The New York Yankees are at a Crossroads

May 6, 2012

Well, the New York Yankees are at a crossroads.

And that was well before Mariano Rivera tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee.

I was talking with Mike on Saturday, saying how this Yankee team was in a serious situation. They have a veteran team, aging superstars and aging bench players. Guys right now are playing every day that weren’t signed this season to play every day.

An aging and expensive team in a young man’s game. And the team is only getting more aged and will be getting more expensive.

So, these Yankees are at that crossroads and there are several reasons for this.  

First, there are the exorbitant salaries paid to aging players whose careers are on a decline. You see the decline already. Alex Rodriguez and especially Mark Teixeira are in their decline phases of their careers, former top of the line talent now slowly sinking down the rope to the floor below.

I wrote about Teixiera here, saying if he doesn’t change his approach (not trying to pull every pitch), his carrer as we had known it is effectively over. And over and over again I see Alex beaten inside with moderate to advanced fastballs, indicating his bat speed is further slowing.

Two guys, who play the infield corners for the Yankees, earning a total of $51.5 million this year, are in slow to moderate declines. They are owed a combined $204 million over the next 4/5 years. I bet the Kansas City Royals wouldn’t trade their current infield corners, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer (who had all four RBI in last night’s game) for Alex and Teixeira, even if the Yankees paid upfront to the Royals all of Alex and Teixeira’s salaries for balance of their careers.

Second, there is the self-imposed salary cap of $189 million for 2014.

It is this number which the Yankees owners have said they want the team payroll to be in 2014. This number will allow the Yankees to avoid huge luxury tax monies required to be paid to MLB. Not that the Yankees couldn’t afford higher salaries and additional luxury tax monies. They could even get a rebate if they remain under that amount for 2015 also.

With the $78 million tied up in Alex, Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter ($8 million player option) for 2014, the Yankees would “only” approximately have $111 million available for 21 other players. And they still have to re-sign Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano to extensions likely to cost $15 million each on an annual basis. Then by 2014, players such as Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Eduardo Nunez and Ivan Nova will all be eligible for arbitration or will be locked up for “below market” multi-year contracts.

That’s a lot of players important to the roster who will be making mucho more cash.

Third, the Yankees will very likely lose Russell Martin and Nick Swisher to free agency after this year. During every long Yankee run of titles, the team has a high quality catcher and right fielder. The Yankees have had such a history at catcher with Wally Schang (an OBP machine), Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada. In right field they had Babe Ruth, Bob Muesel, Tommy Henrich, Hank Bauer, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson and Paul O’Neill. But now, two important starters in highly Yankee-fabric positions of catcher and right fielder need to be replaced.

Both Martin and Swisher will likely command three year deals for $8-12 million per year. That might be too rich even for the 1% Yankees.

These open spots lead to the fourth reason the Yankees are at a severe crossroads. They have a severe lack of quality position player depth at their higher levels of the system. They have ZERO, repeat ZERO help on the way to fill any open starting position players for at least the next two seasons.

And I hope you aren’t saying to yourself, what about Zoilo Almonte, who impressed the spring training? Well, he wasn’t that good the first time playing at Double A, and it is a stretch to see him seriously contributing at the major league level until at least 2015. Other strong players such as Austin Romine (remember him?), David Adams, are always hurt, with Romine having chronic back issues. That isn’t good for a major league starting catcher.

All the other position players are three years away, and with the Yankees patient nature in developing young players, it may be even longer.

Yankee fans are now suffering through injuries, lack of production and, even though the playoffs were expanded, a feeling that they just might not be strong enough to make this postseason, let alone make a run to the World Series. New York fans, in particular most Yankee fans, have what have you done for me now relationship with their players.

Many have written that maybe the Yankees should have traded Gardner before last season when his value was highest; saying his success in 2010 was never going to be improved upon. But now they miss his OBP skills, speed and quality defense on an everyday basis.

After Swisher struggled again last October, almost all Yankee fans wanted to trade Swisher this past off season. But you see how Swisher and Gardner are very important to the Yankee lineup. Along with Jeter, they are the only two Yankee hitters who consistently go the away with pitches, opening up the field and therefore, getting more hits.

Now these same Yankee fans seriously wish both could come back from their injuries quickly. The New York fans love to react to those small sample sizes.

What the Yankees have done by playing the Ponzi scheme method of long term deals to players who are now aged and much less productive is coming home to roost. There is now dead money for guys, who aren’t producing up to their salary levels, will continue to decline and because of their salaries, would be blocking any young players the organization might have developed.

So, what to do?

The Yankees could continue with what they have always done and go with the veteran presence at most positions, eschewing young talent in their system and paying big dollars to players who are getting older, and will decline over time.

Let’s all admit it right now; the 2009 World Series title was bought with shelling out over $400 million to Sabathia, Teixeira and AJ Burnett. It sucks that the rules were changed in the middle of playing the game, and the luxury tax threshold was inserted. But that is the hand you are currently being dealt. Try to think of it as the Turn card in Texas Hold ‘Em improving the odds for your opponents.

The key for any team is to constantly work in young players with established veterans, letting certain veterans go free agent when they have kids ready for the majors. But the Yankees have not produced enough young players or given them a serious chance before pulling them, benching them or having fans ridicule them every time they make a mistake (like Nunez).

I say continue with letting David Phelps get starts, let Robertson now close and bring up another reliever (Chase Whitley) if they need a one inning type arm. I wrote about Whitley here. Since there isn’t a great need in the bullpen even with Mariano out, let Phil Hughes continue to start and get his innings in and see what you have over a full season.

You really don’t know what Hughes can do. Let the guy throw the ball as a starting pitcher. Starting pitching is the largest annual expense for teams, especially if you have to go out on the free agent market and attempt to sign a Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke type starter. Except for a game here and there, Hughes can barely make it out of the fifth inning most games because that he what he is used to throwing. That is the way he has been developed. Hughes has made 77 career starts and pitched 7+ innings only 13 times, most recently in his last start when Joe Girardi finally let Hughes throw 115 pitches, only the second time he has reached this plateau in his career.

In regards to the veterans on the team, offer Cano and Granderson semi-long deal of 4-5 years at $15 million each. First one to take it gets his money, the other needs to re-evaluate. With the self-imposed $189 million payroll, this is more important than ever. You can’t let a player dictate what the team can afford.

But if the Yankee brass decides they can withstand higher salariesand go over the $189 million threshhold, all bets are off. Sign away and watch the aging team get even older. The only way the Yankees survive is letting their kids play and develop. You know how the other way works now.

They might not make the postseason each and every year via development, but then again, this 2012 team is no lock right now either.

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New York Yankees Looking At Cliff Lee & Carl Crawford; Pujols and Fielder Next?

December 3, 2010

Well, they are not really looking at Albert Pujols yet, as he is not a free agent until after this season.

But the Yankees have said all along their priority is Cliff Lee with GM Brian Cashman already meeting with the Lee family at their home in Arkansas. And yesterday Hank Steinbrenner said, “It’s no secret we want Cliff and we will do whatever it takes to get him. That’s the bottom line.”

That kind of statement doesn’t sound like the Yankees are trying to drive up the price for the Texas Rangers or Los Angeles Angels for the right to the left-handed hurler.

Lee, who lost his last two starts of the season during the 2010 World Series to the aggressive San Francisco Giants, appears to be guaranteed at least $23 million per season for six or seven years. Hank’s statement above indicates they are willing to go longer.

This has been quite the week for the Yankees.

They have re-signed Mariano Rivera to a two-year deal for $30 million. Talks with Derek Jeter’s agent Casey Close began again on Tuesday with the Yankees supposedly upping their offer. Both sides met again on Friday, and things appear even better.

As I have said many times, Jeter will be re-signed by the Yankees before the Winter Meetings. Cashman wants to concentrate solely on the free agent possibilities without hordes of Jeter questions.

And the Yankees almost pulled off a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a swap of catchers. Francisco Cervelli was headed to LA-LA land for the overrated Russell Martin, a guy whose OPS has rapidly declined each of the last several seasons.

All for the privilege of paying Martin a few million bucks while playing bad baseball. Now that Martin is essentially a free agent after being non-tendered, they maybe can get him much cheaper, maybe Sergio Mitre money—double what Cervelli earns.

Did you even know that while Cervelli will be cheaper for the Yankees this season and the pitchers like working with him, the Kid had an even higher OPS than Martin each of the last two seasons? Cervelli even slugged higher than Martin did each season.

Look it up, I’ll wait.

Now the Yankees have inquired with OF Carl Crawford’s representatives and both sides could meet at the Winter Meetings next week.

Why not? The expensive seats in the New-New Yankees Stadium were almost full for the playoffs. They have the cash.

But even if you have the cash, why is there a hole burning in the Yankees pocket to spend it on other teams players?

They don’t need Carl Crawford, especially at about $17-20 million per year. Brett Gardner is fine out in LF; he gets on base, plays great defense and will probably be the full time lead off hitter in 2011.

Yankees don’t need Crawford, but it sure looks like they want him.

I drive a Toyota Avalon. It is a nice car and gets me around the block and to the ball fields in Scranton, Trenton and Staten Island. It is not what I want. I want a Ferrari (black by the way), but I can’t afford a Ferrari.

And the Yankees can’t afford Crawford and Lee after signing Mariano for $15 million per year and Jeter for a minimum of $17 million per year. After the two first ballot HOFers are in the stable, that would give the Yankees an existing payroll of $176 million, not including Andy Pettitte, not including the arbitration-eligible guys.

After the Mitre deal, arb-eligible players includes Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Boone Logan. Predictions run as high as $8 million for those three.

If the Yankees sign both Lee and Crawford, it would add around $40 million per season, probably a few dollars more. That gives the Yankees $224 million before Pettitte.

That is $224 million plus about $20-$30 million in luxury tax.

In 2012, the Yankees would have eliminated Jorge Posada from the payroll but will still have $107 million plus Jeter, Mo, Lee and Crawford and raises for Granderson and a Swisher option for 2012.  

Trade somebody? Who? Swisher? What are you going to get for him? Well, maybe the Yanks can buyout Swisher’s contract for the million bucks after 2012. They could waive AJ and hope someone takes him, saving a zillion dollars and a bunch of future blow ups.

Then what about when Cano’s deal comes up in his age 30 year after his 2013 option? How much will he deserve when he has a few more seasons like 2010?

Maybe $20 million, how about $25 million per? Then after Hughes has another 18-win season, what is he going to earn?

Isn’t this getting out of hand? When does this end for the Yankees? Does every player on their starting nine have to have eight figure salaries?

Why not sign Pujols next season for a 1B/3B/DH guy as a rover? They can trade all their young prospects for Prince Fielder to be a power lefty off the bench. The team doesn’t need all the prospects since they are not promoting their own but signing other teams best players.

I know all these free agent signings (and highly unlikely trades mentioned above) will get Doug Rush’s tighty-whities at half staff, but signing Lee and Crawford would force the Yankees into a terrible financial bind through the next decade.  

And, in a young man’s game, more than half their roster will be in their mid-30s.

Yeah, I am sure that Lee’s couple of back issues over the last few years are nothing. And Crawford running and playing all those games on the carpeted concrete in the Trop in Tampa won’t affect his speed or quality of play in 2013 and beyond.

I find it very hard to root against guys like Crawford and Lee, then have to turn around and have to root for them (for the benefit of my favorite team) over the next half decade.

