Dancing with Derek for the first time

Now that Derek Jeter is a free agent for the very first time in his 16-year Major League career, Yankee fans are beside themselves. Some seem to wonder why the Yanks are intent on screwing over Jeter while others believe Jeter is being incredibly selfish. Most are just going to sit back and let the tale play out, calm in the knowledge that the Yanks and Jeter will reach a deal fair to both sides.

I fall in the third camp. Thus when a report comes out that says the Yanks will “overpay” for Jeter’s services, I sit back and yawn. This wasn’t news a year ago; it’s not news today. Of course, the Yanks will give Jeter more than he’d get on a purely open market. He’s a marketable face of the franchise, and as long as they overpay in dollars and not years, it won’t have a significant long-term impact on the Yanks’ chances on the field.

So as we wait for Jeter-mania to play itself out, let’s hop in the Wayback Machine and revisit Derek Jeter’s last contract negotiation. It was a different time for the Yankees. They hadn’t had embraced their financial might to the same extent that they do today, and baseball salaries hadn’t yet exploded as they would following A-Rod‘s, Manny Ramirez’s, Mike Hampton’s and, of course, Jeter’s deal during the winter of 2000-2001.

The story starts after the 1999 season. Jeter had just played his age 25 season, and he was already a Yankee legend in the making. With a .318/.389/.465 line and three World Series rings, the next great Yankee was staking his claim to a big pay day. He had earned himself a $5 million deal for 1999, and in his second year of arbitration, he had asked for a record-setting $10.5 million award.

The Yankees knew it would behoove them to act. They knew that A-Rod’s looming free agency following the 2000 season would set the market, and 12 months before A-Rod signed his deal with the Rangers, the $200 million figure swirled in the winter winds. But before that record-setting winter arrived, the Yankees and Casey Close tried to lock up Jeter to a long-term deal.

As Buster Olney reported in January of 2000, the Yankees were prepared to offer a record-setting deal to their young short stop. The two sides were expected to wrap up negotiations before the end of January, and the deal was believed to be for seven years and $118.5 million. Running from 2001-2007, it would have been the largest deal in baseball history and second in professional sports only to Kevin Garnett’s six-year, $126-million contract. While the average annual salary of $19.75 million seemed steep then, Yankee officials expected it to be a bargain by the time it expired after the 2007 season.

But George Steinbrenner got cold feet. At the time, Steinbrenner didn’t like to flaunt the Yanks’ fiscal might, and he never liked to saddle his young stars with long-term deals. He wanted them to earn it. That hesitancy combined with the fact that, as subsequent reports stated, he didn’t want to make Jeter the game’s top earner led the Yankees to wait on a deal. Bob Klapisch opined that the Boss never intended to make Jeter the highest-paid player and floated the figures to the media gauge the other owners’ reactions. Steinbrenner, wrote Klapisch, didn’t want to “be accused of buying championships” or “ruining baseball’s economy.” Those were the days.

After the Yanks downed the Mets in the 2000 Subway Series and Jeter took home the All Star and World Series MVP, the team acted. Jack Curry speculated that Jeter’s deal would be for eight or nine years at $18.5 million a pop. He wasn’t far off. Throughout the winter of 2000-2001, the New York media watched the Jeter negotiations closely, and a deal didn’t materialize quickly. Buster Olney noted how it would be costly to the Yanks, and as January wore on without a contract in place, Tom Keegan of The Post urged Jeter to hit free agency and sign with the Mets.

In early February, the deal was done. The Yanks and Jeter were in it for the long haul at 10 years and $189 million. Jeter wound up making, as Anthony McCarron noted, around $8 million more over the first seven years of his contract than he would have had the Boss not gotten cold feet a year earlier. The contract did not come with an opt-out and was heavily backloaded to allow the Yanks financial flexibility — for Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi — in the early years. “It’s lower in the early years to help us go out and sign guys,” baseball’s then-second-highest paid player said.

A handful of players — Mark Teixeira, Joe Mauer, CC Sabathia and Johan Santana, among them — have made more money on an annual basis than Jeter, but since Jeter signed that deal in 2001, only Alex Rodriguez has signed a longer deal for more money. I can’t help but wonder what deal Jeter would have signed after his 2007 campaign. It would have been a far better for his wallet had he hit free agency then. With A-Rod and Jeter both on the open market, the Yanks would have been in some financial pickle.

But now is the time of Jeter’s free agency, and we’ll keep waiting for that deal to be signed. It’ll happen before too long. I’m not worried.

Photo: Derek Jeter accepts his 1996 Rookie of the Year Award. He is 21. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm)

Romine’s hot streak continues in Phoenix win

Eduardo Nunez was named to the 2010 Topps Triple-A All Star Team. He’s one of only two International League position players on a roster dominated by Pacific Coast Leaguers.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (7-4 win over Scottsdale)
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E (catcher’s interference) – eight for his last 23 (.348)
Brandon Laird, LF: 0 for 4, 2 K – dude is just four for his last 40 … yikes
Jose Pirela, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 K

Yankees to interview Patterson on Thursday

Via Sam Borden, the Yankees plan to interview Athletics pitching coordinator Gil Patterson for their vacant pitching coach position on Thursday. As far as we know, this is the first formal interview the team has conducted in the two-plus weeks since cutting Dave Eiland loose. Oakland has already granted the Yanks permission to speak to Patterson, who served several stints as a coach in New York’s minor league coaches system. I’m kinda surprised they have hired someone yet, but there’s nothing wrong with being thorough.

Open Thread: Are you ready for some football?

(Photo Credit: The RAB Bullpen)

Yankee Stadium isn’t looking much like a baseball park these days. The infield is gone, the pitcher’s mound has disappeared, and there are giant goal posts behind the plate and in centerfield. Army and Notre Dame meet in the Stadium on Nov. 20th, then a month later the Pinstripe Bowl will be played between still unknown teams. Kinda looks weird, no? Hey, anything that makes the Yankees money, I’m all for it. Derek Jeter‘s inevitable contract won’t pay for itself.

Anyway, here’s is your open thread for this fine evening. The Rangers, Knicks, and Nets are all playing in various cities at various times. Chat about whatever you like, and go ahead and be as vicious and you want.

Lackawanna County approves sale of Scranton franchise

An artist's rendering of the proposed renovations to Scranton's PNC Field.

Lackawanna County, owners of the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise, have agreed to sell the team to the Yankees and Mandalay Baseball Properties for $14.6 million. The new owners will sign a 30-year lease with Scranton and have pledged $40 million for stadium renovations, David Singleton of The Times Tribune reported last night.

The Yankees had originally expressed interest in purchasing the team back in September, but political wrangling held up the sale for a few months. Even still, Luzerne County, passive part-owners of the Scranton franchise, is making noises about holding up the deal. That’s Pennsylvania county politics for you.

As Donnie Collins outlines, the sale will come with new terms attached. In addition to the stadium renovation funds, the team’s rent will increase from $150,000 to $750,000, and the least continues an option that could keep the franchise in place for 50 years. The Scranton stadium authority could repurchase the ballpark if the franchise relocates or ends its Yankee affiliation. New York, however, has been inclined to keep the team in Scranton due to the proximity factor. It is only a two-hour drive from the Majors to the AAA.

Overall, the Yankees are committing $37 million to the region, and while local politicians are wary about chipping in a few million in taxpayer dollars as part of the matching funds for the stadium renovation, they recognize its better than losing the team.

As for the renovations, they are extensive. Stadium capacity will drop from 10,500 to between 8000-8500, and the entire park will be overhauled. David Singleton offers up this take:

Under the proposal, only four elements of the existing stadium would be retained: the lower seating bowl, the playing field, the home locker room and the parking lots, Mr. Schmitt said. Everything else, including the upper-level deck, would be demolished.

The rebuilt stadium would have an elevated single- or double-tier of suites, club seats and media facilities behind home plate, but the rest of the seating would be on or below a concourse that would wrap around the entire playing field like a promenade, he said.

The promenade concept, now popular at many major and minor league stadiums, allows fans to view the game from multiple vantage points, he said. “The idea of a promenade lends itself, we think, to the very leisurely and social aspect of attending a ballgame,” [architect Craig] Schmitt said.

It’s a safe bet to assume that the Yanks will extend their PDC with Scranton well beyond the current 2014 expiration date. For minor league fans in Central Pennsylvania, baseball is seemingly there to stay.

Jeter, Cano Teixeira take home Gold Glove awards

Three Yankee fielders — but arguably not the most deserving one on the team — took home AL Rawlings Gold Glove Awards this afternoon. Derek Jeter took home his fifth award while Mark Teixeira captured his fourth overall and second straight Gold Glove. Robinson Cano, an MVP candidate in his own right, grabbed his first at second base. Brett Gardner, with his 12 assists and an AL-leading 22.3 UZR in left field, was not honored.

In addition to the three Yankee winners, Ichiro Suzuki took home his record-tying 10th straight Gold Glove while Joe Mauer nabbed his third straight award and Mark Buehrle and Evan Longoria both won for the second straight year. Rays left fielder Carl Crawford, now a free agent, won his first award and Seattle’s Franklin Gutierrez took home the honors as well.

“It is particularly gratifying to be recognized for defense, as it is something I take a lot of pride in and am constantly working to improve,” Jeter said in a statement this afternoon.

The Gold Glove, of course, usually lead to a lot of hand-wringing because the awards aren’t a true measure of defensive prowess. Unlike the Cy Young, MVP and Rookie of the Year awards chosen by the BBWAA, baseball’s players and coaches vote on the Gold Glove winners, and the award is as much a popularity contest based upon name recognition and offensive production as it is on defensive ability. As Tim Marchman wrote last year, we should give the Gold Gloves the same deference movie buffs give the Academy Awards.

If we were going to nitpick the awards, though, we can. Based on UZR — a flawed metric — the following fielders should have won: Gardner, Crawford and Suzuki in the OF; Daric Barton at first base (Mark Teixeira had a negative UZR in 2010); Mark Ellis or Orlando Hudson at second; and Kevin Kouzmanoff at third. Pitchers and catchers should be assessed on non-UZR metrics. Gutierrez is an excusable choice but Brett Gardner wuz robbed.

And because it’s much in the news these days, this award shouldn’t impact the Yanks’ contract negotiations with Derek Jeter. His winning simply highlights how the Gold Glove process is broken. Few, if any, Yankee fans would put forward a compelling argument that Jeter deserves the award, but baseball seems content to allow the process to move forward without any attempt at achieving an objective standard. It simply means we won’t put much stock in the award.

Anyway, congrats to the three Yankee winners. Deserved winners or not, this team’s defense has come a long way since the mid-2000s.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Time for a Randy Choate reunion?

Not long after the 2010 season came to an end, Brian Cashman let it be known that he’s looking to add a second lefty reliever behind Boone Logan next year. Damaso Marte won’t start throwing until after the All Star break because of shoulder surgery, nevermind rejoin the team and be productive. For all intents and purposes, the Yanks should consider him a non-factor for 2011. If he manages to contribute anything down the stretch, it’s a bonus.

Since the Yankees already have $4M committed to Marte and what could end up being another $1M committed to Logan (he’s arbitration eligible for the second time), I don’t expect them to go for a big name lefty reliever. Scott Downs (Type-A), Arthur Rhodes (A), Brian Fuentes (B), and Pedro Feliciano (B) figure to be the top names thrown around, but Rhodes was the cheapest of that group last year at $2M. There’s no reason to think any of them will take a pay cut after how they performed in 2010, and all but the 41-year-old Rhodes will likely get a multiyear deal this winter. There’s little benefit to signing a middle reliever for several guaranteed years; the Yankees have learned this the hard way with Kyle Farnsworth, Steve Karsay, and of course Marte.

I was originally planning to look at some of the second and even third tier free agent LOOGY options in this post, but after my initial research I came to an unsurprising conclusion: they all suck. Seriously, pretty much all of them. Joe Beimel can’t miss a bat to save his life, Dennys Reyes puts way too many guys on base, Bruce Chen is Bruce Chen, Mike Hampton … you get the point. There’s only player that stood out from the pack, and it’s an old buddy of ours.

Now 35 years old, Randy Choate originally broke in with the Yankees way back in 2000 after they selected him in the fifth round of the 1997 draft. He was often miscast as a long reliever under Joe Torre’s watch, which is why 231 (or 57.9%) of the 399 batters he faced in his Yankee career were righthanded. Choate bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues from 2000 through 2003, eventually being dealt to the Montreal in the first Javy Vazquez trade.

The Expos didn’t keep him long, trading him to the Diamondbacks for John Patterson during Spring Training the next year. Choate spent parts of four seasons in Arizona, again going back and forth between Triple-A and big leagues without being able to establish himself. The D’Backs cut him after the 2006 season, and he signed minor league deals with the Twins, D’Backs again, and Brewers. It wasn’t until he landed in the Rays organization (on another minor league deal) that things started to break his way.

Tampa started Choate in Triple-A last year, but they quickly called him up in May and made him a bullpen mainstay. Unlike Torre and whoever was running the show in Arizona, Joe Maddon seemed to understand that a side-arming lefty with a mid- to high-80’s fastball probably isn’t the guy you want to face righty batters. Eighty-three of the 142 batters Choate faced in 2009 (58.5%) were left-handed, and he held them to a .190 wOBA, setting down more than a quarter of them on strike three. When lefties did manage to put in play again him, 68.5% of them hit it on the ground.

The Rays gave Choate his first guaranteed big league contract in half-a-decade last winter, signing him to a one-year deal worth $700,000 to avoid arbitration. Maddon wisely used him primarily against lefties again this year, this time to an extreme. Of the 187 batters Choate faced in 2010, 138 of them (73.8%) were left-handed. Choate again did a great job of keeping them in check, leading the league with 85 appearances and holding lefties to a .261 wOBA with 9.17 K/9. Again, his ground ball rate was an astronomical 61.8%, far above league average. It’s not often that balls beat into the ground go for extra base hits.

For the first time in his career, Choate now hits the free agent market on a high note. He’s got two very good seasons behind him, and teams are perpetually searching for quality left-handed relievers. Choate’s familiar with the Yankees and the AL East and the Yankees are familiar with him, so perhaps that prior relationship gives Cashman a bit of an advantage. Strikeouts and ground balls are very desirable in the New Stadium, so there’s a pretty good fit here. He’s almost certain to be a more cost effective option than guys like Fuentes or Feliciano.