Friday, November 18, 2005

Pavano Wants Out; Ryan Can't Handle

I don't have a link to it, since the article doesn't appear to have made its way to the net yet. But this morning edition of the Newark Star Ledger features an article that claims Carl Pavano is "miserable" in New York and may ask for a trade this winter.

In related news, Newsdays is reporting that B.J. Ryan doesn't want to deal with the "stress" of pitching New York and will seek a closer role elsewhere.

I don't know how accurate either story is, but if any of them bear any sembalnce to truth, I don't want either of them. You have to be a gamer in New York, and bitching about the conditions isn't the trademark of a gamer.

Maybe the Yanks can work Pavano in a 3-way trade to get Rowand. Maybe we can wrestle some prospects from a pitching starved team like Seattle, Texas, Detroit, or hell, even Florida.

So in the end, the big name we wanted, B.J. Ryan, is nothing more than a stopper with a fragile psyche. Whatever. Let him go toss in Toronto where everyone is more laid back. It'll make his trips to New York more frequent, so he can know what he's missing.

Sans Stats

When did politics become ridiculous enough that a show like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show could not only be created, but thrive on a daily basis from the absurd material being pumped out of Washington? Or were politics always like this, and new media forms like the 24-hour news channels are just there to expose – er, cover it?

Whatever the answer, there is no doubt as to the hilarity of absurdity. And since everything said by anyone remotely important will be published somewhere, there is no shortage of people to rip on. This applies not only to politics, but to sports as well.

Making fun of sports players and teams is no new idea. In fact, much of the content on ESPN’s Page 2 (particularly the Daily Quickie) is dedicated to just that. Problem is, other than the Quickie (which isn’t necessarily funny), the poking of fun is a sporadic component of a column, and only Bill Simmons remains consistently good/funny with his craft.

Let it be known that I do not purport to be funny. I just try really really hard and usually fall flat on my face. Regardless, this is an idea I want to run with, as I can see it becoming interesting over time. My apologies, as I know the first month or so is going to suck big time, just like most new shows trying to find their niche (ahem: Comedy Central’sThe Colbert Report).

So, without further ado…

This week’s top story: Marlins’ ace Dontrelle Willis may only receive a one-year contract this off-season, most likely via arbitration. At a time when teams like the Twins and Brewers are locking up their top arms long term, the Marlins think it’s a good idea to once again offer Willis arbitration for 2006, which could be as high as $4 million.

The reason is relatively self-evident: the Marlins know a thing or two about injured pitchers (Burnett, Pavano, Beckett), and don’t want to gamble on a pitcher who has spent no significant time on the DL since debuting in 2003. Willis, who has 2.144 years of service time (according to, still needs four more years of service to qualify as an unrestricted free agent.

If the Marlins are willing to shell out $4 million in arbitration dollars for one year of Willis’s services, why not go the extra mile and wrap up this guys, who by all means could be the future of the franchise. He turns 24 in January, and while he is young and his durability hasn’t really been tested yet, it still seems an appropriate gamble on the Marlins part. You’re telling me that the Marlins can’t paste together a deal similar to Ben Sheets’s 4 year, $38.5 million deal? That would take Willis through his arbitration years, so if he continues to improve, the Marlins won’t be stuck with rising arbitration salaries.

It would also make Willis a happy camper, knowing that the team is willing to invest in him. What won’t keep him on the Marlins bandwagon are false notions spread to his agent, as implied in the first paragraph of the article:

After meeting with the Marlins' front office in July, the agent for pitcher Dontrelle Willis was encouraged that the team would offer its ace a multiyear contract after the 2005 season.

My message to the Marlins: make sure you get the fire sales you’re about to hold on the front pages of the newspapers, and offer all of your young players arbitration. That way, you can be in full rebuilding mode in the near future.


In football, New York Jets head coach Herman Edwards is rumored to be headed to Kansas City in 2006 if current coach Dick Vermeil drowns in a river of his own tears. Edwards confronted the rumors, saying that he wants to be a Jet for life. "When they tell me I can't coach here anymore, I'll move on,” Herm says.

