Friday, November 11, 2005

Just Me And A-Rod

I was thinking about the Yankees yesterday (such an uncommon occurrence), about Alex Rodriguez specifically and how he’s right up there with the Hollywood celebrities in terms of visibility. We’re hardly a week removed from the incident where A-Rod was seen playing poker at illegal (to operate, not to participate) underground clubs. There are constantly notions being tossed around as to his character: he’s a prima donna, that he’s not a team player, that he can’t handle pressure, or that he’s just a plain dick.

This got me to thinking, am I like A-Rod at all? The first thought to pop in my head was, “well, we’re both handsome, charming individuals,” so there was already a plus in the column. But after mulling over the issue a bit more, I found out that A-Rod and I aren’t all that alike.

For starters, I am a very eligible bachelor. For all the beautiful single women out there, you can dial me up any time because I know no anchors. Sure, I have my share of concubines, but as Dexter Holland would say, “she ain’t no ball and chain.” A-Rod, however, is married, and officially off the market. He may have a beautiful wife, but that’s just one woman. Me = available. A-Rod = unavailable.

(Oh, A-Rod, Ice Cube may have some advice for you: “Sometimes I used to wonder / How the hell an ugly dude get a fine girl’s number / He’s gettin juiced for all his Ducats.” Take it from me, A-Rod, because “ I tell a girl in a minute yo, I drive a bucket / And won’t think nuttin of it.”)

Second, A-Rod requires therapy to keep his mental health in check. Me, I’m 100 percent mentally sound, or at least by clinical standards. I’m not knocking on anyone in therapy, but let’s be honest. Who would rather be in therapy than be healthy enough to not need it? Not bragging, just making an observation.

I also don’t judge people by what salary they make, like A-Rod did with Derek Jeter. I realize that most people aren’t paid what they are worth, so making a comment about it is pointless. A-Rod, he seems to think it an insult that Jeter comes within $7 million of his contract.

Oh, and I have a college education. A-Rod, not so much. He seemed to think that playing professional baseball was an apt substitute for receiving a piece of paper that literally millions of Americans possess. What are you going to do, A-Rod, when your playing career is over and Phil Helmuth takes all of your money in an all or nothing poker game?

There are a few other little things that differentiate myself from Mr. Rodriguez, but I don’t think they’re worth nitpicking over.

In actual news, Javier Vazquez formally requested a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks, exercising a clause in the CBA that allows players traded after the first year of a multi-year contract to demand a ticket to another city or be released. The D-Backs have until March 15th to work out a trade or plead with Javy to stay. At that time, barring a deal, he would be placed on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release.

ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark lists the Mets, Marlins, Red Sox, Phillies, Blue Jays, Tigers and Cardinals as possible suitors for Vazquez. But Stark is underestimating the Fantasy GMs in New York. You know they’re sitting at their computers, plotting a Cano and Chacon for Vazquez trade proposal that will drive us the way of Syd Barrett. These are the same people who have been advocating Johnny Damon for center field, would trade Wang for Torii Hunter, and think that there’s an iota of a prayer that J.P. Ricciardi would send us Vernon Wells under any circumstances.

So I’ve run out of material (it happens), but I do want to link to this superb piece from the LA Times, wherein they allow a writer from Reason magazine to rag on Bill Plaschke. If you hate Plaschke as much as me, you’ll at least get a few yuks out of this one.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Six Degrees Of Mediocrity

Way back in May, a time most of us have stored in the depths of our subconscious, I had quite a bit of praise for a guy named Tanyon Sturtze. Even though I feel just a bit foolish for saying these things, it is alleviated by the fact that he actually pitched well to that point, and a bit beyond. He looked like the savior Joe Torre was looking for, the 7th inning head to his flawless bullpen scheme that somewhat compensated for a lack of starters who could pitch into the eighth inning.

In 2004 it was Paul Quantrill, and the results weren’t atrocious. In fact, the scheme worked quite well until Paul recalled the elusive fact that he was 35 and hadn’t pitched so many innings (95 1/3 by the end) since he was a starter with Toronto in 1996. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I’m actually surprised the experiment worked as well as it did. After all, Quantrill was the prototypical Yankee bust: held a decent to good track record, coming off a spectacular season. It’s always a formula for failure once the pinstripes are donned. But until August, Quantrill showed few signs that he would be breaking down.

