Details emerge in Scranton Yanks sale dispute

An artist's rendering of the proposed renovations to Scranton's PNC Field.

We reported last week on the impending sale of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre AAA franchise to the Yankees and Mandalay Bay. At the time, the details included a $40-million stadium renovation plan and a $14.8-million price tag on the franchise. But since then, more information has come to light that sheds a less-than-flattering light on the stadium shenanigans.

Currently, two parallel disputes have the potential to plague the project. The first is a lawsuit brought by Luzerne County officials. They claim that because they ponied up $1 million in 1986 — or half of the purchase price for the franchise — they are now owed half of the money from the impending sale. Lackawanna County, the physical home of the franchise and selling party, filed a countersuit requesting $20 million or half of what it has spent on baseball. The impending lawsuits will derail immediate plans to use the proceeds from the stadium sale.

Meanwhile, the sale and sweetheart terms of the agreement — more on that in a second — seem to be the product of intense lobbying by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. As The Times-Tribune reported yesterday, Rendell was a driving factor behind the sale and pledged $20 million in state money to fund the ballpark renovations as well. He didn’t do anything wrong or illegal, but his actions have led to the tensions in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Furthermore, now that details of the lease agreement have leaked, this deal is looking more and more like a losing proposition for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. The $14.7 million the county will receive from the purchase of the franchise is to be reinvested in stadium upgrades, and the state will add in another $20 million. Neither the SWB Yankees nor the purchasing entity — the New York Yankees and Mandalay Bay — would have to chip in any additional money for the stadium upgrades. If the renovations come in under budget, the remaining dollars will be held in a sinking fund for future improvements and repairs.

And so what we have is yet another municipal stadium mess. Lackawanna County contends that baseball will depart from Northeast Pennsylvania without this investment while Luzerne County claims the sale price of the franchise is too low. More than $7 million from the purchase of the team will be held by the court, and the battle — and state’s and city’s willingness to fork over $40 million in taxpayer dollars with dubious fiscal returns — will loom over the 2011 AAA season.

After the jump, I’ve posted the Memorandum of Understanding between the Multi-Purpose Stadium Authority of Lackawanna County and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. It highlights how much of a good deal the franchise is getting in this sale. [Read more…]

What Went Wrong: A.J. Burnett

The Yankees added two high priced free agent starters last offseason, and while CC Sabathia has been worth every penny of his contract so far, the same can’t be said of A.J. Burnett. He was good enough during his first year in pinstripes and nothing short of brilliant in the team’s most important game of the 2009 season, but Burnett’s follow-up campaign was well below expectations and left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Ironically enough, Burnett’s season started in a very good way. Following his first outing of the year, in which he allowed three runs in five innings against the Red Sox, Burnett went through a stretch in which he allowed zero earned runs in three of four starts. His ERA sat at 1.99 through his first five starts of the season (with a sparkly 4-1 record), and after eleven starts he was still sporting a 3.28 ERA while the Yanks were 8-3 with him on the mound. There were some warning signs, however, most notably with A.J.’s strikeout rate. It had dropped to just 6.7 K/9, just about two full strikeouts off from last year’s pace. But hey, it was just eleven starts and Burnett was throwing the ball well, we all figured the strikeouts would come eventually.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. Well, the low strikeout rate did, but not the success. In his 12th start of the season Burnett allowed six runs in six innings against the Blue Jays. Six days later he surrendered four runs in six innings to the Orioles, and the next three starts after that resulted in 33 baserunners and 19 runs in just 10.1 innings. Put it all together and Burnett’s June was statistically the worst ever by a Yankee starter: five starts, five losses, an 11.35 ERA and an almost unfathomable .471 wOBA against. All of the good work he did in April and May was washed away, and halfway through the season he was sporting a 5.25 ERA and the Yanks were just 8-8 in his starts.

