Boxing bout bedeviled by Bar Mitzvah

For months, the Yankees have been trying to secure a boxing ticket for the new Yankee Stadium, and rumors indicate that the team is close to doing so. According to the Daily News, Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto are nearing an agreement to fight at the Stadium in June. Yet, a Bar Mitzvah might throw those plans for a loop. According to a Times report, the Yankees are targeting Saturday, June 5 for the boxing bout, but the team has also promised that night to Jonathan Ballan, the team’s lead bond lawyer for new stadium financing, for his son’s Bar Mitzvah. The sticking point in negotiations is the scoreboard. The Yanks have allowed Ballan and his family use of the scoreboard for 30 minutes, and as Belson writes, “the 30,000 or so fans expected at the bout would probably not enjoy seeing a montage of Ballan family photos on the scoreboard.”

The team expects a simple resolution to this problem and plan to reach an agreement over the price of the Bar Mitzvah by the end of the week. Bob Arum, the boxing promoter working to set up this fight, has promised the family a meet-and-greet with Foreman and some autographed baseballs from the team. What more would a 13-year-old want anyway?

A look at the Yanks’ salary arbitration history

As a student of both the law and baseball, I’ve always been intrigued by salary arbitration, an essentially arbitrary process that pits an employer against an employee in a battle over a one-year contract. Back in 2005, I wrote a piece examining just that aspect of arbitration, and it’s still relevant today. The arbitration process remains a prickly issue for teams and a rather opaque one at that.

As fans of the Yankees, we’re not used to watching the team go to arbitration. In fact, since beating Mariano Rivera in 2000, the Yankees have gone to arbitration just once. That hearing came in 2008 when the team won a dispute against Chien-Ming Wang over $600,000. Whether the hearings are worth it is a question the Yanks have apparently answered in the negative recently.

Recently, Maury Brown at the Biz of Baseball released a salary arbitration scorecard in an effort to bring some transparency to the process. He’s tracking all of the hearings since arbitration started in 1974 and has info on the arbitrators themselves for every hearing since 2005. Did you know, for instance, that clubs have won 57 percent of all salary arbitration cases and that only one team — Tampa Bay — has never lost a hearing? The Yanks’ long-term track record, a 12-9 mark, is perfectly in line with the MLB averages.

Armed with this database, let’s take a look at some of the Yanks’ historical arbitration cases. The team was far more likely to go to arbitration in the early years of the process, and in 1974, they went to hearings with four players. In fact, the early years of arbitration were a gold mine for hearings. Players and teams sat through 29 disputes in 1974, a good six percent of all arbitration cases over the last 37.

That year, the Yanks faced off against Wayne Granger, Gene Michael, Duke Sims and Bill Sudakis. Granger’s case was over a matter of $4000. He won but was released before the end of Spring Training. Gene Michael had asked for a raise of $10,500 after putting up a terrible age 35 season, and he lost his case. Duke Sims, a late September 1973 waiver claim by the Yanks, lost his case and was traded in early May. Sudakis, a back-up infielder coming off of a career year, trumped the Yanks by $5000 and had a middling 1974 season before the Yanks traded him to the Angels in December.

For the Yankees, those four cases would be their only panels of the 1970s, and the team wouldn’t need an arbitrator until the 1981 off-season. That winter, Rick Cerone had the good fortune of a career year, and he won his arbitration panel. The difference in that case was $900,000, and just seven years after the Yanks went to arbitration over what now amounts to pocket change, baseball salaries were already on the rise.

Throughout the 1980s, the Yanks would sit through the bulk of the franchise’s overall arbitration hearings. In 1982, the Yanks’ $300,000 offer to Ron Davis, who was asking for $575,000, made them winners, and Davis was traded before the 1982 season began. The team beat Bobby Brown over a matter of $85,000 and beat Dave Revering over $75,000. Revering too would be traded in mid-season.

And then the big names arrived. In 1987, at the height of Don Mattingly’s career, the first baseman won a $1.975 million arbitration award. The Yanks had countered with $1.7 million, and this hearing is a notable won because even had the Yanks won, it would have been the highest arbitration award in history at that point. In 1988, Mike Pagliarulo earned himself a significant raise even though the Yanks won his hearing. His 1987 salary sat at $175,000, and the arbitrator award him the Yanks’ $500,000 offer.

Once the 1990s began, the Yanks continued their slow and steady trickle of hearings. In 1993, Jim Abbott asked for $3.5 million, but the Yanks’ $2.35 million won out. John Habyan asked for $800,000 but was granted $600,000. Randy Velarde asked for $1.05 million, and even though he had made just $360,000 the year before, the Yanks’ offer of $600,000 was deemed insubstantial.

The following year would bring the team another trio of forgettable names. In 1994, Pat Kelly won his arbitration hearing and received $810,000. But the Yanks beat Kevin Maas and Terry Mulholland. The difference in the Maas case was just $65,000, but the Yanks rightly wouldn’t budget. Maas never played another game for the team.

After this burst of early-decade hearings, the big stars came to the forefront. In 1996, the Yanks lost to Bernie Williams over a difference of $445,000. In 1999, they lost to Derek Jeter over a matter of $1.8 million. In 1999 and 2000, the team split hearings with Mariano Rivera. The closer, better at nailing down the 9th than his salary, won in 1999 when he asked for $4.25 million but lost in 2000 when he asked for a then-record $9.25 million. No arbitrator wanted to push that limit for even the best closer.

On a historical level, the Yankees have been fairly active in the arbitration field with no real advantage over any other team. Their 21 cases rank them eighth overall in baseball since 1974, but they’ve sat through just one hearing over the last ten off-seasons. Meanwhile, since the Mattingly arbitration and the explosion of baseball salaries in the late 1980s, the average difference for the Yanks’ arbitration cases is $713,000.

It’s a messy process with teams explaining why a player doesn’t deserve as much as he thinks he’s worth, and it can lead to a rather disgruntled employee for a least some time after the hearing. Yet, salary arbitration lives on, an alternative-dispute resolution system drafted by a multi-billion-dollar business as they argue over a few hundred thousands dollars. After all, somehow, someway, salary levels have to be determined, and when the two sides can’t come to terms, they reap what they have sown.

Story of the day: Complacency

Following up on Mike’s last post, I’ve noticed a particular focus on Point No. 3: Complacency. Apparently there’s a concern that the Yankees will be happy having won the World Series last year, and will start the season on cruise control rather than with full effort. Maybe those aren’t the specific accusations, but it’s certainly implied. I’ve never been one to judge a ballplayer’s effort, so maybe I’m just laying down my personal biases here. But I see no reason to think the team will not care as much about winning in 2010 because they hoisted the trophy in 2009.

Even if there is a hangover effect on World Series winning teams, why would a player ever admit to it if questioned? When asked, players will almost certainly respond the way Phil Hughes did a couple of days ago. “Last year was nice, but we have to do it again this year. At the end of 2010, I don’t think anyone will be talking about who won in ’09.” It’s right out of the Crash Davis handbook for dealing with the media. I don’t expect any different from anyone, even if — especially if — there is some mythical hangover effect.

This actually gives me more respect for the beat reporters. While I don’t think the current storyline is relevant, it certainly highlights the daily pains they go through to find one. It ain’t easy chasing down a story in Tampa, especially when all’s quiet on the Yankee front.

Oh noes! The Yankees have issues

As players report to camps in Florida and Arizona, it’s time for all of us to fill the bandwidth with columns about who’s in the best shape of their life, what team has a chip on their shoulder, things of that nature. Another Spring Training staple is looking at what’s wrong with the Yankees, which both Jayson Stark and Jon Heyman did today. Essentially, you can round up both articles like this:

1. They have too many good hitters, and Joe Girardi doesn’t know how to line them up yet.
2. They have two pitchers in their early-20’s, both of whom were named the best pitching prospect in baseball earlier in their career, and they don’t know which one will hold down the all-important fifth starter’s spot.
3. They won last year, so doesn’t mean they won’t try as hard this year?

And that’s basically it. Ah yes … baseball’s back.

2010 Preseason Not Top 30 Prospects

Every year as I put together my Top 30 Prospects list, I always pay a little extra attention to the players in the last few spots. While elite prospects like Jesus Montero get all the attention, the best way to gauge the depth and strength of a farm system is by looking at the No. 10, or No. 15, or No. 30 prospects. The better those players are, the better the system is overall. Potential superstars are nice, but having waves of young talent coming up bodes much better for future success.

Along those same lines, the players that get shut out of a top prospects list can also tell you about the quality of a system as well. Last year I presented six players that weren’t able to crack the Yanks’ top 30, and sure enough two managed to make the leap into the big boy’s list this year. Two others were among the final cuts as well. That group featured some higher upside kids in the lower levels of the minors, however given the hit the farm system has taken in the last 12 months, the pickin’s were pretty slim this year.

Here’s five players (presented alphabetically) that could work their way into next year’s Top 30 if they continue to improve this season. Ages are as of April 1st of this year.

DeAngelo Mack, OF, 23
The Yanks’ 13th round pick last year, Mack dominated younger competition in the NY-Penn League after signing. He hit .306-.372-.513 with 30 extra base hits in 66 games, good for second in the league. By no means is he a spring chicken, but Mack made major strides with his approach as a redshirt junior at South Carolina in 2009. He’s strong enough to hit balls with authority the other way, and he does a good job of being what they call “aggressively patient” (he waits for his pitch, but he’ll jump all over something he likes early in the count). Mack has good baseball skills and athleticism, though he projects best in a corner outfield spot. He could end up being a classic ‘tweener; not enough defense for center, not enough pop for a corner (despite this). He’ll jump to Low-A Charleston to start the season, but should get a bump at mid-season if he’s performing well.

