2011 Draft: Baseball America’s Early Top 50 Prospects

Now that Felipe Lopez has signed a minor league contract with the Rays, the 2011 Draft Order is finally set. As you know, the Yankees surrendered their first round pick to sign an all-important eighth inning reliever, so their first selection is number 51 overall. You can thank Javy Vazquez for that one. After that they pick 88th, 118th, 149th, then every 30 picks thereafter.

The upcoming draft class is the best in a long, long time, loaded with high-end college talent. Baseball America’s early look at the top 50 draft prospects (subs. req’d) has Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon as the top talent, followed by former Yankees’ first rounder Gerrit Cole. “[Cole had the] best pure stuff in 2008 draft and has best pure stuff this time around,” said Jim Callis. In most years, Rendon, Cole, TCU LHP Matt Purke (ranked third), UConn OF George Springer (fourth), and Vanderbilt RHP Sonny Gray (fifth) would be favored to go first overall, plus UConn RHP Matt Barnes (eighth) showed first overall stuff last summer with Team USA. None of these guys will fall to the Yankees at 51, so they’re going to have to hope one of the late-first round guys, a 25-35 kind of talent, is still around when they pick.

Andy Pettitte Retirement Press Conference Liveblog

It’s a sad day in Yankeeland, as we all get ready to say our final goodbyes to Andy Pettitte at this morning’s press conference. I can almost guarantee that he’ll run through the usual list of thank yous – his family, George Steinbrenner, the entire organization, etc. – and then say he made the decision only after a long internal debate. He’ll miss the competition and the comradery, but not the physical grind and being away from his family. It’s a retirement press conference, not anything we haven’t seen before. That doesn’t make it any less sad though.

If you’re sitting at home, you’ll be able to watch the press conference on YES or MLB Network when it starts at 10:30am ET. If you’re stuck in the office, it’ll be available on the official site and MLB.com. Here’s the liveblog for all to enjoy.

Mailbag: Bernie, Cutters, Cashman, Jorge, More

I bailed on the mailbag last week for no good reason, but I’ll make up for it today with a bunch of questions and some shorter, punchier answers. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in any questions throughout the week.

Bernie was awesome, but he's no Beltran. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

eyerishyank asks: Got into a twitter battle today with Tommy Dee of the Knicks blog about Beltran vs Bernie and who is the better player, could make for an interesting blog entry. I think it is Bernie, though defense and baserunning goes to Beltran. Can we quantify Beltran’s decline? Can we measure Bernie’s championships? I think Sabermetricians may go the way of Beltran and “old school” may go Bernie.

Carlos Beltran‘s a better player, but that’s not a knock on Bernie Williams. They have identical .371 wOBA’s for their careers, although Beltran was power while Bernie was batting average and on-base percentage. The difference is in the stolen base department, where Beltran’s 88.1% success rate is the best in baseball history (239 SB, just 39 CS), and on defense. Bernie’s got himself a bunch of Gold Gloves, but Beltran slaughters him in both CF UZR (+32.4 to -90.8) and John Dewan’s +/- system (+59 to -61).

I hesitate to give Bernie credit for the titles because that’s a team thing, and although he certainly contributed to the cause, it’s wrong to punish Beltran for his sucky Royals teammates for all those years. If you want to compare postseason stats, then Bernie hit .275/.371/.480 (545 PA) in October, Beltran .366/.485/.817 (101 PA). Yeah. Their career arcs are similar, right down to the decline at age 32-33, but when you have two players with similar offensive ability, the guy with the crazy stolen base rate and brilliant defense wins.

Evan asks: With Soriano set to be the primary setup guy, if there is any overlap in batters that he and Mo would both face, is it possible that the batters that faced Soriano’s cutter would be better equipped to deal with Mo’s? Could there be a noticeable negative effect in Mo’s performance this coming season as a result?

I don’t think so. Theoretically they won’t be facing the same batters in the same game, unless something bad happens along the way. Batters see fastball after fastball at-bat after at-bat, game after game, season after season, and I suspect that as long as Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera aren’t leaving their cutter in the happy zone, they’ll be perfectly fine. Would we ask the same question about a curveball or changeup?

Daniel asks: Does it seem strange to anyone else how many interviews Cashman has done this offseason? Feel its a little out of the ordinary. Could it be that maybe he is advertising himself for a new job next season? No matter what the reason I’m sure there is some strategy to it. What do you think?

It seems odd but I think it’s just a coincidence more than anything. They had the Soriano press conference, then he was doing the WFAN breakfast, then it was the Foley’s thing, then today it’ll be Andy Pettitte‘s presser, all one right after the other. I don’t think there’s much to it, other teams won’t hire him based on what he says to the media.

Pounder asks: Just wondering, what if Jorge is floundering, or is in some other way unhappy with his situation come July, would he be open for a mid year trade?

Can’t see it. And besides, if he’s floundering, he’s untradeable with that contract. The Yankees would have to eat a ton of his salary, and in that case I just say keep him and hope he rebounds late in the year.

I think 2000 was the last time Sheets was healthy. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Tucker asks: I know you have already discussed Ben Sheets, but assuming Pettitte doesn’t come back and with how thin the market is right now, could he start to become a more intriguing target? It seems like at the right price, he could become the epitome of low-risk, high-reward.

Obviously this question was sent in before the andy Pettitte news broke. Anyway, Sheets had Tommy John surgery late last year and is out until August at the earliest. Considering that it usually takes guys 18 months or so to get their old command back, he probably won’t be ready and effective until Opening Day 2012. I’d pass unless he’s willing to play for dirt cheap, though I suspect he just won’t be ready in time to make a meaningful contribution.

Sheepmeister asks: Do you think Orlando Cabrera or David Eckstein would be worth looking at for the utility inf position at a cheap price?

Nope, both are just names. Cabrera hasn’t topped a .316 wOBA in any of the last three years, and he’s never played a position other than shortstop in the big leagues. Eckstein is slightly worse, topping out at .313 wOBA over the last three years (.296 over the last two years) and being relegated to second base because he literally can’t make the throw from shortstop anymore. I have little faith in Eduardo Nunez, but seriously, he could outperform these two next year.

Michael asks: How did you guys start this blog/know each other and how did you get in on the YES Network.com?

Before RAB, the three of us were blogging at our own sites scattered across the web. I knew who Ben and Joe were but we weren’t anything more than casual acquaintances, exchanging the occasional email. Eventually we all ended up writing at the now defunct MVP, me on the minor league side and them on the big league side, and then one day I got an email from Ben saying the he and Joe were starting a site and asking if I wanted to come along. The rest, as they say, is history.

As far as YES, then contacted us about two years ago about a potential partnership, and it was a pretty easy decision on our part to tag along. That’s pretty much it, they link to our stuff from time to time and we retain full editorial control of the site. We wouldn’t have partnered up without that last part.

Pitching proposals: Kawakami, Zito, Millwood

Yesterday we spent our time remembering the 16-year career of Andy Pettitte, one of the most beloved members of the late 90s dynasty. While we were busy musing on Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, others took the opportunity to slip some trade targets by us. As expected, none of them sounds particularly attractive.

Kenshin Kawakami

(Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Not long after news of Pettitte’s pending retirement broke, Ken Rosenthal suggested the Yankees would consider trading for Braves’ RHP Kenshin Kawakami. The Braves outrighted Kawakami to AA in November, which means he’s not on the 40-man roster. But he is still owed $6.67 million in 2011 regardless of roster status. The Braves have reportedly been shopping him around this off-season, including to Japanese clubs.

After a quality debut season in 2009, a 3.86 ERA in 156.1 IP, Kawakami dropped off in 2010. He finished with similar peripherals, but his results were far worse, a 5.15 ER in 87.1 IP. The Braves clearly don’t like him, and it’s tough to justify taking a player like that. But if any team can take the gamble and take on some salary, it’s the Yankees. Since he’s not on the 40-man roster he’s just another noodle in the bowl.

Barry Zito

(Ben Margot/AP)

Someone, at some point, was going to make the case for the Yankees acquiring Barry Zito. Turns out it was Jonah Keri yesterday. He argues that the Yankees’ financial might can help them absorb some of the $64.5 million still owed Zito, and that he can add two wins to the team’s win total. While Jonah makes some good points, he also envisions something of a best case scenario. If something doesn’t break right and Zito tanks, the Yankees are still on the hook through 2013.

The Yankees might appear to have an endless budget, but there has to be a limit somewhere. If they want to lay out some cash to make a two-win upgrade, that’s usually fine. That is, if it doesn’t prevent them from making any other moves. Even if the Giants ate half of Zito’s remaining money, which they won’t, the contract will probably restrict the Yankees in some way. That’s the main reason I wouldn’t consider trading for Zito a worthy option.

Kevin Millwood

(Nick Wass/AP)

We have spent more words than I’d ever thought possible discussion the prospect of adding Kevin Millwood. These might be the last. His name surfaced shortly after the Pettitte news broke, but not in a positive way.

Buster Olney reported that Millwood is seeking $4 to $5 million, which explains why he remains a free agent. I can’t see any team making that kind of outlay. His price will come down later, but the Yankees have little reason to offer him a major league contract. Even then it might not work. Ken Davidoff quotes an AL exec on the matter: “Millwood is not a help. He’s just a name people know.” Let’s bury this one.

We’re going to see plenty of pitchers connected to the Yankees in the next few weeks, but don’t expect anything to happen. As Olney says, “The Yankees don’t feel like they need to be in a big rush to augment [their] rotation; they have two months to evaluate [their] own guys, look for a trade.” They already have seven guys to compete for those last two spots. They can stick with that for the time being and wait to see if an opportunity develops.

Open Thread: Andy Pettitte

(AP Photo/ John Bazemore)

Joe and I talked about it on the podcast earlier today, but I figured I’d bring it up here for discussion purposes. My signature Andy Pettitte moment, so to speak, is Game Five of the 1996 World Series. I was young, just a few days away from my 15th birthday at the time, and that game was one of the first that I can remember actually feeling. You know what I mean, that feeling of living and dying on every pitch, that stress that comes with not knowing what’s going to happen next and having no control over it. That feeling didn’t kick in until about the sixth or seventh inning, after the Yankees scored their lone run and we were able to starting counting down the outs on one hand. That was my first championship as a Yankee fan and I’m never ever ever going to forget it. Game Five was a huge part of it, all because of that guy right up there. I’m gonna miss the big lug.

* * *

Anyways, here’s your open thread on this chilly, somber evening. The Devils are playing the Rangers in the Garden, which sums up the night in local sports. Talk about whatever you want, but I suspect Andy’s name will come up once or twice.

Link Dump: Andy Pettitte Edition

Walking away on your own terms is something few players get to do. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

It’s Andy Pettitte day, so let’s round up some links…

The official statement

Chad Jennings posted the team’s official press release about Andy’s retirement. “According to the Elias Sports Bureau,” says the release, “Pettitte, a three-time All-Star (1996, 2001, ’10) and 2001 ALCS MVP, holds the distinction of being the only pitcher in Major League history to post a record of .500 or better while making at least 15 starts in each of the first 16 seasons of his career.”

The press conference is tomorrow morning at 10:30am ET and can be seen on YES, mlb.com, and yankees.com. We’ll liveblog it one way or another.

Andy’s place in recent history

I don’t think any of us really considers Pettitte to be one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, but he’s certainly one of the best in recent history. Joe tackled that very topic at FanGraphs, finding that just a dozen pitchers can lay claim to a better career than Andy over the last 30 years. When it comes to recent Yankee history, no starting pitcher is even in the same ballpark.

The Hall of Fame?

Over at his new digs, Rob Neyer broke down Andy’s case for the Hall of Fame, which is borderline at best. I don’t think he should get in, but Rob states his case and shows that if nothing else, Pettitte will probably stick around on the ballot for a number of years. Maybe the Veteran’s Committee voted him in eventually, but sheesh, that’s two decades away.

The RAB Radio Show: February 3, 2011

It feels like just yesterday we were welcoming back Andy. (Kathy Willens/AP)

We said previously that when Andy Pettitte makes a decision that it will be Andy Pettitte Day on the podcast. Unfortunately, it’s not of the happy type. Mike and I reminisce about the carer of Andrew Eugene Pettitte.

In case you were wondering, this was Pettitte’s final act on a pitcher’s mound:

Podcast run time 34:11

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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license