Don Larsen and Yogi Berra have ushered in the MLB Network to rave reviews. While the airing of Larsen’s famous World Series perfect game has been the perfect inaugural broadcast for the new TV station, Larsen suffered through a terrible trip to film the piece. In a story reminiscent of a John Hughes movie, Jack Curry relates how it took Larsen six days to make what should have been a 60-hour round trip. The former Yankee hurler was stranded in the airport, delayed and delayed again which is just proof that even famous baseball players go through hell when dealing with the airlines. · (8) ·
We don’t need a whole bunch of high-fallutin’ defensive metrics to know that Johnny Damon is a pretty solid left fielder and a pretty bad center fielder. Rather, this is something any of us can see with our own eyes. But drilling down on the numbers is fun, and on a quiet Friday evening during the waxing days of January, let’s have some fun.
In terms of center field, the Yankees’ 2008 campaign witnessed three distinct eras. From Opening Day until August 3, Melky Cabrera patrolled the outfield; from around August 5 until September 13, Johnny Damon earned himself the CF job; and from the second game of a September 13 double header through the end of the season, Brett Gardner got the starts in the field. With the exception of a few Justin Christian starts, those men were the Yanks’ center fielders through thick and thin last year.
Offensively, this motley crew hit .261/.320/.391 and that .711 OPS was good for an OPS+ of 89. They were not, in other words, too impressive as a whole with the stick, Johnny Damon’s fantastic season notwithstanding. A funny thing happened, however, with the three players on defense.
While I realize this is far from a scientific study and I’m certainly not controlling for too many variables, take a look at the Yanks’ pitching splits for each center fielder. Under the Melky Cabrera Era, Yanks’ pitchers were 61-50 with a 4.12 ERA. Opponents knocked out 991 hits in 989 innings and featured an offensive line of .262/.327/.397. Of those totals, 18.5 percent of the hits were doubles, and a hair under two percent were three-baggers.
With Johnny Damon in center, the Yanks went 16-19 with a 5.12 ERA. The pitchers surrendered nearly 50 more hits than innings pitched, and 20.7 percent of the hits were doubles. When Gardner took over, the pitchers went 12-3 with a 3.18 ERA, and 24 percent of the hits went for two bases.
Now, this is a mess of numbers, and none of them really correlate too nicely. Johnny Damon’s center field tenure saw the number of extra-base hits increase over Melky’s but so did Brett Gardner’s. The Yanks’ pitching was far worse with Damon in center field than with the other two. It may just be a coincidence. The Yanks lost Joba Chamberlain when they moved Melky to the bench and Damon into center, and Andy Pettitte lost the ability to get outs as well.
But at the same time, as the Yanks look forward to 2009 and attempt to put together an outfield with power-hitting corner pieces and weak-hitting anchors, they should consider the impact a strong defender in center will have on the pitching. It is far easier to turn a bad center fielder into a good left fielder than it is to weather a season with a bad outfield defense.
Jon Heyman has quite the history of pumping out poorly constructed lists. Back in May he took a stab at ranking the twenty greatest free agent signings in history, which was embarrassingly bad not because someone not named Barry Bonds circa 1993 topped the list, or even because he ranked a lefty reliever ninteenth, but because he omitted Randy Johnson’s original deal with the Diamondbacks in 1999 entirely. Four year contract, 81 wins, 1030 IP, 1417 K, four Cy Youngs. Yet Hideki Okajima was a better signing.
Today, Heyman took a crack at another list, this time ranking the twenty best remaining free agents. Topping the list is Manny Ramirez, who’s followed by Derek Lowe and Adam Dunn. Oh wait, no it’s not. Heyman ranked … wait for it … Bobby Abreu the best remaining free agent, followed by Milton Bradley and Pat Burrell. Three DH’s top the list. Orlando Cabrera and Joe Crede come in at numbers four and five, respectively, just ahead of Dunn. Derek Lowe? He’s tenth, sandwiched between Orlando Hudson and Oliver Perez. Manny? Try thirteenth, between Andy Pettitte and Ben Sheets. Yeah.
