The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


The All-Xmas Team

The following is a belated and revised version of my annual December 25 piece.

December 25 marks a holiday for most of this country and probably, for most of my readership -- if so, my sincere wishes for a happy holiday to you. For me the day is somewhat more paradoxical: I'm Jewish and thus don't celebrate Christmas, which is fine by me because I'm none too fond of that red and green color scheme. It also happens to be my birthday, number 35 to be exact.

I'll spare you the tales about how this combination of circumstances influenced my psyche while growing up (long story short: people forgetting birthday bad, never having to work or go to school on birthday good) and, as usual, move onto the baseball angle in all of this. Baseball-Reference lists 67 players as being born on December 25, including Hall-of-Famers Pud Galvin and Nellie Fox, and future Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson, and two Xmas babes who made their major-league debuts in 2004, Ruben Gotay and Willy Taveras.

Henderson is undoubtedly the best major-leaguer born on this day, but then again, he'd be the best major-leaguer born on any one of over three hundred other days, too. To quote the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, "If you could split [Rickey] in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers." Given that there are 258 members of the Hall of Fame (including executives), having two or three HOFers born on any single date is an above-average representation. Still, having spent some time looking over the resumes of the 67 ballplayers with December 25 birthdays, I can't make any claims for the All Xmas Team I've assembled. They're exceedingly long on futility infielders and backup catchers, short on outfielders, first basemen, and power hitters in general. Their pitching is pretty solid -- a front three of Pud, Ned, and Ted -- though they don't really have a closer.
Pos  Name (Years)                 AVG   OBP   SLG   HR

C Quincy Trouppe (1952) .100 .182 .100 0
1B Walter Holke (1914-1925) .287 .318 .363 24
2B Nellie Fox (1947-1965) .288 .348 .363 35
3B Gene Robertson (1919-1930) .280 .344 .373 20
SS Manny Trillo (1973-1989) .263 .316 .345 61
LF Jo-Jo Moore (1930-1941) .298 .344 .408 79
CF Rickey Henderson (1979-) .279 .401 .419 297
RF Ben Chapman (1930-1946) .302 .383 .440 90

C Gene Lamont (1970-1975) .233 .278 .371 4
IF Tom O'Malley (1982-1990) .256 .329 .340 13
IF Joe Quinn (1884-1901) .261 .302 .327 29
IF Bill Akers (1929-1932) .261 .349 .404 11
OF Red Barnes (1927-1930) .269 .347 .404 8
OF Gerry Davis (1983-1985) .301 .370 .397 0
PH Wallace Johnson (1981-1990) .255 .316 .332 5

Pos Name (Years) W L S ERA
SP Pud Galvin (1875-1892) 364 310 2 2.86
SP Ned Garver (1948-1961) 129 157 12 3.73
SP Ted Lewis (1896-1901) 94 64 4 3.53
SP Charlie Lea (1980-1988) 62 48 0 3.54
SP George Haddock (1888-1894) 95 87 2 4.07
RP Al Jackson (1959-1969) 67 99 10 3.98
RP Lloyd Brown (1928-1940) 91 105 21 4.20
RP Eric Hiljus (1999-2002) 8 3 0 4.72
RP Charlie Beamon (1956-1958) 3 3 0 3.91
CL Jack Hamilton (1962-1969) 32 40 20 4.53
Not too terribly impressive, is it? This year, I decided to take a slightly different look at this motley crew using the Wins Above Replacement Player totals and JAWS (Jaffe WARP Score) system that I used on my recent Hall of Fame pieces for Baseball Prospectus.

Thanks to Henderson and the Hall of Famers, the average for all players is 11.5 WARP, a career of roughly the same significance as -- to use a pair of recent, non-Xmas-related examples with that total, Wayne Gomes and Turner Ward -- players that may have had a few useful years as spare parts, but little more.

The numbers show that 51 of the 67 accumulated less than 10.0 WARP over the course of their careers, just over half (34) of them racking up less than 1.0 WARP for their careers, and 18 of them actually below replacement level, with one Jim Jones (-1.3) winning the Least Valuable Player award. Jones accumulated a 15.43 ERA in two short stints totaling 11.2 innings around the turn of the 20th century. At least he can't lay claim to being the most destructive Jim Jones in history, that honor belonging to the guy with the bad Kool-Aid.

The ten most valuable Xmas-born players, based on career WARP, peak WARP, and JAWS, which is an average of the two, used to measure Hall of Fame-worthiness as described in my BP articles:
Last      WARP3   Last       PEAK   Last        JAWS

Henderson 169.4 Henderson 49.1 Henderson 109.3
Fox 86.2 Galvin 45.4 Fox 62.5
Garver 76.1 Garver 44.3 Garver 60.2
Chapman 68.9 Fox 38.7 Galvin 56.2
Galvin 67.1 Moore 32.5 Chapman 50.4
Moore 47.9 Chapman 31.9 Moore 40.2
Trillo 42.8 Jackson 22.9 Trillo 32.5
Brown 31.0 Trillo 22.2 Brown 24.4
Jackson 25.0 Brown 17.8 Jackson 24.0
Rath 20.0 Lea 16.4 Lea 17.0
Quinn 17.8 Lewis 14.6 Rath 15.5
Lea 17.6 Holke 12.9 Lewis 14.5
Holke 15.9 Haddock 12.3 Quinn 14.5
Lewis 14.4 Quinn 11.2 Holke 14.4
McCormick 13.7 Rath 10.9 McCormick 11.5
A few words about the All-Xmas Team, the men on the leaderboards, and the new kids on the block:

• Quincy Trouppe spent twenty-two years in the Negro Leagues before receiving a 10-at-bat cup of coffee with the Cleveland Indians in 1952, at age 39. He was a fine player in his day, making All-Star teams everywhere he went and accumulating a lifetime Negro League Average of .311. He also won a Negro League championship as player-manager of the Cleveland Buckeyes. Bill James rates him the #7 catcher of the Negro Leagues in the New Historical Baseball Abstract. One more interesting note about him: during the height of World War II, he had trouble securing a passport to play in the Mexican League. The league's president intervened, and made arrangements for Trouppe's services in exchange for those of 80,000 Mexican workers. You could look it up.

• Manny Trillo played most of his career as a second baseman, and a slick-fielding (if overratedly so) one at that, winning three Gold Gloves and setting a record for consecutive errorless games. But Nellie Fox also won three Gold Gloves at 2B, so I took the liberty of moving Trillo to SS (where he had limited experience). I'm sure he and Nellie would have made a fine double-play combo. Trillo is the only Christmas-born ballplayer whose real name is Jesus.

• Jo-Jo Moore and Ben Chapman both crack Bill James' Top 100 lists by postion. Moore ranks 77th among LFs, Chapman 55th among CFs (I put him in right because he played a good portion of his career there). Chapman was, by all accounts, an aggressive ballplayer who fought a lot. He stole as many as 61 bases, and had some power as well. He later managed the Philadelphia Phillies for parts of four seasons and is most noted for baiting the rookie Jackie Robinson with racial epithets. Schmuck. We'll let Trouppe manage this squad, just to rub it in Chapman's face.

• Red Barnes -- don't you love that name? Gerry Davis did pretty well in 73 ABs for the Padres, but missed out on their glory year of 1984. Not to be confused with the MLB umpire of the same name.

• Wallace Johnson was a pretty good pinch-hitter whose claim to fame was the hit that put the Montreal Expos in their only postseason in 1981. He spent five years as the third-base coach with the Chicago White Sox but was fired after the 2002 season. At last notice, he had plans to run for a city council position in Gary, Indiana, the murder capital of the U.S. Fun. Given the paucity of updated news I could find, I don't think he succeeded.

• Three of the pitchers on this team made their names in the 19th century, when pitching and pitching stats were much different. Galvin had back-to-back 46-win seasons in 1883 and 1884, making over 70 starts each year. He won 20 games or more ten times, and lost 20 games or more 10 times as well. George Haddock went from 9-26 in 1890 for Buffalo of the Players League to 34-11 with Boston of the American Association the following year. Ted Lewis won 47 games over two seasons for the Boston Beaneaters in 1896-1897.

• Ned Garver was a hard-luck pitcher who managed to go 20-12 for a St. Louis Browns team that went 52-102 in 1951. This performance so impressed MVP voters in the AL that he finished second to Yogi Berra.

• Speaking of pitching for lousy teams... at 8-20 with a 4.40 ERA, Al Jackson could have easily been mistaken for the ace of the 1962 Mets (though Roger Craig had an equal claim). Jackson managed to lose 88 games in a 5-year span, four of those with the Mets. He had a long career as a pitching coach (Red Sox, Orioles, Mets), last serving as an interim one for the Mets in 2001 following Steve Phillips' purging of Bobby Valentine's staff.

• A couple of others have claims of infamy. Pitcher Jack Hamilton is best known for hitting Tony Conigliaro in the face with a pitch in 1967, one of the most severe beanings in the annals of baseball. Hamilton's only major league homer was a grand slam off of the aforementioned Al Jackson. Morrie Rath (who didn't make the cut here), a second baseman with a career .254/.342/.285 line, was hit by a pitch from Chicago Black Sox hurler Ed Cicotte to open the 1919 World Series. The message of this purpose pitch: the fix was in.

• So far as I can tell, there's at least one Jewish ballplayer with a December 25 birthday. Alta Cohen played in 29 games from 1931-1933 for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. In his first game he got two hits in a single inning when the Boston Braves failed to notice that he batted out of turn. He spent the rest of his career paying for his sins: .194/.289/.224.

• The first Christmas-born ballplayer, Nat Jewett (who I'm guessing didn't celebrate either), was a member of the 1872 Brooklyn Eckfords of the National Association, who went 3-26 for the season. Sweeeet.

• Rickey Henderson spent the entire year at Newark of the independent Atlantic League (where he hit .281/.462/.436 in 91 games), waiting for a call from a big league club that never came. He last played in the majors with the Dodgers in 2003, hitting a meager .208/.321/.306. The JAWS system places him as the fourth-best leftfielder of all time behind the guy with the "flaxseed oil" (140.6) and a couple of more upstanding citizens, Stan Musial (123.4) and Ted Williams (119.8).

• Ruben Gotay is the the son of a former minor-league infielder (also named Ruben) and the nephew of former big-league infielder Julio Gotay. As a 21-year-old, he hit .270/.315/.375 in 44 games for the Kansas City Royals and .290/.373/.441 at Double-A Wichita. He's a switch-hitting second-baseman who ought to have a regular job with the big club soon. Fellow Texas Leaguer Willy Taveras, 23, is a speedy centerfielder who spent most of the season at the Astros' Round Rock Express club (Nolan Ryan's outfit), hitting .335/.402/.386 with 55 steals in 66 attempts. In his September cup o' coffee, he got all of two plate appearances in ten big-league games, seeing time mostly as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.

Rickey, Nellie, Manny, Quincy, Ruben, Willy, and all of my fellow December 25-born mates -- happy birthday, guys!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


The Triple Double

Blogging's been light here lately because I've been hard at work on various projects for Baseball Prospectus. The second half of my Hall of Fame JAWS piece, covering the pitchers, went up on Monday; I found three pitchers worthy of a spot on the 2005 ballot. Also, my second Prospectus Triple Play, covering the Dodgers, Giants, and Twins (oh my!), is up today, chockful of Hot Stove goodness.

The Hall piece is a premium, but the the PTP, as always, is free. I stayed up late last night to squeeze in a few details about contract nontenders, so the stuff is an up-to-date reflection of where the three teams are this winter.

I'm off to Salt Lake City and then Milwaukee for the holidays. Given my usual patience with 56K connection speeds and one more BP deadline to meet, blogging will be light.

Saturday, December 18, 2004


Hard-Hat Area

In a seething-rage-driven and impulsive move whose repercussions were felt far earlier than I had expected, I switched webhosts for The Futility Infielder last night with all the grace and foresight of a man jamming a knife into an electrical socket.

I had long been threatening to switch, and one last "not found" message for this site sent me over the edge; however, I did a lousy job of anticipating how quickly everything would take effect -- email, FTP access, nameserver switch, etc.

As such, any email sent to me between 6 PM EST Friday and 1 AM EST Saturday through is gone like a Sheffield homer. If you tried to contact me, please resend. And apologies if you were unable to access this site for any length of time, either before or during the move.

Friday, December 17, 2004


Hall Call and Other Hot Stove Happenings

Like my Remaking the Yankees series, the Hall of Fame ballot has become an annual staple of my winter diet. For the second time this calendar year, I've tackled the most recent slate of candidates for Baseball Prospectus. The hitters' segment, an epic unto itself, went up on Thursday and is free to all readers. The pitchers' piece should follow shortly, and if history is any guide, it will be a premium piece.

Since the last time I vetted the ballot, I have very self-consciously re-christened my system JAWS (JAffe WARP Score) after dusting it off for a look at Barry Bonds' teammates a couple of months ago. JAWS is based on Clay Davenport's Wins Above Replacement Player metrics found on the Davenport Translated Player Cards. Just as before, the idea was to identify the players on the ballot who meet or exceed the standards of the Hall of Fame, with those standards being defined as better than the average Hall of Famer at his position in light of those Davenport metrics. A player's career WARP and his best five-season peak WARP are averaged to produce the JAWS score, which is compared to the JAWS scores of all the enshrinees at his position. As a secondary measure, players' batting, fielding and pitching runs above average and above replacement are also compared accordingly.

The numbers have shifted slightly since the last go-round as Clay Davenport continues to refine his system, mainly to reflect the way defensive responsibilities have changed over the game's 135-year major-league history. While I still put in waaaay too many hours looking at spreadsheets and player cards to do this (including the entire battery life of my iBook on both coast-to-coast flights for my winter meetings trip), my task is much easier now that I've been able to work more directly with Clay. I thank him for his cooperation and wish that I'd figured out a year ago that all I had to do was ask. Oh well, file under "things to do while your shoulder mends and your dad and brother are skiing in knee-deep fresh powder while you sit here healing."

Back to the ballot, I found three hitters and three pitchers worthy of election to the Hall. Wade Boggs, with over 3,000 hits, is the easy choice. The rest are facing uphill battles and it wouldn't surprise me if none of them were elected this year. Two of them are pitchers I feel like slapping the heads of writers to get to notice (I've got some allies in that department), which is why I wanted to see this published before the holidays. With the breadth of BP's reach, I hope that I might actually play a part in swaying somebody. We'll see if there are any surprises in the first week of January.

Oh, and one more thing concening BP: I've never been more proud to acquire a new email address.

• • •

My head is spinning over the rumors about the three-way supermegablockbuster which might bring Randy Johnson to the Yankees and send Javy Vazquez to the Dodgers. Anytime my two teams are involved in a trade it sets off a sway of emotions that's hard to sort out. That this one is still hanging in the balance only prolongs the dizziness. Some very quick thoughts:

• The Yankee fan in me would be elated to get Randy Johnson. He's a true difference-maker, one of the top pitchers in the game and of all time. Having him at the top of the rotation would make the Yanks' spending spree on Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright look a bit less risky, though still expensive. Acquiring Johnson while avoiding the dreaded Eric Milton signing would be gravy.

On the other hand, with the departure of prospects Dioner Navarro (catcher) and Eric Duncan (third base), I would be somewhat disgusted by the fact that even as a 35-year-old with a bum shoulder, I am now one of the Yankees' top ten prospects, somewhere between Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano.

• The Dodger fan in me would be relieved to be rid of Brad Penny and Shawn Green. Both are pricey (Penny is arbitration-eligible after making $3.725 mil, Green will make a whopping $16 mil) and questionable from an injury standpoint. The former is coming off of a nerve injury in his pitching arm which limited him to 11.2 innings after being acquired at the trading deadline. The latter had surgery to repair a torn labrum last winter; his power numbers have fallen considerably since he hit 91 homers in 2001-2002. Green has been rumored to be on the market all winter.

I would be bummed to see reliever Yhency Brazoban go. It's no secret I have a Yhency fancy; as a throw-in in the Weaver-Brown deal who wound up the setup man on a playoff team, he made an interesting case study to examine the strengths and weaknesses of my two favorite teams when it comes to developing talent. I last wrote about him in my first BP Triple Play.

With the transition to a new pitching coach and a return to the National League,
Javy Vazquez would give the Dodgers the potential ace they desperately need. That Vazquez had a disappointing second half in New York is well established; if he's healthy -- and he passed an MRI just after the season -- I'm going to guess he has better luck at his next stop.

While both of the Yankee prospects, Duncan and Navarro, have potential, neither is ready for prime time. Navarro likely needs at least another half-season in AAA if not a whole one. Duncan is probably two years away from anything meaningful, so the Dodgers will have to find a stopgap third baseman now that they've lost Adrian Beltre to the Mariners (about which I'm bummed, but not surprised).

The Beltre signing is rumored to be the reason this deal is on hold; the Dodgers have already shed 74 homers with the departures of Beltre, Steve Finley and Jose Hernandez in the past week. While shedding Green might meen a run at Carlos Beltran, their limited offense would still have some sizable some holes to fill.

• The Diamondbacks hater in me would be overjoyed to see the team get overpriced and somewhat damaged goods, and wish that Joe Garagiola Jr. was around when I was trying to shed an 1986 Camry so that I could move to New York City. On top of the insanity of the Russ Ortiz and Troy Glaus deals, this gives further opportunity for the rest of baseball to watch the Diamondbacks get kicked in the groin repeatedly, something they richly deserve.

I'll have more on this deal if and when it actually happens. I'm not banking on it actually going down, but it's sure to feed the Hot Stove flames for awhile.

• • •

Back to the Yankees, the details of Jaret Wright's contract, which will be offically announced next week, are reportedly as follows:
Wright's two-year, $14 million contract will include a player option for the third year. The deal could still be for three years and $21 million, as it was initially, but Wright could opt out of the third year if he stays healthy in the first two.

If Wright misses 60 to 90 days with a major shoulder injury over the first two years of the deal, the Yankees could reduce the value of the third year to $3 million to $4 million.

If Wright is healthy and chooses to accept the third-year option, the value of the deal will be the original proposal: three years and $21 million.
This is surprising, as the Yanks don't usually do player options. Their contracts tend to come with club options and buyouts, most of which are usually invoked to stop the payroll insanity. But in light of the fact that Wright failed his first physical upon agreeing to a contract, this gives the Yanks a chance at a savings if he doesn't remain healthy, and gives Wright the chance to cash in if he does especially well.

Meanwhile, the team's deal with Carl Pavano is complete. It's four years, $40 million, with a team option for a fifth year at $15 million or a $2 million buyout (that's more like it). Pavano could become a free agent after four years if he reaches 200 innings in years three and four. Tall dollars for pitching.

• • •

Finally, if you want to share in a good inside laugh at the Winter Meetings, check out this Flash animation by Ken Arneson, who begged to differ about the excitement level. Starring Burl Ives as Will Carroll, Elvis Costello as myself, Lou Ferrigno as Rich Lederer, and much more, with special appearances by Giants trainer Stan Conte, and the floating head of Bruce Bochy. I don't share Ken's view of the proceedings, but I can't stop laughing at his little piece of work.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


The Winter Meetings: And So It Ends

The following post was written Monday morning but could not be published until my return to New York City.

As I sit here at LAX, mooching wireless and recharging my gadget batteries even while my own are considerably run down, there isn't a hell of a lot to add to the coda of my last report. Sunday night at the Winter Meetings was especially slow as news goes, that Kevin Cash blockbuster generating even more of a ripple than a deal for a catcher with a .180 EQA deserves. Perhaps its amplification was to distract Blue Jay followers away from the overly generous deal J. P. Ricciardi bestowed on Corey Koskie earlier in the day.

But the day was not without its highlights, at least for me. The dearth of news cued an early dinner at the hotel's steakhouse, where I dined in a private room with Joe Sheehan, Will Carroll, Tom Gorman, Chaim Bloom, and Rob Assalino (Tom's partner in blogging crime at Fogball as well as an assistant to an agency working on some interesting arbitration cases). The stark contrast to the rest of the weekend's less than stellar fare had us slapping our foreheads that such good cuisine had been underfoot while we scrambled for worse. Kind of like settling for Cristian Guzman when we could have had Nomar Garciaparra -- pricey, yes, but infinitely better.

After dinner I got something I'd sought all weekend, an introduction to writer Alan Schwarz, whose book, The Numbers Game, I reviewed favorably this past summer. To my surprise, Schwarz had seen the review, and we talked fondly of its unique characters such as F. C. Lane, Earnshaw Cook, the Mills Brothers, and the team that assembled the first MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia. Our conversation turned to Schwarz's recent work at the New York Times, column called "Keeping Score" in which he checks in on more modern metrics, often with the Baseball Prospectus cast making appearances.

As Schwarz left to buttonhole Atlanta GM John Schuerholz, I gained an introduction to a pair of Mets statistical analysts including Ben Baumer. Baumer's job opening was one of the prizes sought at last winter's gathering. I was pleasantly surprised to find him, if not overly candid, than at least willing to talk about his work with the team. Like Voros McCracken with the Red Sox, Baumer was quick to concede that he had no real idea how much impact his work had on the upper reaches of the front office, nor did he know exactly what GM Omar Minaya had up his sleeve [including, as it turns out, the eventual dalliances with Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez, with the latter looking as though he's all but signed to play in Shea].

With little news to go on and few big writers to chase, the night devolved into our little clique milling around the lobby (biiiiig surprise) sizing up immense Padres scout Charlie Kerfeld and taking turns complaining about the lobby's acoustic guitar player running through the same set as the previous two nights. Padres manager Bruce Bochy, kicking back to enjoy a cold one or two, only encouraged the likes of "Sundown" and the worst Stevie Ray Vaughan imitation you've ever heard by rocking out from his chair, drumming his fingers and nodding his head to the tunes. Tom Gorman's facetious request for John Fogerty's "Centerfield" was rebuffed, leading us to conclude that the "entertainment" hadn't been procured especially for the occasion. As the evening wound down, Baseball America's Kevin Goldstein and BP's Will Carroll had us in stitches as they took turns imitating the Cubs' broadcasters, with Goldstein lampooning the homoeroticism of Pat Hughes' descriptions of bulging calves and pectorals and Carroll shrieking, "Oh, NOOOO!" Ron Santo-style. Carroll also told us about some of the more angry phone messages left on his machine, including one which had Dusty Baker using twelve-letter curses by the second word. My ribs were hurting by the time we went back to the hotel.

By the time we packed it in, there still no Tim Hudson trade, no Big Unit trade, no deals for Adrian Beltre, Edgar Renteria, Carlos Beltran, or any of the winter's other prizes. Murmurs of Richie Sexson to Seattle (for five years?) and of the Giants locking up Mike Matheny began to percolate after the bar closed, but that was about it. Monday morning would bring the Rule V draft -- teams vulturing in on each other's unprotected minor-leaguers -- but for this reporter, the winter journey had reached its end, and so I said my goodbyes.

All in all, it was a hell of a weekend, and I thank the cast of characters who populated these reports over the last few days, particularly my peers at Prospectus and All-Baseball. There's something extremely comforting about walking up to the same circle of people for the dozenth time in one evening, knowing you can join the chatter seamlessly and without apologizing for any social awkwardness. We're bound together by our love of the game, one that portends a happy return to next December's meetings in Dallas. See ya then, pals, if not sooner.

Sunday, December 12, 2004


The Winter Meetings: The Lobbyists

It would be inaccurate to say that I spent 14 hours in the lobby of the Anaheim Marriott on Saturday. After all, I hit for the cycle at the hotel's Starbucks (coffee, soda, juice and water) and spent a good deal of time in the 100-yard-long hallway connecting the two rooms. Plus the walk from the hotel to our dinner in Downtown Disneyland (a po' boy at a "Cajun" takeout joint, as if I needed yet another reminder that this is not New Orleans) was epic in length. Nonetheless, I got to be on friendly terms with nearly every siteline in the hotel's reception area.

I'd gotten to bed at a reasonable hour on Friday night, only to kick myself when Will Carroll filled me on on the big fish he, Joe Sheehan and Jonah Keri had netted in the hotel bar after I departed (Cashman, Hendry…). With Will rising at o'dark-thirty to do his radio show and Ken Arneson departing the hide-a-bed soon afterwards, the commotion in our suite was enough to roust me out of bed to bang out yesterday's entry before heading back over.

I arrived to find Dodger Thoughts blogger Jon Weisman waiting for me with Alex Ciepley. The chance to meet Jon, one of my favorite correspondants, in person had been one of my excuses to embark for Anaheim in the first place. We spent a good deal of time catching up on the Dodger rumors centering around Tim Hudson (with pitcher Edwin Jackson and infielder Antonio Perez headed to the A's) and Adrian Beltre (heavily courted by the Mariners via a six-year deal), the Jeff Kent signing, and the Steve Finley departure before Jon introduced me to Steve Henson of the L.A. Times. A former colleague of Jon's, Henson is assuming the Dodger beat, so in my role as Baseball Prospects' Triple Play beatman, the opportunity to connect was worthwhile. Like his colleague Bill Shaikin (who didn't make an appearance, at least that we saw), Henson apparently reads Dodger Thoughts regularly and is receptive to the ways that bloggers' coverage complements that of the traditional media. It's always nice to find allies.

We circulated through the room to find Rich Lederer bending Tom Verducci's ear about Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy. Verducci, who has a vote, listened politely but did not seem especially receptive to the cause of the man fifth all-time on the major league's strikeout list (and eminently overqualified according to my JAWS system). Ciepley pressed Ryne Sandberg's case and himself was met with a polite but surprising frostiness even as he pointed out the unfairness of comparing the Ryno's power stats to those of Jeff Kent in this inflated era. As the theme song to Gilligan's Island reminds us, "It's an uphill climb."

Lederer was fearless. After making his case to Verducci, he went up and introduced himself to Tommy Lasorda (recall that his dad was a Dodger beat reporter). He came away with Tommy's cellphone number, or at least something purporting to be those digits. Again, more chutzpah than I could muster when mere paces away from the former Dodger skipper. [Late note: Sunday morning Rich did a two-hour interview with Bill James which will make a fine capstone to his "Abstracts from the Abstracts series.]

Speaking of Dodger brass, former GM Fred Claire made an appearance later in the afternoon. Will and Jon huddled around him along with a couple of other folks, and just as I emerged into the circle, Jon's assessment of the Finley situation seemed to drive Claire away – almost as if he'd brought up the Jody Reed debacle which led Claire to trade away Pedro Martinez. Sigh.

The hottest rumors to sweep the room centered around the Yankees. In midafteroon, Will stormed by me and without breaking stride muttered to us that Jaret Wright had failed his physical, calling his three-year, $21 million deal into question. I immediately whipped out my phone to call my pal Nick back in NYC, while Rich rang up Alex Belth. I later asked Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan how many cartwheels he'd turned upon hearing the news, and he replied that he'd broken into the Ickey Shuffle, though he didn't get too far in demonstrating the dance.

It would have been for naught, alas, as later in the day Wright passed a second physical done by Dr. Jim Andrews. But the uncertainty surrounding Wright created an opening for the Yanks to close in on a four-year, $39 million deal with Carl Pavano. In the hallway I passed a front-office type consoling Jack McKeon as he chewed at an unlit cigar. "I hear your boy is headed for the Big Apple," he said as I whisked by in the neverending quest to balance my fluids.

One of the more unlikely surprises came later in the afternoon. As I nearly tripped over a large, bespectacled redhead gentleman profusely thanking Peter Gammons (who on Sunday was declared the winner of the Baseball Hall of Fame's J. G. Taylor Spink award), I quickly figured out that said redhead was Gary Huckabay of Baseball Prospectus fame. Having spoken to Gary on the phone a few times, I introduced myself, and he quickly steered me over to a corner of the room where Voros McCracken was holding court. Best known as the creator of the Defense Independent Pitching Statistic system, Voros' groundbreaking work got him a consulting job with the Boston Red Sox prior to the 2003 season. Via email he had encouraged me to continue applying his DIPS 2.0 methodology to annual pitching stats, coaching me through his method to park-adjust for home-run rates. A self-effacing alumnus of "As Seen on TV" university, Voros exuded a combination of modesty and swagger as he fielded several questions from us bloggers about his role within the Sox organization. He recounted the chronology of how he'd been hired to report to Theo Epstein mere days before the boy genius was promoted to the GM post of the Red Sox, explained that much of what he's doing these days for the Sox from his Phoenix residence involves the amateur draft, and thanked us for listening to him as he bullshitted (that's his word) away.

Upon returning from our epic journey from dinner –- we are hell and gone from anything resembling quality cuisine – we arrived to find that the Marriott lobby had taken on the air of a cocktail party. Team employees were decked out in suits, many of them with wives or girlfriends accompanying them. The setting of the sun had tilted the scales of the business at hand from news to schmooze, creating a booming business for the hotel bar. Nonetheless, nervous young twenty-something job-seekers paced the room, portfolios in hand as they angled for a few moments of face time with the gatekeepers to their careers in baseball. I counted one looping by a half-dozen times during a fifteen-minute conversation I was having. Grab a beer and give it a rest, kid.

One of the more enjoyable conversations I had on Saturday evening was with Matthew Leach,'s beat reporter for the St. Louis Cardinals. I approached Matthew to check if he knew anything about the Cards' supposed interest in Pedro Martinez. His response implied that the reports were somewhat exaggerated, more a product of Pedro's camp trying to get leverage with the Red Sox than anything else. Our conversation shifted all over the map as we discussed the Cardinals' season, their playoff matchup with the Dodgers (he shares my admiration for Jim Tracy) and the World Series. Growing up a Red Sox fan, he was in a uniquely awkward position, bummed most that he could not share in the immediate enjoyment of the Sox championship victory. His theory is that the first five minutes after winning it all are better than the entire year that follows, and having been present for the Yanks' 1999 clincher, I can relate.

Evening turned to night turned to last call. Not only did we close down the hotel bar at 1 AM, we watched with some incredulity as a hotel securitywoman made Will polish off the last of his final beer an hour later while we discussed BP with Joe. Yet another reminder that we were no longer in the Big Easy. By the time I hit the hay, Will and I had spent another hour BSing back at our hotel room, our wide-ranging conversation centering around steroids. Will just did an excellent piece for BP and has a New York Times Op-Ed piece in the pipeline, among other things. Look Ma, I really am hanging with the newsmakers.

Other sightings of note: Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox (seen talking to Tracy Ringolsby in Starbucks), Felipe Alou, Tony Peña, Theo Epstein (veerrrrry briefly), Bill James (through tinted glass), the Mayor of Las Vegas (with two showgirls and an Elvis impersonator in tow, making a big splash about the city courting the Marlins), Matt Williams, Frank McCourt, new Angel Steve Finley...


It's approaching 6 PM here on Sunday and there's not much happening today, and by not much I mean NOTHING. As BP intern (and Fogball blogger) Tom Gorman showed me some impressive work using metrics to measure injury values, we heard rumblings that Beltre's going back to the Dodgers and Pedro back to the Sox, but the lack of action here in the media room (thanks again to that hobo-acquired credential ;) ) confirms that thus far today the tumbleweeds outnumber the trades (and the press release I was just handed about that that hot Kevin Cash trade doesn't count; neither does the guy next to me using Orioles and Hudson in the same sentence). Back as time permits…

Saturday, December 11, 2004


The Winter Meetings: Notes from a Hotel Room in the Magic Kingdom

Last year, at the encouragement of Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll, Alex Belth and I headed to New Orleans for baseball's Winter Meetings. We were unlikely prospects to crash Major League Baseball's December soiree, but three days of schmoozing and networking with other writers in the hotel lobby ultimately led the two of us to conclude that an enterprising blogger could find a nice little niche amidst baseball's movers and shakers. Bending elbows on Bourbon Street and playing poker with some of our Baseball Prospectus pals added a colorful touch to the proceedings; recall that for a brief, shining moment, I owned BP thanks to a few lucky hands at the table.

When the prospect of coming out to Anaheim for this year's meetings reared its head, I didn't hesitate, even with the knowledge that my Bronx-based partner in crime wouldn't make the trip, and that the Magic Kingdom is the polar opposite of the Big Easy when it comes to a backdrop, sanitized suburbia compared to N'Awlins' Sodom and Gomorrah. At least I wasn't lacking for a traveling companion, as Alex Ciepley chose to come. Alex and I flew out of Newark International on Friday and rendezvoused at LAX with Will, Mariner Musings' Peter White, and All-Baseball's tech guru Ken Arneson (a/k/a the poet laureate of the blogosphere, the Score Bard). We bused it to a hotel in Anaheim that's a five-minute walk to the Marriot, where it's all going down.

It's a strange kind of fun, mingling among the traditional media and front-office executives while chatting with my All-Baseball and BP peers. Guys ogling other guys as they talk to other guys about other guys? It'd be completely weird if it wasn't about baseball, but it adds up to a fascinating immersion, especially if you're willing to listen to the people smarter than you.

The Anaheim Marriott lobby is much smaller than last year's venue. People are more densely packed, practically on top of each other unless they spill into the bar or down the hallway. Making a loop around the room -- what we do when the conversations lull -- ultimately isn't as fruitful; there are fewer surprises lurking around each corner.

But there are plenty of familiar faces to be recognized. Lou Piniella, Reggie Jackson, Jack McKeon (his cigar wafting in through the front door), Brian Cashman (allowed to make the trip this year), Omar Minaya, Felipe Alou, J. P. Ricciardi, Tony Perez, Tony Pena, Ozzie Guillen, Peter Gammons (again wearing sneakers with his khakis), ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, SI's Tom Verducci, the Times' Jack Curry, and of course the respendent Tracy Ringolsby, looking like a rodeo escapee with his cowboy hat, bolo tie, and a belt buckle big enough to function as a serving plate. The smaller venue gives Ringolsby much less room to pace, perhaps limiting his special calf-roping powers.

One of the first I saw on Friday afternoon was that of Tommy Lasorda, muttering to himself as he swaggered about the room. I tried to snap off a discreet shot with my camera's phone but ultimately got only his back and forgot to save the damn thing. I also talked myself out of just going up to shake his hand as he was unoccupied for a brief moment. Note to self: pack more chutzpah.

To the deals and rumors, which are the stuff of the meetings...

• I wrangled a media credential from... well, let's just say that a hobo sold it to me for a tin of beans and leave it at that. Armed with my credential, I attended the press conference where the Angels announced the signing of Steve Finley for two years ($14 million, I believe) with a team option for a third year. Press conferences are just as banal in person as they are on TV; this kind exists for that photo op of the player trying on the new team's jersey and cap. The 39-year-old Finley looks in great shape, five or seven years younger than his listed age. More importantly, this signing puts Anaheim out of the Carlos Beltran running; agent Scott Boras says they were never in. A Cubs exec told us that they weren't going to be players in the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes unless they could move Sammy Sosa, which puts the Yankees and the Astros the clearest contenders for Beltran's services.

• David Wells to Boston is a done deal and a steep one. ESPN's report:
Under the terms of the agreement, Wells would receive a $3 million signing bonus and have a base salary of $2.5 million in 2005 and 2006, The Boston Globe reported. He also would have the opportunity to earn an additional $5 million in performance bonuses in each year of the contract. The deal will not be official until Wells passes a physical, reportedly scheduled for Tuesday.
I really wanted to see the Yanks make a play for him, but they've got their priorities and he's not one of them. As for the ramifications, a lefty fly ball pitcher in Fenway Park has 5.00 ERA written all over it; recall that Wells loved to use the fat part of Yankee Stadium -- Death Valley in left-center -- but that's a shot over the Green Monster in his new digs. Caveat emptor.

• On top of the Troy Glaus signing (4 years, $45 mil), Russ Ortiz to the Diamondback at 4 years, $33 million smacks of insanity. The broke get even more broke, and they deserve no better.

• There was a brief rumor that Carl Pavano and Yanks were close, but our sources around the room said no. He is in the house, as they say, and I would be less than surprised at a decision this weekend.

• Jason Varitek is close to returning to Sox via some kind of vesting/opt-out for the 5th year. Vaya con dios.

• Pedro Martinez and the Cardinals is a hot rumor, with St. Louis offering a guaranteed third year. Boston might have solidified their third year as well.

• There's a Tim Hudson/Dodgers rumor going around. The Jeff Kent signing puts LA in a position where they could deal Hee Seop Choi, say, and pitching prospect Edwin Jackson to the A's and play Kent at first. Otherwise, they've got Alex Cora to deal, and while he's a handy player, he doesn't have the upside to carry a big deal. An A's Braves deal that includes Hudson and Marcus Giles floated by as well.

• The Mariners are leading the Adrian Beltre sweepstakes, with an offer that somebody said was along the lines of six years, $70 million. The Dodgers would likely sign Corey Koskie in that event, though I've heard the Blue Jays are interested as well, a move which could either put Eric Hinske at first base (to replace Carlos Delgado) or on the market.

• Shortstop rumors: Orlando Cabrera to the Angels and Edgar Renteria back to the Cardinals.

• BP's Joe Sheehan is apoplectic about the Yanks' Jaret Wright and Tony Womack deals. Everytime somebody mentions either the latter or a possible Tino Martinez signing, he looks as though they're pounding a nail through his foot. Listening to him debate prospects with Baseball America's Kevin Goldstein was one of the evening's more entertaining diversions. Concerning Mariners 18-year-old pitching prospect Felix Hernandez (BA's #1, I think), Joe's banking on more surgeries than major league wins before 21 if memory serves.

• Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball Beat treated me and the A-B delegation to a great Mexican dinner while regaling us with tales about his father's time working for the Dodgers in the Koufax era and the Angels during Nolan Ryan's heyday. A big, bold guy, Rich had no hesitation to join the swarm around Scott Boras as the agent held court about his numerous clients. Tape recorder in hand, Rich brough up Angels first-roudner Jered Weaver (Jeff's younger brother) as yet unsigned, and helped the writers fill a few more column inches. Check his great blog entry on yesterday's proceedings.

• A good deal of the info we bloggers and BPers get flows through my roommate for the weekend, Will Carroll, who's got the best sources of anybody I know. Check his BP blogging of the meetings for some more perspective.

I'll be back with more when I get a chance.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Remaking the Yankees for 2005, Part IV: The Bullpen

Thanks in part to Buster Olney, it's fashionable among the mainstream media to compare the character and talent (in that order) of the current crop of New York Yankees to that of the dynasty which won five four World Series in a six-year span from 1996-2001 and find them lacking. By this reasoning, players such as Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill, Andy Pettitte, Scott Brosius, David Cone, Joe Girardi, even Chuck Knoblauch and Luis Sojo are exalted for knowing how to win in the grand pinstriped tradition. Expensive replacements such as Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, and Kevin Brown are amoral mercenaries who don't have what it takes to make it in the Bronx, while the likes of Mike Mussina, Javier Vazquez, Hideki Matsui are competent but pricey substitutes who lack the leadership to return the Yanks to their winning ways. This is a tired trope, though the current pariah-hood of Giambi and Brown, with their bloated contracts and high-profile transgressions, makes them easy targets.

But if there's one area where the current crop of Yanks deserves criticism for not measuring up to their glory days, it's the bullpen. While closer Mariano Rivera remains the axle around which the Yanks' postseason fate spins, the failure of his supporting casts has conspired to keep the Yankees championship-free in the new millenium. Though much of that shortfall is due to failures of performance -- even from the once-indomitable Rivera, who saved 30 out of 32 games in the Octobers prior to 2004 -- larger issues such as Brian Cashman's roster construction, Joe Torre's deployment of the available parts, and an organization-wide lack of vision have left the Yanks with uncomfortably razor-thin margins for error.

I'll spare you the epic version of the pen's pre-2004 saga, as it's become one of this site's most oft-told tales, starring Jeff Nelson as the fabled prodigal son. But suffice it to say that the 2004 Yankee bullpen was an expensive, top-heavy Frankenstein-like response to the previous years' woes. To support Rivera and compensate for the unlikelihood of Steve Karsay's return from rotator cuff surgery, the Yanks signed pricey but proven righty setup men Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill while re-upping two late-'03 lefty acquisitions, Gabe White and Felix Heredia, handing out over $17 million worth of guaranteed contracts.

Though the popular perception was that the Yanks finally had some setup men worthy of Mariano the Great, the reality was darker. Rivera was still the best closer in the league, setting a career high in saves while putting up another sub-2.00 ERA. Gordon was a smashing success in the first half of the season, earning an All-Star trip with a 1.78 ERA, and then showed some wear as the season went on, as 36-year-olds will. Quantrill hurt his knee in his Yankee debut and was consigned to a brace for most of the season. He was a complete mess in the second half (7.09 ERA), one which the team refused to address at the appropriate trading deadlines. Rather than give him a two-week vacation on the DL, they simply kept handing him the ball, with predictably diminishing returns. White and Heredia were both unmitigated disasters, with the former's greasy porn-stareque countenance shipped back to the Reds for a prospect who'd gone the other way in the Aaron Boone deal and the latter banished to the minors to get his shit together, heralding the arrival of C.J. Nitkowski and his Amazing Tales of Salvation. Ugh, I'd rather read the porn star's blog.