I appreciate the work that CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira put in as Yankee players, but they are not nearly as big fans of theirs as I am for Jeter, Cano, Pettitte, Posada, Gardner, Hughes and Mariano.

AJ Burnett I could care less about and actually root against him.  

I frankly don’t want the Yankees to sign Lee or Crawford, the Yankees do not need them. They won 95 games last season without either one and will not have to go up against Crawford 19 times a year when the Angels sign him.

I believe (hope?) the Yankees are just blowing smoke on Crawford. They like to play the cloak and dagger stuff to the hilt and it seems are trying to bankrupt the Boston Red Sox.

The idea in spending big money on contracts is to re-sign your own players you want to keep (Rivera and Jeter). Or you extend even younger guys beyond their arbitration seasons and perhaps a few free agent years (Cano, Hughes?). It is not to sign other teams best players every other season.

Except if Albert Pujols becomes available, then the Yanks can move Alex to DH, Tex to third and leave Pujols at first or maybe let Albert play 3B.

Until Evan Longoria becomes available in 2017.


Derek Jeter: Why All The Concern Over His Current Play?

September 6, 2010

A recent article by John Harper of the New York Daily News quoted two former players saying that Derek Jeter will play hardball with the Yankees over his next contract.

I am asking why would Derek Jeter need to play hardball?

Is he going anywhere else?   No.

Will he ever wear another uniform?   Of course not.

Jeter has said he eventually wants to be a part owner of the Yankees. Do you think that will ever happen if he ever play for another organization? I have said countless times that he is today’s Joe DiMaggio. Great on the field, a multiple World Series winner and quiet icon off the field.

So what is the worry? Is it that Jeter has been in a 5 for 47 slump over the last dozen games? If so, what have the Yankees done in those 12 games? They have won eight of those 12, and now have a 2.5 game lead over the sturdy Tampa Bay Rays.

The idea is to win games, and the Yankees are winning games. In fact, they have won more games than any other team in baseball – even with a slumping Jeter and little consistency in the rotation after CC Sabathia.

Jeter is now hitting .264 on the season, a full 70 points lower than he did last season, and his OBP is 75 points lower. People are now claiming Jeter is on the downside, because he is older and most other non-steroid hitters have all suffered the same fate.

It is one season. Infact, it is really only a couple months. Besides not having his share of home runs and opposite field singles this season, everything else is pretty much the same offensively. Jeter is on pace for the same amount of runs scored, doubles, RBI, and almost as many walks.

It is mainly his lack of his trademark singles, that liner into right field or the hard ground ball which gets through the infield. Those extra hits have wreaked havoc with Jeter’s OBP and SLG. Yes, singles hurt slugging percentages. 

Jeter is second among active players with 2,139 singles, and has been first of second in the AL insingles eight times in his 15 full seasons.

I have seen the articles and heard the talking heads discussing Jeter’s demise, how is on the downside and how the Yankees can not give him a long-term deal and big money after a “terrible” season like this*.

*No matter what Jeter’s season ends up as, and he could still have a great September and postseason, I give Jeter what ever he wants money wise. As I wrote earlier this year, I give Jeter a 10 year deal for $180-$200 million.

As I have said many times, Jeter is a prideful guy and would want Jeter-type money, even if he is continues to hit like he has so far this season. But, Jeter is also like DiMaggio, in that he will leave this game on top and not with his skills clearly eroding for everyone to see, even if millions of dollars are still on the table. 

Guys like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays suffered at the end of their careers. Mantle stuck around for a  year too long trying to help the Yankees fill seats at the Stadium. Mickey stayed on a year plus after he hit his 500th HR and eventually saw his career average fall below .300. Letting that average fall below that magic .300 number was always one of Mantle’s big regrets after his career ended.

Mays was a shell of himself when he played in New York for the Mets. Yes, he did play in one more World Series, but the last thoughts of many baseball fans was Mays floundering around in that 1973 Series, showing his true age. For all intents and purposes, Willie’s last season should have been 1971. Lucky for him his career average stayed above .300 after his final seasons.

Jeter will leave the game well before he is toast. It could be two years or could be five years, but either way he will not stay around just for the money. And playing baseball for a living is not like other occupations.  People in most other occupations do not have their skills erode to the detriment of millions of fans.

If YOU were guaranteed a 10-year deal with your company, you would definitely stay on the job because you DO need the money and have no pride to stay around if you couldn’t do the work anymore. You would be George Costanza staying on at the playground ball company Play Now

Jeter is not like that, he does not need the money and will not stay around just to collect a check.

And when Jeter does leave the game, the Yankees will not be liable for the balance of his contract. (Although I believe the Yankees will have Jeter on a personal services deal immediately after he retires) It is the only time a MLB players contract is NOT guaranteed. Salomon Torres retired two years ago from the Milwaukee Brewers and left $3.75 million on the table.

What I haven’t seen or heard (especially from sabermetric guys) is how Jeter might be UNLUCKY this season. You know that thing saber guys use when they can’t explain why things happen on the field of play?

Why isn’t Jeter just plain unlucky? I showed above how all his other stats (besides HRs) are the same.

You see, Jeter’s BABIP has always been over .300 and last year it was an incredible .368, but this season it is only .298, below the norm of .300 and well below last season. His career BABIP is .356!

That means he is unlucky compared to last year and pretty much his entire career. So this year it will “even out,” to what Jeter’s norm is, right? LOL.

So why I haven’t read or heard about how Jeter is unlucky? Is it because since Jeter’s BABIP this season is around the norm, this is what Jeter really is, a .265ish type hitter with little power? In fact, the Jeter detractors would probably argue that Jeter might considered extremely lucky for his career!

