Biz Hits: The Yanks stink; Madonna and soccer in the Bronx

A few non-baseball related items for your overnight enjoyment: The Yankees have announced that Madonna will perform in the stadium in the Bronx on Thursday, September 6. This is the rumored “big announcement” the club teased when they sent out the release on Roger Waters’ a few weeks ago. I had guessed, and hoped for, Bruce Springsteen, but music fans will just have to settle for Madonna instead. The pre-sale starts Monday at 10 a.m. right here. The top tickets — on-field seats right in front of the center field stage — will go for $359.50 each.

Madonna, though, isn’t the only person taking her talents to Yankee Stadium this summer. According to a report on Big Apple Soccer, the House that George Built could host a July or August soccer friendly between Real Madrid and Inter Milan. Based on the Euro Cup slate and the Yanks’ schedule, Big Apple Soccer believes the most likely dates for a game are July 25 or August 11 or 12, but the various parties are still hammering out the details. The last Yankee Stadium soccer match pitted the New York Cosmos against the Miami Toros way back on August 10, 1976.

Finally, the Yanks are proving what their haters already claim: that they stink. Few details exist about this news, but according to reports, the Yanks will be releasing two fragrances at a cocktail party on February 21. One will be called simply “New York Yankees” and the other “New York Yankees For Her.” If you’ve ever wanted to smell like Francisco Cervelli, now you can. Or something like that.

Open Thread: Donovan Osborne

(Photo via MainLineAutographs.com)

We’ve seen a lot of left-handed pitchers come through the Bronx over the last 15 years or so, but few of them had the pedigree of Donovan Osborne. He was the 13th overall pick back in 1990, twice rated a top 100 prospect by Baseball America (#42 in 1991 and #35 in 1992), and was the Cardinals’ Opening Day starter in 1999. Osborne made just six starts that year due to injury, and was out of baseball entirely until 2002. He appeared in eleven games for the Cubs in 2002, got hurt again, and missed all of 2003. The Yankees rolled the dice and signed him to a minor league contract on this date in 2004.

Unsurprisingly, Osborne was pretty terrible for the Yankees. He made the team out of Spring Training as a reliever, spending time as both a lefty specialist and mop-up man in April. Injuries and ineffectiveness forced him into the rotation in mid-May, which resulted in a pair of clunkers against the Mariners (6 R in 1.1 IP then 6 R in 5 IP). The Yankees had enough by then, releasing Osborne about a week later. In two starts and seven relief appearances with the team, he allowed 16 runs and 32 baserunners in 17.2 IP. He never pitched in the big leagues again.

Osborne was a forgettable Yankee, but I will always remember him for one thing: he wore #46. Remember, this was 2004, so Andy Pettitte had just fled for the Astros. The team reissued his number immediately, and that always struck me as disrespectful. Then again, George Steinbrenner always seemed to be trying to trade Pettitte through the late-90s and early-2000s, so I guess Andy was used to it by then.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. All three hockey locals are in action, plus the final game of the Caribbean Series is on ESPN3.com and ESPN Deportes. The Dominican Republic already clinched the series title, so tonight’s game is meaningless. Talk about that stuff or anything else you want here. Have at it.

Yankees sign Bill Hall to minor league deal

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Yankees have signed utility man Bill Hall according to utility man Bill Hall. We first heard rumblings that the two sides were talking last week. Erik Boland confirmed that it’s a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Ken Rosenthal says Hall will get a $600k base salary if he makes the team with another $50k each for 100, 150, 200 and 250 plate appearances plus another $100k each for 300, 350, 400, and 450 plate appearances. That’s a total of $600k in incentives. He can opt out of his contract if he’s not on the big league roster by April 4th, two days before the start of the season.

