Tuesday, December 1, 2009

R.I.P. Tommy Henrich

When a franchise boasts names such as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Ford, and Mantle, it is riddled with second bananas. Yankee history is fraught with very good to great players whose accomplishments have been overlooked thanks to the passage of time and the presence of teammates who are amongst the game's all-time greats.

Players like Paul O'Neill, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles, Roy White, Bobby Murcer, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, and Hank Bauer are still relatively familiar to Yankee fans, but what happens as time marches further from their careers and fewer fans actually remember their playing days? It's a theme we touched upon earlier this year as we looked some great, if somewhat forgotten, Yankees from the late 1930s and 1940s: Joe Gordon, Charlie Keller, and Tommy Henrich.

Thus, it somehow only seems fitting that Tommy Henrich passed away today of all days. After a playing career that saw Henrich perpetually overshadowed by more illustrious teammates, and a retirement that - at least in its later years - saw Henrich all but forgotten by the Yankees and most of their fans, Henrich passed away on one of the few days in the last three and a half weeks that offered legitimate baseball news. Henrich's passing was at least partially overshadowed by arbitration offers, or lack thereof.

Yet still, Henrich was remembered today: in statement from the commissioner, in posts throughout the Yankee blogosphere, and the baseball blogosphere at large. Perhaps he was better remembered than I thought.

It's been more than fifteen years since I read it, but Henrich's Five O'Clock Lightning was a personal favorite amongst the dozens and dozens of Yankee books I devoured around that time. Somewhere in my parents' house there is a video tape of a 12 year old me, as Tommy Henrich, being interviewed by my cousin as part of a seventh grade book report I did on Henrich's biography. I think I'm going to have to dig that up now.

We featured Henrich in late September in part because the death of Lonny Frey left Henrich as the oldest living Yankee. Henrich's passing leaves 92 year old Virgil Trucks, uncle of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks and great uncle of blog favorite Derek Trucks, as the oldest living Yankees.

Godspeed Old Reliable.

You'll Get Nothing And Like It

With a hat tip to RAB, Joel Sherman tweets that the Yankees have declined to offer arbitration to any of their free agents. While this makes perfect sense for unclassified free agents such as Hideki Matsui, Eric Hinske, Jerry Hairston Jr, and Jose Molina, not offering arbitration to Johnny Damon, Andy Pettitte, and Xavier Nady means that the Yankees will not receive draft pick compensation if any of them sign elsewhere.

I can understand the Yankees' thought process here, though as I stated previously, I think it was worth the risk to offer arbitration to Damon. That said, the Yankees had the market figured perfectly last year in declining offers to Pettitte, Bobby Abreu, and Jason Giambi.

Nothing is settled as a result of this. Pettitte will almost assuredly be in the Bronx if he chooses to play next year, and I still think that Damon and the Yankees make the most sense for each other. Nady is likely gone, but not offering him arbitration doesn't preclude him from coming back if that's what both parties want.

Damon now becomes a more attractive candidate to other teams, as they are free to sign him without surrendering a draft pick. This likely won't impact the Yankees at all, as their refusal to offer him arbitration indicates that they have a dollar amount in mind for Damon and they're not going to exceed that be it in arbitration or on the open market. What it does signal though is that if the Yankees are truly interested in bringing Damon back, they are apparently willing to offer at least an option year if not a guaranteed second year. It's highly unlikely that Damon will be accept a one year contract on the open market, and arbitration was the club's best bet to ensure keeping him for one year and one year only.

We'll be back in the morning with a run down of who amongst the Type A's was offered arbitration and how it might impact the Yankees free agent shopping.

Minor League Monday Tuesday: Reegie Corona

After a Cal Ripken Jr like run of one consecutive week, residual tryptophan levels in my bloodstream were so high that I was too comatose to get the Minor League Monday post ready in time for yesterday. Either that or I had actual work to do that got in the way.

One way or another, a day late and several dollars short, here's this week's look at a Yankee minor leaguer. After profiling recent 40 man roster addition Kevin Russo last week, this week we'll take a look another infielder recently added to the 40 man: Reegie Corona.

