Thursday, December 04, 2003

Deep Breath 

Okay. Let's try to deal with this.

The Expos are expected to hold a press conference this afternoon at 2:00 EST to announce the following trade:

Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and a PTBNL (supposedly Randy Choate).

Okay. Deep breath.

If the Yankees were going to trade Nick Johnson for anyone (and it seemed abundently clear that they were going to do so), Javier Vazquez would have been the best choice. He's young (he'll be 28 in July), durable (over 200 IP each of the last four years and started fewer than 30 games only once in his six years in the bigs), has excellent control (3.25 K/BB ratio) and strikes men out (241 Ks in 230.2 IP last year). Javier Vazquez is an excellent pitcher who has the potential to be the anchor of the Yankee rotation for the remainder of the decade.

What burns me up about this is that Vazquez will be a free agent at the end of 2004. This means two things: 1) he could leave after just one year in pinstripes and 2) the Yankees could have waited a year and had both Vazquez and Nick Johnson in 2005. To make it worse, according to ESPN this is not a trade-and-sign, meaning a contract extension between Vazquez and the Yankees is not one of the requirements of the deal.

The Yankees have caught a lot of heat for overpaying for free agents, particularly with the establishment of their mega-million-dollar bullpen for 2004, but they're also overpaying in trades. First Branden Claussen plus one for Aaron Boone and two months of Gabe White, now Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera plus one for Vazquez. And don't think those two trades are unrelated. Steinbrenner's hand forced through the Claussen trade. Now, with their best young pitcher (who had been slotted into the 2004 rotation) pitching in Cincy, they've had to deal their best young hitter to fill the gap. Of course pitching is more valuable than hitting, but there's a good chance that they could have had all three of the players they've acquired in these two trades without giving up anything more than a few draft picks had they only the patience (if Boone had remained in Cincinnati the Reds surely would have non-tendered him and no team would have picked up White's option, as evidenced by the fact that the spend-happy Yankees--who plan to resign him--did not).

Deep breath.

I need to make two other points.

1) With Johnson and Rivera gone the Yankees are now officially out of chips. They have nothing to trade. Nothing. This is it. (Well, they could trade Sori and have all nine starters in their 30s, I guess that could happen) Unless they make some incredible moves on college players in the draft (fat chance), we're looking at the rapidly-aging current roster plus or minus free agents for the next several years. Helloooo 1988.

2) There is now a very big hole in the Yankee line-up. Bernie will become the DH (with visions of Paul Molitor dancing in my head). Gary Sheffield (assuming he's still coming to New York, and his recent trash talk indicates that he is) will more than replace Nick's offense in the line up (at least for a couple of years). But somebody has got to play centerfield. The early word was Soriano (which simply shifts the problem to second base), but more recent rumors have had the Yankees going after 36-year-old Kenny Lofton. I say nuts to that (actually, I say worse things than "nuts"). I believe that the Yankees have wronged their fans by trading away a home-grown talent on the level of Nick Johnson. The only way they can begin to make up for that is by filling center field with Mike Cameron.

More on Vazquez and other Yankee news and rumors later.

posted by Cliff at 12:37 PM


I'm so close to tears, you don't even know.

Vazquez is a free agent in less than a year.

Somebody tell me this isn't happening.

posted by Cliff at 11:49 AM

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

A Brief History of Paul Quantrill 

Yesterday the Yankees inked 36-year-old righty reliever Tom Gordon to a two-year, $7.25 million contract. Today they've signed 35-year-old righty reliever Paul Quantrill to a two-year $6.8 million contract.

By signing the soon-to-be 31-year-old righty LaTroy Hawkins to a three-year $11 million contract yesterday, the Cubs made Quantrill the best righty set-up man on the market. A status he would have held even without the Yankees signing of Gordon.

The signing of Quantrill undoubtedly speaks to the Yankees lack of confidence in the return from shoulder bursitis of fellow-righty Steve Karsay, who has two years at $5 million each plus a $6.5/$1.25 million team option left on his contract. It also spells certain doom for the Yankee future of reverse-split-lefty Chris Hammond, who will earn $2.4 million in the final guaranteed year of his contract. Hammond's performance last season was greatly undervalued by both Yankee fans and Joe Torre and in light of the three contracts mentioned above, his salary suddenly seems terribly reasonable.

