Open Thread: Win a trip to Cooperstown

So here’s a fun little contest for your open thread tonight. The Cooperstown Cookie Company has announced a sweepstakes that will run through April 16. The prize? A free two-night trip to Cooperstown for the winner and a companion. Also included is a membership to the Hall of Fame, meals and some non-baseball- and baseball-related prizes from some of the upstate town’s local merchants.

Entering is easy. Just head on over to this page and take a short survey. More info is available here, and the hat tip for this one goes to David Pinto at Baseball Musings. He took a break from his Sisyphean and alphabetical project of posting a short piece on every single baseball player in the Majors Leagues. For more on Cooperstown and the Hall, check out the photos from Mike’s recent visit.

In local action tonight, the Senators are visiting the Rangers at the Garden, and the Devils are facing off against the Coyotes at 9 p.m. MTV is airing two episodes of the critically-acclaimed Jersey Shore this evening, and Conan should be in fine form again come 11:35 p.m. Be good to each other.

Is Jeter the second greatest shortstop ever?

In the eyes of Yankee fans, Derek Jeter can do no wrong. Even when it was apparent that his defense at short was detrimental to the team, most stuck by him because of everything he’s done for the franchise. I’m sure many will argue that he’s the greatest shortstop of all time, however David Schoenfield at ESPN ran through all the data, and shows that if Jeter isn’t the second best shortstop in baseball history (behind Honus Wagner), he’s darn close to it. His main competition for the title is Cal Ripken Jr., who of course played an entirely different game than Cap’n Jetes.

For what it’s worth, Ripken’s best seasons were far greater than Jeter’s best seasons. However, if he continues to defy age, Jeter will be right there with Cal at the end of his career.

The stats we use: UZR

Have you ever read an article on this site, only to encounter a strange acronym that you don’t understand? For the most part they’re either inside jokes or advanced metrics. The increasing amount of data available makes it easier for us to take raw numbers and put them into context, allowing us the ability to compare players using stats that give us not only numbers, but context. These advanced stats tell us not one thing — OBP, for instance, tells us just one thing and ignores other factors — but many things that go into a player’s value.

Over the next week or so we’ll discuss the most commonly used stats on this site. Many of these require heavy math, and we know that can turn off many people. This series of articles will attempt to explain what goes into these stats without getting into any of the heavy math. We’ll include as many resources as possible, however, in case you want to dive into the calculations yourself. By the end of the series, we’ll replace our woefully outdated and partly inaccurate guide to stats.

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Catching up with former Yankees’ farmhands

Ever since I’ve been able to follow the Yankees’ farm system closely, I’ve been interested in what happens to players once they leave the system. Will they find success with another team, or are they just products of the supposed Yankee hype machine? Yesterday I happen to catch updates on three former Yankees’ farmhands, and Mike caught another.

C.J. Henry

Drafted with the 17th pick of the 2005 draft, Henry got off to a slow start with the Yankees. After hitting .249/.333/.381 in 181 at-bats in the GCL after being drafted, Henry moved on to Charleston in 2006, where he hit .240/.330/.353 in 275 at-bats before the Yankees traded him to the Phillies for Bobby Abreu. He had a horrible year in 2007, hitting .184/.238/.322 in 342 at-bats while repeating the Sally league. He asked for his release after the season, and the Phillies granted it, only to watch him return to the Yankees. In 2008 he appeared in 20 games for Tampa, but his hitting skills were still poor.

Henry then left the Yankees to play basketball at Memphis. Coach John Calipari brought him him to help recruit his brother, Xavier Henry, but once Calipari left for Kentucky the deal was off. Both Henry brothers signed with Kansas, where they’re currently playing hoops for the Jayhawks. He has played in nine of the team’s 15 games, averaging just 7.1 minutes. His greatest asset, it seems, is the long shot. He’s 11 for 18 on three point attempts. Kansas is ranked #3 as of this writing.

Brandon Weeden

Like Henry, Weeden plays college ball — football, that is. The Yankees drafted him in the second round of the 2002 draft, though he was their first pick. A $565,000 convinced him to pass up a football scholarship to Oklahoma State. He had a decent showing on the mound in 2002 and 2003, but eventually went to the Dodgers as part of the Kevin Brown trade. His lack of control hurt him as he reached A-ball in 2005, and after 77.2 innings as an Advanced-A player in the Royals system in 2006 he left baseball.

Afterward he want back to school, and he’ll be a 27-year-old junior next year at Oklahoma State. He is the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. Sounds like he should have taken that path initially. Hopefully he has more success with the transition than Drew Henson.

Jeff Kennard

For the 1,207th overall pick in the 2000 draft, Kennard performed pretty well in the minor leagues. Other than his injury-shortened 2004 season, he kept his ERA under 4.00, even as he moved up to AA. He was suspended for 15 games in the 2005 season for violating baseball’s minor league steroid policy. In 2007 the Yankees traded him to the Angels mid-season for Jose Molina.

Kennard pitched well at AAA last year for the Reds, striking out 48, walking 21, and allowing 17 earned runs in 54 IP. The Cubs signed him to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite.

Jake Westbrook

We close the list with a name familiar to us all. A first-round pick of the Rockies in the 1996 draft, the Yankees were Westbrook’s third team. They acquired him, along with Ted Lilly, from the Expos for Hideki Irabu. Just over six months later, after Westbrook had thrown a whole 6.2 innings in the majors, the Yankees sent him, Zach Day, and Ricky Ledee to the Indians for David Justice in a move that would save their 2000 season.

Westbrook established himself as a solid middle of the rotation arm in Cleveland, posting average to above average ERA marks from 2003 through 2007. In 2008 he underwent Tommy John surgery that June. He recovered slowly, missing the entire 2009 season. He pitched well this winter in Puerto Rico, and appears ready to face the 2010 season as the Indians No. 1 starter. Slated to hit free agency after this season, Westbrook could end up being the third straight Indians No. 1 traded mid-season.

Braves still on the Damon trail

We’re just 35 days away from pitchers and catchers, and we’ve still yet to hear of another team making Johnny Damon an offer. We’ve heard of teams interested in him, both as rumors from sources and as speculation. But even when someone reported on an actual offer, someone else shot it down. Johnny will certainly receive an offer, maybe a few, in the next few weeks, and one will likely come from the Braves. They remain interested, and figure to be the most logical Damon destination other than the Bronx.

David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the reporter who shot down the rumored Damon offer, says that the two parties remain a match, “and it could happen now that his price has presumably shrunk along with his market.” While the price drop remains a presumption, Damon’s market has certainly shrunk over the past few weeks. His potential suitors, including the Braves, have all added pieces that would make him less of a priority, if not preclude him altogether.

With Juan Uribe, Mark DeRosa, and Aubrey Huff in the fold, the Giants probably don’t have room for Damon. Seattle reportedly expressed interest earlier in the off-season, but have since added Milton Bradley in addition to Ken Griffey Jr. That pretty much fills the LF and DH spots, and the team also has a number of low-cost options, such as Ryan Langerhans and youngster Michael Saunders, so adding Damon seems out of the question. That leaves New York and Atlanta.

Even with those teams, Damon has little leverage. The Yankees have made no secret of their budget and what remains of it. While that could expand under the right circumstances, and while they could attempt to trade Chad Gaudin and his presumed $3 million arbitration figure, both don’t remain likely possibilities right now. While the Braves could use all the outfield help they could get, they do have a few options in 2010. In addition to Nate McLouth, they’ve added Melky Cabrera and Eric Hinske, and have Matt Diaz and top prospect Jason Heyward. Sure, Damon is better than Melky, Hinske, and Diaz, and is a better bet than Heyward. But the Braves do have options.

What has become apparent from Damon’s situation, along with Bobby Abreu’s from last year, is that teams just aren’t that willing to sign veteran corner outfielders to multiyear deals. Because the player seeks a long-term deal at the beginning of the off-season, he loses out and the price for even one year of service dwindles. The Yankees apparently offered two years and $14 million in December. Is there another offer like that out there now? It doesn’t appear so. Damon will probably have to settle for one year at a $6 or $7 million salary. That’s what happens when your options balk at your demands and seek alternatives.

Melky avoid arbitration with the Braves

Via Enrique Rojas, one-time great Yankee Melky Cabrera avoided arbitration with the Braves, signing a one-year deal worth … wait for it … $3.1M! Good for the Melkman. I’ve always said Melky was a great guy to have around when he was making six-figures, but now that he’s making several million through arbitration, eh, the investment is a little tough to swallow. Given the free agent market, it’s pretty easy to think the money could be better spent elsewhere.

But again, congrats to Leche, I’m happy for him.

1990: A year in purgatory

Sitting here in 2010, we’re used to Yankee success. Everyone hates the Yankees because they’re so good, and we’ve enjoyed, since 1996, five World Series championships, another two World Series appearances and 13 playoff appearances in 14 years. Talk about spoiled.

The Bronx, though, was not always home to baseball riches. Twenty years ago, the Yankees were downright awful, and somehow, during many of our formative years, we still found a way to route for the team. The Yankees in 1990 were the last Yankee team to finish in seventh place in the AL East. The team went an AL-worst 67-95 and were 21 games out of first place when the season ended.

As with most last-place teams, the Yankees managed to fail in every aspect of the game. Overall, the team .241/.300/.366, worst in the AL in all three categories. They hit 147 home runs, good for fourth in the league, but plated just 603 runs all season. Their 1027 strike outs were good for second in the AL, and their 427 walks were the second fewest in the league. It’s painful just to think about Alvaro Espinosa’s .224/.258/.274 effort over 472 plate appearances or Steve Sax’s .260/.316/.325 line in 680 plate appearances.

Things weren’t much better on the mound. Tim Leary, the staff “ace,” lost 19 games and had a 1.77 K/BB ratio. The guys behind him — Andy Hawkins, David LaPoint, Chuck Cary, Mike Witt and a plethora of spot starters — are better left to the history books. Hawkins, in fact, walked more than he struck out in 157.2 innings that year. Bad. Bad. Bad.

I remember going to games that year as a young Yankee fan, and the Stadium simply had a different atmosphere to it. The fans who were there knew they wouldn’t get good baseball. Maybe we’d see Stump Merrill throw a fit and get ejected. Maybe the opposing teams would be good. Mid-week games against the bad teams — the Indians, the Mariners — drew just over 15,000 fans per game, and Dave Anderson doubted even that many showed up. For the last game of the season, an entirely meaningless affair against the Tigers, just 13,380 fans were in attendance.

It was tough that year to find any bright spots. Even old reliable Donnie Baseball begin his slide toward retirement. Back problems knocked him out midway through the season, and he hit just .256/.308/.335 with 5 home runs. For those of us who idolized Mattingly, his struggles were incomprehensible. Kevin Maas, though, wowed us all with his 21 home runs.

For the Yankees, that season, George Steinbrenner hung over everything. The Boss was suspended in July, and the team couldn’t really do much of anything as his status was up in the air. Still, the pieces began to fall into place for a later run. The Yanks drafted Andy Pettitte in the 22nd round of the draft and chose some middle infielder named Jorge Posada in the 24th round. Shane Spencer was a 28th round draft pick, and Ricky Ledee came on board in the 16th round. On February 17, the Yanks signed some skinny kid out of Panama named Mariano Rivera.

The 1990 season was truly a rock-bottom year. Hensley Muelens, Mel Hall, Steve Balboni, Jesse Barfield. Who were these guys? The fans barely knew; the fans barely came. It was a different era in the Bronx.