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December 25, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Hi everyone, Happy Xmas. What did you get? I got the flu.

Okay, I actually got the flu sometime last week, but I've been ill all week, and I've been more or less bedridden, and missed more work than I can afford, not to mention blogging. Blogging's hard enough in the offseason, trying to write something about the Yankees rather than, well, this. I'm not very clearheaded still, so I can't really say anything about baseball, but I'd like to let you all know that I'm relatively okay.

So, have a Happy Xmas everybody, and I hope you got everything you wanted. Although I know you Red Sox fans didn't. Which pleases me very much.

I'll be back, well, eventually, I hope. But, the flu did kill 40 million people in the early 20th century, so let's not count our chickens yet.

December 18, 2003

What did Satchel say about looking back?
by Larry Mahnken

Normally, the offseason belongs to the Yankees. They may not make the most moves, they may not sign the best players, but when the last free agent is signed, and the last trade is made, it seemed fairly clear that the Yankees were going to field the best team going into the season. Everyone started the offseason chasing the Yankees, everyone ended the offseason chasing the Yankees. Every year since 1998, the Yankees have either had the best record in baseball, or played in the World Series.

The plan was simple: they would figure out where they had a whole, and they'd fill it with the best available player, or close to it. In 1997 it was second base and Chuck Knoblauch, in 2000, it was the starting rotation and Mike Mussina, in 2001, first base and Jason Giambi, in 2002, left field and Hideki Matsui. Even after winning 125 games in 1998, they added Roger Clemens.

This year, they saw many holes, and made many moves. To make up for the loss of two of the top 15 pitchers in the American League, they traded one of the best young hitters in baseball for one of the best pitchers in baseball, and their worst starter for yet another ace. Their bullpen was a disaster in the early part of the 2003 season, and looked shaky at times down the stretch, so they revamped it by adding two of the more dominant reliever in baseball last season. They finally acknowledged the decline and fall of Bernie Williams's defense, and brought in Proven Veteran Kenny Lofton to nudge Bernie to DH. And to fill the biggest non-ALCS hero hole in their lineup, they brought in Gary Sheffield, who in a world without Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, would probably have been National League Most Valuable Player.

Indeed, the Yankees have done well, at least for the 2004 season. They have probably made their team better, and it is highly unlikely that they have become worse. In past years, sportswriters without analytical minds would have declared them World Champions before pitchers and catcher even reported, and bemoaned the state of the National Past-It's-Time. They still may.

But while the Yankees have an excellent team headed into 2004--quite possibly the best team, and if everything was to go perfectly, perhaps one of the great teams of all time--a World Series title is hardly a given. Nor is the pennant, or even the American League East title. Indeed, all that can be safely said about the 2004 Yankees is that unless things go horribly wrong, they are almost certain to make the playoffs.

The Boston Red Sox fielded a team in 2003 that was nearly as good as the Yankees', and indeed may have been better. The Red Sox were neck and neck with the Yankees in the standings until the last few weeks last season, and while they lost the season series 10-9, Boston's victories over the Yankees were more overwhelming than the Bombers' wins over the Sox. Appropriately, the ALCS came down to the bitter end, the Red Sox had a three-run lead with five outs to go in Game Seven, but blew the lead in improbably fashion and lost the game and the pennant in even more improbable fashion. Further, while the Yankees were 6 games better than Boston in W-L record and nearly two games better in Pythagorean Record (an expected record based on runs scored and allowed), Boston's record when adjusted for the performances of their players and the quality of their opponents was nearly three games better than the Yankees, implying that perhaps the Red Sox were unlucky (or perhaps a few dominating wins against inferior teams threw the numbers off). No matter how you look at last season, you come to the same conclusion: the Red Sox are a damn good team.

And they have a damn good front office, too, led by General Manager Theo Epstein. Epstein took a strong 2002 team and improved it through a series of low-profile, economical moves--filling a hole at first base and DH with Kevin Millar and David Ortiz, bringing in an alternative to Shea Hillenbrand at third base, ultimately making Hillenbrand, who is a solid player but overrated, expendable. A bold experiment in the bullpen failed because the Red Sox had difficulty finding reliable relievers to get the job done, but by season's end, he had assembled a quality pen.

This offseason, the Red Sox have made transactions of a much higher profile, doing the very best they could to make their team the very best it could be. They had a hole in their rotation, and rather than filling that hole with a league average pitcher, or even a solid pitcher like Kevin Millwood or Bartolo Colon, they added a true ace in Curt Schilling, and they key player that they gave up for him was Casey Fossum, who might have helped the Red Sox this season, but whose value lies more in his potential down the road. To improve the bullpen, they added Keith Foulke, one of the finest relief aces in the game. It's unlikely that the Red Sox will use Foulke as anything other than a "closer" in 2004, though they probably won't be shy about using him for multiple innings, but he is certainly an ideal fit for the Sox. The acquisition of Mark Bellhorn from the Rockies, a player of great value who was buried by Dusty Baker in Chicago earlier last season, is probably an upgrade at second base, and creates the potential for the historically great Red Sox offense of 2003 to be even better in 2004.

But rather than stop with trying to fill holes, the Red Sox have taken a bold step--they tried to upgrade at positions that were already strengths. In Nomar Garciaparra, they have possibly the second-best shortstop in the game, and a favorite of the fans. In Manny Ramirez, they have a controversial player whose offensive value is still undeniable, and who is probably one of the five best hitters in baseball. Most teams would not only be satisfied with that, they would be thrilled.

But the Red Sox saw an opportunity to get better, and they went for it. Texas was foolishly willing to part with the best shortstop in baseball, and the best mortal player in baseball, Alex Rodriguez, for Manny Ramirez. The transaction wouldn't be that simple, of course. Boston would have to pick up as much as $5 million of Ramirez's salary each season, a condition that didn't appeal to the Red Sox at all.

But rather than give up on the deal, the Red Sox tried to find a way to make it work. They sought, and received, a negotiating window with Alex Rodriguez and Scott Boras from Commissioner Selig, and attempted to restructure his contract so that, essentially, the money they would be sending to Texas would be coming out of Rodriguez's contract.

At first, I had few worries about the possibility of this trade: Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra (who would have to be moved after this trade) are worth more than Alex Rodriguez, and to make the deal beneficial to the Red Sox, they would have to flip Nomar for a quality left fielder. Indeed, that was not just possible, but probable, but to me, the overall benefit to the Red Sox seemed small.

And then came word that the Red Sox were going to trade Garciaparra to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez, along with Scott Williamson and receiving minor leaguer Neal Cotts, as well. While Williamson has a great deal of potential value to the Red Sox, the possibility of flipping Nomar for the greatly superior A-Rod and Manny for the, in my opinion, equally good, if not superior Ordonez gave me a terrible scare. That would not only be a better team, that would almost certainly be a team that was better than the Yankees even if everything went right for the Bombers.

What was especially frustrating was that the Yankees probably could have Rodriguez for Alfonso Soriano, move Derek Jeter to third base and Aaron Boone to second, and receive a benefit at least as great as the Red Sox would get in their potential trades. But the Yankees are clearly attached to Jeter at short, and their apparent total lack of interest in Rodriguez convinces me once and for all that they do not at all believe that Derek Jeter is lacking defensively.

The Red Sox and Rodriguez negotiated a deal that seemed palatable to both sides, but when the contract was submitted to the MLBPA for approval, it was rejected. The Players' Association determined that the contract constituted a reduction in the value of Rodriguez's contract--a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement--and that if the trade was consummated, they would file a grievance.

To most fans, and most of the media, this seems blatantly unfair: if Rodriguez is amenable to giving back $25 million, why shouldn't he be allowed to? Why is the MLBPA being so greedy?

At this point, I should point out that I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand it, the MLBPA couldn't sign off on it. Going from Texas to Boston may have some benefit to Alex Rodriguez in that it satisfies his personal desire to play for a winner and closer to home, but it offers no tangible benefit, and is thus clearly a reduction of value. If the Players' Association were to ignore the provision of the CBA that forbids reduction of a players' salary, it would become unenforceable by precedent, and owners would be allowed to--and almost certainly would begin to apply pressure to players under contract to reduce the value of their contract or be trade to an undesirable team, or have the team disassembled around them. The MLBPA doesn't just represent Alex Rodriguez, it represents everyone in Major League Baseball (even the scabs), and Rodriguez understands that. I'm sure that Bud Selig and Rob Manfred and Larry Lucchino all understand that, too. They're not stupid, they just think that the public is, and to further their goals, they need to bash the players.

This Rodriguez to Boston deal isn't dead yet, of course, but I sure hope it is.

Even if Alex Rodriguez were to go to Boston, the impact on the Yankees' fortunes next year would be far from devastating. The Yankees, as I said, are almost certain to make the playoffs, as are the Red Sox. It seems likely to me that there will be another Yankees/Red Sox ALCS, and it seems likely to me that it will go 6 or 7 games again. In a 7 game series, anything can happen, the best team doesn't always win, and merely being there means you have a chance. Maybe Boston will be better than the Yankees next season, but that doesn't mean they're going to win anything.

Still, the Yankees should try to be the best team they can be. I do not think they have done that.

I fear that the Yankees have made a great mistake in signing Gary Sheffield. Not in and of itself, of course. I fully expect Sheffield to be a very good player for the Yankees, perhaps a great player--perhaps a Hall of Famer. But I think they could have added the same production from Vladimir Guerrero, perhaps better, and in the long term, he certainly seems to be a better risk. It's possible that Guerrero never wanted to play for the Yankees, and it's also possible that his back injury could be chronic and debilitating, that the Yankees could have ended up signing Don Mattingly, circa 1990-1995. But it's silly to think that they didn't pursue him because of money, which is what they say. From what I've heard, it seems to me that they went after Sheffield because they wanted Sheffield more. And I fear that this was a mistake.

In Brown and Vazquez the Yankees have done well. Vazquez is more of an injury risk than generally talked about, but he's not prone, and if he stays healthy this season, I won't be nearly as concerned going forward, but Brown is a ticking time bomb. If healthy, he's likely to be a dominant pitcher, even considering the Yankees' infield defense, unless age and past injuries catch up to him suddenly. However, if injured, he's worthless to the Yankees. Still, flipping Jeff Weaver, who was practically useless to the Yankees in 2003, for a pitcher who could potentially contend for the AL Cy Young is a bold move, and one that potentially could look brilliant in hindsight. Obviously, keeping Pettitte would have been a wise move, but he was hardly free from injury concerns himself, and if both he and Brown are healthy, the Yankees are better off with Brown. The other alternatives for starting pitching: Colon and Millwood are, too me, inferior to what they got.

Kenny Lofton would be both a positive move and a negative one. It's positive in that it moves Bernie Williams out of center field and into DH, and offers an upgrade in the Yankees' outfield defense. It also likely moves Alfonso Soriano out of the leadoff spot and into the middle of the lineup, where his power is more valuable and his impatience less costly. On the other hand, Lofton is hardly a superior hitter, and he barely offers any upgrade over the Garcia/Rivera platoon the Yankees had in right field at the end of last season. Indeed, the best way to use Lofton may be a platoon, perhaps with David Dellucci in center, or Ruben Sierra DHing with Matsui moving to center and Bernie to left against left-handers (though we know that Matsui and Bernie would really be in left and center, respectively). Overall, the move does offer more benefit for 2004 than detriment.

However, the other negative is the possibility of Lofton being signed for two years. This doesn't necessarily preclude the Yankees from chasing Carlos Beltran next season, but if the Yankees made this transaction with the view towards having Lofton start in center in 2005, they would have been far better off signing Mike Cameron, who I believe would be a good hitter in Yankee Stadium, and a spectacular defensive player.

They did a fine job with the bullpen, though they did overpay. Much depends on Steve Karsay's health, but it says a great deal about the job the Yankees did when the best non-Rivera relievers in the bullpen at season's end are the worst relievers going into 2004.

The Yankees did well, but they could have done better. They should have done better. They still can do better. Say all you want about assembling fantasy baseball teams and such, but it sure looks to me like that's what the Red Sox are trying to do.

Last season was a great pennant race, and an even greater ALCS. The Red Sox scared the hell out of me, and they're probably going to do it again. This probably isn't the best Yankees team that I've seen in my lifetime, but I don't think I've ever looked forward to a season more.

It's gonna be great.

December 12, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

And Thursday offered more proof that I don't know what I'm talking about, as the Brown rumors apparently have become reality. And I'm happy to be wrong.
2003 DIPS ERAs*, 2003 Yankees rotation:
3.18 - Mike Mussina
3.50 - Andy Pettitte
3.71 - Roger Clemens
4.15 - David Wells
4.31 - Jeff Weaver
3.36 - Jose Contreras

2003 DIPS ERAs*, 2004 Yankees rotation:
3.18 - Mike Mussina
3.10 - Javier Vazquez
2.93 - Kevin Brown
3.36 - Jose Contreras
4.15 - David Wells

* DIPS calculations by Jay Jaffe. DIPS stats are park-adjusted. Adjusting them for RPF is overkill.
Now, here's my first question: If the Yankees were able to trade for Kevin Brown after Pettitte had already signed with Houston, when the Dodgers knew the Yankees were in a fix, why didn't they make the trade before Pettitte left? Had the Yankees done that, and been able to keep Andy Pettitte...

Well, any rotation where Andy Pettitte is concievably your fifth starter is pretty much the greatest rotation ever assembled.

