Wade Boggs and the winter of 1992

Wade Boggs knocks out a base hit against the Orioles in Sept. 1997. (AP Photo/Roberto Borea)

These days, the Yankees don’t struggle to attract top talent. With playoff appearances in 13 of the last 14 seasons and five World Series titles out of their last seven Fall Classic appearances, the Yankees have become one of the top destinations for marquee players looking for a shot at October glory. Adding to the winning is the team’s willingness to spend, spend, spend.

It wasn’t always like this though. The Yankees have always been happy to dole out the dollars, but sometimes, even the dollars aren’t incentive enough. For a look at just when and why the Yankees couldn’t convince players to come to the Bronx and how it all ended, we flashback again to the winter of 1992/1993. A few weeks ago, I explored the Roberto Kelly/Paul O’Neill trade, and today, we look at the circumstances surrounding Wade Boggs’ arrival in the Bronx.

For Yankee fans of a certain age, the thought of Boggs in the Bronx was enough to churn the strongest of stomachs. Boggs was so deeply associated with the hated Red Sox that fans despised him. To make matters worse, he and Don Mattingly had a relationship about as warm as the one Derek Jeter and A-Rod share today.

After the 1992 season, Boggs was a free agent, and the Yankees needed a third baseman. They had recently lost Charlie Hayes in the expansion draft, and although Boggs had put up an anemic .259/.353/.358 line in Boston and had suffered through back spasms, the Tampa faction of the divisive Yankee Front Office had their eyes set on Boggs. Eventually, the team signed him to a three-year, $11 million deal — a contract Jack Curry called “curious” — but the circumstances of the deal reveal much about the way the Yankees used to operate.

The Yankees in 1992 were a team no one wanted to join. They had just finished their fourth straight losing season, and it was just the second time in franchise history and the first since 1912-1915 that the team had suffered through that much futility on the field. Behind the scenes, the Yankees had struggled with the suspension of George Steinbrenner and struggled with his return. The Boss and Joseph Molloy, a managing partner in Tampa, had wrested control of personnel moves from Gene Michael and Buck Showalter, and the strains of that fight over the team power was in full display. That winter, David Cone, Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux, Terry Steinbach and Doug Drabek all rejected the Yankes. The team had to outbid the Dodgers by one year and $5 million just to land Boggs. It was ugly indeed.

Yet, somehow, someway, it worked out for the Yankees. Boggs stuck around for five years and wasn’t terrible. He hit .313/.396/.407 with a 111 OPS+ while in the Bronx, and the image of his horse ride around the stadium in 1996 has come to represent October salvation for a group of Yankee lovers who were formative fans as the Yanks struggled for wins. A sign of the baseball split in the Yankee Front Office early on, Boggs became a symbol of the team’s new-found success by mid-decade.

These days, of course, the Yankees don’t have to bend and break to get the guys they want. They have resolved issues of decentralized baseball power that seem to crop up every ten years and have put a product on the field that 29 other teams envy and strive to beat. Boggs and O’Neill, two guys most analysts were already counting out before they played their first games in pinstripes, were the harbingers of this great new era in Yankee baseball. Who would have believed it then?

Chien-Ming Wang, former Yankee (UPDATE: Not yet)

Update by Mike (10:08am): Buster Olney and a Nats’ writer shot Pete’s report down. Washington is still very much in pursuit of Wanger, but he’s still a week or so away from making a decision.

8:56am: Once the Yankees declined to tender Chien-Ming Wang a contract in December it was pretty apparent that he would not return to the team. We held out a glimmer of hope, mainly because Wang had pitched so well in 2006 and 2007. It appears he’s about to officially become a former Yankee. PeteAbe tweets that he has chosen the Nationals, and that a deal is near. We wish him luck in his new digs, and hope he picks up a few wins against the Mets this season.

Did David Robertson’s increased velocity lead to injury?

