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Archive for the ‘Hot Stove’ Category

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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Over the past few years, the Yankees have repeatedly talked about operating under a budget, but the team has always been willing to break through those constraints when push came to shove. Just ask Mark Teixeira. However, according to a recent report by Joel Sherman, the new CBA could make sticking to a budget an offer not even the Yankees can afford to refuse.

In 2008, the Yankees’ decided to exceed their “budget” in order to sign Mark Teixeira. (Photo: Getty Images)

There are several components of the new CBA that could increase the burden for teams whose payrolls exceed $179 million ($189 million starting in 2014). The most stringent is the 10 percentage point increase in the tax rate for habitual offenders. Not only would a team like the Yankees be forced to a pay a 50% penalty for every dollar spent over the limit, but by exceeding the barrier repeatedly, it would become ineligible to receive a new revenue sharing refund designed to return money that in the past would have been earmarked to large market teams that qualified for a payout.

So, does this mean Yankees’ fan should expect the Bronx Bombers to embark on a long-term plan of fiscal restraint? Probably not. Instead of representing a complete reversal of economic philosophy, the Yankees’ aim could simply be to play the 2014 season under the luxury tax threshold. By dropping down below that barrier, the team’s assessable penalty would reset at a 17% rate (and not reach 50% again until 2019, assuming the Yankees exceed the limit in every subsequent season and no changes are made in the next CBA). What’s more, the team would also become eligible for the aforementioned revenue sharing rebate because disqualification is only triggered when a team exceeds the limit in two straight seasons. In a sense, the Yankees’ new fiscal policy could be more about pressing the reset button than completely changing the rules.

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During the winter of 1996, the Florida Marlins shocked the baseball world and altered its financial landscape by spending almost $90 million on new players, including $18 million per season for Moises Alou, Bobby Bonilla, and Alex Fernandez. Fifteen years later, the now Miami Marlins are at it again.

Days after celebrating the Marlins’ World Series championship in 1997, owner Wayne Huizenga began dismantling the team.

Two days after signing Heath Bell to a three-year, $27 million contract, the Marlins also reeled in Jose Reyes, who was inked to a six-year, $106 million deal. The combined amount owed to both men in 2012 is almost 30% more than the team paid its entire roster just four seasons ago. And, if rumors are correct, the team isn’t done spending yet, with several impact names like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle and even Albert Pujols reportedly still in play.

Wayne Huizenga’s lavish Hot Stove spending resulted in a World Series title in 1997, but the championship was largely overshadowed by the fire sale that followed shortly thereafter. Almost immediately after Edgar Renteria’s game winning base hit in game seven bounced past the outstretched glove of Tony Fernandez, the Marlins began slashing payroll. Huizenga cited mounting financial losses for his decision to dismantle a championship team, but subsequent analyses suggested the 1997 Marlins were profitable and the fire sale was nothing more than part of a plan to sell the team. It’s impossible to say how much Huizenga’s decision stunted the growth of baseball in South Florida, but the team’s attendance has never come close to the 2.3 million fans who watched the team in 1997.

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When Jonathan Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Phillies, the move was roundly criticized by those who habitually undervalue closers. However, because of his unique track record of excellence, I suggested Papelbon was the worth the premium. After seeing some of the contracts recently handed out to much lesser closers, that assessment appears to have been accurate.

Heath Bell is the latest closer to strike rich on the free agent market.

In one of the first real surprises of the offseason, the Marlins, whose payroll has average $54 million over the last three years, agreed to pay Heath Bell $9 million per season until 2014. Even though he has consistently ranked among the National League saves leaders since being installed as a closer in 2009, Bell doesn’t even come close to matching the peripheral performance of Papelbon, who is three years younger to boot. So, at face value, it seems as if the Marlins are guilty of excess as they plunge back into the free agent market after a long absence (and, if rumors are to be believed, Jeffrey Loria’s wallet could come out a few more times this winter).

Before the Marlins splurged on Bell, the Rangers signed Joe Nathan to a two-year deal worth $14.5 million. Once thought of as an elite closer, Nathan is now in the midst of battling back from Tommy John surgery. If he regains his form, the Rangers could have a bargain, but considering he will be 37 in 2012, it seems as if Texas has taken an expensive gamble.

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Bobby Valentine is the new manager of the Boston Red Sox. For a franchise trying to overcome the perception of dysfunction, that might not have been the best decision. Valentine is alternately one of the most revered and hated managers in all of baseball, so his presence in the volatile powder keg of Red Sox Nation is sure to provide a spark. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is matter of wildly varying degrees of perspective.

Is Boston ready for the song and dance that usually accompanies Bobby Valentine? (Photo: AP)

During his long managerial career, Bobby Valentine has probably made as many enemies as he has won games. And, it hasn’t taken long for some of them to rear their heads. One former adversary, blogger-extraordinaire Murray Chass, recently suggested (with stats to back it up) the Red Sox hired themselves a bona fide loser. Of course, Chass’ post is dripping with personal dislike for Valentine, not to mention disdain for his former employer the New York Times, so his sentiments can be taken with a grain of salt. However, one element of Chass’ hit piece is based on truth: Valentine is a very unpopular figure because of his outspoken, often arrogant manner.

Even though a figure like Valentine in a media market like Boston could become a distraction, likability probably wasn’t item number one on the Red Sox’ wish list. Otherwise, there would have been no need to part company with Terry Francona. However, there is a strong indication of discord within the Red Sox’ organization. If GM Ben Cherington really did prefer Gene Lamont, but was overruled by Larry Lucchino, then the reports of dysfunction within the Red Sox hierarchy might actually be understated. With all the rumors swirling around the Nation, Valentine could turn out to be one of the least controversial figures in Boston over the next few months.

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Last year, the Yankees took a low-risk gamble on Freddy Garcia that paid off handsomely, so this year, they’ve decided to roll the dice again.

Freddy Garcia will be returning to the Yankees’ rotation, but whom will he be joining?

Before the 2011 season, Garcia wasn’t a lock to make the team, much less the rotation, but the veteran right hander wound becoming a key cog, going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in nearly 150 innings. On any team, that kind of production from a fifth starter would be exemplary, so it’s not hard to see why the Yankees would want to bring Garcia back on a one-year deal worth a reported $5 million. The only problem is Garcia currently ranks much higher on the Yankees’ rotation totem pole.

You could make the case Garcia was the Yankees’ second best starter in 2011, so, it’s not too farfetched to think he might be the same in 2012. C.C. Sabathia remains the rotation ace, but after the big lefty, not much else is certain. A.J. Burnett has been so bad for two straight seasons that any positive projection has to be considered blind optimism. Also, although the Yankees may be quietly confident about Phil Hughes having a bounce back year, his struggles over the last season and a half are hard to ignore. Finally, Ivan Nova’s breakout 2011 campaign seems to bode well for the future, but the 2010 performance of Hughes is a reminder about how inconsistent young pitchers with little big league experience can be. In other words, the 2012 Yankees’ rotation is full of question marks, and the return of Garcia doesn’t really provide any definitive answers.

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