Appreciating the finer notes of Coltrane

"Can be honest with you, CC? I hate jazz. I'm more of a showtunes kinda guy..." (Getty Images)

This past off season the Yankees and the Red Sox rarely went head to head on free agent and trade targets. The Red Sox weren’t really ever in on Cliff Lee, and the Yankees didn’t pursue Carl Crawford (except nominally) or Adrian Gonzalez. The Sox snagged Bobby Jenks, but New York’s bullpen was already strong, even without Rafael Soriano. The most important head-to-head battle was over Russell Nathan Jeanson Coltrane Martin. After the Dodgers non-tendered him, the Red Sox and the Yankees both pursued him. The Yankees ended up winning, getting Martin to agree to a 1 year deal for $4M. It’s clear that the Red Sox landed bigger fish this December, but the Martin move was a particularly savvy move by GM Brian Cashman, one that could pay dividends well into the future.

Russell Martin won’t remind fans of Jorge Posada when he’s standing at the plate. The last time he slugged over .400 was in 2007, a year which now seems aberrant in retrospect. Instead it seems more reasonable to expect a mid .300s OBP and a high .300s SLG, giving him an OPS of around .700. PECOTA backs this up, seeing a .360 OBP and a .379 SLG in 2011. While this isn’t the level of offensive production to which Yankee fans have been accustomed, or expect in the near future with Jesus Montero, it still remains a respectable output. As Patrick Sullivan noted last week, AL catchers averaged .245/.312/.374 in 2010. Martin will clear that with ease; the only question is by how much.

The beauty of the situation is that Martin can provide above-average offense while giving the Yankees a level of defense that they haven’t seen from the starting catcher in years, except for when Jose Molina became the starter to fill in for the injured Jorge Posada in 2008. In 2007 and 2009, Martin led the National League in runners caught stealing with 41 and 33 runners caught, respectively. In 2010 he was fourth in the NL in 2010 with 27. He was charged with four passed balls in 2010, and has a bit of a reputation of having a hard time with balls in the dirt in years past. Of course, fielding breaking balls in the dirt requires rapid mobility and flexibility, and Martin has dealt with knee and hip injuries in the past few years. Those injuries have reportedly healed completely.

As a result, Martin looks more agile and limber these days and is even able to flash a bit of speed. This was on display on Thursday when he swiped third base in the 3rd inning against the Tigers. This didn’t come out of nowhere. In years past, Martin has been a speedster on the base paths, swiping 21 bases in 2007 and 18 bases the year after. His totals decreased to 11 and 6 the last two years, but again this was likely the result of the injured hip and knee. As Marc Carig noted, perhaps the Tigers weren’t expecting Martin to flash his speed of old. Carig writes:

Martin wondered after the game if the Tigers have been reading too much into his surgically-repaired knee and his surgically-repaired hip, perhaps assuming that they needn’t worry that much about the surgically-repaired Martin.

They may be wrong, of course, at least that’s what he wants to prove, though he stole his base by playing on the Tigers’ false assumption. He wanted everybody to know he was feeling fine, then changed his mind, figuring that maybe he could catch a few more teams underestimating his health.

“Tell them I feel awful, that I’m super slow right now,” Martin said, after he was anything but those things against the Tigers.

Aside from his offense, defense and agility on the basepaths, Martin provides key flexibility at the most perplexing spot in the Yankees lineup. Despite a embarrassing wealth of riches at the catching position throughout the organization and two players on the 25-man roster with the ostensible ability to handle the position, the Yankees found themselves in a position of need this winter, and reached outside the organization. In doing so, they bought themselves flexibility on three separate levels. The first is with Posada, who checks in at 39 years young this season. Repeated foul tips to the head have both Posada and the Yankees organization worried about the long-term health of his brain. This piece by Bob Klapisch showed that the Yankees had done memory tests on Posada after a September foul-tip to the head, and that Posada had not scored well. Like the 49ers and Steve Young, the organization and the player were both concerned that further injuries could lead to brain damage. Designated hitter was the safe route and the smart route.

Martin also bought the Yankees flexbility with Posada’s immediate replacement at catcher, Francisco Cervelli. While Cervelli excels in enthusiastic fist-pumping, most reasonable observers would agree that he’s best suited as a backup catcher, preferably one employed against left-handed pitchers. The signing of Martin allowed Cervelli to return to that backup role. Unfortunately, Cervelli injured his foot in Spring Training. Having a backstop capable of manning the position in his stead means that the organization can be conservative with Cervelli’s rehabilitation and afford him all the time he needs to recover. This reduces the risk of Cervelli re-injuring the foot, or compensating for it and setting of a cascade reaction injury elsewhere. Martin lets Cervelli return in his own time, and to his own more suitable role as backup.

Perhaps most importantly, Russell Martin allows the Yankees to be patient with uber-prospect, future multiple MVP-winner, future All-Star and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Jesus Montero. How’s that for hype? No matter where you come down on the media’s reading of Montero’s performance this spring, it’s obvious that important people within the Yankee organization thought that Montero wasn’t ready. Both Girardi and Cashman seemed to agree that Montero was pressing, and that his defense wasn’t what it could be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – who doesn’t love a 21 year-old wanting so badly to make the big league roster that he gets over-anxious? – but it is nice that the Yankees don’t have to thrust him into a big-league role right away. Montero can get 100 or 200 at-bats in Triple-A, abuse the pitching, and come up in a few months when he’s nice and hot.

In retrospect, it doesn’t look like Russell Martin and Los Angeles were a good fit. Both Grady Little and Joe Torre seemed intent on Proctoring Martin, overusing him until he broke, and there were times at which he didn’t get along with the front office. That’s all behind him now. Martin is entering the physical prime of his career for the Yankees this season. If it doesn’t work out, no matter. The Yankees’ catching talent pipeline is nearly clogged with talent. If it does work out though the Yankees control his rights through the 2012 season and have gotten themselves quite a bargain at a premium position.

YES, DirecTV stave off blackout for now

As YES and DirecTV continue to negotiate a renewal deal, the Yankees’ network will not pull its signal from DirecTV until at least Thursday, the YES Network announced this morning. While the package deal expired yesterday, the two sides have agreed to extend their negotiating deadline until Thursday, April 7. The YES Network, a RAB partner, said it granted the extension “in order to continue negotiating with the goal of reaching a new agreement.” Today’s game is on FOX but the next five games are on YES. We will continue to follow this story.

Breaking News: Mariano Still The Greatest

Last name: Ever, first name: Greatest. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Opening Day has come and gone and there’s lots of serious baseball in front of us. It goes without saying the the Yankees have a terrible team that will in no way make the playoffs and will certainly finish in last place and go under .500, whereas everyone else will have a surging year. Wait, sorry, I was just reading Keith Olbermann’s blog again. Whoops. Anyway, Thursday’s win was, as Mike put it back then, textbook: score runs, have good pitching, hand it over to the shutdown bullpen. While the amazingness of the bullpen may have only gone up over the offseason (despite the price tag involved), there’s one part of that pen that’s been around for a while now. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell this audience who.

Mike posted this graph on Thursday, but in baseball you have to use both a combination of your eyes and the numbers to get a complete feel of the team. This Opening Day is just another example on the 15-year pile of examples of why the Greatest Ever’s name stretches across the top of that graph and no one else can get a lock on the closer role quite like the Yankees. Relievers are volatile creatures, as we all know, and it’s weekends like these where we remember that most closers are just relievers who were good enough last year to close the ninth this year.

Dan Bard, of the Red Sox, was the go-to closer in case of continued meltdown by Jonathan Papelbon. Bard was extremely good in 2010, making 73 appearances and posting a 1.93 ERA, a 3.37 FIP, and a K/9 over 9. Not bad for a 26-year-old, and certainly deserving of a shot at keeping Opening Day tied, right? Bard’s line from yesterday looks something like this: .2 IP, 4R, 4ER, 1BB, 1K. He took the loss in the top of the ninth. Somewhere, Papelbon was feeling just a tiny bit more secure in his job. Or let’s look at John Axford, who inherited the closer roll from Trevor Hoffman: last year, he picked up the job early due to Hoffman’s inability to not blow a game, and showed he deserved it with ERA of 2.48, a FIP of 2.14, and strike out to walk ratio pushing three – with almost 12 K/9. In 2010, he picked up 24 saves in 58 IP. In 2011, he’s already managed to blow his first save of the year, giving up a 3-run last-licks home run to Ramon Hernandez and taking Edison Volquez off the hook for the three homers he himself allowed. Then there’s Brandon Lyon, in the second year of his three-year contract (what have we said about multiyear contracts for relievers?) starting the Astros off to another cellar-dwelling year. He helped out the Phillies’ push to 162-0 by getting only one out and allowing six singles, giving up the game-winner to John Mayberry Jr.

