A-Rod and No. 600

Alex's 500th. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

At some point in the not too distant future, Alex Rodriguez is going to connect with a pitch and send it over the fence for the 600th time of his career. We’ve already seen him do that same thing 253 times in pinstripes, setting the single season franchise record for homers by righthanded batter along the way (twice). He is inarguably the greatest hitter this 28-year-old has ever seen play for the Yankees (some of you older fans are welcome to disagree), someone with a first ballot Hall of Fame resume if he retired today.

And yet, there is almost no buzz, no excitement surrounding his pursuit of this historic milestone, as Ken Rosenthal points out. Alex’s 500 HR chase garnered much more attention, both locally and nationally. Maybe it’s the PED thing, that’s a legitimate question, maybe it’s just homerun fatigue. The 500 HR club added ten new members in the last decade or so, nearly doubling in size. Perhaps that once great milestone is losing its luster.

The 600 HR club has experienced the same kind of growth. There are six players in baseball history with that many homeruns to their credit, three of whom (Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds) joined the club in the last decade. Before that, it had been more than 30 years since Hank Aaron and Willie Mays joined Babe Ruth as 600 HR men, and they did so within three years of each other. So again, this club has doubled in size in the last decade after tripling in size almost four decades ago.

That shouldn’t cheapen the accomplishment, though. Tens of thousands of players have worn a Major League uniform at some point, yet just six have hit more homers than the Yankee third baseman. Soon enough, A-Rod will not just join those six great players in the 600 HR club, he might even surpass them all down the road. Consider what he’s already accomplished despite not turning 35-years-old until next week. He’s already hit the seventh most homeruns in baseball history. He was the youngest player to hit 300 homers, the youngest to hit 400 homers, the youngest to hit 500 homers, and he’ll also be the youngest to 600 homers by a not small margin. He’ll beat the Bambino to the milestone by a full year.

Alex has accomplished many things on the baseball field, but it doesn’t seem like gets as much credit for it as his peers. Consider how much love and adoration Griffey received at a similar point in his career despite being a fraction of the player. Maybe it has to do with expectations. A-Rod was so obviously gifted that greatness was a foregone conclusion. If he didn’t succeed, it would have been the biggest bust in baseball history. Greater than Brien Taylor and Mark Prior, greater than Steve Chilcott and Matt Bush. Alex couldn’t fail, it wasn’t an option.

Of course, there’s also public opinion to consider. Alex has long been considered a phony for his off-the-field antics and a choker for failing to become a World Champion, as if that was solely his fault. Now he has his ring, he has his homerun crowns with more to come, maybe everyone is just bored and looking for a new whipping bow. Either way, A-Rod’s greatest almost seems to get neglected at times, especially recently.

Consider this: Have you ever seen any mainstream media outlet, including the Yankees’ own television network,  give A-Rod credit for hitting more homers than any other infielder (first baseman included!) in baseball history? I certainly don’t ever recall it. And yet he accomplished that rather remarkable feat this season, passing Frank Robinson when pulled the old “hit a grand slam after the other team intentionally walks Mark Teixeira to load the bases” trick against the Twins in May. You remember that homer, yet you remember it for every reason other than Alex becoming the all-time leader in homeruns hit by an infielder. Think about that. More homers than any other infielder in baseball history, yet you’d probably never would have realized it if you didn’t read this post.

Now he’s moving onto bigger and better things. Alex’s 600 HR chase might not be the getting the attention the Yankees expected when they included the $30M worth of milestone incentives in his contract (those incentives don’t kick in until he hits homer No. 660, though), but that doesn’t cheapen the accomplishment. Also, they can point the finger at themselves for that lack of attention as well. They should be promoting this on television and around the ballpark like there’s no tomorrow. It’s a cash cow going unmilked.

We really should take a step back to realize what we are witnessing here. A-Rod isn’t just a great player, he’s a historically great player that will be talked about for years to come. We know history has a way of repeating itself; the first game after George Steinbrenner‘s death played out very much in the same way as the first game after Thurman Munson’s death, with a 5-4 walk-off win. Alex hit his 500th career homerun in Yankee Stadium off Kyle Davies of the Royals on a Saturday. The Royals are coming to the Bronx this week. Saturday’s scheduled starter? Kyle Davies.

(You can find ticket info for upcoming games after the jump if you want to see Alex hit No. 600 in person.)

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Derek Jeter’s marketable edge

Having five World Series rings is better than a panoramic vista view sunroof. Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

To say that Derek Jeter is popular is akin to proclaiming New York in slight fiscal troubles. Both are understatements of the highest degree. In fact, no other Major Leaguers are, according to a recent Sports Business Journal survey, as popular and as marketable as Derek Jeter, and how the Yankees realize this marketability could impact Jeter’s off-season contract negotiations and his Bronx future.

Based upon the results of a survey sent to 49 sports business executives and media personalities, Derek Jeter is tops among baseball in terms of marketability. He appeared on 47 of the 49 ballots and garnered 39 first-place votes en route to 223 total points. Albert Pujols finished behind Jeter with 111 voting points. (The full results are available here.)

Those in media were universal in their praise of Jeter. “You’ve got the star power. He’s playing in the biggest market. He’s obviously an All-Star caliber player. And I think more important than anything else, he’s one of the few guys that has really just stayed out of all kinds of trouble and controversy,” Mark Feinsand, Daily News beat writer, said to SportsBusiness Daily. “He’s got a clean-cut image and he’s always lived up to it. Any company that would get into business with him wouldn’t be worried about waking up and seeing his face flashed across the front page for the wrong reasons.”

Jeter, says the business executives, is primed for a very successful post-baseball career as a brand as well. He has become synonymous with Yankee success and class, and marketers love the image he puts forward. “He’s just so consistent, and I think people feel that reliability,” Brandon Steiner, chair of Steiner Sports, said. “It’s just really unusual for a player and a personality like him to be that consistent for that long, all going in the right direction.”

While this news is all well and good for Derek Jeter’s accountant, for the Yankees, it is just another aspect of Jeter’s package to consider when he comes up for free agency in a few months, and it adds to the forces pulling the Jeter issue in various directions. As some coverage focuses on Jeter’s image, in today’s Times, Joe LaPointe looks at Derek’s slump. Through 89 games, Jeter is hitting .271/.335/.384. He has a 97 OPS+, but with an sOPS+ of 110, he’s still better than the average AL short stop by a significant amount.

The team though has reason for concern. He’s seeing a career low 3.53 pitches per plate appearance, hasn’t homered since June 12 and is hitting just .248/.324/.338 over his last 310 plate appearances. He also turned 36 last month and is due to take home $21 million this year. Brian Cashman recognizes that a prolonged slump at this stage in a player’s career could be more than just a slump. “We’ll find out at some point,” Cashman said last month of Jeter’s play and his ability to stick at short. “The clock runs out on everybody. Sometime in the future, it will be a real issue to deal with.”

As Jeter’s struggles continue and the Yanks continue to win despite his lackluster play, the jury is decidedly out on how his season will end. Buster Olney, writing today, thinks Jeter will recover because “his history tells you he’ll bounce back.” Baseball history, though, says that middle infielders playing in their late 30s aren’t too dissimilar from this year’s version of Jeter. But Olney also says that if Jeter didn’t carry that marketable image around with him, he probably wouldn’t get more than $5 million a year after a season such as this one. Fangraphs’ WAR valuation pegs Jeter to a three-win season which would be worth closer to $12 million annually. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

NoMaas, in a piece that analyzes Jeter’s new-found tendency to swing at too many pitches, ponders the same problem. “In a strange and perverse way,” SJK writes, “this could be a blessing in disguise for the front office, since a down year could give them a stronger position in contract negotiations additionally influenced by public relations and legacy.”

So with three months left in the baseball season, the Yankees find themselves stuck in the middle with DJ. Chances are good that, because of Jeter’s image and marketability, the proper contract length for the right amount of dollars will generate enough revenue to pay for a significant part of the salary. But the Yankees also need a short stop who can man the position and a hitter who isn’t a drain on the lineup. How much should Jeter earn? For how many years? As I’ve said this season, I’m glad I’m not the one making that decision.

Mailbag: Joba, The Boss, Swisher, Montero

Time for another edition of the RAB Mailbag. Remember, you can email me your questions at any time, but the easiest thing to do is use the Submit A Tip box below The Montero Watch in the sidebar. This week’s topics include the mess known as Joba Chamberlain, the post-George Steinbrenner Yankees, Nick Swisher‘s future in pinstripes, and players I would be willing to acquire in a straight up trade for Jesus Montero. Let’s get to it…

About Joba Chamberlain… I wonder how much of his current troubles with consistency are due to the inconsistencies in his role, shifting from starter to reliever and back, then back again. I can’t remember any pitcher being moved back and forth so many times, aside from spot starters/long relievers of the Ramiro Mendoza mold, but that’s not the same. I personally have always been in the “Joba is a starter” crowd, and I still think he could be a top notch starter as he’s still young, has great stuff, and has been healthy. I think next year he should become a full time starter (yes, even though it’s another change, at least it will be the last), possibly starting in AAA to rebuild his mojo (if necessary), then set him loose on the AL and hope it works. Thoughts? – Howie

The Blue Jays really screwed around (bouncing back-and-forth between the rotation and bullpen) with both Dustin McGowan and Brandon League earlier in their careers, particularly McGowan. He hasn’t thrown a pitch in the big leagues in 742 days because of major reconstructive shoulder surgery, and he recently had another setback. I’m not saying the juggling act led to McGowan’s injury though, not at all. He threw 80.1 more innings in 2007 than he did in 2006, when he was still just 25-year-old. That’s the likely culprit

Anyway, back to Joba. I definitely think the constant changing of roles has impacted him in a negative way. There’s nothing wrong with shifting a player to the bullpen at the end of the season, but going from reliever to starter and having that transition take place in meaningful games is tough. Also, while well-intentioned, the 2009 Joba Rules were horrifyingly stupid. The fact that the Yankees aren’t doing the same thing to Phil Hughes this season is basically an acknowledgment of that stupidity. Joba definitely had a deer in the headlights look towards the end of last season, like he didn’t know if he was coming or going, looking over his shoulder at the bullpen wondering if this was going to be his last batter.

That said, I don’t think Joba is beyond repair. I’ve given up on him being a starter not because I don’t think he can do, just because I don’t expect the Yankees to give him the chance to do it again. If they were going to give him another shot at starting, they should be very straight forward about it and do it in very controlled manner. Start him in the minors, let him stretch out at his own pace, get into a routine, and then call him up once he’s found a groove and has earned it. At times he does appear a little too comfortable, something we never saw out of Phil Hughes because he did the up-and-down thing for a few years. Maybe he needs a little kick in the ass in that regard.

That’s all easier said than done, of course. After this season Joba will have to clear (revocable) waivers to be sent to the minors because he’s been in the bigs for more than three calendar years. If someone were to claim him, the Yanks could pull him back, though he couldn’t go to the minors. If they tried to send him down again, then those waivers are irrevocable and the claiming team would get him. That might throw a wrench in any plan that involves sending him to the minors.

Will George Steinbrenner’s passing have any immediate impact on the Yankees day-to-day operations? – David

This question was sent in after we heard about The Boss’s passing last Tuesday, which is why it seems a little outdated. That’s my fault, not David’s.

As you probably know by now, Steinbrenner’s death will not impact the team’s day-to-day operations in any way. He handed control of the organization over to his sons in 2007, at which point George stepped into the background. Nothing will change, it’ll be business as usual from here on out.

Where can I find 2010 wOBA and FIP for minor leaguers? Fangraphs only has miLB numbers through last season. – Larry

I have absolutely no idea when FanGraphs will update with 2010 minor league info, so they’re out of the question for now. The best place to get wOBA and FIP for minor leaguers is FirstInning.com, a very underrated site. They also have a version of HR/FB% for pitchers, as well as runs created (RC) and RC/27 for batters. MinorLeagueSplits.com has more comprehensive FIP data, broken down by level, by year, career, you name it.

Swisher isn’t just having a lucky season, the peripherals prove that. I believe that he has really enjoyed his time in New York, and has worked his ass off to keep his stay… the Yankees got him for nothing and he is really hitting his ceiling. He is hitting for power and avg, and his fielding is infinitely better than it was when he joined us as a platoon player. Do we see Nick in pinstripes for an extended period of time? – Daniel

I don’t think I’ve ever seen another player be so happy to be a Yankee. Maybe on the inside, but no one has shown it as much as Swisher, and that has everything to do with his personality, of course. He’s put a lot of work in to become the player he is today, losing weight in each of the last two offseasons and working with hitting coach Kevin Long to improve his performance against breaking balls, all of which shows you that he wants to be a better player and remain with the team long-term.

Swish signed a big fat contract with the A’s back during the 2007 season, signing away his three arbitration years and one year of free agency in exchange for $26.75M guaranteed. Can’t say I’d blame him, I’d take the long-term security too. Anyway, Swish will earn just $6.75M this season (FanGraphs says his performance has already been worth $11.6M) and $9M next season. The Yankees could then choose between a $10.25M option for 2012, or a $1M buyout. If Swish finishes in the top five of the MVP voting this year or next, the option jumps up to $12M.

Nick is right in the prime of his career right now, and will turn the big three-oh this November. Usually any decisions on option years are due ten days or so after the end of the World Series, so the Yanks will have figure out what to do with Swish for 2012 a few weeks before his 31st birthday. Assuming they pick up his option, which they unquestionably would if he maintained his currently level of production, Swisher would be able to test the free agent water as a 32-year-old, for all intents and purposes.

That’s when players, particularly power hitters like Swisher, tend to slow down, so the Yankees might not want to fork over a big four or five year contract at that time. Ideally Swish would sign for something like two years at $12M per plus an option for a third year, but the end result will likely be something in the middle. I’m not going to waste any more time talking about something that won’t happen for two years down the road, but for now rest assured, Swish will be in pinstripes* through next season at the very least, and more than likely through the end of 2012.

* Obviously, things can always change. This is all theoretical.

Mike, last year you would always say that there were 50 guys you would trade [Jesus] Montero for straight up. Does that still hold true this year? For the mailbag would you list those 50? Or even just 25. – Joe

Sure, I’ll give you 50 right now. The list is after the jump for space reasons, but I’ll explain my methodology here. It’s pretty simple. I didn’t consider salary or whether or not that player actually fits with the Yankees, because there is a difference between being willing to acquire a player and actually being able to acquire that player. Take David Wright for example. I would trade Montero for him straight up, but the Yanks already have a third baseman, it’s not a realistic fit. Nonetheless, Wright’s on my list.

What I did consider, however, is the number of years of team control a guy has left. I essentially ruled out all the rentals like Cliff Lee. Oh, and Yankee players too. They weren’t eligible for the list.

Again, the list is after the jump. It’s alphabetical, so don’t read anything into the order. Hiss and spit in the comments.

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Will this long stretch again define the Yanks’ season?

Last year the Yankees faced their toughest challenge of the season right after the All-Star break. They were 51-37, three games behind first-place Boston, and had learned that Chien-Ming Wang would be lost for the season. Under different circumstances the Yanks might have been able to skip Wang’s start so they could search for an adequate replacement. But with a makeup game against Oakland eating one of their July off-days and a make-up against Tampa resulting in a September doubleheader the Yanks were set to play 53 games in 56 days during the hottest stretch of the season.

That sounds pretty brutal. Not only does the team lack for days off, but it also has to play all those games in the summer heat. That can take a lot out of anyone, even a pro athlete. This makes me worry about stretches like this. What if the team tires towards the end? In a tight division like the AL East that could make all the difference. Yet that didn’t stop the 2009 Yankees. They went 40-13 in those 53 games, making the AL East among the least interesting divisional races in the process.

This year the Yankees got the same four-day All-Star break, which conveniently came after their last West Coast trip of the year. They faced a tough challenge when facing their closest foes right afterward, but were rewarded with another day-off yesterday. Today, however, starts their long stretch of 2010. There are no make-up games — yet — but the Yanks will still play 44 games in 46 days. This is not only a rough-looking stretch in itself, but it looks tougher when you look at their workload during the past 26 days, in which they played 19 games. That’s quite a change.

The Yanks have shown in the past that this shouldn’t be much of a concern. Again, last year they went 40-13 during a 53 games in 56 days stretch. I particularly remember a similar stretch in 2006, when they played 36 games in 37 days. They went 22-14 in that time, including the infamous five-game sweep of the Red Sox. The Yanks also played two doubleheaders then, though one was a day-after make-up game against the Tigers. It might have bought them an extra day, but I imagine they’d rather have played the two games in two days than have the rain out followed by a doubleheader.

In 2007 they had it even worse, playing 55 games in 56 days, including two doubleheaders, coming out of the break. The Yanks were 43-43 at that point, 9.5 games back in the AL East, and it looked like a season-defining stretch. They went 35-19 in that stretch, and while they gained only 3.5 games on the Red Sox in the Eat they jumped out to a three-game lead in the Wild Card standings. That’s where they finished, though not without making a run for the division later in September.

It seems, then, that there is no reason to be concerned about the coming stretch of games. In three out of the last four years they have performed very well during similar stretches. Not only that, but they basically staked their claim to the AL East in two of the four years. Even more reassuring is the performance of last year’s team during their long summer schedule. It still seems unreal. How often do we see a team rattle off 40 wins in 53 games this late in the season? The answer is not very.

Yet the Yankees have. While I sit in the bleachers and feel the sun beating down on my body and reflecting off the metal benches and concrete, the players are thinking just one thing. Win. If the Yanks can pull off a huge stretch for the fourth time in five years, they should have a firm command of the AL East.

SWB loses, but not because of Montero

Jon Albaladejo was named the International League Pitcher of the Week for the second consecutive week. He’ll get another chance eventually. I hope. Meanwhile, former Yankee draft pick Rob Scahill (48th round, 2008) won the same award in the Cal League.

Triple-A Scranton (6-2 loss to Gwinnett) faced the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft
Kevin Russo, 3B, Chad Huffman, LF, Eduardo Nunez, SS & Chad Tracy, DH: combined 0 for 15 at the top of the order – Russo drew a walk, but they combined to strike out five times (Huffman twice, everyone else once)
Jesus Montero, C: 3 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB – he went 2-for-2 off Minor with a double, so he put a bit of a hurtin’ on a brand name
Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Eric Bruntlett, 2B: both 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K – JoVa homered & drove in two … Bruntlett stole a base
Reid Gorecki, RF: 0 for 4, 3 K
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 K – he’s got 20 total bases on the season, and five have come in the last ten games
Sergio Mitre: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HB, 10-0 GB/FB – 48 of his 73 pitches were strikes (65.6%) … remember, he was on three day’s rest … perfect final rehab outing, had the sinker working, was tested with men on base, he’s pretty much as ready as can be for Saturday’s start
Eric Wordekemper: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 26 of 38 pitches were strikes (68.4%) … he allowed both inherited runners to score, uglifying Mitre’s line
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 15 of his 26 pitches were strikes (57.7%)

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Open Thread: CC turns 30 …

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

… in two days. But that didn’t stop him and his teammates and some other celebs from painting the town red last night. Good thing they had the day off today, something tells me the guys needed to recup after last night. Hopefully they’ll be doing some more partying in late October/early November.

If you’re still recovering from the weekend, use this open thread to help you relax. The Phillies and Cardinals will be playing on ESPN, while the Mets will take on the Diamondbacks a little later on tonight. Old buddy Ian Kennedy gets the ball. Talk about whatever.

Mitre starting tonight for Triple-A Scranton

Via LoHud, Sergio Mitre will make his final rehab start for Triple-A Scranton tonight, and is scheduled to throw 75 pitches. He will be starting on three day’s rest, and the idea is to stretch him out a bit more before he takes Andy Pettitte‘s place in the rotation on Saturday. Seems kind of aggressive, but so be it. One start on short rest won’t kill him.

In the interim, I suspect the Yankees will call up an extra reliever until they activate Mitre before the game on Saturday. Jon Albaladejo, Romulo Sanchez, and Mark Melancon are the only relievers in Scranton on the 40-man roster, though Melancon is in no shape to be called up at the moment (1.91 WHIP since the end of April). Hopefully it’s Albie.