The left field conundrum

    Friday, December 11, 2009, 4:23 PM [General]

    The Yankees presently have five outfielders on their 40-man roster: Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Jamie Hoffman, and Nick Swisher. That’s pretty much it as far as bullets the Yankees have in the outfield gun right now. Now that Austin Jackson is gone, the club’s best outfield prospects are far from the majors—if you’re excited by Colin Curtis, you need to get out more. No doubt there will be some non-roster invites to spring training eventually, just so the Yankees can get up a minyan when  spring training convenes, but we probably shouldn’t expect any real gems in that crowd.

    It’s obvious that even if the Yankees are in a cost-cutting mode that something is going to have to happen to fill out left field, but before the outfield cadre gets bigger it might get smaller, as now that the Yankees have put an All-Star in center, other teams are kicking the tires on Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera. It is possible that, if Brian Cashman were to receive the right offer, either could be in another uniform in short order.

    It seems unlikely that the Yankees can solve their corner outfield or DH problems by swapping away a light-hitting center fielder, no matter how fast one is or how strong the other’s arm. They will also need quality reserve outfielders—Granderson will need to rest against the tougher lefties (if not all of them), Swisher will get into funks and need a break, there are injuries to cover for, and so on. Jamie Hoffman is not someone you can project as a starter in the latter case, while Gardner and Cabrera have done the job and proved to be at least adequate in stretches. Indeed, there’s an argument that unless they are simply overwhelmed by an offer, they should hang on to both of the center fielders at least into spring training if the new designated hitter is not an outfielder who can actually play the field (more on that in a moment). Assuming that Damon or Damon’s replacement is going to be out in the pasture most days, they would have a crew of Left Fielder X, Granderson, and Swisher, plus reserves Gardner and Cabrera. There wouldn’t be a ton of work for the latter two, but the team would have two quality defensive reserves who can also actually play, which is very unusual, not to mention a top pinch-runner. This configuration would have the effect of requiring the Yankees to offer Hoffman back to the Dodgers, but career.285/.357/.407 minor league hitters who don’t play a Gold Glove center field and steal 40 bases a year need to be offered somewhere.

    Alternatively, let us pretend that Designated Hitter Q can also play the outfield corners. Then DH Q becomes “the secret fourth outfielder,” the guy who can play in left field when Left Fielder X is unavailable. At that point, Melky becomes redundant. I say “Melky” because Gardner’s speed is the greater bench weapon; Melky’s, er, Melkianism can benefit another team as the stopgap center fielder he was for the Yankees until that team finds their own Curtis Granderson to love and cherish and platoon. Your outfielders would be Left Fielder X, Granderson, Swisher, Gardner, and the amazingly versatile DH Q. Hoffman would be put in the “Seemed like a good idea at the time” file, perhaps in the “Someone spiked the punch” subfolder.

    The only problem is, I don’t know who LF X and DH Q are. X could be Johnny Damon, of course. The shockingly versatile DH Q could be someone like Jason Bay if the Yankees want to go the pricey route, or a platoon of less likely characters like, oh, Rick Ankiel and Rocco Baldelli, both of whom have played extensively in center field.  The one thing I do know is that when you solve for Q you do not get Juan Miranda. Having a designated hitter who is going to knock along batting something like .260/.330/.445 isn’t something that a team should aspire to. I bring this up because Brian Cashman recently said a few words suggesting Miranda could settle the team’s DH hash. This will never happen—Cashman likes to dangle Miranda whenever he’s trying to lower our expectations, and thereby depress the price of the free agents he’s looking at. The threat isn’t real, but darn it if the chills don’t set in every time.

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Getting Granderson is good, but more work to do

    Thursday, December 10, 2009, 10:26 AM [General]

    I don’t understand commentators not understanding the meaning of the Curtis Granderson deal in terms of its impact on the Yankees’ plans going forward. If I thought the Yankees had the same perception of the deal as some commentators, I would be truly afraid. Fortunately, as with last winter’s predictions that the Yankees absolutely, positively would not be in on Mark Teixeira, chances are that some of the latest predictions made are full of hot air.

    Specifically, one analysis that’s floating about suggests that now that the Yankees have a power-hitting center fielder on hand they will not or can afford not to sign a quality left fielder or designated hitter, whether that means Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui or another team’s free agents. Further, it has been speculated that the Yankees will now trade Nick Swisher. It’s as if the acquisition of Granderson frees the Yankees to not bother having quality players on the wings.

