“MLB needs a strong Yankee franchise”

Brian Cashman rarely reveals more than is necessary. As the general manager of the Yankees he faces the media frequently, but he never gives away too much. Instead, he speaks in a rehearsed, collected manner that is alternately comforting and frustrating. Comforting when the team is winning and we’re all happy. Frustrating when the team is struggling and we’re seeking answers. Sometimes I want to see him tone down the censor and talk more in-depth about the job and the decisions.

At the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square this morning, WFAN hosted a breakfast with Cashman. Steve S., b/k/a The Artist, kindly invited me, and we enjoyed an hour plus of Cashman talking about the team. Mike Francessa emceed, and unlike on his show he wasn’t argumentative for the most part (except for when it came to Joba, which I’ll get to in a moment). He let Cashman have the floor, and what resulted was a more candid Casham than I’ve ever seen.

The headline is a direct quote from Cashman. In fact, it was the first thing he said to the audience. In front of a New York audience it probably wasn’t the height of candor, but at that point it was clear to me that this wouldn’t be a cookie cutter Brian Cashman interview. He confirmed my thought a few moments later when he called Joe Torre’s book “garbage.” I know he was critical of the book in the past, but this is the first time I’ve heard him speak so strongly about it. Which makes sense, as he explains. Cashman was, after all, the general manager for all but two of Torre’s Yankee years, and wasn’t once interviewed for the book.

He then moved onto the managerial hiring process. With Joe Torre at the helm since Cashman took over, he’d never had to conduct manager interviews. Even in 1995-1996, when he was the assistant GM, there was no real process for interviewing candidates. The job was simply offered to Torre, and he accepted. This came after, earlier in the off-season, Torre turned down an offer to be general manager. No one wanted to work in that position under Steinbrenner at the time, and The Boss found that embarrassing. It probably led to the decision to hire Cashman in 1998; there was little chance Cashman, who started with the Yankees as an intern in 1986, would turn down the position.

When deciding among Don Mattingly, Tony Pena, and Joe Girardi, the Yankees set up day-long interviews that involved the entire baseball operations team. The heads of pro scouting, amateur scouting, player development — everyone in the organization who would have to deal with the manager on a frequent basis. As far as the actual assessment, Cashman gave an example. He put the Yankees projected 2008 roster in front of each candidate and asked what he would do in the following situation. It’s July. CC Sabathia is on the mound. How do you arrange the lineup? He noted that at least one chose to sit the lefties in that situation. Then he presented the same scenario, but changed it to Game 1 of the ALDS. Still Sabathia, still the same roster. Yet at that point, the manager left the lefties in the lineup. The exercise wasn’t to find a per se correct answer. Rather, Cashman wanted an explanation for the dissonance, if it were present.

Of course, when the topic of starting pitching arose, Francessa put back on his bullheaded attitude regarding Joba Chamberlain. He’s a born reliever, yada yada yada. Cashman explained the situation as he always does: it’s much harder to find a starter than a reliever, when you find a good starter on the free agent market he’ll cost you a lot of money, and it’s easier to move a starter to the bullpen if necessary. Francessa kept interrupting and misunderstanding. He said no fewer than five times that it was a “purely economical issue,” as if it were some great revelation. Of course, it’s not “purely” an economical issue, though economics do play a prominent role. It’s also about maximizing the value of each player, but Cashman couldn’t get in a word edgewise to explain that.

Another fascinating part of the talk came when Cashman described the new guys. When he brought in Nick Swisher, A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira, the told them to not check their personalities at the door — that he brought them in not only because they were exceptional baseball players, but because they could change the stodgy atmosphere of the Yankees clubhouse. “I told them to not be intimidated,” he said. That’s a tremendous task, of course. The Yankees clubhouse contained four luminaries from the 90s dynasty. How can four new guys come in and turn things around? Apparently they were up to the task, though, and Cashman couldn’t be happier.

“I like the Joba fist pumps, I like pies in the face,” he said. What’s there not to like about it? Francessa weighed in, saying he thought that some of Swisher’s and Burnett’s antics were childish. Remember, though, that these guys are playing a game. It might be a business, it might be career, and it requires a level of seriousness. But the career, the business, is a game. Cashman seems more than pleased that his 2009 team kept that in mind.

Towards the end Francessa opened the floor for fan questions, and encouraged us to ask about the team’s plans. Cashman noted that he couldn’t go too into detail, because, “if I say we’re after a certain player, then the Red Sox know that.” So while Cashman was at his most candid, he also knew when to play his cards close to his chest. From the tone of his answers, it doesn’t sound like the Yankees will offer arbitration to any of their free agents. He didn’t say this explicitly, but it’s what I inferred from his answers.

Steve got in a question, perhaps the best of the event. He asked Cashman how draft pick compensation factors into a decision on signing a free agent relief pitcher. Cashman opened by talking about the volatility of relief pitchers and how the Yankees have assembled the bullpen from within over the past few years. Francessa then directed him back to the question, to which Cashman replied that unless it was a situation where there was a specific guy they wanted, to fill a certain role, then they would not sacrifice a draft pick to sign a reliever. In other words, don’t expect the Yankees to pursue Rafael Soriano or Mike Gonzalez if the Braves offer them arbitration this evening.

It meant getting up hours earlier than I normally do, but this breakfast event was more than worth the small sacrifice. Francessa let Cashman have the floor, and that was a great success. I learned more about what goes into his job than I have from dozens of previous interviews. And hey, I might even track him down and ask him a bit more at the Winter Meetings next week. Also, a big thanks to Steve for the invite. I owe you a beer, buddy.

Looking at the Yankees’ baserunning in 2009

Run Johnny run!The Yankees are often accused of relying too much on the homerun, and at times that can certainly appear to be true. We all know they can sit back and rake with the best of ‘em, but how well did the Bombers create runs on the bases last year? After taking a detailed look at Robinson Cano’s baserunning exploits yesterday, now it’s time to examine the Yankees as a whole.

As a team, the Yanks stole 111 bases in 2009, led by Derek Jeter‘s 30. It was their fourth straight season with triple-digit steals, and not only did the team swipe a boatload of bases, they stole them efficiently. Their 80% success rate was the second highest in baseball, well above the break-even point of 72-75%. According to Baseball Prospectus’ EqSBR, the Yanks were 3.92 runs better than expected in 2009 given the number and quality of stolen bases they attempted, trailing only Texas for the best mark in baseball.

Note: Make sure you read yesterday’s post on Cano for info about BP’s baserunning stats.

Unsurprisingly, most of the stolen base damage was done by Brett Gardner (2.40 EqSBR) and Jeter (2.00 EqSBR), while Johnny Damon checked in at a solid 1.42 EqSBR. The trio was a combined 68 for 78 (87%) in stolen base attempts last year. Alex Rodriguez (1.14 EqSBR, 14 for 16 in SB attempts) and Melky Cabrera (1.03 EqSBR, 10 of 12) also chipped in over a run’s worth of steals each.

However, stolen bases are only on part of the baserunning equation. Going from first-to-third on a single, moving up on a wild pitch, advancing from second to third on a ground ball to the right side, stuff like that also contributes to a team’s ability to score runs. Unfortunately, the Yanks were absolutely brutal at what we’ll call non-stolen base baserunning last year.

Following the lead of Erik Manning at FanGraphs, we can determine how well – or how poorly – the team performed in these non-stolen base baserunning situations using some more fancy BP stats. By subtracting EqSBR from EqBRR, we’ll know how well someone (or in this case, the entire team) performed on the bases while doing something other than stealing. As I said earlier, the Yanks sucked in these spots, coming in at more than ten runs below average, third worst in baseball behind only the Braves and Orioles. Here’s the player-by-player breakdown:

2009 Baserunning
Since ten runs equal one win, the Yankees cost themselves more than a win with their non-stolen base baserunning in 2009, which is dreadful. On the flip side, the Rockies, Cardinals, Twins, and A’s all added a win to their team’s ledger via their baserunning, so congrats to them. The data in the table forms a nice bell curve, as most of the players are scrunched in the middle (say from -0.50 to +0.50 runs) with just a handful at the extremes.

Brett Gardner, unsurprisingly, was the best baserunner on the team, and we already went over Cano yesterday. Johnny Damon has been a tremendous baserunner his entire career, and that proved true again this year as he was the only other player on the team to make a significant contribution with his non-stolen base baserunning. After those three though, the team’s baserunning is pretty non-existent. Well that’s not true, it exists, it’s just so bad that it hurts the team.

