Young Kids Propel NY Yankees to Comeback over LA Dodgers

June 28, 2010

In the top of the 9th inning Sunday night, the New York Yankees scored four runs to turn a 6-2 deficit into a 6-6 tie game.

In the middle of the rally were Chad Huffman, acquired off the waiver wire in May, and Colin Curtis, a 2006 Yankee draftee who made his major league debut this past week. I repeatedly contend that the Yankees 2006 draft will go down as the greatest draft class of all time.

Both outfielders, Huffman was brought up from Triple A two weeks ago, and Curtis was promoted for the inter-league games in National League parks where the DH is not used. Curtis has yet to start a game, but has appeared as the primary left-handed bat off the Yankee bench (at least when Jorge Posada is catching.)

Huffman came through last night with a big two-run single, and was followed by Curtis who hit the score tying ground ball to first base.  Before plating the tying run, Curtis had a tremendous at bat, fouling off four two-strike pitches from Jonathan Broxton, one of baseball’s hardest throwing closers.

Huffman and Curtis made their major league debuts this season, as has utility man Kevin Russo, and right-handed pitcher Ivan Nova. Two other players, OF Greg Golson and RHP Romulo Sanchez, had cups of coffee for other teams, but until this year, both had not played in the majors in basically two seasons.

The four Yankee position players all connected for their first major league hits this season, and have helped the Yankees win games this year. Nova and Sanchez were each brought up in May to give an overworked bullpen some fresh arms. In fact, Nova’s promotion was to replace Sanchez.

That is four guys getting their first hits, and four guys making their major league debuts.

Joe Girardi has no issues in using his young players.

But this would not have happened if Joe Torre were still managing the Yankees. Torre was more of a veteran player type manager, continuously using veteran players, guys he trusted to do certain jobs. That is why Torre always used the same guys out of the bullpen. He didn’t really trust certain players, especially youngsters.

That makes last night’s game so ironic in that two rookies knocked in three runs in that last inning, helping to tie the game which Robinson Cano won with a two-run homer in the top of the 10th.

With the exception of Ivan Nova, probably all of the young players mentioned here will not have a impact during future seasons, but in 2010 they have all a little something to help win games for the Yankees.

The turnaround in organizational philosophy towards using their younger farm system talent is getting better all the time. Phil Hughes, Brett Gardner, Francisco Cervelli, David Robertson and Ramiro Pena have greatly contributed in recent seasons.

There are even more young players “down on the farm” who will continue to get their shots at the major leagues in a Yankee uniform.

And that is a good thing to see, as the precedent set by their predecessors has been quality, winning baseball.


New York Yankees Next 35 Games Are Of Extreme Importance

May 24, 2010

The Yankees began a crucial 35-game stretch Thursday night with a 8-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bombers then have split the first two games of the Subway Series against the cross-town New York Mets.

The Rays showed just how much better they are than the Yankees, with better pitching, scoring early and having a back end of the bullpen which did not blow games.

They also out-scouted the Yankees, using defensive positioning to help defend Mark Teixeira and surprisingly, the newly-promoted Juan Miranda. 

With all the injuries and the starting pitching not performing well (at least the last turn through the rotation), it will be interesting to see how the Yankees respond to this upcoming stretch.

After concluding their three-game set at the Mets, the Bombers travel to Minnesota, then home for seven games against second division teams Cleveland and Baltimore. The Yankees go on the road, seeing for the first time the pitching-rich and homer-friendly Toronto Blue Jays.

Interleague play continues with three against the Houston Astros, last year’s World Series opponent Philadelphia Phillies and another series with the Mets.

The Yankees go west for the second time, including visits at the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Yankees renew friendships with former Yankee skipper Joe Torre and former pitcher (and first-round pick) Ian Kennedy.

It is about this time where Jorge Posada should be ready again, out for about a month with a stress fracture in his foot. The foot injury is devastating for any catcher who continually squats down and flexes his feet.

However, with the defense which Francisco Cervelli is displaying, Posada mostly could be used as a DH with occasional catching duties.

While Cervelli has certainly been impressive, it has mostly been as the “backup” catcher. Despite playing the majority of the last 10 days behind the plate, it was not until Posada actually went on the disabled list (DL) that Cervelli became the “starting catcher.”

While no one expects him to become the next Yogi Berra, the pressure is now on Cervelli to keep playing well. If he doesn’t, there is no one behind him to help carry the load. He has only hit .227 over his last six games, the time which Posada has been out.

Nick Swisher is back and hitting. Curtis Granderson has begun a minor league rehab assignment, and the Yankees could have a full complement of starting position players (minus Posada and the easily replaceable Nick Johnson), within a week.

After being swept by the Rays, the Yankees need to win 20 or more of these 35 games over these next five weeks, before they get Posada back.

At least keep the distance manageable from the Rays, but these upcoming games are not important due to catching the Rays, but because the Yankees are looking to keep distance between them and the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers.

Minnesota has the same record as the Yankees while Detroit is only two games back of the Yankees entering Sunday’s schedule.  

Both those AL Central teams have good starting pitching, with the Twins complementing that with a really good, powerful lineup.

The Tigers are riding veterans Johnny Damon, Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez, and have had immediate success with rookie outfielders Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch. They did recently take three of four from New York.

Lots of question marks remain relative to the Yankees starting pitching, relief pitching, recent offensive woes and some defensive issues with Alex Rodriguez and his throwing. 

Is that all?

With certain guys still out, it is imperative that veterans Mark Teixeira (1 for his last 20) and Derek Jeter begin to improve their strike zone discipline and the starting pitchers work more efficiently to keep the weak middle relief off the field.

With all the other issues, the Yankees can ill afford to further their recent skid which has seen them drop nine of their last 14 games.

Other teams are lurking.


The New York Yankees: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Segment No. 3

May 19, 2010

We are here with our third installment of the Clint Eastwood crusade regarding the New York Yankees. If you missed the first installment, click here .