    This is, of course, poppycock. Granderson will be a more productive hitter than the Melky Caberera/Brett Gardner combo the Yankees employed last year, but he’s not so good that he can also hit for two other outfielders and a DH. No player is untradeable or irreplaceable. The Yankees can deal Derek Jeter if they want, but they need to get back a hitter like Hanley Ramirez and a personality like Ernie Banks wrapped up in one player. If the Yankees want to deal Swisher, swell. Bring back a slugging right fielder who is a bit more predictable. If they don’t want to re-sign Damon, more power to them—he’s old and defensively limited—but let’s get a Bob Meusel in here.

    In the same way that the Yankees can’t be satisfied to let Jorge Posada DH most of the time and turn his catching at-bats over to Frankie Cervelli, the Yankees can’t just take their center field problem of last year and move it to one of the corners, or let it stay where it is and relocate Granderson. The reason is very simple: last year the Yankees got about 80 runs of offense generated by their center fielders. Their left fielders generated about 108. If Granderson does what he’s been doing, he’ll be worth 85 or 90. Parenthetically, given his affinities with his new home park, I would bet on the high side there. Right field gave the Yankees 107 runs. Now let’s start moving the pieces around. You gain 10 runs for adding Granderson, but lose 28 for moving the Melky/Gardner complex to left. That’s not a net gain. You could split off Gardner and Cabrera to the wings, but that way lies madness—the outfield would be Granderson and a great deal of bunting.

    The same applies to catcher and DH. If Posada is the full-time DH, he might be able to match the departing Matsui’s production, but there is no way Cervelli matches Posada’s. The net change is that DH stays about the same but catcher loses half its run potential. This is no way to defend a championship, gutting three or four positions because you’ve improved one, and I very much doubt the Yankees think about things that way.

    Now, having praised the Yankees’ decision-making in terms of the Major League roster, I’m a bit perplexed by their actions in the Rule 5 draft. It was rumored that they would pick Zack Kroenke, their own left-handed reliever who had a breakout season at Scranton this year. That would have been depressing, given that the Yankees could have just retained him in the first place, but it would have been a more valuable move considering the current state of the bullpen than to pick up outfielder Jamie Hudson from the Dodgers.

    Hoffman, who turned 25 in August, is a fifth outfielder hoping to be a fourth outfielder. He has limited power, limited patience, and good but not great speed. Given his age, his potential for growth is minimal. He’s right-handed, which means it’s possible he could platoon in center to protect Granderson from the tougher lefties, but there is so very, very little to get excited about here. Essentially, the Yankees swapped Brian Bruney for a spare part with very limited applications… And Kroenke gets packed off to the Diamondbacks, erasing (at best temporarily) one possible Coke-replacement from the list.

    It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that Andy Pettitte can come up with one more year in the style of ’09 at age 38, plus a one-year deal means that the risk is minimal. The Yankees will pay him a bit of a premium, but once it’s over, it’s over. The main question now is how the last two spots in the rotation will be allocated. Let’s hope that Sergio Mitre isn’t part of the plan ....

    4.1 (2 Ratings)

    It’s not official, but ...

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009, 4:25 PM [General]

    As was the case last winter, when Brian Cashman and the Yankees stopped messing around with the Carl Pavanos and Jaret Wrights of the world and signed CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, the team did what it had to do, seeing an opportunity to upgrade the championship team in center field. Note I say “center field.” There’s always the possibility that the Yankees could say, “Bye, Johnny Damon, we’re keeping Melky in center and putting Granderson in left,” or something like that, and completely negate the offensive improvement they just made. I don’t believe that will happen; if I had to bet I would guess Damon would be back.

    Let’s talk about the deal as it’s being reported. The Yankees get Granderson. The All-Star center fielder turns 29 in March. The good is he has power, speed, and patience. He hits a ton of triples, although those are going to turn into doubles or home runs in Yankee Stadium II—the park just doesn’t yield three-base hits. He’s a fine baserunner, which the Yankees could use more of, both in terms of stealing bases at a good percentage. He’s taken over 70 walks the last two seasons, and he popped 30 home runs this year despite being handicapped by Comerica Park, which is very hard on left-handed hitters. In his career, Granderson has hit .261/.334/.451 at home, .284/.353/.516 on the road. This year, that split was even more pronounced: .230/.307/.388 at home, .267/.345/.516 on the road. There is every reason to think he will be closer to the latter figures in pinstripes.

    There are two downsides, one minor, one major. The former is that Granderson strikes out a lot, and if I’ve learned anything in my years doing this feature it’s that Yankees fans (or at least that subset of Yankees fans that read me) can’t stand strikeouts. The more serious problem is that Granderson should probably be platooned. He’s a career .210/.270/.344 hitter against southpaws, and hit a rather pathetic .183/.245/.239. The Yankees saw a left-handed starter in roughly a third of their games last year, so either Yankees coaches have some insight into helping Granderson get a better look at same-side pitchers or they’re going to have to use Melky Cabrera more than is helpful, Melky being a switch-hitter who can’t really hit from the right side. He had a little flurry of hitting against them this year, but quickly reverted—he hit .268/.341/.366 against them in the second half. That’s better than Melky has ever done against them, but still less than what the average AL right-handed hitter did against them (.271/.344/.436). Regardless, the Yankees are vastly improved in center from where they were at the end of the season.

    The Yankees reportedly give up Austin Jackson, who emphatically does NOT profile as an impact player and hit .260/.296/.328 in the second half; Phil Coke, a spot lefty who held same-side hitters to a low average but also was extremely vulnerable to the home run; and Ian Kennedy, who will be a far better pitcher in the NL than he ever would have been for the Yankees. Kennedy came back nicely from his medical problems and is the real source of pain in this deal because the Yankees may need help at the back of their rotation, but that pain will be transient as the rotation starts to take shape and we learn how the Yankees will fill it out.

    The Tigers receive Jackson and Coke plus Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks. They reload their bullpen and their starting rotation in the move, and get to see what Jackson is made of in center. This is an offensive downgrade but a bumper crop of pitching. The D’backs gave up the store in this one, unless Scherzer has some immoral habit that isn’t public knowledge. He’s one of the best young pitchers in baseball, gets a ton of strikeouts and grounders, and had an ERA under 4.00 away from his hitter-friendly home park. Schereth is a 24-year-old lefty with control problems but lots of upside, as he can get the fastball up to 98 mph.

    In return for their generosity, the D’backs get Edwin Jackson from the Tigers, an arbitration-eligible hurler with great stuff who tends to forget how to pitch in the middle of ballgames. He had a first-half ERA of 2.52 and a 5.07 second-half ERA, and that pretty much sums up his career. On the plus side, he’s just 26 so he’s still young enough to find some consistency.

    Arizona also gets Kennedy. I suppose they get two starters where they had one starter and a reliever, but Scherzer might be better than Jackson and Kennedy put together. The deal doesn’t make much sense from their point of view, but I’m sure the Yankees and the Tigers thank them for playing.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Winter Meetings: The good and the bad

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009, 10:02 AM [General]

    1. Many rumors have the Yankees, Tigers, and Diamondbacks discussing a three-way swap that would bring Curtis Granderson to the Bronx. Way to keep your eye on the main chance, Admiral Cashman. One rumor had the Yankees sending Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Michael Dunn away and getting back Granderson and prospects. The Tigers would have given up Edwin Jackson in the deal and received Max Scherzer from Arizona. Apparently the Tigers scuttled the deal, and you can’t blame them—they’d be giving up two good players for one promising pitcher, albeit one who looks like a coming All-Star based on his work this year. As for the Yankees, the deal would have been a pure win, giving up three pitchers who aren’t too important for a top center fielder. Had the deal gone through, Cashman might as well have flown home—he wouldn’t have been able to top it any time soon.

    2. The reward for Brian Bruney is the first overall pick of the Rule 5 draft. This means that every eligible, unprotected player in baseball is now prey to be picked off by Mssr. Cashman. Can you select your own players? I ask only because the Yankees were forced to expose a couple of interesting players, including the suddenly popular Colin Curtis (I remain convinced that Curtis-o-mania is a kind of mass delusion caused by swamp gas). This possibility aside, it seems more likely that the Yankees have a specific player from another organization in mind. Otherwise, there’s no reason to jump to the head of the line. Whoever the Yankees take, they’d be forced to retain him on the 25-man roster all season or be obligated to offer him back to his original organization. Because of this stricture, it seems most likely the target would be a pitcher, probably a reliever; in this age of bloated pitching staffs, a reliever can be more easily hidden at the bottom of the bullpen, especially if we’re talking about a specialist like a left spot reliever, than can a position player that you’re not going to use all that often.

    This whole deal is somewhat shocking—as I wrote yesterday in assessing Bruney’s time in pinstripes, it’s rare for Cashman to invest too much time in these kind of low-risk, high-return possibilities. Suddenly the Yankees are looking for bargains on the margin, and it’s a very good thing—you can often get value without paying top dollar, and sometimes you even get more than you had bargained for.

    3. The bad: the Yankees are rumored to be talking with Jason Marquis. My professional reaction:  AAAGH! RUN! RUN FOR YOUR VERY LIVES! Marquis won 11 games in an uncharacteristically effective first half, but he’s not a particularly special pitcher, one who walks too many and strikes out too few, and has been pretty hittable in his career. To his credit, he’s upped his groundball rate in recent seasons, which has had the effect of shrinking what was once a crippling number of home runs allowed. Still, he’s the epitome of the kind of NL career hurler who is likely to get mugged coming over to the DH league. The Yankees have to talk to everyone, and it pays to keep your eyes and ears open to any possibility, so no criticism to the Yankees for just having a chat, but yeesh, Kennedy would be far more likely to succeed than Marquis and be millions cheaper.

    I’m going to guess that the Nationals signed 38-year-old catcher to a two-year deal, or any deal at all for that matter, because they felt like their youthful pitching staff needed “veteran leadership.” It can’t be because they thought Pudge would be an offensive plus—the old man hasn’t hit in five years now. In 2004, Rodriguez put together one of his best seasons, hitting .334/.383/.510 for the Tigers. In 630 games since, he batted .278/.304/.418. That’s below average even by the expectations of his position. It’s probably better than what Wil Nieves would have delivered, but it’s doubtful that a 39-year-old Rodriguez will be quite that good—he certainly wasn’t this year. I suppose that the team isn’t confident of Jesus Flores making a strong comeback after elbow and labrum surgery. Rodriguez can still throw, at least. 

    The Nats don’t have a lot of great prospects, but among that select group they can number a catcher, Derek Norris. He hit .286/.413/.513 at Hagerstown this year. He could be about two years away; at least Pudge won’t be in his way.

    UPDATE: 10:34 p.m.
    Jon Heyman tweets that the Yankees pulled out of a possible Granderson deal because they don’t want to give up four prospects for one player. While I don’t know what other fish the Yankees might fry if they spin those players off in separate deals, let’s not get carried away by the idea of giving up volume for quality. Look at the four guys: Austin Jackson hit .300 with four homers at Triple-A this year. That translates to absolutely nothing you can use in the Major Leagues. Phil Coke gave up a ton of home runs, and lefty spot guys are a dime a dozen. I like Mike Dunn, but he’s another lefty spot guy at best and is way too wild for the role right now—you’d bring him into face Carlos Pena and end up with him on first base and Evan Longoria at the plate. Ian Kennedy is also a pitcher I remain enthusiastic about, but his upside is as a back-of-the-rotation starter. I suppose he could be the Yankees’ No. 5 guy this year; heck, if Sergio Mitre could be the Yankees’ No. 5 for half a season, anyone can, possibly including you, your mom, and grandma, may she rest in peace. Still, the Yankees have or can acquire other options in all these instances, but don’t have a clear path to a 30-homer center fielder without making a deal for Granderson.

    Again, maybe these players are in enough demand that the Yankees could put half in a package for Roy Halladay and the other two in a deal for a left fielder like Josh Willingham and come away better off than had they just gone all in on Granderson. If that’s the case, then the decision to back away is defensible, and the Yankees can always come back later if a better deal for the outfielder doesn’t present itself to the Tigers. Conversely, they also risk coming away with nothing, retaining this pile of so-so players and having neither a Granderson nor a Halladay nor a left fielder. That, of course, is the inevitable nature of gambling, and I assume that Cashman, knowing his options better than we do, has a handle on the percentages each bob-and-weave he executes creates.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    A prelude to Willingham?

    Monday, December 7, 2009, 3:13 PM [General]

    Before we move on to the news of the day, you will note that we have a new official home here, the My YES section of the YES Network media empire. I’m excited about the new digs as I’ll be able to more easily post photos as I cover games (mostly of the buffet, probably) and interact with you more directly. For those who have bookmarked us at that will still work, while the My YES URL is right here. You will still be able to find the ol’ Pinstriped Bible highlighted on the main page, but these two addresses will be the most direct and reliable way to reach us. I look forward to seeing you there (pants optional but preferred).

    Pack up all your care and woe, here you go, singing low … Brian Bruney is now a Washington National, having been sent south by the Yankees in exchange for the ever-popular Player to Be Named Later.
    Rumors have abounded that the Yankees will try to trim their payroll a bit this offseason, and dealing the arbitration-eligible Bruney is a small step in that direction. This is a nice move for the Nationals and a bit of a loss for the Yankees. Despite never quite curing his wildness and suffering from a bit of fragility, Bruney was tough to hit and so was largely an effective reliever in New York. His final Yankees line shows a 12-3 record, 3.25 ERA, and only 112 hits allowed in 144 innings. The Nats gain a reliever who, whatever his flaws, is better than just about anyone they used this year—ironically, the only other reliever the team can count on is former Yankee Tyler Clippard, who did a really terrific job this season, allowing just 36 hits in 60.1 innings (in part thank to a not-to-be-repeated .201 batting average on balls in play).
    Bruney was a minor triumph for Brian Cashman, a guy the Yankees picked up for nothing after the Diamondbacks gave up on him. He was never the first pitcher you wanted to use with runners on base, but he was fine in most other situations. The Yankees usually buy at the top of the market, but a general manager provides real value to his team when he has the insight to recognize a diamond in the rough on the free-talent pile. Cashman doesn’t usually have to do this, and I think at times he might not place that much importance on this aspect of his job—over the past 10 years or so there have been so waiver claims that needed making that for whatever reason didn’t get made. If the Yankees are truly in a cost-cutting mode, then Bruney should stand as an example, both of getting something good at a minimal price and also getting rid of a nonessential performer who is about to become expensive through arbitration

    Getting back a Player to Be Named isn’t too exciting, but we can hope that this is a precursor to a larger deal. The Yankees have need of a left fielder and the Nationals have their own arbitration-eligible left fielder to deal in Josh Willingham. Willingham, soon to be 31, batted .260/.367/.496 with 24 home runs and 61 walks this year. That doesn’t seem like much, but Willingham has never played in a park that suited his talents—he’s a career .281/.376/.526 hitter in road games. I have some concerns about the Yankees importing a player from the weaker league, and his defense isn’t anything special, if not something less than that, but heck, the Yankees have an opening at designated hitter, too.

    Willingham is right-handed, which doesn’t help in Yankee Stadium II (or 2.5 or 3.0, depending on how you count—various readers keep lecturing me on this), but would provide some balance to the lineup. More importantly, he’s got selectivity and power, which are the two main qualities to look for in a hitter. He would be a very different player from Johnny Damon, but isn’t terribly dissimilar to Hideki Matsui—he just swings from the opposite side of the plate and comes with fewer endorsements.

    0 (0 Ratings)

    Welcome to the new Pinstriped!

    Monday, December 7, 2009, 1:31 PM [General]

    Welcome to the all-new and Steven Goldman's new home on An acclaimed Internet baseball columnist and noted Yankees historian, Goldman has authored the daily Pinstriped Blog on since 2005. "Forging Genius," Steve's biography of Casey Stengel, and "Mind Game," the story of the Red Sox' 2004 championship, and "Baseball Between the Numbers," from the authors of Baseball Prospectus, are  available at

    Along with Steve's recent thoughts on the 2009 Hall of Fame ballot, which included his takes on the merits of Don Mattingly and Tim Raines, he provided Yankees analysis throughout their run to their 27th World Championship while looking ahead to what he believes the team needs to do to repeat in 2010.

    Between business picking up at the Winter Meetings, and rumors of the Yankees making a big deal to enhance their chances at a repeat, Steve will all over the breaking news while sharing his unique opinions and analysis. Feel free to share your thoughts with Steve right here at the all-new Pinstriped!

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    Hall of Fame: When it Raines, it pours

    Monday, December 7, 2009, 1:21 PM [General]

    Wrapping up the Hall of Fame ballot...

    Tim Raines: Why there isn't more enthusiasm for Rock is one of the bigger mysteries of life these days. If Rickey Henderson was the number one leadoff man of all time, Raines was 1-A. Even the Expos and the White Sox went to the postseason while he was with them, and of course he helped the 1996 Yankees get where they needed to go. If you need a hook to hang Raines on, then go with "possibly the greatest high-volume, high-percentage basestealer of all time." Fortunately that's not all he could do -- he could hit .295 to .330, pop 10 home runs a year (in a tough home run park in a far different hitting environment than now), and take 85 walks. He was good enough to play for 23 seasons, and even when knee injuries cut down on his speed (thanks, Ozzie Guillen) he still provided value. I'm not sure what the Hall voters are looking for that isn't present in his record.

    Shane Reynolds: A good pitcher for a few years, but never a great one, not even in a single season. He'll be remembered for his excellent strikeout-walk ratio, just not in Cooperstown.

    David Segui: A totally unremarkable first baseman, notable mainly for his many stays on the disabled list.

    Lee Smith: As with Jim Rice, Bruce Sutter's enshrinement opens the door to many players whose career values were not particularly high. Smith saved a lot of games and was the all-time leader for a few years. Unfortunately, closers can pile up a great many saves without actually pitching very well. Smith never got particularly close to a major award, and the results in his two postseason series were poor. I count three truly outstanding closer seasons in 18 seasons, not enough. He falls just a little short in my book.

    Alan Trammell: Another player about whom the voters display an utter lack of fascination despite some very good qualifications. Trammell was simply one of the best all-around shortstops of all time and the class of the position in the American League before Cal Ripken came around. He was arguably ripped off in two MVP votes, especially, spectacularly, in 1987. His Tigers won consistently, and his 1984 championship team is on the short list of single-season greats. In the grand scheme of things, the offensive output of Trammell, Larkin and Derek Jeter is a matter of minute degrees. Jeter has already outclassed them both in career value, but they're all the same flavor of player. In their favor, they were both far better defenders. The lack of interest in Trammell mystifies me almost as much as the cold shoulder given Raines.

    Robin Ventura: I don't think he's a Hall of Famer, but given the dearth of third basemen in the Hall of Fame, you could make a case for him. He was a terrific fielder who was a selective hitter with power, but he falls a bit short on career value. In any case, all borderline third basemen go to the back of the line until the non-borderline Ron Santo gets in.  

    Todd Zeile: You can't know what would have happened, but I have always felt that Joe Torre did Zeile a disservice by moving him off of catcher. Instead of being a good-hitting backstop, he became a third baseman who couldn't field well enough and a first baseman who couldn't hit well enough. In none of these scenarios would he have been a Hall of Famer, but he would have had greater historical import.

    I inadvertently skipped Mark McGwire yesterday. I'm still a PED skeptic. Tell you what -- dock McGwire 10 percent of his home runs for his use of chemicals, which is probably a lot. He's still got 525 home runs. I don't like his refusal to face up to his usage, and his Congressional testimony was especially pathetic. Despite that, I don't see the reason to keep him out.

    Revisiting Fred McGriff and Roberto Alomar: I was a little vague with both of them, which led to come confusion. I think they're both solid candidates, and would probably vote for both, just not with as much personal enthusiasm as I might have for some others. McGriff was very good without having pizzazz, but pizzazz shouldn't be a qualification for the Hall. As for Alomar, even though everyone involves seems to agree that the spitting incident was an aberration, I find it so repulsive that I have a tough time dismissing it. On his merits as a player he should go in.
    We'll take a quick look at the Veteran's committee ballot, the results for which will be announced in just a few days. 

    3.7 (1 Ratings)

    More thoughts on the Hall of Fame ballot

    Monday, December 7, 2009, 1:19 PM [General]

    As you have very likely seen by now, the Yankees have declined to offer arbitration to any of their free agents. They have elected not to get tied into an inflexible negotiating position with any of their veterans. The downside to this decision is that if Johnny Damon leaves the Yankees won't pick up a free draft pick.

    Now, on the positive side, this decision doesn't mean that Damon and pals are definitely gone. The Yankees can keep talking to as many of their free agents as they're interested in retaining, even Xavier Nady. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it ain't over 'til the fat agent sings (about signing with another team). Meanwhile, a handful of players were offered arbitration, including some players that have been rumored to attract the roving eye of Brian Cashman to one degree or another--Chone Figgins, John Lackey, Mike Gonzalez, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. If the Yankees were to bring in any of these fellows, they would punt away their first-round draft pick for next June. Given that the Yankees actually do things with their draft picks these days, it is to be hoped that the penalty attached to signing these cats would act as a severe disincentive to action. With Curtis Granderson and Roy Halladay out there to be pursued in trade, there's no reason for the Yankees to feel like they absolutely most sign a free agent.


    Continuing our review of the Hall of Fame ballot...

    Barry Larkin: One of the best offensive shortstops in history, with Jeter-like batting results in most seasons. He was an excellent glove in his prime, and his Reds won a World Series, something that seems impossible now. An MVP award attests to the high regard in which he was held during his career, as do 12 All-Star game selections. His main weakness was that he had trouble staying on the field, but his career totals are just fine in spite of that. He could hit .300, steal 40 bases at an excellent percentage, was willing to take a walk and hit almost 200 home runs. He's a no-brainer Hall of Famer.

    Edgar Martinez: Let's get one thing out of the way: if designated hitter is a legal position, then there should be no penalty for playing there. Martinez was not a good glove at third, where he started, and he might or might not have been a decent first baseman but he was fragile and the Mariners had other options. Thus, the DH position allowed Martinez to reduce his injury risk and made him a pure asset instead of a compromised defender. Those seem like good things. Martinez was one of the best right-handed hitters of recent years--you might recall him personally dismantling Buck Showalter's career in the 1995 ALDS. He won two batting titles, led the league in on-base percentage three times. A career .312/.418/.515 hitter, depending on how you adjust for era, Martinez figures as one of the 30- to 50-best hitters of all time. His career totals are a bit short of the big round numbers the voters typically like to see mainly because the Mariners weren't smart enough to start playing him regularly until he was 27--he had to prove he could hit a Triple-A three times over before they gave him a real chance. This is one of the reasons the Mariners were a complete loss from expansion until the mid-90s. That's not Martinez's fault and he shouldn't be penalized for it. He's in my Hall.

    Don Mattingly: Back in the early days of the Pinstriped Bible the readers and I spent thousands of words arguing Mattingly's Hall of Fame case. I should re-run those one of these days. Suffice it to say that, in the days when feelings about Mattingly were still fresh, emotions ran high when I suggested that Mattingly's short peak period didn't quite qualify him for entry. This was a painful thing for me, because Mattingly was the player who really changed me from a very casual baseball fan to someone who would eventually end up writing about baseball for a living. Donnie Baseball had four Hall of Fame-level seasons, perhaps three more that were very good but not of that quality, and six seasons that really didn't help. These were the post-back injury years--I still mourn that injury. As good as Mattingly was from 1984-1987--and despite the greatness of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, A-Rod, and the rest, I still haven't seen anyone better--his peak just wasn't long enough.

    Fred McGriff: The Crime Dog confuses me. I wouldn't hold up a true Hall of Famer over seven missing home runs. That would be pathetically small-minded and arbitrary. His offensive abilities were clearly worthy of enshrinement. He wasn't just a one-dimensional slugger, but also walked and hit for solid averages. He played on five postseason teams and picked up a winning ring. At the same time, he wasn't much of a fielder (though he was good enough at first to get over 2000 games there), not at all a baserunner. He never came close to winning an MVP award. He was just quietly good for about 18 years. I really have no idea what to do with him. The back of his baseball card says yes, but I just don't have that feeling about him.

    Jack Morris: The quintessential "league-average innings eater," people mistake him for an ace because of one of the great World Series performances. You have to make crazy excuses and explanations to force him into the Hall. Walter Johnson was reputed to pitch to the score too, but still managed to post dominant numbers. Pass.

    Dale Murphy: An excellent player on a mostly miserable team, in the late '80s you could turn on TBS and the games were so sparsely attended that the crowd mic would clearly pick up the players talking to each other on the field. I tend to discount him on two levels: first, his peak was relatively brief. Second, he was a product of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, hitting .285/.374/.513 at what was called the Launching Pad, but only .251/.329/.445. He was a good player, and a much-admired one, but given that park advantage, even his best seasons aren't quite as big as they should be to put him in the Hall given the brevity of his career.

    Dave Parker: In the first Hall of Fame entry, I said of Andre Dawson that as a center fielder he was a Hall of Famer, while as a right fielder he was Jermaine Dye. A similar bifurcation can be observed in Parker's career. For about five years in the 1970s, Parker was a .300 hitter with power, speed, and a killer throwing arm (26 assists in 1977!). After that, but for the 1985 season he was just a guy, and often not a very good one, overweight and impatient at the plate. From 1980 on, a span of nearly 1,600 games, his hit only .275/.322/.444. The overall career is still impressive due to his longevity and the height of his peak years, but his case for Cooperstown comes down to about six seasons, and as with Mattingly, that's not quite enough for me.

    ...In our next installment.

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    Tommy Henrich, a great player and man

    Monday, December 7, 2009, 1:16 PM [General]

    One of the great Yankees passed away today. Tommy Henrich, an outfielder and first baseman with the Yankees from 1937 through 1950 (with a break for three years of World War II) has died at the age of 96. Mel Allen named him "Old Reliable" because of his reputation for delivering in the clutch. One of my favorite lines about Henrich was written by sportswriter Tom Meany during the 1949 season when for the first three quarters of the season Henrich was the only Yankee who stayed healthy -- then he got hurt too, having run into an outfield wall:

    Tommy Henrich hit a home run for the Yankees to win the opening game of the 1949 season. Tommy Henrich hit a home run to win the pennant for the Yankees in the closing game of the season. Tommy Henrich hit a home run for the Yankees to win the opening game of the World Series. What's the matter with the guy? Is he in a rut?"

    Henrich (middle) made up one-third of the greatest Yankees outfield with Charlie Keller (second from left) and Joe DiMaggio (second from right). Given frequent injuries, which he either missed time for or ruined his stats playing through, a bit of platooning, the war, and a late start to his career, Henrich's career numbers don't really show how good a player he was -- he only had a few seasons where he played a full campaign and hit up to his full capabilities. That said, even below-peak Henrich was very good. He had power, hit for good averages, and walked 80 to 90 times a year. I'm trying to think of a contemporary player who is a good match for Henrich. Baseball cites J.D. Drew as a comp for Henrich, and statistically it's right on. Drew, however, provokes a lot of negative reactions while Henrich was not only completely uncontroversial but widely admired for his professionalism. In that sense, the comparison doesn't fit. Henrich hit like Drew and had Don Mattingly's attitude -- perhaps that does the trick.

    Henrich's career might have been a little different had he not signed with the Indians as an amateur. He got buried in their farm system and it took a direct appeal to the Commissioner to get him out of his contract. Declared a free agent, the Ohio native decided he liked the Yankees best. He was sent to Newark for about three seconds and hit .440. Simultaneously, veteran outfielder Roy Johnson greatly annoyed Yankees manager Joe McCarthy. After the Yankees, who were playing with their usual excellent form of those days, dropped a close game, McCarthy groused in the clubhouse. "Does he expect us to win them all?" Johnson replied flippantly. Actually, that's exactly what McCarthy expected. Johnson was instantly released and Henrich was recalled.

    The two most famous plays of Henrich's career came in the World Series. The lesser known of the two was the walk-off home run that broke a zero-zero tie and won the first game of the 1949 Series. The other occurred in the top of the ninth of Game 4 of the 1941 Series against the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. The Yankees came to bat in that frame trailing 4-3. Dodgers ace reliever Hugh Casey was in the game. The first two batters of the inning grounded out. Henrich came to bat. The count went to 3-2 and Casey fired off his put-away pitch, a sinker. Henrich swung and missed, but the ball ticked off of catcher Mickey Owens' glove and rolled behind the plate. Owens got after the ball in fairly good form, but Henrich beat the play at first.

    With that, the wheels came off for Casey and the Dodgers. DiMaggio singled. Keller doubled to right, scoring both Henrich and Joe D. Bill Dickey walked. Joe Gordon doubled to left field, scoring Keller and Dickey. By the time Casey finally recorded the final out, the Yankees were up, 7-4. Yankees' fireman Johnny Murphy got the Dodgers in order in the bottom of the ninth and the World Series, which could have been tied at 2-2, was now 3-1 in favor of the Bombers. The Yankees would close the series out behind pitcher Tiny Bonham the next day. Henrich homered in the fifth.

    Henrich had been in ill health for years, but in the early 1990s he would still give the odd interview, talking candidly about the great Yankees teams he played for and his relationships with (each in their own way) outsized and difficult personalities like DiMaggio and Casey Stengel, or Lou Gehrig and McCarthy. I always wished I could have heard more -- I would have listened for hours.

    It's one thing to be remembered as a great baseball player. It's another thing altogether to be recalled as a great professional, a great teammate, and a good man. I've never heard or read a word said about Henrich that detracted from the image of a man who was a pleasure to be around, who was always ready to play, who set an example for his colleagues. Tommy Henrich really was Old Reliable in every sense of the name. You can't ask for a greater legacy than that.

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