Saturday, January 29, 2005

NRIs in the OF 

When the Yankees traded Kenny Lofton and cash for Felix Rodriguez back in early December I wrote the following:
The Yankees 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.
Well, Beltran never did materialize, but yesterday the names of those live bodies were announced as the Yankees released a list of 18 non-roster invitees that included four outfielders and former Devil Rays' utility man Damian Rolls. I'll take a look at that NRI list in my next few posts, starting here with the outfielders:

Doug Glanville the 34-year-old Hackensack, NJ native and UPenn grad makes outs. He offers the Yankees the best centerfield defense they've had since Bernie and Gerald Williams were teammates for the first time. A large part of that is thanks to his speed, which also makes him a threat on the bases (182 steals at an 82 percent success rate for his career and 8 for 8 in limited time in '04). Unfortunately, the only team to which Glanville is a threat at the plate is his own. Ever since a stellar 1999 campaign (.325/.376/.457 - .283, 204 H, 101 R, 34 for 36 on the bases) Glanville has been downright dreadful at the plate. The reason? More outs. Posting a cumulative line of .259/.290/.356 (.220) from 2000 to 2004, Glanville has cost his teams a whopping 97 runs against average. 2004 was his worst year yet, featuring such horrifying numbers as a .244 OBP, .265 SLG, and a 32 OPS+ in 175 plate appearances. Oh, and he's not funny.

Damian Rolls In parts of five seasons with the Devil Rays, Rolls played every position except for shortstop and pitcher. His primary position seems to be third base, where he's played the majority of his games and earned 68 starts while posting a 108 Rate in 2003. A speedy 27-year-old, he seems well suited to the outfield as well, where he can chase down flies with his legs more successfully than he can judge when to use his sticks on the basepaths (career 67 percent stolen base percentage). This combination of speed and versatile defense would seem to make Rolls a useful guy to have a round. He also has a reputation within the Devil Rays' organization as a tough-nosed gamer and a fine fellow. Too bad, then, that his career line is .248/.291/.337 (.215) in 883 plate appearances. After a dreadful .162/.231/.205 (.155) in 2004 even the D-Rays got the hint. Rolls started 2004 as Tampa's starting third baseman but lost the job, and his roster spot, almost instantly. He was sent down on May 5 and after bouncing between Tampa and Durham all season was released in mid-November.

Mike Vento You may remember Vento from last year's spring training. The 26-year-old minor leaguer cracked triple-A in 2003 and spent the entire 2004 season as the Columbus Clippers' right fielder hitting .275/.333/.441 (.260).

Colin Porter This 29-year-old lefty played all three outfield positions in cups of coffee for the Cardinals in 2004 (35 at-bats) and Astros in 2003 (32 at-bats), compiling a .254/.265/.313 (.198) line. With triple-A Memphis last year he hit .261/.316/.424 (.248) in 330 at-bats. He can steal the occasional base, but he'll have to do it in Columbus, if he's even that lucky.

Noah Hall This 27-year-old career minor-leaguer joins his fourth organization in as many years. His primary skill is getting on base, which makes him a bit of an outlier as far as Yankee reserves go. With triple-A Syracuse last year he hit .233/.354/.318 (.239) in 176 at-bats. He's stolen 129 bases in his minor league career, but at a sub-standard 68 percent success rate.


There's no real reason for any of these guys to be given a major league job in 2005. Rolls' defensive versatility and speed could make him handy for a well-stocked NL team in need of a super-sub for late game switches, but even that's a bit of a stretch given his inability to get on base and career .350 SLG in the minors.

So it's back to Bubba. At least he's scrappy.

For those feeling queasy about this (which is an intelligent reaction), here are the PECOTA projections for the three "major leaguers," which should help calm the nerves a tad:

Crosby: .261/.323/.424 (.251)
Rolls: .248/.309/.382 (.235)
Glanville: .243/.285/.335 (.212)

Of course, these are imaginary numbers. I'm not so sure that Rolls is that much better than Glanville. But if Bubba can reach base at a .323 clip, he'll likely be the best OBP guy on the Yankee bench. To steal from Bill Simmons, I think I just threw up in my mouth.

Damian, Colin, Noah, Mike, Douglas Metunwa, thanks for playing. Richard Stephen Crosby, come on down.

posted by Cliff at 1:47 AM

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Other Four 

Anchored by Gary Sheffield (.318 EQA), Hideki Matsui (.317), Alex Rodriguez (.312), and Jorge Posada (.310), the Yankees lead the major leagues in EQA in 2004. This despite Derek Jeter's awful start, the continued decline of Bernie Williams (his .281 EQA in '04 was his lowest since 1993), and league average production from first base, second base and designated hitter. Jeter, of course, finished the season strong, putting his EQA within range of his career average (.291 to a career .301), and should be expected return to that career line in 2005, giving the Yankee's a phenomenal offensive core of five players with EQAs at or above .300. Entering the offseason with those players in place, the Yankees were in position to make their 2005 club nearly unstoppable on offense with a few smart moves to help fill the other four slots in the batting order and sure up the bench. This is what they did with those four remaining positions:

Second Base

The Yankees refused to pay Official BRB Dream Team Utility Infielder Miguel Cairo $1.5 million per season to be their back-up second baseman (Cairo signed a one-year deal with the Mets for $900,000). They then refused to give Official BRB Dream Team Second Baseman Placido Polanco a multi-year deal with a minimum annual salary of $5 million (Polanco wound up accepting $4.6 million one-year deal from the Phillies after failing to generate enough interest on the free-agent market), and signed Tony Womack to a two-year, $4 million contract. They also declined to offer arbitration to Enrique Wilson (who eventually signed a minor league deal with the Orioles) and earlier this week signed Rey Sanchez to a one-year, $600,000 contract.

This to me the decision to pass on Polanco and Cairo and sign Womack was the first sign that the Yankees had indeed reached the upper limits of their ability to spend. It seems the luxury tax works after all.

Here are some career numbers on the five players listed above:

Cairo .250 EQA, 100, Rate 2, age 31
Wilson .223 EQA, 90 Rate2, age 31
Womack .244 EQA, 95 Rate2, age 35
Sanchez .229 EQA, 105 Rate2, age 37
Polanco .261 EQA, 108 Rate2, age 29

Clearly Polanco is the most desirable player on the list as he's the best hitter, best fielder, and youngest player. Unfortunately, the Yankees funneled the money it would have taken to sign Polanco into a pair of questionable pitching contracts (Pavano and Wright, of course) and an overstocked bullpen, the latter of which could turn out to cause other problems, which I'll get to shortly.

Sanchez is an improvement over Wilson almost by default. Neither can hit, but at least Sanchez can field. And when one isolates the past four seasons (2001-2004), Sanchez, as bad as he is, is actually a significant improvement at the plate, adding 46 points of OBP:

Wilson: .210/.251/.314 (.191 GPA) in 769 PA
Sanchez: .269/.297/.327 (.215 GPA) in 1641 PA

What's more, in order for the Yankees to have retained Wilson they likely would have had to increase his 2004 salary, which was already $100,000 more than Sanchez will earn in 2005. This seems like a good move until one realizes that Sanchez will be backing up Tony Womack at $2 million per year rather than Miguel Cairo--a younger player with a better glove, a better bat, and a markedly better postseason history--at $1.5 million per year. Of course, Cairo at second would not have improved the team at all, if anything he's due for some correction after a career year at the plate in '04, but that doesn't change the fact that he's cheaper, younger and plain better (even if only marginally) than Womack.

Then there's the issue of backing up third base.

Career Games at 3B:

Polanco - 313, 113 Rate2
Wilson - 155, 98 Rate2
Cairo - 70, 92 Rate2
Sanchez - 18, 110 Rate2
Womack - 0

Sanchez's 110 Rate2 at third looks impressive until you find out that 17 of those 18 games came in 1994. This could be a good thing, however, as, for all the talk about Robinson Cano getting a chance to take over at second, the Yankees have a rookie on hand who would be far more qualified for the job. His name is Andy Phillips.

Consider their 2004 stats at AA:

Cano: .288 EQA in 319 PA
Phillips: .362 in 45 PA

And AAA:

Cano: .242 EQA in 235 PA
Phillips: .313 in 487 PA

Cano, who, at 22, is five and a half years younger than Phillips, may turn out to be the long-term solution at second base, but for 2005 the best option the Yankees have is Andy Phillips. The catch is that Phillips played just seven games at second base last year after missing the majority of 2003 with an elbow injury. Unfortunately, I don't know if his move to first base has more to do with Cano's emergence or Phillips' fielding. Still, Phillips hits for power and high OBP and the Yankees haven't had a second baseman with a triple-digit Rate2 at second since 1998. They have very little to lose by giving Phillips the job.

Of course, they won't give Andy the job, and that's where Womack and Sanchez's lack of experience at third base comes in handy. Phillips played 13 games at third base in the minors last year and four more in his September call-up (2 for 8 with a homer). Maybe, just maybe, that ability to push Gary Sheffield down another notch on the third-base depth chart will earn Phillips that extra look that he'll need to impress Joe Torre.

And that's where the overstuffed bullpen comes back in. The Yankees have seven relievers signed to major league contracts: Mariano Rivera, Tom Gordon, Paul Quantrill, Felix Rodriguez, Mike Stanton, Steve Karsay and Tanyon Sturtze. If they all make the 25-man roster, Phillips will get squeezed out. Of course, Karsay remains an I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it phenomenon and Sturtze could very well wind up in the rotation considering the injury histories of the Yankees starting five (Kevin Brown and Jaret Wright especially). But that's for another post, meanwhile our search for an extra roster spot leads us to . . .


Bernie Williams hasn't posted a triple-digit Rate2 since 1999 and over the past three seasons his Rate2s have been 89, 92, and 93. What's worse, his always weak throwing arm has become somehow less than that, so when he's not failing to get to fly balls or failing to cut off potential doubles, he's giving up extra bases to runners. On top of that, he's gone from being an magnificent offensive performer to modest one. Dig:

1994-2002: .319/.404/.525 (.313 GPA)
2003-2004: .262/.363/.424 (.269 GPA)

At age 36, in the final year of his contract (the Yankees hold a $15/3.5 million option for 2006 that they'll surely buy out), Bernie has clearly reached the end of the line as the Yankee centerfielder. The only thing working in his favor is that centerfield is the fourth most difficult position to get offense from (after catcher, shortstop and second base--which is why that strength-up-the-middle thing translates so well to winning). Of course, that is precisely the reason why the Yankees needed to sign Official BRB Dream Team Centerfielder Carlos Beltran. Beltran is young, regularly posts EQAs above .300, and is an asset in the field. Beltran signed a seven-year, $119 million contract with the Mets, but according to multiple reports was willing, if not downright eager, to sign a six-year, $100 million contract with the Yankees instead. Sadly, the Yankees are both cash-strapped and gun-shy about long-term contracts to people who have never dated Alyssa Milano, both in large part thanks to Jason Giambi (who still has five years and $82 million remaining on his contract). Thus, Bernie Williams will again be the Yankee centerfielder in 2005.

Now, much as I love Bernie, having him in center in 2004 was a detriment, but one that was eased somewhat by the presence of Kenny Lofton (who, if also a shadow of his former self, was at least an improvement in the field, posting a 99 Rate to go with an acceptable .270 EQA). However, Lofton was dumped on the Phillies, along with one million dollars, for yet another right-handed reliever, Felix Rodriguez (there's that overstuffed bullpen again). So the Yankees back-up centerfielder is currently . . . Bubba Crosby.

This is what I wrote about Bubba when reviewing the Yankees' 40-man roster in November:
Bubba began a love affair with the Bronx faithful by hitting homers in his first two Yankee Stadium at-bats and making two great plays in his first start in the Bronx. He then did absolutely nothing for the remainder of the year in 53 more games with the big club, and not much worth mentioning in 116 at-bats in Columbus. A great deal of time spent riding pine with the big club may have hurt his swing, but the 28-year-old outfielder appears unable to hit lefties and, despite making the team out of spring training in 2004, seems like a long shot to wear pinstripes in the future, lest he become the outfield answer to Enrique Wilson. God forbid.
Now, perhaps I was being a bit hard on Bubba. It's quite possible that all that time spent on the major league bench did inhibit Crosby's abilities at the plate last season. Baseball Prosepectus's PECOTA system projects him to hit .261/.323/.412 (.248), which, if below average, is certainly well above Enrique Wilson levels. Still, Crosby is 28 years old and even with that PECOTA projection seems unlikely to blossom into anything other than the pinch-runner and defensive replacement he was last season. As a defensive replacement for Bernie in center, he could be very valuable, but the need to use up a roster spot on an outfielder who likely won't contribute at the plate seems a tremendous waste.

This is the hidden effect of resigning Ruben Sierra. The list of things that Sierra can't do (field, get on base one-third of the time, hit lefties not named Ricardo Rincon) is longer than the list of things he can do (hit for power in the clutch). To make things worse, the perception of what Sierra can do is, as one might suspect, largely the product of selective memory (I'd quote the splits here, but as they reveal no noticeable trends--which is my point--I'll leave it at that). Had the Yankees retained Kenny Lofton (mind you I was pleased by the trade of Lofton at the time it was made), they would have had a single player who could do everything that Crosby and Sierra can do combined (minus a pinch of Sierra's power, but not as much as you'd suspect). Lofton and Felix Rodriguez are due to make similar amounts in 2005. Subtracting Sierra's $1.5 million salary and the $1 million (actually $1.525 million) sent to the Phillies in the trade, the Yankees could have cleared up $3 million, opened a roster spot, and reduced the decline in production they're likely to suffer at this position simply by putting up with Lofton's complaints about playing time.

(For those thinking that Hideki Matsui can play centerfield, note that he had a 90 Rate2 during his 46 games there in 2003. Ask yourself how often you'd like to see a Yankee outfield defense of Ruben Sierra, Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. Didn't think so.)

First Base/Designated Hitter

Here the Yankees hands were tied. Because of his monstrous contract, they were forced to include Jason Giambi in their first-base plans. My Dream Team suggestion for a back-up/DH was a short-term, make-good deal with Troy Glaus. The Diamondbacks killed that idea by giving Glaus $45 million over four years. Thus signing Tino Martinez to a one-year, $2.7 million deal (with a club option for 2006) was, surprisingly, the best option the Yankees had. Unlike second base and centerfield, at which the team will most likely suffer a drop in production should they stick with their current plans, the Yanks should get an increase in production at first base in 2005. The pie-in-the-sky reason for that, of course, would be a healthy and productive Jason Giambi. Unfortunately, from what little I know about the long-term effects of steroids on the tendons, that seems quite unlikely. Still, PECOTA projects Giambi to hit .249/.386/.472 (.292) in 307 at-bats. I would think the Yankees would be delighted to get that, as it would be an improvement over what they got out of the first base and DH positions in 2005. The same should be true for whatever they get out of Tino.

The problem is that the repercussions of having failed to sign Beltran are felt here as well. With Beltran, the Yankees could have juggled Bernie, Tino and Giambi at first base and DH, while keeping Ruben Sierra on the bench where he can do the least damage to the Yankees and the most to opponents as a pinch hitter. Instead, Bernie will have to start in center, Tino will have to become the every-day firstbaseman (which is great news for the defense, but less encouraging for the offense), and the Yankees ability to keep Sierra out of the line-up will depend entirely on Giambi staying healthy or Andy Phillips snagging a starting job at DH or firstbase. Which of those two scenarios do you think is less likely?

So there you have it. Given the opportunity to improve themselves at four positions, the Yankees have taken a step backwards at two of them and are relying on the health of Jason Giambi to improve the other two. Meanwhile, their bench consists of two 37-year-olds (Sanchez and Flaherty) and a 39-year-old (Sierra), none of whom reaches base in one third of their plate appearances, and a pair of 28-year-old rookies, the better of whom might not even make the team at all. Two of the immediate causes of this situation are an over-stuffed bullpen that doesn't even include a LOOGY and a pair of misguided contracts to starting pitchers which, combined with the all-veteran bullpen, ate up what remained of the team's payroll flexibility. I guess that's what it means when they say "pitching is our priority this offseason."

posted by Cliff at 8:12 PM

Giving Back 

Monday morning at 2 am, Larry Mahnken's apartment building burned down, taking all of his possessions with it. Larry did not have insurance and is now staying at his sister's while trying to put the pieces together. Please help him buy clothes, a computer and save money to find a new home by making a donation to his PayPal account. Even small amounts will help. Larry has donated a great deal of his own time and energy to us via the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog and more recently The Hardball Times. The least we can do is give him something back in his hour of need.

posted by Cliff at 11:11 AM

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Sounds of Silence 

Sorry for the silence, folks. Sadly, it's going to continue a tad longer. This is just to let you know that I'm fine and that this blog has not become dormant. Thing is, I'm up to my neck in work (been putting in nights and weekends at home of late). That this has coincided with the incative period of the offseason (the Yankees have made all of their major moves and the pitchers and catchers buzz remains inaudible), has allowed me to become a bit negligent in this space. I'm hoping I'll have time to put up a rainy day post or three soon, so please keep checking back. Either way, I hope to do a full set of division previews beginning in February (which is just a week from tomorrow!), and I need to close the book on the BRB Dream Team and the Yankees offseason transactions, so there will be plenty to read here in the very near future, I assure you.

posted by Cliff at 1:03 AM

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