The New York Yankees made a number of interesting moves over the weekend, almost none of which do I agree with.
The first, was to offer Roger Clemens. Well, that was a no-brainer. Whether they sign him and for how much and how long remain to be seen.
The Yanks declined arbitration to John Vander Wal, who is a good hitter but an expensive backup. He will also be 37 next year. Those two I agree with.
Next, they offered arbitration to backup corner infielder Ron Coomer. Coomer is 36. He was a sub-par starter for Minnesota until 2000 and a semi regular for the Cubs in 2001, but on the Yankees he is nothing more than a spare part. He didn't make it to the majors until age 28, was effective very briefly as a backup, and then started to rapidly decline after he became a regular player. However, he will probably be rewarded with a $1+ M salary in arbitration due to his 15-homer average as a regular. His talents could be found on many a Triple-A roster for much less. It's not the most egregious example of the Yankees overspending. It just seems oddly inconsistent given their offseason austerity measures and their other moves on the day.
The Yankees also rewarded Chris Widger for his many a splitter in the derriere with a one-year, $750 K contract. I have nothing against Widger. He is a competent backup. But Joe Torre has already indicated his dislike for Widger by only using him in 21 games (with 64 at-bats!) in 2002. Jorge Posada needs a competent backup in whom Joe Torre has full confidence. John Flaherty and Sandy Alomar are free agents (though both are older and Alomar would want more money). (Tom Lampkin is too, but they probably want a righty bat to complement Posada.) There are also a number of part-time catchers that can be had in a trade. Paying Widger three-quarter of a million dollars and then not using him could be a big mistake next October when Posada is again worn out.
In the other Yankee problem area, relief pitching, they made some interesting choices. Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza, two stalwarts of the Yankees' bullpen for years, were declined arbitration. The Yankees are pursuing free agent Chris Hammond to replace Stanton.
The way that they went about doing was interesting as well (from the AP):
"Mike Stanton was starting a weekend snowboarding trip in the Adirondacks when his phone rang.
The New York Yankees, the team he helped to three World Series titles and four AL pennants in six seasons, had called his agent at 5:15 p.m. Friday with an ultimatum: accept a $4.6 million, two-year contract in the next 15 minutes or be cut loose.
New York made identical offers to Stanton and two other free agent left-handed relievers: Chris Hammond and Mark Guthrie. First one to accept gets it."
Stanton was also quoted as saying of the offer that "it was a shock." ESPN had the figures slightly higher at around $5 M, but either way Stanton would probably make slightly less than the $2.5 M he earned in 2002. Mendoza earned $2.6 M in 2002.
I wouldn't say that I'm shocked but I am a bit surprised. The Yankees relied on four relievers in 2002, Mendoza, Stanton, Steve Karsay, and the oft-injured Mariano Rivera-no one else appeared in more than 18 games in relief. When Rivera was injured, they relied on just the other three. Each pitched well, but none of them had much left around playoff time. This was due to Torre's overuse of them during the regular season (see Posada/Widger above). So what do they get for a reward, 15 minutes to take a deal?
Maybe the Yanks are just pursuing a better player in Chris Hammond you say. Hammond was third in the majors in Baseball Prospectus' ranking of relievers (i.e., adjusted runs produced). However, Hammond will be 37 next season and missed most of four seasons before resurrecting his career with the Braves this year. Besides, he was relegated to relief duties his last three seasons before 2002 due to his ineffectiveness as a starter. Each of those years, he had an ERA near or above 6.00. His adjusted ERA is slightly worse than average for his career (thanks to Baseball-Reference.com). Each year but one since joining the Yankees in 1997, Stanton has had a better than average ERA and all but two he had had an adjusted ERA 20% better than average. He is 16% better than average for his career. Some Hall-of-Famers have a worse percentages. Mark Guthrie, the other man considered, has been a slightly better than average journeyman for years. He is also 37. Stanton will not be 36 until next June. Besides, Guthrie has not pitched as many as Stanton's 78 innings this season since 1991, when he was a part-time starter. Hammond pitched 76 this season, but never before pitched nearly that much in relief.
Hammond may pitch well, but seems like a worse gamble than Stanton. It's especially galling given the small amounts of money involved and the way that the Yankees handled the situation. Of course, the Yankees may not sign either Hammond or Guthrie-or perhaps worse yet may get into a bidding war and overpay for them-, but Stanton cannot be re-signed (at least until May) because of this decision.
The Yankees seem to be blind to the issues that caused their downfall in 2002 and by not learning by their mistakes, or so the proverb goes, seem destined to repeat them in 2003.