Hall of Fame Season

2018hof-ballot

I love the smell of rehashed arguments in the morning. Welcome, folks, to another season of Hall of Fame voting. It’s that most wonderfully awful time of year again that I swear I’m going to quite every year. But, like Michael Corleone, every time I’m out, they pull me back in (that’s pretty much the only thing I know about The Godfather Part III). I think this happens because when I was first truly active about baseball on the internet, my first “cause” was the candidacy of Bert Blyleven. From there, it moved on to Mike Mussina and I can’t help but be drawn into this stuff year in and year out.

Some general thoughts, given the Joe Morgan letter and what not…First, the idea of purity in any generation or at any tie of baseball is complete and total garbage. Segregation, gambling, juiced balls, amphetamines, steroids, you name it–there has never been any sort of “pure” competition in baseball. To say that steroids are any worse than these things is specious at best. The Steroid Era, or whatever you want to call it, happened and we can’t ignore that, and neither can a museum about baseball. Not including players from that era is irresponsible at best and damaging to the history of the game at worst.

I’ll never have a real Hall of Fame ballot, but if I didn’t do this next part, this post wouldn’t be worth much, would it? First, I’m just gonna list the ten players on the above ballot I feel are most deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, regardless of circumstance.

Three locks: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Chipper Jones. Bonds and Clemens are two of the best player’s in the game’s history, hands down. Their numbers and accomplishments speak for themselves and don’t need input from me. Chipper was incredible, probably a bit underrated, even. There aren’t a lot of guys, let alone third basemen, who went .300/.400/.500 for their career and he’s one of them.

Two pitchers: Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. Though I dislike the latter player off the field, it’s hard to deny he was one of the best pitchers in baseball during his career. Mussina, as I’m sure you all know, was a fantastic pitcher as well, and criminally underrated. These two deserve to be in.

Two first timers: Jim Thome and Scott Rolen. Scott Rolen was Adrian Beltre before Adrian Beltre became what we all know him as today. An incredible fielder and a great hitter. Rare would be a situation in which two third basemen were inducted at once, but if anyone deserves to be alongside Chipper Jones, it’s Rolen. They were the two best at their position in the game. Thome as a tater-mashing (612 career) OBP (.402 career) machine whom everyone liked. He’s in.

A lefty and two righties: It took a bit of convincing for me over the years–and I don’t know why–but I’m on board with the Larry Walker thing. He was an absolutely great hitter and it wasn’t just Coors. Even with spending a ton of time there, his career OPS+ is still 141 and his career wRC+ is 140. He was not just a product of his environment. Remember the .300/.400/.500 thing? It applies to Walker, as well as Edgar Martinez, one  of the best right handed hitters of his time and the best ever at his position. Another one of those? Manny Ramirez. Love him, hate him, whatever, he’s another .300/.400/.500 guy and he’s on the shortlist for best righty hitters ever.

No use for the podium this year. (Photo via WLWT Cincinnati)
(Photo via WLWT Cincinnati)

If I could add players to this ballot and supersede the arbitrary ten person limit, I’d also add Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield. And, despite my hands off stance regarding steroids, I can see the argument in not voting for Manny since he was caught and suspended twice. The one guy I really want to see in but I’m not sure if he should be in is Johan Santana. There were few–if any–pitchers better than him from 2004-2010, but I just can’t fully convince myself that it was a long enough time for him to play, regardless of his absolute dominance. One thing in his favor is that he actually compares very favorably to Sandy Koufax, another pitcher who was all peak and little longevity. In fact, Johan even beats him in ERA+, 136-131. Something I’ll have to hypothetically wrestle with for my hypothetical ballot.

Regardless of what people may think, given their various positions and interests, the Hall of Fame is a great museum to the history of baseball. To tell the history of baseball, all the best players need to be included or else the Hall is lying to its patrons and customers. We can’t ignore an era or the accomplishments of certain players because we don’t like them or don’t like what they did. Doing so is intellectually dishonest and ignores the complexity of both baseball and life.

