What Went Wrong: The Cliff Lee Non-Trade

I imagine the scene would have been different had Lee been a Yankee (Eric Gay/AP)

They couldn’t have known it would happen at the time, but they had to know it was a possibility. When the Yankees found out that Seattle would send Cliff Lee to Texas rather than New York, the thought of facing Lee in the playoffs had to cross their minds. By that point, though, it was too late. The process was already far enough along that we could have called it a done deal. Cliff Lee was heading to Arlington, while Seattle would receive a package featuring 2008 first rounder Justin Smoak. The Yanks had lost out.

That day represented perhaps the most exciting and disappointing one of the regular season. When I went to bed on July 8 the only thought of Lee was that the Yankees were to face him the next evening. When I woke up on the 9th I realized that he wouldn’t. It sounded pretty certain that the Yankees and Mariners would finalize a swap sometime during the day. Jesus Montero, David Adams, and Zach McAllister would go to the Mariners, and the Yankees would add a second lefty ace to the staff. World Series, here we come.

A few hours later we would learn that the trade fell apart. The Mariners didn’t like the medicals on David Adams. At the time it sounded like an excuse to bring other teams into the bidding, but as we found out later Adams did have significant ankle issues. The Mariners, so the story goes, asked the Yankees to add Ivan Nova or Eduardo Nunez. The Yankees declined. The Yankees suggested Adam Warren. The Mariners weren’t interested — though perhaps by that time their disinterest was due to Texas’ new offer, which included Smoak. Not long after we heard that the deal with the Yankees fell apart, we heard that Cliff Lee would be Arlington-bound.

The reaction to this non-trade has two strong sides. One lamented the missed opportunity, because of its implications for the 2010 team. The other celebrated it, because it meant holding onto the team’s prospect while retaining the ability to sign Lee during the off-season. Mike will cover the latter point shortly. This will focus only on the lamentation.

At the time

At the time of the non-deal, the Yankees had five starting pitchers. CC Sabathia had been his regular self for most of the season and Andy Pettitte was keeping runs off the board, but beyond them there were a number of questions. Javy Vazquez had recovered from a poor start, though he still seemed to be the odd man out. A.J. Burnett had just come off what was probably the worst month of his career, but the Yanks couldn’t move him. Phil Hughes had struggled, but to move him would be to further stunt his development. They wanted him to get a full year in the rotation. Something would have to change, but for Cliff Lee that’s not much of an issue. You move mountains to make room for Cliff Lee.

We knew then what Lee would bring to the Yankees. He would turn the starting staff into the best in the AL, perhaps the best in the majors. It already ranked among the top, but there were still weaknesses, described above. If Javy broke down again, if Burnett didn’t fully recover, if Hughes ran into problems as he entered uncharted territory — all of these what-ifs had to weigh on the front office’s mind. Acquiring Lee would render these questions less meaningful. The Yanks would then have six starters, so if something went wrong they would have a fill-in ready to go.

The Yankees also had to know how acquiring Lee would make it easier to re-sign him during the off-season. This isn’t scientific fact, of course, but rather an intuitive connection. If the Yankees traded for Lee and then won a World Series with him, how could he then turn down the sack of money the Yankees would hand him? If he went elsewhere and won a World Series there, well, maybe he’d be more inclined to take a bit less to stay in place where he has experienced the ultimate success. The Yankees’ willingness to pay twice for a player in this instance suggests that they thought along these lines.

In hindsight

The at-the-time case seems easy enough. Adding Cliff Lee would have greatly increased the Yankees chances of winning the World Series. They would have received a proven veteran in exchange for a player whose career is nothing but potential right now. Little did we know at the time that the hindsight argument would be even stronger.

The Yankees lost the ALCS because they couldn’t hit a lick, but the pitching staff didn’t help matters. CC Sabathia got knocked around in Game 1, and Phil Hughes got hit harder in Game 2. A.J. Burnett has a solid Game 4 until the Molina homer, and then Hughes was again shaky in Game 6. Imagine the staff had they added Lee.

Sabathia still would have gone Game 1, and perhaps it would have unfolded similarly. Lee taking Hughes’s place would have been an enormous upgrade. That would have pushed Hughes to Game 4, at which time the Yankees might have been in a better position. That’s not only because Lee likely would have been more effective in Game 2, but because the Yankees might not have lost Game 3, because Lee wouldn’t have been pitching for the Rangers.

