Not much going on right now. The Yankees and Diamondbacks are apparently looking to finish a deal for Randy Johnson before next week, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to look at the names that are being discussed by the Daily News report. The News suggests that the Yankees are looking for 2 of the 3 following pitchers:
Highest Level: MLB
Notes: D'Backs fans seem to like Nippert's potential a lot. He sports a low-90s fastball and a silly lollipop curve. His results at AAA and in the Majors have been shaky. He tends to give up big innings and doesn't always respond well to pressure. When his control falters he struggles. While scouts project him as a #2 or #3 starter, he hasn't shown much recently.
Highest Level: AAA
Notes: This young righty features a plus fastball and slider and is of the gritty, competitive mold. Owings was very good at AAA last year. He was 10-0 with a 3.70 ERA and started the Tuscon Sidewinders' first playoff game. Owings started life as a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket before transferring to Tulane. He was a power hitting first baseman that projected to the Majors either by pitching or playing the field. He's gone the pitcher route, and he looks very good. He needs to develop a little more in his arsenal to stick as a starter at the MLB level, but the potential is there. I'd work to get him in the deal, if possible.
Highest Level: AAA
Notes: Ohlendorf was a standout pitcher at Princeton. He's moved up through the D'Backs system fairly quickly thanks to great control and a great GO/AO ratio. Despite his strong points, he is hittable, and has given up more hits than innings pitched. That's the price you pay if you refuse to walk batters. He isn't among the D'Backs Top 10 prospects, but he could move up if he shows continued improvement.
While this mix of players is impressive, I think we have built quite an army of right handers at the AAA level. We could certainly tack on two more in hopes of packaging them for a proven Major Leaguer, but I'd also hope that Cashman is working on getting either Chad Tracy or catching prospect Miguel Montero. Tracy is already a Major Leaguer, and has twice posted 20+ home run seasons. His 2005 was better than his 2006, but he is a legitimate talent, and fits the Yankees needs. Here's more on Montero:
Miguel Montero (catcher)
Highest Level: AAA
Notes: Montero is projected as the Arizona catcher of the future. He's young, hits for power, and is above average defensively as well. He struggles against lefties and would need to improve in that regard to be a truly elite catcher. Another of the budding young prospects from Venezuela.
If I had my wish, I'd get Montero and play him behind Posada this season. I'd have Jorge mentor him the way Girardi did some years ago, and eventually have the reigns turned over completely when the time comes. Jorge could be a very good DH for years to come if we had a solid catcher to play everyday. I'd then ask the Diamondbacks for either Owings or Ohlendorf as well. Owings may or may not make it as a starter in the Majors, but could be a very good long reliever for years to come. If he gets another solid pitch, he could fit somewhere in the middle of a Major League rotation. Ohlendorf is a sleeper to me. He's been clocked at 97 MPH and threw a two hitter in the NCAA tournament some years ago. He's got very good control at a young age, and has been called a bulldog. (He also scored a 1580 on the SAT, so Moose will have someone to talk to.)
Keep your eyes and ears peeled. This could be fun.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Not much going on right now. The Yankees and Diamondbacks are apparently looking to finish a deal for Randy Johnson before next week, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to look at the names that are being discussed by the Daily News report. The News suggests that the Yankees are looking for 2 of the 3 following pitchers:
Thursday, December 28, 2006
R.I.P. Francisco Liriano; Barry Zito: 7 years, $126 million.
The Giants have many, many, many holes in their team and a poor farm system. They were ranked #18 out of 30 by BA in 2006, and that was including Matt Cain in the mix. Now he's with the big league team. The team was 24th in all of baseball in runs scored last season, and they start the following players as of today(age in parentheses):
C Bengie Molina (32)
1B Rich Aurilia (35)
2B Ray Durham (35)
SS Omar Vizquel (39)
3B Pedro Feliz (31)
LF Barry Bonds (42)
CF Dave Roberts (34)
RF Randy Winn (32)
Why would you waste $126 million on one guy. Will the Giants win a World Series between 2007 and 2013? It's hard to imagine. It could happen, but it will have to happen sometime near the end of the contract, because the current lineup isn't close, and it's ancient. The only guy with power on that team is Barry Bonds, and he's crumbling faster than Weetabix. In my opinion, a team willing to invest $126 million over 7 years would be better off putting that money into international signings, player development, and multiple low cost/short term players to keep the fans coming.
If your $126 million turns into 2 top notch pitchers, and 3 regular Major League everyday players that will team with the excellent Matt Cain, you can position yourself as the best team in the division for the decade of the 2010s. If you fail to make the playoffs almost every one of the next 7 seasons, you've basically just pissed away a huge chunk of your organization's resources for nothing. Then again, this is the team that traded Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, and Joe Nathan to the Minnesota Twins for A.J. Pierzynski and cash. OH MY GOD!!!!
Sorry, I have to type that everytime I see it in print. Imagine Liriano, Cain, and Bonser fronting the Giants rotation for the next 10 years with Nathan closing. Three minor league contracts that will be top MLB pitchers for the next decade.....It's no wonder they signed Zito. It makes perfect sense now.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
It's official. The Bombers and Kei Igawa are together at last. This was the least tenuous negotiation ever undertaken in the history of professional sports. The Yankees like to deal with Arn Tellem, and Tellem like to deal with the Yankees. If you add the lack of leverage that Japanese players have in the posting system, it was a slam dunk.
I named this post "Under the Radar" because I think no on expects much out of Igawa. The hype around Matsuzaka sapped a lot of the thunder out of the posting news this year. Iwamura signing with Tampa at bargain basement prices was a non-story, but could be a huge injection for that floundering franchise. Igawa isn't Matsuzaka, and therefore he's kind of a consolation prize by most accounts. The thing is, if you look at what he's accomplished in Japan he's a level above the guys you've probably seen before. The baseball world is in store for a treat when Matsuzaka takes the mound every five days for the Red Sox, but Yankee fans may be pleasantly surprised by Igawa. The press release issued by the Yankees says it all:
"Igawa, 27, posted a 14-9 record with a 2.97 ERA in 29 starts with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League in 2006 (209.0IP, 180H, 77R, 69ER, 49BB, 194K). He was tied for the lead among all Central League pitchers with his 194 strikeouts, ranked second in the league in wins and complete games (eight), third in innings pitched and ranked seventh with his 2.97 ERA. On April 14, 2006, Igawa became the fifth-fastest pitcher in Japanese baseball history to record 1,000 career strikeouts (in 1,058 innings pitched). Including 2006, he has now led the Central League in strikeouts three times during his career, having also captured the league strikeout title in 2002 (206 strikeouts) and 2004 (228). A three-time Central-League All Star (2001, 2002 and 2003), Igawa has won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons. In 2003, he was named the Central League MVP after going 20-5 with a league-leading 2.80 ERA in 29 games for the Tigers. He was also honored as the co-winner of the prestigious Sawamura Award in 2003, given to the top pitcher in Japanese baseball each year. Originally selected out of Mito Shogyo High School as Hanshin's second draft choice in 1997, Igawa owns a career record of 86-60 with a 3.15 ERA and 1,174 strikeouts in 190 appearances."
He may end up being booed out of Yankee Stadium like Hideki Irabu, but I rather doubt it. I think he'll be better than league average and help the Yankees with 200+ innings of very nice work. Time will tell, but the 2007 picture is shaping up a bit.
"During a Major League career that spanned 16 seasons, Bobby Bonilla was one of the most feared switch-hitters in the game. And, as evidenced by the fact that he appeared in the postseason with five different teams from 1990 to 2000, Bonilla was a winner.
Now, five years after his retirement, Bonilla is hoping to be immortalized in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown."
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
With the Randy Johnson trade rumors in full force, the addendum has been a possible Yankees pursuit of Barry Zito. To me, the trade of Randy Johnson does not equal the start of a Barry Zito campaign. I just don’t see it as part of Cashman’s plan. It’s not to say that it won’t happen, but I think it’s unlikely. It makes more sense to sportswriters who want to sell papers via speculation and sexy intrigue than it does to baseball blueprints. A lot of talk has centered on the idea that the Yankees need a good young pitcher to pencil in every day and stack up better against the Red Sox. It seems natural that many Yankee fans have watched the Red Sox spending big money to bring in famous and dynamic players and wonder where we are in all of this. After all, the roles have reversed a bit. The Red Sox took the retooling by big spending route in 2006, while the Yankees have downsized and bolstered the farm. To some Yankee fans that makes no sense. We want to win now, and to do so we need to keep up. If there’s a title to be won in 2007 with a bunch of veteran players in their primes, we need to spend on the best available talent to do so.
I don’t subscribe to that theory. As I see it, the Yankees are just fine with a frontline rotation of Mussina, Pettitte, and Wang. The back end of Igawa and Pavano, with a safety net of Rasner and Karstens, seems suitable and could potentially be very good. There’s no question that adding a top quality starter to this mix would look a lot better, and make all of us feel more comfortable up against the Red Sox improved rotation, but the question is not whether we do so, but how. There are a few options to consider.
1. Phil Hughes
Hughes will start the year slowly, and the Yankees will be cautious with him, as they should. They’ll limit his innings and baby him at SWB. Igawa, Pavano, Rasner, and Karstens can hold the fort until the All Star break, at which point you add Hughes to the stretch run. Hughes should be able to help the Yankees in a pennant race. With the top 3 guys leading the run, Hughes becomes a valuable secret (or not so secret) weapon. With 12 or 13 Major League starts under his belt going into the playoffs, we should feel very comfortable with our chances to advance deeper towards the Serious.
2. Roger Clemens
I’m not sure Rocket is going to leave his little dreamy situation in Houston. His son is in the organization. He plays when and where he wants. He gets paid top dollar. He faces a pitcher every 9 plate appearances. It makes little sense for Clemens to leave his home for the AL East. That said, Pettitte is in the fold, the Yankees are always right there at the end, and Clemens has the Hall on his mind these days. If he wants to wear a Yankees hat, he could make it more palatable by winning another title in the Bronx. If he wants to wear a Red Sox hat (as he probably should) he could go back to Fenway and make his last stand there. Cashman will be aggressive on this front, to be sure, and he should. We can pay HUGE money for Clemens and not worry about being saddled with a long-term contract that looks bloated in 5 years. Clemens would also be a good mentor to Hughes, should the two cross paths late in the year.
3. Barry Zito
Then, there’s Barry Zito. He’s a good pitcher. He has a career ERA+ of 126 and is favorably compared to some big names. I checked his similarity rating through age 28 at Baseball Reference and found that he looks very strong against a field including Mike Hampton, Ramon Martinez, Tom Glavine, Ron Darling, Kevin Appier, and Jack McDowell, to mention the modern era guys on the list. Are any of those guys ace pitchers? Hard to say. Hampton gets an incomplete with his injury problems. Ramon Martinez dropped off the face of the Earth at 29 due to injuries. Glavine is still going fairly strong at 40+ years old. Darling collapsed. Appier was mediocre after his 20s. McDowell also flamed out fairly soon after his 30th birthday.
Zito may be more like Tom Glavine than the rest of the pitchers in this comparison, but then again he may be like any of the guys that look bad after 30 years old. He may be like any of the other modern day pitchers on his career comparison too. Buehrle, Mulder, Carpenter, Hudson, Freddie Garcia. If you take both groups as a whole, it’s easy to see why he’d help the Yankees. It’s also easy to see why a long-term deal for Zito may not look so good at the end. If he wears pinstripes he’ll do just fine, and we may win a title or two with him in the rotation, but I’ll still pass. None of the names up there says, “must have” to me.
Monday, December 25, 2006
So the Newark Star Ledger floats word that the Yankees are shopping Randy Johnson back to Arizona, and a few unnamed third party sources confirm it. I have no doubt that this is true, but I would hesitate to believe that anything is close, and I would actually label these talks as far from fruition. When you look at things as they stand right now, you see the initial report, some anonymous comments, and an AP story by Ronald Blum that has exploded all over the internet and newspapers looking for big news to fill the Christmas lull. This story is full of question marks.
Frankly, I believed the rumors when they were out there during the Winter Meetings, but I have to believe that any deal involving Johnson will be a tough one unless either Arizona is willing to pick up his contract completely, Cashman agrees to eat part of the money in exchange for some better quality prospects, or a good Major League player is also being put in the deal. Those are all distinct possibilities, but there's also the matter of Johnson's no trade clause. I'm sure he'd be thrilled to leave New York, but only he knows how much he'll use that leverage to get what he wants.
What is he worth to New York? What is he worth to Arizona? To New York, you have to believe that his abilities (hampered and deteriorating as they may be) are worth more in the rotation than a few low level prospects and/or a mediocre Major Leaguer. The Yankees need to get some real players in this deal. The Diamondbacks would like to add his marquee value to their club, and probably see him get win 300 in their uniform, cementing his place in Cooperstown as a D'Back. How much he can actually give them in terms of pitching is questionable, so they don't want to give up the farm in a deal that could look very bad for them in 2-3 years.
There's the crux of the situation, and the reason this will be very delicate for both sides. The Yankees risk opening a huge hole in the rotation if they trade him and they players coming back do nothing. The Diamondbacks risk giving up too much for an aged and ailing former Cy Young winner, just to get a better turnstile performance in 2007 and 2008. The X-factor for the Yankees is Roger Clemens. If Cashman feels he can persuade Rocket to join the team sooner than later, Randy Johnson becomes expendable at a far more reasonable cost to Arizona. That's a big question mark.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
The 46th National Baseball Series has opened on the island of Cuba, and I’ve decided to pick up my coverage of the sport there on a semi-regular basis. Of course, the player of interest is Sancti Spiritus’ own Yulieski Gourriel. In case you don’t remember him, check out my piece wrapping last season’s historic season for Gourriel and his streaking Gallos. The current 2006-2007 campaign is about 17-18 games underway, and there are about 70 games remaining of the 90 game schedule.
A quick crash course on the teams and standings, followed by an update on Gourriel. There are four divisions, called “grupos” in the Cuban Federation. Group A consists of Pinar del Rio, Isla de la Juventud, Metropolitanos, and Matanzas. Group B consists of La Habana, Industriales (last year’s champs), Cienfuegos, and Sancti Spiritus. Group C consists of Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, and Las Tunas. Finally, Group D consists of Holguin, Granma, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantanamo. The current standings, as of 12/24:
As for Yulieski Gourriel, now playing at 22 years of age, he hit his 100th career home run on December 21st against Isla de la Juventud. Christmas Eve saw the superstar infielder smash his 101st career shot, and only a day off for the holidays could cool him off. I will bring you a complete, up-to-date statistical line for Gourriel and some of the other premier hitters and pitchers in the near future, along with a couple of profiles to give you a sense of the talent playing for Castro. Stay tuned.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
You should know this name. It will be in your living room sometime in the near future. I guarantee it. I’m now sure how soon, and I’m not sure in what context, but you will know the name Hyun-jin Ryu.
Let me preface everything I’m writing here by saying that I’m a rank amateur when it comes to the Korean Baseball Organization. The league is a good level of competition, and I check in occasionally to see who’s who and what’s what, but I can’t say I have any firsthand scouting of the league. I don’t know the rules of free agency, contracts, or if the Major Leagues has a special agreement with Korea. That having been said, there’s a good bet you’ll know it when a star is born. That star is Hanwha Eagles rookie Hyun-jin Ryu.
Ryu is a 6’3”, 215 pound left-handed pitcher who captured the KBO rookie of the year and MVP awards at the age of 19, winning the Triple Crown of pitching in the process. He also took home a gold glove and has led his Korean national team to a Bronze medal in the 2006 Asian Games. The young ace graduated from Dongsan High School in Incheon just last year, and jumped directly into the professional ranks despite recovering from what has been described as a “severe elbow injury”, although I can’t read Korean to search for the precise details of that situation.
Hyun-jin’s rookie campaign is noteworthy in the context of minor league pitching, if the KBO is a bit weaker than the Japanese professional competition, and the NPB is generally believed to be a kind of AAAA level. Let’s make the leap of faith that the KBO is AAA, or at worst between AAA and AA. Here are Ryu’s 2006 numbers at that level of play:
50 earned runs
101 pitches per game
Reading into these numbers a bit more closely, Ryu produced a 3.92 K/BB ratio, and a 9.10 K/9 mark. He allowed only 2.32 walks per 9, and 7.1 hits per 9 inning pitched. If this was a guy in the Yankees minor league system, where would he be ranked in terms of future potential? Remember he’s 19 years old, and has excellent size. I think you’d have to put him a close 2nd to Phil Hughes, and probably a top 3 or 4 pitching prospect in the entire sport.
Just to remind you of his age and inexperience, it’s important to note that the Korean team’s 3rd place finish at the Asian Games saw Taiwan place 1st, and Japan 2nd. Taiwan fielded an excellent collection of talent, but the Japanese team was basically a bunch of amateur and industrial league players who spanked Ryu to the tune of 5 runs over 2.1 innings. Combined against Japan and China, Ryu pitched 6.1 innings and gave up 7 runs, 9 hits, 4 walks, and 2 home runs against 6 strikeouts. Not inspiring to say the least. In the end, those games are a blip on the radar for the young left-hander. If he stays away from any further arm trouble, and follows up his historic 2006 with another outstanding season in Korea, you can bet that the Big Leagues will come-a-calling, and soon.
I’ll keep my eyes out for more on Hyun-jin Ryu, and you should probably keep that name in the back of your mind as the Yankees make bigger and bigger splashes into international waters…
The fact is, the sample of Japanese starters in the Major Leagues is so small, that any real generalizations are next to impossible. There are a few reasons why this is true. For the generation of players who are nearing the twilight of their Japanese careers, the Majors were a virtual impossibility. While Nomo may have broken the invisible barrier that separated both sides of the Pacific, he did so via chicanery in the eyes of the Japanese establishment and was roundly denounced. The players who grew up alongside Nomo got the message. It was only in 2001, six years after Nomo made his move, that the world took notice of Ichiro Suzuki and the fear of jumping ship for the Majors began to wane. Matsui’s departure sealed the deal. The #4 batter for the revered Tokyo Giants, and a legend of the first order, was taking his game Stateside.
That brings us to today. We are about to witness the beginning of a new era in Major League baseball. The same way that the influx of Latin players changed the game, the Japanese migration will also push the Major Leagues to evolve. With the top professionals from the NPB finally entering the Bigs, other Asian athletes will follow from Taiwan and Korea. The Taiwanese and Koreans have been ahead of the curve, as many players have accepted minor league contracts in recent years, but the Japanese professional ranks represent a talent pool unlike any other outside the US.
The biggest obstacle to a mass exodus is the mandatory 10-year service contract that young Japanese players are forced to sign upon entering the professional ranks. The union lacks teeth and a basic desire to change the system, so it is unlikely this will change anytime soon. The difference today is that financially strapped corporations who own and operate Japanese clubs see their star players as cash cows, capable of bringing in $10, $20, and $50 million a pop via the posting system. By all accounts the Japanese player is a kind of feudal vassal, subservient to his lord. The amount of cash that has come in via posting, however, also assures the Major League fan a chance to see a younger, more effective brand of ballplayer from the East.
If we look at the list of Japanese pitchers that have entered the Majors, it hovers at about a dozen. There have been 6 starters to venture into the fray. Hideo Nomo was the best talent-wise, but had a history of arm surgeries at a very young age that robbed him of his real potential. Nonetheless, he pitched 2 no-hitters, won the NL Rookie of the Year, and posted 4 seasons well above league average, with ERA+ ratings of 150, 130, 120, and 112 to his credit. The list of starters looks like this:
I left off Mac Suzuki here, because he was signed at a very young age by the Royals, but was so horrendous in Japan that his failures in the US were not only less than surprising, but also indicative of the kind of idiotic expenditures that define the Kansas City organization over the last 15-20 years.
One thing you’ll notice is that the youngest pitcher to debut on this list is Tomo Ohka. Ohka was not particularly effective in his short time with the Yokohama Bay Stars, but Major League scouts thought enough of him to give him a shot in the US. At 23, Ohka had time to develop in a Major League system and has been a very good pitcher over the years. A career 111 ERA+ over 8 seasons is nothing to sneeze at, nor is a single season 131, for that matter.
Outside Nomo and Ohka, you have three cases to observe. Kazuhisa Ishii, Hideki Irabu, and Masato Yoshii. Ishii’s career was marked by a lack of control that saw his K/BB ratio implode. He posted a very ordinary 2.16 K/BB over his 11 professional seasons in Japan. That kind of ratio is not a promising sign of good things to come in the Majors. With more patient hitters, and a consistently better field of players to face, a poor K/BB ratio is a recipe for failure. Hideki Irabu’s 2.30 is only slightly better, and his conditioning should have been a huge red flag. Masato Yoshii, not surprisingly, had a 2.03 K/BB in Japan and was a converted reliever to boot. Maybe you’d be surprised to hear that Nomo only produced a 2.05 K/BB in his young career in Japan. Is this a fair sample by which to judge the current crop of young aces? Maybe, maybe not.
For comparison, let’s take a quick peek at the K/BB ratios of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa, and throw in Koji Uehara for good measure. He’ll be on US soil in 2008. Matsuzaka’s career K/BB is 2.70 and has risen steadily in his prime years. 2006 saw him post an incredible 5.88 for the season. Kei Igawa has a career ratio of 2.97 and a 3.96 for the 2006 season. Uehara is the Japanese master of K/BB, and has a career mark of a scary 6.66!! That’s Curt Schilling territory. The point is, using a bunch of pitchers who posted career K/BB numbers in the low 2’s to judge players who are at 3, 4, 5, and 6 is unfair. The sample of Major League starters from Japan does not include the best of the best, and it will come as a surprise to many of the doubters that the next wave of arms to cross the Pacific will succeed, and perhaps pave the way for more top pitchers to enter the US in the not too distant future.
But wait. I’m not finished yet. There’s still the matter of the Japanese relief core in the Major Leagues to consider. After all, the Red Sox just brought in Okajima as a lefty middle reliever and there is a somewhat larger sample by which to judge his potential in Boston. Over the last decade there have been some excellent Japanese relief pitchers that either brought their specialist success from NPB, or converted from starter status once they entered the Bigs. Here’s a chart to compare their performaces:
If you look at this list, you’ll notice that Sasaki, Otsuka, and Saito have all been excellent closers in the Majors. Hasegawa was a lights out guy that could thrive in long relief as well as late inning pressure situations. Saito stepped into the Dodgers closing role last season as a 36-year-old rookie and posted a 222 ERA+. It’s hard to imagine at that age that he’d be able to sustain that kind of pace for long, but it shows that it’s possible. Shingo Takatsu entered the league at 35 and shocked the world by putting up a 213 ERA+, but was unable to duplicate that success the following year. What would he have done had he entered the league 5-10 years earlier?
In light of this, I think it’s fair to expect better things from both Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Kei Igawa in 2007. I’ve written many time that I believe Matsuzaka is one of the top 5 to 10 pitchers in the world. The Red Sox are paying an average of about $17 million a season to employ Daisuke. While Matsuzaka is getting screwed in the deal if he pitches like the ace I think he is, the Red Sox are paying somewhere around fair market value for the results. The Yankees are paying an average yearly expenditure of about $9 million a season for Kei Igawa. Igawa, too, is getting the short end of the stick if he pitches like Andy Pettitte, which I’ve also written in the past. The Yankees will have absolutely robbed the field in having acquired him at that price with players like Gil Meche getting $11 million a season. Remember that Pettitte is getting $16 million for his work in 2007.
We should all be rooting for these players to succeed. A new infusion of good pitchers is something the sport needs. There are some very good players entering the Majors from the Minor Leagues now, but there is also a potentially untapped source of experienced pitching in Japan that could alter the competitive landscape of the sport for those teams who take advantage of it. As long as Japanese clubs are getting big money to export their players, the Majors will have a field day. Even better are the free agents that are set to test the waters in the next several years, headed by Koji Uehara in the winter of 2007. I’ll bring you as much as I can about these pitchers, and we’ll all be following our own Kei Igawa to build a new basis for our expectations on similar players yet to cross the US radar. I hope the days of Irabu as the measuring stick for Japanese pitchers will be over in the next several months. Time will tell.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
I went to a Christmas party yesterday, held by a local children’s English school. I’ve done some work for them in the past, and it’s always a lot of fun to be around kids. They have a refreshing sense of purity about everything. I was making the rounds, talking to each of the children, when I came across a 10-year-old boy wearing a grey Red Sox sweatshirt. It was immediately apparent to me that things have changed.
I’ve lived in Japan for 3 years now. In those 3 years, I’ve seen literally tens of thousands of Yankees and Mariners hats, jackets, shirts, sweatshirts, and other apparel. The additions of Tadahito Iguchi, So Taguchi, and other Japanese players hasn’t really spiked the number of White Sox or Cardinals items I’ve seen, and in all my time here I’ve seen two Red Sox hats. I know it’s two, because both times I did double takes. This kid wearing a Boston sweatshirt was a big deal. I had to ask him, “Do you like Daisuke Matsuzaka?”
The boy shrugged and kind of tilted his head to the side as if to say, “Maybe. I’m not really sure.” I’m sure his parents bought the shirt for him, and I’m also sure that there are 1,000s of other parents who have done the same all over the country. The impact of Matsuzaka in Boston on the distribution of MLB merchandising has split the pie three ways, rather than two. Disturbing.
The most annoying part of the day, however, was not the boy’s horrendous Red Sox sweatshirt. After all, he’s a kid and he just likes the idea that a Japanese ball player is on his way to fight it out in the Majors. There was this 40-something year old guy, the uncle of one of the little girls, who had the damn nerve to interrupt my little self-introduction by asking me what baseball team I liked. I obliged him with the correct answer to which he replied, “Oh no. The Yankees are no good.”
If we had been in New York, I might have put a foot in his ass, or at least replied with a few choice profanities. I’m sure my first words would have left my mouth a millisecond after he’s challenged my fandom….”F-you!” I’m 100% sure of that.
As it is, I was in the presence of a few dozen kids, and all eyes and ears were on me. I just glared at him, and said, “No, man. The Yankees are very good. C’mon.” Nothing more was said, but the two latest signs of change in the power distribution of Japanese fandom are troubling. I’m sure it’s the tip of the iceberg.
Friday, December 15, 2006
George King, who generally has questionable information regarding the Yankees, reports that the team is getting close to offering Doug Mientkiewicz (whose name I can now type without looking!) a one year deal to hit at the bottom of the lineup and play caddy to A-Rod's sensitive side. Mientkiewicz was a high school teammate on the football team and King notes:
"A-Rod was the QB and Mientkiewicz was his favorite target as a tight end."
I leave the jokes to your imagination. All that aside, I think this is a collossally bad idea. Doug Mientkiewicz (I even like typing it now!) is a bad baseball player. Not just bad, but VERY bad. But Mike, he's got a glove made of Valkyrie's hair and winged shoes given to him on Mount Olympus by Zeus himself. King's article speaks to the vaccuum cleaner reputation of Mr. Mientkiewicz:
"His airtight defense negates the fact that he bats left-handed. And he is a career lifetime .275 hitter versus southpaws. Damon, a former Red Sox teammate, gushed about what having Mientkiewicz at first would mean. "There are not too many first basemen who could save two or three runs per game, but I have seen Doug Mientkiewicz do it and the guy is amazing," said Damon, who played with him in 2004."
I love Johnny Damon as much as the next person, but he almost makes the point for me. Damon played with a stellar defender in 2004. This is not 2004. Let's look at what Doug Mientkiewicz has done the last several years, shall we?
