When Johnny went marching away again

AP Photo/Rob Carr)

“I know where I want to be next year. I want to be here in New York.”

Maybe I let myself get suckered in by Johnny Damon last spring and summer. Maybe I listened to him speak in radio interviews and locker room chats in May, after games in August and on Sirius XM as recently as November and dared to believe he was telling the truth.

“This would definitely be the best place for me. I’d sure love to keep taking advantage of that right-field porch.”

It would have been simple for Damon to stay in New York City. All he had to do was tell that to his agent and urge Scott Boras to make one last contract work. After all, Damon will be playing his age 36 season in 2010, and with his defense slowing down, he’ll need to DH. With that short porch in right field, Yankee Stadium was perfectly suited to Damon’s bat, and while Brian Cashman has wisely improved the team’s defense, Damon would have had a role to play yet.

“I don’t know where else I would want to go to. Obviously, that’s not the right thing to say when you’re about ready to approach free agency, but I’m very happy with playing in New York, and my family’s happy I play for New York. There’s no bigger place to go.”

Yet, this past weekend just days before he had to report to training camp somewhere, Johnny Damon finally reached an agreement with the Detroit Tigers on a one-year deal rumored to be worth $8 million. He’ll inexplicably receive a no-trade clause, and even though his wife was reported to be unhappy with the move and even though the Yanks had extended him a multi-year offer, Damon will take his bat and glove to the pitcher’s park of Comerica and hope for the best.

In the Bronx, last week Brian Cashman sounded somewhere between a jilted lover and a shocked businessman — shocked at Scott Boras’ hubris and the way Damon and his agent seemingly misplayed this off-season. He offered the incumbent left fielder a two-year deal worth $14 million, and even though that money represented a significant pay cut for Damon, it would remain the best one Johnny had on the table all winter. At the time, Cashman too knew it would be the top offer Damon would get.

“The industry the last two free agent markets seems to be going downward and the player’s ages are going upward,” Cashman said. “It makes more sense to be patient. My attitude is if this is the place you want to be, you will make it happen. Johnny Damon professed his love for the Yankees, wanted to be here and was given every chance to be here. He’s not here anymore and I don’t feel that is the Yankees’ fault. They have to reconcile why they are not here, not me. If people want to be here and be a part of something, then find a way to work it out.”

Cashman was clearly irked at the way the negotiations went down. “Scott Boras said, ‘Bobby Abreu’s contract is $9 million a year right now on the table so why would we do that? So I expect to see a Bobby Abreu contract.’” the Yanks’ GM said. “I hope he does not sign for something less than our offer. That means he should have been a Yankee and that’s not our fault.”

At the same time, Ken Rosenthal wonders if Boras is to blame. The Fox Sports scribe believes Boras wanted to keep the Cardinals believing that the Yanks were interested in Matt Holliday and therefore never engaged the Yanks on Damon until it was far too late. From what we’ve heard in the past about Boras and from a business perspective, this conspiracy theory would make sense. After all, Holliday will make Boras far more money over the next eight or ten years than Damon will, and it just makes sense for Boras to push Damon to the side while focusing on his younger and more valuable clients.

Here we are, then, without Johnny Damon. I know my tone here sounds more annoyed than I actually am. I didn’t like Damon’s defense, and I can see his production completely falling off a cliff this year, especially away from his home run haven. Yet, something about Damon made me believe his sincerity. Today, though, I know how Red Sox fans felt after the 2005 season. Johnny Damon might talk the talk, but when it came time to walk the walk, money — and less than he could have gotten in the first place — ruled the day instead.

What does the Chan Ho Park signing mean for the rest of the bullpen?

Like most of you, I was surprised to find out the Yankees had signed Chan Ho Park to a one-year deal when I woke up this morning. We heard some rumblings about the team having possible interest in Park last week, but I wrote it off as the typical “let’s get the Yankees involved to drive up the price” shtick. Joe will take a more in-depth look at Park later on tonight, but for now let’s just try to figure out how he fits into the bullpen and how it’ll affect everyone else out there.