It was about that time that Torre started to go with Tanyon Sturtze, who had come from the same place as Quantrill: Los Angeles, though he could have been had for free quite a few times in the 2003-2004 off-season. He wasn’t an automatic with a lead in the seventh like Quantrill had been, but Sturtze still made many an appearance beginning in mid-August or so. The diagnosis on the kid (though he was 33 at the time) was that he lacked the confidence to throw strikes. Everyone knew about his blazing fastball that was complemented by a less than devastating splitter, but everyone also knew that if they waited up there long enough, chances are Sturtze would give them first base for free.

In fact, his BB/9 stats since 2000 aren’t exactly top-notch, and are further compounded by his strikeout to walk ratio.

              ’00         ’01         ’02         ’03         ’04         ’05
BB/9:   3.82     3.64       3.58     4.33     3.84     3.12
K/BB:   1.52     1.39       1.54     1.26     1.70     1.67
*relief years in bold

I’ll get to the downward trend of the last three years in a minute. But let’s compare that BB/9 and K/BB rate of a quality middle reliever like, oh say, Paul Quantrill over the same period:

              ’00         ’01         ’02         ’03         ’04         ’05
BB/9:   2.69     1.30       2.94     1.75     1.89     1.70
K/BB:   1.88     4.83       2.12     2.93     1.85     2.57

Quantrill may not have been great with the Yanks, but at least he didn’t “clog the base paths,” allowing opponents to capitalize in the later innings. Is it fair, though, to compare Tanoyon – a career underachiever – with Paul Quantrill, considered a consistent option at middle relief until he broke down in August, 2004? Baseball Reference has a list at the bottom of each player’s card that lists similar players. I don’t know exactly what they base this on, but let’s make a blind observation here. A familiar name popped up here: Jason Grimsley. So let’s walk through his BB/9 and K/BB since 2000

              ’00         ’01         ’02         ’03         ’04         ’05
BB/9:   3.92     3.14       4.67     4.32     5.00     3.68
K/BB:   1.26     2.18       1.61     1.61     1.11     1.11

Now that’s more like it. Notice, however, Grimsley’s years below the Mendoza Line in K/BB(1.50 roughly) – 2000, 2004, 2005. Two of those years got him booted from his club – the Yankees in 2000, the friggin Royals in 2004 – and 2005 was an injury year.

Before I move on, I just want to go over what’s been proven so far. We’ve seen similarities in defensive independent pitching statistics (though not DIPS as a whole. That formula can be found here. Good luck with that) between Grimsley and Sturtze, while using Quantrill to demonstrate the numbers a quality reliever puts up. Needless to say, the former two just don’t measure up with the latter.

You may have noticed that Sturtze’s BB/9 and K/BB rates have spiked since he joined the Yankees. This is a relative spiking, since his numbers still do not constitute a good reliever, but a serviceable one. Remember that term, serviceable, at the end of this column.

The spiking statistics may be misleading, though, as Sturtze seems to be a one-month-a-year kinda pitcher, and that month helps level out his statistics. In 2004, it was September; in 2005, it was May. So let’s take a look at those same BB/9 and K/BB stats for those months compared with their yearly stats, along with their yearly stats sans the aberration month.

                  BB/9       K/BB       ERA
2004         3.84       1.70       5.47
Sep. 04     3.60       2.67       4.20
04 - Sep.   3.90       1.48       5.78

It must be noted here that the only runs he gave up in September were in one game against the Royals, though it was a seven run performance. Kinda ruins the whole idea, and I was thinking of excluding that appearance from the September 2004 stats, but that would be deceiving. Just know that his ERA would have been 0.00 if not for that appearance. But now to 2005.

                  BB/9       K/BB       ERA
2005         3.12       1.67       4.73
May 05     0.50       10.0       0.50
05 - May   3.90       1.34       6.00

Sans May, Sturtze was up to his old crappy tricks. And since May was so long ago, I would say that his performance over the remainder of 2005 was much more telling. So let’s go over the facts.

