Gov. Paterson in ethics trouble over Yanks tix

It hasn’t been the best of weeks for David Paterson, New York’s beleaguered governor. Under siege for his role in a domestic abuse cover-up, Paterson has now been charged with an ethics violation by the state’s Commission on Public Integrity. The claim: Paterson asked for and received free tickets to Game One of the World Series from the Yankees. He may also have testified falsely under oath that he had said he would pay for the tickets when he had no intention of doing so. The Attorney General the Albany district attorney will continue this investigation.

The governor is legally barred from accepting gifts from the Yankees because the team is registered as a state lobbyist, as The Times put it, “in connection with financing for their stadium.” Our friends over at YFSF don’t view this is a big deal but the law is the law. For his part, Paterson has denied these allegations, suddenly a common theme from his administration.

Open Thread: A day-one win and some old friends

For the 2010 Yankees, Spring Training started with a familiar feel to it. While A.J. Burnett wasn’t around to pie Colin Curtis, the 25-year-old’s walk-off three-run home run in the bottom of the 9th gave the Yanks a 6-3 win over the Pirates in their Grapefruit League debut.

For the Yankees, though, the day was about getting work in than anything else. Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves, all supposed fifth starter candidates, threw two innings apiece. Each struck out one, and Gaudin was the only hurler to surrender a hit. Royce Ring, Jason Hirsh and Amaury Sanit each got some work in while the Pirates’ three runs came off of Jonathan Albaladejo.

Offensively, Ramiro Peña’s solo shot off of Steven Jackson put the Yanks on the board. Nick Johnson added an RBI double, and Curtis capped off the day with his three-run shot. The Yanks play Roy Halladay and the Phillies tomorrow afternoon. Kei Igawa and Boone Logan will both take the hill for the Bombers.

Anyway, this is your open thread for the evening. You know the drill; be good to each other. After the jump and before the comments, I’ve posted some pictures from around Spring Training of some old Yankee friends donning their new uniforms. Enjoy.

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Heyman: Jeter could ask for six

Even though Derek Jeter doesn’t plan to address his contract status until the end of the 2010 baseball season, it’s become quite the hot topic around the game. He’s becoming a free agent at age 36 and mans a position that few his age have played with much success. At the same time, he’s the face of a franchise and has been since 1996.

Over the last few weeks, as we’ve discussed Jeter, the general consensus has been that he’ll sign a deal for four years for somewhere between $20-$25 million a year. The Yankees probably won’t get that value from him on the field, but the good will and Jeter’s popularity should help mitigate the expense. What if Derek wants more though?

That’s the question Jon Heyman ponders today, and his sources indicate that Jeter may ask for as much as six years. His argument relies on putting down A-Rod.

The Yankees generally have treated their own big stars very well. But six years for a shortstop who’s 35 now is seen as a stretch, even by the execs who say they expect that to be the asking price. “Casey Close is a good agent. You don’t get if you don’t ask,” one executive said. Close declined comment.

Six years may seem extreme. But there is logic to it. Jeter saw his famous frenemy Alex Rodriguez get a 10-year, $275-million deal from the Yankees two winters ago that will take him to age 42. Jeter will be 36 by the end of the year, so six more years would take him to 42, same as A-Rod.

After seeing A-Rod get a contract taking him until he’s 42, why wouldn’t Jeter want the same? A case could be made that Rodriguez is a more natural fit as the DH, so playing into his 40s might be easier. But both are hard workers, extremely fit and without injury history. And Jeter’s the one who’s a Yankees legend.

Interestingly, Heyman also notes that the Yanks and Jeter nearly had a $118.5 million contract in place in early 2000, one year before he signed his big $189 million deal, but George Steinbrenner “nixed” that one. No word on how many years that would have covered.

That last historical tidbit is neither here nor there, but Heyman’s speculation on a six-year ask is worth considering. After all, the worst the Yanks can do is reject the proposal. I wouldn’t feel too comfortable giving Jeter six years, and it shouldn’t take that much to keep him around.

Above: Derek Jeter attempts to balance the World Series trophy on top of an unsuspecting Yogi Berra. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Guest Post: Baseball, the Yankees and the Great Depression

The following guest post comes to us from baseball historian Daniel R. Levitt. He is the author of Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees’ First Dynasty, a book I reviewed in 2008 which is now available in paperback. It was one of three finalists for the 2009 Seymour Medal, an award honoring the best book of baseball history or biography published during the preceding year.