It was tough to not fall in love with David Robertson last season. For followers of Down on the Farm it was the realization of the potential we saw over the past few years. For the uninitiated it was his sneaky fastball and astronomical strikeout rate. Sure, his walk rate was at times frustrating — the game Al Aceves started in Minnesota comes immediately to mind — but his stuff made many wonder whether he could slide into a setup role and — maybe, possibly — eventually become a closer candidate.

In September we received the bad news: Robertson’s elbow was barking and he’d have to miss some time for it to heal. He did come back in time to warm up at the end of the month and make a playoff run, in which he allowed no runs on four hits and three walks in 5.1 innings. The only downside was that he struck out just three in that span, far, far below his season mark of around 13 per nine. Did something change for Robertson as a result of the injury?

In yesterday’s post about Joba’s diminished velocity, commenter tommiesmithjohncarlos linked to Robertson’s velocity chart. He called it sexy, but after clicking the link I became a bit more concerned. You can check it out here, or view it below. In 2008, during his brief call-up, his fastball velocity sat in the low 90s. It was the same upon his call-up in 2009, but as you can see his average fastball velocity climbed after the All-Star break. As it got up to the 93.5-94 range, we see a break in the action. That’s the September injury. So how big a concern is this?

Click for larger version

Correlation does not imply causation, so it’s difficult to say whether the increased velocity directly led to injury. The correlation certainly exists, though, so it raises some red flags. So does Robertson’s velocity upon return. Instead of averaging 93 or 94 mph, as you can see on the chart he was back down in the 92 mph range. That’s where he sat in the playoffs as well. From what I can tell, he never hit 94 after the elbow injury. This isn’t evidence that injury caused the velocity drop-off, of course. It could just as easily be that Robertson became a bit more cautious upon his return.

As Robertson’s velocity increased, he seemingly got better — not only in terms of strikeouts, but also in his walks. Again, the increase started after the first small break in the velocity plot, which represents the All-Star break. That gives us one full month of data, August. In that month he faced 45 batters, striking out 17 of them and walking just four. Just one hit a home run, and overall only three runners crossed the plate — two of which came when the team got blown out by Boston. Meanwhile, he had a ridiculously bloated BABIP, .494, though that hurts a lot less when you don’t allow that many balls in play.

Since there’s no clear conclusion on this case — I’m noting a trend rather than saying that X caused Y — I’d like to point out a few other awesome Robertson stats. In 2009 he faced 99 batters with the bases empty and 92 with runners on. In the latter category he absolutely dominated, striking out 33 to just 12 walks while allowing no home runs. He walked fewer batters with the bases empty, but also struck out fewer. He also did a damn good job of keeping the ball inside Yankee Stadium, allowing just one home run at home (84 batters faced). Finally, his poorest month earned run wise was July, in which he allowed seven runs to the 50 batters he faced. Yet his FIP that month was 3.82.

Thankfully, Robertson showed that he can get hitters out without a 93-94 mph fastball. It was a marvel to watch, and I hope he can still break it out in 2010. But if it had anything to do with his injury, at least we know he can survive without it. After all, he allowed just five runs to the 73 batters he faced from April through June, striking out 26 of them. Blazing fastball or not, I’m excited to see what Robertson can contribute this year.

Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Open Thread: Who has the best rotation in baseball?

In his daily blog post this morning, Buster Olney opined about the five best starting rotations in the game, led by the Red Sox. The Yankees placed second, followed (in order) by the White Sox, Angels, and Cardinals. The Phillies also received an honorable mention.

We could argue about who has the best rotation from here until Opening Day, and there’s no right answer. However, what we do have are CHONE projections, so I rounded those up to see how each rotation is expected to perform next season. He’s the four non-New York teams…

All we’re doing is adding, so it doesn’t matter what order the pitchers are listed in. Olney has no idea who the Cardinals’ fifth starter is, and neither do I. And frankly, neither does the team. Regardless, they don’t have any other pitchers projected to be worth over a win, so it doesn’t make much of a difference anyway. Obviously, the BoSox have the best projected rotation among the four teams, with five starters set to be at least league average (two WAR is basically league avg). You have to like the balance in the ChiSox’s rotation though, minus the Freddy Garcia eyesore.

