Friday Night Open Thread

Have at it.

Canali’s dapper new spokesman

We knew Mariano Rivera has always looked pretty good in pinstripes, but now he’s taking it to a new level. From Women’s Wear Daily (via the subscription-only Sports Business Daily), we learn that Rivera will don a stylin’ pinstripe suit for Canali’s spring advertisements. The Yanks’ closer will be hawking the Italian men’s wear company in newspaper and magazines this spring and may do some in-store events as well. “He is a very positive person, with a great attitude and style,” Elisabetta Canali, the company’s global communications director, said. “He represents excellence in his field and it comes natural for us to look at him as an ambassador of those values we both share.”

Clearly, Mo, looking sharp in the suit, is gearing up for his career after baseball: male model.

Balancing offense and defense

In 2008 the Seattle Mariners lost 101 games. They had just two hitters who cleared a .330 OBP, and just one pitcher who made 20 starts with an ERA below 4.69. The team was a shambles and ownership knew it, firing GM Bill Bavasi mid-season. Yet in 2009, after GM Jack Zduriencik’s first off-season, the team added 24 wins to its ledger. This time they had just four players who cleared an OBP of .330. So how did the Mariners do so well?

Anyone paying attention knows the story. Instead of looking for highly regarded offensive players, Zduriencik and his staff sought the best defensive players. Baseball games are won, after all, by outscoring your opponents, and a team can accomplish this by either adding runs on their side or subtracting runs from their opponent’s side. The Mariners chose the latter, and went from allowing the fourth most runs in the AL in 2008 to allowing the fewest, by 40 runs, in 2009.

Yet, not a whole ton changed in the Mariners rotation. They had many of the same pitchers pitching a similar number of innings as 2008. The big mutation came on the defensive side of the ball, where they assembled a top flight group of players who could turn batted balls into outs. This included an outfield featuring Franklin Gutierrez, baseball’s best center fielder last season, and Ichiro, plus Endy Chavez in the first half and Ryan Langerhans in the second, both above average defenders. Their infield defense went from good to better as well, as they replaced the weakest link, Yuniesky Betancourt.

It seems that other teams have caught on, adding more defensive-minded players this off-season. The Red Sox let Jason Bay walk so they could sign the cheaper and defensively superior Mike Cameron, and then picked up Adrian Beltre to man third. The Yankees let Johnny Damon walk in favor of giving playing time to Brett Gardner and Randy Winn, inferior offensive players but far better at running down fly balls. Yet the Yankees hold an advantage over both the Mariners and the Red Sox: they still have a powerful offensive core.

The Mariners, as we know, still do not have a terribly powerful offense. They might have improved, though losing Russ Branyan’s production certainly hurts a bit. The Red Sox have a far better offensive team, but their core players do not match those of the Yankees. Martinez and Youkilis compose a solid 3-4 combo, but they’re no Teixeira-Rodriguez. Dustin Pedroia is a very good leadoff hitter, but he’s no Derek Jeter — and the gap extends even further if Ellsbury mans the leadoff spot. So while the Red Sox might prevent a few more runs, the Yankees figure to score quite a few more.

This I like, because it represents a balanced approach. The Yankees can afford to go defense in the outfield, particularly left field, because they already have a strong core of offensive players. The Red Sox chose to go defense in the outfield as well, but they will do it to the peril of their offense. Make no mistake, however: the Red Sox will do very well next season, despite what some pot-stirrer says. But I like the Yankees chances better. They’ve minded the defense, but only because they already possess a monstrous 3-4 combo and an exemplary leadoff hitter. The Red Sox, defensively savvy as they may be, just don’t have that core.

Report: Damon turned down $6M offer last week

Via Jon Heyman, Brian Cashman ran the idea of a one-year, $6M contract by Johnny Damon last week, however he never received a response. The deal would have included a $3M salary in 2010 with another $3M deferred without interest, and came with the promise that Hal Steinbrenner was going to sign off on it. Cashman simply never heard back from Damon and his camp, so they moved on to Randy Winn, who was ready to sign elsewhere.

Will Damon get more than $6M guaranteed? We’ll wait and see, but my guess is no. He might get $6M, but not a penny more.

RAB Live Chat

Imagining the Yanks without A-Rod

You don’t need me to tell you that the 2009 Yankees were a very good baseball club. We all know how their season ended. We all know that they won a Major League-leading 103 games and captured those final key 11 postseason victories by the time the first week in November rolled around. Been there, done that.

Let me tell you though about one of the players who helps make the Yankees as good as they are. For 28 games at the start of the season, the Yankees were without one Alex Rodriguez, their high-priced and sometimes high-maintenance third baseman. Through those 28 games, the Yanks were 13-15, spinning their wheels and going nowhere fast. After A-Rod‘s return, the team went 90-44. By the end of the season, the Yanks were 82-42 in games in which A-Rod appeared and 21-17 without him. That turnaround might not be only A-Rod’s doing, but he was no small part of the Yanks’ success.

