I’ve seen some suggestions, both here in the comments and elsewhere, that the next Yankees left fielder should be Carl Crawford, MVP of last night’s All-Star Game. There is nothing wrong with dreaming about Crawford, who is a terrific, entertaining player, a burner on the bases and in the field. Yet, his path to the Bronx is far from assured.
The first problem with projecting Crawford in pinstripes is the assumption that he will be a free agent this winter. That is not necessarily the case. The Rays hold a $10 million club option. If they choose not to exercise it, they would have to pay Crawford a $1.25 million buyout. The marginal cost to the Rays of retaining Crawford, then, is $8.75 million, or just $500,000 more than he’s making his season. That would seem to argue for another year of Crawford in Florida unless the combination of the weak economy and Tampa’s attendance issues — the reigning AL champs’ sales are up, but only by about 2,300 tickets a game — has put the team in a position where it has to cut salary to the bone.
That outcome seems unlikely for two reasons: First, the Rays have a few dollars in useless salaries coming off the books after this season. Troy Percival, Jason Isringhausen and Chad Bradford will combine to make $8 million this year. If the Rays replace them internally, something they’ve already been forced to do with two of the three, then Crawford’s salary is mostly covered. Secondarily, $10 million is high for a left fielder in the present economic environment, but not outlandishly so. It’s less than Raul Ibanez will make next year, or Adam Dunn, and just $1 million more than Milton Bradley. The Rays could absorb the $8.75 million next year, then attempt to re-sign Crawford to a lesser contract based on the new economic realities, or they could pass and take the first-round draft pick. Alternatively, they could pick up Crawford’s option than attempt to trade him a year from now. In short, there is no guarantee that Crawford will even be available to the Yankees.
A more difficult question, but not spectacularly more difficult, is whether the Yankees would really benefit from signing Crawford. Crawford is a very good player who has the potential to be a very bad one. His game is largely based around speed, with only a bit of power and patience thrown in. His batting average is driven by hitting on turf — he’s averaged .302 on the fake stuff versus .285 on grass. Since he doesn’t walk much, his on-base percentage on grass is only .324. His average is also driven by his speed. Nearly 10 percent of Crawford’s hits every year are of the infield variety. At some point, through age or the inevitable knee injury, he’s going to lose half a step, and when he does, close to 20 hits a year will disappear, as will the high stolen base totals, the triples and the stellar outfield defense. That will leave Crawford’s team with a player not too different from the one he was during his injury season last year. Crawford hit .273/.319/.400. That’s not helpful in an offensive era in which the average player can be counted on to do better than that.
You can’t know when Crawford will hit that wall, the one that waits for all players whose productivity is based on speed, but given that the team that signs him as a free agent will have to agree to a multi-year deal that carries the player at least into his early 30s (Crawford turns 28 in August), it’s likely that it will happen on his next employer’s dime. Signing any player, at any stage of his career, is always a gamble, but some gambles are lower percentage risks than others. As much fun as Crawford can be, he seems like one of those, a chance for an acquiring team to get burned. Just Crawford’s career road rates, the non-turf .285/.323/.423 alluded to above, suggests he could retain his speed and still disappoint in the wrong park. In other words, he’s probably more valuable where he is now than he would be almost anywhere else. Before clamoring for Crawford, it would be best to be sure of what one is getting. As the old saying goes, speed kills. In this case, the victims might include those paying a thirty-something Crawford’s salary.
NO MATTER WHAT
HAPPENS, IT’S GOOD FOR THE YANKEES
The next two weeks are going to be a fascinating, possibly
decisive time for the Yankees. First, they should have Jorge Posada back on
Friday, which means they’ll have something like their full offensive complement
for the first time all year–Brett Gardner
substituting for Melky Cabrera for the next several days
notwithstanding, though Brett is actually out-hitting Melky in May,
.357/.449/.619 to .321/.348/.429, so you can’t say the lineup is suffering too badly
for his absence.
The Yankees then take their reconstituted offense into
battle against the Indians, a team that’s no pushover but has real pitching
problems–even during their recent little winning streak, they were pounded more
often than not. Following four games at Cleveland,
where the Indians are 10-11, they go home for three against the Rangers, a
dangerous team but one that is not nearly so dangerous on the road due to their
low on-base percentage. Yes, their power hitters are going to knock a few balls
out of Yankee Stadium II, but so will the Yankees, and they should have more
runners on when they do so.
The Rangers are followed into New York by the Rays, 12-16 on the road and
suffering from a rapidly unraveling pitching staff. After that series, the Yankees go to Boston, where they get another chance to make
some kind of statement against the Red Sox. Before the Red Sox get to that
point on their journey, the Sox have three games at Toronto, which means that no matter what
happens, one team next to the Yankees in the standings will be losing. Then it’s
off to Detroit,
where the Tigers are a tough 15-7 and currently lead the American League in
lowest run average. Finally, they entertain the Rangers at home while the
Yankees are grappling with the Rays. This could be the moment where the Red Sox
see the race slipping away. Their starting pitching is surprisingly poor. Josh
Beckett has now had five straight quality starts, but there are still problems
beyond him, like getting Daisuke Matsuzaka under control, Jon Lester fixed, and
figuring out how to get rid of Brad Penny so one of the kids can come up and
presumably have an ERA under 6.00. They have let David Ortiz kill them all
season long, and replacing him is going to be a painful and divisive thing to
do. This organization is endlessly resourceful, and they won’t just fall apart,
but they have real problems right now.
As for the Jays,
after the Red Sox, they host the Angels for three and the Royals for three,
both winnable series but neither sure things, followed by four games at Texas, which won’t be
easy at all.
THE BULLPEN: A QUICK
Remember Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell. Better by far to
give Mark Melancon a long look before dealing the farm for a Jose Veras
MAKE IT STOP!
Are we done with Angel Berroa yet? Has anyone yet explained
his purpose? Does he have incriminating photos of someone?
It’s a small thing, a very small thing, the 25th
man, but then, remember what Joe Torre did with Homer Bush in 1998. Flexibility,
or for that matter a useful hitter off the bench, would allow the Yankees to
win more games. This would seem… obvious.
THE AROUND (AND
Giants 6, Braves 3:
Randy Johnson threw six strong innings for victory No. 299 (one run, three hits,
no walks, five strikeouts). You’d rather not see him back into 300, and some of
his recent starts have been rough. He’s an amazing physical specimen: in 52
innings, he’s got 54 strikeouts, 9.35 per nine innings. The man is 45 years
old, and there are many, many 25-year-olds who don’t get that many batters to
swing and miss. Only 12 pitchers have thrown as many as 100 innings in a season
at Johnson’s age or older. At 45, Nolan Ryan struck out 8.98 batters per nine
innings. Phil Niekro struck out 6.10 as a 46-year-old Yankee in 1985. There
have been five geriatric seasons in the 5.00s, including Satchel Paige’s 5.93
in 1952. (Paige was a lot further above his league average than Niekro was
above his.) Johnson has the second-largest differential between his rate and
the league strikeout rate after Ryan.
Angels 3, White Sox 1:
Everyone pitched well, even Gavin Floyd and someone with the last name of
“Weaver.” These things happen. In fairness to the last-mentioned, he currently
ranks second in the league in ERA, about a run and a half behind Zack Greinke.
Obligatory former Yankees watch: Bobby Abreu went 2-for-3, as did Juan Rivera,
who is now batting .293/.335/.415, which is kind of like current Brett Gardner,
but without the speed and defense or the promise of improvement.
Diamondbacks 5: After a miserable, miserable, rehearsals-for-retirement
start, Brian Giles has hit .295/.407/523 over his last 14 games, throwing in
nine walks. It’s something, though 14 games is hardly definitive. Good to see
the Padres bounce back over .500 after their recent winning streak was
terminated; usually a fringe team that starts acting dominant for a couple of
weeks will quickly demonstrate the way gravity works (as in, what goes up must
Twins 4, Red Sox 2:
Solid work all around by Twins pitching in this one, including three innings of
scoreless relief, 1 1/3 by Jose Mijares, a rookie lefty with a
ninth-inning-worthy fastball-slider combo currently working the middle frames…
Another two-hit day for Ellsbury; if you get your batting average up high
enough, eventually it won’t matter if you don’t walk or hit for power. Said
batting average is higher still than your current .307; see Dernard Span–the
difference is a few more extra-base hits and about 14 more walks in exactly the
same amount of playing time.
Mets 7, Washington 4: A
wild, wild night for Johan Santana, who still seems on pace to win that elusive
third Cy Young award. Three straight wins for the Mets with a lineup that for
the Yankees would be missing Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada. It’s
the Nats, of course, so thank the Lords of Good Timing, but all credit to the
Mets for being able to execute… And Daniel Murphy, who banged a home run off a
rather idiotically placed sign.
Reds 6, Astros 1:
Seventh straight loss for the Astros, who are starting to get to the place
where a 100-loss season becomes a real possibility–something that has never
happened in what has been a generally successful franchise despite never having
had a champion. From 1969 through last year, the club had won 175 more games
than it had lost… It’s not clear who they can trade, as the few exciting
players are signed to outsized contracts, and they have no impact-level
prospects, so the journey of the ‘Stros, not just through the rest of this
year, but into the next, is going to be an interesting one. As C-3PO said,
there’ll be no escape for the princess this time… Remember I was talking about
Phil Hughes and quality start percentage a couple of days ago? Bronson Arroyo
is at 60 percent, but his ERA is over 5.00–in his three losses, his ERA is
Indians 12, Rays 7:
The Rays continue to lead the AL
in runs scored per game, but their pitching is like Cerberus’s chew-toy. That
they are hitting so well despite their injuries and a B.J. Upton who ranks as
one of the most futile hitters in the biz is amazing. The regression of the
hurlers is less so, and was widely predicted, though I for one was not so quick
to believe it. I certainly had higher hopes for control artist Andy Sonnanstine,
who has not been so controlling this year. As we saw with Ian Kennedy, a
similar pitcher last year, this model of hurler is either all right or all
wrong–their (lack of) stuff doesn’t allow for a middle ground. The good news
for the Rays is they have some alternatives, such as David Price (now up with
the club) and Wade Davis (not yet).
Marlins 6, Phillies 2:
Sometimes even the champions lose to a pitcher named Burke Badenhop, though not
often. Forty-five thousand watched this one at Philadelphia, and as Casey Stengel liked to
say, the attendance was robbed. If Ryan Howard was hitting better than
.227/.303/.455 (four home runs, 88 at-bats), they’d at least have more to talk
about during these Badenhop bow-downs.
Mariners 6, Athletics
1: Nomar Garciaparra heads back to the disabled list. Just thought I would
point out the biggest non-news of the day. I’d also like to point out that
Mariners infielders are hitting .236/.280/.375 as a group, and that’s counting
Russell Branyan. With his fourth cought stealing, Ichiro equals his total for
all of 2008.
Dodgers 8, Rockies 6:
Andre Ethier had better hurry and find his stroke, because if Juan Pierre is
still hitting .400 when Manny comes back, even I’m going to have a hard time
arguing that he should be benched–that Pierre has allowed the Dodgers to feel
so little pain over Ramirez’s banishment is one of the stories of the year. The
story of the game was that Joe Torre’s pen bent but didn’t break.
Cubs 5, Pirates 2:
Notable mainly for Carlos Zambrano’s ejection-worthy explosion and the
relocation of the Cubs to a game over .500.
Tigers 8, Royals 3:
Another strong start for Rick Porcello, though the low strikeout rate is still
troubling. Kyle Farnsworth threw a scoreless inning in the loss, his usual spot
for scoreless innings.
Orioles 12, Blue Jays
10: Add Nolan Reimold to the list of possibly invigorating youth the
Orioles are now playing with–next year, the AL East could be an even more
difficult place to win a pennant than it is now, though pitching is still going
to be a problem by the Bay. As for the Jays, by the All-Star break we’re not
going to remember they were ever in the race.
Cardinals 3, Brewers
2: In which the Cardinals take control, largely due to their busy bullpen,
though Todd Wellemeyer was solid for five. You wonder if LaRussa’s hardworking
relievers can keep up the pace for the rest of the year, though to be fair he
has spread out the work… Albert Pujols has just one home run in the last two
MORE FROM ME
continues to be wholesomely updated with new entries, and I’m about to start an
argument with a commenter. Warning: politics!
MORE FROM THE BALLPARK ( 9:35 p.m.)
As I write, the Yankees are batting in the bottom of the fourth. Andy Sonnanstine, who has not been particularly good this year, have held them to one hit (three hits — in the time it took me to complete this sentence, Teixeira singled and Matsui doubled. Either the Yankees are heating up or my sentences are too long). The Rays have played some excellent defense, as is to be expected given that by at least one measure, defensive efficiency, the Rays are the best leather team in the league — just as they were last year.
With two runners on, the ballpark is plenty loud — I wonder if the acoustics are really as has been said or the fans haven’t had enough to cheer about… And Cano flies out to Carl Crawford in left, and all at once it’s quiet again.
A little earlier, A.J. Burnett skipped a ball through Dioner Navarro’s toes, and that reminded me of a brief encounter I had with sports talk radio earlier today. The caller to Sirius-XM’s midmorning show argued that what the Yankees needed to do to beat the Red Sox was hit them with more pitches. We seem to hear this sentiment every time the Yankees drop a series to the Sox: the Sox intimidate the Yankees but the Yankees don’t intimidate them. It sounds pathetic. I can never remember the old saying correctly — is violence the first refuge of the incompetent of the last? It seems to work either way. Whichever the case, such sentiments are an example of it. The way the Yankees will beat the Red Sox is to win some games. I know it’s a novel idea, but if they hit better than .150 with runners in scoring position against Boston, they’ll score some runs, maybe even more runs than Boston scores. Engaging in a beanball war is not going to achieve much more than getting players suspended at best and hurt at worst. These teams see each other a lot of times this year, and the last thing either of them needs is to see sporting competitiveness spill over into violence.
The thing that really struck me about the call, after its ignorance, was its super-ignorance. The Yankees have hit EIGHT Red Sox this year. The Red Sox have hit TWO Yankees. Don’t you have an obligation to watch the actual games before making so reckless a recommendation? Couldn’t the Yankees try hitting a few home runs before starting a fight? All we are saying is give peace a chance. Or at least common sense.
As I put the pen down on this particular entry, it is the top of the sixth. The Rays have two on and one out after a Jason Bartlett sac bunt (Bartlett had struck out in his two previous at-bats, so the bunt sorta kinda makes sense). Burnett is already over 100 pitches, and I see someone loosening in the bullpen. “Two riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl.” Maybe it’s howling at Jose Veras. Wouldn’t you?
SCENES FROM A BALLPARK ( 7:23 p.m.)
The Pinstriped Bible comes to you from the Bronx, New York this evening, where the Yankees and Rays are about to joust. Let’s see… The Rays thrashed the Red Sox, the Red Sox thrashed the Yankees, so next in the sequence is… Yankees thrash Rays? My boss is in the seat next to me, so I’m sticking with that line. Not good to look too curmudgeonly and pessimistic in front of the guy who signs the checks.
Despite the tough losses of the last few days, there was a lot of animated good spirits on display on the pregame field. Bernie Williams was on hand, joking with Derek Jeter, then chatting with Melky Cabrera behind the cage. I couldn’t make out what they were talking about — the ballpark amps were at 11 — but I hope it was some insight about growing at the major league level or how to hit from the right side, and not the best way to shift to an F#m chord from a D#7 diminished chord without breaking your fingers. Reggie Jackson was also on hand, in uniform (Williams was in civvies), watching over batting practice and chatting eagerly with some reporters (off the record ad strictly personal, natch). A few feet away, John Sterling was interviewing Joe Girardi, but somehow Joe was doing a lot more listening than talking.
I briefly tried to imagine that it was 1927, and the Yankees taking batting practice were Ruth, Gehrig, Meusel, etcetera, but quickly gave up: it was too bloody loud. In 1927 batting practice must have sounded like batting practice: the crack of the bat, a few people shouting on the field and in the stands.
It must have been pure heaven.
As Nick Swisher came out of the cage, Girardi asked him a question. I assume it was, “How did you feel hitting today?” or something like that. Swisher made a face, shook his head, and must have said something sarcastic, because Girardi bopped him over the helmet with the mitt he was carrying. Swisher isn’t tall, but Girardi had to do a little hop-step-jump in order to pull off the gesture.
Angel Berroa and Brett Gardner took extra batting practice. Berroa caught my eye when he cracked a ball far deeper into the stands than any of the Yankee regulars had–you’ll note that whereas every Yankee starter could put on a show in batting practice, most of them are more applied in their work, drilling line drives in one turn in the cage, pulling balls in another, and so on. Berroa was hitting deep flies, and one traveled deep into the right field bleachers, landing just short of the back row, just in front of the “26 World Champions” sign. This seemed like a wasted drill–Berroa is not going to be cranking balls out of the park under game condition. It’s just not a skill he has. Few hitters achieve any kind of consistency when uppercutting the ball and trying to hit home runs, and Berroa won’t be the first. Why not try to develop a skill that will keep you on a Major League roster instead of one that won’t?
Gardner’s BP seemed, to my weak, rhino-like eyes, to be a mixed bag. On some swings he used the lower half of his body to pull crisp line drives to right, including one which carried out of the park. On a few other swings, he lunged with his upper body as he has been doing in games, and hit something weak the other way. As he finished, he turned to Kevin Long and asked, “How was that?” I didn’t catch Long’s response, as at just that moment, the scoreboard kicked off the Graig Nettles “Yankeeography” at such volume that John Sterling could have been chastising the Hebrews for their dalliance with the Golden Calf, or threatening to turn Sodom into a parking lot. At one point I looked up and saw an image of Tommy Lasorda as big as an aircraft carrier. “Surrender, Dorothy!” he screamed. I dropped to my knees. In doing so, I narrowly avoided being run down by the entire Rays roster, which was engaged in a pregame stretching exercise in which they hopped, skipped, and jumped down the third base line singing, “Three Little Maids from School Are We.” Okay, they didn’t really sing that, but they could have — they were skipping to the proper rhythm.
This should in no way be construed as a comment on the collective masculinity of the Rays. The only point, if there is one, is that grown men rarely looked dignified when hopping and skipping. It’s also a good way to lose your wallet.