Girardi finishes third in Manager of the Year voting

Yankees manager Joe Girardi received 4 first place votes, 3 second place votes, and 5 third place votes in the Manager of the Year voting, finishing third behind winner Mike Scioscia and runner up Ron Gardenhire. Ironically enough, Girardi’s team beat both Gardenhire’s team and Scioscia’s team on its march to the World Championship.

Jim Tracy took home NL honors in a landslide.

What Went Right: The Midseason Pickups

Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.

The Midseason Pickups

While the big offseason additions received the majority of the media and fan attention during the season (rightfully so), the little moves the team made to tweak the roster midseason also played a key role in bringing them to the promised land.

For most of the first half, the best bat the Yankees had on the bench belonged to Brett Gardner, which was sad. That all changed in late June, when the team acquired World Series veteran Eric Hinske (and $400,000 to pay his salary) from the Pirates for two throw away minor leaguers (a.k.a. Casey Erickson and Eric Fryer). Hinske immediately became the team’s primary pinch hitter, and even chipped in a few starts here and there to keep the regulars rested.

Hinske famously clubbed five homers in his first seven games with the Yanks, and hit .226-.316-.512 overall. He also played three different positions (not including DH), and reached base in his only postseason plate appearance, eventually coming around to score.

The second midseason pickup came right on the July 31st trade deadline, when the Yanks used their surplus of minor league catching depth (in this case: Chase Weems) to import the versatile Jerry Hairston Jr. from Cincinnati. Hairston replaced the overmatched Cody Ransom as the all-purpose bench player, and he went on to play every position but pitcher, catcher, and first base for the Bombers. Hairston’s overall batting line of .237-.352-.382 wasn’t spectacular, but bench players that can get on base more than 35% of the time don’t grow on trees.

On the roster for all three playoff series, Hairston ignited a game winning rally with a lead off single in the 13th inning of Game Two of the ALCS. He later made a spot start in rightfield for the slumping Nick Swisher, going 1-for-3 off Pedro Martinez in Game Two of the World Series and igniting another rally with a lead off single. Although Hairston and Hinske saw limited action in the playoffs, both certainly contributed in big ways once their names were called.

The final midseason pickup came a week after the Hairston trade, when the Yanks shipped $100K to San Diego in exchange for Chad Gaudin. The righthander initially worked out of the bullpen, but soon displaced Sergio Mitre as the team’s fifth starter. The Yankees won all six of Gaudin’s starts, during which he posted a 3.19 ERA. Even though he was on call to make a start every round, Gaudin appeared in only one game in the postseason, mopping up a blow out win in Game Four of the ALCS.

No team is ever complete in April, and the Yankees did a tremendous job of upgrading their roster during the season while using minimal resources. Weaknesses were addressed by acquiring veteran players familiar with the roles they were being asked to fill, not players who weren’t accustomed to coming off the bench or pitching on an irregular schedule. The added depth rewarded the team down the stretch and in the postseason.

Photo Credits: Reuters, Reuters, and Reuters

Rumor du jour: An extension window for Halladay

As a follow-up to yesterday’s discussion on Roy Halladay, Jordian Bastian of MLB.com throws a wrench into the plans. According to Bastian’s sources, the Blue Jays are willing to allow a negotiating window for any team interested in acquiring Halladay. The Blue Jays’ ace has just one year left on his contract, and a negotiating window would allow Toronto to extract more value for Halladay. As iYankees notes, this move is a similar to the one the Twins employed in the Santana trade talks, and I’m not surprised to hear it. After all, as I said yesterday, the Blue Jays need to land a big impact player if the team trades Halladay, and a negotiating window gives them more leverage.

In other rumor news, Tyler Kepner runs down the potential organizational wishlist for the Hot Stove league. He doesn’t cover much new ground, but the summary is a succinct one of the Yanks’ desires for an outfielder, a starting pitcher and a few younger players. A team of mid-to-late 30s players can only carry a franchise so far.

A role, defined or not, for Joba

When Brian Cashman announced last week that Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes would not have significant innings limits next season, he hedged his bets on the two youngsters’ true roles. “I look at them as starters that can relieve,” Cashman said. “But I look at them as starters.”

In one sense, that characterization gives the Yanks some flexibility. They know for a fact that Phil Hughes can be a lockdown reliever, and they believe he can be a dominant starter. They know for a fact that Joba Chamberlain can be a lockdown reliever, and they know that he can be a dominant starter. If knowing, as they say, is half the battle, well, then the Yankees are halfway there.

This flexibility gives them the opportunity to take a wait-and-see approach to this winter’s pitching market. They have CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett inked in to the top two slots and will likely enjoy the services of Andy Pettitte as well. Behind those three await some combination of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Chad Gaudin and Ian Kennedy with Al Aceves, Sergio Mitre and Chien-Ming Wang as potential options as well. John Lackey is out there; Roy Halladay is out there; Ben Sheets is out there. Any addition would be icing on the depth chake.

With this plethora of pitching comes some uncertainty though. Talking to reporters last night as his Wrap to Rap charity event, Joba noted that his role for 2010 remains undefined. Here’s how MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo put it:

As for Chamberlain, the Yankees have not yet told him whether he should prepare as a starting pitcher or a reliever. With Spring Training still three months away, Chamberlain has not even begun working out again, much less throwing…

By the time the postseason rolled around, the Yankees had decided to proceed with a three-man rotation, thereby relegating Chamberlain back to the bullpen. And his future remains unclear. The only hints he has received have come from general manager Brian Cashman, who said last week that he envisioned both Chamberlain and Phil Hughes as starters — but starters who are capable of relieving. “So he didn’t really answer the question,” Chamberlain cracked.

In a way, this is a spurious extrapolation by DiComo. The Yankees remained committed to Joba the starter throughout the 2009 season, and despite a late-season slide — possibly brought about by inconsistent rules — Joba met expectations. He stayed healthy throughout the season and made his starts to greater or lesser degrees of success.

The postseason, though, has a funny way of clouding perception. Although Joba’s overall October numbers were in line with his season totals, the eyes can tell a slightly different story. During the AL playoff rounds and World Series, Joba was indeed throwing a tick harder. During the playoffs, he averaged around 94/95 and dialed it up to 97/98, up a few miles per hour over his season numbers. That difference can turn Joba from an above-average pitcher to an elite one, and although he doesn’t have to sustain that velocity over the course of 34 starts, that it disappeared this year after it was there for 2008 led to a few questions this season.

In the end, as I mentioned in the comments to Joe’s post on Ben Sheets, Joba’s role may very well depend upon how the Yanks’ off-season unfolds. If the pitcher depth is there for the Yanks, they have the luxury of knowing that Joba (and Phil) can succeed in the bullpen, but on the depth charts, Joba probably has an edge for a rotation spot over Phil simply because he has the innings, experience and success under his belt.

In the meantime, Joba doesn’t mind the uncertainty. “It’s a great problem to have for Phil and myself,” he said. “We’ve been in situations and there’s a lot of things we can be. I think it’s an advantage for our team that there are so many different options to make us better for 2010.”

I believe Joba is a starter and should spend the off-season preparing as such. He doesn’t really need Brian Cashman to come out and say it, but we know it. When all is said and done, 2010 will seen Joba in the rotation, and the Yanks are better off for it.

Don’t expect Ben Sheets to be a bargain

Every year there are a few free agents who were once good, but who have succumbed to injury. They’re a baseball fan’s dream. We imagine the best of all possible worlds, an incentive laden contract that protects against loss and maximizes reward. If only the front office were smart enough to understand that, they’d have a great pitcher. Alas, only one team gets the player, and it’s usually not our favorite one.

This year’s free agent class features three of these pitchers. Erik Bedard, Rich Harden, and Ben Sheets should all be fine for Opening Day 2010, but each had trouble staying healthy in 2009. At their best they’re all very good pitchers, but because of the health questions they probably won’t cash in this off-season. That is, unless there’s a reason to believe that the injury concern isn’t too great.

Ben Sheets is a familiar name to Yankees fans. He was one of the top free agent pitchers last year, and therefore was on the Yankees radar. Before he revealed the severity of his elbow injury, Sheets was considered an alternative to A.J. Burnett — and he might even have been the better choice. After surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow, Sheets played the waiting game, but ultimately did not pitch in 2009.

This could be a good thing, says Keith Law.

The year off may do him wonders, as he’s had a lot of non-arm injuries that have limited his workload for the past few years, and he was never terrible when pitching at less than 100 percent. So as this type of pitcher goes, he’s a pretty good value; not much downside with the upside of a No. 2 starter who might give you 160-180 innings.

In comparing Sheets to Burnett last off-season, Mike listed Sheets’s injury history. Law is right that Sheets has suffered many non-arm injuries, including a viral and ear infection in 2005, a torn lat in the same year, and a sprained middle finger in 2007. His most serious arm injury was a right shoulder strain in 2006, which kept him on the DL barely more than the minimum, but which also came up a month later, causing him to miss more than two months.

The latest injury is of concern, of course, raises concern because it was an arm injury. A torn flexor tendon isn’t considered as serious as a torn ligament, but it’s still an arm injury. Some teams just can’t afford to take that risk, even for a pitcher like Sheets. That will depress his market value a bit, but I’m not sure he’ll be a true bargain. There are plenty of teams that could use a pitcher like him, and I think it might mean a higher base salary and fewer incentives.

Even if other teams aren’t offering a high base, the Yankees might have to. As Tyler Kepner notes, the price on Sheets “would probably be low enough that the Yankees could afford to outbid other teams.” That’s the way things usually work with the Yankees. They have money and everyone knows it. So when the Yankees want a player that other teams want, they sometimes have to pay a premium. It’s one reason why the Yankees payroll is so high, but that’s a topic for another day.

Ben Sheets would be a great addition to any team. His injury history, and especially his latest one, make him a bigger risk than others, but his upside is perhaps the best on the free agent market. The Yankees liked Sheets when they met with him last off-season, and could certainly pursue him again this year. He’d be a gamble, and the Yankees might have to pay a premium for him, but if it works out the 2010 staff will be greatly strengthened.

Kennedy strong in his final start of 2009

AzFL Surprise (9-2 win over Mesa) the season ends on Tuesday … Phoenix and the Peoria Javelinas will play in the AzFL Title Game on Saturday .. chances are it’ll be on MLB Network, but I’m not 100% sure
Colin Curtis: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB – 4 HR in 19 games
Ian Kennedy: 5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 5-5 GB/FB – 50 of 66 pitches were strike (75.8% (!!!)) … he finishes his AzFL stint with a 4.25 ERA but a 2.26 FIP in 29.2 IP … considering how ridiculously offensive this league is, giving up just one homer is a minor miracle … IPK also said he feels great

Meanwhile, the list of minor league free agents was released today. Here’s who the Yanks are losing:

RHP: Paul Bush (AA), Michael Gardner (AA), Justin Pope (AA), Humberto Sanchez (AAA), Jay Stephens (AA), Jose Valdez (AAA)
C: Brian Peterson (AAA), Chris Stewart (AAA)
3B: Eric Duncan (AAA), Carlos Mendoza (AA), Cody Ransom (AAA), Marcos Vechionacci (AA)
SS: Doug Bernier (AAA)
OF: Edwar Gonzalez (AA), Freddy Guzman (AAA), Richie Robnett (AA), John Rodriguez (AAA)

I guess I was wrong that Jason Hirsh was eligible for free agency, so that’s good. They’ll probably re-sign a few of these guys, but most of them can walk. Old buddies Chase Wright and Justin Christian are free agents now. I’d love to see the Yanks bring in  Ryan Speier, Andrew Brown, and/or Chad Cordero to add to that cache of dirt cheap, interchangeable relievers.

Oh, and the guys at Project Prospect rated Slade Heathcott the 14th best centerfield prospect in the game.

Open Thread: Unbiased, you say?

In theory, reporters are supposed to be our objective lens. They’re supposed to cast aside fan biases and tell us what happened. Yet as we enter awards season it becomes clear that reporters cannot hide their biases. No one can, really. We are human, after all, and part of our humanity is that we all see the world differently. Still, for a group that touts objectivity, I’d like to see them at least feign it when voting on awards.

This is not an indictment of all reporters. Some of them have an excellent sense of the game and can put their own teams aside when voting on awards. As has become clear over the past few years, though, some just can’t help but vote for the hometown team — or, in a case last year, against the rival player. It usually doesn’t have a huge effect on the outcome, but it does speak to a biased viewpoint.

In 2007, Alex Rodriguez won the MVP in a near unanimous decision. His 54 home runs and 156 RBI led the league by wide margins, and since those are the numbers writers tend to focus on the most, it’s no surprise that he got all but two first place MVP votes. The problem wasn’t that two writers voted for Magglio Ordonez over Rodriguez — Magglio had a great season, leading the league with a .363 batting average. No, the problem was that both writers were from Detroit, and that their reasons reek of bias.

Said Jim Hawkins of the Oakland Press in Pontiac, Michigan: “I saw Magglio play every day. What I saw was a player having an MVP year. I have no quarrel with anyone who voted for A-Rod. He also had an MVP year. But with the injuries the Tigers had and the effort and performance I saw from Magglio, there’s no question he had an MVP year.”

Said Tom Gage of the Detroit News: “I went with what I saw. So many times, you have to vote off the stat sheet. I fully expected A Rod to win. He had a great year. But I saw an MVP year. There were stats to back up the impression that I came away with from the regular season.”

So they voted for Magglio because that’s who they saw during the season. That’s about as biased as it gets. They could have cited Magglio’s superior batting average, on base percentage, and doubles, but instead focused on their bias — which they are not supposed to have, being “objective” reporters.

Last year, Mike ranted about Tom Haudricourt’s ballot. Haudricourt covers the Brewers, and that bias seemed to have shown on his MVP ballot. He voted Albert Pujols, clearly the NL MVP last year, seventh. Seventh place. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Haudricourt hadn’t placed three Brewers on his ballot, and also three first basemen ahead of Pujols. It looks like Haudricourt voted on his NL Central bias.

This year brings us back to Detoit, where Steve Kornacki used his Cy Young vote on Justin Verlander. Verlander had a good season for sure, but he wasn’t at the level of Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez. Yet Kornacki voted for Verlander anyway, with the following justification:

Verlander received my first-place vote because nobody was tougher on the mound with the season on the line for his team.

Verlander threw at least 120 pitches in six of his last eight outings and won his last three starts, forcing a one-game playoff against the Minnesota Twins with his final victory.

He was an inspirational ‘horse,’ using Tigers manager Jim Leyland’s term for him, on a fading team.

This pretty clearly falls victim to the base rate fallacy. It also looks like a case of confirmation bias. The decision looks even worse because Verlander pitches in the same division as Greinke, so even if Kornacki wanted to discount Greinke’s accomplishments because of a weak division, he couldn’t honestly vote for Verlander instead.

All that said, these are subjective awards, and we should expect the voters’ biases to play a role. My problem is with the facade of objectiveness. Reporters are not some select class who can set aside their biases and deliver down the middle news. They’re just as subject to cognitive biases as you and me. That might not be as clear during the regular season, but as we enter awards season, their biases come out front and center. I just wish they’d admit to them more, rather than continuing to feign objectivity.

If you don’t feel like talking about how reporters vote for awards, you’re in luck. This is your open thread for the evening. Have at it.