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.
A couple of quick responses to the comments here on the eve of the long weekend:
? I listed a few outfielders not to sign. Who would I sign? As I’ve said in weeks past, I would bring back Hideki Matsui if the contract length was manageable. There are worse things than having a regular designated hitter–sure, it messes up roster flexibility, but those teams that don’t often wind up with a mélange at the position that proves to be not all that productive. This will be especially true for the Yankees if Matsui yields to Jorge Posada, which in turn opens up more playing time for Francisco Cervelli. Matsui’s skill set will probably age better than Damon’s. As for left field, I’d like to know what the trade market has in it and what the free agent situation looks like after non-tenders. Failing that, the Yankees might be able to engineer a platoon or rotation of some lower-cost players like Coco Crisp (assuming he can throw after shoulder surgery), Rick Ankiel and Austin Jackson. If they go with transient players in left for 2010, they can take a shot at free agent Carl Crawford next winter.
? In answer to another question: Scott Podsednik is pretty depressing. He’s a career .277/.340/.381 hitter, and even when he hits well by his standards, as he did this year, he’s not all that productive. His stolen base percentage was also on the low side of being acceptability, and if he can’t steal bases at a good percentage, he can’t really do anything. He’s also less of a fielder than you would expect given his speed. As for taking a flyer on rehabbing pitchers like Erik Bedard, Rich Harden and Ben Sheets, if the price is right it’s really all upside, and the thing to like about those guys, unlike betting on a Chien-Ming Wang comeback, is when they’re healthy they get batters to swing and miss.
? Some friends of mine are having a ham for Thanksgiving instead of a turkey. Anyone get a ham and Coke-glaze it in the Southern tradition? Anyone brave enough to deep-fry a turkey? Me, I’m wondering if I can get Chinese delivered tomorrow.
? Offering Damon arbitration seems like a good gamble to me on two levels. If he accepts you pay a high price in cash but you’re only committed to him for the season, so if he tanks you can even eat the money and let him go before the year is over. If he leaves, you get a first-round pick from whatever club signs him. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
? “Mr. Goldman, You sound like a major country leader we all know!” Stop picking on Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. He’s trying his best, darn it.
? A happy Thanksgiving to all who are into that kind of thing.
STATEMENT OF BELIEFS
Thursday my family will celebrate Thanksgiving. I’m not going.
On Friday there is a pre-party for my 20th high school reunion. I’m not going.
On Saturday, my high school reunion itself takes place. I’m not going.
If you want to find me, I’m here at the Pinstriped Bible.
A BAKER’S DOZEN OF HOT STOVE THOUGHTS
1. Five veteran outfield free agents who would should be avoided if the Yankees don’t come to terms with Johnny Damon (hint: there are more than five, but this is just a selection):
(a) Garret Anderson: Overrated in his prime, but an offensive and defensive millstone for four of the last five years.
(b) Marlon Byrd: rates before coming to the Rangers: .263/.327/.373. Overall rates as a Ranger: .295/.352/.468. Rates at home as a Ranger: .309/.375/.522. Rates away from the Rangers’ comfy ballpark: .281/.328/.414.
(c) Randy Winn: Signing a 36-year-old corner outfielder coming off of a .262/.318/.353 season is never wise, especially when the player’s central offensive skill is hitting for average.
(d) Jermaine Dye: Old, defensively challenged, never a great on-base guy, and bats from the wrong side of the plate.
(e) Mike Cameron: Was still very good last year, but he turns 37 in January.
2. One of the most intriguing teams to track this winter is the Marlins. Even after dealing Jeremy Hermida to the Red Sox, they have 11 arbitration-eligible players, and if the Marlins hate anything it’s players getting raises. Any of them could be non-tender candidates, which is to say instant free agents, on December 12. All of them could be dealt at some point between now and then, including ace Josh Johnson, hard-throwing lefty reliever Matt Lindstrom, outfielder Cody Ross, and infielder Dan Uggla. The Yankees would probably have interest in the two pitchers mentioned, and Ross wouldn’t be a bad catch either given the team’s shallow outfield collection.
3. Something I think about every year at this time: I want to see MLB commercials during the Thanksgiving football games. I want to see shots of Derek Jeter standing next to his Christmas tree in a flannel bathrobe, taking practice cuts with a bat over the words, “Spring Training is just around the corner.” Right after the Superbowl-winning quarterback says “I’m going to Disney World!” I want to see another spot with Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer saying they’re going to Disney World too — on the way to camp.
4. It was reported yesterday that Andy Pettitte will take his time figuring out what he wants to do with his life. If you’re the Yankees, how long do you give Pettitte before you move on? He’s a great pitcher and a great Yankee, but you can’t just hold a spot for him until all the Halladays are over.
5. I don’t think there’s anything the Mets can do this winter to be a contender next year, not because they don’t have the money to make real moves — although maybe they don’t — but because they don’t have the kind of braintrust that will allow them to rebuild quickly, the Minor League depth isn’t there to make trades or enjoy impact promotions, and the free agent market is weak. If healthy, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana, and Francisco Rodriguez make for a very nice core, but they’re not enough.
6. The Orioles are roughly in the same position the Braves were in circa 1990, and need to do what the Braves did — shore up their defense. The development of their young pitching staff depends on it.
7. Joe Torre has always preferred glove-first catchers — Jorge Posada was an anomaly for him, one he embraced reluctantly. That’s why it’s ironic that Russell Martin’s bat has died on Torre’s watch. The Dodgers have to fix Russell, or deal him to someone who can. Unfortunately, the Dodgers prospect who should be pressing Russell for playing time, Carlos Santana, is now the property of the Cleveland Indians.
8. I understand that one good way to avoid a dry turkey on Thanksgiving is to brine it before cooking. I would like to try that technique on the people who come to Thanksgiving dinner. On a related note, I think I would enjoy Thanksgiving more if the traditional holiday dish was fajitas.
9. How many years will Marco Scutaro get for the best (read: fluke) season of his career, and which team will reap the disappointing returns?
10. Britt Burns was named pitching coordinator for the Astros on Monday. I still wonder how the 1980s might have been different for the Yankees had Burns, who was acquired in December, 1985 for Joe Cowley, Ron Hassey, and a couple of never-to-develop minor leaguers, hadn’t had his career ended by a degenerative hip problem.
11. The really is nothing funnier than singing sheep, at least not to me, right here, right now.
12. If the Red Sox do manage to trade Mike Lowell and pick up Adrian Gonzalez (sliding Kevin Youkilis over to third), that by itself won’t be enough.
