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Submit Your Nominations For Our Next Dead Horse

First off all, something interesting: last night many people (including me) were eager to jump on the Cliff-Lee-took-less-money story, embracing the idea that here was the rare athlete motivated by something different, and therefore in some way admirable. Well, beware of easy storylines. It now seems that Lee may not have taken much less money at all. Our old friend William argues, at his blog and The Yankee U, that when you include the Phillies’ vesting option for a sixth year, the difference is negligible; he gets into the details of things like tax rates and interest rates which I am wary of diving into myself, but it does at least seem clear that while Lee may have taken less money, it was not near the $50 million less that was being thrown around last night. (Of course, I would love to get paid in a year what Cliff Lee will make in an inning, so it’s pretty much all magic-fun-numbers anyway at this level).

None of this really changes my reaction, which could be summed up as “probably for the best down the road, and if you need me in 2011, I’ll be on the floor, curled into the fetus position around a bottle of Laphroaig.”

With the drama of days and days of fevered speculation behind us, what’s next? The Yankees are already beginning to move on, making the non-inspiring but likely harmless move of signing Russell Martin to a one-year deal. To me, this doesn’t say they’re necessarily planning to trade one of their catching prospects (though of course that’s a possibility), but rather that they really, really do not think Jorge Posada can catch much anymore. Will the catching situation be the new dead horse upon which we release our impatience and frustration?

I’m taking suggestions, but I would like to preemptively oppose further debate on the Joba-as-starter idea. Yes, it makes sense to me too… but apparently it doesn’t to the Yankees, and there’s no meat left on that bone. He remains, for now, the World’s Most Famous Mediocre Middle Reliever.

Also, anybody who so much as whispers a word rhyming with “Pavano” gets slapped with a fish, Python-style.

55 days ’til spring training…

Dizzying

Since the end of the 2009 World Series, the following star pitchers have become available via trade or free agency: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, John Lackey, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Dan Haren, and Cliff Lee.

Since the end of the 2009 World Series, the following second-tier pitchers have have become available via trade or free agency: Ted Lilly (twice), Shawn Marcum, Jake Westbrook (twice), Edwin Jackson (twice), Javier Vazquez (twice), John Garland (twice), Brett Myers, Carl Pavano (twice), and Hideki Kuroda.

Since the end of the 2009 World Series, the following other interesting pitchers have have become available via trade or free agency: Max Scherzer, Joe Saunders, JA Happ, Colby Lewis, and Jorge De La Rosa.

I’m sure the list is not complete and that there are legit quibbles about who is interesting and who is a star, but the points are macro. One should be comforting, the other should be troubling.

1) The Yanks will have shots at all sorts of pitchers if they stay on top of it. Guys who are obvious targets and guys we might never predict.

2) The Yanks knew their long-term rotation was in trouble ever since they gave up on Chamberlain and were forced to gamble on a three-man rotation to win the Series. And the only guy they were able to get on the above lists was Javy the Hated.

Actually, there’s one big mistake here. There is no way Joe Saunders can be considered “interesting.”

Puff, Puff, Pass

Part of being a Yankee fan–especially those of us who grew up during the Steinbrenner Era–means getting what you want come the off-season. But for every success story like Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage or CC Sabathia, there are even more busts–Davey Collins, Steve Kemp, Jack Clark, and Jose Contreras leap to mind. Still, reflexively, we expect the Yanks to get their man. This year, the Bombers wanted Cliff Lee in the worst way. They made him the biggest offer. And he turned them down.

Sometimes the best gift is the one you don’t get. I think Lee did the Yanks a favor. Brian Cashman and the Yankee brass might be furious at the moment, and certainly, there are a lot of Yankee fans who are vexed this morning, but there is no reason to panic. Seven years for Lee was insane. He would have turned into the Ryan O’Neal of great pitchers for that many years in this town–not built to last.

So kudos to the Phillies. And now Cashman has to get creative. Good. I’m curious to see what he comes up with. Just because we don’t have a splashy big name to keep us warm during the holidays doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do let alone it being the end of the world. Nothing is f***** here. We don’t need to be un-Dude. (And thank goodness George still isn’t running things because heads would roll and dumb moves would be made.)

Hey, think of it this way, at least now we’ll get to read columnists and bloggers and blog readers offere their genius solutions. Ready to revive the Joba-to-the-rotation spiel? (God no, please no! It might make all the sense in the world for Chamberlain to start but that’s a moot pernt becuase the Yanks seem hell bent on keeping him in the pen.)

Who knows what surprises are in store?

The Mystery Team, Victorious

Well, I did not see that coming.

So it appears that Cliff Lee is indeed going to Philly — and apparently for tens of millions less than the Yankees (and presumably, Rangers) offered.

I can’t say I’ve seen an athlete do that too often, so not that he’ll be going hungry or anything, but I have a lot of respect for his decision. Well, in a sense. Anyone who takes millions of dollars less than they could make in New York, to live in Philadelphia, is not someone I feel I understand very well. Really? (“…Her?”). They’ve got one hell of a rotation there now, and I suppose that was part of the appeal for him. Maybe the guy just really loves cheese steak? Ah well, to each their own.

Particularly if Andy Pettitte doesn’t come back (… COME BACK ANDY! How does $25 million sound?!), next year’s Yankee pitching staff is looking a little Mitrish. As much as many of us thought a seven-year deal would likely be a drag on the team by the fifth or sixth year, it sure would’ve looked pretty in 2011. Now Brian Cashman is going to have to scramble faster than he scrambled down the side of that Connecticut office building in an elf costume. But hey, as Jon DeRosa put it last night, “On the bright side, we are now primed for 2015. Do not mess with us in 2015.”

Feel free to panic, rationalize, or remain in denial, as you prefer, below.

Would You Believe?

I’d be shocked if Lee signs with the Yanks at this pernt–and I’m with Bruce Markusen in thinking they should just take their offer off the table–but if he goes back to the Phillies after all of this, well, that’d be pretty clever.

Know one dude who’d be happy:

[Photo Credit: the Morning Jog]

It’s Only a Day Away

The Cliff Lee Drama promises to unfold shortly–tomorrow they say–and I for one am fed-up with all this waiting. I hope he signs with Texas, stay the bad guy (and I think he’s lock to go back). Look, if he comes to the Yanks, I’ll bellyache about the contract, because it’s insane, but I’ll be pleased that he improves the team in the short term. If he passes, I’ll be relieved and eager to see what the Yanks do next.

That said, this waiting game isn’t endearing Lee to anyone. Not that he does–or should–care.

It’s raining in New York this morning. The Jets play the Dolphins in the late afternoon game out in Jersey. I wonder if football players wake up bummed when they hear raindrops or if it just doesn’t matter at all to them as they gnaw on a slab of raw meat.

In the meantime, check out this loving appreciation of Vic Ziegel and Maury Allen by Harvey Ararton in today’s New York Times.

Araton gets props over here.

In the meantime, the Knicks are on early this afternoon. Yes, the Knicks. Amare has been so much better than I ever expected. What a nice surprise. It’s been awhile…

UPDATE: The first half of the Knicks-Nuggest game today at the Garden is enough to turn fair-weather Knicks fans like me back on. 66-65 Knicks at the half, a shoot-out. Lots of fun. Nene vs. Amare has been spirited, Amare came close to getting his second tech and tossed in the second quarter. Refs gave the Knicks a hometown call. Nene’s thrown down three dunks, the last one, emphatically! over Amare.

Can’t remember the last time I was actually excited about watching the second half of a Knicks game…

UPDATE: Knicks win a good one…that’s their 8th win in a row, something they haven’t done in 16 years.

Celts and then the Heat come to the Garden this week. Nice.

[Photo Credit: N.Y. Daily News and Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images]

Waiting For Lefty

When I was in high school, Mike Nichols directed a celebrated version of Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot.” It featured Steve Martin, Robin Williams, F. Murray Abraham and Bill Irwin. It ran for a short time at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater and tickets were not sold to the public. A lottery was held for Lincoln Center subscribers and my former French teacher scored a pair. I applied the full-court press and she took me on the condition that read the original version of the play (Beckett was Irish but wrote Godot in French first).

I didn’t read it, and it wasn’t until a few years later, when I took a class on Beckett at Hunter college, that the play’s meaning made sense to me. Literally translated from French, the title is “While Waiting for Godot,” and to me that is what the play is all about–what we do while we wait.

This week, we haven’t talked much about food, movies, music or life in the city. We’ll be back at it come Monday. In the meantime, while we wait on Clifton Lee, here are a few links for your face:

Marky Mark’s new boxing movie could be worth the price of admission.

This Led Zep book sounds like fun, too.

Peep Savuer’s banquet of cook books.

Dig this blog about George Steinbrenner as a young man.

And how about this dude who just sold his first book, a baseball novel, for $650,000? Man, I’m sure looking forward to reading it.

(Yeah, and that’s Elia Kazan in Odet’s original version of “Waiting for Lefty” in the photograph above.)

November 14th, 2015

I turned 40 years old today. It was a very casual birthday party, with just my wife and sons, and only 150 of our most intimate household staff. We were going to attend Game 4 of the MEGA-SERIES at Yankee Stadium tonight, but honestly, after winning the first three games against the Mexico City Mets by a combined score of 48-3, we thought we’d enjoy the clincher from our cozy little mansion on Central Park West (as you know I bought the Museum of Natural History from the city during the bankruptcy saga of 2012).

As I reflect on the last five years, it’s hard to imagine things working out any better – and I can trace it all back to when the Yankees passed on Cliff Lee in the winter of 2010. Man, I was such a naïve moron in those days, 35 years dumb, wanting Cliff Lee to pitch for the Yankees at just about any cost. I thought it would be great.

Thankfully, the Yankees did not sign Lee, and instead decided to give the 150 million dollars earmarked for his salary back to Yankee fans in proportion to the amount of tickets purchased in 2010. I got a nice check for $351.26. I took that money, and, well, you know the rest. I now own most of New York City.

The Yankees struggled to compete in 2011. The Boston Red Sox had assembled a better team by spending freely and won the World Series. Little did they know, that would be the last title Boston would ever win. Because of the crippling costs of paying Carl Crawford, the Red Sox cut corners on maintenance of Fenway Park and it sank into the ground during the victory parade.

