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With C.J. Wilson in Anaheim and Yu Darvish reportedly headed north of the border or deep in the heart of Texas, the Yankees’ offseason pursuit of pitching has so far come up short. Unlike last year, however, when the team’s courtship of Cliff Lee was rebuffed, it doesn’t seem as if the Yankees had much interest in Wilson or Darvish, not to mention the many starters rumored to be available on the trade market. For some Yankees’ fans, this level of inactivity has been the cause of great frustration, leading to speculation that the team’s free spending ways may be a thing of the past.

Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman appear to be on the same page about being more prudent in player acquisitions.

Hal Steinbrenner’s unwillingness to open up the checkbook and Brian Cashman’s reticence to part with prospects seem to contradict the team’s “win the World Series or bust” mantra. After all, it’s hard to argue that Darvish, Wilson, Gio Gonzalez, etc. wouldn’t represent a major upgrade in the Yankees rotation, which, after CC Sabathia, consists of major question marks. Even though rolling the dice with such a rotation worked out well last year (assuming, like me, you consider a 97 win season to be a success), doing so again would constitute a major risk, especially in a league getting stronger by the minute.

The Yankees’ mandate is to win the World Series, but that isn’t a short-term proposition. Although fans, and some within the organization, rarely think too far ahead, it’s important to remember the team’s real mission statement is to win the World Series every year (or at least try), not just this year. That’s why Cashman’s cautious approach isn’t a betrayal of the team’s lofty standards. As the Yankees’ GM has repeatedly stated, no deal is better than a bad deal, which basically means the long-term competitiveness of the franchise is more important than an incremental, short-term gain.

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(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstripe Alley)

In addition to the Hot Stove, baseball warms up the winter months with Hall of Fame debate. From the time the ballot is released until the votes are counted in early January, arguments are made for and against various candidates, often with a considerable degree of disagreement and usually with some form of exaggeration. As a result, for those players on the borderline, the process can be somewhat demeaning.

This year, Bernie Williams is making his first appearance on the ballot, and judging by popular sentiment, he isn’t likely to come close to enshrinement. Although Williams’ case deserves much closer scrutiny than many seem willing to give, as a borderline candidate, there really is no right or wrong answer regarding his candidacy. With that in mind, it seems more appropriate to consider the best players who are not in the Hall of Fame instead of trying to determine which of them actually belong.

At the Baseball: Past and Present blog, Graham Womack recently completed a survey based on exactly that premise. For the second straight year, Womack polled an electorate made up of baseball writers and researchers and compiled the results into a ranking of the 50 best players not in the Hall of Fame. Included in this baseball version of purgatory were several players who spent most of their careers in pinstripes, prompting a further question: who are the 10 best eligible Yankees without a plaque in Cooperstown?

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Yu Darvish may not becoming to America after all. Instead, Canada may be his destination.

Several sources have identified the Toronto Blue Jays as the team that cast the winning bid in the Yu Darvish posting process. If true, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because the Blue Jays have gradually increased their focus on international signings, including the much heralded acquisition of short stop Adeiny Hechavaria in 2010.

For much of the last decade, the Blue Jays have been mired in mediocrity, hovering around the .500 mark in the rough and tumble A.L. East. Although the team hasn’t made much of a dent in the standings during this period, the organization has gradually taken steps that could soon allow it to stand up against the big boys. In addition to being aggressive in the international free agent market, the team has also been adept at cultivating draft picks and making astute acquisitions of both talented cast offs (Yunel Escobar, Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista come to mind) and prospects with high potential. However, some of the most important moves made by the Blue Jays have been subtractions, not additions.

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Recent times have not been kind to Fred Wilpon.

The last five seasons haven’t been very kind to the Mets. Whether on the field or in the board room, the team has been besieged by a myriad of unfortunate circumstances ever since Carlos Beltran was mesmerized by a Adam Wainwright curve ball to end the 2006 NLCS. Not surprisingly, the Mets’ hardship has led to much ridicule, particularly from the less compassionate segment of the Yankees’ fan base. Despite the dark days still ahead, however, there is every reason to think the Mets could still have the last laugh.

