Say a prayer for Bobby Murcer, who had an operation yesterday to remove a brain tumor. Bobby was said to be alert and comfortably resting after the procedure. Murcer has had one of the most distinguished Yankee careers ever. After cups of coffee in 1965 and 1966, Bobby served in the military and became a full time player in 1969. He was with the Yanks until 1974 but returned in 1979 after the Cubs dealt him back to the Bronx. Murcer had a career .277 batting average and 252 homers until he retired during the 1983 season, freeing up a roster spot for the Yankees to call up Don Mattingly. Bobby is famous for being one of Thurman Munson’s closest friends. He delivered Munson’s eulogy after his untimely death in 1979 and drove in 5 runs that night, including a 2 run walkoff hit in the bottom of the 9th, erasing a 4-0 Baltimore lead. Murcer has been broadcasting Yankees games since aside from a brief front office stint, winning three Emmys for his work with his soothing country twang and sharp analytical eye. He has taken over Phil Rizzuto’s role of broadcaster that one feels like he’s friends with. It’s tough to imagine watching the Yankees without hearing Murcer at this point. Here’s hoping that he has a full recovery and is back calling games in 2007.
December 29, 2006
December 27, 2006
The Yankees have signed Japanese lefty Kei Igawa to a 5 year, $20 million deal after spending $26 to post for Igawa. This was an interesting move by the Yanks. Igawa has had a lot of success in Japan, posting a 16-10 record with a 2.97 ERA in 2006. He has constantly been among the Japanese leaders in strikeouts, indicating an ability for him to miss bats. His career record in Japan was 86-60 with a 3.15 ERA. His ERA never reached 3.80 in Japan, and he won an MVP award in 2003. Despite all of these positives, the move is still puzzling.
Japanese pitchers have struggled to adjust to American hitters. Daisuke Matsuzaka faces some of the same troubles, but he is supremely talented. He is like the Ichiro or Hideki Matsui of pitchers. He should find success anywhere. Igawa doesn’t have the repertoire to dominate in the American League East. He figures to be more of a backend starting pitcher. It’s tough to imagine that a young guy like Jeff Karstens or Humberto Sanchez would provide much of a dropoff in production for a fraction of the $52 million the Yanks paid Igawa. It’s also puzzling as to why the Yankees posted $32 million for Matsuzaka and $26 million for Igawa. The pitchers are not in the same league when it comes to stuff on the mound.
This move isn’t terrible when one considers everything. The total money is in line with the market. It’s better to spend it on a guy like Igawa who at least has a small chance of being excellent than on a known mediocrity like Gil Meche. The posting fee also must be considered as a sunk cost. The remaining contract is not too prohibitive. The team can rid itself of Igawa easily should he falter either through trade to a National League team willing to take a chance or just release him.
This move isn’t terrible, but it is still quite puzzling. The Yankees just spent a lot of money on a guy who doesn’t look like anything special or much of an improvement over what they already have. Brian Cashman has done a great job this offseason so he gets a pass. Maybe he knows something that nobody else does.
Rejoice for in this holiday season the prodigal lefty has returned. The Yankees have resigned lefty starter Andy Pettitte to a 1 year, $16 million deal. This also includes a player option for 2008. This rights a wrong that ruined the holiday season for Yankees fans three winters ago. This move is the highlight of the Yankees offseason.
The finances of the contract alone make it a smart deal. General managers across baseball have gone wild this offseason, giving five year deals to mediocrities such as Gary Matthews Jr. and Gil Meche. The $16 million salary that Andy will make is not that crazy in this market. A team like the Yankees can afford it without a problem. The big part of this deal is that it will tie the team down for at most two years. It promotes flexibility. If Andy’s blows out his elbow in 2007, the Yanks will not be on the hook for a long time the way they almost were with Jason Giambi before he regained his stroke in 2005. This helps to minimize any risk with the lefty’s balky elbow.
Said elbow has to be something of a concern. He did miss a substantial part of the 2004 season. That body part played into New York’s decision not to aggressively pursue Andy following the 2003 season. Despite all of this, with the benefit of hindsight few think letting Pettitte get away was good for the Yankees. He made 32 starts in 2005 and posted a 2.39 ERA. In 2006 he got off to a very slow start, but bounced back in the second half with a 2.80 ERA after the All-Star break. The man can still pitch well, and the elbow hasn’t stopped him from doing so over the past two seasons. Yes, these numbers were in the National League, but Andy has certainly proven that he can handle pitching in the American League East.
Pettitte is also a proven commodity in New York. A lot of pitchers don’t have the stomach to handle the pressure of pitching in front of the bright lights. Andy Pettitte does. Some pitchers shy away from taking the ball in big games. Andy Pettitte wants to be on the mound when everything is on the line. It is where he feels at home. The big games that Andy has delivered in the past are too numerous to count. Over the past few seasons, the Yanks have had short Octobers because their pitching has faltered. Starters let pressure get to them. Andy Pettitte does not have a perfect postseason track record. He has had some atrocious outings. However, he can be trusted to come through. If he doesn’t, it is because he get beaten, not because he succumbs to the pressure.
Andy’s presence also increases the possibility that another former Yankees starter will return to the Bronx, Roger Clemens. Roger likely will return at midseason 2007 under a similar arrangement to the one he had in 2006. The bidding will probably boil down to the Yankees and the Astros. Boston probably would be out unless Theo Epstein fires up his money-printing machine one more time. However, there really isn’t much in Beantown for Roger aside from being forced to view his friend Pettitte as an enemy. The Yanks now will be able to both offer the most money and the opportunity to pitch again with his best friend. This might make up for the perks that Houston can give him being close to home and not forcing him to travel.
Andy Pettitte’s clubhouse presence will also be valuable to this team. He is another piece of the dynasty days. He was brought up in an atmosphere where winning was all that mattered. No individual accomplishments were relevant. That thinking has eroded in recent seasons. Andy at least brings back a piece of that atmosphere conducive to winning. It will be a good influence to younger players in the clubhouse, some of whom he might take under his wing and bring into the workout regimen he learned from Clemens.
Andy Pettitte never should have been an Astro. The Yankees had every chance to lock him up before he hit the market in 2003. They did not make him a priority. New York failed to negotiate with him during a brilliant season. The Yanks didn’t contact him when they had an exclusive negotiation window in the offseason. When he asked the team for a 4 year, $52 million deal, the Yankees countered with 3 years, $39 million. Only the first 2 years and $26 million were guaranteed. That’s less guaranteed money than the Astros gave him. All of this came for a man who erased three different 1-0 postseason deficits for the team in 2003 with big performances in Game 2′s. All of this came for a man who pitched his heart out in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, losing 2-0 to Josh Beckett because his vaunted offense disappeared. All of this came for a man who had pitched countless big games for the team, including a 1-0 win over Cy Young winner John Smoltz in the pivotal game of the 1996 World Series, which launched a dynasty. Instead, the Yanks made a malcontent like Gary Sheffield a priority over a homegrown hero. Three years later, the Yanks have realized their mistake. The biggest irony is that had the Yankees given Andy the deal he wanted, he’d be under contract in 2006 for $12 million instead of $16 million. Talk about a mistake.
The Yankees get more than a pitcher in Andy Pettitte. They get a man of integrity, one who is not solely motivated by money. Sure, finances played some role in his decision. However, he offered the Astros a hometown discount in both 2003 and 2006 because he wanted to be near his kids. He turned down a 4 year, $54 million offer in 2003 from Boston because he felt that he could never betray his fans and teammates like that. He reportedly turned down a 4 year, $66 million deal from Baltimore right before resigning with the Yanks because there were two places that he loved pitching, and he was going to be in one of them.
A great Yankee has returned to pinstripes to end his career. Aaron Guiel will have to give up number 46. The Donovan Osborne’s and Alan Embree’s of the world are gone. The rightful owner of the jersey is back. It gives the Yankees a much better chance to return to their accustomed spot as World Champions in 2007.
The Yankees resigned Mike Mussina to a 2 year, $22.5 million deal. The Yanks pretty much had to bring the Moose back. He defied his age in 2006, registering his best year since 2003 and staying healthy. Starters that reliable are not easy to find, especially ones who have proven that they can thrive under the bright lights of New York. The Bronx Bombers need pitching help. A team doesn’t respond to that by getting rid of its second best pitcher. The Yanks probably just should have picked up Mussina’s option. The $17 million doesn’t look too bad in the hindsight presented by what the market turned into. Even without that, the Yankees could have afforded the hit. It’s best not to commit to aging pitchers for a long time since it can go downhill in a second. Mike would have been motivated by pitching in another contract year. Still, the $11.25 million for 2007 looks like a bargain. That’s about what Gil Meche is making. Two years of Moose are also much better than no more Moose at all.
The Yankees traded Jaret Wright to Baltimore for righty reliever Chris Britton. This deal makes a ton of sense for the Bronx Bombers. They sent $4 million to the O’s along with Jaret. This was what it would have cost them to buy out the contract. For the same price, Brian Cashman added a quality young reliever.
Wright was pretty good for the Yanks in 2006, posting a 4.49 ERA. However, it was time for him to go. Jaret never went deep into games even when he pitched well, which taxed the bullpen. On days he was off, he could force the ‘pen to throw 8 innings. Jaret also pitched miserably in Game 4 of the ALDS, where the Yanks were eliminated. This was not an isolated incident. Since the brilliance of his early postseason career with Cleveland in 1997, Wright’s ERA has been 8.10 or higher in five of his six subsequent postseason series. He struggles with pressure. Jaret had the spirit of a fighter. Yankees fans should always admire the way he fought back to return from a shoulder injury and the constant flurry of projectiles coming at him in 2005 as well as his work in 2006, but an upgrade was in order. A team can get by with Jaret Wright as a backend starter, but it should upgrade from that whenever possible. The guy has not been a very productive pitcher during his career. There remains a strong possibility that his relatively strong 2006 was a fluke year and that he will regress. This was New York’s chance to sell high.
In return, the Yanks get Britton, a 23 year old righty. In his rookie season of 2006, Chris pitched 53.2 innings and posted a 3.35 ERA. In years past, New York’s bullpen has been too top-heavy, lacking any depth. Britton is a promising young arm who can help carry the load and make sure guys like Scott Proctor get more rest. Baltimore reunites Wright with Leo Mazzone, the pitching coach under whom Jaret has had the most success of his career. Still, good young arms don’t grow on trees. Wright was not worth giving up Britton.
The Yankees now have another rotation hole to fill. However, pitchers who do what Wright do are easier to find than 23 year old bullpen arms. This was a stroke of genuis by Brian Cashman. This team is better because of this deal.
The Yankees started their offseason by dealing Gary Sheffield to the Detroit Tigers for a trio of minor league pitchers. Trading Sheffield makes a lot of sense. Had Sheff been allowed to enter free agency, he almost certainly would have signed with Boston. The Tigers did knock the Yanks out of the postseason in 2006, but the Red Sox still present a bigger challenge to New York if only because the fierce rivals battle within the same division. By dealing Sheff, the Yanks also were able to get something tangible in return instead of just draft picks. The guys that New York got are further along and easier to project.
The Yankees did very well in what they got. All three pitchers are quality prospects. The centerpiece was Humberto Sanchez. He’s only 23, throws hard, and finished last season with a combined 2.53 ERA between AA and AAA, striking out 129 in only 123 innings. Sanchez does bring some concerns due to weight and elbow problems, but his upside is too good to pass up. He is highly touted and projects to become a terrific pitcher for a long time. He should be ready to contribute starting in 2007. Sanchez could fit as either a starter or a reliever. He adds another quality young arm to the system, joining Phillip Hughes, Tyler Clippard, J. Brent Cox, Darrell Rasner, and Jeff Karstens. Since the Yanks rely on old pitchers, having this kind of insurance can give the team peace of mind entering the 2007 season. Brian Cashman has also stockpiled enough young arms that he can move a few of them to get more immediate help. This is the kind of flexibility that can only come when an organization values young talent. It’s tough to make quality trades when everything of value within a franchise is tied down in a long term deal. A team can never have too much quality pitching. Sanchez can only help matters.
The other pitchers, Kevin Whelan and Anthony Clagett, are relievers with potential. Neither is as advanced as Sanchez, but both still could make some noise in the future. Whelan is only 22 and posted a 2.57 ERA in A Lakeland in 2006. He has a power arm and some project him as a future closer. Clagett dominated for A Western Michigan this season, posting a 0.91 ERA, striking out 58 in 59.1 innings. This is another guy with potential to shoot through the system.
This trade was a good one from all sides. The Tigers are looking to win now. They needed a big bat and had young pitching to spare. Sheffield’s attitude won’t be a problem because he respects Jim Leyland, and Leyland knows how to handle him. Sheffield will wax poetic about how much he loves being surrounded by people he knows from the Marlins, but the real reason he is happy is that he got a contract extension. If he missed these guys so badly, why is this the first time he’s mentioned them since he left Florida. As for the Yankees, they have no room for Sheffield, and Gary had become a malcontent. Bobby Abreu gives the lineup better balance, selectivity over power, and better defense than Sheffield would have. They got rid of deadweight and picked up three good arms.