Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Paucity of Pitching…

Just as Christmas shoppers have a day, “Black Friday”, when all manner and sorts of sales go into effect, MLB and sports agents and players have their own version, which I call “Free Agent Day” when all manner and sorts of sales go into effect. Just like the real world, baseball has a variable date for the beginning day of the sale. Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving. Free Agent Day is 15 days after the final pitch of the World Series, although there is a super shopper deal in MLB which allows the free agent to sign only with his former team. By the way, is there a bigger oxymoron phrase that “free agent?” Even the worst of them gets the major league minimum salary, they are not free at all and the best of them make millions.

I am not expecting much from the Yankees in the big spending free agent market although they could surprise us. Other than signing CC Sabathia to an extension, I am only expecting Brian Cashman to pick up a few Bargain Basement Specials to fill out some bench and bullpen needs. What will be done with the starting pitching, remains a bit of a mystery right now and all the good little fans await the brightly wrapped gift which we will invariably rip open and then whine about – its not the right fit, I hate that style, he never threw more than 150 innings, he has only started a handful of games…you get the drift. Yankee fans are seldom happy with their gifts during the free agent season.

This post is all about starting pitching. The list of this year’s free agent gifts contains the usual garden variety of rag arms and the like. A review of the list tells us one thing – there really are no high class starters available. The best of the rest have 2 interesting names and a bunch of “has beens”. The biggest names are CJ Wilson and Vu Darvish from Japan. The “has beens” include Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir, Hiroki Kuroda and Rich Harden.

Wilson will benefit from the very thin market and get WAY more than his numbers would indicte he is worth. A former relief pitcher, he has been a starter for only 2 full years. On the plus side is the fact he is a lefty, and has less mileage on his arm. On the negative side, he has only 67 starts at 30 years of age and no one can predict if he is Cy Young candidate or potential Tommy John candidate. Someone will throw a lot of money at him. I figure the Yankees will go after him for a while despite what the news leaks have been saying. I don’t believe they will sign him though. If they did, he becomes the next candidate for the wrapped gift everyone whines about.

In Darvish, all I can say is that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. The trickle of Japanese starting pitchers has been a disappointing one. Daisuke Matsusaka, Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa , Tomo Ohka, Kazuhisa Ishii have all basically failed in MLB even if they had some preliminary success. They are overworked and abused as starters in Japan, use a smaller ball which lends itself to control and pitch count problems and face mostly non MLB talent level batters which artificially inflates their numbers. Again I expect the Yankees to kick the tires on Darvish, maybe even put in a bid to acquire the rights to sign him but I prefer they leave him alone.

As for the "has beens", the only one who seems viable to me is Jackson but the whole group is covered in question marks related to age, injury, ineffectiveness and eroded skills. Again it seems like a pass is in order.

So, what to do if you’re the NY Yankees and need some starting pitchers? Unless you think Joba Chamberlain will be the second coming of Cy Young, the Yankees need some help here. I think you have to look to the trade market. Lets face it, most people (my friend JHop especially) love Nick Swisher, but the reality is that despite the clubhouse presence and infectious nature he brings, his numbers, in the post season, a Yankee hangout, have been atrocious at best. Check the numbers and then think about the callibre of starter they could bring. Suddenly too, the Yankees are deep in catchers including behind Russell Martin, names like Jesus Montero, Frankie Cervelli, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez. I am NOT in favor of trading Montero but if the right deal comes up??? Say, for a good pitcher, maybe a #2 starter? Might be worth it.

So, that is it. I don’t expect any major Christmas presents. I’m sure there will be some, with maybe a pretty bow or nice wrapping paper, but it is what is inside the box that counts. Perhaps Santa Cashman will leave a couple of beauties under the tree for 2012 but I'm just hoping there is no coal...

Friday, October 14, 2011

My Questions Continue…

“Why would you? How could I?
These questions lead to goodbye
But now I got my freedom
Don't I?”

Maroon 5 – Losing My Mind

As I said in my last post HERE, the Hot Stove has begun for 2012 and I have a bunch of questions that need to be answered sometime before “pitchers and catchers report“ (perhaps the sweetest 4 word combination in the English language). What follows, in no particular order of importance (because they are ALL important,) is a list of questions for next year and a few thoughts of my own for possible answers.

#6 What to do with the aging left side of the infield?
Yes, I know, it is blasphemous to mention Jeter and ARod in the same sentence but the problem here is intertwined. Let’s face it, these guys are getting old and just because Mariano Rivera can still be doing it at 42 years of age does not mean they can or will and the time to plan for this is NOW. “Plan” here means SHORT TERM. We can worry about replacements later. First off, we have to keep them healthy which means Jeter DOES NOT play everyday. He needs breaks, both half days (DH) and full (bench cheerleader). And Joe, don’t let him convince you of anything else. ARod too, lots of rest days. Nunez (or as someone tweeted once, Nun-e-6) has the bat to be a capable fill in most of the time. But as a fielder, his best attribute may be his bat. It looks like Chavez will retire, so signing a player who can give one of the “ancients” a day or two off is essential.

#7 Do we need to brace ourselves for the decline of Teixeira?
Let’s face it, 3 years in Pinstripes, 3 year downward trend in BA and OBP. Sure he still got 30+ HR and 100+ RBI but his BA was in a JasonGiambiesque declining rapidly, slide, .248. Maybe I am being too harsh but when you combine this with the post season failures (28 games with NYY, 106 AB, 18 H, 3 HR, 12 RBI, .169 BA) and it makes one wonder how we will view his contract 10 years from now. My favorite line tweeted about him during this years playoffs was about a new nickname for him, Mr. Softee, the ice cream truck in NYC – scarce in April, all over the place during the summer and disappears in October. Yes, we have him for a while but he needs to step it up in the post season. Dave Winfield, Mr. May, says hello…

#8 Speaking of the postseason, what happens to Nick Swisher?
Our Swishalicious right fielder seems to do a reverse superman impression every year. You know, flying around the field from April to September and then going into a phone booth, putting on glasses and becoming the mild mannered (and underperforming) Clark Kent. Again the post season numbers speak volumes… 28 games, 100 AB, 16 H, 4 HR, 5RBI, .160 BA. Seems familiar doesn’t it? A mirror of Mr. Softee. Not what you want to see from a middle of the order guy+-. When ARod out hits you in the post season, you have got to be worried. I am sure, NY will pick up the option on his contract but there MUST NOT BE any extention or new contract until he proves he can hit in the playoffs. Could he be TOO hyper at that time of the year?

#9 Can Curtis Granderson do it again?
I have always like CG and was thrilled when the club traded for him. I was totally thrilled with his year this year but there is always some doubt about the future – can he do it again? I don’t think he has to have an MVP career year each year, just good solid, performance. If some of the other guys (ARod, Swish and Tiex raise your hands…) contribute just a bit more in the post season, the club is playing Texas right now for the AL Championship. Curtis did his job.

#10 Who will catch most of the pitches next year?
It may be easier to figure out who it won’t be, and that’s Posada or Montero or Cervelli, or even Romine. What else do we know, well the Yankees have to retain Russell Martin. My B-I-L, Manhattan Man, speculated HERE (check out the comments section…) that he might be the MVP of the team and he probably was close, only surpassed by Granderson’s great year and Martins lower batting average. But then again, this was the first time in a long time that they had a good fielder at the backstop, instead of just a good hitter. I actually think Martin will improve next year, as he gets to know the league’s pitchers better and is more comfortable here. It doesn’t hurt that this will be a big contract year for him as after next year he will be eligible to be a free agent.

So folks, this is what we got. If the Yankees can successfully negotiate these ten questions, I feel optimistic about next season. If the questions linger into the start of the season, or worse yet, are not addressed at all, then the Red Sox may not be the only team in full rebuilding mode. That would suck too, having the Sox be in a terrible downward spiral and not being able to enjoy it much because of our own issues. I trust Cashman. I trust Cashman. I trust Cashman…..

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Top Ten Questions as we move forward…

Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I think I'm entitled to them.
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessep: You can't handle the truth...
“A Few Good Men” written by Aaron Sorkin, spoken by Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson

The Yankees were eliminated from the 2011 postseason sometime around midnight last Thursday evening. In this post I wrote about my feelings on their failure to advance. Now, all the press conferences are over, players have returned home with thoughts of an extended vacation dancing in their heads, reporters have moved on to more important stories such as “Will the Jets totally collapse?” or “Will the NBA play at all this season?”, and Yankee brass have begun to plan for next year. The postmortem is finished for 2011, the Hot Stove has begun for 2012, and I have a bunch of questions that need to be answered sometime before “pitchers and catchers report“ (perhaps the sweetest 4 word combination in the English language). What follows, in no particular order of importance (because they are ALL important,) is a list of questions for next year and a few thoughts of my own for possible answers.

#1 – What happens to CC Sabathia?
He has that pesky opt out clause, the one that ARod pioneered with the Yankees just a few years ago. With 5 years left on his contract, CC will be looking for more years and more money. My opinion is that the Yankees should play hardball on this but will not. Why alienate the Big Guy right? I don’t believe there is any team out there that would do more than match what the Yankees already have in place in the contract 4 years and $92 million ($23 million a year) whereas I think he will want it extended to 7 years and $175 million and no one, NO ONE has that kind of money in MLB to throw around. My guess is some sort of year/salary compromise like 5-6 years at $24 million a year. Then again I thought the Yankees were going to play hardball with ARod but ownership stepped in and gave him more than he wanted and now he will be a Yankee until he begins to collect Social Security while still DHing against left handed pitchers…

#2 – Who will be in the starting rotation next season?
Well with CC and Nova, you have #1 and #2. The question then breaks down to several parts including “What about AJ?”, “What about Phil Hughes?”, “What about Garcia and Colon?”, and “Who will be the new additions?”. Obviously the Yankees owe AJ a lot of money still and overall his season was very disappointing BUT if you are content to view him as a #4 or #5 starter and take some solace in the fact that after working with the PC Wizard, Larry Rothschild, AJ did considerably better in September than in the previous 3 months AND threw a gem in his only post season start in 2011, you have something to hang hope on. Phil Hughes was thought to be a top of the rotation guy but a stop in the bullpen a couple of years ago and an injury plagued 2011 season AND his failure to fully develop another pitch which affected his ability “put batters away” when they have two strikes, does not bode well for the kid. I know my friends JHop and Maqz and my BIL Manhattan Man will gasp when they read this but I say put him in the pen and let him throw 1 inning in pressure situations. As for Garcia and Colon, they seemed to walk a tightrope of success all season long but I think Garcia maintained his balance while Colon wore down and tumbled. I think you have Garcia come back as the #5 starter and hope to catch old man lightening in a bottle one more time.

#3 “Who will be the new additions to the starting staff?”
This breaks out to 3 areas – free agents, major trades, and members of the Yankee Kiddie Korp. The only viable free agents would seem to be CJ Wilson who wants AJ type money and contract and Japanese youngster Yu Darvish (which may be one of the great baseball names of all times). I like Wilson because he is a great left handed contrast to CC and Nova and AJ, but not at AJ money (5 years/$80+ million). With the thin market though, that is what it might take to sign him. As for Yu, the success rate for Japanese pitchers is so high (/sarcasm) he probably will be worth millions like Matsuzaka and Irabu and Igawa were (/even more sarcasm). OK, I’ll give you Nomo but that’s it. Poor history makes this one a gamble, a big gamble. The Yankees do not need another minor league superstar. As for major trades, the one constant seems to be King Felix but Seattle will want everything plus Cashman’s first born child so I don’t think that is happening. The list of Yankee Kiddie Korps includes the Three Killer B’s, (Banuelos, Brackman and Betances) and Hector Noesi. One of them could be the next Ivan Nova and the best bet for this would be Noesi right now, although on potential Banuelos and Betances are way above him, just younger, much younger.

