Votto takes home NL MVP Award

Joey Votto was named the National League Most Valuable Player this afternoon, receiving all but one of the 32 place votes. Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Troy Tulowitzki round out the top five. Votto finished the year at .324/.424/.600 (.439) with 7.4 fWAR, second only to Josh Hamilton.

The Yankees were going to select Votto with their first pick (71st overall) in the 2002 draft, but the Reds beat them to it. The Yanks surrendered their first round pick to the A’s that year when they signed Jason Giambi. Congrats to Votto, this might not be his last MVP.

Arbitration Decision: Javier Vazquez

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

As Joe detailed this morning, the Yanks’ decision to offer salary arbitration to Derek Jeter is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, their other key free agent made things difficult when he had an utterly terrible 2010. Still, I’d be willing to run the risk of extending a salary arbitration offer to Javier Vazquez.

The Javier Vazquez story begins last year when the Yanks decided to trade for him. In a deal I now call the Boone Logan Trade, the Yanks sent Melky Cabrera, Michael Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino to the Braves for Logan and Vazquez. What made the deal so appealing was Vazquez’s contract status. With just one year left, the Yanks assumed he would maintain his recent success and his Type A status. The team would offer arbitration, and he would probably reject it. Had he accepted it, the Yanks would have had a quality pitcher at a reasonable rate.

Instead, Javy pitched himself all the way to Type B status. Javy went just 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA and threw only 157.1 innings. His strike outs dropped by 3 per 9 IP, and his walk rate doubled while his fastball velocity dipped well below 90. It was an utterly disastrous season, and the Yanks have a tough decision to make.

A few weeks ago, Mike went on the record with his view on the Javy issue. He wrote:

Javy Vazquez is a no-brainer. He’s a Type-B who made $11.5M in 2010, and of course he was awful (-0.2 fWAR) due to stuff that deteriorated as the season progressed. The best course of action is to simply cut ties and walk away. I know the Yanks considered two draft picks to be part of the deal (he was a Type-A once upon a time), but things didn’t work out. No sense in trying to force the issue, let Javy walk with no stings attached.

I disagree. The Yankees should offer Vazquez arbitration, and I doubt he would accept it. They could salvage something of this deal after all.

This move should come down to three factors. The first is Javy’s need to get out of New York. He’s still only 34 years old and ostensibly wants to keep pitching. To continue with his career — a career that saw him average 200 strike outs and 216 IP from 2000-2009 — he needs to pitch somewhere in which he is comfortable and can succeed. As much as I’m hesitant to believe that some players just don’t have the je ne sais quois to pitch in New York, Javy seems to fit the bill.

Furthermore, other teams are interested in him. The Nationals are interested in Vazquez, and the Marlins have met with him as well. Javy himself wants to pitch for the Marlins and appears to have interest from five other teams.

Finally, the Hot Stove League’s rumblings and grumblings suggest that Javy wants more than a one-year deal. Low-level rumors have Vazquez shooting for a three-year contract, and with a high level of interest among fringe teams, he should be able to secure a multi-year commitment. Considering these factors, the odds are slim that he’d accept arbitration.

But let’s assume that the Yankees offer him arbitration, and he accepts. The two sides could agree on a one-year deal followed by a trade or the two sides could go to a hearing. Since Javy would probably lose the hearing, the Yankees could wind up paying him under $10 million next year. While holding out hope in Javy might just be a fool’s errand, he could justify such a meager investment. After all, he was a 5-win pitcher in the AL as recently as 2008, and unless his arm is totally shot, he’s due for a bounce-back year in 2011.

Still, though, I’d put the odds of his accepting arbitration at no greater than five percent, and for the chance to secure a draft pick and salvage the trade, those are odds I would play. The Yankees have been risk-averse when it comes to their arbitration offers to free agents on the bubble, and I would be more surprised to see them offer arbitration to Javy than not. If they’re willing to roll the dice though, they just might make a move that proves to be both risky and smart.

