Improving the Yankee Stadium experience

When Opening Day rolls around in a few months, it will be the fourth at the new Yankee Stadium. Christened with a World Series in its first year, the new Stadium has simply become a comfortable home. I haven’t forgotten the old park; considering how much time I spent there during my teenage years, I never will. But the new place is where I got to see a lot of games every summer and will be for most of the rest of my life.

That said, the new stadium is far from perfect. I miss the intimacy and vastness of the Tier level, and I miss the view into Monument Park. The current home is a temple to the gaudiness of the Yankees, and it’s easy for a guy who doesn’t want to go broke attending baseball to feel a bit marginalized from the field.

As the seasons have marched on, the Yankees haven’t really done much to the new Yankee Stadium. They painted the overbearing concrete in the bleachers a darker shade of blue and made some minor upgrades, but as the Mets lower the fences and try to bring some semblance of their own history to their new stadium, the Yankees are content with what they’ve built. They could make some changes though, and as Opening Day inches closer, I have my own wishlist for the new house.

1. Mystique and Aura in the Stands
Once upon a time at the old park, it used to be possible to roam the stadium before the game with, by and large, free reign of the place. At a certain time, ushers would gently ask fans to head to their seats, but autograph hounds could stake out batting practice. At the new park, the general atmosphere in the lower seating bowls is one somewhere between antipathy and hostility. Guards will promptly sweep out people who aren’t where they should be a good 90 minutes before first pitch, and forget about ever crossing the moat that separates most fans from the field.

The Yankees needn’t compromise on their high-ticket packages to make the place a bit more welcoming for those who just want a close-up of the field. Calling off the hounds earlier on and making the fans more welcome would go a long way toward instilling the stadium with its own set of mystique and aura. We’re fans. We want to be there, and we’re not out to cause trouble.

2. Better Food
For all the promise of better food the new stadium brought with it, the non-exclusive dining options are your run-of-the-mill stadium stands. The hot dog buns aren’t much, and the specialty stands feature bland and overpriced items with ever-shrinking portions. The debut of Parm in the Great Hall was a fantastic start last season, but with Shake Shack and Blue Smoke headlining Citi Field, our ballpark in the Bronx has a long way to go. The crab legs I had that one time in the Legends Suites were pretty damn good though.

3. Monument Cave
At the old stadium, Monument Park and the retired numbers were a point of pride for the Yankees. They were visible throughout the stadium and during the game. At the new park, the monuments are buried beneath a sports bar and are covered for first pitch. The Yanks’ rich history has been rendered an afterthought, and we espy only glimpses of the retired numbers. I have to think the club could flip the visitors’ bullpen with Monument Park to make it a more open-air attraction as it used to be.

4. Between-Inning Entertainment
We’ve had the same between-inning entertainment options for eons now. Yankee trivia, Who’s That Baby?, Match Game NY — the list goes on and on and on. Between that and the staid selection of stadium songs that filter over the PA system, the in-game production could use a refresh.

Yankees in a “holding pattern” with regards to pitching

Earlier today we learned that the Yankees will reevaluate their budget in the coming weeks, and tonight the Jons (Heyman and Morosi) report that the team is in a “holding pattern” with regards to its pitching search. They are still in touch with Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, and Roy Oswalt, but they just don’t like the asking prices. They are not interested in Ryan Madson, however. So in other words … nothing new to report.

Open Thread: Steve Sax

I’m not old enough to remember Willie Randolph’s playing days, but I do remember the guy that replaced him at second base. That’d be Steve Sax. The long-time Dodger joined the Yankees as a free agent before the 1989 season, and went on to hit .294/.342/.376 with 117 stolen bases and more walks (142) than strikeouts (128) during his three years in the Bronx. He made a pair of All-Star Game appearances and even garnered some MVP votes one year.

The Yankees traded Sax to the White Sox for three young pitchers — Melido Perez, Bob Wickman, and Domingo Jean — on this date 20 years ago, and about a month after that he promptly got into trouble with the Springfield PD. I dunno man, there are a ton of unsolved murders in this city and Steve Sax is still on the loose…

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Here is your open thread for the night. The three hockey locals are playing, but you’re out of luck if you’re a Time Warner customer. Still no MSG for us. Talk about anything you like here, just don’t be a dick.

Yankees interested in re-signing Luis Ayala

Via Ben Nicholson-Smith, the Yankees remain interested in re-signing the worst sub-2.00 ERA pitcher in baseball history, Luis Ayala. Well, technically that nickname doesn’t apply anymore thanks to that three-run homer he allowed to Evan Longoria in Game 162 last year, which knocked his final ERA up to 2.09.

In all seriousness, Ayala was perfectly fine given his role, which was basically the last guy in the bullpen for most of the season. He did it with ground balls (50.0%), not with strikeouts (6.27 K/9 and 16.7 K%) or even by limiting walks (3.21 BB/9 and 8.6 BB%). The Yankees have two open spots in their bullpen and Ayala — who turns 34 on Thursday — would fit decently into one of them, but this isn’t a situation where they have to go nuts to sign him. Five other clubs reportedly have interest in signing him, and anything more than a few hundred grand or so would really be pushing it.

Imagining a pinstriped reunion with Kerry Wood

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last off-season might have gone a bit differently if not for Kerry Wood’s desperate desire to again pitch in Chicago. After coming over to the Yankees at the 2010 trade deadline, Wood impressed all observers, allowing just two runs himself, plus one inherited runner, in 26 IP. In the playoffs he continued his impressive pitching, allowing just two runs in eight innings. After the season Wood became a free agent, and the Yankees expressed desire in re-signing him. But Wood yearned for his professional roots in Chicago so deeply that he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Had Wood been more open to a more lucrative one-year deal with the Yankees, they would not have signed Rafael Soriano.

This off-season, Wood has changed his tune. While he’d reportedly like to stay in Chicago, he won’t sign quite so cheaply this time. Rather than give one team preferential treatment, Wood seeks a market value deal for his services. The latest, from Dave Kaplan of (via MLBTR), speculates that Wood’s “days as a Cub appear all but over.” The Cubs apparently offered Wood a “substantial” raise over last season, but apparently it is not to his liking. That opens the market for him.

The Yankees have a relatively stacked bullpen, so Wood’s presence is not a necessity. As Mike noted recently, there are only two remaining bullpen spots and plenty of candidates to fill them. Since one will likely go to a long reliever — which they will need if they plan to start the season with Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett in the rotation — that leaves only one spot for Wood. It’s unlikely that the Yankees want to fill out their bullpen with unmovable bodies right now, so a Wood reunion is nothing but a fantasy. Yet it remains intriguing. A stacked bullpen can help bandage a wounded rotation until reinforcements arrive. Having Wood, Soriano, David Robertson, and eventually Joba Chamberlain* available to pitch later in games, the Yankees could seal down victories even if their starters go five innings and give up four runs.

*Unless, of course, Joba goes to the rotation. /troll’d

The bullpen situation isn’t the only one holding back the Yankees from making this move. They also have budgetary issues. The Yankees could decide to expand the budget in order to augment the starting rotation. But to make a budget-expanding decision for another relief pitcher? It seems unlikely. While there’s not a ton of risk in the move — it would cost around $4 million for one year — there’s also limited upside. Again, it would be reinforcing an area of strength. That can help in some ways, but it probably won’t make a huge impact.

Still, it’s tough to think of Wood and not remember his glorious run from August through October, 2010. His very first appearance set the tone for his tenure. He came in to relieve CC Sabathia in the 7th inning of a game in Tampa, striking out the final batter of the inning. He then walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth and then allowed a single before striking out the next two guys and then loading the bases with a walk. Chad Gaudin had to finish the job, but that’s because Joe Girardi didn’t yet know what he had in Wood. For the next three months Wood got the Yankees out of numerous jams, many of which were of his own creation. It wasn’t quite magical, but it was certainly something different. It’s the kind of run that makes fans want the player back with their team, despite the possible irrationality of it.

Many contenders could use bullpen help, and plenty of them likely have $4 or $5 million they could pay Kerry Wood. They also might have more prominent setup roles. This, combined with the Yankees’ needs elsewhere, makes it unlikely we’ll see a clean shaven Kerry Wood donning pinstripes in 2012. It’s a nice thought, given how well he pitched in 2010. But right now the case for bringing in Wood is based on nostalgia. That’s probably not something that will convince the Yankees brass to make the move.

Scouting The Waiver Market: Fernando Martinez

(Ron Antonelli/New York Daily News)

Yesterday afternoon the Mets somewhat surprisingly waived former top prospect Fernando Martinez, cutting ties with the 23-year-old outfielder to make room on the roster for personal fave Scott Hairston. Baseball America considered him one of the top 100 prospects in the game as recently as 2010 and four times overall, but the Omar Minaya regime did their best to sabotage his development by rushing him through the minors. The new Sandy Alderson led front office is basically turning the page.

It’s all but guaranteed that some team will acquire Martinez from the Mets, either off waivers or through trade. Should that team be the Yankees? Let’s take a look…

The Pros

  • Like I said, Martinez is only 23 and will spend all of next season at that age (born in October). He’s a little more than a month older than Austin Romine, for reference. If nothing else, time is on his side.
  • “Martinez has power potential to all fields, though he has gone to left-center less frequently than when he was younger,” said Baseball America (subs. scouting report) when they named him the Mets’ third best prospect in 2010. “His bat speed and improved ability to make contact should allow him to hit for a solid average.”
  • Adam Rubin confirmed that Martinez does have one minor league option remaining, so he can be sent to the minor leagues in 2012 without a problem. With less than one full year of service time to his credit, he’ll remain under team control for another six seasons. Martinez will qualify as a Super Two when the time comes, however.

The Cons

  • Like I said, the Minaya regime rushed him badly. Martinez was playing in Double-A as an 18-year-old despite playing just 87 games and getting just 386 plate appearances in the low minors. He was in the big leagues as a 20-year-old in 2009.
  • Not only has he been rushed, but injuries have taken away from his development. Martinez has never played more than 90 games or received more than 400 plate appearances in a single season, topping out at those totals in 2008. He’s been done in by a wrist strain (2011), right knee arthritis (2010), right knee surgery (2009), an elbow strain (2008), and various hamstring problems (2008, 2010, 2011).
  • In his 145 big league plate appearances, he owns a .245 wOBA overall and a .195 wOBA against left-handers. His career Triple-A batting line is fine (.265/.326/.465 in 727 plate appearances), but he’s never walked much (6.6 BB% in the minors) and he’s become more strikeout prone as he’s climbed the ladder (21.7 K% in Triple-A). He also doesn’t steal bases (just 20-for-32 in the minors).
  • Once considered a future center fielder, Martinez is now considered a corner guy because the leg injuries have sapped his speed. His arm isn’t all that great either, meaning left field is the best fit.

When I looked at Jai Miller as the potential scrap heap pickup a few weeks ago, I did so thinking he might represent an upgrade over what the Yankees currently have on their 40-man roster, specifically Justin Maxwell. Small moves like that often get overlooked but they are important, as improving the margins of the roster can yield significant benefits down the road. The same logic applies to Martinez, who at this point is little more than a roll of the dice.

The incumbent left-handed hitting spare outfielder is Chris Dickerson, who is a fourth outfielder type that can hit righties a bit (career .340 wOBA), play solid defense in all three outfield spots, and steal some bases (24-for-30 career). He’s no higher than fifth on the Yankees outfield depth chart though, and since he’s out of options he can’t go to the minors without first clearing waivers. There’s a chance he’d get claimed. Martinez is six and half years younger, has more power (see some of it here and here), and can go to the minors without a problem, which might make him a better fit for the team and their roster. After all, Dickerson could be gone before Opening Day whether the Yankees like it or not.

I don’t think there’s any chance Martinez will get to the Yankees on waivers; a team with a higher waiver priority will surely claim him first, which means they’d have to work out a trade with the Mets. Crosstown trades don’t happen very often, but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen. Dickerson is the better player at this point, but Martinez provides more flexibility and long-term potential, even though most of his prospect shine has worn off.

Report: Yanks will reevaluate budget soon

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

It’s been a very slow offseason for the Yankees, who have spent a whopping $6M* on free agents. All of that money went to re-signing their own players as well: $4M to Freddy Garcia and another $2M to Andruw Jones. That’s it. We’ve heard quite a bit about their unwillingness (or inability) to increase payroll, particularly long-term with regards to the 2014 austerity budget. That could change though, as Buster Olney is reporting (Insider req’d) that the team will make a decision about whether or not to expand its current budget “in the next couple of weeks.”

An increased budget will change the equation dramatically for the Yankees, particularly the pitching equation. Edwin Jackson is still lurking out there, as are Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt. In my crazy world even Ryan Madson is rotation option. As we see this morning with the Paul Maholm deal — one-year, $4.25M with a club option when comparable pitchers got two guaranteed years earlier in the offseason — prices are starting to come down just a bit as Spring Training draws closer. The Yankees will simply reevaluate their budget, and possibly adjust it.

From here, this sounds like an awful lot like the next step towards Jackson becoming a Yankee. Joe recently wrote about the similarities between the Edwin rumors and last year’s Rafael Soriano rumors, and this kinda sorta fits the theme. The only difference is that last year we knew they had the money to spare after losing out on Cliff Lee, whereas this year they might have to up their payroll to accommodate a new pitcher. Remember, increasing the budget is not guaranteed at this point, it’s just up for consideration.

My rough estimation has the Yankees right around $200M with their payroll at the moment, and bringing in a pitcher like Jackson or Kuroda or Oswalt would push them into the $210-213M range. Coincidentally, the team’s final payroll for luxury tax purposes was $212.7M in 2011, so perhaps they’re willing to go back to that level next year. Obviously it’s not that cut and dry, but you get the idea. The market for those three pitchers isn’t exactly hot right now, and the fact that they’re still available this late in the winter indicates that other teams haven’t deemed them worthy of their asking price either. The Yankees have the advantage of money, but right now it’s unclear if they’ll decide to use it.

* Obviously this doesn’t include the $122.5M they re-invested in CC Sabathia, but he technically wasn’t a free agent. Tomatoes tomahtoes.