Past Trade Review: Jay Witasick

(Photo Credit: checkoutmycards.com)

Coming off their third consecutive World Series victory, the Yankees found the 2001 season to be a little more difficult than the previous three. Their record was a solid 39-31 on June 20th, but they were three-and-a-half games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, the same Red Sox team that had gone 15-5 in their previous 20 games and showed no signs of slowing down.

The Yanks were operating with the same formula as always, a deep lineup full of players that work counts and get on base, and a powerful pitching staff highlighted by a strong back-end of the bullpen. Righty Jeff Nelson fled for the Mariners after the 2000 season, but Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza were still doing fine work in front of the unmatched Mariano Rivera. Randy Choate had his moments as a lefty specialist/occasional mop up man. The middle innings, though, they were a generally a problem.

Brian Boehringer was solid for the first six weeks of the season (0.83 ERA, .578 OPS against in 21.1 IP) but fell apart in mid-May (6.92 ERA, .899 OPS against in 13 IP). He was jettisoned off to San Francisco in July. Journeyman Todd Williams had a shiny ERA (2.38) but was allowing batters to reach base 41.9% of the time, so he was sent to the minors right about the time Boehringer turned into a pumpkin. Carlos Almanzar impressed pretty much no one with his inability to miss a bat, and other fill-ins like Brandon Knight and Adrian Hernandez were completely forgettable.

The Yankees needed bullpen help to solidify those middle innings, so Brian Cashman swung a pair of trades in late-June/early-July in an attempt to shore things up. Let’s cover the first one now, and come back tomorrow for the second.

June 23rd: Acquired Jay Witasick from San Diego for D’Angelo Jimenez

The 28-year-old Witasick had bounced around a bit in the years before coming to the Yanks, landing in San Diego in 2000 after a trade with the Royals and before that spending time with the Athletics. He was lights out for the Padres in the first half of the season, striking out 53 batters against just a dozen unintentional walks in 31 appearances (38.2 IP). Jimenez, once one of the team’s very best prospects, had been toiling away in Triple-A for a few seasons and was deemed expendable with Alfonso Soriano establishing himself as a bonafide big leaguer in 2001.

Witasick did a poor job of introducing himself to the New York faithful, blowing a four run lead in the sixth inning of his first game in pinstripes. Granted, he did inherit a first-and-third, no outs situation from Randy Keisler and got no help from a Scott Brosius error, but still. It was a poor first impression. Witasick settled down a bit and fired off five consecutive scoreless innings (9 K in 5.1 IP), but the wheels really came off the wagon on July 13th against the Marlins.

(Photo Credit: yankees.com)

Brought into the seventh inning of a semi-blowout (Florida was up 6-0 at the time), Witasick tossed up a scoreless frame before taking a pounding in the eighth. The first four, and five of the first six batters of the inning picked up a hit, and he was left in to wear it all. The end result was a five run inning and a season ERA that climbed just about a full run.

Witasick didn’t see an ounce of high leverage work the rest of the season, throwing 31 innings with a solid 3.77 ERA after that game with the Marlins, but it was all mop-up work. In one particularly brutal outing, Witasick was left in to throw 84 (!!!) pitches in relief of a lit up Ted Lilly (five runs in two innings to Oakland), walking six and allowing three runs in 3.2 innings of work.

Witasick made the playoff roster but only appeared in three games (one each round), the closest of which was a three run deficit to the A’s in Game One of the ALCS. His farewell moment came in Game Six of the World Series, when he allowed nine runs and ten hits to the Diamondbacks in just one-and-a-third innings of work. The Yanks traded him to the Giants for John Vander Wal after the season.

Jimenez, meanwhile, stepped right in as the Padres every day shortstop after the trade, and hit .276/.355/.367 the rest of the way. He was unable to repeat that success in 2002 and was dealt to the White Sox at midseason. All told, Witasick was worth -0.2 bWAR with the Yanks, Jimenez -0.3 bWAR with San Diego. That obviously doesn’t count the production of the players each was later traded for, but it doesn’t really matter. This trade was pretty much a dud for both teams.

Pirela smacks a pair of doubles in loss

Via Josh Norris, Mark Newman confirmed that Slade Heathcott will be ready for Spring Training according to (what I assume are) doctor’s estimates. Heathcott has his shoulder scoped a few weeks ago.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (5-4 loss to Peoria)
Austin Romine, C: 2 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K – two stolen bases in two attempts in this one
Jose Pirela, 2B: 3 for 4, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 CS, 1 E (fielding) – two doubles? he’s one fire! /NBA Jam guy
Craig Heyer: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2-2 GB/FB – 22 of 41 pitches were strikes (53.7%) … small sample, but I figured he’d be a much more extreme strike thrower (68-72%) given his microscopic walk rates

Open Thread: World Series Game One

Slider, strike three. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

It sucks that the Yankees aren’t in the World Series this year, but what can you do. It’s the nature of the game; no matter how  good they are, they simply won’t win every year. It’s a fact of life.

