Wednesday, December 08, 2004

. . . and the unhappy day after 

In the comments to my previous post, James asked me if Jaret Wright at $5 million per year for three years was a justifiable risk. Here's my answer again for those who missed it:
$5 million per, sure. 3 years? Dunno. The upside to that is that Wright is just shy of 29, the downside is that if he lets that lightning out of the bottle, he'll be a real drag.

Honestly, I don't think there is a tremendous difference between Wright and Mr. Wonderful Carl Pavano. They were born ten days apart. Wright hit the bigs at age 21, Pavano at age 22. Both were hyped prospects who never delivered, due in large part to injury. They have made a similar number of starts over their careers [128 for Wright, 149 for Pavano]. Both have pitched in the World Series. And, most importantly, both have had just one season that was solidly above average, that coming in 2004.

The difference is that Pavano has better control, but Wright has a superior strikeout rate. Wright's strong showing with the Braves seems to stem from his dropping his walk rate, so there is something in his numbers to back up his 2004 season. That doesn't exist for Pavano.

$5 million per for 3 years for Wright? Yes, I think that's a fair price and a justifiable risk.

I think James knew something, because when I woke up this morning I found out that the Yankees had signed Wright to a three year contract. The catch being that they're paying him $7 million per year, or forty percent more than the amount James had queried me about. That's a significant difference, one large enough to change my answer to his question.

To make it worse, Jon Lieber--whom the Yankees did offer arbitration, as expected--signed an identical deal (at least in terms of length and total dollars) with the Phillies today.

When the Yankees declined Lieber's $8 million option for 2005 back in early November I approved of the move, writing:
This was a tougher call as Lieber was the team's second best starter down the stretch and in the playoffs and seemed to have the Red Sox's number in September and October. The Yankees opted to buy out Lieber, leaving themselves open to the possibility of resigning him to a multi-year deal at a lower annual salary. Considering the glut of number two and three starters on the free agent market this offseason, most of whom are younger than Lieber (who will turn 35 in early April), I have to agree with this move as well.

Then, on November 22, Omar Minaya and the Mets signed Kris Benson to a three year, $22.5 million contract with a $7.5 million/$500,000 option for 2008, giving the contract a potential worth of $29.5 million over four years. That contract blew the starting pitching market wide open. Prior to the Benson deal, the only free agent starter to sign for 2005 was Cory Lidle, who re-upped with the Phillies for $6.3 million over two years (not counting performance bonuses).

The Yankees had hoped to resign Lieber for two years at $6 million per. Measured against the Lidle contract that was a fair price (just shy of twice what Lidle, who's 2004 salary was identical to Lieber's, was making over the same period). Measured against the Benson contract, it wasn't even close. Consider that both Lieber and Benson have missed siginifcant time due to injury in the past few years. Then consider their performances in 2004:

Lieber: 4.33 (104 ERA+), 176 2/3 IP, 216 H, 18 BB, 1.32 WHIP, 5.20 K/9, 0.92 BB/9, 20 HR
Benson: 4.31 ( 94 ERA+), 200 1/3 IP, 202 H, 61 BB, 1.31 WHIP, 6.02 K/9, 2.74 BB/9, 15 HR

Benson, being four and a half years younger, gets the option year.

Quothe Philadelphia GM Ed Wade: "Jon and his agent acknowledged that the thing that separated us from the pack [read: Yankees] was our willingness to do three guaranteed years. If you look at the numbers out there, you get a gauge that $7 million a year is pretty much marketplace, and it was a question of who was willing to step up and offer it."

Quothe an unnamed Yankee official: "We should have been able to get Lieber at two years, $12 million, but Benson's deal killed that. The Benson deal was the worst thing that could have happened to this pitching market."

