Martin blames past struggles on “distractions”

Via Shi Davidi, new Yankee catcher Russell Martin blamed his subpar performances over the last two years on a lack of preparation brought about by off-the-field “distractions” that were “personal.” The 27-year-old backstop had a puny .307 wOBA over the last two seasons, but in the two seasons prior to that he had a much gooder .359 wOBA. Yes, much gooder.

I don’t know what personal issues Martin was dealing with and I don’t really care, I just hope everything’s cool now and it’s all in the past. He’s already a gigantic defensive upgrade behind the plate, but if he could chip in a wOBA in the .350’s or even the .340’s, holy cow would that be huge.

The RAB Radio Show: January 17, 2011

It appears as though the Yankees are on the verge of signing Andruw Jones, so he takes up most of today’s podcast. We’re talking about the need he fills and why he’s the best among the current free agents.

Podcast run time 20:05

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

The Opt-Out Clause

You're gonna have to shave that thing. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Late last week the Yankees agreed to a contract with a Rafael Soriano, and it’s not just a normal contract. It’s an absurdly player-friendly contract that’s almost too good to be true from the player’s perspective. The guy gets a guaranteed $11.5M in 2011, and then depending on how things play out over the next eleven or so months, he can either go seek a bigger contract elsewhere or take another $10M from the Yankees. If he does the latter, then twelve months after that he gets to decide if he wants to test the market or take another $13.5M of the Yankees money. It’s a fantastic contract for Soriano and I’m certain there are quite a few players around the league envious of him.

Therein lies the problem, the structure of the contract is just ridiculously unfavorable to the Yankees. Forget the money, that’s a drop in the bucket to them, it’s the structure of the contract and they way Soriano is now allowed to determine his role with the team for the next three years. Within minutes of the news breaking about the contract and the inclusion of these opt-outs, the general sense was that people were hoping that Soriano would pitch well in 2011 then opt out and go somewhere else. Hoping he opts out! If you have to hope a guy opts within a weekend of the deal being announced, that’s a pretty definitive sign that something is wrong.

There’s basically one way this deal will end up being a positive for the Yankees, if Soriano is fantastic in 2011 and he opts out to sign elsewhere. That’s it. Anything else happens, it’s a loss because everything is out of the team’s hands. They have zero say about whether Soriano will be a part of their club in either 2012 or 2013 (unless they can magically trade a reliever making eight figures at some point), and the only way they know for certain that he’ll still be around is if he gets hurt or just starts sucking like relievers can do for no apparent reason. But the other side of the coin is that if Soriano is dominant, he’s going to take off and look for a bigger contract elsewhere, maybe even just a bigger one from the Yankees. The team has no leverage, the risk on their end exists in the form of two years and $23.5M while the risk to Soriano is … what? Where’s the trade-off?

I’m just using Soriano as an example here, the same logic applies to CC Sabathia and his opt-out next offseason. Trust me, I’m a thousand percent aware that CC has said he won’t opt out (not necessarily using those words, mind you) pretty much since the day he signed his contract, but I don’t believe him. He’s not stupid, CC and his agent know that next winter’s free agent pitching crop is weak, so if he opts out he’ll have the Yankees by the balls. They can’t afford to lose him so the four years and $92M left on his contract will turn into a brand new five year, $120M contract like the Phillies gave Cliff Lee. Hell, when Sabathia hits the free agent market next winter, he’ll still be a full year younger than Lee was this winter. Five years and $120M is probably just a starting point.

The thing I hate most about these opt-outs is that they’re being passed off as “creative.” That was the word used for the Soriano deal, just like it was for Derek Jeter. Taking on all of the risk is not creative, it’s a horrible management of resources and will come back to bite the Yankees rather hard if they continue handing out contracts structured like this. It’s likely to happen with Sabathia in a year, and it’s likely to happen when a 39-year-old Jeter gets to decide if 40-year-old Jeter should earn no less than $8M regardless of how well he’s actually playing.

Look, there’s no denying that Soriano makes the 2011 Yankees considerably better. He’s a world-class pitcher and the bullpen is considerably stronger with him, I’m not going to argue that aspect of this contract because there is no argument. On the field, the dude is a beast and I look forward to watching him pitch and rooting for him to succeed. But the contract, good grief the contract. The Yankees took on all the risk with a microscopically small chance that it ends up working in there favor. It reeks of desperation and the opt-outs strike me as saying “we really don’t want to do this and we’re hoping that we can get out from under this deal as soon as possible, please please please don’t get hurt in 2011.” If you’re that concerned about a contract, just don’t do it.

Oh well, there’s nothing that can be done about it now, but giving out opt-out clauses like this just isn’t a smart way to build a team. The risk is too great and the reward is far too small, there’s no other way around it.

Brown: Yankees nearing deal with Andruw Jones

(AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

Update (12:20 p.m. ET): Yahoo’s Tim Brown reports that the two sides are nearing a deal. Ken Rosenthal recently reported that the Yankees were “balking” at Jones’s asking price, though.

No longer the defensive wizard he once was, Jones can handle still handle center or leftfield on occasion and will be a massive upgrade over Marcus Thames in that department. He can also crush lefties (.369 OBP, .229 ISO, .363 wOBA vs. LHP last two years) and isn’t totally useless against righties (.310 OBP, .262 ISO, .340 wOBA). Jones won’t hit for average, but bench players that will take walks and hit for a ton of power with passable defense are a valuable commodity.

Original Post (11:00 a.m. ET): We’re less than a month away from the start of the camp, but the Yankees still have a few items on the to-do list. One of them is acquiring a fourth outfielder. We’ve seen them connected to Andruw Jones before, and this morning ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Yankees “are the frontronners” for Jones. He appears to fit the Yankees’ needs well, as he’s a right-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners. He’s probably not fit for full-time duty any more, so the Yankees could provide a good fit for him.

Mike wrote about Jones in December, and Ben then compared him to Marcus Thames. A week and a half ago we learned that the two sides had started talks. Hopefully they get it done this time around. Two years ago Jones opted to sign with the Rangers instead of the Yankees.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 17th, 2011

Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card, lost in ALCS

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Early season schedule works in Yanks’ favor

We might not have to see too much of this guy in April. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

There’s nothing quite as exciting as Opening Day, not after five long and cold winter months without any actual baseball. Rumors and signings and trades are fun, but nothing compares to the games. Yet once the season starts, everyone has the same complaint: what’s up with all the days off? As you know, it has to do with the weather. April showers bring May flowers lots of off days because baseball doesn’t want there to be an overload of doubleheaders early in the season. As annoying as it is, the logic is sound.

All those days off are a nuisance to us fans after the long offseason, but they can benefit the 2011 Yankees quite a bit. You may or may not have heard, but the Yanks have a bit of a fifth starter problem. Actually, it’s more like a fourth and fifth starter problem, though I’m down with giving Ivan Nova a chance given the lack of alternatives. Sergio Mitre is another story all together. No one has any faith in him being even a slightly below average big league starter, especially in the AL East, but that’s where the schedule comes into play. The off days in April give the Yankees ample opportunity skip him.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, so I grabbed the early season schedule off the official site and laid out the starting pitching plan. The identities of SP1 through SP4 are irrelevant as long as SP5 is the guy we’re trying to avoid, which in this case is Mitre. The number in parenthesis is the number of days the pitcher has had off, so (4) is normal rest. Here’s March/April…

As you can see, the Yankees will only need their fifth starter three times in the season’s first month, a span of 27 games. The front four also gets a nice little break during the week of the 17th in the form of an extra day of rest. SP5 and SP1 could be flip-flopped on the 15th and 16th, but doing so will give SP1 one start with two extra days of rest (on the 22nd) rather than two starts  with one extra day of rest each (16th and 22nd)  I just spread the rest around a bit, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. An added benefit is that the fifth starter will be available out of the bullpen for at least a few days in between starts, taking the load off the regular cast of relievers in early going.

There’s not much to see during the first few weeks of May since the Yankees will have to stay on rotation through the ninth, their first off day of the month. If they stay on rotation after the day off, they’ll be able to trot out their top three starters against the Red Sox on the 13th through 15th. All told, the Yankees will have to use their fifth starter just six times in the season’s first 42 games. The less Mitre the better, but if they have to start the season with him in the rotation, at least they can spread out the damage, so to speak.

Of course all of this is academic and so, so much can change between now and then. The weather could decide not to play nice, maybe someone gets hurt, maybe Mitre comes out and dominates one or two guys surprise and get a little more responsibility, who knows. As it stands, the Yankees can avoid their fifth starter quite a bit in the early going, and it could give them enough time to find a better solution than what they have right now.

Open Thread: John Flaherty

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Eight years ago today, the Yankees signed current YES broadcast John Flaherty to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He competed with Chris Widger to be Jorge Posada‘s backup during camp and won the job with ease, leading to Widger’s release in April. Flaherty spent three years in pinstripes and was generally awful, hitting just .226/.261/.387 in 389 plate appearances while throwing out 26.0% of attempted base stealers. I think we all remember his signature Yankee moment though, the walk-off shot into the gap against the Red Sox in the game Derek Jeter flew into the stands to catch a pop-up. Flash can be bland as an announcer, but that one hit against Boston is easily the most memorable by a Yankee backup catcher during the Posada era. Not even close in my book.

Anyways, here is the open thread for the evening. If you turn on CBS, you’ll be able to catch the end of the Jets-Patriots game. You’ve also got the Rangers and Flyers plus a new episode of Family Guy. Talk about whatever you want.