Having no readily available baseball facility, the Red Sox have been playing in Portland, Maine ever since. Now that Major League Baseball has adopted the relegation system, the “Snow Sox” have been toiling in the Minor Leagues since 2013. If only they had not signed such irresponsible deals in 2010! They would still be kings of New England, head of a nation. Now the players themselves have to clear the field of snow before games. Dustin Pedroia likes it though. He gets to drive the plow.

The other thing that happened in 2011 is that Bud Selig, in his final act before being eaten by jackals, pushed through some big changes to the structure of the baseball Postseason. Certain future World Series championships would be worth way more present ones. If you won the 2011 World Series, you only got one trophy and only were allowed one parade. If you won the 2015 World Series, now the MEGA-SERIES, it was worth five trophies and five parades. And if you won the 2050 World Series, the GOLDEN-SERIES, it was worth 100 trophies and parades and earned you bragging rights for the entire century.

Had the Yankees been saddled with Cliff Lee’s ridiculous contract they would have had no shot at the MEGA-SERIES. They also would not have been able invest on player development with such gusto. In 2011, Yankee scientists discovered the “baseball-gene” by studying the recently acquired tissues of the Alou, Boone and Brett families – another use of the so-called “Lee Moolah.” Thus the Yankees were the only team to develop baseball-primed embryos before President Palin banned science after her inauguration in January of 2013.

The Yankees transferred the embryos to their “incubation center” on the moon. These fertilized eggs will evolve into baseball gods in 2050, just in time for the GOLDEN-SERIES. I will be 75 in 2050 and I think I’ve set it up perfectly for Yankee fans – did I forget to mention I also own the team? Winning that 2050 GOLDEN-SERIES will make the intervening decades of mediocrity so worth it. I can’t wait to attend those 100 parades. You know, if I’m not dead.

Press on Like Lee

Cliff Lee has at least one seven-year deal on the table from the Yanks. Actually, he’s got a variety of proposed deals from both the Yankees and the Rangers. And he’s still thinking. To me, this means that he’s going to sign with the Rangers. Maybe later today, or over the weekend. The New York papers will be chock full of panic but our man Steven Goldman says not to worry:

Lee might help in the short term, but if the price is too high, they have other choices. Six months from now, Manny Banuelos could be ready to take his stuff up to the Bronx—again, just because the Yankees handled Hughes and Chamberlain like they’d never had a young pitcher before (in fairness, in many ways they hadn’t), not everyone has to advance by baby steps. There is a school of thought that says that once a pitcher reaches a certain level of proficiency in the minors, all a team achieves by keeping him down there is not greater learning, but a greater risk or arm injury as they roll pitches off his odometer.

…I don’t really want to hear about Lee anymore, because I don’t view Lee as the Ultimate Nullifier, the Encyclopedic Panacea. There are other things that need to happen as well, but we don’t hear about them, because all the eggs seem to be in this one left-handed basket. It may also be that because of these numbers—31, 37, 35, 30, 30, 39, 39, 34, and 41—I can’t get too excited by the addition of a 32, no matter how good. The only way the Yankees are going to continue to win consistently is with the addition of a 22, and a 23, and even the odd 27 if need be. Maybe Lee is the next Warren Spahn and he will pitch well into his 40s. I have no way of knowing if that is the case. What I do know is that there was only one Warren Spahn, and you could wait on the corner for a long time before you see another.

Stack Chedder: Is it Over Yet?

Cliff Lee is the object of the Yankees’ desire and Brian Cashman has not minced words in swooning over the star pitcher. Now that the Red Sox have signed Carl Crawford to a crazy deal the pressure is on for the Yanks to keep pace. I’ve gotten used to Lee as a nemesis and wonder if he’ll end up back with the Rangers or even the Angels though I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if he comes to the Bronx either.

The Yanks sound desperate to get him. The latest has them going to seven years. Is that knuts, a wild pitch, or just the price of doing business?

Speaking of wild pitch, dig this great marathon MC Serch and OC freestyle from the old Stretch Armstrong Show:

And if that’s not your speed, how about this:

Or, for those of you who speak Spanish:

Update: Chad Jennings with some Rule 5 fun.

Update: Over at Newsday, Ken Dawidoff breaks down Derek Jeter’s new contract.

Update: Joel Sherman has the details on several contract offers the Yanks have made to Cliff Lee.

Cliff Notes

Well, I keep trying to write a Cliff Lee post and the latest news keeps changing. Yesterday the reported rumor, which remains unconfirmed, was that two “mystery teams,” not the Yankees or Rangers, were willing to offer a seven year contract. This seems hard to swallow, however, since at that point the Yankees hadn’t even been given the chance to make an official offer. Today, we heard that New York may be plotting a six-year, $140-150 million offer, which sounds to me much more probable, but also like the outer edge of reasonableness. By now they may well have made it. And in his Winter Meetings press conference today, Joe Girardi called Lee “everything you want” and described him as “important” to the Yankees’ plans.

I wouldn’t be too upset if the Yanks miss out on Lee – as Cliff Corcoran and others have pointed out this offseason, there’s very good reason to be wary of signing a pitcher like Lee to a big, long term contract. It would help the Yankees next year but likely trip them up by 2015, if not sooner. And while I would love to watch Cliff Lee pitch every five days, because the man is an artist, I just don’t know that it will justify the long-term price.

Anyway, the absolute latest news is that Lee’s agent is leaving the winter meetings (with the cryptic words “We’re going somewhere.” Right. I hope he meant “we’re getting somewhere,” but that’s only slightly more illuminating). So nobody knows anything yet.

Wait — scratch that: bowing to their destiny, the Royals have signed Jeff Francoeur, just as you knew they would. Bring on the equally inevitable epic Posnanski post!

UPDATE: The Yankees did indeed make an offer today, widely reported as six years and in the neighborhood of $140 million. I’ll be curious to see if there really was any “mystery team” out there willing to go seven years.

Winter Meetings Day Three (Open Thread)

 

Some fans love to play armchair manager or, especially these days, armchair GM. I like to play armchair shrink, not because I have any training as a social worker or as a doctor but because in an era where athletes are over-exposed and yet distant and sheltered, I find it amusing. It floats my boat, being a yenta. And when you get right down to it, so much of sports coverage these days is about being a yenta. The truth of it is we don’t know anything about these guys. Derek Jeter, Jim Thome, name a “good guy.” I have no idea what they are really like and I don’t know that I’d trust any writer–especially a writer–who claimed to know otherwise.

Some of my baseball pals don’t want to know anything about the players. Just keep it to the playing field. The more they know, the harder it would be to root. But it has always been complicated to separate the artist from his or her work. What do you think of when you watch Charlie Chaplin? Or Woody Allen? Can you watch a Roman Polanski movie and not think about the man behind the camera? What about Elia Kazan? My wife won’t watch any movie with Mel Gibson anymore. Can you watch Alex Rodriguez and still enjoy him? Can you enjoy sports and art without being a moralist? I can, but sometimes it is easier than others.

So I enjoyed the show of emotion from Derek Jeter yesterday and had fun reading into it. Helps keep me warm as the weather gets colder.

Today is the third day of the winter meetings. Still nothing doing on Cliff Lee though the tweets and posts keep a coming.

We’ll keep ya posted…

Update: Yanks getting ready to show Cliff Lee their money-maker?

Here’s Chad Jennings on Carl Crawford.

Winter Meetings Day Two (Open Thread)

 

There was a press conference in Boston yesterday to introduce Adrian Gonzalez as the newest member of the Red Sox. 

“I’m very excited that everything was able to be worked out,” Gonzalez said, “and I’m very excited to be here in Boston, and ready to beat the Yanks.”

That was cute, trying to fit in on the first day. It just about sums up the difference between the Yankees and the Sox. You’ll never hear a star player in New York mention the Red Sox in his debut press conference (okay, maybe Johnny Damon did, but that’s different). Gonzalez is a load as a player and I’m sure he’ll cause some real agita next year. But this was cute.

All eyes remain on Cliff Lee. He’s been such a good nemesis for the Yanks the past few years now I’m starting to feel that he’s going to foil them again, leaving us with uncertain thoughts about A.J. Burnett to keep us warm this winter. If the Yanks lose out on Lee and Andy Pettitte retires, we’ll have something to chew on, won’t we?

Update: The Nats are hungry to be Money Boss Players.

Update: Cause for celebration: Jay Jaffe has been elected to the BBWAA.

I went to the winter meetings once, back in 2003. I shared a room with Jay who was the first blogger I ever met (lunch at Christine’s polish diner on 1st Avenue, February, 2003). I am thrilled by this news. Few are more deserving than Jay. Raise a glass with me!

Update: Nah, it’s not the Nats who supposedly have a 7 year offer out there for Lee. But it is someone, according to Jon Heyman.

Case You Missed It

Larry Rothschild was named as the Yankees new pitching coach.  Ben Kabak has the details. And for more on Rothschild, check out It’s About the Money, Stupid.

Former Yankee Jim Lerityz was acquited–Steve Lombardi’s got the links.

Yeah, there was some more posturing on the Jeter negotiations–from Jeter’s side–but nothing worth noting. And in the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo reports, “Word is the Yankees are in the $115 million-$120 million range for five years, while the Rangers are determined to match whatever it gets up to. The Nationals are another team aggressive in this hunt.”

Hope most of you have a short work week as the big boid looms on Thursday. We’ll be here.

Hot Stove Wish List

Dear Hal, Hank, Brian, Santa, Hannukah Harry, and the mighty Baseball Gods…

These days, it’s a little hard for me to separate what I want to see as someone who wants the Yankees to do well from what I want to see as someone who wants to write entertainingly about the Yankees. So, for example, the fan in me is happy that Hank Steinbrenner has learned to keep quiet and allow his saner and more politic brother to speak for the family; the blogger in me misses Hank Steinbrenner. (I have a similar dilemma with the Mets right now: I don’t think Wally Backman would be the right choice as manager for them but, dammit, he would make for some great material). As a result my Yankees Winter Wish List is a little bit muddled. I have not been particularly good this year, but here’s what I want anyway, starting with the completely obvious and heading, as always, for the ridiculous:

