References for Sabathia’s next contract

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Barring something completely unforeseen, CC Sabathia will opt out of his contract with the Yankees a few days after the end of the World Series. That doesn’t mean he hates New York or anything like that, it’s just a smart business move on his part. We’d all do the same thing. The Yankees will undoubtedly try to re-sign their ace, though the intensity of their pursuit and the number of other teams that get involved remains to be seen.

Contracts for elite players like Sabathia are difficult to predict because there are so few comparables out there. Sabathia already holds the record for the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, but it’s tough to see him topping the original seven-year, $161M deal he signed prior to the 2009. I see four points of reference for Sabathia’s new contract, at least four “major” points of reference. Let’s recap…

Four-years, $92M

This is what is left on Sabathia’s current contract, the money he is leaving on the table by opting out. Obviously he and his agent believe they can find more than this on the open market (assuming they opt out), and they’re almost certainly right. In a perfect world, CC would just not opt-out and stick around under the terms of his usual agreement, the right amount of years and dollars from the team’s perspective.

Five-years, $120M

When Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees and went back to Philadelphia, this is the guaranteed contract he took from the Phillies. There’s a vesting option for a sixth year, but we’re only concerned about guaranteed dollars at this point in time. Options and buyouts can be manipulated to do anything. I figure the negotiations for Sabathia’s new contract start here, since he’s still younger than Lee was last winter and has a much longer track record of success and durability.

Six-years, $132M

According to Jerry Crasnick, this was the Yankees’ final offer to Lee last winter. Again, this is guaranteed money only. If they were willing to go that far for a guy that hadn’t done anything for them, shouldn’t they be willing to do at least that for a comparable pitcher that’s already helped them win a World Series? I’m sure Sabathia and his agent will play that card, I know I would.

Seven-years, $161M

As I said earlier, this is contract Sabathia is already working under, the largest ever for a pitcher. I can’t imagine he’ll get this many years or this many dollars this time around, but stranger things have happened.

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These are just reference points for Sabathia’s next deal, I’m not saying he’ll get exactly that amount for exactly that many years. I’d love love love if he’d take the five-year, $120M package, but I suspect it’ll end up being closer to the six-year, $132M deal. That’s not based on anything, just a hunch. Who knows, maybe he’ll surprise everyone and stick around. I wouldn’t hold my breath though. Anyway, a post like this is screaming for a poll, so let’s do it.

What would be the largest contract you'd offer Sabathia this offseason?
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The Expensive Luxury will return

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Brian Cashman didn’t want Rafael Soriano, and frankly, the Yankees didn’t really need him. Ownership, or more accurately team president Randy Levine, wanted Soriano after losing out on Cliff Lee and various other free agent pitchers, and he who signs the checks makes the rules. Soriano agreed to a three-year contract worth $35M in mid-January, and the Yankees had themselves a shiny new eighth inning toy. A few month later, the right-hander was out with an elbow problem and eventually relegated to seventh inning worth.

Andrew Marchand reported on Wednesday that no, Soriano will not opt out of the two years and $25M left on his contract. The move isn’t official, but I’m not sure if something like this is ever officially reported anyway. Marchand just told us what we already knew though. There’s almost no chance Soriano would get that kind of cash on the open market after dealing with more injury troubles in 2011, so even if he’s unhappy, there’s a financial incentive to stay in New York. We’ve all been stuck at jobs we didn’t like, this isn’t much different.

I didn’t like the contract and chances are you didn’t like the contract either. There’s so little chance of a middle reliever being worth that kind of money; it basically takes optimal usage and the highest of high-leverage spots each time out, something no manager in history ever does. Soriano is overpaid, yes, but he’s not useless. He was pretty good in the ALDS for one, and the Yankees have to expect David Robertson‘s performance to decline next year just because relief pitchers never repeat seasons like that. That doesn’t mean Robertson will be bad in 2012, he just won’t be as amazing as he was in 2011. Soriano provides some high-end insurance.

At the end of the day, Soriano is luxury pretty much no other team can afford, and he’ll continue to be one next year. The Yankees didn’t need a new eighth inning guy … heck, they didn’t even need a new seventh inning guy, but they got one anyway simply because they can. They had the money to spend so they spent it on the biggest name left on the market, even if he was a square peg forced into a round hole.

Noesi roughed up in winter ball debut

The 2011 MiLBY Awards are out, and you can vote for the various categories by clicking the link and sorting through the tabs. A few Yankees farmhands are up for awards, including Mason Williams (Best Short Season Hitter), Ryan Flannery (Best High-A Reliever), Branden Pinder (Best Short Season Reliever), and Abe Almonte (Best High-A Game). Voting ends tomorrow.

In other news, Marty Caswell reports that Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Butch Wynegar interviewed for the Padres vacant hitting coach position today. Wynegar has been coaching Yankees minor leagues since 2008, I believe.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (11-10 loss to Scottsdale in ten innings) Tuesday’s game
Corban Joseph, 2B: 3 for 6, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 E (throwing, missed catch) – three errors in nine games, a Nunezian pace
Rob Segedin, LF: 0 for 4, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K
Dan Burawa, RHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 1-0 GB/FB – 26 of 47 pitches were strikes (55.3%)
Preston Claiborne, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2-0 GB/FB – ten of 17 pitches were strikes (58.8%)

DWL Licey (9-4 loss to Toros) Tuesday’s game
Hector Noesi, RHP: 1.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3-1 GB/FB – he’s on a strict pitch count while pitching out of Licey’s rotation … hopefully he’s just shaking off some rust after not pitching for about three weeks … I usually update all the Caribbean leagues on Sundays, but Noesi’s important enough for mid-week updates whenever he starts

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (6-3 loss to Peoria) Wednesday’s game
Rob Segedin, LF: 1 for 4, 1 K
Ronnie Mustelier, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B – broke up the no-hitter with a fifth inning single
David Phelps, RHP: 3.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 4-1 GB/FB – 49 of 75 pitches were strikes (65.3%) … the desert hasn’t been kind to him so far, but at least he got stretched out to 75 pitches this time
Chase Whitley, RHP: 2.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 19 of 31 pitches were strikes (61.3%)

Open Thread: World Series Game One

Damn hippies. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

So, who ya got? I’m thinking Rangers is seven. I don’t think they’ll run away with it mostly because the middle of the Cardinals order won’t flail at the same junk off the plate like the non-Miggy Tigers hitters did in the ALCS, and that alone will keep them in games. It’s worth mentioning that three of Texas’ four starters are left-handed, and that will neutralize a big bat in Lance Berkman. Octavio Dotel will be pretty important because he destroys righties and outside of Josh Hamilton, all of Texas’ big bats are right-handed. I’m just hoping for good games more than anything, no lopsided blowouts please.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. Game One of the 2011 World Series starts at 8pm ET and can be seen on FOX, and the weather in St. Louis

The Biggest Hit of the Season

Earlier this morning I listed the five biggest hits of the Yankees season using WPA, but I think we all know that isn’t a perfect metric. It’s great for reference but has little analytical value because it lacks context. Context in terms of who is batting, who is pitching, the team’s place in the standings, so on and so forth. The biggest hit of the Yankees season, or at least what I think was the biggest hit of the Yankees season, didn’t make this morning’s list.

Let’s set the stage. The calender had just flipped to September, and there was much rejoicing because Jesus Montero was finally a big leaguer. The Yankees were in Fenway Park and were one game back of the almighty Red Sox in the loss column, having closed the gap in the AL East from two games to half-a-game over the four previous days. We had no idea the Sox were in full collapse mode at the time, and this game was one New York really needed if they were serious about winning the division.

The Yankees scored one-run off Jon Lester in the first inning, but it could have been more had Montero not struck out with the bases loaded in his first career at-bat. Boston scored a pair of runs off A.J. Burnett in the fourth inning on a Dustin Pedroia homer to dead center, and the score remained 2-1 into the seventh inning. Former Yankee Al Aceves was on the mound was on the mound for the Sox, having just pitched around two singles, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch the inning prior.