#4 “What happens to the bullpen?”
Here I think the top 3 – Rivera, Robertson and Soriano stay the same. Guys like Wade and Ayala will be there based on their performance in the spring as they both did well out of the pen this year. The Yankees could bring in a bunch of inexpensive journeymen to fill it out. I mentioned in Question #2 that Hughes should be out there too (/gasp) and he would round out the pen nicely. One other bullpen issue (and I hardly dare to mention it) is the impending retirement of Rivera, maybe the best player we have had the privilege to see. It might not be after next year but then again it might so NOW is the time to start to see who will move into that role – Robertson? Soriano? Hughes??? This one will have all of Yankee fandom on the edge of their seats.

#5 “What do we do with a guy named Posada?”
NY has some trouble at times letting go of its legends and at other times helps them pack their bags and give them a ride to the airport. This is one that will once again test the limits of our fandom. Up until the beginning of September I was riding Posada out of town on a rocket sled. No place for him, deteriorating skills, attitude issues. Then something sort of magical happened. He got a clutch hit or seven and rode that and the fans increasing support right into the playoffs and back into the 2012 pitcher. I must admit that while tweeting during games with some friends JHop and Maqz and CollegeBoy all echoed at one time or another his locker room presence and clubhouse kleadership. My BIL even put in it an email to me. So who am I to argue with this notion? Heck, its my blog, my thoughts and my reality so I stand by my conviction. Next year, NO Posada on the roster. However in a nod to the karma of the whole “Core Four” legend I would love to have the Yankees sign him for one more year and during Spring Training, have him announce his retirement. He could be retained as a special advisor, coach, clubhouse guru, whatever. Just give NY a chance to say goodbye and good luck – maybe a “Hip Hip Jorge! Day” at the Stadium in April or May, complete with boat, watch, plaque, lifetime season tickets and a donation to his charity. Winners, one and all.

Next post = five more questions and answers…

Friday, October 7, 2011

It ended, not with a bang, but with a whimper…

It has taken some 15 hours since the Yankee 2011 season ended for me to be able to talk about this season and playoff run with thoughtful commentary as opposed to just being a string of curses and swears. To say I am disappointed would be like saying General Custer was a bit undermanned at Little Big Horn. However, it is time to step back and take a hard, soulful look at what it was and what it could have been. This team was not without warts, but I still expected it to go to the Ball. So, here is my take on this year’s failing to advance again…

Overall this postseason the Yankees had only 4 batters hit over .300 and one was Montero with 2 hits in two at bats. Posada, Gardner and Cano all came up big with 20 hits, 7 walks and 14 RBIs in the 5 game series. So, they were on base often enough. But the heart of the order – Teixera, ARod and Swisher totaled 9 hits, 3 for extra bases, and 5 RBIs in those same games. No wonder they lost 3 games by a total of 4 runs. One radio caller today said that Teixera’s new nickname should be Mr. Softee as he is not around in the cold spring weather, is all over the warm summer months and quietly disappears in the fall, just like the ice cream truck. Add to this a pretty ineffective Russell Martin at bat, and you see a very disturbing trend. Now, I understand that you have to go with the horses who got you there but I really think that Girardi could have managed to get the bench more than 4 at bats during the 5 game series. Maybe loyalty is nice trait but when you are trying to win a ballgame, perhaps a change or two was needed.

In the field, they were solid overall, with no real complaints from this end. Granderson made 2 spectacular catches in Game 4 and as a team, they committed only one error in the five games. Not a reason to hang a disappointing playoff end that.

This brings us to pitching. There certainly was some effect by the weather but in rating overall, they come up short. CC Sabathia had a poor (for him) start in the suspended game one and lost game three, also pitching way below expectation. Both Ivan Nova and AJ Burnett came up big in their starts even if Nova had to leave game 5 after 2 innings with some forearm tenderness. Someone mentioned that forearm tenderness is often followed by the words “Tommy John surgery” but it is way, way too early to speculate about something like that. Garcia took the loss in Game 2, giving up 3 earned in 5+ innings, not as good as we might have hoped but a winnable situation. Certainly, the bullpen deserves some praise as they allowed few runs, although one, the homerun off Soriano, cost them dearly. If I told you the pen would give up 2 earned runs in 15+ innings, you would have signed up for that in an instant. Again, this just points back at the fumbling offense as the root cause.

Finally, overall, Joe Girardi did a fairly good job in the post season in the general handling of the club. Sure, there were some curious decisions that were later explained by injury issues but his biggest failing was the sense of total loyalty he had, especially in light of the repeated failures. He stuck with CC too long in Game three and the additional runs scored off him, pushed them to a loss. He stuck with the big 3 – Tex, ARod and Swish along with Martin when he had some capable bats on the bench. In game 5 they had the bases loaded with less than two outs twice and scored a total of one run. The significance of this is amplified by the fact that they lost the game by one run. Martin, who I love dearly, was clearly struggling at the plate and Girardi could have pinch hit Montero or Jones or Chavez in the 7th to get a run in. He didn’t and they didn’t.

So, we go into the off season with a sense of disappointment. Not the disappointing feeling of Red Sox Nation whose team collapsed out of the playoffs before they even began, but disappointment anyway. The front office and Girardi will need to address several issues this winter including dealing with the Posada, the Sabathia opt out possibility, the aging of players like ARod and Jeter and starting pitching overall. I expect there to be a number of changes and new faces on the club next year, including more playing time for the Baby Yankees like Montero and some of the minor league pitcher promotions. Lets just hope they put together a better run in 2012.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
- The opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities or MY thoughts after watching the first two games of the 2011 NY Yankee Playoffs with friends.

October has always been my favorite time of the year. The leaves changing colors, the warm apple cider, the first blaze in the woodstove, maybe cooking up a nice pork loin or pot roast in the oven, playoff baseball and the beginning of football season. But all those “best of times” come with a dark side, a slice of some despair with a topping of melancholy. Colorful leaves means falling leaves and raking, the warmed cider and oven roasted goodness means extra dish scrubbing and cleaning, the woodstove means ashes and soot, the beginning of football season can see ones team buried and out of it in the first three weeks. For me, the baseball playoffs with the NY Yankees also means lots of hand wringing, worries, nerves and feelings of insecurity.
I get nervous watching “my” teams play. I hate when they lose, sure, but I also hate it when they don’t play well and yet continue to watch because of the fear that changing my routines will somehow cause them to play worse, lose a game or the most deadly of all, be out of the playoffs. During the Giant’s Super Bowl run and victory against the over confident New England Patriots, it meant nachos every game and when we missed one, the Giant’s lost. This is how I get to spend a good part of the fall, with the Yankees and Giants (NFL) and this is how I spent this past weekend, the first weekend in October with them and some good friends.

Over the years I really enjoyed sharing the baseball playoffs and football season with my son, and up until he went away to college, it was a usual evening and weekend bonding experience. We were there together through the last Yankee Championship, the Giants Super Bowl run and lots of other similar activities. The intensity was infectious as we eventually lured my daughter and wife into this sports bacchanal. Unfortunately this changed as both my son and daughter headed off to college and I missed it a great deal. A couple of years ago however, we discovered an alternative – LIVE TWEETING or LVE CHATTING each of the games. This is a blog about baseball, not technology but let’s just set the meaning of this as - we communicated with each other during the games over the internet, which enhanced the enjoyment. It made the nervousness a little more palatable, sharing it, and so going into this year’s baseball playoffs, we decided to invite some friends to join the CHAT with us. So beginning on Friday night, into the rain suspended abyss, through the Saturday baseball game and Sunday baseball and football contests we were “LIVE CHATTING THE GAMES”.

Did it help? Absolutely not. I continued to be nervous and crazed at times, peering through my fingers at the screen when tensions ran high. I found out that my friends were as nervous and crazed as I was and instead of getting comfort in that, I simply allowed it to ratchet up my own insecurities. Conversational flow tended to mitigate the nerves but the collective angst was palpable throughout the entire sports watching weekend.

Did I learn anything? Absolutely yes! I learned several new and creative ways to curse and swear on the internet, and enjoyed each and every one of them. I learned that others too suffer this affliction with me and sharing it helps makes for even more creative cursing. But most importantly, I learned I have some great friends who enjoy taking a bit of time out of their busy schedules to indulge in this mindless, unproductive but totally rewarding slice of life, whether around the corner or a thousand miles away. Yes, I learned that this could be the worst of times, but also that it was the best of times too.

(Special thanks for all the fun this weekend to JHop, Shane, CollegeBoy, Maqz, and even Carrie who was there for all of 8 seconds but provided a spark we all enjoyed. Manhattan Man, don't worry, we'll figure this thing out for you and get a chance to read your pearls of wisdom too. Looking forward to doing it again, like tonight…)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It was Robbie Cano, don’t ya know...

(with apologies to John Sterling, although I should probably be apologizing FOR him, but that’s another blog post…)

Every one in a while, it happens to a sports fan, more specifically, to a baseball fan. Maybe things aren’t going your way, maybe your team has not gotten any breaks, or the Karma seems against you. Then you get this feeling, one you can’t put a finger on, that says that someone is going to take over a game and you will like that feeling a whole lot. Well, it happened last night and I must admit, it left me smiling and feeling better about things. As a matter of fact, it happened twice.

The set up: The first ALDS game between the Yankees and Tigers was suspended after 1 ½ innings on Friday night and a first thought was, we just can’t catch a break. Our big gun, CC Sabathia was going up against Jason Verlander, Tiger gunslinger and the game was tied, rained on and suspended until the next day. Unlike ticket holders who can use their tickets from the suspended game CC was down for at least a day or two. Our ace was slightly used and destined to wait until Monday or even Tuesday to pitch again. This was not a good thing.

This brings us to Saturday night and resumed suspended game. Rookie Ivan Nova gets the “relief” start as the game is picked up in the bottom of the second inning and after a couple of good plays here and there, you look up at the scoreboard and realize, he is pitching a gem. A real post season classic. Only a couple of hits. Nova was taking the place of the ace, and was performing better than the ace. I’m not really sure many people saw that coming, myself included. Hoping for the best and expecting the worst, I figured maybe the Yankees can score a bunch of runs. And, even though Nova didn’t need them now, they delivered them in quick order and this is where that feeling comes in.

Robbie Cano can probably be best described as a beast on the baseball field. Nice guy, mild mannered kid, but give him a bat and he makes things happen. With that quick, left handed swing, he can drive the ball a mile or miss it completely but that is the price one must pay for the type of success he has. He went to the All Star Game this past July and surprised many of us by winning the home run hitting contest. Not that we didn’t think he could hit homeruns, but his ability to be consistent throughout the contest helped him grab the trophy from several other “celebrated” home run hitters and this was somewhat new for him.

Now, to the game itself. In the first inning on Friday, Cano grounded out. In his second at bat of the game, now Saturday, he…grounded out again. Nothing seems to be looming but I just was having one of those feelings. Cano would do something – good or bad, he was going to be in the middle of things. When the Yankees threw a runner out at the plate in the top of the fifth inning, the feeling was there that something was going to happen. Then Cano began his show. Already 0 for 2, two routine groundouts, he came up with a runner on first and hit a ball right off the top of the fence in left field, so close that the umpires had to review it before confirming it a double, to the dismay of fans. One run in, Yankees ahead. So then Cano must have felt energized, because the next time up, he hit a ball into the second deck, with the bases load for 4 more RBI’s. He must have liked this turn of events so much, he hit an 8th inning double to drive in another. Three consecutive hits, all big, long majestic ones and 6 RBI’s. It was a weeks worth of production in about 1 ½ hours of work.

This is where that feeling comes up. No one I know predicted that Cano was going to have a big game tonight, but I have had this feeling he is going to do something big this post season. Perhaps this is the post season he grabs the title of Mr. Clutch. Perhaps this is the post season where he does what we always had hoped that ARod was going to do every post season. I think maybe this is the post season he wins a playoff MVP. He has a good start in that general direction.