13. Contrary to popular superstition, it is not bad luck to feign illness at Thanksgiving time. If more people feigned illness at this time of year, countless uncomfortable and frankly painful family gatherings could be avoided. If you are still uncomfortable feigning illness to avoid Thanksgiving, you can try hiding in a box.
MYSTERIES OF ARIZONA
Riddle me this, Batman: when is it a bad thing when a prospect has a great Arizona Fall League season, batting .397/.472/.731? Answer: when the prospect isn’t a prospect.
Colin Curtis, 25 in February, was the Yankees’ fourth-round selection in the 2006 draft, one of those so-called “polished college hitters” that don’t have much projection but should at least be able to give you a little something in the way of the league averages. Instead, he’s been a complete disaster since rookie ball, hitting an aggregate .264/.334/.375 in 431 games. This year he pancaked at Scranton, hitting .235/.302/.347. He was a bit better at Trenton, hitting .268/.343/.385, but that’s still not anything to get excited about.
Now Curtis had a great small-sample session in a league which bans gravity at exactly the same moment that the Yankees have to figure out which players to protect from the Rule 5 draft. The Yankees can gamble that Curtis’s last 20 games outweigh the 400 that came before, protect him, and lose someone who has a chance to actually do something, or they can let him dangle and see if anyone else is fooled by his little hot streak.
Curtis had a great AFL, and his five home runs in 78 at-bats is impressive, but if this truly marks a career change, then Curtis has had an awakening equivalent to the Blue Fairy coming down and zapping Pinocchio to life. These numbers are unrealistic for any player this side of Babe Ruth, and in this case it’s a sure thing that something that seems too good to be true is too good to be true.
It should be noted that most Rule 5 picks come to naught. Every once in awhile a George Bell will wash up on the beach, but these are few and far between, and getting them to a place where they can contribute involves much in the way of pain and suffering–Bell hit .233/.256/.350 in 60 games the year the Blue Jays took him away from the Phillies. This season the Rangers ended up with a solid reliever in Darren O’Day, who the Mets had Rule 5’d from the Angels (and then gave up on far too quickly). Mostly, though, it doesn’t pay to get too exercised about the players lost this way, so if the Yankees lose someone interesting after protecting Curtis, you can spin up your Doris Day records–Que Sera, Sera (or Sly Stone, preferably). Still, there’s always that chance that someone useful will slip out because the organization bet the wrong horse, perhaps a horse on a desert-fueled hot streak.
MYSTERIES OF SWISHER
Bob Nightengale has mooted it about (h/t to the swell guys at the LoHud blog that the Yankees have “ever so quietly” told other clubs that Nick Swisher is available in trade. Interesting bit of information, but another shoe has to drop there. If this is correct, then the whole Yankees outfield is down to Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson. Johnny Damon is a free agent, Hideki Matsui likewise, if you want to consider him a potential outfielder (the Yankees don’t), and even Freddy flippin’ Guzman is no longer under club control.
Swisher has many faults, and an upgrade would be welcome, but for all his negatives, players who have the potential to hit 30 home runs with 100 walks aren’t easily found. That guy isn’t on the free agent market, unless the Yankees are going to ante up for Jason Bay, who is older, more expensive, not a good defender, and was not 10 percent better than Swisher this year. Sure, you have the added benefit of taking him away from the Red Sox, but Swisher is due only $6.75 million in 2010 and with two outfield spots open, the Yankees could use both. Adding one while subtracting the other puts you right back where you started, if not a little worse off.
If they Yankees are not planning on buying Bay, then I’m mystified as to where dealing away Swisher might lead. There would have to be a truly Olympian trade in the works, where the Yankees suddenly were in possession of Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, or Clark Kent, but those things are about as likely as your winning the lottery and getting a date with Megan Fox on the same day.
One player that I keep thinking of as a solid DH replacement for Matsui, one who could help stem the loss of an OBP-oriented player like Swisher, would be old pal Nick Johnson. Johnson is like a paper-mâché version of Matsui in terms of his durability and defensive utility (he has none and none respectively), and a three-legged moose might beat him in a race around the bases, but perhaps a year of sitting on the bench and doing nothing but hit might be survivable for him.
This year Johnson showed that even though he missed a good chunk of the last couple of years, he could still hit .295 with 100 walks. He’d likely also be less expensive than some of the bigger names out there and is only a Type B free agent, meaning that the Marlins would not get to poach the Yankees’ first-round pick. I’m not campaigning for Johnson the way I did for Mark Teixeira a year ago–he’s just one of many possible solutions this time around in a free agent market that lacks the slam-dunk candidates of last winter.
THE MAIN EVENT
The main focus on the Yankees’ offseason seems to be on the big free agent decision, namely Hideki Matsui but not Johnny Damon, or Johnny Damon but not Hideki Matsui, or neither Hideki Matsui nor Johnny Damon and please hold the onions.
This seems like a complicated knot for folks to untangle, and I admit to struggling with it myself, but only because the Yankees have a paucity of replacements in this area. On a basic philosophical level, this isn’t complicated at all: you let both of them go for the simple reason that they’ll be 36 next year, and older still in however many contract years they will require to sign. The problem is that hewing to that old Branch Rickey philosophy of, “better a year too early than a year too late” requires that you know the answer to a subsequent question: “And then what?”
The Yankees are not deep in outfield prospects at the higher Minor League levels. In future years, we may be discussing the merits of Melky Mesa, Neil Medchill, Kelvin De Leon and Zach Heathcott, but for now, Austin Jackson is the only game in town. Hitting .300 with four home runs and 40 walks at Triple-A is better than not, but it isn’t starting corner outfield material and possibly not starting anything material. Jackson, 23 next season, is almost obligated to take a big step forward if he’s going to play regularly for the Yankees, even in center. Suffice it to say that neither Melky Cabrera nor Brett Gardner is qualified to carry left field, a position at which the average cat hit .270/.341/.440 this year.
There are useful outfielders available on the free agent market, but they all have some flaws. Matt Holliday will be only 30 next year, but he will be expensive, cost his team a first-round draft pick, and doesn’t provide the kind of left-handed power which is more important to the Yankees than ever. Jason Bay will be 31, which gives him a year’s head start on Holliday in the decline-phase derby, is a defensive millstone, and like Holliday, he ain’t a southpaw. Rick Ankiel, who will turn 30 in July, does have left-handed pop and as a player who was a bit stretched in center field might prove to have pretty good range in left. He also hit only .235/.285/.387 and rarely walks, so the acquiring team would be hoping for a rebound, but given that Ankiel has only had two seasons as a regular, “Rebound to what?” is a valid question. Jermaine Dye has certainly hit in his career, but he’s 36, wasn’t particularly impressive this season, hasn’t played left field in about a century and a half and is range-challenged in right. Of this group, only Holliday qualifies as an “all-around” player.
