Jorge Posada: Catcher of the decade

Shoulda played Jorge more in '98 (Kathy Willens/AP)

When you think about the best catchers in baseball during a certain period, who comes to mind? I go from Bill Dickey to Yogi to Johnny Bench to Carlton Fisk to Gary Carter to Ivan Rodriguez to Mike Piazza to Jorge Posada to Joe Mauer. I know I’ve missed a few, but this is the general idea. The one name that might stand out among these is Posada. Here we have listed the greatest catchers of all time — Hall of Famers, the lot of them. How does Posada fit on this list?

I think that Posada’s case among the all-time great catchers gets caught up in arbitrary end points. There’s one period that begins in the early 90s, when Rodriguez and Piazza came up, where they absolutely dominated. From 1991 through 2003 Piazza produced 62 fWAR and Rodriguez produced 56. The next closest, Jason Kendall, produced 29. Then, from 2004 through 2010 we have the Joe Mauer era. While he doesn’t so thoroughly destroy the competition, his WAR is the highest of that period and he has the narrative of catcher dominance.

Where does Jorge fit in? For starters, he’s at 26 fWAR from 2004 through 2010, just seven behind Mauer, so his case there is immediately understated. But there was a period when he stood above all of his peers. Now we can see it in a somewhat visual format, as FanGraphs has introduced WAR Grids. Here are the top 25 catchers of the last decade, 2000 through 2009:

Click for larger

This isn’t Mauer 2004 through 2010 dominance, though it’s not quite Piazza/Rodriguez dominance, either. Stil, Posada put up 10 more fWAR than his closest competitor, and he did it at the same age range. If we add in 2010, to cover Posada’s tenure a the Yankees’ starting catcher, he’s 12 WAR ahead of No. 2. Even if we go back to 1998, the first year Posada played more than 100 games, he’s still No. 1.

In a few years, Posada’s name will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot. Maybe the process for induction will have changed by then, but I doubt it. That leaves the writers with the responsibility to determine Jorge’s case. I’m not saying that WAR alone is grounds for Posada’s induction. But I do think that his reign over the league since he became a half-time player, and his sheer dominance in the 00s, makes for a strong foundation. He might get trapped between Piazza/Rodriguez and Mauer, but that doesn’t make his career any less impressive.

Arbitration Case: Boone Logan

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

As we sit and wait for the Yankees to make some kind of transaction this month (just to liven things up for cryin’ out loud, forget about strengthening the team at this point), there’s some in-house stuff to be taken care of behind the scenes. Teams and players are currently in the process of filing for arbitration, and will exchange salary figures six days from now. Brian Cashman recently told Chad Jennings that the team always looks to have a contract in place before a hearing (just like everyone else), but they’re not afraid to go to one if they feel the player is asking for unfair compensation. Chien-Ming Wang learned this the hard way back in 2008.

The Yankees have just three arbitration-eligible players this winter, and we’ve already covered Phil Hughes’ case as well as Joba Chamberlain’s. That leaves Boone Logan, who has already been usurped as the club’s primary lefty reliever by Pedro Feliciano this offseason. This is actually Logan’s second time through the arbitration process since he’s a Super Two. That just means he’s eligible for arbitration four times instead of three because he’s going to fall a few weeks short of qualifying for free agency in a couple of years. It’s just a way of making that extra three-fourths of a year of team control slightly more fair to the player. Logan pulled down $590,000 in 2011, not all that much more than the league minimum. He’ll get a decent raise this offseason after a fine second half that saw him strike out 25 batters and hold opponents to a .247 wOBA in an admitted small sample of 21.2 IP.

Remember, arbitration cases are built on old school stats that are simple for the three-person panels to understand, so that’s what we’re going to stick with here. It was real tough to find comparables for Logan, since lefty relievers come and go like buses at rush hour. I did the best I could, and here’s who I came up with…

So yeah, they aren’t perfect comparables, but that’s life. If we apply the 137.6% average raise (which is weighted by innings pitched) to Logan’s 2010 compensation, we get a projected 2011 salary of $811,840, which is still dirt cheap. Because he was so good late in the season, I’m willing to bet he gets a slightly larger raise than that, and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up making a million bucks or so this coming summer.

