The RAB Radio Show: November 29, 2010

Phil Hughes is headed to arbitration for the first time. Mike provided an excellent write-up. We take it a bit further on the podcast, talking about all those tangential issues that don’t fit into an article proper.

Then we move onto the inevitable topic of every podcast from now until January: Derek Jeter. It’s not about his negotiations, per se — though we do invoke the reality potion — but rather about how Juan Uribe’s new three-year, $21 million contract affects the situation. Will Jeter think he’s worth triple Uribe? Will the Giants jump into the fold now that they don’t have a shortstop?

(No and no, but it’s a fun discussion.)

And then there’s Mo. Everything’s going fine with Mo. That’s nothing but good news.

Podcast run time 24:25

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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Arbitration Case: Phil Hughes

Worst best night ever? (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Yankees have a few players eligible for arbitration this offseason, none more notable than first-timer Phil Hughes. After earning the league minimum or close to it over the last four seasons (or parts of them, anyway), Hughes will see his salary bump up into the seven figures this winter. How much exactly? Well let’s try to figure that out.

The entire arbitration process is pretty archaic, relying on old school stats that don’t tell the whole story to compare players with similar amounts of service time. Hughes will be compared to other pitchers when they hit arbitration for the first time, and his salary will be based on what they earned. Of course both the Yankees and Hughes want to avoid an arbitration hearing and agree to a contract beforehand, but his salary will still be determined in a similar manner.

Because of his 2010 season, Hughes has himself a damn fine arbitration case. He won 18 games and was an All Star, a huge feather in his cap. It’s basically irrelevant that he had the best run support in baseball even though it absolutely inflated that win total. The wins and All Star Game alone are enough to get him a substantial raise, but his other numbers stack up as well. I ran a B-Ref Play Index search to help dig up some similar pitchers, then picked out the best matches. As it turns out, Jeff Euston (the man behind Cot’s) published an article at Baseball Prospectus today (subs. req’d) looking at AL East arbitration cases, so that was helpful as well. Here’s who I came up with…

Those stats are leading up to each player’s first year of arbitration only; career stats don’t do us any good in this situation. I also ignored players that had signed contract extensions buying out their arbitration years because it skews the salary data, otherwise Randy Wolf, Gavin Floyd, Fausto Carmona, and Chris Young would have been included as well. For shame. The average salary in the player’s first year of arb and percent raise is a weighted average based on innings pitched. Nolasco’s relatively small workload will count less than Felix’s mammoth innings total; it’s only fair.

Garza might be the best overall comparison, though Capuano fits as well. Hughes’ strikeout rate is inflated a bit by his 2009 stint as a reliever; as a starter he’s got a 7.3 K/9 in his career, right on par with just about everyone else listed. If we apply that 684.4% raise to Phil’s 2010 salary of $447,000, he’s looking at a 2011 salary of $3,264,588. If we remove Felix since he’s clearly a notch above the other guys, it’s a 679.5% average raise and a projected $3,241,215 salary for Hughes next year. It’s a negligible difference as far as we’re concerned. Remember though, Phil’s got that All Star berth on his resume, something only two guys from the above table (Verlander and Capuano (naturally)) had at the time. That could push Hughes’ salary up towards $3.5M, and that’s a damn fine estimate of what he’ll be paid next season.

One thing is for sure, I had been grossly underestimating Phil Hughes’ earning potential. I had been under the assumption that he’d get a deal worth $2M or so for next season, maybe $2.5M if the Yankees were feeling charitable because I was ignorant to the comparables. He’s going to blow right by that amount and land a contract around three-and-a-half million bones, quite the payday for a 24 year old and a decent dent in the team’s bottom line.

Rivera negotiations going swimmingly

While the Yankees want Derek Jeter to “drink the reality potion,” the team’s negotiations with Mariano Rivera are going great, ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand reports. While Rivera is searching for a raise from the $15 million he made last year, Marchand says the Yanks “view his demands as much more reasonable than Jeter’s.” Rivera, who has been working to keep his negotiations under the table, will probably get either $16 or $17 million a year, and the two sides have to decide on length. Rivera, who today turns 41, is reportedly seeking two years while the Yanks would prefer a one-year deal, and Marchand suggests a contract with a vested option to “bridge the gap.”

