Monthly archives: November 2006
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2006 Post Mortem: Infielders
C Jorge Posada .277/.374/.492 (.305 EQA)
At an age when the bottom drops out on most catchers, Jorge Posada had one of the three or four best seasons of his career. He ranked fourth among all major league catchers in VORP, behind a trio of youngsters (Mauer, McCann and Martinez). Best of all, Posada had what was undoubtedly his best defensive season. Whereas Joe Girardi at long last taught Posada how to block the plate in 2005, Tony Pena taught him how to set his feet to throw resulting in the best caught stealing percentage of his career this past season. At age 35, Jorge Posada is still improving his defense and hitting better than most catchers do in their prime.
1B Jason Giambi .253/.413/.558 (.334)
Although Giambi's generally been regarded as a DH for years, 2006 was the first season in his career in which he played more games as a DH than he did in the field. Troublingly, despite the prolonged exposure to the non-position, his alarmingly consistent positional splits persisted. Giambi the DH hit a solid .224/.373/.531 (.301 GPA), but Giambi the first baseman hit a resounding .289/.459/.592 (.355 GPA). Unfortunately, Giambi's defense continued to decline this past season to the point at which the idea of Giambi playing the field more than once or twice a week is untenable.
That's the bad news. The good news is that Giambi, despite the DH-related decrease in batting average, remains one of the most productive hitters in baseball (he had the fifth best EQA in the AL in 2006 and was tied with Chipper Jones for the eleventh best mark in the majors). It seemed unthinkable in the offseason following Giambi's scandal, injury, and illness-riddled 2004 season, but Ga-bombi's 2005 and 2006 seasons, in which he's hit a combined .262/.426/.547 with 69 homers and 200 RBIs, rank with his best. By both EQA and OPS+, Giambi's best seasons, in order, are his final season with the A's in 2001, when he wrongly lost the MVP to Ichiro Suzuki by a mere eight points, the previous year, when he properly won the award, his underappreciated first season with the Yankees in 2002, 2005 and 2006. In chart form that looks like this:
Yes, three of Jason Giambi's five best seasons have come in pinstripes.
It's just been announced that the Yankees have won the right to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Kei Igawa, who was posted by the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League. The winning bid, alternately reported as $25 and $26 million, was actually $26,000,194 (the 194 being Igawa's 2006 strikeout total). The losing bids are not announced, though word has leaked out that the Mets had bid $15 or $16 million and the Padres had also placed an eight-figure bid. The Mariners, Orioles, Giants, and World Champion Cardinals were among the other teams believed to have been interested in Igawa. The Yankees will have until midnight on December 28 to sign Igawa. Should they fail to do so, they will not have to pay the bid amount.
So who the hell is Kei Igawa? He's a 27-year-old left-handed starting pitcher. His best pitch is said to be his curve ball, though some reports say that the pitch is actually a change-up that drops like a curve. He also has a slider in the low 80s and a 90-mile-per-hour fastball. With that repertoire he has lead the Central League in strikeouts in three of the last five years, won the Central League MVP award in 2003 (20-5, 2.80 ERA), and lead the Tigers to two Central League pennants (though Hanshin lost in the Japan Series both times). As is often the case with curveballers, however, he's quite susceptible to the longball, surrendering a whopping 52 over the 2004 and 2005 seasons combined--this in the Central League's short 146-game season.
According to this scouting report, however, Igawa made a major adjustment in 2006 that helped to reduce his susceptibility to the home run. Here's the relevant passage:
He's finally figured out that the [straight, 88-90 MPH] fastball is a gopher pitch when centered and overexposed so he'll go to it less often (will throw it down the middle when he's confident the hitter is unbalanced) and try to spot on the corners or miss out of the zone with it when he isn't sure if the hitter is sitting on it. This adjustment is HUGE, as he has finally learned to pitch backwards and mix his pitches better (which he MUST do in America) in 2006 and its making him a far better bet to succeed in the transition to MLB. If Igawa were to pitch the way he pitched pre-2006 in the big leagues (aggressively with his straight 89 mph fastball), he wouldn't have been very successful despite the great K/BB ratios. Preseason Igawa wasn't as attractive of an option, but 2006 answered a lot of questions.
Indeed, his 2006 statistics support that analysis. In 2004 and 2005 combined, Igawa surrendered 1.26 homers per nine innings. In 2006, he allowed just 0.73 homers per nine innings. He also walked a career low 2.11 men per nine innings in 2006, which is an important sign as another knock on Igawa is that he has the sort of controlled wildness that could lead to a spike in his walk rate stateside. As for that "great K/BB ratio," his career mark is 2.97 K/BB, which is excellent, but not quite "great" (Mike Mussina's 3.58 career K/BB is a better example of "great").
With those caveats, Igawa compares quite favorably to his infinitely more celebrated countryman, Daisuke Matsuzaka, as this quick tale of the tape shows:
Our man Pete Abraham is back and has the highlights of yesterday's Yankee action. It'll be fun following the Baseball Winter Meetings next week via The Lo-Hud. Man, it seems as if Manny Ramirez might actually be traded this year. Go figure. With Rich Aurillia reportedly close to signing a deal with the San Francisco Giants, Andy Phillips may get another shot at backing up Giambi, after all. Elsewhere, according to the Globe and Mail, Greg Zaun will re-sign with the Blue Jays. Drag.
