Mailbag: Killer B’s, Garcia, Wood, Bad Contracts

Time for another edition of the RAB mailbag, which I hope will one day be as awesome as KSK’s Sex/Fantasy Football Mailbag. Yes, I like to dream big. These week will discuss the futures of two prominent pitching prospects and one former prominent pitching prospect, whether or not Kerry Wood will be with the Yankees beyond this season, and my personal favorite, ugly contracts.

If you ever have a question you want answered, send it in to us via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar under The Montero Watch.

Anonymous asks: Who do you like more, Betances or Banuelos on reaching their ceilings?

I like Manny Banuelos‘ chances of reaching his ceiling because he’s got a much better track record when it comes to the health of his arm. Yeah, he missed a big chunk of this season with an appendectomy, but that kinda stuff happens. Other than that, he’s had no arm problems during his time with the Yankees.

Betances, meanwhile, dealt with some nagging elbow issues before finally having reconstructive elbow surgery last year, and he also missed over a month with a sore shoulder back in 2008. He has yet to have a full, healthy season starting in April and finishing in September in his three-plus year career while Banuelos did it just last year. If you can’t stay healthy, you can’t stay on the field and develop into the best player you can be, so that’s why my pick is on ManBan.

Mike asks: Whats the latest on Christian Garcia? Is he back from injury and are the Yankees looking to re-signing him to a minor league deal?

In his interview with NoMaas this week, Mark Newman said they “haven’t had a discussion with (Garcia) or his agents about (rejoining the organization on a minor league deal). He’s got a ton of rehabbing to do.” It doesn’t get more reliable or up-to-date than that.

Anonymous asks: We all know about how poorly (predictably) Cashman’s moves have gone this year, and you’ve already talked about Kearns, but what are the chances of Kerry Wood staying with us? He seems completely revitalized by a playoff hunt and is throwing well. Will his closing experience put him out of our price range? Will we go cheap in the pen to sign Lee/Crawford/Werth etc?

Why is it predictable that his moves failed? So typical.

Anyway, the Yankees have gone cheap on the bullpen for three years now, and I really don’t expect that to change. Taking a one year, $1.2M flier on Chan Ho Park is a lot different than committing multiple years and big bucks to someone like Wood. Cashman has built the bullpen around cheap strikeout pitchers with enough depth that anyone who’s ineffective can be replaced with someone from Triple-A. It really is the best way to build a relief corps, having plenty of cheap and interchangeable options rather than putting all your eggs in one basket.

However, when I first read this question, something popped into my mind. Given his injury history and the current market, there’s zero chance Wood will get another multi-year deal worth $10M+ annually this winter. What if the Yanks could woo him with say, a one year deal worth $3M and incentives that could put another $5M or so in his pocket with the promise that if Mariano Rivera decides to call it a career after 2011, Wood gets the closer’s job as long as he’s healthy?

Obviously that’s a bit of a reach, because a guy with Wood’s pedigree should be able to find a closer’s job on the open market, and saves equals money the next time his contract is up. Maybe the lure of being Mo’s heir apparent is enough to keep him in pinstripes, but I’m sure his number one goal is to secure as much money in his next deal as possible to make sure he, his kids, and his kid’s kids never have to worry about a thing financially.

Kevin asks: If it was decided that every team could clear one contract from their payroll with no penalty, who do you think the Yankees would choose? A-Rod is such a vital part of the team, but they couldn’t blink on getting rid of those last seven years could they?

It has to be Alex Rodriguez. I love the guy, he’s a great player, the best I’ve seen in a Yankee uniform, but that contract is just awful. There’s still $174M and seven years left on that sucker after this season, and that doesn’t include the extra $30M he could earn thanks to the historic homerun milestones. There’s basically no chance of A-Rod retiring before the contract is up and forfeiting whatever is left on it because we’re talking generational wealth here. And you know what? If I was in the same boat as him, I’d do the same thing.

I love the guy, but I’m sorry, I’d shed him and his contract in a cocaine heartbeat if given the opportunity. I think A.J. Burnett‘s would be a close second, or maybe I could preemptively say whatever Derek Jeter gets after the season, which is almost assured of being too much for too long.

With finances laid bare, what future revenue sharing?

Earlier this week, a leak rocked the baseball world. Now, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill steroid leak. This wasn’t news of a player traded, suspended or otherwise disgraced. This was a meaty, juicy leak of MLB’s hard-to-find financial information, laid bare for all to see.

The documents, originally posted on Deadspin included the Pirates, Rays, Marlins and Angels in one leak, the Mariners in another and the Rangers in a third. The numbers are in line with what most industry-watchers perceived them to be. Small market teams have been, thanks to revenue sharing, turning small profits while putting teams of varying quality on the field. It’s not so much an outrage as it is a giant question mark for the future of the game and baseball’s next collective bargaining sessions in 2011.

Over at the Biz of Baseball, Maury Brown contextualizes the numbers in the documents. Since two of the clubs — the Angels and the Mariners — dole out revenue sharing money while three others — the Marlins, Pirates and Rays — receive it, we can see the disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

Florida, for instance, had a combined net income of $32 million over the past two seasons while receiving over $90 million in revenue sharing. The Rays had a net income of $15 million while taking it $74 million in other team’s money. If Yankee fans want to a bit jilted, they have every reason to. In a sense, our team is paying to compete against Tampa Bay this year.

This glimpse at the numbers leaves us wanting more. We don’t know how the Yankees’ finances look; we can’t see the Red Sox’s books. We can only guess from the Angels’ ledger — and their $30 million revenue sharing charge — the top-tier teams must contribute to Major League Baseball’s pot. Without a full sense of how each of the 30 clubs are doing, it’s tough to issue many conclusions about the state of revenue sharing and the luxury tax in baseball, but we can try.

Maury Brown, writing this time for Fangraphs, already has. In a piece earlier this week, he made the case for increased revenue sharing. Even though teams are seemingly overly subsidized, Brown wants to see what he terms “salary compression.” Because, as he puts it, “subsidizing clubs at the current levels that continue to lose repeatedly may not be incentivizing them to move up the standings,” the top teams’ spending must be reined in while revenue sharing continues in an effort to level the playing field.

Over at Sports Illustrated, Joe Sheehan has a different proposal. He would prefer to see Major League Baseball establish a market size-based model of revenue sharing. Instead of a welfare system where mediocrity — or downright losing — is constantly rewarded, Sheehan too pushes for something that can create economic parity by adjusted for the market. “If a team does a particularly good job of leveraging its market to make money,” he writes, “they shouldn’t be penalized for that. Similarly, if a large-market team becomes a sad joke, they shouldn’t get bailed out by dipping into the fund. Revenue-sharing shouldn’t be punishment for failure or reward for success; it should be a tool to create a fair and level field of competition.”

Should we, as Yankee fans, be satisfied with either of these answers? After all, although revenue sharing is billed as a way to penalize all of the teams, its primary purpose is to limit the Yankees’ natural economic advantages, and thus, any revenue sharing/luxury tax proposal will inevitably hit the Yankees the hardest. Some might say that if the Yankees are unhappy, the revenue sharing is doing the job, but as long as the Bombers are outspending everyone by significant margins, MLB’s shot at parity isn’t working.

It’s easier to say first what shouldn’t happen. MLB can’t simply increase revenue sharing money that goes to the teams without money. An extra $5 million in the pockets of the Pirates won’t help them become competitive. Perhaps it will allow them to spend more at draft time, but the two-win player $5 million can buy on the free agent market will be the difference between a 90-loss season and a 92-loss season. Fans won’t come out in droves for that quality of play.

Major League Baseball also cannot put itself in a position of penalizing owners for making a profit. It’s easy to fault the Pirates and the Marlins for taking millions out of their baseball clubs while the Yankees invest millions in the on-field product, but that’s a calculated business decision. Owners get into the game to make money, and the $10 million will do just as much on the field as it will in the pockets of an ownership group. The Yanks shouldn’t be paying out more dollars just so that the Pirates owners can enjoy higher profits from a team that’s consistently losing.

So we’re left trying to find some economic incentive to invest. Maybe baseball should allow revenue sharing for small market clubs on the verge of competitiveness. On a case-by-case basis, MLB can assess how much money a team would need to field a competitive club. Of course, this would lead to a situation where non-competitive clubs see their margins shrink. In essence, this could create contraction by market forces as the clubs that don’t compete can’t and are no longer viable MLB teams. The union would demand an expansion of the active rosters, but baseball would see the gap shrink between the haves and the have-nots simply by economic attrition.

