Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bad Day for '90s Yankees Class Perception

The '90s Yankees, loved and hated as they were, were perceived to be classy around the league. They played the game the right way. A sacrifice fly in a key situation was valued as much as a big home run. They played the game with one goal: to win. So anything that devalues that perception of class and determination affects everyone's perception of that dynasty, and two new stories have emerged that threaten that glamor.

Much of the respect the organization received emanated from manager Joe Torre. He is seen in baseball as a player's manager, a calming presence that managed to shut down the sensationalism of the New York media market. But apparently Torre has forgotten that important part of his image and has opted to publish a tell-all book about his time with the Yankees. While the book isn't viewed as a smear campaign, he tells some hard secrets about Alex Rodriguez and vents about his relationship with General Manager Brian Cashman.

Apparently A-Fraud, as the book claims the Yankees called Rodriguez in the clubhouse, is unfazed by Torre's going public. I, on the other hand, am fazed. I am up and down on A-Rod myself, and frequently have referred to him as "Sally Girl" when he strikes out or grounds into a double play in a clutch situation, but that doesn't make it okay for his former manager to tear him a new one for trying to fit in in New York. The guy isn't Pacman Jones. He may be phony, and he may be sleeping with a woman almost twice his age who peaked in the 1980s and early '90s, but I never got the sense that he was a particularly bad guy.

This book should undermine Torre's credibility throughout the game, particularly with former Yankees players and his current Dodgers' roster. You don't want to be Jose Canseco, and this move feels more like something he would be more likely to do than Torre. Nobody likes a snitch, especially one who has built a reputation as a trustworthy authority figure. There was simply no reason for him to go "Deep Throat" on this issue.

As for the players, well Dwight Gooden and David Justice have both been accused by former Mets' clubhouse assistant and George Mitchell darling Kirk Radomski of taking steroids. They both have refuted his claims. I don't mean to cast doubt on either of them, and we should wait for more information before we assume anything, but it definitely has been the case that this type of accusation has usually turned out to be true so far.

"Doc" Gooden was the redemption story of the 1996 Yankees. He came back from a well-publicized addiction to crack cocaine to win 11 games for that World Series team. He pitched a no-hitter along the way. That Radomski claims to have taken urine tests for him is an upsetting blow. It isn't specified when this occurred, just that it was 1990s.

As for Justice, he was a midseason acquisition for the 2000 Yankees who carried the left-handed power hitting role for that team. He hit 41 home runs for Cleveland and the Yankees that season, on the way to 305 dingers for his career. And Radomski claims to have sold him steroids.

Justice was mentioned in the Mitchell Report. He claimed he received HGH from Brian McNamee, not knowing what it was, after McNamee told him it would help him recover from an injury. Once he saw that the drug was administered by needle, he claims, he could not do it. He admitted that he probably would have done it if it were a pill.

These new allegations by Radomski make that version of the story seem less credible. The fact that he claimed his transaction with Justice happened right after the 2000 World Series puts his whole season in doubt. No one likes to think that one of the Yankees' key players was juicing in a historic season that saw the Yankees beat the Mets in the Fall Classic.

The fact that Justice has popped up twice like this leads me to doubt his version of events. I feel a little more sympathy for Gooden because he has been so forthright about his addiction to crack. It seems to me that he has already owned up to his mistakes, and he may be more likely to be honest in this type of scenario. Either way, it hurts the reputation of the entire organization and that of the gritty teams that won four championships in five years to end the last decade.

Between this and Joe Torre's bush league, kick 'em where it hurts book, the '90s Yankees lost some luster today.

Pettitte Back for One More Year

Andy Pettitte and the Yankees have agreed on an incentive-laden one-year contract that will make him their fifth starter next year.

The contract will pay him $5.5 million in base salary, but offers an additional $6.5 million in bonuses based on innings pitched and days spent on the active roster. If he doesn't spend time on the disabled list and pitches 210+ innings this year, he will earn the full $12 million.

Earlier this offseason, Pettitte rejected a $10 million proposal from the Yankees, but he clearly wanted to pitch in the New Yankee Stadium. As a Yankee from 1995-2003 and from 2007 up until the present, Pettitte, along with Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, is one of the last bridges to the '90s Yankees dynasty. While the current deal guarantees less money, the incentives are relatively easy to attain.

The 2009 Yankees rotation should look something like this: C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain and Pettitte. Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Alfredo Aceves, Sergio Mitre and the other youngsters will have to wait in the wings unless someone gets injured or Joba Chamberlain moves back to the bullpen (which, for the record, I am dead set against).

While I am against this signing on the grounds that Pettitte is old, and was very ineffective in the second half last season, I will never really get tired of watching him. David Cone and him were my two favorite pitchers growing up, so I hope he pulls a Mike Mussina and reinvents himself this season and makes idiots like me feel bad for doubting him. In reality, as a fifth starter, Pettitte should be just fine. It's just a shame to let Phil Hughes waste away in the minors when he clearly needs big league experience at this point to step forward.

Pettitte admitted to using HGH after being mentioned in the Mitchell Report last spring. With the distraction of that likely to be considerably smaller this season, I would not be surprised to see him bounce back somewhere between his 2007 numbers of 15-9 and a 4.05 and 2008 stats of 14-14 with a 4.54.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

WBC Provisionals Star-Studded, Irrelevant, or Cuban

The World Baseball Classic provides Major League Baseball fans with a new periodic reminder of the status of baseball around the globe. Some teams, like the Dominican Republic and the United States, are comparable to All-Star teams in overall big name talent. Japan mixes stars from MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball. Others, like the Netherlands, Australia and Italy have a few familiar names, but simply don't have the talent to compete with the top class of the world's teams. And then there are the surprises...like Cuba, Taiwan and Korea, who use mainly unknown players, but come from rich baseball-playing cultures.

Here are my breakdowns of the familiar names, by position:

SP- Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, Scott Kazmir, Justin Verlander, John Danks
RP- Jonathan Broxton, Scot Shields, Brian Fuentes, J.P. Howell, Joe Nathan, J.J. Putz, B.J. Ryan
C- Brian McCann, Chris Iannetta, A.J. Pierzynski
1B- Kevin Youkilis, Derrek Lee
2B- Dustin Pedroia, Brian Roberts
3B- Chipper Jones, Evan Longoria, David Wright
SS- Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins
OF- Grady Sizemore, Ryan Braun, Carlos Quentin, Curtis Granderson, Ryan Ludwick, Vernon Wells

My take: Solid all around. One of the best two bullpens in the Classic. Disappointing rotation given the depth of American starters, but there is less patriotism with American pitchers than with other countries. Salary is the primary concern, so why play for free and risk injury? And I thought that John Lackey was on this roster. What happened? He would really help. Another question is who will get the lion's share at third? If it's Chipper, can you honestly say he's the best out of the group? They could use one of those guys at another position, if someone played one. Rollins is better than Jeter at this point, but won't play as much supposedly. Great hitting outfield. They will undoubtedly be good. But come on, boys, win this one for Obama.

Dominican Republic
SP- Edinson Volquez, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, Fausto Carmona, Pedro Martinez
RP- Juan Cruz, Damaso Marte, Rafael Perez, Jose Arredondo, Carlos Marmol, Fernando Rodney, Jose Valverde, Francisco Cordero
C- Miguel Olivo
1B- Albert Pujols, Carlos Pena
2B- Robinson Cano, Placido Polanco
3B- Alex Rodriguez, Aramis Ramirez
SS- Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes
OF- Vladimir Guerrero, Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen, Willy Taveras

My take: Scary-high potential in that rotation. Better bullpen than the USA. Weaker at catcher, outfield and at second, probably better everywhere else. This is my favorite team in the Classic, but then again, they were last time, too.

Puerto Rico
SP- Javier Vazquez, Ian Snell, Jonathan Sanchez, Joel Pineiro
RP- Kiko Calero, Javier Lopez, Pedro Feliciano, J.C. Romero
C- Geovany Soto, Bengie Molina, Ivan Rodriguez, Yadier Molina
1B- Carlos Delgado
2B- Felipe Lopez
3B- Mike Lowell, Ramon Vazquez
SS- Mike Aviles
OF- Carlos  Beltran, Alex Rios, Bernie Williams

My Take: Solid players everywhere, but not top-flight on the world stage.

SP- Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano, Felix Hernandez, Anibal Sanchez, Armando Galarraga
RP- Cesar Jimenez, Renyel Pinto, Rafael Betancourt, Jorge Julio, Francisco Rodriguez
C- Dioner Navarro, Ramon Hernandez, Max Ramirez
1B- Miguel Cabrera
2B- Jose Lopez
3B- Carlos Guillen, Melvin Mora
SS- Omar Vizquel, Cesar Izturis
OF- Magglio Ordonez, Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, Carlos Gonzalez

My take: That rotation is filthy. Besides Rodriguez, the bullpen is short. Weak at shortstop, and slightly weak in the outfield. This team is a contender. They would probably win it all if the pitch limits were not so strict strictly due to the presence of Johan, Zambrano and King Felix. 

