Mailbag: A-Rod, Nix, Williams, Soriano, Contracts

Got five questions for you this week, and none of them are directly tied to the ALDS. Consider this a break from the playoffs for a few hours. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions.

(Al Bello/Getty)

Bill asks: If the Yanks were to buy out A-Rod‘s contract (not saying they should just if they did) would his salary still count towards the team salary for getting under the $189 million limit?

Yeah, it would. According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, player salary that counts towards the luxury tax is “the value of the total compensation (cash or otherwise) paid to a Player pursuant to the terms of a Uniform Player’s Contract, including any guarantee by the Club of payments by third parties, for a particular championship season. Salary shall include, without limitation, the value of non-cash compensation such as the provision of personal translators, personal massage therapists, and airfare and tickets exceeding normal Club allotments.”

In English, that means anything a team plays a player will count towards the tax. The structure of the buyout would determine when and how much applies to the luxury tax calculations. There are five years and $114M left on A-Rod’s contract after this season and the Yankees are goimng to pay every penny. They’re not trading him, he’s not going to retire, and they’re not going to negotiate a buyout so they can cut him loose. It’s not happening. He’ll be around until 2017 whether you like it or not. Ownership made their bed and now they’ll have to sleep in it.

Nick asks: Do you think that Jayson Nix could wind up on the Yankees again next season?

I definitely think it’s possible. Nix, 30, will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and will probably still be in line for a six-figure salary next season. I have a hard time seeing a career up-and-down bench player with a .214/.285/.371 batting line pulling in more than a million bucks his first time through arbitration.

Nix is a useful role player capable of playing a ton of positions and providing some offense against left-handers, so it makes sense for the Yankees to hold onto him. He shouldn’t deter them from acquiring a better utility infielder if one comes along this offseason, the only problem is that he is out of minor league options and can’t be sent to the minors next season without clearing waivers. I wouldn’t call Nix a lock for the 2013 roster by any means, but there’s certainly a chance of it happening.

(Brian Bissell/Future Star Photos)

Austin asks: What do you make of recent Baseball America questions regarding Mason Williams‘ makeup/attitude? Isn’t this Gary Sanchez 2011 stuff?

Well, the Sanchez stuff last season was so bad that the team had to send him to Extended Spring Training for disciplinary reasons. He refused to pinch-hit in a game and catch a side session, which is a major no-no. The Williams stuff was reported as “a few headaches,” which frankly is the first I’ve heard of him having any kind of real makeup problem. Mason has been knocked for being too hard on himself and getting frustrated with bad at-bats or plays, but nothing that created a problem with other players or coaches. We’ll have to pay attention to this in the future, because this report did catch me a bit off guard.

JW asks: Here’s a mailbag question: assume Rafael Soriano opts out and the Yankees make a qualifying offer. Under the new FA compensation rules, does it project that the signing team would have to give up a draft pick? I know that the number of players whose signing warrants giving up a pick has been reduced by a lot.

Under the new system, a team would have to forfeit a draft pick to sign a top free agent (who has received a qualifying offer), but that pick does not go to the player’s former team. It just disappears. The former team receives one supplemental first round pick instead, which is pulled out of thin air like the old system. I assume the Yankees will make Soriano a qualifying offer if he opts out because he’d be walking away from more money ($14M) by opting out than he would get through the offer ($13.3-13.4M). I have no idea who would give up a draft pick to sign him but it doesn’t really matter — the Yankees will end up with the same compensation pick no matter where he ends up.

GB asks: If Curtis Granderson, CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Mark Teixeira, David Robertson, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were all FA’s after this season, what kind of contracts would you see them getting?

Well this is a fun one. I have an amazing knack for underestimating free agent contracts, but I’ll give this my best shot anyway…

  • Granderson — 40+ homer power is rare, so that alone will get Curtis paid at age 31. Clubs will probably be gun-shy because of Jason Bay, but his four-year, $66M deal with the Mets seems like an appropriate benchmark.
  • Sabathia — Despite the elbow injury and sub-par second half, Sabathia would still wind up with $20M+ a year easy. Frankly I bet he could match the five-year, $122.5M deal he signed with the Yankees last winter if he went back out onto the open market this year. Pitchers of Sabathia’s caliber very rarely hit free agency.
  • Hughes — How does four years and $40M sound? Phil is only 27, so you’d theoretically be buying all of his peak years and expect some improvement going forward. Maybe $44-48M would be closer to reality as a free agent.
  • Teixeira — At this point, age 32, Teixeira is just a touch above the first base league average offensively (115 vs. 106 wRC+) while remaining a stud with the glove. First baseman make more money than anyone, so I think another Bay-like four-year, $66M deal would be in the cards.
  • Robertson — A stud reliever at age 27 is a prime candidate to get overpaid, especially if someone plans on making him a closer. Joaquin Benoit’s three-year, $16.5M deal with the Tigers seems like the floor here. Three or fours years at $6-7M annually wouldn’t surprise me at all.
  • A-Rod: Not much right now, probably like two years and $20M with most of that coming on reputation.
  • Jeter: The Cap’n is in a weird spot because I don’t think any other team would pursue him as a free agent. Not because he’s a bad player or anything, but because of the “Yankees or retirement” vibe. Could Jeter match the three-year, $51M contract he signed two years ago this offseason? Yeah, I think he might be able too.

Thoughts following Game Four

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Yankees and Orioles have been neck-and-neck all season, so something will finally have to give in Game Five tonight. They’ve played 209 innings across 22 games in 2012, with New York scoring 103 runs and Baltimore 101. Those 22 games have been split right down the middle at 11-11.

1. The lineup has to change tonight. The Orioles are starting hard-throwing righty Jason Hammel and Alex Rodriguez can not start. He’s 0-for-12 with nine strikeouts against same-side pitchers in the series and looks completely and utterly helpless. Eric Chavez has not been any great shakes himself lately, but the team’s best chance to win tonight has him at third base and A-Rod on the bench. Curtis Granderson has been the club’s worst hitter in the postseason and needs to sit as well. He’s done nothing, absolutely nothing to help the offense. It’s great that he can run into a homer at any time, but the Yankees can’t afford to wait for him to click. Since Brett Gardner hasn’t had enough at-bats lately, just stick Raul Ibanez in left to start the game. CC Sabathia is a ground ball pitcher and hopefully Ibanez’s defense can be hidden, plus Derek Jeter may need another DH day because of his bone bruised left foot.

2. Now obviously the entire offense is struggling, but you know what hurts more than Granderson’s strikeouts or A-Rod’s feeble at-bats? It’s Robinson Cano being a no-show. He’s 2-for-18 in the series (run-scoring doubles in Games One and Two) with an intentional walk. No one on the planet was hotter was Robbie at the end of the season, but either the three days off before the ALDS cooled his bat or the Orioles are just doing a great job of pitching to him. When I see at-bats like this…

… I tend to think it’s more the latter, though I’m sure the time off had something to do with it. Cano will never be the most disciplined hitter in the world, and that’s a weakness that can be exploited from time to time. The Yankees need him to be the impact hitter in the middle of the order and right now he’s not doing it. Not even close.

3. It’s great that Joe Girardi has faith in his players and he trusts them to turn things around, but his biggest weakness as a manager is his stubborn refusal to see the forest for the trees and make changes. When Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner were the only players hitting the ALDS last season, they stayed at the bottom of the order while A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher remained in the middle of the lineup and it ended their season. Remember what happened with Tino Martinez and Wade Boggs in 1996? They didn’t hit a lick in the postseason and Joe Torre benched them. The team was better off with them out of the lineup so the change was made and it helped the Yankees win. Girardi has to be more proactive and not just sit around and wait for things to correct themselves. There’s no time for patience anymore.

4. The Yankees have allowed nine runs in 42 innings in the ALDS. Nine runs in 42 innings. That’s a 1.93 ERA as a team. All four starter have turned in not just quality outings, but dynamite efforts that more than gave the club a chance to bullpen. The bullpen has allowed just one run in 11.1 innings, or five fewer than Jim Johnson has by himself. The Yankees have scored eight runs after the seventh inning in the four games compared to one for the Orioles. The entire pitching staff from top to bottom has been brilliant, and it can all go to waste because the bats have gone silent. It would be an unbelievable shame.

Offense a no-show as Orioles force Game Five

For the first time in baseball history, all four LDS matchups will go the full five games. Unfortunately that means the Yankees lost Game Four to the Orioles on Thursday night, a 2-1 game that featured an awful lot of offensive failures on both sides.

(Al Bello/Getty)

St. Philip of Hughes

Pitching in his first game action in nearly two weeks, Phil Hughes put up a light version of Hiroki Kuroda‘s Game Three outing but dancing around danger early before settling down to put up a representative start. He walked the leadoff man in three of the first four innings but pitched out of the jam each time — first and second with no outs in the first, second and third with no outs in the second, first and third with two outs in the third. Phil’s only mistake was a solo homer to Babe McLouth leading off the fifth.

All told, Hughes threw 95 pitches in 6.2 innings of one-run ball. He retired nine of the final ten batters he faced after the homer and allowed just four hits overall. He also walked those three leadoff men. The Orioles swing and missed 15 times as part of eight strikeouts, a strong number for Hughes after struggling to miss bats a bit in September. This start was awfully reminiscent of Game Three of the 2010 ALDS, when Phil scuffled in the second half but came out and held the Twins in check. Unfortunately the offense did not support him like they did that night.

Set Up To Fail

(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

Joe Girardi made the gutsiest call of his managerial career in Game Three on Wednesday, lifting Alex Rodriguez for pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez in the ninth inning of a one-run game. It was the right call and not just because it worked out — A-Rod has been abysmal against right-handed pitchers lately and he simply did not give the team the best chance to win in that spot. Instead of following the same script in Game Four, Girardi left Alex in the game to face righties with the go-ahead run in scoring position on not one, but two occasions.

Now just to be fair, A-Rod did reach base in his first two at-bats. He drew a leadoff walk against Joe Saunders in the second inning, but his teammates failed to advanced him any further. He also singled with one out in the fourth only to be erased on a double play. That came off Saunders as well, a left-hander. The situation changed in the sixth, after Robinson Cano tied the game with an RBI ground out. Mark Teixeira was on second base with two outs and rather than leave Saunders in to face Alex a third time, Buck Showalter lifted him for hard-throwing righty Tommy Hunter. Five pitches later, the inning was over after A-Rod swung through a fastball for strike three.

Fast forward to the eighth, when the Yankees blew their biggest opportunity to take the lead. Ichiro Suzuki and Teixeira singled to open the inning, putting men on first and second with no outs. Cano advanced the runners to second and third with a ground out, which wasn’t exactly ideal but better than nothing I suppose. Robbie’s ALDS disappearing act is something we can discuss at another time. So now the go-ahead run is on third base (and an insurance run is on second) with one out. Showalter lifted the lefty Brian Matusz for the side-winding righty Darren O’Day, who has crushed same-side hitters for years. He struck out A-Rod on four pitches with three swings and misses. Nick Swisher flew out to end the inning.

Ibanez, the Game Three mega-hero, was not used in the game until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The score was tied and no one was on-base. It was homer of bust, basically, and Ibanez grounded out to end the inning before being replaced by Eduardo Nunez defensively the next inning. No one is expecting him to hit pinch-hit homer every game, no one reasonable anyway, but it’s very clear that Ibanez is one of the team’s more productive hitters at the moment. Girardi opted to let A-Rod bat in two situations in which he had so little chance of succeeding — he’s 0-for-12 with nine strikeouts against righties in the series — and his faith was not rewarded. The team’s hottest and most dangerous hitter was given one at-bat with no one on-base. With that many underperforming hitters in the lineup, they were destined to fail.

If Joba didn’t have bad luck, he’d have none at all. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

All Hail The Bullpen

The Orioles have scored exactly one run after the seventh inning in this series, and that was the game-winning run in the 13th inning in Game Four. J.J. Hardy doubled in Manny Machado to win the game. The bullpen, and really the entire pitching staff in general, was not at fault for the loss however. After Hughes went the first 6.2 innings, a total of seven relievers combined to allow four base-runners and one run in 6.1 runs. Two runs and 12 strikeouts in 13 innings, and that wasn’t good enough for a win. Think about that.

Anyway, Boone Logan was first in line and he retired McLouth with a soft liner to second to end the seventh. David Robertson dazzled in an eight-pitch eighth inning, then Rafael Soriano chipped in scoreless ninth and tenth innings. Joba Chamberlain threw a perfect 11th and started the 12th, but a Matt Wieters’ broken bat hit him in the elbow and forced him from the game. X-rays were negative and he’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow. David Phelps took over and escaped the inning before giving up the run in the 13th. Clay Rapada and Derek Lowe got the final two outs without incident. The pitching staff has allowed nine runs in 42 innings this series. Nine runs in 42 innings. That’s a 1.93 ERA, and it wasn’t good enough to avoid a decisive Game Five.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

We’ve already talked about A-Rod, but let’s count all the other ways the offense failed. Derek Jeter went 2-for-6 and scored the only run, and he has multiple hits in all four games of the series. He also struck out looking on a Luis Ayala fastball with two men on to end the seventh. Ichiro went 1-for-5 with a sacrifice bunt and Teixeira reached base four times in his six plate appearances (single and three walks). The quartet of Cano, Swisher, Curtis Granderson, and Russell Martin went a combined 0-for-20 with one walk (Martin) and four strikeouts (three by Curtis). The Yankees went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position on the night with Jeter, A-Rod, and Cano taking 0-for-2s in those spots.

Jayson Nix played shortstop while Jeter nursed the bone bruise on his left foot, making him the first player to start at the position other than the Cap’n since (who else?) Tony Fernandez in Game Five of the 1995 ALDS. Nix was actually the team’s most productive offensive player in the game, going 2-for-3 with a double. He was replaced by Ibanez in the ninth.

Fieldin Culbreth’s strike zone was a disaster, which I guess isn’t a surprise. It was bad for both teams but I don’t want to blame it for anything, I’m just making an observation. It’s made even more noticeable and annoying by the little permanent strike zone sidebar on the TBS broadcast.

Box Score & WPA Graph

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights. Outside of the final six outs of Game One, these two teams have never been separated by more than one run in the series.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Either the Yankees or the Orioles are going home tomorrow when they play Game Five. The winner will advance to play the Tigers in the ALCS, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. CC Sabathia and Jason Hammel will square off in a Game One rematch at 5:07pm ET. Yes, a 5:07pm ET start on a Friday. That’s actually a thing that will happen.

Update: Joba leaves game after getting hit by broken bat, x-ray negative

11:41pm: X-rays came back negative and Joba has a right elbow contusion. He’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow. Good news, that looked scary.

11:23pm: Joba Chamberlain left tonight’s game in the 12th inning after getting hit in the right elbow with a broken bat. The barrel hit him square and the TBS broadcast showed a big welt right on the tip of his elbow. Joba threw a few warm-up pitches and gave a thumbs up, but Joe Girardi (rightfully) lifted him from the game anyway.