Open Thread: The night before the turkey

For better or worse, Derek Jeter has dominated the Yankee headlines over the past few days, and he has broken the fanbase into two groups. Some feel Jeter is an aging short stop asking for too much; others feel the Yanks should pay their captain what he wants. Either way, Derek probably isn’t going anywhere, but this one won’t be resolved any time soon.

To, um, commemorate the goings-on, long-time RAB reader Tyler Wilkinson sent us the graphic you see here. Interpret it as you will, and check out more from Tyler on Twitter. It might make for interesting discussions during the Hot Stove League, but I think we’ll feel better when Jeter and the Yanks agree to terms.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. In local action, the Nets visit the Celtics, and the Knicks wrap up a home-and-home set against the Bobcats in Charlotte. On the ice, the Blue Jackets visit the Islanders while the Devils host the Flames and the Rangers are in Tampa Bay to face the Lightning. If you’re with family tonight, enjoy the start of the holiday. We’ll be here all weekend.

Report: Mets uninterested in Derek Jeter

As Derek Jeter‘s contraction negotiations have turned messy, those who say they will just die without Jeter grow concerned that he’ll sign with the Mets or — gasp! — the Red Sox. In fact, The Post even photoshopped Jeter’s head onto Dustin Pedroia’s body for its back cover today. But while fans fear Jeter’s departure, take a read through this short article. Daily News writer Andy Martino says that if Jeter does hit the open market, the Mets won’t be interested. They have $11 million invested in their short stop and aren’t looking to add a 36-year-old who is demanding more than $15 million a year.

In essence, that’s what this entire exercise in futility is about. The Red Sox just eschewed resigning Victor Martinez for four years and $52 million. They too are not about to sign Jeter to a long-term deal worth more money than that. In fact, no team on the open market will. Sure, the Giants might be interested if they can land Jeter for low-dollar, short-term commitment, but the offer from the Yanks — one they’re willing to sweeten — is the best Jeter will get. He knows it; the team knows it; and when the posturing and negotiations are through, Derek will be back in pinstripes. That you could take to the bank.

A Yankee contract negotiation from the past

I miss Moose (Julie Jacobson/AP)

Baseball is not your typical business. Employees, i.e. players, cannot expect a raise every year. They can for a certain period, but at some point their skills begin to decline. At that point teams are willing to pay them less and less, and for good reason. Understandably, players try to fend off this notion for as long as possible. Not only does it mean less money for them, but it’s an admission that they’re getting older and won’t be able to do the things they once did. No one wants to admit that to themselves.

Some players take this better than others. As we saw last year, Johnny Damon didn’t take it well at all. He turned down an offer from the Yankees because it constituted a pay cut. This winter we’re seeing Derek Jeter desiring to remain at his $20 million salary even though his production no longer justifies it. Yet I can remember one player who took a pay cut graciously. That happened in the winter after the 2006 season, and the player was Mike Mussina.

In the winter following the Yankees’ third straight World Series victory, the market was rife with free agents. Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, and Mike Mussina highlighted the class. The Yankees went with the pitcher, signing Mussina to a six-year, $88.5 million contract. In the deal’s final two seasons, plus the 2007 option season, Mussina earned $17 million. But by the end of the 2006, even though he had pitched very well during that season, he realized that he wasn’t going to make $17 million again. So he took a pay cut.

The deal went pretty smoothly from what I can remember. Mussina signed for two years and $23 million — a $1 million signing bonus and $11 million in each of the two seasons. That represented a nearly 55 percent pay cut from his 2006 salary, and a 34 percent pay cut from the average annual value of his previous contract. Yet he took it with grace. In fact, the only stipulation on it seemed reasonable: he demanded to make more than Carl Pavano. Done and done, said Cashman.

In some way, I can see a parallel for Derek Jeter. In one way, he’s in a unique situation and therefore can’t really compare himself to someone else. In another way, I can’t really blame him for wanting more than A.J. Burnett. That’s why a three-year, $50 million contract makes sense. That not only puts Jeter’s salary a tick above Burnett’s, but it also means their contracts expire at the same time. I can even see the Yanks being generous and offering an option year, so that Jeter might stay with the team longer — and so that he makes more from the Yankees in 2014 than Burnett does.

(If the Yankees wanted to get really generous they could go three years, $56.7 million, which would replicate the average annual value of Jeter’s previous contract.)

Yet it’s clear that Jeter is not being as honest with himself about his position as was Mussina. That’s his right, I suppose. Rare is the player in Mussina’s mold. Still, I can’t help but wish Jeter would see things in the same way as his former teammate. If that were the case, he’d already have a contract by this point.

Prospect Profile: Manny Banuelos

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Manny Banuelos | LHP

Background
Born in Durango, Mexico, Banuelos signed with Sultanes de Monterrey of the Mexican Baseball League at a very young age (I can’t figure out when, exactly) and as far as I can tell he never pitched for them. Lee Sigman, the Yankee scout that covers Mexico, signed a then 17-year-old Banuelos away from Monterrey along with three other players in early 2008 for a total of $450,000. Al Aceves also came over in the same transaction.

Pro Career
The Yankees held Banuelos back in Extended Spring Training after signing, and he made his professional debut later that summer with the team’s rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate. He made three starts and nine relief appearances with the GCL Yanks, pitching to a 3.72 FIP in 42 innings. Banuelos was assigned to Low-A Charleston as an 18-year-old the next year and he was nothing short of brilliant. He logged an impressive 108 innings with the River Dogs, striking out 8.67 and walking just 2.33 men per nine innings, good for a 2.76 FIP. Although he was selected to the Futures Game, Banuelos did not pitch in the game because of a weather delay. The Yankees rewarded him with a late season promotion to High-A Tampa, and he tossed a perfect inning of relief (two strikeouts) in his only appearance with the team.

Still just 19-year-old, Banuelos was scheduled to start the 2010 season with Tampa before an appendectomy got in the way. He had surgery in Spring Training but was out until late-June, then he made two quick rehab starts (5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K) before moving up to Tampa. Banuelos was once again brilliant, making ten starts in High-A this summer. He struck out 62 and walked just 14 in 44.1 innings, a stout 1.71 FIP. Not wanting to waste that kind of performance in the low minors, the Yankees bumped Banuelos up to Double-A Trenton at the end of the season. He made three starts with the Thunder, striking out 17 and walking eight in 15.1 innings (4.24 FIP).

Although Monterrey retained Banuelos’ winter ball rights, but the Yanks worked out an arrangement with them that allowed the lefty to participate in the Arizona Fall League this year. He made seven starts with the Phoenix Desert Dogs, striking out 16 and walking ten in the notoriously hitter friendly league. All told, Banuelos has thrown 240.2 innings as a pro, during which time he’s struck out 244 batters and walked just 72. He’s also allowed just ten homers.

Scouting Report
The scouting report on Banuelos has changed quite a bit since he signed. He joined the Yankees as a short little left-hander that offered an 88-90 fastball with inconsistent offspeed pitches, but he’s added velocity and developed more consistency in his three years with the organization. Still short and left-handed, Banuelos is listed at 5-foot-10 and 155 lbs., but there’s no way that weight in current. He’s probably closer to 175-180 or so, maybe even more. His fastball now routinely sits 90-94 and he ran it up as high as 96 during the summer, backing it up with a changeup that fades down-and-away from righties. That’s his second best pitch. Although his curveball is improving, it’s still inconsistent with some development left.

Banuelos earns praise for three things. First is his simple and deceptive delivery and the way the ball explodes out of his hand. His fastball jumps on hitters and often leads to ugly swings, allowing him to pitch upstairs consistently. Second is his control and command, which is already major league average and continuously improving. Third is the tremendous poise and mound presence he exhibits, which is what caught the Yankees’ attention in the first place. It’s worth mentioning that there’s no projection left in Banuelos’ frame; unless he has an early-20’s growth spurt, what you see is what you’re going to get. Regardless, it’s a front-of-the-rotation package thanks to progress he’s made during the last three seasons.

Here’s some video courtesy of Mike Ashmore, and you can find a ton more on YouTube.

2011 Outlook
After finishing up this season with three starts at Double-A Trenton, Banuelos will return there to start the 2011 campaign. He’s still extremely young (doesn’t turn 20 until March), so there’s no rush. Expect the Yankees to keep him there for the majority of the season, and if any promotion does occur, it likely won’t come until August or so. A lot would have to go right for Banuelos while a lot goes wrong at the big league level for him to make his major league debut in 2011. A 2012 debut is far more likely, and even then he’ll still just be 21 years old.

My Take
While you can certainly make a case for Dellin Betances or Andrew Brackman, Banuelos is the best pitching prospect in the organization in my book. I love the combination of age, stuff, command, and poise, plus he’s got a much better health record than those guys. I honestly can’t remember the last time the Yanks had a left-handed starter with this kind of potential in Double-A, we probably have to go all the way back to Brandon Claussen or Eric Milton. My only real concern is long-term durability given his size, but that’s more anecdotal than anything else. The Yankees have something special in Banuelos, but the real test begins now that he’s in Double-A.

Type-A Relievers: Death To Value

As much as baseball needs instant replay, the Elias free agent ranking system is perhaps in need of even more help. The rankings are generally laughable, and if you happen to be dubbed a Type-A free agent as a reliever, your value generally plummets once (if) your old club offers arbitration. We saw this two years ago with Juan Cruz, a guy that had posted 12+ K/9’s for consecutive years but couldn’t find a job because no one wanted to give up a high pick. I actually wrote a post imploring the Yankees to sign him since, at the time, they would have only surrendered a measly fourth round pick because of their first three picks were gone already, but that’s an extreme case.

Now that we know which players have been offered arbitration and will require draft pick compensation, we can cross them off our winter wish list…

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Grant Balfour

The Rays are going to be swimming in draft picks next year; they have seven ranked free agents including three Type-A’s, meaning they could come into ten extra picks if they all sign elsewhere. One of those Type-A’s is Balfour, the hard-throwing Australian that has done fine work out of Tampa’s bullpen over the last few seasons. He’s struck out 234 batters in 203 innings with the Rays, getting his walk rate down to just 2.8 per nine last season. He is a fly ball pitcher, which would have been a bit of a problem in Yankee Stadium, but when you factor in the draft pick compensation, any chance of the Yankees pursuing him just went out the window.

Frank Francisco

(AP Photo/Ralph Lauer)

Francisco, 31,  was just about the only reliever I identified this winter as a potential buy low candidate for the Yankees. He’s coming off a strained rib cage that kept him out from the end of August right through Texas’ World Series run, so his stock is on the low side just because of that. His numbers have been nothing short of fantastic over the last three years, however. Francisco has struck out exactly 200 batters while walking just 54 unintentionally in 165.1 innings since 2008 thanks to his fastball-splitter combo, but the big drawback is that he can be homer prone (18 HR allowed during that time). I didn’t have him in mind as the undisputed eighth inning guy, just another high strikeout reliever to add to the bullpen.

The Rangers have a ton of hard throwing relievers in their bullpen, plus the newly minted Rookie of the Year at closer, so Francisco seemed like a slightly expensive luxury they could afford to let walk. He earned $3.265M last season, a nice chunk of change for a reliever, and an arbitration hearing could push him up to $4M. I didn’t expect Texas to offer him arb yesterday, but they did. The required draft pick compensation takes him completely off my radar. For shame.

Jason Frasor

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Yankee fans have seen enough of Frasor during his time with the Blue Jays, and in fact they’ve seen him pitch in just about every relief role imaginable; long relief, middle innings, setup, ROOGY, closer, you name it. The 33-year-old finally found his way as a strikeout/semi-ground ball pitcher over the last two seasons, making the jump from solid to very good. Frasor has struck out just about a batter per inning (121 in 121.1 IP) and has kept the walks down (34 unintentional) during that time, and his grounder rate jumped to 43.4% in 2010. He had been just north of 38% before that, which isn’t all that bad either.

Toronto offered the Type-A free agent yesterday, so once again a team will have to surrender a high draft pick to sign a fungible reliever. For super-elite performers like Rafael Soriano, that’s fine. For anyone less than that, it’s a legit deal-breaker. Frasor earned $2.65M last season and is certain to get a bump up and over the $3M hump, which is fine on a one-year deal, even if you include a club option, but once you add in that draft pick, it’s just not worth it.

* * *

Arbitration offers, and really the broken Elias ranking formula, killed the free agent value of Balfour, Francisco and Frasor. Unless a team has multiple first round picks or has already surrendered their top pick for signing another free agent, chances are they’ll look at these three and realize that there are some comparable arms out there that don’t require free agent compensation. The system’s broken and needs to be fixed, but we all know that already. There’s a good chance that all three of these righties will accept their team’s offer of arbitration, simply because the market won’t offer them much.

What Went Right: Andy Pettitte

This adorable picture of Andy and his five-year-old son Luke was taken during a workout before this year’s Homerun Derby. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

When the Yankees stormed to their 2009 World Series victory, they did so by relying on just three starting pitchers in the playoffs. The Yanks were concerned about the those heavy workloads having a carryover effect into 2010, hence the Javy Vazquez pickup. Perhaps no pitcher on the staff was more vulnerable to that kind of hangover effect than 37-year-old Andy Pettitte, the stalwart lefty that has been a rock in New York’s rotation for the last decade-and-a-half (save those three years he went to Houston).

Amazingly, Pettitte showed zero ill effects from the heavy 2009 workload at the outset of the 2010 season, allowing just nine earned runs in his first seven starts, holding opponents to a .268 wOBA. He cruised into the All Star break with a 2.70 ERA (3.75 FIP) and 113.1 innings in 17 starts, an average of exactly 6.2 innings per start. The old man wasn’t just giving his team a ton of innings, he was giving them high quality innings. That effort earned Andy his first trip to the All Star Game since 2001, just the third of his career.

Andy’s overall season resulted in a 3.28 ERA (3.85 FIP) and a .310 wOBA against, and he absolutely annihilated left-handed batters (.216 wOBA). He was also the team’s best pitcher in the playoffs, following up a seven inning, two run performance against the Twins in Game Two of the ALDS with yet another seven inning, two run performance against the Rangers in Game Three of the ALCS. We have all come to love and adore Andy, and for most part we know what the Yankees will get out of him, but he far exceeded the expectations of even his biggest fans in 2010.

Of course, we have to mention that Pettitte’s otherwise brilliant season was plagued by injury. He missed two starts with elbow inflammation in May, then spent 62 days on the disabled list from mid-July to mid-September. Once he came back, Pettitte began dealing with back spasms that bothered him throughout the postseason and even put a ALDS Game Five in jeopardy had it been necessary. Such are the risks associated with a pitcher that turned 38 in June and came into the season with 3,175.1 big league innings (regular season and playoffs) on his arm.

So for now, we once again play the waiting game. Andy is back home in Texas doing his annual self-evaluation to determine if he wants to play another year. We know that if he does play in 2011, that it will be his final year, and earlier today, Ken Davidoff reported that Pettitte is “leaning toward” one final season on the diamond. The Yankees are patiently awaiting his decision as are the fans, but for selfish reasons we all want him back. Andy probably won’t replicate his 2010 performance again, but even a return to the days of a low-4.00’s ERA with oodles of innings would be welcome. In the meantime, bravo on the great season.