Yankees interested in re-signing Luis Ayala

Via Ben Nicholson-Smith, the Yankees remain interested in re-signing the worst sub-2.00 ERA pitcher in baseball history, Luis Ayala. Well, technically that nickname doesn’t apply anymore thanks to that three-run homer he allowed to Evan Longoria in Game 162 last year, which knocked his final ERA up to 2.09.

In all seriousness, Ayala was perfectly fine given his role, which was basically the last guy in the bullpen for most of the season. He did it with ground balls (50.0%), not with strikeouts (6.27 K/9 and 16.7 K%) or even by limiting walks (3.21 BB/9 and 8.6 BB%). The Yankees have two open spots in their bullpen and Ayala — who turns 34 on Thursday — would fit decently into one of them, but this isn’t a situation where they have to go nuts to sign him. Five other clubs reportedly have interest in signing him, and anything more than a few hundred grand or so would really be pushing it.

Imagining a pinstriped reunion with Kerry Wood

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last off-season might have gone a bit differently if not for Kerry Wood’s desperate desire to again pitch in Chicago. After coming over to the Yankees at the 2010 trade deadline, Wood impressed all observers, allowing just two runs himself, plus one inherited runner, in 26 IP. In the playoffs he continued his impressive pitching, allowing just two runs in eight innings. After the season Wood became a free agent, and the Yankees expressed desire in re-signing him. But Wood yearned for his professional roots in Chicago so deeply that he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Had Wood been more open to a more lucrative one-year deal with the Yankees, they would not have signed Rafael Soriano.

This off-season, Wood has changed his tune. While he’d reportedly like to stay in Chicago, he won’t sign quite so cheaply this time. Rather than give one team preferential treatment, Wood seeks a market value deal for his services. The latest, from Dave Kaplan of CSNChicago.com (via MLBTR), speculates that Wood’s “days as a Cub appear all but over.” The Cubs apparently offered Wood a “substantial” raise over last season, but apparently it is not to his liking. That opens the market for him.

The Yankees have a relatively stacked bullpen, so Wood’s presence is not a necessity. As Mike noted recently, there are only two remaining bullpen spots and plenty of candidates to fill them. Since one will likely go to a long reliever — which they will need if they plan to start the season with Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett in the rotation — that leaves only one spot for Wood. It’s unlikely that the Yankees want to fill out their bullpen with unmovable bodies right now, so a Wood reunion is nothing but a fantasy. Yet it remains intriguing. A stacked bullpen can help bandage a wounded rotation until reinforcements arrive. Having Wood, Soriano, David Robertson, and eventually Joba Chamberlain* available to pitch later in games, the Yankees could seal down victories even if their starters go five innings and give up four runs.

*Unless, of course, Joba goes to the rotation. /troll’d

The bullpen situation isn’t the only one holding back the Yankees from making this move. They also have budgetary issues. The Yankees could decide to expand the budget in order to augment the starting rotation. But to make a budget-expanding decision for another relief pitcher? It seems unlikely. While there’s not a ton of risk in the move — it would cost around $4 million for one year — there’s also limited upside. Again, it would be reinforcing an area of strength. That can help in some ways, but it probably won’t make a huge impact.

Still, it’s tough to think of Wood and not remember his glorious run from August through October, 2010. His very first appearance set the tone for his tenure. He came in to relieve CC Sabathia in the 7th inning of a game in Tampa, striking out the final batter of the inning. He then walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth and then allowed a single before striking out the next two guys and then loading the bases with a walk. Chad Gaudin had to finish the job, but that’s because Joe Girardi didn’t yet know what he had in Wood. For the next three months Wood got the Yankees out of numerous jams, many of which were of his own creation. It wasn’t quite magical, but it was certainly something different. It’s the kind of run that makes fans want the player back with their team, despite the possible irrationality of it.

Many contenders could use bullpen help, and plenty of them likely have $4 or $5 million they could pay Kerry Wood. They also might have more prominent setup roles. This, combined with the Yankees’ needs elsewhere, makes it unlikely we’ll see a clean shaven Kerry Wood donning pinstripes in 2012. It’s a nice thought, given how well he pitched in 2010. But right now the case for bringing in Wood is based on nostalgia. That’s probably not something that will convince the Yankees brass to make the move.

Scouting The Waiver Market: Fernando Martinez

(Ron Antonelli/New York Daily News)

Yesterday afternoon the Mets somewhat surprisingly waived former top prospect Fernando Martinez, cutting ties with the 23-year-old outfielder to make room on the roster for personal fave Scott Hairston. Baseball America considered him one of the top 100 prospects in the game as recently as 2010 and four times overall, but the Omar Minaya regime did their best to sabotage his development by rushing him through the minors. The new Sandy Alderson led front office is basically turning the page.

It’s all but guaranteed that some team will acquire Martinez from the Mets, either off waivers or through trade. Should that team be the Yankees? Let’s take a look…

The Pros

  • Like I said, Martinez is only 23 and will spend all of next season at that age (born in October). He’s a little more than a month older than Austin Romine, for reference. If nothing else, time is on his side.
  • “Martinez has power potential to all fields, though he has gone to left-center less frequently than when he was younger,” said Baseball America (subs. scouting report) when they named him the Mets’ third best prospect in 2010. “His bat speed and improved ability to make contact should allow him to hit for a solid average.”
  • Adam Rubin confirmed that Martinez does have one minor league option remaining, so he can be sent to the minor leagues in 2012 without a problem. With less than one full year of service time to his credit, he’ll remain under team control for another six seasons. Martinez will qualify as a Super Two when the time comes, however.

The Cons

  • Like I said, the Minaya regime rushed him badly. Martinez was playing in Double-A as an 18-year-old despite playing just 87 games and getting just 386 plate appearances in the low minors. He was in the big leagues as a 20-year-old in 2009.
  • Not only has he been rushed, but injuries have taken away from his development. Martinez has never played more than 90 games or received more than 400 plate appearances in a single season, topping out at those totals in 2008. He’s been done in by a wrist strain (2011), right knee arthritis (2010), right knee surgery (2009), an elbow strain (2008), and various hamstring problems (2008, 2010, 2011).
  • In his 145 big league plate appearances, he owns a .245 wOBA overall and a .195 wOBA against left-handers. His career Triple-A batting line is fine (.265/.326/.465 in 727 plate appearances), but he’s never walked much (6.6 BB% in the minors) and he’s become more strikeout prone as he’s climbed the ladder (21.7 K% in Triple-A). He also doesn’t steal bases (just 20-for-32 in the minors).
  • Once considered a future center fielder, Martinez is now considered a corner guy because the leg injuries have sapped his speed. His arm isn’t all that great either, meaning left field is the best fit.

When I looked at Jai Miller as the potential scrap heap pickup a few weeks ago, I did so thinking he might represent an upgrade over what the Yankees currently have on their 40-man roster, specifically Justin Maxwell. Small moves like that often get overlooked but they are important, as improving the margins of the roster can yield significant benefits down the road. The same logic applies to Martinez, who at this point is little more than a roll of the dice.

The incumbent left-handed hitting spare outfielder is Chris Dickerson, who is a fourth outfielder type that can hit righties a bit (career .340 wOBA), play solid defense in all three outfield spots, and steal some bases (24-for-30 career). He’s no higher than fifth on the Yankees outfield depth chart though, and since he’s out of options he can’t go to the minors without first clearing waivers. There’s a chance he’d get claimed. Martinez is six and half years younger, has more power (see some of it here and here), and can go to the minors without a problem, which might make him a better fit for the team and their roster. After all, Dickerson could be gone before Opening Day whether the Yankees like it or not.

I don’t think there’s any chance Martinez will get to the Yankees on waivers; a team with a higher waiver priority will surely claim him first, which means they’d have to work out a trade with the Mets. Crosstown trades don’t happen very often, but that doesn’t mean they can’t happen. Dickerson is the better player at this point, but Martinez provides more flexibility and long-term potential, even though most of his prospect shine has worn off.

Report: Yanks will reevaluate budget soon

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

It’s been a very slow offseason for the Yankees, who have spent a whopping $6M* on free agents. All of that money went to re-signing their own players as well: $4M to Freddy Garcia and another $2M to Andruw Jones. That’s it. We’ve heard quite a bit about their unwillingness (or inability) to increase payroll, particularly long-term with regards to the 2014 austerity budget. That could change though, as Buster Olney is reporting (Insider req’d) that the team will make a decision about whether or not to expand its current budget “in the next couple of weeks.”

An increased budget will change the equation dramatically for the Yankees, particularly the pitching equation. Edwin Jackson is still lurking out there, as are Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt. In my crazy world even Ryan Madson is rotation option. As we see this morning with the Paul Maholm deal — one-year, $4.25M with a club option when comparable pitchers got two guaranteed years earlier in the offseason — prices are starting to come down just a bit as Spring Training draws closer. The Yankees will simply reevaluate their budget, and possibly adjust it.

From here, this sounds like an awful lot like the next step towards Jackson becoming a Yankee. Joe recently wrote about the similarities between the Edwin rumors and last year’s Rafael Soriano rumors, and this kinda sorta fits the theme. The only difference is that last year we knew they had the money to spare after losing out on Cliff Lee, whereas this year they might have to up their payroll to accommodate a new pitcher. Remember, increasing the budget is not guaranteed at this point, it’s just up for consideration.

My rough estimation has the Yankees right around $200M with their payroll at the moment, and bringing in a pitcher like Jackson or Kuroda or Oswalt would push them into the $210-213M range. Coincidentally, the team’s final payroll for luxury tax purposes was $212.7M in 2011, so perhaps they’re willing to go back to that level next year. Obviously it’s not that cut and dry, but you get the idea. The market for those three pitchers isn’t exactly hot right now, and the fact that they’re still available this late in the winter indicates that other teams haven’t deemed them worthy of their asking price either. The Yankees have the advantage of money, but right now it’s unclear if they’ll decide to use it.

* Obviously this doesn’t include the $122.5M they re-invested in CC Sabathia, but he technically wasn’t a free agent. Tomatoes tomahtoes.

Posada’s Place In Yankees History

(Photo via The Wall Street Journal)

With Jorge Posada reportedly set to hang up his spikes, we can sit back and reflect on his career. He played 15 full seasons with the Yankees and parts of two more early on, contributing to four World Championships and tagging along for a fifth (that actually came first). He went to five All-Star Games, won five Silver Slugger Awards, and owns a pair of top six finishes in the MVP voting (2003 and 2007). His 2000 season (.287/.417/.527 with 28 homers and 107 walks) should have garnered MVP votes as well, but alas it did not.

Posada was never the focal point of the Yankees’ offense but he was always a steady contributor behind the thunder in the middle of the order. Playing that many years as a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate means that Jorge is among the team’s all-time leaders in basically every offensive category, and that’s what we’re going to recap today. His place in Yankees history.

Playing Time (Games, PA, AB)
Posada is eighth on the franchise’s all-time games played list, donning the pinstripes for 1,829 contests. Two of his former teammates (Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams) rank ahead of him, as do a bunch of Hall of Famers (Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, Babe Ruth) and Roy White. He started 1,450 of those games behind the plate, or 79.3%. Posada has the 12th most plate appearances (7,150) and 14th most at-bats (6,092) in Yankees history.

Batting Line (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS+)
A career .273/.374/.474 hitter, Posada was never really the type to hit for average, topping .280 in a single season just four times (2000, 2003, 2007, 2009). As a result, he ranks just 36th on the franchise’s all-time batting average list (min. 3,000 PA). However, Jorge had a knack for reaching base on something other than a hit (more on that later), so he places 17th on the team’s all-time OBP list. His SLG is 21st in team history and his ISO (.201) is 13th. In terms of offense relative to era, Posada’s 121 OPS+ is the 21st best in franchise history. That lumps him in with guys like Hideki Matsui (123), White (121), and Hall of Famer Joe Gordon (120).

Base Knocks (Hits, doubles, homers)
Jorge finished his career with 1,664 career hits, the 14th most in team history. You can probably guess most of the guys ahead of him on the list, but he’s right behind Tony Lazzeri (1,784) and Willie Randolph (1,731). His 379 doubles are seventh most in team history while his 275 homers are eighth most. Only Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi, Bernie, and Alex Rodriguez are ahead of him on the dingers list. If you must know, Jorge is tied for 94th in franchise history with a whopping ten triples.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

On-Base Skills (BB, IBB, HBP)
Only six Yankees have drawn more walks that the 936 Posada drew during his career: Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig, Bernie, Randolph, and Jeter. Of those 936 walks, 78 were intentional, or one more than teh feared Jim Rice in 1,908 fewer plate appearances. Anyway, only Don Mattingly, Mantle, and Bernie were intentionally walked more times than Jorge in Yankees history. By getting plunked with 74 pitches, Posada is fifth on the team’s all-time hit-by-pitch list behind Jeter, Frankie Crosetti, Jason Giambi, and A-Rod. Surprisingly, only one of those 74 came at the hands of Pedro Martinez. Jeremy Guthrie and Chan Ho Park (twice each) are the only pitchers to get him more than once.

Run Production (Runs scored, RBI, sac flies)
When you’ve reached base more times than all but eleven players in franchise history, you’re bound to score a lot of runs. Posada is 17th on the franchise’s runs scored list with exactly 900. That’s pretty good since the vast majority of his career plate appearances (83.8%) have come as the fifth, sixth, or seventh place hitter and not higher up in the order. Most of us understand the flaws with RBI, but like pitcher wins they do have some value over time since they show durability and general offensive competence. Jorge is 11th in Yankees history with 1,065 rib eye steaks. A number of those runs came on his 47 sac flies, a total that is tied with Mantle and Bobby Murcer for the tenth most in team history.

Sabermetric Stats (wOBA, WPA, bWAR, fWAR)
Although he ranks 21st in OPS, Posada is a little further down the line in wOBA, 24th in team history at .366. He’s sandwiched between Matsui (.367) and Mattingly (.361), so some pretty good company. Posada is 17th in win probability added at +12.714, and 0.93 of that came in one game. In terms of wins above replacement, he’s either the 11th or 12th best player in team history using Baseball-Reference (+44.9) or FanGraphs (+47.6), respectively. Yogi and Bill Dickey are the only backstops ahead of him on either list. I don’t know where exactly he ranks as far as great Yankees go, but precise placement is trivial. Jorge is an all-time great Yankee, and you didn’t need any of these silly lists to tell you that.

The strategy of a second Wild Card team

The final game of the 2011 season was one for the ages. Using no starting pitchers or really any Major League relievers, the Yanks blew a big lead to the Tampa Bay Rays while the Red Sox coughed up a ninth-inning lead over the Orioles. The Rays made the playoffs while Boston completed a historic September swoon. In the NL, the eventual World Series winners shut out the Astros as the Phillies downed the Braves, and Atlanta too blew a seemingly insurmountable late-season lead that proved to be anything but that. Next year or the year after, those Game 162 losses would have been meaningless.

As we all know, MLB has decided to expand the playoffs by adding a second Wild Card team. The second-place club with the second best record will square off in a one-game playoff against the second-place club with the best record in a contest that will determine who advances to the ALDS. This year, the Braves and Red Sox would have played the Cardinals and Rays respectively no matter the outcome of Game 162. Some says it cheapens the regular season while allowing competitive teams to take a crack at the crown while others say it adds the excitement two Game 163s to every baseball season. Either way, it changes late-season strategy.

Right now, according to a report in Sports Business Journal, MLB is attempting to decide when to add the extra playoff team. The owners and players would love to see the new format in 2012 because it means more money for all, but timing is tight. The owners meet this week, and if they can’t figure out the TV and scheduling logistics for this season before March 1, the new format will have to wait until 2013.

According to Eric Fisher and John Ourand, two items may hold up the extra game. First, the games must be assigned to a TV network. As Turner holds the rights to all Game 163s and the League Division Series, it appears as though they would be the ones to air the so-called play-in. Next, MLB must fit in another game before the start of the Division Series two days after the regular season ends. Perhaps I’ll finally get my wish of a more condensed playoff schedule. As sticking points go, though, these two are hardly major obstacles, and it’s likely that we’ll see a new playoff format this year.

So how then does this impact the regular season? For one, the second place teams will play simply for one of the top two records. There will be fewer win-or-go-home scenarios. In 2011, for instances, the Angels were four games behind the Red Sox, and the Giants were three games behind the Braves. The Wild Card play-in contests would have been set days earlier, and teams would have been prepared for the new contest.

Next, managers will have to assess their starting rotations. To win a Game 163, would the Wild Card managers try to line up their aces, knowing that another round of the playoffs awaits a day or two later? They have to sacrifice an edge in the next round to simply make it there, thus further rewarding the division winner. It might not be far to the Wild Card team, but it adds more than just one home game to the division winner’s advantage.

That, then, is the new baseball world in which we live. Ten of 30 teams will play more than 162 games, and late-season strategies will shift. Winning the division will become even more important, but Yankee fans wouldn’t have it any other way now, would they?

New/Old Feature: Team Blogs Page

When we got serious about our Series Previews last year, we included a link or two promoting blogs for whatever team the Yankees happened to be playing next. We kept a masterlist of these sites and it’s been available for everyone to see the whole time, but the problem is that it was hidden away and never promoted. That’s about to change, as you can now find our Team Blogs Page under the Resources tab above. Consider it the official list of RAB-endorsed blogs. We enjoy them all and suspect you will too.