Sometimes “Free” Isn’t Good Enough

The Yankees DFA’ed Vernon Wells today. This was a smart move (it would have been smarter in July of 2013) that seems to have put some people into a tizzy. After all, Vernon didn’t cost the Yankees anything against the luxury tax in 2014, so anyone who replaces him will count towards the $189-million.

To be brief: so what? There was nothing Wells could contribute to the 2014 Yankees. His final 2013 numbers of .233/.282/.349 were bad enough, but those are inflated by his incredibly hot start. Through May, he hit 10 home runs. For the rest of the he had a TOTAL of 10 extra-base hits. His speed was mostly gone and his glove was no longer good. The Yankees can take a flier on any number of fringe players and feel confident that he will be at least as productive as Wells was.

Right now, the five outfielders who will break camp with the Yankees are  Soriano, Ellsbury, Gardner, Beltran and Ichiro. The ironic thing is that the Yankees could really use a righty-swinging outfielder to complement that group. I suspect they are desperately trying to trade Ichiro for any sort of salary relief they can get. If they can’t they might have to go the DFA route with him as well.

Failing Logic

Well the results are in and Maddux, Glavine and Thomas are all headed to the Hall of Fame. I think anyone who watched baseball in the 80′s, 90′s and 00′s can wholeheartedly agree with those selections. Craig Biggio has to be like the kid who went to bed on Christmas Eve and then woke up to find out that Christmas had been moved overnight to March. 74.8% is a tough number to live with, but he at least is almost guaranteed to get in next year.

I gave my thoughts on the absurdity of Maddux not getting 100% yesterday and while it amazes me that 15 or so voters didn’t see fit to put him in the Hall, that’s not the biggest story of the day to me. The biggest story has to be the fact that Rafael Palmeiro didn’t get enough votes to stay on the ballot. A guy who hit over 500 home runs and amassed over 3,000 hits didn’t even stay on the ballot for five years.

“But Peter”, you say, “he was a major PED user so of course he doesn’t belong in the Hall.”

I can’t disagree with your argument, but here’s the problem then. What about all the other PED users who remain on the ballot? We all know the names, so I won’t recite them, but if they all cheated shouldn’t they all be punished equally? And if not, how do you justify it? Perhaps you perceive that certain players cheated for x number of years while others cheated for “x plus” number. But nobody could begin to prove that and even if you could, do you really know what kind of difference it made? How does Palmeiro get bounced while McGwire (for one) remains? Does this make any sense?

Of course not and this why somebody in the has to clean up this mess. Look at the record books and you will see the the names of these guys all over them. For his part, Palmeiro is in the top-25 all-time for games played, hits, home runs, doubles, RBI’s and runs created. Yet 50 years from now, some kid is going to call up MLB stats with his IBrain (trademark pending) and wonder how so dominant a player isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He is going to notice that this guy isn’t the only one omitted too. Sure, he can go and research it and find out what really happened or he could listen to one of his era’s baseball historians to explain it, but why can’t we, the people who lived in the present do it? Why can’t we fix this right now and leave an indelible record for the future?

I think we can. We can tell the writers that not voting for someone because of suspicion of steroids is no longer necessary because it is going on their plaque. If they admitted to PED use, it is on the plaque. If they were tried in a court for something around PED use, the conviction or acquittal goes on the plaque. If they failed a test and didn’t get it overturned or appeal it, it goes on their plaque. So for Rafael Palmeiro his plaque would list all his accomplishments and close with- “Was suspended in 2005 for failing a steroids test”. If the player doesn’t want to go into the Hall under those circumstances, they can remove themselves from the ballot, but that’s the deal.

It’s not a perfect solution, but one of the greatest parts of baseball is its history. We love to argue whether Ruth or Williams was the better hitter. If the ’75 Reds could have beaten the ’27 Yankees.  We are failing the fans of the future if we don’t figure out a way to fix this.

It Won’t Be Unanimous

MLB.com revealed the Hall of Fame ballots for their writers today and we now know that Greg Maddux won’t get 100% of the vote.

Ken Gurnick, using utterly failed logic, has decided not to vote for a single player who participated in the PED era, so he has only voted for Jack Morris. Here’s Gurnick’s reasoning

Morris has flaws — a 3.90 ERA, for example. But he gets my vote for more than a decade of ace performance that included three 20-win seasons, Cy Young Award votes in seven seasons and Most Valuable Players votes in five. As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won’t vote for any of them.

Let’s set aside the argument of whether or not Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame. Gurnick’s blanket statement that he won’t vote for anyone who played during the period of PED use means he shouldn’t vote for Morris! You can argue that PED use started in 1987 with the long ball explosion and I wouldn’t argue with you. If you want to wait until 1988 and Ben Johnson being stripped of his gold medal for PED use, I wouldn’t argue either. But to think that PED use didn’t start until after Morris retired in 1994 is silly. I’m not saying that Morris used PED’s. I have no idea if he did or didn’t. But if you are not going to vote for anyone from that era you have to be consistent.

And, while I imagine Gurnick will argue that Morris did the bulk of his pitching before the PED era started, he cited “three 20-win seasons, Cy Young Award votes in seven seasons and Most Valuable Players votes in five” as reasons to vote for Morris. Morris won 21 games in 1992 and received Cy Young and MVP votes in 1991 and 1992, so Gurnick looks foolish.

We’ve argued this issue before here on YR.com and come up with various suggestions for improving the process. I will be interested to see if Gurnick is the only guy who left Maddux off the ballot, or if some other writers did as well. Maybe, just maybe this will lead to some sort of reform process for the voting system.

 

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.