Open Thread: Yankees All-Decade Team

That’s right folks, more best of the decade stuff! If I had any foresight, I would have anticipated all of this and started a category for it, but alas. Today’s feature is the Yanks’ All-Decade team, provided by Scals at The Blue Workhorse. He provides a little blurb on each player, but I’ll trim it down and give you his roster:

C: Jorge Posada
1B: Jason Giambi
2B: Robinson Cano
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Johnny Damon
CF: Bernie Williams
RF: Bobby Abreu
DH: Hideki Matsui

SP: Andy Pettitte
SP: Mike Mussina
RP: Joba Chamberlain
CL: Mariano Rivera

Four of the everyday positions are obvious. You can make a good case for Alfonso Soriano over Cano at second, though I won’t argue it too much. As for the outfield, I’m going with Gary Sheffield in right over Abreu. In 347 games in pinstripes, Sheff hit .291-.383-.515 with 76 homers and more walks (183) than strikeouts (175). Abreu was “just” a .297-378-.465 hitter with 43 jacks and far more strikeouts (276) than walks (190) in 372 games with the Yanks. Sure, Sheff was a jerk, but he was damn productive jerk.

The two starting pitchers are pretty obvious, ditto Mo at the back end. But Joba as the reliever of the decade? Come on. The guy made just 50 relief appearances (60 IP) for the team, which barely qualifies as a full season’s worth of work for an elite reliever. Tom Gordon, on the other hand, was straight up dirrrty in his time with the Yanks. Two years, 159 appearances, 170.1 IP with a 2.38 ERA and 165 strikeouts. Joba has the wow factor, but Gordon was pretty clearly the team’s best non-Mo reliever during the aughts.

What do you guys think, disagree with anything else? Talk about that, or whatever else you want here. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all in action. Have at it.

By the Decade: Tino and the Giambino

Our Yankees by the Decade series continues today with a look at first base. After talking about the decade of Derek yesterday and Jorge’s time behind the dish on Wednesday. Today, we have an actual debate.

For this one, because the Yankees used 42 players at least once at first base, I limited our analysis to the guys who played at least 10 games at first over the decade. At some point or another, the Yankees decided to give these players somewhat regular playing time. It’s quite the list.

Jason Giambi 1639 459 80 2 129 373 355 21 58 376 35 .280 .420 .567
Tino Martinez 1436 376 69 6 64 246 126 13 12 210 38 .262 .325 .452
Mark Teixeira 586 171 42 3 37 115 80 9 11 109 13 .292 .384 .563
Nick Johnson 461 118 24 0 19 66 74 5 14 89 9 .256 .375 .432
Andy Phillips 412 110 19 4 10 56 26 0 2 79 13 .267 .311 .405
Tony Clark 243 54 12 0 16 48 26 3 2 90 6 .222 .300 .469
John Olerud 162 46 7 0 4 26 21 1 2 20 5 .284 .371 .401
Doug Mientkiewicz 160 45 12 0 5 24 16 0 3 23 2 .281 .356 .450
Wilson Betemit 114 27 4 0 5 21 7 0 1 38 4 .237 .285 .404
Craig Wilson 95 21 3 0 4 8 4 0 1 34 2 .221 .26 .379
Miguel Cairo 94 26 7 0 0 13 3 1 2 13 2 .277 .310 .351
Josh Phelps 63 19 2 0 2 11 6 0 2 12 5 .302 .380 .429
Todd Zeile 60 13 3 0 3 8 11 0 0 12 0 .217 .333 .417
Shelley Duncan 58 13 3 0 2 8 8 0 0 12 1 .224 .318 .379
Nick Swisher 40 13 3 1 3 8 10 0 0 5 1 .325 .460 .675
Aaron Guiel 27 5 0 0 0 3 3 0 1 8 2 .185 .290 .185
Ron Coomer 24 5 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 3 1 .208 .269 .208
Richie Sexson 24 6 1 0 1 6 5 0 0 7 1 .250 .367 .417
Luis Sojo 19 2 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 3 0 .105 .190 .105
Juan Miranda 18 6 1 0 1 4 2 0 1 8 0 .333 .409 .556
Clay Bellinger 16 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 7 0 .125 .176 .118
Cody Ransom 12 5 2 0 1 4 1 0 1 4 0 .417 .500 .883
  5763 1542 295 16 306 1050 789 53 113 1162 140 .268 .369 .484

For the Yankees, finding a suitable first basemen took up a lot of resources in the 2000s. The 1980s belonged to Donnie Baseball, and the 1990s were split between a fading Mattingly and Tino Martinez. As the 2000s rolled around, Tino’s days in the Bronx were numbered. He hit an admirable .280/.329/.501 with 34 dingers and 113 RBI in 2001, but heading into his age 34 season, Tino was given his walking papers.

