The Final Two

There’s something very appropriate that with Posada’s retirement today Jeter and Mo are the only two remaining links left to the Yankees dynasty. I’ve argued their exact order in these pages before, but I think everyone would agree that those two players are the 1-2 or 2-1 of that period of Yankee history. And, if you stop and think about it, the other three, Bernie, Pettitte and Jorge have retired in a fitting order. It’s a fun argument to have, but I would put their importance to the dynasty as Rivera, Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Williams.

But that’s an argument for a day not too far into the future. For now, let’s focus on Posada. He was a switch-hitting catcher who could absolutely hit. He played with passion and pride and I think it will be very interesting to see how his absence plays on Jeter. I could be totally wrong about this, but I have always viewed Jeter as the “Gretzky” of the Yankees and Posada his “McSorely”. When discipline needed to be handed out, Posada was much more likely to do it than Jeter.

Personally, I will really miss sitting in the stand next year and not hearing someone yell, “Hip! Hip!” prompting almost the entire crowd to finish the chant. It was wonderful to see #20 out there for all these years.
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A number of other pieces of news today. Let’s start with the Yankee part. They agreed to a one-year deal with Russell Martin. I addressed this before and I think the Yankees are taking a risk here. Signing Martin to a two-year deal would have kept him out of free agency next year and given Romine more time to develop. And, since they won’t be able to get Martin on a one-year deal next season, they now have to choose between signing him and eating into the 2014 payroll or letting him go.

Obviously, the big news is Prince Fielder returning to where his Dad mashed all those homers. I don’t know how Boras does it, but I am stunned he got that kind of deal from someone this late in the game. I scratch my head for Detroit because as Deadspin so accurately asked today, will Cabrera and Fielder reach 600 homers or 600 pounds first? For now, it won’t make it any easier to win the AL next season and think about all the talent coming into “our” league. Apart from Papelbon, I can’t think of a big free agent who left the AL for the NL.

Finally, scratch Wilson Betemit off your shopping lists (and stop the hate email!) He signed with Baltimore.

Rounding Out The Bench

By my count, the Yankees have two spots available on the bench. Assuming they carry 12 pitchers (I am willing to bet on that) they have two spots to fill. We know Nunez, Jones and Cervelli will be on the team, so that brings them to 11 hitters. Two more brings them to 13 and fills the bench. I would suggest the Yankees go and get two guys who have played for them before.

The obvious need is for someone to take a big slice of the DH AB’s. While Andruw Jones kills lefties, he hit .172 vs. righties last year. Brett Gardner struggles vs. lefties, so that is a nice platoon to have. Since righties make up about 70% of the pitchers in baseball, you would prefer to have a lefty DH, but ideally you would want a guy who can still hang in against lefties. That brings me to my choice- Johnny Damon.

Damon can still hit, putting up an OPS+ of 110 last year. He has hit .282/.347/.405 vs lefties in his career. And his legs still work, he stole 19 bases in 2011. He averaged 4.03 pitches per plate appearance in 2011 which ranked him 23rd in MLB. (Four Yankees were ahead of him Curtis Granderson 1st, Gardner 10th, Teixeira 15th and Swisher 17th) We know he is comfortable in the big spot and he would probably be agreeable to a return to the Bronx for a moderate sum. Once the Yankees have made the Montero trade and Kuroda signing official, they can work on trading AJ Burnett which should free up the cash needed to sign Damon.

My second bench candidate will not be a popular choice. He didn’t do much in his first tour with the Yankees, but he subsequently went out and hit well in 2010 and 2011. Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m talking about Wilson Betemit!

Now before you start the hateful comments, consider a few facts. Whoever gets the final bench spot, you want them to be able to play third base and maybe some other positions. Next, you want them to be able to hit righty pitching as you are more likely to rest A-Rod against a righty than a lefty and Nunez hasn’t shown much against righties. Lastly, you want them to be inexpensive, a million or two at most.

Betemit meets all these criteria. He is now primarily a third baseman, he actually hasn’t played short since the last time he was a Yankee. But in the last two years he has appeared at first, second and left, giving him some positional flexibility. He has always been able to hit righty pitching, putting up a line of .277/.348/.469 against them in his career. He made one million dollars last year and earned $1.3 in 2010. Sure, Eric Chavez is the better defender, but Chavez can’t hit and if you want defense, A-Rod is the guy to go to. The Yankees could use Betemit to spell A-Rod against righties and Nunez to spell him against lefties. Sometimes he would get a full day off, sometimes he would be the DH. That’s my optimal bench, we will see what the Yankees end up doing.

More Of Me

Many of you have asked for less of me, this post is not for you. I am obviously a Yankee fan, but I am also a fan of many of the other teams that play in New York. I love writing about the Yankees on this site, but I also wanted to expand my horizons and write about other sports.

So, I have started a blog about New York sports on WordPress. You can reach it at http://nysportfanatic.wordpress.com I will still be posting here and my Yankee stuff will be published here first and then over there. But, if you want to read about a certain football team that is trying to win the NFC Championship game or a basketball team that looks completely lost, you now know where to find me.

Thanks as always for reading,

Peter

What Do You Do With Martin?

Arbitration figures are in and Russell Martin has asked for $8.2 million and the Yankees have offered $7 million. It seems like there would be common ground around $7.5 million or so, but should the Yankees try and lock him up for longer than that?

The case for doing so is obvious. Martin was was good as a Yankee. He was streaky with the bat, but solid on defense. Fangraphs had him at 3.1 wins above replacement, which ties him for 10th in MLB. He will turn 29 before the season starts, so his age is not a factor in the immediate future. And, with Montero in Seattle, the Yankees don’t have an obvious replacement in their system. Cervelli seems to be a backup at best and Romine should be allowed to get more than 15 AB’s at AAA.

But, he has been brittle in the past and while he hit 18 homers, his overall line of .237/.324/.408 isn’t something to get too excited about. Yes, his defense is very good, but will it be that much better than Romine’s could be in 2013? The Yankees could simply settle their arbitration case with him this year and then let him go to free agency after the season and make their decision then.

It seems to me that the best course of action is to try and lock Martin in for a two-year deal now. The Yankees could offer two years and $17 million or so. That keeps Martin off the 2014 payroll, but also allows Austin Romine a chance to break into the bigs slowly. Now that he is the catcher of the future, Romine should get a full season at AAA with a promotion to the bigs in September. The Yankees could move Cervelli next offseason, when he is arbitration eligible, and use Romine as Martin’s backup for one season like they did with Jorge and Girardi all those years ago.

The question is, would Martin accept that offer?

The Asssassin Strikes Again

All winter we have waited, waited for Brian Cashman to make a move to improve the Yankees. Tonight he struck with authority. Not only did he dramatically remake the roster, he did it intelligently. Let’s start with the big trade- Montero and Noesi to Seattle for Pineda and Campos.

There’s an old baseball adage, never trade a pitcher for a hitter. I agree with that, with one important exception. Trade the hitter when you don’t have a position for him and the Yankees clearly didn’t with Montero. If you were one of the ones who believed Montero could catch in the bigs, tonight is a bad night for you because the Yankees just potentially gave up one of the best offensive catchers ever. But, if you are like me and countless others who doubted Montero’s abilities behind the plate, you have to like this trade.

Let’s go through the obvious objections Yankees’ fans will have. Start with- would you rather have A-Rod or Montero? Of course, I would prefer Montero at this point, but there is no way you could get rid of A-Rod, period. Any trade scenario you can dream up that includes A-Rod is a fantasy. Move onto- would you rather have Teixeira or Montero? Again, I prefer Montero, but like A-Rod, how do you trade Teixeira? At some point, even the biggest Montero supporter has to realize that he is a man without a position on the Yankees. His catching is suspect, first is blocked and A-Rod is going to have to DH a lot in the very near future. We can bitch and moan about that being the case, but remember, without A-Rod and Teixeira, you probably don’t have a 2009 championship. And, please remember how you feel about those two now the next time you want the Yankees to sign a free agent to a big deal. Sooner or later those deals turn sour. (To be fair, I think Teixeira will be just fine for awhile longer. A-Rod’s health worries me greatly.) So, what do you do with Montero in that case? You turn him into a something you need and the Yankees needed pitching.

Enter MIchael Pineda, a 6′ 7″ flamethrower who threw 171 innings in the bigs last year and posted a 3.74 ERA (3.42 FIP). This guy is what you hope Betances turns into and he is under team control until 2017. He’s not Felix Hernandez, but this guy is plenty good and will have the protection of Sabathia in front of him. He may not be the #2 guy immediately but he should grow into the role. If you are one of the guys (like me) hoping the Yankees develop a Betances or Banuelos for the rotation, you cannot dislike this move.

As much as I like the primary part of the trade, the secondary part is where I think the Yankees got a steal. I like Hector Noesi, but I doubt his upside is much more than 5th starter/long reliever. He’s 25 and the Yankees have plenty of other arms (Phelps, Warren, etc.) who project to Noesi’s level. In exchange for him they get a huge prospect, Jose Campos. Campos is a long way from the bigs, but he has already impressed people with his performance and his stuff. We probably won’t know until 2014 or so, but Campos looks like he will be a big piece of the staff in the future.

After that big meal the Yankees gave us all a nice dessert with the addition of Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda isn’t as good as his 3.07 ERA last year indicates, but he is a 200-inning pitcher who should produce an ERA around 4 in the AL. More importantly, with Sabathia, Pineda and Kuroda, the Yankees can trade AJ and still have Nova, Hughes and Garcia around to fill out the rotation.

And I would bet almost anything the Yankees aren’t done. They have suddenly created a hole in the lineup at DH and there are plenty of bats that could fill that void on the market and very few internal ones. We can dream of a one-year flier on Prince, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carlos Pena or Johnny Damon back in pinstripes in the near future.

For now, enjoy a great night for the Yankees.

Don’t Buy The Sizzle

Jon Heyman reports tonight that Hal Steinbrenner discussed Edwin Jackson with Scott Boras. Before you judge the story, keep in mind that Heyman has a very “interesting” relationship with Boras. It has been speculated all over the internet that they have a bit of a quid pro quo going on. Boras plants some info he wants to get into the mainstream with Heyman and in return, Heyman gets tipped on which players are going where from Boras. I have no idea if that is the case here, but there are a few things it is probably worth remembering.

1- The Yankees have been repeatedly linked to a goal of keeping their payroll under $189 million in 2014. They have four, yes four players signed in that year already for $80 million, so they have “only” $109 million to spend on the remainder of the roster. That makes fitting an expensive free agent into the budget hard.

2- I know there are a lot of superlatives about Jackson’s durability and strikeout numbers, but it is worth remembering that he has pitched for nine seasons on six teams and is 60-60 with a 4.46 ERA.

3- Even if the Yankees choose to ignore those signs, I am sure they have noticed that he went 19-26 with a 5.08 ERA when he was in Tampa.

What I would suspect is that Boras is quickly realizing he is running out of landing spots for Jackson. Reportedly, he was looking for something like 5 years and $80 million or so. Since that isn’t happening, he may be willing to gamble on a short deal with the hopes of cashing in next year or in 2014. I could see the Yankees biting on something like 2 years and $25 million or so. I hope they don’t, but I could see it and I bet that’s something Scott Boras has concluded as well. But, until Kuroda is off the market, I don’t see the Yankees signing Jackson.

Help Me Understand

Let’s take a few players and compare them.

Player A hit .307/.358/.471 over his 1,785 game career. He amassed 2,153 hits and 222 homers. His OPS+ was 127 for his career.

Player B hit .295/.371/.444 over his 2,120 game career. He amassed 2,340 hits and 198 homers. His OPS+ was 116 for his career.

Player C hit .297/.381/.477 over his 2,076 game career. He amassed 2,336 hits and 287 homers. His OPS+ was 125 for his career.

Sharp-eyed Yankees’ fans may have figured out that Player A is Don Mattingly and Player C is Bernie Williams. As for Player B, he is the latest member of the Hall of Fame, Barry Larkin.

Now, I am not saying that Larkin is undeserving of induction, I think he absolutely deserved it. But I am left scratching my head that 86% of the voters saw fit to vote for him while only 18% voted for Mattingly and 10% for Bernie Williams. I get that Larkin is a shortstop and therefore, his offensive numbers are more impressive for his position, but it still seems like an odd disparity. Then again, I have never understood how the writers voted for the Hall of Fame.

And there are plenty of other complaints you can make about this year’s results. You always hear the argument that Hall of Famers should be the best players of their generation. Well wasn’t Jack Morris the best pitcher in the AL for most of the 80′s? Tim Raines had over 2,600 hits and 800 steals and he can’t get 50% of the vote. And finally, how does Mark McGwire get more votes than Rafael Palmeiro? They both cheated, so that’s a wash, but Palmeiro had over 500 homers and 3,000 hits. McGwire had 1.626 hits and only hit 14 more homers than Palmerio. They both played first, so on what basis can you say McGwire is more deserving than Palmeiro? I also wonder how the writers who refuse to vote for McGwire and Palmeiro feel about Ryan Braun?

Hip, Hip, Jorge!

According to Sweeny Murti Jorge Posada will announce his retirement within the next two weeks. Assuming this is true, Posada will never play for another organization other than the Yankees.

I hope the Yankees invite Posada to come to spring training to work with some of the younger players and I hope Joe Girardi smartens up and ends his silly feud with Jorge. Obviously, his number also needs to be removed from circulation for now as well.

Congrats to Jorge on a wonderful career. He will be missed.

Next Stop Chavez?

According to LoHud, “The Yankees just announced they could not reach and agreement with Hiroyuki Nakajima”

Not really a shock and you have to wonder how hard they really tried. Clearly, he wasn’t going to start for them and I imagine they weren’t interested in paying a backup multiple millions per year.

Now I imagine speculation will turn to Eric Chavez coming back. Chavez had a nice start to the season, but he did nothing after he returned from injury. Considering he is 34 and hasn’t really done much hitting since 2007, what do you gain by bringing him back? Looking at the bench next year, we know Nunez and Andruw Jones are on it. Assume Montero is the usual DH for now and that leaves two open spots. I think one goes to Cervelli because the Yankees won’t want to be without a catcher on the bench regularly.

If I am right, the addition of a lefty makes a lot of sense and that may make Chavez worth it. But, Chavez only hit .255/.322/.365 vs. righties last year. From that standpoint, the Yankees would be better off bringing Chris Dickerson (.270/.355/.410 vs RHP) off the bench. Of course Dickerson can only play the outfield, which limits his flexibility. The Yankees could simply use Pena or Laird, two righty bats able to play multiple positions and save their money. It’s worth considering before running out and signing Chavez because Chavez may not be much of an offensive upgrade over either of them.

Math Problem

The Yankees are supposedly interested in Hideki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson, but “not at these prices”. The problem is, I don’t think they would be interested at any price.

Start with the fact that the Yankees have five starters right now. (CC, Nova, Hughes, AJ and Garcia) Now yes, one of them could be traded, but who exactly do you think that would be? CC isn’t going anywhere and I highly doubt the Yankees would trade Hughes or Nova right now. That leaves Garcia and AJ. I think we all know which one of those two the Yankees would want to trade, but everyone knows they can’t do it without paying a significant portion of his salary. The Yankees know they have to spend $16.5 million next year and in 2013 on AJ, I don’t think they want to spend any more on replacing him. So, let’s say the Yankees have to throw in $20 million to go with AJ Burnett, putting the team acquiring him on the hook for $6.5 million per year. That $10 million per year has to be added to the cost of signing a Kuroda or Jackson. Meaning there is absolutely no way to get one of them and get rid of AJ without spending more money overall than you would by just keeping AJ.

And that’s why I think the Yankees might simply delete AJ from the roster in a trade, paying a big part of the freight, and let one of their prospects take his spot. It makes sense from an economic standpoint, they only cost $450K per year right now and it is hard for me to envision a scenario where they are collectively worse than Burnett. It seems like a simple calculation on the Yankees’ part. If they think that some combination of Phelps, Noesi, Warren, Banuelos and Betances can give them 32 starts and an ERA under 5, why not send AJ away?

I think that’s a bet they are far more likely to make than rolling the dice on another free agent pitcher.