The Yankees Would’ve Been Better With Beltran

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The underlying suggestion from another “Carlos Beltran offers self to Yankees” free agent story is that he was about to sign the contract with the Cardinals and had his agent contact the Yankees to see if they’d be willing to do the same contract.

In 2004 it was slightly different in several ways. His agent then was Scott Boras; now it’s Dan Lozano. The offer to the Yankees back then was for less money and fewer years than the Mets offer; this time he asked for the same deal. And back then, he was a star center fielder in his prime; this time he’s a very good right fielder turning age 35 in April whose health is still in question.

Did it come at the last second and did the Yankees turn it down without seriously considering it? Was there a backchannel communication to the Yankees saying, “keep Beltran in mind because he wants to be a Yankee”? Or did the Yankees know he was interested and wait to see what the price was before turning it down?

If George Steinbrenner were still around, a player like Beltran who clearly wants to be a Yankees would have been a Yankee. But now they’re monitoring their payroll to such a degree that amid all the ridicule aimed at the team across town, the Yankees have actually done less to address their needs this winter than the Mets have.

Rather than sign a free agent or go all out via trade to acquire one of the available starting pitchers, the Yankees re-did CC Sabathia’s contract to keep him and re-signed Freddy Garcia; they also exercised the option on the player that Beltran would’ve replaced, Nick Swisher; and today, they re-signed veteran Andruw Jones.

Apart from that, nothing.

Did they think about Beltran and weigh the pros and cons?

If they chose to replace Swisher with Beltran, they’d be getting a better player; both are switch-hitters, but Beltran is more consistent from both sides of the plate and a far bigger power threat batting lefty than Swisher; Beltran’s a proven post-season performer while Swisher’s been an abject failure; Beltran would be more expensive ($26 million for 2-years) than Swisher, who’s only going to cost $10.25 million in 2012.

Beltran’s knee problems are not to be discounted—he could wind up back on the disabled list at a moment’s notice—but apart from a hand injury, he stayed healthy in 2011. Beltran played in 142 games and adjusted well in a position switch to right field. 22 homers playing his home games in the notorious pitchers parks of Citi Field and AT&T Park bode well for a renaissance as a 30-35 homer power threat in Yankee Stadium.

Swisher has trade value because teams appreciate his on-base skills, pop and gregarious personality along with that 1-year deal; Beltran wouldn’t have cost a draft pick to sign because of a clever provision slipped into his Mets contract by then-agent Boras that his club couldn’t offer him arbitration.

Could the Yankees have signed Beltran and traded Swisher for an arm like Jason Hammel? Jonathan Sanchez? Jair Jurrjens?

Would they be better than they are now?

I’m not an advocate of standing completely pat in any circumstance and especially when the team overachieved based on luck with two veterans Garcia and Bartolo Colon, then got bounced in the first round of the playoffs; but that’s what the Yankees are doing.

With the improving Blue Jays, the Red Sox and Rays still in their division, plus the flashy signings made by the Rangers and Angels, the playoffs are not a guarantee for the Yankees anymore and this current roster is aging and thin in several key spots.

Trading Swisher for a starter and signing Beltran would’ve made the team better.

Did they consider it seriously? Or did they ignore the player who obviously wanted to be a Yankee to the point where he essentially groveled for the chance?

Twice!

The Yankees made a mistake with Beltran in 2004 and they may have just made the same mistake in 2011 at a cheaper price.

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Cuddyer’s Defense Won’t Hurt the Rockies

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As they complain about his poor defense and criticize his signing, many are missing the point with Michael Cuddyer and the Rockies.

His shaky glove is the most contentious and debated aspect in the Rockies 3-year contract (for $31.5 million) with Cuddyer, but several factors are being ignored.

Cuddyer may be a poor defensive outfielder, but the idea that the Rockies made a mistake in signing him based on his defense is stat person’s lament disguised as fiscal and practical sanity; it’s ignoring the Rockies strategy and personnel.

Because the National League doesn’t have a DH and they don’t have anywhere to hide him, Cuddyer’s glove is a perceived problem; but the constant references to how many runs he cost the Twins over the years is a misplaced extrapolation of “if this, then that” without considering what the Rockies do and how many balls are going to be hit to him to begin with.

The Twins pitchers generally allow more ground balls than fly balls; in 2011 they surrendered 1762 fly balls vs 2082 ground balls.

The Rockies had a 2011 difference of 1541/2061 fly balls to ground balls.

That was before the Rockies brought in new starting pitchers whose stuff is conducive to coaxing ground balls.

It’s done by design.

The Twins ratios were similar every year that Cuddyer played right field regularly and accrued the poor defensive metrics that have led to the implication that he’s a pending disaster for his new team in right field—that his defense won’t be mitigated enough by his power bat to make him an intelligent signing.

It’s nonsense.

In general, during Cuddyer’s years in right field, the Twins had 200-300 more ground balls to fly balls; going back to 2008, the Rockies have had 500-700 more ground balls than fly balls.

That’s a big difference.

The Twins were a contact-based pitching team; the Rockies are a contact-based pitching team—but the type of contact is important. The Rockies get more ground balls than the Twins; this makes Cuddyer’s glove in right field less imperative.

Like the proverbial tree falling in the woods, how can the porous defense of Cuddyer cost the Rockies runs if the ball isn’t hit to him?

He’s in the big leagues because he can hit and he’ll hit with the Rockies; the best thing to do with a player who’s limited defensively is to hide him where he’ll do the least amount of damage. For the Rockies and Cuddyer, that means right field.

As a direct result of playing their home games in a park that begets a lot of home runs, Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd has filled his pitching staff with arms that throw sinkers and get ground balls.

Their prospective starters for 2012 are all this type of pitcher.

Jhoulys Chacin gets twice as many ground balls as fly balls.

Jorge De La Rosa—ground ball pitcher; Tyler Chatwood—ground ball pitcher; Drew Pomeranz—ground ball pitcher; Jason Hammel—ground ball pitcher.

Their relievers are the same way. Matt Lindstrom and Matt Belisle get ground balls; Rafael Betancourt allows more fly balls than grounders, but he also strikes well over a batter-per-inning.

Their infield defense is led by the still-solid first baseman Todd Helton and the superlative shortstop with a howitzer arm Troy Tulowitzki; second base and shortstop are unsettled, but they’re not going to compromise the infield defense because of the strategy they employ with their pitchers.

The Rockies want their pitchers to throw strikes and get ground balls. And they do.

Because of the reliance on contact-based pitchers and trusting the infield defense, does it matter if they have Cuddyer in right field? Is he going to hurt the team that much considering there’s such a disparity in hit trajectory?

Cuddyer in Colorado will hit for an .800 OPS and he’ll pop at least 20-30 homers—maybe more.

The Rockies biggest issue in 2011 was a lack of depth in the starting rotation. With the young arms they’ve accumulated in trades of Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Iannetta, they’ve addressed that.

Cuddyer has played the outfield, third base, second base and first base with the Twins, but it would be silly to call him a utility player; he’s not good defensively—it’s true—but he’s passable at first base and can be placed in right field without panic.

He can hit; that’s why the Rockies signed him; that’s what he’ll do.

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