Despite this glimpse into baseball’s tortured economics, we’re left where we started: with few real answers and no good solution to a problem that will dominate headlines for the coming year. Baseball certainly has a competitive imbalance as the Yankees and the Red Sox can pump more money into their teams in one season than some clubs can in three. Even as we learn more and more about baseball teams’ ledgers, to solve this problem while encouraging competitiveness remains an ever elusive goal.

There are 29 other teams in the majors

If you haven’t yet read Mike’s post on the rotation concerns, go do that now. He hits on some important point regarding how we mistakenly use hindsight when comparing last year’s team to this year’s. That’s one pitfall into which we can easily fall, but it’s not the only one. When we get emails and comments from fans who express concern, or panic, over the current team I often wonder how much baseball they watch outside the Yankees. Because while the Yankees certainly have flaws, other teams have them too.

In terms of the regular season the Yankees seem set. They are tied for the best record in baseball, and even if they finish with the second best record they’re obviously still in the playoffs. The Red Sox present the only possible threat to the Yankees’ playoff chances, but that’s quite the long shot. They’re 5.5 games out and will miss the right side of their infield for the rest of the season. Two of their three starting outfielders won’t return, and their bullpen is in tatters. Five and a half games might be a surmountable deficit for a team at full strength, but the Red Sox are far from that.

The only concern, then, is how the Yankees will fare in the playoffs. While it might seem like the Yankees have a few fatal flaws, they’ve managed to do pretty well despite them. No team in baseball, after all, boasts a better record. This signals that other teams have more glaring flaws. And since the next closest team after the Rays is 5.5 games worse, it would seem that those flaws are considerably more significant. It might be tough to see this at times, since most of us don’t watch many non-Yankees games, but it’s true. The Yankees are far better off than their non-Rays competition.

Adding to the strength of this Yankees team is the division in which they play. We know anecdotally that the AL East is the toughest division in baseball. While other divisions have a couple of strong teams, the AL East boasts what could be the three best teams in the AL. The Red Sox, injuries and all, would lead the AL Central by a half game, and would sit a mere .001 percentage points behind the Rangers in the West. Then there are the Blue Jays, 66-60, giving the AL East another tough competitor.

Just how much better than the rest of the league is the AL East? Perhaps a pair of tables that loyal reader PJ emailed us will shed some more light on the situation.

Division

Runs Diff.

Division

Avg. Win Pct.

AL East

239

AL East

.536

NL East

142

NL West

.516

NL West

125

NL East

.513

AL West

(47)

AL Central

.487

AL Central

(122)

AL West

.487

NL Central

(337)

NL Central

.466

It’s no surprise that the AL East, NL East, and NL West are the only teams with positive run differentials, since they’re the only divisions with four teams at or above .500. But the margin between the NL and AL Easts is staggering. The AL East has a 68 percent larger run differential. Yes, the Yankees play a large role in that; they do have the largest run differential in the league. But they have to play all those other teams with superb run differentials, and they have to play them 18 times each. And, as we saw this week, that includes Toronto, which has the sixth best run differential in the AL. That’s rough for a fourth-place team.

In terms of the playoffs, the Yankees appear to be in a similar spot as last year. As part of Baseball Prospectus’s statistical package, they provide something called Secret Sauce, which blends defense, pitcher strikeout rate, and bullpen strength to determine a team’s likelihood of winning in the playoffs. You can read our write-up on Secret Sauce here. Last year the Yankees’ Secret Sauce score was 22. This year it’s — guess what? — 22. The only difference is that the Rays have a lower (i.e., better) score this year, but there’s nothing the Yanks can do about that. It would seem that they’re in the same position as last year, which as we know is nothing but a good thing.

Do the Yankees have flaws? Of course. Are those flaws more serious than those of other teams? Not at all. The Yankees own baseball’s best record, the league’s best run differential, and the AL’s second best Secret Sauce score. The only difference this year is the presence of the Rays, something over which the Yankees exert no control. It means one more tough team to beat, but little more. In terms of comparing the 2009 World Champions to the 2010 defenders, there isn’t too big a difference.

Sanchez goes deep as Staten Island sweeps doubleheader

Mike Newman provided a scouting report of Brett Marshall, Slade Heathcott, and J.R. Murphy from last night’s game. Meanwhile, Brandon Laird was named the third baseman for the Double-A Eastern League’s end of season All Star Team. No other Yankee farmhands made it.

In his chat today, Keith Law said that he considers Andrew Brackman, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances all to be top 100 prospects. That’s pretty cool.

And finally, Romulo Sanchez hit the disabled list for an unknown reason, so I guess he won’t be coming up on Sept. 1st. Hopefully it’s nothing serious and we’ll still see him next month.

Triple-A Scranton (5-0 win over Lehigh Valley)
Kevin Russo, 2B, Juan Miranda, 1B & Eric Bruntlett, SS: all 1 for 4, 1 R – Russo drove in a run … Miranda double and drove in a pair … Bruntlett drove in one
Greg Golson, RF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K – 12 for his last 37 (.324)
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K – the was intentional, and it was issued by a former big leaguer in the 3rd freaking inning … can you say FEARED???
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 1 for 4, 1 K
Colin Curtis, CF: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K – 14 for his last 35 (.400) with six doubles and a homer
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 4, 2 K – he’s slumping big time, now six for his last 41 (.146) with 14 strikeouts
Chad Huffman, LF: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K
Lance Pendleton: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 10-8 GB/FB – 60 of 90 pitches were strikes … he would be an interesting dark horse Sept. call-up … he’s not young (turning 27 next month) but has performed very well since Tommy John surgery, and I think (don’t hold me to that) he’s scheduled to become a minor league free agent after the season, so maybe they should see what they got, even if it’s just trade bait
Zack Segovia: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 14 of 20 pitches were strikes
Eric Wordekemper: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K2-0 GB/FB – seven of his 11 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Rest and relax

It's baseball. Smile. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees are off tonight, so I hope that you’re taking advantage of this opportunity to rest and escape from the stress of baseball for a day. I know I am. This season won’t get any easier, but remember, this is supposed to be fun. You can’t treat every game as life and death, otherwise you’ll die a lot of times.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing the Marlins, and MLB Network will bring you tonight’s Cliff Lee-Francisco Liriano matchup at 8pm ET. That should be fun. The Colts and Packers are also on ESPN in preseason NFL action. Talk about whatever, just be cool.

Oh, if you have any mailbag questions, send them in via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

In the news: Metro-North stop, Gov. Paterson’s tickets

As the Yanks enjoy an off-day this evening, we’re going full steam ahead with some notes on Yankee-related news. We start in the Bronx with Metro-North. Now in its second season of use, the new Metro-North stop has been dubbed a success. Ridership is up this year over last, and the station is seeing an average of 3219 customers for weekday games and 3819 for weekend contests. As the cops have been closing streets around the stadium after the game and making driving more difficult, seeing ridership creep upwards at this new stop is a welcome development. I have more on the Metro-North station at Second Ave. Sagas.

Meanwhile, Gov. David Paterson is learning the hard way that baseball and politics do not often mix. New York’s beleaguered lame-duck governor has faced a series of ethics inquiries into his staff’s requesting five tickets to Game 1 of the World Series for free. Over at the Biz of Baseball, Jordan Kobritz offers up a summary of the scandal and highlights how the state’s Public Integrity Commission has recommended that Paterson pay a fine of $96,375 for both the ticket request and his subsequent denials concerning his office’s role in the affair. The case has since been referred to the Albany DA’s office, and Paterson could face criminal charges for his role in this matter.

Rotation concerns are nothing new

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The date is August 26th and the Yankees seemingly have one sure thing in their starting rotation. CC Sabathia has been nothing short of brilliant for months, A.J. Burnett has pitched to an ERA north of six for a month now, age appears to be catching up with Andy Pettitte, the 24-year-old phenom in his first full season as a starter in the AL East is starting to show signs of fatigue down the stretch, and the various journeyman dreck filling out the back of the rotation inspires confidence in no one. It’s a scary thing when a team built to win year after year suddenly starts to show cracks in the most vital part of the roster.

And here’s the kicker: that was last year.

Last year’s rotation was led by Sabathia, who as I said was absolutely money. There are zero concerns about him in any shape or form, and everyone involved feels extremely comfortable trotting him out there in Games One, Four, and Seven in a playoff series. Any negative you can drum up about CC is nothing more than nitpicking.

Burnett, as always, is a wildcard. Last year at this time he was coming off a nine run, five inning outing against the Red Sox in Fenway, his third clunker against the Yanks’ biggest rival in four starts. He was in the middle of a stretch that extended into mid-September and saw him post a 6.14 ERA with a .273/.347/.445 batting line against in nine starts, including a 6.32 ERA, .293/.370/.447 ledger that August. Is that really all that different than the 6.08 ERA and .288/.362/.490 line against Burnett has put up this month? No one really feels 100% comfortable with A.J. on the bump today, and guess what, no one did last year either.

Pettitte had been solid most of last summer, coming into this date with a rock solid 4.25 ERA on the season, though that was on the way up after he allowed at least six runs in four of his last 11 starts. This year he’s on the disabled list with a groin injury that, as Brian Cashman likes to say, isn’t career ending. He’ll be back in mid-September and more likely than not resume being the same pitcher he’s been for the last decade-and-a-half.

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Phil Hughes, meanwhile, has assumed the role of Joba Chamberlain, the young kid with a big time bullpen background thrust into the rotation for a full big league season for the first time. He got smacked around last night and hasn’t recorded an out after the 6th inning since before the All Star break. But Joba … do we even have to relive that late season nightmare? Last time at this year he had allowed at least four runs in each of his last four starts, and had pitched to a five-plus ERA for the better part of two months. Once the Joba Rules took over in September, things only got worse. Thankfully, the Yanks have learned from that and aren’t planning to jerk Phil around in the same way.

I find myself doing this all the time, saying that this year’s team doesn’t make me feel as confident as last year’s, but you know what? That’s a load of crap. The only reason we feel that way is because we know what happened at the end of last season. There’s no mystery. It’s like seeing a horror movie for the second time; while everyone else jumps and screams at the scary parts, you sit there and try to act tough like it didn’t scare you even though you knew what was coming. It’s a false sense of security brought on by the power of hindsight.

Just take a quick look at the archives, late last August there were injury concerns about both Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez, complaints about Joba using his slider too much (much like Hughes and his fastball this year), rumors of the Yanks pursuing Brad freaking Penny, and talk about all the games they had left against teams with better than .500 records in September. It’s the same story this year, just with different a different cast of characters. We were no more confident then than we are right now; it’s the (mostly MSM driven) shock factor, where every little thing that goes wrong late in the year is shoved down our throats as a potentially fatal flaw.

Example: I’ve seen plenty of people talk about not being able to use just three starters in the playoffs like last year and act as if it’s a big problem, yet no one seems to remember that – hello! – the other team has to use their fourth starter too. Go ahead, give me Tommy Hunter in a playoff game, or Kevin Slowey, or Jeff Niemann, or Edwin Jackson. I’ll take my chances with this club against those pitchers eight days a week and twice on Sundays.

This year’s starting rotation is a bit of a wreck at the moment, but frankly it’s in better shape than last year’s because they have a ton more options. Offense and individual players slump all the time and we accept it as part of the game, yet we don’t afford the same luxury to the starting pitching. Dustin Moseley has been better than either Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin was late last year, Hughes has been demonstrably better than Joba was last year, and they still have Javy Vazquez in reserve. He might figure it out and contribute down the stretch, he might (probably) not. And who was 2009’s Ivan Nova? Exactly. The rotation won’t sink the Yankees because the core of the team is extremely strong, and that’s what will carry them to where they need to go.

Exactly one year ago today the Yanks’ record stood at 79-47 with a +113 run differential, pretty damn close to their 78-49 record and +164 run differential this year. Well, the run differential isn’t all that close, last year’s team would finish the season at +162, worse than the current team’s with 30-something games to play. Of course the 2009 club had the luxury of a six game lead in the division on this date, but the fact that they’re tied atop the AL East today isn’t their fault. The Rays are much, much improved and have forced their way the picture. The Yanks didn’t let them in.

Remember, it’s never, ever as bad as it seems, and we’ve been here before. Just last year, in fact.