Friday, November 07, 2003

Mazzilli & Frick 

Lee Mazzilli has been hired as the new manager of the Baltimore Orioles. I honestly didn't think he had a shot, but apparently his time as a teammate of Mike Flanagan in Toronto didn't hurt him none. This means the Yankees need a new third base coach. Joe Torre had said previously that he had someone in mind should Maz get the Baltimore job. I'm very curious as to who that might be.

Meanwhile, there are 154 broadcasters who qualify to be one of the ten nominees for this year's Ford C. Frick Award. Three of the nominees will be voted in by the fans. The very first Frick award was shared by Yankee broadcasters Mel Allen and Red Barber back in 1978. There are five current Yankee announcers on the current list of 154 (John Sterling, Jim Kaat, Ken Singleton, Bobby Murcer and Michael Kay) and past Yankee voices on the list include Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, Frank Messer, Jerry Coleman, Tony Kubek, Ken Harrelson and Tim McCarver (the requirement to make the list is 10 years of continuous service with a team or a network). Much as I'd love to see the Scooter win this one eventually, there's no reason any of these guys should win (Jim Kaat's probably the best of the lot, in my opinion) when guys like Jon Miller and Dave Niehaus are on the list. Nonetheless, click that link above and vote for Scooter and Kitty, hell vote for Sterling and Singleton too. And don't forget to curse Tim McCarver on your way by.

posted by Cliff at 12:50 PM

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Thoughts on third base and shortstop 

I was just poking around on Baseball-Reference, which added the 2003 regular season stats this past weekend, and thought I'd share the following blind comparison. The totals in this chart are career averages per 162 games.


Now what if I told you that team A could fill the same hole with any one of those three players. One of those players is a big-money free agent, another is eligible for arbitration with team B, and the third is eligible for arbitration with team A. Both of the arbitration-eligible players made $3.7 million in 2003, but the player with team B has a much stronger case than the player already with team A and could wind up being non-tendered (those of you who have figured this out already, just play along). If you were team A would you:

a) shell out big bucks for the free agent (player #3 who is 28 years old)
b) hope that team B non-tenders their player (#2, 30 years old) so that you can sign him for a solid chunk of change
c) go to arbitration with your player (#1, 31 years old) knowing that there's a good chance that you can keep his salary below $5 million.

By now you've surely figured out that these players are 1) Aaron Boone, 2) Mike Lowell, and 3) Miguel Tejada. But if you were playing along, you will have to admit that the choice is far from obvious.

Beyond mere salary (Tejada is sure to pull down in excess of $10 million per year), there are no guarantees that the Marlins will non-tender Lowell, or that the Yankees could land Tejada (or that Jeter would move to third to accommodate him--or that Jeter can even play third). The inability to acquire Tejada or Lowell would mean that non-tendering Boone could force the Yankees to turn to the virtually non-existent third baseman free agent market. Aaron Gleeman does an excellent job of evaluating that market in this post. His conclusion: 34-year-old Joe Randa is the best option out there. The second best option is 36. His name? Robin Ventura.

Yes, the Aaron Boone trade was a bust. The chances that either Boone or Lowell would be non-tendered this offseason were pretty high, Gabe White's option has already been declined by the Yankees as it would have been by the Reds, so the Yankees sent their best pitching prospect--a major-league-ready lefty starter who would have been slotted into the 2004 rotation--for two players that they could have had for nothing this offseason. White and Boone contributed nothing that Robin Ventura and a few extra innings out of Felix Heredia couldn't have provided during their time with the Yanks in 2003. Essentially, the Yankees traded Brandon Claussen for the home run that beat the Red Sox in Game 7. Then again, maybe it was worth it.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Yes, the Aaron Boone trade was a bust. And no I don't look forward to seeing Boone in pinstripes again come April. But the fact remains that he was at the trading deadline, and could still be this offseason, the very best third baseman available. Signing Tejada to play short while Jeter moves to third remains a pipe dream for the small sect of Yankee fans who recognize Jeter's lack of range. As I said in my post about Soriano and Johnson yesterday, the Yankees need to worry about their starting pitching much more than their defense. Shabby defense will let in an extra run here or there, but shabby pitching will give them up in bunches. You can't catch home runs (unless you're Torii Hunter, of course). Take another look at the rate stats for Boone (#1) and Tejada (#3). Then look at their at-bats, doubles and stolen bases. If Mattingly can convince Boonie he's not a home run hitter (which he's not, especially outside of the Great American Ballpark), I'm willing to go out on a limb and say he could be as valuable an offensive player as Tejada. Staying out on this limb, that means that they'd be signing Tejada for his defense. That's a minimum $5 million a year for a few extra stops at short that could be negated by Jeter's struggles to learn third, and would be completely unnecessary if that $5 million plus was spent on some quality pitching. As for Lowell, the most similar player to Mike Lowell in Baseball-References similarity rankings is . . . Aaron Boone.