It's official. Mike Mussina has signed a two-year deal to stay with the Yanks. Moose made a couple of few enemies recently, but Yankee fans should be happy to see him return. Considering the dough that's being thrown around this winter, the Bombers got Mussina on the cheap.
The Lost Episodes
One Yankeeography you are not likely to ever see is: 1974 and 1975, "The Shea Years." On the surface those years are not remembered because the Yankees lacked real star power. Not that they didn't have any stars--Murcer, Catfish, Bonds--but they didn't have a lot of them. Mostly, they had grinders like White, Munson, Nettles, and Sweet Lou. It wasn't until Billy Martin took over as skipper mid-way through the '75 season that the Yankees got some real star power.
Still, they were both interesting seasons. Playing at Shea Stadium cost Murcer his career in New York; ironically--and for different reasons--it would eventually cost his replacement, Elliot Maddux, his career in pinstripes as well. In 1974, "The Band on the Run" Yankees made an entertaining run at the pennant. That was the year Nixon resigned as President and George Steinbrenner was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions. Sparky Lyle played virtually the entire season without having signed a new contract. He could have become Andy Messersmith but he settled on a new deal just as the leaves started to turn.
Though the team took a step back the following year when injuries just killed them, Gabe Paul kept busy building a winner, and the Yankees left the wildnerness of Queens poised for success. Dick Williams, Catfish, the Chambliss trade, oh, there were lots of compelling things about the Shea Stadium Yankees. Anyone out there remember seeing them play in Queens? If so, do tell...
The Yanks are looking for a solid back-up catcher this winter. As lovable and huggable as Sal Fasano was and is, he is likely not the man for the job. However, according to Newsday, the Bombers are interested in Gregg Zaun. We certainly know he can hit better than what the Yanks have had in recent years.
The New Deal
From part one of Steve Marantz's interview with veteran newspaper columnist Bob Ryan:
You've got the shift in readership to the likes of Bill Simmons and all of the people on the Internet, who are a little less accountable than newspaper writers. But they're all out there forcing us to re-evaluate where we fit in. It's not the same and it won't be the same our influence is waning and eroding. Simmons is not doing what mainstream columnists do he has no desire to speak to anyone in power he observes and does what he does. There's room for everybody the access to information is staggering, imposing and intimidating. You've got Baseball Prospectus and all that number crunching by genius people dissecting baseball in ways mainstream writers never could it's very intimidating.
Hot Stove season means I go to the movies again. I went to see "Borat" and "The Departed" over the last two days and found them both mildly enjoyable. "Borat" is a tight, well-made comedy but I didn't love it (most everyone else in the theater seemed to enjoy it more than I did). I appreciate that it is mercifully short--shouldn't all comedies clock in under 90 minutes?--but essentially the movie is put-on. Sacha Baron Cohen cons people, he puts one over on them and the results are supposed to show America as it really is. I'm not buying it. What I learned from this movie is that drunk frat boys can be sexist, bigoted creeps, that rednecks say the darndest redneck things and that born again Chritians are hopped-up Jesus freaks. I mean, tell me something I don't know. There is something that is altogether too easy in all of this. The Borat character can be very funny in subtle, observational ways, but part of the comedy here is to be aggresive and hostile. It's Reality TV-based satire, "Jackass" with subtext. Part of the thrill for audiences is seeing how far Cohen will go, how far will he push the envelope. He doesn't disappoint, though he he clearly knows how far to go. For instance, he approaches a group of black kids in a tough neighborhood and in short time is able to disarm them. However, he isn't rude or offensive with them as he is with easier, less threatening white targets.
Cohen is a modern version of Andy Kaufman, and his Borat displays a vulnerability and sensitivity that Kaufman rarely brought to his characters (with the exception of Latka). And it's Borat's vulernability that makes the movie winning--the audience let out a collective "aawwww," when Borat was down-on-his-luck--they really liked him. "Borat" moves along at a brisk pace and it's over before you know it. Ultimately, I just can't get into making people look like morons (even if they are morons) for the sake of "exposing ignorance." I think it's mean and cheap. That's just me, though. Cohen is convincing and he does have some fine moments. I'll be hard-pressed to forget the naked-wrestling scene, which managed to go from hilarious to flat-out gross to daring and then hilarious again.
