Open Thread: A walk around the blog

As part of their guide to baseball around the Internet, Yahoo! Sports’ Big League Stew is putting forth what it calls a BLS Blogbook. Yesterday, they presented a few Yankee blogs from around the block. RAB, of course, is included along with a slew of other stellar Yankee fans. Check it out right here.

Otherwise, feel free to use this as your open thread. The Knicks are visiting the Wizards tonight and need to win that game. The Rangers are visiting Phoenix, that hotbed of hockey, and the Islanders have already lost to the Flyers. Be good to each other.

Preliminary 2010 payroll figures

With all of this talk about the Yanks’ budget, the latest from Maury Brown should pique fans’ interests. The Biz of Baseball writer is projecting 2010 salaries based on available information. He covered the Yankees yesterday and determined that the team has committed $198 million to 18 players. The Yanks will renew their pre-arb players soon enough and will see the budget climb to over $200 million. If the team wants to be able to fill holes during the season and adhere to their budget, that should be it for the team’s Hot Stove spending.

Remembering Matt Nokes

For Yankee fans of a certain age, the name Matt Nokes brings back memories of false hopes and an era in which the Yanks had no plan. Acquired from the Tigers in early June 1990, Nokes was that rare left-handed hitting catcher, but unfortunately, for the Yanks he couldn’t do much hitting or catching. After the 1994 season, the Yankees were happy to let him go.

This week, as his Card Corner feature on Bronx Banter, Bruce Markusen reflected on the Matt Nokes era. The Yanks, as Markusen relates, brought in Matt Nokes with the allure of his 1987 32-home run All Star rookie campaign firmly in their minds. They needed some left-handed pop and also hoped to add to their catching depth in a potential run at Ron Darling. The Yanks were 18-30 when Nokes arrived that year and never got much better.

Luckily for the Yanks, they gave up only Lance McCullers and Clay Parker because Nokes amounted to little. “When it came to the defensive skills required of a catcher,” Markusen wrote, “Nokes came up short just about everywhere. He moved stiffly behind the plate, making him a liability on pitches in the dirt. He didn’t throw well, hampered by bad mechanics and lackluster arm strength. And just to complete the trifecta, he had little understanding of how to call a game.”

When he finally departed from the Bronx, Nokes had hit .249/.304/ .437 with 71 jacks. He bounced around the Majors for a few years and then played in the independent leagues for a bunch of seasons. He now serves as the Class A Potomac Nationals’ hitting coach.

Even at the time of Nokes’ acquisition, some — such as The Times’ Murray Chass — questioned the wisdom of the move. “The Yankees do not have a philosophy, or a plan, for that matter. In acquiring Claudell Washington, Matt Nokes and Mike Witt in the past six weeks,” he wrote in 1990, “they have operated on a patchwork philosophy, sort of like a public works crew repairing city streets after a weather-whipped winter.”

Yet, the younger fans always enjoyed Nokes. He had a ridiculously wide batting stance and seemed to love playing the game. When he hit the ball, it would travel far. These days the Yanks are a far cry away from the era of Matt Nokes. They’ve enjoyed stability and success from the catching position for the better parts of 15 seasons now. As Markusen says, Nokes, that rare left-handed hitter, just wasn’t what the Yanks of the early 1990s needed whether they knew it or not.

Adjusting PECOTA’s Projected Standings

Lots of Yankee fans were up in arms a few days ago when word got out that the nerds at Baseball Prospectus projected the Yankees to finish in third place in the AL East despite winning 93 games. How could that be possible with their lineup and increasingly deep rotation? Well, said nerds have gone back and adjusted their standings, correcting mistakes, tweaking the process, etcetera, etcetera.

This time around, they have the Yankees and Red Sox tied atop the AL East with identical 93-69 records and identical +122 run differentials. The Rays are knocked back to third place with 92 wins and a +114 run differential. I’m not going to post the full league standings because they’re behind a pay wall, but here’s the only division you probably care about…

Furthermore, they project the Yanks to have the best OBP in the game by almost ten points, and not coincidentally the most runs scored in the league by 28.  Only three teams are projected to win 90+ games, and you’re looking at them in the chart above. Say what you will about the validity of the rankings, but they are very good at giving us a general idea of what is likely to happen. Despite laughter from the masses, PECOTA nailed the Rays’ breakout in 2008 the the ChiSox’s collapse in 2007, for example.

The Yankees and Red Sox might not tie atop the division with 93 wins, but chances are they’ll finish 1-2 in a tight race. The Yanks will probably push more than 855 runs across the plate, but the idea is that they have the best lineup in the league. The Mets … well they’re still expected to finish in fourth place. I’m not sure if that accounts for that huge Josh Fogg pickup, though.

Baseball America names decade’s top prospects

Baseball America might be a few weeks late on this one. After all, the decade’s been over for almost a month now, and we covered the the Yankees’ decade a few weeks ago. But the prospect publication just released their decade retrospective, and as you can see, the Yanks’ list is as expected. In fact, it looks awfully similar to Mike’s list.

The biggest omission in the BA list, in my opinion, is Phil Hughes. At no point in the decade would I have taken Marcus Thames over Phil Hughes, and I’d probably opt for Hughes over Melky — a BA prospect just once all decade — and Dioner Navarro who never lived up to the hype.

As Mike noted in December, after the ten guys listed here, the Yanks system didn’t produce much of lasting value this decade. Phil Coke is a useful, if average, player, and David Robertson stands to be a key cog in the bullpen in 2010. Ian Kennedy could still emerge as an adequate Major Leaguer.

The misses are nearly as compelling as the hits though. Amongst David Parrish, Jon Poterson — the comp pick for Andy Pettitte in 2004 — Drew Henson, C.J. Henry and Eric Duncan, the Yanks had some spectacularly hyped prospects and high draft picks who just didn’t come through. Such were the way of things mid-decade.

In the end, the Yanks had a pretty unbalanced decade prospect-wise. They started the 2000’s at the top of the list and stayed in the top 10 until an epic mid-decade collapse. Only recently have their rebounded, but with a few trades this winter, the system has been depleted. Right now, the Yanks have a solid Major League club, some high-ceiling young kids and Jesus Montero. If all goes according to plan, he’ll front this list when it comes around again in ten years.

Added to by Mike: I completely forgot about Westbrook, which is why he was omitted from my list. I would have placed him third, behind Soriano and Cano. As I explained in my post, Joba is far and away the team’s best draft pick of the last ten years, and frankly it’s not even close. He has more than double the WAR of the next closest player despite spending just over two years in the bigs.

As for the worst pick, yeah Henry flamed out in glorious fashion, but a guy with his athleticism and raw skills at a premium position is a legit first round pick. It didn’t work out, but that doesn’t make it a bad pick in my book. Poterson, on the other hand, was awful because he was such an overdraft. In all seriousness, they could have gotten him in the 5th or 6th round if they hadn’t taken him in the first.

As you can see from BA’s fancy little chart, the system was completely in the dumps for a good chunk of the decade. You can’t have a system that bad for one particular reason, it takes a group effort; the team forfeited so many picks over the years to sign free agents, and for quite some time they adhered to slot and drafted low-ceiling college players with their top picks. They weren’t always willing to pay for premium young talent, and it wasn’t until Brian Cashman fired scouting director Lin Garrett and put Damon Oppenheimer and his people in place in 2005 that things started to turn around.

Friday Night Open Thread

Have at it.

Canali’s dapper new spokesman

We knew Mariano Rivera has always looked pretty good in pinstripes, but now he’s taking it to a new level. From Women’s Wear Daily (via the subscription-only Sports Business Daily), we learn that Rivera will don a stylin’ pinstripe suit for Canali’s spring advertisements. The Yanks’ closer will be hawking the Italian men’s wear company in newspaper and magazines this spring and may do some in-store events as well. “He is a very positive person, with a great attitude and style,” Elisabetta Canali, the company’s global communications director, said. “He represents excellence in his field and it comes natural for us to look at him as an ambassador of those values we both share.”

Clearly, Mo, looking sharp in the suit, is gearing up for his career after baseball: male model.