Will Jeter cost the Yankees more than just money?

As the season draws near, the big story isn’t whether or not the team can successfully defend their World Championship, but how the Derek Jeter‘s contract situation will play out after the season. And they say Yankee fans are too focused on the now. We’ve already discussed it ad nauseum here, addressing issues like the possibility that Jeter will ask for six years, or an ownership stake, and that extending him now would be a mistake. Mike Vaccaro came up with another angle today, saying that the Captain’s next contract has already cost them a shot at their shortstop of the future.

As you probably remember, the Yanks had their more than fair $8.5M offer to Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechevarria rejected over the weekend because the 20-year-old had concerns about how he would fit into the organization with Jeter entrenched at his favorite position. He instead headed north of the border to Toronto, who paid him $10M and offered him a crystal clear picture of how he fit into the organization’s future.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things I doubt Jeter’s presence mattered. Chances are Hechevarria would have taken the extra $1.5M from the Blue Jays regardless of who the Yankees had at shortstop. After improving his defense considerably the last two years, there’s no immediate need to move Jeter off of the only position he’s ever played as a professional, so the need for a fill-in is lessened, at least at the moment. There’s always the chance of a Roberto Alomar fall from grace, but it would be a shock to everyone if things played out like that, Jeter and the Yankees included.

I’m not going to fret about Jeter’s inevitable extension costing the Yanks a chance at Hechevarria, there’s more than one way to find a shortstop of the future after all. And besides, this was a rather unique situation. Players with the kind of profile and hype as Hechevarria are the exception, not the rule. The organization seems to be making nothing but smart baseball decisions these days, so I”m confident they’ll find a more than adequate way to replace Jeter at short when the time comes. Whether that’s through the draft, or a temporary stop-gap solution, or a big money free agent signing, I don’t know. I would be surprised if they get caught off guard and end up having to run Ramiro Pena out there 150 games a year.

The Yankees and Jeter will reach an agreement on a new contract after the season, I’m 99.9999% sure of it, and chances are they’re going to overpay him (possibly grossly) for past contributions. It’s not an ideal situation, but the Yankees are one of the few teams able to overpay a homegrown star like that, plus the negative PR that would come from anything but a new deal would be staggering. Jeter knows this, and he also knows that New York is the best place for him, both in terms of marketability and where he is at this point of his career.

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP

Only small personnel shifts remain for the Yanks

The feeling around Tampa is that the lineup the Yankees trot out in tonight’s exhibition game will be the one Joe Girardi hands to the umpires on Opening Day. That marks one of the team’s more significant decisions this spring. As we’ve been saying since the outset, if the batting order represents a major decision the team is probably in good shape. After this the Yankees have just a few decisions to make, and only two that will actually affect who stays on the major league roster.

Fifth starter and bullpen

The most discussed position battle this spring has been for the last spot in the rotation. The Yankees insist that all five participants have an equal shot at winning, but that’s what they’re telling the public. Chances are either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes will pitch behind Javy Vazquez, with the others moving to the bullpen. The Yankees know that they’ll need to replace one or both of Vazquez and Andy Pettitte next season, so having at least one of their highly touted youngsters ready to step in would be to their benefit.

Yet the battle doesn’t quite end there. This battle will see four losers, but there remain only three spots in the Yankees’ seven-man bullpen. Mariano Rivera, Damaso Marte, Chan Ho Park, and David Robertson already have spots, so there isn’t enough room for Al Aceves, Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, and one of Joba and Hughes. This means that, one way or another, the Yankees will have to make a roster move. That might be trading Mitre, though there’s no guarantee they can find an acceptable suitor. Otherwise, it means optioning a player.

Of the eight bullpen suitors, only Joba/Hughes, Aceves, and Robertson have options. There’s almost no chance Robertson heads to AAA, so that leaves only two choices. The Yankees could send the either Joba or Hughes to the minors to remain stretched out, but they would also fit well in the bullpen. Sending Aceves down also appears to be a waste. They’ll have to pick one, though, since it remains unlikely that they’d actually DFA one of these players.

Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP

25th man

The bench won’t be an issue for the Yankees heading into the season. Francisco Cervelli will back up Jorge Posada, Randy Winn will play the part of fourth outfielder, and Ramiro Pena figures to fill the utility role. That leaves just one spot open, and the Yankees have their battle between two players, Jamie Hoffmann and Marcus Thames. It won’t be an easy decision for the Yanks, either way.

This battle isn’t a matter of picking a winner and sending the loser to AAA. Either Thames or Hoffmann will end up elsewhere if he does not make the team. The Yankees must offer Hoffmann, a Rule 5 pick, back to the Dodgers if he does not make the 25-man roster. Perhaps at that point the two teams can work out a trade — maybe even a Mitre-for-Hoffmann swap — that would allow the Yankees to retain Hoffmann and place him in AAA. Chances are, the Dodgers would not refuse the Yankees’ offer of return.

When Thames signed with the Yankees he knew there was a chance he wouldn’t make the team out of spring training. In fact, with Hoffmann on board it would have made sense for the team to start the season with him in the majors and send Thames to AAA, where he could get at-bats while waiting for an opportunity. Seeing this in his future, Thames negotiated an opt-out clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent if he does not make the 25-man roster. He could, of course, still end up playing for Scranton if no other teams shows interest. Those chances, however, don’t appear strong.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Watch them tumble

The Yankees will likely keep a number of pitchers on staff through the end of spring training. The regulars won’t be completely stretched out, and there’s always a need to fill garbage innings when a pitcher gets hammered. But, while we might see guys like Jon Albaladejo and Romulo Sanchez still pitching in big league camp during the last week of March, there’s little to no chance they make the big league team. The Yanks have plenty of depth, to the point where they might have to option a good pitcher and release quality bench fodder. Thankfully, this is nothing but good news.

The Boston angle of the Ronan Tynan story

When the embattled Ronan Tynan departed New York for Boston, many in New York wondered he would defect to the Red Sox and grace (or torture, depending upon your view of things) Fenway Park with his rendition of “God Bless America.” If The Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen has his way, that’s exactly what Tynan will be doing come Opening Day when the Yanks are in town. Cullen profiled Tynan’s move up to Boston in the wake of fall from Yankee grace following a joke made at the expense of two of Tynan’s Jewish neighbors. While the tenor continues to insist that some of his best friends are Jewish and that his joke was not meant to be malicious, he had to leave the city after few wanted to fraternize with him. Whether he takes the mic at Fenway in three weeks or not, I can’t say I’ll miss him too much.

Open Thread: A day off

I despise off days during the baseball season, and the same goes for the exhibition season as well. The Yankees enjoyed their first scheduled off day of the spring today, which was a bit of a bummer for us fans. Even more of a bummer is that picture above, showing the demolition of the leftfield stands at the Old Stadium. And that picture is four days old. Imagine what the place looks like now.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for this Monday night. I want to remind you that we’re trying to clean up the comments, and keep them free of inside jokes and memes and harassing of non-regulars. Take the Curtis Granderson thread from earlier today, there’s over a hundred comments on it, but maybe 30 are about Granderson. Please clean it up (I’m looking at you, regular commentors) and stay on topic. Thanks.

Photo Credit: Bebeto Matthews, AP

Yankees offered Hechevarria $8.5M

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees offered Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechevarria an $8.5M contract, but he instead took $10M from the Blue Jays. We don’t know how that money would have been distributed – how big was the signing bonus, what was the year-to-year breakdown, etc. – but the largest signing bonus the Yankees have ever given to a young prospect (meaning Hideki Irabu and Jose Contreras don’t count) was the $3.35M they gave Andrew Brackman two-plus years ago. The Red Sox gave Jose Iglesias a $6M bonus, and I’d have to think Hechevarria would have cleared that.

You can always tell how much a team likes a player by how much they’re willing to pay him, and clearly the Yanks’ had a ton of interest in the rail-thin Hechevarria. Can’t blame them for not trying, that’s a tremendous offer.

Link Dump: Options, Spring Training, Starters

A little of this, a little of that…

Righties Nova and Noesi optioned down

The cuts continue to roll in, and this time it involves two players on the 40-man roster. Ivan Nova was sent down to Triple-A Scranton, and he’ll likely be among the first called up when a pitcher is needed. Hector Noesi was sent a little further down the ladder, back to High-A Tampa, and it would be a surprise if he contributed anything to the big league team before the summer of 2011. By my count, there’s 46 players left in camp, but don’t hold me too it.

