Open Thread: Happy Veteran’s Day

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Global Voyager)

Happy Veteran’s Day to all of you veterans out there. My grandfather served in WWII and I had a few acquaintances (not even friends, really) enlist out of high school and stuff, but that’s pretty much the extent of my connection to the armed forces. We can’t thank you enough, you’re the reason cowards like me can sit at a computer and pretend to speak intelligently about baseball all the damn time.

Anywho, this is your open thread for the night. Both the Rangers and Islanders are in action, but there’s also a football game on. Who knew? The Ravens are in Atlanta, but you need to have the NFL Network to be able to watch. You guys know what to do, so have at it.

Oh, and send in some mailbag questions. Need ’em for tomorrow. plskthx

City: SI Yanks owe $300K in payments

According to the New York City Comptroller’s Office and the Economic Development Corporation, the Staten Island Yankees, New York-Penn League affiliates of the Bronx club and owned by the Yanks, owe the city $300,000 in back-rent, unreported attendance totals and improper deductions. The team does not agree, and the SI Yanks plan to bring the issue to an arbitration hearing.

The finer points of the dispute are rather arcane, but Comptroller John Liu lays them out in a press release which accompanies his office’s audit report (PDF). In essence, the terms of the lease deal between the SI Yankees and the EDC make rent payment levels contingent upon game attendance figures, and the team must pay a fee for each now-show complimentary ticket it issues over the course of the season. The team, says Liu’s office, underreported attendance totals for the 2009 season and now owes the city $118,366 in rent and $39,140 in no-show and complimentary ticket fees. Separately, the team took unallowable deductions in calculating money owed to the city through its net-signage revenue provisions and now must pony up $151,058. The EDC, leaseholders of the stadium in Richmond County, say the team owes back-rent and ticket fee payments only but not the net-signage revenue.

To rectify these deficiencies, the Comptroller’s Office has urged the team over the $308,564 it ostensibly owes while instituting better controls for its complimentary ticket policy. Since the various parties disagree, to arbitration this will go. As Frank Donnelly at reported, the two sides “want to put the issue behind them,” but the EDC is prepared to go to court to collect its money. And once again, a professional sports franchise with a sweetheart stadium deal from its host seems to be withholding money that should go to fill the city’s coffers.

Is Scott Downs worth the cost?

(Chris Gardner/AP)

If we’ve learned anything about the free agent market in the past few years, it’s that buying relief pitchers often leads to disappointment. Even Damaso Marte, who had been a solid pitcher throughout his career, crumbled after signing what was essentially a free agent contract. Chan Ho Park, who shined in the Phillies pen during the 2009 season, flopped horribly in 2010. The stories go on seemingly forever, extending back to the days of Paul Quantrill. Yet there’s always the temptation with at least one reliever on the market. This year it’s Scott Downs.

I’ll put this bluntly: I want Scott Downs in the Yankees bullpen. The guy is simply a beast. He strikes out his share of guys, he avoids walking too many batters, he keeps the ball on the ground, and he limits balls that leave the park. During the last three seasons he has produced a 2.83 ERA and 3.16 FIP, placing him easily within the top 20 relief pitchers of that period. What’s even better is that he’s a lefty who can hold his own against righties. But is he worth the cost to the Yankees?

Again, I’ll be blunt: No. It pains me to type those two letters. Downs is such a perfect fit for the 2011 bullpen. The Yankees need another lefty. Downs can fill that role, as well as a late-innings setup role. But the downsides to signing him outweigh the potential benefits he’d have over a replacement.

1. He’s a Type A free agent. The Blue Jays will undoubtedly offer him arbitration. He made $4 million in 2010, so even a $1 million raise makes him an affordable relief pitcher. If he declines, he’ll cost an acquiring team a first round draft pick. Chances are that will be a second rounder for the Yankees, but that might be even worse. Because the Yankees will almost certainly decline, for the third straight year, to offer any of their own free agents arbitration, they’ll receive no supplemental draft picks. That would push their first pick in the draft into the triple digits. That’s no way to build a strong farm system.

2. He’ll turn 35 before Opening Day. Even handing Downs a deal in the mold of Marte’s would be a risk, since it would mean he’d be on the team through his age-37 season.

3. His performance brings no guarantees. You can say this to varying degrees with any player, really, but especially with relief pitchers. Downs has been tremendous in the last four years. In fact, in the last three years only four relief pitchers have a better ERA than Downs: Joakim Soria, Mike Adams, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Mo. Only five relievers have a higher ground ball percentage, and Downs has a very low HR/FB ratio to go along with that. But that means nothing heading into next year. One bad year can make this a bad deal overall, especially when it involves a pitcher of Downs’s age.

On a one-year deal, Scott Downs would be the perfect addition to the Yankees’ bullpen. But as a Type A free agent he just doesn’t fit. Maybe, just maybe, the Yankees and Jays can pull off something similar to what the Braves and the Rays did last year after Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration. But considering the intra-division implications, I’m not sure that happens. Scott Downs could make a very nice setup man for a contending club next year. I’m sad it won’t be the Yanks.

Link Dump: Catcher Defense, Downs, Greinke

Need some help passing the time? I got you covered…

Catcher Defense Rankings

Over at Beyond The Box Score, Matt Klaassen posted catcher defense rankings for the 2010 season using a weighted formula that includes stuff like throwing errors and passed balls and what not. Unsurprisingly, both Frankie Cervelli and Jorge Posada ranked near the bottom. Cervelli was tied with Jeff Mathis (Nichols Law poster boy) and Ryan Doumit for dead last at -9.4 runs, while Posada was right behind them at -8.6. Frankie and Jorge placed 119th and 117th out of 120 qualified backstops, respectively. Ho boy.

Don’t expect the Yanks to pursue Scott Downs

We know that Brian Cashman wants to add another lefty reliever to his bullpen this offseason, but Ken Davidoff says not to expect him to pursue Scott Downs. Downs held left-handed batters to a .241 wOBA last year, but he’s a Type-A free agent that will surely be offered arbitration by the Blue Jays. Cashman simply doesn’t want to surrender a high draft pick to sign a guy that will pitch about four percent of the team’s total innings next year. Can’t say I blame him. I’m sticking with my Randy Choate endorsement.

Blue Jays check in on Greinke

Zack Greinke is unlikely to accept a trade to New York, but the Jays are interested in seeing if he’ll go north of the border. Bob Elliott (h/t MLBTR) reports that Toronto has put a call in to the Royals about Greinke as well as Alex Gordon, though nothing is remotely close to happening. Dayton Moore is supposedly asking for a king’s ransom for his ace and with good reason, but if the Jays are willing to part with Kyle Drabek and Travis Snider (my speculation), you’d have to figure they’d get Kansas City’s attention. Imagine a staff headlined by Greinke, Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum, and Brandon Morrow. Yikes.

Rockies interested in Vazquez

Talk about a match made in what-the-hell-are-they-thinking heaven. Troy Renck (again, h/t MLBTR) says the Rockies are interested in signing two-time former Yank Javy Vazquez to solidify their rotation. Forget what happened in 2010, even if Javy rebounds back to his career norm, he’s still a fly ball pitcher (41.3% over the last four years, skewed by his 34.8% mark in 2009) that would be going to a homer haven park, humidor or not. Vazquez wants to pitch on the East Coast to be close to his family in Puerto Rico, so I can’t imagine he’d entertain the thought of joining the Rockies. Still, what the hell are they thinking? Does not compute.

Baseball America on Yankee prospects

Although the list hit the intertubes last week, BA officially released their list of the top ten Yankee prospects yesterday. Accompanying the list was a chat with author John Manuel and an article on the team’s pitching depth. Both are subscriber only, but here’s the gist: the Yankees have a ton of depth when it comes to middle-of-the-rotation and back-end starters thanks to a strong player development system, but expect them to trade a few guys to maximize value since those kinds of arms have little value to a perennial contender. Adam Warren was mentioned prominently in that scenario. That’s what farm systems are for, to plug holes and make trades, and the Yanks certainly have the inventory for that.

How far will the Yankees go for Cliff Lee?

We’re still waiting for the Yankees to officially offer Cliff Lee a contract. That might not come for a few weeks now — as Joel Sherman notes in his latest column, the Yankees are privy to the planned bidding war for Lee’s services. This could lead the Yankees to take the opposite approach as they took with CC Sabathia two years ago. Whereas then they made a huge initial offer, here we could see them come in with their monster offer a bit later in the process. How large an offer will they make? Sherman gives us a hint.

Rangers officials, however, have told friends in the industry that they assume the Yankees will go to a place financially — specifically in years offered — that Texas probably cannot follow. The Rangers might be able to afford it, but unlike the uber-rich Yankees, they cannot absorb it on the payroll if Lee’s performance declines steeply because of age and/or injury.

(But…but…the income tax!)

That the Rangers can even afford Lee for one year is a fairly recent development. When they traded for him in July they needed Seattle to kick in $2.5 million of the $4.2 million remaining on Lee’s $9 million contract. The Rangers were working through bankruptcy proceedings at the time, so it was surprising that they were allowed to take on payroll, period. But MLB made an exception. Then, in September, the team signed a new TV deal that would pay out $3 billion over 20 years. That supposedly set up the Rangers to increase payroll and retain the players that helped them capture the AL West crown.

That might not actually be the case. As Jayson Stark notes in his latest Rumblings & Grumblings, the Rangers won’t see the full effects of that TV deal for a few years.

One baseball man with knowledge of the Rangers’ massive new TV deal says people are overestimating the impact that contract will have on their ability to bring back Cliff Lee.

For one thing, the new deal doesn’t kick in until 2015, when Lee would be in the fifth season of his next contract.

For another, Rumblings was told, the new Rangers ownership has already used a large chunk of the upcoming TV money, which it collected up front as a signing bonus, to help finance its purchase of the franchise.

And, finally, the Rangers are about to lose their status as a revenue-sharing taker, which was allowing them to collect $8 million to $15 million a year.

So the bottom line is that this TV deal is not going to be worth an extra $80 million a season, as some people have speculated, and will have only minimal impact initially. Which means the Rangers still have to decide if it’s a sane business decision to outbid the Yankees in years and dollars on a player the Yankees seem determined to sign. We wish them luck on that.

Stark’s and Sherman’s stories seem to jibe. The Rangers will certainly benefit from this new TV deal, but perhaps not to the degree that would allow them to spend $20 to $25 million annually on a pitcher — even if that pitcher is Cliff Lee.

We should still expect the Rangers to bid aggressively on Lee, even if they ultimately won’t go to the Yankees’ lengths. This will certainly have an effect on what the Yankees pay — remember that bidding war that Lee and his agent want to enact. The end result could be a five-year, $125 million contract (with a sixth year option, opines Sherman). That’s a ton of money, especially considering the other high-end contracts on the Yankees’ ledger, but it’s probably the figure necessary to land Lee. That, however, does not make it a good idea.

ESPN New York’s Mark Simon recently looked at the 52 pitchers who have signed a deal of four years or longer since 1991-1992 and found that only four produced an ERA+ of 120 or greater for the length of the contract. That’s a bit misleading, of course. There were some pretty horrible pitchers signed to deals of four years or greater. Cliff Lee is quite a bit better than guys such as Jeff Suppan, Chan Ho Park, and Barry Zito. This is the challenge we face when comparing free agents to their predecessors. How can you accurately forecast the outlook for an outlier?

Cliff Lee is clearly in it for the money, and the Yankees have the most of it. That allows them to be a bit reckless where other teams require restraint. The Rangers might want to keep Lee, but they might not be in the best position to do so. We saw what happened the last time the Rangers went out of their way to overpay a player. After their first ever World Series berth, would they be willing to take that same risk again 10 years later?

What Went Right: CC Sabathia

Every team has an “ace,” at least according to the rudimentary definition of the term. Yeah, someone has to be the best pitcher on the staff and someone has to start on Opening Day, but that doesn’t make that person true aces. A true ace is the guy that can carry his team on his back for stretches of the season. He’s the guy you give the ball to in big games without hesitation. He’s the guy that when you sit down and turn the television on to watch the game, you expect a win. The Yankees have a true ace, and his name is CC Sabathia.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Sabathia’s first season in New York was a smashing success; a brilliant regular season effort (3.39 FIP in 230 IP) followed by an even brilliant-er postseason capped off with a World Series victory. Building upon that success and being even better in 2010 would be damn near impossible, but CC gave it his best shot anyway.

Typically a slow starter, Sabathia skated through five April starts with a 3.12 ERA, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Rays in his second start of the season. He ran into a rough stretch after throwing eight innings of one run ball against the Orioles in his first May outing, dropping four of five starts thanks to 21 runs allowed in 28.2 IP. It was an uncharacteristic rough patch for CC, who battled fastball command more than anything, but once the calendar flipped to June, CC stood for Cruise Control.

Seven innings and three runs against the Orioles. Then seven innings and two runs against those sameOrioles. Then seven innings and three runs against the Phillies. Then 16 combined innings and one run against the Mets and Dodgers. It goes on like this for quite a while.

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

From May 30th through September 17th, Sabathia made 21 starts and threw no less than seven innings in 17 of them. The other four lasted 6.1, 6.2, 6.0, and 6.1 innings. He posted a 2.53 ERA in 152.2 innings during that stretch, holding opponents to a .273 wOBA. The Yankees won 17 of those 21 games, and most importantly CC was saving the bullpen. The rotation went from rock solid to down right disastrous during that time thanks to Andy Pettitte‘s injury and the general suckiness of Javy Vazquez, A.J. Burnett, and Dustin Moseley. The days that Sabathia pitched were the days everyone was able to rest easy, knowing that the big guy was going to take the ball deep into the game and if nothing else give the Yanks a chance to win. More often than not, they did.

Sabathia was also at his best when the team needed him to be. With a 6-14 record in their previous 20 games, the Yanks were stumbling through the final month of the season and had yet to clinch a playoff spot through 158 games. The natives were getting restless, but CC took the mound in Game 159 in Toronto and carried his team to a guaranteed playoff berth with 8.1 innings of one run ball. The only thing that stood in the way of a complete game win was the greatest reliever of all-time; Sabathia had plenty left in the tank if needed. Three weeks later, when the Yanks had their backs up against the wall in Game Five the ALCS, CC gave them six hard fought innings against the Rangers to extend their season another day.

The end result for Sabathia was a season that pleases both old school fans and saberists alike. He went 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 34 starts, numbers that have him squarely in the conversation for the Cy Young Award. CC also posted a 3.54 FIP and 5.1 fWAR, figures that made him one of the eight or ten most valuable pitchers in the league. If you prefer Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, only Felix Hernandez was better. No matter which demographic you below two, old school or nerdy stats, we can all agree that the Yankees were lucky enough to trot out one of the game’s best every five days this season.

The CC Sabathia experience is now two years old for Yankee fans, and it’s near impossible to call his tenure anything but masterful. The Yanks have won 45 of his 68 starts, and on an individual level CC has posted a 3.27 ERA (3.47 FIP) in an unbelievable 467.2 innings. As far as the Yankees are concerned, almost nothing went more right than Sabathia in 2010.

Yanks and Jeter inching closer but still far apart

As the Yankees and Derek Jeter dance around their contract negotiations, a certain sense of urgency is lacking. The breaking news, as it were, concerns the twin facts that the Yanks are prepared to pay Jeter more than his play on the field and advancing age would seemingly be worth were he not Derek Jeter and that the two sides expect to sign a deal at some point this winter. How shocking.

So far, we’ve heard lots of opining about Jeter, and it comes across as noise. His free agency is a storyline this off-season because it’s the first time he’s hit the open market, but while other teams could theoretically be interested in signing Jeter, odds are good he won’t even talk to anyone other than the Yankees this winter. He wants to stay in New York, and New York wants him.

Yet, through the noise comes some key tidbits and ideas that deserve some attention. One interesting item of note that got lost behind the Newsday paywall came to us from Ken Davidoff. He writes:

Jeter’s agent Casey Close met with Cashman, Yankees president Randy Levine and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, earlier this week in Tampa. Indications are that the Yankees didn’t extend a formal offer to Jeter, but that the two sides are far apart – and yet they understand that they’ll find common ground, somehow. Neither side has a great alternative.

Most of Davidoff’s work this summer has gone unread because of Newsday’s business decision to hide their content, but his analysis and reporting is often spot-on. We don’t know how far apart the two sides are, but it’s safe to assume that, at this early stage, both the money and the years aren’t lining up. That’s a negotiation though, and both sides will get to the right middle point.

As the Yanks negotiation — and I’d put the deal date some time after Thanksgiving — we have heard over the last few weeks what Jeter’s deal won’t look like. Despite all indications that Jeter wants to step back from the game when his playing career ends, Joel Sherman proposed a massive post-career deal that would bridge any monetary gap. The Yanks would pay Jeter $45 million for three on-field years and include a 25-year, $75-million personal services contract as well. Sherman even found an unnamed AL executive to validate this idea. “It is a no-brainer to me that is how it should be done,” his source said. “You don’t have to give [Jeter] a fortune of money now. Both sides save face. And you keep him for life.”

Buster Olney disagrees with Sherman. He doesn’t think the Yankees are keen on writing Jeter a blank check. In an Insider-only post last week, Olney noted how the organization does not “feel obligated to pay Jeter the way that they paid [Alex] Rodriguez [in 2007]; rather, they are intent on not repeating the mistake of investing huge dollars in an aging player.” Jeter is very popular now, but the franchise and the player will both be able to move on when the time is right.

Jayson Stark further buries Sherman’s idea. He writes, “Early indications are that the Yankees aren’t interested. When Jeter’s deal gets done one of these weeks, says one baseball man who spoke with them, it will be ‘a baseball contract. Period.'”

In terms of Jeter’s post-career relationship with the team, it will be a strong one. While Ken Rosenthal wondered if the Yanks were going to squeeze their captain, Richard Sandomir presents a more nuanced view. In The Times yesterday, Sandomir explores how Jeter’s value is tied into the Yanks and how the club’s image rests, in part, with Jeter. As MLB consultant Vince Gennaro said to Sandomir, “In reality, his value as a brand-builder will grow long after his skills diminish.”

The Yankees and Jeter will close that gap soon, and Jeter will be overpaid. Some will wring their hands; others will cheer that the captain is back and handsomely rewarded. As far as the bottom line goes, both sides will walk away happy.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens