CC: Not opting out ‘an easy decision’

So check it out. CC Sabathia hit up Madison Square Garden last night to catch the Knicks down the Raptors, and he wound up on the Boost Mobile Celebrity Row video segment of MSG’s broadcast. The first question Jill Marting asked was about the opt out. “Big news for you,” she said. “You decided not to opt out of your contract. Tell us why?”

CC responded: “I signed up for seven years, and it’s a good organization. We have a chance to win a championship every year. I think that was an easy decision.”

At face value, I’m inclined to believe Sabathia. He hasn’t said that he intends not to opt out; he seems to be saying that he flat-out isn’t opting out. If he is true to his word, CC would become the first big-name player to receive an opt-out and not exercise it. J.D. Drew, A.J. Burnett and Alex Rodriguez all cashed in their opt-out clauses, and if Cliff Lee is on the verge of a seven-year deal, CC would be sacrificing money and long-term job security if he foregoes the opt-out. It’s still unclear, as Joe said yesterday, if CC is truly saying much of anything.

Later on during the interview, CC said he’s not going to Nick Swisher‘s wedding to Joanna Garcia this weekend because he can’t get a babysitter to watch his four kids. His mother, he said, wouldn’t fly out to do it. So take that at face value too. The opt-out doesn’t come due until the end of the 2011 season, and I’d be shocked if CC doesn’t use to get more years, more money or both from the Yanks.

A hat tip to @StadiumInsider on Twitter for tracking down this video clip.

Sabathia doesn’t say much about his opt-out situation

(Tony Gutierrez/AP)

We have definitely heard this before. In August, speaking to the New York Post, CC Sabathia discussed the opt-out clause in his contract. Unlike three prominent opt-out cases — Alex Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, and J.D. Drew — that came before him, Sabathia said that he’s a Yankee, “hundred percent.

I think you know I’ve built a house here, right? My kids go to school here. We live here year round. So I’m not going anywhere.

Situations can always change, and we could certainly see that with Sabathia. This winter another left-handed ace, Cliff Lee, figures to get six, or maybe even seven, years at a similar average annual value to Sabathia. Why, then, wouldn’t Sabathia use that leverage to turn what is essentially a four-year, $92 million player option into another seven-year deal?

According to the Post, Lee’s situation will not influence Sabathia. “It has no effect on me at all,” he said. Unfortunately, that is the only quote that the Post article provides. Apparently Sabathia’s stance hasn’t changed since the summer. We can refer back to the above quote for Sabathia’s stance on the matter.

Still, I can’t help but notice a glaring omission. Never has Sabathia said the words “I will not opt out of my contract.” He has just talked about how he’s sticking around. I don’t think this means he’s seriously considering an opt out, but I do think that he’s not prepared to surrender all of his leverage by saying, in no uncertain terms, that he will decline to exercise the clause. It’s hard to fault him for that.

The lesson, as always: don’t trust Post headlines. In this case it was, “Sabathia won’t opt out,” but he didn’t say that. He just said it has no effect on him, which references a previous statement, which also didn’t explicitly mention the opt-out clause. I don’t think he will, but it’s definitely a stretch to take Sabathia’s words and say that he won’t.

Is it time for the Yankees to extend Swisher?

Swishalicious! (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Washington Nationals sent a bit of shock wave through the baseball community yesterday afternoon, announcing that they had signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a massive seven-year, $126M contract. Werth is undeniably a great player, but that contract is excessive. It (theoretically) set the market for Carl Crawford, and could have a trickle down effect on just about any upcoming free agent outfielder, such as one current Yankee.

Since coming to New York, Nick Swisher has posted the two of the best seasons of his career at 3.7 and 4.0 bWAR. He’s hit 58 homeruns in pinstripes, getting on base at a .365 clip with a .235 ISO. He also made his first All Star team, all for the bargain price of $12.05M ($5.3M in 2009, $6.75M in 2010). Swisher is due to become a free agent after the 2011 season, so I’m sure he and his agent are licking their chops are seeing Werth’s deal. Over the last two seasons, Werth has a .899 OPS, and Swisher’s is not to far off at .870.