I expected "The Departed" to be good cheese and I wasn't let down. I mean if Scorsese can't make a gangster movie anymore then you know he's really shot. He's like The Rolling Stones in this one, the old rocker still doing his thing. In fact, the movie opens up with the Stones' "Gimmie Shelter." Unfortunately, Scorsese doesn't have the same sly sense of humor that his old friend Brian DePalma used to have, and there is no joke, no irony to the use of a song that not only sounds like a song that Scorsese would use in a gangster movie but one that he has already used ("Good Fellas"). But that's never been his strength, and otherwise, this an enjoyable ride. The movie moves by quickly and without much consequence but it is hammy fun. The young cast adds a level of self-consciousness to it all though. It's like watching kids play cops and robbers. Marky Mark, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon grew up in a generation of American boys who idolized Scorsese's tough guy movies. Now they get to play tough too. Marky Mark has the hammiest role of the three but I thought he was funnier than he was tough. Damon handles his role well, but I just couldn't buy DiCaprio--who I enjoyed in "The Aviator" and "Catch Me if You Can". Didn't buy him as tough or tortured. Scorsese tries to add some emotional heft to the movie through DiCaprio's character and it doesn't stick. But the movie still clicks along so that DiCaprio doesn't kill things. Unlike "Cape Fear," another Hollywood turn by Scorsese, "The Departed" never becomes turgid.
The movie is too long and there is a boring subplot with a woman (in a thanklessly written role). But Nicholson is fun and his right-hand man is pretty scary. Alec Baldwin chews up some scenery too. In all, it's like "Glengarry Glen Ross" meets "Oceans 11." I'd say that it is one of Scorsese's most entertaining movies in years. That said, the movie slipped out of memory quickly after I left the theater. Fun fluff but really it's just the same old song.
Eat and be Chubby
Happy Holidays to everyone. Hope you and yours have a safe and satiating day of it. It's raining, windy and cold here in New York. Still no word from the Yanks regarding Mike Mussina's physical but that is likely just a formality. Hey, at least the Yankees aren't going knuts spending big bucks on the likes of Juan Pierre and Gary Matthews, Jr. Good grief. Meanwhile, here is the final word on the AL MVP award, from our pal Steve Goldman.
But finally, let me leave you with this before you dig in to the bird mit all der fixings, football, and all that other soporific stuff. For me--and undoubtedly for many of you too--one thing to continue being thankful for are two of the most amazing websites of all-time: retrosheet and baseball-reference.com. Actually, they are in cohoots with each other these days, which is a beautiful thing. Here, check out the 2006 Yanks for example. You can click on Schedule, Transactions, Lineups, and Batting Orders. It's a Nerd's Delight, believe me. Talk about one-stop shopping. So to all the guys at B-Ref and Retrosheet, we owe you a great deal of thanks. Rock on. You've made the world a better place for seamheads near and far.
Thanks for Giving
If there is any one man baseball players have a reason to give thanks to, that man is Marvin Miller. Murray Chass makes a case for Miller to be elected into the Hall of Fame. Color me cynical but I don't have much faith that Miller will ever be given his due. That's too bad, but it says more about the voters than it does about Miller or his tremendous impact on the game.
Ain't it the Truth
According to Tim Marchman in the New York Sun:
The selection, announced yesterday, of Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau as the American League's Most Valuable Player is dumb and indefensible, good evidence of why no one takes baseball writers seriously.
It's hard to be outraged when you have little faith in the voting process.
Ah, those RBI. They are the magic numbers that propelled Justin Morneau ahead of his more deserving teammates Johan Santana, and Joe Mauer--not to mention Derek Jeter--today as Minnie's first baseman wins the AL MVP. Congrats to Morneau. Otherwise, this is a bum call.
For the uni-curious, check out a contribution of sorts I made to one of my essential daily reads, Paul Lukas's Uni Watch Blog, but be sure to clear some time as the web site I brought to Paul's attention could make the next few hours disappear very quickly.
I'm with the DJ
I know that it is foolish to get too caught up in awards, but it would be really cool if DJ wins the AL MVP this afternoon. The only thing that would burn my ass is if they give it to Justin Morneau. If Joe Mauer or Johan Santana win it, that's one thing as I think they are both deserving, but Morneau? That pick gets that Gas Face. Reading articles like this don't exactly fill you with confidence in the voting process.
Robert Altman, the prolific, wildly uneven, but sometimes brilliant film director died last night at the age of 81. "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "M*A*S*H," and "The Long Goodbye" are three of my favorite movies of all-time. Oh yeah, and "Nashville" was pretty formidable too, wasn't it? Some found Altman's inimitable style--which featured over-lapping dialogue, and meandering narratives--pretenteous, but in his best work, it was refreshing and poignant. Rest in Peace, Big Dog, and thank you for all the wonderful cinematic moments.
Pitchng Prescription: An Oldie, But Goodie
While we await the results of the AL MVP voting, allow me to share an idea that popped into my head while looking over yesterday's MLB transactions, specifically these two headlines:
First of all, no, Moose's deal still isn't final, though pending a physical today it will be done by tomorrow. And, yes, he seems to have picked up an extra half-mil along the way.
Second, in this wild offseason that has already seen the Cubs go crazy on Alfonso Soriano ($136 million/8yrs) and the Red Sox bid $51,111,111.11 just to negotiate with Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka, the following deals all look mighty reasonable:
All relatively low-risk, short-term contracts that, despite the marquee names involved, are actually commensurate with the player's level of production. What's the common thread? The players involved range in age from Mike Mussina, who will be 38 in just a few weeks, to Jamie Moyer, who just turned 44.
There are two things I draw from this. First, the Yankees' decision to take Mussina's hometown discount rather than make an expensive long-term commitment to a younger league-average-at-best starter such as recent conversation pieces Ted Lilly or the execrable Gil Meche was not only wise, but has thus far been underappreciated. Second, Brian Cashman should follow his own example and go after the now-available Tom Glavine.
Glavine, who will be 41 in March, earned $7.5 million in 2006 with an additional $5.25 million deferred (restructured in May from an original $10.5 million). He also just picked up a cool $3 million via his buyout from the Mets. All of which suggests that he could easily be had for less than Mussina, say $18 to $20 million over two years, possibly with money deferred. Consider the pros to such a deal:
Now, it's very possible that Glavine doesn't want to leave the National League, so all of the above may be moot, but it's certainly something that Brian Cashman should be exploring.
Meanwhile, the MVP announcement should come around 2pm EST. I don't expect we'll be disappointed.
Serve You Up Like Stove Top Stuffin'
Man, lil' Soriano...can you say Jackpot? Dag, kid. Wonder how Lou will take to Sori's penchant for Cadillacing triples into singles? Well, I guess so long as he pops 40+ jacks a year, it's a problem he'll just have to live with. As expected, Nomar is staying with the Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Yanks are laying relatively low. Go figure.
2006 Post Mortem: Starting Pitchers
You can find the outfielders here.
Chien-Ming Wang 3.63 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 1.46 K/BB, 33 GS
Although Mike Mussina actually pitched better over the course of the full season, Chien-Ming Wang emerged as the Yankees default ace in 2006, winning 19 games, and fulfilling all of the promise of his strong rookie season. Looking at Wang's monthly splits, he decreased his ERA in each of the first four months of the season, topping out with a 3.03 mark in his five July starts and following that up with eight scoreless innings against the Blue Jays on August 2.
That August 2 start was the later part of a run of 19 consecutive scoreless innings, a streak that was broken when the White Sox scored in Wang's 158th inning of the season. Though somewhat coincidental, that number is not insignificant. In 2005, Chien-MingWang set a career high by throwing 157 innings between triple-A, the majors, and the postseason. Over his first 157 innings of 2006, Wang posted a 3.55 ERA and allowed exactly one base hit per inning and a 1.25 WHIP. Over the remainder of his season and the postseason, Wang posted a 3.80 ERA and allowed 1.24 hits per inning and a 1.44 WHIP.
Curiously, Wang also increased his strike out rate by more than a K per game and dropped his walk rate below 2 per 9 innings after that 157th inning. But then Chien-Ming Wang's strikeout rate is one of the more perplexing statistics in baseball at the moment. For all of his success in 2006, Wang actually experienced a decrease in his already alarmingly low strikeout rate from the year before. In fact, Wang's rate of 3.18 K/9 was the lowest by a 19-game winner since 1980.
That year two men, the A's Rick Langford and another Yankee sinkerballer you may have heard of named Tommy John, won 19 games while striking out 3.17 and 2.65 men per nine innings respectively. Each of these men resembles Wang differently. John was a Yankee hurler adept at inducing groundballs, getting 2.36* grounders for every fly in 1980. Langford, though also a sinkerballer, was less adept at the grounder, getting just 1.11* grounders for every fly that season and an only slightly higher ratio of ground balls in the surrounding seasons. Instead, Langford's success in 1980 had more to do with his good fortune on balls in play (.259 BABIP).
As far as the reasons for his success, Wang is more John than Langford, as he had a fairly typical .293 BABIP in 2006, but boasted the major league's third most extreme groundball rate (3.06 GB/FB). Rather, where Langford resembled Wang was in his relative youth (Langford was 28 in 1980, John was 37) and the sharp increase in the innings he pitched that season. In his first season as A's manager, former Yankee skipper Billy Martin allowed Langford to throw 290 innings in 1980, an increase of nearly a third over his previous career high of 218 2/3 from the year before. Wang's increase in 2006 was even greater, a whopping 43 percent more innings than he'd ever thrown before in a single season (including the postseason, Wang pitched 224 2/3 innings in 2006).
Langford managed to replicate his success in the strike-shortened 1981 season and suffered only a modest drop off in 1982. But despite the strike and his own less-stellar pitching saving him from cracking the 240 innings mark yet again, Langford's elbow went under the knife after the 1982 season and he never again pitched a full season. While some might be tempted to use Wang's extreme efficiency (only Greg Maddux and Roy Halladay threw fewer pitches per inning in 2006) to quell concerns over his workload, it won't work. Wang was as even more efficient in 2005. Given Wang's history of shoulder problems (labrum surgery in 2001 and his DL scare late last season), the Yankees should have been more cautious with his workload this past year.
