The Experience returns for 2011

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Late last night we learned that the Yankees had re-signed Sergio Mitre to a one-year contract worth just $900,000 guaranteed with another $200,000 available in unspecified performance bonuses. Mitre was arbitration-eligible for the third and final time, and the Yankees had to at least offer him a contract by midnight tonight to retain his rights. They took it one step further and actually got the contract done before the deadline, giving him a very modest (in baseball terms) $50,000 raise. The move almost certainly spells the end of Dustin Moseley’s tenure in pinstripes, but I don’t think too many will complain about that.

Now we know who the Yanks’ swingman will be in 2011 and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Mitre was clearly the best of the group that included him, Moseley, and the already departed Chad Gaudin, posting the best ERA (3.33), WHIP (1.09), FIP (4.69), xFIP (4.34), tRA (4.97), WPA (-0.38), and fWAR (0.0) of the trio. By just about every measure – old school or advanced – he was the guy for the job just by being replacement level. Remember, Mitre finished this season extremely well, allowing 20 baserunners and just five runs in his final 20.1 innings after August 3rd, good for a 2.21 ERA and a .278 wOBA. We just didn’t see very much of him because the Yanks were trying to force feed Gaudin a playoff roster spot.

Most fans aren’t fond of the move because Mitre certainly isn’t great, and they believe the Yanks can find someone better. Well, like who? The list of free agents and potential non-tenders doesn’t offer much, maybe Kyle Davies or John Maine or Brian Bannister or Brian Moehler could do the job, but they all have significant warts of their own. The concept of a “huge upside long reliever” is a fallacy (unless you’re using a top prospect in that role), those guys are getting more important jobs. There’s also the price issue, the Yanks are paying Mitre very little in the grand scheme of things, and there’s no guarantee that any of the alternatives would a) sign for a similar price, and/or b) pitch better.

The other set of alternatives are in-house, guys stashed in Triple-A like Romulo Sanchez or Hector Noesi or D.J. Mitchell. Those options remain in play though, Mitre’s not going to block them just as he didn’t block Ivan Nova in 2010. All they did when they re-signed Serg is add a piece to the inventory, a known commodity at a reasonable price to fill out the fringes of the big league roster. That’s all, nothing major. Every team has guys like that because they’re a necessary evil.

I’m not saying you should jump for joy over Mitre re-signing, but when you consider the alternatives, there’s no reason to hate it. It’s a low consequence move; the Yankees need someone they can throw to the wolves and soak up innings every once in a while, and Mitre’s that guy. Better him than an actual prospect (that could have his development stunted) or a free agent being paid seven figures. If when/he stinks, they’ll find someone else to do the job and move on. That’s all you can do with everyone. I mean, yeah, if it was a multi-year deal then it would be an atrocity, but it’s not, so no harm no foul. It’s just another horse for the stable, that’s all.

With expanded October, a lesser regular season

I wonder if anyone has taken an objective look at the Major League Baseball playoffs and said that the October dance needs more teams because that’s what we’re about to get. If baseball’s latest proposal goes through, each league will send an additional team to the playoffs, and the two Wild Card clubs will play a best-of-three series in advance of the LDS rounds.

For many reasons, I don’t find this a particularly appealing idea. For one, as I wrote in early November, the playoffs are simply too long. To maximize national TV exposure, baseball has added more days off than are necessary in October, and the result is a schedule that’s simply too slow after a 162-game regular season. Adding another round and another three or four days to the calendar will slow things to a crawl.

But that’s the lesser argument. The more compelling critique of this plan involves the fact that it cheapens the regular season. Jeff Passan, in a withering takedown of the plan, summarizes:

Imagine the following: The Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees enter the season’s last week with 95 wins apiece. The Boston Red Sox, with 90 wins, hold a comfortable lead for the second wild-card spot, and Minnesota and Texas, each with 90 wins, have wrapped up their divisions. Suddenly, the only teams playing for something in that last week are the two best in the league. They will do everything they can to avoid a wild-card spot despite having clinched playoff spots already. Empty their rotations. Play full bore. A five-game series in the first round is already a crapshoot. A three-game series would be a complete toss-up.

Let’s say the Yankees win the AL East. The Rays exhausted their pitching staff while a team they were five games better than during the regular season – the six-month-long, 162-game regular season – was able to set up its rotation and rest its players. And that’s fair how, exactly?

Passan’s piece highlights the fiscal drive behind the added Wild Card round. Owners figure they can cash on if more teams are in the playoffs because they’ll get more money from the gate receipts, more money from TV and more money from merchandise sales. The owners’ pockets are happy, and when the owners’ pockets are happy, the players are usually well compensated too.

“As a member of a club, you’re talking about extra chances to get into the playoffs and have your season look like a success,” one MLB source said to Passan. “I make the playoffs, I keep my job.”

Passan sees this plan as the further lessening of the regular season. If one third of all baseball teams are in the playoffs, the rat race matters less and less. While Selig and Co. could opt to implement instant replay or ask Fox and ESPN executives to tone down the Boston/New York overkill and expand the overall appeal of the game, they’re going instead for the quick fix.

“Whether it’s the three-game series favored by the majority or the one-game-and-out playoff espoused by some writers – another potential insult to whatever remains of the regular season – the wrongs of expanding baseball’s postseason far outweigh the rights,” Passan wrote. Baseball, he says, “needs to stay true to itself, or at least whatever of itself remains, whatever part hasn’t been cannibalized by a god that’s colored green.”

Yanks re-up with Mitre again

The New York Yankees just cannot quit Sergio Mitre. A non-tender candidate as tomorrow’s midnight deadline approaches, Mitre instead was tendered a contract by the Yanks and will sign for a $900,000 base salary. He can earn another $200,000 in incentives, Jerry Crasnick reported this evening. At that price, Mitre is a fine notch on the depth chart, but he was used sparingly in 2010. He made 27 appearances and threw 54 innings with a decent 3.33 ERA but just a 4.81 K/9 IP and a 2.7 BB/9 IP. He shouldn’t be anything more than the team’s seventh starter and should be among the first to go if they need a roster spot.

Now that Mitre is back in the fold, the Yanks’ only remaining non-tender candidate is Dustin Moseley. Unless the team again wants to stock up on redundant players, there’s absolutely no need to bring back both Moseley and Mitre. Recent history would tell us the Yanks choose otherwise though. We’ll find out soon.

Open Thread: Where It All Started…

Sheesh, look how young and scrawny the captain was in that video. I guess that’s to be expected though, it is 20 years old after all. And how about that, he’s playing third base as well. That’ll serve him well when he moves off shortstop at some point in the future never. I also enjoyed this 12-year-old interview with Derek and Alex Rodriguez; it’s worth watching just to see Jeter’s old cell phone. I think you had to hand-crank that thing to power it up.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The Nets are the only local team in action tonight, which is about as dull as it gets. You guys have done this before, so have at it.

Yanks Under the Knife: Alfredo Aceves, Brett Gardner

Some people have none of the luck. Take, for instance, Alfredo Aceves. While the Yanks said he might have been available during the World Series had the team made it that far, the versatile long-man missed most of 2010 with a back injury. The Yanks announced this afternoon that Aceves had surgery to fix a broken left clavicle yesterday. The righty injured his collar bone in a bike accident in Mexico. Aceves, says the team, will need three months for rehab, and thus, an early March return will put him a few weeks behind schedule.

Meanwhile, Brett Gardner is set to go under the knife next week in order to cure his right wrist tendinitis. After a hot first half in which he hit .309/.396/.415, Gardner posted just a .232/.364/.330 line during the season’s second half and attributed his slide to a very sore wrist. The Yanks expect their left-fielder to be ready for Spring Training.

The RAB Radio Show: December 1, 2010

I don’t mean to scare you away, but: Derek Jeter. No, it’s nothing bad. Mike and I just acknowledge what’s been going around and how it differs from our expectations. I thought we’d have a few more figures exchanged before they settled on something, but all indications are that Jeter has finally drank the reality potion.

(No, I will never stop using that line.)

Want a quality way to fill out a bench? Check out the guys who aren’t tendered contracts. There are a few this time around, and Mike and I go through the pitchers and the bench guys who could help out. They’re long shots mostly, but on the right deal they can provide some punch. Or serviceability, at the very least.

Podcast run time 29:07

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

The Other Hairston Brother

Aside from the obvious (Cliff Lee, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera), we know what the Yankees are looking for this offseason (lefty reliever, bench help) without knowing any real specific targets. That’s fine, I’m sure even the Yanks haven’t 100% decided on who to pursue yet. A new batch of free agents will hit the market tomorrow night, the deadline for teams to offer contracts or arbitration to players with less than six years of service time. If a player isn’t offered a contract at this time, he simply becomes a free agent. The Padres have already let it be known that they’re not going to tender Scott Hairston a contract simply because they either a) can’t afford to, or b) don’t want to pay him upwards of $3MM or more in his third time through arbitration. Luckily for the Yanks, he’s just what they need.

(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

A legion of Yankee fans are enamored with Jerry Hairston because he helped the team to their 2009 World Championship, but his younger brother is no slouch himself. Once one of the game’s top prospects with the Diamondbacks, Scott was ranked the 26th best prospect in the game prior to 2003 by Baseball America, and then the 34th best the next season. Back then he was a middle infielder (like his brother) and a career .322/.402/.571 hitter in the minors (with more walks that strikeouts!), so there were certainly plenty of reasons to be excited.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for Hairston in Arizona; he posted a .303 wOBA in just about 600 plate appearances across four seasons, shifting from second base to the outfield. They dealt him to the Padres a few days before the 2007 trade deadline for minor league reliever Leo Rosales, and Hairston instantly became a hit in San Diego. His first three hits with the Padres were homeruns, one of which was a walk-off job against the Giants. He hit another walk-off homer a few weeks later, and overall Hairston put up a .406 wOBA and 1.0 fWAR in just 95 plate appearances after the trade.

Hairston clubbed 17 homers and put together an above average .339 wOBA in 2008 (2.2 fWAR), and he was again killing the ball for San Diego in 2009 (.390 wOBA, 2.2 fWAR again) before being dealt to the Athletics at midseason, when the Pads were out of it and looking for young players. He didn’t do much with the A’s, just a .279 wOBA in 248 plate appearances before being traded back to San Diego for Kevin Kouzmanoff (with a few others thrown in) after the season. Hairston was disappointing for the Pads in 2010, putting up a measly .290 wOBA in 336 plate appearances (0.4 fWAR), in part due to a hamstring strain.

The Yankees are presumably in the market for a lefty masher, someone that can fill the Marcus Thames role, and Hairston fits beautifully. He demolishes southpaws, with a .359 wOBA against them over the last three seasons. From 2008 through 2009, he tagged them for an even better .385 wOBA. He’s not much against righties (.298 wOBA during that time), but hey, Thames wasn’t supposed to be either. Hairston’s power is very real, with an ISO close to .200 (.188 to be exact) during his career (.249 ISO in the minors). If we only look at the seasons in which he’s been a full-time player, it’s a .192 ISO. Although Hairston hasn’t maintained his mammoth minor league walk rate in the bigs, he’s certainly not a hacker.

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

A lot of Hairston’s struggles in 2010 can be attributed to his abnormally low batting average on balls in play, which came in at just .236, the seventh lowest among batters with at least 300 plate appearances. His batted ball profile didn’t change much at all, with line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates right in line with his career totals. There’s nothing that suggests an underlying performance issue. Sometimes things just don’t break right. The more serious problem is that Hairston’s been on the disabled list exactly once in every season since 2005, but never for an extended period of time (39 days maximum). He’s had strains in his shoulder, oblique, biceps (twice), and hamstring, so durability is a very real concern. I guess you have to take the bad with the good, and hope some improved conditioning leads to fewer aches and pains.

Defensively, Hairston is capable of manning all three outfield spots and manning them well, though the vast majority of his experience has come in left and in center. With UZR/150’s in the sevens in each spot (+7.2 in LF, +7.7 in CF career), he’s not just adequate defensively, he’s an asset. I’m sure that if push came to shove, he could move back to infield in an emergency as well. Unlike Thames, who was simply awful in the field, Hairston can provide value on both sides of the ball, which is ideal for a bench player on a team with only three non-backup catcher reserve spots to play with.

Who knows, maybe the Yankees can pull a package deal and sign both Scott and Jerry Jr. to come off their bench next season; much was made about how happy the two were finally playing together last season. I wouldn’t count on it, Jerry’s going to get offered a better opportunity elsewhere and he’d be foolish not to take. Scott absolutely fits what the Yanks are looking for at the moment though, and it shouldn’t take much money to sign him. The $900,000 they gave Thames last season probably works, maybe up it a bit since he’s a more complete player. Either way, a fantastic bench/platoon player is about to hit the market tomorrow, and I sure hope the Yanks pursue him.