To get an idea of what kind of contract Swisher could be in line to receive, we should dig up comparables. Using the great B-Ref Play Index to find players with similar production during their two seasons leading up to free agency (what have you done for me lately?), we get names like J.D. Drew, Bobby Abreu, Jason Bay, and Brian Giles. Drew signed with the Dodgers for five years and $55M. Abreu re-upped with the Phillies for 5/64, Bay got 4/66 from the Mets, and Giles got 3/30 from the Padres. The average of those four is ~4/54, or $13.5M per season. Swish generally lags a little bit behind those guys in HR, OPS+, and in some cases bWAR in the years before free agency, but at least we have an idea of what he could ask for. Frankly, $13.5M per year seems rather reasonable.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Case For Extending Swisher

Making a case to sign Swish to a contract extension is rather easy. He’s very productive (between 3.7 and 4.0 fWAR in four of the last five years), extremely durable (he’s been on the disabled list once in his six full seasons, and it came five years ago), and still in the prime of his career (he turned 30 less than two weeks ago). He’s also a fan favorite. The Yankees could end up saving themselves a few bucks by signing him now and avoiding the unpredictability of the open market as well.

The Case Against

While 2011 is the final guaranteed year on Swisher’s contract ($9M salary), the Yankees do hold a club option for 2012 worth $10.25M. They could choose to buy him out for a million bucks, but at this point in time it would be an upset if they went that route. So in reality Swisher is two years away from free agency, when he’ll be 32 and approaching his decline phase. While his stock is at an all-time high right now, it could be on the way down 24 months from now. Not extending Swisher now would also give the Yanks some semblance of roster flexibility going forward since his trade value is at an all-time high as well.

The Verdict

The Yankee policy is to not negotiate with players (not to mention field and front office staff as well) until their contracts expire, so this entire post is more academic than anything. But just for the sake of argument, let’s assume the Yanks would be up to giving their rightfielder an extension.

I’m in the camp that thinks they should wait this one out and let Swish play out the final two years of his contract before worrying about an extension, and I love the guy. Like I said, they’d maintain some roster flexibility, which is extremely important with so many massive contracts. It also eliminates a ton of risk since they wouldn’t be locked in for the next five years if he declines or something. The Yankees can afford to pay him when he becomes a free agent in two years if they want to, and that’s the route they should go. The financial advantage allows them to wait and pay people later rather than have to gamble and pay them now.

Arbitration Case: Joba Chamberlain

This play will never get old. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

While all the fun comes in trying to figure out who the Yankees will sign as free agents and how much they’ll pay them, we can’t forget that they have quite a few players already in house that need new contracts. Phil Hughes is the team’s most notable player heading into his first season of arbitration eligibility, and we broke down his case yesterday. We can’t forget about his running mate Joba Chamberlain though, he’s headed to arbitration for the first time as well.

Joba’s in a unique spot because he’s bounced back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. The Yankees have explicitly stated on more than one occasion that he’s a reliever going forward, so that’s the role and demographic we”ll use as a basis for his 2011 salary. He’s not a closer, so we have to compare Joba to some other non-closers when they were headed into their first season of arbitration. Here’s a list of some statistical comparables that I dug up…

A few of these guys are closers now but weren’t before they hit arbitration for the first time. Broxton had just taken over that role for the Dodgers midway through his final pre-arbitration season, so he’s the outlier here, evidenced by his relatively massive raise. Saves equal money, no matter how dumb the stat is. The average first year arbitration salary and percent raise in the table are a weighted average based on innings. Players that threw more innings should have a bigger impact on our end result, and this ensures they do.

I’m extremely pleased with how close the strikeout and walk numbers are, and the differences in saves (which don’t matter much anyway) and ERA+ are not outrageous. Applying that 232.3% raise to Joba’s 2010 salary of $487,975, we get a projected 2011 salary of $1,133,566. That’s reasonable for an above average short reliever his first time through the process, in fact it might even be a tad generous.

