitching, better fielder, better baserunner … gee, why would you want to give that guy a regular job?
Oh, don’t worry; it’s not as bad as all that. Considering all the Yankees’ creaky old geezers, there should be plenty of at-bats for a (relative) whippersnapper like Nick Swisher. These sorts of things do tend to find their natural balance, eventually. But with the questions about Alex Rodriguez’s availability and the tough competition in their division, one might reasonably wonder if “eventually” will come soon enough.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
When I saw the headline, “MLB bans Pichardo 50 games”, the chain of association rapidly led me back to the Royals righty of the last decade Hipolito Pichardo, and thence to the short-lived Yankees lefty Hipolito Pena, who I recall as being distinctly more hippo-like than his listed 6’3″/165 pounds. The Yankees received Pena from the Pirates in 1988 in exchange for Orestes Destrade, an underpowered first baseman (later broadcaster) who the Yankees seemed to have no use for, given that it seemed like Don Mattingly had the better part of 10 good years left. No disrespect meant — I’m sure it means something noble in Spanish, but forget being a boy named Sue, I can’t think of anything more frightening than being a boy named Hipo … Seth McClung actually pitched well for the Brewers last year. That’s hard to believe, but it’s harder still to accept that he might sub as closer for Trevor Hoffman … It’s difficult to think of a player, aside from a Buck Weaver or Shoeless Joe Jackson, who has fallen as hard and fast as Andruw Jones … With third baseman Jack Hannahan likely to be squeezed off of the Oakland roster, the Yankees could take a run at the glove man. He won’t hit much but is a lefty bat and a strong fielder … The White Sox may regret signing Gavin Floyd to a four-year, $15.5 million contract. The same luck on balls in play that affected Swisher in a negative fashion last year benefitted Floyd. He’s due to regress and in a hurry … If I took all the decisions I’d ever made because they seemed like good ideas at the time and stacked them one on top of the other, I could climb that pile and just scrape the bottom of the moon with my fingertip.
ONE LAST GO AT PHILADELPHIA
Final warning, and aren’t you relieved: Jay Jaffe and I will be at the Penn Bookstore at the University of Pennsylvania (3601 Walnut St.) this evening at 5 PM. I hope to see some new and familiar faces there tonight.
A COUPLE OF QUICK NOTES AS WE HEAD INTO THE WEEKEND…
First, a few reactions to the comments on retaining Derek Jeter after 2010: as I tried to explain this morning, I’m appreciative of Jeter for all he’s done, but I appreciate winning baseball teams more, and I very much doubt that the Yankees will be able to do so with a 37-year-old shortstop, particularly one who doesn’t play great defense now and has visibly slowed the last couple of years.
Baseball puts fans in a very difficult bind: do you love the team or the player? When the player is 25 and at the peak of his powers, it is very easy to love both. When they’re 35 and gimpy, you have to make a decision. The Yankees, and Yankees fans, have gone through this repeatedly: with Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and many others. At some point, it was time for them to move on so the team could make room for fresh faces that could do more to help them win. The alternative is that the team ceases to try to win and becomes a nostalgia show, perpetuating these players far beyond their usefulness just because it’s hard to let go. If that’s what you want, that’s one thing, but you’re going to see a whole lot of losing, not to mention experience a whole lot of embarrassing discomfort along the lines of what old time Willie Mays fans saw when he joined the Mets in 1972 — not the fleet ballplayer of 1954 who could do anything, but a 42-year-old who looked like a tired old guy. If you want to see Derek Jeter look like that, fine — just keep holding on too tight — and don’t
Specific comments: vrod44, the “you didn’t play the game” insult is as old as dirt and about as logical. Whether I played or not, even if I was Lou Gehrig in a previous life, Jeter is aging. That’s an unavoidable fact, but blame the messenger if you want. Yankee7777, it’s odd that you cite Lou Boudreau given that he stopped hitting after age 30, was a part-time player by 32, and retired at 34. No, he wasn’t fast — he was, in fact, legendarily slow, and as you say he was a great defender nonetheless. Unfortunately, none of that serves your point because by the time he was Jeter’s age, he wasn’t playing anymore. I don’t have time to do it now, but over the weekend I’ll try to figure out which teams won with old shortstops. My guess is it’s a short list. I also disagree with your statement, “Anyone who watches Jeter knows he makes all the plays.” He demonstrably does not. I wrote this in the Baseball Prospectus annual four years ago:
For those of us in the performance analysis biz, Jeter is a difficult problem because any realistic evaluation of his skills, no matter how flattering, seems like a slight when compared to his reputation. In the eyes of true believers, Honus Wagner and Superman combined couldn’t do half the things Jeter does. In truth, he’s terrific at going back on shallow pop-ups and executing the jump throw in the hole. Other aspects of the job — fielding grounders to his left for instance — elude him, and it doesn’t take an MS in scouting or statistics to see it. When watching a Yankees game, simply pay attention to the opposing shortstop. He will routinely get to balls that Jeter cannot. As for the Gold Glove, peel back the foil on the award and you’ll find there’s some tasty chocolate underneath. That’s about what it’s worth, though at least Jeter was better this year. On offense, Jeter walked less than ever before and doubled his previous high in sac bunts, perhaps because he lost confidence after a shockingly poor April. Jeter is a Hall of Famer to be, a key player on a great team, an inspirational leader, a fine hitter…and he gives up a lot of singles with his glove. In light of the rest, why is that last part so difficult to accept?
I stand by what I wrote back in the winter of 2004. Every day you can see balls go past Jeter on the left that most other shortstops easily field, and if he’s ever made a play behind second base it must have been back in the Clinton administration. To this point, for the reasons stated above, that deficiency hasn’t been all that important, because on balance, the combination of offense and defense worked out in the Yankees’ favor. That will be less and less the case over time, and if 2008’s reduced offensive output was not an injury-induced fluke but the beginning of an age-inspired trend (and it was the second season in a row that Jeter’s offense dropped, so arguing about said trend may be a moot point), the day of reckoning is here now.
AND FROM TODAY’S GAME…
The Yankees dropped the decision to the Twins, who came back late against some youngsters who aren’t going to be within hailing distance of this year’s staff. There was still plenty of good stuff: a solid two innings for Ian Kennedy; a 2-for-2 with a double and a stolen base for Brett Gardner (and an 0-for-3 for Melky), a 2-for-3 for Jorge Posada and an identical day for Nick Swisher. Xavier Nady went 0-for-3 with an RBI.
Also of interest was an appearance in left field by Kevin Russo. I get a lot of mail about Russo, who hit .316/.363/.416 in half a season at Double-A Trenton last year. Some out there want to see him as a prospect, but I don’t buy it — as a second baseman, he’s going to have to hit more than that to make it — those numbers don’t really translate to anything impressive — and since he doesn’t play shortstop, his chances to be a utility infielder are not good. Last year he got in an odd bit of utility work at third base and the outfield, and it’s interesting to see the Yankees carrying that forward this spring. If Russo starts the season at Scranton, he could be an injury away from a bench job… It’s not like Cody Ransom has an ironclad lock on a job.
THAT’S A WEEK
I hope to see many of you at the Yogi Berra Museum on Sunday (see below for details). I’ll catch the rest of you here on Monday, unless Brian Cashman goes insane and signs Manny Ramirez tomorrow afternoon. In that case, I’ll be posting — a lot.
I’ll be making my final appearance of the season on the YES Hot Stove show tonight at 6:30 EST. After this installment, the show travels to Florida but they won’t take me with them — they couldn’t figure out how to transport the bunker short of hiring a cargo plane. I’m fine with this as long as Bob Lorenz’s library set is staying behind too. I’m thinking that while they’re gone I might sneak into the studio and sit in the plush chairs. I might even sit in Murray Chass’ chair.
