The Yankees know: don't sign players until you have to

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It’s safe to say I’ve given up on my hopes of becoming a major league GM. But if a reader hits the lottery, buys a team and decides to give me a shot, know that there’s a couple of rules I’d live by:
1. Never give multiyear deals to bench players
2. Don’t re-sign veterans until it’s absolutely necessary

The Yankees already seem to follow both. No. 1 may be an accident, but No. 2 is team policy: the Bombers don’t negotiate with their free-agents-to-be until they actually become free agents.
Now I’m certainly not against giving long-term deals to youngsters. That strategy has saved major league teams tens of millions of dollars over the last decade, not only in avoiding arbitration hearings and early free agent years with the players that sign them but by holding down the arbitration awards of those that don’t.
But giving veterans long-term extensions when they still have one or two years left under team control is a losing proposition more often than not. The potential gain — saving money over what it would cost to sign the player closer to free agency — just isn’t worth it. More information leads to better decisions, and there’s a lot of information to be gained by waiting that extra year until the player nears free agency.
For one thing, the players getting these extensions are already in their prime and likely at the peak of their value when they sign them. After all, the player isn’t going to want to sell low on himself by signing after a bad year or a rough first half. Teams, on the other hand, have no problem buying high by signing players immediately after a career year.
Look at the Yankees. Obviously, they have a huge advantage in these circumstances, since they don’t have to worry about being outbid in free agency. But they made no attempt to re-sign Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera last winter. Their policy probably cost them some money when they had to re-sign Jorge Posada as a free agent after his career-year in 2007, but it’s worked out well overall and the team has fewer bad contracts now than probably at any point in the past 15 years.
It’s something the Phillies should have looked at very carefully before committing an additional $125 million to Ryan Howard on Monday. Howard was already signed through the end of next year, and it’s hard to imagine that the Phillies are saving any money over what it would have taken to sign him a year from now. Howard pretty clearly wanted to stay in Philadelphia. Was he really going to turn down $25 million per year next April? Or even next November for that matter?
Ponder that while looking at a few examples of bad deals signed by players under contract and still one to two years away from free agency. I won’t count arbitration-avoiding signings like Detroit’s Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson deals, since while I think they fit, they weren’t contract extensions.
Travis Hafner – Indians
Old deal – Four years, $11.5 million for 2005-08 (2008 was a club option)
New deal (Signed July 2007) – Four years, $57 million for (2009-12)

Hafner was maybe baseball’s biggest bargain for two years in 2005 and 2006. The Indians gave him his huge extension even though his play had fallen way off in the first half of 2007, and it’s proven to be a franchise killer since the moment it was signed.
Mark Kotsay – Athletics
Old deal – Three years, $16 million for 2004-06
New deal (signed July 2005) – Two years, $15 million for 2007-08

Hit .214/.279/.296 in 56 games during an injury-ruined 2007. The A’s paid $5 million to get the Braves to take him for 2008.
Eric Chavez – Athletics
Old deal – Five years, $17.65 million for 2001-05 (2005 was a club option)
New deal (signed March 2004) – Six years, $66 million (2005-10)

Seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, and Chavez went on to put up a career-best 898 OPS in 125 games in 2004, so he would have been at least as expensive to re-sign that winter. However, he lost 100 points of OPS in 2005.
Scot Shields – Angels
Old deal – One year, $3.4 million for 2007 (wouldn’t have been a free agent until after 2008)
New deal (Signed March 2007) – Three years, $14.6 million (2008-10)

Shields was worked about as hard as any reliever in baseball from 2004-06, so the Angels were either foolish or simply overly generous for committing to him when they still had him under control for two more years. He went on to have his worst season in 2007, and while he had a fine 2008, he’s contributed nothing since.

Major League Baseball issues a statement on Trump’s latest travel ban order

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Last night the Trump Administration announced a new batch of restrictions on people traveling from foreign countries, following up on its previous travel ban on persons from six predominately Muslim countries. The latest restriction could potentially touch on Major League Baseball, however, as it includes Venezuela.

The restriction for Venezuela is far narrower than the others, only blocking visas for government officials on business or tourist travel from Venezuela. There has been considerable uncertainty about the scope and enforcement mechanisms for the previous travel ban, however, and the entire matter is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. With that uncertainty, many around Major League Baseball have asked how and if the league or the union might respond to an order that, while seemingly not facially impacting baseball personnel or their families, could impact them in practice.

To that end, Major League Baseball issued a statement this afternoon, saying “MLB is aware of the travel ban that involves Venezuela and we have contacted the appropriate government officials to confirm that it will not have an effect on our players traveling to the U.S.” It is not clear whether it has, in fact, received such confirmation or if its an ongoing dialog or what.

Again: the ban shouldn’t impact baseball players or their families based on its terms. But based on what we saw with the enforcement of the previous one — and based the unexpected consequences many major leaguers faced when international travel restrictions were tightened following the 9/11 attacks — it’s only prudent for Major League Baseball to make such inquiries and get whatever assurances it can well in advance of next February when players from Venezuela will be coming back to the United States for spring training.

 

Aaron Judge breaks rookie home run record with 49th, 50th blasts

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge made history today, hitting his 49th and 50th home runs, tying and then breaking the rookie record previously held by Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics.

Judge’s first dinger came in the third inning of this afternoon’s Royals-Yankees tilt. It was the sixth pitch from Jake Junis and left via right field. His second came in the bottom of the seventh against Trevor Cahill.

McGwire set his record in 1987, needing 151 games to do it. Judge hit his 50th in his 150th game of the season. He has five more games after today to add to that mark. Through his latest at bat in this game Judge is hitting .283/.417/.620 on the year with 50 HR, 108 RBI, 124 runs scored and 119 walks. Given Judge’s strong finish to the season, the AL MVP race should come down to a contest between him and Jose Altuve. It’s hard to argue against either one.

Here’s Judge’s first bomb:

And here’s the second: