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Archive for November, 2011

Joe Maddon and Kirk Gibson were named the AL and NL managers of the year, and, all things considered, they were probably the most deserving candidates for the award. Both managers overcame diminished pre-season expectations and led their relatively young teams to the playoffs, so it’s hard to argue with either selection, especially when you consider how intimately each team’s style of play has become entwined with the personality of their manager.

Not many people pay attention to who wins the Manager of the Year award, much less who finishes further down the ballot. However, the relatively poor showing of Joe Girardi is a little hard to figure. For the third straight year, the Yankees finished with one of the top-3 records in all of baseball, and yet their manager has finished third, sixth, and fifth in the balloting. Although all three of the managers selected since 2009 have been worthy choices, at what point will Girardi get more recognition?

Most MoY Winners, by Franchise (click to enlarge)
Source: mlb.com

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In a year that has seen the NFL and NBA deal with acrimonious labor negotiations, MLB is on the verge of ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement without the slightest bit of rancor. However, there has been one point of contention: the escalating bonuses being paid to those selected in the Rule IV amateur draft.

Thanks to unprecedented labor peace, baseball fans are unlikely to face a work stoppage next season.

Back in March, I identified mandatory slotting as one of the main topics to be addressed by the new CBA, so it’s not much of a surprise that the issue has momentarily held up the deal. According to Buster Olney, although some points still need to be ironed out, progress is being made on a compromise. In Olney’s report, he identifies the following elements:

  • Slots will be recommended, not mandatory. However, if teams go over their cumulative slot recommendation for signings made during the first 10 rounds, a tax will be applied.
  • If teams exceed their slot recommendation for a second time, they will also lose a high draft pick.
  • In exchange for this concession, draft compensation will no longer be tied to free agent classifications.

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Since Jonathan Papelbon first became eligible for arbitration, the boisterous closer wasn’t shy about telling everyone he wanted to get paid. Not surprisingly, the Red Sox, who have the gained the reputation as one of the more saber-friendly organizations, weren’t as keen to hand out a long-term deal. So, it really shouldn’t come as surprise that Papelbon is now packing his bags for Philly.

I feel like with me being at the top of my position, I feel like that [salary] standard needs to be set and I’m the one to set that standard and I don’t think that the Red Sox are really necessarily seeing eye to eye with me on that subject right now.” – Jonathan Papelbon, quoted by AP, March 4, 2008

There was simply no way the Red Sox were going to match the 4-year, $50 million offer (with a vesting option) that the Phillies extended to Papelbon. In response to the news that his closer was headed south, new GM Ben Cherington admitted as much. According to Cherington, Papelbon is replaceable, either internally with Daniel Bard or via a shorter, less lucrative deal with one of the many free agent closers who will be looking for a job this offseason.

Within the hardcore sabermetric community, and among those who dabble on its periphery, Cherington’s position has a lot of support. After all, not only are most closers notorious for their inconsistency, but often times the most unlikely relievers have great success for a year or two. Because a closer usually throws 60-70 innings per year, and is often used in low leverage situations (i.e., three run leads in the ninth), the conventional sabermetric wisdom suggests they can’t possibly be worth the kind of money Papelbon will be making over the next four years.

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Posada's playing days as a Yankee may be over, but his legacy will stand along side other greats of the past (Photo: Reuters).

To those like me who were holding out hope that Jorge Posada might return to the Yankees for one more season, the long-time catcher has a message: “It’s not gonna happen”.

Speaking at a fundraiser for his charitable organization, Posada matter-of-factly stated what most people already suspected. Even though his announcement was far from official, the Yankees’ failure to offer a limited role suggests the feeling is mutual. In fact, Posada’s statement was really more acquiescence to that reality than a conscious decision to move on from the Bronx.

I will always be a Yankee. The New York Yankees, for me, is my second family. It’d be tough to put on another uniform for real and learn a new set of rules. But it’s one of those things where I have to see if I wanna keep playing.” – Jorge Posada, quoted by ESPNNewYork.com

It’s too bad the Yankees weren’t able to carve out a role for Posada, but thankfully, the two sides seem to be parting amicably. Unlike during the season, when Posada often bristled at signs of his Yankee mortality, the catcher’s attitude while addressing the issue suggested complacency. That’s good news for Yankees’ fans who value the legacy left behind by great players. So, instead of the contentious divorce some had feared, it seems as if Posada is set to go his separate way for the time being, but with the expectation of eventually returning to the fold. In other words, it won’t be 20 years before we see number 20 on the foul line during Old Timer’s Day.