The best seasons at each position by a Yankee during the RAB era

2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)
2007 A-Rod was a hell of a thing. (NY Daily News)

RAB celebrated its tenth birthday Monday. Tenth! I can’t believe it. Ben, Joe, and I started this site as a hobby and it grew into something far greater than we ever expected. The site has been around for a World Series championship, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez getting to 3,000 hits, Mariano Rivera becoming the all-time saves king … we’ve seen lots of cool stuff these last ten years. Thank you to everyone who has been reading, no matter how long you’ve been with us.

For the sake of doing something a little out of the ordinary, let’s look back at the best individual seasons at each position by Yankees players during the RAB era. Who had the best season by a catcher? By a right fielder? That sorta stuff. We launched on February 20th, 2007, so this covers the 2007-16 seasons. Come with me, won’t you?

Catcher: 2007 Jorge Posada

Very easy call behind the plate. Posada had the best offensive season of his career in 2007, hitting .338/.426/.543 (157 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 589 plate appearances. He caught 138 games that year — it was Jorge’s eighth straight season with 120+ starts behind the plate — and went to his fifth and final All-Star Game. Posada also finished sixth in the MVP voting. By bWAR (+5.4) and fWAR (+5.6), it was the third best season of his career behind 2003 (+5.9 and +6.0) and 2000 (+5.5 and +6.1). Honorable mention goes out to 2015 Brian McCann and 2016 Gary Sanchez. (Sanchez’s +3.0 bWAR last year is second best by a Yankee catcher during the RAB era.)

First Base: 2009 Mark Teixeira

Another easy call. Teixeira’s first season in pinstripes featured a .292/.383/.565 (142 wRC+) batting line and AL leading home run (39), RBI (122), and total bases (344) totals. He went to his second All-Star Game and won his third Gold Glove at first base as well. Teixeira was the MVP runner-up to Joe Mauer, though Teixeira and the Yankees swept Mauer and the Twins in the ALDS en route to winning the World Series. Got the last laugh that year. Both bWAR (+5.0) and fWAR (+5.1) say Teixeira’s 2009 season was far and away the best by a Yankees first baseman since RAB became a thing. Honorable mention goes to a bunch of other Teixeira seasons.

Second Base: 2012 Robinson Cano

The only question at second base was which Cano season to pick. His run from 2009-13 was truly the best five-year stretch by a second baseman in franchise history. Cano hit .313/.379/.550 (149 wRC+) with 33 homers in 2012 while playing 161 of 162 regular season games. He set new career highs in homers, slugging percentage, total bases (345), bWAR (+8.7), and fWAR (+7.6) while tying his previous career high in doubles (48). Robbie was a monster. He went to his third straight All-Star Game and won his third straight Gold Glove, and also finished fourth in the MVP voting. The club’s best season by a non-Cano second baseman during the RAB era belongs to Starlin Castro. Quite the drop-off there, eh?

Shortstop: 2009 Derek Jeter

The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)
The Captain circa 2009. (Paul Bereswill/Getty)

As great as Teixeira was in 2009, he wasn’t even the best player on his own infield that year. The Yankees flip-flopped Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order that season and the Cap’n responded by hitting .334/.406/.465 (130 wRC+) with 18 home runs and 30 steals in 35 attempts as the leadoff man. It was also the first (and only) time in Jeter’s career the fielding stats rated him as above-average. I remember thinking Derek looked noticeably more mobile in the field. That was the year after Brian Cashman reportedly told Jeter the team would like him to work on his defense after finding out Joe Torre never relayed the message years ago. The 2009 season was the second best of Jeter’s career by fWAR (+6.6) and third best by bWAR (+6.5) behind his monster 1998-99 seasons. The Cap’n was an All-Star that year and he finished third in the MVP voting behind Mauer and Teixeira.

Third Base: 2007 Alex Rodriguez

The single greatest season by a Yankee not just during the RAB era, but since Mickey Mantle was in his prime. I went to about 25 games that season and I swear I must’ve seen A-Rod hit 25 home runs. He went deep every night it seemed. Rodriguez hit .314/.422/.645 (175 wRC+) that summer and led baseball in runs (143), home runs (54), RBI (156), SLG (.645), OPS+ (176), bWAR (+9.4), and fWAR (+9.6). All that earned him a spot in the All-Star Game (duh) and his third MVP award (second with the Yankees). A-Rod received 26 of the 28 first place MVP votes that year. The two Detroit voters voted for Magglio Ordonez. For reals. What an incredible season this was. I’ve never seen a player locked in like that for 162 games. Alex was on a completely different level than everyone else in 2007.

