Yankees talking sense, unlikely to pursue Crawford, Werth

Crawford could round the bases plenty of times in New York, but it doesn't seem likely (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

The Yankees would be a better team with Carl Crawford. Given his pull tendencies, Carl Crawford might be a better player with the Yankees. But that doesn’t mean that the two sides will match up for a free agent contract. Crawford might have concerns other than how many home runs he hits. The Yankees have to look at the overall picture and determine what positions most need an upgrade. This week the team has met to determine a course of action, and according to a report by Mark Feinsand of the Daily News those plans will not include Crawford or the other big name outfielder on the market, Jayson Werth.

One of Feinsand’s sources nails the issue with two crisp sentences:

“We are better with Crawford, but at that price?” a Yankees source said. “I’m not sure it’s that good of an upgrade.”

The biggest difference between Crawford and Brett Gardner is power, and even then the difference might be overstated with this year’s results. Crawford produced a career high .188 ISO, while Gardner barely cracked the .100 mark. There’s a chance that Crawford, 29, could improve on that mark, especially with the move to Yankee Stadium. But considering his .148 career ISO, I’m not sure that the Yankees can bank on that. Gardner has been the better on-base guy, at least in the past two years, while Crawford again produced a career high this year, .356. Even during his first full season Gardner was at .345, and last year produced a .389 OBP.

There are other issues with Crawford, too. While he ranked just below Gardner in UZR, Gardner can take that excellent range into center field. Crawford has expressed a desire to stay in left. He also prefers not to hit leadoff, which is perhaps the best spot for him. There’s a good chance that Gardner will take over the leadoff spot at some time in the next year or two.

The biggest advantage Crawford has is his track record. Gardner fell off in the second half, which has led many to believe that he cannot handle a full-time starting gig. Whether he can or not remains to be seen, though it’s hard to argue with the numbers he has produced in the past two seasons. Crawford, on the other hand, has been in the league since 2002, at age 20, and has had only a few truly poor seasons. He’s more of a sure thing than Gardner, but he’ll also be roughly nine times more expensive.

There is also the matter of need. All three of the Yankees outfielders produced 4 or more WAR this season, the only MLB outfield unit to do so. They can, in other words, stick with the same guys and look elsewhere for ways to improve the team. Upgrading the pitching staff, in other words, will have more of a net effect on the team’s wins and losses, since there is more room for improvement on the pitching staff. Adding an outfielder would provide improvement on the margins.

Feinsand also mentions Jayson Werth, who recently retained Scott Boras to seek out the best possible deal. He’s said to be seeking a Matt Holliday type deal, but that seems out of reach for the soon-to-be 32-year-old. Werth has thrived during his time in Philadelphia both on offense and on defense, but he faces the same issues as Crawford. Adding him provides only a marginal improvement over the current outfield corps, and he will cost more than any of them — even if he settles for a Jason Bay type deal rather than a Matt Holliday one.

There are many ways the Yankees can improve this off-season, but they should be looking to improve areas where they can realize significant improvement. That falls to the pitching staff. There might be concerns about Gardner’s ability to maintain his high OBP, but those are theoretical concerns. The Yankees have actual pitching issues, and adding an arm can provide instant, tangible improvement. We pretty much knew this heading into the off-season, but it’s nice to hear the Yankees come out and say it.

Help at catcher: Miguel Olivo

Miguel Olivo ranked second in caught stealing percentage in 2010 (Tony Dejak/AP)

Yesterday was a big day for a number of teams. Anyone who reads MLB Trade Rumors knows that a number of players hit free agency after having their options declined. There are a few interesting names among them, perhaps a few that will draw interest from the Yankees. There’s one name, though, that stands out a bit — if for no other reason than his mention in a recent post about catchers.

I’ll defer to loyal commenter Ross in Jersey, who said: “Rockies released [Miguel] Olivo, go Cash go.” They didn’t technically release him, but rather declined his $2.5 million option for 2011, opting instead to pay him $500,000 to go away. It was the second consecutive year in which a team declined Olivo’s option; after the 2009 season the Royals paid him $100,000 instead of picking up his $3.3 million option. That does sound a bit damning, but in the latest incident, at least, the Rockies might have had reasons beyond Olivo’s performance for the release.

Why would the Yankees want Olivo? Because they have a peculiar catching situation in 2011. Jorge Posada hasn’t started more than 90 games behind the plate since 2007, and might be good for only 70 or so in 2011 — he started just 78 in 2010. That leaves the bulk of the catching duties to Francisco Cervelli, which is not an ideal scenario for the Yankees. Cervelli is certainly passable in a backup role, but his defensive lapses and complete lack of power make him a poor choice to start 90 games.

There is Jesus Montero, but the Yankees can’t really count on him in 2011. He’s just 21 years old and has well-publicized defensive issues. There’s a chance he could break camp with the Yankees and start as many games behind the plate as Posada, acting as a DH otherwise, but that’s not a situation the Yankees can assume. There’s also a chance that they could deal him this off-season. Given these parameters, acquiring another catcher does make sense. But does Olivo fit the bill.

He is basically the anti-Cervelli at the plate, in that he draws basically no walks but hits for plenty of power. His career ISO is .181 and he is coming off a season that equalled that mark. For those concerned that Coors Field inflated his power numbers, he did produce a career-high .241 ISO last year while playing in Kansas City. He has also hit for power at Petco Park, though that was back in 2005. Unfortunately, his OBP leaves much to be desired. In 2010, for the first time in his career, he broke the .300 OBP barrier. But that’s less of an issue for a part-time catcher and No. 9 hitter.

On defense it appears he’s a mixed bag. He’s prone to lapses, as he’s led the league in passed balls in four of the last five years. But otherwise he seems just fine. John Dewan’s +/- rates him highly — he led the league in Defensive Runs Saved by a long shot this past season. Tom Tango’s Fan Scouting Reports also rates him favorably. Olivo can certainly throw out runners as well. Last year 42 percent of base stealers headed back to the dugout, second best in the majors (again by a long shot). His career rate is 35 percent, which is 379th all-time and 12th among active players. In other words, while he does let a few too many balls get by him, he compensates in other areas.

No, Olivo is not a perfect fit should the Yankees need a catcher in 2011. Then again, there likely isn’t an available catcher who can hit, field, and accept a less than full-time role. Olivo is one of a few catchers who has enough positives going for him that the Yankees could use him to start 70, 80 games if need be. Chances are they won’t get him, though, as a number of teams need starting catchers. But should he remain on the free agent block while the Yankees take care of big business, they could certainly find use for him.

Solid day for Romine in the desert

Jim Callis revealed a little more than we previously knew about the Scott Bittle situation in this week’s Ask BA. Apparently the Yanks had a deal in place with their 2008 second round pick, but he failed a post-draft physical not because of a specific ailment, but because of general wear-and-tear. The Yanks didn’t sign him and used the compensation pick to select J.R. Murphy in 2009. Bittle ended up with the Cardinals as their fourth rounder that year, and sure enough he missed the entire 2010 season after having shoulder surgery. Dodged a bullet there, eh?

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (8-0 loss to Peoria) wow they suck, just 6-13 on the season
Jose Pirela, 2B: 0 for 5, 2 K
Brandon Laird, LF: 0 for 2, 2 BB, 1 K – threw a runner out at third
Austin Romine, C: 2 for 4, 1 K – he actually threw out an basestealer today, the only one that attempted to swipe a bag
George Kontos: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1-5 GB/FB – 17 of 31 pitches were strikes (54.8%)

Clyde King, former Yankee coach and GM, passes away

Clyde King, left, congratulates Goose Gossage on a job well done during the 1981 World Series. (AP Photo/File)

Clyde King, a long-time member of the Yankee organization who served as pitcher coach, manager and general manager during his tenure with the team, died yesterday at a hospital in North Carolina. He was 86 years old.

“Clyde was a loyal and dedicated friend and advisor to my father, our family and the Yankees organization,” Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. “Although his baseball achievements were impressive and deserving, he also lived a rich and fulfilling life away from the game. Clyde was a man of great faith who cared deeply about his friends and family, and he served as a role model to so many of us who had the great opportunity to spend time with him. We mourn Clyde’s passing with his wonderful wife, Norma, and the entire King family.”

A good friend of George Steinbrenner‘s, King joined the Yankees in 1976 and worked for the organization for 34 years. He started out in the scouting department and served as the pitching coach in 1978, from 1981-1982 and in 1988. He even managed the club over the final 62 games of the 1982 season, replacing Gene Michael over the summer. The club went 29-33 on his watch. As a GM from 1984-1986, the Yankees went 274-211 but failed to make the playoffs. He resigned in October 1986, one month before the Yanks sent Doug Drabek to the Pirates for Pat Clements, Cecilio Guante and Rick Rhoden.

Following his decision to step down as the GM, King served as a scout and baseball advisory to the Boss. He worked in that role from 1989 up through the 2010 season and was often spotted in the owner’s suite with George Steinbrenner. As a player, King pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds. he went 32-25 over 200 games but walked more batters than he struck out in 496 innings.

King is survived by his wife of 64 years, Norma, their three daughters, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and our thoughts go out to his family.

Open Thread: Award Dates

Last night we listed the important offseason dates regarding the Hot Stove League, arbitration deadlines and the like. Here’s when the individual season awards will be handed out…

  • Nov. 9th: AL Gold Gloves. Robbie Cano, Mark Teixeira, and maybe even Brett Gardner have a good chance of hearing their names called. Assuming they actually call names for these things. Actually scratch Gardner, he didn’t hit enough to win a Gold Glove.
  • Nov. 10th: NL Gold Gloves & Silver Sluggers. Cano should get a Silver Slugger, easily.
  • Nov. 15th: Rookie of the Year, both AL and NL. Uhhh … Colin Curtis?
  • Nov. 16th: NL Cy Young & Manager of the Year.
  • Nov. 17th: AL Manager of the Year.  Doubt Joe Girardi‘s got a chance.
  • Nov. 18th: AL Cy Young Award. CC Sabathia will probably finish in the top two, and he’s got a decent chance to take the award home with all those wins.
  • Nov. 22nd: NL MVP.
  • Nov. 23rd: AL MVP. Go Robbie.

I hate the way MLB spaces these things out, but I understand it. They want to keep casual fans interested in baseball, and it’s not a coincidence that the final award will be announced on the deadline for teams to offer their free agents arbitration. There will be a flurry of signings starting on the 24th.

* * *

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. The Islanders, Devils, and Nets are all playing at various times. I forgot how much life sucks without baseball to watch. Every year this happens too, like clockwork. Sigh. Alright, you know what to do, so have at it.

The Anatomy of a Rumor or What Derek Wants

The Hot Stove League can be a funny, funny thing. Signings and trades tend to happen at isolated moments around the Winter Meetings, before Christmas and in early-to-mid January, and the weeks in between are filled with rumors and whispers, speculation and distortion. While Cliff Lee remains the free agent prize this year, the Yankees and their fans will be focusing on the homegrown hero and team captain. Today, we saw how discussion and speculation about Jeter can blow up into something it is not.

What grew into a furor by the afternoon started innocently enough with a pair of radio interviews with Hal Steinbrenner. While talking first with Michael Kay and then with Mike Francesa yesterday, Hal began to talk about Derek Jeter‘s negotiations, and as he mentioned that the Yanks were a business, he also mentioned the team’s interest in signing Jeter. But, he warned, he wanted a deal that was good for both sides. “There’s always the possibility that things could get messy,” he said.

Uh, oh! Things might be messy. It’s amazing how quickly a possibility of things getting messy turns into “Yanks warn of messy talks with Jeter,” as the headline on The Post said. ESPN had a similar take.

Today, the Internet exploded all over again when Jon Heyman, the King of Speculation, let loose what can only be termed his opinion as couched in an anonymous source. A few hours ago, he tweeted that “industry sources suggest” that Jeter could ask for six years (and be signed through age 42 as A-Rod is). The Yanks want him for fewer years. He elaborated in a season preview column:

There are early indications the talks with Jeter may take awhile. Some industry sources still say they wouldn’t be surprised if he initially sought to obtain a six-year deal to match the expiration age of Alex Rodriguez‘s contract, which would put Jeter at 42. The Yankees haven’t opened talks yet with his agent, Casey Close, and while it’s unconfirmed, there are a few early hints that the team may be thinking about a deal of about half that length, perhaps three guaranteed years.

So now we have “some industry sources” who “wouldn’t be surprised” if Jeter “initially sought” a six-year deal. It’s also “unconfirmed” but there are “a few early hints” that the Yankees would counter with a three-year deal. It’s somewhat shocking this paragraph made it past a Sports Illustrated editor considering the 2000 pounds of salt with which we must take it.

Right now, we don’t know what Jeter wants, what the Yanks are willing to pay or how long it’s going to take. But if this is the best rumor we’ve got, it isn’t worth listening to Heyman when he says, “Jeter could take awhile [sic],” and the only thing getting messy so far are the journalistic standards in place for reporting unfounded rumors.

Past Trade Review: Paul O’Neill

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

It might be hard for the younger generation of fans to believe, but two decades ago the Yankees were a non-factor in the AL East, finishing no better than fourth in the then-seven team division from 1987 through 1992. They hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1981. Don Mattingly was a bonafide homegrown superstar, but Dave Righetti’s talent was being wasted in the bullpen, Ron Guidry was fading, and a numerous free agent signings and trades just didn’t work out. For every Dave Winfield there was an Andy Hawkins, for every Rickey Henderson a Tim Leary.

George Steinbrenner, who always dipped his toe deep into the baseball operations pool, was banned from day-to-day management of the team in late-July 1990 after paying Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up dirt on Winfield. Gene Michael took over as general manager the very next month, and he and his front office staff went to work rebuilding the Yankees without The Boss interfering. They were patient with prospects, valued high-end pitching, and above all wanted batters that worked the count and wore pitchers down.

One of the team’s few established above-average players was centerfielder Roberto Kelly, who broke in during the 1987 season but didn’t grab hold of an every day job until two years later. He hit .284/.339/.426 from 1989 through 1991, increasing his homer output from nine to 15 to 20 during that time. Kelly rode a hot start (topped out at .361/.396/.514 in late-May) in 1992 to his first appearance in the All Star Game, though ironically enough that ended up being the worst full season of his career (98 OPS+, 0.8 bWAR) up to that point.

The then-28 year old Kelly was obviously a solid contributor for the Yanks, but his on-base percentage (just .325 from 1990-1992) wasn’t good enough for a guy that spent the majority of his time hitting in one of the top three spots of the batting order. Eighteen years ago today, Stick dealt Kelly to the Reds for a fellow 1992 All Star outfielder named Paul O’Neill and Single-A first base prospect Joe Deberry.

(AP Photo/Ron Frehm)

O’Neill was more than a year older than Kelly and relegated to an outfielder corner defensively, but it didn’t matter. He fit the grind-it-out philosophy, not only getting on base 34.4% of the time from 1989-1992, but he was also trending upwards. His IsoD (isolated discipline, or OBP-AVG, which measures a batter’s ability to get on base by a means other than a hit) went from .069 in 1990 to .090 in 1991 to .100 in 1992. O’Neill also brought World Series experience, though he wasn’t without his warts. The lefty swinger had plenty of trouble against southpaws, hitting .225/.279/.295 off them in 1992, and just .227/.278/.332 over the last three seasons.

O’Neill’s first season in New York was the best of his career up to that point, a .311/.367/.504 effort, career highs across the board. He was still hopeless against lefties though, hitting just .230/.279/.319 off them that year. The Yankees improved by a dozen wins from the previous season and finished second to the Blue Jays in the division. O’Neill managed to top his strong debut season with a career year in 1994, winning the batting title and hitting .359/.460/.603 with more walks (72) than strikeouts (56) for the first time in his career. As if someone flipped a switch, he hit .305/.439/.571 off lefties and went to his second All Star Game, finishing fifth in the MVP voting. The Yanks were robbed of their first playoff berth in more than a decade because of the strike though; at 70-43, they had the best record in the AL.

As the Yankees incorporated more and more young players onto their roster, O’Neill remained one of manager Buck Showalter’s stalwarts. His newfound level of production proved to be his true talent level, as O’Neill hit a whopping .317/.397/.517 during his first six years in pinstripes. He was the three-hole hitter the majority of the time during the team’s titles runs in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000, usually protected by cleanup hitter Bernie Williams, the guy that replaced Kelly in centerfield after the trade.

All told, O’Neill hit .303/.377/.492 with 185 homers in his nine years with the Yanks, going to four All Star Games and finishing in the top 15 of the MVP voting four times as well. Steinbrenner, reinstated by the commissioner two years after being banned, dubbed him The Warrior, and fans fell head over heels in love with him for his style of play. O’Neill was famously hard on himself, throwing helmets and smashing water coolers whenever something went wrong, and if you took a gander at him in the outfielder between pitches or at-bats, you’d often catch him practicing his stance and swing with an invisible bat.

(AP Photo/ Pat Sullivan)

O’Neill’s Yankee career is full of far more memorable moments than I care to count, but two stick out to me. The first is pretty obvious, the “Paul O-Nei-ll clap clap clapclapclap” chant in the ninth inning of Game Five of the 2001 World Series, a grand send-off in his final game at Yankee Stadium. The second came back in 1996 (left), when he ran down a Luis Polonia line drive to record the final out of Game Five of that World Series, saving an extra-base hit in a game that ended 1-0. I’ll also never forget yelling at him through the TV to catch the final out of David Wells’ perfect game with two damn hands. Sheesh.

As for Kelly, he went on to be very productive for Cincinnati, hitting .313/.353/.447 for them before being traded to Atlanta for Deion Sanders during the 1994 season. He bounced around a bit the rest of his career, making stops with the Expos, Dodgers, Twins, Mariners, and Rangers before rejoining the Yankees in 2000, a 27 plate appearance finale to his career. He was certainly a quality player, just not at the same level of O’Neill. Deberry never played in the big leagues, topping out at Triple-A. He was out of baseball by 1998.

O’Neill’s 24.8 bWAR with New York is more than Kelly’s entire career (16.9, just 5.0 post-Yanks), but we don’t need any kind of advance stats or detailed analysis to call this trade a clear win for the Yankees. It’s arguably one the ten best trades in franchise history, maybe even top five. The Warrior is still a fan favorite and a semi-regular at Yankee Stadium to this day, showing up to Old Timer’s Day and calling games for the YES Network whenever he feels like getting out of Ohio.

Happy Paul O’Neill Trade Anniversary Day, I’m not sure any of us knew how important and beloved he’d become.