Saturday, December 31, 2005
The Gifts: Wade Boggs, Jimmy Key
Cash or Charge: three years, about $11 million for Boggs, four years, approximately $17 million for Key
Naughty or Nice: This was a God-Bless-Us-Every-One type event. The Boss celebrated his impending reinstatement from suspension by gobbling up a couple of veteran free agents. The signings follow Big Stein's M.O. of vampirically signing away players from division rivals--strengthening the team and weakening the enemy simultaneously. I'll admit that initially I didn't like the Key signing. Key was then a finesse lefty over the age of 30 with a 13-13 record the season before. Exactly the kind of guy the Yanks had been burned on in the past. The World Champion Blue Jays considered him expendable.
Ah, back in the days when I still thought won-loss record meant something...
Key joined the rotation and was key in swinging the Yanks' record by twelve games, bringing them back above .500 and to second place (to the aforementioned Blue Jays, who won the World title again). By BP's support-neutral measures, Key was the second-best starter in the AL that season (behind the Royals' Kevin Appier, and ahead of Cy Young winner Jack McDowell and runner-up Randy Johnson). In 1994, with the Yankees in first place at the time of the players' strike, and the subsequent cancellation of the season, Key was somewhat over-hyped, finishing second in the Cy Young voting (to David Cone) despite being "only" the fifth-best starter in the AL. We'll never know exactly how much the 1994 strike cost Key, but when the 1995 season opened, Key had a couple of good starts against Boston and Milwakee, then a couple of bad starts against Toronto and Cleveland, and then his season was over, lost to rotator cuff surgery. Key wasn't really his old self after returning from surgery, but he gutted through the season well enough to make 30 starts, have a 4.2 SNLVAR, and win a couple of playoff games, including Game 6 of the World Series.
Boggs was just as big a contributor, and a little more topical, because of the parallels with 2005's Christmas present, Johnny Damon. Both were Boston leadoff men (primarily--in an ill-advised move, the Sox gave Wade more time in the #3 hole than leading off in 1992) both fit in the pesky/annoying category, with their penchant for fouling the ball off (no stat for this, so I could be wrong) and both were despised by Yankee fans. From the mid-80's until Boggs' arrival in 1993, my favorite highlight from the between-innings highlight reel the Yankees played each game (sadly, I can't remember which inning it happened) wasn't Reggie's three homers in the 1977 World Serious, or Ron Guidry's 18K game against the Angels in '78...it was Dave Righetti's Independence Day no-hitter--because the last out was Wade Boggs, little Mr. Never-Strikes-Out, swinging helplessly over Rags' slider to end the game.
I hated ol' Chicken Breath, with his stupid supersticions and his dinky singles, with his cheap doubles up against the Green Monster and the prissy way he looked at every ball out of the strike zone (little "good boy!" nod to the umpire if he called a ball, a small chastening look if he called a strike, one that said "I understand, that one got by ya. We'll do better next time, right?"). I detested Wade Boggs's World-Series-weepy, adulterous, end-of-season-sittin'-out-so-I-can-win-the-batting-title ass.
Here's where Boggs and Damon diverge: by the time Boggs left Boston, the world of baseball generally agreed with me. I lived in Beantown in the Fall of '92, at the end of Boggs' worst season ever. At the age of 34, he hit .259, and Boston had really turned on him. He was savaged on talk radio, New Englanders sick of Boggs' perceived selfishness, his preoccupation with stats. Like Ichiro Suzuki a decade or so later, many were obsessed with Boggs' batting practice displays of home run power, and upset that he didn't hit for power in non-batting practice situations. Some sportswriter, probably the Curly-Haired Boyfriend, had surgically attached the phrase "25 guys, 25 cabs" to Wade Boggs' name, creating the perception that he was a clubhouse cancer. His indiscretions with an on-the-road girlfriend (and her subsequent yapping about it to every news outlet that would give her a couple of bucks) had embarassed his teammates as well as the city itself (showing its Calvinist/Puritan side again).
Judging from my humble perceptions that winter, folks in New England just weren't all that broken up when Wade went away. They had Scott Cooper and Tim Naehring, each of whom was supposed to be the best thing since sliced toast. No one was burning Boggs's jersey in effigy.
Back to the Yankees, however. In December, 1992, the Yankees hadn't been able to get league-average production out of third base since Mike Pagliarulo in 1987. Boggs gave the Yanks a good glove at the hot corner (according to BP's defensive stats, Boggs was average or better every year he was in pinstripes) and badly-needed OBP at the top of the lineup (Boggs spent most of his Yanks' career batting first or second) for the five years he was a Yankee. Even though he was protected by platoon partners during his years with the Yanks (Randy Velarde, Russ Davis, and Charlie Hayes came out to play against tough lefties) Boggs' performance in pinstripes was greatly diminished from what he'd done as a Red Sock. This was reasonable, both give Boggs age (mid-30s) and the fact that he moved from a park he exploited to the hilt, to a somewhat more diffcult hitting environment in the Bronx.
On the other hand, Boggs was able to rehabilitate his reputation as a human being in the Bronx--he was widely regarded as a good teammate, he did "cluhouse leader" stuff like running the Yanks' Kangaroo Court, he even provided a touching moment with his horseback victory lap around the Stadium after the 1996 World Series.
