I'm thoroughly disappointed in GM Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankee braintrust right now, not for failing to improve the team ever-so-incrementally, but for giving up such a potentially large part of their future for so little. Boone is a solid, inexpensive but replaceable player on the wrong side of 30, yet still not old enough to shave or be a free agent. He's got pop, but not much control of the strike zone; his .339 OBP would be the second-best of his career. Robin Ventura could pull that off while hitting .097. Boone is versatile in the field, able to play second or even the occasional shortstop, but it's debatable whether he's actually a better fielder than the creaky Ventura. Here's a quick comparison between the two 3Bs:
Ventura's been suffering through a serious power outage this season, last homering on June 8 and shedding about 100 OPS points since then. It's entirely possible he's cooked, and if so, the Yanks would have needed more than Enrique Wilson and the bloated corpse of Todd Zeile at the hot corner as insurance. But it's too bad they have to replace one of their most likeable players with the less-talented son of one of the most annoying managers of the 21st century.
White has been on the Yanks' wish list for a long time, with previous talks centering around the forgotten man in their pen, Sterling Hitchcock. The 31-year-old lefty is 3-0 with a 3.93 ERA in 34.1 innings this year, but he's been on the DL since June 20 and has suffered multiple setbacks in rehab. Here's what the Cincinnati Post said on Wednesday: "Reliever Gabe White was supposed to make a rehab appearance Sunday in Louisville, but lingering soreness in his left groin from bullpen sessions Friday and Saturday prevented that appearance. The Reds haven't set a date for White's next attempt at a rehab outing." Ugh. White's great against lefties, holding them to a 631 OPS this season, but he's been getting tattooed by righties to the tune of a 905 OPS -- and he's faced righties 57% of the time this season. See what I meant about Bob Boone? On the other hand, prior to this season, White had been pretty respectable against the other side, holding them to a 717 OPS from 2000-2002, compared to 661 against righties. When he's healthy, he'll be more useful than Hitchcock, but so would an inanimate carbon rod.
The real blow here is the loss of Claussen, a 24-year-old lefty coming back from Tommy John surgery better than ever. He was previously thought to be "untouchable" in trade talks and considered a good candidate to make the Yanks next season, perhaps even as a starter. At this point there's a good case that the Yanks could have done better by trading Jeff Weaver and inserting the kid into the rotation. But that kind of creative risk-taking is anathema to the Yanks, who prefer to bury their big-name mistakes under piles of cash.
On the other hand, the prospects the Yanks have traded away in the past few years haven't really amounted to much, despite all of the hand-wringing (some of it by yours truly). D'Angelo Jiminez, Willy Mo Pena, Jackson Melian, Ted Lilly, Ed Yarnall, Jake Westbrook, Zach Day, Jason Arnold, John Ford-Griffin... none of these guys has come back to bite the Yanks in the ass, though Day got off to a great start this season for Les Expos, and Jiminez has had his moments. Maybe the Yanks do have some insight into the minor-leaguers who can help them after all? But then, why Claussen for Boone when he might have netted them a Giles or a Gonzalez? Call this an article for another day.
Meanwhile, here are Claussen's minor-league numbers, along with those of the other minor-league pitchers involved in these deals:
W-L IP K/9 K/W ERA
Claussen 4-1 80.2 7.3 3.1 2.78 (AAA Columbus and A Tampa)
Manning 2-6 77.1 6.9 1.2 5.12 (AA Trenton and A Tampa)
Proctor 5-4 56.1 8.0 3.0 2.58 (AA Las Vegas and AA Jacksonville)
Proctor is a 26-year-old righty who's spent all of this season pitching in relief after some success as a starter at Jacksonville last year (7-9, 3.51 ERA, 131 K in 133.1 innings) ands split between Jax and Vero Beach the year before (10-7, 3.08 ERA, 127 K in 140.1 innings). Manning is a 24-year old lefty who got bombed in AA as a starter and reliever (6.26 ERA in 46 IP), and has since been sent back to Tampa, where's he's been having some success. He split last season between Tampa and Norwich, going 10-6 with a 3.37 ERA and 146 K in 163 innings. Those two pitchers essentially cancel each other out, with the departed Manning's age advantage offset by the arriving Proctor's ability to pitch well in the high run environment of Las Vegas (5.25 runs per team per game).
That same high-offense environment has been pumping up the 27-year-old Crosby's stats. The lefty-hitting centerfielder was a non-prospect coming into this season (.261/.311/.394 split between AA and AAA in 2002), but he's hit .361/.410/.635 with 12 HR and 57 RBI in about 300 plate appearances in Vegas, leading the Pacific Coast League in batting average and slugging. He walks once every 11.1 ABs, and strikes out about twice for every walk, and he's got a bit of speed, stealing 8 bases this season without being caught. He's done two stints with the Dodgers, going 1-for-12 thus far. On the offensively-challenged and injury-riddled Dodgers it made sense to give him more of a shot, but since he's not the answer to the Yankees' rightfield problem (hell, he ain't even Bubba Trammell), they'll probably mothball him in AAA until September unless disaster strikes. Columbus, meet Bubba Crosby.
Four hours, two scrapped drafts, several phone calls and emails and one throbbing fist later (I punched my desk), I need some oxygen. And maybe a new chair.
• • •
The Yanks haven't been the only busy team in the AL East arms race over the past several days. The Boston Red Sox have -- if you believe the hype -- trumped the Yanks, first by adding lefty specialist Scott Sauerbeck (from the Pirates) and then reliever Scott Williamson (Reds) and starter Jeff Suppan (Pirates). The Yanks were in on discussions for Sauerbeck, and their settling for Jesse Orosco while the Sox got the goods from the Bucs was treated as heralding the Second Coming by Red Sox Nation. Take two out of three from the Yanks in Fenway, and suddenly you can't get their heads to fit through the door.
Stocked with Scotts, the Sox didn't get off scot-free in all of this. They surrendered top prospect Freddy Sanchez (AAA 2B), to the Pirates in the Suppan deal. But they didn't give up much else, a couple of minor-league pitchers. Williamson is the most important acquisition of the three; he can set up Byung-Hyun Kim, he can start, or he can close, allowing the Sox to start Kim. Or he can be part of that nebulous "closer by committee" concept the Sox tried to implement earlier in the year, with hilariously disastrous results. Aaron Gleeman has a good look at the remade Sox pen.
New York's offer is minor league left-hander Brandon Claussen and more than $3M for Boone and Gabe White. The Dodgers are offering cash and minor league prospects.
The Yanks have long coveted White, a lefty reliever with a 3.93 ERA who's currently on the DL with a groin pull. But all season long they've rebuffed any attempts to include Claussen, their top pitching prospect, in any deal. Recall that Claussen made his major-league debut on June 28 against the Mets and pitched brilliantly, then returned to the minors. He's clearly ready for the bigs, and a sensible Yankees organization should have him pencilled in for next year's rotation. To include him in a trade for a big bat (Brian Giles, Vladimir Guerrero, Juan Gonzalez) would be understandable, though disheartening. But to give up Claussen for a middle reliever and a servicable but hardly stellar third baseman (Boone's hitting .273/.339/.469 with 18 HR) would be a crime. The upper Yankee farm system is nearly bone-dry as it is, and trading Claussen would leave Erick Almonte and Juan Rivera as the Yanks top prospects, a chilling thought.
Boone is 30 years old, currently making $3.7 million and not eligible for free-agency until after next season. Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Runs stats show Boone as the 9th most productive 3B, 19.3 runs above a replacement-level 3B and about 8 runs better than Robin Ventura. With Ventura (.213/.305/.287 in June and July) clearly showing signs of decline, an upgrade at the hot corner is on the Yankee wish list, but it's a secondary concern given the patchwork nature of their current rightfield setup.
So it was for the Mariners, who went from back in the pack to perhaps co-favorites with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the quest to land Cincinnati third baseman Aaron Boone, the brother of Mariners second baseman Bret Boone.
Then the Yankees stepped in and apparently stole the player the Mariners most wanted. In place was a deal that would send left-handed starter Brandon Claussen, a top Yankees prospect, to the Reds along with $3 million in exchange for Boone and left-hander Gabe White.
The finalized deal wasn't announced, but it appears the Mariners will have to look elsewhere for help.
What's next, trading Nick Johnson to the Tigers for the undead Bobby Higginson to plug that right-field hole? If you're a Yankee fan, cross your fingers that reports of this trade are greatly exaggerated.
With the trade deadline approaching, the Yanks pulled a significant deal on Tuesday. But instead of adding another bat to their already formidable lineup, as some have been expecting, they subtracted one, trading rightfielder Raul Mondesi and their favorite reserve, Cold Cash ($2 million), to the Arizona Diamondbacks. "The Buffalo" has been banished to the desert in the company of Snakes. They received three players in return, outfielder David Dellucci, reliever Brett Prinz, and catcher Jon-Mark Sprowl. This translates, roughly speaking, into receiving a turnip, a rutabega, and a kumquat in exchange for one of their bigger headaches. Yes, it's nice to cure that throbbing pain behind the temples, but how are you going to cook with that stuff?
Mondesi's trade was triggered by an act of insubordination: the moody outfielder left the team after being pinch-hit for in Sunday night's ballgame against the Red Sox. GM Brian Cashman made no effort to hide the organization's displeasure. "He decided to shut it down," Cashman told the New York Times. "He showered and left before the game ended. He left the clubhouse and took off. That motivated me and Joe Torre to make a change."
Thus ends another chapter in the strange career of the "32"-year-old Mondesi. A legitimate five-tool player with power, speed, and a cannon for an arm, Mondy's always been hampered by his ten-cent head. His poor discipline at the plate (a .331 OBP and one walk per 12.4 at-bats) has rivaled his poor discipline in front of the fridge; he's added about 30 pounds over the course of his career and avoided off-season conditioning like the plague. He posted 30 homer/30 steal seasons with the Dodgers in his youth before his lackadaisical play and failure to blossom ran him out of the country. Traded to Toronto for Shawn Green after the '99 season, he became the poster-boy for the Jays' ailments: overpriced, underproductive, and with a bad attitute to boot. Meanwhile, Green became a superstar in the City of Angels. After two and a half seasons of disappointment, the Jays dumped Mondesi on the Yanks, agreeing to pay a hefty portion of his salary ($6 million of his $13 million this year). He managed only a 745 OPS for the Yanks in 2002, though he did shore up rightfield defensively and gave Yankee Stadium PA Bob Sheppard a regular opportunity for virtuosity every time he came to bat: "Rauuuuuuuuuuuuuul MON-desi!"
Shopped by the Yanks last winter, Mondesi finally channelled some energy into working out. He came to spring training looking lean and mean, impressing George Steinbrenner enough that the Yanks took him off the market. The results showed; Mondesi had a good spring and then put up a white-hot April. The hot start helped the Yanks overcome the loss of Derek Jeter and the slow start of Jason Giambi as they charged out to an 18-3 start. But since then, he'd gone into a funk:
One of the knocks on Mondesi has always been that even with his 30-homer power, he's never driven in 100 runs (he topped out at 99 in '99). His splits reveal the reason, at least as far as this season goes: a .151 average and 526 OPS with runners in scoring position. Eeeuch. And as thrilling as it's been to watch baserunners scamper backwards as they cower in fear when Mondesi cocks that right arm, his defense is overrated. Baseball Prospectus' numbers show Mondy as a below-average fielder for the past five seasons.
Dellucci is a lefty hitter who lacks power (career .429 SLG, but only .382 this year) but who has just enough plate discipline (career .341 OBP and a walk every 10 ABs) to convince you that he's a worthy bench player. He's a strict platoon playeer; his numbers are weighted down by infrequent appearances against lefties (2-for-24 this year). Take those away and his career numbers against righties look a bit more respectable: .281/.356/.442. That could help a ballclub.
The Yanks already have another lefty in their odd assortment of rightfielders, Karim "Abdul" Garcia. Acquired from the Cleveland Indians on June 25, Garcia's been hot in his limited action, putting up a .943 OPS in 48 at-bats and showing signs that his late-season run in 2002 (16 HRs, 52 RBI and a .299/.317/.584 line after August 6) was not a fluke. But he's got no plate discipline to speak of (4-to-1 K/W ratio and one walk every 20 AB). Switch-hitter Ruben Sierra could see time against lefties, but rightfield might be a defensive stretch for his fielding "talents." Expect the Yanks to continue shopping here.
Prinz pitched 41 respectable innings with a 2.63 ERA and 9 saves for the 2001 World Champion Diamondbacks, though he missed the postseason due to shoulder tendinitis. But the 26-year-old righty struggled in 2002 (9.45 ERA in 13.1 innings) and has spent nearly all of the past two seasons in the minors. He saved 18 games at Tuscon last year, but has struggled with groin problems and thrown only 16 innings in four stops throughout the D-Backs organization. At best he's Al Reyes-level insurance with a bit more promiise; he may get a shot at the back of the Yanks' pen should somebody else falter or more likely, come up lame. Sprowl is a promising 23-year-old lefty-hitting catcher out of a Billy Beane fantasy: he's currently hitting .296/.402/.421 in the Class A Midwest League. On the other hand, Baseball America isn't so high on Sprowl, noting that he's repeating A-ball this year and that his defense is pretty bad (as for the age discrepancy, he turns 23 on Friday).
Upon further evaluation, the Yanks didn't do too badly in trading Mondesi. No, they didn't add Brian Giles, Vladimir Guerrero, or Juan Gonzalez, but they snagged a useful role player and two guys who could help the team down the road. Brian Cashman's done worse, and so have a lot of other GMs.
BB: For a lot of the super stat nerds, this book is like the Torah. It’s had a real impact.
ML: It’s funny. I could understand as I was writing it, that would be somewhat unsatisfying to a hardcore stats nerd because all he wants in the statistical secrets of the Oakland A’s, and he wants them in a cold-blooded fashion. He doesn’t want a story. The truth is, I wasn’t ever going to get all of the secrets. I got some of the secrets, probably the most important ones, but there is still stuff I didn’t get. The other thing the stats geek wants me to do is dismantle whatever fallacies they might have. And I had no interest in doing that. I just wanted to give the reader a view of what they were doing. I didn’t want to say, ‘It makes no sense that on base percentage is three times better than slugging percentage…’ I didn’t have any particular interest in sifting through the minutia of the A’s statistical arguments. I thought the big point, is that they are even making them. If they are wrong, and it’s really only two-and-a-half times slugging, then who really gives a shit? I mean I give a shit sort of, but not really. The point is, the A’s are thinking rationally and analytically about it. We can argue about the finer details, but I didn’t care to do that. I knew when I was writing it that there would be a feeling with the hardcore baseball fan that they were being lead to the alter. It would miss the point too heavily to focus on just those arguments. These are people that basically embrace the same worldview, and they are arguing amongst themselves, in a language they can understand.
BB: Why didn’t Billy Beane take the Boston job?
ML: In the book I don’t explain why he didn’t go; I explain why he even entertained it in the first place. He wanted the validation. Why he didn’t go? I think his daughter had a lot to do with it. I think that he almost breaks out in hives when he’s in an east coast city. I mean, he doesn’t own a suit. Being in a more corporate, conservative, or business-like environment makes him uncomfortable. I think that the Red Sox job is actually a really shitty job right now. Because you’ve got this organization that looks to the fans and the media like, ‘Oh, we could win a World Series this year,’ but in fact, the minor league system’s bankrupt. Four of your stars’ contracts are coming up after next season. To do it right, what they need to do is rebuild. Not to max out right away at the major league level, but actually take a longer view. And that is such a bad environment to try and take a longer view because everybody wants it now.
Elsewhere, Lewis addresses the possiblity of a Moneyball movie (don't hold your breath), discusses some of what was left on the cutting-room floor, and skewers Joe Morgan for ignorantly spreading the false impression that Billy Beane wrote Moneyball.
Fans of the book will be pleased to note that Lewis plans a sequel -- in six years, when the A's draft choices profiled in the book (Nick Swisher, Jeremy Brown, et al) have reached the majors or busted. "I am following them through the minor leagues," says Lewis, "Traveling on the buses with them and all that other stuff."
For those of you who missed it, Belth's audio interview with Foul Ball author Jim Bouton is still up on the Baseball Prospectus Radio site. It's a freebie, so check it out while you still can.
• • •
The Yanks dropped the second and third games to the Red Sox in frustrating fashion over the weekend. On Saturday they clawed their way back from being down 4-0, tying the ballgame in the 8th inning. But new acquisition Armando Benitez lived up to the one in the catalog, giving up the winning run in the 9th inning. Sunday night was even more disheartening. Jeff Weaver, perhaps pitching for his pinstriped life, tossed six marvelous innings of two-hit shutout ball, staking the Yanks to a 3-0 lead. But Weaver unravelled in the 7th, walking a batter and hitting another. Enter Chris Hammond, who served up a 3-run homer to Jason Varitek, then a solo shot to Johnny Damon, pissing away Weaver's gem. Benitez and fellow recent acquisition Jesse Orosco continued the bloodletting, yielding two more runs.
Once again, Torre's management of the bullpen cost the Yanks the game. Instead of givng their shaky relievers a fresh start at the top of an inning, he waited until the Sox had a budding rally. And because he'd been relying on his shiny new additions, his mainstays had fallen into disuse. Hammond hadn't pitched in a week and had only 2.1 innings over the last 10 days and only 4.2 for all of July. Osuna spent the first half of the month on the DL, and had only pitched 2.2 innings since returning prior to last night. Way to keep everybody fresh, Joe.
The AL East flag is going to come down to which of the two teams bullpens sucks less, which skipper can minimize the mismanagment there, and which shaky acquisitions come through in the big moments. The Yankee bullpen has a 4.07 ERA this season, dead even with their starters. The Sox pen has a 5.05 ERA, 0.73 runs worse than their starters. Baseball Prospectus' Reliever Report shows the Yanks just about average, with -0.5 Adjusted Runs Prevented,16th in the majors. The Sox are at -30.7 ARP, tied for 28th in the majors. This one should turn out in the Yanks' favor, but as this weekend showed, anything can happen when Benitez comes into the ballgame, and the same goes for Byung-Hyun Kim.
The New York Times' William Rhoden has an amusing take on the Sox-Yanks rivalry, comparing the two teams to Warner Bros.' Roadrunner-Wile E. Coyote cartoons: "Will Boston be mashed by safes and crushed by boulders, blown up by its own dynamite, flattened by trains it never saw? Will the Red Sox continue to buy defective material from the Acme Corporation?"
Last I checked, the Roadrunner was undefeated in head-to-head competition against the Coyote. The Yanks can't live up to that lofty standard, but they might still elude the Sox yet again.