Hall, 32, is supposedly a close friend of CC Sabathia‘s from their time together on the Brewers. He was atrocious for the Astros and Giants last season, like .252 wOBA with a 31.7% strikeout rate in 199 plate appearances atrocious, but Hall did club 18 homers with a .342 wOBA in nearly 400 plate appearances for the Red Sox as recently as 2010. He does have some power (career .188 ISO) and is very versatile, having played over 200 career games at second, third, and short while also seeing considerable time in all three outfield spots. The defensive numbers are mixed, however.

The Yankees have been connected to Hall in each of the last three or four offseason it seems, so Brian Cashman finally got his guy. The signing doesn’t impact the team’s pursuit of a left-handed DH-type. Last night we heard that the Yankees were in serious talks with Raul Ibanez, and that a deal with a DH-type could be wrapped up this week. Don’t be surprised if the Yankees bring in another player or two to compete with Hall for a bench spot either.

David Wells and Immortality

The baseball gods were kind to David Wells. They blessed the burly left-hander with a rubber arm and the ability to roll out of bed and paint the black on both sides of the plate. He didn’t have blow-you-away type stuff, but he did carve out an extremely long and productive big league career by throwing strikes and eating innings. On a Sunday afternoon in 1998, it all came together.

(AP Photo/Lou Requena)

The Yankees were, without question, the best team in baseball in 1998. They won 27 of their first 36 games and were so good that they won eight of their number two starter’s first nine starts even though he had a 5.23 ERA. That number two starter was Wells, who then-manager Joe Torre used to call the “Fourth of July” because his personality was both unpredictable and explosive. The Yankees had split the first two games of a three-game series with the Twins on the weekend of May 15th, and Wells was scheduled to start the rubber game that Sunday.

It was Beanie Baby Day at Yankee Stadium, the plush stuffed animal toys that were near the end of their novelty lifespan. Wells spent the previous night at Saturday Night Live’s season-ending wrap party, he would later admit in his book Perfect, I’m Not. “This party is too much fun to even consider leaving at a reasonable hour,” he wrote, going on to explain how he plopped into bed at 5am and was woken up by his then-six-year-old son Brandon less than four hours later. Wells showed up to the park for the afternoon game hungover, downed some coffee and Tic Tacs, then went out to the bullpen for warm ups.

As he would go on to explain in his book, Wells felt terrible during his pregame routine, and not just from the hangover. He was bouncing curveballs and missing his spots in the bullpen, but then-pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre continued to sing his praises for a strong warm-up. Wells though he was nuts. The Twinkies had won four of their last five games but were without banged up leadoff man Todd Walker, who brought a .382/.420/.551 batting line into the series.

The first batter of the game nearly ended the whole thing before it all started. Matt Lawton swatted a 2-1 pitch to deep left field, but Chad Curtis corralled it for the first of 27 outs. Brent Gates popped out on an 0-2 pitch for the second out, and Paul Molitor grounded the first pitch to second for the third out of the inning. Stottlemyre greeted Wells with a “Way to go, Boom-ER!” in the dugout while opposing starter LaTroy Hawkins danced around a Derek Jeter single for a scoreless first inning.

The ball didn’t leave the infield in the second inning, as Marty Cordova grounded out back to Wells, Ron Coomer struck out, and Alex Ochoa popped out into foul territory behind the plate. Another 13 pitches, another “Way to go, Boom-ER!” in the dugout. Bernie Williams created a run in the bottom half of the second, scoring on a wild pitch after he’d doubled to lead off the frame and gone to third on a passed ball. Wells struck out Jon Shave to open the third, but catcher Javier Valentin worked the count full and started fouling off pitches. The ninth pitch of the at-bat froze him for called strike three, and Boomer followed that up by whiffing Pat Meares to strike out the side. “Way to go, Boom-ER!”

Hawkins tossed a 1-2-3 inning, then Wells sat down Lawton, Gates, and Molitor on an infield pop-up, a strikeout, and a fly ball to left. Bernie added a second run on a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth while Wells needed just a dozen pitches in the top of the fifth; two strikeouts and a ground ball. Hawkins followed up with another perfect frame, as did Wells in the top of the sixth with another dozen pitches, another two strikeouts, and another fly ball. Another “Way to go, Boom-ER!” greeted him in the dugout.

