Open Thread: Team of the Decade

We’ve already had a bunch of “________ of the decade” talk around here, so let’s keep it going with Team of the Decade. Noted Yankee-hater Jim Caple managed to put his personal biases aside in favor of common sense, dubbing the Bombers the decade’s best squad in a piece for the four-letter. Allow my to quote:

No other team is close. No matter the criteria, the Yankees come out on top. The Yankees won the first World Series of the decade, and they won the last. They played in two others. They won their division eight times and reached the postseason nine times. They won 45 games more than the nearest team. They had some of the greatest players in history (Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter). They had the decade’s best closer (Mariano Rivera) and some of the best starters (Clemens, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte). They opened the most expensive stadium in history and were so good, fans paid $2,500 for a ticket to see them. Well, a couple of fans did.

And the Yankees not only spent more freely than a targeted congressman in an election year (nearly $1.9 billion in combined payroll), but they grew so ravenous that they started stealing two bases at once.

Had the Yankees lost to the Phillies in the World Series, well then you have a debate on your hands. You’ve got the Red Sox with two World Championships, one division title, and five Wildcard berths, then there’s the Phillies with two titles and three division crowns, and don’t forget the Cards with one World Championship, two pennants, six division titles, and another Wildcard appearance. The Yanks would have ended up with one championship, three pennants, eight division crowns, and another Wildcard win.

So, in this hypothetical situation, who would you consider the team of the decade? I think I’d go with Boston because of their edge in playoff appearances. They also won 70 more games than the Phightin’s during the decade, and beat the Cards in the ’04 Fall Classic. If you want to look a little deeper, the Yanks had the best run differential (+1,273) of the four teams, followed by Boston (+1,198), St. Louis (891), and Philadelphia (+479). What do you think?

Use this thread to chat about that, or whatever else you want. The unbeaten Colts and the six-time beaten Jaguars play at 8:20pm ET, though you need the NFL Network to watch that one. The Knickerbockers are in Chicago, while the Rangers and Isles wrap up their home-and-home series tonight. Anything goes, just be cool.

By the Decade: Filling in for Derek Jeter

Yesterday afternoon, I launched our decade retrospective of the Yankees in the ’00s with a look at the catchers. Today, we continue with another position held by one player over ten seasons. That player is, of course, the captain, Derek Jeter, and short stop will be his, for better or worse, until he voluntarily gives it up or retires.

Name AB Hits 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB HBP K GDP BA OBP SLG
Derek Jeter 6062 1924 313 27 159 721 606 26 105 981 160 .317 .388 .457
Enrique Wilson 137 27 7 1 2 9 7 0 0 21 5 .197 .236 .307
Erick Almonte 103 27 6 0 1 11 8 0 1 25 3 .262 .321 .350
Miguel Cairo 66 10 2 0 0 3 4 0 0 11 2 .152 .200 .182
Ramiro Pena 52 19 5 1 1 6 2 0 0 9 0 .365 .389 .558
Wilson Betemit 41 11 2 0 2 13 2 0 0 16 1 .268 .302 .463
Alberto Gonzalez 33 6 2 0 0 2 3 0 0 4 3 .182 .250 .242
Cody Ransom 26 5 1 0 2 2 5 0 0 8 0 .192 .323 .462
Alfonso Soriano 22 5 2 0 0 1 0 0 0 6 0 .227 .227 .318
Luis Sojo 21 3 0 1 0 3 0 0 0 2 0 .143 .143 .238
Wilson Delgado 16 4 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 2 1 .250 .250 .438
Felix Escalona 16 2 0 0 0 1 1 0 2 4 1 .125 .263 .125
Clay Bellinger 14 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 4 1 .071 .133 .071
Nick Green 12 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 .250 .250 .417
Rey Sanchez 11 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 .091 .167 .091
Mark Bellhorn 5 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .200 .200 .200
Alex Arias 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - - -
Andy Cannizaro 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .333 .333 .333
Alex Rodriguez 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .500 .667 .500
Jose Vizcaino 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 - - -
Totals 6648 2051 342 30 168 773 640 26 109 1102 178 .309 .374 .445

Any Yankee fan worth his or her salt knows that Derek Jeter was truly the short stop of the decade, but these numbers underscore the grip Jeter had on that spot. His at-bats constituted 91.5 percent of all Yankee short stop ABs over the last ten season, and without his contributions, Yankee short stops hit .216/.263/.322. It ain’t easy finding someone to back up Derek Jeter.

Now and then, though, the Yankees have had to find a replacement for Jeter. He played in 1500 games over the course of the decade out of the Yanks’ 1620 games and suffered through a long on the disabled list in 2003. And so instead of roasting Derek Jeter — we do that often enough — let’s instead take a look back at one of the guest short stops who had to fill for the injured captain.

2003-04-01-jeter-inside It was March 31, 2003, Opening Day in Toronto. In the third inning of the match-up between the Yankees and Blue Jays, Jeter was on first with one old and Jason Giambi up. The Blue Jays had deployed the Giambi Shift, and when the Yanks’ slugger grounded out to the pitcher, Jeter saw open space in front of him as he rounded second. Johnny Damon may have made it to third against the Phillies during the World Series, but in Toronto, catcher Ken Huckabee rushed to cover the open base.

What happened was gruesome. Jeter slid as Huckabee arrived to block third base. Derek’s left shoulder slammed into the catcher’s shin guards and was instantly dislocated. At first, we thought Jeter would be out for a long time, but he missed just six weeks of the season. Enter Erick Almonte.

In 2002, Baseball America had ranked Almonte as the Yanks’ eighth best prospect, and their write-up was a bit over the top. He was called ” chiseled athlete” with a “combination of size and tools…similar to Derek Jeter’s.” The write-up recommended the Yanks move Almonte to second or left. On April 2, 2003, the 25-year-old found himself in Toronto, filling in for an injured Jeter.

Almonte homered in his first game and handled himself adequately in Jeter’s absence. He hit .272/.337/.370 in 28 games, and the Yanks went 20-8 in those games. He was, however, atrocious in the field. For the season, he made 12 errors in 128 chances and showed little range. After 2003, he would never again appear in the Majors and has become a career Minor League. He spent 2009, his age 31 season, as an infielder with the Brewers’ AAA affiliate.

After that 2003 injury, Jeter wouldn’t miss significant time this decade. He missed a few games in 2001 with a strained quad and again in 2008 with a similar injury. He dove head-first into the stands on July 1, 2004, and A-Rod earned his first chance at the short stop hole in pinstripes. (For what it’s worth, A-Rod’s lost appearance at short was on June 5, 2005 when he took over for Rey Sanchez. Jeter simply had the day off.)

By and large, though, the fill-ins have been pretty forgettable. Enrique Wilson earned himself far too many at-bats and so did Miguel Cairo. The others paraded through, giving Derek a day off now and then while leaving no lasting impression. Who really remembers Felix Escalona anyway? But such are the trials and tribulations of those in charge of backing up a future Hall of Famer who hates to miss a game.

In the end, short stop has belonged to Jeter this decade. From the Flip in 2001 to a fifth World Series ring this year, Derek has owned that spot. For him, it was quite a decade, and Yankee fans can only hope for another decade of .850 OPS offense out of the short stop spot.

A-Rod will definitely avoid second hip surgery

Dr. Marc Philippon laid out the plan in March. Instead of having a complicated hip procedure that would keep him out until at least July, Alex Rodriguez would undergo a less severe surgery which would allow his return in early- to mid-May. Then, after the season, he’d undergo a second procedure to finish the job. Yet as the season went along, Philippon sounded more confident that A-Rod would not need a second surgery. Today, via ESPN Radio’s Andrew Marchand, we learn that a second surgery will not be necessary. This is the final word, it appears, so Alex will continue his normal workouts. This is obviously good news. Would he even be ready for Spring Training if he needed another surgery this month?