The Giants and Rangers are meeting in a matchup of teams that haven’t won a World Series in their current locales (the Giants haven’t won a title since moving to San Francisco), so someone’s making history in the next week-and-a-half. I’m halfheartedly pulling for the Giants just because, though I’m really indifferent about who wins. I just hope it’s an entertaining series that goes the full seven games for what I hope are obvious reasons. If Texas dominates like they did in the ALCS, it would be a rather boring Fall Classic.

Anyway, talk about the game or whatever else you want right here in the open thread. Enjoy.

2011 Draft Order Tracker

Just a heads up, I’ve got the 2011 Draft Order Tracker up and running. You can get there at any time by clicking the link, or by using the button in the nav bar above (it’s right under the street sign in the banner). There are a total of four compensation picks for unsigned 2010 draftees this year, three in the first round. The Yanks’ first pick comes in at #31 overall, but chances are they’ll surrender that pick once they sign a Type-A free agent, whoever that may be. Their second round will be pushed back as the supplemental first round develops during the offseason.

As usual, I’ll update it throughout the winter to reflect draft picks lost and gained by all teams, so make sure you check it out from time to time.

Guessing on the years and dollars for Jeter

Yankee history, personified. Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Derek Jeter and his legion of once-loyal fans are undergoing a rocky time in their relationship. After watching him hit .270/.340/.370 while playing creaky short stop defense in the final season of his ten-year mega-deal, Yankee fans haven’t figured out how to embrace the aging Derek Jeter. Many refuse to criticize a player who has gone all out for so many years and is an emblem of the Yanks’ 15 seasons of success. Others worry about the years and the money the Yankees will hand to him this season.

And hand it to him they will. Earlier this week, in discussing his off-season plans, Brian Cashman called Derek Jeter a “legacy” player. He won’t get paid as exorbitantly as, say, Cliff Lee will be, but he’ll earn his money. Plus, even as the Yankees remain rightly wary of Jeter’s decline, the Yankees need their Captain. They have no internal option at short, and the free agent market at short stop remains perennially weak. Cesar Izturis is not the answer.

Yet, questions about Jeter’s contract abound. Will the Yanks try to limit the years and promise him more money? Will they commit to a long-term investment and try to reduce the salary? And what of his ability to leadoff or play short stop? While that third question won’t factor heavily into the negotiations, it will determine Jeter’s role with and importance to the club over the next few seasons.

We don’t know yet what the Yanks’ initial offer to Jeter will be, and we don’t know what Jeter’s initial ask is. That doesn’t stop executives and agents from guessing. Today, Sweeney Murti of WFAN did just that, and he took his question to those very same execs and agents who enjoy the guessing game. He asked 26 folks — 13 agents, 13 executives, none involved with the Yanks or Jeter — for their takes on the Derek contract situation, and the results show a wide range of potential deals. The results? An average of three years at $17 million.

Murti offered up this analysis:

Of the 26 guesses, I tossed out the highest and the lowest. The highest was a $150 million dollar lifetime package, and the lowest was 2 years at $10 million per year. Both those guesses came from team executives. Of the remaining 24 figures, the average terms were 2.9 years at $17.1 million per year. The 13 agents averaged out at 3 yrs, $17.6 million, while 11 executives averaged out at 2.7 years, $16.5 million. Many of these people added possibilities for deferred income, a personal services deal after his playing days, and a 3000-hit marketing/bonus clause.

The year Jeter is coming off in 2010 is the main reason why this exercise is so intriguing. Of the 24 guesses used in the figures above, the AAV (average annual value) ranged as low as $10 million and as high as $23 million. If I polled the same people about Cliff Lee, I doubt I would get as big a disparity in the AAV. And while the agents’ AAV averaged slightly higher than the executives’ guesses, the $23 million guess came from a team exec, acknowledging the deep connection and the deep pockets that play into this equation.

Meanwhile, notes Murti, team executives aren’t the only ones hoping into the Jeter fray. Recently, the members of a sports management class at Manhattanville College proposed a median deal of four years with an $18 million annual salary.

What’s comforting about these proposed deals is how they can placate both sides of the Jeter divide. The salary range — $17-$18 million — is probably more than a team that isn’t the Yankees would pay him, but considering the Yanks’ deep pockets and Jeter’s place in team history, it’s a perfectly reasonable salary for the 36-year-old. The years concern me, but the years have always concerned me. I don’t expect the Yanks to sign Jeter to an optimal two-year deal, and if they go only to three, I can live with it.

In a sense, the handwringing over Jeter has been a true much ado about nothing. He probably won’t be as good as his career triple-slash line — .314/.385/.452 — but odds are good he won’t be as bad offensively as he was in 2010. For three or four years, for $17 or $18 million, for a crack at 3000 hits and another ring, it will work out just fine.

Yankees decline options for Wood, Berkman, and Johnson

The Yankees have declined their 2011 options for Kerry Wood ($11M), Lance Berkman ($15M), and Nick Johnson ($5.5M), the club announced today. Puma gets a $2 million buyout, Johnson $250,000. As far as I can tell, Wood gets nothing. None of these should come as surprises, and in fact one of the conditions of Berkman’s accepting the trade to New York was that the team had to decline his option. I guess he really didn’t want to stick around. The Yanks could try to bring Wood back, but that salary is far too rich for a setup man.

The Yanks did pick one option today: Andrew Brackman‘s. I have no idea what the money is on that, but it’s not substantial. Even if they would have declined it, he’s still under team control for five more years. They also hold options for 2012 and 2013 as part of the big league deal Brackman signed out of the draft in 2007.

What Went Wrong: Alex Rodriguez

Over the next week or two or three, we’re going to recap the season that was by looking at what went right as well as what went wrong for the 2010 Yankees.

(Bill Kostroun/AP)

In March of 2009 Yankees fans got a scare. During his stint in the World Baseball Classic he suffered a hip injury — though it was actually a lingering issue that came to a head during that time. The outlook appeared grim at the time, but Dr. Marc Philippon suggested that an arthroscopic procedure would allow A-Rod to play the season, after which he could have the more invasive procedure. But after a season in which he hit .286/.402/.532 and played the hero in the postseason, the second surgery was deemed unnecessary. A-Rod would return at full strength in 2010.

A year later, Rodriguez has wrapped up the worst full season of his career. He produced career lows in batting average and OBP, while his SLG just barely edged out the .496 mark he posted in 1997. He walked less, just 9.9 percent of the time, and he hit line drives at an astonishingly low 13.8 percent rate. While things might have seemed worse early in the season, when he had just one home run on May 8, he actually went through a horrible slump from early June through mid-August, during which he hit .227/.290/.431 in 241 PA, which accounted for about 40 percent of his season. It would have been a lot worse, too, had he not gone 4 for 5 with three homers in a game against Kansas City. After that game he went 0 for 6 before heading to the DL with a strained calf.

Rodriguez was actually one of the few Yankees who hit in September. In his 112 PA he hit .295/.374/.600, including nine home runs — four of which came against Boston. But that didn’t lead to a good postseason performance; Alex went 7 for 32 with two doubles and four walks, but not much else. His one shining moment was driving in two during the eighth inning of the ALCS Game 1. But other than that, much like the rest of the Yankees offense, he came up empty. It was a fitting end to a disappointing season.

To get an idea of why A-Rod had a poor season, we can take a look at his spray charts, courtesy of Texas Leaguers. Here’s 2010:

That doesn’t look like a terrible spray chart, but when you look at his 2009 chart, the differences are noticeable.

The green dots down the left field line immediately stand out, as do the balls that lie beyond the left field fence. It appears as though Alex pulled the ball with much more authority in previous years. There also seems to be a greater concentration of green dots in the shallow outfield this year. These two factors, combined with his abysmally low line drive rate, suggests that he didn’t have a feel for his swing this season. Kevin Long did lend a hand in August, helping A-Rod with opening his hips as to generate more power. That appeared to help, as evidenced by his three-homer game followed by a power-filled September. But it wasn’t enough to recover the lost season.

What makes A-Rod’s season hurt is just not his production compared to his previous years, but his production compared to the average AL cleanup hitter. While his .270/.341/.506 season handily outpaced the average AL third baseman, it was in line, or perhaps a bit worse, than the average AL No. 4 hitter, .275/.350/.477. In other words, in what is supposed to be the most productive lineup spot, the Yankees got average results. That’s not something they expected coming into the season. In 2009 A-Rod was far better than the average cleanup hitter.

Still, the season wasn’t a total loss. Alex did get his hits when it really mattered. With men on he hit .296/.368/.556, and with runners in scoring position he hit .283/.355/.500. He also managed 11 sac flies and a .364/.373/.727 line with a runner on third and less than two outs, while hitting .286 with a runner on third and two outs. The discrepancy between his production with the bases empty and with runners on base might not be a sustainable one, though there is hope that the former rises to meet the latter next season.

Heading into next year, Alex will face many questions stemming from his relatively poor 2010 season. Did his hip affect him? Does he regret not having the second surgery? What will he do to correct the power issues that afflicted him early in the season? But given what we know about his talent, we shouldn’t expect a repeat in 2011. Players have down years all the time; A-Rod just happen to have his first one in 12 years this season.