Corona is a 23 year old switch hitting second baseman/shortstop who has also seen minimal time at third base and in the outfield in his professional career. A native of Venezuela, the Yankees signed him at age 16 in 2003. He made his stateside debut the following year, seeing action in 36 games for the Yankees entry in the Gulf Coast Rookie League. He split 2005 between short season Staten Island and high-A Tampa, 2006 between low-A Charleston and Tampa, and 2007 between Tampa and AA Trenton.

After spending all of 2008 in AA, Corona was selected by the Seattle Mariners with the second pick of last year's Rule 5 Draft. Corona couldn't crack the M's 25 man roster though, and he was returned to the Yankees just prior to Opening Day. Assigned to AAA for the first time, Corona struggled miserably at the plate, batting just .200/.241/.300 in 177 PA. Shipped back to AA for the third time, the light hitting Corona turned in the best offensive performance of his career, posting a .287/.397/.397 line over his 368 AA PA. His performance earned him mid-season All-Star honors in the Eastern League.

Corona is currently playing winter ball for Los

Navegantes del Magallenes in his native Venezuela where he is building upon his new found offensive prowess by hitting .352/.477/.592 through 27 games.

Recent offensive surge aside, Corona is reputed for his glove work and his speed. He's demonstrated himself to be a slick fielder at second base and capable at shortstop. He's had three minor league seasons of 20+ stolen bases and has a career success rate of 80.3%.

As we mentioned when looking at the 40 man roster last week, the Yankees currently have a glut of middle infielders on their 40 man roster: Corona, Russo, Ramiro Pena, and Eduardo Nunez. That's about twice as many as they rightly need. Brian Cashman has made allusions to last year's 3 for 1 Nick Swisher trade, suggesting a similar deal could be in the works to open roster space. If so, it's likely the Yankees would try to make at least one of those four part of the deal. Pena and Russo have the best defensive and offensive reputations respectively and are the most Major League ready.

The stories being bandied about in the wake of the 40 man roster additions were that between the Trenton keystone combination Corona was the glove man and Nunez had the bat. That may well be true; I hadn't heard much detail about either prior to their being added to the 4o man. But 2009 was the first good offensive season posted by Nunez. Even with a superior offensive season in 2009, Nunez still posted a lower LD% than Corona, and Nunez' AVG and BABIP seem to be bolstered by an abnormally high GB%. For their careers, Corona's .262/.338/.342 isn't much different than Nunez' .271/.313/.366. Perhaps Nunez' .322/.349/.433 mark in 2009 is the start of a trend for him. But until that's proven, I think I'd prefer Corona's .076 IsoD and 9.88 BB%; plate discipline is not a skill that's easily learned.

For what it's worth, Corona and Ramiro Pena have spent about equal time at the different rungs of the Yankees' ladder and Pena's career minor league line of .255/.315/.320 is poorer than Corona across the board. Pena wasn't nearly as overmatched in the Bigs this year as initially feared, so perhaps there's some hope for Corona as a future utility man. Pena does have a leg up as a natural shortstop, but Corona's plate discipline and speed give him skills that Pena doesn't have. Corona is also 16 months younger.

If he's not traded, Corona is likely headed to Scranton, site of his early 2009 struggles. His 2009 line at Trenton has an equivalent of .270/.374/.369 at Scranton, which given his performance there early last year seems like a bit of a stretch. Perhaps his familiarity with AA his third time through helped with his performance in Trenton last year.

On the off chance Corona reaches the Bronx next year, CAIRO projects him at .246/.325/.335 with a .303 wOBA, CHONE has him at .248/.317/.342, and ZiPS has him at .250/.313/.347 with an OPS+ of 78 while providing very good defense at second and average defense at short. It's worth mentioning that all three projection systems have Corona being offensively superior to Pena and only CHONE shows Russo being offensively superior to Corona.

At the surface, Corona may be the least dazzling of the four utility infielders currently on the 40 man roster. Russo and Nunez are considered the offensively superior players, while Pena is both the incumbent utility guy and the resident defensive whiz. But looking below the surface a bit, Corona may actually have a future as a bench player. He's versatile with a good defensive reputation, has value on the basepaths, good plate discipline, projects to do as well or better as his more offensive counterparts, and may have experienced an offensive breakthrough last year. If the Yankees try to use another "3 for 1" type deal to clear space on the 40 man, they may look to sell high on one or two of the other infield options and give Corona a shot.

(Photos from Mike Ashomore's Thunder Thoughts and the Scranton Time-Tribune)

Let The Wild Rumpus Start

Good morning Fackers. Well, here we are, December 1st. The first month since March in which there won't be a Major League Baseball game played. While that's a depressing thought to ponder as Old Man Winter settles in, this morning at least we can take some solace in knowing that we're less than a day away from entering the next stage of the Hot Stove League.

Midnight tonight is the deadline for clubs to offer arbitration to their own free agents. The Yankees have three such decisions to make: on Type A free agent Johnny Damon and Type B free agents Andy Pettitte and Xavier Nady. Clubs forfeit draft pick compensation for players to whom they do not offer arbitration. Losing a Type B free agent yields a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds; losing a Type A pick yields a supplemental pick plus the top draft pick of the team that signs the free agent.

The top 16 picks of next year's draft are protected from compensation, so if one of those teams signs a Type A they forfeit their second round pick rather than their first. Teams signing multiple Type A's surrender multiple picks, as we saw with the Yankees losing their first, second, and third round picks last year for signing Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett respectively. In the event such a situation arises, the team that loses the player with the higher Elias ranking gets the higher pick from the signing team.

Two weeks ago we examined the issues surrounding offering arbitration to Johnny Damon. Andy Pettitte likely won't be offered but will almost assuredly be back if he elects to keep playing. If Xavier Nady is healthy he presenrs a good trade chip or an affordable and attractive OF/DH/bench option, but coming off his second Tommy John surgery that's a mighty big "if" for around $8M.

Yesterday MLBTR offered their arbitration predictions, forecasting that the Yankees would decline to offer arbitration to all three. Meanwhile, Dave Cameron at Fangraphs explained that teams have to weigh the arbitration offer not only against the fair market value of a player but also the probability that he'll accept and what the compensation picks would be worth to the club. While our post on Damon takes into account the value of the draft picks and the fair market value, The Yankee Universe brought up a salient point about the probability of accepting: Boras clients rarely accept arbitration as Boras is hellbent on taking them to market for a multiyear deal. It's unlikely that Damon, who wants a multiyear deal, will accept arbitration and forego his right to free agency. It may be well worth the risk to offer arbitration to Damon; we'll soon find out.

Either way, we're not very far off from business picking up in the Hot Stove League.

Sherman Takes His Act To The Big Stage

That's right folks, ol' Joel actually turned his incoherent blog post about A-Rod deserving the Sportsman of the Year award into a column for the Post. It's worded differently, and amazingly, it might make even less sense. He continues his character assassination of Tiger Woods despite any real evidence of wrongdoing and even asks "What's next for Jeter? An Oscar? An Emmy? The Nobel Peace Prize?"

This is a bullshit topic (which is why I'm burying this post at 7:00AM) but Sherman has re-invented his article so I'm re-tooling my takedown. Here are two points Sherman makes (among countless other ones I take issue with) that do a fair job of summing up his argument:
  • This feels like lifetime achievement.

  • And Rodriguez should win this award. He embodies where sports are now. He is the intersection of illegal performance enhancers, advancements in sports medicine, celebrity and on-field genius.
He takes issue with the notion that Jeter is winning it because of lifetime achievement but thinks that A-Rod should win it because he "embodies where sports are now". I fear he may be taking the word "Sportsman" a bit too literally.

The Sportsman of the Year award is a pretty arbitrary award given out for a certain mix of on and off-the-field achievements. There is no concrete mold into which the winner always fits, but I think it makes a whole lot more sense to give it to someone who has always represented a high level of class and character (not to mention success in competition) over someone who has been a notorious preening egomaniac in the year he was forced to admit that he did steroids.

Is that fact that he ceased to be a complete trainwreck remarkable in some ways? Yes. Does that make him deserving of any sort of award? Absolutely not.