Left field closing arguments: Ryan Church

After a New Year’s hiatus, we return with our ongoing series on the left field situation. Given the parameters — mostly a caddy for Gardner — we’re looking at the available free agents to determine whether or not they fit. I’ll present the data, you’ll comment, and that will be that. Today, we get the final say on Ryan Church. You can check out the previous closing arguments on Reed Johnson and Marlon Byrd.

Just a few years ago, Ryan Church looked like a budding star. In 2005, his first full season in the big leagues at age 26, he hit .287/.353/.466 in 301 PA, despite battling multiple injuries. These included a day-to-day shoulder issue, a ribcage injury that caused him to miss 16 games, and a toe injury that forced him to miss 15. Time missed due to injury would become a major theme in Church’s major league career.

Despite his successful 2005 campaign, the Nationals started him in AAA for the 2006 season. That ended quickly, and Church hit fairly well in his first 78 plate appearances. The only thing he didn’t do, really, was hit singles. His .215 average must have stuck out to the Nats, because they demoted him on May 20, despite his .346 OBP and .477 SLG. Of the 14 hits he amassed in that short stint, eight went for extra bases.

The Nats recalled him again after the All-Star break, and this time Church hit his way into a more prominent role. In 152 plate appearances he posted a .305/.376/.550 line, sending half of his 40 hits for extra bases. Best of all, he got through the season without injury. In two partial major league seasons, Church had hit .282/.359/.491 in 531 plate appearances. His BABIP was a bit high, at .350, but that’s not too uncommon for a high strikeout player.

(While Church toiled in the minors after his 2006 mid-season demotion, the Yankees actually expressed interest in him. While Church would have been a decent addition at the time, I think everyone was more than pleased with Abreu.)

In 2007 Church would get his chance, and he responded well. He missed just two games due to injury, and racked up 530 plate appearances, hitting .272/.349/.464. That was good for a .351 wOBA, 116 wRC+, and a 114 OPS+. In other words, solidly above average. His power fell a bit, from a .250 ISO to .191, but that’s still a good mark. Apparently, though, the Nationals had seen enough, shipping Church and catcher Brian Schneider to the Mets for Lastings Milledge.

It appeared Church would continue his hot hitting ways in New York. He got off to a torrid start in 2008, hitting .311/.379/.534 in 183 plate appearances through May 20. But then his head collided with Yunel Escobar’s knee in the ninth inning of the second game of a doubleheader. It was the second concussion Church had suffered that year — the first came in Spring Training when he and teammate Marlon Anderson ran into each other while tracking a fly ball.

Even though it was his second concussion in two months, and even though he had to visit a doctor after the game, Mets manager Willie Randolph used Church as a pinch hitter the very next day. He actually pinch hit three times in the four days following the Escobar incident. Church tried to return full-time at the beginning of June, but apparently couldn’t handle it. After striking out three times in four at-bats on June 5, Church missed the next 19 games with post concussion issues. He tried to come back in July, but that experiment ended after five games, and he missed the next 41.

Since then Church just hasn’t been the same player. He finished the 2008 season horribly, hitting .219/.305/.307 in 128 plate appearances. An off-season of rest didn’t bring him back to form, as he hit .272/.328/.352 through May 22, when he injured his hamstring. He kept a consistent line upon his return, and eventually Omar Minaya traded him to the Braves for Jeff Francoeur. He hit better in his new home, .260/.347/.402 in 144 plate appearances, but nothing approaching his 2006, 2007, and beginning of 2008 seasons. The Braves cut loose Church on December 8.

On the plus side, Church has demonstrated that he can hit. From 2006 through May 22, 2008 he posted solidly above average offensive numbers. He also plays average to above average defense in the outfield — above average at the corners, which is what the Yankees seek. His strikeout rate historically is a bit high, but he still hits for a good average. I’m not sure if it means anything or it’s just an outlier, but Church drastically reduced his strikeout rate in 2009, dropping it nearly 10 percent from 2008.

On the negative side, we never know if he’ll be the same again after the two concussions. That the Braves, who could use some outfield help, cut him loose makes that even more doubtful. Another area of concern, at least as it involves the Yankees, is his platoon split. They already have the lefty Granderson in center field, so in order for Church to make sense he’d have to hit about equal against lefties and righties. But, as is the case for many lefties, he shows a large split, .813 OPS vs. righties in his career and a .700 OPS against lefties.

For another team, Church might be worth a gamble. He has the ability to hit and field well, but it’s unknown whether he can actually handle it. Given that uncertainty and his platoon splits, however, he doesn’t appear a good fit for the Yankees.

So now, whenever a rumor surfaces involving Church and the Yankees, we can refer back to this post and its comments. Have your final say now.

Photo credit: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters

Open Thread: Win and they’re in

No one returns from Revis Island.

Yes, we know RAB is a baseball site, but news on the diamond is slow because execs are enjoying a tiny bit of R&R as the calender shifts to 2010. Don’t worry, the hot stove action will surely pick up tomorrow. For now though, let’s focus our attention to the Jets, who have a chance to earn a playoff berth tonight in the frickin’ freezin’ Meadowlands. The scenario is simple: win, and they’re in. That’s all they have to do. If they lose or tie, they’re done.

Standing in their way are the Bengals, who have already clinched the AFC North. I don’t know how much Carson Palmer and the rest of his crew will play, and frankly I don’t care. Cincy has earned their playoff spot and is entitled to do whatever the hell they want when it comes to resting their starters. I’m looking forward to Chad #85’s trip to Revis Island, from which no man has ever returned. The game’s best running attack faces the game’s second best run defense, so it’ll be up to Rex Ryan’s league best defense to keep the Bengals’ 20th ranked offense in check.

Talk about the game, or whatever you want here tonight. The Knicks are the only other local team in action. Enjoy the open thread, but make sure you follow the guidelines and be cool.

Photo Credit: Julie Jacobson, AP

Final Winter Ball Update

The regular season in the various Caribbean leagues is basically over, so this is your final update of the season. DotF will start back up when the 2010 season starts on April 8th.

Dominican Winter League
Abe Almonte: 19 G, 5 for 17 (.294), 8 R, 3 RBI, 4 BB, 3 K, 2 SB
Jamie Hoffmann: 21 G, 16 for 68 (.235), 8 R, 5 2B, 5 RBI, 7 BB, 14 K, 3 SB – hasn’t played since the trade
Juan Miranda: 13 G, 18 for 44 (.409), 9 R, 5 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 4 BB, 7 K, 1 SB – apparently his elbow was never injured, the team just played a local fan favorite for a few games
Eduardo Nunez: 4 G, 2 for 10 (.200), 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 CS
Wilkins Arias: 26 G, 17 IP, 17 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 7 BB, 18 K – rocked early, but he’s been very good over the last month or so
Noel Castillo: 3 G, 2 IP, 5 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 1 K – fugly
Edwar Ramirez: 3 G, 2.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K

Mexican Pacific League
Walt Ibarra: 34 G, 16 for 64 (.250), 10 R, 1 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 18 K, 1 SB
Ramiro Pena: 26 G, 21 for 85 (.247), 10 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 9 K, 1 SB, 2 CS
Jorge Vazquez: 32 G, 31 for 123 (.252), 16 R, 5 2B, 11 HR, 26 RBI, 12 BB, 25 K – mashin’

Puerto Rican League
Amaury Sanit: 6 G, 4.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K

Venezuelan Winter League
Frankie Cervelli: 6 G, 3 for 14 (.214), 3 R, 1 2B, 3 BB, 4 K
Reegie Corona: 44 G, 44 for 139 (.317), 36 R, 17 2B, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 28 BB, 19 K, 3 SB, 1 CS
Jesus Montero: 9 G, 3 for 26 (.115), 2 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K – he’s playing every day in the playoffs (4 for 10 with a homer in three games) at first base … I’m an idiot, that was Miguel Montero of the D-Backs
Luis Nunez: 15 G, 13 for 45 (.289), 2 R, 3 2B, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K
Juan Marcano: 3 G, 6.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
Ivan Nova: 5 G, 4 GS, 25.2 IP, 17 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 17 K
Jon Ortiz: 6 G, 4 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
Romulo Sanchez: 26 G, 32.1 IP, 23 H, 16 R, 13 ER, 19 BB, 44 K
Josh Schmidt: 16 G, 13 GS, 75.1 IP, 61 H, 38 R, 30 ER, 31 BB, 71 K – 13 hit batters too
Pat Venditte: 7 G, 9.1 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 K
Eric Wordekemper: 5 G, 1 GS, 8.1 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 5BB, 3 K

Report: Cone out at YES

A few weeks ago, in mid December, Phil Mushnick of The Post broke the news that David Cone may not return to the YES broadcast booth for the 2010 season. Today, Bob Klapisch’s sources tell him that Cone is a goner at YES. The former pitcher isn’t returning, reports Klapisch, “after a heated disagreement with network executives.”

Officially, YES says that Cone hasn’t reached a decision. A network spokesman told Klapisch, “David’s contract is up. We’d love to have him back, but he’s in the process of evaluating his various options.” It doesn’t, however, appear as though a return is likely. Three weeks ago, Mushnick speculated that Tino Martinez could be on the YES radar if Cone doesn’t return. For now, though, we just might be stuck with more John Flaherty.

Football Open Thread

The Giants were already eliminated from playoff contention, and are playing a meaningless game against Brit Farr and the Vikings this afternoon. The mega-important Jets game isn’t on until later tonight, and we’ll have a separate thread for that. For now, talk about the afternoon games here.

Yankee Stadium Winter Classic rumblings grow louder

On Friday afternoon, the Bruins and Flyers squared off in a thrilling contest that ended in overtime. At Fenway, 38,112 fans stuffed the old park to the brim, and 10 times that amount were turned away. By all measures, the three-year-old Winter Classic is a resounding success, and as Yankee Stadium is primed for off-season events, it’s just a matter of time before the NHL picks the Bronx as the site for a Winter Classic.

For the last few months, we’ve heard on-again, off-again rumors about the NHL’s interest in bringing the Classic to Yankee Stadium in 2011, but the Yanks have made a December commitment to the NCAA. Over the next few years, the stadium is due to host a bowl game. Because of the lead time the NHL requires — approximately seven to ten days — for the venue hosting the Classic, the Yankee Stadium bowl may preclude the Winter Classic.

Andrew Gross, a staff writer for The Record, throws an interesting wrench into the Winter Classic planning for the stadium and opens the door for a 2011 date in the Bronx. He writes:

The NHL didn’t award the 2010 Winter Classic — won by the Bruins, 2-1, Friday afternoon on Marco Sturm’s goal at 1:57 of overtime — until July 15, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman indicated discussions on what would be the fourth annual outdoor game on Jan. 1, 2011 would not begin immediately.

“We want a community where the game can have an impact, first and foremost, in addition to a good market that we think will support the game,” Bettman said. “We need the right facility. And, obviously, we have to be in a place where we think the weather will be OK.”

In September, Yankees officials announced the new Stadium would host an as-of-yet unnamed bowl game pitting teams from the Big East and Big 12 conferences. But despite saying the game would be played sometime between Dec. 25-Jan. 1, which would preclude the NHL from setting up a rink, the new bowl game does not yet have a television contract. That means it’s not yet locked into a date.

For the Yankees, keeping the stadium open for sports business during the off-season is a matter of money as much as it is anything else. The team built a multi-billion-dollar sports venue, and as Lonn Trost once said, they want to make use of it for more than 81 regular season games plus some playoff dates.

We probably won’t find out until the summer where the NHL plans to host its next Classic, but it could very well be Yankee Stadium. Even as temperatures hover in the high-20s this weekend, you can bet that the joint would be jumping for a Rangers game outdoors come 2011. Whether the Bowl game impacts these plans remains to be seen.

Open Thread: The difference is at the top of the free agent market

In his latest column, Jeff Passan discusses the differences between this year’s free agent class and that of a similarly weak class, 2006-2007. While he starts off with the small differences, the multiyear deals for marginal and backup players, like a good columnist he make the strongest point towards the middle:

Most striking is at the top end. Three years ago, Alfonso Soriano got $136 million, Barry Zito $126 million and Carlos Lee $100 million. The Red Sox shelled out $103.1 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka

Notice, too, that three of the four teams listed no longer have cash to spend. The Giants have spent their winter signing second-tier free agents, when what they really need is a middle of the order bat. The Cubs, with plenty of up the middle needs, have had to settle for Marlon Byrd in center while trading away Milton Bradley for a bad pitcher. The Astros have a left side of the infield that will probably get on base less in less than 30 percent of their at bats.

Even put in the context of the 2006-2007 market these weren’t good deals. The Cubs, Astros, and Giants didn’t receive much praise for these overpriced signings that year. Revenues were peaking, which caused the players to be temporarily overvalued. I’m not sure anyone had that kind of foresight back then, but even without that benefit most analysts thought that none of those three players warranted the deals they received. If the Yankees had signed CC Sabathia to the same seven-year, $161 million contact that off-season, I don’t think we’d look back at it with the same disapproval as we do the three actual signings from that off-season.

If baseball has benefitted in one good way from this recession, it’s a more proper valuation of players. Corner outfielders on the wrong side of 30 no longer get $100 million deals. Questionable pitchers don’t get six year contracts. There are exceptions, of course, but in general it seems baseball has been moving away from these big money deals. I think that’s a good trend, as long as it applies to the players on this year’s market. The right free agents — the ones not quite 30 who have a track record of durability and elite performance — should still get paid. I hope we see more movement towards this over the next few off-seasons.

So, after seeing zero comments on this thread for an hour, we’ll just leave it up as tonight’s open thread. Enjoy.