Cliff’s Spring Training Status Report

Cliff Corcoran at the great Bronx Banter posted a report card for the one-third point of Spring Training. There’s not to much we can say with any certainty at this point, but he touches on the expected lineup, the bench spots, the fifth starter’s spot, basically the entire team top to bottom. As always, it’s well worth the read.

Maybe the Yanks shouldn’t be so worried about their starters’ workload

Sucka got no juice (he’ll never, ever live that down) says that all the innings the Yankees’ three top starters have thrown in recent years may not be such a problem, citing what may or may not be evidence to support his claim. Of course, it’s easy to not be concerned about it from the outside looking in, and it’s obvious the Yanks are doing their best to mitigate the risk of a breakdown. Javy Vazquez was brought in to soak up innings at the back of the bullpen, and everyone’s been on a light schedule so far in camp.

A closer look at Kevin Long

Chad Jennings takes a closer look at Yankees hitting instructor Kevin Long. He’s helped a number of players with their swings, and he doesn’t want to stop any time soon. The profile covers his playing days — he never saw a major league at bat, topping out at AAA — and a freak accident that sounds like it could have been a lot worse.

Hitting the opposite way a key for Granderson in 2010

In previewing Curtis Granderson’s season, I noted that his rebound to 2008 levels is essential for the Yankees offense. That would represent a replica of Johnny Damon‘s 2009 season, making Granderson the perfect fill-in. How, though, will he return to those levels? Clearly, hitting lefties better is a good start. But what then? Where else was Granderson deficient in 2009?

Throughout his career, Granderson has hit the ball well to left field. In fact, during his first full-season in 2006 he destroyed the ball to the opposite field, hitting .388 with a .320 ISO in 107 balls directed that way. His average to left dipped a bit during his breakout 2007 season, to .265, but he still hit for plenty of power, a .184 ISO. This is the season, though, during which he started to hit for more power to right. HIs ISO when pulling went from .229 in 2006 to .441 in 2007. In 2008 Granderson again hit well to the opposite field, posting a .327 BA and .292 ISO. This was, at least in part, because he hit 25.5 percent of his balls in play that way, similar to his 24.6 percent mark from 2006. He hit 20.5 percent the opposite way in 2007.

In 2009 Granderson got back to his 2007 level distribution, hitting 21.6 percent of his balls in play the opposite way. His numbers on those balls in play dropped greatly, too, a .179 batting average and a .047 ISO. Of course, as in his 2007 season, his numbers when pulling spiked, a .385 BA and .405 ISO. Even better for him, he hit 259 balls that way, far more than at any point of his career, representing 52.3 percent of his balls in play. Yet the net effect was negative, and Granderson posted the worst BA and OBP of his career.

Granderson’s poor contact to the opposite field in 2009 shows in his batted ball splits. He hit a career high 73.6 percent fly balls to left, though it wasn’t terribly higher than his 70.8 percent mark in 2008. The difference, however, showed up in two other places. First, he hit 24.4 percent of those opposite field fly balls to the shortstop or third baseman. That means of the 79 fly balls he hit to left, 19 of them didn’t leave the infield. Even worse, zero of those 60 outfield fly balls left the yard. Granderson never flashed tremendous home run power to left, but he’s always put at least a couple out of the yard. Not in 2009.

Furthermore, Granderson hit a scant few ground balls to the left side, which likely sapped his batting average (since ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls). He hit just 8.5 percent ground balls the opposite way, about half his percentage from 2008. Also, though not as significant, he also posted a three-year low in infield hit percentage to the left side. Since most infield hits go in that direction, he further hurt his average.

While Granderson’s issues against lefties are well-documented and easily accessible, his numbers when hitting the opposite way also present cause for concern. During his run from 2006 through 2008 Granderson generally hit well the opposite way; even in his pull-happy 2007 he still far outperformed his 2009 marks. We’ve often heard that the left field porch at Yankee Stadium could help Granderson, but perhaps it could work against him. If he starts trying to put balls there it could hurt his numbers going the opposite way. As we’ve seen, his inability to hit that way in 2009 played a prominent role in his poor performance.

Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP