Brandon Laird arrested in Phoenix

Via Marc Carig, Yanks’ prospect Brandon Laird was arrested (along with his brother, Tigers’ catcher Gerald Laird) at U.S. Airways Arena in Phoenix following last night’s Suns-Celtics game. Gerald was cited with assaulting a security guard, Brandon with disorderly conduct following a brawl in the lounge area of the arena. A third person was also arrested.

Laird is (at least) the fourth Yankee farmhand to get in trouble for beatin’ someone down within the last three years, joining George Kontos, Austin Krum, and J.B. Cox. Hey, at least they aren’t stealing laptops from schools.

Open Thread: River Ave. Blues top ten of 2009

For the Yankees, 2009 was a very, very good year. The team won a Major League-leading 103 games. Then, they went 11-4 throughout the postseason and ended the year with a parade through the Canyon of Heroes. The Old Guard pulled out a fifth ring, and the newcomers and mid-decade interlopers did their thing too. With that 27th championship wrapped up, we were in an Empire State of Mind throughout the fall.

Last year on this date, I presented the top ten most popular RAB posts of the year, and so I offer it up again. Even as the Yanks won the World Series, our readers craved rumors, rumors and even more rumors.

1. Updated Yankees 2009 payroll information
Our most popular post of the year was one written in February. Joe analyzed the Yanks’ 2009 payroll and the team’s long-term salary commitments as well. Apparently, that’s what happens when we write a post that’s the top hit on the Google Search page for 2009 Yankees Payroll.

2. Stealing Juan Cruz
As Brian Cashman worked to put together the 2009 Yankees, Mike suggested that the team take a good, hard look at Juan Cruz. Luckily, the Yanks ignored us. Cruz missed most of August and September and put up a 5.72 ERA in 50.1 innings for the Royals. He strike out numbers dropped by nearly 50 percent while his walk rate remained the same. It was not a good year for Cruz.

3. A-Rod now dating above replacement level
Who says we have to be classy all the time? Our third most popular post of 2009 was one reporting that A-Rod and Kate Hudson were officially an item. Kate, as we all know, was the reason why the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, and we’ll have to hope that A-Rod rebounds from their recent off-season breakup. Supposedly, A-Rod is still into Madonna.

4. Yanks acquire Javy Vazquez for Melky, Dunn
Brian Cashman delivered an early Christmas present for the Yanks when he packaged Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino in a deal for Javier Vazquez. The Braves needed to free up some salary, and Cashman has coveted Vazquez since he was dealt from the Yanks following the 2004 season.

5. Spillover Thread: Yanks in talks to acquire a starting pitcher
The night before we learned Javy Vazquez would return to the Yanks, the Internet was abuzz with rumors of an impending trade for a pitcher. While the Yanks and Braves worked out a deal, no one knew exactly which pitchers the Yanks were targeting, and many fans spent the evening speculating on the identity of the trade target.

6. On the day after Christmas, my GM got for me…
As a Christmas calmed settled over the baseball world this past weekend, we debated which missing pieces the Yanks would need to fill to make a run of it in 2010. Will they land a left fielder? Another bat? Another pitcher? And what of the bench? These questions remain unanswered.

7. Prospect Profile: Mark Melancon
Another Google-inspired popular post, Mike’s Mark Melancon profile has drawn Yankee fans from around the world looking for more information on this late-inning option. Melancon will open the 2010 season competing for a job in the Bronx bullpen.

8. What the Blue Jays seek for Halladay
On the day after Thanksgiving, it seemed obvious to all that the Toronto Blue Jays would send Roy Halladay packing. Joe explored what Toronto expected in return. In the end, Halladay was part of a three-team deal that sent prospects and players every which way. The Doc is in Philly where he won’t face the Yankees during the regular season at all.

9. Why it’s Duchscherer, Sheets or stand pat with the pitching staff
Just a few days before the Yanks acquired Javier Vazquez, Joe urged the team to look at free agents Justin Duchscherer or Ben Sheets or no one at all. In the end, we had no idea the team was trying to reel in a bigger fish.

