The Winter Meetings: A Bronx (and Queens) Tale
by Tony Aubry, BaseballEvolution.com
December 16, 2008
Heading into the Winter Meetings last week, both New York
teams had one thing on their respective minds: pitching. The Yankees were in need of
starting pitching, while the Mets looked to patch up a leaky bullpen that
finished third in
the league with a mind-numbing 29 blown saves. As you should know by now, both
teams made two major moves to address their needs. The Mets struck first by signing K-Rod, fresh off a 2008 campaign in which he broke the single
The next morning, my mother woke me up around 7:30 AM with
some pleasant news. She had gleefully told me that Sabathia had been signed to a
whopping 7-year, 161 million dollar contract. Needless to say, I was very
excited. Later that night, The Mets made a move that I did not see coming. They
traded for J.J. Putz while giving up Aaron Heilman, Endy Chavez, and minor leaguer Mike Carp
in the process of further solidifying their bullpen. On the final day of the
meetings, the Yankees went one step further in their attempt to reconstruct their
starting rotation. They gave oft-injured A.J. Burnett 5-year, 82.5 million dollar
contract. So looking back, which team fared better?
In the midst of their second straight collapse of historic
proportions, radio hosts and media personnel alike cited the Mets' lack of “guts” and
inability to deliver in the “clutch” as the reasons for their failure. While these may have been part
of the reason while they failed to make the post-season for a second straight
year, the bigger reason was their atrocious bullpen. While healthy, Wagner
managed to put up great peripherals, but still blew seven saves. After Wagner
down with a career-threatening elbow injury, the Mets looked to Heilman to become
the closer, but were ultimately forced to use a bullpen by committee as all hell
broke loose. Fast-forward a few months, and now the Mets could very well have one
of the best bullpens after having the worst.
There have been talks of K-Rod declining, and his numbers
agree with those talks. Since 2006, his FIP ERA has risen in each of the past
three seasons. His K/9 has dropped from 12.8 to 10.3, while his walk
rate, which has always been a concern, has risen from 3.6 to 4.5.
Another concern of late has been his plummeting velocity. In 2007, his average
fastball clocked at 95.5 MPH, while last year, it was 92.87. However, in a recent
K-Rod claims that the reason for this sudden drop was because he was tinkering
with his changeup. He also promises the high velocity we’re all accustomed to
seeing. All things considered, this is still going to be an upgrade because the
bullpen was just that
horrid last season.
The second move, which I believe is nothing short of
genius, was the trade for J.J. Putz. I think it was great move because they
bought low, after Putz suffered an injury-plagued season. Not too long
ago, Putz was one of the top three closers in baseball. If he's healthy, chances are
good that he will serve as the best setup man in the
league and as a great insurance plan if K-Rod were to get injured.
In return, the Mets
gave up Heilman, who suffered through a terrible season and has become a headache
because of his desire to become a starter. They also relinquished Chavez, who is
a fourth outfielder at best, and Mike Carp. Carp has shown plate discipline and
above average power in A and AA ball.
Not only did the Mets fix their bullpen by acquiring two
very talented relief men, they also got rid of Joe Smith, Scott Schoeneweis, and
the aforementioned Heilman, each of whom struggled last season.
While the Mets played the slots, quietly cashing in
their chips after a hot a streak rather than after a cool one, the Yankees were
the loud, drunken, belligerent type at the black jack table shouting, “hit me!” I’m sure no one was surprised, because for some time now that is the way
the Yankees have done business. With the salaries of Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, and
Andy Pettitte coming off
the books, the Yankees were looking to spend big time. And they did just that.
Their first big signing of the off-season for the Yanks was
C.C Sabathia. The acquisition, however, did not come without controversy.
Approximately a month before the meetings, the Yankees offered C.C. a 6-year, 140
million dollar contract only to be ignored. As soon as the meeting began,
Yankees GM Brian Cashman quickly pounced on the 290-pound lefty, meeting with him twice. They
finally reached an agreement on a 7-year, 161 million dollar deal.
Sabathia has the option
to opt-out of the contract after the third year, which is a double-edged sword. If C.C
flourishes in New York, he very well may opt out for more money, and if he
struggles under the scrutiny that New York has to offer, he may flee to
California. The controversy was that Sabathia was reluctant to come to the
Bronx, and that the Yankees, being the big bad people that they are, even outbid
themselves to coerce Sabathia into signing with them. While it may be true that
deep in his heart C.C wanted to stay in California, it’s pure poppycock that
the Yankees only outbid themselves. If the Yankees decided to not go after him,
the only known deal was Milwaukee’s at $100 million. If you believe that that
would have been the only offer on the table, you’re delusional. Had the Yankees
not been in the sweepstakes, it’s very possible a team like the Angels would
have offered Sabathia a multi-year deal well north of $100 million and no one
would have complained.
Two of the main worries have been the long-term commitment
and Sabathia's playoff woes. The former could be nullified by the option, and I
believe that Sabathia's failures in the post-season have been a bit overblown
since he has really only had three bad games, and the last one could have been
caused by fatigue.
For the next three seasons, this move is without a doubt a
slam-dunk. Since 2004, Sabathia has gone nowhere but up, and since 2006, you
could argue that he has been one of the top three or four pitchers.
The next move the Yankees made was to sign A.J. Burnett to a
5-year, 82.5 million dollar deal. When healthy, Burnett can be dominant. His
repertoire displays a top-notch fastball that averaged 94.3 MPH, which ranked 4th
among starters. To go along with his fastball, he has a devastating curveball
with great lateral movement that can freeze right-handed batters. However,
staying healthy has been a problem, and when healthy, his stuff has not
translated into a sparkling ERA. If you look a bit past ERA we see that his xFIP ERA has
consistently been lower than his ERA, and that he has run into a bit of bad
luck. In 2006 and 2008, he had a relatively high BABIP, and for the past few
seasons, he has pitched his home games in Rogers Center, which inflates HR by
20%. The BABIP point could become moot since the Yankees defense is horrible,
but they lost two of their worst defenders this past off-season in Jason Giambi
(-1.8 UZR) and Bobby Abreu (-25.2! UZR). Jeter had one of his better seasons, but
still had a negative UZR mark of -.4. Also, after a good defensive season in
2007, Robinson Cano fell off in 2008 by posting a UZR mark of -7.8. Yankee fans should
hope that the benching Joe Girardi gave him in September will light a fire under him
for the upcoming season. As of now, this deal is very high-risk, high-reward.
signing of Burnett is certainly risky, and one could argue that Sabathia’s
weight could be a problem in the very near future. However, it does not appear
that the Yankees are done. They offered Pettitte a one-year, $10 million deal,
but Jon "Scoop" Heyman of SI.com just reported that an anonymous team just offered him a
three-year, 36 million dollar deal. If Pettitte accepts that gift, the Yankees'
last resort is Derek Lowe, who has been very solid to say the least over the past
four seasons. On the offensive side of the ball, it was reported that if the
Yankees don’t land Mark Teixeira, and they probably won’t, they are very interested
in Manny Ramirez.
The Mets filled their needs with two relatively low-risk, high-reward moves, and
got rid of a few bad pitchers. As of December 16th, it appears that they
have outdone the Yankees by a hair.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Tony resides in Queens, New York and can be reached at email@example.com.