SP- Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo, Oliver Perez, Alfredo Aceves, Jorge De La Rosa
RP- Dennys Reyes, Oscar Villarreal, Eddie Guardado, Joakim Soria
C- Rod Barajas
1B- Adrian Gonzalez
2B- Edgar Gonzalez
3B- Jorge Cantu
SS- Jerry Hairston, Jr.
OF- Scott Hairston, Karim Garcia, Alfredo Amezaga

My Take: This team is not a joke, but they aren't going to go that far either.

SP- Rich Harden, Jeff Francis
RP- Jesse Crain, Eric Gagne
C- Russell Martin
Infield- Justin Morneau, Joey Votto
Outfield- Jason Bay, Mark Teahen, Matt Stairs

My take: Some really solid players have crossed the border to the South to play in the bigs. Unfortunately, some of the best ones they have seem to be concentrated in redundant positions. 

SP- Daisuke Matsuzaka
RP- Masa Kobayashi, Hideki Okajima
C- Kenji Johjima
Infield- Akinori Iwamura
Outfield- Ichiro Suzuki, Kosuke Fukudome

My take: This list may look short, but don't let it fool you. At least not again. It is no fluke that Japan won the last WBC. Okay, maybe it was a fluke, because they didn't look like the best team to me. But the Japan League is very good, and some unknowns (at least for us) will definitely shine a la Dice-K in '06. Everyone seems to be betting it's Yu Darvish this time.

Manny Corpas, Carlos Ruiz, Carlos Lee

My take: No Mariano Rivera, no chance. In fact, no chance anyway.

Jae Seo, Byung-Hyun Kim

My take: Boring. But they will probably win some games, because they were strong last time with a similarly snore-inducing squad.


My take: They need to clone Chien-Ming Wang and teach some of his clones how to hit. And I don't care how many times you call it Taipei. It's Taiwan to me, because that's what the products I love say.

Lenny Dinardo, Jason Grilli, Mike Napoli, Frank Catalonotto, Robert Fick, Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia.

My take: Ragtag assortment of never-weres and Mike Napoli. Not promising.

Grant Balfour.

They aren't winning the World Baseball Classic. But I bet they'd have a pretty good shot in a drinking contest.

Jair Jurrjens.

My take: When colonialism ends, so too does the Dutch baseball enterprise. Well, it's not all that alive anymore now that Andruw Jones can't hit a moose with a Jeep.

Nobody who made it to the USA...guaranteed.

My take: Cuba is fascinating. When they play in international tourneys, we get a glimpse of some very talented players who would otherwise likely not be known to us. Well, barring a succesful defection and a minor league contract.

South Africa

My take: No. There will not be a South Africa in the second round this year.

No one you would know.

My take: Do I need to write about this one?

Remember, these rosters will be cut down to 28 by the time the Classic starts. And some big names will likely be barred by their employers.

Jeter, A-Rod headline Yankees' WBC Provisionals

The 45-man provisional rosters for the teams that will compete in the World Baseball Classic have been announced.

Derek Jeter, also known as Captain America, will indeed be just that this spring when the games kick off. As the veteran captain and starting shortstop for the U.S. squad, Jeter carries the weight of the team's success on his back even though he is nowhere near the best player.

Alex Rodriguez will play Benedict Arnold to Derek Jeter's George Washington in the 2009 Classic. Rodriguez will be playing for the Dominican Republic this season, despite playing for the States in the '06 tournament and spending much of his childhood on our shores.

The provisional rosters will be pared down before the start of play.

Other Yankees listed on the provisional rosters included: Pitcher Alfredo Aceves (Mexico), outfielder Melky Cabrera, second baseman Robinson Cano and pitchers Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras and Damaso Marte (Dominican Republic) and catcher Francisco Cervelli (Italy).

Former Yankees on the list include: catcher Dioner Navarro and outfielders Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu (Venezuela), pitcher Octavio Dotel (Dominican Republic), catcher Sal Fasano (Italy), outfielder Karim Garcia (Mexico), pitcher Ted Lilly (USA), third baseman Mike Lowell, outfielder Bernie Williams, pitcher Javier Vazquez and catcher Ivan Rodriguez (Puerto Rico), pitcher Ramiro Mendoza and outfielder Ruben Rivera (Panama) and pitcher Sidney Ponson (Netherlands).

Monday, January 19, 2009

O's Acquire Pie from Cubs

The Baltimore Orioles have acquired former top outfield prospect Felix Pie from the Chicago Cubs for left-handed starter Garrett Olson and minor league right-hander Henry Williamson.

Olson has looked pretty bad in his first 33 Major League starts. He has posted a 6.87 ERA, going 10-13 with 111 strikeouts in 165 innings and a 1.82 WHIP for his career. This season, he was a hair better, going 9-10 with a 6.65 ERA with 83 Ks in 132.2 IP and a 1.73 WHIP in 26 starts. But, I guess the Cubs are reasoning that 25-year-old lefties don't grow on trees.

Williamson is not one of the top-10 prospects in the Baltimore organization, and none of his tools merited mention as top level in the 2008 report by Baseball America. He's essentially an organizational depth-minded throw-in. Olson will compete with Sean Marshall for the fifth starter job in Chicago. Ouch. Not a lot there...I wonder if they would prefer to have Jake Peavy?

Pie, who turns 24 in February, is definitely the most interesting piece in this trade. He is extremely athletic, a true center fielder, and paired with Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, the Orioles look to be very good in outfield run prevention (unless all of the balls land in the stands.)

Although Baltimore seems to have not taken my advice and traded Brian Roberts for Gavin Floyd, this deal is a smart move for them. Their pitching is very weak, and losing Olson doesn't help. Mark Hendrickson and Koji Uehara don't strike fear in my heart, especially at Camden Yards. They are not constructed to contend this season, and won't be a threat until some of their minor league starters (read uber-prospect Brian Matusz) have found their footing at the big league level to support Jeremy Guthrie and give the team a chance to win. They hope that at least one out of the group of Chris Waters, Matt Albers and Radhames Liz will emerge as a solid starter this season. Albers had a good season as a reliever last year, and Liz has good stuff. Then again, so did Daniel Cabrera.

Pie still has a chance to emerge as a solid Major Leaguer. He desperately needed a change of scenery, and the O's seem like a good fit. It's a young, smaller market non-contender with much less pressure, the perfect place for a young stud to develop his game through logging significant playing time. He strikes out too much, and doesn't hit for a high enough average right now, but he has double-digit home run and stolen base potential, even this season. His numbers in the minors have been consistently good. 

Luke Scott will likely move to designated hitter and Aubrey Huff to first base if Pie gets the starting center field gig coming out of spring training, which is likely because he is out of options and clearly needs a crack at the majors if he is going to approach or reach his high ceiling.

I like any move that makes the Orioles younger and more talented. They were able to accomplish that in this trade because the Cubs weren't willing to commit to Pie spending this season in the majors. Good move for now and for the future. A Markakis/Jones/Pie outfield has an extraordinarily high ceiling for years to come. Now to get cracking on that starting rotation...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Yankees in on Garcia

Apparently signing injury-prone former stars to low-cost deals is the trend of the falling economy.

ESPN.com is reporting that the Yankees are one of four teams competing for the services of Freddy Garcia, most recently of the Detroit Tigers, but a star with the Mariners earlier this decade.

He started three games late in the season with Motown, each for five innings, and had two good starts against the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers, allowing two hits in each. He also gave up five runs against the Kansas City Royals.

The Mets, White Sox and Rangers apparently have interest in him as well.

The ChiSox and Rangers must have liked what they saw in September, but Detroit is not thought to be interested in bringing Garcia back.

While the Yankees have long been enamored of Garcia, a cog in the trade that brought Randy Johnson to the Astros long ago, I can't see what he provides that Ben Sheets doesn't.

Garcia has been on the field substantially less than Sheets the last three years, making 47 total starts for the White Sox, Phillies and Tigers. He is 19-15 over that period with ERAs of 4.54, 5.90 and 4.20. And that's counting his fluky 17-9 record in 2006 over 33 starts. Sheets has made 72 starts over the same period, going 31-21 with ERAs of 3.82, 3.82, and 3.09.

The numbers don't add up. Sheets is available at an extraordinarily reasonable price for his talent level. If you want to scrape the bargain bin, he is the diamond in the rough.

UPDATE: The New York Mets have signed Freddy Garcia to a minor league contract for next season and he will compete for a spot at the back of their rotation.

It was reported earlier that the Yankees and Mets were the two finalists in the hunt for the 33-year-old righty reclamation project. Him, Santana, Mike Pelfrey and John Maine look pretty good if Garcia can show some resemblance to his old self in the spacious new ballpark in Queens.

Personally, I'm glad that the Yankees didn't sign him. I would rather see a gamble taken on Phil Hughes than on a 33-year-old. Let him take his lumps and learn how to pitch at the highest level if he has to. Just let him pitch. And Hughes ceiling, at this point, has to be higher than Garcia's. He is out of the 28-32 peak years, although not by much, but is also recovering from serious injuries. He isn't likely to be the guy he was before. And Hughes' ceiling may be higher than Garcia's anyway. He is still young.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Red Sox Bolster Outfield, Continue Signing Injured Players

The Boston Red Sox have continued their offseason spree of signing injured players to bolster their squad with the addition of former Dodgers closer Takashi Saito.

Saito, when healthy, has impressed in the weak NL West since his arrival in the United States. He will join fellow Japanese pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and bullpen mate Hideki Okajima. The Red Sox also added prospect Junichi Tazawa this offseason.

Saito, similar to Sox newcomers Rocco Baldelli, Brad Penny and John Smoltz, is an All-Star caliber talent who is coming off of injury problems.

Possibly because of the injury history of outfielders J.D. Drew and Baldelli, the Red Sox re-signed midseason acquisition Mark Kotsay.

Saito, when healthy, is a very solid bullpen arm who will help stabilize the Red Sox late-inning pitching along with Okajima and right-handed closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Out of the pool of four injured former stars, the Red Sox have to figure someone will get injured, but they are starting to have the kind of star depth that makes it almost irrelevant who plays. If Baldelli goes down, Kotsay steps in. If Penny and Smoltz get hurt, Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson are available for use. If Saito goes down, Manny Del Carmen or the newly acquired Ramon Ramirez comes in. This team is going to be tough, and they are gambling on very valuable chips, but have a lot of backup in case of trouble. I guess they learned from Ortiz's injury.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


The Yankees have filled the most glaring void on their team: a weak-hitting shortstop with a lower fielding percentage than Derek Jeter last season. The man: Angel Berroa. A player so good, the Kansas City Royals outclassed him, and the Dodgers picked him up for a poopsicle, a washing machine, an autographed copy of George W. Bush's autobiography and a dead parrot.

Berroa, a former Rookie of the Year who has become one of the worst players in Major League Baseball, will compete with fellow fringe-man Cody Ransom for the backup infield job created when we traded Wilson Betemit for the now irrelevant and apparently on-the-market Nick Swisher.

Im rooting for Ransom! He is less disappointing because he hasn't done anything of note at the big league level to hope for.

As for Swisher being on the market, apparently the Yankees are trying to move either him or Xavier Nady to thin out their corner outfield/first base surplus.

I was going to write a post imploring the Yanks to keep Nady, but Rob Neyer beat me to the punch again, so it seemed I was stuck to writing about Berroa until I read what he wrote.

Nady is a fourth outfielder in Neyer's opinion. And for once I strongly disagree with him. The guy hit .305 with 25 homers and 97 RBI last season, which he played much of for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I am very confused what about those numbers says fourth outfielder. To me, that says number 5 hitter on most teams. He doesn't walk enough. Which is a big deal, but come on. The rest of the stats are there and he is a good enough all-around player to warrant time on the field. That being said, I bet he hits closer to the .268 he hit after the trade last season, and his OBP might be too low next year if it does happen that way, but he deserves a shot after the flashes of brilliance he showed in '08. I don't feel comfortable with what Swisher and Hideki Matsui will produce next season. They both have serious question marks, based on performance and health, respectively. He is not expendable, especially with Melky Cabrera or Brett Gardner in center field. It's frustrating that Neyer thinks he would be worth trading for a decent reliever, especially considering the strength our bullpen showed last season without an effective Damaso Marte.

I view Professor X as one of the keys to next year's squad. Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada and Nady will determine how good the lineup really is. Unless we acquire a Jorge Julio-type for him, in which case the Yanks may not be as good as advertised. If we could get someone near Carlos Marmol's level of setup effectiveness, I'd do it in a heartbeat, but I don't think that that many Major League GMs take LSD as a performance enhancer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Burrell to Rays: They're Even Scarier

Pat Burrell is going to DH for the Tampa Bay Rays next year.

That's some nice righty pop to compliment Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and new young bopper Matt Joyce. Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Burrell will be their Northpawed counterparts, terrorizing the league's lefties.

And I'm in good company in thinking this makes their offense scary. Buster Olney said as much, too.

Edwin Jackson is being replaced by David Price in the rotation, who I expect to be scary good, if not totally so this year then definitely in the near future. And after seeing him strike out J.D. Drew with the bases loaded in ALCS Game 7 this year, I felt pretty sure that he was ready.

Joyce is an underrated return for Jackson, who is mediocre with great stuff. He will hit 20-30 home runs next season. My best guess is right in the middle with 25. And Burrell will hit 30. And I bet B.J. Upton hits 25-30 in '09, back toward his 2007 total and away from the 9 he hit last season. A full season of Longoria and Pena puts this team in position to MASH. They will hit many more home runs, score many more runs, and have a better rotation. Ouch.

Red Sox Poised to Counter with 1-2 Combo

It was a busy day for the Boston Red Sox. Never a good sentence for the Yankees fans among us.

First it became apparent that Rocco Baldelli, the exceptionally talented mitochondrial-disordered former-Rays outfielder, will likely be joining Jason Bay, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew in a very talented Boston outfield.

And then it popped up that the great John Smoltz also is packing for Beantown. He will join Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brad Penny and Tim Wakefield in a crowded veteran rotation.

Their outfield still has question marks, but the skill level is undeniable. J.D. Drew only had 368 at-bats, but for part of the year he looked like an MVP candidate until Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis went on cruise control and carried the team. As usual, he was injured, but still finished with a .280 average, 19 home runs and 64 RBI, or roughly on track for 30 home runs and just about 100 RBI had he had a healthy 600 AB year. Health is his persistent question mark. When on the field, he can be one of the better lefty mashers in the AL. Jason Bay is always a beast. He hit .281 with 31 homers and 101 knocked in between Boston and Pittsburgh. Expect those numbers to rise over a full season at Fenway. Ellsbury is a key to this team. He hit .280/9/47 last season, but stole 50 out of 61 bases and scored 98 runs in 550 AB. His OBP was an unimpressive .336 and slugging percentage a paltry .394. That leaves his OPS almost 50 points lower than Derek Jeter's last season during a down year, and at a much more important offensive position in center field, and over 100 points below Johnny Damon's. If it wasn't for the steals, it would be safe to say Ellsbury flopped last season. What is he going to produce next year? A chimpanzee with a bat could probably score 100 runs leading off for the Sox, so I'll bet he gets there, but as for production, who knows?

And what does Baldelli bring? Well, a ton of skill. He is either a humongous steal or a completely irrelevant signing. I love this move for Boston, and hate it for the Yankees, but both Drew and Baldelli are significant injury risks, and I'm not sure that the Sox have much any organizational depth to back them up. That's the only thing I can say to feel better about his playing for them. Well, and let's be honest, Bay and Baldelli are good, but at least Manny ain't comin' back.

And when it comes to the pitching, the group is again talented, but there are definitely still some signs of hope for the Yankees Faithful. Jon Lester is a stud. His control got better and his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) dropped significantly last year and not surprisingly, his ERA dipped. I expect him to do about equally well next season, and don't see him as a huge injury risk because he held up alright last season and his body seemed to have filled out a good deal.

As for Beckett, you can't put too much stake in this kind of thing, but his career ERAs (starting in 2002 when he first started over 20 games) go in order as follows: 4.10, 3.04, 3.79, 3.38, 5.01, 3.27, 4.03. He seems to go good year/off year every two seasons, and he was off last season at 12-10 with a 4.03. His WHIP was still low at 1.19, and his strikeouts still high at 172 (in 174.1 innings), so I definitely don't see him as done. His ERA was freakishly high for his other numbers.

Matsuzaka is headed in the other direction. The rats started jumping off of his back at the end of the season. I can hear the talk radio/bleacher animals among you now: How are you going to say that a guy with a 2.90 ERA and a record of 18-3 is headed south? Well, it's simple really. As unlucky as Beckett was, Matsuzaka was lucky. In 2007, Matsuzaka gave up 191 hits in 204.2 innings. In 2008, he gave up 128 in 167.2. That's almost a hit less every four innings, or accountable for as much as .25 in WHIP, which is roughly the difference between Johan Santana and Tim Redding. Now, I do think he learned how to pitch more effectively to Major Leaguers in his second season, but his strikeout rate actually decreased. He had 201 in 204.2 innings in '07, 154 in 167.2 in '08. So the difference wasn't that he started to blow people away. They put the ball in play slightly more this year, but only got 3/4 of the hits. That is very improbable in baseball. And even with that, his WHIP was still on the high side at 1.32. Add in that extra .25 he seemed to be in line for and we would have someone slightly better than Daniel Cabrera. Also not helping his case is that Matsuzaka walked 94 people last year, or just about five per nine innings. That was up from just above 3.5 in '07, when he walked 80 men in forty more innings. You don't walk that many people, have that many balls put in play, and have a sub-3.00 ERA. That is absurdly lucky, but it doesn't tend to last. I wouldn't be shocked to see him around a 4.50 next season. He's an average (possibly below?) pitcher, with strikeout stuff but bad control on a great all-around team who had a Kevin Federline moment that lasted for a whole season.

Wakefield's a knuckleballer, so his arm is rubber, and it is almost irrelevant that he is turning 43 next August. We know he's good for a 4.00-4.50 ERA, but he can be beat when the wind isn't stirring and the ball has ceased to Fred Astaire on the batter. I have already expounded on Penny's health questions and I don't feel like I have anything more worth adding on the subject. I see what they were thinking a lot more on the Smoltz gamble.

In a sense, John Smoltz becomes the key to this rotation. He could be the second coming (of a slightly better, in my opinion) Curt Schilling, or he could blow his shoulder out and retire. If he's good and healthy, its gonna be a gutwrenching season.

They weren't going to let the Yanks play leapfrog over them. There was going to be a response. This is just an unusually high upside, high risk, annoyingly nebulous one. What these guys will contribute next year is as mystifying to me as the appeal of the new hanging socks hat.

But I know I will hate them whether they are good or bad. Which is comforting.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Former Yankees Moving On

Three huge acquisitions of this offseason are officially Yankees, following the announcement of Mark Teixeira's signing today. The event is likely to be one of the final shindigs for the good old ballpark in the Bronx.

Paralleling the move away from the past, word came today about three other big Yankees signings from recent winters. Jason Giambi is on the verge of a deal that will return him to Oakland for his twilight. Carl Pavano has reached agreement with Cleveland on an incentive-laden one-year deal. And Andy Pettitte has apparently formally rejected the Yankees $10 million one-year offer.

Oakland is looking formidable in the AL West with this announcement. Giambi was extraordinarily unlucky last season, based on typical rates of expected batting average on balls in play (xBABIP) and hit .247 in the process. A jump in average seems in order, and he did hit 32 home runs and knock in 96 runs for the Pinstripers last season. Along with right-handed slugger Matt Holliday, Giambi and the A's have the foundations of a formidable offense should this deal go through. Last year, hitting was their Achilles' heel, and despite my belief that Holliday's numbers are in line to sharply decline this season after leaving Denver, their pitchers should have more support. With the Angels weakened by the departures of Teixeira and Garret Anderson, and Brian Fuentes' replacement of Francisco Rodriguez, the A's will have a good chance to challenge for the crown.

With a rotation starting with Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona, Jake Westbrook and now Pavano, the Indians have accumulated a serviceable front four. I would be shocked to see Lee repeat his numbers from last year, but he is a very good pitcher and I wouldn't be surprised to see a better season out of Carmona. The signings of Pavano and closer Kerry Wood, however, both scream injury. We shall see how Chief Wahoo's faithful feel about these moves when the contracts are finished. But Pavano's contract is relatively affordable, and forces him to pitch for the one thing he really seems to care about: cash. How good they will be hinges on Travis Hafner's and Victor Martinez's shoulders, as they simply can not hit without the presence of the two sluggers to support Grady Sizemore, one of the game's best.

Whether or not Pettitte is done in the Bronx will only be known when he signs his next deal or retires. Without him, the Yankees have plenty of eager youngsters who should produce at least one serviceable starter for next season and the future. Although one of them, Sergio Mitre, who I recently blogged about, is facing a 50-game drug suspension. It sounds like this case, and J.C. Romero's suspension, may largely be the fault of the players' union. They had informed the players that over-the-counter supplements bought in the US of A shouldn't give them any problems come pee time. Too bad, because this will give a lot of people the wrong idea about the two of them. Let's be honest, all professional athletes gobble down whatever supplements they can get their hands on without being burned. Telling them something is OK should absolve them of responsibility, on a basic logical level. But baseball wants to be tough to keep our Congress happy, so let them throw out the baby with the bath water and ignore circumstance, knowledge and intention.

It won't set Mitre back, really, because he was already going to miss the time with an injury. But the principle of the thing still stings.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Floyd to the O's?

If I were Orioles GM Andy McPhail, my trigger finger would be awful itchy if the rumors are true.

Brian Roberts for Gavin Floyd? The Orioles need somebody to slot behind Jeremy Guthrie pretty badly.

Guthrie and Floyd are 29 and 25 respectively. Teamed up with young outfield studs Adam Jones, developing at 23, Nick Markakis, a veteran at 25, and wunderkind catcher Matt Wieters, the O's could have something really nice developing here. Luke Scott, Cesar Izturis and Ryan Freel are useful little pieces. Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff may still have a few decent seasons left in their bats as well.

If someone can step up and help out Jim Johnson and George Sherill in the bullpen, and Mark Hendrickson and the rest of the scabs from the O's rotation can step it up next season, this team could be a problem for the rest of the division. They aren't going to finish first, second, or probably third, but they could depress wins throughout the division and move the Wild Card out of the East. They also could make it a very long summer for Toronto.

1/6/09 UPDATE: The Orioles, apparently were demanding Gavin Floyd and some change from the White Sox in exchange for Roberts. Not surprisingly, a story surfaced on ESPN.com's rumor mill that the Sox are not moving right now on Roberts and focusing on a youth movement instead. Though I have read some good points about the repeatability of Floyd's success based on his numbers, I still look first at the fact that Floyd is 25-years-old and just went 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA and a (just calculated) 127.10 ERA+. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the average ERA+ is 100. Now that Floyd's a pitcher and a quarter. I'll take three more just like him and fill out my five man rotation any day.

Am I the only one who thinks that Brian Roberts is overrated at this point in his career? He's 31, with just about 2-4 more peak seasons. He hit .296 this year with a .378 OBP, both of which are very solid numbers. But his homer total dipped to nine in comfy Camden Yards this year and he only knocked in 57 runs. Granted, he stole a ridiculous 40 out of 50 bases, but his speed should start to decrease any season now. Don't get me wrong, he is a top second baseman, but he seems to me to be the wrong kind of player to hold past his peak, as he relies so heavily on his speed. I think I should maybe tell that to Rickey Henderson. But Floyd is still three years from reaching his peak.

By the way, for all of you wanna be statisticians not reading this blog, you can calculate ERA+ by multiplying the league average ERA times the park factor times 100. You then divide that total by the pitchers ERA and you have your score.

This year's averages were 4.29 in the NL and 4.35 in the AL. The park factors can be found here. And Floyd's ERA for the year was, again, 3.84. Do the math yourself!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Penny For My Thoughts

The Boston Red Sox filled their sixth starter role by signing Brad Penny this week. They use six starters to help out their pitchers' arms... by the by, do you think Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes would mind an extra rest day and 30-40 fewer innings?

Now, Penny is a little hard to gauge. He certainly has great stuff, but then again, so did Wade Miller and Matt Clement. Success in the National League didn't mean a whole lot in the AL East, and as Miller showed, injuries can portend others and limit effectiveness...

And Penny did not look good last season after May 7.

I for one, would be more nervous if they had thrown the Teixeira cash at a Derek Lowe or even an Oliver Perez.

On the other hand, I kicked some major butt with Josh Bard in MLB 2K7, and consider him a worthy replacement for Kevin Cash, so the Sox fans should feel better there.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Forgotten Signing of the Winter Season

As it becomes clearer that Andy Pettitte will probably not come back to the Yankees for another season, there has been speculation that Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves and Dan Giese are the leading candidates to be the fifth starter, in that order.

Ian Kennedy likely fits somewhere on that list as well, although it seems to me that the Yankees would like to see some more solid innings out of him at the Minor League level before he gets a call back up to the bigs. But a strong spring, a couple of injuries or some ineffective outings from other candidates certainly can go a long way in shaping opinion on the baseball field.

While the job is most likely Hughes' to lose, and the other kids' to earn, the Yankees signed an interesting contingency plan in early November who has largely gone under the radar.

Sergio Mitre, rehabbing right now from Tommy John surgery, went 5-8 with a 4.65 E.R.A. in 2007. He sat out the entire 2008 season with an injury. His career record of 10-23 and 5.36 E.R.A. are unimpressive, and those  '07 numbers don't particularly pop, especially in the National League, but I see silver lining in this signing.

Mitre will be 28 next year, and 29 the year after. Those are peak years for a starting pitcher.  Many pitchers receive a boost in stuff  after Tommy John surgery, and better stuff never hurt anyone. And finally, Mitre had an E.R.A. of 2.82 on July 19th. 

His half-season of mastery at age 26 was essentially destroyed by six bad starts in late July and August when he had already more than doubled his career-high innings total. The main culprits were the Padres and Giants, who each shelled him twice. He had not faced either opponent in the prior two seasons as a starter. 

All of these indicators to me say that Mitre has the skills to be a solid to good major league starter. This signing has nothing but potential value to the Yankees. A kid this skilled doesn't become available for next to nothing very often. A pure upside move like this, when a kid has everything to prove, could help the Yankees tremendously when Mitre is ready to return midseason. 

If A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes or Chien-Ming Wang go down in July or August, Mitre could come up and turn some heads. Or if Hughes and the crowd are ineffective and Mitre's pitching well in Scranton. Watch out for the former Marlin. He has some skills.

Bernie's Comeback Could be Done

Former Yankees' great center fielder Bernie Williams injured his quad in a Puerto Rican Winter League game.

Williams, 40, was using a stint with Carolina of the Puerto Rican league to get in shape and had hoped to play for Puerto Rico in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, as previously reported on this site.

The injury makes the possibility of his playing in the WBC a dubious one.

After hitting a single in his first at-bat for Carolina, Williams had gone hitless over three games worth of at-bats.

Williams, who patrolled center for the Yankees for 16 years, never officially retired, but hasn't played in the majors since the 2006 season.

For his career, Williams hit .297 with 287 home runs in 2,076 games.

His life in baseball may finally be done forever, but his second jazz album comes out in April.