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November 30, 2005

Shooting the Bull
by Sean McNally

Coming into the offseason, the Yankee brass and many Yankee fans had visions of big No. 52 taking the ball in the seventh and eighth inning to setup the last active No. 42 in baseball.

But alas, JP Ricciardi apparently valued him more to the tune of five years and $47 million.

Billy Wagner took $43 million from the Wilpons to be a Met for the next four years, making it a real possibility that Tom Gordon has thrown his last pitch for the Yankees.

So where does that leave the Yankee pen beyond Mariano Rivera? Well, as of this writing, a few isolated online sources are reporting that fireballing hothead Kyle Farnsworth for the next three seasons at $17 million adding his name to a list of question marks setting up the Greatest Closer Of All Time™.

The Yanks have roughly 11 guys on their 40-man roster, not counting Rivera and the apparently signed Farnsworth, that could see bullpen duty. Two of these guys should be eliminated from the setup man derby. Those poor souls are Jorge DePaula and Wayne Franklin.

That leaves nine applicants:

· Jason Anderson (26 RHP, 60/18 K/BB in 67.2 IP 2.66 ERA at AAA)
· T.J. Beam (24 RHP 105/25 77 IP 1.99 ERA between Low-A and High-A)
· Colter Bean (28 RHP 82/39 71.2 IP 3.01 ERA at AAA)
· Sean Henn (24 LHP 64/27 86.1 IP 3.23 ERA at AAA)
· Jeffery Karstens (23 RHP 147/42 169 IP 4.15 ERA at AA – 27 starts)
· Scott Proctor (29 RHP 36/17 44.2 IP 6.04 ERA at MLB)
· Matt Smith (25 LHP 92/36 82.1 IP 2.76 ERA between AA and AAA)
· Tanyon Sturtze (31 RHP 45/27 78 IP 4.73 ERA at MLB)

And the last mystery guests?

Well, the Yanks signed some guy named Jose Veras who believes he will be setting up Rivera. But if he does, I'll eat SG's hat.

Then there's the back end of the rotation/long relief portion of the program.

The Yanks have their top three starters set in Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang. The final two rotation spots will be filled by Shawn Chacon, Carl Pavano, Aaron Small or Jaret Wright.

Figuring that Chacon and Pavano win the starting pitcher derby, that leaves Small and Wright shuffling off to hang with Joe Kerrigan in the bullpen – unless they are traded.

Trading one of the two seems sensible, and both would have some value. Small's value is at its absolute peak right now, so why not hoist him off on another team, perhaps the Reds for disgruntled tools freak Wily Mo Pena or to the Phillies for Jason Michaels and add a potential impact outfielder.

We'll reluctantly eliminate Small. He seems like a nice guy and last year was a great story, but this is business. That leaves a starting rotation of Johnson, Mussina, Wang, Chacon and Pavano, with a bullpen with Rivera, Wright, Sturtze, Farnsworth and holes.

For those of you counting, that's nine pitchers, and since Joe usually likes to carry at least 11 hurlers, we have two vacancies at the inn.

Anderson had his shot, and is likely headed to Columbus, again. Ditto for Colter Bean, who appears to be running out of chances.

T.J. Beam has garnered quite a bit of press, likewise Brian Cashman has mentioned Matt Smith as a serious candidate. I think both should be looking for apartments in central Ohio, for this season at least. Karstens is a starter who will be headed to the bushes.

That leaves Proctor and Henn. Henn's into the fire debut last year did not go well, and his development would be best served by going to the minors.

If I were calling the shots, and for purposes of this rant I am, I'd non-tender him. He's really shown me nothing other than he throws hard and occasionally knows where it is going.

So we’re back to the same two open spots, one of whom must be a lefty.

The two most promising free agent candidates are Ricardo Rincon and Mike Myers.

Many people would favor Myers here, and he’s for sure death on lefties (and it would hurt a division rival), but I say the move here is Rincon.

He's younger, his ERA+ is more consistent (Myers improved his ERA+ by more than 50% in 2005) and he's not completely hapless against righties (.240/.387/.520 vs. .385/.510/.641 for Myers).

So we have one more slot to fill, and given the market, I doubt the chic choice of Octavio Dotel is going to be available. That should push Cashman toward the undervalued bin, and he should fix his gaze firmly on that other New York team.

Braden Looper, for all his flaws as the Mets closer, is a free agent and the bloom is very much off his rose.

In 534 career innings, Looper's given his teams an ERA+ of 118 and a 333/193 K/BB ratio, not fantastic, but as a seventh-inning matchup righty, pretty damn sexy.

That makes our hypothetical pitching staff look like the following:

SP - Johnson, R.
SP - Mussina, M.
SP - Wang, C.
SP - Chacon, S.
SP - Pavano, C.

RP - Wright, J.
RP - Sturtze, T.
RP - Rincon, R.
RP - Looper, B.
RP - Farnsworth, K.
CL - Rivera, M.

I don't know about you, but that looks like a darn solid bullpen, and the Yanks didn't need to open the vault hardly at all.

November 29, 2005

Farnsworth to the Yankees, with Mike Myers to follow?
by SG

I've linked to site called that is confirming the rumors I've heard that Kyle Farnsworth has signed with the Yankees for 3 years and $17 million. They also mention that Mike Myers will be signed shortly too. This is not a major new outlet, so take it with a grain of salt.

Yankees Only Want To Offer Damon Three Years
by SG

From by way of the Daily News:

NY Daily News - The baseball world seems to think the Yankees will find themselves in a serious conversation with free agent center fielder Johnny Damon.

But the Bombers, according to sources, have told Damon's agent, Scott Boras, they flat-out aren't interested in even talking about the former Red Sox star unless the discussion revolves around a three-year contract.

As of now, there's no substantive dialog since Boras wants a seven-year deal for Damon. Boras didn't return a phone message yesterday but he's believed to be waiting until next week's winter meetings in Dallas before accepting potential offers from interested clubs, though one executive said he expects the list will be short if seven years remains the price.

How about zero years?

Reuters: Yankees manager ponders center field options
by SG

I've linked to an interesting article from Reuter's above.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Yankees manager Joe Torre says the club is keeping its options open for a pressing need in center field -- including the possible use of one of their two All-Star caliber shortstops, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

New York manager Torre said he has considered the merits of converting either Jeter or Rodriguez, who has been playing third base since joining the Yankees, but has not raised the subject with either of his star players.

"We've thought about it," Torre said in an interview with Reuters on Monday.

"We just haven't made a commitment to that. We haven't broached it with the shortstops."

The Yankees, eliminated in the first round of the playoffs this season by the Los Angeles Angels, are looking to replace the 37-year-old stalwart Bernie Williams, who slipped to 12 homers and 64 RBI last season.

The former batting champion hit a mere .249 and his defensive qualities appeared to suffer a decline in standards.

At next week's winter meetings in Dallas, the Yankees will also be taking a hard look at the prospects of landing free agent candidates such as Brian Giles of the San Diego Padres and Johnny Damon of the arch-rival Boston Red Sox.

Echoing a scenario laid out by general manager Brian Cashman, Torre said the Yanks could yet decide to go with their own light-hitting defensive specialist Bubba Crosby in center field.

The position has been one of baseball's glamour positions over the generations for the Yankees with Joe DiMaggio giving way to Mickey Mantle and the last decade artfully manned by the graceful, clutch-hitting Williams.


Should the Yankees decide it is easier to fill third base than center field, 2005 MVP Rodriguez or Yankee captain Jeter could inject a jolt of star power to the position and add to that fabled legacy.

If shortstop Jeter moves to center, Rodriguez could slide across to take his place.

"That's happened before hasn't it?" Torre said about converting a power-hitting infielder into an outfielder.

"Bobby Murcer, Mickey Mantle. Hank Aaron came up as a second baseman. Robin Yount went to centerfield.

"It certainly is a consideration."

Torre said he did not think it would take Rodriguez or Jeter very long to get accustomed to the outfield and that after spring training, either one could do a good job if moved.

Though he stressed that such a dramatic position switch was a dreamy notion, he said he did not doubt that his infield stars would do what was in the club's best interest if asked.

"Jeter would do anything and so would A-Rod (Rodriguez) for that matter, to help this ball club win."

Thanks to Anonymous(a different one) for pointing this out.

Very interesting to see Torre thinking this way. I bash him pretty frequently for his in-game tactics, but this is very progressive thinking by him, and I applaud him for it. If anyone can sell Jeter on moving to CF, it's probably Torre. The question would then be, who plays third.

I doubt anything will actually happen here, but what if they did ask Jeter to move? The way I see it, the options are to have Rodriguez stay at third and sign Rafael Furcal or trade for someone at short or to move Rodriguez to short and sign or trade for a third baseman. The only third baseman who is even decent as a free agent is Bill Mueller, and he's not a particularly good hitter outside of Fenway and he's getting older. With shortstops, there also isn't much out there, with Furcal being the best of a bad bunch. Nomar Garciapparra is still floating around, but his injury issues make him a risky proposition.

Arizona is looking to trade Troy Glaus. While he is also an injury risk, a Glaus for Carl Pavano trade would make sense for both teams, and be a wash financially. The Yankees would have the depth to cover for a Glaus injury with Jeter and Rodriguez moving back to SS and 3B, although they'd have to go with Bubba Crosby in center. I don't see many options at shortstop, as most are either too good to be traded, or too bad to be worth trading for.

I'm not happy about the continued rumors that the Yankees are interested in Damon if he lowers his asking price. The thought of him in a Yankee uniform just sickens me.

I don't really feel like thinking about the bullpen today, as the Flash Gordon leaving rumors are swirling around (to the Phils). However, I would be remiss to not wish Mariano Rivera a happy 36th birthday. At age 35, Rivera had arguably his best season ever, putting up a 323 ERA+ and holding opposing hitters to an OPS+ of 39 (.177/.235/.230). The Mets may have made the back pages by signing Billy Wagner, but they're just paying more for the right to have the second best closer in the five boroughs.

November 25, 2005

Should the Yankees trade Robinson Cano?
by SG

Based on some discussion in the last set of comments, I thought this was an interesting topic. Although Cano has only 132 major league games under his belt, he has enough of a minor league track record that there may be enough data to a rough comparison between him and one of the more recent Yankee 2B of note, Alfonso Soriano.

Soriano debuted in the US in 1999 at what was believed to be the age of 21, although he turned out to be 23. He appeared in 5 games for the GCL Yankees, then spent the bulk of the season in AA Norwich, where he hit .305/.361/.501 in 393 plate appearances. He struck out in 21% of his plate appearances, walked in 8%, and had an extra base hit in 9%. His ISO (Isolated Power calculated by SLG - AVG to take out singles) was .196.

At the same level over parts of 2003-2004, Cano(at ages 20 and 21) hit .294/.349/.450 in 504 plate appearances. He struck out in 11% of his plate appearances, while walking in 5% and hitting an extra base hit in 9%. His ISO was .156.

Soriano's time in AAA over ages 23 and 24 saw him hit .274/.311/445 in 582 plate appearances. He struck out in 18% of his plate appearances, walked in 5%, and had an extra base hit in 10%. His ISO over this time was .172.

Cano spend part of 2004 in Columbus and the start of 2005. Over that time when he was 21 and 22, he .284/.331/.460 in 504 plate appearances. He struck out in 11% of his plate appearances, walked in 7%, and had an extra base hit in 9%. His ISO here was .176.

Soriano made his full major league debut in 2001 at the age of 25, although he saw brief action in '99 and 2000 as well. His composite line was .259/.292/.427 in 676 PA. He K'd in 21% of his PA, walked in 4%, and had an XBH in 9%. His ISO was .168.

Cano made his major league debut in 2005, and hit .297/.320/.458 in 551 PA. He K'd in 12% of his PA, walked in 3%, and had an extra base hit in 9% with an ISO of .161.

Let's line these up for clarity

On Contact
Soriano in AA 23 393 .305 .361 .501 .196 32 67 .17 .08 .10 .374 .616
Cano in AA 20-21 504 .294 .349 .450 .156 33 56 .11 .07 .09 .335 .513

Soriano did better in almost every aspect of his game in AA, although his K rate was significantly higher. He was 2-3 years older though. The last two sets of stats are the player's batting average and SLG when you take out strikeouts, which is a good way to see how much damage the player does when he doesn't K.

On Contact
Soriano in AAA 23-24 582 .274 .311 .445 .172 30 103 .18 .05 .10 .338 .550
Cano in AAA 21-22 324 .284 .331 .460 .176 24 40 .11 .07 .09 .324 .525

In AAA, Cano outperformed Soriano everywhere except raw power, hitting for a better average, walking more frequently(on a rate basis), but posting a lower isolated power mark.

On Contact
Soriano in MLB 23-25 675 .259 .292 .427 .167 30 143 .18 .04 .09 .335 .552
Cano in MLB 22 551 .297 .320 .460 .161 16 68 .12 .03 .09 .341 .526

Then came their rookie seasons. For the sake of completeness I've included Soriano's cups of coffee in 1999 and 2000 into his line above. Cano hit for a better average, but walked less than Soriano?????? What surprised me was that he hit for almost the same amount of power, despite being 3 years younger.

This comparison does not include baserunning, where Soriano is a far better player than Cano. Nor does it include defense. Cano's defensive reputation is all over the place, with some thinking he's a good defender, and some thinking he's Jeter-esque. The various defensive metrics I've looked at have pegged him anywhere from above average to average to below average to heinous. My own assessment, which means nothing, is that he has good defensive tools, but suffers from a lack of concentration at time. I would describe his range as above average, and as a converted shortstop he has a cannon for a 2B. I think he is a better defender than Soriano, and I doubt many would disagree with that.

What I see here are two second baseman with good power and bad plate discipline. The difference is that Cano seems to have better plate coverage, with a much lower K rate. He does not swing and miss pitches nearly as much as Soriano. Soriano does more damage when he hits the ball and is a better natural athlete, with much greater speed and base-stealing ability, but there are no indications his K rate will ever improve. I would think that someone like Cano can work on his selectivity to a degree, and not focus on making contact on every pitch, but instead focus on making contact on good pitches that he can drive.

Cano is going to be 23 next year. He's going to make the league minimum or close to it. He's shown similar potential to one of the better 2B in the league right now. He has his weaknesses, and they are significant. His walk rate is abysmal. His P/PA was the lowest in the league. His defensive lapses are problematic. I can't see him ever walking more than 40-50 times a season, he's not that type of player. However, he's a SECOND BASEMAN. He does not have to hit like Barry Bonds to have value. You DO NOT HAVE TO WALK ALL THE TIME TO BE A GOOD PLAYER. It helps, but if you do enough other stuff well enough, it's not necessary. Sometimes we fall in the trap of focusing on only what a player cannot do, and ignoring the things he can do. The average AL second baseman hit .267/.319/.407 this season. Cano was worth 5 wins above a replacement level 2B by WARP3. He's a Yankee farm system product, which is a good thing. I'd much rather root for players brought up in the Yankee organization than 33 year old free agent imports.

Is Cano untradeable? In theory, no one should be. If the Yankees get an offer that fills a need and makes sense, I would gladly trade him. I'd only trade him for a youngish player though, no way do I trade him for anyone over 30. Also, to all the people proposing to trade him for a CF, who then plays 2B? Tony F'ing Womack? Does that make even a modicum of sense on any level? Why would you fill one hole and create a new one?

As annoying as it looks that the Yankees may end up not signing some players through free agency, I would prefer that they sign no one than sign any more bad contracts that they will be stuck with. If it hurts them competitively in 2006 but makes their odds of competing better for a longer term in the future, it is the smart way to proceed. Maybe the Yankees should look to the Rule 5 draft to fill out the bullpen if they have no confidence in their minor league arms. The Royals did it last year with Andy Sisco and got a steal.

In other news, the trade that sent Aaron Rowand to the Phillies may actually end up helping the Yankees, if they can pry away Jason Michaels. According to Newsday, the Yankees are interested. He's hit .291/.380/.442 in his career and is considered an average defender. He may be available cheaply enough to be worth pursuing. If he was on the Marlins he'd have already been traded to Boston in the Beckett raping.

November 22, 2005

NY Times: The Yankees Are Keeping Their Seats
by SG

Quoting from the New York Times article linked above:

There was almost no chance the Yankees could have made a successful trade for the ace pitcher Josh Beckett this week. All along, the Florida Marlins were seeking to deal with the Boston Red Sox, who had the prospects they wanted and the willingness to assume the rest of Mike Lowell's contract.

But it was telling that the Yankees had no serious interest. If this was a litmus test of the Yankees' stated goal of lowering payroll while retaining their best young players, the Yankees seem to have passed it.


For the Yankees, there were too many factors in a potential Beckett deal that made no sense to them. Still, there was one thing that bidding for Beckett might have done: keep a 25-year-old ace away from the Red Sox. In past years, that might have been reason enough for George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, to push for a deal, no matter the cost.


Still, when the Marlins closed in on a deal over the weekend - first with Texas before the Red Sox met the Marlins' asking price - the Yankees did investigate. The Marlins asked for starter Chien-Ming Wang in addition to prospects, including the Class AA third baseman Eric Duncan, but indicated that they still preferred the Red Sox deal.

The Yankees passed, just as they have turned down every other proposal teams have made that has included Wang or second baseman Robinson Cano. Wang started Game 2 of the division series as a rookie. Cano, also a rookie, batted .297 and had big hits in October. The Yankees say they will keep them.

Cashman said the Yankees had no interest in trading Pavano, even though he has three years remaining on a four-year, $39.95 million contract that looked like a waste of money last season. Pavano seemed uneasy with his surroundings in spring training, then went 4-6 with a 4.77 earned run average before the Yankees shut him down at midseason with a shoulder injury.

"We signed him for a reason," Cashman said. "Carl Pavano didn't succeed in New York his first year because of an injury. Physically, he wasn't right. When he's physically healthy and ready to go, we expect to see the pitcher we signed."


The Yankees' most pressing needs continue to be center field and the bullpen. Improving those areas while cutting payroll and keeping young players is the challenge.

When I first heard about the Beckett trade on ESPN this morning I got really upset. After thinking about it for a while longer, I'm not that upset about it really. Boston took a chance on a very talented 25 year old pitcher who has shown flashes of brilliance, but not the consistency needed to make him a bonafide ace. He could very well become an ace, but until he does he's a second or third starter at best. I was rather surprised that Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez plus taking back Lowell's bad contract was enough to get the deal done. The Texas offer of Hank Blalock and one of their top starting pitching prospects seemed much better to me, but I won't get into my Florida/Boston conspiracy theory here.

Anyway, what Boston does is only tangentially related to what the Yankees are doing. I'm starting a get a bit antsy about the lack of movement in the areas of bullpen and centerfield help. I certainly liked seeing the line about the Yankees ignoring all offers for Cano and Wang. While it won't stop people from suggesting trades with them, at least we can assume that those trades are nothing more than mindless speculation with no basis in fact.

The most surprising quote was the one about Pavano. It is my guess that the Yankees would love to trade Pavano, but that they don't want to dump him. They'll need to create the impression that he is a worth-while acquisition for someone, and this quote is likely the first step in that. It's doubtful he'd bring back much help before showing that he is healthy in spring training, so I wouldn't expect much to happen on that front.

I'm starting to sense that the Yankees may not get any of their targeted relievers this offseason, or Brian Giles. If that happens, I'm not sure what I'd want them to do. If they try to patch the solutions to their holes with what they have in the organization, they will have pretty bad problems in the short-term, but if it prevents them from making bad long-term commitments it may end up being the best thing for this team in the long-term.

November 18, 2005

Newsday: Yankees' pen has disappearing ink
by SG

From Newsday, some disappointing news:

Improving their bullpen figured to be the easiest part of this Yankees offseason. Yet just one week into the free-agency period, their top targets are looking elsewhere.

The Yankees' dream of B.J. Ryan setting up for Mariano Rivera has all but ended now that the lefthander has made it clear he would rather close elsewhere. He and his agent were in New York the last two days, but they visited only the Mets.

The Yankees thought highly enough of Scott Eyre, meanwhile, to have manager Joe Torre place a recruiting call Tuesday, but it wasn't enough. Eyre's agent, Tommy Tanzer, called Wednesday to turn them down, and Eyre agreed to terms with the Cubs last night.

The Yankees now are concentrating on free-agent righthanders Kyle Farnsworth and Bob Howry, keeping tabs on the market for Tom Gordon and scanning the thin list of effective lefthanders looking for jobs (Mike Myers, Joey Eischen and Ricardo Rincon).

General manager Brian Cashman and assistant GM Jean Afterman flew to Tampa yesterday to meet with George Steinbrenner and team officials to reassess their strategy.

Although Ryan said toward the end of September that he was open to setting up for Rivera, it appears to have been nothing more than a negotiating tactic. He recently told a friend he does not want to deal with the "stress" of pitching for the Yankees.

His preference is to close for a team with at least a chance of competing for a world championship, according to a person familiar with his thinking, which is why he chose to visit the Blue Jays, Tigers and Mets this week and not the Yankees.

The Yankees were among the 23 teams that contacted Tanzer regarding Eyre, who went from being an obscure middle reliever to a hot free agent after a career year for the Giants. Eyre, 33, held lefthanders to a .182 average and had an overall ERA of 2.63.

Tanzer informed teams that Eyre was narrowing his field this week, and Torre called him. Eyre told Tanzer he answered the phone by saying, "Hello, Mr. Torre. I really appreciate the call. I'm a big fan. I really admire how you handle your team."

But Eyre ultimately decided he wanted to stay in the National League, narrowing the field to the Cubs, Cardinals, Braves and Astros before coming to terms last night.

Torre also reached out to free-agent outfielder Brian Giles on Tuesday, and they are in a game of phone tag. Giles returned the call Wednesday night and left a message, agent Joe Bick said. The Yankees are interested in signing Giles to play centerfield and are thinking about making a three-year, $33-million offer if they're sure he will come.

The Yankees also have been in contact with Gordon's agent, Rick Thurman, but they are reluctant to meet his asking price of a three-year offer at closer money. Gordon, who turns 38 today, is coming off a two-year, $7.25-million deal and still wants to close.

Well, that sucks. With Scott Eyre getting a ridiculous contract, I can't even imagine how much better options like Ryan, Howry, and Dotel are going to get. Further reason to stop relying on free agency and start developing your own players.

November 17, 2005

The - AFL Top Prospects 6-10
by SG

Moving away from the big league team for a bit, I saw an interesting article in today.

Eric Duncan Mashed in the AFL

By James Renwick

Date: Nov 17, 2005

With the help of three team affiliated Major League scouts, a director of player development, and two AFL players, all of whom were granted anonymity, has put together a list of the 25 top prospects in the AFL. Here are the prospects ranking 10-6.


The final rankings were determined by James Renwick, who covers the AFL for Anyone with more than 130 Major League at bats, or more than 50 Major League innings pitched is disqualified (sorry Matt Murton and Casey Daigle), and anyone with less than 75 AFL at bats, or 20 AFL innings (sorry Jeff Clement and Wade Townsend) is also exempt from the list. So on we go, to the AFL Top 25.

#10 Eric Duncan 3B/1B New York Yankees

Eric Duncan hit just .235 in the Double-A Eastern League this season, and typically no amount of AFL success would vault a player into the Top 10 after that, but Eric Duncan is a special case.

"You look at the adjustments he made in the AFL, and the fact that he was learning a new position," our Senior scout said, "and you just have to be impressed."

What was impressive? How about a .364 average and eight homers in just 94 at bats. Duncan was on fire for the majority of the AFL season, hitting safely in 17 of the 23 games he appeared in.

"I doubt he's going to be starting at Yankee Stadium next year or anything," our AL scout said, "but he will be eventually, you just can't keep a bat like that out of the lineup."

The lineup isn't the problem, the position is. After a miserable year with the glove at third base the Yankees had Duncan working on the other corner in the AFL, but it's unclear whether that was because they don't think Duncan can play third, or whether they don't think Duncan would have the chance.

"You have to remember," our Director of Player Development said, "they've got a pretty decent third baseman right now. I know Alex Rodriguez switched positions for Jeter, but I'm not sure he's moving to second base for a rookie."

That would seem unlikely, however the since the Yankees situation at first base has been a little more turbulent, that might be a spot where he could break in. Still, at least one of our analysts thinks Duncan might see time in the bigs next year.

"I don't know, I mean, even if he isn't the best fielder, they still have the DH in the American League right?" one of our players said, "If he comes out next year in Double-A and mashes the way he did down here, they've got to take a look. I don't care if he's young, he's that good."

It's very encouraging to read these comments from scouts. Duncan had a less than stellar year in AA, but he was young for the league. The AFL has typically been compared to AA, so it was encouraging to see him break out there, although of course the sample size is small.

I'm not a prospect maven, but I try to read as much as I can on these players. It does seem that Duncan won't be able to see the majors as a third baseman, but I wonder why the Yankees aren't considering him in an OF corner instead of at 1st? If he can play 3rd, he should have the arm for RF, and he would be more valuable. I'd at least have him split time out there.

November 16, 2005

by SG

"At this stage, I'm trying to reduce payroll," - Yankees general manager Brian Cashman at the GM meetings in Indian Wells, Calif earlier this month.

Yankees and Matsui reach agreement on a 4 year, $52 million deal.

Yanks pick up '06 option on Sturtze for $1.5 million.

Neither of these transactions jibes with Mr. Cashman's statement, do they?

The Matsui contract is defensible. He's overpaid relative to his worth on the field, but not grossly so. However, a look at his similarity scores on Baseball is a little bit troubling.

Similar players through Age 31
1. Kevin Millar (947)
2. Raul Ibanez (938)
3. Smead Jolley (935)
4. Geronimo Berroa (933)
5. Brian Jordan (928)
6. Charlie Maxwell (925)
7. Beau Bell (923)
8. Dick Wakefield (922)
9. Moose Solters (922)
10. Jerry Lynch (919)

Similarity scores do not adjust for era or ballparks, so they shouldn't be taken too seriously. However, it's kind of interesting to see who Matsui compares to through this point in his career.

Here's what concerns me more.

Matsui's comparable players through age 35.

5 of these players made it through age 35 and posted the following average line: .243/.328/.363

I wouldn't read a lot into this, since Matsui spend the bulk of his career in Japan and I think his 2003 season was an adjustment year that artifically depresses his projections. Dan Szymborski at Baseball Think Factory projects Matsui to have the following line in 2006:

2006 ZiPS Projection - Hideki Matsui
608 98 179 41 2 22 103 75 87 2 .294 .375 .477

I'd hope he can do a a bit better than that. Matsui's WARP3 (third order wins above replacement incorporating offense and defense) the last 2 seasons are 7.8, and 8.2. If he declines about 10% a year going forward, the contract is fine. There's also the question of how much revenue he brings in from Japan. The bulk of Japanese revenue is shared amongst all MLB teams, but I believe side deals like Japanese advertising in the Stadium and some the YES programming that is shown in Japan are not.

Picking up Tanyon Sturtze's option is a bigger problem in my opinion. I will admit, I bought the Sturtze 2.0 hype, and even propagated it here. I listened to the crap about his new cutter and the new role agreeing with him. Whether it was overuse by Joe Torre or Sturtze just remembering that he was Tanyon Sturtze, after a great start he was awful in the second half, and ended the season with a line that fits in very symmetrically with the rest of his career. 10 HRs allowed in 78 innings is not really a stat that inspires confidence in a reliever. After his spot start on July 4, Sturtze went 32.1 innings, and allowed 34 hits, 21 runs, 6 HR, 19 BB, and 22 K.

Is that worth $1.5 million? Wouldn't you be better off tacking that $1.5 million onto an offer for Octavio Dotel or Bobby Howry?

If the Yankees can strengthen their pen, then Sturtze will probably just end up as mopup guy and middle reliever. However, if that ends up being his role, couldn't they have given it to Jason Anderson or Colter Bean instead and saved $1.2 million?

November 15, 2005

Newsday: Cashman, agent to finalize Matsui deal
by SG

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Arn Tellem, the agent for Hideki Matsui, were scheduled to meet face-to-face late last night, and contract negotiations were expected to enter the final stages. The Yankees are optimistic Matsui will sign a four-year deal worth $50 million.

As both sides close in, Tellem appears to be focusing on increasing the average annual salary more than adding another year into the deal, as per Matsui's preference.

"I don't care much about the number of years," Matsui told Kyodo News Sunday. "You might think the longer a deal runs, the better. But it's not necessarily so because I can be given the same opportunity as I have now again if it runs over a relatively short period."

If the last paragraph is true, the Yankees are better off offering Matsui $14 million a year for 3 years than $12.5 million a year for 4. Really, if the options were better on the market, I'd have been tempted to tell him to hit the road. He's a good player, but his defense is an issue that is going to get worse, and he's going to be in his mid-30s by the end of this deal.

As far as the great MVP debate, the question has been raised about what a DH can do to win an MVP. First of all, let me say that I LOVE the DH rule. There is nothing more pathetic than watching pitchers swing and miss 3 pitches, or bunt. If a DH is the most valuable player in the league, then he deserves to win the MVP. The half a player comments are not completely valid in my opinion. The problem for any DH, even one who had as dominant a season as David Ortiz did, is the competition. If Alex Rodriguez had his 2004 season in 2005, Ortiz would have been a deserving MVP this season. I also don't discount the fact that Ortiz was more "clutch", but I think a lot of clutchness stems from opportunity and not an innate ability to deliver when it counts, so any stats that pump up Ortiz's value because of when he got his hits need to be tempered with the understanding of that.

Various defensive metrics pegged Rodriguez as below average defensively this year, anywhere from -10 to -25 in runs. I've seen arguments that say that this should be subtracted from Rodriguez's offense, but that is not accurate. If you are going to penalize Rodriguez for below average defense at third base, he should be compared to a replacement level third baseman, not an average third baseman. Otherwise, you are unfairly comparing him to people who have to occupy a spot lower on the defensive spectrum (basically giving Ortiz credit for playing an average third base, when he can't even play an average first base.)

The Yankees are still supposedly interested in Brian Giles, who is probably not interested in them as anything more than a way to drive up his salary.

Also, from this article on RealGMBaseball:

The Mets and Yankees likely will compete for several free agent relievers this winter as both teams reconstruct their bullpens, but they have slightly different roles in mind for flame-throwing righthander Kyle Farnsworth, whose agent has been contacted by both teams.

The Yankees view Farnsworth, who is often clocked at 100 mph on the radar gun, as a potential setup man for closer Mariano Rivera.

If it's Farnsworth in addition to Ryan, I'm cool with that. Ryan has to be a priority though.

November 14, 2005

ESPN: Yanks' Rodriguez wins AL MVP over Red Sox's Ortiz
by SG

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez won the American League Most Valuable Player award for the second time in three seasons, beating David Ortiz on Monday in a vote that rewarded a position player over a designated hitter.

Whether you think Rodriguez or Ortiz should have won, who the hell is the guy who voted Rodriguez 3rd? What case could possibly be made for anyone besides Ortiz ahead of him?

Rodriguez gets his second MVP thanks to tying his career-high OPS+ at 167, and arresting a four year OPS+ decline. Congratulations to Rodriguez. Too bad he's not clutch.

November 12, 2005

NY Daily News: Bombers make Giles center of attention
by SG

From an article in today's New York Daily News:

There was a pause of sorts in the Yankees' negotiations with left fielder Hideki Matsui yesterday as GM Brian Cashman spent most of the day flying back from the GM meetings in California. But before he left, Cashman made contact again with the agent for another outfielder, Brian Giles, who could be developing into a candidate to take over for Bernie Williams in center field.


Meanwhile, Matsui's agent, Arn Tellem, is slated to fly to New York today and meet with his client either tonight or tomorrow. The Yankees and Matsui have a self-imposed deadline of Tuesday to get a contract done, though the sides could extend the cutoff date. Matsui could make a decision Monday or Tuesday.


If the Yankees don't sign Giles to play center, they could be running out of options. They were rebuffed by the White Sox about a trade for Aaron Rowand, who dazzled with his glove in Chicago's only visit to the Stadium this year.

Talented and troubled Milton Bradley could be a choice, but the Dodgers believe there will be an active trade market for him, a source said. It's believed that five other teams are interested - the A's, Cubs, Nationals, Pirates and Tigers. Jim Tracy, Bradley's former manager with the Dodgers, is now the Pirates' skipper and he thinks highly of the 27-year-old's talent.

The Cubs' Corey Patterson appears available in a trade, but his stock has plummeted despite hopes in Chicago that he would be the Cubs' next great player. He hit only .215 with 13 homers and 34 RBI in 126 games this year and has a lifetime on-base percentage of just .293 in six seasons. He also has struck out 286 times in 283 games over the past two seasons.

Giles has not played center field regularly since 2000, although he has seen spot duty there as recently as last year. If the Yankees are considering signing both Giles and Matsui, they'll probably have the best hitting OF in baseball, although defense will continue to be a problem. While Giles is going to be 35, he is still a very good offensive player who should be reasonable risk on a 2 or 3 year deal. While I wish the Yankees would stop signing older players, if this is the alternative that does not involve trading away young prospects, it's probably the smart way to proceed. Let's hope Joe Kerrigan can teach every pitcher on the staff a 2 seam fastball.

As far as Matsui, the rumored 4 year, $50 million deal is a bit expensive considering his ability and his age, but it's a thin market, and the Yankees don't have much of a choice.

November 10, 2005

The Posada Problem
by SG

After debuting in 1995 and splitting time with Joe Girardi through 1999, Jorge Posada finally established himself in 2000. He gets lost in the shuffle of players like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, as well as Yankee imports like Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez. However, Posada has been a key component to the Yankee run for the last six years. His raw stats are impressive enough, but it is even more instructive to look at his VORP and his rank among AL catchers in this category. VORP is an offensive measure of a player's offensive value compared to a freely available replacement level player. Below are Posada's VORP from the year 2000 through last year (with his rank in the AL amongst catchers in parenthesis).

2000: 63.6 (1)
2001: 42.1 (2)
2002: 48.7 (1)
2003: 61.5 (1)
2004: 48.9 (3)
2005: 32.6 (4)

That's a damn good offensive player. Even last year, in a year that was down for him, he provided more offense than all but 3 other catchers in the league.

So why is this a problem?

The first problem is his age. He will be 34 next season, and while many players have excelled past this age, very few of them have been catchers.

The second problem has been his workload. Including playoffs, he's caught close to 1200 games in his career.

The third problem? His contract. From the site, Posada signed a 5 Year contract worth 51M. It included a 15 million dollar signing bonus paid over 5 years. The breakdown by year:

2002: 4M + 1.5M signing bonus
2003: 5M + 2.0M signing bonus
2004: 6M + 3.0M signing bonus
2005: 8M + 4.0M signing bonus
2006: 9M + 4.5M signing bonus

It's tough to say that the Yankees have not gotten their money's worth to this point, particularly if you look at a stat like Baseball Prospectus's WARP1, which is a player's Wins Above Replacement, incorporating offense and defense.

