Archive for January, 2013
Sometimes the good guys actually do win • 01.31.13
In retrospect, here’s one thing I find interesting about this morning’s Pinch Hitter post: I makes no mention of steroids, but it does mention two players who have admitted to using them.
Alex Rodriguez (“fans tend to feel disdain toward the third baseman”) and Andy Pettitte (“universally adored”) received very different reviews in Sean’s post, which — it’s worth mentioning — was written several days before the latest Rodriguez allegations. Why the difference of perception? I can’t say for certain, but I suspect it has more to do with at-the-stadium personality than off-the-field antics.
Right or wrong, Pettitte’s PED apology seemed genuine; a good man made a bad decision. Rodriguez’s felt phony; a bad guy was sorry he got caught.
Truth is that baseball fans are willing to forgive a lot. I wrote yesterday that baseball loves a hero, and that’s absolutely true. The game doesn’t look for villains, it looks for any reason to avoid them. It wants a reason to believe the best in someone. As long as a player shows up every day, plays hard, plays well and doesn’t come across as a jerk, he’s eligible to be a fan favorite.
He doesn’t have to win a championship. Don Mattingly never did.
He doesn’t have to live a regular guy lifestyle. Derek Jeter never has.
He doesn’t have to keep his emotions in check. Paul O’Neill never could.
What makes a fan favorite is the same thing that makes a good friend or a good co-worker or a good neighbor: Just be a good guy, or at least appear to be a good guy.
Maybe the reputations of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle would have been different with today’s media scrutiny, but I don’t think it would be because of their actions, I think it would depend on their reactions. If they were to smile at the cameras and play hard despite the attention, their reputations would have been magnified if anything. If they were to turn surly and disinterested, their legacies would have taken an immeasurable hit.
Pettitte’s admission of steroid use might wipe out any chance of him getting into the Hall of Fame, but it hasn’t significantly altered his status as a fan favorite. There was disappointment, for sure, but demeanor carried more weight. It always does.
Associated Press photo
From the fine folks at Baseball America, the latest minor league transactions include three signings for the Yankees.
LHP Josh Romanski
Spent the past three years in the Yankees organization, filling holes in bullpens and rotations from Low-A to Double-A. Romanski had a terrific year in 2011 — 2.97 ERA between Tampa and Trenton — but injury problems held him to just 36 innings last season. Romanski went to Puerto Rico for winter ball and pitched well (seven starts, 2.83 ERA, one nine-inning, three-hit shutout).
RHP Chris Smith
Signed out of the Frontier League, the move was actually announced by Smith’s independent league team last week. He went 9-6 with a 2.92 ERA and 116 strikeouts 19 starts last season, then he went to the Australian winter league and pitched to a 2.31 ERA through nine starts. , with a 2.92 ERA and 116 strikeouts. He’s 24 years old and the numbers are good. Should help fill a mid-level rotation spot if nothing else.
SS Leugim Barroso
How many baseball players named Leugim Barroso could there be? I assume this has to be this Cuban infielder. He played in the States last year, hitting .317/.345/.364 with two different independent league teams. He rarely struck out and rarely walked. I obviously don’t know much about guy. Sounds like organizational filler who might have some ability to work with.
A few other names you’ll recognize from this week’s minor league transactions: RHP Andrew Brackman signed with the White Sox, RHP Manny Delcarmen signed with the Orioles, OF Greg Golson signed with the Rockies, RHP Chad Qualls landed with the Marlins and OF Shelley Duncan signed with the Rays (but we already knew that).
Yankees announce 44 non-roster invites • 01.31.13
Here’s the release from the Yankees. Remember, every player on the 40-man is automatically coming to big league camp.
YANKEES SIGN FIVE PLAYERS TO MINOR LEAGUE CONTRACTS WITH INVITES TO MAJOR LEAGUE SPRING TRAINING;
INVITE A TOTAL OF 44 ADDITIONAL PLAYERS TO 2013 SPRING TRAINING
The New York Yankees today announced that they have signed five players to minor league contracts with an invitation to Major League Spring Training: OF Matt Diaz, INF Dan Johnson, OF Thomas Neal, OF Juan Rivera and C Bobby Wilson. The club has also invited 39 additional players to 2013 Spring Training, bringing the total number of invitees to 44 (20 pitchers, six catchers, nine infielders and nine outfielders). The total number of players now scheduled to report is 84 – 17 more than 2012’s total of 67.
The list of invites includes Yankees first-round draft picks OF Slade Heathcott (2009) and SS Cito Culver (2010), and 2012 South Atlantic League All-Stars OF Tyler Austin and C Gary Sanchez.
Diaz, who turns 35 on March 3, is a career .291 (543-for-1,863) batter with 211 runs, 97 doubles, 14 triples, 45 home runs and 225 RBI in 726 games over 10 seasons with Tampa Bay (2003-04), Kansas City (2005), Atlanta (2006-12) and Pittsburgh (2011). He is a career .324 (306-for-945) batter with 31 home runs against left-handed pitchers, and has appeared defensively at all three outfield position. Diaz grew up in Lakeland, Fla., played baseball at Florida State University and was selected by Tampa Bay in the 17th round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft. His last name is pronounced Dye-ez.
Johnson, 33, has appeared in 413 combined Major League games over parts of seven seasons with Oakland (2005-08), Tampa Bay (2008, ’10-11) and Chicago-AL (2012), batting .237 (313-for-1,320) with 59 doubles, 56 home runs and 194 RBI. He also played a season in Japan in 2009 with Yokohama. He spent most of the 2012 season with Triple-A Charlotte (.267, 127-for-476, 28 home runs), before appearing in 14 games with the White Sox as a September call-up (.364, 8-for-22). He hit three homers in the team’s regular season finale at Cleveland. He was originally selected by Oakland in the seventh round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft.
Neal, 25, made his Major League debut in 2012 with the Cleveland Indians, going 5-for-23 (.217) in nine games. He spent the majority of the season with Double-A Akron, batting .314 (127-for-405) with 77 runs, 24 doubles, 12 home runs and 51RBI in 117 games for the Eastern League champions. Among Eastern League leaders, he ranked third in on-base percentage (.400), fourth in batting average and tied for fifth in runs, appearing in games at all three outfield positions. Neal was originally selected by San Francisco in the 36th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, and acquired by Cleveland on 7/30/11.
Rivera, 34, batted .244 (76-for-312) with 14 doubles, nine home runs and 47 RBI in 109 games with the Dodgers in 2012. He made 30 starts in left field, 39 at first base, five in right field and one at DH. Originally signed by the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent in 1996, Rivera appeared in 88 games with the Yankees over parts of three seasons (2001-03), hitting .262 (68-for-260) with eight home runs. He has collected 67 outfield assists in his career, tying for 12th-most among active players in the Majors since his debut in 2001.
Wilson, 29, has spent his entire career in the Angels organization, after being selected by the Angels in the 48th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft out of St. Petersburg College. He hit .211 (36-for-171) with five doubles, three home runs and 13 RBI in 75 games in 2012 with the Angels, and caught 15-of-60 stolen base attempts (25.0%) – the seventh-highest percentage among AL catchers. A native of Dunedin, Fla., Wilson is a career .208 (81-for-389) batter in 191 Major League games with a .994 fielding percentage behind the plate, and catching 23.0% of potential base stealers (29-of-126).
2013 SPRING INVITEES
OF Abraham Almonte
C Francisco Arcia
OF Tyler Austin
INF Greg Bird
RHP Corey Black
LHP Juan Cedeno
RHP Preston Claiborne
INF Cito Culver
RHP Matt Daley
OF Matt Diaz
OF Adonis Garcia
RHP Shane Greene
RHP Nick Goody
OF Slade Heathcott
RHP David Herndon
C Kyle Higashioka
INF Walter Ibarra
INF Dan Johnson
RHP Tom Kahnle
INF Addison Maruszak
RHP Jim Miller
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Mark Montgomery
INF Luke Murton
OF Ronnier Mustelier
C J.R. Murphy
OF Thomas Neal
INF Jayson Nix
RHP Zach Nuding
LHP Vidal Nuno
RHP Mike O’Brien
RHP Kelvin Perez
RHP Branden Pinder
INF Jose Pirela
RHP Ryan Pope
OF Juan Rivera
INF Kyle Roller
C Gary Sanchez
OF Rob Segedin
LHP Josh Spence
LHP Matt Tracy
INF Gil Velazquez
RHP Chase Whitley
C Bobby Wilson
Yankees on the verge of deal with Hafner • 01.31.13
The Yankees are close enough to a deal with Travis Hafner that it could be announced later today or tomorrow. Sources have indicated that the deal is in place, just waiting for the contract language to be agreed upon. The Yankees plan to use Hafner as a platoon designated hitter, strictly playing against right-handers. No dollar figure has been confirmed, though it’s believed to be close to the one-year, $1.1 million given to Raul Ibanez around this time last winter.
Pinch hitting: Sean McLernon • 01.31.13
Our next Pinch Hitter is Sean McLernon, a 28-year-old former newspaper sports writer who now works as a reporter for a legal news publication in Manhattan. Sean recently completed a two-year Peace Corps stint in the Caribbean and West Africa. “I would listen to static-filled Voice of America broadcasts on my shortwave radio in a (usually futile) attempt to hear Yankees results,” he wrote. Cheering for the Yankees came naturally to Sean, whose grandmother watched Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play in person back in the 1920s and 30s.
Sean comes from a long line of Yankees fans, and so his topic seems like a natural fit. For his post, Sean wonders what it takes for a player to become a fan favorite.
It’s hard to say when it started. Maybe in the 1950s, when that home run derby show was broadcast on television and players were forced to make idle chit chat with that stiff host while waiting for their next turn to bat. It provided a bit of a window for fans to peer into the personality of sluggers like Mickey Mantle.
But it was only a peek. Most, if not all Yankees fans back then had no idea that The Mick liked to frequently hit the bottle and go out carousing. There was no such thing as Page Six, and even if there was, it’s hard to imagine reporters publishing anything about pro ballplayers’ personal lives. Now, we see photos of A-Rod being fed popcorn by Cameron Diaz and read reports about him soliciting phone numbers from women in the stands seconds after being pulled from a playoff game.
These days, it’s nearly impossible not to see players as more than just figures on the field. We have a sense of their personalities, whether we want to or not. The noise is everywhere: Postgame interviews broadcast on ESPN, Twitter posts all over the internet for everyone to see, even video introductions on that supersized high-definition screen at Yankee Stadium. All of the exposure has changed the way that fans judge players, casting some in an unflattering light that would have never been shined on Yankees in the past.
Players like Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are universally adored not only because of their success on the mound, but because they exhibit what is considered by most fans to be an exceptional level of professionalism and class both on and off the field, and New York fans appreciate players they believe are always taking the game seriously and who they can respect as people. Fans are more willing to make these judgments because there is so much more information available.
A-Rod’s antics aren’t the only reason why Yankees fans tend to feel disdain toward the third baseman who so recently played a major part in bringing home the club’s only World Series title of the last 12 years. There’s the bloated contract draining resources from the club and the seeming tendency to reserve his best performances when there is little at stake. But Derek Jeter grounded into more double plays than all but three other players in the American League last season, but it’s hard to find any Yankees fans grumbling about it.
That’s because the fans have much more patience with Jeter. He has earned their trust, not just because he has those championship rings and is still batting over .300 as he approaches middle age, but because he carries himself in a way that fans respect. Jeter has provided the tabloids with a bit of fodder himself (remember reports of him sending gift baskets to his one-night stands?), but fans see authenticity, intensity and passion in ways that they don’t from A-Rod. Fans see the same passion from Pettitte and Rivera.
What if Joe DiMaggio had to deal with the same amount of scrutiny? I see substantial similarities between the Yankee Clipper and A-Rod. Both dated gorgeous celebrities and had inflated fragile egos, with DiMaggio insisting on being introduced as baseball’s “greatest living ballplayer” later in life. But during Joltin’ Joe’s playing days, fans never got to really see his personality. They could only judge him for the numbers he put up.
We don’t know if DiMaggio ran out every single ground ball, but as soon as Robinson Cano pulls up before first base on a ground out, fans can complain about it on the internet and post video proof for everyone to see. And even though Cano was statistically the best position player on the Yankees last season and has been one of their most dangerous offensive weapons over the last few years, he’s going to receive some scorn from the fan base if he pulls up on a routine ground ball.
Is it fair for fans to be so harsh? I don’t have a problem with the high standards. It was DiMaggio, after all, who has that famous quote in which he thanks the good Lord for making him a Yankee. It’s supposed to mean something. Yankees fans believe that donning the pinstripes is a privilege that brings with it certain obligations. They expect those wearing the uniform to show they appreciate the opportunity by always playing hard and maintaining a level of dignity off the field.
It’s more difficult than ever for players to win the hearts of Yankees fans in the 21st century. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But with Rivera and Pettitte likely to call it a career at the end of this season, and Jeter coming closer to the end as well, it’s unclear if anybody is going to be able to attain a similar exalted status. CC? Teixeira? Cano? It’s certainly possible, but, fairly or unfairly, they still have work left to do.
And those exacting standards demanded by the fan base just might help make those players work that much harder and take their on-field performance to a higher level. Or it could cause them to crack under the pressure.
Associated Press photos
Last night on MLB Network, Jonathan Mayo and the crew at MLB.com counted down their Top 100 prospects in baseball. Three Yankees made the list: Gary Sanchez (36), Mason Williams (41) and Tyler Austin (75). The only player who I thought might make it but didn’t is Slade Heathcott, who will almost certainly shoot onto the list — probably pretty high on the list — if he has a full, healthy and productive season in Double-A.
What does a Top 100 list mean exactly? Not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a decent snapshot of the way players are viewed. There’s more or less no difference between No. 36 and No. 41. It’s mostly just interesting to see which players rank at the very top and which ones make the list at all.
Column roundup: Reactions to Rodriguez • 01.30.13
In this market, there is no shortage of columnists and national baseball writers, which means voices and opinions in the wake of something like the latest Alex Rodriguez scandal. Here are a few worth reading.
• Ken Davidoff: “If you buy into the idea of our sports being ‘pure,’ if you believe the notion of statistical integrity, then that’s on you. You’re not getting it.”
• Tyler Kepner: “Rodriguez said yes, and together they have had some fun. But a marriage that starts with a lie is bound to fall apart, and that is what has happened.”
• Bob Klapisch: “A-Rod has been linked (again) to performance-enhancing drugs, as recently as last season, putting the finishing touches on his now-utterly trashed legacy — baseball’s all-time fraud.”
• Bill Madden: “After all the revelations coming out of Miami about his association with shady anti-aging clinic proprietor Anthony Bosch, to whom he is now alleged to have paid for HGH and banned testosterone creams, A-Rod has to understand that the Yankees and Major League Baseball want no part of him.”
• Ian O’Connor: “If Alex Rodriguez’s primary goal in life is to be remembered forever, well, congratulations are in order. ‘His contract will go down as the worst in sports history,’ one baseball official said Tuesday.”
• Joel Sherman: “And since his acquisition in 2004, Rodriguez’s reckless bent has not only damaged him, but the Yankees as well in terms of reputation, clubhouse tension and a general halo of negativity. Until now, that is.”
Associated Press photo
Best case, worst case: Center field • 01.30.13
After a largely disappointing 2010 season, it would have been difficult to imagine — even in a best-case scenario — that Curtis Granderson would emerge as an MVP candidate in 2011. Would have been nearly as difficult to predict, after that terrific 2011 season and a strong first half of 2012, that Granderson’s on-base percentage would plummet the way it did in the second half of last year. That said, Granderson might not even be the Yankees center fielder this year (and he almost certainly won’t be next year).
The Yankees haven’t announced who their center fielder will be, but the best-case scenario seems to be Brett Gardner taking over the position. However they line it up, the Yankees regular outfield is going to have Gardner, Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki. Might as well put Gardner in center for two reasons: 1. He’s probably better than Granderson defensively, and 2. It makes sense to transition in center in preparation for Granderson’s free agency (should be easier to find a replacement corner outfielder than a new center fielder).
If Gardner lives up to expectation defensively (he’s been considered by many to be the game’s best left fielder), gets on base regularly (he has a career .355 OBP) and makes things happen on the bases (he led the league with 49 steals in 2011), the Yankees will have a dynamic player who doesn’t have to hit 40 home runs to have an impact. Put Gardner in center this year, sign him through his final arbitration season in 2014, and the Yankees could have a perfect center field bridge to either Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams (might even have a player worth signing beyond 2014 to serve as a proven table setter while the younger guys adjust to the bigs).
Of course, those younger guys are key to the Yankees best-case scenario in center. Both Heathcott and Williams have enough upside to suggest significant impact down the road. A healthy and productive Double-A season from Heathcott could put him on the verge of a big league role — Damon Oppenheimer has gone so far as to say Heathcott could push for a big league job this year — and Williams was terrific last season before a shoulder injury sidelined him in late July. If he brings those Low-A results to High-A and gets a mid-season promotion to Double-A, he could solidify himself among the top outfield prospects in baseball. Add a return-to-form from Ravel Santana, and some sort of big league impact from Melky Mesa, and the Yankees will have both high-end talent and enormous depth at the position.
Prospects are suspects
For years, Gardner has built a strong group of believers, but he’s never broken through as a guy who everyone believes in as an everyday, big league leadoff hitter. Why is that? Maybe this is the year we find out. Maybe Gardner is finally give the opportunity — everyday job in center field, a chance to hit at the top of the order — and it just doesn’t work. The Yankees tried to use him as their leadoff hitter in the very beginning of 2011, but that experiment was scrapped very quickly when Gardner hit just .146/.222/.220 through 13 games. Tiny sample size, sure, but the Yankees obviously felt they’d seen enough to pull the plug. What is that carries into this season?
If Gardner isn’t up to the task and leaves the Yankees constantly benching him against left-handed starters, the team will likely go back to Granderson as the everyday center fielder — won’t want to keep Granderson changing positions from game to game — and Granderson’s tendancy to swing and miss could carry over from last year, leaving the Yankees, once again, with an all-or-nothing center fielder who no longer does those things he did especially well in Detroit.
As for another option in center? Triple-A is likely to have Mesa playing the position, and while the tools are there, Mesa’s high strikeout totals — sound familiar? — have consistently left him unable to fully utilize his power and speed. Regardless of last year’s strong comeback, Heathcott is still a guy with two shoulder surgeries already under his belt. And Williams is still just a 21-year-old kid who’s proven nothing above Low-A. And Santana is still a guy who hit for no average and no power in Staten Island.
Associated Press photos
A piece that fits: Yankees talking to Hafner • 01.30.13
It was Rob Bradford who first reported that the Yankees are talking to Hafner about becoming their primary designated hitter.Injuries have had an impact, and clearly Hafner’s skills are slipping — that’s why he’s still out there — but last season he hit .241/.361/.437 against right-handers. The year before last, he hit .302/.404/.482 against them. He has a terrific clubhouse reputation and it seems unlikely that he’d require more than a one-year deal. One source said that Hafner could be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium.
This is the kind of guy the Yankees have had success acquiring this time of year.
With the right-handed outfield market growing increasingly thin — the Yankees signed the best available option when they got Juan Rivera on a minor league deal on Monday – it seems that the last hole free agency can fill is the DH spot. At the very least, Hafner could be the left-handed part of a platoon (maybe Eduardo Nunez could handle the right-handed part?). It’s worth noting that Bobby Abreu, Casey Kotchman and Jim Thome are also still out there from the left side, but I’d have Hafner at the top of that list.
Let’s do a chat tomorrow. Noon, as usual. Stop by if you can. Can’t imagine what we’ll have to talk about…