Second installment? Click here .

The Yankees record is 25-14, three games behind the American League East leading Tampa Bay Rays. And the Yankees are home against Tampa for the next few games, then have a short road trip (across the river) to face the New York Mets for three games, and then on to Minnesota.

While the Yankees did not get into first place after Tampa’s dominant nine-game West Coast road trip earlier in the month, they have a chance to make up two games quickly.

After the Yankees, the Rays head to Houston where they luck out against the worst team in baseball.

THE GOOD

Brett Gardner

He has been really good in his time as a starter . Gardner has put up a line of .280 BA/.345 OBP/.380 SLG/.725 OPS with two doubles, a homer, 3 RBIs and 4 stolen bases. He also scored 10 runs. In February, Yankee fans would have signed on the bottom line for those slash numbers for the entire 2010 season. Currently at .321/.399/.412/.811, Gardy has surpassed all of our expectations.

Alex Rodriguez 

After there was talk about his lack of power, he comes up and wins one game with a grand slam , and ties another with a two-run shot in the bottom of the 9th. Even if he wasn’t hitting home runs, I remember lots of stinging line drives ripped all over the field. His OPS is 1.064 over the last two weeks.

Mark Teixeira

The three and four hitters are finally cranking. Tex has raised his season average to .219 with a two-week spurt of .300/.375/.640/1.015 OPS with five homers and 16 RBI. Although, during the last two Yankee losses, he has come up in the last inning with runners on base and made out both times.

Francisco Cervelli

A total pleasure to watch play the game. No HR’s so far (tied with Ben Zobrist in that category). Enthusiasm, ability to call a game, sets up hitters well, and really comes through with RISP. He slashes .647/700/.882/1.582 in that situation with 15 RBI.

I like his aggressive hacks at pitches in the strike zone. Good to see that aggressive nature in this take a pitch down the middle world we live in.

Juan Miranda

Huh? Why? Well, despite his .231 average, Miranda has a .872 OPS with a long double and booming home run. I love the way he attacks the baseball, looking to hit. But while he is aggressive, he does not swing at too many bad pitches.

I have noticed his tendency of being pull happy, trying to pull fastballs on the outside corner. Even the HR he hit last night was on an outside fastball, but he did try and pull a similar pitch in the 9th inning, too.

He must only like the pitch over the plate because he takes too many fastballs on the inner half.

I truly believe the Nick Johnson signing was a waste of $5 million, when Damon or Miranda could have been had for about the same money.

Young pitchers

Because of injuries to Chan Ho Park and Alfredo Aceves, the Yankees had the Chris Britton memorial shuttle to Scranton working overtime. They needed arms and brought up Romulo Sanchez and Ivan Nova to the majors.

Both players responded very well, combining for 6.2 innings of no run ball, allowing five hits, a walk while striking out four.

Nick Swisher

I was not a huge fan of the trade for Swisher , not because of his talent, but when the Yankees got him they had a glut of 1B/DH/RF types already on the roster.

But since the injuries to Curtis Granderson and now Swisher, you really see how Swisher’s presence is missed in the lineup and in the outfield. His new mentality in the batters box really lengthened the Yankee lineup.

Phil Hughes

Despite the not so bad start Monday, Hughes still had a good two weeks. He made three starts, going 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.105 WHIP. He only walked three batters in 19 IP, a very impressive number.

Andy Pettitte

One start after being skipped and it was more of the same from Andy. 6.1 IP, no runs, good stuff and his fifth victory.

Javy Vazquez

He is moving up the charts quicker than a Taylor Swift single. He was impressive in his two outings, one a start, and one a relief appearance. He pitched seven solid innings in Detroit (but lost a tough one), and entered Monday night’s game to face Kevin Youkilis, and got him swinging with two men on.

His curve appears to have that good break and location, but he needs to keep the fastball on the corners, not in the middle of the plate.

THE BAD

Robinson Cano

He is beginning to swing at non-hittable pitches, getting himself out in the process. His last two weeks have produced .239/.327/.326/.653 OPS with six strikeouts.

CC Sabathia

Three starts, no wins, 5.09 ERA. I know he was ripped off by the bullpen last night and should have gotten the win in Boston before the rain fell, but he is the ace and he can not go three straight starts without a victory.

If I were him, I would sit down with Joe Girardi and tell him, “Unless I am getting knocked around, I want to go eight or nine innings every start. No more of this seven inning garbage.”

AJ Burnett

Two starts, 0-1 record and 8.18 ERA. He is back to Bad AJ, issuing seven free passes and 16 hits in two starts. Almost Ugly. If he has no control of the curveball, he is useless.

David Robertson  

He is improving, but he still walks too many. Six walks in five plus innings, but seven whiffs. He should throw his curveball more for strikes early in the count. No one swings at it and if they do, it isn’t a hittable pitch.

Marcus Thames  

I really would not care if this guy hit five game winning home runs last week, he stinks. The only reason he is not part of the ugly group is the one game-winning home run.

He obviously can’t field, can’t throw and can’t hit righties. He is the ultimate one-dimensional player.

And with a team beset by injuries, that is the worst type of position player to have on the roster.

THE UGLY

Derek Jeter

If I see one corpuscle of blood come across the hall…I mean one more weak ground ball to short, I am going to freak out. FREAK OUT!  

Last night, I had more confidence in Juan Miranda coming through in the ninth inning than I would have if Randy Winn got on base and Jeter came up with a chance to win the game.

He takes too many fastball strikes, can’t hit with authority with the ones he does swing at, and flails at WAY TOO MANY breaking pitches outside the zone.

Jorge Posada

He needs to play or go on the DL. It is a waste to have him on the roster without using him.

If a limping Kirk Gibson can go to the plate in the 1988 World Series against Dennis Eckersley, then Posada could have pinch hit for Winn in the bottom of the 9th inning in Tuesday night’s game.

Posada is showing his age with all the nagging injuries. As I said, either DL him or play him.

Boone Logan  

Boone Logan stinks. Why is Girardi the only one who does not see this? In 6.1 innings this season, Logan has allowed ten runners! Lefties are hitting .357 off him with a .500 slugging percentage.

Send him out and bring up a versatile position player like Kevin Russo, who is now playing outfield in Scranton.

Joba Chamberlain

Whew! Not much to say, we all saw the two games.

Joe Girardi

I pretty much said a couple things about Joe already, but for him to need another pitcher by sending down a speedy outfielder like Greg Golson when Nick Swisher is unavailable, this might be the dumbest move I have seen all year. 

Except when Girardi brings Logan into a game.

Girardi has this penchant for resting certain guys as DH’s, giving them a half day off. That is stupid. Either give them the full day or play them in the field. Have a set DH.

The revolving DH has pushed the Yankees into a non-DH situation three times recently where the pitcher would need to hit, one which was Monday night when there were no bench players left. If the game went into extra innings, then Vazquez would have had to hit.

And if Posada can not play, then Cervelli is the only catcher with Ramiro Pena as the back-up. But when Pena was removed from the game the other day (Alex went in), the DH was lost and not only did the Yankees have no one to pinch hit, they had no backup catcher at all!

Girardi needs to have much better roster management. With too many guys unavailable, but still on the roster, they need versatile guys and a set DH.


New York Yankees Promote J.R. Murphy To Low A Charleston

May 18, 2010

The Yankees second round draft pick last season, J.R. Murphy left extended spring training and played tonight for the Low A Charleston RiverDogs.

The RiverDogs were playing in Rome, GA against the Low A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.

The 6’0″, 190 lb Murphy was the designated hitter and ended up 1-3, with a double, RBI and struck out twice.

While drafted as a catcher, and currently part of the long pecking order of highly-rated Yankees catching prospects, I feel Murphy’s greatest value to the team is likely as a rightfielder.

Why? Well, despite a great throwing arm, Murphy’s biggest baseball asset is his offense, specifically the ability to consistently hit the ball hard. He also has what Baseball America ranked as the “second best strike zone awareness” of all high school draft picks last season.

Murphy played high school baseball at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, where he burst on the scene with a stellar senior season. He led his team in virtually every statistical category.

I have not yet seen Murphy, but will be planning a trip very soon to witness a few of his games. According to a variety of scouting reports, Murphy has excellent strike zone and pitch recognition, which are the keys to hitting at higher levels.

The ability to recognize pitches, like off speed pitches moving out of the zone is extremely key to getting into good hitting counts. Then getting and attacking good hittable pitches is the key to producing runs.

Murphy is extremely patient as well, working deep into counts and selectively picking pitches he can drive. According to the reports, he uses the whole field, taking all types of pitches the other way. His compact and short swing lets the ball travel deep in the zone where his quickness can turn on a good inside fastball.

As a young hitter gets to higher levels and the fastballs become more precise, many players have a tough time catching up with the good, accurate heat. Murphy appears to be very good at making good contact on this pitch. 

He is a gap to gap hitter right now, probably more of a doubles guy than a true home run threat. But all hitters are not created equal. While Jesus Montero at the same age was pounding home runs in large amounts, Murphy still has time to grow and will eventually hit home runs.

Murphy was an outfielder before being converted to catcher due to his really strong throwing arm. However, during his first taste of professional baseball, Murphy was used by the Yankees primarily at DH for several reasons.

First, the Yankees have a pretty good group of young catching prospects with Montero, Austin Romine, 2009 international signee Gary Sanchez plus 2008 draft pick Kyle Higashioka. They do not need to rush Murphy up the catching ladder.

In addition, a young guy in the Bronx named Francisco Cervelli has done pretty well thus far in his major league career.

Second, Murphy missed all of his junior year in high school due to knee surgery and the Yankees are probably wanting to take some wear and tear off the knees.

Third, I really do not believe Murphy is destined to be a catcher. Besides the strong arm, he has below average skills in blocking balls and knowing the nuances of the position.

The Yankees are so loaded at catcher with Cervelli, Romine (the real next decade guy), Montero and Sanchez that Murphy’s bat will eventually land in right field.

Some people are saying it would be wise to keep Murphy behind the plate to enhance his value. Value for what, a trade? His value is in the bat he swings, not the position he plays. If you need value for a trade, why sign him to double slot money?

Murphy is wisely being introduced to the pro game very slowly, allowing him to concentrate on the one aspect he knows very well—hitting.

The Yankees will watch closely how Muphy’s hitting tools of plate discipline and pitch recognition translate to a full (almost full for JR) season against better competition.


CC Sabathia’s Plunking Of Dustin Pedroia Was a Must for the New York Yankees

May 9, 2010

During Friday night’s New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox game, starting pitcher Josh Beckett hit Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter in the big eight run Yankee fifth inning. He also came close to Mark Teixeira and Francisco Cervelli in that same inning.

After Jeter’s plunking, I texted the guys from the Shore Sports Report , where I do a baseball analyst radio spot every Friday, saying that “Pedroia needs to get plunked.”

And when I saw various Yankees, including CC Sabathia, mouthing their displeasure towards Beckett, I knew that Pedroia was going to be a target.

It is nothing against Dustin. He is a prototypical baseball player, always hustling, frequently getting dirt on his uniform. Pedroia is the type of guy you want playing for your team. It is just that Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis is a boring target who usually gets out of control when he feels like he is being thrown at.

Look what he did last season to Detroit Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello.

Since the Yankees second baseman was hit in Friday night and had to leave the game, it had to be THEIR second baseman who was retaliated against, plus Pedroia would take it like a man.  

Josh Beckett is an easy guy to dislike. He never smiles, and does not seem pleasant to be around. I spend some time down in South Florida and heard various stories about him, too, when he used to play for the Florida Marlins.

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer. And he is very overrated. He has parlayed three good seasons (and Red Sox GM Theo Epstein’s rash judgment) into a new four-year, $68 million contract.

