Monday, November 9, 2009

Joba Sits In With The Roots & Some Other Links

Did you know Joba Chamberlain can play the keyboard? Well, he can't really, but Jimmy Fallon bet the band on his show - who just happens to the The Roots - that if the Yankees won the World Series, they would have to let someone from the Bombers sit in with them: (via

Apparently, the song they played was Empire State of Mind which I'm sure most of us have heard enough times by now that we are thankful that the clip didn't include it.

Onto some Yankees Hot Stove talk...
Hey y'all, Andy Pettitte told the guys he wants to come back for one more year! (maybe)

Brian Cashman has arrived at the GM's Meetings in Chicago.

Joel Sherman relays through his Twitter account that Cashman, like your high school girlfriend, will be more cautious than anxious this offseason.

Ken Davidoff thinks that this kind of restraint has made Cashman the 6th best GM in baseball.
As such, here are a couple of tidbits from elsewhere in the MLB:
The Elias Free Agent Rankings have been released. As River Ave. Blues points out, World Series MVP Hideki Matsui isn't on there at all but Xavier Nady, who played 7 games this year, is.

Unsurprisingly, the Red Sox have picked up Victor Martinez's $7.1M 2010 option but not the $5M one they had for Jason Varitek. However, the Captain might not be giving up his Capital C just yet, since he has until the end of the week to decide if he'll exercise his $3M player option.

The Sawx also renegotiated the guaranteed money in Tim Wakefield's formerly infinite contract.

The Rays have exercised Carl Crawford's $10M option, so you can forget about only giving up money to get him for a while. I believe desire to keep Crawford might have played into the decision to trade Scott Kazmir, who is due $8M this coming year. Well, that's the only way I can defend this post from last December, anyway.

Replacing A World Series MVP

For third time in their last five championship off seasons, the Yankees will have a World Series MVP entering free agency.

In 1996, closer John Wetteland took home the hardware, appearing in 5 games, saving all four Yankee wins, and striking out 6 while posting a 2.08 ERA in 4.1 innings of work. Just 30 years old, Wetteland's contract expired following the season. The Yankees had absolutely stolen him from the Expos prior to the '95 season and he spent two memorable years as the Yankee closer. He recorded 74 saves in those two seasons, and his other stats were even more impressive: 167 ERA+, 1.03 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.86 K:BB.

Yet, Wetteland didn't inspire a sense of confidence. Despite his impressive numbers, he always seemed to be walking a tightrope in the ninth inning, blowing 10 saves over the two years. He absolutely melted down in the 1995 Division Series, to the point that Buck Showalter wouldn't even use him in the deciding Game Five, instead allowing an exhausted David Cone to be relieved by an exhausted Jack McDowell, and by Wetteland's eventual replacement.

With Mariano Rivera turning in an astounding 1996 as Wetteland's set up man, the Yankees allowed their closer to walk, bequeathing the role of closer to Mo. The rest is history. Wetteland signed a four year, $23M contract with the Rangers, where he continued to excel as one of the league's best closers until back injuries forced him to retire following the 2000 season.

Two years later the Yankees found themselves in a similar predicament. Scott Brosius won the 1998 World Series MVP on the strength of his .471 showing with two huge home runs in Game Three, including a three run shot off Trevor Hoffman in the eighth inning, erasing the final lead the Padres held in that Series.

Unlike Wetteland, Brosius came to the Yankees almost as an afterthought. After two miserable seasons in New York, the Yankees were able to unload Kenny Rogers on Oakland following the '97 season for a player to be named later. Eleven days after the initial deal, the clubs agreed on Brosius, who was coming off a dismal .203/.259/.317 (53 OPS+) season. Perhaps the Yankees thought he could recreate the success he enjoyed in '95-'96 (.284/.369/.486 121 OPS+), but if nothing else the Yankees were rid of Rogers and had picked up a player who could be in the mix to replace the Wade Boggs/Charlie Hayes tandem at third base and was versatile enough to see time at shortstop and all three outfield positions.

