Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Position Battles: Right-Handed First Baseman
2007-02-11 21:19
by Cliff Corcoran

So it appears Pitchers and Catchers are even closer to reporting than I thought. Despite MLB listing Thursday, February 15, as the reporting date, it appears the actual date is February 13, tomorrow. Regardless, it's time to get down to business here at the Banter. Today through Wednesday, I'll look at the three main position battles that will be taking place in Yankee camp this spring. Then Thursday I'll post my annual breakdown of Yankee Campers.

The Yankees have more decisions to make in camp this year than they have over the past few seasons. Setting aside the usual decisions regarding the 25th man on the roster or the last man in the bullpen, Joe Torre and his staff will have to choose on a right-handed first baseman to platoon with Doug Mientkiewicz, a back-up catcher, and a fifth starter. Today we'll look a the team's first-base situation.

The Yankees haven't entered camp with a question mark in the starting line-up since 2004, when Aaron Boone's torn ACL set up a third-base battle between the likes of Tyler Houston and Mike Lamb, which then shifted to second base when Alfonso Soriano was dealt to Texas for Alex Rodriguez. Enrique Wilson beat out Miguel Cairo at the keystone that spring, but Cairo—who, for all his shortcomings, was a clearly superior player to Wilson—overtook Wilson mid-season.

The Yankees' won't have the luxury of changing their mind at first-base this year. Doug Mientkiewicz enters camp as the established lefty-half of the proposed first-base platoon. Andy Phillips and Josh Phelps, meanwhile, are battling not only to be Mientkiewicz's right-handed caddy, but for their Yankee careers. Phelps was claimed from the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft back in December. If the Yankees want to remove him from the 25-man roster at any point this season, they must offer him back to Baltimore. Phillips, meanwhile, is out of options and will have to be placed on waivers if he fails to make the Opening Day roster. The stakes is high.

In addition to being the only of these three decisions that the Yankees can't change their minds about later, the righty first-baseman battle is also the only of the three that is a simple either/or matter with just two players vying for the position. Here's a quick look at Phillips and Phelps:

NameDOBML career (AB) mL career (AB) 2006 (AB-level)
Andy Phillips3/6/77.228/.266/.391 (294).296/.363/.516 (2,530).240/.281/.394 (246-MLB)
Josh Phelps5/2/78.268/.336/.473 (1,203).288/.360/.524 (2,719).308/.370/.532 (464-AAA)

It's clear from their career minor league numbers that Phillips and Phelps are very similar hitters. Both are right-handed, of course, and generate their power with quick bats rather than excessive bulk. From those raw numbers, Phelps would seem to have a bit more power as well as a smidge more strike zone judgment (career mL isolated discipline of .072 to Phillips' .067), but consider Phelps' 2006 triple-A numbers above next to Phillips' 2005 triple-A numbers of .300/.379/.573 in 300 at-bats, or Phillips' 2004 triple-A stats of .318/.388/.569 in 434 at-bats. Phillips was 28 in 2005 just as Phelps was last year, and both were playing in the International League in similar home hitting environments in Toledo (Phelps) and Columbus (Phillips)—hitting environments that, in terms of raw park factors, are very similar to Yankee Stadium. Consider also Phillips' superior career minor league K/BB rate: Phillips 1.85 K/BB, Phelps 2.57 K/BB.

Ultimately, what differentiates Phelps from Phillips is major league experience. Phillips, who played college ball at the University of Alabama, made his professional debut at age 22 and earned the Yankees' Minor League Player of the Year award in his age-25 season, based primarily on a tremendous half season at double-A Norwich. Phelps, meanwhile, was drafted straight out of his Idaho high school, made his major league debut at age 22, and spent his age-25 season hitting .268/.358/.470 as the Blue Jays' starting DH.

In addition to his late start, Phillips' progress was derailed by an elbow injury suffered in the Arizona Fall League the autumn after his award winning 2002 season. That injury cost him most of 2003. Thus, instead of establishing himself in Columbus that year and challenging Cairo and Wilson for the open second base job in 2004 (originally a third baseman, Phillips played second base from 2001 to 2003), he was forced to reestablish himself in double-A that spring and was shifted back to third base where he was blocked by Alex Rodriguez. All of that, plus the fact that he was attempting to break into a much tougher lineup in the Bronx than Phelps was in Toronto, put him five years behind his rival's pace. In terms of major league experience, Phelps' age-22 to 24 seasons correspond to Phillips' age-27 to 29 seasons:

Phelps (22)11.000/.000/.000
Phillips (27)58.250/.250/.625
Phelps (23)812.000/.143/.000
Phillips (28)2740.150/.171/.325
Phelps (24)74265.309/.362/.562
Phillips (29)110246.240/.281/.394

The obvious difference here being not only the five-year age gap, but the fact that Phelps hit when finally given the opportunity, while Phillips did not. Even Phelps's worst major league season of more than 12 at-bats, his .251/.304/.450 performance in 371 at-bats split between Toronto and Cleveland in 2004, was clearly better than what Phillips did last year. Speaking of which, here are their career major league K/BB rates: Phillips 4.38 K/BB, Phelps 3.66 K/BB.

If this decision was based purely on the relative offensive merits of these two players, one would have to consider Phelps, who's more than a year Phillips' junior, the clear favorite despite the similarity of their minor league records and Phillips' unfairly small major league sample.

However, offense is just part of the picture. All of the decisions the Yankees have made regarding first base this winter have been made with defense in mind, from declaring Jason Giambi a full-time designated hitter to signing Doug Mientkiewicz as the dominant half of an expected first-base platoon. Of course the jury's still out on Mientkiewicz's defensive abilities. He's a thirtysomething coming off back surgery and the defensive metrics are mixed as to exactly how good he was even before the surgery. Baseball Prospectus's Rate stats show Mientkiewicz experiencing a steady decline since 2002 with his defense being considerably blow average in each of the last two years. Then again, Dave Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range has Minky up among the elite at the position last year, as is his reputation. But regardless of whether or not Mientkiewicz is still an asset in the field, the message sent by the front office is clear: defense matters.

That's bad news for Phelps. Phillips' defensive stats from 2006 largely echo Mientkiewicz's. Rate has him a tick below Minky, while Pinto ranks him between Nick Johnson and Kevin Youkilis, comfortably above average. Despite his struggles at the plate, Phillips' defense made a strong impression on Joe Torre last year. Andy can also fill in at third-base and play second and the outfield corners in a pinch—all of which he's done for the Yankees over the last two seasons. That gives him extra value coming off the bench, which he'd be doing in the majority of the Yankees' games. Phelps, meanwhile, is generally regarded as a defensive zero. A disaster as a catcher, Phelps has been limited to DH and first base since the age of 24 and has played in the field in just 31 of his 342 major league games since, a mere 9 percent. If that's not a damning indictment of his defensive abilities, I don't know what is. By comparison, Phillips has played the field in 91.5 percent of his 142 major league. In raw numbers, Phillips has played defense in more than four times as many major league games as Phelps despite appearing in just two-fifths as many major league games total.

The good news for Phelps is that his Rate stats, while poor and burdened by impossibly small samples, show an improvement trend that suggests that he may have needed a few seasons to learn his new position. Still, I expect that Phillips—who has the added advantage of being a familiar face who seemed to be popular in the Yankee clubhouse last year—will have the inside track to the right-handed first baseman's job as spring training begins. I also expect that, while both players will have to hit in order to win the job, Phelps' defense will be watched very closely by Torre and his coaches. If Phelps crushes the ball, but makes a few ugly plays around the bag, he just might be headed back to Baltimore. After all, if the Yankees were willing to field a first-baseman with an iron glove they could have skipped signing Mientkiewicz, kept Giambi and his persistant positional splits in the field, put Hideki Matsui at DH, started the defensively superior Melky Cabrera in left, and given Minky's roster spot to Bernie williams or, better yet, Aaron Guiel or Kevin Thompson.

Comments (77)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2007-02-11 22:26:32
1.   Mike T
Well look at that, the west coast guy bats leadoff. No surprise really, since it's only 10:30 here. I for one am very excited about the start of camp this year because of all the new faces the Yanks will have. Thanks for the breakdown Cliff.
2007-02-11 23:32:37
2.   Jukeofurl
Ditto what Mike T said. Good job Cliff---looking forward to more. . ..
2007-02-11 23:59:27
3.   Rich
I agree that Torre will likely require Phelps to win the job by something analogous to a clear and convincing evidence standard. Being slightly better than Phillips would likely not be sufficient.
2007-02-12 00:11:38
4.   BklynBmr
All I can say is that it is long overdue for a PayPal 'Donate' button on the Banter. Nothing close to the depth and breath of what Cliff posted here tonight will be found anywhere online (let alone the daily pearls delivered by Alex) — and someting we Yankees fans should not take for granted.

No offense to those who follow basketball or hockey, but from the Super Bowl to 'pitchers and catchers' there is not much reason to open the sports section in the daily paper.

This fills the void and got me pumped. Thanks, Cliff. Great stuff!

2007-02-12 03:21:52
5.   Jim Dean
Thanks Cliff. I still can't believe that of all the 1B in mL baseball these are the choices. Is it even possible to be more disgusted? How can an "enlightened" GM be so dumb?

And worst, these comments will be simply copied and pasted tomorrow...


2007-02-12 04:53:30
6.   The Mick 536
Not as unhappy with the choices as others.

Don't think that the presence of either Phelps or Phillips will cause the bench to sag as much as it did when the likes of Raul Mondesi and Terrence Long rode the pines. Staying on topic and not roaming out of the base lines into my other pressing fears, more upset about how the Giambino will do as full time DH and whether Minky will hit .280. Oh, for Johnny Mize or Chris Chambliss (both lefty batters).

2007-02-12 05:26:50
7.   joejoejoe
'After all, if the Yankees were willing to field a first-baseman with an iron glove they could have skipped signing Mientkiewicz, kept Giambi and his persistant positional splits in the field, put Hideki Matsui at DH, started the defensively superior Melky Cabrera in left, and given Minky's roster spot to Bernie Williams...'

I'm sure Bernie sees this option and isn't happy about the option taken by Cashman.

2007-02-12 05:32:34
8.   Sliced Bread
Who's on first?
It's a trick question.

I'm going with:
D.) None of the above


E.) All of the above

is also correct?

Excellent analysis, Cliff.

Word, 4 Bklyn.

2007-02-12 06:44:27
9.   rbj
Nice work, Cliff.

Damon, Jeter, Abreu, A-Rod, Giambi, Matsui, Posada, Cano -- I think the Yankees will be fine with a glove rather than a bat at first.

2007-02-12 06:54:33
10.   kylepetterson
Don't know if it's been said, but the Yanks start out the season #1 again. (At least according to Dayn Perry)
2007-02-12 07:00:33
11.   kylepetterson
2007-02-12 07:31:11
12.   Count Zero
This whole 1B thing is a conundrum to me. (BTW, great breakdown as usual Cliff!) I guess two key questions come to mind:

1) Are we really going to carry two "defensive" players at the position where defense matters the least? This seems completely irrational.
2) I understand the Phillips "versatility" argument, but let's face it -- we already have one versatile utility infielder in Miggy. Do we really need two versatile utility infielders who can't hit? Unless we're betting that Andy is going to come around this year?

I guess everything depends on what happens in the Spring, but if Phelps hits, I would be inclined to cut Mr. Phillips loose and keep an extra RH bat on the bench. Minky can always be used as a defensive replacement for Phelps late in the game. But then again, if we're keeping a RH bat on the bench, wouldn't it have made more sense to keep Bernabe with his .323/.387/.549/.936 splits vs. LHP?

It seems like a clusterF to me...

2007-02-12 07:50:23
13.   Cliff Corcoran
5 Jim, though I often think your complaints are unrealistic, I have to agree with you in this case. Sadly, I tend to think that, had Craig Wilson stayed in Pittsburgh last year, the Yankees would have signed him this winter. Instead he struggled in the Bronx down the stretch and was sent packing. Ditto Carlos Pena, who would have been a better low-cost option than Phelps given his ability to play defense, but who punched his Yankee ticket last year by failing to equal his minor league career averages in Columbus. I can excuse passing on Eduardo Perez and Hee Seop Choi due to age and injury respectively, but only just.
2007-02-12 09:10:38
14.   Jim Dean
13 I think you're right about Wilson. For what he signed for (2 mil/1 year vs MCI at 1.5 mil), they bring him into Spring Training and he easily wins the full-time job while showing his verstatility (OF/3rd C).

Instead he was given 100 AB's to prove himself. That's just plain absurd.

And Pena I agree with. Why not give him a Spring invite and tell him he has a legit shot to win the job?

If they were going through the scrap heap any ways, they should have tried to bring in anyone and everyone (Choi and Perez included) even remotely close especially because they'll end up settling for MCI and Josh Phillips.

Isn't it even worse that they just annointed Phillips last year? It's like they're a year late and a few dollars short doing what they should have done in 2006. Weird.

P.s. I don't doubt I venture close to fantasy at times. Still, what grade do you give Cashman for the off-season? It's not an A. Is it a really B though? Even a B-? That feels like a stretch to me.

2007-02-12 09:11:29
15.   Bama Yankee
Great job, Cliff. Thanks for the insight into Phelps' defense. It looks like he needs to spend some time with Donnie this spring to improve his glove work if he wants to win the job.

Also, hopefully Andy Phillips will learn to be a little more patient at the plate. After a slow start last April (when his wife was battling cancer and he was making trips home to Alabama on off days) he rebounded with a great May & June (.324/.342/.543 & leading the team in triples). Of course he lost his job after a terrible July (.165/.208/.483) when he looked clueless at the plate at times.

Maybe Andy can regain that May/June stroke. But my fear is that the league has figured him out. Not to mention that he seems like the type of hitter that needs to play everyday to get into a groove. Plus, he did not do well against lefties last year. Not good traits for a right handed platoon man.

2007-02-12 09:21:59
16.   David
Nice writeup, Cliff.

Oddly enough, Phillips did much better against righties than lefties last season (OPS .775 vs. .476). Mientkiewicz hit slightly better against leftie pitchers last season (.794 vs. .764.) Makes me wonder why a platoon of two mediocre players is worth doing.

The Yanks might have been better off using either Mientkiewicz, Phelps or Phillips full-time at first and using a DH platoon of Sheffield and Giambi.

2007-02-12 09:31:22
17.   Cliff Corcoran
14 Phillips was hardly annointed last year, Miguel Cairo had more starts at first base than Phillips early on, that was the issues. Remember, Giambi was supposed to play first last year and they were going to use DH as a rotating rest spot for Matsui, Damon, Sheff and Giambi, it was only after the injuries to Matsui and Sheffield that they decided that the best solution would be to DH Giambi and play Phillips at first. Besides which, given Phillips' minor league track record, he deserved a full-time shot at some point. Sadly he didn't cash in.

As for grading the GM, that sounds like a post idea, but I'd say B+ would be fair. His primary task was the rotation and in a frightening pitching market he got Mussina at a discount, Pettitte on a one-year deal, Igawa at a great post-bid price, and loaded up the farm system by dumping aging/injury-prone vets of dubious value and significant expense rather than the inverse, which has been the case in the past. All of the organization's top prospects are still here and the team seems prepared to trust their young arms in the rotation and the pen. That's all far more valuable than the miniscule improvements that could have been made at back-up catcher or utility infielder. Certainly he could have done better in those spots and at first base, but that's why it's a B+ and not an A of some kind. Besides, sore subject that it might be, he gets extra credit for finally cutting bait on Bernie. One thing Cash has shown a particular knack at these past two winters has been knowing when to get rid of someone and in some cases managing to get value in return for unwanted parts (Womack, Chacon, Wright, even Sheff).

2007-02-12 10:06:10
18.   Jim Dean
17 Phillips was anointed by Cashman (for exactly the reason of that DH rotation). Torre disagreed, then came around with the injuries. Phillips maybe deserved a chance. But given that he was going on his year 29, he shouldn't have been the only option for that very easy to fill slot.

That B+ seems inflated, especially in your grading system.

I agree 100% on Moose and Pettitte. And the Shef trade.

Igawa is still an unknown. But I don't think he gets much credit on the post-bid contract. That flowed very easily from the Dice-k deal. It was just slotting him in.

But you're right - he gets credit on the arms (esp. all pre-Unit deal). No complaints there. Again a solid A.

So a solid A up through the mid-term of Pettitte. The Unit deal IMHO knocks him down a notch (more because he had the D'backs by the balls - a rotation of Webb and Livan and nothing else - and got little of value to the 07 Yanks. I know there's significant disagreement there.) Say A-.

Then 1B seems like it knocks him down to a B. That's a full-time player (600 AB's) and he ends up with Doug Phelps Phillips. That's like failing an easy multiple choice exam - miserably. So a B.

Then the UIF and BUC. Again, that just feels like another failed exam - he really could have done no worse. If between the two they get another 600 AB's, I don't see how Cashman doesn't get knocked down to a C+. Maybe if they only get 300 AB's combined, then he's a B-.

And me, I don't feel comfortable giving extra credit for Bernie. He was a mistake last year that worked out for the absolute best (his numbers and Melky).

So I guess it all depends on how much weight you place on the full-time player (1B), the potential full-timer (UIF/BUC), and if the Unit trade was good, bad, or neutral.

2007-02-12 10:10:46
19.   Jim Dean
18 As for the Wright deal, I look at it this way: The Orioles are paying 3 million for a guy that pitched 140 innings last year with an ERA+ of 98. That's a very good deal from their perspective (not counting the Mazzone history). And all the Yanks got was Chris Britton who could be replicated by a Beam or Cox or even a dump like Bruney?

It's a minor complaint but a complaint nonetheless.

2007-02-12 10:39:54
20.   Cliff Corcoran
19 And I look at it this way: the Yankees got Britton, who posted a 135 ERA+ in the majors at age 23 last year, for free (the money sent to the O's was the cost of Wright's buyout). Beam is two years older and posted an 8.50 ERA in the majors last year and Cox isn't ready.

