Open Thread: Why signing bench players isn’t worth it

Geoff Blum doing something to help his team lose. (AP Photo)

Geoff Blum, he of the .242/.299/.368 batting line since 2004 (2,390 plate appearances), signed a two-year deal worth $2M with the Diamondbacks today. Two years, $2M. He’ll turn 38 in April. Again, two years, $2M. Sure, he can play all over the field, but his UZR’s are negative pretty much everywhere. For roughly the league minimum, Ramiro Pena or Eduardo Nunez will suck just as much. Having a good bench is a tremendous advantage, but Blum represents the kind of help that’s out there. It’s awful, which is why going in-house or making trades for reserves is the way to go.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. MNF has the Eagles at the Redskins, plus you’ve also got the Rangers, Devils, and Nets in action. Chat about whatever you like, just don’t be a dick.

Yanks announce ’11 tix as bleachers up to $15

The Yankees unveiled their 2011 ticket prices this afternoon, and while most prices will not go up, the team announced increases for six price points including the bleachers. While most tickets that are witnessing an increase will go up by $5, the $12 bleacher seats will now cost $15 for both season-ticket packages and single-game sales. The $5 obstructed-view seats will remain as such, and the Yankees are not cutting any ticket prices this year.

Yankees’ COO Lonn Trost spoke this afternoon with Mike Francesa about the rationale behind the ticket increases, and he explained how the team used the secondary market to gauge demand. Since the Yanks routinely saw bleacher seats sold at 175 percent mark-ups, the team determined they could raise the prices and opted for a 25-percent mark-up. The 2011 ticket prices are listed at the Yankees’ website, and I’ll try to summarize the key increases.

While 54 percent of Yankee Stadium seats will still be priced at $50 or less, a good portion of the seats in the lower levels will see increases. In the Main Level, Sections 205-209 and 231-234, prices are increasing by $5 from $45 to $50 for a full season and $50 to $55 for partial ticket holders. Seats in sections 210-212 and 228-230 will rise from $60-$65 for full packages, but partials will stay at $70. Main level seats in sections 213-214b and 226-227b will increase from $75 to $80.

At the field level, rows 12-30 in sections 116-124 will increase to $260 full plan holders. Game-day ticket prices for these seats will increase from $300 to $325. Season tickets for the field level, rows 15-30 in sections 112-113 and 127b-128 and rows 1-14 in sections 108-11 and 129-131 will now cost $110 for a full plan holders and $115 for partial plan holders. Rows 15-30 in sections 108-111 and 129-131 will now cost $80 for full plans.

In addition to the prices that are going up, Trost mentioned that the team will soon be selling ticket packages for multiple seasons that are locked in at the purchase price. For example, fans who buy tickets for three years at the 2011 price point won’t have to pay for price increases in the years that covered by the initial purchase contract.

Of course, no one wants to see ticket prices increase, but Trost’s claims bear out the increase. He says that the Yanks are constantly playing to 95 percent capacity, and even when the seats appear empty on TV, the tickets have been sold. Either fans are no-shows — which happens a small percentage of the time — or they are wandering the stadium. The Yankee Museum, Trost said, has been a very popular in-game destination, and the various bars and restaurants have drawn fans away from their seats as well.

Essentially, the increases are a prime example of ticket economics at work. The Yankees might be increasing their payroll and know that the secondary market supports higher prices. The team wants to and can capture that revenue. Thus, many people will be paying more for their tickets come 2011.

Yanks “expecting a sell-out” for Saturday’s Army/Notre Dame game

During his interview with Francesa, Trost spoke about the debut of college football at Yankee Stadium. Because the new stadium cost so much to build, the Yankees need it to become a year-round venue, and Trost has spent a lot of time working to ensure a smooth game on Saturday. If ticket sales are any indication, he will succeed.

The team has sold 51,000 tickets for the game, and while a few seats remain, the club is “expecting a sell-out.” Astute readers will note that Yankee Stadium’s baseball capacity is under that 51,000 mark, and Trost says they’ve added seats by installing temporary bleachers in the bullpens and on the field. For those heading to the game, Metro-North is running extra trains as well.

With Lee, Yanks would have to increase payroll

When it comes to the Yankees’ budget we hear, for the most part, vague statements. Last winter Brian Cashman kept saying that ownership gave him a number he had to stay under. This year Hal Steinbrenner has said that 2011 payroll will be on par with 2010. But does that mean the 2010 Opening Day payroll, or the final number that included Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman? With the work the Yanks have to do on the roster I’d hope it’s the latter. But we just don’t know. What we do know — or at least what we can reasonably assume — is that if the Yankees sign Cliff Lee this off-season, the team payroll will increase considerably by 2014.

If you head over to Cot’s you can see every team’s payroll obligations through 2014. For the most part you see one, maybe two players per team in that column, if any. What’s most common is an option buy-out. Most teams do not have significant commitments four years into the future, and for good reason. Even one bad contract can significantly hamper their flexibility. The Yankees are in a different position than every other team. They can make these commitments, knowing that there will be money in the checking account.

