Saturday, December 13, 2003


Mark Feinsand of reports that the two minor leaguers involved in the Kevin Brown trade are a pair of A-ball pitchers, Tampa closer Yhency Brazoban, who is currently on the Yankees' 40-man roster, but was very unimpressive in 20 games with AA Trenton in 2003, and 20-year-old righty starter Brandon Weeden of the Staten Island Yankees.

This begs two questions. 1) Are the Dodgers stupid? Aren't they desperate for offense? So they trade their ace and get nothing but pitching in return? Wassupwidat? (possible answers: some or all of these players--including Weaver--get turned around for a bat; the Yankees just gave up the next Claussen before we knew who he was) 2) So now the Yankees have Wilson, Cairo and Almonte. Who gets traded before opening day? (my vote: Wilson)

In other news, Jayson Stark's most recent Rumblings & Grumblings column suggests that the Yankees are "launching a major effort" to sign Vlad Guerrero, which is fantastic news. It also portrays the Brown deal as a sure thing and Lofton's contract as one-year. Oh, yeah, and then there's the bit about Roger Clemens pitching alongside Andy in Houston next year. I'd been taking the Rocket at his word all season with regards to his retirement being final, but I now expect to see him in an Astros uniform in 2004.

posted by Cliff at 3:05 AM

Friday, December 12, 2003

While we wait . . . 

Not much more to report on the Kevin Brown deal today. Not the names of the minor leaguers. Nothing official handed down by either team. Brown has reportedly accepted the deal, but only tentatively, as he and his agent, the evil Scott Boras, still have to work out the details of the more indulgent bonus clauses in his contract with the Yankees.

Instead the "big" news of the day is that the Yankees have signed futility infielder Miguel Cairo to a one-year $900,000 deal (with $150,000 in plate-appearance bonuses). As someone who had argued for the Yankees to ditch Enrique Wilson in favor of a decent glove man, this pleases me, though it's puzzling as to why they now have both Wilson and Cairo under contract.

My theory is that this is an indication that Erick Almonte is one of the two minor leaguers headed to the Dogers in the Brown deal. That would make sense as the Dodgers' middle-infield is a mirror image of the Yankees'. As much as the Yankees need a glove man to back up the big bats of Soriano and Jeter, the Dodgers need someone who can hit to spell no-hit/all-field Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora (2003 OBPs: .282, .287).

As for Cairo, he's a year younger than Wilson is actually a marginally better hitter (career .269/.317/.361, .232 GPA to Wilson's .253/.292/.358, .221 GPA). A righty, Cairo has actually hit righthanders better than the switch-hitting Wilson over the past three years (.245/.310/.341 to .230/.272/.335), and wipes the floor with Enrique against lefties (.293/.327/.463 to .147/.180/.224 over the past three seasons). What's more, he's also a much better baserunner than Wilson, having stolen 76 out of 101 bases in his career (75%, obviously) to Wilson's 13 of 30 (43%). (Look at those numbers again. Why on earth is Enrique Wilson still a major league ballplayer? Can't be his fielding.)

Added to the fact that he's a superior offensive player, Cairo is also a superior defensive player both in terms of skill (okay, so I'm sorta making that up based on circumstantial information and hearsay--I'm no good with fielding stats) and versatility. Whereas Wilson only plays third, short and second, Cairo can also play the outfield corners (Enrique's lone game in the outfield prompted the acquisition of Raul Mondesi) and even has eighteen errorless innings at first base. His primary position is second base, where he started 349 games over a three-year span with the Devil Rays in 1998-2000. Cairo has appeared in no fewer than 92 games in any given season since.

Speaking of which, I'm going to hold off on my Brief History of Kevin Brown until his acquisition is finalized, but as a substitution I offer:

A Brief History of Miguel Cairo

Born in Anaco, Venezuela, Cairo was signed by the Dodgers in 1990 as an amateur free agent at the age of sixteen and was traded twice while still in the minor leagues. After the 1995 season he was one of two minor leaguers sent to the Mariners in exchange for Mike Blowers, nineteen days later he was shipped to the Blue Jays with Bill Risley for pitchers Paul Menhart and Edwin Hurtado.

Cairo made his major league debut at age 21 with the Blue Jays in April 1996, appearing in nine-games, eight of them starts, all at second base. After the season he was shipped to the Cubs in a swap of minor leaguers. After a sixteen-game cup of coffee with the Cubs in 1997 (split between short and second), Cairo became the Devil Rays' eighth pick in the expansion draft and installed as their starting second baseman.

Cairo was the D-Rays' primary second baseman for their first three seasons, acquitting himself well by making some highlight-worthy plays in the field and stealing 19, 22 and 28 bases (twice setting the team record), while hitting like a typical slick-fielding second baseman: .268/.307/.367, .295/.335/.368 and .261/.314/.328. However, Cairo was criticized by the teams' management for frequently booting the easy plays despite his ability to make the exceptional ones. Such criticism came to a head after Cairo committed six errors in the first two weeks of the 2000 season (he finished the season with just nine errors and the highest fielding percentage of his career). This combined with criticism of his plate discipline (his career isolated discipline is .048, Wilson's is .043, for comparison's sake Alfonso Soriano's is .038) and ability to move the runners (Cairo only set the still-standing franchise record for sacrifice hits during his three years there) was said to have damaged his confidence, leading to the drop in his offensive numbers in 2000. With the passage of time it is clear that the drop was simply a return to the norm.

Nonetheless, at just 26 years old, the arbitration-eligible Cairo was tossed aside for D-Rays' second-baseman-of-the-future Brent Abernathy (now clinging to his major league life having just signed a minor league deal with the Tigers) in 2001. After being released by Tampa Bay, he signed with the A's in January 2001 only to be traded back to the Cubs at the end of spring training for future Billy Koch trade bait and Blue Jays' Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske (damn, Billy Beane is good).

After a strong performance in 66 games with the Cubs in 2001 (.285/.364/.374) he was placed on waivers just after the trading deadline (most likely for some shaky play at third base) and was picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals, where he finished even stronger (.333/.371/.576 in 33 at-bats) while playing his first major league games in left field and at first base (in addition to his established infield haunts). Cairo also tasted the postseason for the first time in 2001, going 1 for 5 in three appearances as the Cardinals fell to the Diamondbacks in an exciting five-game NLDS.

Cairo played six positions for the Cardinals in 2002 (1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, RF) while having a more typical season at the plate. More notably, Cairo had the best three-game stretch of his career in the 2002 playoffs. Filling in for Scott Rolen after Rolen suffered a shoulder injury in a freak basepath collision with the Diamondbacks' Alex Cintron, Cairo hit safely in his first seven at-bats including a two-run home run in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Giants. He picked up two more hits as the Cardinals fell to the Giants in five, finishing the playoffs 9 for 17 (.529) with a double, a homer and five RBIs. One has to wonder if that flash of playoff success got into his head in 2003, as he posted career lows in average (save his two cup-of-coffee seasons) and OPB (.289) while tying his career high in homers (5) in half as many at-bats as it took him in '98 and posting his second highest slugging percentage. Cairo again played six positions for Tony LaRussa, including a 23-game stint as the Cards' starting second baseman after Fernando Vina went down with an injury, which was in-turn halted by Cairo's own injury, a fractured left hand resulting from a hit-by-pitch in a June beanball war with the Brewers.

Okay, so maybe Cairo's defensive resume isn't exactly stellar, he's still gotta be better than Enrique Wilson.

Moving on, as the link at the top of this post states, the Yankees appear to be close to a deal with Kenny Lofton. Distressingly, the reported deal is for two years at $6.5 million. I'd like to think the Yankees would swallow that second year if the opportunity to sign Carlos Beltran presents itself. Lofton could be valuable coming off the bench as a lefty pinch-hitter/pinch-runner. Better yet, if Lofton has a solid 2004, they might be able to trade him next winter. Bernie is said to be willing to move to DH, though his agent, the evil Scott Boras, claims Bernie expects to compete for the center field job in spring training. The best part about the Lofton signing would be the fact that it would move Soriano out of the lead-off spot. The worst part is that it would install Lofton there despite the fact that Derek Jeter had better OBP and isolated discipline numbers than Lofton in 2003. In fact, Jeter has had a better OBP than Lofton in every season since 1999 and has stolen almost as many bases (111 to 130) in that span.

Meanwhile, although the winter meetings started today, Brian Cashman is not in attendance. In fact, there is no Yankee representative in New Orleans. They are the only team not to send someone to the meetings. According to Cashman, "The Boss felt that I could do the work by phone rather than being down in New Orleans. I do what the Boss tells me." (so we've noticed)

Of course that doesn't mean that the Yankee Hot Stove is going to cool down. Rather, in the wake of Pettitte's departure the Yankees are being mentioned in connection with just about every major free agent on the market, including Vladimir Guerrerro, Miguel Tejada (yes!)--to play second or third (no!), Arthur Rhodes, Juan Gonzalez, Jose Guillen . . .

Then there's the first base situation. The Lofton signing would likely squeeze out Scott Spezio, who doesn't seem likely to accept a cut in pay (he made $4.25 million in 2003) or playing time. Cash has said the back-up first base slot is not a priority, which would imply that Rafael Palmeiro and Travis Lee are likely out of the running as well. Brad Fullmer, another name that had come up, signed a one-year $1 million deal with Texas yesterday.

Lastly, here are a pair of articles for those still licking the wounds created by Andy Pettitte's departure. The first is filled with enlightening quotes from Andy himself. The second includes Steinbrenner's statement and some tough words from Brian Cashman. (okay, three links--and yes, this post does link to just about everything on the Yankees official web site)

posted by Cliff at 3:54 PM

Thursday, December 11, 2003

The Yankees' 2004 Rotation 

We still don't know which two minor leaguers are headed to the Dodgers in the Kevin Brown deal, and the deal won't be finalized until Brown waives his no-trade clause (he'd previously said that he would be willing to come to New York), and all of the players involved pass physicals (thankfully), but assuming the deal goes through (the Yankees, who would also be sending $3 million to the Dodgers, have also asked to look over Brown's contract before finalizing the deal), we can get beyond blame-placing, and begin to take stock of today's events by comparing the Yankees 2004 rotation (now essentially complete) with their rotation from 2003.

That said, assuming the Brown deal goes through, and that the Yankees will or have indeed signed David Wells to an incentive-laden minor league deal, the Yankees' 2004 rotation should look like this:

Mike Mussina
Javier Vazquez
Kevin Brown
Jose Contreras
David Wells

Of course, Wells will have to beat off John Lieber (and if he's not a Dodger, Jorge DePaula) for the fifth spot, but I think the odds are in Wells favor (of course, I'm no Will Carroll).

The Yankees' 2003 rotation, was essentially:

Mike Mussina
Andy Pettitte
Roger Clemens
David Wells
Jeff Weaver

Weaver made 24 starts to Contreras's nine in 2003.

There are three primary areas which have brought about the most discussion with regards to the changes in the Yankee rotation this offseason: age, money and left-handedness.

The last is the easiest to deal with. In 2003 the Yankees had two left-handers, Pettitte and Wells. In 2004 they will only have Wells. Left-handed starters are considered a valuable commodity in Yankee Stadium because of the short porch in right field. It's generally thought that left-handed hitters have an advantage in the Stadium, and thus a successful Yankee team needs strong left-handed starters to combat that advantage (see: Guidry, Ford, Gomez, Pennock). But check out Andy Pettitte's splits over the last three years:

vs. Righties .273/.313/.392 (.704)
vs. Lefties .284/.317/.389 (.707)

An even, even slightly reversed split!

Actually, those numbers are deceptive. Andy did have more success against lefties than righties in 2001 (.631 OPS vs. lefties to .734 vs. righties) and 2002 (.663 vs. lefties to .685 vs. righties). Of course you've probably already noticed the deteriorating difference between those two seasons, but check out what happened in 2003:

vs. Righties .254/.294/.393 (.687)
vs. Lefties .321/.354/.429 (.783)

That's a staggering split. Particularly the .321 BAA vs. lefties. What's worse is the fact that those statistics are less flukey than they are the continuation of a trend.

What all of this goes to prove is that complaining about losing Andy Pettitte because Andy is a left-hander (something I'm plenty guilty of myself) is misguided. The Futility Infielder's Jay Jaffe has already shown us that the pool of available lefty starters this offseason was shallow at best (Wilson Alvarez, Glendon Rusch, Kenny Rodgers, Sterling Hitchcock, Darren Oliver, Brian Anderson, John Halama). In that context the Yankees gamble on Wells seems all the more worthwhile, as Wells splits over the last three years show a greater effectiveness against lefties than Pettitte's:

vs. Righties .291/.316/.443 (.759)
vs. Lefties .236/.283/.390 (.673)

Curiously, Wells's last three seasons have also seen a trend toward a reverse split, but one far less extreme than Pettitte's:

2001: .584 vs. lefties, .855 vs. righties
2002: .616 vs. lefties, .734 vs. righties
2003: .778 vs. lefties, .737 vs. righties

Wells' reverse split in 2003 is largely the result of slugging:

Righties: .290/.304/.433 (.737)
Lefties: .274/.305/.473 (.778)

And thus is less alarming than Andy's across-the-board reverse-split.

For what it's worth, I took a look at the splits for the Yankees' pitchers as a whole in these three seasons, but did not detect a similar trend. With the exception of a ten-point advantage in batting average, lefty opponents had almost identical success against Yankee pitchers in 2001 and 2003, and in 2002 they had significantly less success across the board.

I think it is thus fair to say that the issue of left-handedness, in terms of the changes in the Yankees rotation this offseason, is irrelevant.

Now for age. Here are the ages of the two rotations I outlined above as of July 1 of their respective seasons.

Clemens - 40
Wells - 40
Mussina - 34
Pettitte - 31
Weaver - 26
average age: 34.2

Wells - 41
Brown - 39
Mussina - 35
Contreras - 32
Vazquez - 27
average age: 34.8

Given that with no change the rotation would have naturally aged one year, a 0.6 increase can actually be seen as better than no change. More to the point, while the Yankee rotation certainly had an opportunity to get younger (instead of the 39-year-old Brown they could have resigned 32-year-old Pettitte, or signed 31-year-old Bartolo Colon, 29-year-old Kevin Millwood, or 28-year-old Kelvim Escobar, among others), it has not gotten older. What's more, should Wells back crap out again, the rotation is sure to get younger as any replacement for Wells would bring down the average age of the rotation. Such a possibility sheds light on the fact that the average age of the rotation doesn't tell the whole story. Rather it's the quality of it's youngest members. By replacing Weaver with Javier Vazquez (who is less than a month older) the Yankees have actually taken a rather significant step in the process of reducing the age of their rotation.

The financial issue is more complicated. Again, we'll take a look at both rotations, this time with each members salary for the given year, and the total guaranteed amount remaining on their contracts beyond that season (amounts in millions). The one difference here is that Jose Contreras will be added to 2003 and John Lieber to both years.

Clemens: $10.1 (deferred to 2004-2014)
Wells: $3.0 (plus incentives); $1 million buyout for 2004
Mussina: $10.0; $48.0 over three years plus $1.5 buyout for 2007
Pettitte: $11.5
Weaver: $4.1; $15.5 over two years
Contreras: $6; $26 over three years
Lieber: $0.8; $2.45 for 2004 plus $0.25 buyout for 2005
totals: $35.4 (not including Clemens or Wells' incentives); $104.8 million guaranteed after 2003

Wells: $3.0 (plus incentives) [assuming the same deal as 2003]
Brown: $15; $15 in 2005
Mussina: $14; $34.0 over two years plus $1.5 buyout for 2007
Contreras: $9; $17 over two years (figures include signing bonus payouts)
Vazquez: $6
Lieber: $2.45; $0.25 buyout for 2005
totals: $47 (not including Wells' incentives); $76.75 million guaranteed after 2004 (including an estimated $9 million to Clemens)

One could also add the $3 million paid to the Dodgers to the 2004 salary, pushing it to $51 million. Despite all of this, one thing remains constant, the current crop of Yankee starters have almost $30 million less guaranteed to them over future seasons than last year's bunch. Of course, almost all of that is the result of the passage of time and the $25.45 million being paid Mussina, Contreras and Lieber in 2004 being subtracted from the future totals. That said, that $25-$30 million is money that can be put toward a new contract for Vazquez. Meanwhile here's what the younger alternatives I listed earlier will cost their new teams in 2004 and beyond (again totals in millions):

Colon: $51 over four years
Pettitte: $31.5 over three years ($5.5 in 2004, $26 over the next two years)
Escobar: $18.75 over three years

Millwood is likely to accept arbitration from the Phillies. He made $9.9 million in 2003.

The Brown trade cost the Yankees $17.5 million ($30 million owed Brown plus $3 million to the Dodgers, minus $15.5 owed Weaver), almost the three-year total of Escobar's contract, and significantly more than the annual salary of Colon's new deal, or of the larger contract the Yankees offered Pettitte, or of Curt Schilling's extension with the Red Sox, or than Millwood will get in 2004. That figure is also more than the difference between the 2003 and 2004 rotation payrolls.

Clearly, the financial argument holds the most water. But the Yankees will get their money's worth if Kevin Brown stays healthy throughout his two seasons in the Bronx. Brown was fourth in the majors in ERA+ in both 2003 and 2000 and ranked in the top six in his league in that category in each of the five seasons before that. With the Yankees' run support a healthy Kevin Brown is a lock to win 20 games. The problem is that 2003 and 2000 were his last two full seasons. More on that in A Brief History of Kevin Brown (hopefully tomorrow).

Lastly, the one issue that never seems to come up when the Yankees make a move that isn't pre-approved by their fans, is quality. As Rob Neyer points out, if everyone stays healthy, the Yankees 2004 rotation will be better than the 2003 version. Wells and Mussina replace themselves. Contreras should easily be able to outperform Weaver's 2003, and has the potential to do so by a wide margin. As for Brown and Vazquez, as Neyer points out, they pitched a combined 442 innings in 2003 with ERA+s of 169 and 153, respectively. Clemens and Pettitte in 2003 pitched 420 innings with ERA+s of 112 and 109, respectively. Which means that both Brown and Vazquez could experience drop-offs in performance and still be an improvement over Clemens and Pettitte.

That said, I think I've finally accepted the Vazquez/Johnson trade as a good thing, but it will be a long time before I'm comfortable with the image of Andy Pettitte in another uniform.

posted by Cliff at 7:15 PM

Yanks react 

Just hours after Andy Pettitte sported an Astros cap at the team's news conference, the Yankees have agreed to a deal that will send Jeff Weaver and two minor leaguers (the Yankees still have minor leaguers?) to the Dodgers for 38-year-old righty Kevin Brown.

More on today's developments along with a Brief History of Kevin Brown later tonight (hopefully).

posted by Cliff at 4:40 PM

Bad Andy 

The Houston Astros have called a mid-day press conference to announce the signing of Andy Pettitte to a three-year contract.

I'll comment later, when the swelling goes down in my hand.

posted by Cliff at 10:38 AM

Wednesday, December 10, 2003


Not long after I posted my massive State of the Nation post, the Yankees re-signed Ruben Sierra to a one-year $1 million deal. Around that time I also came to the realization that (pre-emptive asterisk ->) *outfielders Karim Garcia and David Dellucci fall under a separate arbitration category (frankly I’m still trying to sort this all out). They, along with Alfonso Soriano, are among the group of players who must be offered contracts by December 20 (see side-bar).

What all of this means is that the Yankee bench is more or less set (they could still use, and will likely acquire, someone to spell Giambi at first--more on that bellow) and is also more or less the same as it was at the conclusion of last year:

C: John Flaherty (R - contract still to be announced, was offered arbitration)
IF: Enrique Wilson (S), Erick Almonte (R)
OF: Ruben Sierra (S), Karim Garcia (L)*, David Dellucci (L)*

The only real difference here is that last year Garcia and the departed Juan Rivera were the Yankees’ starting platoon in right field. As the Yanks should sign a big-name rightfielder for 2004, Garcia will become a full-time bench player.

Speaking of that big-name rightfielder, the Gary Sheffield situation is turning into a mess, or so the media have been led to believe. Sheffield is supposedly asking for more money, playing off the Boss’s fears of A-Rod landing in Boston. Some believe these and similar rumors to be a media ploy to convince the Braves and MLB that a deal was not reached prior to Sunday’s arbitration deadline. The Braves aren’t buying it and are filing a grievance, requesting draft-pick compensation for Sheffield despite not offering him arbitration. Meanwhile, local columnists, bloggers and readers are encouraging the Yankees to take this opportunity to shift their attention, and Sheffield’s $39 million offer, to Vladimir Guerrero. To further complicate things, conspiracy theorists (and I don’t necessarily mean that as a derogatory term) are positing that Guerrero will wind up an Oriole as a bribe to get Peter Angelos to drop his fight against a potential move of the Expos to Washington, DC.

As for centerfield, it’s beginning to look like Mike Cameron will land in Oakland (see previous link), as he’s become Billy Beane’s pet acquisition this offseason. Meanwhile, the Padres are trying to lure Kenny Lofton to San Diego, though they admit they won’t be able to beat out a determined Yankee front office.

I still say the Yankees should go with Derek Jeter in center and Miguel Tejada at short. If the blogging and sabermetric communities had any influence in Tampa, the Yankees would be looking at three positions that are in flux: shortstop, centerfield and third base. Between this and next season here is an off-the-cuff list of elite players available at each position:

Miguel Tejada: available for 2004, excellent glove, strong bat, free-agent available at a reasonable price for an elite player under 30.
Alex Rodriguez: available for 2004 or 2005, gold glove, best hitting SS in the game (maybe ever), comes with that contract, requires significant talent in return via trade, could be traded to the Red Sox eliminating his availability.
Nomar Garciaparra: available for 2005 (or sooner via an extremely unlikely intra-rivalry trade if A-Rod goes to Boston), weaker fielder than the other two, better hitter than Tejada, also the oldest of all four shortstops (including Jeter), could very well be given an extension by the Red Sox or traded and signed by his new team before becoming a free agent. Will demand more, if not significantly more money than Tejada.

Mike Cameron: available for 2004, tremendous glove, decent bat hoping for a boost outside of Safeco, same age as Garciaparra (30), could be headed to A’s.
Kenny Lofton: available for 2004, glove just a memory, unpredictable bat, would be a 36-year-old stopgap at best.
Carlos Beltran: available for 2005, good glove, great bat, one of the best young players in the game, could be the best at the position in his prime if he’s not already, chance of a contract extension with the Royals slim-to-none.

Third Base:
Aaron Boone: signed for 2004, good glove, questionable bat, same age as Garciaparra and Cameron (30).
Eric Chavez: available for 2005, tremendous glove, strong bat, chance of a contract extension with the A’s slim-to-none.
Troy Glaus: available for 2005, good glove, strong bat displaying disturbing decline at a young age, could very well resign with the suddenly pitching-rich Angels.

So the Yankees best chance to acquire a shortstop good enough to replace Jeter but cheap enough to allow the acquisition of another elite free agent for third or center is right now with Tejada. With Tejada at short the Yankees can court both Chavez and Beltran for 2005 but only need to sign one of them because Jeter can fill the other position. Without signing Tejada the Yankees eliminate their best chance to improve their infield defense for the forseable future and put themselves in a position to “need” either both Chavez and Beltran for 2005, or (assuming a long-term contract with Cameron) put all their eggs in their third-base basket.

Of course there is a snowball’s chance in hell of the Yankees taking my advice here. So, moving on, after Cameron and Lofton the centerfield pool consists of Carl Everett (who is being courted by the Devil Rays—Lou + Carl = Fun!), Jose Cruz Jr., and . . . uh, Doug Glanville? Now you know why the Yankees have been on about Lofton. If Kenny goes to San Diego, look for the Yanks to install Bernie or Matsui in center and shift focus to a LF/DH type.

My plan B (Tejada being plan A) would be to put Matsui in center, Bernie in left and a give a one-year deal to Rafael Palmeiro who could then alternate with Giambi between first and DH. Plan C would be a three-way platoon of righty-killer Karim Garcia, lefty-killer Eric Karros (on a one-year deal), and Giambi, with Giambi at DH and Karros at first against lefthanders and Garcia at DH and Giambi at first against righties. Of course, both Palmeiro and Karros will have to take big paycuts, but that seems likely for them regarless. Any thought of Alfonso Soriano moving to center should have been quashed by the Mets signing of Kazuo Matsui.

My logic here is that, since the Yankees need someone to rest Giambi at first they might as well kill two birds with one stone. Furthermore, as I’ve argued before, a well-preserved Bernie at DH is a great hitter, but putting Bernie’s battered carcass in the field will cost you offense. Basically, Bernie in the field could turn into Kenny Lofton. That said, on their own someone off the list of Scott Spezio, Brad Fullmer, Travis Lee and/or Ruben Sierra will not be able to replace what Bernie should be able to provide as a DH.

Having said all that, despite the Padres’ interest Lofton remains the man most likely to play center for the Yankees in 2004.

On the pitching front, there’s been no official word on the Gabe White contract yet, but the Yankees did offer him arbitration. Meanwhile, the Yankees and David Wells appear to have agreed on a minor league deal as expected [by the way, dig the giant picture of Vlad, whose name appears no where in that article]. The contract would include performance and conditioning (read: weight) incentives, and would ultimately resemble Wells contract from last year should the various incentives be fulfilled.

Lastly, I’m completely freaked out about Andy Pettitte. I’ve been getting an Astros vibe with regards to him recently, and in Buster Only’s latest, he reports that one Yankee official places the odds of Andy returning to the Bronx at "slightly less than 50-50." Indeed, this Newsday article describes Andy as "perturbed" and "upset" with the Yankees for a number of reasons. Meanwhile, Bartolo Colon has signed with the Angels and Kevin Millwood appears to be likely to accept the Phillies offer of arbitration, and the Dodgers want a bat in return for Kevin Brown. All of which has thrown the Yankees’ ability to acquire a second front-of-the-rotation starter in doubt. More on that as things develop.

posted by Cliff at 10:04 AM

Sunday, December 07, 2003

State of the Nation 

Today, Sunday December 7, is the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their eligible players. December 7 has been a much anticipated date, as it has been assumed that many teams have been waiting to see who will be non-tendered before they set the market on many of the big-name free agents available this offseason. Teams have also been waiting to see which existing free agents will be offered arbitration by their former teams, thus requiring any new team that signs them to relinquish compensatory draft picks to the team offering them arbitration. This is one reason why the majority of free-agent signings thus far this offseason have been of players resigning with their 2003 club.

Of course, the Yankees have taken a novel approach to this, by reaching agreements with Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill and, by most accounts (including his own), Gary Sheffield, but not announcing them officially in the hopes that the White Sox, Dodgers, and Braves, respectively will be fooled into not offering those players arbitration. The have also signed one-year deals with arbitration-eligible Enrique Wilson and Aaron Boone, and resigned free agents Felix Heredia and John Flaherty--the latter two signings being overshadowed by Thursday's blockbuster trade that sent Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and Randy Choate to the Expos for their ace starter Javier Vazquez.

At any rate, in light of that recent spate of activity, today's deadline, and the fact that I will be out of commission for the next two days, I figured now would be a good time to take yet another look at the state of the Yankees offseason and their outlook for opening day 2004. Although such matters have clearly been this blog's primary concern since the last out of the World Series, I refer you to two previous posts in particular as reference points for the course of this offseason. The first was written in the wake of the Yankees World Series loss to the Marlins, as I lit the hot stove by giving my quick impressions on what might, could and should be done this offseason. The second is from just under two weeks ago, and marked the creation of BRB's Official 2004 Yankee Dream Team, presenting what I felt to be the ideal starting line-up and bench for the 2004 Yankees. Those results remain posted on the side bar. I never got to Dream Team pitchers, but if you had asked me prior to any of this offseason's transactions, I probably would have come up with a rotation of Pettitte, Mussina, Contreras, Kelvim Escobar, and the winner of a Weaver/Lieber/DePaula spring training competition, and a bullpen of Rivera, LaTroy Hawkins, Ricardo Rincon, Karsay, White or Heredia, and the second place finisher of that Weaver/Lieber/DePaula competition. Of course, much of what I argued for in those and many other posts has been made moot by the transactions of the past week or so (including the signings of Escobar with the Anaheim Angels and Hawkins with the Chicago Cubs), so I thought I'd update my outlook. This time I figured we'd start with the pitching.

Starting Rotation:

The Yankee rotation currently looks like this:

Mike Mussina (R)
Javier Vazquez (R)
Jose Contreras (R)
Jeff Weaver (R)
John Lieber/Jorge DePaula (R/R)

The Yankees have been pretty clear in their intentions to acquire two front-of-the-rotation starters this offseason. Javier Vazquez was the first. The second should be Andy Pettitte, though there are those who believe that, mentally, he is closer to signing with the Astros than he has ever been (no thanks to the Rocket). I'm still in a close-my-eyes-and-hope-for-the-best mode with regards to Andy, though I do feel as if the Yankees grip on his has loosened. From the many articles I've read, it appears as if his family would very much like for him to sign with Houston, and that the Astros saying and doing all the right things in concert with that. That said, I think this remains a two-team competition. Boston and Philadelphia made some noise, but both have found their men in Curt Schilling and Eric Milton. The Braves have been mentioned as the third wheel as of late, but Andy's going to go with his heart, either home to Texas, or with his teammates in New York.

What would it mean to the Yankees for Pettitte to sign somewhere else? Well other than losing an even more beloved home-grown talent than Nick Johnson, an established post-season hero and a 31-year-old All-Star horse, it would mean losing out on a pitcher who is by far the best lefthander available this offseason. Take another look at the Yankee rotation as it stands listed above. Notice that it is entirely right handed, down to the alternate fifth starter. Not a good thing for a team that plays in Yankee Stadium with that short porch in right tempting every lefty with a little pop in his bat. At the end of last week, The Futility Infielder's Jay Jaffe put together an outstanding post on the thus-far available pitchers this offseason. One of the most striking things about the data he presented is that the pool of available lefties is very, very shallow. After Andy you're looking at Glendon Rusch, Sterling Hitchcock, Darren Oliver, Wilson Alvarez (22 games started since 1999), 39-year-old Kenny "Ed Whitson '96" Rogers, and 41-year-old Chuck "Stats from 2002" Finley. Odalis Perez might be available via trade, but the Yankees have nothing left to give. Outside of those slim pickings there's one lefty starter out there who had a 5.1 K/BB ratio over 213 innings in 2003: David Wells. Wells is also 40-years-old and just surgery last week on the back that very well might have cost the Yankees the World Series. Still, in light of the alternatives, the incentive-heavy minor-league deal the Yanks are likely to offer Wells, who had back surgery just last week, seems like sound baseball move. But even will a relatively healthy Wells (relatively healthy is a best-case scenario for Boomer, I'd imagine), they Yankees still need to bring back Andy.

Should they sign both Pettitte and Wells, the Yankee rotation will look like this:

Andy Pettitte (L)
Mike Mussina (R)
Javier Vazquez (R)
Jose Contreras (R)
David Wells (L)

With Weaver, Lieber and DePaula waiting in the wings (or the pen) ready to fill any injury gaps. Not bad at all. Especially as it shapes up to keep Wells out of the potential post-season rotation to avoid a repeat of Game 5 in Miami.


As stated above, the Yankees have signed righty free agents Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill to two-year contracts in the $7 million range, and resigned lefty Felix Heredia to a two-year, $3.5 million contract with a team option for 2006. That means that the Yankee pen currently looks like this:

Mariano Rivera (R)
Tom Gordon (R)
Paul Quantrill (R)
Felix Heredia (L)
Reverse-Split-Lefty Chris Hammond (L)
Steve Karsay (R)*

Karsay gets an asterisk because he is not guaranteed to be ready for spring training, or to make the opening day roster, as his rehabilitation from shoulder bursitis is progressing steadily but slowly. You can also include a right-handed long man from among the Weaver/Lieber/DePaula group.

Word has it that the Yankees are looking to trade reverse-split-lefty Chris Hammond and very close to resigning Gabe White. I think they should have focused instead Ricardo Rincon. Rincon is almost two years older than White, but has proven to be a much more effective lefty killer, having held lefties to a .556 OPS (.189 GPA) over the past three years (.634/.218 against all batters in those three years) compared to .688 (.230) for White (.763/.252 overall) and .752 (.249) for Heredia (.753/.254). In fact, looking at those numbers, Rincon has had greater success against batters of all kinds over the past three years than White or Heredia has had against lefties. What's more, Felix Heredia appears to have no particular advantage against lefty batters at all as his lefty splits essentially replicate his overall numbers (note that both Rincon and Heredia, though used primarily as LOOGies, have both faced more right-handed than left handed batters over the period of time being discussed).

Nonetheless, the bullpen looks to be pretty set. Subbing in White for Hammond and factoring in the changes in the rotation we're looking at something like this

Rivera (R)
Gordon (R)
Quantrill (R)
White (L)
Heredia (L)
Weaver/Lieber/DePaula (R)
Karasy (R)*

No doubt a huge improvement on last year's early-season bullpen of Rivera, Hammond, Antonio Osuna, Juan Acevado, Jason Anderson, Sterling Hitchcock and an injured Jose Contreras.


Thursday's blockbuster trade for Javier Vazquez overshadowed the same-day resigning of Felix Heredia. It also overshadowed the still-unofficial resigning of backup catcher John Flaherty to a one-year deal worth $775,000, reportedly finalized the same day. The resigning of Flaherty and futility infielder Enrique Wilson along with the inclusion of no-longer-rookie-outfielder Juan Rivera in the Vazquez deal has wreaked havoc upon the BRB's Official Dream Team bench. Just to put the final nail in its coffin, Official BRB backup catcher Todd Pratt resigned with the Phillies today for one year at $875,000. All of which leaves the Yankee bench looking something like this:

C: John Flaherty (R)
IF: Enrique Wilson (S), Erick Almonte (R)
OF: Karim Garcia (L)*, David Dellucci (L)*
1B: Fernando Seguignol (S)

Garcia and Dellucci earn asterisks because they are both arbitration eligible and could very well be non-tendered (though I don't expect either to be). Seguignol was the International League MVP in 2003 and has 366 major league at-bats under his belt, but word is that the Yankees are looking to sign an established major leaguer as a back-up firstbaseman spell Giambi in the wake of Johnson's departure. Former Angels Scott Spezio (who earned $4.25 million last year) and Brad "Roid Rage" Fullmer (who missed half of 2003 with a ruptured patella tendon), and Devil Ray cast-off Travis Lee have been among the names mentioned. Of the other players listed above, only Garcia has ever played first base in the majors, and that was for three innings over two games in 2001. If Dellucci is non-tendered the Yankees will likely need another back-up outfielder who can play center, although Hideki Matsui played 46 games there in 2003, filling in admirably for Bernie Williams, and was frequently mentioned as a stop-gap solution in center earlier this offseason. If both Garcia and Dellucci are retained, it would be helpful to have another righthanded bat on the bench. Of the three firstbasemen mentioned above, Lee and Fullmer are lefties, Spezio is a switch hitter who was rather useless from the right side in 2001 and 2003 (in 2002 he hit .368/.448./.539 from the right side--as John Sterling says, "you figure this game out"). Spezio can also play third base and is probably the best option of the three if he can be convinced to take a major pay cut (Fullmer earned $1 million in 2003, Lee $500,000).


This brings us back to the starting nine. With Nick the Stick gone, there is a significant hole in the Yankees 2004 line-up. Assuming the acquisition of Sheffield, the Yankees' defensive alignment for 2004 looks like this:

1B: Jason Giambi
2B: Alfonso Soriano
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Aaron Boone
C: Jorge Posada
RF: Gary Sheffield
CF: ?
LF: Hideki Matsui
DH: Bernie Williams.

The hole exists in center as opposed to at DH because one of the objectives of trading Nick Johnson was allowing Bernie to become the full-time designated hitter. I've been all over the comments pages of Alex Belth's Bronx Banter recently discussing this, among many other issues. For those who have not been keeping up with Alex's blog and the comments (which is your bad, as Bronx Banter is essential reading, and the reader comments there add some fantastic discussion), the explanation for the move is not Bernie's diminishing defensive skills, but his chronic shoulder and knee injuries. Playing Bernie at DH simply allows him to rest his body in between at-bats so that he can do what he does best: Hit. A healthy Bernie Williams at the plate is far more valuable than a 35-year-old Bernie Williams playing at 85 percent in the field and bringing his resulting aches a pains into the batters box.

In our discussions, Alex expressed concern over Bernie's ability to perform as a full-time DH--which is always an issue for a player used to playing nine innings in the field every day--but I don't think Bernie's the type to stew over each at-bat while sitting on the bench, to overthink his approach and allow slumps to fester. Rather, Bernie seems to slump primarily because of wear and tear, and when not on the field I imagine he'll chat with the bench guys, retire to the clubhouse to noodle around on his guitar, or simply day dream, as he's so often describes as doing.

I envision this as a new stage in Bernie's career, comparable to that begun by Paul Molitor once the Brewers made him a full-time DH in 1991. With the exception of his spectacular 1987 campaign, in which he set career highs in average, OBP and slugging and posted a 1.003 OPS, Molitor's best single-season OPS prior to becoming a full-time DH in 1991 was .842 in his sophomore season in 1979. Beginning in 1991 Molitor's OPS totals over the next four seasons were .888, .851, .911 and .927. He then suffered an off year before posting a last-gasp .858 while setting career highs in hits and RBIs and collecting his 3,000th hit at age 39 in his first season as a Minnesota Twin in 1996. Molitor, a three-time All-Star prior to 1991, made the All-Star game each of his first four seasons as a full-time DH, won his only World Series Championship in 1993 with the Blue Jays and retired ninth on the all-time hit list and a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Perhaps most importantly, the oft-injured Molitor's top-five games-played totals were recorded in 1996, 1993, 1982, 1992 and 1991.

So, Bernie is the DH and the hole is in center. In my last post, I suggested that the Yankees owed it to their fans to fill the hole created by Johnson by going out and signing Mike Cameron, a spectacular defensive center fielder who will likely see a surge in his offensive numbers once set free from Safeco Park. Meanwhile, rumors have circulated since before the Vazquez trade that the Yankees are interested in, and may even be close to signing Kenny Lofton to play center. On the face of it, replacing 25-year-old future-star Nick Johnson with 36-year-old star-of-yester-year Lofton sounds like a horrendous move, but Larry Mahnken of the Replacement Level Yankee Weblog made an excellent point in his extremely clearheaded reaction to the Vazquez trade. Quoth Larry:

Mike Cameron would have to be signed to a multiyear contract to come to New York, while Lofton will only be in pinstripes one season. That opens the way towards pursuing prospective free agent Carlos Beltran next offseason, who will be the ballhawk and hitter the Yankees want.

I ran with Larry's suggestion in the Bronx Banter comments with the following:

Give a one year-contract to Lofton and a Spezio type guy and you'll get Bernie and Giambi sufficient rest and hopefully never have to play Lofton and the backup first sacker at the same time (it'll either be Bernie in center, Giambi DH, backup 1B or Lofton in center, Bernie DH, Giambi 1B), a sort of rotating platoon in the eight or nine hole in the order (near Boone & Matsui).

That sounds good, but it's all dependent on the Yankees ability to sign Beltran prior to 2005. Still, it seems a risk worth taking. Beltran, in addition to being four years younger than Cameron, is already a far superior hitter. The raw number may seem misleading, as Cameron plays in an extreme pitchers park and Beltran in an even more extreme hitters park, but a look at equivalent averages reveals that Beltran still leads Cameron by a good shot, .310 (third best in the majors among full-time centerfielders) to .278. In fact, Cameron's EqA for 2003 was actually worse then Kenny Lofton's (.280).

There are two other options. One would have them move Alfonso Soriano into center, as they was rumored early this offseason. This would shift the hole to second base. However, with Luis Castillo resigned by the Marlins and Kazuo Matsui very close to signing elsewhere as a shortstop (perhaps with the crosstown Mets), the available options at second base are far less attractive than those in center field. The second, which is extremely unlikely, but might actually be the best of the bunch, would be to shift Derek Jeter to center and sign Miguel Tejada to play shortstop. Tejada has reportedly been offered a three-year deal by the Seattle Mariners at an annual salary of around $8 million. That leads me to believe that the Yankees could sign Tejada for something in the area of four or five years at $10 million and shift Jeter to third base in 2005 after Aaron Boone's current one-year deal expires, then bring in Beltran to play center as planned. Such a move would sure up the Yankees infield defense and set up a 2005 line-up that would cause Yankee-haters to spontaneously combust:

Beltran (S)
Jeter (R)
Giambi (L)
Sheffield (R)
Williams (S)
Soriano (R)
Posada (S)
Tejada (R)
Matsui (L)

With the Tejada plan your 2004 Yankee line-up would look like this:

Jeter (R)
Williams (S)
Sheffield (R)
Giambi (L)
Posada (S)
Soriano (R)
Tejada (R)
Matsui (L)
Boone (R)

Of course the Lofton scenario is the most likely. My biggest concern there is that Torre will be tempted to use Lofton as his lead-off hitter. I'd much prefer to see him hit second if not lower.

Jeter (R)
Lofton (L)
Sheffield (R)
Giambi (L)
Williams (S)
Soriano (R)
Posada (S)
Boone (R)
Matsui (L)

I've got Matsui hitting ahead of Boone here to throw off matchups and to help prevent double plays. Godzilla batting after Posada is a recipe for a twin killing.


Using dreamworld Tejada plan, my choice of lefty reliever, and allowing for a little bleed over the 25-man limitation (I've got 27 players in 26 spots plus two due off the DL), here is the current best-case scenario outlook for the 2004 Yankee roster (current non-Yankees in bold):

1B: Jason Giambi
2B: Alfonso Soriano
SS: Miguel Tejada
3B: Aaron Boone
C: Jorge Posada
RF: Gary Sheffield
CF: Derek Jeter
LF: Hideki Matsui
DH: Bernie Williams

Bench: John Flaherty, Enrique Wilson, Erick Almonte, Karim Garcia, David Dellucci, Scott Spezio

Andy Pettitte (L)
Mike Mussina (R)
Javier Vazquez (R)
Jose Contreras (R)
David Wells (L)

Mariano Rivera (R)
Tom Gordon (R)
Paul Quantrill (R)
Ricardo Rincon (L)
Felix Heredia (L)
Jeff Weaver/Jorge DePaula (R)

Injury rehab: John Lieber (R), Steve Karasy (R)


PS: Thanks to Alex Belth, Jay Jaffe, Seth Stohs and Pete over at Baseball News Blog for the various links over the past week.

posted by Cliff at 11:18 PM

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