30 November 2005

Not (Yet) Panic Time in the Bronx

This is the part where I'm supposed to panic, right?

Over the last week, and especially since the weekend, the major sports news outlets and radio talking heads would have you believe that the Yankees are just sitting idly by the Hot Stove, not doing much besides raising ticket prices, while everyone else leaves them in the dust. Their competitors, both in the tabloids and in the AL East, have been signing free agents and trading for star players on an almost daily basis while all the Yankees have done is, well, raise ticket prices. And overpay Hideki Matsui.

Of course, this is silly. Heck, it's November, for crying out loud. How worried are we supposed to be about the Mets stealing headlines in November? Sure, they got Carlos Delgado, and all it cost them was Mike Jacobs, a major league-ready catcher/firstbaseman, an excellent pitching prospect and an excellent shortstop prospect. And $41 million dollars over the next three years, during the last of which Delgado will be 36 years old.

The Mets also grabbed free agent closer Billy Wagner, who didn't cost them any prospects (only draft picks), but will cost them another $43 million over the next four years, at the end of which he'll be 38. This contract gives him the highest average salary of any reliever in MLB, better compensated than even Mariano Rivera, despite Wagner's history of arm trouble and his lack of postseason success. He's a great relief pitcher, but that's a heckuvalotta money, and the Yankees weren't in the market for a closer anyway. Hard to be too upset about that signing.

More important than headlines, of course, are wins and losses, especially of teams in the Yankees' own division, such as Boston. The Red Sox recently acquired RHP Josh Beckett from the Marlins during Florida's Bi-Annual Fire Sale, sending Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado, Harvey Garcia and SS Hanley Ramirez to the Fish for Beckett, 3B Mike Lowell and relief pitcher Guillermo Mota.

Those four prospects, a shortstop and three pitchers, all 22 years old or younger, are all very good, though Ramirez is the prize in the Cracker Jacks. He put up impressive numbers at three minor league levels in 2004 before cooling off a little in AA Portland in 2005, but he's still expected to be very good. He had hit for high batting averages at every stop until 2005, will take a walk once in a while, and has some speed. Only 21, he should develop some power as he matures, but is probably still a year or two away from the majors right now. The other three prospects, all pitchers, all have good strikeout rates and peripheral numbers in the minors, but only Sanchez has pitched above Class A, with 57.1 innings in Portland this past summer, so none of them is a sure thing by any stretch.

What is a sure thing? Well, Guillermo Mota being a decent-but-unimpressive relief pitcher for another year is pretty close to a guarantee. Josh Beckett having blister problems limiting him to something like 150 or 175 innings is fairly certain as well, though they could be great innings. Rob Neyer points out that Beckett's career road ERA for the last three seasons is over 4.00, and that Fenway Park has a way of being cruel to pitchers, so it's possible that Beckett will not put up such gaudy numbers in Boston when he does pitch.

And Mike Lowell? Well, your guess is as good as mine. He could prove that 2005 was a fluke, take advantage of The Green Monster, and return to the .280/25Hr/100RBI form that got him a $25.5 million, 3-year contract after the 2004 season. Or he could be done, and the Red Sox will waste another 1000 at-bats and $18 million on a washed-up thirdbaseman while a perfectly capable, young and cheap 3B prospect wallows in AAA and/or the Red Sox bench. I guess it could be worse for Kevin Youkilis. I mean, the Sawx did the same thing to Wade Boggs, and he eventually wound up in the Hall of Fame! Plus he got his hair back!

In any case, this is not a move over which any Yankee fan should get her panties in a bunch. If you're going to get upset about something, get upset about the possibility that the Yanks might give Tom Gordon a contract like the ones that Scott Eyre and Bob Howry recently received from the Cubs ($11 or $12 million for three years). Flash is 38 years old now, with a considerably less flashy strikeout rate in 2005 than he had posted the previous two seasons. Furthermore, before the 2003-05 stretch, he had not been completely healthy for even one full season since 1998, the first year Boston used him exclusively as a reliever. He's certainly been very good for the Yankees for the last two seasons, but shelling out something like $15 million for another three years? Wagering that kind of scratch on an unprecedented and completely unlikely stretch of six straight healthy seasons for Gordon seems like a sucker bet to me. Better to take their chances with the much younger Kyle Farnsworth, though the competition will be stiff for him.

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1 comment:

Yankees Chick said...

dont panic yet - - there's still farnsworth as an option, and just because the free agent market is dry doesn't mean that trades wont be made....

also, as far as i know, only the expensive box seat ticket prices were raised - - the regular seats will remain the same