2004 Minnesota (-2.6)
2004 Boston (-6.4)
2005 NY Mets (-0.2)
2006 Kansas City (6.2)
2004 Minnesota (.241)
2004 Boston (.200)
2005 NY Mets (.255)
2006 Kansas City (.265)
2004 Minnesota (1.0)
2004 Boston (0.0)
2005 NY Mets (1.0)
2006 Kansas City (2.0)
Now let's turn our attention to his strong suit....DEFENSE!!!
RATE (100 = league average)
2004 Minnesota (96)
2004 Boston (100)
2005 NY Mets (94)
2006 Kansas City (93)
RAA (Runs Above Average)
2004 Minnesota (-3)
2004 Boston (0)
2005 NY Mets (-5)
2006 Kansas City (-6)
If you look at these numbers, Johnny Damon saw league average defense over the course of 47 games. That was the best of Doug Mientkiewicz over the last 3 seasons. The last two seasons he's gotten progressively worse. His physical condition no longer allows him to play that great defense, and has robbed him of any ability at the plate. If you field Mientkiewicz at first this season, you will be putting the equivalent of a backup catcher in the lineup at a position that you can throw a dead cat and hit a 20 homer, .900 OPS guy. This guy has 1080 total at bats over the last 3 years. He has a total of 21 home runs and 120 RBIs in that span. That's the equivalent of two full seasons of play in which he would have averaged 10 home runs and 60 RBIs from 1st. Good Lord Ca$h Money!! Just say no!!
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I’d like to start a new winter feature here at COH, to appear off and on while we wait for pitchers and catchers. It is called Yankees Fantasy: Winter Edition. I tacked on “Winter Edition” because I kind of like the idea and hope to continue it even after the season starts. The winter version of Yankee Fantasy is kind of a wishful look at the season ahead and what many of us in Yankeeland hope happens. Anyone in their 30’s or 40’s now might remember the Marvel Comics series “What If?” I’m looking at this column as a kind of Yankees “What If?”
In the first Yankees Fantasy, I will tackle the dream scenario for Randy “Big Unit” Johnson, so with no further ado, I bring you “Yankees Fantasy: Winter Edition #1”.
October 6, 2006
After nearly missing the playoffs completely due to serious back problems, Randy Johnson made his scheduled start in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. Former Yankee, and all around bad guy, Kenny Rogers, opposed him. Rogers was spectacular, having bathed in pine tar prior to game time, and raged against the night, frothing at the mouth while doing so. Johnson, on the other hand, was hit hard. The second inning saw three consecutive singles open the frame, the third scoring Carlos Guillen to put the Tigers on the board first. After a Brandon Inge strikeout, Johnson got Curtis Granderson to ground out, scoring Ivan Rodriguez, but allowed him to steal second immediately thereafter. The stolen base would cost Johnson, as Granderson scored in the very next at bat, as the immortal Placido Polanco singled him home. 3-0 Tigers.
Johnson held his own until the 6th inning, when he lost control and gave up a walk, a double play, an infield single, and a pair of doubles to break the game wide open at 5-0. The Yankee bats never came alive against Kenny Rogers and it was curtains for the Big Unit. His final line:
5 earned runs
For those counting, his ERA on the night was 7.94, and his WHIP 1.765. It became clear later that the 42-year old Johnson’s back injury was serious enough that it would require surgery. Of course, anyone who watched the Yankees in 2006 was not surprised by that at all, as the big man posted a terrifyingly bad 77 ERA+ on the season. His ERA sat at 5.00 and Yankee fans had all but given up on him as a useful member of the rotation. The 6’10” Hall of Famer with the bad back, bad attitude, and big contract was a New York bust, and most fans were just waiting out the end of the 2007 season when his contract would expire, and a new, younger pitcher could take his place.
Johnson had surgery on his herniated back October 26th, and his surgeon, who also performed Johnson’s first surgery 10 years ago, remarked that the surgery went fine. Johnson would report to Spring Training later than the rest of the pitchers and catchers, and started the season a few weeks late after some positive workouts in Tampa. Johnson remarked to reporters prior to joining the Yankees in the Bronx for their April 17th contest against Cleveland, “My back hasn’t felt this good since I was in Arizona. I probably should have had this surgery sooner. I look forward to testing things out with the club up North. I think you’ll see a stronger Randy Johnson this year, but we’ll take it game by game and see how things progress.”
Fans remained skeptical, but a strong first outing against the Indians saw the Big Unit strike out 7 consecutive batters at one point, while surrendering only a single run over 6 strong innings. Johnson spoke to reporters following the game.
“You just try to work hard, and get back into shape. Y’know? A lot of people want to write you off, and to be honest I don’t know what’s going to happen at this age on a game by game basis, but I feel strong and we’ll see how I feel tomorrow. Good night.”
With that the 2007 campaign for Randy Johnson began. It was smooth sailing for Johnson as he managed to finish the month of April 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched. His victories included a blowout in Tampa Bay that saw the Yankees strike early for 10 runs in the first 4 innings, and a hard fought battle in the Bronx against Boston, where Johnson held the Red Sox to 2 runs over 7 innings, allowing the Yankees to scratch out 4 runs against Jonathon Papelbon, who looked great in defeat. The Yankees, 3 games up in first, had Johnson to thank for a spectacular open to the season.
Over the course of the next several months, Johnson combined with a solid rotation of Yankee pitchers to lead the American League in team wins and strikeouts. Johnson hit the All-Star break looking like a Cy Young contender with a record of 11-4 and a 3.75 ERA over 18 games. A few rough outings here and there kept doubt in the minds of Yankees fans, but each time he faltered, he bounced back to impress with a stellar follow up performance. Johnson was named to the American League All-Star team and pitched a 1-2-3 inning, striking out Chase Utley and Jason Bay, a getting hometown hero Barry Bonds on a deep fly out to the wall.
The second half of the season proved to be equally impressive for Johnson. In his remaining 14 starts, the Big Unit showed his Hall of Fame form by leading the charge to another division title and the best record in baseball. In his final start, with a record of 19 and 8, Johnson needed only one win to join the 300 club. His opponent that night, a Baltimore Orioles club without slugger Miguel Tejada, long since eliminated in the AL East. The final days of the season had grown very cold and Camden Yards was windy and frigid. The always appreciative Baltimore fans were severely outnumbered by Yankees commuters, who always make the trip and give the Yards a Yankees Beltway feel.
On this kind of night, the Bombers have always known how to make a party start early. Johnny Damon led off the game with a booming double to the gap. Jeter followed by hustling out another double, scoring Damon on a wild throw from Corey Patterson that missed the cutoff man, and allowed a digging Jeter to slide in just under the re-directed throw. Bobby Abreu walked. Alex Rodriguez came up with two men on, no one out, a one run lead, and history in the making. Rodriguez, who led the American League with 51 home runs in 2007, stepped to the plate against Daniel Cabrera. Fans rose to their feet, as had become the tradition for Rodriguez in a redemption season for the embattled third baseman, Cabrera threw the first pitch inside on A-Rod pushing him off the plate. The second pitch was wide, outside. Taking the third pitch, A-Rod saw the count move to 2 balls and a strike, and his eyes fixed on the mound. Cabrera, clearly shaken, reared back and fired a high strike that Rodriguez crushed into the night. The ball cleared the wall at Camden and landed on the street beyond. The Yankees led 4-0 before a single out had been recorded.
For his part, Johnson was excellent. He worked out of a jam in the 5th inning, by getting Kevin Millar to ground into a bases loaded, inning ending, double play. Other than that, no one could touch Johnson on his big night. He pitched 7 strong shutout innings, leaving to a standing ovation, and a 9-0 lead. His 300th victory in the books, a 20 win season, and a chance to avenge his past playoff failures in pinstripes seemed to loom large on the horizon. Johnson was handed the ball for Game One of the American League Division Series against the wild card Twins. Johan Santana was set to oppose him.
The build up to the ALDS had an electric atmosphere. Yankee Stadium was charged with a new life, as the team had come together in a way that we had not enjoyed in recent years. The rotation managed to hold together all season, and the offense was clicking on all cylinders, scoring at a clip of 6.25 runs per game. Alex Rodriguez was a shoe-in for MVP, leading a pack again made up of Manny Ramirez (45 home runs, 135 RBI), David Ortiz (44 home runs, 112 RBI), Travis Hafner (38 home runs, 126 RBI), and Vladimir Guerrero (.355 average, 31 home runs, 118 RBI). But, that’s a story for another day.
Johnson and Santana squared off in chilly October conditions at the Stadium. The crowd gave Unit a standing ovation when he walked to the mound in the first inning. As usual, Johnson was oblivious to everything around him. No one had spoken to him in two days, and the media couldn’t get a word about the upcoming start. The headline of the NY Daily News read, “Unit of One.” The Post wrote a piece describing Johnson’s desperation to go out with a championship in pinstripes, and the pressure that he was feeling in his final go round in the playoffs. Mike Lupica wrote a story in which he described Johnson as the worst 20 win pitcher in the history of the game, “a surly and unlikable fellow that you just can’t help but root against. He will be remembered as much for being another washed-up Steinbrenner boy toy who couldn’t live up to his big contract, as anything. He and A-Rod. It’s probably all A-Rod’s fault.”
A suspenseful game unfolded in Game One, as Johnson and Santana opened the first four innings with almost mirror results. 4 innings pitched, no runs, 2 hits, one walk, and 4 strikeouts. It was apparent that neither pitcher was going to blink. Yankee fans began to buzz in the stands as the bats just couldn’t crack an opposing pitcher when it counted. That is, until Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the 5th with a solo shot into the bleachers. The Stadium erupted into a frenzy and “Let’s Go Yankees!” could be heard all the way from the Bronx to Battery Park. Johnson would run with the lead until the 7th inning, when Joe Mauer singled to center. With Mike Myers and “Everyday” Scott Proctor warming in the pen, Torre elected to keep Johnson on the mound to face Justin Morneau. In retrospect, it was a bad idea. Morneau lined a double deep into the right field gap, plating Mauer and knotting the score at 1 apiece. Johnson’s night was over and he fumed as he walked to the dugout amidst a chorus of cheers and a standing ovation.
The Yankees would go on to win the ballgame on a 2 run 8th that sealed the victory and earned Mariano a victory in 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.
Johnson had held his own, and the Yankees had taken Game One. The rest of the series went more easily as the Yankee bats swept through the Twins and looked to a match up with the AL Central champion Detroit Tigers. Revenge was on everyone’s mind. Rather than Kenny Rogers in Game Two, the Yankees would send Johnson to the mound against Justin Verlander. Verlander had won 18 games in 2007, and looked to be a perennial Cy Young candidate with his improving command. The Yankees owned another one game lead in the series, thanks to bats that had showed up against the animated Kenny Rogers, minus pine tar. Chien Min Wang had held the Tigers to 4 runs over 8 innings, and the Bombers managed to pull out a 6-4 victory. Game Two would be even easier.
Verlander was shaky to start the game, much as he was in 2006, but this time the bats took advantage and staked Unit to an early 3-0 lead on a Jason Giambi blast. Johnson gave two runs back in the 3rd inning, after losing Magglio Ordonez on a 3-2 count Carlos Guillen took the 6’10” ace deep. That was all she wrote, however, as Johnson kept Sheffield in the park on 2 strikeouts and 2 infield flies. His complete line was 7 innings pitched, 2 runs, 5 hits, 2 walks, and 8 strikeouts. The Yankees would go on to win the series 4 games to 1, and enter the World Series against the Mets in a revival of the wildly popular 2000 Subway Series. Johnson would again start Game One against Barry Zito.
The press was really pushing Johnson for comments on this start. All the major media outlets were playing up the notion that this could be the Big Unit’s last start before election to Cooperstown, and for once he was biting. Johnson uncharacteristically talked about his feelings prior to the game. It wasn’t a lot, and none of his comments were earth-shattering news to anyone, but the fact that he spoke at all, with a nostalgic look in his eye, and a softer tone in his voice, made headlines. The New York press gave Johnson a tremendous write up, marking a turn in the many contentious years he had spent at odds with them. Everyone knew that it had been a magical, perfect season in New York and Johnson had been one half of the story. A-Rod being the other.
Johnson was nervous to open the Series. The pressure of the moment was evident on his face and he swallowed hard during the singing of the national anthem. Cameras caught him mumbling to himself, as he mentally prepared during his warm up tosses. His eyes glared in at Jose Reyes as the flashbulbs popped and the biggest stage of all beckoned. First pitch, fastball, high. Ball one. Second pitch, slider, low. Ball two. Posada stands up, signaling with his palms to calm down. Pitch three, fastball, right down the middle. Strike one. Pitch four, slider, outside corner. Strike two. Pitch five, fastball, high. Ball three. Posada runs through the signs again. Johnson shakes off one, two, three, four, five time. Posada out to the mound.
Yankee fans had been electric in the atmosphere of the Fall Classic. The Stadium expected a win. The full count on Reyes had sapped some of the electricity from the fans, and Johnson was again swallowing hard, pacing around the mound, and mumbling to himself. Posada arrived. Johnson, glove over his mouth, stared into Jorge’s eyes, nodding and listening intently. Posada’s fire was apparent, as he gave Johnson that look. “You gotta listen to me. Throw me what I ask for, and let’s go!” Johnson agreed and Posada returned to the plate. Reyes dug in. Right foot twisting lithely in the dirt in the batter’s box. Hips swaggering. Posada throws down the sign. Johnson nods. The pitch, a splitter in the dirt. Reyes swings and misses. The ball rolls behind Posada, and Reyes takes off. The crowd rises slightly in their seats. Posada fires. Out by a step!
That was the first batter of the last game of Randy Johnson’s career. The Yankees went on to win that game 4-1 on a final game worthy of Cooperstown for the Unit. 8 innings pitched, 1 run, 3 hits, 12 strikeouts, 1 walk. Of the 35 games Johnson started in 2007, including the playoffs, he went 22-8. The capper on the year was a World Series victory, a Cy Young award, and the loudest cheers at the tickertape parade in the Canyon of Heroes.
Well, it's finally over. Matsuzaka and the Red Sox have come to an agreement on a 6 year, $52 million deal that could reach $60 million with some bonus milestones. All in all, I think Theo Epstein got an absolute bargain, and should be celebrated by Red Sox Nation.
Including the posting fee, the Sox will be paying an annual expenditure of $17 million for Matsuzaka, which is beyond reasonable in the current climate of spending. In my opinion, it shows one thing. Boras had zero leverage in the end, and ran one of the great smoke and mirrors campaigns of all time in these proceedings. With Matsuzaka having said goodbye to Japan, and no free agency even possible for 2 years, he played the brash, greedy Gordon Gekko, but looks a bit more like Kenneth Lay in the end.
For Theo's part, he and Lucchino looked liked bumbling imbeciles at times, and I had to wonder how far over their heads they were in the negotiations. As this has now played out, I think they deserve a tickertape parade in Boston. They get a 26 year old pitcher, who by most estimation is one of the top 5 to 10 pitchers in the world. They lock him up at Meche money on the payroll to a long term deal, and outplay Boras in the process.
As a Yankees fan, I'm not looking forward to facing the Sox when Daisuke's on the mound these next 6 years. It hasn't been easy for me to watch this unfold, as I've devoted a year of my life to promoting this player to the American public only to see him land with my arch rival and a reasonable price. It's admittedly a tough pill to swallow, but as a fan of this player, I am delighted that he will have a chance to show the world what he can do. I wish him the best of luck, and look forward to attending a few games at Fenway with my Matsuzaka Seibu jersey on my back. (It sure as hell will be easier than the times I've been in attendance with a Matsui jersey and Yankees hat.)
What this means for the Igawa signing is that his contract should come in at about one-sixth of the posting bid of $26 million. That jives with Matsuzaka's money. It is exactly in the ballpark that the Yanks and Tellem are working on, so it's emblematic of this low key offseason that the Yankees may have won the bid for the lesser player, but also avoided entering a circus of any kind. Igawa prediction: 3 years, $13.5 million total.
UPDATE: This from Rotoworld (for what that's worth).
"The Boston Herald reports that the Red Sox's latest offer to Daisuke Matsuzaka is for six years and a total of $48 million, while Matsuzaka is asking for $66 million over six years."
Asahi Television's evening news was just reporting on the big story, and had a man on the street in LA covering the wee morning beat on the Matsuzaka front. The LA reporter indicated that the Red Sox had in fact increased their offer, Boras seemed relieved, and the decision was now up to Matsuzaka about what he wants to do.
If all of that is true, and I read the tone of the report correctly, they believe that Daisuke is going to take the money. That said, I think no one knows. It's still all speculation.
Just thought I'd report that from Japan.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
UPDATE: Bob Ryan writes an article today, echoing the sentiments I've been writing here throughout the posting and "negotiating." Give it a read. I think he's 100% dead on correct.
I'm sorry, but this is the biggest horse manure I've ever heard in my life. (As quoted by Boston Dirt Dogs).
"And you'd have to wonder: For Scott Boras, when does this stop becoming a chase of dollars and start being about his clients' doing what they love in their work and playing baseball?...
"Boras is extraordinary at what he does, at extracting a volume of dollars from places that you never would've imagined. He is like a chess master, and every negotiation is a match to be won. But in this era, when players are now making more money than they can ever spend in their lifetimes, it's debatable whether the extra cash actually improves the quality of life of his players, and whether all this angst pays off, in the big picture." -- 12.12.06, Buster Olney, ESPN
First of all, for Scott Boras, his job is to get as much money as is humanly possible for his clients. That's the whole reason they hire him, rather than asking Joe Average agent to represent them. To cry about it now shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the situation. Everyone, including Theo Epstein, knew that they would pay top market dollar for Matsuzaka WELL IN ADVANCE OF THE BIDDING. The Red Sox can be pissed off that Boras and Matsuzaka are being greedy, but they shouldn't cry because they are shocked or surprised. I have sympathy for the former, but none for the latter.
Regarding the second part of Olney's comment, cry me a river. If CNNSI was waiting to pay him double for his services, but he had to sit out a year to cash in, are you sincerely going to sit there and tell me that the money is good enough at ESPN? Bullshit. Yes, he will be a super rich man, whatever contract he signs, but it's not about how much you can spend in your lifetime. It's about how much you are worth in the market, and how much that will buy your children and grandchildren. I never see the point in those holier-than-thou types who say wealthy athletes should settle for less because they can't spend all the fortune they make in one lifetime. If I had a chance to set up my children, grandchildren, and every subsequent generation beyond, I would.
They may come to terms on a deal, but make no mistake, these are not children playing for the love of the game. That's only part of the equation. Any experienced journalist should remember the cliche, "If everyone else were playing for free, I would too. But they're not." That is one of the fundamental, 10 Commandments, of modern sports. We all play by those rules, and you either pay, or walk away empty handed. It may be ugly, and we have the right to complain about it, but let's not be naive. That's all I ask.
It's down to about 2 days now. The Red Sox, Boras, and Matsuzaka will be meeting face to face to hammer out whatever they can at the 11th hour. It seems as though the Red Sox are going to sweeten the pot, but Boras is proclaiming that Matsuzaka should be paid $100 million over 5 or 6 years, regardless of the posting fee. Epstein is standing by his posting fee, plus salary, calculations for his budget.
The meeting that is being arranged between the interested parties may or may not ever materialize. If Boras and Matsuzaka are working together, and are adamant about their numbers, there will be no deal. I can't see Epstein paying Matsuzaka between $15 and $20 million on top of the posting fee.
I think I know what the thinking is here. I believe Boras knows that the Mets, Yankees, probably the Rangers, and just maybe the Cubs would have paid the $18 million a season (or someting close) on top of the posting fees they threw out there. He knows that given the chance again, he could get those teams to pay $100 million over 6 years, plus the posting fee. If Matsuzaka goes back to Japan for the 2007 season, he could earn 4 or 5 million for the year. If the Sox offer is $12-$14 million and the other teams will pay him $18, he loses nothing in the end.
The x-factor is Boras' ability to get Daisuke HUGE money from Nike, or any of the other heavyweight advertisers that he has relationships with. If he dangles insane endorsement money in front of Matsuzaka, he'll play along. If you remember when Shaq was drafted, he held out for the money he wanted by promising to live off the money he was receiving from Pepsi and Reebok.
It's about the money, and the willingness of other clubs to pay the higher salary. If Boras knows that money is out there, from a pure business standpoint, it makes sense to play hardball in this way. It's disappointing, greedy, and a bit unsportsmanlike, but it is a business and we're reminded of that every time a big time athlete takes the money. The last thing you need to know today is that The Japan Times has confirmed that Matsuzaka WILL NOT be a free agent after 2007 due to the half season he missed as a result of injury in 2002. He has to wait until 2008 to be a free agent.
More when it goes down.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Not to bump my Isiah rant before anyone's had the chance to read it, but there's a little Yankees news to share.
The Bombers have inked outfielder/first baseman Juan Miranda to a deal reported to be in the neighborhood of 4 years, and $500,000 per year. He is a former member of the Cuban national team, played in the 2002 World University Baseball Championships and the 2004 Olympics, and is a defector to the Domincan Republic, where he now holds citizenship. The 23-year old Miranda was also pursued by several other teams, but only the Dodgers were close. Miranda is guaranteed a spot on the 40-man roster, by contract, and is projected by some Yankee people as a .280 hitter with 20+ home runs. That's according to ESPNdeportes.
If the projections are good, there's your 2007 first baseman. I need to see this guy in spring training to believe it, but Ca$h Money's plan is in action. It's hard to dig anything up on the net about him, but I did see that Jose Rijo saved him and 5 other Cuban players from deportation in 2005, and I found a random comment on a bulletin board that said he hit 4 home runs in a game last season in the DR.
(This is the best link of the lot. A guy in the DR saw him hit a big homer at the Yankees camp and has some nice words about him. Score.)
He's been in the DR working out for 2 years. My skeptical side says, "If this guy can hit .280 and 20+ homers in the bigs, why did it take 2 years for someone to sign him?"
This in Spanish:
"El otro mejor novato de la XL Serie, el pinareño Juan Miguel Miranda, quien le robó al sureño varios votos de primer lugar en esa selección, acumuló 10 jonrones durante los 90 juegos del calendario pasado, uno menos que los que ya exhibe el debutante industrialista a poco más de un tercio de campaña. Así, si no surge un contratiempo, su proyección apunta a que tendemos un nuevo recordista novato en cuadrangulares, sobrepasando la cifra de 20.
El fornido número 10 del Cienfuegos, ahora sumando la buena cifra de 8 vuelacercas que lo sitúan en la sexta posición de los actuales jonroneros, nunca estuvo cerca de los 10 primeros en ese aspecto de la pasada serie nacional, terminando con 21 jugadores por encima, incluidos los líderes Roberqui Videaux y Oscar Macias, ambos con 23.
El actual cuarto bate cienfueguero terminó la Serie 40 con average ofensivo de .286, nada mal para un slugger neto como él, que ha mostrado una fuerza descomunal en sus batazos. Miranda, terminó el 2001 con .304, proyectándose más como un potencial jugador multidimensional, aunque de poder nada despreciable como muestran sus presentes 7 bambinazos en un lapso de 13 juegos, luego de una sequía de 24 partidos sin jonrón."
He projects to be a multi-dimensional player with 20+ home run power, based on his results in the 40th National Series of the Cuban Big Leagues. He hit .304 with 10 home runs in 90 games for Pinar del Rio that year (at the age of 18). 7 of his home runs came in the span of 13 games, after a dry spell of 24 games without a tater. (Pinar del Rio featured Jose Contreras and Alay Soler that season, and won their division by going 59-31 before losing in the championship series to Santiago de Cuba 4 games to 1.) If you can speak better Spanish than me, which is probably likely, you can get more info from this. That was my best shot.
I wish I could say that Isiah Thomas and Luca Brasi shared the same fate. There is no sports figure in the history of the modern world that I hate more than Zeke. Yeah, Gil. That's what I think of Isiah too.
Actually, James Dolan is the man I hate most, but Zeke is more high profile and comes with more excuses than anyone I can remember. He also plays the race card as often as he can to keep you off his back. He's a tough street kid from Chicago, and he's seen it all. At least that's what he wants you to think when you think, "Isiah Thomas."
What I think when I think, "Isiah Thomas" is:
1. Walked off the court before the game was finished in the 1991 playoffs
2. Froze out MJ in his rookie All Star appearance out of spite
3. Ran the CBA into the ground, and bailed on the owners
4. Unceremoniously fired Don Cheney and Lenny Wilkins
5. Put the Knicks so far over the cap, they will never, ever recover
6. Never owns up to anything, and flaps his gums with excuse after excuse
7. Thinks the fans are all stupid.
Ugh. I'd like to lock him in a 5x5 room with Mike Lupica and pipe in polka music for 72 hours non-stop. Why this tirade today? Why at a Yankees blog? I just had to get it off my chest. You see, the NBA's 3 time scoring champ and former MVP is on the trade block. We're talking about a no-doubt, first ballot Hall of Fame player. Probably still among the 10 best players in the sport. Zeke doesn't want him. He has a combination of 4 good players to offer Philadelphia in return for Iverson and Webber, and he won't even consider the idea.
I saw the proposed trade of Francis, Quentin Richardson, Channing Frye, and maybe Malik Rose for AI and CWebb. You could field a lineup of:
If you involved another team it could work out even better. The point is, the Knicks have so many absurd contracts that they can jump in on any trade for a major player. It's about the only redeeming quality of their bloated payroll, but Zeke says he like his team as it is. What the F*&^?!!! What's to like? Eddy Curry emerging? David Lee playing well? That's about it.
By acquiring one of the greatest players of this generation, Zeke could get everyone off his back, and actually make the playoffs. He can even make a run at the Finals if the chips were to fall the right way. I know why he won't do it though. Two reasons:
1. It's Marbury's team. He got into bed with Stephon, and should Iverson come around, there is absolutely no doubt who would be the king in NY. Starbury would be Deadn'bury.
2. Zeke wants to prove that he's been building a contender all this time. If he cashes the roster in now, he'd be "cutting and running" and playing "surrender monkey" on the players he thought were so great he had to bloat the Knicks cap for 12 generations.
That's enough. I can't take it anymore. If any of you are going to the Garden anytime soon, and I don't blame you if you aren't, for the love of God and Red Holzman chant "Fire Isiah!!" from the opening warm ups to the last buzzer. Free the Knicks!!!
Friday, December 08, 2006
I wish I was
Home, where my thought's escaping
Home, where my music's playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me
- Simon and Garfunkel, 1966
Leave it to the most rambling, thick-headed, whiny, sawed-off hack in all of New York sports reporting to throw water on the Yankees pursuit of Andy Pettitte. I'm not even going to get into what he says, because it's so infuriatingly anti-Yankee it's hard to even think about it without also imagining poking him in the eyes Three Stooges style.
Part of what Lupica says is true. Pettitte isn't a great big savior that's going to swoop in and make everything right again. The thing is, he takes a bunch of pot shots at Cashman, and paints Pettitte as "a big ol' money grubbing millionaire like the rest of 'em." He loves to take that holier than thou tack against athletes, especially if they're affiliated with any of the New York teams.
I secretly think Lupica is fueled by hatred of anything New York, and dreams of scenes from Deep Impact and Armaggedon when New York is destroyed by asteroids and tidal waves.
Anyway, if you ever run into Mike Lupica on the street, give him your best New York "hello." You know the one. It starts with the middle finger and ends with a good swift kick in the ass.
From this day forward, Canyon of Heroes and Mike Lupica are officially at war. I can't take it anymore.
Just a quick note on the 1B/DH that the Yankees picked up in the Rule V Draft from the Orioles organization. Josh Phelps looks like a good bargain that could play a platoon with Andy Phillips if the Yankees want to go in that direction. I've been trolling around various places to get some metrics and background on Phelps and found a few interesting things.
The first thing I found was that Phelps was the 2003 cover of Baseball Prospectus' annual report. It was natural that I used my premium subscription to scour the BP logs for more on him. His PECOTA card doesn't really say much for him as a solid contributor in 2007, but then again his price is so low, we aren't going to lose anything in giving him a try. This is especially true when considering the list of comparable players to Phelps. Look at this very interesting list.
1. Pete Incaviglia (1992)
2. Julio Zuleta (2003)
3. Wes Helms (2004)
4. Bubba Trammel (1999)
5. Pedro Munoz (1996)
6. Marcus Thames (2005)
I stopped at Thames because we're all familiar with him, and it seems pointless to continue beyond 5 or 6. What you immediately see is Zuleta at #2 and Helms at #3. Zuleta was on my radar, and the Yankees actually looked hard at Helms and made him an offer before he signed with the Phillies. Phelps may simply be a much less expensive equivalent to those two guys, and Cashman may have pulled a rabbit out of his hat.
Pete Incaviglia played part time for the Astros in 1992 and posted a 115 OPS+, despite some very mediocre baseline numbers. Zuleta was a Pawtucket farmhand, tearing up the minors in 2003, before moving to Japan. Helms put up an 84 OPS+ in 2004 in limited action for Milwaukee. He does sport a 101 OPS+ for his career. Bubba Trammel was stellar in part time action for the Rays in 1999 with a 127 OPS+ and 14 homers in a little over 280 at bats. Pedro Munoz only managed 34 games for Oakland in his final MLB season in 1996. He had a 91 OPS+ and really was a non-factor. Finally, Marcus Thames was horrendous for Detroit in 107 at bats in 2005, but broke out in a big way last season with 26 homers and a 124 OPS+.
I also looked at his career splits, and compared them to Andy Phillips. In 192 career Major League at bats vs. righties, Phillips has a .746 OPS, versus a .489 against lefties. In 400 career at bats against lefties, Josh Phelps has a robust .857 OPS, while against righties he's not awful at .785 over 803 at bats. Throwing Craig Wilson into the mix, you get a busty .938 OPS against lefties in 558 career at bats, against .793 against righties over 1394 at bats. Phillips sample size is miniscule and I think you'll see him improve his numbers across the board if he gets the plate appearances in 2007. The Yankees would be wise to resign Wilson and let him play everyday, but should that elude them, a platoon between Phillips and Phelps may get the job done at a discount price. I like that idea as a good Plan B.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
The winter meetings have come to a close. That's not to say there won't be big deals flying around in its wake, but the frozen-concentrated version of GM dealings is a thing of the past. Some people think it's a pain in the ass, and others think it's outlived its usefulness, but for many of us who follow the sport closely, it's a way to enjoy some Vegas-like news cycles during the off months. Seriously, doesn't the whole thing feel like pulling the lever on the slot machine when you click refresh? If you're a Royals' fan, you probably feel like you've just come up lemons.
Gil Meche for 5 years??!!! 5 years, folks. 5 years. Oh, and he'll be paid an average of 11 million during each of those years. Staggering.
Right now Meche is 28 years old. He has a career 96 ERA+, which puts him right at league average for a starting pitcher. In 5 years Meche will be 33 years old. With the Royals offense behind him, if he does what he did last season, or even slightly better over those 5 years, he will average 10-12 wins a year against 8-10 losses. I found that by first using my head, and then checking it by using pythagorean win formula. That's not the most important thing though.
With the Tigers young pitching staff and good lineup, a Chicago-market driven team in the White Sox, and a Twins team that has great young players and pitchers as well a better plan, how on Earth are the Royals going to compete? The answer is, they're not. You've spent 11 million of your annual budget on a .500 pitcher. That 11 million represents about a fifth of your projected 2007 payroll. We're talking about Gil Meche.......
The Royals are spending $50 million of their 2007 budget right now on the following players:
Gil Meche ($7 million, career 96 ERA+)
Mike Sweeney ($11 million, career 120 OPS+)
Odalis Perez ($8 million, career 96 ERA+)
Jason LaRue ($5 million, career 90 OPS+)
Reggie Sanders ($5 million, career 115 OPS+)
Scott Elarton ($4 million, career 89 ERA+)
Mark Grudzielanek ($4 million, career 89 OPS+)
Angel Berroa ($3.25 million, career 78 OPS+)
David DeJesus ($2 million, career 107 OPS+)
The Royals problem is not that they can't compete with the Yankees for players. The Royals problem is that they spend money on guys that can't play baseball well. Gil Meche would be unecessary if you could develop a good young starter like, say, Phil Hughes or Francisco Liriano. Mike Sweeney is a fine player, but he's mainly a DH these days and it makes no sense to spend a quarter of your payroll on a DH. If you spend big on a guy with a 120 OPS+, he ought to play a hard to find position. The Royals problem is a fundamental lack of understanding of the modern game and the way a team can be constructed to win in a small market. Someone buy a copy of "Moneyball" for Dayton Moore, and tell him to put Meche's money into the minor league scouting and development system.
To put a cap on today's post, Brian "Ca$h Money" Cashman, aka Keyser Soze, had a brilliant winter meetings. He watched Ted Lilly get 4 years at $10 million from the Cubs (all 10 million taxable), while he was content to take on Igawa at the same money, of which only about 4-5 million will be taxable. He got a backup catcher on the cheap, for what that's worth, and used the Rule V Draft to snag a decent 1st base prospect to push Phillips in Spring Training. Pettitte is probably on the way, and he had dinner with the most powerful agent in the sport. C.R.E.A.M.
UPDATE: The Royals also go out and sign Octavio Dotel for a one year, $5 million deal with incentives. Why? It's great for Dotel. He can be a FA again after the year and latch on with a contender. He gets to work his way back against Major Leaguers without a whole lot of pressure. For the Royals, why do they think they need a player of Dotel's caliber closing games for them? Shouldn't they be spending all this money on developing players that will actually be around when they aren't guaranteed to finish last, behind Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago, and Detroit? Thank God for the dim-witted.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
We’re passing through the midpoint of the winter meetings, and a lot has happened on the free agent front. Most of the activity has involved other teams, and a lot of dollars, and I think the Yankees have wisely stayed on the sidelines. Keyser Soze has held up in his private suite, holding court with a few agents. He’s talked, listened, and mostly thought a lot. Let’s look at my winter meetings plan, and talk about what’s happening one by one.
1. Sign Igawa.
2. Sign Zuleta.
3. Get a final answer on Andy Pettitte.
4. Inquire about Dontrelle Willis.
5. Inquire about Freddy Garcia.
6. Trade (dump) Carl Pavano for a lefty reliever.
7. Drink a Hurricane or two.
8. Pack up my bags and come home.
We appear to be on our way to signing Igawa, with meetings held between Soze and Arn Tellem. It stands to reason this will happen without much fanfare. The Zuleta thing appears to have been constructed by his agent, and the Yankees, by all accounts, have shown no interest in him. So be it. I projected him to have some very nice numbers at a low cost, and I’d be happy to try him out. The thing is, the numbers are projected on a lengthy and consistent level of play between the minors in the US and Japan. I think I posted that he has consistently put up .290/.360/.550 at every level. I’d like to back off on Zuleta, since he’s not realistic. There is also another reason, I think it’s wise to do nothing on the Zuleta front, or perhaps even the Craig Wilson front for that matter. Follow me:
Andy Phillips has put up these numbers over the course of his minor league career:
1006 AAA at bats - .294/.360/.534
525 AA at bats - .293/.364/.552
999 single-A at bats - .299/.365/.479
Hmmmm…..if some of us were looking at Zuleta, for those exact numbers across 4 levels of sub-MLB play, why not look to Andy Phillips, who’s rights we own, and who makes $350,000 a year? He wasn’t very good with the stick last season for the Yankees, but generally speaking guys who hit consistently in the minors usually find a way to do it in the Majors too. If that logic works for Zuleta, it works double for Andy Phillips. The one thing we know about the Yankees is that they are always willing to pull the trigger on a deal that will help the club. Increasingly, those deals are very productive, with little sacrifice for significant gain. Ca$h Money has done his homework, learned some important lessons, and most importantly has the control he needs to build the club.
If the Yankees need a first baseman because AP doesn’t work out again in 2007, he’ll find one later in the season. If the Yankees need anything, for that matter, he’ll go out and get it after he’s exhausted a few call ups (see: Wang, Cano). There’s no sense in jumping into shark infested waters, full of blood, when we can wait until the ocean is calm and plenty of tuna are schooling, unaware. To that end, I think there’s plenty of time to wait out a trade for pitching (Willis and Garcia appear out of the question) and maybe we open Spring Training with Pavano on the mound a few times before he’s established enough value to make him attractive. I’m almost guaranteeing that’s a conversation Keyser Soze’s had with the perpetually gimpy righty. “Get on the mound, pitch well, and we’ll make sure you escape the Bronx alive.”
Andy Pettitte will return, and I think you'll see it happen sooner than later. I think Cashman and the Hendricks are playing a little cat and mouse to make sure everything looks good, but I'd be surprised if this is a ploy to get more money out of Houston. It just doesn't seem like the negotiations that Andy's been involved with in the past. Lilly is bumping the Cubs' bid by playing footsie with Ca$h Money, and Ca$h Money is speeding along Pettitte. Nothing more, nothing less. Remember, "Mr. Soze rarely works with the same people for very long, and they never know who they're working for. One cannot be betrayed if one has no people." Enjoy the hurricanes, Keyser. See you back in the Boogie Down soon.
UPDATE: A lot of moves have gone down in a flurry of late wednesday transactions. A quick recap, and a few comments:
1. Ted Lilly to the Cubs (4 years, $40 million) - Glad it ain't us. Good luck to ya Teddy.
2. Freddie Garcia to the Phillies for Gavin Floyd+PTBNL - Nice job Phils. He'll dominate the NL.
3. Mike Piazza to become A's DH (1 year, $8 million) - Brilliant Bill Beane at his Best.
4. Jason Schmidt to the Dodgers (3 years, $47 million) - $16 million per is steep.
The last 3 are all significant moves. Garcia will eat up the NL, Piazza may just pull a Frank Thomas for the A's, and Schmidt just tilted the balance of that division firmly in the Dodgers favor. Lilly's money is stupid, as are the years. Piazza's money is fair, and he will be resurgent as a DH. Schmidt's money is ridiculous and just set the market for Zito, who figures to cash in on an $18 million per year payday. Look for him to sign with the Rangers for 5 years and $90 million. The Mets might make a run, but that money is just silly. What will Matsuzaka cost now that Schmidt got $16 million per? Ka-ching!
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
NoMaas has been calling Brian Cashman "Cash Money" for some time now. We've all adopted it in our commentary, and it's about as good a nickname as their is anywhere. I plan to keep referring to him as Ca$h Money, in general, but I like something that Bronx Banter regular "dimelo" said about him, with regards to his position at this year's winter meetings. He likened his laid back approach to Keyser Soze, and I've decided that "Keyser Soze" will be Cashman's Wu Tang alias around COH. Brian "Ca$h Money" Cashman, aka Keyser Soze. C.R.E.A.M. is my new motto.
It looks like we may see Big Andy back in the Bronx. At least early reports from the winter meetings would suggest that it's moving in that direction. I imagine it will happen, and would pencil Pettitte into the Yankees starting rotation at this point. Not yet ready for ink, but pencil seems a healthy move at this point for Yankee fans.
I love Andy Pettitte. I never thought the Yankees should have let him go in the first place. I know the money was a bit scary with the elbow issues he'd been experiencing, but it's also important to remember that he was a left handed pitcher with extensive postseason experience...and not only experience, but success. Andy was turning 32 when he left the Bronx, which is a period of decline for pitchers, and probably factored into the Bombers' decision to let him walk. The thing is, and this is something we've all come to understand since that time, a guy who can perform in the postseason is a rare breed. I'm not trying to suggest that some guys can will themselves to higher performances in the spotlight of the playoffs, I have no evidence to suggest that such a thing exists, but it is noteworthy that Jeter is not a legend because he suddenly puts up a 1.100 OPS in postseason play, but rather that he maintains his high level of play regardless of the stage. He is consistent. So is Pettitte.
In 24 postseason series, Andy Pettitte is 14-9(.609) with a 4.08 ERA, and a 1.349 WHIP. In his regular season career, he posts a .641 winning percentage, 3.81 ERA, and an identical 1.349 WHIP. Andy is loved for the times he stepped up huge when the Yankees needed him. He won a ridiculous battle with John Smoltz in the 1996 World Series that ended 1-0 in the Yankees' favor. That was the big day for him. If you look at his numbers, as I did recently when projecting Kei Igawa, you'll see that he wasn't a lights out, no brainer, ace. Andy Pettitte's reputation is FAR bigger than his ability, or his performance in pinstripes. Bringing him back in 2007 is the right thing to do, but we shouldn't expect him to be Roger Clemens or even Mike Mussina.
As a Yankee, Andy Pettitte produced the following records, ERAs, ERA+s, and WHIPs:
1995 12-9, 4.17 ERA, 110 ERA+, 1.406 WHIP
1996 21-8, 3.87 ERA, 131 ERA+, 1.362 WHIP
1997 18-7, 2.88 ERA, 154 ERA+, 1.240 WHIP
1998 16-11, 4.24 ERA, 105 ERA+, 1.447 WHIP
1999 14-11, 4.70 ERA, 95 ERA+, 1.591 WHIP
2000 19-9, 4.35 ERA, 116 ERA+, 1.461 WHIP
2001 15-10, 3.99 ERA, 112 ERA+, 1.321 WHIP
2002 13-5, 3.27 ERA, 134 ERA+, 1.307 WHIP (147 IP)
2003 21-8, 4.02 ERA, 109 ERA+, 1.330 WHIP
Those are decent numbers, but they aren't numbers that knock your socks off. What it shows you is how many games an above average pitcher can win with the Yankees' offense behind him. If you put up a 110 ERA+ you can win 15-20 games. If you put up a 120 or more, you can easily win 20....ask Chien Min Wang (19 wins, 123 ERA+). If the Yankees sign Pettitte to pitch at the ages of 35 and 36, it's for two fundamental reasons.
1. He's good enough to win 15-20 games in the heat of a serious AL East pennant race.
2. He's not going to crap out in the playoffs like other guys on the team.
Those are the key beliefs that the Yankees will be running with if and when they sign Andy Pettitte. What that signing will do is complete a rotation of guys who don't throw very hard, rely on offspeed pitches and control, and triple up on lefties for Yankee Stadium. What you're hoping for is continued performance by Wang and Mussina, at around a 120 ERA+, and a pair of guys in Pettitte and Igawa that should put up similar numbers from the left side. You hope that Randy Johnson is the Unit of 2005, with a 117 ERA+ and a 17 win season. Pavano should be traded for rosin bags.
The lack of a hard thrower is somewhat offset by the bullpen. If teams get used to seeing 88-92 MPH fastballs, and wait on the breaking ball, they'll have to face Bruney, Farnsworth, and Mariano among others. That may be the only saving grace. I'd love to find a hard throwing young pitcher to add into the mix....Hmmmm. Phil Hughes throws 93-95, with the occasional 97 on the gun. Maybe we get to see him after the All-Star Break. In the meantime, our rotation would be Wang, Mussina, Pettitte, Johnson, and Igawa. I like that, and I'd be happy to go with that as my infantry.
The pitching market is absolutely insane!! I'm begging Ca$h Money to stay out of this idiotic frenzy of spending. I wrote this over at Matsuzaka Watch today:
Think about these recent signings and where Matsuzaka sits in context.
1. Roy Oswalt (5 years, $73 million)
2. Chris Carpenter (5 years, $65 million)
3. Vincente Padilla (3 years, $34 million)
4. Gil Meche/Ted Lilly (asking 4 years, $40 million)
5. Adam Eaton (3 years, $24.5 million)
The rumors have been swirling that Boras is seeking 6 years and $12 million per season for Matsuzaka. That would seem to jive with this market. Boras is steadfast in his pitch that Matsuzaka is one of the top pitchers in the world, and should be paid as such. If established aces like Oswalt and Carpenter are getting $13-15 million per year, Matsuzaka should come in just below. Likewise, Vincente Padilla who is essentially an NL pitcher with a career ERA of 4.06, ERA+ of 106, and WHIP at 1.346 is getting $11+ million per. Will Boras allow Vincente Padilla to get more money than Daisuke? Fat chance. It stands to reason as well that he will be paid significantly more than Lilly and Meche, not to mention Adam Eaton. Those guys have no business in the same conversation as Matsuzaka.
What the Red Sox now face is the prospect of paying the posting fee and the contract, plus luxury tax factors, to the tune of 6 years and about $25 million per year. Ouch. I'm of the belief that he's going to earn as much of that money as anyone can be expected to earn, but that's a tough pill to swallow. It makes you wonder if Johan Santana is going to get $30 million a year in 2008, doesn't it. (Don't bother answering that, it's a rhetorical question.)
If you consider that money, you have to think about what the Yankees would be doing to buy a flashy guy this year. Sit back and think about these names:
1. Barry Zito (5 years, $90 million) - career ERA+ of 127
2. Jason Schmidt (5 years, $65 million) - career ERA+ of 110
3. Gil Meche (4 years, $40 million) - career ERA+ of 96
4. Ted Lilly (4 years, $40 million) - career ERA+ of 99
Let's consider the top 3 year periods for the following pitchers:
1. Pedro Martinez (3 years, $47 million) - career ERA+ of 160
2. Roger Clemens (3 years, $33 million) - career ERA+ of 144
3. Johan Santana (3 years, $15 million) - career ERA+ of 144
4. Randy Johnson (3 years, $47 million) - career ERA+ of 138
5. Roy Oswalt (3 years, $44 million) - career ERA+ of 143
Those 5 pitchers represent the 5 highest ERA+ in history among active players. You are telling me that Barry Zito is worth $18 million when compared to these Hall of Famers? You have to be on something if Gil Meche or Ted Lilly should be paid the same 3 year outlay that got Roger Clemens the last 3 seasons...