"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: December 2008

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Happy New Year

Goodbye to ’08, Welcome to ’09…c’mon in, the water’s fine.

News of the Day – 12/31/08

Last post of 2008 …. let’s go out with a bang!

  • Bob Klapisch wonders where the slowly declining Derek Jeter will end up once his current contract expires, especially now that Teixeira’s signing precludes the Captain’s shift to first:

Even while hitting an even .300 last year, Jeter’s power numbers plummeted toward career-lows. He bounced into 24 double plays last year, tops on the Yankees, and tied for fourth in the American League.

It’s possible he is about to enter his decline phase, which is the crux of the Yankees’ dilemma.

Until they signed Teixeira, it was a given that Jeter would get another deal in 2011 and that, as he pushed closer to 40, would shift to another position. First base would’ve been the most logical choice, given his sure hands.

But Teixeira now blocks Jeter’s transition, as does Jorge Posada’s inevitable conversion from catcher to DH. A-Rod has nine more years at third base. The Yankees seem committed to resurrecting Robinson Cano at second. If Jeter goes anywhere, it would have to be center field after Johnny Damon has moved on.

The easiest way out, of course, is if Jeter’s production stalls altogether; if he were to shrink to .265 or lower in his last two seasons, the Yankees could conceivably take the public relations hit and let the captain’s contract expire.

But Jeter isn’t likely to atrophy like that. Even without gap power, the captain will likely range between .275-.300, which will be enough for the Steinbrenner family to rationalize keeping him around.

Don’t forget, Jeter is 465 hits (approximately three seasons) shy of 3,000 for his career. It’s impossible to think the Yankees would let him achieve that historic goal anywhere else.

[My take: I believe I’ve asked this question around here before, but would Jeter volunteer to move to a different position, or would the Yanks have to pry shortstop from his cold, pastadiving hands?  I often wondered if, during the Tino Martinez (aka good-fielding 1B) years, if Jeter would be able to handle second base.  If the Yanks DO decide to deal Cano in the next year or so, would Jeter slide over?”]

  • Over at LoHud, Pete Abe does some math, and thinks the Yanks are still short in terms of starting pitchers innings  (targeting a minimum of 950 IP):

Put down CC Sabathia for 225 innings. It’s unreasonable to expect more than that. Put down A.J. Burnett for 190. Given his history, it’s hard to expect more. Figure Wang for 200. Chamberlain will be limited to around 140 or so.

That’s 755. So where are those extra 200 innings coming from? Team officials have said they’re ready to draw the line on spending and that Andy Pettite missed his chance. But the rotation is no place to suddenly get a financial conscience.

In theory, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Alfredo Aceves could give you those 200 innings. But that assumes the other four starters stay healthy and do what is expected. That’s a big assumption.

The Yankees don’t just need a No. 5 starter. They need a No. 6 and No. 7 starter. Joba will need a break. You don’t want to abuse Sabathia. Burnett is Burnett. Wang is coming off a serious injury.

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Ain’t it Gran?

 

72grantorino

Clint Eastwood is a throwback in the best possible sense. He is a product of the old Hollywood and he works–a pro’s pro.  Like John Huston, he’s one of the rare directors who continue to make good movies late into their career. 

In his latest film, the winning and often subtle melodrama, Gran Torino, Eastwood pulls off a neat trick. He plays a variation of his Dirty Harry persona without lapsing into camp. He knows the audience is aware that they are looking at Eastwood the Icon, but like an old fashioned movies star (Spency Tracy or Bogart come to mind), he doesn’t let that trip him up. He’s able to play off his previous tough guy roles with a great deal of humor but without sacrificing the credibility of this character or the movie. He’s completely believable and authentic.

And I don’t think I’ve ever seen Eastwood ever look more physically relaxed as an actor. He moves with sure, unhurried confidence. I used to find his acting empty and hollow.  I never got the joke, or if I did, never really appreciated it. But now there is a complexity and warmth to his acting.  The grunts and mumbles are used to great effect.

Gran Torino isn’t as heavy or somber as Mystic River though it is often a sad, melancholy film.  But I think it is more satisfying.  Eastwood’s direction is fresh–I wouldn’t say playful exactly, but it is loose.   There is nothing stodgy about it.  In fact, there is a quiet joy about the filmmaking here. Almost everything is underplayed. There are a few missteps–some of the actors seem to be amateurs and they come up short in a few scattered scenes (though on the whole they are endearing), and Eastwood himself sings over the final credits, and sounds vaguely like Fozzie Bear–but they are minor.

I expected to enjoy Gran Torino but I wound up liking it even more than that. It’s not a big movie, but it is an fine entertainment, made with a sly sense of humor and an open heart.  This is Eastwood at the top of his game.

Penny For My Thoughts

I explore the similarities between the Yankee and Red Sox rotations in my new piece analyzing Boston’s deal with Brad Penny for SI.com. Check it out.

Yankee Panky: New York is a Baseball Town

Before we get into today’s topic, I would like to relay an update to the community on Todd Drew’s progress. His wife, who is keeping up his e-mails for him while he recovers from his surgery, said he’s in stable but serious condition, and has turned a corner. She added that he was “touched” by the response all of his “baseball blog friends” had to the “Baseball and Me” post on December 22. As of this writing, she hadn’t yet given Todd the news of the Mark Teixeira signing.

It may be a couple of weeks before he is online again, and contributing here.

On behalf of all of us here at the Banter, Mrs. Drew, if you’re reading this, Todd’s baseball blog friends hope the corner he’s turned allows him to coast into home without a play at the plate.

* * * * *

It’s winter in New York. The Giants are in prime position for their third Super Bowl trip to Tampa in 18 years, the Jets are the Jets, the Rangers and Devils are in another dogfight for metro area bragging rights and playoff position, and the Knicks, although they still have a long way to go, are at least more entertaining than they’ve been in years past. But even with all the other sports jockeying for backpage headlines, the main attraction is baseball. If there was ever a doubt about this, look no further than last week, with the acquisition of first baseman Mark Teixeira.

Leave it to the Yankees to lie in the weeds, swoop in and land another big free-agent fish. Since the inception of free agency, no team has played the game better, with more fervor, or worked the system to its favor, than the Yankees. This mindset, the relentless commitment to spend whatever it takes to get the necessary pieces to win, has defined the Yankees organization, even before Free Agency (remember the old joke that the Kansas City A’s were the Yankees’ Major League farm team)?

As a result, the Yankees make sports editors’ jobs very easy.

Tex’s migration to pinstripes brought unleashed the haters from all walks of the media landscape. (Again, credit goes to Diane Firstman for her link work here at the Banter, keeping us apprised of all the Yankeecentric goings-on in cyberspace. Diane, I hope your back doesn’t hurt from all the heavy lifting. Tip: Use the legs and hip flexors.) That was to be expected; the Yankees are arguably the most galvanizing organization in professional sports. The analysis through all walks of the Internet coverage, both for and against the signing, and the stories that relayed the ancillary effects of the signing, was excellent. Best of all, it was entertaining.

That’s not always the case. Events like the Teixeira signing tend to bring out a mixture of the best and worst in terms of reporting, fact-checking, story construction, and follow-up. Few stories fall into the mediocre gray area. In my opinion, the resultant coverage of CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett signings and press conferences elicited throwaway pieces (my own blog in this space included). There was little beyond the obvious.

With Teixeira, though, something clicked. The local beat crew and columnists, as well as the national group — FoxSports.com’s Dayn Perry in particular — brought their A games. The blogosphere has been especially prescient. Cliff Corcoran’s work on this site, particularly on the economics of the 2009 Yankee roster compared to 2008, has been spot-on. Baseball Prospectus stalwarts Joe Sheehan, followed Cliff’s lead. Steve Goldman has done his typical yeoman’s work at YESNetwork.com. Replacement Level’s straight-up numerical analysis on the recent signings and the effect Andy Pettitte would have on the ’09 rotation has been educational and necessary. Pete Abe got sabermetric in his disgust at the Yankees’ treatment of Chien-Ming Wang.

If all the scribes maintain this level, we are in for a tremendous year on the baseball writing.

What’s going on now is true information sharing. No longer is there an “eyes and ears of the fan” for the press. More often than not, the fans, or as I like to call us, the “outsiders,” are as educated, if not more so, than the people employed by the major media outlets holding BBWAA cards.

The only thing they have on us is access.

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News of the Day – 12/30/08

Powered by Pandora Internet Radio, here’s the news:

  • Add Astros’ owner Drayton McLane to those who see what the Yankees are doing, and then voices an interest in a salary cap:

“We would love to have a salary cap, but the (players’) union has been very resistant to that,” McLane said last week. …

“The Yankees are the Yankees and are always going to be in a
position that is unique to the game from the standpoint of the revenues and what they’re capable of doing,” Astros general manager Ed Wade said. …

“Our revenues jumped going into a new park (in 2000), but nowhere in the league of the Yankees,” McLane said. “They will certainly generate more revenue in their new stadium. We still have tough, tough economic times, and I hope they allot for that.” …

… the club is bracing to be hit hard as corporate sponsors rethink how to spend their advertising dollars in a troubled economy. The Astros lost one of their major sponsors earlier this year when Landmark Chevrolet went bankrupt.

“These are challenging times for banks and car dealerships,” McLane said. “None of us have knowledge of what the economy is going to do, and that’s a concern for everyone.”

  • SI.com’s Frank Deford rails against the Yankees spending, and will henceforth refer to them as the “Antoinettes”:

Now, let us give the devil its due. The Bronx Bombers play by the rules. They pay their luxury tax on time, without whining. One of their executives even says that the team’s fans view the Antoinettes as a “sacred trust,” and that part of the attendant liturgy is that the club will pour profits back into inventory —- even if it means bidding against itself.

But still, there is a point, whether the economy is boom or bust, when one team’s extravagance is so gross that it tarnishes the sense of competition. New York’s dominance a half-century ago severely diminished the whole American League. It was the Yankees and the seven dwarfs. The financial spectacle that the Antoinettes have put on display this off-season really does come close to trampling on the spirit of the game. In sport, the prime idea should be to root for our team —- not against the other fellows. The Antoinettes, by their excess, imperil that emotional equation and risk doing damage to the very thing they seek to dominate.

  • Also at SI.com, Ben Reiter has a brief analysis that seems to stress that even with the three major additions, the Yanks may not be as good as some people think.
  • ReelSportsFan.com offers this video clip of an interview with Andy Pettitte, conducted prior to the signings.

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Billy Beer

Billy and George:

 
Billy gets in another cheap gag:

Lasting Yankee Stadium Memory #63

By Mark Lamster

In the summer after my junior year at college I got a job working in the records department of HIP, the health insurance agency. In a basement office with no windows, I’d review double-entry ledgers for typographical errors, a tedious process I considered beneath my dignity. It was depressing work, my colleagues were unfriendly, and the most humiliating part of it was that I was just short of incompetent. I didn’t care, and it showed. Then I came home to a message from the New York Yankees. I was going to The Show.

As a budding sports journalist, I’d written to Yankees Magazine, offering my services as an intern. A spot had opened, and the next week I reported for duty at the Stadium, over-eager in khakis and a blazer. The office was in the dingy stadium basement: frayed carpet, no windows. My primary task was to proofread box scores and stat tables for the team’s minor league affiliates—these went in the back of the magazine. Not much of an improvement from HIP, and the climate was no better. The secretary spent her days endlessly defending the integrity of Milli Vanilli, recently revealed to be a fraud, while playing their hit record on a boombox.

This was 1990, and things were bleak for the Yanks. Bucky Dent had been cashiered in favor of Stump Merrill, but the team was still heading for 67 losses and a seventh-place finish. The magazine’s basement office, out of sight and out of mind, was actually a blessing. No one wanted to be upstairs, on the executive level. The Boss’s comings were unpredictable, and the staff lived in a perpetual state of fear for his arrival. It was said that he’d fire employees on a whim, and for no reason other than appearing in his siteline. The place was terrorized—joyless, somber, tense. I’d never experienced anything like it. In my entire time working there, I met one player, Luis Polonia, which tells you everything you need to know about those Yankees. The highlight of my tenure was an elevator ride with Bobby Murcer. He wore white pants and a green plaid jacket—a joyfully loud ensemble—and it a priority to greet every employee with his Oklahoma drawl. He was the anti-Boss.

There was actually one perk to the job. It came with a Yankee ID, and with that I had free entry to as many games as I could stand. I could sit just about anywhere as well; the good seats were rarely occupied, and with a flash of the badge I was clear to do as I pleased. I rarely sat in those good seats. I preferred the bleachers out in right field, where I’d been a regular for years, along with my closest high school friends.

The play on the field was grim, but the bleachers were always a party, and the reason was Melle Mel, the founding genius behind Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. These were the days before “Roll Call,” before the “Bleacher Creatures” became a self-professed institution. Mel was the unquestioned leader of the gang, and was usually accompanied by Busy Bee, a lesser light of the hip-hop stage. The two knew how to get a crowd working; the bleachers were just another club. They usually arrived in about the third inning, rarely sober, often stoned. (I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school here.) I remember them flying especially high one evening, and then returning home after the game to catch the last few minutes of Johnny Carson. On comes a PSA featuring Mel, “Don’t Do It.”

Mel’s signature was a dead-on impersonation of Stevie Wonder doing “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” which he’d sing waving his head to-and-fro while standing in the ass-contoured blue plastic seats that were removed about a decade ago, in favor of benches. (More fannies, more dollars.) Mel wore a ring with his name on it that stretched across his entire hand; it was a real danger during high fives. Whenever games got close in the late innings—this was known as “Toenail Time” for some inexplicable reason—he’d demand the entire bleachers stop drinking and pay full attention.

Mel gave the bleachers a bit of celebrity cache, but what really made his presence special was the sense he gave us that we were all—ghetto rappers, lunchpail types, old timers, Hispanics, even us privileged kids from Manhattan—a part of something uniquely New York, united in our devotion to the Yankees. He was a “star,” and had a magnetic charisma, but he was inclusive. One night Busy came in with copies of his new album, passed them out to the crowd, and invited everyone to his set that night at the Paladium. I wish we had gone, though I suspect we would never have made it past the velvet rope.

I spent years of my life out in those bleachers. My friends and I developed our own traditions. After the game we’d take the 4 train back to Eighty-sixth Street and, after a win, go for “victory donuts” at the shop on the corner of Lex. It wasn’t always so fun. In 1988, after Steinbrenner had picked a fight with Don Mattingly over his haircut, I found myself on the back page of Newsday, sitting below a group of regulars holding up letters that spelled “TRADE GEORGE.” We despised him, and though I’m no longer the despising kind, I can’t say I’ve forgotten or forgiven his many trespasses and disgraces. Eventually, of course, Steinbrenner did himself in, and for conspiring against Dave Winfield, always Mel’s favorite. And that was a new dawn for the Stadium, and the team.

By the mid nineties, my friends and I stopped visiting the bleachers with regularity. Schedules intruded, girlfriends, lives. When we did go to the ballpark, and we still went often, we opted for better seats. The bleachers changed. The “Creatures” had begun to consider themselves an attraction, justifiably. With that new fame came unpleasant questions about authenticity, who was a true regular. Mel stopped showing up.

We were still fans, still true, and we got our ultimate reward in 1996. My greatest memory of Yankee Stadium comes from that year, and it wasn’t even at the stadium. I watched the last game of the World Series that year with my future wife in her tiny studio apartment on Eighty-seventh Street and First Avenue. The joy of that game’s final moment, Charlie Hays clutching that last pop—the ultimate exaltation.

I had planned with my friends that, in the case of a win, we’d all meet up for one last victory donut. But somehow we found out that the Yanks would be holding their victory party that night at Cronies, a sports bar on Eighty-Seventh and Third, just a couple of avenues away. By the time we all met there the entire block was shut down and barricaded, fans were cheering and passing around champagne, and the players were arriving by limo—Derek, Tino, Jim Leyritz in a ten-gallon hat. For years, we had been trekking out to the Bronx to cheer on our team. Now, after the win we had all longed for, they came home to us.

Mark Lamster is author of Spalding’s World Tour and cofounder of YFSF.

News of the Day – 12/29/08

It was 65 degrees here in NYC yesterday … they should have been playing baseball!  Here’s the news:

  • Newsday’s Kat O’Brien has an overview of the changes made by the Yankees to this point in the off-season.  Of some interest is the supposed offer the Yanks had on the table to Teixeira:

The Angels pulled their offer for Teixeira Dec. 21. That left the Yankees, Red Sox, Nationals and Orioles, though most reports had Teixeira choosing between the Red Sox and Nationals as late as Dec. 23, when he came to terms with the Yankees. The Yankees, at least publicly, were a dark horse.

Boras disputed that yesterday, as well as Newsday’s timeline of the negotiations. He said the Yankees had an offer on the table all along, though team sources say that was not the case.

  • Anthony McCarron of the News takes a position-by-position look at the Yanks roster, last year versus the current one, and likes what he sees … a lot.
  • John Sickels on MinorLeagueBall.com gives his Top 20 Yankee Prospects for 2009.  Here’s his top five:

1) Jesus Montero, C, Grade B+: I believe in the bat. Where he fits with the glove I don’t know.

2) Austin Jackson, OF, Grade B: Should be a solid player but not a star. Will that be enough in New York?
3) Dellin Betances, RHP, Grade B-: Very high ceiling, has flashed dominance, can he stay healthy?
4) Austin Romine, C, Grade B-: More likely to stick behind the plate than Montero, though not as good a hitter.
5) Zach McAllister, RHP, Grade B-: A favorite of mine heading into 2008, looks like a strong inning-eater type.

  • Andy Martino of the News has a long article detailing concerns over the pressures on Joba Chamberlain:

The pitcher’s success at 23 has come despite a family background marred by addiction and separation, and in part because of a big heart and strong work ethic.

But now some of the people closest to Chamberlain are concerned that he is changing, that his troubles are catching up with him despite his success or emerging because of it. With a worrisome pitching shoulder and DUI suddenly on his resume, Chamberlain faces a personal and professional crossroads in 2009, a year that could determine whether his legacy will be more lightning in a bottle or sustained light.

“Joba is a great person and I love him, but now he’s ventured into something that’s not so good,” says Wally Gant, a family friend who spent long afternoons on his front porch engaged in heart-to-hearts with the teenage Joba. “I heard through the grapevine that he had been drinking more. (Success) has gotten to his head a little. If he does things like this, he won’t be able to stay in the major leagues.”

  • Marty Noble of MLB.com recaps the stellar career of David Cone, but admits it most likely won’t be enough to gain him entrance into the Hall:

Not the most accomplished pitcher of his time, Cone nonetheless developed a reputation for Bob Gibson resolve and the stamina of a marathoner that set him apart from most of those with totals greater than his. How his achievements, image as a Hessian and five World Series rings will resonate with those casting Hall of Fame ballots is yet to be determined. Cone is among 10 players new to the ballot this year. But he appears to be a candidate who will elicit support out of respect and not only for his statistical achievement.

Gaining the minimum support for election — inclusion on 75 percent of the ballots distributed to more than 575 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America — appears to be a long shot for Cone, particularly with a sure-fire candidate, Rickey Henderson, among the new 10 and three holdover candidates named on at least 60 percent of the ballots cast last year, Jim Rice (72.2 percent), Andre Dawson (65.9) and Bert Blyleven (61.0).

[My take: Here are his stats.  One can only wonder what kind of toll his arm took by having eight starts of 141 or more pitches during 1991 and 1992, including that famous 166-pitch outing in July 1992.  I think he’ll be named on 15% of ballots this year, creep up a bit over the next three or four years, then drift off the chart.]

  • Jaret Wright turns 33 today.  Wright managed to go a combined 16-12 in two seasons with the Yanks despite allowing 238 hits and 89 walks in only 204 IP.  The Yanks were nonetheless able to peddle Wright to the Orioles for Chris Britton.
  • Richie Sexson turns 34 today.  “Big Sexy” continued his impotent ways after the Yanks signed him in July of ’08.  K’ing 10 times in 28 ABs, he was released by late-August.
  • Dennis Werth, who had cups of coffee with the Yanks in ’79, ’80 and ’81, turns 56.
  • On this date in 1933, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert refuses to release Babe Ruth from his contract, thus preventing him from becoming the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Ruth will never receive a chance to manage a major league team.
  • On this date in 1977, Melissa Ludtke, female Sports Illustrated sports writer, files suit against MLB, the Yankees and New York City officials for denying her access to the locker room to interview players during the 1977 World Series.

Same Sad Song

This is an artistic re-creation of life as a Jets fan. charliebrownlucyfootball

Lucy is the Jets, Charlie Brown is a Jets fan.

Thud.  Is Lucy really worth hating (I vote, yes)?  Or is Charlie Brown just a schmuck?

That’s Rich

money_tree

It always cracks me up when I read columns about how buying championships, as the Yankees appear to do doing again this winter, is a losing cause. Sure, it doesn’t always work, we know that (and thank goodness, because it keeps things interesting). But facts are facts: since the start of free agency in 1977, no team has spent more money on players than the Yankees have; no team has won more pennants or more championships. So while no team can ever fool themselves that they can pre-arrange success (as George Steinbrenner was accused of believing in the Eighties), the Yankees aggresiveness in the free agency market hasn’t always back fired either.

Do you think they should bring Pettitte back? The word this past week is that it’s now unlikely that he’ll return. Would you rather go Hughes-Chamberlain or still have a veteran like Pettitte in there?

News of the Day – 12/27/08

Here’s hoping your holidays were filled with joy and baseball … and now, on to the news:

  • The Post’s Mike Puma gives us some more good reviews of Mark Teixeira:

“We all know with multiyear contracts the risk you take, but if you’re going to take one on a position player, he’s certainly one you strongly consider,” said former Yankees manager Buck Showalter, who managed Teixeira with Texas. “He’s going to stay healthy, he’s not going to embarrass you on or off the field. He’s a clean, solid citizen.” …

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say a bad word about him,” said Jason Basil, a former college teammate. “He came in to Georgia Tech highly touted, and when that happens you kind of expect the guy to have a little bit of an attitude, but it never happened. I think anybody who he ever played with considers him a friend to this day.”….

“His dad was a Navy pilot, and that kind of discipline rubs off on anybody,” said former Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez, who became friends with Teixeira two years ago during the World Baseball Classic. “Just look at Mark. He looks like he could have gone to the Naval Academy with the way he takes care of himself, the close-cropped hair.”…

“Mark can do so many things with the bat and he’s a Gold Glove first baseman, but his ability to fit in with any situation is really an asset for him,” Martinez said.

“He’s not going to let you in too deep,” Showalter said. “[Because of his time at] Georgia Tech [and] a military background with his dad, he understands the professional part and the business part of the game. He’s not led around on a nose ring by [Boras]. Mark knows there is a time for business and a time for baseball.”

  • At NPR.com, Stefan Fatsis talks about the immense cash flow of the Bombers, and how it allows them to make these types of signings.
  • Over at LoHud, Pete Abe discusses the seeming lack of love the Yanks have shown to their best pitcher of late, Chien-Ming Wang:

Dave Eiland referred to Chien-Ming Wang as the No. 3 starter in a story Pete Caldera did for The Record. Labeling starters is a fruitless exercise. But it’s further evidence of how little respect the Yankees give Wang.

The Yankees took Wang to arbitration last year to avoid paying him an extra $600,000. And now Eiland is dismissing him as a No. 3 starter. Memo to Eiland: Wang is 46-15 with a 3.74 ERA since the start of the 2006 season. Burnett is 38-26, 3.94. Wang’s career ERA+ is 117. Burnett is at 111. …

In time, people will figure out that Wang’s sinker makes him the exception to the idea that a great pitcher has to strike a bunch of guys out. If the Yankees don’t, another team will once he becomes a free agent.

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I Don’t Remember the Words but I Can Hum It

Here’s some classic TV theme songs from the Seventies for you:

Sanford and Son:

Barney Miller:

The Jeffersons:

Fat Albert:

And my favorite, Taxi:

From the Button Down Mind

The Classic Routine.

Observations From Cooperstown–Lineups, Ellis, and Dave Smith

We now know that Mark Teixeira will play first base and bat third (or possibly fourth) in the Yankees’ revamped lineup, but what effect will his addition have on the rest of the lineup’s configuration? The Yankees need to find a new role for Nick “Son of Steve” Swisher, who was originally targeted to play first after being acquired for Wilson Betemit. They also need to figure out roles for Xavier Nady and Hideki Matsui, while deciding who will play center field on a regular basis.

In the aftermath of the Teixeira signing, I’ve heard a number of observers suggest that the Yankees will put Swisher in center field, sandwiched between Johnny Damon in left and Nady in right. That alignment would maximize the Yankees’ offensive potential, but would also leave them with a below-average defensive center fielder, continuing an unsavory tradition that first began with Bernie Williams’ declining years.

Another potential solution would be to trade one of the following: Swisher, Nady, or Matsui, thereby alleviating the logjam in right field and DH. I’m not necessarily against that possibility, but only if the Yankees can acquire something of value for one of those players, specifically a center fielder or a backup catcher, or a useful pitcher. There should be no giveaways here; if the offers for Nady, Swisher, and Godzilla are subpar, keep them all. There’s nothing wrong with having one of these veterans on the bench each day. The Yankees have operated without a competent bench for far too long.

Here’s the alignment I’d prefer, one that would make defense and flexibility higher priorities. I’d put Swisher in right field, where he would platoon with Nady. I’d tell Nady to bring his infielder’s glove to spring training and be ready to put in work as a backup at both the hot corner and first base. Matsui would remain in the DH role, where he would give way to Jorge Posada on days in which the Yankees faced left-handers. And then I’d hand the center field reins over to Brett Gardner, who gives the Yankees the most range and speed of any of their outfielders. If Gardner, batting ninth, ends up a failure against major league pitching, then the Yankees can always try Melky Cabrera or Swisher later in the season.

Defense, flexibility, and the bench. Those should be the Yankees’ points of emphasis. Either directly or indirectly, Teixeira will help all three areas…

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Back In Black: Accounting for the 2009 Yankees

Here’s an update of the chart I posted two weeks ago comparing the Yankees’ 2008 payroll to their 2009 commitments:

Credits
Player 2008 cost 2009 cost Net
Jason Giambi 21 5 (buyout) 16
Bobby Abreu 16 - 16
Andy Pettitte 16 - 16
Mike Mussina 11 - 11
Carl Pavano 11 1.95 (buyout) 9.05
Ivan Rodriguez 4.3* - 4.3
Kyle Farnsworth 3.7* - 3.7
Total Credits 76.05
Debits
Mark Teixeira - 25 (25)
CC Sabathia - 23 (23)
A.J. Burnett - 16.5 (16.5)
Wilson Betemit/Nick Swisher 1.165 5.3 (4.135)
Alex Rodriguez 29 33 (4)
Robinson Cano 3 6 (3)
Damaso Marte 0.667* 3.75 (3.083)
Chien-Ming Wang 4 5 (1)
Total Debits (79.718)
Total Net (3.668)

all costs in millions of dollars; *estimated prorated portion of 2008 salary

As you can see, even after signing CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera, and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees’ commitments for 2009 are still within $4 million of their 2008 payroll. That number will increase. Coming off a career year, Xavier Nady will earn a few million more via arbitration (Brian Bruney and Melky Cabrera are also arb-eligible, but unlikely to get significant raises), and there’s still a chance that the Yankees will add payroll via a one-year deal for Andy Pettitte or an alternate fifth-starter or a veteran center fielder. There are also automatic incremental raises due to the team’s pre-arbitration players based on major league playing time. Even still, the net change in team payroll will be negligible relative to the massive dollar figures connected to those three new contracts.

It’s also worth noting that Burnett and Sabathia will earn the exact same amount in each year of their contracts (for Sabathia his 2009 earnings combine a $9 million signing bonus and a $14 million salary, but his salary in every other year of the contract is an even $23 million), while Mark Teixeira will actually earn less in the subsequent years of his contract as his 2009 earnings combine a $5 million signing bonus and a $20 million salary, but he’ll earn “just” $20 million in 2010 and $22.5 million in each subsequent year of his deal.

News of the Day – 12/25/08

How on Earth did they fit CC, A.J. and Tex all under the same tree?  Anyhow … here’s the news:

  • The Times‘ Ben Shpigel introduces us to Mark Teixeira, the man:

That is who the 28-year-old Teixeira is: polite, humble, private. It would be unlike him to open up and discuss influential moments in his life that have produced his strong work ethic, his quest for order and routine, and an ability to focus and compartmentalize that is admired by peers.

When he was 15, a freshman at Mount St. Joseph’s High School outside Baltimore, he learned that his mother, Margy, had breast cancer. Weak from chemotherapy, Margy, now cancer-free, still found a way to attend her son’s baseball games.

Before his senior year, he lost one of his closest friends, Nick Liberatore, when a truck driver fell asleep and slammed into a parked car that Liberatore was sitting in along a shoulder of Interstate 95. For the next year, every Wednesday night Teixeira and his friends would eat dinner with the Liberatore family, and he has since endowed a scholarship in his friend’s name. And in 2002, Teixeira’s father, a former Navy pilot, had a benign brain tumor that caused him to lose his hearing in his left ear.

“Whatever I’ve gone through, I think it’s all allowed me to enjoy the game, but to understand the role of the game in life, too,” Teixeira told The Dallas Morning News in 2005. “If you enjoy playing the game, it’s going to be easier to focus on the game and put things in their proper place. When you are between the lines, it is a game that should be enjoyed. When you are in the clubhouse or getting ready, it’s work. And when you go home, it should stay in the clubhouse.”

[My take: I think I'm gonna like this guy ... even if I dislike his agent.]

  • BP.com’s Will Carroll chimes in on the spending ways of the Yanks:

Yes, the Yankees spent a lot of money, but they didn’t suddenly spend money they didn’t have. They used money coming off the books and backloaded to work with money that’s coming off the books next year as well. I’m not defending them against charges that they’re “buying championships” but I would like to see some acknowledgement that the Yankees aren’t in some new era of spending. They’re just still spending, like they always have.

Add in some interesting ways of looking at the Marginal Revenue per Win calculations might make this make even more financial sense as the economy continues to turn down.

  • Still at BP.com, Joe Sheehan echoes Will’s sentiment, and adds some more:

… They’re leveraging not only the greater marginal revenue that can be generated by each win in New York City, but also their massive cash flow in an industry in which many, even most, teams are hoarding cash in an unsure economy. Other fans and other owners may complain, but the money is coming in; it can go into the team’s pockets, or it can be used to improve the baseball team. If the scale doesn’t work, change the scale—fix the revenue-sharing formulas to factor in market size and potential revenues, as Keith Woolner suggested forever ago—but don’t blame a team for trying to win. Ever. For all of the focus on the $420-odd million the Yankees have committed to three players, their 2009 payroll won’t be much more than the 2008 one … .

  • FOX Sports’ Dayn Perry takes a look at the new baseball landscape carved by the signings:

Sure, they’ve committed themselves to more than $400 million in guaranteed monies, but it’s been done in the service of winning the World Series. In strict on-the-field terms, the Teixeira signing was a necessary step. The consequences, though, will reach far beyond the diamond.  …

After the arbitration raises kick in and they make another addition or two (Pettitte? Mike Cameron?), their 2009 payroll still might not exceed their 2008 tab. That’s a point worth keeping in mind, even as righteous indignation is on the rise. Want something to be outraged about? There’s this: If the Yankees can fork over almost half-a-billion in player salaries in the span of a month, then it seems they should be able to pay for their own place of business without bilking taxpayers.

In other words, while the Yankees are benefitting from a system that badly needs additional revenue sharing, nothing much has changed from last off-season. If you’re among the legions of Yankee haters out there, you should draw hope from the fact that the Yankees are setting themselves up for a failure of unimaginable proportions. They’re probably going to return to the postseason in 2009. However, as recent history has taught us, that vaunted Yankee revenue stream can’t guarantee success in the postseason. It’s simply too random.

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Curtain Call

31_yankeesphotoop_lg

I was at the final game at Yankee Stadium and wrote a bonus piece for SI.com on what the night was like for Ray Negron:

It was just before one o’clock in the morning on Sept. 22, but the scoreboard clock was frozen at 12:21. The last game at Yankee Stadium was over, Sinatra had finally stopped singing New York, New York, and organist Ed Alstrom was playing Goodnight, Sweetheart. The home team had won 7-3 in a game that meant nothing in the standings but everything in a deeper, gut-felt way. The Yankees would not be going to the postseason for the first time since 1993, yet they had drawn 4.3 million fans, including another capacity-plus 54,640 on this night. And now, as the last of them drifted out of the ballpark, it felt like closing night for a hit Broadway show.

Now it was just the clean-up crew swinging into action and a select group of others clinging to the night — players and their families, reporters, radio and TV personalities, cameramen, front office workers, the grounds crew and cops, lots of cops. People hugged and slapped hands and talked and laughed. Players scooped up dirt and grass and put them in paper cups and Ziploc bags. Grown men had their pictures taken at home plate, on the mound and sliding into second. It was like Never-Never Land — everyone was a child. Why would anyone want to go home, knowing they were the last precious few to soak in the Stadium? They stayed, stuck between history and the wrecking ball, until the head of security announced that it was time to leave.

Ray Negron was out on the field, right where he belonged, with the players and sportswriters. Ray had seen them all — from DiMaggio and Mantle to Reggie and A-Rod. He was there when they came to play at the Stadium and he was still there when they left.

alg_negron

Christmas Came Early (Tex Marks The Spot)

What’s my take on the Yankees signing Mark Teixeira? Regular readers might already know:

Some samples from the above:

Teixeira was third among major league first basemen in VORP last year, behind only a pair of monster seasons by Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman. Pujols is the best player in baseball, an institution in St. Louis, and signed through 2011 (if you count the club option that is all but guaranteed to be picked up). He’s also the same age as Teixeira. Berkman will be 33 on Opening Day, and is also signed through 2011 (again counting a club option for the final year). Over the past four seasons, Teixeira has averaged 55.05 VORP per season. Last year the only other first baseman to surpass that mark was Kevin Youkilis, who is 11 months older than Teixeira.

Though the Yankees are flush with pitching prospects, outside of Montero, they don’t have any coming mashers in their system. Teixeira was fifth among all hitters in baseball in VORP last year. He’s also a superb defender, and won’t turn 29 until April. Prior to this past season, PECOTA projected that Teixeira would hit .284/.384/.502 in his age-34 season in 2014. Teixeira then beat his PECOTA projection for 2008. A seven year contract that would take Teixeira through age 35 would not be a bad investment.

The Yankee system is nearly barren when it comes to everyday player prospects. Center fielder Austin Jackson is the only notable hitting prospect in the organization to have played above the Sally League, and catcher Jesus Montero is the only prospect in the system who projects as an elite run producer at the plate. . . . Whenever an elite run producer becomes available while still in his 20s, the Yankees absolutely must prioritize that player in order to compensate for their failure to properly stock the farm system with bats. When such a player becomes available at a position of existing need at the major league level, as is the case with Mark Teixeira this offseason, the Yankees have an obligation to their fans and the future of the franchise to sign that player.

It’s quite possible that none of the young pitchers listed above will mature into the sort of dominant ace that CC Sabathia has become, but then again, one might. In fact, more than one might. There is, however, no chance of any player in the Yankee farm system maturing into an all-around defensive and offensive weapon on par with Mark Teixeira. If Brian Cashman is serious about the team-building process he began in the winter of 2005, if Hal Steinbrenner is serious about allowing Cashman to execute his vision, the Yankees must immediately revamp their plans to focus on signing Teixeira.

L – Johnny Damon (LF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S/R – Swisher/Nady (RF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)

Take Teixeira out of that lineup and it’s not a pretty picture given the 2008 performances of Posada, Matsui, Cano, and Gardner and the advancing age of Damon, Jeter, Posada, and Matsui. . . . Oh, and before I go, here’s one more lineup to consider:

L – Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
R – Dustin Pedroia (2B)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Kevin Youkilis (3B)
L – David Ortiz (DH)
R – Jason Bay (LF)
L – J.D. Drew (RF)
S – Jed Lowrie (SS)
Does it really matter? (C)

That can’t be allowed to happen.

The ideal solution to the Yankees’ production problems would be Mark Teixeira, a player who fits the Yankees’ needs about as perfectly as can be given his position, youth, and defensive reputation, the last of which stands in stark contrast to the Yankees 13th place finish in defensive efficiency among AL teams in 2008. With Sabathia off the market, Teixeira is now the belle of the free agent ball, and while it would be obscene for the Yankees to land both CC and Tex, modesty didn’t stop them from giving Burnett an obscene contract.

. . .

Still, even after the Burnett signing, chasing Teixeira is not out of the question for the Yankees. With big contracts including those of Giambi, Abreu, Pettitte, Pavano, and the retired Mike Mussina coming off the books, the Yankees still have, by my math, $23.5 left over from their 2008 payroll, which is very close to the average annual salary Teixeira’s is likely to make under his next contract, which is likely to resemble Sabathia’s and its $23 million annual average.

Would the Yankees dare hand out another nine-figure deal after spending $242.5 million on a pair of starting pitchers? Stay tuned.

The figure in that last sentence should say $243.5 million, but throw that out; it’s now $423.5 million, nearly half-a-billion dollars, for three players. That’s obscene, but Alex addressed my liberal guilt already, so I’ll not dwell on it. The reality of the situation is that, per the figures quoted above, the Yankees’ 2009 payroll is still roughly equivalent to their 2008 payroll, only the team has redirected the money they had been spending on aging players (including the declining and defensively challenged Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu, the 40-year-old Mike Mussina, and the comically fragile Carl Pavano) to a 29-year-old lefty who is arguably the best pitcher in the game, a 29-year-old switch-hitting, Gold Glove first baseman who is among the most productive hitters in the game, and, well, A.J. Burnett (can’t win ‘em all). So, really, the Yankees’ spending is no more obscene than it was before they handed out these three contracts, it’s just a lot smarter (well, at least 67% smarter).

I think it’s worth pointing out that, because Teixeira has switched leagues mid-season each of the last two years, his two best seasons have been somewhat obscured. He won the Gold Glove in his last two single-league seasons (2005 and 2006), and in his last two campaigns posted these lines:

2007: .306/.400/.563 (150 OPS+), 30 HR, 105 RBI, 53.1 VORP
2008: .308/.410/.552 (151 OPS+), 33 HR, 121 RBI, 67.7 VORP

In 2008, he also drew 97 walks against 93 strikeouts. Oh, and on his career he’s slugging exactly .541 against both left-handed and right-handed pitching.

Really, the only reason not to like the Teixeira deal is the length of the contract, but Tex will still be just 36 in the eighth and final year of the deal. By comparison, Jason Giambi was 37 last year and hit .247/.373/.502. Teixeira’s ex-teammate and fellow switch-hitter Chipper Jones was 36 last year and hit .364/.470/.574.  Here’s a quick look at the age-36 seasons of the top seven players listed as most similar to Teixeira at his current age 28 on Baseball-Reference:

  • Carlos Delgado: bounced back from a league-average age-35 season to hit .271/.353/.518. Never had an OPS+ below 129 from ages 28 to 34.
  • Kent Hrbek: retired after a poor age-34 season.
  • Fred McGriff: Production fell off after age 30, but stayed comfortably above average. Hit .277/.373/.452 at age 36.
  • Jim Thome: Save for a season lost to a broken hand, mashed every year through to his .275/.410/.563 performance at age 36.
  • Will Clark: Had just one OPS+ below 123 from age 30 to 36; went out with a flourish as he retired after a .319/.418/.546 performance at age 36.
  • Jeff Bagwell: First OPS+ below 135 came in age-35 season. Hit .266/.377/.465 at age 36.
  • Willie McCovey: Often on DL after age 32, but other than his age-34 season, was still mashing when healthy. Hit .253/.416/.506 in 344 at-bats at age 36.

I’d rate those as four positive indicators (Delgado, Thome, Clark, Bagwell), one negative (Hrbek), and two middling (McGriff with McCovey only because of the injuries).

As mentioned above, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA, which projects players’ future performance based on the careers of similar players throughout the history of the game, predicted prior to last season that Teixeira would stay healthy and productive through to a .284/.384/.502 performance at age-34 (the PECOTA Cards only show the ensuing seven years). Teixeira has since beaten his PECOTA projection for 2008.

You can never know what will happen in the future. All long-term contracts are risks, but it seems to me that Teixeira is among the best bets in baseball to still be healthy and productive eight years from now. As for 2009, he’s exactly the player the Yankees need. The only catch is that having landed both CC and Tex, they’ll have no excuses if they fail to win it all next year, but then, that’s the way they like it.

. . .

By the way, Alex shot me a note to let me know that Todd Drew had his surgery yesterday. All went smoothly and he is recovering nicely. The Yankees signing Teixeira is nice and all, but getting a good word on Todd was the best news of the day, and the real reason that Christmas came early here at the Banter.

News of the Day – 12/24/08

Powered by “A Charlie Brown Ad Agency“, here’s the news:

  • Unless you’ve been under a rock the past 24 hours, you already know this …. Mark Teixeira will be with the Yankees for the next eight years, at about $22.5M per year, with a full no-trade clause and no opt-out clause, as per ESPN.com, the Times, MLBTradeRumors, MLB.com, SI.com, YESNetwork (amongst many many many sites).
  • Here is MLBTradeRumors‘ collection of reactions to the signings (some of which I show down below).
  • Keith Law at ESPN.com applauds the deal from the Yanks’ perspective:

He’s probably the best defensive player relative to his position on the Yankees now, and could be one of only two or three who are above average depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out. He adds significant power to a lineup that had just two players slug over .500 this past year, and his .410 OBP in 2008 would have led the Yankees by 18 points.

Coupled with the loss of Jason Giambi, the signing of Teixeira means a net gain to the Yankees of four to five wins, considering both his bat and his defense. He also eliminates the need the Yankees had for a right-handed caddy for Giambi, since Teixeira is a true switch-hitter with power and patience from both sides of the plate. The Yanks still have to find a solution in center field, unless they decide to give Melky Cabrera the job again and live with the consequences if he continues to struggle. However, if they re-sign Andy Pettitte, they’re just about done.

  • Stephen A. Smith likes the signing too, but still thinks they need Manny.

This is about winning, folks! And I’m not talking about the stretch of seasons from 2001 to 2007 when the Yankees won a minimum of 94 games, before settling for 89 wins this past fall. I’m talking about the world championships those Red Sox captured this decade. The titles they would not have captured were it not for a few of those 274 homers Ramirez hit for them over the course of his eight seasons in Boston.

If Ramirez’s production after being traded to the Dodgers on July 31 — .396 batting average, 17 homers, 53 RBIs and .743 slugging percentage in 53 games — wasn’t enough, perhaps it’s worth paying attention to what the Yankees’ offensive output was this past season. …

Now, imagine if Ramirez and his .314 lifetime batting average were lumped into that lineup. Backing up Alex Rodriguez. Acting as a catalyst for Robinson Cano. And Hideki Matsui, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Imagine, for a moment, the run production. The fear it would instill.

[My take: He isn't signing with the Sox, Angels or Rays ... so that's just as good, right?  Smith should stick to wondering if LeBron will be the next guy taking a New York team's money.]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver