Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yankees Top Ten Prospects Announced

Baseball America released their list of the Yankees' top ten prospects today. Head over and give it a read; lots of good stuff there.

Some thoughts:
  • The Yankees top talent is at all the right places: on the mound and up the middle skill positions. The top ten is comprised of five pitchers, four catchers, and a center fielder. Don't get too hung up as to where there will be room for everyone. These are the types of players that are the most valuable trade chips.

  • There is 50% turnover from last year's top ten list. Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, and Mark Melancon all graduated to the Major League level, though I believe Melancon can still be considered a prospect due to not having accrued enough MLB service time. Austin Jackson was the key chip in the Curtis Granderson trade, and Bradley Suttle dropped off the list after missing all of last year due to shoulder injuries.

  • The list is a testament to how well the Yankees have rebuilt their system in recent years. Slade Heathcott and JR Murphy are the Yankees top two 2009 draft picks. Gary Sanchez was the organization's top 2009 international signee. Jeremy Bleich was the Yankees top signed pick from the 2008 draft; Manny Banuelos was an international free agent that year. Andrew Brackman and Austin Romine were the club's top two picks in 2007; Arodys Vizcaino was an international signing that year. Twenty year old Jesus Montero and twenty two year old Zach McAllister have been with the organization the longest, both since 2006.

  • This is a very green list. We know the Yankees are thin at the top levels of the system. None of the 10 players on the list played above AA last year, although McAllister did make a playoff start for AAA Scranton. Montero and Bleich both saw time at AA Trenton last year, but McAllister is the only one on the list to spend all of 2009 above A ball. While it's great to have that much young talent, such talent is also less projectable. There's less probability for prospects who have yet reach AA to pan out.

  • The Yankees top talent is also extremely, extremely young. At 24, Brackman is the oldest of the ten. Sanchez is the youngest at 16 and is one of five players on the list who is not yet twenty years old.

  • The list breaks down to six draft picks and four international signings.

The link also runs down the organization's top skills:
  • Montero of course is rated as both the best hitter and best hitter for power.

  • Mike Dunn, who will be in the mix as a second lefty option out of the bullpen, has the best slider.

  • Despite having four other catchers ranked ahead of him overall, Francisco Cervelli still grades out as the best defensive backstop.

  • Recent Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffmann is listed as the best defensive outfielder.

  • Ramiro Pena is rated as the best defensive infielder; Eduardo Nunez has the best infield arm, and Reegie Corona was given the nod over Kevin Russo as having the best plate discipline. All four are on the 40 man roster and figure to compete for the utility infielder job in Spring Training.

  • Juan Miranda currently sits atop the DH depth chart but is not rated at all by Baseball America.

  • Melky Mesa, a single A outfielder who has less plate discipline than his namesake and is considered a non-prospect, rates as both the fastest baserunner, best athlete, and best outfield arm.

Fiesty Small Market Underdogs Near Luxury Tax Threshold

Good morning, Fackers. Any guesses as to the identity of the team in the headline? From WEEI:
The signings of John Lackey to a five-year deal in the $82.5 million range and Mike Cameron to a two-year, $15.5 million contract would push the Sox payroll — as calculated for Major League Baseball’s luxury tax purposes — to an all-time franchise high.

Based on salary projections for the players who were offered contracts last Saturday, the Sox are already nearing the $170 million threshold for 2010 at which clubs will be assessed a luxury tax penalty.
It might have been the acquisitions of Lackey and Cameron that put the Sox very close to the Luxury Tax threshold, but as Matthew Pouliot from Circling the Bases points out, the deals given to their homegrown players are a big factor as well:
Prior to last year, the team was so conscious of its position straddling the luxury tax that it avoided signing young players to long-term deals. That changed as Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester all received extensions that kept them into their free agent years.

And it's those contracts that could put the Red Sox over the top. In reality, those three players, all of whom signed extensions last winter, will earn $16.375 million next season. However, for tax purposes, they're valued at $23.03 million.
The WEEI article provides a player by player estimate of the Sox salaries as they pertain to the Luxury Tax and a breakdown of some of the nuances involved in how the league calculates payroll for it. As far as the MLB is concerned, deals which buy out some arbitration years like the ones singed by Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedrioa and Jon Lester are all taxed at the average annual value of the deal meaning that, although Lester is making $3.75M this year, the Sox pay tax on the AAV of his 5 year, $30M deal.

The Luxury Tax is structured like the taxes we pay to the government, so it only applies to the amount spent over $170M, meaning the amount of money to the Sox will be next to nothing if they do exceed that mark. But the larger point here is that despite the much bemoaned free agent acquisitions the Yankees made last off season, when the dust settles, the two teams are likely to be fairly close (~$30M, 15%) in terms of payroll this year.

To many of the deluded members of Red Sox Nation like the ones who reared their ugly heads here, the Sox are David to the Yankees' Goliath, when in reality, the Sox are playing the role of Goliath to the rest of the league with the exceptions of the Mets and Cubs. Why do Sawx fans cling to the belief that their team is one of the "have nots"?

Part of this is the fact that Boston itself actually is a small market. The city itself has a population of about 600,000 and even expanding to the Greater Boston Area encompasses fewer than 5 million people. However, the Red Sox have a monopoly on the territory that stretches from Maine through New Hampshire, most of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and about half of Connecticut. There isn't one truly large city in that region, but there are a whole lot of small towns. Add them all up and you are pretty close to 10 million people.

Another factor is that deal just given to John Lackey will actually be the second largest in terms of total dollars that the Red Sox have on their books (behind only Matsuzka's if you include the posting fee). A.J. Burnett was given the same exact deal from the Yankees, but it's only the 5th largest the team has on the books, trailing A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira and Sabathia. This is a positive for the Sox in that they have more future flexibility without those long term commitments, but it also means that they continually have to either develop players from their system or find new free agents to fill their needs.

Do the Sox do this because they can't afford those longer deals or because they typically choose not to employ that strategy? Since they committed over $100M to Matsuzaka and went down to the wire with the Yanks on Teixeira, I would guess it is the latter.

There is a chance that the Sox will have a significantly lower payroll than the Yankees 3, 4 or 5 years from now, but there is also a chance that their prospects don't pan out and they are forced to overpay for stop gaps like Marco Scutaro, John Smotlz and Brad Penny as opposed to having elite but aging players already under contract.

Such is the trade off between living by the seat of your pants and making long term investments in blue chip players. However, at the present moment, the difference between those two strategies in terms of dollars spent isn't especially significant.