Yeah, most guys who have 15 plus year Hall of Fame careers are always lucky when their BABIP’s are higher than .300, the major league average on balls in play. But it is only an average and many guys do have higher BABIP’s and some have lower ones.

But what I have seen that for the most part, guys who are really good hitters usually have higher BABIP’s. They have better approaches and hit the ball harder more often.

 Sure, hard hit balls are sometimes right at fielders and little bloop hits fall in and “find grass.”

But good hitters do not get themselves out on the hard inside pitch by getting jammed all the time, they don’t swing at too many pitches outside the zone on the inner half and don’t flail-swing at many bad pitches on the outside part of the zone trying to compensate for a slower bat.

Three things Jeter is doing this season, more often than he has before.

Good hitters, however, adjust their swings according to how they are performing and how they are being pitched, but Jeter does NOT do that and it is causing him problems.

I have seen him all season. He still hits the same way he has his entire career, and has not changed a thing**. He leans over the plate too much with his upper body. He is out on his front foot much more this season, and when your bat slows down (and Jeter’s has), leaning over the plate and being out on your front foot is not a good combination.

**Unbelievably, Jeter even uses the exact same model bat, same length and weight, that he did his first year in the majors.

The swing is two distinct parts, working in tandem. First you step and then you swing. When I mean step, it could be an actual step, a toe tap or just an inward rotation of the front foot. When this happens, the hands move back to gain some separation. Then the hips turn, the hands bring the bat forward and through. 

The back side and front side are working together, but the bottom and top also need to work together. Think of your stance as a building with the waist as the midpoint, with the legs being the foundation and the upper body the steeple. The steeple needs to stay directly on top of the foundation for control and power.

Jeter is too much out of control when he swings as he brings his upper body forward and too far over the plate. That is causing all the weakly hit ground balls.

What you do not want to do is lean forward when you begin the swing process as this brings the hands forward with the upper body. A hitter can jam himself on inside pitches by doing this. When hitters “can’t catch up with the fastball,” bringing the hands forward with the upper body is one of the faults which contribute to that.

When pitchers are pounding you inside early in your career, your quick hands can guide the bat through the zone and you will get those extra hits to right field and up the middle. But when your hands and bat slow down, those extra hits become dribbling ground balls and weak pop ups.

When I played in my late 30’s – early 40’s, my bat became slower and I had to compensate for my slowness by being more of a location hitter and starting my swing early. Since these college pitchers (and catchers) were throwing me inside, I had to “cheat” by looking inside and committing earlier than normal.

In college and up into my mid 30’s, I was a gap-to-gap guy, but ended up more of a pull hitter later in my career.

While it will not happen this year, Jeter needs to change his hitting approach after this season.

Jeter needs to begin to alter his swing and keep his upper body back more. That will help him become a better hitter by using his legs more to get around on that inside pitch. Early in the count, Jeter might want to begin to become a “location hitter.” When he is looking for an inside pitch, Jeter usually gets around on it and makes better contact.

And Jeter will not be dropped in the batting order, either. Joe Girardi is NOT like Joe Torre. If Girardi did not drop Mark Teixeira in the lineup earlier this season, there is no way he drops Jeter. You play with the guys who have gotten you here (best record in baseball) and you let them play.

There have been stories that Jeter still wants to hit his way, and does not seek much guidance from Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long. Guys like Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano eat up all the info from Long, but Jeter goes about things on his own.

That will change.

Seeing the effect that Long has had on all the above guys, and with the recent quick results with Curtis Granderson, I bet Jeter works with Long over the off-season and comes back strong again next year.

Just like he got better two seasons ago with his defense by getting in better playing shape. Jeter’s pride to become better and not fall off will be too much not to seek Long’s help. Jeter has his pride, but is too smart to continue to let that get in the way of improving.

He will improve his game over the winter, the same way he has done it over the years. He is the perfect player, not doing much anything incorrectly.

He is so good at being a professional that the media took to having to rip him for not showing up to Bob Sheppard’s funeral. There was nothing else…until now with this late season hitting slump.

I believe it is that many people really want Jeter to fail, to have his skills erode so they can write him off. Jeter is the perfect player who has succeeded at most everything his entire life. He is a winner, a guy you can’t quantify via “advanced” statistical analysis.

Derek Jeter is a guy who has many big hits and great moments in his career, but according to his critics might have been nothing more than a singles hitter with limited range on defense.

Overrated they say. But overrated players do not help their organization win five World Series titles, get to two others and compile over 3,000 career hits over a 15 plus year HOF career.

As Yankee fans our BABIP has been high because we are “lucky” Jeter played in pinstripes all these years.

He will continue to do so in the future, for as many years as he wants.

Just let him play, finally adjust, and do his thing.


The New York Yankees: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Segment No. 5

June 28, 2010

This is the latest installment of the 2010 New York Yankee progress, honoring the epic Clint Eastwood movie of the same name.

MOVIE TRIVIA: Given that the Italian Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo literally translates to the English: The Good, the Ugly, the Bad, reversing the last two adjectives, advertisements for the original Italian release show Tuco (Eli Wallach – the Ugly) before Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef – the Bad) , and, when translated into English, erroneously label Angel Eyes as “The Ugly” and Tuco as “The Bad”.

Now I know why beat reporters who work on deadlines get very frustrated.

I had the following paragraph all ready during the 9th inning of last night’s Yankees – Dodgers clash.

“Since my last installment (No. 4), the Yankees have played 12 games, resulting in a 6-6 record. What is more important is that the Yankees still have themselves the No. 1 record in the major leagues at 46-29, a game up on the pesky Boston Red Sox.”

After the stunning comeback last night over the Dodgers, correct that to a 47-28 record and two game lead over the injury-depleted Red Sox.  