But what is Herm supposed to say when asked the tough question? “Yes, it is my full desire to coach in Kansas City, and if Dick Vermeil isn’t there next year, I’ll make it known that I want the position.” A statement like that is a veritable PR nightmare. The lowly 2-7 (soon to be 2-8 as soon as the Broncos cut them down) can’t afford any more blows to their already tortured roster. If the players lose faith in Herm, they might as well forfeit the remainder of the season, because without him as a figurehead, the team would be a lock for 2-14.

Of course, that would affect how Herm is perceived around the league both by management and players. Why, then, would Kansas City hire him? It’s like the whole deal with cheating on a girlfriend: do it once, and you’ll most likely do it again. If Herm wants so badly out of New York before his contract is up, what precludes him from doing the same in Kansas City?


And now it’s time for a segment I like to call the Idiots of the Week. This space will be dedicated to athletes, executives, and coaches who say and/or do things that classify them as, well, an idiot.

First up, Chicago Bulls forward and former KnickTim Thomas, who thinks that the Bulls aren’t playing him because they plan to trade him in the near future. Thomas is used to this kind of treatment, having been traded by the Nets (well, his draft rights for Keith Van Horn’s draft rights), the Sixers, the Bucks (once again for Van Horn), the Knicks, and now apparently the Bulls.

But who is going to take a flier on Thomas, highly overpaid and largely ineffective? If the other NBA teams have learned anything from New Jersey, New York, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, the Bulls might be stuck with that contract. In good news: getting rid of Thomas was Isaiah Thomas’s crowning achievement.

Next up, Minnesota Timberwolves rookie guard Rashad McCants, who claims that acting like a jackass is just part of his game. From the Minnesota Star Tribune:

By the light of day, Rashad McCants' two technical fouls for taunting, and the automatic ejection they brought in the fourth quarter at Denver, still looked needless and unprofessional to Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey.

To McCants, though, the emotions that led to them are as inseparable from his game as fingerprints.

"It's just the disadvantage of being me," McCants said after practice. "What I did [Sunday] night was who I am."

Do you think, if they knew that McCants had such a penchant for making refs form a “T” with their hands, they would have blown a lottery pick on him? And who thought McCants would be more of a distraction than former UConn forward Charlie Villanueva, or even his former teammate Raymond Felton?

Finally, we move away from the NBA (where the land of outspoken stars vastly outnumbers all sports except maybe…) to the NFL, where Green Bay Packers tailback Ahman Green is feeling hurt because the team hasn’t offered him a long term contract. Where do I begin with this one?

Ahman, you gotta realize a few things. First off, spending significant time over the last two seasons on the sidelines with injuries does not bode well for your case. There are plenty of able bodied fellows who can take your place, which brings us to the second realization that Green needs to come to: the saturated running back market. There are a few teams that even have two quality tailbacks. When combined with a plethora of talent in the farm system we call college football, it leads to a dilution of the market. Just ask Shaun Alexander and Edgerin James, two running backs superior to Green (Green was actually traded to Green Bay by Seattle because of Alexander’s presence) who were slapped with the one-year franchise tag over the off-season.

Ahman, quit your pouting, play a full 16 games, and lose a few years off that age of 29 you’ve got. Then get back to the team about a long term deal.


On a happier parting note, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays announced their new manager this week, Joe Maddon. He was a bench coach for the Anaheim Angels, and is said in the headline to bring “cheer and diligence” to the Devil Rays. In addition, Maddon “is known as eclectic and gregarious, personable and open-minded, well-read and technologically savvy - traits not typical in a major-league manager.”

Funny, I always thought managers should be a smart baseball guy. I guess Maddon doesn’t fit my mold.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Sturtze Conundrum

Yesterday it was the Matsui deal, today it’s the Tanyon Sturtze deal. I haven’t been the only fan bemoaning Cashman picking up the $1.5 million option on Sturtze’s contract, and for good reason. He has spent two years with the Yankees, posting an ERA over 4.50 both years, while accumulating over 65 innings in mostly relief appearances (less than three starts). There are only 12 other pitchers in the major leagues who accomplished such feats in 2005, so I guess Sturtze is in rarified air.