That brings up another hindsight point. The Rangers wouldn’t have been nearly as strong a playoff team without Lee. They almost certainly would have made the playoffs without him — at the time they acquired him they were already running away with the division. But once they got to the playoffs they wouldn’t have been as well prepared.

In fact, I’d bet that had the Yankees acquired Lee, they would have won the AL East. That would have set them up against a Lee-less Texas in the first round; that would have been something of a mismatch. Sabathia-Lee-Pettitte, and then Hughes if necessary. They would have faced Wilson-Lewis-Hunter, though missing out on Lee might have motivated Texas to work out something for Roy Oswalt. That would have been a bit difficult, though, given Texas’s financial situation at the time. Getting approval for $3 million or whatever they ended up paying Lee is one thing; getting permission for the $10+ million they’d have to pay Oswalt over the next two years is quite another.

The benefits, as you can see, would have cascaded. The Yankees would not only strengthen their own team with Lee, but would have left competitors scrambling for another solution. That would have left the Yankees in the best possible position.

In terms of how it would have helped the 2010 team, missing out on Lee is one thing that went terribly wrong. They would have been sacrificing a potential piece of their future, but they would have added a Top 3 pitcher for 2010, and then given themselves a better chance to re-sign him during the off-season. After missing out, the Yankees just have to hope they can convince Lee to come to New York in the same manner they convinced CC Sabathia.

What Went Wrong: Alex Rodriguez

Over the next week or two or three, we’re going to recap the season that was by looking at what went right as well as what went wrong for the 2010 Yankees.

(Bill Kostroun/AP)

In March of 2009 Yankees fans got a scare. During his stint in the World Baseball Classic he suffered a hip injury — though it was actually a lingering issue that came to a head during that time. The outlook appeared grim at the time, but Dr. Marc Philippon suggested that an arthroscopic procedure would allow A-Rod to play the season, after which he could have the more invasive procedure. But after a season in which he hit .286/.402/.532 and played the hero in the postseason, the second surgery was deemed unnecessary. A-Rod would return at full strength in 2010.

A year later, Rodriguez has wrapped up the worst full season of his career. He produced career lows in batting average and OBP, while his SLG just barely edged out the .496 mark he posted in 1997. He walked less, just 9.9 percent of the time, and he hit line drives at an astonishingly low 13.8 percent rate. While things might have seemed worse early in the season, when he had just one home run on May 8, he actually went through a horrible slump from early June through mid-August, during which he hit .227/.290/.431 in 241 PA, which accounted for about 40 percent of his season. It would have been a lot worse, too, had he not gone 4 for 5 with three homers in a game against Kansas City. After that game he went 0 for 6 before heading to the DL with a strained calf.

Rodriguez was actually one of the few Yankees who hit in September. In his 112 PA he hit .295/.374/.600, including nine home runs — four of which came against Boston. But that didn’t lead to a good postseason performance; Alex went 7 for 32 with two doubles and four walks, but not much else. His one shining moment was driving in two during the eighth inning of the ALCS Game 1. But other than that, much like the rest of the Yankees offense, he came up empty. It was a fitting end to a disappointing season.

To get an idea of why A-Rod had a poor season, we can take a look at his spray charts, courtesy of Texas Leaguers. Here’s 2010:

That doesn’t look like a terrible spray chart, but when you look at his 2009 chart, the differences are noticeable.

The green dots down the left field line immediately stand out, as do the balls that lie beyond the left field fence. It appears as though Alex pulled the ball with much more authority in previous years. There also seems to be a greater concentration of green dots in the shallow outfield this year. These two factors, combined with his abysmally low line drive rate, suggests that he didn’t have a feel for his swing this season. Kevin Long did lend a hand in August, helping A-Rod with opening his hips as to generate more power. That appeared to help, as evidenced by his three-homer game followed by a power-filled September. But it wasn’t enough to recover the lost season.

What makes A-Rod’s season hurt is just not his production compared to his previous years, but his production compared to the average AL cleanup hitter. While his .270/.341/.506 season handily outpaced the average AL third baseman, it was in line, or perhaps a bit worse, than the average AL No. 4 hitter, .275/.350/.477. In other words, in what is supposed to be the most productive lineup spot, the Yankees got average results. That’s not something they expected coming into the season. In 2009 A-Rod was far better than the average cleanup hitter.

Still, the season wasn’t a total loss. Alex did get his hits when it really mattered. With men on he hit .296/.368/.556, and with runners in scoring position he hit .283/.355/.500. He also managed 11 sac flies and a .364/.373/.727 line with a runner on third and less than two outs, while hitting .286 with a runner on third and two outs. The discrepancy between his production with the bases empty and with runners on base might not be a sustainable one, though there is hope that the former rises to meet the latter next season.

Heading into next year, Alex will face many questions stemming from his relatively poor 2010 season. Did his hip affect him? Does he regret not having the second surgery? What will he do to correct the power issues that afflicted him early in the season? But given what we know about his talent, we shouldn’t expect a repeat in 2011. Players have down years all the time; A-Rod just happen to have his first one in 12 years this season.

What Went Wrong: Nick The (Injured) Stick

Over the next week or two or three, we’re going to recap the season that was by looking at what went right as well as what went wrong for the 2010 Yankees.

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

In the aftermath of their 2009 World Series celebration, the Yankees were facing several tough decisions with stalwart players. Both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui were free agents after their identical four-year, $52MM contracts expired, but Brian Cashman and the rest of the brain trust remained in “get younger and more athletic” mode. Despite all of their postseason heroics, Damon and Matsui were still a pair of 36-year-olds last winter, with the latter having significant concerns about the health of his knees.

The first domino fell barely a week into December, when the Yankees swung a three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York. That filled the vacant outfield spot, leaving the designated hitter’s job the only one left open. Matsui took himself out of the running five days after the Grandy trade by signing a one-year deal with the Angels at 50% pay cut. His reason for signing quickly was sound; he didn’t want to be shut out in a market that getting more and more unkind to DH types. Understandable.

Damon and Scott Boras were sticking to their guns about a multi-year deal without a significant pay cut, and the two sides were still worlds apart on a deal after the Grandy trade. With Johnny and Boras playing hard-to-get, the Yankees moved on to a familiar face to fill the DH hole, signing Nick Johnson to a one-year deal a week after Matsui went to SoCal. The contract was worth just $5.5M with incentives tied to plate appearances, very reasonable considering the $13M both Damon and Matsui made last year.

Everyone knew about Johnson’s laundry list of injury trouble, but there were reasons to be optimistic about his ability to stay on the field in 2010. After missing all of 2007 and most of the 2008 season, he stayed on the field for 574 plate appearances in 2009, his most since 2006 and the second most of his career. Getting him out of the field and resting comfortably as a designated hitter also figured to help him stay fresh and in the lineup. And, of course, a man with a .402 career on-base percentage (.426 in 2009, third best in baseball) figured to make baseball’s best lineup even more potent. The Yankees had their new DH, and Damon eventually found a one-year deal in Detroit.

The trouble for Johnson started almost right away. He missed the team’s second Spring Training game with a stiff back, brought about when he caught a spike in batting practice. The lower back issue popped back up in late April, causing NJ to miss two games and three days. Through the season’s first 27 games, Johnson remained a strong on-base threat (.396 OBP) but he wasn’t doing much with the stick (.171 AVG, .143 ISO). The Yanks were in Fenway Park on May 7th, and Johnson was in the lineup as the DH and in his customary second spot in the lineup. His first at-bat resulted in the second of three straight Josh Beckett strikeouts, and his second trip to the plate resulted in a weak groundout to the second baseman to lead off the fourth. That was the last time we would see Johnson in 2010.

Marcus Thames pinch hit one inning later, replacing Johnson who was sidelined a sore wrist. It was the same wrist he had surgery on in 2008, causing him to spend 137 total days on the disabled list. An MRI revealed an inflamed tendon, and the original diagnosis had NJ missing several weeks. Less than two weeks later, Johnson was on the surgeon’s table after a cortisone failed to do the trick. Three months after that, the same wrist was sore yet again, and one week later he was again having surgery. All told, Johnson spent 166 days on the disabled list in 2010, falling short of the very modest 100 plate appearance plateau, finishing with just 98.

Looking back, it’s clear the team (and us fans as well) was mesmerized by the potential of having someone reach base 40+% of the time in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, and who wouldn’t be? The problem was that Johnson offered little in the way of power (though 20 homers in Yankee Stadium was very possible) and even less in terms of dependability and durability. Even if the Yanks declined to meet Damon’s demands, better (and cheaper) DH targets like Jim Thome ($1.5M) and Russell Branyan ($2M) didn’t come off the board until late in the offseason. That obviously comes with the benefit of hindsight, however.

For all intents and purposes, what played out was the worst case scenario for both the Yankees and Johnson. The team had to scramble to find a replacement DH, eventually trading a pair of young players at the deadline to fill the hole, and Johnson now faces an uncertain winter coming off surgery. Cashman admitted during Monday’s press conference that Johnson was his Plan C at DH, behind Damon and Matsui. He might as well have called him Plan K, because the 2010 edition of Nick Johnson was a big fat whiff.

Greatest Yankee Seasons: Pitching Edition

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the greatest Yankee seasons of all time by position, I wanted to take a look at the top pitching seasons in Yankees history.

Starting Pitchers

1.  Ron Guidry, 1978.  Traditionalists will love Gator’s 25-3 record, but that in itself doesn’t show just how great Guidry was in 1978.  Guidry’s ERA of 1.74 led the league in  by an amazing 0.53 and he became the only Yankee starter in history (min. 160 IP) with an ERA+ greater than 200, landing at 208. He was 2nd in the league in Ks and K/9, only behind Nolan Ryan, while giving up just 6.1 hits/9 and 13 HRs all season in a whopping 273.2 innings pitched.  Guidry’s FIP was 2.19, leading the league by 0.52.  He was flat out dominant in 1978, leading the league, batters included, in bWAR by a full win.

2.  Lefty Gomez, 1937. Gomez with 8.9 bWAR was the most valuable pitcher and 2nd most valuable player in the AL in 1937.  He led the league in wins, ERA, SHO, K’s, H/9, K/9 and K/BB.  His 21-11 record doesn’t do him justice.  Despite playing for a Yankee team that scored 979 runs, Gomez had 7 starts (21% of his total) in which they scored 2 runs or fewer.  His 191 ERA+ is the third best in Yankee history and one of only three to even top 180.

3.  Lefty Gomez 1934. Run support wasn’t an issues for Gomez in 1934 as he led the league with 26 wins (vs. 5 losses) while leading the league in ERA, CG, SHO, IP, K’s, WHIP, ERA+ and H/9. Per bWAR he was the most valuable pitcher in the league and 4th most valuable player, behind just Gehrig, Gehringer and Foxx, all fellow Hall of Famers.

4.  Spud Chandler, 1943.  Chandler was a decent pitcher who had just 809.2 career innings pitched through age 34.  then, a,t 35 he had a season for the ages, winning the league MVP while leading the league in wins, ERA, CG, SHO, ERA+, WHIP and K/BB. He also OPS’d .658 in 98 AB’s for what it’s worth.  His MVP was pretty legit too, as per bWAR he was tied for 2nd as most valuable player in the league.  His ERA+ of 198 was 2nd in Yankee history. There is a major asterisk next to Chandler’s season, however, as in 1943 several great players, including Joe Dimaggio, Ted Wiliams and Bob Feller were off fighting in World War II.

5.  Whitey Ford, 1964.  Ford may have been a little better in 1958 but I’m putting his ’64 season here in part because he threw an extra 25.2 innings.  His ERA was 2.13 and his FIP of 2.45 was the best of his career by 0.42.  Despite leading the league in nothing, this was the best season of Ford’s career. It was the only season he cracked a bWAR of at least 6 (6.3), placing second in the league in that category (behind Dean Chance who had an amazing year).

Middle Reliever

Mariano Rivera, 1996.  This was an easy one.  As great as Mo has been as a closer, this was the most valuable season in his career.  In his first full season in the majors, Rivera took the league by storm.  He put up career highs in K/9 and allowed a career low 1 HR despite throwing 27 more innings than in any other season. While FIP has always been unkind to Mo, this was the only season of his career with a FIP under 2 (at 1.88).  Despite throwing just 107.2 innings, Rivera was 9th in the league in bWAR for pitchers at 5.4.

Closer

Mariano Rivera,  2008.  This of course was just an exercise in picking out Mo’s best year as a closer (though go check out what Steve Farr did in 1992, sneaky good).  Though he’s had many off the charts years, I had to go with Mo’s 2008.  His 12.83 K/BB ratio looks like a typo but it was legit.  He also gave up just 0.5 HR/9, which is special for anyone but Mo, for him it’s average.  You could easily argue about 5 of Mo’s seasons are his best and get no argument from me.

Greatest Yankee Seasons by Position

As I watched Robinson Cano hit another homerun on Wednesday night I wondered to myself, where does Cano’s season rank in history for Yankees second baseman?  Second base to the Yankees doesn’t have the tradition that some other positions do, so I thought Cano would have a chance to be near the top.  While I was looking I decided to take a look at the greatest seasons in Yankees history by position.  I didn’t want to put too much stock into defense with the historical players and I didn’t want to be totally WAR based because of the inconsistencies, so this is primarily offensively based.

Catcher

Bill Dickey 1937:  Hall of Famer Dickey was even better in 1936 but only played in 112 games and didn’t have enough AB’s to qualify for the batting title.  His 1937 season was a monster as well.  In a career high 140 games Dickey put up a .332/.417/.570 line with a 144 OPS+ and .441 wOBA.

Runner Up: Jorge Posada 2007:  Posada actually had a higher OPS+ at 153 though with a slightly inferior .970 OPS and a .417 wOBA.  It was a tossup but Dickey’s reputation as a good defensive catcher gave him the edge.

First Base

Lou Gehrig 1927: Gehrig is the obvious choice, I just had to pick one of his several off the charts seasons.  The famous 1927 season was Gehrig’s best.  Gehrig had decent seasons in 1925 and 1926 but 1927 was his breakout with a .373/.474/.765 line.  The OPS, slugging percentage and 220 OPS+ were all career highs.  The perception is that Yankee Stadium’s short porch helped left handed hitters, and while it did, Gehrig was actually better on the road in 1927.  He hit 23 of his 47 HR’s on the road and had a .397/.492/.805 line on the road.  His OPS was more than 100 points higher than his home OPS.  Wow.

Runner Up: Gehrig 1934: Gehrig’s OPS was a little higher in 1930 than 1934, but in 1934 he won both the traditional triple crown and the triple slash triple crown.  Naturally he finished 5th in the MVP voting that year.  Wait, what?

Second Base

Tony Lazzeri 1929:  Lazzeri had a season in 1929 that even the best of sluggers would be proud of.  He had a .354/.429/561 line and a 159 OPS+.  In Lazzeri’s first three seasons in the league (1926-1928) he finished 10th, 11th and 3rd in the MVP ballot but in his best season there was no MVP award.  He wouldn’t have deserved to win, but certainly should have been top 3 again.

Runner Up: Joe Gordon 1942:  Gordon put up a .322/.409/491 line and a 154 OPS+.  The triple slash line is a little less impressive than Cano, but when put into context Gordon’s season was a little more impressive.  Cano’s 2010 definitely falls into the top 5 in seasons by a 2b in Yankee history though.

Shortstop

Derek Jeter 1999:  Jeter’s OPS+ of 153 blows away any other season by a SS in Yankees history.  He put up a .349/.438/.552 line and even put up some strong counting numbers with 24 HR’s and 102 RBI.  He was just 25 but never approached these numbers again.  He’s been great almost every season since, but his 1999 is completely unmatched.

Runner Up: Jeter 2006: This the only other season in his career that Jeter OPS’d at least .900 (.900 on the nose) and he had a 132 OPS+.  The 132 is the second highest in Yankee history at SS, which puts his 153 in 1999 into more context.  No other Yankee SS has ever had an OPS+ of 125.  Like Gehrig at 1B, Jeter owns the SS records when it comes to the Yankees.

Third Base

Alex Rodriguez 2007:  This was an easy one.  A-Rod’s 2007 was insane, .314/.422/.645 line with 54 HR’s and a 176 OPS+.  He even added 24 steals and was caught just 4 times.  Not much else to say about this one, we all remember it, it was real, and it was spectacular.

Runner Up: A-Rod 2005: A-Rod’s 2005 was almost as good as his 2007, putting up a .321/.421/.610 line with 48 HR’s and a 173 OPS+.  To put those two seasons into context, no other Yankee third baseman, ever, has put up an OPS+ north of 135 besides A-Rod.  He’s definitely no Scotty Bro, and that’s a good thing.

