On mansions, hunger and Hank Steinbrenner

An aerial view of St. Jetersburg (Photo Credit: Michael Egger, TBO.com)

Derek Jeter has built himself an huge mansion on Davis Island overlooking the Tampa Bay. Jeter spent $7.7 million on two lots back in 2005 and 2006, and in early 2009, he started construction on his $7.7 million house. It’s a very big house, the largest square-foot-wise in all of Hillsborough County.

Hank Steinbrenner, the Yanks’ general partner and co-chairperson, doesn’t much go for mansions. While talking off the cuff with reporters on Monday afternoon, Hank attempted to channel his dad as he questioned his team’s hunger in 2010. “Sometimes, I think maybe they celebrated a bit too much last year, and some of the players were too busy building mansions and doing other things and not concentrating on winning,” he said. “I have no problems saying that. I think they’ll come into this spring with a new hunger, and that’s what it takes to win.”

When a reporter noted that only Jeter built a mansion this past year, Hank backtracked a bit. He didn’t, however, note that the mansion under the microscope had been under construction during the Yanks’ 2009 World Series run. “I’m not singling anybody out,” he insisted. “Maybe they were riding the wave of ’09 a little too much. It happens. Psychologically, it happens.”

Except for a digression on Rafael Soriano, those were Hank’s most strident words during the nine-minute session with reporters. Afterwards, Erik Boland of Newsday took to Twitter to remind the amused masses that the eldest Steinbrenner son has “little influence on day-to-day operations.” The comments are, in other words, “nothing more than entertainment.”

But I think there’s more going on than just entertainment. Hank is defensive about his money. He’s made that perfectly clear in his repeated attacks on Major League Baseball’s revenue sharing system, and again yesterday, he called it either communist or socialist. Bud Selig, he says, wants to “do something” about it.

With Jeter, then, Steinbrenner, who doesn’t involve himself with the Yanks too closely, saw what we all saw. George’s golden boy — the short stop/captain who could — is getting older. With free agency looming, the 36-year-old hit .270/.340/.370 last year and produced career lows in nearly every offensive category. He was also coming off of a 10-year, $189-million contract but still wanted to be paid like the icon he is and the player he was.

After bitter negotiations made worse by incessant media coverage, the Yanks and Jeter struck a deal. For the next three years, Jeter will average $16 million in annual salary, and he holds an $8 million player option for 2014 that could be worth as much as $17 million. As Jeter noted this weekend, he intends to play out the duration of the contract. “That’s my option, buddy,” he said.

We don’t know what kind of season Jeter will have this year. We don’t know if Kevin Long can stave off an age-related decline. We don’t know what 39-year-old or 40-year-old Jeter will look like. We do know that he’ll be living in a mansion in Hank’s backyard that’s bigger than any house around. No wonder the Yanks’ owner is taking jabs at mansions.

Hanks likes to roar; that’s nothing new. But taking aim at Jeter won’t earn him many accolades from the fans. The Yanks are moving forward with Jeter, as they should, and that’s just the way of things, mansions and all.

A Note on Soriano

In the same interview, Steinbrenner defended the Yanks’ signing of Rafael Soriano, and he adamantly compared the reliever to Cliff Lee. “Everybody’s missing the point,” he said of the criticism surrounding Soriano. “We didn’t get Lee, but we got the second best relief pitcher in the American League next to our own guy…They seem to be conveniently forgetting that fact.” He again repeated, “We didn’t get the starter, but we got the reliever.” As the Yanks head into the season with a mixture of Sergio Mitre, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon holding down the back end of the rotation, I wonder who exactly is missing the point.

A hat tip to Marc Carig for the Hank Steinbrenner audio.

Vegas Watch 2011 Over/Under

Vegas Watch (via Bookmaker) posted the 2011 over/under win totals over the weekend, and they set the Yankees at 91. I’m going to take the over, but not by much. I remain unconvinced that going from 21 starts of Andy Pettitte, 26 starts of Javy Vazquez, nine starts of Dustin Moseley, and seven starts of Ivan Nova to about 60 starts of Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Sergio Mitre, Nova, misc. prospect, misc. free agent, and misc. trade acquisition, is more than a four win downgrade, though it’s certainly a downgrade. What do you think?

A few others that I’m sure will get mentioned in the comments: Red Sox (96), Phillies (97), and Rays (86). I’m going to say under on the first two and over on the last. I don’t feel comfortable saying any team will win more than 95 games, nevermind 97. Tampa’s still really good, though not as good as last year.

Open Thread: February 21st Camp Notes

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The latest from camp on a rather busy day…

  • Hank Steinbrenner stole the show by mouthing off about a number of topics. “Some of the players [were] too busy building mansions and doing other things, not concentrating on winning. I have no problem saying that.” Gee, I wonder who he was referring too. Hank also questioned the focus of the 2010 team, saying they celebrated too much after the 2009 World Series. This is the same team that won 95 games and was two wins away from the World Series. Although I suppose it’s easy to think the team isn’t focused when you go to two games a year. (Mark Feinsand)
  • Alex Rodriguez conducted a much more civilized press conference, saying that his hip is healthy enough that he can return to the same workout routine he adhered to prior to the surgery. That’s what led to the weight and body fat loss this offseason. (Joel Sherman)
  • Dellin Betances threw an early morning batting practice session in front of some serious heat: Joe Girardi, Tony Pena, Larry Rothschild, pro scouting director Billy Eppler, pro scout Rick Williams, guest instructor David Wells, and a handful of minor league pitching coordinators were all there to watch him. (Chad Jennings & George King)
  • The list of non-Betances pitchers that threw live BP today: Andy Sisco, Andrew Brackman, Steve Garrison, Daniel Turpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, and Eric Wordekemper. Joe Girardi raved about Brackman and his cleaned up mechanics, but cautioned not to read too much into a BP session. (Marc Carig, Carig & Carig)
  • Jorge Posada was in full catcher’s gear, participating in fielding drills. There’s no reason not to have him in catching shape when the season begins. Ronnie Belliard also took reps at first base, Eric Chavez third base. The Yankees will play both guys at the corner infield spots this spring.  Outfielders took turns trying to rob homers at the wall. (Carig, Carig & Jennings)
  • Boone Logan airmailed a throw and hit a little girl in the stands in her arm. He ran to the dugout, got some ice, and she was ultimately fine. I’m guessing she got at least a ball and an autograph out of it, hopefully from someone better than Boone Logan. (Carig & Erik Boland)
  • A-Rod made a nice little play over a diving Joba Chamberlain during the fielding drills, then called the right-hander a “good husky.” He meant Husker, as in Nebraska Corn Husker. I laughed. (Bryan Hoch & Ben Shpigel)
  • After working out with Robbie Cano during the offseason, Eduardo Nunez was crushing the ball in batting practice. (Boland & Hoch)
  • The Yankees had their annual umpires meeting this morning. (Mark Feinsand)
  • And finally, the Yankees are converting minor leaguer Addison Maruszak into a catcher. An infielder so far in his career, the Yankees are trying to turn him into some sort of eight-position super-sub. Injuries have slowed him a bit in the last two years, but Maruszak is a good athlete and can hit a little (career .324 wOBA in 808 PA), so there’s a non-zero chance it’ll will work. (Jennings)

Here’s the open thread for the night. The Islanders are the only local team in action, so yeah. You all know what to do, so go nuts.

Shameless Plug: Eephus League Scorebook Kickstarter

I know I’m not usually allowed out of my cage on a Monday, but I thought I oughta drop in a little plug for something that caught my eye. Eephus League, a sort-of-blog (more like a collection of cool graphics and general baseball miscellanea with a side of blogging), has created a baseball scorecard book that I personally think is the most amazing thing around. It is, as they said in the 90’s, the bomb. The shizznit. The cat’s meow. You get the point.

I’ve personally been unable to find a scorecard book that I actually like (I’m about two web shopping trips from printing something out, going to Kinko’s with it, and making my own) and have instead been growing a messy, unwieldy pile of scorecards from baseball programs. This scorebook totally appeals to me, and it should appeal to you too, if you love baseball scorekeeping. It’s a nerd thing, but hey, I’ve spent Saturday nights compiling spreadsheets.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Kickstarter, but the basic gist is is that the owner of a project posts a brief, hand-made video and text synopsis, then says they need X money in Y days. People pledge money to the project. If enough money is pledged, the project goes through. If not enough money is put in before time is up, no money is paid out at all. The more money you donate, the cooler gifts you get (I went for the pins). Sadly, no Paypal allowed.

You should all put in five bucks because baseball scoring is awesome. $15 nets you a scorecard and a feel-good vibe in your gut. Click here for the Kickstarter page.

Food For Thought: Derek Jeter

Hitting coach Kevin Long spoke yesterday about the changes he and Derek Jeter are making to the Captain’s swing, specifically with regards to the inside pitch. “The issue with the stride foot is when it crosses over and goes [toward the plate] and the ball is coming inside, you don’t have a path to get to that pitch,” said Long. “So he’s going to try to [keep his hands and body inside] and try to stay into it … Now, by staying square and going up on his toe and going [inside with the swing], he’s creating an avenue for his hips to get through and to become square to the baseball.”

The two heat graphs above show Jeter’s foul balls over the last two years, with 2009 on the left and 2010 on the right. They come courtesy of Dave Pinto at Baseball Analytics, and allow us to see that the inside pitch was giving the Cap’n a hard time last year. Instead of putting those balls in play like we’re so used to seeing, he was just fouling them off. Assuming the adjustments work, the bulk of the foul balls should come on pitches on the outer half in 2011.

The RAB Radio Show: February 21, 2011

All the position players are in camp, which means a chance for a new story to emerge. Remember, last week the talk was about how fat the pitchers were. This week we shift gears completely. A-Rod showed up svelter than last year, and he has good news regarding his hip.

Really, the returns to form by A-Rod and Teixeira will dictate the 2011 team’s offensive prowess. Mike and I talk about some of the problems they had in 2010.

Podcast run time 27:33

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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

The importance of a hot start for Teixeira

(Charles Krupa/AP)

Even though we heard it when the Yankees signed him, and even though we’ve witnessed it for the past two seasons, it’s still hard to simply accept Mark Teixeira‘s slow starts. The team counts on him as one of its best hitters, and while he can apparently be that player from May through October, for the past four seasons he has turned in terrible Aprils. This year, though, the Yankees need offense in April more than ever, and a present Teixeira would go a long way towards racking up that run total.

The thing is, the Yankees don’t even need Teixeira to be great in April. He has been so bad the last two Aprils that even his second-worst month’s numbers would suffice. If he can do even that, it would go a long way to the Yankees opening up the season hot on offense. Again, that might be more important than in the past, since the pitching staff carries more questions this season. Furthermore, it will mean a more productive season overall. Here’s what Teixeira’s numbers would look like if we substituted his September 2010 for April 2010, and his July 2009 for April 2009:

Note: I used the same number of PA Tex had in April and reverse engineered the counting stats.

The 2010 change is particularly notable, because Teixeira’s second worst month last year was pretty putrid: .220/.346/.349 in 133 September PA. Of course, that was a monster month compared to his .136/.300/.259 April. You can imagine how those numbers would look had we substituted even his .250/.353/.460 June instead. These slow starts are absolutely killing Teixeira’s seasons, and they’re hurting the team’s ability to jump out to an early lead in April.

Maybe this is the year he breaks his four-year curse. After all, in 2006 he hit .293/.391/.495 in April. He’s a different hitter now, of course, so maybe that’s no longer possible. Still, even something along the lines of his April 2005 — .262/.321/.485 — would be a welcome sight this year. With some questions on the pitching staff and another tight AL East race on the horizon, the Yanks could sure use it.