The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Archive for January, 2012

Yankees organizational depth: Outfield corners01.27.12

It’s a curious time for the Yankees outfield corners. They have a young, cheap, homegrown left fielder — but he’s getting more expensive by the year. They have a productive, affordable right fielder — but he’s in the final year of his contract. Behind them, the organization offers no obvious replacements.

In the big leagues
Plate discipline is one of the few things that connect Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher as players. They’re close and friendly teammates, but as outfielders, they’re very different. They both take their walks, but Gardner’s best tool is his speed, Swisher’s is his power. Although Gardner remains an untraditional corner outfielder — a center fielder playing left — he’s perhaps the best defensive left fielder in the game, and although he didn’t repeat his 2010 numbers, Gardner remained a dangerous presence at the bottom of the order. Swisher, meanwhile, bounced back from a slow first half to finish with 23 home runs and 85 RBI (only four fewer than the year before). Swisher’s contract expires at the end of this season, Gardner is headed for a second year of arbitration, and backup Andruw Jones is on a one-year deal. The Yankees have to decide whether to lock up Swisher, whether to commit big money to Gardner and whether one of their veterans — Derek Jeter? — might eventually need to move into the outfield.

On the verge
In spring training, Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell will provide corner outfield depth, but those two are out of options, so sending them to Triple-A might not be an option. Instead, the Yankees immediate corner outfield depth will come from Colin Curtis and Cole Garner, two toolsy outfielders with limited big league experience. Third baseman Brandon Laird also has some outfield experience and could help as a four-corners utility man. The most significant upper-level upside might be in Double-A right fielder Zoilo Almonte, a 22-year-old added to the 40-man this winter after he hit .276/.345/.459 between Tampa and Trenton last season. He’ll join a wild card outfield with Abe Almonte and Melky Mesa, each of whom has intriguing talent without consistently encouraging results.

Deep in the system
Most of the Yankees outfield depth is currently playing center field, and that’s probably the way the organization likes it. It’s much easier to move a center fielder to a corner than to do the opposite. But the low-level corner outfielders aren’t to be dismissed completely, especially not Ramon Flores, a left fielder who put up a modest .265/.353/.400 slash line in Charleston last season but draws raves for his plate discipline. Not yet 20 years old, he’s a legitimate prospect in the mold of former Yankees prospect Jose Tabata (thought not nearly as touted). Ben Gamel played well in Staten Island last year, and the Yankees are curious to see what last year’s sixth-round pick, Jake Cave, can do in his first real taste of pro ball. Ultimately, though, a third baseman like Rob Segedin, a catcher like J.R. Murphy and a center fielder like Ravel Santana might eventually factor into the corner outfield conversation more than anyone previously mentioned. That’s the nature of the outfield corners.

Organizational depth chart
My rough guess. It’s too early for the Yankees to decide who will be where next season.
New York: Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher
Scranton/WB: Colin Curtis and Cole Garner
Trenton: Abe Almonte and Zoilo Almonte
Tampa: Ramon Flores and Eduardo Sosa
Charleston: Ben Gamel and Shane Brown

Honestly, beyond Triple-A and Double-A, the outfield corners are tough to predict. Some of it depends on where some multi-position guys end up — what level and position will Ronnier Mustelier play? — and which players are deemed ready for full-season ball out of spring training. At some points, the outfield corners will be used to give players at bats and to add some defensive versatility.

Associated Press photo of Swisher, headshots of Gardner, Zoilo Almonte and Flores

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 93 Comments →

Girardi making charity appearance at Harrison Public Library01.27.12

This weekend, Joe Girardi is helping raise money for his local library. Here are the details from the library itself. For more information, follow this link to the library’s website. 

Joe Girardi, New York Yankees Manager and Harrison resident, is donating his time for an autograph signing at the Harrison Public Library on Sunday, January 29th, from noon to-1:00 p.m. The library is located at 2 Bruce Avenue, and the event is open to everyone.

Girardi’s fundraiser, which supports the Harrison Public Library Foundation, will be divided into two consecutive segments, beginning with a MVP Private Session from noon to 12:20 p.m. Patrons will have the opportunity to get their photo taken with Girardi, and will receive a personal autograph on two of their sports items. A limited number of tickets is available at a cost of $225, and must be purchased online in advance.

The second portion of Girardi’s visit will be an open autograph signing on a first come first served basis from 12:20 p.m. ending at 1 p.m. Fans are encouraged to bring their sport items for Girardi’s signature. Costs for autographs are: $35 for cards or photos, $50 for baseballs or bats, and $100 for uniforms or any other items. Attendees are urged to arrive early to assure enough time to meet Girardi.

The Harrison Public Library Foundation was formed in November 2010 with the goal of improving and enhancing the Library, to support its programs and abilities, and to solidify its presence at the heart of the community. Harrison Public Library Foundation Board President Stephen Hicks is extremely grateful and very excited that Mr. Girardi is volunteering his time for our first fundraising event to benefit the Harrison Public Library. The Foundation is firmly committed to providing Harrison residents with an up-to-date library that will also be a valuable resource for future Harrison generations.

The Trustees of the Harrison Public Library, in consultation with the Foundation, have chosen the modernizing and renovation of the downtown library facility as the first step in the reinvigoration of the Public Library.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 15 Comments →

What are we waiting for?01.27.12

Can you believe this? It’s been two weeks since the Michael Pineda trade and the Yankees have done nothing!

Kidding. They’ve settled on contracts with all of their arbitration guys, made the Andruw Jones and Hiroki Kuroda signings official and celebrated the career of Jorge Posada. Now that the Yankees have made their big splash, what are we waiting for?

The development of the DH situation
This might be a lot of waiting for nothing, but Cashman has made it clear he’s willing to trade some of his excess pitching to sign a hitter. That means there might be another big move on the way. The Yankees would rather go the trade route than dig into what seems to be a deep free agent market. As it stands, Jorge Vazquez is arguably the most interesting in-house candidate, but it seems a long shot that the Yankees will enter spring training with Vazquez as a leading candidate for their regular DH spot.

Eric Chavez to come off the market
We know Chavez wants to play next season, and as long as he’s still available — even if the Yankees sign another reserve infielder — there will be questions about whether the Yankees can bring Chavez back on some sort of deal. Until he signs, with the Yankees or someone else, his name is going to pop up every now and then.

The evolution of the bargain bin
No matter how long Prince Fielder stayed on the market, his price tag was never going to fall into “bargain” territory. Pitchers like Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt might fall into one-year deals, but they’re never going to come dirt cheap. Other pieces of the free agent market, though, might find they have little choice but to sign microscopic deals — even minor league deals — just to land a job. Last year, the Yankees had great success with late signings like this.

A full list of minor league signings
Speaking of bargain deals… Every year the Yankees release a massive list of players invited to big league camp, and every year there’s at least one name that stands out as a big league possibility. Every year there are also names that don’t stand out at all, yet managed to play some sort of role in the big leagues. How many people paid any attention to Luis Ayala or Gustavo Molina when they were first mentioned? And it should be interesting to see which prospects get a chance to play with the big guys for a few weeks.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 287 Comments →

A forgotten priority01.27.12

Several year’s from now, when this morning’s Pinch Hitter, Lucas, is telling his son about his first Yankees game, some of the details won’t matter.

Lucas will tell his son that Mariano Rivera pitched in that game, and why should it matter that The Greatest gave up a run? He’ll tell his son that Derek Jeter went 3-for-3, and why should it matter that the Captain wasn’t playing shortstop that day? He’ll tell his son that Robinson Cano hit a grand slam, and why should it matter that the Yankees nearly coughed up that four-run lead?

It was a 6-5 win in the middle of August, and most of us will forget all about it — if we haven’t forgotten it already — and all that will matter to Lucas is that his little boy saw the Yankees, in person, for the first time.

When I looked back at the box score, though, this is what I noticed: Not only was Jeter at DH, but Alex Rodriguez was also on the disabled list, leaving Eduardo Nunez and Eric Chavez to both step into the starting lineup that day. The way the Yankees are configured right now, that’s an impossibility this season.

Jeter and Rodriguez are going to need some DH days, and both spent considerable time on the disabled list last year. Once upon a time — before the DH spot was wide open — finding a backup corner infielder seemed to be a real priority for the  Yankees. It’s no less significant today.

If it’s not Chavez, it needs to be someone like him. The Yankees need to be in a position to fill more than one spot at a time on the left side of the infield. The team has a deep bullpen, more starters than it knows what to do with, a solid catching prospect to stash in Triple-A and four legitimate outfielders. But the Yankees infield depth chart is one name:

Eduardo Nunez (2B, 3B, SS)

Maybe Brandon Laird will have a bounce back year in Triple-A. Maybe Corban Joseph or David Adams will emerge as a big-league ready bat. Maybe Jayson Nix will be a viable fill-in if necessary. There are some possibilities out there, but the Yankees clearly have a left side of the infield that requires depth, and so far, that depth is uncertain.

Another infielder shouldn’t be as important as an everyday designated hitter. But what if it is?

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 349 Comments →

Pinch hitting: Lucas Vanderwarker01.27.12

I say this every year, but one thing I like about the Pinch Hitters series is the opportunity to present perspectives I could never bring to the blog. This is one of those moments.

Lucas Vanderwarker is a youth pastor near Indiana, PA and his grandfather played some minor league ball with the Yankees back in the 1930s. For his post, Lucas wrote about a truly once-in-a-lifetime moment: Taking his first-born son to his first game at Yankee Stadium.

For most people, November 2, 2010 was just another day. Most conservatives (especially the Tea Party) remember it as a day of victory, as the Republicans regained control of the House and made up some ground in the Senate. For the people of San Francisco, it was a day of jubilation and raucous celebration of the Giants first World Series victory since they vacated New York. Many have long since forgotten the specifics of this day just 14 short months ago.

For me, it’s a day that was truly life-changing — it’s the day my son was born.
It was right about the time that pitchers and catchers were to report to spring training in Tampa when my wife and I learned she was expecting our first child. When I realized her due date was the beginning of November, I immediately thought to myself, “How amazing would it be for our baby to be born the same night the Yankees win the World Series?” She secretly was hoping the Yankees wouldn’t quite make it to avoid any conflict of interest, and ironically enough, it was while I was sitting on the couch watching the Giants put the finishing touches on their series with the Texas Rangers that my wife informed me it was time to go to the hospital.

Three hours later I was holding my little boy, flooded with the gravity of my new responsibility of teaching my son about the things that I love — Faith, Family, and the Yankees. I realized that watching baseball would never be the same.

Our first family vacation to New York City came in August. My wife didn’t insist on a Broadway show — though I know she wanted to — she instead insisted that we go to Yankee Stadium. Of course, there was no argument from me.

Thursday, August 11, was the highlight of the trip: An afternoon game against the Angels, front row of the upper deck, just past third base. We’d taken the subway to the stadium. We snapped some pictures, fed Brandt, and got settled into our seats. I soaked in every moment (and every sunray—it was very hot that day) of watching Brandt take in every detail from the huge, bright video screen to the yelling hot dog vendors to his daddy going nuts when Curtis Granderson tied the game at 2 with a mammoth home run, and even more nuts when Robbie Cano broke a tie game with a “no doubt about it” grand slam.

Brandt was so over-stimulated that it wore him out and he fell asleep for about an hour. When he woke up, he sat ever so contently on my lap and pointed to the outfield as “Enter Sandman” began to play and Mariano Rivera came sprinting in from the outfield.

Sitting there, with my son on my lap, telling him things I knew he didn’t understand and won’t remember, I didn’t want the day to end. We took our time leaving the stadium (when you only get there once every couple of years, you tend to treasure every second you get).

I don’t remember a whole lot about my first trip to Yankee Stadium other than they played the Royals and they got creamed. I remember being so excited to see Don Mattingly. But do you know what I remember? It was my dad who took me to that first game. I consider my dad to be one of my best friends. I have learned so much from him. I’m not naïve enough to think my 9-month-old son will remember this trip to Yankee Stadium, but I look forward to many more — all of which will always remind me of the day that changed my life forever.

I love you, Brandt! Go Yankees!

Photo of Lucas and Brandt

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 138 Comments →

Yankees organizational depth: Center field01.26.12

In the year Curtis Granderson emerged as an MVP candidate, two of the Yankees lowest-level center fielders emerged as elite prospects. It’s now a position of strength both at the big league level and in the minor league system.

In the big leagues
In his first several months with the Yankees, Granderson hit like an overhyped platoon player. He couldn’t hit lefties, his production plummeted, and hitting coach Kevin Long stepped in for a Texas intervention. The difference has been staggering. Suddenly a complete hitter against lefties and righties, Granderson has become both a top-of-the-order run scorer and a middle-of-the-order run producer. He led the American League in runs and RBI last season, and at 30 years old finished fourth in MVP voting. Signed through this season with a club option for 2013, Granderson is locked into the center field position for the near future, and an extension beyond the next two years doesn’t seem out of the question. Granderson is becoming a best-case scenario, the best the Yankees could have hoped for when they traded three young players to acquire him two years ago.

On the verge
The Yankees immediate center field depth doesn’t necessarily come from the minor leagues. Big league left fielder Brett Gardner is second on the depth chart in center, and out-of-options fifth outfielder candidates Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell have each handled the position at the major league level. Down in Triple-A, the Yankees should have Colin Curtis, Cole Garner and veteran Dewayne Wise capable of playing center, and the Double-A roster should have Melky Mesa and Abe Almonte as wild card prospects with plenty of tools but inconsistent results. The bulk of the Yankees young center field talent is lower in the minor league system, but the upper levels provide considerable depth at the position. There isn’t another Granderson in the group, but then again, there aren’t many Granderson types in baseball.

Deep in the system
Take your pick. Mason Williams, Ravel Santana and Slade Heathcott are each toolsy, athletic center fielders with a chance to becoming legitimate everyday options at the big league level. Heathcott is the most familiar name, a 2009 first-round pick with elite speed but also a series of shoulder surgeries that have delayed his development. He got off to a terrific start in Charleston last season, but shoulder problems ended his season just one game — and three hits — into a promotion to Tampa. Heathcotts injuries have opened the door for Williams and Santana to stake their claims as the system’s top center field prospects. Williams was an all-around force in Staten Island last season, and Baseball America tabbed him as the New York-Penn League’s best prospect. He should be ready for full-season ball this year. Santana was similarly impressive in the Gulf Coast League — more power, less speed — and missed the top spot on Baseball America’s GCL prospects list only because teammate Dante Bichette Jr. ranked No. 1.

Organizational depth chart
My rough guess. It’s too early for the Yankees to decide who will be where next season.
New York: Curtis Granderson
Scranton/WB: Dewayne Wise
Trenton: Melky Mesa
Tampa: Slade Heathcott
Charleston: Mason Williams

Triple-A should be a fairly steady rotation in center field, and Double-A should have both Mesa and Abe Almonte getting time in center (hard to say which one should get the bulk of the time there). If Heathcott isn’t ready to open the season, Eduardo Sosa could step into the Tampa job. The Yankees system has not shortage of players capable of handling center field (Austin Krum, Dan Brewer, Damon Sublett) and it’s become a position of both quantity and quality in the organization.

Associated Press photo of Granderson, headshots of Granderson, Dickerson and Williams

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 545 Comments →

Yankees avoid arbitration with Logan, finalize deal with Kuroda01.26.12

Sorry, I’ve been on a plane for the past couple of hours while the Yankees wrapped up two more inevitable bits of business, avoiding arbitration with Boone Logan and officially signing Hiroki Kuroda. Logan was the final arbitration eligible player without a contract, and he’s reportedly getting $1.875 million this season. Kuroda’s signing has been known for almost two weeks, and to make room for him on the 40-man roster, Kevin Whelan was designated for assignment.

YANKEES SIGN RHP HIROKI KURODA

The New York Yankees today announced they have signed right-handed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year Major League contract.

Kuroda, 36, went 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA (202.0 IP, 69 ER) in 32 starts with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011, establishing career bests in wins, ERA, games started, innings pitched and strikeouts (161). With runners in scoring position, Kuroda held opponents to a .194 (30-for-155) batting average, the fifth-best mark in the National League. He was also fifth in the NL in road ERA, posting a 7-7 record and a 2.85 ERA (94.2 IP, 30 ER) in 15 starts away from Dodger Stadium.

“I feel happy to be a part of such a storied franchise, which is always in contention for a World Series,” Kuroda said. “I am also very proud to be a part of this current team, which boasts so many great players. As a member of the Yankees, I would like to do my part by doing the best I can throughout the season. I hope that I can make a difference in achieving the team’s ultimate goal, which is to win the World Series.”

A native of Osaka, Japan, Kuroda has gone 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in 115 career appearances (114 starts) over four Major League seasons with the Dodgers from 2008-11. He has made at least 30 starts and tossed more than 180.0 innings in three of his Major League campaigns (all but his injury-shortened season in 2009). Since the start of the 2008 season, the right-hander has averaged 2.10 walks per 9.0 IP, the third-lowest mark by a National Leaguer with at least 500.0 IP over the span, trailing only Dan Haren (1.64) and Ricky Nolasco (1.93).

Among all Japan-born pitchers ever to play in the Major Leagues, his 3.45 career ERA is the lowest all-time among pitchers who have made more than 12 career starts, while his 523 strikeouts rank fourth and his 41 wins are fifth. In 2011, he recorded the third-lowest single-season ERA (3.07) among Japanese-born pitchers to qualify for a Major League ERA title, behind only Hideo Nomo (2.54 in 1995) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (2.90 in 2008).

Originally signed by the Dodgers as a non-drafted free agent on December 18, 2007, Kuroda spent 11 seasons (1997-2007) pitching for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Japanese Central League. In 271 appearances (244 starts) for the Carp, he went 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA (1,700.1 IP, 697 ER).

In a corresponding move, the Yankees designated RHP Kevin Whelan for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.

YANKEES AVOID ARBITRATION WITH LHP BOONE LOGAN

The Yankees today announced that they have agreed with LHP Boone Logan on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, thus avoiding arbitration.

In 2011, Logan went 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA (41.2IP, 16ER) in 64 regular season appearances out of the bullpen. In three scoreless relief appearances in the ALDS vs. Detroit, he combined to strike out six of his eight batters faced (2.1IP, 1H, 0BB).

Originally selected by the White Sox in the 20th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Logan was acquired by the Yankees from Atlanta, along with RHP Javier Vazquez, in exchange for OF Melky Cabrera, LHP Mike Dunn and RHP Arodys Vizcaino on December 22, 2009.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 212 Comments →

Banuelos and Betances ranked among top 50 prospects01.26.12

Last night, MLB Network and MLB.com announced their Top 50 Prospects list, and as expected, former Yankees top prospect Jesus Montero and current Yankees top prospect Manny Banuelos finished near the top. What might have come as a surprise was the order of those two.

Montero ranked 13th overall, with Banuelos one spot ahead of him at No. 12.*

“Once (Banuelos) throws more strikes,” MLB.com wrote, “he has the chance to be an electric starter who can be a No. 2 or 3 starter.”

Montero was, naturally, touted for his “monster” power potential, but Banuelos finished a spot higher on the list.

Dellin Betances landed at No. 40, and like Banuelos, he was touted as a potential No. 2 or No. 3 starter if he improves his command. Back of the rotation or a setup role were also mentioned as long-term possibilities.

Ranking just outside of the Top 50, catcher Gary Sanchez landed at No. 53 overall, touted as a potential offensive everyday catcher in the big leagues. Center fielder Mason Williams ranked 73rd, earning praise for his bat, speed, defense and advanced approach at the plate.

* One spot ahead of Banuelos, ranking 11th overall, was Gerrit Cole, the right-hander originally drafted but unsigned by the Yankees. Now with the Pirates, he seems to have progressed exactly as the Yankees hoped. Former Yankees prospect Arodys Vizcaino — traded to Atlanta in the Javier Vazquez deal — ranked 36th on the list.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 373 Comments →

Reminder: Williams and Mattingly supporting Hillside Food Outreach01.26.12

Another reminder that Bernie Williams is serving as host at the 10th Anniversary Gala for Hillside Food Outreach. Special guest for the evening is Don Mattingly.

Add this one to the great causes supported by past and present Yankees. If you’re curious, Hillside Food Outreach lists as it’s objective: To meet the needs of the poor and destitute of Westchester and Putnam Counties by delivering food and friendships. So, yeah, if you’re able to attend it’s a worthy cause.

The Gala itself is Saturday, January 28 at the Matrix Conference Center and Ballroom in Danbury, Connecticut. There will be a dinner and auction and the night ends with some dancing while Bernie’s band provides the music.

Go here for more information.

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 118 Comments →

Looking everywhere for the next Mariano01.26.12

Two years before he became the Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera was a spot starter and middle reliever, and not an especially good one. The next year he became a dominant setup man. The next year he took over the ninth inning. Two years after that he led the league in saves.

Who’s next in line? It really is impossible to say.

Rivera has set the bar impossibly high for the next Yankees closer, and he’s also crafted his own cautionary tale about considering all possibilities and ignoring early expectations.

Two years before Rivera took over, would you have picked him for the job?

As Rob wrote in today’s Pinch Hitter post, Dave Robertson has emerged as perhaps the most legitimate heir the Yankees have ever seen. He’s young and he’s quickly gained legitimate big league experience (with legitimate big league success). I was covering minor league baseball when Mark Melancon was thought to be the Yankees future closer, but it never came together for him in the Bronx, and his greatest role might have been overshadowing Robertson, leaving the Yankees with something of a secret weapon.

Robertson’s not a secret anymore. Joba Chamberlain was never secret and Rafael Soriano is one of the biggest-name relievers in the game. If this really is Rivera’s last season, those three are the most obvious candidates to take ownership of the ninth. But what if Phil Hughes is crowded out of the rotation and thrives again the bullpen? What if some unforeseen circumstance forces Dellin Betances into the big league bullpen, and he dominates?

There will never be another Mariano Rivera. The best the Yankees can do is hope for another legitimate closer, and the best-there-ever-was has taught them to look everywhere.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 447 Comments →

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