Not only is Beckett not pitching well this season, but come three/four years from now, Beckett’s contract will be viewed as one of the worst contracts in baseball. A dead weight contract which will further tie down the Red Sox.

But Beckett was throwing the baseball very well Friday night, at least for five innings. That is why it was incredible he would hit two guys, and come close to two others.

Not that I think the Cano plunking was intentional, because after Alex Rodriguez’ sixth inning leadoff double, the last thing Beckett wanted to do was put another runner on base with no outs and the Yankees already leading 3-1.

But I did believe Beckett hit Jeter on purpose, and tried to get Teixeira two batters later. He also dusted Cervelli just before Jeter’s HBP. At that point the score was 5-1 Yankees and it looked to me that Beckett had given up.

So why not hit Jeter? Beckett had given up, saying to the Yankees, “You beat me and all I can do is hit your players.”

That was wrong because pitchers should never intentionally hit batters for doing well against them, but only for showing up a team/player or in retaliation.  

That is why Pedroia needed to get plunked by Sabathia. But after it was over, Pedroia ran hard to first base, taking it like a baseball player, seeming to know it was coming. However, the next batter, Victor Martinez, hit a two-run homer to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead.

The plunking hurt on the scoreboard, but the message was sent.

I also was not the least bit worried after the home run, as the Yankees were getting guys on base and it was a matter of time before they started knocking those runners home. Also, Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz was off his usual game.

I wrote a piece last year about Yankee manager Joe Girardi changing the Yankees mindset regarding protecting their hitters . For too many years Joe Torre let the Red Sox pitchers have a field day in hitting the Yankee lineup. Red Sox manager Terry Francona had no problem letting it happen, either.

Too many times Pedro Martinez would bean Jeter and others, and nary a Yankee pitcher would come close to dusting David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez.

But Girardi has changed that tune and will not let the plunking of Yankee hitters go unpunished. Neither will Sabathia.

And that is good to see.

// //


Jesus Montero: Why Can’t He Be Promoted To The Yankees Early in 2010?

April 3, 2010

I read the latest scouting report on Jesus Montero’s defensive skills. It might be the first decently positive report on his defensive talent—but the secondary reports by bloggers mostly reported the negative.

I bet those guys will be all over the Tiger Woods interview next week.

The biggest knock on Montero is that his big 6’4″, 225-pound body will not allow him to catch at the major league level. The immense size Montero projects will cause slow footwork, leading to incorrect throwing mechanics—leading to runners stealing bases at will.

While catching for High-A Tampa last season, Montero threw out 13 percent of base runners. But when his major league bat prompted a promotion to Double-A Trenton, his caught-stealing percentage improved to 32 percent. He improved his transfers—plus pitchers at the Double-A level hold runners better than they do in High-A ball.

In 2009, a total of 86 runners stole a base off Montero. His counterpart in Tampa, Austin Romine, split duties with him—and Romine took over full-time catching duties after the promotion.

Overall, in 2009, Romine threw out 30 percent of runners, allowing 87 stolen bases. Romine is widely considered the better defensive catcher, but he allowed one more stolen base last season than Montero did.

I know the catching position is more than just trying to catch runners attempting to steal—but in one area in which Montero was supposed to be hampered by his size, he is showing improvement.

In 2008, at Low-A Charleston—where both shared the catching duties—Montero threw out 25 percent of runners, while Romine cut down only 20 percent. With better CS numbers for Montero at two levels, why is Romine considered the better defensive catching prospect?

Is it due to Montero’s projections in size? It can’t be because of his desire to improve, as Montero has shown his willingness and the ability to get better.

Last year’s American League MVP was a catcher: Joe Mauer. He didn’t win the award for his defense, as he threw out 26 percent of runners attempting to steal against him.

Mauer also had three errors and allowed nine passed balls. His CS percentage was below average for the AL, and the nine PB’s were second-most in the league—and he missed the first month of the season.

Mauer stands 6’5″ and 230 pounds—bigger than Montero—but Mauer isn’t considered too big or nonathletic for the position.

As a Yankee fan, would you trade those below-average defensive numbers shown above for really good offensive production? I am not talking Montero putting up numbers like Mauer’s 2009 season—at least not in the first couple years in the majors.

I am talking maybe .293/.382/.426/.808 with 27 doubles, seven home runs, and 60 RBI in about 450 PA. Would you take those numbers for a young catcher?

Well, those were Mauer’s numbers in 2007. Montero has averaged better than those numbers his two full seasons in pro ball.

Before Mauer hit 28 home runs last season, the most he ever hit in any of his four previous full seasons was 13—and that was the only season he hit double-digit home runs or had a slugging average over .500 (barely at .507).

Mauer was only a high-average, low-power guy before 2009. He has grown into his offense, but his CS percentage has declined during the last three seasons.

The phenom Matt Wieters is also a big catcher, standing at 6’5” and 230 pounds. He threw out 24 percent of all runners last year, and he was just under 40 percent at three levels in the minors.

Again, a big catcher with below-average CS figures, he had five errors and three passed balls in 86 games behind the plate. But Wieters hit .288/.340/.412/.753 with nine home runs and 43 RBI.

I guarantee that Montero can put up those offensive numbers in the same 385 plate appearances that Wieters had.

Montero is all about offense right now, but he appears to be growing into his defense. The most recent scouting report I referenced in the first paragraph said, “Until he’s firmly entrenched in the big leagues, there will continue to be questions about Jesus Montero’s ability behind the plate.…footwork, however, is definitely still an issue. He tends to open up on his throws to second, and he needs to improve on shifting to his backhand side to block pitches…he’ll always need to put in extra work defensively .”

Those attributes that Montero needs to work on are all facets that regular reps will improve. Proper footwork and keeping the front shoulder closed on throws are items that can be easily fixed. But unlike a pitcher who will get better by actually pitching in a game, a catcher will improve more so by constant practice with a good coach.