2002: 7.3 wins
2003: 8.9 wins
2004: 6.8 wins
2005: 4.8 wins

The late Doug Pappas, who did a lot of wonderful work in the area of baseball and economics, developed a system to calculate the dollars per marginal wins which showed that a win is usually worth around $2M to a team's bottom line, although for a big market team like the Yankees this may be a low estimate. Using Doug's formula, we can assess that Posada has been worth:

2002: $14.6M
2003: $17.2M
2004: $13.6M
2005: $9.6M

So far, the Yankees have come out ahead if you assess Posada's contract in this manner, as he's provided $55M in marginal win value while costing the team $33.5M.

So how is this a problem again?

The first problem showed up this year, as Posada cost the Yankees $12M for $9.6M in value. Posada will cost the Yankees $13.5M next year, and it is unlikely that he will provide much more value than last year. In fact, more age-related decline should probably be expected. Suddenly, the $16.5M advantage the Yankees have accrued so far will drop down to roughly $11M.

Then comes 2007. Posada's option for $12M will vest if he catches 330 games between 2004 and 2006.

2004-2005 Games caught: 267

Games caught that will trigger the 2007 Option in 2006: 63.

If the option does not vest automatically, the Yankees can buy him out for $4 million. If it does vest, he gets the $4 million buyout in 2008. There are some stories that if 2007 gets vested, he gets an option for 2008, but I can't confirm this anywhere but in this Daily News article, and none of the other MLB salary sites I checked mention this option, so I will assume it is not an issue.

There are rumors around now that the Yankees are actively shopping Posada now. However, if he is not attractive to the team that can most afford him, why would he be attractive to anyone else? Also, if he's traded, who do the Yankees sign to catch? Ramon Hernandez is a decent catcher who will likely be overpaid by the Mets. Bengie Molina is a good defensive catcher who can't hit aside from one fluke season and is not all that young either. The farm is barren. One name you hear fairly frequently now is Kenji Jojima. a 29 year old from Japan with a very good defensive reputation as well as being a talented hitter. There would certainly be communication issues with someone like Jojima though.

This is a mess. If the Yankees trade Posada, they are going to be worse. If the only option is to trade him for another team's bad contract, it makes no sense either. Playing Posada at a position besides catcher is also a less than optimal solution because he probably doesn't hit enough to carry DH or 1B, and then who catches anyway?

It's really unfortunate that the Yankees felt the need to include Dioner Navarro in the Randy Johnson trade. Arizona didn't want him, and ended up dumping him in the Shawn Green trade when Los Angeles would plausibly have taken any warm body just to get rid of Shawn Green's contract. Navarro will probably never hit for much power, but has put up a .356 OBP in his limited major league time at ages 20 and 21, as well as a .366 OBP in AAA for the Dodgers last year. He also gets positive reports on his defense.

I think it's pretty likely that Posada will be the Yankees starting catcher in 2006, and that his option will vest in 2007. Provided he declines only slightly from the level he was at last year for the next two years, it's not the worst situation in the world. For 2006 and 2007, Posada would cost the Yankees about $29.5 million(if you factor in the $4M buyout), for about $15 million in marginal value(WAG). The contract still ends up ahead for the Yankees, but probably only by $1 million or so.

November 8, 2005

Put me in coach
by SG

I've discussed the bullpen needs for the Yankees. Now it's time to look at the position on the field that is their biggest need. Center field in Yankee Stadium has seen immortals such as Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle, and great players like Bernie Williams. This year, it is uncertain who will be in center.

Assuming the Yankees re-sign Hideki Matsui, which frankly, I'm starting to get a little worried about, he would be one option. He is likely not going to be a good defensive CF, but he'll hit well enough to make up for it. The fact that the Yankees leaked their interest in Brian Giles makes me think that Matsui and his agent are playing hardball with the Yankees. Matsui is a good player, but not a superstar. He does have the tangent benefit of increased exposure for the Yankees in Japan, which can help in two ways. First of all, it helps to increase their revenue, although this effect is probably overstated since much of overseas revenue is shared. More importantly to me, it makes the Yankees the most popular team in Japan, which makes them more attractive to Japanese players who are interested in coming over.

Assuming Matsui is signed as the left fielder, the center field options are not particularly great. The Yankees are saying they would consider Bubba Crosby as their starting CF, which would probably be a risk. He's never hit outside of one season in AAA. I suppose they could platoon him with Kevin Thompson and hope to tread water. If the only other option to this is a trade where the Yankees have to give up an Eric Duncan or Phil Hughes, I'd rather go this route. If they can hit as much as Bernie Williams did last year (.249/.321/.367 for an OPS+ of 81) while playing better defense, they'll be better in center than they were last year.

This is not a very likely path for the Yankees to take, so what are their other options? Here are the available free agent center fielders. OPS+ is the player's OPS(on base plus slugging) adjusted for their home park, and then compared to league average. An OPS+ of 100 is exactly average. Greater than 100 is better than average, etc., I am always wary of relying on defensive stats too much, but I'm using Baseball Prospectus's rate stat here, which compares the runs saved over 100 games at that position. So a player with a rate of 105 would save 5 runs over the average defender at that position in 100 games.

Johnny Damon(2005 OPS+:113, Career OPS+:102, Career Rate as a CF:101) Here's the big name on the free agent list, and frankly, I'm not particularly impressed. Damon will be 32 and is looking for at least 4 years and $10 million a year. His defense has already started to decline, and his splits away from home are telling and a bit concerning:



Damon's just not that good, and he's going to get worse. I wouldn't touch him.

Jacque Jones(2005 OPS+:99, Career OPS+:101, Career Rate as a CF:107) Jones has not played a ton of CF (159 of his 917 career games), but that is less a function of his ability and more a function of having a superior defensive player on the team. He has a horrible arm, and can't hit lefties, but he'd likely be reasonably priced and provide league average offense if used correctly.

Richard Hidalgo(2005 OPS+:82 , Career OPS+:111, Career Rate as a CF:106) Hidalgo's an inconsistent offensive player who has had two bad years in a row and hasn't played center regularly since 2001. If he came cheap, he might not be a bad choice, as perhaps a platoon CF/fourth OF.

Quinton McCracken(2005 OPS+:59 , Career OPS+:79, Career Rate as a CF:103) A 36 year old CF who hit .238/.312/.298? Bubba can do that.

Juan Encarnacion(2005 OPS+:113 , Career OPS+:96, Career Rate as a CF:95) Encarnacion is a bad player who had a good year. Primarily a RF in his career but has played about 1/3 of his games in center where he is rated below average. He's more likely to revert to his career averages than replicate last year, and since he doesn't seem to be a good defender, he's probably not someone I'd look at.

Kenny Lofton(2005 OPS+:107 , Career OPS+:108, Career Rate as a CF:104) Lofton actually would make sense for the Yankees if Joe Torre didn't hate him so much. I doubt he'd want to come back.

Preston Wilson(2005 OPS+:103, Career OPS+:106, Career Rate as a CF:95) A bad defensive player who's had injury problems and strikes out ALL THE TIME. He's never really hit that well outside of Coors. He's a righty pull hitter who would probably not even slug .400 in the stadium. I wouldn't bother.

Potential Trade Acquisitions
Torii Hunter(2005 OPS+:107 , Career OPS+:100, Career Rate as a CF:100) Hunter had a pretty severe ankle injury last year and will be 30 next year. He is a good defender, although not as good as his reputation, and is not a very good offensive player. He's also owed $10.5 million next year with a $12.5 million option for 2007. The Twins have Lew Ford on hand to replace him, and also have budget restrictions that make paying Hunter a problem for them. The New York media continues to propose Cano for Hunter, which is asinine. Even Steve Goldman, whose writing I enjoy, has proposed this foolish idea. It has no basis in fact, if you believe this article:

With general manager Brian Cashman committed to paring payroll and increasing the Yankees' youth, expect Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang to be in pinstripes when the 2006 season begins.

Dealing these one-time prospects who made significant contributions during the Yankees' run to the AL East title "doesn't make any sense,'' Cashman said Monday, adding that it "wouldn't be valid to speculate'' about such a transaction.

I would take Hunter if he was available cheaply, or for a bad contract like Carl Pavano's or Jaret Wright's partially subsidized. That's the only way I would consider him.

Milton Bradley(2005 OPS+:121 , Career OPS+:104, Career Rate as a CF:109) A pretty good player who's worn out his welcome in Cleveland and Los Angeles of Los Angeles, as opposed to Los Angeles of Anaheim. He's likely available cheaply, but there's a reason for that, and I'm pretty sure he'd have a tough time dealing with the New York media, who will needle him mercilessly to make their deadline days easier. The Yankees could either pursue a trade for Bradley or wait until December 20 to see if he is non-tendered by the Dodgers. The big risk with waiting is that most of the fallback options will be off the market by then.

Regular reader Mike C. made some very interesting points about the Bradley rumors, which I will post here rather than plagiarize him:

There are only two ways that it makes any sense at all to trade for Bradley instead of waiting until Dec 20. One is if you think he'd rather sign with someone else when he becomes a FA, and two is if you think the market for him as a FA will be richer than what he'll likely get in arbitration. Of course, if you think about it, one is actually an argument against trading for him, since it'll just give him one more thing to be malcontented about. And if two is true, then you'd have to figure that some of those teams might be inclined to make fairly attractive trade offers for Bradley.

This was in response to a George King column pushing the Yankees to trade for Bradley instead of waiting for him to be non-tendered.

Bradley would provide above average offense and defense, but I don't think we can separate the player from the man. The Yankees are supposedly mulling his acquisition, with the same concerns.

Juan Pierre(2005 OPS+:84 , Career OPS+:87, Career Rate as a CF:97) Please, just say no. He's a one tool speed player with no pop who gets almost all his value from infield hits. He also seems to rate as a below average defender, and is at an age where he can be expected to start losing his one tool.

Update:Mike Cameron(2005 OPS+:113 , Career OPS+:116, Career Rate as a CF:101) I forgot to include Cameron in my initial list, but the Mets are probably looking to trade him. The Mets need help at 2B and in the bullpen, or a corner OF that can hit. Cameron's career rate looks way low, he's pretty well acknowledged as a superior defender. I don't think the Yankees have what it would take to get Cameron. He's not worth either Sheffield or Cano, particularly coming off a pretty bad injury. He'll be a free agent after next season, so maybe the Yankees can consider him if they don't find anything more than a stopgap this season and no one in the minors distinguishes themselves as the CF of the future.

It's certainly not a great list. The only one that I'd be interested in long-term would Milton Bradley if he didn't have the temper/personality issues. I think the Yankees' primary concern has to be holding onto the farm right now. I would not trade any prospects for Hunter or Bradley. I'd also hate to see them locking themselves into a long-term contract with a declining "idiot" who is a bandbox illusion. If I were the Yankees, I'd probably take a flier on Jacques Jones first if he would sign a two year deal. If that doesn't work, I'd likely move onto Richard Hidalgo next and platoon him with Crosby and hope that he has one of his good seasons. If that doesn't work, I'd probably just call up Kevin Thompson and platoon him with Bubba, and wait until the season starts and see what comes available. If the Yankees take this approach, then they need to add a bat somewhere.

Brian Giles would be an interesting choice, and a RF/LF/DH rotation of Giles/Sheffield/Matsui would likely score a ton of runs, but I think Jason Giambi is going to need regular time at DH as he ages, so it's not really an option. I also don't think Giles would want to come to New York, and is feigning interest to help drive up his asking price. I also think it's probable the Yankees know this, and are leaking their interest in Giles to keep Matsui's demands reasonable.

Another name that I would consider would be Frank Thomas. If he can play first 40 times and DH 80 times, he can spell Giambi a bit while leaving 40 games for Sheffield and Matsui to split up at DH. His health is a concern and he makes Giambi look like vintage Don Mattingly on defense, but the man can hit, he works counts, and he can probably be had relatively inexpensively and for a short-term commitment. I'd prefer either of these options to the return of Tino Martinez or the John Olerud/Doug Mientwhatever/J.T. Snow/Travis Lee options being bandied about. It also wouldn't kill the Yankees to give Andy Phillips a chance. It's an open question if he can hit a major league breaking pitch, but it's time to either see if he can, or let him go earn a paycheck somewhere. From what little I saw of him he looked like a very good defensive first baseman.

My guess is that the Yankees eventually get Bradley. It just seems like the best fit, and if Joe Torre does anything well, it's managing "difficult" personalities.

November 5, 2005

Guidry becomes Yankees' pitching coach
by SG

From Yahoo:

NEW YORK (AP) -- When the New York Yankees' new pitching coach goes out to the bullpen next year, he'll be able to look at his own plaque in Monument Park.

Ron Guidry rejoined the Yankees as Joe Torre's pitching coach on Friday, when former Boston manager Joe Kerrigan also joined the staff as bullpen coach.

``Joe spoke to me about it the last couple of years, if I would ever entertain it,'' Guidry said, ``and I spoke to my family about it and they were saying, `Maybe you should go give it a shot before you get too old.' ``

The 55-year-old left-hander was a three-time 20-game winner who played for the Yankees from 1975-88 and won the 1978 AL Cy Young Award. He has been a spring training instructor for the team since 1990, and his number (49) was retired by the Yankees in 2003. His plaque, which refers to him as ``Gator'' and Louisiana Lightning,'' calls him ``a dominating pitcher,'' ``a respected leader'' and ``a true Yankee.''

He said the best pitching coach he worked under was Art Fowler, Billy Martin's buddy.

``He kept saying, `If you can't throw the ball over the plate, Ron, you can't pitch here in the big leagues,' `` Guidry recalled, remembering Fowler's mound visits vividly.

``Every time he'd come out there, I'd say, `Art what am I doing wrong?' and he'd always tell me, `I don't know, Ron, but you're (getting) Billy (angry).'

``It always lifted me up -- even when you're in a tight situation, that there's room for humor. That's how he always got my mind to reflect on what's going on, what I need to do.''

A four-time All-Star, Guidry said outgoing pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre spoke with him during spring training about becoming pitching coach someday. Guidry said he thought recognizing pitcher's mechanical problems was a strength and admitted the game has changed since he retired.

``You rely on a lot of computerized stats to tell you what guys are doing, what they're not doing,'' Guidry said. ``We didn't have that, so it's going to just be another step just to learn how to do all of that and put all of that together.''

Guidry went to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, also attended by free-agent reliever B.J. Ryan.

``He'd be a great addition to the pitching staff here,'' Guidry said, adding that he would offer Ryan ``a couple of bowls of gumbo.''

Kerrigan was the Red Sox pitching coach from 1997 until he became manager in August 2001, a job that lasted until the following March. He was hired by the Yankees in July as a special adviser to general manager Brian Cashman, and scouted video of upcoming opponents to prepare reports.

Kerrigan is happy to be getting back in uniform.

``I like being a grunt,'' he said. ``It's like going to a playground or a park, and it's an extension of your childhood.''

Kerrigan became the fourth former major league manager added this week to Torre's staff, following third base coach Larry Bowa, bench coach Lee Mazzilli and first base coach Tony Pena. The only holdover from last season is hitting coach Don Mattingly, Guidry's former teammate.

Good stuff in here. One of the things that Mel Stottlemyre was often criticized about was inability to fix broken-down mechanics. I would guess that Guidry will be a big help to Randy Johnson, since he had a similar fastball/slider style from the left side, minus 16 inches or so. I also think having Kerrigan on the staff will help Guidry immeasurably, and as a new guy he appears willing to listen.

The Ryan quote gives hope that the Yankees can lure what they are even acknowledging as their number one target.

November 4, 2005

Fixing the bullpen
by SG

A few days ago, I looked at the starting pitching options on the free agent market to confirm that the Yankees' non-pursuit of a starter made sense. Today, it's time to look at the relievers, an area of obvious need for the Yankees.

We'll start with the rock at the top, Mariano Rivera. At the age of 35, and after facing close to 3000 batters, Mo had the best season of his potential Hall of Fame career. 78.3 inning, 80 K, only 50 hits and 2 HR allowed, and an ERA of 1.38 which equated to an ERA+ of 323. He's certainly at a worrisome age, but he's a superstar talent, and superstars age well. Even if he declines a bit this year, he should be fine.

Tom Gordon had another strong season setting up Rivera, but his K rate has dropped pretty sharply over the last three seasons.

2003 K/9: 11.1
2004 K/9: 9.6
2005 K/9: 7.7

That is a pretty alarming trend, especially for a pitcher who has had injury problems and will be 38 next year. He has also mentioned that he would like to finish his career as a closer somewhere. Fortunately for the Yankees, they are in the position of having a likely Type A free agent that they can afford to let walk, and whom they can afford to offer arbitration. The benefit to this is that the Yankees will receive draft picks. They can then be players on the free agent market, and actually end up in a better draft position since the teams rumored to be interested in Gordon (Mets, Cubs) were worse than the Yankees. Thanks to the free agent compensation system in place, even if the Yankees sign multiple free agents, they won't lose these picks.

I think the smart move is to let Gordon walk, and I think that's what the Yankees will do.

Tanyon Sturtze has a $1.5 million dollar option for next season, which the Yankees should probably decline. Through June 27, Sturtze was a solid reliever, with a 3.43 ERA in 42 innings, and an incredibly low walk rate of 1.1 per nine innings. However, he was on pace to pitch in 66 games at this point, which is not unreasonable for a reliever,but would be 20 games more than Sturtze had ever pitched in his career. Whether it was fatigure or the return of the real Tanyon Sturtze, he had a 6.25 ERA over the rest of the season, with his BB per 9 spiking to 5.5. He had to get an MRI at the end of the season, and he'll be a 35 year old with a career ERA+ of 88. I wouldn't even bring him back for league minimum, to be honest.

I touted the misuse of Felix Rodriguez in this space many times over the course of the season, but he ended up having a pretty lousy season. It's tough to say that Torre's misuse of him was the only reason, and it's not fair to Torre to do so. He just stunk. He's probably another guy the Yankees can risk offering arbitration to with the hopes he signs elsewhere. If he accepts, they can cut him in spring training.

Scott Proctor continued to alternate good flashes with bad. He'll be 29, so it's not like he's young. I can't fault the Yankees for continuing to run him out there with his fastball and curve. Proctor is a dominant reliever against righties, holding them to a line of .217/.270/.358, which is about as well as Adam Everett hit last year. Unfortunately, against lefties, he allowed a line of .315/.405/.630, or about as well as Albert Pujols. I'm not a pitching coach, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once. It would seem to me that he needs a changeup or splitter that would move away from lefties. As a long man and mopup man, I think he'd be fine.

Alan Embree and Wayne Franklin should be express-mailed out of town as soon as possible. I wouldn't even offer them arbitration. They both suck, but their handedness makes them attractive to the manager, so they need to go.

So right now, the Yankee bullpen likely consists of two people, Mo and Proctor. That's pretty scary to me. If they don't trade Aaron Small, that makes three, so there are three spots to fill. I think the Yankees should fill one of these spots with someone in the organization, be it Jaret Wright until he gets hurt or someone from the minors. The most intriguing minor league candidate to me is Matt Smith, a lefty who was a mediocre starting pitching prospect until this season, when the Yankees stuck him in the bullpen in Trenton.

For Trenton, Smith pitched 54.2 innings, allowing 46 hits, just 2 HR, with 23 BB and 59 K. Promoted to Columbus, he pitched another 27.2 innings, allowing 24 hits, 3 HRs and 13 BB, while fanning 33. He's not young at 26, and is more of a breaking ball pitcher, but he's in the organization, he's cheap, and he's worth a flier. Plus, as a player with minor league options he will give the Yankees the roster flexibility to shuffle around as needed when injuries strike. He's also been named to the US Olympic qualifying team, which would seem to be more evidence that he has some talent.

Jason Anderson had a very good year for Columbus and should be in the mix, and Colter Bean would be another guy who deserves a chance, but if he didn't get it last year, I doubt he ever will get it.

This leaves two spots. I really think the Yankees should go after two power relievers, and there are some intriguing candidates out there, ranked by my preference.

B.J. Ryan, lhp (IP:70.1, ERA+:170, age:30) - I know the Yankees have a huge gaping hole in centerfield, but to me this the most important guy the Yankees can target. He's relatively young, he's AL East tested, he's got filthy stuff combined with a deceptive motion, and he's a lefty. I would throw closer's money at him if necessary, starting at 3 years, $21 million. The concern is that he'll want to be a closer somewhere, but it's mitigated by the fact that he and Lee Mazzilli have a good relationship and that he is from Louisiana and grew up idolizing Ron Guidry, who may be the next Yankee pitching coach.

Billy Wagner, lhp (IP:77.2, ERA+:300, age:34) - There's only one Sandman, so I'd pass on Wagner. Seriously, he'd be a nice fit, but he's climbing up the all time saves list and will likely get plenty of offers to be the ninth inning guy elsewhere, so I don't think he's a realistic option.

Octavio Dotel, rhp (IP:15.1, ERA+:128, age:32) - Dotel had his struggles in Oakland before requiring Tommy John surgery. Reports are that he is progressing at an amazing rate and will be ready at the start of the season. The recovery rate of ligament replacement surgery patients is pretty good, so I think an incentive-laden deal would be a good fit. If he comes back with his 97 mph fastball and nasty slider, he'll be fun to watch. He was a dominant setup man and would probably accept the role again.

Bobby Howry, rhp (IP:73.0, ERA+:166), age:32) - Howry's a guy who may fly under the radar, but he has had two very good years for Cleveland since coming back from injuries. He's another pretty hard thrower, with a 91-93 mph fastball that reaches 96 at times, a slider and a splitter. The one concern I would have is that he's a pretty extreme flyball pitcher and will likely have a bad OF defense behind him.

Kyle Farnsworth rhp (IP:70.0, ERA+:198), age:30) - 100 mph fastball and a 10 cent head. He had a dominant season last year. I'm not sure how much of it is the new slider he started throwing, and how much of it was just luck. If the Yankee scouts feel the slider is the difference maker, he'd be another nice option if he's willing to be a setup man.

Julian Tavarez, rhp (IP:65.1, ERA+:125), age:33) - I'm not crazy about Tavarez, but he is a solid ground ball pitcher with a good sinking fastball that tears up righties(.239/.293/.318 from 2002-04, .271/.345/.384 last year). I'd consider him depending how everything else shakes out, but he played in front of a stellar infield defense last year, so I don't know how good he really is.

Ugueth Urbina, rhp (IP:79.2, ERA+:123), age:32) - Mr. Urbina may or may not be an option depending on his legal issues with a machete. In a pure baseball sense, he's not the pitcher he was five years ago, and I'd probably avoid him. That whole kissing thing skeeves me out too.

Bob Wickman, rhp (IP:62, ERA+:166), age:37) - No thanks.

Jeff Nelson, rhp (IP:36.2, ERA+:110), age:39) - See Wickman. Bob.

Tim Worrell, rhp (IP:48.1, ERA+:109), age:38) - Man, some of these guys are not very appealing.

Roberto Hernandez, rhp (IP:69.1, ERA+:162, age:41) - He had a very good year for the Mets last year but it looks like a big time fluke. I wouldn't trust him to repeat it.

Ricardo Rincon, lhp (IP:37.1, ERA+:104), age:36) - If the Yankees get stifled for Ryan, I think they can consider a LOOGY like Rincon or the next three guys.

Scott Eyre, lhp (IP:68.1, ERA+:157), age:34)

Scott Sauerbeck, lhp (IP:35.2, ERA+:102), age:34)

Joey Eischen, lhp (IP:36.1, ERA+:123), age:36)

Eddie Guardado looked like a potential pickup until Seattle picked up his option, so scratch him off your lists.

If it was me, I'd sign Ryan and Dotel or Howry. Then, you'd have this bullpen next year:

Wright/Bean/Matt Smith/Anderson

I think that would work out pretty well.

November 2, 2005

Deadspin - Sources: Lawton Has Tested Positive
by SG

From the site

We’ve been hearing the same thing from several different, reliable people today, so, since this is what we do, we decided it was time to print it. Multiple sources tell Deadspin that Yankees outfielder Matt Lawton has tested positive for steroids and is currently entrenched in the appeals process, with Major League Baseball keeping the whole thing quiet until the process is done and some of the dust has settled.

Lawton, who just filed for free agency from the Yankees, was traded from the Cubs before last year’s trading deadline. We emphasize that this is just a rumor, has no connection to our poll last week (we, sadly, did not even mention Lawton) and only what we’re taking from a bunch of people we’re talking to. We have not seen any positive tests, samples, press releases, Lawton peeing in a cup, anything like that. This is just what we keep hearing.

Oh, and we’re sorry the rumors are about Matt Lawton. We were kind of hoping it would be someone cooler as well.

I was praying it wouldn't be a Yankee, but I guess this is the best case scenario. It may shed some light on why he was not on the postseason roster too.

November 1, 2005

Should the Yankees pursue a starter this offseason?
by SG

According to Brian Cashman, the Yankees will not be pursuing a starting pitcher this offseason. With 7 starters currently on the roster, I guess this makes some sense. The question is, are the seven starters on hand people you can count on in 2006?

First off, there's Randy Johnson. He had a disappointing season by his standards, but according to VORP, he was the 11th most valuable pitcher in the American League. A strong finish pushed his season numbers to respectability, and I would guess he will decline a little next year but still be an effective starter. He's an injury risk, but he did not got on the DL last season despite some nagging injuries.

Next up, there's Mike Mussina. He's owed a ton of money (his contract was heavily backloaded) and has had elbow issues and declining effectiveness the last two seasons. Provided he can also stay healthy, he should be able to put up 180-200 innings of league average pitching.

Chien-Ming Wang defied his low K rate to have an impressive debut. What's interesting was that prior to going on the DL with what was termed as anything from shoulder inflammation to a minor rotator cuff tear, Wang's stats looked like this:

Innings: 83.1
Hits: 79
HR: 7
BB: 22
K: 31

K/9: 3.3
BB/9: 2.4
HR/9: .76
FIP: 4.34

After returning on September 8, they looked like this:

Innings: 33
Hits: 34
HR: 2
BB: 10
K: 16

K/9: 4.4
BB/9: 2.7
HR/9: .55
FIP: 3.93

So his ERA went up, his walk rate increased slightly. However, his K rate increased and his HR rate decreased, and his FIP (fielding independent pitching, which is calculated using (HR x 13 + BB x 3 - K x 2)/IP + 3.2 and is supposed to figure out the pitcher's performance taking out his defense) went down. It's a rare pitcher who can survive with a K rate as low as Wang's was this year, but his minor league K numbers are decent. As a sinkerballer who throws 95-96 mph, his stuff is similar to Kevin Brown's. Brown's K rate was fairly pedestrian when he started out, and he seemed to do ok. Wang's minor league BB/9 and K/9 are better than Brown's were, which is another positive indicator. The concern with Wang is his past shoulder issues and the injury this year.

Then we have two pitcher who were both questionable signings last offseason, and who both got hurt. Carl Pavano, missed a lot of time early in his career with various injuries, before throwing two straight season of over 200 innings for the Marlins in 2003 and 2004. After starting last year 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA, he made five more starts going 0-5 with a 6.46 ERA. It certainly did not seem likely that Pavano would repeat his great 2004.

K/9: 5.9
BB/9: 2.2
HR/9: .85
FIP: 3.83

K/9: 5.6
BB/9: 2.0
HR/9: .64
FIP: 3.55

It looks like he was unlucky in 2003, and lucky in 2004. What's weird about Pavano's 2005 was his 2.89 ERA on the road last season, where he allowed batters to hit .276/.310/.468. At home, his ERA was 6.89 and batters hit .354/.396/.558. From 2002-2004, his home ERA was also higher, 3.96 to 3.32. Maybe Carl should sleep in a hotel when he's home. Anyway, if he's over his injury issues, I think he can be a league average starter for 200 innings, which is a fine thing, if not necessarily worth $10 million a year.

The second pitcher who was a questionable signing was the infamous Jaret Wright. He failed his first physical but passed his second, and the Yankees gave him a 3 year deal. This is often pointed to as the biggest flaw in the Yankees' player acquisition model. Without being able to develop their own cheap alternatives to fill out their big league roster, they end up having to overpay for mediocrity in weak free agent markets. Teams are getting smarter about locking up their young starters, like Minnesota with Johan Santana and Milwaukee with Ben Sheets, which is reducing the quality of available free agents in the off-season. Wright has a good sinking fastball, but his control is pretty bad and his health is a concern. He's never exceeded 193 innings in a season, and he's only had a season with an ERA under 4.38 once. I'd be curious to see if the Yankees would consider putting Wright in the bullpen, an area of obvious concern.

Lastly, there are two pitchers who saved the Yankees' season. Shawn Chacon, who was brilliant as a Yankee with a 2.85 ERA in 79 innings. Chacon has had some injury concerns in his career, and was actually moved to the bullpen by Colorado in 2004 due to those concerns. For his career, Chacon has pitched 631.1 innings, with an ERA+ (park-adjusted ERA compared to league average) of exactly 100. His stats in Coors shed some doubt on his true talent ability, but it's probable that they understate it if they do anything. He used to have a 92-94 mph fastball, but this year he was usually in the 88-90 range. If that fastball returns, I think he can be a very good starter, and if it doesn't, I think with his curve and his cutter he can still maintain his league average performance.

Aaron Small went 10-0 with a 3.20 ERA after starting the season with a 4.96 ERA in Columbus. He's not that good, but he was great last season and unless the Yankees can con someone into a centerfielder for him, they're probably best off hanging onto him and sticking him in the bullpen as a long man and injury insurance.

The recurring theme with every single one of these pitchers is a history of injuries. This is a big flashing warning sign. The Yankees need rotation depth, because the chances of significant missed time from this crew is pretty damn high.

So, what's out there this offseason?

Sorted in descending order of ERA+
Roger Clemens, rhp (211.1 innings, ERA+ of 221 in 2005)

Clemens will either retire or stay in Houston, so he's not an option. I have a feeling he'll try to hang around to see if he can play with his kid who was drafted by Houston in June.

Kevin Millwood, rhp (192 innings, ERA+ of 143 in 2005)

Millwood had a very good year for Cleveland, but his agent is Scott Boras and he'll be looking for a big payday. He's good but not great, and the Yankees supposedly have concerns about his mental toughness ( I hope that's not based on his W/L record).

Jarrod Washburn, lhp (177.1 innings, ERA+ of 131 in 2005)

He had a good season this year, but he's a fly ball pitcher without particularly great stuff, and probably the best lefty on the market, which means he's going to be expensive.

Kenny Rogers, lhp (195.1 innings, ERA+ of 130 in 2005)

Kenny's getting cantankerous in his old age, and cameramen everywhere should be afraid. So should smart teams. He's appears to be a jerk and he's got some of the crappiest stuff in baseball right now. His season screams fluke to me.

Paul Byrd, rhp (204 innings, ERA+ of 112 in 2005)

A solid pitcher with mediocre pitches, but not someone I'd really consider.

A.J. Burnett, rhp (209 innings, ERA+ of 110 in 2005)

The best arm in this year's free agent class, with a 100 mph fastaball and one of the nastiest curves you'll see. He's another guy who has injury issues, and his results have never caught up to his stuff. He'll likely get Pavano-type money, and neither is worth it right now. There's a chance something could click for this guy and he could become the best pitcher in baseball, but I wouldn't take the risk to find out. Baltimore would be smart to sign him, he's from the area and they've got Mazzone now.

Matt Morris, rhp (192.1 innings, ERA+ of 104 in 2005)

He left his 95 mph fastball on the operating table. I'm not a big fan.

Jamie Moyer, lhp (200 innings, ERA+ of 101 in 2005)

He'll likely either stay in Seattle or retire, and I can't say I'm all that broken up about it.

Byung-Hyun Kim, rhp (148 innings, ERA+ of 97 in 2005)

The man who started the mass exodus out of Beantown. He's not a starter in my mind, his splits the second and third time through the order indicate as much.

Jeff Weaver, rhp (224 innings, ERA+ of 96 in 2005)

Been there, done that.

Jason Johnson, rhp (210 innings, ERA+ of 94 in 2005)

Another guy with pretty good stuff and pretty middling results. I wouldn't consider him.

Brett Tomko, rhp (190.1 innings, ERA+ of 92 in 2005)

A guy that they nicknamed Bombko? Pass.

Shawn Estes, lhp (123.1 innings, ERA+ of 92 in 2005)

I still remember Mad Dog Chris Russo saying that he'd rather have Estes than Andy Pettitte. Someone should call him and remind him of that.

Jose Lima, rhp (168.2 innings, ERA+ of 62 in 2005)

Lima time is long gone. I'd sign his wife though.

This list of free agent pitchers stinks. I wouldn't sign any of them, and I think the Yankees are smart to say they will not either. If they avoid the temptation to do anything here, it will be a positive indicator to me that Cashman's bold talk about changing the way the Yankees are going to go about building their team was not just talk.

There is definitely some concern about their rotation given their past injury histories, but I am hopeful that they have some contingencies in place. Small would be one. A little further down is Matt Desalvo, who went 9-5 with a 3.02 ERA in AA Trenton this year, with 151 K in 149 innings. Scouts don't like him because he is undersized and his stuff is not great. John Sickels had a good writeup about him here. His scouting report:

Physically, DeSalvo is not imposing. He’s listed at 6-0, but looks shorter, more like 5-10. But while he’s not a big hulk on the mound, he has great mound presence, in the sense of being in charge of the game: he exudes confidence. His fastball is usually at 87-89 MPH, sometimes a notch higher at 90. That’s not blazing velocity, but the pitch has good sinking action, and he’s able to hit spots with it, working both the inside and outside corners with precision. His second pitch is a very good changeup. His slider is erratic, sometimes very good, sometimes a bit below average, but even when the slider isn’t working, he’s been able to survive with the fastball and the change. He has a deceptive delivery, and hitters seem to have a difficult time getting a good read on him. In this sense, he is similar to Yusmeiro Petit in the Mets system, who racks up the strikeouts due to deception rather than pure velocity. From the perspective of the traditional scout, DeSalvo lacks the size and fastball to be a top-notch prospect. Otherwise, he is a very solid all-around pitcher who does the little things well and helps himself win.

He should start the season in Columbus this year, and will likely be the first choice to be recalled if/when the Yankees need a starter. I'd also hope that perhaps Sean Henn will be a year older and wiser, and can get helped by Joe Kerrigan (if he is on the staff) to harness his ability, which would give them a second option. Even further down, is Tyler Clippard, who pitched mainly for Class A Tampa last year although he did pitch one scoreless inning for Columbus. Sickles rates him as a B+ prospect. He'll probably start the year in AA, so I doubt he'd be much of an option before mid-season at the earliest.

Basically, this is an extremely long-winded way of saying that I DO NOT think the Yankees should pursue a starter in this offseason, and that they have the contingencies in place to take that stance. Their priorities are CF and the bullpen, which I think makes sense. B.J. Ryan or bust!