Cliff Lee, World Series 2010: How San Francisco Giants Took Lee in Game 1

October 28, 2010

Last night’s game was not the total shock many people think. I figured the San Francisco Giants would score a couple runs early against Lee, but was surprised the way they knocked him around.

The Giants pitchers also neutralized Mickey Mantle Jr, I mean, Josh Hamilton.

The Giants game plan with those two players were the key to winning Game 1. 

1) Cliff Lee vs. Giants Hitters

The key in getting to Cliff Lee is to be aggressive in the batters box. I have long discussed that on this site. Hitters cannot continue to take early strikes, get behind in the count and then have to react to any on of four different pitches he throws with two strikes.

Lee starts most hitters off with a fastball. He then mixes in cutters, curves and an occasional change up. He is also more likely to throw his curve ball with two strikes.  

And why not? It is harder to control that either the fastball or cutter and you do not have to throw it over the plate with two strikes, just get in low in the zone and you can be successful.

But the Giants are a very aggressive group of free swingers. They like to hack at lots of pitches early in the count, both in and out of the strike zone.

Against Lee, the Giants were aggressive, but mostly on pitches inside the strike zone, more specifically right over the middle of the plate.

They did not chase the high fastball. One of Lee’s important pitching traits is that he moves the ball around, changing the eye level of the hitters.

He works low and away, then up and in. He will throw the two-seamer or curve low, then throw a normal 91 MPH fastball up, many times out of the zone.  

But unlike the Yankees hitters, the Giants lineup did not chase the pitch up and out of the zone. The right-handed hitters also did not offer at the many pitches Lee threw just off the outside corner. That is why Lee probably threw very few changeups.

This forced Lee to work from behind in the count, and then have to come over the plate with his pedestrian fastball.

And that usually gets hit…and hit hard. While there were many hard hit balls, especially in that fifth inning, there were even more fat pitches which the Giants aggressively attacked yet fouled back.

Andres Torres, Juan Uribe and Cody Ross all missed fat fastballs over the middle. Lee threw too many pitches over the middle of the plate. The Giants hitters were also looking to hit the ball the other way, with right handed hitters hitting the ball to the right side.

That allows the ball to travel deeper and the hitter can see the ball longer. Going to right field hurts Lee’s pitching game plan. He thrives on teams like the Yankees who are looking to pull the ball, but the pesky Giants hurt him. Another reason why Lee likely threw very few changeups.

The Giants aggressive nature works well with pitchers who throw lots of strikes. That is why the Giants have beaten Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and now Cliff Lee in this postseason.

Watch for the Giants to continue to be aggressive on pitches in the zone, and their key to winning is to stay off the pitches out of the strike zone. Even Uribe took two pitches before hammering his three-run home run.

Credit the Giants hitting coach, Hensley Muelens, for putting together a good game plan for the hitters last night and will likely have another good one for tonight.

Tonight’s starter, C.J. Wilson, has one of the highest walk rates in the American League. The Giants will continue to be selectively aggressive.

2) Josh Hamilton vs. Giants pitchers

Right now Josh Hamilton has a long swing. He doesn’t have very quick hands and mostly swings with his arms. Does it have something to do with his rib injury from a month ago?

Since most teams pitch him away (like the Yankees always did in the ALCS), Hamilton continuously looks (and leans) out over the plate.

But the Giants pitches have worked Hamilton differently. They have thrown lots of off speed pitches away, but they also challenged Hamilton. 

And they challenged him inside where his long swing can not catch up even with a normal major league fastball.

In Hamilton’s first at bat, Tim Lincecum had to pitch to him with men on first and second.

But Lincecum got Hamilton to meekly ground out on pitches away.

Next time up, Lincecum jammed Hamilton on an 89 MPH fastball up and in.

Third time up, Hamilton was worked outside again and weakly grounded out back to Lincecum.

Fourth time up, Casilla blew an up and in fastball right by Hamilton then got him to fly out again on a fastball in.

The Giants pitchers got Hamilton out twice away and twice in, moving the ball around and not just trying to keep the ball away all the time.

Like the Yankees did, Joe Girardi worked scared against Hamilton. Most of the hard hit balls Hamilton had were on pitches out over the plate when the pitchers were constantly working away.

Look for Matt Cain tonight to continue to pound Hamilton inside with fastballs, but also showing him some stuff away for effect.

The Giants neutralized both of Texas‘ main weapons, Lee and Hamilton, and won big in Game 1. If they continue to play smart baseball and do the same things they did in Game 1, they will have an good time in Game 2.

Except for his high walk rate, C.J. Wilson is a similar type pitcher as Lee and can be approached the same way. Wait him out to come over the plate.

And the job of Cain and the able bodied bullpen is to bust Hamilton inside.

He can’t handle that pitch, and the Giants will continue to exploit it.


MLB Rumors: Texas Rangers or New York Yankees? Why Cliff Lee Ends Up In Texas

October 19, 2010

After last night’s performance, there is no way the Texas Rangers can let Cliff Lee walk as a free agent.

Even winning the World Series this season would not be worth it to the franchise if Lee walks, goes to a rival playoff team like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or even their division rival Los Angeles Angels*.

*I mean why not the Angels? They could sign Lee, then move the Dan Haren contract if they want. Then they would have a rotation of Lee, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joel Piniero and Scott Kazmir. I say they can move Haren because I do not believe anybody would take Kazmir, or Piniero. Both are free agents after this year anyway, so the Angels would save on those contracts in 2012.

I also think Lee would get a kick out of dominating a weak A.L. West many more seasons.

But the Angels probably can use a solid bat in the middle of the lineup rather than another arm.

But how would Texas feel if Lee signed with the Yankees, as is expected by almost everybody on the planet?

Terrible. Like the rest of baseball.

That would then make the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies the odds on favorites again next season to reach the World Series.

The Rangers need Lee to have the bonafide ace at the top of their rotation, and for him to keep working with C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, three more lefties in Texas.

It is not just Lee who does well when he is there. The other young pitchers also improve. Imagine Lee with another full season working with Wilson and now Holland?

With the combination of their current roster—plus one of the top minor league systems—if Lee stays, Texas will be tough to beat over the next five plus seasons.

But, as I said, most people believe that the Yankees are going to sign Lee. After what Lee has done over the last two post-seasons, it is a head scratcher if a team like the Yankees do not sign him.

They have the big market, the bigger money (they have many, many monies!) and good friends in CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett already on the roster. I even wrote a piece some time ago singing the virtues of such a marriage.

Now I firmly believe it will not happen Yankee fans.

One, Texas will want him back very badly. With their ownership situation stabilized and a new T.V. contract signed, they also have many, many monies.

And Lee being from Arkansas appears to fit in nicely with the other southern boys in Texas.

But another reason why Lee will not be in pinstripes next season is that the Yankees can’t afford him on a seven year, $160 million Sabathia type contract. How many nine figure contracts can one team have? Even if they are the Yankees?

The Yankees have $145 million already tied up for next year, add $40 million more for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and probably Andy Pettitte. Andy is not retiring, not after a game like he pitched last night. It is very tough to leave a game you played for so long, especially when the player is still performing at a high level.

And with the various arbitration cases of Phil Hughes, Joba and others, that is a lot of cash already spent. Plus Burnett’s contract is like an albatross around the Yankees luxury tax necks.

Adding another $20 million for seven more years of Lee pushes next years payroll to $205 million. Funny, but every time I saw Lee pumped his fist and smiling last night, I envisioned him counting higher and higher during winter negotiations.

And there could be lots of dead money for the Yankees next year, too.

What last night’s game solidified for me is that Alex Rodriguez can not play an adequate third base anymore.

He literally can not move to his left one foot to attempt to reach a ground ball in the hole. Several ground balls last night were not even hit that hard and got through there without Alex getting close.

Maybe that is one reason why Jeter seems to have limited range up the middle. He needs to compensate more to his right due to Alex’s limited range to his left. I did read this year that scouts have seen Jeter position himself in different spots this year, the first time all career he has done that.

Do not be surprised if Alex has more work done this off season on his surgically repaired right hip.

So if Alex has limited abilities in the field, he will need to be a DH sooner than expected, which limits his value for the money he receiving.

More somewhat dead money.

Too many older players on the roster already, more legendary Yankees to be signed this off season and too much dead weight money for Burnett and Rodriguez.

Doesn’t sound like it would be wise to add a 33-year-old pitcher to a $160 million contract guaranteed to age 40.

Brian Cashman is smarter than that and will try and work a trade for a younger, but still well established pitcher rather than try and sign Lee.

But rest assured, he will “remain in the bidding” to drive the price up for whoever lands Lee’s services.


New York Yankees: Looking to Do What the Tampa Bay Rays Could Not

October 18, 2010

Before the pennant races concluded, many people thought, and wrote, that the Yankees did not want to win the American League East because they did not want to to possibly face Cliff Lee twice in a five game series.

Once again, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

And the Yankees now have it.

They are in the same situation as the 2010 AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays were: Since they split the first two games in Arlington, they are now in a five game series against the Rangers.

And Cliff Lee is starting Game 1 and, if necessary, will start in Game 5.

Most Yankee fans thought they were getting a break when Lee had to pitch Game 5 in the ALDS and could not start Game 1 in Arlington.

I marvel at all the people who say that the Yankees should be happy that they got a split in Texas, “which is all they really needed, anyway.” Actually, the opposite is true.

When you win the first game on the road, nothing short of winning two should be acceptable.

It seems that Yankees fans (and many in the media) are already throwing in the towel in Game 3, assuming Lee will keep his masterful pitching performances going.

That may be the case, but it also can be far from the truth.

Lee has faced the Yankees three times this season, and is 2-0, 3.09 ERA. In the first game, Lee threw a complete game, allowing four runs while striking out only two hitters.

In his second start against New York, the Yankees rallied late, beating the Rangers in Texas. Although he struck out 11, Lee also gave up four runs this game. In his third start, Lee won 4-1, but walked three, his season high.

Twice in his three starts against the Yankees this year, Lee allowed four runs—so the Yankees have gotten to Lee this season. The issue in all three of those games this season was the Yankee starting pitching was atrocious.

Dustin Moseley, Javier Vazquez and Phil Hughes all were hit around by the opposition.

Even last year during the World Series, the Yankees lost twice to Lee, but after getting dominated in Game 1, they scored five runs off Lee in seven innings in his second start.

Again, by scoring five runs off Lee in Game 5 last year, they should have won the game, but A.J. Burnett was pretty bad that day.

I have all the confidence in Andy Pettitte tonight. The major league’s all-time winningest postseason pitcher is coming off a tremendous performance in the ALDS, but it was 11 days ago.

Unlike CC Sabathia, who has no command after longer rest, as he has gotten older, Pettitte is much better with longer rest between starts. Over the last three years, Andy is 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA on six-plus days rest, better than his overall numbers. 

Looks like a good pitching match-up to me, a game the Yankees can win. In Lee’s 28 starts this year, Lee has allowed four or more runs in 11 games. And in those games, the opposing team was not patient at the plate, working the count, but were aggressive early in the count.

Lee threw primarily fastballs the first time through the order in his two games in the ALDS. In Game 1 at Tampa Bay, he threw only fastballs in the first inning when the Rays loaded the bases.

At that point, the Rays stopped being aggressive and did not score.

If the Yankees are aggressive early, and look to attack the first pitch fastball, they can score runs. You can not “pitch count” Lee out of the game, but need to bang him around and knock him out.

If the Yankees get four runs off Lee, they will win tonight.

Be aggressive early and let Pettitte do his thing.


New York Yankees Comeback Reveals Rangers Manager Ron Washington’s Weaknesses

October 16, 2010

I am 100 percent confident that C.J. Wilson does NOT give up five runs in the eighth inning if Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington allows Wilson to stay in the game.

He gave up two runs on two hits in that inning, and was pulled in favor of Darren Oliver following a Derek Jeter RBI double.

But the Yankees would probably have only scored those two runs (or maybe just the one already in) had Texas manager Ron Washington avoided being like Bobby Cox and Bruce Bochy.

When you try to over-manage based upon matchups, you end up losing most of the time, like Bochy and Cox in the NLDS and now Washington in Game 1 of the ALCS.

I have to give oodles of credit to YES announcer and ESPN radio host Michael Kay, who has constantly said that Joe Girardi will out-manage Washington. Girardi has proved Kay to be prophetic.  

Girardi made a good move by using Joba Chamberlain in the fifth inning, but I applaud Girardi for throwing a nice changeup and bringing in Dustin Moseley for the sixth and seventh innings.

I am not a big Moseley fan (in fact he stinks), but bringing him in after Joba was throwing 95-96 MPH heaters was a stroke of genius.

The Rangers hitters were completely off-balance on Moseley’s 89 MPH fastballs (acting like a change to Joba’s and C.C.’s heat) and were more off-balance when Moseley threw his rinky-dink high 70’s breaking pitches.

Dustin’s two-inning scoreless effort allowed that Yankee comeback to occur. Sandwiching him between two fireballers in Joba and Kerry Wood made Moseley more effective and probably made Wood’s fastball appear even quicker.

Most people are saying that Washington did not use his hard-throwing closer Neftali Feliz in that eighth inning. That is a valid point once the decision to remove Wilson was made.

But why did Washington remove Wilson in the first place? Don’t give me that bull about pitch counts, matchups, that Wilson was finished or “you want to remove him with a lead and feeling good.” Total garbage.  

There are no pitch counts in the postseason. As NFL head coach Herman Edwards has said, “You play to win the game.” Wilson was dealing very well at that point.

He gave the Rangers the best chance to win at that moment, certainly better than Darren Oliver or Clay Rapada. No need to remove Wilson. He allowed a weak ground ball single to Brett Gardner and then a hard double to Jeter.

The end of the world? Hardly. Lose with your best on the mound, not with your middle relievers. The best at that point was Wilson.

When Alex Rodriguez came up with the bases loaded in that inning, TBS commentator  Ernie Johnson said that Alex was “0-for-3 with two strikeouts.” That was against Wilson, and Rodriguez had not even come close to catching up with Wilson’s fastballs.

Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira had not done much of anything off Wilson either.

At that point in the game, the Yankee two (Swisher), three (Teixeira) and four (A-Rod) hitters were 0-for-9 with three strikeouts.

So why the need to take out your starting pitcher when he has dominated all game long?

I was watching Game 3 of the NLDS between the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants. Jonathan Sanchez was on the hill in the eighth inning (that fateful inning again) for the Giants, winning 2-1. With one out and a man on first, he had dominated a very weak Braves lineup.

Cox brought in right-handed hitting Troy Glaus to hit for lefty-hitting Rick Ankiel against the lefty Sanchez. Bochy went to his bullpen for RHP Sergio Romo.

Again. Why? I texted about a dozen people at that time saying how terrible a move that was. Sanchez had dominated up to that point, so why remove him? After the pitching change, Eric Hinske pinch hit for Glaus and powered a go ahead, two-run home run.

Bochy is lucky that Cox was even more idiotic in the top of the ninth, and the Yankees are lucky that Washington is more of an idiot than either two of those N.L. managers.   

From the seventh inning on, why do managers feel the need to remove starting pitchers after one hitter hits the ball hard?

But since Wilson WAS removed by the inept Texas manager, why not bring Feliz into the game? Your best pitchers need to be in the game late, not Oliver and Rapada.

Rapada was added to the ALCS roster for this series to face lefties like Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, but Rapada had not pitched in a REAL GAME against REAL HITTERS since Oct. 2.

This is a little known secret. Throwing more bullpens between appearances to stay “sharp” is of very little benefit when facing guys with bats in their hand.

To put Rapada in last night’s game on national TV to face Cano, who hits left-handers just as well as right-handed pitchers, is akin to pulling the switch on an execution.

I prefer the dominating starting pitch to remain, but if you want to bring in your top reliever, that is less of a quibble.

In Game 1 of the 1972 World Series (a day game by the way), Oakland A’s manager Dick Williams brought in his best relief pitcher, Rollie Fingers, in the SIXTH inning with no outs and the tying run on second. Fingers stranded Johnny Bench at second and the A’s won.

Williams also brought Fingers in the FIFTH inning of Game 5 that series. Fingers shut the door early before allowing the tying run in his THIRD inning of work that day. That thrilling game was the last weekday day game played in World Series history.

Once the decision was made to remove Wilson, Washington managed last night’s game based upon the save statistic and not to win the game.

Often times during important games, the big inning is not the ninth inning, but an inning earlier in the game when men are on base and a potential game-tying rally is forming.

If the manager wants to make a move, that is when your best relief pitcher should be brought in the game. However, I wouldn’t have made the move.

Washington managed that game not to lose, but he ended up getting what he deserved.

A well-earned loss.


New York Yankees: A.J. Burnett Needs to Start In The ALCS

October 14, 2010

We now know the New York Yankees roster and their pitching rotation for the ALCS.

A.J. Burnett will start Game Four in Yankee Stadium. And while many people feel it is the wrong move, it is definitely the correct move for the Yankees to make if they want to advance to the World Series.

While many fans want CC Sabathia to throw games One, Four and Seven on three days rest, it would be foolish to heap that much on the big guy. With better performances by Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes in the ALDS, it would benefit the Yankees if all three of their ALDS starters were scheduled for two games each on regular rest in this series.

I would much rather have all three of the Yankees top starters pitching two games each than CC running out there three times. Overall, the Yankees starters are much better than the Rangers starters, even including Cliff Lee.

And including A.J. Burnett.

Other than Lee and Wilson, the other two Rangers starters are not that good.

Colby Lewis was an All-Star for the first month of the season, but has thrown for almost a full run higher in the second half. Tommy Hunter is two runs higher in the second half, and much better at home than on the road.

He pitches at Yankee Stadium in Game Four, going up against Burnett.

I wrote it was a mistake for the Yankees to keep A.J. on the ALDS roster because he was never going to be used. First, he is not a relief type pitcher as he does not throw consistent strikes, the key ingredient to being a successful relief pitcher.

Second, keeping A.J. off the ALDS roster would allow him to stay fresh by going down to Tampa and pitching in real games down there, keeping himself in pitching shape. It would

The biggest issue for starting pitchers is when they pitch with too many days rest. Their command suffers. A.J. will have had 17 days off from live pitching when he toes the rubber in Game Four Tuesday night.

And Burnett is already having issues with his command now that he back throwing to live hitters.

Sabathia had eight days from his last start of the regular season to his ALDS start. CC lacked command in that start, allowed five hits, walked three and missed his locations all game long.

David Price missed the same amount of days before his first ALDS start and had a similarly outing. His second outing in the ALDS (although he received another loss) was much better command wise.

So, AJ has to many days off. So why should he still get a start in the ALCS?

It will make the other starters better. The time period between their first and second starts will be on normal rest. While I believe Sabathia on nine days rest will struggle again tomorrow night, he will grind through that game, and the Yankees will come out on top.

He could go on three days rest.

And both Hughes, the up and coming young stud, and Pettitte, the aging but still very effective (and oftentimes dominating) lefty, will not be thrown on three days rest. The Yankees will not do that to their No. 2 and No. 3 starters, at least not in the ALCS.

If Hughes and Pettitte were going on three days rest, they would likely be limited in the innings they throw in their first games, probably six. Limited innings would severely put an added emphasis on the back end of the bullpen.

The bullpen has been good over the second half of the season. The Brian Cashman trade for Kerry Wood has solidified an already strong pen, and has appeared to lift the performances of most others back there.

But if Hughes and Pettitte become six inning pitchers, I do not know if the bullpen will be able to get nine outs per game not started by Sabathia. CC’s three day rest start in last season’s ALCS was an eight inning gem, but the other pitchers all had that extra day of rest and went on regular rest.  

No extra day this season. Hughes and Pettitte are not three day rest guys this season.

Not when they have a starting pitcher in Burnett who can possibly go out in Game Four and pitch a good ball game like he did last year in Game Two of the World Series.

But if bad A.J. shows up, hitting the barrels of bats, going deep into counts and walking hitters, Joe Girardi will pull him early in Game Four.

That is why Sergio Mitre is again on the roster, and was pretty good during the season coming in relief. In 13 relief appearancesof more than one inning, Mitre only allowed a run in four of them.

Mitre will likely keep the Yankees in the game if Burnett falters early, but if Burnett is on, the Yankees will have easier access to a second straight World Series.


Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays Game 5: Price vs. Lee, Battle of the Aces

October 12, 2010

Tonight’s Game 5 final game of the ALDS is also the battle of each teams bona fide aces. Oh, and by the way, according to MLB.com, tickets are still available.

This is the first time since the 2003 ALCS between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox when each teams aces were starting a final game of a postseason series. Pedro started that great game—a game I was at by the way—going up against Roger Clemens.

That game made Aaron Boone a hero.

Interestingly, the Red Sox had one of these games in the 2003 ALDS Game 5 when Pedro also faced off against Barry Zito.  

In 2001, the Game 7 matchup also pitted Clemens who went up against Curt Schilling.

All three of those games turned out to be classics.

Before the massive changes in regards of starting pitchers, this Game 7-type matchup would happen quite often.

David Price won 19 games with a 2.72 ERA this season and is one of the leading candidates for the American League Cy Young Award.

Cliff Lee was acquired by the Rangers for this exact moment. I wrote back in July that the Rangers would be the team to beat based upon their lineup strength and the acquisition of Lee.

I felt that C.J. Wilson was pretty good, and the young Tommy Hunter would be improve enough to be tough to beat come October.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Kudos there to a huge baseball fan. This was one of the great hits back when I was a young teen.

Anyway, both teams are in a position they would have paid dearly for back about a month ago.

In Game 1, Price was victimized by lack of command of his primary pitch, the fastball. It was all over the place, mostly right over the middle of the plate.

But never on the corners where he pinpointed control was mostly evident during the regular season. Not in regards to walks, but in the way hit attacked the edges.

Nor was his high fastball thrown out of the zone where hitters usually chase that pitch.

Most major league players can hit the mid-to-high 90’s fastball, including Price’s if it is over the plate. Price threw fastballs 80 percent of the time in Game 1, too many to a really good fastball hitting team.

To be effective tonight, Price has to get a feel for his fastball. If he can locate and get swings and misses plus some weakly hit balls, he can stay with that pitch at 80 percent. But if he is not locating, he must mix in his slider more often just to show that pitch.

Lee was good in Game 1, throwing his usual high percentage of strikes at 73 percent. And of course, he did not walk anybody.

Many of the times which Lee was hit hard over the season, lineups would approach him by attacking the first pitch strikes thrown their way. They knew that if if they got behind by “working the count” to such a control artist, they has no chance versus his array of changes and curve balls.

I wrote about this a few months ago, too. You can not always take pitches early against Lee.

You need to attack early on his first pitch fastball. But in Game 1, the Rays were more tentative then they were back on May 5 or August 16. During both games, the Rays scored their runs when they attacked Lee early in the count, especially when men in scoring position.

But in Game 1, the Rays were taking pitches early and it cost them, especially in that first inning when they left the bases loaded.  

As I said earlier, both teams want their aces on the hill with a chance to win a postseason series.

But the big controversy was when Rays manager Joe Maddon entrusted the “crucial” Game 2 to his A.J. Burnett clone, the inconsistent James Shields.

First off, in a five-game series, heck even a seven-game series, ALL GAMES ARE CRUCIAL. It did not matter if Shields threw in Game 1, 2, 3 or 4.

The important thing is that Shields actually was pitching, so Game 2 was not an issue. It is funny that I read lots of “Matt Garza came through big” articles after he “saved” the Rays in Game 3.

Either way Maddon set up his top three rotation, and based upon how everyone pitched, the Rays were going to be down 1-2 after three games anyway. Doesn’t matter if Garza pitches great in Game 2 or Game 3.

It was idiotic why there was so much talk about Maddon going with Shields in Game 2. They all were going to throw anyway, so why not have Garza available for a really crucial Game 3. The important game whether the series was even or the Rays were up two or down two.

Maddon threw Shields in Game 2 because he was a better than a full run at home this season than he was on the road. His HR and strikeout rates were also much better in the Trop than on the road.

Maddon also probably did not want to throw his two power guys in Price and Garza back-to-back but instead wanted to intercede his change-up, off speed guy. And don’t even talk about the second-year guy Wade Davis. He was never going to get a start ahead of Shields.

Imagine if the fly ball pitcher Shields was to pitch in the homer haven, Ballpark at Arlington? We still might be in the middle of that third game.

I have also heard many whiners crying about how they want the Rays to win, so the Yankees do not have to face Lee.

Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it. The Rays have come back to win two games on the road and are a very formidable team. Just because Shields has not thrown well lately does not mean that he can’t throw well against the Yankees.

He already has this year, at home in Tampa.

And either way, the other teams ace will not be able to throw three times in the ALCS, and will likely throw Games 3 and 7. And at that sequence, they might not even get the chance to make their second start.

So both managers want this spot in Game 5 with their aces on the mound.

Price needs to locate his fastball better, mix in his off speed stuff if he needs to and be left in the game if he is dominating. And the Rays must attack Lee early in the count to have a chance to win.

It has worked before and will work again tonight.


New York Yankees: Can They Pry Away Zack Greinke From the Kansas City Royals?

October 11, 2010

I want to preface this by saying that I heard from a friend who was at several of the Kansas City Royals instructional league games/practices/workouts last week. All the general talk amongst Royals people was Zack Greinke and if he will be traded this offseason.

Greinke has a contract which runs through 2012, when he will be all of 29 when he reaches free agency.

But general consensus of those associated Royals employees was NO, Greinke would not be traded this offseason. The most likely scenario is he could be moved during the 2011 or even 2012 trade deadline.

And the Royals would want top dollar in trade value if and when he might be traded.

The same questions arise when a pitcher of Greinke’s caliber (and prime age) might become available via trade:

1) What teams have the financial capability to pony up the type of money to bring on $26 million over the next two seasons and possible demands via an extension?

2) What team has the type of prospects, especially Major League-ready pitching prospects, which a team like the Royals would want back in trade?

There are the typical teams which have the dollars, such as the New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves and both Chicago teams. But none of those teams has anywhere near the prospects that several other teams do.

The Mets’ and Red Sox’s systems are not that deep, the Angels just traded for Dan Haren and like their top system guys and the White Sox appeared to have traded their entire farm system for Jake Peavy and Manny Ramirez.

The Braves have quaite a few young pitching prospects, but they are at lower levels, and the Royals want at least one arm with Major League ready talent. The Florida Marlins have tons of good top level and Major League prospect players, but they are in the same boat as the Royals.

They keep their young guys to replenish the Major League team with good, young and cheap talent. In fact, the Marlins followed the Royals’ lead by signing their top pitching stud, Josh Johnson, to a multi-year deal. Guys like Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, and Chris Volstad are not going to be moved to take on more payroll.

The Cardinals have a few good young pitchers in their system and also have the somewhat disgruntled Colby Rasmus possibly available. If Tony LaRussa returns to St. Louis, could Rasmus be part of a deal for Greinke? 

Probably not. The Cardinals might not have enough money for their own guys. They need to re-sign Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter (at least one of the two) and Albert Pujols to longer deals in the next year or two.

The Tampa Bay Rays inquired about Greinke this past trading deadline, and would have done a deal if available. They have the prospects and were willing to handle the current salary structure.

But I believe they were looking for in-season help, and while not looking to trade this offseason, the Rays could possibly try and work something out next season if the need arises. Tampa seems pretty satisfied with what they have now. 

David Price, Matt Garza, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and probably Jeremy Hellickson taking over for James Shields, who also could be traded, provide Tampa with a formidable rotation for 2011.

There are just not that many teams which have the financial and prospect capabilities to pull off this type of trade.

Well, except one.  

The New York Yankees have the money. And with the player development side built up behind General Manager Brian Cashman, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and Senior V.P. Mark Newman, they now have one of the top farm systems in all of baseball.

I don’t care what Baseball America says or how they rank the Yankees. The pinstripe parade of young talent has already produced quality Major League talent, and is strong at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, especially in the area of pitching.

Good arms like Manny Banuelos, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell, and Ivan Nova not only provide the Yankees with multiple arms ready to contribute in the Bronx, but also valuable trade bait to obtain top major league talent.

There are only so many spots open in a Major League starting rotation, and the Yankees, with their penchant in spending money on Major League arms, are not going to keep all this talent in house.

It is just not possible. They can keep several of these kids in the Minor Leagues for a few more seasons, but most need to be brought up or moved. No way they all get their Yankee chance.

They already tried to trade Warren as part of the Cliff Lee deal this past July, adding him when Seattle balked at the injured David Adams. And I still believe the Mariners made a terrible decision by taking the Rangers deal over that of the Yankees.  

I have seen most of the above Yankee farm hands pitch several times and while many are keepers, most are trade chips.

I love Banuelos, Warren, and Phelps, and with his power fastball and knee bucking breaking pitch, I believe Brackman is more suited to a late inning relief role. Betances is good, with great strikeout capabilites, but I do not believe he has the strike zone command yet to be the top of the rotation starter most others believe.

Most guys look at the size and wow factor and deem them “high ceiling” guys. Power guys get all the attention, but guys who get hitters out with an array of pitches are better suited in the majors. I like my starting pitchers who can throw consistent strikes to both sides of the plate and have command within the strike zone.

Like Banuelos, Warren and Phelps.

I have seen Dellin pitch several times, he is a nice kid, but throws too many fat pitches over the middle of the plate. He does not have that great command right now, and I don’t believe he can get that down the road.

But he can be one of the key chips to get Greinke from the Royals. Why? Because many others believe he is a top of the rotation starter. 

He had a good season coming back from Tommy John surgery, and with Cashman coming out saying he was possibly “the best pitching prospect we have ever had,” his value might be highest right now, especially with the history of arm injuries.

And since Brackman is better suited for the pen, and ready for the Majors sometimes in 2011, that makes Joba Chamberlain expendable, too. The Royals want two top pitching guys and the Yankees have that in Betances and Joba.  

And Phil Hughes isn’t going anywhere.

I would package those two right handers and and any positional prospect not named Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy, or Gary Sanchez. While I am not enamored with Romine, I do believe that the young catcher would be more valuable traded for a need sometime next season.  

But will the Royals trade their ace?

The Royals have several young pitchers who are very highly rated in Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Christopher Dwyer, and John Lamb, all left-handed and all who did well at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, a very tough park to pitch. Will Smith and former top pick Aaron Crow are also in the mix.

Throw in former top picks Mike Moustakas at third base and Eric Hosmer at first base, and the Royals have pitching and sluggers to anchor what looks like a solid core of young players, ready to all contribute in 2012.

And that is the rub. Do the Royals keep Greinke around to provide mentorship (and a right handed arm) for all the youngsters or do they trade him an help replenish with more Major League ready talent?

They will never be able to pay Greinke that type of big time money he will be due in 2013, and will save about $26 million over the next two seasons.

The trade would benefit the Royals. They would definitely allow the somewhat local product Joba to be a starter again, and he and Betances would add two right-handed power arms to the flurry of lefty pitching talent on the rise. As the Minnesota Twins proved all year, Joba would fare much better in the weaker A.L. Central.

The Royals will not really be a good team with Greinke now, they will not be able to afford him in two years, and they could get two power arms and a position player in return. If I were the Royals, I would shoot for the versatile Eduardo Nunez.

Besides recent first round pick shortstop Christian Colon, the Royals do not have another top middle infield prospect in the system. But if the Royals really want a catcher, then Romine is also expendable, maybe in addition to the two pitchers and Nunez. 

The Royals would be best suited to trade Greinke and the Yankees have the prospects to make the trade.