Born in London, Ontario, Quantrill was drafted out of the University of Wisconsin by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the 1989 amateur draft. He made his major league debut with the Bosox in 1992 at the age of 23, posting an excellent 2.19 ERA in 27 relief appearances. The Red Sox tried him out as a starter in 1993 with less success, returning him to the pen before dealing him to the Phillies with Billy Hatcher for Wes Chamberlain and a minor leaguer in May 1994. Quantrill finished the year pitching poorly in relief and was made a part of the Philadelphia rotation in 1995 with less than stellar results. The Phillies sent him home to his native Canada after that season, obtaining Ricardo Jordan and Howard Battle in return from the Toronto Blue Jays.

It was in a Blue Jay uniform that Quantrill finally found his niche. After another rotten season as a starter in 1996, in which he posted a career-worst 5.43 ERA, Quantrill became the Jays' primary right-handed set-up man in 1997. He was extremely effective in his new role, posting a 1.94 ERA in 77 appearances, repeated his success in 1998 with a 2.59 ERA over 82 games.

Quantrill's new found success was interrupted by a snowmobile accident near his Ontario home in January of 1999. Quantrill fractured his right femur requiring a metal rod to be inserted into his leg. He did not pitch until June of that year, though he did so admirably, posting a 3.33 ERA in 41 games.

Curiously, Quantrill struggled in 2000, watching his ERA balloon to 4.52, but rebounded nicely in 2001 posting a 3.04 ERA in 80 games, including a 2.13 first-half ERA that landed him on his first, and thus-far only All-Star Team.

Following that season, the Blue Jays, in a money-saving move, dealt the then 32-year-old pitcher to the Dodgers along with Cesar Izturus in exchange for Luke Prokepec and a minor leaguer. Pitching in Dodger Stadium, Quantrill posted a home ERA of 2.31 in 2002 and a still-stellar 2.70 over all of his league-leading 86 games. In 2003 he actually pitched better on the road than at home, posting a remarkable 1.63 ERA away from Chavez Ravine and an outstanding 1.75 ERA overall. Quantrill also lead his league for the third consecutive year in games pitched, appearing in 89, held opponents to a .227 batting average, and posted an outstanding 0.98 ERA.

In other news, the Yankees are reportedly very close to resigning back-up catcher John Flaherty, thus blowing the second of their two best opportunities to upgrade their bench (better hitting catcher, better fielding infielder). That said, Flaherty was actually one of the Yankees' better hitting bench players last season, ranking behind only Karim Garcia, Ruben Sierra and Juan Rivera in GPA among the team's non-starters.

Look for the Yanks to resign lefties Felix Heredia and Gabe White in the coming days.

Meanwhile, StatsGuru made a very interesting point about the Gary Sheffield situation over at Baseball Musings yesterday. He wonders if Sheffield is using the Yankees and the media to trick the Braves into offering him arbitration, which he would then accept, resulting in a higher 2004 salary than he's likely to get as a free agent. Very clever stuff. However, I think Sheffield would be foolish not to sign a multi-year deal at the age of 35 coming off one of his best all-time seasons.

Lastly, rumor has it that Kaz Matsui is not particularly interested in coming to New York to play second base and be "Little Matsui," preferring to play his natural position outside of the shadow of one of his countrymen. With Luis Castillo off the market and horrid rumors of the Yankees contemplating Kenny Lofton swirling about, I'm hoping this all means that they've decided Alfonso Soriano will be their second baseman in 2004. If so, we're halfway to sanity (though it's still a pretty long trip).

posted by Cliff at 10:53 AM

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

A Brief History of Tom Gordon 

It’s official, the Yankees have signed free-agent reliever Tom Gordon to a two-year $7.25 million contract. The 36-year-old righthander will be replacing free-agent Jeff Nelson, who is one year his senior and earned a 2003 salary only slightly higher than the $3.625 million average salary of Gordon’s new contract with the Yankees.