The Yankees were up two-zip but Hawkins had settled into a groove, throwing another 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the sixth. He’d retired 12 of the last 13 men he faced, the one exception being Bernie’s homer. Wells had thrown 80 pitches in the first six innings, and he started to labor in the seventh. He fell behind in the count to Lawton 2-0 before the Twins’ leadoff hitter flew out to center. He ran the count full on Gates before getting a ground out to first, then fell behind in the count to Molitor 3-1 before running the count full and getting a strikeout. Stottlemyre greeted him with another “Way to go, Boom-ER!” in the dugout, but Wells knew what was going on and he started to feel the butterflies. Plus he was still hungover.

Superstition is a serious thing during perfect games, hence the “Way to go, Boom-ER!” welcome after every inning. Wells sat alone at the end of the bench while his teammates were at the plate each inning, per tradition. ”Here the guy has a no-hitter going and he looks like he has no friends,” said television broadcaster Jim Kaat. The Yankees broke things open and scored a pair of runs thanks to a Darryl Strawberry triple and a Curtis single, all while Wells sat in the dugout with those butterflies in his stomach. His teammate and good friend David Cone then broke the cardinal rule of perfect games: He spoke to him.

”I think it’s time,” said Cone, ”to break out the knuckleball.” Wells burst out laughing.

The comic relief seemed to settle him down. The Twins didn’t hit the ball out of the infield in the eighth inning — ground ball, ground ball, infield popup — and the crowd greeted Wells with monstrous standing ovation to start the ninth. Shave fouled off three pitches as part of a seven-pitch at-bat before popping out to shallow right for the 25th out. Valentin struck out on four pitches for the 26th out, his third strikeout of the game. Meares was the final batter of the game, and Wells got ahead of him 0-1 after a foul ball.

(AP)

In his book, Boomer said his 120th and final pitch seemed to last a baseball lifetime. “The ball leaves my hand, heavy, and I swear to God, it takes forever to reach the plate,” he wrote. “I’m watching the pitch in slow motion.” Meares swings underneath the pitch and popped it up skyward, toward the right field foul line. Paul O’Neill runs over to make the catch — one-handed! — for the 27th and final out.

“David Wells has pitched a perfect game!” yelled John Sterling during the radio call. “Twenty-seven up, twenty-seven down! Baseball immortality for David Wells, and thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Yankees win! Thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Yankees win!”

It was the 15th perfect game in baseball history, and only the second thrown in Yankee Stadium. Don Larsen, who threw the other Yankee Stadium perfect game during the 1956 World Series, called Wells after the game to congratulate him. Coincidentally — or maybe not — both men are graduates of Point Loma High School in San Diego.

”Yeah, it was tough. From the seventh on, it was ridiculous,” said Wells after the game. Given his rock star persona, it’s not surprising that he made the rounds after the game, appearing on Howard Stern, Regis & Kathie Lee, and David Letterman in the following days. Mayor Giuliani gave him the key to the city, and endorsement offers rolled in. ”He’ll think about it every day of his life, just like I do,” said Larsen.

Wells spent two stints and four years in pinstripes, helping the team to the World Series in that 1998 season. His career is probably underrated historically, but he gained baseball immortality during that Sunday afternoon in the Bronx. Wells is part of the game’s most exclusive club, one of only 18 men to throw a perfect game and one of only three to do so for the Yankees.

Past Trade Review: Al Leiter for Jesse Barfield

(Credit: New York Daily News)

While the 80s generally get lumped in with the Yankees’ dark years, they really weren’t all that bad. The Yankees did make the World Series in 1981, though they did so in relatively bizarre fashion. After stumbling in 1982 they came back to finish either second or third in the AL East in each of the next four seasons. But as the decade came to a close, the Yankees’ started to fall. One big reason was that their pitching staff grew old, and they had little in the way of young replacements.

The mid- to late-80s were all about trading young pitchers and getting essentially jack squat in return. It started after the 1986 season, when the Yankees traded Doug Drabek after his debut season. In return they got a 34-year-old Rick Rhoden, who actually did help in 1987. But that was his final quality season. It’s a good thing they got it out of him, too. The 1987 team might have been the messiest pitching situation of my lifetime — and that includes 2008.

The Yankees trotted out 14 different starters in 1987. Only four made double-digit starts. Among them was Dennis Rasmussen, the youngest of the double-digit starters, whom the Yankees traded mid-season. The other three regulars were all 34 or older, including a 44-year-old Tommy John and a 36-year-old Ron Guidry, who started only 17 games. The other 10 starters were a mixed bag, but most of them shared one thing in common: they had little future in the league. Only three of those pitchers were younger than 28 years old in 1987. As was their wont, the Yankees ensured that they wouldn’t be in pinstripes much longer.

A 26-year-old Bob Tewksbury started six games for the Yankees in 1987. He might have started more, too, had the Yankees not traded him mid-season for Steve Trout. Tewksbury went on to have a fine career, mostly in St. Louis. The pitching-starved early 90s Yankees could have used him badly. Trout, 29 at the time of the trade and an established mediocrity, completely collapsed. The Yanks traded him after the season, and he lasted just two more in the bigs before calling it quits. Brad Arnsberg, a 23-year-old righty, also made a couple of starts in 87, but the Yankees dished him after the season for Don Slaught. (Who, in all fairness, produced a couple of not-half-bad seasons for the Yanks.)

The clearest indication that the Yankees needed arms that season was Al Leiter’s presence on the roster. He was just 21 years old, and didn’t exactly have a sterling minor league record. While his results in A-ball in 1986 were decent, he still walked nearly 7 per nine. In 87 he advanced to AA, where he cut down on the walks and upped his strikeout rate. That earned him a trip to AAA Columbus, but he got knocked around a bit there (and walked nearly 6 per nine). Still, the Yankees gave him a September call-up. Again he got knocked around, but there was at least some promise there.

The ’87 Yanks finished fourth in the division, and things only got worse from there. Chief among their problems in 1988, when they finished fifth, was pitching. Rhoden and John still took the ball every five days, but they had very poor seasons. New addition John Candalaria pitched well enough, but Richard Dotson balanced him out with 171 horrible innings. The only saving grace in the rotation was the 22-year-old Leiter. He actually pitched fairly well in the first half, a 3.99 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning and a 2:1 K/BB ratio. Unfortunately, his season got cut short by a blister problem that cropped up during a fine start against the Tigers. That put him on the 21-day disabled list (fancy that), though he wouldn’t come back until September. Again injury cut him short, as he experienced back spasms in a start against the Red Sox.

Anyone expecting a bounceback from Leiter in 1989 would be sadly disappointed — and then disappointed again. He opened his season with a 5.1-inning, six-run performance against Cleveland, which he followed with three more unspectacular performances. He did pitch into the ninth inning of his second game, striking out 10. The only problem is that he walked nine, and, more importantly, threw 163 pitches. Maybe the Yankees saw that and thought it could lead to trouble. Maybe they were just obsessed with trading any young pitcher with a lick of talent. Whatever the case, they traded Leiter after just four starts, in return receiving Jesse Barfield from the Toronto Blue Jays.

In 1988 the Yankees got some serious production from right field. Dave Winfield hit .322/.398/.530, a 159 OPS+, but he would not be around for the 1989 season. Back problems in spring training led to season-ending surgery. The Yanks did acquire Mel Hall that spring to help fill the void, but he clearly wasn’t going to provide the kind of production the Yankees needed. The solution, then, was to acquire Barfield to man left field. He certainly stood to put up better numbers than Hall.

In the early 80s Barfield was a rising star. His production increased into his mid-20s; in his age-25 and age-26 seasons he hit .289/.369/.548, 143 OPS+, while playing in at least 155 games each season. Combined with his absolute cannon arm, and Winfield’s near-expiring contract, he seemed a perfect fit. The only problem was that his production had taken a step back in the following two seasons. At ages 27 and 28 he hit just .254/.318/.443, 104 OPS+. If the Yankees were trading for the mid-20s Barfield, it would have been one thing. The late-20s Barfield still had something to prove.

All told, his first season in pinstripes didn’t go so badly. He hit .240/.360/.410, 118 OPS+, for a 74-win team. In 1990 he turned in a better season, hitting .246/.359/.456, 128 OPS+. Of course, there was no OPS+ back then, and few people looked beyond batting average, home runs, and RBI. In that sense, Barfield was .246/25/78 in 1990, hardly the stuff of a superstar. He’d last another two years in pinstripes, though he played only 114 games combined. In his early 30s, his career had crashed.

Leiter, on the other hand, almost immediately succumbed to injuries. He got hurt after his first start in Toronto and didn’t make another start for the big league club that year. In fact, he threw just 8 innings in three rehab starts. In 1990 he spent most of the year in the minors, throwing 24 innings of rehab in A-ball before another 78 in AAA. Again in 1991 he spent most of the season on the shelf, pitching just 10 innings between the majors and the minors. In 1992 the Blue Jays just stuck him in the minors, where he threw 163.1 innings. It wasn’t until 1993 that he finally pitched over 100 innings in the bigs. But it wasn’t until 1995 that he was actually any good. That was his last season before free agency.

It’s easy to look back on the trade and see failure, because Leiter went on to enjoy so much success later in his career. But the reality is that during his team-controlled years, Leiter did little other than walk hitters. Before reaching free agency he threw just 522 innings in the majors, and spent the better parts of four seasons on the disabled list. It was only after he reached free agency, and really after he made his way to the Mets, that he really stood out as a pitcher. We can’t judge the trade based on those performances, because they came long after the Yankees would have retained control of him.

Jesse Barfield was a mostly unremarkable player for the Yankees. He showed that he was not the player he appeared to be in his mid-20s, but was instead a merely above-average hitter. That his career came to a halt just a few years after the trade makes it seem all the worse. But think of it this way: if Barfield had continued performing at slightly above average levels, instead of completely falling off a cliff, do the Yankees trade Roberto Kelly for Paul O’Neill a few years later?

In the mid- to late-80s, the Yankees loved trading young pitching for very little return. Leiter was just another name on that list. It might seem like a terrible trade, because Barfield’s performance didn’t stand out and Leiter went on to win a World Series and then realize a very fine career. But the Yankees weren’t exactly in the wrong here. They had a young, promising pitcher, but they had also worked him hard. He had injury problems the previous year, and then had the infamous 163-pitch start in early April. They ended up dodging a bullet, as Leiter spent much time on the DL after that. At the time it was a short-sighted move, given the team’s lack of young arms, but in terms of results it worked out pretty well. Even a healthy Leiter couldn’t have saved those early 90s pitching staffs.

The David Cone Years

(Photo via baseball.wikia.com)

David Cone was no stranger to New York. The Yankees acquired the right-hander from the Blue Jays just before the 1995 trade deadline in exchange for three young pitchers — Jason Jarvis, Mike Gordon, and Marty Janzen — three years after his five-and-a-half year stint with the Mets came to an end. Cone, 32 at the time, was a hired gun. A hired gun that just so happened to be a former World Champion and the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.

“What’s not to like?” said Don Mattingly after the trade. “I don’t even know the other three guys … It’s kind of like with John Wetteland. We got him for nothing.”