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As the baseball Hot Stove slowly builds from early embers, the Captain’s Blog will be busy identifying the top pitching targets that the Yankees should consider pursuing in a trade. In part one, a game plan to acquire Felix Hernandez was devised. Admittedly, such an acquisition probably falls under the heading of wishful thinking, so just in case that advice proves unsuccessful, one of two backup plans is now suggested (for a link to the other, click here).

Assuming the Mariners refuse to trade Felix Hernandez at any price, and the cost proves too prohibitive for the likes of Gio Gonzalez and John Danks, there are still several attractive options to consider. In particular, a trio of talented young right handers could all be made available by their respective teams, and Brian Cashman should be first line to kick the tires on each one.

Top-10 Right Handed Starters, Ranked by WAR: 2009-2011

Player WAR W L IP ERA ERA+
Roy Halladay 21.2 57 26 723.1 2.53 163
Justin Verlander 18.3 61 23 715.1 3.06 140
Felix Hernandez 16.7 46 31 722 2.73 147
Jered Weaver 16.7 47 28 671 3.03 134
Tim Lincecum 14.3 44 31 654.2 2.87 138
Josh Johnson 14.1 29 12 453 2.64 159
Ubaldo Jimenez 13.7 44 33 628 3.63 126
Dan Haren 13.2 42 32 702.2 3.41 122
Matt Cain 13.1 39 30 662.2 2.97 134
Zack Greinke 12.9 42 28 621 3.33 126

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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As the baseball Hot Stove slowly builds from early embers, the Captain’s Blog will be busy identifying the top pitching targets the Yankees should consider pursuing in a trade. In part one, a game plan to acquire Felix Hernandez was devised. Admittedly, such an acquisition probably falls more under the heading of wishful thinking than a wish list, so just in case that advice proves unsuccessful, one of two backup plans is now presented.

Because of the short porch at Yankee Stadium, left handed pitching has always been a coveted commodity in the Bronx. That’s why last year’s blueprint revolved around the acquisition of Cliff Lee and return of Andy Pettitte. However, when both lefties decided against pitching in pinstripes, it left the Yankees with CC Sabathia as the team’s lone southpaw. As a result, the Yankees ended the 2011 season with only 33 starts by a left hander, one of the lowest totals in franchise history.

Games Started by Yankees’ Left Handers, Since 1919

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Three of the most prominent free agent pitchers (C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish, and Mark Buehrle) are left handed, so if the Yankees decide to enter the market, they should be able to find a complement for Sabathia. In addition, several lefties may also be available on the trade market. Two of the more attractive options are presented below.

Top Left Handed Starters, Ranked by WAR: 2010-2011

Player WAR W L IP ERA ERA+
CC Sabathia 11.9 40 15 475 3.09 141
Clayton Kershaw 11.4 34 15 437.2 2.57 147
Cliff Lee 11.1 29 17 445 2.77 144
Cole Hamels 10.2 26 20 424.2 2.92 135
Jon Lester 9.8 34 18 399.2 3.36 128
C.J. Wilson 9.4 31 15 427.1 3.14 140
Gio Gonzalez 9.2 31 21 402.2 3.17 129
Ricky Romero 9.1 29 20 435 3.31 127
David Price 9 31 19 433 3.12 123
Mark Buehrle 7.2 26 22 415.2 3.94 109
John Danks 6.9 23 23 383.1 3.99 108
Ted Lilly 5.5 22 26 386.1 3.8 104

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Now that CC Sabathia has opted against opting out, the starting pitchers available in the 2011 free agent class pale in comparison to the offensive players testing the market. However, there are viable options to consider, including C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, and the soon to be posted Japanese standout Yu Darvish.

Should the Yankees be pumped up about a potential free agent like Yu Darvish, or focus on the trade market instead?

Although Brian Cashman will undoubtedly give careful thought to every prominent free agent starter, more and more, it seems as if the Yankees’ primary focus will be acquiring one in a trade. This strategy makes sense for several reasons. For starters (pun intended), there are heightened risks associated with many of the more attractive free agents (age for Buerhle and Oswalt; lack of a track record for Wilson and Darvish). Because these free agents would likely require a lucrative long-term contract (or in Darvish’s case, a hefty posting fee), a cost-risk analysis might not justify the pitcher’s expected contribution. Besides, in free agency, a team is often forced to pay more for past performance than future value, which especially seems likely among this group.

Another reason why it makes sense for Brian Cashman to explore a trade is because the Yankees have depth in their minor league system, particularly at pitcher and catcher. To some, that might be all the more reason to not make a move, but the recent release of Andrew Brackman is a cautionary tale. Less than eight months ago, Brackman was being touted as one of the Yankees’ three “killer-B’s”, but now he is looking for a job. Part of the reason for that decision was the Yankees’ prospect depth made Brackman’s 40-man roster spot a valuable commodity, but the tall right hander’s rapid fall from grace says more about the unpredictability of pitching prospects.  Although the organization should not be adverse to allowing its own prospects to develop, each and every one should be on the table in the right deal.

With the rationale out of the way, the next step is to determine potential trade targets. Brian Cashman and his Yankees’ brain trust have likely already begun assembling such a list, but just in case they need some help, the Captain’s Blog will be spending the next week highlighting the top pitching trade targets whose acquisition would be worthy of a concerted effort. So, where to start?

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The new ballot for the Hall of Fame’s era-based veteran’s committee selection process has been announced, and several compelling candidates are included on the list.

Will Ron Santo's supporters be clicking their heels after the Hall of Fame's Golden Era committee convenes in December?

Among the 10 names selected to appear on the “Golden Era” ballot, Ron Santo is by far the most deserving. The case for Santo has been made countless times, and most agree his body of work warrants election. Unfortunately, those presiding over the Hall of Fame’s selection process haven’t cooperated. As a result, if the third baseman does finally take his rightful place in Cooperstown, it will be posthumously. Regardless of the circumstances, Santo’s enshrinement would still be a cause for celebration, not only for his family, but all of baseball. As one of the best third baseman to play the game, excluding Santo dings the Hall’s credibility a bit, so the time has come to right that wrong.

Whether or not he receives the necessary 3/4 support from the 16-man panel, Santo’s inclusion on the ballot doesn’t bode well for Ken Boyer, a contemporary third baseman who always seemed to be one step behind his counterpart from the Cubs (Boyer’s last gold glove was 1963, the year before Santo reeled off five in a row). Considering the shadow cast by Santo, both during their playing days and now in the voting process, Boyer’s chances of election are pretty slim.

Another cause célèbre on this year’s veterans’ ballot is Gil Hodges, who, like Santo, has garnered considerable sentimental support over the years. However, as a first baseman, Hodges’ resume is not as substantial, even if you include his managerial success with the Mets. Of course, Hodges was always more of a likeable figure than Santo, which perhaps helps to explain why he garnered significantly more support from the BBWAA (a peak of 63.4% vs. Santo’s 43.1%). Playing in seven World Series probably didn’t hurt either.

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Brian Cashman has decided to pull up his chair to the Yankees’ table for three more years by agreeing to a new contract extension, which, if fulfilled, will make him the organization’s longest tenured general manager since Ed Barrow constructed the first dynasty teams from 1921 to 1944.

After decades of having the general manager position be a revolving door, it’s almost hard to fathom the idea of a Yankees’ executive ranking as one of the most senior members of his fraternity, but only the Giants’ Brian Sabean (who was a member of the Yankees’ scouting department when the core four first joined the team) has been on the job longer. During that time, Cashman has had his share of hits and misses, but, for the most part, his stewardship has been a key component of the team’s considerable success.

MLB Team Records During Cashman’s Tenure as Yankees’ GM, 1998-2011

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Sometimes, familiarity can breed contempt, which is why it’s not surprising that a vocal segment of the Yankees’ fan base has soured on Cashman despite the team’s impressive accomplishments. Those critics will often argue that Cashman’s teams should be successful, considering the payroll at his disposal. However, as teams like the Mets have shown, spending money doesn’t always equate to winning. So, even though some of his accomplishments have been predicated upon having a hefty budget, that doesn’t diminish the unprecedented level of success enjoyed by the Yankees under Cashman’s reign.

For a dated evaluation of Brian Cashman’s tenure written before the 2008 season (ironically at a blog that recently announced it would close it doors as a protest to Cashman’s new contract), click here.

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