There’s something about Smoltz

When we heard, over the summer, that the Yankees heavily pursued John Smoltz in the winter of 2001-2002, it wasn’t much of a surprise. After dropping the World Series to the Diamondbacks the team surely wanted to make a splash in 2002, and adding Smoltz to a pitching staff that already included Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Andy Pettitte would have done just that. But Smoltz took $23 million less, apparently, to re-sign with the Braves. The next chance the Yankees would get, the winter of 2004-2005, Smoltz again signed with the Braves for a discount. It seemed his ship had sailed.

What did come as a surprise was hearing that the Yankees showed interest in Smoltz this off-season. They were the team, after all, that ended his brief AL stint, inflating his ERA to 8.32 before the Red Sox designated him for assignment. True, he did improve once sent to St. Louis, striking out more than a batter per inning while keeping his walks low. The competition, however, just wasn’t the same. It seemed like the only chance Smoltz had to pitch in 2010 was in the NL. Still does.

In the past, the desire for Smoltz was understandable. He ranked among the best pitchers in the league for many years, at times when the Yankees sought starters. This recent interest, however, seems odd, like they wanted to make up for a past mistake. Or maybe they never really were interested, but the noise just seeped into the media. That makes the most sense to me. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense at all.

Saturday Night Open Thread

Hopefully everyone is out enjoying themselves this fine evening. As a very wise man once said to me back in my college days, it doesn’t matter what you do on Saturday night as long as you don’t remember it on Sunday morning. Truer words have never been spoken.

If you’re stuck at home, feel free to talk about whatever you want in this here open thread. The Rangers are in Montreal, the Devils are in Nassau playing the Isles, and the Nets are way out in Utah. Go ahead and be as vicious to each other as possible, that’s what open threads are for.

Heyman: Yanks have low offer out to Damon

More than just a text message from Johnny Damon, we have news. It’s an honest-to-goodness rumor of a low offer from the Yanks to Johnny Damon. Jon Heyman tweets: “Damon has days to take low deal with Yankees. Assuming he says no, they’ll sign another OF soon from Johnson, Nady, Winn, Edmonds, Dye.” Of the non-Damon candidates, I’d take Reed Johnson and maybe Xavier Nady but no one else.

Heyman had more in a piece on The Yankees, he says, have asked for a decision at the end of the weekend and are believed to be offering a base of “probably no more than $5 million guaranteed” for Damon. Otherwise, the team will look to spend $2 million for a left fielder. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman has denied the existence of a deadline, but no one ever told him denial is just a river in Egypt. Meanwhile, Marc Carig has a — drumroll, please — text message from Damon who says he’ll “have a team in a week.” We’ll see if this goes anywhere.

A new award for relief pitchers?

In his latest column, Jayson Stark lays out the case for adding a relief pitcher award. Since even elite closers rarely win the Cy Young, why not create an award for the very best among them? I’ll refrain from summarizing his argument, since it’s pretty straight forward. I will, however, add a few questions and comments.

First, I don’t like the idea because it selects from a very small pool of players. MVP selects from a pool of all MLB players. Cy Young drills down a bit and selects from just pitchers, but even that represents a pretty large portion of the league. To hand out an award to relievers further diminishes that pool. To that end, why not create an award for leadoff hitters? They typically don’t get MVP votes, so why not make an award for the best table-setters? We could probably create awards for all sorts of roles, but it doesn’t mean we should.

Second, would this have any long-term implications? Stark thinks so. Future writers could use the Holtzman Award — named for Jerome Holtzman, creator of the save stat — a better gauge for judging a reliever’s Hall of Fame candidacy:

And wouldn’t it help those voters right now, for example, when they try to figure out how the heck to assess Lee Smith’s credentials if they could see he’d won, oh, five Holtzman Awards and finished in the top three 10 times? As opposed to his actual collection — of zero awards?

Hey, it couldn’t hurt. Could it? So why not?

This leads back to the small pool argument. The Holtzman Award would go to one of 30 closers. Why should HOF voters use this as a gauge for anything? It just measures who’s the best out of 30 players. Unless the HOF plans to start voting based on Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards — hey, if we’re going to base HOF voting on an award given to a single position, we might as well open it up that way to all positions — I don’t think it’s a good idea.

Third, there’s the entire concept of the BBWAA voting on an award it creates. It happens every year, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Tango takes on that argument.

Unless the BBWAA wants to create an award for every single individual position, I don’t see why they should create one for relievers. Again, it reduces the pool to one of 30 players. To give out an award for first basemen would be the same. So why pick one and not the rest? That’s the trouble I’m having with Stark’s argument. He says that this is “an exact parallel situation” to the separation of the Cy Young and MVP, but it’s clearly not. The Cy Young encompasses all pitchers, hundreds throughout the game. Relievers drills down even further. I don’t like creating an award, especially one with HOF implications, that further limits the pool of eligible players.

Anyway, I’m just riffing here. I’m sure someone will find fault with my argument, and I encourage it.

Breaking News: Granderson grants another interview

Boy, Curtis Granderson sure gets in a lot of face time with the press, huh? I guess that’s better than the alternative. Anyway, C-Grizzie sat down for a chat with New York Magazine to talk about a whole bunch of stuff. It’s some nice light reading on a gorgeous Saturday morning, so check it out.

A Damonic thaw on the horizon?

As the Hot Stove League has worn on, Johnny Damon rumors have become the meme of the day. He sent a text message about playing for any team! He spoke to the Tigers! He didn’t speak to the Tigers! He had eggs for breakfast! If anything, the constant attention to Johnny Damon has highlighted the problems baseball coverage faces in a 24-hour online environment. At some point, the filter disappeared, and everything mundane Damon did became a major story.

Yet, as December became January, as Spring Training drew every closer, Damon remained both unemployed and seemingly off the Yankees’ radar. Brian Cashman had built his team as he saw fit, and if Johnny Damon didn’t feel he could meet the Yanks’ price, Cashman was prepared to move on. In fact, according to most reports, the Yanks hadn’t spoken to Damon for weeks.

Earlier this week, though, we saw the first signs of a thaw. Jerry Hairston, Jr. speculated that the Yanks weren’t moving on anyone else yet because they were waiting for Damon’s price to come down. While Cashman denied saying so directly, Hairston’s words rang if not true at least plausible. Even with shoddy defense, Damon can be a useful player in a power packed lineup for the Yanks.

And so, it is of little surprise that Damon and the Yanks are, according to Jon Heyman, back on speaking terms. Over at MLB Trade Rumors tonight, our very own Mike Axisa had the transcription from the MLB Network:

“He did meet or talk to the Yankees in the last couple of days. Still doesn’t look like a great chance of happening though believe it or not. They are talking, but the Yankees have these budgetary constraints. They’ve been telling other teams they have about $2 million to spend. I think for Damon they would probably go over that. I mean this is a guy who’s had 100 runs scored nine times and 24 home runs. Terrific player, but I would still say more likely Braves or Tigers, at this point.”

Who knows what that means? Heyman has long been a press mouthpiece, in a sense, for Scott Boras, and it’s quite reasonable to see Boras behind this quote. He’s trying to publicly engage the Yanks and push them to come up with the money for Damon. They could go a few million dollars over budget for Damon, and Boras wants that to happen soon.

Heyman mentions two possible destinations for Damon, but neither seem likely at this juncture. The Braves say they’re through spending. They’re not going to wipe out the cost savings from sending Javier Vazquez away by upping with Damon for few million. The Tigers too are believed to be at or near their budget limits. I wonder if Mariners, still in the hunt for a bat, could get involved, but so far, they’ve been quiet.

Right now, this rumor is still a low level one, but it’s one we’ve been expecting. If Damon is a Yankee come mid-February, no one will be that surprised. And if he’s not a Yankee, no one will be that surprised either.

Open Thread: Yet another tribute video

I could watch these things all day. Hurry back, baseball season.

Here’s your open thread on this lovely Friday night. The Devils, Knicks, and Nets are all in action, but chat about whatever you want. Enjoy.