The Yankees have been 16-8 in June, with a split of their just completed, six game West coast Inter-league trip through Arizona and Los Angeles. During the last 12 games, the Yankees lost three in a row once (two to Philadelphia and the opening game versus the New York Mets).

All numbers are from the last 14 days, unless noted.

THE GOOD

CC Sabathia – with all the hub-bub over AJ Burnett’s disastrous June, have you noticed that the only pitcher the Yankees should have signed two season’s ago, is 5-0 in June? Sabathia became the third pitcher this season to win five straight starts while going seven plus innings in each?

The other two? See below.  

CC was 3-0, 1.57 ERA over the three starts the past two weeks. Simply dominant.

Phil Hughes – because of his innings limit skipped start out west, he only made one start over the last weeks. Phranchise made it his 10th win, going seven strong over the New York Mets, avenging his only loss to the Mets and Mike Pelfrey.

Robinson Cano – hit .298 BA/.365 OBP/.489 SLG/.855 OPS with two runs, which isn’t exactly Canoesque as we have been programmed to see. But he continues to come through with huge hits, culminating in last night’s extra-inning, game-winning home run off of left-handed reliever George Sherrill.

He also has a string of 60 errorless games. Interestingly, his throwing error was during Dallas Braden/Alex Rodriguez “don’t cross my mound” game.

Alex Rodriguez – starting to get the power stroke back with three home runs this past week. He slashed .256/.362/.564/.926 with the three HR’s and 11 RBI. All three home runs were huge, giving the Yankees the lead in this game and this one.

His home run last night got the Yankees on the board with his fifth inning two-run shot off of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

I am concerned with Alex’s hip/groin issue as it has made him much slower in lateral movement. It also has eliminated his ability to steal a base.

Brett Gardner – until getting hurt last night, Gardner was hitting .342/.419/.395/.813 while continuing to play great defense. He still leads the other New York left fielder, Jason Bay, in OPS this season (.821 vs. .791), while making considerably less money.

Colin Curtis – due to inter-league games in NL parks, he made his major league debut this past week. When Jorge Posada was catching, Curtis was the primary left-handed bat off the Yankee bench.

He had a few hits in six at bats, driving in four runs. His great at bat last night led to a RBI ground ball.

He has shown a good knowledge of the strike zone, takes great swings and can play better than average defense.

Read more about Curtis here in my 40 man roster advice from last season.

Good video of Curtis here on the biggest challenge of his life.

Good deal for Curtis, who is a very likable guy, cancer survivor and all.

He also played his college baseball at Arizona State. I remember in 2008, after the Trenton Thunder won the Eastern League title, I asked Curtis if that title was bigger than starring in the College World Series his junior season.

He smiled, took a few seconds, and said “the College World Series was awesome.”

In that Series, he faced Joba Chamberlain and former Yankee Zach Kroenke of Nebraska in Game 2, doubling off Kroenke in the 8th.

Chad Huffman – like Curtis, Huffman got his first major league hit within the last two weeks. He also had that big two-run single in Sunday night’s stirring comeback against the Dodgers.

And he hustles all the time.

Mariano Rivera – A great move by Joe Girardi in bringing in Mo into a tie game on the road again last night.

Two times in one road series, and two wins. I guess Girardi can learn from his mistakes when he did not use Rivera in that June 5th extra-inning road game at Toronto.

As I tweeted last night, Rivera is like an elite piece of real estate – location, location, location. When he hits the corners, he is unhittable.

David Robertson – he continues his really good pitching after a disastrous beginning to 2010.

In 5.2 innings over the last two weeks, he allowed a single cheap run. His overall ERA is now 5.04 (it was over 14 in early May!), but in June he has pitched to an ERA of 1.00.

People wanted to dump him to the minors in early May, but he is now the most consistent bullpen arm not named Rivera.

Yankees rookies – very interesting, but four Yankee young players have gotten their first major league hit this season; both Curtis and Huffman, plus Greg Golson and Kevin Russo. And Ivan Nova and Romulo Sanchez pitched well earlier when the bullpen needed a few new arms.

Sure, the team’s payroll is around $200 million, but the organization is doing a much better job at bringing up their young players and letting them play.

Joba, Phranchise, Gardner, Francisco Cervelli, David Robertson, and even when they started this new trend by bringing up Cano and Chien-Ming Wang in 2005.

THE BAD

Mark Teixeira – I am sorry, but Teixeira needs to change his approach from the left side to stop being a complete pull hitter.

But from what I hear, Teixeira is not a willing participant in the adjustment game, and thinks “he will come out of it on his own.”

He won’t by continuing to try and pull every pitch when he hits left handed.  

With pitchers getting better, Teix getting older and the usual big shift, Mark’s split against RHP is a terrible .228/.333/.386/.719.

I do not see him improving unless he makes some changes.

Jorge Posada – he is beginning to look old, with a slower bat. But it might just be him getting back into the groove of playing every day.

Posada will get more consistent at bats as the Yankees are finished with the National League parks and Jorge can DH a few days a week.

Last night’s 9th inning ten-pitch at bat against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton was the Posada we know.

If he hits the way he can, the lineup can withstand the continued year-long slump from Teixeira.

Joe Girardi – even though I am a big fan of his Mariano Rivera move, Girardi still tries to show everyone that he is a National League manager. Too many double switches by pulling Swisher out of games, and leaving his bench very vulnerable.

But the NL park games are over.

He was gong to pinch hit Ramiro Pena at Arizona in the Mariano game. I would rather see CC Sabathia pinch hit then Pena, especially after using both catchers. Pena is the emergency backup.

Then with first and third, with one out in LA, and Gardner on first base, Girardi elects to have AJ Burnett bunt over the runner to second.

Why not have Gardner steal second instead? If he gets thrown out, and AJ makes an out (very likely), then Derek Jeter leads off next inning.

