I Almost Feel Sorry For Yankees Fans at This Point

Hankenstein (courtesy of Newsday)
(image courtesy of Newsday)

Look, I don’t like them any more than you do, generally. But in all seriousness, would you wish their new owner on anyone? Even your worst enemy?

I’m not sure.

What’s he said now? Oh, just that the Rays have no justification for retaliating against his Yankees because they’re the beneficiaries of revenue sharing.

“I don’t want these teams in general to forget who subsidizes a lot of them, and it’s the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets,” he said to The New York Post. “I would prefer if teams want to target the Yankees that they at least start giving some of that revenue sharing and luxury tax money back. From an owner’s point of view, that’s my point.”

In case you missed the background, a Rays minor leaguer (Elliott Johnson) ran over a Yankee minor league catcher (Francisco Cervelli) at the plate in a hard but legitimate play, breaking the backstop’s wrist. Four days later, the always classy Yankee Shelley Duncan tried to spike Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura in a hard and illegitimate play, prompting a real, live Simmons basebrawl.

As Olney says, none of the above is really that newsworthy: everyone’s acting as you might expect them to.

But what I hadn’t known was that the Rays were disqualified from defending themselves from eye high spikes, simply because their budget is an eighth of the Empire’s. Particularly if they “go after [Yankee] stars.” You know, as is traditional.

Thank Jebus Hankenstein is around to educate all of us on the subject, however. Otherwise those uppity Rays might think that, well, they’re an actual major league team that could actually compete with the Yankees. And we can’t have that.

Cashing Out Mirabelli

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Best Catching Tandem in the Majors, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Let me get the first question out of the way: no, I have no idea what prompted this morning’s shocking-for-Sox-fans release of Dougie Parm. If you deduce from that that I don’t buy the simplistic “Kevin Cash is a better defensive catcher” explanation, well aren’t you just the genius?

It’s not that I doubt that Cash actually is Mirabelli’s superior defensively. I’m quite sure that is, in fact, the case. Cash impressed with his work with Wakefield last year, and I confess that I was a bit surprised that Mirabelli was actually retained this past offseason because of that, even at the low guaranteed dollars. Apparently Jed Hoyer hesitated similarly, before ultimately bringing the backup backstop back.

No, the question here is the timing. If, as Epstein said, this “was a debate early in camp,” why release him before the game? Maybe there’s no good time to release a veteran like Mirabelli, who has a long history with the club, but just prior to a game? A game that he was scheduled to start? I’m with the crowd that smells something piscean.

In any event, Mirabelli is gone. True, we thought that before only to be proven wrong (that link is absolute comedy), but if forced to bet I’d say he’s gone for good this time. Assuming that he’s not going to be ferried back to the park by police escort any time soon, however, the question is what now?

I see two possibilities.

One, the team intends to carry Cash as its backup indefinitely. Defensively, Cash is better than Mirabelli in most respects with the exception of his handling of Wakefield. But even there Cash is capable in way that, say, Josh Bard was not, though it will be interesting to see how the pitcher reacts to having his personal caddy dumped. Rather unceremoniusly.

Offensively, Mirabelli is not even a shadow of his 2004 self when – as the picture argues – Tek and Dougie Parm combined to be the best catching tandem in the majors. But even at his reduced levels, he’s a better offensive option. PECOTA sees Mirabelli putting up a .214/.294/.354 line this year, against Cash’s .206/.278/.327. It’s true that neither one was likely to be any kind of offensive factor, due to the limitations of both skills and playing time, but Cash is essentially a zero at the plate. When you’re giving up 20 points in projected OBP and 30 points in projected SLG to Mirabelli, you’ve got problems. As Allan Wood points out, one of the SOSHers has noted that Clemens has a better lifetime OBP. Yes, Roger Clemens, the pitcher.

Anyone think Kevin Towers is on the phone with the cut catcher as we speak, hoping to pry loose another Meredith?

Anyway, the other obvious possibility is that Cash is nothing more than a placeholder, keeping a seat warm for an asset to be named later – whether that’s via a trade or the progression of one of the kids (Brown or Kottaras, presumably). The former strikes me as the more likely, not only because neither Brown nor Kottaras is ready for the show yet (no, I’m not getting too excited vis a vis Kottaras after 10 spring training ABs), but more because it seems unlikely that you’d break in a rookie catcher with…Wake.

Even with the move made, however, I’m still surprised. I’m not quite as pessimistic as Rotoworld, who reacted as follows:

It’s a very surprising move that they’d risk upsetting chemistry and take Tim Wakefield out of his comfort zone in order to go with Kevin Cash as their No. 2 catcher. Cash is an excellent defender and he did impress while catching Wakefield during Mirabelli’s DL stint last year, but he’s one of the very worst hitters at the upper levels of the game. Maybe it’s an upgrade for Boston, but the difference in performance shouldn’t be worth even one game in the standings. Depending on how Wakefield reacts, it might be necessary to drop him in draft lists.

But I am surprised. More than you’d expect with the departure of a 37 year old number 2 catcher coming off a .638 OPS season, because it’s not just him we’re talking about of course. His roster spot has been entirely dependent on Wakefield’s for years now, and you have to wonder whether or not this has implications for the knuckleballer in ’09. As Neyer puts it:

Obviously, not a lot of games are won and lost by backup catchers. But as much as I love Tim Wakefield, one can’t help but wonder if his contribution is worth all this fuss.

But for now it’ll be interesting to watch. While Dougie waits by the phone.

Don't Shoot the Messenger

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Beckett, originally uploaded by culhanen.

But you remember that Beckett news I had for you yesterday? The good news that he was better than anticipated the day after tweaking his back? Well, that’s over.

If I’d had as much progress from yesterday to today as I did from the first day to the second day, I wouldn’t have ruled that out. Today I';m just holding up my obligation (to talk to media). It probably would have been better to talk to you guys yesterday because I was a little more optimistic. I’m in a pretty crappy mood as far as this thing goes because it was a pretty frustrating day because yesterday was good and today’s kind of horse(bleep).

In the business, this is what’s known as bad news. Maybe not panic news, but certainly not a positive development.

In case that wasn’t enough for you, MLB Trade Rumors throws cold water on the Crisp to the Padres trade rumor from yesterday, while Shysterball takes care of the Cubs version.

At the risk of being less than totally negative, however, I have to admit that I don’t totally buy either of the above objections completely. Of the Padres reputed objections to a deal, two seem bogus: Crisp is obviously on the block, and while Theo and co won’t hand him away, they’ll negotiate. From the Shysterball angle, I fully agree that the presence of Pie would seem to negate the value of Crisp: but what if the former was traded for the O’s Roberts, as has oft been rumored?

And as long as we’re going to slip in some good news, everyone’s favorite rookie centerfield prospect jacked his average all the way up to .240 by banging out 2 hits today – one of them a leadoff single against none other than Best Pitcher on the Planet, Johan Santana. Even better, our own young lefthander – once poised to be traded for the Best Pitcher on the Planet – outpitched his counterpart (2H, 5K, 1BB, 14BF in 4 IP vs 2H, 4K, 15BF in 4). A performance which had the Globe mentioning Lester and opening day in the same sentence (no link b/c Shaugnessy wrote the piece), however premature.

But for those of you still eager to despair over a centerfielder’s poor spring training numbers, turn your eyes towards Ichiro, who is still seeking his first hit.

Anyway, sorry to end on a positive note but, hey, I don’t make the news.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

Maybe it’ll become a Sunday tradition, this current events bit, but in the meantime, my apologies for the radio silence the past few days. First I was ambushed by some sort of evil cold/flu hybrid, and then I was up in the mountains where Atingular has decided against providing even basic connectivity.

Hopefully you haven’t missed me as it’s been a quiet week. Or it had, until the last 24 hours or so. Since I left town, all hell broke loose. That, or it’s the regular slate of minor spring training injuries and trade rumors.

You make the call.

Analysts and Reporters

If you’ve been reading this site religiously (all 10 of you) or you know me personally (the same 10 of you), you may have gotten the impression that I favor certain analysts and reporters over others.

This impressions is, in fact, true, and you need look no further than the blogroll on the left for the quote unquote recommended sources. Occasionally during the season I’ll pull a quote or a conclusion that I find noteworthy; whether that’s for positive or negative reasons.

  • Cafardo:
    The reporter singled out today is none other than Boston’s Nick Cafardo. I’ve always preferred his colleague Gordon Edes’ work (with the exception of Edes’ treatment of Manny over the years) over Cafardo’s, and while his Sunday Notes columns is worth reading, his conclusions – in my view – frequently leave something to be desired. Unless you think that CC Sabathia – who approximated Beckett’s numbers last year over 40+ more IP – deserved to place fourth in the Cy Young voting.

    With that background in mind, be aware that I may be reading too much into this, but I can’t get anything from the following except that Cafardo considers himself “old school” regarding pitcher usage:
    “Bravo to Mike Mussina for his take on limiting the innings of young pitchers such as Kennedy, Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Clay Buchholz, “I’m from the old school,” said Mussina, who threw 241 innings as a rookie. “I’m one of the few guys left that pitched last century. My opinion of what wears your arm down isn’t necessarily how many innings you throw in a starter situation. Wearing down happens when you’re out there a lot and you don’t get the proper rest in between those turns. That’s what beats you up.”

    Exactly. Let’s ignore innings because that worked so well for Baker and Riggleman when they managed Prior and Wood. All I can say is that I’m glad Cafardo’s not responsible for the careers of Buchholz, Lester, et al.

  • Neyer:
    I consider myself a fan of Rob Neyer’s, even if I don’t agree with every last thing he writes. Much of my appreciation for his work derives from his approach: much like Google in the technology world, he strives to make decisions based on actual data.

    That said, I’m at a loss to defend his Top 10 Baseball Movies. Any man that believes that Fever Pitch is a better film than The Natural…well, I just don’t know what to say. Words fail me. My faith in Neyer’s analysis skills is not exactly shattered, but I’ll admit that I’m unlikely to solicit his opinion on movies in the future. Ever.

    And that’s coming from someone who counts Tremors as one of his favorite movies.

Injuries

Would that it weren’t the case, but sadly, there’s a lot to report on this front. I have to tell you, there are very few things more terrifying than being in the mountains with limited or no connectivity, and see a Rotoworld headline screeching “Beckett Scratched.”

  • Beckett:
    Sox manager Terry Francona had a good report on Josh Beckett, who left Saturday’s game with back spasms after throwing six warm-up pitches. The manager said Beckett “looked way better than we expected,” but would not commit as to whether Beckett would be ready for the opener in Japan.” (link)

    This, candidly, is bad news. It won’t be horrible news until I hear either that it’s disc related or involves him missing a significant portion of the season, but it’s not what I wanted to hear. We could be looking at opening the season without our top 2 starters (Matsuzaka’s wife is expecting), which is not the end of the world but not how you’d draw it up either.
  • Crisp:
    In a video over on Boston.com, Crisp says, “I feel good right now, like I’m ready to play, other than I can’t get out there and run.” This does not strike me as good news, particularly for a player whose value is largely based on his ability to run.
  • Lugo:
    Shortstop Julio Lugo missed his sixth straight game with lower back tightness.” (link)

    What interests me here is how little actual reporting has been done on this injury. Coming off a down year, and with a very credible prospect in Lowrie poised to push him, I find the general lack of interest in Lugo’s condition as somewhat curious.

    Of course, if could be nothing more than a tacit acknowledgement that with an $8+ million price tag, he’s virtually unmovable.

Players

Besides injuries, there have been some notable player developments over the past week. Unfortunately, few of them good. Meaningless as spring training games are, it’d be nice to win a few. But anyhow, two quick player items.

  • Ellsbury:
    Echoing the thoughts of a number of fans I’ve spoken with, Allen Chace of Over the Monster said the following yesterday:
    As Rotoworld points out, Jacoby has hit pretty terribly thusfar, and Coco Crisp, seemingly, hasn’t played since the Carter administration.

    I have to disagree with our omnipresent sidebar companion. I don’t think it is necessarily doing anything for Tacoby’s case that Coco hasn’t played in awhile. They’re not going to let this kid back into the job, no matter how good he was down the stretch last season. It’s already been speculated here and elsewhere that the Sox would need to see quite a bit from Ellsbury unless Crisp is traded: they don’t need any kind of distraction that Crisp might be, and his value would only get lower as he sees more time riding the pine.

    While acknowledging that it’s easier to say this given that my Navajo brother went 3-5 this afternoon with a bomb and a double, I must – in turn – respectfully disagree with Mr. Chace. For three reasons.

    1. There’s no denying that – until today – Ellsbury hadn’t been good. But there’s also no denying that our other starters haven’t been much better (Crisp doesn’t count: he’s had 4 ABs). It’s true that Ellsbury’s hitting .190. But it’s also true that Manny’s at .188, and Lowell’s at .200. As is Drew. And Pedroia, last year’s ROY? .174. I’d love for all of the above to be lighting it up, but I can’t force myself to take their performances at this point seriously.
    2. I think the competition is more than mere performance. Trade value, particularly for the asset that is Crisp, has to factor in. If they can get a useful reliever or a couple of prospects for Crisp, I don’t think the Sox would hesitate to let Ellsbury back into the job.
    3. I think the front office is savvy enough to recognize that prior minor and major league performance is a better indicator of future performance than a handful or three of spring training at bats. They demonstrated this last year, trusting that Pedroia’s minor league success would manifest itself at the big league level in the face of an abysmal early performance.
  • Lester:
    A minor note, but I hadn’t seen Lester’s velocity peaks yet. The Great Gammons is reporting the following “[Lester’s] velocity is up in the mid-90s, his curveball is sharp, and they’re holding back on his cutter until the rest of his arsenal is ready.”
  • Papelbon:
    Papelbon went into the offseason with the idea of adding a third pitch to his fastball and split-finger fastball and chose the slider.

    Yesterday, in his second appearance of the spring, he used it to get two of the three outs he recorded in the fourth
    .” (link)

    I guess this means the “slutter” didn’t work out?

Trade Rumors

Remember when I mentioned that it was Theo’s opinion that the prospects for a Crisp trade were poor? Yeah, let’s just forget about that. Because right now it’s all Crisp, all the time on the trade rumors front. A quick recap of the least far fetched.

  • Chicago:
    While major league sources indicate the Chicago Cubs have Coco Crisp on their wish list, the Red Sox have no interest in expendable starting pitcher Jason Marquis or Arizona League MVP outfielder Sam Fuld.” (Nick Cafardo)

    Glad to hear this one shot down, personally. I don’t think I’d take Marquis for a bag of balls at this point, let alone a Gold Glove quality center fielder signed to an affordable contract. Two years removed from a 6.02 ERA in the NL Central, PECOTA sees him putting up a 5.04 in the same league. In other words, he’d get chewed up and spit out in the AL East. And there’s the fact that he’s already at odds with Piniella over his role on the staff.

    Which leaves Fuld, who, with all due respect, would have very little upside in our organization. This particular package making the rounds, then, would seem to me to be nothing but a rumor. I’m sure the Cubs would make that deal in a heartbeat, but if the Sox bite their sanity would be called into question.
  • Oakland:
    The Red Sox continue to talk with the Oakland Athletics about center fielder Coco Crisp. ” (Buster Olney)

    Little information to work with in this case, although the rumors were floated earlier in the office season that Beane might work to acquire Crisp so that he in turn could flip the player. What’s unclear would be what would be coming back. The primary assets of interest – Blanton and Street – would require far more than Crisp in return, so I’m not sure what we could expect. Still, bears watching.
  • San Diego:
    San Diego is considering trying to trade for Boston’s Coco Crisp now that center fielder Jim Edmonds has already broken down with a calf injury.” (John Perrotto)

    The primary reason that this one makes sense to me? If you’re trying to approximate Cameron, and keep your fly ball prone staff happy in a sizable park, Crisp is your best available bet to do that.
  • Seattle:
    The Mariners, unhappy with their in-house options, are in the market for a veteran right-handed hitting outfielder. Why not Coco Crisp? Sure, he’s a switch-hitter, but his splits suggest it could make some sense.” (Matt Birt)

    This one, to be clear, is nothing more than speculation. Informed speculation, as it comes courtesy of MLB Trade Rumor’s Matt Birt, but speculation nonetheless. Still, like San Diego has a sizable park to cover and if Ichiro and Crisp were two thirds of the M’s outfield, their staff – Horacio Ramirez and all – is going to look much better than they actually are. Which they probably know, having watched Cameron for years.

I Gotta Admit, I'm Gonna Miss 'Em

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Shot of the Back of the Park, originally uploaded by sogrady.

According to Evan Brunell, the ringleader over at Fire Brand of the American League, we’re about to lose the not-really-iconic Coke bottles from behind the Monster. And while I can’t say that I had strong feelings about them one way or another when they went up – though they really got some of the traditionalists in a twist – like Evan, I’m going to miss them when they’re gone.

Not like I miss my childhood pets, perhaps, but it’ll be weird seeing Manny’s bombs go into orbit rather than ricocheting wildly off a giant fake glass bottle.

Vaya con dios, my friends.

Ballplayer Wants to Get Paid: News at 11

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Red Sox vanity, originally uploaded by sixes & sevens.

So Papelbon wants to get paid. And the club is reluctant to pay him more than they have to. Both of these things I know. What I don’t is why this is qualifies as news. Or, more pertinently, why this should be anything but expected.

Is Papelbon’s overt drive for a better financial return flattering? Hardly. It’s clearly left a sour taste in Rob’s mouth. But is it really that surprising that a 27 year old kid wants to be paid like one of the best in the league, when he’s begun like one of the best in the league’s history?

If Cole Hamels, Nick Markakis, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, or innumerable other young players serving their time are anything to judge by, the answer is no. Pap’s behavior is both predictable and anything but illogical.

Papelbon’s dealing from a position of public relations strength, after all, even as he’s not from a contractual and service time perspective. Or maybe you believe that the World Series clinching closer, much beloved for his…ahem…free spirit, will be booed on opening day for publicly requesting a raise of ~$400K. You know, since we’re paying Drew $12M+ to hit .270 and slug .423.

Sure, some will be turned off, and the Herald is already doing its best to fan those flames with a little editorializing in its headline (which, I suppose, is to be expected during an otherwise quiet camp). But most fans, I suspect, will sympathize. Just pay the man, they’ll say. Excuse me, are saying. What’s a couple of hundred large to a team that can afford to pay Lugo $8M per?

There is precedent, after all. As Sox and Pinstripes notes, the Rockies just ponied up a guaranteed $8.025 million for their closer, who – while the owner of absolutely filthy stuff – is far less accomplished than Papelbon. Which, incidentally, you can be sure that Papelbon and the flying Levinson brothers (better known as his agents) have duly noted.

The question from a club perspective, I’m guessing, is this: what’s the return on effectively doubling (Paps made $425K last year, and is asking for $900K this one) the cost of the player? The $900K figure, after all, derives explicitly from the voluntary payroll escalation the Phillies committed to with the aforementioned Ryan Howard. Does anyone think that Howard is genuinely more likely to sign with the Phillies when he becomes a free agent two years from now?

Seriously?

So if the benefit isn’t an ease of retention come free agency, the question is what’s in it for the club? Because as much as I’d like them to throw around hundreds of thousands of dollars, none of that has conveniently found its way into my pockets. Hypothetically speaking, I think it’s safe to assume that in return for our $475K, we’d receive an unknown quantity of goodwill. Maybe $475K’s worth, maybe less, it’s tough to say. As it always is, even on balance sheets.

What’s the goodwill balanced against, is the next question. Yes, aside from the cash. And the answer to that, as far as I’m concerned, is precedent. Which is the answer to the impasse here, I suspect.

As Paps himself observes, the Red Sox will have no shortage of similar cases in the future – unlike the Phillies, who don’t have quite the same stable of kids on the way. Next year there’s Pedro, the year after (presumably) Buchholz and Ellsbury, and maybe the year after that Bowden, Kalish, Masterson et al.

So if the Red Sox set, with Papelbon, the precedent that goodwill is worth doubling a contract before contractually obligated to do so, and before the big raises start with arbitration, it seems extraordinarily likely that the respective agents for the aforementioned players will all remember that a year from now, two years from now, three years from now. Even if they’re not the caliber player that Papelbon is, because for all of his obvious excellence, let’s remember that a year ago this time no one was certain whether or not the closer’s shoulder was capable of holding up for a calendar year. Ellsbury in particular, you might recall, got scooped up by Scott Boras this past offseason. He tends to file away things like that, unfortunately for all of us.

What happens, then? Well, my guess is that the Red Sox – as usual – have a value that they will not exceed for Papelbon. It’s also very possible that they’d like to see another season from him to gain further insight into his injury risk. You know, for those actuarial tables they use to spit out the valuation. And speaking of the valuation, it seems likely, based at least on the public commentary, that Papelbon’s opinion of it is not entirely aligned with the club’s.

Meaning that I’m guessing they’ll renew with a slight raise, without giving Papelbon what he wants financially. Or without coming to a long term agreement.

Does that bode ill for the future? Very probably. Frankly, I’m terrified of 2010. Not just because we’ll only have 2 years left before the end of the world, but because all of the kids we value highly now because they’re not just good but cheap will be good but expensive. Not to mention the fact that Tampa is likely to be very, very good by then.

But that’s a conversation for another time. For now, just try and shrug off attempts to manufacture controversy, understanding that both sides are acting entirely predictably and in their own self interests. That’s what I’m doing, anyway.

Buchholz and Hansen: Second Looks

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Warmup, originally uploaded by Plutor.

If you’re craving reassurance with respect to the rough outings today from first Buchholz and then Hansen, well, you shouldn’t.

Repeat after me: it’s. their. first. outing. Against the pros, anyway.

But I was curious to see what – precisely – went wrong for the two on the day, because the box score doesn’t always tell the full story. Herewith is my quick scouter on the pair’s efforts today, which – considering that I’m completely untrained for the task – isn’t terribly valuable.

Anyway.

Buchholz

Not a terrible outing, overall, Buchholz just got some balls up in the first inning and had some balls hit just far enough away from defenders to cause problems. More:

  • The NESN gun had his fastball between 88-92, and in his post-game remarks he mentioned that he sees himself sitting between 90-93 easy, with a couple extra available when he needs it.
  • Four seam fastballs that dominated the first IP were frequently up, which has been a bit of a problem in his “last two bullpens.”
  • Mentioned that he “might have been trying to throw too hard”
  • Great separation velocity-wise with his changeup: arm action is good and the gun had them generally at 78 with an occasional 75
  • Second IP was much smoother, primarily because he went to a two seam fastball that generated some quick outs on the ground
  • All three pitches – fastball, curve, and change – got hit, but all three looked good at times
  • First few hits came in two strike counts

Hansen

Hansen’s outing was less promising than Buchholz’, primarily because his velocity crept down but his control – particularly of the slider – did not improve. Still, if the infield behind him had managed to turn a double play his line would have looked very different. More:

  • The NESN gun had Hansen’s fastball between 90-95, and his slider was fairly consistent at 83.
  • Fastballs were generally thrown down in the zone, but command within it was spotty.
  • Sliders were so-so on the day, with one or two good ones thrown against several way out of the zone. Remy’s characterization of the pitch was “flat”
  • Clearly had difficulty throwing strikes with either the fastball or the slider
  • Subtracting velocity did not necessarily improve his control: the third batter of the inning took four straight balls, which came in at 93-92-91-90
  • While several of the non-strikes were borderline pitches, several – particularly after runs scored – missed by a significant margin
  • Fastball showed good velocity to close out the inning (95)