Golden Albatrosses?

Dead weight can't do this. (AP Photo/Ed Betz, File)

Like anything that can be reduced to shrill sound bytes, the Albert Pujols ordeal is especially fertile territory for the junior high dialectics of talk radio, where calling somebody an idiot qualifies as a rhetorical flourish. In a span of five minutes this past Tuesday morning, ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd – ring leader du jour for the cult of “Now This Is Just Off The Top Of My Head, But…” – weirdly dubbed himself as something akin to the thinking man’s sports call-in host, dismissed statistical analysis (or, what he more pejoratively referred to as memorizing the backs of baseball cards) as an infatuation in which only people with no lives engage, and then, for his coup de grace, fired off this nifty little beauty while weighing in on the Pujols saga:

I’m not a sabermetrics guy, but it has some value. Let me tell you what Albert Pujols is: he’s a boat or a hot tub. Looks great in your driveway, looks great on your deck, adds nothing to your net worth…Edgar Rentereia, a situational hitter – a clutch hitter – is more valuable in the postseason than Albert Pujols. Think I’m wrong? In three World Series, he’s hitting .333, five doubles, two homers, ten RBIs, World Series MVP. He’s a great situational hitter. And when you face elite pitching, that’s more important than power hitters.*

My apologies for the I.Q. mugging, but I was forced to endure the same thing on Tuesday. (Not surprisingly, L.A. only has one 24-hour sports radio station.) As for worth, Mike succinctly explained in yesterday’s mailbag that a player who posts an exceptional WAR has more value than multiple players who would achieve the equivalent. That means, career-wise, Pujols has been more valuable than two Jim Edmondses or three Adam Dunns or, you’ve guessed it: four Edgar Renterias.

Still, if we can somehow summon the will to dig through the layers of Cowherd’s bombast, maybe we’ll discover a kernel of rational thought in his drive time rant. Assuming there’s veracity to the 10-year, $300 million asking price that Pujols’ camp has reportedly floated, the slugger’s next deal would ostensibly become the most onerous sports contract ever signed. So in a sense, Cowherd’s likely right: Inking Pujols to a contract of such epic expense and length at this stage of his career is fiscally brazen, if not downright irresponsible. But it’s not because he lacks the clutch-ocity of Edgar Renteria (who, I’m telling you, has a World Series MVP for God’s sakes!) but because we may have already glimpsed shades of Albert’s physical decline. In 2009, he finally had surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament; possibly even more alarming, early last season, at age 30, he was nagged by lower back pain – the canary in the coal mine for power hitters on the wane. Go ahead and break out your Don Mattingly Yankeeography for a stark reminder of this. Bring lots of Kleenex.

Pujols’ injuries over the past two seasons probably don’t presage a career downturn – at least not yet. What can be counted on is the volatility in production that afflicts players entering their thirties. Juan Gonzales, Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells Eric Chavez, and Alfonso Soriano were all special players who, immediately following stellar seasons, drove Vanishing-point-style off the ravine of thirty-something. (In case you’re wondering, the average age for their respective cliff-dives was 32.)

Organizations see this, and it makes them justifiably reticent to allocate precious resources to a surefire hall-of-famer who could, in less time than it takes to say “nagging groin,” somehow morph into a lead-footed Juan Pierre. It’s something from which few players in the history of baseball are exempt, advances in nutrition, fitness, and medicine notwithstanding.

Not long ago, Yankees fans could stake a claim to having their very own version of the best all-around player in the game, proving that things can change in a hurry once a player hits his mid-thirties. Unlike Pujols, A-Rod was a picture of health leading up to his 10-year $27.5 million AAV deal with the Yanks in 2007. Since then, he’s been dogged by a series of lower-body injuries, most notably a torn labrum for which he’s needed two surgeries. Beyond impacting Alex’s power numbers, which have revealed an ISO dip of .271 to .236 over the past three seasons, these injuries have forced him to miss 87 games since ‘08, leading to more instances in which replacement-level icons like Cody Ransom and Ramiro Pena become the Yankees’ de facto $27 million man for a day. While still an elite offensive force at 35, it’s unlikely that Rodriguez’s health will improve with age. (For what it’s worth, the uber-conservative Marcel projects an underwhelming but strikingly similar 2011 output for Alex.)

It’s unlikely that the 2007 A-Rod signing would serve as an effective cautionary tale for prospective Pujols suitors, however. For one thing, as great as Alex is, when it comes to career offensive production, Albert stands alone. In fact, out of the all-galaxy quartet of A-Rod, Frank Thomas, Miguel Cabrera, and Manny Ramirez, none possesses a single significant advanced career metric that surpasses Pujols’.

There’s another A-Rod factor that might actually bolster the case for a long-term Pujols signing: A rebound. At this moment, it’s impossible to say for certain whether or not the Yankees’ third-baseman has entered his permanent decline phase. A 2011 return to form from Alex, to something approaching his career mean ISO of .269 makes a Pujols signing appear less daunting, as it would further the notion that some people are simply age defying freaks of nature. Thomas, Manny, and the perpetually wronged Garry Sheffield all fit neatly into this category: None of them displayed a hint of slowing down until their late-thirties and, at 37, Manny posted a 153 OPS+ in 431 PA for a playoff-bound Dodgers squad.

The obvious problem here is that there’s no conclusive way to predict Pujols’ longevity beyond his astronomical talent and superhero lats. The Orioles probably thought they had a steal when they signed then-surefire first-ballot hall-of-fame curmudgeon Albert Belle – who, physically, resembled Ray Lewis in stirrups – to a five-year, $65 million deal in 1998, only to witness their 31-year-old 145 career OPS+ investment fall to osteoarthritis two seasons later.

Even more disturbingly, the once great Mo Vaughn is now remembered more as a portly $80 million mistake, shoehorned into the late-90s eye-piercing pajama tops of the California Angels, than the offensive monster who put up six consecutive 139 OPS+ seasons in Boston – something that neither A-Rod, Belle, David Ortiz, nor Miguel Cabrera has ever done.

Still, when factoring in all-around performance (including defense), physiology, and longevity, A-Rod remains Pujols’ closest career comp among modern-day superstars of a similar age. The table below reveals this.

Clearly, you can’t go wrong with any of these guys. But although both Thomas and Manny are closer offensive comps to Pujols, WAR reveals that A-Rod and Albert are closer in type, since they can each also hold their own beyond the batter’s box.

Despite their four-year age difference, Pujols and Alex are also uncannily similar in stature (6’3” 230 per B-Ref’s “yeah right” specifications), athleticism, and physical fitness. Both have a history of relative durability, though A-Rod’s endured significantly more wear and tear due to his having to play shortstop for the first decade of his career. Alex also has more mileage relative to their respective ages: By the time Albert had taken his first major league hack, Rodriguez had already played in 211 games.

In entering only the fourth year of his ten-year deal, it’s still unclear as to whether or not the A-Rod signing will ultimately prove to be prudent investment or a half-insane albatross. But even assuming he spends the final two years of his contract as a hulking platoon DH and pinch-hitting power option off the bench, if A-Rod can once again resemble the player that annihilated American League pitching for a decade-and-a-half, it will be money well spent. Which, in turn, could mean more money spent on Albert.

*B-Ref spoiler alert: Renteria also has a .666 OPS in 242 postseason at-bats, proving that it isn’t the mark of the beast after all.

Gary Sanchez underwent heart surgery

Via George King, Yankees number three prospect Gary Sanchez underwent heart surgery at a New York hospital this week. A recent test revealed that the 18-year-old backstop had an extra nerve in his heart, something he’s had since birth. The surgery cauterized the nerve, and Sanchez has been cleared by doctors to resume workouts on Monday. It couldn’t have been that serious if he’s able to resume baseball workouts so soon after the procedure, but sheesh, heart surgery is always scary.

Trade Teixeira? You can forget about that

With Albert Pujols failing to come to an agreement on a long-term contract extension with the Cardinals last week, speculation has run rampant about the Yankees potentially trading Mark Teixeira to St. Louis for their superstar first baseman. It was far fetched to begin with, but Tex put it all to rest today. He reported to camp this morning and told Joel Sherman: “I’m not going anywhere. I got that no-trade [clause] for a reason. I’m going to be buried in these pinstripes.” This shouldn’t be a surprise, Tex has no reason to accept a trade whatsoever.

As far as news that actually means something, Tex told Chad Jennings that he took a lot more swings that usual this offseason, hoping that they’ll help him avoid the early season slumps that have plagued his career. He is also trying to correct some issues with his lefty swing. Tex had just a .352 wOBA against right-handed pitching last season, well below his .382 career mark. We heard about some things Kevin Long wanted to correct in his first baseman’s swing last month.

