Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 In Review Part 1: The Hitters

Some year-end grades to close the books on 2006:

Derek Jeter -- A: Just an amazing performance. I try to grade tough, which is why no A+ for the Captain. The lack of that extra-credit plus isn't an indictment of Jeter's leadership, for failing to embrace Alex Rodriguez or for any other reason. Outlook for 2007: Another performance like this would be a miracle, but here's hoping he comes close. Although I don't put much stock in clubhouse chemistry (usually it's an after-the-fact thing that accompanies winning) I think Jeter's biggest challenge--if he really is the "leader" on this ballclub--might be to end the nostalgia culture that consumes the Yanks' press and a few of the remaining players from the glory days. Despite the fact that Cashman is trying his best to re-build the 2001 Yanks' starting rotation, the championship Yankees of 1996-2000 are gone, and someone needs to make the "Paul O'Neill's not coming through that door!" speech to convince everybody to stop looking towards the past and just play in the present, with the players at hand.

[The best thing about the "Paul O'Neill's not coming through that door!" speech is that since O'Neill works for the YES Network, he would probably choose precisely that moment to walk into the clubhouse. You know, "Hey, guys! Why's the door closed? Anybody want to get Chinese food after the game? Why's everyone so quiet?"]

Robinson Cano -- A-: Went from being a middling infield prospect to being a guy who's in the batting race in the last week, over the course of just over a year and a half. Only deduction to his grade comes for time missed with a hamstring injury. In the second half awards we didn't give out, Cano would have been a strong contender for best hitter of the half, with a .365/.380/.635 performance and 11 homers after the All-Star Break. Outlook: Hitting .342 means you're guaranteed a place in the Yankee lineup--just not necessarily in the top five spots. That's how good this offense is.

Jorge Posada -- A-: Usual, rock-solid year with the bat, with bonuses for dramatically improving his throwing, and doing so at an age when many catchers are looking at the end of the road. Outlook: How long can Jorge keep this up? If there's more performance like this from Posada, the Yanks are going to have to look hard at another contract extension. If not, they'd better hope that the Johnson trade we all keep hearing about brings them a catcher that's not too far away from being major league-ready (Miguel Montero, anyone?).

Bobby Abreu -- A-: Hit .330 as a Yankee, with 10 steals and a beatiful OBP; good enough to chase Gary Sheffield out of town. The only downside was the fact that he struck out in one fifth of his plate appearances. Outlook: A lot of people criticized his effort in Philly, he seemed a man reborn when injected into the middle of a pennant race. Will he be able to maintain that energy level now that he's starting the season in pinstripes?

Johnny Damon -- B+: Gave the Yanks almost exactly what was expected of him--good teammate, better centerfielder than the incumbent, good hitting in tight spots. His performance against Boston in that August five-game series was almost worth taking on his contract, all on its own. Actually had the second-most homers (13) of any Yankee in the second half. Outlook: The big question is, will the nagging injuries continue, or was a lot of that fluky bad luck?

Melky Cabrera -- B+: One example of how we grade on a curve, sometimes. Is Melky the sixth-best player the Yanks had? Did he have the sixth-best season? No, but he definitely made some exciting moves in '06--picking up a spot in the Yankee lineup at the tender age of 21--which brings us the hope that he could mirror Cano's unexpected success as a sophomore. Outlook: Sadly, Cabrera's blocked by the all-lefty outfield (Matsui/Damon/Abreu) so the big challenge will be to find him playing time. I hope Melky's working on his D in center, because he's at his most valuable if he's filling in at all three outfield spots. I suppose it's being sentimental, but I really hope he's not traded.

Jason Giambi -- B: Wrist injury caused him to fall off big-time in the second half--he only hit 10 homers after the break. The term irony could be defined in the fact that some of the same writers who refuse to vote for Mark McGwire for the Hall of Fame due to his suspected steroid use, are now hailing Giambi as a team leader for calling out A-Rod in Sports Illustrated. Outlook: Looks like the team's finally convinced that he should DH full-time; we'll have to see if the change improves the Giambino's health and performance.

Hideki Matsui -- B: Hit .396 after coming back from the DL, with a few homers to tell us that his bat's intact. Still it was only 43 AB. One indication that fate laughs at our plans is that Matsui sat out from Japan's winning WBC team to keep himself in top condition for the Yankees, then missed most of the season with a freak injury. Outlook: One of the more interesting suggestions I've heard (I'm sorry, I don't remember where) was the idea of moving Matsui to first base, to get more playing time for Melky in the outfield. It's something that should absolutely be tried in Spring Training--this team needs all the flexibility it can get, and Matsui's the slowest afoot of all the Yanks' outfielders. If anyone's capable of learning first base well in a short time, I would expect that it's Matsui.

Alex Rodriguez -- B: What hasn't been written about the trials of Alex, yet? One of the projects I've been working on this winter has to do with him, so I'm not going to repeat that analysis. A-Rod had a fine second half--leading all Yankees in homers (16) and RBI. Outlook: Could we start again, please? Forget all the "batting eighth against the Tigers" trouble, the SI article, all that crap? On the field, the biggest challenges for Rodriguez are his defense, which was shockingly unreliable, and his strikeouts. The question is, are those problems physical or mental?

Gary Sheffield -- B-: The Iron Sheff left town on a sour note, fumbling around first base and not hitting well at all in his late-season comeback. I'm sad to see him go, but the trade that sent him to Detroit sent a couple of strong messages to the world: 1) the Yankees are rebuilding the farm system, and 2) Brian Cashman's in control, here. Outlook: Traded to a rival in the AL, Sheffield could really come back to haunt the Yanks in '07. He's always been fueled by anger, and I'm sure that throughout the year we're going to hear about ways that the Yankees "disrespected" Sheffield--that's just the way he motivates himself.

Bernie Williams -- B-: I confess, I overgraded Williams at mid-season, giving him a B despite his .323 on base percentage. He hit better in the second half, perhaps because he was used more against lefties than he had been before Melky Cabrera got cemented in place. Outlook: I'd rather he quit, just because I think the Yanks' bench needs something different, and because I'd rather not see him in another team's uni. If that's selfish, so be it.

Aaron Guiel -- C: Decent glove, low batting average, but a little bit of pop. That's a good description for a utility outfielder--sadly, the Yanks are stocked in the outfield going forward. Outlook: Could be the fourth or fifth outfielder for 20 or so teams. [UPDATE: But as pointed out by BubbaFan in the comments, Guiel's headed out to Japan to play for the Yakult Swallows.]

Nick Green -- C-: Small sample, but he outhit Andy Phillips and Craig Wilson, while backing up the skill positions in the infield. That's about all you ask of your utilityman. Outlook: Last seen looking for a job at the Winter Meetings. We wish him good luck. The Yanks could do worse than offer him another minor league deal.

Andy Phillips -- D+: Coughed up his big chance. He should bear some responsibility for the fact that he didn't perform when given the opportunity; he's blameless for the fact that he was kept in the minors for so long. Outlook: Fair or not, he's 30 now, and pressed up against the bad side of the defensive spectrum. There's nothing to indicate that he'll hit enough to justify a roster space--he may be the Yanks' best defensive first baseman, but it's not like he's Keith Hernandez with the mitt, either. The sick thing is, after taking all this time to convince the Yanks to give him some playing time, now Joe Torre is familiar with him--this means he'll get more chances than he could back when he was a younger, better hitter.

Craig Wilson -- D: This grade only covers Wilson's time in pinstripes. Had a shot at playing time in the postseason; instead, he made Gary Sheffield a viable option at first base. That's ugly. Outlook: Wilson's New York stint may have killed what used to be his considerable value. Well, that and the former catcher's tendency to get injured. Now a free agent, will likely sign somewhere well below market.

Miguel Cairo-- D-: He was just plain bad. Once upon a time the Yankees could afford to have no-hit defensively limited utility infielders. Not any more. Outlook: All told, probably re-signs with the Yankees, despite his limitations. I just hope he gets a minor league deal.

Kelly Stinnett-- F: The Bombers don't expect much from Posada's backups--look at John Flaherty, fer Heaven's sake--but Stinnett failed to satisfy even those meager requirements, and was released in late July. Outlook: As long as it's somewhere else, I don't much care.

Bubba Crosby -- F: Like Phillips, Crosby had a big chance to establish himself, a chance that passed him by in favor of Cabrera. Despite the failing grade, Crosby's a guy I thank for the memories, and wish well, so long as he isn't standing in the Bombers' way. Outlook: Was signed away from the organization by the Reds, he could have some opportunities given Ken Griffey's always-injured status.

Incompletes: Kevin Thompson (shows promise, could do a decent job as a fifth outfielder), Sal Fasano (couldn't even hit as well as Stinett--or most pitchers), Terence Long (a really, really, bad idea), Kevin Reece (how does he get a shot with Thompson in the organization?), Andy Cannizaro and Wil Nieves (we barely knew either of ye).

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Prayers for Bobby, Bye to Barry

First and foremost, our prayers are with former Yankee player and current broadcaster Bobby Murcer for a swift recovery from surgery on a brain tumor today. It's a harsh Christmas present that Murcer's received, but he's a tough guy, and according to Brother J, the hospital where he's being treated--the MD Anderson Hospital in Houston--is one of the top cancer hospitals in the country.

In other news, Barry Zito--rumored to be on the Yanks' radar after they started trying to trade Randy Johnson--has reached an agreement with the San Francisco Giants on a seven-year, $126 million contract. Numbers like those are the reason that I wasn't too keen on the Yanks getting into the Zito bidding. Daisuke Matsuzaka really looks like a bargain now, as does just about anyone who signed a multiyear deal prior to the 2006 season.

My favorite winter league team, the Licey Tigers, have gotten off to a bad start in the Dominican Winter League's preliminary round robin playoffs, losing their first two games against the two teams that they ended up tied with at the end of the season, the Giants and the Eagles. Once again, the games aren't being shown on cable by Time Warner. There's still time--this round robin lasts about three weeks. In addition to the Time Warner Cable snailmail address I gave you before, there's a way to request winter league action from your cable/satellite provider through ESPN Deportes's website (yes, it's in Spanish, but if you click on "haz click aqui" on the banner in the upper righthand corner, you get a dialogue box which you can then request be shown in English).

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Maybe Youse Can Leave?

Last week, I made a one-off comment about the rumors that Randy Johnson had demanded a trade, saying that the whole thing reminded me of a line from A Bronx Tale, where Chazz Palminteri declares to a bunch of rowdy bikers "Now youse can't leave." I figured the Yanks are stuck with the Big Unit, bad back, big money, dropping strikeout numbers, and all.

Turns out that there seems to be some smoke to these rumors, with word that while Johnson didn't demand a trade, a recent family tragedy caused him to mention to Brian Cashman how important living close to his family is to him. Cashman apparently took that as an indication that Johnson would waive his no-trade clause for a deal closer to Johnson's family in Arizona and California, so he started working the phones. And to my surprise, it seems that a number of West Coast teams are interested in taking a run at Randy.

Now, all of this is very much at the rumor stage, and the names of teams--much less players--being bandied around is shadowy. The most concrete one seems to involve the San Diego Padres and their elite middle man, Scott Linebrink. Linebrink's someone the Yanks have liked in the past; the Pads are a contender who could use a high-level starter. But this doesn't make sense in the larger picture--the Yanks have half a dozen righty middle relievers right now, with a few others on the horizon. What they lack is starting pitching, position player prospects, and a firstbaseman who can both field and rake. Another team supposedly in the mix, the Arizona Diamondbacks, have supposedly said that none of their young firstbasemen or top outfield prospects are available in a Johnson deal.

...And so that's the rub. Yankee fans don't trust Johnson to be good (much less great) in 2007, but trading him is a "cents-on-the-dollar" proposition. Complicating this are analyses like this one by Nate Silver on Prospectus's Unfiltered. Here's the money quote:
I’ve got news for you: the Yankees might not be trading their #4; they might be trading their #1. Johnson’s ERA PECOTAs out at 3.52, which is the best in the Yankee rotation by some margin. You can take that PECOTA with a certain grain of salt because it’s so hard to find appropriate comparables for Johnson. But the names that PECOTA does come up with — Roger Clemens foremost among them — are a reminder that you shouldn’t bet against a great pitcher until you absolutely have to.
Now, PECOTA's often smarter than I am, so it's possible Nate's program is just seeing something I don't. But I think it's extremely unlikely that Johnson shaves nearly a run and a half off his 2006 ERA (a perfect 5.00) in 2007. He just hasn't looked that good over the last two years. But if there is something to PECOTA's analysis, then Silver's right: the Yanks can't dump Johnson for little to no return. I'm also pretty scared by the idea that the front office would use the money saved on Johnson as an excuse to open up the vault for Barry Zito on a 100+ million, 5+ year contract.

