Thursday, November 19, 2009

Everybody Do The Link Around

The Yankeeist has an interview with Alex Belth and Cliff Corcoran from Bronx Banter. It delves into the very beginnings of the Yankee blogosphere and gives some insight into the Banter Crew that you can't find anywhere else.

Big League Stew takes an in-depth look at BABIP.

A victory for potheads and statheads alike: Tim Lincecum wins the NL Cy Young.

Joe Posnanski hands out his special brand of anti-awards for managers, pitchers and the least valuable player in each league.

I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but Jason Bay is headed for pure, unadulterated free agency.

It doesn't much matter but Andy Pettitte finally filed his papers and is headed there as well.

Bud Selig says "some teams lost money" last year. He could have just said "the Tigers".

The Shyster breaks out a secondhand story about the corporate culture at GM as a way of explaining that Bud Selig might be trying to cut the fat out of the playoff schedule but he's the reason it's there to begin with.

This is why Ken Rosenthal gets paid the big bucks:
The [Yankees], according to one rival executive, plans to pursue free-agent relievers Rafael Soriano, a right-hander, and Mike Gonzalez, a lefty. The Yankees have liked both pitchers in the past.

However, another source with knowledge of the Yankees' thinking says the team prefers to address any bullpen holes from within, using the same strategy that they employed successfully last season.
He gives precedence to a quote from a "rival executive" over a "source with knowledge of the Yankees' thinking". How could you possibly justify citing an executive for another team when someone who knows what the Yanks are thinking offers a directly contradictory quote? Because Rosenthal knows that linking the Yankees - however tangentially - to free agents unequivocally equals pageviews. And that's what business aboard the internets is all about.

Just for good measure, let's take a look at how every pitcher who threw more than 10 innings out of the bullpen for the Yankees in 2009 was acquired.
  • Mariano Rivera (international free agent)
  • Phil Hughes (drafted - 2004)
  • Alfredo Aceves (international free agent)
  • David Robertson (drafted - 2006)
  • Brian Bruney (signed as a free agent, assigned to the minors)
  • Phil Coke (drafted - 2002)
  • Damaso Marte (trade)
  • Mark Melancon (drafted - 2006)
  • Jonathan Albaladejo (trade)
  • Edwar Ramirez (purchased from an independent league team)
  • Chad Gaudin (trade)
  • Jose Veras (free agent, assigned to minors)
  • Sergio Mitre (free agent, assigned to minors)
  • Brett Tomko (free agent, assigned to minors)
The only guys in there that were signed to multi-million dollar free agent deals were Mariano Rivera (who they were never going to let walk) and Damaso Marte who they locked up while they still had exclusive negotiating rights with last year. It's clear what the Yankees philosophy for their bullpen is and it doesn't involve acquiring expensive free agent relief pitchers like Soriano and Gonzalez.
/end rant

Now make like the NL Cy Young winner and, in the words of Ray Charles, go get stoned.

Two More Yankee Rumors We're Not Buying

First up, via MLBTR, Bob Nightengale throws out one that's new to me:

Not so quietly anymore, apparently.

Even if we assume that Nightengale's sources are correct and that Brian Cashman has let other GM's know that Swisher is available for the right package (which every player essentially is), I can't see this leading to an actual trade.

We've discussed the state of flux that the Yankees' outfield is in this offseason multiple times, but with the assumption that Nick Swisher remaining in right field was a constant. Swish had a solid (albeit streaky) year at the plate and is signed for a reasonable $6.75M next year and $9M in 2011 with a $10.25M team option for 2012. With a team-friendly salary and above average offensive production (29 HR, 129 OPS+), Swish - along with Robinson Cano - make up the extent of movable impact bats in the Yankee lineup, so of course the club should listen to offers for him.

However, if Cashman does decide to trade Swisher, it would leave the Yankees with holes to fill in each corner of the outfield this offseason. As a slugging switch hitter, Swisher is a key component of the Yankees lineup and his average defense in RF over the last two years certainly hasn't been a detriment. Sure, the Yankees could trade him, but in all likelihood, they'd have to replace him with someone who is either not as good or more expensive.

