Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Monthly archives: November 2007


Billy Martin, Hall of Famer?
2007-11-30 10:15
by Bruce Markusen

By now, everyone has heard the list of names featured on the Hall of Fame’s player ballot for 2008. Several ex-Yankees highlight the first-year eligibles, including Tim "Rock" Raines, David Justice, and Chuck Knoblauch. Raines should be elected, but won’t be, simply because too many writers lack an appreciation of on-base percentage and the rest of Raines’ well-rounded game. Justice and Knoblauch obviously don’t deserve election to Cooperstown in spite of being fine everyday players and key contributors to the most recent Yankee dynasty.

In my mind, a far more interesting Yankee candidacy can be found on the other ballot—the managers/umpires ballot being considered by the Veterans Committee this Sunday. Of the seven managers on that ballot, perhaps the most fascinating and controversial storyline involves Alfred Manuel "Billy" Martin. Best remembered for being the five-time skipper of the Yankees, Martin also made numerous headlines during his stops in Minnesota, Detroit, Texas, and Oakland. Does "Billy the Kid" deserve election to the Hall of Fame? Let’s take a closer look.

There’s a tendency to underrate Billy Martin as a player and overrate him as a manager. Perhaps that’s because most of the images that the 50-and-under crowd retains of Martin are from his combative, fiery, and turbulent tenure as a field manager. Yet, in examining his Hall of Fame candidacy, we should consider the entirety of his baseball career, including his significant accomplishments as a scrappy, overachieving player for a lasting baseball dynasty.

It’s easy to forget that Martin’s playing days spanned the entire decade of the 1950s, lasting a total of 11 seasons. A favorite of Yankee manager Casey Stengel, Martin became the team’s semi-regular second baseman during the first half of the decade. In 1952, ’53, and ’56, he played more games at second base than any other Yankee; at other times, he filled in at shortstop and third base, giving Stengel depth and flexibility on the infield. A good fielder with occasional power who twice reached double figures in home runs, Martin sometimes struggled to reach base and lacked the speed to steal bases. Though never one of the best players on his own team, he did make the All-Star steam in 1956 and emerged as a decent complimentary player on teams filled with heavy-hitting stars from top to bottom.

The postseason, however, saw Martin transform himself from ordinary player to clutch-hitting hero and defensive stalwart. In the 1952 World Series, he helped the Yankees preserve a two-run lead in Game Seven by catching a wind-blown pop-up that normally would have been handled by the first baseman or the catcher. He fared even better in the ’53 World Series, batting an even .500 with two home runs and eight RBIs, numbers that earned him the Series’ Most Valuable Player Award. Even in later Series, Martin continued to play well, hitting .320 in 1955 and .296 in 1956. For those who consider the postseason a crapshoot, Martin’s numbers might not mean much; for others, they represent a gritty player who performed his best when the games meant the most.

After his playing career ended, Martin spent eight seasons preparing for what would become his true calling—managing in the major leagues. Working as a scout, third base coach, and minor league skipper in the Twins’ organization, Martin finally earned his first big league managing job in 1969. The Twins promoted him from their Triple-A farm team and promptly watched the rookie manager lead the team to the postseason in the first year of divisional play. In winning 97 games, the Twins improved by 17 games over their 1968 finish. Martin extracted the most from role players like Rich Reese and Cesar Tovar, watched stars Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva thrive in the top half of the Minnesota lineup, and helped develop two 20-game winners.

Continue reading...
King Kong v Godzilla
2007-11-30 05:47
by Alex Belth

We need a No.1, and I think that's one of the reasons we're going after Santana," [Jorge] Posada said. "It is a need in October, no question about it. When you look at the past World Series champions, they were able to have a No.1 throwing at least two games to win the title."

..."I was really, really impressed with him during the All-Star Game when I caught him," Posada said. "To face someone is completely different than catching him, and I was really comfortable with him. I would love to have him."
(Feinsand, N.Y. Daily News)

Jorege Posada's deal was made official yesterday and Posada spoke to reporters. Pete Abe has the audio.

Elsewhere, according to ESPN, the Red Sox have a deal on the table for Johan Santana, which includes Coco Crisp and John Lester. This morning, Buster Olney reports on his blog:

There are a lot of factors involved in these talks, including the desire of ownership, so it's possible that the Red Sox could finish the deal. It's possible that the Steinbrenners will push for Santana. But I would bet that if you gave truth serum to either Boston general manager Theo Epstein or Yankees GM Brian Cashman, they would tell you that they secretly hope the other team winds up giving up the boatload of prospects and dollars for Santana -- because doling out this kind of package in prospects and money is not something Epstein or Cashman believe in, philosophically.

I'd bet if you gave Cashman and Epstein truth serum, they would admit that they would prefer to package prospects and trade them to Oakland for Dan Haren, the 2007 AL All-Star starter who would be a much more cost-efficient acquisition because he is under contract for only $16.25 million (including an option for 2010) over the next three years.

But Epstein and Cashman have to stay at the Santana table, playing this game of pitching poker, because their rival is staying at the table.

Finally, there is this from Jack Curry on Andy Pettitte:

"He's so torn right now," [Andy's father] Tom Pettitte said. "Everybody knows that he was done last year and he didn't want to play because he wanted to be with his kids. That's what this is all about. He's not looking for more money or anything."

..."I guess if he hadn't had as much success as he's had or accomplished as much as he's accomplished, I don't know, it might be different," Tom Pettitte said. "He's pretty much accomplished everything he wanted to."

Maybe, maybe, if the Yanks make a boffo deal for Santana, we'll see Pettitte return, unable to resist the chance to win another Serious. But right now, it looks as if Andy is looking out the front door for good.

Hughes Untouchable?
2007-11-28 22:15
by Cliff Corcoran

Breaking News: Twins Acquire Top Prospect from AL East for Starting Pitcher!

Neither Johan Santana, nor the Yankees were involved, though one might wonder how the mega-deal that sent Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett among others to the Rays for Delmon Young and others might effect both the trade market for Johan Santana (the Twins are up and outfielder, but down a starting pitchers) and the rapidity of the Rays' rise in the East now that they have a Big Three in their rotation.

Earlier in the day yesterday, the Pinstriped Bible's Steven Goldman and I got to chatting about the viability of including Phil Hughes in a deal for Johan Santana. Steve thinks it's worth the risk. I'm not so sure. Here's what we had to say:

Steven Goldman: I was just listening to Jon Heyman on WFAN from yesterday talking about Yankees/Santana. He says the Twins want Hughes/Melky/a couple of other guys who aren't Chamberlain, Kennedy.
Cliff Corcoran: I dunno if I can do Hughes. I could do Kennedy/Melky plus a couple B-prospects. I don't think I can do Hughes.
SG: That's why this is hard, and why the Twins want Hughes rather than Kennedy. Scout-wise, no one is a Kennedy fan. Results wise, we know he looks great.
CC: Melky's easy though, here, take him.
SG: Agreed on Melky.
SG: Clay Davenport's peak DT gave me pause. Clay projects Melky at 25 to hit .312/.378/.461.
CC: Yeah, he's Bernie Williams right now, but will he be Bernie then? I dunno.
CC: Plus Austin Jackson . . .
SG: Well, Jackson may not be a CF.
CC: Kevin Goldstein seems dubious about Melky as a CF, so what's that really worth until you see him?
SG: Yeah, I know.
SG: I'm dubious about Melky. The arm is great anywhere. The range I think, is not exactly Tris Speaker. It's better than Damon, certainly.
CC: Damon's not terrible out there, but it's all so much better than the fading Bernie, it's hard for us to judge.
SG: He looked worse than he really was because of the early back problems.
CC: Yeah, and the arm makes you ignore that he actually got to that ball.
SG: True.
CC: In left, it all works out quite nicely. I like that Girardi came out and said Damon's the LF. That means Melky's the CF unless he's traded and they sign Andruw, and Matsui and his ouchie knees DH. It's the ideal arrangement. I also like that Girardi said all three kids are in the rotation (the Andy-free rotation, that is). That helps with trading leverage as well.
SG: Heyman is talking about David DeJesus -> Yankees, which wouldn't be bad if Melky was traded. About the same level of production.
CC: Yeah, but DeJesus is what he is, Melky could improve.
SG: Sure. But Melky -> Santana/DeJesus, you live with that.
CC: But, what will KC want? That's more players gone from the system, so the trade for Santana is essentially the guys that go to MIN with Melky + the guys that go to KC, that's a lot of bodies out of the system, and several of them will be important ones. Hughes/Melky --> Santana/DeJesus is still a tough sell for me
SG: Why?
CC: potential
CC: price
CC: decline
SG: Who is going to have more value over the next five years, Hughes or Santana?
CC: Could be a wash. If not, it could be a lot closer than it's worth for the extra bodies and salary involved.
SG: I dunno, Yogi. Seems to me Santana is already good and Hughes might be good.
CC: That's 100% true, but Santana is also already expensive and he's already been good, and could be in decline already.
SG: It's very difficult to balance the chances of Santana not being who he is versus Hughes becoming Santana or even a declining Santana. He might be, but chances are he won't be.
CC: Yes, but will he be a large enough percentage of Santana to make it not worth the salary and the extra pieces involved in the trade, which will be costly as well? I'm thinking yes.
SG: Woof.
SG: A reader of Rob Neyer's pointed this out in a chat the other day...

Adam (NYC): It's hard to believe that Santana will win another 100 games though...wouldn't Hughes have a better chance of reaching that mark than a 29 year old pitcher past his prime? If the Yanks sign Santana to a 10 year extension, they'd be paying Santana $20 million a year at age the same time Hughes would be entering the prime of his career. Can you say Kevin Brown? Not a very wise business move to say the least.

Rob Neyer: Adam, here's a chance for some research. Go back and make a list of 20 pitching prospects with Hughes' credentials. Then make a list of 20 pitchers with Santana's credentials. I'll bet you the Santana comps won more games afterward than the Hughes comps did.

Doug (NY): A little research; according to BA, the top pitching prospects since 1990: S.Avery, T.Van Poppell, B.Taylor, Bere, J.Baldwin, B.Pulsipher, P.Wilson, K.Wood, R.White, R.Ankiel, R.Anderson, J.Beckett, M.Prior, J.Foppert, E.Jackson, F.Hernandez, Liriano. It's too early to tell on some of them (King Felix for example), but other than Beckett, not really a list of HOFers.

Rob Neyer: Exactly. Thank you for doing what I couldn't do. Granted, Hughes has done more than Van Poppel or Taylor or some of those other guys had done at his age. But the point still holds, I think.

CC: I think that last "granted" is where that argument loses me. Hughes has already had success in the major leagues. He's not a prospect any more, he's a major league starting pitcher.
SG: Based on a weally, weally small sample.
CC: Yes, but prospect + ML success > prospect . . . by a lot.
SG: True.
CC: So the relevant points from that list are Avery, Ankiel, Prior and Wood, Beckett and King Felix. Still troublesome, but the Yankees have learned the lesson of Prior and Wood in terms of workload, and Ankiel was a fluke. Beckett and King Felix are not guys you'd give up in a Santana trade, and Avery won 47 games from age 21-23.
SG: Well, Ankiel had a kind of injury. Or numerous injuries as it turned out.
CC: I'm just saying, I'd make the trade and take on the salary straight up, but with all the other stuff involved, it may not be worth it.
SG: You can argue it either way.
CC: And indeed we have.

Race for the Ace
2007-11-28 05:59
by Alex Belth

Here's a shocker. There are a couple of few other teams interested in the services of one Johan Santana. The Mets for one. I actually think the Mets will end up with Santana before all is said and done. As far as the Yanks are concerned, man, I don't think anyone is untouchable in a Santana deal--Hughes, Joba, Melky, and on down the line.

Yankee Panky #33: Home and Away
2007-11-27 09:20
by Will Weiss

The Thanksgiving holiday — figure it lasts from the Wednesday before the holiday through the Monday after the actual feast — marks a boom time for shoppers and retailers. The same can be said for the Hot Stove season. Sometimes, major deals are made on or near the holiday, like Curt Schilling and the Red Sox four years ago. Other teams use the day as point to measure where they are, what they’ve done to relieve themselves of the season past and assess what needs to be done to shape the coming season’s roster.

The Yankees are in great shape for 2008. And by most accounts, the coverage has leaned toward that conclusion. A-Rod is returning, and the two major free-agent questions have been answered, with Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera signed through 2011 and 2010, respectively.