Jorge Posada, obviously, is the worst offender. In fact, out of the 845 players that ran the bases at least once in 2009, Posada’s non-stolen base baserunning ranked … wait for it … 845th! Melvin Mora (-7.80 EqBRR-EqSBR) was the only other player in baseball who’s non-stolen base baserunning cost his team more than 6.5 runs. Posada’s baserunning was that bad. Of course, he’s a 38-year-old catcher that has caught almost 12,200 innings in his career (not counting playoffs) and battled a hamstring issue early last year, so he’s expected to be slow, just not this awful at baserunning. He’s redefined station-to-station.

Moving away from Posada, who almost singlehandedly cost the Yankees a win with his baserunning, the tandem of A-Rod and Mark Teixeira cost the Yankees 4.21 runs with their non-stolen base baserunning last year, though they more than make up for it with their bats. Both guys were below average when it comes to advancing on base hits according to BP’s data, though A-Rod has a built-in excuse with his hip surgery while Tex is just noticeably slow. Alex has traditionally been a positive baserunner in those situations, so hopefully he’ll rebound in the future as he gets further away from his hip surgery. Tex’s baserunning performance was right in line with the rest of his career, so don’t expect any sort of rebound.

Angel Berroa managed to cost the Yankees a full run on the bases despite being on-base just twelve times in pinstripes (four hits, one hit by pitch, seven pinch running appearances). Derek Jeter was a below average baserunner in 2009 almost entirely because of his performance on sacrifice flies, however that doesn’t jive with how he performed in those spots in recent years, so expect him to get back on track next year. We knew Jose Molina would be awful on the bases, while everyone else’s performance was pretty negligible and right around average.

The good news is that with expected rebounds from A-Rod and Jeter, plus continued improvement from Cano and the possible arrival of Austin Jackson, the Yankees should be a better baserunning team next year. Posada’s a lost cause on the bases in every way, so that’s a big hurdle for the team to overcome if they plan on being a positive baserunning team going forward. For what it’s worth, the Yankees were more than a run above average on the bases in 2008 (I’m guessing it’s because Posada was hurt most of the year), so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

As the Yankees continue to follow through on their plan to get younger and more athletic, one of the first places we’ll notice it is on the bases. Younger legs mean more first-to-thirds, more steals, and more risky advances, but as the data shows, it’s not really a huge part of the game. Despite being the third worst baserunning team in the game, the Yanks cost themselves only one win over the full 162-game season. On the other hand, the best baserunning teams only improved by one win. A win is a win, but sacrificing a little on the bases in exchange for a considerable advantage elsewhere (like living with Tex’s baserunning because of his bat and defense) is perfectly acceptable in my book.

Photo Credit: Nick Laham, Getty Images

Rumor du jour: Halladay won’t accept a trade after Spring Training

Buster Olney is reporting that Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay “will not approve any proposed deal after he reports to spring training,” effectively setting a deadline for a trade. Johan Santana set a similar deadline two years ago, and the Halladay situation is starting to mirror the Johan sweepstakes almost to a T. I’m guessing now we’ll hear non-stop reports about what the Yankees and Red Sox are offering, only to have him land with Philly or something.

Dreaming of Joe

As a Yankee-fan, is it my Baseball God-given right to lust after every good player who could one day maybe potentially hit free agency. After all, from Reggie to A-Rod from Giambi and Mussina to CC and Teixeira and Burnett and all of the other high-priced free agents in between, when the Yankees want someone, they get him for money is no option. The Onoin, of all news sources, said to best.

As I look ahead to the next few years and glance at the potential free agents, one name leaps out at me as, to borrow a phrase, the perfect fit for the New York Yankees. The odds of his landing in New York are slim, but if he does, it will be on the heels of one of the most lucrative contracts in baseball history.

His name, of course, is Joe Mauer. You may know him as the reigning American League MVP. Or perhaps you know him as a three-time batting champion. Or maybe as a two-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All Star. Perhaps you know him as a player who will potentially hit free agency after 2010, after his age 27 season and just in time for some team to cash in on his peak years.

And what a peak it will be. Already, Mauer, a few weeks younger than I, has a batting line to admire. He has hit .327/.408/.483 in his young career, and after launching just 44 home runs over his first 561 games, he hit 28 in 138 this year. Against the Yanks in the ALDS this October, he went 5 for 12 with one — or two, if you ask a non-blind umpire — extra-base hits. Pressure? What pressure?

But Mauer is Minnesota’s man through and through. He’s proof that small market teams can develop their own young talent and compete with it. Now, the Twins, long loath to spend money, are going to be tested. Will they re-up with Mauer or will Joe head for greener pastures and the big, bad lights of the AL East?

According to recent reports, we may actually find out sooner rather than later if Mauer will be the Next Big Bidding War. Based on news published late last night, Mauer wants an extension by the start of Spring Training or else he will file for free agency after the 2010 season. Part of me — the baseball fan — wants to see Mauer stay in Minnesota because otherwise what does that say about the economics of the game? The other part of me — the Yankee fan — knows exactly where he wants Joe Mauer.

For the Yankees, the timing couldn’t be better. Jorge Posada is playing out the waning days of a potential Hall of Fame career behind the plate, but the growing sentiment is that he is not either physically capable or good enough to catch more than 100 games. Furthermore, he has just two more season left on his contract, and while the Yankees hope that Jesus Montero will be both good enough and ready to take over in 2012, Joe Mauer is, well, in another baseball universe.

Furthermore, Mauer and Montero can complement each other. Mauer has caught 139 games once but otherwise hasn’t topped 120 in a single season. He — similar to Montero — is tall and has suffered through some physical ailments. Stick them both behind the dish, and it would be Christmas during the regular season for Yankee fans.

Of course, this is probably just the semi-delusional dream of a star-struck Yankee fan who wants everything but can’t always get it. Yet, as Mauer and the Twins head to the table, a part of me will definitely be rooting against a contract extension.

Arbitration decisions will foretell off-season plans

At certain points in the off-season we learn something definitive about a team’s plans. A week and a half ago teams had to protect players not on their 40-man rosters from the Rule 5 draft. We learned then that the Yankees valued certain players. Today the Yankees must decide whether to offer arbitration to their three compensation-eligible free agents: Johnny Damon, Andy Pettitte, and Xavier Nady. We’ll soon learn what they’re thinking in regards to those players, and perhaps the whole market.

The Yankees surprised many last winter when they declined to offer arbitration to any of their free agents. This meant that they would not collect any draft picks when Bobby Abreu, a Type A free agent, signed with another team. From the Yankees perspective, however, it meant that they had no obligations to these players. Abreu and Pettitte both earned $16 million in 2008, and that would have essentially added $32 million to the 2009 payroll. They decided those funds would be better used towards contracts for CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett (and later, Mark Teixeira).

Pettitte and Damon this year are different than Abreu and Pettitte last year. After his incentives, Pettitte earned around $10 million this season. The Yankees could offer him arbitration and work with that as a starting point, rather than $16 million. Unlike Abreu, it appears the Yankees would like Damon to return, or are at least considering the option. There’s a far greater chance they’ll offer him arbitration than it was for Abreu, whom they didn’t want back in the first place.

By offering Damon arbitration, the Yankees are accepting that he’ll accept. That wouldn’t be a completely bad thing, as it gives him and the team a couple of options for a 2010 contract. They could work out a one- or two-year deal, or they could go to an arbitration hearing. If they choose the latter, they’d end up with one year of Johnny Damon for, say, $15 million. It’s not ideal, but it’s not terrible for a one-year solution.

Scott Boras does not advise his players to accept arbitration under most circumstances. If Damon declines, the Yankees get a first round or second round draft pick if he signs elsewhere. That reward might not be worth the risk of offering arbitration to a player you don’t want back, but if the Yankees want Damon back it’s probably worth it. With Boras, chances are he declines anyway.

All winter we speculate about what a team might do. Today we get to find out something that they actually do. It’s one of the cooler parts of the off-season. The Yankees will reveal to us a little of what they think when they announce their decisions later this afternoon. The talk about Halladay and Holliday is fun and all, but this is the Yankees actually doing something.

What do we think the Yankees will decide? Mike and I weigh in on the RAB Radio Show later today. You can check back at 3:30, or have it automatically sent to iTunes or your RSS reader.

Open Thread: Indianapolis in the middle of winter?

Last year, RAB was excited to attend its first Winter Meetings. Not only is it the biggest off-season event in baseball, but it was also in Las Vegas. That meant plenty of off-hours entertainment. It didn’t work out too well for me — I got cleaned out playing Blackjack — but it was still fun to be out there with the people we normally cover from afar.

