This and That
June 10, 2011

After watching the Red Sox administer yet another beat-down of the Yankees - and if you're scoring at home the Sawx are now 8-1 vs the Bombers this season - it occurred to me that the next decade might not be too kind on the Yankees and their fans.  In looking at the team as it is currently constituted, almost all of their key players are 30 years old or older.  Jeter, ARod, Posada, Burnett, Colon, Rivera and Garcia are all at least 34 years old and only Brett Gardner, Russell Martin and Robinson Cano are in their prime productive years.  No one is younger.  And the others in that 30-34 range like Teixeira, Swisher and Granderson, their primary value comes from old player skills like drawing lots of walks and swinging for the fences and those type players do not tend to age well.  This team could become really old, really fast and perhaps that is what we are seeing this year.

Now, the Yankees being the Yankees, that's not considered such a big deal by many observers because New York has a mountain of money they can use to buy any free agent they want (with a few notable exceptions) when push comes to shove.  But unless Major League Basbeall changes the compensation rules during the next collective bargaining negotiations, that practice will come at an increasingly high cost.  For every Type A free agent the Yankees sign (read: star player) they will continue to lose a pick in the amateur draft.  Smart teams are becoming increasingly aware of the value of draft picks (high upside talent at well below market salary plus cost control for six years before free agency eligibility) and are bolstering their amateur scoutintg departments accordingly.  Losing those picks hinder an organization's ability to regenerate through their farm system, both through developing replacement talent and stockpiling secondary players who offer trade value.  I'm not saying they Yankees are painting themselves into a free agent corner, but sooner or later this bill will come due. 

Another consideration is a trend toward amateurs making their debuts in the majors very soon after being drafted.  This should be especially true of this year's draft in which the Yanks' first pick was #51 and they had only two of the first 118 selections.  Impact players like Tim Lincecum, Stephen Strasburg, Buster Posey, David Price, Evan Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman made significant impacts on their team's fortunes within 2 years after being drafted.  This year's draft has probably half a dozen players who will be making an impact by this time next year and at least a dozen who will be major league regulars by the end of 2013.  Can the Yankees really afford to be tossing away these opportunities by signing every top free agent each winter?  Their farm system has a couple of players capable of stepping into regular duty right now, but nowhere near the number that can keep this team competitive as quickly as they are aging.  

Yankee fans, with the Red Sox currently on top and the rest of the division focused on producing top tier talent through the draft, you should probably prepare yourself for a rehash of the 1980s when the Yankees finished as high as 2nd only twice.  Sorry Alec Baldwin, but the days of the Yankees winning relentlessly are about to be on sabbatical.

Speaking of the Yankees, Derek Jeter is drawing closer to becoming the first player to top 3000 hits all in aYankee uniform.  The record for most hits by a player who played for the Yankees is 3110, held by Dave Winfield, but I think it's probably safe to say that Jeter will eventually pass that mark as well.  And Jeter will undoubtedly hold the record for most hits as a Yankee when he retires.  But the most hits by a player who played for the Yankees will probably eventually be owned by Alex Rodriguez, who is two years younger than Jeter but only 250 or so hits behind him.  In addition to that record, ARod seems like a pretty good candidate to eventually pass Barry Bonds' major league career record of 762 home runs (Rodriguez currently has 624), as well as Hank Aaron's major league mark of 2297 RBI (1865 for ARod) and possibly Rickey Henderson's major league mark for most runs scored (2295; ARod has 1793), developments that were predicted here eight years ago

As for other players reaching the big 3-0-0-0, it might be a while before we see any.  All of the active players with more than 2000 hits are at least 34 years old, and other than ARod, the next highest total for a player 35 or younger is Edgar Renteria (34) with 2275.   A bit further down the line with at least a decent chance of making it is Albert Pujols who at age 31 has 1966.  He's currently averaging about 185 hits a season so if he can maintain that rate for a few more years he should get there.  Surprisingly, Adrian Beltre is not that far behind him with 1948 hits at age 32.  But back to Pujols for a second, he currently has 422 homers, 1269 RBI and 1229 runs.  At the same stage of his career (entering his age 31 season), ARod had 464 homers, 1347 RBI and 1358 runs scored so if he does manage to finish his career at the top of those three categories, Pujols is not likely to catch him. 

As for the other hit leaders, the major league leader in hits that is younger than 30 years old is Carl Crawford (29) with 1536.  Miguel Cabrera (28) has 1465.  Jose Reyes (28) has 1201 and David Wright (28) has 1182.  Crawford is averaging around 185 hits per season when he's healthy which means he is a little more than 8 years away, assuming he keeps that pace.  That a big assumption, however, at this early point in a career for any player.

If I could for a moment go back to the Yankees... if you believe a certain stat-focused baseball site, the Seattle Mariners are destined to become the next New York Yankees-style dynasty.  Personally I think they are quite delusional rating the Mariner's farm system (top 5) and potential market wealth (top 15) as highly as they do, especially by comparison to how they rated the Nationals (15th best farm system despite having the top overall prospect and more prospects in the top 100, and the 20th ranked market despite being second only to New York in a number of key demographics like disposable income and wealth of ownership), but nevertheless they do bring some interesting arguments to the table.  Lately there have been a number of fan calls for the Mariners to bring up the jewel of their farm system, Dustin Ackley.  I don't think that will happen anytime soon, nor am I convinced they should.  I will not debate that his bat can help one of the worst offenses in baseball, but currently they have him trying to learn second base (in his second season of that quest) and he's simply not a good infelder.  I won't go so far as to say he's terrible, but if a guy is hitting like he is in Triple-A (around .400 for the last month or so) and the big league club's offense is completely anemic yet the organization continues to insist that he needs to work on his defense, then you can rest assured that his glove is not close to being useful. 

From what I've seen - and admittedly it's limited to a dozen games or so - the only places he'll be useful are first base and left field.  That's where he'll ultimately end up anyways and the sooner the M's make that decision to move him there, the sooner he'll be a productive major leaguer.  GM Jack Zurencik has built that team on defense and pitching, and putting a liability in the middle of the diamond, even if it means putting a plus bat there, will just negate much of his work in that regard.  Here's another consideration - the Ms are in contention for the division to this point in the season - although to be honest I don't think they have the horses to run with the Rangers or Angels this year - but if they are determined to stay in the race, they can't really afford to be teaching some guy defense at a key defensive position in the midst of a pennant race.  Something else to consider: their second most productive hitter right now is their second baseman, Adam Kennedy.  Only Justin Smoak has been better at the plate.  Not that Kennedy has been great, but the rest of the offense has been putrid with the exception of Miguel Olivo's occasional heroics.  So really, the best place for Ackley right now is in left field.  Maybe the baseball gods are trying to tell them their future.  

But while we're on the Mariners... why draft Danny Hultzen second overall?  There's no question he's a great college pitcher.  But that in no way guarantees that he's going to be a great major league pitcher.  OK, there are no guarantees anyway, so I'll go over why I question the pick.  First of all, from a strictly scouting perspective, he doesn't have any one great pitch.  He has very good command of three pitches but no pitch that could be considered a true out-pitch.  He doesn't have outstanding velocity or movement or break on any of his pitches.  Essentially that makes him a left-handed Joe Blanton.  A nice pitcher to be sure, but in a draft replete with incredible talent including a half dozen guys who throw over 100 mph and possess at least one above average secondary pitch, drafting Joe Blanton with the second overall pick doesn't make any sense.  Second, one of Hultzen's best skills is as a hitter.  He bats clean-up for the top-ranked college team in the country, yet the team that drafted him plays in a DH league where he will very rarely get to use that skill.  So whatever bonus they end up paying him, they'll be paying for only half his value.  And third is that whatever bonus they pay him will have to be larger than the bonus his parents will reportedly give him - $20 million - if he gives up baseball and pursues their dream for him of becoming a doctor.  So Seattle is going to have to pony up a very large bonus, sell him on the idea that he'll be in the majors in fairly short order and will pitch well enough when he gets there to cash in when it comes time for arbittration and free agency.  Currently Joe Blanton is on a three-year, $24 million contract with the Phillies so in four to six years it certainly is possible that Hultzen will be worth that much.  But still, why would Seattle willingly limit their negotiating leverage to get a pitcher that will probably end up fairly pedestrian.  Time will tell if this pick was wise but it may be time for Seattle to coax Roger Jongewaard back to the Pacific Northwest.