So, to sum up, I think that there are three lessons from Wade Boggs, that we should keep in mind while welcoming Johnny Damon to the Bronx:
1. Win, and We Will Welcome You: Every Yankee fan who hated Damon as a Sock will come around--so long as he performs and the team wins. If either of those things fall short, we've got no guarantees.
2. Don't Expect the Same Performance: It's almost guaranteed that Damon's numbers will drop off from what he's done the past four years. First, Fenway is simply a better hitter's park for a lefty hitter whose value depends on singles and doubles. Second, although Damon's younger than Boggs was when he came to New York, just like Wade, we're not getting Damon's prime years. The Royals, A's, and Red Sox got those, and there's no use complaining about it.
3. The Intangibles Are Unreliables: One of the touted pluses in a Damon acquisition, is Johnny's "leadership" ability. If there's one thing that history teaches us, it's that the intangibles aren't guaranteed. Boggs was a crumb before he joined the Yanks, and became a solid citizen after. Damon's acquired a great reputation in Beantown (I don't recall him being hailed as a leader in Kansas City or Oakland) but the slate is cleaned with his move to New York. A couple of incidents with reporters, or a bad reaction to early struggles in pinstripes, and Damon could go the reverse route from Boggs, from beloved "idiot" to clubhouse cancer, in the blink of an eye. Once upon a time Bobby Bonilla was hailed as a clubhouse leader. He came to the Mets, got off on the wrong foot in an early press conference, and things went downhill from there--boos, earplugs, and "I'll show you the Bronx." Just months after starting his tour of duty in Flushing, Bonilla's rep was permanently ruined. Here's hoping Damon meets a better fate.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
The Royals piece is a solo Notebook, my first since the old Prospectus Triple Plays. It's all about the Royals' spending on place-fillers like Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mark Redman, Scott Elarton, and Paul Bako. Here's a sample:
That’s the big theme of [the Royals' free agent] acquisitions, one that reportedly will continue with the signing of outfielder Reggie Sanders. The Royals are on a two-year plan, matching the time remaining on Mike Sweeney’s contract, in which they intend to use veteran placeholders to support their youngsters. Like cedar chips in a closet, having a bunch of mildly above-average thirtysomethings around the clubhouse could keep the club from stinking while the Royals await the arrival of prospects like Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Justin Huber, and Chris Lubanski. In 2008, all those players could be in the show, along with $15 million which will come off the payroll in veteran players. In comparison, if the Royals had signed A.J. Burnett to the same five years, $55 million he received from the Toronto Blue Jays, they’d have a good, but not great, pitcher on a bad team now, and probably a 31 year-old innings-eater making $11 million in 2008.
The Yankees piece (you have to scroll down, since it's the second segment in this Notebook) is a rundown of the Yanks' tradition of offering the fans "Christmas present" acquisitions over the past ten or so years. Here's a sample:
The Gift: Johnny Damon, CF
They Left a Price Tag on This One: Four years, $52 million
Naughty or Nice: Some years, what you receive for Christmas is something new and extravagant, the equivalent of an XBox 360. Some years, it's something commonplace and practical, like a nice pair of woolen socks. Rarely do you come across a present that combines both the spark of novelty and the adult virtue of practicality--such as a slinky new cell phone to replace the one you've dropped a thousand times. For a team whose incumbent center fielders posted EqAs of .242 (Bernie Williams) and .227 (Bubba Crosby) in 2005, and one long in need of outfield defense, Damon was close to a necessity. Add in the fun of ticking off the entire fan base of the Yankees' closest rivals, and Damon is clearly a toy that's both fun and educational. We have to hope that the Yanks got the extended warranty, here--last season's PECOTA projections featured a couple of players comparable to Damon who fell off the face of the earth in their early 30s, most notably Lloyd Moseby and Andy Van Slyke.
It's a fun topic, and one I'd love to take on, much more in-depth, in the future. Enjoy!
Friday, December 23, 2005
- Take things one year at a time. That's the mantra with the Johnny Damon signing. For 2006, the Yanks desperately needed a centerfielder, and there was bubkes on the market, other than Damon. I'll go into this in some additional detail next week on BP, but for 2006 (and probably 2007) this was the move to make.
- People are, I think, making too much of this "Yankees Gain is Red Sox Loss" angle. As my brother reminded me yesterday, the Yanks gaining Damon's value and the Red Sox losing same could account for an 11 win swing, as per BP's Wins Above Replacement Player stat (Damon's value was about 5.5). But everyone forgets what the Red Sox gain in this transaction--$10MM they'd earmarked to re-sign Damon. The Red Sox aren't going to replace Damon with a replacement-level player--they have enough money and talent in their system to get a better-than replacement centerfielder.
- Next week, when I look back at 2005, I'm going to tally up the number of times I apologized not having posted more frequently, here. I love having a blog all to myself, but I'm open to any suggestions to make my blogging better. That could mean taking on a partner on this blog, so that there's daily content, or else moving to someone else's blog to perform the same function. No announcements imminent, and I'd welcome any input in the comments section.
- Got to catch a late show of Syriana last night. I was dead exhausted, so I dozed off at least four times during the movie. From what I was conscious to witness, I'd have to go with Roger Ebert's impression of the movie, which is that the movie was intentionally made so that the plot was impossible to follow. I think of this like one of those paintings with the endless, impossible stairway that's going up and down at the same time. It sounds strange not to pan a movie when you actually fell asleep watching it, but I think I'd give Syriana another chance.
- During the movie, which I saw at the Angelica, just at the stroke of midnight I felt the New York Subway system rambling back to life. Maybe the first time for me that a distracting noise in the movie theater was also welcome.
Away for the weekend. Have a Merry Christmas!
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Some people might think me a hypocrite for criticizing the hard-working men and women of the TWU while I'm usually fairly friendly to whatever another union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, does.
The issue is context. Major League Baseball, while one of my favorite things in the world, is not necessary. If it goes dark because people are arguing over money, no one's going to die; a relatively small number of support people are going to lose their job. That's big if you're one of those people, but not that big in the big picture.
A transit strike, in New York City, at Christmas, will have a broad and devastating effect, particularly in the short term. Businesses are counting on mass transit to bring shoppers to them. This is the week that many retailers get in the black, for the year, and that's a bit less likely to happen now. People count on mass transit to bring them to the doctor's office, to enable them to get to work. That's why strikes by transit workers (and cops, and firefighters, for that matter) are illegal in New York.
When he announced the strike, last night while most of us were sleeping, TWU President Roger Toussaint hit his points. He mentioned the Metropolitan Transit Authority's surplus for this year, reportedly a billion dollars or more, repeatedly. He declared that the TWU wasn't simply taking a stand for themselves, but for all the workers out there who are watching the "erosion" of pension, retirement, and health benefits. Toussaint asked the riders to "stand by" the TWU, as he claimed the TWU had stood by riders "to keep token booths open, to keep conductors on the train, to oppose fare hikes."
I don't remember that last part happening, but the first two were more matters of self-interest to Mr. Toussaint's union than altruistic acts for the benefit of the ridership.
Still, I'd be much more likely to have sympathy for the TWU if they were striking in June, rather than when the weather is in the 20's (that's farenheit, yo). Had they simply held out until next week, it would have been a true sign they give a damn about the saps who ride the rails and roads with them.
A transit strike hurts the MTA any day of the year. It hurts the city and the state at any time. However, striking right now, is calculated to hurt New Yorkers--the everyday rider--most.
So sadly, I'm wishing only the worst on Roger and his union right now. May a judge fine them twice their salary per day they strike, and their leaders a few million dollars a day. And should, heaven forbid, anyone die or be hurt, or permanently lose their jobs because of this strike, I hope they sue the illegally-striking union.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
But none of that has congealed yet, so here we are, another notes column. As the Chairman would say, Allez Cuisine!
The Yankees news of the week was the acquisition from the Immolation Trade Marlins of lefty reliever Ron Villone, obtained in exchange for Ben Julianel. Villone is...well-traveled. The Yanks will be the 10th team of his 11 year Major League career. The upside is that he's a swingman, who could make an emergency start when needed; he's tough on lefties, but doesn't completely fold the tent against righthanded batters; and he's maintained a good strikeout rate for his entire career.
On the other hand, Villone is 36 years old, his control is pretty crappy, and he hasn't posted an ERA below 4 since the Clinton Administration (1997, to be more precise). The control is the key issue, since Joe Torre is notoriously impatient with relievers who can't get the ball over the plate. In return for Villone, the Yanks give up Julianel--a guy who's a lot like Villone, just ten years younger. Julianel's a lefty with good stuff but bad control, who repeated AA in 2005, as a reliever. Some think that Julianel could make the jump to the majors in 2005, although a 3.90 ERA in Trenton usually isn't the fast track to the Bronx.
The key to this trade will be what use, if any, Torre finds for Villone. Stay tuned.
The other big news of the week is the Yankees not signing Nomar Garciaparra, just another outgrowth of the Fourth Estate's general discontent with the Yanks for not setting off their regular off-season fireworks. Mugs like Mike Lupica, who spend their lives slagging the Yanks for overspending and turning over the roster, are now slagging them for not spending on this winter's weak crop of free agents.
The Yankees didn't need Nomar, and actually didn't really have a place for him. The role that was discussed (in the media, not necessarily by the team) of Garciaparra as a four-or-five position superutility guy was a pipe dream. You just don't take a guy that had a catastrophic injury last year, and injury problems over the last 3-4 years, and then start playing him at numerous positions he hasn't played in years, if ever. That's pretty close to begging for the guy to get hurt.
Instead of going to the Yanks, Nomar goes to the Dodgers, where they're committed to playing him at first base, and where the owner, a New Englander, is attempting to rebuild the 2004 Red Sox roster, piece by discarded piece. Hopefully, Johnny Damon is next on their list.
In case anyone's interested in my BP work, I dropped a joint on the Pirates this week, discussing the huge turnover they've put in on their roster. Here's a taste:
The Pirates' off-season has settled into a near-bulimic binge-and-purge rhythm, so far.
The Pirates emptied their stomachs of all their outgoing free agents (Brian Meadows, Jose Mesa, Daryle Ward, and Rick White), offering none of them arbitration. They disgorged infielders Bobby Hill and Ty Wigginton, only getting a 23 year-old A ball righthander in exchange for Hill. Their Opening Day center fielder this past season, Tike Redman, was banished in exchange for a fistful of dollars. The other Redman, lefthanded starter Mark--whom the Pirates refused to sell off when he was riding high in the first half of 2005--was dealt to the Royals in exchange for a couple of relief prospects. Outfielder Michael Restovich? Waived. Utilityman extraordinaire Rob Mackowiak? A White Sock, and in exchange the Bucs re-acquire reliever-non-grata Damaso Marte.
That’s a quarter of the 2005 40-man roster, gone, with only one major league player (two, if you count Rule 5 pick Victor Santos) to show for it. Marte’s a worthwhile player, although the Pirates already had a younger version of him in Mike Gonzalez. Marte’s acquisition means John Grabow descends to the not-quite-coveted “third lefty in the bullpen” status, barring another move.
To put things back on Yankees=center-of-the-universe terms (not laudable, terms, but those of this space) a couple of the Pirates' discards are actually players the Yanks could've used this year, particularly Tike Redman, who had the look of a legit defensive centerfielder. The Mets got their hands on him, which is OK, since there isn't enough difference between Redman and Bubba Crosby to make Redman a clear target. Rick White has been mentioned as a possible target for the Bombers, to fill out the bullpen; Mike Restovich could actually be a good righthanded complement at the corners, if the Yanks don't bring back Bernie Williams.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
A few months ago, I had a mini-argument about irony with my BP Editor, John Erhardt (if you're a fan of Baseball Prospectus's website, you should drop John an email; aside from writing the Week in Quotes feature, he's also one of the many people who keep the website running behind the scenes). John's a rigid adherent to the first dictionary definition of irony, which is purely verbal--"the use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning," as per dictionary.com. Folks usually (and somewhat inappropriately) just call that type of irony "sarcasm." When a DMV bureaucrat tells you that you've been standing on the wrong line for the past half hour, and you say "Thank you, you're so helpful," to them in response, that's irony.
I'm a big fan of the second dictionary definition, "incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs." For example, if Courtney Love got all over some other celebrity for having no control over their life, that's irony (heck, calling Courtney Love a celebrity might be irony as well).
[Stupid aside: The Alanis Morisette song, "Ironic," actually contains no examples of irony. That in itself could be ironic under either definition of irony: if Morisette knew that there was no irony in the song, and called it "Ironic" anyway, that could itself be irony; meanwhile, the fact that a song called "Ironic" contains no irony, is definitely ironic--since you'd expect just the opposite based on the title. You could just go 'round and 'round with this all day.]
Irony is murderers being released from jail because they admit that they intentionally killed their victims. In New York, this is actually happening, because of a common prosecutorial practice of charging killers under a variety of different theories of murder--in this case, second degree murder under both the intentional murder statute and the "depraved indifference" statute. Depraved indifference means that, rather than having the specific intent to kill someone, the killer acted in such a way that he should have known it would result in someone dying (the classic example is firing a gun into a crowd--you might not be trying to harm anyone specifically, but you're acting with indifference to the lives of the people in the crowd).
Some of the time, the juries returned guilty verdicts under the wrong section of the statute--i.e., claiming that a killer was "indifferent" when there was evidence he carefully planned his crime. Some wingnut in my profession has decided that it's not fair for a fellow to be in jail for killing recklessly when he actually intended to murder someone; and an appellate court has agreed with the said wingnut.
What a great day for civil liberties! (Yup, irony again.)
I can actually see this being a fair result--if the murderer (or rather his attorney) argued at trial that his actions were premeditated. But if they argued he didn't do it, how on earth can they now come back and not only claim the murderer did it, but did it intentionally?
A somewhat different ironic twist could be found this week, in the sad story of Lillo Brancato. The headlines have read "Sopranos Actor to be Charged with Murder," because that's a pretty nifty angle--makebelieve mobster commits real-life crime.
But irony is when you're discovered, as a 17-year-old unknown, to star in a film opposite Robert Deniro and Chaz Palminteri; when the film is all about growing up in the Bronx surrounded by mobsters and knuckleheads, and finding the good sense not to follow your friends to their violent deaths or imprisonments; and then somehow, a dozen years later, being such a fuckup that you're robbing a neighbor's house, with a fellow knucklehead, and you get caught in a gunfight between your accomplice and an off-duty police officer, and the officer winds up dead, after filling you with enough lead to put you in critical condition.
That's some irony. If Brancato ever gets off the critical list, he is now a cop-killer (it doesn't matter if he wasn't the one pulling the trigger). In other words, even if he survives, his life is over.
And if he dies, I hope that in Hell they have A Bronx Tale running on a continuous loop. Maybe, with enough viewings, the idea that "the saddest thing in life is wasted talent" might penetrate his thick fucking skull, and he might start to feel some fraction of the anguish he's caused the dead policeman's family. Or not.
Thus endeth the rant. I'm a little disappointed with myself about the language. I mean, I was able to show more restraint even as the Yanks were signing Tony Womack and Jaret Wright around this time last year. But this really pissed me off, and A Bronx Tale was a really good movie. Hopefully I'll be able to go another fifteen months or so without getting R-rated on you again.
A tale of two classic movie channels: Peter Jackson's "King Kong" comes out in theaters (to near-universal acclaim), and tonight, Turner Classic Movies plays the groundbreaking, 1933 Fay Wray "King Kong" in response. In response to that, over on American Movie Classics, they play the 1976 Jeff Bridges "King Kong." The two earlier movies are not in the same league with each other--the 30's version was a classic, while the 70's version is classic only in the sense that it's more than 25 years old. That, plus the fact that AMC has commercials, makes tonight's TV viewing easy pickings.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
On the other hand, no one among the Yankees faithful is too broken up about saying g'bye to Tony F'ing Womack.
Sadly, the Tony Womack Fan Club page has been wiped out by Earthlink, along with the Original WTDB. Still, I think that if the TWFC were still alive, they'd approve this move, sending Tony to the National League, which is obviously, more suited to his skillz, where it's less likely that folks would get all tripped up if he hits .212 for a couple of months. That, plus the Yanks pay $900,000 for running the Woe-Man out of town.
The Reds gave up two guys for Womack. One, Kevin Howard, considered to be a top possibility for the Rule V draft, according to Baseball America (Chris Klein):
Kevin Howard, 2b/3b, Reds
Howard has the biggest buzz coming into this year's draft after having a brilliant season in the Arizona Fall League. A fifth-round pick in 2002 out of Miami, Howard won the AFL batting title, hitting .409-3-16 in 88 at-bats. But perhaps his strongest asset was proving himself to be an adequate defender at third base. Howard played third in college, but played primarily second base since turning pro. He's a patient lefthanded hitter with a line-drive stroke, and has shown improved power. Some scouts in the AFL liked him better at third, and Howard could be solid at either spot making him the best overall position player available in the draft. Dan Uggla (Diamondbacks) is another utility player who dramatically upped his stock in the AFL, but Howard's lefthanded bat, which could be valuable off a big league bench, gives him the edge.
And Baseball Prospectus (David Regan):
Kevin Howard, 2B, Cincinnati (24, AA)
AA (SOU): .296/.348/.428, 12 HR, 13 SB in 479 at-bats
AFL: .409/.475/.557, 3 HR, 2 SB in 88 at-bats
Howard is coming off a great Arizona Fall League (AFL) performance where he led the league in hitting. Nice way to get noticed. The AFL is typically very hitter-friendly, as teams don’t want to wear out the arms of their top prospects, but a .409 average is still pretty impressive. Teams should like his lefty bat and the fact that he’s adequate defensively at 2B, 3B, and probably OF should there be a need. Based on his bat and versatility, some team will take a chance on him.
That sounds promising, at least as far as a guy who can lend some depth to the organization goes. He's not going to start for the Yankees or anything, he may not even have a major league career (being a guy who was maybe a bit old for AA this year). But he's likely to bring some skills to Columbus in 2006, and be there (and ready) in case anything happens at the Major League level, in case someone wants to make a trade--that sort of thing. That's not a bad rate of exchange for old Woe-Mack.
In other news, the Yanks picked up Mike Myers (the former Red Sock, not the Halloween-themed murderer) on a two-year deal. For the first time since Graham Lloyd, the Yanks have a real LOOGy on the roster--a left-handed specialist who can take a hack at getting the likes of David Ortiz out. It's not a bad deal, at all, so long as Joe Torre understands Myers' limitations.
Yeah, big "if".
It looks like the Yanks' attempts to re-make the bullpen are running up against the limitations in the market. According to this article in Newsday, it's actually a shame that 41 year-old ex-Met Roberto Hernandez signed with the Pirates. Other options they name are (in rough order of age): Rudy Seanez (37), Rick White (37), Julian Tavarez (32) and Octavio Dotel (32). Another article mentions Jeff Nelson. The bullpen of the future looks more and more like something somebody could have assembled in the past.
Back when he was healthy, Dotel was a somebody. Seanez has largely cooked with gas, in those few moments he has been healthy over his ML career. It's hard to get excited about anybody else on the list, whose upside isn't all that high, healthy or not.
So far, the Bullpen of the Future has Mariano Rivera closing, Farnsworth doing the 8th inning thing, Mike Myers killing lefties, and Tanyone Sturtze doing everyone's taxes, making sure that there are no brown M&M's in Mariano's candy bowl, and detailing people's cars. Actually, Sturtze is rumored to be hitting the bricks in trade for a center fielder.
Sigh, maybe things will clear up at the non-tender deadline...
Friday, December 09, 2005
For example, the Houston Astros said good-bye, or at least "so long," to Roger Clemens yesterday. Clemens doesn't even know if he wants to play next season, and so the Astros couldn't risk him taking them to arbitration (more on him later). The Mets bid farewell to their franchise player of the past eight years, Mike Piazza.
It was expected that one of the sad good-byes would belong to Bernie Williams. His agent, Scott Boras, has a reputation for not taking into consideration anything other than the bottom dollar, so it was thought that he'd be shopping Bernie elsewhere after Wednesday.
However, the Yanks offered Bernie arbitration, under the condition that Williams would not accept the offer (they reached similar agreements with Al Leiter and Ramiro Mendoza). This means that Bernie remains a free agent, but his window to negotiate with the Yanks now runs until January 8. It is now rumored that there will be a one-year deal in place, between $1.5-2MM with incentives, before that deadline (past that deadline, the player can't sign until May 1).
Not having to say good-bye to Bernie is a mixed relief. The idea is that if Bernie sticks around, he will be in the old Ruben Sierra role--pinch hitter, sometimes DH, emergency outfielder. Given Sierra's performance in that role (Ruben was not offered arbitration), it shouldn't be too hard for Bernie to do better, in just about every way possible.