What's troubling is that the Yankees weren't willing to go $21/3 with Lieber, but then handed the exact same deal to Wright. It's not troubling based on 2004's numbers:

Lieber: 4.33 (104 ERA+), 176 2/3 IP, 216 H, 18 BB, 1.32 WHIP, 5.20 K/9, 0.92 BB/9, 20 HR
Wright: 3.28 (131 ERA+), 186 1/3 IP, 168 H, 70 BB, 1.28 WHIP, 7.68 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, 11 HR

But rather on the relative abilities of the two pitchers to repeat that performance. Lieber spent six years as a reliable starter for the Pirates and Cubs before Tommy John surgery wiped out his 2003 season. He's never posted a K/BB ratio below 3.10 and steadily improved in 2004 as he regained his strength, completing his recovery from the surgery. Wright, on the other hand, started more than 16 games just twice in his career prior to 2004, those coming in 1998 and 1999. His 2.27 K/BB ratio in 2004 was easily the best of his career as he'd not previously surpassed 1.80 in any single season. What's more, Lieber proved last year that he could handle the heat of not only by pitching in New York, but of a Yankee postseason as well. Wright, meanwhile, has his fair share of postseason experience, but a dreadful 7.24 ERA (including a 9.31 ERA in a pair of NLDS loses to Houston last year) to show for it.

This is not to say that Wright can't or won't succeed as a Yankee. Certainly, if he's able to keep his walks and home runs down as he did last year, he has a very good chance to repeat what he did this past season. It's just that his 2004 campaign under the watchful eye of pitching guru Leo Mazzone is largely without precedent in his eight year major league career, and the idea of him repeating or even improving upon that season is completely without precedent. Meanwhile, based on past history, Lieber was just getting up to speed in '04 and would have been as close to a lock as the Yankees could have had to repeat or improve in 2005.

Ah, but so it goes. The good news is that the Yankees, for the moment at least, now have two men in their rotation who still have a full season to go before turning 30. I'm disappointed, but am willing to give Wright the benefit of the doubt for now. It's just that the Yankees, as Steve Goldman and Jay Jaffe have been telling me (and you) since October, have reached the upper limits of their payroll potential and are suddenly pinching pennies and bargain hunting (something I didn't fully believe until yesterday). With that in mind, if two comparable pitchers are available at the same price, wouldn't it be a wiser financial decision to give the money to the one who represents less risk in terms of future performance? I'd think so.

The Lieber episode was my first hint that Mr. Goldman was on to something (certainly the Yankees of past years would have picked up his option without blinking), but what utterly convinced me was the decision the Yankees made yesterday about their opening at second base.

In anticipating the Yankees' arbitration decisions on Tuesday, I wrote, "I think it is safe to assume that the Yankees will offer arbitration to Lieber, [Orlando] Hernandez and [Miguel] Cairo, all of whom they've been actively trying to re-sign." Indeed, they did offer arbitration to Lieber (so they've at least got a draft pick coming their way to replace the one they'll lose for signing Wright) and Hernandez, but to my surprise, they did not offer it to Cairo.

The Yankees had indeed been trying to re-sign Miguel, but apparently were only willing to go as high as $1.5 million in annual salary for a player who was not a lock to be their starting second baseman for the duration of 2005. That makes perfect sense. This past season Cairo was sub-par defensively (posting a 93 Rate at second base), and had what in all likelihood was a career year at the plate, which simply raised his production to league average. The Yankees were rightfully envisioning him as a futility infielder who would have to prove himself all over again in order to get the starting job at second. All of that is just fine until you look at the player they signed to replace him, a player they do envision as their starting second baseman: Tony Womack.

Tony Womack is a terrible baseball player no matter how you look at him. Defense? How about a career 95 Rate at second base and a 90 Rate in 2004. Offense? How about a career 75 OPS+, a .408 offensive winning percentage, and 51 runs below average at his position over the course of his career. Yes he can steal bases (335 in his career and 26 last year, both at an 83 percent clip), but the ability to steal a base is the least essential skill a baseball player can have. Tony Womack is a car with no engine but really nice rims.

Last year Womack had a career year of his own with personal bests in all three of the major rate categories. The end result? A below average .253 GPA (93 OPS+). Let's compare the career years of the man the Yankees wouldn't give more than $1.5 million per year and the man they did give $2 million per year for two years:

Cairo: .292/.346/.417 (.260), 11 SB (79%), 93 Rate, age 30
Womack: .307/.349/.385 (.253), 26 SB (83%), 90 Rate, age 34

Edge Cairo. What's more, Cairo's career stats are a hair better than Womack's (.273/.322/.370-.237 to .274/.319/.362-.234), and get another hair better when you consider what each man has done in this decade alone:

Cairo: .269/.323/.375 (.239)
Womack: .272/.313/.359 (.231)

The difference between the two players is reputation. Womack has been a starter in every season since 1997 save 2003, while Cairo was a starter only briefly with the Devil Rays in the late '90s. This despite the fact that, while neither should be a starting player, Cairo is the superior player. Even more perplexing, the Yankees are now the second team in as many years to explicitly choose Womack over Cairo as their starting second baseman (Cairo having started briefly for the Cardinals in 2003 following an injury to Fernando Vina, the run being ended by a fractured left hand resulting from a hit-by-pitch).

But what completely floors me about the Womack signing, even more than the fact that the Yankees chose him over Cairo, is that, according to this article the Yankees were actively targeting Womack and Official 2005 BRB Dream Team Second Baseman Placido Polanco and chose Womack over Polanco!

That is why I'm convinced that the Yankees are finally on a budget. Polanco is younger than Cairo, has a career 109 Rate at second base (including a Gold Glove worthy 115 in 2004), and has a career line of .295/.339/.410 (.255), that has jumped to .293/.341/.434 (.261) as he's reached his prime over the past two seasons. Polanco doesn't steal bases as well as the other two men, but in every other way he is a markedly superior player, and the only one of the three who is a legitimate starter at the major league level. Accordingly, Polanco earned $4 million last year and will likely demand something in the area of $5 or $6 million per year from whichever team signs him. The Yankees signed Womack for $4 million over two years. I'm tempted to say they'll get what they've paid for, but they won't even get that.

So on a day when we should all be celebrating the end of the Enrique Wilson Era (as Wilson--along with John Olerud, Tony Clark, Travis Lee, Esteban Loazia and C.J. Nitkowski--was denied arbitration by the Yankees, all smart decisions) we are forced to welcome Tony Womack, who is closer to Wilson than Polanco, as the Yankees new starting second baseman.

But wait, it gets worse. The Yankees offered arbitration to Ruben Sierra, all but guaranteeing his return in 2005. Meanwhile, John Mabry, the lefty-hitting outfielder off the bench for the Official 2005 BRB Dream Team, re-upped with the Cardinals for $750,000. Sierra, who earned $1 million in 2004 will likely pull down twice Mabry's salary if not more in 2005. Meanwhile, the three bench players on the BRB dream team not already under contract to the Yankees for 2005 at the end of this past season are no longer eligible to don the pinstripes next year.

But that's not all! Turning our attention back to pitching, in addition to Jon Lieber signing with the Phillies for $21/3, Dream Team member Brad Radke re-signed with the Twins for $18 million for two years. In addition, the four-man class of lefty starters is down to three after Al Lieter, whom it had been rumored the Yankees were close to signing to a one-year deal that would have been preferable to the rumored three-year/$25 million deal with Eric Milton that is now that much more likely to happen, signed a one-year deal with the Florida Marlins for an as-yet undisclosed sum believed to be in the $7-8 million range.

No, dear reader, this is not a happy day. Not a happy day at all.

posted by Cliff at 11:54 PM

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Happy Arbitration Day! 

Today is the day that all teams must decide whether or not to offer arbitration to their major league free agents. Players not offered arbitration will not be able to resign with their 2004 teams until May 1, 2005. Players who are offered arbitration are free to sign with any club, including their 2004 team, between now and December 19th when they must, if still unsigned, accept or decline their team's offer. If they accept, they will remain under contract to their 2004 team for one year at a salary determined by and independent arbiter (as Kevin Millwood did a year ago). If they reject arbitration, they are still free to sign with any team until January 8, 2005, after which their 2004 club loses the right to negotiate with them. In addition, a team that offers a type-A free agent arbitration today will receive draft pick compensation should that player sign with another team, something they will not receive should they not offer that player arbitration.

Or so I understand it.

The Yankees major league free agents are John Lieber, Orlando Hernandez, Esteban Loaiza, Miguel Cairo, Ruben Sierra, John Olerud, Tony Clark, and Enrique Wilson. I think it is safe to assume that the Yankees will offer arbitration to Lieber, Hernandez and Cairo, all of whom they've been actively trying to resign, but not to Loaiza, Clark and Wilson. Sierra and Olerud are more difficult to figure out. Some rumors have suggested the Yankees are interested in resigning Olerud, a move I disagree with, but not as strongly as I would disagree with the decision to bring back Ruben Sierra. Fortunately, I've not heard any whispers that the Yankees are interested in doing so, but I was blindsided by their resigning of Big Ru last year, so I don't doubt that it could happen again. Considering the big-time hits he got for the team last year (in April against the A's and in October against the Twins--not to mention the huge-but-wasted triple he picked up in the 2003 World Series) and his new-found reputation as a great clubhouse guy, I would be appalled, but not surprised to see the Yankees announce a one-year contract for Sierra today.

Ah, but all of that is speculation, and I'm not much fond of speculation.

The best part of Arbitration Day is that it should throw a few extra logs on the hot stove as teams will know tomorrow which free agents they can sign without losing draft picks and a number of free agents will have automatically eliminated their previous team from their list of potential suitors. Add to that the fact that the Winter Meetings are taking place this weekend in Anaheim, concluding with the Rule 5 draft on Sunday, and we're sure to have some things to talk about in this space in the coming week.

In the meantime, I promised some background on Mike Stanton and Felix Heredia.

Stanton doesn't need an introduction to Yankee fans (though if I gave him one, it would be to the tune of Aldo Nova's "Fantasy" -- speaking of which, with Mariano "Enter Sandman" Rivera and Tom "Flash" Gordon already on hand, should Stanton go back to using "Fantasy," the Yankees may just have the best collection of reliever entry music in major league history). Sorry, where was I? Oh yes: Mike Stanton doesn't need an introduction to Yankee fans, which got me to thinking about the recent spate of repeat Yankees.

Let's define a "two-timer" as an active player on the Yankees' major league roster who previously appeared with the Yankees at the major league level before being traded to or signing with another team. Looking at the past 20 years, in the fifteen years from 1985-1999 the Yankees had 15 two-timers (not counting Eric Plunk who was traded for Rickey Henderson twice, but never appeared in the majors for the Yankees during his first stint with the organization) those players:

Tommy John (1986-1989)
Rick Cerone (1987)
Neil Allen (1987-1988)
Chris Chambliss (1988)
Goose Gossage (1989)
Steve Balboni (1989-90)
Rick Cerone again (1990)
Claudell Washington (1990)
Luis Polonia (1994-5)
Dave Eiland (1995)
Dion James (1995)
Dion James (1996)*
Charlie Hayes (1996-7)
Mike Stanley (1997)
Jim Leyritz (1999-2000)

By comparison, it took the Yankees less than four years to rack up another fifteen two-timers. Since 1999:

Luis Polonia again (2000)
Roberto Kelly (2000)
Dwight Gooden (2000)
Luis Sojo (2000-2001)
Gerald Williams (2001-2002)
Randy Velarde (2001)
Brian Boehringer (2001)
Sterling Hitchcock (2001-2003)
David Wells (2002-2003)
Luis Sojo again (2003)
Jeff Nelson (2003)
Ruben Sierra (2003- )
Homer Bush (2004)
Orlando Hernandez (2004- )
Mike Stanton (2005- )

That's a near epidemic and doesn't even count players who have returned to the Yankee farm system but not made it back to the big club (such as Andy Stankiewicz in '99 and Shane Spencer in '04) or spring training invitees who for one reason or another didn't head north (such as Ruben Rivera in '02 and Darren Bragg and Joe Girardi in '04)

Tellingly, of the 25 unique players from the two lists (not counting Stanton for obvious reasons) only four won World Championships with the Yankees in their second go-round with the team (also not counting Roberto Kelly, who missed most of 2000 with an injury and, unlike the other four players, did not participate in the World Series). Two of the four had already picked up a ring with the Yanks (Leyritz, Gooden), while the other two (Hayes, Polonia) had not.

More surprisingly, of the fourteen unique players to rejoin the Yankees since 1999, only half of them had previously won a ring with the Yankees. What's more, the Yankee team from the past 20 years to generate the most two-timers? The 76-86 1992 edition, which produced eight players who would later leave, then rejoin the team (James, Hayes, Stanley, Leyritz, Polonia, Velarde, Hitchcock and Gerald Williams).

And while I'm going all Jayson Stark on you (insert unfunny Doug Glanville quote here), here are some other quickie stats on the past 20-years of Yankee two-timers:

Longest initial stay: Velarde, 9 years
Longest return stay: John, 4 years
Longest gap: Kelly and Chambliss, 7 years
Longest total span from first season with the Yankees to the last: Velarde, 15 years

Hidden behind all of this useless information is the fact that only David Wells and El Duque have made significant contributions in their second terms, with the majority of the two-timers being little more than roster filler and charity cases. Here's hoping Stanton is something more, and that the Yankee faithful will be enthusiastically pumping their fists to Aldo Nova in summer 2005.

*James was originally with the Yankees in 1992-93 before playing 1994 in Japan. He returned to the Yankees in 1995, became a free agent after that season and was actually under contract to the Expos in spring training 1996 before being released and rejoining the Yankees.

And now . . .

A Brief History of Felix Rodriguez

The Dominican-born Felix Antonio Rodriguez was signed by the Dodgers as an amateur free agent at the age of 17. Originally a catcher, Rodriguez was moved to the mound where he started 20 games for the Dodgers A-ball team in Vero Beach at age 20. After a year of starting at double-A San Antonio in 1994 and half a season starting at triple-A Albuquerque, Rodriguez made his major league debut with the Dodgers in 1995 at the age of 22. In eleven appearances, Rodriguez tossed 10 2/3 solid, if unexceptional relief innings, finishing five games in non-save situations.

A poor showing with Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League (5.53 ERA and about 5 walks against just 5.5 strikeouts per 9IP) and a strong Dodger bullpen prevented Rodriquez's return to LA in 1996. After the season he was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds.

He split 1997 between Cincinnati and triple-A Indianapolis, smoking batters in Indy (1.01 ERA, 8.8 K/9), but posting a dead average ERA with the big club while being hounded by a 5.5 BB/9 at both stops. Again, Felix switched teams after the season, being traded to the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks for PTBNL Scott Winchester, whom the D'backs had claimed that same day in the expansion draft.

Rodriguez started 1998 as the Diamondbacks first-ever closer, but things went south in a hurry after a strong April. He missed all of July with a strained hip flexor and finished the season with just five saves (four of them from that hot April) and a 6.14 ERA. Which of course meant he'd be on the move again. That December the Giants took a chance on the now 26-year-old converted catcher with the 4.92 career ERA who had walked 5.54 men per nine innings in the majors thus far. They sent PTBNLs Troy Brohawn and Chris Van Rossum to Arizona and in return got a fireballing set-up man who would post a 3.01 ERA, 8.67 K/9 and 3.92 BB/9 in 342 appearances over the next five years.

As a counterpoint to his excellent regular season showing with the Giants, Rodriguez had his share of unfortunate postseason moments with San Francisco. The first coming in his first postseason series, in 2000 against the Mets. Entering Game 2 of that NLDS down 2-1 in the ninth, Rodriguez gave up a two-run homer to future teammate Edgardo Alfonzo only to watch his team score two in the bottom of the ninth to tie it. He then returned to the mound and lost the game in the tenth. The Giants lost that series 3-1.