The seventh inning started with a six-pitch strikeout by Nick Swisher, but Andruw Jones got the party started by drawing a one-out walk after a 14-pitch at-bat, the second longest plate appearance of the Yankees season. In came pinch-runner Chris Dickerson, who moved to second after Aceves hit Montero with a pitch. That’s what the box score says, but in reality the pitch just grazed the front of his jersey. The Yankees needed baserunners at the time, so they were taking them any way they could. After 42 pitches and four outs, Aceves was done and Daniel Bard marched out of the bullpen.

(click to embiggen)

Russell Martin was up next, having singled to left last time up after a ground out and strikeout in his first two at-bats. Bard was not messing around, starting Martin off with two sliders down and away for two quick swings and misses. The Yankees’ catcher was already down in the count 0-2, and he had yet to see the triple-digit heat. Bard’s third pitch was a 97 mph fastball up for ball one, the fourth pitch a 98 mph fastball just off the plate for ball two. I remember watching that pitch on television and wondering how in the world he laid off it. The fifth pitch was another 98 mph fastball, this one well outside for another ball. Just getting the count back full after falling into an 0-2 hole against a dominant power pitcher was a minor miracle.

The fastball wasn’t working, so Bard went back to the down and away slider. Martin fouled it off to stay alive, stretching the at-bat to at least seven pitches. The next pitch, a 97 mph heater was a mistake pitch up the zone, but that’s the point of working the count. The more pitches a pitcher has to throw in an at-bat, the more likely he is to make a mistake. Martin jumped all over the pitch, driving it into the right-center field gap. Both Dickerson and Montero were running on the 3-2 pitch, perhaps to avoid the double play, and both came around to score. Martin doubled but it was effectively a triple because he took third on the throw to the plate.

The hit, which registered at +0.37 WPA, turned that 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. Eric Chavez pinch-hit for Eduardo Nunez one batter later and drove in Martin for an all-important insurance run, but that’s almost an afterthought. Martin’s hit gave his team the lead and completely silenced the Fenway crowd, a crowd that came to the park knowing the Sox were 11-3 against the Yankees at that point of the season. That record didn’t matter though, because a few innings later, after Mariano Rivera froze Adrian Gonzalez with a cutter for strike three, the two teams were tied atop the division.

The Yankees never looked back after that. They took over sole possession of the AL East three days later with a win over the Blue Jays, and they did nothing but increase that lead the rest of the way. The Red Sox spiraled into a tailspin in September, losing 19 of their final 26 games to complete The Collapse. Martin’s go-ahead double on that Thursday evening in New England didn’t start the fall of the Red Sox, but I sure love pretending it did. That one swing seemed to change everything for both teams.

Yankees decline Damaso Marte’s 2012 option

The Yankees have declined their 2012 club option for Damaso Marte, the team announced today. This should not be a surprise as there was no chance they were going to bring the lefty back at $4 million after missing the majority of the last three seasons with shoulder troubles. He will receive a $250,000 buyout instead.

The Yankees signed Marte to a three-year deal worth $12 million after the 2008 season, a rather curious decision since they could have simply picked up his $6 million option for 2009 and avoided a long-term deal. He gave them just 31 innings during the life of the contract (6.39 ERA), and none this past season. On the bright side, he was pretty awesome in the 2009 playoffs, retiring all twelve men he faced in the ALCS and World Series. Just say no to multi-year contracts for relievers, folks.

Not Fun Fact: On a dollars-per-inning basis, Marte ($387k/IP) was a worse deal than Carl Pavano ($275k/IP). Yikes. Pedro Feliciano will fill the designated injured LOOGY role next season.

Why Darvish makes sense for the Yankees

It appears that the free agent starting pitcher market will gain one more member. While C.J. Wilson appears to head the class currently, we’ve long heard that Japanese phenom Yu Darvish could go through the posting process and head stateside this winter. According to Kyodo News, via JapanBall.com, Darvish plans to ask his team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, to post him after his season ends early next month. A team source says that Nippon Ham will grant the request should Darvish officially make it. Darvish has since denied the report, but he has every reason to do so. Again, his season is not over, as the Fighters still have the Climax Series ahead of them, and perhaps the Japan Series.

