How the Abreu contract affects the Yanks

Yesterday afternoon, word got out that Bobby Abreu had agreed to a contract extension with the Angels, signing on for two more years in Anaheim. After having to wait until damn near Spring Training to find a job last year, Abreu jumped all over the $19M the Halos offered him. The deal even includes a vesting option for 2012 worth $9M, when Abreu will be 38. I mentioned this yesterday, but in two years I’m sure we’ll be hearing about ways the Angels can prevent that option from vesting.

Anyway, the entire reason I brought this up is because it indirectly affects the Yankees. Now we have a blueprint for what a new contract for Johnny Damon might look like, something we didn’t have before. The similarities between the two players are obvious: both will be 36 on Opening Day 2010 yet have proven to be extremely durable, both are former All Stars with a strong pedigree within the game, and both are defensively challenged corner outfielders. Their offensive styles are different – Abreu is more of an on-base guy with gap power, Damon offers more over-the-fence power – but in the end they’re both ~.850 OPS and ~2.8 WAR players.

Bobby’s deal will pay him $9M annually, which is about as good of a deal as he could have expected. Despite all the talk about how he “transformed the Angels lineup,” Abreu simply was not going to pull in eight figures annually on the free agent market, and the same holds true for Johnny. It’s almost inconceivable that the Yankees would offer Damon arbitration even though he qualifies as a Type-A free agent, because the risk of him accepting a getting a raise over his current $13M salary is just too great, even if it’s just one year.

It’s no secret that the New Yankee Stadium somewhat helped resurrect Damon’s career in 2009. He set a new career high with a .207 IsoP, tied his career high with 24 homers, and posted the second best slugging percentage (.489) of his career. On the road he was Jorge Cantu (.284-.349-.446), but at home he was Jason Bay (.279-.382-.533). All that makes him more valuable to the Yankees than anyone else.

Timing certainly plays a huge part of it. A few weeks ago, the thought of even re-signing Damon seemed like madness because he was slumping so badly. Now, after some late inning World Series heroics, we wonder how the team could survive without him. But two guaranteed years? I can’t see how you can lock yourself into that kind of commitment. One year plus an option? Absolutely. But you’re asking for trouble, and reducing your flexibility for next year, by bringing him back for two.

As for the money, obviously $9M a year is nothing for the Yankees. It’s overpaying, but not by an absurd amount. If you could talk him down to $7M with some incentives, you’d obviously prefer that. The bottom line is that it would behoove the Yankees not to lock themselves a commitment with Damon as long as the Angels did with Abreu. Just don’t underestimate the power of Scott Boras.

Poll: What was your favorite moment of the playoffs?

Okay, I guess everyone’s favorite moment of the playoffs was the weak grounder to second that clinched the Yanks’ 27th World Championship. What about your favorite moment after that?

We already took a poll for the first half and second half, so surely you know how this works. Here’s some notable postseason moments:

ALDS Game Two: A-Rod‘s game tying two run homer off Joe Nathan (video)
Twins starter Nick Blackburn kept the Yankees off balance all night, long enough for his teammates to push two runs across against Phil Hughes in the 8th. With a two run lead in the 9th, Rod Gardenhire turned to All Star closer Joe Nathan, who promptly gave up a single to lead off the inning. Alex Rodriguez, still dogged by his playoff choker reputation, took three straight pitches out of the zone before Nathan came in for strike one. A-Rod teed off on his next fastball, sending it deep into the Yankees’ bullpen to tie the game. The Yanks rallied to win the game in extras, but none of that would have been possible if not for A-Rod’s heroics against Nathan.

ALCS Game Two: A-Rod’s game tying homer off Brian Fuentes (video)
Nine innings wasn’t enough, as the the Yanks and Angels went into extras tied at two. The Halos pushed a run across off Al Aceves in the 11th, and turned to Brian Fuentes, another All Star closer. Alex Rodriguez, the first batter in the bottom of the 11th, took two straight fastballs over the plate for a quick 0-2 count, but turned Fuentes’ third heater around and parked it in the right field seats to tie the game. Much like Game Two of the ALDS, the Yanks went on to win, but it wouldn’t have been possible without A-Rod’s shot off Fuentes.

World Series Game Two: AJ Burnett dominates Phillies to tie series at one (video)
In their most important game of the year, enigmatic AJ Burnett went out and shut the Phillies down to tie the World Series at one game apiece. He pounded the zone and was dropping curves in at the knees for strikes when he wasn’t blowing his heat by batters. The uncertainty of middle relief was never a factor in the game, as Burnett handed the ball right off to Mariano Rivera. The Yanks carried the momentum into Philadelphia, where they won the next two games.

World Series Game Five: Johnny Damon singles and steals two bases on one pitch to ignite game winning rally (video)
After pulling ahead in the 5th inning before losing the lead thanks to a Pedro Feliz homer in the bottom of the 8th, Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter went down with ease against Phillies’ closer Brad Lidge in the 9th. Damon fouled off five pitches as part of a nine pitch at-bat, eventually dunking a single into shallow left. On the very next pitch, Damon took off for second, and not only did he make it safely, he headed down to third because no one bothered to cover the bag. The go-ahead run was on third, and before you knew it the Yanks pushed some runs across to win the game.

Those are just some of the highlights in the playoffs. Vote on your favorite below, but if you think another moment was the best of the playoffs – maybe Mariano Rivera getting out of a bases loaded, none out jam in Anaheim, or Hideki Matsui’s homer in Game Six of the World Series, or CC Sabathia‘s start on short rest against the Angels – use the “Add an Answer” button to write in your own favorite moment. Don’t add any bad words like the jerk who did during our first favorite moment poll, we’ll just delete it and ban you from ever even accessing the site, let alone commenting. Yes, we can do that.

Everyone knows that everyone’s favorite moment this postseason was winning the World Series, so keep it out of the poll so we can have a little diversity. Consider this a “what’s your second favorite moment” poll. Thanks.

What was your (second) favorite moment of the postseason?
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A nice day for parade

It’s a beautiful November day in New York City. The skies are clear blue, and the temperatures are hovering in the upper 40s. You couldn’t ask for a nicer day for a parade. So let’s have one.

In honor of your 2009 World Series Champions, the City of New York is hosting a ticker tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan. The march toward City Hall starts at 11 a.m. and ends at around 12:30 p.m. when the Mayor will present the Yanks with keys to the city. While an estimated 500,000-1 million fans will turn out for the celebration downtown, many of us have to go to school or work. Fear not though for the parade is being broadcast live for free online via The YES Network and MLB Network will be carrying it live, and the city’s local news stations should be as well.

So for those of you watching at home, those of you furtively catching glimpses of the parade will in your cubicle, those of you in class, this thread’s for you. Toast the team; cheer the World Series victory; and bask in the glow of winning after a nine-year wait. For us Yankee fans, it seemed to be an eternity.

The most important game of the year

AL Burnett in Game Two of the World SeriesFans are quick to throw around the “must win” or “huge game” or (ahem) “playoff preview” moniker these days. If a team loses two games in a row with a division rival set to come into town over the weekend, then it’s called a big game. No matter what fans call it, you can always tell which games are the most important by how the team treats them. When Ian Kennedy is brought into the eighth inning with a one-run lead in Anaheim for his first action of the season, then yeah, it’s not all that important.

Most of the time for a playoff club, the most important game of the season is a Game Seven, or an elimination game where the season was on the line. Those are the true “must-wins,” not those dumb games in June that seem important just because the offense is in a little bit of a funk.

For the 2009 Yankees, the most important game of the year seems pretty clear to me: Game Two of the World Series.

Think about the circumstances coming into the game. Cliff Lee had just manhandled the Yankees the night before. He crushed them, grabbing liners behind his back and shagging pop-ups nonchalantly when he wasn’t striking guys out. For a team that had dominated the competition during the regular season and made good clubs like the Twins and Angels look like Little League teams with all the mistakes they forced, Game One of the World Series was a humbling experience.

Not only did the Yankees come into Game Two already down one-love in the series, they were going on the road to Philadelphia for the next three games. Heading down the turnpike down two games to none was something the Bombers wanted to avoid at all costs. So they gave the ball to AJ Burnett, the most unpredictable starter in their playoff rotation.

And AJ delivered.

He pounded the zone early all night, throwing first pitch strikes to 22 of the 26 batters he faced. He threw his fastball and curve at almost a 1:1 ratio (53 fastballs, 45 curves), and allowed the first four batters in Philly’s’ lineup to reach base just twice, and one of those instances was an intentional walk to Chase Utley. Burnett sat down the last eight batters he faced, and the only run he gave up came on a ball that ricocheted off Alex Rodriguez‘s glove.

It was a masterful performance, and the game was more important to the outcome of the Yankees’ season than either of his Game Five starts (ALCS or World Series). Opposing starter Pedro Martinez held the Yankees’ offense down, meaning there was little margin for error. Anytime a starter can hand the ball off to Mariano Rivera in a playoff game, then you know he’s done his job and then some.

Let’s give AJ some props. He’s frustrating as hell, but the dude was money in the team’s most important game of their championship  season.

Photo Credit: David J. Phillip, AP

The October (and November) of A-Rod

One of the more obvious stories this October involved the redemption of Alex Rodriguez. Unfairly labeled a choker during the Yanks’ futile playoff runs over the last five seasons, A-Rod responded with an October for the ages. He hit .365/.500/.808 over 68 plate appearances with six home runs and 18 RBIs. He was probably the overall MVP of the playoffs, and the coverage has examined A-Rod’s complex relationship with, well, everyone.

In The Times, William Rhoden penned an excellent column on the redemption of A-Rod. After some shocking steroid revelations and Spring Training hip surgery, A-Rod was the black sheep of New York. But, as the narrative goes, he put that past behind him, toned down his Me-First approach to baseball and emerged a true team player.

Rhoden though questions those assumptions and that narrative. He points fingers at his fellow writers and reporters and wonders who exactly is responsible for the rehab of A-Rod.

Some speculated that it was the finality of his divorce, others that it was the tearful February news conference in Tampa with teammates looking on. Still others said the author of Rodriguez’s renaissance was Kate Hudson.

But A-Rod is not the one who has changed. He is the same guy. The Yankees’ lineup has changed. The addition of Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher have made A-Rod more effective. The addition of the no-nonsense pitcher C. C. Sabathia and the effective A. J. Burnett has made the Yankees a tougher team over all.

The new view of Rodriguez is, on one level, a media-driven fan transformation that reached a peak heading into the postseason, when he suddenly began succeeding where he previously had failed.

Everyone loves redemption stories, but this transformation is more about fans’ desire to have a winning team than one man’s sea change. What’s troubling about the transformation story is that the root of it is winning. For all of our new, exciting ways of delivering games, one thing has remained constant: performance trumps just about everything. When it leads to profits, performance trumps everything.

Says Rhoden, “His clutch performances and now a championship have changed minds and attitudes.” He ends with quite the kicker as he wonders if A-Rod — formerly A-Fraud — was the phony or if the fans were or if the reporters were. It’s a question with no real answer, but I believe Rhoden speaks to the reporters and the talk radio hosts who kept pursuing the A-Fraud story and the fans who would boo him.

Today, Tyler Hissey at MVN’s Around the Majors began to answer Rhoden’s question. He eviscerated a Bill Madden column from February. The Daily News scribe alleged that for the Yanks to “remain true” to the organization’s “relentless pursuit of championships and the fierce protection of their brand,” in the wake of his steroid revelations, “they have no choice but to sever ties with Rodriguez.”

From an economics point of view, it never made sense to doubt A-Rod, and from a practical point of view, the Yankees weren’t going to cut ties with him. That doesn’t stop people such as Madden or Mike Francesa from blowing smoke. That doesn’t stop fans from booing him on an 0-for-4 day and toasting him after a six-home run effort en route to a World Series title.

Once upon a time, the narrative ruled A-Rod too expensive, too self-centered, too into his stats to win a World Series. Now that he has, A-Rod will just work toward his legacy. He has his ring; he has his championship; he has his great clutch October; and he has his fans. The Yankees have him now and for eight more seasons. For that, I will cheer him in redemption as I cheered him all year and since 2004.

Laird goes deep twice in the desert

Shelley Duncan and Austin Romine were named the Topps Minor League Players of the Year for the Triple-A International League and the High-A Florida State League, respectively.

Tom Krasovic has a cool little piece on Damon Oppenheimer, so make sure you check it out. It’s pretty amazing to see how many former Padres’ scouts are holding down major front office jobs around the game, D-Opp included.

AzFL Surprise (10-5 win over Scottsdale on Wednesday)
Brandon Laird: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Mike Dunn: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 Balk – 11 of 16 pitches were strikes (68.8%) … PitchFX had him at 94.01-94.6 with the fastball, so talk about consistency

AzFL Surprise (8-7 loss to Scottsdale on Thursday)
Brandon Laird: 3 for 4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K – 7 for his last 12 (.583) with two doubles and two jacks
Ian Kennedy: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 6-7 GB/FB – 46 of 76 pitches were strikes (60.5%)

RAB on the radio … again

Just a heads up, I’m going to be on The Sports Show Live with Joey Hayward tonight to talk about the Yanks. I’m calling in at 9:30, and you can listen here. Do it fool!