First off all, aside from Park, the other reliever most impacted by this move is Edwar Ramirez because he’s the guy likely to be designated for assignment to free up a 40-man roster spot. Chances are he’ll clear waivers and be outrighted to Triple-A Scranton. Since this will be the first outright assignment of his career, Edwar won’t have the chance to decline the assignment and elect to become a free agent. He’s going to Triple-A whether he likes it or not.

With the addition of Park, the Yankees have six relievers all but locked into spots in their seven man bullpen. Before this morning’s move, Damaso Marte and David Robertson figured to get the bulk of the late inning work in front of Mariano Rivera, while Al Aceves soaked up the middle innings and Chad Gaudin did the mop up/long relief thing. The roles might change slightly with Park aboard (bullpen chaining FTW!) but the players figure to remain the same, so that seventh and final spot is in a state of flux, and there’s certainly no shortage of options to fill it.

Just looking at our Depth Chart, you have Jon Albaladejo, Mark Melancon, Romulo Sanchez, Boone Logan, Sergio Mitre, and the loser of the Phil Hughes/Joba Chamberlain fifth starter battle all as candidates for that spot. Obviously some have a more realistic chance of breaking camp with the team than others. Mitre is out of options, so the Yankees would have to risk losing him on waivers before they could send him to the minors, however everyone else I mentioned could be sent down at the end of Spring Training without incident.

Looking at how the first two weeks of the season lay out, I bet the Yanks will send the winner of the fifth starter battle to Triple-A while the loser hangs out in the big league bullpen. They won’t need a fifth starter until their 11th game of the season, so instead of carrying that extra starter and having him go stale during the two week layoff, he’ll go down and make a start or two in Scranton to stay ready. The Yanks can then use the roster spot that would go to the fifth starter to carry an eighth reliever for the time being. Considering how they plan to take it easy on their front four starters out of the gate, plus the general unpredictably of April pitching, having that eighth reliever around to eat some innings early on will come in handy.

With the addition of Park, that extra spot appears to go to Sergio Mitre almost by default. He’s out of minor league options, and he’s capable of pitching multiple innings if needed. Joe Girardi also has the option of using that extra spot to take a second lefty reliever in Logan, especially since their first six games are against the lefty heavy lineups of Boston and Tampa. I just can’t see them taking a chance on losing Mitre for six measly games in April. I know Mitre stinks, but there’s value in his ability to eat up low-leverage innings out of the pen, especially early on when the starters are still getting their feet wet in meaningful games.

So, assuming everyone stays healthy through camp, here’s what I expect the bullpen to look like on Opening Day…

Closer: Mo
Setup: Hughes/Joba (I fully expect it to be Hughes)
LOOGY: Marte
Middle: Aceves
Middle: Robertson
Middle: Park
Long: Gaudin
Long: Mitre

Those two weeks buy the Yankees some time. They can evaluate Mitre a little longer, and at the same time he can try to prove his worth not just to his current team, but to another one that might need a starter at some point. Moving his salary will get the team back under their $200M budget, so that all works out. I guess in an ideal world, the Yanks would send Mitre to the Dodgers for Jamie Hoffmann‘s rights, which would allow them to send the outfielder to the minors. Given what Joe Torre’s fifth starter situation looks like, maybe it’s not that far fetched.

What happens after those two weeks is beyond me, but these things always find a way to work themselves out. I don’t think the Yankees will move Gaudin or Mitre now just because; this move was about adding depth, not shuffling bodies around. No one foresaw The Great Chien-Ming Wang Disaster Of 2009, so who knows what to expect in 2010. On paper though, the Yankees’ bullpen is very deep with strikeout power arms, beyond just the core group of guys that figure to do the bulk of the work all season. It’s quite a difference from what the bullpen looked like just a few years ago.