If Wang's shoulder remains intact in 2007, what should the Yankees expect from their young star? Consider the three other pitchers who induced more than three times as many ground balls as flies in 2006:
You know, I've been so consumed with work over the past month that I forgot to mention that Bronx Banter turned four years old back on November 7th. Here is a look at the first post I ever wrote here. Anyhow, I feel great going into Year Five. Cliff has been a valuable addition over the past two seasons, and I'm proud of the community of readers that keep coming back (both those who use the comments section and those who don't). The whole pernt was to build a community in the first place so I feel as if the banter has been a success. I've always been more interested in starting up a dialogue than I have in necessarily being any kind of expert. While I feel that I've grown considerably as a blogger, I also know that I've learned so much from you all, and for that I am grateful.
I've spent much of the fall working on new writing assignments, including some freelance work for Variety, not to mention my gig with SI.com. I'm also contributing a few chapters to a forthcoming Baseball Prospectus book as well as editing a compilation of Pat Jordan's best journalism. I've read over a hundred of Pat's articles and profiles over the past six weeks, material which covers almost forty years. Picking out the best 30 or so is not easy but is a tremendous amount of fun--it's like making a literary mix tape. In addition to selecting the pieces, I'm also contributing an introductory essay, and I've conducted a Q&A which will appear in some way, shape or form, at the back of the book.
Yo, when I started doing lengthy interviews with baseball writers back in 2003, Pat was one of the guys I most wanted to speak with. Now, I'm responsible for proposing, pitching and selling a project devoted to his best writing. I can't tell you how stoaked I am about this. Yup, Bronx Banter has been a great launching pad for me, and it is still rewarding to blog about living in New York and following the Yankees with you guys.
Keep comin' back. We'll leave the light on.
The Yanks lost out on the Matsuzaka bidding as the Red Sox hope that they've landed another Pedro Martinez. However, the Bombers are this close to signing Mike Mussina to a two-year deal: reports from the Post and the News.
I would have loved to see Matsuzaka in pinstripes. Even though he'll be pitching for Boston I still hope he does well in the majors. The Yankees did hold their own against Pedro, after all. When the Sox ink Matsuzaka he sure will make them a tougher team. That'll give the Yankee-Sox rivalry more juice, which isn't all bad.
Hey, Big Spender
Once the number is confirmed with the official acceptance announcement tonight by Lions, it will be very interesting to hear commissioner Bud Selig's response to his friend John Henry's fiscal behavior in this matter. Imagine if this were the Yankees blowing open the market like this? (Sources say George Steinbrenner's bid for Matsuzaka was around $30 million and somehow even The Boss won't mind having lost this one considering what it would have cost him.)
Christina Kahrl believes that Matsusaka will be worth every penny.
Murray Chass thinks that this whole business says a lot about George Steinbrenner's diminishing role as The Boss in the Bronx:
In the past, Steinbrenner would not have passed up an opportunity to comment caustically on what the Red Sox bid, especially with the evil empire label still in his mind. Those who have heard many of his comments can only shake our heads in sorrow and accept that an era has passed.
But the tough part comes now. It begins in earnest tonight with the official announcement that the Red Sox have the winning bid to negotiate exclusively with Daisuke Matsuzaka. In addition, the Yanks strongly believe Boston is pushing hard to sign J.D. Drew to bat behind David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.
Finally, on a minor note, Joe Girardi will return to the YES Broadcast booth next year.
According to the Baltimore Sun, the Yankees have traded Jaret Wright and cash to the O's for relief pitcher Chris Britton:
Britton, a 23-year-old right-hander who was the Orioles' eighth-round selection in the 2001 draft, was possibly the team's second-best reliever as a rookie this past season behind closer Chris Ray . Britton was 0-2 with a 3.35 ERA and one save in 52 games.
The Yanks have traded two veterans this week for young arms. This is what everyone has been asking for, right?
Exploring Their Options
The Yankees have to decide today if they will pick up Jaret Wright's option for 2007. Given the state of the Yankees' rotation at the moment (the old and injured, the young and unproven, and Chien-Ming Wang), it seems well worth the extra $3 million to keep Wright around as insurance (the buyout on his $7 million option is $4 million). But the latest rumor is that the Yankees will do with Wright what they did with Gary Sheffield, pick up his option then flip him for prospects.
The rumored destination for Wright has been Baltimore, where he'd be reunited with Leo Mazzone much like Sheffield was reunited with Jim Leyland in Detroit. I wasn't aware that Baltimore had any prospects (other than Nick Markakis, and the Yanks ain't gettin' him), but this is Jaret Wright we're talking about after all. Credit Brian Cashman for a fantastic strategy here. With Sheffield he turned a player they were likely going to let walk away for nothing into three impressive young arms. If they do deal Wright, they'll either have taken his $4 million buyout off the books and gotten live bodies in return for the favor, or, if they wind up sending cash with Wright, will likely wind up turning an oft-injured 30-year-old pitcher with a bad contract who averaged just a hair more than five innings per start in the third best season of his career last year into some young talent for no more than the $4 million that as of the moment is essentially a sunk cost.