A Florida native, Gordon was drafted out of high school by the Kansas City Royals in the sixth round of the 1986 amateur draft. He made his major league debut two years later at the age of 20. A highly touted prospect, he won 17 games in 1989, his first full season, despite starting 16 and relieving in 33 others. As a full-time starter in 1990 he completed six games, struck out 175 and posted a 3.73 ERA, but the Royals and managers John Wathan and Hal McRae continued to vacillate on how to use the diminutive right-hander, returning him to the swing role in 1991.

Having failed to live up to his potential by age 26, Gordon was once again made a full-time starter in 1994 and 1995, but having posted ERAs in the mid-fours and diminishing strikeout rates, he was allowed to leave the club via free agency after 1995.

Gordon eventually signed a two-year contract with the Boston Red Sox for a slight decrease in salary. The Red Sox used him as a starter in 1996 to the tune of a 5.59 ERA and started him out in the rotation in 1997, but by that season’s end the Sox had dealt Heathcliff Slocumb to the Mariners for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek (wow!), prompting first-year Red Sox manager Jimy Williams to make Gordon the club’s closer.

The move rejuvenated Gordon's career. In 1998, the 30-year-old Gordon led the AL with 46 saves, including a then-record 42 consecutive, while posting a (still) career-best 2.72 ERA, continuing a resurgence in his strikeout rate, making his first (and thus far only) All-Star team, and winning the AL’s Rolaids Relief Award.

Gordon extended his consecutive saves record to 54 in 1999, but an elbow injury first suffered on April 17 would end his season mid-year after just 21 appearances. The injury would require Tommy John surgery, sidelining him for the remainder of the season and erasing his 2000 campaign. At the time of his December 1999 surgery, he was given a 15-20 percent chance of ever pitching again. Fans of curses point to the April publication of Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon as having a direct effect on both Gordon’s injury and King’s own near-fatal accident, which occurred in June 1999, just two-weeks after Gordon’s saves streak was snapped by injury in a game in which King himself threw out the first pitch.

Gordon finally returned to the mound in May of 2001 as a member of the Chicago Cubs, with whom he had signed as a free agent. He pitched well as the Cubs’ closer in 2001, striking out a (still) career high 13.30 men per nine innings while posting a 3.38 ERA and racking up 27 saves, but tore a muscle in his pitching shoulder in spring training in 2002, prompting the Cubs to acquire Antonio “El Pulpo” Alfonseca to handle the closer’s job that season in a deal that is now best remembered as Dontrelle Willis for Matt Clement. Gordon returned in July 2002 and pitched well in a set-up role, but was shipped to Houston at the trading deadline for three minor leaguers, where he again finished the year with a 3.38 ERA. Before the 2003 season, he signed a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the White Sox, for whom he threw more innings (74) than he had since his last injury-free season in 1998 while posting a 3.16 ERA and striking out 11.07 men per nine innings and splitting time between setting-up and closing.

If you ask me, the Yankees overpaid for Gordon, particularly in light of his recent history of injuries. What’s more, word is that they’re expected to give $6 million over two years to 35-year-old righty Paul Quantrill (who voided the final year of his deal with the Dodgers, worth $3.1 million) and $3.5 million over two years to lefty Felix Heredia (who had declined his $1.7 million option last month). They’re also expected to resign lefty Gabe White, whose option for $3.5 million they turned down in October. Meanwhile they’re still on the hook for $10 million to Steve Karsay over the next two seasons (plus an option for 2006) and $2.4 million to reverse-split-lefty Chris Hammond for 2004 (plus an option for 2005).

Assuming all of these signings pan out, they’ll have seven multi-million dollar relief pitchers and not one of them will be named Ricardo Rincon (the BRB’s preferred lefty specialist). As I wrote back in October, having both White and Heredia is fairly redundant. Heredia walks more men, but White is more susceptible to the long ball. Heredia is 3 ½ years younger, but White’s splits are more consistent (though Trot Nixon seems to own him).

But if you really want to talk redundant, look no further than Karsay, Gordon and Quantrill (unless you want to add reverse-split-lefty Chris Hammond). Of course we’re dealing in speculation here, and there’s no guarantee that Karsay will be effective coming off a full season on the DL. That said, if I had to choose between Gordon and Quantrill, I’d choose Quantrill. He’s a year younger and doesn’t have a history of arm problems. He also doesn’t have Gordon’s gaudy strikeout rates, though he does have consistently better ERAs. Quantrill has pitched a mimimum of 76 innings in each of the last four years and has seen his ERA decline in each of those seasons, falling below 3.05 in each of the last three and dropping to 1.75 in 2003.

In other news, the Yankees have decided against signing a gloveman to back-up the infield. Instead, they’ve resigned arbitration-eligible Enrique Wilson for another year at his 2003 salary of $700,000.

David Wells is having his back surgery today. If all goes well, the Yankees remain interested in resigning him to an incentive-laden minor league deal for 2004.

Oh, and Newsday thinks the Yanks can trade Jeff Weaver for Kevin Brown. Good one, guys.

posted by Cliff at 1:59 PM

Monday, December 01, 2003

More GPA 

In my catch-up post a few days back I drew your attention to Aaron Gleeman's new GPA statistic ([OBP*1.8+SLG]/4). Since then, Gleeman's posted some stats to show how it works. Here's a breakdown of the Yankees (who ranked third in the majors in GPA in 2003 at .274, behind the Red Sox's .285 and Braves' .276, of course), along with how they fared in Gleeman's positional rankings . Numbers are for the entire 2003 season, GPA with the Yankees in parenthesis for multi-team players (remember, GPA corresponds roughly to batting average):

Jason Giambi - .317 (5th-1B)
Jorge Posada - .312 (2nd-C)
Nick Johnson - .306 (8th-1B)
Derek Jeter - .289 (3rd-SS)
Alfonso Soriano - .283 (5th-2B)
Bernie Williams - .269 (11th-CF)
Hideki Matsui - .268 (NR)
Aaron Boone - .260 (.240) (12th-3B)

Juan Rivera - .254
John Flaherty - .248
Karim Garcia - .241 (.268)
Erick Almonte - .232
David Dellucci - .229 (.182)
Enrique Wilson - .215

Raul Mondesi - .275 (.266)
Robin Ventura - .253 (.253)
Ruben Sierra - .252 (.255)
Todd Zeile - .235 (.220)
Bubba Trammell - .198

FYI: Gary Sheffield - .340 (1st-RF)

Things really pop out at you here. Clearly, the Yankees should not trade Nick Johnson to make room for Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams. Last year, they had five key offensive performers: Giambi, Posada, Johnson, Jeter and Soriano. Bernie, Boonie and Godzilla are ultimately very replaceable and should not be though of in terms of the long term. Sheffield, meanwhile, would/will be an incredible boost to the majors' third-best offense. Good stuff, Gleeman, thanks for the stat!

posted by Cliff at 3:46 PM

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Aaron Boone 

I know I used that same line in my last post, and I know I used this same link, but everything old is new again as the Yankees have reacted to the Marlins' still-unofficial resigning of Mike Lowell by inking Aaron Boone to a one-year deal, thus avoiding arbitration. Unfortunately, they're paying him $5.75 million. But then, they're the Yankees. Does a couple mil extra here or there really make a difference?

As obvious as it was that the Yankees could do themselves the most good by moving Derek Jeter to third and making a move for Tejada or even A-Rod, it was equally obvious that the idea was never given serious consideration by the Yankee coaching staff or front office. Thus, with Lowell off the market, the best alternative to Aaron Boone would have been Joker Joe Randa, except that Randa is also off the market, having re-upped with the Royals for one year at $3.75 million with an option for 2005. That means teams on the market for third basemen will have to choose among the likes of Tony Batista, Vinny Castilla, Todd Zeile and Fernando Tatis. Oh, and Robin Ventura. No thanks. I think time and a pathetic free-agent class have healed the wounds that Boone slashed open in the World Series. Disenchanted though I may be about the organization's unwillingness to even consider moving Jeter, as I am about the fact that they traded Branden Larson to get him in the first place, I'm quite content about having Boonie back for 2005. Even if his hacking gets the better of him (pray to St. Mattingly that it doesn't), he should contribute in the field and on the odd occasion that he should find himself on the bases. Plus, he's got one a-them upsides.

The best part of this news, however, is the fact that it's a one-year deal. Eric Chavez and Troy Glaus are both free agents after the 2004 season. I'll leave it at that.

posted by Cliff at 3:06 PM

A Not-So-Curt Response  

Right. So, Curt Schilling.

I’ve done my best to ignore all of the Curt Schilling rumors that went around the mill in the past month or so. A large part of that was forced denial over the Yankees apparent willingness to trade Nick Johnson. Part of it was a general dislike for Schilling that began with his decision to use the September 11 attacks as an opportunity to get his name in the news (by releasing a heavy-handed, overly-righteous, thousand-word press release), and intensified during the 2001 World Series. But now that the rumors have given way to action, I will do my duty and throw my hat in the ring on the Curt Schilling thing.

My first reaction to the news that Curt Schilling had accepted a trade to the Red Sox was relief. Nick and Sori are still Yankees, and the Boss’s efforts to trade a talented hitter in his mid 20s for a talented pitcher in his late 30s have been foiled. Score one for Yankee fans.

My second reaction was a flash of panic. Boston’s rotation for 2004 now stacks up like this:


Yikes! Lowe was overrated as a "second ace," but as a number three behind Pedro and Schilling, he’s one hell of a weapon. Tim Wakefield played the roll of ace in the ALCS this year. No one should allow themselves to be convinced that he can pitch that effectively over an entire season, but give me a fourth starter who can give you 200+ innings with an ERA at or below 4.00 (the knuckleballer’s ERAs over the past three years: 4.09, 2.81, 3.90) and I’ll be plenty satisfied (case in point, David Wells in 2003: 213 IP, 4.14 ERA; in 2002: 206.1 IP, 3.75 ERA). Kim’s a bit of a Wild Card, but in 12 starts over the past three years his line looks like this: 72 IP 63 H 48K 23 BB 9 HR 3.38 ERA, .231 BAA (3-6). Not too bad for your fifth starter, though there are questions about his make-up, as their should also be about his ability to handle the workload. Bronson Arroyo would be the Sox’s alternate fifth-man. Meanwhile, with Schilling (who has pitched more than 250 innings four times in his career—exactly four times more than Pedro Martinez) in scarlet hose, fragile little Pedro will not be forced to carry the Boston staff.

And that’s the key. Curt Schilling may be 37 years old, and may have had injury problems in 2003, but those injuries were to his hand and appendix, not his elbow or shoulder or knee or back or . . . Take a look at his numbers for 2003:

24 GS 168 IP 144 H 194 K 32 BB 17 HR 2.95 ERA 1.05 WHIP .230 BAA 10.39 K/IP 3 CG 2 ShO.

Schilling was only slightly more effective in 2002 (.224 BAA, 10.97 K/IP, but a 3.23 ERA) when he didn’t have to deal with injuries and finished second behind Randy Johnson in the NL Cy Young vote. Anyone who thinks Schilling pitched poorly last year was spending far too much time looking at his 8-9 record and not enough looking at the rest of his numbers. Schilling initially expressed a lack of interest in playing in Boston because of Fenway Park’s reputation for offense, but the BOB has been a more severe hitters’ park than Fenway over the past three years. Curt Schilling is still one of the top-ten, if not top-five pitchers in the game right now and should continue to dominate in 2004.

For those looking to make a comparison to Roger Clemens (The Boss wanted Schilling as a replacement for the Rocket because Schilling is a very similar pitcher, a big-n-tall—6’ 5”, 235-pounds—flame-thrower with very few arm problems), Schilling pitched his two dominating seasons with the D-backs at the same ages as Clemens pitched his two dominating seasons with the Blue Jays (34 and 35). In turn, Schilling’s Red Sox years correspond neatly to Clemens final four seasons in pinstripes. Thus, I would not be surprised to see Schilling continue to contribute at a high level for the length of his current four-year contract with the Sox (although Schilling is not Clemens equal as a pitcher, nor does he follow Clemens notorious training regime).

But let me ask you this: Would you trade Nick Johnson for a repeat of Roger Clemens last four seasons? Don’t forget that in season five the pitcher you acquire will be retired, while the hitter you traded will be smack dab in his prime. Oh, one more thing, Clemens earned just over $10 million in each of his last three seasons with the Yankees (he made just $6.35 in 2000). Schilling, in his three guaranteed seasons with the Red Sox, will earn $12, $12.5 and $13 million per season and is very likely to meet the performance requirements to vest his option year at $13 million. And this after the market has supposedly corrected itself. Johnson has several years of arbitration left before he’s eligible for big money via free agency.

Which brings me to my final point. The Boston rotation I sketched out above, when combined with the historic performance of the Red Sox’s 2003 offense and the fact that the Sox bullpen seemed to finally right itself in October, is enough to give any Yankee fan bad dreams. But going into this off-season, the Red Sox biggest problem was the impending post-2004 free agency of virtually every key member of their team (Pedro, Lowe, Nomah, Varitek, Nixon). Pedro will earn $17.5 million in 2004 and Garciaparra will enter a market that already includes 2005 salaries of $18 (plus $2 of his signing bonus) and $25 million for Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez respectively, with Miguel Tejada likely to earn big money (though not quite as big) on the market this off-season. On top of that financial land mine, the Sox have Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon locked in for $20 and $8.5 million respectively in 2005. And now, as a result of this trade-and-sign, they will also have a 38-year-old pitcher earning $13 million.

What all the means is that the acquisition of Curt Schilling will not be Theo Epstein’s only move this off-season. To begin with, Todd Walker, who was a big part of Sox’s postseason offense, is a virtual lock to sign somewhere else for 2004. That means that the Red Sox need a second basemen. Either that or they will play rookie Kevin Youkilis at third and move Bill Mueller—the Red Sox most likely to experience a correction in his numbers after a career year in 2003 (no, I don’t think he’ll win another batting title)—to second. Walker made less than $4 million in 2003. Having added Schilling’s contract, Epstein will have to make some moves that will allow him the flexibility to resign most, if not all, of his post-2004 free agents. One or more of those moves could involve trading one of those five contract-year players. The most gaudy rumor out there right now begins with the Texas Rangers agreeing to a Manny-for-A-Rod swap, which would then be followed by a trade of Garciaparra to the west coast. As far fetched as that seems, no one should look at the current Red Sox roster and expect to see those same names come opening day. No, the trade-and-sign of Curt Schilling was just the opening gambit in what looks to be a long and exciting off-season for both the Red Sox and Yankees. Don’t panic. Just stay tuned.

Speaking of which, Peter Gammons has reported that Gary Sheffield has told his friends that his three-year contract with the Yankees (worth about $12 million per season) is a done deal. The Yankees and Sheffield’s lawyer have protested, but it’s very possible that they’re simply waiting until the Dec. 7 arbitration deadline has passed to announce the deal. Of course, now that Sheff’s pals have blown the lid, the Braves—who wanted to resign Sheffield anyway—would be pretty foolish not to offer him arbitration. If the Yankees realize this, the deal could be announced tomorrow. The same article reports that the Yankees are close to a two-year, $7 million deal with Tom Gordon, but that Gordon will wait to see if the Red Sox sign Keith Foulke, as he is their back-up plan. It also reports that the Yankees have interest in 36-year-old Kenny Lofton. Let’s hope that’s a joke (unless they want him in the Dellucci role). Meanwhile, I just noticed that someone landed on the BRB by Googling "Nick Johnson, Randy Choate, Javier Vazquez, trade." Yipes!

Lastly, word is the Marlins—who recently traded Derrek Lee, and will probably not be able to resign Pudge Rodriguez—have signed Mike Lowell to a four-year deal worth around $8 million per season. Time to stop worrying and learn to love Aaron Boone.

posted by Cliff at 1:46 AM

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