1. Cliff Lee… Kind Of

I don’t know when exactly I went from gung-ho to ambivalent on signing Cliff Lee. I love watching the guy pitch, totally fell for him during last year’s World Series, when I didn’t even mind that much that he beat the Yankees because his Steve McQueen-cool demeanor and perfect control was just so great to watch. But I also keep reading articles by smart people urging the Yankees to leave him alone, and those articles have started to make sense to me. Besides which, I’m just so sick of the Yankees-buying-everyone-in-sight storyline and would hate to see it flare up yet again, although of course the Yankees themselves should absolutely not take that into account when they make their choice.
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2. Leave the Yankee Outfield Intact
Not only are Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson all varying degrees of endearing (depending on your tolerance for goofiness and “grit,” although I challenge you to find ANYONE who doesn’t like Curtis Granderson), they’re all getting reasonable salaries, below market prices. Granderson scuffled for the first chunk of last season and Swisher struggled with injuries, but I think they both have a solid chance of rebounding this year, and Brett Gardner continues to give good production for a guy who gets paid using the spare change found in Hank Steinbrenner’s couch. As many superstars as the Yanks have, they still need to have some (relatively) affordable yet still  productive pieces, and on top of that these guys are a lot of fun to watch. Nothing against Carl Crawford, but I don’t think the Yankees need him nearly as much as they need other things (pitchingpitchingpitchingpitchingpitching).
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3. Trade Joba
Oh, Joba. The Yankees have fumbled this one, and now instead of a young phenom they have The World’s Most Famous Mediocre Middle Reliever. Joba might yet turn out to be very good - he’s still young, still has impressive stuff – but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen for him here, and I’d rather see him get the chance to start again, anywhere,  than keep rotting in the belly of the pen. If you love something, set it free.
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4. Likable But Non-Useful Free Agents Land On Their Feet, But Not With the Yankees
Melky Cabrera, Orlando Hudson, Little Nicky Punto. What do they have in common? They’re likeable and enthusiastic players, I wish them the best, and of course I do not want to see them anywhere near the Yankees. (Though I do think  Hudson could still help someone, and would love for the Mets to dump Luis Castillo and pick up the O-Dog instead).
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5. The Yankees Relax Their Ban On Unkempt Facial Hair
Baseball players will do terrible, terrible things to their personal appearance, if you leave them to their own devices. And I would feel for the Yankees’ wives and girlfriends, but the simple fact is that we, the fans, are currently missing out on an endless amount of amusement at the players’ expense. Who’s Boone Loogan now? Just a pretty decent, average-looking middle reliever. Wouldn’t it be more entertaining if he still looked like this?:
If you haven’t already run screaming from the room, I will now rest my case.
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6. Jeff Francoeur to the Royals.
It could happen. Just too perfect.
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7. Carl Pavano Signs With The Red Sox For Big Money
This, on the other hand, will absolutely never happen. But wouldn’t it be fun?

Walking Around Cliff Lee

Why hello there, fellow Yankee fans. I’ve read here and there that a lot of you are not that keen on signing Cliff Lee to an expensive, long-term contract. Let’s walk together around the Banter for a short, longish while. Go ahead and bring those heavy reservations and burdensome doubts with you along the way, but also feel free to drop them by the side of the trail as we go. By the end, maybe you’ll have shed all that unnecessary weight currently resting upon your shoulders.

Before we start, let me make sure I understand the full extent of your objections. One possible reason to shun an expensive long-term contract is a strong doubt about the quality of the player. Another would be a strong doubt about the health of the player. The final reason to object to signing an expensive long-term contract is the opportunity cost, both in terms of the payroll and the roster flexibility, of committing dollars and years to the player.

Is that it? Are there other worries I haven’t addressed? No? Well, if you think of any on the way, please let me know.

OK, let’s begin our walk getting comfortable with the quality of the player in question. Cliff Lee is one of the best pitchers in baseball by any measure – I think that’s a point of agreement. He has succeeded in both leagues and a variety of home parks. He has performed as exquisitely while toiling in last place as he has in pitching two different teams to the World Series. He has twice toed the rubber in Yankee Stadium, in October, against our hostile crowds, and twice been virtually untouchable.

In the three years since 2008, he has accumulated 20.9 fWAR and 16.6 bWAR. His fWAR total is behind only Roy Halladay (21.4 fWAR) and his bWAR is behind only Halladay (20.4 bWAR) and CC Sabathia (16.8 bWAR). He’s been better than Felix Hernandez. He’s been better than Tim Lincecum. Think of any pitcher not named Halladay, and Lee has been better.

The doubts nagging you, I gather, are not ones of current quality, because the statistics are breathtaking and as Yankee fans, we’ve experienced his devastating dominance first-hand. The doubts are about the sustainability of this level of performance into the future. After all, he pitched several years before 2008 and was a very different pitcher – an obviously inferior pitcher to what he is today. And he will undoubtedly lose some velocity between now and the end of whatever contract he signs. Will he regress to his old form? Will he fall somewhere inbetween?

(more…)

Crawford, Werth, Fit for Pinstripes?

CARL CRAWFORD JAYSON WERTH
Age: 29 Age: 31
Position: LF Position: RF
Height: 6-2 Height: 6-5
Weight: 215 Weight: 220
Bats/Throws: L/L Bats/Throws: R/R
MLB Service: 1,235 games MLB Service: 775 games
BA/OBP/SLG: .296/.337/.444 BA/OBP/SLG: .272/.367/.481

The Yankees were in  Arkansas yesterday visiting Cliff Lee, but that doesn’t mean they’re blind to other free agents who could help the ball club. As recently as a week ago, it was reported in numerous outlets that the Yankees were not planning to pursue corner outfielders Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth.

Enter the latest developments: we know that per Jon Heyman at SI.com, that the Yankees have called Crawford, who is reportedly the Angels’ top target. Torii Hunter has already begun stumping for the speedy left fielder. “We need Carl Crawford,” Hunter told the LA Times. “Put it like that.” In that same article, Hunter predicted the finalists in the Crawford Sweepstakes would be the Angels and Red Sox.

To date, the Yankees have not contacted Scott Boras regarding Werth. That’s not to say they aren’t interested, however, according to Frank Russo at NYBD.

“It would be foolish to count the Yankees out on a bat after their stealth singing of Mark Teixeira two years ago,” Russo writes.

Discussions regarding all three players should heat up during the GM Meetings next Wednesday and Thursday in Orlando. If no progress is made by then, there is always the Winter Meetings, which start December 6.

With all that in mind, if the Yankees end up demonstrating interest in both Crawford and Werth, and ultimately land one of them, which one should it be? Who is the better fit for the pinstripes? I e-mailed some members of our network of trusted bloggers and newspaper scribes to get their thoughts. With the exception of Jay Jaffe, whose commentary was excerpted from a recent post at Pinstriped Bible, their e-mail responses are listed below.

Sincere thanks to the respondents for participating.

Anthony McCarron — NY Daily News:

Crawford might be a better player, but Werth would be a better fit only because the Yanks can probably get him on a shorter contract. If the speculation is right and Crawford will get $100 million, that’s just too much money and probably too long a contract for a guy whose best skill, speed, likely will be regressing in the twilight years of the deal. He’s not worth $100 million to a team that already has a dynamite speed guy in (Brett) Gardner.

As for Werth, if the Yanks got him on Jason Bay’s deal or even a little more (4 years, $66 million, with a $14 million option for 2014), I think he’d be a good buy. But only if the Yanks are convinced he’d be happy in New York.

Jonah Keri, uber-writer:

Crawford is the better player – better D, better stealing/running, younger and more likely to age well over the next 5+ years.

Fit isn’t all that important when one player is clearly better than another.

Jay Jaffe, in the aforementioned post at the Pinstriped Bible, warns of luxury tax implications steeper than paying $200 or 10 percent of your assets:

While it might seem natural to link the Yankees to just about any player with a big sticker price — it’s what those players’ agents lie awake every summer night dreaming of, not to mention an obvious talking point for any pundit — they’re simply not fits for the combination of the Yankees’ current needs and budget. And while the Yankees spend far more than any other team on payroll, they most certainly do have a budget. …

… Hal Steinbrenner’s stated desire is to keep the Yankee payroll at “the same level” as recent years. Loosely translated, that means an opening day payroll somewhere just north of $200 million. The Yankees have been above that mark four times in the past six years. They’ve been above $205 million in three of those years, including 2010 ($206.3 million). But they’ve never been above $210 million, topping out at $209.1 million in 2008. Similarly, while they’ve shown a willingness to add payroll in-season via trades, their year-end payrolls — which tally the incentive bonuses, buyouts and other benefits they actually paid over the course of the season, as well as the base salaries — have never topped $225 million. We don’t have those figures for 2010 yet; the commissioner’s office generally releases those figures right around Christmas time, but from 2007 through 2009 they ranged from $218 to $222 million, again a very narrow band.

Accounting for the salaries coming off the books and the raises due the remaining players via contract clauses and arbitration, my calculations quickly took the Yankees to $159 million committed to 19 roster spots, which would appear to leave not much more than $50 million available to re-sign Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and whomever they go after on the free agent market — not only Cliff Lee, their number one target, but also any significant bench players to fill the slots vacated by Marcus Thames and Austin Kearns, to say nothing of the sizable hole in the bullpen left by Kerry Wood’s departure. Considering that Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte made nearly $50 million alone in 2010, it’s apparent that the Yankees can’t simply pile another $20-25 million on without heading for a $230 million opening day payroll and a $250 million year-end tally. Remember too that for every extra $1 million the Yankees add to the pile above a certain threshold — $170 million in 2010, $178 million in 2011 — they pay a 40 percent luxury tax.

Another vote for “neither,” from Ben Kabak of River Ave. Blues:

Don’t see it from a money or marginal win upgrade perspective. Depends on returns, but I highly doubt either end up in pinstripes.

The ever astute and cerebral Larry Koestler, of Yankeeist, throws a bone to the Werewolf:

If the Yankees were to look into acquiring one of the two, they’d likely have to move one of their current outfielders first. Each of Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher — the latter two of whom put up career years, while the former didn’t quite meet some lofty pre-season expectations — have been mentioned in various circles as potential trade bait, but given that each is (relatively) affordable and produced at a 3.0-plus fWAR level in 2010, it’s difficult to make a serious case that any of them should be traded.

On the surface Crawford might seem like the more appealing option, given that he’s two years younger than Werth, fast and a great fielder, but if it were up to me I think I’d probably pursue Werth, who theoretically should command a slightly lesser deal in both years and overall dollars and is going to provide more bang for your buck.

Crawford had a career year in 2010, posting a .378 wOBA along with an eye-popping 6.9 fWAR for a season worth $27.4 million according to Fangraphs. However, Werth wasn’t exactly a slouch himself, with a .397 wOBA (good for 5th-best in the National League) and 5.0 fWAR, worth $20 million.

For 2011 Bill James has Crawford projected for a fairly significant regression, with a triple slash of .300/.350/.453, and a .357 wOBA. Those are solid if unspectacular numbers, and probably not worth the $20M/year Crawford is likely looking for.

Bill James has Werth projected to a .275/.375/.493 and .380 wOBA line in 2011. No Yankee outfielder put up a wOBA that high in 2010, and the highest wOBA the trio is projected to produce per James is Nick Swisher’s .362.

Crawford’s clearly superior to Werth (and almost everyone in baseball) defensively, but given the various shortcomings of the assorted advanced defensive metrics we have at our disposal, I’m not sure how wide the gulf truly is. Anecdotally I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard anyone say Werth was a particularly lousy defender, so I wouldn’t get too caught up on defense.

So while I’m sure there’s a case to be made for locking Crawford up long-term, my preference for a hitter boasting patience and power — two of the rare baseball skills that can improve with age, unlike speed — makes Werth the easy choice.

My former colleague, MLB.com’s Jon Lane:

I love both players, but based on statistics, my “eye test” and overall feel, Carl Crawford is both the better player and fit for the Yankees.

Werth obviously has the edge in power numbers, has blossomed into a star the past two years and would fit nicely in the middle of anyone’s batting order, but that’s where it ends. Crawford is two years younger and gives you a good bat with speed that bolsters his offensive numbers, and the better range in the outfield. Crawford is a four-time MLB leader in steals and triples. The Yankees aren’t getting younger and there still tends to be such an over-reliance on power, which could explain their frequent undoing with runners in scoring position. As much as I like Brett Gardner, Crawford’s gotten it done in all categories in a longer time frame and will continue to get it done.

Another thing to factor in is if the Yankees will actually bite the bullet and move Derek Jeter down in the order. Crawford hitting in the No. 2 spot would go a long way in solving that problem.

As far as Crawford’s defense, he’s been in the top three in putouts from left field every season since 2005. Ditto his range factor since 2003. In the same category he leads all active players and is sixth all-time (Source: Baseball-Reference.com).

I’d take an outfield of Crawford, Granderson/Gardner and Gardner/Swisher/Crawford any day. Both players can play multiple positions, but like Joe Girardi I’m more comfortable moving Gardner around the outfield on given days.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s 2 for Crawford, 1 for Werth, and two for “none of the above.”

What’s your take?

Yankee Panky: Off the Cliff

We know the following as it pertains to the Yankees in the 72-plus hours since the World Series ended:

* Signing Derek Jeter is the top priority, and the general consensus is that the tennis match being played between Yankees management and Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, is a cover. Jeter will be a Yankee and will get a new contract, it’s just a matter of how long and for how much.

* Mariano Rivera is a free agent also. Like Jeter and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees’ exclusive window to negotiate with Rivera ends Sunday. Like Jeter, it’s hard to imagine Rivera, who it can be argued is an even more iconic figure of the recent-vintage Yankees, in a different set of laundry.

* Cliff Lee is on the market.

A few months ago, many members of the media who cover the Yankees, as well as Yankee fans — I’d include myself in this camp — would say Lee coming to New York was a given. Now, it’s not as certain.

Rob Abruzzese over at Bronx Baseball Daily referenced Joel Sherman’s recent column in the New York Post, where Sherman noted that the Yankees aren’t treating the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes with the same level of aggressiveness — others might say desperation — with which they recruited CC Sabathia two years ago. Sherman cites Lee’s age (32) as being a key differentiator in the Yankees’ thought process. Abruzzese notes that the Yankees, still just one season removed from their last title, aren’t in a position where they feel like they have to have Lee. Lee certainly doesn’t have to have the Yankees. He’s proven that.

Since this is the Hot Stove topic, let’s get to it: Should the Yankees sign Cliff Lee, given the cash they’re going to be spending on Jeter, Rivera, and possibly Andy Pettitte? Three weeks ago, I’d have said, “Yes” in a blink. Now, I’m not sure.

Some other things to consider:

* Lee has been to the World Series two straight seasons with two different teams. He’s been with four teams over the past two seasons. In addition to a monster paycheck, he’s probably looking for some stability. This is likely the last chance he has to sign a huge deal. Being three hours away from his home in Benton, Arkansas, the pull of home and the quality of life improvements are tough to compete with. Do the Yankees want to go there?

* Too many years, too much money. Even at 5 years and $125 million, as some have suggested, that contract will extend him through Age 37. Putting a pitcher on the hook for that long is a huge risk.

* Does winning in New York mean more to Lee than winning in Texas or Philadelphia or San Francisco? We say it does because we’re from New York, have an inflated opinion of ourselves, and with that, a tendency to overdramatize the successes of our sports teams. This debate raged for a year-and-a-half with LeBron James. “He’d be a legend if he won here.” Mark Messier was referenced; how he had won five Stanley Cups in Edmonton but cemented his legacy with the Rangers. Conversely, A-Rod did what many others before him did; came to the Yankees to get his title. I get the sense that Lee doesn’t care, and that he’d be happier beating the Yankees than being a Yankee and winning here.

* On Mike and Mike earlier this week, Buster Olney had an interesting comment about the prospect of the Yankees signing Lee, and more specifically, why it wouldn’t be a good fit. To paraphrase, Olney said Lee did not enjoy answering too many questions from the media, even in a postseason setting, leading to questions about his facility and willingness to deal with the scrutiny of the New York media corps that will light him up if he loses a couple of games to the Rays or Red Sox. We might not be looking at Randy Johnson or Jeff Weaver-caliber surliness, Clemens-level denial or Burnett-ish confusion, more like a miffed, frustrated, impatient “I wanna go home” tone.

* Tuesday, per ESPNDallas.com, Lee said, “There’s a lot to build on,” referring to his stint with the Rangers. “We did a lot of firsts for this organization. We were the second-best team in the big leagues. We should be proud of that. We’re going to use this for motivation and come in next year and try to do better.” Tim McMahon, the article’s author, made a point to mention that Lee’s use of the word “we” shouldn’t be mistaken as a commitment to return to the Rangers, but can give a hint to where he’s leaning. Add that Rangers GM Jon Daniels plans on increasing payroll in a clear effort to go after Lee, and the Rangers may make this decision easy for him.

* Check out Lee’s Baseball Reference profile. The most similar pitcher to him through Age 31 is Mark Mulder. Quick tangent: when Billy Beane broke up the Big Three in Oakland, I thought Mulder was the best of that group and thought he’d be dynamite on the Yankees. Injuries derailed Mulder’s career, and not signing him was a wise move for the Yankees. Mulder is now out of baseball, a near scratch golfer and won two majors on the Golf Channel Amateur Tour this year. Lee has proven more durable than “Agent” Mulder, however.

* The Yankees do not have a pitching coach. Externally, that suggests volatility at the core of the coaching staff. (Never mind the fact that the Yankees’ club policy is to sign all their coaches to one-year deals.) If I was Lee, I’d be observing the current landscape and weighing that into my decision.

Is Cliff Lee a must for the Yankees to win next year? The local media, like the Yankees’ front office, have zeroed in on Lee as the focal point outside the organization to their 2011 success. Given the variables listed above, what do you think? Why do you believe the Yankees shouldn’t sign him? (I ask that question because the other one is obvious.)

Put on your thinking caps and hit me up in comments.

Home, Home on the @#&$*%(#!

AP photo of Cliff Lee in the 8th inning

So, I’d say my pre-series prediction of “Yankees 3, Rangers 3, Cliff Lee ascends to a higher inter-dimensional plane midway through the fourth inning of Game 7″ is looking pretty good.

Tonight’s game ended up a 8-0 drubbing, but it was a tight pitchers’ duel most of the way through. Only it didn’t really feel like a pitchers’ duel, because Andy Pettitte was merely excellent, whereas Cliff Lee was, as a friend of mine has put it, the T-1000.

Allow me to sum up the Yankee offense for you:

  • In the 4th, Mark Teixeira walked.
  • In the 5th, Jorge Posada singled (it’s kind of embarrassing how relieved I was, at this point, that New York would at least not get no-hit).
  • In the 6th, Brett Gardner singled and stole second.

That didn’t take long, did it?

Andy Pettitte was very, very good himself: seven innings and just two runs, which you’d sign up for any time. Those two runs came in the first inning, on an almost-accidental Josh Hamilton home run — he stuck his bat out awkwardly, the ball flew off it and into the stands, which is the kind of thing that only happens when your arms look like Josh Hamiltons’ — but given the Cliff Lee situation, that was enough. Pettitte was followed by Kerry Wood, who pitched a drama-free eighth, and since two runs ain’t much for the Yankees, I still held out hope going into the ninth.

At which point: Josh Hamilton doubled off Boone Logan; Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz singled off David Robertson, making it 3-0; after David Murphy was intentionally walked, Bengie Molina and Mitch Moreland joined the party with singles of their own off of Robertson; Elvis Andrus of all people decided to shake things up by, instead, doubling off of Robertson. Sergio Mitre (!) came in and put out the fire, but seeing as how it was 8-0 at that point, the building had already burned down.

So the Yanks are down 2-1 in the series, which is hardly insurmountable, but they do kinda need a win tomorrow – and A.J. Burnett is the one who’ll be asked to provide it, or at least facilitate it. Joe Girardi has said all week, when asked if he isn’t tempted to just pitch C.C. Sabathia on three days’ rest instead: “I believe in A.J.” Well. I believe in him too… in the sense that I am certain he exists, and indeed is a pitcher with the New York Yankees. Whether he can pitch more than four innings while giving up less than five runs is another question entirely.

Cliff Lee… I don’t know whether to shiver in terror or drool. I’d do both at once but I’ve been told it’s not attractive.

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