Rodriguez's best season came in 2001 as he posted a 1.68 ERA (239 ERA+), 10.20 K/9, 3.02 BB/9 and an even 1.00 WHIP, but the Giants failed to make the playoffs, finishing two games behind his former team, the eventual World Champion Diamondbacks. In 2002, Felix was set to erase the dreary endings of his previous two seasons, having allowed just one run in seven appearances as the Giants knocked off the Braves and Cardinals on the way to the World Series, but it was not to be.

In Game Two of the World Series he gave up a tie-breaking two-run homer to Tim Salmon in the eighth inning to take the loss. Then came Game Six. With the Giants up 3-2 in the series and 5-0 in the game, eight outs from their first championship since 1954, Rodriguez was called in to face Scott Spezio with two on and one out in the seventh. Spezio fouled off every pitch that came near the strike zone and laid off the rest to run the count to 3-2 before lining Rodriguez's eighth pitch down the right field line for a series-changing three-run homer. The Giants would go on to lose the game and the series.

Even setting aside the disaster in the World Series, 2002 was Rodriguez's worst year as a Giant. Claiming, "I'm the kind of guy who doesn't like to say anything to the trainers. I like to stay out of the trainer's room. I never like to go on the disabled list. I like to get my butt on the mound and play every day," Rodriguez hid a finger injury from the Giants trainers for most of June and July, which may have contributed to him finishing below average in runs prevented for the only time in his five and a half years as a Giant.

Perhaps having learned his lesson (though some suspected the opposite was true), Rodriguez spent part of August 2003 on the DL with a back injury. Indeed, while his overall run prevention improved, his 2003 rate stats were on average his worst as a Giant. The sour icing on the cake was another key postseason meltdown. With Game Four of the NLDS tied in the eighth, Rodriguez surrendered two runs (though, admittedly, one came on a Yorvit Torrealba error) to the eventual World Champion Marlins to take the loss in the series' decisive game.

Despite a solid, though not dominating performance for the Giants in 2004, Rodriguez was traded to the Phillies for Rickey Ledee at the trading deadline. In Philly he cranked up his strike-out rate, which had been in a five-year decline, striking out 28 men in 21 innings and finishing the year with the third highest K/9 of his career and his highest since 2001. He was traded to the Yankees for Kenny Lofton and cash on Saturday.

posted by Cliff at 3:46 AM

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Actual Transactions! 

You can blame Tuesday's arbitration deadline for the lack of compelling non-Giambi Yankee news (and resultant BRB posts) thus far this offseason. Other than declining a trio of player options and tidying up the 40-man, the front office has produced nothing but rumors, a new bench coach, and some broadcasting musical chairs (this just in: Suzyn Waldman Joins John Sterling, Yankee Fans Reinterpret AC/DC, Blow Up Their Radios).

But now we finally have some cud to chew. It all started last Monday when the Red Sox inked Official 2005 BRB Dream Team back-up catcher Doug Mirabelli to a two-year, $3 million contract. The Yankees responded on Saturday by re-upping John Flaherty for one year at $800,000. Flaherty's resigning was largely a forgone conclusion. There were no indications that the Yankees ever considered any other options, but Mirabelli being off the market and earning almost twice the salary for twice as long (in addition to having a clause in his contract that doubles his pay if he becomes a starter), is of some solace.

For his part, Flaherty has set career highs in slugging each of the past two seasons while being remarkably consistent over all:

2003: .267/.297/.457 (.248) in 105 AB
2004: .252/.286/.465 (.245) in 127 AB

Mirabelli didn’t do much better in 2003 (.259/.307/.448 (.250) in 162 AB). The difference is that Mirabelli's career OBP is nearly 40 points higher than Flaherty's, he's three years younger, and he went nuts last year, hitting .281/.368/.525 (.297) in 160 at-bats. Really, it's that OBP that was the key. The Yankees need a back-up catcher who can keep Posada rested so that the doesn't tucker out at the end of the year. The Yankees recent spate of postseason failures isn't helped at all by this:

Jorge regular season career: .270/.379/.475 (.289)
Jorge postseason career: .229/.341/.361 (.244)

That's exhaustion, not choking. Check Jorge's September stats over the past three seasons:

Overall: .273/.391/.489 (.298)
September: .285/.375/.432 (.277)

Flaherty's career .293 OBP doesn't make him a legitimate option on days when Torre doesn't absolutely have to give Posada a day off, such as day games after night games or in one game of a double header, thus the poor September and October numbers listed above. And yes, Jorge did have better postseason stats (particularly slugging, where the real fall-off occurs in the stats above) in 1998 and '99 when Joe Girardi was limiting him to about 110 games during the regular season. Not that Girardi was any great shakes at the plate, but his career OBP was 14 points higher than Flaherty's. Meanwhile Gregg Zaun and his career .339 OBP, and Official 2004 BRB Dream Team back-up catcher Todd Pratt and his career .352 OBP remain unsigned.

But enough crying over repeatedly spilled milk. The Yankees also made two solid trades on Saturday. In the first they traded persona-non-grata and Carlos Beltran place-holder Kenny Lofton to the Phillies for Felix Rodriguez, a solid, 32-year-old righty set-up man with 19 career postseason games under his belt and a career 122 ERA+.

I personally believe that Lofton got the shaft last year, losing far too many starts to injury and Ruben Sierra. That said, the Yankees were clearly eager to get rid of him, so getting an arm like Rodriguez (career 8.22 K/9) in return, even if they had to send the Phillies $1 million in cash to get it done, is pretty impressive. Rodriguez gives the Yankees one hell of a right-handed bullpen depth chart (Rivera, Gordon, Rodriguez, Quantrill), making any contribution from Steve Karsay gravy, rather than essential to the survival of QuanGorMo.

At the same time, eliminating Lofton leaves the Yankees with just four outfielders on their 40-man roster, with Bubba Crosby and his career .145 GPA as number four and nothing worth mentioning in triple-A. That means that, even if they do land Beltran, they're going to bring in some extra live bodies as injury insurance.

The other deal the Yankees made on Saturday was sending Felix Heredia to the Mets for old pal Mike Stanton and $975,000. That’s right, not only were the Mets willing to take Heredia off the Yankees’ hands (which would have been enough for me), but they actually sent back a superior pitcher (which is sort of a given) and paid the Yankees almost a million dollars for the privilege! Wow. Omar Minaya has clearly figured out the Mets’ way of doing things: poorly.

This move is less about Stanton than about purging Heredia, but adding Stanton to the four, now five-headed monster in the Yankee pen gives them one hell of a relief corps. That’s not to say that Stanton is the same pitcher who helped the Yankees win three straight Championships from 1998 to 2000, but he’s still well worth having around, especially as the fifth man on your depth chart. Stanton posted a 3.16 ERA in 83 games last year and in his two years with the Mets he put up a K/9 of about 6.75 and a BB/9 of about 3.80 in both years. That’s good enough.

The only fear I have is that the Yankees will think that the left-handed Stanton answers their LOOGY problems. Although Stanton was the Yankees primary lefty out of the pen from 1997 to 2002, he typically posted a reverse split (as he has in two of the last three years, including a rather pronounced one in 2004). That didn’t matter because he was very good (and we all know that it is more important to be good than to be lefthanded), striking out 8.87 per nine innings against 3.31 BB/9 from ’97 to 2001. But now that he’s a less dominant 37-year-old, it would behoove the Yankees to continue to go hard after Steve Kline and/or take a look at Brad Halsey in that role.

As for the prospect of having six (with Kline) thirtysomething multi-millionares in the bullpen and not one who can go long, figure that between their ages, workloads, and injury histories, things will work themselves out to make room for someone on a minor league deal--which should be Halsey, but might be a marginal vet in the Sturtze-vein--to occupy the Randy Choate Memorial Spot on the bullpen bench. That said, I would not be surprised to see the Yanks include a member of the newly formed StanRodQuanGor (but obviously not Mo) in a trade later this offseason.

In my next post I’ll look at how Stanton continues the Yankees’ recent fascination with former Yankees and present a Brief History of Felix Rodriguez.

posted by Cliff at 1:25 PM

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