Not A Terrible Idea

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are signing Brian Roberts. While the contract details matter, I am going to assume they haven’t made a large financial commitment.

Roberts used to be a great player, but injuries and age have reduced him to a shadow of his former self. That being said, he can still play a decent defensive second and he can hit LHP. Platooning him with Kelly Johnson at second won’t come close to replacing Cano, but it could result in a league-average solution or higher and that is all you can ask for.

Now they need to address the left side of the infield…..

Which Player Do You Want?

Player A in 2013- .261/.310/.396  2.8 WAR 32-years old

Player B in 2013- .273/.344/.416 3.2WAR 30-years old

Even if the two players made the same amount of money, I think you would clearly lean towards Player B. If I told you Player B made 6-times less than Player A, I think you wouldn’t even consider trading these players.

Player A is Brandon Phillips and Player B is Brett Gardner. Yes, Phillips had a bad year, but he has been declining for a couple of seasons now. Yes, Phillips fills a bigger hole on the Yankees, but Gardner still has a lot of value for the Yankees. Add in the fact that Phillips has 4 years and $50 million left on his deal and I can only assume the Reds were trying to get the Yankees to swing at a pitch in the dirt.

At this point in the offseason, the Yankees have done the heavy lifting for their lineup. Now, they need to make smart tweaks finalize everything. In the outfield, a rotation of Ellsbury, Gardner, Soriano and Beltran makes sense. Ichiro is the guy you want to get rid of and the Yankees should figure out a way to trade him. At this point, they are on the hook for his entire salary of $6.5 million, so even paying 95% of that would lower the payroll. Vernon Wells won’t actually cost the Yankees anything in 2014, but he is not a helpful player, even against LHP. The Yankees should get rid of him.

Catching is set with McCann starting and being backed up by either Cervelli or Romine. That leaves the infield and there are the biggest questions. If healthy, Teixeira and Jeter man first and short. Kelly Johnson could play second or third and Ryan is the defensive replacement. We still have no idea what A-Rod is going to get in terms of a suspension and that means the Yankees may or may not need a third baseman. Signing someone like Infante makes a lot of sense and bringing back Mark Reynolds could make even more. Reynolds could cover first and third and he could probably be had on a one-year deal. He is only 30 and has hit well at the Stadium (.534 slugging in 136 PA’s) If A-Rod isn’t suspended, Reynolds can back him and Teixeira up while also getting AB’s in the DH rotation. If A-Rod is suspended, Reynolds could cover third.

That would leave a roster with 4 outfielders, 2 catchers and 5 or 6 infielders depending on A-Rod. You could carry Nunez as a multi-positional sub and leave it at that.

Of course you will also need some pitching, more on that at a later date.

 

What Took So Long?

I was shocked today when the BBWAA announced that Roger Angell was the recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and therefore joining the Hall of Fame. I was shocked because I couldn’t believe he wasn’t already in it.

“The Summer Game” has to be one of the best books ever written about baseball. As a kid, I read and re-read it and only put it down when I picked up “Late Innings”. Though the years, Angell has contributed great baseball pieces to the New Yorker and I am always excited when I see that he is contributing to an issue. Consider his most recent contribution after the 2013 World Series it’s a treat to read even if you didn’t like the final result:

O.K., about those beards—I give up. The Red Sox took this World Series in six games, but by something wider in retrospect. The Cardinals, ahead two games to one in the early going, led only once after that—a little 1-0 margin that held up for two innings in Game Four. In actuality, they outhit the Sox, .224 to .211, but did not draw sustenance from this gruel, because of a collective batting debility. The bottom four hitters in their order failed to deliver a single base runner in scoring position over the seven games. Their dugout was tomblike last night after Shane Victorino’s three-run double, high off the wall in the third inning, and no wonder. The eight Boston batters not named Ortiz, by contrast, stayed upbeat throughout—a boys’ club, you felt—despite a similar collective fatuity at the plate. Somebody or other would provide: Gomes with a three-run homer in Game Four; David Ross with a seventh-inning double the next night; that Victorino double yesterday. All this can be blamed on St. Louis pitching, of course, but there was clearly something else in play during these games—a winning conviction beyond the reach of stats. Beards did it.

Big Papi had four walks last night, three of them on free passes from the Cardinal pitchers, and struck out at last in the sixth, dropping his batting average from .733 to .688, still good enough by miles for the Series M.V.P. award. No one has ever been hotter—unless it was St. Louis third baseman David Freese, back in 2011, when he saved the Cards from extinction by the Texas Rangers in Game Six of that World Series with a ninth-inning two-out, two-strike, two-run triple, then won the game with a lead-off homer in the eleventh. Freese was present but not present this time around, striking out seven times—you wanted to look away.

Fox TV provided a nice little Ortiz vignette, with an overheard water-cooler chat between Cards catcher Yadier Molina and home-plate ump Jim Joyce as Big Papi approached the plate once again. “The guy’s unbelievable,” Molina said, through his mask.

“He’s fun to watch,” Joyce agreed.

I also appreciated a Fox shot that reprised Stephen Drew’s fourth-inning home run into the Sox bullpen, where the presiding Boston cop, Steve Horgan, again raised his arms in triumph, exactly as he had famously done in the A.L.C.S. when Ortiz’s homer landed there, with Tiger right-fielder Torii Hunter spinning after it, head over heels. Drew’s shot put the Sox up by 4-0, and there was time for me to muse about Horgan’s duties while on patrol out there: Patting down pigeons? Breaking up a deadly international ring of autograph counterfeiters?

Such are the idle between-time pleasures of baseball, but that season has now flown away, worse luck. The Red Sox have taken their third World Championship in ten years, and the first clinched at Fenway Park since 1918. No trace remains of the Curse of the Bambino and accompanying New England paranoias that filled up our paragraphs and night thoughts for so many years. Winning almost all the time has a lot to be said for it, but not quite winning, barely missing again and again, keeps you whining and breathing, and might even be more fun in the end.

That is great writing and that closing paragraph a thing of beauty. Roger Angell is 93, it’s about time he was enshrined with the greats of the game.

Congrats Joe

Joe Torre was elected to the Hall of Fame today along with Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox. Joe probably should have gotten into the Hall of Fame based on his playing statistics alone, but his run as Yankee manager clearly made it a lock. It’s a great honor for a great man.

Sadly, Marvin Miller was denied entry into the HOF once again. The fact that Miller hasn’t made it in cheapens the entire building and the committee should be ashamed of itself. It’s interesting when you look at the names involved in the committee. You would assume that the six former players all voted for Miller. I would also assume that the four owner and executives did not. Let’s assume the four writers who cover MLB were smart enough to vote for him and that means that either Whitey Herzog or Tommy Lasorda or both of them didn’t vote for Miller. That’s a shame.

The process for electing the Hall of Fame has been broken for a long time. Frequent commenter BL wrote a great piece in 2009 about how Greg Maddux should be the first guy to get 100% of the vote. He’s right, but I suspect when the votes are announced in a few weeks someone will have left him off the ballot. I had some suggestions for fixing the process after Rickey Henderson only got 94.8% of the vote in 2009. But as today shows us once again, the Hall of Fame isn’t about deserving, it is about politics.

Predictable

The Yankees did what everyone expected them to do last night- grab another player on another big deal to make up for the player they lost. It’s not the value of the contract that bothers me. $15 million isn’t a ton of money to the Yankees. It’s not even the length of the deal that bothers me. The Yankees can handle 3 years of Beltran. What really bothers me is that this deal adds to a problem the Yankees already have of too many DH types on the roster.

The Yankees will claim that Beltran is their everyday right fielder, but I don’t know how long that will last. By almost any defensive metric, Beltran was a lousy outfielder last year. He’s 37, so it is very, very unlikely that he gets any better and probable that he gets worse. So, very soon Beltran will be a full-time DH, something the Yankees don’t need with their roster.

Plus, the Yankees now have six outfielders. They will almost certainly cut ties with Vernon Wells and I assume they would be very willing to trade Ichiro if they could (good luck with that). More likely, this leads them to trade Gardner. I think that would be a mistake because there is a strong likelihood that at least one of the trio of Soriano, Ellsbury and Beltran gets hurt next year.

I’m not saying Beltran won’t help the Yankees in 2014, he will. But he doesn’t address the two biggest holes they have which are the infield and pitching. What are the Yankees going to do about those two things?