Now, what about the Yanks?

Olney thinks Phil Hughes will be the fifth starter, though most others think it’ll be Joba Chamberlain. For whatever reason, CHONE has Joba projected as a reliever in 2010, a reliever worth just 0.9 WAR at that. Even if we swap Hughes out for a 0.9 WAR pitcher, the Yanks still outpace the pack by a full win. They have the two best projected starters among the five teams in CC Sabathia and Javy Vazquez, and are the only team besides Chicago with four 3.0+ WAR pitchers on the staff.

Remember, these are just projections, far from gospel. They’re not telling us what will happen, but what could happen based on past data. Don’t take them to heart, they’re just for fun. That said, I like the way the numbers worked out.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. The Islanders, Nets, and Knicks are all in action. Anything goes, just be cool.

Joba lost more fastball velocity than any other pitcher

Over at FanGraphs they’re having fun with the new splits, posting trend after trend. Buried under a few such posts, Matthew Carruth took a look at which pitchers saw more speed on their fastballs in 2009 over 2008, and which ones lost the most velocity. No Yankees made the gains list, but two made the losses. Mariano Rivera lost 1.3 miles per hour on his cutter, though it didn’t show in the results. Joba Chamberlain lost more velocity than any pitcher with more than 50 IP in 2008 and 2009, by 2.5 mph. Part of the drop comes because Joba started 2008 in the bullpen and was airing out 97 mph fastballs before settling in at 94-95 in the rotation. But we did notice a difference this year. Joba’s average fastball clocked 92.5 mph. He can succeed with that speed if he continues to hone his curveball, but clearly he’s a more effective pitcher with a little more juice on ol’ number one.

Cashman: Jeter, Mo, Girardi will have to wait

Mike’s Take: Three prominent Yankees – Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Joe Girardi – enter the 2010 season in the last year of their contracts, however GM Brian Cashman does not intend to change course and negotiate with any of the three during the season. “I don’t think you can separate one from the other,” said Cashman. “I am not saying they are the same, but the questions will come, ‘If you did one, why didn’t you do the other?’ If this was Kansas City, it would be different — but it’s not.”

Since Cashman took over, the team’s philosophy has been to not negotiate with players until their contracts expire. They did this with Jorge Posada and Mo after 2007, and to be fair, Cashman did the same to himself when his contract was up after the 2008 season. Of course, with Girardi in a lame duck year, the first time the team has the audacity to fall into a slump, he’ll be answering questions about his job security. Then again, how would that be different than any other year?

Ben’s Take: For the Yankees and Brian Cashman, this development is nearly not news. The Yankees haven’t given out a post-arbitration, pre-free agency extension to any player in recent years, and the three lame ducks won’t push the issue.

However, it’s worth a minute to ponder how the Yankees have an A-Rod Problem here. Now, when I say an A-Rod Problem, I don’t mean that in what has become the typical sense of the phrase. The Yankees don’t care about the women A-Rod has dated or the Page 6 headlines he’s made. Rather, his contract is the problem. The Yankees owe A-Rod $206 million in guaranteed salary between now and 2017. Jeter will be making $21 million in his age 36 season this year, and when A-Rod hits his age 36 season in 2012, he’ll be earning $29 million.

For the Yankees, the A-Rod contract will be an albatross. Although annual contracts are creeping ever upwards and the Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols extensions will soon set the market, no one has made more than A-Rod did in 2000 except for A-Rod when the Yanks outbid themselves for his services in 2007. The Yankees, for better or worse, will be paying A-Rod $20 million or more when he’s in his early 40s. Can the team afford to do the same with Derek Jeter?

For Derek, in particular, the issue becomes one of years and money. Because Hank opened his mouth last week, Derek has the upper hand in negotiations, and the Yankees won’t and should not let him walk. But come 2014 and 2015, the Yankees will feature a rather old core of players making a significant amount of money. Finding cost-controlled, good young players is going to become that much more important for the Yankees over the next few years if the team is set on staying at or near a budget.

Sergio Mitre and the value of a roster spot

When the Yankees tendered Sergio Mitre a contract for the 2010 season, they guaranteed him a 40-man roster spot. At the time it might not have seemed like a big deal. The team had just opened up two additional roster spots by trading Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, and Austin Jackson for Curtis Granderson, so space wasn’t an issue. But a 40-man roster spot is a 40-man roster spot. The Yankees could have used that spot in a number of different ways. Was Mitre the right decision?

First, we have to understand why the Yankees decided to allocate one of 40 roster spots to Mitre. The team values pitching depth. Over the past few years they’ve seen a number of starters succumb to injury and, for the most part, haven’t found adequate replacements. With Mitre, Chad Gaudin, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Al Aceves competing for one final rotation spot, and the losers presumably slated for the bullpen, the Yankees leave themselves a number of options should a starter get hurt.

Next, we have to look at what else the Yankees could have done with that roster spot, and at what price. Mitre signed for $850,000, a little less than double the league minimum. The depth options behind Mitre, Ivan Nova and Zach McAllister, would make a prorated portion of the league minimum if called to action, so the Yankees have to weigh that against Mitre and his salary. Could they have added someone else to that spot for cheaper? Probably not on the free agent market.

Then there’s the option of leaving the spot free, so the team has a spot to add a non-roster invite. Marcus Thames doesn’t present an issue here, because if he makes the team Jamie Hoffmann will head back to the Dodgers. But what if the Yankees end up liking one of their non-roster pitchers more than Mitre? What if they like Kei Igawa in a lefty relief role? What if Jason Hirsh lives up to his potential as the No. 42 prospect in baseball in 2007? What if Kevin Whelan finally puts it all together? There’s certainly a possibility, though not a particularly strong one, that the Yankees like a non-roster player better than Mitre.

Is it worth the roster spot and guaranteed salary, then, to keep Mitre, even if there are possibly better options? Obviously the Yankees think so. They liked Mitre when they signed him in late 2008 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, and they apparently didn’t let his string of poor performances in 2009 discourage them. They’re still hoping he returns to his 2007 form, especially his first half. That, to them, is worth $850,000 and the reduced flexibility of having a guaranteed contract in that roster spot.

The final point is how the Yankees can free up further roster spots. They currently have all 40 spots filled, but they’re not completely inflexible. If the need arises to add a non-roster player, the Yankees can DFA Edwar Ramirez or Boone Logan. This makes Mitre’s spot less critical. If he were first on the chopping block, perhaps it would be an issue, but with expendable players ahead of him the Yankees become a bit more justified in their decision to tender him a contract.

What do the Yankees expect Mitre to change from 2009? Mainly, it seems, his home run rate. His strikeout rate was about in line with his career average, and his walk rate was a bit lower. He allowed home runs at a higher rate than ever before in his career, though, 1.74 per nine. This coincides with an enormous HR/FB ratio, 21.7 percent. The home runs factored largely into his 5.30 FIP, as evidenced by his 4.00 xFIP. It appears, however, that Mitre has always allowed home runs at a greater rate than league average; his xFIP is consistently lower than his FIP, except in 2007 when just nine of 119 fly balls hit off him left the park.

Signing Mitre is a gamble for sure, but the downside doesn’t appear all that bad. Even if the Yankees like another pitcher more than him, they don’t have to act on that immediately. The above-named pitchers — Igawa, Hirsh, Whelan, in addition to Nova and McAllister — can all start the season in the minors while Mitre gets his shot. If it doesn’t work out, the contract is cheap enough that they can DFA him if necessary. It might hinder what the Yankees can do with that roster spot short term, but if necessary they can make it free again.

Credit: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast