Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Roster Taking Shape

With the return of Jamie Hoffmann to the Dodgers on Monday, the waiving of Chad Gaudin today, and the now daily reassignments to minor league camp, the Yankees Opening Day roster is easily predictable at this point. Barring any injuries or an unexpected trade, these are the guys we can expect to see on the third baseline in Boston on Easter night.
Starting Rotation (5)
CC Sabathia
A.J. Burnett
Andy Pettitte
Javier Vazquez
Winner of The Most Important Fifth Starter Competition in History

Bullpen (7)
Mariano Rivera
Chan Ho Park
David Robertson
Damaso Marte
Alfredo Aceves
Sergio Mitre
Runner-Up of The Most Important Fifth Starter Competition in History

Catchers (2)
Jorge Posada
Francisco Cervelli

Infielders (6)
Mark Teixeira
Robinson Cano
Derek Jeter
Alex Rodriguez
Nick Johnson
Ramiro Pena

Outfielders (5)
Nick Swisher
Curtis Granderson
Brett Gardner
Randy Winn
Marcus Thames
Ostensibly, Pena and Kevin Russo are still competing for the utility infielder spot, but I don't see Russo being able to usurp the incumbent. Outfielders Jon Weber, Greg Golson, and David Winfree are still in Big League camp, but none seem to fit the profile of what the team is looking for from the final outfield spot: Weber is left handed, Golson is speed/defense guy with a poor bat, and Winfree has no Major League experience and less than 500 PA above AA.

I don't suppose Mitre is guaranteed a job, and Mark Melancon and Jonathan Albaladejo are still around, but the club appears to be impressed with Mitre's strong spring, he has a track record with Joe Girardi, and his presence as the long man will allow the club to use Alfredo Aceves in more critical relief roles. I'd rather see Gaudin than Mitre in the long man role, but I am curious to see how Mitre's sinker plays out of the pen.

Gaudin Waived

According to Ed Price of Fanhouse, Chad Gaudin was placed on waivers last night. Price further tweets that the waivers are outright waivers, making them irrevocable and meaning the Yankees cannot pull Gaudin back if another team claims him.

This leaves Gaudin with a few potential fates: he gets claimed by another team who assumes the entirety of his $2.95M salary; he clears and the Yankees outright him to the minors, remaining responsible for his contract; if Gaudin, has been outrighted before, he has the option to refuse the assignment and forfeit all but 25% of his contract; or he clears and the Yankees release him outright, owing him 25% of his contract.

Gaudin is a capable pitcher, so I'm assuming someone will claim him. FanGraphs' fan projections for 2010 have Gaudin at 0.8 WAR, which would be worth $3.6M on the open market. He's averaged 1.5 WAR over the last three seasons, good for approximately $6.75M on the open market. By those standards, he's a worthwhile pitcher at $2.95M.

Much like yesterday's return of Jamie Hoffmann, I'm a little bit surprised and somewhat disappointed by this move. Gaudin was essentially competing with Sergio Mitre for the longman/sixth or seventh starter position on the roster. While Mitre has been the better pitcher this spring, Gaudin is younger, has the better track record, has been effective in the AL in the past, and has shown himself to be serviceable both out of the pen and at the back of the rotation. Every available projection system predicts Gaudin as the better pitcher this year. Perhaps their salaries figured into this decision; or perhaps this move is a precursor to a rumored trade to secure Hoffmann's rights.

The recent transactions with Hoffmann and Gaudin leave the Yankees with two open spots on their 40 man roster.

Posnanski Ponders Prospect Promotion

As consumers of sports writing, we are extremely lucky to be living during the Joe Posnanski era. At no other point during the history of athletic journalism has there been A) a professional sports writer willing to write thousands of words on top of their weekly quotas simply for the enjoyment of it and B) a way for the public to access those words for free. It's not just the volume at which he produces content, but Poz's posts are overflowing with interesting nuggets. To wit, here's a tangent that he went off on while talking about the Nationals' plan to start Stephen Strasburg in the minor leagues this year.
On the other hand — well, I haven’t thought out the following too deeply. But I do sometimes wonder if “not rushing top prospects” is kind of safe, conventional thinking, the same sort of safe, conventional thinking that causes football coaches to punt on fourth down and short. In other words, I sometimes wonder if people don’t rush great prospects like Strasburg because it SOUNDS safer rather than because it IS safer.


I do sometimes wonder if one way to think out of the box is to really push prospects, especially advanced prospects, much faster than teams are doing it now. Sure, every GM and scout around can tell you horror story after horror story about players who came up too soon and were ruined because of it. But we don’t really know if those players would have succeeded had they been treated more carefully … maybe they were just lacking the talent or the work ethic or whatever. We can't really know.
In between those two paragraphs, Posnanski gives the example of Bob Feller who, although he was thrust into the Majors at 17 years old and walked more than 6 batters per 9 innings during his first three seasons, eventually figured it out and went on to have a great career.

The transition from the minor leagues into the Majors is one of the more delicate dances performed in sports, in both directions. So the sayings go, you don't want to bring a guy up "before he's ready" and you don't want to send a guy down when he has "nothing left to prove". Of course, the decisions are clouded with enormous amounts of luck. We've seen marginal players burst onto the scene and future Hall of Famers stumble out of the gate (there are some managers mixed in to that list, but you get the idea).

Look at Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli, neither of whom had played above AA before getting called up to the Yankees. Neither of them hit the cover off the ball with the MLB team, but they made representative efforts at the plate (Pena actually improved on his minor league numbers) and shined defensively. These are just anecdotal examples with small sample sizes, but it goes to show that calling up a player "too early" isn't necessarily destined to fail.

In other sports and at other times in life, we are told that we benefit from increased competition. Perhaps we are put on a project at our job that pushes the boundaries of what we thought we were capable of and do some of our best work on it. Personally, I tend to play better golf when I'm paired with three other guys who shoot in the 70's than when I'm out with a few of my buddies who only break 100 on a good day. Does your performance on the basketball court improve when facing better competition? Again, not perfect examples, but just some things to consider.

The problem is that there are no alternative universes in which we can test these theories. You either go with Plan A or Plan B and get judged by the results. You don't have multiple Joba Chamberlains, one of which you could have kept in AAA to work on his starting repertoire in 2007 and 2008 and the other you could have brought up to the Major League bullpen to help the team in '07.

No team wants to squander a top prospect by doing something that is perceived as risky like rushing him to the Majors. Oh, they'll risk putting him on the wrong path by doing something seemingly conservative like stashing him in the minors for too long, but that's a whole different story.

I think this line of decision making has become de rigueur in sports. Whether it truly makes sense or not, PR plays a large role in many of the decisions that a franchise makes. It's one thing to be wrong when your decisions agree with conventional wisdom, it's an entirely different beast to roll snake eyes when you are bucking the established trends.

The example Posnanski uses about punting on 4th and short is a great one. Coaches are willing to be slightly wrong all of the time instead of being really wrong once in a while and getting lambasted like Bill Belichick did when he went for it on 4th and 2 and failed.

As decision making in sports becomes more and more grounded in logic and analysis, teams have to look to get an edge by finding the places that conventional wisdom might not be correct. Or places that it's generally correct but can be unnecessarily cautious at times in the name of saving face.

Maybe Sky Kalkman's unconventional line up really is better than the usual ones we are used to seeing, but if Joe Girardi trots it out for the first week of the season and the Yanks score three runs a game, he's going to be tarred and feathered by the media. If that happens with a typical batting order, (most sane) people would just chalk it up to bad luck. It would be kind of stupid for Girardi to stick his neck out that far simply on a self-preservation level.

Sure, there are plenty of factors that might keep a great prospect in the minors, like the cost of starting their arbitration clock and finding the right place for them on the team, but I agree with Poz's hunch that teams might be wasting some quality production in the minors by being too conservative with the timing of their call ups. Maybe that seemingly premature call up is a springboard to a better career. Perhaps it ends in failure, frustration and a demotion back to AAA. But there's only one way to find out.