Ranking the Yanks’ championship teams

Three weeks ago ago, the Yanks won the World Series, and the buzz hasn’t worn off. In fact, it won’t for a while. For the Yankees, the team’s 27th World Championship brought out the need to put things in list order in all of us. Dan Rosenheck offered up his list of World Championships with the 2009 club placing a very respectable 12th. This year’s Yanks just missed his Upper Echelon of teams. ESPN ranked this year’s club 10th overall in franchise history. Dayn Perry placed them 10th on a list of the top ten in franchise history. Where do you guys rank ‘em?

Thanksgiving Eve Open Thread

Did you guys start fasting yet? I have, started yesterday. My family and I aren’t cooking this year, we’re actually going to some fancy country club my uncle belongs too that’s having a big Thanksgiving buffet dinner for all it’s members. I’m going to destroy it. I’ve never gone to a restaurant on Thanksgiving, so I’m kind of excited that I won’t have to help clean afterwards.

Anyway, if you’re around, use this as your open thread tonight. The Knicks are in Sac-Town, and the quest for 0-82 continues in Portland. All three local hockey teams are in action too. Anything goes, just make sure you leave room for tomorrow.

Yanks sign outfielder Jon Weber to a minor league deal

Via Ken Davidoff, the Yanks have signed outfielder Jon Weber to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Weber, 31 in January, hit .302-.382-.497 with Triple-A Durham last year, mostly playing rightfield. The poor guy has been stuck in the minors since 1999 (and in Triple-A since 2004), but he’s never spent a day in the big leagues.

Think of him as this year’s John Rodriguez.

Duchscherer on the mend from ailments physical and mental

Before the 2009 trade deadline, with the Yankees seeking a fifth starter, Justin Duchscherer seemed like an interesting option. He was in the last year of his team control, so even Billy Beane probably couldn’t get a huge return for him. Further suppressing his value, he hadn’t thrown a major league inning since August 18, 2008. He was on a rehab assignment before the trade deadline, so it appeared his return was imminent. While there were clear risks with his health, Duchscherer had proven over the past few years that he can succeed in the rotation and in the bullpen.

On deadline day, we learned that Duchscherer would miss his final rehab start. That always starts the trade speculation, but it turned out that Duchscherer missed his start for personal reasons. The deadline then passed, and we tucked away the Duchscherer talk until the off-season. Now that it’s here, the talks have started back up. But there could be an issue beyond injury that teams should consider when considering Duchscherer.

The personal issue that caused Duchscherer to miss his rehab start, Jerry Crasnick writes, was clinical depression. It’s a great read, not only on Duke, but on how depression affects ballplayers. We’ve seen it occur in a number of players in recent years, including 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. Thankfully, it appears that Duchscherer is over those issues, and is ready to pitch again in 2009. He hopes that is in a starting capacity.

Many teams are presumably interested in Duchscherer. He won’t require a lengthy and expensive contract commitment like John Lackey, and he provides plenty of upside. He was excellent out of the bullpen in 2005 and 2006, and then, after an injury shortened 2007, thrived in the rotation in 2008. He keeps his walks and his home runs low, always attractive attributes for a starting pitcher. In the bullpen Duchscherer displayed the same qualities, and even struck out over eight batters per nine innings. It appears he can work in any role a team has for him.

As Crasnick notes, Duchscherer’s depression might not be a big issue for interested teams. His agent, Damon Lapa, is optimistic that teams will see his depression as “more a ‘technicality’ than an ‘obstacle’ to overcome.” Duchscherer is ready to pitch, and that’s what matters to most teams. It also helps that he has come to grips with the disorder, saying he has embraced “unconditional self-acceptance.”

Even if depression isn’t a factor in signing Duchscherer, certain teams might not be a good fit. As friend of RAB Jonah Keri noted last week, small market teams might have an advantage with introverted players. While many of them can overcome social disorders, playing in a big market — especially in New York — might not be an optimal situation. Then again, Duchscherer has expressed a desire to spend more time with his six-year-old son Evan, who lives in New Jersey. The proximity could work in the Yankees favor.

From a pure pitching standpoint, I’m a Duchscherer fan. He’s not going to replicate his 2.54 ERA from 2008 — he’ll surely surrender more than 6.8 hits per nine innings, which will raise his sterling 0.995 WHIP. Even so, he had a 3.69 FIP in 2008, and a 4.28 tRA. He also keeps the ball on the ground, which means low home run totals. He’s no guarantee as a top of the rotation arm in 2009, and chances are he’s more of a mid-rotation guy. But the Yankees can use someone like that.

Can a pitcher diagnosed with clinical depression thrive in New York? I have no idea, but I don’t think that should hinder the Yankees if they want to pursue Duchscherer. If he thinks he can handle the spotlight in New York, he’s certainly one of the free agent pitchers worth the gamble. His ability to pitch both in the rotation and the bullpen can make him a valuable piece of the 2010 Yankees.

What Went (Mostly) Right: New Yankee Stadium

Throughout 2007 and 2008 — RAB’s formative years — I was vocally opposed to the new stadium. I didn’t feel the Yankees needed to replace Yankee Stadium. I didn’t like the way the city went about appropriating parkland in the Bronx. I didn’t believe the pro-stadium crowd’s arguments about job creation and overall economic benefit. I didn’t approve of the tax benefits given to the Yanks by a cash-strapped New York City.

As a fan, I feared the destruction of a baseball cathedral. Despite mid-1970s renovations that destroyed some of the original flavor of Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built played a formidable role in my New York childhood. I had been going to Yankee games for years, and I grew to love the old home despite its flaws. The seats in the Tier Box level were, for many years, affordable and low enough to make fans feel they were right on top of the action. I saw bad teams and good teams, bad games and good games, playoff wins and playoff losses, an All Star Game and a Home Run Derby. We didn’t need a playground for the wealthy masquerading as a ballpark just to feed the Steinbrenners’ wallets.

Over time, many of my fears were borne out. The job creation numbers proved to be woefully overstated by the Yanks and those in favor of the stadium. The old stadium still stands, and replacement parks won’t open until 2011. The stadium did become a playground for the wealthy, but it also became a lightening rod for class problems in baseball and exposed some of the faulty economics of the game.

In the end, though, I have to admit that the stadium belongs in the “What Went Right” camp. The Yanks drew an American League-leading 3,719,358 fans, averaging over 45,000 per game. On the field, the team went 57-24 during the regular season and 7-1 during the playoffs. They won the World Series, at home, during the stadium’s first year. It was, of course, a success.

Meanwhile, from a fan’s perspective, certain aspects of the stadium experience were significantly better at the new ballpark. Although the memories are across the street, the new stadium had better sightlines down the line, more dining options and far more comfortable concourses. The integration of the bleachers into the rest of the stadium made for a more complete experience, and the standing room options provided unique peaks of the game for generally affordable prices.

Yet, I can’t put the stadium fully in the “What Went Right” because of a few decisions made by the Yankees. The Legends Suites are an obvious point contention. A moat separated Yankee fans from those willing to spend insane amounts of money on a baseball game, and even during batting practice, a time for kids to get autographs, the team was protective of its high-priced seats. The recessed upper deck provided better views from the back of the Grandstand but not from the front of the Terrace section. The exclusive restaurants and bars open to those in some sections lent the stadium an aura of exclusivity that shouldn’t be at a baseball stadium.

Especially in the early going, the Yankees took a lot of heat for these high-priced and noticeably empty areas. No one wanted to pay $2500 for a ticket during a bad economy, and the team will be lowering some prices this year. The Yanks also responded to concerns about the stark concrete nature of the bleachers by painting a few walls blue and adding World Series winners and retired numbers to spruce up the joint. It helped.

In the end, I have to come to terms with the stadium. For the rest of my life, I’ll be watching Yankee baseball games on the north side of 161st St. instead of on the south side. I might not have supported the process, but I can’t deny that, at least for its first year, Yankee Stadium was, by and large, a success. The World Series was icing on the cake as the team celebrated its first new home since the Harding Administration. Mostly, it all went right.

What the Red Sox’s ‘full court press’ of Halladay means for the Yankees

In an unsurprising development, the Daily News reports that the Red Sox plan to aggressively pursue Roy Halladay early this off-season. According to the News’s source, the Sox want this done before the Winter Meetings. That puts pressure on the Yankees, who haven’t even determined their 2010 budget yet.

The Yankees do not want Halladay to land with their toughest division rival. With a rotation headed by Halladay, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett, the Sox would have the best rotation in the AL, and probably in the majors. The Yankees have their top two set with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, but even then they’d have to add a significant No. 3 to match the Sox’s prospective top pitchers. So what should the Yankees do in this situation?

Pursuing Halladay themselves makes sense. As with the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, the Yankees could pull a huge swing, adding Halladay to their rotation and dubbing it the best in the game, while leaving the Red Sox in the dust. There’s a certain attractiveness to that plan, especially coming less than a year after it happened with Teixeira. The emotion of trumping the Red Sox, however, should not derail the Yankees long-term plans.

As in 2007, the Yankees face the issue of paying in both players and dollars for a front-line pitcher. There are certain situations where this makes sense. In others it doesn’t. The Yankees felt that paying such a bounty for Johan Santana wasn’t worth it at the time, and could feel the same way about Halladay now. He would cost them three or four prospects, plus a long-term extension, possibly in the $100 million range. Is that type of deal worth it for a 33-year old pitcher? Or is Halladay the exception, like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson?

For the money, Halladay is probably worth it. He’s suffered minor injuries over the past few years, but has spent minimal time on the DL and has kept his innings counts among the highest in the league. In fact, Halladay spent two weeks on the DL in June of last season and still ended up with 239 innings, second most in the AL by one measly inning. His innings totals get so high because he finishes more games than any other starter — he’s led the league (or tied for the lead) in complete games for the past three seasons, and has led the league five times over his career.

The question facing the Yankees is of whether they want Halladay in their long-term plans. This is completely independent of any Red Sox rumors. True, Halladay on the Sox hurts the Yankees, but they can’t make long-term decisions based on their opponents. They have to figure out what players fit their plan, both in terms of the players themselves and the cost of acquiring them. If they feel that Halladay is an organizational fit and that the cost of acquiring him isn’t prohibitive, they should make a move to cut off the Red Sox. If they feel they can achieve the same effect with other pitchers, then they should bow out, even if it means the Sox landing Halladay.

If the Yankees decided to pursue Halladay, I think they have the pieces to top a Red Sox offer. In the Daily News report, Mark Feinsand and Bill Madden speculate that the cost for the Sox will start with starter Clay Buchholz and likely include 2008 draftee Casey Kelly. That’s certainly a strong start to a package, but as the report says, the Red Sox could be loathe to trade him. A Yankees offer of Joba Chamberlain plus Jesus Montero would likely top that. Whether the Yankees are willing to surrender such prospects, however, is a different story. Those are two players with excellent potential.

Based on the above speculation, I think that the Yankees are in an advantageous position regarding Halladay. They have the players to attract Toronto, and I think that unless the Red Sox grossly overpay, the Yankees can top them in most reasonable scenarios. The Red Sox are probably using this aggressive tactic to catch the Yankees flat-footed, putting pressure on them to decide their plans, lest the Red Sox land Halladay without a fight.

It’s easy to say that the Yankees should trade prospects for Halladay, but in a game as complex as baseball, decisions are never that simple. A deal for Halladay would dramatically change the franchise. The Yankees would lose several young, promising players for a 33-year old, plus a likely $100 million contract commitment. If they think that Halladay gives them the best chance to win, in 2010 and beyond, they should pull the trigger. If they think that their young players are poised to contribute, they should back off. The only effect the Red Sox should have on this decision is the timing. Other than that, the Yankees need to make the decision based on their own needs and projections, and not based on blocking a rival.

Waiting for Andy, again

Yankee fans know the waiting game. We’ve played it before with Andy Pettitte, and we’ll play it again. This year, though, there is seemingly some urgency to it as Pettitte’s decision could impact how the team plots its off-season.

Last year, the Yankees were content to wait for Andy Pettitte. They had bigger fish to fry, and after landing both CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, Brian Cashman knew he had the upper hand in negotiations with Pettitte. Although Andy had expressed his desires to return to the Bronx or retire, the Yankees weren’t going to overpay initially. The witnessed Pettitte suffer through an injury-plagued second half in 2008 and gave him a $5.5 million guaranteed salary with innings options.

In the end, Pettitte made over $10 million in 2009, and everyone was happy. He made 32 starts; he threw 194.2 innings; he went 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA; and he won the game that clinched the AL East, the game that clinched the ALDS, the game that clinched the ALCS and the game that clinched the World Series. For a member of old Yankee guard, it was quite the superfecta.

After the World Series, Andy Pettitte again said he was unsure of his future plans. Speaking on the David Letterman show, he talked about his desires to spend time with his family and children as they grow up. He turns 38 next year, and his oldest son recently celebrated his 15th birthday. No one, obviously, is getting any younger.

But Pettitte isn’t ready to make up his mind, and the Yankees, says Mark Feinsand, do not expect a quick decision. Yankee manager Joe Girardi has talked to Pettitte about 2010, but the left-hander has yet to announce his intentions. “I’m sure he’ll take his normal amount of time,” Girardi said. “I don’t ever ask guys right away. I think you need time to get away, to talk to your family. I think you need a good month, then you can make your decision.”

Brian Cashman will touch base with Pettitte soon, but the Yankees may not have the luxury of waiting “a good month” or more. Last year, Pettitte did not sign with the Yanks until January 26, just three weeks prior to the start of Spring Training, and this time around, he will have to come to terms with his future sooner than that.

The problem, as the Yanks know, comes about if Pettitte decides to stay home next year. With Pettitte, the Yankees have three veterans to anchor the front of the rotation and two rookies as well as numerous other options for the final two spots. Without Pettitte, the Yanks’ pitching staff looks awfully thin. CC and A.J. would hold down the fort, but the Yanks would be relying on Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and, well, take your pick. Thus, Pettitte must give the Yanks an answer sooner rather than later so the Yankees know if they have to go after a bona fide pitcher via trade or free agency.

I would be quite happy welcoming Pettitte back to the fold. He said his arm felt great this year, and as the season wore on, he learned to rely on his command and the movement on his cutter and slider rather than on his diminishing velocity. If his elbow and shoulder can hold up, I expect more of the same from him in 2010. Without him, we’ll hear more about John Lackey and Roy Halladay, and as the Hot Stove League warms up, the Yankees will need to solidify their plans and their future with or without Andy Pettitte.