RAB’s Top Ten Posts of 2011

As 2011 drew to a close, I poked around on Google Analytics, as I often do. We had over 16 million pageviews last year, and were it not for ALDS Game 5, we would have had more. We had a noticeably significant drop-off in traffic after the Yanks’ early departure from the October dance.

While I’m a few days late on it this year, I always like to highlight our top ten most trafficked posts of the year. As always these do not include game threads or open threads.

1. Predicting MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 50 Free Agents
Our most popular post of the year hit in November when Joe tried to predict landing spots for MLBTR’s top free agents of the winter. So far, out of his top ten predictions, he’s 2 for 9 with one still out there. That one, of course, is Edwin Jackson.

2. 2011 Preseason Top 30 Prospects
Mike ran down his top 30 prospects of the season shortly before Spring Training began. Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos took the top two spots, and I believe they’ll do the same again next month.

3. Camp Notes: Rotation, Burnett, Jeter, CC, More
This was a post from the first day of Spring Training. While the news was bland, it was baseball. We had waited all winter for that first day of camp.

4. Brian Cashman, Prevaricator Extraordinaire?
As the Yanks’ offseason continued, it’s been one of stasis. The team, in need of a pitcher, seems committed to bringing back nearly the same club — sans Jorge and Bartolo — as last year, and Brian Cashman keeps perpetuating the notion that the Yanks are just waiting out the right move. Moshe wondered in December if it was all just a ruse to keep potential trade partners from trying to take advantage of the club with all of the money.

5. Yankees made bid for Darvish, high bidder could be announced tonight
That bid, we learned today, was for a meager $15 million, but everyone wanted to talk about Darvish.

6. Report: Indians, others have interest in Swisher
Despite the fact that he’s a very solid right fielder who fits well into the Yankee lineup and comes with a very affordable price tag, Yankee fans have searched high and low to find ways to trade Nick Swisher. Just before Christmas, word got out that a few teams, including the Indians, would be interested in a deal. Of course, trading Swisher just opens up another hole in the Yankee lineup and one not easily filled. He’ll be around on Opening Day.

7. 2011 Draft: Yankees take Dante Bichette Jr. with 51st overall pick
Many raised eyebrows and a good number of complaints were silenced by a stellar Gulf Coast League debut for the now-19-year-old Bichette.

8. Hideki Irabu, 42, found dead in Los Angeles home
The troubled former Yankee took his own life after a battle with his own inner demons and lofty expectations. Irabu was a heralded Japanese import who never lived up to his reputation.

9. Repeating History with Yu Darvish
Considering the Yanks were never that into Yu Darvish, he certainly garnered a lot of discussion this fall. He and the Rangers, by the way, have yet to work out a deal, but indications are that he will sign. Can he front a rotation that’s been searching for a true ace for a while?

10. Yankees win bidding for Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima
The Yanks put in a $2 million bid on Nakajima seemingly as an afterthought, and scouts say he’s not much of a hitter or fielder. Right now, it doesn’t sound as though a deal is on the horizon, but the two sides have until Friday to work out a contract.

So the hot topics were mostly about free agency and the winter of our discontent. The Yanks lost an ALDS they could have won and have yet to make a splash with Spring Training just a few weeks away. We yearned for Darvish; we got Nakajima; and we’re still waiting for some of those top 50 free agents to sign. It was a great ride in 2011, and we’ll be here again, of course, for 2012.

Updated: Yankees bid $15M for Darvish

Jan. 3rd: Just for the sake of completeness, here’s an update to let you know that the Yankees bid exactly $15M for Darvish according to Jon Heyman. You can now go back to your regularly scheduling complaining about the pitching staff.

Dec. 22nd: Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees bid somewhere between $15-17M for Darvish. Various reports also indicate that no team was even close to the Rangers, who apparently blew away the field with their $51.7M bid. This whole thing is reminiscent of the Daisuke Matsuzaka bidding, when it was the Red Sox (big gap) everyone else.

Dec. 20th: Via Andrew Marchand, the Yankees bid less than $20M for Yu Darvish. The Rangers won the right-hander’s negotiating rights with a $51.7M bid, so the Yankees weren’t even in the same ballpark. This morning we heard that they submitted their bid with the idea that he could fall into their laps if other clubs were tapped out this late in the winter, but obviously that didn’t happen. Marchand says the Yankees just weren’t sold on how Darvish’s stuff and makeup would translate over from Japan, and I guess you have to be sure if you’re going to invest nine-figures.

Open Thread: Johnny Damon

Still insane. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

I was conflicted when the Yankees signed Johnny Damon on this date in 2006, giving him a four-year contract just two years after he broke our hearts during the 2004 ALCS. He was the enemy, he wasn’t supposed to wear pinstripes. Like he’s done everywhere else, Johnny grew on the fans during his time in New York and became an integral part of the team.

I think we all have a “signature moment” associated with players, like Scott Brosius and his homer off Byung-Hyun Kim or Jim Leyritz and his homer off Mark Wohlers, and my signature moment for Damon is the double steal in Game Four of the 2009 World Series. Dunno why, but whenever I think of Johnny as a Yankee, that’s the first thing that jumps to mind. I remember thinking that he must have thought the ball went into center field when he first broke towards third, giving me a mild heart attack. Stuff like that is why baseball is better than any other spot; I’d never seen a player do that before, and Damon had just done it on the biggest stage possible.

Johnny turned 38 last month, a few weeks after wrapping a nice season with the Rays that was a far cry from his time in pinstripes. Damon hit .285/.363/.458 during his four years in New York, playing in 140+ games all four years even though he always seemed to be battling calf problems or a sore back or some other old baseball player ailment. I’m not sure if he qualified as a fan favorite, but he was a solid player with the Yankees and gave us one hell of a memory in that ninth inning on that cold November night.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders are the only local team playing tonight, but guess what? Still no MSG if you’re a Time Warner customer. Talk about whatever you like here, have at it.

Winter Classic at Yankee Stadium? Wait ’til 2016

The Yankees have been trying to bring the NHL’s Winter Classic to the Bronx since their new stadium opened in 2009, but scheduling conflicts with the Pinstripe Bowl have prevented that from happening. Despite the team’s continued efforts, Larry Brooks says Yankee Stadium is likely out of play until their Pinstripe Bowl contract expires just before 2016. The 2013-2015 Winter Classics are expected to be held in Ann Arbor, Washington D.C., and Minnesota.

If you’ve been reading RAB long enough, you know I’m also a hockey fan, casual more than anything. I know a few people that went down to Philadelphia for yesterday’s game at Citizens Bank Park, and I have yet to hear a bad thing about the experience despite the wind and cold. A game in the Bronx would be absolutely amazing and another huge cash influx for the team, presumably bigger than whatever they’re getting out of the Pinstripe Bowl. If you missed the Rangers beating the Flyers in yesterday’s crazy dramatic Winter Classic, there are the highlights.

Forced Comps: Montero, Banuelos, Betances

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Comparisons have been a part of baseball since long before the internet showed up and made everyone an expert. Players are routinely compared to one another, and this happens with prospects more than anyone else. Fans like to see comps because they want to know how good their favorite minor leaguers will be in the future, but comps often distort the truth more than anything. I used to think Austin Jackson had some Mike Cameron in him, but holy crap was I wrong with that one. Cameron hit 28 homers in Double-A one year, which is two fewer than Jackson hit in his entire minor league career. Comps need to go more than position and skin deep, if you catch my drift.

The most common comps you’ll see are the lazy ones, like my Jackson-Cameron laugher. Lefties from New England get dubbed a Tom Glavine type, soft-tossing righties are the next Greg Maddux, short-ish players that lack tools but play hard are a David Eckstein clone, so on and so forth. Some comps are forced, meaning the two players have one or two things in common — one of them is almost always appearance — but nothing else. I gave up on comps a while ago because ultimately it’s a disservice to both fans and the players, as we end up disappointed when Jesus Montero turns into a really good player but not the historically great Miguel Cabrera.

That said, comps are unavoidable and we see them every day. The Yankees top three prospects have each had a comp tag applied in recent years that’s stuck around, but none of the three are all that accurate. The players may look the same, but that’s not enough to make a comparison valid in my opinion. Let’s dig in…

Jesus Montero
Comp: Carlos Lee
Why It Fits: Handedness and body type
Why It Doesn’t: The big thing here is that Lee is a dead pull hitter, with just 16.0% of his career balls in play going to right field. Here’s his spray chart from the last three seasons (via Texas Leaguers), which really drives home the point. Montero, as you know, is more of an opposite field hitter. Lee also walked (5.3%) and struck out (11.0%) less in the minors that Montero has (7.8 BB% and 16.5 K%). It would be a success if Montero winds up having a career as long (13 seasons) and productive (.355 wOBA and 114 wRC+) as Lee has, but they’d go about it in very different ways.

Manny Banuelos
Comp: Johan Santana
Why It Fits: Smallish lefties, best pitch is changeup
Why It Doesn’t: Banuelos is primarily a fastball-changeup guy like Johan was once upon a time, but his third pitch is a curveball while Santana’s was a slider. Sliders are more effective against same side hitters while curves are a bit more universal, typically used against both righties and lefties regardless of the pitcher’s handedness. Secondly, Banuelos’ changeup isn’t as good as Johan’s. It just isn’t. Santana’s changeup is one of the best ever, and it’s a stretch to use that as a basis of comparison for anyone.

Dellin Betances
Comp: Daniel Cabrera
Why It Fits: Super-tall hard throwers with big stuff and walk problems
Why It Doesn’t: This comp is the most accurate of the three in this post, but again we’re talking about a slider pitcher (Cabrera) versus a curveball pitcher (Betances). Unlike Banuelos and Johan, that is their second pitch, not third. Cabrera was also injury-free in the minors, which Dellin most certainly hasn’t been. There’s also the makeup issue, as Cabrera was a notorious hot-head that had run-ins with coaches and teammates and intentionally threw at batters when things didn’t go his way. Betances has never had that problem, not that we know of anyway.

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Maybe I’m just being nitpicky, but I feel comps should go a little deeper than typically do. In case you haven’t noticed, no one has ever become the next anyone. Every player is unique and they should be treated as such.

Jackson beginning to feel a lot like Soriano

It sure is quiet. Yes, a little too quiet, if you know what I mean. For most of this winter there has been little, if any, talk about MLB Trade Rumors’ No. 6 free agent, Edwin Jackson. In fact, the first page of his MLBTR archives takes us all the way back to early December, an oddity for such a highly rated free agent. Normally there is some level of buzz surrounding this type of player, even if he’s not close to signing. Yet with Jackson we’ve seen scant few mentions. Most of them have been 1) noting that he’s still on the free agent market, 2) mentioning teams not interested in him, or 3) mentioning unlikely destinations, such as Baltimore and Minnesota. Yet activity has picked up lately.

One year ago, another top free agent went through similar motions. Just take a look at this page from Rafael Soriano’s MLBTR archive. As with all MLBTR archive pages, it spans 10 posts. The dates on those posts: December 6th through January 1st. Edwin Jackson’s page goes from December 5th to January 2nd. While the nature of the pages is slightly different, the stories are developing similarly. Soriano went from having some interest — from the White Sox and the Angels, mostly — to radio silence for a bit. At the beginning of January his name started coming up as a Yankees target, and later that month the two parties came to terms. Would it surprise anyone, then, if the Yankees ended up with Jackson?

Remember, earlier last off-season the Yankees reportedly had no interest in Soriano. In fact, in late November Joel Sherman said: “Soriano is not an option to come in on a closer’s salary and serve as the set-up man to Rivera now and the closer-in-waiting for when Rivera eventually retires. The Yankees do not want to invest that kind of money in a set-up man and Soriano is determined to close now.” That all changed, of course, after the Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee and Soriano never got that big offer to close games. With Jackson, though, there needn’t be a change of heart. The Yankees have already expressed interest in him, with the hopes that his price tag falls to what they consider an acceptable level.

Yet even after the failed Lee pursuit, reports still indicated that the Yankees weren’t interested in Soriano. Sherman, Fox’s Ken Rosenthal, and ESPN’s Buster Olney all stated, at some point or another, indicated as such. (See previous link to Soriano’s MLBTR archive.) Yet one voice persistently connected the Yankees and Soriano. Jon Heyman, then with SI and now with CBS, continued insisting that the Yankees were monitoring the situation, even when everyone else reported otherwise. He was right then, and it appears he’s back on the job. Just yesterday he sang Jackson’s praises while connecting him to the Yankees. Could this portend another mid-January signing?

Scott Boras obviously knows what he’s doing. He’s held onto two valuable chips, Jackson and Prince Fielder, while a number of trade candidates and free agents have come off the board. Only Matt Garza remains as a well-known and viable trade candidate. Boras could easily hold back Jackson until the Cubs move Garza, creating a powerful situation. Any team that wants a lineup or rotation upgrade must then go to him. That could jack up the asking price for both Fielder and Jackson.

At an even higher price point — say, four years and $57 million, mirroring the last four years of the John Danks deal — would the Yankees be interested? After all, all we’ve heard this winter is that they’re looking to reign in their spending. Yet that might not be the concrete plan. Team president Randy Levine might have merely been making a calming statement to fans when he spoke to the New York Post last week, but his words do stand out. “There’s obviously room to improve the team. I don’t like to get into the amounts, but obviously there’s room to improve the team.”

Last winter, Heyman obviously had the inside track on the Soriano signing. He was the only one pointing in that direction, and he ultimately broke the news. This might have been through a connection with Boras, but it also might have been through connections to the non-baseball operations side of the front office. If Heyman does have and use that connection, perhaps he does have an inside track on the team’s feelings for Jackson.

Signing Jackson would be far from the worst thing for the 2012 Yankees. He’d probably step behind CC Sabathia as the team’s second best starter, pushing everyone else down the ladder. He’d create a bit more depth, since his presence would push one of the bottom two out of the rotation — perhaps in a trade, which could add more depth. The only downside is that adding Jackson will render the goal of a $189 million payroll by 2014 more difficult. But, really, that’s of little concern. That’s something for the Yankees to figure out, and if they sign Jackson it signals that they either have a solid plan in place, or otherwise don’t care that deeply about the limit.

It’s a bit much, at this point, to say that the parallels between Soriano and Jackson mean that the Yankees will sign him later this month. But it’s also hard to see the two situations and rule out the Yankees completely. They might be playing coy for now, but it would come as no surprise if the Yankees eventually emerged as frontrunners for Jackson’s services.

Thinking Out Loud: Ryan Madson

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

January has a way of making baseball fans go a little crazy, as the hot stove cools down while the light at the end of the offseason tunnel isn’t bright enough to start counting down the days just yet. We pass the days with trade ideas that will never materialize and by dissecting every last inch of the roster just in case we missed something the first three times we did it. The Yankees roster is set for the most part, aside from the bench and maybe another starting pitcher, so forgive me as I throw something against the wall: the Yankees should look into signing Ryan Madson as a starter.

Madson, as you know, is hung out to dry as a free agent closer at the moment, sorta like Rafael Soriano was last winter. Both are Scott Boras clients too, so they have more than one thing in comment. Unlike Soriano though, no one will have to forfeit a draft pick to sign Madson, who is one of those funny Modified Type-A Free Agents per the new CBA. He also doesn’t have the same history of elbow problems, though Madson is no stranger to the DL himself. He missed about four weeks this past season with a hand contusion, about two months last year after he broke his toe kicking a chair, and another two months in 2007 with a shoulder strain.

So Madson is just sitting out there begging to be signed. Just about every big market team has an established closer, so the demand for his services doesn’t appear to be great. Please note that we said the same exact thing about Soriano at this time last year. There has been speculation that he might be willing to take a one-year deal in hopes of hitting free agency next offseason as the top free agent closer, but nothing more concrete than that. Boras has gone for these “pillow contracts” before, namely with Adrian Beltre and Carlos Pena, and he knows that he and his client would make a ton more money if he hits free agency as an effective starter next year. Just watch what Edwin Jackson (another Boras guy!) will get compared to what the Phillies gave Jonathan Papelbon this winter.

Madson, 30, has the requisite three pitches to start, though he doesn’t use his slider all that much in relief. He’s a fastball-changeup specialist like Ricky Romero, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jaime Garcia. Those three rely on their top two offerings heavily and mix in a breaking ball roughly 8-10% of the time. Madson has started before, all throughout the minors and for 17 generally ugly starts in 2006, so he has some experience in the role. He hasn’t been over 100 IP since 2006, but 30-year-old pitchers are well past the point of coddling. Fatigue down the stretch would be an obvious concern, but I think that applies to all pitchers these days. I don’t put too much stock into this stuff, but he has pitched in a small park and in the playoffs and World Series and all that. Can’t hurt.

The table to the right shows Madson’s semi-projected stats as a starter using his last three seasons and the Rule of 17. Walk rate has historically held constant when moving between roles, but strikeout rate, homer rate (in terms of homers per plate appearances with contact), and BABIP all decline by approximately 17% with the move into the rotation. That projected performance — 22.3 K%, 6.5 BB%, 2.9 HR%, and .360 BABIP — is right in line with what CC Sabathia (23.4 K%, 6.2 BB%, 2.5 HR%) and Felix Hernandez (23.0 K%, 7.0 BB%, 2.8 HR/9) did in 2011, save that sky-high BABIP (.318 and .307, respectively). Now I highly doubt Madson would turn into another CC or Felix if he’s plugged into the rotation, but the point is that he’s an elite reliever that figures to be a pretty good starter even though his perfprmance will take a hit with the transition.

Like I said, I’m just thinking out loud here. If Boras and Madson are willing to take a straight one-year deal with no options for like, $8-10M, then I think I’d prefer to see the Yankees go this route rather than sink multiple years or too many prospects into Edwin Jackson or Matt Garza or someone like that. Theoretically, if it doesn’t work out, you can just dump him in the bullpen for the remainder of the season and employ the world’s most overqualified sixth inning guy (though Madson is better than either Soriano or David Robertson in my eyes). The odds of a move like this happening are basically zero though, especially since the Yankees already have a prime bullpen-to-rotation candidate that they’ve decided not to employ. It’s probably just the crazy January air talking, but Madson as a starter makes a tiny bit of sense for both parties.