Tanyon Sturtze is a serviceable reliever who is comparable to Jason Grimsley. He has the propensity to shine for one month per year, and other than that his stats are pretty below average. So now the point becomes clear: why the hell would the Yankees pick up his 2006 option for $1.5 million? There is no possible way that Tanyon Sturtze is worth a million and a half. He can be bought out for a tenth of what his salary would be, so it makes a world of sense just to pay him his $150,000 and let him sign back on with the Devil Rays.

Seriously, think of all the ways you could spend $1.5 million. Would a year of service from Tanyon Sturtze be on that list? I would certainly hope not. I know a lot of what preceded was a bunch of hot air, but that’s the whole point: so is Sturtze. In a time when Brian Cashman wants to reduce payroll, I saw two obvious places to start: declining the options on both Tino and Sturtze. Phase One is complete. Phase Two seems just as obvious.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

From T.O. to C.P.

Okay, FINALLY, no more relevant issues. I’m actually so sick and tired of the whole T.O. thing that I can’t believe I actually dedicated a significant portion of space to him today. But everybody gets one. You know who else gets one today? Corey Patterson.

He’s one of the center fielders rumored to be on the trade block, though the Cubs aren’t quite to the stage of whoring him out yet. The reason is simple: who wants an undisciplined hitter who strikes out an inordinate amount of times? Patterson’s bat was so Antarctica this year that he was sent down for a stint at Triple-A Iowa. But let’s get a few facts straight about C.P. (I’m in full-on monogram style today) before we toss his name aside as a possibility for pinstripes.

Let’s examine pure numbers at first before we get to the intangibles, since the latter will put the former in better perspective. So just take a gander at C.P.’s OBP and Slugging Percentage since his rookie year in 2000 (when he was 20).

            ’00       ’01       ’02       ’03       ’04       ’05      
OBP: .239, .266,   .284,   .329,   .320,   .254
SLG: .333,   .336,   .392,   .511,     .452,   .348

Notice the consistent rise and the abrupt fall off. A quick notion might be that Patterson’s 2003 injury may have been his undoing. But, it was a torn ACL, not something that usually affects one’s hitting. That’s more defense, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Since Patterson strikes out more than his share, it’s easy to write him off with the Billy Beane given nickname, “Mr. Swings At Everything.” But check out Patterson’s numbers (and the trend) when it comes to plate appearances per strikeout:

              ’00       ’01       ’02       ’03       ’04       ’05      
PA/K: 3.36,   4.39,   4.42,   4.51,   4.09,   4.08

Once again, peaking in 2003 and dropping off severely in ’04 and ’05. Does a torn ACL make a player strike out more? I’m no doctor, but from what I’ve learned in the NFL, a torn ACL affects one’s ability to accelerate, reach top speed and to make abrupt “cuts” (or jukes, whatever you want to call it). Nothing about the ability to swing a bat (though there is a good amount of power taken from the legs). It’s also becoming more common for players to fully recover from torn leg ligaments. For an example, look at Jamal Lewis, who came back full force from a torn ACL. True, he’s having a crappy year this year, but that’s more attributable to his time in prison than his ACL, which has been healed for years.

So can we really write off C.P. as a star once rising, but whose dreams were broken by an unfortunate injury? I don’t think we can at this point, and that’s mainly due to Dusty Baker, who took over managerial duties for the Cubbies in 2003, the very year of C.P.’s peak.

Dusty Baker has been quoted saying that walks “clog the base paths,” though that quote has been misused quite often. Here is the exact quote in question (though the context can still be in some question, since I don’t have the rest of the interview/press conference it came from):

"I think walks are overrated unless you can run," Baker said. "If you get a walk and put the pitcher in a stretch, that helps. But the guy who walks and can't run, most of the time they're clogging up the bases for somebody who can run."