Left Field

Charlie Keller 1941:  Keller only had 5 full seasons in the majors but they were some of the best seasons ever by a Yankee LF.  I picked his 1941 season with a .298/.416/.580 line, 33 HR’s and a 162 OPS+.

Runner Up: Keller 1943: Keller’s seasons are really a tossup.  He would probably be more appreciated today as he was an on-base machine but didn’t hit for a great average (though very good).  In his 5 full seasons (>130 games) he never hit .300 but his OBP was over .400 4 times, and he was at .396 in his other season.  His career OPS+ of 152 is top 30 all time, and his wiki page even says he was feared.

Center Field

Mickey Mantle 1956:  The Yankees have had monster seasons in CF by vast number of players including Dimaggio, Bernie, Murcer and Henderson, but Mantle tops the list, and his 1956 was his best season.  He put up a .353/.464/.705 line with a 210 OPS+ while leading the league in HR and RBI.  This was the first of Mantle’s 3 MVP awards (he should have won more) and was even better than his famous 1961 season.

Runner Up: Mantle 1957: Mantle’s rate stats were even better in 1957 than 1956 but the increase in walks (he was really feared) led to 18 fewer HR’s in ’57.  He still hit 34 HR’s with a monster .365/.512/.665 line and a 221 OPS+. You could certainly argue this season was better than his ’56 season, but I gave ’56 the edge primarily due to the extra HR’s.

Right Field

Babe Ruth 1920:  This was another case of just figuring out which of Ruth’s years were the best as there is no one close in Yankee (or baseball) history in RF.  I went with his 1920 season in which he hit .376/.532/.847 in his first year with the team.  I’m guessing the Sox regretted that trade/sale pretty quickly. He broke his own record of 29 HR’s with an unheard of 54 (more than every other team).  His 1.379 OPS remained a record until 2002 (Bonds) and his 255 OPS+ was the greatest post 1900 OPS+ until surpassed by Bonds (that guy was pretty good) in 2001.

Runner Up: Ruth 1921: Ruth’s 1921 may even surpass his 1920 because of an extra 82 AB’s.  His rate stats were slightly better in 1920,  in 1921 he hit .378/.512/.846 with 59 HR’s (more than 5 of 7 teams).  Ruth’s ’27 season is his most famous season, but not his best.  You could even argue that it’s his 5th or 6th best season (head explodes).

Designated Hitter

Don Baylor 1983:  The Yankees haven’t had many full time DH’s in their history, so Baylor wins almost by default.  Since the DH was introduced the Yankees have had 6 players play at least 100 games at DH and have an OPS+ >120.  Baylor is at the top of that short list with his 138 in 1983 with a .301/.361/.494 and 21 HR’s. Baylor is the only Yankee DH to win a Silver Slugger, winning both in 1983 and 1985.

Runner Up: Hideki Matsui 2009: Matsui’s line of .274/.367/.509 is a little better than Baylor’s but 2009 was a much better year for offense than 1983 (.764 league OPS vs. .728).  Matsui’s 2009 and Baylor’s 1985 seasons are very similar but since 2009 ended with a title I gave Matsui the nod as runner up.

An A-Rod what if

Neil Paine in the New York Times takes a look at the Rangers and how the A-Rod contract affected the franchised and how they have recovered from it.  He does his take on what happened to the Rangers, I wanted to see what the trade has mean for A-Rod’ legacy.  It would be pretty interesting to try and figure out what A-Rod’s career would look like now if he were never traded to New York. How would have his career turned out?

He wouldn’t have a ring but he also wouldn’t have ever had the “choker” label attached to him as he wouldn’t have spent much time in the playoffs. His raw numbers would be better and he would have spent more time compiling stats while still a shortstop.  A-Rod ended 2009 at 613 home runs, with 344 coming at short. Spending the last seven years in Arlington surely would have been better for his numbers than in Yankee Stadium(s). Had the trade never happened, could he be sitting on 650 career HR’s with over 500 at SS?  Very possible.  A-Rod already ranks among the greatest players of all time,  but with those kind of numbers at shortstop, even in lieu of a ring, many would consider A-Rod’s career and legacy greater if he never became a Yankee.