Left Field: 2010 Brett Gardner

With all due respect to Damon, who was outstanding for the 2009 World Series team, 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon. Gardner hit .277/.383/.379 (112 wRC+) with five home runs and 47 steals that season to go along with his excellent defense. Damon, meanwhile, hit a healthy .282/.365/.489 (122 wRC+) with a career high tying 24 home runs and 12 steals in 2009. His defense was so very shaky though. Remember how he used to take those choppy steps that made it seem like he had no idea where the ball was? Both bWAR (+7.3 to +4.2) and fWAR (+6.1 to +3.6) say 2010 Gardner was better than 2009 Damon, but forget about WAR. Gardner got on base much more often and was the better baserunner. I think that combined with the glove more than makes up for Damon’s edge in power. Honorable mention goes to Matsui’s .285/.367/.488 (124 wRC+) effort with 25 home runs in 2007.

Center Field: 2011 Curtis Granderson

Remember how much Granderson struggled the first four and a half months of the 2010 season? He was hitting .240/.307/.417 (91 wRC+) with ten homers in 335 plate appearances prior to his career-altering pow wow with hitting coach Kevin Long that August. Granderson made some mechanical changes and hit .259/.354/.560 (144 wRC+) with 14 homers in 193 plate appearances the rest of the way. He went from a passable outfielder to one of the game’s top power hitters seemingly overnight. That success carried over into 2011, during which Granderson hit .262/.364/.552 (146 wRC+) with 41 home runs. He led the league in runs (136) and RBI (119), went to the All-Star Game, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. My man.

Right Field: 2010 Nick Swisher

We’re picking between Swisher seasons here, and I’m going with 2010 over 2012. Swisher managed a .288/.359/.511 (134 wRC+) line with 29 home runs in 2010, making it the best offensive season of his career. Add in right field defense that was better than Swisher got credit for, and you’ve got a +3.7 bWAR and +4.3 fWAR player. Right field lacks that big eye-popping season like the other positions during the RAB era. Swisher was reliably above-average but not a star.

Designated Hitter: 2009 Hideki Matsui

Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)
Happier times. (Al Bello/Getty)

I came into this exercise with a pretty good idea who I’d have at each position, and I assumed 2009 Matsui would be the easy call at DH. Then when I got down to it and looked at the stats, I realized 2015 A-Rod was pretty much right there with him. Check it out:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR XBH RBI bWAR fWAR
2009 Matsui 528 .274/.367/.509 127 28 50 90 +2.7 +2.4
2015 A-Rod 620 .250/.356/.486 130 33 56 86 +3.1 +2.7

That’s really close! Matsui hit for a higher average and got on-base more, though A-Rod had more power. A lefty hitting 28 homers in Yankee Stadium isn’t as impressive as a righty hitting 33, even when considering the 92 extra plate appearances. Since they’re so close, I’m fine with using the postseason as a tiebreaker. Matsui was excellent in October while A-Rod went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Wild Card Game loss to the Astros. Tie goes to the World Series MVP.

Now that we have our nine position players, I’m going to build a lineup, because why not? Lineups are fun. Here’s how I’d set the batting order:

  1. 2009 Derek Jeter
  2. 2012 Robinson Cano
  3. 2007 Alex Rodriguez
  4. 2009 Mark Teixeira
  5. 2007 Jorge Posada
  6. 2011 Curtis Granderson
  7. 2009 Hideki Matsui
  8. 2010 Nick Swisher
  9. 2010 Brett Gardner

Look good? It does to me. Dave Pinto’s lineup analysis tool tells me that lineup would average 6.87 runs per game, or 1,113 runs per 162 games. The modern record for runs scored in a season is 1,067 by the 1931 Yankees. (Several teams from the 1800s scored more.) The 1999 Indians were the last team to score 1,000 runs. They scored 1,009.