I am a big fan of the bunting game, but with one out, giving away an out when AJ isn’t moving over two runners is a big mistake.

THE UGLY

Derek Jeter – whew! That three strikeout performance Saturday night was brutal. His slash line over the 12 games is worse – .244/.358/.289/.647 with ZERO extra base hits and no RBI.

Chan Ho Park – a .400/.444/.680/1.124 slash line is great if you are a hitter, but just brutal if you throw the ball for a living. Many have pointed out that it is usually his second inning which causes lots of damage, but some of his single inning appearances aren’t great either.

I do not believe it is Park’s durability which is an issue, as he was a starter and has several successful multi-innings appearances this season, including April 7th at Boston and June 5th at Toronto.

But after a really good 2009 season, maybe Park isn’t that good this season. This is typical of many relief pitchers.

But if the Yankees only pitch Park for a single inning, then he needs to go. Other pitchers can go the one inning route, but an effective bullpen needs lots of guys who can go multi-innings.

When Alfredo Aceves comes back, Chad Gaudin is gone, but Park is not far behind. The Yankees have lots of patience with ineffective relievers (see Damaso Marte last year), but if Sergie Mitre comes back, too, Park could be gone.

AJ Burnett – it is not Dave Eiland’s month off, lack of in your face, walk-off cream pies, or Jorge Posada catching him.

It is AJ Burnett. He is not that good.

I was against him coming here in the first place, and have never wavered off my thoughts. I still believe he will eventually be on the disabled list.

He can not throw strikes to specific spots, thus leaving the ball out over the plate, where it gets roped all over the park. Except for his really good 2008 season, Burnett is basically a .500 career pitcher. There is a reason for that.

He is not that good. When you can not command your pitches, you will never pitch well. And it does not appear he concentrates on every hitter in every situation.

Never a good combination.

ANSWER: The other two pitchers in 2010 besides Sabathia with five straight starts, five straight wins and each win going seven or more innings is Ubaldo Jimenez and Nick Blackburn.

Jimenez was the easy choice, but Blackburn was tough. He has had a terrible April and June, but sandwiched them around an amazingly dominating May.

I guess he is destined for a really good July?


New York Yankees: Joe Girardi Makes Excellent Move with Mariano Rivera

June 24, 2010

It wasn’t a classic to begin the evening, with lots of walks and terrible clutch hitting, but last night’s New York Yankees-Arizona Diamondbacks matchup ended up being a really good baseball game.

It had everything in the latter innings: great defensive plays, big hits (although not enough), and some stellar clutch pitching by the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, Mariano Rivera.

With the Boston Red Sox blowing a lead in Colorado and Tampa Bay’s starting pitching continuing to crumble, the Yankees had an opportunity to pick up another full game on both their closest division rivals.

At this point, they were playing with house money.

A nice eighth inning rally scored the tying run on Alex Rodriguez’ sacrifice fly. And it all happened without the benefit hit, the Yankees’ second such inning of the game.

Simultaneously, the game was utopia and a virtual disaster for the sabermetric crowd. The Yankees “didn’t make outs” on 23 of their 47 plate appearances, generating 13 walks and ten hits plus A-rod’s sac fly.

But while their on-base percentage was about .500 for the evening, they were terrible in getting hits with runners in scoring position. Robinson Cano, their best hitter this year, had multiple opportunities to drive in runs, but he could not do the job. They hit into five double plays. It happens.

But it shows the RBI stat can be a big deal and is very important.

Joe Girardi saw an opportunity to steal a game in the standings and went for it. Again, he was playing with house money. What helped was that the Yankees have an off-day on Thursday, and Rivera would have an extra day to rest.

The manager brought Rivera into a tie game, something he rarely does. Not bringing in Rivera in a tie game earlier this season at Toronto cost the Yankees a chance at winning another contest.

(Isn’t the image above this piece priceless? It is from last night’s game, and it shows Girardi leaving the mound basically saying, “I’ve done my job, no need to say anything else. You do your job and go get ’em, Mo.”)

Instead of Rivera in the 14th inning of that game, Girardi used Chad Gaudin (who stinks) and the waiver wire pick-up only needed nine pitches to lose that game.

But Girardi used his biggest bullpen chip at Arizona, and Rivera used his Houdini escape tricks to help seal another Yankee win.

And now they have a 2.5-game lead on both Boston and Tampa Bay.

OTHER THOUGHTS ON LAST NIGHT’S GAME

While Girardi did make a good move by having Rivera in the tie game, he did (and almost did) make some head-scratchers.

1) Why did Girardi pinch-run for Nick Swisher in the ninth inning? Is Kevin Russo that much of a burner that he is significantly faster than the Yankee right fielder? And why put in Chad Huffman to play right field, essentially burning three guys on one play?

Girardi might have been better off sticking with Swisher (since he was not the tying run) and keeping the extra position players. Remember that the Yankees had already used Colin Curtis (a great kid by the way) earlier to hit for Javier Vazquez.

The game might have gone into further innings, but…. 

2) The Yankees didn’t seem like they wanted more extra innings. That is the reason they went for broke and brought the infield in with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the 10th.

The normal move would be to play the infield back for the double play, give up the tying run and then try and get out of the inning with the next batter.

By using almost his entire bullpen during Monday and Tuesday night’s games and burning Damaso Marte, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and now Mo in the current game, Girardi likely wanted to win the game there in the 10th or lose it there in the 10th.  

He did not want an 11th inning.

 

 3) I would have blown a gasket if Girardi brought in Boone Logan (who was warming up) in for Rivera in the last of the 10th inning. You don’t need to pinch-hit for Mo in that spot already up a run.

I would rather go into the bottom of the 10th with a one-run lead and Rivera on the mound than try to extend the lead with a pinch-hitter and put Logan on the mound.

4) But if you are going to use a pinch-hitter, why use Ramiro Pena? He is your last position player, and you have no one else to back up Francisco Cervelli in case he gets hurt.

Remember that Girardi had used Jorge Posada to pinch-hit in the eighth inning.

That is why burning up all your players for unnecessary pinch-running stunts causes you to lose your bench quickly.

And that is why I always like to have only 11 pitchers at the most and more position players, especially when playing in National League parks.

But if you are going to use a pinch hitter for Rivera (now batting in the No. 2 spot), why not use C.C. Sabathia?

He loves hitting, is pretty good at it, and you don’t use your last bench player IN CASE the game goes longer than the 10th inning.

Sabathia is actually a better hitter than Ramiro Pena, anyway.

But as I said earlier, Girardi was playing with house money, as Boston and Tampa already lost, and he was going to win the game in the 10th or lose it there.

He did win it by making his best move of the night (and maybe the season) by bringing in Mariano Rivera to pitch the bottom of the ninth inning in a tie game.


The New York Yankees: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Segment No. 4

June 15, 2010

This is the latest installment of the 2010 New York Yankee progress, honoring the epic Clint Eastwood movie of the same name. According to the astute readers of imdb.com, the Baseball-Reference of the movie and T.V. industry, “Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ” is ranked as the No. 4 movie of all time .

What is more important is that the Yankees have vaulted themselves into the No. 1 record in the major leagues. With Sunday’s 9-5 win over the Houston Astros, combined with Tampa Bay’s 6-1 loss to the Florida Marlins, the Yankees and Rays are tied atop of the AL East with identical 40-23 records , the best record in MLB.

The Yankees have been 9-3 in June, fattening up on the Baltimore Orioles (5-1) and the Houston Astros (recent three game sweep), while losing two of three to the pitching-rich Toronto Blue Jays.

All numbers are from the last 14 days, unless noted.

Il Buono

No. 1 Robinson Cano —has slashed .395 BA/.469 OBP/.605 SLG/1.074 OPS, with three doubles, two homers, seven RBI and 13 runs scored. Even more impressive are his numbers over the last month at .443/.476/.660/1.136.

During one stretch of his recent 17 game hitting streak, Cano had multiple hits in eight straight (19-33, 3 2B, 3 HR, 14 RBI).

Simply ridiculous, and at the top of the leaderboards for American League MVP.

No. 2 Brett Gardner —How can you not love Brett the Jet?  After a mini-slump which brought his numbers down considerably, Gardner began to hit again (and walk), by slashing .455/.552/.773/1.324 over the last week. Included were a double, triple, and his third home run.

Until Sunday, that homer tied him for the New York city left field lead with the New York Mets Jason Bay, he of the $66 million contract. Bay hit his fourth home run Sunday, but Gardner still leads the very wealthy Bay in OPS (.822 vs. .806).

No. 3 Derek Jeter —Do you really think he was going to stay on the bad list forever? After going through a long funk at the plate and in the field, which prompted the annual “Is Derek Jeter Done?” articles, Jeter has ripped a .333/.391/.514/.906 line over the last month.

While many do not like it when Jeter goes after the first pitch, he is hitting .404 with a .908 OPS when hacking at the first offering. The key is swinging at good strikes.

No. 4 Curtis Granderson —While Granderson’s overall numbers since returning from the disabled list are not great, the team has picked up its pace since Curtis returned to the lineup and his position in center.

That is because we saw less of Randy Winn (before being released), Marcus Thames and rookie Kevin Russo.

The Yankees are 12-4 since his return, but were only 7-11 in the last 18 games he was out of the lineup.

I would still like Granderson to sit back more when he swings, as he is often out in front on the right leg during swings and misses.

No. 5 Nick Swisher —He is turning in to one of my favorite Yankee players. I was not a fan of the trade which brought him here, but he has done very well, and has been instrumental in the lengthening of the 2009 and 2010 lineups. Has hit a very consistent .308/.402/.495/896 with 19 runs, eight doubles, three homers and 16 RBI over last month.

No. 6 CC Sabathia —What? He is struggling, right? Well, he is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in his two June starts. A 6-3 record thus far should be 8-3, but CC lost a win at Boston because of a rain delay and another when Joe Girardi pulled CC early against the Sawx and the bullpen blew the game.

This is a durable pitcher who should be allowed to throw 125-135 pitches each start.

No. 7 Andy Pettitte —Happy Birthday to Pettitte, who turns 38 today. Imagine on Thursday when Pettitte faces Jamie Moyer, who is seven years older than Andy?

Age is no factor for Pettitte, who is still dominating lineups by changing speeds and hitting corners. Again, why do scouts always worry about velocity and arm strength when a guy who does not top 90 MPH can consistently get guys out?

No. 8 Yankee bullpen —Over the last two weeks, the main part of the bullpen, Mariano Rivera, Joba, D-Rob, Chan Ho Park and Damaso Marte have been outstanding. They have thrown 21 innings, allowing 12 hits, five walks, and struck out 23. That is a WHIP of .809 and the one earned run allowed leads to a miniscule 0.43 ERA.

No. 9 Javier Vazquez —He is 4-1, 3.03 ERA over the last month with a 0.918 WHIP. While he has allowed five home runs, Javy has only walked five over his last 33 innings. He has been the most consistent starter this side of Pettitte.

He is similar to Andy by changing speeds and hitting that outside corner to RH hitters with his curve ball being the key to his success.

Il brutto

No. 1 Francisco Cervelli— Wow! He has come back down to earth faster than the Space Shuttle. Over the last month, the Cisco Kid has hit under .200 with an OPS of .522. He still dos come through with key RBI singles.

His 13 hits (all singles) over the last month have produced 12 RBI. He is still a force on defense and calls a great game.

I love the way he watches the batter before he puts down the sign. Concentrate on Cervelli during a couple at bats tonight and you will see what I mean.

No. 2 Alex Rodriguez —it has nothing to do with his lack of power, because he is still hitting the ball hard. But his injury could be more severe than a few missing days. Any long term time missed could hurt the Yankees lineup at a time when it was finally complete. (I do not count Nick Johnson).

No. 3 Jorge Posada —Two swings doesn’t make a season. Posada was brutal before his two grand slam weekend, but he also swung the bat better in other at bats during the Houston Series.

Posada gets into a taking pitches groove once in a while, taking good hitting strikes. This leads to indecisiveness and too much thinking at the plate.

When Posada is aggressive and still taking his walks by not swinging at balls outside the zone, he is a much better hitter.

Stay aggressive and hit good pitches, Jorge!  

Il cattivo

No. 1 AJ Burnett —An 0-2 record with 7.11 ERA in June with four home runs allowed in two games. Combine that with five walks and 14 hits in 12.2 innings pitched, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Bad AJ go home, but tell your twin brother, good AJ, to come back out and play.

No. 2 Marcus Thames —basically it is the entire bench which stinks, but since I think Thames never should have made the team in the first place, he is my poster boy.

Thames is 2 for his last 22 with eight strikes out and an OPS of .322. By the time his injury heals, I hope Chad Huffman (or Jorge Vazquez from Triple A) takes his roster spot – for good.

Combine Thames with Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo and Chad Moeller, and the bench is 14 for 81 with four doubles and six RBI over the last month.

That is why Alex needs to be back in the lineup soon.

No. 3 Chad Gaudin —There is no conceivable reason why Gaudin actually pitches in games or is on the roster. He stinks!

Having been released twice already this season, once by the Yankees should only reiterate how bad this guy is.

There is no reason why Gaudin should have been in the June 5th game in the bottom of the 13th in a tie game at Toronto. It only took nine pitches before the Yankees were walking off the field.

That 13th inning rundown: Batter One – leadoff walk on FOUR pitches. Batter two – sac bunt on second pitch. Batter three – game winning single on an 0-2 count!

No way the Yankees should lose on the road to a division rival without using your best relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera.

Get rid of this loser, Gaudin, and bring up Mark Melancon for good.


If Alex Rodriguez Is Out For An Extended Time, Who Will Play Third Base?

June 12, 2010

Alex Rodriguez came out of Thursday night’s game with a sore groin. He is not in Friday’s lineup either.

He was to meet with New York Yankee doctor Dr. Christopher Ahmad Friday, and will like to see his hip specialist, Dr. Marc Philippon.

First, I do not believe that Alex’ groin is going to be a big issue. He said there was discomfort, but no pain.

But, what if Alex’ tight groin is related to his hip injury? How will an extended period of time on the disabled list, not for the minimum of 15 days but say a month, affect the Yankees lineup?

For tonight, manager Joe Girardi is using Ramiro Pena at third base, further weakening an already light Yankee lineup. I say already light because Francisco Cervelli has not hit in the last week or so, and Jorge Posada has gone 3 for his last 27 (.111 BA/.294 OBP/.111 SLG) since coming back off the disabled list.

Who will play third base if Alex is out for an extended time? He was diagnosed with tendonitis of the hip flexor, and is probably out until Tuesday when the Yankees play the Philadelphia Phillies.

That will give Alex four days off the hip. But what if it is not enough?

Pena and Kevin Russo are the only guys on the 25 man roster capable of playing third base. That fact doesn’t send shivers down American League pitchers’ spines.

In Triple A Scranton, there is Matt Cusick, but he is not ready, mostly a filler type of player.

In Double A Trenton, the minor league RBI leader, Brandon Laird, is hitting for average and power. He has 56 RBI on the season.

I was at last night’s Thunder game and Laird had a couple more hits.

But according to Trenton Thunder manager Tony Franklin, he has been instructed to play Jorge Vazquez more at third base. This move from above indicates that Vazquez, a 28-year-old Mexican League veteran of nine seasons, might be primed for a promotion to Triple A Scranton.

After all, Vazquez is hitting .432 BA/.447 OBP/.541 SLG since returning from a stint on the disabled list from an appendectomy. He hit .329/.357/.578 last season, his first year playing in the United States. The former four-time Mexican League All-Star put up nearly similar numbers in his final season in Mexico.

Vazquez is obviously too good of a hitter for Double A and soon will be moved to Scranton.

Interestingly, Vazquez did not get a chance to finish the game last night against the Binghamton Mets as he was tossed from the game in the bottom of the 7th.

During a Mets pitching change, Mets pitching coach Mark Brewer thought Vazquez was too close to the plate during the pitchers warm ups, and began screaming at Vazquez. Manager Tony Franklin, coaching third base, tried to intervene, but Vazquez had begun to hear Brewer (tough as Jorge does not speak much English) and began to move towards the Mets bench.

Vazquez was restrained, but not before the home plate umpire (who had several members of both teams squawking at him all night), threw Vazquez out of the game.  Both benches and bullpens emptied, but nothing more ensued.

Franklin said Vazquez will be a third base tonight.

That also means Laird will likely stay the entire season at Trenton, a good move since Laird has made the normal progression of one level per season, and continuing to impress his way up the ladder.

Laird is a tremendous hitter, with good balance and an innate ability to stay inside the baseball.

He will be a good major league hitter, but not this season.

Jorge Vazquez will eventually be the New York Yankees right handed bat off the bench, and I hope at a minimum, be there to replace Marcus Thames, who is now showing he can not even hit left handed pitching anymore.

However, if things get a little troublesome for Alex Rodriguez, Vazquez could see some time at third base, too.