The only question the Yankees face is of how far they’re willing to expand future payroll. If they play their cards carefully they can probably sign Cliff Lee and still come in with a payroll under $210 million. That will include big contracts for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira. They’ll shed some of those contracts in the next few years, but they won’t shed all of them. In fact, if they sign Lee to a five-year contract worth the same $23 million Sabathia earns annually, they will have $96.5 million committed to four players in 2014. That does not bode well for payroll flexibility.

What’s worse, in 2014 those four players will be at the tail end of their primes, if they haven’t already exited. Alex Rodriguez will be 38; Mark Teixeira will be 34; CC Sabathia will be 33; Cliff Lee will be 35. We’ve seen players put up superb numbers at those ages, but those are the exceptions. While all four of the above are exceptional players, I think it’s a bit optimistic to think that they’ll all be producing at elite levels in 2014. Even if they are, they’ll still cost nearly half of what the Yankees have paid for the entire team in recent years. Should that then cause them to back off Lee?

If the Yankees plan to stand firm and not raise payroll significantly above $200 million, they probably need to give serious thought to the Lee question. To put it into perspective, the Yankees currently have roughly $140 million committed to eight players (plus Marte, who is dead weight) in 2011. That’s $17.5 million per player, with 17 more spots to fill. In 2014, with Lee in tow, they’d be committing $24.125 million per player, with 21 more spots to fill. I’ll leave that without commentary as to let it sink in.

If the Yankees do sign Cliff Lee this off-season, they’ll have made one thing clear: that they’re going to raise payroll, perhaps by a significant amount, over the next four years. With those four mega contracts running through 2015, at the earliest, the Yankees need more money in order to put players around them. Good players do not come cheap. Unless the Yankees’ farm system produces a string of stars in the coming years, there isn’t much of an alternative.

The RAB Radio Show: November 15, 2010

The RAB Radio Show has returned, but we’re taking a different approach this time. Every day around this time you’ll get a short burst of Mike and Joe, oftentimes with a guest, talking about the Yankee news of the day.

Today we’re talking Rookies of the Year. It’s tough to argue with the winners, though Mike and I hit on some of the finer points of the results. Two former Yankees farmhands, Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata, received votes.

Then it’s to the pitching coach situation. What are the Yankees looking for in Eiland’s replacement? Who’s the favorite now? That’s what we’re talking about.

Podcast run time: 20:34

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.

Posey, Feliz named Rookies of the Year

Buster Posey of the Giants and Neftali Feliz of the Rangers were named the Rookie of the Year in their respective leagues this afternoon. Posey, who racked up a .368 wOBA and 3.9 fWAR in 108 games, narrowly beat out Jason Heyward of the Braves for the award (129-107 voting). Feliz, 2.96 FIP and 1.7 fWAR  in 70 appearances, edged former Yankee farmhand Austin Jackson for the AL crown (122-98). A-Jax received eight first place votes, and no Yankees appeared on the ballot. I’m not even sure who would have been a candidate. Maybe Ivan Nova? Yikes.

Anyway, congrats to Posey and Feliz.

Details emerge in Scranton Yanks sale dispute

An artist's rendering of the proposed renovations to Scranton's PNC Field.

We reported last week on the impending sale of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre AAA franchise to the Yankees and Mandalay Bay. At the time, the details included a $40-million stadium renovation plan and a $14.8-million price tag on the franchise. But since then, more information has come to light that sheds a less-than-flattering light on the stadium shenanigans.

Currently, two parallel disputes have the potential to plague the project. The first is a lawsuit brought by Luzerne County officials. They claim that because they ponied up $1 million in 1986 — or half of the purchase price for the franchise — they are now owed half of the money from the impending sale. Lackawanna County, the physical home of the franchise and selling party, filed a countersuit requesting $20 million or half of what it has spent on baseball. The impending lawsuits will derail immediate plans to use the proceeds from the stadium sale.

Meanwhile, the sale and sweetheart terms of the agreement — more on that in a second — seem to be the product of intense lobbying by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. As The Times-Tribune reported yesterday, Rendell was a driving factor behind the sale and pledged $20 million in state money to fund the ballpark renovations as well. He didn’t do anything wrong or illegal, but his actions have led to the tensions in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Furthermore, now that details of the lease agreement have leaked, this deal is looking more and more like a losing proposition for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. The $14.7 million the county will receive from the purchase of the franchise is to be reinvested in stadium upgrades, and the state will add in another $20 million. Neither the SWB Yankees nor the purchasing entity — the New York Yankees and Mandalay Bay — would have to chip in any additional money for the stadium upgrades. If the renovations come in under budget, the remaining dollars will be held in a sinking fund for future improvements and repairs.

And so what we have is yet another municipal stadium mess. Lackawanna County contends that baseball will depart from Northeast Pennsylvania without this investment while Luzerne County claims the sale price of the franchise is too low. More than $7 million from the purchase of the team will be held by the court, and the battle — and state’s and city’s willingness to fork over $40 million in taxpayer dollars with dubious fiscal returns — will loom over the 2011 AAA season.

After the jump, I’ve posted the Memorandum of Understanding between the Multi-Purpose Stadium Authority of Lackawanna County and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. It highlights how much of a good deal the franchise is getting in this sale. [Read more…]

What Went Wrong: A.J. Burnett

The Yankees added two high priced free agent starters last offseason, and while CC Sabathia has been worth every penny of his contract so far, the same can’t be said of A.J. Burnett. He was good enough during his first year in pinstripes and nothing short of brilliant in the team’s most important game of the 2009 season, but Burnett’s follow-up campaign was well below expectations and left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Ironically enough, Burnett’s season started in a very good way. Following his first outing of the year, in which he allowed three runs in five innings against the Red Sox, Burnett went through a stretch in which he allowed zero earned runs in three of four starts. His ERA sat at 1.99 through his first five starts of the season (with a sparkly 4-1 record), and after eleven starts he was still sporting a 3.28 ERA while the Yanks were 8-3 with him on the mound. There were some warning signs, however, most notably with A.J.’s strikeout rate. It had dropped to just 6.7 K/9, just about two full strikeouts off from last year’s pace. But hey, it was just eleven starts and Burnett was throwing the ball well, we all figured the strikeouts would come eventually.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. Well, the low strikeout rate did, but not the success. In his 12th start of the season Burnett allowed six runs in six innings against the Blue Jays. Six days later he surrendered four runs in six innings to the Orioles, and the next three starts after that resulted in 33 baserunners and 19 runs in just 10.1 innings. Put it all together and Burnett’s June was statistically the worst ever by a Yankee starter: five starts, five losses, an 11.35 ERA and an almost unfathomable .471 wOBA against. All of the good work he did in April and May was washed away, and halfway through the season he was sporting a 5.25 ERA and the Yanks were just 8-8 in his starts.

The June collapse coincided with the absence of the now departed pitching coach Dave Eiland, who was away for personal reasons. The narrative practically wrote itself, Burnett would get better once his regular pitching coach returns. And you know what? He did for a while. With Eiland back with the team, A.J. threw 6.2 scoreless innings against the Jays, then limited Oakland to two runs in seven innings next time out. Things seemed to be going well, but after the Rays hung for runs on him in just two innings, Burnett slammed his hand into a clubhouse door out of frustration, cutting it open. He apologized to his teammates and had his next pushed back a few days to deal with the injury, but he then threw 11.1 scoreless innings against the lowly Royals and Indians.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

As late as August 1st Burnett had himself a tolerable 4.52 ERA that lined up with his 4.59 FIP, certainly not what the Yankees were expecting out of their Opening Day number two starter but not completely horrific. Well, that’s when things got horrific. In his first outing of August, the Jays scored eight runs before Burnett could complete the fifth. The rest of the month featured a 7.80 ERA and yet again five losses in five starts. After the end of July, A.J. pitched to a 6.61 ERA (5.23 FIP) and as hard as it is to believe, the Yankees won just two of his final dozen starts the rest of the season.

Unsurprisingly, Burnett did not make the team’s three-man ALDS rotation, and their pounding of the Twins meant his services weren’t needed in relief either. He did make the team’s ALCS rotation by default, taking the mound in Game Four with the Rangers up two games to one in the series. Burnett actually wasn’t terrible in that start, holding the Rangers to just a pair of runs (without the benefit of a ball leaving the infield) in the first five innings. With the tying run on second with two outs in the sixth inning, Joe Girardi had Burnett intentionally walk David Murphy to face Bengie Molina. The first pitch pitch of the encounter was supposed to be low and away but it wound up up and in, and Molina turned on it for a go-ahead three run homer. The damage was done, and instead of walking off the mound feeling good about himself, A.J. went back to the dugout hearing the loudest boos of the season. Rather remarkable considering how the fans treated him in the second half.

The end result of Burnett’s season was 33 starts but just 186.2 innings (almost exactly 5.2 IP per start), so he was taxing the bullpen on a regular basis. In fairness, that number is slightly skewed by three starts in which Burnett was forced to exit early due to rain. His 5.26 ERA was easily a career worst, though his 4.83 FIP was merely awful. The 6.99 batters Burnett struck out per nine innings pitched was his worst mark since 2001, and he led the league with 19 hit batters and 37 stolen bases allowed. All told, opposing batters posted a .362 wOBA against the Yanks’ $16.5M man, so he basically turned every hitter he faced into the 2010 version of Alex Rodriguez. The total package was worth just 1.3 fWAR, ranking 90th out of the 103 pitchers that threw at least 150 innings in 2010.

The Yankees knew that Burnett was pretty unpredictable when they signed him to that five-year, $82.5M contract last winter, but I don’t think anyone expected him to go south this hard, this quickly. The lack of strikeouts is most concerning, since the ability to miss bats was the one thing A.J. has excelled at his entire career. His curveball, which checked in at 16.0 runs above average in 2009 (fourth best in baseball) dropped off to 3.9 runs below average, one of the eleven worst in the game. Whoever replaces Eiland as pitching coach will have the work cut out for them, starting right here with Burnett.