Starting Pitchers

Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
Moooooose. (Nick Laham/Getty)
IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mike Mussina 200.1 3.37 131 3.32 +5.2 +4.6
2009 CC Sabathia 230 3.37 137 3.39 +6.2 +5.9
2011 CC Sabathia 237.1 3.00 143 2.88 +7.5 +6.4
2012 Hiroki Kuroda 219.2 3.32 127 3.86 +5.5 +3.8
2016 Masahiro Tanaka 199.2 3.07 142 3.51 +5.4 +4.6

Chien-Ming Wang‘s 2007 season as well as a few more Sabathia seasons (2010 and 2012, specifically) were among the final cuts. Late career Andy Pettitte was steady and reliable, but he didn’t have any truly great seasons from 2007-13.

Sabathia is the gold standard for Yankees starting pitchers during the RAB era. From 2009-12, he was the club’s best pitcher since guys like Pettitte, Mussina, David Cone, and Roger Clemens around the turn of the century. Mussina had that marvelous farewell season and Tanaka was awesome last year. Kuroda? He was the man. One-year contracts don’t get any better than what he did for the Yankees.

The Yankees haven’t had an all-time great pitcher during the RAB era, a Clayton Kershaw or a Felix Hernandez, someone like that, but they had four years of a bonafide ace in Sabathia plus several other very good seasons. Everyone in the table except Kuroda received Cy Young votes those years. Sabathia finished fourth in the voting in both 2009 and 2011.

Relief Pitchers

IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR fWAR
2008 Mariano Rivera 70.2 1.40 316 2.03 +4.3 +3.2
2009 Mariano Rivera 66.1 1.76 262 2.89 +3.5 +2.0
2011 David Robertson 66.2 1.08 399 1.84 +4.0 +2.6
2014 Dellin Betances 90 1.40 274 1.64 +3.7 +3.2
2015 Dellin Betances 84 1.50 271 2.48 +3.7 +2.4
2015 Andrew Miller 61.2 2.04 200 2.16 +2.2 +2.0
2016 Dellin Betances 73 3.08 141 1.78 +1.1 +2.9

So many great relief seasons to choose from. I had to leave out several Rivera seasons (2007, 2010, 2011, 2013), several Robertson seasons (2012-14), a Miller season (2016), a Rafael Soriano season (2012), and even a Phil Hughes season (2009). Remember how great Hughes was in relief in 2009? Hughes and Rivera were automatic that year. The Yankees have been blessed with some truly excellent relievers these past ten years. The great Mariano Rivera retired and somehow they have replaced him seamlessly. We’ve seen some amazing performances since launching RAB.

This time, it’s personal

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Just a bit less than a year ago, I wrote  a piece detailing my inability to let go of caring about the Baseball Hall of Fame process. Now, all this time later, I still can’t stop caring. I’ve managed to let go of caring about the postseason awards voting, but the Hall of Fame stuff still lingers. In 2015, I talked about the idea of rational debate, of a love of logic and reason being behind my enduring attachment to the Hall of Fame process; this year, though, it’s different. I care his year for reasons that are wholly personal.

The first baseball mitt I clearly remember using was a small black one that I used up until middle school. On the palm in gold lettering was a signature that read “Tim ‘Rock’ Raines.” It wasn’t until recently that I realized just how good Raines was as a player, that he was more than just the dude whose signature adorned my first mitt, which I’ll seemingly never forget. Given that this is his last year on the ballot, it’s hard not to care, not to want to see him get in. It’s possible–maybe even probable–that he does this year. That would be sweet and a long time coming or a great, great player.

Jorge Posada, on the ballot for the first time–and probably the last–was a favorite player of mine growing up. The same is probably true of a lot of you. Whether it was his consistent, excellent bat or his passion for the game, it wasn’t hard to root for Jorge. Always the player surrounded by stars, Posada’s career is likely highly underrated by anyone outside of Yankee fandom. He’s not going to garner a lot of support–and he probably shouldn’t be a Hall of Fame player–but it’d be nice for Georgie to get some recognition.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

All of us–well, except Michael Kay–loved Mike Mussina’s time on the Yankees. Combining his peak performance for the Bombers and his longevity, he’s got a case as one of the Yankees three best starters of the last twenty years.  He was a fantastic pitcher for a long time and is also underappreciated on a large scale and deserves Cooperstown just as much as any pitcher has in recent years.

The odds of all three of these favorites of mine getting in are incredibly long, nigh impossible. But having that connection to them is why I can’t stop caring, at least not this year. Maybe once this spate of ex-Yankees–ending with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and (hopefully) Alex Rodriguez in the next few years–comes to an end, I can finally put an end to caring about this damned process. Until then, though, I’ll continue to root, root for the home team and hope my favorites make it in.

The Most Awfully Wonderful Time of the Year

No use for the podium this year. (Photo via WLWT Cincinnati)
(Photo via WLWT Cincinnati)

If you’re like me, then when you see your career portrayed in movies or television, you get hyper-critical and pick apart every detail. Nothing is ever right. No one would ever act that way in that situation, no matter how much it fits the plot or the character. So you wave your hand, roll your eyes, rant, rave, and absolutely refuse to throw in the towel and let the fight die. The worst part is that you know better. You know it’s being dramatized for the sake of the show or film, but something inside of you just won’t let you not care. This messy thought process also applies to me when it comes to the Hall of Fame.

I know that I should know better. I know that I shouldn’t care that much. Whether or not a player gets into the Hall of Fame does not and should not matter all that much to me as a baseball fan. That fact will not change how much I enjoyed watching someone play or how much I’ve marveled at his statistics on his Baseball Reference page. But I just can’t help myself.

I’m an educator in the real world and my day is dedicated to helping others learn and grow. Perhaps this is at the root of why I can’t stop caring about the Hall of Fame. I want to see others achieve things even more than I want that for myself and, true or not, the Hall of Fame seems like the ultimate end-place for a baseball player and I want to see players I rooted for or players I thought were exceptional get there. But that’s projecting. How do I know if players want it or don’t want it? It doesn’t change how I viewed the player and maybe it doesn’t change how he viewed his own career.

Alternatively, I’m a person who likes to talk, think, discuss, and analyze–hell, that’s why I got into blogging in the first place. Debates about a player’s induction into Cooperstown involve those things and given that they take place after a player’s career, there’s a large sample size; there’s a chance to be objective; there’s a pretty solid standard to compare against. Those things should combine to make solid, reasonable, rational arguments. Of course, that doesn’t happen. The arguments around the Hall of Fame get clouded by steroid suspicion, narrative-driven nostalgia, and all sorts of other hindrances that make rational debate damn near impossible. Invariably, there are articles written with flimsy defenses of indefensible ballots that I try to ignore, but sometimes, I can’t help it. Every year, I know this is going to happen, but it hasn’t stopped me from fighting on Bert Blyleven Hill and probably won’t stop me from doing the same for Mike Mussina when the time comes.

Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame are great places to visit. In fact, the first trip away my (now) wife and I took was to Cooperstown in February of 2012 and we had a great time. The Hall of Fame itself is an undeniably cool museum with lots of cool artifacts and exciting exhibitions. What I need to do is join the ranks of so many of you reading this who’ve realized that’s all the Hall of Fame needs to be. It isn’t necessarily Baseball Valhalla and that’s okay. Whatever official history the Hall purports to promote or sponsor or whatever isn’t the history of the game that lives in my mind or yours. Ultimately, that history is much more important to us and it’s what I should learn to cherish most. My Hall of Fame…your Hall of Fame….those are the ones that matter more than any building in Cooperstown ever should.

Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz all elected to Hall of Fame

A Hall of Famer, but not because of his time in pinstripes. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
A Hall of Famer, but not because of his time in pinstripes. (AP)

The Hall of Fame has four new members. On Tuesday, the BBWAA announced Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz have all been inducted into Cooperstown. This is the first time four players have been inducted in one year since 1955 (Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, Dazzy Vance) and the first time three pitchers were inducted in one year in history.

Biggio fell two votes short of induction last year, and historically when a player misses by that narrow a margin, he gets in comfortably the next year. That’s what happened here — Biggio appeared on 82.7% of the ballots this year, well more than the 75% necessary for induction. The full voting results are available at the BBWAA’s site.