Viewing the proceedings from afar in Charlotte, N.C., for the past week, I was struck by the complete lack of interest in baseball outside the bounds of the New York metro area. It’s 24/7 football and basketball, college and pro, and 6-12 page sections on local high school playoffs as their fall seasons come to an end. Major League Baseball is covered, but it’s a compilation of AP stories piled into maybe 500 words, with a lead with bare-bones information. No nuts, no bolts, no meat, no potatoes. Not even gravy. 

I understand that as an editor, local stories always national. You have to cater to your audience. In the South, football is a year-round sport much like baseball is for us here in New York. Chris Russo got it right when he said New York is a baseball town. It’s nothing for a baseball story to knock football, hoops or hockey off the back pages, even in the offseason. I can’t describe the relief I felt when perusing the New York papers to see story headers like "JOBA NOT A LOCK TO START."

In other words, we should be thankful that one way or another, it’s always baseball season. Next stop for the Yankees: Christmas shopping at the Winter Meetings.

Wrapping up 2007 and looking ahead to ’08, who were the biggest turkeys and why? Below are my picks. Agree or challenge in your comments.

1) Scott Boras: That pre-World Series-ending opt-out didn’t work out so well for the self-proclaimed "superagent." After Kenny Rogers, let’s see how many more dominoes fall.

2) Alex Rodriguez: For going along with the Dossier Master and then pulling the old boomerang move. I’m still undecided whether the situation kills the Yankees’ credibility, makes A-Rod look like a buffoon or both. The bottom line is that from a revenue perspective, they both need each other.

3) Steve Swindal: Not a good year for The Artist Formerly Known As Joe Torre’s Bigest Backer Within The Organization. DUI, divorce, and banishment from the franchise has left the two Hs to carry on.

4) Hank Steinbrenner and Randy Levine (tie): For the public relations mess that ensued from the Joe Torre "negotiation," and spurning Don Mattingly. This will be the first year since 2002 that Don Mattingly is not around for Old Timer’s Day. Not that that’s important, but clearly, there will be a void.

Next week … A different take on the Winter Meetings

No Duh
2007-11-27 05:50
by Alex Belth

There is an undeniably obsessive quality to blogging. Take for instance, Pete Abraham, who finally had some time to himself a few weeks ago when he announced he was going to take a break from posting for a minute. Well, um, he hasn't. Sure, he isn't posting as frequently as he does during the season, but he just can't stay away. Which is good news for the rest of us, as Pete's blog is essential reading for Yankee fans; moreover, I don't know of another mainstream beatwriter who gets blogging more. Try as he might, Pete just can't keep himself from the blog.

Anyhow, the backpages are splashed with photos of Johan Santana today. There is nothing to report other than the fact that the Yankees are one of several teams interested in trading for the Twins' stud southpaw. Yo, tell us something we don't know.

Meanwhile, the latest Hall of Fame candidates were announced yesterday. Tim Raines is in the group. I know many of my saber-minded colleagues--from Jay Jaffe and Steven Goldman to Jonah Keri and Rich Lederer--are all huge Rock Raines fans, and you can expect the bandwagon to beat loudly around the 'Net in the coming months. I'm riding shotgun and there's plenty of room. Climb aboard.

Is it the Christmas Meetings Yet?
2007-11-26 05:56
by Alex Belth

...While Waiting for the Alex Rodriguez contract to get done...

I'm sure you've heard some Johan Santana gossip over the weekend. Here is a bit of leftover Sunday Turkey from Buster Olney:

Our colleague Peter Gammons is hearing that the Twins want this three-player package from the Yankees, in any Santana conversation: pitcher Phil Hughes and center fielders Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson. Given that the Yankees will probably be asked to pay Santana a deal of at least six years and $150 million to convince him to stay, I'd be shocked if they seriously considered that trade. Part of the equation for the Yankees or any other teams, as they make decisions about a possible Santana deal, is this: Even beyond the question of swapping promising young players like Hughes and Cabrera and Jackson, how much money does it save them to have cheap players on their roster? How much will it cost them to replace a Cabrera or Jackson? Without either Cabrera or Jackson, the Yankees might have to sign a veteran center fielder in his place in a year or two.

And it's possible that within three or four years, as Santana gets older and Hughes progresses, that Hughes might become something close to what Santana will be then. And you could say the same for Clay Buchholz.

Speaking of leftovers, check out this fun Yankee Thanksgiving article by Steven Goldman.

Lettuce Entertain You
2007-11-24 21:54
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees and Scott Boras are still grinding out Alex Rodriguez's contract. Yesterday some details emerged about the milestone bonuses that will be included. Seems the contract will get around the fact that player contracts are not allowed to include bonuses connected to performance by terming each milestone along the way to the career home run record an "event," and then compensating Rodriguez handsomely for personal appearances and memorabilia connected to each event (specifically career home runs 660, 714, 755, and the eventual career record).

It's all just a lot of money none of us reading this will ever see, but it's evidence that progress is indeed being made on Rodriguez's contract.

Meanwhile, the Times has some fun with the Toledo Mud Hens contract offer to Rodriguez by trying to figure out how his production would translate to the minors, and los amigos Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera have popped up in a reggaeton video (see Cano dance at :49, see Melky lip-synch at 1:06, and see Melky credited at "Melkys Cabrera" at 1:09; Jose Reyes pops up later on as well). Expect to hear "Pa La Tumba" during their at-bats in early 2008.

Rapping With Rusty--Part Two
2007-11-23 07:03
by Bruce Markusen

 They just don’t forfeit games like they used to, now do they? Yes, I’m guilty of being nostalgic for baseball in the seventies, when ballpark security was less stringent and ballpark promotions were a bit more, shall we say, wacko. Last week, I presented the first part of my interview with former Yankee Rusty Torres, who has been called the "Forrest Gump of baseball forfeits." (Rusty has a few other claims to fame; he’s a member of the Stickball Hall of Fame, was traded for both Bobby Bonds and Frank Robinson, and serves as the president and founder of the charitable organization, Winning Beyond Winning.)

During the 1970s, the speedy, switch-hitting outfielder played in three forfeits, including the final game in the history of the Washington Senators, a game that featured Yankee throwbacks like Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, and Horace Clarke. This week, Torres discusses his recollections of the other two forfeited games, one at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland and the other at old Comiskey Park in Chicago.


None of us got hurt [in Washington], not like Ten-Cent Beer night in Cleveland. That one I remember real well. That was in 1973, or 1974 [The game occurred on June 4, 1974.] Now here’s the irony. The Texas Rangers against the Cleveland Indians. You get it, Rangers and Indians, Cowboys and Indians? First we go to Texas, Lenny Randle is almost hit with a pitch. Lenny Randle next time up drags a bunt, which is the old trick. You don’t retaliate by jumping out and starting a fight, you do it the way they did it. Milt Wilcox is coming over [to field the bunt], Lenny comes up with the elbow to the neck. We rumble. And the Texas Rangers fans started throwing beer on us, they started screaming at us. We couldn’t get out of the park, they’re going berserk. I’m still almost a rookie, not playing regularly, I’m on the bench, I feel like a rookie still. OK that’s over with. Now we go back home. I start looking at the newspapers, reading about the home stand, and I see that Texas is coming in about seven days [for a rematch]. I’m looking at the newspapers and I see a picture of a cowboy with guns drawn and a picture of an Indian with a bow and arrow.

I’m not sure exactly, but I blame Bob Short for the one in Washington. I blame the press for this one between the Rangers and the Indians. So they decided to make it Ten-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland [on June 4]. I show up at the stadium early, like I always do. People are out at the stadium already at five o’clock and they’re having ten-cent beers, man. Forget about it. Ninth inning, ninth inning, same thing again. I was on base again at that point [after entering as a pinch-hitter]. The fans then come in and storm the field. To be honest with you, Washington, that was a black eye for baseball. This one was two black eyes for baseball.

And then, of course, Disco Demolition Night, that was unbelievable. You want to hear a little bit about that one? I had a little stint with the Texas Rangers in the minor leagues and then they traded me to Chicago. Now we go to Chicago and they come up with this idea of Disco Demolition. They tell the people to come to the stadium [Comiskey Park] and bring all their disco records because they want to blow them up. For whoever doesn’t like disco. You know what, a lot of people didn’t like disco because that stadium was packed. I played that game—I started in right field that day. So I’m in right field. The first inning, somebody slings a .78 record—you remember those .78 records—it goes right by my head and sticks in the ground. It was always humid there, so that record sticks in the ground. So they announce [over the public address], "Please do not throw records onto the field." You know, they’ll have their fun in between games [when the demolition of records was actually scheduled to take place]. The people calm down, they have their beers. So we play the first game, finish the first game, and then we go inside [the clubhouses]. We’re sitting inside drinking some soda, and then all of a sudden we hear this explosion. It rocked the stadium, right. We jump up. I go outside, and the stadium was full of smoke. When the smoke started clearing, you see about 20,000 people out on the field. But that’s not all of it. The police then come, they come out on horses. It was just unbelievable. Bill Veeck was the creator of that.


Not his best idea.


That was quite an experience. We couldn’t play the second game, of course, because it was forfeited. When everything cleared and the people are getting off the field, we see that they had made a crater in center field that you would not believe. So they interviewed the guy [in charge of the explosion]. The police ask him, "What the heck did you do?" He says, "I used too much dynamite. I used too much gunpowder." It was unbelievable.

Those events [the three forfeits] are not something I would recommend. I don’t think it will happen again. You don’t feed a hungry crowd that way, you don’t advertise [a rivalry] in the newspaper that way because the people will take to it.

And not only that, in Cleveland, we had a guy beating a drum in center field. So that only added to it!

Rusty Torres is the founder and president of Winning Beyond Winning, a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to the career development and education of young athletes. Bruce Markusen, author of’s Cooperstown Confidential, can be reached at


Nice Guys Finish First
2007-11-22 04:49
by Alex Belth

I'm a nice guy. Ask anyone who knows me. It's true. I'm the kind of guy who'll hold the door of a store open for a woman with a stroller, even if I'm just passing by, with no intention of going into the place myself. It's a reflex, not even something I think about. I'm pathological about helping tourists with directions--I have to force myself not to ask it they need any help. When I see a guy with a fat wallet in his back pocket, I discreetly mention to him that the wallet is practically an invitation for a pick-pocket.

I've been consumed with being nice since I was a kid, because I come from a family of nice guys. The first time I became aware of this was in high school. I thought my friend Phil Provost's older brother, who was two years older than us, was cooler than cool. One day a friend of mine, some fink, I can't remember who, reported back to me that Phil's brother complained about me, "All he ever says about people is, 'Is he nice?, Are they nice?'" I felt humiliated. As if I was so shallow, so desperate for approval, that being nice was the ultimate characteristic a person could have.

The problem I've had with being nice is separating my true nice guy self from the one that is put-on. What I mean by that is that from a young age, I bought into the fantasy that if I'm nice enough to people, I will get my needs met. It's a classic passive-aggressive stance--the futile attempt to get from the outside world what you can only do for yourself. So I would be extra nice, extra good, and when it wasn't reciprocated, I would then allow myself to fly into a rage. It didn't matter if I directed that rage at someone or, more often, at myself. I was being nice only to treated nicely in return.

Now that I'm on my way to being grown, I've come to recognize the difference between my genuine niceness and the kind that is a set-up. When I'm nice because it makes me feel good, no more, no less than that, then I'm being myself. When I'm being nice to get something back, I get in trouble. When I held the door open for the woman with the stroller yesterday, I did it without thinking, just as, without thinking, I immediately focused on her response. She didn't say "Thank you." But instead of being angry, unappreciated, snubbed, I was just happy that I did something nice that I wanted to do.

Continue reading...

2007-11-20 18:19
by Cliff Corcoran

Reserve lists were due yesterday, which meant that it was teams' last opportunity to protect their eligible minor leaguers from the upcoming Rule 5 draft. The Yankees added three men to their 40-man roster yesterday and a fourth at the end of last week to bring their total roster to 39 men.

That group of 39 does not, however, include re-signed free agents Jorge Posada and Jose Molina, nor does it include Mariano Rivera, who has supposedly accepted the Yankees three-year, $45-million offer, nor Alex Rodriguez, whose record-breaking deal has yet to be finalized. Mix in those four and they're up to 43, which is three more than 40 for those who lost count.

So what's going on? Are the Yankees going to try to hold off making those four signings official until after the Rule 5 draft? If they pull that off, I'll be mighty impressed. The Rule 5 draft isn't until December 6, more than two weeks away. Will MLB really stand for these sort of roster shenanigans?

No matter what happens, the Yankees will eventually have to drop at least three men who are currently on their 40-man roster, and more if they're able to talk Andy Pettitte into coming back, or if they plan on adding anyone else to the bullpen (such as Luis Vizcaino, whom Brian Cashman has said he wants to re-sign).