Here’s the thing though: we can’t completely forget about all the time Joba logged as a starting pitcher because his agent sure won’t during negotiations. In fact, just 37.3% of Joba’s career innings (131.2) have come as a reliever. The other 221.2 IP have been as a starter. If we use the 684.4% raise applied to Hughes yesterday, then Joba’s staring at a $3,339,701 payout next season. Let’s combined the two projected salaries (starter and reliever) based on the percentage of innings he’s thrown in each role…

(37.3% x $1,133,566) + (62.7% x $3,339,701) = $2,516,813

That seems too high and frankly the ~$1.13M from earlier seems a little too low, so let’s split the difference and call it $1.825M. As you can see, we take great pride in our accuracy.

In all seriousness though, that salary passes the sniff test and seems appropriate for a player of Joba’s caliber and with his level of accomplishment. Of course it’s entirely possible that none of this will matter to the Yankees. Joba’s name figures to pop up in trade rumors this winter, and if they pull the trigger on a deal, then he and his 2011 salary become another team’s responsibility. Either way, the the days of getting cheap production out of Chamberlain are pretty much over.

Arbitration Case: Phil Hughes

Worst best night ever? (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Yankees have a few players eligible for arbitration this offseason, none more notable than first-timer Phil Hughes. After earning the league minimum or close to it over the last four seasons (or parts of them, anyway), Hughes will see his salary bump up into the seven figures this winter. How much exactly? Well let’s try to figure that out.

The entire arbitration process is pretty archaic, relying on old school stats that don’t tell the whole story to compare players with similar amounts of service time. Hughes will be compared to other pitchers when they hit arbitration for the first time, and his salary will be based on what they earned. Of course both the Yankees and Hughes want to avoid an arbitration hearing and agree to a contract beforehand, but his salary will still be determined in a similar manner.

Because of his 2010 season, Hughes has himself a damn fine arbitration case. He won 18 games and was an All Star, a huge feather in his cap. It’s basically irrelevant that he had the best run support in baseball even though it absolutely inflated that win total. The wins and All Star Game alone are enough to get him a substantial raise, but his other numbers stack up as well. I ran a B-Ref Play Index search to help dig up some similar pitchers, then picked out the best matches. As it turns out, Jeff Euston (the man behind Cot’s) published an article at Baseball Prospectus today (subs. req’d) looking at AL East arbitration cases, so that was helpful as well. Here’s who I came up with…

Those stats are leading up to each player’s first year of arbitration only; career stats don’t do us any good in this situation. I also ignored players that had signed contract extensions buying out their arbitration years because it skews the salary data, otherwise Randy Wolf, Gavin Floyd, Fausto Carmona, and Chris Young would have been included as well. For shame. The average salary in the player’s first year of arb and percent raise is a weighted average based on innings pitched. Nolasco’s relatively small workload will count less than Felix’s mammoth innings total; it’s only fair.

Garza might be the best overall comparison, though Capuano fits as well. Hughes’ strikeout rate is inflated a bit by his 2009 stint as a reliever; as a starter he’s got a 7.3 K/9 in his career, right on par with just about everyone else listed. If we apply that 684.4% raise to Phil’s 2010 salary of $447,000, he’s looking at a 2011 salary of $3,264,588. If we remove Felix since he’s clearly a notch above the other guys, it’s a 679.5% average raise and a projected $3,241,215 salary for Hughes next year. It’s a negligible difference as far as we’re concerned. Remember though, Phil’s got that All Star berth on his resume, something only two guys from the above table (Verlander and Capuano (naturally)) had at the time. That could push Hughes’ salary up towards $3.5M, and that’s a damn fine estimate of what he’ll be paid next season.

One thing is for sure, I had been grossly underestimating Phil Hughes’ earning potential. I had been under the assumption that he’d get a deal worth $2M or so for next season, maybe $2.5M if the Yankees were feeling charitable because I was ignorant to the comparables. He’s going to blow right by that amount and land a contract around three-and-a-half million bones, quite the payday for a 24 year old and a decent dent in the team’s bottom line.

What Went Right: Andy Pettitte

This adorable picture of Andy and his five-year-old son Luke was taken during a workout before this year’s Homerun Derby. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

When the Yankees stormed to their 2009 World Series victory, they did so by relying on just three starting pitchers in the playoffs. The Yanks were concerned about the those heavy workloads having a carryover effect into 2010, hence the Javy Vazquez pickup. Perhaps no pitcher on the staff was more vulnerable to that kind of hangover effect than 37-year-old Andy Pettitte, the stalwart lefty that has been a rock in New York’s rotation for the last decade-and-a-half (save those three years he went to Houston).

