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.
The fact that the game probably won’t mean much to the outcome of the season notwithstanding, Tuesday night’s ballgame had to be one of the most frustrating losses of the year for the Yankees. They got out to a big lead, but Joba Chamberlain was unable to shut down an enemy offense that has had a hard time getting on base at a .300 rate on the road. At this point, it’s impossible to tell if Chamberlain is just lost or the Yankees have lost him, playing so many games with his schedule in the interest of protecting him that they’ve actually played head games with their own pitcher, sabotaging him mentally.
Cut to the bottom of the ninth. Ron Washington decided to finish up with Jason Grilli, never a good idea against a top offense. Predictably, the Yankees started putting runners on base with a Johnny Damon single and a Mark Teixeira walk. Washington then reached for closer Frank Francisco, the Santa Domingo Treat, who couldn’t throw a strike, or at least not a good one. A-Rod walked. Hideki Matsui singled. The much-maligned Jorge Posada singled. Robinson Cano singled. What had been a 10-5 game was unexpectedly 10-9, men on first and second with none out and Nick Swisher at the plate.
Joe Girardi called for a bunt. You can first-guess the play, and I did, but it’s not a clear-cut decision. After last night, Swisher is a .200/.376/.313 hitter at home, and although there isn’t any particular reason that Yankee Stadium II should be such an impediment to him, it isn’t unreasonable at this point for Girardi to assume that Swisher isn’t likely to get a big hit in that spot. That said, Girardi could also have tried to give Swisher a mental boost by showing confidence in him — there’s nothing stopping Swisher from hitting at home except Swisher. Alternatively, Girardi could have also looked at the situation — pitcher falling apart, a batter at the plate who, even if he fails to hit, is still taking a ton of walks, and let Swisher try to walk to reload the bases. The double-play threat was relatively weak — the league double play rate is about 11 percent. Swisher, with all his fly balls and strikeouts, is a little better than average in this regard, hitting into a double play in only 10 percent of his chances.
An additional negative to calling for the bunt derives from goals: are the Yankees trying to tie the game or win it? Conventional wisdom says the former, but with two runners on, none out, and a pitcher in mid-meltdown, they had a good chance to do both. Even if Swisher had succeeded in getting his bunt down, Girardi was falling into the trap that Earl Weaver warned against: if you play for only one run, you’ll only get one run. The Yankees were in a position to win, not tie, the game. There was a very good chance that Swisher would have walked, and although Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter are double play threats, even a double play has a good chance of scoring the tying run with the bases loaded and none out. In addition, as bad as Swisher has been, the Yankees would have still had to get through Cabrera to survive the inning, and unlike Swisher, Cabrera doesn’t have the redeeming virtue of selectivity.
You know how it worked out. It easily could have gone the other way; if Swisher executed on the bunt, perhaps the game would have gone to extra innings, and the Yankees, with Phil Hughes, Mo Rivera, and the rest, not to mention the last turn at bat, still would have had a very good chance of winning. Still, with Chamberlain’s erratic performance, perhaps provoked by the Yankees’ erratic handling of him, the Rangers trying to give the game away twice, the bunt call by Girardi, and Swisher’s failure to execute, this easily qualifies as the most annoying loss the Yankees have suffered in a long time. As I said above, the good news is that in the long run it shouldn’t mean very much at all.
Five shopping days remain until rosters are frozen for the postseason, which means Brian Cashman can still get his trading shoes on and make a deal. I realize I’ve had a Magellanic range of opinions on Cabrera, but given his current slump (.236/.306/.380 from June 1 on, .198/.239/.326 in August) as well as Brett Gardner’s limitations and his uncertain status as he returns from a thumb injury, and the Yankees might benefit from revisiting an offseason trade target, Mike Cameron of the Brewers.
There are four factors which should combine to make Cameron a relatively cheap acquisition should Doug Melvin be willing to deal: the Brewers have next to no chance of getting to the postseason; Cameron is 36; Cameron is making $10 million; Cameron’s contract is up. The old man has had a relatively good season at .259/.362/.456, and his defensive work is still strong. He’s also played on four postseason teams (though his October work has been miserable). Offense isn’t the Yankees’ problem, but every little bit helps when your goal is to win a World Series, and it’s difficult to image the Brewers would hold out for a top prospect…
…Unless they somehow have delusions that getting nothing is better than getting something, which Melvin suggests is the case, saying, “I’ve gotten calls, but they don’t want to give much up at this time of year … They’ll give you cash, but they don’t want to give me a player … I can’t imagine that a team would give up a good player for one month, unless there is a key injury. I don’t anticipate anything.”