Thursday opened as a dark day for Yankee fans, and ended with a ray of hope. Kevin Brown is obviously not a long-term solution to the Yankees' problems, and he probably won't repeat that DIPS, but the Yankees have clearly abandoned any pretense of looking long-term. For now, it's an excellent trade for the Yankees, assuming that neither of the minor leaguers involved in the trade is named "Dioneer Navarro", in which case it becomes a potentially horrible trade. It's not, I think, a terrible trade for the Dodgers, either, who move an older, expensive pitcher for a younger, much less pricey pitcher, and one who will almost certainly do better in the National Leaguer, in Dodger Stadium, with the Dodgers' defense behind him instead of Derek and the Gang. Rumors are also circulating that Weaver will be flipped to St. Louis for J.D. Drew, which makes the trade much better for them.

But to hell with the Dodgers, I wouldn't care that much if they got totally shafted here--indeed, I might prefer it. The Yankees flipped their worst starting pitcher for a pitcher who, when healthy, is clearly elite. They traded a pitcher who relies on his defense to create outs for a pitcher with very good K/9 IP rates, and a better than 3/1 Strikeout-Walk ratio.

There are, of course, very obvious health concerns with Kevin Brown. He's 39, which is a health concern in and of itself for any pitcher, but he also missed significant time in 2001 and 2002 with injuries. But he did pitch 211 innings last season--more than Andy Pettitte did--and indeed Pettitte's mechanics have created injury concerns, too. If Brown is hurt in the regular season, he helps the Yankees little, but being healthy and effective in October would make up for that. Essentially, the Yankees have added one of the best starting pitchers in baseball for $9.25 million a year over the next two years. That's not bad--and probably better than having a solid pitcher like Andy Pettitte for 4 years at $13.5 million a year.

Considering that the Yankees' rotation last season was not only the best in baseball when seperated from the defense, but one of the best ever, I think it's safe to say that, if healthy, the Yankees will have the best rotation in baseball again, though the defense will mask that. Indeed, much of the Yankees' hopes for next season rely on the phrase "if healthy".
If healthy, the Yankees have the best rotation in baseball.
If healthy, Jason Giambi is one of the very best hitters in all of baseball.
If healthy, Bernie Williams is still an excellent offensive player.
If healthy, Derek Jeter is the third-best shortstop in baseball.
If healthy, Jorge Posada is one of the best catchers in baseball.
If healthy, the Yankees' bullpen is one of the better ones in baseball.
If all of those ifs happen, the Yankees win 110 games next year. If all of those ifs fail, they fight it out for the Wild Card, and maybe third place. I think some of them will happen, and some of them won't, and the Yankees will be fighting it out with the Red Sox for the AL East once again, while the Red Sox deal with their own set of ifs.

Of course, that largely depends on whether the Yankees can pull in one of the big two outfielders, Vlad or Sheffield. Until one of them has signed, I'm anxious about it. If they Yankees do come up empty here, they've taken a step backwards with their lineup, and the division title becomes a tough proposition again.

This offseason has become an emotional rollercoaster:

Red Sox trade for Schilling-
Yankees sign Sheffield
Yankees trade for Vazquez-
But give up Nick Johnson (Gollum, gollum)-
Yankees apparently don't sign Sheffield-
Yankees lose Pettitte-
Yankees trade Weaver for Brown-
Yankees sign Miguel Cairo-.

I'm sure I'll be out on the ledge again tomorrow. See ya there.

December 11, 2003

Worst Case Scenario
by Larry Mahnken

Talking to Aaron Gleeman last night, he commented that a good name for my weblog would be "Worst Case Scenario". As my friends will probably attest to, that would probably be a good name for my autobiography, too. I am indeed a pessimist in all things.

But all along I've been confident that Andy Pettitte would return to the Yankees next season. He wanted to stay with the team, Brian Cashman and Joe Torre clearly prized him, and while the most likely suitors could free up enough money to meet his requested price, the Yankees have more than enough resources to beat any offer. There was no reason to expect Pettitte to not be back.

But he won't be back. The Pettitte situation should have been resolved quickly, but instead the Yankees acted like it would be resolved quickly, and instead of taking care of it right away and moving on to other matters, they focused on their other desires first, and put Pettitte on the backburner. They assumed that when the time came, they could throw a pile of money on the table and get Pettitte's name on the contract. But it wasn't just about money.

Reggie Jackson was courted by George Steinbrenner personally. Dave Winfield was courted by Steinbrenner personally. When push came to shove, it was George Steinbrenner who was able to bring back Bernie Williams, and this offseason, George has courted Gary Sheffield. But not Pettitte. Pettitte didn't get the hard sell, he didn't get the phone calls from Torre and Yogi that Jason Giambi got, and meanwhile his friend Roger Clemens was pulling him in the other direction. From the Yankees, Pettitte got cold negotiation. It was impersonal, only about money.

Certainly, Andy Pettitte was not worth the amount of money that the Yankees would have had to sign him for, and the Astros will quickly find that he's not an ace, but a good #2, and that Bad Andy will show his face at the worst times, and with the short porch in left, he might be showing his face often. But he was closer to being worth it than any other pitcher on the market, and more than that, regardless of the money, the Yankees needed him. Now their only left-handed pitcher is David Wells, exacerbating the loss of Brandon Claussen for the steaming pile, I can't bad mouth Aaron Boone, I promised.

Now the Yankees have to scramble, because while Mussina/Vazquez is great, Contreras/Wells/Weaver inspires little confidence. Of the three, Contreras is the only one who might be really good, but we just don't know. That's a rotation that would be great for almost any other division, but in the AL East, with Boston rolling Pedro/Schilling/Lowe/Wakefield/Kim out there, it's inadequate.

They have to get someone else. There are Kevin Brown rumors floating around, and he would be a good fit, but I think that they're more rumors than anything else. Bartolo Colon is gone, and now Kevin Millwood is the only "major" free agent starter left. While Millwood is a pretty good pitcher, he probably carries a reputation as being better than he really is, and with few options left, the Yankees will have to overpay him more than they would have had to overpay Pettitte.

But it gets worse. With the Sheffield contract negotiations breaking down, the Yankees face the possibility of not accquiring any help offensively this offseason. Sheffield wants to come to New York, that much is clear, but he may have offended Steinbrenner enough to eliminate that possibility, which means the Yankees have to turn to Vladimir Guerrero. But what if Guerrero doesn't really want to come to New York, and goes to Baltimore anyway? What then?

Then the Yankees have to turn to second-tier free agents, or play Ruben Sierra in right. All this after having traded one of their best hitters for Javier Vazquez--a good trade, but if this is the end, I'd rather have seen them losing with Nick than with Vazquez.

The Yankees got worse today. Their rotation is worse than it was a year ago, their lineup is worse than it was a year ago, their defense is no better, and probably worse than it was a year ago. Their bullpen could be great, but the bullpen isn't something that makes a mediocre team good. The Yankees aren't mediocre, but they aren't the best team in the AL East anymore, and while they should make the playoffs, that isn't a certainty, either.

The Yankees could still win the division next year, and they could still win the World Series. They'll probably add Millwood or Brown, and sign either Sheffield or Guerrero, which greatly increases the chances of both of those happening. But from where the Yankees now stand, you can see the end. They have no prospects coming up, and nothing to trade for quality players. Their only means of improvement is free agency, whether it be Major League or international. That's expensive, risky, and it eliminates the possibility of in-season improvement.

The crash isn't going to be a crash. They aren't going to drop to fourth place unless the Orioles get really good. But they are going to stop winning a lot of games soon, and settle into a 1980's level of mediocrity. And when they get there, they better realize that they can't buy their way back to the top.

December 10, 2003

A Fool For A Client
by Larry Mahnken

Brian at Redbird Nation has this anonymous quote from an MLB executive:
Gary Sheffield, as you know, made a handshake deal with Boss Steinbrenner in which he agreed to play for the Yankees for $38 million over three years, with much of that money deferred to the back-end of the contract. But Sheffield, as you also know, is acting as his own agent, and he didn't quite realize that the deferred salary wouldn't be accruing interest (or at least not interest that would end up in his pocket). So, according to this exec, when Sheffield walked into Steinbrenner's office to sign the deal with Big George, he told him he wasn't initially aware of how the deferred payments worked, and to make things square the Yankees should just tack on an extra million dollars in salary per year. Steinbrenner got up, walked across the room, opened the door, held it open for Sheffield, and said, "Goodbye."

According to this exec, there is "zero percent" chance Sheffield will end up playing for Steinbrenner. I'm not so sure about that, but it does explain some recent activity.
Wow. Hello, Mr. Guerrero.

Many thanks to Repoz.

Stupid Free Agent Tricks
by Larry Mahnken

"A man who represents himself has a fool for a client."

The whole Gary Sheffield situation is getting weird. A week ago, it seemed that Sheffield in pinstripes was fait accompli, the only reason it wasn't announced, it seemed, was because the Yankees wanted to possibly save a draft pick--if the contract was signed before December 7th, Atlanta would automatically get draft pick compensation, but waiting until after the 7th created the possibility that Atlanta wouldn't offer Sheffield arbitration, as they ultimately didn't, and the Yankees wouldn't have to give any compensation to the Braves.

Was it sneaky and underhanded? Absolutely. But unless Sheffield's signature was on a contract, it wasn't against the rules. As George Steinbrenner and David Wells can attest to, handshake agreements are worth the paper they're written on. Sure, the Yankees might have had a contract drawn up, but until it was signed, Sheffield could sign wherever he wanted, and the Yankees had no obligation to give compensation.

On Sunday night, the Braves declined to offer Sheffield arbitration, and rumors surfaced that they would file a grievance against the Yankees for their ploy.

Now, let me say this: the Braves will lose this grievance, if indeed they file one. Their case relies entirely on whether or not Sheffield had actually signed a contract. If he didn't sign one, then the Braves are essentially arguing that negotiating before the arbitration deadline with a player that you eventually sign requires compensation, which of course it doesn't. The case that he had an agreement with the Yankees is weak at best. Sheffield's interview with USA Today Sports Weekly indicates that he did come to an agreement before the deadline (but still doesn't indicate the existance of a contract), and the assumption is that the Yankees didn't have him sign anything before the deadline to avoid compensation, while saying that the negotiations had hit a snag to encourage the Braves to not offer him arbitration, making them think it was possible that Sheffield would accept. Of course, it's also possible that Sheffield mislead USA Today about the state of negotiations to give the impression that his signing was imminent, and trick the Braves into offering arbitration.

Atlanta didn't offer arbitration because whatever the suspiscions were, they simply didn't know and didn't want to take the risk that Sheffield wouldn't sign and that they would again be stuck with an expensive player, like Greg Maddux last season.

Today, it got weirder, as reports have come out that the negotiations have hit a wall, as either Sheffield upped his demand from 3 years, $39 million to 3 years, $42 million or the Yankees demanded that a larger amount of the money be deferred. Maybe it's a ruse to avoid Atlanta's grievance, but I think that's unlikely, because A) the Braves really don't have a leg to stand on, and B) what's at stake for the Yankees is their third round draft pick, as they've already had to give up two picks to the Dodgers and White Sox--it's not worth the effort, I'd think.

So, maybe it's true--Sheffield fired Scott Boras this year, and is representing himself in these negotiations. It's not too difficult to imagine that Sheffield would make a mistake that could trip up a contract. Let's hope it's true, because if Sheffield is starting to raise his price higher than the Yankees want to pay, or has pissed Steinbrenner off enough, they're going to have to sign a different high-profile free agent, because you know that George doesn't want to end up empty-handed. And since the Yankees need an outfielder, you know who that means...

Mike Cameron!!!

Okay, maybe Cameron, but more likely Vlad Guerrero, who was a better option for the Yankees anyway. I don't think this will get resolved anytime soon, and Guerrero's agent is probably smart enough to wait until after the Yankees have signed an outfielder to sign with...well, Baltimore, probably, so this could still happen. Speaking of Cameron, his accquistion to play center isn't out of the question, either, since San Diego has started negotiating with Kenny Lofton, too. Okay, now I'm getting all hot and bothered, if I start thinking about an A-Rod trade to the Yankees, I might pass out.


I'm not really too concerned about all the A-Rod to Boston rumors floating around. I don't think a trade is too likely to happen anyway, there's a whole lot of obstacles that need to be crossed for the trade to happen, and the Red Sox will also have to accquire decent talent in left field and second base to just remain the same, which is possible, but tricky. The Red Sox might actually become worse with this trade. The enormous amount of money certain to be involved in this trade might even hamstring the Red Sox somewhat, as they, unlike the Yankees, are wary of the Luxury Tax. And even if everything went right for the Red Sox, this isn't checkmate, or even check. It's just a good move.

Of course, the best way to prevent this move would be for the Yankees to swoop in with a better offer and take A-Rod away from the Red Sox, and this is something the Yankees might actually be able to do. Soriano for A-Rod is a pipe dream, but if the Yankees throw in DePaula and Navarro, it might become doable.

But it will NEVER happen, or even be considered, because the Yankees are not going to consider moving Jeter from shortstop. But it's December, and in lieu of actual games, it's nice to dream.

December 8, 2003

Yankee Arbitration Offers
by Larry Mahnken

Thanks to NTNGod at Baseball Primer for making these updates, the Yankees have offered arbitration to:

Andy Pettitte (Duh)
David Wells (Who has already said he would decline arbitration, and will likely re-sign with the Yankees)
Gabe White (Who the Yankees want back, and are likely to re-sign)
John Flaherty (The key to the 2003 AL Pennant)

They have declined to offer arbitration to:
Roger Clemens (Why the heck not? I mean, he's retiring, but he might change his mind next spring. Might as well take the pick)
Jeff Nelson (YES!)
Antonio Osuna (No surprise here, he didn't do anything in the second half. There wouldn't be room for him anyway)

And they've re-signed Ruben Sierra to a 1-year $1 MM deal. Curious, since he can't pinch-hit for Nick Johnson anymore (Gollum, gollum). I'd say this is an okay re-sign.

Basically, unless they lose Pettitte (which I think is highly unlikely), they're not going to get any draft picks from anybody, and they've given up several high picks signing Type-A free agents. Yeah, it all makes them better than they would have been, but... that farm system is going to stay pretty crappy.

December 5, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

All at once there came a blood-curdling shriek, filled with hatred and despair. Gollum was defeated. He dared go no further. He had lost: lost his prey, and lost, too, the only thing he had ever cared for, his precious. The cry brought Bilbo’s heart to his mouth, but still he held on. Now faint as an echo, but menacing, the voice came from behind:

"Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it for ever!"

- J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit

It's difficult to express how I feel right now. On the one hand, I am heartbroken, as my precious, Nick Johnson, is gone, and likely never to return to the Yankees. On the other, painful as this loss is, I know in my heart that this was a trade that could make the Yankees better, and that it's a trade that they probably had to make.

Above all else when it comes to baseball (and perhaps when it comes to anything), I love the Yankees. But I do hold a great esteem and affection for many of the players who have passed through Yankee Stadium in years past. While there were a few mediocre players in the bunch who earned my irrational yet honest loyalty, most were stars: Don Mattingly, Jimmy Key, Bernie Williams, David Cone, Paul O'Neill, Mariano Rivera, just to name a few. Nick Johnson did not fall into the first group, nor did he fall into the second group yet, but this trade leaves me feeling as I would seeing any of those players sent off. When I try to step away and see Nick Johnson for what he is, I see a very talented hitter with a disturbing injury history, a poor physique, whose rate stats have been outstanding, but overall value is limited by his playing time. He might be great, but the injuries might someday diminish his skills to a level below what he's at now. He's a pretty good first baseman, but they already have a pretty good first baseman.

It's dangerous if you're running a team to get too caught up in names, and place too much value on loyalty. If you asked me for a list of players who I'd be willing to trade Nick Johnson for this summer, I would probably only place Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds and Mark Prior on that list. Putting aside the fact that none of those trades would be remotely close to being fair for the other team, such favoritism excludes a great many potential deals that do make the Yankees a better team, and to ignore them because of loyalty to a first baseman who might be great someday, when you already have a first baseman locked up for the next several seasons who already is great... well, that's just foolish.

I really do think that this is a good trade for the Yankees, because of the situation their roster is in right now, and what this trade allows them to do. It allows them to put Bernie Williams at DH, which frees up center field if they want to add a player with enough skill to give them a quality outfield defense. Signing Mike Cameron right now would be an excellent move, but that's not going to happen. There are some reports that the Yankees have already signed Kenny Lofton--again, placing more value on a name than actual value. Lofton would have been an excellent addition in the mid ninties, when he was a good offensive player and a strong defensive player, but now he's a mediocre hitter with okay defensive skills--better than Bernie, but nothing special. Considering that the offense he provides will probably be equal to that which a Garcia/Rivera platoon would have put up in right field, the Yankees have, in my opinion, taken a giant step sideways with the lineup.

But what makes this deal a good one for the Yankees, regardless of what they do with center field, is the quality of the player they accquired in Vazquez. Javier Vazquez is an excellent pitcher, almost certainly better than any pitcher on the free agent market this season, including Andy Pettitte, and according to DIPS, was even better than the Yankees' best pitcher last season, Mike Mussina. Vazquez replaces the retired Roger Clemens more than adequately, he almost certainly makes the rotation better than it was last year, assuming Andy Pettitte returns, which I still am confident will happen.

There are concerns about Vazquez, of course--particularly his workload and mechanics. Vazquez was ridden hard in Montreal, but if one wants to look at the bright side, the Yankees have assembled such a deep bullpen for 2004, that they are almost certain not to overwork Vazquez. And Vazquez is also precisely the type of pitcher the Yankees should be accquiring with their defense: he keeps the ball out of play.

And even the centerfield situation can be spun positively. Mike Cameron would have to be signed to a multiyear contract to come to New York, while Lofton will only be in pinstripes one season. That opens the way towards pursuing prospective free agent Carlos Beltran next offseason, who will be the ballhawk and hitter the Yankees want.

Yet another aspect of this deal is first base, which Jason Giambi will now be playing every day. Giambi will certainly need days off, and may very well be injured at times next season, too. With Nick Johnson gone, the Yankees will need another backup firstbaseman. Fernando Seguignol's MVP season in the Internation League didn't do much more than get him a few ABs in September, but he'll probably get a chance to make the roster out of Spring Training. There are options on the free agent market too, and the Yankees are not unlikely to pursue those, placing a high value on veterans, even mediocre ones. Travis Lee (ugh) might be brought in, as well as Brad Fullmer, and maybe even Rafael Palmeiro. Jeremy Giambi is available cheap, and if he rebounds from his awful 2003, could provide a great bat off of the bench. Filling this roster spot should be easy.

Five years from now, we might look at this trade and kick ourselves, as Nick Johnson goes on to multiple All-Star appearances for the Expos, while Vazquez blows out his arm in May of this season, and is nothing more than a mediocre pitcher for the rest of his career. But it's also possible--perhaps just as likely--that Vazquez will be more valuable to the Yankees over the rest of his career than Nick Johnson would have been.

I would qualify this as being a bold move, and a far better response to the Schilling trade than the Sheffield signing. I think it makes the Yankees better than they would have been in 2004 otherwise, and the real questions are in the years to follow. I think that if the Yankees bring back Pettitte now, I would consider them the best team in baseball again. I think that this is a good trade.

But damn, it hurts to lose Nick. We hates the Expos. We hates them for ever. Gollum, gollum.

December 3, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

I think it's safe to say that the reported Gary Sheffield signing came as a surprise to nobody. As the season wound down with the Yankees running Karim and the Gang out in right, we were all pretty sure that the Yankees were going to chase Vlad Guerrero or Gary Sheffield, and as soon as it became apparent that the Yankees weren't going to let Vlad use them to raise the price for the teams he actually wanted to play for, the Sheffield signing was a forgone conclusion. There's not very much the Yankees have done this offseason that's surprised anybody, it appears that they're going to try hard to resign Pettitte, maybe sign Bartolo Colon, as well as bringing back Gabe White and Felix Heredia. The signing of Tom Gordon is a good one, in my opinion, if a little pricey. He'll do for the Yankees what they had hoped Jeff Nelson and Armando Benitez would do, get crucial outs in the seventh and eighth along with Steve Karsay. Paul Quantrill was also pricey, but still good. The Yankees are putting together the most expensive bullpen ever, but at least they'll have pitchers that Torre will trust and use, and will almost certainly get good quality out of them.

The Aaron Boone contract seems pretty ridiculous considering his performance this season, but he was likely to get at least that much in arbitration, and since the Yankees need a third baseman next season, and he's about the best available right now, they had to make that move. As for Enrique Wilson signing for $700,000--well, there's a lot of guys out there who can play three infield positions without any particular skill, and hit from both sides of the plate with even less, and those other guys will play for the minimum. Well, it's the Yankees, not the Royals, and George didn't really need that ivory back scratcher.

No bold move appears forthcoming, though there are rumblings about a Jeff Weaver for Kevin Brown trade. Much like the Schilling trade, there is a tremendous upside to that trade, Brown was a fantastic pitcher last season, and while he won't be putting up ERA's in the low 2.00's outside of Dodger Stadium, he's still likely to be very good. But then, like Schilling, the downside is that he might not be very good, or he might be very good, but be hurt so much that it's not much help. A lot of power pitchers have done well into their forties, but when you start reaching the age of Schilling and Brown, the likelihood of their falling off dramatically increases dramtically. Doesn't mean it will happen, but it's something that has to be considered. Still, I'd make that trade--Jeff Weaver is toast in New York.

One of the interesting aspects of this offseason is the limits the CBA places on the number of Type-A and B free agents a team can sign. If I'm reading the CBA correctly, that means that the Yankees can sign or re-sign 8 Type-A and B free agents. Sheffield, Gordon and Quantrill are Type-A free agents, as are Pettitte, Wells, White, Nelson and technically, Roger Clemens, while Sierra, Heredia and Osuna are Type-B Free Agents. It seems likely that the Yankees will go up to that limit.

At this point, the Yankees' 2004 roster is:

SP: Mike Mussina
SP: Jose Contreras
SP: Jeff Weaver
SP: Jon Lieber
SP: Jorge DePaula

RP: Paul Quantrill
RP: Felix Heredia
RP: Tom Gordon
RP: Chris Hammond
RP: Steve Karsay
RP: Mariano Rivera

C: Jorge Posada
1B: Jason Giambi
2B: Alfonso Soriano
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Aaron Boone
RF: Gary Sheffield
CF: Hideki Matsui
LF: Bernie Williams
DH: Nick Johnson

B: John Flaherty
B: Enrique Wilson
B: Karim Garcia
B: David Dellucci
B: Juan Rivera

There are rumors that the Yankees are interested in Kenny Lofton--a foolish move, in my opinion--but other than that, it seems unlikely that any other moves will be made to the lineup or bench, leaving the Yankees with a weak bench and a horrible defense once again, but a killer lineup. The rotation clearly needs work--re-signing Pettitte helps, signing Colon or trading for Brown will do that, and the bullpen looks very strong, and will be even stronger if White comes back, though one will have to wonder how all these relievers will get work. That's a very, very good team, but for all that money, you'd think they would be better.