Word to the wise: no one had better mention Garrett Anderson if they know what’s good for them.
Another alternative is to pursue a trade, but that’s going to cost the Yankees pitching resources that Brian Cashman has preferred to hoard, or just money, if he wanted to take on a bloated contract like that of Vernon Wells — not that there’s any reason to do that. It’s hard to know exactly who the Yankees might get, and if they could trade into someone young instead of a veteran as flawed as the free agents above.
If the Yankees prefer to limit their choices to Damon or Matsui, the argument for one vs. the other comes down to which you believe will better bear up at an advanced age. The answer just might be Matsui, compromised knees and all. Damon had a swell year, but a good deal of his power production was due to his becoming adept at poking the ball down the left field line for home runs at Yankee Stadium. His ability to hit on the road, which necessarily is exactly half his job, was less certain. He hit a respectable .284/.349/.446 with seven home runs. Matsui hit 15 home runs on the road, having not taken advantage of Yankee Stadium to the same extent that Damon did. He’s far more likely to adapt to the ballpark next year than Damon is to start hitting on the road.
The downside to Matsui is that while Damon’s days as a defensive asset seem to have gone the way of the economy, at least you can stick him in left field as needed, whereas to have Matsui available at all you have to restrict him to designated hitting. That’s a serious problem, as it clogs up the roster and prevents the Yankees from resting other players in the DH spot. However, it could be a blessing in disguise. The problem with a DH rotation is and always has been who the on-field subs are. If Alex Rodriguez spends ten games next season DHing, then who plays third base for those ten games? If it’s Ramiro Pena, then you’ve taken a huge offensive hit. Ditto any Jorge Posada/Frankie Cervelli DH/catcher combo, or Derek Jeter/Ramiro Pena. If Matsui is on the roster, then subs will play only as needed, whereas with Damon around, Joe Girardi might feel liberated, even obligated, to give players rest.
The best answer remains “neither” and “Get some guys between 22 and 27!” but this is easier said than done in this age of baseball in which “young” is synonymous with “cheap.”
CHRIS SNYDER IN THE WIND
The Arizona Republic (with a h/t to MLB Trade Rumors) reports that the Diamondbacks have been talking about moving catcher Chris Snyder, who lost his job to Miguel Montero this year, for Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay. The deal has apparently fallen through, but that’s good news as this is a player the Yankees should very much be in on if they expect Jorge Posada to spend significant time as the designated hitter in 2010.
Snyder, 28 next year, missed a good chunk of the season due to a nerve problem in his lower back and was no fun when he did play because of it. However, from 2005 through 2008, he hit a combined .251/.346/.438 with a home run every 24 at-bats (or 21 in a 500 at-bat season). Those are strong numbers for a part-time catcher. Now, he did have some flaws during that time. He disappeared versus right-handed pitchers (.222/.314/.374 vs. .273/.374/.460 vs. left-handers) and on the road (.229/.323/.405 vs. 247/.344/.394 at home), though he did maintain his power away from the hot, dry air of Phoenix. In his career, he has caught 32 percent of potential basestealers, which is a bit better than Posada, four or five more caught per 100 attempts, assuming Posada has another year at 2009’s 28 percent in him.
As in the previous section, the Yankees’ ability to live without Hideki Matsui is directly connected to their commitment to upgrading the bench. If you have real players to step in and perform for the stars, great. If you only have Angel Berroa, well, the current world champions were 4-8 in games in which Berroa started. Basically, the Yankees face a Darwinian choice when it comes to going after solid second-string players.
As the old saying goes, momentum in baseball is only as good as your next day’s starter. The Phillies have a very good starter going in World Series Game 5, so perhaps it is premature to say that the Yankees may have broken their opponent’s spine. Yet, the dramatic action of Game 4’s eighth and ninth innings, which wrapped an entire “Yankees Classic’s” worth of action into about 20 minutes, suggests that conclusion.
Let’s review. The Yankees took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth. CC Sabathia, looking a bit frayed around the edges, pitched just that much better than Joe Blanton. The fifth inning was particularly tough, with the Phillies putting two on with none out for Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and the deadly-to-lefties Jayson Werth. Sabathia induced pop-ups from Utley and Howard, and struck out Werth to end the threat. In many games, that might have been the end right there.
Regarding the Sabathia- Utley relationship: I am reminded of Don Mattingly vs. Don Aase, who was the Orioles closer for a couple of years during the center of Mattingly’s career. Aase was often a good pitcher, but he could do nothing with Mattingly, who went 6-for-7 with two home runs against him. After Mattingly hit his second ninth inning homer off of Aase in a year, Orioles manager Earl Weaver was asked if he would ever let Aase pitch to Mattingly again. “Not even to intentionally walk him,” Weaver said. It’s getting to that point with Sabathia and Utley.
Utley’s home run in the seventh chased Sabathia, so Joe Girardi bringing in Damaso Marte’s fresh arm to go after Howard. Marte again rewarded Girardi’s faith in him this series. The Yankees stranded two runners in the top of the eighth, and Girardi decided to roll the dice on a new eighth inning man… Firpo Marberry! Actually, with Werth due up, he went for Joba Chamberlain with Phil Hughes being too scary and David Robertson having left the stadium to pick up some Chinese take-out. Joba is right-handed and has pitched a good inning in this series, so the manager was entitled to his fantasies of 2007.
Chamberlain seemed set to pay those off, as the old Joba was suddenly back, back for perhaps the first time all year, pumping 97 mph fastballs at the Phillies hitters. Unfortunately, Pedro Feliz took one of those 97 mph fastballs and made a souvenir out of it. Joba came back to get Carlos Ruiz on off-speed pitches, striking out the side around the game-tying home run. Baseball is a punishing game. For a moment, Joba had turned back the clock, and yet he still was punished. It’s like something out of Greek myth.
That sets up the ninth. With the game tied, the Yankees finally got their first look at Brad Lidge, the lost-then supposedly-found closer. Lidge looked very tough in retiring Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter, but then came Johnny Damon’s terrific, nine-pitch at-bat. As Lidge threw fastball after fastball trying to get the elusive third strike, you could see Damon getting his timing down. We’ll never know why Lidge didn’t go back to his slider in any of his last five pitches to Damon given that the fastball wasn’t fooling the left fielder. Damon finally singled to keep the inning alive. If Lidge wasn’t unnerved at this point, he surely was after Damon — who didn’t run much in the regular season (and why would you if you’re on base in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez?) — promptly stole two bases on one play, one by taking advantage of the Phillies’ defensive alignment to swipe an unguarded third.
That was all it took for Lidge to turn into the pitcher who went 0-8 with 11 blown saves this year. He hit Teixeira, grooved a pitch to A-Rod for an RBI double, and couldn’t retire Jorge Posada despite getting ahead 0-2. By the time Posada retired himself on the bases, the Yankees were up 7-4. Now, here is where I think we find the broken spine. Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to close out the game. The Phillies have now seen Mariano more times than I’ve seen “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” That’s about a bajillion times, for those keeping score at home. Nonetheless, the Phillies did not battle, did not make it tough on the Yankees’ Father Time. They went out on eight pitches — two to pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, three to Jimmy Rollins, three to Shane Victorino. Some of that economy is due to the greatness of Mo, but it also, I think, reflected the mood of the moment, that this was too high a mountain to climb.
As I said at the outset, Lee is a terrific pitcher, and if the Phillies chose the better part of valor in the ninth inning, there is nothing in that to indicate that they won’t come out fighting in Game 5. These are, after all, the reigning champions. If they don’t get up off the mat, though, no one can blame them — they’ve had to overcome a great deal of adversity this year, much of it at the hands of Lidge and their manager’s loyalty to them. If this loss is one cut too many, it will be understandable. No team in the history of baseball has ever had to work harder to overcome one of their own relievers than the Phillies have had to work to overcome Lidge.
ANOTHER ANTICIPATED REUNION THWARTED
Miguel Cairo will not be on the Phillies roster for the World Series. I’m sure this will be a relief to John Sterling, who will now not have a conflict of interest.
IN RESPONSE TO A SWISHER-BASHER IN THE COMMENTS
How can Nick Swisher be a better player than Bobby Abreu? I’ll make this simple for you.
? Swisher hit 35 doubles, Abreu 29.
? Swisher hit 29 home runs, Abreu hit 15.
? Abreu took 94 walks, Swisher took 97, in fewer plate appearances.
? Swisher was dangerous from both sides of the plate, whereas Abreu wilted against left-handers.
? Abreu has the advantage on Swisher in two categories: He had 22 net stolen bases to Swisher’s none (Swisher also had no caught stealing) and he hit more singles. Abreu had 65 more at-bats than Swisher. If you even out the playing time, figuring that Swisher would have continued on roughly the same pace, then Swisher would have hit 40 doubles (+11) and 33 home runs (+18). Abreu would have maintained his lead in singles, 118 to 65. That’s a big gap, but it comes to an advantage of 53 total bases, whereas Swisher is up 94, giving him a net advantage of 41 total bases.
? Because extra-base hits generate more runs than singles (I’m assuming that you know how a home run works), this works out to a small advantage for Swisher. If you look at a basic stat like runs created per game, Swisher created 6.5, Abreu 6.3. That doesn’t seem like a huge difference but:
? Swisher is an average defensive outfielder, whereas Abreu splashes around out there like a toddler in a kiddie pool. Since defensive plays not made lead to runs, deduct several from Swisher’s total. At that point, Swisher’s advantage is no longer so small.
PS: Regarding Melky Cabrera vs. left-handed pitching: Yes, he has gone 6-for-14, all singles, against southpaws this postseason. However, for the full season he hit .268/.343/.420 against them. These were breakthrough results, though the power portion was inflated by an early surge. From the halfway point on, he hit .265/.337/.361, albeit in a small sample. Given that his career rates against lefties is .255/.325/.355, the latter number seems more likely to replicate itself in the future than the former, and has more predictive power than a 14 at-bat .420 streak, because Ted Williams is dead, by which I mean that no player is likely to carry that kind of performance forward for any real length of time.
WORLD SERIES HEAD-TO-HEADS PART II
While writing Part I, I was so caught up in getting past the obvious A-Rod/Pedro Feliz match-up at third that I never typed the words, “EDGE: YANKEES.” If it hadn’t been obvious before, well, now the suspense is over.
CARLOS RUIZ (15.6 VORP, 11th among catchers) vs. JORGE POSADA (35.7, 3rd)
Ruiz is a career .296/.406/.432 hitter in 26 postseason games, which is kind of amazing when you consider that he’s only a .246/.337/.379 hitter in the regular season and that he also went 1-for-14 in the 2008 NLDS. If you’re looking for Jeff Mathis II, here he is, with the same position and everything. Defensively, Ruiz is a good thrower, not a great one. He and Posada threw out about the same percentage of baserunners this year. He’s much better than Posada at corralling balls in the dirt, but then everyone is. The thing to remember about Posada is that as good as he is in the regular season, he seems to be play a bit tight in October. He’s played in 25 postseason series (a “wow” number all by itself) and he’s had good series and bad but overall has hit only .238/.353/.388. He keeps up his selectivity against good pitching, which is nice, but the rest of his came suffers. EDGE: YANKEES, but you can see how it could go the other way.
RAUL IBANEZ (38.5, 6th) vs. JOHNNY DAMON (39.3, 4th)
Ibanez was more productive than Damon on a per-game basis but played less due to injury… Ibanez’s season breaks down into two parts, pre- and post-DL stint for a strained groin. At the moment he went down, he was having the season of his career at .312/.371/.656. A month on the shelf cooled him off considerably, and he hit .232/.323/.448 the rest of the way. His postseason has been a mixed bag.
The difference in Ibanez’s production this year was that while he was the same hitter he always has been against right-handers, but he killed lefties, knocking 13 home runs in just 144 at-bats. His career rates against them stand at .269/.326/.434, which isn’t of the same level but does give him more proficiency in lefty-on-lefty battles than your typical southpaw hitter.
Damon slumped in September and disappeared in the first round of the playoffs before coming back strong against the Angels. He too isn’t too damaged by seeing a left-handed pitcher, although most of his power disappears. The same thing happens when you take him out of the new Yankee Stadium. Ibanez will spend some time at DH in this series, including Game 1. Ben Francisco should be a defensive upgrade. Slight EDGE: Phillies.
SHANE VICTORINO (37.7, 5th) vs. MELKY CABRERA (17.1, 22nd)
A rare two-time Rule 5 draftee, it took some time for Victorino to find his place in the Majors. He’s in the prime of his career right now, and he’s just good enough to start — whenever he slips a little he’s going to be no fun anymore. He does most of his hitting in Philadelphia. A switch-hitter, he’s more powerful from the right side, which means turning him around is not the greatest idea. Cabrera struggled in the first round, then hit well against the Angels, though like all Yankees a few more hits with runners on would have made it a faster and more painless series than it was. Defensively, this matchup is a push. Offensively and on the bases, Victorino is significantly better, and he’s been a postseason monster in other series, including both rounds this year. EDGE: Phillies.
JAYSON WERTH (42.8, 3rd) vs. NICK SWISHER (30.9, 10th)
Philadelphia’s big weapon against CC Sabathia, Werth crushes lefties, batting .302/.436/.644 against them this year and .294/.391/.570 for his career. He strikes out quite a bit, but is patient, powerful, and runs the bases as well as any non-burner in the game. He also excels defensively. It has been an unusual career for the former first-round pick, for it took a change of position and several changes of organization for Werth to find himself. He made his first All-Star team this year, at age 30. We’ve already talked too much about Swisher lately, but the Yankees can be competitive here if he can get out of his own head. Even if he does, this is an EDGE: PHILLIES.
BENCH AND DH
In his handful of interleague games, Charlie Manuel used the DH spot to get one of his weaker defensive players, either Ryan Howard or Raul Ibanez, off the field. Ibanez is nursing an injury (torn abdominal muscle), so he will DH in Game 1 with midseason acquisition Ben Francisco (open your golden gates) patrolling left field. Francisco is one of those tediously decent role players. Starting he would mediocre you to death, but in spots he can be helpful keeping his position above replacement level. He had a reverse split against lefties this year, hitting only .247/.351/.392, but that might have been a one-time thing. Phillies pinch-hitters hit only .186 but did hit 9 home runs in 237 at-bats. Matt Stairs, 41, had a rough year but remains very selective and is still a threat to hit the ball a long way now and again, with f
ive home runs in 62 pinch-hit at-bats. Lefty hitter Greg Dobbs, who used to have a share of the third base job, was strictly bench material this year and his game suffered for it. As a pinch-hitter he was only 9-for-54.
Hideki Matsui gives the Yankees an edge when there is a DH and a strong weapon on the bench when there isn’t. Brett Gardner gives the Yankees a speedy option the Phillies don’t have, and Jerry Hairston won’t kill you if he has to take an at-bat or two. EDGE: YANKEES.
Starters and bullpens, managers, and my prediction, all before curtain time tonight.
LIVE ROUNDTABLE TONIGHT
I’ll once again be participating in the a live roundtable with my Baseball Prospectus colleagues during Game 1. As always, everyone is welcome. If you want to hang out at game time, or just submit a question early X marks the spot.
FALL WEATHER: SHOULD’VE PUT A DOME ON IT
Hey, when you’re spending that much money, what’s a few dollars more?
ANGELS-YANKEES HEAD TO HEAD, PART III
LEFT FIELD: JUAN RIVERA (22.4 VORP, 14th among left fielders) vs. JOHNNY DAMON (39.3, 4th)
Rivera was having a breakout year until his bat went dead in August and stayed dead through the end of the season. On the last day of July, he was hitting .314/.357/.525. From then on he hit .246/.296/.408. A hamstring injury might have played a part. Note that even with the slump, he did smoke southpaws to the tune of .333/.385/.645, with 12 homers in 141 at-bats. Righties were a different story: .271/.313/.418. Rivera is a fair defensive left fielder. The same can’t be said of Damon, who is getting to fewer and fewer balls these days as he loses speed and bobbles more than his fair share of those he does get to. However, with the aid of the New Yankee Stadium, which supplied almost all of his home run power, Damon was an offensive plus in left. Unfortunately, he went cold in September and stayed cold in the first round of the playoffs. The good news is that he has a good record against John Lackey and Joe Saunders, not so much against Jered Weaver. Then again, the predictive power of those small samples is exactly zero. I’m calling it EDGE: YANKEES on the home field advantage; Damon knows how to pull the ball into the right field wind tunnel. Rivera faces the wrong way to do that, and hasn’t hit the Yankees pitchers well in any case.
CENTER FIELD: TORII HUNTER (41, 3rd) vs. MELKY CABRERA (17.1, 22nd) and BRETT GARDNER (11.4, 28th)
On a per-game basis, Gardner was more valuable than Cabrera; he was also the better ballhawk in center field. The presence of Freddy Guzman on the ALCS roster suggests that Joe Girardi might have it in mind to start him some; we can only hope so. Cabrera will undoubtedly play against lefties Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders, though he can’t really hit lefties. Hunter did slump a bit in the second half, following an injury time-out, but he did hit a home run against the Red Sox (again, for whatever these three-game samples are worth). Hunter’s defensive abilities, always overstated, have shrunk a bit, but he’s still very capable. EDGE: ANGELS
RIGHT FIELD: BOBBY ABREU (35.6, 7th) vs. NICK SWISHER (30.9, 10th)
On a per-game basis, there was very little difference between Abreu and Swisher, and Swisher is by far the superior defensive player, despite his staggering about the outfield about once a game. He usually catches up to the ball he’s weaving after, while Abreu does not. In short, the offense is a wash, the defense is not. One note: in a decent sample of plate appearances, Swisher has been fairly helpless against John Lackey, though he did once touch him for a home run. Small EDGE: YANKEES.
DESIGNATED HITTER: VLADIMIR GUERRERO (15.6, 8th) vs. HIDEKI MATSUI (33.4, 3rd)
After his July DL stint, which lasted for about a month, the Impaler hit .300/.347/.498. Weird thing about his season: he hit just .250/.276/.410 against lefties, whereas he usually destroys them. We have to consider that a fluke that could reverse itself at any time during the playoffs. Conversely, you can hope that Matsui gets to face a lefty in the late innings — and since the Angels two best relievers are southpaws, he will. He’s never been bothered by them, and he positively smooshed ’em this year. EDGE: YANKEES.
STARTING PITCHER , GAME 1: JOHN LACKEY vs. CC SABATHIA
The Angels whacked Sabathia around a bit this year, but as we covered a couple of entries back, not in a way that suggests that they have his number. Lackey pitched well against the Yankees in his one start against them this year. His career record against them is 5-7 with a 4.66 ERA. As you know, he has good control and keeps the ball down without exactly being a groundball pitcher. He’s always been very effective against right-handed hitters, but that’s less of a problem for the Yankees with their lineup of switch-hitters and lefties. Lackey is an excellent pitcher with a fine postseason record (3.02 ERA in 12 games) and due to injury he hasn’t pitched all that much this year. Call it EDGE: YANKEES, but it’s not a sure thing.
This is all Yankees. The Angels will rely mainly on four relief arms: Brian Fuentes, Darren Oliver, Jason Bulger, and Kevin Jepsen. Jepsen throws hard but can be wild, and left-handed hitters smoked him (.373/.426/.455). Bulger is almost the same story. He throws hard but wild. He was, however, very hard to hit, allowing opposing hitters just a .207 average. Left-handers did manage to touch off five home runs in only 107 at-bats. The second act to Oliver’s career is a wonderful story. Primarily a starter from 1993 to 2004, he was generally pounded, his ERA 5.07. He spent 2006 in the minors and got pounded there as well, but nonetheless caught on with the Mets as a reliever in 2006. Since then, he’s pitched 223 games, has a record of 19-4, and an ERA of 3.19. In several seasons, including this one, he’s had a reverse split; lefties have hit him better than righties. He’s the team’s most reliable reliever, but the Yankees really damaged southpaws this year, something which also does not bode well for closer Brian Fuentes. Fuentes struggled at times this year, and manager Mike Scioscia flirted with a demotion, but there was really nowhere else to go. That he ended up leading the American League in saves tells you just how valuable the saves statistic is.
The Yankees pen is deep and versatile, deep enough that if a rainout means that the Yankees have to start a Joba or a Chad Gaudin somewhere, they could survive a short start without too much trouble. EDGE: YANKEES.
This is Joe Girardi’s first time in the rarified air of the LCS, whereas Mike Scioscia has been here before. The trick for Girardi will be, as it was in the first round, good bullpen handling and not getting too caught up in one-run strategies. Scioscia’s Angels run quite a bit and throughout the days leading up to this contraction the Yankees sounded almost jealous of their speed, but the fact is that the Angels do not always run well. They also bunt quite a bit, primarily with Erick Aybar and the punchless Jeff Mathis. This represents Scioscia trying to do more with these players than they are truly capable of doing, but except for select situations is probably counterproductive. It is worth noting that when both the Angels and Yankees did attempt to bunt, neither team was particularly successful — they failed to advance the runner about a third of the time. Girardi seems to like to hit and run quite a bit, a reaction to his team’s relative lack of speed. The Angels, on the other hand, seem to like to keep the bat in the batter’s hands and run and hit, letting the runner go, and if the batter swings, fine, and if not, not. On the pitching side, Scioscia had nine blown quality starts, which is to say that his starting pitcher had pitched well enough to qualify for a quality start but Scioscia kept in him long enough to give up some more runs. Girardi had only five, despite receiving more quality starts from his pitching staff. I’m going to rate this EDGE: YANKEES, because Girardi, having superior resources, knows he doesn’t have to push as hard. Scioscia is doing more “managing,” which often doesn’t help.
OFF TO THE ROUNDTABLE
Today, BP is doing another roundtable, a doubleheader covering both games. All are welcome. For more info or to submit a question, join us here.
Hideki Matsui is now hitting an excellent .280/.370/.516. There is life in the old boy yet. The average AL DH (it used to be redundant to say “AL DH,” but with the advent of interleague play, there is now such a thing as the NL DH) has hit .253/.336/.446 this season, which is depressing in that a position purely devoted to hitting has produced only slightly above-average offense, the league as a whole averaging .266/335/.429.
Teams with middling to miserable DH production include the Rays, who made a very expensive mistake in signing Pat Burrell; the Tigers (.245/.319/.390), primarily due to the decline of Carlos Guillen, Marcus Thames’ weak season and Aubrey Huff’s inability to hit in their uniform; the Royals, because Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman somehow think Mike Jacobs can hit (.231/.300/.395 as the DH); Seattle (Junior Griffey’s Seattle comeback is like one of those reunion tours in which none of the original band members participates); and Oakland (Jack Cust isn’t the hitter he was last year).
Some of the best DH production belongs to the Twins (primarily Jason Kubel, but also lots of Joe Mauer), Angels (Vlad Guerrero plus great work from almost every regular Mike Scioscia has rotated through) and the White Sox (until recently, Jim Thome). Thanks to Matsui, along with small contributions from Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter, the Yankees lead them all in hitting at the hitting position.
Matsui has done this despite bad knees and a stroke which has not made great use of Yankee Stadium — he’s hitting .268/.356/.481 there versus .294/.389/.561 on the road. Joe Girardi has kept him on the bench against some lefties, but Godzilla has never had a platoon problem and has creamed them, hitting .276/.348/.610 against southpaws. The semi-platooning has been primarily directed towards keeping Matsui’s knees functional as well as giving rest to the other Yankees veterans, and it seems to have worked out very well.
Matsui’s contract is up at the end of the season, as is Johnny Damon’s. Next year will be Matsui’s age-36 campaign. Damon will turn 36 this winter. It’s going to be a crowded winter for players whose main job is to hit. Likely free agents include Russell Branyan (if ambulatory), Carlos Delgado (ditto), Nick Johnson (likewise), Adam LaRoche (Mr. Second Half), Hank Blalock (having a miserable year at .237/.278/.466), Troy Glaus (back in the “if ambulatory” category), Bobby Abreu, Jason Bay (who plays the field but maybe shouldn’t), Jermaine Dye (if the White Sox don’t pick up his option), Vlad Guerrero and Andruw Jones.
These players are going to have to tamp down their financial expectations given how few slots are available, how limited their contributions, their generally advanced age, and of course, The Economy. This is true of Damon as well, who has had a strong year at the plate but whose defensive abilities are at ebb tide.
The Yankees have the option of filling both spots internally: Damon’s place with Austin Jackson, Matsui’s with some kind of rotation, but that would be a huge offensive blow. Unless Jackson takes an unexpected leap forward, there just won’t be enough hitting to make up for the loss. The Yankees could also re-sign one player, or both, while attempting to work Jackson into the mix. The International League playoffs could end as soon as tonight (Scranton is down two games to none in a best of five series) and perhaps we’ll see a bit of Jackson in the Majors soon after. They could also re-sign Damon, refuse to pay a high price to keep Matsui in the fold and sign whichever of the many free agent bats fits their budget.
There is no correct answer, except perhaps to observe that retaining two 36-year-olds is courting twice the danger of keeping one — one of them is likely to decline. Actually, there is a correct answer, and that’s two 23-year-olds in those spots, young players who can be Yankees over the next five to ten years, but unless Jesus Montero is going to get an express ticket to the Bronx, the Yankees don’t have even one of those guys in position.
WILL BIG PAPI BE A FORCE IN THE PLAYOFFS?
He’s been up and down since his miserable first two months, but on the whole he’s had a productive half-season’s worth of work since then, hitting .262/.353/.544 in 88 games, 82 of them starts. He’s hit 23 home runs in that span. Left-handed pitchers can neutralize him (.216/.298/.435 overall), but you can’t take him for granted in most situations.
A SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Tim McCarver Sings Selections from the Great American Songbook
I really, really hate to alert McCarver to the fact that “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is not part of the American Songbook, though Americans have sung it. It was written by two British fellows and made famous by Vera Lynn, the same chanteuse who is presently keeping the reissued Beatles CDs off the top of the charts in Great Britain.
NUMBER NINE… NUMBER NINE… NUMBER NINE…
Speaking of those Beatles CDs, I’ve been assiduously working my way through the remastered stereo set and enjoying the heck out of it. The music is much clearer, as if you had been listening through some kind of murky haze all of these years. You can make out small touches in the playing and singing that you couldn’t before, perhaps not even on the original vinyl, though I confess it has been years since I listened to those.
Coincidentally, yesterday I came across this quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut in my notes:
The function of the artist is to make people like life better than they did before. When I’ve been asked if I’ve seen that done, I say, ‘Yes, the Beatles did it.’
… I wonder if John Lennon knew he had won the battle of the White Album. The Beatles were writing and basically recording separately by this point, with each composer using the other three as backing musicians (and in Paul McCartney’s case, sometimes leaving them out altogether), so you can attribute each track individually and sort the sprawling mess that is the “The Beatles” (IE “The White Album”). George Harrison and Ringo Starr got a combined total of five tracks; as good as George’s are (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Piggies” and “Savoy Truffle”) you can’t call that more than an EP’s worth of material, whereas John and Paul each contributed a standard album of material. John’s White Album looks like this:
1. Dear Prudence
2. Glass Onion
3. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
4. Happiness is a Warm Gun
5. I’m So Tired
7. Yer Blues
8. Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
9. Sexy Sadie
10. Revolution I
11. Cry Baby Cry
12. Revolution 9
13. Good Night (sung by Ringo, but written by John)
I haven’t yet listened to the remastered “Revolution 9,” but in a perverse way I’m looking forward to it. If you look at this track listing, it anticipates John’s early solo albums. He wasn’t trying to write pop singles anymore (though “Dear Prudence” could have been one) and instead concentrated on emotional work that tried to express a deeper mood or feeling than good time rock and roll. Given that this is the same man who was primarily responsible for “I Feel Fine” and “Ticket to Ride,” both No. 1 singles, Lennon’s turn towards introspec
tion is, retrospectively, shocking and a harbinger of the group’s dissolution.
Here’s Paul’s White Album:
1. Back in the U.S.S.R.
2. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
3. Wild Honey Pie
4. Martha My Dear
6. Rocky Raccoon
7. Why Don’t We Do It in the Road
8. I Will
10. Mother Nature’s Son
11. Helter Skelter
12. Honey Pie
Here you have three tracks that could have been singles but weren’t — the Beatles’ 1968 singles releases were non-album tracks like “Lady Madonna” and “Hey Jude” — “Back in the U.S.S.R,” the Beach Boys parody, “Ob-La-Di,” which did get a belated single release in the US eight years later, and perhaps the irritating and ubiquitous “Birthday.” A souped-up version of “Revolution” was the B-Side to “Hey Jude,” but that’s the closest the group came to taking a single off the album. McCartney was still working the pop song-craft part of the street, with one song even inspired by his sheepdog. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Blackbird” were initially attempts at political relevance, though one’s enjoyment of those songs is greatly enhanced by being unaware of the discarded subtext. Or the sheepdog.
John’s would have been the better album. Take this, brother. May it serve you well.
With the amateur draft signing deadline having just passed, I want to spend a couple of entries here looking at the Yankees’ farm system with an eye towards a very specific problem, the absence of solid outfield prospects. The Yankees don’t have them and haven’t developed one in a very long time. While Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner have their uses, the last outfielder to emerge from the farm system and have anything like a substantial, above-average career with the Yankees was Bernie Williams.
This puts immense pressure on them to retain an aging Johnny Damon this offseason whether giving him another contract is a good idea or not. This is the same pressure that led to the decision to sign Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright a few winters ago when the farm system could not render up quality pitchers. That problem has been treated to a large extent, but the absence of quality position players continues to impel the Yankees towards free agent adventurism.
Since the great center fielder/guitarist, numerous outfielders have passed through the system on their way to the Bronx without making a lasting impression. The parade includes Gerald Williams, Shane Spencer, Ricky Ledee, Ruben Rivera, Kevin Thompson, Justin Christian, Kevin Reese, Shelley Duncan, Donzell McDonald and even Mike Vento. The best of the lot were Marcus Thames, who was dealt away to the Rangers for the mortal remains of Ruben Sierra in 2003, and Juan Rivera, a strong hitter with a tendency towards injuries. He too was traded in 2003, to the Expos as part of the package for Javier Vazquez.
What is meant by a “solid” outfield prospect? It’s a young player who might hit even five percent better than the league average at his position. That’s not asking for the moon or Joe DiMaggio. Five percent better than a Major League average left fielder would be .282/.358/.460; for a center fielder it would be .281/.353/.441; for a right fielder, .284/.362/.465. This is asking for a good player, not a great one. Don’t take those numbers too seriously — they’re just broad guideposts for a hypothetical player who might hit for more power or take fewer walks while arriving at roughly the same place. Whatever your definition of “slightly above-average outfield starter,” that is what is being aimed at.
Prior to the season, Baseball America compiled their list of the top 100 prospects in baseball and placed two Yankees position players on it, Austin Jackson (No. 36) and Jesus Montero (No. 38). Considering Yankees prospects exclusively, they ranked the top 30 players in the organization and found only 10 position players worthy of ranking that high. Among these were four outfielders: Jackson, Kelvin DeLeon, Abraham Almonte and Gardner.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus also compiled a top 100 prospects. As with Baseball America, Jackson (No. 46) was the only Yankees outfielder to rank among the elite prospects in the game. Goldstein also compiles rankings of each organizations top 11 prospects, plus honorable mentions. Using those lists, I compiled the top 86 prospective outfielders coming into the season. Just two of the 86, Jackson and DeLeon, belong to the Yankees.
Although Goldstein’s lists of 11 are more restrictive than BA’s top 30, the shorter list ensures that we are examining players who have a chance to start, as opposed to the likely reserves who often fill out BA’s lists for thinner organizations. Almonte may be the 30th-best prospect in the Yankees organization, but given his current offensive profile (“current” because he is quite young and could evolve) his chances of starting for the Yankees or any team is nil.
Thus, 84 of 86 top outfield prospects coming into the season belong to other organizations. The purpose is not to second guess — as you will see, some of the best of these prospects were early first-round picks, and thus unavailable to the Yankees due to the nature of their consistent high finishes, and it would be unfair to criticize them for that — but to ask what priorities and assumptions the Yankees were working off of in the draft, and to see if other teams are doing a better job of finding outfield prospects in the later rounds or on the international talent market, where good scouting and luck play a greater part.
If the Yankees are stumbling into fewer of those “solid” non-star starters than would be expected, be it because of organizational priorities or simply poor choices, we’ll see why as we explore the top 86 and where they were selected in the draft.
First Round (13): Colby Rasmus (2005/HS), Cameron Maybin (2005/HS), Andrew McCutchen (2005/HS), Brian Bogusevic (2005/C), Trevor Crow (2005/C)Travis Snider (2006/HS), Drew Stubbs (2006/C), Tyler Colvin (2006/C), Jason Heyward (2007/HS), Matt LaPorta (2007/C), Ben Revere (2007/HS), Wendell Fairley (2007/HS), Aaron Hicks (2008/HS).
What the Yankees did: These players were selected in the 2005 through 2008 drafts, so we’ll look at what the Yankees did in those drafts. In 2005, the Yankees picked at No. 17 thanks to the Phillies signing away Jon Lieber. Their own pick at No. 29 went to the Marlins because they signed Carl Pavano. By the time the Yankees picked, Maybin (No. 10), McCutchen (No. 11), and Crowe (No. 14) were off the board, as was Jay Bruce (No. 12). The Yankees spent their pick on the miserable high school shortstop C.J. Henry. Subsequently, John Mayberry (No. 19), Jacoby Ellsbury (No. 23), Bogusevic (No. 24), and Rasmus (No. 28) were selected.
In 2006, the Yankees gave up their first-round pick (No. 28) to the Red Sox to sign Damon, but for the second year in a row the Phillies handed them their own pick to sign a Yankee who wouldn’t help them much, Tom Gordon. By the time they picked at No. 21, Drew Stubbs had gone to the Red at No. 8, as had Colvin (No. 13) and Snider (No. 14). Another strong hitter, Chris Marrero, went to the Nationals at No. 15 (he was later shifted to first base). The Yankees selected Ian Kennedy. Two other outfielders went in the first 30 picks, Cody Johnson to the Braves at No. 24 (he appears to have potential in a Steve Balboni kind of way), and Jason Place to the Red Sox at No. 27.
In 2007, the Yankees picked 30th, last in the first round. Jason Heyward, who might be the best hitting prospect in baseball just now, was selected from the planet Krypton at No. 14. Ichiro-type Ben Revere went at No. 28, and the Giants took Fairley at No. 29, setting up the Yankees to shock the nation by selecting Andrew Brackman, the less said of whom the better. We’ll look at who was still on the board in the ’07 supplemental and second round when we get to the supplemental picks.
In the Year of Our Draft 2008, the Yankees picked at No. 28. Naturally, a lot of the interesting guys were gone. Even the Yankees’ own interesting guy was gone because they didn’t sign their pick, pitcher Gerrit Cole. Hicks was the only outfielder selected in the first round. He went to the Twins at No. 14.
These last four drafts have been borderline disastrous for the Yankees insofar as the first round, where the sure things are supposedly to be found. They completely missed on Henry, and only the recklessness of the Phillies allowed them to redeem the pick by taking him in return for Bobby Abreu, but it’s clear that if the Phillies took Henry they would have taken anybody — the move was the Alex Rios salary dump of 2006.
Brackman also appears to be a complete miss, but it’s too early to write him off despite the 6.56 ERA and seven walks per nine innings in the Sally League. The failure to sign Cole got the Yankees
an extra pick in the 2009 draft, but there’s still an empty spot in the organization where a player with one year of experience would have been.
Only Kennedy has rewarded the Yankees’ evaluation of him as a prospect, at least until his blood clot surgery this year. That, at least, is an act of God, not scouting. What rankles is the availability of Rasmus, now a rookie center fielder for the Cardinals, in 2005, not to mention Ellsbury, Matt Garza, and Joey Devine, all first-round selections after the Yankees took Henry. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances, such as Georgia boy Rasmus indicating he would not be happy in the big city, but the same cannot be said of the other players available at that spot.
First Round, Supplemental: Michael Burgess (2007/HS), Kellen Kulbacki (2007/C), Corey Brown (2007/C), Julio Borbon (2007/C), Zach Collier (2008/HS), Jaff Decker (2008/HS).
What the Yankees did: The Yankees didn’t have a supplemental pick in 2007, so they got to watch as Burgess, Kulbacki, Brown, and Borbon (now playing well in the Majors) were selected. In 2008, the Yankees did get a supplemental first-rounder due to the Rockies signing Luis Vizcaino. It was the 14th of the round, two from the bottom, and Collier and Decker had already disappeared by the time they picked. They used the pick on Stanford lefty Jeremy Bleich, now pitching at Double-A Trenton. Note below that a number of quality outfield prospects were available at this point, as several were selected early in the second round.
Second Round: Seth Smith, (2004/C), Nolan Reimold (2005/C), Jon Jay (2006/C), Mike Stanton (2007/HS), Charles Blackmon (2008/C), Cutter Dykstra (2008/HS), Destin Hood (2008/HS), Xavier Avery (2008/HS), Dennis Raben (2008/C), Kenny Wilson (2008/HS), Jay Austin (2008/C).
Now things get interesting, because any of these players were available at the time that the Yankees picked at the end of the first round. In 2005, the Yankees picked at No. 15 in the second round thanks to the White Sox signing Orlando Hernandez (there should probably be an axiom in baseball that says that if the Yankees don’t feel like spending the money to retain their own free agent player, that player is probably not worth having). Their own second round pick (No. 29) went to the Braves due to the ill-considered signing of Jaret Wright. The Orioles took current rookie Reimold two picks ahead of the Yankees, who selected reliever J.B. Cox, now pitching at Trenton.
The Yankees had no second-round pick in 2006 because their pick went to the Braves as compensation for Kyle Farnsworth, which is depressing. Cardinals center field prospect Jay would have been available to them. The Yankees had the last pick of the round in 2007. They made a solid pick in catcher Austin Romine, currently batting .277/.319/.445 for High-A Tampa. The Yankees picked 29th in round two, 2008. They went with Ole Miss righty Scott Bittle, who they elected not to sign. As we will see momentarily, this meant passing on a couple of quality outfield prospects who would be selected in the third round.
We’ll pick up with the third round in our next entry.