If the Yankees played inside of a vacuum instead of in the Bronx, it might make sense to trade Swisher. They'd be certain to get back more than they gave up for him last offseason, thus "buying low and selling high", but it's unlikely that it would suit the club's long term plans, something that Brain Cashman undoubtedly would take into consideration.

The other rumor, which is now one day internet month old, is that Jon Heyman thinks the Yankees "have a real reason to believe" they could land Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays have reportedly willing to deal within the division and have granted Halladay a window to negotiate with any potential trade partner. That window would be used to determine if the team would be willing to extend him a contract offer that he would be in favor of waiving his no-trade clause for.

The fact that a team could secure him long term would help justify sacrificing the prospects they give up, but what kind of contract would Halladay be looking for? Considering that Doc is 32 years old, he probably wouldn't get CC Sabathia or Johan Santana money, but let's say, conservatively, it's 5 years at $100M. Would the Yankees really want to lock up very nearly $60M a year in three starting pitchers (Halladay, Sabathia & Burnett) for the next 4 years?

The Yanks had a chance to pay the double barreled cost of prospects plus a free agent-sized contract to acquire Johan Santana from the Twins (via a similar negotiating window) and passed. Do we really think that they want to do it now, after committing to Burnett and Sabathia with large and lengthy contracts? Our friends at River Ave. Blues don't.

I think that that situations involving Swisher and Halladay have a common thread. In both cases, the Yankees are doing their due diligence even though neither are likely to culminate in a trade. Reporters are paid to churn up these kinds of details during the offseason and might as well present them as if there is something to them. And that's generously assuming that these reports are correct.

A good GM should be leaving no stone unturned this time of year. They should be collecting every trade offer possible and inquiring about everyone who is available. But keep that in mind when one of these transmissions is breathlessly reported and subsequently analyzed. There's a lot more said than actually done 'round the ol' hot stove.

The Cuban Pitcher Crisis

Prior to the start 1995 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Hideo Nomo, who had "retired" from his Japanese club in order to become a free agent. Nomo became just the second Japanese native to play in the Major Leagues and the first in more than thirty years. Nomo had a wildly successful rookie campaign, serving as the ace of the Dodgers' NL West winning staff and taking Rookie of the Year honors while posting a 150 ERA+ and leading the NL in shutouts, strikeouts, and K/9.

But in more than just his success on the field, Hideo Nomo was a revelation to the Dodgers. In a year that saw MLB attendance nosedive by about 20% in the wake of the 1994 strike, Dodger attendance dropped by only 7%. The Japanese-born Nomo drove Nomomania just as the Mexican born Fernando Valenzuela had driven Fernandomania 14 years earlier. And the Dodger realized the benefits between the lines, at the box office, in merchandising, and in national and international exposure.

At the time of Nomo's arrival, Major League baseball was already a diverse organization. Clubs had found successful reservoirs of talent in the States, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, and to a lesser extent Canada, Mexico, Panama, even Nicaragua and Australia. Yet Japan, despite being a baseball-crazed nation with a well developed professional league, was a totally untapped resource. Part of that was due to Japan's restrictive player movement system, but another major factor was the old-boy-network of Major League Baseball in which the Japanese Leagues were deemed inferior. Nomo's success was a counterexample to that way of thinking and opened the door for more than forty Japanese-born players to reach the Majors with varying degrees of success since Nomo's debut.

While Nomo's rookie year may have opened the door for Japanese born players, there was still another country that was quite literally shut off from the Major Leagues. Cuba, less than one hundred miles from Key West and as passionate a baseball nation as any that graces the earth, has been subject to a U.S. embargo since 1960. So after Cuban born players like Tony Oliva, Bert Campaneris, Luis Tiant, Tony Perez and the like debuted in the 1960s, no Cuban-born players of consequence made it to the MLB for decades, except for those who emigrated at a young age such as Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro.

That began to change at the same time Nomo came to the States. Cuban born pitcher Ariel Prieto emigrated to Puerto Rico after graduating college in Cuba. Because he chose to establish residency in Puerto Rico, he was subject to the draft and was chosen, with much fanfare, by the A's with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 draft.

That July, Livan Hernandez and Osvaldo Fernandez fled the Cuban National Team as well. However, they had the good sense to seek asylum in the Domincan Republic, thereby skirting the draft and earning themselves lucrative free agent deals. From there the floodgates opened: Rey Ordonez, Rolando Arrojo, Orlando Hernandez, Danys Baez, Adrian Hernandez, Jose Contreras, Yuniesky Betancourt, etc.