18 I agree that I would have liked the Yanks to have gotten more for RJ, but still, he's a 43-year-old coming off back surgery who may not even be ready to start the season. We may be asking too much. On the flip, I don't agree that Bernie worked out for the absolute best. He hurt them in the field and got 287 at-bats from the left side against just 150 from the right.

Last year Cairo, Stinnett & Fasano combined for about 350 at-bats, 425 exactly if you throw in Nick Green.

2007-02-12 10:40:52
21.   markp
I agree-the Wright trade didn't get much, the 1B situation is absurd, and the bench is (as usual) a black hole. While I like BC acquiring a lot of young arms with solid potential, that needn't have excluded getting at least a solid 1B. The handling of the Wilson situation shows a real lack of baseball knowledge. Judging a player from 100 ABs is rookie GM stuff.
2007-02-12 10:51:51
22.   bartap74
I can't help thinking that the best possible opening day line-up for the Yankees would look like this:

1. Damon CF
2. Jeter SS
3. Abreu RF
4. ARod 3B
5. Giambi 1B
6. Matsui LF
7. Cano 2B
8. Posada C
9. Cabrera LF

w/ Scrabble coming in for defense in the 7th, 8th or 9th.

That line-up would be sick and would more than make up for Giambi's defensive shortcomings IMHO, especially since Giambi hits better when he plays the field.

2007-02-12 10:56:46
23.   Jim Dean
20 Folks think I argue - I simply like to discuss...

And Bruney at age 24 put up a 503 ERA+ (really!) in 20 IP. RHRP pitchers are a frisky bunch. Still, if I'm the Yanks I say: "We pay that same 4 million to Wright and cut him loose on the open market. How much do you think he's worth?".

I think that's a place where if they waited longer (with where the market ended up), Wright would have looked alot more attractive (at 3 mil/1 year) and the price would have been higher than Britton. Still, it's really a minor complaint on my part. If Cashman did everything else right, that wouldn't have affected his grade in my book.

There's room for alot of disgreement on Unit and we've shown that here this off-season. They got four mL players. I would have preferred one.

Bernie - I should have said "they got the absolute best that they could have expected".

And yup on the bench AB's. It could be worse - it could be better. Still, apart from swapping Melky for Bernie (which was actually close this off-season if you believe the Gonzo rumors), I can't imagine the bench being any worse. That's a stomach punch and a groin kick for all 300 to 600 of those AB's.

2007-02-12 11:23:21
24.   Shaun P
The first base options may be crappy at best right now, but if there's one position that's easy to upgrade in-season, its first base.

The Devil Rays are probably not going to need both Choi and Pena, maybe even neither of them. Maybe Chris Shelton goes 0 for Spring Training, and Detroit has him in AAA to start the year. Maybe Atlanta decides Craig Wilson is expendable for a bullpen guy. And so on.

Cashman has always shown a great ability to upgrade midseason. I expect that, unless Phelps/Phillips hits very well, the guy playing 1B for the Yanks on August 1st may be someone not even on the 40-man right now.

2007-02-12 11:23:28
25.   Jim Dean
21 I place the blame for Wilson squarely on Torre. Cashman got him a legit upgrade (for 1b, DH, OF), and Torre punted. Under those conditions, I can't imagine Wilson coming back for this year even if the Yanks wanted him.

22 You've got two LF's and no DH. Still I understand and agree completely. That's a nice internal upgrade in May if anyone comes to their senses.

2007-02-12 11:29:10
26.   mehmattski
25 I would love to see that lineup as well, because I don't think having Giambi at 1B is that big of a deal in the long run. But right now it looks like the season will start with Minky at 1B and Giambi at DH, and Melky on the bench. Unlike other players, Minky can hit absolutely nothing for a long while before the "at least he plays solid defense" argument loses its bite. SoI think Minky is going to have to play absolutely wretched, like worse than July A-Rod, defense at first base to convince anyone that he's shot and needs replacement. That's the only realistic way I see the lineup in 22 happening.
2007-02-12 11:29:52
27.   Shaun P
One other point. Personal issues may have impacted moves here.

Maybe Carlos Pena left a poor taste in the organization's mouth after his AAA stint last summer. Or maybe Pena was so ticked he didn't get a shot with the Yanks that he wouldn't even consider signing with them now.

Maybe Craig Wilson was ticked off about not just being left off the ALDS roster in favor of Phillips but also not being asked to travel with the team if an injury happened. Or maybe he left such a bad impression on Torre & Co. that they told Cashman not to re-sign him.

Of course I'm just speculating. But its worth remembering that we don't have all the info when we evaluate what the Yanks could/should/would have done this offseason with these guys.

2007-02-12 11:31:03
28.   Jim Dean
24 "Cashman has always shown a great ability to upgrade midseason."

Easy. He gets mad props for Justice and Abreu. But CF in 2005 showed otherwise.

Still, you're right regarding 1B. But the problem is whoever it is they'll need to come in and produce right away or else they get Wilsoned.

That's the problem with mid-season upgrades. You lose the trial period of Spring Training to impress the decision makers. Given that they had all of 2006 to see the problem at 1B, that makes this off-season so much worse in my mind (sorta like CF in 2004 and 2005).

2007-02-12 11:31:55
29.   Chyll Will
22 Eh, bartap? You got Melky holding Matsui's collection in LF. Where's you're DH?
[nice reissue of the nickname, though >;)]

Great again, Cliff. My only query is if it really is that much of a loss if Phelps is sent back to the Orioles, considering that they'd only have paid $25k for having him at all if they do. In the long run, Bernie could opt to do a Clemens and wait for mid-season, and in the meantime work out at first in anticipation of an open spot. If it were me and as he stated he'd work out in hopes of getting a call later, I'd get my 1B mitt ready.

At any rate, if Bernie were to finagle his way back in, I'd say that the least bit of drag would be the RH platoon at first if the current platoon doesn't work out. Hey, I said my good-byes already, but I acknowledge the argument that he could have been a better platoon option were it not for Scrabble and Miggs...

2007-02-12 11:32:25
30.   ny2ca2dc
19 You're underselling Britton and overselling Beam and Cox quite a bit. Beam has done nothing good in the majors (though i still hold out hope for him), while Britton while rushed thru the O's system was their 2nd best reliever, and could probably tie for 3rd best in our pen.

On another note, what about Ronnie Belliard for RH1B/UIF? I was among those hoping for Loretta for UIF, but Belliard is still out there, somehow, and is Right-handed... 4mil/yr, think it would be worth it and would he go for it? The upside might not be worth the effort/$$/reduction in flexability though; what i like about the mkz signing is how expendable he is. I'm hoping for Sexon to come in mid-season in exchange for Pavano straight up (with Hughes taking Pavano's slot) ;). Did I just say Pavano? Sorry!

2007-02-12 11:38:53
31.   williamnyy23
I think before you can kill Cashman for failing to get a better 1B/UI/backup catcher, you need to offer real alternatives.

At 1B, Craig Wilson is the obvious example. He is exactly what the Yankees need, but for some reason things didn't go too well in 2006. As mentioned above, I don't think you can necessarily blame Cashman for not resigning him because it's likely that Wilson wanted no part of returning.

Similarly, you can throw out names like Gomez and Loretta all you want, but I simply don't think solid backups are going to target the Yankees when they can get lots more playing time elsewhere.

As for backup catcher, I honestly don't know what Cashman could have done. A guy like Zaun would have been useful, but it would have been silly to match the Jays offer for a backup.

As things stand, I am not too worried about 1B or the bench. Phelps is an interesting option and, at worst, Mienky should still provide solid defense. Should this combo prove to be a black hole, the Yankees have more than enough resources to address the problem. I think it would have been silly to break the bank now in pursuit of a Helton or Sexson when biding his time might allow Cashman to make another "Abreu-like" deal for a first baseman.

2007-02-12 11:52:02
32.   williamnyy23
19 I am not sure how anyone could not like the Jaret Wright deal. Putting aside the Yankees acquired a young reliever with one very good season under his belt, simply getting rid of Jaret Wright was enough to make the deal worthwhile (getting to face him 4 or 5 next season would make the deal better).

All kidding aside, while Wright did give the Yankees 140 league average innings, his inability to go beyond 5 innings was a major drain on the bullpen. With the key components of the Yankees reliever corps aging or just plain fragile, having a guy like Wright bow out after 5 is a luxury that the team can not afford. Also, it is important to keep in mind that Wright's 2006 season wasn't exactly the continuation of an established track record. In 2007, he is just as likely to be injured or just plain awful. That's not exactly an upside.

29 Belliard isn't exactly the answer either. As a UI, he would certainly be better than Cairo, but there is no way Belliard would sign on for such a limited role. I also don't see the value in signing him as a RH1B. Not only has he never played the position, but he might not even be as good a hitter.

2007-02-12 11:54:58
33.   Chyll Will
27 That's got to be the most overlooked aspect of analysis in all of these discussions, though I've mentioned it several times before. Not everyone is enamored with playing for the Yanks; far more often than not the reason's beyond mere competitiveness. Some guys don't like playing in a pressure-cooker, having guys like Gollum question their manhood on a regular basis behind closed-minded rags. Some guys don't like life in The Big Apple. Some guys don't like particular players entrenched on the roster, some guys don't rubenSteinbrenner. Point is, we shouldn't assume that decisions are made solely on the basis of dollars and stats. They were in the early part of the decade, but I don't see that right now.

Look at it this way, if a certain player under the microscope already ends up opting out this year, money's not going to be the issue; if anything he'd probably seek a lower profile (while maintaining the perks? I wouldn't know, which is my point...)

2007-02-12 11:59:26
34.   Bama Yankee
27 Excellent point Shaun. Maybe Minky and Andy are a better fit in the clubhouse than Wilson/Pena/Hillenbrand/Whoever (sorry if I should have used

If Minky/Phillips can help A-Rod both off the field (due to friendship) and on (due to catching errant throws) then I could live with the weak bat. Especially, since the lineup in 22 (maybe without the 3 lefties in a row) will probably get penciled in more than a few times this year (due to interleague and hopefully the Serious) and therefore we would only see Minky/Phillips as the LIDR during those games.

2007-02-12 11:59:40
35.   Jim Dean
31 That's been a steady discussion this off-season.

1B - Too numerous to list. You're looking for a 24 - 26 year old with a decent bat and glove. Since every hitter who can't field is put at 1B, it's not too hard. For instance, the Yanks' trading partners this off-season had 1B's to offer (Shelton, Tracey).

BUC - Zaun was the obvious choice, and if they were smart they would have gone at him hard as soon as he was available and with an exploding offer. The next choice should have been to get a prospect that's been devalued by their home organization (Jeff Clement, Jeff Mathis). To do neither is pretty disgusting. And it's been that way for two-three years now.

UIF - Gomez got 132 AB's last year. Loretta was maybe looking for more playing time. Then there's Damion Easley (189 AB's in 2006 at 83 OPS+) - who signed with the Muts for 850k. He's not much of an upgrade but still an upgrade (except those 13 SB's).

The point is that there were options available. And Cashman could have done better with any of them.

2007-02-12 12:01:54
36.   Chyll Will
32 I didn't say Belliard, I suggested Bernie. However, I do agree with you, so no worries >;)
2007-02-12 12:07:49
37.   Jim Dean
williamnyy23 -

Simple question: If Wright were a free agent after 2006, what does his contract look like right now?

Unless you say < 3 mil for 1 year, the point is the O's got him at a steal. Sure, Britton could be very good this year and for many years to come. But league average starting pitcher's are much more rare (than RHRP) even if they are only good for 5th starter status.

Like I said - it's a minor complaint, but that's how one could not like the deal.

2007-02-12 12:12:14
38.   Chyll Will
35 May I suggest that Cash and Co. were spooked by Alex's defensive meltdown in July and decided to focus on defense at first to minimize any recurrences this year? With what was available in the market, and who was willing to sign under the circumstances, what would have been better going into Spring Training?
2007-02-12 12:14:42
39.   Bama Yankee
38 Mattingly coming out of retirement? ;-)
2007-02-12 12:24:19
40.   Jim Dean
38 Maybe. But they couldn't do better for defense than a 33 yo coming off back surgery and a 94 OPS+ for the Royals?
2007-02-12 12:27:03
41.   Jim Dean
Sorry for all the posts - today and tomorrow are in my bitchfest wheelhouse. I'll throw a gasoline soaked rag in my mouth for the BUC discussion.
2007-02-12 12:33:37
42.   ny2ca2dc
37 That's not a robust argument... First you say the O's got a steal because (and I would agree) Wright is worth more than $3M/yr, while ignoring the other side of the equation, which is Britton. Then in the very next sentence you go on to admit that Britton could be very good... so which is it, is he a non-factor, or possibly very good, good enough to factor into the trade? Next you're anointing Wright a league average starter, when he only went some 140 innings. Just because someone puts up a 100 ERA+ for x innings (with x being less than league average, as it no doubt is in this case) as a starter does not make them league average - a replacement player or some crappy middle reliever (unless you've got enough relievers to put quality out there, which we did NOT have last year and WILL have this year...) needs to pick up those innings, which depresses the value of the starter being judged. I understand your feeling, I think (that we could'a gotten more than Britton), but the argument you presented is a shell game. People were not lining up for Wright, probably because they realize the importance of durability and innings pitched... (I know you do, don't mean to give that impression, but that argument isn't up to your standards, my friend! I hope this isn't coming across as an attack post, I intend the tone to be nothing but friendly & banterish!!)
2007-02-12 12:34:23
43.   Chyll Will
39 Well that goes without saying, Bama. Why do you think they have him sitting so close to Torre this year? >;)

40 Admit it, JD, we don't know everything. If this is the best we could do under the circumstances, I think that it's a reflection on free market and not just the GM. Just be glad he didn't sign Scrabble for $8.5 mil.

2007-02-12 12:39:04
44.   williamnyy23
35 If the number of first base options are so numerous, name three viable options. I don't agree with your suggestion that 1Bmen grow on trees. Defense at the position does have importance and you can't just stick any bat there.

As for Shelton and Tracy, I am not even sure they are that much better than Phelps. Of course, Phelps cost $50,000 and Shelton and Tracy would have cost players in a trade. Personally, I'd much rather have the trio of pitchers the Yankees received from Detroit than sacrifice one or two to get Shelton back in return. As for Tracy, whom I do like, there is no reason to believe the D-backs were willing to trade him. In fact, rumors to the contrary surfaced at the time the deal was being discussed.

As for Zaun, I don't think you can spend $3.5mn on your back-up catcher, but if you want to go the route, I can't argue with you. Regardless, it was clear from the outset that Zaun wanted to return to Toronto anyway. He basically jumped at the chance to resign as soon as Barajas abdicated.

Finally, if Gomez and Easley are the best you can do to replace Cairo, then I'd rather just give Joe the comfort of keeping his Miggy, who as a better defender and base runner is probably more valuable anyway.

If you think Cashman should have done a better job compiling a bench, I can't argue with you. I just don't think you have provided any compelling alternatives.

2007-02-12 12:39:11
45.   Chyll Will
41 Hey, that's Schteeve's job!
2007-02-12 12:40:44
46.   williamnyy23
36 Sorry! I have no idea how I inferred Belliard from your post.
2007-02-12 12:47:06
47.   Jim Dean
42 My only complaint, minor as I've said, is Britton wasn't enough. To come to that conclusion I look at the free market.

There, Wright probably gets 2-3 years for 16-30 million.

Britton, by contrast is worth considerably less than that, and less than half.

So it's just that their values don't equate. The fact that the Yanks sent 4 million too is even more silly.

Me, if I was negotiating that trade (preferably in December), I say Wright will cost X on the open market (see Meche, Gil and even Weaver, Jeff). You can have him for Y. Let's make a deal (Seattle, Royals, O's, Cardinals, etc.).

At his 7 million salary, and his performance in 2006, Britton would have been just right because he's still underpaid (see again Weaver, Jeff). But at 3 million? That was an unbalanced trade.

2007-02-12 12:48:35
48.   Chyll Will
46 You meant 30, but again I agree with you.
2007-02-12 12:49:10
49.   YankeeInMichigan
"In addition to being the only of these three decisions that the Yankees can't change their minds about later ..."

Aren't Rasner and Henn out of options?

2007-02-12 12:52:19
50.   williamnyy23
37 In this market, who knows what Wright would have gotten. If I was a GM, I wouldn't even make him an offer. Also, one thing to remember is that the inflated contracts this season were the result of the game being awash in cash. That doesn't mean, however, that most teams are awash in talent. So, while it is likely that a team would have paid Wright more than $3 million per season, that doesn't mean they would have offered a player significantly better than Britton to get him.

Maybe Cashman could have squeezed out more in return, but at the time the deal was made, I thought he did a great job. At best, Jaret Wright is a pitcher that can give you 150 league average innings. If you think he represents a steal for the Orioles, that's fine, but I am just glad the Yankees will be facing him this season because his down side is much more likely to rear its ugly head.

Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2007-02-12 12:59:36
51.   Cliff Corcoran
49 Even if they are, they're not the only in-house alternatives for their respective roles.
2007-02-12 13:02:33
52.   ny2ca2dc
47 Again, you're underselling Britton to make a weak arguement; Britton's PECOTAs:

Next year weighted mean line:
1.29 3.77 3.79 3.64 8.2 3.0 7.3 1.1 13.5 1.1 2.0

His valuations:
Year WARP MORP Mean VORP Upside
2007 2.0 $3,800,000 14.4 10.3
2008 1.8 $3,650,000 13.0 10.1
2009 1.8 $3,875,000 12.9 9.6
2010 1.6 $3,475,000 10.9 7.6
2011 1.5 $3,500,000 10.5 8.1
Peak 8.7 $13,925,000 61.6 45.7

In other words, he'll almost make us back the $4M we sent to the O's THIS YEAR, and the rest will be gravy. Again, Britton was maybe as good as Proctor last year, and that was in his age 23 season after being rushed. This guy is not a scrub! Also, Wright is being projected to pitch 130 innings of 4.73 eqERA ball. We won this one.

2007-02-12 13:07:49
53.   Jim Dean

1B - Goldman has said it better than I ever could. But pick any random AAA 1B (use your dartboard for added fun!) and they could do better than this year's variety.

BUC - It all assumes Jorge is healthy. By your logic, you have to say you're fine with Wil Pratt if Jorge gets hurt. Few people are. Clement and Mathis could also be had.

"Finally, if Gomez and Easley are the best you can do to replace Cairo, then I'd rather just give Joe the comfort of keeping his Miggy, who as a better defender and base runner is probably more valuable anyway."

Easley, for his career, is a RATE 101 at 2B a 101 at 3B, and a 100 at SS.

Cairo, for his career, is a RATE 102 at 2B, a 91 at 3B, and a 100 at SS.

If anything, Easley is the better fielder because of 3B.

Whatever advatage Cairo has in SB (13 last year) are outweighed by Easley getting on base more (.280 vs. .317) and hitting for much more power (.320 vs. .418).

Gomez is more interesting for his potential bat and would play a better 1B with adequate fielding elsewhere (RATE > 94).

It's a pretty easy rhetorical flip to give a baseline and to keep moving it (Nope - not good enough!). But in the case of the bench sucking great donkey balls, it's a fairly simple matter that there were improvements to be had.

2007-02-12 13:12:35
54.   Jim Dean
52 Sorry, but I don't trust projections based on one MLB season. It's not a big deal, and Britton may be great. And while I won't say the Yanks lost that trade, I don't think it's a stretch to say they could have gotten more or not tossed in the 4 million.

50 One year from now we'll have an answer, and if Wright's 2007 looks anything like his 2006, he'll be a very rich man.

2007-02-12 13:13:52
55.   Shaun P
47 Value, however, does not equal salary.

You could argue that, because Britton is a 5 years away from being eligible for free agency, that Britton is immensely more valuable than Jaret Wright, who will be a free agent in 2008; and thus, Britton for Wright plus $3M (a sunk cost, BTW, so it shouldn't be counted) is very defensible.

Think about it like this. The monetary cost of the Yanks finding out what performance Jaret Wright would deliver in 2007 was $4M (again, the $3M towards the buyout is a sunk cost; the Yanks paid it either way). Beyond that, its up to 'the market'.

The monetary cost of finding out what kind of performance Chris Britton will deliver in 2007 is less than $400K (presuming he spends most of '07 in the bigs). The Yanks then control him exclusively for 4 more years. They'll owe Britton around $400K again in '08. For '09-'11, his cost will be directly tied to his performance through arbitration.

If Britton turns into a pretty good reliever, the Yanks might end up paying him less than $7M for five total seasons.

Britton's cheap cost, plus the Yanks' exclusive control over him for 5 years (or more - he does have options), is easily worth Wright. When you factor in the difference in ages, IMHO, it becomes a huge steal in the Yanks' favor.

2007-02-12 13:18:18
56.   Jim Dean
BTW: What's scary about Britton is how far his K/9 rate has fallen from his mL numbers (6.88 from 9.5). Everything else looks the same, but he may have just been lucky last year with BABIP. We shall see.
2007-02-12 13:18:48
57.   Chyll Will
50 Speaking of ugly heads, the O's had better hope that Wright turns out to be a steal now...

2007-02-12 13:23:35
58.   ny2ca2dc
55 You've got the 4M vs 3M mixed up (it was 4M buyout & shipped to O's and a 3M salary), but your point is right on regardless. In 52 I said we "won" that one - I should've said something like "it was a good trade". It was not a fleecing, but it was a quite good, solid trade. Nothing to make us start casting statues of Cashman, but a good trade, one i'm quite happy with.

It's like some people aren't happy unless every deal is some epic heist... and that's not a good standard, nor a good way to make baseball decisions (see Bowden not dealing Soriano, but robbing the Reds blind).

2007-02-12 13:23:40
59.   Jim Dean
55 I can't believe this discussion continues from a very minor complaint.

From the perspective of a team looking to acquire Wright, he's worth alot more than 3 million for 1 year.

That's my point. How much more and what more could have been had are anybody's guess. And that's my last word on the topic.

2007-02-12 13:23:45
60.   Shaun P
55 Whoops - my bad on the cash; I'd say then that only $1M of the $4M the Yanks sent with Wright should count.

Even still, a huge win in the Yanks' favor.

53 Don't overlook that 2/3rds of the games Easley played at 3B were in 1992-96, and that he didn't play an inning there again until 2003. And, if you look at just last year's hitting stats, Easley did play his home games in a hitters park (Arizona) in the worse league. All that plus Easley's age (38) vs Cairo's (35) is more than enough to make Miggy a better choice, such as it is.

2007-02-12 13:27:39
61.   williamnyy23
53 Any random Triple A 1B? Isn't that exactly what the Yankees did with Phelps? I am not sure I see your point.

Clement and Mathis could have been had for what? Do you know? If not, I don't see how you can evaluate Cashman's decisions on either.

Damion Easley has played about 50 games at 3B since 1995. Are you really using his defense at 3B as an argument? Also, Cairo is 5 years younger than Easley, making his defense metrics more relevant.

What's more, your comparison of Cairo's and Easley's 2006 SLG is very misleading at best. The gap over their careers is much smaller (.404 to .361). The same his true for their OBP (.328 TO .316).

As for Gomez, 1 good 150 AB season is not nearly enough to qualify him as a "potential bat". In over 4,700 PAs, Gomez has an OPS+ of 82. He is 36. There is NO potential there.

I am not moving the baseline on you…you haven't even approached it, in my opinion.

2007-02-12 13:33:14
62.   ny2ca2dc
56 That's selective quoting, in all of 16.1 IP in AA he had a 9.2 K/9. Contrast that with 2005 in A+, 78.7 IP with 7.8 K/9. What a shock that he struck out less in the majors than in A+ and AA...

Britton is not the next Mo Rivera, but he is not a throw in, and is young with some upside. If we had him last year, it would've helped a lot of those times Wright spit the bit after 2...

2007-02-12 13:33:18
63.   Jim Dean
60 Easley actually had better numbers on the road in 2006:

Road (130 PA): .220 .336 .413 .749
Home (90 PA): .250 .303 .425 .728

And their defensive stats are very similar the last few years. They're the same player except Cairo steals bases and Easley gets on base and slugs more. I'll take the latter thanks, esp if anyone wants to argue there were no better options available.

2007-02-12 13:37:13
64.   Jim Dean
62 Not sure where you're getting your numbers (IP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9).

Career mL: 247 7.36 0.87 2.99 9.51
Career ML: 53 7.71 0.67 2.85 6.88

2007-02-12 13:41:06
65.   Jim Dean
61 Potential "bat" in regards to Cairo:

2005: 64 OPS+
2006: 59 OPS+

Raise you hand if you notice a trend?

And sure Phelps may work out fine. Still doesn't explain Phillips or MCI.

At BUC, you could have also had Kotteras, Bard, Shoppach - all moved teams in the last year. Kottaras for two months of David Wells (gasp!). Catching prospects can be had for the right price.

2007-02-12 13:46:06
66.   Jim Dean
Oh yeah, and Damion Easley

2005: 95 OPS+
2006: 83 OPS+

Those trendlines may be parallel, but there is certainly a main effect.

2007-02-12 13:48:18
67.   Jim Dean
Like I said - gasoline rag in my mouth for the BUC discussion. And there's a chance I may light it, especially if folks start defending the BUC options as the best that could be had.
2007-02-12 13:48:30
68.   Cliff Corcoran
53 I knew someone would misinterperate Steve's column.

Steve wasn't talking about Phelps/Phillips, he was talking about the idea (based on a lot of speculation) that Cairo would be used as the RH 1B in place of Phelps/Phillips in order to squeeze Bernie onto the roster, which itself was based on the assumption that Bernie would accept the NRI, which he didn't. Phelps and Phillips, as 61 points out, are exactly the sort of freely available mL RH 1Bs with power that Steve was saying the Yankees should employ rather than a no-hit utility guy like Cairo, or Gomez for that matter.

2007-02-12 13:49:35
69.   ny2ca2dc
55 still waiting for a compelling arguement that the Wright trade was not a good one, or even a robust criticism...

64 from BP:

I was using the eq K/9, sorry. Regardless, essentially all of his minor experience is BELOW AA, so can't make a straight mLB vs. MLB K/9 comparison and evaluate the drop as if he had spend a year in each level. If a 23 year old retains a 9.5 K/9 going from A+ and below straight to MLB, he's worth a hell of a lot more than Wright and $4m...

And now I'll sign off.

2007-02-12 13:54:38
70.   Jim Dean
68 Not sure which column you're referencing. Me - it's the Missle Gap one:

"As for the Yankees, they would actually reap more of a benefit from adding Helton, though the contract is still a major deterrent. It's not really Helton the Yankees need to add, it's anyone. As the predictions above suggest, their attack isn't so dominant that they can afford to give away offense at any position. Given one or more significant injuries, and the shortfall at first base will not only hamper them, it will stop the offense cold."

2007-02-12 14:01:51
71.   Cliff Corcoran
70 My bad, I meant his most recent Blog.
2007-02-12 18:33:59
72.   Jim Dean
71 No worries. But I for one would still LOVE to have Helton on the team, especially if the cost is 50 million. Everyone reponds (in unison) "But the contract!"

To that I say: "So what?". The Yanks can afford it and Helton's the type of guy that if he doesn't start producing within a year or three, he'll retire and go home rather than take a paycheck he doesn't earn.

Commence ridicule.

2007-02-12 18:42:25
73.   Jim Dean
Oh, and these people are fucking crazy:

"Today marks the unofficial start of spring training for the Red Sox: It's Truck Day at Fenway Park! The Sox equipment truck left from Fenway Park in Boston today, bound for the team's spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla. Here, Michael Patti struggles to put the spring training banner on the van."
For photo gallery!

2007-02-12 19:55:54
74.   yankz
David Wright is a true Met. He says that this is the best time of the year.

Everyone knows that the best time of the year is October.

2007-02-12 21:18:01
75.   Jeteupthemiddle
72 I'll bite.

====Helton's the type of guy that if he doesn't start producing within a year or three, he'll retire and go home rather than take a paycheck he doesn't earn.

How the hell can anyone say that?

And it isn't so much the money it is the YEARS and the back.

That's it, I'm done.

2007-02-12 21:38:30
76.   yankz
Have you met Todd Helton? I've met some great guys, and I don't know if any of them would turn down millions and millions of dollars.
2007-02-13 06:14:40
77.   williamnyy23
65 Yes, I do notice a trend. It tells me that the available pool of back-up MIs is so weak that I wouldn't kill Cashman for resigning Cairo instead of bringing in another atrophied bat that might be a little bit better.

So, you admit Phelps might work out. That's a start. Of course, you still haven't suggested whom else they should have thrown into the mix. Phillips and DM were low cost or no cost acquisitions. I give Cashman credit for having patience and letting the 1B situation shake itself out. Signing a myriad of minor league free agents doesn't seem to make much sense to me.

You seem to be very passionate about the BUC situation, but you still haven't offered credible alternatives. First off, Shoppach and Bard were traded for each other as part of larger deals. If the Yankees had a mid-level catching prospect to trade, they wouldn't need to acquire one in the first place. When Bard was traded the second time, it was because Boston was desperate to reacquire Mirabelli. Besides, do you really think the Red Sox and Yankees are going to make a trade anytime soon? Finally, Kotteras was traded to Boston last season because the Padres needed another starting pitcher. Whom do you think the Yankees could have offered to San Diego instead of Wells? Just because three catching "prospects" were traded last season doesn't mean they were available to the Yankees.

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