Yanks Re-sign Bruney

New York settled its arbitration case with reliever Brian Bruney for $1.25 million for one year.  This roughly splits the difference between what Bruney sought and what the Yankees wanted to pay.  Personally, it’s a very good deal for the Yankees. They’re paying just over a million for a guy who, for the most part, has been very good with the Yankees, who got in better shape last year and, despite a foot injury last year, was a terrific member of an excellent bullpen.  He was 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA, 0.990 WHIP, and was just nasty on lefties by allowing them a .106 batting average in 2008.

Great signing, getting a good, hard-throwing reliever back for a song.

Published in: on January 31, 2009 at 2:50 pm  Comments (10)  

Pinch-Hitting Stint at LoHud

Pete Abraham, the beat writer and blogger at The Amsterdam Journal News, was good enough to grant me a spot in his winter pinch-hitting lineup.  Here is the post. Many thanks to Pete for the opportunity.

Below is a slightly expanded version of that post, with some financial details and statistical information added here that would have bumped the post at LoHud over the 500 word limit.  The original was 497 words and, as the regular readers here know, brevity is not my strong suit.  Tough decisions ensued, so I figured I’d omit some figures and include them here.  Otherwise, it’s essentially the same.

The post:

This off-season, the Yankees have come under fire for their high-priced, free agent acquisitions. After they signed Mark Teixeira, Peter Gammons compared them to Wal-Mart, braying “Wal-Mart eats up small-family businesses.  The Yankees eat up the Brewers and the Indians.” After they acquired Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixeira, some, including Astros owner Drayton McLane, clamored for baseball to adopt a salary cap. While I object to the Yankees’ receiving city-sponsored tax-exempt bonds and their new stadium’s cost overruns, I disagree with both Gammons’s misguided portrayal of the Yankees’ financial relationship to other teams, and with knee-jerk cries for a salary cap.

First, it’s ironic that Gammons compared the big-spending Yankees to a corporation that recently settled for over $600 million various class-action lawsuits for stealing overtime from employees and forcing them to work through lunch and breaks periods–for underpaying employees through threats, coercion, and stealth. Do the Yankees financially “eat” teams such as Milwaukee and Cleveland? Revenue-sharing figures suggest otherwise. In 2005, Milwaukee received $24 million in revenue-sharing money and Cleveland $6 million, with the Yankees contributing $76 million of roughly $312 million that thirteen teams paid the other seventeen.

The purpose of revenue sharing is to improve the competitiveness of small-market teams through earnings redistribution from larger-market teams. Yet teams often accept such largess to offset payroll without re-investing in new talent or keeping their own. The $24 million paid to Milwaukee represented just over sixty percent of its $39,934,833 payroll that year. Florida received $31 million in revenue sharing for 2005, yet refused to re-invest that money. In fact, that $31 million represented nearly half Florida’s combined payroll for the 2006-2008 seasons, $67,317,000, aided by its 2005 trade of Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston.

What many small-market teams have done, and what the current revenue-sharing system rewards, is to profit as the team struggles and fans fish for reasons to attend games. The Marlins and Royals are prime culprits, profiting from low payrolls and with low attendance figures (each at or near the bottom in attendance every year from 2004-2008). Florida has occasionally competed for the playoffs since winning the 2003 World Series, while the Royals are perennially a profitable laughingstock far more valuable now than eight years ago.  Yet they have nonetheless been in the black, with Florida earning $43.3 million in 2006–tops in baseball– with a payroll just under $14 million, and the Royals earning $8.4 million in 2006 and $7.4 in 2007.  The Pirates were also profitable, pulling in $23.9 million in 2006, good for 3rd most profitable in baseball, and $17.6 million in 2007, 18th most profitable.  Yet they won a scant 67 and 68 games in 2006 and 2007 respectively, were 15th in attendance in the NL each year, and cut payroll from $46.7 million in 2006 to $38.5 million in 2007 (Plunkett’s Sports Industry Almanac 2008 and 2009; USATODAY.com Salary Database).  Poor win-loss records do not necessarily equal destitution.

