Archive for December, 2009
A trio of memories • 12.31.09
There are a ton of people who have been around baseball much, much longer than me, but working in New York has given me the opportunity to see some pretty memorable things. I started covering baseball in 2002 so I missed out on the 2001 World Series insanity, but as we head towards the new year, I couldn’t help but make a list of the few moments from this decade that I a) witnessed in person; and b) will always, always remember. What are yours?
Below are my top three (in reverse order):
3. The celebration after the last out of this year’s World Series: It was the first championship for a New York team that I covered and the joy coming from everyone – players, executives, clubbies, staff, fans – was just overwhelming. I remember watching Brett Gardner rummaging through the stack of Champagne bottles until he found one, holding it up giddily like a little kid with a birthday present and then running over to soak someone. The happiness in that room was amazing.
2. Aaron Boone: You know how people talk about how the old Stadium would shake? If you weren’t there that night, you’ve got no idea.
1. This. It wasn’t scripted, it wasn’t expected, it wasn’t what anyone thought was going to happen.
It was still perfect.
Be safe tonight and we’ll see you in 2010.
Happy New Year.
Byrd close to deal with Cubs • 12.31.09
Looks like another outfielder is about to come off the market.
Ken Rosenthal is reporting that Marlon Byrd is close to a three-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. Byrd put up nice numbers the past three years in Texas, and it’s easy to see why a lot of Yankees fans liked him as an option for 2010, but I’m not sure I was ever in the crowd. For reasons why, I’ll turn the floor over to Joe from River Ave. Blues.
I remember Byrd from my early days covering the Phillies organization, and I have a hard time believing that same guy is now a consistently productive outfielder. I might be completely wrong. Byrd might have made some very real changes during his time with the Rangers, but I don’t think it’s wise to look only at those three years in Texas and completely ignore the three years that came before.
As for some light Yankees reading, here’s Scoop Jackson’s interview with Curtis Granderson. There are a lot of questions about how Granderson will handle living in New York, playing for New York and dealing with the New York media. Granderson handles the questions pretty well considering he’s never lived in New York, played for New York or dealt with the New York media.
Also, if you’re looking for a fun, quick, non-Yankees read on this New Years Eve, check out Dirk Hayhurst’s latest entry for Baseball America. Terrific story about a day in the life — or at least a moment in the life — of a major league baseball player.
Depending on any sort of breaking news, today is probably going to be a light day here at the LoHud Yankees Blog. I know Sam has a post planned for later this afternoon, but that might be it until tomorrow. I’m meeting some friends for my first NYE in NYC, and I’m very much looking forward to it.
I just want to say thank you for making the past few months a lot of fun. Happy New Year everyone. Have fun. Be safe. See you in 2010.
Twelve days that mattered in 2009 • 12.31.09
This isn’t intended to be some sort of ranking of the Yankees’ most important dates of the past year. Instead, it is simply a look back at some of the days that mattered. One day from each month. Not necessarily the most important days, but certainly days that stood out or made a difference.
Andy Pettitte returns on a one-year deal
“There was basically a point where we got to where we were at the end of the line,” Pettitte said that day. “I needed to make a decision.” He never talked to another team and his decision was ultimately to come back to New York to chase another championship. Eleven months later, it’s hard to imagine where the Yankees would have been without him.
The Alex Rodriguez press conference
Here’s a line from Rodriguez’s opening statement that day: “In the days ahead, I know that a lot of people are going to debate my past with various opinions. People are going to talk about my future as though it’s already been determined, however, I realize that these opinions are out of my control. What is within my control is going out and doing the job that I am blessed to do. Spring training represents a new start for me and a chance to win a championship, two opportunities I’m very excited about.”
Brett Gardner named opening day center fielder
It’s interesting, given the current Yankees roster, to remember that the Yankees opened this championship season with Gardner as the No. 9 hitter in their starting lineup. If the current roster were to stay as it is, Gardner would likely open in the same spot in the order, but playing left field instead of center, which actually suggests a defensive upgrade for the Yankees.
