Robbie needs to walk

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Tom Boorstein gets it. The lead editorial producer for and somewhat recent Columbia grad is slowly emerging as one of my favorite New York-based baseball commentators. He penned a great tongue-in-cheek column on A-Rod earlier this week, and today, he takes a more serious look at Robinson Cano.

Writes Boorstein:

After 2007, the Yankees made their move by giving him a handsome contract to buy out his arbitration-eligible years. How did Cano repay their generosity? By putting up a .271/.305/.410 line with bouts of horrendous defense in the field.

Here’s what could be bad news for the Yankees: There just isn’t much they can do about it. As poorly as Cano played in 2008, where is the upgrade to be had? The Yankees’ best hope is that the streaky player puts up lines more reminiscent of his 2007 (.306/.353/.488) or his even-better 2006 (.342/.365/.525)…

Cano has always relied on a high batting average. Let his 2008 serve as a reminder to those who scoff at the value of walks. Batting averages fluctuate much more from season to season than on-base percentages…This is why hitting streaks are overrated. Yes, it takes skill to get base hits. But patient hitters don’t usually end up with long streaks. That’s because their walks cut down on their chances to get hits.

What does that have to do with Cano and 2009? He needs to make sure his on-base percentage is more than 50 points higher than his average. Everyone worries about changing a hitter’s approach. “He’s aggressive,” coaches and announcers will say. “We like that.” What teams should like is “productive.” Aggressive is just a euphemism for impatient.

Basically, Boorstein’s analysis is spot-on. Robinson Cano must be a more patient hitter to be a more valuable piece of the Yankee lineup. Sure, if he hits .350, that’s great, but as we saw in 2008, he’s not going to hit .350.

It will be interesting to see how Cano and the Yanks approach 2009. He showed signs of offensive life after retooling his swing in the off-season, and he’s practically guaranteed to do better next year. But if the OBP stays the same, the Yanks may not have the player they thought they had when Cano made his Major League debut in 2005.

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  • Yanks still want a bat

    While CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe have dominated the non-Nick Swisher Yankee headlines recently, Brian Cashman is well aware of the fact that the Yanks scored nearly 200 fewer runs this year than last. To that end, reports Mark Feinsand, the team is still searching for a bat. In particular, it appears that Mark Teixeira is still on the team’s radar. That’s good news. Outside of Teixeira, the Yanks could pursue free agents Manny Ramirez or Adam Dunn or they could use some of their trading chits to land a slugger. Either way, I’m sure we’ll see some more offense come to the Bronx before the off-season is out. · (78) ·


RAB Live Chat

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Toward the end of the day yesterday, Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman wrote a piece with the headline, “Yankees not in ballpark for Lowe, Burnett.” The article wasn’t quite as accurate as that though:

The Yankees intended to make four-year offers on A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe for about $14-15 million annually (in other words, close to $60 million each). However, Burnett’s agent, Darek Braunecker, is telling teams he’s only considering five-year proposals, and Lowe’s agent, Scott Boras, apparently also suggested the Yankees aren’t in the ballpark.

Well, maybe metaphorically, the Yanks “aren’t in the ballpark” these players’ agents want them to be. However, the Yankees are set to make opening offers to two of their free agent targets. As is custom in a negotiation, the agents will then counteroffer.

It’s fun to dump on the Yankees. They’re the big bad rich guys who want to buy up everyone. But it’s less fun to stretch the truth about a contract negotiation. Don’t let Heyman’s piece scare you. The Yanks and Burnett or Lowe are simply involved in a business deal, and that’s how these play out, bad baseball metaphors or not.

Categories : Hot Stove League
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When comparing the top of the 2008-2009 free agent class, the first year that comes to mind is 2000-2001. A-Rod, Manny, Hampton, Mussina, and Juan Gone to this year’s Teixeira, Manny, Sabathia, Burnett, Lowe. After browsing through some New York Times articles from November 2000, I’m wondering how Yankees fans would have reacted on blogs back then, had blogs existed.

