Friday, December 12, 2003

It's a whole new ballclub

As everybody knows, Andy Pettitte will not be returning to the New York Yankees in 2004. In all likelihood, he will be replaced by Kevin Brown. Also, Roger Clemens will not return to New York, although it sounds like he might actually return to the baseball field. Clemens has already been replaced in the rotation by Javier Vazquez.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about whether or not I think the Yankees rotation is better today than it was at the end of the season. Aaron Gleeman made an excellent post today talking about the situation and Rob Neyer's column from yesterday was also about New York's new rotation.

Both Aaron and Rob think the Yankees are better off with Vazquez and Brown than with Pettitte and Clemens and I would have to agree with them IF Brown stays healthy. Given his injury history, that's a big if, but New York will still have a pretty good rotation even if Brown goes down.

However, despite the fact that the team may very well be better than it was before, many of the fans are unhappy. Mike Francessa sounded like he was on the verge of tears yesterday on "Mike and the Mad Dog." My best friend is a huge Yankees fan and he has a Tino Martinez jersey that he always wears for important games.

However, he wanted to get a new jersey, and he didn't know who to get. He doesn't want to follow the flock and get Derek Jeter and he doesn't really like most of the new Yankees. I attended game two of the ALCS with him and you may remember that Pettitte won that game to even the series. My friend said to me that if Pettitte re-signed with the Yankees, he would be purchasing a Pettitte jersey. Obviously, Pettitte did not re-sign, and my friend called me yesterday to ask if I was watching "Mike and the Mad Dog." So, I asked him whose jersey he was going to get now.

His answer: "I'm not getting any jersey for this goddamn team this year."

The problem, if you can call it that, is that Yankees fans have been able to have their cake and eat it too for a long team. They have had a very good, very expensive team, but it has been a largely homegrown team with a lot of players who are very easy to root for. Now the team is still very good and very expensive, but it is no longer largely homegrown and it is no longer stocked with players who are easy to root for.

There are only four players left from the four World Series dynasty: Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera. Those four and Alfonso Soriano are pretty much the only homegrown players on the team.

The entire starting rotation has been shipped in either via free agency (Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, David Wells and Jon Lieber) or trades (Brown and Vazquez). If Williams ends up moving to DH, then the outfield may be Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton and Hideki Matsui, which would take some getting used to from Yankees fans. And most New Yorkers seem to have very little affection for corner infielders Jason Giambi and Aaron Boone.

So, this isn't a team that most Yankees fans are going to get all warm and fuzzy about right away. Also, for the first time in a long time, most Yankees fans don't seem to be confident about the team. In the past, even when the Yankees struggled, their fans wouldn't worry because they could tell themselves things like, "We're the Yankees, we've got players who know how to win and they'll put it together."

I'm not saying that helps the team or hurts it, but if this Yankees team starts off slowly, they are not going to get a break from the fans or the media. And while I don't believe in chemistry or anything like that, things can snowball if an entire city gets down on a team and there are a whole bunch of new players who don't mesh really well.

I definitely think the Yankees are still the team to beat in the American League, but they are more vulnerable than they have been in the past. The team is very old and there are (or will be before too much longer) a lot of players who have never played in New York before. Also, the team doesn't seem to have the full support of the city behind it yet. Finally, it certainly seems like George Steinbrenner is running the show, and he hasn't always made the best decisions in the past.

One thing is for sure, recent events have made a statement I made earlier seem even more likely. Within the next five years, the Yankees will either collapse or have a payroll in the $300-million range...

Fantasy football

Here's my fantasy football column for this week.

Fantasy football: Reliable running backs are key

Sorry it's so late already, my schedule has gotten all screwed up in the past couple weeks. I'll definitely have a baseball-related post up this afternoon.

Thursday, December 11, 2003


Yesterday, I just couldn't think of anything to write about. Today, there is at least one very important happening that I would love to give my thoughts on, but unfortunately I can't. I'm a little behind in getting this week's fantasy football column done, so I'm going to have to take another day off from the blog. I'll definitely be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Song dedication

I don't know if this makes me a loser or not, but when I'm in my car the only thing I listen to is a station that plays only songs from the 70's and 80's. I don't know why, but whenever I'm in a bad mood those songs always lift my spirits. One particular band does the trick better than any other.

The reason I mention this is that I wasn't in a good mood today. For a variety of reasons with which I won't bore you, I was very down in the dumps. But then I had to go somewhere in my car, and I heard a song from said band. And this song in particular made me think of a certain rumor that has engulfed my favorite team. So, I thought I'd assume the role of DJ for a bit and send out this request from Nomar Garciaparra to John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein. It's "Take it on the Run" by REO Speedwagon, modified slightly by Ben Jacobs:

Heard from a friend who
Heard it from a friend who
Heard it from another you been messin' around
They say you got a boy friend
You're up there every weekend
They're talking about you and it's bringing me down

But I know the neighborhood
And talk is cheap when the story is good
And the tales grow taller on down the line
But I'm on the air, babe
Saying I don't think it's fair, babe
And even if it is keep this in mind

You're talkin' to A-Rod, baby
If that's the way you want it, baby
Then I don't wanna be around
I can't believe it, not for a minute
You're under the gun so you're talkin' to A-Rod

You're thinking of your bottom lines
You're putting on your media blinds
You say I'm coming back but you won't say when
But I can feel it coming
If your offer's light I'm running
And I won't ever look back again

You're talkin' to A-Rod, baby
If that's the way you want it, baby
Then I don't wanna be around
I can't believe it, not for a minute
You're under the gun so you're talkin' to A-Rod

You're talkin' to A-Rod, baby
If that's the way you want it, baby
Then you don't want me around
I can't believe it, not for a minute
You're under the gun so you're talkin' to A-Rod

You're talkin' to A-Rod, baby
If that's the way you want it, baby
I'll say I still wanna be around
You won't believe it, not for a minute
You're under the gun so you're talkin' to A-Rod

Heard it from my wife who
Heard it from the paper who
Heard it from a source who
Heard it from a source who
Heard it from a friend who
Heard it from a friend who
Heard it from another you been messin' around

That was "Talkin' to A-Rod" by REO Speedwagon and Ben Jacobs, sent out to the Red Sox front office from incumbent shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

Well connected

I don't know how he gets all these interviews, but Alex Belth has another great one up today. This time he chats with Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci. Go read it or you'll be sorry.

Unfortunately, I'm going to take today off from actually writing anything myself because I woke up a little late and have stuff I need to do. But I'll definitely be back tomorrow.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Deadline agreements

Before I went to sleep last night/this morning, I talked about a couple of arbitration situations that interested me. Now, I'm going to talk about some of the re-signings that occurred just before the deadline to offer arbitration.

First, Minnesota made arguably the biggest re-signing thus far in the off-season (along with Luis Castillo staying with the Marlins) by inking Shannon Stewart to a three-year contract worth $18-million. Actually, Stewart and Castillo are very similar as they both get on base a lot and receive more credit for their speed and basestealing ability than they deserve. Stewart has significantly more power, but Castillo plays a significantly more difficult position and he plays it very well.

Anyway, when the Twins traded Bobby Kielty for Stewart at mid-season, many Twins fans were up in arms because they thought the Twins were getting rid of a good, young, cheap hitter for a three-month rental of somebody who's really not much better. Well, now that Stewart has re-signed with the Twins, that trade looks a whole lot different.

At the time, Stewart and Kielty had very, very similar season and career numbers on offense, but Kielty was (and still is) two years younger and almost $6-million cheaper. However, Stewart went to have a good second half (not nearly as good as everybody thinks, but good nonetheless) while Kielty slumped badly after the trade happened. Kielty is still younger and cheaper than Stewart is, but I don't know that he's a good bet to be a better offensive player than Stewart over the next three seasons.

Kielty came onto the scene in 2001, when he played 37 games and hit .250/.297/.385 (.682). The next season, he played 112 games and broke out with a .291/.405/.484 (.889) performance. Then, last year, he slumped to .244/.358/.400 (.758) in 137 games while dealing with several injuries.

The big question is which one is the real Kielty? Was 2002 a fluke season that he'll never duplicate? Was last year only as bad as it was because he was hurt a lot? He was very good in the minor leagues, but he never had a minor-league performance as good as his major-league showing in 2002 and he played his AAA ball in the very hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. I think Kielty has a lot of potential, but there's certainly a risk that he's not as good a hitter as he appeared to be in 2002.

With Stewart, on the other hand, you know exactly what you're getting. He's played between 135 and 155 games every year since 1998, so he's not really the most durable player on the planet. However, he's very consistent when he can play. He's hit at least .300 in each of the last five seasons, he's posted an OBP above .360 in each of the last seven seasons and he's posted a SLG above .440 in each of the last four seasons. You can pretty much count on him to play in the neighborhood of 140 games and post offensive numbers of at least .300/.360/.440 (.800) and possibly as high as .320/.380/.480 (.860).

Stewart doesn't run nearly as well as he used to and he's not a very good defensive player and I don't think he'll age particularly well. However, he'll still only be 32 years old when this contract expires, and I don't think his skills will have significantly declined by then. This signing looks pretty good for the Twins, and that trade looks better now than it did then.

Another re-signing shows us the power of perception. Last winter, Mark Grudzielanek was part of a trade that sent him to the Cubs, and Cubs fans were none too happy about it. Yesterday, Grudzielanek re-signed with the Cubs and, as far as I can tell, Cubs fans are pretty satisfied with that. Why?

Last winter, Grudzielanek was coming off a three-year span in which he had declined from hitting .279/.335/.389 (.724) to .271/.317/.393 (.710) to .271/.301/.364 (.665). At 32 years of age and carrying a salary of $5.5-million, he looked like an albatross of the worst kind. This year, Grudzielanek is coming off a season in which he hit .314/.366/.416 (.782). After signing for $2.5-million, he looks like a nice, cheap solution to second base for one season.

Also, last winter the Cubs fans were all enamored of Bobby Hill, who had done very well in AA in 2001 (.301/.396/.392) and AAA in 2002 (.280/.382/.429). This winter, Hill's star has faded considerably and he's a member of the Pirates organization.

I think this is a pretty good signing for the Cubs. Grudzielanek probably won't hit quite as well as he did last year, but there's not much available in the way of second baseman on three free agent market. Todd Walker might provide more on offense (although he didn't in 2003), but he's significantly worse on defense.

Having approved of two re-signings, I might as well give you a re-signing I disapprove of. That would be Seattle's decision to give Shigetoshi Hasegawa a two-year contract worth $6.3-million.

Last year, Hasegawa had a sparkling 1.48 ERA in 73 innings. A pitcher who can post a 1.48 ERA in 73 innings is certainly worth the contract that Hasegawa signed. However, Hasegawa is not a pitcher who I think can post a 1.48 ERA again.

Last year, Hasegawa posted an incredibly low strikeout rate of 3.95 K/9IP. He did help himself with his walk rate (2.22 BB/9IP) and his home run rate (0.62 HR/9IP), but his strikeout rate means that a lot of balls are put in play against him. Last year, Seattle had a very good defense, especially in the outfield, which helped turn many of those balls in play into outs. Now, the Mariners have apparently replaced center fielder Mike Cameron (who was not offered arbitration) with left fielder Randy Winn and they've replaced left fielder Winn with free agent Raul Ibanez.

Winn is not quite as good defensively as Cameron, who is one of the best center fielders in baseball, and Ibanez is not nearly as good defensively as Winn. So, the Mariners have already very much worsened their outfield defense, which should lead to fewer outs on those balls in play for Hasegawa. Also, the Mariners had a very good defensive third baseman last year in Jeff Cirillo and it's likely that he will not be back. Unless they replace him with another very good defensive third baseman, that will also hurt Hasegawa.

Furthermore, it seems that Hasegawa was lucky to post a 1.48 ERA even with the help he got from his defense since he had a 1.10 WHIP. In 2002, Hasegawa allowed 12.5-percent more baserunners than he did last year. That extra 12.5-percent led to 108-percent more earned runs than he allowed last year. I'll be surprised if Hasegawa posts an ERA below 3.25 in 2004, and there's all the fact that he's 35 years old and has been very inconsistent in his career.

Still, Hasegawa could be better than I think he'll be and even if he does what I expect, he won't be making outrageous money. So, I can't slam this particular signing too badly. However, this signing, when combined with signing Ibanez and not offering arbitration to Cameron, makes me think that the Seattle front office doesn't really know what it's doing. Although, as a Red Sox fan, I guess that should make me happy since it would make them easier to beat in the wild card race if it came to that.

Okay, that's it for now. I'll probably make another post later in the day.

Arbitration stuff

As you all probably know, the deadline to offer arbitration to free agents was midnight Sunday. Not every player has been listed, but a lot have and several of them have caught my eye. I'm going to talk about a few of those in particular right now, then I'm going to go to sleep and I'll then probably talk about several more arbitration-related things throughout the day.

First, I was very upset to discover that Vlad Guerrero was not offered arbitration by Montreal. I knew the odds were that Guerrero would not return to the Expos in 2004, but I assumed they would offer him arbitration and then receive a draft pick from whichever lucky team signs him plus a sandwich pick.

Instead, the Expos will lose a 27-year-old outfielder with a .323 career batting average, .390 career OBP and .588 career SLG who has 1,215 career hits and 234 career home runs without getting a single thing in return. There is absolutey no reason for that to happen. None whatsoever.

First of all, I think it's highly unlikely that Guerrero would ever except arbitration. Some team out there will give him four or five years in the neighborhood of the salary he's looking for, so there's no reason for him to settle for a one-year deal from Montreal.

However, I suppose there is a possibility that Guerrero would accept arbitration. The free agent market is extremely despressed at the moment and Guerrero is coming off a season in which he missed a significant amount of time with a back injury. If he accepted arbitration and received a very large one-year deal, he could then try to get through the full season without missing much time. If he did that, teams would probably feel more comfortable about giving him a big, long contract and there's a chance that the free agent market could be a little bit better than it is this year.

Still, even with the chance that Guerrero could accept arbitration, there's no reason for the Expos not to offer arbitration to him. If he accepted arbitration, he would probably end up with a one-year contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-million.

If that doesn't fit into Montreal's budget, and it probably doesn't, then there would be two options. First, the Expos could try to trade him. If there are teams willing to give him $15-million a year for four or five years, then there are probably teams willing to trade for him at $15-million (or a little more) for one year. They probably wouldn't be willing to trade much, but not much is better than nothing. Second, I may be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure that even if a player accepts arbitration, the team can cut said player and pay him 12-percent of whatever he gets in arbitration. It wouldn't be ideal to have to give Guerrero $2-million to not play for the Expos, but it would be a last resort and it's worth it to try and get some draft picks out of the situation.

I love baseball and I can't think of anything that would make me not love it any more, but the situation in Montreal is sickening. More than anything else -- competitive imbalance, steroids, whatever -- the Montreal situation is the biggest problem baseball has. That becomes crystal clear when the team has to trade away its ace pitcher and then can't even get draft picks in return for its stud outfielder.

The other thing that caught my eye was that Seattle did not offer arbitration to Armando Benitez. I guess I knew they weren't going to offer him arbitration, but seeing it written down made me realize that Benitez may just be a better acquisition right now than Eddie Guardado, who was offered arbitration by Minnesota and is a Type A free agent.

I'm not necessarily saying that Benitez is a better relief pitcher than Guardado, but he may be a better signing. Guardado is 33 years old and will be looking for a raise from the $2.7-million he made last year, plus he will cost any team that signs him (except the Twins) its first-round draft pick. Benitez is 31 years old and will certainly have to accept a significant pay cut from the nearly $7-million he made last year, plus the team signing him won't have to give up a draft pick.

And how can we expect the two relievers to pitch?

Well, over the last seven years, Benitez has posted a 2.81 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 11.84 K/9IP, 4.69 BB/9IP and 1.00 HR/9IP in 512.1 innings, while pitching at least 67 innings each season. He's posted an ERA below 3.00 in four of the last five seasons and although his K/9IP rate has dropped in each of the last four seasons, it was still at 9.25 K/9 last year.

Guardado, meanwhile, has only been performing at his current capacity for the last three seasons, really. In that time, he's posted a 3.11 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.88 K/9IP, 2.48 BB/9IP and 0.95 HR/9IP in 199.2 innings while pitching between 65 and 68 innings each season. His strikeout rate is siginificantly worse than Benitez's, but his walk rate is significantly better and his home run rate is very slightly better.

However, there is another concern with Guardado, and that's his home/road splits. Over the last three seasons, Guardado has posted a 2.71 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 9.70 K/9IP, 2.27 BB/9IP and 0.52 HR/9IP in 103 innings at home. In that time, he's posted a 3.54 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.01 K/9IP, 2.70 BB/9IP and 1.40 HR/9IP in 96.2 innings on the road.

As you can see, he's been worse in every category on the road, which has to be very troubling for any team that would sign him besides Minnesota, where he obviously enjoys pitching very much for one reason or another.

So, both players are obviously very good pitchers, but they both have big question marks. With Guardado, you don't know what his numbers will look like once he's no longer pitching in the Metrodome half the time. With Benitez, you don't know if he's now just a headcase whose best years are behind him.

Since Guardado is currently regarded as a "proven closer" and Benitez is regarded as somebody who can't handle that spot, I think Benitez should be cheaper to sign this off-season than Guardado. Considering that he also won't cost a draft pick and either one of them could end up being the better reliever, I'd really think about going after Benitez before signing Guardado.

That said, I don't think either Seattle or Minnesota was wrong for the was they approached that particular player and arbitration. Seattle couldn't offer Benitez arbitration because he would have commanded a large salary had he accepted and while I think he'd be a bargain at $2-3 million, he'd be an albatross at $7-8 million. Minnesota was smart to offer Guardado arbitration because he's proved that he can pitch well for them and the worst case scenario is that he accepts arbitration and ends up getting around $6-million. That wouldn't be ideal, but there are worse ways to spend $6-million than on a reliable closer, even if you have a tight budget.

So, those are my initial thoughts on the arbitration shakeout. Like I said, there are many more things that I found interesting, and I expect to make at least a few more posts today after I wake up.