While all these other guys were running around blowing games for their teams, our guy, the guy, if I may, is coming in and getting it done. Thursday was a perfect Mariano performance, a 1-2-3 topped with strikeout looking of Alex Avila. Yes, I know there’s some obvious narrative bias going on here. Yes, I know it’s one save out of what will be many. Yes, I know that this is only one game out of 162, most of which have yet to be played. Yes, I know Mo will almost certainly blow a save at some point during the year even if I’m loathe to admit it. Yes, I know the fact that Mariano Rivera is amazing isn’t breaking news. But there’s a difference between knowing how amazing Rivera is (among other things, he’s all-time ERA+ leader with 205), and having your belief re-affirmed for yet another year. While other teams’ closers melt down, Mo’s presence effectively ends the game in the 8th. While other teams’ rotate through closers, Rivera is the go-to guy every year for the Bombers, and every year he shows everyone – including the fans – why he’s the greatest of all time.

And come on, who wants to say they blew the save on Opening Day?

Friday Open Thread

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Here is your open thread for this crappily weathered Friday. The Yankees are off today (obviously), but the Mets are opening their season against the Marlins (Pelfrey vs. Josh Johnson), and there’s also five other late games being played. Extra Innings is in the middle of their free preview, so all the games are on TV somewhere, you just have to find the channel. If you’re a Time Warner subscriber in the Tri-State Area, the channels are in the 400’s. The Devils and Nets are both in action as well, so enjoy.

Inside the AL East bullpens

The RAB media empire continues to grow. Even though we’re not actually instituting a paywall, our online baseball presence is growing. Beginning today and continuing for as long as they’ll have me, I’ll be penning the AL East Divide and Conquer recaps for Baseball Prospectus. To preview the season, I explored bullpen construction for the AL East five. The Yanks clearly have the best pen while the Rays have completely overhauled their relief staff. Anyway, I’ll be there once a week, usually on Tuesdays or Wednesday so be sure to check it out.

The RAB Radio Show: April 1, 2011

Finally, baseball. Mike and I talk about the underreported aspects of Opening Day, but we can’t help but feast on the highlights. If you’re a Curtis Granderson fan, this podcast is for you. If you’re not a Curtis Granderson fan, well, I believe you will be in due time.

Podcast run time 23:48

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Introducing the RAB Paywall

Since late February in 2007, long before Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia were Yankees, long before we knew about Manuel Banuelos or the power of Kevin Long, Joe, Mike and I began RAB as an experiment in blogging. We had been writing for various other outlets and thought we could do a better job on our own site. Since then, we’ve followed four baseball seasons, penned over 11,200 posts, received 950,000 comments and see 1.2 million of you reload the site every month.

For years, RAB has been a labor of love. We earned some money off of advertising, but it’s not enough to run the site full time. Mike has worked as an engineer and writer for MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs; Joe has a day job as a tech/mobile phone writer and also contributes to FanGraphs; I’m in law school and recently picked up a gig at Baseball Prospectus. Still, we’d love to focus on River Ave. Blues as a full-time venture, and so we announce today a trailblazing path in baseball blogging: The RAB paywall.

Drawing inspiration from The New York Times’ recent foray into charging for web content, we’ll be doing the same. After all, while free content is a nice benefit of the Internet, those who produce the content need to be adequately compensated for their time and energy.

So how will this work? First, the good part: Some of our articles will be free. You can still enjoy game threads and open threads as well as the numerous asides we post. Those aren’t going anywhere. But long-form pieces and recaps will fall behind the paywall. Our readers too can access a certain number of free posts per month. Here’s how it works:

  • 27 free articles per month. After 27, you can buy a monthly subscription for $3.14.
  • 42 free comments per year. After exceeding that total, commenters can purchase an annual unlimited account for $19.23.

Of course, we’ll also offer some bonuses as The Times is doing. Those of you who find their way to RAB via our @RABFeed Twitter account or Facebook page won’t be docked for article views. We still want to make RAB as accessible as possible while working toward drawing in enough revenue to make the site sustainable.

We know many of you might not be happy about this news, but we hope it will lead to better and more thorough coverage. With the added revenue, we’re going to upgrade our offerings, post more frequently and provide more in depth coverage. Over the next few months, you’ll see some changes to the site that aren’t quite ready for prime time, and by next April Fools Day, the paywall will be live.