Melky Cabrera homers in season’s first walk-off win
The first win at the new Yankee Stadium came five days before this one, but in a season of whipped cream pies, what could be more momentous than Cabrera’s walk-off blast in the 14th inning? And it went to right field, which is a whole other story from this season. Six Yankees relievers combined for 7.1 scoreless innings, including Jose Veras, who pitched the last 3.1. Cabrera’s game-winner came off Oakland reliever Dan Giese, who had been claimed off waivers from the Yankees just a few weeks earlier. It was the first of 15 walk-off wins.
Winning streak puts Yankees above .500 for good
Four days after Alex Rodriguez rejoined the lineup, the Yankees entered May 13 two games below .500, but they beat the Blue Jays that night and kicked off a nine-game winning streak. It was their longest streak of the season, and it bumped the Yankees from 6.5 games out of first place, to a game and a half back. With no Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui or Jorge Posada in the lineup that night, the Yankees got hits from Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli, and got a home run and a triple from Brett Gardner. The win went to — who else? — Andy Pettitte.
Yankees set consecutive errorless games record
In a win against Cleveland, the Yankees scored five runs on six hits while committing no errors. It was the Yankees 18th consecutive game without an error, which set a new major league record. During the streak, the Yankees handled 660 chances without a mistake. Another note from June 1: It was Joba Chamberlain’s return to bug-infested Cleveland, and he went eight innings, allowing two runs on four hits.
Phil Hughes sets up for Mariano Rivera
A starter through the first two months of the season, and a middle/long reliever through the month of June, Hughes moved into his setup role on the third day of July. Phil Coke got the lefty Adam Lind for the first out of the eighth inning, then Hughes got the last two outs before Rivera closed the door. In that moment, the back of the bullpen was solidified. The Yankees finally had their bridge to Mo.
Yankees trade for Chad Gaudin
Chien-Ming Wang was out of the picture. Joba Chamberlain was about to be reduced to three-inning starts. Sergio Mitre was talking a tightrope. Josh Towers was on his way up from Triple-A. The Yankees badly needed a pitcher who could give multiple innings out of the bullpen or spot start when necessary, and Gaudin played the role perfectly. He started six times, and the Yankees won all six.
Derek Jeter becomes Yankees career hits leader
This was the official statement from George Steinbrenner: “For those who say today’s game can’t produce legendary players, I have two words: Derek Jeter. Game in and game out, he just produces. As historic and significant as becoming the Yankees’ all-time hit leader is, the accomplishment is all the more impressive because Derek is one of the finest young men playing the game today.”
A.J. Burnett delivers in Game 2 of the World Series
Given a chance to clinch the title four days later, Burnett took a beating in Game 5 and was vilified, but let us not forget his performance in Game 2. This was the turning point of the World Series. Pedro Martinez pitched very well that day, and a loss would have meant going into Philadelphia, down two games to none, forced to sweep in Citizens Bank Park. It never came to that because Burnett gave the Yankees seven superb innings, striking out nine, walking two and allowing four hits. In the grand scheme of things, this was a bigger game than Game 5, and Burnett was outstanding.
If I put some real effort into it, I might have come up with a date more obvious that this one. Instead, I picked a night you might remember. Six RBI from the World Series MVP. Five outs from the game’s greatest closer. A fourth playoff win from the game’s winningest postseason pitcher. Three hits from the Captain. Two runs scored by the rejuvenated A-Rod. One World Series championship.
Yankees agree to trade for Curtis Granderson
The Andy Pettitte signing a day later was big, but it was the Granderson trade that set the tone for the Yankees’ offseason. Had they not traded for a power-hitting outfielder, would the Yankees have been more likely to keep either Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui? Maybe. Instead, they have a new center fielder, entering his prime, trying to defend a championship. I’m sure expectations won’t be high. He’s only playing Joe DiMaggio’s position.
This is coming from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which reports that the Cardinals are “working toward an agreement” with Matt Holliday.
Derrick Goold reports that the Cardinals negotiations are “gaining momentum” and that a contract could be finalized by next week. Poeple from Holliday’s camp have apparently confirmed these discussions. So has Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak.
Pitching notes from Mark Newman • 12.30.09
Let’s start the pitching notes with the very last player Mark Newman and I talked about last week. He’s not in the organization, but you know the name well.
• Aroldis Chapman is arguably the most intriguing free agent pitcher still on the market. He might be this winter’s most intriguing available player, period. “Who knows what the price tag is going to be on this deal,” Newman said. “He’s not where (Stephen) Strasburg was.” When Chapman threw a bullpen for scouts earlier this month, Newman said the reports were exactly what he expected: Huge fastball. Spotty command. Inconsistent secondary pitches. “But if you don’t like that, you need to be in another business,” Newman said.
Ultimately, it seems still very uncertain where Chapman might end up, or how much he’s going to cost. If the Yankees get him, they don’t plan to start him in the big leagues, and there’s no guarantee he would pitch in New York by the end of the year. “(He would start in) A or Double-A,” Newman said. “Wherever it is he pitches, he needs to be comfortable and he needs to work on the command and secondary pitches. And when he gets that, he’s going to take off.”
• Interesting answer when I asked whether one of the recent college draftees could move quickly like Joba Chamberlain or Ian Kennedy. I thought Newman would build up David Phelps or Adam Warren after their strong seasons, instead he went with a guy who had a 6.65 ERA in Double-A last year. “Jeremy Bleich might,” Newman said. “He had an okay year, not a great year, in some ways. In some ways he had an outstanding year. His stuff was really good. He was getting it up to 94 with regularity. His stuff was better than it was in college, his command wasn’t quite as good. I’ll take that, because the command will come. I really believe that.”
• If Romulo Sanchez doesn’t make the big league bullpen, he’ll likely work once again as a starter in Triple-A.
• Lefty Wilkin de la Rosa has a spot on the 40-man, but he’s scheduled to repeat Double-A this season. And he’s scheduled to stay in the rotation. “It’s too early to tell (whether he’ll eventually move to the pen),” Newman said. “I feel very comfortable about him being able to pitch out of the pen. It’s too early to tell if he’s going to be able to be a starter. The stuff is certainly good enough. He can do things you need to do to be a left-handed bullpen guy. If he pitches some more, we’ll see if the command is good enough to stay in the rotation.”
• De la Rosa and Bleich will be in a Double-A rotation that will most likely include recent 40-man addition Hector Noesi. Noesi made just nine High-A starts last year, but Newman said he will “probably” open in Trenton.
• Put Chris Garcia in the Double-A rotation as well. The high-ceiling, often-injured right-hander is currently throwing and should be ready to open the season back in Trenton. Garcia’s latest surgery was to move his ulnar nerve (apparently that’s possible). He has the stuff to be a big league starter but, “he needs to pitch to develop fastball command,” Newman said. The Yankees want him to continue working as a starter to develop that command, and right now there is no plan to move him to the bullpen to protect his arm. “That could be down the line,” Newman said.
• Dellin Betances had “ligament enhancement” surgery — not Tommy John — on his right elbow. It’s the same thing Mariano Rivera had years ago. Newman said Betances should be ready to pitch close to the start of the season. He’s slated for High-A Tampa.
• Back when I was in Scranton, I wrote a lot about Alan Horne, the once highly touted prospect who’s had a series of injuries the past two years. I’ve been a big believer in Horne because he was outstanding when I saw him in the spring of 2008, and because Scott Aldred raves about how good he was when he won the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2007. “We’ll see (where he opens the season),” Newman said. “He’s healthy. He’s got to come back and see if he can recapture it.”
• Newman stressed patience with Andrew Brackman. “Brack’s got stuff that’s top-of-the-rotation stuff,” Newman said. Brackman’s overall numbers were bad last season, but through his last four appearances he pitched 10 scoreless innings, walking none and striking out nine. Newman is quick to point out that Brackman was a two-sport athlete in college, and he’s just now getting the full fall and winter baseball workouts. “Big body, limited experience and an injury problem,” Newman said. Those things make pitching a little more difficult, and Brackman might move a little more slowly than you’d expect a first-round pick who signed a major league deal.
Position player notes from Mark Newman • 12.30.09
Here are a few leftover notes from vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman. Some are related to the minor leagues, some to the big leagues. I also have some leftover pitching notes that I’ll post a bit later.