Photo Credit: Eric Gay, AP

Fan Confidence Poll: February 22nd, 2010

2009 Season Record: 103-59 (915 RS, 753 RA), won AL East by 8 games, finished with the best record in MLB by 6 games, won 27th World Series

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Yanks sign Chan Ho Park

The Yankees will carry seven relievers, and last week I thought I had them figured out: Mo, Hughes/Chamberlain, Robertson, Marte, Aceves, Gaudin, Mitre. It appears that the Yankees are planning for one of that crew to start the season elsewhere. According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees have signed Chan Ho Park to a $1.2 million contract with another $300,000 attainable in incentives. The veteran righty pitched for the NL champion Phillies last season, and will pitch out of the bullpen for the Yankees in 2010.

More on Park later.

Halladay out of the AL East a temporary relief

Over the past four seasons, Roy Halladay has started 18 games against the Yankees, including 12 over the past two. In those 124 innings he’s struck out 84 Yankees and walked just 20, allowing 13 home runs and 38 runs, 34 earned, overall. That gives him an ERA of 2.47 and a FIP of 3.69, against his four-year rates of a 3.11 ERA and 3.26 FIP. Clearly, the Yankees are glad to have Halladay out of the division. His numbers, however, appear to be a bit out of line.

Photo credit: AP/Bill Kostroun)

The Yankees have scored more runs than any other team in the AL over the past four years, leading the league three times. How is it, then, that Halladay has performed better against them than he has against the rest of the league? The difference is quite large, over a half run per nine innings. Over the same, admittedly small, 124-inning sample, he would have allowed 43 runs to the rest of the league, and keeping with the same earned-to-unearned run ratio he would have allowed 48.

The easy, abstract narrative is that Halladay rises to the occasion. When facing the Orioles and the Royals he’s merely among the league’s best pitchers. When facing the very best offensive team in the American League, Halladay turns into something greater, a man without peer. Or, if we want to turn the narrative to the Yankees’ hitters, we can say that they beat up on weak pitchers, but show their true colors when facing the best. Either way, there’s not much evidence to substantiate such claims.

The Red Sox have sported formidable lineups over the past four years, and have contended with the Yankees in each season. They haven’t scored quite as many runs, but they’re still near the top. As against the Yankees, Halladay started 18 games against the Red Sox, and lasted two more innings. Yet his ERA, 3.64, and FIP, 4.12, are substantially higher — not only higher than the Yankees, but higher than his performance against the league. That distribution makes sense. While Halladay ranks among the best, he still probably faces more trouble from better teams. But still, not the Yankees.

The claim of the Yankees faltering against stronger competition is true, but it’s no more true for the Yankees than with any other team. Again, we expect that they’ll beat up on the weaker competition and struggle against the stronger. As we saw in the 2009 breakdowns, the Yankees fare all over the place against the league’s best pitchers. We also know that these performances come in small samples, and can fluctuate greatly from year to year. For instances, we saw Jon Lester absolutely dominate the Yankees in 2008 before they tattooed him in 2009.

That’s not to say that neither of those factors play into the results we’ve seen. Maybe Halladay does come into starts against the Yankees a bit more focussed than normal. Maybe the Yankees are a bit intimidated by him and take swing of a slightly lesser quality. Combine that with the low predictive value of short sample size numbers, and it’s not as difficult to understand why the Yankees performed worse against Halladay.

Another consideration lies in the FIP/ERA discrepancies. There’s an enormous gap when Halladay faces the Yankees, about 1.22 runs. Over the much larger four-year sample, 7.5 times larger than the one against the Yankees, Halladay’s ERA and FIP are separated by just 0.25 runs. As Halladay pitches more and more innings against the Yankees, I’d expect that discrepancy to lessen, moving Halladay’s numbers against the Yankees more in line with his career, or at least recent, rates — perhaps even higher, because of the Yankees’ potent offense. Similarly, I’d expect his numbers against the Red Sox to fall, though perhaps not all the way to his recent rates because, again, the Sox sport a better than average offense.

The good news for the Yankees is that they’ll be facing pitchers of a lesser quality than Halladay in 2010. As Kevin Long said, “It became a joke. Sometimes it felt as if he was out there on one day’s rest just to face us.” Chances are the Blue Jays won’t deliberately line up Halladay’s replacement to pitch against the Yankees whenever possible. Instead, the workload will be spread normally across the entire rotation. It means more of lesser pitchers, and it should improve the Yankees’ performance against the Blue Jays in 2010.

From Toronto’s view, however, that’s just fine. They made the trade knowing what they were giving up when facing the best of the AL East. The idea, so they hope, is to eventually replace Halladay with Kyle Drabek while upgrading the rest of their rotation, while improving their offense with Brett Wallace. The balance of power might shift a few years down the road, but for 2010 the Yankees should see something of an improvement against the Jays.

Open Thread: Spring Training TV Schedule

Yearning for some Yankees baseball? I know I am, so you can imagine how excited I was when I headed over to the official site earlier today, only to found out the TV schedule for Spring Training games had been released. 15 of the 32 games are being televised, far more than I remember them showing in the past. All but three home games will be on the tube. But hey, I’m not complaining.

Here’s the list of televised games. All times are Eastern and all games are on YES unless otherwise noted…

Wednesday, March 3rd: 1:05pm vs. Pirates (Spring Opener)
Friday, March 5th: 1:05pm vs. Rays
Saturday, March 6th: 1:05pm vs. Blue Jays (My9)
Monday, March 8th: 1:05pm vs. Phillies (split squad)
Tuesday, March 9th: 1:05pm vs. Pirates
Thursday, March 11th: 7:05pm vs. Braves
Saturday, March 13th: 1:05pm vs. Orioles (split squad) (My9)
Thursday, March 18th: 7:05pm vs. Rays
Friday, March 19th: 1:05pm vs. Tigers (split squad)
Sunday, March 21st: 1:05pm vs. Tigers
Monday, March 22nd: 1:05pm @ Phillies (YES/ESPN)
Sunday, March 28th: 1:05pm vs. Tigers
Tuesday, March 30th: 7:05pm vs. Blue Jays (split squad)
Wednesday, March 31st: 1:05pm vs. Twins (YES/ESPN)
Friday, April 2nd: 1:05pm vs. Orioles (YES/ESPN)

So right off the bat, three of the Yanks’ first four spring games are on TV. That’s awesome. All but one of the broadcasted games is a home game, which makes sense since I’m sure they don’t want to lug the YES cameras around and stuff. Even the one away game is against the Phillies in Clearwater, a half-hour away.

That April 2nd game is their last one of the exhibition season, but the Yanks will play their prospects in the Future Stars Game the next day. Apparently that won’t be on TV, and I’d like the know why not. The next day, the Yanks will be in Boston for Opening Day. Oh boy, baseball’s almost here.

Here’s tonight’s open thread. The Nets are playing, and the highlight of the Olympics is USA facing Canada in hockey, which you can watch on 7pm ET on MSNBC . Enjoy.

Meet the new Boss, not nearly the same as the old Boss

In what has become something of a Yankee Spring Training rite of passage these days, Hall Steinbrenner met with manager Joe Girardi yesterday, and the meeting was a very quite and cordial one. As Bryan Hoch reports, Hal didn’t stop to say much to the media and simply stopped by to talk to his manager. Then, he left. “When Hal comes down, the conversations are very meaningful. They’re right to the point and we talk a lot of baseball. It’s great,” Girardi said. “I feel like we’re always on the same page. He’s very open. The conversations are usually very constructive.”

The media still picks up these stories because, even though George has been out of the picture for a while now, it’s such a radical change from the way the Yanks operated from the early 1970s through the mid-2000s. Hal lets his baseball people run baseball ops and his business people run the business side of the franchise. He doesn’t overstep his bounds, and his employees don’t manage or play with the threat of the Boss looming over them. It is no coincidence that the team has improved as George has ceded power. The Yankee U, meanwhile, today pondered whether or not the Steinbrenner family would sell the team after George passes and if it would matter — interesting questions, indeed.