If I had posed this question in April 2009, I would have said undoubtedly that A-Rod’s legacy as a baseball player was hurt by coming to New York.  Because of the ring in 2009 I think the trade to the Yankees has helped his legacy.  I’m not completely sure though, as Ted Williams went ringless (and struggled in the playoffs) but is often called the best hitter in baseball history (not that it’s correct). Barry Bonds went ringless and even despite having the taint of steroids, is considered one of the top 5 hitters of all time. Statistically the trade certainly hasn’t helped his legacy in both traditional stats and sabermetric stats and at the end of the day, baseball is truly a game about the numbers.

I’m sure A-Rod is happy that the trade went through.  He has gone through a ton of crap but seems to have come through it with flying colors.  He finally got his ring and wasn’t just along for the ride, he was the one doing a lot of the driving.  His move to New York has obviously made him extra money (hundreds of millions of extra dollars) both on and off the field.  That being said, we know A-Rod is a great historian and like any great player cares about his numbers.  As much as athletes love to say it’s about winning, none of them would trade Ernie Banks’ career for David Eckstein’s simply because he has 2 rings and a World Series MVP.  Karl Malone and Charles Barkley wouldn’t think for a second about trading their careers for fellow power forward Robert Horry’s seven rings.    I don’t think he would be happier ringless in Texas with bigger numbers, but if given the two scenarios, I think it would have to cross his mind, wouldn’t it?

Could Cervelli’s playing time be a good thing?

(AP Photo/Ralph Lauer)

For much of the summer, we lamented every time Frankie Cervelli‘s name was written into the lineup. He started the season off in glorious fashion, hitting .354/.426/.451 in his first hundred or so plate appearances through mid-May. As Jorge Posada‘s backup it was fantastic, but then things started to go south once Cervelli received more and more playing time. From May 23rd through August 25th, a period during which Posada missed time due to a broken foot, a bruised ring finger, a sore knee, and a sore shoulder, Cervelli hit just .174/.248/.208 in 164 plate appearances.

Production at the bottom of the order was compromised, and oftentimes it was painful to watch. No one really expected Frankie to hit much this year, so it wasn’t his impotent bat that bothered people (okay, yes it was), it was all the playing time he received. When Posada wasn’t injured he often started at designated hitter, giving Cervelli even more at-bats. In fact, his 714.2 innings caught this year are the most on the team, about six games more than Posada’s total of 660.1. Of course that gap closed significantly down the stretch in September, but it still may have some impact down the road.

At 39-years-old, Posada remains a catching marvel. He’s hitting .253/.361/.464 in between all those nagging injuries this year, a .361 wOBA that ranks ahead of Victor Martinez and is bested only by Joe Mauer’s .376 mark among AL catchers. Sure, his defense is as bad as ever, but Cervelli hasn’t exactly made anyone forget Jose Molina. Posada is clearly the best catcher on the team and should start behind the plate every day in the postseason, and the lessened workload during the season just might help him do it.

Aside from 2008, when Jorge missed most of the season with a major shoulder injury, the 660.1 innings in 2010 are the fewest he’s caught in a single season since 1999. He was well over 1,000 innings caught annually from 2000-2007, and it wasn’t until injuries set in later in his career that Posada’s workload started to decrease. Of course all that extra rest this summer hasn’t helped lately; he’s hitting just .179/.304/.282 since September 10th, but we’re not going to get worked up over 46 plate appearances, especially during a period when the entire team struggled offensively.

This is completely subjective obviously, as there’s no concrete way to determine whether or not the decreased workload during the hot summer months will help keep Posada fresh for the playoffs. It sounds logical, but I’m constantly amazed at how often logic loses out. A productive Jorge Posada is the best thing for the Yankees, and if all of those plate appearances wasted on Cervelli this season help Posada remain productive when the games really man something, then I take back all of the bad things I ever said about Frankie. Well, not all of it, but some of it.

Aside: Remember when there was that big debate last season/postseason about Cervelli being a better game caller and better with the pitchers and what not? Well this year Yankee pitchers have a 4.03 ERA and a .252/.325/.397 batting line against with Frankie behind the dish and a 4.06 ERA with a .246/.317/.399 line against with Posada. The whole thing seems silly now, doesn’t it?