By the way, this came from what was supposed to be a five minute conversation last week about Jesus Montero. I just wanted to confirm the Yankees’ plans to have Montero open the season in Triple-A. Then Newman and I talked about the infielders on the 40-man. Then we kept talking for another 20 minutes. Every time I post something about the minor leagues, I seem to get at least one email telling me I’m not in Scranton any more and I shouldn’t be writing about the minor league system. But I tend to think this stuff is worth knowing, and especially on a fairly slow day like today, it can bring a different perspective to a major league issue, such as…
• I’ve read some concerns about Brett Gardner’s jumps in center field. Newman acknowledged that Gardner occasionally took bad routes, but he said that’s nothing new. He said he saw the same thing when Melky Cabrera and Bernie Williams first got to the big leagues. “We can simulate everything in the minor leagues except the three decks,” Newman said. That third deck makes the ball difficult to track, and it takes some getting used to.
• Last weekend, Juan Miranda began playing again in the Dominican. I read several times that he was injured, but Newman said that was never the case. He said Miranda’s team simply brought in one of the local favorites to play first base. “I think they brought in one of their superstar guys,” Newman said. “But (Miranda) played well.” Through 13 games, Miranda has a .409 average with two home runs and 11 RBI.
• Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffmann can play all three outfield spots, but Newman said he profiles best as a right fielder. “Our guys have scouted him,” Newman said. “He’s a big guy that can run. He’s a toolsy guy. I hope we can keep him because I really like the guy.”
• There’s not much upper-level outfield depth in the Yankees system, which means Triple-A outfielder Colin Curtis could play a role next season. The good news is, Curtis destroyed the Arizona Fall League with a .397 average, .472 on-base and five home runs. That’s an offensive league, but still, those are great numbers.
“He’s been experimenting with his setup a little bit,” Newman said. “How much flex in his legs. How low his center of gravity should be. Sometimes he gets a little lower than others. Recently he hasn’t used quite as much flex. He led the league in OPS. Everything being relative, relative to the rest of the league, he was still really good.”
• I wrote this last week in the post about Montero opening in Triple-A, but for those who follow the minor league system closely, it’s worth repeating because of the enormous depth behind the plate. This is how Newman said the minor league starting catching situation is likely to stack up on opening day:
Triple-A: Jesus Montero
Double-A: Austin Romine
Low-A: Kyle Higashioka
Extended ST: Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy
Obviously, there will be others mixed into different roles (P.J. Pilittere, Kyle Anson, Jose Gil, Mitch Abeita) but those are five are the biggest name catchers in the system, and they’ll be spread throughout the organization. It’s a pretty good situation.
Team(s) of the decade? • 12.30.09
Most reasonable observers agree that the Yankees – as a franchise – are the team of the decade. But how did the Yankees teams of the 2000’s stack up against each other?
I enjoy making lists as the year winds down, and this is one I’ve gotten some good mileage out of debating with friends.
The question: How would you rank the Yankees teams of the last 10 years?
1. 2009 – This ranking (along with the worst team) would seem to be the most obvious.
2. 2001 – Normally I’d say World Series champs HAVE to be at the top of the list but the ’01 team won more games, scored more runs and allowed fewer than the ’00 team while coming – literally – one pitch away from the title. To me, that’s enough to trump. Admittedly, it’s a controversial ranking.
3. 2000 – Subway champs but only 87 wins and a (relatively) small run-differential.
4. 2003 – If not for David Wells (and Jeff Weaver and Josh Beckett), this team would have been champs.
5. 2002 – This was my first year covering baseball in New York and I still remember how stunned I was to see the Yankees get run out by the Angels in the ALDS. This team had a plus-200 (!) run-differential and won 103 games. Their flameout remains a massive disappointment.
6. 2006 – Very, very solid year. Very disappointing October bust.
7. 2007 – I know this team finished second in the AL East; I still think they beat any of the teams below them in a seven-game series (with regularity, too). Terrific offense.
8. 2004 – Will always be remembered for the epic collapse but 101 wins obscures the difficulty of the regular season.
9. 2005 – Oldest team of the decade. Average age of hitters was 32, of pitchers was 34. On a related note, this was Randy Johnson’s first year.
10. 2008 – No explanation necessary.
(Obligatory disclaimer: This list was done for fun. There are no right answers and no scientific methods to it. I focused on results, run differential and a whole lot of feel/memory/gut instinct. Others can, and no doubt will, use other criteria. It all works.)
The case against Holliday • 12.30.09
Now that Jason Bay is off the market, Scott Boras is apparently going back to teams that have previously shown interest in Matt Holliday. St. Louis is one of those teams — the team that has seemed to be the favorite in this race — and Buster Olney writes that there is “increased optimism” within the Cardinals’ camp that Holliday will return to St. Louis.
Based the conversations I heard at my parents’ house during the Christmas weekend, this news must make most of Missouri very happy.
When it comes to the Yankees, though, there is a flip side to Holliday. While he is, without question, the top free agent on the market, there is a case being made that the Yankees not only don’t need him, they shouldn’t want him. If you haven’t already seen it, check out Dave Cameron’s story over at FanGraphs. He argues that there’s only so much better this Yankees team can become, and that adding Holliday doesn’t increase their playoff chances enough to justify the money. He writes that the Yankees are already capable of winning 100 games, which is plenty to make the playoffs. Why spend so much money to win more than that?
Because winning more than that means the team would be better, and being better matters a great deal in the playoffs.
Very true, and a fair point. Writing in response to the Cameron story, though, Rob Neyer adds another argument against the Yankees pursuit of Holliday.
“… the only way the Yankees can fall into a habit of losing, someday, is by stockpiling too many players in their 30s with big long-term contracts,” Neyer writes. “It’s incredibly difficult to place a value on flexibility, but that value is real and important and Brian Cashman’s awareness of that value is going to keep the Yankees on top for quite some time.”
If a tree falls in a forest… • 12.29.09
If Jason Bay signs with the Mets, do the Yankees care?
All indications are that the Yankees were never in on Bay to begin with. Brian Cashman has said time and again that the Yankees are not going after another “big piece” this winter, and that would seem to eliminate both Bay and Matt Holliday. What’s more, Bay signed with a National League team. Granted, it’s a National League team the Yankees play six times, but it’s certainly better than Bay signing back with a team in the American League East.
Bay’s career line against the Yankees: .392/.475/.686 with three home runs and 13 RBI in 14 games.
Getting Bay out of Boston probably makes this move a win for the Yankees. If the Yankees heard this tree falling at all, it was a good sound.
Meanwhile, Boston is said to be going after Adrian Beltre, which could be an indication that they’re willing to simply eat the $12 million owed to Mike Lowell. After Boston’s attempt to trade Lowell to Texas fell apart earlier this month, it became unlikely that the Red Sox would be able to unload that contract.
One other impact of Bay’s signing could be a domino effect on the rest of the free agent corner outfielders. With Bay and Mark DeRosa now off the market, teams might start pushing harder — the Yankees included — to fill their corner outfield needs. Apparently Scott Boras is already trying to take advantage of that situation. You have to wonder if the Cardinals might ramp up their efforts to sign Holliday now that there aren’t many Plan Bs available.
Now that Jason Bay has signed with the Mets, the other left fielders on the free agent market might start to fall into place.
I’ve spent most of the afternoon catching up on emails, and I was surprised at how many times Scott Podsednik’s name was mentioned as a possible left field option for the Yankees.
Not that I dislike Podsednik, but isn’t he just an older version of Brett Gardner?
Gardner hit .270 with a .345 on-base percentage and a .379 slugging percentage last year. He stole 26 bases in 31 attempts (an 83.87 percent success rate).
Podsednik is a career .277 hitter with a .340 on-base percentage and a .381 slugging percentage. He’s stolen 266 bases in 353 attempts (a 75.35 percent success rate).
Both are left-handed. Gardner has better minor league numbers and is seven years younger. Podsednik has better numbers in 2009, but his numbers were pretty uninspiring in 2007 and 2008, which is why his past three contracts have been minor league deals.
Also, yes, I forgot Javier Vazquez in my morning post. He’s obviously locked into a major league job in the rotation. That’s 15 roster spots and 15 roles that are already defined — and they are 15 of the most important spots on the team — which tells you there’s not much work to be done. This Yankees team is close to being set.