10. Going after the big Fish
As rumors of pitchers swirled around baseball, Mike urged the Yanks to look at Josh Johnson. The wheelin’ and dealin’ seems finished for now, but Josh Johnson could emerge as the biggest name available at the trade deadline come July.

* * *

And so as evening falls, we bid adieu to 2009. It was a great year for both RAB and the Yanks, and we’re looking forward to an even better 2010. This is your open thread for the night. Have fun. Be safe. And toast the Yanks’ great season before midnight ushers in another year and a blank baseball slate.

Sickels’ Top 20 Yankee Prospects

Over at Minor League Ball, John Sickels posted his list of the top 20 Yankee prospects, led of course of Jesus Montero. Austin Romine, Manny Banuelos, Zach McAllister, and Slade Heathcott round out the top five, and frankly you could list those guys in any order and I wouldn’t argue it too much. Very interchangable.

I’m sorry to see Sickels has seemingly closed the book on Andrew Brackman‘s career as a starter after just 19 pro starts, but to each his own. Also, folks it’s Hoffmann, H-O-F-F-M-A-N-N. Two n’s. Spelling a guy’s name right is just a common courtesy.

By the Decade: Saves but not by Mo

As the decade draws to a close in just over 14 hours, we continue our Yankees By the Decade retrospective with a move beyond the offense. We start off the look at our pitchers with the easiest of the easiest. Clearly, the reliever of the decade — or the century or all time — is Mariano Rivera. The man saved 397 games for the Yanks and was simply the best.

Mo, however, wasn’t the only pitcher to record a save for the Yanks from 2000-2009. In fact, Yankee pitchers not named Mariano recorded 77 saves throughout the decade. Who were these pitchers who stole saves from Mo and what exactly were their stories? Let’s take a look.


For the most part, these non-Rivera relievers who notched a save this decade were interlopers. They were the three-inning guys who protected a big lead. Take, for example, Orlando Hernandez. He pitched the final four innings of the Yanks’ 11-5 win over the Mets on June 28, 2002 for his save of the decade. Meanwhile, Chien-Ming Wang, the Yanks’ erstwhile, ace recorded a save on June 3, 2006 when he recorded two outs in the tenth on a night when Mariano Rivera was simply unavailable.

But beyond these one-off guys, the relievers called upon in unlikely situations, a handful of Yankee pitchers recorded a handful of saves. Why wasn’t Mariano available? The leader in non-Mariano saves this decade was Steve Karsay. The one-and-done set-up man who made 78 appearances in 2002 stepped in that year in late August and early September when Mo was on the shelf with a shoulder injury. Karsay had stepped in earlier that year when groin and shoulder trouble shelved the Yanks’ closer. He blew four saves, threw 88.1 innings and never pitched effectively in the Majors again.

Another trio of set-up men — Ramiro Mendoza, Kyle Fansworth and Tom Gordon — stepped in on nights when Rivera couldn’t go. Mendoza notched 10 saves combined two seasons earlier this decade, and Gordon picked up six over his two-year stint with the Yanks. Even unreliable Krazy Kyle managed to get three outs in the ninth with a Yankee lead in tact.

For many, the name Juan Acevedo may raise an eyebrow. Who was this pitcher who nailed down six saves while making just 25 appearances for the Yankees? Well, he came on the scene in 2003 with a stellar Spring Training. With Rivera out for April with a groin injury, Acevedo stepped in and was flat-out awful. He saved five games in April but ended the month with an 8.10 ERA. He picked up another save in a 17-inning affair on June 1, 2003 but found himself bound for Toronto after the Yanks released him and his 7.71 ERA.

In the end, for ten years, Mariano Rivera was simply there. He saved 397 games and blew just 40 for a 90.1 save percentage. He appeared in 651 games for the Yanks and finished 589 of them. He threw 713.1 innings and recorded 669 strike outs while walking just 137 batters all decade. His ERA+ was 214. For the Yankees and for all of baseball, he is truly the closer of the decade. In ten years, we may have to see who else gets saves for the Yankees, but this year, this decade, it’s all Mariano.

