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Archive for the ‘Yankees’ Category

Jim Crane has begun his tenure as Houston Astros’ owner, and the franchise’s 50th year, by firing Tal Smith, a long-time baseball executive who had been with the team off and on since its inception. Although the more significant move was the dismissal of general manager Ed Wade, whose four years in Houston were punctuated by losing, Smith’s pink slip symbolically represents a new era in Houston baseball.

Astros' GM Ed Wade (c.) and President Tal Smith (r.) will not be a part of the new era in Houston baseball.

Older Yankees’ fans might recall that Tal Smith served as the team’s executive vice president and right hand man to de facto GM Gabe Paul from 1973 to 1975. However, the relationship between Paul and Smith went back long before the two joined forces in the Bronx. The two men first met in 1960, when a then 27 year-old Smith was trying to land his first job in baseball. Paul, who was GM of the Cincinnati Reds at the time, rebuffed the solicitation, suggesting Smith first learn shorthand if he wanted a job. At the second meeting, however, Paul was forced to relent when the young would-be executive triumphantly returned three months later having acquired the skill.

Smith followed Paul to the expansion Houston Colt 45s (as the Astros were then called) in 1962. Although Paul quickly moved on a few months later to become GM of the Cleveland Indians, Smith made Houston his home. For the next 13 years, the young executive gradually climbed the ladder with the Astros until his former boss, who had been instrumental in brokering George M. Steinbrenner’s recent purchase of the Yankees, came calling.

In November 1973, Paul hired his former protégé to be his top assistant. Paul had just spent his first season in the Bronx, and was still trying to get a handle on how the organization structure would work, particularly in light of Steinbrenner’s growing involvement. Considering the franchise’s rapidly expanding front office, Paul was probably as much in need of an ally as an assistant, but regardless, the two men proved to be a very effective team as they gradually rebuilt the Yankees over the next two seasons.

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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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Is Feliz being moved to the rotation because of his blown save in game 6? (Photo: Getty Images)

The Texas Rangers made a surprise move by agreeing to terms with Joe Nathan on a two-year deal worth $15 million in guaranteed money. After making the announcement, the team decided to kill two birds with one stone by also letting it be known that former closer Neftali Feliz will be joining the rotation in 2012.

The pair of moves seems to make sense, especially because free agent C.J. Wilson appears to be on his way out of town. Considering the lack of comparable starters available (and affordable), and the glut of relievers on the market, moving the 24-year old Feliz’ electric arm into the rotation should give the Rangers the best chance to remain competitive in the A.L. West.

But, is that the only reason the Rangers are moving Feliz to the rotation? According to Buster Olney, the lingering effects of Feliz’ blown save in the sixth game of the World Series might also be a factor. In a series of Tweets, Olney expressed sentiments that are probably widely believed throughout the game: young closers who blow big games become damaged goods. So, if the Rangers had any concerns about Feliz’ ability to stare down the barrel of the ninth inning going forward, it would make sense to usher him into the rotation.

History tells us that young closers who blow postseason leads in big moments rarely recover; it’s a good time for TEX to shift Neftali Feliz.” – Buster Olney on Twitter

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Lou Gehrig puts his arm around Babe Dahlgren, the first baseman who replaced him when his consecutive games streak came to an end.

Ellsworth Tenney “Babe” Dahlgren would be an anonymous figure in Yankees’ history if he hadn’t been penciled in as the starting first baseman on May 2, 1939, the day Lou Gehrig’s then record streak of 2,130 consecutive games came to an end.  In that game, the Yankees didn’t miss a beat without their legendary captain as Dahlgren went 2-5 with a home run, but the rest of his career hardly met the standard established by the Iron Horse.

Following in Gehrig’s footsteps couldn’t have been easy for Dahlgren, but at least it gave him a bit of immortality. After all, without that distinction, chances are very few baseball fans, even the most hardcore, would know his name. However, that isn’t the footnote Dahlgren seemed to believe was most associated with his name.

I recently came across the following video from the 1939 World Series, which includes a glimpse of Dahlgren crossing home plate after homering in game 2. Amazed by the quality of this rare footage (which is remarkable in its own right), and hoping to find more just like it, I clicked on the provided URL and stumbled across an intriguing website about a book called “Rumor in Town”, which tells the story of another anecdote regarding Dahlgren’s career: one about which I had never heard even though Dahlgren spent the rest of his life trying to  dispel it.

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

Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. That has become Brian Cashman’s mantra when addressing questions about his offseason plans. But should that be his only focus?

As we enter the process this winter, I don’t anticipate a bat being of need at all. Offense is not an issue that we’ll be focusing on. It will be the pitching. I feel our offense is very, very strong. – Brian Cashman, quoted by Bloomberg, November 2, 2011

Last year, the Yankees offense was very strong in terms of run production. In fact, it was historic when compared to the league average. However, a couple of warning signs are evident (albeit relatively minor) when you take a look under the hood.  As illustrated in the chart below, at the same time the Yankees’ average run total per game spiked, the underlying performance of the offense, as measured by OPS+, dropped to its second lowest level since 2001. Also, although the lineup’s 2011 wRC+ of 113 was healthier than last year’s, it was still off recent highs in 2007 and 2009. Until 2010, the Yankees’ relative run production had an almost perfect correlation to weighted Runs Created and adjusted OPS (r2 of .97 and .93, respectively), so unless the divergence experienced over the past two years is sustainable because of an underlying dynamic (improved base running and lots of homeruns?), Cashman should at least be mindful about the possibility of these lines converging in 2012.

Yankees Relative Offensive Performance, 1996-2011

Note: R/G vs. Lg is the Yankees’ R/G divided by the league average.
Source: fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com, proprietary calculations

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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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