This is one reason why there are rumors swirling around that the Yankees will release Carl Pavano to clear room on their 40-man roster, but Pavano's just one man. I wonder if this is a sign that the Yankees are trying to swing some sort of multi-player trade for a big target.

As for the new additions, a few quick words:

Francisco Cervelli is an actual catching prospect. He's a switch-hitter who hits for average and has strong on base numbers, will start the 2008 season in double-A, and doesn't turn 22 until March. On the flip side, he hasn't shown much power, but still strikes out quite a bit, and needs to work on his right-handed stroke.

Steven White is a 26-year-old righty starter who was drafted out of Baylor, but has had his progress slowed by injuries. He's spent most of the past two seasons in triple-A and could prove to be a useful utility pitcher. Says new pitching coach Dave Eiland, "His arm is very resilient. I think he can fit that role as a middle guy, long reliever, spot starter. I think he's somebody you're going to see and hear some things from in '08 at some point."

Jeff Marquez, another righty starter, is a 23-year-old sinkerballer with a great changeup and a good curve who can also hit the mid-90s with his straight heater. He was the lesser half of the Trenton Thunder's 1-2 rotation punch with Allan Horne last year and should join Horne in the Scranton rotation this year.

Scott Patterson is essentially another Edwar Ramirez, a righty reliever signed out of the independent leagues who has put up some goofy numbers in the minors. The 28-year-old Patterson has spent most of the last two seasons in double-A Trenton and posted a 1.47 ERA in 116 1/3 innings with 10.52 K/9 and nearly six Ks for every walk (5.91 to be exact). Not to be confused with the former Yankee farmhand who went on to star in Gilmore Girls.

Continue reading...

This Time, We Didn't Forget the Gravy
2007-11-20 06:00
by Alex Belth

After some deliberation, Mariano Rivera has accepted a more than generous offer to stay in pinstripes. It's a legacy deal, an outrageous sum to pay for a closer, but hey, this is Rivera and this is the Yankees we're talking about. We knew the Yanks would overpay to keep him (as they overpaid Posada), just as it was clear that nobody else was going to give Rivera nearly as sweet a deal.

Oh, by the way, congrats to Alex Rodriguez, who won his third MVP award yesterday, and his second in four years with the Yankees. Over at BP, Nate Silver writes that Rodriguez was the clear cherce:

What might be more surprising is that A-Rod's numbers were even more impressive than they appear at first glance, because of one area for which he's traditionally had a poor reputation: his performance in the clutch. Rodriguez hit .333, with 98 RBIs and a 1.138 OPS with runners in scoring position. He hit .357 in "close and late" situations. He hit .500 with a 1.286 slugging percentage in 14 plate appearances with the bases loaded. At he hit .362 in September, as the Yankees climbed back to reclaim their spot in the post-season.

Rodriguez, of course, renewed doubts about his clutch ability with his relatively poor performance against Cleveland in the ALDS, when he hit .267 with just one RBI. In other words, he had a bad series. On the other hand, over 162 games during the regular season, he was the one guy you wanted up there when the game depended on it. Which performance do you trust more: 583 at-bats in the regular season, or 15 in the playoffs?

Yes, Rodriguez has disappointed in the playoffs in the past. But the bottom line is this. Firstly, clutch performance is mostly about luck: the same player who is clutch one year can be a choke artist the next. And two, the Yankees ought to have every bit of confidence that Rodriguez can not only get them to October, but win them a title once they're there. Rodriguez is the MVP - and the highest-paid player in baseball - for a reason: no player provides his team with a bigger head start toward winning a World Championship.

And that's word to Big Boid.

This, That and the Third
2007-11-19 05:59
by Alex Belth

Mariano Rivera is still a free agent and so is Alex Rodriguez. However, both are expected to re-join the Yankees. Rodriguez will win his third AL MVP later this afternoon. Ah, the Magic number. It sure will be easier to appreciate his accomplishment now that it appears that Rodriguez is gunna stay with the Yankees.

Yankee Panky # 32: Compare and Contrast
2007-11-18 08:02
by Will Weiss

The convergence of A-Rod’s contract sans Boras, Barry Bonds’ perjury and obstruction of justice indictment and Derek Jeter’s tax debt to the state of New York occurs at an interesting time. Here we have three of baseball’s biggest stars: the highest paid and arguably most talented at this moment; the home run king whose record and entire baseball existence is now shrouded in an SF-shaped asterisk; and the golden boy. The first two are respected for their talent but the fan reaction to each is split. The last is the golden boy.

Stories of this magnitude have the potential to shape public perception of the player. Judging from the local and national treatment of the Hall of Fame trio’s recent financial dealings, Jeter may be acquitted in the court of public opinion yet again, A-Rod and Bonds, however, may not.

The Canadian Press hinted at that in a Saturday report:

It was all Bonds all season as he chased Hank Aaron's record. And it was still all about him in the past week.

Four years of pursuit by prosecutors culminated in the indictment that seemed nearly certain as his breaking of the home-run record. After walking to first base at a record pace, he'll be taking a perp walk soon for his arraignment on four counts of perjury and one for obstruction of justice.

His appearance in federal court is scheduled for Dec. 7 — which used to be a free-agent deadline day in baseball and marks the opening night of the opera season at the famous La Scala in Italy. There is, however, little expectation that Bonds will sing, not after all these years of denials that he used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.

That overshadowed all other sports news. . . .

. . . Forget all that talk about the Yankees taking away his pinstripes forever and perhaps burning them like one of those bonfires that smoked outside the ballpark in the 1970s. After his $275-million, 10-year deal is finalized, he's destined to wind up in Monument Park, probably after breaking Bonds' home-run mark and assuredly after filling too many front and back pages to count speedily.

Now A-Rod gets more chances to flop or not in the postseason - assuming the Yankees continue their streak of 13 straight playoff appearances. Now he again gets to compete for attention across the clubhouse with captain Jeter, who must have been happy the other events reduced his headlines to near agate type. Now the tabloids can stay alert for blond strippers A-Rod might be seen with on future road trips.

The old Charles Barkley “I am not a role model” Nike commercial comes to mind. We’ve discussed the athletes-as-people situation in this space throughout the season, particularly with A-Rod. For the most part, responses have taken this stance: “If he performs on the field, it doesn’t matter what kind of person he is.” Maybe that’s the right stance to take. After all, public figures or people of high social status have acted above societal norms for thousands of years, so why should we expect anything else from Jeter, A-Rod or Bonds?

And maybe it’s irresponsible — and hypocritical — for the media to continue to hold these athletes to a higher behavioral standard. Ethics of reporters, columnists and editors are called into question all the time. Some reporters have published information that was intended to be off the record in order to add spice to their bylines. Other reporters have fabricated sources and plagiarized.

All those philosophical components came to mind as I poured through the local and national material this week.

In the last three weeks, Alex Rodriguez went from puppet of agent to “if he doesn’t want to be a Yankee, then we don’t want him” to going rogue and negotiating on his own behalf on the advice of a billionaire, to remain a Yankee. Eggo doesn’t have this kind of penchant for waffling. I still don’t know what to make of the entire situation from an analytical perspective. It could mean the end of Scott Boras, Superagent, master of securing megadeals for mediocre players.

Based on everything that’s happened, as a Yankee fan, are you happy he’s back? Indifferent? Will you root for him?

Barry Bonds has been a headline item all year. Former commissioner Fay Vincent told the Philadelphia Inquirer that "the public will treat this with a big yawn. We’ve all known this was a strong possibility for some time. I think the public has already discounted it.”

Even though I agree with Vincent here, I think this quote says more about the media than it does about the Bonds situation. Why is Fay Vincent still the go-to guy for cleaning up the game? It goes back to the media wanting to hold baseball to a higher moral standard, and there’s a general belief Vincent did that, through his involvement in the Pete Rose investigation and his actions as Commissioner, perhaps most notably, his banning of George Steinbrenner. But the fact is he irritated the owners for much of his tenure. He resigned in 1992 after an 18-9 no-confidence vote. If he had a better relationship with the owners, and if they wanted the game cleaned up, maybe he’d still be commissioner. Stop going to him for quotes. The writers and gatekeepers seem to be the only ones who care what he has to say.

Isn’t this a lighter version of Bonds’ tax problems, except without the home run record and steroid suspicion? Adam Nichols of the Daily News is correct in his column. Jeter will be able to repair his reputation. He came through Miami situation just fine, didn’t he?


  • A reporter and a columnist from two prominent local papers are leaving their dailies and jumping to national outlets. T.J. Quinn, arguably the best investigative reporter in the area, has left the Daily News to join the newly formed investigative reporting unit at Also joining him is Mark Fainaru-Wada, co-author of “Game of Shadows.” Along with Quinn and Fainaru-Wada, 13 other reporters, already with the and mag, form the team. (If you’ve read any of his E-Ticket pieces, my fellow Ithaca alum Mike Fish, who broke the Tennessee booster scandal, is likely in this group also.) … News was released Friday that Selena Roberts is leaving the N.Y. Times to join Sports Illustrated. While I haven’t agreed with many of the theories she posits in her columns, I’ve always respected Roberts as a writer and considered her work provocative from an intellectual standpoint. She’ll be a great addition to SI, joining fellow ex-NY daily writers Tom Verducci, Peter King and Jon Heyman (all former Newsday scribes) on that staff. 
  • Speaking of Verducci, count him as the latest victim of the brass’s wrath when it comes to appearances on the YES Network. Based on comments in his Oct. 18 column, where he stated team ownership looked “cowardly” following Joe Torre’s departure, and his collaboration with Torre on an upcoming book, the Network fired him from “Yankees Hot Stove,” where he was a staple since 2003. Some other notable YES-related spurnings include: 1) Don Zimmer being banned from TV appearances on YES or from speaking to YES reporters based on his criticisms of ownership; 2) David Cone’s perfect game being pulled from the “Yankees Classics” rotation after he made a comeback with the Mets; 3) David Wells’ perfect game being pulled from the “Yankees Classics” rotation after he signed with the Red Sox.

Next week … Turkey-themed Banter.

Hey, Big Spender
2007-11-16 22:41
by Cliff Corcoran

Has everyone lost their minds?

Look, we all knew Alex Rodriguez was going to get a ridiculous contract. He didn't get the $300 million guaranteed he was aiming for, but he came close enough, landing a record setting deal that has the greatest total worth ($275 million guaranteed) and greatest annual salary ($27.5 million) in baseball history and won't expire until Rodriguez is 42 years old.

We all knew Jorge Posada was going to get a ridiculous contract for a 36-year-old catcher, and he did, landing a four-year deal with an average annual salary of $13.1 million that won't expire until Posada is 40 years old.

One can justify overpaying those two because their value so greatly exceeds the other available players at their positions, and in Rodriguez's case, so greatly exceeds all other available players, period.

On top of those two deals, the Yankees offered Mariano Rivera a three-year, $45-million contract that would give him an annual salary nearly 43 percent higher than the next highest closer in baseball (Billy Wagner, $10.5 million) and would cover his age 38, 39, and 40 seasons. That's a legacy deal, a contract that has more to do with what Rivera has done for the Yankees than what he's likely to do over the next three seasons. It's the Yankees showing respect and saying "thank you" to the greatest closer the game has ever seen. Yet, somehow, Rivera thinks he deserves a fourth year despite the fact that he's coming off his worst season.

Maybe it's because Posada got a fourth year. Maybe it's because Hank Steinbrenner just couldn't keep his mouth shut (in confirming the Yankees offer to Rivera on Tuesday, Steinbrenner said, "He'd be, by $4 million a year, the highest-paid relief pitcher. To say that's a strong offer would be an understatement. . . . The ball's in their court. If they still want to look for more somewhere else, that's up to them." With those kind of diplomacy skills this guy could be president.) Whatever it is, Rivera is holding out for more, and I'm not sure the Yankees should give in.

To begin with, the ability to close ballgames is overrated. Just look at the Blue Jays. Two years ago, the Blue Jays gave B.J. Ryan a contract that everyone thought was ludicrous. (Ryan was 30 at the time of the deal, which was for $47 million over five years. Compare that to what Rivera seems to be asking for on the verge of his 38th birthday.) In the second year of the deal, Ryan's arm blew out on him so, after a brief period of trial and error, the Jays made Jeremy Accardo, a third-year reliever making the league minimum who was picked up in the Shea Hillenbrand dump trade the previous year, their closer. Accardo converted 30 of 35 save chances over the remainder of the season while posting a 2.79 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. Compare that to Rivera's 2007 season in which he converted 30 of 34 save chances while posting a 3.15 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. Similarly, Rule 5 draftee Joakim Soria was more effective closing games for the Royals than veteran free agent Octavio Dotel, and the A's got on just fine with journeyman LOOGY Alan Embree closing games when Huston Street hit the DL.

If you look around the majors, you'll see that, outside of Rivera, Wagner, Trevor Hoffman, and Jason Isringhausen, closers are either players who have yet to hit free agency (Accardo, Papelbon, Ray, Nathan, Jenks, Soria, K-Rod, Street, Putz, Otsuka, Lidge, Gregg, Chad Cordero, Capps, Valverde, Corpas, Saito, Hennessey) or underwhelming veterans who have found success in a role that's not nearly as demanding as the mythmakers would have you believe (Jones, Borowski, Reyes, Weathers, Dempster). It seems that the word is getting around that it's easier to make a new closer than pay an old one (we should be able to add Chad Qualls and Rafael Soriano to the former list for 2008, and it seems likely that the Tigers wouldn't have thrown $7 million at free agent Todd Jones if Joel Zumaya hadn't hurt his arm attempting to evade the wildfires in Southern California this fall).

Of course, the Yankees need good relief pitchers, period, and Mariano Rivera is still one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, even if he had his worst year as a closer this past season. He is, however, less than two weeks from his 38th birthday, and greatly overvalued because of his history and his role. Unlike Rodriguez and Posada, Rivera isn't worth such an extravagant contract relative to his peers. Francisco Cordero, who is currently a free agent, made just $5.4 million last year and is five years younger than Rivera. Cordero will certainly get a raise, but he won't get anything near $15 million a year, and I doubt he'll get more than three years either. The gap between Rivera and Cordero in the closers role is not nearly big enough to justify the giving Rivera a fourth year at what is likely to be double Cordero's salary.

Some think that Alex Rodriguez returned to the Yankees because he couldn't get the money he was after anywhere else. I'm not so sure. I still believe that Angels owner Arte Moreno would have given him $30 million per year (and until Rodriguez's signature is on his Yankee contract, I won't feel confident that his contract talks with the Yankees aren't just an elaborate plot to force Moreno's hand). I'm utterly convinced, however, that if Mariano Rivera shops himself around, he will not get a single offer to rival the three-year, $45-million deal the Yankees have offered him. Rivera has threatened to join Joe Torre in Los Angeles, but the Dodgers have a good, inexpensive bullpen (their closer, Takashi Saito, the highest paid of the bunch, earned an even million bucks in 2007). Any team would benefit from adding Mariano Rivera to their pen, but there's no reason for the Dodgers to pay Rivera much beyond the going rate for established closers, which seems to be about $7 million a year, and there's really not much reason for them to even offer that much. Heck, the highest paid starter on the Dodgers staff will make $12 million in 2008.

To their credit, the Yankees don't appear to be budging. Here's Hank again from yesterday: "[Rivera and his agent, Fern Cuza] haven't rejected it outright, as far as I know. It's pretty much known that they're seeking a fourth year, or more [money] for three years.I want him back, and that's why the offer is as high as it is. We don't have to change anything. Everyone in baseball knows it's a great offer; we've even gotten a couple of complaints about it."

If Rivera bolts, the Yankees can go after Cordero at half the cost, or they can let the kids audition for the job. I'm sure the Yankees have an Accardo of their own among the young arms on the bubble of the major league roster. The requirement is that the Yankees avoid the temptation to make Joba Chamberlain the closer in Rivera's absence. Yes, Chamberlain would excel in the role, but, as we've just seen, finding a closer isn't hard. Finding an ace starting pitcher, which Chamberlain has the potential to be as early as the 2008 season, is.

Continue reading...

Rapping With Rusty
2007-11-16 10:07
by Bruce Markusen

If you were born after 1965, you probably don’t have many memories of Rusty Torres in a Yankees uniform. A lean, switch-hitting outfielder in the Roy White mold, Torres played for the Yankees in 1971 and ’72 before being packaged to the Indians as part of the deal that brought Graig Nettles to New York. Torres never became a regular, instead settling for a journeyman nine-year career that included stops with the Angels, White Sox, and Royals.

In contrast to some pedestrian players, Torres’ story is far more interesting than that of a backup. After signing with the Yankees’ organization, the Puerto Rican-born Torres became an unofficial liaison between Yankees management and Latino players. Having spent much of his childhood in Brooklyn, Torres became fluent in English, a skill that helped him serve as an interpreter for the Yankees’ young Latino players and prospects. For this, he received no extra pay, and seemingly no extra consideration from manager Ralph Houk when it came to playing time. On one occasion, Torres challenged Houk to play him every day for 20 consecutive games; if Torres flopped, he would pack his bags and head back to the minor leagues. Houk refused the offer.

Continue reading...
The Government Do Take a Bite, Don't She?
2007-11-16 05:57
by Alex Belth

Man, you think Captain Wunnerful is thankful for Barry and Alex today? Saved him from making the front pages, that's for sure. What's a little problem with the tax man when compared with the Bonds fiasco or the Rodriguez affair?

Still no word on Mariano, yet. Reports have it that he's holding out for a fourth year, that he wasn't thrilled with Hank Steinbrenner's comments after the Yankee offer was made public. The Yanks did sign Jose Molina, however, to a two-year, $4 millon deal.

Finally, here's an interesting bit on Rodriguez from Alan Schwarz.

Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say? Schmooze away!

Dude, You Are So Money, You Don't Even Know How Money You Are
2007-11-15 17:28
by Alex Belth

The details still need to be worked out, but it looks as if Alex Rodriguez is coming back to the Yankees, to the tune of 10 years, $275 million. Here is the outline of the deal, and the first look into how it all went down.

The story was released tonight shortly after the Barry Bonds indictment story had a good hour of the newscyle headlines. Many Yankee fans that I spoke with today were unhappy to hear that Rodriguez was coming back, even if some of them softened their stance after learning that Rodriguez approached the Yankees without his agent, Scott Boras. I assume even more will stop worrying and learn to love the bomb when he's knocking in 40 dingers a year. Still, my initial feeling was that Rodriguez will have to be part of a World Series winner or approach Barry Bonds' home run record before he is ever truly embraced by the baseball public, let alone Yankee fans.

Only Bonds and Boras getting flogged could possibly make Rodriguez look okay in comparison, and guess what? It happened. Now, Boras takes a massive "L" and Bonds is really in the soup. Rodriguez? He's only about to sign the biggest contract in baseball history...for the second time. How you like me now, indeed.

I don't think Rodriguez is that bad--he's just a bit of a fink that's all. He's like the kid you knew when you were growing up, where'd you's say, "Mattingly hit .340 last year," and he'd go, "No, he hit .343." If you gave a buck to a Salvation Army guy on the street, he'd go to the ATM and give the guy a twenty, is how a friend put it. He tries to be a goody-goody. It's a different kind of arrogance than Bonds. (I don't think he has the stones to be like Bonds.)

He's already a Hall of Famer six ways to Sunday, and he's only 32. He always hustles. I'm eager to keep watching him play for the Yanks. So he's not perfect, he's got two left feet when it comes to handling things. He's like a manicured, movie-star/jock version of Michael Scott--he always says the wrong thing. He's not as funny, but he's often just as painful. And like Scott, he just wants to be loved. In a strange way, I find his A-Rodness endearing, even if it is annoying. So, he's meshugenah? Since when doesn't that play in New York?

2007-11-14 22:31
by Cliff Corcoran

The last time the Yankees had an open casting call for third basemen, I spent three weeks poring over the team's options only to have Alex Rodriguez swoop down and render it all meaningless. A bit gun shy from that experience, I'd held off pouring over the Yankees' third base options this offseason until yesterday morning. Thankfully it only took a few hours for Rodriguez to strike me moot once again.

After an exciting day in which rumors slowly coalesced into truths, we were left with the knowledge that Rodriguez and the Yankees are hammering out the details on a ten-year deal worth something in the area of $275-280 million.'s Jon Heyman, who broke the news of Rodriguez opting out, seems to have the best inside info as of this writing. One key detail is that, though Rodriguez initiated talks with the Yankees without his agent, Scott Boras is indeed involved in hammering out the details (something the union made sure of). From Heyman:

A 10-year megadeal for about $280 million -- yet another record contract for A-Rod -- is expected to be completed in the next day or two. There is a great deal of optimism that an accord can be struck soon, as the sides were down to discussing incentive monies and contract language, an indication they possibly were in the final stages of negotiation. But while an agreement seemed extremely likely, both sides cautioned late Wednesday that it had yet to be completed. The new contract is likely to include an unprecedented incentive package that could put the total package at well over $300 million.

The Yankees' spin on this sudden about-face was that they didn't go back on their word not to pursue Rodriguez after he opted out. Rather, Rodriguez came crawling back to them. In the words of Hank Steinbrenner, "Alex reached out to us. He wants to be a Yankee. . . . he made clear he's willing to sacrifice something." What that something is remains unclear.

The best guess at what's going on in Rodriguez's head that I've read thus far is Sweeny Murti's take on his blog (of course, Sweeny botches it up with an addendum that wildly overstates Mariano Rivera's value both past and present). As for the contract, Baseball Prospectus's Joe Sheehan, writing prior to much of the above action, sums it up well (bear in mind that BP actually has a stat that measure players' value in dollars, so the following assessment of Rodriguez's worth is most likely based some on actual number crunching.):

If you can sign Alex Rodriguez, you do so; he's worth somewhere around the $30 million a year he's supposedly asking for to a team that's on the brink of contention right now. His decline phase may well be worth that kind of money as well, given where the marginal value of a win is headed, and the additional revenues that Rodriguez can generate as he chases down some of the game's most hallowed records.

Me, I'll wait until the deal is final and I hear Rodriguez speak before adding my two cents. I just hope that the new contract doesn't include any of those pesky opt-out clauses, at least not for the first three-to-five years.

Let's Talk, Turkey (or, Let's Make a Dope Deal)
2007-11-14 13:56
by Alex Belth

Over at ESPN, Buster Olney confirms the Daily News report from earlier today that Alex Rodriguez is in fact talking directly to the Yankees, sans Scott Boras, about staying in New York. Here's the story.

I Got Five on It
2007-11-14 09:32
by Alex Belth

While we chew on the latest Alex Rodriguez rumor, I just wanted to take a second to mention that Bronx Banter turned five years-old this month. I'm very proud of that as we head into year six. And for three years now, I've had a great co-writer in Cliff (not to mention all the great contributors over the years--from Will, Emma and Bruce, to Ed Cossette, Allen Barra, Chris DeRosa and Brian Gunn, just to name a few). Most of all, thanks to you guys for continuing to drop by.

How Hot's The Corner?
2007-11-13 22:43
by Cliff Corcoran

Yankees' Offseason To-Do List
  • Hire new manager: done
  • Convince Andy Pettitte to return: pending
  • Re-sign Jorge Posada: done
  • Re-sign Mariano Rivera: see below
  • Find an upgrade over Wilson Betemit at third base:
  • Assemble a bullpen:
  • Fill out the bench:

The Yankees have made a three-year, $45-million offer to Mariano Rivera. With an average annual salary of $15 million, the deal would make Rivera far and away the game's best-paid closer. (Billy Wagner will make $10.5 million in 2008 and 2009, B.J. Ryan will make $10 million in each of the next three seasons. No other closer has an eight-digit salary.)

With the team waiting for Rivera to accept and for Andy Pettitte (serving as Roger Clemens understudy in this winter's production of Hamlet) to make a final decision about playing next year, the time has come for the Yankees to turn their attention to third base.

If the 2008 season started today, the Yankee lineup would have Bobby Abreu in right field, Derek Jeter at shortstop, Robinson Cano at second base, and Jorge Posada catching, of course. Melky Cabrera would be the center fielder while Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui would share time in left field and at DH, with Matsui, who is having surgery on his right knee today, getting the bulk of the time at DH. That would make Jason Giambi the primary first baseman with Shelley Duncan filling in against lefties at first and in right field as needed, and Andy Phillips available as a defensive replacement and second platoon bat at first base. Phillips could also serve as platoon relief for Wilson Betemit, who would be the primary third baseman.

Brian Cashman's assignment at the hot corner is thus finding an upgrade over Betemit or, at bare minimum, a superior platoon partner than Phillips to spell Betemit against lefties. In either case, Cashman should be looking for a right-handed bat. The Yankee lineup as constructed above is contains five lefties (Damon, Abreu, Cano, Matsui, Giambi) and two switch hitters with career OPSs below .700 from the right side (Cabrera and Betemit). That leaves Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada to carry the bulk of the weight against lefties, forcing Joe Girardi to resort to Shelley Duncan and Andy Phillips for additional right-handed fire power.

With the Yankees having closed the door on Alex Rodriguez (or, more accurately, Alex Rodriguez having failed to take the Yankees seriously when they said they would close the door if he opted out), there remains just one righty-hitting free agent first baseman who would indeed represent an upgrade over Betemit. That, of course, is Mike Lowell. Though the Red Sox failed to re-sign Lowell prior to his becoming available to other teams yesterday, it still seems that Lowell will most likely return to Boston. Still, now that he's out there to be had, the Yankees would be foolish not to entertain the idea. Much has been made of Lowell's troubling home/road split in 2007, but few have bothered to note that he was much better on the road in 2006 (.310/.352/.514 against a mere .260/.327/.436 at Fenway), or that he had several strong seasons while playing half his games in the Marlins' pitching-friendly home park. Given the dearth of free agent alternatives, I'm not terribly inclined to fret about Lowell's 2007 splits.

Of greater concern is the fact that he is seeking a four-year deal, which is one reason why he hasn't re-upped with the Sox as of yet (Boston is holding firm at three years). Lowell is reportedly looking for the same sort of 4-year/$52-million contract that the Yankees have recently given to Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada. If he can't get that four-year deal by going elsewhere, I'd expect him to go back to Boston on a three-year contract, which means it's four years or bust as far as a contract offer from the Yankees goes. Is Lowell worth it?

Continue reading...

Replacement Catcher
2007-11-13 08:27
by Cliff Corcoran

Now that the Yankees have inked Jorge Posada, I thought I'd take a quick look at their options for backup catcher. Right now Wil Nieves is the second man on the Yankees' catching depth chart, but earlier this offseason, Brian Cashman listed Jose Molina among the Yankee free agents he'd like to resign. Molina, a good receiver with a strong arm who fit in well in the clubhouse after coming over from the Angels in late July, is as good a choice as any to be Posada's caddy, but it's important to note that the .318/.333/.439 performance he put together as a Yankee down the stretch last season was a small-sample fluke.

Molina is a career .243/.279/.345 hitter and was struggling to maintain that level of production with the Angels for the first four months of the 2007 season. He'll also be 33 in June. He's certainly an improvement over Neives, and is a better choice than most of the free agent alternatives (including 2006 failures Kelly Stinnett and Sal Fasano, and the endless parade of Paul Bakos, Josh Pauls, Mike DiFelices, Chad Moellers, Alberto Castillos, and Wiki Gonzali), but he's just as capable of a dreadful offensive performance as any of those men.

Speaking of dreadful performances, two years ago I wrote a post called "Addition by Subtraction," in which I praised Brian Cashman for improving the team by the simple method of discarding players whose performances did more harm than good. In 2005, the Yankees had six players who cost the team more than eight runs each according to VORP (Value Over Replacement Player). In the two year's since, the Yankees have had just five others meet that description. In 2005 the cumulative VORP total of the Yankees' sub-replacement-level players was -114.1. In other words, the Yankees cost themselves roughly 114 runs, or more than 11 wins, simply by failing to maintain replacement level (which is, by definition, the performance level typical of readily available players such as borderline minor leaguers or players that could be claimed off waivers) throughout the roster. After Cashman's big purge that winter, the 2006 Yankees improved that figure to -92.2 VORP, with the two worst offenders (Shawn Chacon at -13.0 and Aaron Small at -10.7) both getting the boot mid-season. This past season, the Yankees cut that figure nearly in half to -50.4 VORP, the bulk of that coming from the many young pitchers the team was forced to use (Jeff Karstens at -11.2, Sean Henn at -8.0, and Edwar Ramirez at -5.3 led the team along with Wil Nieves's -6.4).

The point of all of this is that one of Brian Cashman's emerging, but under appreciated strengths is his understanding of negative performance and his increased efforts to eliminate it from the roster. One reason that cumulative negative VORP total has been decreasing has been the speed with which Cashman has moved to replace negative performance in the last two years. Last year Kei Igawa, Wil Nieves, Miguel Cairo, Josh Phelps, Kevin Thompson, Chris Basak, Sean Henn, Jim Brower, Colter Bean, Matt DeSalvo, Chase Wright, and Tyler Clippard--all of whom had negative VORP totals on the year--were either demoted or released during the year.

This is all relevant to the backup catcher discussion because it is one of the few positions in baseball at which most major league teams are forced to settle, if not outright hope for replacement-level performance. Consider again that list of free agents above, or the fact that after John Flaherty's abysmal -11.0 VORP in 2005*, the Yankees have twice switched backup catchers mid-season in an attempt to climb back up to replacement level. In 2006 they replaced Kelly Stinnett after he posted a -3.3 VORP in 34 games only to watch Sal Fasano cost the team -4.7 VORP over a mere 27 games. Last year, they punted Nieves's -6.4 VORP after 25 games played and finally succeeded with Molina's +3.9 VORP in 29 games over the remainder of the season. I can't blame the Yankees for attempting to go back to the well with Molina in an attempt to avoid the Stinnett's and Fasano's of the world, but it's important to remember that, if you factor in Molina's time with the Angels, his total 2007 VORP was actually a notch below Nieves' at -6.5 (of course, some of that is due to the fact that VORP is cumulative and Molina had 202 plate appearances in 2007 to Nieves' 76).

Having said that, the reason to be dubious about Molina's repeating his pinstriped performance from 2007 is the same reason not to overreact to the 2007 performances of other back up catchers. There are some tempting alternatives out there, particularly Ramon Castro, who hit .285/.331/.556 with 11 homers in 144 at-bats for the Mets in 2007, but it's important to remember how difficult it is for backup catchers to repeat those sort of small-sample performances. Last winter Mike Lieberthal, a former All-Star coming off a .273/.316/.469 season for the Phillies, seemed like the obvious choice for a team looking for a backup catcher with some pop, but he hit just .234/.280/.260 for the Dodgers in 2007. Castro himself is a career .234/.310/.413 hitter, which is almost exactly average for his position. Chasing these small-sample flukes is a fool's errand. As I mentioned in my post on Posada this morning, the average major league catcher hit .256/.318/.394 in 2007, a figure heavily skewed by the performance of the 30 starters. Expecting even that much production from a backup is unrealistic. Thus, Jose Molina is as good a choice as any, and he can be easily replaced mid-season if he fails to maintain a replacement-level performance.

*that figure doesn't correspond exactly to my post from December 2005 because Baseball Prospectus is forever adjusting their statistics and especially their statistical definition of replacement level

Jip, Gip, Jorge
2007-11-12 21:13
by Cliff Corcoran

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on a post about how important it is for the Yankees to re-sign Jorge Posada, no matter the cost, the word came down that Posada had indeed re-upped with the Bombers to the tune of $52.4 million over four years. Posada came within hours of hitting the market, as free agents are able to sign with any of the 30 major league teams starting today.

I'll get to the length and cost of Posada's contract (which just inches past the matching $52-mil/4-yr deals given Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui prior to the 2006 season) in a moment. First a word on Posada's value on the field.

Put as simply as possible, here's what the average major league catcher hit in 2007: .256/.318/.394.

Now here's Posada's 2007 season: .338/.426/.543 in 144 games.

Need I go on?

Okay, here are the top VORP totals by catchers in 2007:

Jorge Posada: 73.4
Victor Martinez: 55.0
Russell Martin: 46.1
Joe Mauer: 30.2

Notice how Posada's total is nearly as high as the third and fourth best catchers combined? Notice that the other three players are a minimum of three years from hitting the market (Mauer and Martinez are signed through 2010, and Martin will be under team control through 2011).

Let's do this with 2006, shall we?

Average C: .269/.329/.416
Posada: .277/.374/.492 in 143 games

VORP Leaders, Catchers:

Joe Mauer: 66.9
Brian McCann: 54.8
Victor Martinez: 47.8
Jorge Posada: 38.0

Sure, Jorge didn't dominate the field in 2006 like he did in 2007, but notice the trend: Jorge outdistances the average catcher's production by a laughable margin, while the VORP leaders at the position are once again Jorge and three guys who won't hit the market for another three years.

To be fair, there are four other catchers from the 2006 top-20 who are currently free agents. Here are their 2007 seasons:

Michael Barrett: .244/.281/.372, 101 games
Paul Lo Duca: .272/.311/.378, 119 games
Mike Piazza: .275/.313/.414, 83 games (0 games caught)
Jason Kendall: .242/.301/.309, 137 games

By the way, Lo Duca's 2007 season above was good for the 19th best VORP by a catcher this season, which means 11 teams did a lot worse at the position Actually, 12 did worse, as Lo Duca's backup, Ramon Castro, finished 12th. Meanwhile, Lo Duca and Castro combined had less than one-third of Posada's VORP total.

Any questions?

Continue reading...

Rookie Hailing
2007-11-12 09:24
by Cliff Corcoran

The American and National League Rookies of the Year will be announced in a little more than an hour. In the AL, Dustin Pedroia, who hit .317/.380/.442 over 139 games while playing a strong second base, is the easy choice. Pedroia's case gets even stronger when you set aside his April struggles and consider that he hit .333/.389/.467 over the remainder of the season. Pre-season favorite Delmon Young's .288/.316/.408 just can't compete, nor can the performances of Pedroia's Japanese teammates Daisuke Matsuzaka (4.40 ERA, 15-12, 201 K, 80 BB) or Hideki Okajima (2.22 ERA in 66 relief appearances).

Though they really shouldn't even be in the discussion, the Yankees' best candidates in a year in which they had nine pitchers make their major league debut (six of them as starters) are Joba Chamberlain (0.38 ERA, 34 K and 6 BB in 24 relief innings over 19 appearances), Phil Hughes (4.46 ERA, 5-3, 58 K and 29 BB in 72 2/3 innings over 13 starts), and Shelley Duncan (.257/.329/.554, 7 HR in a mere 74 at-bats).

The NL's a far more compelling contest with four strong contenders topping a deep field that also includes Josh Hamilton (.292/.368/.554, 19 HR in 298 AB), Mark Reynolds (.279/.349/.495, 17 HR in 366 AB), James Loney (.331/.381/.538, 15 HR in 344 AB), Yunel Escobar (.326/.385/.451 in 319 AB), Peter Moylan (1.80 ERA in 90 relief innings), and Tim Lincecum (4.00 ERA, 7-5, 150 K, 65 BB in 146 1/3 innings). Here are those top four:

Ryan Braun (3B - Mil): .324/.370/.634, 34 HR, 15/20 SB, (113 G)
Troy Tulowitski (SS - Col): .291/.359/.479, 24 HR, 7/13 SB, (155 G)
Hunter Pence (CF - Hou): .322/.360/.539, 56 XBH, 11/16 SB, (108 G)
Chris Young (CF - AZ): .237/.295/.467, 32 HR, 27/33 SB, (148 G)

On raw numbers, Braun seems the obvious choice, but his defense at third base was abysmal, while Tulowitzki's play at shortstop was Gold-Glove worthy (though not Gold-Glove winning). Young nearly went 30-30 as a rookie, but his .237 average and corresponding sub-.300 OBP should eliminate him. Pence very well could have won this award if not for a broken wrist that cost him a month of the season beginning in late July. The big question is, can the tremendous chasm between Braun and Tulowitski's defensive performances overrule the fact that Tulo gives up 11 points of OBP and a whopping 165 points of slugging to Braun while also having been inferior on the bases?

Update: Turns out Tulo's defensive advantage was almost enough, but not quite. Braun won the NL Rookie of the Year by just two points over Tulowitski as he earned two more first-place votes. Of the 32 voters, 17 placed Braun first and Tulowitzki second, 14 listed Tulo first and Braun second, and one put Tulo first and Braun third. In the AL, Pedroia took it easy being listed first on 24 of 28 ballots. Delmon Young finished a very distant second followed by Brian Bannister (3.87 ERA, 12-9, 77 K, 44 BB in 165 IP), Matsuzaka, and Okajima. The first place votes that didn't go to Pedroia went to Young (3) and Bannister (1).

Thanks for Giving
2007-11-12 05:51
by Alex Belth

"My first priority is the Yankees," Posada said. "I would like to stay with the Yankees."
(New York Times)

From what I've been reading, it seems as if the Yankees are moving quickly to re-sign Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. The deals could happen as early as this week. Posada is looking for more than three years. That is crazy talk for a 36-year-old catcher, but with Jason Giambi in his final year with the Yankees in '08, Posada would ideally slide into the DH role. Slowly, he could give up catching entirely and be the full-time DH, don't you think?

Andy Pettitte, on the other hand, appears to be a longshot to play ball again. But if the Twins decide to move Johan Santana next month at the winter meetings, the Yankees will be involved...

Happy Monday, troops. Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say?