Left field closing arguments: Marlon Byrd

This is the second in our final series on what the Yankees might do with left field. Check out the original left field post for a quick primer on what we’re looking for. Yesterday we examined Reed Johnson. Today will be the final discussion for Marlon Byrd.

Did Marlon Byrd mature as a hitter during his years in Texas, or did he just take advantage of a hitter friendly ballpark? That’s the question any interested team will have to answer. It’s also one we cannot answer with certainty until we see Byrd in new digs. This is the main reason I want to see the Yankees stay away from him.

It is uncommon for a player to suddenly start hitting for power at age 29. It certainly can happen, and it has happened, but when it does it’s unexpected. While power is said to be the last tool to develop, it usually doesn’t take eight professional seasons to do so. But that’s the case for Byrd, who was drafted in 1999 and who first broke a .450 SLG in 2007. Since that power surge coincided with his move to Texas, we can view it with a skeptical eye. Rangers Ballpark at Arlington is, after all, one of the most hitter friendly parks in the majors.

Byrd spent his first full major league season, 2003, with the Phillies, hitting .303/.366/.418 over 553 plate appearances. That’s an excellent line, especially for a 25-year-old center fielder. The next year, however, wouldn’t be nearly as good. Byrd could not sustain his .363 BABIP, and saw his numbers fall to .228/.287/.321in 378 plate appearances. The Phillies optioned him to AAA Scranton in mid-June, but he didn’t show much improvement. From August 1, his recall date, through the end of the season he basically remained the same.

In 2005 the Nationals traded Endy Chavez for Byrd, and saw middling results: a .318 OBP and .380 SLG in 244 PA in 2005, and a .317 OBP and .350 SLG in 228 PA in 2006. The Nats released him after the season, and he signed on with Texas. That’s when his numbers started to surge.

At first it seemed like a 2003 repeat. Byrd hit .307/.355/.459 in 454 PA for the Rangers in 2007, but had a .370 BABIP. But instead of crashing down to earth, as he did in 2004, Byrd followed up his 2007 campaign with a career year in 2008. He hit .298/.380/.462 in 462 PA, increasing his ISO from .152 to .164, and raising his walk rate from 6.5 to 10.2 percent. At the same time, his BABIP fell to .332. That earned him a more regular playing time in 2009.

While his BABIP fell yet again, this time to .315, Byrd again turned in a quality season. His OBP was a bit low, .329, mostly because he nearly halved his walk rate. But his ISO once again jumped, this time to .196, by far a career high. He hit 20 home runs, doubling his previous career high, and hit 43 doubles, also a career high by 15. That he did it over 599 PA makes it even more impressive.

All the while, Byrd has seemingly played good defense. As with most players his UZR fluctuates, but over his career he’s a 0.0 UZR center fielder and a positive in the corners. That’s a major consideration for the Yankees. They might also like his platoon splits, which are almost nonexistent. Over his career he’s about even against lefties and righties — though in 2009 he actually had a reverse split.

Still, that his power surge came in Texas should raise concern in his ability to do it in other ballparks. Yankee Stadium typically suppresses right handed power, which would offset Byrd’s greatest strength, his rising power numbers. Byrd also isn’t the first center fielder who saw a power surge in Texas. Gary Matthews Jr. posted an ISO of over .180 in each of his three years in Texas, a mark he hadn’t come close to previously, and one which he hasn’t approached in Los Angeles. Unsurprisingly, he played the same seasons — age 29, 30, and 31 — in Texas as Byrd.

In his mailbag yesterday ESPN’s Buster Olney described Byrd as “the pre-eminent outfield target” on the free agent market. He won’t get a Matthews type deal, but there could be a team — say, the Cubs — who will pay him more than other teams are willing. That’s why I don’t expect the Yankees to get involved. At this point there is no reason to give a player like Byrd more than one year, and if really is the “preeminent” outfielder still available, he’ll probably get at least two. That just doesn’t fit with what the Yanks have done so far this off-season.

So now, whenever a rumor surfaces involving Byrd and the Yankees, we can refer back to this post and its comments. Have your final say now.

Photo credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America