Arbitration Decision: Derek Jeter

In 2000, Jeter reminds us how many rings he got. His reward: $189 million. (Amy Sancetta/AP)

Normally the Yankees would have another week or so before they had to decide whether to offer Derek Jeter, along with their other free agents, salary arbitration. Unless something happens to any of their free agents in the next week that won’t change the decision process. The difference is that we learn their intentions a bit earlier. In the past couple of years that has meant little, as the Yankees haven’t offered any of their free agents arbitration. This year, though, we could see a couple.

Earlier in the month Mike looked at some of the arbitration decisions and determined that the Yankees probably shouldn’t offer it to anyone except maybe Lance Berkman. I disagree. I don’t see any downside in offering it to Derek Jeter. He and the Yankees are working through a negotiation, and the offer of salary arbitration can act as an advantage for the Yankees. At this point, with no contract on the near horizon, they should certainly make the offer.

If Jeter declines

The Yankees have reportedly offered Jeter three years and $45 million. That’s just an opening gambit. There is no way the Jeter camp accepts. The Yankees know this. But the Yankees also know that few, if any, other teams would put this much on the table if Jeter decided to solicit offers. Adding an arbitration offer would create an even larger advantage.

If Jeter declines arbitration, teams would then have to not only beat three years at $45 million, but would also have to sacrifice a first round draft pick. True, the bottom 15 teams would have to sacrifice only a second rounder, but take a look at the draft order. Would Jeter sign with any of the teams with protected picks? Perhaps the Dodgers, but it doesn’t sound as though they have much money. But starting with the Tigers teams would have to give up their first rounder. Would they be willing to beat the contract and give up the pick? If the first is unlikely, the second makes it a no-contest.

The Yankees already have the leverage in this negotiation. They’ve made Jeter an offer well above what the open market would provide. Jeter risks tarnishing his image by picking up his ball and going to another team for less money. The Yankees might take a temporary PR hit for not bringing back their captain, but they will have offered him the most money. If they keep winning, they will recover from any black eyes. Offering arbitration only adds to this leverage.

If Jeter accepts

The chances of Jeter accepting arbitration are quite slim. From what we’ve heard he wants a deal of at least four years. Accepting arbitration would not only mean he gets just one year, but it means he goes through the same charade again next year. This is why offering him arbitration is basically a risk-free decision. The Yankees gain leverage with only a small chance of an adverse effect.

Even if Jeter does accept arbitration, is that so bad for the Yankees? They’d still have time to work out a deal between now and the February hearing. All it would do is guarantee Jeter’s spot on the 2011 team at a certain salary. Since he made $22 million last year I presume that he wouldn’t submit a figure of over $25 million; the Yankees will probably offer that same $22 million and would likely win if Jeter went over $25 million. That’s what happens when you have your worst season at age 36.

Given the upside and downside of the decision, I can’t see any reason for the Yankees to not offer arbitration. By not offering it they make Jeter slightly more attractive to other teams. I don’t think that will ever become a factor, but negotiations can go bust at any time. In the unlikely event that Jeter or the Yankees decide to walk away from the table, the draft pick compensation will at least give the Yankees something should Jeter decide to sign elsewhere. It’s not much compared to what Jeter could bring them in 2011, but it’s certainly better than getting nothing should things go horribly wrong.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 22nd, 2010

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:125}

Mailbag: Willy Aybar

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Dax asks: I read somewhere (I think it was MLBTR) that the Rays are going to non-tender Willy Aybar. What do you guys think of him as a bench player? I know it’s not the 1st order of business, but I think he’d make a good addition. He can play 3rd, 2nd and 1st.

I’ve been an Aybar fan since he was with the Dodgers and I was actually the one that wrote the non-tender post about him at MLBTR. The Rays declined his $2.2M option earlier this month but since he only has four or so years of service time, he’s arbitration eligible for both 2011 and 2012. They’ll have to non-tender him before the December 2nd deadline for the Yankees to be interested. I don’t see why they’d try to trade for him without at least seeing if he hits the open market first.

Some background: Aybar signed with the Dodgers as an international free agent back in 2000 and was eventually traded to the Braves for … former Yankee Wilson Betemit. Look at that. He battled injuries and substance abuse with Atlanta for a season-and-a-half before being traded to the Rays for no one in particular (Jeff Ridgway) before the 2008 season. They used him as a stopgap third baseman until a) Evan Longoria was called up in April, and b) he hit the disabled list for a hamstring strain. Aybar’s been sort of a utility player/platoon designated hitter since.

Aybar was rock solid during his first year in Tampa, putting up an ever so slightly below league average .321 wOBA in 324 plate appearances while spending time at first, second, and third bases. The switch-hitter mashed lefties, tagging them for a .347 wOBA. That total package was worth 1.6 fWAR, a bargain for a salary that barely cracked $400,000. That performance landed him a two-year contract worth $2.6M, buying out his first two years of arbitration as a Super Two. The deal also included the option that the team just declined.

Aybar was even better offensively in 2009, posting a .328 wOBA overall and .381 wOBA against southpaws. He dropped down to 0.2 fWAR because UZR hated his defense, though he was still a fine utility option for a team on a budget. Unfortunately, Aybar’s slide continued into 2010. He wOBA’d just .293 overall and .304 against lefties, though I’m sure you remember this shot. Tampa had some younger and better defensive infielders on the roster, so Aybar spent almost all of his time at DH. At -0.5 fWAR, he was a total drag on the team’s payroll.

So what’s going on here, why has Aybar’s production slipped? It all starts with getting the bat on the ball, and Aybar’s ability to make contact has gone south since 2008. That year he made contact on 92.1% of the pitches he swung at in the strike zone, but it then dropped to 91.0% in 2009 and then again to 88.8% in 2010. His overall contact rate declined as well, from 87.7% to 84.7% to 83.9%. Aybar made things worse by swinging at more pitches out of the zone, offering at 24.8% of such offerings in 2010, up about 3% from previous years. Pitchers obviously picked up on this and guess what? They stopped throwing him strikes. Just 46.2% of the pitches Aybar saw in 2010 were in the strike zone, down from 48.1% in 2009 and 50.9% in 2008. Unsurprisingly, Aybar’s strikeout rate has climbed steadily over the last three seasons…

And up goes the strikeout rate. (via FanGraphs)

Plate discipline and the ability to get the bat on the ball aren’t easily correctable based on what we’ve seen historically, though it can always happen. Kevin Long did a bang up job helping Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson make harder contact as their time in pinstripes went on, but they still struck out at their previous rates. We can’t just assume that K-Long will fix Aybar’s ever-increasing whiff issues.

Now that’s not to say he’s a lost cause. Aybar still offers solid pop and aside from 2010, his track record against lefties is very strong. He doesn’t turn 28 until March, so it’s not like age-related performance decline is a concern. He can play the corner infield spots and also fill in at second in a pinch, and I’m willing to bet left field would be an option as well if they let him try it. Bill James projects Aybar to return to a .322 wOBA level next year, which is far better than what Ramiro Pena did this season (.247 wOBA). The problem is that you’d still have to carry someone like Pena or Eduardo Nunez to play the middle infield consistently, so in reality you’re looking at Aybar as a Marcus Thames replacement. The designated lefty masher that’s slightly more usable in the field.

None of this matters unless the Rays non-tender Aybar, of course. I suspect they will because they’re cutting payroll next year and they already have superior (and cheaper) utility options like Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez on the roster. Cutting Aybar would result in about $2M in savings, not an insignificant amount for a club expected to have a $60M or so payroll. If/when he gets non-tendered I’d certainly want the Yankees to at least kick the tires and see if there’s a fit. Aybar could command $2M or so on the open market, which is very reasonable if he gets back to crushing southpaws. It’s certainly more preferable to Bill Hall, in my opinion. Like I said before, I’m a fan, so I’d be down with Aybar on the bench in 2011.

Open Thread: Baffled

Pastadiving... (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

You probably heard by now, but Derek Jeter‘s agent Casey Close is “baffled” by how the Yankees are negotiating with his client. “Derek’s significance to the team is much more than just stats,” said Close, who is certainly right. There’s undeniably a marketing and off-the-field aspect of Derek Jeter that the team has to consider when offering him a contract, and you know what? They did when they proposed three years and $45M. If Close wants to go out and shop that offer around the league, the Yanks should tell him good luck. Jeter has basically no leverage here, no other team will come close to that kind of money so all he has going for him is the team’s fear of bad PR, which I suspect isn’t nearly as great as we think. I understand that Close’s job is to get as much money for his client as possible, but come on man. Baffled?

Anyway, there’s my mini-rant for the night. The late NFL game has the Giants at the Eagles. If Eli can’t do what Vick did last week, they should trade him for Brett Far-vra. Talk about whatever, enjoy.

Pena debuts in winter ball

The Arizona Fall League regular season came to end on Thursday, and Bryce Harper’s Scottsdale Scorpions topped the Peoria Javelinas to win the league title yesterday. The Phoenix Desert Dogs finished the season at 11-17, the second worst record in the circuit. For shame.

AzFL Phoenix (5-5 tie with Mesa on Monday)
Brandon Laird, LF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – the homer left the stadium
Jose Pirela, 2B: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K

AzFL Phoenix (2-1 win over Scottsdale in seven innings on Tuesday)
Brandon Laird, LF: 0 for 3 – threw a runner out at the plate
Austin Romine, C: 0 for 2
Manny Banuelos: 5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 9-3 GB/FB – 44 of his 75 pitches were strikes (58.7%) … allowed just three runs in his final three starts (12 IP)
George Kontos: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1-2 GB/FB – just six of his 14 pitches were strikes (42.9%)
Ryan Pope: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0-1 GB/FB – nine of 14 pitches were strikes (64.3%)

AzFL Phoenix (10-4 win over Peoria on Wednesday)
Brandon Laird, LF: 3 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI

AzFL Phoenix (3-3 tie with Surprise in seven innings on Thursday) what a crappy way to end the season
Brandon Laird, LF: 1 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 K – finished at just .236/.282/.436 with 26 strikeouts and six walks in 116 plate appearances
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 3, 1 K – .279/.313/.328 with 13 strikeouts and three walks in 64 plate appearances
Jose Pirela, 2B: 0 for 3, 1 K – just .180/.237/.247 with 20 strikeouts and six walks in 95 plate appearances

ESPN’s Jason Grey blurbed about Banuelos being on the top pitching prospects in the AzFL (Insider req’d), saying that he was “touching up to 95 mph in shorter stints, and sitting at 91-93 mph in his starts” with a “plus changeup that was a true strikeout pitch.” Just some more praise for a kid that’s been getting plenty of it this year.

So that’s it for the AzFL, but we still have the various winter leagues around the globe to check up on…

Australian Baseball League
Nathan Aron: 4 G, 4 for 12, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 4 K, 1 HBP (.333/.357/.417)
Kyle Perkins: 2 G, 0 for 2, 2 K – made a mistake last week, he’s not 0-for-6 with six strikeouts

Dominican Winter League
Francisco Santana: 6 G, 2 for 8, 2 R, 2 K (.250/.250/.250)
Wilkins Arias: 9 G, 6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 K (2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League
Walt Ibarra: 29 G, 27 for 91, 20 R, 4 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 6 BB, 21 K, 3 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.297/.343/.374)
Ramiro Pena: 3 G, 3 for 10, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 1 K (.300/.462/.400) – watch out, Derek!
Jorge Vazquez: 14 G, 17 for 51, 8 R, 4 2B, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 6 BB, 15 K, 1 CS (.333/.404/.588)
Francisco Gil: 4 G, 6 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 WP (10.50 ERA, 2.17 WHIP) – didn’t pitch this week
Eric Wordekemper: 16 G, 15.2 IP, 18 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 5 BB, 15 K, 1 WP (5.17 ERA, 1.47 WHIP)

Venezuelan Winter League
Luis Nunez: 8 G, 3 for 13, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP (.231/.286/.231)
Romulo Sanchez: 5 IP, 4.1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 2 K (8.31 ERA, 2.31 WHIP)
Josh Schmidt: 7 G, 6 GS, 33.2 IP, 18 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 14 BB, 36 K (1.60 ERA, 0.95 WHIP)