Card Corner--Who Is Mike Harkey?
2007-11-11 01:37
by Bruce Markusen

 Given the managerial change from Joe Torre to Joe Girardi, the Yankees’ coaching staff will have a new composition in 2008. Some of the likely new coaches are familiar names to Yankee fans: Bobby Meacham, who was considered the shortstop of the future in the mid-1980s, and Dave Eiland, a failed Yankee farmhand who earned rave reviews for his coaching tutelage of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Meacham will likely replace Larry Bowa as third base coach, while Eiland is expected to take over the reins of pitching coach, replacing Yankee legend Ron Guidry.

Yet, another likely addition to the coaching staff has no direct connections to the Yankees. And if you didn’t follow the game in the late 1980s or early 1990s, the name might be completely foreign to you. He is Mike Harkey, an obscure name to be sure, who will work as the bullpen coach and assist Eiland. (There has also been talk that Harkey might become the pitching coach, but that seems less certain.) Though the name is murky to most, Harkey was at one time considered a better pitching prospect than Greg Maddux.

In 1987, the Chicago Cubs selected Harkey with the fourth overall pick of the amateur draft. If Seattle Mariners owner George Argyros had had his way, he would have taken Harkey first, but the Mariners’ baseball people convinced him to select a fellow named Ken Griffey, Jr. After Griffey, outfielder Mark Merchant (who never made the majors) went to Pittsburgh at No. 2, followed by right-hander Willie Banks to Minnesota. Harkey’s minor league apprenticeship lasted less than the three players taken before him, including Griffey; the Cubs brought him to Wrigley Field the following season and watched him post a 2.60 ERA in five games.

Though he walked a few more hitters than the Cubs would have liked, more than a few folks immediately proclaimed Harkey, a sturdy right-hander with a huge fastball, the Cubs’ pitching ace of the future. With his imposing build and arsenal of power pitches, Harkey seemed primed to become the Cubs’ best pitcher—better than veteran Rick Sutcliffe, and better even than the promising Maddux, who had enjoyed his first breakthrough season in 1988.

At six-feet, five inches and 220 pounds, Harkey possessed the ideal build for a pitcher—tall, long, and strong. The formidable Harkey appeared well equipped to handle the rigors of pitching every fifth day. Well, appearances can be deceiving. Harkey missed all of the 1989 season with shoulder and knee problems. He didn’t return to action with the Cubs until the following season, when he made a large splash on the Wrigley scene. Making 27 starts for Don Zimmer in 1990, Harkey won 12 of 18 decisions, struck out 94 batters in 173 innings, and put up a tidy ERA of 3.26. The Sporting News rewarded Harkey by naming him the National League Rookie of the Year.

Unfortunately, Zimmer made two questionable decisions with regard to Harkey’s usage that summer. In a June 24th game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Zimmer allowed Harkey to throw 160 pitches as part of a complete game effort. (That, by the way, is the highest pitch count on record during the 1990s and the 2000s.) And then, with the Cubs struggling in mid-season, Zimmer opted to use a four-man rotation, forcing Harkey to pitch on three days rest. Considering Harkey’s shoulder problems, which became a chronic problem during his career, those might not have been the wisest strategies of Zimmer’s managerial career.

Well, even the most ardent pitch count advocates could have been excused for throwing up their arms in disgust. Felled by shoulder surgery, Harkey would make only 11 starts over the next two seasons combined. He would return to pitch reasonably well in 1993, splitting 20 decisions in half, before opting for free agency. Harkey then made what we now know to be a near suicidal move for pitchers—he signed a contract with the expansion Colorado Rockies. Forced to pitch half of his games at Mile High Stadium, about a decade before the humidor first sprang into action, Harkey pitched miserably for a bad Rockies team.

From Colorado, Harkey bounced to Oakland, California, and Los Angeles. Never again an effective pitcher, Harkey saw his career end with a ten-game stint for the Dodgers in 1997. Once one of the most highly touted pitchers in the draft, Harkey had instead put the wraps on a journeyman eight-year career in the major leagues.

Instead of leaving a game that had produced so much disappointment, Harkey decided to apply the knowledge from his failures to his next career. He became a minor league pitching coach with the San Diego Padres for six seasons, then left to join Girardi’s major league coaching staff in 2006, and spent the 2007 season as the pitching coach for the Iowa Cubs.

While Harkey has never before played or coached for the Yankees at any organizational level, he does have several indirect ties to the Bombers. As mentioned earlier, Harkey’s first manager was Zimmer, who in later years would become a Yankee Stadium icon as Joe Torre’s bench coach. Harkey still lists Paul O’Neill as his toughest out, though it should be noted that most of those encounters took place while "The Warrior" played with the Reds. And most importantly, one of Harkey’s catchers during his Cubs stint was Girardi, who now appears ready to hire his ex-teammate for a second time.

Harkey has received solid reviews for his work as a minor league pitching coach. If he can help Eiland in the development of some of the Yankees’ best young pitchers— Chamberlain, Hughes, and Ian Kennedy in particular—and remind Girardi never to ask one of them to throw 160 pitches in a game, the new bullpen coach should work out just fine.

 Bruce Markusen is the author of Cooperstown Confidential at




Yankee Panky # 31: Spare the rod, save the other stories
2007-11-10 15:46
by Will Weiss

Just for kicks and giggles, I plugged the words “Alex Rodriguez Yankees” into a Google search and in .36 seconds I was alerted that 10,529 stories existed with those keywords. It was a great way to see both the local and national landscape of headlines and angles of the next phase of this story that’s dominating the offseason, and also to see how the third baseman is being painted to the populace.

An interesting bit I found came from a newspaper in a city that has one professional sports team: Sacramento. The staff of the State Hornet compiled a list of possible destinations for A-Rod (nothing outside the obvious: the Cubs, Dodgers, Angels and Giants). Now when I say “interesting” I don’t necessarily mean “good.” There was no reporting involved; each writer presented a take on why A-Rod would “definitely” land with said team. One staffer, Alicia de la Garza, wrote about A-Rod going to the Angels and somehow forgot that he spent three years dwelling in the AL West basement with Texas before going to the Yankees.

“After playing seven years for the New York Yankees, third baseman Alex Rodriguez has opted out of his $252 million, 10-year contract. I need to take a timeout for a second.“

The timeout needed to be taken before that lead sentence was written. (I know I’m not perfect — my gaffe regarding the Girardi press conference last week was a bonehead move — but to make that basic of an error on the lead sentence of a story? It’s indicative of a lack of fact-checking in the industry.)

Anyway, spending the rest of this post to pick apart mistakes in other columns is not the goal here. What I found interesting was that Sacramento cared at all what happened to A-Rod.

Some other notes from the Land of the Obvious:

  • The Yankees need a third baseman.
  • A bidding war needs two teams. (Hundreds of stories had that theme. How does that happen?)
  • MLBPA No. 2 Gene Orza accused NY Times columnist Murray Chass of being an enabler of collusion based on his Wednesday column, which featured close to a third of the league’s GM’s speaking on the record regarding their interest — or lack thereof — in Alex Rodriguez.
  • As of 5 p.m. Saturday, the buzz has Joe Torre leaving open the possibility of Rodriguez becoming “LA-Rod.”

Brian Cashman Quote of the Week:
"I understand why people are asking. I'd ask. For the most part, we're going to try to stay the course and build around our young pitching as we move forward. But talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words, so let's see where I'm standing come February."

This is classic Cash. He maintained the same even keel two years ago regarding Bubba Crosby and the center field position, and then right before the New Year, Johnny Damon was signed. In other words, don't rule out the big splash. The reporters haven't. They just haven't set up the possibility of it like they have in years past.

From what I've read, viewed and heard, we’re no further along in the A-Rod proceedings. To follow up on Bruce Markusen’s Abbott and Costello theme from yesterday’s “Third Base Derby” post, “I Don’t Know” actually is the third baseman. What we do know, though, is that it will be difficult to search for information on the topic that we either didn’t already know or project as far back as six weeks ago, when midges changed the momentum of the Yankees-Indians series.

Here's to a week of attending to real important business with the Yankees, like negotiating with Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Those stories will come out from hiding in the next few days. 

Death of a Legend
2007-11-10 07:30
by Alex Belth

Rest in Peace, Norman Mailer. You will be missed.

The Third Base Derby
2007-11-09 09:13
by Bruce Markusen

With apologies to the legendary duo of Abbott and Costello, "who" will not be playing third base for the Yankees next season. Someone will have to replace Alex Rodriguez, certainly not in production but at least in terms of filling the position. The Hot Stove League season is fewer than two weeks old, but already several prominent names have been mentioned as hot corner candidates. Let’s consider them one at a time, working our way from best player to worst.

Migel Cabrera

Outside of A-Rod, he’s clearly the best available third baseman in terms of free agents/trade possibilities. The 24-year-old reminds me of Frank Robinson at the plate, a pure right-handed hitter who hits with equal parts efficiency and power. Even with his questionable attitude and lack of hustle, Cabrera projects as no worse than Dick Allen over the next six or seven years. Unfortunately, Cabrera plays like Allen at third base; he is a brutal defensive player who should be playing first base sooner than later. He would also cost the Yankees the most in terms of potential talent—a package of at least three young players/prospects. I can’t imagine the Marlins would let him go without acquiring either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes in return, and that’s just not a smart proposition for the pitching-needy Yankees. If the Yankees can convince the Marlins to take a package of Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and someone like Ross Ohlendorf of Tyler Clippard, then by all means, make the deal. And then be sure to play Cabrera at first, while sliding the quicker and more sure-handed Wilson Betemit over to third base.

Miguel Tejada

A poor man’s Cabrera, Tejada would come far cheaper in the trade market. A package of Kyle Farnsworth, outfield prospect Brett Gardner and either Ohlendorf or Clippard might be enough to entice the O’s, assuming the Yankees pick up all of Tejada’s salary. The 31-year-old Tejada is a tough right-handed bat who hits well to all fields, puts the ball in play consistently, and doesn’t shrink from pressure situations. On the flip side, his home run totals have declined for three straight seasons, he doesn’t walk much, and he’s lost loads of range in the field. The latter point won’t matter much since the Yankees would play him at third, where his hands and arm are well suited. A bigger concern might be Tejada’s lack of effort. Consistently failing to run out ground balls and pop-ups, Tejada makes Manny Ramirez look like Charley Hustle. That attitude won’t fly under the microscope that is New York, especially under the watchful eye of a disciplinarian like Joe Girardi. The Yankees would have to hope that Tejada feels rejuvenated playing for a contender after years of stumbling through a zombie-like haze in Baltimore.

Mike Lowell

Although he’s a personal favorite of mine, I’m the first to admit that he won’t be the same hitter away from Fenway Park. He’s also 33 and will likely require a four-year contract if the Red Sox don’t reel him back in. Still, there’s plenty to like about Lowell, a first-class individual who works hard and keeps himself well conditioned. He’s also become a much better opposite-field hitter the last two years, especially when it comes to breaking balls on the outer half of the plate. Defensively, Lowell has lost nothing; he has terrific range, good hands, and a reliable throwing arm. If Lowell can hit .280, slug .475, and hit in the vicinity of 20 home runs, that should be good enough, especially given his fielding and leadership skills. There would also be an intangible benefit to adding Lowell. We wouldn’t have to hear fans pining for Scott Brosius anymore.

Edwin Encarnacion

There have been whispers of a possible trade that would send Kennedy to the Reds for Encarnacion straight-up, but that won’t happen until the Yankees have fully explored the possibilities with Miguel Cabrera. Like Cabrera, Encarnacion is only 24 and immensely talented, but also carries questions of attitude. Most notably, he angered former Reds manager Jerry Narron by failing to run out batted balls. (Is this the new epidemic in baseball, or what?) Defensively, Encarnacion is better than Cabrera, but his footwork still poses problems from time to time.

Mike Lamb

Not an ideal choice because he swings from the left side, Lamb would nonetheless come relatively cheaply as a free agent. At one time, he was considered a candidate to play third base in the Bronx—until the trade for A-Rod. The 32-year-old Lamb is a useful player, but he’s ideally a backup on a good team, a versatile left-handed hitter who can play third or first, and fill in at second on an emergency basis. If the Yankees were to sign Lamb, they’d likely have to acquire someone else to platoon with him. And that could be…

Morgan Ensberg

He could become available if the Padres non-tender him this winter. At his peak, Ensberg was a dangerous right-handed power hitter and a solid third baseman with a strong arm. But the 32-year-old has fallen off the map the last two seasons, leading to a trade from the Astros to the Padres. Unfortunately, he appears to be one of those rare players who has become overly passive at the plate—he simply takes too many pitches. A change of scenery could help him, but then again, Death Valley at Yankee Stadium might not be the best medicine for a right-handed pull hitter like Ensberg.