At this point it’s difficult to determine exactly how interested the Yankees are in Darvish’s services. As Moshe Mandel wrote on Monday, it’s tough to believe what anyone says regarding Darvish. The blind posting system lends itself to misinformation campaigns. If the Yankees truly are interested, they have no reason to broadcast that fact. They’ll certainly put in a bid, even if it’s only to drive up the price by feigning interest. It’s the aggressiveness of the bid that’s in question.

Yesterday on The Yankee Analysts, David P of Yankees Source provided first-hand scouting information on Darvish. It’s worth the full read, since it reveals information we likely won’t see anywhere else. My two main takeaways: 1) Though he’s an established star in Japan, to an MLB team he’s really a top-tier prospect, and 2) he’s already answered a number of challenges in his career. Again, the entire article gets RAB’s highest level recommendation.

Now that you’re more familiar with Darvish himself, let’s place him in the context of the Yankees needs and resources. Obviously they’ll hunt for pitching this off-season. Even if they bring back CC Sabathia they could certainly use another arm atop their rotation. C.J. Wilson is the only other realistic possibility on the free agent market, and he’d likely cost the Yankees in the $100 million neighborhood (I’d still consider 5/90 the most likely case). He’ll also cost the Yankees a first-round draft pick in 2012, making for the second straight first rounder they’ll have lost. That’s usually a worthy sacrifice for a top-flight pitcher. But the Yankees might do better with Darvish.

For starters, the posting system provides the Yankees a huge advantage. That’s straight money, with no luxury tax or payroll implications attached. If they want to pull a Red Sox and plunk down a $50 million bid, they can do that with no additional penalty. As we saw with Daisuke Matsuzaka, the ensuing contract likely won’t come near the deal that Wilson will eventually sign. That means a lower overall payroll, which allows the Yankees more resources to fill out other roster spots. At this point we can loop back to David’s scouting report and see that there’s a chance that Darvish is straight better than Wilson. Baseball provides little in the way of guarantees. A smart gamble can make all the difference, and it appears that Darvish could be that smart gamble.

At the same time, a smart gamble is still a gamble. Darvish faces many challenges when coming to the US. All around the baseball world, from reporters to fans, I’ve seen the sentiment that the Kei Igawa experience has scared off the Yankees from Japanese pitchers. Few have had long-term success, and two of the most recent transitions, Matsuzaka and Igawa, have flopped badly. Even more recently, Kenshin Kawakami spent his second American baseball season in AA, while Koji Uehara had to make a bullpen transition. But at the same time, we don’t exactly have a long track record of Japanese pitchers to judge. Only 37 Japanese-born players have ever pitched an inning in the majors, and only 14 have topped even 200 career innings. Narrowing the field further, only six have made 100 or more career starts, and only one has made more than 200 starts.

Part of the narrative explaining Japanese pitchers’ relative lack of success is the wholesale changes they face when coming to the States. Culture shock is but one aspect. A change in routine might be more important. Japanese pitchers throw once a week and spend their days training for that routine. It takes a complete change in routine and training regiment to pitch on the MLB five-day schedule. Many pitchers cannot make that adjustment — Matsuzaka, reportedly, would not change his routine despite the different environment. But I refer to the second takeaway from David’s post. Darvish has already answered a number of challenges in his career. It gives me more faith that he can successfully transition to MLB.

The Yankees’ most abundant asset is their capital. Their win-now, win-always management style means draft picks become scarce. That style can also lead to an out-of-hand payroll. With Darvish the Yankees have a perfect opportunity. They can add a potential star — a young potential star — using only their most abundant resource. They also avoid payroll bloat, since Darvish’s contract figures to come in much lower than Wilson’s. There are risks involved, for sure. While there are indications that Darvish can handle the transition, there is no guarantee. There’s also no guarantee that his stuff plays up in the majors. But there are no guarantees with Wilson, either. It’s not an either-or, in that the Yankees can decline to pursue both. But if they do want to add a top-flight starter to the rotation, Darvish could be the man. He fits their M.O. perfectly.