Torre rode his top trio -- christened QuanGorMo -- very hard, to the tune of 240 appearances between the three. But for all of their spending, the bullpen lacked depth, especially once it grew apparent that the lefties couldn't cut it, and that became a huge problem for the Yanks when the team's starters began dropping like flies. Though the rotation got a huge boost with the resurrection of Orlando Hernandez, the wait for Karsay's return proved so interminable that fellow Yankee blogger Cliff Corcoran began referring to him as Steve Hearsay. Youngsters Brett Prinz, Scott Proctor and Jorge DePaula were given shots, but the latter succumbed to Tommy John surgery after only two outings, and neither of the other pair could throw enough strikes or keep the ball in the park enough to merit much work. As a result of all of this, much-maligned mopup man Tanyon Sturtze was given every opportunity to become the team's number three reliever as the playoffs approached, thanks to a surprising display of late-September dominance once he learned Rivera's cut fastball technique and reeled off a dozen scoreless innings.

Overall, the bullpen threw 105 more innings than the previous year, the workload of about two mid-level relievers. Despite the rotating cast, their strikeout, walk, and homer rates remained pretty stable, but their collective ERA rose four-tenths of a run (SP ERA is the ERA of the starters):
       ERA    IP    K/9  K/W   HR/9  SP ERA

2004 4.43 501.3 6.68 2.11 0.88 4.82
2003 4.02 396.0 6.84 2.10 0.84 4.02
2002 3.64 427.3 6.36 2.29 0.70 3.97
2001 3.38 477.0 7.98 2.66 0.72 4.34
Here's are the key stats for the relievers who finished the season in pinstripes:
Pitcher     IP   ERA   WHIP  K/9   K/W   HR/9  BABIP  dERA

Quantrill 95.3 4.72 1.51 3.49 1.85 0.47 .332 3.67
Gordon 89.7 2.21 0.88 9.64 4.17 0.50 .235 2.41
Rivera 78.7 1.94 1.08 7.55 3.30 0.34 .279 2.91
Sturtze 77.3 5.47 1.40 6.52 1.70 1.05 .283 4.64
Heredia* 38.7 6.28 1.66 5.82 1.25 1.16 .300 5.19
Halsey* 32.0 6.47 1.72 7.03 1.79 1.13 .343 4.61
Prinz 28.3 5.08 1.48 6.99 1.57 1.59 .280 5.39
Proctor 25.0 5.40 1.72 7.56 1.50 1.80 .308 5.46
Karsay 6.7 2.70 1.05 5.40 2.00 2.70 .158 6.71
Nitkowski* 33.0 5.73 1.70 7.09 1.63 1.09 .333 5.02
I've included rookie starter Brad Halsey in this group for reasons I'l get to shortly. Late last week, Heredia was traded crosstown for Mike Stanton and $975K, while the Yanks picked up another reliever, Felix Rodriguez, by shipping disgruntled valet Kenny Lofton off to Philly. Nitkowski wasn't offered arbitration, so he's gone, praise the Lord. The stats of the two arrivals:
Pitcher     IP   ERA   WHIP  K/9   K/W   HR/9  BABIP  dERA

Stanton 77.0 3.16 1.34 6.78 1.76 0.70 .269 3.96
Rodriguez 65.7 3.29 1.37 8.09 2.03 1.10 .282 4.34
At first glance both look like serviceable arms but little more. Both of these guys walk too damn many batters, about 4 per nine innings, which won't play well in the Bronx, or anywhere else for that matter. And there more... or less to these numbers. First Stanton, who as I said before had the second-worst performance of any reliever when dealing with inherited runners, costing his team an extra 8.6 runs. He also had a pretty low rate of hits on balls in play (BABIP), so we can expect some backsliding there; an ERA in the low- to mid-4s is likely.

The once-unhittable Rodriguez's homer rate was up about 60 percent over his career rate, and while it's tempting to explain it away by pointing to his pitching in that brand-new palace of gopherdom, Citizen's Bank Ballpark, the reality is that he gave up only one homer as a Phillie and allowed seven while pitching for the Giants, who play in the single most difficult park to homer, SBC Park (insert accusatory glare at Barry Bonds here). Not good, but what we're talking about still boils down to an extra three mistake pitches over the course of a season, something that could easily go the other way.

Once seen as a future closer, Rodriguez has lost velocity over the past few years while struggling with his command. Transaction Guy Christian Ruzich reports that he's an extremely slow worker on the mound, a pitcher made for the TiVo age. Ugh. We could be in for a long summer in the Bronx, especially if Rodriguez is actually replacing Gordon, who was a rumored component (along with Javy Vazquez, Eric Duncan, the state of Connecticut, and a cure for cancer) of the supposedly dead Randy Johnson deal with Arizona.

If that's not the case, then with Quantrill, Gordon, Rivera, Stanton, Rodriguez, the resurgent Sturtze (who doesn't have enough service time to qualify for free agency) and perhaps Karsay (stop laughing!), the Yanks have a reasonably full bullpen, and that's without picking up another lefty. They'll likely find one, even when they've got a decent option for a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) in young Brad Halsey, because that's the Yankee Way. But Halsey's performance against lefties was impressive enough that he ought to be considered for the role. Here are his numbers against lefties in the context of the other pitchers under discussion:
           AB   AVG   OBP   SLG

Halsey 28 .143 .212 .250
Gordon 162 .185 .246 .272
Rodriguez 99 .192 .308 .253
Rivera 154 .234 .287 .286
Heredia 74 .216 .333 .405
Quantrill 185 .292 .341 .432
Nitky 31 .258 .378 .419
Sturtze 153 .261 .352 .464
White 45 .422 .449 .556
Stanton 108 .269 .370 .426
That's a small sample size, but what the hell. The kid certainly deserves a shot to build on numbers like that, especially because, if you'll recall from his previous tour of duty in the Bronx, Stanton actually has a reverse platoon split; against righties over the last three years, he's yielded a .646 OPS, while against lefties, he's at .695 and that includes a pretty lousy performance against them last year. F-Rod (if we may call him that) also shows a reverse platoon split: a .717 OPS vs. righties over the past three years, and .653 against lefties.

It makes sense that the Yanks will probably be in the market for a lefty, and the name of Steve Kline, who pitched for the Cardinals last year, has been tossed about. The 32-year-old spent the past four seasons in St. Louis, where Tony LaRussa's tiresome obsession with platoon-driven matchups limited him to 0.82 innings per appearance -- about 62 innings for 75 appearances on average. He does a real number on lefties, a .587 OPS over the past three seasons, compared to .706 against the righties in that span. Below are his numbers from last season, along with those of all the other free agent relievers who pitched over 30 big-league innings, many now signed with the passage of the arbitration date. Most of these pitchers no longer pertain to the Yanks, but I've already pulled this together, so feel free to refer to this handy chart if you want some context for your favorite team's signing or arbitration pink-slip (TEAM refers to the final one if a player made multiple stops last season; innings have been rounded, lefties are denoted by an asterisk):

FLA R. Seanez 46 3.33 1.26 9.00 2.42 0.59 .288 3.16 signed SD
HOU D. Miceli 78 3.59 1.30 9.62 3.07 1.16 .299 3.25
FLA A. Benitez 70 1.29 0.82 8.01 2.95 0.78 .173 3.32 signed SF
NYM M. DeJean 61 4.57 1.69 8.85 1.82 0.30 .368 3.34 signed NYM
SDN A. Osuna 37 2.45 1.17 8.84 3.27 0.74 .290 3.35
TEX D. Brocail 52 4.13 1.41 7.39 2.15 0.34 .317 3.37 signed TEX
NYM R. Bottalico 69 3.38 1.27 7.92 1.79 0.39 .263 3.44
LAN W. Alvarez* 121 4.03 1.16 7.61 3.29 0.90 .276 3.53
OAK J. Mecir 48 3.59 1.34 9.25 2.58 0.94 .296 3.71
STL S. Kline* 50 1.79 1.07 6.26 2.06 0.54 .238 3.76
OAK C. Hammond* 54 2.68 1.29 5.70 2.62 0.67 .306 3.79
CHC K. Mercker* 53 2.55 1.25 8.66 1.89 0.68 .254 3.83
ATL A. Alfonseca 74 2.57 1.34 5.50 1.61 0.61 .281 3.84 signed FLA
PHI T. Jones 82 4.15 1.42 6.45 1.79 0.77 .298 3.88
DET E. Yan 87 3.83 1.43 7.14 2.16 0.83 .316 3.94
COL S. Reed 66 3.68 1.35 5.18 2.24 0.95 .301 4.05
SFN D. Burba 77 4.21 1.25 5.84 1.92 0.82 .261 4.08
PIT J. Mesa 69 3.25 1.41 4.80 1.85 0.78 .312 4.13 signed PIT
PHI R. Cormier* 81 3.56 1.19 5.11 1.77 0.78 .256 4.18 signed PHI
SFN Hermanson 131 4.53 1.36 7.01 2.22 1.03 .293 4.20 signed CHW
LAN E. Dessens 105 4.46 1.47 6.26 2.35 1.29 .310 4.25 signed LA
ARI J. Fassero* 112 5.46 1.61 4.82 1.36 0.72 .325 4.30
BAL B. Groom* 53 4.78 1.58 5.47 2.00 1.03 .337 4.33
KCA D. Reyes* 108 4.75 1.52 7.58 1.82 1.00 .313 4.41
CLE B. Wickman 30 4.25 1.45 7.89 2.60 1.21 .333 4.43 signed CLE
BOS R. Mendoza 31 3.52 1.04 3.82 1.86 0.88 .232 4.47
STL C. Eldred 67 3.76 1.31 7.25 3.18 1.48 .302 4.49 signed STL
BOS T. Adams 70 4.76 1.60 7.20 2.00 1.29 .336 4.53
FLA B. Koch 49 4.41 1.65 9.18 1.39 1.10 .289 4.55
SEA R. Villone* 117 4.08 1.42 6.62 1.34 0.92 .249 4.63
DET U. Urbina 54 4.50 1.30 9.33 1.75 1.17 .228 4.65
ANA T. Percival 50 2.90 1.25 5.98 1.74 1.27 .242 4.88 signed DET
MIN Mulholland* 123 5.18 1.59 4.38 1.82 1.24 .336 4.88
FLA D. Weathers 82 4.15 1.46 6.67 1.74 1.31 .300 4.89
NYM J. Franco* 46 5.28 1.52 7.04 1.50 1.17 .286 4.90
PHI R. Hernandez 57 4.76 1.68 6.99 1.52 1.43 .322 4.90
CIN Van Poppel 115 6.09 1.46 5.62 2.25 1.72 .306 4.96
TBA J. Halama* 119 4.70 1.36 4.47 2.19 1.29 .293 4.97
NYY Nitkowski* 33 5.73 1.70 7.09 1.63 1.09 .333 5.02
CIN G. White* 60 6.94 1.41 6.18 3.42 2.11 .296 5.08
HOU D. Oliver* 73 5.94 1.49 5.70 2.19 1.73 .315 5.10
ARI S. Sparks 121 6.04 1.52 4.25 1.27 1.34 .288 5.16
DET A. Levine 71 4.58 1.51 4.08 1.33 1.27 .300 5.23
CLE R. White 78 5.29 1.49 5.06 1.52 1.72 .292 5.58
SFN Christiansen* 36 4.50 1.67 5.50 0.85 0.75 .274 5.59
BOS C. Leskanic 43 5.19 1.78 7.68 1.23 1.66 .305 5.70
TEX J. Wasdin 65 6.78 1.63 4.98 1.57 2.49 .294 6.23
I'd love to delve into these numbers more, and perhaps I will at a later date. As I've said before, I'm headed to Anaheim for the Winter Meetings on Friday. I'll do my best to check in with at least one entry during the weekend. If you're going to be in Anaheim as well, drop me a line so we can rendezvous.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


The Usual Suspects

Last night's late news about the Yankees' impending signings of Jaret Wright and Tony Womack set off a flurry of emails amongst a contingent of pinstripe-inclined bloggers and Baseball Prospectus-affiliated writers -- the usual smart-guy suspects. The subject line of mine was "come back, Kenny Lofton! we love you! all is forgiven!"

It's fair to say that none of us who weighed in like either deal very much, though our derision for the Womack one is more scathing. Reconstructing from what I've said in those emails and a few other pertinent ones related to recent Yankee deals, the main points are these:

• The Womack deal, which coincided with the Yanks cutting ties with the eventual winner of last year's second-base sweepstakes, Miguel Cairo:
      ----Womack---   ----Cairo----

2004 .307 .349 .385 .292 .346 .417
car. .274 .319 .362 .273 .322 .370
What we have are two players who enjoyed career renaissances last year, Womack in St. Louis and Miguel Cairo in the Bronx. The difference is that Womack, who has more speed (26 steals last year, a career high of 72) is 35 years old while Cairo, who showed more power, will be 31 and thus a safer bet not to decline so much. Not falling in love with Cairo for his flukey season and hence not budging on their offer of a one-year, $1.5 million deal for a guy more suited to a utility role than an everyday one is sound thinking. Replacing him with the empty speed and proven veteran herbs and spices of Womack is not, even at the comparatively modest price of $4 million over two years.

The move has been attributed as a Gene Michael brainfart brainchild by the New York Post, though it's likely Joe Torre is smiling. Womack is the type of player Torre needs a restraining order to avoid, as he will bring out his Chuck Tanner-esque tendency to bat him leadoff, a terrible idea. Womack is more suited to what my pal Nick calls the Kenny Lofton Memorial Second Leadoff Spot, i.e., batting ninth, if he must be in the lineup at all.

He's no great shakes defensively, either. According to Baseball Prospectus' metrics, Womack's fielding at second base in '04 was ten runs below average per 100 games. Cairo was actually -7 per 100 games in '04, and Enrique Wilson was even worse (-14 per 100), so in the field this is actually a wash despite the perception of Miggy being a godsend with the glove.

• The cutting of ties with Wilson: As I told my pen pals, they finally solved their Enrique Wilson problem. It took them four years to learn that if they don't offer him arbitration, he's not allowed to just keep showing up like the guy from Office Space. Another flattering transaction. The Yanks did well to avoid arbitration with Tony Clark, John Olerud, Esteban Loaiza, C.J. Nitkowski, and Travis Lee, effectively ending their tenures in pinstripes.

• The signing of Wright: I was touting him back when we did a long-lost Baseball Prospectus radio, which triggered a few spit-takes among those participating (all of whom were in on this latest round of emails). I'm still high on him thanks to that great K rate and his blazing stuff, but I'm more wary of his ability to stay mechanically consistent and mentally solid without the tutelage of Leo Mazzone, and I'd feel a lot better with the pitching coach behind door number two than I would with Mel Stottlemyre, given the some of the high-profile implosions of recent years and Mel's inability to fix them.

If the three-year, $21 million price tag is accurate and is broken down uniformly (which Yankee contracts rarely are), they overpaid for Wright in dollars and in length. Two years, $12 million with a fat team option and a reasonable buyout would have been a preferable route to take (say $5.5, $6.5, $9/1) to get to that price point.

The New York Daily News says that the Yanks are aggressively pursuing Pavano, who shares a history of arm trouble and late-bloomerhood with Wright but seems like a very different pitcher -- less power, but also less baggage, with no dependence on a guru. Unless they pay ridiculously for him (not an unlikelihood, alas, given how many teams bidding) he'd still be a better signing than Eric Milton, who will have us all playing Russian roulette by July 4. I addressed the starting pitching in depth here, here and here.

• The impending loss of Jon Lieber, who appears headed for Philadelphia as part of a three-year, $21 million deal: I think this is a classic case of overthinking on the part of the Yanks' front office. Unwilling to pick up Lieber's $8 million option for another season, the Yanks tried to shoehorn their second-most-reliable starter into a two-year deal worth $10-12 million. But doing so brought a host of suitors to Lieber's door, and not surprisingly, he got better offers. The Yankees' move was designed to save them an extra million dollars or so once the luxury tax was figured in, but once it's all said and one, they've robbed Peter to pay Paul. If the reports of them signing Eric Milton to a three-year, $25 million deal are true, they're effectively trading a pitcher with a 3.77 dERA for one with a 5.18 dERA and going two years and $17 million deeper into the hole -- even more once the tax is considered. From penny-wise to pound-foolish. Brutal, Juice.

• The Mike Stanton-Felix Heredia deal: I'm working on my Remaking piece on the bullpen, but I've been beaten to the punch, at least in part, by a pair of transactions. The Stanton-Heredia deal I characterized via email as "my manure for your dungheap." At one point an essential cog -- the leading lefty -- in the Yankee pen, Stanton was jettisoned in a harsh bit of negotiation hardball and landed in Shea, where his performance in dealing with inherited runners (2nd worst in the majors last year, -8.6 runs below expectation) was the second-worst in the majors and made him reviled on the level of Hitler and Derek Jeter by the Shea faithful. Reacquiring him is likely to pay a dividend similar to the Jeff Nelson Reunion Tour, which is to say he's better than what came before -- certainly not limited to the LOOGY role in which Heredia was uncomfortably cast -- but still a pricey shadow of the team's former glory and yet another example of the Yankee brass' stunning lack of imagination. I'll have more to say on the Yankee pen... soon.

• The Kenny Lofton-Felix Rodriguez trade: I wish the Yanks would have utilized Lofton better, especially in the postseason when we had to watch Ruben Sierra and Tony Clark imitate each other's flailing incompetence. While his best days may be behind him, Rodriguez is a solid haul, another durable reliever (with a good K rate, though lots of walks) for what was essentially a spare part. Again, more on this when I cover the Yankee pen in detail.

• • •

A quick welcome to those of you coming here via the latest Soxaholix comic strip. Though I revile Curt Schilling even moreso today than I did back then, I'm neither flattered by association with the imbroglio which led to that reference, nor am I eager to relive it. I could have just as easily removed the posts pertaining to the whole affair or deleted all of the comments, but I choose to leave them up as a continuing reminder to myself (and other participants) not to write angry or to go throwing rocks at hornets' nests. Nearly all of the hatchets regarding those exchanges were buried in the immediate wake of the incident, and I count several of those who criticized me there among my allies in the quest for enlightened baseball coverage despite our partisan leanings. Which is one of the things being lampooned in the strip, I realize, but nonetheless, I think we've all got better things to do than to dwell on that not-so-flattering snapshot, which showed nobody's best side.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


The Other Side of the Street

One of the recurring themes in the baseball blogosphere is the difference between what we bloggers do and what a traditional newspaper reporter does when it comes to covering a team. The key issue is access; we bloggers are unlikely to get a chance to ask a player, manager or executive for their perspective on a play, a game or a trade. While that might be seen as a minus by a good portion of baseball fans who really want to know just how Alex Rodriguez puts on his pants, how many games Derek Jeter is looking ahead, or how the Yanks would take to the addition of [insert ace pitcher here], the truth is that the lack of access is pretty liberating. We don't have to endure the banality of manufactured quotes, the pressures of deadlines and unreasonable editors, press box cuisine, the constricting style of a game report, or the possibilility of being frozen out for criticizing the team.

Furthermore, many of us have a thorough disdain for some of the reporters who do have that access because we suspect that it corrupts their viewpoints and prevents them from approaching things with the necessary objectivity. One can't write honestly about Derek Jeter's defensive shortcomings and the wealth of data on same, to use an example, because one can't afford to alienate Jeter, his teammates, or the mainstream readership who take his defensive excellence as gospel. Further, one can't show much imagination in the role of a reporter because of the inevitable need to keep the five W's in mind. Whereas here in the blogosphere we can ramble at length, on our own schedules, about any topic that feels worthy of exploration without worrying what Jeter -- or even the scribes who cover him -- has to say.

Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts has a compelling guest piece from L.A. Times reporter Bill Shaikin on the topic of blogging. Weisman, a former beat reporter himself, solicitied Shaikin's participation for his "Disposable Baseball Blogger" piece a few weeks back, and while the newspaperman couldn't meet his deadline, he's offered up some detailed and enlightened thoughts about the contrast and even synergy between the two types of writing:
The strength of baseball blogging, then, is that it expands a fan’s options beyond moaning about the newspaper coverage or calling a talk show and waiting on hold to deliver a 30-second opinion. Write your own analysis. Use the blessing of unlimited space. I might get four paragraphs to discuss which free-agent pitchers the Dodgers or Angels are pursuing, with room for nothing beyond names and stats, certainly not for the analysis that the best blogs provide.
Shaikin comes off as more openminded to and less threatened by what the blogs have to say than his peers do, and he acknowledges their value to him as a writer.
While some bloggers can be content providing links to various media stories and offering a few comments - and those blogs can be invaluable to baseball writers, myself included - others provide detailed analysis and debate.

Those blogs can be invaluable to baseball writers too. No one writer can think of everything, and if someone else spots a trend before I do, more power to them. The seed planted by a blog can lead a writer to use his access and ask questions of the appropriate parties. I agree with the Dodger Thoughts perspective that the blogs that stand out offer original reporting - not just a “take” and not necessarily comments from players, agents or general managers - but insight and commentary not found elsewhere. I also agree that the site of the late Doug Pappas represented blogs at their best - “baseball news you can’t get anywhere else,” to borrow the motto of Baseball America.

