Better know your hosts

Usually it’s the media types interviewing important people. This time it’s a media type interviewing media types. Larry at Yankeeist asked Ben, Mike, and I some questions, and we answered them. You can check out the exchange at Yankeeist. Nothing like some short literature to kill the last few minutes of your working day.

Yanks plan to watch spending, says Cashman

Despite packing a brand new stadium in the Bronx, drawing record ratings for both their regular season and post-season games and securing their 27th World Series title, the Yankees are going to cut their spending for 2010, Brian Cashman said yesterday.

Speaking to reporters at the premiere of the 2009 World Series DVD, Cashman spoke at length about the team’s off-season spending plans. Although he has yet to meet with the Steinbrenners to assess the club’s 2010 budget, he cautioned against an off-season free agent spree similar to last year’s binge. During the winter of 2008-2009, the Yanks brought aboard Mark Teixeira, CC Sabthia and A.J. Burnett at contracts that could total as much as $429 million before 2016 is out.

“We spent a lot of money last year. We’re not going to spend as much this year,” Cashman said. I’m real pleased with the financial commitment we were able to make last year. It puts us in a much better position as we move forward.”

The Yankees, furthermore, are in no rush to leap into the free agent fray. In that sense, though, they are not unlike the 29 other teams who have been largely silent this winter. “We haven’t game-planned yet,” Cashman said. “That’s what we’re going through. Once I get firm numbers, then I can go ahead and start putting ideas together.”

For some Yankee fans, this news might be a bit dismaying. After all, even if we assume that Andy Pettitte comes back, the team still has at least $26 million coming off the books between Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon alone. Furthermore, the club needs a corner outfielder, a designated hitter and maybe even another starting pitcher. Buster Olney claims that the club is going to focus on the bullpen, but the Yanks’ pen M.O. has been to eschew overspending for relievers when replacements are easy to find. It worked last year, and Cashman has no reason to shift that approach now.

So then, fans might wonder, how can the Yanks fill their holes without spending? On a closer look, though, it’s clear that the Yankees could still be very willing to spend. Cashman simply said that the team is not going to spend “as much this year” as they did last. Considering that the free agents out there don’t stack up well with Sabathia, Teixeira and even Burnett, one team would be hard pressed to find $429 million worth of contracts out there.

The Yanks have some flexibility. Even if they shoot for the $200-$210 million payroll range of 2009, the team can go out and spend on the players they need. Signing a Matt Holliday may be cost-prohibitive and a bad use of future resources, but reupping with either Matsui or Damon and Pettitte while bringing aboard an adequate DH/OF — a Nick Johnson perhaps (but more on him later tonight) — certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. In the end, it’s all about spending wisely, and the Yankees certainly know that.

The plan has both Joba and Hughes in the rotation

We learned a lot about Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain in 2009. They both went through ups and downs during the season, so we got to see them at their best and at their worst. That can tell you a lot about a player, but you’ll never get the whole story from just one season, especially for pitchers as young as those two. The main takeaway is that both can succeed at the major league level. Whether that is in the rotation or in the bullpen remains a question, and will be until they prove where they’re best situated.

I’ve always taken the stance that a starting rotation should consist of the team’s five best pitchers — that is, pitchers capable of starting baseball games. If Joba and Hughes are among the Yankees’ five best options, they should be in the rotation. Given their potential, there’s a good chance that they’re in that top five. If not, a spot will eventually open. The best strategy, then, is to assume that they’re starters and then assess in Spring Training. According to Peter Gammons, this is exactly what they’ll do.

“They can always go from starting to the bullpen, but it’s tough going the other way,” says Brian Cashman.

This statement is not groundbreaking. The Yankees prefer to have pitchers prepare as starters and then convert them when necessary. They did it in 2007 with Scott Protor, and did it again last year with Phil Coke. There is no surprise, then, that they will have Chamberlain and Hughes prepare as starters. Why pigeonhole them now, when they could ultimately be one of the team’s top five starters?

Still, the Yankees will assess all of their options in the rotation. In fact, it’s probably the most important item on the off-season docket.

“I think the first thing you have to address is our rotation,” Girardi said. “Right now if you looked at our starters you’d say that we have two starters for sure and then you have a mix of some other guys, so I think that’s probably the first thing that we have to address. But I think that’s probably first on everyone’s list, pitching.”

Pitching always comes first, and the Yankees learned that lesson in recent years. It’s why they got the top two guys on the last free agent market, and why they’re trying to develop high-ceiling arms in the minors. Just because it’s first on everyone’s list, however, doesn’t mean that the team will necessarily sign John Lackey or trade for Roy Halladay. It just means that they understand the importance of pitching, and will consider any move that makes the rotation stronger in 2010 and beyond.

(Which, of course, could include signing Lackey or trading for Halladay.)

Do the Yankees have a contingency plan for the bullpen should both Hughes and Joba break camp in the rotation? I guess that depends on your definition of contingency plan. Buster Olney thinks that the Yanks will pursue “two relievers, in all likelihood.” Why they’d do this, I don’t know. Again, we’ve learned the lessons of free agent relievers over the past few years, and with a number of in-house options, bringing in a middle reliever, or even a closer who will pose as a setup man, seems to be a luxury item rather than a necessity. That’s what Cashman says.

“We have guys knocking on the door from the minor leagues, and it’s always easy to take a starter and make him into a reliever – I think we’re good at that,” Cashman joked. “Is it an area of obvious need? No. You’ve got to look more at the rotation and left field.”

The Yankees have a lot of pitchers, and many of them could factor into the rotation and bullpen plans for 2010. That affords them the luxury of choosing only the players they see fit. If they like the cut of John Lackey’s jib, they can bring him aboard. If they don’t like something about him, they can let it go and wait until next off-season. The team is in a good position now, even though some of the rotation spots are nominally unsettled.

Pujols named NL MVP, again

Albert Pujols was unanimously named NL MVP today, beating out Hanley Ramirez and Ryan Howard by considerable margins, as you can imagine. The 29-year-old Pujols has been in the league for nine years, earning three MVP’s and seven top three finishes in the voting. He’s a machine.

Here’s the voting. Who voted for Jeremy Affeldt? I mean come on.

The RAB Radio Show, November 24, 2009

After a nearly season-long hiatus, the RAB Radio Show returns for the off-season. Information flow slowly from the Yankees, but that won’t stop us from speculating on their off-season moves. Our readers are some of the finest speculators out there, so we take on a number of questions regarding what the team can do this off-season. The topics are the usual suspects:

  • What about trading for Halladay and signing Lackey? One reader suggested it, so Mike and I run down the feasibility of the idea and what it would mean for the short- and long-run.
  • Matt Holliday. There are plenty of questions regarding his candidacy for the left field gig, so we dive into that subject. It involves all left field options, including, of course, Johnny Damon.
  • In fact, we pretty much discuss the entire outfield situation for 2010. It’s a rough outlook now, but the Yanks could make a few moves to improve it.
  • Plenty more, too, on pitching, specifically the bullpen.

Podcast run time: 43:06

You know what the RAB Radio Show is great for? Downloading and listening to in the car. If you’re heading out of town for Thanksgiving, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a car ride with your family. Guaranteed your wife will enjoy. You can download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking that link and selecting Save As. You can play it in your browser by left clicking that link, or you can use the embedded player below. If you don’t subscribe to the RAB RSS feed, you can subscribe to the podcast feed on our server, or subscribe in iTunes.

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Prospect Profile: Gavin Brooks

Gavin Brooks

Gavin Brooks | LHP

Brooks grew up in Vista, California, which is pretty much halfway between Anaheim and San Diego. He attended Rancho Buena Vista High School, where he enjoyed not only a decorated baseball career, but a successful basketball career as well. Brooks took home a whole bunch of hardware with the Longhorns, so it’s easiest to recap this bullet-point style:

  • Three-year varsity letterwinner
  • 2003 Rancho Buena Vista MVP
  • 2005 Rancho Buena Vista Most Outstanding Pitcher
  • 2005 Aflac All-American
  • 2005 All-Avocado League honors
  • 2006 Rancho Buena Vista Male Athlete of the Year
  • 2006 San Diego Union-Tribune All-Academic Team

[Read more…]

Damon: I don’t want no stinkin’ paycut

Oh, Johnny, what ever are we going to do with you? Your public statements are so fickle, and the Yanks would like to bring you back. But let’s be realistic. You’re 36, and 36-year-old outfielders who are declining in the field don’t get to sign a multi-year deal without some sort of pay cut.

But more on that in a minute. First, a recap. Previously on “As the Johnny Damon Turns,” we discussed how Boras and Damon seemed to be at odds over Damon’s free agency. On numerous occasions during the season, Damon expressed a desire to stay in New York. He’s enjoyed his time with the Yankees, and his bat certainly took to the home run-friendly new stadium.

Yet, just a few days after the Yanks won the World Series, Scott Boras, Damon’s agent, spoke out against a hometown discount. Still, Damon, on a Sirius XM appearance, discussed his wishes to stay in New York, and Boras must have cringed. By publicly reiterating his desires to remain in the Bronx, Damon was slowly losing negotiation leverage. Why would the Yanks feel the need to pay him much if he actually wants to stay in the Bronx? Shouldn’t he take fewer years and less money for the stability and happiness it could bring?

Yesterday, in what will probably be his last public statements in a few weeks, Damon again spoke about staying in New York, but this time, his words had a twist to it. Now on board with the Boras program, Damon says he won’t entertain a paycut. Mark Feinsand reports:

Damon’s preference is to remain with the Yankees, and while he has made that wish well-known, sources close to the veteran say he isn’t about to give the Bombers a big discount to stay in pinstripes. Although he’s told friends all season that he would take a shorter deal from the Yankees than he would elsewhere, it is believed that he would want a higher average annual salary if he were to take fewer years.

A source close to Damon said that the outfielder believes his statistics over the past two years have been good enough that unless the market crumbles entirely like it did last winter for Bobby Abreu, he doesn’t feel he should take a pay cut. Damon chose not to discuss his contract desires Sunday, saying only that his first wish is to stay in pinstripes.

“I want to continue to be on a team that can win and to play in front of great fans – and we know that the Yankees fill both of those,” Damon said. “I think everyone knows my desire to come back. Still, every time I’ve been a free agent, I’ve ended up switching teams. It’s the nature of the beast. If people are interested, I’m going to listen.”

A few weeks ago, Mike noted how the Abreu contract would provide a comp for the Damon negotiations, and that reality is slowly coming to pass. Boras will probably not allow Damon to take less than Abreu, and the uber-agent probably has designs on a deal similar to Damon’s $13 million-per contract that just ended.

So what to do? As I discussed yesterday, the Yankees have to know when to turn over their roster. Although a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal for Matt Holliday doesn’t strike me as a good idea, over-committing to Damon isn’t either. At best, Damon is a subpar left fielder with a good bat; at worst, he’s an adequate replacement for Hideki Matsui as the Yanks’ full-time DH. Anything longer than two years is too long; anything more than $10 million a year is too much.