From Boomer to Betances

If you’re reading this site, then you’re well aware that Dellin Betances is a local kid, born and raised in Manhattan and drafted out of high school in Brooklyn. It wasn’t until age ten that he turned to baseball, when a little encouragement from David Wells pushed him in the right direction. As Andrew Marchand explains, Betances was in the bleachers for Boomer’s perfect game in 1998, which motivated him to abandon basketball for the mound. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Yankees drafted Betances in the eighth round back in 2006, buying him away from a powerhouse program at Vanderbilt with a cool million bucks. Brian Cashman wanted to take him in the third round, but scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told him to wait and their patience paid off. Make sure you give Marchand’s article a click, it’s a great read.

Open Thread: February 18th Camp Notes

Great, now he's fat AND a sidearmer? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

News of the day…

  • Both Joba Chamberlain and Ivan Nova did some early bullpen work, getting individual attention from Larry Rothschild. Joba, like Phil Hughes, is already throwing breaking balls. Hughes did some bullpen work today as well. (Chad Jennings)
  • Freddy Garcia says he can survive at 88-89 mph, but there are days when it falls to 83-84. Yikes. “That’s why I’m here [to win a rotation spot,” said Sweaty Freddy. “If you don’t think that way, don’t be here … I don’t worry about anybody else. I have to worry about myself. If I don’t worry about myself, I’m f—-d.” Ed Price points out that Garcia is a notoriously poor Spring Training pitcher. (Marc Carig & Mark Feinsand)
  • Bartolo Colon came to camp at 267 lbs. and his goal is to lose 25 of them. “The problem’s not the weight, it’s the arm,” he said. “I feel really good right now the way I am, but I feel like I need to go down with my weight a little bit more.” The Yankees have Colon on a special cardio program, but apparently he was throwing 94 mph in winter ball. (Carig, Carig, Jennings & Bryan Hoch)
  • Rafael Soriano will get his first bullpen session in sometime next week, and he’s not expected to need many game appearances to get ready for the season. Oh, and Hector Noesi is expected to be in camp by Sunday following his visit issues. (Jennings)
  • The Yankees assigned Soriano number 29 and Frankie Cervelli number 17, so Frankie didn’t get anything out of the switch. Sucks for him. (Hoch)
  • Pedro Feliciano is rocking Javy Vazquez‘s old number (31), and his friends back home in Puerto Rico told him to “get rid of the voodoo.” Does that make sense? That seems like a weird thing to say. (Hoch)
  • Position players are due to report and take physicals tomorrow. The first full squad workout of the season will take place on Sunday. (Jennings)

Here’s the nightly open thread. The Rangers are playing the Islanders Devils, and the entire NBA is off for the All-Star break. Feel free to talk about whatever your heart desire. Enjoy.

YES Network garners viewers, Emmy nods

The YES Network has done wonders for the Yankees’ bottom line, and it’s showing off the field as well. The Yanks’ TV station, the most watched regional sports network in the country last year, has garnered 46 Emmy nominations for its baseball, basketball and sports media programming. The network, a content partner of ours, has already won 49 Emmy’s in its short existence.

“This record number of nominations for YES is a testament to the hard work, tremendous energy and total team effort exhibited by everyone at YES,” John Filippelli, president of production and programming, said in a statement. “We are especially pleased with the breadth of programming and productions recognized by the Academy, along with the fact that the efforts of so many individuals – both on-camera and behind the scenes – have been validated.”

On the Yanks’ side of things, Paul O’Neill and John Flaherty were both nominated in the sports analyst category for on-air talent, and Bob Lorenz too garnered a nod as an anchor. Off the field, the network’s coverage of George Steinbrenner‘s death in July and HOPE Week as well as their Yankeeography episodes earned recognition as well. The YES Network’s new in-game graphics are up for an award, but unfortunately, our commercial is not.

In other YES news, the year-end ratings for 2010 came out, and they show a network still growing. The network is averaging 72,000 viewers per day in the primetime slot — more than MSG and SportsNet NY combined. Their Yankee broadcasts ranked number one in the New York area on 39 of 45 straight nights among the following demos: Men 18+, Men 18-49, Men 25-54, Adults 18-49 and Adults 25-54. In lay terms, that’s great for ad rates.

The Yankees have a good thing going on with the YES Network right now, and if — or when — the team is ever put up for sale, YES will be a valuable part of that package.

The RAB Radio Show: February 18, 2011

The Yanks have been a bit quiet, surprisingly, so today we turn our talk to the competition. The major AL East story this week was the Blue Jays signing Jose Bautista to a five-year, $65 million extension. Mike and I talk about his breakout 2010 season and to what level he can replicate it in the future.

Surprisingly, while we talk about the Rays and the Orioles to an extent, I don’t think we mention the Red Sox more than twice, and even then in passing.

Podcast run time 22:08

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