Market looks bare for free agent setup men

On his Touching Base blog, the Daily News’s Jesse Spector takes a look at the free agent class of setup men. With the possibility that both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes start the season in the rotation, the Yanks are going to need someone to pitch the late innings. Judging by Spector’s list, which goes into the arbitration status of each player, the Yanks will probably favor internal candidates. There aren’t any truly elite setup men in the class (or else they’d probably market themselves as closer), but their 2009 salaries were a bit more than you’d want to pay for a middle reliever.

Spector lists five players among those whose teams will likely offer them arbitration. Those include Type A’s Darren Oliver, Rafael Betancourt, and John Grabow. Of them, only Betancourt seems remotely worth the money, and his value is likely overrated now because of his stellar second half in Colorado. He’s had great seasons beofre, but he’s also turned in clunkers — most recently in 2008, when he posted a 5.07 ERA over 71 innings. With the contract he’ll want, plus the first-round pick he’ll cost, I think the Yanks will stay away.

Among the players who will likely not cost a compensation pick (i.e., their teams will not offer them arbitration in all likelihood), there still aren’t any standout names. Octavio Dotel and LaTroy Hawkins top the list, and we all know how each of their stints in pinstripes went. Otherwise, none of the listed pitchers will be worth the salary, especially when there are comparable options in the system.

Given the dearth of relief pitching on the market, and given the volatile nature of relieving in general, I think the Yanks will do best to stick with the options in the system. This might mean that Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain pitches out of the bullpen for a portion of 2010. Readers know that I don’t favor such a solution, but I’d rather do that for a year than sign a free agent to set up. Obviously, the ideal solution is for the guys already on the roster — mostly Robertson, but also Melancon and Bruney — to step up and take the late innings. They’re the Yanks best shot.

Stadium demolition permit approved

That photo — that heartbreaking shot inside of the House that Ruth Built — is the latest from Tom Kaminski in Chopper 88. The WCBS AM man in the sky flew over Yankee Stadium this week and snapped some shots of the crews hard at work. The stadium is slowly emptying out, and in a few months, it will start to come down.

Meanwhile, New York 1 featured a story yesterday about the wait in the South Bronx for the parks. I’ve covered this angle of the new stadium extensively, and the New York 1 story focuses on community resentment. The destruction of the stadium will be complete by the summer, and the replacement parks will open in 2011. Although neighborhood activists are still upset, this timeline has been in place for the last 18 months. Still, the South Bronx will have suffered through five years without adequate parkland, and the Yanks will be starting their third season in the new stadium when the parks finally open.

Finally, the destruction of the building is an official fait accompli. Two weeks ago, the Department of Buildings approved the full demolition certificate for the old stadium. If bureaucratic paperwork is your thing, take a peak at the filings. We’ll have more on the old and new stadium as we continue to wrap up the 2009 season over the next few weeks.

Duff throws a scoreless frame in Surprise loss

Shortest DotF ever?

AzFL Surprise (4-2 loss to Scottsdale)
Grant Duff: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0-3 GB/FB – 8 of 12 pitches were strikes … PitchFX had him at 93.59-95.3 with the fastball, while his one slider came in at 86.6

Saturday Night Open Thread

There’s really not much going on right now, that tends to happen during that weird 15-day gap between the end of the World Series and when free agents hit the true open market. If you’re looking for something to read, check out this post on the high inside fastball by Nick Steiner at THT. That’s some good stuff.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. The Nets, Isles, and Devils are all in action, plus there’s a ton of college football games being played. Talk about whatever you like, just be nice.

U.S. economic growth and the Yankees’ World Series wins

Unfortunately, during the crush of the World Series, I missed this tidbit the first time around, but it’s never too late for some rosy economic news. In the waning days of the World Series, Andrew Leonard at Salon explored the reality that a Yankee World Series win brings with it an average GDP growth of five percent. So not only is our horrible endless nine-year ring drought over, but that the recent economic recession should be over too, right? After all correlation always implies causation no matter how tenuous the connection between the two events may be.

On Matsui’s knees and free agency

As free agents go this winter, Hideki Matsui could be a valuable one for a team in need of a DH. At his age, he won’t demand a long-term deal, and as we saw this year, when healthy, he can still hit. But make no mistake about it: Matsui is a DH.

In an excellent piece about Matsui’s medical history, David Waldstein talks with Scott Rodeo, the doctor behind Matsui’s knees. Although Hideki and his agent Arn Tellem say he could still play the outfield, Dr. Rodeo isn’t so sure about that.

Basically, Matsui’s knees are ticking time bombs. He has to be monitored continually and could need another procedure to remove loose cartilage from his knee. To rehab, Matsui must strengthen the surrounding leg muscles, and he will probably get microfracture surgery after he retires. According to the doctor, to do so now would cost him a full season of rehab. With this medical history in mind, Rodeo would not be too comfortable with his patient roaming the outfield:

Rodeo operated on Matsui’s arthritic knees a year ago. With careful supervision by the trainer Gene Monahan, he monitored Matsui’s progress throughout the season, helping him to be at optimal health for the postseason.

Now a free agent, Matsui is scheduled to see Rodeo again soon. A magnetic resonance imaging test will probably determine whether Matsui needs to have the procedure repeated. Either way, Rodeo said, Matsui could play some outfield next year.

“I think that he will probably be able to do it up to a point,” Rodeo said. “If he plays four or five games a week out there, it might start to bother him. There’s probably some level he can establish where he can play two or three days a week, but not four or five. My sense is that if you put him out there every single day, he might get into trouble.”

Meanwhile, last night at the Joe Torre Safe at Home gala, Matsui again reiterated his desire to stay with the Yankees. For the Bombers, it’s a nearly perfect situation. Matsui wants to stay and would probably be willing to settle for a reasonable amount of money. The team could sign Matsui to a short deal, and he wouldn’t need to play the outfield. Coming off of a 131 OPS+ season in which he only DH’d, Matsui can just hit and also rest those knees.

Even if the Yanks opt to let Matsui walk, he should still be viewed as a DH. Any team planning to place Matsui in the outfield would be incurring a significant amount of medical risk. He was the third most productive AL DH last year and could extend his career by giving up those dreams of returning to the outfield. I know the Yanks want to get younger and more versatile with their roster construction, but letting Matsui walk would be a mistake this winter.

Root, root, root for their old team

When the Yanks won the World Series against the Phillies a mere 10 days ago, Yankee fans all over breathed a collective sigh of relief. The team had finally beaten down the ghosts of 2001, 2003 and 2004 and the lack of pitching depth in the years after.

In a sense, this year’s victory let Joe Torre off the hook for his lack of postseason success over his final years as a Yankee. Our lasting postseason images wouldn’t be Jeff Weaver pitching in Florida before Mariano Rivera, A-Rod‘s batting eighth in a playoff game or midges swarming Joba Chamberlain in Cleveland as Torre stood idly by. Rather, we can toast Hideki Matsui, A-Rod, CC, Andy Pettitte and, of course, Mo. We could feel confidence in Joe Girardi and look back fondly on the Joe Torre Era while recognizing that it probably had to end when it did, if not sooner.

The divorce, though, between Torre and the Yanks was an ugly one, and it followed a decade-long tradition of ugly divorces between the Yanks and their coaches. Don Zimmer had a public split with George Steinbrenner; Mel Stottlemyre continually felt undermined by the Yankee brass and left on bad terms. Torre and the Yanks engaged in public battle over their one-year offer following 2007, and no one felt too good about it.

But time — and World Series wins — heals all wounds. Speaking yesterday at the annual Safe at Home gala, both Torre and Zimmer revealed that they were rooting for the Yanks to beat the Phillies. Torre called it “surreal” to watch his Yankee friends playing in the Fall Classic. “To watch what they’ve done with Joe Girardi at the helm really made me feel good, even though I’m supposed to be a National League fan and all that stuff,” he said. “When you’re as close to these guys as I’ve been for all these years, I was just really pleased for them.”

Torre spoke at length about his trepidation at facing the Yankees. He and Derek Jeter have a tight bond, and it would have been weird, to say the least, to see Torre managing to get Jeter out. Still, the Yanks head to Los Angeles next June, and those games should make for compelling baseball.

Zimmer, who has known Joe Girardi since the Yanks’ manager was a rookie with the Cubs in 1989, was even more emotional in his support for the Yanks. “I was pulling so hard,” the Rays’ adviser said. “I spent the first 10 years he was in the big leagues, we were together. Joe’s quite a man and a very good friend of mine. I was happy for him and I was happy for the Yankees.”

In a way, now, the ball is in the Yankees’ court. The team should retire Joe Torre’s number 6, and they should have Zimmer — and all of the rest of the dynasty-era Yankees — at the ceremony. It sounds to me as though Torre is more than willing to thaw out this relationship, and it’s only a matter of time before the Yankees do too.