That said, if the Marlins non-tender Lowell, I would snatch him up and work on trading Boone. But there's no excuse for the Yankees to take a chance on non-tendering Boone. And if Aaron Boone does start the 2004 season as the Yankee third basemen, all those Boone-haters out there (myself included) would be well advised to revisit this post, remember these names: Joe Randa, Robin Ventura, Tony Batista, Vinny Castilla, Fernando Tatis, Todd Zeile, Chris Stynes, and Mark McLemore, and count their stars for Aaron Boone.

posted by Cliff at 11:27 AM

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

The case for Nick and Sori 

A little over a week ago I presented my "knee-jerk" take on what changes will or should take place to the Yankees roster prior to opening day 2004. Since then there has been far more speculation by blowhards like myself than actual action on the part of the Yankees.

Right now I'd like to address two dream-world scenarios offered up by Larry Mahnken of the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog and David Schoenfield over at ESPN's Page 2. More specifically, I want to address the suggestion made by both men that the Yankees trade both Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson.

First off, let me summarize the suggestions made by Mahnken and Schoenfield. Mahnken suggests the Yankees trade Soriano for Carlos Beltran, and Johnson and Jeff Weaver (picking up most of Weaver's contract) for either Javier Vazquez or Jose Vidro, resign Pettitte and then sign Vlad Guerrero, either Luis Castillo or Bartolo Colon (depending on which Expo comes over for Johnson and Weaver), and--if he's non-tendered by the Marlins--Mike Lowell. Schoenfield also suggests trading Sori, Nick and Weaver, but for Jim Edmonds and Curt Schilling via one blockbuster three-team deal, and without picking up any of Weaver's contract. That trade would then be followed by the signings of Castillo, Gary Sheffield, Miguel Tejada (with Jeter moving to third and Boone being non-tendered), Colon, Tim Worrell and Ricardo Rincon . . . and Greg Maddux too, what the hell.

Both writers are being admittedly unrealistic, which I understand, so I hope no one will think I'm attacking their scenarios as real-world proposals. Still, I find it difficult to swallow the fact that both plans start out with trading Soriano and Johnson, a pair of 25-year-olds with the potential to be the best players at their respective positions by the time their reach their peak years (Johnson, who's further away from that status, is actually nine months younger than Soriano). Before I explain any further, here are the nine everyday players that would result from these two plans:


In each case, the same five Yankees return from the 2003 line-up: Giambi, Jeter, Posada, Williams and Matsui. These are, not coincidentally, the only five Yankee starters from 2003 who are already under contract at a fixed salary in and beyond 2004. Soriano, Johnson, Aaron Boone, and Karim Garcia (for whatever that matters) are all eligible for arbitration this offseason.

Lets take a closer look at the five returning Yankees and their contracts.

Giambi and Jeter are signed through 2008 and 2010 respectively with salaries that top out over $20 million. Giambi will be 37 when his $22 million dollar team option comes up after the 2008 season. His buyout is $5 million. Jeter will turn 36 in the final year of his contract. Giambi, who will undergo knee surgery this offseason, is untradeable because of his contract, his age, and the current doubts about his health. With Miguel Tejada on the market this winter, Nomar Garciaparra due for free agency next winter, and Alex Rodriguez supposedly available from Texas, the market for Jeter and his massive contract is similarly non-existant.

