Open Thread: A ceiling, a floor or something in between

A few articles over the last few days have me thinking about the upcoming CBA negotiations that will soon take center stage in the baseball world. The current agreement expires on Dec. 11, 2011, and although I doubt we’ll see a work stoppage, the disputes between baseball’s haves and have-nots should be rancorous.

First, via MLBTR, we have a Nick Carfado Sunday extravaganza in which he talks about Dan Uggla’s situation. The emphasis is mine:

There’s no doubt the Marlins are planning another payroll dump, and Uggla would appear to be at the center of it. There was a lot of early talk about him going to the Giants, but that seems to have quieted down. Some scouts believe Uggla is best suited for the American League as a DH or someone you can move around, like a Mark DeRosa. The Marlins, who receive a ton in revenue-sharing and central-fund money, are looking to keep their profit margin high.

And then we have the latest from Maury Brown in which the Biz of Baseball writer explores payroll discrepancies over the last 11 seasons. The Yankees have led the league in spending in each of the last 11 years, but the bottom feeders — those with the lowest payroll totals — have been the Twins (2), Marlins (4) or Rays (5). The Yanks have outspent the lowest paid time by anywhere from 384 percent to a whopping 982 percent while the team’s payroll has increased from $91 million in 1999 to $220 million in 2009.

For many, this is a clear sign that baseball needs a salary cap. Someone must rein in the Yankees, right? Brown’s conclusion though is a different one. He wants baseball to focus on the teams on the bottom who continually pocket the revenue sharing money to, as the Marlins do, keep profits high. He writes:

While there is little denying that methods to constrain runaway spending on their part needs to be addressed, the real need is in providing more sustainable spending in the bottom quartile of the league. In 2006, adjustments to the CBA’s revenue sharing system were designed to incentivize the low-revenue makers to invest in player payroll at the major league level. While some clubs have made attempts, most have seen that revenue-sharing disincentives them from spending on player payroll. With increased centralized funds, why spend to win? In the past, winning was the only method insure revenues would come into your coffers. Now, there is less incentive to do so….

When the next CBA is reached (the current agreement ends in December of 2011), look for further tweaking of the revenue-sharing system to get the low spenders to increase spending, and increased penalties with the Luxury Tax (should it be held over in the next agreement) to try and stymie the Yankees from overspending. In the end, fans should spend more time focusing on the bottom, instead of the top (the Yankees) where there is increasing talk in favor of a salary cap. As the old adage goes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

I’ve had informal discussions with a few baseball writers about this problem, and the general consensus is that a floor won’t work. Baseball should not make teams overspend on bad players just to meet some salary threshold, but the game can’t keep letting the clubs on the bottom of the payroll list pocket profits. It isn’t healthy for competition.

In the end, I have no answers, but it makes for an interesting discussion. To that end, here’s your open thread. Some guy named Brett is playing on Monday night football. Otherwise, you know the drill. Be cool.

DeRosa appears too rich for the Yanks blood

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Giants appear close to signing Mark DeRosa. While the Yankees apparently didn’t make him a primary target, he could have been a serviceable option at the right price. The Giants reportedly had an offer of two years and $12 million on the table, which is probably more than the Yankees want to pay DeRosa, who will turn 35 before the 2010 season starts. If the Yankees plan to add a second-tier outfielder, they’ll now select from a narrower group of candidates.

Should DeRosa and the Giants complete this deal, it could affect another player: Johnny Damon. While Rosenthal notes that the Giants “are expected to use DeRosa at third base,” he could still see plenty of time in the outfield. Pablo Sandoval, the incumbent third baseman, figures to move across the diamond, but could still get in time at third. The Giants are also reportedly close to a one-year deal with Juan Uribe, and while he’s a part-time player, he could still see significant playing time at third, moving DeRosa to the outfield.

Position and playing time aren’t the only reasons the DeRosa signing could affect the Giants’ interest in Damon. There is also the payroll issue to consider. The Giants entered 2009 with a payroll around $82 million, and like many teams they haven’t indicated that they’ll cross that line in 2010. With only $57 million currently committed to the team, it might seem like they have wiggle room. That number, however, covers only six players. Adding DeRosa at the reported $6 million salary makes it $63 million for seven players. Tim Linecum’s arbitration case could make it over $75 million for eight players. With 17 more spots to fill, and a few probably at above the league minimum, the Giants will likely break the $85 million mark at this point. Will they be willing to go above that?

All of this is to say that DeRosa signing with the Giants increases the chances Damon will land back with New York. It doesn’t mean that he will, of course, but it does mean another team off the board for him. Fewer teams means a lower price, which could drive Damon back to New York.

Wang keeps the door open to pinstriped return

By all appearances, the Yankees remain interested in Chien-Ming Wang. After the team non-tendered him earlier this month, we learned that they offered him a split contract which would add him to the active roster once his shoulder recovers. A few weeks later, a report surfaced that the Yankees would like the chance to match any other team’s offer. While that doesn’t guarantee that the Yankees would match, it’s clear that they want every opportunity to retain Wang. Might Wang want every opportunity to remain a Yankee?

Sam Borden of the Journal News received word of a recent public appearance wherein Wang said “that there were no hard feelings on his side about being non-tendered.” Not that there should be; any sane team would have done the same. I’m willing to bet, even, that the Yankees are the only team that would have even considered tendering him a contract. But not even the sport’s richest franchise would guarantee Wang $5 million, or more, following pretty serious shoulder surgery.

Just because Wang doesn’t harbor ill will doesn’t mean that he’s willing to return. His statement might have been no more than a publicity bit, to keep satisfied his fans who want to see him continue pitching in pinstripes. After all, Wang does have a few reasons to consider pitching elsewhere, the foremost of which is playing time. The Yankees currently have six starters for five rotation spots, so even if they suffer an injury early in the season they have an in-house replacement. Wang could find himself ready by early June, but no spot in the rotation to fill.

Another, lesser team can offer Wang a guaranteed rotation spot once his shoulder recovers. He could sign with, say, the Astros, knowing that they’ll have a spot for him at any point in the season. That means more innings, which can turn into a bigger payday next winter, Wang’s final year of arbitration. Because the Astros operate with tight pursestrings, they might even non-tender Wang if he pitches well enough in 2010, making him a free agent a year early. That’s certainly a rosy scenario for Wang’s wallet. But is that all he’s after?

Clearly, baseball players have a limited earnings window. This goes especially for pitchers, and especially for pitchers who have suffered three shoulder injuries. But at what point do familiarity and an opportunity to win matter? Wang had to watch as his teammates won the World Series, but he was still right at the center of the celebration at the mound. There has to be a part of him that wants to return and get a chance to contribute to another championship. If that resides high on his priority list, we’ll probably see him back in pinstripes. If it’s really all about the money, he might consider other destinations, even if the Yankees match a deal for 2010. The guaranteed rotation spot in another organization could boost his future earnings.

By the Decade: From a strength to a weakness in center

For the seventh installment of our Yankees By the Decade retrospective on the aught-aughts, we land in center field. For the Yankees of the 2000s, center field represents quite the dichotomy. The position peaked early and never regained the luster of the Bernie Williams Era.

Bernie Williams 2919 854 167 11 114 469 395 45 20 431 88 .293 .378 .474
Melky Cabrera 1226 326 55 9 23 149 95 8 11 165 30 .266 .321 .382
Johnny Damon 843 232 43 6 35 111 107 1 6 125 7 .275 .358 .465
Brett Gardner 311 85 8 8 3 32 30 0 4 52 3 .273 .344 .379
Hideki Matsui 287 92 26 1 7 54 28 2 3 44 8 .321 .381 .491
Kenny Lofton 239 65 10 7 2 15 26 0 0 23 3 .272 .338 .397
Bubba Crosby 109 24 3 0 3 11 6 0 1 24 1 .220 .267 .330
Clay Bellinger 79 14 4 0 2 8 12 0 0 23 1 .177 .280 .304
Tony Womack 64 17 4 0 0 3 0 0 0 11 3 .266 .266 .328
Raul Mondesi 42 10 4 0 2 9 3 0 0 7 0 .238 .289 .476
Gerald Williams 28 6 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 4 2 .214 .267 .250
Totals 6261 1754 331 42 195 880 706 56 46 936 148 .280 .355 .440

Bernie Williams retired — or was forced off the Yanks when he opted against accepting a Spring Training invite in 2007 — in 2006. Yet, he remains the center fielder of the decade. Despite a late-career swoon, he still hit .293/.378/.474 as the Yanks’ center fielder this decade, and his early-00 numbers are, as we’ll see soon, stellar.

After Bernie became too old and too slow to adequately man center field, the Yankees simply could not find an adequate replacement. For one year in 2006, Johnny Damon‘s offense was well above-average, but his defense in center was anything but. He turned in a -11.6 UZR that year and sported his trademark awful arm. The man hired to replace Bernie had all over 843 at-bats at center over his four years with the Yanks.

Melky Cabrera and then Brett Gardner followed Damon in center. Although Gardner flashed some speed and Melky an arm, the two weren’t impact offensive players. For the decade, the tale of center field is one of decline. Bernie started off strong, but by 2009, the Yanks were content to live through average or below-average center field production. It’s been a long, hard fall:

Bernie Williams 2919 854 167 11 114 469 395 45 20 431 88 .293 .378 .474
2000-2002 1643 523 107 8 74 311 226 29 14 243 47 .318 .402 .528
2003-2004 803 216 38 2 31 108 124 12 4 112 29 .269 .368 .437
2005-2006 473 115 22 1 9 50 45 4 2 76 12 .243 .309 .351
Yanks CF Overall                            
2000-2002 1865 572 119 8 81 341 243 29 15 296 51 .307 .388 .509
2003-2004 1266 356 65 9 42 170 173 13 7 171 39 .281 .368 .446
2005 617 149 31 2 7 59 50 2 1 99 16 .241 .296 .332
2006 670 183 40 6 26 84 70 4 6 104 6 .273 .345 .461
2007-2009 1843 494 76 19 39 226 170 8 17 266 36 .268 .333 .393

With this table, we can track that fall. For three years, Bernie was a beast. He put up a combined OPS+ of 140, and Yanks’ center fielders hit a combined .308/.388/.509. The vast majority of the team’s overall counting stats in center came during those three years. The 81 home runs and 340 home runs were nearly 40 percent of the decade’s totals. The slugging outpaced the rest of the decade by over .060 points.

In 2003, though, Bernie fell to Earth, and for the next two seasons, the Yanks tried to move a proud aging ballplayer to lesser position. In 2004, the team brought in Kenny Lofton, but Joe Torre stuck with his man. Bernie still made nearly two-thirds of all center field at-bats, and his OPS+ over that span was a good-but-not-great 108. Still, the combined .281/.368/.446 line was not too shabby.

In 2005, it all fell apart. Bernie couldn’t hit, and his legs were gone. A cameo by Melky Cabrera was worse, and the Yanks’ center fielders hit .241/.296/.332. It was truly a low point of the decade. Johnny Damon provided some pop in 2006, but he couldn’t man the position. The combined .273/.345/.461 line was a breath of fresh air amidst some offensive woes later in the decade.

When Melky Cabrera took over in 2007 and enjoyed approximately 80 percent of the center field playing time for the next three seasons, the Yankees were seemingly content to let the offense in center slide. Since 2007, Yanks’ center fielders have hit .268/.333/.393. That .726 OPS is a far cry from the .897 mark that started the decade. Melky’s combined UZR in center over the last three seasons has been -8.4. He was well below average in 2007 and at or slightly above average in 2008 and 2009. Melky had an average 2009 with the stick, but now he’s gone, sent to Atlanta in the deal that brought Javier Vazquez back to the Bronx.

As the Yankees head into 2010, they will begin a new era in center field. Curtis Granderson is under contract through 2013, and the club holds an option for 2014. Hopefully, the new decade will begin as the previous one did — with some top offensive and some solid defense out of center field. It’s been a while.

The best and worst New York athletes of the decade

With just under a week left in the decade*, the lists have started flowing. The Daily News has four of them today: best New York athletes, worst New York athletes, best New York sports moments, and worst New York sports moments. We’ll check in on the Yankees from each list, but as will become evident almost immediately, this is more of a “our favorite New York athletes,” rather than a measure of athletic ability.

Alex Rodriguez checks in at No. 4 on the best athletes list, topped only by Martin Brodeur (who doesn’t play in the Big Apple), Mariano Rivera, and, of course, Derek Jeter. On the worst athletes list, Kei Igawa holds the No. 7 spot, worse than Jerome James, but not worse than Eddy Curry. The list features many Mets, but two Yankees rank worse than any players from New York’s second team. Kevin Brown rates the third worst athlete, while Carl Pavano rates second worst. Only the unassailable Stephon Marbury stands between Pavano and the top spot. Again, the list is more “athletes we hate” than “bad athletes.”

On the best sports moments list, Derek Jeter’s flip play ranks No. 8, the 2001 World Series miracles rank sixth, Aaron Boone’s walk-off ranks fourth, the 2009 series ranks third, and the 2000 Subway Series championship ranks second. That’s a pretty Yankees-heavy list, though they didn’t own the top spot. That deservingly belongs to the Giants for beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. On the worst list, Clemens’s bat toss at Piazza rates the eighth worst moment, the 2001 Series ender rates sixth worst, and baseball’s steroids issue rates fifth worst. I won’t even make mention of the decade’s worst moment in New York sports. You all know what it is.

The lists are mostly for fun, but they do underscore just how much the Yankees own this city. They not only dominate the best of lists, but also the worst of lists. Hey, it’s tough to hate something if you don’t care. Also clear: the angst over the Knicks. But that’s a subject for another day, on another blog.

*No, there was no Year 0. If you want to go strictly by the calendar, the decade goes 2001-2010. But guess what? The year before Year 1 was…Year 1. We’ve come to celebrate decades from 0 through 9, so please, no decade bickering in the comments.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 28th, 2009

2009 Season Record: 103-59 (915 RS, 753 RA), won AL East by 8 games, finished with the best record in MLB by 6 games, won 27th World Series

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Yanks could look at Dye as a left field caddy

Since all we’re going to talk about is left field, how about this rumor from Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune: “Jermaine Dye is drawing interest from the Yankees.” As we’ve discussed, the Yankees could use another outfielder. Even if they want to give Gardner every shot, a solid backup should be in the plans. Since Jamie Hoffman is not that, we could see the Yanks make a move for a lower-tier left fielder.

Dye has name recognition value, but not much beyond that. He’s coming off a horrible year in which he hit .250/.340/.453. To sign him would be to bank on a significant bounce back year. For a younger player it might be worth the gamble, but Dye will turn 36 in a month. It might have been an off-year, or it might be a sign of declining skills. At what point is that a worthy gamble?

In 2009 Dye posted his worst offensive season since an injury riddled 2003. His power faded, as his .203 ISO was his lowest since 2004, and a .044 drop-off from 2008. His BABIP fell to .269, his lowest in a decade, apparently driven by an alarmingly low line drive percentage, 16.9, again his lowest since 2003. Defense has never been a strength, and over the past four seasons he’s posted a lower than -21 UZR/150.

There are some indicators, however, that Dye could bounce back from his poor season. While he hit fewer line drives, they turned almost exclusively into ground balls. His 43.6 fly ball percentage nearly matched his 2008 mark. Also nearly equal was his HR/FB ratio, at 15.6 percent, just a tick down from his 16 percent mark in 2008. Most of his power loss came in the gaps, as he hit just 19 doubles in 2009. Despite the down year he still hit 27 home runs. He also greatly increased his walk percentage, to 11.3 percent. Because of that he posted a .340 OBP, impressive considering his .250 batting average.

Considering the risks attached to Dye, combined with his poor defense, I wonder if the Yankees would also consider Eric Hinske. A much cheaper option, Hinske could probably post numbers similar to Dye in 2010, on offense and defense. UZR likes Hinske a lot more than Dye rating him positive at all but one position, third base, throughout his career. That doesn’t quite pass the eye test — Hinske seemed a butcher in the outfield last season, but I think it’s a safe bet he’s better than Dye.

The biggest difference between the two players is their handedness. Hinske, a lefty, has hit righties far better throughout his career, while Dye, a righty, does most of his damage against left-handed pitching, though his career platoon split isn’t dramatic. Since the Yankees feature a lefty-heavy lineup, perhaps they’d prefer Dye, a righty, to caddy Brett Gardner in left.

The good news is that Dye’s price tag shouldn’t be out of the Yankees’ range. He’s a second-tier corner outfield in a robust market, and will likely settle for a low base salary contract sometime in January. At that point, he might be worth the risk. A righty outfielder with the potential for a big season, especially at a low cost, should certainly interest the Yankees. They might have to wait him out, but his price could drop below what Bobby Abreu signed for last winter.

The Yankees have no reason to rush to seek outfield depth. Many options remain on the market, and likely will remain through January. By taking their time, the Yankees can watch the asking prices for many second-tier outfielders fall. Then they can slide in and sign a player they prefer. Dye is just one of many choices. If he wants a situation where a job is his to lose, he won’t choose New York. But if he wants the chance and is willing to sign for the Yankees’ price, I don’t see why the Yankees wouldn’t give him serious consideration.

Of course, there are plenty of players they should give serious consideration. In the end, they have room for only one. Dye could be as good a choice as any.