Friday, December 31, 2004

Comedy is tragedy plus timing 

And I have awful timing.

Just as things are beginning to actually happen between the Diamondbacks and the Yankees, I'm going to be off-line for a week.

Normally, I'd give you a full breakdown of the still unconfirmed trade, but we've been down this road before and I'm a bit gunshy. There's still an unpublished post lurking in the bowels of this site breaking down the three-team deal with the Dodgers. I wrote that exactly two weeks ago (almost to the minute), when that deal was supposedly sitting on Bud Selig's desk. Now there's another deal reportedly being submitted to Allan H., but it's no further along than that trade was then. The paperwork is not yet on the commissioner's desk, the players haven't taken (let alone passed) their physicals, and RJ has yet to officially waive his no-trade clause.

Of course the odds of all of this happening are much higher than they were two weeks ago, because there is no third team to pull the rug out from under a trade that the Yankees and Diamondbacks are clearly intent on making. Still, I'm glad that I was able to avoid having to blather on about Kaz Ishii on this site, and thus will hold my tongue (or fingers) until I return.

Meanwhile, the Yankees appear to have inked Tino Martinez to a one-year deal in an attempt to solve their first-base situation. According to the Associated Press, the deal is worth $2.7 million with a team option for 2006. You may hear some grousing about this move from some greatly respected Yankees scribes, but I think it's a fantastic deal for reasons that have nothing to do with sentiment. Consider what I said when assemling by BRB Dream Team in early November:
The prevailing rumor right now has them bringing back Tino Martinez to back-up Giambi. Condsidering the fact that the other alternatives out there are Travis Lee, the ghost of John Olerud, Brad Fullmer's blown knee and a collection of even less desirable leftovers and senior citizens, I would happily welcome Tino back to the Bronx, provided he takes a significant pay cut from the $7.5 million he made in Tampa this year. One condition: Ruben Sierra (whom I, unfortunately, expect will be re-signed) needs to give Tino Rickey Henderson's number back.
I, of course, had hoped that the Yankees would be able to ink Troy Glaus to a make-good deal, but the Diamondbacks eliminated that possibility by giving Glaus a four-year deal worth $45 million. The Mariners then trumped that by giving Richie Sexson four years and $50 million.

Think about those contracts. Now think about the recent injury history of both players (both have suffered torn labrums in the past year-or-so, Sexson played in just 28 games in 2004, Glaus missed 175 games over the past two seasons). Then consider the fact that Carlos Delgado not only hasn't had fewer than 550 plate appearances since 1995, but that he's been significantly more productive than the other two players in every single season of their careers. Now what kind of deal do you think Delgado is going to land (most likely from the spend-happy Mets)?

Now consider the remainder of the available free agent first-basemen (with their total Runs Created Against Position over the past two seasons in parenthases):

Travis Lee (-1)
Andres Galarraga (-2)
Brad Fulmer (-2)
Dave McCarty (-3)
Julio Franco (-4)
Greg Colbrunn (-8)
Mike Hessman (-9)
Herbert Perry (-11)
John Olerud (-11)
Tony Clark (-18)
Wil Cordero (-27)

Note that Runs Created is a cumulative statistic, thus the players at the top of the list are largely there because of a lack of playing time. Looking over the list, Lee lost almost all of 2004 to injury, Galarraga is 43 and battled cancer again last this past year, injuries have kept Fulmer below 300 plate appearances in each of the past two seasons, McCarty's passed 300 PA just once . . . in 1993, Franco's at least 46 years old, Colbrunn's really just a pinch hitter, and Hessman was non-tendered by the Braves after just 90 big-league at-bats. That brings us to the players in double figures. (Amazingly, Herbert Perry was able to fall eleven runs below position in just 177 total plate appearances. Way to go, Herb!)

As for Tino, he's managed to be a dead average firstbaseman over the past two seasons, netting 0 RCAP while starting a minimum of 130 games in each. For what it's worth, Martinez is also as good or better defensively as the best men on the above list (Olerud and Lee). Add to all of that the fact that the Yankees needed to sign someone whom they could get at a reasonable cost without a long-term commitment (since they already have a first baseman earning an eight-digit salary in 2005 and beyond who could potentially out-hit Sexson and Glaus), but who would be able to step in to the starting job without negatively effecting the team should Giambi's health give out again. Tino Martinez for $2.7 million for one year with a club option for a second is just what the doctor ordered. With the possible exception of getting a warm body in return for Felix Heredia and declining arbitration to their collection of character-first roster-fillers (including Olerud, Clark and Lee), this is easily the best move the Yankees have made thus far this offseason.

Whether or not it remains so for more than a few days . . . well, you'll just have to tune in next weekend to find out. Meanwhile, enjoy the Arizonian water torture, I'll be on vacation.

posted by Cliff at 2:04 AM

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Yankees' Rotation Is Finally Complete . . . Wriiiiight 

Yesterday, on Jaret Wright's 29th birthday, the Yankees finally officially announced the righthander's three-year, $21 million deal with the club. In doing so, they clarified the clauses concerning Wright's potential DL stays. If Wright spends a total of 75 days or more on the DL due to shoulder problems in 2005 and 2006 combined, the Yankees can buy out his 2007 season for $4 million. If Wright spends fewer than 75 total days on the DL in 2005 and 2006 due to shoulder problems, he can opt out of the final year of his deal, electing free agency without receiving a buyout from the Yankees. This is inferior to the deal I thought they had worked out following their concerns over Wright's shoulder MRI.

At any rate, Wright now joins Carl Pavano and Mike Mussina and, at least for the moment, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez in the Yankees projected 2005 rotation, so here's . . .

A Brief History of Jaret Wright

Twenty-nine years ago yesterday, Jaret Samuel Wright was born in Anaheim, California, where his father, Clyde Wright had won 22 games for the Angels five years prior at the age of 29. Having posted ERA+s in the 80s for the Brewers and Rangers in 1974 and 1975, the elder Wright had thrown his last major league pitch by the time of his son's birth.

Eighteen years later, Jaret was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the 1994 amateur draft with the tenth overall pick (ahead of Nomar Garciaparra, but behind four other pitchers: Paul Wilson, Dustin Hermanson, Doug Million and C.J. Nitkowski). Jaret endured four rough starts in Rookie ball that summer, but saw his strikeout rate increase and control improve over the next two seasons in A-ball.

In 1997, the 21-year-old Wright blazed through double and triple-A, joining the big club at the end of June. In the majors, his strike out rate fell by more than 3 K/9, but his walk rate continued to improve (to 3.5 BB/9, which would have looked much better next to the 9+ K/9 rate he'd posted in the minors) as he went 8-3 in 16 starts with an above average ERA of 4.38.

Having been in the majors for just over three months, Wright was thrust into the postseason spot light as the Indians' Game 2 starter in the ALDS against the Yankees. After a rough first inning in which three one-out walks came around to score, Wright held the Yanks scoreless through six more innings to earn the win. He then returned following his club's dramatic walk-off victory in Game 4 to kill the Yankees' momentum with four shutout innings to start Game 5. He left that game in the sixth with a 4-3 lead, which held up, giving him the win as the Indians advanced. Wright lasted just three innings in his only start in the ALCS against the Orioles, but his team was again victorious and he redeemed himself in Game 4 of the World Series. Holding the Marlins to three runs through six innings, Jaret earned the win as the Indians evened the series at 2-2. He was even better on three days rest in Game 7, not allowing a run until Bobby Bonilla's lead-off homer in the seventh inning. Unfortunately, his team was only able to score two runs and a ninth-inning rally by the Marlins and 11th inning heroics by Bonilla and Edgar Renteria overshadowed Wright's performance as the Marlins won the series.

The 1998 season was, prior to 2004, Jaret Wright's best as a major leaguer and the only one in which he pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. He was little more than a league average pitcher that year, throwing just 192 2/3 innings in 32 starts with an average 4.72 ERA, an unspectacular 6.54 K/9 and an ugly 4.06 BB/9. He then tanked his Game 1 starts in both the ALDS against the Red Sox and ALCS against the Yankees before turning in a stellar long relief performance in a losing effort in ALCS Game 5. Nonetheless, the Indians believed that Wright was the future of their rotation and inked him to an escalating $8.75 million four-year deal with a $6 million option for 2003 that October.

Wright should count his lucky stars for that contract, for in 1999 things began to fall apart. Early in the season, Wright pitched through shoulder and upper back problems before finally landing on the DL in July and returning to the DL after attempting to come back too soon in August. The injuries limited him to 26 starts, but more importantly wreaked havoc on his effectiveness (more walks, less Ks, 6.06 ERA). Having made the postseason for the third time in as many seasons, Wright was limited to a single two-inning relief appearance in ALDS Game 3, in which he allowed five runs. The Indians would go on to lose the series to the Red Sox.

Things only got worse in 2000. After just eight starts, Wright landed on the DL again in early June with strained sub-scapularis muscles in his right shoulder. He returned to make one more start, lasting just two innings against the lowly Devil Rays before being shut down for the season. On August 17 he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum and minor fraying of his rotator cuff.

Wright didn't pitch again for the Indians again until May 19, 2001 and barely lasted a month with the big club in 2001, posting a 6.52 ERA and walking more men than he struckout over seven starts. On June 22 he was demoted to triple-A Buffalo where he made seven more starts before landing on the DL once again with a sprained joint in his pitching shoulder, again requiring season-ending surgery.

In 2002, Wright again began the season on the DL, this time not making it back to the big club until late July, following a month-long rehab assignment in Buffalo. Back in the majors, Wright tanked big-time, getting bounced back to Buffalo after two awful starts. He pitched well in triple-A, but after getting recalled in late-August immediately lost his spot in the rotation. He finished the season with a horrific 15.71 ERA, again having walked more than he struck out. That October the Indians wisely declined that $6 million option making Wright a free agent.

Not two months later, the San Diego Padres took a flier on Wright, turning him into a reliever in the hope that his still mid-90s fastball could be used to fill the giant hole created in their pen by Trevor Hoffman's two off-season shoulder surgeries. By early June, Wright had pitched himself back to triple-A where he was absolutely aces out of the Portland (PCL) pen (1.42 ERA, 10 K/9, 3.3 BB/9). Unfortunately, things didn't go as well when Jaret was recalled to the big club and he was placed on waivers at the end of August.

That's when the Braves snatched him up and Leo Mazzone got a hold of him. Wright posted a 2.00 ERA, 9 K/BB and 3 BB/9 in eleven outings out of the Braves pen to conclude 2003 and pitched four scoreless innings out of the pen against the Cubs in a losing cause in the NLDS. The Braves resigned him for 2004, installed him as their fifth starter and watched in amazement as he emerged as their ace, making 32 starts, winning 15 of them, and posting a 3.28 ERA, 7.7 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9. He then tanked in the postseason, losing both of his starts as the Braves were finally defeated by the Astros in the NLDS.

The Yankees then decided he was a better investment than Jon Lieber.

posted by Cliff at 1:20 AM

Monday, December 27, 2004

In Memory of Eddie Layton 

Eddie Layton, Yankee Stadium organist from 1967 until 2003, died on Sunday following a brief illness. He was believed to have been in his late 70s. Layton was employed by CBS as an organist for radio soap operas when the network bought the Yankees in 1965. Two years later, they made him the first organist in Yankee Stadium history. Over his 37 seasons "tinkling the ivories," Layton's organ playing had become as much a part of the Yankee Stadium experience as the voice of Bob Sheppard (who preceded him by 18 years). Layton retired with the conclusion of the 2003 World Series (I took the above photo before Game 1 of the 2003 ALDS). His absence this past season was more than simply noticeable, it was glaring.

Here's Layton's New York Times obituary.

Some MP3s from Eddie's final album, 1997s You Gotta Have Heart, are available here.

And since everyone seems to insist on running photos of Eddie from the end of his life, here are a couple of classic Eddie Layton album covers that show the man in his prime.

posted by Cliff at 2:20 PM

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