All of these players hit the open market with some degree of buzz about them. Some lived up to the billing (El Duque), some have carved out lengthy if average careers for themselves (Livan Hernandez), many utterly failed to live up to hype (Prieto, Arrojo, Contreras, Adrian Hernandez, etc.).

That isn't a knock against Cuban players. Projecting Major League talent is an inexact science, whether it's in evaluating high school or college players, sixteen year olds in Latin America, or even Japanese players from well established professional leagues. Cuban players are particularly challenging to evaluate. Because of the embargo it's difficult to scout them outside of occasional international competition. Unlike the Japanese leagues, Cuban players don't routinely compete against former Major Leaguers who can give some insight to their talent level. There is very little data on which to evaluate Cuban talent, and what little exists is highly unreliable.

But I think that Japanese and Cuban players, because they're something of a novelty and because they've been exposed to higher quality competition than other talent available to Major League clubs, are afforded more hype, and as such get rather large contracts when they sign.

The Yankees should be no stranger to this. They were in on Prieto before MLB ruled he was subject to the draft. They were in on Livan Hernadez and Osvaldo Fernadez before they signed with the Marlins and Giants respectively. They've signed Orlando Hernandez, Adrian Hernandez, Andy Morales, Jose Contreras, and Juan Miranda - with varying degrees of success. El Duque was worth every penny; El Duquecito never panned out. Andy Morales was found to have lied about his age, spent one miserable season in AA, and was released. Jose Contreras may have been traded away for pennies on the dollar, but he also never sustained anything remotely justifying the hype that surrounded his arrival and was exceedingly frustrating to watch. Miranda has shown signs of promise, but is buried behind Mark Teixeira and likely won't get a shot with the Yankees.

All of which is well worth keeping in mind as the Aroldis Chapman talk heats up over the next several weeks. The Yankees are clearly in on Chapman. They're linked in virtually every rumor about him, and hosted him at Yankee Stadium during the clinching Game Six of the ALCS. He is easily the most heralded player to come out of Cuba since - well, take your pick - Prieto, Livan, Arrojo, El Duque, Baez, Contreras, whoever. Chapman could prove to be the best Cuban hurler since Luis Tiant or Mike Cuellar, or even Fidel Castro himself.

If he's half as good as he's been hyped to be, it shouldn't be difficult for him to surpass the Cuban pitchers of the last 15 years. But whoever signs Chapman is going to have to pay a hefty price to find out if he's as good as billed. Given the track record of recent Cuban exports, especially considering their performance relative to how good they've been purported to be, I'd be very hesitant to give Chapman the dollars he will command.

The Calm Before The Storm

Good morning Fackers. Today is the last morning of the first stage of the Hot Stove season. As of midnight tonight, teams lose their window of exclusivity to negotiate with their free agents. As we explored earlier this week, there likely won't be much free agent movement for another week and a half. The market will be set by the Type A free agents, and none of them are likely to sign prior to the December 1st arbitration deadline. We could see a few minor signings before then, and I certainly wouldn't mind if the Yankees were to swoop in and sign Type B free agent Mike Cameron as they decide how to proceed with left field, the designated hitter, and their collection of young center fielders.

Another important deadline looms tonight as 40 man rosters need to be finalized in preparation for next month's Rule 5 draft. The Yankees cleaned up some room on the 40 man last week, by outrighting Freddy Guzman and Josh Towers. By my count, the Yankees have six or seven open spots on their 40 man roster (depending upon if and when Andy Pettitte officially files for free agency), and could potentially create more by parting ways with Shelley Duncan, Edwar Ramirez, and/or Jonathan Albaladejo. Austin Jackson, Ivan Nova, and Kevin Russo will assuredly be added to the roster today. Last week Mike Axisa at RAB and Chad Jennings at LoHud profiled other fringe candidates. The Yankees will have to leave a few spots open as place holders for whatever free agents they sign next month.

The Yankees have been holding their organizational meetings this week, so they're probably hammering out the final details of all of this as you read. There are just forty spots; they'll have to leave what they can't carry. I hope that they're ready.