But, on the other hand, is there anyone who doubts that Johnson needs a change of scenery, and that the Yankees need a change of personnel? Twice the Big Unit has faltered in the playoffs, showing none of the dominance that the Yanks were expecting when he was picked up two years ago. You can't have a big star like him on the roster and not rely on him when it counts--even if he's been ineffective, even if he has a back problem that will require surgery. Maybe in Arizona, or San Diego, or wherever, his back will suddenly be sound, his bone-on-bone knee will stop aching, and he won't have mysterious shoulder pain. Maybe, back in the National League, he'll be an intimidator again. I just don't think any of these things will happen for the Yankees.

So here's to the guys who run the D'backs and Padres being big fans of PECOTA, and the Yankees getting a fair bit of swag for the Big Unit. The farm system is pretty low on position player prospects, and we could still use a firstbaseman. I hope Brian Cashman can make something happen.


At least we don't have to worry about Shea Hillebrand joining the Yankees now.

It's official: Kei Igawa gets a 5 year, $20 million contract.

After an appeals court ruled that they could be presented to a Grand Jury, it looks like the positive steroids test results from 2003--the year that MLB had confidential survey testing to see if a full steroid testing program should be put in place--are going to be made public in the foreseeable future. Sounds like fun...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Last-Minute Gifts

Luckily, it's not the case this year, but most years, Christmas Eve is a prime shopping day for me. Here are a few ideas for last minute gifts for the baseball fans in everyone's family:

Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age with the New York Yankees, by Matthew McGough -- This one's great because it's a decent fit for people at all levels of baseball fandom, from the baseball novice to the lifer, and for kids as well as adults. Matt's a bit young to have written a memoir, but this one's unflinchingly honest, and it gives you a good look at life behind the scenes in the Show--and a small peek of the high school I attended, to boot.

The Numbers Game, by Alan Schwarz -- Lots of people, when they hear about my baseball writing, ask, "Well, how did you get into that?" Alan Schwarz's history of baseball fans' obsession with the numbers gives perhaps the best answer to that question ever committed to paper. Schwarz's narrative is a great introduction to the concepts that I and so many others spend so much time and effort obsessing about; it's also a great read.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis -- Perhaps the most controversial baseball book since Ball Four, Lewis's book shook the foundations of the game and launched a thousand mainstream sportswriter articles--many of them horrifically misinformed. The book's about Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, and his team's efforts to stay competitive despite having only a fraction of the financial resources of the Yankees or Red Sox (among many others). No, this is not the definitive tome on how to run a baseball team that some have made it out to be, but the level of detail Lewis brings to describing the operation of the A's front office is just spellbinding.

Baseball Between the Numbers, by the Baseball Prospectus Team -- I'm not part of the team on this book, so I feel comfortable recommending it. BBTN, as we call it, is a single-volume collection of many of the key concepts of baseball analysis, presented in a straightforward fashion. It's a must-have for the hardcore baseball fan.

Stepping Up: the Story of Baseball All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights, by Alex Belth -- Great bio of an overlooked player, and probably one of the more courageous stands taken by any person involved with the game. Every time a Gil Meche or Juan Pierre gets big money in free agency, they should send a thank-you card to Marvin Miller, and order a bouquet to be delivered to Curt Flood's gravesite, and honor two of the men who made it possible.

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, by David Maraniss -- the book that--along with a question on BP's intenal mailing list--motivated this list. I haven't even finished it yet, but I feel compelled to recommend it. Roberto Clemente is one of the Hall of Famers that so many fans don't "get"--his numbers were good, but not amazing, and it's not like he was the first Latino, or even the first black Latino, to play in the major leagues. This book does a lot to explain why there are people out there agitating that his number 21 should be retired throughout baseball, like Jackie Robinson's number was.



When Darryl Strawberry tells you you should embrace a teammate who isn't fitting in, remember that he's not only a veteran of multiple world champions, but also a guy who's spent time in jail. You can't take that sort of advice lightly.

Meanwhile, this is the time of year that the Yankees play Not-So-Secret Santa to the rest of their major league competitors, by coughing up their luxury tax dollars to the tune of $26 million. Do the other team owners leave out cookies and milk for Steinbrenner Claus? I think not.

So to all of you out there, have a merry and a happy! See you with some light posting next week!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sin Filtro

Yesterday marked my debut on Baseball Prospectus's new blog, BP:Unfiltered. I'll admit, I thought the name was a little silly, in a pack-o-smokes kind of way. Still, it's fun to have the kind of platform BP gives you, without all the process and editorial oversight. Here's the requisite taste, which expands on some of the issues I addressed in yesterday's post:

Getting to enjoy or even follow winter baseball can be a challenge. The official minor league baseball site, for example, will list a minor leaguer’s current winter league stats on his player page, and will list the day’s games on the site’s scoreboard–but there are no links for winter league teams, standings, or boxscores, aside from the Arizona Fall League. Baseball America, which used to be the resource for winter league info in the pre-Internet days, now only has coverage of the Arizona and Hawaiian leagues in its “Winter” section, ignoring the latin american leagues, so far.

Despite the fact that carried last year’s Caribbean World Series, MLBAM isn’t carrying video of any Winter League action, so far (the exceptions being the Arizona Fall League’s championship game, and the MLB/Japan exhibitions last month). If your cable or satellite provider carries ESPN Deportes, you’re in luck–they regularly carry Dominican, Venezuelan and Mexican Winter League games. Sadly, Deportes hasn’t reached the level of ubiquity of the Worldwide Leader’s other offerings, and is not carried by a large number of cable systems, even in areas with big Hispanic populations–like New York freakin’ City.

Frustrated in my efforts to find baseball action on the ‘net or the tube, I started looking forward to my upcoming trip to Puerto Rico. Sadly, it’s harder to get information on the Puerto Rican Winter League than it is to discover the Pentagon’s top-secret war plans. I’m both bilingual and more than a little bit obsessive-compulsive, so I eventually found a website that sells tickets, but you have to wonder if a lot of sports fans looking for an easy baseball fix wouldn’t just throw up their hands when a couple of simple google searches won’t reveal updated team websites or ticket information.

I'm throwing this topic out for suggestions: does anyone know a decent bar in New York where you can catch winter league action? Does anyone have winter league resources or stories they want to share?

Monday, December 18, 2006


Word out of Japan is that the Yanks have gotten lefty starter Kei Igawa in the fold, for a reasonable 5 years and $20 million. Well, that and $26 million for the posting fee. All told, the Yanks will spend a prorated $25 million to add Igawa and Andy Pettitte to the fold. One projection system (codenamed CHONE), developed by Angels Blogger Sean Smith (presented here by the Replacement Level Yankee blog), thinks Igawa and Pettitte will be roughly equivalent pitchers in '07--190-odd innings of low-mid fours ERA. If that's what we get, is this a good bargain? If the standard is $11 million for Gil Meche, and $10 million for Ted Lilly...maybe.

Looking for more lefties, the big rumor out there is that Melky Cabrera leaves town, in exchange for Pirates closer Mike Gonzalez, possibly in a three-way with Atlanta. I'd be really sad to see Melky go, for reasons both emotional (Cabrera has endeared himself to Yankee fans with his passionate style of play) and rational (the Yankees jave a fair number of relievers but don't have many young, major league ready position players; trading Cabrera would thin out the Yanks' outfield, leaving no safety net in case one of the starting three gets injured). Also--even though I don't put much stock in these assessments, but lots of fans and media seem to believe that nothing else matters--I seem to recall a fair amount of chatter in Pittsburgh questioning Gonzalez's toughness and ability to handle pressure. We'll leave this one alone, for now.

There's a scene in Robert Deniro's directorial debut, A Bronx Tale, where Chazz Palminteri, playing a local mob boss, steps into a bar that's paying him protection, where a bunch of bikers have been busting up the joint. Palminteri asks the bikers to go; when they refuse, he goes to the front door and locks it, announcing to the bikers "Now youse can't leave." That's the first, word-association type thing that popped into my head when I read this story, about a rumor that Randy Johnson is looking for a trade. Forget for a moment that this story is probably B.S. , fact is that the idea of Johnson requesting a trade is risible beyond belief. So let's see: you force the Arizona Diamondbacks to trade you to a contender; you leverage a big extension from the Yankees; then you proceed to have two of the worst seasons of your career, and help torpedo the team in consecutive Division Series; oh, and you injure your back requiring surgery that makes you iffy for the 2007 season...and now you want a trade?

I'm sorry, Randy, but now youse can't leave. Youse got next to no trade value, and a huge salary of which the Yanks would have to eat a whole bunch, just to accommodate such a request. No thanks.

By the way, I love the Cashman quote from that article, which almost perfectly hangs Johnson out to dry, while still denying the rumor: "He hasn't called me officially and asked me to trade him, no." Leaving open the possibilities of informal trade requests by means other than a personal phone call.

Changing gears, I'm going into baseball withdrawal this winter, and I only see one cure: winter league baseball, preferably from the Dominican Winter League. ESPN Deportes carries Dominican League action, but I'm once again shocked to find that Time Warner Cable, the cable carrier which serves possibly the largest Dominican enclave in the U.S.--the community in Washington Heights and Upper Manhattan--doesn't carry ESPN Deportes. They carry literally dozens of channels on their digital television service that no one watches, and a whole block of channels--the 800s--in Spanish, including the baseball-free Fox Sports en Espanol. But they can't be bothered to bring Dominican League action to arvid baseball fans.

In order to request a channel be added to Time Warner's lineup, you have to send snailmail to one of their VPs. Requests by email, which I've already made, are not entertained. So I'm going to ask any of you out there who are Time Warner New York subscribers to join me in putting pen to paper and investing $0.39 worth of postage to let people know that you care about baseball, and that you want more of it on TV. Send all letters to:

Robert Watson
VP Programming, New Business Development
Time Warner Cable
120 E. 23rd Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10010

The usual rules of letter-writing campaigns apply: be polite, be brief and be clear about what you're asking for--in this case, that ESPN Deportes be carried by Time Warner Cable throughout New York City, specifically for the value of its Winter League baseball programming. It's a good deed, a way of making your voice heard as a baseball fan, and a way of keeping me from slipping into the usual withdrawal symptoms (depression, catatonia) that follow whenever I don't get enough baseball in my diet. If none of that's persuasive, think of this as your Christmas present to baseball fans throughout the five boroughs (but specifically, for my sake, Manhattan).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wednesday Links: Non-Tender Is the Night

A few notes for hump day:

Putting Out the Welcome D-Mat: After it sounded like Scott Boras, agent for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, had drawn a line in the sand around his client getting $100 million in compensation, reports are now that a deal's been done, with Matsuzaka getting almost half of that on a five-year deal. The word is that D-Mat and agent are on a flight to the East Coast for a physical, and Sox fans are actually watching the plane's progress, cross-country. As a baseball fan, I hope that Matsuzaka's the next Roy Oswalt; as a Yankee fan, I say two words: Hideki Irabu.

Watching Boras fold like this has been a traumatic experience. I guess there are no more heroes anymore.

Bye-Bye Aaron Guiel: Last night was the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to the arb-eligible players under their control. For the Yankees, that meant saying good-bye to outfielder Aaron Guiel. We hardly knew ye, but the Yanks are currently stacked with outfielders, given a starting trio of lefthanded hitters Bobby Abreu/Johnny Damon/Hideki Matsui, and fourth outfielder switch-hitter Melky Cabrera. Guiel, a lefty bat, didn't quite fit in in a scheme where you'd probably want a good righthanded bat if you're going to carry five outfielders.

Phelps Profiled: Speaking of righthanded bats, Marc Normandin at Baseball Prospectus has an in-depth look at Josh Phelps, the Rule 5 Yankee. A taste:
The Yankees more than likely did not pick up a player who is going to slug .500 in the majors over the course of a full season, but Phelps can still contribute. He seems to have regained some of his plate patience, walking in 7.2 percent of all plate appearances for Toledo, and he mashed left-handers to the tune of .322/.382/.638 in 152 at-bats this past year − .294/.358/.502 in his major league career − something Jason Giambi has not been able to do exceptionally well from 2004-2006.

Frivolities Gallore: Most mashups have been disappointing, since the big Shining-as-family-comedy trailer that got the current craze going, but this one, where Toy Story 2 meets Requiem for a Dream, is too funny for words (WARNING: contains language inappropriate for children).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bullet Points: Andy Pettitte Edition

Just a few short notes to start off the week:

  • Andy Pettitte's two years and $32 million is the exact size of the extension the Yanks gave Randy Johnson, when he came to the Bronx. It's a shame the Yanks didn't get Johnson to agree to a secret handshake agreement that he wouldn't exercise his option for that second year if injured.
  • I don't remember stories like this one about sexual assault allegations around the Yankees back in 2001. Was this actually reported then?
  • Word is that the Cardinals are looking at picking up Carl Pavano, but would like to wade through the first few volumes of his medical records, first (hat tip to Repoz at BTF). While any opportunity to dump PavaNO! would be welcome, the fact is that if the Yanks pick up even a fraction of the money (and I assume they'd have to pick up some salary) Pavano could be a perfect fit for St. Louis and pitching coach Dave Duncan. Duncan seems to love veteran reclamation projects, particularly the ones who can throw the ball over the plate and make batters put the ball in play--see Jeff Weaver if you're not sure what I'm talking about.
  • In other news, the Yanks have reportedly signed lefty-hittin OF/1B Juan Miranda, a Cuban defector, to a four-year, $2 million deal. Miranda, supposedly 23, doesn't seem to have played during the last two years, since he escaped Cuba by raft. We don't know much about Miranda, but presumably he won't be ready for the Show straight off and should start the season in the minors. The last time I looked, his Cuban numbers were comparable to another cuban defector's, Kendry Morales's. But I wonder what on Earth took so long for this kid to sign if he's actually got the goods.
  • If Miranda's the real deal--huge friggin' "if"--he could work his way into the first base conversation that currently involves Andy Phillips, Josh Phelps, and free agents Shea Hillebrand and/or Dougie Spellingerror. The short-order rundown: Phillips hasn't proven himself, despite getting a decent shot this summer; Phelps has an intriguing bat but the quality of his glove is unknown; Hillebrand's a bellyacher with an overrated bat, pass, please; Mientkiewicz's whole appeal is his glove, and there is some indication that he's not what he once was with the leather--BP's stats show him trending down the last three years, but zone-rating based metrics like Chris Dial's say he's still the shizzle. Since the emphases are on getting a righthanded bat and/or someone with better glovework than Jason Giambi's, Phelps and Mientkiewicz would be good choices (but then you're burning three roster spots on first base/DH, only).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Back In the Fold

You've probably heard by now, that Andy Pettitte is back in pinstripes, after supposedly ending his Yankee career on not-so-good terms with the front office three years ago. Back then, the Yanks seemed too eager to let Andy go home to Texas, and I was ambivalent about the fact that the Yanks' homegrown mainstay pitcher had decided to go home. Actually, it was a little more upsetting when he took recently "retired" Roger Clemens with him.

Andy comes back three years later, having posted a 37-26 record with the Astros, 520.7 innings of 3.38 ERA ball, in a hard home stadium for lefty pitchers (Minute Maid Field has an inviting short porch in left field). It broke down this way: in 2004, Pettitte pitched less than half a season, troubled by elbow problems; in 2005, he was a CyYoung candidate, 17-9, 2.39 ERA; in 2006, a mediore 14-13 with a 4.20 ERA--Pettitte's control slipped and his walks doubled from last year to this year. Looking at these numbers from the Yankees' perspective, you have to remember that Pettitte was playing in an easier league without a DH, even though he was pitching in a bandbox.

Still, when we look at the Yanks' 2 year, $32 million deal with Pettitte--sure, the deal is technically for one year, but you have to count that player option as guaranteed money, unless Andy decides to leave it on the table--the important thing is to look at the market in which it was made. Sure, $16 million is a lot to pay for a pitcher, and some may say, better had the Yanks paid that premium in 2003 than in 2006. Still, you have to like Pettitte at 2 years and $32 million more than giving Ted Lilly the Pavano Contract (4/$40M) or Gil Meche the Darren Dreifort Contract (5/$55M). Not only is the Yanks' exposure smaller with Pettitte, he's the devil you know, personality-wise, injury issues-wise, and performance-wise.

And all of that comes without mentioning Andy's not-so-little friend. I predict now that Roger Clemens will be sitting on the sidelines as the season starts, like Mifune in Yojimbo (I don't remember if they re-did that scene with Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars). Rather than sign with any team that offers the most money, Clemens can just wait to see how the little things shake out--you know, how does Randy Johnson look after back surgery, and whatnot. And it could mean big money for him.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Yanks Pick Former BP Coverboy

First real news in a week: the Rule 5 Draft happened today, and for the first time I can remember, the Yanks made a pick. Rule 5 allows a dispersal draft of certain eligible players left off 40 man rosters, so long as the drafting team a) pays $50,000, and b) keeps the player on the major league (25 man) roster for the following season.

So the Yanks' pickup is Josh Phelps--yes, the cover boy of Baseball Prospectus 2003. Phelps is a DH/first baseman, a righthanded hitter with lots of power who never really has gotten a proper chance. Phelps's career numbers: .268/.336/.473 with 57 homers in about 1,300 major league plate appearances. In a nine-year minor league career, he has an impressive .236 isolated power (that's slugging percentage minus batting average). Everything points to this guy being able to rake, at least a better than Andy Phillips.

The best thing is, Phelps might obviate the Yanks' desire for Richie Sexon--this off-season's scary Yankee rumor. Sexon's clearly a better hitter than Phelps, but he's also 3 1/2 years older and about $11 million more expensive. Phelps also will not cost the Yanks anything in terms of talent in trade. The big questions are, can Phelps field at first base or even (gasp!) catcher well enough to make him a worthwhile guy to have on the roster? After all, if you're carrying around Phelps as a righthanded DH and Phillips as a defensive sub at first, you're really wasting a roster spot.

I first heard about Phelps's acquisition from Brother Joe through Baseball Prospectus's newest feature, the BP:Unfiltered blog. The blog is an opportunity for BP's writers (including, eventually, me) to share quick thoughts with the public. Best of all, it's free.

More later...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Movie Review: The Fountain

I've been all over the map when it comes to this film. When I heard that Darren Aranofsky's next work would be a science fiction movie with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, I was pretty near ecstatic. Weisz and Jackman are two of my favorite actors, and Aronofsky's first two films were simply brilliant. His feature debut, Pi, might have been the capper of the late-90s indie movement, complete with guerilla marketing campaign (folks spray-painting the greek letter pi on New York's sidewalks). It was the story of an obsessive math genius, incorporating elements of Jewish mysticism, corporate conspiracy theories, and repeated references to classical science and mathematics. It was a sharp contrast to the more polished, studio-style math genius indie that came out the year before, Gus Van Zant's Good Will Hunting. Aronofsky's follow-up, 2000's Requiem for a Dream, was basically the film to close-out the drug movie genre. It's probably the most harrowing English language movie I've ever seen. After that, Aronofsky was on the must-see directors list.

But then, we started getting some bad indications about The Fountain. The trailer looked kind of hokey and confusing. Then there were reports of critics at the Venice film festival booing the closing credits. The film opened very small, grossing only $5 million in its opening weekend.

I had to see it anyway, and I'm glad I did.

The story is best explained in reverse order of its three storylines--in the 26th century, Tom (Jackman) is voyaging through space to a distant nebula, in a transparent orb occupied by him and an ancient tree; he is haunted by the ghost of Izzi (Weisz), a 21st Century woman, whose husband Tommy is a cancer researcher who has been making progress through use of a mysterious botanical specimen from the jungles of Guatemala; meanwhile, Izzi is writing a book set in the 16th Century about Tomas (Jackman, again), a conquistador who is sent by Queen Isabela (you guessed it, Weisz again) of Spain to New Spain--what we know as South and Central America--to find the Tree of Life referenced in the Book of Genesis.

The three storylines cohere very closely to each other (unlike, say, Babel), turning essentially, into one man's battle against Death. You see, in the present day storyline Izzi is dying of a tumor, and in Izzi's book, Isabela is threatened by the Grand Inquisitor, who believes her to be a heretic. In both situations the men are fighting to save the lives of women they love. Future Tom's motivations are more obscure, at first--he mainly seems to enjoy practicing Tai Chi in front of a starry backdrop, and levitating in the lotus position. But he, too, is driven toward a goal set on salvation.

If the Tai Chi and lotus position sound pretentious, you've chanced upon one of the issues some might have with this movie. I think one of the reasons the Venice critics were disappointed is because this film is so...sincere. One of the signature characteristics of Aronofsky's other movies was a detachment from his subject matter. In Requiem, for example, one storyline follows the descent of a senior citizen (Ellen Burstyn, who has a smaller role in The Fountain) into drug addiction and madness. Where more sentimental directors would have played that situation for melodrama--Aronofsky set it to music. In The Fountain, the longing and grief of the characters come at us raw, without any detachment at all. This has all led to speculation that love has softened Aronofsky up--he's engaged to and has a child with Weisz--and weakened his vision.

But if you can get past the fact that this film wears its emotions on its sleeve, you're treated to a visual spectacle in the tradition of Stanley Kubrik's 2001--a thoughtful and thought-provoking film, and a critique of our society's phobia about death. Very highly recommended.