Scouting The Waiver Market: Blake DeWitt

(AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

I should probably preface this post by saying I’m an irrationally big Blake DeWitt fan, and have been for a while. That doesn’t mean he’s a great player or anything, I’m just being up front about my personal biases.

Anyway, the Cubs designated the 26-year-old DeWitt for assignment yesterday, making room on their 40-man roster for infielder Adrian Cardenas. They claimed him off waivers from the Athletics, and if the name sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about him as a waiver target two weeks ago. The Cubs originally got their hands on DeWitt in the Ted Lilly trade with the Dodgers two years ago, and he spent last year as a spare infielder/bench bat. Let’s see if he has anything to offer the Yankees…

The Pro

  • DeWitt is a classic contact-oriented hitter. He’s struck out in just 15.8% of his 1,213 big league player appearances (12.8% last year) while drawing a walk 8.8% of the time. He’s a bit of a ground ball hitter but nothing insane, and he’s seen an average of 3.84 pitches per plate appearance as a big leaguer, much higher than the league average.
  • Primarily a second and third baseman in the minors, DeWitt spent some time in left field last season and I’m sure he could learn first base over time. The defensive metrics don’t love him, but the sample sizes aren’t large enough to take them to heart.
  • Don’t hold me to this, but it appears as though DeWitt has one minor league option remaining. This stuff is hard to confirm though, so I can’t guarantee it. DeWitt has just over three years of service time, so he’ll remain under team control through 2014 as arbitration-eligible player.

The Cons

  • DeWitt is just a .260/.329/.385 career hitter (.312 wOBA) with a .297 BABIP, and his minor league numbers don’t suggest there’s much more coming: .259/.325/.416 in 830 plate appearances at the Double and Triple-A levels. He’s also struggled against pitchers of the opposite hand, posting a .300 wOBA in nearly 900 plate appearances against big league righties.
  • DeWitt doesn’t have any speed, with just 21 steals in 37 attempts (56.8%) in 981 career games, majors and minors. He’s taken the extra base 41% of the time as a big leaguer, which is pretty much exactly league average. His .125 ISO isn’t anything special either, so you’re getting what amounts to a singles hitter with no speed.
  • He isn’t all that cheap, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $1.1M earlier this offseason to avoid arbitration. That’s not the end of the world, but he’s not a six-figure player anymore.

The Yankees still haven’t settled on a replacement for Eric Chavez, that backup corner infielder role. DeWitt fits in the sense that he’s a left-handed bat and can man the hot corner, though his offensive value comes primarily from his ability to put the ball in play and his willingness to work a walk. His career is theoretically on the upswing at age 26, so he could still add more offense as he approaches his peak years. Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch will be there to potentially help his power output as well. The recently hired Jim Hendry had DeWitt during the last season-and-a-half with the Cubs, so Brian Cashman will surely ask for him input before pulling the trigger on a move.

Looking over the 40-man roster, the obvious comparison is Corban Joseph, another left-handed, singles hitting second/third baseman. CoJo has yet to advance beyond Double-A though. Since DeWitt can’t play shortstop in anything other than an emergency, Ramiro Pena remains a necessarily evil as the backup backup middle infielder. Given the current roster construction, DeWitt isn’t a great fit unless the Yankees are willing to part with Joseph so soon after adding him to the 40-man roster. He’s an interesting and somewhat useful player, but perhaps it’s simply a case of the right guy at the wrong time.

Bronx Parking default could spike stadium parking prices

For the past few years, the news from the Bronx concerning parking rates has not been good for Yankee fans who drive to games. Despite opposition from neighborhood groups and urban planning advocates, the city’s Economic Development Corporation opted to build 9,000 parking spots around the nation’s most transit-accessible baseball stadium. With high vacancy rates, the company operating the parking lots cannot pay back money on its tax-exempt bonds and owes the city $25 million in back taxes. Without some relief, stadium-goers could pay even more in parking, and an eventual default seems likely.

When last we checked in on this story in March of 2011, the Bronx Parking Development Company had just announced a $35-per-car rate for 2011. While that rate is due to remain the same this year, it is likely to jump to $42 next year and $55 the year after, if the company is still in business. Juan Gonzalez isn’t so sure that will happen. He writes:

Bronx Parking Development Company LLC is running perilously low on cash reserves and faces a looming default by the end of the year, according to a report filed Friday by a trustee for the firm’s bondholders. Time is running out, in other words, to avoid one of the biggest failures in decades of bonds issued by a New York City agency.

The simple fact is that Bloomberg and his aides made a costly mistake when they succumbed back in 2005 to the Yankees’ demand for a 9,000-space garage system. It was all part of the deal for the team to build a new stadium in the Bronx. But Yankees fans have shunned the garages, where gameday self-parking rates soared last year to $35 — up from $23 previously and more than double the original $14 charge. Valet parking now goes for $48.

So many fans are staying away, in part due to the lure of cheaper local competition, that Bronx Parking Development now projects only 3,500 paying customers per game for the upcoming season. And that occupancy rate — a measly 38% — will exist only on days when the Bronx Bombers take the field. For the rest of the year, the garages will remain a ghost town, since a mere 70 South Bronx residents currently park there each day.

To make matters worse, the company owes $25 million in taxes as well and does not believe revenue from the looming baseball season will be sufficient to cover expenses, let alone bond payments and tax bills. The city agencies responsible for issuing the bonds has said it will not provide financial cover, and a plan to develop a hotel on the site of some of the unused parking lots went nowhere when potential bidders asked for significant city subsidies. South Bronx residents who long opposed the garages are hoping that the city will simply knock them down and build affordable housing instead. Right now, that’s besides the point.

As the Yanks gear up for another season, those coming to the game are wondering what this news means for them. While a majority of fans take the city’s buses or subway or Metro-North to the stadium, some are not near enough to transit to do so. Many of those who eschewed $35-per-car parking for on-street space or a spot at the nearby Gateway Center lots.

It is likely then that prices will continue to climb, and spaces will go unused. If Bronx Parking goes belly up, the city will try to find another operator, but the economics of the spaces will remain the same. There are, simply put, too many parking spots around Yankee Stadium. The city may have to admit defeat and return the new empty lots to better uses. No matter what though, the fans who drive will be paying for this costly mistake for years to come.

New Feature: Amateur Signing Bonuses Page

Bumping up for those who missed it on Saturday: Got a new toy for you folks to play with: the Amateur Signing Bonuses page. It’s a list of signing bonuses the Yankees have paid out to amateur players (draftees and international free agents) in the recent and not-so-recent past. It is in no way complete and it never ever will be because some signing bonus information just isn’t available publicly. The page is under the resources tab in the nav bar above, just under “AVE BLUES” in the street sign. Enjoy.

Report: Yankees in serious talks with Raul Ibanez

Via Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are in serious talks with Raul Ibanez after showing interest in him last month. He’s willing to take less money to wear pinstripes. Joe looked at him as a DH option a few weeks ago, and his analysis still stands. Buster Olney says the Yankees could have a new left-handed DH within a week, whether it be Ibanez or someone like Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui.

Open Thread: Bob Wickman

It’s easy to remember Bob Wickman for his days as a hefty closer with the Indians and Braves, but once upon a time he was a skinny little setup man in the Bronx. The Yankees drafted Wickman in the second round of the 1990 draft acquired Wickman from the White Sox in the Steve Sax trade, and a few months later he was part of their second half rotation. He flopped as a starter in the first half of 1993, prompting a move to the bullpen.

Wickman never looked back after that, and in 1994 he was Buck Showalter’s workhorse setup man. He threw 70 innings in relief and led the league with 53 appearances (remember, they only played 113 games because of the strike), pitching to a 3.09 ERA. Wickman struggled a bit in 1996 — 4.67 ERA in 79 IP across 58 appearances — before being traded to the Brewers for Graeme Lloyd. Lloyd helped the Yankees to the World Series later that year while Wickman settled in and had a long, productive career as a late-inning reliever.