On November 7 of 2000, Buster Olney reported that the Yankees had “an either-or interest in Mussina and Ramirez, who figure to be the most expensive free agents who are not named Alex Rodriguez.” I wonder how fans would have reacted in the comments if we linked to this article. After all, the 2000 Yankees finished with just 87 wins. They could have used the upgrades both at the plate and on the mound.

Like the speculation this year about a backup plan in case CC doesn’t sign, the Yankees had alternatives in mind if Mussina re-upped with Baltimore.

So Plan A for the Yankees seems to be this: Sign Mussina, and bring back Paul O’Neill to play right field for another year. Plan B: Sign Ramirez to play right field and another pitcher who would cost less than Mussina, such as the left-hander Denny Neagle or the right-hander Kevin Appier (whose agent has been contacted by the Yankees).

Neagle would have been a disaster, worse than signing Jon Garland. After posting a 5.81 ERA with the Yanks in the second half of 2000, he went out to Colorado and wasn’t very good. Though he did post a 5.38 ERA in 2001, which was just a few points above the league average ERA of 5.32. Damn you, Barry Bonds. Damn you.

Ponder this, too. According to Murray Chass, the Yankees actually coveted Mike Hampton more than Mike Mussina.

They really preferred Mike Hampton to Mussina. Hampton is four years younger and left-handed. But they determined that Hampton didn’t want to play in the American League.

Think Cashman would still have a job today if they signed Hampton instead of Mussina? Who knows, though. Maybe he fares better away from Coors Field. History could have written a different story for Mike Hampton had he decided to continue pitching in New York.

I can only imagine the arguments we had if RAB was around back then. Good times would have been had.

P.S. Don’t pay any mind to this. It means nothing.

Categories : Days of Yore
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Junichi Tazawa, the 22-year-old amateur free agent, is creating something of an international incident between the Japanese and American baseball leagues. Some teams from Japan are irked that Major League teams seem to be so heavily invested in landing the highly-touted right-hander.

In The Times today, Alan Schwarz and Brad Lefton covered the issue:

Many Japanese baseball officials are outraged that United States teams are courting Tazawa, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, because they insist it is long-established practice for amateurs like him to be strictly off limits to major league clubs. Even some American general managers, including the Yankees’ Brian Cashman, agree.

Major League Baseball officials maintain that the letter of their protocol agreement with their Japanese counterparts, Nippon Professional Baseball, does not forbid either league from courting amateur talent from the other’s nation. When one Japanese representative characterized the rule as a gentlemen’s agreement during a meeting in New York, he was angrily rebutted by a Major League Baseball official, according to two attendees.

The Tazawa dispute extends beyond one pitching phenom and an interpretation of honor. The Japanese major leagues have already seen established stars leave for American clubs, and amateurs following Tazawa’s path away from those leagues could further hurt the leagues’ long-term viability.

As the Tazawa dispute has brewed this offseason, NPB officials released a statement on it: “This was more than just a gentlemen’s agreement, but rather an implicit understanding that the major leagues would do no such thing. That a handful of clubs from the majors is trying to break this gentlemen’s agreement is truly regrettable.”

As Schwarz and Lefton offer up an overview of the situation — including the typical glowing scouting reports on Tazawa — they bring the issue back home to New York:

Officials of major league teams have a wide spectrum of views as to whether Tazawa should be signed…The Yankees’ Cashman was unequivocal.

“I’m old school — there has been an understanding,” said Cashman, whose team has a formal cooperative relationship with the Yomiuri Giants, a team particularly upset with the Tazawa affair. “There’s been a reason that Japanese amateurs haven’t been signed in the past, so we consider him hands off.”

So my question is this: What do you think of Cashman’s stance? The Yankees have some deep-rooted economic and baseball interests in Japan. It behooves the team’s bottom line to keep the NPB officials happy. In all likelihood, the Yanks will benefit in the long-term by respecting this gentleman’s agreement.

But what about Tazawa? Should the Yanks forego this stance to pursue young, amateur free agents who aren’t explicitly breaking a rule but are simply exploiting a free market? I’d probably say no. It’s far better to keep things amicable between the Yanks and Japan, but maybe others see things differently.

So feel free to discuss this issue. I find it a fascinating one as baseball explores an international expansion of the game.

If you don’t feel like talking about this topic, use this thread as the evening’s Open Thread. Anything goes. Just keep it civil.

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  • Yanks protect four from Rule 5 draft

    Via Chad Jennings, the Yanks have added LHP Mike Dunn and RHPs Chris Garcia, Steven Jackson & Anthony Claggett to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. Notable players not protected include LHP Zack Kroenke, IF Ramiro Pena, and RHPs JB Cox & Alan Horne. Shows what I know, I thought Cox & Horne were shoo-ins to be protected. The Depth Chart has been updated. · (73) ·

Yesterday the Royals swung a deal for Coco Crisp, landing the man who was once traded for Chuck Finley in exchange for ex-Yankees’ prospect Ramon Ramirez. The deal gives the Boys in Royal Blue five players capable of playing the outfield everyday, meaning there’s excess to use as trade fodder. We’ve already heard rumblings about the Cubs being interested in Moneyballer Mark Teahen, although there has been no further movement on that front.

Having maintained interest in Mike Cameron, it doesn’t appear that the Yanks’ braintrust is content with Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner duking it out for the centerfield gig in Spring Training. That’s where David DeJesus comes in. The Brooklynite and Rutgers alum is one of KC’s most marketable pieces, and luckily for Dayton Moore is centerfield market is bone dry.

DeJesus offers plenty at the plate, consistently producing on-base percentages in the .350-.370 range despite minimal lineup protection. He also has a nice amount of pop, slugging at least .445 in three of his four full seasons. His line drive rate is nearly 25%, and last year he saw 3.86 pitches per plate appearances, good for tenth among AL outfielders.

If you’re down with clutchiness you’ll be down with DeJesus. The dude hit .419-.484-.562 with RISP this year, while his 2.63 WPA was 11th in league. His Clutch tied for third in the league at 1.14. Weak hacks at balls off the plate to strike out with runners on base is enough to annoy anyone, but DeJesus has incredible bat control that allows him to make contact on 89.5% of the swings he takes (good for 6th in the league), keeping his strikeouts down.

DeJesus’ defensive reputation took a bit of a hit last year when he slid over to leftfield in deference of Joey Gathright, but rumors of his defensive demise have been greatly exaggerated. Check it out:

Revised Zone Rating Innings per Out of Zone play
2007 2008 2007 2008
Melky Cabrera .910 .938 32.5 16.5
Coco Crisp .909 .927 21.0 20.6
David DeJesus .910 .938 29.4 9.0

If you’re unfamiliar with RZR and OOZ, they measure the percentage of balls hit into a player’s zone that are converted into outs, and the number of outs made on balls out the player’s of the zone, respectively. All the stats in the table are for the CF position only, and because Melky & DeJesus bounced around outfield spots, I presented OOZ in terms of innings played at the position.

Essentially what this data tells us is that DeJesus runs down balls hit into zone just as well as Melky & Coco, and that he also makes a fair number of tough plays on balls out of his zone. He’s never going to be confused for Carlos Beltran out there, but he’s fully capable of playing the position on an every day basis. Of course the Yanks always have the option of sliding him over to left late in game, allowing Johnny Damon to get a little break while Melky/Gardner shore up the outfield defense.

So here comes the part none of us can answer, what would it take to get him? He comes dirt cheap, as he’s owed just $3.6M in 2009 and $4.7M in 2010 before a $6M club option (or $0.5M buyout) comes into play. Picking up DeJesus would allow the Yanks to remain patient with Austin Jackson, and also gives them some depth for when Xavier Nady, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui hit the free agent market next year.

It’s not a buy low situation like Nick Swisher, but it’s a chance at a guy who could be available because of a numbers crunch. If the price is right, say a young pitcher like Ian Kennedy plus a reliever to replace Ramirez/Leo Nunez, then you almost have to pull the trigger. He brings much needed youth and athleticism, and is a perfect two year stopgap for Jackson and replacement leadoff hitter for Damon if he leaves after ’09.

Plus, just think of how much fun Michael Kay will have mentioning that DeJesus is a local kid living out his dream every time he comes to bat.

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