Damon vs. Matsui: A comparisonTo the death or to lunch, whichever comes first
Now, it's unlikely Matsui is going anywhere, because he has a full no-trade clause, and it's very possible that Brian Cashman & Pals are putting out some disinformation to draw some stronger offers on Damon. "We really, really want him. You'd have to knock our socks off to get Johnny flippin' Damon!" Apparently certain general managers fall for that, though I've never met the one that would.
For now, let's assume that the case is not that the Yankees are playing mind games and examine their apparent perception that Damon will be worth more going forward than Matsui. This perception may have come about simply due to the fact that Damon finished the season hot (.313/.358/.475 in September) and Matsui did not (.185/.343/.346). Final impressions are almost as strong as first impressions, and the last time the Yankees saw Damon he seemed like the more vital force. Let's throw out a few other easy facts that favor this interpretation:
Due to his speed, Damon is still an above-average outfielder, though he hasn't much of an arm. Of the two players, Damon should maintain his range longer, even though he's the older of the two by about seven months. Of course, Matsui doesn't have the greatest range now, so Damon instantly win this point.
The same things that go for fielding go for baserunning.
Damon can probably be expected to rebound to some degree in 2008.
Fielding and baserunning isn't all there is to baseball. There's also hitting.
There has been no time during Matsui's career that Damon has outperformed him at the plate, and he's not likely to start now. Here is both players numbers using two statistics that boil down their offensive production into one figure, runs created per game (that is per 27 outs used) and equivalent average (the usual explanation: equivalent average scales the same way batting average does, with .210 being weak and .300 being strong).
September is just one month. Not only did Matsui outhit Damon on the season, he outhit him in the second half of the season, when Damon did most of his best work (.298/.377/.515 for Matsui, .296/.364/.450 for Damon).
As the above statistics suggest, there is no value in becoming overly concerned by labels such as "leadoff man." If there's any value in moving on from Joe Torre, it's that the Yankees have a manager who grew up on baseball in the 1970s and 80s, not 1950s. Maybe that's still too long ago to for Joe Girardi not to have imbibed all the game's sacred and vacuous images, but at least we can hope that he's enough of a rationalist to understand that the moment he lists a player in the first slot on his lineup card, that player becomes a leadoff hitter. If you're born with stripes stamped on your butt, you're inescapably a zebra. It doesn't work the same way with leadoff hitters. They're made, not born. It doesn't matter so much who the Yankees lead off as long as they've picked their nine best hitters, as opposed to the hitters who might not be the nine best but happen to correspond to wisdom received c. 1890.
Of course, the Yankees could mitigate half of the complaints against Matsui by taking the glove off of his hand and making him the regular designated hitter. Alternatively, they could try changing his outfielder's glove for a first baseman's, though one suspects that he'd be a stationary target at best given his lack of a first-step in the outfield. Matsui's bat would play at either position, though not in a huge way, clearing left field for Damon or an even better bat. If Matsui is found to be a functional first baseman, that would clear the designated hitter spot for another Giambi sequel (at this point that would seem to be as welcome as another Rocky movie) or even a Barry Bonds.
The Yankees are in the difficult position of maintaining their offense in the aftermath of A-Rod's departure. Matsui is not an MVP-caliber bat, but he's solidly in the next tier. If Jorge Posada follows Rodriguez out the door (and perhaps even if he does not), Matsui becomes one of the top three hitters on the team. The Yankees take that for granted at their own risk. CLICK HERE TO COMMENT
THURSDAY, November 8: Posted at 10:08 a.m. ET
TO THE MATS WITH READER MAIL
1: SANTANA, CABRERA, FIRST BASE, AND EVERYTHING
There's a distinct possibility that Johan Santana winds up on the trading block this offseason. Can you compare his trade value to that of Miguel Cabrera? Would each command a similar return, or would one cost more than the other? Could the amount of money required to sign Johan to an extension knock some prospect-rich teams out of the running, thus driving his trade value down?
Also, as we consider the Yankee corner IF positions, what 1B options are out there to upgrade the production to league average? Thanks.
Johan Santana is clearly one of the elite properties in the game, but he comes with some baggage. The same can be said of Miguel Cabrera. Santana will turn 29 next year. He's been very durable over the last four years, but that might mean he's due for an arm or shoulder injury. He also wasn't quite the pitcher he had been in 2007; he led the American League in home runs allowed with 33, something which contributed to a rise in his ERA. Given that his peripherals were still good we probably shouldn't be overly concerned, but it's something to be aware of. Add in that lefties, even the great ones, don't tend to be as long-lived as their righty brethren. You still have a player any team would love to get, but compared to a position player he could be on the perishable side.
Hitters have more linear career patterns than hitters, so there is a much greater chance that Cabrera will still be in there punching five years from now. Given that Cabrera is a veteran at just 24 years old, he could still be worth something ten years from now. The only problem is that Cabrera doesn't seem to be motivated to keep himself in good shape. At this point, the Whopper, Ben & Jerry's, and chow fun are a bigger danger to his career than getting hit by a pitch. That's a problem if an acquiring team is expecting him to be a third baseman for more than the next year or so-unless that team can get him to change his way. Let's not overstate this, though. The lad can hit a ton, and even if he's a designated hitter he'll still be plenty useful. Babe Ruth wasn't exactly the poster boy for good conditioning after the mid-20s and it hurt him so badly he only hit 60 homers once.
Both Cabrera and Santana will probably require similar multi-prospect packages. No matter how many teams drop out, as long as there is more than one team out there bidding the price will stay high. The Yankees probably won't be getting these guys for Fernando Seguignol and cash.
The free agent market at first base is weak. Brian Cashman has been making noise as if he doesn't care, as if he's going to patch together first base from parts on hand like Wilson Betemit and Shelley Duncan. He'd be making a terrific mistake. A-Rod is gone. Jorge Posada is going to give back some runs next year (if he re-signs). One of the 34-year-olds is more likely to decline than improve or even hold steady. First base is the easiest place for the Yankees to bolster the offense. The defensive qualifications are low. The Yankees tend to inflate the defensive importance of their first baseman, but let's put it this way-Lou Gehrig's Iron Horse status also extended to his fielding, but the 1927 Yankees didn't seem to be hurt too much. That's not to say that Jason Giambi should be out there short of an emergency, because he's just not physically capable of doing an acceptable job, but you don't have to forego all offense just to get Doug Mientkiewicz in there. There should be an acceptable middle ground between the extremes.
Back about nine blog entries ago I talked about some of the first base possibilities out there. There isn't much on the off-the-shelf list (players who are free agents or established vets that teams might dump) that will quicken your heartbeat. There are a few prospects who appear to be blocked, among them Joe Koshansky of the Rockies and Jeff Larish of the Tigers, but going after them wouldn't really be the Yankees' style. Neither of those two players will remind you of Don Mattingly on either side of the ball, but either one might give the Yankees more than the 16 home runs they got out of the position in 2007.
2: NO POSADA FOREVER FOR YOU! (BUT HERE, CLEVERLY DISGUISED AS A BOMB, IS A BOMB.)
Giving Posada a four-year contract might be the only choice the Yankees have and it serves them right for having neglected the farm system for so long. No matter what Bullwinkle might say, you cannot pull a rabbit out of your hat whenever you need to replace a position player and if Posada leaves for good, the Yankees will have holes at catcher and first base AND third. Even if by some miracle, all of the young pitching develops and the Yankees lead the league in ERA next year, they still have to score, unless they're going to turn into the 1965 Dodgers.-Damian
My favorite bit of vaguely baseball-related dialogue from "Rocky & Bullwinkle" goes something like this:
Rocky: Here's a letter for you, Bullwinkle!
Rocky: Why so happy? You don't even know what's in the letter!
Bullwinkle: I know, but look at that stamp! A genuine picture of Lincoln-with a beard!
Rocky: You must be crazy about Lincoln.
Bullwinkle: No, I'm crazy about beards. What's the letter say?
Rocky: It's from Washington.
Bullwinkle: Washington? Do you suppose he heard I was a Lincoln fan?
Rocky: Bullwinkle -
Bullwinkle: I'd be a Washington fan too if he had a beard!
Rocky: This is -
Bullwinkle: And Washington needs all the fans it can get this year!
That last line frequently comes to mind, regardless of whether I'm thinking about the Nationals or the seat of government. As for Posada, as I spent all of the last Pinstriped Bible saying, the Yankees are in trouble without him, at least for the next couple of years. After that they may be in trouble with him, but it seems like they have little choice if they want to remain a 90-win team in the near future. All the leverage is on Jorge's side, unless Brian Cashman has a cunning plan to steal Russell Martin out from under Joe Torre. My guess is it would take Phil Hughes and some heavily armed commandoes.
3: ODDLY DISSATISFIED CUSTOMER
We get it. You subscribe to the ideals that made Casey Stengel an outstanding manager. Do you really feel the need to waste blog-space by propping up an individual that is already widely considered a brilliant manager by extolling his stats as a player? You are more often correct than not (see: Lofton, Cairo), but really, WE GET IT.
Brian, you're a regular correspondent and I usually enjoy your notes, but your reaction has got me a bit confused. All I was doing was reacting to a historical bit in the newspaper that was inaccurate. Note that I not only discussed Stengel as a player but also corrected the record on the Mighty Mite, Miller Huggins, as well. If the two players had been Huggins and Whitey Herzog and Herzog had been described as a "speedy infielder" I would have done the same thing, writing, "No, he was a platoon outfielder who took some walks, and was pretty decent in that role for a few years." I certainly wasn't trying to sell you on anything other than accuracy. Anderson was saying, "All Yankees managers fit this description," but he had bent the facts to fit his thesis. I thought it was worth pointing out. It just happened that Casey was one of those things that he bent.
I know I relate a lot of things to Casey in everything that I write. Having spent enough time with the Old Man to write a biography, he has taken up permanent residence in my brain and it's a very natural thing to do. Since he was in baseball for 50 years, there's an example from his life for nearly every baseball occasion other than free agency, and I never hesitate to cite them because it gives me pleasure to do so. If you're going to live with a ghost, you'd have a hard time finding one as benign as Casey Stengel.
By the way, you can't really waste blog space. It's infinite, and I'm tasked to keep coming back with more. I have a rough tally of the number of entries I've filed to YES. This is #490. I do this five days a week, and sometimes weekends, 12 months a year. I haven't taken a vacation in a loooong time other than skipping a day here and there. If today's topics don't suit you, chances are I'll be getting to something that does suit you tomorrow. Eventually I'll accidentally type out "The Merry Wives of Windsor." You can also always shoot me a note saying, "Could you please talk about subject X?" and chances are I will talk about subject X. As Casey used to say, "You could look it up."
Oops. There I go again.
TUESDAY, November 6: Posted at 9:13 a.m. ET
THE STILLNESS OF THE HOURS
It is shocking to realize that we are finally in the offseason, that the sport of Yankee-watching will have an offseason this year. Even after the team's first round elimination, every day brought some kind of news or rumor to weigh. The hiring of Joe Girardi and the activation of Bobby Abreu's option brought the circus to an abrupt end, at least for now. The general managers' meetings in Florida have been going on for a whole day and there hasn't been any news ...
We're waiting on the name of the next third baseman, of course, but it might not come for weeks or even months, and there almost certainly will be an anticlimax after Alex Rodriguez. Elvis has left the building.
The next item will be the resolution of the Andy Pettitte retirement story, which by the letter of his contract will end Wednesday. Pettitte declined his $16 million option late Monday night, and the Yankees are gambling that extra time will make Pettitte feel better about returning. If he still chooses to retire, well, it's not as if the Yankees will pass on Johan Santana because they have to hold a spot open.
RANDOM PLAYER WHO COULD HELP THE YANKEES IF A TRADE COULD BE MADE
Positives: Righty power bat could play first base or DH. He's a career .299/.366/.542 hitter against lefty pitchers, which would help balance the lineup.
Negatives: He's not Snuffy McGinnis in the field; he's signed through 2010, when he'll be 34. Or maybe that's a positive.
Why it won't happen: The same reason every other trade the Yankees will try to make this winter won't happen: their main assets are the big three young starting pitchers (Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy), and the Yankees wisely want to keep them.
This is the ChiSox player you'd like to see the Yankees acquire more than Joe Crede. Crede is a good fielder, but he will turn 30 next year and is coming off back surgery. It seems unlikely that Crede has another .283/.323/.506, 30 home run season in him. The Yankees would go from top of the line to production to a player that fell short of average, that being .266/.334/.427 for AL third basemen in 2007.
THIS PROBABLY DOESN'T MATTER TO ANYONE BUT ME...
Dave Anderson of The New York Times was wrong when he called Miller Huggins and Casey Stengel weak hitters over the weekend. Stengel was a good enough hitter to play regularly on three pennant winners (he came in on the tail end of a fourth). He wasn't a leading hitter in most seasons, but more of a complimentary bat in part because as a lefty he needed to be platooned and he also had problems with consistency. Still, he led the NL in on-base percentage in 1914, and had four top-ten finishes in slugging percentage, suggesting that he would have shown some pop in the lively ball era. Actually, we know that he would have because he played in the lively ball era. Stengel became a New York Giant in 1921, and was the team's platoon center fielder in 1922 and 1923. Protected from lefties and playing with the lively ball, Casey batting .368/.436/.564 in the former season and .339/.400/.505 in the latter.
Huggins, a little guy whose skills were well-suited to the era in which he played (1904-1916), wouldn't have been a slugger in any era. The tiny second baseman hit almost nothing but singles, but his batting averages were decent and he was very selective at the plate. He led the NL in walks four times, in OBP once, and was regularly in the top ten in both categories. As a result he scored over 100 runs three times despite never getting as far as second base under his own power.