So how would you rank the remaining free agents? I’d go Manny-Lowe-Dunn for my top 3, but after that I’m not sure. I’d guess Bradley, Burrell and Orlando Hudson would make sense as the next three. Abreu and Mr. Strikeout Juan Cruz would probably round out the top eight.
Anyway here’s your open thread for the night. Utah & Alabama battle it out in the Sugar Bowl tonight at 8pm, and the Knicks take on the Pacers at home. The Rangers are off, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking out Blueseat Blogs, where I’m covering for Dave while he enjoys a little holiday vacation. Oh, Hot Stove Live on the MLB Network starts at 7. You know the deal though, play nice.
Site Note: I was working on my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List earlier, and accidently hit “publish” instead of “save,” so it was up on the site for a second. I took it down right away, but all of you RSS subscribers got it anyway. It’s just a first draft, and I’m going to revise & reorder it about a dozen times between now and when I post it in Spring Training, so don’t put too much stock into it. Otherwise enjoy the sneak preview.
Update (7:05pm): Barry Larkin just said Orlando Hudson is a guy that “could steal you 40 bases.” O-Dog has 42 steals total in 865 career games. Swing and miss on that one, but I’m still enjoying the network.
Since center field is currently the Yankees’ weakest position, we might as well take a look at news involving a soon-to-be-traded center fielder — even though few if any of us would touch him with a 50-foot pole. Via Jon Heyman, we learn that the Dodgers have re-worked their contract with Andruw Jones. The deal will reportedly save them $12 million from their 2009 payroll. More importantly, it will make Jones easier to trade.
According to Cot’s, Jones is scheduled to earn $15 million in salary in 2009. However, the signing bonus from his two-year, $36.2 million deal complicates things a bit. He made $9 million last year plus a $5.1 million signing bonus. That means that despite his $15 million salary, Jones is slated to make $22.1 million for the rest of his contract. He is due a $5 million payment as part of his signing bonus in 2010, even though he won’t be under contract, so that, I guess, won’t count against the Dodgers’ 2009 payroll. That leaves $17.1 million. If the Dodgers did in fact defer $12 million of that, an acquiring team would only be liable for $5.1 million in salary.
Clearly, that’s not the final word on the matter. This is just my elementary understanding, using what I know about salaries and bonuses, how they count against the cap, and parsing the words of Heyman. His “official” salary number for 2009 could be $5.1 million; it could be $10 million. What matters to an acquiring team, though, is that they will not be on the hook for that $22.1 million they otherwise would have been. That makes Jones attractive.
While the Yankees have a need in center, I can’t see them going after Jones. There’s some upside here; Jones was, after all, one of if not the premier center fielder in baseball earlier this decade. He’s a few years removed from that status, though, and he’s done little to show he can regain that form. Among the many criticism of Jones over the past two years has been his lack of a work ethic, leaving him out of shape and an injury risk. While he had remained healthy through most of his career, he spent the bulk of 2008 either on the DL or on the bench.
Reduced salary or not, any team trading for Jones is taking a weighty gamble. The deflated salary number clearly makes this a better risk, but it does nothing to the reward aspect of the deal. Jones is still coming off two abhorrent years, the latter of which placed him among the worst players in the league. The guy who managed to hit a home run every 13.2 plate appearances in 2005 hit one every 79 PAs in 2008. You can’t even play the “contract year” card with Jones, as he hit .222/.311/.413 in his last contract year.
A healthy, in-shape, and motivated Jones could prove an astronomical boost to any team acquiring him, no doubt. However, we’ve seen little to indicate this will be the case. The Dodgers mitigated the risk for an acquiring team by reducing his salary, but that provides no guarantees (obviously, hence the risk involved). The Yankees and their fans might ponder this for a moment or two, but in the end I’m guessing the risk would outweigh the reward.
Brian Foley over at The College Baseball Blog has completed his list of the top 50 college baseball players for the 2009 season. San Diego State superstud Steven Strasburg tops the list, and this gives us a nice glimpse into some of the top talent for the June draft. Check it out. · (40) ·
For the most part, minus a potential Andy Pettitte signing, the Yankees are done with their major dealings this winter. From here on out, it’s about tweaking what they’ve got in order to optimize their roster heading into Spring Training and eventually Opening Day. This will probably be our focus for the rest of the winter, which is just fine by me. Baseball is a nuanced game, and we’re getting into those nuances right now. First up, the arbitration process.
We’ve seen the deadline for offering your own free agents arbitration pass, so it’s time for the next group to file: three- to five-year players. You can add to this group Super Two players. Barry Bloom, in an article about arbitration cases, explains:
Currently, clubs control the contracts of almost all players with zero to three years of Major League experience, save for a small group of “Super Two” players who are eligible for arbitration early if they played in the Majors at least 86 days in the previous season and were among the top 17 percent in cumulative playing time in that group with at least two to three years of experience.
Melky Cabrera qualifies as a Super Two and is arbitration eligible this year. He joins Brian Bruney and Xavier Nady as the only Yankees who will face this process. The Yankees other eligible player, Chien-Ming Wang, agreed to a $5 million 2009 salary last week to avoid arbitration.
Most people are familiar with what happens from here on out. Eligible players file to protect themselves. Then they negotiate with their teams until February, when the hearings begin. Prior to the hearing the two sides exchange figures of what they deem a fair salary. If no agreement is reached prior to the scheduled hearing, both parties appear before a three-member panel and argue the case. The panel then determines which of the two figures better reflects the player’s value.
Hearings, though, are quite the rarity these days. Bloom notes that 110 players filed for arbitration last year. Only eight of them went to the hearing. Fewer than half, 48, even exchanged figures with their respective club. This suggests that both sides benefit from striking a deal beforehand. Maury Brown of Biz of Baseball explains:
“To place the arbitration process in perspective, there is a reason that so few clubs and players go all the way to hearing,” said Brown, who noted that the owners have beaten the players in arbitration for 12 consecutive years. “The stakes are too high. That and the clubs really lose even when they win. Whether a deal is struck before hearing, or if a club wins at hearing, the player nearly always gets a hefty raise.”
As for the Yankees specifically, the only case that might to to a hearing is Nady, who is represented by Scott Boras. Bruney and Melky figure to settle beforehand, earning raises over their 2008 salaries, but nothing ridiculous. Both faced troubles during the year — Bruney a foot injury and Melky a demotion to AAA — so they don’t have much leverage. Nady on the other hand made just $3.35 million last year, and by the numbers he far outplayed his salary. When Boras is involved in a case like this, you can’t really assume anything (but that won’t stop us from trying).
My guesses as to what each player will earn, hearing or not:
Bruney: $1.2 million
Nady: $6 million
Things will be much more interesting for other teams. Ryan Howard won a $10 million salary in arbitration last year and went on to lead the league in homers and RBI, and his shiny ring won’t hurt him in the process. Bloom predicts a 50 percent raise, meaning $15 million for the second-year arbitration eligible player. Howard’s hearing last year could play into the Brewers situation with Prince Fielder, who is arbitration eligible for the first time. He won’t get $10 million, but if he plays his cards right he could get $7 or $8, which is still a high figure for a first-year arbitration player.
Little things like this help get us through the cold months prior to Spring Training. So please: comment, dissect, analyze, etc.
Since wrapping up their last big free agent signings, the only word out of Yankee camp has concerned Andy Pettitte. Through anonymous sources and speculation, the Yankees have tried to temper the veteran lefty’s expectations.
The team first made it clear that they were willing to move on without Pettitte. Now, as has been obvious since the get-go, word is that they want to bring Pettitte back but on their terms. We’ve been saying this all along. The Yanks would love to have the lefty to anchor the rotation in the four spot with the kids bringing up the rear, but they don’t want to do so for $16 million a season. I don’t blame them.
John Harper, writing earlier this week, shed some light on the team’s thinking:
After signing Mark Teixeira, the Yankees began whispering that Andy Pettitte might have waited too long to accept their take-it-or-leave-it $10million offer, and that they might just decide to move on without him.
However, a person in regular contact with Yankee brass said Tuesday he believes the club still wants Pettitte back and believes a deal will get done, perhaps as early as next week.
According to this person, someone in the Yankee organization was putting out that word as something of a scare tactic, knowing that Pettitte badly wants to pitch for the Yankees next season. “They just want him at their price, that’s still the bottom line,” the person said.
I predict a one-year, $12-million deal for Pettitte, and for the impatient fans, I urge patience. There is no need to wrap this deal up now, and if Pettitte doesn’t send for a few more weeks, it won’t be the end of the world. By the time Opening Day rolls around, this negotiation saga will be just a forgotten relic of a very busy Yankee off-season.
Now that the Yanks have wrapped up Mark Teixeira for the next eight years, they can, as many fans have noted, no longer store their old and aging players at first base. Personally, I don’t like this approach of basically wasting a lineup spot for convenience’s or nostalgia’s sake, and the Yanks have shown they don’t buy this philosophy either. Meanwhile, Bob Klapisch wonders if the Teixeira signing foreshadows the end of Derek Jeter in the Bronx. I don’t really agree either, but this will be a looming issue over the next two years. · (78) ·
As 2009 dawns, it does so an age of economic uncertainty. Last year was one of the worst in our nation’s history, and some major indexes ended the year down nearly 40 percent.
While the Yankees have seemingly weathered the storm for now, the rest of baseball has not been so lucky. Teams have fired employers or instituted hiring freezes, and spending is down across the board. Buster Olney noted on Wednesday that the 29 other teams had spent $244 million more at this point in the off-season last year. In fact, only one non-Yankee — Ryan Dempster — has signed a deal for more than $40 million.
Meanwhile, major free agents across the board remain unsigned. Adam Dunn, Jason Giambi, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu headline a second tier of power-hitting outfield/DH types who have been subject to few rumors, and Manny Ramirez and Derek Lowe are still searching for jobs. Now, these players won’t stay unemployed for much longer, but the 2008-2009 market will really test agents across the board.
Derek Lowe provides the perfect test case. The Mets have been rumored to be in on the Lowe bidding, and now that the Yanks have wrapped up two starters and a first baseman, they no longer seem to be interested in the former Dodger. The Red Sox and Phillies have expressed lukewarm interest at best, and the demand for Lowe just isn’t what Scott Boras wants it to be.
The Mets know they are potentially bidding against only themselves, and to that end, they made an initial three-year, $36-million offer. Early reports had Lowe searching for a four-year deal at around $16 million per. As you could guess, Lowe is reported not impressed by the Mets’ offer and is still looking for “a more desirable offer.” Unless the markets rebound 4000 points when they reopen later today, a significantly better deal just won’t arrive on Lowe’s doorstep.
Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez finds himself in the same situation. With the Yankees no longer interested in his services, it seems that only the Giants and Dodgers are kicking the tires on Manny. The future Hall of Famer turned down a guaranteed $40 million when he wrote his ticket out of Boston, and while he once expected a lavish multi-year deal, he will probably wind up with two or three years at a salary not much higher than the one he declined in 2008.
This all boils down to a test of Scott Boras. Long known for getting above-market deals for his clients, Boras supposedly took a less for Teixeira from the Yanks than the Nationals would have paid and now is facing a reality in which his two top clients aren’t going to see the millions they were envisioning six months ago. If Boras can get the big money deals, then he has truly earned his title as an über-agent, but if Lowe signs for three years at a lower-than-expected AAV and Manny doesn’t land his mega-contract, Boras will emerge just like the rest of us, shaken by bad economy and paying the price for it.
While Joe Torre and Scott Proctor will no longer be joined together in bullpen bliss, the former Yankee has latched on with another team. He has reportedly signed a one-year deal with the Marlins worth up to $1 million. I, like Torre, always had a soft spot for Proctor. Hopefully, he can overcome his elbow troubles and have a good year in Miami. · (13) ·