Logan’s arbitration case will be little more than a nuisance to the front office given the relatively small amount of money at stake (less than one percent of the payroll even if he beats them in a hearing), but it’s a sizable raise for him. It does a good job showing you how much the arbitration process keeps salaries down though, because he’s going to earn about a quarter of what Feliciano will for similar work and what could easily be similar performance.

All told, the Yankees are looking at about $7M in 2011 payroll obligation through their three arbitration cases this winter, about $5.5M more than what Hughes, Joba, and Logan earned in 2010. I thought it would be a lot less than that coming into the offseason, but that’s because I didn’t have a firm grasp on the salary scale. Given how much money the team is paying some its older stars, getting cheap production from players like this is imperative to balance out the payroll and keep spending in check.

Roger Clemens and the late-winter trade

Of all the dramatic things I've ever seen, Roger Clemens pitching on Opening Day in 1999 was not one of them. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

These days, Yankee fans have a relationship with Roger Clemens that could be described as tenuous at best. Our final memories of the Rocket include his early departure in Game 3 of the 2007 ALDS, a mediocre half season in the Bronx and Suzyn Waldman’s infamous histrionics on the day of his return to pinstripes. Today, Clemens’ pending perjury case may be pushing Andy Pettitte away from the Yanks, and no one wants to dwell on that sad state of affairs.

But Clemens’ first tenure in pinstripes was cause for celebration. He won an undeserved Cy Young Award and two World Series rings. He went 77-36 and was a key cog in the last years of the great Yankee Dynasty of the 1990s and early 2000s. To top it off, the Yanks didn’t land Clemens until February 18, 1999, two days before pitchers and catchers were due in Tampa. How did it all go down?

The Yankees’ love for Roger Clemens started long before the winter after their 114-win season. After a 10-13 season in which he sported a 3.63 ERA and a 9.5 K/9 IP, Clemens was a free agent bound for greener pastures. The Red Sox didn’t want to pony up, and George Steinbrenner had his sights set on the Rocket. The Boss offered four years and $32 million while Clemens instead signed with Toronto for three years and $24.75 million (with an $8.1 million option). He received a higher average annual salary but signed for fewer guaranteed years to go to Toronto, and the Yanks signed David Wells instead.

After two seasons of spinning his wheels in Toronto, Clemens was tired of Canada. He won two Cy Young Awards and went 41-13 with a 2.40 ERA, but the Blue Jays finished in last in 1997 and in third, nearly 30 games behind the Yanks , in 1998. So he asked for a trade, and the Blue Jays were willing to oblige. Although the Rocket eventually rescinded that request, Toronto found a market and an opportunity to free up $9.85 million.

As with any big trade, this one did not come easy, and in fact, it dragged on for months. The Yankees were interested from the get-go; in fact, they were eyeing Clemens at the 1998 trade deadline. The price to land Clemens, however, was steep. In early December, as the Yanks were competing with the Rangers, the Rockies, the Tigers, the Indians and the Astros, the club seemed willing to trade Andy Pettitte to Toronto. The Blue Jays, though, wanted some package including some or all of Orlando Hernandez, Ramiro Mendoza, Homer Bush, Mike Lowell and top prospect Alfonso Soriano.

In January, after Clemens withdrew his trade request — a request deemed to be against MLB rules anyway — talks stalled. The Yankees tried and failed to pry Curt Schilling away from the Phillies, but the Blue Jays kept lingering. And then, on the precipice of Spring Training, it all clicked. Toronto asked for David Wells, Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd, and the Yanks pulled the trigger. New York and David Wells mourned David Wells’ exile from the Bronx, and up in Boston, Red Sox fans were quite blue as the Yanks landed their ace.

Today, we’re waiting for the Yanks to fill their holes. They’re not coming off a historic season or a World Series win. They fell two games short of the Fall Classic this past year and failed to land Cliff Lee last month. But the off-season isn’t over until Opening Day, and we’ve seen big trades happen on literally the last day of baseball’s winter. Until then, the 2011 Yankees are still just a work in progress.