But there’s a simple reason as to why there are only 13 major leaguers with more than 65 IP in relief with an ERA over 4.50. Normally, if a pitcher is doing that badly, he doesn’t get used frequently enough to accumulate that many innings, and certainly wouldn’t be paid in the range of $1.5 million. At least that’s what one is inclined to believe. But after looking at the actual numbers, Sturtze’s contract doesn’t seem all that ludicrous.

Qualifications: 65 IP, less than 3 starts, ERA > 4.50, guaranteed 2006 salary

PlayerTeam’06 Salary
Steve KleinOrioles$3
Jorge JulioOrioles$2.5
Tanyon SturtzeYankees$1.5
Esteban YanAngels$1.25
Brian MeadowsPirates$1.125

All figures in millions

Qualifications: 65 IP, less than 3 starts, ERA > 4.50, no contract for ’06

PlayerTeam’05 Salary
Kevin GreggAngels$360,000
Travis HarperDevil Rays$750,000
Doug BrocailRangers$1,000,000
Lance CormierDiambondbacksno info (probably the league minimum)
Matt BelisleReds$316,000
Guillermo MotaMarlins$2.6 million
Yhency BrazobanDodgers$320,000
Ryan VogelsongPirates$332,000

My guess is that the guys in the bottom table won’t get deals that exceed $1 million for 2006. Just a guess, based on nothing (except their performance). But a look at the top table shows that maybe Sturtze’s deal isn’t so bad. I mean, he’s in the middle of a pack of five, so it can’t be all bad, right?

Let’s not start at the obvious flaw with this table (you know what I’m talking about). What isn’t specified until now is that each of the four other guys in Table 1 (Klein, Julio, Yan, Meadows) are in the middle of multiyear contracts. This means that their 2006 salary does not reflect their 2005 performance because they signed the deal before the 2005 season. Sturtze, on the other hand, could have been jettisoned from this list, but management opted to make him a part of it. He is the only member of the list who wasn’t guaranteed that money as recently as three days ago.

Sturtze would have fit better in the bottom list, with a $800,000 next to his name (his 2005 salary). At least there can be excuses made for the bottom feeders. True, Gregg was part of a lights out Angels bullpen, but how many times did you see him once Kelvim Escobar came off the DL? Harper gets a pass because it’s inevitable that the D-Rays would have a guy on this list. Ditto for the Rangers, Reds and Pirates, hence Brocail, Belisle, and Vogelsong. Cormier’s excuse is simple: who the hell is Lance Cormier? Brazoban was an experiment when Gagne hit the DL, so he is excused for the moment. And Mota, well, I guess it goes to show that DePodesta isn’t an idiot after all.

I realize that Sturtze’s option acts as an insurance plan in case the Yanks can’t land any relievers – Ryan, Farnsworth, Howry, Eyre. But this is one hefty premium on the plan. I’d say that Proctor could do the job well enough and at a much cheaper price, but he struggles mightily against lefties, whereas Sturtze actually fares better against lefties than righties. Maybe Sturtze can be groomed for a LOOGY role…

If anything is certain at this point (nothing is), it’s that the Yankees will land at least one reliever that can act as a set up man for Mo. Ryan obviously tops that list, and the Yanks have plenty of drawing power, with the eight straight division titles and a man by the name of Ron Guidry running the pitching show (both he and Ryan are Louisiana natives, which has only been printed in the newspaper about 17 billion times so far).

The interesting names on that list are Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre, names not normally associated with top-notch relievers. Just remember that Eyre is a lefty, a valuable commodity in any bullpen. He also led the NL in Inhereted Runs Prevented over at Baseball Prospectus. This basically means that he allowed the least amount of inherited runners to score, at least according to the way Prospectus counts it (they’re way too hesitant to publish their formulae). And even though I don’t know how it’s calculated, if it does in fact mean something, Eyre would be a nice break from Sturtze and Quantrill, who seemingly let in every runner they ever inherited.

Howry ranked fifth in the AL in Adjusted Runs Prevented from scoring, behind Huston Street, Cliff Politte, Mariano Rivera, and Jason Frasor. Not bad company, I have to say. Howry isn’t exactly a highly touted free agent, and could be an option if the Indians go gung ho after Kyle Farnsworth as their replacement for Bob Wickman.

And it all comes full circle, as I wouldn’t mind tossing Wickman out in the pen for a year, should he not retire and not return to Cleveland. This would be one of those “break glass in case of emergency” deals, but he is a passable middle inning stopgap (once again, he could fill the situation in the sixth with men on when the Yanks really need an out).

Of course, I could have gone the other route with that last paragraph and talked about how Kyle Farnsworth could be another candidate for the successor to Mo. That puts five relievers on the radar, six if you count Gordon. I’m very confident that the Yankees can land at least one of these six, if not two. So the question is now compounded: why, oh why, was Sturtze’s option picked up when there are six guys out there that are head and shoulders above him?

It’s more of a headache when you factor in Small’s probable presence in the bullpen, along with Jaret Wright, who seems at this point to be the odd man out in the rotation (though management could be stupid and send Chacon to the bullpen).

If anyone has answers, I’m ready to listen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Matsui's New Deal

The big news of last night/this morning, of course, was the inking of Hideki Matsui to a 4-year, $52 million contract. The payout will be consistent throughout the four years of the contract, giving Hideki roughly $13 million of George’s money per year.

The big debate now pertains to whether Matsui deserves such a lucrative contract. He’s on the wrong side of 30, though it seems that matters less and less nowadays. He has provided three productive years for the team, and proven himself in the upper echelon of corner outfielders. So it’s safe to say that he deserved, at the very least, a significant raise over his initial 3 year, $21 million contract (which is the same contract Jaret Wright signed, for a bit of comparison there).

The main argument for the deal is that the market is thin this year, and losing Matsui – especially with the current gap in center field – would be detrimental to the team. Someone was going to pay Matsui what he wanted, so it might as well be his current team, which just so happens to be the richest team in baseball. The other side of the ball argues that market or not, this could end up being yet another investment the Yankees will bemoan by 2009.

Before anyone jumps to any rash conclusions (too late), let’s take a look at the position players with contracts greater than Matsui’s and those with similar deals. This will begin to give us a basis for comparison.

’06 Salary’07 Salary’08 Salary
Hideki Matsui (’06) $13$13$13
Gary Sheffield (’04)$13$13**N/A
Alex Rodriguez (’01)$25$27$27
Derek Jeter (’01)$19$20$20
Jason Giambi (’02)$18$21$21
Vladimir Guerrero (’04)$12.5$13.5$14.5
Jeff Bagwell (’02)$17$18**N/A
Lance Berkman (’05)$14.5$14.5$14.5
Jason Kendall (’02)$11$13N/A
Chipper Jones (’01)$17$15***$15***
Andruw Jones (’02) $13$13.5N/A
Albert Pujols (’04) $14$15$16
Scott Rolen (’03) $11$12$12
J.D. Drew (’05) $11$11$11
Barry Bonds (’02) $18**N/AN/A
Ichiro! (’04) $11$11N/A
Adrian Beltre (’05) $11$12$12
Richie Sexson (’05) $11.5$14$14
Carlos Delgado (’05) $13.5$14.5$16
Carlos Beltran (’05) $12$12$18.5
Miguel Tejada (’04) $10$12$13
Jim Thome (’03) $12.5$14$14
Pat Burrell (’03) $9.5$13$14
Ken Griffey, Jr. (’00) $12.5$12.5$12.5
Manny Ramirez (’01) $19$18$20
Todd Helton (’03) $16.6$16.6$16.6
Mike Sweeney (’03) $11*$11*N/A
Ivan Rodriguez (’04) $11$11$13
Maglio Ordonez (’05) $15$12$15

All figures in millions
* Raised to $12.5 million if traded
** Club Option
***Club Option that automatically vests with 450 PA in the previous year

These players can be divided into any number of categories, like the vastly overpaid (Ordonez, Kendall, Helton, Burrell), the $20 million “I’m rich, beyotch!” club (A-Rod, Jete, Manny, Giambi) and the “Damn, how are they making more than Vlad this year?!” club (Ordonez, Helton, Delgado, Chipper, Berkman, Bagwell). But what we’re looking for now is to take the players who fall into the “similar deal, similar player” category with Matsui. This will consist of corner outfielders making from $11 million to $15 million per season. The candidates: Maglio, Sheffield, Burrell, Ichiro!, Vlad, and Berkman (I know he plays first, but he has played the outfield plenty).

For analysis, I’m going to take the basic averages (BA/OBP/SLG), walks, doubles, homers, and OPS for the two years leading up to the contract and then the first year of the new deal. If, however, an aberration occurs in the year after the contract year (an injury, one of those pesky “off years”), I’ll take the following year as an example. So let’s start with the years leading up to Matsui’s new deal.

Hideki MatsuiPA Avg OBP SLG BB 2B HR OPS
2004680 .298.390.522883431.912
And now for the rest of the crowd.

Maglio OrdonezPA Avg OBP SLGBB 2B HR OPS

Gary SheffieldPA Avg OBP SLGBB 2B HR OPS


Yep, ’03 didn’t make the Phils feel better about that contract. Not that 2004 did, either, but at least 2005 was a rebound year.


I feel bat nit-picking Ichiro!’s contract, since he brings more to the table than his numbers indicate. Kinda like Jeter.

Vladimir GuerreroPA Avg OBP SLGBB 2B HR OPS

Lance BerkmanPA Avg OBP SLGBB 2B HR OPS

As far as numbers leading up to each player’s big cash in, Matsui looks in the middle of the pack. As far as getting what they deserve, Matsui probably deserves (as ambiguous as that term is) his contract more than Maglio, Burrell, and from a sheer numbers perspective, Ichiro. The top of the list – Sheff, Vlad, Berkman – all topped a 1.000 OPS leading up to the deal, a feat Matsui has yet to accomplish.

So it looks like Hideki falls right in the middle of that pack, which is fine, just fine. When you factor in current market conditions, the deal more than makes sense. Why let Hideki get away when there’s no guarantee that there will be an adequate replacement? Sure, Giles is on the market, but the Yanks are one of about 20 teams interested in him.

It also helps that this deal isn’t backloaded. Hideki’s $13 million may not look all that inflated come 2008 or 2009. He certainly outplayed his initial deal, so another way of looking at the situation is that part of this $52 million is compensation for the previous few years. Additionally, the revenue he brings in from the Japanese market will help subsidize the deal as well.

So considering past performance, additional revenue from another market, comparable salaries, the market, and the fact that these are the friggin’ Yankees, this deal makes plenty of sense. That’s one free agent down, a few more to go – Ryan and Giles priority, followed by Farnsworth and Scott Eyre (more on him tomorrow).

On a parting note, kudos to Arn Tellem for using the deadline as leverage to sneak an extra $2 million in at the 11th hour. Kinda like the Diamondbacks plucked Halsey from us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

On Bullpen Help

Whether there was actual news to report on the subject or not, our friends at the Daily News have decided that they must run a Matsui negotiations piece in each issue. Normally, I wouldn’t read such an article because I spend my day reloading and surely check it before bed, so I’ll know if there are any developments or snags in the proceedings.

Today, however, the teaser drew me in like a college student to a keg. Not only was there mention that the Matsui deal will get done today (yawn) and most likely will be in the neighborhood of 4 for $50 (zzzzzz). But then this tidbit woke me from my slumber:

Assuming they get a deal with Matsui done, the Yankees already have their next moves in mind. They have been in contact with the agents for B.J. Ryan, Tom Gordon and Brian Giles, and want to have those three as their lefty setup man, righty setup man and center fielder.

Of course, this isn’t breaking news. Ryan is believed to be a higher priority than Giles, as dominant lefty relief hurlers are harder to come by than a guy like, oh say, Tanyon Sturtze. Problem is, there have been rumors circulating (and I don’t know if they have any base or not) that Ryan may command up to $9 million, which would be $1.5 million less than Marino earns. In fact, Mo didn’t rake in $9 mil until 2001, and by then he was considered the best closer in the game if not of all time.

As much as I’d love to have Ryan in the pen, he’s no $9 million guy. Maybe, just maybe he’s worth $5 million, and I wouldn’t outbid anyone who ponied up five and a half. I guess a backloading situation would make sense here, since Ryan would be Mo’s heir apparent. It would make me feel a ton better, though, if everyone else on the team didn’t have a backloaded deal.

And then there’s Tom Gordon, the guy who wants to go somewhere else and close. In a way, I don’t blame him, seeing as he’s aging and would do well to parlay the two best years of his career into a big money deal to close out his career. Couple of problems here, though.

First off, Gordon may have pitched a helluva year in terms of ERA, but one of his defense independent pitching statistics, strikeouts per nine, drastically dropped, going from 9.64 in ’04 to 7.70 in ’05. At first glance, I thought to myself, “well, Flash had a terrible April, so maybe the drop-off is attributable to that.” But, being the curious stathead that I am, I had to check the game logs. Here’s what I found:

            Apr       May       Jun       Jul       Aug       Sep
IP         11         13.1         14         14.1       13.1       14
ER         6           3             4             5           1           3
SO         9           13           17           11         10         8
BB         5           6             6             7           4           1

His strikeout rate resembles a dilapidated bell curve, peaking in the middle and lower at each end. But we know that Gordon started off slow, so his low strikeout rate is forgivable for April. But July, August, and September? What gives? Was his arm giving out as the season wore on? If so, his strikeout rate is the only indication, since his earned run and walk rates dropped for August and September.

The other problem Gordon faces is his lack of real success as a closer. Now, my logic on this one may be a bit shaky, since he ostensibly spent a few quality years closing for Kansas City, both sides of Chicago, and Boston. And to be quite honest, I didn’t really follow the career of Tom Gordon during those years, though I did let out an, “oh crap!” when he landed with Boston (baseball cards had given me the idea that Gordon was a dominant force). I also don’t ever remember the Yankees being dominated by Gordon while he was on the Red Sox.

Bill Simmons has a few tidbits to offer about Gordon in his book, Now I Can Die In Peace, none of which paint him in a favorable light. In fact, Derek Lowe deposed Gordon as the closer due to Gordon’s inability to consistently close games. Once again, this is Simmons talking (paraphrased) here, so I’m relying on him for information on Gordon as a closer. But I think we can suffice it to say that he’s never been a Tervor Hoffman/Troy Percival/Rob Nen/Mariano Rivera.

So say Gordon decides that the possibility of winning a World Championship is more realistic in the Bronx than, say, Philly or Flushing. He signs back on, along with B.J. Ryan, creating Joe Torre’s coveted “Three Headed Monster.” It’s a great concept, though Torre always seems to mismanage it. Once again, I’m going to refer back to the ideas in Moneyball to describe Torre’s mismanagement of the pen.

The Yankees had this problem in 2005 with their starters not making it through the sixth inning. And, aside from May when Sturtze was hot, had no one to bridge the gap to the eighth, when Tom Gordon would do his thing, followed by lights out in the ninth. But what if there was a big spot in the sixth when they absolutely needed an out? Torre would go to Scott Proctor or, earlier in the season, Buddy Groom. Problem is, neither of those guys is the guy I want in a big spot. I want Mo. But Mo is the closer, reserved for the ninth when the lead is three or less. Okay, I’m fine with that.

Barring Mo in that situation, I want Gordon. Why wait until the eighth for Gordon, when a blown opportunity in the sixth could cost the Yanks the lead? Does Gordon pitch in the eighth inning of a game where the Yanks are down two? No, not usually. So having a loaded back end of the bullpen means little if there’s no one to bridge the gap.

Mike Scocia did a great job of bullpen management in the ALDS. Remember seeing Scot Shields in the sixth and seventh innings of a few games? You know why? Because the Angels were in a bind, and needed their best guy out there to do the dirty work. They knew they had another quality arm, Kelvim Escobar, in addition to the closer, Francisco Rodriguez. So instead of going with Brendan Donnelly, Scocia went with the guy he thought would get the job done so that Escobar and Rodriguez could do their job.

Having two reliable arms in Gordon and Ryan could be a boon to the Yankees, or could be a bane like the Quantrill experiment, for the exact same reasons. In order for this bullpen scheme to work, not only is Joe going to have to use either Gordon or Ryan in the sixth – and even fifth – sometimes, but he’s going to have to trust the other guys out there to get the job done. Aaron Small, Scott Proctor, and possibly Jaret Wright will be the guys out there, and if Torre is afraid to use any of them in the seventh, we may be in store for the same old, same old concerning the bullpen.

If, however, Torre is confident enough in his guys to use Gordon for a tough spot in the sixth and then not hesitate to bring in Small for the seventh, this bullpen could carry the team throughout the season. It also wouldn’t hurt if the starters could hurl seven a few times a week.

Rivera, Ryan, Gordon, Small, Proctor, Wright. Best bullpen in the majors, should it be managed efficiently.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Mistah Giles

Do I really need to make the case for Brian Giles at this point? Normally, I’d answer my own rhetorical question with a “no,” since everyone out there seems to be steadfast in their position on Giles. Either A) he’s old and he won’t provide the defense we need in center field or B) he’s the perfect fit, and the Yankees would be dumb not to pursue him in addition to Matsui. Choosing between these options is like voting along strict party lines. But, as in politics, I tend to agree more with one side than the other, though that doesn’t mean I’ll always agree with what that side thinks.

Let’s set the scene a bit. This is the fourth day in which free agents can discuss financial terms and/or sign a contract with any team. Though a lot of the signings won’t take place for quite some time – usually the winter meetings – the buzz is still reaching deafening levels, mainly because there are a coveted few players out there to be disbursed among the 30 teams – and no one says it has to be fair.

Usually at this point, the Yankees are flexing their financial muscles, hoping to outbid the other teams on the guys they want. Whether it’s Carl Pavano, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Jose Contreras, or Jason Giambi, the Yankees always seem to get their No. 1 guy in free agency. This year would be no different, especially since the Yankees look like one of the stronger teams heading into next year (like that’s changed over the past decade) – except for that part where the market is bare at the top and drops off drastically in terms of talent/ability/what have you.

Once again, we’re operating under the assumption that Matsui will re-up for 2006 and beyond. So that gives the Yankees these returning players (number of full years in pinstripes in parenthesis):

Posada (9), Giambi (4), Cano (1), Jeter (10), A-Rod (2), Matsui (3), Sheffield (2)

I know some die-hard statheads out there deride the notion of team chemistry, writing it off as an age old myth. But anyone who witnessed the 2005 Yankees should know better. They were a team in shambles over the early months of the year, and when faced with the adversity of playoff elimination they came together and played as a team. Many will be quick to discount that notion, citing the stellar performances of Chacon, Small, and Wang (along with a few gems by Randy) down the stretch as the reason the Yanks eked out an eighth consecutive AL East crown.

In no way would I ever discount the contribution of the underdogs from 2005 (in fact, I wrote an entire column lauding their efforts this year). But if the team hadn’t come together, they were still just nine egos in the clubhouse, there was no way they would have made the playoffs. And if that doesn’t convince you (to tell the truth, it’s not a rather compelling argument, just an insight to intuition), then take a good, long look at the 2005 White Sox and tell me team chemistry counts for nothing.

But I digress. So we have the seven returning Yankees, who ostensibly have jelled and bonded and have that whole team chemistry thing down. But they need to field nine, and with no immediate answer down at the farm, free-agency seems the best way to fill the holes left by Tino and Bernie. So here’s Bernie’s line from 2005, (i.e. what needs to be replaced in center field):

.249/.321/.367. Rank among AL center fielders with 200 or more at bats: 13th/8th/12th. This is in addition to ranking 12th in raw EqA and 15th in VORP, while also unofficially ranking 13th out of 14 in arm strength, bolstered only by Johnny Damon.

So the first option is simple, and one that Brian Cashman spoke about last week: Bubba Crosby. Given the circa 500 at bats Bernie got last year, I firmly believe that Crosby can match those numbers while providing significantly better defensive coverage of his position. I also believe (though not as firmly) that Crosby can surpass Bernie’s numbers, but anything above what Bernie contributed last year is icing on the cake.

I don’t know about all of you, but I loooooove icing. And while it’s never a good idea to be a glutton, isn’t always a treat when you get an extra thick layer of icing on your birthday cake? Or, if cake isn’t your bag, think of it as more stuffing in the bird. Well, for all you stuffing/icing lovers there’s Brian Giles. An examination of his numbers is a bit deceiving, though, as he has played his last two years in the uber-pitcher friendly Petco Park. But his lines from 2004 and 2005 don’t exactly reflect that hindrance:

2004: .284/.374/.475
2005: .301/.423/.483

Of course, 2005 is a contract year and I’d write it off as such if those numbers didn’t so accurately reflect his lifetime marks of .299/.413/.542. Actually, it only seems like his power numbers have been affected by the constraints of Petco. In fact, I’m more apt to chalk up 2004 to an aberration, in that it was Giles’s first year in the new park. And since it is so hitter friendly, I’m sure it took him some getting used to.

Just a quick rhetorical question: if Giles lost some power numbers upon moving to Petco, would he regain them in Yankee Stadium, which is lefty power hitter friendly?

Since he began to consistently get over 450 at bats per season, 2004 is his worst performance (if you want to count the 350 AB performance in 1998, he was .269/.368/.459). Even if he puts up those numbers for the 2006 Yankees, he’ll still be a vast improvement over Bernie in the offensive categories. I don’t know how safe it is to make such a statement, but I think that his 2006 numbers will be more reflective of his 2005 marks than his 2004 performance, given the move to a more hitter friendly park.

This brings us to the matter of defense, possibly the most hotly contested issue among Yankees fans. Some believe that Giles wouldn’t be a good option because he wouldn’t provide much of an upgrade in center, a position he hasn’t regularly played since he was in Pittsburgh. Just remember, though, that however he performs defensively, it will be better than Bernie last year. But it doesn’t end there.

An outfield tandem of Matsui/Giles/Sheffield just couldn’t play out there every day, considering their age and yes, lack of range. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that the three of them just don’t cover the ground that, say, the White Sox or the Mets cover in the outfield. This is where our boy Bubba comes in. Thanks to Mike C., one of my personal favorite commenters over at Replacement Level Yankees Weblog for the base for this idea, at which Bubba is the center.

In addition to that outfield tandem not being able to play every day, Giambi also can’t play every day at first base. True, his career numbers when playing first are so far above his numbers while DHing that it’s confounding as to why he doesn’t play the field every day. And then the whole issue with the back and knees come up, and it becomes apparent that this guy can’t handle 154 games patrolling first base. DHing him twice a week from the get go should provide him ample rest so that he doesn’t break down half way through the year. That leaves four games during the week in which he will play first, games in which the Yankees will need a DH. Three of them can be snagged from the outfield, with Matsui, Giles, and Sheffield each DHing once a week, with Bubba playing center on those days. The final game (or two, depending if they have an off-day or not) can be a toss up with the DH. Torre can opt to play Bubba in center and DH Sheff an additional day per week, or he can get the bench crew a few ABs.

Additionally, the games in which the Matsui/Giles/Sheff tandem patrols the grass could be coordinated so that they’re behind a groundball pitcher like Wang or Pavano or a strikeout guy like Randy. That way they won’t have to go chasing fly balls all day, as they probably would with Chacon on the mound.

So it now may appear like I’m drawing party lines and standing adamantly with the “Giles is the perfect fit” bunch. And yes, I do think that Brian Giles is a perfect fit right now, given all the circumstances. However, I don’t think that the Yanks should go and sign him to the 4 year, $50 million deal they’ll most likely work out with Hideki. Maybe 3 years, $35 million or thereabouts. His age next year, 35, shouldn’t stop the team from signing him, but should stop them from immersing themselves in a deal that would be paying him $12 million plus when he’s 39.

And if Giles is making these ridiculous contract demands at an age where skills normally decline, there’s always that guy Bubba that can more than adequately replace Bernie in center.