A-Rod undergoes experimental knee procedure

One of the keys for the 2012 Yankees is getting a healthy Alex Rodriguez. It’s unrealistic to expect him to play 150 games, since he hasn’t done that in the last four seasons. But getting to 135 games seems like a reasonable goal, and it will help the Yankees immensely. Rodriguez has taken a big step in that direction already this winter. According to a report in The New York Post, he underwent “experimental therapy called Orkine” on the right knee that caused him to miss 38 games in July and August.

While the Post termed Orkine experimental, it’s something that’s really been around for a while. It’s a platelet-rich plasma therapy, something we’ve seen other athletes undergo in the recent past. Takashi Saito made headlines in 2008 when he had the procedure in lieu of Tommy John surgery. Yankees fans will remember when Xavier Nady tried it in 2009, only to eventually require TJS. Several athletes have used platelet-rich plasma for knee and ankle injuries. Notables include Troy Polamalu, Tiger Woods, and Kobe Bryant. Rodriguez actually underwent the procedure on the advice of Bryant — whom is reportedly “looks pretty damn spry,” according to at least one NBA fan.

The Post got an excellent quote from Dr. Jonathan Glashow, who is the co-chief of sports medicine at Mout Sinai Hospital.

A lot of athletes I’ve talked to really think this stuff works, but we really don’t have a lot of scientific knowledge behind it of exactly what’s happening. It’s a great way to reduce inflammation and therefore pain, and that’s the essence of it. I think a lot of the athletes who have wear-and-tear on their knees benefit from this. You do it for a while and if it doesn’t stay good you do it again in a few years.

Even more encouragingly, it doesn’t appear that A-Rod will spend much time on the sidelines following the procedure. He underwent it within the last month, and recovery time isn’t very long. Bryant played in a game mere weeks after the procedure. Rodriguez still has a month and a half before he even reports to spring training. That should give him time to get in condition for the season.

Lest anyone think this is repeat of the Gallea or even the Bartolo Colon situation, Alex did get the Yankees’ blessing before getting the plasma injection. The Yankees also cleared it with the commissioner’s office, so there will be no surprise investigations popping up.

Open Thread: Ed Whitson

(Bettmann/CORBIS)

You won’t find many Yankees fans with fond memories of Ed Whitson, but the Yankees signed the right-hander to a five-year contract worth $4.4M on this date in 1984. Whitson was expected to help anchor the rotation, but he instead pitched to a 5.38 ERA in 195.2 IP for the Yankees before being traded back to the Padres just a year and a half into the deal. People will blame it on him being unable to handle New York and all that stuff, but you’ll rarely see anyone acknowledge that Whitson wasn’t even all that good in the first place.

Coming into the 1985 season, his first with the Yankees, Whitson owned a career 101 ERA+ in over 1,000 innings spread across eight years. He was almost perfectly average. Yes, Whitson did post a 3.24 ERA in 189 IP for San Diego in 1984, but he struck out just 103 batters (4.9 K/9) and his 2.45 K/BB that year was easily the best of his career up to that point. Still, that’s roughly equivalent to what Phil Hughes has done so far in his career (2.36 K/BB). Whitson was so bad the year before (1983) that he was demoted to the bullpen at midseason, and the year before that (1982) he was a mop-up reliever that made some spot starts down the stretch. He was an average pitcher at best, but one that happened to have the best year of his career (up to that point) at the right time.

After flopping in New York and going back to San Diego, Whitson went back to being perfectly average in a roundabout way. He pitched to a 4.46 ERA in the two and a half seasons immediately after the trade, then had the two best years of his career at age 34-35 (2.63 ERA in 455.2 IP from 1989-1990). He posted a 5.03 ERA in 1991 and done with baseball after that, out of the game at age 36. In terms of bWAR — which is based on results (runs allowed) and not process (FIP) like fWAR — Whitson had five seasons worth 2.0+ bWAR  of in his 15-year career. Javy Vazquez has eleven such seasons (including one with the Yankees!) in his 14-year career, for some perspective. A.J. Burnett has six such seasons in his 13 years. Whitson retired with a career 98 ERA+ in over 2,200 IP after the 1991 season, an almost perfectly average pitcher that was supposed to be more for the Yankees.

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Here is your open thread for the night. The Nets are playing tonight, and they’re the only local sports team in action. Hooray for that. Talk about that game or anything else here, it’s all good.

Once again, Beltran came to the Yankees at the last minute

Seven years ago, Carlos Beltran and Scott Boras famously came to the Yankees during the final minutes of the outfielder’s free agency, offering to join the team at the discount rather than sign elsewhere. The Yankees said no thanks, and off went Beltran to the Mets for seven years and $119M. Jon Heyman says Beltran (no longer a Boras client) did the same thing this year, offering himself to the Yankees at the last minute for the same two years and $26M he got from the Cardinals. The Yankees again declined, and now he’s in St. Louis.

I still think that passing on Beltran before the 2005 season was one of the biggest mistakes the Yankees have made under Brian Cashman, though in hindsight you can say they dodged a bullet given all his injuries in recent years. This time around it’s a different story, because he is older with bad knees and the Yankees don’t need the offense or an outfielder. It’s pretty clear that Beltran wants to wear pinstripes though, it just doesn’t look like he’ll ever get the chance.

Why not pursue Hiroki Kuroda?

For a while we’ve waited for the Yankees to make a move. They’ve made a couple, sure, and one was quite the splash. But none of the moves really changed the outlook for 2012. Since Brian Cashman probably didn’t mean “Freddy Garcia, Freddy Garcia, Freddy Garcia,” when he declared the team’s needs for the off-season, we continue to wait. Yet with each passing day it seems less and less likely that the Yankees make a move for a starting pitcher.

Those chances seemed even slimmer yesterday, when ESPN New York reported that the Yankees won’t bid on Hiroki Kuroda. This follows a period when the Yankees denied a connection with Kuroda. While by every indication they do like Kuroda, he just doesn’t appear to fit into their budget. That has, in some ways understandable, inflamed the ire of Yankees fans.

The issue isn’t necessarily with the $12 million base salary Kuroda seeks. In fact, for a one-year deal that’s a more than reasonable rate. The issue is the additional cost they bear. Since they’re over the luxury tax, each additional contract they sign actually costs them 40 percent extra. That turns Kuroda’s $12 million into $16.8 million in total expenditures. It’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s one the Yankees currently face.

It’s still likely, though, that the Yankees could, if they were so inclined fit Kuroda into the budget. They can definitely use another starter, and Kuroda has a very fine four-year MLB track record. Brian Cashman has said in the past — even as recently as this November — that he can takes cases for payroll increases to Hal Steinbrenner for approval. If Cashman can make a compelling case, Hal would make an exception. Yet can Cashman really make a compelling case for Kuroda?

Cashman might like Kuroda. Billy Eppler might like Kuroda. Even Hal himself might like Kuroda. But that doesn’t mean he warrants making a payroll exception. Exceptions come for pitchers like Cliff Lee, who don’t hit the market open. The Yankees were willing to make an exception for him last year, though it didn’t work out. Can Cashman really justify making a similar case for Kuroda?

Let’s just say that Cashman can and does make a compelling case for Kuroda, and Hal makes the payroll exception. That pretty much ties the Yankees’s hands financially. It might seem as though they have unlimited funds, but they clearly do not. Hal has said no before — see the proposed Mike Cameron trade from July, 2009 — and he’ll likely say no after bringing in Kuroda. That means Justin Maxwell as the righty outfielder off the bench. That means no other fringe improvements. Most importantly, it means no in-season improvements.

That is to say, the idea behind not pursuing Kuroda could be with an aim to stay as flexible as possible going forward. The Yankees do have five starters, and they do have a rotation full of worthy kids in AAA. There’s a case to be made, especially from those who want the kids to get a shot, that holding onto that money is good in two ways. It means that the kids will get a shot to prove themselves earlier in the year, and it means that the Yankees can afford to make in-season improvements if available and necessary.

Think about it this way, too. The Yankees have a ton of money already tied up in the 2013 payroll. Not only do they have the $127 million listed on their Cot’s page, but they have an additional $26 million for Cano and Granderson, plus three third-year arbitration players, plus holes at a few positions. And while a few pitchers from the free agent class have been locked up, the Yankees still might want to have some funds earmarked for them. Doesn’t it make some sense to show restraint with Kuroda if it means making an exception for a superior pitcher who will be around for longer?

It’s certainly frustrating to see the Yankees turn down short-term options due to financial constraints. They are, after all, a veritable money making machine. But even the Yankees have their limits. Apparently they have reached them, or are at least approaching them. Being prudent might hurt right now, but for all we know it could be part of something bigger. At the very least, it could help keep opportunities open that wouldn’t be otherwise.

Yankee reserves over the years: A graphical look

In the comments of my graphical look at Yankee starters’ ERAs over the last several years, reader Mike Myers asked if I could do a headshot graph for the Yankee relievers or bench players. Well, in the spirit of the holiday, ask and ye shall receive, so today comes a graphical look at the primary players the Yankees have employed as members of their bench since the 2003 season. Why have I been using that as a cutoff? Admittedly it was fairly arbitrary, but pulling these charts and headshots together is a pretty labor-intensive process, so I’m plenty happy to not go any further back. As you’ll see, the graph gets pretty crowded as it is.

In order to define who made the cut, seeing as how the Yankees generally utilize anywhere between five and 15 different part-time players over the course of the season between cuts, trades and September call-ups, I initially used 100 PAs as a benchmark. While I mostly stuck to that parameter, I did end up getting a bit lenient so that I could include some memorable names that perhaps didn’t quite reach the 100 PA threshold, but came close enough. I did not end up using anyone below 50 PAs, so this should at least be a fairly representative sample of the primary players the Yankees looked to to give a boost (or not) off the bench during their respective seasons.

As for how I graded them out, I decided to go with fWAR, to take into account both offensive and defensive contributions. It’s not perfect, but being that it also takes playing time into account I felt it’d help give a reasonably accurate picture of who helped and hurt the most in limited duty.

(click to enlarge)

While not an exact science, here’s how the individual fWARs for the players selected tally in each season:

fWAR
2003 1.1
2004 0.3
2005 -6.7
2006 -2.5
2007 0.5
2008 0.3
2009 -0.1
2010 1.3
2011 1.0
  • I still don’t know how the 2005 team — who gave over 1,000 combined PAs to Tony Womack, Bernie Williams and Ruben Sierra and got -5.6 fWAR — won 95 games.
  • Enrique Wilson wins the honors for worst Yankee of the decade, minimum 100 plate appearances. He accrued -2.4 fWAR over the 2003-04 seasons, which means he owes the Yankees $7.1 million for letting him anywhere a professional baseball field. Tony Womack was a close second, at -2.3 fWAR in just one terrible, terrible season. In fact, Womack’s 2005 is the worst season in Yankee history, minimum 100 PAs!
  • And if we expand the list of cumulative numbers to go all the way back to 1901, Enrique Wilson remains dead last, which means he’s the worst player in Yankee history!
  • The 2010 bench was arguably the best of this lot, with 2003 (paced by Juan Rivera, John Flaherty and Ruben Sierra) and 2011 right behind it. Although 2011 would’ve been tops by a strong margin had I not included Ramiro Pena and his -0.9 fWAR.

Yankees to wear 1912 throwbacks for Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary

(Photo via Baseball Hall of Fame)

The Yankees play in one of the newest ballparks in baseball, but next year they’re going to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the oldest. They’ll be in Boston to play the Red Sox when Fenway Park turns 100 years old on April 20th, a century after they were in town when the place opened in 1912. Well, technically the New York Highlanders were there in 1912, since they didn’t become the Yankees until 1913.

The Sox will have all sorts of pre-game ceremonies to honor the place before the game, and the impossible to read Fenway Park 100th Anniversary Events site says that both clubs will wear 1912 throwback uniforms during the game. Reports earlier this month indicated that the Yankees had not yet agreed to wearing their old uniforms, but apparently the people at Fenway got the a-okay recently. A second throwback game between the Red Sox and Athletics is still tentative according to the Fenway site. The Yankees have not yet confirmed that they will be wearing the 1912 jerseys during the game, just to be clear.

Aside from various patches and whatnot, the Yankees have been using their current road jerseys since 1918* and their current home uniforms since 1936. The uniform above is the 1912 Highlanders’ outfit they’ll apparently wear during the game in Fenway Park, a rather  generic uniform aside from the multi-colored socks. You can see the accompanying home uniform at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s site.

I do like that the Yankees have been using their uniforms for a baseball eternity, but the throwback idea is also pretty neat. What fun is having such a rich history if you can’t go back and re-live it from time to time? Plus you know the team will make money off this, those hats and jerseys will be up for sale before you know it. Like I said, the Yankees have not yet confirmed any of this, but I hope it’s true. I’m looking forward to seeing Mariano Rivera finish off the Red Sox 2012-style in 1912 uniforms.

* From 1927-1930, the uniform actually said YANKEES instead of NEW YORK across the chest.

Open Thread: Juan Espino

(Photo via BaseballBirthdays.com)

This week will be a slow one as front offices around the league try to take a step back and enjoy the holidays, so don’t expect to see many transactions. In fact, the Yankees have made just one noteworthy move on December 26th throughout their history. On this date in 1974, they signed 18-year-old catcher Juan Espino out of the Dominican Republic as an amateur free agent.

Espino made a slow and deliberate climb up the minor league ladder, spending two years with High-A Fort Lauderdale (1976-1977), two and a half years with Double-A West Haven (1978-1980), and two and a half years with Triple-A Columbus (1980-1982) before making his big league debut in June of 1982. He appeared in just three games that month, all off the bench, then was sent back to Triple-A. Espino resurfaced in 1983, reaching base seven times (one walk, five singles, one homer) in 25 plate appearances spread across ten games.

The Yankees sold Espino to the Indians just before the 1984 season, then purchased his rights back from Cleveland a year later. All told, he played in 49 big league games — all with the Yankees — hitting .219/.244/.238 with that one homer in 78 plate appearances. Espino spent the last few years of his career in Triple-A with the Yankees and Cardinals, retiring after the 1988 season as a .256/.335/.374 career hitter in more than 2,000 plate appearances at the minors’ highest level. Christmas week transactions, changing the baseball landscape forever.

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Here is your open thread for the night. The Falcons and Saints are your Monday Night Football Game, the Nets open their season against the Wizards, and all three hockey locals are in action. Lots to relax with tonight. Talk about whatever you like here, enjoy.