Cameron would likely be a Type B free agent, meaning that if the Brewers offered him arbitration (a big if) and he signed elsewhere, they would receive a sandwich pick after the first round. You’d think a functional Minor League arm would be more valuable than the 40-somethingth pick of the draft, but there’s no way of knowing. And, of course, if the Brewers offer arbitration and Cameron takes it, they’re in big trouble — it’s a weak year for center fielders, and Cameron’s numbers are going to look pretty good come negotiation time.
TO THE MATS WITH READER COMMENTS
THE POSADA DISCONTENTS III
Thanks Steven, but you fail to mention besides Jorge’s injury last year that the Yankees did not have CC, A.J., and others on the pitching staff. Furthermore, you also fail to mention that Jorge was not the reason the Yankees were World Champions in the ’90s…it was their pitching staff! Pitching is the name of the game! Yogi Berra, and a host of other top notch catchers will tell you the same thing.
Let’s try this: For all their weaknesses last year, the Yankees finished six games behind the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card. Depending on whose definition of replacement level you use, in 2006-2007, Posada was worth between six and eight wins above replacement. Last year, Jose Molina was worth somewhere between a fraction of a win and two wins above replacement, almost all of the value in defense, as Molina was among the 20 worst hitters in baseball to have any kind of playing time last year.
The Yankees got less than one win out of Posada last year. Pretend Posada had been in the lineup having his typical season. The Yankees pick up four to six wins, which means that anywhere between 75 and 100 percent of their deficit disappears. Once you get down to a gap of one or two games. The Yankees had too many problems to overcome the Rays, but Posada’s inj
ury was the one thing that kept them for qualifying for the postseason in spite of everything else that went wrong.
Ever see the old baseball musical “Damn Yankees”? It has a song about denigrating Posada in it. It’s called, “A Man Doesn’t Know What He Has Until He Loses It.” Then again, the Yankees lost Posada last year and some people still don’t know.
MAYBE THE BEST THING EVER WRITTEN
Ken Davidoff vs. A-Rod’s detractors. It’s all quite obvious, really, but for some people it requires repetition.
BILL HALL AND OTHER DISCONTENTS
Apologies for yesterday’s skip day — I find I cannot sleep my first night in a hotel, and so I got home from the gig and collapsed straight away and at great length. All those who wished crab cakes for me in the comments, sorry to disappoint, but I played it conservatively — one of those combos you never want to hit in life is, “bad shellfish/300 miles from home.” As much as I love Maryland’s signature dish, I just couldn’t risk it.
Continuing on the “Find a sub for A-Rod” beat, I note this article from the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel regarding rookie Casey McGehee’s pursuit of the Brewers’ third base job. McGehee, 26, hasn’t done much in the minors to suggest that he could start in the Majors — he’s a career .279/.332/.409 hitter in nearly 700 games — but he does have a decent glove, so Ken Macha might be a little infatuated with having a guy at that corner who can make a few plays.
What this means is that Bill Hall, who was once rumored to be headed to the Yankees as part of a deal for Mike Cameron, could be in play again. Hall has been slowed by a calf injury this spring, he’s owed about $18 million over this year and next (plus a 2011 buyout), and he hasn’t done anything exciting with the stick in three years. However, we’re talking about third basemen who might out-perform Cody Ransom, so our threshold is extremely low. A reasonable projection for Hall would be somewhere around .250/.310/.425, or about what he did in 2007. You could also pencil in a great many strikeouts and some frustrating errors at third base.
Still, the Yankees would get a few home runs, decent production against left-handers (.278/.355/.493 career), and the versatility of a player who has also spent whole seasons starting at shortstop and center field. That last might yet come in handy.
YET ANOTHER REASON SPRING TRAINING STATS ARE MEANINGLESS
Kevin Cash is hitting .385 (5-for-13). He’s a career .184 hitter, with cause.
WE COULD USE MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS (WELL, I COULD)
Just received my copy of Allen Barra’s new biography, Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee. I was all set to read it and give you a thoroughgoing critique of the work, but when I cracked open the book at random, I landed on this passage: “Steven Goldman, author of the brilliant analysis of Casey’s evolution as a manager, Forging Genius…”
So I guess any pretense of writing an objective review is out the window. I will, however, still read and report to you on the book, because it really fills a needed hole in our understanding of those great Yankees teams. Whereas Yogi has written or collaborated on many books about himself, and there have been a few notable tomes on those teams as a whole, or on other members (mostly numerous volumes on Mickey Mantle), the definitive book on Berra, one of the greatest catchers of all time and an indispensable member of those championship teams, had never been written.
Yogi is famous for his personality, but when you look at those dynasty teams, the gap between Berra and the next-best catcher in the league was often no smaller than the Grand Canyon. Casey, once asked the secret of his success, said, “I never play a game without my man.” The man to whom he was referring was Lawrence Peter Berra, and he was right.