For C.P., running was never an issue until the ACL incident. So here’s he is, a rising star who is about to enter his breakout season. His new manager ostensibly doesn’t prefer walks, but probably doesn’t care in C.P.’s case because he has wheels (he could also swipe a bag with the best of them). And then, running to first on a warm July night, his ACL goes.

C.P. enters spring training ’04 ready to go and duplicate his ’03 performance and prove he’s still breaking out. One problem: how does he gauge how much his repaired leg can handle? Traditional thinking says that he at least needs to take it easy, so his speed threat is diminished. And since Dusty Baker doesn’t like guys who walk and can’t run, it’s only natural to see Corey swinging more and walking less. From there, frustration mounts, the strikeouts pile up, and a bit over a year later, C.P. is swinging away in Triple-A.

The ACL incident also brings his defense into question, especially since he plays center. I would like to take this time to note that I place very little heed to the commonly used defensive statistic “Range Factor,” since it doesn’t account for the player’s arm at all. Sure, it factors in outfield assists, but Vlad Guerrero doesn’t get a rating boost because no one goes from first to third on a ball hit to right.

But, if we are to pay these stats any mind, C.P.’s range factor per nine innings actually increased in 2004 and 2005, though he is still considered well below league average. You know who else are considered below average defensively (in the AL)? Grady Sizemore, Vernon Wells, and Aaron Rowand. The top AL guys: David DeJesus (deserving) and Johnny Damon. Because I’d much rather have Damon and his lollipop arm in center than Aaron Rowand.

Since we don’t get the Cubs over here in Jersey, I can’t really comment on C.P.’s defensive abilities because I never really get to see him. I can, however, comment on Rowand since I’ve seen him perform great feats in center, and Wells, since the Yanks play the Jays enough in a season to get a gauge on his range. I’ve heard that C.P. is a good defender, though, and that’s all I have to go on.

What am I saying with all of this? Basically, that C.P. needs a change of scenery. The Yankees are a team driven by patience, and maybe being surrounded by these guys is the confidence booster that he needs to get out there, be a bit more patient at the plate, and play to his full potential.

The only obstacle I see is price. What do the Yankees have that the Cubbies would covet? Or are they holding a makeshift fire sale for C.P., and he can be had at the Chacon-esque price of a few shaky relievers? Hell, I would even mull the possibility of sending Proctor over for him. But if the price gets to the range of Melky, Hughes, or Duncan, I don’t think the risk will outweigh the cost.

And Dusty, we’ll gladly let C.P. clog the base paths in the Bronx.

T.O., You Talented Dick

Decent day at the presses, with Mariano coming up short in the Cy Young voting, Tino’s option declined, Omar Minaya trying to acquire the pieces for Manny, Jorge Posada’s name being tossed around in trade rumors, and T.O., T.O., T.O. Quick thought on that before I make up some news for today.

I’ve never held a high opinion of Owens’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and his stint with the press yesterday only further confirms that. The best question asked (and of course, answered with a “Next Question”): “What have you done for T.O. other than getting him kicked off the team?”

T.O.’s previous agent was fired because of the infamous incident when he didn’t file papers in time that would void T.O.’s contract in San Fran, which ended up costing him millions on the open market, and his big chance to be the marquee free agent. Rosenhaus had better hope that Redskins owner Dan Snyder is still drinking the stupid juice, because that’s the only shot T.O. has at a mammoth pay day. Barring that, no team is going to pay T.O. what he thinks he’s worth.

What I don’t understand is why Rosenhaus thought this whole public campaign for a new contract would ever work in Philadelphia. For starters, it’s not like T.O. flew under anyone’s radar. Everyone was aware of his less than orthodox antics in the Bay, including implications that his quarterback, Jeff Garcia, plays for the other team. But when he gets to Philly, all he talks about is how happy he is, how much he wants to play for the Eagles, and that he’d be considered the best receiver ever if only Donovan McNabb had been throwing to him his entire career.

And we all waited for something to boil over. Didn’t take too long, now did it? And sure, T.O. has the argument that he outplayed his contract, and put his own physical health aside for the team to come back for the Super Bowl. But that does not necessarily constitute a pay raise, especially in the NFL, where contracts are normally reduced – or the player has another option: termination of employment.

T.O. and Rosenhaus also make the argument that the Eagles have the most cap room in the NFL, and that the money should be used to pay T.O. proportionally for this contribution to the team. Listen, Drew, I know you’ll go to great lengths to get your clients paid, but there’s a problem here. The Eagles may have all this cap room, but they sure as hell didn’t get it by renegotiating long term deals after Year One. They have a strict policy of not overpaying players, and it has resulted in the most financial freedom of the 32 NFL teams, while still placing them in the upper echelon (when they’re healthy).

Some may call Rosenhaus a “shark,” but I call him a “dick.” The NFL would do itself some good by trying to muscle in some stricter language concerning holdouts in the next CBA, which is due for renegotiation about nowish. These players can’t continue to be detriments to their teams for the selfish reason of wanting a new deal, when the old one wasn’t signed at gunpoint.

And what happened to being happy just playing the game? When did guys start thinking that a $5 million bonus with a $1.75 million base salary plus incentives wasn’t enough? It’s an age old argument that I totally buy into: there are literally millions of people who would kill to have the talent to play professional sports, and the ones that do have the talent seem completely ungrateful because they aren’t making Bill Gates money.

If I was Commissioner of the NFL, I don’t know how much further I’d let this situation get before I pulled the plug on the NFLPA. Yes, I consider pulling in replacements an option, since I’d rather have people who enjoy the game playing it. There would be strict new rules on contracts, holdouts, and media campaigning. The selfish players would just have to find other jobs.

Then again, I’m crazy.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Smorgasbord

The Matsui negotiations don’t begin until tomorrow and nothing really interesting happened at the GM meetings (but we’ll give them a break since it was the first day and all). In fact, baseball news is so slow that people like me (you know, the type that likes to talk about the Yankees ad infinitum) are even beginning to make up news so we can relieve ourselves from the same old same old – Billy Wagner, Paul Konerko, Brian Giles, et al. And it may remain like this until Monday, likely the first day a free agent will be signed.

  • Mike Cameron Rumors. The back page of the Daily News features this story, which confuses the hell out of me. What, is it a surprise that the Mets are looking to deal their semi-attractive center fielder who no longer has a spot on the team in center? Because I was sure that most teams liked to hang on to two guys playing the same position who make a combined base salary (before escalators) of $20 million (Cam’s $8 to Beltran’s $12).

    What’s next for the back page, a story about the Mets shopping Cliff Floyd? Anyone reading the sports section knows that the Mets have two center fielders and have been shopping Floyd for over a year. And if they don’t know, they more than likely don’t care too much. Sure, it was a slow news day, especially for New York sports, but is it sacrilege in Manhattan to put out of townies on the back page? Like, you know, Peyton and the Colts? Because that’s not the big story at all.

    Anyway, my main frustration with this article is the lack of speculation. Yes, and I realize that I complain when sports writers make up ridiculous trades that will never come to fruition so long as the parties involved retain their Modula Oblongata. But give us something to work with here, people. What are the Mets looking for as compensation? What is expected of the offers? Aren’t guys like Bill Madden, sent by the Daily News to the GM meetings, supposed to be probing around about issues like this?

    The good fellas over at Replacement Level Yankees Weblog have compiled a list of potential center fielders, in which Cam is broken down. I think this analysis is as good as anything I can come up with, so shoot on over there for the scoop.

  • I have gone nearly one week deep in the NBA season without really mentioning my beloved Knicks, so I think it’s about time. Personally, I think they’re doomed, and that Larry Brown is not the savior that everyone makes him out to be. For instance, after I made assertions that the Knicks have one guy who can play D (rookie PF David Lee), my buddy Jon quipped that Larry will take care of that issue. I’m sorry, but when you have a nine man rotation and the only one who can play D is the eight or nine guy, not even a guy who swears by his ability as a defensive coach can plug the hole in that ship.

    They did have a potential starter who could shore up on D, but they dished him away for an inside presence who is a mediocre – at best – rebounder and was never taught to pass the ball. Yes, I’m talking about trading Mike Sweetney for Eddie Curry. Though, Curry fits in well with the Knicks modus operandi of putting up the rock with the least number of passes. That strategy is especially fatal when there are no rebounders on the squad. Thankfully for the Knicks…oh, wait.

    So other than Eddie Curry putting the ball up every time he touches it, here are a few other observations from sporadic viewings of the first three games: Richardson is a chucker; Channing Frye can move inside on O but has little presence on D; who is Chris Barnes???; Jerome James is better off just standing in one place; no one on the team can consistently hit a J, and that’s mainly because most of the Js are launched from beyond the arc; if they wouldn’t get into such deep holes early, they wouldn’t have to mount futile comebacks.

    Twenty wins, maybe?

  • I know it’s an easy prediction to make at this point, but I fully believe that this year is Indy’s year. Forget the fact that they’re 8-0 if you can (you can’t). It seems like the team is taking scouting to the next level, as they didn’t really break out the big guns until last night against their rival Patriots.

    It’s almost like they were toying with all their previous opponents, fully aware that if they found themselves down late in the game Peyton would be there to dissect the opposing secondary. And by playing a more conservative game, they haven’t given opposing scouts much to work with. This could lead to the first undefeated season since the ’72 Dolphins, though I’m not inclined to make that prediction now, mainly because I think that if no one else gets the job done, Jacksonville could end the streak in Week 14, or San Diego in Week 15.

    Remember, it was always the Patriots who muscled the Colts out. And since the Pats look especially vulnerable this year, Peyton may see his chance to strike. Then again, I’ll never count out the Pats until they are hit with their ninth loss.

  • Of all the T.O. coverage over the past few days, I don’t think anyone put it better than Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, as he referred to T.O. as “such a talented dick.” In essence, that’s what it comes down to. And it’s Owens’s propensity to be a dick that will cost him the millions that he covets on the open market. Though, never underestimate the Redskins owner Dan Snyder. There would be nothing holding him back from giving T.O. a boatload of cash, especially if he can find a suitor for LaVar Arrington.

    What scares me most about T.O. hitting the open market this winter: the slight possibility that he’ll land in New England, a la Corey Dillon. Of course, New England has a reputation of not dealing with guys like Owens, but if they could get it in writing that he’d shut his mouth and play football (not that I think he’d ever sign something like that), he could bring New England back to the dance again.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Negotiating With Hideki

I knew I’d run into this rut sooner or later, and it is only logical that it would come on the eve of the GM meetings. There’s just nothing to talk about. Everything is up in the air at this point, including the negotiations on Hideki Matsui’s new contract, which must be done by November 15th for those of you not following the issue.

There is no ostensible reason why this deal won’t get done. Matsui wants the Yankees, the Yankees want Matsui. But there are always snags here and there that one side is not willing to budge on, and that’s what leads to stalemates and free agency. There is still a week and a day to consummate the deal, and that leaves plenty of time to work out any potential kinks in the rope.

There have been some numbers discussed in the media: 3 years, $36 mil on the Yankees front, 4 years $48 mil from the Matsui/Tellem camp. In fact, at this point I would find it highly unlikely that Matsui takes anything less than four years, considering the leverage they have in negotiations. I also think that the $12 mil/year price tag may be on the rise over the next week.

So what if a deal cannot be reached? This is the first time I’ve asked the question, since I thought it was a slam dunk for both sides. Even yet, there aren’t any obstacles that have made their way into the multitude of New York tabloids, so we can just assume that things, at the very least, aren’t going badly. But thinkm back to 2003 when news of the A-Rod trade didn’t hit the wire until it was being sent to the Commissioner’s Office for approval.

Don’t get me wrong; I want Matsui back in pinstripes. There is no option, either via trade or free agency, that is more appealing than simply giving Hideki what he wants. Sure, he saw a decline in walks (and therefore OBP) and home runs (and therefore slugging percentage) in 2005, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He posted a career high in hits with 192 (and therefore BA with .305), doubles with 45, and RBI with 116, to go with a career low in strikeouts, 78, which is amplified by a career high in plate appearances (703).

He also posted well above the league average (park adjusted, coming from baseball-reference.com) in average – .305 vs. .272 – OBP – .367 vs. .335 – and slugging percentage – .496 vs. .431. So maybe he won’t be socking dingers at a 50 per season clip like he did in Japan, but he’s still a pure hitter who is invaluable in the lineup.

Another aspect that is rarely discussed is how Matsui hit at certain spots in the batting order. Of course, any argument made here is weakened because usually there is a small sample size. But he had 327 at bats in the five hole, posting averages of .333/.397/.557 while hitting .275/.340/.430 elsewhere in the order (302 AB). And while we’re discussing splits, it is also of note to mention his .321/.395/.557 averages at home.

This could all work against the Yankees, however. Since Hideki has been so stellar in his tenure with the Yankees, he and Tellem have the leverage like Gheorghe Muresan over Joe Pesci in an arm wrestling match. Cashman says that this year is going to be different for the Yankees in terms of handing out contracts, and if they’ve learned anything over the years it’s that giving out long term deals to guys on the wrong side of 30 is risky business. Given a four-year deal, Matsui would be 35 when it expired, which actually isn’t terrible considering the buzz about Brian Giles, who turns 35 in January.

While I realize that a three-year deal is in the best interest of the Yankees, I still think a four-year deal is reasonable enough to bend to, considering the per-year salary doesn’t spike. The Yankees, with their three year offer, is adamantly saying that they want Matsui on their roster for three more years, and are shaky on the fourth. Matsui is half-saying that he wants to be in pinstripes for four more years, half-saying that he wants the financial security of the extra year. In my opinion, ceding to that fourth year is the price a team usually has to pay to keep a guy around.

Look at Mike Piazza, whose seven-year contract has just expired. There was much talk about his drop-off this year, and even about trading his ginormous contract because he wasn’t performing up to it. But remember, absent that seventh year, the Mets don’t secure Piazza. So the price for having this player on your team isn’t just the per-year salary he’s making, but also a portion of that final year, in which he may not be productive. Same goes for Pedro Martinez. Chances are, he’s not going to be very productive in 2008, the final year of his contract. But the Mets had two options: give him that fourth year and sign him, or decline the fourth year and watch him pitch for someone else in 2005.

Bernie would fall under the same category had he not begun his steep decline in 2003. In essence, the Yanks paid Bernie $89 million for four years of service and three years of crappiness (yeah, real mature, right?). That equates to $22.25 million for each productive year, an overpayment of Mo Vaughn proportions. But, absent those years at the end, Bernie plays in Boston.

Should Matsui sign his proposed 4 year, $48 million contract and subsequently only have three productive years, that would equate to $16 million for the productive years, which is still pretty steep. This is no scientific formula I’m presenting, but it’s just to give an idea of how deals like this can backfire at the end. So the real question is: since it’s a distinct possibility that Matsui’s skills will be in decline by the fourth year of this contract, is it worth the extra year and $12 mil to keep him around for three more seasons?

My answer is yes, though I’d probably mull the idea of offering a 3 year, $40 to $42 million contract with a mutual option for a fourth year at around $8 to $10 million (with a raise possible with performance incentives). That should eat a bit of the risk while still handing Matsui the big bucks he deserves.

It would constitute a raise of $6 million over his 2005 salary (if the deal isn’t back loaded), which is less than half of what Kevin Brown made. That leaves $9 million for B.J. Ryan (probably would get $4.5 mil a year) and a center fielder (tendered, Milton Bradley would probably get $3 to $3.5 million). Add Gordon’s disappearing contract to the fold, and that leaves a total of $4.5 mil to play with – and this isn’t even considering Bernie’s payroll relief (his $12.5 million salary minus the $3.5 million buyout equals another $9 million).

Not to beat this into the ground, but even if Matsui got his 4 year guarantee for $12 mil a season, he would be raised $4 million next year. Add that with Ryans 4.5 and Bradley’s 3.5, and that’s $3 million short of the number coming off the books via Kevin Brown, which is surely enough to land a backup first baseman and another reliever.

So the theme of the 2005/2006 off-season becomes clear: Playing With Kevin Brown’s Money.