Open Thread: Hello, RJ

Hey look, it's Brad Halsey! *crickets* (AP Photo/Ed Betz)

Two days ago we celebrated Randy Johnson’s departure from the Yankees, but today is the six year anniversary of his acquisition. Hard to believe it’s been that long already. They parted ways with Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, and then top prospect Dioner Navarro, none of whom they really miss. We all know Javy’s story, but Navarro never played a game for Arizona. He was packaged with some others and sent to the Dodgers for Shawn Green later than day. Halsey tossed up a 4.61 ERA in 160 innings for the D’Backs in 2005 before being traded to the A’s for Juan Cruz. He shredded his shoulder not long after that and hasn’t played in affiliated baseball in 2007. I was unfathomably stoked about the trade at the time, but it’s taught me and many others to not get too excited about 41-year-old pitchers coming to the AL East from the NL West, no matter how historically great they are.

Anywho, here is your open thread for the evening. The Rangers, Isles, and Knicks are all playing, so there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Treat the thread as you see fit, enjoy.

Minor Notes: Sojo, Tyson, Injuries

Got some minor league news to pass along this afternoon, so let’s round it up bullet point style…

  • The AP reports that Luis Sojo has been named the manager of the two-time defending High-A Florida State League champion Tampa Yankees for the 2011 season. The best bad utility infielder ever managed the club from 2006 through 2009 before leaving the team for an unknown reason last February.
  • Meanwhile, former Tampa Yanks manager Torre Tyson has been re-assigned and is now the organization’s minor league defensive coordinator, whatever that means.
  • Chad Jennings got a bunch of minor league injury updates from VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman. Eduardo Nunez, who fouled a ball off his face a few weeks ago, is a-okay and will be 100% by the time Spring Training begins.
  • David Adams, who rocked the Double-A Eastern League to the tune of a .403 wOBA before suffering an ankle injury in May, is healthy and will be ready to start the season. I suspect he’ll go back to Trenton, he only had 173 plate appearances there before the injury.
  • Jeremy Bleich is unlikely to be ready to start the season on time after having surgery to repair a torn labrum last summer.
  • Caleb Cotham has nearly as many surgeries (two, knee and labrum) as professional appearances (three), but he’s throwing again following the shoulder procedure. His status for the start of the season is unknown right now.
  • Reegie Corona won’t be healthy enough to start the season after breaking his arm in a collision last summer, and he’ll likely to serve as a DH when he eventually does come back. That’s a shame, because he owns a .328 wOBA in his last 2,554 plate appearances. Corona is on the 40-man roster (for whatever reason), so they Yankees could stick him on the 60-day DL to free up a roster spot. He’ll accrue service time while on the DL, which isn’t really the issue, but the team will have to pay him a big league salary compared to his puny minor league compensation.
  • And finally, remember Carmen Angelini? He missed all of last season with hip issues but is healthy and expected to start the 2011 season … somewhere. The kid had a lot to work on before even before the injury (.270 wOBA in 889 pro plate appearances), so he mind wind up back in Extended Spring Training.

Yankees finalize 2011 coaching staff

The Yankees announced today that with the exception of new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, the coaching staff will return intact for the 2011 season. Tony Pena will handle bench coach duties while Mike Harkey oversees the bullpen, and Mick Kelleher and Robbie Thomson will coach first and third bases, respectively. Hitting coach Kevin Long signed his new three-year deal not long after the season ended. Dave Eiland being replaced was a surprise, but otherwise everyone was expected to return.

The RAB Radio Show: January 11, 2011

The Yankees have again been connected to an injured pitcher, so that’s what we’re going to discuss. It started off with Justin Duchscherer, but we move onto the other injury cases, Jeremy Bonderman and Jeff Francis. We wonder what each is seeking, and how each can help the Yanks.

Then we’re onto the other area of need, fourth OF. Last night Ben discussed Andruw Jones vs. Marcus Thames, so Mike and I continue where he left off. Mike brings up another name, and I continue talking about Johnny Damon.

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