Open Thread: Cut those sideburns!

What the ... ?

What the hell is that, Robbie? That facial hair makes him look like a skinnier David Ortiz, and I don’t like that at all. Well, unless he hits like 2004-2007 David Ortiz, of course. I’m cool with it if that happens. Robinson needs to learn a lesson from Don Mattingly and Mr. Burns and cut those sideburns! (h/t ‘Duk)

On a more serious note, here’s the video of Jack Curry’s trip to the Dominican Republic, where he followed Robbie around during his offseason workouts. It’s not long (about four minutes), and I suggest you give it a watch. Once you’ve done that, use this as your open thread. The Devils, Knicks, and Nets are all playing at different times, but talk about whatever you want. Treat the thread as you see fit.

Olney: Soriano deal was ownership-driven

Via Buster Olney, there was a difference of opinion among the Yankees decision makers regarding Rafael Soriano, and the decision to sign him was one driven by ownership. Bob Klapisch backed up Olney’s report, and Peter Gammons specifically mentions team president Randy Levine as the culprit.

This is generally bad news, because you want the baseball people making the baseball decisions while ownership worries about making money and doing whatever else baseball team owners do. Brian Cashman was given autonomy after the 2005 season, but since then the higher-ups have gone over his head for Alex Rodriguez‘s latest contract and now Soriano. This is not a good trend, and if it continues to happen the Yankees will be right back where they were in the mid-aughts.

The RAB Radio Show: January 14, 2011

With the Rafael Soriano signing in the books, Mike and I examine the move from both the near and far perspectives. There are plenty of aspects to consider, so we’re not short on words.

This deal has implications that stretch further than the bullpen. We go over those, which, as you might imagine, include Joba.

Podcast run time 27:17

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

Olney: Yankees tried a sign-and-trade for Balfour

Via Buster Olney, the Yankees tried to work out a sign-and-trade scenario with an unknown team that would have netted them Grant Balfour. Joe covered this exact idea back in December, though it was framed around Rafael Soriano. Basically, some team with a protected pick would sign Balfour and them trade him to the Yankees for a prospect that is equal to or greater than the value of the pick they gave up. Balfour would have had to consent to the trade per MLB’s rules since it would have occurred so soon after he signed.

Obviously this all took place before the Yanks agreed to sign Soriano and Balfour went to the A’s. I’m guessing that once they couldn’t get a trade for Balfour worked out, they decided to sign Soriano. If you’re going to give up the pick for the reliever, at least make it the best one available.

RAB Live Chat

Mailbag: Romine, Bush, Gardner, Posada

Time for another edition of the RAB Mailbag, and this one is free of Rafael Soriano/Joba Chamberlain vitriol. We’ve got questions about Dave Bush as a rotation candidate, Austin Romine as the catcher of the future, Brett Gardner‘s long-term outlook, and what happens with Jorge Posada after the upcoming season. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Arad asks: What about Dave Bush as a 4th or 5th starter?

Once upon a time, Bush was arguably the most dominant closer in college baseball history. The Blue Jays have done a great job in recent years of turning college relievers into starters (Shaun Marcum and Brett Cecil among them), which is what they did with Bush before trading him to the Brewers in the Lyle Overbay deal. But that is neither here nor there.

Bush’s last three seasons have been pretty damn awful. He had a 4.93 FIP in 2008, a 5.07 FIP in 2009, and a 5.13 FIP in 2010, so he’s bad and getting worse as he enters into his 30’s. Although his walk rate is solid (2.64 uIBB/9 in the last three years), his strikeout rate is below average (5.80 K/9) and so is his ground ball rate (38.9%). Oh, and he’s amazingly homer prone. Over the last three seasons he’s surrendered one homerun for fewer than every 6.1 IP. And this is in the NL Central, stick him in the AL East in Yankee Stadium and we could start taking bets on which sections of the bleachers will get souvenirs on the nights he pitches.

As I always say, there’s nothing wrong with a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, but there are enough red flags here to keep me away.

Ashley asks: If the Yankees were to use Jesus Montero as trade bait sometime throughout the season, how much will the drop off be from Jesus to Austin Romine? Is there any benefit to having Romine as the “catcher of the future” or will we trade for a big name catcher (if he exist)? Basically, assess the Yanks catching situation.

Romine was always a much safer bet to remain at catcher long-term, but questions popped up about his catching ability last season. Keith Law didn’t like what he saw out of him blocking balls in the dirt and what not in the Arizona Fall League, though in fairness Romine was probably fatigued after his first full season as an everyday catcher. His bat also dropped off considerably in the second half. Romine is still a quality catching prospect though, a borderline top 100 guy with the tools to catch in the show. He just has to continue developing those tools into baseball skills. It’ll definitely be a big hit though, Montero is going to be a star because of his bat. Romine will just a solid backstop.

The wildcard here is Russell Martin. If he plays well and the Yankees like what they’re getting out of him over the next two years, there’s always a chance they’ll re-sign him when he’s due to become a free agent in two seasons. IF not, and they trade Montero for a starter, I suspect Romine will get the first crack at that vaunted “catcher of the future” job. If he can’t handle it, they’ll either have to go out and get someone or hope Gary Sanchez doesn’t flame out. This isn’t an immediate concern though, we’re at least two seasons away before we have to really worry about who will do the catching long-term.

Anonymous asks: Gardner. Lead off guy? Centerfielder? Big time contributor or eventual fourth outfielder/pinch runner?

That was a pretty awesome catch. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

If he continues to play like he did last year, he’s a legit leadoff hitter that can play center full-time. He’s just masquerading as a leftfielder now because of Curtis Granderson. The wrist injury and subsequent offseason surgery is a bit of a problem and we don’t know if or how it will effect Gardner in the long run, so that’s something we’re just going to have to wait and see about.

Remember, Gardner is already 27, so this is pretty much what he’s going to be going forward. He won’t suddenly develop power, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He absolutely needs to get better at bunting, but the overall skill set is there to be a legit big league leadoff man for a few seasons. I believe in his ability to be at least an average regular a whole lot more now than I did twelve months ago, and at the absolute worst he’s a good reserve outfielder.

Mark asks: How many games will Jorge Posada have to play and what offensive #’s will he have to put up in 2011 to obtain a contract for 2012? Or due to his age and inability to play defense are we simply counting down the time until we say goodbye to yet another of the all-time Yankee greats to wear the pinstripes later this fall?

I’m in the camp that thinks (hopes) Jorge will retire after the season. Even if he doesn’t, any contract he gets for 2012 would absolutely have to be a one-year deal. That’s imperative. But in order for him to get a new deal after the season, Posada would need to a) handle the move to DH with ease, and b) hit at an above average rate for the position. Offense around the league sucked last season, and AL DH’s (not counting NL DH’s in interleague play) hit just .252/.336/.426 in 2010. Posada easily cleared that playing mostly catcher (.248/.357/.454) and over the last three seasons he’s hit .267/.361/.474, so being an above average DH shouldn’t be much of an issue. Moving to the new position can be, since we’ve seen some playing in the past having trouble dealing with all the down time between at-bats. Becoming a full-time DH after playing the field for two decades isn’t as easy as it seems.

To be perfectly honest, I had never even considered the possibility that Posada could be back in 2012. I don’t think that either A-Rod or Jeter will erode so much next summer that they’ll be relegated to full-time DH duties in 2012, so it seems like the opportunity will be there if Jorge wants to come back for another season. But like I said, one-year contract, nothing more. They already gave him his legacy contract.

What’s the excuse now?

In the unlikely event that you missed it last night, the Yankees have agreed to a contract with free agent reliever Rafael Soriano. I’m not a fan of the deal at all but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead I want to rant about a member of the pitching staff directly impacted by the Soriano signing, and that’s Joba Chamberlain.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

It’s pretty obvious by now that the Yankees have very little faith in Joba. If they did, they wouldn’t have bent over backwards to sign Soriano when the market for his services was non-existent. Part of that is on Joba and part of it is on the team for mishandling him so badly. I’m usually on board with most of the moves the team makes and have spent many hours defending Brian Cashman and the rest of the brain trust, but there’s no denying that they completely botched Joba’s long-term development. They were desperate for late inning relief help in 2007 because (wait for it) the last free agent reliever they signed to a multi-year deal flamed out. They just compounded the issue by refusing to send him back to the minors to get back in 2008 so that he could get back on a normal development track.

So what do they have now, they have a middle reliever with admittedly fantastic peripheral stats and zero consistency. What they don’t have is any decent help for the back of the rotation. Signing Soriano doesn’t help the rotation at all, Sergio Mitre can still stink up the first five innings just as easily as he could have before. Will they take this opportunity to move Joba back to the rotation, turning an absurd contract for a reliever into actual help for the starting staff? I doubt it, and that’s what annoys the crap out of me.

Before the Yankees started screwing around with Joba’s innings limitations in 2009, he was fantastic as a starter. The guy made 34 full starts from June 2008 through August 2009, meaning he wasn’t pulled early and was allowed to empty the tank. In those 34 starts, he had a 3.54 ERA (3.97 FIP) with 8.50 K/9, 3.84 uIBB/9, and 0.92 HR/9. Opponents had .329 wOBA off him during that time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say Joba was some kind of ace caliber starter during this time, but good grief, he was 23 years old basically the whole time. He was better and younger than Phil Hughes was in 2010. If a young kid performs like that in the AL East, you don’t stick him in the bullpen, you keep him in the rotation because at worst, he’s a mid-rotation starter. At best, he’s on his way to becoming something more.

I’m not asking for a miracle here, just give the guy a chance to start again in Spring Training. There’s basically no downside. If he gets hurt and his days as an effective pitcher come to an end, who cares? All the Yankees would be losing is a seventh inning reliever. If it works, well then geez, you’ve got yourself a young big league starter, something the team could really use right about now. It’s Spring Training, just try it. That’s all I’m asking. Just make an effort, give him the same kind of rope they gave Hughes this past year.

Now, I’m certain there are things going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. Heck, Joba’s shoulder could be shredded for all I know. If it is, then they need to trade him as soon as possible and make it someone else’s problem. If there are concerns about his attitude and they’re worried about him getting to comfortable, then just trade him. Stringing him along in middle relief isn’t the answer. And please, all that nonsense about his stuff playing up in the bullpen … give me a break. Of course it’s true, just like it’s true for every other pitcher in the history of the universe. That’s not a good enough reason, it’s just a cop out.

If the Yankees aren’t going to put Joba in the rotation now that they have Soriano on board, I just don’t know what to say. I’m really at my wit’s end here, I just can not fathom why they’ve already ruled him out as a starter after just 34 uninterrupted starts across two seasons, especially when he pitched pretty well. Having the kid pitch 70 innings of middle relief a season is a gigantic waste of resources, but then again that’s nothing new for the Yankees. I fully acknowledge that Soriano will make the Yankees a better team in 2011 but I don’t like the terms of the contract and I certainly don’t like what’s continuing to happen with Joba. It’s a tremendous waste, and refusing to take the necessary steps to correct things only compounds the problem. I really don’t know what more to say, I feel like this same post has been written a million times in the last year or two. I just don’t get it, I’ll continue to not get it.