You know, the other day I was having dinner with two male friends, and they began discussing thread count in men’s dress shirts. Until that moment, the concept of thread count in dress shirts had not entered my mind in all of my 38 years on this planet. Thread count for sheets, sure, I’ve heard of that, though I’ve never given it all that much thought either. But for shirts? And here’s what I want to know: does Bob think about thread count in dress shirts?
I don’t yet know what topics are on tap for today — I have a sinking feeling the guys might be getting into Barry Bonds and steroids again — but if you have any topics you want to see covered during my glorious one minute of air time, I’d be happy to hear them. I’ll be checking in throughout the day and even during the program — I don’t just keep the laptop open so I can send IMs during the show.
CLARIFIED FRYER OIL
My BP colleague Jay Jaffe, one of those famous Brewers fans from Utah, checked in with some additional notes on yesterday’s Yankees acquisition Eric Fryer. Specifically, the reason that Fryer played in the outfield during the first part of the season was because the Brewers are stacked with catchers, and they had a better prospect than Fryer, Jonathan Lucroy, at the same level to begin last season. When Lucroy moved up a level, Fryer went back behind the plate. He seemed to be a bit raw there, not throwing out many runners and making a ton of errors, but perhaps he was rusty.
To my way of thinking, it’s just as well, because (as I wrote yesterday) the Yankees are in a good place with minor league catching just now, but they could use a corner outfielder in a bad way. As Jay said, if Fryer keeps hitting, he could make Double-A by the end of the year. The Wright trade represents a nice roll of the dice by Brian Cashman.
TWO OTHER BITS AND PIECES
? A final reminder that I’ll be doing a live chat at BP this Friday, February 6, at 1 p.m. EST. If you can’t make it, you can still get your questions in ahead of time at the URL above.
? My pal Allen Barra has a good bit in the New York Observer today as to why Roger Clemens isn’t Barry Bonds.
OZYMANDIAS: THE MEMOIR
I’ve been reluctant to offer much conversation on the Joe Torre-Tom Verducci book because I’ve not read the thing (get your act together, Doubleday publicity!) and of all the things the world needs, it’s not another uninformed commentary on that bloody book. Nonetheless, I feel like I can’t let the Greatest Story of Our Time pass without a few words, at least until I get hold of the holy pages. Given what I’ve heard so far of the “controversial” passages, I feel validated.
Longtime readers know I jumped off the Torre bandwagon a few years before he actually left town. I was a convinced fan of Torre’s after the buttoned down and seemingly know-nothing Buck Showalter epoch. However, as I wrote here many times, I became convinced that Torre had outlived his usefulness. He was not a builder and he wasn’t a strategist. His main skill was creating a professional atmosphere, something that the organization had proved incapable of doing over a period of nearly two decades.
However, Torre’s ability to do that ebbed, and now the new book suggests that this ability was largely mythological. Torre seems to blame Brian Cashman for foisting too many irregular-size players on him, but this gets into circular, chicken-and-egg territory: were Cashman’s players unable to blend, or did Torre fail to blend them? For every end-of-the-line gamble Cashman took, like Kevin Brown, where no manager would have been able to save the situation, there have been others who left New York and went on to productive work. Perhaps more importantly, in 2008, Joe Girardi minted more Major League relievers than Torre did in his entire 12-year stay.
Torre’s failing judgment climaxed with Alex Rodriguez. When Torre batted A-Rod eighth in the fourth game of the 2006 ALDS, he publicly demonstrated that his usefulness was at its end. That was actually the second such gesture that year, and the first of his self-immolating collaborations with Verducci, when he conspired in the swift-boating of his own third baseman in the pages of Sports Illustrated. If you will recall, A-Rod had slumped that August, the boos were again raining down and Torre was at a loss. At that point, Torre enabled the Verducci story, which then waited like a time bomb for Rodriguez to emerge from his slump and enter the playoffs. It went off just in time to kneecap A-Rod at the most important moment of the season.
With this helpful stab in the back, Rodriguez was “motivated” right back into his slump.
Not satisfied, Torre then jerked the future Hall of Famer up and down the lineup throughout the short series. Where a player hits over the course of four games isn’t all that important, but the psychological impact of those moves is. Rather than leave Rodriguez alone, and minimize the stress on his player, Torre did everything he could to make him the story.
If Torre wasn’t an Xs and O’s manager, if he couldn’t get young players into the lineup, and he was unable to communicate with the players the GM was giving him, no matter how difficult, then what did he bring to the table besides an increasingly illusory and irrelevant gravitas? Again, not having read the book as of yet, I cannot draw any firm conclusions, but from A-Rod to his bitterness about not getting Bernie Williams back in 2007 (another example of hideously poor judgment, one he apparently tries to excuse by character-assassinating Carlos Beltran, the player who would have displaced the beloved Bernie) this tome seems to be one of the greatest examples one can think of a man doing all he can to destroy his own reputation, the myth of his own greatness. Instead of proving his indispensability to the Yankees, Torre has made a persuasive case for why they had to let him go.
AS WE GO UP WE GO DOWN
Down in the comments, longtime reader/frequent commenter Louis writes:
I have been wanting to make that point about the Blue Jays and their league-leading 3.77 runs per game allowed for awhile, but somehow keep bypassing it, and I thank Louis for reminding me. The Jays scored just 4.41 runs per game The Yankees were almost half a run better, plating 4.87 runners a game. “Better” isn’t “best;” the Yankees ranked only seventh in the league in runs per game.
The question for next year, insofar as any potential Blue Jayism goes, is if the Yankees offense gets better, worse, or stays the same. Brian Cashman is on record as saying “Better.” He bases this on getting a full season out of Jorge Posada; a fixed Robby Cano; a divorced A-Rod; a healthy Matsui. Is he correct? With all respect, probably not:
Posada is a year older and very probably won’t be up to his old 140-game workloads. Whereas almost anything Posada is likely to do will be an improvement on Jose Molina, giving one-fifth or more of the starts behind the plate to Mr. Career .237/.276/.339 is potentially devastating. And if Posada’s shoulder isn’t what it used to be and he can’t catch, look out.
Alex Rodriguez hit at about his career levels last year. Sure, he was well down from 2007, but 2007 was not his typical year. Maybe a more relaxed, Maddona-ified A-Rod will hit better in the clutch, but that adds fewer runs than you might thing.
If Matsui is healthy, he should be reasonably productive at DH, but the Yankees actually did quite well at DH last year thanks to Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi. Overall, Yankees DHs hit .282/.378/.461. Matsui is a career .295/.371/.478 hitter and he’s 35. He’s not likely to give the Yankees a whole lot more than they got last year.
Cashman is probably right about Cano, but we haven’t even gotten to the other aspects of the offense: Johnny Damon will probably lose some production. No one knows what the team will get out of center field. Xavier Nady in right field is a likely step backwards of around 20 runs. Nick Swisher could put first base on a par with what it got last season (.246/.349/.460) or even a little more assuming the return to form we all figure is coming.
So what does that all add up to? Without playing with projected numbers (which I did in a previous entry), it seems like there might be something less than short of a decisive improvement. As for the defense, it’s where it was, and that ain’t good. Figure that if the Yankees want to win 98 games next year, and scoring remains constant or just ticks up a little bit, they would still have to saw nearly 80 runs allowed off of this year’s total. Sabathia replaces Mike Mussina plus (because he pitches further into games) some bullpen innings. Add a healthy Chien-Ming Wang, a full year of Joba Chamberlain, and about 40 starts from pitchers (whoever they are) who should be better than Sidney Ponson, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, and Carl Pavano… It seems doable, but if the offense slips, look out. Things will go backwards as they go forward.
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.
…As events warrant.
MORE FROM ME
Various and sundry updates at Wholesome
including psychology’s impact on the economy. Warning! Politics!