New York Yankees Looking At Cliff Lee & Carl Crawford; Pujols and Fielder Next?

December 3, 2010

Well, they are not really looking at Albert Pujols yet, as he is not a free agent until after this season.

But the Yankees have said all along their priority is Cliff Lee with GM Brian Cashman already meeting with the Lee family at their home in Arkansas. And yesterday Hank Steinbrenner said, “It’s no secret we want Cliff and we will do whatever it takes to get him. That’s the bottom line.”

That kind of statement doesn’t sound like the Yankees are trying to drive up the price for the Texas Rangers or Los Angeles Angels for the right to the left-handed hurler.

Lee, who lost his last two starts of the season during the 2010 World Series to the aggressive San Francisco Giants, appears to be guaranteed at least $23 million per season for six or seven years. Hank’s statement above indicates they are willing to go longer.

This has been quite the week for the Yankees.

They have re-signed Mariano Rivera to a two-year deal for $30 million. Talks with Derek Jeter’s agent Casey Close began again on Tuesday with the Yankees supposedly upping their offer. Both sides met again on Friday, and things appear even better.

As I have said many times, Jeter will be re-signed by the Yankees before the Winter Meetings. Cashman wants to concentrate solely on the free agent possibilities without hordes of Jeter questions.

And the Yankees almost pulled off a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a swap of catchers. Francisco Cervelli was headed to LA-LA land for the overrated Russell Martin, a guy whose OPS has rapidly declined each of the last several seasons.

All for the privilege of paying Martin a few million bucks while playing bad baseball. Now that Martin is essentially a free agent after being non-tendered, they maybe can get him much cheaper, maybe Sergio Mitre money—double what Cervelli earns.

Did you even know that while Cervelli will be cheaper for the Yankees this season and the pitchers like working with him, the Kid had an even higher OPS than Martin each of the last two seasons? Cervelli even slugged higher than Martin did each season.

Look it up, I’ll wait.

Now the Yankees have inquired with OF Carl Crawford’s representatives and both sides could meet at the Winter Meetings next week.

Why not? The expensive seats in the New-New Yankees Stadium were almost full for the playoffs. They have the cash.

But even if you have the cash, why is there a hole burning in the Yankees pocket to spend it on other teams players?

They don’t need Carl Crawford, especially at about $17-20 million per year. Brett Gardner is fine out in LF; he gets on base, plays great defense and will probably be the full time lead off hitter in 2011.

Yankees don’t need Crawford, but it sure looks like they want him.

I drive a Toyota Avalon. It is a nice car and gets me around the block and to the ball fields in Scranton, Trenton and Staten Island. It is not what I want. I want a Ferrari (black by the way), but I can’t afford a Ferrari.

And the Yankees can’t afford Crawford and Lee after signing Mariano for $15 million per year and Jeter for a minimum of $17 million per year. After the two first ballot HOFers are in the stable, that would give the Yankees an existing payroll of $176 million, not including Andy Pettitte, not including the arbitration-eligible guys.

After the Mitre deal, arb-eligible players includes Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Boone Logan. Predictions run as high as $8 million for those three.

If the Yankees sign both Lee and Crawford, it would add around $40 million per season, probably a few dollars more. That gives the Yankees $224 million before Pettitte.

That is $224 million plus about $20-$30 million in luxury tax.

In 2012, the Yankees would have eliminated Jorge Posada from the payroll but will still have $107 million plus Jeter, Mo, Lee and Crawford and raises for Granderson and a Swisher option for 2012.  

Trade somebody? Who? Swisher? What are you going to get for him? Well, maybe the Yanks can buyout Swisher’s contract for the million bucks after 2012. They could waive AJ and hope someone takes him, saving a zillion dollars and a bunch of future blow ups.

Then what about when Cano’s deal comes up in his age 30 year after his 2013 option? How much will he deserve when he has a few more seasons like 2010?

Maybe $20 million, how about $25 million per? Then after Hughes has another 18-win season, what is he going to earn?

Isn’t this getting out of hand? When does this end for the Yankees? Does every player on their starting nine have to have eight figure salaries?

Why not sign Pujols next season for a 1B/3B/DH guy as a rover? They can trade all their young prospects for Prince Fielder to be a power lefty off the bench. The team doesn’t need all the prospects since they are not promoting their own but signing other teams best players.

I know all these free agent signings (and highly unlikely trades mentioned above) will get Doug Rush’s tighty-whities at half staff, but signing Lee and Crawford would force the Yankees into a terrible financial bind through the next decade.  

And, in a young man’s game, more than half their roster will be in their mid-30s.

Yeah, I am sure that Lee’s couple of back issues over the last few years are nothing. And Crawford running and playing all those games on the carpeted concrete in the Trop in Tampa won’t affect his speed or quality of play in 2013 and beyond.

I find it very hard to root against guys like Crawford and Lee, then have to turn around and have to root for them (for the benefit of my favorite team) over the next half decade.

I appreciate the work that CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira put in as Yankee players, but they are not nearly as big fans of theirs as I am for Jeter, Cano, Pettitte, Posada, Gardner, Hughes and Mariano.

AJ Burnett I could care less about and actually root against him.  

I frankly don’t want the Yankees to sign Lee or Crawford, the Yankees do not need them. They won 95 games last season without either one and will not have to go up against Crawford 19 times a year when the Angels sign him.

I believe (hope?) the Yankees are just blowing smoke on Crawford. They like to play the cloak and dagger stuff to the hilt and it seems are trying to bankrupt the Boston Red Sox.

The idea in spending big money on contracts is to re-sign your own players you want to keep (Rivera and Jeter). Or you extend even younger guys beyond their arbitration seasons and perhaps a few free agent years (Cano, Hughes?). It is not to sign other teams best players every other season.

Except if Albert Pujols becomes available, then the Yanks can move Alex to DH, Tex to third and leave Pujols at first or maybe let Albert play 3B.

Until Evan Longoria becomes available in 2017.

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The One Man Who Can Stop Albert Pujols From Winning the Triple Crown

August 25, 2010

During Monday night’s St. Louis Cardinals loss to the last-place (and worst record in baseball) Pittsburgh Pirates, Albert Pujols was 3-for-5 with a double, raising his batting average to .322.

I know this stat is not important to saber heads (please bear with us), but for this argument it is imperative.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, Cincinnati’s Joey Votto went 1-for-4 in a 13-5 drubbing by the now offensively resurgent San Francisco Giants. That effort dropped Votto’s season average to .323, a single point above Pujols.

With Pujols ahead in the National League in home runs (33) and RBI (92), the batting crown is the only leg of the Triple Crown he doesn’t lead.

Adan Dunn, with 31 jacks, and Votto, with 29 dingers, are right behind Phat Albert in the HR race. And with 86 RBI, Votto is six back of Pujols, I believe Albert is safe in both power departments. He is on a roll with the power and when that happens, usually a tidal wave of home runs (and RBI) ensue.

In fact, Albert’s August barrage of nine home runs, 20 RBI while hitting .436 is what has put him back into the Triple Crown race.

While Votto is leading with a .323 average entering Wednesday’s games, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez is currently hitting .319, while Atlanta’s Martin Prado is at .317. Both could also end up with a higher average than Pujols in his quest to become baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastremski in 1967*.

*If you have never looked into Yaz’ stretch run in 1967, when he was not only attempting to win the Triple Crown, but more importantly, trying to lead Boston to the AL Pennant, you need to look into it. It is perhaps the best clutch performance of any player of all time.  

While fending off Detroit, Minnesota, and Chicago (what no Yankees?) in a four-team race for the pennant, Yaz went 7-for-8 in his final two games with a double, HR, and six RBI including a 4-for-4 performance on the final day. During the September stretch run, Yaz hit .417 with nine homers, but hit .541 with four homers and 14 RBI over the last 10 games.

It was truly a remarkable performance.

Pujols is starting to turn it on with his incredible month of August, but it is probably the batting average category which could forestall any thoughts of a Triple Crown.

But despite all of Pujols’s greatness, there is one guy who can keep Albert from winning the Triple Crown. Joey Votto, right?

Wrong.

It is Omar Infante of the Atlanta Braves.

What? Yes, you saw it correctly. Infante is the one player who can keep Pujols from winning this year’s Triple Crown.

Entering today, Infante is hitting .349 this season as a utility player for the first place Braves, and was having such a fine season at the break, he even made his first All-Star team.

But he only has 342 plate appearances thus far, and with the Braves already playing 126 games, Infante currently needs 391 to qualify (3.1 plate appearances per team game played).

Infante is not just a utility player anymore, and has been a regular in Bobby Cox’s lineup since late July. And he is not slowing down now that he is a regular. He has hit a robust .370/.400/.560/.960 OPS clip for August (37-for-100) with four home runs.

This is coming off him hitting .429 in July (27-for-63).

With Atlanta only 2.5 games ahead of Philadelphia, Cox has no reason not to play the red-hot Infante every day. With Chipper Jones out for the season, Infante is now the starting second baseman, with Martin Prado moving from second over to third.

Even when Troy Glaus comes back, I still see Infante in the lineup every day until the end of the season. 

So let’s do the math.

Infante has 342 plate appearances, but needs 502 to qualify for the batting title. For a conservative estimate, lets give him four plate appearances for each of the next 36 games the Braves have left.

That will allow for some games of five PA, while he may sit a game to get some rest. He may even be dropped in the batting order, who knows? He has hit in every spot in the lineup this season but fifth, but has been in the leadoff spot the last couple weeks.

That gives him another 144 plate appearances (36 games x 4 PA per = 144), and add that to his current 342 would give Infante 486 PA for the season. That is still 16 PA short of qualifying for the title.

Lets also say that Infante (even after his very hot July and August), hits only around .320 the rest of the way. Infante does not walk much (another no-no for any saber head HOF consideration), so lets say all his 144 PA become actual at bats.  

If Infante gets 46 hits in his 144 remaining at bats (a .319 average), he will end up .33978 for the season (158 for 465). This leads Votto and Pujols at their current averages for the batting title.

But under our situation, Infante is still 16 PA short of a title. This is where playing with the numbers comes into play. Major League Baseball rules regarding a batting title state in order to become eligible, a player must accumulate 3.1 PA for every team games played, or 502 PA.

But if the player with the highest average in a league fails to meet the minimum plate-appearance requirement, the remaining at-bats until qualification are hypothetically considered hitless at-bats; if his recalculated batting average still tops the league, he is awarded the title.

Thus if we give Infante an additional 16 “hitless” at-bats to a total of 481, he would then have a batting average of .32848, still about five points higher than Votto or Pujols is hitting right now. Reduce Infante by one hit, and his average would then be .32640. Reduce by another hit (only 156 hits/481 AB) would reduce his average to .32432, still slightly above where Votto and Pujols are.

This tactic of adding “hitless” at-bats was started in 1967, and was implemented most recently in 1996 when Tony Gwynn won the batting title while only having 498 PA.

I believe Infante will hit around .320 (or better) the rest of the season, and pose an issue for the batting title and possible Pujols Triple Crown. At the end of the season with an average in the .326 to .333 range—after the hitless at bats are added.

This is all moot, of course, if Votto or Dunn, Gonzalez, or even Martin Prado gets hot at their specialties and pushes Pujols out of one or more of the other two categories. 

Throw in a Cincinnati and St. Louis Divisional race down the stretch and the last six weeks become even more interesting for Pujols, Votto, and the rest of the National League.