What Happened To All Those Draft Picks? Part Four

During the last three days we’ve taken a look at what happened to the draft picks the Yankees forfeited as free agent compensation from 1979 to 1985, 1986 to 1991, 1992 to 2001, and today we’ll wrap up the series by looking at the picks surrendered between 2002 and 2009. Remember to let me know if there’s any missing/incorrect info in any of the posts in this series.

2002 First Round Pick
Free Agent: Jason Giambi, 1B
Forfeited Pick: Joe Blanton, RHP (Athletics)
Fresh off two MVP caliber seasons, Giambi signed the first nine figure contract in Yankees’ history, and promptly slammed 41 homers with a .314-.435-.598 batting line in his maiden season in New York. Overall, he hit .260-.404-.521 with 209 homers in his seven seasons with the Yankees, though his tenure was dogged by steroid revelations and injury. Despite the troubles, Giambi was a fan favorite and extremely productive during his time in the Bronx.

As compensation for losing Giambi, Oakland received the Yanks’ first round pick, selecting University of Kentucky righthander Joe Blanton 24th overall. He spent the first four-plus seasons of his career with the A’s, posting a 4.25 ERA and a 431-202 K/BB ratio in 162 starts and four relief appearances. He was dealt to the Phillies during the 2008 season, and helped them to a World Championship. Against the Yankees in the 2009 World Series, Blanton allowed four runs in six innings in his lone start. For his career, he owns a 63-54 record with a 4.21 ERA and has a deserved reputation as a workhorse starter.

Oakland also received a supplemental first round pick, taking University of Alabama catcher Jeremy Brown 35th overall. Famous for his role in Moneyball, Brown retired after the 2007 season with three hits in eleven career big league plate appearances.

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Curtis Granderson Press Conference Liveblog

Granderson The Manderson

Nine days after being officially acquired from the Tigers, Curtis Granderson will be formally introduced to the masses today at Yankee Stadium. The press conference is scheduled for 11am ET, and will be broadcast on both YES and MLB.tv. If you’re unable to tune in, I’ve got you covered with this here liveblog. Welcome to the Boogie Down, Curtis.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Yanks trying to set up a private workout for Chapman

Aroldis Chapman breaking off a slider

Via Jorge Arangure (Insider req’d), the Yankees are trying to set up a private visit with Cuban lefty Aroldis Chapman in Miami. The Yanks had someone attend Chapman’s workout in Houston on Tuesday, and according to Arangure, the southpaw looked pretty good. The weather was an issue – he ended up throwing off a wooden mound inside while wearing sneakers – yet he still hit 97 while working mostly at 92-93, and flashed a better delivery than before.

“He had a hitch in his lower body that caused his delivery to be inconsistent,” [agent Rodney] Fernandez, a former minor league pitcher in the Marlins system, said. “Teams were amazed at how quickly he’s been able to make the adjustments.”

Chapman also appears to have added some muscle to his wiry frame, likely the result of being on a better diet and conditioning program. Several clubs apparently noted that his reputation as being an immature kid is inaccurate.

“He’s a good kid and he doesn’t deserve the negative image that has been put on him,” Fernandez said. “He showed the baseball world what type of person he is. There has been some negativity about his personality, but he’s a mature kid. He wants to play in the World Series.”

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus spoke to one baseball person that thinks Chapman could pull in as much as $30M, but I’m sticking to my $18-20M prediction. The Hendricks Brothers are now officially accepting offers, however they’re being sued by Chapman’s former agent Edwin Mejia, who got the boot last month. Because Mejia has been designated as Chapman’s sponsor per the conditions of his visa, it’s possible (though unlikely) the lefty may end up back in Andorra if his visa is revoked.

Regardless of how all that legal stuff plays out, the Yanks are clearly interested in adding Chapman’s powerful arm to their organization. The Red Sox have already made a ~$15M offer to his previous agent, and considering that there were about fifteen totals teams in attendance during his workout, you an be sure the Yanks will have some competition for his services.

Photo Credit: Gregory Bull, AP

Will the Yankees gamble on Nick Johnson’s health?

This year’s free agent market features a number of players who carry an injury risk. Some of them missed part or all of 2009, while others come with a medical red flag. These players will all get deals, though, as long as their demands aren’t outrageous. Teams love one-year deals. It means minimal risk for them. We’ve already seen the Rangers gamble on Rich Harden. Could the Yankees be the next?

The New York Post reports that the Yankees “are talking” with Nick Johnson about a one-year deal. It is not known how serious these talks have become, but George King has a quote from Johnson’s agent, Rex Gray, who says that “things are moving forward.” Even that quote, though, doesn’t explicitly refer to the Yankees and Johnson. So there’s reason to doubt the two sides are anywhere close to an agreement. But, if true, it presents an interesting option to replace Hideki Matsui at DH.

Johnson falls in the second category of injury risk free agents, the kind that carries a medical red flag. In his eight-year major league career, Jonson has broken 600 plate appearances just once, and has had more than 500 plate appearances just three times. One of those three was last season, a good sign, but Johnson’s injury history is long enough to give any team pause. From a Hardball Times article about Johnson:

In 2003, he had a fracture in his right hand, and missed more than two months of the season as a result. He struggled in 2004 after having a lingering back injury, as well as a fractured cheekbone from a batted ball. He never did on track during the 2004 season, in all likelihood a result of his back injury.

After that Johnson stepped to the plate 547 times in 2005 and then 628 in 2007. He ended the latter season on the DL, however, with a broken femur, the result of a collision with teammate Austin Kearns. That kept him out the entire 2007 season. He returned in 2008, starting slow before suffering a torn ligament on the ulnar side of his right wrist. Even during his mostly successful 2009 season he missed half a month with a strained hamstring.

When healthy, Johnson produces immense value. In only two seasons has his on base percentage dipped below .400 — 2002, his first full season, and 2004, the season he struggled with back problems. He walks more than he strikes out, though he doesn’t strike out a whole lot. His contact rate is right around Hideki Matsui’s. Even better, he had a reverse platoon split in 2009, hitting .281/.420/.389 against righties, but .316/.440/.444 against lefties. Kind of like…Hideki Matsui.

At this point in his career, Johnson’s weakness is his power. Once an asset, his ISO fell to .114 this season after residing around or above .200 in his previous healthy seasons. The wrist injury probably has something to do with that. He might recover some power in 2010, he might not. But even if he doesn’t, he’s still a valuable offensive asset. That on-base percentage and contact rate would play well in the two-spot behind Derek Jeter.

Signing Johnson as the team’s DH would probably close the door to Johnny Damon. If, as Joel Sherman has repeated for the past two weeks, the Yankees see Damon as a 70-game left fielder and 70-game DH, there wouldn’t be room for him on the roster. After a day filled with reports that Damon won’t return to the Yankees for less than the $13 million he earned in 2009, on a multiyear contract, the Yankees could be ready to move on. Or maybe the Yankees are using this to get Damon to the table.

While Johnson presents a medical risk, Damon carries a relatively clean injury history. He hit the DL for the first and only time in his career last July, and has 600 or more plate appearances in each of the past 12 seasons. In the two seasons before that he had over 500 plate appearances. He plays through minor injuries, and while those might catch up to him as he ages, he’s still a much better bet to bat 600 times in 2010.

Injury is the only risk Johnson carriers, but it’s clearly a significant one. If they sign him as DH and go with Melky Cabrera (or Brett Gardner) as the left fielder, they leave themselves vulnerable if Johnson lands on the disabled list. I’d like a Johnson signing much more if they were to land a bigger bat for left field. Say, Matt Holliday. Without him, a Johnson injury would devastate the lineup, leaving an outfield of Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, and Gardner, with Nick Swisher at DH.

Given the choice, though, between a multiyear contract for Damon at $13 per annum and Johnson on a one-year deal, I’ll take Johnson. If healthy he replaces Damon’s production (they had near-identical wOBAs in 2009), and any recovery of power would make that even better. Time at DH could also mitigate the injury risk. I’d rather have Damon because of his familiarity, flexibility, and durability, but if his demands don’t come down, Nick Johnson presents a quality alternative.

Photo credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press