The Yankees turned their attention to the big fish that off-season: Jason Giambi. Coming off of some stellar years for the Oakland A’s, the Yankees desperately wanted to add Giambi’s bat to the lineup. For seven years and $120 million, they did just that. After hitting .330/.458/.617 over his final three years in the A’s, Giambi would be playing on the world’s biggest stage.

At first, he struggled in the Bronx. He didn’t homer until the Yanks’ ninth game of 2002 and didn’t appear to be the feared hitter the Yanks thought they were getting. That is, until the flood gates opened on May 17, 2002. That night, Giambi blasted a walk-off Grand Slam in the 12th inning as the Yanks downed the Twins 13-12. The Giambino had arrived. He would end the year with a .314/.435/.598 with 41 home runs and 122 RBI.

For Giambi, though, 2002 would represent his peak in the Bronx. The power would begin to tail off in 2003, and although the batting eye would remain stellar, Giambi began to break down. He missed half of 2004 with a variety of injuries and much of 2007 as well. He found himself in the eye of the steroid hurricane and could not escape controversy. He rebounded nicely in 2008, but with Mark Teixeira looming, Giambi was gone.

So is Jason Giambi then the first baseman of the decade? Offensively, he makes a strong case for himself. As a first baseman only — not as a DH — he hit .280/.420/.567 with 129 home runs in 28.44 percent of the Yanks’ first base ABs. Tino, who made a Bronx return in 2005, came in second in team first base ABs but hit just .262/.325/.452 and blasted just 64 home runs.

Yet, the Yankees spent much of the decade trying to find someone who could actually play defense at first. The team learned early on that Giambi was ill-equipped to handle the glove. He wasn’t confident in his throws and generally had poor range. His cumulative UZR at first during his Yankee years was a -18.8. Only once in his Yankee career did he play more than 92 games at first and that was in 2008 when the Yanks had no better options. From 2004-2007, he played just 204 of the Yanks’ 648 games in the field. He was, in other words, a very highly paid designated hitter who could be stuck at first base when need me.

To that end, the Yanks tried just about everything. They used Nick Johnson for much of 2003 at first and brought back Tino in 2005. They tried the all-glove Doug Mientkiewicz; they begged Andy Phillips to do anything with the bat at the big league level; and they even gave Miguel Cairo enough chances to accrue nearly 100 ABs as a first baseman. The situation was that dire.

As we sit here in 2009, we’re on the precipice of the decade of Mark Teixeira. Already third on the list of Yankee first baseman of the ’00s by plate appearances, Mark’s contract ensures that his glove and bat will occupy first base for much of the 2010s. It will be a stark contrast with the ’00s, a decade that belongs to Giambi’s bat but not his glove and one that saw many players try to man first with varying degrees of success.

Johnny Damon overplayed his hand

With Nick Johnson back with the Yankees, Johnny Damon‘s days in pinstripes are, barring a change of heart by both sides, over. According to reports, Damon wanted to stay in the Bronx, and he eventually lowered his demands to two years. He would not, however, compromise on the money. The Yankees, according to Ken Davidoff, smartly valued him at two years at $7 million per season, but Damon did not want to take a paycut from his $13 million salary. “I wanted it to happen. I have nothing but great things to say about the Yankees,” Damon said to Mark Feinsand. “If the Nick Johnson thing works out, it will be good for them. It’s part of baseball.”

I have to wonder why Damon let these negotiations get out of hand. Did Scott Boras think some team would give Damon $13 million over three or four years? Did Damon’s agent believe that the Bobby Abreu deal in 2009 — a one-year, $5 million — would not be revisited upon Damon? The Yankees were willing to take him back, and he wanted to return. Scott Boras, though, and perhaps Damon himself overvalued the left fielder, and now he’s going to end up taking a paycut to join another team.

Damon could have made it work for the right money; but the Yankees were willing to go in another direction; and now it’s over. Barring a rather ridiculous scenario such as the one Ken Rosenthal proposed in which the Yankees would trade Nick Swisher to free up money to resign the older and less versatile Damon, Johnny will sport another uniform next season, and that will be all his doing. “I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do,” Damon said. “I know there are some teams interested, but the Yankees are the best organization I’ve been a part of so far in my career. I wish them all the best.”

Yanks reach agreement with Nick Johnson

Update (3:10pm): Looks like SportsCenter might have jumped the gun; T-Kep says Nicky J. still has to take his physical. That’s what I get for trusting ESPN.

2:17pm: ESPN just reported that the Yanks have officially signed Nick Johnson to a one year contract. Buster Olney says Johnson will make $5.5M in 2010 with a mutual option for 2011 worth another $5.5M. There’s also incentives based on plate appearances.

RAB Live Chat

The difference between Posada and Molina’s game calling

One of the most notable and certainly most annoying storylines from last season was Jorge Posada‘s apparent inability to do anything right behind the plate. He’s slow, can’t frame pitches, can’t block a ball in the dirt, he goes out to the mound too many times, can’t do anything right, especially call a game. Just look at the stats:

Yankee pitchers with Posada catching: .264-.347-.426 against, 18.4 K%
Yankee pitchers with anyone else catching:
.234-.298-.385 against, 22.5 K%

See? That right there tells you everything you need to know about Posada’s game calling ability. [/sarcasm]

Actually, yeah there’s definitely a difference between how certain catchers call games, but you can’t tell that based on just simple observation, or Joe Girardi‘s idiotic decision to let Jose Molina catch certain pitchers (he sure helped A.J. Burnett in Game 5 of both the ALCS and World Series, right?). We now have the tools to dig deeper into this phenomenon, and Max Marchi at THT did just that.

Using PitchFX, Marchi broke down the how Posada and Molina called games for CC Sabathia last season, noting that the biggest difference is that Posada tended to rely on the big guy’s four-seam fastball while Molina favored the sinking two-seam variety. Here’s the breakdown so you can see for yourself:

CC's pitch selection by catcher, 2009

That’s the percentage of total pitches, so Posada called for 49% fastballs, 33% sliders, and 18% sinkers against lefty batters. Of course, there are many more factors in play here than just what the catcher calls for. Sabathia could shake them off, and certainly players evolve during the course of the season and may change up their patterns. Posada also caught CC’s first four outings, which were part of his customary slow start, and that probably skewed the results.

In general, a catcher’s ability to work with pitchers is over-stated. Saying a guy handles pitchers well is usually something reserved for catchers who can’t do anything else even decently, like Molina. What makes Posada so great is his bat at the most premium of positions, and moving him to designated hitter to let someone like Molina catch full time makes the team worse. A league average DH with Posada catching is greater than Posada at DH and a defensive specialist like Molina catching. It takes an awful lot of defense to make up for the complete lack of offense.

At 38-years-old, Posada’s not getting any better defensively, and chances are his offense will take a hit next season. However, the best team the Yankees can field features him starting behind the dish, even if it means sacrificing an extra 90 OPS points to the opposition. The difference in offense – 325 OPS pt advantage over Molina, for example – makes up for it.

What does Nick Johnson mean for the left field situation?

Three Yankees who made significant contributions to the 2009 championship filed for free agency this winter: Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Andy Pettitte. By December 18, they’ve essentially replaced all three. Andy Pettitte re-signed last week to fill his own spot. The Yankees traded for Curtis Granderson to replace Damon, and the soon-to-be-announced signing of Nick Johnson fills Matsui’s vacated DH spot. The replacements are not exact facsimiles of their 2009 counterparts, but then again, no one is.

One question many of us had upon hearing of the Yanks interest in Johnson: what does it mean for left field? Melky Cabrera isn’t the worst choice. He was, after all, the starting center fielder on the 2009 team. The problems arise when Jorge Posada needs a day off. That means both Melky and Francisco Cervelli in the lineup. In a normal backup catcher situation that’s not a huge deal, but because we can’t expect Posada to catch more than 120 games (and even that’s very optimistic), it means a lot of both in the lineup.

Had the Yankees re-signed Damon, they could have mitigated the situation for some games. Instead of resting Posada a full day, sometimes he could have played DH, with Damon playing left field. Say Posada catches 110 games this season. Under the current system, the Yankees will have both Melky and Cervelli in the lineup for 52 games, or 32 percent of the season. But, if Posada can DH for 30 more games, for a total of 140, then the Yankees would only have both Melky and Cervelli in the lineup for 22 games. That sounds a lot better.

With Johnson in the fold, that’s not possible. It has made me, and many others, wonder if the Yankees now plan to sign or trade for a full-time left fielder. Though the chances appear remote, the Yankees could still sign Damon, though they’d have to play him in left basically every day. Do they still see him as a full-time left fielder? If not, it creates a logjam at DH, though those usually find a way to become unjammed. In fact, Damon might be the only possibility for another offensive addition. The left field trade market appears bleak, and there aren’t many, if any, free agent outfielders who interest the Yanks.

To not sign another left fielder, however, leaves the Yankees vulnerable. Nick Johnson comes with a long medical history, and is no guarantee to stay healthy the entire season. If something happens to him in 2010, the Yanks would be in a very tough spot. Without any further additions, they’d probably move Nick Swisher to DH and have an outfield of Cabrera, Granderson, and Brett Gardner. Defensively that’s stellar, but offensively it would be among the lightest hitting trios in the league. Further, imagine the lineup when Jorge needs a full day off. It’s not a scenario anyone wants to see.

Many Yanks fans, myself included, dream of Matt Holliday in this scenario. From a pure performance perspective, he represents an ideal fit. Not only does he play left field full time, but he provides a middle of the order bat. Just imagine the Yankees batting order:

1. Derek Jeter
2. Nick Johnson
3. Mark Teixeira
4. Alex Rodriguez
5. Matt Holliday
6. Jorge Posada
7. Curtis Granderson
8. Nick Swisher
9. Robinson Cano

The scenario, as of right now, remains unlikely. Without contracts for any of the arbitration-eligible and reserve clause players, the team payroll stands at about $188 million. Add in another $6 to $7 million for Melky, Chad Gaudin, and Sergio Mitre, plus the money to fill out the rest of the roster, and the number gets very close to $200 million. Will the Yankees go far above that for a left fielder? It doesn’t sound like it.

Holliday will not come cheap. As he does for all of his clients, Scott Boras seeks the most possible money for Holliday. The Cardinals reportedly have on the table a five-year offer for about $15 million per year. Even if the Yankees matched that and Holliday preferred New York, that would boost payroll to over $210 million, and close to $215 million. Imagine, then, if they wanted to add another starter. They could easily start the season with a payroll over $220 million. From everything the Yankees have said this off-season, that’s not part of the plan.

As we’ve mentioned many times before, adding Holliday doesn’t just affect this year’s payroll, but the payroll for the next five years. The Yankees might not want to add that kind of commitment when they already have $140 million committed to the 2011 team, and that’s before re-signing Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Cashman has also called next year’s free agency class “incredibly more impressive than this one,” so the Yanks might choose to wait this one out, add one more pitcher and call it an off-season. They can then make a move on perhaps a better free agent next off-season.

There’s a chance, as always, that the Yankees see the sense in adding Holliday at this point and decide to increase payroll for him. At yesterday’s Granderson press conference, Hal Steinbrenner seemed open to the idea, but reluctant. “I’m not saying yay (sic) or nay, but I’m saying we’re operating at this number and that’s that.” The chance is open, but given the immense commitment it would require, I doubt the Yankees move in that direction.

If they’re done shopping for an outfielder, the 2010 Yankees enter the season with a big risk. If healthy Nick Johnson is a great addition, but any injury would leave the Yankees offense in a tough spot. Even if they add another good starting pitcher, that’s a rough bottom of the order. I’d like to see them add a higher caliber left fielder, but given the roster and payroll constraints, I don’t expect it.