Brosius went on to have a career year in the magical 1998 season, hitting .300/.371/.472 (121 OPS+) and driving in 98 runs while batting primarily eighth or ninth. He strong performance coupled with his historic showing in the World Series prompted the Yankees to re-sign Brosius to a three year $15.75M contract, despite the fact that he was 32 years old and the Yankees had Mike Lowell ready to take over. Lowell would be 25 come next Opening Day and had hit .304/.355/.535 with 26 HR and 99 RBI at AAA, a year after hitting .315/.401/.562 with 30 HR and 92 RBI.

With Brosius in tow for another three years, the Yankees flipped Lowell to the Marlins for three minor league pitchers, one of whom never appeared in the Bigs, one of whom never made it to the Bronx, and who pitched a combined 44 innings in the Majors. Brosius wouldn't come close to replicating his 1998 numbers for the remainder of his career. As likable as Brosius was, as good as his 1998 season was, as big as his HRs were in the '98 and '01 Series, electing to keep him over Lowell was a mistake.

Eleven years later, the Yankees face a somewhat similar situation with Hideki Matsui. Unlike Wetteland and Brosius, Matsui is not a new comer, being the most tenured Yankee outside of the "core four". He's 35, considerably older than both Wetteland and Brosius at the time of their WS MVPs. Unlike with Wetteland and Brosius, the Yankees don't have a young replacement waiting in the wings. Jesus Montero is still seen as a catcher and is still likely a year away; Juan Miranda has posted good numbers at AAA but doesn't project to carry his weight as a Major League DH.

Given that Matsui is strictly a designated hitter at this point, the Yankees do have some additional flexibility in that they don't have to have a direct replacement for him, but his offense (.274/.367/.509, 128 OPS+) will be difficult to replace no matter what they do.

Retrospective hindsight says the Yankees went 1 for 2 the last times they faced such a decision. Time will tell how they fare this time around.

The Jackson Report: Looking To 2010

One thing we didn't focus enough on this year at Fack Youk was the Yankees' minor league system. Thankfully, there are several great resources in the Yankee blogosphere to fill in those blanks. Part of the plan for the off-season is to take a look at some of better prospects the Yankees have waiting in the wings. Today, we'll start with someone we did check on in periodically throughout the season: Austin Jackson.

Jackson is one of the top position player prospects in the Yankee system, and is probably the most Major League ready. Baseball America had him as the Yankees' top prospect entering 2009. The Hardball Times dropped him to ninth following this year, but that's perhaps more a reflection of the depth at the low levels of the Yankee system than it is a knock against AJax.

Jackson spent all of 2009 at Scranton, his first full year at AAA after seeing a single game there in 2007. He followed up on being named the AA Eastern League's Playoff MVP in 2008 by winning the International League's Rookie of the Year award in 2009.

2009 was just Jackson's fourth full season of pro ball. He hit .300/.354/.405 and swiped 24 bags in 28 attempts. The bad news is that Jackson's BB% dropped to a career low 7.4% and his K% jumped to 24.4% after being 21.7% and 22.0% the past two years. His increase in strikeouts did not translate to an increase in power, as Jackson's 2B, HR, SLG, and IsoP were all at three year lows. He also benefited from an unsustainable BABIP of .390

Overall, we should be very excited about Austin Jackson. As a 22 year old, he was quite young for AAA, and he still managed to post impressive numbers. Jackson is considered a "raw" prospect, as he was a major basketball recruit out of high school and didn't devote his full attention to baseball until signing with the Yankees. The gap between each successive level is more cavernous than the one before it, and after handling the low A/high A, and high A/AA transitions with aplomb, Jackson finally met some resistance this year. That might explain the disconcerting changes in his BB and K rates.

As for his BABIP, it certainly is unsustainable. However, Jackson's lack of power (just 4 HRs) and high K% is a recipe for a high BABIP. Add to that his LD% of 21.8%, a career high by a good margin, and his BABIP isn't nearly as flukey as it seems at first glance. Jackson's always fared well on balls in play, with a career BABIP of .361 and never once below .346 in four seasons of professional ball.

Late season indications were that the Yankees intended to leave Jackson in AAA to start 2010, and I think that's the right course of action. Interestingly though, Bill James' 2010 projections have Jackson at .294/.356/.411, better than both Melky Cabrera (.278/.341/.406) and Brett Gardner (.277/.368/.375). I think that's a bit too bullish on Jackson for next year; but then again this is Bill James. For what it's worth Jackson's 2009 numbers project to just a .259/.308/.343 line with just 3 HR, 32 BB and, 131 K according to the minor league equivalency calculator.

Based on his minor league service time, Jackson will need to be added to the 40 man roster this off-season. While I do believe Jackson will see the Bronx at some point in 2010, I don't think he'll break camp with the team. That said, I wouldn't completely rule it out it. There's no telling how the LF/DH situation will play out with Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui being free agents, and I wouldn't be completely shocked if either Cabrera or Gardner is traded this off-season. Regardless of how it all plays out, I expect to see AJax holding down an everyday spot in the Yankee OF come 2011.

Off Season Preview: Outfield & DH

Good morning Fackers. So it's been just about four and a half days since the Yanks wrapped up the 2009 World Series, and about three days since the parade finished. Ready to stop celebrating and start thinking about next year yet? Me neither, but the reality of things is that the Hot Stove League is already underway. We've already seen a handful of trades, options exercised, buyouts paid, extensions agreed to, and free agency filings. The General Managers Meetings start today. It may be a bit of a buzz kill, but it's time to start thinking about the 2010 Yankees and who will make up that roster.

The biggest Yankee storyline this off season will be the situations involving Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. We'll assuredly take a look at both of them soon, but as we start our off-season coverage I'd like to take a broader view.

The Damon/Matsui situation(s) is/are really part of a larger issue for the Yankees: who will fill the outfield and DH spots next year? Nick Swisher is a lock. Barring a trade, Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner will still be around. Austin Jackson waits in the wings. Damon, Matsui, and to a lesser extent Xavier Nady are candidates to be resigned. Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are big ticket names in the free agency pool, Chone Figgins is being mentioned as a potential left fielder, and second tier free agents like Vladimir Guerrero, Jermaine Dye, Mike Cameron, and Coco Crisp may also find their names cycling through the Yankee rumor mill.

In my opinion it boils down to this: amongst their own free agents, other team's free agents, or trades, the Yankees need to secure two players to fill a corner outfield spot and the DH spot.

We'll certainly run through all the options over the next couple of weeks (unless the Yankees do something quickly), but let me just state my own personal opinion right off: I want the Yankees to retain both Damon and Matsui. Part of that may be sentimental, in wanting to retain two of the more tenured members of the club. But it's also functional. Both are still useful players, despite some visible warts. But sometimes it's better the devil you know is better than the devil you don't.

The argument against this is multifaceted: both are old, both have varying degrees of physical malady and carry injury risk, both are defensively limited, both will be somewhat costly, and both will likely ask for more years and dollars than the Yankees should rightly commit. Critics of this idea will further note that the Yankees "need to get younger, more athletic, etc" and that the team needs to "open the DH spot" to periodically rest aging veterans Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez.

Those are valid arguments. But I think they are risks the Yankees can afford to take. Next year's bench should feature the likes of Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, and either Gardner or Cabrera. All are young, all are athletic, and all give the Yankees some measure of versatility. Meanwhile, I agree with the concept of resting the older position players through the DH spot.

But what happens if Posada, Jeter, and Rodriguez all get a day a week at DH? Each would be replaced in the field by an offensively inferior player (Cervelli, Pena). And who then would DH the remaining three or four games each week? If Damon is the answer to that question, does that mean some combination of Gardner, Cabrera, and Jackson take two of three outfield spots in those games? How much offense would they be giving up by doing all of that?

The next six weeks or so should answer these questions. There are better (and more expensive) options out there, but I'm going on record now as saying that I think the best option for the 2010 Yankees is to bring back both Damon and Matsui.