Today is Wickman’s 43rd birthday, and I’m going to use this as an opportunity to tell you about our plans for Old School Week. Joe kicked things off with his Charlie Hayes post this morning, and during the rest of the week we’re going to focus the majority of our content on the good ol’ days, meaning the 80’s and 90’s. Maybe the 70’s and early-2000’s as well, who knows. I figure we’ve sufficiently covered the pitching staff, the DH candidates, all the important stuff with the current team, so this was a good week to get nostalgic. Hope you enjoy.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks and Nets are playing tonight, plus there’s a Caribbean Series game on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3.com. Talk about whatever you like here.

Second Roger Waters show added to Yankee Stadium summer schedule

Late last month we heard that Pink Floyd songwriter Roger Waters will be performing “The Wall” at Yankee Stadium this summer, and the team recently announced that a second show has been added. Tickets for the first show (July 6th) are on sale now, and tickets for the second show (July 7th) will hit the market this Saturday at 10am ET. I’ve never been a Pink Floyd guy, but I have to think they won’t have any problem selling these tickets. The Yankees say that announcements about more non-baseball events are forthcoming.

The Day The Evil Empire Was Born

It’s easy to forget just how big Jose Contreras was in Cuba. He was the country’s undisputed ace in international play for nearly a decade, helping Cuba to the silver medal in the 2000 Olympics and gold is numerous other events. Contreras first popped up on the big league radar in March of 1999, when he struck out ten Orioles in eight shutout innings during an exhibition game in Havana. Later in the year he struck out 13 in eight innings on one day’s rest against Team USA in the Pan Am Games, the first time Team USA was allowed to use professional players.

Contreras defected from Cuba in October of 2002 while in Mexico for a tournament, leaving his wife and young daughters behind. Contreras made his way to San Diego and eventually gained asylum in the United States, where he and agent Jaime Torres started fielding offers from Major League teams even though he wasn’t yet a free agent.

“Most of the organizations I thought were going to contact us have contacted us, and that includes the Yankees,” said Torres a little more than two weeks after the defection.

The Yankees needed to clear money to pursue their top two targets that offseason, Contreras and Hideki Matsui. They also wanted to re-sign Roger Clemens. Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza were allowed to walk as free agents, and rumors circulated that they may trade Andy Pettitte and his $11.5M salary to free up more payroll room. Doubts about Contreras’ age persisted (he was listed at 31 at the time), but nonetheless the Red Sox and Mariners got heavily involved in the bidding. Contreras had been working out with Torres in Nicaragua that winter, and Boston went so far as to buy out every room of the hotel where he was staying.

“The Boss, that was something that was a one up on us when they did that, it was a shrewd move,” said Brian Cashman recently, “and [George Steinbrenner] was not going to be denied.”

“We were smoking cigars with Contreras and drinking rum until about 4 o’clock in the morning,” said then-Red Sox GM Theo Epstein recently. “He told us he always wanted to be a Red Sox, and then the next morning the Yankees offered him about $10 million more.”

The Yankees signed Contreras on Christmas Eve, giving him four years and $32M. Coincidentally, the contract became official on this date in 2003. Orlando Hernandez, who had spoken to Contreras by phone a few times after his defection, was traded to the Expos in January to further free up some money. Matsui had agreed to a deal a few weeks earlier, and Clemens would re-sign a few days later. The Yankees got all their men.

”The Evil Empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America,” said Red Sox president Larry Lucchino after news of the signing broke.

The Yankees and their fans have since embraced the Evil Empire moniker. The Imperial March — Darth Vader’s theme music in Star Wars — is a pregame staple at Yankee Stadium, and you can buy unlicensed Evil Empire merchandise right outside the Stadium on River Ave. Everyone knows the Yankees spend more money than every other team, and Lucchino gave us all something to rally around. No one tries to hide from the bloated payroll, which is something Lucchino’s Red Sox can certainly be accused of in recent years. We’ve embraced it.

Contreras’ contract drew the comment from Lucchino, but the Yankees have been operating this way for decades. They’ve always been in the hunt for big money free agents, always been at or near the top in payroll. It’s become the Yankee way, and they’ve been really successful going it. The Evil Empire crack did a fine job of relaying Lucchino’s frustration, but it’s also an acknowledgement of the team’s success and continues to be to this day.