Friday, December 17, 2004

Whose Back Pages? 

Could it be that the Yankees' unconfirmed three-way deal was passed off as reality Thursday night to steal the back pages of the local tabloids from the Mets on the day they introduced Pedro Martinez? Naaahhhhhhhhh. [nods enthusiastically]

If so [there's really no if about it is there?], consider the delayed confirmation of the Wright and Pavano contracts to be the second charge against the Mets' back page dreams. Mind you, the contracts have still not been officially announced (a press conference introducing Pavano is expected on Wednesday), but a leak to Peter Gammons is official enough considering the deafening silence coming out of the Yankee camp over the past week.

According to Gammons, the Pavano contract is as advertised: 4 years, $40 million with a $15/$2 million team option for a fifth season (thus I assume it's $38 million for the first 4 years for an average annual salary of $9.5 million). If Pavano reaches 200 IP in 2007 and 2008 (the third and fourth years of the contract) he will have the option to override the option to become a free agent at age 33.

All in all, an absurd contract for a player with his track record (which we'll get to in a moment). Checking in with the Official BRB Dream Team Starters, as I write this Gammons has reported that, Matt Clement, who is just 17 months Pavano's senior, has signed with the rival Red Sox (burn) for 3 years, $25.5 million (that's a million less annually with one less guaranteed year and no option). Meanwhile, Brad Radke, just over 3 years Pavano's senior, re-signed with the Twins for $18 million over two years (less than half the length of Pavano's contract at a lower annual salary for a pitcher with four times the track record and a superior 2004 season to boot).

Speaking of two-year deals, the Yankees went ahead and signed Jaret Wright despite concerns over the results of the MRI on his pitching shoulder taken during his physical. However, they did use that MRI as leverage to work out a smarter contract. Instead of the reported 3-year, $21-million deal they had originally agreed to, the Yankees will instead ink Wright to a 2-year, $14-million contract with a $7-million player option for 2007. I know what you're thinking. Turning the third year into a player option doesn't help the Yankees at all. True, but then there's this:
"if [Wright] is disabled an aggregate of two-to-three months with a shoulder injury during the two guaranteed years of the contract, the third-year option could be discounted by as much as $4 million."
Bingo. So if Wright's shoulder explodes when he throws his first spring training pitch in March, shelving him for the bulk of the upcoming season, the Yankees will only be in the hole $17 million over three years, rather than $21 [heh]. In another more likely and more comforting scenario, if Wright pitches through injury in 2005 and breaks down in 2006, the Yankees will only owe him $3 million for the final year of his contract (assuming he picks up his player option), which could be a small enough sum to allow them to flip him for a useful role player despite his shoulder problems, provided he puts up at least superficially pleasing numbers in 2005.

Now, with these deals finally confirmed, it's time for a history lesson:

Brand New Life Around The Bend: A Brief History of Carl Pavano

Carl Pavano was born almost exactly half way between New York and Boston in New Britain, Connecticut in the year of our nation's bicentennial. Drafted out of high school by the Red Sox with the 355th overall pick and lured away from a college commitment by a $175,000 signing bonus, Pavano mowed through the Red Sox system in his first four years in the minors, advancing from Rookie ball to triple-A. During those four years he posted a 2.93 ERA and 8.09 K/9 against 2.37 BB/9, won the Eastern League (AA) MVP in 1996, emerging as the Red Sox top pitching prospect and one of the elite prospects in all of baseball.

Then in November 1997 he was traded, along with former Yankee farmhand Tony Armas Jr., to the Montreal Expos in the deal that brought Pedro Martinez to Boston. It was a brilliant move on the part of the Red Sox. As it turns out, Pavano had experienced tightness in his pitching shoulder while still in the Red Sox system. After throwing 185 innings for double-A Trenton at age 20, he tightened up early in spring training while getting ready for the 1997 season. After tossing 161 2/3 innings for triple-A Pawtucket in 1997, the symptoms repeated themselves the next spring, forcing Pavano to endure an extended spring and three triple-A rehab starts prior to making his delayed big-league debut with the Expos in late May 1998, a little less than two months after the debut of teammate Javier Vazquez.

Pavano finished his respectable, but unspectacular (save the fact that he served up Mark McGwire's single season record setting 70th home run) rookie campaign without further incident, posting an ERA just below league average (4.21, 98 ERA+) over 23 starts and one relief appearance. However, his strikeout rate dropped dramatically to just 5.55 K/9. That reduced strikeout rate was likely further indication that Pavano's arm was not sound. Having racked up 168 1/3 innings in 1998, Pavano had thrown a grand total of 700 professional innings pitched before his 23rd birthday. That's when things got bad.

A sore elbow derailed what was already a disappointing sophomore season for Pavano (5.62 ERA), landing him on the DL in July 1999, effectively ending his season. That was just the beginning. In 2000, the 24-year-old Pavano looked like he was finally going to deliver on his promise, posting a 151 ERA+ over his first 15 starts, but this time he didn't even make it to July. Elbow tendonitis landed him on the DL on June 27, and surgery ended what would be his only above average season prior to 2004. After additional inflammation post surgery and an unfortunate incident in which Pavano skipped his flight to have his arm examined by Dr. James Andrews in April 2001, Pavano finally made it back to a major league mound in August 2001 only to get lit up for a 6.33 ERA over eight starts to close the season.

After hitting rock bottom in 2001, things looked like they were going to turn around for Pavano in 2002 as he sailed through spring training, but once the season began he lost his effectiveness, posting a 6.30 ERA in 14 starts before being pulled from the rotation and sent to triple-A in mid-June. Just a few weeks later, he followed Jeffrey Loria et. al to Florida as MLB-appointed Expos GM Omar Minaya traded him along with Mike Mordecai, Justin Wayne, ex-Yankee Graeme Lloyd, and a minor leaguer to the Marlins for Cliff Floyd (stopping by on his way to the Red Sox), Wilton Guerrero, Claudio Vargas and cash. That's when things began to turn around.

Pleased with his perfect record and 3.10 ERA in three starts with the Expos' triple-A club in Ottawa, the Marlins sent Pavano straight to their major league bullpen. There Pavano found his way, eventually taking A.J. Burnett's place in the Florida rotation when the younger pitcher went down with an elbow injury of his own. With a 3.79 ERA over 14 relief appearances and 8 starts down the stretch in 2002, Pavano earned the final spot in the Marlins' rotation for 2003.

In an attempt to stay injury free, Pavano took up yoga during the 2002-2003 offseason and set what seemed like wildly optimistic goals of 200 innings and 15 wins for himself for 2003. Things didn't go perfectly. More shoulder soreness gave him a scare in spring training. He almost pitched his way out of the rotation in July. But he did indeed stay healthy, racking up 201 innings as the Marlins surged to the NL Wild Card. Still, he fell short of 15 wins, posting a 12-13 record for the eventual World Champs with a below league average 4.30 ERA (94 ERA+).

That performance made him the odd-man out in the NLDS rotation, though he did pick up two of his team's three wins in short relief. Two more scoreless relief outings early in the NLCS combined with Brad Penny's awful postseason performance to that point earned him the start in the infamous Game 6 against the Cubs, which he left trailing 2-0 in the sixth. After the Marlins' miraculous comeback against Bernie Mac's "Champs," Pavano got the ball in another infamous contest, Game 4 of the World Series against the Yankees. Pavano left that game after eight with a 3-1 lead, having outdueled Roger Clemens in what was supposed to be his final start, only to watch Ugueth Urbina give up a game-tying triple to Ruben Sierra in the ninth. Fortunately for Pavano and his Marlins, Joe Torre proceeded to throw the game away in extra innings (the failure to squeeze being the most egregious error in a game that has become synonymous with Jeff Weaver in New York).

Three days later Carl Pavano was a healthy starting pitcher on a World Champion ballclub, who also just happened to be dating Alyssa Milano (pictured here in perhaps the most embarrassing series of photographs of a legitimately attractive person ever to appear on a reputable website).

Seemingly free of his injury demons, Carl Pavano enjoyed his best year as a a major league starter by far in 2004. He surpassed the league average ERA for the first (and only) time since his 2000 season was ended by elbow surgery with a 3.00 ERA (137 ERA+), while posting an outstanding career-best 1.98 BB/9. He also set career highs in wins (18), winning percentage (.692), innings pitched (222 1/3), K/BB (2.84), WHIP (1.17), shutouts (2), and strikeouts (139) (though his 5.63 K/99 was actually his worst since his rookie season, it wasn't that far off his career mark of 5.92). His timing couldn't have been more fortuitous, as 2004 just happened to be his seventh major league season, making him eligible for free agency in the offseason.

And that's how a pitcher with a five-year history of arm injuries, just two healthy major league seasons, and just one above average season is able to land a contract worth a potential $53 million over five years.

posted by Cliff at 9:31 PM

Moving Units? 

There's a rumor going 'round that the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Dodgers have agreed on the following three-team trade:

Yankees get: Randy Johnson
D-backs get: Shawn Green, Brad Penny, Yhency Brazoban
Dodgers get: Javier Vazquez, Dioner Navarro, Eric Duncan

However, there are also rumors going around that the trade is not going to happen because of one or more of the following:

1) Johnson got cold feet and doesn't want to leave Arizona (very unlikely)
2) Green won't agree to leave LA (entirely possible)
3) How much of Vazquez's salary the Yankees are willing to pay (Jayson Stark's sources say that Navarro and Duncan were included on the understanding that the Yankees would not pay any of Javy's salary)
4) This is actually a trade that was worked out prior to Adrian Beltre signing with Seattle yesterday, and losing Beltre has forced the Dodgers to reevaluate (also entirely possible)

Should this trade actually become reality, I have a reaction post ready and waiting that will be posted immediately following any quasi-official confirmation. In the meantime, I refuse to waste our collective mental energy on what remains conjecture and refuse to comment until at least the essential facts (the players invovled) are confirmed.

Stay tuned . . .

posted by Cliff at 2:15 AM

Monday, December 13, 2004

Quick hits and near misses 

The big Yankee news out of this weekend's Winter Meetings in Anaheim was that Carl Pavano has decided that, after completing his Magical Mystery Tour of what seemed like every major league club and part of the Federal League, he wants to become a Yankee. This doesn't mean he is a Yankee, of course. There's still that pesky contract thing to work out. The figures being floated around are between $39 and $42 million for four years with an option for a fifth. Which is, of course, completely absurd for a pitcher with only one solid season under his belt and his 29th birthday less than a month away. But such is the Yankee way this offseason.

On the topic of very-soon-to-be-29-year-old pitchers with a single, solitary solid season to their names, Jaret Wright (okay, he has two solid seasons, but the other one was 1998) flunked his physical, giving the Yankees an out from their $21 million/3-year contract offer in light of Pavano's announcement. But no, the Yanks went for a second opinion. Wright passed number two and the Yankees have apparently decided that a .500 record is good enough for them. Dreadful. That said, neither the Wright nor the Womack signing has not been officially annouced yet and there has been no word on Womack's physical (remember he had elbow surgery last offseason and back spasms during the 2004 postseason).

Meanwhile, with the Angels having signed Steve Finley and the Cubs still unable to unload Sammy Sosa, the Yankees appear be in a head-to-head battle with the Astros for the services of Carlos Beltran (unless the Dodgers fail to sign Adrian Beltre, that is). That Jeff Kent just signed with the Dodgers might be a strike against the Astros from Beltran's perspective, though it may also give them a little extra green to wave under Carlos's sniffer. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens, despite remaining "99.9 percent" retired, accepted arbitration from the 'Stros. Jayson Stark figures this is Clemens's way of saying to Beltran, "your move," using the logic that Beltran has until December 19 (one week from yesterday) to resign with the Astros or accept arbitration, so Clemens will know if Beltran is returning before he has to give Houston a final answer on his retirement. Meanwhile, Beltran's decision seems largely predicated on winning, meaning that knowing if Clemens is going to pitch for the Astros next year was likely to be a major factor in his decision. But now he won't know (though if I was a betting man, which I'm not, I'd say that Roger's back on the Minute Made mound in April, especially if Beltran's back in center). That arbitration deadline also means that one week from today Beltran will either be an Astro or down one more suiter, leaving him all but abandoned on the Yankees' doorstep.

In less thrilling news, the Yankees officially annouced the rest of their coaching staff, with Luis Sojo and Roy White returning to coach third and first respectively. As expected both Rich Monteleone and Neil Allen are on the staff, but in a last-minute switcheroo it's Allen who will be the bullpen coach and Monteleone who will be the roving instructor. This is a good thing, as I wrote a month ago:
[Allen's] 2004 staff at Columbus was filled with success stories (Colter Bean, Brad Halsey, Alex Graman, Juan Padilla, Scott Proctor, Sam Marsonek, Chien-Ming Wang). The problem was that none of them were either able to (Graman/Proctor) or given a legitimate chance to (Bean/Halsey/Padilla) make an impact in the majors. Hopefully with Allen on Torre's staff these pitchers (especially Bean and Halsey) will be shown more respect in the Bronx, which could only be to the Yankees benefit.

Finally, in broadcast news, the Yankees "regular TV" games are moving for the third time in six years, this time from WCBS Channel 2 to WWOR Channel 9. This sets up the rather dissonant arrangement of the Yankees being on Channel 9, the Mets' broadcast home for the first 37 years of their existence, while the Mets are entering their sixth year on Channel 11, home to the Yankees for 48 seasons following their brief tenure at the Dumont Network (!). The linked article suggests that Michael Kay and Jim Kaat will likely do the Channel 9 games, which gives me hope that Kaat (who, despite his anti-Moneyball rants of last year, is still an excellent broadcaster and tremendously informative when it comes to pitching) will return to the Yankee booth in 2005. In addition, I'm very pleased to report that Ken Singleton will indeed be back in TV booth for the 2005 season and is expected to remain there at least for the length of the Yankees' three-year contract with WWOR.

posted by Cliff at 1:08 AM

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