Derek Jeter could be making $25 million per season right now

2006 Jeter would have cashed in (Julie Jacobson/AP)

The baseball hot stove season is rife for what-if scenarios. One of the most popular right now questions how the Derek Jeter situation would have unfolded had he produced a 2010 season more in line with his career numbers. Would there be adequate pressure for the Yankees to offer a fourth, or even fifth, year? Or would other teams be just as reticent to sign a 37-year-old shortstop? While these questions are interesting enough, they’re not nearly as interesting as another what-if. Ben hinted at it earlier in the month, and William mentioned it more explicitly in a recent post at The Yankee U. Where would the Yankees be right now if Derek Jeter had signed a long-term contract after the 1999 season?

At that point in his career Jeter had all the leverage in negotiations. He was heading into his age-26 season and had produced two tremendous seasons in 1998 and 1999. In ’98 he had a .385 wOBA and produced 7.8 bWAR, which was just 0.1 behind Alex Rodriguez for the league lead. That landed him third in the MVP voting. His 1999 follow-up was the greatest season of his career. His 8.0 bWAR was tied with Manny Ramirez for second in the league — Pedro Martinez produced 8.3 WAR in his historic season. Yet the voters discounted Jeter, voting him sixth when he probably should have won the damn thing. Still, the numbers were there. The Yankees were going to have to pay Jeter.

What made Jeter’s run all the more remarkable was that he still had two years of arbitration left. The Yankees sought to buy out those, plus five years of free agency, with a seven-year, $118.5 million offer. The Jeter camp was apparently ready to pay, but George Steinbrenner wouldn’t sign off on the deal. The Yanks instead paid Jeter a $10 million salary in 1999 before eventually signing him to the infamous 10-year, $189 million deal, which came as a direct result of Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $252 million contract. It would appear that failure to execute the contract one year prior ended up costing the Yankees $80.5 million (the $10 million 2000 salary plus the $189 million contract, minus the $118.5 original). Yet that leaves the story short by four years.

Had Jeter signed that contract he would have been eligible for free agency after the 2006 season, which was another marvelous year. Jeter produced a .399 wOBA on the power of a .343 BA and .417 OBP. To put that in perspective, Jeter’s gross offensive numbers amounted to 41.8 batting runs above average — which factors in playing time and park, but not position. That ranked sixth in the AL. The only players ahead of him were 1B/DH/OF types. This was enough for 6.2 WAR, which ranked second behind Grady Sizemore. I’m not sure why the baseball writers were infatuated with Justin Morneau that season, but Jeter probably should have won the MVP. And had the Yankees executed his original extension, he would have taken that hardware into free agency.

The situation then would have been the same as the situation now, in that both sides need each other. The difference, of course, is that then Jeter was a 32-year-old coming off a career year. Now he’s a 36-year-old coming off the worst season of his career. Chances are the Yankees aren’t going to go far above their three-year, $45 million offer. Maybe sentiment turns that into $60 million, but I very much doubt it. Unless Jeter picks up his ball and signs with another team for less, he’ll end up having made $250 to $260 million with the Yankees. He would have made much more if he had become a free agent after the 2006 season.

Through the 1999 season Jeter had earned $6.43 million. Then add in the $118.5 million through 2006. That puts him at just under $125 million before he hit free agency. The economy was booming in the winter between 2006 and 2007. Barry Zito got seven years and $126; Carlos Lee got six years and $100 million; Alfonso Soriano got eight years and $136 million. Derek Jeter would have gotten more than all of them. I’m betting he would have matched Soriano’s eight years, which would have kept him around through age 40. I’m also betting he would have easily topped $20 million per season — perhaps all the way to $25 million. Splitting the difference, the contract would have been worth $180 million, and would have paid Jeter through 2014. His career earnings would then have been $305 million.

Sometimes these things end up working out for the better. There is simply no way that Jeter will cross the $100 million mark with his new contract. In that way, the Yankees will have saved money with the 10-year, $189 million contract. While the seven-year deal proposed after 1999 looks better because of the shorter term and lower average annual value, it would have given Jeter one more chance at a big pay day. With his status among Yankees fans, his age, and his stellar 2006 season, he would have cashed in considerably. While the negotiations for his next contract aren’t exactly smooth, they’re certainly preferable to paying Jeter north of $20 million per season for the next four years.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 29th, 2010

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

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Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.


Mailbag: Carl Pavano

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

If Carl Pavano hadn’t already pitched for the Yankees, would you consider him as an starting pitching option?

With Hiroki Kuroda and Jake Westbrook re-signing with the Dodgers and Cardinals, respectively, Pavano is the best pitcher on the free agent market not named Cliff Lee. Usually a guy like that would be the first backup plan should the Yankees fail to sign Lee, but given their history there’s zero chance of Pavano returning to New York. They’d sooner start Sidney Ponson every five days. But let’s forget all that for a second and break him down as a pitcher.

Pavano, 35 in January, has developed into a bonafide workhorse over the last two seasons, ironic given his tenure in New York. He threw 221 innings in 2010 (seven (!!!) complete games) and 199.1 the year before, good for the 19th most innings in all of baseball over the last two seasons. A sinker-slider-changeup mix results in a ton of groundballs (47.5% over the last two years) and he doesn’t hurt himself with walks at all (just 73 unintentional walks during that time, or 1.56 BB/9). Lots of innings, lots of groundballs, and few walks are a slam dunk recipe for success, but there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about Pavano going forward.

For one, he doesn’t strike anyone out, just 4.76 K/9 in 2010 and 6.64 (second best mark of his career) the year before. Pavano’s swing-and-miss rate is just 8.02% over the last two years, below the 8.5% league average. His fastball velocity is trending downward, and despite the impressive ground ball rate, Pavano can still be prone to giving up the long ball (1.07 HR/9 since 2009). That’s with just about a quarter of his innings coming at spacious Target Field as well, a park that suppressed homers to just 64.1% of the league average in its inaugural season. When he’s made mistakes, he’s made them up in the zone, a bad sign.

Given the contracts already handed to Kuroda, Westbrook, Ted Lilly, and Jon Garland, it’s safe to say that Pavano’s looking at no fewer than two years (likely three) guaranteed at $10M per season. For a guy that struggles to miss bats and needs a strong defense behind him to survive, that price just doesn’t make sense for the Yankees. They’ve built their pitching staffs around strikeout pitchers the last few years, taking what was once a below average team defense out of the equation as much as possible. It’s a sound strategy regardless of what the team’s defense looks like, really, but Pavano doesn’t fit that mold at all. He’d probably be able to step into their rotation and be a back-end innings guy in New York, which absolutely has value, but they need something better that right now.

Even assuming 2005 through 2008 never happened, I’d still be against a Carl Pavano signing unless the Yankees whiffed on Plans A, B, and C. He’d be a last resort kind of guy for me. If he’s not missing bats and is giving up a decent amount of homers now, what will he be doing in two or three years?

Open Thread: Jesus turns 21

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A very happy birthday goes out to the best prospect in the Yankees’ farm system today; Jesus Montero turns the ripe old age of 21. When I turned 21, I was just starting my junior year of college and trying to figure out where the hell my life was going. Montero already has a full year at Triple-A under his belt and is a .314/.371/.511 career hitter with 162 extra base hits in 380 career games. I suddenly feel very inadequate. Happy birthday kid. Make us all proud next year.

Anyway, here’s tonight’s open thread. The late game has the Chargers at the Colts, plus the Knicks and Nets are both in action. Wish Montero a happy birthday and then talk about whatever you want here. Go nuts.