While many blogs tend to use sabermetric tools in analysis and commentary - and often make compelling points in doing so - the best bloggers understand that decisions are not made in a statistical vacuum. After the Dodgers-Marlins trade July 30, I read blogs in which DePodesta was crowned as the winner of the trade on the basis of VORP alone. But there are many other factors that even DePodesta would tell you he would consider - salaries in current and future seasons, eligibility for salary arbitration, minor league depth at various positions, the upcoming class of free agents, etc. that statistics alone do not tell the story.
Good stuff. I was pretty neutral on Shaikin before reading the piece; he's not one of the odious Dodger bashers at the Times like Bill Plaschke or T.J. Simers, but he's never particularly distinguished himself to me. Which is actually a positive; I can point to several Plaschke or Simers articles which have pissed me off, but I don't recall anything Shaikin's written provoking similar ire. Reading what he has to say in that piece, I think the chances are pretty good he's stopped by here before, so I'm going to make a point of trying to meet him at the Winter Meetings this coming weekend in Anaheim.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


The Giambi Debacle

We've all known that the road could lead to this juncture, yet we hoped it would not. So it's easy to be disappointed but hard to be surprised at the revelation via his leaked BALCO grand-jury testimony that Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi used illegal steroids. As I've defended him over the past year, it's been because I believe in the concept of due process, and that there's a big difference between even an ever-tightening noose of circumstantial evidence -- his call to testify, his decline over the past few years, his health troubles this past summer -- and a smoking gun. That distinction has been lost on too many so-called "journalists" who have written about Giambi in that timeframe; as blogger Derek Jacques wrote, he's been vulnerable to "a character assassination by any hack who'll step to the plate."

But now we have that smoking gun. And while it should matter more that the weapon in question was obtained by an illegal leak of sealed testimony, there's simply no way to stuff the genie back into its lamp at this juncture. Giambi's revelation may not be legally admissible, but it's enough to convict him both in the court of public opinion and, perhaps, in the corridors of baseball's power structure.

What I am most surprised about is the candor of Giambi's testimony relative to that of Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield, the two other high-profile ballplayers. While both Bonds and Shef denied knowing that what they were using were in fact illegal substances (with lesser or greater believability), Giambi has admitted that he had already knowingly used an injectible steroid by the time he crossed paths with Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, who supplied him with "the Clear" and "the Cream," the two previously undetectable substances at the center of the BALCO debacle. From the San Francisco Chronicle article reporting Giambi's testimony:
In his testimony, Giambi described how he had used syringes to inject human growth hormone into his stomach and testosterone into his buttocks. Giambi also said he had taken "undetectable" steroids known as "the clear" and "the cream" -- one a liquid administered by placing a few drops under the tongue, the other a testosterone-based balm rubbed onto the body.

The 33-year-old Yankee said Anderson had provided him with all of the drugs except for human growth hormone, which he said he had obtained at a Las Vegas gym. Anderson also provided him syringes, Giambi said.
At this point, I'm sad for Giambi rather than morally outraged, as he's simply the tip of a huge, huge iceberg, a convenient scapegoat at which MLB and the media can now point fingers with the full confidence of his culpability. As I read the news on Thursday morning, I fired off an email to a few friends. "Pass the Match-Lite," I wrote, "MLB can't touch him, but the dude is going to get fucking barbecued. In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, the hog is in the tunnel, the fat is in the fire."

My lack of outrage stems from the fact that while I don't condone the use of illegal performance enhancers, I'm uncomfortable with the potential violations of privacy involved with testing (violations which we've see are not merely hypothetical), and I view the MLB Players' Association's reluctance to endorse a testing policy before this year as simply a card that they haven't had to play. As I wrote back in March:
While I want to see the game I'm so passionate about come up with a sensible way to handle the problem, I see the failure to do already in the context of a labor-versus-management war that has waged continuously for the past 35 years. The owners have historically shown a strong aversion to bargaining in good faith and produced union-busting tactics such as collusion and replacement players, and they've offered up a general dishonesty about the game's financial state as well. None of this justifies the players' use of such substances, but the owners' actions haven't engendered the kind of trust necessary for the Major League Baseball Players Association to join the owners in constructing an effective and proactive means of combatting their usage either. While the players' conduct in this matter hasn't ben exemplary, their hands have yet to be forced, and the MLBPA didn't get to be the most powerful labor union in history by selling out its rank and file just to appease a casual fan's notion that everything was a chemical-free hunky dory.
So rather than outrage, my first thought as the news broke was simply, "void his contract." I spend a lot of time studying the Yankee payroll, and I've referred to Giambi's portion of it as an albatross whether or not he's able to regain some semblance of his former productivity. As the market has shifted dramatically and it's become increasingly clear that Giambi's body is breaking down, the contract (seven years, $120 million, signed in December 2001) looks worse and worse:
Age/Year  $(Base + S.B)   WARP3  MDMW

31/2002 8.0 + 3.0 10.9 0.98
32/2003 9.0 + 4.0 7.9 1.61
33/2004 10.0 + 4.0 1.1 13.36
34/2005 11.0 + 4.5
35/2006 18.0 + 1.0
36/2007 21.0 + 0.5
37/2008 21.0
38/2009 22.0/5.0 buyout
total 120.0 minimum
The dollar amounts are in millions, of course. S.B. is the signing bonus, broken down based on the info here. MDMW stands for "marginal dollars per marginal win," calculated as Giambi's salary minus the minimum divided by win above replacement level. In 2002, the Yanks paid just under a million dollars per win above replacement for Giambi. In 2003, that figure rose to over 60 percent to about 1.6 million per win, and in 2004, well, it's an ugly $13.4 mil per win. Over the three years, the Yanks have paid $1.86 million per win, already a high figure -- that's like paying $18.6 million for a player who's 10 wins above replacement, obscene dollars for a level that's All-Star but not MVP in productivity. That's a figure that's unlikely to improve; to beat that in 2005, Giambi would have to put up 8.7 WARP, which might be attainable if the lights are with him all the way, but it's up to 10 WARP for a 35-year-old G in 2006, and 11.4 WARP for a 36-year old in '07. Absent some magic potions -- the problem to begin with, of course -- that isn't going to happen, and so any above-the-board opportunity for the team to get out of this deal (as opposed to some Howard Spira-type dirt-digging) should be pursued.

Whether the Yanks can remove Giambi from their rolls completely or simply use their leverage to negotiate a buyout, any of the remaining $82 million they can free up is essentially house money. But doing so won't be easy for a number of reasons. As ESPN's Jayson Stark has pointed out, there are two clauses in the Uniform Player Contract which may apply here:
• The player must agree to keep himself in first-class physical condition and adhere to all training rules set by the club.

• The use or misuse of illegal or prescription drugs can be interpreted to mean the player is not keeping himself in first-class physical condition.
But one problem the Yankees will face in their quest to void the contract, a quest that's already underway, is that Giambi's admission has been leaked from sealed testimony under a guarantee of immunity and a promise of confidentiality; only if he's called to testify in a trial or if it's submitted as evidence in same is it supposed to be public knowledge, and there's no grounds for legal punishment. Baseball can't discipline him under its drug policy because he hasn't tested positive, though Commissioner Bud Selig could invoke his broad "best interests of baseball" powers. That would be a sure ticket to a showdown with the players' union, adding yet another ring to this already-growing circus.

For those reasons, the New York Times' Jack Curry suggests the buyout path may be more palatable:
A buyout could be attractive for the Yankees because it would sidestep the fact that Giambi's admission of illegal steroid use, contained in an article in The San Francisco Chronicle about Giambi's purported grand jury testimony in the Balco case, amounts to hearsay at this point and carries no legal heft.

On the other hand, any buyout plan would have to win the approval of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and that might not be possible, no matter what the terms.

... The union's approval of any Giambi buyout would be needed because it would represent a devaluation of an existing contract, as was the case with [Alex] Rodriguez [in the failed negotiations which would have sent him to Boston last winter]. And a devaluation cannot occur without the union's approval, regardless of the player's desire.

If the Yankees no longer wanted Giambi, the union would undoubtedly maintain that the club should simply release him and pay him the remainder of his contract. Giambi would then be free to sign with any team he wanted, with that team owing him only baseball's minimum salary.
Getting back to the UPC, the Yanks can pursue their case along the lines of what Curry is reporting:
For the moment, the Yankees are incensed with Giambi. A baseball official who was briefed on a meeting between the Yankees and the commissioner's office on Thursday said the Yankees felt Giambi misled the team's medical staff while he was being treated for an intestinal parasite and a pituitary tumor last season. The official said the Yankees told the commissioner's office that the team questioned Giambi about possible use of steroids and that he denied using them, which had an impact on the medical treatment he received.
In our little email coffee klatch, my brother (a frequent and intelligent contributor to the comments section of this site) pointed out the inherent contradiction of the Yanks pursuing some recourse against Giambi when they never attempted to discipline Sheffield. But the two cases aren't parallel for a number of reasons. First, there's a significant contrast to their culpability in their own testimony, and to their levels of admitted involvement in the use of illegal substances. Second, there is little to suggest that the time Sheffield missed in his lone season with the Yanks was due to that steroid use, though the man's spotty injury history over the course of his career certainly invites speculation as to whether his vulnerability to injury was chemically related. On the other hand, there are now well-connected dots regarding Giambi's time missed while under contract with the Yankees, especially with regards to his medical treatment last summer, hence the team's desire to terminate the deal.

Ugh. Enough of this distasteful subject for now. I'm ass-deep in three separate research projects at the moment, two for Baseball Prospectus (one is another Hall of Fame ballot rundown using the Jaffe WARP3 Scores -- JAWS -- while the other is... something very cool that I can't divulge yet), plus one for this site on the Yankee bullpen, and I've got to knock at least one of them down before I head off to Anaheim for the Winter Meetings. And don't even get me started on how much wedding-related stuff I have to get done before the holidays...


Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Remaking the Yankees for 2005, Part III: The Market for Southpaw Starters

If you missed them, here are Part I and Part II of this series, with the latter containing the big chart of starters on the market.

Looking back at the list of free-agent and trade-bait starters, one of the first thing that stands out is the dearth of lefties (indicated with asterisks, as is the custom) and the, er, craptacularity of the ones beyond Randy Johnson who seem to be on the Yankees' radar. Of those nine southpaws, only four have dERAs appreciably better than the league average ERA (4.30 in the NL, 4.63 in the AL): Johnson, Glendon Rusch (who reupped with the Cubs), David Wells, and Odalis Perez. The two vaunted Oakland lefties, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, straddle that AL league average, while Al Leiter, Eric Milton, and Shawn Estes are well above the NL average.

Johnson we've discussed previously. Boomer you know all about -- how his amazing control (5.05 K/W) and ability to work fast (to his fielders' delight) cover up for a subpar strikeout rate and a lack of conditioning. Even at 42 (which he'll turn in May), even with all of the headaches he brings, from reneging on handshake agreements to getting in brawls when he should be in bed, he's still not the worst idea out there. ESPN Insider reports that six teams, including the Padres, the Yankees, the Dodgers and the Phillies are all interested. At last report the Phils have improved what was originally a $5 million offer.

As I wrote in a Baseball Prospectus Triple Play, I'm surprised that the 27-year-old Perez isn't drawing more interest. Young lefty pitchers who have averaged 201 innings over the last three seasons at an ERA 12 percent better than the league average, and with decent peripherals to boot... well, there aren't many of them on the market. He's shown glimpses of brilliance for the Dodgers, and pitched well in some big games down the stretch as well. But it's likely that his postseason shellacking at the hands of the Cardinals knocked him down a peg. Furthermore, concerns about his shoulder -- a stint on the DL with rotator cuff inflammation (though he still made 31 starts), and enough workload-related issues that Will Carroll red-lighted him as an injury risk -- may keep him there.

In the context of the starter market, the two Oakland lefties look like little more than LAIMs -- League-Average Inning Munchers -- with unimpressive strikeout rates, mediocre control, and a vulnerability to the gopher ball. Both have track records that show better days on their resumes, but it's certainly fair to wonder if their heavy workloads have caught up with them, Oakland's vaunted reputation for "prehab" or no. Zito has averaged 222 innings a year over the past four seasons, and while his strikeout rate regained a bit of lost ground, his control is really nothing to write home about, and his homer rate spiked up about 50 percent higher than his career average. Ick. He's been getting by in part due to extremely low BABIP numbers (.245 in 2002, .239 in 2003), but luck and defense caught up with him this past year, and he now looks like a far cry from the carefree Cy Young Award winner of 2002. Pass.

Poring over Mulder's stats, it's more of the same except for the shiny W-L record. Falling K rate? Check. Decreased control? Big check (his K/W went from 3.2 to 1.69 last year). Rising homer rate? Check. Injury concerns? Mulder was a mess in the mechanics department and was lacking velocity as well. His ERA after the All-Star break was 6.13. That may not spell injury, but it certainly hurt the A's, and I wouldn't touch him in a deal right now.

The two lefties who have been linked with the Yanks in rumors are two lefties that have been linked with the Yanks before -- both were products of the team's development system but were traded away. Al Leiter came up to the Yanks in 1987 and spent parts of three seasons in pinstripes, showing some promise but ultimately serving as trade fodder like so many other Yankee farmhands of that era (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Sent to Toronto for Jesse Barfield, he soon underwent elbow surgery, and it wasn't until 1993 that he made a real dent in the majors. He was a teammate of Kevin Brown's and Gary Sheffield's on the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins, starting Game Seven of the World Series but geting a no-decision. During the team's post-championship fire sale, he was traded to the Mets in a deal which sent A.J. Burnett the other way.

After seven successful seasons in Shea Stadium -- where he averaged 30 starts a year and was under the adjusted league average in ERA each time -- he's become involved in a very public drama over the Mets declining his $10.2 million option. It's typical. The 39-year-old Leiter is intelligent and well-spoken -- he made a fine analyst in the postseason -- but his reputation for being a clubhouse lawyer and his media savvy make him one of those players whose situations always get played out in the papers. A poor man's Curt Schilling, perhaps.

If only he could pitch that well, he might be worth the gamble. Leiter put up a low ERA last year, but he averaged less than six innings per start, and along with a declining strikeout rate (from 7.6 in 2002 to 6.9 in '03 to 6.1 last year), he walked a ton of batters (5.03 per 9) and threw the most pitches per hitter (4.33) of any ERA qualifier. His low ERA would also appear to be a product of luck as well, as batters hit only .240 against him on balls in play. All in all, his peripherals scream that his chickens are rounding third and heading home to roost. At one point, the Yankees appeared convinced that Leiter was determined to return to Shea, and the Marlins reportedly put an offer on the table for $7 million a year. Now the Yanks are reportedly offering him a one-year deal between $5 and $6 million plus incentives. Pray he skips town.

If Leiter looks like a gamble, then Eric Milton looks torn from the Big Book of Bad Ideas. The team's first round draft pick in 1996, Milton was traded to the Twins in 1997 in the Chuck Knoblauch deal. Throughout his career, he's never really risen above the level of a LAIM; his career ERA+ is at 99, a tick below the adjusted league-average. His biggest problem is gophers; he allowed an astronomical 43 homers last year and 1.45 per nine innings over the course of his career. His strikeout rate is respectable -- it was actually the best of his career -- but he walks too many batters, and coupled with the long balls, that's a recipe for disaster.

Two weeks ago it appeared that the Yanks were headed for a deal with Milton in the range of two years at $6-7 million per. That urgency subsided long enough to offer some hope that reason would carry the day, but the wheels seem to be turning again even with the team's renewed interest in Leiter. Just because the Yanks scouted and drafted Milton is no reason they should be obsessed with him now. They made the right decision to trade him seven years ago, and those three championship and four pennants that Knoblauch helped them win should serve as a reminder no matter where the Lil' Bastard is these days.

The bottom line among these unmulleted lefties is that there isn't a single one who offers a whole lot of upside without a great deal of risk, all of which puts even more pressure on the front office to work out a trade for the Big Unit; right now the big sticking point is how much of Javy Vazquez's $34.5 million the Yanks would assume.

In any event, it appears we have three basic scenarios to fill out the Yankee rotation. In order of desirability:

1. Trade for Randy Johnson with a package that includes Vazquez: If the Yanks do this, their need to hook another big free-agent starter dissipates; they could get by with secondary signings. With Johnson and Mike Mussina at the top of the rotation, they can bring back Jon Lieber and Orlando Hernandez, perhaps take a flier on Odalis Perez (though they're more likely to wind up with Leiterfluid or Milton), and hold onto Kevin Brown until the market settles a bit. They'll have to sign Johnson to a one-year extension, which will likely not be the worst $17 million or so they spend in 2006 unless the wheels fall off. It will be another old rotation, and they'll still need to scare up an insurance starter once they jettison Brown.

2. Sign Pedro Martinez: While not as appealing as acquiring Johnson -- Martinez can't carry a team on his broad shoulders anymore -- this is probably a necessity if they can't swing a deal with Arizona. The bonus is that it would hurt the Red Sox, at least in the short term. To do this, the Yanks will need to go beyond the Mets' entry into the sweepstakes, a three-year, $38 million guarantee with a vesting option for a fourth year. Of course, they'll also need the Sox not to dramatically increase their offer, and for the two parties to decide not to go to arbitration. All of this is doable; in fact the Yanks are perfectly poised to swoop in should they desire, though they're certain to overpay for a pitcher whose long-term outlook isn't so hot.

With Martinez, Mussina, and Vazquez in the fold, the Yanks will need to find themselves a lefty, and again, I'll reiterate that David Wells is a far better choice than the two ex-farmhands. They could resign Lieber and Hernandez, figuring that they've got some insurance against balky backs and cranky shoudlers, or they could choose one of the two and save some money for the great Carlos Beltran chase while scaring up insurance elsewhere.

3. Scramble if they can't land their ace: If they can't get Johnson or Martinez, the Yanks will use smoke, mirrors, and cash to divert attention away from that fact. The danger in this scenario is that somewhere it becomes as much of a PR move as a baseball one; the Yanks have to come back and say, "See, we did get our man," and they're not going to impress anybody with the likes of a Jaret Wright or a Matt Clement as their shiny new toy. Call it a hidden cost of New York, that every move will get scrutinized to death by the dozens of wags who just love to pile on the Yanks. C'est la vie.

If it comes to this scenario, my money is on Carl Pavano. Though their strikeout rates tell the opposite story, Pavano is probably a better long-term bet than Wright from a makeup standpoint. The most recent Baseball Prospectus Triple Play had this to say about the two contrasting views of Pavano today:
[H]e is an excellent example of a player over whom scouts and statheads will clash, and his great 2004 will give the scouts more ammo. You might look at Pavano and see a guy who's been healthy and effective for a full year exactly once in his career, with a declining strikeout rate and a career year probably helped by a fluky low BABIP. I might look at Pavano and see a workhorse with the cojones for big-game success and some serious heat that he can bring again and again.

This writer will throw a dissenting voice into the mix and say that there is something to what the scouts see. Some pitchers are just late bloomers, and don't deserve to have their history held against them too strictly. Unfortunately, the attention being lavished upon Pavano right now all but guarantees that whichever team signs him will fall prey to the Winner's Curse.
Should the Yanks desire Pavano, they'll obviously have to outbid several teams to get him, including the Red Sox and the spend-happy Orioles. If they fail to net that particular fish, a late run at Brad Radke would make sense given that the Twins are scrambling to adjust their bid (3/$20) in the wake of the Mets' drastic overpaying for Kris Benson.

If they sign Pavano, they'll have Moose and Javy on board, of course. The lefty Wells would make the most sense in this context, as he's the only available southpaw who's anything close to a front-of-the-rotation type, and without a true ace, having one more of those wouldn't hurt. Again, they could do Lieber, Hernandez, or both here.

I should add that while I've put the decision on the Yanks' shoulders regarding Lieber in all three cases, he may choose to go elsewhere given the way they've handled his situation. Considering they've pencilled him in for about $6 million a year, not signing him gives them some money to play with, and they could plausibly net Wright with that kind of scratch. Failing that, there's a whole mess of options which could be cheaper and perhaps less desirable, but not entirely without merit.

For example, I haven't even broached the three available starters -- Cris Carpenter, Woody Williams, and Matt Morris -- who helped take the Cardinals to the World Series. Journeyman-turned-ace-turned-bystander Carpenter had a heck of a year before a biceps strain sidelined him for October; concerns that the injury could actually be similar to Brad Penny's -- a nerve irritation -- may cloud the issue. Williams has had an unheralded run in St. Louis, and though he's 38, he could probably provide something Lieberesque at the back of the rotation. Morris is only 29 but he's been on the decline for four straight years, and I wouldn't go there.

Anyway, expect the Johnson/Martinez dramas to hang over our heads for another couple of weeks, first past the December 7 arbitration deadline and then likely into the Winter Meetings of December 10-13. The Yanks may hedge by signing either Milton or Leiter before then, which is sure to leave us banging our heads in distress until the big news comes down.


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