The case against Lackey came two years ago

Following the 2007 season, the Yankees needed pitching. They’d just been eliminated from the playoffs because their ace, Chien-Ming Wang, failed twice to hold down the Cleveland Indians. While Wang was still one of the league’s better pitcher, the Yankees needed more. Not only was Wang questionable as an ace, but the pitchers behind him were all questionable as well.

Mike Mussina had been removed from the rotation at the beginning of September because he’d pitched so horribly. Roger Clemens was a goner after his body couldn’t handle the rigors of a half season. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, though impressive at times in 2007, were still risky rookies. Joba Chamberlain, because of innings concerns, would likely start the year in the bullpen. The only constant behind Wang was Andy Pettitte, and even then it wasn’t clear until later in November that he’d return.

The Yankees could have used a free agent pitcher that off-season, even a No. 2 starter type. Yet none existed. The top starting pitchers on the market were Pettitte, Curt Schilling, Greg Maddux, Carlos Silva, and Kyle Lohse. The Yanks would get the best of those, but what remained wouldn’t help much. The Yanks were better off seeing what they could get from their rookies. It was a pretty clear call to pass on this free agency class.

Yet there was still one option. The Minnesota Twins dangled Johan Santana, the best pitcher in the league at the time. It would cost the Yankees at least one of their young starters, Hughes, but that would replace uncertainty with something a bit more reliable. With Santana atop the rotation, the Yankees would have a formidable 1-2 punch. This is why the pro-Johan crowd was so disappointed in the 2008 Yankees. With an ace they might have weathered the competition and made the playoffs.

The Yankees didn’t jump on Santana for a few reasons. First was the allocation of resources. The Yankees would have to use their player resources to trade for Santana, and then use their financial resources to sign him to a long-term deal. That’s quite a commitment, even for a pitcher like Santana. The second reason was that the Yankees looked ahead to the next free agent class and saw that if they held back on Santana, they could reap the rewards a year later.

We all know the story from there. The Yankees used only their financial resources (and, technically, potential player resources by surrendering draft picks) to sign CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Pretty smart, eh? The Yankees exercised foresight in the winter of 2007-2008, and it paid off in time for the 2009 season. They face a similar situation this winter. John Lackey is the top available free agent starter, and he’d slot in well as the No. 3 man in the Yanks rotation.

I think it’s time again for the Yankees to exercise foresight. Lackey is a nice pitcher, sure, known to most fans as a workhorse. Despite the reputation, he’s missed a decent amount of time in the last two seasons, including the beginning of the 2009 campaign with elbow issues. He wouldn’t be a terrible signing, but he’d be another long-term, high-money contract added to the books after the Yankees added three in 2008 and renewed three in 2007.

If the Yankees hold back on Lackey this off-season, they could again reap the benefits of a deep free agent pitching class in 2010-2011. Highlighting the potential free agents are Josh Beckett, Matt Cain (late edit: damn team options), Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Webb. There’s no guarantee that any of them reach free agency, but there are five names there compared to the one this off-season. Not to mention, I’d rather have three of them than Lackey, and the other two are still strong alternatives at worst (though there is the issue of Webb’s shoulder).

Adding John Lackey to an already strong starting rotation would certainly help the Yankees chances in 2010. With Pettitte and then one of Chamberlain and Hughes at the back end of the rotation, they’d almost surely have the best in the game. That’s enticing, but I think waiting is the best option here. The Yankees have a slew of back-end starter candidates, including a number of young players who they’d probably like to evaluate. That way, when they get to the 2010-2011 off-season, they’ll have a better idea of whether they’d really like to pursue a free agent starter, or if they’re comfortable where they are.

A history of football at Yankee Stadium with Regis Philbin

Although the first college football game at the new Yankee Stadium is still a year away, the New-York Historical Society is opening up its doors to the history of the game in the Bronx. Tonight at 6:30 p.m., the Society is hosting a discussion on the history of college football at Yankee Stadium, moderated by Regis Philbin. The famed TV show personality will be joined by Dave Anderson, sports columnist for The Times; Pete Dawkins, a former Heisman Trophy winner; Thom Gatewood, a former Notre Dame player; and Tony Morante, the Yankees’ Tour director and team historian. According to the press release, this is the first in a series of NYHS events looking at historic sports events at Yankee Stadium, and this evening’s porgram will “explore the legendary Army vs. Notre Dame games and the popularity of college football in a bygone era.”

The fine print: The New-York Historical Society is located 170 Central Park West at 77th Street, and tickets are $24 for non-members and $12 members. However, the NYHS’ Twitter feed just published a discount code for those looking for half-priced tickets. I’ve been to some of their other programs, and they’re always interesting.

What Went Right: Gardbrera

Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.

Gardbrera

Mid-way through the 2007 season, it became apparent that Johnny Damon was no longer a viable option in centerfield for the Yankees. The team was somewhat up a creek without a paddle, as Damon still had two-and-a-half years left on his contract, and they had to turn to the unproven Melky Cabrera full-time in one of the most important positions on the field.

In 2008, Yankee centerfielders hit just .261-.320-.391, which represented the fifth lowest OBP and seventh lowest IsoP in the league. Furthermore, the group’s defense didn’t make up for their offense shortcomings, as they posted a collective +1.9 UZR/150. Melky got the lion’s share of the work in center (67.5% of the total innings), but he was demoted to the minors in mid-August after a 300 plate appearance stretch of futility in which he hit .227-.277-.280.

After flirting with various trade scenarios in the offseason, the Yankees came into Spring Training this past February with the same cast of centerfield characters as last year. Most (myself included) figured a mid-season trade for a centerfielder was in order. Instead, both Melky and Brett Gardner excelled in camp (Melky hit .349-.408-.508, Gardner .379-.446-.621), and the Yanks started the season with a somewhat unconventional platoon in the middle outfield spot.

Across the board, the performance in centerfield improved in 2009. The Gardbrera duo (plus a two game cameo from Jerry Hairston Jr.) hit .273-.338-.400, as Melky once again carried most of the load. Not only was the offensive upgrade welcome, but the defense also improved immensely thanks to Gardner. The team’s UZR/150 in center jumped to +7.5, third best in the AL. The league average offense and well-above average defense gave the Yankees the most production out of the centerfield position since Bernie Williams was in his heyday.

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

The RAB Guide to Sanity During the Hot Stove Season

Five months without baseball can make people go insane. Hell, we’ve been without baseball for just a week now and I’m already to the point of missing Michael Kay. Missing Michael Kay. This is serious stuff, this baseball withdrawal. Thankfully, we have the hot stove season still ahead of us. Baseball will always be about what happens between April and October, but there’s an understandable fascination with the yearly rebuilding process. We’ve already gotten into it heavily on RAB.

We all want to see the Yankees repeat as champions, so we want them to make moves that best position them for that. Unfortunately, this often leads to fans concocting unrealistic scenarios and then screaming when they don’t come to fruition. This is nothing but counterproductive.

Major League Baseball is a complicated machine. What makes sense to you and me might not make sense to the guys running the teams. It leads us to sometimes question those in charge, and sometimes rightfully so. Other times, there’s a factor at play unknown to all of us, but known too well to the GM and his staff. It can lead to some tumultuous times, but I think we’re all calm and sane enough here to put it in perspective.

When evaluating what the Yankees should do, and what they have done, there is one principle to keep in mind, and that comes with one addendum. Understand this, and you’ll understand a lot more about why teams make the moves they do and why they avoid others:

Teams have limited resources, and they must use these resources as efficiently as possible in order to build the best possible team.

Addendum: The game goes through this cycle every year, presumably forever.

This means we have to evaluate moves not only in a vacuum, but also as compared with all other possible moves. This perspective involves exploring options for not only 2010, but also for seasons further in the future. The Yankees’ front office, however, will likely only look a year or two ahead.

Resources refers to not just money, but also to the team’s players. Available funds and young talent are the two main forms of currency in baseball. The Yankees have made it clear that they will keep their payroll around the 2009 level, if not a bit lower, so that should put expectations in line. We know how much they can spend, and we know what players they have in the system. That should give us an idea of what the team can do.

The Yankees have holes and weaknesses. They’ll continue to have holes and weaknesses, with the idea that they’ll be fewer and less severe than other teams. To accomplish that, they’ll deploy their resources as efficiently as possible. Not to pick on him, but commenter ledavidisrael showed us an example of this yesterday when he mused on how J.J. Hardy would help the Yankees. Hardy is a good player, and if his bat recovers he’ll help the Twins. But why would the Yankees use their precious resources on him when they already have one of the best infields, if not the best, in the league?

The infield is not a weakness for the Yankees, so they should use as little of their resources on that as possible. They should look to any weaknesses, both on the major league roster and in the system, and use their resources to strengthen them. For the Yankees, that means pitching, as it does every team, and the outfield. If the team is going to make moves this winter, it should be with those weaknesses in mind.

They can improve the pitching and outfield mainly through free agency and trades. These will be the two major topics of discussion over the next four-plus months, as they are every off-season. In an effort to keep everyone as sane as possible, let’s go over some of the finer points of the off-season. I did this last off-season, but I’m much better equipped this time around, thanks to some work by a few good writers.

Your trade proposal sucks

As fans, we love to come up with trade proposals to help our team. That’s great, but 99.999999999% of the time, the trade proposed is unrealistic. This might be for a number of reasons, both obvious and non-obvious. Fans overvaluing their team’s prospects is the main reason for ridiculous trade proposals, but there are plenty of others.

Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star tackled this subject a few months ago. He shows us, through first-hand experience, why a trade proposal from an outsider rarely makes sense.

Once, in a casual conversation a few years ago, a member of the Royals’ front office gave me a homework assignment. He wanted me to come to him with a doable trade idea that would make the Royals better.

“And realistic,” he said. “Don’t have us trading Jimmy Gobble for Albert Pujols.”

The next few days or so, I wore out Baseball-Reference and Baseball Cube and all the other nerdy sites even more than usual. I came up with something, I can’t remember exactly what, but I vaguely recall suggesting either DeJesus or Teahen to the Cubs for a deal involving Ryan Theriot and other parts.

The Royals’ executive considered it for a few seconds, acknowledged that it made sense in the obvious ways I pointed out, then listed two or three reasons it didn’t make sense, reasons that I hadn’t considered and most likely never would’ve known without that conversation.

Brian Cashman cannot control other GMs minds

Many players will be available this off-season via trade. While the Yankees might have seemingly unlimited financial resources (even though they don’t), they certainly don’t have unlimited player personnel resources. In fact, plenty of other teams have much more in the way of player currency, which usually consists of prospects.

For a recent example, the Tigers have reportedly made Edwin Jackson available. Maybe the Yankees see Jackson as a more cost-efficient alternative to John Lackey. Jackson would also come with less of a commitment, as he can become a free agent after the 2011 season. So instead of Lackey at five years and, say, $90 million, Jackson could be had for two years and, with arbitration raises, perhaps $15 million. That sounds like a much better deal, even if Lackey is a better pitcher.

We run into the resources problem immediately. Yes, Jackson would be cheaper than Lackey, but he would cost the Yankees plenty in player resources. Is that worth the trade-off? Maybe, maybe not. But even if the Yankees decide it is, the have to get Dave Dombrowski to accept their offer. Other teams will also present offers, and if the Yankees is not the best, the Tigers will not accept it and Jackson will be elsewhere in 2010.

Fans might scream at this, saying Cashman could have added this player or that to the offer to make it more enticing. But then we’re back to the Mellinger argument. Each team has its own list of wants and needs, and they’re going to take the package that best fits those. Slapping Kevin Russo on top of a package doesn’t necessarily fulfill the Tigers’ needs. There’s also a point where the players going to the Tigers would be too great an expenditure of resources, even considering Jackson’s relative cheapness.

Misinformation abounds

We’ll see the Yankees connected with many names this winter — we’ve already seen them connected to Lackey and Holliday. The Yankees have financial resources, so agents frequently connect their clients to the Yankees, hoping that the specter of the Evil Empire can help raise the bidding. That the Yankees spent heavily last off-season will only increase this activity this off-season. Until we start to hear something substantial, take rumors as just that. You’ll know when the Yankees start to get serious about someone.

Teams might not be interested in the Yankees spare parts

This doesn’t happen nearly as often as it did a few years ago — or perhaps these people are commenting elsewhere — but fans sometimes want to sign a player whose position is already filled. The solution to the logjam is to trade the incumbent. We saw this last winter a bit with Adam Dunn. He’d be the DH, but the Yankees already had Hideki Matsui. Many fans thought the Yankees should have dumped Matsui on the Mariners and then signed Dunn. This rarely, if ever, happens.

