19 November 2008

Yankees Departing Free Agents...

The New York Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade and a half this year. The excuses for that failure are many and varied, and mostly irrelevant when it comes to how the Yankees will approach the free agent market this winter.

Certainly the Yankees can look to available free agents to fill perceived performance gaps, and they will. But the 2008 Yankees had more than their share of bad luck, with injuries that devastated the roster and promising prospects who mostly failed to live up to that promise, at least so far. The free agent market is no panacea, and no excuse for not developing your own talent, but the Yankees need a shot in the arm badly, and this winter, they plan to acquire the tools they need to get over the hump.

First, a look at the major players departing:

1B/DH Jason Giambi (38) $23.4M, .247/.373/.502, 32 HR, 145 games

Giambi won an MVP award in Oakland and then, one year later, signed the big free agent deal everyone covets when the Yankees came calling. While he never quite reached the heights he had in Oakland, five of the seven seasons he spent in Yankee pinstripes were quite productive, even if his batting average rarely ventured much above the .250 mark. This past season was one of those, and so despite his age and obviously limited range of usefulness, the man can clearly still hit.

The bizarre summer of 2004, in which he missed time for all manner of exotic illnesses and then felt obligated to apologize for...well...nobody exactly knew, because he never said what, is a distant memory. Unfortunately, the Yankees want someone who can play first base for them over the long haul, and Giambi's not that man. He could land back in Oakland, where they still value walks and power above foot speed, defensive prowess and batting average.

RF Bobby Abreu (35) $16M, .296/.371/.471, 20 HR, 156 games

Abreu's not old, exactly, but he is aging. He'll turn 35 during spring training, and he hasn't hit .300 or better for a full season since 2004. Worse yet, he hasn't had an OBP above .400 since 2006, and over the last four seasons his stolen base numbers have dropped from 40, to 31, to 30, to 25, to 22, with comparably declining success rates. Simultaneously, his walks have dropped from 127 to 84 to 73 in the last three seasons, after nearly a decade of 100+ walk seasons.

Clearly, he's slowing down, and his defense in right field, once simply lackluster, has become atrocious. He could probably still be a solid DH for an AL team, at a reasonable price, but the Yankees haven't made any noises about re-signing him yet.

RHP Mike Mussina (40), $11M, 20-9, 3.37, 200 IP

Moose had a horribly unlucky season in 2007, then more than bounced back in 2008, winning 20 games for the first time in his career at age 39 and even garnering some Cy Young and MVP votes. Better yet, he did it the old-fashioned way: He just pitched better. Sure, he got a little improvement in his batting average on balls in play, but he significantly increased his strikeout rate, too, simply allowing fewer balls in play, and therefore, allowing luck to play less of a role.

With that said, the odds of a 40-year old pitcher repeating a performance like that are nano-scale slim. He might be a decent bet to pitch 180+ innings of league average ball, which, it should be said, is worth about $10 million in today's market, but he's more likely to get paid based on what he did last rather than what he's likely to do, and that should place him off-limits to a team trying to build for the future. The Yankees could afford to re-sign him to another deal like the one he just had, say, two years and $20 million, but any more than that, in either years or dollars, is just plain foolish.

UPDATE: Or, he might retire...

LHP Andy Pettittte (36), $16M, 14-14, 4.54, 204 IP

You'd like to look at Pettitte's 2008 BABIP of .338 and say, "Well, look how far above the league average that number is! he'll bounce back in 2009 and his ERA will drop about 3/4 of a run or so..."

Except you'd be wrong.

While the league norm for batting average on balls in play is usually around .300, Andy Pettitte is generally a different animal. Since 2001, his BABIP numbers have been .336, .322, .322, .278, .270, .331, .325, .338. That .278 mark was posted in only 83 innings in 2004 in Houston, and that .270 mark was 2005, when he won 17 games with a 2.39 ERA.

Otherwise, the league usually hits about .320 or .330 off him when they don't homer or whiff. This presumably is because his stuff just isn't good enough (i.e. fast enough) to overpower hitters if either his cutter or sinker isn't working, so when they hit him, they hit him hard. He still gets enough strikeouts and keeps the walks mostly in check so that he doesn't get in too much trouble, but any bid for him should be made in the belief that his ceiling is as a LAIM for the next couple of years.

Ivan Rodriguez (37), .276/.319/.394, 7 HR, 115 games

I-Rod was only a Yankee for a couple of months, his presence being necessitated by Jorge Posada's injury and Jose Molina's persistence at being, well, Jose Molina. A career back-up catcher, Molina saw career highs in games and at-bats this year, and his weaknesses were truly exposed as he hit just .216/.263/.313, so the Yankees got I-Rod and the last two months of his $13M salary for Kyle Farnsworth, and Pudge promptly hit exactly like Molina had all year: .219/.257/.323, and worse yet, his defense wasn't nearly as good.

So it looks like he's done. He'll get another contract, probably incentive-laden, based on his reputation alone, but not from the Yankees, who plan to have Jorge Posada back next year.

There are some others as well, like Wilson Betemit (already traded to Chicago for Nick Swisher) and Xavier Nady and Brian Bruney, but those guys are due for salary arbitration and will probably be kept for something similar to what they made in 2008. Not a significant effect on the total team salary.

Next up...a look at the guys the Yankees might sign...

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Travis, pretty insiteful stuff, I'm up here in Boston and never heard of this Tazawa kid until very recently. Then he gets shuttled up to the Bronx for the biggest rivalry in sports! you've been on this for months, I just googled him and found your post! I knew he was in Maine, you knew he was an 'oiler', keep up the good work! I'll keep watch for your stuff mike