The best and the worst play-by-play guys

When ranking the best play-by-play guys in the business, the top spot approaches unanimity. Vin Scully is as good as they get. His simple but descriptive style is welcome in any age where it seems everyone wants to be defined by certain calls. (See ya! Hegone! It is high…, etc.) I listened to some of the Dodgers-Phillies series on my BlackBerry and it was nothing but a pleasure. Had Matt Snyder of FanHouse not listed Scully atop his best and worst TV broadcasters list, people likely wouldn’t have read any further.

Of the remaining nine, only three are national guys: Bob Costas is second, Dan Schulman eighth, and Gary Thorne ninth. The Mets’ Gary Cohen ranks fourth; he’s the one good thing the Mets have going for them. Even after having for the past three years, I don’t have any strong opinions of any of these other guys. I guess that years of listening to Michael Kay causes me to tune out baseball commentators.

(Kay was also considered: “bad voice, good at drawing analysis from his partners.”)

The worst, of course, is Hawk Harrelson. He’s bad for sure, but he’s a parody of himself. It’s funny when heard occasionally, especially the Hegone! thing. Chip Caray and his fists rank second. It seems TBS realizes this, too. Both MLB playoff announcers made the list, with Joe Buck coming in at fifth.

Rosenthal: Mariners set to sign Figgins

Ken Rosenthal tweets that the Mariners are on the verge of signing Chone Figgins for four years in the “$36 million range.” Figgins will replace free agent Adrian Beltre at third base. At some point over the winter, Figgins was vaguely linked to the Yanks as a left field replacement for Johnny Damon despite the fact that he had barely played the outfield over the last few years. That option is now clearly off the table.

For the Mariners, this isn’t a terrible deal. They have a dangerous speed combination of Ichiro and Figgins atop their lineup. I believe, however, that a four-year deal for a 32-year-old who relies on his legs is a bit of a risk. At around $9 million a season, though, the money is right. Seattle is still rumored to be interested in a big bat to drive home the speedsters when they get on base.

RAB Live Chat

Montero vs. Santana

Not Johan, Carlos. I’m sure we’ll see Jesus-Johan matchup soon enough. Adam Foster at Project Prospect broke down down the Yankees top prospect against the Indians top prospect, and says that even though Santana is no slouch with the stick and projects to stay behind the plate, he’d take Montero because he’s a “potential once-in-a-generation force on offense.” He notes that both Santana and Buster Posey are better bets in 2010, but Montero has greater long-term value because he’s already proven to have a significant offensive floor with more room for growth.

Give it a read, you can never get too much of Jesus.

Yanks like Soriano, but probably won’t sign him

During their organizational meetings, the Yankees will likely discuss all free agent pitchers and left fielders. Some will make more sense than others, but the Yanks will discard most of the names as unrealistic for any number of reasons. One name I thought would make the scrap heap is Rafael Soriano. He’s probably the most attractive free agent relief pitcher, and adding him as Mariano Rivera‘s setup man would help the bullpen. There are other factors, however, that make Soriano less attractive to the Yankees.

In the last line of his latest article, George King notes that Soriano’s arm “has seduced some Yankee scouts.” That’s no surprise. He’s a strikeout machine while healthy, gassing hitters with a 93 mph fastball mixed with a slider. At his best, Soriano could close for most MLB teams. And, as Chris at iYankees notes, Soriano is no Kyle Farnsworth. That’s fine, but it doesn’t take into account the other factors that negatively affect Soriano.

Draft pick compensation is one of those issues. As Brian Cashman said on Tuesday, the team doesn’t plan to sign a Type A free agent setup man, because it would cost them their first round pick. For certain players, that pick is just a marginal cost of acquisition. When you want to add CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, or Mark Teixeira to your roster, you pay the draft pick tax without question. But when you get to players who will have less of an impact, it becomes more of a consideration.

Working against Soriano is his injury history. He stayed relatively healthy in 2009, missing time with a sore shoulder that didn’t require a DL trip. In 2008, however, he wasn’t so lucky, pitching just 14 innings while dealing with elbow troubles. These aren’t small issues. A hard-throwing reliever with arm problems is not someone to whom you want to commit many years and dollars. When there’s a draft pick tax attached on top of that, it’s a sign to stay clear.

Best case scenario, Soriano would give the Yankees the best setup man-closer combo in the game. But there are many other factors to consider beyond Soriano’s talent. There’s the cost of acquisition, consisting of total salary, luxury tax implications, and draft pick compensation. Is that worth the risk of Soriano missing even more time with arm troubles? I don’t think so. I’d love to see Soriano gassing guys in the eighth, but the cost of acquiring him is just too great.

Photo: Paul Spinelli / Getty Images

Thoughts on a weekend at George’s

Once the driving force behind the Yankees, George Steinbrenner has faded from public view over the last six or seven years. He no longer roars with the ferocity he displayed in the 1970s and 1980s. He no longer embraces his team as he did when they won in the 1990s. His statements are filtered through a press representative, and his children are in charge of the team.

Still, the Cult of Steinbrenner lives on in the Yankees Universe. As the team celebrated its 27th World Championship last month, Hal Steinbrenner said, “This one’s for you, dad.” George wasn’t at the stadium; he was at home in Tampa, reportedly watching on television.

This week, this attention to George’s role with the Yankees took a turn for the bizarre, and as Bryan Hoch story on last night said that the Boss was “active” during the off-season team meetings, a few fans started wondering if we were witnessing a remake of Weekend at Bernie’s. Of course, old age and the health problems that come with it are no laughing matter, but the Yankee leadership’s constant attention to George rings odd.

As the day wore on, and the Yanks’ officials stopped to talk to the press, they maintained a narrative about Steinbrenner’s participation. Brian Cashman spoke with Mark Feinsand. “He wants to win again,” Cashman said. Don’t we all, Brian?

So what, I am left to wonder, is going on here? Is it some quest for a Yankee identity? For the better part of the last four decades, George Steinbrenner and the Yankees were synonymous with each other. Steinbrenner’s fire and drive to win brought the Yankes out of a World Series drought but into dysfunction. His obsessive need to win led to overspending in the 1980s with little results, and by the time the Boss’s legal problems forced him out of the game in the early 1990s, the organization was a mess. In the 1990s, George’s spending along with a tempered temper and more faith in his Baseball People restored the team to greatness.

Now, we don’t quite know what is wrong with him. We know he had a fainting spell back in 2003, but we also know that he has rarely made public statements or conducted in-person interviews since then. Now 79, George seems to be in declining health. We’ve heard rumblings of Alzheimer’s for four or five years, but the Yankees have kept his status close to the vest.

In a way, then, those in charge now want to project the same image of the team that it had when George was there. They want to be known as the team not afraid to spend, spend, spend, and the team that demands perfection in the form of a trophy every year or else.

One day, George will be with us no longer. The Yankees will have to forge ahead with his business-minded son Hal at the helm and a bevy of baseball talent building the Bronx Bombers. For now, as George and his family try to reclaim a tortured legacy, we’ll listen to the Yankees as they honor him and work to build a team with him. The Days of George though — the glory days of rage and insanity — are over.

Are there any left field options not named Damon, Cameron, or Holliday?

To fill the vacant left field vacancy, we’ve mostly talked about players not under contract. Johnny Damon remains the favorite, but we’ve also discussed Mike Cameron and Matt Holliday. It doesn’t appear that the Yankees plan to move quickly on a left fielder, so maybe we’ll see a few other options emerge over the next few weeks. Since there aren’t any other strong options on the free agent market, perhaps the Yankees will seek to trade for a player who will cost less than the above-mentioned three.

Among its many resources, MLB Trade Rumors has a trade market analysis for each position. Here’s the one for left field. Since most teams don’t possess a corner outfield surplus, the list doesn’t contain many enticing names. A few could be interesting ideas, but I doubt the Yankees move on any of them.

David DeJesus comes up every once in a while, and the Royals might dangle him this off-season. He posted the lowest OBP of his career in 2009, but even then it was .347, not bad by any stretch. If he can hit more like he did in 2006 and 2008 he’d be an asset in left and at the bottom of the order. Since we don’t know how he’ll hit, though, I think he’s more of a backup plan than anything.

MLBTR lists Josh Willingham among the trade candidates, though I don’t see why Washington would trade him. His .260/.367/.496 line ranked among the best of his career. He’s 31 next season, true, but he still has two more seasons of team control and made just $2.9 million in 2009. Washington GM Mike Rizzo set a high asking price for Willingham over the summer, and that’s not likely to change. He’s one of their better hitters, so I assume they want him starting in left field next season. If they do plan to trade him, though, the Yankees will probably inquire.

Other than those two, there are assorted bad contracts, like Juan Pierre and Eric Byrnes, and some other middling players. Matt Murton appears, but I doubt the Yankees would use whims anything more than minor league depth. None of the remaining names should interest them at all. But, because Nick Swisher can slide over to left, the Yankees can also check out right fielders.

The only player worth a look on the right fielders list is Brad Hawpe, and he might not be available. Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd said that the team has “no desire to move him at all.” Hawpe has posted an OBP of .380 or higher in each of the last four seasons, and his lowest slugging percentage in that time is .498. His left-handed bat would play well at Yankee Stadium, though he does have a pronounced platoon split. UZR also ranks him worse than Damon in the field. Still, it’s more likely that the Rockies keep him, or else demand more than the Yankees are willing to offer. Hawpe is a good player, but probably not a fit for the Yanks.

The Yankees should be open to any possible solution to fill the left field void, and that includes through trades. Few teams, though, have corner outfielders to spare, or at least corner outfielders who could start for the Yankees. They’ll find a solution somewhere, even if it does cost them a few dollars. I don’t think George Steinbrenner will mind. As Brian Cashman said, “He wants to win again.”