Photo Credit: Rich Glickstein, AP

Melky Mesa, OF, 23
Despite sharing a name, this Melky has almost nothing in common with the departed Melky Cabrera other than his arm strength. Mesa hit .270-.338-.491 with 17 bombs in the season’s first three months last year, though he slumped so badly in the second half that he finished the year with a .225-.309-.423 batting line and 20 homers. He also struck out 168 times in 564 plate appearances, pushing his career total to 306 K in 1,020 PA. Even at his age, Mesa is raw in terms of baseball skills, though he possesses tremendous physical gifts. His insane bat speed leads to huge raw power, among the best in the system, and his top of the line speed is a weapon both on the bases and in the outfield, where he’s a passable centerfielder but an elite rightfielder defensively. Of course, the biggest question mark is Mesa’s ability to make consistent contact, which is kind of a big problem. If he ever improves his approach and learns how to get the bat on the ball with regularity, he’d vault right up the ladder and become a truly elite prospect. Mesa will patrol the outfield for High-A Tampa next season.

Photo Credit: Mike Ashmore

Jimmy Paredes, 2B, 21
The speedy Paredes has been one of the system’s bigger sleepers since signing a few years back, but it wasn’t until he received regular playing time with Short Season Staten Island in 2009 that he started to live up to some of that promise. His .302-.336-.410 batting line isn’t eye popping, but his batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS improved every month of the season, as did his slugging percentage minus a slight hiccup in August. Paredes’ best tool is his blazing speed, which allowed him to steal 23 bases in just 54 games, and he’s also versatile enough to play the three non-first base infield spots proficiently. He profiles best at second, where he’ll play every day for Low-A Charleston in 2010.

Photo Credit: Hilton Flores, Staten Island Advance

Jon Ortiz, RHRP, 24
By no means is Ortiz young, but he’s steadily climbing the ladder and will begin the 2010 season with Double-A Trenton. Once a guy reaches Double-A, you can start talking about him as a potential big league contributor. Just ask Chase Wright. Ortiz isn’t a huge stuff guy – he works in the low-90’s with a very good changeup – but he makes up for it with outstanding command and control (273-39 K/BB ratio in 201.1 career IP). The Yankees have built a steady pipeline of relievers in recent years, and Ortiz is just another product of that. Remember, you don’t have to turn into a star to be considered a success. There’s plenty of value in getting 80 or so league average innings out of a guy like Ortiz, who was basically an afterthought when he signed.

Photo Credit: Screen cap’d from here

Gary Sanchez, C, 17
The comparisons to Montero are inevitable, however they aren’t similar players at all. Sanchez can legitimately remain behind the plate long term, and his bat isn’t nearly as good. That’s not meant as a knock on Sanchez, who projects to be a better than league average hitter with very good power for a backstop. He’s raw, which is not unexpected given his age, and like Montero he struggled in his first taste of instructional league. Once he gets some innings under his belt and makes his way to the States, Sanchez will jump comfortable into the team’s top ten prospects. Until then, he’s on the outside looking in. His 2010 season will start in Extended Spring Training before officially debuting with the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees in June.

Photo Credit: Jorge Arangure, ESPN

Unlike last year, most of these guys are older prospects who project more as role players than starters on a contender, but that’s life. The Yanks’ system isn’t as deep as it was just a year ago, but with a few breakouts from players like the five mentioned above, they’ll be just fine. Remember, the Yanks’ goal isn’t to have a great system, it’s to win at the big league level, and they don’t exactly need any fixes at the moment.

Make sure you check back in tomorrow for the full fledged Top 30.

From Girardi, a primer in Spring Training results

Joba Chamberlain starts his quest to secure the fifth starter spot in the Yankees’ rotation. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Early this morning, Joe — RAB’s Joe, not the guy in charge of the Yankees — discussed how it will be a quiet spring for the defending World Series champions, and in a way, he’s right. When the biggest questions of Spring Training center not around what PEDs the All Star third baseman took but rather over who will be the fifth starter and the 25th man on the roster, the overarching questions aren’t too pressing.

Yet, this is New York, and in New York, the sports media will obsess over that fifth starter. Will it portend a career in the bullpen, heir to Mariano, for the young star that doesn’t earn a spot after 20 innings in March? Will the guy who isn’t starting be The Eighth Inning relief ace? Will reporters and talking heads continue to act as though the 25th man — the not-Johnny Damon of the 2010 team — make or break the Yanks’ season?

Of course, these questions won’t be answered this spring, but that won’t stop everyone with a keyboard from trying to tackle them. I’m sure we’ll be guilty of that sin over the next six weeks too. Even with pitchers and catchers on the field in Tampa, it’s still a long haul until Opening Day.

With that in mind, something Joe Girardi said to the gaggle of beat writers on Wednesday, struck a chord. Somehow, the Yankees are going to have to make these decisions, and it’s nearly impossible to do that based solely upon Spring Training results. It’s too early in the year for players to get into their grooves, and most games pit pitchers against a bunch of AA hitters unlucky enough to have to make a long Grapefruit League bus ride.

And so per Mark Feinsand, Girardi had this to say about the fifth starter spot:

“I expect two guys to pitch at a very high level. Will statistics play 100 percent of the decision? No. We’ll look at guys, how they’re throwing the baseball, and what we feel as an organization and coaching staff is the best for everyone involved. … It is a healthy competition for the fifth starting spot and I love that. I think that brings out the best in people.”

That is a word of warning from Joe Girardi about Spring Training. We’ll sit here in New York, far from Tampa, and look at how Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain perform over 50 or 60 pitches every five days next month. We’ll analyze their lines for a hint of who has a leg up, but the real work will be down in Tampa where the eyes on the ground will be looking at process and not results. The Yankees will look at which pitcher has better command of his pitchers, who is dominating and attacking the strike zone, who is mixing and matching and who just looks better suited for a particular role.

In the end, those roles can change. The fifth starter can become the fourth starter very quickly, and that sixth guy can be pressed into service before too much time has elapsed. That’s just the nature of pitching in baseball. Today, with a blank slate, anything is possible, but even with that Grapefruit League stat line is looking more robust come the end of March, just remember that it’s only Spring Training. Beyond symbolizing the return of baseball after a three-month hiatus, it doesn’t really mean that much at all.

Hoping for a quiet Spring Training 2010

The countdown ends today. Pitchers and catchers officially report this morning. Yes, many players have been in camp for a week now, getting a head start on the month and a half training session. The beat reporters are in full force as well, highlighting what they think will be the big stories of the spring. But for a team like the Yankees, coming off a World Series victory and rife with veterans at almost every position, how many developments can we expect?

Photo credit: AP/Kathy Willens

We’ve all missed baseball over the past three-plus months. From April through October, and even into November, we saw our favorite team play nearly every day. Then, starting November 5, nothing. No first pitches. No home runs over the short porch. No heroically epic at-bats, and no fist-pumping strikeouts. In their stead were a steady flow of rumors that keep us interested in baseball year-round. Now we can put those rumors to rest and start focusing on the reason we’re here in the first place, the games.

Between now and Opening Day, we’ll have to endure a month and a half of training camp. It might sound like a joy — actual baseball, if only exhibition — but beyond the glimpses of games we get on YES, there’s not much to get excited about. In fact, I’d prefer it if the Yankees maintained a relatively quiet camp this year. It would make me feel a lot better heading into Fenway Park on April 4.

Why a quiet camp? Because the Yankees appear all but set. The infield, from catcher all the way around, sports veteran stars. In the outfield only one spot remains contested, and even then it’s not much of a battle. Will anyone care much if Randy Winn gets the bulk of the playing time? Won’t that mean he’s doing something right? Then there’s the pitching staff, in which one spot is up for grabs. It could be Chamberlain, or it could be Hughes. Either way we’ll get to see one of the Yankees young, high-ceiling pitchers in the rotation.

Beyond that the only worries are of the bench and bullpen, and early in the season those aren’t weighty concerns anyway. The Yankees opened 2009 relatively weak in both aspects, only to find them strengths by season’s end. Yes, Jamie Hoffmann might win a spot on the 25-man roster, but even if he doesn’t it’s not a big deal. They’ll quietly ship him back to L.A., or else work out a deal to keep him at Scranton. The bullpen appears even less exciting, as the Yankees basically have all seven slots filled: Mariano Rivera, the loser of the fifth starter battle, Damaso Marte, David Robertson, Al Aceves, Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre.

The most controversial issue this spring, it seems, centers on the batting order. Does Nick Johnson hit second, where he’ll get on base for Teixeira and A-Rod, or does the baserunning threat Curtis Granderson hit in that role? If Johnson hits second, does Granderson hit fifth? Does Posada? Where does Nick Swisher fit? Robinson Cano? The question I’m asking: Does it even matter? If it’s worth only one win over 162 games, can’t they afford to try different permutations?

These issues, the only issues currently facing the Yankees in spring training, will not have an enormous impact on the season. That means we should have a relatively quiet spring. If camp isn’t quiet, something has gone wrong. It means both Chamberlain and Hughes are getting lit up. It means Curtis Granderson is 0 for the spring against lefties. It means, and I gulp as I type this, that someone got hurt.

If these things don’t happen, the beat reporters have a boring spring and we hear a lot of regurgitation of talking points. In this case, I think I can handle it, given the implications of the alternative.