TONIGHT, TONIGHT, TONIGHT
Yeah, it’s a bad Phil Collins song, but it’s what I’ve got right now. I’ll be in Manhattan this (Thursday) evening talking any topic you wish to throw my way, along with my Baseball Prospectus colleagues Kevin Goldstein, Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, and Neil deMause at 6 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble at 5th Avenue and 18th St. be there or be… somewhere else, I guess.
For those choosing that latter option, you have another chance on Friday, and from a safe distance, as I’ll be doing a live chat beginning at 1 p.m. EST at Baseball Prospectus. As always, if you can’t hang out as the chat is ongoing, you can still submit questions ahead of time at the same link.
MIKE CAMERON REVISITED
A quick reprise of some words on Mike Cameron from October 23:
Cameron is a low-average hitter with decent selectivity, some power, and a great many strikeouts. He continues to be a good fit in center, if no longer the Gold Glover he used to be. As always, the question with any player of his vintage is, “How long will he be able to stay at his present level?” which in this case would be something like .250/.325/.440. Once again, we must offer this caveat: those numbers are distinctly in the Eh Zone (adjacent to the Twilight Zone, though Rod Serling only went there for later episodes of “Night Gallery”), but the Eh Zone is an upgrade on the Melky Zone, or, as George Harrison once sang, the Sour Melk Sea. “Better” is not the same as “good.”
Cameron’s last two seasons, the most recent of which included a suspension for failing a banned stimulant test, were intriguingly consistent. Here he is against left-handers in 2007 and 2008:
You’re thinking, “Gee whiz, Fonz! That’s pretty good,” right? Let’s move on to the rates against right-handers.
Hrm. Not so good … Everything about Cameron shouts, “Beware! Player in decline!”
A couple of weeks later, I noted:
In a bad luck year, or a year in which age takes hold, Cameron could very easily slide to a below-.300 OBP. And suddenly, having gotten rid of Melky, you’re dealing with his OBP again.
My conclusion in October:
Everything about Cameron shouts, “Beware! Player in decline!” He had a difficult time getting more than a one-year deal last winter. If the Yankees blow him away with two years, they’re going to get burned, if not in year one than definitely in year two, though year one has the distinct odor of possible bust as well.
I would argue that if Brett Gardner hits as he did during his second stint with the Yankees (August 15 on), .294/.333/.412 with eight steals in nine attempts, the Yankees will be in good shape next year given the defensive bonus they should also reap from his range. If Gardner hits only as well as he did in September, .283/.321/.377, they will basically be getting what they got from Melky in his good days, plus speed. It’s not great, but you can live with it given good defense and the thought that Gardner will build with experience and reach greater heights further on, say, .295/.390/.410. Remember, Gardner is a more selective hitter than he showed in the majors this year, and these .320, .330 on-base percentages are a little low.
What the Yankees seem to be missing here is that if they upgrade in right field, they can worry less about bringing in someone expensive to play center. An outfielder-DH in the Adam Dunn mode, combined with reasonable performance from Gardner, would do far more for the team than Cameron plus an Abreu return, or Cameron plus Nady. You can make book right now on a Damon-Cameron-Nady outfield being both defensively bland and offensively subpar. This is a formula for another year of mediocre offense and thousands of words wasted on why the Yankees aren’t “clutch” when they just don’t have the runners on base to be heroic.
The Yankees need to keep thinking outside of the box — their box. The box they’re standing in right now is the 1980s box, the box of indiscriminate application of superior financial resources. It leads to big contracts for the likes of Dave Collins, not to championship rings. They had the right idea last year. They didn’t get good results for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean they were wrong, just that sometimes you have to tinker with a plan before you get it right.
Six weeks later, I stand by that. Another point: Earlier today, Cliff Corcoran pointed out that Jim Edmonds is still available, and he won’t cost the Yankees anything but money. If you take his Cubs numbers (.256/.369/.568) as something he’ll be capable of revisiting at 39, then you have the makings of a pretty good center-field platoon (with someone), one that would almost certainly out-produce Cameron. Edmonds would allow Cabrera to be traded for something else of value, if there’s a market for him beyond Milwaukee, or for that matter, a more valuable Brewer — not an expensive old guy they’re trying to get rid of.
As for Melky, it’s ironic that he might go to the Brewers, because he’s basically Rick Manning, a good defensive outfielder who had a 1500-game Major League career despite doing almost nothing with the bat after his second Major League season. He spent the 4.5 years of his career with the Brewers, coming over just after they went to the 1982 World Series and did his best to impede them from going back. He succeeded. Melky’s timing is uncannily similar.
FAT, BEARDED YANKEES GUY WITH TWO SKINNY GUYS
I dropped by Bronx Banter Breakdown today at the studios of that other local sports network to talk CC Sabathia with Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran.
Note that I got a self-deprecating “fat guy” joke in there. I think I need to hire a personal trainer to come to my house. Any trainers out there want to shrink me at a discount rate in exchange for frequent endorsements on a well-read baseball blog?