Baseball, like all businesses, responds and adapts to its economic environment. The greater the disruption, the more profound the adjustment. The economic disorder of the Great Depression shocked the baseball owners: total profits of major league baseball collapsed from $1,335,742 in 1929 to a loss of $1,651,530 in 1933. Some of the less well capitalized owners were forced to sell their best players to raise capital. This expedient reached its apex in 1934 when Washington sold future Hall of Fame shortstop Joe Cronin to the Red Sox for $250,000, an amount greater than the entire 1933 player payroll of 14 of the 16 teams.

But the most lasting effect of the Great Depression on baseball was the realignment of the major and minor leagues. Like today, teams were limited to a 25-man roster of players during most of the season and a 40-man roster overall. The 15 players not on the 25-man roster were typically on option to minor league teams for continued development. Today, of course, teams control many, many more than 40 players though their farm systems. Prior to the Depression, however, this was not generally possible; all players on minor league teams controlled by a major league club counted against the 40-man roster. Some of the smoother operators, such as St. Louis’s Branch Rickey managed to skirt the edge of these rules, but on the whole having a farm system offered few advantages.

The economic imperatives of the Depression led to rules that allowed for the modern farm system. The major leagues had always resented being limited to the control of only 15 minor leaguers, but the minors liked it. The setup allowed minor league owners to control most of the best prospects and sell them to the major leagues for large prices once they were ready. The Depression, however, decimated minor league baseball–the number of leagues went from 25 to just 16 between 1929 and 1933–and the minors came to major leagues looking for financial relief. The major league owners agreed to invest in and help recapitalize minor league teams. In return, however, the major league owners demanded a rule change so that players on a minor league team controlled by a major league club no longer counted against the 40-man roster. Although the specific structure of the player control rules took several years to fully evolve, the new arrangement encouraged the development of the farm system as we know it today.

The Yankees were uniquely positioned to take advantage of this new environment. Like all capitalists, owner Jacob Ruppert saw his wealth severely curtailed in the economic downturn. But Ruppert had one unique advantage; he was a brewer, and with the repeal of prohibition in 1933, Rupert had an expanded and valuable source of income outside of his baseball franchise. Furthermore, unlike most other owners, Ruppert did not take distributions from his team’s profits; he reinvested them into the team.

Today the Yankee run from 1921 though 1964 is often remembered as one long dynasty. In realty it consisted of several distinct phases; one of the greatest began in the later years the Depression. Ruppert and general manager Ed Barrow quickly recognized the far-reaching impact of the new rules on minor league ownership and player control, and with Ruppert’s money built the best farm system in the American League. Supplemented with purchases of top minor league talent from many of the still independent minor league teams, the Yankees built one of the greatest sports dynasties of all-time. In the eight years from 1936 though 1943 New York won seven pennants and six World Series Championships and laid the groundwork for continued post-war success.

So what might the current economic downturn bring? Most obviously player salaries will stabilize or fall slightly as revenue falls off. So far, though, overall revenues have not declined. According to Forbes’ estimates, total baseball revenues actually increased from $5.5 billion in 2007 to $5.7 billion in 2008. Of course, the recession hit hardest in 2009, and those revenue figures are not yet available. Even if revenues fall slightly, however, it will not be enough to materially impact the structure of the game.

The largest impact may prove to be at the ownership level. Although team values have held up, the total wealth of many owners has been significantly reduced due plunging asset and hedge fund values. The baseball franchise itself, therefore, has become a greater proportion of the overall net worth of these owners. As their outside resources decline, they will have less financial flexibility to smooth out seasonal ups and downs in their team’s operational cash flow.

While baseball has always been subject to a diversity of wealth at the ownership level, the difference with this economic crisis is two fold: in the volatility of the relative wealth of the owners and in that market size will no longer be as important as ownership solvency. We have already begun to see this with Tom Hicks’ financial troubles in Texas and the Tribune Company’s bankruptcy in Chicago. The finances of both the Dodgers and Padres were recently thrown into confusion by the divorce proceedings of their principal owners. The fate of teams, and their willingness to spend on players, scouting, and marketing, is no longer as dependent on the fortunes of the team and its market size as on the changing economic circumstances of the owner.

BP’s Top 101 Prospects List

Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus posted his list of the top 101 prospects in the game today, with Jesus Montero checking in at number four overall. He trailed only Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, and Neftali Feliz, and was one spot ahead of Mike Stanton. No other Yankee farmhands made the list, which isn’t a total surprise, though former Yanks’ Arodys Vizcaino and Austin Jackson checked in at numbers 45 and 49, respectively. I’m sure next year will be better.

Spring Training Game Thread: Starting From The Top

The last time we saw our beloved Bombers take the field, we watched them walk away with their 27th World Championship. Hard to believe that was less than four months ago, isn’t it? Seems like an eternity.