On the other hand, so long as Bernie is on the roster, the incoming centerfielder will likely be one extended slump away from losing his job. One bad week for Bubba Crosby would have Torre "mulling" a platoon. Two bad weeks for any CF short of Johnny Damon will have Bernie in a "job sharing" situation. So I don't like the move because it could promote stasis.
The fact is, Bernie is one of my favorite Yankees, ever. There's a special attachment you develop with a team's home-grown players. Well before Bernie Williams came to the majors, I knew his name. Before I ever saw him, there was a picture in my head of what he looked like. He, and a number of others, have been a beacon of hope that we nurture--names like Hensley Meulens (a/k/a "Bam Bam"), Hal Morris, J.T. Snow, Sam Millitello, Ricky Ledee, Ruben Rivera, Derek Jeter, Gerald Williams, Mark Hutton, Mariano Rivera, Brien Taylor, Drew Henson, Nick Johnson, Alfonso Soriano, Brandon Claussen, D'Angelo Jimenez, Bob Wickman, Russ Springer. Each name came New York-hyped with a description you could dream on. Meulens had limitless power, when he moved to the outfield because he couldn't handle the hot corner he was compared to Jim Rice. Sam Militello was a finesse pitcher, like Catfish Hunter. Snow was going to be a switch-hitting Don Mattingly. Taylor was a left-handed Nolan Ryan. Ruben Rivera was the "better Rivera," compared to his cousin, Mariano--the papers said he was like a young Mickey Mantle.
Back before the Internet, I speed-scanned copies of BA at the newsstand, looking for news of one of these fellows. The smallest mention of Bernie, or of Militello, could get me to buy BA. Bernie was supposed to be a speed-burner, the next Rickey Henderson, a lead-off guy. When I finally caught a look at him (spring training of '91?) he was taller than I expected, thicker. He never developed the baserunning instinct they were looking for, and the fact that he didn't fit into their mold, of leadoff centerfield guy, almost instantly put him in peril of being traded.
By the time that Bernie Williams finally came up to stay with the Yankees, as a fan, I'd been through a lot with him. I'd suffered through trade rumors, in an era where we were accustomed to every good prospect being dealt away. I suffered through management claiming that Bernie was hard to teach, not intense enough, had "bad instincts." When Williams first started showing his potential, in 1994, it was more than just a player having a good year, it was faith validated.
You don't get that with a player that you trade for, or sign on the free agent market. I loved Paul O'Neill, but by the time he first donned pinstripes, he already had a major league history. Even though O'Neill exceeded every expectation we had for him, that was just a pleasant surprise--O'Neill didn't have the burden of years of Yankee fans' expectations.
I hope Bernie retires in pinstripes. Be it after a few years as a useful bench player, or discovering that he just doesn't have what it takes anymore, and getting out while the getting's good. Until he quits, I'll cheer him. He's one of my guys.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
For those of you without the energy to click through, the story, which was on Page 3 of the NY Daily News, is that Anna is mad that the Mets are trying to trade her hubby, "just average" pitcher Kris Benson. Or, as she puts it:
"We would never, ever have signed with New York if they had said they were going to trade us," said Anna Benson, 29. "I was Miss [Politically Correct] for the Mets the entire time I was there."What seems to have Benson steamed is the idea that the Mets are trying to trade Kris, not because he's not all that good, but rather because she has been in negotiations to pose nude for Playboy. On this front, I'm with her 100%. They knew which wife they were getting when they signed Benson, and Anna eventually posing naked somewhere--or releasing an amateur porn video over the Internet--were pretty much a given at some point during the righthander's four-year contract.
Do the Mets actually think their fans would mind Benson getting nekkid for Playboy? Maybe a few would, but doesn't the potential gain--the coveted "Maxim demographic"--far outweigh any harm? More importantly, if Anna Benson doesn't mind the whole world seeing her naked body, and if her husband doesn't mind the whole world seeing her naked body, why the heck should the Mets organization care?
Heck, the Mets have a new sports channel coming, and hours of programming to fill. They could do worse than turning one of those hours per week over to Anna Benson, to see if she can't inject some sex appeal into a channel that will probably be a lot like the early YES Network, just without anywhere near history and tradition obsession that drives programming like Yankeeography and Center Stage.
C'mon, like you wouldn't watch, just to see if it's a train wreck?
Now, on the other hand, the rest of Benson's statements in this article are, at the very least, ill-advised. There's no "us" that the Mets are trading--if the Mets trade their pitcher, Kris Benson, Anna Benson can stick around New York if she likes. Worse than that, there's absolutely no reason to bring up Carlos Delgado, and his "unpatriotic" decision not to stand for God Bless America or the National Anthem. Delgado refused to stand during the Anthem because of weapons testing in Vieques, in Delgado's native Puerto Rico, but he's decided not do that any more now that he's with the Mets.
Which brings up the bigger point: Kris Benson hasn't been traded yet. Until he is, Benson is tied to the Mets organization, and may have to share a clubhouse with Delgado in Spring Training, or maybe even for the next three years. And if Kris Benson isn't traded, he--not his wife--will have to deal with the consequences of Anna Benson running off her mouth.
I don't know this woman personally, but I recognize the behavior. Everyone has dated, or has a friend who has dated, the type of girlfriend I call simply "The Big Mouth." Big Mouth's usually pretty attractive--no one would put up with her otherwise--and she's often loyal, devoted and protective of her man. These are all good, positive qualities. The downside comes whenever the Big Mouth leaves the house. You see, because of that devoted/protective thing, she's always on the lookout for people who are dissing her or her man, and because of the attractive thing, she has no inhibitions about expressing her feelings to anyone and everyone.
As a combined result of the attractive/protective qualities, she's a bit paranoid, dividing the world into lists of friends and enemies, and the enemies list always seems to be the longer of the two. Because the Big Mouth demands that her man be as devoted to her as she is to him, she'll expect him to back up her Big Mouth with action, putting the smackdown on her many "enemies," worldwide. Someone step on your shoe and mumble a half-hearted apology? You might let it slide, but not the Big Mouth. She'll insist on a big confrontation on your behalf. Not eager to get into a fistfight, singlehanded, with three or four Hells Angels wannabes? Well, you better get ready rumble, because Big Mouth thought one of them looked at her funny, and she's now impugning the manhood of him and his friends!
Being with the Big Mouth means being in a constant state of war with everyone in the whole world, over slights real or imagined. Sounds fun, doesn't it?
Saturday, December 03, 2005
There's a lively discussion of this going on at Alex Belth's place. Pierre's one of those divisive figures who has opposing clubs of diehard supporters and detractors. However, I have a pretty hard time getting all that excited about Pierre, either way. I'm ambivalent toward Pierre, and I find him hard to pin down. My impressions of him are more about what he isn't than what he is, which makes him a pretty ambiguous character in my book:
Juan Pierre isn't: Bernie Williams.
To go with all the other ambiguities, this impression cuts both ways. Juan Pierre is not Bernie Williams in that he is nine years younger than the outgoing Yankee centerfielder, and far more healthy--Pierre has played 162 game per year, for the last three years running. On the other hand, Pierre is not the perennial All-Star type of player that Williams was, is not anyone who will ever be discussed as having a legit argument for the Hall of Fame. More specifically, Pierre hasn't shown, and most likely never will show, the type of batting eye and on-base ability that made Bernie such an effective player.
Juan Pierre isn't: Cecil Fielder
There might be more recent examples of slow, powerful performers I could use that would fit this bill (Jason Giambi comes to mind) but former Yank Fielder really gives us a sense of scale in this comparison. A huge, not-terribly-well-conditioned mountain of a man, Fielder was so big that if he ate Juan Pierre for lunch, he'd need a small snack (say, a couple of dozen hamburgers from Mickey D's) before dinnertime.
The diametric opposite of Fielder, Pierre is greased lightning on the bases (267 SB in his career, good 73.6% success rate), but a dead duck in any home run derby (he's averaging roughly 1 homer per every 95 games; career .375 SLG in a career that included a few years in Colorado).
Juan Pierre isn't: Paul Blair, Andruw Jones, or Willie Mays.
When it comes to defense, everyone gives a speedy centerfielder the benefit of the doubt. The fast guys, we're told, can outrun their mistakes. When the Florida Marlins came into town for the 2003 World Series, with a strong defensive rep, we were regaled with tales that he was an up-and-coming gold glove type.
On the tools side of things, it seems to me that Pierre has a wet noodle for an arm. On the stats side, there's a bit of disagreement, but a few things become clear: Pierre is probably not a nightmarish CF, likely a bad-to-mediocre one, but definitely not an elite defender. BP's defensive stats, based upon the number and type of outs Pierre recorded, say he hasn't been above average since his Colorado days--a total of 31 runs worse than an average CF over the past three years. Win Shares--Bill James's system which is used over at the HardBall Times--isn't terribly informative, since all outfielders are clumped together. The one thing we know for sure is that Pierre's 2.9 fielding win shares in 2005 were far south of Aaron Rowand (7.6) and Carlos Beltran (7.2), but north of Bernie Williams (2.6) and Ken Griffey, Jr. (1.9). UZR--a system which breaks the playing field into a grid (of sorts) and assigns each defender a "zone" of responsibility--lists Pierre as being slightly above average...from 2000-2003 (the last years I can find the data). Another play-by-play system, Dave Pinto's probabilistic model of range, had Pierre as slightly below average in 2004...I think.
The only thing we can be certain about is that no one is saying that Pierre's a great center fielder. The question is, on a team that at one point put Tony Womack out in center, would Pierre have to be?
Juan Pierre isn't: a Sabermetric Darling
Pierre is the type of player who has been the bane of stathead existence since Bill James first started writing his Abstracts in the 70s--the low-power, low-walks "hitter" whose offensive value is primarily in his batting average. The thing is, Pierre has more often than not confounded expectations by hitting for average--his career BA is .305, which has been enough to keep him at a decent .355 career OBP (during that time the league average was .348), despite drawing an average of 43 walks per year.
Part of the confounding was that Pierre's demise was widely predicted after he left the best hitting environment in baseball (Denver) for one of the worst (Miami) after a bad 2002 season at altitude. For some reason, Pierre's batting skills were not perceptibly damaged by the move, which is pretty interesting. Maybe guys that bunt for hits and put the ball on the ground don't benefit as much from Colorado's thin air? Who knows?
Juan Pierre isn't: Expensive
Even though the Marlins are looking to move Pierre, ostensibly because of his salary, the speedy centerfielder isn't likely to earn much in 2006: Pierre is arbitration-eligible, but he's coming off of what superficially looks like his worst season, and was making about $3MM in 2005. In another sense of the word, Henn and Proctor are hardly the most valuable figures in the Yankee organization.
Yes, Henn is only 24, and he was well thought-of within the organization going into this past season--he has an impressive 3.58 minor league ERA, and has struck out 7.11 men per nine innings. On the other hand, his command was slightly suspect at the minor league level--3.49 walks per nine--and he got shellacked (0-3, 16R in 11.3 innings) in three major league starts...against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I can't think of a young player during Torre's Yankees tenure who recovered from such a bad introduction to the team, and went on to contribute.
(Actually, there is one: Mariano Rivera, who allowed 18 runs in his first 15 ML innings. Two caveats--one, Rivera was able to register a win in his second start, allowing only one run in 5.3 innings to the A's; two, Sean Henn is no Mariano Rivera. Even before Rivera's breakout start against the White Sox (8IP 0R 2H 11K 4BB) you knew that the future Sandman had a blazing fastball. Henn's repertoire doesn't belong in the same conversation.)
Proctor is...fungible. He has a good fastball, and could have some freak good relief seasons over the rest of his career, but he hasn't impressed in two partial seasons in pinstripes (5.81 ERA, 57 K in 69.7 IP). Proctor's probably most famous in my book for his meltdown against Tampa Bay this season, where he walked in the winning run in extra innings. He's the kind of guy you wind up trading at the end of Spring Training, because he doesn't have any options left, and you don't have space for him in the pen.
Juan Pierre isn't: Bubba Crosby
While Pierre's many critics focus on the things he can't do--the lack of power and patience, the overrated defense and possibly overvalued speed--when looking at whether Pierre has value for the Yanks, you have to ask "what's the alternative?"
If the season started tomorrow, the Yankees' starting centerfielder would be Bubba Crosby. There are worse fates--Womack still lurks on the roster, and Crosby is inexpensive and has developed strong good will from the fans with some late-inning longball heroics over the past two seasons. But you look at the career line--fair enough, one that's only 170 PA long--and you see a total of three career homers, one triple, two doubles. A .221/.253/.301 performance.
As for the other skills he could bring to the table, Crosby looks to be a classic tweener. Faster than some of the tired old men on the Yankees roster, but not a speed demon. Better defensively than Williams or Womack or Matsui, but more of a corner outfielder than a center fielder. And he's almost exactly a year older than Pierre.
If all it costs is a possible waiver bait righthanded reliever, and a lefty "prospect" who has as good a chance of being the next Alex Graman as the next Brandon Claussen...wouldn't you rather have Pierre?
So, all told, Juan Pierre isn't: a Bad Pickup.
At worst, he becomes a stopgap until someone worthwhile becomes available in center; he has a shot at being a roughly average player, with flaws, otherwise.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
After all, backup catchers are like Dracula, Jason Voorhees, and the Terminator, all rolled into one.
But one of the strangest tenures in the Yankees' recent history seems to be over: John Flaherty might not be the backup catcher on the 2006 Yankees. Earlier this week, the Yanks signed onceuponatime Mets product Kelly Stinnett as their backup catcher for 2006.
Flaherty wielded one of the least productive bats in all of baseball last season. By Equivalent Average (one of BP's statistics) Flaherty was the worst player who got a chance to make 100 outs last year. (Actually, if you run the report on BP's sortable stats database, Miguel Olivo looks worse. But BP's DB separates the half-seasons of a player who played with more than one team in a year. Olivo, who was horrible in 156 PA with Seattle last year, redeemed himself in 119 PA with San Diego later in the year.) Flaherty's offensive shortcomings aren't news--in the three seasons prior to his arrival, Flaherty had EqAs of .216, .217, and .233, spread out over about 1,000 plate appearances.
Nonetheless, Flaherty held on to the backup job on perhaps the most competitive team in the American League, through a combination of bias and unexpected performance. Flaherty first got the job in 2003 due to Joe Torre's preference for catch-and-throw guys to back up Jorge Posada, and held on to it through an abysmal 2005 season by attaching himself to Randy Johnson as the Big Unit's personal backstop. Although Flaherty never cracked a .300 OBP as a Yankee, in 2003 and 2004 he showed a remarkable bit of pop in small samples, which translated to unprecedented (for his career) isolated power--ISO's of .190 and .213 after never cracking a .165 through his prime. Some of the big hits turned out to be timely, such as the hit that ended the July 1, 2004 game between the Yanks and Red Sox.
By signing Stinnett the Yanks are acknowledging--at least incrementally--that a vague sense of clutch and a winning personality is not enough to keep someone on the major league roster. A word of warning, however--just because the Yanks have signed someone else, doesn't necessarily mean that Flaherty's gone. You might recall that before Flaherty joined the Yankees, they had already signed Chris Widger to a contract to be their backup in 2003. Flaherty showed up in Spring Training, and impressed the brass enough that they ate the $600,000 or so they gave Widger, and gave Flaherty the same contract.
Still, it's hard not to see this as progress.