Amazingly, Pettitte showed zero ill effects from the heavy 2009 workload at the outset of the 2010 season, allowing just nine earned runs in his first seven starts, holding opponents to a .268 wOBA. He cruised into the All Star break with a 2.70 ERA (3.75 FIP) and 113.1 innings in 17 starts, an average of exactly 6.2 innings per start. The old man wasn’t just giving his team a ton of innings, he was giving them high quality innings. That effort earned Andy his first trip to the All Star Game since 2001, just the third of his career.

Andy’s overall season resulted in a 3.28 ERA (3.85 FIP) and a .310 wOBA against, and he absolutely annihilated left-handed batters (.216 wOBA). He was also the team’s best pitcher in the playoffs, following up a seven inning, two run performance against the Twins in Game Two of the ALDS with yet another seven inning, two run performance against the Rangers in Game Three of the ALCS. We have all come to love and adore Andy, and for most part we know what the Yankees will get out of him, but he far exceeded the expectations of even his biggest fans in 2010.

Of course, we have to mention that Pettitte’s otherwise brilliant season was plagued by injury. He missed two starts with elbow inflammation in May, then spent 62 days on the disabled list from mid-July to mid-September. Once he came back, Pettitte began dealing with back spasms that bothered him throughout the postseason and even put a ALDS Game Five in jeopardy had it been necessary. Such are the risks associated with a pitcher that turned 38 in June and came into the season with 3,175.1 big league innings (regular season and playoffs) on his arm.

So for now, we once again play the waiting game. Andy is back home in Texas doing his annual self-evaluation to determine if he wants to play another year. We know that if he does play in 2011, that it will be his final year, and earlier today, Ken Davidoff reported that Pettitte is “leaning toward” one final season on the diamond. The Yankees are patiently awaiting his decision as are the fans, but for selfish reasons we all want him back. Andy probably won’t replicate his 2010 performance again, but even a return to the days of a low-4.00’s ERA with oodles of innings would be welcome. In the meantime, bravo on the great season.

What Went Right: Nick Swisher

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

It’s easy to forget that when the Yankees originally acquired Nick Swisher in a steal of a trade from the White Sox last offseason, he was expected to be their starting first baseman. It’s even easier to forget that after the Yanks signed Mark Teixeira, Swisher was then pushed into a rightfield platoon with Xavier Nady even though he was a switch hitter. The rest is history. Nady blew out his elbow in April, giving Swish the playing time he deserved, and he rewarded the team with the best offensive season of his career (.375 wOBA).

There were no hurdles for Swisher to clear when the 2010 season started. The starting rightfielder’s job was his outright, and he began the season with a six game hitting streak that never seemed to stop. Swish hit .298/.377/.524 (.391) with 15 homers in the first half, earning his first All Star Game berth as the Send Swish! campaign landed him the Final Man vote. He even got to take some hacks in the Homerun Derby. Swish opened the second half with a walk-off hit against the Rays (after tying the game in the eighth) in the first game after George Steinbrenner‘s passing. It was Nick’s Bobby Murcer moment, arguably the most memorable game of the season.

While Swish has always been a productive offensive player, he did some work with hitting coach Kevin Long last winter to help him better combat breaking balls. The work really started during the 2009 playoffs, but the offseason gave the two plenty of times to get things straight. The result was a setup in the batter’s box that was much quieter than in the past. Here’s a video of Swisher from April 2009, and here’s April 2010 for comparison. There’s less movement in general but especially with his hands, and his stance closed up as well.

The result was, again, the best season of Swish’s career. He hit a career high .288, trading in some base hits for walks, and his strikeout rate (24.6%) was the second lowest since his rookie season. Average offensive around the league fell eight points to a .321 wOBA in 2010, but Swisher improved two points to .377 (.288/.359/.511 with 29 homers overall). Add in basically average defense, and the total package was worth 4.1 fWAR, the best mark of his career and seventh best among AL outfielders. It’s hard to complain about Nick Swisher’s 2010 season, the guy has been nothing but productive in pinstripes since Kenny Williams gave him away.