The team has undergone some major changes since the wonderful night, waving goodbye to a few stalwarts while welcoming in both long-term cornerstones and short-term stopgaps. Despite that, the goal remains the same: to be the last team left standing when it’s all said and done in November.  This game means nothing in grant scheme of things, everyone’s just going to be shaking off some rust and trying not to hurt themselves, yet we’ll live and die with each pitch anyway because we love our team.

The three long-shot candidates for the fifth starters’ spot are all scheduled to take the mound, though only to start an inning. If one of them can’t finish off a frame, a throw-away reliever will be brought in to clean up the mess before the next guy comes in. Here’s today’s lineup, at least for the first few innings, anyway…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Marcus Thames, DH
Jamie Hoffmann, RF
Brett Gardner, LF
Frankie Cervelli, C
Ramiro Pena, 2B

Scheduled Pitchers: Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Al Aceves, Jon Albaladejo, Wilkins Arias, Jason Hirsh, Royce Ring, Amaury Sanit, Zach Segovia

Among those slated to take the mound for the Pirates are former Yanks Ross Ohlendorf and Steven Jackson. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET, and you can watch on either YES or MLB Network. Enjoy the game.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

2010 Draft: A Pair Of First Round Arms

The Yankees don’t kick off their exhibition schedule until this afternoon, but meaningful baseball has been played across the country for weeks. The college baseball season started in mid-February, and high school ball in warm weather states has begun as well. The Yanks’ scouting department doesn’t get the luxury of Spring Training, they need to be in mid-season form right out of the gate.

As I’ve already explained, the Yankees didn’t gain or forfeit any picks this year because of draft pick compensation, and their first choice comes in at number 32 overall. That pick will be their first in an effort to rebuild the farm system that has thinned out as the result of trades, graduation, and attrition, so they better make it count.

I figured I would kick off this year’s draft coverage by highlighting two personal faves of mine, a pair of power college arms.

James Paxton, LHP, No School
The name probably rings a bell for more than one reason. Paxton was Toronto’s sandwich round pick last year, though they weren’t able sign him and he returned to Kentucky. Well, he was going to return to Kentucky, except the NCAA wouldn’t let him. I’m not interested in explaining the whole story, but essentially the NCAA found out Paxton had someone negotiate with the Jays on his behalf, which is a no-no. The two sides were in court for months as Paxton tried to get his eligibility restored, and he ultimately decided to drop out of school when it became apparent the NCAA was trying to make an example out of him.

So now the 21-year-old Paxton will have to show off his stuff in an independent league this spring instead of fronting the Wildcats’ rotation. He’s a pure power arm from the left side, using all of his 6-foot-4, 220 lb frame to generate fastballs typically in the 93-95 range, though he’s flirted with 98. Paxton’s second pitch is a hard curveball that’s a true strikeout pitch, and his changeup is no worse than average. His stuff plays up because of strong control and command (just 61 walks in 148.1 IP at UK).

Even though his delivery is simple and his arm action is clean, Paxton dealt with elbow tightness in high school (he was raised just outside of Vancouver, so he’s a hoser) plus some minor back and knee trouble in college. Thankfully those were all one-time incidents. After going 37th overall last year, Paxton might end up going as high as in the top ten this year. If he’s around when the Yanks’ first pick comes up, they’d be wise to grab him.

Photo Credit: Canadian Press

Brandon Workman, RHP, Texas
One of the best high school arms in the country back in 2007, the Phillies wouldn’t meet Workman’s demands of first round money when they took him in the third round. So he ended up going to school, making the Longhorns’ standout pitching staff that much better. Workman made a name for himself by no-hitting my Nittany Lions last March, and he’s posted a 131-48 K/BB ratio in 128.1 IP during his first two years on campus. He has a 13-4 K/BB ratio in 11 IP during his two starts this season.

Another big guy like Paxton, Workman stands 6-foot-5 and packs 220 lbs. onto his frame, and his repertoire is all power. His fastball legitimately sits in the mid-90’s, and he’s run it as high as 97. An over-the-top curveball is Workman’s second pitch, and he’s messed around with everything from a slider to a splitter to a changeup as his third pitch. Although his delivery was extremely violent coming out of high school, Workman’s worked hard and has done a good job of smoothing it out.

Right now he’s projected to go somewhere in the back half of the first round, but if Workman’s bonus demands are similar to what they were three years ago, then he might slip a little further. It’s a surefire first round arm, possibility even a top ten arm, but these things never go according to plan. In a system lacking high upside pitchers, Workman would be a breath of fresh air.

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Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has shown that he prefers polished pitchers, which would give Paxton the edge over Workman. Either way, the Yanks’ system is short on power starting pitchers at the moment, so nabbing one of these two guys would go a long way toward correcting that.