Hoping For A Homegrown Outfielder In 2013

(Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com)

The Yankees are still dealing with their pitching questions this offseason, but as fans we can’t help but look ahead to future roster problems and wonder how they’ll be addressed. The outfield figures to be a hot topic next winter, when Nick Swisher becomes a free agent and the rest of the open market is pretty unappealing. If the Yankees intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, a homegrown Swisher replacement would be the best way to go.

Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t have any high-end outfield prospects close to the big leagues capable of replacing their current right fielder. Mason Williams is a potential star but is also four levels away from the show. Slade Heathcott hasn’t had a full, healthy season since turning pro, and Kelvin DeLeon inches closer to being a $1.1M bust with each swing and miss. Of course the Yankees don’t need to replace Swisher with a star prospect; they’ve shown you can win the World Series with guys like Ricky Ledee and Chad Curtis and Gerald Williams roaming an outfield corner.

Perhaps the best hope for a homegrown outfielder in 2013 is a prospect that gets little hype, at least compared to Williams and Heathcott. The Yankees added Zoilo Almonte to the 40-man roster after the season, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft but also showing confidence in his ability to contribute in some capacity down the line. He posted a .402 wOBA with High-A Tampa during the first half of 2011 before producing a .308 wOBA with Double-A Trenton in the second half. Like Brett Gardner in his prospect days, Almonte has struggled at a new level each time he’s been promoted at midseason before hitting his stride the next time around.

A switch-hitter, Almonte is almost a poor man’s version of Swisher at the plate. He draws a decent number of walks (9.1% at High-A and above) and hits for okay power (.155 ISO at High-A and above), though most of his pop is into the gaps rather than over the fence at age 22. He performed better against left-handed pitchers both last year and throughout his career, but that’s not terribly surprising for the natural right-handed hitter. Add in solid but unspectacular defense and 15+ stolen base ability, you’ve got someone with the potential to develop into a big league regular down the line. The Yankees obviously believe he can do it sooner rather than later, otherwise they wouldn’t have protected him from the Rule 5 Draft.

The last two times the Yankees worked a homegrown outfielder into the regular lineup, they went about it in very different ways. Injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield pressed Melky Cabrera into everyday duty whether the team liked it or not, but Gardner got broken in slowly during the 2008 and 2009 seasons before getting a full-time job in 2010. The latter is obviously preferred if you’re talking about someone less than a star prospect (a Mike Trout or Desmond Jennings), so the Yankees would still need to invest in a solid fourth outfielder or platoon partner if they decide Swisher is too rich for their taste and intend to see what they have in Almonte.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 19th, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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Mailbag: How much for A-Rod, the free agent?

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Brian writes: Just curious. If A-Rod was a free agent this offseason, what would his value be in terms of years and AAV?

When Albert Pujols signed his contract with the Angels, amongst Yankee fans, it put the spotlight back on A-Rod’s massive deal. The two 10-year humdingers aren’t what I would call good contracts, and the Yanks have seem A-Rod, who is going to get paid through 2017, break down considerably over the past three years. There’s no doubt that if A-Rod were a free agent today, he wouldn’t get a six-year, $143-million deal — essentially what he has now with the Yanks.

But what, as Brian wrote to us, would he get? I asked Joe, Larry, Mike, Moshe and Stephen to chime in on this one, and what follows is a RAB roundtable on this intriguing question. While opinions differ as to his likely landing place, everyone believes A-Rod would get three guaranteed years and decent money to boot. Keep reading for our predictions. [Read more…]

Open Thread: Jason Giambi

(G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

Just nine of the 31 nine-figure contracts in baseball history have run their course and been completed, and one of those nine belongs to former Yankees Jason Giambi. The Giambino signed with New York ten years ago today, receiving a seven-year contract worth a cool $120M. Tino Martinez was ushered out of town, and the Yankees brought in a former MVP and arguably the best hitter in the game.

Giambi’s first year in pinstripes was pretty much everything we could have hoped for; he hit .314/.435/.598 with 41 homers and accumulated 7.0 fWAR and 7.3 bWAR. The only three position players to put up a seven-win season with the Yankees over the last 25 years are Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Giambi. He dropped to still productive .250/.412/.527 with another 41 homers the next year, but then the injuries and the steroid stuff started to come into focus. Over the final five years of his contract, Giambi hit .247/.392/.496 with another 127 homers, but he was a butcher on defense and struggled whenever he played DH.

Everyone remembers Aaron Boone’s walk-off homer in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, but Giambi set the stage twice by homering off Pedro Martinez earlier in the game. The Big G was a .279/.409/.510 hitter in the postseason with New York, though he came to town too late to be part of the dynasty and left too early to be part of the 2009 World Championship team. He hit .260/.404/.521 during his seven years with the Yankees, which is pretty damn impressive. Some people out there really don’t like the Giambi because of the steroids and all that, but he was a fun dude and absolutely mashed, even in his down years. He’ll always be a personal fave.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. The late NFL game is the Raven at the Chargers (8:20pm ET on NBC), but you can talk about anything you want here. You know what to do, so have at it.

Report: Yankees are “not getting” Yu Darvish

Via Marc Carig, the Yankees are “not getting” right-hander Yu Darvish according to a person close to the situation. The team’s last second bid will not be higher than those submitted by the Rangers and Blue Jays, the presumed favorites. Backing up an earlier report, Carig’s source says the winning bid is a “ridiculous number.”

Once all this Darvish stuff becomes official on Tuesday, the Yankees will likely turn their attention to short-term fixes. Yesterday’s Mat Latos trade shows that the price for a young, high-end starter is still sky high, which makes someone like Hiroki Kuroda a much more likely target. The pitching search will almost certainly stretch out into January, just because the hot stove tends to die down around the holidays.

On Joy and the Expectation to Win

In some ways, the Knicks and Yankees are very much alike. Both franchises have long been run by families that believe you have to spend to win, and have attacked the free agent and trade markets with zeal. Both have therefore been subjected to various luxury tax and revenue sharing plans that are aimed at their ability to spend at a much higher level than other clubs. Finally, both play in recently built or refurbished spaces that allow them to charge their fans exorbitant fees to enjoy the gameday experience.

However, when it comes to the most important elements, these two franchises could not be more dissimilar. The Knicks were, for a very long time, the worst run franchise in the NBA and possibly all of sports. The GM tenures of Scott Layden and Isaiah Thomas were riddled with terrible trades for aging and overrated stars, long term contracts given to injury risks, poor drafting, scandals, and worst of all, interminable losing. The Knicks were a punchline for over a decade, so much so that many Knick fans have been wary to jump back on board now that the team seems headed in the right direction.

Conversely, much like DJ Kahled and Tim Tebow,  all the Yankees do is win. Over the last 13 years, the Yankees have been run shrewdly by Brian Cashman, and with a major assist from the Steinbrenner wallet have continued to build the legacy of the winningest franchise in sports. They have numerous marketable stars and fan favorites, and have also added a solid farm system to provide the franchise with exciting young talent. They have long provided a striking contrast to the Knicks, throwing the Dolans’ failures into stark relief.

This contrast also manifests itself in how fans react and relate to the two clubs. One thing that constant winning does is breed the expectation of success from fans. We no longer hope that the Yankees can contend, but expect it, and we have not experienced an expectation-free season since 1996. We get a bit confused and upset when the Yankees claim they want to cut payroll, as they have set a certain standard and we fear that they may no longer be able to meet it. This kind of attitude lends a certain tension to each season, as high expectations also leads to a greater fear of failure. I know I am not the only one who feels a modicum of relief mingled with the joy I experience when the Yankees clinch a playoff spot or win a playoff series.

Conversely, the Knicks enter the upcoming season with a different sort of expectation. They finally put the club in the capable hands of Donnie Walsh, and he has handed things off to Glenn Grunwald, who also seems to know what he is doing. The team finally looks ready to contend, but it is hard to tell at this point whether we can expect a deep playoff run or whether they are built to win one round and then bow out. When they lost in last year’s first round, most Knicks fans shrugged it off and looked excitedly to the future. There is a great level of mystery to their upcoming season, and any success will likely be met with the pure, unbridled joy reserved for a team and a franchise that has long suffered as a laughingstock and a perennial loser.

That sense of pure joy is somewhat missing from Yankee fandom. With frequent winning comes a greater fear of failure, and that greater fear of failure will by nature cause some measure of relief to be part of the emotions we feel when the club comes out on top. There is nothing we can do about it, and I would definitely rather have the frequent winning rather than that emotion in the long run. But I look with a bit of jealousy at my 12-year old self and wish there was some way I could recapture that joy I felt in 1996.

Report: Winning bid for Darvish is larger than Dice-K’s

Via Franz Lids, the high bid for Yu Darvish is larger than the $51.1M the Red Sox paid for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka five years ago. We still don’t know who placed that bid, but late last week we heard that the Blue Jays submitted a bit worth upwards of $50M.

Instant Analysis: Holy cow, assuming this report is true. I figured Dice-K’s general mediocrity would scare teams off of a bid that large, but like we always say, it only takes one team to blow everyone out of the water. Pretty crazy. Apparently the Nippon Ham Fighters are going to take the full four business days before announcing they’ve accepted the high bid, so one way or another we’ll know who won the right to negotiate with Darvish by the end of the Tuesday.