Monday, February 18, 2008

The Giambi Saga

On this day when Andy Pettitte stands up to face the music, I'm choosing to look at another prominent Yankee known to have abused PEDs. Pettitte, for his part, said what he had to say and was extremely humble in doing do. Giambi cooperated with multiple investigations over the years and has been one of the only players involved in this juiced era to have fessed up to his "crimes", at least behind closed doors.

Pettitte will go out a beloved son of the Yankees farm system, a champion, and an ultimately flawed human being like the rest of us. Some of the shine is off the legend of Andy Pettitte, but it's hard to forget what the team did from 1996-2001, prior to his admitted use of HGH. Giambi, on the other hand, came to the Yankees after the magic was over and has done little to bring glory back to the Bronx. He's had his moments in pinstripes and we've made the playoffs every year that he's been in our uniform, but the question has to be asked of the post 2001 Yankees, "What was this group made of?"

One of the first thing you have to discuss is the payroll of the 2002-2008 Yankees and the idea that big name, high ticket players would bring another set of rings to the franchise. It hasn't and a lot of money has been thrown away in the process. Of course, Brian Cashman is trying to right the ship on this front and will make a huge step in that direction this season with the young pitchers. The bigger step will be taken next season when some big contracts come off the books. Jason Giambi is at the center of that and really is the symbol for the 2002-2008 version of the Bronx Bombers. Lots of offense, lots of wins, no titles.

It's not fair to lay any of this on Giambi. For his part, he's produced a lot of positive results with his bat and when you look at his total body of work for the Yankees, he's only missed significant time in two seasons, 2004 and 2007. For the Yankees, Giambi has produced a batting line of .263/.410/.525 and has averaged 38 home runs per 162 games. In some seasons, those would be close to MVP numbers. If he'd managed to hold any of his prolific batting average ratios in New York, he'd probably have one in our uniform. From 2002-2007 Jason Giambi hit the 16th most home runs in all of baseball despite missing half of two seasons. He's 7th in OBP and 25th in SLG over the same time. He actually has been hit by more pitches than everyone in the sport over that stretch, other than David Eckstein, Jason Kendall, and Craig Biggio.

A few things have worked against Jason Giambi since his arrival. His slow start certainly set off his time as a Yankee on the wrong note, and despite that "True Yankee" moment when he beat Minnesota in extra innings, in the rain, with that grand slam, somehow I think we're still waiting for something. He helped make our big Pedro Martinez comeback in the playoffs, so it's hard to say he never produced in a big game. Still....we're waiting. The steroids issue is a big part of the cloud hanging over Giambi's time in pinstripes, but I'm not sure that it's the morality of his drug use that bothers most Yankee fans. I think it's an unspoken sense that we paid HUGE money for a product that didn't work as well as we thought it would. The breakdown of Giambi's batting average makes that perception very real. Getting on base at a 41% clip and clubbing 35+ home runs every year is impressive, but it's easy for the eyes to process that to the brain if a big chunk of that OBP comes from raking. He hasn't.

We're still waiting for a .320 batting average to go along with all the walks and homers. If he got a hit once every three times up and mixed in some walks, we'd think a lot more highly of him somehow. The perception, I think, is that the drug abuse robbed him of his ability to hit for average. At least, that's my perception. I remember the problems he had with his eyes and his back and wonder how they affected his ability to make consistent contact. We all know that he's patient and when he connects it's going to travel a long way, but even though it goes against my good sense, I think he needed to get a big single or double more often to make us feel like we got our money's worth.

I've had a love/hate relationship with Giambi in his time here. I don't like him all that much. He isn't a classic Yankee. He's a perfect Oakland Athletic to me. That's just an aesthetic sense. When he came to us, and took all that money, I expected him to do what A-Rod has done in the uniform. Even A-Rod's "down years" have matched Giambi's better seasons, but he plays the field and has put up some historic Yankee seasons winning 2 MVPs. Giambi has had success, but it hasn't been of the historic variety. Maybe that's not fair, but when you win an MVP and take $100 million, a lot is expected in the Bronx spotlight. Funny how Giambi has rarely been booed, while A-Rod has had trouble. I guess Giambi is seen as authentic, even authentically flawed, while A-Rod seems a big fake or managed in comparison. I don't get it. I've wanted to boo Giambi 100s more times than I ever thought to boo A-Rod.

What do we expect for 2008? I imagine he should give us the 130-140 games with 35 homers and a ton of walks. I'd guess that he'll sit more this year with the DH role being filled by Matsui and Damon on occasion. He'll carry the team in stretches, but none of it will matter unless a title is brought to the Bronx in October. Whatever the end to the season, however, I think the "Giambi era" will always leave a bad taste in our collective mouths as a period of wasted opportunities. It's not really fair to pin it on Jason, but I'll be honest, I can't wait until he's gone.

I'll cheer for him this season, but when it's all said and done, title or no, I will breathe a sigh of relief when that big contract is off the books and some of the star power that was brought in during the 2002-2008 period is gone. The same can be said of Mike Mussina in many respects. Pavano will be out. Choices will be made on Abreu and Farnsworth and others. 2009 will see Matsui and Damon's contracts expire. We'll see something new, good or bad, but I think I'll feel a lot better with a group of guys less "well known" and less well paid than I have with the Sheffield's and Giambi's and Randy Johnson's of the world. Now, if only we could get back Nick Johnson I'd feel better. Go Yankees!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Yu Ready for Darvish?

Rumors have been floated about a Yu Darvish posting to the Major Leagues after the 2008 season for a few months now. I declined to comment on this situation until I saw it develop or die in the Japanese press and I'm prepared to weigh in as Spring Training breaks.

The rumors indicated that the Yankees have expressed interest in acquiring Darvish via the posting system next season and are reportedly willing to blow away the posting fee that was given to Seibu for Matsuzaka. The Yankees have been scouting the young right-hander since his rookie season (2005) and have relied, apparently, on information from Kazuyuki Shirai who has been the infield coach and the team's #2 in command under Trey Hillman. Shirai participated in a coaching exchange with the Yankees just following his retirement from the NPB in 1997. There is some information out there that Shirai, thanks to his excellent relationship with Hillman, is doing some scouting work for the Royals these days, but I haven't been able to confirm that at this point. He was thought to be a candidate to replace Hillman, but did not in the end.

At this point, the rumors which floated out there in January have not been expounded on anywhere legitimate. The initial reports came via the sports wire in Japan and were printed on Yahoo! Japan's sports page and in the Sponichi and Nikkan Sports daily sports rags. The quality of information we are dealing with is dubious, but hardly a shocker. The main issue with this type of rumor is the feasibility of a move. I can't address anything from an "in-the-know" standpoint, as I think no one in the world beyond the front office of the Fighters and Darvish himself are able to determine the likelihood of a posting move next year. I can, however, deliver my perspective on the situation from the standpoint of a person who stands between Japan and the US and has made a minor career out of covering Japan for Baseball Prospectus.

Some reports have attributed quotes to Darvish about his lack of interest in playing in the United States but I have never seen or read anything to that effect, other than unattributed quotes. Even the Wikipedia entry on Darvish fails to attribute a source to that comment. I have always operated under the assumption that he did make a comment about his lack of interest in the Majors simply to be conservative in my analysis of his possible future in the States. I've paid very careful attention to Darvish for 3 years now and make it a point to stay on top of everything Darvish. You might know my work at Darvish Watch, although I gave up posting there mid-season last year to concentrate on graduate work.

Darvish has opened up to the possibility of playing in the Majors by my best analysis of his character and posture. His confidence has grown exponentially in the last year and a half and he has dominated the NPB as well as the international circuit. If there were a WBC this year, he'd be Japan's man on the mound charged with repeating. There's nothing Darvish has not done as a professional in Japan, save win an Olympic gold medal. He has a championship, a Sawamura Award, a Konami Cup, and an Asian Championship with the national team. He posted a 1.82 ERA in 2007 and was untouchable. At this point, his only weakness is early trouble with his command, which hurt him in a number of 1st innings last season.

I wrote the following for Baseball Prospectus in 2007, edited to avoid repetition:

Yu Darvish, RHP, Nippon Ham Fighters
Height: 6'5" Weight: 187 Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 20

Darvish is a 20-year-old stick of dynamite. Born to an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, he has achieved a kind of matinee idol status in Japan for his good looks and big-game ability. Like many Japanese pitchers, he was thrown into the mix at the age of 18, and was asked to start winning right away. His first half-season was an up and down affair, with some very tough moments interspersed by flashes of brilliance.

Manager Trey Hillman has been quoted as saying that Darvish could one day be better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, and is already more advanced at 20 than Daisuke was at that time in his career.

In addition to that information, you might be interesting in knowing that he throws in the mid-to-high 90s with ease and has a wicked slider, change, and sometimes works a cutter. His size projects to much better long term success than Daisuke Matsuzaka. He has room to fill out his upper body as he is still only 22-years old, but his lower body is relatively thick and generates power at a Major League level. Darvish married a beautiful actress/talent this season after the couple learned that she was pregnant with their first child. Saeko Darvish has done work on the variety television circuit, some dramatic work, and some of the standard sexy bikini videos that young idols are generally obligated to do in Japan.

The speculation about Darvish and the Yankees has been described in terms of financial interest by the Japanese rumor mill, mainly identifying the 2009 open of the new Yankee Stadium and the simultaneous expiration of Hideki Matsui's contract. The press have focused on the Yankees' desire to maintain a strong Japanese base and see Darvish as the logical target to provide continuity. The speculation also surrounds Darvish and the 2009 season because the Olympics will provide an international forum for the young man to showcase his abilities as Matsuzaka did in the WBC. The price for Darvish may never be higher than it is now according to some, although I tend to think a good showing at the 2009 WBC is a perfect spot to elevate value thanks to the higher level of competition as compared to the amateurish Olympics.

If I were a betting man, and sometimes I am, I would tend to bet against Darvish being posted after this season. I think it would be far more likely that he would be posted after the 2009 season, or not at all. The factors that could prove me wrong are obvious. Money talks, for one. If the Yankees are aggressively floating dollars out there in the rumor mill that exceed Matsuzaka's fee, it would be foolhardy for Nippon Ham to turn their backs completely. The meat packing company is financially strong, but is hardly in a position to turn down $100 million. (That number is simply pulled out of my ass for the purpose of illustrating a point.)

The final question to deal with is the feasibility of a big money posting by the Yankees or someone else. In my opinion, if the Red Sox $50+ million is a benchmark for Darvish, I can't see why a substantially higher number isn't reasonable for Darvish. Why? Darvish is better than Matsuzaka was at 22. He's got projectable size at 6'5" and a good frame to continue developing. He has a complete arsenal and can pitch 9 innings every time out without batting an eyelash. He is the only player on Earth capable of being a bigger marketing boon than Ichiro in Japan. He's truly a rock star. At 23, Darvish would be under a team's control until his 29th birthday provided he could get a deal of that length from the winner of his posting fee. He hasn't even hit his prime yet.

I'll be following Darvish full time at Darvish Watch this season, so make sure to stop by there and take in each start. I will be living in Japan full time again in late May and will do my best to live blog each of his starts from that point forward. In the meantime, stop by and take a look at the style of the blog and read up on what I've done so far. I'll be updating the remainder of the 2007 season in some form very soon.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fresh for 2008, Booooooy!!!!

The offseason has been tough. I had so much grad work to do that I hardly felt inspired to write about why the team should or shouldn't resign Doug Mientkiewicz, or why there should be personal beer taps on the backs of every seat at the new stadium. Priorities were made and posting was sparse.

Pitchers and catchers are now back in action in Tampa and the former Legends Field, now known as George M. Steinbrenner Field. There will be a lot to talk about in the coming weeks and Canyon of Heroes is dedicated to getting back into action. In the days and weeks to come, I will be cranking up the action here and doing some housework at my various Japanese baseball blogs as well. They have suffered the most.

I JUST updated the template here to the "New" blogger, so I'll be working on adding tags to each post, including the work I've done over the last 2+ years. Things look similar under the new arrangement, but there are a few differences as well. I eliminated some of the links from the "old" COH, including many of the Yankee blogs out there. If you are one of those blogs, and you plan to be active this season, give me a shout and I'll put you back up there. If you notice anything out of whack with the updated template, send that along as well.

The plan is to write about Yu Darvish and the Yankees, Giambi and his role this season, and any Spring Training news that may be on the tongues and blogs in Yankeeland. Come back. Spread the word that I'm back in action, and go Yankees!!!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

An Omen!!

NEW YORK BEATS BOSTON!!!!!!!!!! Next stop Spring Training!!!!!!!!!!!!!