Yesterday, in an interview with YES, A-Rod spoke at length about his 2009 campaign. Even at the steroid revelations, the year started on a bad note for him as he needed a major hip procedure. For A-Rod, the comparison to other players cut down in their primes by bad hips seemed apt. Albert Belle and Bo Jackson were both destined for greater things than they achieved when hip conditions forced them off the field.

“I think I grew up a lot, both on and off the field. Staring at retirement right in the face, kind of like Bo Jackson. That’s the first thing I thought of,” he said on YES. “It was a commitment that I wanted to do for the team, and it was very scary. I knew I was putting the rest of my career at risk, but I felt that with the team at hand, it was a risk worth taking.”

A-Rod’s retiring at 34 is an idea no Yankee wants to consider. That would have been a disastrous development for the Yankees. Overall last year, A-Rod was a 4.4 WAR player, and the swing from those replacing A-Rod to A-Rod was approximately 5 wins. Although the Yanks are still good enough to have won without him, A-Rod is one of those players who makes the rest of the lineup better. His return coincided with Mark Teixeira‘s breaking out of a slump, and his presence took pressure off the rest of the lineup.

The Yankees could have filled the A-Rod hole easily this off-season by pursuing Adrian Beltre. The Red Sox’s new third baseman is a far superior defender than A-Rod ever has been at the Hot Corner, but except for Beltre’s insane 2004 campaign, A-Rod has been the better offensive player of the two. A-Rod’s three-year combined WAR is 20; Beltre’s is short of 10.

Now, A-Rod is primed for a big 2010. He didn’t need the second surgery, and he says his hip is feeling great. Outside of some rather mundane Kate Hudson developments, he hasn’t made headlines this winter, and I’m glad he’s around. He shed himself of the clutch burden and proved himself in the eyes of some of the game’s most judgmental fans. The alternative — life without A-Rod — is much, much worse.

Winn signing ‘the final straw’ in fan’s decision to cancel season ticket plan

We are all baseball fans, therefore we disagree on many issues. Some of these are small, nuanced issues, while others are larger more fundamental ones. Most of us agree that the Yankees did a good job this off-season to add good complementary players to a core that won them their 27th World Championship, but there are certain fans, represented by a tiny sample on this site, who believe that the Yankees got worse this off-season. They have their reasons, though as you can imagine I don’t find these reasons very valid in a baseball sense. Just how far will these fans go to show their disapproval?

One of them, at least, cancelled his season ticket plan. Ross at Stadium Insider has the story, which centers on the former season ticket holder’s letter announcing his intent to cancel. You can read the entire letter there. I will warn you, though, that much head shaking will occur. I’ll just pick out some highlights.

The list of transgressions includes bringing in players who have already proven they are capable of succeeding in ny ( nick Johnson and Javier vasquez), destroying the farm system that was finally being built back up to aquire older players who have had mediocre careers (granderson)…

After the … comes a bit about signing Winn and not Damon, which I won’t even touch. As to the other parts, well, I think this fan has a misunderstanding of certain players’ values. That isn’t even to mention his poorly worded opening sentence — why would you cancel your ticket plan over players who have proven they can succeed in New York? But, since he clearly meant cannot, I think he needs a reality check of sorts.

Nick Johnson played parts of three seasons in New York and hit .256/.376/.424, good for an OPS+ of 113. As we learned when discussing wOBA, OPS+ undervalues OBP a bit, so Johnson actually performed a bit better than his OPS+ mark indicates from 2001 to 2003. Even so, those numbers are solid, and indicate nothing about an inability to play in New York. Javier Vazquez pitched very well in the first half of 2004, but pitched through discomfort in the second half and his numbers suffered. Unsurprisingly, his fastball was about a mile per hour off his normal mark. So no, I don’t think he has shown an inability to pitch in NY, but rather think that physical issues held him back in New York.

And then…

Even in 2008, when I knew the team was rebuilding, I bought a plan because I knew they were making a sacrifice to improve their chances the following year.

Rebuilding, maybe, in the sense that they didn’t trade for Johan Santana, but other than that the statement is patently ridiculous. Does a rebuilding team re-sign three of its own free agents, adding $60 million to the payroll during a “rebuilding” year — including two players in their mid- to late-thirties? Does a rebuilding team set an all-time payroll record?

I’ll stop here, because trying to talk sense into someone like this is pointless. Every team has a high percentage of fans like this, who think that their non-expert opinion is all that counts. I just hate getting lumped in with that type.