The Yankees were six-and-a-half games behind the division-leading Red Sox at the time of the trade, but they were on a six-game winning streak and had surged from ten-and-a-half back with an 11-4 stretch. Cone went 9-2 with a 3.82 ERA after the trade but the Yankees were unable to move past Boston in the standings. Instead, they were the first AL Wild Card team in baseball history. Cone got the ball in Game One of the ALDS against the Mariners, and led his team to a win by allowing four runs in eight innings. The decisive Game Five did not go as well, as Cone’s 147th and final pitch of the night was ball four to the light hitting Doug Strange, forcing in the tying run in the bottom of the eighth.

The Yankees went on to lose the game and series in extra innings, and Cone became a free agent after the season. Jimmy Key was slated to come back from injury, but they were still in a position to lose both Cone and Jack McDowell that offseason.

[Read more…]

Scouting The Waiver Market: Blake DeWitt

(AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

I should probably preface this post by saying I’m an irrationally big Blake DeWitt fan, and have been for a while. That doesn’t mean he’s a great player or anything, I’m just being up front about my personal biases.

Anyway, the Cubs designated the 26-year-old DeWitt for assignment yesterday, making room on their 40-man roster for infielder Adrian Cardenas. They claimed him off waivers from the Athletics, and if the name sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about him as a waiver target two weeks ago. The Cubs originally got their hands on DeWitt in the Ted Lilly trade with the Dodgers two years ago, and he spent last year as a spare infielder/bench bat. Let’s see if he has anything to offer the Yankees…

The Pro

  • DeWitt is a classic contact-oriented hitter. He’s struck out in just 15.8% of his 1,213 big league player appearances (12.8% last year) while drawing a walk 8.8% of the time. He’s a bit of a ground ball hitter but nothing insane, and he’s seen an average of 3.84 pitches per plate appearance as a big leaguer, much higher than the league average.
  • Primarily a second and third baseman in the minors, DeWitt spent some time in left field last season and I’m sure he could learn first base over time. The defensive metrics don’t love him, but the sample sizes aren’t large enough to take them to heart.
  • Don’t hold me to this, but it appears as though DeWitt has one minor league option remaining. This stuff is hard to confirm though, so I can’t guarantee it. DeWitt has just over three years of service time, so he’ll remain under team control through 2014 as arbitration-eligible player.

The Cons

  • DeWitt is just a .260/.329/.385 career hitter (.312 wOBA) with a .297 BABIP, and his minor league numbers don’t suggest there’s much more coming: .259/.325/.416 in 830 plate appearances at the Double and Triple-A levels. He’s also struggled against pitchers of the opposite hand, posting a .300 wOBA in nearly 900 plate appearances against big league righties.
  • DeWitt doesn’t have any speed, with just 21 steals in 37 attempts (56.8%) in 981 career games, majors and minors. He’s taken the extra base 41% of the time as a big leaguer, which is pretty much exactly league average. His .125 ISO isn’t anything special either, so you’re getting what amounts to a singles hitter with no speed.
  • He isn’t all that cheap, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $1.1M earlier this offseason to avoid arbitration. That’s not the end of the world, but he’s not a six-figure player anymore.

The Yankees still haven’t settled on a replacement for Eric Chavez, that backup corner infielder role. DeWitt fits in the sense that he’s a left-handed bat and can man the hot corner, though his offensive value comes primarily from his ability to put the ball in play and his willingness to work a walk. His career is theoretically on the upswing at age 26, so he could still add more offense as he approaches his peak years. Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch will be there to potentially help his power output as well. The recently hired Jim Hendry had DeWitt during the last season-and-a-half with the Cubs, so Brian Cashman will surely ask for him input before pulling the trigger on a move.

Looking over the 40-man roster, the obvious comparison is Corban Joseph, another left-handed, singles hitting second/third baseman. CoJo has yet to advance beyond Double-A though. Since DeWitt can’t play shortstop in anything other than an emergency, Ramiro Pena remains a necessarily evil as the backup backup middle infielder. Given the current roster construction, DeWitt isn’t a great fit unless the Yankees are willing to part with Joseph so soon after adding him to the 40-man roster. He’s an interesting and somewhat useful player, but perhaps it’s simply a case of the right guy at the wrong time.