In the three years since Bernie Madoff’s massive securities fraud was uncovered, Fred Wilpon has been desperately trying to maintain his hold on the New York Mets. Despite insisting at the time that the scandal would have no impact on his ownership of the team, subsequent events have proven otherwise. Since that time, which, unfortunately for the Wilpons, coincided with poor play on the field and a corresponding decline in revenue, the current ownership group has relied on debt to remain afloat. According to a recent report in the Daily News, those loans are about to come due.

The team is not for sale, not a piece of it, not a part of it. We are not for sale. We have no reason to sell. We have other money. Just because you guys don’t know how much money we have, we have other money outside of this, from diversity.” – Fred Wilpon, quoted by the New York Times, December 17, 2008

Despite Fred Wilpon’s fervent desire to remain as majority owner of the Mets, the prospect of looming debt payments and even further deflated revenue in 2012 could soon force his hand (while creditors, and perhaps even the commissioner, slowly pry loose his fingers). As Frank McCourt has learned with the Dodgers, the weight of debt can become too much of a burden, especially when the alternative is selling out and making a handsome profit.

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Did Ryan Braun drop the ball by testing positive for PEDs?

If Albert Pujols’ decision to head west was a time bomb, Ryan Braun’s positive test for performance enhancing drugs was an atomic blast. Already facing the loss of Prince Fielder to free agency, the Brewers must now go forward with Braun’s pending 50-game suspension hanging over the team. In many ways, this has been a nuclear winter in Milwaukee.

Braun has not disputed the report about his positive test, but he has vehemently questioned its validity, blunting telling USA Today “it’s BS”. Since being informed of the result last month, Braun has taken several steps to establish his innocence, including having another sample tested. Although the right fielder’s representative has expressed confidence regarding exoneration, the appeals process places a heavy burden of proof on the player, so even with compelling evidence, Braun is facing an uphill battle.

There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan’s complete innocence and demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program.” – spokesman for Ryan Braun, quoted by ESPN, December 10, 2011

If Braun wins his appeal, he’d become the first player to have a positive test overturned. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be able to restore his reputation. Judging by the initial reaction, which has already been highly presumptuous of his guilt, Braun will likely have to deal with some level of taint for the rest of his career, which makes the story being leaked even more punitive than the potential suspension. In fact, the presumption of guilt has been so strong, some have even argued that Braun shouldn’t even bother protesting his innocence.

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(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstripe Alley)

Albert Pujols was supposed be the next Stan Musial: a lifelong Cardinal who would represent St. Louis baseball with awesome talent on the field and admirable dignity of it. Over the past decade, the succession from Stan the Man to Prince Albert seemed so natural, as if both men descended from the same line of baseball immortals. Now, however, there are over 250 million reasons why it won’t happen.

You can debate whether Pujols or the Cardinals undervalued the importance of legacy, or whether it is even important at all, but, regardless, the fact that Albert Pujols will not retire in St. Louis has been the cause of great lament. According to the common woe, the days of players spending their entire careers with one team have become a thing of the past. Gone is the purity of loyalty, and its place, the greed of business has taken hold. But does such sentiment reflect reality? Have modern baseball players cast loyalty aside in favor of chasing the very last dollar?

Most Seasons with One Team, Since 1901
 
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Albert Pujols was supposed to be a Cardinal for life.

Albert Pujols’ decision to take his talents to Southern California has inspired great joy among Angels’ fans and, not surprisingly, a considerable amount of vitriol from those who root for the Cardinals. Phony, trader, liar, mercenary, and fraud have all been used on twitter and talk radio to describe Pujols because he opted for a mega 10-year deal worth $254 million (with $30 million in extra incentives) over a hometown discount. Apparently, charity begins in St. Louis.

Although it’s understandable why Cardinals’ fans might feel betrayed, such sentiment is both incredibly naïve and logically absurd. According to fangraphs.com, Pujols has provided $194 million worth of performance in excess of the $104 million the Cardinals have paid him since 2002 (if 2001 was included, that figure would be even higher). In other words, the Cardinals already got their discount. What’s more, not one, but reportedly three different teams offered Pujols a better deal than the Cardinals, so it sure seems as if it was the team, and not the player, that had an unfair sense of his worth.

