The Great What-If Scenario

When Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th career homer on Wednesday, it was just another memorable moment in a career full of them. One of Alex’s most infamous moments came during Game Four of the 2007 not for his actions on the field, but off it. That’s when he (and agent Scott Boras) announced that he would be opting out of the final three years of his contract, allowing A-Rod to test the free agent waters. Coming off an MVP season in which he hit 54 homers and led the world with 9.2 WAR, it was a massive blow to a team looking old and on the way down.

We all know what happened next. A-Rod eventually re-signed with the Yanks, agreeing to the richest contract in baseball history, then went through a series of ups and downs en route to present day. But in the wake of his down season and all the talk about how the final seven years of his contract will play out, I got to thinking: what if A-Rod never opted out of his contract?

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Let’s assume for a second that Alex never opted out of his contract and everything went on to play out in exactly the same way that it did. The Yankees miss the playoffs in 2008, win the World Series in 2009, and do whatever they end up doing in 2010. Then after the season A-Rod’s original ten year, $252M contract with the Rangers expires, and he hits the open market as a free agent along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and some lesser Yanks. Let’s think about this for a second.

A-Rod would have won at least two MVP awards and one World Championship with the Yanks. He also would have dealt with the public humiliation of being ousted as a performance enhancing drug user plus numerous other off-the-field moments frowned upon in the court of public opinion. On top of all of that, we’re talking about a 35-year-old third baseman with hip trouble coming off what is on pace to be the worst full season of his career. Would the team be looking to re-sign him after the season, and if so at what cost? Perhaps the best way to look at this is to look at the alternatives.

The best of a bad free agent crop of third baseman is Adrian Beltre, who is having a simply fantastic season up in Boston. At 5.0 WAR he’s been one of the six most valuable position players in all of baseball this season, and will surely be looking for more than the one year, $10M player option he’ll inevitably decline to become a free agent. Another multi-year deal worth upwards of $12M per like the one he signed with the Mariners a few years back isn’t out of the question for the 31-year-old. Lesser free agent options include Jorge Cantu, Pedro Feliz, Mike Lowell, and Ty Wigginton.

We can’t know for sure who will be available in trades, but the Yankees are never afraid of going big game hunting. They would have the option of making a huge (and likely unsuccessful) play for Ryan Zimmerman, but more reasonable targets include Kevin Kouzmanoff, Mark Reynolds, Alex Gordon, and Jose Bautista. All have their pros and cons.

There’s also not much on the way internally. Ramiro Pena obviously can’t cut it as everyday player, and the other top candidates – Kevin Russo and Eduardo Nunez – are untested as regulars at the big league level. Brandon Laird was just promoted to Triple-A and is having a monster year, but at 22-years-old is he ready to go from his first Double-A at-bat to his first Major League at-bat in the span on 12 months? When is the last time the Yankees did something like that?

It’s worth mentioning the possibility of re-signing Jeter, moving him to third and acquiring another shortstop would exist. The free agent market is barren on that front (Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Juan Uribe represent the best of a bad lot), the trade market is uninspiring (Brendan Ryan, Stephen Drew), and it’s the same story as above with the internal options. Clearly, there’s basically no way the Yankees would be able to replace A-Rod’s production this offseason unless they were to spend big on Beltre.

I’d like to get a discussion going in the comments about what everyone things the Yanks would do in this hypothetical world where Alex never opted out of his contract and was set to become a free agent after the season. Knowing what we know now, my guess is that the Yanks would look to bring him back at a reduced price, something like $13-15M a year for three or four years. Still enough to make him one of the highest paid players in the game, but more in line with his current production level. A-Rod’s unlikely to find that kind of money elsewhere, and hey, if he means all this stuff about loving his teammates and being happy to be with this organization, he’d take it.

Anyway, tell me what you think. The more I think about this, the more complex it seems to get.

Sanchez & Culver go big in GCL Yanks win

The Yankees have signed 30th rounder Zach Nuding to an above slot $265,000 bonus. He was a summer follow, impressing the Yanks by posting a 28-8 K/BB ratio while holding opponents to a .220 batting average in 28 innings for the North Texas Copperheads of the Texas Collegiate League. The righty stands 6-foot-4, 265 lbs. and has reportedly touched 96 in the past.

Meanwhile, Tim Redding’s a goner. He signed with the Samsung Lions of the Korean Professional Baseball League. It’s a big loss for Triple-A Scranton from a competitive standpoint, dude allowed just five runs and 30 baserunners in 43.1 innings spread across six outings last month. He’ll be replaced in the rotation by The Ghost of Kei Igawa.

And finally, make sure you check out Steve’s profile of Shaeffer Hall at TYU, and Josh Norris’ talk with roving catching coordinator Julio Mosquera.

Triple-A Scranton (5-0 loss to Pawtucket)
Kevin Russo, LF, Colin Curtis, CF & Eduardo Nunez, SS: all 1 for 4 – Russo & Curtis each K’ed once
Juan Miranda, 1B & Jorge Vazquez, DH: both 0 for 4 – Miranda K’ed once, JoVa twice
Jesus Montero, C: 0 for 2, 2 BB, 2 K – no contact kinda day
Brandon Laird, 3B: 2 for 4 – eight for 12 with two doubles & two homers in AA
Chad Huffman, RF: 0 for 2, 2 BB, 1 K
Eric Bruntlett, 2B: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Ivan Nova: 6 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 7-3 GB/FB – 63 of 98 pitches were strikes (64.3%) … picked a runner off first
Romulo Sanchez: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 25 of his 40 pitches were strikes (62.5%) … he hit 95 on the gun

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Back on top

Hey now. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

The Twins did the Yankees a big favor this afternoon, topping the Rays 8-6 in Tampa to split their four game set. It wasn’t easy though, Minnesota jumped out to a 6-0 lead before the Rays tied it up in the 8th inning thanks to a Jason Bartlett (!!!) grand slam. The Trop came back to bite the home team in the next half inning when Jason Kubel popped a ball up on the infield that got hung up in the catwalk and eventually fell in fair territory, allowing a run to score. Here’s the video. The win by Minnesota puts the Yankees back in sole possession of first place in the AL East by half a game, so the disaster of falling out of first lasted all of a day and a half. Something about not over-reacted during a 162 game season belongs here.

Anyway, here’s your open thread on this sweltering hot and humid evening in New York. Seriously, I went out to grab a bagel this morning, and decided I was better off staying inside in the air conditioning while having toast instead of making the two block walk in that humidity. But I digress. There’s a regional coverage game on MLB Network tonight; depending on where you live you’ll either get the Red Sox-Indians or Giants-Braves. Go nuts, talk about whatever you want.

Olney: Yanks considered Willie Harris before the deadline

Via Buster Olney, the Yankees considered pursuing Willie Harris before the trade deadline to fill their utility player spot. Harris can play all three outfield spots and fill in at third, but he has limited experience at short and second so he wasn’t a perfect fit. Plus Harris has been a shockingly bad hitter this season, with a .185/.284/.319 batting line (.281 wOBA) in 170 plate appearances. He did manage to post wOBA’s in the .340’s for the Nationals from 2008-2009, though.

As you can see, the market for a decent bench players is awful.

With Boston in town, resale ticket prices jump

Whenever the Red Sox come to Yankee Stadium in August, something special seems to happen. Last year, the two teams played an epic 15-inning affair that ended with an Alex Rodriguez blast off of Junichi Tazawa en route to a sweep. What will it be this weekend?

This year, the games have lost some of their immediacy. Boston comes to town in third place either six or seven games behind the Yankees, and the Red Sox are only hanging around the fringes of the pennant race. If they can’t take 3 of 4 from the Yankees this weekend, they’ll have a very tough climb to get back into the October picture. Still, the tickets are going like hotcakes.

Our partners at TiqIQ have put together the following graphic to show where ticket prices are today. Even though the Red Sox are hurting and limping along, this series’ average resale price is still 20 percent above season levels. Take a peek at the graphic below, and make sure to check out RAB Tickets for more pricing information and game needs.

WCBS 880 tops MLB cumulative radio ratings

Seemingly in spite of themselves, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are reeling in the listeners. Arbitron, the radio ratings board, has released listener totals for the first half of the baseball season, and more fans tune in for Yankees games than for any other team. According to their estimates, from April 4 to June 23, an average of 441,000 listen to the Bombers. That figure eclipses the second-place Mets by 72,500 fans per game. The Cubs, Tigers and Angels round out the top five.

As for market share, though, neither the Yankees nor the Mets can crack the top 15. In baseball’s target demographic — men between the ages of 25 and 54 — nearly 25 percent of Cincinnatians listening to the radio at that time tune into Reds games. Because millions of people live in New York radio, the lofty listener totals just can’t catch up.

For the Yankees, these high figures mean one thing: More money. Armed with more precise data than ever before, the Yankees and WCBS will be able to milk more money out of the team’s radio broadcasts. “As advertisers look to capitalize on this year’s pennant race, professional baseball on the radio delivers large numbers of listeners for every game,” Arbitron Sports Manager Chris Meinhardt said in a statement. “Arbitron’s Mid-Season PPM Radio Listening for Pro Baseball reports the average game audience for each team.”

Now, if only the team would do something about the quality of their radio announcers. (A tip o’ the hat to Rob Iracane at Walkoff Walk.)

The Ageless Wonder

Yesterday’s game was not a typical one for Yankee catcher Jorge Posada. The soon-to-be 39-year-old made an out in each of his four plate appearances, which by itself isn’t all that shocking, everyone has days like that, but what was surprising was that the 0-for-4 came on just five pitches. Most teams expect very little from their catchers offensively, but Posada isn’t most catchers. He’s been a central piece in the Yankee lineup for the last decade-plus, and continues to be that this season.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

With Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez limping along to the worst full seasons of their careers, it’s only natural for the age question to creep into our mind. We have to acknowledge that their skills will decline for no other reason than being in their mid-30’s, whether that’s losing a step in the field or a touch of bat speed or reaction time or whatever. Even though he’s closing in on this 39th birthday and has spent basically his entire professional career playing the most demanding position in the sport, age is one thing that does not appear to be taking it’s toll on Posada’s offensive game.

Following last night’s 0-fer, the Yankees’ primary catcher sports a .262/.366/.472 batting line this season, good for a .368 wOBA that ranks just behind Joe Mauer’s .370 mark for the lead among American League backstop. Victor Martinez is a distant third at .351. Posada’s season has been two stretches of offensive dominance sandwiched around a period of physical trouble. He came out of the gate playing like an MVP, hitting .326/.406/.618 through mid-May before a Michael Cuddyer foul ball fractured a bone in his right foot. It was a fluke injury, something that comes with the territory. Jorge ended up missing just 16 days, much better than the initial diagnosis of three or four weeks. He served as a designated hitter in his first ten games back, and went just 6-for-33 before getting back behind the plate.

The rest of the first half wasn’t kind to the Yanks’ catcher, as he went on to hit just .230/.352/.365 in 91 plate appearances between his return from the DL and the All Star break. Between his age and the injury, it appeared as if Posada might be joining A-Rod and Jeter on the path to age-related decline. But then something strange happened and Posada started hitting after the break. Perhaps the four days of rest recharged his battery and allowed the nagging bumps and bruises to heal. Jorge came out and went 8-for-23 with three homers in his first three games back, and overall is hitting .250/.339/.500 in the second half. The only AL catcher with a better OPS during that time is that Mauer guy again.

What’s helping Posada remain productive at an age when most catchers are in the retirement home is his skill set, quite simply. He’s always had what you’ll see referred to as “old man skills,” meaning he’s a patient hitter with power. His game doesn’t rely on speed (heh, no kidding) or hitting them where they ain’t, Jorge makes his own luck by working the count and waiting for pitches he can drive. His natural strength allows him to hit those pitches with authority for extra bases.

Of course, this season hasn’t been perfect because of injury. Before the Cuddyer foul tip, Posada missed a few games with a sore knee after Jeremy Guthrie hit him with a pitch (another fluke) and a minor calf strain. A sore ring finger shelved him for a day after another foul tip (yet another fluke), and a barking knee relegated him to DH duties for a few days at the end of last month. Posada has played 46 games behind the plate and another 25 as the DH, the latter group aided by Nick Johnson‘s injury. With a full-time DH on hand, like the team has now in Lance Berkman, Posada would have seen more starts behind the plate.

Defense has never been Posada’s forte and never will be. His mammoth offense – seriously, he hit .283/.386/.492 (.383 wOBA) from 2000-2009 – far outweighed whatever he gave away with his glove. Once the offense starts to slip, then the defense will become a pressing issue, but thankfully that has yet to happen. ZiPS rest of the season projection is a bit pessimistic, forecasting a .350 wOBA for Posada the rest of the season. It’s below Posada’s norm but still well above average for a catcher.

The Yankees have been successful for all these years because they’ve been strong up-the-middle, getting premium production from premium positions. Posada is a gigantic part of that, and so far he’s done one hell of a job defying the aging process as a catcher. He continues to be a dynamic offensive force that makes pitchers work and hits with power, two traits you want to see in any player.

Aside: Just out of curiosity, what kind of offensive numbers do you think Posada could have put up if he played first base all those years? He’s at .277/.378/.480 for his career right now, would .290/.390/.500 be reasonable? Only 29 players in baseball history can claim that as their career line, so we’re talking big time here.