Five Days Late, A Fifth Anniversary

Players can't come to our party. Sorry CC. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Spring Training is an exciting time of year. Every team is in contention, everyone’s in the best shape of their life, and optimism is abound. When the Yankees held their first official workout this past Monday, a minor little detail flew under the radar because of all the excitement: it was RAB’s fifth birthday.

Five years and five days ago, Ben, Joe, and I launched this site never imagining it would become as popular as it is today. In one of my very first comments, I confidently proclaimed that “there’s a better chance the Yanks will draft Jesus Christ than have Brackman fall all the way to 30.” In the five years since that comment, Brackman did fall to the Yankees and the 30th overall pick, had Tommy John surgery, spent three unproductive years in the minors, and been released. The Yanks did add a Jesus to their system as well, just for good measure.

We can’t thank you folks enough for the support you’ve shown us through the years. Without you guys, RAB probably would have closed up shop a long time ago. Instead, we’ve managed to expand a bit, adding some great writers, hooking on with the YES Network, and infiltrating more popular sites like FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors. We even scored some time on Newsday a few years back. Our plan for baseball blogosphere domination is finally starting to come to fruition.

In all seriousness, thank you for helping make RAB what it is today. You guys keep us on our toes and force us to be better. The five years have gone by in the blink of an eye, but we’ve welcomed in a New Stadium, said goodbye to The Boss, and celebrated a World Championship during that time. Here’s to another amazing five years, and many more after that.

Mailbag: Ibanez, Montero, Closer, Martin

Just five questions this week, and the answers aren’t even that long. So yeah, pretty straight-forward mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, including mailbag questions.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Dan asks: Let’s say Raul Ibanez gives the Yankees a good reason to release him, thus giving Russell Branyan, Bill Hall, etc. a shot of making the team. What would the Yankees have to pay Ibanez?

Assuming it’s a guaranteed big league contract, which is probably is, the Yankees would have to pay Ibanez the full $1.1M no matter when they cut him. If it’s not a guaranteed deal, they could release him by March 19th and only pay him 30 days termination pay (~$191,860), or 45 days termination pay (~$287,790) if they release him between March 20th and Opening Day. If it’s non-guaranteed and they released him after Opening Day, they’re on the hook for the full $1.1M. Like I said, chances are it is a guaranteed contract (Eric Chavez‘s is) and they owe him everything regardless.

Arnold asks: Why do I get the feeling that the Yanks never intended to keep Jesus Montero? Supposedly, they were concerned about keeping the DH slot open for the senior citizens, but now that Montero’s gone, they sign every octogenarian in sight (see Ibanez) to clog up the DH slot. Will the youngsters ever get a chance in this organization?

I can understand why you feel that way, but I don’t necessarily agree with it. I do think the Yankees have been overly cautious promoting youngsters to the big leagues over the last two or three years after being overly aggressive in the past, almost like they’re overcompensation by going from one extreme to the other. It’s not like they gave Montero away though, the only time his name popped up in (legitimate) trade rumors was when there was a bonafide ace (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee) or a young hurler with that kind of upside (Michael Pineda) on the table.

It’s not easy integrating young players into the ultra-competitive AL East though, especially with this ham-fisted “win the World Series or the season is a failure” mentality embedded in the fanbase. Growing pains and are tough to stomach when you’re trying to win the World Series.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Daniel asks: If this is indeed Mariano Rivera‘s last season, next season the Yankees have Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and now David Aardsma as well as various minor leaguers vying for the closer position. None of them are Rivera and no one ever will be, but as far as closer options go, the Yankees wont be in too bad a position will they?

No, I don’t think so. Not only do they have plenty of quality in-house closer candidates, but they also have the means to go out and get an established closer (Ryan Madson? Joakim Soria?) if they want (I’d rather see them exhaust the in-house options first). Replacing Rivera’s production will be hard but not impossible, at least in terms of save percentage and actually recording that 27th out for the wclosing out games for the win. No one will be as utterly dominant and flawless as Mo, of course.

The one thing no one will ever be able to replace is the sense of security Rivera provides. No matter how chaotic the situation or big the game, there is never a sense of unease when Mo’s on the mound. I can’t imagine anyone will ever make us feel that way again. I hope he doesn’t retire after the season, but if he does, the team is well-prepared to replace him. It just won’t be as pretty.

Alec asks: With recent news about Russell Martin’s extension talks and Yadier Molina’s talks of extension with the Cardinals, I hope neither signs so the options are open for the Yankees in 2013. I know you value Miguel Montero a bit better than Martin since he is a better hitter, but what do you think about Yadi? I prefer him over Martin, Montero, and Mike Napoli in the 2013 FA crew. Cash must think otherwise since he is trying to extend Martin. Your take?

I’d rank those four guys: Napoli (moderate gap) Montero (small gap) Molina (small gap) Martin. I do value catcher defense but I also don’t think it’s the most important thing in the world, so the two defense-first guys lag behind the big bats for me. Yadi would be an upgrade over Martin especially if he shows that last year’s offensive spike (.349 wOBA) is a real thing during his peak years, but the big question is money. I have a feeling Molina’s going to get huge bucks only because the Cardinals won’t want to lose him after losing Albert Pujols.

Martin’s not the best catcher in the league, but he’s better than the average catcher offensively and is a strong defender. The Yankees also value makeup, and Russ does come across as a tough dude. I’ve thrown out that three-year, $25-30M deal for Martin with these rumors in recent weeks, and that’s pretty much my limit. Joe Torre ran him into the ground earlier in his career and I worry that a big crash is coming in his early-30’s. Ideally, Martin would mentor Austin Romine for a few years then hand over the reigns. Molina’s a great catcher, but I think I’d rather have Martin at his price than Yadi at his, especially if the Cardinals get desperate.

Mike asks: Where would Rafael DePaula have ranked in your top 30 prospects if he had obtained his visa?

If he’d have gotten the visa this offseason, I probably would have had him in the 20-25 range somewhere, likely behind Nik Turley. If he’d gotten the visa last offseason and spent the entire 2011 season in the farm system throwing real innings, he probably would have ranked even higher barring injury, 11-15 possibly. The kid’s got a fantastic arm, but he’s losing a lot of precious development time.

Update: Yanks, Martin have renewed talks about three-year deal

10:23pm ET: Via Jon Heyman, talks haven’t gotten off the ground, but the two sides will revisit a possible extension during the season. The team is willing to do three years and $20M, but that would be a pay cut for Martin based on this year’s salary. That’s just a first offer though, I’m sure they’re open to negotiating.

5:30pm ET: Via Andrew Marchand, the Yankees and Russell Martin have rekindled talks about a three-year contract. The two sides reportedly discussed a three-year deal earlier this offseason, though Brian Cashman told Jack Curry that Martin’s side probably didn’t like the proposed financial parameters.”We would be flexible in their budget constraints,” said Matt Colleran (Martin’s agent) with regards to the 2014 austerity budget. Colleran and Cashman spoke yesterday about a new contract and will do so again in the near future according to Marchand.

As Moshe wrote earlier this offseason, there is definitely some merit to keeping Martin around over the next few years, particularly in the wake of the Jesus Montero trade. A new deal would replace this year’s contract, meaning it would cover 2012-2014. Something along the lines of three years and $25-30M seams reasonable to me without really digging too deep into it.

Tim Norton Update: Throwing bullpens and feeling fine

Via Donnie Collins, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman said right-handed reliever Tim Norton is currently “throwing bullpens and feeling fine” following a shoulder injury that ended his season in June. The 28-year-old was brilliant — 46 K and 8 BB in 30 IP — and on the verge of a call-up before suffering his latest shoulder ailment. It was his injury that prompted the Yankees to pick up Cory Wade off the scrap heap. Hopefully Norton stays on the field and continues to make noise this year, but his career-long injury issues leave me pessimistic.

Open Thread: 2/23 Camp Notes

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Here’s the latest from not-so-sunny Tampa…

  • Chad Jennings has your bullpen and hitting groups, as always. Nothing but minor leaguers and non-roster guys in the bullpen today, and the trio of David Adams, Andruw Jones, and Justin Maxwell continue to be the only non-catchers to hit.
  • David Phelps, Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, Chase Whitley, and Dan Burawa all threw live batting practice today. Cesar Cabral and Graham Stoneburner are scheduled to do the same tomorrow.
  • Russell Martin said Michael Pineda was “babying” his changeup in the bullpen the other day, but it looked good when he really let it go. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild showed the righty a new grip earlier in the week. [Jack Curry]
  • Austin Romine has a sore back and will probably be held out of workouts tomorrow. He missed some time with what was termed “inflammation in his discs” last summer, but this sounds precautionary more than anything. [Bryan Hoch]
  • “I wouldn’t say,” replied Brian Cashman when asked if Gary Sanchez reported to camp 12 lbs. overweight. Twelve pounds seems oddly specific. [George King]
  • Eric Chavez was at the team’s complex today, and confirmed that he still has to take his physical before his deal becomes official. He had other offers this offseason, but it was pretty much Yankees or retirement for him. “This was the spot, if I was going to come back, where I wanted to be,” he said. [David Waldstein, Dan Barbarisi & Erik Boland]
  • David Aardsma was apparently at the complex today after signing yesterday. He’s wearing #34. How dare they disrespect A.J. Burnett like that! [Mark Feinsand]

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks are playing the Heat tonight, which is all you’ve got as far as local sports. Talk about whatever you like though, just don’t be an ass.

The Unimportant Second Lefty

(Kim Klement/US Presswire)

The Yankees have spent a good portion of the last several offseasons trying to find a competent left-handed reliever, getting next to no return on the millions of dollars spent on proven commodities like Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano. Aside from the ownership-driven Rafael Soriano signing, disaster contracts like those have resulted in the Yankees scaling back their spending on non-Mariano Rivera relievers in recent years.

“I used to sign (Paul) Quantrill, (Steve) Karsay, Gabe White, all these veteran relievers,” said Brian Cashman earlier this week. “Now, our bullpen, for the most part, is homegrown or low-risk guys like Cory Wade who we popped off the waiver wire. The bullpen has become a cheap thing for me.”

The pipeline of relievers in the minors — George Kontos, Chase Whitley, Mark Montgomery, Branden Pinder, etc. — is flush with talent, but most of those guys are a year or two away from the big leagues. Thankfully, the big league bullpen is well-stocked save for one final spot that is up for grabs in camp. Given the Yankee’ (and really all of baseball’s) obsession with left-handed relievers, there’s been a bit of an assumption that the final spot could go to a second southpaw like Mike O’Connor, Clay Rapada, or Rule 5 Draft pick Cesar Cabral. That’s not necessarily the case, however.

“I think you could use [a second lefty],” said Joe Girardi yesterday. “You look at our guys in the late innings, you’re probably going to go to them, and you’re not going to worry about the second left-hander, so I don’t think it’s a necessity. But if you get a left-hander that can maybe give you a little distance or that you’re not afraid to use against right-handers, I think it could be valuable.”

Girardi doesn’t exactly come off as sounding desperate for a second lefty to combat the David Ortizes and Carlos Penas of the AL East. There’s definite value in having a competent second lefty, but at the end of the day the most important thing is to have a quality reliever in that spot, regardless of handedness. As Girardi implied, the Yankees are blessed with several righties who are more than capable against lefties, specifically David Robertson.

I am curious to see Cabral this spring, only because he’s not a retread like O’Connor or Rapada and theoretically has some kind of upside at age 23. He’s a fastball-changeup guy, which is the kind of stuff typically used against batters of the opposite hand and not necessarily in left-on-left matchup situations. Cabral was a starter in the minors as recently as last season, so perhaps he can be that second left-hander as a multi-inning type. I don’t want him on the roster just because of the arm he throws with, however. Take the best reliever, figure out the rest later.