Johnson is an inner-circle Hall of Famer and appeared on 97.3% of the ballots, the eighth highest voting total of all-time. He spent two seasons with the Yankees and is presumably going into the Hall of Fame as a Diamondback. Arizona signed him to a four-year contract in 1999 and he won four straight Cy Youngs from 1999-2002, so yeah. Pedro and Smoltz appeared on 91.1% and 82.9% of the ballots, respectively.

The Yankees had some pretty great battles against those three over the years, including beating Smoltz’s Braves in the 1996 and 1999 World Series. Johnson bested the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS and 2001 World Series and is simply one of the best pitchers ever, arguably the best lefty ever. Pedro … man did he and the Yankees share some memorable moments. His 17-strikeout one-hitter at Yankee Stadium on September 10th, 1999 is one of the most dominant pitching performances I’ve ever seen:

Former Yankees Tim Raines (55.0%), Roger Clemens (37.5%), Mike Mussina (24.6%), Gary Sheffield (11.7%), Aaron Boone (0.4%), Tom Gordon (0.4%), and Tony Clark (0%) all fell well short of induction. Boone, Gordon, and Clark drop off the ballot because they received fewer than 5% of the vote.

In his final year of Hall of Fame eligibility, Don Mattingly received only 9.1% of the vote, so he exhausted his 15 years on the ballot and was not inducted to Cooperstown. He topped out at 28.2% of the vote during his first year of eligibility back in 2001 and has sat closer to 13% over the last decade or so, including only 8.2% last year.

Down the line, Mattingly could be eligible for induction via the Expansion Era Committee, which meets every three years to identify and vote on Hall of Fame candidates who started their careers after 1972. The Expansion Era Committee did not elect anyone this winter and will meet again in 2017. I love Donnie Baseball as much as anyone, but I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer and I don’t think he’ll get in via the Expansion Era Committee either.

Among the first-time-eligible players set to jump on the ballot next year are Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner. No notable ex-Yankees though. Jorge Posada is set to appear on the ballot for the first time the year after that, giving me two years to prepare to the mother of all Hall of Fame campaigns.

RAB Retrospective: The Perfection of The 2008 Off-Season

The 2008 free agent signings
So long ago. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The 2008 season might not have been as bad as 2013, but Yankees fans would still like to forget it. It seemed that every little thing went wrong that season. Whenever it looked as though the Yankees might have a charge in them, the suffered another blow.

Let’s consider a (perhaps incomplete) list of those maladies:

  • Both Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, top prospects who showed promise in 2007, started off the season in disastrous fashion.
  • Then Hughes got hurt.
  • Darrell Rasner started 20 games.
  • Much worse: Sidney Ponson started 15.
  • Save for a brilliant start here and there, Andy Pettitte was thoroughly mediocre.
  • The only two starters under age 30, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, had wholly disappointing seasons. Cano was benched for lack of hustle, while Carbera got sent back to AAA after more than two service-time years in the bigs.
  • Jorge Posada, fresh off signing a new contract, played the first half with a bum shoulder which required surgery, forcing a cast of offensively inept backups into starting roles.
  • Hideki Matsui‘s balky knees limited him to under 400 PA and sapped him of his power.
  • Chien-Ming Wang suffered a foot injury that would indirectly end his career.
  • Derek Jeter had his worst season since 1996. (Sure, he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award that year, but we’d come to expect more of him.)
  • Joba Chamberlain dazzled out of the pen, and then in the rotation — until he suffered a shoulder injury that cut his season short (and probably ended up causing a lot more long-term damage than we typically account for).
  • They traded a reasonably effective Kyle Farnsworth and got back a wholly terrible Ivan Rodriguez.
  • Xavier Nady hit .330/.383/.535 before the Yankees traded for him, .268/.320/.474 for them.
  • Damaso Marte was terrible and then broke after the trade. Thankfully, they didn’t end up giving away anything of consequence.
  • All told the Yankees used 27 — twenty-seven! — pitchers.

What went right? Mike Mussina’s resurgence was nice to watch. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi both stayed healthy and produced decent numbers. Alex Rodriguez wasn’t his 2007 MVP self, but he was still a top-five hitter. Unfortunately, he started his streak of six straight years on the disabled list. (Which he’ll have snapped at season’s end.) The Yanks did discover Al Aceves, which was nice, and Brian Bruney, which was nice for a very short period of time.

Despite all that, had there been a second Wild Card, or had the Rays improved by 22 wins, instead of 31, the Yanks would have made the playoffs. So how bad could the season have been?

It could have been a fatal sign going forward. The franchise players were getting older. Each had been hurt or saw diminished production during the 2008 season. The only starters under age 30 took steps backwards. Maybe it didn’t feel like it at the time, but the potential for disaster loomed during that off-season. The Yankees needed big changes, and that’s not easy to achieve through free agency.

Thankfully for the Yankees, the 2008-2009 free agent class featured a number of players who fit their exact needs. Even more thankfully, they shed a number of their biggest, and in some cases worst, contracts at the exact right time.

The 2008 payroll was a then-franchise-record $209 million (just a bit more than the 2005 payroll). Without some of those bigger contracts coming off the books, there’s now way that even the Yankees can afford to add contracts for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira (and to a lesser extent, Nick Swisher). But the exact right contracts expired at the exact right time.

Jason Giambi cost the club $22 million in 2008. They essentially shed $17 million, though, since they had to pay him a $5 million buyout on his 2009 option.

Carl Pavano cost the club $11 million in 2008.

Bobby Abreu cost $16 million, but with a $2 million buyout the Yankees saved $14 million.

Mike Mussina cost $11 million, but the Yankees probably weren’t glad to be rid of him at that point.

Andy Pettitte cost $16 million. Worthwhile in 2007, but not so much 2008.

They also saved some money when Ivan Rodriguez’s contract expired. Trading away Wilson Betemit’s $1.6 million was like finding some loose change in the couch cushions.

In total the Yankees shed more than $70 million in salaries, mostly for players they were glad to be rid of, of who were considerably overpaid in 2008.

Time to reallocate those resource to more productive players.

Add up the guys they signed. At $23 million for Sabathia. $22.5 million for Teixeira, $18.5 million for Burnett, and $5.3 million for Swisher, plus another $5.5 million for bringing back Pettitte, you get $74.8 million.

They were able to fill their needs with such high-priced guys, because they had a number of lower-cost players on both sides of the ball. It took some faith in them rebounding, but Cano and Cabrera cost them a combined $7.4 million in 2009. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes earned the minimum, as did almost everyone in the bullpen. If they didn’t have those major-league-ready younger players, then spending $75 million on top-tier players makes less sense. You can have a core of great players, but you still need 25 players on the roster.

At the end of 2008, the Yankees were in a tough spot. Their younger players saw their flaws exposed during the season. There was plenty of uncertainty about the tested veterans. Without the perfect free agent class and money to lure them, the 2009 Yankees might not have been much better than 2008. Without some of those younger guys returning to form, or performing well for a change, the successful free agent signings might not have mattered.

The Yankees found the exact guys to fill needed spots. It cost them plenty, but each of the free agent signings (and trade bounty, in Swisher’s case) added significantly to the 2009 team’s production. Perhaps just as importantly, the Yankees stuck with those younger players and saw their patience rewarded. The entire off-season could have gone a lot differently. But it played out perfectly. We all know the reward.

Mussina among big name first timers on 2014 Hall of Fame ballot

The BBWAA announced the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot today, which you can see right here. It runs a ridiculous 36 players deep. Nineteen of those 36 players are eligible for the first time, including all-time greats Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas. Former Yankee Mike Mussina is among the first timers as well. He is right on the Cooperstown bubble — I think he belongs — and there are good arguments to be made on both sides.

Don Mattingly will be on the ballot for the 14th time, but he received only 13.2% of the vote last year. He’s a long way off from the 75% needed for induction with only two more years of eligibility. Other former Yankees on the ballot include Armando Benitez, J.T. Snow, Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, Roger Clemens, and Tim Raines. Obviously some have greater legacies than others. Voters can only vote for ten players maximum, and there looks to be about 15 Cooperstown-worthy player on the ballot this year. These next few years will be messy.