The June collapse coincided with the absence of the now departed pitching coach Dave Eiland, who was away for personal reasons. The narrative practically wrote itself, Burnett would get better once his regular pitching coach returns. And you know what? He did for a while. With Eiland back with the team, A.J. threw 6.2 scoreless innings against the Jays, then limited Oakland to two runs in seven innings next time out. Things seemed to be going well, but after the Rays hung for runs on him in just two innings, Burnett slammed his hand into a clubhouse door out of frustration, cutting it open. He apologized to his teammates and had his next pushed back a few days to deal with the injury, but he then threw 11.1 scoreless innings against the lowly Royals and Indians.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

As late as August 1st Burnett had himself a tolerable 4.52 ERA that lined up with his 4.59 FIP, certainly not what the Yankees were expecting out of their Opening Day number two starter but not completely horrific. Well, that’s when things got horrific. In his first outing of August, the Jays scored eight runs before Burnett could complete the fifth. The rest of the month featured a 7.80 ERA and yet again five losses in five starts. After the end of July, A.J. pitched to a 6.61 ERA (5.23 FIP) and as hard as it is to believe, the Yankees won just two of his final dozen starts the rest of the season.

Unsurprisingly, Burnett did not make the team’s three-man ALDS rotation, and their pounding of the Twins meant his services weren’t needed in relief either. He did make the team’s ALCS rotation by default, taking the mound in Game Four with the Rangers up two games to one in the series. Burnett actually wasn’t terrible in that start, holding the Rangers to just a pair of runs (without the benefit of a ball leaving the infield) in the first five innings. With the tying run on second with two outs in the sixth inning, Joe Girardi had Burnett intentionally walk David Murphy to face Bengie Molina. The first pitch pitch of the encounter was supposed to be low and away but it wound up up and in, and Molina turned on it for a go-ahead three run homer. The damage was done, and instead of walking off the mound feeling good about himself, A.J. went back to the dugout hearing the loudest boos of the season. Rather remarkable considering how the fans treated him in the second half.

The end result of Burnett’s season was 33 starts but just 186.2 innings (almost exactly 5.2 IP per start), so he was taxing the bullpen on a regular basis. In fairness, that number is slightly skewed by three starts in which Burnett was forced to exit early due to rain. His 5.26 ERA was easily a career worst, though his 4.83 FIP was merely awful. The 6.99 batters Burnett struck out per nine innings pitched was his worst mark since 2001, and he led the league with 19 hit batters and 37 stolen bases allowed. All told, opposing batters posted a .362 wOBA against the Yanks’ $16.5M man, so he basically turned every hitter he faced into the 2010 version of Alex Rodriguez. The total package was worth just 1.3 fWAR, ranking 90th out of the 103 pitchers that threw at least 150 innings in 2010.

The Yankees knew that Burnett was pretty unpredictable when they signed him to that five-year, $82.5M contract last winter, but I don’t think anyone expected him to go south this hard, this quickly. The lack of strikeouts is most concerning, since the ability to miss bats was the one thing A.J. has excelled at his entire career. His curveball, which checked in at 16.0 runs above average in 2009 (fourth best in baseball) dropped off to 3.9 runs below average, one of the eleven worst in the game. Whoever replaces Eiland as pitching coach will have the work cut out for them, starting right here with Burnett.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 15th, 2010

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.


Is the end for Sterling and Waldman nigh?

Ed Murawinski's poster of Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling affectionately dubbed the pair Ma & Pa Pinstripe. (Murawinski/Daily News)

Few members of the Yankees’ extended family elicit more debate and dissension than John Sterling and his Yankees Radio Network compatriot Suzyn Waldman. We’ve gone on the record wondering if the Yanks could do better but recognize that we’ve been stuck with Sterling for better or worse. Some people love his histrionics and gregarious radio voice while others would prefer that Waldman and Sterling work on their descriptive abilities and call the game as its played instead of the game in their mind. According to one recent report, though, we may be nearing the end of the Sterling-and-Waldman Era.

