Jeter a natural in the leadoff spot

When the Yankees signed Johnny Damon after the 2005 season, they thought they were getting a center fielder and leadoff man for the next four years. It didn’t quite work out that way. By 2008 his poor defense necessitated a move to left, and by 2009 he was batting in the two hole. The latter, however, was no fault of his. Rather, it was the idea that the lineup would be more efficient with Derek Jeter leading off, with Damon to follow. Joe Girardi said that he liked what he saw of Damon hitting second while Jeter was playing in the WBC, and in late March he made the switch.

As I noted just days before the move, there was good reason to flop the top two guys in the order. Not only does Jeter hit into a lot of double plays, but Damon is historically good at avoiding them. The switch meant a potentially huge swing in double plays, which are the ultimate rally killer. The move worked in almost every way, with Jeter flourishing in the leadoff spot and Damon having one of this best offensive seasons.

Just how well did it work? Walk Like A Sabermetrician examines how teams fared out of the leadoff spot, and finds that Derek Jeter tops most of the major categories. This includes OBP, runs scored per 25.5 outs, and runs created per game. Derek also destroys in the weighted OPS category, which gives a bit more of a boost to OBP than OPS+. You can check the whole spreadsheet here. I’ll be looking forward to more first-pitch hits from Jeter in the leadoff spot this season.

The stove gets hotter with updates on Sheets, Holliday, and Bay

The Red Sox struck yesterday, landing both John Lackey and Mike Cameron. How will the Yankees react? In short, they won’t. They might have to alter their plans, given yesterday’s activity, but they’re not going to make some huge signing just to keep up with the Red Sox. They did, after all, bring in a new center fielder last week. In the torrid pace of the hot stove we can lose sight of that.

We kicked off today with a question: which outfielder would you want under current circumstances: Holliday for eight years, Bay for five, Damon for three, or Melky for one. As happens frequently during the off-season, those circumstances have changed. One option appears all but eliminated, and another seems at least a little more attractive.

According to three reporters — Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports and Mark Feinsand of the Daily News — the Yankees have no interest in Jason Bay. Last night’s report that the Yankees had reached out to Bay’s agents was just another routine hot stove item. We shouldn’t have expected otherwise. Bay seems adamant about a five-year deal, and reportedly has one on the table.

That development brings the options down to three, though one of them got at least a little more attractive. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, reports of an eight-year offer to Holliday might not be true. He hears that the Cardinals will “stand on a five-year offer,” though they could alter it a bit. Then again, there aren’t many teams in on Holliday, so we could certainly see St. Louis stay at five years. Sources also tell Olney that they “cannot foresee a situation” in which the Yankees bid on Holliday. I wouldn’t be so sure of that, especially if they’re talking about a five-year deal.

Finally, Ken Rosenthal hears that the Yankees are “very interested” in Ben Sheets. That’s good news. He’s a high-risk arm, but he could be fresh after missing all of 2009 with a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. While any arm injury should give teams pause, Sheets’s case might not be severe. Andy Pettitte underwent the same procedure at the end of the 2004 season, and came back with perhaps the best year of his career in 2005.

There is, of course, the issue of money, and as we’ve discussed before Sheets is looking for about $12 million. It’s doubtful any team guarantees him that much, so it could come down to the team that puts together the best incentives package. Even with that, it could take $8 million guaranteed to sign Sheets. For a team in the Yankees position, that might be worth it.

Top Prospects Of Decade

Last night we went with a “top [whatever] of the decade” theme for the open thread, so let’s continue with that today. Baseball America is running a series in which they looking back at each organization’s top ten prospects of the decade, and so far they’ve gotten to all the clubs in the NL East, NL Central, and NL West. I’m not sure when they’ll get to the AL, probably tomorrow, but I’m going to beat them to it and post my top ten Yankee prospects of the decade.

First off, let’s address the best/worst draft pick issue like BA. Clearly, the Yanks’ best draft pick of the last ten years is Joba Chamberlain. He was a top ten talent before concerns about his weight and a triceps injury caused him to fall all the way to the 41st overall pick in 2006. He’s since rocketed to the big leagues, and his +4.5 career WAR is far and away the best by of Yankee draft pick of the decade (Brett Gardner & Phil Hughes are tied for second at +2.2 each).

As for the worst pick, I’m going to go with Jon Poterson, though I suspect BA will go with a bigger name like Eric Duncan or C.J. Henry. Both Duncan and Henry were elite high school prospects deserving of their first round selection, while Poterson was just a straight up overdraft. The Yanks second pick (#37 overall) in 2004 was a big bodied and unathletic catcher that had to move out from behind the plate before the ink dried on his contract, and he hit just .207-.265-.326 in 215 career games, none above A-ball. Poterson was playing in an independent league less than three years after being drafted. Just a brutal, brutal pick.

Okay, let’s move on to the top ten prospects of the decade. This is all done in hindsight, based on what these guys have gone on to do, not what they were projected to do when they were just minor leaguers. If this were based on potential, it would be Drew Henson then everyone else.

  1. Alfonso Soriano, 2B: One homer away from becoming the fourth member of the 40-40 club in 2002 (he later joined with the Nats), Soriano hit .284-.322-.502 with 98 homers and 121 steals in 501 games for the Bombers before being traded away for some guy named Alex Rodriguez.
  2. Robbie Cano, 2B: A career .306-.339-.480 hitter at age 26, Cano has developed into a bat control freak that’s on the brink of stardom.
  3. Chien-Ming Wang, RHP: Easily the most productive pitcher the Yanks have developed since Andy Pettitte, Wang won 55 games in parts of five seasons with the Yanks, although his tenure came to an abrupt end last weekend because of injuries.
  4. Nick Johnson, 1B: The man who led all of professional baseball (majors and minors) with a .501 OBP (!!!) during the ’98-’99 seasons quietly hit .256-.376-.424 in parts of three seasons with the Yanks before being dealt in a package for Javy Vazquez.
  5. Juan Rivera, OF: Traded away in the same deal as Johnson, Rivera has gone to post an under-the-radar .285-.331-.470 batting line while playing solid defense in the corner outfield spots.
  6. Marcus Thames, OF: Only Soriano has more career homers than Thames among players on this list, and although his contribution to the Yankees was limited, Thames has six productive seasons (107 OPS+) for the Tigers.
  7. Joba Chamberlain, RHP: Just three full seasons into his pro career, Joba’s already got a 31 start season in the big leagues under his belt, plus a rep as being a dominant reliever. Best of both worlds, I guess.
  8. Phil Hughes, RHP: Hughes is the messiah, the first prospect that represented the team’s newfound dedication to building from within after years of eschewing the farm system. Still just 23, Hughes has already been a major contributor out of the bullpen for a World Championship club.
  9. Dioner Navarro, C: Pudgito never got much of a chance in pinstripes, though he’s gone on to be a serviceable backstop for two clubs, not to mention an All Star for a pennant winning club.
  10. Melky Cabrera, OF: Everybody’s favorite fourth outfielder is still just 25-years-old, and has been a fixture in the Yanks’ outfield for the last four seasons. He enjoyed the best season of his career in 2009, hitting .274-.336-.416.

The talent production really starts to drop off after that. There’s Al Aceves, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Phil Coke, Brad Halsey, and Andy Phillips, none of whom has sustained much of anything in the majors to this point. Just four of the ten players listed above were drafted by the Yanks, the other six were signed off the international market. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the draft gets all the attention, but the international market continues to be the backbone of the Yanks’ system.

What Happened To All Those Draft Picks? Part Two

Yesterday we took a look at what happened to the draft picks the Yankees forfeited as free agent compensation from 1979 to 1985, and today we’ll continue the series by looking at the picks surrendered between 1986 and 1991. Remember to let me know if there’s any missing/incorrect info in any of the posts in this series.

1986 First Round Pick
Free Agent: Al Holland, LHP
Forfeited Pick: Terry Carr, OF (Angels)
Looking to upgrade their bullpen, the Yankees imported Holland from the Angels, who had a 2.72 ERA in eight previous seasons in the big leagues. Unfortunately, he didn’t produce as expected, putting up a 6.32 ERA in 47 innings in pinstripes. As compensation for losing Holland, the Angels received the 25th overall pick in the 1986 draft, and used it to selected Maryland high school outfielder Terry Carr. Carr never made it out of A-ball, retiring from baseball in 1990 with a .217 AVG and a .284 SLG in 1,510 career minor league plate appearances.

The Halos also received a supplemental first round pick, taking Texas high school righty Daryl Green 28th overall. Like Carr, Green never made it out of A-ball, and was out of the game by 1992 after posting a 4.09 ERA in 105 starts and 68 relief appearances.

[Read more…]

Hot Stove Open Thread

Ben, Joe, and I are going to be out at an RAB power lunch for a few hours to discuss our soon-to-launched China division with potential investors. We believe China is the future baseball blogging mecca of the world, so we’re trying to get in on the ground floor. The RAG (River Ave. Gulfstream) will have us back this afternoon, but in the meantime use this thread to talk about any breaking hot stove news. We’ll be sure to cover anything major once we get back.

Yanks check in on Jason Bay

The Yankees’ left field options got a bit thinner yesterday when the Red Sox signed Mike Cameron. It didn’t appear the Yanks were too concerned with Cameron, however, as Johnny Damon has attracted most of the attention lately. But there’s always the chance that Damon finds a multiyear deal elsewhere, leaving the Yanks with just a couple of options. One of them is Matt Holliday, though if the Cardinals really did offer him eight years and $128 million, I’m not sure the Yankees will top that. So who does that leave them?

One left fielder who hasn’t attracted much attention from Yankees fans is Jason Bay. He had a very good 2009 season and now, a free agent for the first time, he wants the security of a long-term contract. Could the Yankees be the team to provide that? It’s doubtful, but as they do with every possible target, they’ve reportedly reached out to Bay and his agent. No offer was made, and it’s not clear if they’re even interested in Bay, beyond leverage in dealing with Damon. But, as long as the Yankees have a left field vacancy and Jason Bay seeks employment as a left fielder, we’ll probably see the two names connected.

We heard over the weekend that Bay could make a decision soon, and is thought to have a five-year offer from one team. That will probably put the Yankees out of it. As Michael Silverman notes, “Reports early yesterday suggested the Red Sox had enough medical red flags to justify not going five years for the outfielder, who had shoulder surgery in 2003 and knee surgery in 2007.” If the Red Sox, a team that knows a lot about Bay, won’t give him five years, why would the Yankees?

The only chance the Yankees sign Bay is if they think that, while he’s not the ideal candidate, he is better than the alternatives. The choices now include:

1) Matt Holliday for eight years
2) Jason Bay for five years
3) Johnny Damon for three years
4) Melky Cabrera for one year

Which would you choose?

Yanks in a good position after day of pitching moves

It all started with a tweet from Ed Price. He talked to a source who said that John Lackey was in Boston taking a physical. Since free agents don’t normally take physical exams unless it’s the last step before signing a contract, the scene was set. The Red Sox would soon announce they signed Lackey. Yet that wasn’t the biggest move of the day. Later in the afternoon, after a short speculation period, the Mariners, Blue Jays, and Phillies worked out a deal that would send Cliff Lee to the Mariners, Roy Halladay to the Phillies, and prospects from both teams to the Blue Jays. It turned out to be the busiest day yet this off-season.

These moves all affect the Yankees in some way or another, so let’s examine the fallout.

Lackey to the Sox

John LackeyWith Lackey pitching behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the Red Sox have an excellent top three. There are concerns about Lackey’s health, but there were greater concerns last winter about A.J. Burnett‘s health, and that worked out for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean it will work for the Sox, but it certainly could. The Sox have plenty of room on their payroll for Lackey, so the move makes even more sense.

The move hurts the Yankees a little, as the Sox figure to have a stronger rotation than last year. The move bumps Daisuke Matsuzaka to the fourth rotation spot, with Tim Wakefield or Clay Buchholz holding down the fifth. The move could turn into an even bigger one for the Sox if they trade Buchholz for a big bat, though they could just as easily keep their pitching depth. As they learned last year, it can dry up quickly.

Overall, the Yankees needn’t worry about Lackey and the Sox. They apparently didn’t have Lackey in their sights, so they shouldn’t mind it when he lands elsewhere, even if it’s with a division rival. He makes the Sox stronger on the pitching end, but the Yanks don’t lag far behind there, if at all, and still have the superior offense. Both teams will continue dealing this off-season, so we’re a long way from figuring out the winners and losers here.

Still, a good move for the Sox.

Halladay to the Phillies

The Yanks’ interest in Roy Halladay always seemed lukewarm at best. It’s not that they didn’t want him. It’s that the cost of acquiring him was a bit high. Perhaps if the Blue Jays’ asking price had dropped later in the off-season the Yankees would have gotten serious, but it never got to that point. Toronto found the offer it wanted, though it took the involvement of a third team.

Halladay to the Phillies is, for the sake of 162 games, a good thing for the Yankees. The only time the Yankees could even possibly face him next year is in a World Series rematch. There’s no sense in thinking about that now, so this is a clear win for the Yankees. It not only gets Halladay out of the division, but out of the American League. The Blue Jays figure to be an even softer team next year, which helps.

Should the Yankees have cashed in Montero and Hughes/Chamberlain for Halladay? I think that’s way too steep a price for one year of a player, though it would also mean signing Halladay to an extension and therefore keeping him off the market. The Phillies get that now. If the Angels or the Red Sox had acquired Halladay, the situation might be a bit different. But as it stands, the Yanks don’t really lose out.

Lee to the Mariners

The Angels lose both of their top free agents, Lackey and Chone Figgins, this off-season. Worse, they lost Figgins to the Mariners, their division rivals. Once the Sox moved on Lackey, the Angels figured to increase their efforts to land Halladay — or, if Halladay was Philadelphia bound, to land Cliff Lee. Unfortunately, none of them are options right now. The Angels are stuck with a rotation headed by Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, and Joe Saunders. The Mariners could easily overtake them in 2010.

For their part, the Yankees inquired about Lee, but as with Halladay found the cost prohibitive. Lee won’t do too much damage to the team out in Seattle, though there are some playoff implications here. That shouldn’t concern the Yankees too much. The unbalanced schedule means the Yanks will only face the Ms a few times, so they might see Lee three times, tops. That’s not a huge deal in a 162-game season. Again, the Angels are the team that loses here.

This move affects the Yankees, tough, as it regards the remaining pitching market. The Angels are now more likely players for Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer, two potential Yankees targets. Thankfully, it’s doubtful they’ll sign both players, so the Yankees could still add that high-risk starter even if the Angels go all-in for one — probably Sheets, as he has the higher upside. Other than that, the Yankees can proceed as normal.

What’s next for the Yanks

While all three pitchers could have helped out the Yankees next season, none were a necessity. The team has five prospective starters, so adding another one is a luxury. In their position it might be better to add a one-year player, as it leaves them flexibility to use their young pitchers in the rotation in 2011 and beyond. Locking down Lackey or Halladay, in addition to Sabathia and Burnett, would have been a huge commitment.

We’ll continue to speculate on Sheets and Duchscherer because they’re the guys who fit with the Yanks’ current plans. Short deals for high-risk players. It doesn’t always work out, but the Yankees have some depth. They can absorb a one-year deal even if that deal doesn’t pan out. We might see something soon, as Lackey’s deal could open the gates for more starters. After all, each team’s situation is a bit more clear now.

Could we see the Yanks pick up their left fielder in the coming weeks? I think that’s the most likely scenario. They’ll continue to monitor the pitching situation, but I think that adding a left fielder is still atop the priority list. Once they do that, we’ll have a better idea of what they have in mind for the rotation.