Pedro Feliz

If the Yankees are willing to sacrifice offense completely and emphasize defense as a higher priority, Feliz could be an option on the free agent market. The 32-year-old Feliz has consistent power (he’s hit 20-22 home runs over each of the last four seasons), but struggles to reach base (a .290 on-base percentage in 2007). Realistically, the Yankees will need to have a better-balanced offense without A-Rod, and that means securing some production from both first base and third base. There’s simply too much of a drop-off to Feliz, so the Yankees should pass on this possibility.

So there you have it, a half-dozen realistic candidates, ranging from good to mediocre, or perhaps even worse. If the Yankees don’t turn to an in-house candidate like Betemit—and assuming that A-Rod doesn’t accept arbitration—one of these men could be your starting third baseman in 2008.


Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books on baseball and writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for He can be reached at

Mix Master (Cut Faster)
2007-11-09 06:14
by Alex Belth

I'm in the process of putting the final proof-reading touches on The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan. (The book will be released next spring.) I am the editor of the project, which, in many ways, has been like making a literary mix tape. Jordan has long been one of my favorite writers, so it has been an utter joy to read through well over one hundred of his magazine pieces from the past 40 some oddd years and select 25 cherce cuts for this collection.

I'll have more to say about Pat and the book as the release date approaches. In the meantime, you can check out a bunch of Pat's New York Times work, which has recently been made available via the Times on-line archive (the only piece that is there that is also in the forthcoming book is the Roger Clemens story).

Here is an excerpt from a piece Pat wrote about clubhouse harmony in spring training, 1989, when both the Mets and Yankees were dealing with "chemistry" issues. I thought you guys would get a kick out of it:

Reporters, however, take the...disturbances seriously. They wonder, in print and on television, if dissension is ripping apart what they perceive as the delicately stitched fabric of clubhouse harmony each team must weave if it is to be successful? They see it all so clearly from their perspective, as men and women who have never been part of such clubhouses. They have always imparted to clubhouse harmony a certain romance of brotherhood they would only laugh at if someone tried to impart it, say, to the boardroom of I.B.M. They see relationships among players in a baseball clubhouse as merely an extension of the child-play relationships they remember from their youth.

In a way, this is condescending to the players, implying as it does a childishness on their part, which, as grown men, they don't have. What reporters see, then, exists only in their mind's eye. Which is why the players laugh. They know that clubhouse harmony or the lack of it hasn't much to do with a team's success on the field. Players know that good-natured camaraderie in the clubhouse, shared intimacies over a locker, plans to get together with families for a cookout on a day off, all have nothing to do with a team's success.

...Like most men in business, baseball players compartmentalize their jobs. What goes on across the white lines is infinitely more important than what goes on behind them. A close friend who consistently strikes out with the bases loaded isn't as much use to a ballplayer as a despised teammate who consistently strokes game-winning hits. The respect a player feels for a teammate's personal life has nothing to do with the respect he feels for a teammate's baseball talent. Babe Ruth, Pete Rose and Wade Boggs are three of the greatest hitters ever in the game, and yet not many teammates might envy their personal lives. Yet to a man, every player in the game would want one of those three at the plate if a World Series championship was on the line.

Check it out. There is even a "Rickey being Rickey" line about Henderson, the original Manny.

Homina Homina Homina
2007-11-08 09:30
by Alex Belth

Who was the first celebrity that you ever had a crush on? I think the first woman whose sexuality overwhelmed me was Deborah Harry. It was intimidating--the red lip gloss, the bedroom eyes. She just seemed so adult, so nocturnal, so foreign. I knew there was something inherently exciting about her, but it was scary too (and if Deborah Harry made me uneasy, then Grace Jones simply terrified me). I'd probably say Bo Derek was the first sex symbol that I was down with. Lynda Carter was there too, along with Valerie Bertinelli, Daisy Duke, Pam Dawber, Julie Newmar and Agent 99 (re-runs). I was hot for Bailey on WKRP too. Later, the first woman I really fell in love with on screen was Jessica Lange in Tootsie.

What about you? And this doesn't just have to be a straight guy thing.

2007-11-08 05:38
by Alex Belth

In New York, the football Giants and the Knicks have not yet been able to wrestle the back page from the baseball boys yet. Nothing really new to report, but after a quick look around, here's what I got for the daily schmooze:

Tyler Kepner on the Yanks; David Pinto on Miguel Cabrera; Steven Goldman on the Hot Stove; a Miguel Tejada-to-the-Yankees rumor out of Baltimore; Steve Treder digs up some gems from the past over at The Hardball Times;

Oh, and this from Buster Olney a few days ago:

Andy Pettitte had to give the Yankees an answer by Wednesday about whether he was going to opt out, and he did. Most players feel the tug of home, but I always thought he was atypical among players in how he copes with that: He is the only player I can remember openly admitting, after a poor outing at the end of a long road trip, that he was distracted by the absence of his kids. So it would not be surprising at all that Pettitte would retire, at age 35. The accumulation of more wealth and the pull of a possible Hall of Fame candidacy -- he does, after all, have 201 victories and could pitch another five or six years, if he really wanted to -- mean little or nothing to him. Some within the Yankees' organization believe Pettitte is going to retire. I'd bet he is going to retire.

But remember, the early part of the offseason is an easy time to embrace the idea of retiring. As the fall turns to winter and players naturally begin to think about picking up a ball and about spring training, his body will feel better. You could set the official odds at 50-50 that he will be back, and the Yankees have told him they are ready when he is to talk about another year.

Drop a Gem on 'Em

Lastly, in matters unrelated to baseball, here are a few more links:

Roald Dahl's wicked short story, Lamb to the Slaughter; W.C. Heinz's classic column, "Death of a Racehorse"; Kenneth Tynan's colassal New Yorker profile of Johnny Carson; Steven Rodrick's piece on Judd Apatow from earlier this year in the NY Times magazine; a site devoted to the 'blurb reviews of the late, great Pauline Kael; hilariously bad impressions from Mel and Albert Brooks.

Something Wicked This Way Comes
2007-11-07 09:55
by Alex Belth

Before seeing a screening of No Country for Old Men, the new movie by Joel and Ethan Coen, I decided to read the book by Cormac McCarthy. One, because I haven't read any fiction in years and I figured this would give me an excuse to read a novel, and two, because I get so nervous in thriller movies that I wanted to find out how things turn out in the end before seeing the movie. (There is a twist in the narrative and the Coen's are faithful to the book.)

But once you know the twist, half of the fun is gone. (Do movies like The Sting or The Sixth Sense ever get better with repeated viewings? Not for me.) I didn't care for the book, which is written in a minimalist style that I found pretentious, but it felt as if the Coen's could have written it themselves. It's right up their alley and the book reads like a screenplay.

The movie is skillfully made. There is some vivid imagery (Roger Deakin's photography is often stunning) and wonderfully tense moments. The Coen's use sound very well--the sound of a rotary dial phone, the squeak of a suitcase; in fact, several sequences don't have any music at all. There are familiar Coen touches--tracking shots of the open road from a car's point-of-view, ceiling shots looking down on a sleeping character, grotesquely funny-looking yokels, voice-over narration, goofy haircuts, dry dialogue and inside jokes (Mike Zoss Pharmacy--Mike Zoss is the name of their production company).

The movie is terse, and brutal but I thought it was empty. It's like a B-Movie made with A-Movie talent. There isn't much pulpy fun in it, despite the trademark Coen humor. It takes itself seriously in that it portends to say something heavy about human nature (Maybe it's just another bleak film noir--the Coen's never take themselves too seriously, but the movie felt too serious). As a friend who recently saw the movie said, "it slams you up against the wall and there is no room for your imagination to roam."

When it was over I just thought, "Why? What's the point?" I'm sure the Coen's have their reasons--again, the material is so well-suited to their tastes that perhaps they just couldn't turn it down.

I won't be surprised if the movie turns out to be one of the Coen's biggest commerical hits. But it reminds me of Silence of the Lambs, another technically well-made entertainment that felt soulless. (I don't think Demme has ever recaptured the funky spirit that infused his early movies like Melvin and Howard, Something Wild and Married to the Mob.) This movie isn't a departure for the Coen's, but it feels like an excercise in style. It looks great and delivers thrills, but, again, when it was over, I just shrugged my shoulders and was like, "And...So...?"

Chubb Chubb Rock
2007-11-07 05:46
by Alex Belth

The Yankees will offer Alex Rodriguez arbitration. Joel Sherman has more on the story.

Meanwhile, the Yankees met with the Marlins last night to talk about Miguel Cabrera. Joe Girardi, who is at the GM meetings, told the Times:

"He's a great player, a smart player," said Girardi, who managed Cabrera in 2006. "He really understands the game of baseball. I was impressed in how mature he was as a hitter at a young age, his approach on a daily basis. I did not have any problems with him. He worked hard for me."

Cabrera is an amazing hitter and an indifferent fielder who has developed a reputation for being a fat slob who likes to party. That is the major concern. Will he have a great career or become a major disappointment? The Yankees say that they are not interested in moving Joba, Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy, but why wouldn't you trade Kennedy (or even Hughes) along with Melky in a package deal for a talent like Cabrera? Unless you think Cabrera is a complete nutcase, isn't that a trade you have to make?

Waiting for Lefty
2007-11-06 06:06
by Alex Belth

As I'm sure you've all heard by now, Andy Pettitte has declined his 2008 option. Pettitte says that he needs more time to figure out what he wants to do.

"Obviously we want Andy to stay with the Yanks and pitch for us in '08," general manager Brian Cashman said last night. "In fact, I'd say I need him to. He's an important piece for us...I appreciated the fact that he called me directly. He's not ready to make a decision about playing or retiring yet, and he's earned the right to take some more time as far as we're concerned."
(Feinsand, Daily News)

In 2003, I was all for the Yankees moving on without Pettitte. Now, it's crucial that the Yankees keep him. Go figure, man.

Joe Girardi: A Managerial Scouting Report
2007-11-04 23:15
by Cliff Corcoran

Following the lead of my fellow Toaster, Jon Weisman, who asked Alex and myself for our thoughts on Joe Torre's managing, I asked Jacob Luft, my editor at and a longtime Bronx Banter supporter who just so happens to be a Marlins fan, for his take on Joe Girardi's tendencies as a manager. Here are the highlights of our resulting conversation:

Jacob Luft: He likes to bunt . . . a lot. He used to sac bunt with Hanley [Ramirez] at first and Dan Uggla up to bat in the first inning. I used to throw a shoe across the room. Hanley at first, who can fly, gets bunted over by a guy with 30 home run power . . . in the first inning!
Bronx Banter: Does he even bunt with middle-of-the order guys?
JL: Yes, with everybody. But the guy is good with pitchers; exceptional with pitching.
BB: Really? How so?
JL: Handling a staff, handling a bullpen . . . excellent. He knows which relievers to go to, gets pitchers in the right mindset.
BB: Is he creative with his use of relievers or does he assign roles to guys?
JL: Everybody assigns roles these days, but i never had a problem with when he brought guys in. He's also a hard ass, disciplinarian, real drill-sergeant type.
BB: I wonder how much that'll change given a team of more established players.
JL: It's a weird fit, but possibly a very good one. The [Yankees] do have young pitchers that will benefit a great deal, but he's a take-no-shit kind of guy, which really worked with the '06 Marlins. Fredi Gonzalez came in [in 2007] and it was like a zoo. The other thing with Girardi is he's got a temper. The guy told his owner to fuck off. I ripped him when he left, but after seeing Fredi let the kids go nuts in the clubhouse this year, I miss the guy. Though without all the bunts our offense went ballistic this year. Girardi is also very smart, he's a Northwestern grad, so it's possible he'll learn to change his in-game offensive strategy.
BB: His entire staff is college guys save Tony Peña, which shows a preference for smart coaches. Any opinion of Bobby Meacham as a third-base coach?
JL: Uh, not really.
BB: That's a good thing, you generally only have an opinion of the third-base coach if he keeps sending runners into outs.
JL: True.

In other news, the general manager meetings kick off in Orlando, today, so that rumor mill should be a-buzzin'. For the Yankees, they'll be focusing on inking Posada and Rivera and finding a third baseman. Don't be surprised if Brian Cashman turns up a reliever or two in the process. Meanwhile, the Yankees will know by the end of the day on Wednesday if Andy Pettitte is coming back.

