Mailbag: AzFL, MiL Free Agents, Nova, Wood

In this week’s edition of the RAB Mailbag we’re going to talk about some general minor league stuff, plus Ivan Nova, the free agent market for relievers, and the concept of adding a second Wildcard team. If you want to submit a question, send it in via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Ari asks: What level of ball is the AZ Fall League considered equivalent to (A, AA, AAA, etc)? Are some of the winter ball leagues considered better than the others? Thanks.

The rules stipulate that each team has to send at least six players (most send seven) to the Arizona Fall League, and that just one can have played at a level lower than Double-A that season. Considering that, plus the fact that the league also features a plethora of top prospects, I’d put the level of competition a little bit higher than Double-A. Not quite Triple-A because you don’t have pitchers with considerable big league experience and stuff like that, but it’s certainly a step up from Double-A. Especially for the guys on the mound, it’s just a brutal league for pitchers given the extreme run environment.

I honestly don’t know about the level of competition in the Latin American winter leagues, it’s very much a mixed bag. You’ll find established big leaguers and kids from Single-A playing in the same game. I suspect the AzFL is the cream of the crop though, you don’t see many top prospects playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and stuff.

Mike asks: When a minor league free agent (7 plus years of minor league experience) signs a deal is it generally year to year of can it be multiyear deals?

It’s six full years (though there’s usually a partial seventh) to qualify for minor league free agency, and from what I understand most go year-to-year after that. Players with big league experience will have opt-out clauses written into the deal, meaning if they’re not in the majors by a certain date they an become free agents. That’s why Dustin Moseley was called up, his opt-out date was coming up and the Yanks didn’t want to lose him. For guys with no big league experience, they’re basically hanging on at that point. If they were any kind of prospect they’d have been placed on the 40-man (thus remaining with their previous organization). But yeah, it’s usually year-by-year. It’s understandable why teams wouldn’t want to sign Triple-A fodder to a multi-year deal.

Mark asks: Is it safe to assume that Ivan Nova replaces Andy Pettitte in the rotation if he retires this offseason or do you see them acquiring a second veteran starter besides Cliff Lee?

I certainly wouldn’t call it a lock, but I agree that Nova stepping into the fifth starter’s spot should Pettitte retire is a safe bet. That’s only if they sign Lee though; if the Yanks don’t land the lefty and they have to settle for a lesser starter, then I don’t think they can gamble on Nova establishing himself as a big leaguer. If they can’t sign Lee and add all that certainly, then they’ll have to basically go out and get two veteran guys instead. He’s that good and is that tough to replace. Perhaps the Yanks are more confident in Nova than I, but that’s why Brian Cashman & Co. make the big bucks.

Ethan asks: With deals given so far (Benoit in particular), are the Yankees more likely to offer Wood arbitration? I assume that Berkman and Vasquez are still no?

For the record, I said yes to offering arbitration to Puma. Javy’s an absolute no-no, but hopefully the Marlins sign him before next Tuesday’s deadline and the Yanks get the draft pick anyway. Cross your fingers.

As for Wood, I don’t think the absurd Benoit contract changes anything. Sure, it might make him and his agent think there’s more money out there than previously thought, but the issue is Wood’s 2010 salary. He made ten-and-a-frickin-half million dollars in 2010, so if he accepts arbitration he’s looking at at least $11M in 2011. Wood was flat out awesome for the Yankees, but no setup man is worth that much cash, especially not one that old (33) and with that kind of injury history.

Even with the Benoit deal it’s a stretch to see Wood getting $11M guaranteed on the open market, regardless if it’s a one year deal or two or three. I love draft picks as much as the next guy, but a reliever making that much dough will severely limit the Yankees’ payroll flexibility next year. I appreciate what Kerry did in pinstripes, but offering him arbitration just isn’t a smart business move.

Keane asks: What do you think of extended playoffs being ‘almost inevitable?’ It barely helps the sport at all, makes a long season even longer and nothing is being done about replay. Is Selig doing the right thing here?

I’m not surprised that the idea of another Wildcard team is going over well with the GM’s, it means more job security for them. I’m sure the owners will love it as well, it means more revenue. And you know what? I’ll probably be great for the game and create more interest, so in that sense Selig is doing the right thing.

I don’t know how they’d work this with five playoff teams, but I assume the two WC clubs would meet before the LDS’s begin. If it’s a best-of-three or five series it’ll completely suck, because that means the other four clubs have basically a week off and there are that many more off days. A one game playoff would be amazingly entertaining but completely unfair in the grand scheme of things, a 162 game season potentially ending because anything can happen in one game. I dunno, I’m intrigued but I tend to believe a second WC spot is unnecessary.

You make a great point about replay, Selig appears to be much more behind the idea of expanded playoffs than he does instant replay even though it isn’t nearly as pressing. The umpiring around the league generally sucks, and fixing that is far more important than making sure the team with the fifth best record in the league gets a crack at the postseason. If it was up to me, I’d just send the teams with the four best records in each league to the playoffs regardless of division. You’d need a balanced schedule for that, which is another topic for another mailbag.

What Went Right: Berkman & Wood

The Yankees have made a habit out of plugging holes at the trade deadline when their internal options don’t work out, most famously grabbing Eric Hinske and Jerry Hairston Jr. to shore up the bench for the 2009 World Series run. This season was no different, as Brian Cashman pulled off a trio of moves on July 31st. Austin Kearns didn’t exactly work out, but the other two moves certainly did…

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Lance Berkman

Once the Nick Johnson experiment failed in glorious fashion, the Yankees spent the better part of the summer searching for a designated hitter. Jorge Posada filled in most of the time, partly due to nagging injuries and partly because Joe Girardi fell head over heels in love with Frankie Cervelli. Alex Rodriguez and Marcus Thames also chipped in some at DH from time to time, but it was obvious that the team needed a full-time DH going forward.

With the Astros way out of contention, long-time ‘Stro Lance Berkman agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join his buddy Andy Pettitte in New York and have a shot at the World Series. His first 40 plate appearances in pinstripes were largely unimpressive, a .281 wOBA that was reliant more on walks that anything else. Berkman sprained his ankle running out a ground ball in Kansas City and sat out the rest of the month, rejoining the team when the rosters expanded on September 1st.

From that point on, Fat Elvis looked a lot like the guy with four career top five finishes in the NL MVP voting. He hit .299 the rest of the way with a cool .400 on-base percentage, and although there was little (if any) power production, Berkman was reaching base at the terrific rate near the bottom of the lineup. He was then one of the few consistently productive bats in the postseason, driving in two runs in Game Two of the ALDS and replacing the injured Mark Teixeira at first base in the ALCS. All told, Berkman hit .313/.368/.688 (.427 wOBA) in the postseason, and once he came off the disabled list in September he was one of the team’s most productive bats.

Kerry Wood

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It’s hard to believe that when the Yankees acquired Wood, he hadn’t pitched off a big league mound in close to three weeks. He had been on the disabled list with blisters and was activated just in time for the transaction to go through. That was also his second stint on the DL of the year, as he missed the first five weeks of the season with shoulder issues. Wood actually threw more innings for the Yankees (26) than he did for the Indians (20) this year. Thankfully those 26 innings were high quality.

Wood began his Yankee career working various middle relief stints, often recording more than three outs. By the time September rolled around he had pitched his way into that all important eighth inning role, setting up Mariano Rivera for the remained of the regular season plus postseason. The full body of work featured a 10.7 K/9 and just two runs scored in those 26 innings, and in the playoffs he added another eight innings of two run ball. With the season on the line in Game Five of the ALCS, he threw two scoreless inning to bridge the gap between starter CC Sabathia and Mo in the ninth.

As good as Wood was with New York, let’s not kid ourselves, there was some luck involved. His .235 BABIP was about 50 points below his career mark, and his strand rate was a completely unsustainable 98.1%. League average is around 72%. He walked 18 guys in those 26 innings but just one (one!) came around to score. They say it’s better to be lucky than good, especially when it comes to bullpen, so Kerry Wood’s stint in pinstripes gets a A+.

* * *

Both Berkman and Wood were popular players with their previous teams, but they accepted lesser roles with the Yankees and thrived. I thought Berkman was especially impressive; a guy that had spent his entire career hitting in the middle of the Houston’s lineup and was the toast of his hometown, accepting what was essentially a platoon DH role when he could have just stayed home close to his family. The Yankees didn’t reach their ultimate goal this season, but the contributions of Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood are certainly appreciated.

A glimpse at the Notre Dame/Army secondary market

Yankee Stadium hosts a sporting event this weekend as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Army Black Knights in the new stadium’s inaugural football game. For the Yanks, this is a key moment for the House that George Built because they need this non-baseball events to be successful to help offset the costs of building the new facility, and early indications are that this game will have more than 51,000 fans in attendance.

If you’re still looking for tickets or thinking about going at the spur of the moment, our partners at TiqIQ have over 360 tickets available, and their numbers show that the game at Yankee Stadium is outpacing the game Notre Dame played against Navy at the new Meadowlands Stadium last month.

Meanwhile, for those bound for the stadium, Metro-North will be running extra trains through the Yankee Stadium stop both before and after the game. The full details for train service are right here.

Open Thread: More on Scottie Allen

We'll always have that walk-off walk, Juan. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Earlier today the Yankees shipped the out-of-options Juan Miranda to the Diamondbacks for Single-A right-hander Scottie Allen. I hadn’t heard of Allen before today so needless to say I couldn’t add much of value, but thankfully Baseball America came through with a scouting report this afternoon. Take it away (no subs. req’d)…

Allen throws four pitches, three of which grade as average at times, but lacks the one dominating offering to put batters away. He sinks his fastball at 87-91 mph and occasionally breaks out a swing-and-miss slider in the high 70s or a changeup in the same range. His curveball is less refined, but he’s around the zone with it and all his pitches. Wiry strong, Allen has a quick arm, but he tends to tire visibly by the fourth inning. Still, he’s worth taking a flier on because he’s a teenager who already shows a feel for pitching.

By no means is Allen a great prospect, as I said in today’s Radio Show, but it’s certainly an interesting arm. Better than losing Miranda on waivers next April, that’s for sure. You really can’t ask for more in exchange. Anyway, our Depth Chart (and Draft Order Tracker) are now up-to-date. The roster’s looking rather sorry at the moment.

* * *

Here’s tonight’s open thread. The Devils are the only local team in action, but who wants to watch them? They’re 5-11-2 with the third worst record in the NHL. Yikes. Oh, and the Bears are playing the Dolphins, but you need the NFL Network to see that one. You guys know what to do, so have at it.

Reality sets in for the Rangers

You have to hand it to new Rangers owners Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan. They’ve shown confidence, even cockiness, since taking over the Rangers. Even before they beat the Yankees in the ALCS they claimed that they had what it took to retain Cliff Lee. Ryan in particular has been outspoken in this stance. Yet it appears that in the last couple of days that has changed.

It started yesterday, when Ryan told SI’s Jon Heyman that he thinks Lee is “about ready to entertain offers.” The most aggressive offers will likely come from the Yankees, Rangers, and Nationals, but we could see a dozen or more teams submit proposals. Now that we’re a step further in the process, are the Rangers as confident as before?

Apparently not. Nolan Ryan talked to Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal. Costa’s tweet says it all:

Nolan Ryan said he expects Yankees to outbid Rangers for Cliff Lee. Said they’ll try to sell appeal of Texas, but didn’t sound confident.

The appeal of Texas is that Lee wouldn’t have to pay state income tax on about half of his salary, and that he’d be a bit closer to his home in Little Rock. The appeal of New York is that he’ll earn more money and he’ll be in an environment where the front office will consistently surround him with elite talent. And, in my biased view, it being New York City makes it appealing enough.

This situation likely won’t play out until the Winter Meetings, but it does appear that the Yanks have the situation well at hand. It will mean big changes in the future, but I’m sure the Yankees are well aware of the obstacles they’ll face with multiple $20 million contracts on the books.

The RAB Radio Show: November 18, 2010

The BBWAA announced the American League Cy Young Award today, and unsurprisingly Felix Hernandez won. It might not have been Roy Halladay’s unanimous selection, but it was still a landslide. There will be a lot of discussion about what this means for how writers view the game, but I’m not sure that’s the most important point here. We run down the ballot, including CC’s spot in third.

The Yankees made a pair of minor moves today. They signed a Dominican prospect, and they traded Juan Miranda for Scottie Allen. It might sound tough to get geeked out about these, but it appears as though the Yanks made two solid, if unspectacular, moves. Allen’s no front line starter, but he could be useful in a number of ways. Oh, and he’s only 19.

Podcast run time 20:47

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license.

While we appreciate feedback and commentary on the show, feel free to branch off and use this as an open thread.

Felix takes home AL Cy Young Award

Felix Hernandez was named the AL Cy Young Award winner today, receiving 21 of a possible 28 first place votes. CC Sabathia received three first place votes and finished third in the overall voting behind Felix and David Price. Hernandez was either first or second in the league in baseball everything, including ERA (2.27) and innings (249.2). He bested Sabathia in FIP (3.04 to 3.54), strikeout rate (8.36 to 7.46), and walk rate (2.52 to 2.80), but not wins (13 to 21). That’s what happens when you play in front of the worst offensive team of the DH era. Congrats to Felix, it’s well deserved.