Saturday Morning Links: Oppenheimer, Strasburg, Heart

As few links to check out before you start your day…

Oppenheimer among the game’s future GM’s

For nearly a decade, GM Brian Cashman was smart enough to make sure that no one in the organization was in a position to replace him, though now that’s unavoidable. Not only was pro scouting director Billy Eppler in the running for the Padres’ GM job this offseason, but scouting director Damon Oppenheimer is also considered a future GM candidate. He’s been on the radar as a future GM since before he took his current gig with the Yanks, and it’s only a matter of time before some team hires away and gives him the keys to the future of their franchise.

The last few Next Big Things

Before Stephen Strasburg captured the title of best college pitcher ever, the moniker had belonged to quite a few others throughout the years. As it turns out, none of the more recent Next Big Things were able to really deliver on their promise, with the exception of Mark Prior‘s staggering 2003 season (211.1 IP, 2.47 FIP, 7.6 WAR) before his arm turned into a worn down rubber band. Strasburg is better than all those guys ever were, but a reality check is always nice.

There’s no stat yet that measures heart

Surely you’ve heard about Nomar Garciaparra’s mini-rant on Baseball Tonight the other day about how stats don’t measure heart (oh yeah, what’s this?), which of course is the classic argument against advanced stats. You just can’t measure intangibles is how it generally goes, but as Joe Posnanski points out, if that kind of stuff impacts the game, shouldn’t there be tangible evidence of it in the stats? If you only click on one link in this post, make it this one.

Open Thread: All business

I love that picture. He just looks mean. The fact that it was taken after a questionable called strike in yesterday’s game is irrelevant, A-Rod looks like he’s about to go raise some hell. Just … awesome. It’s just awesome.

A-Rod was supposed to meet with the feds in Buffalo to talk about Dr. Galea today, but apparently the meeting was never scheduled. The two sides will sit down and hammer it out sometime between now and Opening Day. Tonight’s game against the Phillies isn’t on the tube locally (as far as I know), but it’s Friday, you shouldn’t be cooped up watching baseball anyway. Use this sucker as the open thread if you must be stuck in front of a computer; feel free to talk about the college basketball games or A-Rod or whatever else you want. Just be cool.

Oh, our oath of silence regarding the fifth starter’s spot is hereby lifted. Thank you for cooperating throughout the day, the break was refreshing.

Photo Credit Brian Blanco, AP

A-Rod’s rental on the market for $55 million

Here’s a good “You know he’s a rich athlete when” story: Alex Rodriguez‘s condo at 15 Central Park West for which he pays $30,000 per month in rent is on the market for $55 million. The landlord took A-Rod‘s apartment and the place next door, combined them into one giant loft and selling it for that princely sum. Curbed says the price comes out to $10,576 a square foot. Any takers?

RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Just a reminder, my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 4:20pm ET today. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.

What to do with Marcus Thames

Let’s cut right to chase here: Marcus Thames has been absolutely dreadful in Spring Training so far. He’s reached base in just four of his 33 plate appearances, and all three of his hits are singles. Thirteen of those plate appearances, or nearly 40%, have ended with strike three. That’s not what the Yankees expected when they offered him a chance to win a job on their bench back in February. We talk about how insignificant Spring Training stats are all the time, and generally they are, but there are some instances in which they do have some meaning. One of those instances is when you have a guy like Thames trying to win a job.

Unfortunately the Yankees have already jettisoned Thames’ primary competition from camp, shipping Jamie Hoffmann back to Dodgers. Hoffmann’s spring performance wasn’t anything to write home about either (3-for-23, three walks, one strikeout), but unlike Thames he’s able to contribute something beyond offense. Baseball America rated him as the best defensive outfielder in the organization before he was returned, and he’s capable of double digit steals. Thames is a proven commodity on both defense and on the bases, posting a -12.2 UZR/150 in over 1,760 innings in leftfield, and he’s stolen a grand total of three bases in over 500 big league games. If he’s not hitting, he has no value. It’s that simple.

With Hoffmann gone and almost all of the other non-roster invitees shipped out, it leads us to believe that Thames has all but locked up a spot on the 25-man roster. He’s a Proven Veteran™ after all, and over the last three years he’s hit .263-.326-.541 with a studly .370 wOBA against lefthanders. That’s going to his primary job, to come off the bench and pinch hit against the lefty late in the game or occasionally start against one in lieu of Brett Gardner. The track record is certainly there, but Thames isn’t young (turned 33 earlier this month), and over the last four years he’s become increasingly more susceptible to fastballs (0.72 runs above avg against fastballs per 100 thrown in ’06, 0.40 in ’07, -0.07 in ’08, and -0.24 in ’09). If that’s the not the sign of a guy losing some bat speed, then I don’t know what is.

At this point, the only other realistic in-house option is Kevin Russo, who was just shipped to minor league camp. He had himself a very nice camp (8-for-25, three doubles) and offers the ability to play all over the infield and fill in at the outfield corners if need be. Russo will never offer the power Thames has, even with the latter in his decline phase, but he’s got better plate discipline and is more contact oriented. It’s an imperfect solution to an imperfect situation.

Despite his struggles, it’s all up guaranteed that Thames will break camp with the Yankees as their designated lefty masher. He can opt out of his contract if he doesn’t make the team, so there’s no option of stashing in the minors and hoping he finds his stroke. Joe Girardi rolled out the excuse that he hasn’t face many lefties this spring, but they’re supposed to this weekend so we can see how that goes. Scheduled to face southpaws Jon Lester and David Price within the first four games of the season, the Yanks are going to need Thames to start hitting and soon. Otherwise they’re better off taking 0-fers from Brett Gardner while reaping the rewards of his defense as they prowl the waiver wire and trade market for a suitable fill in.

Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel, AP

Jeter wants to ‘call the shots’

Derek Jeter would like to own a baseball team, he told the Associated Press yesterday. In an interview that probed Derek’s post-retirement plans, Fred Goodall of the AP talked ownership with the Yankee Captain, and Jeter made it clear that he wants a real piece of the action a la Michael Jordan and not just a token share of a team. “The only interest I have in ownership is to be able to call the shots. I’ve said that time and time again,” Jeter said.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard talk about Derek’s interest in team ownership. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I talked about how Jeter could become a part-owner of the Yankees. Suddenly, that zany idea doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it once did. Whether Jeter would be a good savvy owner obviously remains to be seen, but he has spent his career around some pretty powerful sports business figures.

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