Yankees Shopping List 2009

It was hardly a surprise last year that the Yankees acquired C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeria, and A.J. Burnett, though it was speculated that Derek Lowe could have fulled one of the pitching needs; it was clear the Bronx Bombers had plenty of dollars coming off the books.

This year the market doesn’t have quite the supply of stars to refill their roster, but with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, and Andy Pettitte all set to leave as free agents, the AL East is likely to add a few fresh faces.  Just these four players open up $38 million of 2009’s $201 million payroll.

With nearly $40 million to spend it isn’t unreasonable for the Yankees to sign two of the premier free agents – Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, John Lackey – and solve their outfield and DH holes or shore up a rotation that has seen Joba Chamberlain struggle, Phil Hughes take to the 8th inning very well, and Ian Kennedy fail to stay healthy.

If offense if their goal, signing both Bay and Holliday would be possible with a enough left over to lure one fo the Injured Threesome of Ben Sheets, Rich Harden, and Erik Bedard to the Bronx for a year.

Aaron Hill: Comeback Player of the Year

While Hill had a great season, setting career highs in many categories, and recovered from the concussion that ended his season last year, he is not a good example of a comeback player.

Victor Martinez, after posting an OPS of at least .851 from 2004-2007 provided a meager .701 last year and rebounded in 2009 with an .861 – second highest in his career. That is a comeback. Aaron Hill had a career year, but he didn’t “come back” to his previous level of play like NL winner Chris Carpenter.

Joe Mauer: MVP?

Mauer, taken first overall in the 2001 draft (ahead of Mark Prior, which has seemed better and better) tore through the minor leagues as an offensive and defensive powerhouse at catcher; a rare find to be sure.  The local boy lived up to expectations in his first full season in the majors putting up a line of .294/.372/.411 in 2005.  He led the American League in batting in 2006 hitting .347 and again in 2008 hitting .328.  2006 also saw his career high in home runs: 13.

Entering 2009 Mauer’s home run totals were 6,9,13,7 and 9 or a total of 44.  Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA forecast projected Mauer at 10 home runs this year and a modest .307 batting average.  Not content to stay within the margins of his career norms, Mauer came out swinging hitting .366 with 28 home runs (more than half his career total!) in a season he began on the disabled list.  Even more impressive, Joe has carried the Twins to a tie for the division lead with the Tigers, even with his slugging partner Justin Morneau getting shut down for the season in mid-September.

With at least one game left in 2009, Mauer is set to win his third batting title, the only catcher in history to do so. Mauer is currently tied with Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi as the only catcher to win 2 such awards. Other players have had good and even great seasons this year, but Joe Mauer, is leading not only in advanced statistics, but all 3 slash stats.  Combined with his defense, you can’t be more valuable than that.

That’s What “They” Say

Conventional wisdom recently has been that the Red Sox acted too soon parting ways with Brad Penny and John Smoltz after their first few starts back in the National League.

In four starts for the Giants, Penny is 3-1 allowing 11 runs (though 7 in his most recent start) in  24.2 innings while Smoltz is 1-1 in five tries with the Cardinals.  For Penny, the change in scenery has taken him through the 7th inning three times, once completing the 8th after not crossing 6 2/3 during his AL stint. The Padres may not be the greatest lineup, but the Dodgers and Phillies are both offensive powerhouses in the DH-less league.

Young Catchers: Who, Where (and Sometimes Why?)

The hot topic during the last offseason was what would the Texas Rangers do with their prospect equivalent of The Catching Molinas plus Gerald Laird. While Jarrod Saltalamaccia and Taylor Teagarden were thought to fetch Clay Buchholtz and more, both players, along with Max Ramirez, stayed put, while veteran backstop Laird was dealt to the Tigers. While the Red Sox would address their catching situation by bringing in Victor Martinez for the more reasonable price of a package centered around swingman Justin Masterson, the surplus of young catching around the league maybe be outpacing demand or simple overhyped. What’s happened to those touted backstops since the season started:

• The offense-first Saltalamaccia has largely disappointed this year hitting just .236/.293/.375 and landing on the disabled list as the Rangers make their charge towards the Wild Card. This is a far cry from his slugging powered OPS figures of .745/.721 splitting time between Atlanta and Texas in 2007 and his .716 OPS boosted by a .352 OBP last year. In a year where the more polished defender Teagarden is putting up a .228/.294/.466 line in just 176 plate appearances, Salty could find himself on the outside looking in for the starting job going into next season. Spending the year in the minors, Max Ramirez has hit .231/.317/.338.

• Miguel Montero was another ht name in the offseason and has had a breakout season thanks in part to starter Chris Snyder going down earlier in the season. Montero has put together a .296/.356/.493 line for an .848 OPS this year, good for fifth best among catchers in the majors and tops among NL starting catchers (he’s trailing Pablo Sandoval who spends most of his time at the hot corner).

• Baseball America ranked Jeff Clement as Seattle’s best prospect in 2008 but he spent the first half of 2009 in the minors before getting dealt to the Pirates in the Ian Snell deal. Clement has raked in the minors this year to the tune of .274/.355/.497 mashing 21 home runs in the process. This is a far cry from the .237/.309/.393 line he put up in just 243 major league plate appearances before Seattle gave up on him.

• While not on the trading block at any point, no discussion of young catching would be complete without a mention of Matt Wieters. After posting nothing than a 1.000 OPS in the minors, Wieters fell back to whatever Earth would be for a demi-god and knocked AAA pitchers around for “only” a .305/.387/.504 line before getting the call to the majors. As a 23 year old with 269 plate major league appearances Wieters has amassed a .263/.309/.371 line and just a .679 OPS. Clearly he has not been the monster of the minors, but will have plenty of time to adjust to the majors and resume redefining the modern catcher.

BAWLS

Today I purchased a bottle of ThinkGeek’s favorite caffeinated beverage: Bawls. Unlike RedBull, I was not given wings. I also did not feel as though I was some kind of steam powered machine with a broken gear ready to explode with energy. The caffeine/energy feeling of Bawls is more like drinking a strong cup of tea. Less jittery than a couple espresso shots, not carbonated like soda. Not bad.

The highlight of the drink is probably the glass bottle. Unlike plastic and aluminum, glass doesn’t tend give a taste to the beverage contained in its walls. Best of all, glass is easily recyclable into…more glass!

Back in the day I would be thrilled to find some blue glass in the sands of Town Neck beach on the Cape. Beach glass was a wonderful thing, brought to us in part by pollution and worn smooth by the waves. My grandmother used to have an enormous jar of beach glass on top of the refrigerator and she’d have us put our findings into the jar as well.

Missing Jobs

I don’t feel that old (26) but back in the day when I was a kid I had the traditional job of a young boy: paper carrier. I was well prepared.

I had inherited the route from a neighbor and another kid down the street took over from me and one more after him. This last neighborhood descendant left the job over 10 years ago. Since then the paper has been delivered by a series of adults, by car, rather than bike. This was an afternoon paper Monday through Friday with weekend editions to be delivered by 8 am.

This is just another example of the massive transition our country and economy are undertaking. I like to think of the paperboys as a cut above today’s “car full of papers” though. Quality was essential. You couldn’t just throw the paper onto the lawn – every paper was put into a box or brought to the door. I knew the customers and they knew me.

While newspapers themselves are facing challenges and many are phasing out “paper” altogether, it’s sad to think about the missed opportunities for those kids growing up today.