Albert Pujols’ Salary vs. Value, 2002-2011
 
Source: fangraphs (value) and baseball-reference.com (salary)

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With all the big numbers being thrown around this offseason, there have been articles suggesting that teams are unwise to backload contracts. The basis for this opinion is the belief that teams will not have the money to pay the escalating costs, so would be better off paying the upfront fees. For individuals who lack fiscal discipline, it might be better to pay more upfront (kind of like withholding too much from your paycheck so you don’t get stuck with a tax bill in April), but presumably, major league franchises are employing cash management procedures to ensure they can meet future obligations (although the Dodgers and Mets may be teams who disprove that notion).

When a team backloads a contract, the money “saved” doesn’t disappear. If the organization is being run as a healthy business, the additional cash on hand is either invested or put to use in other ventures expected to earn an attractive return. Although these approaches can be risky, strong companies develop plans to ensure cash flow can meet near-term obligations. Tied up in this approach is something known as the time value of money.

Without going into the financial details, a dollar today is usually worth more than a dollar tomorrow (kind of like a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush). So, absent mitigating circumstances, such as the luxury tax threshold, teams are always better off delaying the payments owed to the players they sign. Listed below as an illustration is a present value comparison of Jose Reyes’ contract with the Marlins versus what would be owed if he was paid the average annual value each season. Based on included assumptions, the Marlins are saving $3.3 million by backloading Jose Reyes’ contract. Although that may not seem like a lot, especially in relation to the size of the contract,  it is a savings nonetheless. (more…)

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Nakajima lines a run-scoring single during the final game of the 2009 WBC, which was won by Japan. (Photo: Getty Images)

Considered along side the other big headlines being made at the Winter Meetings, the Yankees winning bid for the rights to Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, it could signal the beginning of a new strategy designed to circumvent some of the onerous restrictions triggered by the new CBA as well as mitigate some of the difficulty in building a bench behind a strong starting lineup.

In 10 seasons with the Saitama Seibu Lions of Japan’s Pacific League, Nakajima posted a line of .302/.369/.475 in over 4,500 plate appearances. According to Patrick Newman, who hosts a website dedicated to Japanese baseball, he is a plus defender with a strong enough arm to play all three infield positions. Although statistics and scouting reports about Japanese players should be taken with a grain of salt, all signs seem to suggest he has the potential to be a solid utility infielder.

Hiroyuki Nakajima’s Career Statistics

Source: Nippon Professional Baseball League Official Website

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For the last nine seasons, David Ortiz has been one of the most prolific hitters in baseball and the rock of the Boston Red Sox’ lineup. However, there hasn’t been much love for Big Papi on the free agent market. According to recent reports, the DH’s options seem limited to accepting arbitration or signing a discounted two-year deal with the Red Sox. If that really is the case, the Yankees should make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Brian Cashman has correctly identified pitching as the Yankees’ top priority. However, in the absence of attractive starting pitching on the market (at least not at a reasonable price), maybe that isn’t the best approach? After all, an alternative to preventing runs is scoring them, and adding Ortiz would certainly help the Yankees do just that.

With the exception of Don Baylor from 1983 to 1986, the Yankees have rarely had a full-time DH. Jorge Posada’s 90 games as a DH last year is surpassed by only seven other Yankees and ranks as the third highest total since 1991. So, if the team signed Ortiz, it would represent a philosophical reversal, especially for Joe Girardi, who has grown fond of using the DH as a “half day off” for his aging veterans.

Ironically, the man most likely to fill the DH slot for the Yankees in 2012 is 22-year old Jesus Montero. The most sensible objection to signing Ortiz is the negative impact it would have Montero’s playing time, but even that could be spun into a positive. Instead of settling on the rookie as a DH, the presence of Ortiz could force the Yankees to develop him more as a catcher, which, in the long run, would pay greater dividends.

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