Posada is signed through 2006, is coming off a fantastic season, and will have just turned 35 (the bewitching age for catchers) when his $12 million team option for 2007 comes up. He's not cheap (earning $6, 8 and 9 million in the next three seasons, plus $11.5 million worth of his signing bonus), but he's also younger than Javy Lopez and almost exactly the same age as Pudge Rodriguez, both of whom will likely pull down similar, if not larger salaries on the free agent market this winter. Jorge also has far fewer innings on him (less wear and tear), is more patient at the plate and less injury prone than either Pudge or Javy. Perhaps the market for Jorge is hurt by the free agency presence of Lopez and Rodriguez, but if he's not already the most valuable catcher in the major leagues, there's a very good chance that Posada will be once those two are signed and the contracts for all three players are taken into account. With that in mind, I suppose the Yankees could move Posada, but that should be the last thing on their minds, right after redesigning the home uniforms.

So that's Giambi, Jeter and Posada. They'll all be back in 2004 and beyond.

Bernie and Matsui are another matter. Both are signed through 2005. Bernie has a team option for 2006 for $15 million with a $3.5 buyout. He'll turn 36 next season and has been besieged by nagging injuries in recent years, but he is also the sort of professional hitter than any American League team would love to have as their DH, a position that could help him avoid further injury. Basically he's what Paul Molitor and Ellis Burks were at the same age (when they moved to Toronto and Cleveland, respectively). Matsui is young (he'll turn 30 in June), is a great gate attraction, an excellent fundamental player, and will likely improve after his first full year in majors. Both are overpaid, but likely could be moved if the Yankees were to take a little off the top of their contracts. Of course, I don't think there's a shred of chance of either of them being traded, but in both Mahnken and Schoenfield's scenario, the reason Johnson is traded is to make room for Williams at DH, and that is where my red flag goes up.

The assumption here is that the Yankees have four players for three positions. Bernie, Matsui, Giambi & Johnson for LF, DH and 1B. Of those four, the only one not signed to a multi-million-dollar contract that lasts through 2005 is also the most valuable chip: Nick Johnson. So the impulse is to trade Johnson for an impact player at another position, such as Javier Vazquez or Jim Edmonds, and put Giambi at first, Bernie at DH and Matsui in left. It's easy and it appears logical, but if you ask me, it's tremendously foolish.

Part of the problem is that this scenario assumes the Yankees will be able to land a top-notch center fielder for 2004. As much as I would love to see Carlos Beltran in pinstripes--and will admit that he'd be worth just about anyone, including Nick Johnson--Peter Gammons reports that the Royals are unlikely to deal him because his agent, Scott Boras, won't do a trade-and-sign (that in the same column in which he predicts that Giambi could, like Manny Ramirez, clear irrevocable waivers unclaimed). That being the case, the Yankees would be much smarter to wait for Beltran to become a free agent after the 2004 season rather than surrendering one of the best young players in the game for him now.

Also, the Yankees don't need Beltran in 2004. Remember, they made it to the sixth game of the World Series last year and are going to improve their offense through other means (*cough* right field *cough*). Sure Beltran would improve their defense, but the Yankees' stiff defense won't cost them nearly as many games next season as their starting rotation might. That said, the Yankees should not break the bank to sign two free agent outfielders (such as Guerrero/Sheffield and Mike Cameron), because they'll need to sign at least two free agent starters and add a few arms in the pen as well. Plus, it wouldn't hurt to save up for Beltran next year (is there a next year in the Bronx? perhaps this is my big error in judgement). If they only sign/acquire one outfielder, then they'll have plenty of room for Matsui, Williams, Giambi and Johnson, and could potentially move Matsui or Bernie with one year left on their contract should they be able to sign Beltran to play center before the 2005 season.

What's really at issue here is this: would you trade Nick Johnson's prime for Bernie Williams' decline? That should be a no-brainer. Nick could easily spend the next ten years in pinstripes, well past the time both Bernie and Giambi retire, and could very well be an all-star first baseman in the majority of those years. My view of Nick is that he will be, at worst, another John Olerud. The Yankees can bear through one season of Bernie in left and Matsui in center (or right) to keep a player like that.

As for Soriano, I've said it before and I'll say it again, the only way the Yankees are going to get better at second base is by acquiring Bret Boone or Marcus Giles. Boone's 2005 option with the Mariners vests with 450 plate appearances in 2004. He hasn't had fewer than 500 PA since the strike year of 1994. Thus the only thing that could keep him from remaining a Mariner for the next two season is an injury that greatly reduces his value. Boone will be 37 at the beginning of the 2006 season. That leaves Giles, who just finished his third year. He earned $316,500 in 2003. If he's for real there's no way the Braves would let him go, if he's not Soriano becomes the best second baseman in baseball under the age of 35 (if he's not already). Yes, there are holes in his game, but he's still developing, he's still learning. You simply cannot trade a player in his mid-twenties who is among the top three in the majors at his position. Not when you're the New York Yankees and can afford to keep him, and not when you can likewise afford to improve your team through free agency rather than by trading your star players.

I hope to address the other aspects of Mahnken and Schoenfield's scenarios in a future post.

posted by Cliff at 4:36 PM

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Options, Surgery & Speculation 

Lotsa news coming out of Yankeeland today beyond the coaching announcements which I've already covered.

Item 1: The Yankees have declined David Wells option.
No surprise there. Cashman (who appears to be keeping his job--the Mariners were denied permission to interview him as a potential replacement for "Stand Pat" Gillick) says the Yankees may still try to negotiate a new deal with him, but no efforts have been made in that direction thus far. Personally, I would be very surprised to see David Wells back in a Yankee uniform next year. I only see two scenarios: 1) his back is so bad he won't be pitching anywhere next year or ever again or 2) his back isn't that bad and he's going to get more money elsewhere and likely closer to home in San Diego. Either way, I don't see how the Yankees, or anyone else for that matter, could trust him to hold up over a full season plus playoffs. It seems like he'd only be a fit on a team desperate for a few extra wins who will worry about pennant drives and playoffs if and when they happen (the Royals?), not for a team that assumes they'll be playing in October. Also, Boomer was due $6 million had the Yankees picked up his option. By declining it they had to pay him a $1 million buyout, so one assumes they will not be willing to give him any more than $3 or $4 million for 2004, and even those figures seem unlikely. I would think the only remaining possibility is another low-base, high-incentive contract. But then remember that Wells had repeatedly said that it was up to the Yankees do decide if he was coming back. If they declined his option, he'd go pitch elsewhere. I expect that to be the case, if he pitches at all in 2004.

Item 2: Felix Heredia has declined his option
What's that now? Man this confuses me. I could swear that I read first that Heredia had a player-only option and later that he had a mutual option and that, in either case, he had picked up the player half. Clearly that's not the case, because Cashman said today that Heredia has declined his option. So how does this effect my earlier posts about Gabe White and the 2004 Yankee bullpen? Well, it appears the Yankees will try to resign White at a lower price, so he'd fit neatly into Heredia's spot as a less-neutral lefty middle man. Heredia's option was for $1.7 and I would assume that would be about as much as the Yankees offer to Gabe White, whose option would have paid him $3.5 million for 2004. The Yankees other bullpen options would include filling that last bullpen spot with a minor leaguer, waiver pick-up or the like, or with the long-man loser of the DePaula/Weaver/Lieber competition for the rotation.

Item 3: Jeter has a ruptured tendon in his thumb
Not huge news really. I didn't know it was that severe, but I had an idea that his thumb might need offseason surgery. Jeter continues to insist that his shoulder doesn't need surgery. Hopefully that won't cost him next season or down the road, though the impression I get from afar is that he should probably have the shoulder cleaned out. His thumb, however, will need surgery if it hasn't healed on its own in another two weeks.

Giambi, meanwhile, will have his knee operated on by the Anaheim Angels' team doctor. Does that seem odd to anyone else? Isn't there a rather significant conflict of interest there? Is the Angels' team doctor really one of the best knee surgeons in the country? Just wondering aloud.

Item 4: Not really an "item" as much as a subject I haven't discussed here as of yet. The biggest new of the offseason this far has been the trade that sent Billy Wagner from the Astros to the Phillies for Brandon Duckworth and a pair of minor leaguers. At first glance this may not seem like big news for the Bombers, but what the trade does for the Astros is free up a good bit of salary (about $11 million if you include Wagner's $3 million buyout for 2005) which will most likely be waived in the direction of one Andrew Eugene Pettitte. Cashman, in his comments today, said that negotiations between Pettitte and the Yankees have not yet begun. I had been taking it as a good sign that Pettitte had not yet filed for free agency, hoping that indicated that he and Cashman have been trying to work out a deal to keep him in New York. Now I know that's not the case, but I still take it as a good sign. Looking at the list of players who are eligible for free agency but remain undeclared (the unbolded players here), most have options and/or are likely to remain with their current team or retire. The most notable exception to that being Luis Castillo (which may be a good sign for the Marlins, whose new stadium plan has just been approved). If the Astros move Richard Hidalgo as well (freeing another $14 million), I will break out into cold sweats that will last until the ink is dry on Andy's new contract with the Yankees.

Item 5: A Yankee wins a Gold Glove?
Well, yes, but not a regular. Mike Mussina was awarded his sixth Gold Glove today. The other winners are as follows:

1B: John Olerud (his third)
2B: Bret Boone (third)
SS: Alex Rodriguez (second)
3B: Eric Chavez (third)
C: Bengie Molina (second)
OF: Torii Hunter (third), Mike Cameron (second), and Ichiro Suzuki (third)

All but Cameron and Mussina won last year as well. Kenny Rogers won the pitching Gold Glove in 2002.

Not a big fan of pouring through fielding stats, I have no complaints about those selections, other than the fact that I'd like to see the outfield awards go to a center, right and left fielder, rather than two center fielders, even though both Hunter and Cameron do deserve the award.

posted by Cliff at 7:04 PM

The Hit Man Returns 

The Yankees have a new hitting coach and his name is Don Mattingly.

Despite lobbying for Chili Davis last week, I can't say I'm anything short of delighted to see Mattingly rejoin the team. Mattingly--who, as a teammate, had a tremendous influence on Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams, and even Derek Jeter--was a sort of spiritual guide in absentia for the championship teams of the late '90s. I can't imagine that he could fail to have a positive effect on the current Yankee team.

Meanwhile, the coaching rotation described in my previous post appears to be a reality. The one exception being Joe Girardi. Girardi turned down both of the jobs that were offered to him (pre-game instructor and YES broadcaster), though he still hopes to come back to the Yankees at some point in the future.

Continuing on in the hope that Mel Sottlemyre will return, this means the Yanks have replaced Rick Down and Don Zimmer with Don Mattingly and Luis Sojo. Beloved as Zim was by players like Jeter, and respected as he was as a baseball man, I'd make that trade any day. Torre's coaching staff is now a good half-century younger and (counting bullpen coach Rich Monteleone) includes four players who were active players in the major leagues in the '90s. I would think that could only be befinicial to the communication between the staff and the players, particularly younger players like Soriano and Johnson. Speaking of which, the idea of Donnie working with Nick on his glovework at first over the course of a full season makes me very happy.

posted by Cliff at 10:26 AM

Monday, November 03, 2003

Musical Coaches / OF 

Yesterday's New York Times contained an article suggesting that Willie Randolph will be the next Yankee Bench coach, setting off a rotation of coaches that will lead to this:

Bench Coach: Willie Randolph
3B Coach: Lee Mazzilli (he doesn't appear to be in hot pursuit of the Baltimore job)
1B Coach: Luis Sojo
Pre-game instructor (bonus coach a la Sojo in '03): Joe Girardi

Girardi has already been offered the Sojo job, and has also been asked to join the YES broadcast team. It appears he will accept both positions.

Meanwhile, Aaron Gleeman has an excellent review of the outfield free-agent class that is very much worth a read. Drawing on what he has to say, the Yankees OF plan should probably look like this:

Plan A: Vladimir Guerrero in right (Bernie left, Matsui center)
Plan B: Garry Sheffield in right (Bernie left, Matsui center)
Plan C: Mike Cameron in center (Bernie left, Matsui right)
Plan D: Shannon Stewart in right (Bernie left, Matsui center)

posted by Cliff at 2:40 PM

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