Goodbye Robbie- UPDATED 6:20PM

In a vacuum, what the Yankees didn’t do today makes perfect sense. Refusing to pay Robinson Cano a contract anywhere near 10 years or $240 million is very, very smart. The only question about the deal Seattle and Cano made today is when does Seattle start to regret it? (More on that later)

But, we are not operating in a vacuum and we have to look at the big picture. Why did the Yankees sign McCann and Ellsbury? Because they are trying to contend for a title this upcoming year. Losing Robinson Cano to the Mariners is a big, big obstacle to that goal. I’m not saying the Yankees should have signed Cano, but they are going to have to get creative for Plan B. (Hello Omar Infante?) And, they are going to have to strongly resist the urge to do something stupid to make up for this. (Carlos Beltran for three years) For now, let’s say the Yankees get an incomplete grade today. They were smart not to go beyond what they did, but they also have a huge hole to fill.

Cano is clearly a winner in all of this, but only from a financial standpoint. I am not discounting the money angle, but Cano will have to live up to that contract and that is going to be hard to do. For one thing, that is a significant part of Seattle’s payroll. While Seattle is a lot easier towards players than New York, it will be interesting to see what happens if Robbie gets off to a slow start. And, as A-Rod learned, signing that size a contract makes you a target on the road.

As for the Mariners, I don’t really understand this deal. This is a club that lost 91 games last year. They are clearly not a Robinson Cano away from contention. And, they have now put $50 million into two players- Cano and Felix Hernandez. The highest payroll the Mariners have had since 2001 is $117 million. On the surface, this looks a lot like A-Rod going to Texas and hoping to compete. And we know how that worked out.

And let’s hand out a raspberry to Robiie’s Dad, Jose Cano. Telling the newspapers that the Yankees “really don’t seem to want” your son, when they have offered over $150 million for him is simply offensive. Please stop talking now.

So now we can all move on. I hope that on April 29th, 2014, Yankees fans rise out of their seats and give Cano a standing ovation. He earned it for all he did here in nine seasons.

Oh yeah, Yankees got Kuroda back today as well. Nice move, but we can talk about it another day.

UPDATE- Very interesting update from Joel Sherman on how the negotiations between Cano and the Yankees went. Cano’s last request was for $235 million spread out over however many years the Yankees wanted.

 

Yankee Finance 101

Here’s a good peek behind the curtain on the Yankees’ revenues. Missing the playoffs costs the club a little more than $50 million in ticket and suite sales. (And presumably  a decent chunk of change in merchandise and concession sales too.)

So, if you are wondering why the Yankees paid Ellsbury there’s your answer.

Ellsbury!?-UPDATED

Word on Twitter is the Yankees have either finalized or are close to finalizing a 7 year/$150 or so million deal with Jacoby Ellsbury.

When the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford my biggest knock on the deal was that they were signing a “legs” player well into his 30’s and that seldom works. The Yankees are doing the exact same thing here. If you take away Ellsbury’s 32 homer season (I admit that I have always cast a very skeptical eye on that season PED-wise) he is not a power guy. So, what happens when he gets old?

Ah, but these are the Yankees you say. They will simply import a younger guy to take his place and they will figure out a way to move the salary or live with it. (Sidebar- since AAV is what determines luxury tax, the Yankees could front load this deal and pay Ellsbury the bulk in the first few years if they wanted to.) I just don’t think this is a great way to do business. I get that the draft pick was already gone with McCann, but where does this end? I also get that baseball is awash in cash and more seems to come in every day, so I guess the plan is to win now and figure the details out later, but sooner or later that has to fail, right?

And what does this mean for Robinson Cano? Assuming the salary numbers are true, Ellsbury will cost around $21 million a year. Add that to the current salaries (including McCann’s) and you are around $137 million. The true figure for staying under the luxury tax is $179 million so things are tightening up. Now, they could get A-Rod off the books, but….

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good baseball move for 2014 and the near term, but beyond that I worry. I just wonder if anyone in the front office joins me in doing so?

UPDATE- 10:30PM Here’s a very interesting article from Cliff Corcoran of SI.com from two weeks ago. Here he attempts to value Ellsbury’s next contract. You should read it in detail, but let me give you the broad strokes.

He values Ellsbury to be a productive player (positive WAR) over the next seven years. That’s good for the Yankees, no drop to replacement level here.

His value estimate is harder to grip because he has a number of assumptions which you may or may not agree with, but he has a range of $104 million for 7 years to $163 million. That suggests that even at the most pessimistic value, the Yankees didn’t make a crazy mistake. (For an example of a crazy mistake take A-Rod who was paid $26.4 million more than he produced in 2013.)  Now valuing something is an inexact science, but this does make me feel better.

He points out, and this is very important, that his method values all wins as meaning the same to each team. But, all wins don’t mean the same thing to each team. A team that loses 90 games will value a win much, much lower than a team that wins 90 because the team that wins 90 is in playoff contention and those extra wins could bring in extra revenue.

But all of this got me to thinking about the Yankees as currently constructed. You add Ellsbury and McCann and you have improved by over 8 wins based on 2013. However, subtract Cano and you lose 6 of those wins. (Obviously, his replacement could add some value but it won’t be more than half of that figure.) So, these moves while good for 2014, lose a lot of their luster if Cano doesn’t return.

 

Some Encouraging News

The title of this piece, “Yankees have no plans to offer Robinson Cano a $200 million deal” is encouraging on its own, but buried in the text is a second quote that should make Yankees’ fans smile- “While the depth of New York’s talks with outfielder Carlos Beltran have been overstated….”

So, the Yankees won’t break the bank for Robbie (good) and may not be as seriously after Beltran as previously stated (great!). In the article, Passan puts the Yankees at 7 years/$160 for Cano and suggests they would increase that offer by $15 million. For me the key is keeping the deal to 7 years. That’s an acceptable length of deal at this point, but any further is really pushing it and risks a chunk of dead payroll in 2020 and beyond.

George King takes a couple of Brian Cashman quotes and decides that he is pessimistic about the chances of bringing Cano back. I’m not sure I draw that same conclusion from those quotes, but it does seem to corroborate Passan’s article on Yahoo that the Yankees won’t go much higher for Robbie. And buried in the King piece is word that the Yankees have made a $15-million offer for Kuroda. That seems fair and while his second half concerns me, I think that may have been to overuse more than anything. Bringing Kuroda back on a one year deal makes a lot of sense.

And finally we have some interesting quotes from Cashman in today’s Daily News. Speaking about third base and Eduardo Nunez, Cashman said:

“Nunez has options. He’d be a utility player. I wouldn’t want to start him there at that position (third), regardless of how he might feel about it. I’d want to find someone I’d feel more comfortable with. Power is a big component for me at that corner infield position, so Nunez and Brendan Ryan aren’t power providing guys, which is why I would hope to be able to do better than that.”

And he expanded a bit on Ryan saying:

“We were definitely looking for a situation where we needed a shortstop in the event that Derek has struggles again or needs time. We really feel comfortable that (Ryan) is going to catch the ball and make the routine plays and he can run out there every day.”

So the Yankees didn’t think enough of Nunez at short defensively to feel comfortable with him and his bat doesn’t produce enough to play third. That’s a bad combination and while Cashman may suggest he could be a utility player I suspect his time as a Yankee will be coming to a close very soon.

AJ?

Jon Heyman is reporting that they Red Sox and A.J. Pierzynski have agreed to a deal.  Great, just when I thought the Red Sox were getting rid of a catcher whose name I can’t spell in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, they go and sign an equally hard to spell catcher.  Very selfish of them if you ask me.

Pierzynski is the catcher everyone hates, unless he is your teammate, which means he’ll probably fit in just fine in Boston.  At the tail end of his career, he is a durable back-stop but we probably can’t expect more offensively from him than we would have from Salty.

Believe it or not, Pierzynski is a year older than David Ross, so the Red Sox have an AARP platoon at catcher.  Ryan Lavarnway had best stay ready as it is likely Ross and maybe Pierzynski could break down, despite the latter’s track record of good health.

I like this signing, it provides a veteran platoon situation and doesn’t, I assume, lock the Red Sox up in a 5 year deal with a catcher.  AJ, being the lefty, will get the majority of at bats and that is just fine, as long as he is in the 7-9 spots in the line-up.  Of course, until details of the deal are released, I reserve final judgement.