Taking baseball a little less seriously

Even Bill Veeck might have drawn the line with this one. (Via MLB.com)

A few months ago, as the Marlins unveiled their plans for the ins and outs of the new stadium, the one aspect the took the public by storm involved a monument in center field. The word monument though doesn’t really do this thing justice. It’s large; it’s multi-hued; and it’s going to move whenever a Marlin hits a home run.

Now baseball is a sport firmly rooted in tradition. The boldest moves in recent years have concerned various iterations of home uniforms with different color combinations for different days of the week and — gasp — some sleeveless uniform tops. Baseball fans like their ball players gritty, their history hallowed and their records respected.

Throughout baseball history, those who dare to rock the boat risk alienation. Bill Veeck remains the most famous man to push the baseball boundaries. His Disco Demolition stunt backfired, but he granted Minnie Minoso at bats in five decades and introduced the world to Eddie Gaedel. He was a showman who wanted to entertain the masses, but after testifying on behalf of Curt Flood, baseball passed him by. As MLB has worked to keep Mark Cuban on the outside, there never has been an owner willing to take as many risks as Veeck.

In a few weeks, when the Yankees journey to Miami to close out Spring Training, the Marlins’ new ballpark will open. Like many other new stadiums, this one has a painfully tortured funding history. The city of Miami has ponied up far too many dollars to build a new stadium in an area of the city that is even further from a potential fan base than the Dolphins’ stadium is. Even with Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes in tow, drawing fans to Miami to see the team will be a challenge.

And so enter the Miami Marlins and their outfield monument to, well, something. A flying fish perhaps? Maybe it’s something baseball needs. Now I’m not saying each stadium needs something that looks like that, but maybe a little levity in the game can’t hurt. A look around Yankee Stadium reveals an attempt at recreating something Serious. These are Hallowed Grounds with a lot of History. We must respect the memories, and do not besmirch the team or else George Steinbrenner, forever staring out from the right field bleachers, will get you. There will be no flying fish here.

Ultimately though, baseball is a game, a sport. It’s about the spectacle, and the entertainment. The Marlins’ monument can rock the boat as much as it wants, and when the Yankees take on the Miami ballclub with the bright orange uniforms in a new stadium at the end of Spring Training, I’ll be rooting for a home run. Who doesn’t want to see flying fish light up with every four-bagger anyway?

Baseball America’s Early Draft Preview

We’re still five months out from the actual event, but I guess that’s why they call it an early draft preview. Baseball America published a list of the top 100 draft prospects today, as well as a position-by-position breakdown of the draft class. It’s a pretty good year for catchers and middle infielders, but a little light on college arms. Both links are free for all, though subscribers can see scouting reports for each of the top 100 guys.

The Yankees currently own three of the top 91 and five of the top 154 picks, with their first selection coming 30th overall. They didn’t gain or lose any picks via free agent compensation, and won’t because all the Type-A’s have signed. No word on what the team’s draft spending limit (courtesy of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement) will be yet.

Open Thread: Dante Bichette Jr. talks to YES

The YES Network is either going to run or has already run (not sure which) a short feature on Dante Bichette Jr. in an episode of Yankees Magazine, a feature you can watch above. It’s a typical puff piece, talking about things Bichette wants to work on, how his father has helped him, stuff like that. Still pretty interesting though, so take a few minutes and give it a watch.

Once you’re done with that, here’s your open thread for the night. If you’re jonesin’ for some baseball, ESPN Deportes and ESPN3.com is airing the entire Caribbean Series over the next few days. Mexico and the Dominican Republic are playing right now (Update: They’re actually in a delay because of the pregame ceremony at the moment). Former Yankees Luis Ayala, Karim Garcia, Randy Keisler, Romulo Sanchez, Humberto Sanchez, Freddy Guzman, and Jon Albaladejo are on various rosters, as are current Yankees farmhands Jose Figueroa, Danny Martinez, Ray Kruml, Francisco Rondon, Pat Venditte, Gary Sanchez, Abe Almonte, and Melky Mesa. I can’t guarantee any of those guys will play, however. The Devils and Knicks are also playing, but talk about whatever you like. Go nuts.

(h/t Bryan Hoch for the video)

Report: Mariners asked about Mason Williams during Pineda trade talks

Via Jon Heyman, the Mariners inquired about the availability of Mason Williams while discussing Michael Pineda with the Yankees earlier this offseason. Heyman also hears that Williams is drawing raves throughout the game, but that’s nothing new really. I have no problem with trading prospects who have yet to sniff full season ball, but there’s no way they could have done both Jesus Montero and Williams in the same package without getting Felix Hernandez back. I suspect we’re going to hear about many teams asking for Mason in the coming years.

Past Trade Review: Raul Mondesi

(Grainy photo via AP)

The Yankees enjoyed above average production from Paul O’Neill for the better part of a decade, but they had a bit of a hole in right field after his retirement following the 2001 season. They opened 2002 with Shane Spencer getting the majority of the playing time in right while John Vander Wal subbed in against the toughest of right-handers. New additions Jason Giambi and Robin Venture were expected to pick up most of the offensive slack.

Spencer, 29 at the time, was four years removed from his monster September showing in 1998, but he brought a .269/.324/.468 batting line in nearly 800 big league plate appearances into the season. He opened the year with a three-hit game on Opening Day, and finished the month of April with a .311/.403/.508 batting line. Vander Wal had reached base 16 times in his 43 plate appearances that month, a .372 OBP that was more than enough off the bench. He took at-bats away from Spencer in May, and by the end of the month he owned a .290/.369/.449 batting line. Spencer was hitting .256/.341/.388 following his May slump.

The duo didn’t last another month. Vander Wal reached base six times in his next dozen games while Spencer was unable to string together any success. Juan Rivera came up for a few days and Marcus Thames made his big league debut that month, both getting a short-lived crack at the right field job. With Rondell White banged up and the outfield stretched thin, then-manager Joe Torre started utility infielder Enrique Wilson in right against the Mets on June 29th. The Yankees got blown out and Wilson made a fool of himself in the field, the only time in his professional career (majors or minors) he would play the outfield.

During the nationally televised broadcast of the Saturday afternoon game, announcer Tim McCarver proclaimed that the Yankees needed Raul Mondesi to play right field. Mondesi, 32 years old at the time, was a star earlier in his career but he hadn’t aged well. He was hitting just .224/.301/.435 with the Blue Jays, and it was no secret that they were trying to unload him and his massive contract. George Steinbrenner didn’t need to hear anything more than what McCarver said on television. Less than two days after Wilson’s episode in right field, the Yankees acquired Mondesi from Toronto in exchange for non-prospect Scott Wiggins. They assumed the remaining $5.5M of his 2002 salary, and agreed to pay $7M of his $13M salary in 2003.

“Our outfield has been depleted, and when Joe (Torre) needs something, I’m going to do everything I can to get it for him,” said Steinbrenner in a statement after the trade.

As Keith Law explained two years ago (6:00 mark), the deal was made above GM Brian Cashman‘s head. The Yankees team president called the Blue Jays team president and brokered the trade because The Boss thought McCarver had a good idea. Pretty nuts.

(Photo via LIFE.com)

Mondesi stepped right in as the full-time right fielder following the deal, and the start of his Yankees career went pretty well. He reached base four times in his first game with the team and nine times in his first three games without a single strikeout. A little slump followed, but Mondesi produced fairly consistently from the middle of July through the end of the season. In 71 games after the trade, he hit .241/.315/.430 with eleven homers. He had three singles and three walks in the four-game ALDS loss to the Angels.

The outfield picture was shored up the following offseason with the addition of Hideki Matsui, who replaced White in left while Bernie Williams and Mondesi remained in center and right, respectively. Mondesi had a scorching hot April in 2003 — .347/.422/.683 with eight doubles and eight homers in 27 games — but his production gradually declined during the rest of the summer. The Yankees were stuck in a four-game losing streak and mired in a 3-11 skid on May 26th when Mondesi lollygagged on a fly ball that would have ended the inning but instead dunked in for a two-run single, allowing the Red Sox to blow open what turned into the Yankees fifth straight loss. An inning earlier he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and one out with his team down by two, so the boo birds were out in full force.

With his batting line sitting at .258/.330/.471 in late-July, Mondesi was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the late innings of a game against the Red Sox. He showered and went home while the game was still being played, and a day later he missed the team’s flight to the West Coast. The entire organization — Steinbrenner included — had grown tired of him, and those last two incidents were the straws that broke the camel’s back. The Yankees shipped Mondesi and $2M to the Diamondbacks two days later, receiving outfielder David Dellucci, righty reliever Bret Prinz, and minor leaguer Jon-Mark Sprowl in return.

“To me, discipline is a big part of being a good team,” said Torre after the trade. “And a lot of the discipline has to come from within yourself. I know he was frustrated. He’s not a bad person, and I want to make sure everybody knows that. I just think he got emotional about it, and it’s not good for the club … It’s not acceptable what he did. Brian and I pulled the trigger on this one.”

Mondesi played a little more than a full season with the Yankees, suiting up for 169 games in pinstripes. He hit .250/.323/.453 with 27 homers and 23 steals, but the team grew tired of his antics. They managed to find a buyer in Arizona, and shipped him off at the first opportunity. Wiggins managed to reach the bigs with the Blue Jays in 2002, giving up a run in 2.2 IP, his only big league time. Dellucci didn’t do much in pinstripes (nine hits and four walks in 58 plate appearances), Sprowl never reached the show, and Prinz threw 30.1 ineffective innings (5.08 ERA) for the team from 2003-2004.

Believe it or not, Mondesi is currently the mayor of the San Cristobal province in the Dominican Republic, the largest municipality in the country. He played three more years after the Yankees traded him away, before geting into the politics game. The trade was a classic Steinbrenner impulse buy but it wasn’t a total disaster, since Mondesi was basically league average at the plate and in the field during his time in New York. He was overpaid and kind of a jerk though, which ultimately punched his ticket out of town and is why we don’t remember him all that fondly.

Nationals agree to sign Edwin Jackson

Our long national nightmare Edwin Jackson’s free agency is finally over. The Nationals have reportedly agreed to sign the right-hander to a one-year contract worth somewhere around $10M, and now they’re trying to trade John Lannan (and his $5M salary) to balance the books. It’s a great deal for the Nationals, who suddenly have a pretty stacked rotation with Jackson, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Chien-Ming Wang. Gotta think there are a lot of teams out there right now wondering why they couldn’t get this guy at that price, maybe even the Yankees (though I’m perfectly happy with Hiroki Kuroda).

What pitches do the Yankees starters throw?

Following Larry’s examination of the best pitches in the Yankees’ rotation, we received an email from a reader who asked an excellent question.

I was wondering if you guys could do some kind of guide to what pitches each of our pitchers throw and how often.

Thanks to FanGraphs, identifying these pitches and frequencies becomes much easier. Previously, to identify a pitcher’s entire arsenal would require quite a bit of video watching, and would likely also require an outside resource. Frequency was out of the question, unless you had a paid subscription to a service such as Baseball Info Solutions. Now FanGraphs aggregates all of that data.

Today we’ll look into what the Yankees’ seven starters throw, and how frequently they throw it. But before we do, a few disclaimers. First, we’re going by Pitch f/x data here, since it’s captured on high-speed cameras. The Baseball Info Solutions data, also available on FanGraphs, gets recorded, from videos, by stringers. There’s much more room for human error there. Also, the Pitch f/x data includes more pitches, so there’s a more accurate breakdown.

At the same time, Pitch f/x isn’t error-free. It often misclassifies pitches, and consistently. For example, before 2010 it didn’t do a good job of separating different types of fastballs. I’ll try to combine personal knowledge of arsenals with the Pitch f/x data in order to provide a clearer look at each pitcher’s repertoire. Remember, too, that you can look into this yourself; the data is available on every FanGraphs player page.

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