If the Yankees don’t want a player, it’s unlikely that another team values him highly enough to give back anything of significant value in a trade. It’s nice to think another team will help out the Yankees, but that is never the case. This is especially true when we’re talking about older players. There are plenty of older players on the free agent market. Why wouldn’t a team go out and get one of them, rather than use their own resources to acquire someone from the Yankees?

GMs are not idiots

OK, some general managers seem to make more foolish moves than others. Dayton Moore and Ned Colletti, for quick examples, have seemingly handed out a few more ill-advised deals than other GMs. That doesn’t mean they’re always ripe for the fleecing. J.C. Bradbury of Sabernomics has broken down some general manager myths, and explains why they’re just not true. They include:

  • GMS can buy low and sell high. “For this to work, the GM on the other team has to be a colossal moron.” J.C. explains further here.
  • The number of free agents at a position affects the price of free agents at a position. “The problem with this is that the free agents have come from somewhere. A high number of players looking for new teams means that there is a corresponding number of openings that teams need to fill.” The exception is when teams have already filled the position from within, but then there are also teams which wish to upgrade at the position.
  • Every trade has a winner and a loser. “Mistakes happen, but as a general rule, all parties to trades are winners.” In their minds, at least. Trades might work out in favor of one part eventually, but that’s information not available at the time of the deal.
  • Players peak at 27 and old players are worthless. “The aging process is gradual, more like the Minneapolis Metrodome than an Egyptian pyramid.”

The Yankees have a plan

By the time they’re done evaluating their situation, they’ll come up with a few plans, actually. There’s the primary plan and then a number of backup plans in case one aspect or another of the primary plan falls through. Last year the Yankees got lucky. Their Plan A worked out. That won’t always be the case, and it likely won’t be the case this year. In any case, the Yankees will act according to their plans. If something unexpected comes up they might alter the plan, but otherwise they’re going to act consistently with it.

Keep all this in mind throughout the off-season, and maybe you’ll stay sane. Forget it, and you’ll pull your hair out while screaming at Cashman for not acquiring this player or that. I think we’ll have a much happier comments section this winter, though, if we take heed of all this.

Curtis’ hot hitting continues

AzFL Peoria (6-4 loss to Mesa)
Brandon Laird: 0 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (missed catch)
Colin Curtis: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI – 16 for his last 36 (.444) with four doubles, a triple, and a homer
Grant Duff: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB - 9 of 14 pitches were strikes (64.3%) … PitchFX has his heater at 93.38-95.3 mpg

Open Thread: RAB Fantasy Football League Update

I’ve been intentionally been delaying my first fantasy football update this season, because frankly it’s been pretty bad for me. After a nice 2-1 start, I’ve since lost five of six, and I have just one of the 44 highest scoring players in the league. The main reason for my struggles are the hurt and/or underperforming Anquan Boldin and Terrell Owens, who I figured were good for double digit points on a weekly basis. Free agent pickup Nate Burleson has been my second best offensive player, and Ahmad Bradshaw has emerged as my second RB behind MJD.

Chad Pennington got hurt and Mark Sanchez wasn’t cutting it, so I swapped Knowshown Moreno for David Garrard. If that’s not enough, I have to face the teams currently ranked first and second in the league over the next two weeks, and I’ll face three of the top four teams in the next five weeks. Yippee. 2009 has not been kind of my fantasy teams, but if that’s the price I have to pay for the Yankees winning the World Series, then so be it.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. None of the local teams are in action, so you’re stuck finding your own entertainment. Talk about whatever you want, just be cool. You can see the full fantasy football league standings are after the jump.

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Scott Boras will have none of this ‘hometown discount’ nonsense

Reporting from the GM meetings, Joel Sherman says that superagent Scott Boras indicated that he’s looking not for a short-term deal for Johnny Damon, but possibly a three or four year commitment. “Greg Maddux was the unique pitcher when it came to durability,” said Boras. “And (Damon) is the Greg Maddux of position players when it comes to durability.” That’s certainly true; Damon’s played at least 140 games in 14 straight seasons. But Damon is the kind of guy that always seems to be on the brink of breaking down.

One year plus an option? Fine. anything more than that, then have fun in San Francisco.