In other news, the deadline for eligible players to file for free agency was yesterday, which means those players who have filed are free to negotiate with all thirty teams starting today. The Yankees who have filed are Miguel Cairo, Octavio Dotel, Tanyon Sturtze, Ron Villone, Bernie Williams, and Craig Wilson, as well as Wright and Mike Mussina, who's $17 million option the Yankees will likely buyout for $1.5 million by Wednesday's deadline. In addition to that group, Nick Green and Sal Fasano both elected to become free agents after being outrighted to triple-A last month. The Yankees also have a long list of six-year minor league free agents. You can find that list on the side-bar under "players." Among the players listed are Aaron Small, Terrence Long, Ramiro Mendoza, Kris Wilson, Jorge DePaula, Ben Davis, Russ Johnson, Felix Escalona, Jesus Colome and Frank Menechino. Bubba Crosby, who was also on that list, signed a one-year major league deal with the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday. Several other sites have included Wil Nieves on that list as well, but as far as I can tell he's still on the Yankees' 40-man roster, and is thus ineligible for six-year minor league free agency.
Meanwhile, despite the rumors that circulated on Thursday that either the Rangers or Red Sox had come in with the top bid on Daisuke Matsuzaka, the actual results remain unannounced, as the Seibu Lions have until Tuesday to make their decision. (I feel like I should post that sentence on the sidebar until the decision is final.)
According to Jon Heyman, Sheff is headed to the Motor City.
* * *
Cliff here with some quick takes on the three pitching prospects the Yankees have obtained from the Tigers (from my comments to the previous post):
Humberto Sanchez is a big Dominican righty who went to high school in the Bronx. He'll be 24 in May and cracked AAA for the first time late in 2006. He pitched well there in nine starts, but was shut down in late July with tenderness in his pitching elbow (a reoccuring problem as he's made no more than 23 starts in any single season). His track record doesn't wow you, but he has high strikeout rates and seems to have brought the wildness he suffered in the low minors under control. Last year he allowed just four homers in 123 innings over 20 starts thanks to a Chien-Ming Wang-like mid-90s sinker. Bottom line: he's young, gets his Ks, is reducing his walks, keeps the ball in the park and on the ground, and is almost ready for the show. Assuming he passes his physical, he should be inserted right into the fifth starter equasion with Darrell Rasner and Jeffrey Karstens.
Kevin Whelan, apart from being hilarious as Mr. Subliminal back in the day, is a high-strikeout, high-walk righty reliever who was drafted by the Tigers out of Texas A&M last year. He'll be 23 in January and flat out smoked the Florida State League (high A) this year to the point that his high walk rate almost didn't matter. Anthony Claggett is a very similar sort, but with fewer walks, but also fewer Ks and six months younger. He didn't allow a home run in 59 1/3 innings in the Midwest League (A-ball) in 2006. Basically these two are both like some sort of mix between Kyle Farnsworth and J. Brent Cox, with Whelan being more of the former and Claggett more of the latter. I expect both to advance quickly as long as they're able to make some small improvements on their control.
. . . And That's The Word
Steve Swindal, Randy Levine, and Brian Cashman made a promotional appearance in Staten Island yesterday to announce the fact that the Yankees have bought their New York Penn League affiliate. As part of the deal, the Staten Island Yankees will host a Yankees Old Timers Game next summer and SI Yankees season ticket holders will have special access to both regular and postseason tickets in the Bronx. I'd be all over that if it weren't for the fact that I just can't get hyped over players in short season A-ball, no matter what their prospect status.
At any rate, the event gave reporters a chance to pepper the Yankee GM with questions, which is why you'll read the same quotes from him in all of the papers this morning, or you could just cut to the chase and check out Peter Abraham's handy summary.
Cashman didn't say anything groundbreaking, though he did say that he considers Jason Giambi the team's designated hitter and is in the market for a right-handed-hitting first baseman (the unspoken part of that being that Andy Phillips had his chance and blew it).
In the meantime, we can all continue to wear out the refresh buttons on our browsers waiting for news on Daisuke Matsuzaka or word of a Sheffield trade. Speaking of the latter, J.D. Drew just opted out of the remainder of his contract with the Dodgers, leaving L.A. with Andre Ethier as their best under-contract outfielder. Sheff tends to burn his bridges, but the Dodgers had a different manager, GM, and owner when he was last there. I'm not saying Sheffield is likely to head back to L.A., but the Dodgers could enter the discussion, further driving up his price. Which, of course, means we'll have longer to wait before having any actual news on the Yankees' most recent right-handed first baseman.
The next bit of news we're likely to get will be the Yankees' decision on Jaret Wright's option, which must come no later than Sunday. Cashman didn't tip his hand yesterday, but I'm in favor of the Yankees hanging on to Wright, largely because of the size of his buyout. Wright's option is for $7 million, but the Yankees will have to pay $4 million of that to make him go away. That $4 million is a sunk cost, which means that keeping Wright really only costs the Yankees $3 million, which is a perfectly fair price for the sort of performance he turned in last year (27 starts, a roughly league-average ERA). Rodrigo Lopez, Bruce Chen, Cory Lidle, Jason Johnson, Gil Meche, and Carlos Silva are just a few of the pitchers who earned similar, but larger amounts in 2006, none of whom posted a higher ERA+ than Wright.
If you rank the pitchers the Yankees have under contract for next year by career major league starts, the fourth name on the list--after Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, and Chien-Ming Wang--is Kyle Farnsworth. Rank them by major league starts in 2006 and the list is Johnson, Wang, then Jeffrey Karstens with six. And Johnson just had back surgery. Yes, Mike Mussina is likely to join that group shortly, and with Karstens, Darrell Rasner, Philip Hughes, Tyler Clippard, and, heck, even Sean Henn in the queue the Yankees have a handful of rookies who could outperform Wright in 2007. But for $3 million it seems silly not to hold on to a live arm that, if nothing else, could hold a spot for Johnson's rehab or a few warm up starts for Hughes in Scranton during April and May, then bringing a useful bench player or reliever in a trade. Heck, if the Matsuzaka deal pans out, Cashman just might get more for Sheff and Wright than Pat Gillick did for Abreu and Lidle, despite the fact that Gillick was dealing better players with more leverage.
One of the Greats
Rest in Peace, Johnny Sain.
If Sheff Riffs and Nobody Cares Did he Really Riff?
Fine Young Men
Baseball America lists the Yankees top ten prospects. Thanks to Steve Lombardi for the link.
What's Happening? Nada Much
In the meantime, I ain't got nuthin' for ya man, so here's something dopey to chew on:
Oh, my bad, I almost forgot. In case anyone missed it, check out Brian Gunn's fine recap of the World Serious over at THT.
I turned to Emily late last week and said, "I miss baseball."
"Me too. Things feel so empty without it."
I'm fortunate enough to have a woman in my life who not only tolerates my passsion with baseball but who thoroughly enjoys it herself. (Is it any wonder we're getting hitched?) Em usually catches the first part of the game on the radio during her drive home; if I come home late, nine times out of ten, she'll be sitting there on the couch with the game on, waiting for me. You know the old Weaver saying: "This ain't football, we do this every day." Baseball is a lifestyle.
But now there's nothing, and we're adjusting to our winter routine--cooking shows, channel surfing, Netflix. We actually watch a lot of movies in the winter, and find oursevles spending evenings watching no TV at all (perish the thought, I know). I have only a casual interest in hoops at this stage in my life and I find pro football boring (I did catch portions of the Colts, Patriots game last night, however, and around all the penalities and instant replay challenges, thought it was an exciting game). One the one hand, the break is okay. We get to catch up on other things in life. I sleep better at night when there is no game to replay over and over in my head. The other day, I thought, "Wow, there is a lack of neurotic tension in my life during the off-season." That can't be all bad, right? Still, that's part of the emptiness.
How many days 'til pitchers and catchers again?
2006 Post Mortem: Outfielders
Now that Joe Torre has (in an absurd bit of media-fueled theater) been officially not fired, the Tigers and Kenny Rogers have done to the A's (and in the latter case the Cardinals) what they did to the Yankees in the Division Series, and Yankee senior vice president of media relations Rick Cerrone has been fired as a low-impact mia culpa to Alex Rodriguez over Tom Verducci's now infamous Sports Illustrated article, the Queens of Hearts and Chicken Littles have finally quieted to the point that we can look back at the 2006 New York Yankees without having to shout above the din. As I did last year, I'll take a player-by-player look at the 2006 Yankees over the course of my next several posts, but before I do, let's kick things off with a quick look at how the team performed as a whole:
The 2006 New York Yankees finished the season with the American League's best record (97-65, a game better than the surging Twins) and tied with the eventual pennant-winning Tigers for the league's best Pythagorean record (95-67, two games better than the Twins). The primary reason for this success was that the Yankees boasted the major league's best offense. The Bronx Bombers led majors in runs scored (930 total, 5.74 per game) thanks to a balanced attack that saw them finish second in the American League in both home runs (to the defending champion White Sox), and stolen bases (to the Angels, whose 72 percent success rate paled next to the Bombers' 80 percent), while drawing just one less walk than the second-best A's (Boston lead the league). In a season in which the average American Leaguer hit just .275/.339/.437, the Yankees as a team posted a .285/.363/.461 line, their team on-base percentage of .363 outdistancing the Red Sox's second-best mark by twelve points.
On the other side of the ball, the Yankees finished second in the league (to the Tigers) in defensive efficiency, a huge turn around from last year's tenth-place performance and one that surely had a great deal to do with their completely revamped (unintended though it might have been) outfield. Such an efficient defense also helps put into context the league average performance of their pitching staff (4.73 runs allowed per game and a 4.41 team ERA, which works out to a team ERA+ of 99). In front of an average defense (or worse yet, the iron-gloved 2005 Yankees), that lukewarm pitching performance just might have turned the blood cold. But with the everyday players contributing at an elite level on both sides of the ball, the Yankee pitching didn't need to be better than average during the regular season. When the bats were cooled by the majors' best pitching staff in October, however, the team's shortcomings on the mound were thrown into sharp relief, resulting in a quick first-round exit at the hands of the eventual pennant-winning Tigers.
Still, the 2006 Yankees were a good team that avoided prolonged slumps (their longest losing streak was four games and their worst month was a .538 June) and only got better as the season progressed (first half-winning percentage: .581, August: .600, September .621). Of course, they were also the oldest and most expensive team in the major leagues, but bubbling up below the surface are a couple of young hurlers who could improve the team in their three trouble areas: age, price, and pitching. I'll take a look at what the future could (and perhaps should) hold for the home nine in the coming weeks, but for now, let's look back at the 2006 club. I'll start today with the outfielders, as major injuries to the team's starting corner outfielders and middle-of-the-order sluggers were central to the progression of the Yankees' 2006 season.
Oh, and here, check out the Top Ten Yankee Prospects over at Top Prospect Alert.com. The top five? Some kid names Hughes, followed by Jose Tabata (OF), Tyler Clippard (P), Joba Chamberlain (P) and Ian Kennedy (P).
Movin' Right Along
Here's the latest on Mike Mussina and Gary Sheffield. According to Joel Sherman in today's Post:
The Yankees intend to sign Mike Mussina to a two-year contract and trade Gary Sheffield, sooner rather than later on both moves, to initiate an offseason plan in which they will emphasize upgrading their rotation, bullpen, catching and - if possible - farm system.
Bill Madden and Anthony McCarron add in the News:
The Yankees apparently won't wait until tomorrow's deadline to pick up the contract option on Sheffield. According to club sources, the Yanks were planning to trigger the option last night and begin entertaining trade offers from six teams, including the team that knocked them out of the playoffs - the American League champion Detroit Tigers.
Meanwhile, Ed Price reports that there may be some shady business in the D. Matsuzaka business.
Wrong is Wright
Tyler Kepner writes about Mike Mussina and Jaret Wright today in the Times:
Mussina, who turns 38 next month, has known that the Yankees will not pick up his $17 million option. But he wants to stay and the team wants him back. Arn Tellem, Mussina's agent, said in an e-mail message that he has had positive talks with the Yankees, but he added that the sides had just started the process.
Wright would cost the Yanks $7 million next year but they can buy him out for $4 million.
Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera has some words of encouragement for Alex Rodriguez:
"They didn't give the guy a break. New York, the town," Rivera said of Alex Rodriguez. "He's done a good job. If you ask me who has hit in the playoffs, I am going to say two or three guys. Alex is one guy, he is not the team. You can't win with that on one guy. A team is 25 guys."
Hey, bro. It's not easy being green. Such is life.
Don't Hate the Playa (Hate the Award)
Derek Jeter haters have another reason to roll their eyes. The Yankee captain has won the Gold Glove award again. Congrats, DJ.
Before a crowd of 200 reporters in a ballroom at the Takanawa Prince Hotel, Seibu Lions president Hidekazu Ota confirmed the team's intention to make Matsuzaka available via the posting system.
You'd have to think the Yankees will be involved.
Meanwhile, it's official: Don Mattingly will replace Lee Maz as Joe Torre's bench coach (triple A hitting coach Kevin Long will take over for Mattingly). This doesn't necessarily mean that Mattingly will one day take over for Torre.
"You can't just assume something will be given to you," Mattingly said. "I need to earn everything I can get. And I don't have to be in a hurry. I don't need to put any kind of timetable on it, to put that kind of pressure on the situation. I need to learn."
Mattingly doesn't strike me as the managerial type, but what do I know? I've said all along, ideally, you don't want to be the guy who replaces Torre, you want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaces Torre. But Mattingly is a Yankee legend so you never know.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
While Gary Sheffield appears to be the first order of Hot Stove business for the Yankees, Bernie Williams filed for free agency yesterday. You wonder if there is a place on the 2007 Yankees for the best center fielder in team history not named DiMaggio or Mantle. (Meanwhile, Jets running back Curtis Martin, another "soft superstar," will likely never play another game.)
The bidding for D. Matsuzaka will begin shortly.
Finally, The Times has more on the latest health scare for George Steinbrenner.
What's a Matter? You Ascared?
I'm not much for Halloween but I know some people who absolutely love it. An ex-girlfriend couldn't wait for it to come around each year and she'd spend weeks preparing what she'd wear. To me, it's like New Year's Eve in that it is Amateur Night in NYC. But hey, I'm a snob, and to be truthful, Halloween has a lot of redeeming values that New Year's Eve doesn't, like all the great costumes.
I remember being terrified on Halloween as a teenager. If you didn't go out, you were a wus. So I'd go out with a band of friends. We dreaded running into older kids, but we always did. At which point they'd pelt us with eggs, and shaving cream, and pound us with socks filled with flower (we heard rumors that some kids has socks filled with quarters but never actually saw them). Lots of nervous anticipation and lots of running. And for what?
Last night was unseasonably warm in New York. I saw clusters of little kids in their outfits--a fat kid wearing a Darth Vader costume, and his fat father wearing the helmet next to him. As I approached my apartment building I saw three skinny teenage boys walking quickly. They looked nervous. One was talking into his cell phone. "Nah, you better stay about from 231st street--they're throwing eggs down there." Man, I wouldn't go back to being a teenager for all the tea in China.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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