Even as the small-market, low payroll Rays reached the World Series last year, others caterwaul for a salary cap. Yet will this achieve either on-field parity or greater profits for small-market teams? Not necessarily. Despite having half the teams in the playoffs that the other three major North American sports leagues do, baseball has already had twenty-three different teams make the playoffs since 2001, with seven different champions. Moreover, the NFL, NBA, and NHL not only have salary caps but salary minimums, pegging mandatory payroll spending to their respective salary caps (86.4% for football, 75% for basketball, roughly 72% for hockey). Should baseball adopt a salary cap after the 2011 season, it may come with such spending minimums. Based on its 2008 payroll of $21,836,500 Florida would have to increase its spending by roughly $68 million just to reach the league average.

Would baseball’s small-market teams accept this structure when mediocrity or worse has been profitable? That would require payroll investments and accountability to fans that many franchises abhor. Critics should neither pity the Yankees their riches, nor criticize them and their recent re-investments without examining profitably unsuccessful teams too often indifferent to making such improvements.

Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 11:21 pm  Comments (19)  

Kernan of The Post: Put Joba Back in The Pen

Kevin Kernan of The New York Post believes that Joba should be back in the bullpen now that they re-signed Pettite.  I disagree.  I’m not saying there isn’t a certain logic and some persuasiveness to returning Joba to the set-up position, with Swedski commenting in a different thread about grooming Joba to succeed Mariano. It makes some sense because Joba was terrific in relief, and success matters and adds a compelling dimension to that argument.  But to me, Joba’s stuff is too good to be used in 75-80 innings.  Especially after the rotation struggles and ensuing struggles from Ponson and Rasner last year, I object primarily more to how Kernan makes his argument than that he has a different viewpoint.  He states that

An eighth-inning dynamo is much more important to the Yankees now than a back-end starter, and besides, the Yankees have candidates for that fifth spot, including Phil Hughes and Alfredo Aceves.

This presumes a lot.  I don’t agree that an “eighth-inning dynamo” is far more relevant to the Yanks now that a back-end starter.  But more importantly, the so-called “back-end starter” is Joba, a guy with front-end stuff.  He’s not a decent occasional fill-in like Rasner, or a body with an inconsistent body of work like Ponson.  He’s Grade A, and the more innings he can go–probably about 150-170 this year if healthy–the better.  Kernan also ignores that the Yankees were dead last in the AL for much of 2008 in starters’ innings pitched, and finished 12th.  The Yankees not only need pitchers to perform well in starts, they also need steady contributions from several pitchers–not a cavalcade of mediocrity like last year–to provide them, and to minimize the wear on a bullpen that, not surprisingly, logged the second-most innings for bullpens in the AL.

Joba in the 5th spot is perfect.  He can get skipped now and then.  He has good enough stuff to dazzle at the back end, and to be a stopper if necessary right before Sabathia, with whose stuff Joba’s should mix quite well.  That’s something not to overlook–how the pitchers’ respective repertoire interacts with each other and looks to batters.  Seeing Joba and Sabathia back-to-back in the transition from fifth starter with ace stuff to the first starter with ace stuff will certainly be imposing, and is to me far more important to the Yankees than using Joba for only an inning at a time.

Additionally, Kernan states that the Yankees have candidates in Hughes and Aceves, which is true.  But again, Kernan presumes that Hughes is ready for the majors.  He might be, or he might need to hone complementary pitches such as the cutter he worked on in the Fall League.  Hughes certainly needs something to keep batter from sitting on fastball-curve ball, an will probably benefit from regular work in SWB working with the highly touted pitching coach Scott Aldred.  Aceves might be ready, but whether or not he can be effective over a full season with stuff not dissimilar to Rasner’s has me somewhat concerned.

It should concern Kernan, too, who also overlooks the deep list of bullpen candidates the Yankees already have without Joba.  Veras throws hard and should do well–probably not great, but well.  Marte is due to bounce back to his usually sharp form.  Coke was impressive in his short stint and might get moved back to the bullpen to add a second lefty, something I and others have advocated.  Humberto Sanchez is coming off an injury, throws hard, and will get a look.  Same with Albaladejo.  Mark Melancon has been groomed for set-up work in the minors and himself will get a shot, and may impress enough to make it to the Bronx.  In addition to Edwar for 6th-7th inning work, the Yankees don’t lack bullpen options.  They might not be lights out like Joba was.  But the bullpen was the most solid part of the team last year, performing consistently and often admirably as they were taxed by a depleted and ineffective rotation.

Just because the Yankees have shored up the rotation with key acquisitions, re-signings, and Wang’s welcome return doesn’t mean that all is well, that anyone can be a fifth starter.  A rotation is five effective pitchers, and the Yankees cannot afford to have the same question marks mar the rotation as they have for some time–since the end of 2003, actually.  2009 has the chance to reverse that laborious trend of uncertainty and lapses of ineffectiveness, and Joba in the fifth spot gives them the best shot at rotation consistency and depth that the Yankees have not had since they last reached the World Series.

Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 11:53 am  Comments (12)  

ESPN: Pettite Back for 2009

According to ESPN.com, in an incentive-laden deal, Andy Pettite rejoins the Yankees rotation, agreeing to a one-year deal with a $5.5 million base salary with another $6.5 in incentives.  That’s quite a cut and, according to audio at Pete Abraham’s LoHud, Pettite admitted that his pride was hurt but that he wanted to be with the Yankees.  The rotation is more solid and the staff, including youngsters at SWB, is much deeper as a result.  Allowing Hughes, Kennedy, and Aceves to stay sharp and ready in SWB is huge, preventing Hughes and Kennedy from being rushed to the majors again.  I believe that Hughes needs a third pitch and, if the cutter he was tinkering with in the Fall League is sharp, he’ll improve and fill in admirably if needed. Pettite’s return allows the Yanks to cultivate their depth.

In the meantime, lining up Sabathia, Wang, Burnett, Pettite, and Joba against teams is something I’ll take any day.  Big move.  Welcome back, Andy.

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 5:24 pm  Comments (7)  

Saunter Over to Statistician Magician

Joe the Statistician Magician has been doing a bang-up job with Top 5 positionbyposition evaluations.  It’s really good, really detailed work with some wiggle room for debate, but without question sharp, insightful analysis.  Joe is better than most of us, me especially, in setting aside his personal and team biases for the sake of honest evaluations.  Go read and comment, and thank yourself later.

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 3:28 pm  Comments (4)  

SI.com: Incentive-Based Contract Negotiations for Pettite?

Jon Heyman of SI.com has a brief report stating that the Yankees and Andy Pettite are in “serious talks” and “there is a lot of optimism” that they will reach a deal.  Interestingly, Heyman also reports that “Indications are that Pettitte will receive less guaranteed money than the $10 million the Yankees originally had on the table for two months before he turned it down.” A few points.  This may or may not be what an actual deal between the two will contain, should they reach one.  If accurate, it’s also an indicator that the market is much more team-friendly than player-friendly, which might smack of owner collusion.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility and has happened before in the 1980s. It could also be common concerns among owners about revenue streams in a recession.  Third, if Pettite signs for less than the initial $10 million, he will join others including Manny Ramirez who (in all likelihood for Ramirez) saw their best offers earlier rather than later in the process.  For Pettite, this would be in no small part because of his sub par 2008 (14-14, 4.54 ERA), age, and his late-season shoulder problems.  For Ramirez, it would be because he’s a flake and a quitter.

Lastly, I find the wording in Heyman’s short piece intriguing–“guaranteed money.”  Yes, contracts have incentive clauses, but might Pettite be willing to take one laden with incentives starting at a lower base salary?  We’ll see.  Regardless, a rotation of Sabathia, Wang, Burnett, Pettite, and Joba still sounds excellent to me, and would go a long way to solving the rotation depth questions that Pete Abraham rightly raised a couple weeks back.

Pettite is not a $16 million a season pitcher anymore.  But he’s a gamer, may well bounce back from his problematic 2008, has stuff that will mix in well with the others, is a second lefty for the rotation, would prevent possibly rushing Hughes and/or Kennedy to the majors again, and he took the ball every fifth day despite a bum shoulder as long as the team was mathematically eligible for the playoffs.  Yes to Pettite–for the right price.

[PS Edit: Buster Olney is reporting that Pettite and the Yankees are close to reaching a deal for $6 million in base salary and another $6 million in incentives for a possible total of $12 million.]

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 11:48 am  Comments (2)  

Further Reading on “The Yankee Years”

Thanks to Mike F. for steering me toward a few articles in The New York Times about The Yankee Years.  First, Michael J. Schmidt has a good article focusing on the book’s comments about A-Rod.  Schmidt locates quotes from Torre, who is quoted extensively and written about in third person in The Yankee Years, and former Yankee bullpen catcher Mike Borzello.  Torre apparently said that A-Rod is too often concerned with “how it looks” than getting the job done in the clutch, and Borzello described A-Rod as demanding a lot from clubhouse attendants as well as attention from players on and others with the team.  Importantly, according to Schmidt, the “A-Fraud” quote is not directly attributed to Torre.

Michiko Kakutani has quite a good book review praising the book but also critiquing aspects of it. First of value for me, Kakutani points out that Torre collaborated with Verducci for Torre’s 1997 memoir Chasing the Dream, which helps explain the rapport that Torre and Verducci have had well before Verducci’s 2006 “A-Rod Agonistes” article in SI.com.  I tend to prefer broader histories to more personal memoirs, but I didn’t look much into Torre’s background for such a connection and should have.  Kakutani characterizes The Yankee Years as a fuller, insider’s account of the decline of the 1996-2001 Yankees’ dynasty than has yet been proffered.  Torre confirms what many of us already knew, that “Steinbrenner began to indulge his taste for what Torre calls “big boppers” like Jason Giambi who the manager felt “wasn’t part of what we prided ourselves on: playing well defensively.”

Kakutani provides a fine insight into the book, contending that it often lacks Torre’s historical perspective on what his role was in myriad personnel moves that helped undo the team.

This book often fails to detail Torre’s role in the decisions made over these years. His reactions to the signing of Giambi and management’s refusal to grant Williams a guaranteed contract in 2007 are duly noted, but in other instances, it’s unclear to what degree he protested specific choices made by the front office or its lack of a long-term rebuilding strategy.

Ultimately, Kakutani seems to agree with the authors about remembering Torre’s legacy–not just the team successes to which he led the team, but also whom he led and what challenges they provided.

“There exists a mythology that the championship Yankees teams under Torre operated on autopilot, blissfully riding their talent and their will to preordained titles,” the authors write. “No team requires no care.” They continue: “The championship teams required their own maintenance, from, among others, the insecurities of Chuck Knoblauch, to the immaturity of David Wells, to the self-critical nature of Tino Martinez, to the overflow intensity of Paul O’Neill, to the neediness of Roger Clemens, and to the overbearing intrusion and influence of George Steinbrenner. Greatness is the ability to mask the difficulty of a task — to make the difficult appear easy. Those Yankees teams epitomized greatness.”

For Yankees fans growing impatient for another World Series title, this is worth remembering.  A good deal is required to achieve success.  Torre was essential to the Yankees’ recent success as a good manager of the game, but as a great manager of its players.

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

ESPN, NY Post: Torre Book Rips Yankees, Cashman

This won’t be pretty.  According to ESPN and The New York Post, Joe Torre’s new book The Yankee Years, co-authored by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, rips into the Yankees organization, Alex Rodriguez, and Brian Cashman.  Reports assert that Torre says that teammates called A-Rod “A-Fraud,” that he was obsessed with his relationship with Derek Jeter, and that “Cashman never told the brass that the manager wanted a two-year deal and instead remained silent during Torre’s tense final sitdown with the bosses.”  The Post also says that

Torre spent years trying to bring out a winning performance from A-Rod, the highest-paid player in baseball, which from all reported accounts included a lot of hand-holding and battling the insecurities and demons Rodriguez struggles with.

And while the Bombers would win four world championships under Torre’s watch by 2000, there were years of tension over management’s choice of players and the growing silence between him and Yankee brass.

Much of this seems at least plausible, certainly the disagreements about players signed and, if Verducci’s SI.com article “A-Rod Agonistes” from September 2006 is credible, A-Rod’s various insecurities and tension with teammates.  About Cashman’s role in the post-2007 negotiations, Torre’s version represents an about-face from his earlier comments referring to the Yankees’ GM as having his back.  Interestingly, the Post reports that Torre’s book makes a serious claim–that “during spring training in 1999, team doctors revealed to owner George Steinbrenner that Torre had prostate cancer – even before informing the manager himself.” This would appear most improper, indeed unethical if true.  However, as with the other assertions reported, I cannot definitively say either way.  Surely A-Rod, Cashman, and the Yankees organization will either deny or deflect these charges.

Regardless, this marks a very unfortunate turn in Torre’s history with the organization, one that–whether or not these reports are accurate–will likely mar the relationship between Torre and the Yankees for some time.  To what degree this is a response to Torre’s not being mentioned during the final game at Yankee Stadium last season or merely indicative of a personal rift between Torre and the Yankees, one must speculate.  However, it’s all-too easy to see that the bad blood between Torre and the organization he helped achieve much success in 12 years will percolate.

I had hoped that there would not be a post-partem tell-all from Torre about the Yankees.  It appears that was futile.  Am I the only one who finds Torre’s choice of Verducci as co-author–the same writer whose SI.com article exposing a dysfunctional clubhouse and seeming to send A-Rod back into a late-season tailspin in 2006–curious to say the least?

Published in: on January 25, 2009 at 9:23 am  Comments (8)  

“Inkheart”-Inspired Idea

It’s been a busy day.  After some self-abuse at the gym and taking the kids to tennis, then lunch, we went to see “Inkheart,” the Brendan Fraser flick.  I’ve been a big fan of Fraser’s since he played David Green in “School Ties,” about a working-class Jewish kid from Scranton, PA who is recruited to play football at a Northeast prep school, where his class and socio-religious background eventually foster conflict and anti-Semitism among some classmates.  It’s a very good movie, and I like Fraser’s abilities and range a lot.  He’s experienced a bit of a resurgence lately, starring in big movies such as “Journey To the Center of the Earth,” and now “Inkheart.”  I’d recommend “Inkheart,” especially if one has kids.  Without giving much away, it’s about a man (Fraser) who is a “silver tongue,” with the ability to bring book characters and objects to life by reading aloud.  Degrees of mayhem ensue.  It’s not too heavy, but it’s entertaining and says a lot about humanity.  In a positive way, it’s really about the power of books, and how reading brings stories of all kinds to life.  That’s well worth remembering.

I tested my own abilities as a “silver tongue” when we got home by re-reading the end of Halberstam’s Summer of ’49, but we’ll need to wait until late October to see if I truly possess the power.   In the meantime–and I’ve been mulling this for a while, but figure it’s worth doing now–how about a book club of sorts?  We can select baseball and sports-related books, slate them over a few months, then read and discuss them by posting thoughts about them here.  If you have suggestions, please post comments for the Heartland Book Club.

I think it’s worth pursuing, with inexpensive books available–usually in good condition–through amazon.com and half.com, as well as from local libraries.  How about it?

Published in: on January 24, 2009 at 7:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Burns to Update “Baseball” Documentary

Regular reader Mike F. thankfully alerted me to the fact that acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns will update his “Baseball” documentary with an episode entitled The Tenth Inning.  Scheduled for release in 2010 on PBS, it will either be two or four hours, and will start with the 1992 NLCS.  No end point has of yet been determined.  If this is anything like the first nine episodes, and I have no reason to believe it won’t be as good, it should be well worth the wait.  There is so much for Burns to cover–the Braves’ great pitching staff, Toronto’s rise and repeat championships, the players’ strike turned lockout in 1994-1995, the great Yankees dynasty including the incredible 1998 team, the impact of the 9/11 attacks, steroids and home run chases, high-priced free agency, the new stadium explosion, the globalization of the sport, numerous milestones including Ripken’s consecutive game streak (ended against the Yankees in 1998, for which the Yanks were the first to give Cal a standing ovation from the dugout), Boston’s championships, and so much more.  Personally, while I’m sure Burns will do an admirable job, I believe this should be two or three more episodes given the plethora of topics.

Regardless, I’ll be watching.

Published in: on January 23, 2009 at 1:17 am  Comments (4)