New York Yankee “Problems” for 2010 Are Actually No Problem

February 25, 2010

I have read a boatload of preview articles for the 2010 season, plus many articles on the 2010 Derek Jeter led New York Yankees and their attempt to be the first team to repeat as World Series Champions since, the Jeter-led Yankees of a decade ago.

Most pundits agree that the New York Yankees have the best team in baseball, and coming off a 103 win 2009 regular season and a World Series title, it is hard to argue.

But people always need things to write about. Many real baseball writer such as Jon Heyman and Buster Olney have written pieces about the Yankees chance to repeat. But hundreds of other bloggers have their viewpoints, too.

I believe most “bloggers” are just pissed off sports fanatics who could never play a major sport to any degree. Most of what they write usually is negative as they rip players, teams or GM’s. The writer never understands how difficult it is to do what those professionals go through on a daily or seasonal basis.

I even read one web site guy exclaim that the Yankees were too boring this off season and that he needed some controversy to write about. That guy has consistently provided material proving he is knows nothing about baseball.

The TMZing of baseball really galls me.

It was very difficult for Joe Girardi to walk in after Joe Torre was released, have many of his star players besieged by injuries, and be expected to win “because that is the Yankee way.” His team missed out on the playoffs in 2008 and Girardi was ripped mercilessly. Even after winning the World Series last season, many have wondered whether Girardi will be back for 2011 if the Yankees do not win a title again this season*.

*Truth is that Girardi will be the Yankees manager for at least as long as Torre, maybe longer. He is not inept. Girardi is a very intelligent as a baseball guy and as a former catcher, he knows the game pretty well. Most catchers make good managers as that position is involved in every single pitch made on the field, and the catcher is in the best position to see the entire field. That is one reason why scouts and front office brass sit behind home plate, it is the best place to see the game. Girardi also learns quickly on the job. His reversal last season of his 2008  totalitarian ways (with players and media) made for a better player/manager/media relationships.

Yep, Girardi will be the Yankees manager for a long time.

The non-extensions this off season of Girardi, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter was one of the “stories” created by a tired and broken down media. Those people writing about the Yankees possible losing one of those guys, especially Rivera and Jeter, are the same guys who thought the New York Mets were waiting for Minnesota native Joe Mauer to leave his hometown Twins, become a free agent and sign with them next season.

Yeah, like that was going to happen. Maybe Albert Pujols will leave the St. Louis Cardinals, too.

The fact that the Yankee policy of not negotiating until the contract is over was given very little credence. Also, the professionalism of all three guys were never really spoken about much either. Anybody who reads my articles knows how I feel about Jeter’s next contract.

Other off-season controversies written about include the finally ended Johnny Damon saga, the lack of getting a power bat for left field and the competition for the fifth starter spot in the rotation.

But the biggest thing I read about the 2010 Yankees is the phantom issue of complacency.

Complacency about what? Winning? Are they serious?

The complacency issue is the biggest non-issue, because complacency does not exist with today’s professional athlete. There is to much at stake—another ring, that next contract, fame, embarrassment, but most importantly is that desire to win every game, all the time.

Do people really think that these professional athletes are not going to have the personal pride to try and win every game they are playing?

Once you win, like the Yankees did last season, you know how great that feeling is and as a player, you want to win all the time. Even before a player wins a World Championship, they want to win all the time.

It is why they are a professional athlete. That desire to compete and at a high level and to win. These guys want to win on the field, in front of the Xbox and at the clubhouse card table.

While it is true that at certain times during a baseball season that players might give away at bats or go through the motions in a blow out game (but never the Big Dago Joe DiMaggio), these professionals are NEVER complacent about their jobs.

I have always said that athletes are so competitive that they would still play a game just as hard in an empty stadium with no television coverage. If a mid-July Wednesday day game were played on a sandlot field in the middle of New Jersey, Brett Gardner would still sprint towards second base hard to break up a double play, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would still dive for hot smashes down the lines and Jeter would hustle down to first base on a ground ball.

That is the mantra of the athlete. Compete and win. You want to beat the other guy and team.

Even on the level I used to play in summer semi-pro hardball, the games and season were ultra-competitive. We used to play 40 regular season games in 60 days, then playoffs. The season would stretch from Memorial Day to early-August, playing night games after work to Sunday double headers. The teams in our league were pretty much the same every year, the same core with a few new ringers.

We wanted to win, and were really not happy when we lost a game. I remember  a bunch of us sitting around for hours after losing the final game of the playoffs one summer. It was terrible. We worked even harder to have a better team the next season.

We weren’t complacent even in a summer league.

Do you think that the pro players would be complacent? No way.

Do you think that Nick Swisher is complacent after he won his first ring last season?

No. He went out, improved his hitting mechanics with hitting coach over the winter and changed his eating habits, losing 12 pounds. Swisher wants to become even better this season, knowing he is the starting right fielder. He wants another ring.

Do you think Jeter is complacent after working hard again on his lateral movements to continue his tremendous defense at short? Is Gardner complacent by working on his bunting to expand his game?

Even management was not resting on their laurels. Do you think GM Brian Cashman was complacent this year? Nope. He made a couple key trades to get the Yankees younger and less expensive.

I read somewhere that Cashman made his first inquiry to the Detroit Tigers about Curtis Granderson during last years playoffs. The Yankees did not even win the World Series yet and Cashman was already looking to improve the 2010 Yankee team!

And if complacency did occur like in the old days, it would only occur in the off season, as players maybe would celebrate too much, not work out enough to improve their game and not be in the same physical condition entering spring training. Most of the time players had to hold off season jobs to make ends meet.

But with the money in today’s game, the players’ full time jobs are their overall health and keeping in shape year round. Spring training is not like it used to be when players would use the spring to get into shape. Now all players keep fit during the winter, and the players use the six weeks prior to the season to get into BASEBALL SHAPE.

Complacency is not an issue for major leaguers and especially these Yankees. Cashman has put together a team of high constitution players, without egos and with a strong desire for commitment to the team concept. And that commitment includes working out all year to improve and be ready to play every day.

The Yankees do have the best team in the Major Leagues but may not win another World Series Championship this season, as it is just so hard to do that with the three levels of playoffs.

But it will not be because of complacency.

That does not happen in pro sports.

It is just another media creation.

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Olympic Hockey Game Was Great, but it was no Lake Placid

February 22, 2010

It was really exciting watching last night’s Olympic hockey game between the United States and Canada.

With all the players being in the National Hockey League, the talent on that ice was amazing, even if a viewer did not know all the names. But it was the big names for the U.S. who earned high marks.

Former New Jersey Devil Brian Rafalski blew two shots past his former teammate, Canadian goalie Martin Brodeur. Jamie Langenbrunner, current teammate to Brodeur, also scored, while Zach Parisi, another Devil, was all over the ice pestering the Canadians.

Think that Devil locker room in two weeks is going to have some trash talking going on?

I heard many people say that Brodeur choked in his biggest moment as a goalie. I couldn’t help but laugh at that. A goalie who has won multiple Stanley Cup titles has already achieved the ultimate thrill in hockey.

The game was won by U.S. goalie Ryan Miller, starter for the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL. The Canucks form north of the border are seemingly the more talented team, and they proved their capabilities by having a major shot advantage (45-23) over the Americans.

But Miller came up big time after time, the final time on a point blank shot from the slot with about two minutes left.

“It’s probably one of the biggest games I’ve ever played,” Miller said. “When things happened we responded. We didn’t get nervous or anxious. We kept playing.”

The Americans are younger, and less experienced, but were playing a more aggressive style of hockey than is normally seen in the Olympics. Not chippy, but feisty, string a few pushing contests and getting many bodies down low in front of the goal. That Phil Esposito style of  “low post” play got the Americans that Chris Drury go-ahead goal late in the second period.

When American Ryan Kesler swiped and got that empty net goal in the last minute, then and only then was the game really over. It is ironic that Kesler scored that goal on his home ice, and plays for the Vancouver Canucks, host city of these Olympic games.

That was the best empty net goal I have ever seen and is indicative of the style of play for the Americans, out hustling the opposition to every puck.

But the Americans can not think they have the easy road to the gold medal, even though their road is easier. With the one and done format from now on, any lapse in judgment or desire (the latter I do not see happening) could prove anti-climactic to the Americans.

Many people have also written that this game last night was reminiscent of the U.S.-Soviet Union 1980 Lake Placid game.

Not so fast, amigo. The Soviets at that time were the best hockey team EVER, probably still are. Their goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, was considered the best in the world (and maybe the best hockey goalie ever), and their players were really professionals playing in amateur tournaments.

Except for the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley, the Soviets won Olympic hockey gold in 1956, 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1976. They not only won, but they crushed the opposition.

Prior to the 1980 Games, the Soviets played NHL All-Star teams, and anybody else who got in their way. They beat them all. They were like a prize fighter taking on all comers, and knocking all of them out in the first  round.

The Americans at the time were college kids, with only one player, Buzz Schneider, having international experience. Only two players, Mike Eruzione and Schneider, was 25 years or older, while the Soviets had a dozen players were 25 or older, most in their athletic prime.

The Soviets were physically superior to those Americans in 1980.

Not so with the 2010 U.S./Canada version.


Mark Melancon Deserves a Major League Bullpen Job

February 18, 2010

One of the clichés you hear in the weeks preceding the opening of spring training camps is that “competition brings out the best in players.”

Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman both have said that over the last month. In fact, here is what Girardi said just yesterday, “I expect guys to pitch at a very high level. Will statistics play 100 percent of the decision? No. We’ll look at guys, how they’re throwing the baseball, and what we feel as an organization and coaching staff is the best for everyone involved. … It is a healthy competition for the fifth starting spot and I love that. I think that brings out the best in people.”

That competition phrase usually deals with two younger players vying for a starting position (think Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera last year), two or more pitchers looking for the #5 starting pitcher job (Joba vs. Phil vs. Gaudin/Aceves/Mitre this year) and those guys looking to become the final phone call in the bullpen or last man off the bench.

But should an important role (such as #5 starter) be determined by a month of games mostly played against mostly non-major leaguers? What if a player is working on a new pitch or a hitter is working on going the opposite way on most pitches? What if the pitcher wants to try throwing his curve ball in more 1-0 and 2-0 counts? Should those players be penalized because their numbers weren’t good, but they have adjusted their game to be better?

In regards to the non #5 starter race, I can never understand why teams have guys compete for jobs where the pitcher is destined for mop up duty or as the last position player but that guy is never getting off the bench. They should always give these jobs to younger players, especially when those players are highly regarded prospects in their system.

Most times people reason that teams do not want a younger player in these roles, because they would “rather have the young player get regular playing time at AAA” instead of sitting on the bench or the bullpen.

That is garbage and wasteful thinking. What if the young player has dominated the Triple A level? What is there for him to still prove down on the farm? That he can get out former major league rejects trying to keep the dream alive plus other not yet ready for prime time kids?

It is more beneficial for a young player to get the feel of the big leagues, gain respect from the umpires and learn how to get big league hitter out in the majors. Getting overmatched hitters out in the minors is not going to help them at the next level. Pitching or hitting against AAA players is not going to get a player to become a better major leaguer.

Those types of guys who have dominated the minor leagues should not have to go back to the bushes, but need to full opportunity to adjust to major league players. Young pitchers need that chance to get out a major league lineup. It does not good to send them back down for “more seasoning.”

The one player on the Yankee who fits this bill is Mark Melancon, my 2010 Yankee candidate for a breakout season.

Melancon was part of that unbelievably great Yankee/Damon Oppenheimer/Brian Cashman 2006 pitching draft, which I have written and spoken about on radio many times before. It will turn out to be the best one year pitching draft for one team of all time, and could rival the 1968 Los Angeles Dodgers draft* as best overall of all time.

* That is a bit of a misnomer as the drafts back then were done in different stages. While the Dodgers did get Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Bill Buckner, Joe Ferguson, Doyle Alexander and Bobby Valentine (Don’t laugh. Valentine and was a two-time minor league MVP and a major leaguer at age 19. He was future stud before he broke his leg and was never the  same), they were all obtained at various stages during the season. It is considered by many the best team draft during one season.

That Yankee draft saw Joba and Ian Kennedy as first rounders, Super-stud Zach McAllister in Round 3, and Melancon, David Robertson, George Kontos, Dellin Betances in later rounds.

The current bullpen scenario has Mark Melancon part of the pack along with guys like Edwar Ramirez, Jonathan Albaladejo, Romulo Sanchez and lefties Royce Ring and Boone Logan. They are all fighting for that coveted last spot (or two) in the pen.

I did not include Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre in that bullpen group because they should not be bullpen guys. They should be in “competition” for the last starter spot and if they do not win that job, they should be waived (hoping they clear) so they can be sent to Triple A to start down there. That would leave them ready to be brought up to start a few games in case of an injury to one of the five Yankee starters.

The Yankees should give Melancon a bullpen job as he was drafted to succeed Mariano Rivera and become the eventual Yankee closer. He has that bulldog mentality of wanting the ball at all times, especially when the game is on the line.

While dominating the minors, Melancon has put up a 12-2 W/L, 2.54 ERA, 0.964 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 at all levels. His K/BB ratio of 4.31 is also mind boggling. His numbers during two seasons at Triple A are just as impressive, and sometimes better! At Scranton over the last two seasons, he threw to a 0.863 WHIP, 9.4 K/9 and 5.07 K/BB.  

Melancon’s best aspect is his pinpoint control of both the fastball and his nasty curveball. That is why it is surprising that he walked 10 batters during his 16 major league innings last year. That number will drop the more he sees major league hitters and the more that umpires see him.

Make no mistake that umpires do grant very little strike zone gratitude to newbie pitchers. The more that umpires see Melancon’s demeanor and repertoire, the better he will be for the Yankees in getting close pitches called in his favor.

That is why it is imperative that Melancon be given a job even before spring training starts. To allow guys like Edwar, Albaladejo and the rest to compete with the Yankees future is downright idiotic. Melancon is part of the future, teaming up with Robertson to form a dynamic late inning duo over the next couple seasons.  

And since both of those 2006 draftees have success against lefty hitters as well as righty hitters, they eliminate a need for a second lefty in the bullpen. So bye-bye Boone, arrivederci Royce, here come the kids. Melancon has shown throughout his minor league career that he can go multiple innings at a time, too.

One of my favorite stories is the one told by former New York Met and 1979 NL MVP Keith Hernandez. Tex has mentioned on numerous occasions that he was a nervous wreck playing first base for the St. Louis Cardinals in the late 1970’s. Even as the incumbent starting first baseman entering the 1979 season, he was always worried that a mistake at bat or in the field would cause the manager or the front office to send him back down to the minor leagues. Hernandez always played the game with a little fear, looking over his shoulder and not fully concentrating on his game.

According to Hernandez, that all changed when the Cardinals manager, Ken Boyer, told him no matter how he performed that spring or during the early part of the season, he would still be the starting first baseman the entire year. That vote of support allowed Keith to played his best season in 1979 and winning the MVP.

Melancon is in that same situation. He needs to be given that bullpen spot and told he is a big part of the Yankee 2010 season, and will be part of the late inning bullpen foundation over the next 5-10 plus seasons.

It will be better for Melancon and the Yankees.


Why Does Tiger Woods Need to Apologize to us and the Media?

February 18, 2010

Tiger Woods will give his prepared and carefully scripted news conference tomorrow at 11 AM. It will concern his extra-marital affairs he had against his wife, Elin Nordegren (did she really keep her own name or recently change it back after Thanksgiving?) and his eventual return to the pro golf tour.

Why does Tiger even have to apologize to anyone but his wife?  It appears he has done that already many times over, in press releases and more importantly, in private.

Why does he need to go in front of the cameras and tell eveybody what happened?

Because we demand that he do it, that’s why! We want to know, not me really, but other who live their lives through celebrities. You know who you are! You buy the National Enquirer, the Star and People magazine – all at one time. You probably spend $300-500 a year on trashy tabloids just to keep up with the Jones’, and Woods’ and whatever celebrity is in the scandal spotlight.

How does Tiger talking before all the cameras* affect you? Will you feel better about your life that Tiger has to put his tail between his legs and tell the entire world what happened and what will happen in the future?

*Can you believe that all the Networks will show this live?

The men who mock Woods are jealous of his power, his money and his ability to get any woman he wants. Obviously with#’s one and two, #3 was easier to obtain.

And obtain he did. The one thing men do want are women. The more, the merrier in some mens eyes.

The men who mock Woods would give anything to be like Tiger for a couple months, weeks, days or even hours!The women who deplore him are upset that he cheated, but somehow they would love to be able to hang with a guy with that much power and money.