And who might be the best catching coach in all of baseball? Tony Pena, a former MLB manager who is now on Joe Girardi’s coaching staff. Pena and Francisco Cervelli—like Montero, a Venezuelan native—would be working with Montero every day before games on the footwork and throwing mechanics.

Cervelli is an extremely positive, helpful person. Last season, when Cervelli was doing rehab in the Gulf Coast League, he would often tutor J.R. Murphy on proper catching mechanics.

That is why Montero needs to be in the major leagues as soon as his bat is needed—to learn the catching craft every day from the best teachers at the top level. He will not get the necessary training at Triple-A—even if the hitting coach, Butch Wynegar, is a former major league catcher.

Montero will get his at-bats in the majors—he is that good. Nobody questions that aspect of his game.

The Yankees have pretty much decided that in 2010, Marcus Thames will be the right- handed power bat off the bench. And Thames is likely to get a few starts every couple of weeks against tough left-handed pitching. He might spell Nick Johnson at DH or could— Ugh!—play left field in place of Brett Gardner.

While Thames has recently hit a few home runs late in spring and has good splits against lefties during his career, I do not believe he will carry this recent hot hitting into the regular season.

Therefore, because the Yankees want some value out of the $900,000 that Thames is due when he makes the Opening Day roster, his opportunity will continue into late May or early June. When his struggles continue two months into the season, he will be released.

And Montero will have been tearing up the International League by that time. There will be no sane reason not to promote him to the major leagues as that right-handed bat— and emergency catcher, too. If Jorge Vazquez is hitting the ball at Scranton, then he might be an option if Thames were the only issue.

But potential injuries are an issue, too.

The knee injury to Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets—and the pelting to the elbow that Mark Teixeira suffered—show how quickly things can change for a baseball team. An injury can occur while running the bases (Murphy and Chien-Ming Wang) or in any of the quick movements the game demands.

The Yankees are an aging team that withstood the injury bug last season, but are they a Nick Johnson pulled muscle or a Teixeira beaning away from drastically altering their well-laid plans?

Johnson has been injured throughout his career, and there is no reason to believe that he will stay healthy all season. I hope he does, but the odds are against it happening.

And Cervelli now has a tight hamstring—an injury which is really tough for a catcher. With Jorge Posada only projected to catch 110 or so games, the thoughts of Mike Rivera actually having significant time behind the plate would scare the hell out of any Yankee fan and have us wishing for the days of Kevin Cash.

But they wouldn’t need Rivera or even Cash back. The Yankees starting catcher at Triple-A will be OK.

If any injury occurs where the Yankees need a bat—but especially an injury to a catcher—I would roll the dice with Montero and take a chance.

Don’t worry about any arbitration eligibility crap about the team maybe saving a year’s contract. That is such a bunch of garbage.

If an organization has a stud player like Montero, Strasburg, Jason Heyward, or anybody of that talent, then you bring him up to the majors when you need him. A team would want to sign that type of talent long-term, anyway—like John Hart did with the Cleveland Indians in the early to mid-1990’s.

Like Tampa did with Evan Longoria and Colorado did with Troy Tulowitzki. The Yankees have done this, too, when they bought out arbitration years with Robinson Cano.

Even if Montero does become the Yankees’ full-time catcher in two to three years, I do not believe Montero will be a full-time catcher long-term—not because of defensive inability, but because the Yankees have too many good catching prospects in their system.

I can see a scenario in which the Yankees begin to use two full-time catchers to give their legs a break—similar to how NFL teams are using two and three lead-type running backs during the course of a game.

And all those young catching prospects will not be catchers for the Yankees. How many spots can catchers take up on the roster? If he continues to hit well, Murphy will probably be converted to outfield, and one of the others (Romine, Gary Sanchez, or Kyle Higashioka) will eventually be traded for another piece of the major league puzzle.

And if any of those catchers can play other positions, then they become more important—and the entire team becomes more versatile.

Montero’s defense is not that bad, and it appears to be improving. He is a hard worker— plus, he will always get the best instruction from the major league tandem of Pena and Cervelli.

It has also been proven by two current catchers, Mauer and Wieters, that big guys can play behind the plate, have below-average defense and still be productive.

Montero’s bat is very lethal, and if needed in the majors this season, it needs to be brought up to the majors—good defense or not, and arbitration years be damned.


Johnny Damon Needs the Yankees More Than the Yankees Need Damon

November 29, 2009

While every one is pondering why Roy Halladay is needed on the Yankees (he isn’t), I want to focus on the first free agent deal that Brian Cashman will attempt to get done.

After Johnny Damon finally helped the New York Yankees back to the World Series, and winning their first title since 2001, he is a free agent again. And every time Damon has been a free agent, he has changed teams. He was the good corporate guy who said all the right things before, during and after the big parade down the Canyon of Heroes.

Damon would “love to be a Yankee again,” and he wants “to end my career in New York.”

But after making the defining play of this years World Series with his double steal, smart dash to third base, it appears Damon does want more of the Yankees…more of their money and more years in his contract.  

Before his breakout in the 2009 post season, it was widely thought that the Yankees and Damon would agree to a one year deal with incentives, similar to what Andy Pettitte signed with New York last off season. That type of situation would work well for both sides; the Yankees would retain the popular Damon with reasonable dollar figures and Damon would continue to play his usual 150+ games per season.

Damon would play mostly left field and occasionally DH to give his 36-year-old legs a rest.

Now Damon (his wife, Michelle and agent Scott Boras) says that many teams are interested in his services, and he has told friends that he will not give the Yankees a discount to stay with the World Champs.

There is no other way to say this – Johnny Damon is a moron. Simply put, if he leaves the Yankees then he is a very stupid individual.

While a member of the Boston Red Sox, Damon was considered one of the “idiots” of their 2004 World Series title team.

That name aptly fits this older version of Damon, too.

After finally experiencing a World Championship in the best city to win a sports title of any kind, Damon wants more money. His agent has bandied about needing a four year deal for the 36-year-old outfielder. But Boras’ free agent rants never get his client wha he says they deserve.

In separate interviews Boras has said that Damon should get the same type of deal that Yankee catcher Jorge Posada (also 36 at the time) received prior to the 2008 season. Then Boras said that Damon “made Derek Jeter” by hitting behind him this season and his client compares favorably (saber and fantasy stat wise) to the Yankee Captain over the last three seasons. He stated that “whatever the Yankees plan on doing with Jeter long-term, Damon deserves similar consideration.”

Problem for Boras and Damon is that the decision on Johnny will come well before any work on Jeter’s new deal begins.

Also, Boras does not realize (or maybe he does and is just blowing his usual smoke), that the Yankees really needed Posada that off season, as they had nothing in their system at the catching position remotely close to the major leagues and the other choices available in free agency or via trades were terrible.  At that time Francisco Cervelli had finished his first full season in the minors at High-A Tampa.

In fact, the Yankees were willing to give Posada a three-year deal, but had to go the extra year because Jorge was being courted by Omar Minaya and the New York Mets, and at that time, the best available catcher was their own backup Jose Molina or free agent Paul LoDuca. Also, Alex Rodriguez had already opted out of his Yankee deal at that time, and the Yankees were in desperate need of  right handed power, something the switch-hitting Posada provided.

Also, Posada plays a more demanding position (although not as well as his younger years) and was a mainstay Yankee from their dynasty years, part of the vaunted Core Four.

Not quite the same situation as with Damon is it Mr. Boras? But when have you ever been reasonable in your free agent demands?

And in regards to comparing Damon to Mr. Jeter, a five-time World Series winner, de facto leader of the Yankees over the last 10 years, this generation’s version of Joe DiMaggio and a sure fire first-ballot Hall of Famer… well I guess I just said all their needs to be said.

As the title of the piece says, Damon needs the Yankees more than the Yankees need him. Their are quite a few left fielders available via free agency (Jason Bay and Matt Holliday) and within the Yankees own system – they can promote Austin Jackson, and have a trio of Jackson, Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner man center and left field. Lefty power can be supplied by Juan Miranda or re-signing Eric Hinske.

Or the rumored trade involving the Yankees and Detroit Tigers for center fielder Curtis Granderson would move Cabrera or Gardner to left field and Granderson in center will supply the lefty power Damon provided last season. While I personally do not like Granderson for the Yankees, it is another option for Brian Cashman.

According to reports Damon has options, too. Remember that even Damon said several teams have shown interest. Those teams include the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox (very early reports). But lefty hitters are a dime a dozen. What most teams need is righty power such as Bay and Holliday. The Red Sox, Rangers, Rays and a dozen other teams fit this category.

And from what I remember, Damon hits left handed. So I do believe some teams are interested in a guy who put up a line of .284/.365/.489 this season with an OPS+ of 126. It is just that those teams are not good and would be in Damon’s worst interest to sign with them.

Damon needs to think about himself first, but not in the monetary sense, but in terms of legacy. It is what every person wonders – how will I be remembered in this game, business, job, family etc? And in major league baseball, legacy is determined by World Series Championships and the Hall of Fame.

According to baseball-reference.com, Damon has made a tick over $97 million in his baseball career. Assuming he hasn’t blown it all (and TMZ is more busy following Tiger Woods’ life), he is pretty well set, as are his children, his future grandchildren AND THEIR future grandchildren!

Unless you are Montgomery Brewster, a person can’t even begin to spend all that cash.

In other words Damon doesn’t need any more money.

What Damon does need is more career hits, runs, doubles,  HR’s and RBI’s. Evidenced by his never being in the Top 10 of any MVP vote, Damon has not been dominating in any aspect of his game during any part of his career.

Damon needs to accumulate stats to even get a whiff of the Hall of Fame. He has two World Series rings, but Damon needs to get 3,000 hits, needs to get to around 1,800 runs scored, needs 600 doubles, needs 300 homers and needs about 1,300 RBI’s.

Is Damon going to get to those numbers hitting second in the White Sox lineup? Will he get there hitting in spacious AT&T Park in San Francisco, hellish for a lefty hitter? No and no. The Red Sox might need a left fielder this year, but Damon can never go back there.

Damon bests interests  for HOF consideration (and a great legacy) in playing for the Yankees where he gets to hit in cozy Yankee Stadium, hitting behind a Hall of Famer in Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira (potential HOFer) and Alex Rodriguez (lock HOFer). Hitting in that lineup, while in that park will get Damon more of the accumulated stats he needs to get serious Hall of Fame votes somewhere around 2020.

It would be great for Damon if they can work out that two year deal, and a TEAM OPTION for a third, which would keep Damon hungry for more.

Here is what Damon said during the parade, “I want to continue to be on a team that can win and to play in front of great fans – and we know that the Yankees fill both of those,” Damon said. “I think everyone knows my desire to come back. Still, every time I’ve been a free agent, I’ve ended up switching teams. It’s the nature of the beast. If people are interested, I’m going to listen.”

Go ahead and listen to them Johnny, because when you take that bigger contract in San Francisco for more money and years, but fall short in career numbers for the Hall of  Fame, you only have yourself to blame. Imagine a 70-year-old Damon sitting on the front porch answering another reporter’s question about his thoughts on falling short of the Hall of Fame?

Don’t be an “idiot” this time around Johnny, but be a man and tell your agent, Mr. Boras, to get a deal done with the Yankees.

It will be in your legacy’s best interest.


AJ Burnett is Key to Yankee Playoff Success…Francisco Cervelli Benefits

October 1, 2009

As I watched Tuesday night’s game, the biggest positive impact was that AJ Burnett appears to back on the upswing. Over his last 24.2 innings, he has allowed only 18 hits, 4 ER’s, 10 BB’s and recorded 27 K’s. His ERA over that stretch is 1.46 and his WHIP is 1.14.

The patently inconsistent pitcher had a terrible August and early September, but now appears to be back on track. I pointed out Burnett’s inconsistent nature in a previous article. Always streaky, for Yankees fans they are now getting the “good AJ.”

Which means that many will feel better about his first ever post season start, especially if he does well again on Sunday at Tampa. Burnett has performed better of late because he has exclusively worked with Jose Molina as his catcher.

Burnett is THE KEY to this Yankees postseason. If he does not pitch well, the Yankees will likely not win the World Series. It is imperative that Burnett feel confident on the mound, and if that means Molina (with his anemic bat) behind the plate, then that has to happen.

Which then means that Francisco Cervelli NEEDS to be on the ALDS roster.

If Molina catches Burnett’s starts, once AJ comes out of the game, Jorge Posada will come in to catch if he is not already the DH. Even if he does come in to catch, you need a backup in case Posada (although he is tough as nails, remember he is 37) gets injured.

In my mind, over the last couple nights Cervelli has solidified his spot on the post season roster.

In the comeback win over the Royals on Tuesday night, he led off the two-run rally with a one-out single, taking several close two-strike pitches in the process*. He then went from first to third (rather easily) on Eric Hinske’s single to right field and scored on Robinson Cano’s game tying sacrifice fly.

*This tells me that Cervelli has earned the respect of the umpires. Being a personable catcher does not hurt either, as catchers will usually get the benefit of the doubt, but if umpires like a young player, he will certainly get his share of close calls. And the umpires obviously enjoy Cervelli’s young attitude.

And last night Cervelli again started a 9th inning rally by singling with two out and no one on base.

He provides a third catcher in case of emergency, is quick enough to pinch-run for Posada or Molina to save Gardner for another opportunity and allows Molina to start when AJ Burnett pitches.

Burnett is the Yankees key this post season, and it benefits young Cervelli, one of the many options the Yankees have for their catching future.


Jorge Posada Gets His Big Ears in An Uproar

September 17, 2009

Childish, baby like and potentially dangerous. That is what Jorge Posada’s actions were Tuesday night in the fracas that erupted at Yankee Stadium.

And I thought boxing was coming to the New, New Yankee Stadium a few years from now, but not as soon as last night.

Posada felt he should not be the recipient of the Toronto Blue Jays retaliation of “my hitter gets hit, so we must hit yours.” Actually, that is a badge of honor to be the recipient. It means the other team values you as a player, so as the player who was hit, Posada should have just taken his base and let it go.

I remember one time when Albert Belle was on the Cleveland Indians and in his prime. At one point the Red Sox couldn’t get him out, so someone on the Sox threw at Belle. Albert then hit a home run his next time up and when he got to the Dugout, he pointed to his bicep. In essence Belle was telling the Red Sox, “I am too strong for you, you might as well hit me because you can’t get me out.”

A badge of honor.

Posada, though, never lets anything go, which is sometimes good as clubhouse motivator, but oftentimes it puts the Yankees in a bad situation*.

* Posada holds grudges and thinks he is beyond things. I believe he still does not like Joe Girardi since Girardi stayed on as Yankee catcher for the 1999 season and taking time away from the early part of Posada’s career. But Posada still does not get that Girardi stayed on with the Yanks that year to help WITH Posada’s development. Posada had completely cool feeling towards Girardi the entire 2008 season, not helping the transition with General Joe’s first year at the Yankee helm.

Everything started in the top of the 8th when Mark Melancon plunked Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill, one of the bright, young hitting stars on this Blue Jay team.

Melancon appears to be the guy that Joe Girardi is authorizing as his late inning retaliator. On August 6th, Melancon beaned Dustin Pedroia, then buzzed Kevin Youkilis, leading to an agitated Youkilis. Melancon has hit four guys so far this season (in only 16 innings), two Red Sox players (Jason Bay and Pedroia) and two Blue Jays players as M.M. plunked John McDonald earlier this month.

I hope Melancon is not eager to get the reputation as a head hunter. That would not bode well for his popularity on the team amongst the everyday lineup players who likely would be on the receiving end of the retaliations.

Posada needed to leave well enough alone, as when the fight broke out, the last things the Yankees need is to have one of their big arms like Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte (already with a sore shoulder) or Chamberlain hurt like Boston Red Sox hurler Bill Lee was back in 1976 in a brawl against the Yankees.

It is good to see that Shelley Duncan always has his teams back. Duncan was in the mix early on, separating players and being a Yankee enforcer. He was in the middle of the scrum two springs ago with the Tampa Bay Rays after Francisco Cervelli had his wrist broken. Too bad the Yankees front office does not have as much love for Shelley as the Yankee fans do.

As much as the Rays probably hate Shelley, he would be a great fit for that team with his versatility (1B, OF, RH bat off the bench) and could do offensively for Tampa what Pat Burrell gave them this season…at a fraction of the price.

One more thing about that fracas last night. Michael Kay, the Yankee play by play guy on the YES Network harped on the slight swelling on Girardi’s left eye after TV camera’s captured the Yankee manager. Kay said repeatedly that John McDonald, the slightly built Toronto shortstop sucker punched Girardi when Johnny Mac entered the fray. That was the furthest thing from the truth as McDonald appeared to be a peace keeper.

Replays showed that McDonald’s left hand did make contact with Girardi, but had made contact with the RIGHT SIDE of Girardi’s face, and only by accident as McDonald was trying to pull people away. Girardi also said that he got his bruise from one of his own players who inadvertently elbowed him during the scrum.

If McDonald wanted to cheap shot someone, he definitely would have gone after A-Rod.

Posada could have caused more harm than good with his childish antics, and it is great that he got to spend last night on the suspended list while the Yankees walked off with another win.


Joba Should not be on the ALDS Roster if he will not get a start

September 10, 2009

Joba Chamberlain was given the guinea pig status again last night, allowed to throw only  three innings for the third consecutive “start.” Although he allowed two runs in the first inning, he only walked one batter and set down the last eight men he faced.

He deserved at least one more inning (or maybe two), but the Yankees have a “plan” for him, so we should all see how that eventually turns out. Will they now strategically increase his innings to six per start, where he will be able to start a play off game and contribute?

After giving up those two runs and getting the last eight batters, Joba was pumping his fastball at 95 MPH. In the first inning, he was topping out at 91, and it showed with his first inning struggles.

Have you ever heard what some baseball people said about hard throwers like Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Doc Gooden, Josh Beckett, Justin Verlander etc., “You better get them early because they only get stronger as the game gets longer.”

I feel that Joba is a similar type of pitcher. His increase in velocity last night only two innings later is a better indication of his future true effectiveness. I remember watchi9ng him when Joba was starting games in Double A Trenton back in 2007. His velocity was in the high 90’s in the 7th inning of starts.

Remember back in May when Joba used to have those terrible first innings, but settled down and threw well the rest of the game? Then the Yankees increased his pre-game bullpens to throw more pitches, AND they had hitters standing there in the batters box? It seemed to work for a while, as he had that great start in Cleveland on June 1st.

I wonder if they Yankees still do that pre-game routine with Joba? Probably not.

Not a full time part of “the plan” I bet.

After that Cleveland game, Joba then had a decent June where he regularly went into the 6th inning (drat those innings limits and pitch counts!), and while he had some control issues, Joba did not give up any more than 3 earned runs in any of those starts.

He then had two bad starts in early July where he gave up a lot of hits (but only walked one per game), but then after the All-Star break, pitched brilliantly for three straight starts, including an eight inning gem at Tampa Bay. People began to wonder if this was “the real Joba,” the Joba most expected since he first burst upon the major league scene in late 2007.

But then the Yankees decided to change the Rules, and began to sporadically space out his starts to limit his overall innings. After the three great starts to begin the second half, Joba’s next four starts were changed to go on seven days, four days, four days and eight days.

After those four starts, Joba’s ERA rose from 3.48 to 4.34. Part of the plan?

If the Joba plan all along was to screw up this kid, then the Yankees should consider it a success. I bet Brian Cashman is happy that Tom Verducci is all smiles.

After those starts, the Rules were changed again to start Joba on regular rest, but then limit him to three innings per outing. There are rumblings, however, that the Yankees will gradually increase his innings up to six innings in order to get him ready for the playoffs. Yankee management has constantly stated that Joba’s innings limits will not be part of the post season, that Joba will be allowed to pitch normally in a playoff game.

But if the Yankees decide to play in the ALDS which has the extra day of rest, they will not need a fourth starter. This scenario will also give the Yankee position players extras rest. Joe Girardi has continuously held to his original plan (unusual for the Yankees) of regular days off for all position players.

Nobody was immune to that scenario, and it paid off well as the rested players have performed well down the stretch and appear to be strong in September.

But if the Yankees do not need a fourth starter, then Joba should not appear on the ALDS roster. Especially if they have upped his innings per start. The Yankees will have a long man in Chad Gaudin, (sorry Sergio Mitre) and a three inning type guy in Alfredo Aceves.

The playoffs are a time where innings limits and pitch counts are tossed out the window, especially with your top veteran starters. Does anyone remember Lou Piniella’s blunder two season’s ago at Arizona? Locked into a pitchers duel with Brandon Webb in Game 1 of the NLDS in 2007, the Chicago Cubs ace, Carlos Zambrano, was pulled after six innings because Piniella “wanted to save him for a Game 4.”

Game 4 never happened as the Diamondbacks won three straight.

So expect CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte to pitch into the seventh inning or later in the ALDS. The only way Burnett or Pettitte should be pulled earlier is they are getting hit hard by the opposition. Sabathia should go at least eight innings and/or no fewer than 125 pitches.

Therefore, unless AJ or Andy gets rocked, long guys aren’t really needed, and Joba wouldn’t be needed on the roster if he doesn’t get a start. Why use him in a short role in the first round of the playoffs if he has once again been groomed as a starter? And if the Yankees advance, then Joba will probably be needed as a starter in the ALCS. Why move him back and forth again in different roles?

See why all this moving around and innings limits are incredibly stupid and defeating for a young pitcher? It would have been much better for the Yankees to deal with Joba the way another team has dealt with their young pitcher. Only on one of the Los Angeles Dodgers Clayton Kershaw’s 28 starts, has he started a game that was not on four or five days rest.

Now that is a real plan.

If Joba is not starting a game in the ALDS, the Yankees might be better served to keep an extra position player like Ramiro Pena or Francisco Cervelli. This offers the Yankees more versatility regarding replacements in later innings via pinch runners and pinch hitters.

Do you believe that Jorge Posada is going to catch every game? If so, that’s great, but I have doubts he will catch Burnett in the playoffs. If  Molina catches Burnett, you might need an extra catcher.

Let’s say that Burnett starts Game 3 and faces Jarrod Washburn. You can start Jose Molina behind the plate to keep Burnett happy, but can sit the lefty hitting Hideki Matsui and DH Posada against the LHP Washburn. With men on base late in the game, if a RHP reliever comes in to face Molina? You can pinch hit and still have Cervelli catch and not lose Posada as the DH and the pitcher has to hit.

Just more options available to Girardi.

Assuming David Robertson is healthy, the Yankees have enough bullpen strength to withstand a five game series, especially when the veteran starters are going longer per start. Joba could then be held out of the ALDS, and if he is going to get a start in the ALCS, he can be sent to Tampa on an off day to throw in a minor league game down there and stay on regular rest.

If  he is not getting a start, the Yankees do not need Joba on the ALDS roster.

But if they play Detroit (highly likely right now), they might want to take the other Divisional scenario with fewer days off and keep Joba as the fourth starter.

Why?

Joba Chamberlain is 2-0, with a 1.32 ERA in two starts against Detroit this season, striking out 14 in 13.2 innings.


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