Saturday, November 01, 2003

Los Cubanos 

So there's another "fireballing" Cuban pitcher on the loose. This one is named Maels Rodriguez and is supposedly around 24 years old. Word is he throws a 100 mile per hour heater. Or at least, he used to. Rumors abound that he's been given a bit of the Jeff Torborg/Dusty Baker treatment and has lost his fastball due to overuse. Rodriguez brushes such talk off as political propaganda put forth by the Cuban government.

Here's my favorite quote from the linked New York Times article:

"He can come and pitch in the big leagues right now. He's a No. 1 starter — for any team." -- Jorge Oquendo, Cincinnati Reds' coodinator of international scouting

Where have I heard that before?

With some huge question marks in their rotation, the Yankees seem sure to be involved in the bidding for Rodriguez, though as a word of warning, I remind you that they're still paying Adrian "El Duquecito" Hernandez $1 million per year. Hernandez, who is being used primarily in relief in Columbus, didn't even sniff the big leagues in 2003, a year in which the Yankee bullpen needed any help it could get.

posted by Cliff at 10:57 AM

Prescription for a healthy bullpen 

With a night to sleep on the Yankees' decision not to pick up the options on Gabe White and Antonio Osuna, the 2004 bullpen picture has suddenly come into focus. Here's my vision:

Mariano Rivera - closer, of course

Shigetoshi Hasegawa - very effective neutral righty

Steve Karsay - Righty-on-Righty guy

Ricardo Rincon (or Tom Martin) - Lefty-on-lefty guy

Felix Heredia - neutral lefty

Chris Hammond - reverse split lefty, counts as a righty

Now that looks like a quality bullpen, does it not? All they need to do is sign Rincon and Hasegawa. Both made around $1 3/4 million last year. By declining Gabe White's $3.5 million option and letting Jeff Nelson and his nearly $4 million salary leave as a free agent, they should have cleared up enough cash to sign both men without taking on additional payroll. What's more, Hasegawa has already expressed interest in coming to the Bronx (I hope to take a closer look at the available righty set-up men on the free agent market in the near future, but for now I'm throwing my hat in with Alex Belth for Hasegawa).

Should Karsay struggle coming back from injury, well then Hammond is a guy who can get righties out and, although his splits are fairly even, Hasegawa can get just about everyone out, so you have plenty of safety net there.

The only thing that can be said to be missing in this plan is a long man, but that's simple enough. One of these three: Jeff Weaver, John Lieber, Jorge DePaula, is not going to make the rotation. That man then becomes your long man if you should need him. Then there's always Sterling Hitchcock, who could double as a lefty-on-lefty guy and a long man, and make the soon-to-be 38-year-old Hammond trade bait. He's also younger than Mo, Rincon, Hasegawa, Hammond and Lieber, though he may choose to go somewhere he can start and interest in him as a starter may drive up his price.

posted by Cliff at 10:20 AM

Friday, October 31, 2003

White, Osuna options declined 

The Yankees, in their first offseason player move of any note (they previously released the unofficially re-retired, soon-to-be coach Luis Sojo), have declined the options on two of the bullpen arms Joe Torre had deemed untrustworthy in the postseason: Antonio Osuna and Gabe White.

Osuna was a no-brainer. He had fallen out of favor with Torre at the end of the regular season, appearing in just three of the Yankees' final fourteen games, and didn't make it onto the postseason roster for any of the three series the Yankees played. In fact, he wasn't even considered. He told team officials toward the end of the year that he was uncomfortable pitching in New York and, in October, returned home to Mexico to attend to his ailing mother, for whom he was briefly placed on the bereavement list in August. Osuna did not travel with the Yankees at any point during the postseason.

Taking a look at what Osuna did on the mound, his 2003 totals look respectable: 48 G, 50.2 IP, 58 H, 47 K, 20 BB, 3 HR, 2-5, 3.73 ERA, with just one blown save. Sure, he allowed too many baserunners (1.54 WHIP and .282 BAA, both well over his career averages of 1.29 and .236), but his strikeout and walk ratios were decent and he showed a terrific ability to keep the ball in the park. The real story, however, reveals itself when you look at Osuna month-by-month:


That's pretty clear. Osuna simply was not a good pitcher in the second half of the season. What's more, in the early part of the year, when he was effective , he went on the DL twice with a groin injury, missing a total of 39 games. Osuna has a history of injuries, missing almost all of the 1999 and 2001 seasons. Between his poor second-half performance and his inability to play a full season, it's little wonder that the Yankees decided against paying him $2.8 million to remain a part of their bullpen in 2004, opting instead for a $150,000 buyout.

Declining Gabe White's option is a far more curious move, however. White was acquired from the Reds at the trading deadline as an unofficial part of the Aaron Boone/Brandon Claussen trade (by declaring the acquisition of White a separate transaction, the Yankees were able to send more cash to Cincinnati). In the minds of many, the inclusion of White was a key part of the deal, and Aaron Boone's performance in pinstripes in August and in the postseason seemed only to reinforce that fact.

White was on the DL, also with a groin injury, when acquired by the Yanks on July 31 and didn't appear in the Bronx until Aug 26. In his little more than one month with the team, White posted these numbers: 12 G, 12.1 IP, 8 H, 6 K, 2 BB, 2 HR, 2-1, 4.38 ERA, one blown save. 12 1/3 innings are hardly enough to judge anyone by, but despite his 4.38 ERA, he posted a 0.81 WHIP and a .182 BAA as a Yankee.

One would think such numbers would have put him toward the top of Torre's middle relief depth chart for the postseason, especially considering his left-handedness and the shaky condition of the Yankee bullpen in general. However, Torre called on White just three times in the postseason for a total of 3 1/3 innings pitched after using him just thrice in the Yankees last 16 regular season games (less often than Osuna for those paying attention). In his first two outings (Game 4 against the Twins and Game 1 against the Red Sox), White pitched 2 2/3 innings, allowing three hits, walking none, striking out one and not allowing a run to score, inherited or otherwise. In the game against the Twins he entered with men on first and third and two outs and retired the first batter he faced (A.J. Pierzynski). In Game 1 against the Red Sox he came in with men on first and second with two outs and allowed a hit by Trot Nixon to load the bases before getting the third out (Doug Mirabelli). His third appearance, in Game 6 against the Sox, didn't go as well. Entering the game with a man on second and one out, White gave up a two-run home run to the first man he faced, Trot Nixon again, and gave up a double to Johnny Damon before recording the third out. White did not make an appearance in the World Series against the admittedly very right-handed Marlins, and one has to think his failure to retire Nixon (a .219 batter against lefties this season) had a great deal to do with both that and the Yankees decision not to pick up his option.

That said, lets take a closer look at Gabe White. Here are his overall 2003 numbers:

46 G, 46.2 IP, 44 H, 29 K, 8 BB, 5-1, 4.05 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .251 BAA, 2 blown saves

In general those are very close to his career averages, at least in terms of rate (in a typical season he'd have appeared in about 65 games). Although he has a higher rate of strikeouts on his career, his strikeout rates appear to be in decline, thus making his 2003 season an accurate portrait of what one can expect from Gabe White in 2004. Since a large part of his value is derived from his choice of pitching arms, here are his splits:

Lefties .247/.265/.390 .655 OPS
Righties .255/.299/.490 .789 OPS

Lefties .239/.287/.402 .688 OPS
Righties .266/.317/.497 .815 OPS

Despite the slightly less pronounced split in BAA in 2003, these numbers are fairly consistent, and indicate a legitimate effectiveness against his fellow southpaws.

So why decline White's option? Outside of Trot Nixon, there's the fact that the option was for $3.5 million. There's a chance that the Yankees might still try to sign White as a free agent for less money, though one has to remember that they've already paid him $250,000 as a buyout. More likely, they declined White's option because they also have an option on Felix Heredia, who is 3 1/2 years younger and will cost them just $1.7 million, less than half what they would have had to pay White. Also acquired from Cincinnati at the end of the 2003 season, though as a waiver wire pick-up, Heredia has already exercised his half of his mutual option with the Yanks.

Overall, Heredia's numbers are very similar to White's. The primary differences between the two being that Heredia walks more men, but allows fewer homers, thus giving both men similar career opponents' OPS numbers (.740 for Felix, .733 for Gabe). Heredia's splits are curious, however. In 2003 he had a slight reverse split. Over the three previous seasons his opponents' OPS numbers were nearly identical from both sides of the plate. But there is one overriding trend in Heredia's splits from 2000-2003: righties reach base more often against him--which is normal for a lefty--but lefties hit him for more power. This means that, with a lefty at the plate, his primary advantage over White--fewer homers--is eliminated. Overall, Heredia is less effective against lefties, but more effective against righties. Call it even, and credit the Yankees for going with the younger, cheaper alternative, even if it exposes the Claussen trade as the disaster it truly was.

Of course, with Heredia's splits fairly even, the Yankees still need a solid lefty-on-lefty reliever.

They have Chris Hammond under contract, but he had a rather pronounced reverse spilt this year (In 2002 he had a normal split, but a freakish season. Absent any stats from 1999-2001, it's very difficult to figure out what he brings to the table, though I would think his 2003 season would be closer than his 2002 season).

So what other lefty relievers are on the market?

Eddie Guardado -- the Twins closer will likely want to go where he can continue to close, and will demand a closer's salary. That said, he has excellent lefty-on-lefty splits.

Arthur Rhodes -- is 34, made $3.5 million last year while having a disappointingly average season, and, other than 2002, has had fairly even splits.

Ricardo Rincon -- a free agent from the A's, Rincon would be an excellent choice, as he is durable and dominates left-handed batters.

Tom Martin -- the Dodgers' recovery project had a fantastic 2003 season in which he, too, dominated lefties. Having signed a minor league deal with LA before last season, he could probably be had cheaper than Rincon (both are 33).

Dan Plesac -- the 41-year-old LOOGY is still effective, though he's made noises about retirement and may not want to bother pitching in New York. Oh yeah, he's also 41. Which reminds me . . .

Jesse Orosco is still out there (heh).

As is Graeme Lloyd . . .

And Terry Mulholland. Mulholland is actually still effective, and has good L-on-L splits. Of course, he's 40.

Lastly, here's a sleeper: Sterling Hitchcock.

Yes, Sterling Hitchcock. The Cardinals declined his option (for $7 million!), so he's finally free of that ungodly contract that Brian Cashman signed him to back in December of 2001. Free of that albatross, Hitch is a far more attractive option as a lefty specialist out of the pen. Check his splits for 2003:

vs. righties: .291/.348/.496 .844 OPS
vs. lefties: .202/.264/.283 .546 OPS

Obviously, Rincon and Martin would be my top two choices (barring Guardado from the discussion), but looking at the free agent market only, Hitchcock looks like a solid third option.

Amazing the difference a contract can make. Just ask Manny Ramirez.

posted by Cliff at 7:08 PM

Coaching positions filled, elsewhere 

Paul Molitor is out of the running for the position of Yankee Hitting Coach because he's now the Mariners' Hitting Coach.

Meanwhile, it looks like Don Zimmer will be riding the pine next to Sweet Lou right under Steinbrenner's nose in Tampa. Perfect for so many reasons.

posted by Cliff at 10:34 AM

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Nice try, Theo 

According to an anonymous executive, "there is no chance" that the Yankees will pick up Manny Ramirez, who was put on irrevocable wavers earlier this week by the Boston Red Sox.

This is excellent news for Yankee fans, as Manny's due an average of $20 million for each of the next five years, plus deferred money, various incentives, and a significant chunk of his signing bonus. As limitless as the Yankee payroll seems to be, the money they would have to spend on Ramirez--a head case who is a problem in the field and on the bases-- could probably get them both Pettitte and one of their top free-agent picks in right field. I don't care if he is one of, if not the best hitter in the American League, there's no excuse for spending that kind of money on one player (speaking of which, try not to look at how Giambi's contract shapes up in 2006-08--Jeter's is almost as bad, but at least he's younger and doesn't have the additional signing bonus payouts).

That said, it was a great gambit by Epstein. You've gotta love that kind of gamesmanship. Imagine if George had been impetuous enough to pick up Ramirez and Theo had gone out and signed Vlad and Andy with the money the Sox saved by getting rid of Manny. Unreal.

posted by Cliff at 5:30 PM

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Down is out 

The Yankees have declined to extend the contract of hitting coach Rick Down. I know you're reeling from the shock. Among those mentioned as potential replacements for Down are Don Mattingly, Chili Davis and Paul Molitor.

As I said in my last post, I don't think Mattingly is ready to leave his family for a full-time coaching job quite yet. He said as much before the 2003 season started and I imagine that hasn't changed.

Molitor, meanwhile, expressed interest in getting back to full-time coaching just last month. The Twins likely won't have any openings on their staff (assuming Al Newman's return to health), nor will the Brewers, which makes the Yankee job a tempting offer. I'm sure Steinbrenner would love to have Molly on the staff the same year he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, so take this one seriously.

As for Davis, I don't know what his current situation is. He seemed to enjoy his time as the Yankee DH in 1998 and '99, so I'd imagine he'd be very open to the idea of becoming Torre's hitting coach. Assuming the skills of the player translate to coaching (a bold assumption, I realize), all three would be excellent choices, but Davis might actually be the best choice if the assignment is to preach patience and deep counts.

Both Mattingly and Molitor were great hitters who rarely struck out. Molitor struck out 1,244 times in his 21 seasons, an average of 75 times per 162 games and never once struck out 100 times in a single season. Mattingly struck out a stunning 444 times in his career, an average of 40 times per 162 games with a season high of 43 (!). But neither of them walked very much, either: Molitor an average of 66 times per 162 games, Mattingly an average of 53. They were both contact hitters with a phenomenal ability to go with a pitch and put it in play for a hit (their lifetime averages are almost identical, .307 for Donnie, .306 for Molly).

Chili Davis, on the other hand, was not a .300 hitter, and thus spent more time deep in counts trying to get a pitch he could hit or to draw a walk. While this did result in more strikeouts (an average of 113 per 162 games) that can in part be seen as a by product of his power stroke (Chili hit 350 career home runs), and it also resulted in more walks (an average of 79 per 162 games). Chili's lifetime average was .274, more than 30 points lower than those of Mattingly and Molitor, but his career OBP was actually higher than Donnie's and only nine points below Molitor's. Using a stat Aaron Gleeman dubbed "isolated discipline" (OBP minus AVG), we get these figures for the three:

Davis: .086
Molitor: .063
Mattingly: .051

But that's not all. Davis also did exactly what people are hoping Alfonso Soriano can do: he learned to take pitches and draw walks.

Both Davis and Soriano have their birthdays in January, so it's easy to compare them at similar ages. Soriano just completed his age-25 season, his third full season and fifth overall in the majors. Davis' age-25 season was also his fifth overall, though four of those were full seasons. Soriano has averaged an abysmal 29 walks per 162 games thus far in his career and set a career high in 2003 with 38. Davis had better judgment early on, averaging 58 walks per 162 games through his age-25 season and topping out at 62 in his age-25 season. Although Davis's walk totals are higher, he can't be said to have had excellent discipline early in his career.

However, in his age-26 season, Davis obliterated his career high walk total by drawing 84 bases on balls. He then proceeded to average 74 walks per 162 games in his age-26 to 30 seasons, 16 more walks per 162 games than in his first five seasons. At age 31, Davis set another career high with 95 walks and averaged almost 96 walks per 162 games over his age-31 to 35 seasons, an average he maintained through the end of his career at age 39.

Davis's strikeout rates were largely unaffected by this increased ability to draw walks. They increased slightly in the middle of his career, probably the result of more called strikes three, but basically remained +/-5 from his overall career average of 113 Ks per 162 games. What did change significantly were Davis's production stats. As he learned to draw walks, Chili also began to hit more home runs, reach base more often (obviously), and hit for a higher average. Chili's batting average over his first ten seasons (67 walks per 162 games) was .267, over his last nine (93 walks per 162 games) it was .283. Here are his AB/HR numbers for the four five-year spans we discussed in the previous paragraph:


The facts are irrefutable. Over the course of his career, Chili Davis learned to draw walks and it helped make him a more productive hitter both in terms of power and average. This is exactly what Alfonso Soriano needs to do, and one would think that of the three candidates mentioned at the beginning of this post, Chili Davis, having gone through the process himself as a player, would be the most qualified to teach him to do it. Since the primary assignment of Down's successor will be Soriano, the BRB officially endorses Chili Davis for the position of Yankee Hitting Coach in 2004.

posted by Cliff at 12:39 PM

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Lighting the Yankees' Hot Stove 

Before I give you my knee-jerk reactions on what the offseason has in store for the Yankees, let me give you my guess as to what the offseason has in store for the BRB.

To begin with, my posts will be less frequent. I will try to post once or twice a week. Obviously, if there’s more going on I’ll post more often, though there may also be weeks that go by without a post at all, though I’ll try to avoid that.

The first thing I'll do, hopefully within the next week, is take a look at the moves and transactions that have taken place since the end of the regular season. After that, I'll obviously post my reactions to any moves made by the Yankees and will try to do a regular transaction digest, discussing the moves being made around both leagues. I also hope to take a look at some if not all of the other teams, who's coming back, who’s not, where they need help and where they might get it. Mixed in will likely be some random thoughts on baseball related matters, discussions of popular rumors, etc. etc. Beyond that, I'm thinking about creating a new, parallel blog for non-baseball related thoughts during the offseason. If I do so, I'll post about it here.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I wanted to give you my quick thoughts on what changes might, could or should be made as the Yankees prepare for the 2004 season.

Let's start with the GM, manager and coaches:

General Manager: If Steinbrenner wants a reason to fire Brian Cashman, I think the Aaron Boone trade will give it to him. After Game 6, George gave Joe Torre a vote of confidence (meaningless as that can be coming from the Boss), but talked around the subject of Brian Cashman. I think Cash has as good a chance of being fired this offseason as he's ever had. If he is canned, I would imagine that Steinbrenner would bring back Gene Michael, who built the foundation of the Yankee dynasty along with Buck Showalter. That being said, I think Cashman remains one of the best GMs in the game and I would like to see him stay, though I’m beginning to have my doubts about his ability to work effectively under Steinbrenner.

Manager: The Boss says Joe Torre will be back. I hope and expect that he will be. Yes, Torre made some bad decisions that may have cost the Yankees Game 4. Sure he tends to short-hand himself by refusing to use certain relievers for almost no reason, and yes he does get stuck in his ways (Will he move Bernie to left next year? Will he drop Soriano in the order? Would he ever move Jeter to third?), but he's still an excellent manager and I think he got more out of this team this year than anyone else could have.

Bench Coach : Don Zimmer quit. He didn't retire, but he quit. This opens up a coaching job, giving Torre the chance to pick a potential successor should next year be his last in New York (which I think it will be). Luis Sojo is a strong possibility. Willie Randolph or Lee Mazzilli could come in from their spots on the field to become bench coach. One slight long-shot that I'd like to see is Joe Girardi. Joe hit just .130 in 23 at-bats for the Cardinals this year and is currently a free agent. I'd like to see Girardi retire and join Torre on the bench. He could work with Posada on blocking the damn plate and potentially succeed Torre as Yankee manager. Not that I think any of that will happen.

First Base Coach: Lee Mazzilli is in the running for the Orioles job. I for one would like to see him get it, partially because I just don't like the idea of Mazzilli becoming the next Yankee manager. If he goes, the Yanks will have another opening, meaning Sojo is sure to wind up on the staff as either bench or first base coach.

Third Base Coach: I expect Willie Randolph to continue to coach third next year.

Hitting Coach: Rick Down is so fired (or not resigned, whatever his contract status is). Don Mattingly and Chili Davis have been mentioned as potential replacements. I don't think Mattingly is ready to leave his family yet, though I'd love for him to get a hold of Soriano.

Pitching Coach: I think Mel Stottlemyre and Andy Pettitte are a package deal. They'll either both be back or they'll both be gone. Obviously I'd like to see them both come back. If Mel decides he's had enough (he told his wife that 2003 would be his last year and has often mentioned retirement in the wake of his battle with cancer), Ron Guidry and Neil Allen are potential successors. Mel seems to have had a Zimmer-like experience this year, but Mel is not Zim. He’s a rational, level-headed individual. I know Torre is going to ask them both to stay, and I think it’s quite likely that Mel will. He’s said that he is going to go home, cool down and think about it. At the same time, he echoed Zimmer, saying that if he doesn't return he won't retire. This makes me think it's up to George and Joe, which makes me think Mel will be back, and hopefully so will Andy.

I'm not concerned about the bullpen guys.

Starting line-up:

1B/DH: Jason Giambi and Nick Johson will be back splitting time at 1B/DH next year. There's no way that the Yankees will trade Nick Johnson, as some have suggested they do to rebuild the starting rotation. Giambi will be coming off knee surgery in 2004 and there are no guarantees that he will start the season at 100 percent. Nick will most likely see more time at first base next year as a result. At the same time, I continue to pull for Johnson to learn the outfield, if only to give the team another option in NL parks and when non-first basemen (Bernie, I’m looking at you here) could use a day or two at DH.

2B: Alfonso Soriano played a couple of innings in right field in the World Series. Michael Kay seems to be urging the Yankees to trade him while he's "still" valuable. I say nuts to all of that. The Yankees could never replace his production at second base, but could replace it in the outfield. He'll be 26 in January and could still learn some plate discipline (with the right hitting coach) and continue to sure up his defense (though he'll never be Willie out there) before he hits his peak years. You just can't give up on a player with this much talent who's already turned it into a .284 career average, 98 homers, 121 stolen bases, 124 doubles etc. etc. at age 25. Let alone one that plays second base and has improved his OBP three years in a row. The clincher: The only way the Yankees could improve at second base is with Bret Boone or Marcus Giles. The best options out there on the free agent market are Luis Castillo (career .722 OPS), Todd Walker (who is no better in the field, worse at the plate, five years older and slow afoot), and the bloated corpse of Roberto Alomar.

SS: Dreamworld scenario – the Yankees sign Miguel Tejada to play short and move Jeter to third. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Hopefully Jeter will recover fully from his off-season shoulder and thumb surgeries, stay healthy and hit, hit, hit just as he did once he got healthy this year. The middle-infield defense will just have to continue to suck. At the same time, Jeter should be the Yankee leadoff hitter next year. If the 2004 Yankee lineup doesn’t start off with Jeter and Johnson, Carlos Beltran had better be the reason.

3B: Dreamworld scenario – the Yankees sign Mike Lowell (or Tejada as per above) and ship Barren Boone to KC for Carlos Beltran. That probably won’t happen either, and they'd need more than Boone to get Betran anyway (Boone and Weaver?), but one can dream. I've been horrified and disgusted by Boone's play in August and in the postseason, but he did alright in September. Perhaps getting a fresh start in March and April will allow him to play the way he should, but I have my doubts. It concerns me that a 30-year old, seven-year vet could look as much like a nervous rookie as Boone did in the postseason. When on his game, Boone plays killer defense, hits about .270 with line-drive power to left and is a threat on the bases. Unfortunately, he’s also a hacker, even when he’s hot. Many have said he's "Brosius with speed." That's pretty acurate, but I think Brosius was a smarter, more controlled ballplayer. We shall see. Right now, I don't see Boone as a long-term solution at third (he'll be a free agent after next season), though short of signing Lowell or moving Jeter to third, I don't see many better options on the horizon.

That said, as much as the Marlins may try to keep their team together, Lowell might be the one piece they let go. Miguel Cabrera plays an excellent third base, is almost a decade younger and has a higher ceiling. Conine and Pierre are already under contract in the outfield and Lowell, who made $3.7 million in 2003, is up for arbitration after having a career year. The Yankees signing Lowell would be a stronger possibility if the Boss fires Cashman, partially because Cash is unlikely to cut bait on Boone so quickly and partially because if Cash is canned, Boone will likely have been a big reason why.

Catcher: Jorge Posada

Left and Center Field: Bernie Willaims should move to left next year. Problems with his shoulder and his knee severely reduced his mobility in the field, as well as his power at the plate in 2003. He could use more time at DH, which is why Nick Johnson needs to learn the outfield. I don’t know if Bernie’s scheduled to have more surgery of any kind, but if he can get and stay healthy (a big if for Bernie) he’s still one of the best hitters on the team. Hopefully a healthy Bernie will also see his power will return. If Bernie moves to left, Hideki Matsui would be the default centerfielder, unless the Yankees make a move. Hopefully Matsui will build on his rookie season, rather than repeating it. Really the only thing that I saw from Matsui in 2003 that I didn’t like was his tendency to pull the ball on the ground. If he can be broken of that habit, he will be a tremendously valuable bat in the Yankee lineup.

Right Field: This is a huge question mark. There are some fantastic free agent possibilities out there, specifically Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield. Many doubt Vlad’s ability or desire to play in this environment, but Sheffield has actually said that he’d like to come to New York. Of course, Vlad’s the best free agent at any position and Sheffield’s just one month younger than Bernie, but this is a win-now team and they could do far worse than Sheffield in right.

Speaking of which, Karim Garcia did a sufficient job and the Garcia/Rivera platoon actually worked out toward the end of the season and in the playoffs to some degree, but they are not the right field answer for a team that wants to win a championship. In light of the team's clutch hitting (non)performance in the World Series, I’m sure adding offense will be one of the Steinbrenner’s primary goals in the offseason (then again, when is it not?). Right field is the easiest place to do so. Among the other free agents out there that could out-perform Garcia and Rivera: Juan Gonzalez, Reggie Sanders, Raul Ibanez, Rondell White (Cash just can’t buy a break, can he?) and Jose Guillen.


You've gotta think that they can do better than Enrique Wilson in the futility infielder spot. There are a number of veteran free agents out there who could fill the spot, including ex-Yankees Rey Sanchez, Jose Vizcaino and Andy Fox, Miguel Cairo and Chris Gomez. The list goes on. What it should come down to is that you want to back up your two good-bat/bad-glove middle infielders with a guy who can pick it. If you need a middle-infield bat off the bench, Erick Almonte (who could become trade bait this offseason) should do the trick. And, honestly, none of these guys is going to be a worse hitter than Wilson anyway.

In the outfield, David Dellucci can hit, run and field off the bench. I would very much like to see him back in pinstripes next year. Karim Garcia plays the field well, has a plus throwing arm, hits well against righties, and can catch fire against them at the plate. That said, he’s pretty replaceable, and his current legal situation may not bode well for his future in the Bronx. Juan Rivera would be useful in a trade package. He pounds lefties but is otherwise unexceptional other than as a righty foil to Dellooch and Garcia. Ruben Sierra is a free agent and I don’t expect him to return. On the plus side, he can catch fire and start blasting balls out of the park, is a switch hitter, and can deliver a quality at-bat off the bench. He also proved this season that he has changed into a team player. But the fact remains that he's 38 years old and is a liability in the field. If the Yankees acquire a rightfielder in the offseason, he will take Sierra's place on the roster.

I have no qualms with John Flaherty as a back-up catcher, nor do the Yankees seem to. But then there were no qualms with Chris Widger either. Flaherty’s filed for free agency, throwing his name in with the 9,000 other backup catchers on the free agent market, including ex-Yankees Bobby Estalella, Todd Greene, Alberto Castillo, Yankee Bench Coach Joe Girardi, and the afore mentioned Chris Widger. Greg Myers would have been an attractive option (lefty bat with pop) for the Bombers, but he just resigned with the Blue Jays for $900,000 on Monday. Just as well, he’s 37 and likely won’t repeat the career year he had in 2003.

Starting Rotation:

Roger Clemens has retired. No, he's not coming back.

David Wells is 40 years old and pulled himself from a World Series game because of a the same back problems that caused him to struggle in August and have surgery in 2001. I would be shocked if the Yankees pick up his $6 million option.

Mike Mussina is the only one of the Yankee's four playoff starters who is guaranteed to come back for 2004.

Andy Pettitte is a free agent. Signing him should be the Yankees primary goal in the offseason and will likely go hand-in-hand with bringing Mel Stottlemyre back as pitching coach.

Should the Yankees only sign one starter (be it Pettitte or someone else), the rest of their rotation will likely look like this:

Jose Contreras should be the Yankees third place starter. I would expect good but not great things from him. Though he has shown the potential to dominate, he has also experienced sudden implosions. I would think the consistency of a full season in the rotation would only help, as his struggles often seemed to be the result of irregular use.

Jeff Weaver will probably be the Yankees fourth starter next year, unless Cashman (or his replacement) can convince another team that Weaver simply needs a new environment and can pull of some brilliant trade for another mid-rotation starter. Weaver is young and has great stuff, but his ability to pitch in New York is very much in question. I would not be surprised to see him once again lose his spot in the rotation, if not on the roster entirely by season's end. That said, this kid did pitch his way onto the Yankee rotation last spring. As unlikely as it may be, Yankee fans would be smart to be supportive rather than abusive of Weaver in the early going in 2004.

John Lieber is in line for the fifth spot. He has not thrown a big league pitch since July 26, 2002. He missed all of 2003 after having Tommy John surgery. Hopefully he can make a comeback and be the Yankees fifth starter next year. Despite a 20-6 record in 2001, Lieber was never an ace, and it often takes pitchers a year or two after they start pitching again to fully recover from Tommy John surgery. Basically, we're looking at a 33-year-old, right-handed Sterling Hitchcock here.

It's very unlikely that the Yankees could resign Pettitte, restructure their bullpen, make a move in right field and sign another major starter along the lines of Bartolo Colon or Kevin Millwood. There is one other option for the rotation, however: Jorge DePaula. Expect DePaula to get a shot in spring training. Here's the line for the 24-year-old Dominican in the four games he pitched in September: 11.1 IP 3 H 1 ER 1 BB 7 K.

After Pettitte, Colon and Millwood, the starting pitching free agent pool gets pretty shallow pretty fast. The only other intriguing names on the list are the aging Greg Maddux, Sidney Ponson and Kelvim Escobar. Esteban Loaiza, Derek Lowe and Miguel Batista all have team options for 2004. I would be surprised if any one of them is not picked up.


Closer: Mariano Rivera

From this year’s pen: Chris Hammond remains under contract for 2004. Felix Heredia had a $1.7 million option that became a player option when he made his 65th appearance of the year, so he’s also signed for 2004. Gabe White has a team option for $3.5 million in 2004. Antonio Osuna also has an option in 2004. Jeff Nelson is a free agent.

I would expect the Yankees to let Osuna and Nelson walk (again, the fallout from the bullpen incident in Boston could help Nelson out the door). One has to wonder about Gabe White. Joe Torre barely used him in the postseason, which would make you think they won’t pick up his option. At the same time, if White walks, the Boone trade will look like an even bigger bust.

The key here is that the free agent market is filled with quality relief pitchers. Even if you disregard the closers (Foulke, Gordon, Guardado, Urbina), the Yankees could bring in guys such as Shigetoshi Hasegawa, La Troy Hawkins, Mike Timlin, Tim Worrell, or Arthur Rhodes. They’re the cream of the crop, but the list goes on after them and considering what the Yankees had to deal with this year, there’s little reason to doubt that there will be a slew of new faces in the pen in 2004. That said, after Guardado and Rhodes, Gabe White may be the best lefty available to the Yankees.

Then there’s Steve Karsay, who will be coming off shoulder surgery that caused him to miss all of 2003. How Karsay comes back could have a huge impact. An effective Karsay would change the character of the Yankee pen. I still regard him as a question mark, however, and would not be surprised (nor upset) to see the Yanks try to spend their way to a better pen considering what’s available on the market. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see some combination of Hammond, White and Heredia involved in a trade at some point during the winter.

Well, that’s about I’ll I’ve got right now. The Hot Stove has been lit. I’ll be back with that postseason transaction wrap-up within the next week.

posted by Cliff at 3:47 PM

Thuuuuuu Yankees lose 

Actually they didn't lose, they got beat. Josh Beckett turned in a classic performance and the Marlins are the World Champions. It all happened very quickly.


Josh Beckett and Andy Pettitte. Game 6 of the 2003 World Series is a classic pitching matchup. Both teams get two-out baserunners in the first and one-out baserunners in the second, but are unable to move them. Both teams get one more baserunner in the third, but are unable to move them. Both teams go down in order in the fourth. Beckett and Pettitte are matching each other pitch for pitch.

Then the top of the fifth. With two outs, Alex Gonzalez singles. Juan Pierre falls behind 1-2 then singles himself, putting runners on first and second and bringing Luis Castillo to the plate. Andy gets two quick strikes on Castillo, who then fouls off the next two pitches. After a pair of balls brings the count even at 2-2, Castillo lines a single into right. Ozzie Guillen sends Gonzalez home and Karim Garcia fires to the plate. Garcia's throw is strong and fairly accurate, but it tails slightly toward foul territory on the first-base side. Posada, who has an infuriating habit of playing in front of the plate and making sweeping tags, rather than blocking the plate, has somewhat of an excuse this time as that is really the only place that he can field Garcia's throw. No matter, the throw beats Gonzalez to the plate, but, as Jorge spins to put the tag on him, Gonzalez slides to the right of the plate, just out of Posada's reach, and touches home with his hand once he's almost past the dish. DiMaggio would have been proud. 1-0 Marlins.

The play at the plate allows the runners to move up to second and third. After starting Ivan Rodriguez off with a pair of balls, Andy finishes the walk intentionally, loading the bases and brining Miguel Cabrera to the plate. It takes eight pitches, but Andy gets the rookie swinging to end the inning.

Now down by one, Karim Garcia leads off the bottom of the fifth with a single on Beckett's first pitch. Boone bunts him to second, but Soriano pops out on the first pitch he sees and Beckett strikes out Jeter to end the inning.

In the bottom of the sixth, Jeff Conine grounds Andy's first pitch to short, but Jeter bobbles the ball when transferring it to his throwing hand. He finally gets a hold of it and still has time to get the 900-year-old Conine at first, but Jeter throws the ball in the dirt. E6, man on first. Andy then walks Mike Lowell on four pitches to put runners on first and second with no outs. Derek Lee, who has been struggling and was moved down to the seven spot a few games back, bunts Andy's first pitch directly back to him. It's an awful bunt and Pettitte has a play at every base, but immediately turns and throws to second, despite the fact that (as Joe Torre reported after the game) Posada was screaming "three! three! three!" Had Andy thrown to third there's an outside chance that the Yankees could have gotten both of the lead runners. If not it would have been first and second with one out rather than runners at the corners. Five pitches later, Juan Encarnacion lifts a fly ball to right field and Conine tags and scores from third. Andy strikes out Juan Pierre on three pitches. 2-0 Marlins.

And so it would remain. The Yankees get a lead off double from Posada in the seventh and a lead-off single from Soriano in the eighth, but are unable to move either runner. Mariano Rivera comes on to keep the Marlins quiet through the last two innings, but Beckett makes Mo's presence irrelevant. Beckett takes the mound in the bottom of the ninth, three outs from a complete game shutout. Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui both hit balls into deep left field, both are caught easily by Miguel Cabrera. On a 1-1 pitch, Jorge Posada hits a dribbler down the first base line, Beckett runs over and, in one motion, grabs the ball and tags Jorge as he runs by. Game over. The Marlins win the 2003 World Series.

Heroes and Goats

Marlins Heroes:
Josh Beckett on three-day's rest (somewhere Jack McKeon just rolled his eyes), he posted this line in the biggest game of his young life: 9 IP 5 H 0 ER 2 BB 9 K. He needed just 107 pitches and threw 71 of them for strikes. One of the all-time great World Series pitching performances.
Alex Gonzalez 2 for 4, including a two-out single to set up the Marlins first (and only necessary) run, which he scored by making an absolutely perfect slide around the tag by Posada.
Luis Castillo got the base hit that drove home Gonzalez with two outs in the fifth. Castillo and Gonzalez also turned a pair of double plays, both started by Castillo, one on a tricky hop off a ball hit by Nick Johnson in the eighth inning.

Marlins Goats:
None. The only bad play the Marlins made all night was Derek Lee's bunt, but they already had the lead by then and Pettitte's misplay allowed the Fish to get a run out of it anyway.

Yankees Heroes:
Andy Pettitte: sure he misplayed that bunt, but you can't fault him for coming up with this line: 7 IP 6 H 2 R 1 ER 3 BB 7 K. More big time stuff from Andy. Unfortunately, he wouldn't have won this game had he pitched a shutout.
Alfonso Soriano there really aren't any offensive players who deserve to be here, but Sori went 2 for 4 with a lead off single in the eighth and didn't strike out a single time all game against Josh Beckett, who struck out nine Yankees. That said, swinging at the first pitch with a man on second and one out and your team down 0-1 . . . not cool.

Yankees Goats:
Derek Jeter 0 for 4 with two strikeouts--one with a man on second and his team down by one--and an error in the sixth that led to the second Marlins run. He also made an unproductive out to follow Soriano's lead-off single in the eighth.
The Yankee bats Jeter had the worst day, though Matsui also went 0 for 4. The Yanks had seven baserunners, but couldn't get any of them home. In fact, only twice were they able to move a man at all--once on a Nick Johnson walk that pushed Soriano to second and once on Aaron Boone's bunt in the fifth that moved Garcia to second. Let me repeat that, in fourteen at-bats with a runner on base, only twice were the Yankees able to advance the runner, both times moving him from first to second, neither time via a hit, and once via an out.

World Series Heroes and Goats:

Yankees Heroes:
Andy Pettitte 15.2 IP 12 H 3 R 1 ER 4 BB 14 K. Andy just missed a complete game shutout in his first start (thanks Aaron Boone!), and then pitched 7 innings allowing just two runs in his second. It took an all-time great performance by Beckett to beat him. Stellar work by Andy.
Mike Mussina he beat Josh Beckett in Game 3: 7 IP 7 H 1 ER 1 BB 9 K. Nuff said.
Mariano Rivera allowed just two hits and no walks in four innings pitched.
Jeff Nelson became a key player again against the almost entirely right-handed Marlins and got the job done allowing no runs in four innings while striking out five. Unfortunately, the curse of Jeff Nelson has been disproven, though it came darn close to holding up.
Bernie Williams hit .400 with two home runs, five RBI and five runs scored, walking twice and striking out just twice.
Derek Jeter hit .346 with two RBI, five runs scored and a walk.
Nick Johnson hit .294 with three runs scored and two walks in four starts.
Hideki Matsui he started off hot and cooled off to finish with a .261 average. Still, I'll list him here because of his big homer in Game 2, four RBI, three walks and just two strike outs.
Ruben Sierra if only for his game-tying triple with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning of Game 4. He struck out in his other three at-bats, all pinch-hits.

Yankees Goats
Aaron Boone 3 for 21 (.143) with no walks, two errors and those two awful at-bats with the go-ahead run on third in Game 4. Never mind his ultimately meaningless home run in Game 3. He has completely burned through whatever good grace he earned with his ALCS-ending homer. One of the good things about the series being over is I won't have to watch Boone play for at least four months.
Jorge Posada the five walks were cute early on, but on the series Jorge went 3 for 19 (.158) with just one RBI and no runs scored and seven strikeouts (just two less than Sori), and then to top it all off, was made to look foolish by Alex Gonzalez on that play at the plate in Game 6. Fittingly, Jorge made the last out of the series.
Alfonso Soriano compared to Boone and Posada, Sori didn't really have that bad of a series. He hit .227, 69 points higher than Jorge, with two walks, a home run, two RBI, two runs scored and a stolen base. Sure he struck out nine times, but six other players struck out seven times each in this series. Also, Sori didn't make a single error in the field. Still, these are minor accomplishments that only look good compared to the complete incompetence of Boone, and, though errorless, his defense wasn't about to make anyone forget Luis Castillo.
David Wells' Back I suppose you can't really blame Wells himself. Besides, he pitched well enough to win Game 1 but the Yankee bats let him down. Still, Wells' early exit in Game 5 is what buried the Yankees in this series. Had he been able to pitch, they probably would have won that game and we'd all be revving up for Mike Mussina to out-pitch Pavano in Game 7 tonight.
Jose Contreras partner in crime with Wells' back, Contreras gave up four runs in three innings in relief of Wells. Perhaps it was unfair to expect Contreras to be effective after throwing two innings late the night before after a career of starting pitching, but the World Series doesn't listen to excuses, only results.
Chris Hammond sure he didn't officially allow any runs, but remember that the botched run-down in Game 5 (which led to the error which "unearned" Hammond's two runs) only started when Boone made a great play on a hot shot down the line. Hammond had already allowed Pudge on base and then gave up the single that scored both runs.
Jeff Weaver both he and Hammond are partially victims of lack of use, but the facts on Weaver are that he faced four batters and one of them hit a game-winning home run, good pitch or not.

Marlins Goats:
The Marlins beat the Yankees as a team, meaning they spread around their successes and failures. Ugey Urbina (6.00 ERA) blew a save in Game 4 and was rescued by Chad Fox (6.00 ERA) and Braden Looper. Then in Game 5, Looper (9.82 ERA) was on the ropes and was rescued by Urbina. Dontrelle Willis let the go-ahead run score in Game 3, handing Beckett the loss, but shut the Yankees down in his other two appearances. Luis Castillo hit just .154 but drove in the first run in the Game 6 clincher. Miguel Cabrera hit just .167, but hit a two-run home run off Roger Clemens in game 4. Juan Encarnacion hit just .182, but spent most of the middle three games on the bench and drove in the second run of Game 6 with a sac fly. That said, the Marlins had two players who made no positive contributions in this series:
Mark Redman who came into Game 2 with nothing, earning the loss with this line: 2.1 IP 5 H 4 ER 2 BB 2K.
Rick Helling relieved Redman in Game 2 with only slightly less of the same: 2.2 IP 2 H 2 ER 0 BB 2 K.

Marlins Heroes:
Josh Beckett a hard-luck loser in Game 3, Beckett did the job himself in Game 6 with a classic performance. His line on the series: 16.1 IP 8 H 2 ER 5 BB 19 K
Brad Penny winner in Games 1 and 5, his line: 12.1 IP 15 H 4 R 3 ER 5 BB 7 K. He also drove in two runs in Game 5 with a single off Contreras.
Carl Pavano Ruben Sierra stole the win from him in Game 4, but he beat Roger Clemens during regulation in that game: 9 IP 8 H 1 ER 1 BB 6 K
Alex Gonzalez hit the game-winning home run in Game 4 on a good pitch by Jeff Weaver, then scored the Marlins only necessary run in Game 6 with a magnificent slide. He hit .273 on the series.
Jeff Conine hit .333 with four runs scored and three walks, though he didn't drive in a single run.
Juan Pierre hit .333 with three RBI, 2 runs scored, five walks and a stolen base (yes, just one--the Marlins stole just two bases in this series, as did the Yankees).

There is no ONWARD today.

posted by Cliff at 12:53 PM

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Site Meter