Say It Together . . . Naturally
2007-11-02 09:46
by Cliff Corcoran

As expected, the Yankees have picked up Bobby Abreu's $16 million option for the 2008 season. It was really a rather obvious move to make. Having lost their cleanup hitter, the Yankees could ill-afford to lose their number-three hitter as well and though Abreu had his worst full season last year, which continued a downward trend in his production as he eases into his mid-30s (Abreu will turn 34 during spring training), that was largely the result of a slow start, as Abreu hit just .228/.313/.289 in April and May, but then flipped the switch and hit .309/.396/.520 over the final four months, which was right in line with his career numbers of .300/.408/.500.

Given this year's weak free-agent class, no team could afford to part with so productive a hitter. The best available alternative would have been Andruw Jones, but Jones is a career .263/.342/.497 hitter coming off his own worst full season (a dismal .222/.311/.413), has a bad reputation as far as conditioning and team chemistry go, and is only three years younger than Abreu to begin with. Sure, Jones is a Gold Glove center fielder rather than a wall-shy right fielder, but Jones' defense has slipped in the last few seasons. Most importantly, there was no guarantee that the Yankees would have been able to sign him, and, as he is the best hitter on the market (save for hot potato Barry Bonds and the banished Alex Rodriguez), they would likely have overpayed if they did. Instead they have Abreu, whose better than Jones at the plate and an established and popular member of the team both in the clubhouse and in the stands, for one year at $16 million. Not bad at all.

I'll be back in a bit with a look at how Abreu's return could impact the rest of the 2008 Yankee lineup.

Full Staff
2007-11-01 20:16
by Cliff Corcoran

The Yankees introduced Joe Girardi as the new Yankee manager at a press conference at the Stadium yesterday afternoon and, later that evening, the Dodgers announced that they had signed Joe Torre to a three-year deal worth $13 million. Between the Yankees' press conference, which provided opportunities the YES crew to interview Brian Cashman and Yankees COO Lonn Trost among others, and Mike and the Mad-Dog's 20th anniversary show, which featured interviews with Girardi, Torre, and Derek Jeter (as well as Bernie Williams, Darryl Strawberry, and many more of the biggest New Yorks sports stars from the past 20 years), we have plenty of information to put the Yankees' managerial saga to bed and shift our focus to the team's pending player transactions, which will begin today with the decision on Bobby Abreu's $16-million club option and continue with next week's general manager meetings in Orlando, Florida.

The most important information to come out of the day was the identity of Girardi's coaches. Pete Abraham, who's been doing incredible work on this story, be it by simply posting the audio of the team's various conference calls and press conferences over the past week, or by getting the tremendous Torre-to-L.A. story scoop, got the scoop on the coaching staff as well back on Tuesday. I updated the sidebar here accordingly, but have been reserving comment until the staff was officially announced. That didn't happen today because some of those coaches still have to sign their contracts, but Brian Cashman did confirm that the staff Abraham posted is indeed the one he's trying to assemble. Here's the breakdown.

Bench Coach: Rob Thomson

Not to be confused with former Giants second baseman Robby Thompson, Rob Thomson was a catcher/third baseman in the Tigers system from 1985-1988. After playing just two games in 1988, he became a minor league coach for the Tigers at the tender age of 24. The Ontario-born Thomson has been in the Yankee organization since 1990. From 1990 to 1997 he was a minor league coach and manager, his one season as a manager coming at the helm of the Oneonta Yankees in the short-season New York-Penn League in 1995. Since 1998 he's been a roving coach and instructor (officially a "Field Coordinator" or "Special Assignment Instructor"), which is technically a front-office position. Thomson was promoted to Director of Player Development in 2000 and again to Vice President of Minor League Development in 2003. He has been the hidden member of the major league coaching staff since 2004 as the Major League Field Instructor, most visibly filling in as a third base coach for Luis Sojo when Sojo was on bereavement leave in 2004.

Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi wanted Don Mattingly to stay on as the bench coach, but Mattingly, at least according to his public statements, didn't think it would be fair to Girardi to have another managerial candidate in the dugout with him as it would prompt "Fire Joe, Hire Donnie" articles at the first sign of trouble. Girardi didn't think that would be an issue. Mattingly, who is leaving the organization on good terms with both Cashman and Girardi, will most likely serve as Joe Torre's bench coach in L.A. Thomson is an excellent second choice given his 18 years in the organization and 20 years of coaching and front office experience.

Continue reading...

Hooray for Hollywood
2007-11-01 17:11
by Alex Belth

Joe Torre is officially the new manager of the Dodgers. My father would have been delighted. Not so much because he cared about the Dodgers since they left Brooklyn, or because he thought Torre a true class act, but because Torre told the Yankees to screw off and then set out for Hollywood. At least that's the way Pop would have seen it.

I'm really happy about the news too. I have no idea how Torre will do with the Dodgers but I do feel this: Is there really any other place he could have ended up? It's perfect. It's Brooklyn-to-L.A., it's the Yankees and the Dodgers, it's celebrity and personality, Broadway-to-Hollyrock. I love it. The Dodgers have a rich history and beautiful home uniforms. Plus, what do I care about the Dodgers? They play in the National League West. I haven't paid attention to them--outside of what I read at Dodger Thoughts--for years. Torre instantly makes me interested, win or lose.

This is cool.

Jon's already got some great analysis--thanks to Cliff, Jay Jaffe and Steve Goldman--over at DT. Check it out.

Yankee Panky #30: So the Rumors were True
2007-11-01 08:59
by Will Weiss

In some respects, that the Yankees were ousted in the first round served as a benefit to the local media. Yes, I called this the “silly season” due to the prevalence of rumors, but there certainly is no shortage of subject matter, and the scribes have been relentless in their stumping, particularly in the past two weeks.

After the writers had their field day with the Joe Torre situation, Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez notified the Yankees of his opting out during the middle innings of Game 4 Sunday night, giving anyone with a byline something to kvetch about. (I wonder how Commissioner Selig would have disciplined Boras and A-Rod had the Rockies come back and forced a Game 5, since he notified the Yankees before the 10-day opt-out window even started.)

Was anyone surprised by this development? Many friends and colleagues of mine who are either fans of the Yankees or follow the team closely deemed it addition by subtraction.

1) He was above the game

The usual suspects like Mike Lupica and Buster Olney discussed the notion of super-duo of A-Rod and Boras putting themselves above the game with their pre-Series-ending announcement. Olney’s commentary was fact-based, solid, and went outside the scope of New York, bringing into account the similarities of his power play in Texas and the history of disingenuousness demonstrated by A-Rod and Boras. Lupica, on the other hand, his argument had more holes than Sonny Corleone at the toll booth. He asked why we as fans should have expected A-Rod to stay, considering he’d have “no loyalty to a manager who batted him eighth” against the Tigers, and when Daisuke Matsuzaka had more RBIs on one hit in a World Series game than A-Rod had in the last three postseasons. The loyalty bit really got me, especially when all year the talk from A-Rod and Joe Torre centered on how they mended their relationship and how Rodriguez enjoyed playing for Torre. Tim Kurkjian reported Monday night on SportsCenter that if Torre gets the Dodgers job (more on this later), that L.A. would be a likely landing spot because he enjoys playing for Torre. Good luck on that ace, Lip.

2) From the files of Captain Obvious … He was greedy
Monday night’s SportsCenter’s teaser: “Greediest move ever?” Who cares? It was greedy. He’s baseball’s version of Gordon Gekko. There were a number of indicators, as Olney pointed out in his column, leading one to believe that A-Rod would not sign an extension in New York.

3) Where will he end up?
The juxtaposition of A-Rod’s opt-out and Mike Lowell’s free-agent status had a certain faction of New York writers salivating about the potential of the third basemen changing places. The majority determined that Lowell would be best-served staying put.

Quick poll: Should the Yankees overpay for two or three years of Mike Lowell?

Wally Matthews opined that the Mets should put themselves in the running for A-Rod, probably to make amends for failing to acquiesce to his demands in 2001. Never mind that reports from Newsday’s Mets beat man David Lennon – the following day, no less – confirmed that the Mets are not interested in trading Jose Reyes or moving him to second base to make room for A-Rod. It’s not a good sign when beat colleagues are covering for columnists’ bravado. As you’ve probably seen over the years, it happens frequently.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Monday was an interesting day as far as the Yankees’ managerial decision was concerned. Around 1 p.m., Pete Abraham posted on LoHud that the Yankees had made an offer to Joe Girardi. I was skeptical about the truth of the matter, until I saw on a ticker later in the afternoon that Don Mattingly announced that he would not return as a coach next season.

As I’ve written in this space and said to many friends and colleagues, I thought the best-case scenario, that would appease fans and help the Yankees save face from a PR standpoint, was to hire Mattingly as manager and bring Girardi on as bench coach. I thought Girardi would be biding his time for the Cubs job when Lou Piniella’s time is up. I was wrong.

1) Girardi is not Joe Torre
The similarities: they were both catchers. They both held broadcasting jobs before managing the Yankees. They’re both named Joe and have Italian ancestry.

The differences: Torre was a talker, a people person. His pregame powwows with the media could last anywhere from five minutes to a half hour. He was accommodating to anyone as long as the questions asked didn’t put him on the defensive. Girardi, while an excellent broadcaster, is very succinct and direct. It’ll be interesting to see how he manages the egoes of the players, and protects them the way that Torre did.

From what I gathered, the Girardi hire was treated as a ho-hum story. SportsCenter dedicated maybe two minutes to it Monday night, playing excerpts from the conference call. The newspapers were not much different in their presentation. Yes, it was headline news on Tuesday, but there were as many articles dedicated to Mattingly and Torre as there were to Girardi.

Since Tuesday, Girardi has been a nonentity in the local papers. Torre still dominates. Newsday’s Ken Davidoff, who was a busy man Monday, had an interesting take on how Torre has become a martyr in New York.

The most striking component of the announcement, to me, was that it came with no pomp outside of a conference call. Two years ago when Torre and Cashman re-upped their deals, a joint press conference was held and broadcast live on YES.

Are the Yankees growing humble? Did they consult Girardi and ask his preference for conference call over a large press conference? Having covered that craziness, I’d imagine that facing the horde in that capacity would be good practice, because in February, it’ll be worse.

2) It’s make-or-break time for Cashman
The Steinbrenner brothers were proved correct. The Girardi decision was all Brian Cashman’s. Many writers cited Girardi’s work ethic, statistical preparation and attention to detail as qualities Cashman admired. As many veteran NY writers noted, if GMS III was still ruling, Mattingly undoubtedly would have been hired.

The commentary on both topics will grow even more intense as the Yankees’ free agent picture comes into focus. The hot stove has a tendency to alter the writers’ brain chemistry.


The Worldwide Follower?
2007-11-01 06:11
by Alex Belth

Over at Slate, Josh Levin has a critical piece about Sports Illustrated. In part, Levin writes:

Let's begin with SI's hiring, two weeks ago, of Dan Patrick. The former ESPN host is no man of letters. Take it from his ex-colleague Keith Olbermann, who once called Patrick's softball-filled jock-talk column "a bi-weekly toe dip in the shallow end of the journalistic pool." But Sports Illustrated didn't hire Dan Patrick the writer. It hired Dan Patrick the sports-themed corporation. His magazine column, Web site, and radio show "represent engaging platforms to both sports fans and the advertisers looking to connect with them," according to SI's press release. When longtime columnist Rick Reilly departed for ESPN days later, SI's biggest personnel move in years became, in effect, a swap of TV personalities. Who needs a journalist when you can get a celebrity multimedia empire?

SI's focus on brand extension is a reaction to the competitiveness of the media environment. Before ESPN the Magazine launched almost 10 years ago, SI had never faced a sustained challenge from the print world. Rather than having faith in its product—curious, well-written literary journalism and vigorous reportage—Sports Illustrated has taken to imitating its younger rival. The result: a magazine that's as hip as a 55-year-old with his hat turned backward. In 2004, the mag unveiled "SI Players," a front-of-the-book section filled with lifestyle pieces that could've been lifted from a dumpster behind the ESPN offices. The section bursts with reports on Martin St. Louis' glute exercises ("jump straight up and drive hips forward") and Jose Vidro's favorite off-day activity ("washing my cars"). In pandering to the sort of people who (allegedly) care about Dane Cook's thoughts on George Steinbrenner, Sports Illustrated is allowing market research to masquerade as editorial judgment. Perhaps it's effective from a business standpoint—the mag has maintained its huge circulation lead over ESPN the Magazine, and a recent industry survey showed an increase of 14 percent in readers between ages 18 and 24 the last two years—but it's making the magazine an inferior product.

I'm curious as to what you guys think. How many of you still look to SI as a cornerstone of sports reporting? And if SI doesn't hold that spot any longer, where do you turn for the best sports writing?