Bob Raissman, the well-sourced sports media columnist for the Daily News, questioned the future of Ma & Pa Pinstripe in his column on Saturday morning. The team’s radio deal, estimated at an annual worth of $12 million, with WCBS AM 880 expires after the 2011 season, and so too do Sterling’s and Waldman’s employment contracts. As Raissman puts it, Hal Steinbrenner’s Yankees are in no rush to renew the deal if the finances aren’t just right, and the team may be willing to let its next radio partner pick the broadcast voices.

“The Yankees regime, led by Hal Steinbrenner, will be more concerned with obtaining maximum dollars in a new radio deal than who the broadcasters are,” Raissman says. “Loyalty ain’t even a factor here.”

It will be interesting to see how this storyline plays out. Sterling and Waldman were George’s people through and through. Steinbrenner loved Sterling’s personality and his campy approach to Yankee games, and Waldman has been an organizational favorite and a female trailblazer in sports media for nearly two decades. Compared to the stars they cover, they don’t earn large salaries, but if another station wants to build its own identity, it sounds as though the new generation of Steinbrenners would have little use for the old.

And what might that new station be? Raissman reports of a potential change and one that would not be welcomed by many Yankee fans. “Outside of WCBS, which probably wants to keep the Yankees, it’s highly likely ESPN will – if it hasn’t already – stick its beak into the mix. For ESPN-1050, the process of trying to chip away at WFAN, longtime Mets rights holder, has not been easy,” he reports. Adding Yankees radiocasts to the mix of Jets, Knicks and Rangers would help change the equation – drastically. But how much would ESPN be willing to pay for the radio rights to Yankees baseball? And would pinstripe honchos be satisfied having their games go out over ESPN-1050’s weak signal?”

WEPN 1050 AM has a notoriously weak signal in the New York area. While WCBS 880 AM is one of the FCC’s clear-channel class A stations that doesn’t face competition for signal strength in the eastern half of the United States, WEPN isn’t so lucky. This class B signal is limited by a station in Philadelphia at 1060 on the AM dial, and it must avoid pointing or powering up its signal to the southwest due to the clear-channel status of an AM station in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Listeners near Boston and Washington, DC, can hear WCBS while residents in Monmouth County, New Jersey, have trouble with WEPN.

Right now, this contract status isn’t a very big issue. The team has another year left, and Sterling and Waldman will be around for it. How this is eventually resolved though will be an indicator of how things have changed business-wise for the Yanks after the passing of King George. Hal’s approach could be much, much different.

Open Thread: Uggla on the market

(AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)

The Marlins have been mighty busy this weekend. They’ve already traded away the two key pieces they received in the Miguel Cabrera blockbuster, and today we found out that they intend to trade Dan Uggla as well. The second baseman turned down a fat four-year contract offer a week or so ago, so they’re trying to get something in return before he leaves as a free agent next offseason. Uggla is just one of nine players to hit 30+ homers in each of the last four years, and is the only middle infielder to do so (the others: Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, Albert Pujols, and Miggy),

Consider this a preemptive strike: no, the Yanks will not go after him. Yes he’d be a perfect fit since he could play second, third, and DH, but they’re not going to give up a boatload of prospects for a freakin’ super-utility guy likely to make $10M+ in his final year of arbitration. It would work in a vacuum, but the cost far exceeds the most likely outcome. Just forget about it.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The late MNF games should be entertaining enough, it features the Patriots at the Steelers. The Knicks are in action as well. Talk about whatever, just be cool.

Video of the Day: Renovating the old home

While browsing YouTube this morning, I came across this piece of Yankee Stadium history. It’s a video shot on Super 8 from the mid-1970s showing the old stadium in various stages of renovation. The opening scenes show the skeleton of the Tier rising above the original 1923 shell.

A good portion of RAB readers weren’t alive when the House that Ruth Built underwent renovations 36 years ago, and the lasting memories those of us who grew up with the Yankees in the 1980s have are of the post-renovation stadium. Despite the history we witnessed at Yankee Stadium II, many fans maintained that the renovations ripped the soul out of the historic park. The dimensions and atmosphere changed, and while the ghosts lingered, their shadows dimmed.

The video tracks the renovations, and after the five minutes elapsed, I grew mournful of the old home. The team and its fans have fully embraced the new ballpark, but I’ll always have the memories of old Yankee Stadium even as the ballpark fades from the physical landscape of New York City.

We originally posted this video early today on the RAB Bullpen. That’s our new Tumblr account, and we’re using it to highlight random Yankee tidbits, photographs and articles that we find across the web. Add it to your RSS feed and follow us if you’re on Tumblr.

Laird’s struggles continue in Arizona

Sorry I’ve been slacking with DotF lately, but I’ve been busy. Here’s what you’ve missed…

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (9-6 win over Mesa on Wednesday)
Brandon Laird, LF: 1 for 5, 2 RBI, 1 K
Jose Pirela, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 BB – got picked off first
Manny Banuelos: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 4-3 GB/FB – 40 of 71 pitches were strikes (56.3%) … 2 ER or less in five of his last six starts

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (5-1 loss to Scottsdale on Thursday)
Brandon Laird, LF: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 2 K

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (2-2 tie with Mesa on Friday) musta run out of pitchers
Brandon Laird, LF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 2 K – three a runner out at third … he’s six for his last 42 (.143)
Jose Pirela, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K
George Kontos: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – seven of his ten pitches were strikes … just the third time in his last eight appearances that he didn’t allow a run
Ryan Pope: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1-0 GB/FB – 13 of 21 pitches were strikes (61.9%)

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (8-1 win over Peoria in seven innings)
Jose Pirela. 2B: 0 for 3, 1 K
Craig Heyer: 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 10-2 GB/FB – 22 of 33 pitches were strikes … love the grounders

I have no idea why Austin Romine hasn’t played in the last five days, hopefully it’s nothing serious. They could have just shut him down after a long, long season. The season does end of Thursday, so that’s possible. Phoenix has already been eliminated from Saturday’s Championship Game since they have the league’s worst record at 9-17. Here’s the other winter leagues…

Australian Baseball League
Nathan Aron: 2 G, 2 for 4, 2 RBI, 2 K (.500/.400/.500)
Kyle Perkins: 6 K, 0 for 6, 6 K – yikes

Dominican Winter League
Juan Miranda: 3 G, 1 for 10, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K (.100/.250/.100)
Francisco Santana: 5 G, 2 for 7, 2 R, 1 K (.286/.286/.286)
Wilkins Arias: 8 H, 5.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K (1.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League
Walt Ibarra: 25 G, 22 for 74, 18 R, 4 2B, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 16 K, 3 SB, 1 CS (.297/.354/.351)
Jorge Vazquez: 7 G, 6 for 26, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 10 K, 1 CS (.231/.310/.385)

Puerto Rican League
Francisco Gil: 4 G, 6 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 WP (10.50 ERA, 2.17 WHIP)
Eric Wordekemper: 13 G, 12.1 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 5 BB, 13 K, 1 WP (5.84 ERA, 1.38 WHIP)

Venezuelan Winter League
Luis Nunez: 7 G, 2 or 10, 1 R (.200/.200/.200)
Romulo Sanchez: 4 G, 3.1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 0 K (10.80 ERA, 3.00 WHIP) – eek
Josh Schmidt: 6 G, 5 GS, 28.2 IP, 14 H, 5 ER, 4 ER, 13 BB, 32 K (1.26 ERA, 0.94 WHIP)

Justin Christian isn’t with the organization after becoming a minor league free agent, hence the exclusion from the update. He is hitting .389/.459/.620 in 27 games though. Same deal with Jose Gil (.276/.306/.466 in 17 games), Edwar Gonzalez (.333/.360/.417 in 16 games), Rene Rivera (.208/.309/.354 in 14 games), Marcos Vechionacci (.317/.368/.397 in 18 games), Jon Ortiz (6.75 ERA, 2.25 WHIP in three appearances), and Zack Segovia (3.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in six appearances). Also, Mark Newman confirmed to Josh Norris that Jesus Montero will not be playing winter ball this year. For shame.