Early retirement provisions highlight new umpire agreement

When umpires become a prominent conversation topic, we can assume they did something wrong. Indeed, because of botched calls in the playoffs umpires have received loud and frequent criticism from fans and media alike. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as the World Umpire’s Association faced negotiations for a new CBA this off-season. Yet the on-field issues did not cause a bumpy road for the umpires, as they agreed to a new deal in late December, ahead of the old agreement’s expiration. The owners officially signed off last week, and last night the umpires ratified the agreement.

On the surface, the new agreement addresses playoff umpiring schedules, which both the union and MLB think will help avoid the problems of 2009. Umpires can now work in successive World Series, which allows MLB to select the ones they rate the best regardless of whether they umpired the previous year’s fall classic. I’m not sure how much this will actually help, but it does remove one obstacle in selecting the best umpires for the biggest event. World Series umpires still cannot work in the LCS round, a holdover from the previous agreement.

Another portion of the new agreement, however, might have an even bigger effect on umpire quality. In addition to a pay raise, the new CBA includes “buyouts that will allow veteran umpires the ability to retire early.” Brian Lam, an attorney for the firm representing the umpires, commented on this provision.

“The retirement issue was important to several umpires who are thinking about it,” he said. “The provisions of this contract will allow them to do that comfortably in the near future.”

Sure, MLB umpires make six-figure salaries — around $300,000 I’ve heard, plus playoff bonuses. That’s some good dough for working six months out of the year. But because many of them don’t start earning that kind of money until they’re middle aged. They go from making a barely livable wage in the minors to a very comfortable one in the majors. This can have effects on their long-term financial outlook. For instance, the later they’re called up the less they’ll be able to take advantage of compound interest investments, like an IRA, which require time to mature.

A provision allowing for early retirement brings both good and bad effects. The bad is that it allows the umpires with the most experience to more easily leave the game. Teams and fans alike want the best, most experienced umpires on the field, so early retirement provisions reduce that pool. On the other hand, older umpires are just older humans, and older humans face declining faculties as they age. A 60-year-old umpire just won’t have the vision and reflexes he had 10 years prior. Letting him retire before his skills decline means more young umpires will get chances.

I think Rob Neyer puts it in perspective:

Every season, there are probably more than a dozen older umpires blowing easy while, at the same time, just as many highly skilled umpires are working for peanuts in Triple-A. Frankly, it’s as if Chris Coghlan had to spend 2009 in the minors because Luis Gonzalez decided he wanted to play another season for the Marlins.

The Players Association wields great power, but its members don’t yet have the ability to play as long as they like. Umpires, for the most part, do.

The new agreement probably doesn’t change that. But if a hefty buyout is what it takes to convince an old umpire with failing eyesight and reflexes to retire … well, Major League Baseball is going to pull in something like $10 billion this year. Seems like a small price to pay.

Altering the playoff umpire schedule and creating the possibility of expanded instant replay are certainly important parts of the new CBA, but I don’t think they’re quite as important as the early retirement provision. Again, we don’t want to lose the umpires with the most experience, but at some point declining physical skills negate that experience. Umpires should have the ability to walk away before that becomes an issue.

In the end, all I hope is that we don’t have to talk about umpires for a while. When the spotlight is on them, something is wrong. I’d prefer to have everything quiet on the umpiring front.

Photo credit: AP Photo/John Bazemore

Timing the key element in the Austin Jackson trade

In Curtis Granderson, the Yankees acquired a young, talented center fielder with a track record of major league success. For him they traded Austin Jackson, a young, talented center fielder who has yet to record a major league at bat. The Yankees, in their attempts to contend now and contend in the future, thought the exchange a worthy one, though they didn’t particularly like trading Jackson. Drafting him in the eighth round of the 2005 draft, the Yankees saw plenty of potential in the former two-sport star. Now it’s the Tigers who will see how he ultimately develops.

Granderson’s age, talent, and experience made him an attractive target for the Yankees. Since Jackson’s ceiling approaches what Granderson has become, the trade made sense. Again, the Yankees need to balance winning now and winning later, and acquiring a 29-year-old center fielder who has OPS’d above .850 twice in his career fits that bill. They could have remained patient with Jackson, hoping he’d catch on as the club’s center fielder in 2010, but there were enough concerns with his game to make them think that might be an unrealistic expectation.

Lynn Henning of The Detroit News spoke to Yankees’ AAA hitting coach Butch Wynegar, who spent all season working with Jackson. While Wynegar heaped praise on the center fielder, he also noted that Jackson might not be ready for the bigs in 2010.

“He still is raw, still has a lot to learn, but he’s an intelligent kid and a good athlete — and he wants to learn,” Wynegar said. “I basically told the Yankees at the end of the year, if they were thinking about him being their center fielder this coming year (2010), I didn’t know if he was ready yet.”

The concern with Jackson, Henning notes, lies in his swing. Just after the trade, Steve Carter of Project Prospect laid out the concerns, noting issues with Jackson’s stride and shoulders. These contribute to his lack of power and his struggles with off-speed pitches. But both Wynegar and Tigers’ hitting coach Lloyd McClendon think Jackson can adapt his swing and find success at the major league level. He might struggle if the Tigers move forward with plans to make him the every day center fielder, but eventually most parties think he’ll become a solid major league regular.

For the Yankees, the trade ultimately came down to timing. It sounds like they wanted to remain patient with Jackson, giving him another year in AAA, at least to start, to continue developing his game. But with a vacant outfield spot and nothing that attracted the Yankees on the free agent market, they explored trades. If Johnny Damon were under contract for one more year, Jackson would likely remain in the Yankees system. Even without Damon, perhaps the Yankees would even have pursued a trade for a corner outfielder if Wynegar and others thought Jackson would be ready for action in 2010.

The mandate to win now and win in the future means making tough decisions on promising young players. Other organizations might have attempted a different tactic to remain competitive in 2010 while allowing Jackson more time to develop. But when offered a 29-year-old All-Star center fielder, the Yankees felt they had to pounce. Jackson was an unfortunate casualty.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

RAB takes over LoHud (for a day)

Just a heads up, my guest post on the Yankees’ minor league system is up over at LoHud today. I tried to give casual fans as much of an overview as possible while trying to adhere to the 300-word limit, however I ended up shoehorning another 90 or so in there. If you read RAB, chances are you read LoHud, so I’m sure you would have found my post anyway. Just in case though…

Reports: M’s, Felix Hernandez agree to five year deal

Update (10:20am): Buster Olney says five years, $80M, or basically A.J. Burnett/John Lackey money.

9:30am: Via Keith Law, the Mariners and ace Felix Hernandez have agreed on a multi-year contract extension that is going to buy out at least the righty’s two remaining years of arbitration eligibility. Jason Churchill hears that the deal could be as long as six years with less than $100M guaranteed, but incentives that could push it up in nine-figure territory.

Many Yankee fans, myself included, were already fitting King Felix for pinstripes even though he wouldn’t have hit free agency for another two years. The Mariners are by no means a small market team, so it was just a matter of whether or not Felix was receptive to signing long-term in lieu of cashing in on the open market. The kid doesn’t turn 24 until April, and if someone offers you nine figures at that age, you take it and set yourself and your kids and your kid’s kids up for life.

If the deal is in fact for six years, he’ll still just be 29 when it expires, which is crazy. Also, he’ll hit free agency just as CC Sabathia‘s contract expires, which is rather convienent.

After two Tommy Johns, what then?

As the winter wears on — yesterday’s burst of warm weather made me pine for baseball — one free agent name keeps circling around the Yankees as a vulture does to its dying prey. He might not, in the words of Keith Law, represent much of an improvement, if any, over Brett Gardner, but Xavier Nady just won’t go away. Maybe the Yanks really are interested in him, as Joe wrote in his Closing Arguments post; maybe the fans just won’t let him go because of the one good month he had in pinstripes in 2008. Either way, the allure of Nady just won’t die.

As free agents go, Nady is an interesting case. After landing in the Bronx in the middle of 2008, he finished the year with an overall .305/.357/.510, and the 127 OPS+ was the best mark of his career. Entering his final pre-free agency year in 2009, Nady was primed for a payout this winter. Over the last four seasons, he had hit .284/.339/.474, and while the .339 OBP is lower than most would prefer, his 112 OPS+ had him as a player to watch in 2009.

We know all too well what happened though. Nady injured himself on a throw in Tampa Bay in mid-April, and he never recovered. He tried a series of Platelet Rich Plasma injections but eventually had to go under the knife for his second Tommy John surgery. Multiple Tommy John procedures are a rare occurrence in baseball, and many Yankee fans have wondered about the impact a second surgery would have on an outfielder. Unfortunately, baseball history shows us with just one position player — catcher Vance Wilson — who had the procedure twice. Wilson hasn’t played since.

Nady is different. He’s younger by a few years than Wilson was and is a better player than Wilson, a journeyman back-up catcher, was. That doesn’t help us understand what Nady might be. For that, we turn to Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll for guidance. When Nady underwent the surgery in late June, Carroll offered up his take. Unfortunately, it’s light on the future outlook:

The idea that second surgeries are less successful is unfounded. First, there are no major league position players that have had a re-do. Most that had a re-do have done something to screw it up in the first place, assuming it’s a short-term situation. Nady has been through this, and that gives us more information than we’d have with most. Position players come back from this surgery in about six months, though the arm isn’t 100 percent at that stage. Unless we find out after surgery that something more has happened in the elbow, even the worst-case scenario would have him back at the end of spring training.

Note how Carroll phrases it. The idea that second surgeries are less successful is unfounded simply because we don’t have the data from position players. Some pitchers have had the procedure twice, and many have come back. Nady, though, is the outfield guinea pig. If he can come back and play the outfield, then we don’t have to worry as much about future position players who undergo two surgeries. If he can’t return to form defensively or offensively, I wouldn’t be surprised.

In late September, Carroll offered up a brief update on Nady. “Six months is enough time for him to be healed enough to DH, but he’ll have to be careful on outfield throws,” Carroll noted. In other words, no team should expect him to be a full-time left fielder out of the game.

As far as Nady’s projections go, the 2010 PECOTA cards have not been published yet, but prior to 2009, Nady projected to .271/.324/.448 for 2010. That line is sure to look worse, and as it stands now, those interested teams ? the Yankees, the Cubs and the Braves have all been connected to the X-Man ? won’t count on Nady for more than a fourth outfielder slot. If he can do more than that, some team will have a bargain on their hands.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Yankees avoid arbitration with Gaudin, Logan

Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees agreed to deals with both Chad Gaudin and Boone Logan today, avoiding arbitration with both. Marc Carig says that Gaudin is getting $2.95M plus incentives, Logan $590,000. All of the Yankees arbitration cases are now resolved, and all of the offseason work is basically wrapped up.

I tackled a potential Gaudin deal earlier today, and I had planned to do the same for Logan later tonight. However, since the Yanks’ impatiently announced his deal today, I’ll just include what I had written after the jump. Enjoy.

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Open Thread: A shame for any fan

So, when visiting Qualcomm Stadium, only show enthusiasm for the home team, or else.

Thanks to Jamal G for sending this in.

There’s clearly a cut in action, between the fan cheering and the police overwhelming him, but from all appearances he did nothing but cheer on his team. Other people around him, all Chargers fans it appears, say he did nothing. Towards the end you can see his girlfriend taking down contact information from the people sitting behind him. I suppose they were gracious enough to offer testimony, if it comes to that.

I post this mainly because I’ve noticed a similar trend in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium. Fans will zone in on a particular fan, usually one wearing Red Sox gear, or sometimes the opposing team’s gear, and taunt him throughout the game. Eventually, the fan being taunted will do something back, signaling for the fans to bring it on or something like that, and then face ejection. Unless I’m missing something when this goes on, it appears security will eject fans peremptorily, as to avoid any potential conflicts.

Is it right? I say no. There’s no reason to eject someone for merely cheering on his own team. If he taunts other fans, then there might be a case. But what if his taunts were provoked by other taunters? I dunno. Every fan should get fair warning if they’re about to cross a line. I wonder if the cops gave this Jets fan a warning before detaining him.

Anyway, use this as your open thread. There’s not much going on in local sports tonight. The Devils already lost to the Islanders, the Knicks already beat the Pistons, and the Clippers already beat the Nets. For those interested in Big East hoops, Syracuse plays Notre Dame in South Bend at 7 on ESPN.