We’re headed to the Winter Meetings again this year, and by we I mean me. Big thanks to Kevin at YES for hooking this up. We still won’t be breaking any big news — hey, you’ve gotta be in the business for a while to do anything like that. But I’ll be mingling, talking to people who perhaps know things I don’t. Even though the Yanks won’t be the center of attention this year, it still figures to be a good time.

Also, I will try to remember to videotape Ozzie Guillen’s Q&A session, just in case he says something memorably crazy.

Is there anything you’d like to see from us coverage-wise from out there?

And with that, here’s your open thread for the evening. I assume most will be watching New England – New Orleans. I’ll be hoping that House turns it around. The show has not been up to part this season.

Roundup: World Series shares, Grapefruit League action, drafting Holliday, Caray fired

To end the workday, a lot of small stories with nothing quite worth its own post. We’ll have a site announcement coming up in the Open Thread at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, the news from around baseball:

Average MLB salary just under $3 million

Despite a nationwide recession, MLB salaries went up again in 2009. Although the 2.4 percent increase was the lowest since 2004, baseball players are still doing quite well for themselves as the average MLB salary is $2.93 million a year. The Yanks were far and away the most generous team as the average Yankee earns $7.66 million a season. This year marked the 11th straight season in which the Yanks led that list. Six of the top eight teams — New York, Boston, St. Louis, the Dodgers, the Angels and the Phillies — made the playoffs with only the Mets and Tigers missing a post in the October dance.

Yanks take home $365K each in World Series share

A few months ago, I speculated that the Yankees, if they won the World Series, would earn the highest per-player share in postseason history, and that reality has come to pass. MLB unveiled the Yanks’ World Series shares today, and each person who earns a full share will take home a bonus of $365,052.73. According to the press release, the Yanks have awarded 46 full shares, 12.25 partial shares and 2 cash awards, and for some of those young kids who made the league minimum this year, their salaries just doubled. Postseason shares are awarded from 60 percent of the gate from the first three games of the Division Series and 60 percent of the gate receipts from Games 1-4 of the AL and NLCS and the World Series.

The Yankees aren’t the only players enjoying a rich and lucrative postseason. The Phillies, World Series runners-up, will earn $265,357.50 per full share, and even the chokers get some money. The Red Sox will each earn $28,263.28 for getting swept by Los Angeles. The Angels, in a very classy move, voted to give Nick Adenhart’s family a full playoff share totaling $138,000.

Yanks announce 2010 Grapefruit League schedule

With pitchers and catchers just 79 days away, the Yankees have unveiled their 2010 Spring Training schedule. Pitchers and catchers will report on Feb. 17, and games begin with an afternoon affair against the Pirates on March 3. The Yankees will match up against the Phillies five times during the Grapefruit League and will play all AL East teams except the Red Sox. As a Spring Training finale on April 3, the Big League club will take on a roster of Minor League prospects. If you have a chance to get to some Spring Training games, check out the action. It’s always a lot of fun. Tickets go on sale next month.

For some reason, MLB.com doesn’t yet have the full schedule up on the Yanks’ official site. But Marc Carig has it as his blog. So just head on over for a full list of the games.

TBS fists Chip Caray out of a job

With more than a little glee, Richard Sandomir of The Times reports that TBS and Chip Caray will part ways prior to the 2010 baseball season. Caray came under fire from, well, just about anyone who watched baseball this October for his terrible announcing and play-by-play job. Sandomir highlights a particularly egregious example. While calling what Sandomir termed “an obvious lineout,” Caray announced it as such: “Line drive. Base hit. Caught out there. The runner tags. Throw to the plate. On target. And in time! A double play!” He won’t be missed.

Yanks ‘considered’ drafting Holliday in 1998

In a piece yesterday, Anthony McCarron noted that the Yanks thought about drafting Matt Holliday in 1998. They opted against making such a move due to Holliday’s football commitment to Oklahoma State. McCarron notes that the Yanks went with Drew Henson, another football/baseball high school star, but the comparison isn’t really apt. Holliday fell to the seventh round due to signability concerns, the Yanks drafted Henson in the third round that year. What the Yanks should not do, however, is rectify a 11-year-old mistake by signing Holliday this winter.